31 December 2020

Year in Review 2020

tl:dr - spun up my best campaign in years, started this blog, reviewed some rpg books, survived the plague.

Main highlight of this year in gaming was spinning up my Ducal House menagerie-world game. We had the great good fortune to hold session zero in a bar the weekend before lockdown dropped - so we shifted directly to online via Roll20 + Skype. The intended tempo was twice a month, ~5 hour sessions; goal of this was to set expectations for time and make 3 games a month as 'we got in an extra game' not 'we missed a week'. Finally on average we got in 3.4 sessions a month. Stats wise, this puts the game on the average - weekly game is still traditional.

For session times we are skewing towards the long end of the standard hump according to some sources with 5.6 hour long games on average.

29 December 2020

Review: Pathfinder Planar Adventures

tl:dr; a good guide for bringing the planes to your table. I; Interesting sites and a focus on visitable spots puts lots of useful inspiration in your hands.

I snaffled the Pathfinder Planar Adventures book up one time I saw it in passing and having read through it now (some years hence) I do not regret my purchase.

(photo of own copy showing cover art by Wayne Reynolds)

28 December 2020

Review: Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals

tl;dr: a neat DMs toolbox for using portals in your game, full of useful generators and pithy guidance.

Originally I found Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals on a list of 'best OSR things to get off Lulu' and decided to get it sight unseen. I think I did a quick reality check to see what ratings were but otherwise I had no idea what to expect when this turned up.

Done by Lost Pages back in 2013. The back matter puts it very well - "Not traveling but cancelling distance instead. A supplement on portals and dimensional gates for any role-playing game system."

27 December 2020

d24: Things happening at night in the magical academy

This was another 'rapid encounter table generation' exercise. Prompt was a post on Reddit requesting random encounters inside the academy. Another good opportunity to test the Bellard tool for quickly boosting tables.

24 December 2020

Review: 2 Worm 2 Furious

tl:rd: a squirmy art explosion of a 0-level funnel with a great tension ratchet to have the players running to forestall the Age of the Doombringer Moth

I backed the Kickstarter for 2 Worm 2 Furious and it turned up.

As described in the Kickstarter it is a "deadly funnel that revolves around an ever mutating and evolving moth grub. You’ll want 4-6 players, 15-20 level 0 characters, as it’s a funnel, but it works for levels 1+" - but what turns up is an art explosion. The design and production are gorgeous with lots of strange and interesting art.

23 December 2020

Coping with book-goblinism (Pathfinder Humble Bundles)

tl:dr; RPGGeek helps to figure out what to look at first when dealing with massive humble bundles - wisdom of crowds says Paizo's best work is in there

At time of writing Humble Bundle has another Pathfinder 1e bundle this time on Monster Lore which will make the third Pathfinder bundle I have sprung for. This is pure book goblinism; I now have a digital drive at Paizo stuffed with unread Pathfinder PDFs and the challenge of figuring out what I even have.

22 December 2020

Review: Dark Roads & Golden Hells plus Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds

tl:dr; a solid planar guide in two parts, clear and readable with some good bits even for old planar hands.

I found out about this "sourcebook of planar adventure for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game" only recently and even more recently managed to get it printed along with Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds, a 25 page supplement.

(screen-grab of PDF covers)

20 December 2020

On D&D 6e the evolution of the game

There is an interesting view on Deathtrap Games on how "The Critters are the Future of D&D" - I think there is some meat here, worth looking into but if you want to skip the salty wrapper, start 5 paragraphs down.

First off, let us look at what is being discussed - a stream-lined, less lethal ruleset, with more super-heroic characters and a large penumbra of character-focused merch and services. I think as a whole it is a reasonable extrapolation of current trends and is a scenario worth teasing out a bit. I agree that a) it is unlikely to happen soon, that 5e has road ahead of it b) that should it happen it may occur as part of a fork to both keep the existing play base and cater to the new and c) if it happens, it will be after the stickiness of the new generation of gamers has been proven for a little longer.

But imagine this all comes off and we are in the bold new Deathtrap-6e space; what do we see? Short answer:
- a more character centric game, including portability to tie-in media
- a streamlined system
- lots and lots of merch
- adventures focussed on roleplay and guides how to run them

19 December 2020

Review: NOD Magazine #11 - Hell Crawl I

tl:dr; review of a hell-crawl and finding lots to use in place or inspire other campaigns.

A batch of NOD magazines came fresh from Lulu.com (praise be the discount code) including the first of the Hell Crawl issues that I have been pondering for a while. In the theme with my looking at various planar supplements, I wanted to see what it was like and I must say I have been pleased.

18 December 2020

Review: Ultraviolet Grasslands by Luka Rejec

tl:dr; UVG is great; run it as it is, steal its concepts for the betterment of other games, use it to get those odd books to the table. Tabletop duct tape.

Some time back I backed the UVG kickstarter and lo what loot turned up!

Snazzy dice! A stylish T-shirt!

17 December 2020

Campaign inspiration and spinning up settings

Continuing on the vein of 'what do I actually use at my table' I want to go through what seeds grew into the last three campaigns I ran - Hikuru (May-07 to Mar-09), Lizard Kingdoms (Nov-18 - Nov-19, on hiatus) and Ducal House also appearing here in tags as menagerie world (Mar-20, ongoing).

Each came of a different set of drivers, using a different world-building approach and a refinement towards better bang-for-buck in terms of DM effort. These were also the first 'blank slate' worlds I built after running a series of 'kitchen sink' campaigns since early teens which morphed and expanded as Dragon Magazines came in the door or Planescape products were acquired.

Today I will just talk about the first, Hikuru, which was driven by a mash-up impulse - coming after 3e Oriental Adventures and a couple of years of L5R I wanted to do something slightly different. I had played in a Birthright variant with an empire of elven, practically immortal, samurai. I needed something to replicate that and loved Brian Snoddys illustration of a Wang Liang. They had an Empire back in the day according to the bestiary - so this would be set in that day. Extremely long-lived giants with always-on telepathy seemed like a good building block for a globe spanning empire.

16 December 2020

Class, background preference link to player personality

After connecting with the team at Quickphix.ch who ran this TTRPH personality survey earlier this year I had a look at some of the outputs.

tl;dr: survey results comparing Big Five Personality Inventory with class and background preferences gives some hints on who likes to play what.

Reasons for coming to the table are pretty clear among the (N = 53) group of respondents: socialising, getting immersed in the world and being creative. A second 'tier' of drivers include system mastery and the thrill of risk.

15 December 2020

Actual play: Kobolds Art Exhibition part II - adventures in paintings

Following up on the previous post about playing the Kobolds Art Exhibition zine.

Our party - children of the rulers of the realm - found the Kobolds in the sealed up basements of their family palace as the dying Duke tasked them with reopening things. After a first encounter where the party reopened and defeated the guardians before a masterpiece, the party returns with the Lady of the House while price negotiations for the masterpiece happens. As the Curator and the Lady of the House negotiate the party is pulled aside by one of the junior kobolds. In pidgin draconic they convey that there are kobolds lost in a painting that they need help to recover and the party agrees to help.

13 December 2020

Review: Wormskin zines 1-8

Given the upcoming Dolmenwood kickstarter and the neat thematic fit with my menagerie world campaign I thought it would make sense to talk about the Wormskin zines.

tl:dr; these zines are the pieces to either run the setting or pull out selected cool sub-pieces to enhance your own home-brew or tailore the flavour of other settings. If you want to inject a little fae forest into your game - whether whimsical or fierce, the Wormskin zines are both tool-kit and toybox.

Screengrab of available Wormskin zines from Necrotic Gnome site

12 December 2020

Review: We Have Lost

A "small game, previously playtested by some at Warpcon" to quote the author Donogh McCarthy, this is a GM-less story game for 3-6 players. With art by Wayne O’Connor of whom I am a big fan.

Screenshot of We Have Lost Itch.io page with art by Wayne O'Connor

This is a 4 page game where all players are - were - companions of the Empress who has just died. Aspects of everyones character and the set-up are defined by choice from a list or vote and then the game itself is in remembering the Empress. Over a number of rounds you go about the table and each tells a tale of your times with the Empress.

What is very cool about this is the 'bennie' type mechanics - with red and black stones that trade hands depending on whether the tales told in a round move you in one direction or another. At the end the counts of those stones determine who gets to tell the definitive story of the Empress death and its aftermath.

With a page to set the context, a page to say who the players are, a page for the mechanics and a page for inspiration this is a taut, neat game that I will be giving a go at next opportunity. I think there is potentially a nice synergy with Microscope or a potentially a great place as a flash-back within a more classical campaign besides its potential as a fun one-shot game.

11 December 2020

Blog challenge: posts that improved my gaming

A CHALLENGE from Sundered Shillings off the the OSR Discord server: Hunt down the blog posts that have forever changed how you have run your games, prepped your games, done your game design, or is otherwise terribly significant or personal to you.

Some of these may be obvious but while they are fresh on my mind:

10 December 2020

Actual play: Wolpertinger, Were-rat ... Well

tl;dr - a great urban module to drop in with some nice on-ramps and trailing hooks; add it to any city you run.

I ran Wolpertinger, Wererat - Well! as an urban encounter within my house campaign. As of time of writing its a Gold seller on DriveThruRPG, rocking a 5 star rating.

The blurb goes "[t]his adventure is an unapologetically linear dungeon crawl [that] follows the three-pillar principle: combat, exploration, social interaction. The idea is to spice up the classic formula with varied challenges that result in a short, entertaining session. This makes this an excellent adventure for beginner players and DMs! Detailed support is provided for the DM in the form of roleplay advice for six completely fleshed out original NPCs, advice on the three pillars in each scene, and scenic sensory descriptions for every scene to make the adventure come to life."

* * * Spoilers Below! * * *

09 December 2020

Review: Creatures

I backed the Kickstarter for Creatures which billed itself as "Designed by the creators of Shadows of Esteren and Fateforge, Creatures is a love letter to fantasy bestiaries." Still waiting on the hard copy to arrive, I am going to talk through the draft document I have my hands on. Things may change, grain of salt etc.

tl;dr - nice product, a new angle on classic city and fantasy countrside plus a whole new steppe setting; I will be putting it to use.

First impressions on a flick through is that its gorgeous and exactly what I hoped it would be - one of those bestiary / setting combos similar to Veins of the Earth. The art is great, all tied together in a more 'pencils and watercolours of a real place' than the high fantasy standard of D&D main line products.

Screengrab of Creatures cover from the Kickstarter page

08 December 2020

Plot creation: lessons for DMs from 10 years of Nanowrimo

tl:dr - for games as for books, plots spring from characters running about under their own impetus

I completed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again this year which makes 10 years I have been doing it to varying levels of suces. Short version - 3 first drafts worth a damn, 4 I never finished, 3 that probably could be salvaged for parts. Maybe.

07 December 2020

Change in preference for D&D edition

This was done as a check on survey responses for D&D Research Wizards to see which of two survey blocks was more representative. Gathered in September and November 2020, it seems odd that the editions preference should be so different.

Short answer - more recent block B is more representative. First block A had a strangely high group of 3.5e respondents within it compared to the understanding of the general player population. Using Roll20 player data as reported by Orr Reports we can see the shift in preference for different editions over time. This also happened during a large increase in players on Roll20 so we need to verify this.

06 December 2020

Review: Thousand Thousand Islands

I went on a jag almost exactly a year ago, looking for RPG sources I would not normally pick up and followed the whisperings of something truly remarkable until I found the Thousand Thousand Islands. Then I ordered everything I could get my hands on.

Thousand Islands Zine bundle

05 December 2020


To quote the site "Pitch-black apocalyptic fantasy OSR RPG about miserable bastards doing their best/worst in a bleak, dying world." Its arrival has made such a seismic clang it reached as far as the Guardian.

I backed the kickstarter because it looked cool and I got a snootful of loot, see below.

Hailed as "the most dangerous tabletop role playing game" I love the tear off pad for character sheets - it is a beautiful detail to emphasis 'do not get too attached to your character, life is cheap'. The system is a great, stripped down d20 based one. The summary of the rules on the inside back cover fill an A5 double spread - everything you need can be printed on a single A4.

But whats it actually like? Well for me, gorgeous, evocative art and a great set up for 'everything you need in one book'. I suggest it would be tricky if it was the first ever RPG product you picked up as there is no 'what do I do with this' but for anyone with a basic handle on the past-time I think there are good lessons here for paring back a game to be all muscle and sinew, nothing wasted. A fast, mean, predator of a game.

The blacker than the blackest black ethos is one I am down for but my current table likes things slightly more genteel and less gruesome, so we are waiting until the Corona-times pass. I think it will be excellent for one shot, high-kinetic games and look forward to giving it a shot.

Even without playing is though I adore the up-welling of content around it and some of the resources to help Game Masters and Players navigate MÖRK BORG are really useful no matte what you play. I particularly love DNGN Maker which is a great location creator when you want an evocative dungeon in a hurry.

Should you want more infor - another review of this "dark and bloody pinnacle" on Gaming Trend.

02 December 2020

Results #1 from D&D Research Wizards

The Tabletop RPG Research Survey 2020 - 2021 Results Update #1 shows a first pass on results from their surveys - some interesting outputs and some verifications of things we might have expected.

The geographic balance of responses looks similar to other surveys - 96% from North America, Europe and Australia + New Zealand. It looks like a slightly stronger Europe response compared to other surveys seen and a lower response from the South America community (the Brazilian community appears abesent for whatever reason).

Looking at the European breakdown we see there is a lot of variation in the response from different countries between surveys. The UK is consistently the largest European presence in surveys but the variation between other countries shows an element of luck is involved in whether or not people respond - see the strong response from Germany and Ireland to this survey compared to others and lower response from Denmark. This suggests to me that the European scene is more atomised with pockets of the hobby existing with not so many interconnections.

The age profile of the respondents is in line with 'new generation' players - as confirmed by 92% playing 5e currently.

Very, very interesting to me is the response to the 3 pillars of TTRPG - combat remains flat across all age groups but the division between Roleplay vs Exploration is very strongly age dependent - this is super interesting - implying older gamers are in for the puzzles and the lore and younger ones are more interested in the chance to roleplay.

I am looking forward to seeing what outputs are gleaned from processing all the interviews.

01 December 2020

NPC motivations to meet player role-play preference

tl:dr - popularity of RP suggest more easy NPC motivator/goal generators would be handy.

The various polls that say that for ~50% of people, their favourite pillar of TTRPGS is roleplaying, ~33% is exploration / problem-solving and ~17% is combat imply that the arguments we hear about systems and editions of games are overly focused on their combat systems.

From this great list of "Ten Challenges I Love in Games" only 2 of 10 options are combat - 1 is fighting, 1 is evading. 3 are variations on cold 'problem-solving' which the players not their character need to solve and 5 are role-playing - more or less matching to survey responses.

The question I would pull out of this is what sources can we lean on to meet this apparent large chunk of the game? D&D carries a great deal of combat system with it - it did grow out of wargames after all. While 5e DMG has NPC ideals, bonds and flaws (pp90-91) and schemes and methods for villains (pp94-95) these are a little light for people who do not want to conquer the world. I like the NPC motivations dice-drop sheet from Rolang or you get 'instincts' and 'obligations' from this NPC generator tool.

My personal approach is to quickly get RP hooks for NPCs is to tag them to their daily activities if there is no over-riding plot hook and then use a factional or 'fronts' style approach. So I will know what 'petty nobles of the Duchy' or 'major craft guilds' or 'good-aligned temples' are generally doing and what this front thinks of various things so these can be subbed in for any given NPC. The party goals table in 5e DMG pp72-73 can be used to generate faction goals though these may be far removed from the aims of an individual NPC. If the minor nobility has a goal of 'hunting a specific monster' then perhaps it will be the topic of conversation at a ball or the obsession over who killed the larges one last season rather than a thing they are all actively doing just now. Once you have that hook, pp244-245 of 5e DMG has a framework for Social interaction assuming everyone starts at indifferent unless there is reason to say otherwise.

Personally I like the 5 steps of the old 3.5e NPC attitudes (pp72 in the 3.5e PHB) which adds unfriendly (between hostile and indifferent) and helpful above friendly. Particularly where weight is being put on role-play and potentially achieving goals without combat, I think this is a helpful increase in granularity. The table has detail but generally DC 15 for Charisma/Diplomacy can bump attitude a step, DC 25 to bump it two steps. The actions that correspond to the attitudes are a neat cheat sheet to help manage face to face encounters without having to think too much on 'what would this NPC be willing to do at this point'.

The other two dials I tend to use is a) how informed the NPC is so whether what they know is close to reality or filtered through fourth-hand tavern talk and b) how much they care about what is going on which will manifest as how intensely they react to things; will they argue their factions point or just shrug and ignore if someone tries to needle them. I have not formalised this as a table, but I tend to block is as a d20 with 1-5 as 'low' 6-15 as 'medium' and 16-20 as 'high' whether that is information or engagement.

Going deeper on all this, I think sources from writing that discuss personality conflicts could be a useful addition to reading lists as sources to loot for NPC drivers and motivations.