03 June 2023

June 2023 RPG Blog Carnival: Travels, by Wave, Cloud or Portal

Welcome to the new month for the RPG Blog Carnival - our topic for June 2023 is "Travels, by Wave, Cloud or Portal" - on my mind was the lots of fun I have wrung from travelling campaigns - portal-hopping through Planescape, sailing the seas in a swashbuckler game or navigating the stars with Spelljammer. You can find some deeper background on the RPG Blog Carnival on 'of Dice and Dragons'.

If you want to join the carnival, write up your own entry and post it in a comment below, send me a link (my username at gmail.com) or ping me on the 'blog-carnival' discord channel. I will gather all the participants into a wrap-up post on July 1st.

For my own contribution, I want to talk about subsea travels, because it looks like a bit of a gap and seems like something fun to try.

This starts with the question of who is travelling around beneath the ocean? Lots of things down there move around a lot - fish shoals, nomadic aquatic peoples, etc - with relatively fewer fixed groups - reefs, laired monsters, undersea cities - compared to the surface. Being highly mobile - a flyer equivalent - is much easier, where one can allow currents to carry you around, or just sleep 'on the fin' as you float about.

So we have a large group of nomads and wandering folk and we can add trade between fixed locations, hunting parties and others coming and going from those places. What of the voyagers in the deep? What are the beasts of burden, the wagons and other means for travellers in the ocean depths?

First - beast of burden in classic fashion - big fish, other mighty creatures can serve. You will have a big split here between turtles, whales, dolphins etc that need to surface to breath and things that can stay down in the depths

Second - neutral bouyancy wagons - cargo floated along - just needs to be bouyant enough to stay off the sea floor then you can drag it along. That could be through captured air, harvested swim bladders, blocks of floating wood like cork or some manner of rock. Light enough to be bouyant in the deeps can still be surprisingly heavy. Drag in water is going to be much higher so long-haul volume trade is more difficult. Bulky things get processed down to small, valuable before being moved in the currents or they are walked along the bottom

Third - big things can be marched along the bottom by giant crabs or other such critters - either pulling them on sleds or floating them along just above the bottom.

Fourth - trade routes will tie to the currents, some routes will be ring-routes, where it is easier to return to your start by following a current the whole way around a sea than to try and fight it all the way home. It may well be possible to follow shallow currents one way and deep currents back. Alternatives will be surfacing, using sails to counter a current, or marching along the bottom.

We have an awful lot of seabed in a typical campaign map

I think this can be brought to table in two ways
- the dive - a short trip with a clock ticking until protective magics run out; very similar to real-world diving or deepsea work
- the long leagues beneath the sea - here is where things get trickier, where we assume that our party has the means to be underwater for long periods and the challenge is then reacting to all the other strangeness.

For a dive, the mechanics you get from other places work well - air, currents, light, cold and pressure are all things you need to be concerned with. To run this kind of session you just need the water traverse from ship or shore and the site people are going to.

For the long leagues with multiple sessions beneath the sea the pressure, cold and dark of the depths are most likely dealt with so your session is more like an underdark traverse with a lot more of a wandering monster problem. You might be able to fence off a cave but out in the ocean things can come after you from far away.

So we end up with d30 Things you might Encounter as you Travel Beneath the Waves
1. A caravan of crabs - either a swarm of very large crabs or some giant ones bearing cargo and being herded along. Likely to be guided by a family or clan enterprise, multigenerational group with their own household economy brought along. Excellent for small trade, repairs and advice, problematic in a fight due to the variety of things coming at you.
2. Floating caravan - fish panniers or fish-towed - with swimming escorts or people riding other beasts of burden. Pursuits in 3D get interesting; scattering vs keeping together for strength in numbers.
3. Turtle riders - skimming along beneath the surface, popping up to breathe.
4. Undead towed sled - slow but steady, grinding along the sea-floor, potentially leaving a trail of devastation behind it or maybe just following old, worn in routes. The undead could be all sorts - from beasts to drowned surface folk. It may be directed by the necromancer that created it, ridden by thralls or old and defunct, operating empty
5. Crevasse winches & deep gliders - the more crafty sea dwellers might use sea gliders in places where that is favourable. Only for the cunning as getting the weights and bouyancy right is tricky with a big cargo glider.
6. Giant-monster howdah - travelling with a beast large enough to have everything on its back at once - the goods, the people, everything. Sometimes can be very elaborate where the beast is large enough that the drag of something impractical is negligible to it
7. Current sails - where a neutral-bouyancy craft catches currents and uses those to move along. Suitable only for those places with strong enough currents, has a risk of getting stuck if knocked out of its currents.
8. Arcane contraption - turtleship, mechanical walker or other magically propelled device.
9. Mining expedition; miners, sleds - may include undead, constructs as harvesters.
10. Surface folk venturing - roll d8 for type of travelling party but people accompanying are surface dwellers in diving gear
11. Underdarkers abroad - roll d8 but the people accompanying are underdark aquatics with sunshades, wrappings against the light and big dark goggles
12. Maintenance patrol - thralls of an abberant nation, mindflayers, aboleth - doing a circuit of their defenses, scraping barnacles off golems, sacrificing to eldritch monoliths, etc. May seize the opportunity to grab some raw materials (you).
13. Raiders - hunting for goods or sacrifices - these are lightly equipped warriors seeking plunder. These could be deep-dwellers in their own territory or shallow-dwelling raiders diving down. Shallow-divers may be repulsed by out-lasting them, deep-dwellers might be dodged by escaping toward the surface.
14. Monster - perhaps swimming by, perhaps hunting - could be a dragon turtle or other dragon diving who may be bought off with tribute or the likes of a megalodon that will just be hungry
15. Wizard about their business - (d6 - 1,2 surface dweller, 3-6 aquatic) - doing strange wizardy business - may be harmless, they may be angered by being observed, they may be about to unleash some effect that you will unfortunately get swept up in
16. Migration underway - perhaps gathering to a nomadic seasonal gathering, perhaps venturing from an underdark hold to another deepsea hold - most likely focussed on their own business
17. Settlers of a sunken realm - this place known as abandoned is being settled by some new group, they are currently setting up defenses, scouring the region for useful things and may be keen to talk and trade.
18. Giant gleaning - storm or sea giant combing for fallen surface treasures. Depending on their mood and what you have they may be hostile or not
19. Great reef - (1 in 6 chance of being awakened) - a new spur of a reef blocks your path, terrain is difficult and requires dealing with the reed inhabitants
20. Seafloor ghouls and trolls - leaping from hidden ambush
21. Beholder territory - markers declare that all behond this belongs to a beholder, proceed at own risk. It will be a singular monster and may potentially be dodged with good scouting
22. Aboleth obelisks - a great disquieting ruin, light bends disturbingly, the water smells, whispers fill your mind.
23. Deep fey realm - you come upon a weakness in the veil, perhaps a shortcut, perhaps a lost decade may lie beyond
24. Outsiders - you come upon an incongruous structure where fiends, celestials or marids of the deep have installed themselves. They have their own concerns but mortals are always interesting and infrequently come by.
25. Drowned lands - either split open underdark or submerged surface lands. The greatest hazard is collapses of buildings, either underfoot or to dump a roof upon your head.
26. Extreme topography - towering cliff faces, scourged by currents causing either a hazardous traverse or a long diversion
27. Searing currents - from subsea lava flows - potentially a short lived current in your favour if you can catch the right distance - too close and it will scald.
28. Dead water - de-oxygenated, may pose a lethal threat if using water breathers or maybe a boon of quiet travelling if not
29. Turbiditic flow - subsea landslide - ruins visibility, like a mud avalance, bowls things over and crushes them beneath, sucks things along behind it also.
30. Bubbling waters - could be an airleak from the underdark, gas welling up, a dropped pipe of inifinite wind - whatever the source, this water fizzes with bubbles and nothing can float here. Not a problem if you are already walking, everything else plummets to the seafloor, taking standard fall damage

31 May 2023

Player Demographic Trends Update

We got a few insights into player demographics through Geekwire reporting from the WotC Media summit and I wanted to run through these few numbers from Wizards to see how they compare to what we get when the community surveys itself (are we completely off or broadly in-line). Short answer - it appears we are broadly the same.

The key points I pulled from the end of the Geekwire article:
- 60% of D&D players are male, 39% are female, and 1% identify otherwise;
- 60% are “hybrid” players, playing online & in person
- 58% play D&D on a weekly basis.
- Most respondents (48%) identify as millennials, vs. 19% from Generation X and 33% from Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012).
- The player population recently crossed a point where the majority of current D&D plans are those who started playing the game with the fifth edition.

So lets drop all these onto what other data we have and see how it compares.

First off - we get a player population breakdown of 60% male, 39% female, 1% of other identity. Plotting this on our long run chart it falls right on the trend.

Reports that "58% play D&D on a weekly basis" fits on the trend of other surveys.

29 May 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #122

A light list this week as I got occupied organising an event. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Hosted by Monkey's Paw Games gives us OSR June Jam 2: This Time It's Not June Jam 1

Tomas Gimenez Rioja | The Macabre GM 💀 is soon to launch What Is It That Lies Beyond The Immenseness of the Dark?

Vol 5 of 28mag is out

Lorc gives us An Untitled Turnip 28 RPG

Grumpy Wizard asks Is Fudging Dice Good Game Mastering?

Alex Schroder writes on Violence

The Pastel Dungeon proposes Ambition Levelling

27 May 2023

Review: Arcadia #27 - Sharkadia

tl:dr; a jam packed 40 pages of seafaring fun, monsters, mechanics and an campaign to showcase them all, all topped off with nice art.

Arcadia Magazine #27 - Sharkadia (April 2023) - is one of the last of the excellent Arcadia magazines from MCDM before they go on hiatus for a bit. I have been meaning to look at Arcadia for a while and this being a deep-sea issue while I've been on a bit of an aquatic theme of posts recently makes the time right to just get it done. Arcadia has been MCDM's test of 'can we turn out three quality articles every month?' - answer yes. I have gotten great mileage out of their Ace's High flying combat system from Arcadia #4. I get my Arcadia's through the MCDM patreon - you can get these pdf's through their webstore in bundles too.

Cover art by Veronica O'Neill

As ever, the visuals with Arcadia are a treat,

24 May 2023

d12 Settlements of the Undercoast

Sparking off Creatures of the Netherworld from Studio Agate with their take on the duergar and their subsea cities - glass domes supported by their "sciencraft" - I got to thinking about the coast beneath the surface, the interface between the deep seas and oceans and the underdark. In our fantasy realms we have lots more dwellers below both on land and at sea - so how do their realms interface and where do they interact?

We have looked at our stacked up oceanic realms previously in d20 Aquatic powers and dwellers of the deep - the sunlight (1/8 mile deep), twilight (5/8 mile deep) and midnight zones (deeper than 5/8 mile). For a quick survey of the Underdark, we turn to Forgotten Realms Underdark from 3.5e, where we have the Upperdark (0-3 miles depth), Middledark (3-10 miles depth) and Lowerdark (from 10 miles deep to "unfathomable depths").

From this pretty much all our ocean depths are interacting with the Upperdark, which fits - this is the realm where interactions with the surface world are doable. The Middledark is a place of the deep adapted and wherever it might connect to the sea will be contacting the freezing 'abyssal' zone below even the midnight zone.

The Lowerdark is deeper than the deepest depths of the oceans, it runs deeper than the Marianas trench of our world. The seas of the Lowerdark are *the* deepest bodies of water anywhere. We have the Glimmersea deep beneath the Sea of Fallen Stars on Toril as an example. Setting aside the Lowerdark for now, we want to consider the open bodies of water and where they connect to the Upper and Middledark.

Below some underdark-deep ocean interfaces that can serve as ports of call on your voyage through the deeps or access either way. Unless mentioned otherwise, these are water-filled caves connecting to the ocean.

22 May 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #121

More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this is weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the newly-automated weekly blogroll on r/OSR or the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Attronarch's Athenaeum collates AD&D 2e unreleased art by Tony DiTerlizzi

The Pastel Dungeon gives us Faction Alignment: A Way to Represent Faction Relations With an Alignment Grid

Mindstorm proposes Question-based Adventure Design (Q-BAD)

Adventures Buffo on Running a Materialist Campaign

The Dododecahedron writes Bring Out Yer Dead!

night_druid on The Piazza shares Night Druid’s Advice Corner: How to Make Spheres

directsun games gives us Building Better Puzzles for "Lair of the Lamb"

Wizard Thief Fighter shares UVG2E & the Synthetic Dream Machine

Halfling's Hoard has New Game Preview: What Is It That Lies Beyond The Immenseness of the Dark?

20 May 2023

Blog Carnival: Shifting Gears Over A Campaign

To participate in this months blog carnival - hosted by Lair of Secrets on the topic of Shifting Gears I want to write on how a campaign changes over time and keeping things fresh.

Mostly I'm doing this because I can - I have good stats for my home campaign (this time) - and it has been running long enough that looking at them is meaningful. The core takeaway from all of this is 'mix it up' - throw some variation and interesting things into a game to both make things memorable but also to let players flex different muscles and skillsets and shuffle around who gets to shine.

In real life we had three blocks
- about seven months of pandemic-era play, 23 sessions getting in 4.8 hrs a session
- a year of 'late pandemic' play with in person sessions, 40 sessions averaging 5.7 hrs
- a six month gap as my daughter arrived since my partner also plays (red line below)
- restart-to-now era, another year with 20 sessions, averaging 3.4 hrs

Running hours played/month, cutting out the 6-month pause, you can see those three eras. In practice that mapped onto a couple of different styles of game. Below I have colour blocked the sessions up to today into five groups - the original campaign set in the starting city, travel within the realm, extraplanar excursions, travel outside the realm in the land of the giants (plateau of Jor) and delving the labyrinth of the Temple of Annam.

As you can see we have 'blocks' of different styles which make the game feel different: