28 February 2021

Villainous friends: using Red Teams in your game

tl;dr: How-to notes on using red teams for campaign set up to create day zero motion in your world.

What are red teams and why bother? From a recent campaign start-up I enlisted some friends to take charge of some larger factions and power-players within the start region to create a sense of the world around them being in motion. These notes are expanded with advice from recent discussion on the discord of The Adventuring Party (thanks to Mr. E, evilrobotshane).

Three reasons to do this
- it gives an instant sense of the guiding intelligence behind the different factions: knowing the sea-devils currently eating coastal shipping are being run by Mary lets me rapidly guess how they are likely to react to intrusions from others - in this case with massive, immediate retaliation. If Charles had been in charge, the response would have been observation and later assassination to remove the nuisance.
- some of the factions offered to the pool of Red Team players were not picked up so in the game those factions had minor or disorganized leadership and were incapable of projecting power and influence beyond their own home turf.
- Red Team factions will be hard-nosed and play to win where you as a DM may be inclined to pull your punches or go easy on your players; this adds to the realism of the world.

In motion it resembles a slow play-by-email world building game.

26 February 2021

D12 full party mounts

Building out from some ideas in response to a reddit question on what would be awesome mounts for a party.

All of these are therefore 'full party mounts' - big enough that everyone can ride along on top.
1. A dinosaur mount, a small-to-medium sauropod; the bones are fossils and it is an animated object. Sitting on its vertebrae is a comfortable ride.

24 February 2021

Roleplay options for the party with no internal conflict

tl;dr: if you feel the players are missing opportunities to talk and role-play, you can give them either NPCs to talk to, choices to discuss or problems to solve with in-world clues.

Following up on some thoughts I had in response to a reddit post a while ago: "if the whole party is lawful good and they agree on the 'right thing', how to create situations that will result in more conversations and RP" because "they're always in agreement and this reduces RP especially for the quieter players".

Reading this as "how to create RP/conversational opportunities when there is no in-group conflict" my answer at the time was "give them puzzles and poor information and leave them to struggle against the world. No need for conflict within the party" but I would like to revisit and expand on this.

In my view there are three channels to bring conversation/RP opportunities to such a group:
- interactions with external parties
- internal character-to-character interactions
- collective discussions

22 February 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #5

Fifth weekly round up of interesting things this week to catalog interesting finds from each week. Last one found here. Inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Masterlist of ttrpg insider jokes - great round up of ancient lore, some of these were news even to me...

From friends of the house - old AURA gamers have More Kobolds!

21 February 2021

Actual Play - Social Depth Crawl

Actual play of how the 'party depth crawl' worked. Each paragraph after the second reflects a new roll on the table.

The players arrive in a swirl through the snow in the third best carriage; turning in front of the hosts manor - a set of houses that have been knocked together. Fire pans flare before the doors of the centre house and a canopy to keep the snow off welcomes the cousins. Other fine carriages are lined up ahead and behind them and bundled up servants scuttle out into the snows to welcome them.

Within the entry hall the servants take their cloaks, inform them that tonights revel will be a masquerade and direct them to one of a series of partitions made across the hall. Arrays of masks are available for the choosing and our party picks a half-moon, a domino and a tragedy mask. On the far side of the partitions they look around the great house. Here they see the clan has expanded by acquiring and knocking through the row of houses into one large dwelling that takes up the street. The wall in front of them bears wide paintings of boats on raging seas.

19 February 2021

A Fistful of Setting Questions - from the Nothics Eye

Responding to A fistful of setting questions post - as another idea spinner for my next session.

Which specific NPC do I want to piss off the least?

There is a bunch of delicate noble family politics going on that the players are in the middle of that they care deeply about but for Peter the Rabbitling in the streets, its probably their grandfather, the Duke of Thenya.

In the eyes of the commoners, the Duke has recently started a major crack-down that has driven raids, demolitions, dissappearances and rumours are rife in the city of some sort of shrieking horror in the dungeons beneath the palace. The Duke is famed for driving the Cult of Assassins out of the city as a young man a century ago. He put the current King on the throne. His hospitality is grand - the great tourney held for his grandsons wedding was a great public spectacle and the feasts for the common folk on the day of the wedding were lavish - but his ire is swift and merciless - the last commoner who protested their treatment in public saw their home partially demolished that night.

17 February 2021

Review: Wagadu Chronicles - The Child and the Oath

tl:dr; a great Afrofantasy setting and starter adventure for 5e, super-accessible, definitely check it out.

"Wagadu Chronicles: The Child & The Oath" - is a 5e compatible setting book and adventure created by Twindrums. Released as part of their push to create an MMORPG based on African lore, I like it a lot - I think the focus on the setting with the minimum necessary extra mechanical things is a good way to go about it. The version I am looking at here is a work-in-progress that is currently being used for the alpha of the MMO and for play on the TwinDrums discord - by the time this gets to your hands some of the details may change but you can get a copy by signing up for their mailing list.

Image from launch page

What is Wagadu? The setting "can be described as some sort of purgatory, a strange and wild place where people from the Upper Realms, the prosperous and more peaceful place where everyone hails from, “fall” and are stuck for good. [...] the only thing that the Fallen can do is band together to survive the beautiful and harsh world of Wagadu. Powerful spirits, fickle ancestors, angry beasts and magical weathers are only some of the challenges that the Fallen face but on the other hand, fertile soils, powerful magic and powerful traditions to be revived are there to reward the hardiest survivors."

15 February 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #4

Fourth weekly round up of interesting things this week, inspired by weaver.skepti.ch to help remember good finds from each week. Last one found here.

Magnificent Speleogenesis Aparatus - generates dungeon histories!

In case your tieflings were getting a bit samey - a return to the huge variance of old.

14 February 2021

On making your game flow

Inspired by this post on Studded Plate on DM pet peeves I thought about what to do to avoid common pitfalls. As it sat in draft I got nudged further by this post on 'Player Responsibility' which is another blast of 'stop your horsing around'. In particular I would like to share things I have adopted over the years to make the gameplay flow, whatever the game.

The key concept I am drawing on here is the Motivator/Hygiene model:
There are Motivators that you want to boost as much as they can; in the context of a gaming table, these are the things people are here for.
There are Hygiene factors that you want to have to a minimum standard, otherwise no matter how good the motivators are, people will not have fun. Example of this - people who want to play a game about super-heroes are going to be less enthusiastic at a table running a grimdark 0-level dungeon crawl.

Game flow means minimising hygiene factors that slow down your table, while boosting positive things that can speed it up, two subtly different things. To boil this down - keeping things kinetic at the table includes both holding attention and avoiding boredom through friction. These are two sides of the same coin but not quite the same thing. You may have a frictionless game, but if the players are not bought in, it does not matter. No amount of good, smooth process will hook in someone who is not interested in this game in the first place. Conversely you may have players really keen on the game but if turns drag then even the best will drift over time.

12 February 2021

Examining change in player demographics

tl:dr; post-2015 influx of new gamers has continued the long run trend of more women joining TTRPGs; forum participation moving towards matching play at tables.

A recent post from the D&D Research Wizards showed a significant uptick in female players that aligns with Hasbro saying ~ 40% gamers now female in 2019. I wanted to track this back through time to see if it there was a shift in the trend.

10 February 2021

Blog Challenge: A World in 13 items

Originating from Trilemma Adventures.

Things found:
1. A well worn book on the genealogy of dragon blooded nobles
2. A glass globe filled with a swirling, caustic mist
3. A master piece painting showing an ominous demonic figure atop a throne, its face obscured but a burning gaze still follows watchers. The title of the painting on the frame is burned away
4. An archaic set of armour, well maintained, centuries old, damage patched by skilled hands
5. A cannister with an address on the top, a gathering place. It contains a small sea creature, drowned in hag tears, that emanates loathsome energies
6. A series of tightly furled papers, once tied around a birds leg, scratched with coded phrases
7. A finely trimmed dress, skillfully reworked to make an old style shine anew
8. A well worn ring, a ducal seal of power
9. An invitation, words clumsily copied by hands that do not know that language
10. A great baked mushroom, flat and a half meter across, laden with herbs, cheese and choice cuts
11. A finely carved ivory dart, etched with arcane runes of concealment
12. A short stick with an exquisitely cooked sliver of chimera heart, set across the top of an ornate goblet of fine wine
13. A dragon effigy, the size of a canoe, carved with holes to make a fearsome wail as it falls through the air and handles to be gripped along the sides

For other entries in this see:
Sundered Shillings
Colours of Pentagrams
Nothic's Eye
Archons March On
Filth Pigs Abbatoir
Numbers Aren't Real
Haruspex Hovel
Dungeon Anthology
Cosmic Orrery

08 February 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #3

Third weekly round up of interesting things this week, inspired by weaver.skepti.ch to help remember good finds from each week. Last one found here.

The giant, meaty better version of this post for all of 2020 on DIY and Dragons. https://diyanddragons.blogspot.com/2021/02/advice-from-blogosphere-2020.html

Something I love which is distilling down settings to spot the archetypes that can then be harvested for your game. In this case, Film Noir for D&D.

A fun little set up for 'levelling up through feasting' - its the Goblin Laws of Gaming: Rat Kebab edition!

06 February 2021

Festivities as a social depth-crawl

I had a big social event session coming up so I decided to steal the idea of a social depth crawl and see what I could do with it.

Theory set up: how to use the depth crawl system to throw in some randomness to the players progressing about an event. It is not just a simple point crawl because there is the potential to roam between locations rapidly and for others to also move about. The refreshable nature of a depth crawl is good for this.

- timeline
- key locations (~5-7)
- NPCs to interact with

Starting with a timeline, I decided to go with 5 phases - arriving, apertif drinks, sit to table and start, main course, after dinner. This 'how to do parties' entry on Alexandrian has a discussion of phases but I wanted more randomisation within my phases. Further, instead of an iterating list with +1 per phase like a classic depth-crawl, as there would be fewer phases but potentially multiple 'encounters' within a phase, I decided to go with adding a d4 per phase to cover a 1-20 list.

Next for locations - entryway, library, ballroom, dining hall, backyard and labyrinth - these were to provide a back drop for the encounters but passage between them was not hazardous, simply the trigger point for an encounter. Mainly to make life easier for myself I figured out how each looked to provide backdrops for whichever phase the players were in and where they went.

04 February 2021

Prepping flavour-filters to improv Spelljammer systems

tl:dr; my workflow for populating systems to allow worlds to be improvised for fantasy world-hopping.

First recapping 'why bother at all' - what is a Spelljamming campaign supposed to be like?
- people like how it snaps onto any setting.
- weird aliens, vast, strange space and cool ships are important.
- the 'space swash-buckling' atmosphere was mentioned a lot (in posts pre-5e).
- a solid minority liked the odd celestial mechanics, space travel rules and the tool kit to allow exploration.

Overall this reads as a mandate to turn up the dial on what makes Spelljammer unique. Then collecting feedback points from people that have written about running Spelljammer campaigns there are a couple of points to keep in mind:
- that ship combat can be a grind if ranged bombardment only is used.
- that the vastness of space makes time between encounters dull.
- running games with unrestricted long distance travel is a pain in the neck for DMs.

So together I read all this as a charter for 'getting the big, weird setting right' - making it feel huge and strange without the scale making it a boring grind. We have swept up existing content on encounters but need a way to make it specific to your system, so here we will talk about how to create the 'flavour' filters to allow you to rapidly adapt to the party rocking up in a different sphere. This is also my general 'quick and dirty' world building process.

02 February 2021

Review: Knock! #1

tl:dr; a gorgeous best-of selection of old school gaming wisdom and new inspirations in one handy codex. First of many, we can hope.

I backed the kickstarter for this "Adventure Gaming Bric-a-Brac. Being A Compendium of Miscellanea for Old School RPGs" and it just turned up in the mail. I love it - the design, the density, the content picked to go inside it - it is stuffed full of chewy goodness and a treat for anyone who likes either OSR blogs, RPG magazines or any other such compilations of options and ideas to bring to your game. Almost certainly there are things for your table in here.

freshly arrived copy, cover by Tim Molloy

01 February 2021

Shiny TTRPG links collection #2

Second weekly round up of interesting things this week, format lifted from weaver.skepti.ch to help me remember the good things I find each week. First one found here.

More sections of Gossamer as this city building/map making effort hits the 75% complete mark. I continue to be astonished at the quality of map work Bearded Devil cranks out.

Similarly, I am loving the new Kontext d6 project from Lizardman Diaries, with 'Weird Fantasy Danger' generators to go with the previously released NPC and location generators.

A good thread by James Introcasos on how to ease people into trying new games.