31 January 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #53

Links of the past week. 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 or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

This is the last day to do the D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey and get your views included!

Unlawful Games gives us D100+ Goblin Generator

Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet writes Fuck 5 room dungeons. (Or don't, I don't know what you like) - on the structure of adventures.

Decisive Combat on Dreaming Dragonslayer.

Illustrations from: Tales of the Barber Surgeon (Public domain art-share) on CoffeeGremlin's Grotto.

"What does my new Spellbook look like?" d86 table for Knave, Cairn and other 'unique spellbooks as objects' systems by u/EndlessPug

Game Theory and Uncertainty on Knight at the Opera.

Lost Eons is solarpunk sci-fantasy on itch.io.

29 January 2022

How Many Heroes? Alternate Worldbuilding Demographics

I wanted to build a new 'leveled characters curve' from the D&DBeyond and other datasets of the players we have and see how it compares to other approaches.

Riffing off Grumpy Wizards recent 'how many wizards' post I wanted to talk about how many I ended up calculating - using the 3.5e rules since there is enough in the rulebooks to model from there. My old go-to's were this 'Demographics of Heroism' post from Adventurer, Conqueror, King and this 'How special are you? A guideline for determining character rarity.' on r/DNDBehindTheScreen using ELO levels from chess to estimate progression rates. I suggest we can also use a third approach, taking the data from D&D Beyond, OGANM and AideDND character building tools which give us an indication of level progression among players.

The gameable Joesky tax is the table, the crunch of where it came from is at the bottom if you like. Assuming that 3% of your population has a 'rare' class (from the 3.5e DMG) then the following is your table that drops out for what level is that random adventurer, assuming it maps to player level progression stats:
Level d100
1 1-24
2 25-42
3 43-56
4 57-66
5 67-74
6 75-80
7 81-85
8 86-89
9 90-91
10 92-94
11 95-95
12 96-96
13 97-97
14 98-98
15 99-99
16+ 100-100

Given how few are above 15th level our d100 fails us so we get to reroll on the table below for what level exactly this mighty hero is.
Level d100
16 1-32
17 33-56
18 57-75
19 76-89
20 90-100

26 January 2022

Review: A Fabled City of Brass

tl:dr; Fabled City of Brass is a beautiful, atmospheric high level site for adventure.

Something I stumbled over trawling Lulu, Anthony Huso's The Fabled City of Brass is an alternative to the fierce city of Efreet commonly portrayed, one that returns to original inspirations like the Thousand and One Nights, to weave a place "of spectral beauty and foreboding. It is a city with a lesson; filled with empty streets, great riches, automatons, illusions and death. Here is a module to hurl characters of 12th level and higher against. You will either break them or turn them into legends on par with the City of Brass."

Pitched for 'high-level first edition play' what we get is something that captures the atmosphere of a quasi-dream abandoned mythic city. Split into two books - the map key and the appendices - first impression is of the gorgeous art. The poster map for the city can be seen here on Huso's Blue Bard blog to give you a sense of it. Together with the polished presentation there is an awareness of playability at the table that is encapsulated by the appendices being a seperate document. This lets you avoid having to flip back and forth from the key to treasures or monsters and serves to illustrate the attention to detail put into this.

24 January 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #52

Links of the past week. 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.

The D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey which is open to the end of January.

Lizardman Diaries documents the progress of Empyrean Dynasty - 23 players grand sci fi strategy game!

Great piece on tweaking 5e to give more old-school feel in Setting up Undermountain: Rules and Philosophy from Dreams in the Lich House

Some FLAILSNAILS Observations - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly on Ravenous Ambience - as someone who missed the original FLAILSNAILS boat this is a great primer to what is good, what is tricky about it all

Review of Real Star Frontiers POD edition on Elfmaids & Octopi with some great 'how would I run this today' thoughts.

Getting practical Spriggans Den writes How to start your personal dynastic war.

Beasts of Burden by weaver.skepti.ch.

22 January 2022

Review of Books 2021

Inspired by Xeno's Ramblings and Throne of Salt's book reviews - I had a bumper year for reading in 2021. Combination of no travel and the need to sit still an be a cushion for a small person gave ample time to crush books.

I will briefly praise GoodReads for allowing me to easily track what the hell I actually read this year because it was a surprisingly long year. The following were all read with an eye for pacy tales that can distract and entertain given the dreadful year that was in it. Below will be a round up of the gamebooks read and reviewed over the year.

The great find this year was The Drawing of the Dark (1979) by Tim Powers - this was my sleeper hit. I was not expecting much and found something great - an historic fantasy novel where in 1529 mercenary Brian Duffy is hired in Venice to go to Vienna and work as a bouncer at an inn and brewery - but from his journey north it turns out that far greater mystic forces are in play and we get a hugely entertaining tale where the siege of Vienna is the stage for Eastern and Western magicians to struggle over the spiritual center of the West, which happens to be that inn and brewery. I like how historical characters and famous myth was worked in, I find it is not normally done well but here it was great.

The big set I read was the sci-fi swashbuckling of the Vorkosigan saga (1986-2016 for the main novels) - tipped off by a friends reviews I started and then ripped through the whole series starting with Falling Free, then Shards of Honour, Barrayar, the Warriors Apprentice, Vor Game, Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, Memory, Komarr, A Civil Campaign, Diplomatic Immunity, Captain Vorpatrils Alliance, and Cryoburn up to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Except for the last, which feels tacked on, they are a great bunch of tales. Most I read in close to single sittings. Shards of Honour & Barrayar are fun tales of sci-fi and intrigue but from Warriors Apprentice onwards we switch to the hyperactive main character who takes the series onwards - following Miles Vorkosigan as he more or less over-runs his troubles with bluff and sheer kinetic energy is a very good time.

I also fished out all the short-stories within the sequence Mountains of Mourning, Weatherman, Labyrinth, Borders of Infinity, Winterfair Gifts, Flowers of Vashnoi of which Weatherman is very good and the rest are a nice time to spend with the characters if you enjoy their company.

19 January 2022

The Learning Curve or Cutting New DMs Some Slack

tl;dr: campaigns that fail are part of getting good at DM'ing.

My big point here is that folk who joined before the 5e era joined younger and got in a lot more practice before arriving in their 20s (now). Someone starting in their 20s today is being presented with high expectations from Critical Role and other places straight out of the gate. If you are starting today, give yourself room to try things and fail in interesting ways.

In short, if you are setting out as a DM:
- go easy on yourself, less than perfection is still a good time
- be ready for things to go horribly wrong
- brief your players on what they are in for
- flag things you are testing and let decisions on new rules, mechanics, direction be two way doors

I had some thoughts that struck me in the small hours of the night as I pondered what the age up of new-joiners means.
- for the first decades of the game (70s-2000s), people joined as early teens
- a teen gamer, something like I was, has lots of time to pour into their hobbies
- once I found a group to game with, we put 15 hours a week on our TTRPGs alone - mostly in marathon sessions given our transport issues
- by the time I hit 18, I probably had ~2000 hours of table play time done
- once I hit college, I got straight into the games society, got involved in more games and did more, shorter games
- exiting college, I had probably added another ~1500 hours of gaming at least
- taking the ~10,000 hours-to-mastery rule, I was about 1/3 of the way there

Today, according to all these surveys, someone coming to gaming in their 20s:
- is typically getting in a weekly game of around 5.5 hours per session
- this puts them playing ~ 300 hours a year, assuming they play every week
- as a rough estimate they will be 27 by the time they have clocked the same table time as that teen gamer had when they hit 18

You can see the numbers to back this up below, but skipping to the 'so what' for now:

17 January 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #51

Links from the link mines! 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.

The D&D Research Wizards Tabletop RPG 2021-2022 Survey which is open to the end of January.

Gorbels on Goblinpunch. Wizards bootstrapping interaction with the 4th dimension and its terrible hazards. Always read Goblinpunch.

Knight, or, rehousing the murder hobo on Rise Up Comus.

The Lizard Man Diaries writes up their entertaining FKR game in "Empyrean Dynasty Game 1, Turn 1, 10'000 years of Post Earth History!"

Sum of Misunderstandings on Weaver.skepti.ch - or why the PCs are the heroes, not the NPCs

17th Century Character Starter on The Luminescent Lich - a great set of backgrounds

What are the Peasant Children Doing? (d84) on Chartopia

Tumblr RPG community Recommendations from Lawful Goodness

The Hobbit and how it describes something very like OSR play on Wandering Gamist

15 January 2022

Review: Calidar: In Stranger Skies

tl:dr; an evocative setting for swashbuckling sky adventures in this first Calidar book.

I came across the Calidar supplements come from Bruce Heard, creator of the magnificent Voyages of the Princess Ark from Dragon Magazine back in the day as a vehicle for him to continue with flying fantasy ships. Given that Princess Ark is one of the original D&D Flying Ships (*the* original?) I grabbed the Calidar books because I love me my flying ships. Reading the intro this is "a story, and background information for any system" - though probably the best overview and high level pitch for the setting is "What is Calidar?" on the authors blog.

Cover art by Ben Wootten

Overall I liked what I got - in particular I think they nailed the tone of the game this setting is for - high kinetic swashbuckling with lots of potential for dramatic scene changes. This all sets up for a certain style of gaming, one where adventurers bestride the world and treat with gods on a fairly regular basis. Throughout the book are great maps and graphics and lovely evocative artwork that pulls together to create Calidar as a setting for high-skies privateering. There is no system for sky-ship combat in the book but you can pull a complete set of mechanics down off the authors blog.

12 January 2022

Smaller slices of a bigger pie - older D&D editions on Roll20

With another year past we can update the trend in editions of D&D as played on Roll20.

What we are looking at here is the share of D&D players for the various editions only from among Roll20 (so ~ 60-75% of the total players on Roll20 depending on the year). I have taken the % of campaigns for each edition for the last available report in each year and made that stack 100% in each year so we can see what % of D&D players are playing which edition.

Answering a question from Axian Spice on twitter, the following are my very dirty estimates for absolute numbers of users - with the caveat of noting the pre/post 2019 reporting method changed hence the 'step' in the last 3 years. It is not large so I think our general trend is not bad but still, exercise appropriate caution. Particularly with the 2021 number which is based on an extrapolation ofthe growth in Roll20 users.

10 January 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #50

The gold hebdomadariversary of these weekly 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 even 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 open to the end of January.

Hex Junkie writes On the contradiction in player agency between OSR and 5E D&D which makes a good points - if there is only one reasonable action, do you have much choice to hand?

The Orc Rehabilitation Commission writes [OSR General] AI-Generated Monsters.

Deathtrap Dungeons gives us the Simple Adventure Builder - a really neat generator to get the creative juices flowing.

Monsters and Manuals are "Now Accepting Submissions: Volume 1, In the Hall of the Third Blue Wizard" - a new magazine which publishes hexmaps, dungeons and adventure sites for ‘old school’ fantasy games; art; and fantasy fiction.

08 January 2022

Review: A Practical Guide to Medieval Warfare: Exploring History through Wargaming

tl:dr; a great source of detail for medieval warfare that can enrich your TTRPG games.

"A Practical Guide to Medieval Warfare: Exploring History through Wargaming" by Richard Brooks and John Curry was something I stumbled onto trotting about on the web at Weaver.skepti.ch and was seized by an excerpt that tried to reality check behaviour on medieval battlefields using modern analogues as well as original sources. This is both an interesting read and a great source for anyone describing melee combat in TTRPGs. I am reviewing with my table-top GM hat firmly in place, war-gamers will probably get a lot more out of this. I thought it was great even when I was not the target audience.

The kindle version I got has some proofing issues, nothing that made it unreadable but there is an editing pass missing. With that out of the way, this is exactly what it says on the tin - a practical guide. Deeper books of scholarship are certainly out there but to get you up the curve from 'I know nothing' to 'I won't make ridiculous errors' this is great bang for buck.

05 January 2022

Player Stats for AideDD Character Builder 2020-2021

AideDD published their Character Builder stats and there are some really interesting trends in those 27k users. I recorded the same data reported in 2020 so let us look at what happened in the past year.

Overall it looks broadly similar to what they had in 2020, consistency in classes choice is coherent with what we have seen elsewhere - general player population is not bouncing around between classes. We have more artificers since that was added later.

Checking against the patterns for apps or forums, we see it maps solidly onto the Apps archetype - favouring fighters and rogues. This is the same pattern seen on D&D Beyond and the OGANM character builder tool. It repeats the pattern we see of character building tools with large user bases showing a different preference for classes than forum surveys. I read this as another point confirming that the general player base (as seen on this tool) has different preferences to those who frequent online forums.

03 January 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #49

First links of 2022! 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.

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. The latest from the survey so far can be seen in their newsletter.

I Cast Light has a good frame in Inside The OSR There Are Two Wolves: OSR-V the Revival (Preservation) vs. OSR-N the Renaissance (Principles).

Some unusual hybrids on D&D Homebrew 5e such as aasimar/dragonborn and fey/celestial.

Hack & Slash has "How to Make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons more Old School"

Spriggans Den has Shattered Empire D&D 5th edition modifications based on lessons learned from their last campaign.

Simple but cunning - Analogue ‘Fog of War’ hack … | Jigsaw over map by Goblins Henchman

Rise up Comus seeks "to invert the paradigm of "complicated wizard, easy fighter" in Crunchify Me, Captain!

Cavegirl creates a far future Vampire setting with "After Gehenna - A concept for a VtM chronicle"

01 January 2022

How to get started in D&D

Rewritten and expanded from a response I wrote to someone asking 'how do you start in D&D' after a buddy of mine pointed them my way.

Starting from the baseline of 'I've heard about this thing, where do I start?' - I would say there are two paths.

First - the long route, which is pretty labour intensive - buy the books, figure out the game, round up a bunch of players yourself and throw dice. It worked for me but it takes a while and you are making a chunky time commitment before you ever get rolling. Lots of fun to be had world building, prepping and so on and when it works, it is magical but this is the high risk, high reward path.

Today, I would suggest the best way to start is to get stuck in; find a new joiners table and say 'I am new' - people are usually welcoming. You may need to hop about a bit to find the people you really gel well with but this is like finding a favourite pub, try it and see. Make contact with folk on forums or wherever and say you are interested - they will point you to the easiest way to get involved. As mentioned on this Adventuring Party episode, there is a ton of free stuff out there because people want to get you playing, this is a social game after all.