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 or 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.