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On City Procedures VIII

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 17:34
At what price influence? At what cost power?

At some point, characters may aspire to more than just the list of activities given. They may wish to purchase a house or land, raise troops, start a religion or a construction project. Such activities may not be done on their own without attracting the attention of rulers who will go to  great lengths to stop such activities. So how to accomplish them?

Get permission, of course!

Easier said then done. In order to acquire leverage, you may go the route of "find someone who wants a quest done, and use the completion of that quest to get your favor" and that's fine and traditional. But what if you have a campaign in media res with more side quests then you can already track? What if players want to change an existing structure instead of building a new one?

Enter the concept of influence.

InfluenceThere are only a few areas of influence. Commerce/Economic, Military Power, Nobility, and Arcana/Religious. For every 1,000 people in a city, there is one 3x3 board of minor influence. For every 10,000 people in the city, there is one 3x3 board of major influence. For every 100,000 people in the city, there is one 3x3 board of grand influence. Waterdeep for example, has a population of 130,000, providing one grand board, 13 major boards, and 130 minor boards. Most cities will be much smaller than Waterdeep.

Note that there are only 9 squares on a board, and always at least 10 factions who want placement on it.

Players cannot see the influence boards, and have no idea before they act what the boards look like. A player may spend one month, with a successful relevant skill roll (spying, survival (urban), etc.) to determine the status of one minor board, which they can then see. One person devoted to the task each month enables them to continue to keep abreast of what is happening on the board.

Gaining Influence
A character may spend 1,000 gold and 1 week gaining one square of minor influence. This represents politicking, meeting people, public works, intimidation, advertising, etc.–whatever  generates influence.  If more than 5 squares on a board are acquired two things happen. They gain a point of leverage for that level (minor, major, grand) and they are granted one square of influence on the next highest board. If a character possesses at least one point of minor leverage, they may spend 10,000 gold and 1 week to gain a square of major influence.

The relevant skill is rolled (bureaucracy, survival (urban), arcana, religion, persuasion, history, etc.) depending on the type of influence one wishes to acquire. This determines the order everyone selects influence. Then Dungeon Master adds their influence to a board at the end of a week in the order that they were rolled.

Players may also attempt to acquire influence from other actors also already on the board. They do this by individual negotiations with the person possessing the influence. Consider that the possessor of that influence will expect or fear loss of somewhere between 1,000-5,000 gold pieces of value per point of influence acquired. (This doesn't necessarily have to be in money. Blackmail, threats, completing tasks, etc. can all be used).

At the end of the month, all factions on all boards of all levels, remove one square of their influence. There is a 1 in 10 chance per board that it is completely cleared (due to a death, random event, or change in power structure).

Boards are, in general, filled before the player characters arrive. You do not have to play out every actor in the city, though if the characters have an ally or a foil or nemesis, they may work to block the character's progress. Certain positions (harbormaster, noble, merchant, priest, captain, general, etc.) automatically grant one point of minor leverage every month, without board positions. They may translate this minor leverage into selecting influence squares.

Or, the leverage may be spent. Note that for many of these, it is required that you spend the leverage each month to maintain the benefit.

Minor Leverage: Own or run a business employing up to 10 people. Purchase or sell trade goods in bulk.
Major Leverage: Make large purchases (>100,000 gp). Own a trading vessel. Own or run a business employing up to 100 people.
Grand Leverage: Own or run a business employing unlimited people.

Military Power
Minor Leverage: Employ more than 10 hirelings. Have someone arrested. Have someone freed.
Major Leverage: Employ mercenaries.
Grand Influence: Request military aid.

Minor Influence: Purchase existing property.
Major Influence: Purchase land or build new property. Acquire a standard for an informal group or company. Gain a minor title.
Grand Influence:  Form an official guild. Become a member of the nobility.

Minor Influence: Practice magic in the city.
Major Influence: Gain a license to employ magic commercially. Gain a license to have a group of religious followers.
Grand Influence: Be allowed to construct a school or church (must also have nobility influence to be allowed to do so)


Obviously such a system is both abstract and scaleable. But in the use case of cities, this influence is almost always associated with a faction. "The player character party", "the thieve's guild/mob" "noble faction A", "the traders' guild", etc.

It is expected that players may be able to influence one or two minor boards themselves, but it will be necessary to ally with other major influencers in order to acquire major leverage.

Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases. -John Adams

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Downtime

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 11:28
Ah, the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition was here! It was the summer of 2014. How exciting.

In the adventures there were different factions, and between adventures you could have downtime. But where were the downtime rules. People took to twitter and reddit and asked. "Coming soon!" they said.


In May of 2015, deep into a 5th edition adventure, I (and my players) got tired of waiting. I finally dived in and began creating my own city procedures, outlining what characters could do in their downtime. It was a temporary stopgap measure, because surely the rules would be coming soon.

Years pass.

Finally, this week these rules are finally here! Were the downtime rules worth a three year wait?! (Of course not. Veins of the Earth is worth the wait. Not downtime rules from WotC. But we are going to look anyway. There are some interesting things in there. Let's take a look.

Downtime RulesFoils are the most interesting part of the downtime activities. You create a small set of Non-Player Character's that hassle the players, with the instructions that some should be good and neutral, and only a few or one should be a "villain". The d20 table of suggestions for foils is good!

What follows is the constant mind-numbing parade of "fantasy realism" that is the bane of official projects. To save you time, it tells you in entirely too many words that you should develop Motivations, Goals, Assets, and a group of Actions a foil takes to achieve their goals. Oh, and a reminder that foils are affected by events and you should have them change over time.

This is useful advice for teenagers. But it's a whole page of wasted text for experienced dungeon masters. We need things like this to help our games. Something creative that's challenging to come up with on our own, not someone adding 50-100 words to an outline point.

Some examples are given, with a format for foils, which is long and wordy and might be useful, if, say, 100 were provided. At the size they have the 'foil stat block' that would be a 50 page document. Hey, if you want to do something like that, I'm sure you could put it up on the DM's guild and have it lost forever in a frothing pit of junk racing to the bottom!

I'm not really this crabby. Just come on already. It's been 40 years. If you're the industry leader, get this shit right.

No, Really, The Actual Activities thenOk, this section is a bit better. Here's an overview of each activity, along with a link to my City Procedure for the same activity.
Buying a Magic Item: Charisma (Persuasion) check with a bonus of +1 per week or 100 gold spent, up to +10. Result determines which magic item table to roll on. If the players want a specific item, it's there, if you want it in your campaign and if you roll high enough to have it appear.Selling a Magic Item: Takes 1 week + 100 gp. Charisma (Persuasion) check determines what kind of offer comes in. 
First, is it weird that the persuasion of the character determines the reality of what magic items are in town? I don't have a problem with it, but odd, no? The complications table is fantastic however. Top shelf stuff. Complications include: "The item is cursed by a god" or "The item is at the center of a dark prophecy". That's that emergent gameplay from agency I'm always looking for!
Buying and selling in City Procedures
Carousing: Choose lower (25gp) middle (100gp) or upper (Noble background + 500gp) per week. Make a Charisma (Persuasion) check to determine the number of contacts made, up to the limit of 1 + the character's Charisma Modifier.

Meh. You can max out your contact limit in just a few weeks. Really, it seems like making these contacts should be a side effect of complications from other activities. The complications for carousing are pretty standard, sort of a neutered version of the various carousing failure tables among the Old School Renaissance.

Carousing in City Procedures

Crafting: You must have raw materials (gold) of half the items selling cost. Divide cost of mundane item by 50 to determine number of weeks to make, divided by the number of characters working on it. You must have the relevant tool proficiency.
Crafting Magic Items: You need a formula and an exotic material, guarded by a creature of a CR determined by item rarity. There's a cost and time based on item rarity. Potions of Healing and Scrolls have their own special rules.
Brewing Potions of Healing: Proficiency in the herbalism kit allows you to craft them. There is a special table of time and cost.
Scribing Scrolls: You must know the spell and be proficient in the arcana skill. There is a special table of time and cost.

The times on these options are long, by design. It's intended to discourage crafting. Most of the advice is very DM Fiat-ish.

Item Creation in City Procedures

I'm grouping the following activities together. In my city procedures, I have these combined under class activities. As an aside, even though I group them as class activities, I erect no barriers in play, preventing people from performing activities, regardless of their class.

Crime: Spend 1 week and 25gp. Choose a DC to determine the haul, then make a Dexterity (Stealth) check, Dexterity with thieves tools, and one of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), or Charisma (Deception). No successes is jail, one success is failure+escape, two successes is 1/2 money, and succeeding at all three gets you the full payout.
Gambling: Spend 1 week and between 100-1,000 gp. Make a Wisdom (Insight), Charisma (Deception), and Charisma (Intimidation) check versus a DC of 5+2d10 (Average 16). No successes is lost money + that money in debt, 1 success is 1/2 of your money lost. 2 successes allows you to gain 150% of your bet in profit, and 3 successes you gain 200% of the money you bet in profit.
Pit Fighting: Spend 1 week. Make 3 checks—do we sense a pattern here. Athletics, Acrobatics, and Insight versus 5+2d10 grant you the win for 0/50/100/200 gold pieces depending on success.
Relaxation: Spend 1 week. Gain advantage on saves and end one effect or restore one ability score.
Religious Service: Spend 1 week, Make a Intelligence (Religion) or Charisma (Persuasion) check. Gain 0, 1 or 2 favors based on the result. A favor is a promise of future assistance.
Research: Spend 1 week and 100 gold. Make an Intelligence check with a +1 bonus per 100 gold spent, up to +6. Gain 0, 1, 2, or 3 pieces of useful lore.
Training: Take 10 weeks, minus the characters Intelligence modifier. It costs 100 gold per week. Learn a language or tool proficiency.
Work: Takes 1 workweek to work. Make a skill check to meet a lifestyle threshold.

These options are much less exciting. The complications are more mundane and less useful. Some are  difficult to make gameable. "Your victim is financially ruined by your crime", or "you are banned from the library". The actions themselves are much less impactful and lackluster. You can basically win a bit of cash, but most of these carry little to no risk. Pit fighting nets you a few hundred gold?

My problem with this, is that these systems are gameplay, they are pretty complicated bookkeeping for background flavor.

Compare my arena fighting: The purse is 1d6*100gp*the fighters level. The opponent is 1d6-2 levels higher than the fighter. They can bet on the fight. The fight is actually played out at the table.

Class Activities in City Procedures

Reaction and Analysis

There's been quite a bit of response already to these long awaited rules. The pit fighting rules don't necessarily favor the classes that should be good at pit fighting. Pit fighting is also a lot more profitable then say, working a job. The complications for pit fighting are milksopish also. The worst one is "almost fatally wounding your opponent". Yes, you can't get hurt pit fighting. The complications only trigger in 1 out of 10 cases anyway.

It takes nearly 2 years to scribe a 9th level spell to a scroll. Which is fine, but, you know. Two years. Apparently an improvement over the 50+ years required for legendary items in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

It took so long for these to come out, I wrote my own. Unsurprisingly, I like mine better. At least they are finally released for those people who want to only run using "official" materials. Your milage may vary.

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On City Procedures VII

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 14:10
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

Where are your rules for sages?

I run a lot of mid to high level games. The tendency is for the games I run to go long, ending somewhere around name level. It generally takes as long to reach level 9 from level 7, as it did to reach level 7 from level 1.

What do you have your players do with all that gold? Because I use gold for experience, generally have parties of 5-6 people, and have a somewhat high mortality rate, I'm generally looking at 1,000,000+ gold wrested from my hands by the time the party is level 8.  That is one million gold. Million. Where does it go? Each player generally needs around 200,000 to reach level 8 due to deaths. Henchmen take a half-share, so it runs 100,000 for each of those.

I have already posted a bunch of ways that allow players to spend of their own agency to reduce the gold quantity. This, I find, is far superior to the 5% tax, or random theft suggestions mentioned by Gygax in his original games.

But how do you get characters to spend money on sages?

I too, once had this problem. Long ago I hit upon the solution. Classically, the sage takes an obscene amount of money and time, at the end of which, they may give you the right answer.

There is no player who will take that option with their money.

In my campaigns, sages will always speak the direct word of god (me, in this case) to the player. If there is a question about the stars, where a magic item is located, who someone is, what someone is weak to, how to recharge a magic item, a secret entrance to a lair, the blueprint of a dungeon, how to acquire power, how the planes are organized, what happens to people after death, or any kind of truth in the setting, the sage will give the correct answer to the player, literally any question.

It is a way for the players to force me to tell them anything. That's something they will pay for, out the nose.

SagesSages are highbrow academics, peculiar and eccentric, obsessed with their own fields of study. If characters employ these idiosyncratic and frequently abrasive scholars they can find out the true answers to any questions. These answers are the guaranteed objective truth of the campaign world. The sage is the in game mechanism via which the players can force the Agonarch (Dungeon Master) to relate true information. Locating a sage
There will be 0-2 sages for every 10,000 population in a city, +1-4 for each school or university. Players can seek out the names and major fields of the sages by using the rumors procedure, with one sage revealed per rumor. If the sage with the appropriate major field is not located locally, there will be an additional 1-4 sages within 20 miles of the city for every 25,000 people. These sages usually have been evicted from the city limits for one reason or another. Types of questions
There are three types of questions sages can answer: General questions, specific questions, and exacting questions. Each separate request for information counts as a question. 
  • General questions are questions of the yes or no type, simple and broad. 
  • Specific questions are those that can be answered with a single word or phrase. 
  • Exacting questions provide an answer in as much detail as the players request. 
Answering a questionPlayers may approach a sage and ask a question. A reaction roll must be made. This affects both the sages behavior and price.2 Aversion   +50%
3-5 Dislike,   +20%
6-8 Neutral
9-11 Like   -10%
12 Attraction   -20%

It can take the sage some time to answer a question. The price of each question depends on both the time it takes to find the answer, and how well versed the sage is in the topic or area. The base cost to answer a question is 500 gold pieces. If the question is a general question it can be answered in a single turn, and costs 500 gold pieces. Specific and Exacting questions take longer, and have an additional cost per day. If the sage is employed by the characters for longer than 1 week, then he is unavailable after he finishes the current question for the following month. Specific Exacting Additional cost per dayOut of fields of expertise2d12 days—100 gold per dayMinor expertise2d10 days5d8 days1,000 gold per dayMajor expertise1d12 days3d10 days500 gold per daySpecialization 1 day2d6 days200 gold per day It costs a minimum of 500 gold pieces per question. If you are more than 4 miles away from a city with a population of 10,000 or more, prices are doubled. In most cases, the sage just knows the answer to the question, especially if within his specialty. However if the players attempt to leverage this to their advantage in a way that's detrimental to gameplay, the following change may be made. The abuse of the system can't be from the (in character) question asked. The money is also a balancing factor. But it's possible the players may lean on this mechanic too hard, treating it as a lever that they can pull any time with no risk. If too many questions are asked, we can drill down a little and realize that this sage doesn't have all the answers. Use the following table for success chances. The fee to ask the question must be paid before the answer is checked. Note that the players can always ask the sage to retry, paying the fee yet again. For the fields of study, use the following percentages to determine if the sage can discover the answer:
GeneralSpecificExactingOut of fields of expertise50%10%—Minor expertise75%50%25%Major expertise90%75%50%Specialization 100%90%75%Permanently retaining a sage
Rather than employing a sage on a question by question basis, you may choose to employ a sage over the long term. In order to convince the sage to join, the minimum requirements must be met.
  • The sage must be provided with Living Quarters, a Study, and a Library
  • The sage must be provided with 4 work rooms, none smaller than 200 square feet each
  • The sage will request a salary and research grants of 4d6 x 100 gold per month

If all those requirements are met, the players must install a research library for the sage. Half the value of this library also functions as an arcane library for wizards researching spells (and conversely, half the value of the arcane library functions functions as library for a sage). This library must be worth a minimum of 20,000 gp.
A library of 20,000gp will give him 50% of his normal success rates. This is increased by 1% for every 1,000 gp, until the library is worth 60,000 with a 90% success rate. Increasing it beyond this requires 4,000 per percentage point, until 100,000 gold is paid, granting the sage his normal rates of success.
A sage employed by the player characters never charges them additional fees. For every three days spent in research, the sage must rest for 1 day.
Players may increase the skill of a sage in their employ.
  • Spending 5,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for questions outside their field by 1% up to a maximum of +25%
  • Spending 10,000 gold pieces and 1 month will increase their success rate for a single minor field by 1% up to a maximum of +10%
  • Spending 100,000 gold and 2 years will give a new minor field to the sage
  • Spending 200,000 gold and 1 year will grant another major field specialization to the sage
Generating a sage
In addition to their personality, race, and name, each sage will have 1 major field of study. Most sages will often have some magical ability, of a type related to the field of her major study. In general they have 4 hit dice, (4d6 hp) and fight as a 0-level man. Do not fall into the trap of thinking sages must all be old men with beards. Mad scientists, wild hunters, young mystics and more can function as sages for your players. Roll on the following table to determine the number of  major field specializations and minor focuses.2d6 rollMinor Expertise Major Specialization211312413514622723824932103311341235Major & Minor Fields of Study The items listed in this section are major and minor fields of study. Roll once on the following list for the major field of study, and then roll again on the same list for each minor field. For example, if you get a 7 on your roll, you have generated a sage with 1 major field (with 3 specializations) and 2 minor fields. You roll 3 times on the following table to generate the major field and the two minor fields:1-3 Humans/Demihumans
4 Humanoids
5 Flora
6 Fauna
7-8 Supernatural
9-10 Physical World. Each of the categories above has a certain number of sub-specializations, listed below. These are only determined for the major field of study. Taxonomy is really complicated. You are going to have to make judgement calls about what belongs in each category, depending on the nature of your campaign.Major Specializations Humans/Demihumans: This category covers civilized races and cultures in your world. Usually this includes all the player races available for selection. Specializations include:
1-3 Art & Music
4-5 Biology
6-7 History
8-10 Languages
11 Legends & Folklore
12 Law & Customs
13 Philosophy & Ethics
14-15 Politics & Genealogy
16 Psychology
17 Sociology
18-20 Theology, religion, and myth Humanoids: This category covers all non-civilized "monstrous" races in your campaign. Races which have a culture, but are not considered civilized, like bullywugs, kenku, or giants. This also includes any monsters not covered by other categories. They have the same specializations as Humans/Demihumans. Flora: This category covers all plants, molds, fungi, etc.
1 Bushes & Shrubs
2 Flowers
3 Fungi
4 Grasses and Grains
5 Herbs
6 Mosses and Ferns
7 Trees
8 Weeds Fauna: This category covers all living creatures, not covered by the above categories. This includes both natural and monstrous creatures (as opposed to races, covered above).
1 Amphibians
2 Arachnids
3 Avians
4 Cephalopods & Echinoderms
5 Crustaceans & Mollusks
6 Ichthyoids
7 Insects
8 Mammals
9 Marsupials
10 Reptiles Supernatural: This category covers magic and non-natural phenomena. Depending on your campaign and it's metaphysics, you may want to add or remove some categories from this list i.e. Hedge Magic, Psionics, or Channeling.
1 Alchemy
2 Divination
3-4 Dweomercraft
5 Heraldry, Signs & Sigils
6 Medicine
7 Planes (Outer)
8 Planes (Inner) Physical World: This covers the hard sciences, the basic concrete levels of reality.
1-2 Engineering & Architecture
3 Astronomy
4 Business and Economics
5 Chemistry
6 Geography
7 Geology & Mineralogy
8 Mathematics
9 Meteorology & Climatology
10 Oceanography
11 Physics
12 Topography & Cartography
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Memento Mori

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 14:05
Remember, you are going to die.

The messed up thing about cancer is, everything goes on. Your life is like it is right now, except you are sick all the time and have a ton of new bills.

I read on Patrick Stuart's blog the other day,

Guys with a significant impact in forming the social and interest groupings that lead into the modern OSR but so far as I know, not currently deeply engaged with online social stuff at the moment, with them concentrating on other things.Well, yes. I've been concentrating on other things. In the last three years, I've had to deal with cancer, divorce, custody arrangements, two moves, some of my best friends moving away, the death of my father, and other minor stressors aside. I know this breaks my rule about talking about myself on the blog. It's a good rule. People shouldn't do it.

I had something of an epiphany the other day.

I was hospitalized the year before this string of disasters, due to a stress-induced ischemia. For those of you that don't know, that means I have a mental disorder that gave my intestines a heart attack.

I don't ever, ever, talk about this. I think the majority of people who do talk about problems like this are attention seeking. I am on very strong medication since that medical event.

The important thing is, even though I know better, I am beset by fears of all the worst kinds. My first thought is, "What is the worst possible outcome of this situation?"

Well, let me tell you. Every single one of my fears came true. Every single one. If I were to list everything my deepest darkest fears about the future would hold—the fears that literally almost killed me and landed me in the hospital—you would find that they all came true. One after the other after the other after the other.

Aaaand, *pats self down*, I'm somehow still here. At some point something changed. Either the medicine is really working or just after responding to nightmare after nightmare my ability to respond to new disasters is just muted; I don't know. What I do know, is I've spent most of the last three years just coping instead of working because of the stress. And now, nothing has changed. Disasters still loom. I'm still fighting for custody. I'm still dealing with very serious fires.

But I don't feel like I need to spend all my time coping and recovering. What I feel like, is I want to get back to damn work making dungeons filled with green gas. So, uh, I'm going to be doing that.

This message isn't about the blog. It's about taking steps for me, moving forward in this crisis. Being less closed up and connecting with more people. So, in order to do that, instead of posting something on my blog every day in April, which is full of a lot of meaningless noise, I'm going to post something every day on my social media about my life. Sharing thoughts and pictures. Some will be about gaming. If you're interested, I'm on Facebook here, and Google + here. It's a way of moving forward.

Blogwise, some work and surprises are in store for April. I'm only going to break one rule in this post ("Don't talk about yourself") not two ("Don't talk about what you're going to do on your blog") I look forward to seeing you.

P.S. Could you imagine doing a Kickstarter or something and having this happen? The added guilt of people who gave you money on the front end? It doesn't absolve anyone, but I'm glad I didn't have a situation like that.
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Dead

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 15:42
Why do the dead walk the earth in Perdition?
Surely the devils tell you that your soul is theirs. You have seen them deal in soulstuff. Yet you have seen the dead walk and know their words for a stretching of the truth.
What happens once you die? 
The truth is, no one knows.
Yes, there are the trolls. The Empyreal grants arcanists knowledge. Devils walk among us using the residue of the living as power. We command great sorcery. Yet this still remains hidden from us.
Let us begin with our knowledge.
Ancient books tell us a story before the Devils came and blotted out all the stars from the sky. Magic was easier. Mages mastered dozens of different types of spells and magic, drawing their energy from something they called the 'inner planes'. Whatever sources of great power existed—there are cut off from us now. Legends tell of walking among gods and traversing the multiverse. Those doors are closed to us now. All attempts at such magic fail. Animation of the dead was once performed by utilizing the flow from the radiant to the necrotic, as energy flows along a wire. Those ways are now lost.
All students of the arcane are familiar with the Hexad. These are the realms from which we bind living spells. Amecetere the vortex, Metallion the lattice, Cruori of blood and growth, Mintis of thought and mindfire, Skadus of darkness and suffering, and Specere of reflection and reversal. Our theorists believe that these are fundamental and base energies present in the universe. Commanding these fickle and virulent powers is far more difficult then the ease with which the ancients mastered magic.
Trolls are said to have returned from the dead, hence their solid eyes, ashen skin, and dark hair. Rarely do they speak to outsiders, preferring their craft be practiced in secrecy, deep in their halls. Few trolls ever wish to speak of their experiences, though those that do tell us of a lost and shifting maze, and the screams and agony of the dead. They claim that they escaped this dark realm into their bodies. Perhaps this is so.
Their description leads one to theorize perhaps their souls were trapped in some labyrinth on Skadus. Few have ever seen the Skadus, and none has seen a labyrinth. Those that have experienced the Skadus speak of a tempest whipped darkness, surrounded by fugue and shadow, minds lashed with despair, and time and distance floating erratically with only the most tenuous connection to our physical realm. Indeed practitioners of Skadus magic can confirm its malign influence upon the living.
What we are told
The devils say, when we die our souls are sent to the river Lethe, where they are cleansed. They say that great power comes from those who serve the devils; promises abound to mortal servants that they will be powerful masters if they serve loyally. Yet this is likely not the case. There are no records of any living being being 'raised up' by their infernal masters. This hope of future wealth turns the world into a mess of temporarily inconvenienced arch-devil nobles. No man becomes a devil that remembers he was a man. We have seen the soul stuff they trade in, and are told it is the remains of our mortal life. Yet I have held it, and it was as spider web wisps and feathers in my hand. It did contain great power, but it was nothing more than an empty shell. What of the soul?
Those who have been to other hells or have heard dark whispers say that it indeed is what remains of the soul. They say infinite realms are devoted to extracting such power by torturing neigh uncountable souls in a task of unfathomable enormity. It seems too extreme to be true, but watch our masters long enough and you will know how they value life. There is truth to this. 
But all souls? Hardly. Why would the trolls lie? What of the living dead? What of our ability to even raise the dead-how could such a soul reach a person if it were no longer the person? Perhaps it is a simulacra. There is no way to know.
What the Dead Know
So we return again to speak of the dead. They clearly exist, even though the devils say they should not. How is this possible?
The most common type of undead is a phantom soldier. You will often see regiments of the dead seeking work or employ in the army of some powerful human or devil. These skeletal creatures are animate and can speak as well as follow orders. But they maintain only the most base impression of their former selves. Their function as a unit installs some mystical tether that leads them to pantomime their former task. There is no intelligence, soul, or spirit contained within. Examination of such in the Empyreal shows only the influence of Metallion, making it nothing more than a clockwork.
The second most common type are the dead raised by the influence of powerful Devil lords such as Dauthaz or other demons or devils. These too have no natural intelligence. A cursory examination upon the empyreal will show that these bodies are nothing more than corrupted puppets manipulated at a distance by the fiend lord, though the machinations of her servants.
Thirdly, there are the dread lords, death lords, liches, vampires, wraiths, and various other "intelligent" dead. Some of these members are even rumored to reside among our order. These creatures all have special circumstances around their creation, and the commonality among them all is that their souls remain tethered to their body, even though the body no longer lives. Often there are quite arduous tasks that must be accomplished to maintain this tether; Vampires for example must consume Cruori energy by most commonly drinking the blood of the living.
Then, there are rituals that raise the dead. The dead returned are, in this case, nothing more than skeletal goblins. They are animated with evil energies and intend malice to all, including their masters. The ritual simply formalizes the procedure in which inanimate matter becomes animate due to acts of wickedness. This is significantly less useful than fire, being that fire can be controlled and does not seek murder its summoner as a matter of its innate nature.
Those who are raised often remember very little. Darkness, confusion, pain, light, and perhaps waking up once the spell is cast.

It it possible to bind actual souls to corpses? Some necromancers claim to have such power, though I have never seen it. Perhaps you will ask a necromancer yourself; a task not recommended. 
The truth remains unknown to all of us. Theories abound. A leading theory is that the souls traverse a labyrinth somewhere on Skadus, hunted by reapers who send the souls to the appropriate place. Indeed, those knowledgeable in arcana can in fact see the marks on our souls from such higher beings. Perhaps we wander in this realm until found. 
We will all know the answer to the journey in due time.Muthram Rask, Arch-MagusTranscript of lecture to The Exalted Servants
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On Ego and Competition and my Mother's Seashell

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 12:47
I hate losing.
There's something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it's how dumb people live with themselves. In short, how people assess themselves at tasks is influenced by their skill or lack thereof. Oh, and the ego hits hard. People, nearly all people, rate themselves as above average. If you want some fun examples, feel free to skip ahead to the bottom of the article.
Competition doesn't have any time for that.
There are literally millions of Hearthstone players who tell themselves that they could hit legend if only they had the time. There are dropouts all over the country who know they could have gotten their bachelor's degree if only they wanted to. Millions toil in bronze of League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients assured that they would be diamond/platinum if only the rest of their teammates weren't bringing them down.
That's one defense. Another is to attack the institution. That game is broken! Degrees don't matter! Intelligence Quotient tests only test one kind of intelligence. I'm ranked so low because of match making ranking hell!
I'm not saying that's not true. It likely is. (Except for match making ranking hell–that's a complete myth). My question for those people, why not accomplish the goal anyway?
The Rise!
My last legend climb in Hearthstone I had a 58% win rate. From rank 5 to legend, my win rate was 67%. Does that mean I'm a fantastic Hearthstone player? No. I had a pretty compelling win streak from rank 3 to rank 1. The best players in the world have win rates approaching 65% in a season. When I'm playing competitively, my average is around 55% which is good. Does this mean I think I'm a good Hearthstone player? Not really. I make mistakes nearly every turn I play. I play too fast. And honestly, at the end of any given season, there are between 500,000 to 1,000,000 people who end up ranked higher than me.
Let's think about what that legend climb means concretely for a second. Each game takes about 10 minutes to play. With a 55% win rate, It takes around 225 games to reach rank 5 (due to win streaks) and about 225 games to reach legend from rank 5. What that means is that you're going to have to lose over 100 games afteryou reach rank 5 with a good win rate.
Narcissists can't take it. People who have fragile esteem can't take it. Who's got time for 20 hours of losing?
People who want to achieve.
The Success!
This is true for all difficult things. Getting a bachelor's degree (which only took me six years) wasn't about learning. Nobody learned me anything. I spent a lot of time learning on my own initiative, but frequently that had little to do with class work. Now this is only my personal experience, I attended college from 95-97 and from 99-02. Perhaps things are different in university today. But mostlysuccess in college was making a good impression, learning how to network and present yourself, and jumping through bullshit hoops.
I know that most of my audience is successful–offhand most readers I can call to mind are professionals with many accolades, doctors, intelligent, and artsy folk. I'm writing this blog post because I believe it's people like that, like me, that are most at risk for these psychological traps. After all, we are likely accurate about our intelligence, aren't we accurate about the rest of stuff besides?
Well, no.
I don't really believe anything. Even that isn't true. The idea of "belief" is to think a thing without proof. I strive to be a fair witness in the Heinlein sense of the word, skeptical of nearly everything. But still, I fail at this constantly.
The crucible of competitive play forces you to confront this. There's no team member to blame. There's nothing but your skill and the opponent. Diving in even after your 100th loss during the season is what puts my statements above to the test. Every time I experience these thoughts that conflict with reality, they drive powerful emotional states. It pits me against the cognitive distortions in a way that allows my ego no reprieve. And in the end, I come out better. Not because I'm superior, but because even though I'm in the upper echelon of a thing, I just get to realize how flawed my thinking really is.
This applies for everything in life. I can speak confidently on a few things. Dungeons & Dragons. Writing. Game Design and Theory. Because they are my areas of focus and specialty. Even within those areas I strive to understand my flaws. In my interactions with others online, I often discover that they speak just as confidently about areas that are not their specialty. I do not think that is to their advantage.
The struggle for clarity is real. It's not something that can be achieved and checked off. It's a constant process of reevaluation and growth. And it's hard and painful to break down the false physical constructs of your mind.
But what am I talking about, you already know all this already, right?
The Salt!
Aside from the above, every month there are other things about my climb that are worth noting. Most interactions I have from rank 5 to legend are quite pleasant. However, down in the gutter ranks, between rank 12 and 6, you find a lot of people who are not well.
Blizzard and Team 5 have a horrible, horrible, system for communicating with your peers. One of the things I like about Hearthstone is that you can't chat with your opponent. However, that's no excuse for not being able to deal appropriately with situations. Not infrequently during my climb, I'll receive friend requests. Most of these are players impressed with play or seeking to become better or looking for friends on their climb up. Sometimes though. . . Sometimes you regret the fact that you can't contact someone to perform a safety check. Well, see for yourself below.

Ah, yes. My mother's seashell. Or possibly the most serious insult someone from South America can muster. Who can tell?

It's interactions like this that are so worrisome. This person needs a safety check. Not only can I not report him in any way to the parent company, blizzard has no method of reporting these interactions, but this person seriously needs someone to make sure he isn't going to hurt himself.
I mean, this is what I'm talking about. What mental state must someone be into say something like "hope your wife or girlfriend gets raped and murdered while you watch." Or "I'll murder your entire family given the opportunity." It can't be a good one.

Phoenix#12647 get help. Please.
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On the Mountain Coast

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 14:51
After 5 minutes of googling, I've decided I'm the only person in the whole world making art like this!

It's a six mile hex. You put it down in front of your players either by buying a print or using the digital image while gaming online. They then explore the hex, with their characters, as if they were exploring a Richard Scary book!

Make wilderness travel great again!

There's a lot going on. An ancient statue is toppled in front of an abandoned temple. Forests climb mountain peaks. A mysterious stairway descends into a ravine. A mystical pool lies undisturbed in the mountains.

One of my friends who also reads the blog mentioned she didn't know I had a Patreon. It's what all the cool kids are doing now. I've had mine for a long time though. Every little bit helps. I even send out print stuff of what I do at certain subscriber levels.

The above file is .100 dpi, but all patrons have access to the .300 dpi version. It's also available for order as a print for use at the table! I'll continue writing four long form posts a month, but will post one of these landscapes monthly in addition to that. If there's enough support, I'll be able to post more than one a month.

Hang a few adventure sites together and you've got weeks of play.
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On Reader Mail: Set Design and Phandelver

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 15:40
Nadav writes in and asks:
I've read your set design series of posts and am currently reading the D&D 5e Starter Set's Lost Mine of Phandalin. The book is filled with boxed text and I want to rekey it, but I've run into 2 connected issues: 1) boxed text as exposition (as opposed to describing a room) and 2) how to handle it as a set design dialogue (questions on bold nodes lead down arrows).
Ah, the starter set! What a good introduction to Dungeons and Dragons. It is, however, filled with an abundance of boxed text. Boxed text is an introductory tool for new Dungeon Masters, so this is no surprise.
During my conversation with Nadav, he also mentioned monster statistic blocks. This was fortunate because it triggered an insight about something that in hindsight is blindingly obvious.
Monster statistic blocks are designed to streamline play. Anyone who's played some iteration of the 3.x version of Dungeons & Dragons knows that you can use the statistic block to avoid referencing books and focus representing the monster in combat versus the players. Combat is one of those pillars of play that keep coming up in discussions about 5e.
Well, that's what set design is. It's a statistic block for the exploration pillar of play. Like statistic blocks for monsters, it allows you to make eye contact with your players–to engage your players–during the exploration part of gameplay. It's all about flow.
Here's a contrast between the two styles:
-The Dungeon Master opens the book and reads the passage. He's looking at the book. The players are trying to focus on what he's saying. The players then ask questions. The Dungeon master then must reference blocks of text to find the answers to the questions.  -The Dungeon Master looks at the rooms keywords, then looks up at the players and describes the room in his own words and fashion. When the players investigate, the Dungeon Master then scans the form for keywords (instead of a block of text) to discover what the players find.
Now, of course with liberal use of a hi-lighter and preparation, the first method can go smoothly. But much like a monster block allows you to handle a combat encounter without as much preparation, set design exploration blocks allow you to handle the exploration pillar without much preparation. It's more useful to the Dungeon Master at the table, whereas blocks of text are more useful for preparation and giving the Dungeon Master ideas (Though excessive, non-gameable, non-useful text is a perennial problem for gaming products).
Nadav continues:
For [boxed text as exposition], I've got the following written out for the very first boxed text in the book, and would like your opinion and critique on it:​
Do we need set design for exposition? Put another way, is there any advantage to having exposition be formatted in a different way?
It depends. You should know your exposition. You shouldn't need to reference anything to explain to the players what is happening, what the setup is, what the world is like.
Module play can often be uncreative and require 'touching up'. Attempting to do so extemporaneously means that we are relying on our own moment to moment creativity and without limits or random inputs, this frequently becomes repetitive. Surely we've all noticed repeated themes and ideas in our own play.
There is a more effective way to present exposition for use during play and I often go through such a process when re-keying a module. However, it's less focused on the traditional format of "Set Design"; the Dungeon Master is less likely to need to reference the exposition in response to player query.
As an aside: Deciding you're going to play a module, and using no more than two paragraphs of exposition to describe the hook  is one of the few occurrences that I personally think are ok for reading boxed text. 
It's important to note that this exposition usually is followed immediately by player (inter)action. Module exposition usually sets up a scene. As a counterpart to monster statistic blocks for combat and set design for exploration, this is effectively a discussion on how to handle a statistic block for interaction and role play.
Let's look at the block of text from the module:"In the city of Neverwinter, a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker asked you to bring a wagonload of provisions to the rough-and-tumble settlement of Phandalin, a couple of days' travel southeast of the city. Gundren was clearly excited and more then a little secretive about his reasons for the trip, saying only that he and his brothers had found "something big," and that he'd pay you ten gold pieces each for escorting his supplies safely to Barthen's Provisions, a trading post in Phandalin. He then set out ahead of you on h rose, along with a warrior escort named Sildar Hallwinter, claiming he needed to arrive early to "take care of business."
You've spent the last few days following the High Road south from Neverwinter, and you've just recently veered east along the Triboar Trail. You've encountered no trouble so far, but this territory can be dangerous. Bandits and outlaws have been known to lurk along the trail. "
Here's Nadav's example, using set design.
Neverwinter |   Pub → spring evening, rowdy                         Gundren Rockseeker → excited, secretive, friendly                                   →Job → haul provisions, immediate                                               →Brothers → his two brothers, Tharden and Nundro                                               →“something big” → won’t tell                                               →10gp a day → persuade +20gp                                               →Leaving early → on horseback                                                           →Sildar Hallwinter → warrior escort                                                           →“take care of business” → won’t expand                         Travel → uneventful                                     →Few Days on High Road →south from Neverwinter                                     →Half day on Triboar Trail →eastward from High Road, relatively dangerous, bandits and outlaws
It's clear from how Nadav keyed the above that the intent is for it to be an interaction. There's information about a persuasion roll, more information given about his brothers, and the scene is set in a pub.
However, this is a conversation, not a room. There's no physicality to it, no physical action for the players to take, just interaction with a non-player character. Laying out all seven items is the upper limit of what you'll be able to keep straight in an interaction. What we'd like to do is provide more interesting detailand reduce the overhead from the Dungeon Master.
For my own game I simply read the somewhat concise boxed text (as noted in the aside) and then moved towards the first encounter. Nadav clearly intends for the first scene to be set in Neverwinter. This is great, because at the time the starter set takes place, Neverwinter is a real shitshow. Lots of things going on in Neverwinter are tangentially connected to the Lost Mine of Phandelver. The downside is, of course, that the players may want to follow up on some of the excitement in Neverwinter instead of chasing ten gold and a crazy dwarf.
Here's how I'd go about setting this scene:First, I go ahead and google "Neverwinter Inns" to discover the actual name of an inn in Neverwinter. Several options are available, the Driftwood Tavern seems useful for our purpose. Reading the wiki and checking out the 4th edition Neverwinter Campaign setting give me even more information to set the scene.
In laying out the following, I keep in mind if I'm going to need to reference the information after it's shared.
Madam Roscene
HerselfYou arrive at the Driftwood Tavern in the city of Neverwinter to meet Gundren Rockseeker, a dwarf who says he has a job for you.
Dusky colored lights→ Stained glass hangs from above, lit by hundreds of candles
Bric-a-brac, curios, and relics→ Statue from fountain in corner, planter boxes with flowers line the walls
Fine Tables→ Made from ornate doors
Female Innkeeper→ older, serious-looking woman
Three Rough Looking Men→ irregular clothing, various weapons→ Mintarn Mercenaries

Madame Roscene (Serious/Reticent)
-2/Disadvantage/Disadvantage Mintarn Mercenaries (Rowdy/Invasive)
-2/+2/Disadvantage Gundren Rockseeker (Excited/Secretive/Friendly)
· Offers job of hauling provisions south to Barthen's Provisions in Phandalin.
      10gp/day each→Persuade DC 15 to raise it to 30gp/day      What: General provisions needed for "something big" me and my brothers found      Where: South along the Highroad for 50 miles, then east on the Triboar Trail for about 18 miles, till you can see the western edge of the Sword Mountains to the south.       When: Immediately.→He's heading out now with Sildar Hallwinter on horseback, pick up the supplies and follow as soon as you are ready.      Why: I've got to take care of things before the supplies arrive. 
The modifiers are for the reaction check depending on how the party approaches the NPC. Friendly approaches first, then being obsequious, then hostile.

There's a lot not noted above, because I already know the female innkeeper is Madame Roscene. If you're writing for an audience besides yourself, you should have a general idea of the flow of the scene without player interaction. You have to give enough to the Dungeon Master to explain the motivations of the characters and grant an idea of how the scene proceeds. The best way to do that is with a short paragraph.

"Madame Roscene wants the Mintarn Mercenaries to leave. The Mercenaries are off duty, but stay alert for any possible seditious activity on behalf of Lord Neverember. Gundren will arrive at an opportune moment."The above isn't perfect. I'm still refining and testing the best ways of presenting depth of non-player characters. But as for providing a shorthand for what you need for the character interaction/roleplay part, the above creates a dynamic scene where the DM can respond to the ebb and flow of play directly without a pre-planned outcome, versus reading two introductory expository paragraphs. I'd consider thinking about other questions the players might ask, as well as providing other hooks and rumors from Madame or the Mintarn Mercenaries. 
Thanks for the question Nadav.
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On Hearthstone

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 14:19
Legend Rank, before I hit the dumpsterSo, you may or may not be aware that I'm an occasional hearthstone player.
Hearthstone is a microcosm of the strangeness of the modern world writ large. Not just the game, but the entirety of the culture that has sprung up around the game.
In my personal opinion, it is a far superior game to Magic: the Gathering. I'm sure that there are magic players out there ready to disagree with me. Some may even have valid points outside of attempting to eliminate their cognitive dissonance over their sunk cost into Magic, but I'm not interested in hearing their arguments. I'm not going to walk into their house and knock the magic cards out of their hands.
But there are so many design choices that Hearthstone does so right. This is, for a large part, why there is such overwhelming negativity and anger from the player base of the game.
Hearthstone Game Design Choices
Unlike Magic, every single turn you acquire another mana crystal, instead of being dependent on drawing lands from your deck. The result of this steady increase is a high degree of consistency. There is no mana screw. The balance between lands and cards in magic is a strong factor in the consistency of a magic deck, but because lands are dependent on draw, it is not possible to eliminate (completely) the issues with consistency. Of course in professional decks this is rarely a problem, due to the decks being well designed, but consistent mana growth completely eliminates the problem for casual players.
The Magic ClientAnother fundamental difference is that the attacker chooses targets. This is a huge change that impacts the entire sequence of play. Anyone who has used both the Hearthstone client and the Magic client, can tell you one is (reasonably) elegantly designed, and the other is a hot steaming box of shit.  If you're not familiar with Magic, each "turn" consists of various phases. For instance, your draw phase in magic includes three steps; untap all your
Hearthstone Clientcards, pay any upkeep costs, then draw. During each of those individual phases, play cannot continue until the current player gives the opponent a chance to do something.
So yes, technically you have to stop the game three times to give your opponent a chance to take an action during the draw phase of a turn. Now in reality it rarely works out that way. In the client you can set triggers to stop your opponents play during their turn when you'd like the option to act.
Because the attacker chooses targets instead of the defender choosing who to block, it streamlines the entire game process. You don't have to wait for your opponent to make choices during your turn. You are encouraged to control the board, be aggressive, and spend your turn playing the game.
A sure sign of someone who has little insight into game design, would be the people popping up, pointing out that all these changes that streamline the play of the game would make it too "simple". The same fallacy is at work when you realize how much smaller each Hearthstone set is, then a comparable Magic set. Having more options does not make something better. They are games about different things: whereas Magic is about using the cards to directly combat your opponent by trying to alter how the game functions to reach what the win condition of each player is, Hearthstone is about reading your opponents hand and plays to play in such a way that maximizes your chances to win, much like poker. Bluffing, baiting, and going all in based on your read and statistical percentages is what makes Hearthstone so fascinating to watch at high level play.
It's important to note that this success of design is mirrored in the popularity of each game. A generous estimate of the number of magic players worldwide is somewhere around 20 million, compared to 50 million active players in hearthstone as of April last year. What's more, is that it's not possible at all for anyone to make a living as amagic player, yet the majority of professional hearthstone players can and do make a living at it, in a plethora of ways.
These choices, in addition to 30 card decks, make Hearthstone a very, very consistent game. In order to offset this consistency, the cards themselves do things. In fact, it was this (forgive the term) magic that first brought me into hearthstone. There are cards that hand out a special set of dream cards, cards that randomize all targets, cards that replace your hero, spectacular cards that do what no real card game can. This is what keeps games from getting stale, the random effects of the cards themselves. And it's these odds and percentages of random effects that must be weighed to reach the highest echelon of play.
The Salt
But, you know, that's just not enough for some people. As someone who's played since beta, there has never been a period where people went "Hey, this game is pretty good."
Let me tell you, the game is and always has been pretty good.
Currently the complaint is about the "Pirate Package", a selection of 3 cards the provide a powerful opening hand. Before that it was about lack of communication from Team 5. Over Christmas. Before that it was salt about Yogg, a card that cast a random spell at a random target for each spell you had cast during the game and how he was too random and too powerful. Before that it was secret paladin and their 'unbeatable' curve of Secretkeeper, Minibot, Muster for Battle, Shredder, Belcher/Loatheb, MC, Boom, into Tieron, (Link Cards) before that Patron Warrior a deck that had a sub-50% win rate on ladder for all but the highest tier player, all the way back to complaints about miracle rogue.
Since, forever–really, since release, any decent player could take a tier 1 or 2 deck to legend. A good player could take any tier deck to legend. Even in the most dismal period for Priest, when it was the absolute worst class, Zetalot, a pro-player who only plays priest, could take it to legend.
But that's the thing about card games, you always have a chance to win.
Now, there are legitimate complains about Hearthstone. It is one of blizzards most popular and profitable titles. Although Blizzard doesn't release specifics, In August of 2015 the estimated revenue is around 20 million dollars a month, several hundred thousand dollars a day. Considering the active userbase has grown since then, it's hard to imagine that the profit has somehow dropped.
Team 5, the Blizzard team behind hearthstone was originally only 15 people, and now, even with the gigantic userbase and profits, still only hovers around 70 members. I seriously doubt each member of the team takes home 3.8 million dollars yearly, making hearthstone an extremely profitable venture for Blizzard. Team 5 is very slow and hesitant to communicate with their userbase, which is understandable, considering the levels of salt encountered online. But this doesn't change the fact that very basic issues persist in the client. It took years to just add an additional 9 slots for decks, some cards and card text continues to be wildly inconsistent, and known bugs sometimes go years without being addressed.
The problem with the salt is many-fold. The first is that hearthstone is a competitive environment. Lots of other competitive games receive balance patches, so player expectation is that Hearthstone should also. But hearthstone isn't like that. You can't raise someone's damage or fire rate by 4%. Hearthstone is an extremely chunky game. When you increase or decrease the value on a card by simply one, it creates a massive shift in the entire meta-game. There are cards that are underpowered at 4 mana, that would be overpowered at 3. What's more, is that the meta shifts approximately every 90-120 days or so, and really, that's often not even enough time to discover all the hidden peaks and valleys of power within a set. And data is something team 5 does have, as they've mentioned offhand in their somewhat rare communications.
The second is that, if you're reading this, Hearthstone is free to play and has a very generous system for players. I generally get between 6-10 packs a week for free, just from quests, tavern brawls, and winning games. A dedicated player could accumulate 12 packs or more with time, and that's not even considering the possibility of entering their arena draft mode; at 7 wins, you've effectively made your gold spent to enter the arena back. This is, in large part, why hearthstone is such a popular game.
Finally, it's that, at it's core, hearthstone is a really, really, good game. David Sirlin in his masterpiece Playing to Win talks about games that are flat (where there is one best strategy) and games that have depth, where no matter your level at the game, you can improve your play and become a better player. Hearthstone is that. And people can see that. So when you do encounter a flaw or problem or bug, the game is already so good, can you imagine how much better it will be when that problem is fixed?
I think it needs time. Things move faster now then they did in the past- at the two year mark for magic the gathering, (back in 1996) it wasn't nearly as popular or organized. All the problems, they aren't unknown. Yes, the client will improve. Yes, tournament features will be added. Yes, the game will get better. It speaks well of Team 5 that they think very hard before making any changes, and, well, keeping the golden goose alive for their masters.
If you're interested, and you play, give me a shout and we'll trade battletags.
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On Ship Design

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 16:26
So my players want to build a ship. That flies. Cool.

This is the system I use when players want to create a vehicle of some type. This works for land, sea, and air vehicles with a little bit of common sense.

There are a lot of iterations of this type of construction system online.  I feel that most of them are lacking because they are overly fetishistic about ship minutia. This however, answers all the questions the players will have during play, while the other systems. . . don't. (How much, how long, etc.)

It should be fairly straightforward. It cannot be used in a vacuum, but requires some discussion between players and the Dungeon Master

What is a Ton?Traditionally in Dungeons & Dragons, when you come across the word Ton, it refers to 100 cubic yards of volume. This is a space approximately the size of your living room—That is, 100 cubes with 1 yard per side, not a single cube 100 yards on each side. For shorthand, you can assume a ship can carry half its tonnage as cargo
FrameThe first step in designing a vehicle is to determine the frame. This is a combination of size (measured in abstract tons) and materials. The dimensions may take any reasonable shape and form. An engineer is required to build per 20 tons of the vehicle. The base construction time is 1 day per ton. Examples follow:

Ship Type Tonnage Dimensions Fleet Flagship 100 70' Cube (343,000 cubic feet) Large Warship 80 60' Cube (216,000 cubic feet) Large Cargo Ship 60 55' Cube (166,375 cubic feet) Medium Warship 50 50' Cube (125,000 cubic feet) Medium Cargo Ship 40 45' Cube (91,125 cubic feet) Small Warship 30 40' Cube (64,000 cubic feet) Privateer/Trader 20 35' Cube (42,875 cubic feet) Fighter 10 30' Cube (27,000 cubic feet) Shuttle/Bus 5 25' Cube (15,625 cubic feet) Carriage/Chariot 3 20' Cube (8,000 cubic feet) Wagon 1 15' Cube (3,375 cubic feet)
Material It costs 300 gold pieces in man hours and labor per ton to build the vehicle. In addition to this cost, there is the cost of the raw material required to build the ship. Materials are straightforward, with their hardness reducing any damage. You can find hardness values in any srd. The Armor Rating provides the base AC of the ship.

Material Cost Per Ton Hull Point Modifier Armor Rating Thin Wood 75 gp .5 +2 Thick Wood 500 gp 1 +3 Metal* 3,000 gp 2 +6 Stone** 2,000 gp 1.5 +5 Ceramic 6,000 gp 1 +4 Bone 250 gp .5 +1 Other Consult your Dungeon master ? ? * Iron and Steel; special and precious metals will vary by type.
** Obviously not suitable for sea vehicles.

Calculate VariablesThat's it, your vehicle is done. You have time, cost, and final size for your vehicle. Now you just need to calculate your maneuverability class, hull points, and various other factors.

Once you have these factors calculated, you can apply modifications below that will adjust these factors. Once that is completed, you can assign internal space of your vehicle using the module section.

Base Time: 1 day per ton
Base Cost: (300 gp in labor + Material cost) x Tonnage
Hull Points: Hull Point Modifier x Tonnage
Crew: 1 per 10 tons
Maneuverability Class:
Size Class 1-9 Tons A 10-19 Tons B 20-40 Tons C 41-60 Tons D 61-100 Tons E 101+ F
ModificationsIf you'd like to make specific changes, then select any of the following options. These will affect the base time, cost, and other already calculated factors as listed after the modification.

Armored Hull
Cost: By Material per Ton
Space: 10% of tonnage value
This provides armored plating covering the exterior of the ship. This makes it more difficult to do damage to the hull by increasing the armor class. You can plate a ship with any material superior in protection to the hull material. (e.g. you can armor a hull of thick wood with metal, but not thin wood.) This modification can be repeated multiple times.
MaterialCost Per TonAC BonusThin Wood5 gp+1Thick Wood50 gp+2Metal300 gp+5Stone200 gp+4Ceramic600 gp+3
Frame Modification
This allows you to modify the frame of the ship to alter its maneuverability and hull points. Space modifies the available tonnage for cargo and modules.

Frame ModificationCostSpaceHull Point ModifierManeuverability ModifierLight+20%+5%x.5+1Heavy+5%-10%x1.5-1Extra Heavy+20%-20%x2-2Super Heavy+40%-40%x4-3
Rigging Modification
Any vehicle, land, sea, or air is going to have some sort of steering mechanism. This is referred to as rigging. It's assumed any vehicle comes with standard rigging. Modifying the rigging can change both the maneuverability and the cost.
Minimal Rigging reduces the cost by 25% per ton, the crew requirements by 50% and penalizes the Maneuverability by 1.
Topped Out rigging increases the cost by 5%, the crew requirements by 25%, and increases the Maneuverability by 1.Ram
The ship has a ram attached. The ship must have the heavy frame modification to mount a ram. This modification takes 5% of the hull space. Rams cost 100 gp per ton of the ship. Note that a variety of ram types exist, all with different effects (blunt, grappling, piercing, etc.)

ModulesThese are the internal modules of the ship. Any unused space is considered cargo space. The module sizes include support structures for the module (hallways, structural supports, etc.) so tend to be slightly smaller in size then the tonnage required.

RoomsSpaceCostCrew Quarters.25 tons per man100 gp per manCramped Crew Quarters.15 tons per man75 gp per manBunk Only.05 tons per 2 men25 gp per manRoom.75 tons125 gpSpacious Room1 ton150 gpLarder*1 ton100 gp per tonCargo1 ton-Hall (mess/recreation).5 tons per 2 men150 gp per tonDocking Bay, Internal, Specific CraftVessel tonnage + 10%50 gp per tonDocking Bay, Internal, GeneralSpecial**100 gp per tonExternal Passenger Dock1 ton200 gpExternal Cargo Dock2+ ton200 gp per tonWeapons***As WeaponAs WeaponTurret1 ton500 gp per class of the weapon****XXX1 tonXXX gpXXX1 tonXXX gp
*A fully stocked larder will feed 10 men for a month per ton. Poor rations cost 30 gp a month per ton, Common rations cost 100 gp a month per ton, Good rations cost 150 gp a month per ton.
** The tonnage of craft you wish to be able to dock, +30%. If you wish to have space for any 10 ton vehicle to dock, you must allocate 13 tons of space
*** Weapons, of course, depend on your campaign. Anything from catapults to greek fire throwers to submachine guns to lasers is possible.
**** Light weapon turrets cost 500 gp. Heavy weapon turrets cost 1,500, etc.

Note: The above system is just the most basic options available. It is Dungeons and Dragons after all, making your ship out of crystal and having cascading fire cloaks on the outside of the hull just requires some DM adjudication.

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On the Old Gods (Part I)

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 12:50
The old gods of Perdition were casual and indolent. Their world was peaceful and rich. Countries spread wide, they ruled over a creative people of peace. The only conflict came from leisurely discussions over resplendent feasts before the evenings entertainment.
The world fell quickly. The gods starved of worshipers, vanished. Yet traces remain. If you find the shattered vestige of one of the old gods, they can be called upon as any great being, though their power is just a shadow of what it once was. One may undertake the illegal task of reigniting their worship, and perhaps bring a sliver of light back into the world.
Bonds and Gods
So bonds are convenient ways to track moral, loyalty, and devotion between players and groups. It's very simple. You keep a list of your bonds. When you meet someone you add them to the list. Bonds run from 2 (Stranger) to 12 (Lifemate). At the end of each encounter or session with the bond, you roll 2d6. If it's higher the bond increases by 1.
Each bond level with retainers affects morale. It's a clear objective way to handle player relationships and romance. The really cool thing about bonds is it can divorce worship in a god (and the requisite abilities granted by said god) from character class and level! It's a way of having clerics without having a cleric class.
Several examples of devil patrons (gods) are illustrated by Russ Nicholson in Perdition, and you can look at a beta version of one of them here on my blog.
Today we are going to look at a bond with one of the old gods. Once Perdition was conquered, all access with the higher planes was cut off, as the land became an extension of the hells where devils could travel freely. Thus the only 'good' gods are the old gods, who are weak and stripped of all their power.
Patron Bonds with Old Gods
Devils and other sources of local power siphon away your prestige as your bond with them increases in power. As they grant you more power, your success becomes more attributable to them, granting them an increase in the prestige they take.
The old gods are very weak, and unlike normal patrons siphon 10% * your bond level in prestige. Since there are 12 bond levels, how could you ever earn any prestige at all once your bond got high enough?
Worshipers can be used to feed your patron prestige. For every steel piece that your worshipers generate, it can be used in place of a point of prestige that a patron might siphon. This is true for all patrons, though worship of old gods or demons of any sort is highly illegal, and as your congregation grows, so does the risk.
Old God of Strength, Dreams, and the HearthHis porcelain skin stretched taut over his muscular frame, Bodando envelops the spirit of community. In a world of entertainments, joys, and passions, he stood against them for something less ephemeral. The satisfaction of community and providing for your own through hard work. He sprang from the look a father gives his children and from the actions of a mother who provides. That satiation of men fed his milky dreaming form, where he stood as languid protector of the hearth and home.
Because he was a god of dreams, he speaks and interacts with his prophets through visions and phantasm only they can see. They interpret his moony will for the community, bringing pleasure and wisdom to their followers. The closeness of the community and home is his strength. He encourages priest to lay with family, mother with father, sister with brother, parent with child.
He appears as a recumbent young muscular man, hairless except for the golden locks and brows on his head. His skin is so white as to be only just agleam. He eschews clothing and exudes a splendid prismatic aura that flows around his form with his breath and thought. His very presence pacifies all living things.
Bodando's herald is a panoply of fleshy writhing forms, constantly moving and shifting in a crude pantomime of intercourse, a literal beast of backs. A torso will extrude, imprisoned in throes of ecstasy, mindlessly thrusting, yearning, reaching.
TaboosWearing clothes inside your homeSleeping less than twice a dayEating until you feel fullUsing indecent languageEating creatures of the sea
ObservancesSleeping naked in a communal bed with those close to you (+1)Performing daily calisthenics (+1)Sleeping for more than 8 hours in a single stretch (+1)Owning a home (+3)Living in an owned home as a member of family (+2)Having members of your family not sleep naked with you (-1)
Bond Levels2 You gain a +1 on all tests of Physique. This applies to grapples and Physique tests, though not to rolls to hit or damage. 3 You gain access to dream visions. Once per day you can tune into the visions and auger what is to come. You will receive an image or feeling of the outcome of a course of action.4 Your form becomes infused with languid vitality. Anyone who rests with you naked for a turn after a strenuous event (such as combat) recovers all their hit points and removes one point of stress. 5 Before resting for the night, you may ward an area against intrusion. You set a boundary up to 4" in diameter and decide what will trigger it. Anything that crosses the boundary triggers a mental alarm to all those protected within and two Dreamspites appear to protect the servant. The Dreamspites are not controlled by the servant, but are friendly with him.6 You gain +2 to your Physique score; and your Physique bonus, regardless of your Physique score, increases by 1.7 While you sleep at night, you may travel though the Empyreal as a dream. After an hour of rest,  you may leave your body. Your body lies defenseless and without a spirit. You must succeed at a Survival (Empyreal) roll to return to your body with a difficulty equal to the number of hours you have spent outside of it. If your body has been moved in the meantime, the difficulty of the roll is increased. 8 You gain the ability to cause women to ovulate, regardless of their cycle. This can help insure pregnancy.9 You gain a +2 on all social actions involved or related to sexual seduction.10 Your physical fitness becomes excellent. The first time each day you become Fatigued, you are immune. If for some reason you become Exhausted, you instead become Fatigued. Further exertion affects you as normal. You may also ignore the first point of stress you acquire during the day. You gain a permanent +1 bonus to your athletics skill.11 Once a day, you can project an aura from you in an 8" radius. You can cause anyone who fails a mental struggle against you to be overcome with an emotion. Examples include: Tranquility, cease fighting; Courage, have your attack and damage rolls augmented; or Fear, gain the Panicked condition. Any emotion may be stimulated by working out the specifics with your Agonarch.12 You become infused with renewed youth and vigor. As long as your bond remains at 12 with Bodando, any permanent penalties are eliminated, you are immune to poison and disease, you appear to be in your physical prime and you cease aging. You also become permanently aroused.
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On a New Year

Mon, 01/02/2017 - 16:40
The reply to the interrogatories in my custody case glowed on my screen. The specifics caused nausea.
My brother's name stood there in her list of witnesses.
J[Redatcted] C[Redatcted]
[Address redatcted]
I texted him.
"Did you know that [Redacted] is planning on calling you as a witness against me in court?"Sent. . . Read."No, no I did not. That is upsetting."
My paranoia flares down. I don't talk about it any more with him, because he's free to say what he wants. 
A week later he texted me: "Call me when you are able." I did. 
I hadn't heard from my father post-surgery. It was a routine procedure. He had called everyone before the operation. Can you know? We went to see him, before he was "disconnected". From trapped, to half-life after he died, to a funeral home, keeping us distanced from the reality of death. 
The Past
I don't like the internet much because it's full of lies from everyone. Every lie just betrays more ignorance about real issues moving forward. This is full-stop nothing to do with left or right politics. It has to do with ignorance, lies, and systems of control. All of these political social media posts are lies. All of them. Especially yours*. They are ignorant, because not one focuses on meaningful or important issues. 
I've been avoiding the internet because of it. 
The crux of the issue is that the management of humanity is a complicated endeavor fraught with danger. An article is just a way to scrape money from advertisers. It's shared by people who have beliefs unrelated to facts (or reality), who only have a vested interest in avoiding cognitive dissonance. 
That certainly isn't what I want to fill my time with. What I'm bothered by the most is that there is no discussion of issues critical to our future. 
How many times have you seen social media posts on the use of CRISPA to eliminate malaria forever? Or, what happens after that? Once we open the door to genetic control of our children and planet? Would you use it to edit your unborn child to avoid getting fat? Because you can, you know, today; Since they've had the option to use CRISPA for at least a year, I think maybe we should be talking about it.
Oh, hey, how about this. Do you know many employed horses? Really? If there weren't any new jobs for horses, why do you think there are going to be new jobs for you? Cars are self driving with safer records than humans today. Seen the self-checkout lane at the supermarket? Some machine diagnostician artificial intelligences (not symptom checkers)  have significantly better outcomes than human doctors today. The real employment rate is dropping (and a complicated sticky wicket). Programmers are teaching computers to compose and write music, create art- they already write the majority of books for sale on amazon.** Jobs are rapidly being eliminated. Maybe, if someone is forced out of the job market by a labor saving device, like most of humanity will be in the next few decades, we shouldn't treat them as a burden to society.
The FutureThe sonuvabitch of it is, that by all available metrics, the world is getting better. Less war. Less death. More wealth. More equality. We are eliminating diseases, traveling in space, curing cancer, extending life. I mentioned this to a lady I worked with and she literally left the room due to how much this conflicted with her conception of reality. It was too important to her world-view that things be getting worse.
Oh, and we won the role-playing fight too. People can make and play whatever they want. Kingdom Death is getting millions. No one is saying people can't play that! It's out! It's getting made! The new D&D is still crunchy and mainstream, but our voice was heard. The Dungeon Master can run the game. New levels in production and usefulness are still being reached. Gaming is good. Gaming is healthy. No one I know lacks for games to play.
Looking back over the last 8 years of this blog, I find that I live (mostly) in the world I had hoped to in regards to gaming. I've been dealing with separation and fighting for some legal affirmation that I am in fact, my daughters father. Every time I read the internet I'm assaulted with ignorance and hate and cruelty and stupidity from the luckiest people to ever be alive. 
I've changed, you've changed, the world has changed.

Personally, in spite of the endless personal setbacks I've had this last year, I'm happier than I've ever been. The best use of my blog going forward is to expand beyond just talking about role-playing.

Common wisdom says, you know, not to do that. You want to brand. You want people to come to you for one thing. Fuck that I guess. I still love gaming and am still working on gaming (and gaming adjacent products). I've learned a lot about myself and who I am and the ways in which I'd like to share. In the year going forward we're going to see a bunch of new things. You've already seen some of the type of things I'm talking about; the in-depth look at the Catalyst fiasco.

I'm interested in feedback about this and about the new things I'll be trying. Take the opportunity to let me know if you like or hate a new thing. It'll be a week or two before I'm fully back up to speed, but I'm looking forward to 2017.

I hope you are too.
* I'm not calling them out, because I don't want to get engaged in pointless debate. But literally every political post is made by person ignorant of facts; almost universally unconcerned about that ignorance. Conservative and Liberal. ** As always, these facts are subject to spin, but that's not the point. The point is that today there are very few things humans do that machines or computers cannot either do better or have a path to be superior than humans at. Nobody is breaking apart automated assembly lines to reinstall human laborers. Once replaced by automation, new jobs are not created and the jobs do not return. This point is philosophically neutral. The end of needing humans to labor is not. 

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