Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Between Planar Stations

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 14:00

It doesn't have a name. Not really. This is intentional; names are power, after all, and power that can be used against you. When whoever instantiated the original version of the city did so, they fixed and compressed its noumenal building blocks into a potent glyph, a sigil. And that is what its inhabitants and its visitors from myriad plane-aware worlds have called it every since.

Only rubes get duped by maps hawked in Sigil markets or the orreries venerated by mundy cargo cults, the city is not at the center of anything physical or even metaphysical. It's just that it embodies the concept of nexus, and so it's the most stable router or gateway for astral bodies shooting through the howling conceptual metric.  From Sigil, you can get to anywhere, whether you should or not.

A lot of travelers get to Sigil and never leave. Some, the trafficked, press-ganged, fearful, or injured, have no choice. Others stay out of business interest, boredom, inertia or laziness. Why endure the vicissitudes of travel when all the worlds will come to you, eventually?

Solo Play: Tunnel Goons & Dungeon Builder

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 02:37
5 minute solo play on a work break using James Hron's Dungeon Builder, which is tricky to use but a very cool format. For rules I used Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons.

Dungeon BuilderI've described Tunnel Goons in a previous entry. Dungeon Builder is an idea generator. You have a two-level map with dungeon rooms. In each rooms is a series of three single-digit numbers, e.g. 211 or 332. Sometimes you see 2--. In the pamphlet is a number of tables with three columns of words each. The numbers in the rooms reference which table to roll on and the position of the number says which column. So 211 means roll for a word in the first column of table 2, then roll on table 1 for a word in the second column and one from the third column of the same table. 2-- means roll once and read all three words straight across, using table 2. Clever, huh?

Dive 1My Goons character is Kravdraa (aardvark backwards): HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Carrying: dagger, pizza, midnight blue robe

Underlined stuff was generated randomly.

Kravdraa enters The Grisly Halls of Hell. Snooping around he found a loose stone and pried it free. Upon doing so, however, a poison viper jumped out and bit him (DC 5, rolled a 2, 2 damage, HP 08). Behind the stone was a spellbook.

Taking the left hand door from there, Kravdraa found himself in a courtyard with a strange tree. It's sappy red bark (bloodbark) made Kravdraa uneasy, but just as he decided not to go further into the room, the tree reached for him with it's suddenly animate, leafless branches (vampire, unstable)! Kravdraa scurried this way and that but was trapped. (DC 12, rolled a 4, HP now 0).

The tree hugged K to its bark and slowly drank his blood over several days like a delicious milkshake and converted him into a sapling slave.

Dive 2Oops. Maybe I had better add some reaction rolls. Take two.

Tabmow: HP 10, Brute 1, Skulker 1, Erudite 1. Carrying: mace, leather jack, torch.

Revisits the Grisly Halls of Hell! (I didn't re-roll the name.) In the first room is a sneaky outlaw with a bow was hiding. Tabmow failed to see him, but the outlaw turned out to be friendly. (Reaction roll.) He was scared of this place and decided to team up with Tabmow.

They go right, down a short hall and enter a room in which a unicorn is being overshadowed by a spooky illusion! Tabmow suspects it is an illusion and tries to scatter it with his will but fails. The spooky illusion reaches for the outlaw and the outlaw's heart freezes in his chest, instantly killing him. This makes Tabmow mad and a fight ensues in which Tabmow drives off the illusion but takes damage (HP now 8).

Tabmow sets the unicorn free and heads toward the entrance with the beautiful beast following (reaction 8), but by a different door. This was unfortunate as they ran into a nightmarish "hollow" wizard. The wizard was contemplating reality and didn't become immediately aggressive, but he did tell them to "Turn back!" -- and they did, because this guy looked tough. (He was.)

Going back the way they came however, they were blocked by a set of precious undead teeth – floating fangs of pure gold – chattering madly at them as they danced around the room just out of reach! Tabmow and the unicorn charged the choppers and made short work of them to escape.

FindingsTunnel Goons is quick and fun, but very swingy when it comes to combat. Probably needs more hit points or something. It's very easy to die in 2 failed rolls. I guess, when you think about it, your character is a DC 7, because when you roll 2d6 you would do/take damage 50% of the time against another DC 7, right? You'd be evenly matched. So rating "easy" as an 8 might be a stretch. That's probably average difficulty because you will usually have at least a +1 at your disposal. Easy should be more like 5 or 6.  To Nate's credit, it's hard to set difficulty standards because you don't know how liberal people will be with adding +s from their inventory. If the average bonus is something like +3, then his DCs would be spot on.

Dungeon Builder is a cool start to something better, but a bit rough in its current form. I felt like the columns of text were missing some sort of underlying structure (like adjective, threat-noun, twist) that would have made the results a bit more meaningful and easier to interpret.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Legend of Terminatur the Forest Gnome

Zenopus Archives - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 00:21
An amazing, simultaneously heartwarming & heartbreaking story I was sent on Twitter today. This is why you should play RPGs with your relatives. I recently came across a few notes from the single time my son (age 6 at the time) ran a D&D game for me and my late mother, and wish we'd played that way again.



Antoine H. on TwitterMy grandmother passed away. Her funerals were today, but here I'd like to talk about the most important thing I couldn't spend too much time on in her eulogy: her love for Dungeons & Dragons. #DnD
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shroom Goons

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 23:59
TLDR: Shroom Goons is a free and awesome game with cool art. Play tiny shroom people and fight smorks!

"Trama is the loosely woven hyphal tissue in basidiomycetous fungi forming the central substance of the lamellae or other projections of the hymenophore."

Oookay. :) It is also one of the three stats in Shroom Goons, an awesome little hack of Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons. At first I wasn't crazy to see that the concise package of Goons had been expanded to over 2,000 words, but they all count. The page of setting material is outstanding as is the mutations. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Characters & Canges to the SystemIn form, you are a 3-6" tall sentient fungus.

Mechanically, it is standard Goons with renamed stats, Siblings, cool items, and Traits. Siblings are other mushrooms from your original patch with whom you share a psychic bond. When (ok, if) you die, you carry on in the body of a sibling.

The items work the same as in original Goons but the wild inventiveness of them is to be admired. You may be carrying a Teaspoon Shovel, or d6 Beer Can Tabs, or even an Insect Wing Glider or a few pages from a Car Repair Guide.

But what really makes you special is your Trait – which is a kind of mutant power. There are 24 of them and you get one randomly: Devil Fingers, Witch-Butter Body, Mindtrap Spores, Mimicry ... it's your superpower.

Art by Karl Stjernberg?! I'm sold.

The WorldI'm just going to reproduce the first two paragraphs of the setting as written. Because ... it's just so cool and fun.

Shroomfolk hail from the enchanted wetlands of The Fluorescent Neverglades. Surreal, brightly colored swamps and marshlands that by the light of the Nevermoon looks like the world you see in blacklight posters. The Shrooms tend to build settlements on raised glades and in the mossy trees overlooking their spawning patches. Shroom folk are a relatively pastoral lot -- building small farms of cultivated compost and herding bugs, tame rodents, and other fungus-based animals (such as “Shroom Steeds”). Of course the Neverglades have many inhabitants -- froglorps, banthers, rocodiles, and the dreaded Smorks. Smorks are a species of small, bluish pig- faced imps. They are chaotic, often clumsy, and always dreadful despite their jolly demeanors. They sing cheerful murder songs while raiding the Shroom villages. You can always spot their leader by the blood-red caps they adorn.
Fucking Smorks. Amiright?!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How to manipulate narratives when telling stories in role playing games

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 12:33
Hey there. Long time no see ... This blog is not deserted, it's just really slow right now. So many things to do, like, working on getting my first role playing game published or writing short fiction. Most people don't realize, I think, how much time it actually takes to write a complete game from scratch. Anyway, I'm already digressing. What I want to talk about today connects loosely to the last post I had published here, but instead of talking about how to tact combat a bit differently, I'd like to shed some light on how to narrate stories. Or at least how I do it. This applies to all role playing games ...
The Basics
We all have a basic understanding of stories and how timing is the crucial element in everything we tell or listen to or look at. Even with totally random occurrences we tend to interpret our surroundings towards patterns we believe to recognize. We are also able to re-calibrate and update narratives as soon as new information manifests.
There is a beat to it, and even if you are not able to reproduce it, we all know how to recognize it. The reproducing part, however, is what's crucial when participating in the games we play, as all participants are helping to make the narrative manifest. Actually, they will do so if they want or not. I guess that is an important point to make: it's not that we are not contributing, it's how well we are contributing that we have to look at.Timing is everything ... [source]It does matter if you tell bad jokes all the time, if you constantly miss the beat or if you try to contribute, but constantly run in the wrong direction or disrupt the game ... Everything that happens at the table is part of the manifesting narrative. Everything. The lighting, that one player's smelling feet, the divorce story another player keeps telling. It all contributes and part of a DMs job is to navigate and even manipulate the flow of information input towards an engaging experience which then will lead to a memorable narrative (which then, in retrospective, will be called "the story").
That's why groups "cast" players or why people want to keep the chatter to a minimum or why breaks are necessary or why we can only play for so long before the game starts falling apart at the fringes. That's, ultimately, why DM's need tools and systems to enhance their games.
I've said it before and I'll most likely keep saying it: the way I see it, we use the rules of our games as the extension to what we communicate during the game and as described above, it all actually matters, the lingo and terms, the resolve mechanisms, it all helps shaping the game through altering the narrative. The art of writing proper rules, then, needs to include an awareness how telling engaging stories works and how to improve on that. It always boils down to this.
So that's the basics. Everyone contributes all the time, and we should aim to improve and manipulate the flow of information towards a better game.
How to Weave a Narrative
"Weaving" is the key analogy here, I think. Everything is always everywhere on hand, same goes for the moment at the table and it moves and changes constantly. The game gives you a rhythm to apply (good games do), so you have random encounters occurring either in intervals or when probable. Fights have structure to enhance the tension, there are some fail conditions and recognizable patterns to manipulate and extrapolate from on all levels (not only on a meta-level). You have campaign arcs, quest goals, advancement ... The list goes on.
Rules I like to add to the games I'm designing also generate abstract patterns to apply to the manifesting narrative. Tools to manipulate the flow or weave the narrative. I call them "narrative encounters", as in, not a creature or NPC the characters are encountering, but a twist in the story or an unexpected impulse to the narrative.
There are three, in my opinion, crucial benefits for a DM to extend control over the narrative to some form of external system: (1) it offers changes the DM might not have come up with on his own (as we get stuck easily in patterns we like to reproduce), (2) the sum of those impulses helps to conjure the overall impression of, say, genre and (3) it allows foreshadowing from seemingly random decisions happening at the table, since you not necessarily need to now where things are going and instead know what it's going to shape towards.
The Hero's Journey is a prime example of having a pattern like this, but I like to push it all a little further, actually, as I think it's so abstract that, while obviously working, still will reduce a game to just one pattern. It can be applied to the overall structure of a campaign. Easily and to great effect. But I like a bit more random in there. A bit more Tarantino or Pynchon, if you will. As I see it, our games tend to manifest as picaresque, naturally so due to the different sources contributing to the narrative.[source]I have talked about this on length here on the blog, actually (read it all here). What I didn't do, though, was actually talking about what it takes to make it work. It sure is implied, but (as we do so often) I assumed it being obvious. Part of the reason to write this here post is the realization that it needs a little more than "just" the theory and all the pieces.
For now, just remember: if you weave something, you don't only do sowith what you have, you also do it towards a goal. However, there is still more to that ...
Recognizing the Elements of Stories  The first thing we need to be aware of, is THE STAGE. It's the concepts that make the world the game is set in or the understanding and knowledge of the pieces that make a campaign. In a sense, it means narrowing down the expected outcomes of certain patterns (we have magic and no modern weaponry, people believe in fatalism, capitalist theories are banned or hard SF versus Space Opera ... stuff like that).
However, as a stage, it needs to be more concrete than that. It needs details about the area the characters are exploring, to a degree that the players can make informed decisions about their characters and so that the DM is in a position to have lots of moving pieces he can use without harming the Suspense of Disbelief (basically informing the players about possible negative outcomes or ramifications of actions, at least in general enough terms for them to have them believing in those pieces interfering as the narrative responses to their actions).
The Stage, in a sense, is the part of the sandbox around a group they can be aware of and the toys they can interact, with some horizon for their expectations.
THE CHARACTERS are the second big element of each story. The player start with the same process of choice eliminations when deciding what character they are playing. Characters come with certain patterns how they interact with their surroundings. When players make characters, they agree to apply those patterns by interpreting their character's actions towards them (not necessary to follow them, but to play with them in a way that is recognizable by all participants ... the cleric falling from grace, the fighter not willing to fight, stuff like that is within that realm of possibilities).
Each player has a pattern (or several, depending on the complexity of the characters) to contribute to the manifesting narrative as part of an ongoing dialogue, or rather, moderated argument what's going to happen next and why.
THE CHARACTERS are the tools with which the players are able to interact with THE STAGE. Their senses, if you will.
The third major element are the NARRATIVE IMPULSES a DM gives to all those interacting pieces. Some of it comes from the system (or his use of it), some of it comes from the hints he provides the characters with (as in "invitations to act"), some of it comes from moderating all the offerings the players make to interact (when he interprets their ideas to his concepts of how things work on THE STAGE), but the main part of his work is, imho, the twists he is able to weave into the story, the timing.

Be that bambus ... [source] The last crucial aspect is a BELIEVABLE REALM OF POSSIBILITIES, which means that players need to believe that their decisions have real impact. Some of that is carried by the rules (and in that regard, rules benefit from complexity in that they extent the REALM), but a huge part of that is actually down to a DMs flexibility to streamline all the impulses manifesting at any given moment during the game with his own NARRATIVE IMPULSES towards believable outcomes in the perceivable future of the STAGE the narrative is manifesting on. Not only what's happening, but (far more importantly, where it's happening towards.
If all the aforementioned are to a huge degree craft (system mastery, planned management of expectations and moderation) and knowledge about how we actually perceive stories (so we can manipulate them towards seeded expectations), that last one is where the art is. It's like Jazz. It's the ability to recognize and weave randomly emerging patterns into a cohesive and ongoing narrative that actually seems to go somewhere, all that on the fly. There's lots to talk about there.
The Taoist Approach: Doing Without Doing
Once things are set into motion, once players start interacting with their narrative surroundings, a DM is best advised to hold back and react spontaneously as the game dictates and offers opportunities. If he has no agenda beyond what is already established and a loose idea how it might change in the immediate future, he'll have it easier to recognize the patterns as they emerge. It puts him in a position where he can react instead of needing to act all the time to keep the game afloat. That's what "Doing Without Doing" means.
In a sense it means the DM is leaning back and observing what is happening, always only adjusting the game towards the established and letting the rest run its course until an opportunity arises to enhance the game in another direction. A bit like fishing, if you will.

It's all about opportunity ... [source]As established above, part of being able to maintain this state, is having an idea where the pattern is going to. Not in a concrete way, but as an abstract narrative encounter area the game is gearing towards. How about an example: betrayal. To have a betrayal, it needs a situation where someone is getting betrayed. The Narrative Generator linked to above will also deliver genre-appropriate agents for the betrayal or vague reasons for it. Conditions, in a way, that need to be met to make the narrative encounter manifest.
So the DM takes his time, letting the game flow, manipulating it gently towards a situation where the betrayal could be placed most effectively. It also doesn't mean that the characters need to be betrayed, it can mean that they hear a story about someone being betrayed, get an opportunity to intervene with a betrayal or even, that they need to betray someone to reach a goal. Just as the pattern emerges and opportunity dictates.
In my games, I have at least 3 such narrative encounters prepared for each session. How it all manifests is the campaign log. The important bit is to keep this as vague as possible to be able to apply it to what is actually happening at the table. In that regard, it doesn't matter what the characters are doing, betrayal will be part of the narrative in the immediate future (just like encountering goblins would be with a random monster encounter). It's all the characters' decisions and the DMs spontaneous reaction to it, guided by some vaguely predetermined shifts in the narrative that are accepted within the realm of possibility.
The amount of tact and timing you are able to put into this determines to a huge degree the quality of the narrative that is manifesting at the table and the stories being told about it afterwards. 
The Limits of Control
As outlined above, I firmly believe that we don't need a grand narrative. Not in a sense that a DM needs to know he concrete outlines of a campaign (it is a matter of debate if something like this is even possible without a great deal of manipulation towards what the players want ...). There are limits to the control a DM can (or should) have over the manifesting narrative.

The course is the campaign, the trainer is the DM. the players ... [source]DMs define a realm of possibility, players decide how they interact within that, DM reacts to that. Being too specific in that regard will result in a (too) simple win/fail mechanic and the mindset coming along with that. It is bound to be disappointing.

Accepting those limits can open up the game for the DM in a way that has him in a spot where he can play as well. Let's go with the betrayal above and say the DM has a specific NPC in mind that will betray the characters, but they never interact with that NPC again for some reason or another. The DM is now in a situation where he created something he's not able to use unless he forces it upon the characters for some reason.

An easy out here would be to have someone tell the characters a story about that character betraying someone else, which might at least have the characters thinking they dodged a bullet there. However, that's not the point. It rather should illustrate how dependent a DM is on the course of action the players decide on and how prepared he is to deal with it. Or better: where his focus lay in preparation.

The limits of control for a DM are with the specific outcomes of the narrative impulses over multiple instances. If you think something along the lines of:
 "A needs to happen, so B can happen and I can hit them with C, gearing the game towards G ..."you are two steps ahead too far, because what will always happen is more along the lines of:
"X will happen and you have A to gear it towards. which will result in XAY and you having a B to navigate towards, which will have, of course, the result of XAYB and you having C already in sight, so ..."ABC and so on is what you have control over. They are impulses, which is what has us coming full circle to the point I made in the beginning, as those impulses will have an impact on the narrative. They inform genre and if that realm of possibilities is chosen well, the sum of the possible results will give you your Grand and Epic Narrative! The play reports I'm writing here can be examples of that, I think. If nothing else, the stories described there are completely a result of what I described above (you want two good examples, check this one out and this one).

And, done ...

That's it, folks. I'm of the opinion that we need to go places with our designs that accomodate A DMs work where it really counts. It's not all intuitive, although it can be, but most of all, needs to be with most games since that kind of support is missing. It can be explained how we tell better stories in our games. And if we are able to explain it properly, other can learn it as well and get beter at it.

I hope I'm getting closer to offer some valuable insight into how we need to push a little harder when exploring what the games we play actually do and how to make that better. It's one area where we still can innovate, in my opinion.

I'll leave it at that, for now. I get a feeling that I circle the same ideas for some time now (for the simple reason that I need answers for the games I write) and I'm not sure that it still makes for endearing reading anymore. One realisation of late I had is that  might have to change the direction of the blog somewhat away from writing about my ideas of design and more towards something more, idk, easily digestible?

I have an idea for that as well ... We'll see if I can pull it of. I have to chose wisely what I have to write for the rest of the year, as it already shapes up to be a busy couple of months. However, if things go as planned, you'll have a lot more to read in another format in a couple of months. Until then, friends and neighbours.

Soon ...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gamers' Notebook Grid/Hex Version is Live on Kickstarter

Oubliette - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 17:43
I've just launched a new campaign on Kickstarter to fund the final print run in a series of three of our Gamers' Notebooks. This time One side will have 7mm hexes with a outline for a 15 hexes high superhex. The facing page will have a 6mm grid. Both pages will have lines at the bottom of the page for writing notes.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Avremier - a macro view

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 15:18

Avremier was my first attempt at creating a fantasy world. From the start, I was attracted to some of the tropes found in myth, folklore, and fantastic fiction. I was also driven to strike out on my own in new directions and in different ways. There was no desire to duplicate the work of those who came before. I saw only inspiration.
I recall writing and drawing with the intent to create from about age 6. At the time (1977) I had very few references or role models. So, I was creating as best I could from very few sources. I didn’t discover the Moldvay Basic Set for D&D until I was 11 or 12 (1982). From that point-forward, most of my creative focus was on my RPG campaign setting.
As I ran games and campaigns in Avremier through the years (1984-2017), the setting evolved and matured. Having the framework of gaming rules along with the insights and input of others really pushed the work forward. Deciding to publish some of the results a few years ago brought the project full circle.
Avremier is an alien planet placed at the exact center of Creation. It has been the focal point of exploration and incursion from other worlds and planes of existence throughout the span of time. The world itself may have sentience of a sort. The seasons manifest themselves as deity-like beings that wield seemingly absolute power over the cycles of nature and the disposition of the elements. As far as native species go, humans are not included. They came from elsewhere.
The concept of Avremier as an RPG setting is basically a fantasy treatment of Colonial America. Humans came to this world from elsewhere. They landed on the western shore of a continental landmass. They were greeted by the natives that resided at the landing point. They interacted. There was a war. Humanity lost the war and faced extermination. Through divine intervention, the remaining humans were spared and given some land upon which they could try to build.
That was the first few centuries. Humans have learned to thrive in this new world, and to coexist with their neighbors. They don’t exactly rule great empires, but there are those who could see doing so within their lifetimes. Not all lessons learned are necessarily the right ones. Time will tell.
Avremier is what humans call the world. Teloen is what the world was called before humans arrived. It has also been called Eitha Myndarun. On some charts of the planar structure of Creation, this world is simply labeled The Core.
Humans have been granted two regions of the continent. The first is Dhavon – located immediately east of the region where the first colonists landed. That region is a marshy delta known as Parateva. It is home to a race of “marsh gnomes.” They were the ones who first encountered humans during their initial arrival. The second human homeland is found to the south and east of Dhavon. Collapsed about a mile into the ground during a cataclysmic event, it is called Mauvolg.
It is important to understand that few of the native races of this world shared the values and impulses of humankind. In fantasy literature and gaming, there are a number of “classic” races and cultures. Dwarves are stoic miners and smiths with a fondness for gold. Elves are contemplative immortals with an affinity for nature and enchantment. Halflings tend to be depicted as contented homebodies that value comfort, good food and drink, and family. And so on.
Avremier isn’t like that. At least, it wasn’t before the arrival of humans. The natives of Teloen are largely of a Fae and/or Elemental nature. They had never been much inclined to build, forge, or buy. This is a vital aspect of the setting and possibly the most difficult to explain. Towns and cities are a human thing. The concept of ownership is a human thing. Money and commerce are human things. Adventuring and dungeoneering are human things. Deities and religion are human things.
This makes some aspects of the Avremier setting almost unrecognizable in comparison to other worlds. Just a brief look at a continental map will reveal huge swaths of unbroken wilderness. The realms of humankind stand out as rather isolated islands of rooftops and plowed fields among the ocean of green. Still, there are other civilizations.

The elves have Indrunel along the shore to the south of Parateva, and among the hundreds of tiny splinter islands just off of that shore. Even there, the only city you will find is the one built for human visitors and trade. The dwarves have their strongholds upon and within rocky foothills and towering mountains, but a great many have chosen to live among humans in an effort to maintain cordial relations and avert another war. The gnomes inhabit the delta of Parateva and welcome humans for trade and education – but not to dwell or to own. Halflings prefer the humans of Mauvolg over those of Dhavon, but seem keen to learn and to assimilate into their culture.
The rest of the continent tolerates humans with varying levels of success. To the south of Indrunel, the land becomes truly wild. Known as Chongoku, this is the Realm of Faerie – according to human maps. East of Dhavon are the Marchlands – an area of sparsely settled wilderness that exists in an uneasy agreement of occupation between humanity, humanoid tribes, some types of savage Fae, and the occasional group of ogres or smaller giants. Beyond the Marchlands can be found the giant realm of Undomni. Not only is the land inhabited and governed by giants of all types, but it is truly a place created on a gigantic scale. Those of lesser stature find it difficult to even survive the environment and landscape.
The remaining realms and domains of the continent have even more of a magical or mythic flavor. To the east of Mauvolg and south of Undomni, there are the realms of genies, sphinxes, dragons, and gorgons. Some desire only to enslave or devour humanity, while others would rather see what the upstart race has to offer. Some of these races have more in common with humans and have built recognizable civilizations. This will allow for easier interaction and understanding. In theory.
As a world, Avremier is adaptive. Not all races or species are natives. The arrival and presence of humankind has had a ripple effect that continues to spread and exert subtle influences. Of course, this isn’t the first time that humans have come to the Core…
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Don’t Bug Out

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:00
Bridge to Nowhere by Todd James

Hello friends!

You know what you can never have enough of as a Torchbearer GM? Monsters. I’ve been experimenting with some fun new critters inspired by the arthropods all around us, and Luke has been experimenting with a new stat block. I can’t replicate it exactly in WordPress, but this is a close approximation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on both!

Fire Beetle Nature 3Might 2Burrowing, Feeding, ScuttlingInstinct: Scavenge for food.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Fire Gland. Each gland gives off light equivalent to a candle. If skillfully removed (Hunter, Ob 3), the glands (hand/carried 1 or pack 1) will continue to provide illumination for some time (at the beginning of each new adventure phase, roll 1d6; on a result of 1 or 2, the luminescence fades). If the glands are ruptured, the chemical inside will burn flesh, wood and cloth.

Hit Points Kill
7Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Carapace (protects on a roll of 3-6; arrows, spears and bolts ignore this armor).

WeaponConflictADFMBurning MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1s — — — BurrowingFlee/Pursue+1D — — +2D Fire Beetle Description

These red and black beetles are between 2 feet and 3 feet long. Each has three glowing glands—two above their eyes and one near the back of their abdomen. They can burrow and are found deep underground. Their mandibles are coated with a natural chemical that causes burning pain.

Formian Guardian Nature 4Might 4Burrowing, Hunting, Spitting AcidInstinct: Lurk in a burrow and wait for preyType: Beast

Special Rules: Ambush Attacker. Formians like to burrow into the earth and lurk just below the surface, waiting for prey to walk upon their hunting grounds. When they sense the vibrations of footsteps, they strike from below! If characters fail to detect the presence of an Formian, the first one to walk into the ambush must roll Health vs. the Formian’s Nature. Suggested failure result: Twist. The character is buried in the earth by the Formian’s eruption and trapped until rescued or eaten.

Hit Points Flee/
7Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Chitin. Absorbs one point of damage from an opponent’s attack or feint. Once successes are counted and before damage is applied, reduce damage by one. After use, roll d6: on a 1-3, the chitin is damaged and doesn’t provide further benefit. On a 4-6, the chitin is still usable. Maces and warhammers negate chitin’s effect, but the Formian must still check for damage when hit by them.

WeaponConflictADFMCorrosive AcidKill
Drive Off — — +1D — Crushing MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1D — — — Grasping LegsKill
Drive Off — — — +1sTremorsenseFlee
Pursue+1D+1D — — Formian Guardian Description

A massive six-legged arthropod the size of a pony, with a voracious taste for flesh. They are blind but are extremely sensitive to any sort of vibration. Formians burrow into earth and lurk below the surface, waiting for vibrations to indicate prey is above. Formians are capable of spitting a corrosive acid that turns their prey into a viscous jelly ready for consumption.

While Formians are usually solitary predators, some shell-shocked adventurers tell tales of venturing into the Below and discovering nesting caverns swarming with the horrifying insects.

Giant Centipede Nature 4Might 3Creepy-Crawling, Hunting, ScavengingInstinct: Paralyze them and devour later.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Paralyzing Venom. The giant centipede’s paralyzing venom incapacitates victims. Anyone knocked out of a conflict with a giant centipede can only be brought back into a conflict if the Breath of the Burning Lord invocation is used upon the character. The Defend action cannot replenish the disposition of paralyzed attackers who have not been treated by the invocation.

Hit Points Flee/
8Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Rubbery hide. If targeted by a successful or tied Attack or Feint in a fight, roll a d6. On a 4+, the rubbery hide absorbs one point of damage. On a 1-3, the rubbery hide fails to protect you. You can only make this roll once per fight. Spears, bolts and arrows ignore this armor.

WeaponConflictADFMParalyzing VenomFlee/
Drive Off+1D — +1s — Scuttling LegsFlee/
Drive Off — — — +2D Giant Centipede Description

A three- to -six feet long predatory segmented arthropod with many legs. Some grow even bigger. They have a set of savage, pincer-like legs just behind the head that they use to inject their prey with a paralytic venom. They are often found creepy-crawling and feeding among the corpses of recent battles and massacres, especially in dungeons.

Giant Wasp Nature 2Might 2Buzzing, Nesting, StingingInstinct: Sting! Kill! Rawwr!Type: Beast

Special: Painful Sting. A wasp’s sting automatically impedes its victim (-1D to opponent’s next action following a successful Attack or Feint).
Vulnerable to Fire. Wasps suffer an extra point of disposition loss against fire (torches, balefire, etc.).

Hit Points Flee/
5Drive Off

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

WeaponConflictADFMBuzzing WingsFlee/
+1s — — +1D
+1s Buzzing WingsDrive Off
Kill — — — +1D
+1sStingerKill+1D — +1s — Giant Wasp Description

These aggressive insects are as large as a human’s head and armed with a deadly stinger. They live in elaborate hives made of paper-like material (good for starting fires or making incendiaries).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Eberron & the Jackelian Sequence

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:00

The announcement of a 5e Eberron book got me thinking about a similar setting that I like better than Eberron: Stephen Hunt's Jackelian series. I wrote about it back in 2011. Hunt wrote a few more novels in the series after that point, but it's a shame there has never been an rpg.

Anyway, the novels are well work checking out.

On the Roller Coaster

Hack & Slash - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 18:10
Funded in 2 hours? Sitting at 500%? It's crazy!

You know, I'm going to just be talking about this for 10 days. Well, 8 more after today. It's like Pledge Week on AETN, except instead of getting a tote bag, you get this ridiculously awesome book. It's done, backing for a dollar gets you access.

If you'd like to check it out, you can back for a single dollar, and get a PDF copy right from my dropbox. No art, and it's before I've had my editor go through it. But it's only a dollar.

This is the time to back! 15 for the PDF, and 20+cost+shipping for the hard cover. Once it's released those prices are going to go up for a long, long time. Get in now while the getting is good!

Or don't! I'm not the boss of you. But maybe the hundreds of other backers are? Who knows!?!

If you liked OTTER (On Tricks, Traps, and Empty Rooms) or ONPC, then you are going to love ODD.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

From Whence the Magic Comes (Siege Indigo)

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 17:25

Start with the campaign premise of, “What if magic was not meant for humans?” A setting where “demihumans” wield magic naturally (in their own distinct ways) but humans have to settle for unreliable scraps and their own ingenuity. Not to say that humans won’t be ruling great kingdoms in this setting – they’re just not particularly magical when compared to the domains of the dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings.
Last of the “Color-Titled” post-Avremier setting variants.

To be honest, that was the whole of my premise. Sometimes, I want a game where magic is – magical. Where you don’t have magic shops available for the shopping convenience of treasure-laden adventurers. Where magic is rare, and weird, and non-generic. Where the non-human races seem truly non-human – not just fantasy caricatures of humanity. Besides, look at some of the famous protagonists of fantasy fiction.
·         Merlin) But, look – the most famous human wizard of all! Except, that Merlin was half-demon, a heritage from which his supernatural abilities sprang.·         Conan) A magic-hating human barbarian that lived by his sword and his own free will.·         The Fellowship of the Ring) A ranger, a fighter, an elf, a dwarf, four halflings, and a wizard. For the record, Gandalf was not human. Also, just about all the magic items were made by elves, dwarves, or Sauron.·         Elric) Powerful magician, but not a human.·         Kane) Human warrior somewhat reliant upon alien technology and forbidden magic that turned on him more often than not.·         Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) Another mighty-thewed barbarian, and a talented sneak thief who dabbled unsuccessfully in magic before giving it up mostly for the sword and his own wit. Each has a wizardly patron – neither of which is human.
If you want a magic-using character in this setting, you’ll need a background similar to that of a comic book superhero origin story. From whence does your magic originate?
·         Accident) Were you bitten by an enchanted spider and now find yourself with mystical spidery powers and attributes? Were you born on a dying world and sent to this one for your own good? Maybe a falling star impacted near the place you were born at the moment of your birth.·         Blood) Do you have powerful magical forebears? Are you part demon? Fae? Angel? Elemental? Something else? Of course, there’s always alchemy – maybe your blood is no longer entirely blood.·         Bookish) You somehow learned how to read some dead language and later discovered that all magical tomes and scrolls are written in this language. So, through accumulating pages of this stuff, you struggle to master the meagerest of magicks.·         Gumption) If you look hard enough, you might be able to find some old, forgotten, forbidden, hidden, dangerous alien magic or magic-like technology. Those who can’t do – steal.·         Patron) Perhaps you are supported or guided by a supernatural entity that lends you magic from time to time.
In any case – there are options.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: A New Episode of Bronze Age Book Club

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:00
Here's the latest episode, taking on Adventure Comics #462. Oh, and we're now on Google podcasts and Apple podcasts. Like! Subscribe!

Listen to "Episode 3: ADVENTURE COMICS #462" on Spreaker.

A Brief Glimpse of Forever (Violet Grimoire)

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 01:52

A central MacGuffin for the setting, this volume of work is said to contain the secrets of true immortality. A legendary treasure (artifact) that has been the goal of countless adventurers and other seekers. It has been the lifelong pursuit of Andraeun Nemacae, with the reluctant support of his wealthy, influential, and eccentric family.

The reality of the Violet Grimoire is variable – depending on the goals and flavor of the campaign. The Grimoire offers immortality, but of what kind – and, at what cost? Let’s list some possibilities.
  1. Accursed: You are immortal – in one form or other, but at a terrible cost.
  2. Avatar: Your physical form is a vessel for some outer being or divinity. It is possible that your body will be altered to better suit the occupant. It is also possible that your body will not survive the transformation.
  3. Immortality: You do not age. You are impervious to most forms of harm. You have no need to eat, drink, or breathe. You are no longer mortal.
  4. Possession: Your physical form is the shared host for a being that preserves you as best it can for its own good.
  5. Regenerating: Not only have you stopped aging, but you regenerate from harm. You are very difficult to kill. In fact, you would have to be destroyed utterly to keep from being restored.
  6. Reincarnation: Yes, you can die – but you will somehow be reborn in a new form, with the memories and experiences of your previous lives.
  7. Spirit: You are a disembodied spirit. You will not pass on to the afterlife and are able to possess the living with effort, for limited periods of time.
  8. Transference: Your intellect and consciousness are placed inside an alternate physical shell. In theory, this can be continued indefinitely as long as there are viable shells available and the means of transference.
  9. Unaging: You do not age. Period. Barring incident, you could live for a very long time.
  10. Undead: You become some sort of free-willed undead monster, like a vampire or lich.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Zenopus Game at Dragonflight 40

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 01:34

Above are two photos from a "Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus" game that was run at Dragonflight 40 in the Seattle area this past weekend. This is a venerable con, held every year since 1980, the era of Holmes Basic itself. From the event listing for the session:

"50 years ago, the citizens of Portown battered the wizard's tower to rubble. But has an even greater evil arisen? Pirates grow bold, the innocent have vanished, and ghastly screams are heard from the abandoned graveyard near the ruins. An adventure using the original (1977) Dungeons and Dragons basic rules. Pregens provided (or roll your own)."
The shots were taken by Scott M. of the Halls of Tizun Thane blog, who played in the game. Scott reports they used some of my Holmes Ref sheets; I can see the 1-page Character Creation Worksheet. I also see print-outs of Paleologos' Map of Portown.

Scott reports that during the game "[w]e followed a rumor of scratching noises at a ladies' house with her dead husband's loot in the basement" and "[I] sent in my guy Gutboy Barrelhouse (Dwarf) and a Hobbit first. We eventually got to a place where we saw flickering lights (which rats can't make) so we got the rest of the party to follow (hands and knees at first)". After that they "[e]nded up exploring the dungeons most of the session".

That sounds like Portown Rumor #18! It's great to hear about this stuff being used.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Downtime and Demesnes

Hack & Slash - Tue, 08/20/2019 - 18:08
Hey, this is really important.

I made a good thing. You can see the whole thing for a dollar. It's maybe the best work I've done. If you read "On Tricks, Traps, and Empty Rooms" and thought, "this is useful" you should check this out.

On Downtime and Demesnes

You know, OTTER is a real useful tool for designing spaces before players engage in them. This is something better. ODD is about what happens in play that make your players feel like addicts. I think I dun good. Go check it out.

We've got a ton of top flight creators on board for the project stretch goals, and I hope you'll join us for this whirlwind ride. 10 Days! Let's go!!!

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How to Reveal a Dungeon Map on an iPad as Characters Explore

DM David - Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:15

Mapping rates as one of the chores in the original Dungeons & Dragons game that players learned to skip. In early D&D, one player assumed the role of mapper and transcribed a description of walls and distances onto graph paper. Map-keeping dominated play as much as combat. In the original example of play, the dungeon master spends half the game reciting dimensions. Although a few exceptional folks enjoy mapping, count me out.

Still, a map offers players a visual picture of a dungeon and the characters’ place. You are here. With a map, players can see explored and unexplored areas, and sites worth revisiting. In small dungeons, as characters move, I often draw or uncover a ready map. In a dungeon as big as Undermountain in Dungeon of the Mad Mage or the Tomb of Nine Gods in Tomb of Annihilation, mapping the sprawl during the game would tax players’ patience.

So for Undermountain, I devised a way to load the maps into my iPad and reveal the map as players explored. The trick worked. The tablet proved big enough to see on the table and revealing worked faster than drawing. If the game room had a television, I would have connected the screen and had a bigger visual. That requires a Lightning to Digital AV Adapter.

For my process, I used the $4.99 app Procreate, but every drawing app supports the features for this trick. For precise erasing, an Apple Pencil works best, but a fingertip will suffice.

How to reveal a dungeon map on an iPad as characters explore.

To load the dungeon map and conceal it, do these steps:

  1. Take a photo of the map or upload a map image to iCloud Photos.

  2. In Procreate, tap Photo, and then select the map’s image from the collection.

  3. Select a color for fill that will conceal the map by tapping the colored dot in the upper-right corner.

  4. Add a layer by tapping the Layers button, and then the + sign.
    Result: A new layer named “Layer 2” appears in the list.

  1. Tap Layer 2 and select Fill Layer from the list that appears.
    Result: Color fills Layer 2.

To erase the concealment, do these steps:

  1. Tap the eraser twice, and then select Airbrushing and Hard Airbrush.

  2. Move the Opacity slider on the left of the screen to maximum.

  3. Touch the map to erase concealment and reveal parts of the map.

The upper slider on the left adjusts the size of eraser.

If you erase too much, use the undo button on the left.

To annotate the map, create another layer, change the color and pen, and then write.

Related: Mapping—or not-fun things that Dungeons & Dragons players learned to skip

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Corrupted Jungle

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 08/19/2019 - 11:15
By Peter Rudin-Byrgess Self-published Zweihander / ROlemaster

The action starts with the wrecking of the Wight’s Shadow. With the characters washed up on the beach they have many adventures before them and will face many horrors in a strange land of jungle, witchcraft and mutated monsters. … The adventure should cumulate in a confrontation with a Defiler who has returned to her homeland to exact her revenge and destroy her own people who drove her away centuries before.

This fifteen page adventure gives a general overview of three or four locations on an island you’re shipwrecked on. “Abstracted outline with weirdly specific mechanic details” would be how I’d describe it. 

Let’s say I write an adventure. Your ship runs aground on an island, and the crew turn to zombies to attack you. There’s four locations on the island. One is a ruined city full of religious cultists who are friendly but really want you to, voluntarily, sacrifice yourself in the volcano. There’s another set of ruins with some carnivorous apes in it. There’s a third set with an evil necromancer, who is going to wipe out the cultist village. 

That’s it. That’s the adventure content. That’s what you’re getting here, except in 15 pages. There is barely anything more specific than what I write above. Is that an adventure? It’s more of a setup, and certainly could be used like a sandbox, I suppose. But it’s just an outline. Or, even less than outline. 

The rest of the pages are taken up with wall of text descriptions of what happens in each area. The necromancers history takes nearly a column. There’s a bunch of trivia for the carnivorous apes. There’s a detailed description of how the cult leads (willing) sacrifices up to the volcano to sacrifice them … and the skill checks needed to escape. It’s all one great big giant block of text. There MIGHT be paragraph breaks, but everything is left justified so you can’t tell where a paragraph starts, just where the last one ends, I guess? It’s just a continual list of what is, essentially, if/then statements. If the party defeats x then Y. if the apes spot the characters then Z. If you defeat D then J. All back to back in that weird left-justified format.

There no main map, just a text description. You see some paths going in to the jungle, some pyramids and ziggurats over the trees. From this the DM is left to figure out which one is the “Jungle Settlement”, the “Pyramid Settlement” and the “Ziggurat”.  I find this lack of even the most basic cross-referencing maddenning. If you say that there are jungle paths and then the next section is Jungle Settlement, how am I to figure out that A leads to B? Call it Jungle Paths or something else obvious. Or, better fucking yet, use a fucking kay & fucking map! That’s what they exist the fuck to do! 

I can’t fucking stand it when I have to fight the text. When people leave shit out like a map and key. When they seem to be purposefully obtuse. The fucking left-justified wall of text shit. There is no way in hell this was ever given to anyone to look at before publication. … I find it impossible to believe that even the most kind of reviewers would overlook this shit.

This is, inexplicably, $3 on DriveThru. The preview is six pages. The shipwreck is on page four while the cult settlement is on page six. Both to a fine job of exemplifying the “content” you’ll be getting.–Adventure-Compilation-for-ZweihanderRPG?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisted: The Weird Frontier

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/19/2019 - 11:00
The original version of this post first appeared in 2010. I've revisited it from slightly different angles a couple of times since.

This cover deserves to be the basis of an rpg setting.

Well, maybe not just this cover all on its own, but the crazy idea it and the series (Tomahawk) it's a part of suggests (at least to me)--namely, combining the James Fenimore Cooper-style frontier tale with fantasy. Transplanting the whole civilization-against-the-wilderness thing to a colonial pseudo-America.

It’s almost completely unmined territory. It’s only been sort of attempted once, as far as I know--Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series does early nineteenth century fantasy in an alternate North America. Sure, one could point to novels (and even an rpg or two) with a kind of “Illuminati/Masonic magic behind the revolution” or a “Ben Franklin cavorts with the Hellfire Club” sort of deal, but all of that pseudo-historical “hidden magic” speculation fails to deliver a moment of rpg inspiration Zen like:

Wilderness adventures wouldn’t be the only way to go. Surely things like Mystery Hill, and the rampant speculation such sites inspired (even at the time) ought to suggest plenty of ancient American civilization to provide honest to goodness dungeons. There might not be demi-humans (though there could be), but all the other standard D&D ingredients are easy to find.

Garage Sale

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/18/2019 - 14:00

My local gaming store (Firefly Toys & Games) had a "Gamer Garage Sale" where they sold old games that folks had brought in. Not a lot of rpg stuff, but some. In picked up the box set, Gary Gygax's Hall of Many Panes for five bucks, the Exalted boardgame War for the Throne, and most randomly this miniature, paper Old West town, and assorted Western miniatures. They're all different scales (H/0, 00, 1:72), but hey, that's an impulse buy for you.

Read for that next Boot Hill game, I guess.


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