31 August 2022

Actual Test: Campaign Pitch Document

Some friends gave me a hard nudge when Spelljammer Confirmed to run a game for them once it landed. Now that it is out, that time has come and I have confirmed that indeed it was not just chatter. To get the ball rolling I decided to pitch a bunch of variations to see what kind of campaign people wanted.

I sent around a mail with the following pitches and the request to rank them from favourite to least to see what was popular. The pitches format was adapted from Matt Colville's Pitching Your Campaign with some pretty short, sharp overviews to narrow down on what people sought.
- I noted that all of them would have a roughly equal base-level of puzzles and PC-scale combat.
- I added Scale to indicate on-planet (single world), in-system (multi-world), or intersystem (multi-sphere)
- Politics options : how much NPC interaction is there likely to be
- Tactics options: how much ship-to-ship is likely

I particularly liked the 'player buy-in' note; it helps align everyone for character creation and is helpful to have right up front.

"Intersystem whaling" - destination exploration. There is an ocean world, a place known to locals as the Deep - a place where things long dead elsewhere still thrive. It is a long way out but the value of the haul will be worth it! There are some locals to avoid and of course the beasts themselves to be hunted but gold must be bought with sweat after all...
Scale: In-system
Politics: Medium
Tactics: Medium
Player Buy-in: signed up for a long mission for a big payday.

"The Rescue" - longhaul mission. An elven retreat world is cut off and needs a cruiser to go out there, make contact and bring them components they might need. It is probably nothing, a quiet run, easy in, easy out. Captain's going to retire after this one so he wants this done by the numbers.
Scale: Intersphere
Politics: Low
Tactics: High
Player Buy-in: Crew of an Elven Imperial Navy Man-O-War on a detached mission.

"The King Beyond the Clouds" - interplanetary meddling. A system slipped from the grip of the elves and their rumoured return is nigh. Which side will you take? Can the disparate worlds of the systems be marshalled to keep their independence or persuaded to return to the fold?
Scale: In-system
Politics: High
Tactics: Medium
Player Buy-in: Interfering in the groundling and spacer courts to prepare for an intersphere incursion

"Sky-pirates" - sandbox - bringing a flying ship to a groundling campaign. The captain died, you senior officers have borrowed the ship and are off to pursue your own goals.
Scale: On-planet
Politics: Medium
Tactics: Medium
Player Buy-in: Self-directed, you start with a ship and you decide what hooks and actions to follow.

"Splinters of Hope: Homeworld" - search for artefacts in a "dead sphere." An elven world was eaten by Witchlight Marauders during the Unhuman wars but someone has to go there and find any pieces of wood that were taken off world before the disaster.
Scale: In-system
Politics: Low
Tactics: Medium
Player Buy-in: Your ship and crew have agreed to take this raid mission for the elves.

When I got back everyones rankings I stacked the different campaigns, eliminated those with any 'least favourites' and landed on Intersystem Whaling as the favoured pitch.

King Beyond The Clouds had more favourites but also a least-fave.
The Rescue got ok votes from most, lower rated than Whaling
Splinters & Sky-Pirates both 2 least-faves

Going to use the Gygax 75 generated system and put all that world-building to the test.

29 August 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #83

Fine links from about the internet, the shiniest things that caught my magpie eye. 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.

Rise Up Comus has some thoughts on Rest Interrupted

The Alexandrian writes Random Worldbuilding: Fast & Furious Homebrewing

Dungeons & Possums handily collates all the Competing Swordtembers?

Archons March On gives us D6x7 Gith Sects Besides The Githyanki & Githzerai

Matrixhammer Scenario! A Night in the Forest! on The Lizardman Diaries

Grand Commodore writes up a coffee-and-a-biscuit read in City-State RPG Retrospective & Stories from their recent the five-turn, 20-day City-State RPG

27 August 2022

Gygax 75: wrap-up & suggestions

Looking back on this challenge as a whole - the intention was to see if it worked as a set up for a Spelljamming campaign, short answer, yes if a little inefficiently. It was interesting to use a workflow that is not my habitual one to try something different. I am a big fan of 'learn the rule so you know when to break them'.

One thing I found about the challenge is the 'straight through, expand outwards' approach is not my usual one and works less well for me. I typically build a world in broad strokes, then zoom in, see what the implications are, elaborate, zoom in again, etc. Things like - what is in the Dungeon, why do we care (week 3) only became clear after the city was created (week 4) and the big hook for the whole campaign (week 1) seemed weak until well into week 4. I found myself iterating back around on the whys and what must therefore be in any given place. Not a dreadful burden but definitely, this is not the way I normally like to work.

Weeks 2, 4 and 5 were fine, the broader world work was stable for me. Week 1 - the theme of the campaign and how to pitch it and week 3 - what is in the dungeon changed somewhat.

24 August 2022

Most Popular non-D&D Systems Revisited

Comparing the most popular non-D&D systems on VTTs to see what the trends are.

A while back we looked at the latest (end 2020) Fantasy Grounds vs Roll20 data and saw a difference in the big non-D&D systems - namely that Pathfinder (1e and 2e) has a much bigger following propotionally on Fantasy Grounds. Friends at the Adventuring Party podcast who are Pathfinder players inform me that Fantasy Grounds has great Pathfinder integration and that this makes sense. The next most popular systems outside D&D/Pathfinder were Savage Worlds, Starfinder, Call of Cthulu, MoreCore, Traveller, Rolemaster, WoD, GURPS and Star Wars.

Now comparing this to Obsidian Portal - between 20-40% of new campaigns are not D&D in a year. The below excludes the many editions of D&D and Pathfinder to zoom in on everything else. Here 5e and Pathfinder (1e and 2e) being the significant contributors to the 'D&D' segment.

This highlights the share of top-15 non-D&D campaigns added each year on Obsidian Portal. This aggregates the different editions of those games together - Star Wars includes Edge of Empire, Saga Edition, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny, d20 and d6 editions for example. The first point of interest to me is the collective high-tide of non-D&D games in 2014, immediately before 5e came out. This peak of non-D&D gaming in 2014 was not a single game having a great year, it was a general trend over 2009-2014 with FATE, Star Wars and Numenera having good years but not wildly off trend years.

22 August 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #82

Survived a local heatwave, gathered 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 even more links on the weekly blogroll on r/OSR or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Late Night Zen presents Magic item: Wizard in a bottle

Dead Tree, No Shelter gives us dungeon dressing in All the Doors Round Here

Signs in the Wilderness gives us Goblins, the Tree People

Spider Queen Gaming teases out some thoughts on Authentic Play and the Undiscovered

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry gives us Logistics, How Did They Do It, Part III: On the Move

A Knight at the Opera gives us a coffee-and-biscuit read on Computer Hacking in RPGs

Dungeons and Possums writes ZineQuest 2022 At The Halfway Mark

Grumpy Wizard writes on The Way Gary Intended…

Some interesting stuff on Kickstarter at the moment: Bandit Camp is running Wicked Ones and Undead Awakening and KostiRPG is The Average Trooper: Skeleton Mayhem

20 August 2022

Gygax 75: The Wider World (Week 5)

The brief for this final week of campaign-building is to pick at least three of many prompts to flesh out the wider world beyond the hex-map of Week 2. Of the multiple potential tasks to be picked we went with three:
- Other worlds and planes accessible from the setting
- Expanded locations around the hex-map
- rival adventuring party

First task we filled out some more on the other worlds of the system; see these links for background on the system and its inhabitants.

First Forge, the mercury sized discworld right up by the sun - here we have Fire Giants who we figured are a strange evolutionary offshoot - like Tasmania but for Fire Giants. They live almost entirely on minerals compared to most Fire Giants that can eat minerals but mostly eat meat. Hence they are scalier and tougher, creak as they move except at their primary joints - shoulder for a smith, etc. Their dialect is strange and their ettiquette is bizarre and insular after so much time on their own on a relatively small world.

Next, on Pond, the tiny water world that is the elven playground, this is a frivolous place, with a portal to the feywild, and the whole world is treated as a combination of resort and theme-park ride. If the inhabitants got more serious, they could aspire to dissolute. A deeply unhappy Elven Imperial Navy station occupies the moon in orbit. It is a place you get sent if you have deeply angered your superiors but not *actually* committed an offense sufficient to be imprisoned or tossed out of the Navy. A handful of bitter officers and resentful sailors crew the base and its ships.

We will go into Skyforest, our airworld in more detail later.

The Deep, our giant primeval ocean world keeps its secrets so tightly we shall not mention them here. People will not speak of this place to outsiders, either to protect it from hunters or to starve rival hunters of information.

The dragons of Smoulder also have been outlined in the world creation - between warlordism among the reds and a merchant republic among the golds they keep themselves occupied apart from attacking anything that comes into their atmosphere.

Lastly we have our enormous frozen water discworld of Ice-disc, where the kuo-toa dwell. We focus some more on their wizards who dominate society. They have a philosophy of magic of making unexpectedly powerful but specific magic items; such as a ring of invisibility that makes your image appear on the other side of your most dangerous foe. They have deeply esoteric tastes and values meaning it can be hard to establish a price if you can open trade with them. They can also be found cruising the sphere conducting weird experiments for their own inscrutable reasons - much more widely spread than previously thought.

17 August 2022

Comparing TTRPG player surveys in US and Germany

tl;dr: ~1/4 to 1/6 of the population is currently playing TTRPGs and they are not talking about it online.

Some intriguing indications of how many TTRPG players there are in a handful of surveys that cover the general population:
- Researchscape 2022 Survey and 2019 Survey looking at who among the general US population has played TTRPGs
- Front part of "Die große Pen-&-Paper-Rollenspiel-Umfrage 2022" doing similar for Germany

Two interesting points pop out:
- what fraction of respondants have ever played TTRPGs and/or play them now
- frequency of play among those who do play TTRPGs

For the recent Researchscape US survey - 36% of general population respondants have played TTRPGs at some point, 25% are playing at least once a year. The 2019 survey found 23% had played TTRPGs at some point; suggesting a more than 50% increase in the share of population who had played TTRPGs in the past 3 years.

Comparing this to the German survey where the first half of the "Pen-&-Paper-Rollenspielbefragung 2022" has responses from a 500 person "census representative" online panel. Here 38% have played a TTRPG at some point, 15% play TTRPGs currently. A further 11% knows what TTRPGs are but have not played them.

Here we see two points suggesting a quarter to a third of the general population has at some point chucked a d20 or other dice about while role-playing. I find that a surprisingly high number, I could have been convinced it was half that or less. Certainly, it looks like maybe a quarter to a sixth are current players which suggests there are a lot of folk out there who played once and do not anymore.

Digging into how frequently respondents say they play - in the US survey of those who play at least once a year we read that 28% play weekly (or more often), 28% get in a monthly game, 44% play once a year. In the German sample, 25% play weekly or more frequently, 36% play monthly and 39% play less than once a month. These look similar in both cases - with a over half of those who play getting in at least a monthly game but a significant chunk playing a few times a year only.

15 August 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #81

Shiny links from about the internet, fetched here for you to sample! 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.

Leicester's Ramble gives us More of Who/What has followed the party?

Giblet Blizzard resurfaced their Random Table : Healing from the Spider God

Players balancing encounters from Alex Schroeders

Tools for Creating Gossip by Welcome to the Deathtrap

Mindstorm writes up Matrix Campaign Structures, Part 2B

13 August 2022

Gygax 75: The Town (Week 4)

In the boles of four massive trees linked by bridges is found the town of Rendezvous. Dwellings and businesses are built along the centre of the great tree limbs, with walkways running vertiginously along the outer edges of the branches. The nicer neighbourhoods have hand rails or at least nets below. Bridges span between the limbs with businesses being in the busier sections closer to the trunk and dwellings being further out along the limbs. The dwellings tend to have most of their living space outside on broad verandas with smaller weather-protected cores. Lots of things are stored suspended beneath dwellings.

City plan w/ branches & bridges

10 August 2022

How Much Flying Ship Combat System Is Enough?

This entire post got overtaken by events - it was written prior to the Spelljammer 5e review copies getting all over the internet, before we knew what the ship combat system was - I am going to keep it as my hopes preserved in amber from before we saw what we were actually going to get. The sentiment remains the same.

Looking at the latest info on Spelljammer coming out through an interview with Lead Designer Chris Perkins it appears that we will not be getting much, if any ship combat rules at all.

"For ship engagements in this setting, we're basically using the core rules of the game. [...] ship-to-ship engagements is, in Fifth Edition—which is more a theater of the mind — there aren't things like Facing or Turning or anything like that. We're not trying to create a game-within-a-game where suddenly you're no longer role-playing, you're engaged in some tactical, "Where's my ship exactly in space" kind of game.

It's kind of like two groups on two small islands, separated by shooting arrows at one another. A ship becomes a platform on which the encounter takes place, like a dungeon room a room in a castle. You can attack the ship, of course, and the ship can take damage, but for the most part, ship-to-ship engagements really have to do with the crews on board. And, despite the fact that your ship may have a catapult and ballistae and whatnot on board, it's still pretty hard to trump a Fireball spell or a Lightning Bolt spell. The characters have so many other options at their disposal for disposing of shipboard enemies. We stay very much in the theatre of the mind with this product for the sake of keeping encounters fluid and fast."

This puzzles me in two respects - first, what is the existing combat system except 'where is my PC exactly' and second, why on earth am I shelling out $65 a pop for the boxes of ship minis for if they don't do anything?

I think there is a core point I agree with in that people sat to the table to play D&D Spelljammer, not some tactical space combat game, sure. However, I think giving people a frame to understand how to stage awesome ship-on-ship combat, when that can be 3D, when it can be two ships flying upside-down over one-another, when it can include ramming from weird angles, all the wrinkles and weirdness - that would be fun.

Looking at the rules as much as has been deciphered from the images of the Spelljammer DM screen, we could read it as pointing to a 'range bands' approach to distance (ships can appear 250, 500 or 1000 ft away at the start of an encounter) or just thats how far out the foe appears, take it from there.

The stat-blocks as they appear in the Spelljammer Academy adventure on D&DBeyond strongly resemble what we have seen in Ghosts of Saltmarsh - AC, Hit points in the 100's (not hull points in the 10's), a damage threshold, speed in feet, cargo capacity, crew and keel/beam dimensions. Key is the fact that the siege weapons just need crew and can fire every round with them. From testing ship combat rules before, this was the major 'speed bump' in AD&D Spelljammer.

Ship schematics and stat blocks from Spelljammer Academy on D&DBeyond

Do these stats imply a really slow, boring combat? How long would it take these ships to fight one another to destruction?

08 August 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #80

Welcome to this, the 80th weekly link set - find below the nuggets of TTRPG gold from about the net. 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.

Blue Bard playtests AD&D Illusions in Sell Them a Bee, Deliver a Butterfly

Familiar Waves writes some useful thoughts in The Tyranny of Time

Throne of Salt writes meaty thoughts on getting hard-ish sci-fi right in Fixing Eclipse Phase

Axian Spice recommends some ZineQuest 4: The Old-School Essentials Projects!

D&D Historical Sales Data tabulated on The Mystical Trash Heap. Crunchy goodness.

Leicester's Ramble wraps up OPD 2022, Just a little randomness...

Alone in the Labyrinth is making Atop the Wailing Dunes: A PARIAH adventure for Zine Quest 4

Fireside Friday, August 5, 2022 by A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry ponders post-apocalyptic warfare and how it could play out.

06 August 2022

Gygax 75: The Dungeon (Week 3)

For the challenge, the dungeon is supposed to be the place where real adventure begins. The prompts reflect a quite specific vision for setting things up but are helpful to get things started, then it runs itself.

For our dungeon, we delve into a Temple of the Boring Beetles - our dwarf analogue on this world. The whole dungeon is carved into the trunk of one of the giant trees. The entrance is carved elaborately, an optical illusion that distracts from the chute within. Going with archetypes for dwarves, this is both a functional place the beetles used and a death-trap for strangers. Their optical-illusion carvings will be a feature.

The guide instructs us to make some rolls to find the number of themes we are dealing with. There was a little discussion and iteration but the themes we finally settled on were:
Theme 1 - the abandoned outer halls (intruders, things that settled in a ruin)
Theme 2 - the last stand of the boring beetle cult (cultists)
Theme 3 - the corrupted sanctum (spiders, undead)

The treasure hoard at the bottom of this is mostly fine crafted wooden objet d'art and the library. The spider-vampire now in residence hoards knowledge, gathered some themselves and then invaded and took over the lower levels to secure the temples library.

03 August 2022

Review: Brancalonia

tl:dr; a great fun, evocative sphaghetti fantasy D&D setting with some neat mechanics to capture the rollicking band of knaves style of play.

I picked up Brancalonia in another of my 'darn I missed this first time round' instances - backing the Empire Whacks Back kickstarter, I got the original books as an add-on. Brancalonia - "sphaghetti fantasy" - is a campaign setting for D&D 5e "based on Italian tradition, folklore, history, landscapes, literature and pop culture" - but more than a setting for the game, this is another mod. The classes and background mesh with a collection of new setting rules (and guidance to pick optional rules within the core set) that aims to deliver the experience of being a band of roistering Knaves and ne'er do wells out for their latest job.

The art throughout is great - the book looks like old paper with wine stains on it, stains explained in a chastising front note. Top marks for beautiful, consistent, evocative art - this is a really pretty book. The layout in general is top notch, a nice, clear, easy read with good boxes and sidebars and tables are where you would expect to find them from their mentions in the text.

Opening the book we get a nice Appendix N, and the intro 'this is a world of heroism and heroes - and you are not one of them. You are the ones who step in when things go wrong, dabblers, swindlers, scoundrels and greedy Knaves.' This is a game about being the scoundrels and chancers at the bottom of the heap, where the stakes are a purse full of coins, a good meal and another few days ahead of the law.

What is really interesting here is that this is an E6 game - you run up to 6th level, then whenever you would advance a level after that, instead you get a feat. It means both the rules, the world and the challenges in it are all tailored to a much tighter range than the usual 1-20 level spread which is something quite refreshing.

01 August 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #79

Links from about the slow summer internet. 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.

Blog of Holding gives us Dungeon Delver’s Guide: The NODES System

Slight Adjustments gives us Nameless Legends of GLOG

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry writes on Logistics, How Did They Do It, Part II: Foraging - great stuff for a war-based campaign

Thompson Motif Index Generator on Whose Measure God Could Not Take

The Lizard Man Diaries write up of Empyrean Dynasty Game 1, Turn 6, 100 years of Post Earth History! Things going quite grimly...

Nothing and Happy by Weaver.skepti.ch

Grumpy Wizard gives us What Makes an OSR Game an OSR game?