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On the Realities of High Level Play

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 12:00
This is a follow-up to my article on high level adventure design, On Failing High Level Play.

I've run. . . a lot of high-level games. The first high-level campaign I ran started in 1984, and involved going through the entire Temple of Elemental Evil and environs in a second edition campaign. I've run several high level 5th edition campaigns, including 17 levels of Horde of the Dragon Queen, 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to level 11/12, Pathfinder and 3rd edition, ranging up to levels around 14. My average campaign length is about 50 games, which is approximately 18 months of play. I believe the last time a survey was run, the average campaign was found to run about 14-16 games, covering 4-6 months. (Average sessions before restart is 15.4).

I'm focusing on Dungeons and Dragons here, but I've also run 2+ year campaigns of Vampire and Shadowrun, and probably other things I'm forgetting. I can barely remember the names of everyone I've slept with, no way I'm going to remember every role-playing game that got past character creation.

First, if you're reading this, you don't play enough Dungeons & Dragons. Play more, eh? Don't be such a poser.

Second, High level play is not low level play. Most high level adventures are low-level adventures with the high-level abilities restricted. Partially because most module writers are astoundingly terrible, but primarily because high-level play by necessity must be organic.

Each type of game has a different balance and feel to high level adventures:

Basic: High level basic Dungeons & Dragons games are unique. The world of Mystara is a very high magic world. It was not realistic to run a campaign through 30-60 levels to become a high-powered immortal. The loose rules structure led to high level campaigns that became somewhat narrative in scope. A group might fight four dragons, and kill them all in one round, or hop to an alternate plane and fight Nazi's in tanks and soldiers with automatic weapons. A large number of basic D&D games took place almost exclusively in large dungeons. Take this example of play, from Rythlandor.

". . .Oni had begged Elessar to help him rescue his brother who was imprisoned in an evil temple complex. Oni had now recovered from the ill effects of his own imprisonment and was ready for Elessar to attempt the rescue. With Elessar and Oni went superhero Ragnar, ranger-guardian Athelfrar, sorceress Charmen, patriarch Benelux, and lama Ydol, and dwarf-myrmidon Ibb. They landed on a remote norther bay of the island, where they almost immediately were beset by a pair of white dragons. One dragon was quickly slain and the other flew off to the north. The small group headed south to the mountain where the evil tower built of metal was located. Oni led them well, and the party approached the tower from the opposite side of the mountain. Using the flying carpet and an invisibility spell, Ragnar, Elessar and Charmen flew unseen to a high rampart, followed by the rest with shuttles of the carpet. As the last arrived, a door opened and the fight was on. It was a one-sided affair since the low-level guards could hardly hope to overcome the powerful fighters and mages invading, but one of the guards did get away. The group pursued the fleeing guard after hacking their way through the other guards, but soon they heard the alarm gong sounding. The pursuit, however, led them to another guard room containing the alarm gong. Ragnar's sword Quicksliver struck and Charmed[sic] one of the guards, and ordered him to sound the all clear signal, which the guard did.  The group continued through a bridged walkway into the mountain itself, killing or charming the hapless low-level guards who got in their way, rampaging through the rooms and looting anything that could be moved. A favorite tactic was to have Elessar leap through a door and use his cold wand on the occupants, reminding some of Clint Elesswood starring in "A Fistful of Snow". Gradually they worked their way down through the living quarters to the temple area below, leaving no survivors to raise new alarms of their presence. At last one fighter escaped, this time with Elessar in hot pursuit while the others stayed to dispatch the guards. Elessar chased the evil guard silently and invisibly right into the middle of the main sanctuary of the temple where a human sacrifice had just been completed. As the doors of the temple closed behind Elessar, he heard a voice behind him say "I detect the presence of Good! [sic]" He turned and made ready to fight to the death, but the guards walked by him and arrested the man he had been chasing! Naturally the guards couldn't see or hear Elessar, and though the poor guard was radiating those Good[sic] vibrations. . . Elessar decided to leave the cavernous sanctuary and it's host of evil worshippers and rejoined the group as they finished off the last of the guards on the staircase.  With the aid of a Charmed[sic] evil cleric, the group went down to an underground passage in the metal tower. They located Oni's brother and several other prisoners and freed them. They also killed some of the monsters lurking in other rooms, including 8 mummies, 3 wraiths, 2 chimerae, a 9-headed hydra, and 21 ogres." -Ryth Chronicle February 1977
This is an example of a single play session of play from Dungeons and Dragons, several years into a campaign.

1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: This edition is more grounded than basic. It's designed with exponential experience. As the party continues to adventure, the adventure increases in scope, continually increasing in power even with party losses and death. A first level character joining a party of fifth level characters will be fifth level by the time the party reaches sixth level. 

The other factor is that there's a limited amount of experience to be gained. High level characters on a single adventure, lasting three or four sessions might expect to garner 40-60,000 experience over that period (between 10 and 20 thousand a session). It varies per class, but there comes a point around level 7-9 which requires 100,000 experience to reach. . . and 100,000 to reach the next level.

At lower levels experience gain is slower, it can take upwards of 18 months to reach that first 100k experience threshold, and then another 5-10 sessions for that next level. The level after that needs twice as much, 20 sessions, 6-8 months. Characters hit a wall and advancement via personal strength slows about the time they begin to influence the world through political means by attracting followers and clearing land.

High level games frequently include a player managing a character, up to dozen henchmen, hundreds of mercenaries and hirelings, and everyone that lives on the land they possess. Another factor with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is that the characters are still very human. Hit point advancement stops and doesn't increase much. Saving throws and armor classes will allow many characters to avoid damage 90+% of the time, but that 10 percent is often very deadly: Death rays, dragons breath, spells of death, cloudkill, and paralyzation.

Pathfinder/late 3rd Edition: Early 3.0 plays much closer to basic, but due to the culture around "Ivory tower design" and the character optimization boards along with a design that only gave experience only for combat victories, the game quickly shifted to a focus to tactical challenges and encounters. The game became more and more mechanical, relying on the rules to structure play so that it's 'fair'. The games were a "Players Bill of Rights" that they could be guaranteed their agency. Sadly, this agency was limited to your options on the tactical maps.

Certain options begin to be eclipsed by others as soon as level six. There is no class as powerful as wizards and clerics. With endless buffs they are strictly better than combat classes, warping the game and making anyone who dreams of playing a lower tier class completely eclipsed by the more powerful options.

If you are playing similarly tiered classes, high level games involve too much time at the beginning of the session with gibber-jabber, and large combats that take 6+ hours to complete, due to the complexity of the rules. It's a fun tactical game, more open than a tactical game like Gloomhaven. It's fun, but it's not very close to my experiences of role-playing.

Can you run it in a more narrative faction and make it more of a role-playing game? Sure. Is that the type of thing someone who plans out a build for 12 or 15 levels wants to do? Usually not.

5th Edition: I've run several fifth edition games to levels 15+. 5th edition characters require about the same amount of experience for each level, making leveling very consistent. Characters will reach 2nd level after one session, and third level by their third session. After that they will level about every 3 sessions. Many, many fifth edition players remove player motivation and use milestone experience to control the rate of advancement.

5th edition characters do not stop increasing in personal power. The curve is more suited to a B/X style game, but the endless gain of personal power provides a very different endgame.

For an example, my ex-wife played a barbarian during Horde of the Dragon Queen. Her standard procedure after level 10 was to jump to reach whatever dragon was flying nearby and grapple it while hitting it with her axe several times each round until it died. Once a dragon lived through two rounds of this. At the end of the campaign, she had upwards of over 300 hit points, and during her endless rage only took half damage from anything but psychic attacks. Not counting healing or other defenses, this generally required doing 700+ points of damage before she even felt threatened in combat. Considering the bard could heal everyone for hundreds of hit points every round, it often required many hundreds more points of damage.

Our battlemaster fighter wore heavy armor that provided damage reduction. I could only manage to hit him, with anything but the most powerful monsters, 5% of the time. Since he also had the lucky feat, he could nullify 3 of those hits every game session. He also had over 100 hit points.

Do you know how many times you have to attack a person before you hit with a 20? A lot.  The fact that the first 3 important hits could be waved away with lucky made him almost invulnerable.

High level 5th edition play, with its focus on constantly and steadily increasing personal power feels very anime, very Final Fantasy. Everything is very elastic, you're up, you're down, the power levels are very high, and the threat to the characters is very low. Combat runs amazingly quickly, considering the complexity of the game. It's extremely well designed. Often the most time consuming part of combat is doing three column subtraction of hit points.

If you like posts like this, I depend on your support to survive. Join my Patreon, or pick up a copy of one of my books from my storefront. My average review score is 4.5, my latest module, Eyrie of the Dread Eye has only 5 star reviews, NINE of them. It's a high level adventure; if you want to see high level design done right, check it out. 
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On A Very Large Dungeon

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 12:00
I'm publicly
The actual cover doesn't have that text!announcing the release of the NEW Megadungeon!

In which we cover the secrets of secret doors, how to generate and manage keys in a megadungeon, the illustrations and keys for the cosmopolitan Halls of Heimall, the corrupted Chambers of Immoket, along with 2 different hidden treasure vaults, three brand new dragons, and an advertiser index (responsible for the new lower price).

It's super illustrated, with a beautiful cover by BodieH. I've set almost the whole thing with a preview on Drive Thru RPG, if you're curious what's inside!

Check it out in .pdf at DrivethruRPG and Lulu, or order print from Lulu. Print from DrivethruRPG coming soon! If you are an advertiser and you want a copy, go ahead and send me an e-mail! If you get a print copy and don't want to spring for a .pdf one before the deal on DTRPG, get at me, and I'll get you a copy. If you want it, and you can't pay, drop me a line and I'll shoot you a copy.

.PDF at DrivethruRPG
.PDF at Lulu
Print at Lulu
Print at DrivethruRPG (Coming soon, proof is on the way)

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On More Buildings

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 15:36
As promised, two more buildings in the series.
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On Failing High Level Play

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 17:58
The biggest sin in high level adventure design is designing low-level adventures and calling them high level adventures. It's almost as bad as sticking random monsters in random rooms and writing dozens of pages of stuff that happened before the players got there.

Here's how you successfully design high-level adventures.

High Level AdventurePart of the fun is  as you advance in the game, abilities and priorities change. Each game, each edition, goes through different phases as the players level. This is either explicit (e.g. 4th edition's level 'tier' list), implicit (5th editions power bumps at certain levels), or latent within the structure of the game (Gaining followers and needing to build a castle in 1st edition).

High-level characters have the ability to solve problems in ways that are particular to them. They don't have to accept situations. The largest flaw with most published high-level adventures is designing a limited environment and then removing the tools the players earned to force them into that environment. That isn't the way to do it.

Superior high level adventure design requires the following:

It must be player driven

post-teleport and army, players have options to redefine engagement. They can plane shift, turn invisible, fly, shadow step, or use any manner of shenanigans to be very selective about their engagements.

This means modules who's contents are dependent on forcing the player's into situations are either going to fail "pffft, I go ethereal and go home" or require you to remove their abilities often to the detriment to the setting itself, i.e. causing whole areas to be anti-magic or coming up with effects to nullify travel.

It is important we understand the nuance here—having dead magic zones or areas where planar contact is cut off or fly spells don't work is great, as long as it is a part of the setting players can visit. If your adventure site is set up that way, then it's a challenge, as long as the players choose to be there.  These things are fundamental to your campaign setting, they are the background rules for the world. When used as a tool to force an adventure, they are bullshit.

Combat must have secondary goals

One continual failure of high-level play are the amount of encounters set up with the expectations that players will fight them. It is not a safe assumption that players will need to fight a single encounter in your adventure, and if they do, it's likely they will do so on their terms.

The way you make combat satisfying is that you create situations that require the players to engage in combat to accomplish their goals. In a high level adventure, non-penultimate and ultimate fights shouldn't be designed with the expectation that players will fight them in any sort of traditional sense. They might teleport them a mile into the air, charm them to fight each other, or just create a hellish inferno filled with fireballs, rather than rolling initiative.

So combats should always be designed with the idea that there is a danger that attacks them while trying to accomplish a secondary goal. They want to open the warded door? The room fills with shadows. They find a room with prisoners, they have to save them before they are killed by demons. Always view any combat encounter as a difficulty that besets the players as they try to accomplish a task.

Is this somewhat reasonably difficult to do? Yes. That is why people are paying you to design an adventure instead of doing it themselves.

Countering without nullifying player abilities

You do have to address the players abilities to subvert encounters, but you want to do so as part of the encounter. High level players do a lot of things, you should count on them being able to do those things, not try to prevent them. Some examples follow.

Discovering the truth Assume your characters can speak with dead or force people to tell the truth, you just have to insure that telling the truth creates adventure instead of limiting it.

Flying All characters and all classes will have the ability to not engage in combats on the ground. Make sure both your encounters and environments take this into account. Will something happen when people take to the air? How do these people defend against flying intruders?

Scouting player characters can retrieve amazing amounts of information by seeing through walls, casting spells that will give specific treasure and head-counts. This ability begins as early as level 3 when players begin to use extra-sensory perception to find out head counts.

Don't create encounters that depend on the players not having their abilities or information. Create a situation where the information the characters receive creates new problems and challenges.

Abandoning the "Explore & Clear" philosophy

Hostile spaces that challenge high level adventurers, should not be 'clearable' areas. High level characters have plenty of opportunity to clear small dungeons and lairs, and such an adventure will probably not take them long, a half-hour of table planning, executing the strike, and then returning will usually not occupy more than an hour or so of gametime. So it's important that high level adventure sites are intrinsically difficult to clear, like a gateway to hell. Players won't be able to explore and kill everything in hell.

Create an adventure site that simply does not let the players gain a foothold without needing to bring other campaign resources to bear. This can include an entire fortification and city (like a giant or dwarven city), a animal lair like a giant ant hive, wizard realms with demi-planes.  Consider your adventure environment and ask yourself why the players don't just flood it with water or poison everyone inside.

Long-term consequences to choices

When designing adventures for high level characters, insure that the adventure regardless of how the players interact with it, creates consequences. You can't force players of this level to engage in activities. So make sure they understand the stakes. Do not get frustrated because players are willing to accept those consequences, that is part of the point of playing the game. They may decide to ignore your adventure location, which is a great opportunity to create new adventures—ones they might partake because they want to undo or change those consequences.

It's important to avoid a 'punishment cascade'. This is where you create a penalty for what will happen if the players refuse the call, so they won't refuse the call. Then when they do, you develop an emotional reaction ("How dare they! I spent time on this! It's disrespectful!") and so you escalate the consequences. A classic example is the players choosing to kill some non-player character that the referee is sweet on, so the encounter becomes magically tougher to punish them.

You create the long term consequence so they players can make a choice. If you make the consequence so bad, you're not really providing a choice. Some players will often feel this pressure for consequences you didn't design to be that punishing. High level campaigns thrive on organically derived play, so grant your players the opportunity to do that.

Allowing characters time to shine
I mean, hell, how many 11th level wizards have you played. Give them hordes of enemies to cut down, let situations occur where they can easily solve problems that would destroy lower level players. Set a demonic outsider right in front of the Paladin and let him melt it in one shot. Create an entire pillar of adventure a skilled thief can obviate with two skill checks. Put enough targets near your fighters and their armies to drop a whole battle unit every round.

Reaching high level is an achievement. Create multiple situations that are trivially solved by specific high level abilities. It's fun for the players to subvert expectations and turns into memorable situations. This is not as difficult as it seems, generally I'd throw in 2 extra dragons so the 15th level barbarian had something to do for 3 rounds. Accept the reality of high-level play.

Fatal dead ends
The feeling of risk should not be gone. High level mechanical play involves a lot of consistent results with occasional chaotic outliers. High level characters will generally save on a 2+, are almost untargetable or unhittable, are immune and resistant to multiple types of damage, and have many many resources to avoid danger. They will minimize any encounter that interacts with them mechanically because of their ability to address this.

So create and design encounters that side-step the mechanical systems. To wit:

"anyone in the room when the ceiling collapses dies under several tons of rock, no saving throw"

It is important that this is telegraphed of course. These aren't gotchas, but letting the players know that in spite of all their protections, they can still be crushed by Godzilla.

The important thing for design, is that these fatal encounters or parts of encounters again put something at stake for the players. Being high level usually allows them to avoid these consequences, so good adventure design for high-level characters includes situations where things are again at stake.

This is just part 1, part 2 will cover understanding the scope of high level play and examining what high level characters are capable of at higher levels of dungeons and dragons.

If you want to see these things in practice, check out Eyrie of the Dread Eye. It has only ever recieved 5 star reviews. It's one of the highest rated products ever released. One of the most critical reviewers called it one of the best adventures he's ever read. It contains in practice, each of the following above points. If you want to know what a good high level adventure looks like, well, for 5$, there's your answer.

The only reason this blog is still available and not dead while I work full-time as a writer illustrator, is because of the support it receives on patreon. Thank you to all my Patreons! 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On the Spreading Word

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 14:39
Megadungeon #4 is coming, in about a week.

But there's something that needs to be done first.

The exciting part is discovering new worlds and spaces. How do I do that? Well, last time I sold some advertisements for things. And that was nice, and it got the word out about some great things to people who might not have ever considered them before.

But what I really want is the interesting feeling of looking through the ads in the back of old Dragon magazines.The pages with all the weird cool stuff.

So, look. I'm "Selling" advertising space. It's 20$ for a half page, 40$ for a full A5 page.
Except, if you don't have the money, and you have a project, you should go ahead and send me an ad.

It's more important to get the word out about a cool thing then it is to restrict access to letting people know about cool stuff.

It doesn't even have to be visual—if you have a small blurb about a product or your company, one that hundreds of buyers who are getting a 5e/basic megadungeon would be interested in do not let this opportunity go away.

Advertisements, questions and comments as well as advertisement payments (on paypal) can be sent to campbell at oook dot cz. The "deadline" for getting me your stuff or reserving a slot is Friday—let me know by then. But you'll actually have a bit longer to get it together.

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On the Last of the Sale!

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 06:45
We will have a normal post tomorrow, but this is the last day of the sale.

I'm very proud of my art, and I think I've been doing good stuff. I'd like to move some of it, so between now and Saturday morning when I wake up, everything on my Etsy store is 60% off! On Saturday morning, the sale ends, and all my stuff returns to its default price, so take advantage before it's too late!

It's original art, check some of it out. Most of these pieces took between 40-60 hours to create, so you're really getting something fantastic to add to your gaming space, or perhaps to sell after the next few very popular books I write! Did you know I have 3 books in various stages of production right now?

Exciting stuff. Get in and get something awesome for your house or gaming room before the opportunity ends!!

The prices are so crazy low on these, I'm almost embarrassed to post them. What artist would sell his work at such a discount? Get yourself something nice and help and my daughter out in the deal!!

Saturday morning the sale will end, and we will see you next month for the release of Megadungeon #4.

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On New Henchmen and More Crazy Deals!?!

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 07:40
Hey everyone! I started this sale because I had medical bills to pay, along with needing to get some money together to help my daughter attend some fun summer camps. Well, the medical bill has been paid, and I'm looking for a way to give back a little. How can I make this not a bullshit sale?How about this. Henchman Season 1 .pdf, and the Hack and Slash Blog Compendiums are all pay what you want till Thursday. The print copies of the 4 compendiums are 50% off (it won't let me go any higher with the discount, otherwise it would lose money.) 
Get all these .pdfs for Free! (Although feel free to help out with the summer camp bill.)Henchmen Season 1Hack & Slash Compendium I: Covering theory, and 16 great 5th edition backgrounds!Hack & Slash Compendium II: The updated Treasure document, never have boring treasure again!Hack & Slash Compendium III: Covering classes and class design!Hack & Slash Compendium IV: A tome devoted to wizards and their nefarious shenanigans!The print versions are as cheap as I can make them for the next 24 hours!Hack & Slash Compendium I, Normally 7.99$, 3.99$ for today only!Hack & Slash Compendium II, Normally 8.99$, 4.50$ for today only!Hack & Slash Compendium III, Normally 8.99$, 4.50$ for today only!Hack & Slash Compendium IV, Normally 7.99$, 3.99$ for today only!I use all these books at the table during games. I used them last night while running Perdition online!
Oh, This sale hasn't stopped my content creation. Here are the first 2 henchmen of Season 2, which focuses on demi-humans. You can check me out on stream today, if you'd like to hang out and talk about Dungeons and Dragons and the Debates while I work on Season 2!
The high-def versions of the henchmen are over on the Patreon, along with all the above books (simply for being a patreon). Patreons also have access to special editions of each compendium and henchman seasons with additional content.Thanks everyone! We'll be back on Thursday with more great deals! See you then if I don't see you online!

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On A Hellish Scape

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 06:44
This is an image of the city "Rustock" in the Perdition game I'm running online, in public, broadcasted on the internet. I'm playing with these amazing wonderful people. The charisma sometimes is too much! Come join us and the rest of the audience tonight, Tuesday, June 25th, at 5 PM CST, (-6 GMT) and watch me run Dungeons and Dragons! (note the lava flow and the jets of fire!)

Today's mega-sale?
Perdition in .pdf for 3.99! (Normally 9.99$)
Perdition in print (softcover) at a 40% discount. Normally 19.99, now only 11.99!!!
Perdition in print (hardcover) at a 40% discount. Normally 39.99, now only 23.99!!!

With art by noted artists Matthew Adams, Russ Nicholson, and many others, and writing by me and Arnold K. of Goblin Punch!

Rules for the Infernal Conclave, Summoning and Binding Demons and Devils, and signing infernal contracts that work and make for fun at the table! See my organic design principles at work. Reward yourself with a beautiful book.

Guys, it's great. A real labor of love. Check out the coolest thing you'll buy this year, and pick it up before it too goes off sale! And come watch us play!

The sale is still on till Friday!Everything on the DriveThroughRPG storefront is 10% off all weekLots of print products on Lulu are 25% off all week and everything in the Etsy Store is 10% off!

Some images from the book!

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On an Exciting Opportunity

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 07:55
Summer is upon us, and with that a trinity of tax bills, medical bills, and summer camp bills for my wonderful little girl. (Here she is drawing a Pizza Monster)

So we are having a very big sale.
Everything on the DriveThroughRPG storefront is 10% off all week, Lots of print products on Lulu are 25% off all week and everything in the Etsy Store is 10% off!
We are also going to be running daily specials every day! You can save money, get great gaming products, and help out an artist! Oh baby a triple
Today! For the first time since its publication in 2013:The bestselling "On the Non-Player Character" is on sale
Not just 'any' sale. It's 5.99 for the .pdf! and 9.99 for the Paperback!
The normal paperback price is 29.99, and .pdf price of 19.99. Five years after release, the print price was dropped to 19.99, and the .pdf price was dropped to 9.99$. After today at the stroke of somewhere near midnight, it'll return to its standard price. This is the first time I've ever cut the price on this book in a sale. I use it for every game I ever run. It is always by my side. 
What is it?
I've uncovered a hidden social combat system within Dungeons & Dragons since the beginning.
I've navigated a method of resolving social situations via player skill, rather than by personal social skill or by character skill. This is a mechanical solution to provide objectivity for social interactions and relies on your ability to gather information and make intelligent choices (i.e. player skill) for success.
That's not even the majority of the book. There's also useful tables and systems for generating memorable and immediately gameable long term non-player characters. I worked very hard to insure that you would never get a result and think "How am I going to get that to come up during a game?!"
It works seamlessly with whatever version of the classic game you are playing (including 5th edition!) . It doesn't require anything from your players other than what they do now. They continue to interact with the game world as they always have, but you simply have an objective, impartial method of resolving their actions. This means it eliminates Dungeon Master mind reading, "Mother may I?" play, and pixel bitching.
Players don't need to master any new skills - the player skills they have will work just fine. There's no chance for anyone to have a game-breaking diplomancer, but now an 18 Charisma can actually be useful in concrete specific ways, as much as an 18 Strength can be.
This sale will end tonight at 12pm, and a new exciting special will be announced tomorrow! We'll have a different special every day this week!
Yeah, guys, that's my pitch. Things are going well, we are going to be stable. But we need a little help to get there. I'm not the 'gofundme' kind of guy, but here's an opportunity to help and get something in return. If you'd like to help directly, you are welcome to send money to me directly via Paypal. Also, you know everything I self-publish is available for free via Patreon, (usually with special bonus content—I literally create and layout two files so that Patreons can get value out of their priceless support. For example the digital copy of S1: Henchmen has an entire extra unreleased illustration of a henchman) so you can keep up with me there if you like. 
Oh, and in case anyone feels like "I'm just selling my stuff", well, that's my job, AND, I have a bunch of stuff coming later this week. I don't usually talk about "what I'm gonna do" but I've already done it. We've got more henchmen coming (with a demi-human focus) a city map from Perdition, we will be playing Perdition on-line Tuesday night at 5pm CST, on Twitch, AND we've got some articles on dungeon stocking, dead bodies, and more coming later this week. Oh, and Megadungeon #4 is in layout, so we should be seeing that very very soon.
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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On New Vistas

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 17:28
I drew the wicker goat from Saltmarsh!!
High quality versions are on Patreon! If you like this stuff, you should check out the opportunity to grab some of the originals from the Etsy store, before some other gaming collector grabs them up.

I had someone complain about me posting links to where people can buy additional versions of my work, and I guess they didn't realize that the 150 dpi. jpg above is like the value I'm providing? I mean, are you gonna run Saltmarsh? There you go. You like the idea of what I do? Grab a collection on DTRPG for a few bucks in return for me laying it out in .pdf. You want to drop a HD image into Roll20? 600 .dpi PNG's are on the Patreon.

It's literally my job. If like, you aren't into free content, I guess you can avoid it, but don't complain because I'mma trying to feed a six year old over here. So much ice cream.

More is coming!!
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On the Mythic Underworld, Illustrated

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 14:00
Hey everyone! I'd just like to announce that I've finally got my Etsy store open!

A lot of the beautiful artwork, including some from the best-rated, award-winning, what's sure to be a cult classic module, Eyrie of the Dread Eye.

It's all original works, suitable for framing. I could frame before sending, but both framing and shipping are expensive—it's certainly more affordable for you to have it framed locally. But if you've got the money, I'll gladly frame it for you and ship it  your way!

Get yourself something beautiful and support an artist! Following are a selection of the pieces available. Visit the store to see all the beautiful originals, and hang up something beautiful in your home or gaming room today!

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On Henchmen, Collected!

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 17:43
Hey all! Here's the most recent henchmen!

It's the end of season 1! Season 2 is going to have more demi-humans! You can grab the collection yourself from here on Drive-thru-RPG.

Henchman Season One

You already have an edition with bonus content if you are Patreon!

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On a Trip Though Hell

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 16:29
I said every day this week, but let's pretend like Thursday didn't happen. I wasn't expecting my daughter's kindergarten graduation to be so. . . disruptive to my schedule.

She sang a song and it was just great.

Oh! I ran Perdition (my excellent Dungeons & Dragons clone) online! I've never edited film before, so I spent two days and taught myself how to edit. Let me apologize in advance that the vision in my head doesn't match what's on screen, due to my lack of proficiency in video editing.

We've already addressed a lot of the technical issues, and the next episode should be even better. It's not the video of us playing--It's a movie I made of the video of us playing.

Have at it.

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On the Goblin Drunkery

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 17:59
Man, is it the next day in the week?

Yeah, and we are just stretching our legs.

As part of my ongoing attempt to survive as a guy who draws dungeon maps—asking myself the question, is what I create enough to justify continuing to exist as a citizen? Does it provide enough value?

Part of the nitty-gritty of being an artist, which I actually had a class on for my Bachelor of Arts in Art in college, is finding income streams. We talked about lots of things in that last class "Methods & Materials" I think it was listed as? Matting pictures, communicating with galleries, presenting artwork, and more.

So if I was gonna do this full time, I was gonna have to do everything—and that includes working live and trying to find a way to provide entertainment that enriches people's lives enough that it supports me continuing to drag these hidden realms from the deep vastness and find ways to share them.

I stream on Twitch as Agonarchartist. But here's what I found:

Twitch isn't anything like what I thought it was. It's a streaming service, with people broadcasting videogames mostly.

But it's also kind of a spiritual revelation.

People on twitch are living their lives in a global community. Friends and companions move from activity and activity, from livestreamed home to livestreamed home, friends sharing their worlds when they are a planet apart. Twitch isn't entertainment, it's community that consumes entertainment together.

I also found that there's an entire community on Twitch consisting of artists who produce Dungeons and Dragons content. Much like the Old School Renaissance, it's a community of people, redefining the look and style of Dungeons & Dragons. Journeyman who rocks while producing art for Godkillers and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Hope of ShegamesHegames who produces character sketches and fantasy emotes, Alyssa Faden producing maps for Tegel Manor and other books coming out soon, Insomnia Doodles who creates beautiful leather cases for role playing games. Spongeyastronuat producing a different mermaid for every day in Mermay. Wacomatrixo who animates Dungeons & Dragons and Mothership actual plays.

All D&D, All Awesome, All the time.

Today I'm here to share.

I did another storefront and character, but gave the Wine Gnome and her Tree Hollow, over to my friend Bodieh for his patreon, and he gave me some of the tremendous digital content he produces in  adventure packs on his his blog slowquest.

We've got to spread the word see?

So if you want my Wine Gnome and Tree Hollow, you'll have to go over to his Patreon to get it. I love my stuff, but I think I traded up, check this out.

This is the goblin bar. Youth's in the local town pass around plain golden keys. You and someone else in the know can climb the local knoll and there in the cliffside sit the narrow doors of the goblin bistro. Used together on the doors the plain golden keys provide access.
Of course, once you get in the drink is great. And you are sure the goblins will never have any problems with what they are using to brew the beer that lives down inside that ancient passageway in the back!
This encounter location and digital files will add an interesting quirk to any small town or village in your current or next game. A small little mystery the players can uncover, furtive townsfolk, mysterious plain golden keys, a bit of subversion, and a good time for all!

Watch @bodieh and support his Patreon for Adventure packs and more!
Catch me @Agonarcharist on twitch for chill conversation and Dungeons & Dragons talk all afternoon, and support me on Patreon for more henchmen, adventure locations and maps in high resolution, storefronts, and more content, theory, and fun, than you can shake a stick at. I mean, you could shake a stick at it, but you'd just look silly.

Come join the community and fun so that you will accidentally give me money!
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On the Storefront

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 20:01
I told you more cool stuff was coming.
One of my Patreons bemoaned the fact that there was a dearth of storefront pictures.
So, I'm going to be illustrating a selection of medieval and archaic storefronts.
High definition, vtt ready version on Patreon. Otherwise enjoy this 150 .dpi web jpg!

This is the Inn of the Welcome Wench, but I've left the sign blank so that you can name it what you want. This is the actual layout of the Inn from Homlett—The town from T1, Temple of Elemental Evil. It has the right number of windows and floors and matches the interior layout.

Like, more cool stuff is coming. All week long. I wasn't posting because I was working furiously. Stay tuned!!

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On Henchmen, Continued

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 16:22
Good morning world.The Internet can be a hostile place.It's best not to go alone.
The third henchmen, the alienist, is available on my Patreon. It's only because I want to encourage you, to help me not be homeless.600 dpi versions on the patreon, and easy to use .pdf collections coming of these intermittently. 
Come on, look at Dan the Candle Bearer. Who doesn't want to hire that guy?More cool stuff coming every day this week. (!)
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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.

You enjoying these posts? I'm depending on you to keep writing them. Come make some requests and get a ton of free stuff over on my Patreon!
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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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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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