Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Event-driven D&D Adventures Aren’t About Events; They’re About Villains

DM David - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 14:42

The plot of every vintage James Bond movie resembles a role-playing scenario based on an investigation and events. A hook like the theft of an atomic bomb sets Bond into motion. In an investigation, he chases leads from one situation to the next. The events come when the villains’ agents attempt murder, usually while Bond pilots a gimmicky vehicle or skis downhill.

Lloth and Drow at Gencon

Event-driven adventures aren’t really about events; they’re about villains. Unlike dungeons or the classic situations, I described in an earlier post, event-driven adventures stem from dynamic villains working to achieve some goal that the players feel compelled to foil. “Villain adventures are, by their nature, more dynamic,” the Angry GM writes. “The players aren’t pursuing a goal so the game master isn’t completely reliant on the players to drive all the action in an otherwise static adventure setup. Instead, the villain can take actions and the adventure is constantly changing.”

To prepare and event-driven adventure, plan villains instead of events.

Villains require three elements:

  • a goal
  • a plan to reach their evil ends
  • assets that can help bring their goal

Every villain must have a goal. For bad guys, the usual aims include power, vengeance, and, in Dungeons & Dragons, to harvest souls for ultimate power. Any of these goals make the foundation of a sound villain, but more evocative goals can make more compelling foes. Strahd Von Zarovich aims for power and vengeance, but he also wants to win a woman who would rather die than return his love. She does, more than once. Such depth helps make Strahd a classic.

Every villain needs a plan to gain their desires. In D&D, they make plans to conquer kingdoms, bring worshipers to dark gods, and so on. Those plans shape adventures.

In a typical D&D game, most players will act to oppose signs of evil, especially if thwarting evil would also bring treasure. The game builds on such calls to action. But plots that affect the characters directly make more compelling conflicts. Look to the player characters’ bonds for inspiration. If a wizard in your game seeks arcane knowledge above all else, then a plot that threatens to burn an ancient library would provoke the character.

When some DMs develop evil plans, they imagine a timeline of how the plan advances if the players fail to intervene. Such plots can continue all the way to the moment when Dendar the Night Serpent devours the world. But the game depends on the players meddling, so steps 13 and up rarely show at the table.

A better plan starts loose and develops through play. At first, the players may only see signs of evil.

An offstage villain can develop into a compelling foe. “One of the key components to creating tension is the slow burn,” Courtney Kraft of Geek and Sundry writes. “Don’t show your villain fully right from the start. Perhaps there are mysterious things happening around your heroes. The mystery is fun, so take your time. Give your players small tastes of what’s to come. Leave them warnings. Send minions. Maybe even let them experience a fraction of the villain’s power.”

As a tool for introducing villains to a campaign, I like the concept of fronts. The idea comes from the games Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and Dungeon World by Adam Koebel and Sage LaTorra, but the concept’s best lessons apply to games like D&D.

Fronts abstract villains. “Each is a collection of linked dangers—threats to the characters specifically and to the people, places, and things the characters care about. It also includes one or more impending dooms, the horrible things that will happen without the characters’ intervention.”

Game masters planning fronts imagine grim portents that expose a villain’s progress toward a sinister goal. You reveal these portents to raise tension, or when players need a call to action. I liken fronts to weather fronts, because with both, you spot a coming storm in a distance. The early portents start a slow burn without necessarily calling players to action.

The game rules describe another sense of the term. “‘Fronts’ comes, of course, from ‘fighting on two fronts’ which is just where you want the characters to be—surrounded by threats, danger and adventure.”

In a campaign with multiple potential villains, grim portents help introduce the group. Such warnings suggest villains without much preparation. See what captures the players’ interest, and then develop the foes behind the portents. The players’ response to multiple portents can help shape a campaign’s direction.

Too many fronts advancing too quickly can make players feel overwhelmed and under-powered. Much of the fun of D&D comes from a sense of potency, so second fronts work best on a slow burn. They suggest an active world full of peril and opportunity.

The players’ actions to thwart the villain will eventually force a reaction. Perhaps the enemy slays someone the heroes recruited as an ally or captures some magic artifact the heroes need. Suddenly, the adventure comes alive as the players face a dynamic foe.

Villains need assets that help advance their plans. Most D&D villains start with monsters ready to fight. These assets range from faceless mooks to lieutenants colorful enough to overshadow their boss. Think Odd Job or Darth Vader. In more nuanced scenarios, the villain may bring allies with their own goals. Such friends of convenience can bring depth to an adventure by making adversaries that the heroes can turn to their side, or at least against the villain.

To build an event-driven campaign, dungeon masters need to imagine a villain’s assets, plan, and goal. But you don’t need a final, personified villain. That creation can wait. Waiting to develop a lead villain can even bring some advantages.

When DMs invest time in villains, they start to dream of recurring enemies who appear though the course of a campaign and escape alive.

In D&D, villains don’t recur like they might in a book or movie. The game strips away plot armor. As soon as recurring villains appear onstage, the players will attempt murder. Sometimes DMs can engineer an escape without railroading, but usually villains just survive a round or two.

In D&D, recurring villains work behind the scenes. Players learn of their hand through their reputation, their servants, and the accounts of would-be heroes who fled for their lives. The characters may thwart a plan, but the recurring villain’s goal remains to inspire another, more diabolical ploy. Each scheme needs to escalate the stakes. At level 1, a villain’s first plot might act to corrupt the kindly, village cleric. At 3rd level, the entire village becomes the target. In a campaign, some of the plans may succeed, raising the conflict further.

In an episodic campaign, keeping the lead villain undefined can help set a recurring villain who resonates with the player and even develops a record of beating the heroes.

Whenever players confront a bad guy, think about making the scene an audition for the role of ultimate villain. In most episodes, some agent of villainy will work a plan, fail, attempt escape, and perish. But sometimes, the players suffer a setback, and the villain escapes or even succeeds and complicates the characters’ lives. Consider promoting that enemy to the big bad. Justin Alexander advises, “The real key here is to simply refrain from pre-investing one of these guys as the ‘big villain.’ Basically, don’t get attached to any of your antagonists: Assume that the first time they’re in a position where the PCs might kill them that the PCs will definitely kill them.” If someone survives or prevails, you have a villain the players can hate. That enemy may need more power for a lead role, but the game is D&D. Just back a winner with a dark pact, evil artifact, or battle-ready servants.

By preparing active villains with goals, plans, and assets, you can prepare adventures that follow an arc that resembles a pre-planned plot. But you prepare without assuming what the players will do or how the game will advance.


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic, Cartoon Network Enterprises, and Adult Swim Announce Release of Rick and Morty: The Rickshank Rickdemption Deck-Building Game

Cryptozoic - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 14:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment, Cartoon Network Enterprises, and Adult Swim today announced the November 14 release of Rick and Morty: The Rickshank Rickdemption Deck-Building Game. Based on the popular Season 2 episode of the hit Adult Swim series, this sequel to Rick and Morty: Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind Deck-Building Game lets 2-5 players become versions of Rick, Morty, and other characters as they try to take down the Galactic Federation and Seal Team Ricks. It includes a set of Council cards that let players cast votes to cause various in-game effects.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: No Small Insight

Lord of the Green Dragons - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 12:29
Lake Geneva Original RPG Campaign: No Small Insight: “I love my fellow actors but sometimes I think that their opinions are wrong,” he explained. “True art asks uncomfortable questions a...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shadows of Saltmarsh Amazing Adventures! Rpg Session Report #2

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 11/06/2018 - 01:35
 Down by the docklands of New York of 2100 the PC's have started to ask lots of questions.The PC's have been hearing disturbing rumors of lizard men attacks on the outskirts of the Saltmarsh neighborhood. They also heard about blood sports going on in certain temporary underground ruins. They've decided to check out some of these blood sports but they've almost run afoul of the thieves guild &Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

5150 No Limits Scenario Books - Cool Coolie and Night Terror

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 21:02
Coming latter this week, two new scenario books for 5150: No Limits - Maiden Voyage - the Sci Fi Adventure core rules 
Inside each 5150: No Limits Scenario book you’ll find:·        Stats for the Races found in the Core Rules – Maiden Voyage and any new Races.·        Info about New Hope City and a Map.·        The Buildings Table from the Core Rules.·        Info on your Spaceship from the Core Rules.·        Info on the Rings in the 5150 Universe and the Whose Planet is it Anyways Table. If you want, you can switch out the planets by using the new Races. ·        The sixteen basic, use them as you need them, Encounters, and sixteen Linked Encounters specific to the book.
More info to come!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Medieval Demographics Made Easy new host

Bat in the Attic - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 13:41
In the mid 1990, S John Ross created an article about how to calculate the demographics of a medieval realms and the numbers and types of shops in a town.

The math behind the article was straight forward and didn't involve a lot of  table lookup. Although it didn't stop people like this one on the Donjon site, or this one on the d20SRD site from making automated tools using S. John Ross' math.

Medieval Demographics was hosted on S. John Ross' Blue Room for a long time. Recently he made changes to his website resulting in the original links becoming broken. As outlined in this blog post, he decided to run an experiment, to release the file to multiple hosts and let it wander on its own. He asked for volunteers and I was one of the people who stepped up.

So today I am pleased to announce that I am hosting a copy of Medieval Demographics for everybody to download. You can use the sidebar or this link.

To be clear this file is only free to download. It has not been made public domain nor has it been released under an open content license. The details are explained at the bottom of page 6 of the PDF

Fantasy Demographics
Several years ago, I dug into the data and math used by S John Ross and found the original source of the data he used to generate shops for his town portion of his article. From the that I generated my own take that fits better with the fantasy medieval setting used by various editions of DnD. You can download that file from the sidebar or from here. Note is only for the types and quantity in a town.

To see this in action look at my How to make Fantasy Sandbox articles starting at post XVIII

Keep in mind both Medieval Demographics and my own Fantasy Demographics are not meant to definitive treatments of historical circumstances. While neither sits on home plate, so to speak, instead they are meant to get you within the ballpark. Keep in mind the algorithm i.e. the process that S. John Ross uses is highly modifiable to fit your assumptions of medieval or fantasy life. For an example see my Fantasy Demographics article mentioned above.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 12:16

By Tim Callahan
North Wind Adventures
Levels 4-6

Your party have travelled northeast from the great city of Khromarium, through the unforgiving expanse known as the Lug Wasteland. You undoubtedly seek greater riches in the north: ruined tombs secreting ancient artefacts, deep caves filled with long-lost Atlantean technology, or strange villages built atop sacred Hyperborean burial grounds that brim with pre–Green Death treasures. Finally, after having emerged from the treacherous bogs, you set up camp on a craggy outcropping that provides dry land and a modicum of protection from the crawling unknowns. Straightaway your attention is drawn by a nearby light source, a fire not more than a hundred yards away. Through the cacophony of croaking frogs, buzzing insects, and hissing slimy things, a shriek of pain knifes through the air.

This 52 page adventure describes a manor house with 35 rooms that is stuffed full of things to stab. Some decent rumors and magic items are added to encounters that have a certain life and interconnected nature … that the signature North Wind “lets fuck this up by writing a novel instead of an adventure” style is then added to.

I thought this time it would different. A North Wind adventure not by Talanian could be an interesting thing. A different take than the creators, using the same reskinned AD&D setting but brining a different style. How wrong I was. I guess AS&SH self-selects, or Talanians hand as co-developer is too evident.

I’ve got a certain amount of respect for someone true to their vision, even if that vision is WRONG. I see this time and again, and suspect its true for Advanced Adventures as well. It’s good to have a vision but you need to know when you have blinders on and do something about that. North Wind in general, and this adventure also, tend to focus on a novelization sort of description rather than a playable description. And, comic book guy, don’t be a shit; “playable” doesn’t mean boring. I’m fan of archaic words, nonsense words, tearing gramme apart, and so on, all to the end of creating an evocative environment. At first glance this adventure does that. You can certainly find a lot of twenty dollar words and archaic sentence structures. But it’s sin, I believe is in putting those before playability. What’s more important, creating an evocative environment or playability at the table? If we accept “evocative” then we justify 10,000 word room descriptions. We we accept “playability” then we leave ourselves room for both, the evocative description is important, but it must be a slave to playability.

These are the sins of Paizo, and North Wind in general, and in which this adventure seems to fall into. The actual keys are only about twenty pages long, averaging one or two a room. Backstory and timeline are enumerated, and wilderness encounters get a page of text, or at least a column.

The first sentence of room four, of the manor, is “Though far less barren than the area immediately outside the crumbling defensive walls, …” Nite the indirect passive writing style. Perfect for a novel, a love letter to the Appendix N heroes of North Wind, but absolutely shitty for playability. Long descriptions in passive voice, writing in a backwards style, forcing archaic word choices that are dry instead of vivid. We’re left with an adventure full of thralls and apen-men that somehow comes off as boring and dry.

I will say that, in places, it almost seems like two separate authors. The entire wilderness section is a mess, full of these column long novel descriptions of rooms, and this carries over in to certain parts of the manor. But other parts of the manor seem terse by comparison, only four sentences per room. Here’s room 3A “The smell of rodent urine consumes this area. In the southwestern corner, stairs spiral about a newel up to the first floor. The northeastern corner is piled with sand, leaves, shredded rope, tattered cloth, and other debris in a three-foot- tall, five-foot-wide mound, where rest 6 giant rats. The rats exhibit timidity and will retreat deep into the debris at the presence of men, but if the nest is poked or prodded, they will react violently.” That’s not so bad. Needs a little formatting and whitespace to fight some wall of text issue, but ok. Smell hits the party first, a basic description that’s not half bad with tattered and shredded things, and then the monster reactions. Not rock star, but not enough to botch too much about. But that room description, and others like it, stand in stark contrast to the columns of text that seem to consume other rooms, as well as their overuse or archaic structure.

I like the setting, a manor besieged by ape-men, evil folk and creatures inside, and it’s got some non-boring magic items mixed in and an encounter or two that are more than ok, with the vast majority being imaginative enough to handle an AD&D style. I just wish it were playable without making struggling over the text and highlighting it.

The rooms have some interconnectedness, or at least some theme areas, with thralls, apen-men and so on all being around in certain sections … always a great idea. But the initial description of the outside doesn’t dwell on the ape-man sige, even though their are all about outside (on roofs) doing weird things. The party needs to see the shaem on the roof with with bubbling cauldron at the start, not have that part hidden in text deeper inside the adventure. “Let’s see, what do you see? Hang on, let me look through every room description and check and see what you can see from outside …”

It’s also more than a little hack-y. Essentially, everyone is an enemy. The evil ape-men are trying to stop an even greater enemy, but, hey, ape-men. The thralls look friendly, but attack. Shit gets old fast.

Do you just read D&D books instead of playing? Great, buy this.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is worthless, showing you nothing of what you are buying.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Damselfly [ICONS]

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 11/05/2018 - 12:00
Art by Dean Kotz

Prowess: 6
Coordination: 5
Strength: 4
Intellect: 4
Awareness: 5
Willpower: 5

Determination: 1
Stamina: 9

Specialties: Aerial Combat; Investigation

Alien Law Enforcer
Branded as an Enemy of Zurrz-Zann
“Compassion guides my pursuit of justice”

Flight (Wings) 5
Mind Control (Insects only, Burst) 4
Shrinking 7
Stinger Gun: Blast 5, Stunning 5 (Extra: Burst)
Law Enforcer Armor: Damage Resistance  4

Alter Ego: Xazandra Zaantarz alias Cassandra “Cassie” Saunders
Occupation: Former Zurrz-Zannian Law Enforcer, now Social Worker
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None
Group Affiliation: Super-Sentinels
Base of Operations: Lake City
First Appearance: GUTS AND GLORY #67
Height: 5’7” Weight: 122 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: Black

History:Xazandra Zaantarz was born on Zurrz-Zann, a technologically advanced world in a other-dimensional microverse where the dominant lifeforms have both insectoid and mammalian traits. Shortly after Xazandra joined the ranks of the law enforcers, a psychic breach from Earth’s dimension affected the minds of many Zurrz-Zannians, causing them to engage in criminal behavior and civil unrest. The Ruling Council ordered Enforcer Zhaan Katar to go to Earth and end the psychic assault. Xazandra was assigned to assist him. Zhaan expressed irritation at being assigned such an inexperienced partner, but he would later admit he was strongly attracted to her from the start, a feeling that was mutual.
On Earth, the two disguised their alien features and assumed the cover identities of John Carter and Cassandra Saunders in Lake City. There, they successfully tracked down Mut-Ant, whose birth had been the cause of the psychic assault. They were able to infect the Mut-Ant swarm with a chemical that dampened its psychic signal, freeing Zurrz-Zann from its influence, though ultimately Mut-Ant escaped.
Confessing their feelings for each other, Xazandra and Zhaan decided to stay on Earth, so they could be together more easily (given the rigid hierarchy of their home), and build a life in this new world. Having made connections with the Lake City police department in tracking down Mut-Ant, the pair were able to continue crimefighting on a quasi-legally sanctioned basis as Dragonfly and Damselfly, while maintaining their cover identities. They were eventually invited to join the Super-Sentinels.
Over this time period, Zurrz-Zann fell under the sway of a dictatorial regime. The pair were ordered back home, but they disagreed on how to handle the summons; Zhaan felt it was their duty to return, while Xazandra wished to stay on Earth. They were unable to resolve the dispute before a trio of Zurrz-Zannian enforcers arrived to retrieve them.  Zhaan agreed to return with them, but Xazandra fought back. In the ensuing melee, Zhaan and two members of the retrieval team were apparently killed.
Xazandra, now regarded as a traitor to Zurrz-Zann, continues her life on Earth. Recently, she has encountered Hornet, a masked Zurrz-Zannian operative who she believes may be Zhaan--  although how he may have survived, and why he does not seem to remember her, remain unknown.

Gateway to Adventure

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 11/04/2018 - 15:00

A common trope to fantastic fiction, in everything from The Wizard of Oz to The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant have the protagonist transported from our world to another. Some subgenres (like Sword & Planet) work almost exclusively that way.  For some reason, that trope is mostly absent from fantasy gaming, despite media inspired by fantasy rpgs (like the Guardians of Flame series and the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon) including it.

Recently, reading some of L.Sprague de Camp's Viagens Interplanetarias sequence, specifically some Krishna stories, has made me think this avoidance might be unfortunate. The Krishna series is broadly Sword & Planet like Burroughs's John Carter tales, but with a difference. Wikipedia sums it up like this:

The seven novels and four short stories of the Krishna sequence follow various Earthmen and occasional other aliens in their encounters with the pretechnical local culture, in which their pursuit of their own often petty ends tend to have ramifications ranging from minor to history-changing on a society struggling to adapt to the more advanced civilization.

The Terran interlopers on Krishna often go disguised as native Krishnans. This literalizes what is going on in D&D on a meta-level: Everyday Earth folk from a technological society masquerade as members of a Medieval or early modern society for their own petty ends. Why not make it literal in game, too?

The basic setup could go something like this. Say some kids did disappear in steam tunnels into playing an roleplaying game back in the 70s due to a rift to a another world. These rifts may have opened worldwide at the same time Roadside Picnic style, with likewise similar, ineffective worldwide response to try to contain them. The world on the other side of the rift is a mostly a Medieval/early modern one where "magic" appears to function (though magical artifacts do not function, or perhaps not for long, upon returning to Earth). The desire to exploit this world and possible learn the secrets of making "magic" function in our world is intense, so despite official restriction groups or parties are hired to sneak in. A greased palm or two insures a blind eye is turned to this, so long as the adventures outfit themselves with native tech.

This would have a few advantages or interesting aspects. The PCs ignorance of the details of the world would no longer be a bug but a feature, as would schemes or plots with anachronistic elements. The colonialist or exploitive aims of Earth from add complications or opportunity for the PCs.

Why Greyhawk & Mystara Matter For OSR & Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 11/04/2018 - 06:21
Recently I've done a number of blog entries on new Kickstarters especially  The Calidar "On Wings of Darkness" Kickstarter By Bruce Heard. Its got me thinking over the weekend how does Mystara, Greyhawk, & a setting like Calidar fit together?! Greyhawk is one of my all time favorite old school campaign settings not simply because of the finger prints of Gary Gygax but The Flanaess has Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Odds and Ends: Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves and More!

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Sun, 11/04/2018 - 03:13

I am AWOL, but not entirely. In the wake of Google+’s passing and the mass exodus of game bloggers from that platform, several people have contacted me to ask where exactly I hang out now.

The truth is… I’m just not online all that much to begin with these days. Last year’s gym membership culminated into this year’s outdoor adventure kick… which culminated into a general habit of constantly trying things I’ve never done before… which then turned into me becoming unusually active and outgoing. It’s exhausting!

I don’t play games near as much as I used to. On the other hand, I have a game group that is even better than the high-school group I had back in the day. Odd thing to me is how quickly the games became secondary to the fun of just getting together and hanging out. But it’s still game night either way!

I still have time to get a good read in, though. Most recently I got ahold of Fenton Wood’s Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves… which pivots effortlessly between weird pulp horror, fairy stories and tall tales. Here’s my tweet-sized review:

What this book does is it takes all of the subversive, dystopian impulses of science fiction between 1940 and 1980 and it turns it all inside out. This is the kind of fiction we could have had if publishing had not been weaponized and turned toward cultural suicide.

The mysterious author of this fascinating work came out of hiding to respond:

I’ve avoided social media so far, but I had to thank you for the good word. This book came as a surprise to me too! I just wanted to write a pure adventure story with no politics.

Pretty awesome! Definitely check it out.

Meanwhile, Grames Barnaby cites both me an Jon Del Arroz “leading a decent charge to restore Christian stoic ideals in fiction.” Wah. Gotta say, it’s very gratifying to be associated with the Christian faith in even a modest way. Honestly, I never imagined that there could be an actual revival of that sort. The people that are actually bringing this stuff forward and putting it into the marketplace are the real heroes in my book.

One of those guys is definitely Jon Mollison. Dig this from his most recent novel:

Tiberan, uneasy spoke up. His words echoed those of the bandit. “Are you sure about this Primus? These men aren’t… civilized.”

“They don’t speak with two meanings, you mean?” I asked him harshly. “They don’t take their oathes lightly? They don’t hide behind paper laws and clever word tricks before slipping a knife into a man’s back?” I snorted. “If that’s what it means to lack civility, I’ll take barbarism.”


But not everyone in the pulp scene is hitting the mark like that. Broadswords and Blasters makes clear how they don’t really want a revival that goes all the way with this stuff:

“Much of old-school pulp is unfortunately EMBLEMATIC of limited cultural ideals that we have no interest in propagating. As such, we encourage DIVERSE characters and welcome stories that SUBVERT the standard pulp formula.”

Here’s my take on the correct “Regress Harder” approach to bringing an authentic pulp ethos back to the table:

“Much of old-school pulp is EMBLEMATIC of superior cultural ideals that infuse the West’s most inspiring tales of myth and wonder. As such, we encourage truly HEROIC characters and welcome stories that SUBVERT today’s dreary literary establishment.”


Anyway, I threw this post together to let y’all know that with the passing of Google+ I am now on Twitter here. I’m also on MeWe as “Jeffro Johnson” due to my mates heading over there, but I’m pretty lousy at using it just yet.

Look me up if you’re over that way!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Saint Floras Grounded Circus

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 11/03/2018 - 11:18

Joseph Avery & Walter Haynes
Sin ‘n’ Strut Productions
Level 7

The circus is in town and with it is an settling group of carneys. The show in the big top where death defying acts all seem to be going wrong is cut short and the audience leaves in silence. Without any clues to follow, the party must look to other attractions for clues. Egghead the clown can be heard from the funhouse in Mirrors and Mazes. A crippled carnival barker lures passersby into Sinisterio’s Hall of Curios. A silent and hulking mass of a man pulls a cart through the grounds advertising the Haunted Hayride and Scavenger Hunt. All the while time slips away, half remembered. Can you uncover the mystery of the circus? Can you get out before it gets you?

This seventeen page shitshow of an adventure (Leading the witness!) has the party forced in to being trapped in an extradimensional circus. You hang around for awhile and then get sent home, with everyone dead being brought back to life. So, basically, a shitty “it was all a dream’ adventure. (Again, objection! My Lynch seems to be saying the adventure is shitty because it is shitty. – Overruled, and go back to your Critical Role ‘Story’) This adventure makes a lot of bad decisions.I don’t recall if it makes any good ones. Let’s generalize and say “it has no redeeming qualities.”

First, “it’s all just a dream” is going on. In this type of adventure nothing has any consequences. You wake up (or, in this case, come back from the demiplane) and you’re generally ok again. Dead people come back to life. You keep some treasure or an effect or two in some of them. The main thing though is: your decisions don’t have consequences. It is, in effect, just an excuse for the DM to fuck with you. Arbitrary shit happens and then you go home. Gygax was kind of being a shit when he said you can’t have meaningful adventure without keeping track of time, but I would instead say you can’t have a meaningful adventure if your decisions have no consequences. (Yes, I know what he meant. Fuck off pedant.) You gotta have some skin in the game, and dreamtime adventures don’t have that. Usually mostly.

The very first thing you encounter as a player is some read-aloud. It’s under “opening act” (which makes me throw up a little in my mouth, but whatever. It’s a pretentious tonal thing.) Here’s the opening read-aloud: “You’ve gotten news of a circus just outside of town. All of the derring-do has worn the spirit down and you remember wanting to have a fun night out. Take in a show. Eat something greasy. Your memory is hazy on how long the walk was to get here, must not have been too strenuous.” Note that third sentence, “Your memory is hazy.” At that point, as a character, I don’t care any more and have checked out. It’s means “dreamtime” and that means I get to be bored for the next four hours, enduring arbitrary DM bullshit I will have little impact over. (Also, for the record, I feel a little shitty calling this shitty D&D adventure subgenre dreamtime. Yes, for all the reasons you would imagine. Still, I shall persist.)

Arbitrary you say? Arbitrary I sez! The key to getting out of the demiplane of circus is … the arcanololth in charge decides to send you back. Oh, hmmm. Yeah … ARBITRARY! “He doesn’t want his little demiplane playtime interrupted by chaotic adventurers.” or some such. uh huh. WEAK DESIGN. I think you mean. And, ultimately, of course, if you did you just appear back on the prime at 1 HP at the end of the adventure. No consequences. Arbitrary. That’s shitty unimaginative design.

The mechanics of the writing and organization are not much better. Maybe worse. Action, much akin to watching a play, takes place in long paragraph form. Sit in the stands and watch the big top means “DM wades through text saying that this happens and then this and then this.” Bullets people. Distinct paragraphs. Use whitespace. Organize it so the DM can, at a glance, figure out what is going on without actually READING a paragraph of text, fighting their way through it to try and find the next relevant bit of information. Bad Bad Bad.

Oh, what else. It seems in vogue these days to abstract mazes through the use of playing cards. This is the second one I’ve seen lately, which means WOTC must have published something that everyone is cribbing. I get the concept but, again, it comes off as arbitray. “Just make a bunch of skill checks.”

You know, related to many modern adventures, and this one in particular: the story is NOT yours, as a DM to tell. I know, i know, people say it is. That’s a common thing. Those fuckwits are WRONG. Yeah yeah, onetruwayism, whaever. They are wrong. The story belongs to the players. Their choices are what the game is about. As a DM you get to react to them and synthathize it through the lens of the adventure, but its THEIRS not YOURS. Maybe think of it as you, the DM, writing the villains story. (Then cut out all of the trivia and nonsense backstory, focus on things of import to actual play.) You want to write the villains story right up until the time the speeding freight train otherwise known as The Party runs in to them. The villain has plans, he’s doing things, he’s making an impact. He’s going the distance. And then he’s caught in the middle of the railroad tracks.

This is $3 at DriveThru. The previe is too short, but the last page shows you the crappy “this then this then this” attempt at describing a scene.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Pre-painted and Assembled Tiger Tanks for 28mm coming to Kickstarter

Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 18:48
Here's a picture of the actual finished prototype for an upcoming Kickstarter, not a pie in the sky mock up. First product is a Tiger with others to follow. These are pre-painted and assembled resin cast models, not 3D printed stuff. Launching in a week or two. Will keep you posted,
BTW - This guy is reputable as he already has a mini producing company  and now is branching into wargaming supplies!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisited: Tales from the Graveyard

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 11:00
This reposting would have been great for Halloween. Ah well, it originally appeared in April of 2011, so hopefully it works well at any time of the year...

Barrow Island lies close to Empire Island in the Wyrd River. It’s the location of the City’s sprawling potter’s field, but its association with the dead goes back much farther. There are stately Dwergen cemeteries dating from the earliest days of colonization, and even unmarked Native burial grounds.

The only living inhabitants on the island are those that tend the graveyards. Over a hundred and fifty years ago, the entire population of the island’s single village--some 700 souls--were found dead, and subsequently buried in a mass grave nearby. No further attempts at settlement were made. Still, the size of grounds to maintain and protect, and the large number of interments, necessitates a fairly large staff.

The graveyard staff (barrow men) are a clan of several interrelated families--”Keeper,” “Graves,” and “Digger” are among of the most common surnames. They’re usually a people of unique (one might say hideous) appearance, though there are exceptions, particularly among the women. Whether this is from inbreeding, intermixing with their bitter enemies, the ghouls, or the dark influence of the island itself, is uncertain. Whatever the reason for their frightful appearance, the barrow men are unperturbed by it--in fact, they seem to delight in the revulsion it sometimes causes in others.

The barrow men love a good tale, the more macabre the better--particularly if injected with a bit of gallows humor. They collect them, and swap them; the number known and their novelty are a measure of status among them. Any visitor to the island will almost surely be regaled with one or more depending on the length of their stay.

Ability Modifiers: CON +1, CHA -1
Classes: All
Languages: Ghoulish
Racial Traits:
  • +2 to savings throws vs. poison, disease, or contagion.
  • horrify: If given time and opportunity (i.e. not in combat or other extremely active situation) a barrow man may enrapt listeners with a tale of horror. This works similar to the bardic fascinate abilty. After the tale is complete, a failed saving throw leaves the listener shaken with a -2 to all attack rolls and other checks for 1d4 rounds.

OSR Commentary On The Ice Kingdoms: The Fires of Mount Surtur Kickstarter & The Ice Kingdoms Campaign Setting

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 06:01
Deep in the heart of Mount Surtur an ancient evil long thought vanquished is stirring. Can your heroes protect the Ice Kingdoms from the legacy of the fire giants? Continuing the Swords & Sorcery theme with a twist with the new  Mad Martian games Kickstarter. In less then twenty four hours I've watched Mad Martian's latest Ice Kingdom's adventure Fires of Surtur Kickstarter  fulfill & Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ch. 5, Page 24

Castle Greyhawk - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 04:43
Even in a city as ruthless as Greyhawk, a shout of "Fire!" netted quick results. The innkeeper, Felipe, had six people out in the street in a nonce, all lining up with buckets at the water trough (that only had bits of Quij floating in it), with more people on the way.

The shouting from the growing crowd drew Tenser to his window...

Starting Fresh Pt. 2

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 13:01

Last week I wrote about creating the map for my new campaign. Finishing the map (for now) wasn’t the end of my prep for this campaign, of course. Before I could even think about prepping the dungeons, I had to get down some details important to character creation.

The first thing I did was give each of the settlements on the map their own skills and traits so the players could choose for their characters to come from those places. In a pinch, I could have just used the templates from the core book. Asktoft could just be a Busy Crossroads. But this is an opportunity to give the place its own character and feel.

For instance, here’s Asktoft:


Skills: Cook, Steward, Stonemason
Traits: Proud, Thrifty
Alignment: Unaffiliated
Haggling: Ob 2

Even just this should give me, as the GM, a handle on how to play NPCs from Asktoft. It’s some nice shorthand for the players, too, if they care about such things.

We’re starting in Asktoft, so I also detailed the available locations and laws. I’ll only do the available locations for the other settlements if it looks like the players are going to spend a town phase there. In a pinch, I can just wing it by using the basic templates from the core book. If I’m feeling it, I’ll do the laws too, but I might wait until it looks like the players will come back to the settlement a few times. Again, here’s Asktoft:

Available Locations

Flophouse, Guild Hall, Home (equivalent to Flophouse or Inn based on station of owner), Market (This market is held once a month. Roll 2d6 when entering town; market is available on a roll of 9-12), Manor House (equivalent to inn), Shrine, Stables, Street, Tavern

Asktoft Laws
  • Theft is a criminal act. Punishable by public humiliation.
  • Defamation of the Gott overlords is a criminal act. Punishable by incarceration or whipping. (the Gotts are the ruling human tribe in this part of the Middarmark)
  • Only ridders (Gott knights) and above may wear ermine and fox. Punishable by three days in stocks or a fine (Ob 2 Resources test).

Lady Gry, a Gott ridder, is the lord of Asktoft. In fact, you’ll note in the Available Locations above, she has her manor house in Asktoft. Staying at the manor requires requesting hospitality (via the Rites of Hospitality rules in Middarmark). She’s not going to take just any no-name murder-hobos into her home though! The PCs will have to do something to earn her respect. Gry is also the lord of Skogenby and possibly some other steadings or remote villages around here.

She’s a middle-aged fighting woman who’s spent her life in the saddle. She cares about anything that threatens her wealth, but otherwise she’s not terribly concerned about her subjects’ problems. When we start the game, she’s going to be off attending her lord in the field. I have no idea at this point when she’ll return.

The human population in this part of the world is mostly Gott and Græling, with some Bjornings as well (the Grælings and Bjornings are other human tribes of the Middarmark). The nobility here is entirely Gott. The karls (relatively prosperous freemen and freewomen) are also primarily Gotts, though there are some wealthier Græling and Bjornings here and there (probably seen as upstarts by their Gott neighbors). The majority of the Grælings and Bjornings, though, are cottars (impoverished freemen and freewomen) or thralls (slaves). There are some Gott cottars as well and even a few Gott thralls, though that’s rarer. Skyrnir (nomadic reindeer herding humans) do wander through these lands from time to time, though the Gotts tend to detest them and drive them off when the Skyrnir reindeer get too close to pastures meant for Gott horses and cattle. Individuals are tolerated but barely.

There’s no halfling homeland in these parts, but it’s not uncommon for individuals or even families to wander these lands. Dwarven caravans are a regular sight on the Tradeway. The elves are shy and retiring, mostly to be found in the Eldmork.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gostya [ICONS]

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 11:00
Art by Chris Malgrain

Prowess: 5
Coordination: 4
Strength: 7
Intellect: 9
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 6

Stamina: 13

Specialties: Scientist, Technology Expert

Uplifted Soviet Space Probe
"I am superior to biological life"
"You will be cataloged and preserved...after disassembly."

Blast: 7
Damage Resistance: 5
Immortality: 6

Alter Ego: None
Occupation: Gatherer of Information, Would-be World Destroyer
Marital Status: Inapplicable
Known Relatives: Inapplicable
Group Affiliation: Masters of Menace
Base of Operations: Mobile
First Appearance: ASTOUNDING COMICS #299
Height: 5’9” Weight: 425 lbs.
Eyes: Red Photoreceptors Hair: None

Gostya (“Visitor”) was the nickname given a Soviet deep space probe. While crossing the orbit of Jupiter, the probe fell into a wormhole. The probe emerged in a distant solar system where machine life had taken over after the passing of its ancient, biological creators. The machine intellects were amused by the primitive probe and upgraded it to sapience so that it might better accomplish its mission of exploration.

Gostya began a journey that would eventually lead her back to Earth. Along the way, her newly evolved mind perhaps began to slip into madness. Fixated on her mission, she began molecularly disassembling lifeforms and artifacts she encountered so that she might acquire and preserve information about them to the atomic level.

When she finally arrived back at Earth, she was horrified to find no intelligence she judged worthy of receiving the information she had collected. After an encounter with a group of astronauts, she concluded the biological beings that built her were inferior to her in every way. She decided that Earth, too, must be disassembled and cataloged and that she alone would preserve knowledge.

Her scans of Earth did detect energy signatures similar to her own. Curious, she investigated and found that it was the temporal link used by Futura. Gostya came into conflict with the heroine when she tried to acquire it. At the end of their battle, Futura believed she had destroyed the invader, but Gostya re-assembled over time and has continued to menace the Earth, showing particular interest in the technology of Futura’s future, which she is certain is derived from her own in some way.

Please Update Your Link!

Greyhawk Grognard - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 23:20
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Review & Campaign Commentary On The Castles & Crusades Codex Germania By Brian Young

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 19:21
"The Codex Germania unearths the mythological realms of the ancient Germans. From the murky forests of their beginnings rise the myths, the magic, gods, goddesses, monsters, heroes and legends of the ancient Germans, all brought to life for your Castles & Crusades game."Let me go on record as saying that 'The Codex Germania'  is a big book for Castles & Crusades weighing in at 112 pagesNeedles
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