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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 treesNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274610/Rex-Draconis-RPG-Rising-Tides-5E

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 Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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."
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(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 …


https://www.dmsguild.com/product/259304/The-Sunken-Village-of-Little-Corth?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[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).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Classic D&D, Weapons.

Bat in the Attic - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 16:03
My friend Chris over on Clash of Spear on Shield talks about Sling damage versus Large creature. Particularly how sling damage increases versus large damage and how he finds issues with that idea.

Which leads to a wider question of the consequences of the different options for modelling weapons, injury, and armor class in various editions of classic DnD.

Recap
In Chainmail man to man combat the odds of an opponent be killed was found on a chart cross indexing weapon versus a specific type of armor. You roll that number or higher on 2d6 and the target was killed.

This element was not in the original release of the 3 LBB (Little Brown Books) but worked it way in with the release of Greyhawk. There it was presented as a weapon versus AC chart. Using the chart would result in a modifier (or not) to your to-hit roll if you were using that weapon versus that armor.

The chart is derived from the man to man chart in Chainmail. Basically that was a 8 or better to hit was a +0 modifer and the rest were calculated from there. Although Gygax tweaked the number as it doesn't quite line up with the man-to-man chart.

Greyhawk also saw the introduction of variable weapon damage where each weapon used a different dice and/or modifier. Along with a different set of damage for large creatures.

Finally in ADnD we see weapon length, weapon space requirement, and weapon speed factors. Weapon length explicitly defined how far an opponent can be attacked, and weapon space defines how small of a space a weapon can be used effectively. Weapon Speed factors only came into play if initiative was tied and could result in multiple attack for the wielder of the weapon.

The State of the Mechanics
Not all of these mechanics found their way into people's campaigns. Either back then or today. Of these varying weapon damage is the one that is most commonly used. A different set of damage versus large creatures is not found as often. Weapon Length is sometimes a factor especially if the weapon is clearly a polearm meant to be used in the 2nd rank or further back. Weapon space requirements is also run on an ad-hoc basis.

Weapon versus AC may be a little less popular than Weapon Speed Factor but not by much. Both are are generally not used. Weapon vs AC involves yet another chart lookup, and Weapon Speed Factor was part of a initiative system so poorly understood that there are two separate interpretations and  multiple page documents to attempt to explain them.

My Take
So when it comes to my Majestic Fantasy Rules, my reasoning was a follows. The core of combat is the to hit roll versus Armor Class. It bundles actual contact with overcoming the armor into a single roll and an essential part of how classic editions work.

I think varying weapon damage is the way to go. Injury is caused by force. Force is determined by mass time acceleration. Different weapons have different masses and are designed differently to channel that mass into force. So varying the damage dice for different weapon is a good way to model this without getting overly complex.

Because damage is a result of force, which equal mass time acceleration, it doesn't make sense to me to vary damage for large creature. Instead a more straight forward method to give them more hit point or hit dice to represent their increased mass. Luckily classic DnD is consistent with this with the various giant versions of creatures so I don't have to do any work in this regard.

As for weapon speed I prefer individual initiative where everybody rolls 1d6 plus bonuses. High roll has the option of acting first. The classic weapon speed mechanic has little relevance for me as it tied tightly to the ADnD initiative system.

While I think that Weapons versus AC is one chart too many, I think the concept is sound. Different weapons are designed differently and some are more effective than other against certain types of armor. Despite the abstract nature of classic edition combat, it at level that I think a light touch would be add something to combat.

 I opted to handle this by noting any special bonuses in the description of the weapon. For example maces gets +1 to hit versus opponents wearing chainmail or gelatinous creatures like ochre jellies or black puddings.

This method allowed to add other interesting attributes to weapons with a similar light touch. For example an axe can be used to pin a weapon if the opponent fails their saving throw. Something I learned from reading how axe were used throughout history. Typically this is followed up by a blow from the shield or a takedown after grappling with the opponent.

You can read my take with the either of the following two free downloads.

The Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules
The Majestic Fantasy Equipment Rules
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Save or Die! Podcast #154

Zenopus Archives - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 13:43


I recently had the pleasure of returning as a guest on the podcast Save or Die!, this time with DMs Carl, Courtney and Chrispy, and it is now available for listening:
Save or Die! Adventure 154 - Holmes Basic
"The three hosts are together again in the latest Save Or Die! where we talk Holmes Basic with our guest the Arch Zenopus himself Zach of the Zenopus Archives. A SOD favorite gets reexplored as we take a deep dive into what makes Holmes Basic such an endearing part of D&D history."Also, don't miss the Actual Play of the dungeon run by Carl, the first part of which is at the end of the episode (I'm not part of this).

Links for Further Reading on Topics Discussed on the Show:

The Warlock D&D Rules

Holmes Manuscript Part 3: "Elves Muse Decide"

Holmes Manuscript Part 16, covering attacks per round in combat

Holmes Manuscript Part 10, section on Magic Missile

Holmes Manuscript Part 17, section on The Parry

Article on origins of the Ochre Jelly and Blob

Summary of Tolkien References in the Blue Book

Holmes Manuscript Part 19: "If One Wanted to Use a Red Dragon..."

Holmes Manuscript Part 46: "Zenopus Built a Tower": intro to the Sample Dungeon

Zenopus Dungeon Factions, including the Thaumaturgist

Article in a New Cthulhu Zine, Bayt Al Azif issue #1

The Tower of Zenopus in Ghosts of Saltmarsh


Earlier Save or Die episodes that may be of interest:

Side Adventure 20: NTRPGCon Wrap Up 6/14/19 --- at 17:30 Carl talks about how I guested as his version of Zenopus in his Sat night Discos & Dragons game

Side Adventure 16: Favorite Boxed Set 1/7/19 --- at 8:50 Carl talks about Holmes Basic and mentions this site

Side Adventure 14: House Rules! with guest Chris Holmes 10/6/18

Episode 124: Save vs. Zenopus 7/17/16 --- my previous occasion as guest

Adventure 136: Michael Thomas on Journeymanne Rules 5/16/17

Side Adventure 12: J. Eric Holmes Seminar NTRPGCon 8/14/16 --- Audio recording of a  panel with Chris Holmes, Allan Grohe & myself 

Episode 122: Save vs. Chris Holmes 5/11/16

Episode 117: Save vs. Blueholme 11/16/15 --- guest Michael Thomas

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Juggers coming! Juggers coming!

Two Hour Wargames - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:51
Just got Qwik back from the editor. Look for some final Bat Reps and the game to be released sometime next week. And then there's After the Horsemen End Times, but that's another story.  
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Spreading Word

Hack & Slash - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 14:39
Megadungeon #4 is coming, in about a week.

But there's something that needs to be done first.

The exciting part is discovering new worlds and spaces. How do I do that? Well, last time I sold some advertisements for things. And that was nice, and it got the word out about some great things to people who might not have ever considered them before.

But what I really want is the interesting feeling of looking through the ads in the back of old Dragon magazines.The pages with all the weird cool stuff.

So, look. I'm "Selling" advertising space. It's 20$ for a half page, 40$ for a full A5 page.
Except, if you don't have the money, and you have a project, you should go ahead and send me an ad.

It's more important to get the word out about a cool thing then it is to restrict access to letting people know about cool stuff.

It doesn't even have to be visual—if you have a small blurb about a product or your company, one that hundreds of buyers who are getting a 5e/basic megadungeon would be interested in do not let this opportunity go away.

Advertisements, questions and comments as well as advertisement payments (on paypal) can be sent to campbell at oook dot cz. The "deadline" for getting me your stuff or reserving a slot is Friday—let me know by then. But you'll actually have a bit longer to get it together.

Hack & Slash FollowGoogle +NewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Highfell

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 11:17
By Greg Gillespie Self-published Labyrinth Lord Levels 1-

Local villagers call for aid! An eerie green light appeared atop the Dwimmerhorn Mountain. The light came from HighFell – the ruins of an ancient wizard school. The infernal blaze grew until a great explosion rocked the mountain. Like a massive floating island, HighFell pulled away from the mountaintop and now slowly drfits across The Great Salt Reach. What happened to HighFell? Why does it float errily across the landscape? Are you brave (or foolish) enough to explore the ruins of HighFell: The drifting Dungeon?

This 248 page “lost valley” adventure location details twenty wizard towers, ten dungeons, and a small overland region in about 120 pages. Lots of interactivity and a mix of every element that D&D contains are surrounded by text that is just a step beyond minimalism. It’s good.

There’s this Land of Wizards on this mountaintop. A bunch of wizard towers, buildings, etc. The wizards generally move on/out and the one day the wizardland rips off the top of the mountain and starts floating through the sky over a little region. When it reaches a certain boundary it teleports back to the far side of the region and drifts over it again. That was awhile ago, now the top of the mountain still floats across the sky, but the plateau is mostly ruins … except for all those wizard towers sticking up …

Got it? Big regional map. Over it a small “lost valley” floats. Your party gets it ass to mars and loots all of the wizard school remains they can. Most of the wizard towers are level 1-3, with some 3-5 and 5-7 thrown in. They tend to have about twenty or so rooms on several basic levels above ground. About half the wizard towers have dungeons under them with about sixty or so rooms. And then the plateau has wandering monsters in its 300’ wide hex-full-of-rando-ruins-in-between-the-wizard-towers. And sometimes instead of teleports to the “upwind” side of the regional map, when it reaches the “downwind” side it will instead teleport in to an elemental plane or a demi-plane for a day or so, mixing up the rando encounters with some of THOSE inhabitants. 

Interactivity is high. These being wizard towers, etc there is a lot of shit to fuck with. Force fields, constructs, levels, and buttons. A corpse on the ground, wiggling a bit? Wonder what’s going on there? And I fucking LOVE IT when the party is presented with things to wonder about, even something as simple as a wiggling corpse on the ground. Things to do beyond hacking! Some light factions with some agendas, especially as higher-level play is reached. Challenges here go up to level 9 or so, I’d guess? 

The overland map is full of landmarks, things to see in the distance to draw your eye towards travel there. There’s a little illustration book with an illustration of each wizards tower WHICH I FUCKING LOVE! Greg usually has some new mechanic/feature for his dungeons. In this one its a bunch of Wizard Hats and and a system for looting books and spell components, with an extensive table of book titles provided to add detail. He’s got a little section covering all of the various ways folks can get up to the floating plateau, from potions, to spells, to mounts, to teleport, etc. This anticipates a need of the DM and takes care of it … providing them the information they need during play. Exactly what a designer should be doing. 

Who’s a jerkfaced jerk? That’s right! Me! And now let the bloodletting and wailing begin!

The hooks and rumors section are mostly perfunctory to get the party TO the region to see the floating place. It doesn’t feel integrated at all, and while a homebase town is provided it, again, doesn’t feel integrated in to the adventure. Sure, there are some ties between the town and plateau, but other data, that the party is likely to want to search for an find answers to, is not really present. The main content is the plateau and the towers/dungeons. 

Cross-references are few and far between and there’s not really a way for the party to NOT get in to trouble with the higher-level towers early on. The lower level ones are generally visible and near the edge, but you could walk in to something dangerous. Which is ok, but putting the level ranges on the Wizard reference sheet would have helped the DM guide the players a bit by dropping hints rather than hiding the level ranges in the main body of text. I just penciled mine in on the map, which does what I need it to do.

Rooms descriptions are a hair above minimal. “The hallway is empty with the exception of some

rubble debris and leaves blown in from outside.” Ok, blowing leaves. I can work with that a little. Another room says “Two partially-destroyed beds and a wooden box sit against the eastern wall. There is nothing of value.” The rooms are easy to scan and run because of this, but also come across as more than slightly generic. Giving each room a title like “Destroyed Bedroom” or “Once opulent bedroom” or something may have helped with this. Further, I noted a lot of “this room was”, “this room has” and so on in the adventure text. It’s like there’s no context assumed. Yeah, it’s a room. This just pads out the text and I think I recognize, in my own writing a weakness in this sort of description. A kind of passivity in the text.

It makes repeated but infrequent references to both Barrowmaze and Arachia for certain monsters and/or rules, so be aware of that. It’s not really anything important that can’t be handwaved though.

Random tables. Weird ass sky-lost-valley adventuring site. Hexes. Towers. Dungeons. Interactivity. Terseness. Some social. Rival parties. Elemental planes. A homebase. New magic items (to go with the boatload of generic book ones) and new monsters. This adventure takes just about every element D&D has that makes it good and exercises it a bit. Better bring a lot of food, torches and hench with you when you make it up top to the plateau … you probably gonna be there a bit and need to manage your resources …

If I were running this I’d make some generous printouts. One for the new monsters. One for the wanderers and demi-plane stuff. Print out the “plateau wind drift” paragraph and attach it to my chart. I don’t see a lot of need to make notes or highlight text, but rather print out stuff already there for “situational” references. I’ll happily add this to my dungeonland campaign, and pay the cash for the PDF. My biggest complaint is that I’d prefer just two-three more words per description, for some evocativeness. This is a great example of how the D&D elements work together to create emergent play in a non-linear fashion. 

This is $35 at DriveThru. That’s for the PDF. There’s no preview and Greg explains why in the DriveThru description. But, still, a link to another preview in the DriveThru description would have been nice. $35 is a bit much for a PDF blind buy. 


https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/277804/HighFell-The-Drifting-Dungeon?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[BLOG] Noise or Signal? Further Thoughts on Creativity and Randomness

Beyond Fomalhaut - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 20:51
Art by Virginia Frances Sterrett
Creativity aid, not creativity replacement? We have been there before, and it is a slogan uniquely suited to describe a family of products designed to help GMs develop their own adventures. Random generators have been used to jog our imagination and come up with interesting new combinations ever since Ready Ref Sheets and the Dungeon Master’s Guide appendices; while random tables fell out of fashion between the mid-80s and the early 2000s, they have experienced a revival and they are going as strong as ever. Procedural generation is heavily featured outside tabletop RPGs, permeating the worlds of computer games from Elite to Minecraft(not to mention the deep, dark well of roguelikes).
Randomness, of course, produces no innate meaning, and leaves us to project our own onto it. A dungeon room with a “fire throne”, an “ogre taskmaster” and a “magic warhammer” is a hodgepodge of disparate elements; it takes human imagination to connect the dots and turn the random gibberish into something meaningful. (Perhaps the fire throne is a torture implement, the ogre is a jailer, and he has stolen an imprisoned dwarf’s weapon? Or we are in the hall of the fire giant king, the ogre is his underling, and he is guarding the king’s symbol of power?) Just like modules are a framework to run an actual adventure, random tables serve as the framework for the GM’s imagination. And just like modules, the eventual results should bear the personal mark of the GM, and, ultimately, the whole game group. This is how we co-create, and this is how the whole can be more than the sum of disparate parts.
If it is all so subjective and variable, can you actually review a collection of random tables? Can you actuallytell a good table from a bad one? I have used a lot of random tables over the years, and have found that some have proven consistently useful, while others are barely ever touched. There are qualities which make certain tables more suitable to provoke the imagination. It has to do with the entries’ imaginative power – their capability to evoke images which can be spun into fantasy adventures.
To work their magic, we have to trust the tables enough to follow them somewhere. But they must take us someplace special – imaginary places of wonder and menace. A table that does not push us out of our current frame of mind is not a good creativity aid, because we are already there. D&D has a common language – of oak doors, dark corridors, pit traps, wizards and goblins and maybe beholders – which is intimately familiar even to people who do not play D&D. They are “tropes” (a horrid word embodied in that most horrid product of internerd autism, TVTropes). Good tables take us beyond the basics – it is still the same language, but a richer, deeper, more varied layer of it.
Art by Edward Coley Burne-JonesSome of the imaginative power of random tables lies in the strength of individual idea kernels, but just as much hinges on the combination and juxtaposition of elements which fit together in ways which are not altogether comfortable. Creative tension – the shock of unexpected combinations and the images they create – is what takes the mind beyond the limits of routine thought patterns. Yet there is a limit to oddity, where it ceases to be meaningful. Square birds in purple sauce? These elements don’t fit into a coherent hole. There has to be a “bridging” moment where the pieces shift together, and create something new. “Serpents” and “gates” are both powerful images in their own right, laden with symbolic significance – but a serpent-gate? That is surely something more. A “serpent gate mirror”? Now we are getting there. However, we are also getting more specific, which may limit our options, and reduce us to obvious paths where potent images are diluted back to cliché.  Results open to interpretation are better than static and immutable ones. This lies at the heart of the “oracular” power of tables – they tell the truth, but the truth they tell is different from perspective to perspective. This is a tricky balance to achieve – specific enough to be powerful, general enough to fit many different situations – and just vague enough. Dreams are the classic go-to example (and indeed, the Surrealists had already discovered this, including the use of random generation to combine dream-images). The best tables can be reused again and again, because their results have a universal character. This does not mean generic. The “Ruins & Relics” table from Ready Ref Sheets, the random wilderness encounter charts in the Dungeon Masters Guide, or the very first “Locations (Overview)” table in the Tome of Adventure Design all have a strong personality them that influences their results. Indeed, “Ruins & Relics” is as core to the identity of the Wilderlands as the DMG charts to “the AD&D campaign”, and the ToAD table to Mythmere’s vision of “weird fantasy” as the key to the rediscovery of old-school gaming. These tables are foundational.
And finally, there is randomness. A totally random generator is just the noise of a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters. It may produce something good – but it won’t. A random generator whose results can be predicted, or which does not produce novelty, is superfluous: everyone possesses the ideas it produces by default. And there is a third, subtle distinction: while a kaleidoscope always produces something different, it always produces the same thing – a kaleidoscopic image. It is a powerful tool, but limited.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

New Print Company, New Lower Prices ?!

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 19:05


Yep, just closed a deal to use a new print company that will lower my cost, so passing the savings on to you guys. Includes PDF pricing as well.

Check it out
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

D&D 5e Essential Kit.

Bat in the Attic - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 14:35

What it is?
A boxed set available only at Target for starting out with DnD 5th edition. Includes rules, aides, and an adventure.

The Details
The rules are far more complete than the DnD Starter Kit. They describe five character classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard up to 6th level. An addition are rules for sidekicks which clearly not only play the role of traditional hireling but also as additional adventuring companions for smaller groups. The rules go into how to level sidekicks. There are three categories of sidekicks; Experts, Spellcasters, and Warriors.

The aides include a doubled sided poster maps of the Sword Coast around Neverwinter on one side and the village of Phandelver on the other. A set of cards that are mostly magic items but also include initiative tracking, condition tracking, sidekicks, and quests. There is a referee screen, and six character sheets.

The adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, takes place in and around Phandelver much like the Lost Mine adventure in the starter kit. In general it is a set one session quests combined with tables to determine where the adventure's antagonist, Cryovain, a young white dragon, is at when the party travels.

The quest structure comes off a bit like a video game however it also a structured sandbox. It start off with two quests available on the "job" board in Phandelver and then goes from there. The quest, the town descriptions, and the random tables governing the dragon all point the party to a confrontation with the Cyrovain and the conclusion of the overall adventure.

Honestly for something that trying to get a novice going, this adventure is well down for a potential sandbox adventure. If the referee doesn't get it right away the quest structure will keep things going in a way that fun and feels like progress is being made. For referees that want to branch out there is enough in adventure and the boxed set to do so.

I will say that most of the adventure location are fairly fleshed out. Many are  complete small dungeons or adventures.

Yeah but I am not a novice
While a bit pricey as an expansion, this in conjunction with the Lost Mines adventure found in the Starter set makes for a very nice campaign. With two primary antagonist and a wealth of locations to explore nobody is going to feel railroaded or hemmed with the combination.

And the digital
DnD Beyond is the official digital platform for D&D fifth edition. There is a lot not to like about the business model as it could "go away" at any time because all their content is hosted on their server. Thus when they go away, the content will go away.

But the app and website make looking up stuff convenient on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Very convenient as I been finding out.  Enough so that there may some merit of doing something similar with the various retro-clones of the OSR.

The DnD Essential Kit comes with two codes. The first allows you to buy the 5e PHB on DnD Beyond at half price, the second gives you the Dragon of Icespire Peak for free.

In playing around with this, I learned that you can add the DnD 5e basic rules to your app or account for free. With the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure you get a substantial peak of how the functionality of DnD Beyond works.

Like looking up specific spells, abilities, or classes, I can quickly zero in on a location within the adventure. With the website I can also pull up images of not only the keyed map but also a player version that I can save and use with Roll20, Fantasy Ground, or print out for the table.

For example the map for a mine adventure

DM Map                                             Player Map
Overall I was pleased at the functionality and convenience but it definitely optional. My recommendation is to try the Basic Rules and above adventure if you get the Esstentials Kit and see if it is for you. I opted to get the PHB for half off as I know I would use it. I just got a smartphone and it proving far handier than I thought it would be. This just adds to the functionality of the device.

Wrapping it up.
I consider the Lost Mine of Phandelver one of the best DnD adventures ever made.  The Dragon of Icespire Peak isn't quite up to the level of the Lost Mine however it function very well as an expansion to that adventure.

The Essential Kits does way better on the rules presenting levels 1 to 6 of five different classes in conjunction with the various packaged aides. I would recommend this for anybody starting up with tabletop roleplaying.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, but That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition

DM David - Tue, 07/16/2019 - 11:15

What would you think of Dungeons & Dragons feats that gave these benefits?

  • You gain immunity to all melee attacks.

  • Before making a melee attack, you can teleport to within melee attack range of your target, attack, and then teleport back to your original position.

Overpowered? Absolutely. I’m not competing for worst D&D designer. My broken feat designs make a provocative way to show the big advantages of attacking from range.

When you attack from a distance, melee attackers can’t hit you. You can fire past obstacles that hamper movement. You can switch targets without having to move. No wonder melee attackers tend to be barbarians and paladins; no sensible person would opt for such inefficiency and risk.

Ranged attacks suffer drawbacks: Targets can gain cover. If foes move next to you, then your attacks suffer disadvantage and you stop being immune to their melee attacks.

Fortunately for ranged attackers, the game’s two most broken feats dismantle all these disadvantages. With Sharpshooter, you ignore cover. With Crossbow Expert, you can make ranged attacks while within 5 feet of enemies without suffering disadvantage. With these feats, melee attacks no longer endanger you because you inflict such massive damage that by the time a foe reaches you, it’s dead.

D&D’s designers seem to think ranged and melee attacks represent two different, but mostly equal styles, when really, ranged attacks offer massive intrinsic advantages. Why else would the game’s design so often reward ranged attackers with extra benefits that surpass anything melee combatants get?

Exhibit A: Ranged rogues can hide and then pop up to attack from hiding, gaining advantage and a sneak attack. Melee rogues almost never get to attack while hidden, but at least backstabbers can sneak attack without advantage when an ally stands next to a target. If that edge only applied to melee rogues, then the game would offer different but comparable boosts to archers and backstabbers. But archers benefit from adjacent allies too. Remember backstabbing? Now it rates as a strategy for players seeking the roleplaying challenge of playing an inferior character.

Exhibit B: The Sharpshooter feat offers more proof that D&D’s design favors ranged attackers. Compare Sharpshooter to its melee counterpart, Great Weapon Master. Both feats let characters exchange -5 to hit for +10 damage. But rangers and fighters—the classes most likely to take Sharpshooter—can also opt for the Archery fighting style, which grants a +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons. In practice, sharpshooters gain 10 damage for a mere -3 attack penalty. Great weapon fighters get no such boost to accuracy.

Also, great weapon masters must stand in harm’s way.

Also, great weapon masters usually must move to attack and to switch targets—so inefficient.

Sharpshooter rates as the strongest feat in the game, but the Crossbow Expert feat multiplies the power. Crossbow Expert nullifies the biggest weakness of ranged attackers—the disadvantage of attacking with an adjacent foe. Plus, by using a hand crossbow, the feat allows an additional attack. Sure, a hand crossbow averages a point less damage than, say, a longbow, but when each hit still deals 13-15 points of fixed damage, the damage die is just gravy.

On the occasional critical hit, great weapon masters get an extra attack. Crossbow experts get one every damn turn.

My exhibit C further proves the D&D designers’ brazen favoritism toward ranged attackers. Fifth edition drops the spell Protection from Normal Missiles, a spell that dates to the original little, brown books. The prosecution rests.

What makes sharpshooters the worst thing in D&D?

Before I explain, understand that by labeling sharpshooters as the worst, I’m aiming a backhanded compliment at the strength of the edition. In any other edition of D&D, a feat as overpowered as Sharpshooter would not even rate on a list of the system’s flaws. Old editions suffered cracks at the foundation. Fifth edition suffers from an absurd feat.

When compared to other character types focused on dealing damage, sharpshooters overshadow other characters. DM Thomas Christy has hosted as many online D&D games for strangers as anyone. He says, “I have actually had players complain in game and out about how it seemed like they did not need to be there.” In a Todd Talks episode, Jen Kretchmer tells about asking a player to rebuild a crossbow expert. “The character was a nightmare of doing way more damage off the top, and no one else could get a hit in.” Pity the poor players who thought playing a hulking barbarian swinging a 2-handed great sword seemed like a recipe for maximum damage. Every turn, they’ll be embarrassed by a pip-squeak who reaps monsters with a toy crossbow.

I don’t aim to slam archers. They make an evocative archetype. And if you want to play an archer, play a sharpshooter. Next week, I’ll explain how to build a good one. I rarely want my players to feel obliged to build weakened characters. Dungeon masters can adapt to make sharpshooters a little less dominant.

By including overpowered feats that erase all the disadvantages of ranged attacks, the D&D design collapses the options for martial characters to two: (1) pick Sharpshooter or (2) pick something plainly weaker. Anything another build can do, a sharpshooter does better. Crossbow Expert enables fighters to gain all the out-sized benefits of Sharpshooter while attacking from melee and sporting enough hit points and armor to serve as a front-line tank.

Sharpshooters deal damage so efficiently that they throw D&D’s encounter math in the trash. Potentially interesting encounters against low-hit-point foes like spellcasters resemble an execution by firing squad. The evil wizard never acts. Unless DMs want every encounter to become a romp, they need to toughen the monsters and adopt tactics that slow ranged attackers. Dungeon masters: Do both.

Toughen the monsters. Before encounters, use your prerogative as a DM to boost the monsters’ hit points. The hit point totals in the creatures’ stat blocks just represents an average. Giving the monsters an increase within the die formula falls within the D&D rules.

Slow ranged attackers. Setting up encounters to slow sharpshooters isn’t about thwarting them. It creates situations more tactically interesting, situations that give other characters more chances to shine.

Start by adding total cover to your encounters, and then play creatures with the good sense to duck between their turns. This hardly counts as high strategy. If you throw a rock at a rat, it runs for cover. Faced with melee and ranged attacks, many foes will stay out of sight and let intruders come into reach. That usually works. By reputation, treasure hunters are bloodthirsty and undisciplined.

Such tactics encourage characters to move to engage. Melee fighters get more to do. They deserve to shine.

Total cover takes just a few columns or stalagmites.

One caution: Newer players can find foes that duck behind total cover frustrating. You may need to dial down the tactic or explain the rules for readying actions.

Start some monsters out of sight—especially the boss.

In the typical D&D battle, all the party’s foes start in plain sight. This makes the strongest monster an easy target for focused fire. Too often the evil mastermind dies before acting, or even before mocking the foolish do-gooders who dare to oppose them. The players never learn of the fiendish plan that will end their pitiful lives. Start that climactic battle with the main foe positioned somewhere the players cannot see. Let the characters spread out to attack the guards and lieutenants, and then have the biggest threat move into view on its turn. In D&D, villains must fight and monologue at the same time.

When some enemies begin out of sight, fights benefit. First, this gives some total cover. Plus, the battle feels more fluid; the situation more uncertain. As characters move into the room, they spot unseen foes. As monsters emerge, the players wonder what other surprises wait.

Battles with movement and cover tend to play to the strengths of melee characters. The monk finally gets to flaunt her speed! That hopeless, sub-optimal backstabber gains places to dash, disengage, and reasons to engage. The paladin can drive foes from hiding. Sure, these sorts of encounters may frustrate and threaten sharpshooters, but that just adds an extra benefit.

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