Tabletop Gaming Feeds

Appendix N & Deeper Reading Into The Lovecraft Circle of Writer's Creations for Campaign Creation

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/21/2019 - 21:39
Sometimes going back to the root of your old school games is necessary to get into the right frame of mind for a game. I've written extensively about H.P. Lovecraft's Shadow Out Of Time & the works of the Great Race of Yith. There's something to be said for growing up with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons especially Kuntz's & Ward's Deities & Demigods. This wasn't my first exposure to the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How big does a random generator have to be?

Blog of Holding - Mon, 10/21/2019 - 16:31

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working on a D&D app that’s a content generator of all kinds: it spits out encounters, NPCs, treasure, and cool locations.

One makes a random generator by coming up with a bunch of lists, each as large as possible, and crashing them into each other. The bigger each list is, the more depth and reusability your generator has.

How do you know when you can stop adding to a random table? That’s important to me because I don’t just want to make a random generator that looks cool the first time you use it; I want it to provide useful stuff one, two, ten years from now.

the birthday paradox

Maybe you’ve heard this classic math puzzle: in a room of 25 people, what are the odds of at least 2 of them sharing a birthday?

Unintuitively, even though the odds of any 2 people sharing a birthday is only 1/365, the odds of any shared birthday among 25 people is more than 50%. In a room of 60 people, you’re almost guaranteed (99%) to find at least one shared birthday. That’s weird, right? It’s true because we’re looking for ANY shared birthday. The odds of anyone in the room sharing YOUR birthday are still fairly small.

Here’s the full explanation.

You can use this same math to determine how many rolls on a chart you expect before you get a duplicate. A room with 25 people looking for shared birthdays is analogous to rolling 25 times on a chart with 365 entries. On a d20 chart, you can expect to roll a duplicate after only 6 rolls. On a d100 chart, you need only 13 rolls before you’re more likely than not to roll a duplicate. It’s amazing how quickly those duplicates start arriving!

Of course, a chart isn’t totally useless just because you rolled one duplicate. But at some point the diminishing returns may start seriously reducing the value of the chart.

Brute-forcing the birthday paradox calculations further, we find the following:
-If you roll 25 times on a d100 chart, you’re likely to have seen about 22 unique table entries. 3 of your rolls (12%) will have resulted in you seeing a result you’ve already seen.
-If you roll 50 times on a d100 table, you’re likely to have rolled around 40 unique entries. 10 of your rolls (20%) will have generated recycled results.
-After 75 rolls, you will have seen 50 of the table results. 25 of your rolls (33%) will be duplicates.
-After 100 rolls, you will have seen 65 different results and 35 duplicates.

Thus, in total, after 100 rolls on a d100 table, you will have seen something new 65% of the time, and had the experience of seeing recycled material 35% of the time. To adopt the language of, your experience has been 65% fresh.

These percentages hold true for any number of items on a table, just so the proportions of entries to rolls is the same; so after your first 50 rolls on a d100 table, or your first 500 rolls on a d1000 table, you can expect your experience to be 80% fresh.

We have a judgement call to make here, but to me, unless all the entries are highly reusable, a “65% fresh” table feels stale; therefore, if I plan to use a table 100 times over its lifetime, I probably need way more than 100 entries. Let’s choose “80% fresh” as an arbitrary cutoff. At 80% fresh, you see something new on 4 out of every 5 uses of a table. To hit this target, you need to follow this rule of thumb: if you plan to use a random table N times, you need more than (N times 2) table entries.

This seems like a useful thing to know as a D&D designer, and it gets us most of the way towards knowing how big a dice chart or random generator needs to be to do its job. There’s still one more piece of the equation.

reusable vs one-use

When creating a generator, I try to distinguish between reusable and one-use list items.

Reusable items can come up many times and they don’t make a nuisance of themselves. They’re not obtrusive. They also tend to be rather vague and nonspecific. For example, as part of 5e Inspiration, I’m writing a list of random desert locations. “Dunes of golden sand” is a reusable item: over the course of a long desert journey, you’d expect it to come up frequently. “Sandstorm” is a reusable item too. Although it should come up with less frequency than sand dunes, you don’t begrudge multiple sandstorms over the course of a few desert adventures.

One-use items are specific enough that they feel unique. They tend to be more interesting than reusable items. Unfortunately, they don’t wear well. One-use items are the mechanism by which a random generator ages: once you have seen a few of them twice, you’re hitting diminishing returns for the whole random generator. One-use examples from my desert encounters list:

  • a sinkhole filled with salt; inside is a salt-caked sailing ship filled with dessicated sailor corpses
  • strange, rusty, ancient towers filled with still-operational chugging machinery that doesn’t appear to do anything. With a DC 14 Intelligence check, you can figure out how to activate the towers, which might be water pumps, oil pumps, or arcane devices that cause all damage spells cast within a mile to do maximum damage
  • rainbow sand dunes: if a beast is encountered here, it may also be rainbow colored
  • As a player or DM, I’d roll my eyes if I saw any of these twice.

    A generator with no one-use items is evergreen, but rather dull. A generator with all one-use items, according to the birthday paradox math we did above, needs to be big enough that most of its entries will never be rolled.

    Based on your mix of one-use items in your generator, and how many times you want it to be used, you can determine how much work you need to put into coming up with new entries.

    Most of the random tables I write are a mix of fairly generic, multi-use results and rare, interesting, one-use results. To figure out how that impacts a table’s “freshness” calculation, ignore the number of die rolls that are likely to return a generic, multi-use result. For instance: If you’re rolling 100 times on a d100 chart, but half of the chart’s results are generic and reusable, treat it as if you are rolling only 50 times on the table. Thus, for 100 rolls, your half-generic d100 table is 80% fresh.

    the freshness calculator

    Here’s a “freshness” calculator you can use to figure out how big your random table needs to be to meet your desired level of interestingness. This calculator uses brute force, simulating results 1000 or so times.

    what about multi-table random results?

    Not all random generators are a single die-roll chart. Many are in the format “roll once on table A, once on table B, etc”. For instance, a tavern name generator could be a single d100 chart where you get a complete name like “The Golden Goose” if you roll a 36, but it’s more likely to be 2 d20 charts, where you roll the “The Golden” on table 1 and “Goose” on table 2. How do you evaluate the freshness of these grouped tables?

    I think that for multiple tables, you evaluate each of the tables separately, and then you use the worst result. People are really good at spotting patterns. Once the party has been to The Golden Goose, The Red Goose, and The Unnamed Goose taverns, you just can’t have any more goose tavern names. It doesn’t matter that you never rolled a duplicate on table 1. The repetition on table 2 makes the whole game world feel more creaky and procedural.

    how do 5e tables fare?

    Now, let’s use this procedure to evaluate a few of the random tables that come in the 5e Dungeon Masters Guide.

    5e has been around since 2014. Assuming you’ve run a weekly game for the past 5 years, how “fresh” are the following tables?

    The official 5e magic item properties tables. There are 4 tables, ranging from d8 to d20, with 60 properties total. The instructions are to “roll on as many as you like.” Let’s assume you’ve rolled on only one table per magic item, and only for major magic items: say, one die roll every two sessions. By now, you’ve rolled about 120 times, and there’s only 60 entries, so you’ve hit a lot of dupes (43% fresh). Chances are you’ve given up on these charts already. I bet you rolled for magic item properties 10 or 15 times, hit a few duplicates, used the charts as inspiration lists a few more times, and then stoped altogether. That’s roughly what I’ve done, anyway.

    How many random magic item characteristics would you need to provide, say, an “80% fresh” experience for 125 rolls over the course of 5 years? Plugging in numbers into the freshness calculator, it seems that 300 characteristics would just about do it. That’s a far cry from the 60 that are provided.

    The NPC traits charts. There’s a d20 chart for NPC appearance. How many of the items are reusable and how many are one-shot? I’d say it’s maybe 50/50, with “flamboyant clothes” and “bald” being reusable, and “nervous eye twitch” and “missing fingers” being unique. If I ran into 2 NPCs who were missing fingers, I’d suspect they were the same doppelgänger.

    If you’ve used this chart to make just 1 NPC per week for the last 5 years, you have 12 folks running around your campaign world with missing fingers. Clearly this table is not big enough. To provide specific and fresh results for 250 NPCS over 5 years, you probably want a d500 table at least.

    the DMG vs the Inspiration app

    OK, it’s not completely fair to judge the DMG charts this way. They’re clearly meant to provide inspiration – to teach you how to customize your magic items and NPCs. After rolling on the charts for a few sessions, you’re supposed to be able to do your own homework before each session – spread your creative wings and fly!

    Well, that’s bully for the DMG. I, on the other hand, am not here to help anyone learn to fly. I’m here to do your homework for you! The Inspiration app currently has about 500 NPC characteristics, many of them evergreen, and about 2000 magic item variants. It should be able to provide you dungeon mastering freshness for the next 10 years at least.

    Next week, let’s look at some magic item variants from the app.

    Sign up for the Inspiration beta test!

    Read more about the Inspiration app

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Goddess of the Crypt

    Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 10/21/2019 - 11:15
    By Vagabundork Self Published Into the odd

    This small dungeon combines subtle Egyptian and Mayan themes, weird fiction, non-Euclidean geometry and a touch of gonzo oddness.

    This 24 page adventure details a fifteen-ish room dungeon  in about twelve single-column pages. It’s interactive, evocative, and tries hard to be useful to the DM at the table using a nested tree-like description format. Commitment to a vision is a good thing. Too much commitment to a vision is fanaticism and not good. You gotta know when to sacrifice. This don’t.

    A great many of my positions can be thought of in terms of a spectrum. You’ve got two extremes and a middle point and I’m generally encouraging people to move off of their position near an extreme closer to the middle where a great band of “good enough” surrounds the “perfect” midpoint. This is usually confused as “Bryce wants everything spelled out for him” or “the reviewer favors minimalism.” No, neither. 

    The descriptions in this adventure are pretty well done. They’re evocative. This isn’t achieved by droning on and on. This is achieved both by good word selection and leveraging a “less is more” attitude. Many things lose their wonder when overly explained. Magic items, Wonder. Magnets … how do they work? One interesting technique, used here, for being evocative is to remain mysterious. Our brains want to fill in detail. They want to explain. By giving them the right degree of detail, in the right way, they leap to explain and imagine and fill in. The main description for room nine, The Crypt, is “Scales cover the ground. An altar in the southeast corner. Murals of religious scenes: snake as deities, snakes as priests” It’s not much but revels, in a way. I’d summarize it, but it’s already essentially summarized for you with crypt, scales covering the ground, an alter and freaky murals. And note that the freaky murals are DESCRIBED. It’s not just “murals of victory” or some other abstraction, as many adventures provide for. No, it’s specific: as deities, as priests. It’s not the only way to get to an evocative description, but the combination of specificity and starkness does a great job.

    It’s also fairly interactive, pillar two of the Bryce Watchwords. More than just stabbing things. There a great set of snake jaws that make up a door with gears to move them. More than trap, a trap wto PLAY with. An alter of snake bones (in that crypt, great detail, again) that releases toxic gas when disturbed. Jars hanging from an intertricate techno ceiling with fluid in them … and proto snake things as well.  A wall covered in lichen and vines … and a hidden power cable. There’s so much that reveals itself to further examination … and reckless play. Check.

    [Note: this next part has some comments about Engligh as a Second Language. I would not say this adventure has language issues. Far from it. But some of the choices made in formatting remind me of non-Engligh Subject/Verb order … and I see things available in Spanish as well. It’s an academic comment, not a usability one.]

    And then there’s the “Helps the DM run it”, of which a major part is the DM’s ability to scan the text and locate the information they need. This adventure is trying a format I’ve seen a couple of times before, with nested bullet points to describe things. Major thing. Then a nested detail, and then maybe a nested detail of that. It’s not a bad idea. The top-level bullets helps bring the eye to the important details while it’s then easy to find additional information about those things by looking at the nested/indented bullets. 

    The adventure has a couple of problems in its specific implementation though. First, it’s gone overboard on the nesting. There are four or five levels in some cases. And three is pretty frequent. This end up making things harder to understand. I THINK I get what is going on. It’s almost like it’s one of those modern grammar teaching lessons where you break a sentence down in to clauses and make a tree-like structure from it. Now, let’s assume you did that for EVERYTHING in the adventure. That’s not the case here, but imagine it. It’s trying to follow some quite strict rules about nesting of detail … and has made that the assumption that this is good. Well, yes, it’s KIND OF good. But, by strictly following those nesting rules you’re loosing sight of the overall goal: usability. This reminds me of those adventures that always put a Sight, Sounds, Light, Door, Smell, taste, etc section at the start of EVERY. SINGLE. ROOM. regardless of if they need it or not. Too much implementation of a decent idea. Instead, focus on the overall outcome, usability, keep your general technique in mind, nesting, and sacrifice the technique when it detracts from the outcome. In one section there are some While Apes. That’s the top level. Ok. Second level nest: chained to the walls. Well, ok. Third level nest: they are food for the goddess. Uh … was that necessary to nest? White Apes-? Chained t o the wall, food for the goddess would have worked also. Even better: White Apes chained to the Wall-> Food for the goddess. Then the important detail “there’s fucking apes chained to the wall!” is immediately apparent. The adventure does this time and again. It needed to add a little, the obvious shit, to the top level nouns and combine a bullet of two. That would substantially condense the adventure. 

    In other places the nesting looks backwards to me, with the important details deeper in the nest. A door-> Make a dex save to open it using tools->if opened make a dex save vs death->success: leap backwards to avoid being buried by snakes. The snakes falling from the ceiling is the important bit (so many they smother you!) but it’s buried. It should be moved higher up. Likewise there are other details that seem to be in a weird order as well, like a stone circle in room one that left dangling near the end. And for its attempt at usability, I still have no idea what “1g” and “1p” refer to in the monster charts, or which door in room one is stuck and which isn’t. Still, it’s trying, with cross-references and all.

    I think it’s a great attempt. The format needs some polishing, but it’s got potential. And the evocativeness and interactivity are certainly present. 

    This is free at the designers blog. Which is interesting in and of itself. 

    Magick Is Free
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    What The Clockwork Princess Said

    Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 10/21/2019 - 11:00
    Our 5e Land of Azurth campaign continued last night (now in its fifth year!) with the party trying to get some information from the the tree-like mass of gears and wires that bore the face of the former Princess of Yanth Country, Viola. They couldn't make much from her comments.  Was she merely repeating words from their questions or genuinely answering? They did think they got the phrases: "Not trust", "Queen Desira", and "Find. Now." Those may or may not have been related thoughts.

    Suddenly, there was a flash of light in the hallway, and a mysterious stranger in a long coat with a flying-V guitar slung across his back stepped into the room. For some reason, the party immediately assumed this was "Future Kully," though the Kully of this time was supposed to be dead. The stranger seemed flustered by their questions about his identity, noting that he wouldn't have worn a bandana over his face if he wanted it to be known. He told them they needed to return to their own time, and quickly, because "the forces of darkness" were coming. He invoked concerns about effecting the future were he to answer any of their quite reasonable questions. He would say of his own origins: he was from "their future, but also from the distant past." He left the room playing his guitar and disappeared in another flash.

    The stranger's words soon proved true, as the castle rocked as if struck. The party decided it was time to escape. A giant, insectoid creature of clicking metal and whirring gears broke through the wall, but after favoring them with a scream like an approaching train, turned and stumbled its way in the direction the party had come from.

    They made it down two levels. The crazy gnomes were now fleeing with them. They exited the front door and saw two dragons blacker than the night sky, smoky and insubstantial around their extremities, circling like hawks overhead.

    The party featherfall-ed (featherfell?) to the ground below. They saw black-armored riders on weird, loping steeds like hairless dogs with monstrous, human faces. They sprinted out of the clearing into a nearby stand of trees. Two riders peeled off from the many body and trotted over to the wood. Keeping a distance, one shot an arrow high. It transformed into a mass of arrows burning with green flame. The volley fell upon the party, seriously injuring Kairon and Shade. Again, the party ran for the deeper woods.

    There, Phosphoro (finally) appeared, expressing regret for having forgotten to bring them back to their own time until now.

    Back in Rivertown, the party discovered there have been some changes in their time away. A new palisade is around most of the city and there is a greater guard presence. They return to the Dove Inn and find their rooms are still intact, but they have back rent to pay.

    When they see the innkeeper slip a note to a young boy, Waylon follows him through the streets. The boy goes to the house of Inkwell, the former bookkeeper to the former mayor. Inkwell returns to the inn looking for the party and asks them to meet him at his house this evening--and be careful of being followed.

    That night, Inkwell tells them what has passed in the year they have been absent. Drumpf was elected mayor and used both his wizardly family and alleged aid from the land of Noxia to the North to enforce his rule in Rivertown. Gladhand, the former mayor, is in hiding, but Inkwell says he will offer the party a share in a large treasure if they will help him use the money to hire mercenaries to help drive Drumpf from the city. The party agrees to meet Gladhand.

    Art by Jason Sholtis

    Matters of Mythology - Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities & Demigods, Tartarus, & Matters of Darkness

    Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 10/21/2019 - 03:10
    Let me first take a moment to appoligize for the lateness of this blog post & give a very nice shout out to the Tales of the Whispering Thief blog. Thanks for the back shout & all of the amazing Godbound rpg content over the years. I gotta say that blog & its posts continues to impress. Especially the Corpse of the Machine-God series of posts part 1. Part of the Corpse of the Machine God part Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    From Pole to Pole

    Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 10/20/2019 - 14:30

    While doing some research of the origins of the Ethereal Plane as a concept, I came across what I believe to be the origins of the Positive and Negative Energy Planes. The writings of "Christian Rosicrucian" Max Haindel describe the etheric regions composed of four different ethers. Each of these has a positive and negative pole. Though these bear little resemblance to the positive and negative planes (beyond the positive being associated with generativity and vitality) the planes are positioned over the Prime (and the Ethereal) in a manner than would suggest poles.

    Of course, it's entirely possible that these were independent creations, but given that Theosophic publications seem to be the primary source of the Ethereal Plane, it doesn't seem like a stretch that that other esoteric writings of the same era might have provided some inspiration.

    [BLOG] Beyond Erillion

    Beyond Fomalhaut - Sun, 10/20/2019 - 13:18

    It was over. The five adventurers turned their backs on the twilight battlefield with its scattered boulders and the great standing stone over an ominous burial mound, walking back through the dark forests towards the slowly fading rainbow bridge which would lead them out of the enchanted valley among the silent mountains. The Inheritance which had eluded them all this time was safely contained, to be gradually forgotten again by living men – or was the Inheritance the secret they now held in their hands, as its new guardians?
    A proper ending to a long-running campaign is not something you see every time. Most attempts at continuous games trail off, fall apart due to scheduling issues or a clash of interests, stop in their tracks as the participants run out of ideas or encounter an insurmountable roadblock, or are just replaced by newer and newer ideas. The “full-length AD&D experience” as envisioned in the rulebooks is often more ideal than practice. It is quite nice, then, that we could finish The Inheritance, our latest game series, on a suitably high note. It is done – and here are my reflections and findings about the experience.
    Enchanted mountainsCampaign dynamics
    Our campaign lasted the better part of three years, running from October 2016 to September 2019, covering exactly 100 in-game days over 35 sessions. Our sessions grew more scarce in the last year – scheduling issues, sure, but also the changing nature of the adventures as the game flowed towards its finale. This is a common pattern in campaigns I have been involved in: a relatively unfocused, exploratory first phase; consolidation towards sub-objectives; and finally a more straightforward resolution arc (with fewer, but individually longer game sessions). Character power also contributes here: low-level adventurers must be careful opportunists looking for openings where they may succeed, while mid- and high-level ones can increasingly dictate the pace and enforce their will on the game world. As it happens, the characters in our game were exactly name level when we wrapped it up, going from 3rd to 9th at a rate of approximately 4-5 sessions per level (with some setbacks due to dead characters). This is faster than the Gygaxian standard, but at the frequency we can meet and sit down to game, my relative generosity with XP made for a good pace of advancement.
    This is BaitThis was also a campaign which had chewed up all of the starting characters. I started out with a common motivation for the party – a mysterious letter of inheritance they had all received, promising riches and power in a ruined manor house. My idea was to use this initial spark to establish a common party goal, create hooks for further adventures, while allowing for complete freedom in reaching the clues leading to the Inheritance proper. My original plan was derailed pretty much instantaneously as the players followed an ad-hoc adventure hook instead of the main course, then followed it up with a colossal blunder that got them sold into galley slavery. Furthermore, the initial sequence of adventures ended in disaster as all but one player character was unceremoniously killed by a fireball under the ruins of Perladon Manor, a place of no outstanding significance.
    As a result, a lot of the middle arc of the campaign was spent reorienting and finding our way again. Ironically, this left the planned “rival NPC adventurer party” to pretty much act unimpeded, and gather the magical geegaws required to obtain the mysterious Inheritance for their own – essentially becoming the protagonists of their own campaign until they were successfully (although not at all easily) dispatched in the grand finale. This changed the campaign in ways I did not foresee: it made it much longer (I originally expected it to end when the character were around level 6 or 7), and refocused it fairly thoroughly. A “tentpole dungeon” I envisioned for multiple forays as the campaign would progress, the tombs beneath the Valley of Barzak Bragoth, never came into play, and was left as a vague outline (if you ever play a campaign on Erillion, you can use Barrowmaze or a similar dungeon in its place). Areas I thought would become important became footnotes, while others gained significance. In the end, Erillion became a more complex place for it – larger in scope and detail than I had envisioned, and with a layer of unsolved puzzles which, in my mind, help establish it as a “real” place. Some discoveries shall wait for a different group to solve!
    As an important aside, the party mostly lacked something usually taken for granted in D&D: a cleric. The cleric characters who joined the group died or left, leaving a constant need for non-magical healing. I employed a mixture of low-yield healing options, from first aid rules to healing berries and natural rest, all treated a little more generously than the rules tend to do, but turning hit points into a more strategic resource. Likewise, the party never gained access to raise dead spells (although it was not out of the question), and dead characters were simply buried and replaced with new 3rd-level adventurers (6th-level ones in the last stage of the campaign). This is not an entirely new experience, as the concept had been germinating since our second Fomalhaut campaign and the historical fantasy of Helvéczia, but it worked out especially well. Modern D&D loses a lot from its long-term dimension due to the abundance of player resources, and sometimes, even old-school D&D feels overly generous when it comes to replacing spells and hit points. In this game, the players often had to consider the hard choice between timed tasks (events moving at their own pace if they didn’t act) and fully replenished resources, and were often forced to operate at sub-optimal efficiency, particularly on higher levels. This made the campaign more low-powered than the default, and kept it challenging and tense to the very end.
    The Isle of ErillionAdventures and the campaign setting
    As vanilla fantasy does, Erillion was clearly inspired by the British Isles, a place I only know from secondary sources (my one brief visit to London was a trip to a strangely placeless global metropolis, and does not count). The mood of the island was influenced by the idea of successive civilisations each leaving their mark on territory before fading away, and leaving behind their ruins and half-remembered legends. This is perhaps best captured by The Ruin, an Old English poem wondering about what had once been, and which, along with the painting to the top of this post, gave me the initial spark for the setting.
    Of course, the main texture of the adventures comes from 1st edition AD&D, particularly the DMG and The Secret of Bone Hill (through a Hungarian pulp fantasy series), and my aim was to capture that kind of experience, to return to that particular brand of adventurer fantasy I had always loved. I seeded my sandbox setting with adventures borrowed from the classics library: Huberic of Haghill became the main hub for the start of the campaign, Citadel of Fire was used for “The Mage Tower”, a place where magic-users and illusionists would go for their trials, and all three Giants modules were placed in remote mountain locations of the map (the characters never found G2, gave G1 a wide berth, and mistakenly entered the gates of G3, but fled once they realised they were in over their heads). A few more modules, old and new, were distributed in various locales. Bone Hill and Restenford could not be used directly – every old-school gamer in Hungary knows it too well through those novels to be of use – so I ended up paraphrasing them in The Mysterious Manor (Echoes #01) and the city of Baklin (hopefully published early 2020), places of my own creation.
    I envisioned the campaign as a mixture between hex-crawl-based wilderness exploration and site-based dungeoneering and city adventuring. Somewhere along the way, I got infatuated with smaller pointcrawls, and ended up designing multiple forest adventures (and a large mountain expedition) in a “deep wilderness sandbox”. Enchanted forests are not too commonly seen among D&D adventures, and I liked the challenge of this unexplored domain. As it turns out, they are very rewarding to construct and run using a combination of trail maps and landmark-based navigation. In these adventures, the “dungeon walls” are permeable (although increasing random encounter frequency, the chance of being lost, and convenience tend to keep parties mostly on the road), and finding a high observation point gives away, if not the full map, at least some of its interesting features. Two examples of these adventures were published as The Swine Lord and The Wandering Glade (in Echoes #02 and #06, respectively); I can wholeheartedly recommend other people to try their hands at making one – just describe your forest or swamp as a regular dungeon, and go wild with it.
    The Valley of Lost GravesHow do you keep a vanilla fantasy setting fantastic? My solution was to use a basic texture of (relative) realism for most of the milieu, but keep plenty of hidden or distant places as enchanted locales – sometimes what Moorcock described in Wizardry and Wild Romance as “the exotic landscape”. If you stay in the well-trod areas, you are in a world of scheming orcs, craven magic-users, feudal lords, Northman raiders and ambitious merchants, but go off track, and you enter an unexplored and mostly uncharted world of faerie enigmas, spatial anomalies, lost ruins and shadowy forest realms, where mundane logic gradually gives way to the working mechanisms of symbolism and uneasy dreams. One of the guiding concepts behind Erillion was that civilisation mostly stuck to the coastal areas and a small road network connecting mostly maritime cities, and civilisation could never really make great headway further inland. The deep woodlands and forbidding mountains of the island could contain entire pocket worlds far from human eyes. The key to the experience was keeping alive this contrast – and gradually, letting the players come close to the island’s deeper and more carefully guarded mysteries where all bets were off.
    For its small size and self-contained nature (with about the land mass of Ireland), you can put a lot of stuff in a sandbox of this scope. One of the things that informed the campaign background was the variety of competing cultures and ideas, for whom Erillion would be both meeting point and place of conflict: barbaric Northmen raiders living in a combination of anarchy and petty tyrannies in an archipelago of island kingdoms; the disintegrating Twelve Kingdoms, locked in a perpetual civil war; the southern empire of Kassadia, the local equivalent of a Roman Empire that never fell to outside invasion but effectively dissolved into competing city states; and Erillion’s lost kingdoms, which had all left behind ideas and legacies, however vague. I did not really think through all of these details at the setting’s inception (the setting information was consciously almost all bottom-up and adventure-derived), but the details emerged over play, and made for a nice, cohesive whole, influencing internal divisions, and contributing to the different feel of different parts of the island.
    So what’s next beyond Erillion? I still have two campaigns of variable frequency to run: Morthimion, an OD&D dungeon; and Kassadia, a game set in the aforementioned Roman/Italian setting. I also have plans outside D&D, for a Mini-Six (simplified D6 Adventure) campaign set in a setting inspired by the Cherubion trilogy, my favourite set of Hungarian science-fantasy novels (this is where the character of Melan comes from), and featuring the clash of primitive and advanced civilisations. As for Erillion, the paper folders now return to the bookshelf, although some materials are still to be published in Echoes or elsewhere – and we will see how it goes.
    Drusus the Historian and Phil the Terror of Turkeys make a new friendCharacters (in order of appearance)
    +Gadur Yir (Gabor Izapy): half-orc Fighter 5. The only survivor from the first party, Gadur Yir was resourceful, lucky, and sometimes even up to the ideals set by Haldor, god of heroism… until he was cornered and killed by Argul the Demented, an undead barbarian warlord buried beneath the city of Baklin.
    +Jonlar Zilv (Kalman Farago): human Bard 4. He was petrified by a cockatrice among the ruins of Perladon Manor.
    +Harmand the Reckless (Gabor Acs): half-orc Cleric 4 (of Zeltar, God of Fortune). An adventurer in the classic sense, he sought risk and reward in equal measure. He was eventually fireballed by Godfred Perladon in the crypts beneath Perladon Manor.
    +Einar Sigurdsson (Istvan Boldog-Bernad): Northman Fighter 4. Einar’s origins as a sea wolf came handy after the company orchestrated a slave uprising and took over the dragonship of Lady Geranith, a northern princess. He would have become an able sea captain, were he not also fireballed by Godfred Perladon in the crypts beneath Perladon Manor.
    +Sufulgor del’Akkad (Laszlo Feher): human Cleric 3 of Kurlakum of the Seven Misfortunes. A truly wretched follower of an evil deity with delusions of grandeur (“just call me the Master of the Night!”), his way towards more substantial villainy was cut short during the siege of a homestead ruled by a small clan of werewolves. Trying to save his skin, he offered his cut-off nose and a terrible oath as a sacrifice to his deity, but it was of no use, and he was torn apart by wolves.
    +Elandil Hundertwasser (Laszlo Feher): elf Cleric 3 of Irlan the Merciful. Coming from “the forests of song and harp-music in the distant West”, he made an instant impression with his flower-embroidered green cloak, and sayings like “It is a great sorrow, that man may not become a flower”. He was fireballed by Godfred Perladon in the crypts beneath Perladon Manor.
    Drölhäf Haffnarskørung (Kalman Farago): Northman Fighter/Thief 9. Coming from a culture best known on Erillion for raiding and indiscriminate violence, Drolhaf (who earned his ümläüts over the span of the campaign) was a civilised barbarian who even had “soap” listed on his character sheet. Serving the interests of Gladuor, God of Aqueducts and human progress, he survived the campaign, and joined the Knights of Jolanthus Kar to keep peace on the island.
    +Franz Who Wasn’t Even There (Laszlo Feher): human Illusionist 4. A talented “background player” who manipulated things from the back ranks with 6 Hp, he was, eventually, flattened into a paste by a boulder trap in the Singing Caverns.
    Phil the Terror of Turkeys: hobbit Thief 9. Using several aliases (“Greg the Rat-catcher”, “Jan Quietstep”, “Uncle Philemon”, “Karl, the Guardian of the Flower”), this jovial and portly-looking hobbit grew into a frighteningly efficient killer by the end of the campaign, especially once he got his hands on the ring of gateways (which gave him the ability of using dimension door). He was also known for his love for mushrooms, which he knew very well.
    +Dawn of the Southern Climes (Istvan Boldog-Bernad): elf Bard. His name a poor translation of the much more flavourful “Délszaki Hajna”, he was encountered in a valley known for an enchanted flower. On the way out through a sequence of cavern passages, he was caught and strangled by a ghost.
    +Balthasar the Elf-bane (Istvan Boldog-Bernad): dwarf Cleric 3 of Haldor, God of Heroism. He was flattened into a paste by a boulder trap in the Singing Caverns.
    (+) Buck (Laszlo Feher): half-orc Cleric 3 of Agak the orc-god. A walking disaster instantly hated by the rest of the party, he saw fit to retire after just one adventure. He was encountered much later as a much more powerful NPC cleric in the orc fortress of Tol Grannek, and was defeated during an epic battle at what would later be called Orc-Kill Pass, backstabbed by Phil the Terror of Turkeys with a dagger carrying rock spider venom. Petrified, the lifeless body of Buck was left as eternal reminder of the great slaughter.
    Drolhaf Haffnarskorung, Silver Olaf Thorvaldson and Armand the Scumbag
    encounter suspicious barbarians on the Plateau of FacesLafadriel Hundertwasser (Laszlo Feher): elf Fighter 9. An armoured knight and much less talented minstrel (with a Strength of 12 and a Charisma of 8!), Lafadriel came from “the distant West” to find and bury his dead brother, Elandil Hundertwasser. Of a gloomier disposition than Elandil, his poetic adventures were either wildly successful or complete flops, with no place in between. He survived the campaign, and true to his word, returned to his homeland with Elandil’s remains.
    Armand the Scumbag (Istvan Boldog-Bernad): human Assassin 9. An ominous stranger from the distant and decadent, Italy-inspired lands of Kassadia, Armand, who had sometimes also called himself “Yil the Mysterious” (but was really called Arianus) was sent by his brotherhood to investigate the opportunities for expanding the business on the Isle of Erillion. Finding himself in the middle of a bid for power by the assassins of Gont, who had betrayed, and were slowly killing off the rival crime networks on the island, his cover soon compromised, he successfully turned the tables to his own advantage, and – when the campaign was finished – managed to take over the local crime business.
    +Drusus the Historian (Gabor Izapy): human Magic-User 6. Coming from the southern lands, Drusus was tasked by his new mentor, the wizard Slarkeron, to bring him the brain of a mind scrambler to let him take the Test of Mastery. Ironically, Drusus met his end much later in the icy mountains, in the secluded tower of a mind scrambler, which had reduced him to a drooling vegetable and sucked out his brains.
    Silver Olaf Thorvaldson (David Barsony): northman Cleric 3 of Edoran the Mysterious. A puzzling figure who would occasionally appear out of nowhere, join the company for an adventure or two, then disappear just as mysteriously. This is something the others had found creepy – was he following them? Was he a spy? A dimensional anomaly? He was not telling.
    +Yaxur (Gabor Izapy): human Cleric 6 of Roxana, Goddess of Death. Yaxur joined the party after Drusus’ unfortunate demise, and lasted all of a half session. Coming to a great stone throne on a high mountain peak buffeted by icy winds, Yaxur was the first to encounter Kornax the Revenger, a powerful anti-paladin cursed to this place. Yaxur won the fight by ambushing Kornax with a hold person spell and killing him outright (thereby winning the powerful sword of chaos), but he did not count on Kornax coming back from the dead next night and massacring him without breaking a sweat.
    Zartan (Gabor Izapy): Illusionist 7. He was the last to join the group, suddenly appearing among the mountains in his elegant clothes. Was he motivated by anything more insidious than a desire for loot and new spells? The world would never know.
    Grey Ooze : Magic Spear 1:0Notable quotes
    Jonlar Zilv, musing about the party alignment: “If I sold you lot out to Lord Gramantik, my alignment would move a notch towards ‘good’.”
    Gadur Yir: “Werewolf wounds! We must burn them out with fire.”Jonlar Zilv: “I am already feeling better!”
    Einar Sigurdsson: “I believe we should stop exploring hypothetical realms of fantasy, and go loot that manor house.”
    Jonlar Zilv, stoned: “I call it ‘temporary invulnerability’.”Harmand the Reckless: “I call you our ship’s new figurehead.”
    Elandil’s player, after a near-TPK, where Elandil and the rest were torn into bits by a fireball: “But who will now make the world a better place?”Someone else: “Not you.”Someone else 2: “Was this a homemade module?”Elandil’s player: “Do you really think anyone else could make up something like a shadow shooting a fireball?”Someone else 3: “The ecological footprint of Gygaxian Naturalism strikes again.”
    Gadur Yir, about 500 gp worth of cave crystals: “The two of us mined it together, while the rest of you were cowardly homos. It is ours.”Drolhaf Haffnarskørung: “In civilisation, everyone does his own share of work. We guarded the passage while you were exploring, and we have our due.”Gadur Yir: “A Marxist barbarian!”
    Phil the Terror of Turkeys, under attack by a giant stag beetle, to Drolhaf: “It is going for your horned helmet; it just wants to mate with you!”(…)Gadur Yir: “I wipe the bug juices from my rations.”Franz Who Wasn’t Even There: “You wanted to play David Fucking Attenborough, wise guy.”
    Franz Who Wasn’t Even There: “This must be a gender-conscious sphynx.”
    “Favoured enemy: Doors.”Franz: “I am not really in love with this fucking door.”
    Drolhaf Haffnarskørung, after Buck sent his new followers to their certain doom: “…But you are the follower of Agak, NOT Ayn Rand.”
    Phil the Terror of Turkeys: “I slide the poor widow a coin as my condolences, and as a form of carousing.”GM: “It is worth no XP because there is self-interest involved.”Phil: “I take back the coin.”
    Lafadriel’s player: “The menu is… gelatinous cube in aspic. And then, black pudding.”
    Phil the Terror of Turkeys: “This was no random ambush.”Armand the Scumbag: “It couldn’t have been meant for me.”Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “Who could have done such a thing?” – I ask the cruel stars, but there is no answer.Phil the Terror of Turkeys: “I know these things and it was definitely meant for you. Look, Armand, it might be time for you to assume a fake name.”Armand the Scumbag: “I am not very creative with these…”Phil the Terror of Turkeys: “You could be… Armand the Clod!”
    Drusus the Historian, dripping with water: “The grand master of sailing found us a leaky boat.”
    Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “My whole wealth amounts to 25 gold pieces, but at least the light of the stars is mine.”
    Someone: “Have the mugs been cleaned [in this pub]?”Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “When the world was young...”
    “My god is Erdogan... no, Edoran!”
    Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “This is a low-budget valley.”
    Drolhaf to Lafadriel (after Drusus tried on the expensive boots and the golden diadem): “Is your god also Robespierre?”
    Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “Rest here? In the Forest of Death?”Drolhaf Haffnarskørung: “This is where we will screw the pooch.”Drusus the Historian: “Just two or three days?”Someone: “You have already died twice in this campaign.”Someone 2: “Yeah right, the Forest of Death is famous for providing a healing rest.”
    Silver Olaf Thorvaldson joins the party.“We could use a few strong hands.”“That’s two of them, because that’s how many you’ve got.”
    Lafadriel Hundertwasser: “The spiders are not evil… they are just different.
    Armand the Scumbag, to a new party member: “Can you break curses?”“Impotence is no curse!”
    Silver Olaf Thorvaldson, looking at small figures in the distance: “Are these giants? …or dwarves?”
    Phil the Terror of Turkeys, after encountering some giant goats guarding a gold vein: “We shouldn’t tell this tale in the pub… crapping our pants and chickening out when we saw a bunch of goats.”
    “Why do you think you are the destined bearer of this sword?”“The world has carried no greater scumbag than I.”
    “What kind of moss isn’t suspicious?!”
    “There is no more paper this way, let’s go in the other direction.”
    Zartan has donned a helm of opposite alignment, turning from Chaotic Neutral to Lawful Neutral.“Wait… he can’t steal from the party anyore!”“Oh YEAH!”“Yesssss!”“It was worth it.”“You are the reason we set guards at night.”

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    The Good End, Part 2 (get it?)

    The Disoriented Ranger - Sun, 10/20/2019 - 12:04
    I was thinking about not writing that part 2, leaving Part 1 hanging in thin air to make a point. Just wouldn't be the right point to make, so here we are. However, it's still not an easy thing for me to wrap the head around the following: what makes a good end depends largely on the set-up before (constituting a recognizable end to a pattern) and most role playing games suck at this a bit, as the games themselves are open-ended by nature. We are still figuring this shit out. Alright, let's take a look (and expect excursions into the unexpected, I guess).
    Computer games have it backwards?

    Computer games make for a great comparison, as players have an active part in the narrative within a digital environment that follows certain rules. And yet, it is different because of the limitations that come with the hardware to run those games.
    The biggest among them (which will get important later on) the notion that the area of interaction needs to be predefined and complete. When the player arrives (as in, starts the game), it is all set up and done to a degree that a game can get finished (although DLCs and updates and fan based work opened games up a bit in the last years).
    You'd need the whole picture to make it work [source]Maybe it is just a matter of time until AI will create unlimited content on the fly, but we are not there yet. Until then the limitations have to be taken into account and must result in designs that could be considered backwards to what role playing games do in that they have to have the end (or several endings) done before the game is even played. All the player decides is the level of engagement, which, naturally, also describes several arcs that need to be considered.
    In a sense this means more traditional storytelling with the player going through the motions and having some choices. I've seen the point made that in its extremes it relates to what among role playing gamers is referred to as "railroading".
    The argument has merit, imo, because it tells us something about that particular variant of playing rpgs that is easily overlooked: not only are more people accustomed to that sort of gaming/thinking then there are roleplayers (due to the sheer popularity of digital games alone), the reason why railroading works is found in the realization that the fun is in the execution (or rather, if the tools for the execution are well done).
    It doesn't get more railroady then, say, a shooter. Level-based, very little advancement (mostly temporary or through weapons) and the narratives are lack-luster most of the time. However, when done well ... the popularity of the genre speaks for itself. And if it works for computer games, it very well should work for role playing games. Actually, board games work a bit like that (having a very limited scope on a subject that could be described as railroading), and crossing that bridge into role playing territory is even easier.
    (Guess what I'm saying is: don't hate the railroad, hate the game that doesn't make it fun?)
    You are doing it wrong ... [source]Computer games took a lot of inspiration from early D&D and the like. Although one could argue that level-progression and hit points and even that specific way to tell stories would have happened naturally sooner or later digitally as soon as people started writing games for that new medium (and it would be very interesting to see what that would have looked like), it can't be denied that some of the most popular and influential tropes and even games in the early dawn of computer gaming had been made possible because of D&D.*
    Nowadays it's very much it's own thing, yet retro-games are still very popular and digital gaming has a highly innovative independent scene creating all kinds of old school and new games, while online gaming made digital games more of a social phenomenon (with good and bad results, I might add). The benefit of having mass appeal is that the fringes are also well seated, which allows for lots and lots of innovation ... What I'm saying, is, if it works, it stays and the digital interpretations of what the early role playing games made work, holds true even today in very many different forms and that should make you think.
    Alright, mid-post summary: I'd argue that a huge part of successful computer gaming was inspired, nay, even leaning on the development of D&D right before the dawn of the personal computer and the gaming that was made possible with that. The newer medium emulates, reflects and interprets the older one ever since, proving simply by vote of popularity that having an active part in a narrative can be entertaining within very strict and abstract restrains as long as the means of interaction are fun, engaging and challenging. We furthermore can take the insights garnered there and apply them to our hobby to some degree, which should help us to gain an understanding how narratives work and, ultimately (because that is what the post should be about), how to fabricate Good Endings in our stories.
    A word on how repetition intensifies an experience
    No, I'm not talking about learning Latin or something like that, although the principles at work there should be the same here to some extent (with another purpose, though). This is about one of the main tools with which computer games intensify and manifest their narratives.
    If you have played any amount of computer games in your life, you are aware of the vicious cycles of repetition necessary in many games to achieve the level of proficiency necessary to move forward. Play, die, repeat. Now, while a player needs (to be encouraged) to go through the motions again and again to see where a game is leading to, it is the very act of doing so that makes them appreciate the story of a game even more, because the more you repeat a segment or scene in a game, the more details you will be made aware of.
    So beyond the very obvious pattern of what you need to do to advance to the next segment, there is a deeper understanding of said segment that only reveals itself by playing it over and over again. Ideally there is nuance, and, as the player sets himself into relation with the design that is manifesting, a story. You discover little secrets or new ways to interact with the game and you internalize the artwork, rhythm and sound of a game that way (like you'd learn Latin vocabulary, but way more fun)**.
    While the implementation of the concept described above only lends itself loosely to role playing ("saving the game" as an option really didn't make a lasting impact in ttrpg***, thus creating loops like that is difficult), there is something to learn about segmenting games and rhythm and distinct narrative framing (or whatever the equivalent to level design would be called in rpgs).
    See what I'm getting at? [source]I've dabbled a bit that concept in the past and found that the loops a DM needs to create are clusters of words he wants to resonate in the narrative to an extent that it ends up having a lasting impression on the players. That way it will be part of the manifesting narrative (interested parties may start here exploring that idea further). The terms we use in our games work like that, btw., using constant repetition until the terms become part of a group's sociolect and "color" the experience (prime example would be the D&D terminology that is nowadays influential enough to appear in popular culture).
    With having those "loops" in place like that, we can form or establish a pattern (a collection of words supporting a certain means the DM is working towards, going from basic connections players need to make to atmospheric vocabulary enhancing those little "segments" a narrative forms). And with a pattern (you guessed it), we can produce endings.
    Endings in computer games, then
    The obvious end gamers will experience over and over again is the classic "game over", and there is something to be said about that. A close second would be the end we chose, and I'll start with that since it immediately relates to our hobby.
    I'm pretty sure I'm not alone when I'm saying that I have more games**** started and never touched again than I have games I played for any serious amount of time or even games I actually finished (and games I really, really aim to invest some serious amount of time into ...). That, as well, is a form of ending. You start a game and you just keep dying ... that could be all the story you can get out of the game and moving on is part of that.
    Even more detailed: the mechanic didn't do it for you, the game is full of bugs, you name it, and you will always find an "end" describing why you stopped trying your hand at a game. The interesting part here is, that we will find the proper answer if our interaction with something manifests towards a less satisfying experience. As the German proverb goes, you'd more often than not chose an end in terror than terror without ending ... Which is to say, endings like that will most likely be bad by definition and circumstances.
    The "game over" screen, on the other hand, can also be an encouragement to try again and feed that loop we talked about above. It is a bad ending designed to enhance the good endings a game has to offer. You are allowed to keep playing the game if you manage to overcome its obstacles and your award is seeing more of the game, or gaining achievements and the benefits of getting better at a game as your character and your technique advance.
    [source]Now, the crowning achievement of playing a computer game would be to play it to completion. But well designed-games will give a player that feeling in advance by having (and communicating!) distinctive segments that can be completed.
    Succesfull games lead players through their story in a way that lets lots of little successes and failures accumulate to one big narrative and a satisfying conclusion. Failure is designed into those games to enhance the feeling of success and accomplishment and hard work should be awarded as well as ingenuity. 
    Up to this point we were strictly talking about how to manufacture patterns that allow a proper opening for an ending and how our engagement with a game may constitute a bad end in itself. That'd be all we need to talk about here, as the one thing that could still make or break a game would be the execution of the end of a game. The part where the player loses control over the game and sees what happens next.
    In computer games that can actually be rather arbitrary or short. Mario needs to rescue the princess, so guess what happens in the end. That sort of thing. However, even simple things deserve to be done right and even the best game can leave a bad taste in your mouth, if the end rubs you wrong or insults you or makes fun of you or tries to sell you the next part or simply seems off (here, have 50 examples where endings went wrong in video games ... with spoilers, obviously).
    That said, what I'm able to say about bad writing should already be said in Part 1 (which makes this, if you haven't read it just yet (and read so far starting with Part 2, you rare soul, you), a great opportunity to go there and do so real quick before we come to a conclusion of sorts here).
    The Good End
    This was always meant to be a series of posts about how to tell better stories in our games and how to bring them to positive or at least satisfying ends. And isn't there always more to say. I have a feeling that we only scratched the surface here before even talking about the subject proper. However, sometimes all you need is conjecture, comparison and transfer. Going at it this way has me thinking that this already covered a lot of ground nonetheless.
    As far as concrete advice goes, I'd have to say, it had to be very abstract to catch it all without writing another post just as long as the last two. Abstract works for me, I guess, and the advice I'd condense this towards would look something like this:
    • Manifest a pattern the characters can interpret and analyze and relate to (inspiration for this would be, for instance, C. G. Jung's ideas on archetypes and Daoism, to give but two ... there's definitely more). 
    • Create little loops to make segments of the narrative distinguishable from other segments. Related to that, you should communicate the transitions and offer closure ("You are leaving now the Forest of the Floating Feet and enter The Valley of a Thousand Farts. You don't think the Goblins will follow you here ...", like, keep it distinguishable and vary your vocabulary). The system you use should support this notion.
    • Include little advancements and victories that accumulate towards something bigger. Little "Boss Fights" (or hyping a fight up like that) could work or gaining valuable knowledge.
    • Allow narrative awards to enter the narrative loops to enhance the level of engagement ("You are now called Guardian of the Forest and may wear the title with pride!" or something like that ... let the players have as many of those as you dare without making the sum of them meaningless, maybe change and advance some already established ones later in the game).
    • Allow failure as part of the narrative, as some bad endings can make good endings better (have a character die every once in a while, if opportunity arises, have players learn from their mistakes and introduce (fun) consequences for bad rolls). Every Yin needs its Yang, baby.
    • Don't offer interpretations of what it all means unless it is necessary to give players a hint into the right direction. Let what manifests in the story stand on its own, because if you have to explain it, you've already done it wrong. Show, don't tell, folks.
    • Don't force it, don't rush it, don't push an agenda down your players throats. If the pattern emerges, the end will reveal itself naturally. Always.
    And that's it, as far as I'm concerned. Getting more specific about a topic like that, would necessarily mean to get very specific. However, finding your own way through this is a very important process in becoming a proper DM. Sometimes all you should need is a direction, so let's leave it at that.
    Final Thoughts

    There is a couple of loose ends left hanging, I guess. It is a broad subject and if anything, I can only try to encourage readers to come to their own conclusions. What I wrote in that last paragraph above is true for everything in life. The world surrounding us can only give hints and directions, but you have to go the distance yourself to come to conclusions.

    Another Daoist truism is: if the pupil is ready, the master appears. Which, to me at least, always meant that, if we keep looking and learning, what we need will be there for us to find. Sounds a bit like  a bail-out, but I think it's a reassuring thought. The universe abides.

    I'd have loved to go a bit more toe to toe with computer games. Comparing and analyzing them towards ttrpgs and the way we play game is an incredibly rich subject, from how we interact with games to design innovations there and the implications here. So. Much. Stuff! Like, would it be possible to write the equivalent of a Jump and Run or a FPS as a role playing game. What would that look like. And those are only the fun subjects from the top of my head ...

    Computer games will eventually drift away from role playing as a medium that a comparison will get very difficult or very different (if I were to guess, I'd say it'll compare closer to LARP in the very near future). But given the amount of material that is already produced right now, it will take decades to evaluate that output before there is any need to check what else is happening.

    Writing this made me realize (and a bit sad) that I might need to reduce my, let's call it, fast-media input. I loved to chill back and see a good movie or tv show, but the more I keep scrolling and scrolling through the streaming media offerings, the more I think it is all the same, which can be nice if you haven't seen anything it (the benefit of youth, I guess), but it gets harder and harder to find that innovation that keeps me inspired and creating.

    The positive side-effect of this would be that I end up reading and writing more. And I'm telling you, it's a freeing experience (I can't stress this enough: books don't have a direct social media interaction and no advertisement ...). Musings on that should be part of another post, I guess (working title in my head is 'Learning to read again' ...).

    Thank you for reading all of this. I hope you enjoyed reading it and that you took something with you after investing all that time. If you like to share any thoughts on any of that, I'd love to hear them, so please, comment away.
    Here's a whole slide-share about archetypes [source]
    * I try to avoid writing footnotes like that, but I can stray only so far, so have this related but random observation hidden down here: computer games are a billion dollar industry, far more powerful than music and tv put together. Gaming is strong like that. The great benefit of being THAT important, is that people actually invest into research and there is lots and lots of science about games one could check out. That's not for debate. However, look how weak it still is represented at universities. Now consider how much money is in ttrpg and what you get is ... people like me doing a hack-job academic discourse in their free time? Nah, it's a bit better than that, but not by much. Also of note: all the bad business practices in digital gaming are highly adaptable in our analogue variants, with fewer means to do anything about it. Big corp just tends to force D&D in the direction where the money is, corrupting the core concepts of role playing towards something more "marketable"  ... Anyway, I started to slide into the D&D-as-theme-park development and that's definitely too much of a digression here. Moving on.
    ** Incidentally that is why gamification of the workplace is such a success. You can make repetitive actions fun that way ... Which is only a good thing if the thought appeals to you to be a "level 34 facility manager with a Broom of Lightning" or something like that.
    *** Although I have seen it done in a rpg called Rune. There you could spend xp to "save" the current version of your character sheet. I thought it was a nice touch for what the game was: a rpg game based on a computer game. Beyond that, I've seen it done in SF rpg like Paranoia (which introduced the idea of having a clone you could use in case you die). Beyond that I'm not aware of any games that went in that direction. Not even board games, for that matter. 
    **** ... and books and tv series. It is a very common phenomenon.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes & S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax

    Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 10/19/2019 - 23:12
    "Somewhere in the depths of Diamond Desert lie the skeletal remains of Ymir’s Serpent, a legendary Viking longship. In days of yore, Sigtrygg Forkbeard led his company upriver, piercing the desert’s hostile heart. There the Vikings unearthed a lost mine brimming with green diamonds, but the River Æolus desiccated as the Serpent prepared for launch, and the ship was swallowed by the dunes. Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    (5e) Secrets of Mistcutter Isle

    Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 10/19/2019 - 11:16
    by Rick Maffei Goodman Games 5e Level 5

    Mistcutter Isle has always had a dark history. For years the isolated isle served as a haunt for pirates and smugglers looking to hide their ill-gotten gains. But before that, legend has that the Isle was home to a race of savage, sea-dwelling creatures that enslaved other races. Somewhere on the Isle, it is said, is their hidden temple. Such tales were not always believed, but recently sailors have seen unusual purple lights in the sky above the Isle. Something is happening, and those with long memories fear that evil is afoot. Do the adventurers dare investigate the secrets of Mistcutter Isle?

    This 28 page adventure details a sea cave complex with about seventeen areas. Editing mistakes and a formulaic approach make it bland.

    Let us imagine you had a formula for making an adventure. You drew a map. In each romo you placed a monster. You also place some obstacle in some room that the monster is not impacted by. You do this for each room. You call this an adventure. 4e did something similar where there were these big set piece rooms with terrain modifiers and some kind of magical effect. It felt generic in 4e and the formula approach feels generic in this adventure. Oh, not every room is this way. Some just have a monster. And some just have the trap/obstacle. But it’s close enough.

    There’s this naga and she’s luring adventurers to an underground temple so they will trigger traps so she doesn’t have to. Mistake one: luring adventurers. God this is so overused. Isn’t there any other reason for things existing other than this? What happened to just being evil? And having loot? In fact, there are two decent hooks that in no way involve the bullshit “luring.” The navigators guild hires you to map the island, for navigation purposes/threats, and a nearby town sees purple lights coming from the isle and “that can’t be good. Better find someone to look in to it.” I’m not a big fan of “hiring”, but the navigation guild stuff is a great pretext for getting in to trouble, and more realistic than hiring mercenaries. The “we see purple lights and that can’t be good …” thing is at least more interesting than the usual “hired by archeology/wizard/sage” boring of stuff. Which to be fair, is present also; I just don’t mention that shit anymore. If the designer doesn’t make an effort then why should I?

    The read-aloud is in italics. I hate long sections of italics. I find it difficult to read more than sentence, and sometimes less. Bold it. Box it. Offset it. Just don’t fucking put it in italics. It’s hard on the eyes and comprehension.

    Editing is terrible. I mean REALLY terrible. I mean more than the usual terrible editing, which plagues RPG adventures. In this case numerous mistakes creep in. “The area B colossus …” There is no colossus at area B. There’s a big statue elsewhere. Do they mean that? The map has shaded areas to indicate flooding …which don’t make sens to me AND are wrong. The text refers to six, nine, and ten as flooded … but six is not shaded on the map. But room one is. And the flooding text, combined with the map notations are supremely confusing in and of themselves. I still can’t figure out what’s flooded when to how deep and how deep if not. Are they entirely underwater? Who knows. I spent some time looking for a map of a specific dead-end hallway that referred to “areas a, b, and c on the map”, but there was no map with a, b, and c on them. Then, finally, on the least encounter, I saw that they had a full page map for the last room. ANd inset below it was a little map for the dead-end hallway. NOT a good editor.

    This is on a small island. There are a number of encounters, five or so. There’s also a wandering monster table. The encounters are essentially just entries from the wandering monster table that’s been expanded to fill a lot more text. There’s just no meat to them. Fight a monster, big stat block, move on.

    Encounters details why the monster is here. What it thinks and feels. How it got here. Why it is still here. It’s history of past battles. None of this is fucking relevent to the adventure. Instead of spending the word count on, tersly, describing an evocative environment it instead indulges in this trivia nonsense. 

    Enter room. Listen to read aloud. Identify obstacle. Find and kill monster while avoiding obstacle. Get treasure. Go to next room. That’s no D&D. That’s a caricature of D&D. 

    This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview doesn’t work. So you can’t actually tell the quality of what you’re buying beforehand. I can has sadz.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Affairs of Shade & Shadow - Bringing The Shade Back Into Old School & OSR Campaigns

    Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 10/18/2019 - 21:08
    Once again I turn my attention to Advanced Dungeons & Dragon's planes & other worlds for a bit of fun. Maybe its time to cast a bit of 'Shade' into your game campaign with a bit of a NPC villain role. Sure the plane of Shadows has become 'Shadowfell'. But these bargainers of the direst of pacts have all been almost forgotten. There are times when bits & pieces of the Jeff Grubbs Advanced Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Printing the Prime Material Plane in the Ether

    Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 10/18/2019 - 11:00

    This was an idea I posted on Google Plus (may it rest in piece) and mentioned it again earlier this week on Discord, so I might as well preserve it here, too.

    The idea of Elemental Planes existing outside the Prime Material Plane seems strange, when the elements are presumably fundamental building blocks of matter. That is why they are called elements, after all.

    I think a better analogy for the relationship of the Elemental Planes to the Prime would be CYMK printing. The Prime is "printed" on the ethereal medium by overlay of patterns of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. The elemental planes (branes is probably more appropriate) maybe not be center over the prime, perhaps they have poles or sources they emanate from, but they could be.

    The arrangement could be represented diagrammatically like this:

    Matters of the Dead, Damned, & Dice - More Vegas,Cha'alt, & Mayfair Games Role Aids

    Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/17/2019 - 18:28
    So last night I got a chance to pull out my copy of Mayfair Demons II Box Set (Role Aids) by Kevin Hassall from 1993."FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D 2ND EDITION. In Demons, you met the lords of the Infernus. now learn the dark secrets of these evil fiends, their methods most foul and how they taint the world of mortals. Learn too, how they might be sought out and destroyed. The world has faced no Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    "Slave Pits of Hyperborea" An Alternative Commentary on Adapting A1: "Slave Pits of the Under City" By David 'Zeb' Cook To Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

    Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 10/17/2019 - 03:21
    "A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity: It is time to put a stop to the marauders! For years the coastal towns have been burned and looted by the forces of evil. You and your fellow adventurers have been recruited to root out and destroy the source of these raids—as hundreds of good men and women have been taken by the slavers and have never been seen or heard from again!"So tonight let's Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Review & Overview of Cha'alt Ascended By Venger As'Nas Satanis For The Cha'alt Mega dungeon & The Crimson Dragon Slayer rpg

    Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 18:52
    "Cha'alt is the beast of a book (218 pages) I've been working on for the past year.  It's a ruined world focusing on a couple of introductory dungeons before getting to the main event - the megadungeon known as The Black Pyramid.   The Black Pyramid is like nothing you've ever seen before.  Unique design, purpose, feel, magic items, NPCs, monsters, factions, motives, agendas, strangeness, the Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Some Odd Experiences

    Roles & Rules - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 14:18
    Although my current RPG campaign is on hiatus I got two chances recently to introduce novices to roleplaying using Chris McDowall's Into the Odd. This is not a review so much as a breakdown of what works and what doesn't work for me.


    Character generation is simple and yields perfect shabby-Victorian protagonists for this weird industrial setting, more punk than steam. Starting equipment is derived super quickly, balancing out poor stat rolls with better stuff. All magic resides in things (arcana) and nobody is extra at anything. You are only as good as your starting rolls, your stuff, and later your levels which let you survive better.

    The Oddpendium is a fabulous gaggle of percentile tables that let you quickly generate info about characters, places, and things. It conveys and embroiders the setting.

    New players love the quirky characters and the quick dive into action. There are real Every-beings without super-powers or fancy tricks. The system forces low cunning and inventiveness to get by.


    Behind the screen (well, the uptilted book) I was sweating a little. The system outright omits some features I am used to in judging adventurous events.

    No skills, just saves vs. ability scores. I guess this makes a statement about the replaceability of characters and importance of possessions in an industrial world. I found it more fun and characterizing to roll a random former profession and give an extra roll, or "advantage" in 5e terms, on saves related to it. And "saves" can be proactive, covering any player action that is unsure to work. New players really need all the hooks for character they can grab.

    Combat is simple and safe-till-it's-deadly; being in combat means you score a die roll's amount of damage which is taken first from hit points, which high level characters and monsters have more of, and then from Strength. Each wound to Strength requires a Strength save or you are incapacitated, and dead if not tended to. Advantage and disadvantage in combat means using a bigger or smaller die. Armor can only reduce 1 point of damage, or more for certain monsters.

    I like the limited armor - that's in-setting - and randomly deadly wounds. But -- I find there's something you miss by not having a hit roll or the possibility of defense in melee. There's firearms, so taking a long shot seems particularly poor to model and not well covered by the disadvantage idea. You can try to flee when your hit points are zero, but they'll always be able to "hit" you as you run.

    At a minimum I suggest: To get a shot in at long range with a ranged weapon, save Dex at disadvantage. Medium range, just save Dex. Automatic damage at close or point blank range.

    In close melee, damage with fists (d4) or short bladed weapon (d6) or claws/teeth is automatic. With surprise, damage is also automatic. At swords' length, each attacker saves vs. Dex to hit, and each defender gets one Dex save against one attacker to parry or evade. To speed up a fight you can take Disadvantage on the attack to force the defender to do the same on the defense. If a successful hit is met with a successful parry, both sides roll damage and the difference is applied to the loser.


    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    QF3 – Malady of Kings

    Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 11:15
    By Sean Smith Self Published Quarrel & Fable

    A harried messenger collapses in the town square with news that the king at Firefen has succumbed to a demonic parasite.  And where the king is ill, the land is ill. Will YOU rid the kingdom of this evil before the disease spreads?

    This nine digest page adventure details a road journey from a town to the home of the king, through a demon-infested land. Nice little ideas are abstracted to a degree that they are no longer useful. It’s too short for what it’s trying to pack in, falling somewhere in between the abstracted nature of a hexcrawl encounter and the details of a regular encounter. It doesn’t do either any justice.

    I accidentally bought this. All I saw was “OSR” and not “other OSR systems” on DriveThru. In my own defense, I tend to think of the OSR label as “compatible with B/X” … and many light systems are essentially NOT. They bear more resemblance to indie RPG’s then to B/X. System aside, the adventure bears the marks of being essentially a linear set of encounters, something we should all be familiar with from more modern versions of D&D play styles where they eschew the game element and concentrate on the experience. So I’m reviewing it anyway. Such as it is.

    It’s Meh.

    It’s organized in a kind of time-based manner. First you encounter this and then you encounter this. It’s not really laid out in a keyed format. There are some headings for different regions/areas, but then it just runs through the “first this and then this” thing. It’s still relatively easy to follow though, with paragraphs being clearly laid out and information contained within, even without area headings, blding, etc. 

    The general format might be “first this little things happens and then you’re in this big situation.” First you meet a bandit on the road, jumping out of a copse of trees. “Your lupins or your life” he shouts. That’s your encounter. That’s followed up with about four sentences, in the next paragraph, describing a small starving village, the abbey in it that has closed its doors, they sell salt, and the villagers wants to eat an albino cock and black chicks running around. So, a LARGE situation. Farmers jump out to attack … and then run away. Small encounter. You happen to a friendly well-fed village of kind people … who are cannibals. Big Encounter. 

    All of these are, essentially, underdescribed. The bandit and farmers are just people that jump out. There’s nothing to them, no soul. They need more than once sentence, maybe two, to bring the encounter to life. To give it some character and flavour. 

    The bigger town/village encounters are essentially the same. It attempts to describe these huge situations but it doesn’t give enough detail. It turns in to an abstracted idea of an encounter, like one of those “fifty ideas for fucked up villages” garbage supplements on DriveThru. Here’s your three sentences to describe your new campaign world. Run it! 

    I’m not arguing for things to be infinitely explained, or rigid beyond use. But a fun extra details, an NPC or two, a roving gang, some farmer details, SOMETHING to bring the place to life and help spark the DM. It’s as if it were “an exciting new campaign supplement!” and it only contained the words “the dark lord or Mordor is trying to take over the world.” Well, ok, sure, but there’s lots of possible shit in that. Maybe you could give me just a little bit more to work with? Otherwise this is just a roll on some random tables that’s put down on paper.

    The wanderers are a great example of this. A short wandering monster table. Farm bandits. Slug fiends. Demon friar. That’s it, just a list. But each one can only be used once, it tells us. Well then why the fuck didn’t you include just a little more information about a vignette? The friar forcefully converting a flock through demonic executions, or the farmers, idk, doing a wicker man or something? It’s all so abstracted that it might as well be Wilderlands. Although, come to think of it, Wilderlands had MORE detail and was organized better. 

    It does, at times, engage in a decent word or two. Fleeing across a river hiding in the “long reeds.” Long reeds in a river, fleeing, hiding in them, that’s great imagery and gives me something. I want more of that.

    Also, while I’m not an expert in this system, I think combat is unusually deadly and the idea is to come at things sideways? But then why all of the forced combats in this with many encounters being a “they jump out an attack!” type? Maybe I don’t understand the system.

    Weirdly abstracted. There are two roads between your start and finish, and you’re only ever gonna encounter stuff on one ,meaning half the book is wasted. Quantum Ogre don’t matter here, it’s bad design in a non-exploratory railroad. 

    This is $6 at DriveThru. Of course, there’s no fucking preview. $6 for nine pages is pushing things. Quality deserves payment. But the reality of the situation means you’re just getting fucked over for these high price/low page count things … that don’t have a fuck preview.–Malady-of-the-Moor-King?1892600

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Wednesday Comics: Star*Reach #1

    Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 11:00
    A new episode of the Bronze Age Book Club Podcast is here! This time, we talk about "ground level comics" and Star*Reach #1 from 1974.

    Listen to "Episode 7: STAR*REACH #1" on Spreaker.

    'The Fermi Paradox',Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's The Mystery At Port Greely By Jeffrey Talanian & D1-2: "Descent into the Depths of the Earth" (1981) by Gary Gygax.

    Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 10/15/2019 - 15:44
    "Until about three years ago, the peculiar town of Port Greely was renowned as a prolific exporter of crustaceans. Then the Greely lobstermen severed all ties with outside partners. Subsequent attempts at renegotiation were shunned.More recently, a small group of Fishmongers’ Guild representatives from the City-State of Khromarium has gone missing in Port Greely, and answers have been Needles
    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    How to Run Better D&D Games By Doing Less

    DM David - Tue, 10/15/2019 - 11:24

    If you are a dungeon master, the easiest way to improve your game sessions might be to do less. Rather than doing all the tasks of running the game, delegate some to the players.

    This lesson took me a long time to learn. I found Dungeons & Dragons in an era when gamers took the master part of dungeon master seriously. Some control freaks even thought dungeon masters should make all the players’ die rolls to better conceal ACs and other secrets. (See Would You Play With a Dungeon Master Who Kept Your Character Sheet and Hid Your PC’s Hit Points?) I never went so far, but I never considered imposing DM chores on the players. Besides, I felt happy to do the chores myself.

    Years of running tables in 4-hour convention games made me change. Especially with D&D’s fourth edition, convention sessions threatened to push past the time allowed, robbing the players of a satisfying conclusion. Rather than let a session go long, I found ways to speed the game. I learned to delegate parts of the game to the players.

    I’ve learned a lot about dungeon mastering in rooms like this one at Origins.

    The benefits surprised me. Delegating did more than help end a session on time. It led to better games.

    Typically, dungeon masters run all the non-player characters, describe the action, track initiative, set up maps and figures, make rulings, and so on and on. The players mostly wait for the DM’s attention. A DM’s pace tends to bottleneck the pace of a role-playing session.

    Delegation reduces the bottleneck at the dungeon master. Games move faster, so everyone enjoys more time adventuring. Plus, when players gain more to do, they remain engaged in the game and have more fun.

    What tasks can you delegate?

    Tracking initiative. If you poll your players for initiative scores and keep track yourself, you should change your method. Unless you run games for young kids or new players, let the players manage most of the initiative. I drape initiative tents over my DM screen so that I can reference stats on the cards, but players fill the cards—even monster names—and put them in order. Typically, they call out turns. For more, see The Best Ways to Track Initiative in Dungeons & Dragons.

    Referencing rules. Stopping a session to page through the rules robs the game of momentum. Ask your players to look things up. Usually, I just need to understand a spell and can resolve other actions until I get the details.

    Drawing the battle map. If someone can draw the room while I grab miniatures, combat starts faster. Don’t bother describing every detail to sketch. Just ask someone to draw, say, a 40 by 60 room, then you can draw the doors and profane altars and other features.

    Running allied non-player characters. Whenever an non-player character might take the side of the players in a fight, I always print an extra sheet with the character’s combat stats. My regular players lobby for the chance to run an NPC. If the ally doesn’t require bring much personality or motive, anyone can run it. If I need someone to show the NPCs’ fear of fire or hatred of magic, I pick the role players with character portraits on their table tents—the players who introduce their characters in funny voices.

    Recapping the last session. When you continue a campaign, ask if anyone can recap the last session. This allows you another moment to prepare while giving you a sense of what the players considered interesting or important. Plus, you may uncover things you told the players that proved confusing or misleading.

    Tallying experience points. Players keep track of the gold they win. Why not have a player keep track of experience points too? After each encounter, while you still have the monsters and encounter notes in view, give the experience values to a volunteer accountant.

    Githyanki marked with numbered disks

    Numbering monsters. I use numbered markers to distinguish the miniature figures on my battle map. Compared to players attacking “this” and “that” monster, the numbers avoid confusion and speed play. Tracking damage becomes easier. See Number Your Monsters to Stop Wasting Time Finding Them on the Battle Map. Usually, I hand one player a stack of numbered markers and let them tag the monsters.

    Track damage dealt to foes. Damage dealt is not secret information for the DM. (Seeking a tactical advantage, my Dungeons & Dragons Championship teams kept track of damage.) Delegate damage tracking to that player who likes to deduce monster ACs and can total 8d6 fireball damage at a glance. When a monster takes damage, have the tracker report its total damage. If the total exceeds the monster’s hit points, describe the kill.

    Or let the player describe their moment. Delegate. The game doesn’t just belong to the dungeon master. It belongs to everyone at the table. See Should a Dungeon Master Invite Players to Help Create the D&D World Beyond Their Characters?

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


    Subscribe to Furiously Eclectic People aggregator - Tabletop Gaming Blogs