30 April 2024

Beyond Hirelings, Sub-questors for Pyramid Questing

My Ducal House table had an idea that, since the number of things on the parties to-do list had grown so collossal they would never get to them, they would parcel off some quests as things that could be run at my Friday open table games. Become quest-givers in other words.

On the face of it I love the idea, with the caveat that the first thing they proposed to carve off was a pretty grim problem that might just make mincemeat out of some uninformed adventurers. However, with a little finesse, I am sure this can be addressed.

The pros for me are that I already have a huge quantity of material for all the things they want to deal with - since they could well have gone to deal with it themselves. So in theory I just need to extract the specific notes for whatever is the objective, shape it into a one-shot session and see however a party does.

If red-teaming is having the opposition run by others what is this called? Not blue-teaming because the people playing the one-shots would be being blue-teamed by the Ducal House players. Consultation with experts of the deep interwebs suggests 'sub-questing', 'nested questing' or 'pyramid questing' and I have to admit liking the latter quite a bit.

To make this work first I need the Ducal House players to pick some tasks they are carving off which might be a wrench given their (well founded) view that nobody else gets anything right if they do not do it themselves. Once they deign to outsource some tasks, I need to frame them up in a way that it can run as a one-shot.

Thinking about it any given task is going to have the 'dial' of how hard or easy it is to get to. The first two things mentioned in passing were retreiving a magical item from a presumed abandoned temple complex deep in the jungles of the Land of the Dead. The second thing was the harvesting of a magical component from a mythic location that they are not quite sure where it lies. Both of which have potentially interesting terrain adventures to be had.

The main Ducal House campaign has a balance of swift change (due to high PC mobility through magic) and plenty of warning for me as a DM since they like to plan things out. I think the template I'll be using here is the Spelljammer Academy mini-campaign which was all done around 'big hook' for any given session and then built out with stuff to do around that - typically the voyage to the location or the flight from consequences afterwards.

On a pure DM'ing level, it is going to be a fun exercise in T2-3 play and running bad-guys worth their salt at that level. Not quite Tuckers Kobolds level of 'ye shall fear the enemy' but the signature foes for some of this are individually not so dangerous but collectively a hazard.

I was nudging the Ducal House players towards 'you are high level now, you should have others doing things for you' - me thinking hirelings, vassals, maybe a couple of friendly NPCs. Classic DM mistake, my players took what I was thinking and ran off over the horizon with it...

29 April 2024

27 April 2024

Actual Test: Spelljammer 5e Fleet Combat (Fantasy Space Combat Rules Part 7)

tl;dr: not really a fantasy space fleet combat ruleset - but it sort of works at table.

I have run the 'fleet combat' set up for Spelljammer 5e by the book twice now (and it ran in the background for a third session) and it sort of serves its purpose as a dramatic device but I really hesitate to call it a rule-set. Following from writing on the Spelljammer 5e lack of rules before there is actually, toward the end of the adventure in the set Light of Xaryxis, some minimal mass combat rules: once you are in mass ship combat, each side loses a ship each round and the players get to focus on boarding actions.

Recalling what we saw previously - you practically cannot batter a 5e Spelljammer out of action through weapons fire alone without it being a deeply tedious dice-rolling exercise so the players getting stuck-in as boarders is the sensible thing to do - they will rip up an enemy crew a lot more quickly than their ship will hammer an enemy ship out of action. This 'chalk one ship off per round' is really just a timing mechanic to drive urgency in the boarding actions - but then making sure that the players have material targets that make enough of a difference within reachable distance is purely down to GM sleight of hand - exactly how far things are and how fast things are needs to get handwaved hard or players spend a lot of time too far off to be doing anything once they have crushed a first target but the battle is not yet resolved - or have foes come to them. If you actually look at the relative ship speeds, a foe trying to avoid boarding drives relative closing speeds per round down to 10-30' per round - starting even at the closest range of 250' that makes a long, long time trying to get to grips with folk.

Recapping the three instances where I've used the mass fleet combat:
First was the finale of the Spelljammer Academy extended campaign - and the players used their fleet to tie up the enemy fleet while they did an end run around to board the enemy base
Second was a variation on Chapter Nine of Light of Xaryxis where the players decided to slug it out with Xeleths fleet when he came to grab Xedalli because they had managed to round up some allies by then. That was an extended series of boarding actions to the backdrop of the fleets tearing each other apart.
Third was Chapter Ten of Light of Xaryxis where the players used their fleet as a blocking force against the citadel fleet and did a run directly for the citadel - fighting solar dragons on the way in.

It is enough mechanic for players to judge 'how is this fight likely to go' - which is purely 'have we at least a matching number of hulls to tie the enemy up while we do our thing'. Not very elegant but enough for the purposes of getting a session moving.

I guess it is *a* way to do multiple ship combats and my player groups have enjoyed the fleet actions because it keeps the focus on the heroes which I guess is the point for 5e. I write it up grudgingly because while I dislike it conceptually, my players have enjoyed the effect at the table. This feels wierd to me, but maybe it might be useful to you. It all feels a bit quantum ogre for me - the enemy will stumble upon you just at the appropriate moment - but really it just makes all the ship combat as wallpaper. The ships are just the shapes to have combats across; as long as you know that is the style of campaign you get with Spelljammer 5e, all is well.

If you want actual mechanic sets with a bit of heft to them, we have previously gone through two magazine-published sets of rules for fighting magical flying ships - the 3e adaptation Shadow of the Spider Moon and the 5e Aces High aerial combat rules from Arcadia #3 published by MCDM as well as the original AD&D Spelljammer and the to-be-published OD&D compatible Calidar. Most recently we also tried the gridless, Theater of the Mind house ruleset for the Spelljamming focused 'Tales from the Glass Guarded World' podcast.

24 April 2024

Actual Play: Stirring the Hornet's Nest at Het Thamsya

I got to take Stirring the Hornet's Nest at Het Thamsya to one of my open table sessions and it ran pretty well - some squeaks but those were driven by the typical open table stuff - no filtering of play-style, no session zero, ended up with a massive table (nine) of which six were new to me, four of those were new to D&D. Review of the module is here. Writing it up as per Gorgon Bones Record your hobby experience.
This is a big site - 25 rooms - and an intriguing heist/rescue. Spoilers abound from here on.

20 April 2024

Why war-games make great settings: Iron Kingdoms (RPG Blog Carnival)

Another month and the RPG blog carnival continues at Codex Anathema for the topic of Favourite Settings. You can see the rest of the topics for 2024 on Of Dice And Dragons 2024 Blog Carnival hosting list.

I have a bunch of the old 3.5e era settings sitting on my shelf that I never quite got around to playing - Midnight, Scarred Lands - and some earlier ones similar - Al Qadim, Greyhawk - but one thing I have always had a softspot for is a really distinct aesthetic - and worlds used for miniature games are great examples of this. WHFRP is perhaps the most obvious but Iron Kingdoms is one of my favourites.

I liked the original setting - the combinations of heavy metal mayhem with magical mechs and swashbuckling ethos.

18 April 2024

Growing your game group (5yr Blog-iversary)

To mark the 5th anniversary of spinning up this blog I find the theme this past year has been 'getting more people gaming' - from running events to helping bring more people into our local game group to trying to connect up disparate D&D folk - nothing has been particularly innovative or high style just the shovel-work of running open tables and pointing people at other people.

One thing I did find inspirational from the broader blogger community was Gorgon Bones best practices - Record your hobby experience, Introduce others to your hobby and Participate in a hobby community - having that list was a weirdly helpful acknowledgement that we got to get the basics right - find the people, figure out when they can be at tables, find places with tables - before we can start doing the rest of it.

The things I've put my shoulder to over the year has been
- maintained the Meetup 'funnel' to bring people to our local gaming groups forum
- simplifying the big beginner events (Night of the Rolling Dice) so they demand less of us to run them
- helping expand to a second location for the regular Friday nights - mostly by just being one of the regular DMs there
- linking up a whole new bunch of local D&D folk with the DM supergroup - they've done some stuff already while my calendars been a shambles

The online stuff - Meetup, the RPGVienna forum, the discords - have got their memes and minor connections but there are a lot of folk who chirp up when booking their place at one of the open table sessions that we never hear from otherwise. I read this as the majority view the online spaces as somewhere face-to-face gaming is coordinated.

Online is all well and good for what it is, but for folk who want to go offline - who are sometimes folk with thriving online gaming - it is hard to do that from a cold start so giving them a helping hand is worthwhile. My own online gaming got nuked by the smallest householders shifting sleeping patterns - last year I was able to near guarantee they would be asleep by a time - enough that I ran the whole Southern Reaches campaign on weekdays after bedtime. This year - no such luck, even getting the last few episodes of Light of Xaryxis done is proving tricky.

Instead I've put the bits and pieces of time I have in evenings towards helping to try coordinate face to face gaming over weekend slots, both for myself and others.

Having that big online footprint is bringing folk in, both regular gamers and more unusual things like someone who's turned up to do an ethnographic study for their course. We have enough presence that we appear when you search so good enough. Certainly at this point, when I've been ill things have trundled merrily along without me doing anything which is good.

d6 Ways to funnel folk to your game group
1. Make sure something pops up when someone googles 'D&D' and your locality
2. Run open tables where people with no experience can rock up and game for the first time
3. Be flexible as DM's so you can say yes to whoever wants to join you; one of the people attending having a T1 game in their back pocket in case folk turn up but also being happy to play too
4. Figure out where is good to play - and when you start to hit the limits on a venue, be prepared to run multiple locations - so when they show up you can seat them
5. Tell your Friendly Local Games Store your group exists and is open to new folk - they'll cheerfully tell anyone who comes in shopping for the books
6. Trial periods on 'connector' social networks like Meetup, Couchsurfing, Internations, even Facebook can be low-effort ways to get the word out to people who are not actively looking for you (those people found you from point 1.

I figure there are lots of better game designers and OSR theoreticians out there, if I can road test and document what helps with getting those tables clattering with dice, that is probably a worthy use of this place - til the 6th anniversary at least.

15 April 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #168

Interesting links tripped over this past week. For even more, see the previous list found here or you can check the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Tabletop Curiosity Cabinet gives us Resurrection: Having my cake and eating it too

The Voyager’s Workshop shares Dungeons & Dragons & Lego

JEFF'S GAME BOX asks What Did Medieval Fantasy Look Like Before Tolkien?

Gaius Invictus writes Book Club: “Digital Minimalism”

13 April 2024

The thrill of "the Find"

I had a refreshing experience recently at Vienna Games Convention - the thrill of 'the find' - something I'd largely missed in this always-on cornucopia we all live in these days. On the way there I was asking myself 'is there anything under the sun that you would actually be looking for' and apart from stumbling over some classic early D&D modules as a general category, the only thing that came to mind that I had sought but not found easily online recently was 'The Plane Above' from 4e.

And lo.
When I saw them on the stack, I was wondering what would be a reasonable price - and when the guy shrugged and said 'tenner' for Plane Above and the Manual of the Planes, the hardest bit was keeping my poker face. He had Plane Below too but it was not one I had been looking for before.

I was looking for Plane Above because as an Astral guide it has suddenly popped back into focus with Spelljammer 5e's new treatment of the realm between planetary systems - was phlogiston with pretty much nothing there - now is the Astral which is stuffed full of adventure. The astral skiffs and clippers in Plane Above had been something frequently mentioned by others in discussions online of Spelljammer so that was a gap in my visibility.
The Manual of the Planes I wanted just to get the baseline for the World Tree cosmology of 4e which was substantially different from the Great Wheel of AD&D that I lived and breathed.
After initially getting the first two, I wandered around a bit, crewed the RPGVienna desk and let 'do I really want the Planes Below' bubble in my mind before arriving at 'yes, I'll kick myself for not having the set' and snaffled it up too on my way out.
All this is something I missed for ages. The last time I got this kind of 'hell, yeah' feeling was walking into my FLGS and spotting Veins of the Earth just sitting on the shelf. Keeping an eye on the kickstarters does mean that I have taken a view on much of what could possibly be there before I ever walk through the door. The surprise factor gets crushed, which is a first world problem, to be sure, but I do recall the time of significantly narrower pipelines of stuff, of what few bits being available on a bookstores small RPG section being the 'take it or leave it' limit.

Mostly I am hugely amused that the only thing I could think of that I was looking for - was found!

10 April 2024

Review: Zariel's Guide to the Seven Heavens

tl:dr; a useful toolkit on making lawful good celestials interesting to play, as NPCs and as adversaries for adventurers.

From Sven Truckenbrodt, someone I've been following a while (see Wolpertinger, Wererat - Well!) we get a supplement talking about celestials and how to make them adversaries and/or use them to drive adventures. I am always keen to read into the topic because it is indeed a tricky one to address. The Lawful Good Seven Heavens are hard to pry adventure out of - the place is a fortress crammed with angels, what is an adventurers angle? The broader question of how to generate adventure on the good side of the upper planes can be a tricky one and this is a good delve into the residents to try and answer that.

Cover by WarmTail

First impression - good art, nice design, an interesting reds and golds general palette which is different to the usual celestial white and blue one might expect. It works well here.

08 April 2024

Shiny TTRPG links #167

More links from about the internet. For even more, see the previous list found here or you can check the RPG Blog Carnival or on Third Kingdom Games news roundup. Originally inspired by weaver.skepti.ch End of Week links.

Greyhawk Grognard shares Free Greyhawk Resources

Le Chaudron Chromatique gives us Update and Marchebranche is getting in print!

The Foot of Blue Mountain shares Connecting the Hex; Creating Full Hexes with Meaningful Encounters

Ludological Alchemy writes The Incentive to Kill in Dungeons & Dragons

Elfmaids & Octopi gives us Morale & Guards & Patrols

06 April 2024

Stumbling into a Forever DM Support Group

I found another nest of TTRPG-ers by the simple method of mentioning D&D in public and watching who's ears prick up. We were crewing the desk of a charity ball, had a few % no-shows and I mentioned this was great compared to ~25% for a group I help run - what kind of group - D&D - oh really, well I too... and click, connection made.

This has lead to them organising a DM Supergroup to test run the stuff that forever DMs have trouble getting their players to try - very topical as I was just looking at my numbers and I play very little that is not D&D any more.

The money question however was 'what do you want to run' - a proper poser. I have a bunch of *campaign* ideas I want to try and scope to run whatever 5e episodic things I might want at the regular Friday night sessions - but what of the towering wall behind me do I actually want to try at table where I am testing a proper unknown?

Others in the group have proposed intersting stuff that I'm happy to try but never heard of plus stuff that I have heard of and was on my to-do list - Mork Borg, Star Trek Adventures, Band of Blades. What do I want to suggest?

My focus this year so far has just been scaling up the local games society - onboarding new folk and tweaking venue issues. The mass of folk ouy there seem to be coming in off Baldurs Gate 3 so you can take anything 5e and find players easily if you DM. Players for anything else is a lot more tricky, so I've set tons of stuff aside as just not worth the hassle and focussed on bringing new folk aboard, running welcome-wagon 5e Brancalonia D&D. But if I now have the opportunity to *try* that odder stuff, what do I want to try?

After pondering it a bit, I found four themes I want to investigate:

03 April 2024

Review: Stirring the Hornet's Nest at Het Thamsya

tl:dr; evocative 25 room dungeon packed with factions, puzzles and threats set in a fantasy world centred on Southeast Asia.

This comes straight off the internet - I spotted Munkao had dropped this new adventure - Stirring the Hornet's Nest at Het Thamsya - and better yet was doing a launch sale and I'm not so proud to deny I slammed that 'Add to Cart' button as quick as I could. This is the launch adventure for the Kala Mandala setting - a meditating abbot in grave danger and needing rescue.
This is a good old zine - 15 pages that looks like I could be a 32 page booklet - with the clean layout style and wonderful drawings that have always characterised Munkao's works. What you get is a big site - 25 rooms - and an intriguing heist/rescue.