Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Role-Play Rambling 4.1: Final Thoughts Pathfinder Playtest

Gamer Goggles - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 23:26

In the first episode of season 4 on Role-Play Ramblings Matt shares his final thoughts on the Pathfinder Playtest. He shares where he had hiccups in the playtest and what he liked about it.


Click here to view the video on YouTube.

What I didn’t mention in the video is that every player I’m playing with is sold on the game and have preordered the core book. My two boys were so fired up that I now have a full blown campaign based on the creation of their characters. I have never based an entire story on the how the players worked together during character creation that is just out of this world.

I didn’t go into spells that much either, but my players love the way the work and Joshua  – who always plays a Rogue – has made ten spell casters since the start of the playtest!



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Echo City Update

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 23:01
Believe it or not, I've got several irons in the fire for Sentinels of Echo City!

First up, I've released the first issue of a brief newsletter that I plan to have as an ongoing thing (yeah, I know... but I can try). It's one page. It's free. It's got some game stuff. It has a villain I've had on the back burner for over a year. Go get it.

Second of all, I've been working diligently on the next few issues of Doc Stalwart's adventures. I have had a rough outline of where I wanted the story to go, but I didn't really know how to get there... and then suddenly the thread to bring it all together emerged. Right now, I have a first draft done of issues 3, 4, and 5! I expect those will be out monthly for the next three months to get back on track with that. I've got an issue with the Norse gods, one on the moon, and one that ends up in the desert. I'm excited about this story arc, and where it's going. 

The Ecology Of The Eloi For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 19:12
There are times when conversations with friends can be engaging and eye opening such as today when I got together with friends to discuss and play a bit of Mutant Future. We began the second half of the conversation that we were having two weeks ago about HG Well's Time Machine and the Morlocks Tonight we started to talk about the Eloi and the relationship between the Morlocks & the Eloi.Needles
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Using Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow & Queen Of The Demonweb Pits With Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Mini Campaign Part II

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 17:57
The PC's are hopelessly lost in the twisting churning tunnels that lead into the underworld of Gary Gygax's Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits.  Now this would seem to be the end of the saga but instead I propose that its just the beginnings of the problems for the PC's. They've incurred the wraith of a whole people & they've destroyed the avatar of one of the most powerful demons of the Abyss. Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How to Build a Sharpshooter Who Wins D&D (If the Rest of Your Group Doesn’t Mind)

DM David - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 11:15

The massive damage inflicted by characters built on the Sharpshooter feat can overshadow other characters and make potentially interesting encounters resemble an execution by firing squad. See Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, but That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition.

Sharpshooter lets characters exchange -5 to hit for +10 damage. Many players combine it with Crossbow Expert, which lets a character wielding a hand crossbow trade a bonus action for an extra attack.

This post reveals how to build on Sharpshooter to create characters able to deal the most damage. Before you play these characters, consider whether they fit your gaming group.

If your group likes pitting optimized characters against a dungeon master who thinks a Remorhaz makes a suitable first-level foe, these builds fit.

If you want to show off your min-maxing skills, skip the sharpshooter. Such easy builds may fail to impress.

Optimal sharpshooters shoot hand crossbows rapid-fire. Does the flavor of your campaign fit a character firing a toy crossbow with the manic speed of a Benny Hill clip? I suppose some players fancy a character who resembles a genre-bending gunslinger, but I suspect the build’s massive damage draws more players than its flavor. (In second edition, the highest damage came from muscle-bound characters throwing darts. No one played that for flavor either.)

In groups more interested in roleplaying and exploration, players might not mind letting your sharpshooter showboat during the battles. Or perhaps others in the group feel content in roles other than damage dealing. Perhaps the bard and wizard both enjoy their versatility, the druid likes turning into a beast and soaking damage, and nobody minds letting you finish encounters at the top of round 1.

Before playing an optimized Sharpshooter, ask your group.

Building a sharpshooter

The Sharpshooter feat is powerful because it makes each attack deal excessive damage in exchange for a manageable penalty on to-hit rolls. To make the most of Sharpshooter, create a character who (1) makes lots of attacks and (2) minimizes the penalty to hit.

Without feats or off-hand attacks, a rogue only gets one attack per turn. And with one sneak attack per turn, rogues want to be sure to hit. Taking a -5 to-hit penalty adds to the risk of losing a sneak attack. A ranged rogue can often reduce the risk by attacking from hiding to gain advantage, but Sharpshooter only makes a decent feat for a rogue, not a strong one.

Ranger and fighter make the best classes for sharpshooters. Both classes gain extra attacks through their careers, and both offer the Archery fighting style, which grants +2 to hit with ranged attacks.

Choosing a race

Most players interested in playing a sharpshooter opt for a human character. Humans can take Sharpshooter at level 1, and then Crossbow Expert at 4. Bring on the Remorhaz!

Still, levels 1-3 go fast, so an aspiring sharpshooter can choose another race without playing too long with a merely balanced character. An elf can more easily reach a 20 Dexterity while taking Sharpshooter at level 4, and then Elven Accuracy at level 8. When you have advantage on a Dexterity attack, Elven Accuracy lets you re-roll one of the dice. For most characters, this makes a weak benefit, but a fighter who chooses the Samurai archetype usually attacks with advantage. Oddly Elven sharpshooter Samurai make good characters. (But please invent an interesting backstory.)

For a crossbow-wielding sharpshooter, choose a human. At level 1, take Crossbow Master. At level 4, take Sharpshooter. (The fast advance to level 4 means a short wait for both feats.) At levels 8 and 12, increase your Dexterity.

For a longbow-wielding sharpshooter, choose a human or, for a samurai, an elf. Take Sharpshooter for your first feat, and then focus on increasing Dexterity to 20.

Building a fighter sharpshooter

Fighters can combine the Archery fighting style with more extra attacks than any other class. Action Surge lets fighters unload an extra round of attacks. Such bursts let sharpshooter-fighters kill legendary monsters in a turn, and lead the rest of the party to wonder why they showed up.

Conventional wisdom suggests that ranged attackers typically suffer weak defenses, but not fighters. Ranged fighters skip shields, but they have all the hit points and armor proficiency of a front-line fighter. Plus a crossbow expert proves deadlier in melee than a great weapon master.

The Battle Master and Samurai archetypes combine particularly well with Sharpshooter.

Battle masters gain four or more Superiority Dice that they can spend on combat maneuvers. The battle master’s Precision Attack maneuver helps make your sharpshooter attacks hit despite any penalties. “When you make a weapon attack roll against a creature, you can expend one superiority die to add it to the roll.”

Samurai gain 3 or more uses of Fighting Spirit. “As a bonus action on your turn, you can give yourself advantage on weapon attack rolls until the end of the current turn.”

Advantage from Fighting Spirit helps your Sharpshooter attacks hit despite any penalties. However, the feature takes a bonus action, which makes it a bad match for a crossbow expert. If your self respect prevents you from using a toy crossbow, play a Samurai.

For a longbow-wielding fighter, choose a human or elf. Choose the Samurai archetype. Take Sharpshooter for your first feat, and then focus on increasing Dexterity to 20. Elven characters can then opt for Elven Accuracy.

At level 15, the Rapid Strike feature often lets Samurai take as many attacks as a crossbow expert. “If you take the Attack action on your turn and have advantage on an attack roll against one of the targets, you can forgo the advantage for that roll to make an additional weapon attack against that target, as part of the same action.”

Building a ranger sharpshooter

Rangers can combine the Archery fighting style with an extra attack at level 5 and more attacks at higher levels.

For example, at level 11, rangers with the Hunter archetype use the Volley feature to launch attacks against every target in a 10-foot radius.

The best ranger sharpshooters choose the Gloom Stalker archetype. These rangers gain an extra attack on the first turn of combat, and also add an extra 1d8 to that attack’s damage. By level 5, a human with a hand crossbow can start every fight with 4 sharpshooter attacks. With a just a little luck, that amounts to 80-some points of damage. How many foes will live to the second round? Gloom stalkers can also add their wisdom to their initiative, so ask, “How many foes will live to their turn?”

At 11th level, the Stalker’s Flurry feature minimizes the chance of missing despite any penalty from Sharpshooter. “Once on each of your turns when you miss with a weapon attack, you can make another weapon attack as part of the same action.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Dark Albion, HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands, & The Dungeons & Dragons PC Races For Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 18:37
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate treesNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Failing High Level Play

Hack & Slash - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 17:58
The biggest sin in high level adventure design is designing low-level adventures and calling them high level adventures. It's almost as bad as sticking random monsters in random rooms and writing dozens of pages of stuff that happened before the players got there.

Here's how you successfully design high-level adventures.

High Level AdventurePart of the fun is  as you advance in the game, abilities and priorities change. Each game, each edition, goes through different phases as the players level. This is either explicit (e.g. 4th edition's level 'tier' list), implicit (5th editions power bumps at certain levels), or latent within the structure of the game (Gaining followers and needing to build a castle in 1st edition).

High-level characters have the ability to solve problems in ways that are particular to them. They don't have to accept situations. The largest flaw with most published high-level adventures is designing a limited environment and then removing the tools the players earned to force them into that environment. That isn't the way to do it.

Superior high level adventure design requires the following:

It must be player driven

post-teleport and army, players have options to redefine engagement. They can plane shift, turn invisible, fly, shadow step, or use any manner of shenanigans to be very selective about their engagements.

This means modules who's contents are dependent on forcing the player's into situations are either going to fail "pffft, I go ethereal and go home" or require you to remove their abilities often to the detriment to the setting itself, i.e. causing whole areas to be anti-magic or coming up with effects to nullify travel.

It is important we understand the nuance here—having dead magic zones or areas where planar contact is cut off or fly spells don't work is great, as long as it is a part of the setting players can visit. If your adventure site is set up that way, then it's a challenge, as long as the players choose to be there.  These things are fundamental to your campaign setting, they are the background rules for the world. When used as a tool to force an adventure, they are bullshit.

Combat must have secondary goals

One continual failure of high-level play are the amount of encounters set up with the expectations that players will fight them. It is not a safe assumption that players will need to fight a single encounter in your adventure, and if they do, it's likely they will do so on their terms.

The way you make combat satisfying is that you create situations that require the players to engage in combat to accomplish their goals. In a high level adventure, non-penultimate and ultimate fights shouldn't be designed with the expectation that players will fight them in any sort of traditional sense. They might teleport them a mile into the air, charm them to fight each other, or just create a hellish inferno filled with fireballs, rather than rolling initiative.

So combats should always be designed with the idea that there is a danger that attacks them while trying to accomplish a secondary goal. They want to open the warded door? The room fills with shadows. They find a room with prisoners, they have to save them before they are killed by demons. Always view any combat encounter as a difficulty that besets the players as they try to accomplish a task.

Is this somewhat reasonably difficult to do? Yes. That is why people are paying you to design an adventure instead of doing it themselves.

Countering without nullifying player abilities

You do have to address the players abilities to subvert encounters, but you want to do so as part of the encounter. High level players do a lot of things, you should count on them being able to do those things, not try to prevent them. Some examples follow.

Discovering the truth Assume your characters can speak with dead or force people to tell the truth, you just have to insure that telling the truth creates adventure instead of limiting it.

Flying All characters and all classes will have the ability to not engage in combats on the ground. Make sure both your encounters and environments take this into account. Will something happen when people take to the air? How do these people defend against flying intruders?

Scouting player characters can retrieve amazing amounts of information by seeing through walls, casting spells that will give specific treasure and head-counts. This ability begins as early as level 3 when players begin to use extra-sensory perception to find out head counts.

Don't create encounters that depend on the players not having their abilities or information. Create a situation where the information the characters receive creates new problems and challenges.

Abandoning the "Explore & Clear" philosophy

Hostile spaces that challenge high level adventurers, should not be 'clearable' areas. High level characters have plenty of opportunity to clear small dungeons and lairs, and such an adventure will probably not take them long, a half-hour of table planning, executing the strike, and then returning will usually not occupy more than an hour or so of gametime. So it's important that high level adventure sites are intrinsically difficult to clear, like a gateway to hell. Players won't be able to explore and kill everything in hell.

Create an adventure site that simply does not let the players gain a foothold without needing to bring other campaign resources to bear. This can include an entire fortification and city (like a giant or dwarven city), a animal lair like a giant ant hive, wizard realms with demi-planes.  Consider your adventure environment and ask yourself why the players don't just flood it with water or poison everyone inside.

Long-term consequences to choices

When designing adventures for high level characters, insure that the adventure regardless of how the players interact with it, creates consequences. You can't force players of this level to engage in activities. So make sure they understand the stakes. Do not get frustrated because players are willing to accept those consequences, that is part of the point of playing the game. They may decide to ignore your adventure location, which is a great opportunity to create new adventures—ones they might partake because they want to undo or change those consequences.

It's important to avoid a 'punishment cascade'. This is where you create a penalty for what will happen if the players refuse the call, so they won't refuse the call. Then when they do, you develop an emotional reaction ("How dare they! I spent time on this! It's disrespectful!") and so you escalate the consequences. A classic example is the players choosing to kill some non-player character that the referee is sweet on, so the encounter becomes magically tougher to punish them.

You create the long term consequence so they players can make a choice. If you make the consequence so bad, you're not really providing a choice. Some players will often feel this pressure for consequences you didn't design to be that punishing. High level campaigns thrive on organically derived play, so grant your players the opportunity to do that.

Allowing characters time to shine
I mean, hell, how many 11th level wizards have you played. Give them hordes of enemies to cut down, let situations occur where they can easily solve problems that would destroy lower level players. Set a demonic outsider right in front of the Paladin and let him melt it in one shot. Create an entire pillar of adventure a skilled thief can obviate with two skill checks. Put enough targets near your fighters and their armies to drop a whole battle unit every round.

Reaching high level is an achievement. Create multiple situations that are trivially solved by specific high level abilities. It's fun for the players to subvert expectations and turns into memorable situations. This is not as difficult as it seems, generally I'd throw in 2 extra dragons so the 15th level barbarian had something to do for 3 rounds. Accept the reality of high-level play.

Fatal dead ends
The feeling of risk should not be gone. High level mechanical play involves a lot of consistent results with occasional chaotic outliers. High level characters will generally save on a 2+, are almost untargetable or unhittable, are immune and resistant to multiple types of damage, and have many many resources to avoid danger. They will minimize any encounter that interacts with them mechanically because of their ability to address this.

So create and design encounters that side-step the mechanical systems. To wit:

"anyone in the room when the ceiling collapses dies under several tons of rock, no saving throw"

It is important that this is telegraphed of course. These aren't gotchas, but letting the players know that in spite of all their protections, they can still be crushed by Godzilla.

The important thing for design, is that these fatal encounters or parts of encounters again put something at stake for the players. Being high level usually allows them to avoid these consequences, so good adventure design for high-level characters includes situations where things are again at stake.

This is just part 1, part 2 will cover understanding the scope of high level play and examining what high level characters are capable of at higher levels of dungeons and dragons.

If you want to see these things in practice, check out Eyrie of the Dread Eye. It has only ever recieved 5 star reviews. It's one of the highest rated products ever released. One of the most critical reviewers called it one of the best adventures he's ever read. It contains in practice, each of the following above points. If you want to know what a good high level adventure looks like, well, for 5$, there's your answer.

The only reason this blog is still available and not dead while I work full-time as a writer illustrator, is because of the support it receives on patreon. Thank you to all my Patreons! 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic and Warner Bros. Consumer Products Announce Release of DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth

Cryptozoic - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, on behalf of DC, today announced the August 1 release of DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth simultaneously at Gen Con and retailers everywhere. The 1-4 player game is a new evolution of Cryptozoic’s popular DC Deck-Building Game series, breaking fresh ground by adding linked Campaign Scenarios, character progression, and movement between iconic locations.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Rising Tides

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 11:14
by Phil Beckwith & Micah Watl Rex Draconic RPG 5e Level 1

This 87 page adventure details around sixteen overland encounters/events in about fifty pages. Purple prose read-aloud combined with bad editing and layout contribute to a meh adventure being untunable in anything other than a mechanical fashion. Which is too bad because it tries to do a few interesting things to help the DM.

The adventure core is straighforward. The party travels north via ship or caravan, in a crew-like fashion, having a couple of encounters. You encounters a raided village and then a village under attack. What falls out of this is emoting similar to a 4e adventure. You have combat encounters, do some skill checks, and talk to a few people. Err … I mean “have role-play encounters.” The emphasis here is not really on the situations presented but rather the mechanics around what is going on. Perform a stealth check to escape the situation! If half the party succeeds then …    They feel like set-piece situations, or maybe “now is the time when you have an adventure” rather than a more nuanced style which presents a situation and lets the party explore it. Oh, sure, there are notes to let the party do that, and the solution guides in each sub-section say something like “or other options the party comes up with”, but the emphasis is on the mechanics. Not that I’m altogether against the basic idea, just the way it’s presented here. A few lines of text, bolded, etc, to hep the DM with situations that arise is a core part of an adventure should do in some cases. But this thing has that same 4e style in doing it that boils it down to the mechanics, and not in a good way. 

I imagine that something like a flowchart was used to develop this adventure. A leads to B or leads to C if they do X. And under each “encounter” there’s a little mini-chart listing the party options and what to do based on the circumstances. In theory that’s not bad. But at some point it is taken to an extreme and it looses its identity outside of what it presents, mechanically, up to and including the encounters themselves. It FEELS like a series of events with a flowchart behind it and constrained options for the party. And that’s not a good thing. Read the read-aloud then select option A, B, or C as your reaction. Then go to the next encounter. A flowchart adventure where the boxes are all event driven. This reduction D&D to the mechanics was one of the major issues I had with 4e adventures. It sucked the very life out of the game. 

So much of this feels like a solo adventure, or a scripted computer RPG. This includes the purple prose that makes up the read-aloud. I was worried that this was just the novel author (this is licensed off of a fantasy novel series) but no, it’s just the the style chosen by this writing team. It feels like “now os the time to read the read-aloud.” And while it offers advice to summarize in your voice if it makes you feel better, it’s also the case the the text is not laid out in any way to make that happen.

Now is the time where I trot out my oft-referenced (by me anyway) appeals to usability. When running a published adventure and you encounter a scene that is two pages long, or more, how do you run that at at the table? Do you pause your game and take five to ten minutes to read it over again? Maybe hoping that you don’t forget anything? You can’t hold it all in your head. This is why I care so much about usability. You pause the game for less than five seconds, grab what you need from the text and keep going. As the text gets longer and longer that becomes more and more difficult to do. Terseness in writing, stripping out the padding, bolding, whitespace, tables, bullets, these are all critically important to drawing the DMs attention to important things in the text, making it easy for them to find what they need and keep going. “Uh, hang on, let me check …” while you hunt through the text to find the thing you’re looking for is no way to run a railroad, so to speak. And this adventure has WAY too much padded text and information coxed in to the free-text paragraphs. It does try to use bolding, whitespace and bullets to help call out important details, but it’s not enough. While THOSE sections are easy to find, it still pads them out with useless, conversational style text. “If the party decides to fight the monster then … ” This all gets in the way and distracts the DM from the really important stuff going on. At one point some read-aloud notes that the party can see people waving at them from the beach … and then hides the peoples fates inside of a paragraph. There’s far far too much “and then happens and then this happens and then this happens”, events takes place in the paragraph text. Note the situation. Give the DM the facts in an easily digestible format and them move on. 

At one point some NPC’s are mentioned, if the party gets hauled off to jail. They have goals, ideas, and backgrounds straight out the PHB, and formatted as such. Long sections of text “Ideal: I am honest to those around me” or “Flaw: I can’t help by drink far too much ….” this isn’t how you do this. Short, terse, easy to digest. Drunkkard. Done. 
It does have a nice little overview map. A little half page map with the sea journey and caravan route outlined, as well as the other parts of the adventure, with the encounters on it, hex distance, travel time, color-coded by which chapter its in and so on. It’s a useful piece to get an idea of how things are to run. 

The writers, I’d guess, are responsible for the purple prose. The editor should have trimmed the fat in the DM text in a MAJOR way. The layout person used one of those atrocious modern formats that makes it impossible to find section breaks, there being section breaks everywhere. Too clever for its own good. I don’t know, maybe the editor felt like they couldn’t push back, or they were just copy-editing. More than anything else the field needs good editors to push back on the overwrought DM text that plagues modern adventures. The delete key can go further, in making an adventure runnable, then any other tool. 

There’s more of this type of text then there is useful information: “The characters have the following choices, though you should reward creativity where it is plausible. They can: ” 

This is $13 at DriveThru. Yes, $13. Maybe it’s the license? Or all that value obtained from outsourced art, layout, editing, maps? Anyway, the preview is 20 pages. Page 11 has that little encounter mini-map that I liked. Page 12-on shows you the actual adventure encounters, with page 18 showing the NPC “bonds, flaws” NPC’s. The last page of the preview is GREAT for getting an idea of the 4e/set-piece style of writing. Read-aloud. Player choices. Combat.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Sasquatch Variations

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 11:00
This post originally appeared in October 2013, but it's always a good time for 'squatch.

In a post-Harry and the Hendersons and Bigfoot and Wildboy world, your run of the mill Sasquatch may not pack the fearful punch it once did. In keeping with the season, here are a couple of sasquatch-like cryptids with a twist to move 'squatch back from "gentle giant" to "scary."

Batsquatch: First sighted in 1994 in Washington, batsquatch is an ape-like hominid with purple skin and batwings. (In other words, something like a scarier version of the winged monkeys in the Wizard of Oz). Stat these guys like a yeti, but add winged flight like a gargoyle.

Sheepsquatch: From the hills of West Virginia comes a cryptid also known as "the white thing." It's described as a bear-sized beast covered in thick, yellowish-white fur. It doesn't look much like the usual sasquatch with its low set eyes, goat-liked horns, raccoon-like hands, and a hairless tail like an opossum. I would use giant wolverine stats for these beasties (minus the musk).

Blue Belt Bigfoot: One of the few hairy hominids known to accessorize, the so-called Blue Belt Bigfoot has only been sighted in California and only on a few of occasions. It's essentially a a regular sasquatch (perhaps with a dog-like face) with a glowing blue belt. Sometimes, they travel in groups. I'd probably treat these guys as bugbears (just because) and give the belt some special power--or maybe not (other than the glowing) just to mess with PCs.

Using Gary Gygax's D3 Vault of the Drow & Queen Of The Demonweb Pits With Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Mini Campaign

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 07/22/2019 - 03:14
"As a member of a bold party of adventurers, you and your associates have trekked far into what seems to be a whole underworld of subterranean tunnels -- arteries connecting endless caves and caverns which honeycomb the foundations of the lands beneath the sun. Your expedition has dogged the heels of the Dark Elves who caused great woe and then fled underground. "Along with Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Is It Worth Spell-ing It Out?

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 07/21/2019 - 21:31
TLDR: the simplest expression of a spell may be the most fun in play and engender the most creativity.

For your consideration, five iterations of one of the most basic of all D&D spells, by edition (skipping over a few):
Light: A spell to cast light in a circle 3” [30'] in diameter, not equal to full daylight. It lasts for a number of turns equal to 6 + the number of levels of the user; thus, a 7th-level Magic-User would cast the spell for 13 turns. [Oe Men & Magic, WotC collector's edition "reprint"]This is our baseline. As far as I can tell it is faithful to the '76 Whitebox edition. I am trying to find an earlier scan.
Light*     Range 120' / Duration 12 turns
This spell casts light in a circle, 30' in diameter. It is bright enough to read by, but not equal to full daylight. It may be cast on an object. The light may be cast at a creature's eyes. The creature may make a saving throw, but if it fails, the victim will be blinded for 12 turns. In the D&D BASIC rules, a blinded creature may not attack.
* Reversible
[Moldvay/Cook Basic]The spell gains a fixed duration, range, and some adjudication text because somebody decided to cast it "on" a creature's eyes and some GM allowed it. Note that the monster gets a saving throw. Also, it's now reversible. 
Light (Alteration) Reversible 
Level: 1   /   Components: V,S
Range: 12"   /   Casting Time: 4 segments
Duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level   /   Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 2" radius globe
Explanation/Description: This spell causes excitation of molecules so as to make them brightly luminous. The light thus caused is equal to torch light in brightness, but its sphere is limited to 4” in diameter. It lasts for the duration indicated (7 turns at 1st experience level, 8at 2nd, 9at 3rd. etc.) or until the caster utters a word to extinguish the light. The light spell is reversible, causing darkness in the same area and under the same conditions, except the blackness persists for only one-half the duration that light would last. If this spell is cast upon a creature, the applicable magic resistance and saving throw dice rolls must be made. Success indicates that the spell affects the area immediately behind the creature, rather than the creature itself. In all other cases, the spell takes effect where the caster directs as long as he or she has a line of sight or unobstructed path for the spell; light can spring from air, rock, metal, wood, or almost any similar substance.
[AD&D PHB]The spell now has a school and components, the duration is a level-dependent length, and the area is increased to a 40' diameter (assuming a 1":10' grid square). The spell gets a physics justification, and the brightness is characterized more specifically as torch-like. Details on the reversible version are given (and vary in duration). Magic resistance is mentioned, and there is some text about what happens if the target resists or saves vs. the spell.
Light     Evocation [Light]
Level: Brd 0, Clr 0, Drd 0, Sor/Wiz 0
Components: V, M/DF
Casting time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Object touched
Duration: 10 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
This spell causes an object to glow like a torch, shedding bright light in a 20-foot radius (and dim light for an additional 20 feet) from the point you touch. The effect is immobile, but it can be cast on a movable object. Light taken into an area of magical darkness does not function.
A light spell (one with the light descriptor) counters and dispels a darkness spell (one with the darkness descriptor) of an equal or lower level.
Arcane Material Component: A firefly or a piece of phosphorescent moss.
[D&D 3.5, Online SRD]The spell school is changed, and it gets a clerical domain. Components are expanded and specified. Range is reduce to touch, duration is still level-specific but simplified, and the spell is no longer reversible but instead "counters" spells of its opposite. Note that it's a lot harder to tag an enemy's eyes with Light now! 
Light     Evocation cantrip
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, M (a firefly or phosphorescent moss)
Duration: 1 hour
You touch one object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension. Until the spell ends, the object sheds bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet. The light can be colored as you like. Completely covering the object with something opaque blocks the light. The spell ends if you cast it again or dismiss it as an action.
If you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature, that creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw to avoid the spell.
[5e PHB]Light is leveled-down to an at-will cantrip (probably happened in 4e, actually), duration is fixed, and a Dex save is included for unwilling targets. So it's even harder to tag an enemy; you must first touch them and then hope they fail their Dex test? Or, perhaps there is no longer a touch attack roll, you just do it and then they try to dodge it. Yeah, probably that; I'm not a 5e expert yet.

So, I ask you, did the spell get "better" along the way?

What I believe is going on in this progression is an illustration of the attempt to systematize all the common aspects of the game – to replace GM rulings with set rules. There is good and bad in that.

By spelling things out (yuk yuk), the player experience is possibly more consistent from session to session and table to table. Also, the player has the fairly complete knowledge of how the spell works. One might even argue the load is lighter on the GM, though it's really a question of whether the GM prefers to memorize/look up rules or just make them up as needed.

However, spelling it out constrains the use of the spell. The more words devoted to the exact behavior, targeting, etc. of the spell, the narrower its usage becomes. This gets dangerously close to that strange argument about whether you can only do the things the rules say, or whether you can do anything the rules don't expressly forbid. I'm not getting into that tedious argument with anyone, but I think it's safe to say that this spell description rules out certain things. The phrase "one object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension" means that the spell has to be cast on an object – not living tissue like an enemy's eyes (reinforced by "if you target an object held or worn by a hostile creature") and it can't just emanate from you. This, very clear picture of how Light works – down to letting the caster choose the color – shuts out other choices that might be made for flavor or utility. What if I wanted to use a jar of fireflies as a component? Or cast the light on my palm so I could open and close my fist to send morse-code like signals? Maybe I wanted a halo around my head so I could look angelic.  
For fun, here are two more descriptions of light, one from a streamlined take on the old school rules, The Black Hack, and one from a Oe retroclone, Delving Deeper. To my way of thinking, the brevity of these entries rules! 
Light: Creates dim light from a Nearby spot or object that lasts for Ud8 Minutes.
[The Black Hack 2e, "Ud" references the usage die mechanic.]

Light (reversible, duration: 12 turns, range: 120ft) Causes an object to shine as brightly as a torch, illuminating a 15ft radius. The reverse, darkness, creates a sphere of impenetrable darkness with a 15ft radius. [Delving Deeper v3, Vol. 1]

* Froth of the Thought Eater Podcast has suggested the spell summary in D&D 3.5 to be an excellent resource. There we have this gem: "Light: Object shines like a torch."
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Thoughts On The Yugoloth in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers Of Hyperborea

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 07/21/2019 - 17:25
"There Charon stands, who rules the dreary coast –A sordid god: down from his hairy chinA length of beard descends, uncombed, unclean;His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire;A girdle, foul with grease, binds his obscene attire."The Roman poet Virgil describes Charon, manning his rust-colored skiff, in the course of Aeneas's descent to the underworld(Aeneid, Book 6), after the Cumaean Sibyl Needles
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Sword & Backpack: On Dice

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 07/21/2019 - 13:11
TLDR: Dice are cool. 
... each player should possess a personal 20-sided die. The die is used to resolve combat, make skill rolls, and so on. Sharing a die is fine, but it’s weak magic. In Sword & Backpack, dice aren’t just tools, they’re a direct line to fate, a link to the great mystery. As such, they should be respected. Your personal die should be carried in one’s pocket at all times. It’s a totem. Respect it as such.Emphasis mine.

You can find a primer on, and links to, Sword & Backpack here. S&W is a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the simplest RPG rules imaginable. Basically roll a d20 and see if it's high or low, and how high or low. Sounds simplistic, sure, but what more do you really need? Also, the formatting of the rules is kind of cool; the small pages are meant to be printed, cut out, and pasted into a 3.5" x 5.5" (or thereabouts) notebook.
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Qwik - Jugger Game Step by step.

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 23:50
In this AAR, by reading the pictures, we will show step-by-step how a game is played . At the end will be a synopsis. 

The game is made for solo play and can be played co-op or head to head. You start with the two Qwiks fighting to gain control of the bean - what you must stake to win the game.After that the players move and when occupy the same zone roll on the Confrontation Table - fight. Take damage and you can lose Rep or get knocked out of the game.Knock an opposing Jugger down? You can pin it to the ground so it cannot move unless you let it up. Game lasts until the bean is staked with a 100 Stone Break rest if the game goes that far.Look for Qwik next week.
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Don't Even Fix A Price - Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Actual Play Session Report III

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 22:17
Today we got together to continue our  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game with DM Steve. We've been dealing with the revelation that the bastard captain whose taken us to our enchanted island is not who he claims to be at all but the Greco Roman god  Charon in disguise!! Session report I here  And session I part II right over here. Ray Harryhausen Clash of the Titans CharonNeedles
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(5e) The Sunken Village of Little Corth

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 11:19
By Dylan Hyatt Self Published 5e Level 2

The PCs travel across a necrotic marsh (the Grey Creeping) to a sunken village where, upon being transported back 2000 years into the past, they must prevent a necromancer freeing Orcus (demon prince of Undeath) from the imprisoning veils of the spirit plane. If only it was as simple as that, for the PCs must also contend with deactivating a giant mechanical orrery, and be sharp enough to realise that the useful items that helped them survive the Grey Creeoing must be found and placed for their ‘future-past’ selves.

This forty page linear adventure has some time travel elements mixed in to its twenty or so linear locations. Tedious read-aloud and lengthy DMs notes do little to mitigate the linear nature. You end up Bill & Ted’ing help for yourself.  Oh, for what might have been …

A zombie shephard and a zombie sheepdog herd zombie sheep at the party in encounter one. This reminds me a lot of a zombie walk, where it seems all zombies were people scuba diving, playing golf or the like. In any event, anything to make monsters less generic is ok in my book. “Zombie” is generic but flesh-eating shepherd and dog/sheep, while a little abrud, fits the bull of non-generic. The skeleton jugglers, fire-breathers and acrobats that show up start to go overboard though in to farce territory.

The art here is nice also. I’m a big big fan of DIY stuff. Sure, pro stuff can be nice, but ANYTHING that’s not generic filler gets my seal of approval. Plus, the idea of a low-barrier-to-entry is appealing to me. Just draw something. And just put down words. You’ll get better and shouldn’t let assholes like me or self-confidence issues be a barrier to creating. I’d like to note, also, that I’m ignoring this advice with regard to my own perfectionism in writing. 

But enough! Let us talk about linear adventures.

I get that people play this way. I find it so hollow. It FEELS like there’s this thing called D&D where people get together with their friends and a linear adventure full of read-aloud and combat and they have a good time. Because it’s a social activity with their friends. That’s what D&D is. To them. And they’re right that there IS a social aspect with their friends that makes D&D fun. But I imagine some overlapping circles right out of set theory. There’s this OTHER thing people call D&D. It contains all of those social/friends aspects. And more. A linear play style, heavy on combat, can fulfill the Just Fucking Around style of play but not the second type. A much more fulfilling type. It’s sometimes briefly glimpsed in the Linear Friend game, and people know it’s magnificent, but it’s not really present in their games. It can’t be, because it requires the interactive play style that just can’t be accomplished with the Linear Friends style. And thus these linear adventures, travelling from a to b to c, will always be at a disadvantage. They might be ok, but it’s hard for me to believe that they will ever be truly great. I’m trying to keep an open mind here, since we can’t Black Swan these puppies. But I’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism. Far better, I would suggest, to write something a bit more open-ended to allow for more opportunities of interactive/player agency D&D. But, of course, most people don’t know what that looks like, having never encountered a product of that type. When all you know of Italian food is Chef Boyardee then it’s no surprise that’s what you crank out.

The read-aloud is an ever present threat, columns and paragraphs droning on and adding nothing substantial to the adventure. Overly long and not really adding anything in the way of either evocative descriptions or meaningful facts … just the usual droning obviousness. 

The DMs text is frightful, with lots of history, asides, and explanations mixed in. This makes it hard to find pertinent information. That most common of DM text problems: confusing trivia with content. Yes, many things COULD be useful to the DM, but liming the writing helps the DM locate information faster during play. Too much text is the most common problem these days. Put it in an appendix if you have to tell me who Horn is or Orcus’ history; that’s not something to put in the main body. One room takes five pages to describe. This is a sure sign that you’ve done something wrong.

The Bill & Ted “give aid to your past lives self” may be hackney but it’s still fun. The time travel elements ARE fun; players love figuring shit out, even simple shit. It works. It’s just surrounded by so much dross as to make the adventure un-runable. I’m not fucking using a highlighter. I’m not fucking taking notes. I’m not going to fight the adventure in order to be able to run it. Es, I’m being hyperbolic for the sake of making the point but the truth is in there: it’s the designers fucking job.

This is $3 at DMSGuild. The preview is nine pages. You get to see the extensive read-aloud, saying nothing, and the two-page zombie attack on pages 5 & 6 of the preview. Page eight of the preview/encounter five gives you a good idea of a typical non-combat encounter and the joy of the DMs text. So, good preview in that respect …

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The Weird & Lovecraftian Ecology of The Vargouille For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 07/20/2019 - 01:52
"In a land where weirdness and mystery had strongly leagued themselves with eternal desolation, the lake was out-poured at an undiscoverable date of elder aeons, to fill some fathomless gulf far down amid the shadows of snowless, volcanic mountains. No eye, not even the sun's, when he stared vertically upon it for a few hours at midday, seemed able to divine its depths of sullen blackness andNeedles
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Thralls of the Faceless Lord - Some Thoughts On The Lowly Gelatinous Cube & Its Kin

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 17:50
The other day I was reading through the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition  Monster Manual & came upon the gelatinous cube entry. Every single dungeon that I've played in has had a gelatinous cube or some variety of that monster  within it. Why?!Every dungeon or wizard's tower seems to have one to clean up the remains of adventurers. They are hyper efficient at what they do. They Needles
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[MODULE] The Nocturnal Table (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 16:28
The Nocturnal Table
I am happy to announce the publication of The Nocturnal Table, a 60-page game aid dedicated to city-based adventures, lavishly illustrated by Matthew Ray (cover), Peter Mullen, Stefan Poag and Denis McCarthy. Originally conceived in 2010 as an article for Knockspell Magazine (but only published in the Hungarian), the supplement has since gone through a lot of active play over multiple campaigns, and been expanded with additional material to offer a handy guide to design and run adventure scenarios in a large, sinful city filled with action and intrigue. This is a game aid designed for regular table use, and formatted to be comfortable and accessible. Whether your pick is Lankhmar, the City State, the City of Vultures or Imperial Rome, this supplement will help generate much of the texture of the streets – from illicit warehouses to the monsters and madmen who prowl the night! Citing the back cover…
“The City is a maze. A labyrinth of alleyways, plazas, shortcuts and hidden thoroughfares, it isn’t any less treacherous to navigate than a dungeon. At least during the day, the worst one can expect is a greedy patrol of guards eager for a shakedown, or a thief in the crowd, ready to make a grab and run for it. At night, the sensible and the timid hurry home and bolt their doors. Ecstatic revellers, madmen, assassins, religious fanatics, thrill-seekers, enigmatic apparitions and tiger-headed opium nightmares prowl the streets. And the guards are still not helping. 
The Nocturnal Table is a supplement intended to bring you this city by way of an encounter system, random inspiration tables, NPC and monster statistics, as well as a giant nighttime random encounter table, whose three hundred entries can serve as interludes as well as springboards for complicated investigative scenarios and fantastic conspiracies.”
At the core of The Nocturnal Table is a 300-entry table of random encounters and odd events you can run into at night in a busy fantasy metropolis. From a patrol of guards carrying a slain comrade, to a sinister beggar-catcher soliciting the aid of dishonest adventurers, or a skeleton covered in grey ooze, its eyes glittering gemstones shambling towards the party, all the wonder and menace of a city-crawl are at hand. But that is not all. With The Nocturnal Table, you can…
  • …create general encounters with the aid of a comprehensive encounter system. A caravan in Hightown threatening the party? Six jackalweres offering secret information near the port at night? Or a magic-user accusing a PC in the bazaars? That could be the beginning of a story (or the end of one).
  • …generate merchants selling strange and fantastic goods (as seen in Echoes From Fomalhaut #01 – that table would have been a crime not to reprint here). Is that jovial guard selling weapons as a form of bait? Are that credible horseman’s sugared fruits really from a foreign dimension?
  • …find out what’s in their pockets. The guard came up with a pouch of 12 gold and a folded hood, but that horseman? His 50 silver, 5 electrum and 10 gp was also accompanied by a weird diagram.
  • …generate local colour on the fly. Ominous, gurgling pipes overhead? A drunk who insists he has just seen a party member go the same way “just a while ago”?
  • stock warehouses with exotic goods to plunder! Leave those odd, primitive swords and the rustic carpets collecting dust in the corner, and find out how much those ceremonial globes may be worth.
  • …and set up secret meetings and investigation sites. The meeting will place behind the old, crumbling mosaic – but don’t touch the drink. And the trail leads on, by the sign near the mortuary… just take care: the children are spies!
Guidelines are also offered to re-use the encounters and chart contents for the construction of bizarre plotlines and sinister conspiracies which rule from the shadows… while the City sleeps (these guidelines have been previewedon this blog). All that, and more are at your disposal in… The Nocturnal Table!
The print version of the supplement is available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through DriveThruRPG with a few months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.
Do note that a flat shipping fee is in effect: you will pay the same whether you order one, two, or more items (larger orders may be split into multiple packages and shipped individually – this does not affect the shipping fee).
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