Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Comic Book Implosion

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/05/2018 - 14:00

In 1978, DC Comics enacted a plan to compensate for problems in the newsstand market and hopefully regain market dominance from Marvel called "The DC Explosion." The plan failed in short order, leading to cancellation of a number of titles and staff layoffs and has been derisively referred to as the "DC Implosion." A new book from TwoMorrows, Comic Book Implosion, written by Keith Dallas and John Wells describes itself as an oral history of DC Comics in the era.

Comic Book Implosion chronicles the basic facts: the state of the comics industry before the Explosion and the discussions that led to it. The surprise success of Star Wars and its associated comic, interesting, is one things given a bit of discussion. We also get full coverage about what was planned for the Explosion that never happened, including what never saw print and what characters wound up at other publishers.

What might be surprising (and more interesting) are some of the conclusions. Major blizzards in the Northeast in 1977-1978 may have strangled the Explosion in its crib. No one was in a position to benefit from DC's failure; Marvel was forced to cancel about sixteen titles in the same period. Dallas and Wells argue ultimately that it was the economics of the newsstand that was killing the comics industry as it had been known. Kahn's thinking behind the Explosion was correct in many ways, but came at the wrong time and in too small a measure.

All in all, Comic Book Implosion makes for a really interesting read.

Gygax's D&D Revision Plans 1977

Zenopus Archives - Sat, 08/04/2018 - 14:15

Here's a very early description by Gygax of the plans for Basic and AD&D that I've never come across before. It's from Alarums & Excursion #21, April 1977, but is copied from an earlier source. The A&E contributor is Martin Easterbrook of Surrey, UK, who writes that the above is "a short extract I've 'pirated'" from "Walter Luc Haas' gameszine EUROPA". Martin doesn't mention the issue or date of the EUROPA zine, and I haven't been able to locate a copy of the original to confirm. The only issue of EUROPA that is widely available is #6-8 from 1975, which contains the now well-known Gygax article "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign". Edit: See update below.

-Gygax indicates that the revision is to include all of the material from the D&D booklets as well as magazine articles, which at that point included the seven issues of the Strategic Review and the first few issues of Dragon. Elsewhere Martin mentions that he has not yet obtained Dragon #5.

-"[A] beginner's guide" --- Gygax credited Holmes with this idea, so presumably he was already working on "D&D for Beginners", as he titled the manuscript for what became the Basic rulebook. And we actually know that Holmes had finished his manuscript by February of '77, which is before this issue of A&E. But as I noted above, we don't know when exactly Gygax's statements appeared in EUROPA. Note also that there is not yet any mention of the specific terms Basic or Advanced.

-They were considering putting not only the Basic rulebook and dice in a boxed set, but also all of the revised D&D books: "[t]he entire package will be available boxed, with dice included". The planned size was already that of the eventual Basic Set, 8.5 x 11. This is given an exclamation point because all previous D&D booklets were digest-sized. No mention of hardcovers, so the idea of having all of the rulebooks in one box (as in OD&D) seems reasonable.

-No mention of the Monster Manual, presumably at this point it was going to be included in the "large referee's manual". The revised and expanded GD&H eventually became Deities & Demigods.

-The reference to "only one combat system" indicates that the Chainmail combat system would no longer be referenced, as is the case with AD&D.

-"There will be no additional formal material" --- it's not clear if Gygax means that the books will be limited mainly to a revision & clarification of existing material, without adding new material, or if he means that there will be no additional supplements once these books are published (imagine that).

-Overly optimistic timeline. The Basic Set came out in July of 1977, so not too far off from "near spring", and while the Monster Manual came out in very late December, the other books were delayed by years --- PHB - 1978, DMG - 1979, and D&DG - 1980.

I've also added a transcription of Gygax's statements to the "Gygax on Holmes" page.

Update: Thanks to Allan Grohe (grodog) for tracking down the original publication in Europa issue #15-17, January 1977. The text is same as given in A&E. That places this plan prior to Holmes finishing the Basic manuscript.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Jungian-Gygaxian Alignment

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/03/2018 - 12:26

I still have to do some thinking on all the implications, but mull this chart over as I do. It shows Jungian Archetypes super-imposed with the AD&D alignment axis.

Cryptkins Convention Exclusive Trading Card Packs

Cryptozoic - Fri, 08/03/2018 - 01:06

CryptkinsTM Trading Cards — Convention-Exclusive Pack are six-card packs featuring Crytozoic original IP inspired by creatures that have been the subject of folklore and tabloid headlines for decades. After a popular launch of Cryptkins vinyl figures and the Cryptkins Channel on the Quidd app, these packs bring them to the world of trading cards. Each pack includes two Promo Cards, two "Which Cryptkin?" cards, one original hand-drawn Sketch Card, and one Download Card for an Irradiated Cthulhu digital figure on the Cryptkins Channel in the Quidd app. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

An OSR Commentary - Monster Matters From B/X Dungeons & Dragons In Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 08/02/2018 - 15:57
So on the phone yesterday I had a friend whose a Gamma World dungeon master exclusively. Yes there are folks still running Gamma World first & second edition games forty plus years on. So the big deal here is that & I quote there are no creditable threats left on Gamma Terrestria. The answer of course is B/X Dungeons & Dragons with a good helping of AD&D supplements! Because the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Finer Elements of Inner Planar Adventuring

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/02/2018 - 11:00
The original of this post appeared in 2014.

It's not an uncommon complaint on the internet that the Elemental Planes are boring because they're featureless expanses of the same thingm, which is sort of like saying dungeons are boring because thy're just empty spaces underground, or wilderness adventures are dullsville because it's just a whole bunch of trees. Most environments are probably not in and of themselves terribly interesting. They're interesting because of (a) what you can put in them and (b) the additional challenges their nature presents to PCs. I would also say that the Elemental Planes can be an interesting cosmological element in a setting even if not viewed as a place to go adventuring, but it's "place for adventuring" I'm going to focus on here.

First off, the Elemental Planes as typically described are for the most part pretty hostile to human life. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily. High level adventurers have access to a lot of great technology (i.e. magic) to protect themselves. Guarding against equipment failure and avoiding changing conditions certainly creates a lot of tension in science fiction books and movies; there's no reason it can't be put to similar effect in gaming. It's resource management that's more than just counting.

Here are some brief ideas and inspirations for Elemental Plane adventures:

This one's probably the easiest, with flying creatures, cities on clouds and the like. I would draw some inspiration from sci-fi imaginings of life in the atmosphere of gas giants. The plane of air should only be featureless like space is featureless: there should be pieces of stuff falling/tumbling through it. There should be air-dwelling Portuguese man o' war type things and air-whales like living zeppelins that one can travel or even live on. Reliance on the strongest air streams for travel would ensure that there were certain air caravan routes.
Inspirations: the Cloud City of Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Trek episode "The Cloud-Miners," The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, Castle in the Sky (1986), Last Exile.

Fire is like a really big star, though it's surface is much cool. There would be islands of rock (and by islands, I mean things bigger that continents) floating across it, or great metal craft drifting through it's smoke-choked corona. It would, of course, be populated (though perhaps not exclusively) by beings (jinn?) composed of Fire who did very similar stuff to Prime Material humans but were fiery while doing it.
Inspirations: Any Adventure Time episode dealing with the Fire Kingdom, the neutron star life of Forward's Dragon's Egg, parts of Sunshine (2007), Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt.

This plane is a huge sphere (or block or tesseract, or whatever) of rock, riddled with tunnels and chambers. In other words, it's a dungeon in three dimensions. It's sci-fi asteroid mining and molerat sapients, too.
Inspirations: Dig Dug, the Star Trek episode "Devil in the Dark," Derinkuyu.

Like Air, it's fairly easy to see what to put into the Plane of Water, but maybe difficult to see why you wouldn't just do that stuff on a Prime Material ocean. I would say it's like an extraterrestrial ocean planet: You can make it far more exotic than you would the oceans of your main campaign world. Societies would have vertical and horizontal borders. Different depth layers would be like different levels of a dungeon, except (depending on how science fictional you got) adventurers might need increasing pressure protection to descend to the next level.
Inspirations: Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross, The Abyss (1989), Finding Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Blue Submarine No. 6, Sub-Mariner, Aquaman, and Abe Sapien comics.

[REVIEW] The Exfiltrators

Beyond Fomalhaut - Thu, 08/02/2018 - 05:03

The Exfiltrators (2018)by Lance HawvermaleSelf-published5th to 7th level
The ExfiltratorsFirst things first, this module was produced by one of the best Kickstarter campaigns I have seen. The objectives were simple and clearly laid out. The product description stated the designer’s aims without cloudy obfuscation and deceptive language. There were no stretch goals to build false expectations and stretch out production into infinity, and the pitch was based on a written, edited manuscript. The Kickstarter did something which very few Kickstarters actually do: it was meant to bridge the gap between manuscript stage and delivery. Finally, the campaign was launched February 2018, and the completed books were delivered April 2018. Hardcore! This approach gets my official endorsement. If you want to crowdfund something, this is the way to do it. (Note also that it raised all of $1,613, which makes my wisdom highly dubious.)
In The Exfiltrators, you must enter Velgate Prison, the kingdom’s most notorious penitentiary for those criminals who have to be put away very securely. The place is staffed by professionals, the prisoners are under continuous surveillance, and escape is impossible. Time to prove the warden wrong – your characters either get to break out of the most secure prison in the land, or break into the prison to investigate who is targeting them and other adventurers with perfectly orchestrated ambushes.
A good prison break hinges on confronting an interesting, complex security system to find its gaps or contradictions, and exploit them for your purposes. This is how they work. Unfortunately, Velgate Prison itself is completely underwhelming, which is not a good thing as the module’s lynchpin location. You would expect “the kingdom’s most notorious jail” to be a sinister, imposing and labyrinthine place, with prisoners lost somewhere on the lower levels. Instead, you get a much more modern and much-much more modest outfit using the panopticon design. It is, in fact, mostly one big room with a central observation chamber surrounded by multiple stacked levels of cells with the inmates inside them. This one room carries much of the adventure. All the rest of the prison is made up of humdrum support rooms like the guard barracks, the weapons locker, the quartermaster, and personal domiciles for the senior staff. It is all firmly in the “fantastic realism” school, mostly stating the obvious.
Nipple rings and tattoos: clearly EVULThere are altogether 12 guards in the whole prison, ten inmates, and (beyond individual jail cells, which are counted separately in the key) 15 keyed areas, including a sloping passage, a description of a door, etc. The prisoners are your motley crew of maniacs, murderers and bandits, given lots of personal details and some personal effects. One of the intended ways to play the module is to get caught in the panopticon and McGyver an escape plan from old combs, hairpins and what have you while under watch. There is a convenient deus ex machine / complication due to a haunting spirit if the plan doesn’t succeed. In a more interesting case, the characters enter as investigators, and must pick the falsely accused from the convicts who deserve to rot. This is a good deal better (it is left to the GM who is who).
I must admit writing this review was hard. I had to read and reread parts of the module to recall the details, which doesn’t usually happen. The material is slippery, lacking the memorable bits which stick in your mind. Outside the aforementioned panopticon and a weak extraplanar plot thread (including the laziest planar maze I have ever seen), the module seemed to lack a distinct character. It is more in the late AD&D style where the game abandoned conceptual simplicity for increasingly self-referential designs. In my mind, this is an important paradigm shift. Early AD&D starts out as an open framework which finds inspiration in outside sources it incorporates into its own logic (rules, procedures, content). It is straightforward, action-oriented, sometimes not very elaborate, but it is open to new infusions of pop culture. Comic books, horror movies, TV shows, pulp fantasy, mythology and all kinds of board and puzzle games the players enjoyed could find a way into their shared imagination. Late AD&D, in contrast, becomes a closed world which largely refers to its own legacy.* Reusing and combining pre-existing elements becomes the norm.
One feature of this period is the substitution of rules and canon knowledge in place of finding new outside stuff to mine. The stuff that turns up in Sage Advice, the worst column in gaming after the Ecology of… series. This module has both of that in spades; it relies on rule exploits to build some of its encounters, and the AD&D canon to build its background. This is more a personal taste than a design issue, but I don’t like it. I can appreciate someone who knows the AD&D rules deeply enough to use them creatively (this is a skill I never mastered), but here, we mostly find mechanical creativity instead of something out of the box – on the other hand, it is not the kind of vanilla I enjoy. If you like late 1e and 2e, this might be more to your taste.
The demiplane of randomly generated suckageHowever, the cop-outs sting. The setup includes a thoroughly choreographed ambush where the orchestrator is “meant” to get away, and the adventure really stacks the deck in his favour. By the book? 100% by the book. Are magical commando tactics legitimate in AD&D? Logically, they would evolve in a magical setting, but again, this is a device which feels off. Multiple times, the GM is instructed to add or subtract opponents to scale the module. The prison has a secret deus ex machina NPC who is meant to even out the odds. If you need him to open the cell doors and let the PCs get away, he will give them the key, just like that. Or “a crowbar appears magically beside one of the PC’s cots”. Yes, that’s a quote. Or “using shape change, the Boy in the Box appears as a giant lizard or other monster, prompting the guards to flee the spire and regroup elsewhere”. Or if you need him to open a door leading to the extraplanar segment, he will be there for the characters. I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from Once Upon a Time in the West: How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants.
The writing is competent and obviously done by someone who knows how to write prose, but it is not a good adventure text. The sentences work but it is a dreadful reference where information gets lost and the information you get is often not the right kind of information. A high wall: “Optionally, the PCs can throw a grapple onto the wall’s upper edge, but quick-thinking players might believe such sounds have a chance of alerting one of the guards.” An observation post: “The windows have been darkened with a special alchemical process so as to permit the guard to see out while blocking attempts to see inside the spire from without. However, those with infravision can still clearly see the heat signature of the guard within.” A lot of clutter; a lot of important details left in obscure corners of the module, the works.
The Exfiltrators is not a cynical cash grab, and it is not designed carelessly. There are parts of it which are competent; the author is a writer who has been published professionally in fiction, poetry and RPGs. Some of his modules are fairly good. This scenario isn’t. It reminds me of the worse kind of Dungeon Magazine adventures (quoth Bryce: “Jesus H. Fucking Christ I hate reviewing Dungeon Magazine.”) Verdict: Skip this harder than Skip Williams.
No playtesters are listed for this publication.
Rating: * / *****_____________________* Note: in recent decades, this trend has turned into an endless recycling of the D&D classics. These exercises have more to do with brand-building and IP management than actually learning from the things the same products were attempting to do.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thief’s Forture Returning to Kickstarter

Gamer Goggles - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 19:58


ATHENS (July 2018) – Nabbarah: A city full of wonders and stories to be told awaits. Will you manage to live your best possible timeline and take charge of your own fortune? This Card-Drafting, Engine Building Game returns to Kickstarter on August 14th. Don’t miss out!

A Thief’s Fortune, designed by Konstantinos Kokkinis and Sotiris Tsantilasand published by Artipia Games is a game for 1-4 players that take glimpses of the future and create alternate paths of their common life in the city of Nabbarah. They might lead different paths, but they all are the same person. Which player will create the most promising timeline?

The game will releaunch on Kickstarter on August 14th, featuring new improved aspects at a lower price.

The game

A Thief’s Fortune is a competitive Card Drafting & Engine Building game for 1-4 players that lasts 45 to 90 minutes.

The game revolves around a Thief who has just come across a mystical item that allows him to see glimpses of the future.

Each player represents a different timeline of that character and through the various choices and actions of each player, separate alternate paths are formed.
New Features of A Thief’s Fortune KS Campaign:

New reduced price

A Thief’s Fortune now features a new reduced price of $36 for the base pledge (reduced from $42). This was achieved by focusing more on the card game aspect and replacing the Wooden Resource Tokens with Custom Cardboard Tokens. The game is thus made accessible to even more people.

New Larger Game Board

Reduced price does not mean reduced quality. The game’s table presence was improved by including a beautiful, new game board! This board is going to have 3 main uses in the game:
Firstly, it is used for tracking the current Round and the players’ Fortune Points.
Secondly, it includes the “Common Future” area. This is an area where cards are placed each round and are considered part of each player’s Future. Players may interact with them as if they were in their own future, allowing for more combos and cool interactions among the players!
Finally, the board has spaces where piles of all the resource tokens can be placed during the game.

First 48-Hour Gift

All backers that will pledge during the first 48 hours of the campaign, will be getting a special gift, as a token of our gratitude. For those that pledge afterwards, that gift will still be available as an add-on, so they can increase their pledge amount accordingly to add it in their pledge.

Returning Customer Treat

Finally, to express our deep appreciation to those who supported us in the first, canceled campaign and to all those who have pledged in our recent Kickstarter projects, we are going to give a Returning Customer Treat for free, as we promised! New backers will also be able to get it as an add-on through the campaign.

*Returning backers for this campaign are those who backed one of the following: Kitchen Rush, Whoosh: Bounty Hunters, Fields of Green: Grand Fair, Kitchen Rush: Piece of Cake and the canceled A Thief’s Fortune campaign.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Two 5150 Adventure Series Coming Out this Week!

Two Hour Wargames - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 19:25

Here come the core rules of two brand new 5150 series. Missions is all about military ops while No Limits let's your Star travel the 5150 universe by spaceship while adventuring in large cities and small settlements. Both share similar mechanics and are compatible with each other as well as all our 5150 titles.
Both have the core rules for each series and we have tons of upcoming adventures for both. So whether you want to play strictly military squad level games or take your crew traveling on a variety of adventures, we got you covered.
And we'll take it a step further; because they are compatible you can move your Stars between both sets!
Each includes its complete core rules, 16 stand alone Scenarios for you to use as you like, 16 Linked Scenarios forming one Story, an appropriate Battle Board, and color card stock counters to get you into the game quickly. Playable with any minis you may already have.
Watch for more info in the next two days - and they should release later this week.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic and Warner Bros. Consumer Products Announce Release of DC Deck-Building Game: Crisis Expansion Pack 4

Cryptozoic - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, on behalf of DC Entertainment, today announced the limited release of DC Deck-Building Game: Crisis Expansion Pack 4 at Gen Con, August 2-5, followed by a full retail release on August 8. The expansion can be added to any game in the popular DC Deck-Building Game series to introduce cooperative play, Unity cards that can combine for powerful effects, and Personal Crisis cards that directly affect the owner of the card.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Storm is Coming

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 11:00

After a bit of hiatus, I'm getting ready to return to my survey of Don Lawrence's Storm (hopefully) next week. To catch you up since it has been a while, here are the installments so far on the current volume "The Living Planet":

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

More OSR Observations on The Basic Dungeons & Dragons Rule Book By Tom Moldvay

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 06:10
For me Basic Dungeons & Dragons was a sort of weird transition point between original Dungeons & Dragons to Holmes then to Basic. The whole theory behind the product for me didn't feel so much as a new beginning but a transition of adventure play. We didn't bother with taking our games over to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons until much later on. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

16 Dice and Card Games to Kickstarter - But What Are They?

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 23:55
Here's the tentative 16 games.  2 Hour Dungeon Crawl Friday Night Fights - Boxing Game 5150 Back Alleys Bright Lights - Sci-Fi RPG  Hell Hath No Fury - WW2 Tank Battles 5150 Bugs Into the Tunnels Joust 5150 Fighter Pilot Quarters - Quarter Horse Racing Alien Fight Night Red Sand Black Moon - Fantasy Gladiators Casino Carnage - All Things Zombie Red Sand Blue Sky - Gladiators Charioteers of Rome Win or Go Home - Car Racing Dead Heat - Zombie Racing Wire to Wire - Thoroughbred Horse Racing
Where the card game may share the title with an existing minis rules set, the mechanics are different and all you need to play is in the box, expect for the dice. But we'll offer dice cheap and separately instead of putting them in each box - and having to charge you for them.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

ATZ Evolution Mock Ups

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 20:38
Artwork in and samples coming soon. Zombies, humans, battle boards and more.

Three survivors run into five zeds on the street. There will be 12 Battle Boards included and twenty card stock counters. Look for the release next month.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kickstarter Progress - 16 Card Games

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 18:12

Here's an update to the upcoming 16 games Kickstarter
Above is the box that each game will come in

Here's a picture of the opened box. Still working on how the rules will fit in.

Some of the artwork on the cards. The backs are color coded for the function of the cards and flip it over to see what it does. Finishing off the rules presentation and want to be sure it works with the box.
I want this Kickstarter to work, no excuses and not take a year to fulfill! 
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Various Sets of Miniatures for Sale

Splintered Light Miniatures - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 16:33
Some various sets for sale. Price included in caption.  Actual shipping costs on top of the prices below.  thanks.

Dark Crystal $75

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

28mm Dark Ages Figures for sale

Splintered Light Miniatures - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 16:25
I have various 28mm Dark Ages figures for sale.  They come as is and are from a variety of companies such as Gripping Beast, Old Glory, Artizan, Black Tree Designs, and Foundry.

Early Saxon Germanic $50 for roughly 53 Infantry and Cavalry
Foundry Vikings $60 for roughly 68 Infantry
Late Saxon $50 for roughly 57 infantry
Normans $30 for roughly 40 infantry and a couple of riders
Old Glory Vikings $15 for roughly 28 infantry
Irish and Picts $75 for roughly 80 infantry and cavalry figures
Romano-British $40 for roughly 40 infantry and cavalry figures
Shipping will be actual cost of shipping ($7 for small flat rate priority mail in the USA and $14 for medium flat rate priority mail in the USA).  I am happy to consider international sales.

I will take $250 for all of the above plus shipping.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5e monster manual on a business card

Blog of Holding - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 14:41

Lately I’ve been doing statistical analysis on D&D 5e monsters to see how they’re built, and I’ve learned some interesting things: the DMG monster-creation guidelines don’t work as expected, monster design formulae have stayed stable from book to book, and many of the complexities of the official monster-design process don’t significantly affect its outcome.

Today, let’s come up with simple instructions for creating monsters in line with the Monster Manual, replacing the faulty instructions in the DMG.

Along the way, I think we can streamline the process. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has 9 pages on monster creation. I think we can fit the key rules on one page. Or even a business card. That way, you can create new monsters on the fly, not as a laborious game prep chore.

Here’s the finished business card! The rest of this post will explain how we came up with it.

Card front:

Card back:

If you prefer everything calculated out, here’s a one-page version with more explanation and an example

First of all, to reiterate what I learned in previous posts:

1) real monsters have fewer hit points and do less damage than those created by the DMG chart, and are more accurate

2) there is no significant correlation between any major monster stat (HP, AC, attack bonus) and any other stat. For instance, you might expect that a monster whose AC is high for its Challenge Rating should have lower hit points, attack bonus, or damage output to compensate. That’s not the case. Therefore, we can examine each monster stat separately without having to consider the others at the same time.

attack bonus

Here’s a scatter plot of the attack bonuses of all the Monster Manual and Mordenkainen’s monsters. The black line is the best fit line. (For comparison, the red line is a plot of the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggested attack bonuses.)

As you can see, the scatter plot shows us a nice, straight, easily graphable best-fit line. It works out to almost exactly:

attack bonus: 4 + 1/2 CR

So tidy! It’s almost as if the designers designed it that way! Hint: I think they did. While the DMG graph is arbitrary and inaccurate, actual monster design shows signs of being very carefully put together.

A note about CRs below 1: These complicate things. For the purposes of drawing graphs, think of them as negative numbers instead of fractions: CR 1/2 is really 0, CR 1/4 is -1, CR 1/8 is -2, CR 0 is -3. That’s the way that the linear values on the attack graph work out, and the way I’ve graphed it.

How much leeway do we have to adjust the attack bonus up or down based on our concept? The DMG advice is to adjust as much as you want, you can always adjust the CR later. We don’t want to adjust anything later! We’ll just look at our Monster Manual data and see how much variation there tends to be from the average monster accuracy.

For our attack bonuses, the average variance (which is a statistical calculation for determining how closely grouped numbers are) is low: 1.22. In other words, monster attack bonuses tend to be a little more than one point away from the average. And, as we’ve proved in previous steps, there is no correlation between high/low attack bonus and any other monster stat. So we could say, without doing too much violence to the Monster Manual data, something like, “Based on your monster concept, you may add or subtract up to 2 points from the attack bonus without affecting its CR.”


Difficulty Class is similarly neat. In fact, its graph is nearly identical to the attack bonus (nearly every monster’s DC is their attack +7). In the following scatter plot, blue X’es are DC, and green triangles are attack bonus.

The DC best-fit formula is

DC: 11 + 1/2 CR

Variance is also the same for DC as it is for attack bonus. So on our final rules, we’ll say, “+-2 DC based on monster concept.”

Armor Class

From the scatter plot, Armor Class also looks like a fairly neat linear graph.

Expressed as a formula, this is very tidy: AC = 13 + 1/3 CR

From looking at the scatter plot, you can see that there will be a higher variance in AC than there was in attack and DC. The average variance is 1.65: 50% more than in attack and DC. Therefore, if we say “+-3 AC based on monster concept” we’d be allowing all but a few outliers.

hit points and damage

I did attack bonus, DC, and AC first because they were the easy ones. The remaining values, average damage and hit points, are a bit hairy, because they’re not nice, neat linear graphs.

Here’s one interesting thing about hit points and damage: they have a very strong relationship, especially at low level. Take a look at this chart where I graph median hit points (blue) and median damage x 3 (red).

To me it kind of looks like the average monster’s hit points is intended to be 3x the average monster’s damage (or, to put it another way, each monster should survive exactly three rounds of hits against one of its peers). Given the fact that the D&D designers have frequently mentioned three rounds as their target combat length, this seems plausible.

I admit, something about the chart above gave me pause. At high CR, doesn’t it look like there is an inverse correlation between damage and hit points? At CR 19 and 21, for instance, where damage is high, hit points are low. Did I miss something in my earlier analysis that showed no such correlation?

After looking at this graph, I did a more thorough statistical analysis. A note about my methodology: I calculated p-value for each pair of stats (above-median damage AC vs below-median HP, etc) and also for each stat paired with the presence of major special defenses, major special attacks, and legendary status. No correlation was significant to a value of p = .05. However, some more confident statistician should re-check my values with the Monster Manual dataset, since I’m not really a stats guy, just a guy with access to free web stats tools.

In particular, the seeming correlation we see on this chart, high damage to low hit points, does exist but is statistically insignificant: in the monster population as a whole, of the 227 monsters who deal higher-than-median damage, 101 have under-median hit points and 96 have above-median HP: a difference of 5 monsters either way. But some of the similar monsters happen to be clumped together. For instance, it just so happens that three low-HP, high-damage monsters are grouped together at that big red spike at level 18. I think we just have to say that, at high levels, our data is sparse and unreliable and we are going to have to be careful not to over-model the ups and downs of the graph.

At low levels, though, where we have dozens of monsters per CR (and where D&D play actually happens), I do want to be as faithful to the data as I can.

Take another look at the graph above and then listen to my crazy plan. Hit points and damage x 3 look pretty damn correlated: The correlation may or may not be intentional, but it’s there. Maybe we can come up with one trend line that will describe both hit points and damage?

Here’s that graph again, with my proposed best-fit threading the needle between the hit points and damage line. The data isn’t linear at low CRs, but high CRs are linear enough.

Here are the formulae for average damage and hit points:

Average damage below CR 1: 1, 3, 5, 8
Average damage between CR 1 and 7: 5 + (CR x 5)
Average damage above CR 7: CR x 5

Average hit points: 3x average damage for that CR

Unlike for AC, DC and CR, variance increases quite a bit for hit points and damage as the numbers get bigger. Take a look at this damage scatter plot, which sort of explodes into confetti once we get to the airy heights of CR 10.

For both hit points and damage, we can say Increase or decrease by up to 50% based on monster concept and get all but a few outliers.

Shouldn’t such a big increase or decrease – for instance, bumping a monster from 100 to 50 or 150 HP, or from 30 damage to 15 or 45 damage – change its CR? Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t in the corpus. There are plenty of examples of monsters with wildly varying hit points and damage potential sitting next to each other in the same Challenge Rating – without any other attributes which obviously compensate for the differences. Consider Geryon and the ancient green dragon, both CR 22.

Geryon: AC 19, HP 300, attack +16, damage per round 97
Ancient green dragon: AC 23 (+4), HP 385 (28% higher), attack +15 (-1), damage per round 151 (55% higher)

It’s wacky, but it’s how CR currently works. And I’m trying to describe CR here, not improve on it.

We need to do one other thing before we leave the topic of damage: on our new, improved monster-creation rules, we have to explain our average damage calculations so that people can turn each monster’s raw damage total into arbitrarily complex sets of attacks, including spells, area attacks, and limited-use abilities. This will be hard to explain concisely and clearly, but let’s take a shot at it.

Here’s a first draft: “Damage: This is the average damage that a monster can do each round during the first three rounds of combat. Assume 1) it always uses its most damaging attack(s) or spell which hasn’t yet been exhausted; 2) all area attacks target 2 enemies; 3) auras and similar traits target one enemy per turn; 4) variable-length effects like Swallow last one turn; 5) all attacks hit; 6) all opponents fail saving throws. Based on the monster concept, the monster’s damage may be dealt in one attack, or be divided between multiple attacks and/or legendary actions.”

This encapsulates the rules as described in the DMG. There’s one problem with these rules though. They’re facing the wrong way. They’re the instructions to take a Monster Manual creature and turn it into a single damage number. We need the instructions to take a single damage number and turn it into a Monster Manual creature. How about this:

Damage: This is the damage budget for all the monster’s attacks. Limited-use (daily, recharge, or situational) attacks do 4x the damage budgeted. Multi-target attacks do ½ the damage budgeted. Limited-use multi-target attacks do 2x. All other damage sources are 1 for 1, including at-will and legendary single-target attacks, auras, reactions, and variable-length effects like Swallow. If a monster has several at-will options (such as melee and ranged), the lower-damage options are free.

Here’s an example of how you could spend a damage budget on several attacks. Let’s say you imagine a fire-using spellcaster. You give her a 1/day fireball for 28 damage (spending 14 points of the damage budget); an at-will Fire Blast against one target that does 11 damage (spending 11 damage); and, to round it out, a 3-damage dagger attack (free because it’s an at-will option that does less damage). That would cost us 25 damage: right on the nose for a CR 4 creature. But because of the variance in damage, she could be pegged as anything between a strong CR 2 (on par with a pentadrone) and a very weak CR 10 (on par with a CR13 rakshasa).

monster traits

Nearly every monster, except for beasts and some boring humanoids, have some “schtick:” some special trait that makes them unique. It’s hard to quantify these. The DMG tries: it offers two pages of traits, listing the modification that should be made for each to the effective HP or AC. Most of these minor modifications, by the DMG rules, are worth a fraction of a CR. Given the wild fluctuations in power of same-CR creatures, this is illusory precision (I talk more about that here).

We can test common and seemingly powerful traits like legendary resistance and magic resistance and in almost all cases, the presence or absence of these traits has no correlation to higher or lower monster statistics. Therefore, they are not visibly affecting a monster’s CR. The only verifiable exceptions, as I mentioned here, are regeneration (which has a negligible but real effect, reducing some monster HP a by a few percent) and possession (which has a large effect, halving hit points) and possibly damage transfer. I think we can turn these three cases into a general rule: you may reduce damage-avoiding monsters’ hit points by the amount of damage you expect them to avoid over 3 rounds of combat.

what about saving throws?

I think we can improve on the original DM’s Guide rules in another way. The DMG chart has values for proficiency bonus, AC, HP, attack, damage and save DC. Monsters also need to make saving throws. Really, what we want to know is, “what does a saving throw look like for a monster’s good stat?” and “what does a saving throw look like for a monster’s bad stat?”

The bad saving throw is easy. It can be anything based on the monster’s story! For instance, the tarraque’s Dex save is +0.

For the good saving throws: calculating this was an afterthought and I didn’t feel like manually entering the good saving throws for the entire Monster Manual. I decided to see if a sample would be enough. I manually entered the best saving throws of all of the monsters up to page 84 of the Monster Manual, right before the start of the Dragons entry. I also added the ancient red dragon, so I could get the good saving throw of the strongest non-thought-experiment monster in the game. Based on how the data looked, I’d see if I had enough information or if I needed more. Here’s what I got.

This data is clearly tightly-grouped and linear: I don’t need any more sample to see that. It’s a hair off of 1 point of saving throw bonus per 2 levels. This formula will always keep us within about half a point of the real value:

3 + 1/2 CR

And the eye test tells me that variance is very low. I’d estimate it at +- 2. That is to say: the saving throw bonus column is equal to the Attack Bonus column minus 1.

By the way, 3 + 1/2 CR also works for a monster’s good skills!

putting it all together

OK, now we have everything we need to make a complete chart replacing the one in the Dungeon Masters Guide! This will give us out-of-the-box numbers that closely match the Platonic ideal of a 5e monster of any CR. Just tweak according to taste, add a special ability or two, and you are good to go. This is something you can do live at the table, not as part of your game prep!

Here’s the finished chart:

And here’s a PDF that you can print out and put in your DMG.

And if you want something really compact, here’s the important rules on a business card:



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic and Warner Bros. Consumer Products Announce Release of DC Spyfall

Cryptozoic - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, on behalf of DC Entertainment, today announced the limited release of DC Spyfall at Gen Con, August 2-5, followed by a full retail release on August 8. In this new iteration of the social deduction game Spyfall, 3-8 players take on the roles of DC’s greatest Super Heroes as they have a secret meeting at an iconic location, such as the Batcave, Daily Planet, or the Fortress of Solitude. The twist is that one of them is secretly The Joker in disguise. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How the Dungeon Powered the Success of D&D and the First Role-Playing Games

DM David - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 12:00

When home computers seemed like rare gadgets, a killer app was a program so compelling that people purchased the computer just to run the application. VisiCalc became the Apple II’s killer app, and then Lotus 1-2-3 drove customers to the IBM PC.

Dungeons & Dragons came with a killer app baked in—the dungeon crawl. The dungeon provided such a powerful setting for the first role-playing game that I suspect the game’s success owes as much to this setting as to the invention of the role-playing game. (For a taste of fantasy role playing without the dungeon crawl, read my post, “Chivalry & Sorcery: What if Gary and Dave had not found the fun?”)

From Gauntlet to Diablo, the dungeon crawl is now such a popular video game convention that it stands as its own genre. Even folks who think tabletop games are all like Monopoly and see video games as unworthy of attention, know of Indiana Jones, the Tomb Raider movies, and the Mines of Moria. The D&D dungeon may seem conventional by now, but in the early 1970s, nothing exactly like it existed in the popular imagination.

The dungeon has developed such a huge role in popular culture that we struggle to imagine how novel and compelling dungeon crawls were 40 years ago.

In 1977, when I first overheard kids at my new school talking about Dungeons & Dragons, I managed to learn just two things about the game, but these hints electrified me. In D&D, you played a person in the game who grew in power through experience, and you explored dungeons filled with monsters, hidden secrets, and treasures—often magical. I went home, opened the yellow pages, and called countless hobby shops in Chicagoland, searching for one that stocked this astounding game. When I finally located a copy at the distant Hill’s Hobby, I coaxed my mom into providing a ride—but not until the weekend. Still excited, but facing a torturous wait, I sat down with some graph paper and speculated on how a game of dungeon exploration might play.

My enthusiasm was not unique. The dungeons under Castle Blackmoor began as a minor diversion to the campaign’s fantasy battles above ground, but the Blackmoor bunch spent so much time underground that Dave Arneson ultimately declared the above-ground conflicts lost to forfeit. Dave Megarry of the Blackmoor game wanted to capture the dungeon experience during Arneson’s down time, so he created the Dungeon! board game.

Even when the first role-playing games left medieval fantasy, they kept dungeons or sites that played like dungeons.

Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) devoted rules to the underworld, and explained dungeons as buildings and civilizations lost to the “Time of Darkness.”

Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) moved the dungeon into space in the form of the drifting starship Warden.

Dra’k’ne Station

Traveller (1977) brought an entire universe to play in, but for years all the game’s published adventures featured derelict space ships, alien and abandoned research stations, and other location-based adventures resembling dungeons in space.

  • Dra’k’ne Station (1979) is “a vast alien research station hollowed out of an asteroid…still protected by its automated defense systems and one surviving alien.”
  • Darthanon Queen (1980) consists of deck plans for a 600 ton merchant ship along with a crew and a passenger roster. The adventure suggests a few scenarios to stage on the ship, including one cribbed from Alien.
  • Adventure 2: Research Station Gamma (1980) describes an arctic laboratory that players must infiltrate.
  • Adventure 3: Twilight’s Peak (1980) takes characters to a location with “many of the elements of a haunted house,” and then to an alien base complex.

Stone Mountain dungeon cross section from 1977 basic set

The dungeon crawl offers several essential advantages:

  • Ease of play – The dungeon’s walls limited options, making the game master’s job manageable. In a Gamespy interview Arneson said, “Dungeon crawls were, I think, the easiest things to set up because all you had to do was draw a grid map and didn’t have to worry about the great outdoors and setting up trees and stuff. People also couldn’t go wandering off where you didn’t have a map because it was solid rock.” More than anything, the wide-open space of Traveller drove designers to attempt to duplicate the dungeon experience in space.
  • Group play – Dungeon exploration provided an activity for a party with divergent skills. A host of role-playing games ranging from Chivalry & Sorcery to every spy game ever struggled to find reasons for characters to work together.
  • Obstacles – Dungeons provided an excuse for monsters, tricks, and traps. Their inevitably-insane architects gave dungeon masters free reign to create a funhouse environment.
  • Goals – The treasure underground gave a reason to explore, and a gave players a common goal.
  • Flavor – Dungeons provided an evocative setting full of secrets and ripe for exploration. For me, the most evocative illustration in the blue box was the underground cross section. I wanted to crack the mysteries of just such an underground complex.

Nowadays, some D&D players dislike dungeon crawls and that’s fine. Forty-some years of evolution have taken D&D to villages, forests, palaces, and across the planes of the great wheel. Dungeon masters no longer prepare for play by following the instructions from the 1974 brown books. “First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his ‘underworld.’” If you dislike dungeons you can still like D&D. (If you don’t like dungeons or dragons, then you probably just play to seem cool.)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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