31 January 2024

Review: Through Sunken Lands

tl:dr; a book you bring to table to run a sword and sorcery game where noone has prepped, a toolkit for DMs who understand the basics, should work with any edition or retroclone.

I was gifted a copy by friend of the blog C. Kinch over Christmas and am trying to get to it in less than a year this time. I had heard of Through Sunken Lands before, it had been spoken highly of by those talking about retroclones, OSR games and games that were simpler vehicles to deliver the same fun. There had also been mention of playbooks as one of the key things it did which I took for this to be a Powered by the Apocalypse system - very wrongly in fact - but that mistake is what had kept me from checking this out myself for a very long time.

First impression - decent thick hardback, some muted-tone, somewhat spooky art that conveys a more mythos-leaning sword and sorcery game. Lay out is nice and clean with one big 'huh' thing I would query which hides a great deal of the glorious promise of this book unless you hunt for it. When you first pick this up, you get the intro, then you are straight into the system and while the system is grand it is nothing so special to make this stand out from among many similar retroclones. The real meaty goodness of this book are in the later sections - but that is like saying 'the show gets good in season 4' - I'm long gone by then. You should in fact skip the core rules when you read this - intro, then How To Play, then Playbooks and Scenario Packs. Those are the three gold veins in this book.

29 January 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #157

Lots of interesting links this week - thrown up against the backdrop of the Bloggies! 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.

I Cast Light! gives us LESSONS FROM HELL: John Romero's Level Design Rules for DOOM PresGas Wiki Notes and OSR Houserules shares Goblin Punch Lifepath Character Generation Mash-Up

Quickly, Quietly, Carefully gave us 0e/LBB retro-clone Torch & Sword

Whitebeard shares An Owlbear/Discord/DndBeyond checklist for new campaigns

DIY & dragons writes Xandering is Slandering

27 January 2024

Treasures of the cupboard top - Heroquest (1989)

Continuing to clear shelves and poke in attics, this time with the aid of a stepladder, I found another treasure - my old Heroquest box, probably from 1989-91. This was my on ramp into the whole TTRPG space - this connected to Games Workshop, GW published White Dwarf which also had articles on things like WHFRP, got me aware other things existed and from there to Black Box D&D.

Friends of the blog The Adventuring Party recently talked about the new Heroquest rerelease and how the mechanics of the game have not changed - though the bits and models have which is good to hear. They mentioned some mechanical foibles that I do recall after all the time like sometimes it was really hard and sometimes things seemed to be just 'gotcha's' and it is nice to know my impressions at the time weren't completely wrong.

24 January 2024

D&DBeyond: Bad Stats, No Biscuit.

tl;dr: frustrated salt post. Why publish spoiled data?

DndBeyond published an article "2023 Unrolled: A Look Back at a Year of Adventure" and I thought "Cool, stats!" - until I found they messed with axes of the only graphs they put in there and now who the hell knows what they say. What the hell guys - 60, 80, 100, 200, 500, 700...? Where did you get that number sequence from? I showed this to the in-house testing team and they were similarly baffled.

Le freaking sigh. Ok. Let us see if we can salvage anything from this mess. I think this is what the Species numbers are.

22 January 2024

20 January 2024

Actual Test: conservation of NPCs in prewritten adventures

I got to recently test Alexandrians Law of the Conservation of NPCs - advice to make equivalent NPCs a repeat appearance of an old NPC - and the results came out well. I'm writing it up to following Gorgon Bones first best practice and "Record your hobby experience."

I first saw it actually done at table as part of a Ravnica mini-campaign run at the local games society during a lull in the pandemic - the DM there took a bunch of pre-written adventures and what was in the book and bolted them together to make a mini-campaign. He wove it all together by making the same archetype be the same NPC - all the Vedalken Izzet Wizards became the one guy, different Dark Elf Findbrokers were merged, etc - and it was remarkable effective at making the whole thing feel connected. There were some serious groan moments when we realised we were going to have to talk to certain NPCs with a really lax view of workplace safety which is good, they stuck in our mind.

For the open table Brancalonia game I am running at the same games soc I am trying to do the same. With very rare exceptions, the pre-written adventures scattered through the Brancalonia books assume you are travelling all over the realm and visiting lots of different places - so you rarely hit the same places twice. This is fine, not actually a problem, but I thought to try having some of the NPCs and locations pop up again to try and make the place feel deeper. Last week was the first live-test of this and it worked very well.

It was a good test session because I needed to mod the adventure anyway - we had run out of time the last session with 3/4 of the adventure done - they had stopped at a good point but there was more left to do: they had rescued the damsel in distress but still needed to free her from a curse. So I had a piece of an adventure but not a lot. To fill out the session I went back to a previous session and a sequence I needed to cut for time and brought that forward, stitching the two together to have enough for the one more session. This seemed like the perfect point to try making it all more coherent not just as a single session but also into the campaign as a whole.

18 January 2024

Grow Your Own DMs

Travelling home for Christmas I read old notes and fished out a thoughts we had at a rare non-gaming gathering of our local games soc - one theme was we need to help people start DM'ing.

There is broader chatter about a DM crisis but for us specifically we have been seeing all these people turn up in the forums going ‘hey, I’d love to do more gaming’ and if we can do one or two things to show them “DMing is not that hard! just go for it!” then I think that will be great in the long run.

An open campaign call was 3x over subscribed, the DM did some test sessions to pick out the best fit players - still left a bunch of players who would have been on to play something without a DM. Similiarly we have often had the usual cohort of DM's at our regular Friday night open table games run something last minute when they came to game because we don’t have enough DMs.

We could live without more DMs, sure but but it would be great to sew the seeds of a new crop of DMs when we don’t need them so they are there when we want to step back, people move, get sick, whatever.

Thoughts we had to try and get people relaxed to take the first leap:
1. Create a list of available adventures we would recommend for one-shots
2. "Open Hand DM'in" where you talk through why you are doing as you play
3. "New DM support" where some old hands join a new DMs table explicitly to back them up
4. DM workshops - talking theory and lessons learned outside the games

For the first, there is allegedly a list of recommended adventurers league adventures somewhere on the forum and I am going to try and unearthing that old roster for newbies (or old guard) to know which are the ones worth running e.g. Wolves of Welton, Wild Sheep Chase, Pudding Faire.

"DM with Open Cards” table - where a DM plays a scenario while telling the players / potential new DMs, why certain stuff has been done and why. This has met great interest and as well as being done as dedicated sessions outside our usual gatherings, some folk are being a DM-intern sitting in beside the DM just to watch from behind the curtain for a session. We have had great response from different DM's among the group - ones who are NPC focussed, ones who are combat focussed - to the point that I can see some of us old hands taking up the opportunity to listen in on some of these ourselves.

"Declare a new DM table" - where people can ask for some veterans to join and support them running the first time. I will be doing one of these myself next sessions I go to - someone that has sat to a bunch of my tables and I was honestly surprised to hear had never DM'ed before so I am sure it will be a blast. This is pretty much just the starting-out version of what I would do myself in that I would look to seed a table with at least one friendly face if I'm setting off to do something new (location or open table wise).

DM’ing workshops to get more new DM’s started hitting topics like ‘combat made easy’ and ‘improv need not be intimidating’ - these being shorter times outside of the regular gaming meetups with a bit more prep and theory focus. Some folk wrote up a bunch of stuff on the forums a while back but nothing beats in person talks. I am going to do a session pitched as how I prep a written adventure for our Friday night games though really I am prepared for that to be a more general Q&A session.

If we can get even a half dozen folk to set up their DM screens as part of our regular cohort, that will be a great success. What we will do for chairs and finding space in our venues is a problem for another day.

15 January 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #155

A chonky list as people get busy in the new year. 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.

WizardThiefFighter writes SDM (formerly SEACAT) is finally finished

Nick's RPG Thoughts gives us All Stones Left Unturned: Ruminating on the death of my West Marches campaign

Goblin Punch declares You're Doing Demons All Wrong

The Lizard Man Diaries shares Recent PDF releases!

Zzarchov Kowolski wrote The Cliffhanger Table

Busy Wyvern writes Let’s Build A(nother) World – #Lore24

Tales of the Lunar Lands gives us On the Origins of Magic Items

Dead Tree, No Shelter shares Cave of the Creepers

The DM in Paris asks How's my campaign?

13 January 2024

Full World Hooks for Far-roamers (RPG Blog Carnival, #Lore24)

For this months blog carnival we are back to the host Of Dice And Dragons for the topic of World Building which is also happening concurrently with the kick-off of the Lore24 challenge by T.W.Wombat of Wombat's Gaming Den of Iniquity - mostly coordinated with the #Lore24 hashtag. So - two birds, one stone to set out my own #Lore24 project.

Partly driven by home campaign's bard getting access to the Legend Lore spell, partly by the fact they are starting to interact with further flung reaches of the world due to their access to a flying saddle but also there has been a long running nagging thing in my mind that with magic, flying mounts, even just sea-faring ships, there ought to be stories of all sorts of places and maybe I ought to sketch out what folk ought to know.

So we turn once more to our wonderful Azgaar map and look at everything that is *outside* the Known World - the three campaign spaces - Ducal House, Southern Reaches and Bay of Princes have more or less blocked out their immediate neighbourhoods - so I want to look at the rest of the world.

10 January 2024

Terrain, Terrain, Terrain

I have been enjoying Baldurs Gate 3 and in particular the complexity of the terrain in many of the fights. I have written before on adding scale and verticality to make fights more interesting and even if you are not having a fight, interesting terrain can be a puzzles to set your players - and I think there are further interesting ideas to take for our tables.

First - two changes to the rules make interacting with the terrain 'cheaper' than in RAW 5e:
- Jump is a bonus action meaning everyone gets a mini 'cunning action: dash'
- Shoving is a bonus action (not an attack)

The first aids you interacting with the terrain and the second forces your enemies to.

08 January 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #154

A short set of links this week as I return from travelling. 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.

Prismatic Wasteland proposes Blog Challenge: New (Year’s) Resolution Mechanic

The Dododecahedron responds Re: New (Year’s) Resolution Mechanic

Goblin Punch shares Everyone Has 10 HP

A Distant Chime wrote The GM Is Dead, and we, Murderers of All Murderers, Have Killed Him

The Gameatory gives us Luck in D&D

Grognardia shares Rakshasa Riddles

Don't Split the Party wrote Play Report: Skull Mountain

The Alexandrian gives us Skimming Scenarios

prokopetz writes Dealing with death in tabletop RPGs:

A Knight at the Opera shares Crunch Criteria

Sly Flourish gives us Roleplaying Between Sessions

Dark Eagle Games writes Last Minute Rolls

06 January 2024

D.I.O. Ultimate Steppes Campaign

I have had a thought rolling about in my head for a bit to work up some sort of steppes campaign - built around a moving base that is either a nomadic tribe or a silk road caravan. I think a lot of this could be built off Ultraviolet Grasslands but I want the science-fantasy weirdness dialled more towards sword-and-sorcery weirdness. Throwing it out here on the D.I.O. principle.

An objective would be to bring to the table a bunch of books I have on my shelves - the long list being
Ultraviolet Grasslands
Metis Creative’s catalogue - City of the Crescent and Empires of the Silk Road
Wayfarer's Nomadic Realms
Studio Agates Great Kaan from Eana
Valley of the Five Fires
The Golden Khan of Ethengar (Known World Gazetteer GAZ12)

Another big influence on all this is the Dothraki Horde articles on A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry (ACOUP) which is a fascinating series.

Another objective of this would be a chance to visit some of the lesser known areas of famous campaign worlds since most of them do have a steppe location in it - Ethengar for the Known World, the Endless Wastes or the Hordelands for Forgotten Realms, the Dry Steppes for Greyhawk, Great Kaan for Eana, Khanate of Khazzaki for Midgard. Noting the strong similarities between all of these - effectively "if Steppe, therefore Mongol-types" much of what is available should be readily portable side-to-side. The Great Kaan and Nomadic Realms stand out for doing something a bit different. The way the ACOUP blog series looks at the parallels between horse-nomad cultures in North America and Asia provides another source of influences to draw on.

The campaign structure would be the caravan mechanics from UVG, a big theme being the 'moving across the map' huge scale of the thing. Sites would come within reach and be accessible for a period of time, the party roaming out from the mobile home base before moving on. It would prompt some different play styles in that you could play some situations as pure raids - stirring up a hornets nest and escaping into the great grasslands, confident that you are rapidly moving beyond the reach of vengeance.

The combination between 'explorers of the unknown' and 'community base' is the unusual thing to lean into. With a caravan, there are strong similarities to a ship based campaign, but with a nomad community than there are a lot more interesting relationships, a lot more going on but also a block more obligations and potential hooks related to the fact that *everyone* is along on the journey. In both cases there is a slow-moving core that needs to be protected or have enemies diverted away from it - sheep and goat flocks, the young and old of the community, the caravan goods, etc.

Thoughts for hooks would be: 1. Known hazards we need checked out to plan our route - are our sworn foes at their northern or southern camp grounds so we can avoid them, have the seals held on the tomb of great evil 2. Scout the route ahead - should be an easy ride, plenty of time for a side endeavour 3. Some predator is snatching from the flocks/mounts - deal with it 4. Tales tell of a treasure near our next camp ground - we should investigate 5. Ahead is one of the great cities - opportunity for trade and information gathering but all the risks that cities bring 6. Some so-called ruler of the steppe has sent emissaries - go back with them and try to get us in the least trouble

System wise the sources are 50/50 between 5e or BX compatible. I wouldn't mind trying an older edition to give a bit more focus onto solutions not on your character sheet and see people use their mounts more.

The more I think on this, the more it strikes me this is a rolling hex-crawl where there is time pressure to check things out before they fall beyond reach and fun to be had in the constant balance of 'grab what we can and go' versus 'delve deeper, knowing we have to travel ever further to catch up'. Some things will stay constant while others will change frequently.

03 January 2024

Review: Fateforge Creatures 2

tl;dr: a bestiary customised to the Eana setting, a strong setting book with some interesting design choices.

I have been backing Studio Agates Fateforge series for a while and this was the first of their 'wave 2' books - a follow-up bestiary exploring the underdark equivalent of their setting Eana - 180 creatures, playable species and game options. I backed the kickstarter a while back and the book turned up a while ago.

Cover art by Yvan 'Gawain' Villeneuve

Lots of interesting creatures - low CR curiousities for pets and companions - good for flavour. Comes across as targetted at an explorers game where people will be doing a lot more interacting with the environment than simply killing anything that moves. Gorgeous art, as ever from Studio Agate, kudos to the artists and art direction. This is a chunky book, easier to read than your standard 5e due to larger text size, done in the same Studio Agate house style.

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

01 January 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #153

First shiny links for 2024! 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.

@zedecksiew announces THE BLOGGIES 2023: NOMINATIONS OPEN

Playful Void gives us The Novies and Year in Review

Vaults of Pandius publishes Threshold 33 - another chunky read.

If Our Lives Be Short, Let Our Fame Be Great has cultural proficiencies: a modest proposal

The-Magic-Sword on EnWorld started an interesting thread Thinking About the Purpose of Mechanics from a Neo-Trad Perspective

David J Projopetz On seeing D&D editions as a completely different game that happens to share a franchise name

Homicidally Inclined Persons Of No Fixed Address gives us Dungeons as networks

Tales of the Lunar Lands writes We Need More Nutcracker Adventures