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The Psionic Crucible of the Fat Cannibal

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:18

By The Bugbear Brothers

The Bugbear Brothers


Levels 3-5

The bastion of the North, Xaefen Keep, has succumbed to darkness. Recently, there have been whispers of forbidden psionics that have taken root in the citadel. It is feared that this vile new craft is being used to torture the minds of young squires and madden them, thereby undercutting the Crown’s power. The renowned knight, Ervin Greystyle, also known as ‘The Axe’, has recently ventured North in order to investigate these troubling rumours. It has been several weeks since Ervin’s last correspondence, and he was due to return many days ago. The last letter Ervin wrote to the Crown contained a cryptic, macabre reference to a ‘gluttonous baron’ and his ‘mage juicer’, who reportedly dwelt in the lower crypts of the Keep. A reward of 500 gold pieces has been issued by the Crown to any who would confirm or refute the ravings contained within Greystyle’s last correspondence. There isn’t much time left now…

This 28 page adventure details a ten room dungeon in about nine pages. It’s got some good ideas and tries to be original in both treasure and descriptions. It also drones on too long in it’s read-aloud and DM text and is constrained by it’s smaller size. It’s notable for what it could have been.

This thing is so un-generic. It’s not using the generic fantasy tropes that are seen everywhere. It adds more detail to just about everything. It edges over in to Eberron territory, probably. There’s a fat cannibal baron. There’s a wizard addicted to potions. The local villagers are afraid of the Wendigos that plague their village at night, gaunt figures with decayed deer heads. They are engaged in pacifism, led by their local priest, in the hopes their god will save them. There’s a magic item that consists of a pair of of sow’s ears. And another that consists of a ghouls finger. And a pool of water around a column that if full of cloudy eyeballs, floating. It has a hut, underwater, of translucent glass, held down by “thick black tendrils and vibrant green roots protruding from the sea floor.”

And that’s only a sample. The environments here ARE interesting. They are new places with new things that the party has likely never encountered before, like the pool of eyes. The magic items are unique and well described. Mechanics are not overly emphasized in magic … that ghoul finger wants to return to its shelf … at a speed of 60’ and push 300#. Hmmm, now can I, as a player, exploit THAT? And that’s a good item. 

Haunting choir music, a woven meditation carpet, the scent of rot permeating your nostrils. Thick hemp straps. Note the use of adjectives and adverbs, the way these things are described. Not large or big or small or red. This is excellent use of language in order to add more to a description, to paint a vivid picture for the DM. “One of these paintings is molding and teeming with cream coloured maggots-some in the midst of hatching, others fully grown-chewing at its outer edges.” Sweet! Oh, did I fail to mention the cariboo skulls lined with nails that some prisoners affix to their own skulls in their madness… the faux-wendigos? This is good shit. It’s not all great, there’s are some “large” room contents and the like, but it’s got it where it counts.

What its also got is a case of Mouth Runneth Over syndrome. The read-aloud is long. The DM text is long. And long for interesting reasons. 

It’s not the usual irrelevant bullshit detail. There’s a thing that 5e adventures sometimes do where the read-aloud fully describes the room. If there’s a bookshelf with an interesting book on it, in a hyperbolic example, the initial read-aloud describes the bookshelf, the book, and also tell you what the books contents are. In other words it assumes a certain amount of follow-up and just infor-dumps the entire thing up front.The first room, that one with eyeballs, is a good example. The entire first paragraph does NOT describe the first room of the dungeon. It’ describes the ruins outside that you come upon. Oops, guess that should maybe be in a separate section, to make it easier to find, etc? Then it tells us of a room dominated by an obelisk. And it describes in detail the damage to the obelisk. ANd then the moat around it, filled with clounded eyeballs, with irises of various colours. From their state of decay it’s clear they’ve been here some time. The description goes on about some murals, but lets pause and just examine that obelisk and moat descriptions. The damage detail would be perfect for a follow-up in the DM section, as would the eyeballs, cloudy, and iris details. By NOT infor-dumping you encourage back and forth between the players and the DM. They ask about the pillar, you reply it looks damaged, They examine more closely. You describe more. (Someone, somewhere wrote an article/blog on this that was very good, but I can’t recall it.) The moat. I look at it, it’s full of something. I go over and look closer. Eyes. Ewwww! I look at the eyes, they are cloudy … with scintillating irises. Ewww! 

The adventure also engages in a lot of if/then clauses in the DM text. IF the players do this THEN this happens. Ray’s book on editing covers this, and other common writing issues, pretty well. These sorts of writing mistakes are common in this adventures and the designers would have benefited greatly by Ray’s book. The DM text proper is also lengthy for other reasons, mostly through some sloppy writing that takes a more conversational tone. That style is ok in places, all work and no conversational asides make DM Bryce a dull DM, but when it goes excessive it make the DM text long. And long DM text is hard to reference during play. 

There are also other missed opportunities. The village nearby, with the “Wendigo” problem, is given very little attention. Serving as a base and intro to the adventure it could have used quite a bit more. And better organization than a simple paragraph dump of information. It’s got good roots but needs more to bring it alive. A missed opportunity. Likewise … and I think I realize the gravity of what I’m about to say, this thing is constrained by size. Expanding it, a bit better design and integration of the areas, and you would have something that people would talk about the way they talk about Thracia. No, it’s not Thracia, not close, but it had that potential. 

On the nitpicky front, it’s got a random Big Bay Guy location chart. I don’t get why people do that, for multiple play throughs? In this case it can be a little justified since there’s a kind of map puzzle in one room that can show you locations … and creatures moving about in the place adds some life to the place. Generally though … it’s something that raises my eyebrows as a sign of ill things to come. 

It’s also got this weird System-less thing going on. It lists itself as generic/agnostic and OSR. And then mentioned exhaustion checks. And advantage. And lists DC’s for stat checks. That’s 5e. But is it, really? I suspect it’s just the designers home system which is a mash up of many things. The DC stats checks will wrankle the hard core OSR crowd, but it’s all easily ignored/converted on the fly by even an ok DM. 

And there’s no level range on the cover or in the product description, you have the buy the damn thing first to learn it’s levels 3-5. Not cool.

Nonstandard. Imaginative. Some decently evocative writing. But suffers greatly from Too Many Words. And, a couple of large missed opportunities. And sup with that title? It feels randomly generated.

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $1.50. The preview is four pages and shows you nothing. Bad preview! Suck! Show us a room! Give us a sample of what we’re actually buying! Oh course, in this case it’s Pay What You Want, so you can get the entire thing, but, still. 


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Rolling City and the Devil Sun

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:00
This post is in response to a challenge from Anne at DIY & Dragons based on this post a the Githyanki Diaspora from 2009 suggesting an easy way to "Make Your Own New Crobuzon."

The Last City
Clacking, rumbling, the city moves. It rolls through the night on sixteen indestructible rails carved from the bones of dead gods. The shanties on its ziggurat steps rattle; it's bristle of towers sways. The city never stops for long, and it always stays ahead of the dawn. It's being chased by a vengeful god, the Sun.

The Devil Sun
There is a face in the green Sun, and it looks down on the world it hates with grinning, idiot malice. It chases the city across the face of the blighted world, through the ruined cities of the elder days. Where its morning light shines, its energy creates cancer jungles and fleshy masses of monsters. Even these wither and die under the force of its noon regard, leaving only blasted desert in the dying light of evening. The Devil Sun would destroy the clanking redoubt of the city, too, but it moves too slowly across the sky to catch it. For now.

Three Minor Humanoid Races
Xixchil once had their own city, but it was lost, and they bought their passage on the last city with their art. It was the Xixchil surgeons that developed the Warforged. The Xixchil are mistrusted because they live in enclaves of their own and practice secret rituals they do not allow others to see.

The Warforged were made to be the city's soldiers. There are many fewer now than there once were. They are officially accorded respect for their service, but many former refugees blame them for the loss of their old homes.

Athasian aarakocra live in the precarious high towers of the city. They are scouts and foragers.

Three Monsters
Clockwork automata serve in every level of the city, particularly performing jobs around the engines or on the city's undercarriage where living things can't go. Some damaged automata become rampaging clockwork horrors.

Obliviax is cultivated in some labs in the city for it's various memory uses: to fashion an anti-senility drug, to steal memories, or simply to make people forget. It has escaped and grows wild in some lower levels.

Arcane oozes sometimes crawl up the cities exterior. The gorge themselves to a torpor on the divine magic that powers the city. Sometimes they become a hazard and must be removed.

Deeper Readings Into Dungeons & Dragons - The Ranks of The Succubus

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 05:56
Now I've spoken about the Wraith of the Immortals box set before but I've been quietly on the side tracing a particular favorite type of demon that I love to use. The Succubus has been a staple of Dungeons & Dragons going all of the way back to Eldritch Wizardry:"The succubus appeared under the demon entry in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement (1976)" Then they appear in the Advanced Dungeons Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Table: Car Wars Compendium Second Edition

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 00:39

I love this game.

It’s easily among the best values in gaming history and one of the greatest “everything you need in one book” games of all time. It was played to death and then revised… played to death again, revised again… and then played to death some more only to be tempered into one of the great achievements of gaming history.

There are many editions and variations of this game. I have tinkered with the rules a great deal myself and chased after many attempts to simplify what people tend to think of as a moderately overcomplicated game. But this weekend I decided to come back to my old flame and revisit the game that I originally fell in love with a long, long time ago. Not as it was in the small black pocket box edition that was the very first hobby games purchase I had ever made. But rather, as the end all be all, supercharged Second Edition Compendium release that was, perhaps, the last thing I would ever be excited to receive on a Christmas day.

That means playing with the “Advanced Collision” system that was first released as part of the referee screen– and the variant fire rules (“All Fired Up”) and a development of the “Advanced Maneuver System” from the pages of Autoduel Quarterly. Further, it meant going back to the original rules for ramplates– the days before some line editor decided to nerf the most efficient means in the game for converting a hot rod into piles of debris and obstacles. Finally, it meant embracing the Compendium’s speed modifiers as well!

How did it go…? Well, I’ll tell you.

I selected for our first scenario a Challenge Night event where two hot headed amateur duelists would get a chance to kill each other in the Dumbarton Slalom arena with sponsor-supplied Scorcher compacts. These have two flamethrowers in the back and a ramplate on the front. The idea was to get to a decisive and dramatic ending fairly quickly. The session did not disappoint!

The opening started straightforward enough. I managed to edge ahead by a quarter of an inch in the opening moves before we sped into the part of the drum where we’d gain the ability to fire. I cut right and let loose with my two flame throwers, but because my target was speeding across my back arc I had to eat serious enough speed modifiers that this shot was pretty well wasted. (Granted, a lucky hit could win the game if I set my opponent on fire– neither of us had fire extinguishers!)

My opponent then kicked it up to 60 mph while I dropped down to 40. His additional speed gave him a great deal of initiative. If he got to move at just the right moment, I was dead. But then… just as he was arcing toward me for a potential kill… he lost control and started to skid!

We exchanged shots and I put enough burn modifiers on him that he was in danger of catching fire. He then lost control again and skidded into the arena walls. His driver bailed out of the flaming vehicle and I ran the guy down before he could make it to a safe zone.

At this point I proposed changing up either the arena or the vehicle design or both, but this was evidently an intriguing enough match-up that it was worth another go. This one saw my opponent skid into the wall yet again even though he had slowed down a notch this time. I then accelerated and came in for the ram. He scored multiple flamethrower hits on me as I closed, but the ram completely destroyed his car. My driver was able to bail out of the flaming vehicle and escape before it had exploded.

Now… this was pretty exciting for me. I love love LOVE having a continuing Car Wars character that has earned all his wealth by defying certain death in the arena. My guy “Duncan Idaho” had a brand new Scorcher that had had only 2 shots fired from each flamethrower and was merely nicked on the back with four points of damage there. Compendium Second Edition is pretty generous with the “general” skill point awards, so while he didn’t gain any salvage from this event, he did gain enough skill points to go to Driver-1. This would give him a better chance for starting an event with improved reflexes and help him recover better than normal handling status at the end of each turn!

Going into the third and final event of the weekend, I had to ask… should I set this guy aside so what we could have a fair match where everyone was started the game with equal amounts of skill? My opponent didn’t think that was a problem. I mean hey, if you have a cool continuing character in a Car Wars campaign, you should get to use him. If he comes out of his third Amateur Night event with enough salvage that he actually stands a chance on the freeways, so much the better.

We did agree to change up the vehicle design and keep the same arena layout. Here’s our all-new low end vehicle we whipped up:

S’most — Medium Reverse Trike, x-hvy chassis, hvy. suspension, large cycle plant, platinum catalysts, 3 PR tires, driver, FT left linked to FT right, fire extinguisher, targeting computer. Armor: F 20, R 15, L 15, B 20, T 4, U 4. Accel. 5, HC 3, 2,518 lbs., $7,986.

Division 10 option — Make tires and armor fireproof and add heavy duty brakes. Equip driver with body armor and a grenade. $9,997.

We played without the Division 10 options, hoping for another short and decisive event. Rolling in, I took a stray flame thrower hit early on and caught fire. My fire extinguisher failed to put it out until the next turn– everything on my car had taken one hit of damage! Things did not look good for my awesome continuing character, but on the next pass, my opponent found himself in the exact same shoes. Suddenly, every single die roll we made began to matter a whole lot!

I admit, my opponent had done much better than me in terms of dishing out the damage in this round. I was the better driver and cruised around the arena with no chance of losing control. Meanwhile, my target veered away from me toward the arena wall and the damage that I had done was just enough to make this hazardous. He made one control roll after another… then needed to make just one more. His luck ran out, though, and he crashed into the wall for the third game in a row!

Now things were serious. My opponent has just gone into a skid and so was at -6 to-hit for that until the end of the turn. I had continuous fire bonuses and could control exactly how the pass played out. I managed to get my hit against the stationary target. Time to check for fire one last time. I needed 8 or less on two dice to light him up. I got it! My opponent needed 4 or less on two dice. Not likely! But then… he got it anyway. Doh!

Now to check for fire extinguishers…. My opponent made his roll of 3 or less on one die and his vehicular fire went out. Me? I failed… and my car went up in flames along with my continuing character!

Absolutely brutal!

Now my opponent’s character “Borf” is the guy with a promising future. He has two skill points in Driver and six in Gunner. He has a very beat up reverse trike with two points of damage to each of the tires, one point of damage to each internal component, 7 points of damage front, 8 points of damage left, 7 points of damage right, one point of damage top, and 1 point of damage to the underbody. (Whew!) Though if it was up to me, I’d rule that the event sponsors would totally give him a brand new division 10 model of that vehicle to drive home him.

The game play for this round was much more random due to the loss of the ramplates. In order improve this design in terms of how it plays fighting itself, here are the changes I would make:

S’most II — Add bumper spikes and upgrade fire extinguisher to IFE. Armor: F 18, R 13, L 13, B 14, T 4, U 4. 2520 lbs., $8,402.

(We did get to one rules question game. Obviously, the fire modifiers stack up as are explained in the rules. What we wanted to know was what happened to the fire mods when a fire extinguisher puts out the fire. Do they disappear or do they stick, continuing to set fires on later turns again and again…? We went back and forth on this until we agreed that it would be more fun to have the FE wipe them all out when the moment a fire extinguisher puts out a fire. Your mileage may vary!)

But how do things set in the aftermath of three quick playing duels…? “Borf” now respects the control table enough to slow down a little but… but not enough to persuade him to put extra skill points into driver skill. He is eager to get back into the arena for a chance at nabbing enough salvage that he could pimp out his ride in a substantial manner. He is liable to want to fireproof everything if he has any say in how the next cars are designed.

But most importantly… he can’t imagine playing Car Wars any other way than with the Super Advanced rules accretions that 1980’s gaming addicts laid down in order to strike just the right balance between simulation-feel and smooth game-play.

If you’re in the camp of those that think they want simpler rules in order to open the game up to more casual play, think again! Everything you need in order to speed things up can be addressed by playing with identical makes and models a la Amateur Night events, restricting dueling vehicles to driver only, outlawing pedestrian equipment, and greatly increasing the ratio of weaponry to defense in the vehicle designs.

Drive offensively!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Veneer of Dungeons & Dragons In Old School & OSR Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 16:40
Michael Weaver's cover for Dragon magazine #162 screams to Ravenloft second edition setting to me.  So the character workshop went alright folks but I've down with the Autumn sickness that seems to go around here in my neck of Connecticut. Its a very gloomy Sunday which is in keeping with the Halloween season. One of the things I want to talk about is using the veneer of Dungeons Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] More Than Meets the Eye

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sat, 10/26/2019 - 13:26
More Than Meets the Eye
More Than Meets the Eye (2019)by Kelvin GreenPublished by Lamentations of the Flame PrincessLow and mid-level
How much are you willing to pay for an idea? The answer to this question will greatly influence your reaction to this adventure, because it is basically An Idea with some expansion on what you might do with it in your game. It is, also, the companion/sequel to Fish Fuckers, probably the classiest adventure title in gaming history. Finally, it is an homage to Transformers, a cartoon series I never watched, so half of the module’s allusions might have gone right over my head.
The Idea is great: bizarre-looking, shape-changing aliens have crash-landed in a podunk coastal village. Another group of aliens have also arrived in their pursuit, resulting in a standoff that has pretty much wrecked the place, and introduced an opening where a crafty band of outsiders could play a decisive role between the antagonistic groups. So, as the module acknowledges, “[i]t’s basically Yojimbo with aliens, so to prepare, watch Yojimbo. Or A Fistful of Dollars. Or Django.” This is great. I am a sucker for primitive places getting wrecked by the appearance technologically superior outsiders (or vice versa), and doubly so for anything based on Red Harvest and its successors, so I bought the adventure based on this strength.
But The Idea is mostly what the module has. There are loosely described locales with monster statistics, but they are all basic concepts without worthwhile elaboration. Here is the coastal village. Here is a manor house. Here is a ruined priory (mapped on a full page for no functional effect) with a set of (unmapped, potentially important) cellars under it. This feels like an adventure in the idea stage, and it could be presented on three or four pages without any loss if you put some thought into it. You could run it, and it could be a lot of fun if you let the situation develop. It is a potentially great launching pad for improvisation, and in the usual LotFP fashion, seriously derailing a campaign. But most of the added value would come more from the GM–player dynamic, and not the module text. As a developed scenario to help that dynamic, it is sorely lacking, even in curveballs and ideas which would stimulate the action.
Much of the module is taken up by the oddball aliens, described in loving detail. There is a gimmicky random chart for trying to use advanced alien technology, which has results ranging from the creepy (“The character devolves into an ape-like protohuman”) to the lolrandumb (“The character becomes ethnically Austronesian”). There is another gimmicky random chart for a sentient giant bio-mechanical spaceship – getting on board, which is unlikely but possible, is both sort of awesome and sort of almost certainly campaign-wrecking. Much attention is also dedicated to the aliens’ reproductive habits, which is accomplished “by using a sort of penis to fill an object with DNA-rich goop, then the Primal Matrix™ is used to activate the goop” (and so on). Each alien present in the adventure has custom statistics describing ?his? (I am at loss for the proper pronouns – is this a SWORD*DREAM scenario in hiding?) “penis-like organ”, and what happens when ?he? sticks the penis-like organ into the target character. This is certainly what I would expect from purveyors of good taste like LotFP, and only wish more adventures were as meticulous.
More Than Meets the Eye is written in a breezy, conversational style, which occasionally verges on the overly chummy. On one hand, it is entertaining to read; on the other hand, it says less than you’d expect. It reads like an awsum, indulgent shaggy dog story told by someone who is obviously in love with his own ideas. The enthusiasm is infectious. It is, also, kinda empty. Accordingly, I rate this adventure two out of five penis-like organs.
No playtesters are credited in this publication. In fact, no cover artist is credited in this publication either, although I suspect it is the author himself. This is not made entirely clear.
Rating: ** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

(5e) Citadel of Terror

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/26/2019 - 11:17
By Paul Riegel-Green & Ben Burns new Comet Games 5e Levels 1-4

Spring time has arrived, the fields planted, the trade routes are opening and the Orc raids will be coming soon. It also means the arrival of the mysterious but powerful mage Melius. But this year, he has yet to make his appearance. What chance does the small city of  Adwick have against the ravaging hordes of Orcs without the wizard’s assistance. Every day that slips by, causes the leaders worry and concern. You and your small band of adventurers have been tasked with traveling through the abandoned ruins of Rochdale, then into the swamp known as The Moors. To seek out Melius’ tower and discover what has become of the wizard.  What evils lurk in the ruins? What dangers will The Moors hide? What will you find at the Citadel of Terror?

This 68 page adventure details a wizards tower with about twelve rooms as well as a couple of overland encounters. It’s massively overwritten, both in DM text and read-aloud, and is one of those “make a skill check to tie your shoes” adventures. At least I got to pay $15 for it …

I’m supposed to be nicer. I’m supposed to explain more. I’m supposed to describe why things are the way the way, or should be, in detail. I’m supposed to do a lot of things.  And then something like this comes along and saps all of the life out of me.

It starts with the party being ambushed by 24 orcs. “That’s a lot” I thought “for level 1’s.” Not to worry, it’s not an actual encounter. A calvary of gnomes and halflings on war dogs come to your rescue. Well Buckher, some strings are more obvious than others. 

This then degenerates in to the town where the party is sent to find a missing wizard in his tower. And it’s all done in third person read-aloud. “He tells you that …” “he explains that you have been selected” “when you enter the bar the dwarf behind the counter welcomes you and introduces himself as …”  Jesus. H. Fucking. Christ. Abstraction. Filthy fucking abstraction. Read-aloud, when used, should immerse the listener. Abstracting to the third person and abstracting thing like “your welcome” is utter bullshit. Specififty is key. He raises a tankard drains it and slams it down spraying out “Your Health!” through foam. Contrast with “the swarf behind the counter welcomes you.” Abstracted vs specific. 

Not to mention the fucking length of the read-aloud in this. It drones on and on and one, in spite of people not paying attention to long read-aloud. There’s even a faux-study by WOTC proper! But out designer friends don’t know that. 

This is joined by the WAY TOO EXCESSIVE dm text. Mountains of it. Mountains of mountains of it. A five goblin fight takes a page. Some stirge around a pedestal takes two pages. Excruciating if/then clauses. 

You need a DC 16 persuasion to have the bartender tell you about the missing wizard. The most mundane of information. That’s in his own best interest to relay. And skill checks of this type are generally set low. But not in this adventure. But don’t worry, they are everywhere! And All of the conditional clauses take up lots of extra room! Are you an elf? There’s a special line for you in the column long perception check results … your DC is 2 lower than everyone else! THis is a total and complete lack of understanding of how skill checks are supposed to work. No doubt learned from other badly written  adventures. 

One of the outdoor encounters, with five goblins, has a master goblin thespian pretending to be an old woman. I’m pretty sure that’s not meant to be literal, but it still trends the wrong direction. And DC 19/24 skill checks at first/second level? Is that even possible in 5e?

No real overland map, in spite of their being an entire swamp to cross with multiple random encounters in it. Or an entire series of woods encounters … that are essentially linear since you get led to each and need to find some rings at each to get in to the wizards tower. 

And the actual writing? “They appear to be dead.” Well no shit. That means dead. This REEKS of just about every bad writing/editing decision you can make. What’s the name of Ray’s editing book? These people need that bad.

And our 8th level wizard, who can’t rescue himself … I just can’t go on. This. Is. Bad. 

This could easily be a one page adventure and loose nothing, in spite of the massive limitations of the one page format, it’s that overwritten. It concentrates text in all the wrong areas, giving painstaking room descriptions that are meaningless to the adventure. 

It is for designers like this that I feel sorry. They had an idea. They want to do good, I’m sure (doesn’t everyone?) but they have NO idea how to get there. No doubt they had some design principals … as evidenced by the massive skill check text, but they were the wrong things to concentrate on. Also, I applaud their eschewing of DMsGuild. But, man, ya gotta actually learn how to write an adventure. It’s got nothing to do with the motivations of the NPC’s or the balance of the encounters or how correct the rulings are. Usable at the table, Interactive, Evocative. This is none. 

Also, where my Terror? I was promised terror!

This is $15 at DriveThru. And for $15 (fucking bullshit!) you get no preview. So it’s a blind buy. Of $15 crap. To be clear, price is pretty much irrelevant if the adventure is good. But when they are bad, and they are almost always bad, the fucking $15/pdf shit stings. ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE”S NO FUCKING PREVIEW!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Explicit Procedure of Play

Hack & Slash - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 19:30
This isn't about bad-wrong-fun.

The discussion yesterday about behaviors we've all come across at the gaming table are not gaming problems. They are related to cognitive distortions. I get that "Cognitive Distortions" has a negative connotation, they aren't moral judgements.

A common example of a cognitive distortion is "Parents should love their children." Some parents don't. Until that reality is accepted, suffering. Often we aren't aware of what these distortions are, and they can drive a lot of our actions as do things to stave off having to deal with that dissonance. An easy way to avoid this type of pain is try to control or manipulate a situation so that you aren't given evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

When this isn't possible, you experience emotional trauma. This goes through a variety of phases, though the order and severity varies on education, culture, and experience. In order for us to get rid of the cognitive distortion (e.g. "Life should be fair."), your body needs to go through processes to rebuild a new mental conception that matches reality: Anger, bargaining, denial, depression, and acceptance of a more accurate model of reality (e.g. "Life isn't fair"). These phases are what allow the brain to, in a quite literal sense, rebuild itself around its current conditions.

This is, I think, very basic, very well accepted knowledge. We expect families to teach rituals on how to cope with change, but frequently that doesn't happen. Cognitive and/or dialectical behavior therapy teach these skills.

Quantum what's?None of the ideas are wrong. High lethality? Great! Go for it. Want to make a game less lethal, change the rules. Low magic? Sure! Come back as a cartoon? Great idea.

It's never about the specifics. It's not about railroads, or quantum ogres, or fudging. It doesn't matter what specific kind of game you do at the table. Yet still role-playing horror stories exist. It's all about human beings, and getting their needs met at the expense of other people.

When people go into therapy, it isn't some philosophical problem or existential angst. Universally it is specific, often sentinel event overloading their support systems ability to cope. Loss of job, breaking up with a boyfriend, becoming homeless, et. al. You have to look at the specific problem and break it down. It's not how to solve the problem-these are people, like you. Telling people what to do doesn't work, you know? You are there to provide insight. Part of this is an analysis of a person's interactions with other people.

You look at the sequence of events and categorize each interaction as belonging to one of three interpersonal communication styles: aggressive, passive-aggressive, or assertive.

Are you meeting your needs at the expense of other people? Are you avoiding confrontation? There's no right or objective answer, because these are people, they are full of messy squiggly bits and nearly all of their volume is empty space, their presence simply a projection of a vibration that lairs in a place we cannot see.

So we have some baseline assumptions, foundational principals that we work up from. Everyone has infinite worth regardless of externals. Relationships should include ways for everyone to get their needs met without it being at the expensive of someone else. Interactions should be made with levels of confrontation that are respectful of everyone involved.

Cognitive Distortions of Dungeons & DragonsPlayer death must meet some threshold of meaning, players should do what the Dungeon Master thinks they should do, A bad die roll is what kills characters; These are all cognitive distortions.
There is a procedure for Dungeons and Dragons, and it requires a Dungeon Master who is a player, and characters managed by players of the game. The person running the game, at no point, should ever deceive, manipulate, or attempt to pressure or influence the people playing the game. The job of the Dungeon Master is to give helpful accurate information. Lying isn't in the job description. (His responsibility to represent the game world might cause him to portray a character who lies, but his job is to represent that lying character honestly.)

The dungeon master can present limited information-the information the characters have access to. Mysteries can abound in your game world. There can be plots and intrigue aplenty. But the core gameplay procedures and loop of Dungeons and Dragons at no point involve any player manipulating another.

There is no rule in Dungeons and Dragons proscribing one person having authority over another person. 

You see, the Dungeon Master is a player. He manages the procedures and flow of the game. He creates the world, and acts as both an auger of a distant realm seen dimly through the ocular power of dice, a neutral judge of the results of game-play, and a designer who creates (hopefully interesting) situations for the players to encounter.

Alignment has no authority to prescribe behavior, it's descriptive (and a palpable, detectable force, in the fundamental sense, within the world). The role of the Dungeon Master is one of servant, one who entertains, not via authorship but by facilitation. The rules are explicit about this: They say "The DM decides how these rules will be used in the game. . . and the final decision is the DM's" (B60) They don't decide what the characters will do. They have no authority over player's choices.

Let's talk about that core gameplay loop.
Core Gameplay LoopThe minutiae of these vary from game to game, so I'll be very explicit here. This will allow you to assess what behaviors are explicitly part of the game-play loop, and determine which behaviors are not. This gives you insight and results in a better game.

Obviously this is quite instinctive (being a model of existing and taking action in the real world), and these social norms make this flow of play transparent. But once you are aware of it, it gives you a framework to handle issues in communication and behavior.

Pregame activities include one player designing an adventure and other players rolling up characters and purchasing equipment.

Play begins with the Dungeon Master providing background for the players. This includes an objective or goal. Even if it's implied, the background information will indicate some specific change of circumstance that needs to be resolved. "We are in a new place." "A dwarf caravan has disappeared." "A house is haunted."

This background will both communicate the narrative themes (which you can not think about or design, but they end up being there anyway) as well as providing players with an ability to contextualize your comments from shared cultural touchstones. It's difficult to communicate extremely complicated situations, so providing a similar frame of reference does significant amounts of work for the people engaged in the game.

Finally, this leads us into our first game structure. Different games have different words for it, but it is easily conceptualized by the word "Scene." The characters are existing at some conceptual space in this imaginary world, and the background is our entrance to that conceptual scene. "You find yourself. . . " "You are standing. . . " "Before you lies. . . " et. al.

Each player of the game is in control of one or more agents who can take action within the world. Note that "Role-Playing" is a term derived from taking the role of a singular unit on a battlefield. The player is still considered to be playing a game, just one in which he controls individuals instead of squads of soldiers. Almost immediately upon exposure to the wild the term was conflated with the idea of role as emotional experience and theatrical presentation. Even though this wasn't the intent, it is completely compatible with the play of Dungeons & Dragons and is a matter of taste. You are encouraged to interact as your character, while playing the game, though it is by no means required. Many people still play by saying "My character does. . . " or "My character says."

It's important to note here that it is A) a game B) with explicit and implicit goals C) and you can succeed and fail within those goals within the context of the game. This is true of every official version of Dungeons and Dragons, though it is not necessarily true of other games. It's left as an exercise to the reader if this is related to the unrelenting dominance and success of Dungeons & Dragons.

There are a few different games or modes that Dungeons and Dragons switches between, and each one has a separate procedure of play.

Exploration Loop
The most common is Dungeon Exploration. Frequently there is wilderness travel or handling activities in downtime. A lot of these are clearly procedural-I'm not going to walk through the combat rules, likely you already know them by heart. What's important is that the non-combat sections of the game are as procedural and game-like as the combat structures.

But because these rely more on conversational social norms, rather than explicit discussion about procedural issues, it can create a lot of tension when miscommunications happen. Adding in one person trying to manipulate the outcome of game-play can rapidly create a dysfunctional situation.

This is illustrated most clearly in examples of play from early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Here's an example from the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide. Here's a different sample of play from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

DM: "After 30' you reach a round landing with two sets of stairs. One goes down and to the east, the other goes down and to the west."

The environment is described, as well as any relevant activated objects or red herrings. Once the environment is described the gameplay proceeds via the characters asking questions. This is a two-way process of information gathering. The players can ask any questions they wish until they are satisfied.

In this opening example the players don't have any questions, and the caller goes ahead and takes action. Taking action has four steps. Intent, Initiation, Execution, Effect. This is a social exchange between the Dungeon Master and a Player. The player states their intended action, providing a space for the Dungeon Master and the player to negotiate over the specifics of their action. This is the reduction of the Deadly Difference, i.e. the difference between the players understanding of the situation and the Dungeon Masters. Then the player oks the initiation of the event, the event is executed and the result is presented, leading us back into our next opportunity to act. Frequently Intent and Initiation will be collected from the whole group and resolved effectively simultaneously.

Here is the next play example containing the Intent and Initiation from Basic Dungeons and Dragons.

Morgan:"Fredrik looks down the east staircase and Silverleaf looks down the west one. What do they see"

And the execution and effect.

DM: "The parties torches mess up their infravision, so they can only see twenty to thirty feet. The west stairs go down ten feet and turn sharply south. The east stairs go down at least thirty feet. Also, Fred smells a rank, musty odor coming up from below."

This process: Information gathering, Intent, Initiation, execution, and effect continues until one of the other modes of play is invoked. Within those other modes of play, player action follows a truncated version of IIEE. I hit the monster, picking up the die, rolling the die, rolling damage. Intent, Initiation, execution, effect.

It's not white room theory. It allows you to explain in a concrete way why, for example, players never die to unlucky die rolls. The unlucky die rolls are consequences for a series of choices. It gives you insight into the specific roles each player has, not of their character, but there responsibility in the game. It clarifies why a referee has to be neutral and what that means—when performing the execution step he should be invested in determining the outcome objectively, because that's his role at the table. The players job at the table is to decide what she wants to do.

This absolutely happens fluidly, often in a non-linear order because it's a game for fun that you play while hanging out with your friends.  (e.g. "Wait, I actually have fire resistance 5. That will change what I want to do.")

This helps clear up specific distinctions. It's why considering the last monster dead in a fight when it really has 1 hit point left is fine, but arbitrarily changing monster hit points based on your personal feelings of how long combat needs to last is a breach of responsibility as a player in the role of Dungeon Master.

The first is an action taken out of respect for the time of other people, the second is capricious, subjective, and arbitrary and undermines the intent and initiation phase. "Don't change the rules during play" as it goes. This is why "Rocks fall, everyone dies" or "You get hit by a bolt of lightning" are inappropriate behaviors (those aren't called via the game systems, they are caused by the Dungeon Master being passive-aggressive—punishing the players while avoiding a confrontation by virtue of a misunderstanding of the servile nature of the responsibility).

This framework provides a lot of clarity over where the problem really is in role-playing game horror stories. Psst. It's the people. *ghost wail* Whoooooooo--oooOOOOHhhhhhhhhhh.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Breaking The House' Cha'alt / Godbound rpg - Session Zero Character Workshop & Lovecraftian Adventure Location - The Tolgey Woode

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 18:53
Just below Fairyland & connected with the lands of Fairy are the Tolgey Wood, a region of dark woods, wastelands, & mysterious shadows. Shadows so deep that some connect to the plane of Shadow.  These woods are home to many species of Jabberwocky. They are also connected with many lands through mysterious gates of old which lead to many planar bolt holes of ancient species much older Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Weird Revisted: The Secret Life Stages of Elves

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 11:00
This post from 2016 is more recent than my usual revisits, but I had forgotten about it, only coming across it while looking for another post and thought it was worth a reshare...

What humans mistake as different tribes or clades of elves are actually different stages in their millennia long, perhap endless, lives.

Wood elves are elven adolescents. They rebel against their parents and go to live in bands of others of their age. They throw racuous parties in the woods and experiment with intoxicants. They are capricious, emotional, and cliqueish. Their tribes run the gamut between Woodstock and Lord of the Flies.

High elves are elven adults. They interact most with other species and are responsible for the maintenance of elven civilization. It is in this age cohort that the immortality of elves begans to take its toll, however. Elven brains are not structurally that different from humans. They do not have the capacity to hold countless centuries of memories. Their initial compensatory mechanism is monomania. Elves develop a strong interest that narrows the array of factual information they must recall and provides constant reinforcement for the things they find important. Some become swordsmasters, some master artists or craftsmen, some archmages.

For some elves this is enough, and they grow more skilled, more focused, and stranger, until they become almost demigods in their chosen vocation. These are the Gray.

Others, though, are not able to maintain such focus. Something akin to dementia sets in. They become forgetful, and paranoid. As they begin to lose their past--lose themselves. They find only intense linger long. These are the drow, the dark elves.

Dark because of the darkness that consumes their minds; dark for the deeds they commit to hold on to self and not slip into endless reverie. They go to live in the dungeons of their kind to pursue intense pleasures and horrors or simply howl or cackle in the darkness. These elders are feared by other elves. They avoid them and will not reveal their relationship to them to non-elves.

Kickstarter Video - What do you get with each game?

Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 00:11
Here's a quick video telling you what you get in each game.The Kickstarter launches November 1st and will last 18 days.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & Commentary On Castles & Crusades Rpg The Hanged Man Adventure By Davis Chenault For Castles & Crusades Or Your OSR Game System

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/24/2019 - 15:27
"A long journey under an azure sky filling with brackish, boiling clouds ends at a large oak tree. Here, from a muscled branch, a man hangs limply by a thick rope strangled around his neck. Beyond, a dim, rising, yellow moon silhouette’s a village. Snaking, ashy tendrils of smoke coil above rooftops, lights glitter in windows while a miasmal fog creeps down upon the village from freshly churnedNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Premise for Opposing Planes

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 10/24/2019 - 11:00

I'm planning on expanding on the version of the Outer Planes posited by these two posts.  In brief, the planes are reframed in a sort of gnostic background wherein Law and Chaos relate to competing ideas about how best to restore unity with the Godhead. I like this idea because it gives a structure to hang both Law and Chaos on and the other various flavors radiating out from these "poles."

Good and Evil don't carry quite the same weight. Instead, they are shorthand for approaches for dealing with the opposing side. Lawful Good seeks accommodation with Chaos and peaceful conversion where possible; Lawful Evil feels there is no compromise with Chaos and force is always an option. This is not an idea new to me. It's hinted at the the Planescape material, and I've seen if discussed on forums. Adding the layer of competing visions of the Godhead adds something extra.

Anyway, more to come.

On the Rules of the Game

Hack & Slash - Thu, 10/24/2019 - 10:02
Hi guys. Kickstarter went well, like 1,100 backers. Took some time off. Got a cat. Back to work.

Holy schnikes, guys, did you know Role Playing Games have rules? Strap in!
Aggressive DenialIt's hard to let go of your preconceptions. Like, it's giving up an addiction hard. I know this will be a bitter pill for some people, and others will find themselves amazed that it's still news. People will go to aggressive lengths to avoid facing facts. So I'm going to break it down as clearly as possible.

A role-playing game is a game in which you play a role.

Look, clearly you can define whatever kind of activity in whatever way you want. But if you're going to play a role-playing game it requires those two things. Here are the reasons that combination of things is special.

Tactical Infinity. Because you are playing a game with human peers, there's no arbitrary limits.
Emergent Gameplay: Because it is a game, outcomes are unknown and develop during play.
Group Cohesion In-group Valuation. Because it is a regular activity engaged in with a peer group, task commitment increases the relative value of in-group experience.

I know, that last one sounds complicated.

Look, we form social groups. I'm not telling, I'm just saying, we do. And role-playing games involve a social group that often solves problems together. A group of people with shared interests that solves problems or engaged in problem solving activity together show stronger interpersonal relationships and stronger social identities. (Cohesion and Performance in Groups) This activity thus leads to greater motivation, performance, life satisfaction, and better emotional resilience

You know this in your heart, because you are reading a blog about role-playing games in 2019. You know that feeling I'm talking about. That "Oh god, isn't role-playing just wonderful" feeling we all have. It's specific and quantifiable. ALL players (everyone involved in the game, including the Dungeon Master, who is a player) engage for this valuation.

It's got Rules! It's not a Cult!Here is the line of demarcation. If everyone isn't playing-if one person is trying to manipulate other people or engaging in some passive-aggressive behavior to control or alter the natural outcome of a game, that isn't a group of people solving a task and increasing cohesion.
See, believe it or not, all role-playing games have rules. Now am I saying you can't change the rules? No. Of course you can. The specifics of the rules are unimportant. The rules of the game are rules, and there is a procedure (and always has been). It's a game like chess or monopoly. It has rules.
I don't think that's a contentious statement. Some of those rules are social rules. A lot of these statements I'm making seem logical, until you recognize your own negative behavior as "magical exceptionalism" and somehow different. 
All of these are some variation of the same behavior:
  • "I didn't think that death was fair, so I had the monster miss"
  • "I didn't want a player to die to a 'bad die roll'"
  • "I change the hit points of all the monsters because I felt that the combat didn't go on long enough"
  • "The player was wrong so I killed his character"
  • "I fudged the dice to make the game more 'fun'"
This argument is commonly misinterpreted. You do get to decide things as a Dungeon Master. You're not destroying player agency by skipping the last encounter check at the end of a long night. The game is open and depends on player consensus at the table.
The danger is in creating non-open subjective metrics. You can of course have rules that are hidden or rules that are not player-facing. But inconsistently deciding some rules change for subjective reasons-well, think about that in the context of any other game.
"I don't care that you broke through as red rover, you go back to your side because I said.""Well, now this is the hill, and I'm king of it.""You can't go that way, the only way to go is into the forest!""That one doesn't count. I meant to fold"
David Sirlin has a book called "Playing to Win". It talks about Scrub theory. Basically the rules of the game are the way they are; creating some 'imaginary' set of rules that people are supposed to follow instead of the actual rules of the game impair that players ability to not only compete professionally, but truly know their own limits and take responsibility for their own successes and failures. As opposed to calling someone's tactics "cheap" because their legal play doesn't fit your own conception of what is "fair" instead of the reality of the game. (This isn't the full argument, his book is the full argument.)
His point is, by creating these safeguards from consequences people never get to experience their full potential. They can never compete at the highest level.
Role-playing isn't usually competitive, it's almost universally cooperative. That includes the Dungeon Master. Much like if I were to cheat at Arkham Horror or Pandemic it would reduce the meaning of playing the game as a group, the same goes for redefining the rules of an role-playing game based on subjective feelings. 
The Secret
All roleplaying is procedural. If you're running a game and deciding things arbitrarily, that's a sign of an unskilled Dungeon Master. (Not that they know they are unskilled or will admit it, but they will talk about how hard it is to get a game together. This is serious Dunning-Kruger territory.)
Let me explain. Much like in any other kind of game in the world, there is a sequence of actions. At no point does someone wave a wand and there's a free-form interpretative dance component to chess. 
Role-playing games are the same way. Familiarity with some of these steps can make them pass instantaneously or invisibility at the table. Different games have different steps. But they are all procedural steps, there's no magical tea parties
A short example.
Players gather.Play begins.The Dungeon Master describes the scene. The players ask questions.The caller confers with the players.The caller reports the action to the dungeon master.The dungeon master reports the outcomes.
Depending on the setting, Wilderness exploration, Dungeon Exploration, or Downtime, various other procedures are described, as well as methods to switch between them. The players get a 'turn'. they must spend one 'turn' in six at rest. They can move X' a turn. 
Let's not be aggressively stupid here. Let's say you want to add a procedure for having the players talk to each other at the camp to flesh out character relationships. Can't you do that? 
Of course you can. Look at The Dying Earth (if you can find a copy) or my own On the Non-Player Character, if you'd like to see some of the ways you could handle something like that. But if you're creating new game procedures, you should do that and then present them to the players.
Because of the fact that role-playing groups form such strong bonds this boundary can get a little blurred. It's the line between engaging in an activity freely with your friends, versus acting in aggressive and passive ways to meet your needs at the expense of theirs. Often we take advantage of people once we grow used to them. You no longer think about their experience or the group experience being a priority, but rather in your individual superiority over it. You know better, so it's ok to invalidate their choices in the group experience. You cease to approach them as valued humans who are sharing your time. 
Let's put it this way. If you're not willing to roll right out in the open and say "I'm ignoring or changing that roll because I don't want you to die." why not? 
If you only "prevent people from unfair deaths", then you've created a room full of people, ostensibly your friends,  who have to figure out what you, personally, consider unfair. And when someone dies, it's because you decided, and not because it happened in the game.  
The Hard TruthPeople have a fear of confrontation and consequences. Players don't die to bad die rolls. That's a lie people tell themselves for comfort. The player is always in charge of deciding to put themselves in the way of that random die roll. 
The reason people railroad and subjectively change outcomes due to whim is all about fear. What if things really matter and they don't go the way I want them to?
Well the truth is things really matter, and they might not go the way you want them to. Just deciding which rules to follow when they are convenient, that's something that allows you to feel safe. And it's at the expense of the the other human people.
My first adult player death was in Keep on the Borderlands, where they hired the evil cleric. The fighter backed out of combat seeking healing, and the cleric cast 'inflict serious wounds' killing the character. The players chose. They chose to hire the cleric, the player chose to put himself out of sight of the party. None of the specific particulars were in question because they followed the rules and procedure in the game. It wasn't what he wanted to have happen. It was hard to do. I was afraid.
I faced my fear and moved through it. 
The people were successful in that campaign, not because I made them successful. But because they were. I didn't have a 'story' in mind, but I could regale you with tales of their adventure for days. A real adventure, risking real danger, and real loss.
You see? No one is saying you can't decide things, or streamline some stuff, or whatever. What's happening is people who have been around the block know this as fear. As anyone can tell you, having something to lose makes life worth living. 
Holy Schnikes it's good to be back. 
Join the team if me being back makes you happy! Hack & Slash FollowTwitchNewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Appendix N - Strange Aeons of Frank Belknap Long & OSR Campaign Construction

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 10/23/2019 - 17:16
Sleep sometimes eludes me for days at a clip & when that happens I reach back to my days reading 'The Dragon' Magazine, my uncle's collection of Pulp magazines, & my thoughts of 'those things'. My own particular brush with the writings of  Frank Belknap Long came in the Fall of '86. I was sick with pneumonia & my uncle brought my folks a stack of Pulp magazines. In the stack was the July '37 Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Purging Woth Nrld Oekwn’s Muddy Hole

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/23/2019 - 11:13
By Jay Murphy Vanishing Tower press 1e/BX/etc Levels 2-6(!)

A gasping faithful of the Grim Gauntlet, gripping bloodied mace in gashed hands, lies wounded in the forest. They have just crawled out from their failed mission within the “Hole”. A trio of fanged-mouthed humanoids killed their party before they escaped with their life. Robid has sworn to destroy this forgotten shrine of evil. Will the PCs help?

This forty page digest adventure describes about twelve rooms in about fourteen pages. There’s a small cave complex combined with a small weird temple complex … petty-god ish. Good interactivity and evocative writing combines with spotty organization. 

When I first looked at this I misread it and thought it was for OSRIC. As I was looking it over I thought to myself “Jesus, the OSRIC guys heads are gonna explode”! Then I looked again and it was 1e/BX/OSR systems. Ok. We’re talking a tone here closer to OD&D than 1e or generic B/X. Not really gonzo, but with a healthy, healthy non-standard monster and situation mix. “Petty God temple with Trogs” maybe describes the tone?

 The tone is very OD&D: lots of new monsters and new magic items … no book items at all. The situations are weird. A sickening yellow membrane across a doorway. A harbinger in the dungeon. Dismembered corpses scattered about … with the things you need to desecrate/shut down this temple. It’s weird mix of trogs and petty gods stuff … it sets a dark and ominous tone with the text.  A room is barren, with the heavy smell of wet earth. Corpses ripped up, parts missing, with maggots infesting them and maggot/wing/wasp things festing on them. The smell of ammonia precedes the pink slime monsters. There are weird alters and things in the dungeon to fuck with. It’s a good mix and sets the tone for “weird” without it being gonzo. 

Treasure seems light for anything but level 2’s … and the first monster encounter is with 11 2HD monsters in a room blocked by monsters … that’s gonna be rough for level 2’s. Blocking monsters can be a problem in older editions of D&D. Or, maybe, it sets a pretty strong level range if there’s no way around them or clever way through them. It also does some weird things with information in place. “If Bob is with the group he’ll tell the party that his buddies died in the next room …” Well, if Bob is with the party then they may have asked that before getting to this room. Having the Bob section tell us what Bob kbnows is far better than digging through the text for each room to ferret out what someone knows.

The organization of the text is …  inconsistent. Some rooms do a decent job or organizing the text for the DM. Room two has two dead bodies that have attracted Muckwings (stats for muckwings) (order of battle notes) (body 1 descr)(body 2 descr.) That’s a decent layout. You’re likely to se ethe bodies and then the monsters when you enter, and then you’ll search the bodies and the layout reflects that.

Another room, though, mentions the smell of ammonia first (good) but then monster stats. And then mentions a small hole in the floor the size of an apple. THEN it mentions the back wall being dominated by an upright stone coffin. Then it covers reaching in to the hole. Then the same paragraph covers the coffin and it opening. It’s all over the place. First things first then second things second. Jumping all over the place with your room text forces a complete reading for the room … which is not good at the table during play. Other areas tell us that pink slime encroaches out in the hallway from the room. Well, fuck, that a detail that should be on the map or somehow otherwise noted prior to the room so the DM can run it correctly. 

But, it’s certainly original. And full of evocative writing and interesting interactive encounters. And is non-standard as all get out. If you want something a little different then I’d Regert this … but the somewhat tortured writing in places and lack of clarity in others makes it a tough recommend on the Bryce Lynch “On the Best” scale. A scale which is unfair to original works like this.

This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is GREAT. You get some art samples (which do a good job conveying a Darkest Dungeon tone and brining the monsters to life) and you get to see about seven of the room. Note room two in particular. Can you tell me what items the bodies have and if they are pertinent to the adventure? Check out room five and see how the bolding clases with the monster bolding … and that giant hand/head alter. Pretty spiffy!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kickstarter coming soon!

Two Hour Wargames - Tue, 10/22/2019 - 19:43
Launches November 1st!10 Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Historical & Zombie Games  Learn One Set of Game Mechanics - Play Many GamesThe more you buy the cheaper the price per game.  In fact, you can  buy multiples of the same game! Because our printer doesn't force us into buying a minimum number of games we can pass the savings on to you. It's a great way to get a great price. That makes sense, but what if you don't want 10 games for yourself? Go in with your friends! You and your friends can make one pledge and divide the games up when they arrive.  Since we charge for postage after the project closes you can have your games sent to different places.

These game may share the same titles as our miniatures rules, but they are different!
More info to come!
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Using High Level Adventures - Commentary On The World Book of Khaas: Legendary Lands of Arduin & Cha'alt

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 10/22/2019 - 18:44
The balance between the divine & mundane sometimes has to be thrown out of the window. The play is the thing. But back in 2016 I learned several valuable lessons when dealing with both Arduin & Godbound. Could these lessons be applied to an upcoming campaign?  Wayback in 2016 I had a group of players of White Wolf's Exalted rpg who wanted to take a spin on Kevin Crawford's Godbound.  So Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

In D&D, Letting Everyone Roll Certain Checks Guarantees Success, So Why Bother Rolling?

DM David - Tue, 10/22/2019 - 11:15

As a dungeon master, I rarely ask everyone in the party to make perception, investigation, or knowledge checks, because someone almost always rolls high. With these checks, just one high roll yields the information the players want. Why bother rolling for a virtually certain outcome?

I asked this question of Dungeons & Dragons fans and gained hundreds of responses.

Many comments mentioned that passive checks—especially passive Wisdom (Perception) checks—fit most times everyone might roll.

So why roll instead?

Even though DMs realize that saying “everyone roll” almost guarantees success, they ask because players enjoy rolling. For many players, the game only begins when the dice fly.

Plus, “everyone roll” is D&D theater. You know the outcome but asking grabs attention and spurs the players into real-world action. Jamie LaFountain writes, “Everyone rolling is a nice smoke-and-mirrors trick when you want to get a piece of information out to the group and give the illusion of risk of failure.”

Sometimes everyone rolls without a request from the DM. One person makes a check, and all the other players snap to attention and try too. For example, the character at the dungeon door looks it over, muffs a perception check, and then everyone else starts rolling and calling numbers. What should a DM do?

First, you might gently remind your players that rolling a check that the DM didn’t request counts as a slight lapse of table decorum. “When I’m a player I loathe that everyone at the table feels the need to also roll a check,” Sam Witkowski writes. Such piling on robs the active player of their moment—their chance to be rewarded for their action. Checks should happen when a DM decides that a character’s action in the game world merits a check.

Ask the other players what their characters do. If nobody approaches to spot the door’s faded inscription, ignore their checks. If everyone takes a turn up close, consider any time pressure, but let everyone roll (and maybe a wandering monster opens the door from the other side).

Actions prompt checks, so making a perception check typically means taking a closer look. If the party just crosses a room and you want to see if someone notices a trap door, D&D’s rules suggest using passive Wisdom (Perception) rather than calling for a roll. You can limit passive checks to those closest to the trap door, so players benefit from letting the perceptive character lead. (And remember in dim light, the check is at disadvantage, a passive -5. Darkness counts as dim light for characters relying on darkvision.)

Players pile on lore checks too. These are checks against skills like History, Arcana, and Religion to discover if a character brings some knowledge to a situation. Everybody rolling for knowledge typically assures success. Such group rolls often show that the most unlikely character knows some bit of obscure lore.

Group knowledge rolls diminish the choices of players who invested proficiency in knowing things. If you always let everyone roll for an inevitable success, the value of knowledge skills drops to almost nothing. Success comes from making five rolls rather than from proficiency.

When everyone rolls, the one sage proficient in a skill will seldom roll a better success than the four know-nothings in the party. Still, some DMs enjoy the surprise of seeing the barbarian beat the wizard’s arcane knowledge. Such occasions can reveal character.

The next time every character wants to pile on a knowledge check, consider letting them, but ask players to roll only if they think their character might know something. Then if the barbarian lucks into a 20, say, “I’ll tell you about the enchantment on the door, but first can your tell me how someone fostered by wolves knows about wards forged on the plane of Mechanus?” Asking “how can this be so?” fuels creativity. “The barbarian may not know what that symbol means is or what civilization used it, but they remember seeing something similar 10 years ago on a crypt outside of Blahland,” writes Jonathan Hibberd. Either players add interesting bits of background to their characters, or they admit to knowing nothing.

Letting everyone roll a lore check works best when you have lots of information to offer. Every success yields a fun fact. By granting information for good rolls, you can make an information dump feel like a series of rewards.

For extra value, try to make the tidbits feel unique to each character’s background, nature, and outlook. D.W. Dagon writes, “A Religion check from a cloistered scholar is going to be resolved very differently to the same check from an outlander. It’s a great opportunity to bring forth each character’s unique backstory in a way which forwards story.”

DMs who want to see if a character discovers a secret may ask for everyone to roll. The player who succeeds gains confidential information. Don’t do this if you expect players to share the information. Players tend to guard secrets, even when they have no reason to.

Everyone roll almost guarantees success, but sometimes no one rolls better than a 6—including the character starting with a +5. If you call for everyone to roll, expect success, but be ready for a fail. If the adventurers must know something, then just tell them.

Some DMs keep track of characters’ proficiencies for this purpose. “If I can prepare,” Thomas Christy writes, “I love to find out who is trained in pertinent skills, and then feed their players information ahead of the session.” During the game, the players can reveal their knowledge in-character. When players remember their knowledge, Tom rewards inspiration.

You can treat knowledge skills as passive. Without a roll, tell players what their character knows based on, say, their Intelligence (Religion) bonus. I often reveal lore based on characters’ proficiencies and background. For instance, the druid knows of the cursed trees surrounding the grove, while the dwarf knows about the flooded mine. This technique works especially well for the information players must learn to continue. Essential backstory feels like a reward for a character’s choices. Players won’t know what knowledge comes from their characters’ aptitude and what you had to reveal to advance the plot.

If you want to make checking for a bit of obscure lore into a real test, allow fewer characters to roll.

  • Limit the check to characters with proficiency. This rewards the cleric proficient in religion even if their knowledge is hampered by low Intelligence.

  • Limit the check to the active character, possibly just the person who asked, and then grant advantage based on the party’s advice and assistance. This encourages action.

  • Limit the check to the most knowledgeable character, and then grant advantage based on the party’s help. I love when this enables a quiet player to gain the spotlight based on their character’s aptitude.

You can impose similar limits on investigation. Limit Intelligence (Investigation) rolls to the best detective or to the active character, and then grant advantage based on the help from other characters.

Wisdom (Insight) checks commonly lead to pile-on checks. If you want any intrigue and deception in your game, then more than one person should never roll a Wisdom (Insight) check. Next week, I’ll explain how to cope with Insight.

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