27 December 2023

Year in Review 2023

2023 was a great year for gaming - a recent, if not all time high

On running things
Ducal House (3.5e) - ran 24 sessions to take us up to 102 during the year, covering mostly the long road home from closing out a major quest and its fall out. I've written an in-flight retrospective from DM'ing it here. I have a dig into all the plot arcs, problems solved and in-world events to come. Below, behold the sorcerer, drawn by the bard.

Spelljammer - Light of Xaryxis Remix (5e) - 19 sessions running a sand-boxed Light of Xaryxis, smoothing out as we went through the year and settled onto a regular schedule. Ramped up from 4th to 8th level, closing in on the campaign finale. I have stayed a bit quiet about this since it is a big arc in progress but I have been having fun

Spelljammer Academy (5e) - 12 sessions of episodic campaign, mostly a vehicle for venue tests about the city. Ludicrous hi-jinks intercut with some dangerous fights and tours of much of Realmspace. Campaign retrospective here.

Southern Reaches (Brancalonia, 5e) - 22 sessions of open table, light-hearted west-marches type campaign. On hiatus since my evening playing slot has become a lot more tricky, perhaps to be resurrected at some point in the future. Campaign retrospective here.

Bay of Princes (Brancalonia, 5e) - 10 sessions to date of running through the published Brancalonia adventures at my local games society regular Friday night open tables. Using this as the vehicle also to hang newbie induction from Meetup. If judged by the fact that I'll get sign-ups from our regulars any time I run a table, then this is going well. I am enjoying the challenge of working through all the adventures.

On games played during the year
Rime of the Frostmaiden (5e) - continuing with the same crack group of adventurers as Out of the Abyss, 13 sessions saw us progress to level five, traversing Icewind Dale solving problems for every Tom, Dick and Harry and trying to piece together what the hells is going on.

Empyrean Dynasty (FKR) - final wrap up of the epic galactic politics game - bizarrely, my faction-group sort of won? We achieved our goals of becoming the universal religion at the cost of multiple worlds and bitter galactic war.

Scarlet Heroes - some old school open table dungeoneering - henchmen and a sparse handful of hitpoints all that stands between gold and glory or an early grave. Great fun creeping through corridors and then employing flaming oil and caltrops for any edge against a foe. I really liked the fray dice mechanic.

Tyranny of Dragons (5e) - 7 sessions to close out the first book, significant traipsing about the wilderness, an epic fight with a wizard and its minions, duplicates, clones and various other head-fakery, and slowly uncovering the contours of the conspiracy we faced.

Spire (Spire) - played a pair of sessions of this, one shots part of building up a drop in campaign - now four sessions in and the in-house testing team has been getting great fun out of it.

Grand Planar Adventures (5e) - newly joined planescape campaign; running through some 2e classics to level up and synchronise with an existing planar party.

As shown here, monthly sessions played this year was higher in each month than any month in the previous five years. Not sure this tempo will be sustained but a *lot* of gaming got done this year.

The other big thing has been trying to on-ramp some of the legions of D&D interested folk attracted first by Honor Among Thieves and then Baldurs Gate 3. I took on a Meetup group to try and catch those folk and they have been turning up at our tables. I ran a little survey to see what exactly people want and those results seem to have encouraged folk to kickstart some new campaigns and fish for players on the RPGVienna forum which is great.

On blogging content

Since 2022 (blue) total posts are stable at 2/week plus the weekly links. Interestingly for 2023 (orange), pick-up by the Glatisant is no longer my key driver for views - pick-up on the front-page of ENWorld turned out to be the planet-buster numbers spike - the seismographs are still twitching from that *four months* later. Upticks in day-to-day readership is driven by Lemmy and Sly Flourish's TTRPGs feed. Overall, chopping out an estimate of what was leakage from cyberwarfare and AI scraping, it looks like ~ 63% rise in views/year. Who knows how much of that is real people - you are, at least.

Blogging this last half year has seen a switch in focus - from frameworks and ideas to lessons learned and write ups as I have run more stuff and had less time to write creatively. In particular the logistics of wrangling folk for the Meetup group has sapped the exact same well of time to sit at the computer and write that would previously have turned into blogposts.

Blogging projects that got done nonetheless:
- Glass Candles GLoGtober '23 - contributed a list this year
- Campaign retrospectives - following the format from Against the Wicked City
- Monthly RPG Blog Carnival participation and one month hosted

Notable blogposts from the year by views were:
Class/Race archetypes in 1.2 million D&DBeyond characters
Player Class Stability from 1M D&D Beyond Sheets
Reach of the Roach God
Review: Historica Arcanum - The City of Crescent
Class / Race choices in Baldurs Gate 3 vs tabletop 5e
d30 Things Above a Mindflayer World
Campaign Spin-Up VII - When One-Shots Sprawl
Review: Swords of the Serpentine
Masquerade as social depth-crawl (RPG Blog Carnival)

Goals for the coming year

- Continue Ducal House, run out Spelljammer LoX - see what to replace that with afterward (Planescape Turn of Fortunes Wheel?).
- Run more Brancalonia at the Friday night drop in games.
- Run an event, see about doing some DM'ing 101 to get more new folk happy to try and DM their first game.
- Play more Rime, Planescape and perhaps Scarlet Heroes.
- Should things massively break my way timewise I have a notion of some sort of silk-roads campaign.

Overall a focus on gaming at table and trying to help the new folk sloshing into the hobby to get started.

Thanks for reading along, hope you find more to interest and amuse in the coming year. If you have any suggestions or requests, drop them in a comment below or ping me on twitter (while it lasts) or on mastodon or on bluesky - I even have a bunch of invites for that last if anyone else wants one.

Landing the session ending for one-shots (RPG Blog Carnival)

For this months blog carnival - hosted by Plastic Polyhedra on the topic of Endings I have some thoughts on 'sticking the landing for one-shots'. Also, Sign-ups for 2024 Blog Carnival hosting is open on Of Dice And Dragons.

This year I started running a lot more one-shots and a drop-in open table games - both of which being playtypes where session discipline is much more of a thing. Campaigns are forgiving; wherever you need to down tools you can pick up again. For one-shots or episodic play, if you don't know you'll have the same players again you need to come to some kind of finish. A lot of the advice you'll find out there for convention gaming also applies here.

By the numbers these are observations from 34 episodic game sessions (12 Spelljammer Academy (SJA), 22 Southern Reaches) and 10 Brancalonia one-shots. With one exception of a session that wrapped early, Spelljammer Academy (episodic) and Brancalonia (one-shots) ran 4.5-5 hours face to face through my local games society RPGVienna. Southern Reaches (open-table episodics) were 2.5-3 hours run online, with one exception that ran long. Below are tricks I use to run to time - this is no grand theory of game running, just some stuff I try to keep in mind.

25 December 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #152

A mix for this Christmas day! More can be found on the previous list found here. You can find more links on this weeks r/OSR blogroll or the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

RPG Diegesis writes rules should be illegal

Daily Adventure Prompts shares advice for running and/or adapting prewritten modules

Wizard Fight Club has Questions About Wizards

Orange Subterfugacious Raccoon gives us Setting Via Equipment Lists (Santicorn 2023)

Sabatini's Scatterbrained Place suggests Swindle Your Players

Whose Measure God Could Not Take gives us Signature Moves for Humanoid Combatants

Silverarm Press writes Glory of the Elder Days: Magic Items and Sandbox Histories

Cannibal Halfling Gaming shares Hobby Economics: RPGs and Bicycles

Library of Attnam gives us 5e House Rules

Tom van Winkles Return to Gaming writes Trust the Dice for Your Fiction

Idiom Drottning shares The Quest Queue

23 December 2023

100th session look-back: Ducal House

We hit sessions 100 in my home campaign, 3.5e noble house adventures and I thought it worth marking. My players did too - they made a pie, picture below. I will use the usual campaign retrospective Against the Wicked City style for where we stand today, I will write up more on the plots and in-world activities in a separate piece.

What it is: noble house campaign, running with 3.5e, the players as a cleric, sorcerer and bard as cousins, grand-children of the duke at campaign start. This has been a variant of the 'fortress focussed' model where the party have access to a lot of resources beyond just their character sheets but have also taken on personal responsibility for the realm. Campaign play has been the PCs solving the big problems facing the house. Setting is homebrewed; pitched on the back of scrap paper in session zero then anchored with an Azgaars fantasy map, populated with OSR animal-lings. What we have below is mostly a 'mechanistic' DM's perspective on running it.

What worked:
* Amazing craftiness from the players - artwork from the bard, a DMs screen, and delicious treats.

20 December 2023

d50 more memorabila to loot

tl;dr: The other half of the d100 trinkets table for a Brancalonia game.

There is a table of Memorabilia (p69 Brancalonia Spaghetti Fantasy) which are both interesting things to find as part of loot and also legitimate winnings for brawls and the like. The table is referred to relatively often and each entry is supposed to be unique so as a campaign gets going you find yourself burning through them.

According to the book good examples of memorabilia must:
- Have no economic value and no particular use. Generally, they cannot be resold. - Be original. Memorabilia cannot be shoddy or counterfeit, and even if they were, nothing would change. - Be so bizarre and unusual that they could never be confused with other Memorabilia. Each piece is unique.
So I rummaged through old magazines during recycling and cooked up the following. They also reflect the fact that I am using an animal-folk heavy setting for my Brancalonia game, hence the fur, horn and feather references.

d50 memorabilia
1. Tiny carved sea-creatures, well worn to the touch
2. A bottle of mysterious, foul tasting pills - vitamins, good for your long term health, will ward off scurvy for a week
3. A false beard in formal dwarf style, fitted for a goblin or halfling
4. Brightly coloured fur dye
5. Portable shrine (idols rolled up in a mat)
6. Tiny bust of a glowering king - breaks a fear effect
7. Velvet and gilt waistcoat fitted for a small creature
8. Short stub of a fat candle
9. Blue enamel fittings to reinforce something and make it look fancy
10. Genie vase with captive minor imp
11. Pegasus shoe - cold iron, both good luck and good for striking the supernatural
12. Frayed bridle of leaping - fits to any ridable animal, liable to break after one use but triples the distance it can jump

16 December 2023

Class / Race choices from 4 months of Baldurs Gate 3 vs tabletop 5e

Larian Studios, makers of Baldurs Gate 3, released an update to their player stats after four months of play including class and race choices of the players. They let us see these immediately after launch and they looked different to the typical tabletop choices despite being a pretty faithful implementation of the 5e ruleset. There were a bunch of theories kicked around at the time, in the comments here and elsewhere that boiled down to a strong hypothesis that people were running charisma-focussed characters since mechanically driven social interaction is much more important in a computer game than at the tabletop.

So here is the rerun of that number crunching - with the launch weekend and 4 month stats.

On class the broad patterns stay the same - way off what the tabletop surveys show but with fighter, rogue and barbarian climbing the leaderboard as paladin, warlock, monk and ranger drop. Clerics also became more popular though still standing last.

13 December 2023

Review: Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse (5e)

tl:dr; surprisingly good return to the planes, anchored around what looks like a fun campaign.

So I threw in my order for this back in the late spring and I've been paying little attention to the hype since. I was going to be getting this no matter what - all I did do was look back at the old Planescape Core Set (AD&D, 1994) to be able to compare what we got then and now. My expectations were rock bottom after Spelljammer, I was expecting a hack job content-wise so I guess they were set up for success from that angle.

Cover by Tony diTerlizzi

First impression - gorgeous art - I expected no less, especially since I heard diTerlizzi was back on board. It is a slightly softer style than his harder edged 90's stuff - I can see the path through childrens literature such as the Spiderwick Chronicles to get here - keeping the weird but sanding off some of the sharper edges. His Lady of Pain looks a lot less arbitrarily lethal than the one on the main covers and she should be terrifying. Maps and layout are good, this is WotC, those things should be taken for granted. Stylistically there is less 'these places are inherently dangerous' than the previous edition, there is a bit more Bond-esque 'heists and tension against fabulous backdrops' style from the art - more glorious, less grim.

One odd thing though is the weird smell, enough that even the in-house testing team commented on it. Normally cracking the book and taking a deep breath is one of the nice parts of getting a book not a pdf but in this case I'm getting a touch of a headache from having the things sitting open in front of me.

All contents of the slipcase, art by Tony diTerlizzi

So what is all this stuff you get in the slipcase?

11 December 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #150

Significant doings in the TTRPG space this week. More can be found on the previous list found here. You can find more links on this weeks r/OSR blogroll or the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Traverse Fantasy gives us Kubular & Other Attack Methods

Tales of the Lunar Lands writes I Love Underused Monsters

OSR VAULT gives us 100 Good/Evil Faction Motivations

Grumpy Wizard asks How Do I Keep Players From Ignoring Adventures In My Sandbox Campaigns?

The Fantastic is Fact on Getting Started with OD&D

Methods & Madness discusses The BECMI reaction table

09 December 2023

Campaign Spin-Up VIII - Fuzzier West March Sandboxes

I ran an open table game and wanted to dig into a little how it all came off from the DM prep point of view. There are some player session write-ups that went up on Obsidian Portal.

Deliberate aspects of this campaign were:
- open table, drop-in game - go whenever 3 were available
- follow the players, drop hooks but no big plot
- minimise prep - I had three other campaigns running, there was no time for more prep
- newbie friendly

The tools used in sessions were
- a hidden depths table for the wilderness
- Brancalonia non-lethal brawl rules to make non-wilds/underground less dangerous but still fun
- an overloaded encounter table for the tunnels beneath their base
- a semi-randomly generated dungeon made with a map and tables from the DMG 3.5e
- someone elses Dungeon 23 run for the big hidden dungeon
- maps from photos - woodworm burrows, tourist guide to a castle, hexmap
- a city page generated using my workflow - the In Corpathium and Infinigrad generators combined with Stupidly Quick City-Building from r/DNDBehindTheScreen and steps 3 & 4 from creating fantasy villages, towns and cities to get the layout
- a few special sessions built off a dedicated tool - two from Where the Wheat Grows Tall, one from the bathhouse table

Going session by session on what drove play each time a group sat to table:

07 December 2023

It Has A Name (NPC Management)

tl;dr: Name your NPCs to avoid slips and obfuscate who is important.

A theme of this year has been a lot more one shots and published material - me reading and assimilating other peoples stuff with not so much prep time before running it - Light of Xaryxis campaign and the Fistful of Quatrins series in the Bracalonia book among others. What I have found this has lead to is problems for me where NPCs have false identities or hidden aspects.

This person they found has a core aspect of their identity that is not obvious on first glance.
That sailor is a shapeshifter? How to avoid slipping and referring to him by 'cultist' or 'shapeshifter'.
That voice behind the door is a monster? Better not refer to it as what it is.
That guy has a connection to people that is his only characterisation but you do not want that to spring out at folk

Solution - name them and never give another reference, even after things become clear.

Best part of this is that even after things come to blows and there are pieces on the battlefield, you just have different looking pieces but the names still obfuscate exactly what it is.

Spoilers ahead for light of Xaryxis (LoX).

04 December 2023

Shiny TTRPG links #149

A wider ranging ramble about the web this week. More can be found on the previous list found here. You can find more links on this weeks r/OSR blogroll or the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Plastic Polyhedra start Decembers RPG Blog Carnival: Endings

VDonnut Valley compiles November's Carnival Roundup Post

U.S. Postal Service Reveals Additional Stamps for 2024

Hipsters & Dragons gives us Designing & Running Heists in 5e D&D

Full Moon Storytelling suggests Using ‘third places’ to add cultural depth to your D&D campaign or character

Mazirian's Garden shares Downtime: Home away from Home

Grumpy Wizard asks How Do I Keep Players From Ignoring Adventures In My Sandbox Campaigns?

02 December 2023

Table Matching Survey Results

I ran a survey of our local game group to discover preferences and see what else people would like to be playing. From conversations at Night of the Rolling Dice I thought it would be a good idea to survey the group to ask what games people want to play to then try and match up tables. Partially inspired by the frequency of recent group matching posts here, I wanted to try and highlight preferred frequency (weekly, monthly, etc), preferred session length, online/in-person/both so folk could hopefully see that there were others interested in the same timeslots.

Our standard tempo is a Friday night session and a sometimes Saturday brunch session - my hypothesis going into this was these were driven purely by force of habit - those timings generally working and being 'good enough' we left them. I wanted to know if there could be other times that would suit people who could not make the Friday night slots and what those would be.

What stands out to me from the point of view of getting more tables going:
* We have people interested to play most weeknight evenings - plenty of room to fit in a new game.
* We have nine people interested to run a table - behold your player pool!
* 11 of us are happy to play online

People available per day - our regular slot is a Friday due to room availability but it looks like it would be even better for folk on a Saturday or Sunday.
Preferred frequency of play - most people are being covered by our weekly session but we have a fair few that once or twice a month suit better.