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Home of the Quantum Ogre, Agency, Theory, and Fun-Chttp://www.blogger.com/profile/02331863932906631618noreply@blogger.comBlogger1150125
Updated: 1 week 4 days ago

On the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Stroll

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 03:30
I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.

The secret really is sinister.

It's the first Dungeons & Dragons adventure I ever played. My father ran it for me, my mother, and my brother. I've run it a dozen times myself, and found myself again among the halls of the alchemists house in my adult life more than a time or two.

It's one of the great reasons for its ubiquity. It's easy to put a 'haunted' house on a map. Let's take a stroll through the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.

Sinister!This module is notable for being from "TSRUK", and contains a personal message from Don Turnbull.
So, American readers—if you find the text too flowery and florid or too plain and stilted, the structure of the language slightly unusual, the use of certain words apparently slightly offbeat, these are the reasons. Perhaps you will take solace in knowing that UK readers of all the other TSRª modules have the same reaction in reverse!Is it an essential British trait that they would take a game about dungeons, and write an adventure about an old house up on a hill? The United States has no ancient buildings looming for a thousand years.

The Dungeon Master is instructed on personalizing the town, making it a base of operations for the players. Name the council, develop them as individuals, draw a map, design an inn, create local gods.

Then, there's the legend. The decrepit house sits up on the hill, once owned by an old alchemist around which nefarious rumors swirled. Now it's haunted—dilapidated and unwholesome. Ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanate from within the dismal lesion marring the purview.

Spoilers for a thirty year old module, but hey, right? The house is a base of smugglers, led by an illusionist. It has a remarkable clear description of how to present the module and the core mysteries, without giving away too much.
It is paramount that the players are given no obvious clues, which would lead them to believe the house is not haunted; they must deduce the truth for themselves or simply stumble upon it. They might even wander around the house, finding a little treasure but never discovering what actually takes place there.
This module and the other two in the series are designed for thinking players. Those who tackle the adventures imaginatively and thoughtfully will not only obtain good rewards for their characters but will derive the satisfaction of seeing the various layers of the plot peel away as the real meaning of each clue is discovered. On the other hand, those who regard the House as nothing but monsterslaying territory will not only fail to unravel the secrets but will find their adventure dull and unsatisfactory; they may even lose their characters, for the smugglers, in the hands of a competent DM, should be more than a match for an unwary, careless party.
No munchkin hack & slash here! Only real role-playing.

In all seriousness, This is a well designed module. There are multiple layers to this mystery and it relies on player choice and initiative to assess what is actually going on, instead of just killing stuff because it's there. It's the kind of adventure where combat (should) happen(s) because there's an actual conflict, not just because you see something to kill. It clearly supports all the choices, with outcomes noted in the finale.

But that's not what you're here for.

What you are here for
You show up in town, ready for adventure. After taking lodging and shopping for a bit, you hear a legend about a haunted house up on the hill. If you decide to investigate, then you get introduced to a member of the town council, who has an interest in your decision to 'stamp out a local menace'. The council member makes no specific promises, but mentioned rewards—perhaps, say, something for doing a public service.

When the party sets out, they are accompanied by a slew of townsfolk, urchins, and hangers on. Amusingly, they retire shortly after the house pulls into view.

It sits atop a cliff, behind a 6' high stone wall, with a heavy ornate great. To the east is a well.with a softball pitch of a snake that has sleeping venom.

The house is obviously two stories, although there is a secret third underground "level", leading down to the coast at the bottom of the cliff. The house is laid out in a chunky upside down T. The front door opens into a big central room, with a staircase going up to a balcony you can see, with hallways leading to the west, east, and north wings.  It's a great vertical and non-linear space!

While exploring, you'll find rats, goblins, and other vermin as you would expect in any kind of standing structure. Tracks for observant players show some frequent foot traffic. Let's explore!

The stairs to the second floor hang over a passage to the east. These leads to empty and dilapidated rooms.  To the west lies the library of the alchemist, a study, and a trapdoor leading to the basement trapped with a magic mouth that says:
"Welcome, fools -- welcome to your deaths!" followed by a prolonged burst of insane and fiendish laughter.The passageway to the north contains two events of note, there's a beat up "withdrawing room" which I assume is british for lounge. In addition to detritus there is a chimney. If examined, you find a loose brick, concealing a small chest, along with a spider that sets down beside you. The default poison causing 'enfeebling' for 1-4 days, rather than any authentic risk.

The other event of note is that when you take the first step to descend into the basement, there's a wicked howl of shrieking pain, triggered by a magic mouth.

The upper floor is unstable, and more than one player character has died by falling to his death through unstable flooring. Another deadly chamber lies to the west, with an unassuming closet, filled with a cloak covered in deadly yellow mold.

Upstairs to the east, lies unstable flooring and a very subtle clue, that I think frequently goes missed until later in the module. This is the room where the smugglers can see the approach of the ship and signal it. More interesting is Ned Shakeshaft, a prisoner who is actually an assassin. He's supposed to mislead them, in the interest of a merchant who profits from the smuggling operation.

You can reach the attic, and get attacked by stirges as your reward.

The Main Event


Eventually the characters man up and brave the depths beyond the magic mouth spells, and head down into the basement.

This leads to a very memorable encounter. There's a corpse on the floor in a suit of FULL PLATE MAIL! This is a great moment for your fighters, immediately before they die from the rot grubs infesting the body.

There's a secret door in the wine cellar, and sooner or later the party will encounter the smugglers, which include their illusionist leader, along with several gnolls. There's a great illustration of the illusionist, hitting a party with the color spray spell.

Having discovered the smuggling operation, the town council conceives of a plan, where you assault the Sea Ghost and end the smuggling operation once and for all.

The party has a number of options for assault, giving them the opportunity to strike in the dark, or engage in open combat aboard the floating vessel. A terse, exciting, and possibly deadly battle occurs on the deck of the sea ghost. Looting the vessel lets them discover a slew of prizes, not the least of which is a pseudo-dragon looking for a Wizard to bond with, and the fighter thief aquatic elf "Oceanus".

Once complete, a few days pass, until the council becomes curious why such primitive creatures as lizard men would seek the arms and armor from the forges of men? Is the town of Saltmarsh at risk of attack?

I guess if you want to find out, you'd have to play Danger at Dunwater, but that is a different tale.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Hateful Campaign

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 02:09
Bryce Lynch wrote a review of my module, Eyrie of the Dread Eye. He tagged it as "The Best" which I am honored and humbled by.

Sadly, wherever I stand to gain some ground so I can continue to produce works, all of which I hope are high quality, there are people who are engaged in a campaign of harassment against me. They show up wherever I am mentioned and spread lies about me, calling me alt-right, implying I'm a racist, and other hateful extremest rhetoric.

I have a million+ words on this blog that anyone who takes the time to check, would find it's not the case. You could check out my inclusive art broadcasts on twitch where I share about my mental illness and decades of service to my country and community.

Below is my reply to the harassment from the review. I'm doing this because there are people engaged in an active campaign of harassment and slander anywhere I attempt to create and share to the community. I would ask that they please stop. This is me publicly asking people to stop harassing and libeling me. It is very important that we do not respond to extremism, hate, and harassment in kind. Please do not—I don't share too much of my personal beliefs and politics on my blog, because that's private. If I believe differently then you, well, I served my country so you could. We don't have to share political views for me to produce great gaming content. I am only sharing here to refute the lies.

The important thing here, is that the toughest reviewer on the internet thinks what I wrote stands among the best work produced. . . and it's only my first. Wait for the next couple of things I have coming out and I'll try and top what I've already done.

Here was my response.

"Hi! I’m the author!

My name is Courtney Campbell. I vote democrat, have donated to both Yang and Warren so far in the coming election. I’m a veteran of the USMC. I’ve spent 20 years doing social work with disadvantaged youth, including 5 years in alaska working with native youth.

I’m an independent creator. I’m sad that people feel the need to harass me and punch down at people who struggle with mental illness (I have a class A personality disorder that causes me significant issues with, well, life). I’ve spent my whole life working at near minimum wage to help disadvantaged youth, mostly of color. When I worked downstates it was mostly adolescents who were victims of family abuse.

I’m horrified there’s people who show up wherever I am being discussed to spread lies about me. I honestly don’t have any idea what to do about it.

I’m shocked and honored brice took the time to review my module and considered it one of the best. I worked very hard on it, and as noted, it isn’t designed to be read, it’s designed to be played.

I am certain if you read my blog or check out my twitch channel or come on to my discord, you’ll find a welcoming inclusive place where we talk about gaming, support other low income people who suffer from mental illness, and share support for each other.

I’m incredibly thankful I can eek out an existence publishing game materials. The fact that someone I respect as much as Bryce likes my work makes me feel like perhaps I can continue to be of service to society.

I don’t have any hate in my heart, and I’m sad people choose to engage in this campaign of hateful attacks.

Bryce, Thank you. To answer your question, I rewrote the 5th edition version of the adventure extensively to fit the style of superheroic play that 5th edition expects. It should work for 5th edition the same way it works for the best version of Basic/Expert in print, Adventure, Conqueror, King."

Stop the hate. Let's do better.

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Henchmen 3 & 4

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 19:48
These are 4x6 cards that contain possible henchmen for player characters.



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On Eyrie Delivered!

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 12:00
Why would you wanna fight this guy?Did you hear about that blogger that talks hot shit about how things should be done?

Well, if he wrote something, you sure could  find out if he's full of crap or not.

But who wants to read a .pdf? No one!

Thankfully this Eyrie of the Dread Eye module is now out, right this second, for ACKS, for 5th edition, and even in Print!

This doesn't look super fun at all!There's only nine reviews and the are all five star reviews! That can't be right! It can't really be five stars?!

But why would you want to pick up an adventure for mid to high level characters that provides a challenge for them without nullifying their abilities? Why would your group want to fight ancient, minimally verbal, yet terrifying monster bears? Who wants to fight a hill giant clan wearing human leathers?

Who wants to explore an ancient city or deal with ancient giant statues? You see the maps for these things? Would would want to explore these places?

Who's idea was it to make this thing only five dollars! And if you buy print, you get the .pdf free? What kinda cheap outfit does that?

If you don't buy it, how can you give an honest review, instead of reviews like this?
A fantastic adventure, it's full of comfortingly familiar bits and pieces but executed in clever and interesting ways that I love. Clearly that dude is some sort of planted agent! What about this nonsense?
I'm definitely in favor of this kind of adventure overall, but it's a little more "gonzo" than some of the previous releases from Autarch, and should be appreciated as a sort of surreal nightmare of Lovecraftian weirdness that stands in contrast to the more mundane orcs and goblins that the default ACKS setting impliesSurreal nightmare of Lovecraftian weirdness? That gets five stars?
It really is the little conveniences that make this adventure a pleasure to read. The author does a masterful job succinctly and conveniently presenting just enough information to get a location right, for immediate presentation to my players without having to translate anything in my head. What kind of DM wants to run a game with a resource like that?
 A most excellent tribute to the classic I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Deadly environmental hazards, multiple rival factions to ally with or oppose, weird monsters galore, all done in classic . . . style.Why would you want this adventure cluttering up the place? It's not like you need a great module full of terrific ideas, beautiful maps and swell encounters to steal, borrow, use or have fun with in your game. It's not like it isn't super popular hitting silver just days after its release.

You probably don't want to be in on all the fun anyway.

Eyrie of the Dread Eye, An adventure for 4-6 characters of 6th to 8th level, for the basic style, super well designed Adventure Conqueror King system; or rewritten for 5e, with care to match the style and expectations of that system.

You gotta see for yourself, right?
As might be inferred from the inspiration, this is a product that should appeal to anyone who loves classic-era TSR modules.-Eyrie ReviewHack & Slash FollowGoogle +NewsletterSupportDonate to end Cancer (5 Star Rating)
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Ancestral history, Quantum or Otherwise.

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:00
I hardly think I need continue. This perhaps will be the last.

What am I talking about?Let's start with this.
Reddit is a cesspool. Let me be clear.
I like this one subreddit, it's called legaladvice. You aren't allowed to post ignorant shit. There was a post, 300 comments, 16 approved.
5% of comments contained true information, that's pertinent. This actually means  284 people were engaged enough with the topic to post inaccurate, illegal, and ignorant comments—even though they know that posts are deleted if they aren't factual. . . . or legal. Right? It's in the name!
They have to think their comments are correct or they possess a vested interest in yelling into the void. That's what's in reddit—the popular opinion. It is literally an eidolon, a manifest spectre of mediocrity and blind devotion to the whims of the masses, facts or nuance be damned. 
So, guess what I found on reddit the other day?What's your hot take on "the Quantum Ogre" technique?Alright you bungling loudly croaking magpies, let's do this.

Am I doing this? Let's find out!The post contents:
Do you employ it [Ed:the Quantum Ogre] in your games as a DM? Do you enjoy or dislike it's use as a player?

Already my blood pressure is going up.

What we have here is an ignorant misunderstanding. A quantum ogre is a magician's switch—a tool used to make someone feel they have a choice, when they do not. See here.

Let's be crystal clear. Both are completely fine in a roleplaying game. You can decide things, and/or you can let players decide things.

I cannot find any utility for deciding something, but pretending to give players a choice. It's a game, literally founded upon socratic debate! The whole point is choices matter—it's not a video game, due to tactical infinity, you can have choices actually matter. But—I digress. Let me begin the shit-talking.

The Present
There is no shit talking. (Well, there's gonna be a little shit-talking)

The top comment is this:

The argument against QOs is that it's bad to take away choice from the players. I would argue that it's only bad to take away informed choice. If the players gather information on ogres, look for tracks, etc. and come to the conclusion that the ogre must be down the left path, the ogre has to stay where I planned. However, if they just select the left path at random, I don't feel like changing the ogre's position takes anything away from them
That's what's on reddit. The popular opinion. That's u/ParsleyForJehovah, who I don't know, and who knows. He understands the issue.

Here's a rocking socking shocker. There's no juice left in the onion. There's minuta, history, new content and setting and a ton of games—but the path is set. People know about the style of play. Even Matthew Mercer killed a player character on the hit show Critical Role. If there was ever a time or place where illusionism or narrative priorities were going to attempt to reinfect the game of Dungeons and Dragons, it would have been then. The understanding of the old ways is documented and passed on. We have held the wall and the light has won the day! Victory lies upon the long shadowed ages of pastoral paradise anew! Rise! Rise! Rise!

My sword and shield lie fallow. And though I will pick them up here, it is only to demonstrate how we fought for the world we live in. An old knight, returning for one last theater, his focus no longer on his enemy, but on the creation of his own realm.
Some hot takes It's clear that Shrek had the cultural impact that Avatar lacked. 
They note that schrodinger is a more accurate (but much less catchy) name.
Gus L. from the redacted Dungeon of Signs still posts on Reddit, and here's an example of the hivemind, he's downvoted out of visibility. If you need and[sic]  ogre encounter there should be one path - own it, and best to have a way this works in the setting. Spending time tricking players into specific set piece encounters is a bad way to spend play time.His text is correct, but people read it unwilling to debate a point, who just don't like when their fragile feelings are hurt. Even though Gus and I are a bit like oil and water, his opinions are well reasoned, and he's a great player and gamemaster. 
It's hard to convince a room full of narcissists talking out loud to each other that they have anything to learn. 
Gus's points are excellent, and bring this little gem into the light from Pseudo boss:
At the same time, when I feel that the players are giving up their agency to rely on dice or chance instead, it's no longer my story, nor the player's story, but the dice's story. In my mind, this is a game failure: a game state with a very high potential to result in an unpleasant experience for everyone. Quantum ogres are a way to rectify game failures when they occur.Do you see the confusion?
"When I feel the players are giving up their agency to rely on dice," That's the agency! They made the choice! Based on their understanding of the odds! The unpleasant experience mentioned is the consequence of choice.
Out of curiosity, if I decided that an important piece of evidence was in the same manor that the rogue was casing, would you consider that railroading or a quantum ogre?What does this sentence mean? What I'm told is "I don't understand the differences and distinction between the various terminology discussed," but look at how certain! "this game is a failure if consequences come from actions!"
This person isn't evil, malicious, or ignorant. 35,000 times in 5 years people have said, "Yeah, I push up arrow!" That's 7,000 a year, or around 20 times a day, everyday, for half a decade. His other comments indicate a fascination with numbers, symmetry, that he's been committed to a mental institution, and has strong liberal opinions, which he is happy to share, along with his science background.
It's back to bad things happening in the game must be bad because it's not fun to lose—but it's more fun for the game to be meaningful, which is really the whole point of the classic tabletop fantasy gaming. The game as written is fun, meaningful, and chock full of emergent play.
He says as much himself:There have been instances where an encounter that I place turns out to be way too hard, or maybe just the dice completely screwed the sorcerer over. Once it's clear that the mood of the table is souring, I feel that player satisfaction is more valuable than game integrity.And there you have it.
I think maybe Gus and I rub each other the wrong way because we are so alike in a lot of ways, at least evidenced by how well he argues the Quantum Ogre.
It's percolated into the modern consensus. Even when disagreeing and calling me a dick (yes, really) they are agreeing. Note this comment from Author X. 
My lukewarm take is that I don't run any games that require me to plan the contents of every room in every building, or keep track of which corridors the players are moving down. Therefore, it doesn't matter which room a particular encounter is in, unless the players are trying to avoid encounters, in which case their success or failure determines whether or not they run into an ogre, not the left-hand-rule.That is EXACTLY THE—

No. No reason to get worked up. But you see, right?

Aqua intestines says:
The quantum ogre is only acceptable if the game was full of meaningless choices anyway. Meaningless choices are universally boring. Thus one should avoid the QO, because it is a symptom of meaningless choices.Yeah, brother. You know it.

Who is that guy? I don't know. But he understands a quantum ogre.

I think that means we made it to the future. I can tell because some dude is named AQUAINTESTINES. That's a future name. No historical 14th century Aquaintestines, of the seven seas.

There are a lot of responses by people who are just completely ignorant of what a Quantum Ogre is. They are so confident about it, while not understanding it at all, that—well, see for yourself:
The world doesn't revolve around the PCs, and they are not the most important people in the world, just in their story. Quantum ogres are a good way to simulate that kind of agency, and one I prefer over random encounters, because there's still planning in quantum encounters. Certain details are left open to get filled in, but the plan exists, versus random encounters where it's literally just, well, random. The encounter doesn't matter except as a tool for the GM to extract resources from the PCs to weaken them for a future, actually interesting encounter.There's a lot of people who went, "Yeah, this is good!" Who can tell why? Maybe to confirm they don't understand what these words mean?

Guys. Guys. . . .Guys. Words mean things!

I'm pretty sure (although not certain) that he's simply talking about designing a random encounter table, instead of one filled with random monsters. He's clearly confused "Quantum ogres. . . simulate that agency". Clearly not!

Encounters designed in response to player choice and action do give agency; how he came to the conclusion that designing thematic encounters instead of a less specific and more random table is a quantum ogre? His comments show that he thinks the Super Mario Brothers movie is "A delight to watch" and is a "social justice duskblade" on the GamerGhazi subreddit.

Boy am I glad he posted this confused screed about something he doesn't understand! Isn't the internet wonderful?

There's some real. . . intensity in that thread. There are lots of people who are certain their factually incorrect take is correct, and assert that aggressively and without compunction. To wit:
Confident guy who's wrong: I disagree. The point of Quantum Ogres is that they're unavoidable once planned so that you don't waste time prepping content you don't need; it's a tool for managing limited planning resources. I only plan encounters for the next session, so last session when the decision was made there wasn't an ogre yet, so no need to involve Quantum Ogres.Rational dude: If your sessions end with a player choice and begin with the repercussions from the last session’s choice, there’s no quantum ogre. Confident guy who's wrong: Not what I said. I said that the decision was made last session, not that it was at the end of last session, nor did I say that the ogre encounter happened at the start of the next session.A lot of people point out that I sound angry about the quantum ogre. Some of that is because I am aggressive and excitable and have terrible emotional regulation skills! Most of that is because people are mouse shit in the pepper. Damn my eyes!
[the Quantum Ogre] can preserve the illusion of agency enough to prevent things from blowing up while still ensuring that the story continues. Which situation would you prefer: that the players don’t have pure agency but the story always plays out in a satisfying manner, or that the players do have pure agency but the story will sometimes collapse? The answer to that will be a bit different for every gaming group (and likely for every gamer).Look at how pride telegraphs a fall! How confident his wisdom, in preventing any real risk and failure. How knowledgeable he is to know from the holy spirit who rides his soul with the power of god ABOVE, that the STORY will play out in a manner SATISFYING, as he has SEEN the glory and the power, HALLELUJAH.

I mean, what? You want proof? You're reading my blog and not his.

I laughed at Mr. Didz, who's like:

As I understand the definition of 'Quantum Ogre' (and I had to look it up to be honest) then yes I do use it, but mainly because WFRP as a system is based around a number of published adventures that basically require the party to face a series of increasingly challenging, but logically connected encounters.First, what righteous dude! He looked up what something meant. And yeah, if you're running those, man, CHOO-FK&N-CHOO. Get on board. You are not kidding brother. Good luck with that Albatross.

Cptnfiskedritt says "Quantum Ogre is bad, and I dissagree![sic]" -
"The problem is railroading where an ogre is avoided consciously by the players, but then presented to them anyway. This hurts a game if done a lot."

You think?

I mean, I am taking crazy pills. They are supposed to keep me from going crazy. But I'm PRETTY SURE that guy say he hates a thing, and then immediately argues for exactly the thing he disagrees with.

You think that guy votes?

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The Design Demon and the Amazing Technicolor Enviornment

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 12:00
"Don’t prep plots, prep situations." - The Alexandrian a decade past.

This is part IV in the Design Demon series, part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here. The Design Demon series is about how to philosophically approach the design of the game. The players drive play, but the play they encounter should be deliberately designed. Let's continue:


Your space is flat. Not only literally, it's dull, dull, DULL.
I'm weary of it for you.

You can design a room as an encounter, and that's. . . fine. It's ok. Lots of people do that, and you shouldn't feel bad if you do that. I mean you have to start somewhere. Sure. The bottom is as good a place as any.

Repetition ad infinitum of I attack, I attack, I attack—the fights been joined and then all the players  do is attack. That isn't happening in my game, and it's not because I'm some crazy savant that can magically conjure enough words to make combat seem more exciting.

I make combat exciting with deliberate design. Will what I do work for you? Let's find out!

Finding out!The map displays where the encounter happens, and yet the map is not the environment. You must think on this.

Why is your map flat? Do you desire a flat space, or is it because paper is flat? Your will is stronger than the shape of the paper. Seize your will, and put it to the task of designing the space.

We design space ready for action—not space with an encounter. The encounter may be prepared ahead of time. The particulars of encounters engaged is left to fate. Bodies do not stand, arms steepled over sacrifices, checking their watch impatiently for the players.  How the players draw near this dynamic situation within the space determines the specifics of the encounter—the players choices determine the outcome.

The space contains features which drive emergent play.

The emergent play is organic and complex, because it arises due to the unforeseen interactions between the environmental components. We play to find out what happens. Every outcome the players can connect to their choices is a sense of ownership, every outcome out of their control or dictated to them removes that ownership and engagement.

Dynamic Spaces
Verticality: You are disgustingly reliant on flat spaces. Place a platform, stairway, depression, archway, pit, bannister, half-size barrier, arched ceilings, or multiple vertical platforms every twenty to thirty feet in rooms and chambers, and every fifty to sixty feet in corridors.

Liquids: Including one liquid per small environment or two for larger environments, such as a temples main floor or other large adventure space.

Water is most common. Other liquids include oil, acid, sludge, ectoplasm, magma/lava, jelly/slime, sand(ish), rivers of souls, elemental energy, et. al. Approximately every fifty feet there should be a basin, pool, river, waterfall, standing liquid, dripping liquid, spraying gouts of liquid or liquid spout.

Barriers: Liberally distribute, mobile or not. Mobile barriers include tables, boxes, barrels, wooden dividers, shelves and benches. Solid barriers provide cover from light missile fire and disrupt the line of effect magic needs to function. Transparent barriers provide a bonus versus missile fire, and protect from straightforward melee attacks as well as preventing line of effect from functioning.

Barriers may also be knocked over, either offensively or defensively.

Terrain abnormalities: Difficult terrain is the beginning. Notice it simply doubles movement. This use of terrain shapes mobility on the field and is the most direct method.

Another common terrain is grease—save to avoid going prone, or move in a straight line and exit on the other side of the grease. It's also flammable. Ice is as grease, non-flammable, with falling ice making the terrain difficult.

Fog eliminates visibility, changing the fight. Ground mist obscures anything knocked or on the floor.  Severe enough mist provides obscurities short characters. Vegetation is difficult terrain for most creatures that provides both partial physical and visual cover. Fighting in partial vegetation against creatures that are not affected by it increases the difficulty of the encounter.

Consider your setting. Salt may affect spirits or elves in unique ways. You have tactical infinity—do not include everything. (q.v. vectors) Think about what you are designing. Design towards your theme. Terrain can include dead magic zones, ley lines, unstable ground, wind channels, conveyor belts et. al. Terrain itself may be invisible, from magic pathways in the air,wind mazes or force walls on the ground.

Do not limit yourself to these, consider well the following.

The terrain should be consistent. It should have a known effect non-diegetically explained beforehand. Terrain should always be open information the players have. This does not mean that there can't be hidden information. This just means the players have an understanding of how the hidden information works, like fog, obscurement, or the invisibility spell. As long as the players understand the terrain, situations may exist where different people in the conflict can be in or out of phase or time of reality, different people are in control of different bodies, or doppelgangers run amuck as long as it's consistent and presented ahead of time to the players.

Do not use terrain that requires a successful check to act. This creates a terrible experience. Players randomly losing turns sounds way better than the way it mechanically works out at the table. Being able to act is core to the economy of gameplay, and restricting that randomly makes for a terrible experience, not an exciting one. No one wants to check to see if they can play.

Consider the themes, common monsters, setting, and player abilities when designing terrain for your group. Consider archetypes when designing terrain.

One final note, be sure to describe the mechanical effects clearly. Allow access to the what. Consider the following. Explain the 'why' and it embodies exposition, exasperating players. If why is discovered from player desire, engaging play is the result. There should a rational presentation of even a metaphysical space, i.e. even if the shape is a tesseract and modrons portal in from one place to another, players should understand the mechanical underpinnings of the mechanics.

The upper reaches: What hangs from above? Consider ropes, chains, catwalks, stones/stalactites, lanterns, burning coals, clothing, vegetables, tools, hooks, bodies, meat, curtains, beads, et. al. Do not forget cave fishers, giant ticks, piercers, and other 'monster hazards'.

Periodic state changes: These should be environmental effects that occur in a predictable fashion. A pillar that shoots any substance on intermittent rounds, sections of terrain subject to falling debris, pits that open or close, walls that move, obstructions that sequentially block sections of the battlefield, ancient sorceries, wards, and leys, energy that arcs, reverse gravity fields, unstable terrain that pushes anyone on it in a changing direction, rotating poles that fling chains about, lava coming up through grates, bolts that fire in certain changing arcs each round.  fountains of acid that spray at regular intervals, giant pendulum blades, and magical beams that make things grow or shrink, et. al.

Objects: Every room should have one to three objects within it that can be used by the players. Consider sacks of potatoes, shovels, chairs, torches, metal buckets, et. al. Chambers should contain one to three objects attached to the walls; spears, shields, monster heads, plaques, paintings, curtains, tapestries, plants, ceramic figures, shadow-boxes, et. al.

Secondary Goals: Once your players begin to fear your encounters less, upon reaching superhero levels, goals beyond winning the combat should be combined in the spaces. Keeping in mind the suggested vector limit below. Secondary goals include innocents to be saved, prisoners to be freed, people hanging saved from being dropped into something, destroying an item, preventing an item from being destroyed, activating a mechanism, stopping a disaster, et. al.

LimitationsThese features can drastically affect the outcome of the game. This is intentional, and is why the players must know the meaning of the environment, in the same way you understand it, so they can leverage it. It is this player skill that makes high lethality combat enjoyable and manageable. Not through large hit point pools, but instead through dynamic control and utilization of the fictional space within the game.

Keep in mind that adding platforms and putting mages and archers on them is synergistically more powerful than either feature alone. This collection of features and expansion of goals is key to how middle to high level characters are challenged.

No more than nine vectors should be used simultaneously, no less than 5, and seven is ideal. More and some players will lose the thread. Less and the game is straightforward and less interesting. Vectors include any factor relevant to the encounter. When resolved, explicitly removing the vector from the situation, new factors should be introduced organically.

If you don't know the difference between a room and a chamber, do a favor and download my free Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design guide from drivethrurpg. Over 100,000 downloads. Way over. Check it out.

You could favorite and forget this, or maybe put it on the links to wisdom website, or you could step up and help make more of this content happen, by joining other artists, creatives, and nobel vanguards in our community on Patreon, Twitch and Discord, and get free stuff, .pdfs, virtual table-top ready images, peeks inside my notebooks, and more!

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On Henchman 1 & 2

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 12:00
These are 4x6 cards that contain possible henchmen for player characters.


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A Guide to the Ultimate Grim Dawn Expansion

Fri, 03/29/2019 - 04:29
We live in a golden age of games.

There's so many and so much, that it's overwhelming. There's more content than there are hours in a human lifetime to consume it. It is a massive ecosystem dominated by toxic and exploitive baron-companies.

A lot of very smart people I know decided that playing video games takes too much. Games can unbalance a life pretty quickly. World of Warcraft is related to the concept of a poop sock.

Maybe twice a year I mess around with a new game for a few dozen hours? That type of entertainment is like a movie. I talk about it with my friends, it's an interesting and fun diversion.

But I use video games for other things. I'm very productive. I'm appropriately medicated. Puzzles and mindless tasks help me both think and cope.

Let me repeat that. A portion of my ability to cope with life is in doing tasks that are focused around self care. Given free reign to do whatever I want, I spend between 30-90 minutes daily engaged in activities to help myself stay centered.

Sometimes this is meditation, sometimes it's a walk. It's always grinding the coffee beans by hand. But frequently it's software that has the same effect. So even though I only 'play' a couple of games a year, I have others as activities I've integrated into my life. Some people have some aspect of their social lives tied up in video games, not just over the Internet. I know a group of employees in town that plays Clash of Clans as a group on their phones.

The current name for that phenomenon is "live services" or "lifestyle games". It's a terrible name, and coming to terms with that in gaming was one of the things that helped me find balance. Games and what they do to the mind are powerful mojo, and like all things that put us in touch with the source, have to be treated with respect.

Grim Dawn Ultimate Mode
Grim Dawn is one of my current games.That playtime you are looking at is from when they first released the first act, till now, the release of their final expansion. It's relaxing.

Grim Dawn is a game I know well. Believe me, I know what to do, I know all the numbers straight thru, and how to make myself more survivable too. I'm not the best player, that has nothing to do with luck, and mindlessly slaying mobs for 20 minutes cycles up my mind, enough end the game and solve whatever problem I might have.

Crate added a feature to start the game from Ultimate mode, not requiring you to play through the first two cycles. This feature is astoundingly misunderstood.

See, it's not uncommon for action role playing looting video games to require you to play through multiple times, increasing the difficulty each time. Normally, you just play the game. You start on normal or veteran, then after you complete the game, you replay the whole game on elite. If you can beat elite, you can play the game one more time on ultimate difficulty, with the best drops and the most danger! But after hour 400+, the way I played the game changed.

I've seen so many people who ask, How do I start the game on Ultimate?

You just don't. It's not a balanced play experience. It's not designed to take a first level character though the game. If you want to play the game, start on normal. This new feature was designed specifically with players like me in mind.
GUIDE TO PLAYING GRIM DAWN ON ULTIMATE MODEDon't.

Before the expansion released, here was my procedure: I'd start the game, and run to the early loot corpses. There's several corpses in the first area that grant you a green weapon of exceptional utility. You can grab an axe, a gun, or a two handed blade. I grab which-ever-one goes with the build I'm going to try out.

Then I enter the Crucible. The Crucible is an paid expansion that allows you to fight hordes of monsters in waves in exchange for treasure given equal to a high score. It also gives tributes when you can use to toggle bonus zones for advantages in Crucible or turn in tributes to get devotion points. I'm running the Crucible specifically to gather tributes to exchange for devotion points.

I run one set of ten waves. This gets me to level 7-9. I then grab the treasure, and take my mostly green equipment back for another 30 waves of the crucible. I do this three times to accumulate the 15 tributes to Unlock the first 5 devotion points in the crucible.

Why? Devotion points (normally gathered by activating shrines in play) allow you to modify your build using both unique abilities and to shore up weaknesses and focus strengths. Look at this star chart! The cost of these increases in the crucible the more you have.

This entire process takes around 10 minutes, tops. Once that happens, I then load up the main game, and speed-run the game to ultimate. I have to complete the hidden path witch quest (for the extra skill point) and the two quests that give bonus attribute points. I also grab all the shines that are directly in the way, brining my devotion point total up to around 35-40.

Running through veteran and elite takes between five and six hours. I use a movement ability and movement speed gear to make a beeline through the game. You can even skip the whole first act by repairing the bridge (although I usually kill the warden and complete act I in the base difficulty to pick up all the devotion points from shines).

In order for this to work, I usually have complete gear sets for level 20 (Explorer's, providing a nice boost to movement speed), level 40 (the Perdition set, bloodcallers set, or other early-mid game sets) ready for them to go. I use experience potions, from maximum reputation vendors. That allows me to kill the boss on elite in about 5 hours, puts me somewhere between level 45-55, and ready for ultimate.

Then I can finally play the game. Ultimate has the best drop rates, and more content than I need to hit level 100 before I can even finish all the content. It is where the actual game begins.

The whole point of the expansion allowing players to enter Ultimate was to eliminate the time spent needing to speed-run the first two difficulties. 

If you try to start Ultimate as a straight level 1 character, you will be using a butter knife against enemies that will cause you to explode like a microwave shoved into a grape. Preparing a character for ultimate requires the following:

  • You have to access the Forgotten Gods content on the difficulty level you want to skip. This can be done by speaking to the new character that appears in Devil's Crossing at the end of act I. My death knight was at the end of Ultimate, deep into the Ashes of Malmouth content, and I found him inside Malmouth, so it's likely you'll be able to access Forgotten Gods from any of the major towns.
  • When you access the content, there's a guy with a bag that looks like a normal vendor. On his consumables page, he sells the tokens. They run in the range of 200k.
  • On a new character, use the token. The elite token unlocks elite and gives a skill point. The ultimate token unlocks elite and ultimate and gives two skill points. You also gain the appropriate amount of attribute points.
If you do that, and then follow the procedure above to boost a character to where they need to survive ultimate, it'll be fine. 
It was a change that helps me with the way I play the game. It's why I still play this, and quit Hearthstone. It's because they play it too. They aren't looking to maximize profits. They are just looking to flourish while providing something worthwhile. 

Have a good weekend. Take time for yourself.

I don't have anything to do with Crate, the company that makes Grim Dawn, other than I think they made a very fun game. Ymmv. Support me on Patreon.

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On Hexploration, a closer look

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 12:00
It's been out for a while, I figured I'd talk about what's inside.

This is an screen resolution example of a hex from the Hexplore series.

My games are about the players exploring. What are they exploring? Well, you're looking at it. This is the environment that contains the adventure sites.

This whole idea was about this small bit of text from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
You give him a map of the hex where the location is and of the six surrounding hexes. The player character and his henchmen and various retainers must now go to the construction site, explore and map it, and have construction commence.”- 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax © 1979The abandoned fortThat's how it went. The players left the dungeon, and Gygax abstracted out the hex exploration. But the thought of an overworld, that you explore for juicy pockets of treasure? Man, it's that feeling I love. So, I've been trying to do it with hexes like these. Part of reaching some new place is the novelty right? People love novelty.

So when they reach the fort, you can show them something like the illustration to the left.

This method of doing and using these hexes is exciting.

My eventual plan is to do a cluster of 7 hexes, of each terrain type. I think it's novel, and works really well with the method of play that's becoming increasingly common, online. Patrons get access to high definition copies of the images to be used in online play (as well as free copies of the work itself). But if you're not a Patron, you could still pick up a copy and take your group through a series of dungeons like these:

Join our great group on Patreon, get some of my stuff and discord benefits. There's actually a lot of benefits to joining the community. Patrons get first shot at online games I run, lots of people in the community are these fantastic artists, it's really a little bit like an art and gaming collective out there, so come join us on patreon and hop on the discord with your new roles. Or you can pick up the borderlands .pdfs for just a few dollars!

Every one of the pages in the .pdf is filled with art rich content like shown. Characters are detailed, situations and treasure are listed, mechanical specifics are left to the Dungeon Master to fill in, based on his or her chosen game.

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On How to Make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons more Old School

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 12:00

 Click to get the Book of ListsMoving parts of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons are designed for heroic fantasy gaming. Mid-level characters are mighty heroes, slayers of dragons, and ready to take on any danger. Their resilience makes them brave, dangerous and deadly threats, with the resources to overcome any obstacle.

Usually these are planned adventure arcs. Here's a bad guy. Here's his evil forces. Here's a variety of deadly environments, ripe for heroic activity.

I don't have bad guys. I don't have expectations about what will happen when the game starts. I'm here to play a game to find out what happens. The core cycle of play for 5th edition doesn't match that style.

What changes do I make to my game so that I can play 5th edition in the classic style?

5th Edition to Classic/OSR style play
  • Give 1/100th the experience for killing monsters. Give 1 experience per gold piece value of treasure collected.
This shifts the focus of play. Fights are dangerous and they only cost, they don't reward. It puts the focus back on outhinking your opponent to get the riches, without exposing yourself to the risk of a fight. Because your players aren't expecting to get experience by killing things, you're free to populate your world with liches, dragons, and other deadly creatures, because there's no unspoken expectation that players should fight creatures to advance. 
I also recommend against using the milestone system, because this either presumes an outcome or distances player skill from advancement. They should advance comparable with their skill at securing treasure and power, commensurate with the risks they take. They should not advance simply by reaching numerical thresholds.

However, granting experience for surviving your first in-game month, witnessing a death, locating a new feature, exploring a new area, or other tasks that create a sense of adventure or exploration is encouraged, as long as these rewards are delineated ahead of the game and accessible to the players.
In general, keep rewards low, and look to advance one level every 3-5 adventures till reaching level 3, and then distribute treasure so that levels take between 4-6 adventures (weeks) to level. Obviously taking a lot of people along and being cautious will slow this rate. Taking risks and braving danger can shorten this. 
This results in treasure hordes that maintain their value, even if they don't increase in size very much. It makes finding a piece of jewelry or a few hundred coins a rich find. If the treasure grow at a slow rate, it should compensate for the rapid advancement assumed by fifth edition play.  See my Hack & Slash blog compendium II for an in depth look at treasure valuation and type.

  • Change long rests to take a week and short rests to take 8 hours

In the 1st edition game I'm currently in, even with a Cleric, Druid, and Paladin healing through bed rest is relevant. Changing a long rest to a week and short rests to overnight makes play more threatening and decisions more meaningful. Characters are forced to spread their resources in a manner more like an older-style game. 
This seriously adjusts the class balance.  Melee classes and classes that don't rely on refreshing abilities (rogues, rangers, champions) are significantly more effective. 
Cantrips are fine. Firebolt is fine. In earlier editions there was silliness with jarts. Wizards with crossbows abound. Allowing wizards to attack in combat is ok. Shooting flame wasn't common in classic style games, so purists will disagree. Better a bolt of fire than some weird-o flinging jarts into combat. (A jart is a weaponized dart—taking traits from a javelin. Javelin-dart: jart.)

  •  Eliminate Death Saves

They don't exist. You die when you reach 0 hit points. That takes it back to Original Dungeons and Dragons or Basic/Expert. There, your game is ridiculously deadly. 
No classic style game that I'm a part of is actually that deadly. In my game, I use a critical hit table after opponents drop to zero hit points. Any hit taken at 0 hit points causes a serious long term wound or death. Another option, made popular by 1st edition, is any hit that drops you from a positive hit point total to a negative hit point total more than twice your level kills you instantly, otherwise you are bleeding out to -10/-Constitution total/-2xlevel. Take your pick.
  • Give Inspiration Strictly for Creative Play
Classic style play is not about people talking to each other in character, necessarily. It's about the players facing challenges. The games are based around challenging the player, not their character sheet. So inspiration isn't about remembering to display your background accurately—classic gaming assumes background is what happened in play. What happened before the adventure is of minimal importance. Does the Dungeon Master talk in-character for all the monsters? Yeah. Can the characters if they want? Yeah. Is it the focus of play? no.
  • Recalibrate Encumbrance & Light
Classic style games focus more on basic resource management. 
Make the light spell 1st level. Make Continual Flame 3rd level. Make Produce Flame consume a 1st level spell slot if used 6 times. Remove Darkvision from Elves, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and Tieflings. This leaves Dwarves and Gnomes as the only races that can see in the dark.
You can carry a number of significant items equal to your Strength. A significant item would be a suit of light or medium armor, a weapon, a bundle 5 of torches, a potion, a vial of oil, a lantern, 200 coins, etc. A suit of heavy armor or a bulky item takes 2 slots. If you have more than 1/2 your slots filled, you are encumbered per the variant rules in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook on page 176. If you are wearing a suit of armor that grants disadvantage on Stealth (Dex) checks, you are encumbered. If you have more than 3/4 of your slots filled, you are heavily encumbered. Let common sense carry the day.
  • Consider the Ability Check Proficiency  variant rule on page 263 of the 5th edition Dungeons Masters Guide
It's really difficult to get players away from the idea of skill checks. Removing skills from the game is an optional way to move the je ne sais quoi of the game towards a more old school play style. This is certainly the option I would use with new players, to reduce choices required at player character creation. 
  • Remove individual initiative checks and always consider morale
Old school play is fast. Reasons you might have a dozen combats in the course of a session are two fold. Players generally take their actions in groups without worrying too much about which character goes first. Popular options include vegas style, where each side rolls a single die, and high roll goes first, or over/under, where for the first round some players move before the monster, and then the players and monsters alternate turns.
The second fold is there's no morale in the versions of Dungeons & Dragons that give the majority of experience from killing monsters. Institute morale to avoid combat slog. You can wholesale steal whatever system you find most useful, but a 2d6 roll against a target based on bravery is fine. If the die roll beats the numbers, the monster flee. Triggers for this roll are losing guys, or having a leader cut down (often providing little mini-missions in combat). Example targets are 11 for fanatic, 9 for brave, 7 for average, 5 for poor.The Bell Curve is important to morale, because it makes enemy behavior predictable enough for the players to take advantage of it. It is possible to convert the appropriate % chances to a D20, but it appears arbitrary, (Why is this one 11+ and the next one 16+ on a d20?). But 2d6 for 9/7/5 (good/normal/bad) is straightforward and predictable. 
  • Finally, understand that unlike low level games that cap at the lord stage, 5th edition allows characters to consider growing in power far beyond the first 9 levels, making them powerful in a similar way that demigods are powerful.
Consider a limitation of level inflation, either by capping advancement and allowing players to purchase features like E6 or E8 systems, or by increasing the experience points required to advance beyond level 5 by some arbitrary value.

ConclusionIt seems like it is a great deal of work to do, and yet, it is not! It's just a few house rules that speed up play. The advantages are manifold. You have easier access to classic style adventures like Eyrie of the Dread Eye, Isle of Dread, and Keep on the Borderlands, now that the gameplay assumptions match what's happening at the table. You have compatibility with the system that's most frequently played. 
You get to keep playing the exploratory, extemporaneous, player-driven, long term games you love.
Watch your players minds begin to turn, as they engage with the game by trying to figure out ways to turn it to their advantage. 


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On the best places to gather rare plants

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:00
Rare plants are useful for whatever you want. Resurrection? A magical enchantment? Some bullshit mcguffin?

Rare plants—if they want the thing, they go to the place where it is. Now your job is easy because you know where they are going. Where are the best places to get these rare plants?

Spider Moss: This is found in rotting abatis, deep within shadowy forests. It often grows thick and infests spiders, fermenting their brain to fulfill its arachnivorous needs, making them aggressive and territorial.

Lady Tongue: This fleshy bud is on a tight bright green lappaceous and acanthous-shaped branch. It exudes a strong smell, and is found in very warm places, near geothermal vents. Though pungent and bitter, the folem in the stem is a favored food for magically twisted creatophagous horrors.

Green Gel: A moss that exudes a gelatinous, slightly lumesent gelital spoor. It's found deep within caves below the water level. The frequency of elemental discharges such as the spawning of weirds and mephits is a beef-witted brabble that coxcombs use to befuddle cottiers for entertainment. However, we plight no guarantee of safety.

Bride's Comb: This cteniform fungus is found high in trees in arid lands. The roots of the fungus rot the pitha of the tree, causing frequent breaks. It is only commonly found 200'+ above the base of the plant.

Dungeon Algae: This bright green algae is found only deep in subterranean environments, near madid fonts of underdark radiation.

Mortal Spore: This plant can only be collected from a marcescent limb of a living creature. This is usually accomplished by constricting the blood until the limb begins to rot. Exposing the withered limb to the air from fresh corpses will seed the mold.

Berry Dripping: Found on the underside of mazzard bushes. It's a residue deposited by the rectrix of cockatrice.

Frozen Dungmuk: Many adventurers and ner-do-wells are familiar with the brunneous mold and its pyrophilic tendency, but when the mold grows in dark frozen clefts, Dungmuk is the result: looking like a glossy clump of fecal colored spheres, covered in poudrin ice flowers.

Glow Threads: This airy plant floats in the water like a bundle of loose threadless string. It only lies in shallow pools in shaded sunlight inhabited by radds, a species of electric catfish.

Vorpal Mold: Hangs from the ceiling in humanoid caves. Grows from the spend and humors of beastmen, creating bundled coils of Vorpal Mold. When disturbed, it violently spasms ejuaculating lacerating wire-like vines.

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On how to Level UP

Fri, 03/15/2019 - 14:09
Do you have questions?

Check out Level up! A book of fantasy gaming lists in .pdf and print.

DTRPG Digital
DTRPG Print (In approval)
Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Lulu Digital
Lulu Print

It's a book of lists! But more than that—it's a way to bend your mind in more creative ways.
What are the top types of magical currency? Why do wizards live in towers? What exactly is wrong down at the brewery? What are all the different types of secret doors?

So, fun and useful for you. But invaluable for the young or curious about Dungeons and Dragons. What were the top news stories from Dungeons and Dragons history? Whatever happened to the fourth edition virtual tabletop? What are all the different versions of Dungeons and Dragons? Through humor and page after page of classic fantasy style illustrations, it helps those who don't know a lot about Dungeons and Dragons feel less anxious and more comfortable.

In other news, I talk a little about my latest release with Matt Finch! But the important part is there in the thumbnail. Check it out for a fun interview.


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On the Birthday Surprise, a Dread Eyrie!

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 17:31
Well, I turn older in a few days, but THIS year, I've accomplished a life long goal.

Finally, someone else has published something I've written!

This is amazing. I can't believe it.

So, if you think I'm full of crap-here's an example of how I'd write a good module. I've been talking shit providing insight into adventure design for so long, why not check it out and see how I do when put up to the test?

Announcing:

Eyrie of the Dread Eye!


It's 56 (!) pages, an homage to the Forbidden City. It's available from Drive Thru RPG in .pdf and Print (coming soon!). There's a plan in place to get .pdf price is deducted if you decide to get the print on demand in two weeks!
I've been writing about the classic style gaming for over a decade now. What do I do when I have the reigns for designing a high or mid-level module? Here's an adventure for high level characters that doesn't involve a stupid corridor of unavoidable fights or complete nullification of the players powers.  Oh! Bullet points!
  • A quest beyond the Dark Wall!
  • An adventure with an assumption of dynamic encounters?
  • Climbing AND Wyverns. Together! It's like peanut butter and jelly!
  • An ancient 400' tall statue, guarding a hidden eyrie. How will the players activate or bypass the mysterious mechanism?
  • A city filled with factions, each ripe for exploitation.
  • Opportunities for players to get unique and powerful treasures!
  • It's written for Adventurer Conqueror King, so it's completely off-the-shelf compatible with not only the one of the best clones ever written, but also seemlessly used with any Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons compatible system.
It's 4.99! This is a discount on when the Print on Demand comes out in a week! 5e version and Print on demand coming soon!
My first book published guys. I've got more coming out soon, but this one is first. I poured myself into it. 
Am I full of crap, or is this a good mid-high level adventure? Only one way to find out, and it's pretty cheap. Eyrie of the Dread Eye, available for the pittance of 4.99! Bonus materials coming to Patreon!
Happy Birthday to me!
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On the Sunless Citadel Stroll

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 14:00

I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.

The Sunless CitadelI had just moved to this city for the first time, and was back in college. I was working a terrible phone support job for an internet service provider, with weird and shady people. That redhead was named Scarlett, and that story is one for another time.

I spent all my free time at work getting little dribs and drabs of information about the new third edition of Dungeons and Dragons on Enworld. It was going back to the dungeon. Any race could be any class. Dungeons & Dragons things were miraculously still being published.

It was a heady time.

I ran this module for a group of friends, as my first experience running third edition. It was a well-designed linear adventure. The part nobody remembers is that there's an evil tree sprouted from a stake used to kill a vampire, protected by an evil druid, that blooms two evil fruits with seeds that create twig blights.

There's a couple of quick and minor encounters on your way into the valley, with enough distraction to lull the players into a sense of security. They checked for traps the first time, the second, and the third, but the fourth was a pit trap they walked into. Well done. The maps are pretty interesting and  although very linear, they at least nod to creativity, expansion, and multi-level adventure.

It's early in the life cycle, but the module clearly pushes a certain model of play, remember where the squares are, success is determined by checks (with a nod to some behaviors), and a strong board "game-like" feel and structure. It's easy to see how this eventually developed into the baroque Pathfinder, where the system itself handles all vagaries of play, being a precision model that answers all questions for the dungeon master. 

The Citadel ProperOnce entered, there's a magically locked door to the left, and the dungeon to the right.

The magically locked door is a sequence of chambers that only give the slightest nod to options. They can have the key, The knock spell (which requires a third level wizard in this first level adventure) or they can succeed at a DC 36 (!) Strength check. It's unlikely anyone would have a +16 bonus to their strength at first level. At the end you find a troll and some treasure.

Once you give up and go the way you are supposed to, you meet Meepo. Everyone remembers Meepo, he went on to some measure of fame. He only says two things:

"The clan's dragon. . .  we've lost our dragon. The wretched goblins stole Calcryx, our dragon!"
"Meepo don't know, but the leader does. Meepo take you to meet the leader, Yusdrayl, if you make nice. Grant you safe passage, if you promise not to hurt Meepo. May be if you promise to rescue dragon, leader make nice to you, answer your questions."
After this point, every adventuring group in the world pretty much teamed up with Meepo. He walks you through the Kobold sector. You can kill everything in these ten or so rooms, or follow meepo to the boss.

You could free some goblin prisoners on the way, but the adventure says you probably shouldn't. The goblins will lie and flee and double-cross players. See, the kobolds are the good guys and the goblins are the bad guys, and just go along with it.

The kobold territory consists of "Down the 60' hallway". Once that immense distance is traversed, they meat the Kobold leader, Yusdrayl. She gives a quest, retrieve the white dragon and offers the key to the earlier area, and she lets you know about the evil guy downstairs. She is standing in front of an altar with some minor magic items on it, and I've seen more than one party turn on the Kobolds at this point. Many don't, which means Meepo accompanies them on the rest of the adventure.

Even though there's a door that leads straight through to the goblin main encounter, they encourage you to go the back way, so you can adventure through the entire goblin section of the dungeon. The only way the shortcut is taken, is if the Kobolds are all killed.

You have several fights against rats and detritus. To get into the goblin area proper, you have to assault a small wall down a caltrop filled hallway. Once you get past that, you find some prisoners, including a 2nd level Gnome Fighter/Cleric named Erky Timbers who's super eager to join the party.

In a room adjacent to the main path, you can find the little tiny mini white dragon who likes it here. You'll have to fight him without killing him to bring him back to the kobolds.

Did you know they intentionally understate the difficulty of dragons in 3.x so that fighting them would always seem tougher than equivalently difficult monsters? Think about that. Monte Cook designed the rules so that players AND the people running the game would be surprised when the monsters were way more powerful than they said they were supposed to be, because they are dragons. Why not list them at their actual difficulty level? The answer to that is so that the difficulty would be a surprise to anyone who relied on those levels.

Then there are two large rooms that have lots of goblins in them (A 'main' encounter) with a shaft leading to Part II of the dungeon.

All this is fun and fine for an introductory module. People like to succeed and feel useful. There are optional side areas, but the adventure leads you by the nose. On the plus side, the fight with the hobgoblin boss takes place with a giant eighty-foot deep shaft in the middle of the room. 

There's a lot of text, too much, about attacks of opportunity. Don't forget attacks of opportunity! Nobody wants attacks of opportunity. Certainly not these goblins. No sir! They'll flank, but not if they have to take those attacks of opportunity. Memento Aoo.

Down a Shaft to Part II of the dungeonThe grove level is also basically a straight line. You can go north and head into the—undescribed in this module—'underdark'. You can go east and north, or you can head south which loops around to east and north. You follow the module from there straight to the end.

You fight some goblins, worms, one shadow, and skeletons; each area, another few opponents rush to kill you as you attempt to reach the 'boss chamber' at the end of the dungeon. After killing goblins guarding a gate, you stride forward into the penultimate encounter, and slay ten of the evil twig blights all at once, introduced two at a time.

The evil druid boss has some conversation options, mainly explaining everything going on. When the conversation options are exhausted, he exhorts you to surrender. When you predictable refuse you fight the boss, the tree, some more twig blights, and a few adventurers who came here earlier and failed, becoming slaves to the evil tree. Maybe the players can figure out destroying the tree will free the captured adventurers by killing them, allowing you to defeat them without chewing through their hit points?

It was fun, the fights in 3.0 were fun. It very much instilled the idea that dungeons are limited spaces and should be 'cleared' completely, extracting all the treasure and experience. I find that the games I play in are both more difficult and challenging in the sense that it's a lot less likely you'll survive a straight combat, and have enough and large enough spaces that exhaustively exploring dungeons doesn't occur.



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On the Longevity of Dungeons and Dragons

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 13:00
Why is it always Dungeons and Dragons?

Why hasn't some 'better' game come along and replaced it? Why is it always some version or variant of Dungeons & Dragons that people play?

Surely some better game that is in some way different would be the top game, only if. . .

Well, something, right? Longevity of not just game, but campaign. People talk of Dungeons and Dragons games in years—many tables into their first, second, or even third decade of the same campaign.

When you go to a convention, what game fills the room, what game tops the sales, what game draws the young man's eye, and sets the savvy girl's heart aflutter.

Dungeons and Dragons,

But why?

WhyIt's not that it's first. Dungeons and Dragons always had lots of competition, and fell out of the public eye periodically. If its popularity was solely due to it being first, it surely would have fallen to a competitor by now. It has in the past, but only to something more Dungeons and Dragons-like then Dungeons and Dragons itself; when Pathfinder outsold Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

It might be tempting to make it seem like something complicated, drawing out the tension, but the reasons are straightforward and simple—it's the interactions between these simple reasons that  Dungeons and Dragons lands atop the heap.


  • You keep score in Dungeons and Dragons.
  • A role-playing game has a natural social resonance effect.
  • The game is fundamentally about enforcing order over chaos, erasing the fog of war, and reclaiming that which is lost.


These three factors intersect again and again. Early Dungeons and Dragons games were run with dozens, sometimes hundreds of players, making them addictive like the first massively multiplayer online games—except they weren't online.

If all our physical needs are met, what needs do we have then? Psychologists call it  "self-actualization" and it's a fancy word for 'not being a complete piece of shit'. You want to be helpful, and have your contributions be meaningful. How do we go about doing that?

We go out, into the unknown, and find/discover/do something involving risk, which we bring back to make life better for our people. This entire process is modeled at the table, in front of a group of your peers making it meaningful. It's not just you doing it, but you all imagining it together that makes it count.

But Dungeons and Dragons presents the process in a particularly attractive way.

There is an unknown place underground, across the threshold. We, as humans, know when we step into it. If you've ever been in a situation where you realize it is not safe, then you know how you know you've crossed the threshold into the dark. We explore those spaces in dungeons, lairs, and ruins while in the game.

That sense of risk, danger, agency, and meaning: it's good stuff. It keeps people playing and coming back.

But how does it last so long?

Why it lasts so long
  • There is no core mechanic.
  • The gameplay fundamentally changes as the level increases.


Dungeons and Dragons, particularly campaigns that run in excess of three years, have lots of fiddly bits. And as you gain in power, more and more bits become available. If you simply everything down to a few mechanics, further development once those are mastered or stabilized requires the referee to somehow mechanize magical tea party gameplay. Magical Tea Party is a term for when the activity during play becomes completely dissociated from the rules, procedures, and mechanics of the game.

In traditional games of dungeons and dragons, you progress to owning land, then investing time and resources into shaping and clearing that land, and then meeting your responsibilities for the people on that land. Though a lot of the focus has shifted in more modern versions to a more 'super-hero' version of dungeons and dragons, with a few house rules or deft changes, you can easily play in the old way way.

Because when you don't, you end up meeting the 'expected campaign' determined by research done by Wizards of the Coast. Campaigns run from levels 1-10 and last six to nine months. (Sorry for the video link, but what are you gonna do?)

So yeah. It's always going to be popular, because it's about doing the most meaningful thing we can in the presence of our peers with complete freedom in how we do it.

The Peanut Gallery I know there's someone out there who's really sure if everyone just hears about their favorite game (FATE) everyone will play their favorite game (FATE).

But people have tried those other games.

Of course you could set up a game in another system to run for years, but at some point you realize that there are rules and you are playing a game. And that game has to be about something, some objective, some goal. And that goal needs to be compelling, in the same way a game like Tetris, Dominion, Stardew Valley, or Factorio is compelling. Go into the dangerous area, overcome challenges, recover treasure, gain more power, expand your influence—that's a powerful compelling game.

Obviously, it matters.

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Top Dungeons and Dragons News

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 16:30
We should remember the past, lest. . .

If it were a fad, you wouldn't be reading about it right now.
Dungeons & Dragons was always a fast starter. The first printing of 1,000 copies were gone in just a few months. That print run was doubled and sold out even faster the second time. The popularity was synergistic. Due to a mixup with rights involving The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—Donald Wollheim of Ace Paperback was upset because Tolkien snubbed him when he asked to print Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in paperback. When their limited 5 year license to print them ran out, he just decided that it was public domain and began publishing it illegally. In order to stop this, in the late 60's they ran a huge publishing campaign to assert their rights in the united states, making the lord of the rings a very popular book in the early 70's. The themes in the book and the rising counterculture of the time made the seminal fantasy novel a nationwide phenomenon.
A lot of that popularity contributed to the fast success of Dungeons and Dragons, which in turn began to spawn more fantasy novels. With distribution channels in bookstores, gas stations, sears, and cheap child friendly books (Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer Basic) along with ads in boy's life and other teenage magazines, it sold millions of copies. 12.9$ million dollars worth in 1981—That's almost 50 million dollars in 2019 money.
It was the first D&D boom, and for many years, was the largest.

Money TroublesOne of the reasons Dungeons and Dragons was able to get into so many distribution channels is that they were sitting on a large pile of money, and therefore willing to take the risk of distributing to bookstores. If a book didn't sell, you could return the cover for your money back. Once control of the game was wrested away from the Gygax family, by the selfish and despicable Blume brothers, everything changed. No longer were they interested in employee feedback. Through a series of poor business decisions, and a rumor of a large stock of suddenly returned books (from Sears, iirc.) in the late 90's, Dungeons & Dragons found itself solidly in the red.
But like anything wonderful and good that asks nothing of the world, people remember and give back. Turns out, Dungeons and Dragons was a fan favorite, A long time player and creator of a cardboard based drug that prints money, Richard Garfield, decided Wizards of the Coast would purchase D&D. They did so, changed the corporate environment, immediately made a series of good business decisions and began to work on 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons.


Third edition is coming. . . .In the late 90's Dungeons and Dragons was dead. In addition to releasing more and more tone-deaf supplements that sold worse and worse, modern gamers had made all their complaints about Dungeons and Dragons that weren't understood by the gaming public. They had grown up with Dungeons and Dragons, and everyone had moved to the more mature and adult role playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade". In addition to being a bizarre synthesis of of the most overbearing aspects of 'narrative second edition play' (i.e. illusionism, or railroading), it also had a cool cache, and it was a fair sight easier to hook up after a vampire game then the nerdy Dungeons and Dragons.
But in late 1998, rumors began—a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons? I perused the neophyte site EN world sometimes more than one time a day for details.
And it didn't disappoint. It was released, along with the D20 license allowing Dungeons and Dragons to flourish as content came out. But even from the release of the Sunless Citadel the path we are on began to form. Characters complained about the open dungeon, and the monsters that were stronger or weaker than what the low-level party could handle, leading to design that increasingly became more mechanical, linear, and focusing on the slaying of monsters. (Literally, "We couldn't kill the roper because it's too difficult for a low-level party", of course? That's the idea of risk versus reward and thinking creatively?)

Nothing lasts forever. . .Fourth edition was eventually announced. The game had become weighty and the people that played online spent their wrath in character optimization boards arguing endless spherical cows. Adikson had left, the D20 glut had gutted sales, and it was time to move forward. A new game was designed, creating lists of powers—with copyrightable names, of course—and planned integration with online tools. Unpopular races like gnomes were removed, and tieflings and dragonborn were made core (because people really like playing half-demons and dragon/lizard people. It's a fetish.) Since people were playing it like a tactics game, they designed it like one. Healing surges, powers with cooldowns, and more.
Many people would say that it was disconnected rules or that the change was too radical. I don't think that's true. I wasn't excited about 4th edition, but I played it, a lot. It was just really bad. Even when they tried to correct it later in official materials, it was too little, too late. Combats with creatures or opponents with hundreds of hit points, exhaust all your powers (which were printed on cards), and then left with each person doing their damage or missing to chip away at the ridiculous hit point totals. It was not a fast process, and in fact during one combat, I just went ahead and calculated our average damage per round and figured out, on average, how many rounds it would take to deplete the boss's hit points. The Dungeon Master, campaign setting, and all the rest was fine. I was playing with reasonable people, we just kept having. . . problems. I had a lazer that blew things up because that's something paladins could do in fourth edition. But you couldn't shoot anything that wasn't an enemy in combat There were issues with skill challenges (understatement) and thinking through the effects on the spell list created an untenable reality. In the first printing, speak with dead allowed the caster to communicate with anything that had died in the area, no matter how long ago. Basically there were a million undead in a sensor network that any mage could take ten minutes to ask a question. Strangeness abounded; poorly thought out design lead to the games eventual doom, but it wasn't the only nail in the coffin.

Murder and suicideThat wasn't the worst news to come out of the 4th edition debacle. Originally their marketing plan was to distribute "patches" to the ruleset and require a paid subscription to an online tool to create characters. The rules were designed to be integrated into a true virtual table top that would allow play in much the way modern virtual table tops such as Fantasy Grounds do. Sadly, the direct of the project suffered a breakdown when his wife filed for divorce, and he killed her, then himself.
I doubt it would have changed anything in regards to 4th edition but it never even had a chance after the virtual table top plan collapsed.

 Though the most famous Dungeons and Dragons news story of all time, has to be the Patricia Pulling story. Very simply put, she had a bright intelligent son, who suffered from a psychotic break. He began barking and acting like a wolf, killing animals in their backyard. He soon committed suicide. Ms. Pulling claimed that her son died because of a Dungeons and Dragons curse. She brought lawsuits against his school, TSR inc, and more. They were thrown out of court for being meritless. She then began a campaign of lies and disinformation that lasted years.
She was a confused angry lady. She once claimed that 8% of people were satan worshipers because she estimated 4% of kids were and 4% of adults were and if you add them together you get 8%. When it was pointed out to her that this isn't how math works—not even addressing her claim is a made up estimate—she said it didn't matter because 8% of everyone being a satan worshiper was a conservative estimate. Her organization, Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons, died out when she did, in 1997, but the world had moved on in 1990.

Today Dungeons and Dragons is riding the wave of popular culture, and hopefully will be producing rich fantasy worlds for generations to come.

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On the Top Ten Tactics for Hostile Dungeons

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 13:00
10. Lard/Grease: Whether a squeaky door, a greased staircase before a fight, or assisting with opening rusty and old latches, having some lard and grease is always useful.
9. Tiny birds: A lot of times, you'd like to see what would happen if someone went somewhere, only you don't trust it enough to go. With this small sack of birds, you can check for traps, trade to people for passage, notice if the air is toxic, or even distract unintelligent opponents. Taking them along extends your life, at the expense of theirs.
8. Paying attention: At its core, Dungeons & Dragons is about exploring a resonant fantasy realm filled with archetypal representations. This process is handled by conversation using the socratic method. You ask questions, the Dungeon Master gives answers, yeah? If you're not asking questions or listening, you're watching your friends play Dungeons and Dragons. When you all jump in and work together, it raises the experience for all involved.
7. Gloves & Helmet: If you don't have to touch something with your bare hands, don't. Don't press parts of your body (like ears or eyes) against things. You call people that don't wear covers corpses. Get a hat, preferably one made out of metal that lets you see in the dark, grants telepathy, or makes you smart or something. There very well might be treasure in the garbage or latrine, there almost certainly is, but you don't want to go in there yourself.
6. Equipment shenanigans. Casting a light spell on a shield lets you see opponents and plays havoc with enemy archers. Buy a metal sectioned pole, so you can attach a hook, vary length, and carry one in cramped quarters. Collect potions and scrolls and don't hesitate to use them, there's always more magic to find.
5. Hammer & Piton: It holds doors both closed AND open. It draws a lot of attention. It allows you to attach rope to things. They solve problems.
4. Torchbearers & Porters: Yes it's difficult to convince them to head into dangerous territories, but when there are a lot of things that need to be done, having a man or two around who can do them is helpful. Purchase them brightly colored festive outfits. Give them nets and poles to trip up enemies, ball bearings, oil, caltrops and other things they can throw. They can pull people to safety and best of all, they draw archer fire. People don't get into this vocation because they want a safe workplace.
3. Elves & Dwarves: Everyone loves their half-demon, half-cat, half-turtle, kenku-whatever sub race, but facts remain. You want an elf for secret door detection and a dwarf for detecting stonework traps and sliding doors. Often they can see in the dark. If you don't have one in your party, hire one in town as a buddy.
2. Oil: You don't want to need it and not have it. If you want to be sure something is dead, burn it to ash.
1. Ten-Foot Pole: You will want to touch things and not be near them. Trust me.

I hope you explore some fun dungeons this weekend!

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On the Hexplore Adventure

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 14:00
Look at this crazy entertaining thing!


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On the Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons part II

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 13:00
Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough for people to notice it taking a few aspirin every morning for its stiff fingers. This continues our look at the best things ever published for Dungeons and Dragons. Part I is here.

The Dungeon AlphabetBeyond the fact that this book combined with Stonehell gave us the gift of Michael Curtis writing full time; it's his way with words that makes this book so very, very good. In a time when third edition and Pathfinder had sapped the life from Dungeons and Dragons, reducing adventures to linear combats and leaving no room for old-school type play, this book stood out (and sold) like a beacon to all those who remembered the weird and exciting play of mysteries below the ground. A solid source of ideas on each page, all of which will make the game more exciting.

Book of WarThere have been many attempts at modeling mass battle for Dungeons & Dragons. This masterwork put together by Delta Collins is the best of them. It allows you to simply resolve mass combat that the players are involved in, and is designed to match the statistical outcomes of any monster as a unit in the game. It's fast, quite nice, and really makes running into 30-300 bandits a fun time for you as the Dungeon Master.
It's designed to take into account the percentages of actual game statistics, requires no conversion for pretty much any version of Dungeons and Dragons and smoothly scales for various sizes of armed conflicts. Additionally, the system encourages smart tactics, making large battles a strategic challenge for both the Dungeon Master and the players.
The ability to allow your players to command 100 footmen and 50 archers, fighting 300 orcs in a massive battle without slowing everything down to a crawl is worth the price of admission and something you should do at your table as soon as possible.


Tome of Adventure DesignGamers are a particular bunch, often concerned with minutia. At some point, everyone has thought, what if you just put all the ideas ever into one book.
This is that book.
It's top selling, because it's useful. It's an exhaustive collection of plots, ideas, schemes, structures, ideas, traps, substances, and more. It's intentionally designed so that random results work in tandem, providing the structure and inspiration to make creativity easy.
Finch outdid himself with this book, and it will far outlive our generation of resources. It sits next to me now.

Grimtooth's TrapsEarly traps are a strange thing. Often teens running games would submit breathless descriptions of traps that involved no agency of the players as well as a plethora of run on sentences.

This presented traps as they were in the original megadungeons. Not gotcha hit point taxes, but each a strange occurrence and presentation.  The traps become the encounter. How do you get that gem off that pedestal without getting slammed into the ceiling or smashed by an absurdly large hammer? They are presented tongue in cheek, but it doesn't matter how silly a trap is, when it's doing 57 points of damage to your fighter it's deadly serious.

It's lovingly illustrated by Steve Crompton and is full of ideas you'll find yourself struggling to figure out how to integrate them into your next dungeon for a fun puzzle.

Creature CatalogueThe Creature Catalogue was a british release, but it was a monster manual for Basic/Expert, forming a weird patchwork of monsters that were representative of Mystara, the crazy high-fantasy setting of basic expert.
At a certain point in your gamemaster career, you realize that monster books are worthless for the stats—monsters provide particular combat or encounter effects, the actual hit dice and armor class are not nearly as important as the idea.
And the thing about the creature catalog is that it is the best type of setting book, you can just through using the monsters in that book, immerse your players in a specific weird ecosystem.

The Wilderness AlphabetNot nearly as popular of the Dungeon Alphabet, but instead written by a blogger in the old school renaissance, this provides a wonderful character to the overworld, ladening hexes and areas with imaginative description and mystery. It's idiosyncratic, and yet, very universal. I use it for all my wilderness expeditions.

Rogues Gallery + GeomorphsThis combination of supplements at first seems as though it's nothing but meaningless lines and numbers. And it sort of literally is. And yet, you can use those arcane numbers and lines to create adventures remarkably similar to the ones that took place in Castle Greyhawk, by virtue of the fact that the gemorphs are from Castle Greyhawk, and the encounters matrix was the one in use for dungeon play. Sadly, I don't think they are available online, but any traditional geomorph will do.
The fact that the Rogue's gallery has write ups for a dozen classic non-player characters, along with a bunch of pre generated classes with relevant equipment made it useful in play.

MetamorphicaA lot of these products take it to the bone. This is one of them. This is bar-none the resource for mutations. Running a campaign with mutations, want to hand out random effects? Is somebody touching the altar of Jubilex? Boy do I have the solution for you. Never leave home without it.

On the Non-Player CharacterI know this is self-promotion, but I'm talking about all the books I use for a game, and I wrote this to be one of them. It's an objective answer for non-player character interactions. It uses player skill, not magical tea parties to determine the outcome of conversation and social conflict. The non-player character descriptors aren't a random list, they are specifically selected to be immediately accessible to the players in play. This may not belong on the list, but it's a book I'd never run a game without, the back page is always open during play for me as a reference.

That's the list. Find what you wanted?

If you like posts like these, then I'd really appreciate you taking a look at my Patreon or signing up for my newsletter. I'm at the threshold of being able to complete my quest of 'living indoors', and if you like what I'm doing, that might be in your heart as well! My daughter will love it!
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On The Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons Part I

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 13:00
Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough to complain about back pain. A lot of things have been published in the last several decades, when it comes down to studded leather brass studs what are the best books ever published for fantasy role-playing games?

Midkemia Press CitiesThis one was out of my grasp until recently. Though out of print, they offer the .pdf from their website. Though requiring more rolls then more modern players might expect, it's an engine that allows you to customize encounters for different kinds of cities. As a resource for exploring large fantasy cities, it's a plethora of interesting encounters, plots and dangers, just from walking around your local burg. It makes exploring a large strange city into a series of small dramas and personalities, that both you and the players can discover through play. It's a way to make cities as interesting for the players as Dungeons.

It has extensive city creation tables that include chances for rare buildings. Although not necessary to build a city in the amount of detail it provides (down to individual storefronts) it does allow you to answer the question is there a jeweler/clockmaker/physician et. al.

The other fascinating part is the downtime system which takes characters that are staying back or not actively adventuring with various downtime events. There's an option for smarter or wiser characters to avoid or seek danger. Following is a comprehensive table of adventure and events, from being offered dangerous missions, to falling ill, to having your living quarters infested by pests.

It finishes off with a mission generator, a tavern/inn generator, rich occupational background tables, street traffic density,  a dice conversion table, and a stable generator.

Pretty good for a resource from 1981.

Aurora's Whole Realms CatalogueYeah, but what about knife boots!
Aurora's was ostensibly a shop in Faerun, but what this supplement was, was what a world filled with adventurers as a career would end up producing. If they were thieves that needed to infiltrate, wizards who needed to stock a lab, clerics on the lookout for new ways to serve, this little book had a bit of everything.
The entire book is devoted to equipment lists. This makes it about the best setting supplement ever produced for the Forgotten Realms. You could run a game with this book in play and it provides more direct setting information useful in play then any of the many books with dry histories and texts.
From ale to cheese, wine to jewels, diversions, storage, hardware and clothing; the book is filled with what you would expect a society would sell, if beset by monsters and filled with powerful gods, crafty wizards, stealthy thieves and brave fighters.
It contains dozens of useful and interesting items, infra-vision lanterns, special thieving helmets (with ears that are not at all ostentatious) that allow you listen, book safes and quick access scroll cases, among many others.

1st Edition Dungeon Master's GuideGygax in the prime of his life poured his soul into this book toiling away, and at the end he had crafted an artifact. I've been reading this book for over 30 years now and every time I open it, I still find something I've never seen before. I've also lost things in it, only to discover them much later, hidden in pages I flipped through dozens of times.
There is no other book like this in existence. It is unique, a vision of one man. The pattern of his thought and knowledge laid bare, every paragraph a facet of an endlessly complex gem. But this is no shaggy dog. Every time you return to it, it provides new insight, new revelations. Not because anything new is there, but because you have changed.
It's pretty brilliant. If you haven't ever really read it, what are you waiting for?

Encyclopedia MagicaSometimes there's too much and you want a pause button. This collection of leather-bound volumes contains every magical item created anywhere from Original D&D till the late 90's at the dusk of second edition. It has a huge random table in the back, so that when you roll up a magic item, there are tens of thousands of results.
What's really interesting about using it in play, is that so many of these items are strongly tied into whatever their history is. It makes the treasure interesting, unique, usually requiring some adjustment to use in play. But it also interjects unexpected problems and surprises. Once they found a spellbook linked to a dragon. A great treasure, but also great risk.
The fact that it also encapsulates twenty-five years of magic items gives a capsule into the design of magic items over time. Plus it's really fun to roll on the d10,000 table for magic items.

Wizard Spell CompendiumThis is similar to the last collection and indeed, collects every spell printed. What's interesting about this, is that it is Vances 1,000 lost spells. Assigning random spells, and only providing new spells randomly from this list, creates a different kind of magic system, one where spells are capricious, unknown, and of wildly varying power. Not allowing players to pick spells from the book, but instead seek them out, and carefully select those spells which they are able to learn (remember the limits of spells per level and chances to learn!) creates powerful, but unpredictable wizards.
In games not focused on combat, but instead adventure or survival, having dozens of variations and types of spells lead to an eclectic toolkit that becomes a signature for the wizard.
It also outlines the entirety of "Dungeons and Dragons" magic theory, with all the official schools of magic covered, from shadow magic to chronomagic for masters of time, elemental magic, all the way to the incantrix and more.


Judge's Guild Ready Reference PapersThe Judges Guild was playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. This is a giant reference hodgepodge, used in play for their settings. It's a lot like a selection of house rules, but functions more as an expansion, providing more, well, everything.
It covers everything from social levels, decade appropriate sexist tables of women, proclamations, boons, wills, crime and punishment, poisons, justifications for uncalled for aggression, wizards guide to enchantment, movement obstacles, hirelings, encounter tables, flora, construction costs, and more.
That's a lot of stuff for 1978. It's dense, arcane, interesting and eclectic. If you're running a campaign, you won't make it through the whole 60 pages without coming up with one change you'll want to add into your campaign.

Forgotten Realms Boxed Set 1st EditionSince the Forgotten Realms has been taken from Greenwood, set on fire, and then handed back, laden with weight of ages, mary and marty sues teleporting around and impregnating gods who are hiding as bears, eye rolling in its baroque ridiculousness, it's hard to remember it's so popular, based on the strength of this particular supplement.
This works as a useful tool for a dungeon master to run a campaign. It has two books. The first covers the calendar, language, names, currency, religion, and maps and short descriptions of settings.
The second book is full of nothing but rumors, ideas, and other inspiration for belabored Dungeon Masters. This book can provide years and years of play with this straightforward setting, filled with a selection of colorful personalities, and most notably, a long section on events and rumors occuring every month over the course of two years. There's even a little mark for which ideas Ed Greenwood had marked for further expansion. A fun game is looking back and seeing where each of those ideas finally ended up.

Come back tomorrow and check out the second part of our "Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons." None of these links are monetized.  
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