29 December 2021

Year In Review 2021

So 2021 has been a year with a bunch of milestones in it.

I turned 40, got this very neat sketch to commemorate the occasion by the bard in my home campaign.

27 December 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #48

Links for the last week of 2021! More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

5 More Stupid yet Robust Games for Video Calls on Coins and Scrolls

d4 Caltrops has a great d100 Random Rules & Rulings

A thousand gods by Odd Skull.

'Write Adventures to fit their Worlds': Setting specific adventure writing by Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet

Where the Chaos Thing Fell by From the Sorcerers Skull - demonic whalefall, a great planar site.

Bayeaux Tapestry meme generator - lots of potential here!

Whose Measure God Could Not Take gives us The Holiday One-Shot

OSR News Roundup for 12.20.21 - by Third Kingdom Games - everything that is not blogs in the scene.

Who's the New Guy Anyway? d20 Answers for OSR Games by Axian Spice - when you need to add another body to the party.

Knight at the Opera considers the Underdark in Subterranean Thoughts

25 December 2021

Building a bubble around the table

This is a repeat of a piece I wrote in ~ 2007 for Irish gaming blog Direweasel, now lost to bit-rot. I am putting it up here as a good round up of what I look for in a game, regardless of system, whether I play or run it.

I think the best place to start is to lay out where I am coming from - what kind of games I have played, what worked and what did not. I should probably focus on my area of expertise which is that I am a low-system Planescape GM and an Illuminati University (IOU) GM.

I think IOU forms the epitome of 'my style' because it is at it's core adapted bullshit sessions. I'm going to take it apart a little to show you where it came from and how it has just run and run periodically since. The very first game was run over Christmas 2001, four of us were parked in someones apartment late and night and I can't remember how exactly it got started but it did - we pulled majors in Intergalactic Sexual Heroism, Kinetic Physics and Sorcery out of the ether and all of a sudden bizarre fraternities, sororities, dissertation topics, familiars, lab experiments and traditions just sprang into being over the course of the night.

And then on another night I dragged everyone together, fed them full of coffee and again a story evolved, with the minimum of prodding from me.

22 December 2021

Review: The Kontext Spiel Collection

tl:dr; three light-weight free kriegspiel systems, a setting and lots of useful content generation tools in this compilation of tabletop goodness.

This is "a variety of resources for running freeform tabletop games" by Michael Raston of The Lizardman Diaries. Anyone who has tracked this blog for a while will have seen me plug Infinigrad and other pieces of genius scattered across the Lizardman Diaries blog. This book is a handy compilation with some of the best of those.

Bigger and slimmer than I expected - 56 pages of A4 in the soft cover I got off Lulu. The art is Michael Rastons trade mark out-of-copyright mashups. I respect the mans patience in searching up his source material and hacking it all together. A long time advocate of 'take your inspiration from an image', his works have always had a certain aesthetic that has tended towards the baroque in previous publications (A Blasphemous Roster being first to mind) but here I like how there is a clean seperation between the content and the tables making the crunch more accessible.

20 December 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #47

As we thunder towards the end of the year - more links! More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find still more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Continuing to point to the D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey which is still open. This years topics include: Covid-19's impact on TTRPGs, Education and TTRPGs, Online Play Behavior and Future Tech and TTRPGs. Some initial cuts of the data can be seen on their site.

An excellent "Maximalist Weird Fiction Nobleman Generator" from Grand Commodore.

Boot Hill and the Fear of Dice on highly dangerous systems by Chocolate Hammer.

Grumpy Wizard writes a good one in "What Is “The Game” of Dungeons & Dragons?"

Marcia’s Blog has Simulating Gygax's Stupid Economy

Some fun calculations from Wandering Gamist on ACKS Budget Dungeons: The Wages of Wizardry - how big a dungeon is your mad mage building on his budget?

Really cool set of D&D Flavor Generators by u/seriousd6

Some ultra-light mechanics ideas from Dare to DM

18 December 2021

On Stronghold Clearing & Reclamation

tl:dr; pulling apart a theme of 'taking over unoccupied castles' and managing realms above a parties level.

Working through my old campaigns I realise a strong motif that crops up again and again is the players at a low level get given the keys to some giant old fortress with mysterious locked up depths, residents of dubious loyalty and rumoured treasures. So far "sounds like a dungeon" you might say and true to a point. The key difference I have found to it all is that from day one the players nominally own everything they are working through and so are a lot more invested in not just smashing their way in and looting what can be easily carried away - they spend a lot more time and effort cleaning out and rehabilitating 'their' fortress.

Kraken Mesa, as appearing in chart if Styx flow through Gehenna

15 December 2021

Review: The Dungeon Dozen

tl:dr; 195 pages of d12 random tables to spice up any aspect of your fantasy RPG, stuffed with entertaining art and inspiration sparks.

I have been on a Lulu.com kick - the discounts show up in the OSR discord, how are you going to save money unless you buy some books? There are a fair few lists out there with recommended OSR fare to be had print-on-demand and The Dungeon Dozen - "Random Tables for Fantasy RPGs" by Jason Sholtis shows up on a lot of them near or at the top.

Fresh from Lulu, the Dungeon Dozen

So first impression is a funny one - I resisted purchasing this a while because I thought it was going to be a lot of ultra-crunchy tables adding more systems or other deeply esoteric bits of the rules. It is in fact a compilation of d12 tables from the Dungeon Dozen blog to randomly generate all sorts of fun and useful things. I probably should have done more research or at least trusted the buzz and picked this up an age ago. Given it came out in 2014, apologies, slow to the party.

13 December 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #46

Shiny TTRPG links gathered from across the internets. More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find still more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Continuing to point to the D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey which is still open. This years topics include: Covid-19's impact on TTRPGs, Education and TTRPGs, Online Play Behavior and Future Tech and TTRPGs. Some initial cuts of the data can be seen on their site.

Daily Adventure Prompts has 'High Tea and Higher Treason' - a fun set up for intrigue.

Weaver.skepti.ch on introducing a new generation to Fighting Fantasy

The latest series from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry on Fortifications is great (3 parts so far).

Knight at the Opera writes A Thorough Look at Skill Challenges ranging across D&D editions and other RPG systems.

Building Bhakashal - Finding Holes in Plot Armor - a great discussion of game mechanics to deliver specific effects.

The Commoner's Stat Array, or 'That's not how averages work!' by u/EgoIsTheMindKiller.

Some nice thinking from Alchemist Nocturne on Why OSR - highlighting the adventure-generating engine that drives OSR games.

11 December 2021

Actual Test: World, Climate and Globe Mapping Tools

tl;dr: testing online tools for generating world maps then simulating the climate.

I stumbled across a piece of paper, scribbled with notes that make up a hard-core world-building workflow I got from a guy at an Adventurers League in the before-times. I pass on the steps and hope this might bring joy to those among us who like super-crunchy world-building.

First step is to generate a random height map. For this we use the Planet Map Generator. There are a few sliders you can play with here but what you need for the next step is to generate a greyscale height map in Mercator projection. Adding a coastline contour will allow you to track the 'normal' coastline as you fiddle with water levels later.

Next you generate a map with "Make map" then right-click, save-as to get your grey-scale height map.

08 December 2021

Review: Worlds Without Number

tl;dr: amazing world building tools packaged with a simplified D&D style system in a gorgeous chunky hardback.

I picked up Worlds Without Number after backing the kickstarter. The buzz across the OSR around the generation mechanisms in Stars Without Number convinced me that the fantasy equivalent would be right up my alley and I was not wrong in that assumption. Hugely impressed with the generators in this; I really liked how it is both 'create from scratch' and also 'embellish the skeleton you came up with yourself'. The two key blocks I see being useful to anyone whether they actually run WWN themselves are the adventure creation parts - as mentioned - and all the faction building pieces which can create friends, enemies and fronts in play in the world to drive further adventure!

Worlds Without Number, cover art by Jeff Brown

So what have we got in here? This is a giant tome with ~30% system, a setting (20%) and game mastering tools (50%) included. The book shows throughout the level of polish that I would associate with an extensively table-tested system - there are great 'teaching' pieces in here like the 2 page 'summary of character creation' that has an annotated character sheet laying out what everything is. Production quality is good, my copy turned up in good order and while I haven't put heavy use on it yet I'm happy with the feel of it.

06 December 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #45

Shiny TTRPG links gathered from across the internets - a rich crop this week (because people had Thanksgiving to write?). More can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find still more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

For your coffee and biscuit moment this week - D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey is up with an interesting prize pool for participants - asking some questions about how we might play differently in coming years among other interesting points. They have posted good breakdowns from past years surveys.

Dungeons & Possums writes Some Black Friday 2021 Sales - a good roster of things you may want to pick up across all available channels when next your gold burns a hole in your pocket.

Goblin Punch writes the magnificent The Obliterat and the House Unheard - read the comments for more gems.

Review of Ford's Faeries by Weaver.skepti.ch

The Fantasy Artwork & Inspirational Works of P Craig Russell For Your Old School Campaigns by Swords & Stitchery

Grumpy Wizard on How Do Stories Emerge from Game Play?

Lost Atlas posts their stats on "What kinds of maps are Dungeon Masters searching for?"

04 December 2021

Data driven Appendix P: 3xd100 NPC party generation tables

tl;dr: NPC party generation tables to match what people are actually playing as PCs

Inspired by Appendix P of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide - for “Creating a Party on the Spur of the Moment” - as discussed by the Mystical Trash Heap just recently. This is a deep dive back to the question that started this blog in the first place - what if randomly encountered NPC parties reflected what players actually play, not what you can generate from the DMG.

So the following are some tables if you want to roll up a party of NPCs that reflect what you might expect to encounter, assuming a group of classed NPCs (reflecting the typical game table). If you want to roll up your own the following tables have 'Core' derived from D&D Beyond and 'Alternative' based on forum surveys. Typical table size is five.

01 December 2021

On DMs and Players as two communities

Knight at the Opera wrote an interesting post on how DM's and Players appear to him to be two communities, purchasing different products and consuming different media. I think the point on consuming different media - and especially frequenting different online spaces - may have something to it. The rest of this assumes you have read Dwiz's article, so perhaps grab a coffee and a biscuit and take a moment there.

Enjoyed it? Good.

29 November 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #44

A collection of interesting TTRPG pickings from across the internet - as recommended by the Grumpy Wizard. More Shiny TTRPG links can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find still more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Spriggan's Den writes The Forgotten Forgotten Realms on the 'grey box' more 'points of light' version of the setting.

For all your trippy AI generated fantasy illustrations - Wombo.art

The Secret Paths with d12 short-cuts + d12 problems from Elfmaids & Octopi

Lizardman Diaries has The Kontext Spiel Collection - "An omnibus of freeform writings! Five books in one! Weird fantasy to super heroes to skirmish battles! Not into fkr? Just use the many tables!" - and Lulu is 30% off just now.

Ally: Scroungerfriend, The Vulture Spririt and Settlement: Greenbank Caravansary from Daily Adventure Prompts.

Thriftomancer sets themselves a challenge to distill 5e to its most vital juices with Project Ampersand.

More Thin Desert Fauna: Dune Sirens on Red Berries for the Red Planet

There Are Two Bruces Inside of You - A Player's Creed by Glass Bird Games. A great touch-stone for telling the players what you want to see from them - avoiding the 'buttons on my sheet' approach.

The Two Worlds of RPGs by Knight at the Opera - on the social and materialist seperation between GM's and players.

Some great thinking on using prophecies in roleplaying games by Coppers and Boars.

Methods & Madness writes Inverse Ravenloft - a possible Feywild realm

27 November 2021

d6 Creeds of the Helltroopers

What kind of desperate, ruthless mercenaries sign on for the Blood War?

It is known throughout the lower planes that the yugoloths make up the lions share of mercenaries - effectively a third equivalent group to the demons and the devils that are for hire. The question is who are all the mortal mercenaries that join in? What could they possibly seek and what use can they serve in such a cataclysmic conflict?

I like Blood War mercenaries as an on-ramp to the Blood War itself. In their mockery of your plans, their casual pity as you say you plan to venture into the Gray Waste, the raucous offer to pay you back double after you both survive the battle - all these things can throw the scale and horror of the Blood War into relief before the players get there. The particular spin these mercenaries will have on the horrors of course depends on their own motivations for being there.

Assume there are some who are no more than fodder - tricked into serving, expected to survive no more than their first battle, their lives spent cheaply by their fiendish generals. This is not about them, their story ends after the first conflict. The ones I am interested in are the long haul veterans. The survivors - those who could be called blood war veterans. What role do they serve and what keeps them in the fight?

Generated with Wombo.art

24 November 2021

Attitudes of Lower Planar denizens

Setting up for a new Planescape campaign I was putting some thought into how to make the inhabitants of the Lower Planes feel different one from the other. There is already a good distinctiveness between the terrains of the different levels of the different planes and while it is fine if the devils, demons and daemons can feel similar wherever you run into them there should be something to differentiate the other planes.

This is an attempt to highlight the 'cardinal sins' of each of the Lower Planes to try and help make them feel different. There are a couple of places where there are similarities in terrain - floating lumps of hostile terrain in the darkness could be Acheron, Gehenna or Carceri - and so the attitudes of the inhabitants should make things distinct.

Icons from map of Outer Planes by Rob "Lazz" Lazzaretti

The lens I am taking here is that each of the planes has a over-arching bad vibe - not to say that it lacks all the others, just that in each place there is something that stands out.

Going plane by plane:

22 November 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #43

A collection of interesting TTRPG pickings from across the internet. More Shiny TTRPG links can be found on the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find still more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Ashzealot writes a chunky post on Order and Chaos: a Physics Approach, a "personal interpretation of the original alignment axle" that sparked lots of discussions over the week.

Liches get stitches gives us mechanics for combat of the soul in Staring Contests

Cavegirl writes an interesting piece on 'Fuck Balance' and how mechanically unbalanced can be fun at the table.

Sorcerers Skull writes Everyone Comes to Sigil - on more ways to draw adventure from this multiversal neutral zone.

FOMORIANS (the Fhoi Myore from the Chronicles of Corum) on Shuttered Room.

Weaver.skepti.ch writes Exquisite Corpse - on randomly generating random tables around the table. Intriguing concept.

Human Non-Universals, or: Make Your Own Vancian Culture (tm) on Monsters and Manuals - really interesting flow and tables to cook up a culture.

An Alternative Take on Necromancy from The Orc Rehabilitation Commission, where the dead are cheap labour, first and foremost.

Eighth Eye writes up their houserules for carousing-for-XP in When It's Time to Party, We Will Always Party Hard

The XP Bowl and XP Bubbles - very interesting thoughts on an XP awards and rituals at table on Prismatic Wasteland.

World Building and Woolgathering writes The Rest of All Possible Worlds: The Anti-Grimoirean Thesis - describing the wave of consequence when "how magic works" changes

B'gutym, the Land of Grass and Stones, Vol II -- A Thousand Thousand(er) Islands Part I continues additional ATTI content on Box Full of Boxes.

Grumpy Wizard writes What is This Magic Sword For? - recognising that the sheer effort required for a magical sword implies someone had a point when they made it.

20 November 2021

This living rock, my brother - alternate dwarf culture: brazen dwarves

Dwarves are famous as iron workers but bronze is arguably the superior metal, iron is just more abundant and easier to work. Brazen dwarves are a convergent evolutionary species that occupies the same niche as common dwarves on other worlds.

The key aspects of the brazen dwarves
- non-standard senses and perceptions
- aesthetics of the living rock
- corporate city states with archives of secrets and ablative kings

17 November 2021

Review: Lorefinder

tl:dr; a great guide to modding D&D with GUMSHOE investigation systems to beef up non-combat. Written for Pathfinder, easy to mod for other editions.

I have heard good things about GUMSHOE and its focus on investigative games - especially on fixing the risk in standard D&D scenarios of 'everyone fails their rolls, you all miss the clue' which runs the scenario aground and requires the big railroading stick to be produced by the DM to get things moving again. Lorefinder in particular crossed my path as 'what you can use to play through the deep archive of Pathfinder adventure paths without having to go so deep into Pathfinder deep combat crunch. Combined that with the strong investigative tilt that some recent home campaigns took and I thought perhaps time to check out these new tools for fit.

Lorefinder cover by Christ Huth

I experienced this as getting the pdf and then printing a black and white copy so my view on the art, presentation is skewed. Overall its a slim line book packed full of useful content. So what are those contents?

15 November 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #42

The links that are the answer to life, the universe and everything. For more Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque creates "The Cult of the Rotmaiden" for Ravenloft but useable as scary druids anywhere.

Weaver.skepti.ch looks at Empire of the Deceased Sun a 'pico' game and setting in mythic Japan.

Alone in the Labyrinth pulls apart Ulysses 31 as an inspiration for OSR-in-space!

Alone in the Labyrinth writes "Generic Adventure Game: HIT PROTECTION & HIT DICE" - looking at mechanics for what happens at 0hp.

Kobolds from Pocketss - good example of what the kobolds are up to when you encounter them.

13 November 2021

Campaign Concept - Great Planar Scavenger Hunt

tl;dr: a campaign set up for touring the planes with a drop-in, drop-out table

Starting from a place where:
- opportunities to travel the stranger corners of the planes are limited - see the gaps in available adventures set on the planes
- planar exploration takes a distant back foot to rocking up and murdering the locals

I want a campaign skeleton that lets me delve into all the varied corners of the planes. I need a universal socket to support whatever planar one-shots I could come up with and after thinking for a bit what I arrived at this. We draw on two pieces of background inspiration - low background steel and the familicide spell from Order of the Stick.

How do those fit together? Glad you asked; our pitch:
Many elven populations are tied to a world tree in the deep woods of Arvandor on the plane of Arborea; each tree acting as anchor for all the souls of a particular world. When they die, this tie guides them to their rest. Long, long ago there was a world that was attacked during the Unhuman wars and devoured by a witchlight marauder. Some elves escaped that disaster long ago but are still tied to that tree of their now dead and barren world.

Recently, an elf became a problem for someone. That person consulted an oracle who told them - 'kill this tree and your foe will perish'. This was true but the unintended consequences are that all descendents of any elf from that world will also sicken and die.

The inhabitants of Arvandor realised what was happening and while the original tree is past saving, there is still time to transfer the soul anchor if another tree can be found from that world. Thus the task - help is needed to find wood that was taken off world before the world was destroyed. From fragments of wood, a new shoot can be encouraged but it needs to be found, scattered wherever across the Planes.

This is the pitch - each session would be the available heroes, mercenaries and adventurers being dispatched after a lead on a remaining fragment of wood. The cast could rotate. Difficulties could be tuned session on session for those available, assuming the desperate elves are spread very thin and using the minimum capabilities they can for every hunt to seek in as many locations as possible.

10 November 2021

What edition did you start with?

Matt Colville got a monstrous 12k response to "Which was the first edition of D&D you played?" so I swept up some comparable surveys to see if things had changed over time. Short answer, all is confusion and I think the answer depends on where you ask the question. Data is in table at bottom of page.

There were a couple of interesting things to read in all this:
That almost half of the respondents to the 2021 survey have started since 5e appeared ~6 years ago.
Apart from just before 5e dropped (2014), 4e never appears as the main on-ramp for players.
Just as 4e came out (2009) apparently the people playing had mostly started with 1e/2e.
The OSR Gateway people were only half actual old-school (pre-3e) players - the rest started with 3e/PF or later editions.

To me the only point that could be taken as 'confirmed' from all of these is that 4e brought a low fraction of todays players to the table. Most other surveys show closer to ~2/3 of players started playing with 3e/Pathfinder or an earlier edition.

08 November 2021

Shiny TTRPG links #41

More links for the link-god - and if this is not enough Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Monsters and Manuals writes on the importance of "The Consolidation Session" in long haul campaigns.

Awesome piece on False Machine about making settings Feel Big.

Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet writes Dancing Woods: a rules agnostic adventure location with D10 Landmarks and D10 Residents.

A Banking Wizard - a fun GLoG class in the service of Dragon Banks by Numbers Aren't Real

Some cool thoughts on fantasy languages in "Languages of Pb" by Sundered Shields and Silver Shillings

Elfmaids & Octopi had some reading time and we benefit from a bunch of mini-reviews!

06 November 2021

On running large open table games

tl;dr: large open tables have their own rules, needing more viking-hat* DM-ing and a focus on pace to keep the show moving.

On request from friends of the blog The Adventuring Party these are my notes on running large open tables. For background, while talking about Gygaxian tables with a large, rotating cast Savage, co-host of the Adventuring Party, mentioned the 'regular game with an irregular cast' that I used to run. As mentioned, we were never sure who would show up and sometimes it ran as seperate groups, depending on who was there when. Eventually my regular home game became a subset of that open table group but there were still irregular adventures run with the rest of the group as available over years. Nowadays we might call it an overly elongated funnel - a bunch of randomly generated characters thrown into hazard together until eventually out the far side a group of unlikely companions emerges.

Roster of open-table regulars, circa 1997

The key point made in the description, that I want to dive into here is the question of whether there were any formal systems for managing all these players and their PCs - short answer no. The following are my lessons learned from running big tables - the key difference to standard (~6 or less) tables is you need to be extra sensitive to keep momentum up and make sure that everyone has something to do.

03 November 2021

Checking demand for high level adventures from surveys

tl:dr; I tried to verify/disprove the graph of campaign levels from D&D Beyond against other surveys - looks like there is more high level play than implied by D&D Beyond and potential demand for Tier III, Tier IV modules.

A discussion of how much high level D&D play is out there was raised on twitter with the point that this chart below from D&D Beyond is probably under-representing high level play. Conversation was started with "There is a difference between saying "high level adventures don't sell, so we don't make them" and "people don't play high level, so we won't make rules for it." by MT Black and one response was that "people use D&D Beyond for purposes other than maintaining a character they're actively playing, which biases the data." by Justin Alexander.

01 November 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #40

40 weeks of sweeping up the finest of links from the TTRPG blog-o-sphere and beyond. If want even more Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR. I hope to return with more links next week.

Improved Initiative has some interesting thoughts in "Orcs, Vikings, and Bias Within Survivor Narratives" on perception of cultures and peoples springing from the part most others interact with

"We need to craft more third party modules for small games." - a rallying cry on Le Chaudron Chromatique

Something Something Dice gives us a bunch of "Strongholds by any other name" - interesting structures to host your dungeons or fill your hexes.

d66 Classless Kobolds writes Faction Procedures + Dolmenwood Example

30 October 2021

Campaign spin up III: session zero in action

tl;dr: saving time world-building and getting fast player buy in with a focused session zero.

After my previous home campaign stalled out, a player came to me and asked me to set up a game for them and two friends of theirs. This was the first time where I had not had a campaign in mind first and shopped for players after so I decided to try something new.

Player 1 had played my previous home campaign, player 2 had heard about D&D through podcasts and was keen to try, player 3 was completely new to things. I decided to tune my usual approach to fold in some of the 'session zero best practices' I had read about on various blogs. Ahead of running anything I set up time to get everyone together; we booked a couple of hours and met in a local bar for a session zero.

The key pieces for the session were:
1. Why are you all together as a group?
2. What is the tone of the game you want to play in?
3. Who are you - character gen - and what impression do others have of you?
4. What are things you want to see in the campaign, what do you not want to see?

27 October 2021

Where are gamers today? (FB5e group)

The D&D 5e Facebook group published some data on where its members were I found curious and I wondered just how concentrated we all are geographically - short answer; there are definite strongholds of the game and they are mostly in North America with Australian a surprise rising second focus.

In 2017 the top 20 cities accounted for ~10% of the members of the Facebook group - 13 in the US, 3 in Canada, 2 in Australia, 1 in the UK and 1 in Bangladesh. For 2020 we only got the top 5 but it had changed to 2 in the US and 3 in Australia.

City Rank 2017 Rank 2018 Rank 2020 Pop. 2020
New York City 1 4 1 8283550
Melbourne >20 19 2 4967733
Sydney 18 6 3 4925987
Brisbane 5 >20 4 2406182
Los Angeles 3 5 5 3981560
London 2 12 > 5 9304016
Chicago 4 2 > 5 2686530
Toronto 6 3 > 5 6196731
Seattle 9 1 > 5 765115

There appears to be a strong tie between population and placing on these ratings but I think it is interesting to call out three cities in particular - Seattle, Chicago and Brisbane which seem to be showing a high level of activity for their size.

This is in-line with what has been seen in many surveys. It appears to be stable that ~3/4 of D&D is played in North America. These surveys are anglophone so unsurprising that the major cities are in English speaking countries. The strong presence of Australian cities is somewhat surprising, with some indications the game might be growing faster there than elsewhere if we look at how Sydney and Melbourne have risen since 2017.


Facebook D&D 5e group 2020 demographics
Facebook D&D 5e group 2017 demographics
ENWorld poll
Meetup.com TTRPG groups
Twitter D&D Demographic Survey
D&D Research Wizards Update #1
r/DnD Demographics

25 October 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #39

We return to our usual service with the finest of links from the internet of late. For more Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR. I hope to return with more links next week.

Campaign Mastery writes "Teasers Of History and Other Tips" on how "Monumental structures impacted by History are the best representations of the existence of that History" and showing not telling deep time in your campaign.

Welcome to the Deathtrap writes "Planning for a Mystery or Exploration - Driven Campaign" that strongly aligns with my own process except I would tyoically have a much rougher hand sketched map.

A Sense of History on Merrics Musings on drawing from the messiness of history in setting up your games.

Improved Initiative makes a great point about Using Epithets to Help Players Keep Track of Your Setting

23 October 2021

Hidden Depths of Thenya Palace - Actual Test for 24 hours

Testing a Hidden Depths table for a site - here we take the Palace of Thenya with all the family and servants in residence. I have adopted some of the excellent design improvements from Weaver.skepti.ch and must also thank the mysterious stranger who ran up all the correct probabilities on AnyDice (tabulated at end of this post).

This is an active noble house with a bunch of odd nooks and crannies from generations of adventuring and family wizards. The entries below are all the mobile encounters that could happen, expanding on the entries above:

20 October 2021

Review: Wyrd Science #2

tl:dr; get this to know what's on, what's coming, what's good and who is up to interesting things in tabletop gaming.

I backed the kickstarter for this "magazine about RPGs, wargames, board games & the culture around them..." and it just arrived. Est. delivery was August so ~ 6 weeks late during the shipping apocalypse that is 2021 is pretty good going.

freshly arrived copy, cover art by Mat Pringle

I really like the chunky art-house feel of these magazines "thick un-coated stock" and I have a deep fondness for the particular printing smell of whatever set up they are using. I backed the first one, liked it enough that I came back for the second and am pleased to continue doing so. I think this magazine sits in a niche that seems to be a peculiarly East-side of the Atlantic one - where it assumes an omniverous gamer that is interested in lots of things. Compare this to Knock! which is the OSR blog-o-sphere in your hand or Arcadia which is monthly chunks of gameable content, this is covering more than just game reviews and actual plays but also the people putting it all together and what is coming down the pipeline. I see shadows of old Arcane magazine in here but that may be just me.

18 October 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #38

We return to our usual service with the finest of links from the internet of late. For more Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR. I hope to return with more links next week.

Throne of Salt brings "The Learned Elder Presents..." lineage of sophonts on this mudball known to its extant primates as Earth.

Bugbear Jingo put up their rules and campaign toolkit "a village a forest a dungeon a beast".

Coming late in life to TTRPGs - Stuart Watkinson writes "Bucket of Bolts: My Life as a Spaceship"

Dael Kingsmill does some great injury tables in "Hurting Your Players but Making it Fun"

Weaver.skept.ch has a piece that talks to how creating historical RPGs differ from fantasy RPGs.

Mazirian's Garden has a good piece on Using Landmarks in Wilderness Travel - further interesting discussion, refinements in the comments.

16 October 2021

State of the Blog (post #201)

tl:dr - doubled monthly blog views, got two 'catch fire' posts out, see ~1/3 of the views here come with signal-boosting in various places.

Strictly I was planning to do this for the #200 post but I was in hospital for the birth of my daughter, I hope you can understand the prioritisation call I made. I wanted to mark 200 posts with a stock-take of the blog. Last time I did this was Jan-2020 so we have 10 months of blogging behind us for this.

First, most obviously - we have our long baseline of pre-Oct 2020 that says a web-crawler a day will stumble in here. More than that is probably people. Second, there was some bizarre phenomenon over July-August where 100s of views a day were coming from Sweden, some sort of bot I believe. So I scrubbed those months by clipping any daily views over the long run average. Overall we see that a regular post schedule helped an initial hump up to ~1500 views a month but then more than that needs signal-boosting. I have no idea what happened to trigger the March ramp-up - maybe the flywheel of accruing twitter followers, posting to the r/OSR blogroll and so on just hit a threshold?

13 October 2021

Favoured foes to fight - survey responses

tl;dr: when in doubt, dragons, undead or other PHB humanoids will be preferred monsters.

I found seperate surveys asking the same 'what is your preferred foe' question and decided to compare them. There is a slight difference in that the Elderbrain survey allowed up to 5 votes per respondent while the Twitter one had a single choice each. On average the Elderbrain respondents voted for 3.7 preferred monster types. Even with this effect smoothing out the peaks by allowing 2nd, 3rd and 4th choice monsters to get votes, the most popular foes to fight are clear.

The broad trend of preference is similar between the two graphs - taking the twitter demographics as primary since it has higher sample size (4021) and only a single preference each, we can see the Elderbrain survey broadly agrees with some interesting differences.

The top 3 of PHB humanoids, undead and dragons are clear favourites. Of the next 5 favourite, the good show for beasts, fiends, Monster Manual humanoids and monstrosities suggests a lot of second and third preference votes going to these. At the bottom of the chart, the poor showing for Underdark creatures and lycanthropes when respondents have only a single favourite to choose suggests all those other votes are second preferences at best.

11 October 2021

Gap in the Shiny List

Have been off grid so unable to wander the net as usual. For Shiny TTRPG links see the previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR. I hope to return with more links next week.

09 October 2021

Collecting dice fudging surveys

I dug around to see if there were more polls on fudging dice on the internet and roughly, looks like 1 in 5 think its not ok, a share that has been stable for the past decade.

This was set off by a significant level of salt kicked up on twitter by someone declaring they fudged things as a DM. There has been a great deal of internet ink spilled on this topic and I do not propose to add to it beyond saying it looks like attitudes are relatively stable.

06 October 2021

NPC mannerisms: d66 animal-folk attitudes

tl;dr: for quick and easy animal-folk cultures watch nature videos or try the d66 table below

Sparked by a twitter poll by Macca the DM asking "Do you include anthropomorphic animals in your #ttrpg games?" I was surprised to see such support for animal-folk. At a first guess, I would have said 'Yes' and 'Only RAW' would be switched.

As alluded to when answering Vayras setting questions I both use a lot of animal-folk in my home campaign and am conscious of the risk of them feeling like 'humans with different heads'. My home game is a menagerie world with 73 species/ancestries rocking about the main city combined from d50 fantasy races from Skerples and the race-oids from Lizardman Diaries Infinigrad, the Endless City and most NPCs are randomly determined unless it is plot-critical (the elven ambassador is going to be an elf).

The oracular dice had established certain groups as dominant within the city when it was first created and then those were run into most as the player interacted with some districts more than others. I recently pinged my players to see if any of the groups had been encountered frequently enough that an impressions of 'what this bunch are like' had stuck. The response was 'partial' as not many of the groups had been encountered sufficiently often for patterns to be established and for some, other factors beyond their personal heritage drove their identity.

04 October 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #37

Starting Q3 with more links! Previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

This week we had an outbreak of collecting DM-ing wisdom in the "cheap DM tricks" series:
Phlox, the originator.
Cosmic Orrery
Eldritch Fields
Sundered Shillings
Colours of Pentagram
Modron RPGs

To complement those cheap tricks - the dearly bought wisdom on Orbital Crypt of "Marching Back East: Lessons Learned from Running an Open Table Game". Get coffee and a biscuit for this quality long read.

02 October 2021

Hidden Depths table - (6d4, 4d6, 3d8, 2d12, d4+d20)

I had an idea for an 'unlockable' encounter table by switching the dice rolled on it. This could also serve as some sort of chaos index. The key point is that a 2-24 table can be rolled with a bunch of different dice combos from the standard set 6d4, 4d6, 3d8, 2d12, d4+d20. Starting with 6d4, you could mostly access the core of the table, with a low chance of the edges, then as things get weirder, deeper, whatever, you change to fewer bigger dice and more of the table becomes probable.

Turning that into a table and heat mapping it we can see the table broadening from ~ 11 probable entries using 6d4 to ~22 using d4 + d20. As well as the entries brought in by reducing the dice count and the minimum possible number, there are entries where the probability changes to make them appearing more likely. Most of the 'unlocked' part of the table is towards the lower end of the scale, hence 'hidden depths' as my working name for this type of thing.

29 September 2021

High-speed hex-crawling - exploring with flyers

There are lots of good resources out there for the basics of hex-crawling. Do they still work when your players get a sudden boost of mobility?

In my case it was a flying skiff, perhaps it is seven-league boots, winged steeds, some sort of astral coach - anything that allows them to rapidly traverse the landscape. Note, this is not about 'point-to-point' things like teleports or portals, for those you can just use standard hex-crawl before and after the 'jump'.

In my home game the players assembled a flying skiff out of a number of things and set off into the north west of their realms on a quest. The practical challenge here is that at any significant height, visibility ranges are greatly extended so in theory the players can see everything in all the hexes around them. From own experience with light aircraft, yes, big terrain features can be broadly identified and you can rapidly get a sense of where those mountains, that desert, the coast is. But rivers can be hard to track and you can rapidly lose sight of anything smaller than a large metro area. Unless the party is taking the time to travel for optimum reconnaissance, I would say what they spot is tied to what they happen to cross over, through or by.

Practically this means you can retain a relatively low 'thing per hex' set up and it makes sense.

27 September 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #36

Previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Lots of good stuff in Knight at the Operas write up of "Model United Nations: the Most Popular FKR Game" and thoughts on "Iterative Design".

Orbital Crypt talks character creation and how sub-optimal char-gen (for newbies) in D&D and its descendents have left folk scalded on the concept of picking up new systems

Sidney Three Nine Three writes a good thread on information flow in games

Skerples has OSR: Baboons, Goblins, and Bicameral Kobolds - "Really interesting fights tend to have three or more sides. In the absence of any other options, one side suitably disinhibited monsters can easily become two sides."

EldritchMouse writes Ladder Tables Or, A Random Table With A Memory

In Tomb for the Soul weaver.skepti.ch looks at RPG as inheritors of an ancient trend in escapism.

25 September 2021

D&D campaign share on Roll20 dips: 5e under 50%

tl;dr: new Orr Report on Roll20 stats shows D&D 5e share of campaigns dipping in favour of Call of Cthulu, others.

The new Orr Group report for Q2 2021 has dropped and I chucked the numbers into my big sheet and saw some interesting trends. Note, the numbers quoted on the blog post that accompanies the report do not match the numbers in the report itself. For the purposes of this exercise I am going to compare just the numbers in the report to the numbers in previous reports and not try to figure out why their own article is different. Given that and looking at all the reports since 2019 we see what is beginning to look like a sustained fade in D&D 5e share of campaigns.

Of course this is coupled with a ramp up in players from ~ 5 million to more than 8 million over the same time.

22 September 2021

Review: Midgard Campaign Setting

tl;dr - dark fantasy campaign setting with great coiled narrative springs and lots of adventure hooks

I grabbed this as part of the 'DriveThruRPG hiking their colour printing rates' rush - mostly driven by the fact that I liked the look of the Southlands book, liked the general vibe of Kobold Press and figured I would give their core setting a look. In all I am coming at this setting line completely backwards - I bought and reviewed Dark Roads & Golden Hells, the planar supplement for this setting a while back. I backed the Southlands kickstarter, and now finally I pick up the setting core book. At a chunky 300 pages, I am quite content with what I got and it still stands up to this haphazard approach of mine.

First impressions is this is a big block setting book, even though just 20% bigger than a 5e hardcover like Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica it feels a lot thicker due to the paper quality. Art throughout is nice, varied but coherent with nice page border design that looks good without being overly busy or intrusive as you read through it. Primarily written as Pathfinder compatible, there is also a section on using it with the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system. I picked it up with a view to using it at 3.5e or 5e tables and am finding plenty to use in the fluff alone.

20 September 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #35

Previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

A review of Gardens of Ynn - after 3 full uses of the module at different tables.

D&D Monster Reaction Charts Compared on Leon Atkinsons blog.

A digest of "Unexpectedly powerful lessons I learned from MasterClass and applied to GMing" by u/retrolleum.

18 September 2021

D.I.O: Alternate Avernus Campaign

tl;dr: sketching out the Blood War centred campaign I wanted Descent into Avernus to be.

Jolted by this Do It Ourselves rallying cry by the Grumpy Wizard I was thinking of something that annoyed me for a bit. Effectively this is the same effect as when you see a trailer and anticipate a certain amazing movie - and then you don't get that (maybe the movie was good or bad, but it wasn't what you envisioned).

I got that same thing with Descent into Avernus. I have been tracking along the Avernus: Remixed series on Alexandrian and I feel entirely justified in my initial 'huh' reaction to DiA. As an old Planescaper I feel the forces of Hell should get more respect. Either they are a creditable threat to the multiverse are they aren't. To me the whole scale of Descent into Avernus felt wrong - that a single city on a single Prime planet could attract notice of the Archduke essentially running the Blood War felt off.

But to follow the Grumpy Wizards direction, enough wailing, time to rub some dirt on it and go get it fixed.

15 September 2021

Better Opposition - d4 Effective Organisation Types

tl;dr: some templates for organisations let you know quick strengths and weaknesses for effective groups.

Inspired by the freely-available thinking of a well known real world organisation that identifies the 'key ingredient' practices that make up various recipes for success. We can grab these archetypes for effective organisations and use them for villains or heroes depending on your needs. It gives us some ready-to-go bones that we can throw a skin over as appropriate for the organisation.

The four key archetypes are:
1. Leadership driven
2. Goal focused
3. Masters of their Craft
4. Team of Heroes

13 September 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #34

Previous list found here. The original inspiration for all of this - weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Lizardman Diaries, one of my favourite random table creators, talks about their methods for creating random tables/generators.

Random encounters, wandering monsters and intentions on Donnut Valley I would definitely agree that part of the point of having a DM at the table is to shape the outputs from a random encounter list into the thing that makes sense in the context as opposed to 'suddenly, aboleth' just because it was on the table.

Collaborative world building for your table: Factions and the follow up how-to workflow on Hopeful Wierd Wonder blog - the workflow is a go-to for how to 'ride the avalanche' of managing player input into your world-building.

Why So Brutal? on jdmcdonnell.com talks about the different weight of character death in early D&D and how it mattered less in the style of game they played. A useful perspective.

Blood, Death, Satan & Metal talks about Quick Combat: Redshirts and the Save Versus Death - some nice crunching to get a rapid 'save on a d6' for massed combat. I like it.

A genius idea on Reddit from the DM for the Gutless Unkempt - they call them level up speeches, I used to do something similar in background vignettes - but I love the way they are used here as markers for leveling up.

This is a great post on radical transparency at the table - the list of things delegated from DM to players is gold for 'non-critical tasks' - I would say it goes a level beyond what I would consider but in my sliding of items (narration) back from the delegation pile, I am positively acknowledging that is part of my playstyle. I might set a different threshold for when when to risk breaking world immersion to say you fumbled something but I acknowledge the continuum.

Two interesting posts on Weaver.skepti.ch this week - first a translation of Comment devenir un Mentat (originally published 2013-05-06) by retired Colonel Michel Goya with a fascinating view on how military expertise is built - great for saying where your battle-winning NPC's are coming from. Second is a piece on the different reactions to (mock) combat setbacks by LARPers and reenactors.

11 September 2021

Locations and terrain as puzzles

tl;dr: On places as puzzles and setting your players on problems where you don't know the answer

This talks through how I cobble together and then use locations using an recent session example. I have less 'big set piece combats' and more 'forces loose in a place' model.

The location.

I needed something cool for the end of a hunt. I knew it was a dwarven location, high in the mountains, where a physically large artefact could have gotten lost. I had been thinking it was a shattered dwarven ruin until I got Sly Flourish's Fantastic Adventures in a sale. It had the Dam of the Beselmir Kings in it. This also featured in an article on his blog that I loved about adapting Storm Kings Thunder. I loved the aesthetic of the dwarven heads pouring water out as beards, so I wanted to try and use that.

For the set up I mashed together the sub-locations from "The Dam of the Besilmer Kings" for Storm Kings Thunder with the "Queen of Red Water" in Fantastic Adventures. That gave me a dam, with lots of internal locations and gubbins, under assault by giants. I set out the locations within and around the dam in a point-crawl format so I knew how they related to each other and that was it for prep. The main modification I made was to have three water-spouting heads on the dam instead of four.

08 September 2021

Not just simply evil

To frame this all up - here is my 'philosophy of D&D alignment'. The internet being what it is, let me first state that what you read below is my view. You run your table in a way that works for your table. What I am talking to here is what I have come up with from my time running tables, in particular Planescape games, to make things make sense.

I come to this from reading the online discussions that build off the premise of some sentient races being essentially evil. I find myself looking through a window into a variant of the game that I do not recognise at all. The idea that you just plough into other sentients without accounting for why they are doing what they are doing makes no sense to me and never did. I could happily play Heroquest (kick in the door, kill 'em all) but as soon as I had a copy of the old black box, I was trying to figure out the why's of the dungeons. Someone had to be eating something, the water had to come from somewhere. Things had to make sense. Similarly, if there were things living down here, unless they were oozes or the undead or some sort of magical construct, there had to be some sort of sense to their actions.

For as long as I have been running games I thought it was unfair to the players to have the opposition, who ever it was, just be randomly doing things. Without a driving motivation the players could figure out there was no way for them to outsmart the foe. If the goblins are scouting for food, bribe them to your side with rations. Maybe something is so aggressive they will be unflinchingly hostile - the ogre is going to attack immediately if you trespass in his territory - then you can work around that by avoiding the ogres patch. You could also kite the ogre out of position if you *know* it will attack whomever it sees. The idea that sentient monsters are up to what they are up to because they are simply evil just seems a massive wasted opportunity.

04 September 2021

Breaking trail on the Great Ring - which planes need more adventures?

tl;dr: are people going to the same cardinal iconic planes because the adventures exist or because they prefer to go there?

As part of thinking about a potential new Planar campaign I had a notion about visiting the lesser known planes. I wanted to test whether the planes we hear less about are unpopular or just have less adventures available for them. To get an idea I looked at the Elderbrain survey and compared that to the numbers of adventures available for each of the planes on DrivethruRPG and DMsGuild.

First thought was - do people have a specific preference for where to go on their planar adventures? According to Elderbrain just over half do have a specific preference and of the rest ~1/10 don't like planar nonsense at all, ~1/3 are happy to walk the Great Ring to anywhere.

01 September 2021

Surveys check: are a majority of players new?

tl:dr; Asked 'whether a majority of D&D players are new?' - it appears not, but depending where you ask the question it might look like it.

I looked at a block of surveys going back to 2016 that asked how long people had been playing. We know that a lot of new people have joined the hobby with 5e and the question is whether so many people have joined that they now outnumber those still playing from all the previous years and editions. If this was true, then for all these surveys, we should see a majority of people who have joined since 2015 responding.

What we see is that for some groups there is indeed a majority of recently joined folk - the discord server for the DM Academy Reddit page which opened in 2020 was mostly populated by people new to the hobby, same with a 2020 Reddit survey - but both of those are rooted in Reddit. We do not see a similar effect on Facebook or Twitter-sourced polls. I would tentatively conclude this says the hobby is not yet a majority of recent joiners and still has a way to go to get there.

30 August 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #32

A short handful this week as I have been on the road and unable to do my usual deep trawl of the treasures of the web. Previous list found here. This week definitely check out the original inspiration for all of this - a ton of good links on weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links. You can find more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR.

Adventure Gaming without the Heads-Up Display on Alone in the Labyrinth.

This is great stuff from Methods and Madness - Easy worldbuilding with Pareto and Price - once you have some high level principles like these for setting out your realm you can turn to all your random generation tables and roll up whatever you like knowing it will still broadly fit in and make sense.

How to Grow Old in Tabletop RPGs on Alphastream

Dweller of the Forbidden City writes some good thoughts on PC death in Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls... Roll the Dice!

To quote: "a revisionist history of #gamebooks from Awesome Lies, thank you very much."

Two cracking articles from weaver.skepti.ch this week - first Clinker Built or how there is lots of good fun to be had with D&D sea-faring that is more viking, less anachronistic Pirates of the Carribean. Second, on Dwarf Fortress's amazing world building engine.

28 August 2021

Actual Test: Wilderness Generator from Izirions Enchirdion of the West Marches

This is a review of the wilderness generator that came as part of Izirions Enchiridion of the West Marches that I backed on Kickstarter. I reviewed the DM's Screen and wilderness generator before and noted the wilderness generator in particular it was a lot of fun to play with.

I used it to map out a region around a city that had suddenly sprung into focus in my home campaign and it was remarkable how the cards managed to fall in line with the sketch of the region I had and then generated many more hooks and possibilities from their combinations.

25 August 2021

Review: Through Ultans Door #3 + Beneath The Moss Courts

tl:dr; the fabulous output of the Through Ultans Door #3 kickstarter brings more great locations, wierd afflictions, strange treasures and lots of scope for adventure in Immortal Zyan.

Here we have another of the fabled zines of the OSR, Through Ultans Door describes the dream-city of Immortal Zyan. I talked about issues #1 and #2 shortly before I backed the kickstarter for issue #3.

photo of newly arrived issue #3, showing cover art by Huargo