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Fire Giants Sighted - A0-A4: Against the Slave Lords & OSR Deep Dive Session Report Seven

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 07:56
The party of adventurers tonight had to deal with a night goblin scouting party that was trying to sneak into camp in my  Cha'alt/Godbound  campaign. Our party's portal mage & his blink dog pack made short work of the three goblins.  The party of adventurers had to deal with a bevy of murderous hopped up Cha'alt red caps who were hopped up on the Cha'alt drug  xanthium-183. These Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Join the Caravan. Caravanserai Now on Sale!

Two Hour Wargames - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 01:57
Haldor seemed to have worn out his welcome in Demeskeen. Or at least in his mind he had and that was good enough. He surveyed the tavern. Kurinthian Warriors, Barylistani Caravan Guards, Demeskeen Army and he swore that little lady in the corner was a Wererat. Well, not right now of course. Not in public, but get her alone and who could say.  “Yes, it’s time to go. I wonder what Brigana is like this time of year?” Caravanserai, the Talomir Tales Core Rule book and 30+ scenarios is now on sale here.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Skywalker is Risen

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 13:28

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has not exactly been embraced by critics, though this is unlikely to blunt its box office draw much. Stars Wars fandom is ever hopefully that the dark times are over and what they love above Star Wars will finally be restored (when the fall from grace occurred, depends on who you ask, and probably what point in their life you ask them).

Like Abrams' first Star Wars film, RoS feels like it's trying to jam several movies into one, though the finale draws mostly from Return of the Jedi. It all moves very fast, and largely that's to its benefit, though that means no location develops a sense of place beyond set-dressing and character development is pretty shallow. (This film and the short run-time of the Mandalorian episodes, which are like hour dramas with most of the non-action excised, make me wonder if perhaps SW works best as a modern serial. Certainly the Clone Wars animated series played to those tropes as well to good effect.) It's fine, but it has the upshot of only occasionally (for me) wringing any real feeling from the proceedings, even failing to evoke any appreciation of it on a toyetic level. I saw nothing in this one that makes me want to buy the art book to delve into the design.

None of this is to say I didn't like it. It was a pleasing experience, though the enjoyment was pretty shallow. Only in a couple of places did it evoke any nostalgic feelings for the series' passing (I won't say which scenes for the sake of spoilers), and then only on the level of say the recent finale of The Deuce. Nothing on the level of the death of Spock (to evoke it's closest cultural competitor).

I am curious about the future of Star Wars, which will  probably get me in a theater to see at least one more.

Blog Watch: Risk Averse Marines, Level Inflation, Demonic Easter Bunnies, and Man Plots

Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 02:19

War Games (Marines) 3rd Marine Division challenges junior Marines with war games — “War games at the higher levels tend to be much more complicated, but using the board game Memoir 44’ is simple. The rules aren’t overly complicated so it lends itself to be easy to analyze. We can put together a small party of Marines to play the game and from a single round, we can collect how many times they attack compared to how many times they move. With that I can figure out if they’re overly aggressive or risk-averse.”

Appendix N (Autistic Mercury) Real Fantasy — “This complex of stories, Tolkien’s Legendarium, has clear influences in earlier works with which Tolkien was familiar, in particular the work of Lord Dunsany, and his 1905 book, The Gods of Pegāna, which, similar to the Legendarium, outline a fictional mythology of the world’s creation and the gods who participated in it. In Dusany’s personal mythology, like in Tolkien’s, our universe is the physical manifestation of the music of Skarl, the Drummer, who beats on his drum for all eternity. Dunsany, besides influencing Tolkien, was likewise appreciated by many of the other acknowledged founders of Fantasy, such as Lovecraft, Howard, as well as Jorge Luis Borges and many others.”

The Pulps (Wasteland and Sky) Licensed to Thrill: A Pulp History (Part I: The Beginning) — “Pulps were sold primarily on awe before anything else. The romance of adventure and the terror of action were the selling points to those who wanted their escapism. You read pulps for excitement, for hope, for wonders, for horrors, and for love. You read them to be taken to higher places, and away from your troubles.”

D&D (Emperor’s Notepad) Level Inflation is a disease even clerics can’t cure — “If someone is playing in a Conan or Star Wars setting, it is always assumed that Conan, Darth Vader, or Luke Skywalker should be quite close to the upper tiers, towards the lvl 20 range. Unfortunately, that transforms those iconic characters into walking gods and, therefore, everything else around them has to go through a level inflation upgrade if the original source material is to make any sense at all. So, the soldiers or giant snakes that Conan kills in this or that story, or the villains Luke kills, are not low-level NPCs (which is what they actually were) but suddenly they have to be reinterpreted as level 10+ characters for them to be meaningfully threatening.”

RPGs (The Mixed GM) Interview With Venger Satanis! — “It’s funny what players take seriously (from grave danger to mostly harmless) and what they don’t, how easily they’ll buy-into an element of the setting and what seems too far fetched, in the moment. That just means expectations and assumptions need to be redefined, which happens organically as play proceeds. I’ve never had a player say, ‘Nope, my snake-man sorcerer just does not accept demonic Easter Bunnies from the outer void. I’m out.'”

PulpRev (Barbarian Book Club) Book Review: The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene — “The Last Ancestor is a tale that is rooted in a moral and heroic landscape that was part of our childhood, Hellene is about my age. A landscape that was filled with heroic characters instead of the ironic and nihilistic fare that passes for boy’s entertainment nowadays. It’s a tale that belongs on the shelf next to He-Man, Thundercats, and Johnny Quest and fans of fun and adventurous will love this book.”

SWPL (The New York Times) Should Board Gamers Play the Roles of Racists, Slavers and Nazis? — “The ranks of board game designers, however, is changing more slowly. According to one study, 94 percent of the designers for the top 100 ranked games on BoardGameGeek were white men. This perhaps explains the viewpoint many games take. Their designers can more readily identify with the European colonizers, and not the colonized.”

It’s Okay to be Japanese (Quillette) Yukio Mishima: Japan’s Cultural Martyr — “Against the ‘selfish individualism’ of Western culture, Mishima hailed the ‘samurai spirit’ of heroic self-sacrifice and praised the “tragic beauty” of the kamikaze squadrons. In his short film Patriotism (1966), Mishima himself played the role of an army officer who commits suicide rather than disobey an imperial command. To many observers it appeared as if Mishima was willfully taunting Japan by lauding aspects of its past that it was now eager to forget.”

Brand X (Kairos) The Seduction of Brand X — “In the wake of the director’s departure, Disney briefly shelved the project before retooling it as a soft reboot. Filming on Brand X; X starts in May. The reboot stars Idris Elba as John Wayne as Genghis Khan, who must defend Chinese railroad coolies from the predations of a Christian cult led by a vampiric Abe Lincoln. Disney will donate one dollar of every ticket sold to the SPLC.”

Adventure! (Brain Leakage) Big Irons: Westerns, Adventure Paperbacks, and the Man Plot — “Neal Fargo inhabits a changing world. The wild places are becoming civilized, and the real struggles for survival are being replaced with phony copies, meant to entertain softer men than him. But Fargo himself is still a man of action. And he actively seeks out the places where his action will have meaning. To a modern reader in an increasingly sedentary and regulated world, there’s something powerful about that idea.”

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[NEWS] Judgement of the Postal Gods & A Day in Xyntillan (Double Feature)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 23:24
About two weeks after mailing them, copies of Castle Xyntillan are now arriving at various US destinations. That’s part reassuring and part frustrating. Reassuring because, in spite of what my lizard brain tries to tell me, the postal services of the world are not dumping mailed packages right into a flaming ditch filled with ravenous crocodiles. Well, not wilfully, not while laughing, and not en masse, at least. But let me tell you, oh frustrated customer who is still waiting for your promised copy (you know who you are), that I made foolish time estimates on the basis of previously solid shipping times, and the only thing I forgot was to correctly factor in the effects Christmas season would have on postal traffic. “In the end, they may receive their books a day or two later,” I thought. Well, that was optimistic.
In other words, to all those who have not received Castle Xyntillan yet: I am sorry some of you have had to wait longer than promised – and I hope the book you will soon hold in your hands will make the wait worthwhile. May the Postal Gods be gracious, and may thy packages make their saving throws vs. crushing blow!
Also, if you have received your book, I appreciate a confirmation message – puts my mind at ease, and makes these final days of frantic office work before Christmas go smoother.
In other Xyntillan-related news, we held an official launch event for the book last Sunday. We organised a whole-day OD&D game in a small, private game club, and played two expeditions’ worth of Xyntillan in a group of seven players and one GM. Ironically, the players were friends who had not actually experienced the module before, at least beyond the odd convention one-shot (the original playtesters will get to play something entirely new and different, as is the way with RPGs).
The following report contains spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
Xyntillan was playtested with the later, post-supplement iteration of the rules (as seen in Dungeons & Companies, a Hungarian OSR ruleset, fairly close to S&W), but this time, to make the occasion special, we went for a three booklets-only OD&D game. We took my booklets, and a copy of the single volume edition, and soon had a ready first-level adventure party:
  • Eugene the Cleric (Lawful in appearance, oddly Chaotic in action)
  • Darius the Magic-User
  • Slink the Hobbit (a poor translation of “Sumák”, a word implying a combination of laziness, and dishonesty)
  • John the Cleric(Lawful)
  • Grumb the Dwarf (With a suitably low appearance)
  • Wolus of the Gloom, gender-ambiguous Elf
  • Nubin, also a Dwarf

Arriving in the mountain town of Tours-en-Savoy, this band of miscreants soon purchased extra equipment, and recruited additional NPC flunkies to round out the party. The pickings were fairly slim due to bad rolls, so they ended up with some fairly useless louts:
  • Honest Jacques Foltyat[untranslatable pun] the porter
  • Jean, light footman (the only competent fighter of the lot)
  • Heave, porter (orig. “Hórukk”, trying to earn money for the medicine of his sick mother)
  • Dorko the mule driver
  • Jean-Jacques, porter (also trying to earn money for the medicine of his sick mother, and increasing the Jean/Jacques confusion within the party to a new level)

First ExpeditionLeaving town after gathering some information, they headed for the mountains, arriving near Castle Xyntillan after two days of travel. The adventure was on!
  • The company decided to avoid the two obvious entrances, and cross the nearby lake on a makeshift raft (ordering their henchmen to cut down a dry tree, and sacrificing two coils of rope).
  • They arrived in an abandoned garden, and in addition to a chapel and two double doors leading inside the castle complex, soon found two secret entrances. Here, they first experimented with what looked like a talking well, and were then ambushed by a group of goatrices lurking in the bushes. Poor Heave was killed and turned to stone, and Honest Jacques was gored to death.
  • They decided to investigate the chapel next. Prying two valuable emeralds from a holy water font, Eugene the Cleric and Wolus of the Gloom were marked with letters on their forehead spelling “KNAVE”, and found they could not re-enter the chapel. The rest of the company headed to investigate the structure’s attic, finding a derelict study inhabited by Aristide Malévol the Patrician, the liche of Xyntillan! Aristide was too bored to destroy them then and there, and was satisfied with placing a geas on the nosy Slink to retrieve a magical book “from the eastern laboratory”.
  • Entering the castle proper, they investigated a ruined drinking hall with singing poltergeists, a gallery with talking portraits, an adjoining hall with a rolling boulder, and a large trophy room with decaying trophies. The company unwisely split up to investigate these rooms indivisually, abandoning Nubin’s position as the party caller. Eugene was almost flattened by the boulder, and they lost Jean and Jean-Jacques to a group of undead, moss-eaten stuffed deer. However, Wolus also found a dagger +1, and Slink gained a bottle of ectoplasmic brandy from the poltergeists in exchange for a bottle of rum he first got from the talking portrait of a pirate.
  • Slink now felt the effects of the gease, so they proceeded eastwards, investigating but avoiding a large steam bath, and looting a humble bedroom, where they found a hidden treasure. To their fortune, they ran into one of the place’s live inhabitants, a strange youth named Claude Malévol. This scion of Xyntillan’s ruling family fell under Wolus’s charm spell, and directed them towards the laboratory.
  • Crossing a courtyard beneath the massive donjon, they checked out a great marble-covered throne room, and a nearby ballroom filled with indistinct, ghostly figures dancing to dissonant tunes. They bypassed these rooms to find a nice retreat, resulting in some valuable artwork, and containing a magical hookah which sent Slink into a healing sleep (a lucky occasion, as he was heavily wounded). Investigating a secret passage, Wolus stepped on a hidden bear trap, and died from shock as he had his leg taken clean off. Without Wolus, Claude grew more and more erratic, and soon ran away, sobbing and cursing the party. At last, they could awaken Slink with a quaff of his ectoplasmic brandy.
  • A side venture lead to a music room with golden harp strings and a sheet music manuscript they could later sell at a decent prize. Even better, they found the laboratory, inhabited by the hunchbacked Mandrake Malévol the Mixer. Mandrake was taken by surprise as they bashed in his door, and while he managed to throw a heavy flask of acid at his attackers, he went down with little effort. However, Dorko the mule driver (now controlled by Wolus’s player) was dragged into a nearby room as he was exploring the nearby corridor, encountering Lydia Malévol the Luckless, who strangled and devoured him.
  • Rewarded with the book they were seeking (Nicholas Flamel’s work on alchemy), and the salamander amulet of detoxication, they headed back to the chapel to complete the geas. Aristide was not present, so they placed the book on his writing desk, while Eugene and Grumb (I think) made away with one of the liche’s unguarded treasures, the gem-bedecked libram of heinous damnation!

Back in Tours-en-Savoy, the company’s success drew much attention, and new companions. The characters could advance to Level 2 with their loot and the monster XP (which is pretty good, if not outstanding on low levels by the pre-Greyhawk LBB rules). A new adventurer rose to replace the late Wolus:
  • Tiara Fiery-Eyes, Cleric 1 (Pagan priestess of CHAOS!)

…and, seeing all the gold the newcomers threw around like mere coppers, new henchmen with good fighting skills were also recruited, despite the first expedition’s 100% casualty rate:
  • Ubul, heavy footman (been “down there”, and knew some rumours about Xyntillan)
  • Rick, heavy footman
  • Ali, crossbowman
  • Dupré, heavy footman and party animal
  • Jean, paranoid heavy footman
  • Wilhelm, crossbowman
Second ExpeditionThus strengthened, a new expedition was launched to explore the unknown reaches of Xyntillan. (This had to be a shorter delve, as it was already mid-afternoon):
  • Choosing to enter through the western gatehouse, the company was cornered by a band of brigands hiding among the ruins. Gilbert Malévol “the Fox” demanded a hefty tithe, but a sleep spell from Darius caught his men, and he beat a hasty retreat as the remaining brigands were cut down, leaving a lone survivor alive in exchange for rumours.
  • This time, the company chose to explore the northwestern reaches of the castle, known to be a particularly dangerous area from a random rumour. They found a secret entrance leading inside, and found themselves in a bar inhabited by spirits. The encounter did not turn hostile, and they gained a bottle of ghost gin for their troubles, as well as information leading to a nearby treasure.
  • Following the spirits’ directions, they arrived in a section of red carpeted floors. A cluttered storehouse contained the wooden statue of a six-armed dancing girl holding six daggers, standing on a pedestal with a coin slot and a hand crank. They also found a niche with a mummy sarcophagus and canopic jars (which proved to be made of precious gold). The greedy Slink pried open the sarcophagus, but when he tried to burn the mummy inside, it pronounced a curse, and Slink crumbled into 200 gp worth of gold dust!
  • Tiara Fiery-Eyes brought the dancing girl back to life, and gained a powerful servant, but this gain was immediately undone by his companions, who looted the statue’s coin box, enraging the wooden killing machine. To save himself, Grumb rushed outside and spiked the door, leaving his companions to fight it out. The statue cut down poor Ubul, Rick and Jean, but was then brought low with a few lucky hits. Valuable silk bales were obtained from the storeroom.
  • A mysterious stairway lead upstairs, even deeper into Xyntillan. Braving the route, they found a marble corridor with a pair of magically locked doors, two regular doors, and a side corridor. The cold winds soon coalesced into the ghost of Malvin Malévol the Strangler, eager to strangle the interlopers. They decided to check out one of the doors, leading to a side chapel. A mysterious clue prompted many of the characters to donate some valuables, except Eugene. However, this left him cursed, turning his armour into lead he had to discard to be able to move. They returned to the corridor, Malvin having departed.
  • The northern doors lead to a room of half-melted, immobile wax statues, followed by a storeroom with bottles of alcohol. The party split again: Eugene stayed outside, while the others proceeded, finding a massive metal gate flanked by several shelves of skulls, bedecked with complicated-looking gears and gizmos, and marked “THE MASTERPIECE OF DEATH” in large metal letters. This did not seem very attractive, especially as they got attacked by a group of undead ladies. Grumb decided to run and alert Eugene, but was in turn attacked by three of the now animate wax figures. Running from them, he ran into Eugene, who now had his hands full with fending off the returned Malvin Malévol. A large battle developed, involving several combatants against three groups of monsters (including a ghost they could only hit with a single magical dagger). Here, the bottles of alcohol proved useful when lit, but ultimately, they had to flee from Malvin to avoid suffering casualties. Low on Hp and depleted of spells, they looted some of the red carpets on the lower floor, and headed for the outside, and the road back to Tours-en-Savoy!

Although the expedition was on the short side, the treasures were good, and allowed Tiara to get to Level 2, and the others to get up to Level 3. (OD&D is funny that way - the first level gains can go reasonably quickly if the party trikes gold).
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Touch of Amber - Tom Moldvay's X2 Castle Amber & OSR Round About Session Report Six

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 20:19
Its been a relentless kind of couple of days. We've been buried under with work but there hasn't been a moment when my campaign hasn't been on my mind. I've been thinking about Tom Moldvay's X2 Castle Amber. X2: ""Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)" (1981), by Tom Moldvay, is the second Expert level Basic D&D adventure. It was published in 1981 " this is the official history of the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Inside Downtime

Hack & Slash - Thu, 12/19/2019 - 13:00

What's in this thing?

Well, there's some pictures of the table of contents. But what's in there?

A procedural system that drives adventure and player engagement in sandboxes!


Here's how it works.

You are standing in the center of a fantasy world. The Dungeon Master has all his adventure sites and environments prepared.

The players can do whatever they want, but if they want to sleep indoors, they are going to have to come up with the cash. If not, what adventure will befall them on the streets or in the wilderness?

The canny players will be like "How do we get ahead of the game?" You'll grin, and hand them the guide (we calling them control panels now?) in the back of the book with downtime activities. They have to pay that cash on the barrel-head, on a regular schedule using any of the classic and modern calendars contained in the appendix to keep them motivated. Like the Merwish calendar from 1978! Every month events occur, based on percentages you set. The world lives.

All of which lead seamlessly for adventure.

Now, it's not a good idea to run a blind sandbox, there are usually starting adventures that provide different hooks to draw the player into the world. That's why transparently adding this to your campaign reinforces all your hard work! Players will begin to examine your world as a place they can get the resources and information they need to accomplish their  goals.

With staged rumors, lots of secondary and tertiary dimensions for players to approach adventures, (Gain influence in town to raise an army, send out expeditions to accomplish secondary goals, manipulate influence from behind the scenes) completely compatible rules for either basic or 5th edition for clearing land and building castle, and lots of treats for players like growing vat monsters, building airships, or setting up bandit camps, it adds new realms of engagement to your game.

Oh, and some of the most creative ideas and tools from the best minds in fantasy gaming.

That's it! My players seem to really like it. So do everyone that already has a copy!
Print coming soon!

Get it today, seamlessly compatible with basic or seamlessly compatible with 5e.

If you're looking for some great art to go with your new campaign, check out James Shield's Kickstarter for 26 horrible beasts!
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3: Sketch Card Preview, Part 3

Cryptozoic - Wed, 12/18/2019 - 17:00

Please enjoy the third preview of Sketch Cards from Rick and Morty Trading Cards Season 3

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Downtime On Time

Hack & Slash - Wed, 12/18/2019 - 13:00
Hey guys.

I finished my Kickstarter on time.
5th Edition
Basic D&D

People's responses have been good.

"Its a good book.""I love the Noble Patron random list in Downtime and Demesnes! Very creative and very... useful for the... discerning Judge...""Some of the biggest things from it that I see using or modifying for a game I run are the vehicle design rules and the settlement influence rules""I really liked the addition of lapidary hirelings (I know that's a weird thing to like, but making gems more of a subgame sounds like it could be fun)""@Agonarch The book is good yes. but that's not surprising. the kickass cover surprised me!" "This book was worth every penny. I can safely say that all or most of this will be dropped into my next campaign. Thank you and well done."
There's more, like a lot more. People seem to really like it.

Print files have been submitted and we are waiting on DTRPG printer. During the release period, the book is on sale for a price much closer to what the kickstarter backers paid. It's only for a limited time though, and once 2020 is upon us, it'll go back up to full price.

You want something exciting to read that will get your players as jazzed about your campaign as you are, so check it out.

Can you believe 1,100 people already bought this thing and love it?

I'll be posting some more about what's inside coming up this week, along with some more exciting posts now that the book is done.

Thanks everyone. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sly & Flourish - 'You never see the hand that moves' From Monsters To NPC's

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 20:49
'You never see the hand that moves' this was a common saying with my uncle from dungeon mastering way back in the Eighties. I've been very busy at work so much so that this is the first blog entry in two day. But I've been rereading D1-2 Descent Into The Depths of the Earth by Gary Gygax which are more of a series of supplements as well as follow up modules to Gary Gygax's Against Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

how the “odd detail” can make D&D traps way more fun

Blog of Holding - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 17:11

Traps are kind of an unsolved problem in 5e D&D (of course, I said this before about 4e). On the one hand, you can’t leave traps out, because they’re an integral part of the dungeon delver fantasy. On the other hand, the way they’re usually used in 5e is not fun. Your stock 10-foot-pit trap is (if your passive Perception is high enough) a piece of scenery hardly worth mentioning, or (if your passive Perception is low) an unavoidable hit point tax, or (if your DM doesn’t use Perception) a guess-what-the-DM-is-thinking game, or (if overused) an incentive to play in a laborious and dull style involving ten foot poles.

Even the writers of 5e don’t have a lot of faith in traps. Consider their advice from Xanathar’s Guide:

If your encounters or adventures are sown with too many traps, and if the characters are victimized over and over again as a result, they are likely to take steps to prevent further bad things from happening. Because of their recent experience, the characters can become overly cautious, and you run the risk of the action grinding to a halt. Traps are most effective when their presence comes as a surprise, not when they appear so often that the characters spend all their effort watching out for the next one.

I think this is wrong. Call me naive, but I think traps can be fun. Don’t be stingy. Slather them on! Run an all-trap dungeon. Run an all-trap adventure! If you’re willing to put a little extra work into it, there are ways to make each trap into an entertaining encounter.

I’ve been the victim of many traps in my years of playing D&D (and also inflicted a few as the DM). Sometimes, defeating a trap can feel extremely satisfying, and even falling victim to a trap can be a hilarious table moment. It all comes down to warning the players, implicitly or explicitly, that they might be walking into danger.

Here are the setups of some of the traps I’ve enjoyed most as a D&D player. We’ll get into the trap solutions later on.

  • In the dungeon corridor ahead, a glowing dagger floats in the air.
  • A glass tube extends from the floor to the ceiling. Inside the tube is a statue holding an apparently magic weapon.
  • A room contains 4 rotting sofas, several throne-like chairs, vases, and urns which are dented, chipped and broken, stands, small tables, and braziers, all jumbled together.
  • player skill vs character skill

    The traditional trap dichotomy is between old school “player skill” style and new school “character skill” style.

    The “player skill” school holds that characters should perform certain intelligent actions to avoid traps – prod every floor with a pole, throw a coin onto the metal floor, pull the lever with Mage Hand while standing across the room.

    The “character skill” style relies on die rolls. Your characters are more competent adventurers than you are – a character with high Perception shouldn’t miss an obvious trap because their player didn’t guess what action the DM expected them to take.

    In most D&D situations, player skill vs. character skill is a false dichotomy. If you want to get up a cliff, you can either use an Athletics check or do something clever with ropes. If you want to convince a guard to let you pass, you can make a Persuasion check or you can say something reasonable. There are many solutions to any problem.

    Traps don’t have multiple solutions because they often don’t present themselves as problems – by the time you know there’s a trap, the encounter is over. Traps exist outside the usual D&D action loop, which is described in the PHB as:

    1. The DM describes the environment
    2. The players describe what they want to do
    3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions

    The trap action loop is more like this:

    1. The players blunder without warning into a trapped area
    2. The DM compares passive perception to static DCs and describes the PCs avoiding or triggering the trap
    3. the players write down damage on their character sheet, or take some trivial action like walking around a pit or stepping over a tripwire

    That’s why the trap-sprung-without-warning doesn’t work very well. When you remove the player’s ability to react to a situation, D&D becomes a game about comparing passive DCs or about performing methodical danger-avoidance routines – and the game begins to fall apart.

    Traps work best when they’re telegraphed.

    The odd detail

    Remember the list of my favorite trap setups I gave above? The common thread: they all include an odd or mysterious element that invites exploration.

    The odd detail can be an obvious clue to the nature of the trap – rubble on the floor below a collapsing ceiling trap, or a dead thief near a poison needle trap – but it can also just be a specific detail that cries out for investigation: a chalked arrow on the floor, or a door painted with a woodland scene. It doesn’t matter much what the detail is, just so it stands out enough to attract the players’ interest.

    It might seem like telegraphing every trap makes it too easy on the players. After all, players can just choose to ignore or steer around anything with a suspiciously lush description. Not to worry! Odd details are like catnip to D&D players. Characters come from miles around to stick their heads in the sphere of annihilation trap.

    The odd detail is the missing piece of D&D traps because it indicates to the players that there’s something to actively investigate. Without it, traps are just something DMs inflict on characters. You’d much rather have traps be something the characters inflict on themselves!

    investigating traps

    How do characters deal with traps? Once you’ve indicated that there’s something that may be worth investigating, the players can choose their own course of action. All the DM has to do is react. This brings traps back into the classic D&D paradigm from the PHB: the DM describing a scene, the players stating their actions, and the DM adjudicating the results. As an added benefit, players can organically choose between using old-school player skill and modern character skill, just as they can in other open-ended D&D scenes.

    Given a suspiciously odd detail, players will generally act in one of three ways:

  • call for a general perception check. “I examine the lacquered cabinet and its surroundings,” or just, “I make a perception check.” The player is choosing to use character skill, not player skill, here, and that’s fine. On a success, the player spots the trap trigger but doesn’t necessarily learn how to disarm it, or even what it does (though it may be obvious.) On a perception roll failure, the character has to try something else. Note: if several characters make nonspecific perception checks, use the rules for group checks! Otherwise, success is all but assured in the most boring way possible.
  • examine something specific, or ask a specific question. “Does the cabinet seem to be locked or sealed in any way?” I tend to reward specific inquiries with automatic success. “No, there’s no lock on the cabinet.” If the player wants to engage the trap using their player skill, I want to honor that choice by putting away the dice.
  • blunder forward because they weren’t paying attention to the DM’s hints. In his article The Flow of Trap Detection, Sly Flourish notes that half the time, D&D players aren’t understanding the DM’s description. That’s such an important point that it should be printed on DM screens. Let’s call it “Sly’s Law of Comprehension.” Frequent misunderstanding is a fundamental part of the medium, and usually neither the player’s nor the DM’s fault.

    So when a player inevitably misses a hint and walks into a trap, does that mean that they deserve to be spanked with inevitable trap damage? No! Here’s where passive perception finally comes into play. If the character ignores hints and blunders towards a carefully-clued trap, the DM can use their passive Perception to give the character a chance to spot the trap trigger.

  • countermeasures

    Once players are aware that they may be in the presence of a trap, they have two choices.

  • Make a skill check to disable the trap. This is putting their character’s survival in their character’s hands. It’s probably the most common approach in 5e, and it’s probably the safest as well.
  • take a specific action which seems logical to them at the time. Players can use their “player skill” to take methodical, brilliant, or wildly ill-considered actions. Such actions should usually either succeed or fail depending on what seems logical given the trap setup. No die roll is required. If Chewbacca chooses to grab the suspicious trap bait hanging from the tree, he ends up triggering the net trap. (He still gets a saving throw, though.) If Indiana Jones throws sand on the invisible bridge, he, or anyone else, can cross it without making a Perception check or taking a leap of faith.

    Sometimes, the DM’s “odd detail” will clue players in to act cautiously. Other times, the details will act like bait, suckering them into dangerous actions. And that’s OK too. It can be fun to disarm a trap with your brain, and sometimes it can be just as much fun to disarm it with your face. Everything’s better when you have agency.

  • What I’m suggesting involves work for the DM. Basically, every trap becomes a micro-puzzle. D&D is flexible: players who don’t relish puzzle-solving can roll a few dice to have their characters solve it. But whether the players take a new-school or old-school approach, every trap is the better for a few memorable, specific details.

    trap solutions

    Here are the “puzzle solutions” to the traps I mentioned at the top of the page.

  • “In the dungeon corridor ahead, a glowing dagger floats in the air.” This happened in Mike Mornard’s game. My thief heedlessly reached out to grab the dagger and ran into a gelatinous cube. I felt that the encounter was fair because I inflicted danger on myself by acting incautiously. If there had been no floating dagger, no clue to the gelatinous cube’s presence, it would have just felt like DM fiat.
  • “A glass tube extends from the floor to the ceiling. Inside the tube is a statue holding an apparently magic weapon.” My buddy John ran this as part of an all-trap dungeon, a museum where the traps themselves were the exhibits. Most were from Grimtooth’s Traps.

    In this trap, the glass tube is filled with poison gas: break the glass and get a faceful of poison. I suspected something of the kind, so we summoned some kind of canary-like creature into the tube to prove that it was poison, and then broke the glass and grabbed the treasure from afar. Mage Hand was involved, I believe. We had a blast and felt really smart solving this one.

  • “A room contains 4 rotting sofas, several throne-like chairs, vases, and urns which are dented, chipped and broken, stands, small tables, and braziers, all jumbled together.” This one is from the original Tomb of Horrors, which has some unfair traps, but this, I think, is a fair one. After a few minutes in the room, the floor will start to jump and buck around, tossing the furniture and characters wildly, and inflicting minor damage on the characters. The Pop-O-Matic action of the trap is a great explanation for the bizarre state of the room.
  • training your players

    Players need to learn that every trap will be marked with a clue. No matter how many traps you spring, that will prevent them from wasting their time searching barren rooms for traps. “You’re in a ten by ten room. Door to the left, door to the right.” There must NEVER be a trap in a room described like this! There’s nothing interesting or off-beat that signals that this is an investigation scene.

    Players also need to learn that there can be benefits from interacting with weird elements in your dungeon. Otherwise, every suspicious scratch on the floor will make your players run the other way. Luckily, D&D has a strong built-in slot-machine-like reward system. Treasure! In standard 5e D&D, about 1 in 5 monster encounters come with a treasure hoard, and lots more carry some incidental treasure. Treat traps just like any other encounter. It’s easy to litter treasure around a trap:

  • The trap was set up to guard the treasure! Guarding valuebles is, after all, one of the most likely uses for a trap.
  • A previous victim of the trap has a sack full of treasure! Nothing says “search this area carefully” like a dead thief.
  • The treasure is the trap’s bait! The “odd detail” is the treasure itself, clearly in sight, although all is not as it seems.
  • traps in the Inspiration app

    Of course, my Inspiration app is chock-full of traps. I’ve got something like 80 trap types, from the basic pit trap to the rolling boulder to the demon-possessed item, and each trap is further detailed with 3 or so “odd details”. That’s something like 250 unique traps. None of them are very complex, but I hope they’re just puzzling enough to give your players a moment of uncertainty.

    Here’s how I construct the traps, and here are some samples for use at your table today.

    trap template

    I use a modified version of the trap template presented in Xanathar’s Guide.

    Trap Name: The best trap names end in “OF DEATH”, but I leave the prefix up to you.
    Challenge Rating: D&D 5e traps don’t have a challenge rating; instead they have a level band, like 1-4, and a degree of severity, like “moderate” or “deadly.” I think this is a mistake. It’s insufficiently granular – even a moderate level 1-4 trap will probably kill a first-level character – plus challenge rating is a tool we already have from monster design! Combining trap recommendations plus my 5e Monster Manual on a business card math, we come out with the formula that a single-character trap should do about 5 damage per CR, while a multi-character trap should do about 3 damage per CR.
    Description: A sentence to sum up the trap.
    Clues: This is where you put the odd detail that will get the characters’ attention. No trap is complete without one! In my case, to increase the usefulness of each trap in the Inspiration app, I’m providing three possible clues per trap. I hope that this will make the same pit trap feel different if encountered again.
    Investigation: What can the characters learn by investigating the trap? I try to include both normal search check results (what the characters learn with a Perception check) and specific, guaranteed-to-succeed actions that will automatically net a clue.
    Trigger: What action causes the trap to go off.
    Effect: What happens when the trap is triggered.
    Countermeasures: What actions the players can take to avoid or disarm the trap. Again, when I can I include both skill checks that will disarm the trap and specific actions that will automatically defeat it.

    Here are two examples:

    Name: 30-foot-deep locking spiked pit trap
    Challenge: 6
    Description: This 30-foot-deep pit has a cover which snaps shut to seal its victim inside. It has wood or metal spikes on the bottom.
    Clues: A trail of faint footprints abruptly end. (DM note: In this case, there is a corpse in the pit.) OR: an arrow is scrawled in chalk on the floor. (DM note: The arrow points to the pit. It was drawn by a denizen who was worried about forgetting where it was and falling in.) OR: The center of the room is dusty; the floor at the edges of the room is clean. (DM note: The clean area is well-traveled and safe to traverse.)
    Investigation: A DC 14 Perception check reveals that foot traffic avoids the pit cover. A DC 14 Investigation check reveals the hidden pit trap. A DC 19 Investigation check not only reveals the pit trap, but discovers a hidden lever, loose brick, or catch which opens the pit lid. A character who taps the floor notices that it sounds hollow.
    Trigger: A creature steps on the trap cover.
    Effect: The trap cover swings open like a trap door, or swings on a pivot. The victim falls into the pit, taking 10 (3d6) falling damage and 11 (2d10) piercing damage from spikes. The spring-loaded (or weighted) cover then swings shut and locks. The cover can be opened with a DC 18 Strength check; from inside, with a DC 16 Dexterity check using thieves tools, assuming there is sufficient light; by breaking the cover, which has AC 20 and 20 hit points; and sometimes by finding a hidden lever which opens the pit.
    Countermeasures: Once the pit is detected, an iron spike or similar object can be wedged under the cover to prevent it from opening, or it can be magically held shut with Arcane Lock. Or you can walk around.

    Name: ice-breather trap
    Challenge: 12
    Description: This trap breathes a blast of cold whenever someone speaks the word “ice”.
    Clues: The room is cold. A ten-foot-tall statue of a barbarian or frost giant dominates the room. The statue appears to be made of ice. (DM note: The ice is magical and does not melt.) OR: The room is cold. There’s a carving of a polar bear on the wall. On the bear’s head is a rune. (DM note: The rune says “ice” in Giant.) OR: The room is cold and contains a marble statue of a fur-clad elf. As you enter the room, a Magic Mouth spell animates the statue’s mouth: “Speak not my name at any cost: a river’s skin in the season of frost.”
    Investigation: A DC 15 Perception check reveals that the mouth is nearly clogged with snowy ice crystals. A spell or other effect that can sense the presence of magic, such as Detect Magic, reveals an aura of evocation magic around the statue.
    Trigger: The trap activates when someone speaks the word “ice” in Common.
    Effect: The mouth releases a 30-foot cone of cold. Each creature in the blast must make a DC 17 Dexterity saving throw, taking 38 (7d10) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
    Countermeasures: Placing an obstacle in front of the mouth deflects the cold blast. A successful Dispel Magic (DC 15) cast on the mouth destroys the trap. Not saying “ice” also works.

    Sign up for the Inspiration beta test!

    Read more about the Inspiration app

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Demi-Human Level Limits, D&D Adventurers League, Open Rolls, and More From the Comment Section

    DM David - Tue, 12/17/2019 - 13:05

    Time for another visit to the comment section, starting with a request.

    DM Bill writes, “Could you do an article about humans versus non-humans, and the importance of the First Edition level cap, please!”

    Until third edition, Dungeons & Dragons limited non-human characters to maximum levels in most classes. D&D co-creator Gary Gygax favored the sort of human-dominated fantasy that appeared in the fiction that inspired him. To Gary, demi-human level limits explained why humans dominated D&D worlds despite the extraordinary talents and longevity of elves and dwarves. Gary wrote, “If demi-humans, already given some advantages, were as able as humans, the world would be dominated by them, and there goes the whole of having a relatively familiar world setting in regards to what cultures and societies one will find in control. So a demi-human is unlimited in thief level only, as that this a class not destined to control the fate of major groups or states.”

    I doubt the rare humans who become capable enough to overshadow non-humans really explain human prevalence in a D&D world, but the level limits encouraged playing human characters and tended to fill adventuring parties with humans. Of course, some groups simply ignored the rule.

    Gary wrote, “Why are humans more able to rise to higher levels than demi-humans? Because the gods say so, and don’t like pointy eared types with curly-toed shoes, squat miners with big beards, hairy-footed midgets, etc.” Gary intended the comment as harmless fun at the expense of make-believe creatures, and in 2005 most readers read it that way. But now the comment reads in a way Gary surely didn’t consider. In our history, people have justified inflicting countless horrors on other humans by claiming that God disapproved of some group. Talking about even fictional half-humans like this raises uncomfortable echoes.

    Nowadays, many players feel drawn to the exotic character races. In an apt post, John Arendt compares the typical Adventurers League party to the Munsters, a collection of exotic, monstrous types with perhaps one human for contrast. “When an AL player sits down with a shadar-kai shadow sorcerer, there’s no point in even asking them what they’re doing in a large human city; the players haven’t considered it. The culture is about players assembling races and classes because the mechanical bits sound cool.” I see many players drawn to exotic characters for their story, flavor, and for the chance to play someone who seems extraordinary even in a D&D world. That urge never succeeds as well as players hope. Even in the Forgotten Realms, a party that includes a deep gnome, a tortle, a triton, a shadar-kai, and a guy with flaming hair would alarm ordinary folks, but to keep the adventure on track everyone treats such groups as unremarkable.

    D&D’s Animal Companions and Familiars—Choosing the Right Pet For Your Character

    In D&D’s Animal Companions and Familiars—Choosing the Right Pet For Your Character I touted the power of find familiar.

    Seven writes, “When used correctly find familiar is way overpowered. My owl scouts ahead so we don’t get ambushed. My owl flies down the tunnel triggering the glyph. My owl scouts the dungeon as I watch. Oh, it dies. Ok, I ritually cast. Let’s burn an hour.

    “I disallowed the Help action in combat for familiars and my players try not to abuse the power granted by the find familiar, but I miss the old days when you suffered a consequence when your familiar died.”

    Ilbranteloth writes, “Why can’t a spirit have a personality? Gwenhwyver was a magic item, but had a personality and sting connection to Drizzt. Having a personality is up the player. It has nothing to do with being a flesh and blood creature that only exists in our imagination.”

    If find familiar feels too strong for a 1st-level spell, I suggest limiting it by adding two elements:

    • Treat the familiar as an non-player character with an attitude and a some desire to avoid getting hurt. As controlled by the dungeon master, familiars follow orders, but not necessarily cheerfully or recklessly.

    • Doors. Scouting familiars lack the hands needed to open most doors.

    The post also suggested find steed and find greater steed to players interested in gaining a mount.

    Larissa writes, “Find greater steed is a 4th-level spell, so paladins won’t get it until level 13. For the greater steed, play a bard and take the spell at level 10, because for a paladin it’s a long wait.”

    Steal This Rule: Flashbacks and Heists in Dungeons & Dragons

    The post Steal This Rule: Flashbacks and Heists in Dungeons & Dragons explained how to adapt rules for flashbacks to Dungeons & Dragons.

    Morten Greis writes, “It is kind of weird to see flashbacks-mechanics coming back as if it was a wholly new thing. In 2010, I wrote this: Using Flashbacks in Your Roleplaying Game. It is a great mechanic, though, and it is good to see people using it more.”

    For gamers interested in flashbacks, Morten’s post gives more suggestions for using the mechanic to enhance your game.

    Captain Person writes, “There’s a product on DMs Guild called Here’s To Crime: A Guide to Capers and Heists that adapts the Blades in the Dark heists to fifth-edition D&D.”

    Michael Lush writes, “‘The Arcadian Job’ episode of the Netflix series 3Below: Tales of Arcadia had an interesting flash-forward spin on this.

    “The protagonists need to break into a high security military base, but the action focuses on the planning session where they narrate what they are doing and their plans appear on screen.

    “We infiltrate under cover of night and cut through the wall with…BZZZZZZT!!! No, can’t do that! Look the wall is electrified…

    “We infiltrate under cover of night and short circuit the wall (failed Security roll. An alarm rings, guards show up, and we die in a hail of blaster fire! No, can’t do that…

    “OK. Infiltrate under cover of night, insulate the wall with rubber matting (rolls a success), and climb over the…ZAP!! Oh sentry turrets.

    “Hmm. The wall is a bust. How about the gate?

    “Once they bypass all the security, the flash-forward planning switches back to normal real-time play.”

    In a tabletop game, such planning steps would resemble a video game where when you run into trouble, you restore to the last save. The story that develops includes no failures because the framing story shows how the players planned around all the pitfalls.

    The 3Below episode finds a new take on the usual storytelling approach to planning. Typically, if the characters make a plan on screen, we know the plan will fail. The narrative lets us enjoy the surprise and tension of seeing the plan unravel. But if we never see the planning, then the plan succeeds. Narratives never show heroes making successful plans because revisiting a familiar plan as it unfolds would prove less interesting.

    lunaabadia writes, “One of the mechanics I really like in Gumshoe games such as Night’s Black Agents is the Preparedness skill. It represents this concept that your character has a knack for planning. As with other skills in the game, you spend one or more points to add to a roll for what you are trying to accomplish. You might say, ‘but of course I brought night goggles,’ and you make the roll. As you noted above, the whole point is to zip past the boring hours players can spend wondering what gear to bring. Preparedness answers the question of whether you brought it and frees players’ brains to focus on the action.

    “I would guess Preparedness could be done with Inspiration, and in a heist session it could make a lot of sense to give each player Inspiration at the start of the mission, representing their planning. Do you spend it on a roll? Or do you hold it in case you need to do a flashback?”

    7 Dungeons & Dragons character builds absurdly good at one thing

    The post 7 Dungeons & Dragons character builds absurdly good at one thing continues to attract readers and comments.

    Geoff writes, “Disciple of Life doesn’t apply to goodberries. It says ‘whenever you use a spell of 1st level or higher to restore hit points to a creature, the creature regains additional hit points.’ Goodberry is a spell that summons magical berries, not a spell that restores hit points to a creature.”

    Your interpretation adds up, but officially the interaction works. See this Sage Advice post.

    Chivalry & Sorcery: What if Gary and Dave had not found the fun?

    In Chivalry & Sorcery: What if Gary and Dave had not found the fun?, I had a bit of fun at the expense of one of the earliest fantasy roleplaying games.

    Shane Devries tells how his group started playing Chivalry & Sorcery by ignoring most of the rules, and then slowly added complexity. “Over a period of a couple of years we were playing the entire system as written and NEVER looked back. Over time D&D and Palladium dropped away and by 1985 all we played was Chivalry & Sorcery, which we still play to this day. All my players prefer C&S BECAUSE of its complexity and revel in the system and what it has to offer. The older players in my group with decades of experience will not go back to D&D or any other system for this fact.”

    Why You Should Play in the D&D Adventurers League (and a New 1-Sheet Quick Start)

    The post Why You Should Play in the D&D Adventurers League (and a New 1-Sheet Quick Start) prompted some readers to share their bad experiences dropping in for Adventurers League games.

    Alphastream responds, “The experience really varies, but bad areas are uncommon. I’ve traveled for work across the US and tried many different stores. I would say under 15% are truly bad, primarily due to bad store management. And, even when I’ve found a bad one, I’ve offered to DM an additional table, recruited players via MeetUp (or a similar site), and had a great time. I’ve had far better results finding AL tables and meeting cool players/DMs there than I have with trying to find decent home groups. Good stores are also very welcoming to new players. Stores overall are changing a lot these days, mastering skills to draw in customers through many different programs and creating healthy and safe spaces focused on fun.”

    My local game store draws players interested in sampling D&D, and while many become regulars, many don’t return. The conversion rate rises when prospective players arrive at a table starting a new campaign or hardcover. When players get slotted into an ongoing game, they seem to find the experience more daunting. An ideal welcome would feature short seasons of low-level games that fed into a higher-level experience. Wizards of the Coast should support a program like that. I can even suggest a name for it.

    How New Changes Created the 4 Most Annoying Spells in Dungeons & Dragons

    In How new changes created the 4 most annoying spells in Dungeons & Dragons, I wrote, “By the end of the encounter, player characters go from one beguiled victim to the next, raining attacks on the defenseless pinatas. As a DM, I may be biased, but I think the least fun scenes in the game come when PCs beat helpless foes to death.”

    Acemindbreaker writes, “Why play that out? If it’s clear that their opponents stand no chance, montage it instead of rolling the dice. ‘So, your opponents are all helpless as long as your wizard keeps up hypnotic pattern. Are you intending to kill them all?’


    “‘All right, easy enough to do. Once they’re all dead, what next?’”

    Zachiel cites maze as an annoying spell that can wreck most player characters. Wizards aside, PCs never boast enough intelligence to make a DC20 check on less than a 20. Lucky for players, few will ever face the 8th-level spell. However, the spell appears on Acererak’s list in Tomb of Annihilation, so I got to send someone to the labyrinth, and that delighted me. My joy probably makes me a mean DM, but we DMs so rarely get to thwart players with such potent magic.

    How to Run Better D&D Games By Doing Less

    How to Run Better D&D Games By Doing Less suggested ways DMs can delegate some of their tasks to players.

    Daniel writes, “My players enjoyed reciting expository dialog (usually in the form of flashback conversations involving NPCs). Maybe this is because some of them had more of an acting background than a gaming one. It does mean that I had to compose and print the dialog in advance but it then saved me having to do too much talking (and switching personas) during a session.”

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

    The post In D&D, Letting Everyone Roll Certain Checks Guarantees Success, So Why Bother Rolling? raised a question that drew plenty of interest.

    RobOQ writes, “As a player I tend to get annoyed at rolling for every imaginable thing. I prefer, both as a player and a DM, to go by the rule of ‘if there isn’t an interesting outcome to both success and failure on the roll, leave the dice where they are and just describe the more interesting outcome.’ I see very little point in rolling dice where a failure means the situation doesn’t change at all.”

    Insight Played Wrong Can Become the Most Unrealistic Thing In D&D, a Game With Djinns In Bottles Who Grant Wishes

    In Insight Played Wrong Can Become the Most Unrealistic Thing In D&D, a Game With Djinns In Bottles Who Grant Wishes, I betrayed a low passive insight by suggesting that a liar might avoid eye contact.

    Dr Sepsis writes, “Someone who is lying is more likely to make eye contact as they check to see if they’re being detected.”

    HDA writes, “Instead of rolling dice to get information, make your players think, observe, ask questions, learn from the world around them. As the DM playing a non-player character, maybe raise your eyebrow a bit. You know, emote. What is even the point of having intrigue and deception in your game if the players can just roll to see through it?”

    8 Fast Facts About D&D’s Magic Missile Spell

    In response to 8 Fast Facts About D&D’s Magic Missile Spell, Kristen Mork pointed me to Sage Advice that said each magic missile should provoke a separate concentration check.

    This answer defies the answer the design team gave when they introduced the game, but fine. In practice, the newer ruling makes magic missile an efficient way to break concentration and to finish fallen characters. (See Can a DM Have Monsters Kill Fallen Characters Without Bringing Hurt Feelings?)

    After penning my 8 facts, I watched a Q&A panel by TSR editor Tim Kask that expanded on one. Gary Gygax’s debates with Tim helped shape Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. “The only thing that I won was that magic missile always hits for damage,” Tim said. “It took me two-and-a-half weeks of arguing. I kept telling him that that’s the only thing the little guy gets and if it’s hit or miss, then he’s dead.”

    Dan writes, “I would actually argue that the magic missile and shield spells were inspired by a bit earlier in that scene from The Raven, whereby Karloff produces magical knives and an ax and sends them toward Price, who blocks them with magic barriers.

    “The small exploding balls at the beginning of your embedded video are much more likely to have been what inspired Melf’s Minute Meteors.”

    Steve Blunden writes, “Seeing both these clips, and of course the wizard duels in Harry Potter inspired me to see if the rather colourless counterspell could be dramatically improved. When a character tries to cast counterspell, the player should be encouraged to describe what this might look like. E.g. if counterspell is used against fireball, the player can describe the counterspell as a jet of water leaping out of their hand to douse the fire.”

    In Making Counterspell Awesome, Mike “Sly Fourish” Shea recommended this approach.

    How Character Death Lands D&D in a Tug-of-War Between Game and Story

    The post How Character Death Lands D&D in a Tug-of-War Between Game and Story prompted alphastream to share some history.

    “Second edition and earlier simply had fragile PCs. You could die easily, end of story.

    “Third edition had monsters that were absolutely brutal at all tiers, plus some really exploitable loopholes (such as non-associated class levels) that created sky-high challenges. This all meant that if the DM knew how to craft monsters,characters could easily die, even when they had full hit points. Unfortunately, it was incredibly taxing to modify monsters.

    “Fourth edition gave PCs too much of a safety net between hp and healing surges, though the edition also had some amazing challenges (especially after the developers went back and corrected the monster design math).

    “Fifth edition on paper looks more fragile than 4E, but it has not been in play. Characters are very resilient and have a lot of hit points compared to monster damage. Monsters are often given special abilities and to balance that they do less damage, but the abilities don’t actually threaten PCs with death. This problem is even worse at high tiers of play, where monster damage is absolutely shameful. Most monsters have no chance. If they hit 100% of the time they still could not drop all the PCs to 0 hit points. And when that isn’t the case, there is no way for the PCs to be defeated in most fights. To me, the 5E solution is pretty simple: add damage.”

    Abelhawk writes, “I have a couple of house rules that make death a bit more dangerous and limiting:

    “1. When a character is brought to 0 hit points, they gain a level of exhaustion. Levels of exhaustion gained in this way go away after a short rest, or if the character is brought to half their hit point maximum.

    “2. When a character dies and is brought back to life, they receive one permanent death saving throw failure. A character with three permanent death saving throw failures cannot be brought back to life by any means.”

    Imposing exhaustion on characters raised from 0 hp rates as a fairly popular house rule. As for the second house rule, I like the idea of limiting characters to some maximum number of resurrections.

    Turning Character Deaths in D&D Into Deals that Benefit Game and Story

    In the post, Turning Character Deaths in D&D Into Deals that Benefit Game and Story, I wrote, “If D&D players wanted a game where fighting rated as a last resort, they would play Call of Cthulhu or the Dallas Television RPG, where you can’t shoot JR.”

    Jacob Blalock responds, “Most people who want to play have to take what they can get in terms of finding a group to play with, and that means they mostly play the most recent edition of the most widely recognized RPG, 5th-edition D&D.”

    Jacob makes a fair point. Some roleplaying gamers play D&D because the game’s popularity makes finding a group easier, rather than because the game perfectly suits their tastes.

    Cymond writes, “I was recently considering the idea of a house rule: Let a dying character remain conscious but unable to act or speak loudly. You can still have those dramatic deathbed moments where they confess their eternal love, beg to be avenged, plead with the unscrupulous rogue to please save the world, etc. Or maybe say that they don’t die immediately after 3 failed saves, but are beyond saving with anything less that the same things that would resurrect them, and save the deathbed moment until after combat.”

    Tardigrade writes, “I strongly feel that if a character death is a problem for your narrative, then you’re playing the game wrong. If you are narrating a story, go write a book. If you are trying to create an experience that challenges players, then play D&D, design the game so that their choices matter and don’t fudge the dice.”

    BlobinatorQ responds, “Ultimately it comes down to the group. If the group wants D&D to be nothing but challenges, and wants the stakes to be high with character death always on the table, then so be it. If the group wants to build and be invested in a narrative, and don’t want people left out of the experience due to some unlucky dice rolls, then things should be crafted to suit that. There is no one right way to play D&D, it can be a very different game for different groups.”

    When I explained the problems that death creates for a story, I focused on the story a particular player imagines for their character. The story of a D&D campaign can stand some character deaths, but that doesn’t cushion the blow a dead character brings to their player.

    Ilbranteloth notes that the 1st-edition rules for characters at 0 hit points were forgiving, giving players at least 7 rounds to help a fallen character.

    “What differs significantly are the consequences of your near-death experience. And this is where I think 5e has made it much less of a thing. In AD&D, if you were reduced to 0 hp, then once you were restored to at least 1 hp with mundane OR MAGICAL means, you were in a coma for 10-60 minutes. Then you had to rest for a full week, minimum. A Heal spell was required to avoid this period of rest.

    “There was a significant consequence already built into the game for dying and we avoided it because it generally put the adventure on hold while the party headed back to town to rest and recover.

    “In most cases, it also meant nobody was out of the game. The entire party went to town to rest and resupply, and of course you didn’t have to play that out. So it was a short, we-failed moment.

    “If this one rule was still in effect, then the risk of death is back, without having to kill any PCs. And it also has the effect of reducing the risk of actual character death because players try to make sure they aren’t reduced to 0 hp.”

    I have now learned that when I played AD&D, everyone I played with got the rules for 0 hit points wrong.

    Print My Custom D&D DM Screen to Defeat the Basilisk

    The post Print My Custom D&D DM Screen to Defeat the Basilisk explained why I typically use a DM screen.

    Alphastream writes, “When I run organized play games and don’t use a screen, I get maybe one person every four or so tables that can’t help but look at my notes. And when that happens, they tend to look often… enough that it distracts me! So, I tend to use a screen. Plus, I like collecting/buying screens and then I get to show them off.

    “I find screens can be effective for drawing attention from others. In a public space where that’s valuable, such as to get other people walking by to be interested and sit down, it can be an asset.”

    “The least valuable aspect of a screen, for me, is what’s printed on my side. Outside of a few things, such as conditions, dispel magic, and counterspell, I never look anything up. What I’ve been doing lately is draping two pieces of paper taped together over one part of my screen. Facing the players is a map of the general area of the world. Facing me is a list of the character names and info I want for help with roleplay: race, background, class/subclass, etc. I add a list of important campaign NPCs and similar notes. That’s stuff I reference all the time.”

    I have one young player who finds the basilisk so irresistible that I often see his eyes rise like Kilroy over the top of my screen.

    The post’s sidebar explained why I roll in the open and raised some debate.

    I wrote, “If I had rolled behind the screen and simply announced a pair of crits, the event would have fallen as flat as a card trick on radio.”

    Navy DM responds, “If players have that low level of trust in their DM, then that is a whole different issue.”

    Sam replies, “Sounds more like the excitement and watching the dice roll than not trusting what the DM rolled to me.”

    Marty replies, “Exactly. The tension comes from seeing the rolls and reacting. Rolling in the open has completely changed my game for the better.”

    Most DMs who roll behind the screen acknowledge that they occasionally override rolls to shape play, aiming for a better experience. Rather than players trusting their DM to stick to a die roll, I assume the players trust the DM to not abuse their privilege in some way. What would count as a betrayal of trust?

    To be clear, I make some rolls in secret to conceal information from the players. I often roll hidden perception and especially insight checks to avoid revealing secrets.

    Beyond the advantages I described in the post, rolling in the open forces me to honor any surprises the dice send my way. If a secret roll upends my plans, I might feel tempted to ignore the roll and take the comfortable path I expected. For me, rolling in the open feels a bit more exciting, like dungeon mastering without a net.

    Other DMs feel like sometimes overriding rolls lets them craft a more dramatic game. I respect that perspective, but it’s not for me.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Weird Revisted: Fiend Folio...In Space!

    Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 12/16/2019 - 12:00
    If your looking for some alien monsters for any traditional science fiction game you could do a lot worse than starting with the original Fiend Folio, I think. I'm not even talking about things like reskinning undead as nanotech animates or victims of exotic plagues (though you can certainly do that); I think there are a lot of creatures in there that are just straight up science fiction.

    The first creature listed are aarokocra, which are just straight up birdmen--like the Skorr of the Star Trek Animated Series and a bunch of other places. The algoid is a psionic algae colony; the CIFAL a colonial insectoid intelligence. (It even has an acronym name!) Osquips are pretty much ulsios from ERB's Barsoom stories. The grell already looks like a pulp sci-fi monster: I think there was one in Prometheus, wasn't there?

    Yeah, there it is.

    Anyway, demon, devils, and elemental princes are out without substantial overall, but some less interesting monsters for fantasy purposes might be made a bit more interesting in a science fiction context. Lava children might be a silicon-based lifeform that (like the horta) needs to be contacted rather than killed. Yellow musk creepers and zombies (undead also-rans) would work great in a horror scenario on a deadly jungle world. Even the much maligned flumph is less silly when it's a weird alien (maybe).

    Red Cap Nightmare - A0-A4: Against the Slave Lords & OSR Deep Dive Session Report Five

    Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 12/15/2019 - 17:25
    'The night seems to bring peace & a break from the insanity of combat. Not so! The slavers have released a terrible vengence down upon the head of our heroes! Cha'alt red caps & night goblin forces swarm from the very fabric of the local space time continuum.. ' The party in last night's game were harried by night goblins from the desert world of Cha'alt. These are goblin tribes that have Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    (5e) The Hanged Man

    Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 12/14/2019 - 12:08
    By Davis Chenault Troll Lord Games 5e Mid Level? or High Level? It says both ...

    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 churned fields. Then, as sudden as lightening, a fife and fiddle begin a joyous tune. This stops as abruptly as it started. All that now can be heard is a rope straining and groaning with the weight of the hanged man.

    This 21 page adventure describes a village with about two dozen homes and about twice as many people. A number of who want to kill you. The setup is good, the people are interesting, their descriptions are evocative … and it’s mostly unusable because it uses room/key format on the village instead of providing the DM the tools they need to run a village of murderous people.

    Some people in the village hung an innocent hang. The man hanging from the tree is the first thing the party comes across on their way in to town. What they don’t know is that in punishment the gods cursed them the abyss, and they can only appear in the mortal realm, village and all, for two days a year. During that time some are content just to live their lives as they once did. Others are now murderous, corrupted by the abyss. Also, their heads are not well attached to their bodies and their bodies rot over the 48 hours, especially the last 12, that they are in the mortal realms. In to this the party stumbles three hours in to their return. Also, if the party can kill EVERYONE in the village inside of the remaining 45 hours then the curse will be broken … although it’s not clear to me from the adventure how the party learns of that. There’s one couple who seem to be willing to, slowly, reveal the curse, but that’s it.

    So, about 48 people in the village. About Twenty or slow motivations/how they react. About 48 or so different descriptions. A pseudo-timeline of events. And each has some kind of idea/something they know, or don’t, about the hanged man, which investigating is the pretext to start the adventure … although this is never explicitly mentioned.

    Unfortunately ALL of this is buried in room/key format. Building 1, from the map, someones home, with the key named as such: “Bill & Bertha Henderson.” Then there’s a description of what they were like in life, before the curse. Then there’s a description of what they do now, their current personalities. Then there’s a description of what they know about the hanged man/that situation and some more personality about their characters now. Then there may be notes about events and/or how they react to the timeline/party that the villager is getting ready to throw. Then there’s some notes about how they react to being attacked. Then stats.  Then there is a description of both of their heads … since they can fly off of the body and fly around on their own, eventually. And this is repeated about 24 times, once for each building. For about forty people in total all the buildings. 

    And the content is great. From what they know about the hanging to their current goals, to the head descriptions. It’s almost all oriented towards actual play. “Almost” meaning theirs some information about their past lives and other details that are NOT actual play oriented. Normally I’d comment how this gets in the way of the encounter keys, but not in this case.

    That’s because in this case it ALL gets in the way of running the adventure. I believe this adventure is unrunable in its current form, at least without serious highlighting and note taking. Embedding the timeline as well as the subplots in each NPC home description was NOT a good choice, at all. 

    What this needs is a seperate timeline section, with the subplots integrated in to that and cross-referenced to their NPC entries and a seperate section for the subplots. Thus, a list of of subplots/how NPC’s react. A timeline. A brief NPC description. A table of NPC descriptions and personalities/notes that is cross referenced to the timeline/plots/events/map. THAT would make this adventure runnable, a hell of an adventure at that.

    Are you willing to put in that work?

    I’m not. I believe it’s the designers job to do that. This would be a terrific adventure rereleased in a usable format.

    This is $10 at DriveThru, with a C&C version available also. The preview is six pages. The last two pages give you two entries for homes in the village. That should give you idea of what to expect with this adventure, how things are laid out, etc. Note the intermingling of data. Keep that all in your head. Then augment it by twenty more houses and forty more people.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    OSR Front Line - X1 Isle of Dread By David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay & OSR Deep Dive Session III Report

    Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 18:38
    The battlefield rages across California, Nevada, & parts of Arizona while bands of heroes struggle with influx of alien monsters, weird creatures, & bands of raiders. alien arbarian warlors  are taking over parts of the prime material plane at will or so it looks like?! Bands of divine inspired adventurers are pushing back but can they save Earth without battling themselves?! And Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Battle Board Caravanserai Bat Rep

    Two Hour Wargames - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 02:36
    In Caravanserai there is a chance that you can explore a dungeon. Here's Haldor resolving one PEF in the dungeon and there are more to go. Battle took about 10 minutes. Click the pictures to easily read them.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Kung Fu Dark Sun

    Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 12/12/2019 - 12:00
    art by Eric BelisleStill on a wuxia kick and thinking about the arid lands of Northern China, it occurs to me that Dark Sun might be an interesting mashup with kung fu action. It is true that the default 80s barbarian film meets Mad Max aesthetic of Dark Sun doesn’t scream Crouching Tiger or Hidden Dragon, but that aside, I think it’s actually not a bad fit. Let me run the list:

    • The downgrading of weaponry due to the scarcity of metal in the setting leaves space for bare-handed martial arts.
    • The Elemental clerics thing can easily spun in a wuxia direction (as seen in Avatar: The Last Airbender).
    • The "fighting oppression" angle of Dark Sun dovetails nicely with with the "fighting corrupt authority" aspect of some wuxia.
    • There are Thri-Kreen who are praying mantis people, essentially, who would be natural practitioners of praying mantis kung fu
    • Athasian Dragons aren't common monsters but beings of immense power, like the Chinese conception of the creature (though Athas's is certainly not benevolent). 

    The Starship Warden Kickstarter Deep Dive & Twenty Questions Interview With James M. Ward

    Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 12/12/2019 - 06:29
    "Your ship, the Goya, has just found the massive Starship Warden. Clattering around the junk and debris of your bridge, you manage to hail the beast of a ship, but receive no answer. You do however, manage to open the starboard forward bay doors. It's time to see who or what controls this massive ship...""Near the beginning of the 24th century, humans began the largest construction ever Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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