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The Orb of Goodbyes

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:20
By Marcos Lopez Self-published 5e Level 4

The Orb of Goodbyes is a magical item blessed with the power to extract and erase memories from a willing creature’s mind. When a Waterdeep lieutenant retires from military service, she seeks the Orb to forget a dangerous memory. Those who help procure the Orb from an enchanted cave discover the secrets behind this magical artifact and unearth its hidden memories.  The adventurers may then decide whether to deliver the Orb and help the veteran find peace, or use the item themselves to release burdens from their past.

This twelve page adventure has a small cave dungeon with seven rooms and three encounters, using four pages to do so. It’s neither as pretentious or as padded as the blurb or page count would indicate, and does a good job with specifics … when it goes there …

I’ve gotten a series of requests for 5e reviews lately. I don’t mind, and, in fact, am pleased that the 5e crowd is paying more attention to adventure design. But, also, I may have discovered why. This adventure is the designers first that they’ve ever written. Yeah! And, it comes from the Storyteller Collectives ‘Write Your First Adventure’ Workshop series. Ok, so, first, I throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear the word Storyteller, but, it probably comes the cynicism embedded in GenX. Who am I to shit on the younger generations Shining City On A Hill? Anyway, Marcos, congrats on your first adventure. Now, let’s rip it to shreds.

The adventure is not as pretentious as it might seems. “Unearth a haunting memory and discover the power to forget …)” says the marketing blurb on the cover. That really is the worst of it, by far. Reading that primes me to hate something, with memories of every edgelord adventure ever flooding back to me. But, it’s not that bad and it treads lightly on those issues … just barely enough to evoke a hint of it but not wallowing in it Well, ok, no I lied, it does get pretty close to the eye-rolling line with “two soldiers who have a memory from their past that they want to forget.” Again, hints of the edgelord, right? And it’s certainly true that my midwestern D&D values tell me that if you feel compelled to put a trigger warning on something then you probably shouldn’t be using that idea. Except … in this case the retired soldiers want to forget where they buried an evil amulet to no one can scry them and learn its location. It’s not actual trauma as much as its something more mundane. But that’s not what you thought, was it? Two soldiers, forgetting a memory? Yeah, we all know what the fuck that implies. And thus, a trigger warning … and some (brief) suggestions in the appendix on how to massage things to change the soldiers to something else. The inclusion of the soldiers brings to the forefront what that IMPLIES, but the adventure never goes there … leaving the vibe but thats it. It’s an interesting design decision (assuming it was one.) 

The cave involves three memories from people who have used the orb … and one of them is a sad one.  Young gnome sits on the edge of a forest stream crying, waiting for er friend to join her … who never did. Holy fuckballs, sad! The gnome needs the parties help deciding what to do, continue her journey alone, go home, or something else. Is a lost child a bad adventure design choice? No, it’s a trope. But here the similar scene is being framed and presented in the context of a memory someone wanted to forget … with all the baggage it implies. This should cement the power of framing a scene in every readers mind … it’s a very powerful technique. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that watching Precious is a fun time, but, I think we can allow just a little real feels in our game. I’m sure this is an interesting moment when groups encounter it … and its probably on the edge of the line, about to cross over to indie game nonsense, But, not over it, and bringing more to the table than the usual low-effort fantasy trope crap.

The designer also has a talent for an imagined scene OUTSIDE of the generic trope. There’s a tendency to just say “The village is having a celebration!” and leave it at that. Abstracted. Terrible design and writing. But here the designer does a little father. The town square is a dirt lot. The locals are having a community potluck, wooden tables and rough benches, a dancefloor, a handful of ok music performers. That FEELS like a real community event, doesn’t it? A little shitty, a pitch in, people just doing their best. And the stables, overflowing with horses and empty farmers wagons parked outside every which way. Or locals confusing the Orb of Goodbyes with the Goblet of Goobyes, a local everclear shot from the tavern. A rock wall with graffiti with people signing their name outside of the cave … a local custom. This shit makes sense.  It FEELS natural, as if it were imagined first and THEN someone stuck the fantasy on it. It even makes an attempt at supporting the DM in some interesting ways (beyond the trigger rethemes) If the party tries to get the old soldiers to come with them it has some advice for the DM on how to counter it … but also doesn’t explicitly forbid it and supports the DM a bit if THEY do get the soldiers help. That’s what supporting the fucking DM is all about. Or, some advice on how to handle a party that is overly suspicious of the mayor. A common theme in a village, and helps to handle players like me who stab the most obvious NPC first and lets Pelor sort out the damage. 

But were also facing a new designer here, and it shows.

There are lazy contrivances used in multiple ways. You can’t exit a room in the cave until you “finish” the memory, being blocked by an invisible barrier. Invisible barriers are lazy and nearly as bad as “the doors slam shut and lock when you enter the room.” Similarly, once you complete the cave the entire places swells up with water and forces everyone in the cave out from the torrential flood. Uh huh. To be fair, it’s handled fairly well, but the whole “closing time” thing is something I’m over. 

We’ve got three “memory” scenes in the cave, all of which must be completed. There’s the one I mentioned, the sad gnome one. Then there’s the “where we buried the amulet” plot hook one. (Which, gives the location of the amulet to the party … a floor up idea for DMs who want to use it) That leaves one more … a simple Yeti attack. When you’ve only got three encounters you need them to stick and while two do this third one does NOT, being a simple combat. I’m not necessarily asking for more edgelord stuff, but something more than a simple combat. 

There’s also LONG NPC descriptions, the in standard 5e format that make them impossible to scan quickly and water down the personalities of the people involved. And then … the read-aloud. 

The read-aloud is bad. It summarizes. It abstracts. “But, amid the festivities for the arrival of Brigita – it becomes obvious a mild disagreement is escalating between her and the retiring Townmaster, Anton Astorio. Both Brigita and Anton make an effort to smile and continue with the occasion, but perceptive people notice the friction growing.” This isn’t what you want to be doing. This is TELLING us what is going on. You want to SHOW it. You want to show a disagreement. You want to show the escalation. In this case, rather than read-aloud, perhaps through vignettes for the DM to drop in … which could be spaced in with some local color events form the yokals, to help the DM bring THAT part of the adventure to life more. “Once inside of the cave” says the read-aloud. Nope. You almost NEVER want to imply action in a read-aloud, at least not on the parties part. You want descriptions, not conversational writing. Ad meaningless skill checks to find the cave in the first placE? We won’t even talk about the useless rolling stuff, or the repetition in the background information which, while brief, still annoys the fuck out of me.

This is $2 at DriveThru. I’m willing to throw up in my mouth less when I hear the word Storyteller if their workshop continues to churn out new designers like this. Certainly not great, but showing some potential that is more than the usual DriveThru/DMSGuild drivel.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1980 (wk 2, pt 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/25/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around August 28, 1980.

Action Comics #513: It feels like the late 90s idea of riffing off the Silver Age for a "Neo-Silver" approach, wasn't actually original to the 90s. This Wolfman/Swan story features the return of Superman Island, which was an island shaped like Superman that Superman had thrown into space for reasons he doesn't want publicly known. At the opening of the story, it's heading back to Earth! Two hoods know the secret, so Lois is trying to track them down to keep them from talking, but H.I.V.E. wants to know what they know. Turns out Superman Island has a core of Kryptonite. Luckily, a group of friendly aliens have made the island their home and use Kryptonite as an energy source, so they are eager not to let any of it get away. The aliens help Superman defeat H.I.V.E., then Superman gives the island a super-push toward a planet the aliens can settle on. In the Airwave backup, our young hero teams up with the Atom and his inexperience and lack of caution get them both in trouble.

Adventure Comics #477: DeMatteis and Orlando have a really desperate Aquaman going to the mayor of New Venice to get his help (how?) to find Mera. This seems particularly pointless since Aquaman had previously said he would help the Mayor find his brother and didn't, and the people of the city are upset due to his recent attacks on them while controlled by Poseidon. A little girl asks for Aquaman to help her cousin. Cal Durham whose a former henchman of Black Manta and now can only breath water. He tells him Manta is again up to no good. They go to check it out, but are captured. Manta and his crew of dissaffected and marginalized surface folk plan to attack Atlantis. Starman wasn't dead, but also his series wasn't ending (yet), just changing direction. Levitz and Ditko have him going through a number of almost Starlin Cosmic trials to rescue Mn'Torr. This is the best installment of this in a while. The Plastic Man story manages to work in roller-skating and disco, and swipes at 70s pop songs Pasko must have found annoying. Staton's art is up to the semi-comedic challenge as always.   

Brave & the Bold #168: Burkett and Aparo bring us a Team-Up with Batman and Green Arrow. This could be tricky, because Green Arrow can be seen as a low rent Batman with a more limited schtick, but by 1980, they have distinctive personalities. Green Arrow volunteers Batman to appear a charity benefit performance of escape artist Samson Citadel, a reformed criminal who Green Arrow took set on the straight and narrow. When crimes are committed requiring the skills of an escape artist, Citadel falls under suspicion. Batman investigates and discovers a hypnotist who has been mesmerizing folks to commit his crimes for him. Green Arrow confronts Citadel who he saw leaving the scene of a crime and realizes he's hypnotized. Ultimately, his appeal to his friend breaks the spell, while Batman escapes from a deathtrap in full Houdini style. In fact, the last page is Batman describing step by step how he made the escape. 
The backup story continues Nemesis quest for justice. Spiegle's art works well for the pulpier fair.

Detective Comics #496: The "dollar" days of this title are over, and it returns to being a normal-sized comic, meaning we only get a Batman lead story and a Batgirl backup. Fleisher and Newton bring back the Golden Age Clayface who has appeared since 1968 (in his single, previous "Earth-One" appearance). Batman drops in a Horror Film Exposition held aboard a luxury yacht belonging to actor/director John Carlinger. Batman seems familiar with and enthusiastic about Carlinger's films, which is a surprising bit of characterization. Anyway, when this event is televised in the psych hospital of Basil Karlo, the original Clayface, he's offended he wasn't invited. So offended he kills a nurse and two other people to sneak onboard and attempt to kill Carlinger. Meanwhile, we learn that Carlinger is in a dispute over money with his production partners. Then, Clayface show's up and starts trying to murder people--specifically those partners. After a tussle with Clayface, Batman realizes the truth and uses that knowledge to trick Clayface, who isn't Basil Karlo, after all. Fleisher delivers a nice (if simple) little mystery here worthy of the title "detective comics" and it's good to see Basil Karlo back.
The Batgirl story by Burkett and Delbo has her facing off with a Dr. Voodoo (no relation to Brother Voodoo, who is also a doctor) who is using music to put people into a trance state to do his biding. Batgirl does some good observation to figure this out, and use some sound equipment to break Voodoo's hold.

Green Lantern #134: Wolfman and Staton have Dr. Polaris thoroughly defeat Green Lantern. He takes the power ring and leaves Jordan in the Arctic. Jordan plans to make his way to a national geographic research station--on foot. This section portrays Hal Jordan as a badass, walking across the ice, battling a bear and a wolf, and going snowblind before reaching his destination in his torn uniform. (Wolfman supplies the idea that the Green Lantern costume, made for space, is protection against the cold to a degree to make this work.) When he's back in California, he seeks out his friend Tom Kalmaku for help, who seems to contemplating suicide due to work setbacks. Jordan slaps him around, and the two set out to somehow defeat Polaris. 
In the backup story by Sutton and Rodriquez, Adam Strange is being tortured by Kaskor and his men. Strange tricks them to make his escape, but the base is going to explode for some reason, and he only gets out via zeta beam. A beam that returns him to earth! 

House of Mystery #286: This issue is rougher than the last--and the last was not top shelf DC horror. Jameson and artists Hasen and Bulnandi take us to the distant future of 2023 where a cop gets a cybernetic arm following a vicious attack by a criminal, then gets obsessed with seeking revenge and makes himself judge, jury, and executioner--because he's got a mechanical arm, and he can! The punchline is he programs the arm to seek out evil and--wait for it--the hand strangles him! The next story is a perfunctory "mummies curse" yarn by Kelley and Patricio. One savvy archeologist figures out the mummy is degrading its ability to move with every attack, so he figures he'll let it get his colleagues first, then he'll be in the clear. He's almost right, but the mummy catches him on a pier. It isn't strong enough to finish him, but in their struggles, they tumble from the pier and the archeologist is hung on the bandages. 
The last story is kind of a Twilight Zone thing. A aging man in the 1890s, regretting he is in tough financial straits and never able to provide for his wife in high-style, crosses a bridge into a peculiar purple smoke and is transported back in time three decades. As a young man, he resolves to become rich, even if that means selling to both sides in the Civil War. The Confederates pay him off after a deal, but he has to flee the union forces and is shot crossing a bridge into that same magical fog. He collapses dead back in the 1899, and drops his much fought for sack of loot--which turns out to be Confederate money.

Shakespeare Deathmatch: Game Overview Part 1

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 08/25/2021 - 10:26

The game ended up in a sweet spot for me of 'medium' complexity. I've played a few card games that were quite complex (if you didn't know how every card you had worked together, and you didn't know how every card your foe had worked together, you were at a significant disadvantage). I've also played a lot of games that were quite simple (UNO). I wanted to end somewhere in the middle. I wanted it to be complex enough that it was interesting and it challenged you to apply some strategy, but not so complex that you had to enroll in community college to keep up. I will record a demo video at some point, but I thought in the short term I'd talk through a few rules... the basics are this:
1. You play a character from a Shakespearean play, trying to kill other characters from a Shakespearean play. Spoiler alert: a lot of characters die in Shakespeare's plays. Don't get too attached to anyone; they are likely to be taken out.2. You try to avoid taking damage of the types your character is susceptible to. For example, Ophelia is susceptible to letters (representing emotional damage - reputation and mean notes - the original cyber bullying) and to coins (she has a family of some wealth and status). She wants to avoid having others place those cards in her damage pool. She is the polar opposite of sticks and stones - sticks and stones won't break her bones, but names are gonna hurt her.3. You try to deal damage to other characters that will hurt them. While at first you are just trying to throw any damage you can, eventually you can force characters to reveal who they are, allowing you to target your damage to what will do the most harm to them.4. Once you have a total number of points in your damage pool equal to the totals on your character card, your character is slain. When Ophelia suffers 8+ letters AND 4+ coins, she is done. Last character standing wins.

'Ts-eh-Go' Adapted From Godzilla The Series '98 For Cepheus Atom & Those Old School 2d6 Science Fantasy Role Playing Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 08/24/2021 - 23:45
 Going back to the Nineteen Fifty Seven 'San Lorenzo affair' the Area Fifty One Giant Monster unit collected both DNA & RNA from the giant scoropion remains from the United State's Mexican border. The United States governament began actively reseaching & studying the possibily of a cloned & controllable weaponized giant scorpion Kaiju to combat threats to America, the worsening Cold War, & the Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

'Serpent Men On Mars!' - OSR Commentary On 'Sea Kings of Mars' from Thrilling Wonder Stories v34n02 (1949 06) & The 'Old Mars' Campaign Setting

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 08/24/2021 - 15:30
 This post is going to pick right up from my 2019 post on this blog entry here " Further OSR Commentary On The Free 'Old Mars' Downloads For Your Old School Campaigns"Download & Read Sea Kings of Mars HereA quick rereading of  a copy of Sea Kings of Mars from Thrilling Wonder Stories v34n02 (1949 06) is one of Leigh Brackett's best.  Brackett's  writing about the serpentmen of Mars that's broughtNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On Reduced Price, Free Advertising, and Megadungeon!

Hack & Slash - Tue, 08/24/2021 - 12:30


Work proceeds apace with Bestial Ecosystems Caused by Monstrous Inhabitation, but that's not what this post is about.

Can you believe it's been two years since On Downtime & Demesnes was funded? Because of it's success, I'm now a full time creator, with books published by Frog God Games and one from Lamentations of the Flame Princess at the publisher right now.

Long enough that it's time to drop the price a bit. On Downtime & Demesnes is now 9.99 for PDF, 19.99 for softcover, and 24.99 for hardcover. So if you've been waiting. Now's the time. It's available on and DriveThruRPG.  I've also set Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas on sale for the next two weeks on DriveThruRPG to celebrate their success. 

Celebrating the success of Megadungeon, I've also temporarily made Issue #3 free. If you're curious and you'd like to check it out, grab it quick.

I've been working on the next issue of Megadungeon, and it's nearing completion. Check out the little teaser to the right. That means, also, it's time to solicit advertisers. There's a catch though, if you don't have the money or are a hobbyist, advertisements for your products are free. I'll just need a 600 dpi. Black and White half or full page A5 advertisement. It's 20$ for a half page and 40$ for a full page, but again, only if you have the money. Otherwise feel free to send me your projects advertisements for inclusion. Megadungeon has an average circulation of 300+ paying customers and growing, with a long tail. Contact me via e-mail at campbell at oook dot cz or on discord with links to the tiff/png/jpg files. If you have some assets, I can even lay them out for you if you need it. The whole point is just to get word out about projects. If you've got one, get it to me.

If you support me on Patreon, you already get digital copies of all this stuff free, so what are you waiting for?

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Making High-Level D&D Click: Advice from Alan Patrick, the DM Who Has Run More Tier 4 Than Anyone

DM David - Tue, 08/24/2021 - 11:18

Five years ago, the Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League administrators faced a dilemma. The campaign’s loyal players had characters that neared 17th level and tier 4 play, but the league lacked adventures for these characters. The campaign administrators wondered if they should add top-level adventures despite the smaller audience for these heights. D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast had not led with any top-level content. Some D&D enthusiasts even wondered if games at such levels would prove fun or manageable. (Spoiler: Yes.) If the league created scenarios for epic levels, then the campaign’s authors needed to experiment and learn for themselves how to make the adventures play well.

League administrator Alan Patrick learned as much as anyone. He has run more than 350 sessions at levels 17 through 20, most at conventions with tables of strangers bringing unfamiliar characters. He won experience by running for every available character type through a spectrum of play styles.

The product of Alan’s experience appears in a trilogy of high-level adventures each perfected by the author through more than a hundred runs. The trio includes DDAL00-01 Window to the Past, DDAL00-03 Those That Came Before, and DDAL00-10 Trust and Understanding.

For Alan, top-level D&D play works best when its style circles back to some of the same elements that make tier 1 rewarding for players.

Circle back to the characters’ emotional roots

New characters feel close to their roots: things like their homes, schools, families, and heritage. Often their adventures connect back to these elements. In the middle levels of 5-16, as characters leave a place like the Village of Hommlet, they visit exotic locations while rising to superhuman power. At the end of a legendary career, tier 4 characters and their adventures may deliver wonders, but the scope can rob their adventures of any emotional connection.

To remedy this distance, reconnect the characters to their humble origins, to the friends they met and locations they visited, to their heritage and home. Tier 4 adventures mark the end of a character’s career, and players feel the nearing conclusion. Reconnecting with characters’ origin adds emotional resonance to their journeys. If the character’s home is an actual place, they can return as legends and see reminders of their start. They can mirror the path of the hobbits returning to scour the Shire or the Beatles giving one last concert on the roof of Abby Road.

During a long weekend of D&D, my group played the same characters with stops from new to level 20. DM Shane Morrison ran Alan’s adventure DDAL00-03 Those That Came Before to finish the series at level 20. In one scene, we witnessed the ruin to come if we failed our mission. Shane described the doom awaiting many of the locations and friends from our characters’ careers. This moment brilliantly rooted our battle to save the world to the story of our characters. Win or lose, I knew I fought my character’s final battle, and I felt like I was fighting for something that counted.

Even while high-level adventurers look back to their start, they will see reminders of their achievement. Their legendary reputations may lead non-player characters to react like star-struck fans. Except for the occasional secretive rogue, tier 4 characters would rank as the rock stars and celebrities of their world. Getting a meeting with the king might not pose a challenge, because he can’t wait to finally get a selfie. Sample PC dialog: “Ask the royal artist to paint faster. We have a multiverse to save.”

A return to the characters’ roots hardly means that legendary heroes should fight rats in the cellar. Tier 4 merits heavy use of our imagination’s unlimited special effects budget. The Dungeon Master’s Guide offers a vision for cosmic settings and foes. “Characters traverse otherworldly realms and explore demiplanes and other extraplanar locales, where they fight savage balor demons, titans, archdevils, lich archmages, and even avatars of the gods themselves.” High-level characters have the power to do all that and still visit home for snacks.

Tier 4 characters play like superheroes, flying, running on walls, teleporting, and so on. If you drop such a party in a room where two sides trade damage, nobody gets to flaunt their amazing powers. Imagine battles atop boulders buoyed on rising lava in an erupting volcano. With lesser characters, such a battlefield might risk incinerating heroes, but the tier 4 heroes can cope with every peril you imagine, and then leave you wondering how to make them sweat despite their fire resistance.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide explains that adventures at this tier have far-reaching consequences “possibly determining the fate of millions in the Material Plane and even places beyond.” Such grand stakes offer a cinematic flair, but not every adventure must aim to save the multiverse. “The breaking of home is a much more emotional experience, which keeps players dialed in to the game,” Alan explains.

Smaller stakes still work well when they feel personal, and they avoid an exhausting need to raise the stakes every week. Thor and Superman may rank among the mightiest heroes of their fictional universes, but half of Thor’s adventures amount to family drama and Superman saves Jimmy Olson as often as the world. Superman stays rooted in his found family at the Daily Planet.

Return to the early game’s swings of fortune and embrace them

At early levels, D&D games start with a certain swingyness where the characters’ fates rest on happenstance and on the dice. Characters die because of a single critical hit or because they happened to stand in the line of a lightning bolt. Players have less invested in characters at low levels, so the game’s designers rate death character death as more tolerable. During the middle levels, the game’s uncertainty fades. Characters grow stout enough to survive a few bad rolls and monsters rarely have abilities potent enough to force a hero to save or die.

At top levels, some of those early twists of fortune return. Words kill without a save, and botched saves turn heroes to dust. But all these levels, bad turns count as mere setbacks. I recently ran a tier 4 adventure where two heroes were disintegrated. Neither lost more than a turn during the fight. Dealing with such setbacks brings much of the fun. High-level characters have answers for every situation and players relish chances to use those powerful capabilities.

But most top-level monsters fail to deliver the same excitement.

When Alan first began running adventures for high-level characters, the obvious problem stemmed from challenging players with such super-powered characters. He explains that most D&D fans want adventures that challenge both players and their characters, but at top levels, the game’s advice and its monsters fall short.

In fifth edition D&D, characters gain hit points at a faster rate than damage dealt by comparable monsters. The foes matched against 1st-level characters make for dangerous encounters, but at level 8 or so, the game’s advice for building encounters leads to overmatched monsters. By the highest levels, the monsters can feel hopeless. (For a breakdown, see Why So Many DMs Have Trouble Challenging Players by Teos “Alphastream” Abadia.)

Sure, DMs can add more foes, but that slows fights and players wind up spending too much idle time watching the DM run monsters. Alan aims to see more player dice rolls than monster rolls.

DMs can add tougher foes, but for heroes in their teen levels, the official monster books leave few options. At top levels, even the toughest monster of all, the challenge 30 Tarrasque, makes a disappointing solo foe. The adventure Invasion from the Planet of Tarrasques resorts to multiple Tarrasques with added powers like a ranged attack, fly, or a breath weapon. After all, a level-appropriate party will often fly from claw/claw/bite, so even Godzilla needs nuclear breath.

To create more compelling foes for top-level characters, Alan raises the monsters‘ damage output until it matches the proportions of the damage low-level foes inflict on low-level characters. This recaptures some of the swings that makes low-level D&D exciting. In DDAL00-03 Those That Came Before, the Aspect of Kyuss claws for 66 points of damage compared to the Tarrasque’s sad little tap of 28 points of claw damage.

Although such numbers may seem harsh, tier 4 characters have a far stronger ability to bounce back. That quality creates additional drama at the table. Alan’s ideal for a climactic tier 4 battle resembles a bout in a Rocky movie where the heroes’ adversaries push the characters to their limits. As players face likely defeat, they call on every resource to turn the tables and win the day. When I played DDAL00-03 Those That Came Before with a level 20 party, the showdown with Kyuss matched that ideal. I felt certain the monster would kill us all, but somehow, we slowly battled back to win. Compare that to most tier 4 battles where monsters deal insignificant damage, which players dutifully track out of respect for the game. When my party battled Kyuss, we cheered every time our foe missed.

High-level D&D characters bring enough hit points to make added damage a nearly essential ingredient to any credible foe. But the high damage numbers penalize support characters who rely on concentration to help the party. Nobody who suffers 66 points of damage makes a DC 33 save to keep concentration—even though a proportional amount of damage would result in a makeable DC 10 save at low levels. I once floated a “modest proposal” for improving D&D that would avoid damage hacks, which penalize support characters. The suggestion revisited a rule that dates to the original little brown books. Back then high-level characters who earned a level only gained a hit point or two. However, even if Matt Mercer and the ghosts of Dave and Gary all approved such a house rule, players would never go for it. So instead, we’re left with the damage thing.

Next: More on challenging high-level characters. Plus dealing with the cognitive demands of running high-level games. To avoiding missing the next post, follow me on Twitter at @dmdavidblog and sign up to receive posts via email.

Related: All the Troubles That Can Make High-Level D&D a Bitch To Run, and How To Solve Them

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review & OSR Commentary On The Free Infinite Stars (Issue 1 - Aug 2011) Fanzine By Omer Golan-Joel & Co. For Original Traveller & Stars Without Number Free Edition

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 08/23/2021 - 18:55
  There are times when I've heard from DM's that they wish that there was a fanzine dedicated to Stars Without Numbers rpg & Cepheus Engine? Well there was but it was originally dedicated to Stars Without Number & original Traveller. Come with us now down the dark corridors of time to 2011 &   Infinite Stars (Issue 1 - Aug 2011). Infinite Stars (Issue 1 - Aug 2011) by Omer Golan-Joel & Co. for Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Talislanta Returns

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 08/23/2021 - 11:00

The word on the Talislanta facebook page is that the setting will be returning (via Kickstarter) in a 5e compatible form. While I don't know that 5e is the optimal system for Talislanta, I'm glad to see it back and will definitely kickstart it. 

This announcement puts me in a mind to get back to the series I started in 2020 but never finished where I did an in-depth look at setting. Those posts can be found here.

More OSR Resources Aboard The Warden - B2 Keep on The Borderlands By Gary Gygax - The Castles & Crusades Rpg Aligned With The Star Ship Warden Rpg book

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 08/23/2021 - 05:30
Henri The Hurricane caused lots of mayhem for me as a DM this past weekend. It turned out to be a mild storm with an attitude. If one listened to the newscasters it was supposed to be the 'storm of the century'. And said newscasters almost but not quite seem geniunely diappointed when there wasn't any real destruction unlike Hurricane Sandy which barrelled through New England in 2012. We Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Queen of the Martian Catacombs 'Old Mars' Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyprborea & Warriors of The Red Planet Hyrbid Campaign Notes Updated

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 08/22/2021 - 17:27
 This is the first of the Eric John Stark stories & its got all of the pulpy weirdness we've come to expect from Leigh Brackett's Mars."Gaunt giant and passionate beauty, two dragged thirst-crazed across endless crimson sands in terrible test of endurance. One knew where cool life-giving water lapped old stones smooth - a place of secret horror, death to revealS.O.S. Aphrodite by Stanley Mullen -Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mysterious Trinkets

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/22/2021 - 14:30

I realized we had a Land of Azurth 5e session weeks ago I didn't blog about. Here's the belated news from Azurth...

The party finally reached the eastern border of the Country of Virid. Immediately, the fae influence became apparent in the more fanciful foliage. As evening approached, they decided to seek lodging for the night in the town of Carabas, nestled at the feet of the Crooked Hills. It turned out there was a fair going on.

Our heroes joined the celebration and took part in various contests to win what the townsfolk call "trinkets." Erekose wins a dueling competition. Kully takes a storytelling prize. Shae won in dancing, showing off her Elven moves. Kairon managed to pull out a victory in kite-fighting. Dagmar, however, only succeeded in getting drunk in the drinking competition.

They still took the trinkets they were awarded, even after seeing a man with too many of them explode (the townsfolk didn't seem over-bothered by this). 

The party was confounded by the strange devices. Each was unique and their use was not obvious. Also, while the items appeared to have spell-like effects in some cases, they did not register as magical.

With no rooms available, the party rented a pavilion on the edge of the fair grounds near the hills. That night, after a strange, shared dream, they were attacked by sallow-skinned, nonhuman somnambulists with strange, branch-like, metallic golden growths out of their foreheads.

The party managed to kill a couple of the creatures and drive off the others, but they are left with the idea that the things were after the trinkets.

The children of Camazotz or Nightscreams Adapted From Godzilla The Series '98 For Cepheus Atom & Those Old School 2d6 Science Fantasy Role Playing Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 08/22/2021 - 06:22
 The children  of Camazotz or Nightscreams are a mutated giant bat species that is up from the inner Earth going all of the way back to the time of the cults of the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. These mutated giant bats were known as the handmaidens of both Camazotz & Bagorah. The ancient Mayan culture saw these giant bats as ill omens & among the local tribes they were known as the bringersNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shakespeare Theory and Game Design

The Splintered Realm - Sun, 08/22/2021 - 02:15

The genesis of the game design for Shakespeare Deathmatch comes out of a theory I have that unifies his plays; he often plays with the four elements, and ties these thematically to a set of motifs that recur across his plays. When you see what he's up to with the four elements, you can quickly get some insights into what's happening in scenes, between characters, or within characters. For example, I think I've been able to solve two questions of "Hamlet" (why does it take so long? Why the pirates??) by layering this theory over the play. 
In brief, the four elements tie to four mental/emotional processes. On one axis (I put this on the horizontal) we have water and fire, and these represent emotions of love and hate. The prototypes of these are Ophelia (love - talks about water constantly) and Laertes (her brother - hate - talks about fire ad nauseum). The other axis (I place this one vertical) is intellect. At the top you have air, which is foolishness and deception. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are up there with all of their talk of clouds and wind and playing recorders. At the bottom you have stone, which is logic and kingly behavior - and you have Horatio, the most stable character in all of literature. Like, the dude is a rock. He's also a timekeeper, and he grounds the entire play. When Hamlet is interacting with Ophelia, he's an emotional wreck and dealing with love; he talks foolishness and is in full-out trickster mode when interacting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He has grounded conversations with Horatio (the key one is in a graveyard for criminy's sake). 
Then I was thinking about how characters die in Shakespeare's plays, and realized that these also link to those ideas. There are blades for hate (or course), but poor Ophelia has all of those letters that break her little heart. Poison is a go-to for those deceiving others, while money is the way that kings get things done. Why kill someone when you can pay someone else to do it? These then became the ways that you deal damage to characters. My original draft had Hamlet as the quintessence (since that's his whole thing in the play - it takes so long because he has to integrate each of those four forces into his persona, and that's some heavy lifting), but he kind of breaks the game. I'm thinking that at some point there will be a special "Hamlet quintessence" card that shows him at full Hamlet or something, but for now I'm happy enough with how he turned out. I kept going back and forth between wanting to mirror the plays and the characters, and needing to balance a game for fluid play. I am happy with the sweet spot I found on it. For example, Lady Macbeth is rich and thinks she can social order her way to power, but she also is willing to pick up a dagger and stick a dude when necessary. This is the type of damage she's hurt by. However, she isn't very worried about little things like love (so letters roll off her back) and her blood is poison, so for her that's like drinking tea. That's the kind of thinking that went into each of the character cards.

Neon Lords of the Toxic Wasteland - 'The Carcosa Slaughter Tour ' Mini Campaign Idea

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 08/21/2021 - 17:26
 Awesome Rick  cleric of the  Orthodox temple of Lord Randy put his power glove on & looked over the alien landscape with his friends, 'Oh yeah! We have indeed entered the land of the forsaken brothers & sisters. Here only the cream of the crop will rise & the unbelieving fools will fall!' Lisa 10,000 a H.E.A.T.H.E.R.  adjust her perfect black streaked platinum blood  hair the countless time. Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Another Shakespeare Deathmatch Actual Play Experience

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/21/2021 - 15:49

Grace and I just played two games, and here are some discoveries:

A few simple rule changes (on reveals, you discard any cards in your damage pool that do not count as damage to your character) is a BIG motivation to reveal. It frees up cards and increases tension. It's a nice touch.

The whole idea of damage pools becomes a key part of the strategy. You are dropping points in the damage pools of others just to get them out of play so they cannot be used against you. Sure, my 3 Letters card will not harm Macbeth (it must be of woman born, I guess), but if it's in his damage pool, he cannot use it to inflict further injury upon poor Ophelia. She's been through enough already.

The trickster cards can make big shifts suddenly. Grace ended the second game by having Macbeth (appropriately enough) play a card that killed both of our characters; she was about to be defeated, so she figured she may as well take me with her :)

There's an attrition of resources; as better cards get locked up in the damage pools of others, the one and two point cards becoming increasingly valuable as the game grinds on. I like that a card that is perceived of as a throwaway card early on can become quite valuable down the home stretch. When you have a bunch of one-point cards in your hand, but so does someone else, and you only need to drop a point on someone to win, that becomes a very valuable little card.

Shakespeare Deathmatch Rolls Forward

The Splintered Realm - Sat, 08/21/2021 - 14:49

I received my demo deck yesterday, and cracked that bad boy open! I learned a few things right quick...

The layout was a little 'off'. Each card was slightly skewed to the left, for whatever reason. The live area was much smaller than I had anticipated, meaning that the cards were pretty scrunched, and had no borders to speak of.

The backs look uneven, and it is next to impossible to get that black border to appear 'just right'. I thought it was spot on, and it wasn't even close.

I spent a few hours re-formatting some cards, adding some settings and tricksters, and re-building the entire deck. The work in progress is above.

But, we also got to play the dang thing. FINALLY. Here are my takeaways:

Holy crap this is a great game! We played three games, and each time new little strategic choices appeared. Do I play this card now, or do I hold it another round to see if I can get more value from it? Should I reveal this scene, or wait until next scene? Should I play a card, risking losing it having it be used against me? How can I manage my resources the best? How can I force someone else to reveal their character? It FEELS exactly like I want it to feel. Thematically it is spot on for where I wanted to go. You know the whole time that you are playing a Shakespearean game, with Shakespearean characters, in a Shakespearean environment.

My wife and daughter both like the designs of the cards. They like the art, the layout, the formatting, and the presentation. All win! They both actually enjoyed playing. I think my daughter will be requesting this in regular game rotation with our other regular family games. That's huge.

There just aren't enough cards. I didn't think about how many cards would end up being bogged down in peoples' damage pools. However, I have added a number of base cards to the deck, and also added a rule that clears out your damage pool (unused cards) when you reveal your character, so that will help a lot with just having enough cards on hand to play. The base deck has gone from 52 cards to 84.

The game takes longer than I had anticipated. I expected a play to last maybe 15 minutes; we were averaging over a half hour with three players, a little less with two. We were going slow and talking rules and gameplay as we went, so it might end up being a lot faster once people know the cards. That said, there are still a lot of moving parts and subtleties, sudden changes and unexpected events, and sudden turns about you didn't see coming. I really, really love it. I'm sending in for a second proof deck in the next day or two, and expect to have the game on sale by middle September. 

The Pit

Ten Foot Pole - Sat, 08/21/2021 - 11:11
By Tony Garcia & Simon Barns Voxelhouse B/X Levels 1-3

The famed archaeologist Jonas “Greytooth” Walker discovered a strange pit upon an expedition to the Dead City. A spiral staircase descended into this pit, leading to a series of rooms carved from the rock. Each room lay behind a closed door and their mysteries have not been unveiled. The entrance is marked by a large portal made of black basalt. There is a belief that this underground complex may hide information about the mythical city of Xumoria, which is rumored to be located on the Isle of the Ancients. There are inscriptions at this site indicating the presence of an ancient wizard named Arne “Sacre” Nissen, a well-known Xumorian scholar and great explorer of Artrusia. Adventurers seeking the entrance got and haven’t returned yet. Exploratory expeditions are leaving Crimsonwater, heading for The Dead City. Dare you go down into The Pit?

This thirty page adventure uses five pages to describe seven rooms. This was someone’s dream.

So, what’s on the other 27 pages? An overview of the game world … presumably duplicating the information found  in the publisher’s “World of Altrusia” game book. It contains such exciting information as “The Human Empire” and “The Orc Kingdom.” Majesty & Wonder this is not.

We get a one page overview of a starting town. It has little detail but the usual generic fantasy stuff. The town of 920 people does, though, have a sewer. So, you know, it’s cool. It also has The Shady Orc, a tavern. Or, rather, one of the locations of a chain of taverns found all over the world. And another tavern that is known for its wild boar stew. Do you think wild boar comes in often enough to support that as a main menu item? Or, maybe, it’s just domestic pig relabeled as wild boar and sold to the owner? 

Anyway. You find some flyers for someone at th tavern wanting to hire adventurers and everyone in town is buzzing about the new dungeon and there are adventurers everywhere. And in the tavern you are going to its stuffed full of adventurers. And when you ask after the dude from the flyer the bartender is like “Why do you want to talk to him?” Dude! For the same fucking reason the last two hundred people in here wanted to talk to him … the fucking flyer! Anyway, that all happens in a read-aloud that is like a page and a half long. So, fuck you wanting to play D&D; this is a four-hour one-man show mashing up Moby Dick and heorin addicition. 

Dude pays you 3000gp to go to the dungeon a week away and find a map inside that tells you how to get to the megadungeon. You walk for seven days and have wandering encounters with 1d6 bears, ghosts, hill giants, a mummy, all on the wanderer table. A little aggressive for level 1’s? Whatever. You get to the ruins. “Signs direct you The Pits entrance” says the read-aloud. Really? Signs? And this isn’t farce? No, it’s not farce.

You are now at the adventure. Seven rooms, one of which is empty, is five pages. Multi-paragragh read-aloud. Doors that don’t open until you kill the monsters in the room. Find the moon key to open the moon door, the star key to open the star door, the heart key to open the heart door. The read-aloud over-explains, saying things like there are a half dozen bodies on the floor. The DM text says very informative things like “The room is trapped. This can be detected and disarmed by a thief (if there is one in the party.)”  IF the players open the chest THEN they find rotting food.

The forest encounter, in the place from the cover, the main seven room dungeon, starts with “You descend the stairs and reach a room that is set with a floor of pale stone tiles.” Does that match the sense of wonder from the cover illustration? No? How about the fight with a single skeleton inside the room? You know, after you faced a hill giant/1d6 bears/ghost/mummy in the wilderness, potentially? 

A dream to some. A nightmare to others. Who the fuck asked me to review this?

This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru with a suggested price of $3. There’s no preview link, but there are several sample pages. You get to see the first room in the seven room dungeon. The writing is all like that.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Thorny Devil Kaiju Adapted From Godzilla The Series '98 For Cepheus Atom & Those Old School 2d6 Science Fantasy Role Playing Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 08/21/2021 - 01:13
 The Thorny Devil Kaiju is a mutation created during the 'Occult wars' of the 1950's after the nuclear bomb scare involving the Nazi fifth columnists in the Texas containment facility. The Thorny Devil Kaiju was responsible for the destruction of three Texas & Mexican towns. The Area 51 military monster hunter unit was able to capture the Thorny Devil Kaiju. Using a combination of high yield Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs


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