31 December 2022

Year In Review 2022

We come to the end of the year and looking back 2022 was a pretty good year for gaming - faded a little off 2021 in pure hours but got almost the same number of sessions (59 vs 62) and got lot more different things done including the launch of another campaign and spun up a third.

On running things, got in 26 sessions, over half of them on the Ducal House (3.5e) campaign, the rest 50/50 between the Planescape Splinters (5e) one-shots and the Spelljammer (5e) campaign.

Ducal House (3.5e) - home campaign slowed way down due to scheduling but still ground through some high heroism, got in hex-crawling and labyrinth bashing, old school dealings with petty gods and giants and it is about to enter year 4 with momentum which is nice. Players are still keen as evidenced by the below piece of character art gifted by the bard to the cleric.

Planescape: Splinters (5e) was a series of one-shots on different plans (Mechanus, theBeastlands, Acheron) - usually got 2 sessions with different groups for each plane, much hilarity in how differently things go for the different tables, great to get back on the planes, lessons learned for me in session control time and setting up one-shots

I have to give a grudging star to Spelljammer 5e here because despite my serious gripes about the set, it is also the only WotC release that got a bunch of the old warriors to pull down their swords off the wall and commit to a campaign even before the book dropped - and we managed to follow through *and* after a 2-shot mini-game we've sustained that into running the campaign that came in the box. I've put in a bunch of elbow grease to throw a world I'm happy with around the set pieces from the campaign but the combo seems to be working well.

28 December 2022

Actual Test: Downtime as Worldbuilding

In the back of the Downtime in Zyan zine, after the downtime actions, we get 10 prompts for prepping your campaign to help "develop your setting, create your starting community, and stock your map with sites of exploration and treasure that encourage the use of downtime activities." I reviewed Downtime in Zyan previously and decided to test out this workflow as a world-building tool.

The prompts, or steps to run through, are:
1. Institutions operating in the starting community where play begins.
2. Master artisans that currently reside there.
3. A rival adventuring party.
4. A secret location where spiritual exercises can be performed.
5. A secret location with a trove of otherwise inaccessible and valuable information.
6. A secret location where special revelry can be engaged in.
7. Some legendary institutions, now gone.
8. Some prolific master craftsmen of the distant past.
9. A tragically lost magical book.
10. A remarkable material that could be used to fashion splendid artifacts.

Downtime in Zyan, showing cover art by Evlyn Moreau

26 December 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #100

100 links round-ups! I hope everyone is having a relaxing vacation period, certainly the run up was productive for many! 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Friend of the blog Joy and Forgetfulness speaks in Review: The Wargaming Compendium by Henry Hyde

Traverse Fantasy has crunched some numbers in OSR Rules Families

Weaver.skepti.ch shares the Initiation Maze

The Wandering Gamist proposes Bug-Orcs

Welcome to the Deathtrap gives us Developing A World Through Encounter Tables

Sundered Shields and Silver Shillings gives us More Cheap Tricks

I Cast Light! asks BLOG!: Good God! What Is It Good For?

A Slow Circle has some good thinking in Bridging the Player Information Gap

24 December 2022

Actual Test: Deck Of Worlds

I need to build out the surrounds about my starter town - and what just arrives in the door? The Story Engine and The Deck of Worlds. I set the Story Engine aside for now because the Deck of Worlds was exactly what I needed to shake some life into a regional hex-crawl. I got this from a kickstarter where it scratched two itches, that of dabbling novelist and also of dungeonmaster. The sub-title across the front of the box says 'the deck of endless world building' and I can see this getting a lot of use if it works.

The box comes with an 8-page booklet, 6-pages are the instructions - how the deck works, creating microsettings, interpretting a microsetting, creating a world map, building nuanced worlds, multiplayer rules and how to combine with the Story Engine deck. My campaign is manifesting as a zoom down into a region, based around a tavern in a fly-speck town. I have a global scale map, but I need to build out a region, so we are going to try about half of these.

Besides the instructions we get 6 stacks of cards - Regions, Landmarks, Namesakes, Origins, Attributes and Advents. Each deck is square with nice, non-specific art - not as clearly fantasy-land as the Izirions West Marches Location Deck - but it is supposed to be more universal than that. RPGs are just one subset of users.

The process from the instructions is to:
1. Draw a Region to establish terrain type
2. Draw a Landmark and tuck it beneath the region so one of the two options is showing to give a point of interest
3. Draw a Namesake and place it so either the region or landmark is named with one of the four options to create in-world names
4. Draw an Origin card and tuck it under the region or landmark to leave one of the four options showing and detail the history of the location
5. Draw an Attribute and do similar to give the present day features
6. Draw an Advent card and place it the same way to finish with 'gunpowder' - crisis points or looming change

21 December 2022

Review: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (5e)

tl:dr; evocative art returns to a great aesthetic but no rules support for building campaigns.

I had this on order, got it as soon as it came out and have commented on some aspects already - particularly thoughts at the time of the Spelljammer announcement where I thought 'with all these ship minis, there must be some ship combat system, right?' and then as the first previews hit the web on How Much Flying Ship Combat System Is Enough? I also managed to table test the combat rules before I got to finalising this.

At this point I feel a bit monkeys-pawed. I said 'hey, for an RPG sourcebook, all you really need is evocative art and you can pretty much cook up everything else from there'. Yes. Well.

20 December 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #99

Gloriously free from work for the year - have trawled the interwebs for delightful 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

This week we get an awesome haul of dungeon building tricks and techniques on the back of #dungeon23:
A thread from @yungdumbitch on More #Dungeon23 reading
@DuvelmanDice tweets #Dungeon23 Resources Vault
Hexed Press prepares Dungeon23 Helper
Sersa Victory gives us Cyclic Dungeon Generation
Swamp of Monsters! shares how i did my megadungeon
macchiato master compiles dungeon23 tools - dungeon23
All Dead Generations shares DUNGEON23 WORKSHEETS
Monsters and Manuals gives us On Dungeon23 and the Correct Way to Write Dungeon Room Descriptions
Archons March On gives us The Osprey's Bastards, and Scourge-Flutes - Notes for Dungeon 2023

Weaver.skepti.ch adjusts hidden depth tables in Tasking 24 or 12

Prismatic Wasteland continues Hexcrawl Checklist: Part Two

Dangerously Rare Elixirs And Decoctions proposes D20 "Alternatives to scrolls"

Bat in the Attic masterclass continues in A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XXIII

Le Chaudron Chromatique gives us Lot of stuff!

17 December 2022

Culture of the insectfolk - Beetlescale

Inspired by images of little ants riding on big ants and tarantulas keeping tiny frogs, what does it look like when you get creatures operating on such different scales, they can climb on top of one another (and have sufficiently relaxed concepts of personal space as to be happy to do this)?

Conceptually, think about keeping racoons and the racoons having pets themselves, everyone carving out their own niche. The biggest creatures live in the spaces, the mid size creatures can share those spaces, around the edges, under the tables, up on the shelves and so on - and the smallest creatures can live in the walls and ceilings, maybe interacting with the mid-size creatures but being careful around the largest creatures who could hurt them without noticing

So - cultural aspects of the insectfolk:
- Things and space are fleeting, give generously
- Know one another by their deeds, accept all who join the great work
- Work hard to be lazy

14 December 2022

What fraction of us are DMs

Reading the articles around the WotC announcement of the plans to milk us all for every penny we are worth (Dungeons & Dragons executives think “the brand is really under monetised”) - one of the things they said was 'DM's are 20% of the customers' - and I wondered if we see that anywhere in our various surveys?

At its most basic, 1-in-5 DM's implies a standard table size of DM-plus-four-players - and I think there are more of us running for bigger tables than that.

Pulling together some surveys which say how many folk people play with, we get signs that many people are playing on bigger tables - except for the MegaDM survey, more than 50% of players are at tables of 5+. Even the MegaDM survey has 45% of tables larger than 4 players. There is the question about people playing at different tables of different sizes but since the question asked is 'how many do you play with' let us suppose that people have more or less responded with the typical number for their overall experience.

12 December 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #98

A lot of interesting thoughts in threads this 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Methods & Madness shares Railroading paradoxes (plus: diegetic RR, meta-RR, ticking bombs, good and bad RR, deus ex machina, etc.)

Caltrops for Breakfast shares Reaction Rolls Aren’t All About You

dragons.ie shares Diegetic Mechanics in TTRPGs

#Dungeon23 gather momentum:

Win Conditions proposes #Dungeon23

Mazirian's Garden chimes in DUNGEON23

Welcome to the Deathtrap offers the alternatives Hex23

Goblin Archives tweets a thread on megadungeon resources

@perplexingruins tweets D88 + 8 morphs

Tower of the Archmage also weighs in on #Dungeon23

10 December 2022

Setting up for Session Minus One

Setting up a new campaign, it will be remote and with a bunch of folk wrangled together by the bard - a half dozen folk I have never met before. I've got an idea for the campaign but my first area for focus is the session minus one or 'do I want to play with these people, do they want to be in a game I am proposing to DM.' Assuming the answer is yes, we will proceed straight to Session Zero - but the question must be asked first.

This is on my mind as I was subjected to a particularly hectoring pre-game brief recently that made me want to get up from the table and walk just then. Much of it was good in concept but the delivery annoyed me because it took those good ideas and then gave reasons for them that were absolutely not what I would say. To stay and agree to go along with these table rules (reasonable ones) because you were subscribing to some very specific socio-political views not even from the country we were sitting in. Yes I think these tools are good to use. No, I do not agree with certain takes on why we should use them - but let us not mention that and just use the tools.

I have worked a day job where 'safety first' was a mantra, I've done the pre-job briefings, and if you want people to take them seriously, you have to tailor them to the hazards folk are likely to face in that current situation. Devoting time and energy to hazards which do not apply at that job site just make the briefing hot air and people switch off. Part of setting up to make sure a thing gets done right is by pitching your brief at the right level; some things can be just a confirmatory check - we do not have such hazards present here, right? - and then move on. Other things need to be talked out in detail to establish just how we want to approach a matter and making sure that everyone is on the same page. This balance needs to be gotten right so that people present understand that the person going through the topic has paid attention and is not just rote-reading a list they got.

Anyway - I am trying to take this bad feeling onboard and figure out how to set out some table rules, more popularly called safety tools, that will work to get a bunch of strangers playing together with the minimum of friction, maximum of fun - and without fumbling it and having them never darken my table again. As put by the MCDM team - "ways to formalize the process of getting everyone at the table on the same page about the topics and themes you’ll be exploring as you play."

Broadly this breaks down to:
- What is the game we want to play? Spanning from things people do not want to have in through to atmosphere, activities in focus, ruleset.
- How are we going to play together? Includes the nuts-and-bolts logistics but also some ground rules for communication, especially if people do not know one-another already
- Feedback loops to enhance the positive.

07 December 2022

Getting More Gaming In

So 2022 has turned out to be an unexpectedly active year - an overall downtick on hours after 2021's banner year but still a lot more gaming than I might have thought.

I've been running three games - continuing the Ducal House 3.5e home campaign that has been running since 2020 and starting up a series of planar one-shots (5e Planescape: Splinters of Hope) and a 2-shot-turned-into-campaign 5e Spelljammer game (Interstellar Whaling becoming The King Beyond The Clouds).

I got to play a bunch of things too
- lots of hours onto finishing out the Out of the Abyss campaign
- started playing through Tyranny of Dragons
- played some old-school Scarlet Heroes sessions
- attended my local Adventurers League for a few sessions twixt lockdowns
- played in the Empyrean Dynasty online FKR game

05 December 2022

Shiny TTRPG links #97

Back at base, trawling through the backlog of shiny TTRPG things from the past fortnight. 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 the RPG Blog Carnival or a roundup of non-blog news on Third Kingdom Games roundup.

Eldritch Fields writes Subterranean Gate: the scariest thing in Heroes III and something I'd like to see more of in hexcrawls

A Slow Circle continues Social Interaction 2: Examples from D&D, Naturalistic Interaction Mechanics, Ability Checks & Reaction Rolls

Cavegirl tweets A thread on making classic D&D races properly weird

David J Prokopetz posts further thoughts on making D&D folk really distinct

What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse... discusses The 5E to OSR Pipeline

Methods & Madness writes The B/X paradox (also: the AD&D paradox, minimum viable D&D)

Barking Alien gives us RPG Reconnect Via RPG Connect

d4 Caltrops shares d100 - Five Hundred Names for Dolmenwood Games

Monsters and Manuals writes on The Phenomenology of Death in D&D

Deeper in the Game gives us Maps for Play 2 – The Ring Map Layout

03 December 2022

Campaign spin up IV: letting the map speak

Spinning up a new campaign for the new year I'm folding together two things - a high concept, top-down approach and a geography-is-destiny map-led bottom-up blocking in of details.

Conceptually this is a Brancalonia re-skin (using E6) with lots of animal-lings mixed in, using the southern hemisphere of my home-campaigns world.

In execution this is going to be something like a West Marches campaign in that I want a pool of drop-in, drop-out players with it being relatively resilient to missing players. It will be online as one of the big hooks was to cater to a distant DM-less group of players who reached out to me.

I've skimmed over the implications of geography for this world before and now we go deep into the western edge of the primary trading ocean. Historically this was all once the domain of sea-faring elves, who came, conquered, and raised up the animals to become animal-lings long ago. The elves have since left and our play space is the decaying remains of that empire and the cities within it.

The sketched in workflow I have is:
Work out the cities of the south and ports in communication - cities with the port tag in any of the neighbouring kingdoms plus any large river ports I can spot
See who the likely active factions are in a similar way, then decide their attitudes and major players
Salt in some rumoured dungeons and treasures (likely to be abandoned elf-holds or ruined towns)
Try the 'Downtime in Zyan' generator to layer in some individual-level detail.
Come up with a rumour or two per city based on what it is known for