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  • KOSMOS and AMIGO Tease 2023 Games

    by W. Eric Martin

    The 2023 Spielwarenmesse trade fair in Nürnberg, Germany doesn't open until February 1, but German game publishers have already started teasing titles due out in the first half of 2023.

    AMIGO will have two spin-off titles to popular game lines, with both Privacy Duo from Reinhard Staupe and Halli Galli Twist from Haim and Uri Shafir being card games for 2-4 players. All of the previous Privacy titles have been party games for at least five players, so I have no idea what to expect here, but you can be sure that Halli Galli Twist will feature a bell to smash. Brand consistency, people!

    KOSMOS has started announcing its early 2023 line-up on its Instagram page, with (like AMIGO) two line extensions, along with two other titles:

    Belratti is a new edition of the Michael Loth party game that became a surprise hit for publisher Mogel-Verlag at SPIEL '18. In the game, players alternate taking turns as painters and buyers, with painters choosing works of art from their hand that match revealed topics and buyers trying to identify these cards from the fake ones that wannabe artist Belratti has shuffled among the actual art.

    Autsch! is a German edition of the 2022 card game Ouch! from Romain Caterdjian, Théo Rivière, and Devir, with players trying not to get stuck by cacti thorns as they collect plants. (To watch the game play out, watch this GameNight! playthrough video.)

    Cartaventura: Karawanen is a German edition of Cartaventura: Caravans, the fourth co-operative narrative card game from Pierre Buty, Thomas Dupont, and BLAM !

    Suspects: Shakespeares Tränen is a co-operative murder mystery deduction game from Guillaume Montiage and Manuel Rozoy that will be sold as part of a trilogy — Suspects 2 — from originating publisher Studio H.

    Additionally, in January 2023, KOSMOS plans to release Ubongo Schul-Edition, with this being a special €220 package that contains elements of Ubongo, Ubongo Junior Mitbringspiel, and Ubongo 3-D Family, with components for 28 players, downloads for teachers, and educational supplements for use in the classroom.

    Finally, at least for now, KOSMOS has three titles that were delayed from September 2022 to January 2023:

    Die Legenden von Andor: Die Ewige Kälte, a large box standalone game in the Andor universe from designer/artist Michael Menzel.

    Der Herr der Ringe: Gemeinsam zum Schicksalsberg, a 1-4 player co-operative dice-based game by Michael Rieneck in which you need to get Frodo to Mount Doom.

    My Island, a a competitive legacy game for 2-4 players from Reiner Knizia in which each player builds their own island from hexagons over 24 games.

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Time of Empires

    by sébastien dujardin

    Here is the designer diary from David Simiand and Pierre Voye for Time of Empires, the next game from Pearl Games, which will be released in stores on November 25, 2022. —Sébastien Dujardin, manager of Pearl Games

    Even Before Creation...

    A game, and part of a game, necessarily starts with an encounter between at least two players. So it was in the games bar in Dijon, the Dé Masqué, where we met. Regularly playing together, we noticed that we had much the same playful tastes. One day in December, David asked Pierre this simple question: "Would you like to play a game of civilization with hourglasses?" The idea came from several inspirations, and we thought there was a way to achieve something.

    The first inspiration comes from the game Space Dealer, which already used hourglasses as a means of doing actions. The second is the desire to play with the passage of time to build History with a capital H; it seemed obvious for a game of civilization to use the passage of time in this way. The third is real-time strategy video games (such as Age of Empires), whose loading times are used to produce soldiers and harvest resources, for example. Finally, the last is a lesson from Fernand Braudel, an eminent historian who defined History as several times that flow at different rhythms. For example, the time of war and politics is a short time compared to that almost immobile time of socio-economic structures, and it is this hiatus that we wanted to put in the game. This is why we wanted to create "emergencies" (war, events...) whose temporality can break that of the structural one, which consists, for example, of constructing buildings in order to develop one's economy.

    And so, how to make an "expert" level civilization game with hourglasses, which are more associated with party games? This simple question turned into a real challenge that galvanized us immediately. The first was to make a board game — which is a disconcerting idea when you have never created anything: How do you do it? What are the steps? What does it take to turn an idea into a game? We were getting into a civilization game, a type of game we love (as with Through the Ages to name just one of our favorites). As a result, we were going to take inspiration from this type of game and the codes of the genre, with the "style exercise" side of the game being created on our own.

    But the biggest challenge was the integration of the "real-time" experience via the installation of workers from hourglasses, a simple but very strong idea. This is how the creation of Time of Empires began.

    From the beginning of the creation process as well as for our other fun creation projects, we set ourselves a course to follow a rule: Keep the same state of mind by making games that we want to play and that we miss by their absence in the playful world. It is our main source of motivation and most of our decisions, our good ideas, and our game design mistakes come from this desire to make games that we like.

    Alpha Prototype

    A few weeks after this proposal from David, we started and quickly several elements were fixed; they will stay until the end.

    First, the choice of the action system with two 30-second hourglasses: thirty seconds because it's neither too short (we have time to think) nor too long (we don't get bored), and two hourglasses because just one is useless — it would amount to simple turn-based gameplay — and more than two would be too much to handle.

    In addition, we wondered how to solve the action related to the installation of the hourglasses:

    • Do as in a video game: We place the hourglass, and we resolve the action at the end of the hourglass because the passage of time represents the time to do the action.

    => This first possibility quickly had to be abandoned as it led to haste and forgetfulness.

    • Or put down the hourglass and activate it while it is flowing.

    In short, a game that had to be refined as there were too many things, some of which we managed to easily modify, while others took us a lot of time.

    The game would take place in three ages: antiquity / Middle Ages, modern times, and finally contemporary times. We like the feeling of development, of going through time.

    We have taken up the classic pillars of civilization and 4X games: science, culture, production, agriculture, military, happiness, etc.
    What's great in a civilization game is the duality between the need to be strong everywhere (it takes everything to have a good civilization) and the fact that the game pushes you to specialize. Here every pillar is necessary to build a stable civilization. Science provides access to development; resources make it possible to construct buildings; food to increase population; culture to make victory points.

    From all these elements, we made a first ugly prototype and here it is:

    Eureka! It works!
    The game is there: The idea works...but it's way too heavy! We were far too ambitious with too many parameters. And yes, you will no longer have to deal with happiness, revolutions between governments, random events, attacking barbarians, the formation of troops in several times, etc.

    Proto Refinement

    We then decide to make a nice prototype (drinking too much porto wine) that we rework again and again and that we present first at game festivals: Paris est Ludique! then FLIP in Parthenay, France.

    We then had four types of constructible buildings that provide the following four elements:

    • Science (in green), which allows you to research very different technologies with various effects
    • Civilians (in orange), who bring resources to build buildings
    • Agriculture (in yellow), which allows the growth of the population
    • Cultural (in blue), which allows you to gain victory points

    We develop our board by adding technologies, which allows us to build buildings that help us develop.

    For interaction, players will seek to expand their territory on the common board, possibly going to war. There are also leader and wonder cards that players compete to collect.

    We go to festivals and win the FLIP creator competition, especially for mechanical originality.

    Editorial Work

    From there, to our very great satisfaction, Sébastien from Pearl Games is interested in publishing the game. We are a fan of this editor, and he is motivated to edit our civilization game in real time despite the editorial risks: good hourglasses, cost, etc.

    And there, Sébastien puts his finger directly on points that we had not seen when we thought we had already mowed the mammoth. Indeed, the game remains too heavy, and some of our mechanisms even break its fundamental principle: the setting of hourglasses! For example, the technologies were very complex and required a long draft phase between ages that could last almost as long as the real-time phase.

    Similarly, we were fixed on three ages of fifteen minutes...which was much too long due to two negative consequences. First, that was a lot of actions, with sixty actions per age and 180 actions in total. This forced us to design filler actions, actions with little impact and little interest in order to limit the increase in power. Second, the players ended their games wiped out. When you think about it, 180 actions is huge as most management games are played in 30-40 actions.

    Thus, one of the first pieces of feedback from Sébastien was to divide by three the costs of the wonders to divide by three the playing time. We had not even realized that we could simply reduce the costs for a very similar result that would be more effective in terms of playing feel.

    The editorial work started then. We received beautiful maps and graphics, prototypes that were more elegant than ours. Little by little, our game became concrete.

    We thank Sébastien again for believing in our game, and we hope that you too will enjoy developing your civilization in three ages of nine minutes each!

    David & Pierre Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • Return to Morley's Workshop - A 5e One Shot
    Publisher: Dark Realm Maps

    Return to Morley’s Workshop

    This is a one shot DnD 5e adventure for 2nd to 4th level characters. It leads on from the adventure called “Murder at Morley’s Workshop” and is set in the village where Morley’s Workshop is situated. The players are enlisted to exterminate a creature that has come through the portal which Morley originally discovered.


    After the events surrounding Ellen’s return in Murder at Morley’s Workshop, the story of her transformation became common knowledge in the village. This led to the Village Committee deciding that something should be done about the portal as it posed a threat to the safety of their homes. At first, the forest was declared to be out of bounds, which seemed straightforward enough and most people adhered to the rule. But one night a group of youths ventured into the darkness and found that the portal had become unstable, ripping open a permanent passage from the Material Plane to the Feywild. They could see the edge of another forest through the opening, but one that was very different to their own. It was dark, ancient and twisted, overrun with copper flecked mushrooms, and purple veins ran through the looming trunks. Its magical presence struck fear into their hearts. The three youths attempted to flee, but two of them were taken captive by an unidentified beast that charged at them from the portal. The third individual escaped and raved for days about what happened before leaving the village for good.

    That is when it started. Soon after, people began going missing and the creature from the wood was blamed for the disappearances. It was sighted going underneath the workshop, as if drawn to it because of what had happened there. Many of the villagers have now moved away, and those that remain live in fear as they have nowhere to go and know the beast will come for them in the end. So, they try to enlist the party of adventurers who helped before.

    Return to Morley's Workshop - A 5e One ShotPrice: $3.49 Read more »
  • Mythos Spell Pack(preview)
    Publisher: Osiris

    A pack of spells designed specifically to be used with the Mythos Insanity System, these are a part of a preview pack, partially as a playtest of future content to come. Please consider making donations, to this project. If sufficient funds are reached, larger spell packs as well as monster tomes and other rules supplements will be released at cheaper prices and sooner than originally planned.

    Note. art is ai generated

    Mythos Spell Pack(preview)Price: $5.00 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • Midnight Legacy of Darkness Review

    Today, we’re going to look at a setting that has been around for almost 20 years but isn’t an official Dungeon & Dragons setting. The Midnight Campaign Setting was released by Fantasy Flight in 2003 using the 3.0 version of the OGL. An updated version came out for the 3.5 version of the OGL in 2005. On DriveThruRPG, you can find seventeen additional supplements for the setting there were produced in the D&D 3rd edition era.

    This was apparently a property that Fantasy Flight regarded highly, as it was used as the basis for a Runebound board game in 2006, and in 2008, The Midnight Chronicles were produced. This was a live-action movie set in the Midnight setting that was meant to serve as a pilot, if any production company wanted to jump in to produce the series. Unfortunately, it seems like this push for a live-action treatment fell in the lull in fantasy interest between the Lord of the Rings movies and the Game of Thrones television series.  While I have seen the movie, I unfortunately have not seen the 4th edition D&D adventure that apparently was released at the same time.

    What is Midnight?

    There is a lot of talk about modern fantasy and how it is defined by Tolkien’s tropes. In this case, Midnight is a setting that wants to play with those tropes, but with the twist that the fallen god that is master of The Shadow won his bid to dominate the world. Players are running characters trying to survive and perhaps put up a resistance to an all-encompassing evil that has (almost) destroyed every bastion of peace in the world.

    When Fantasy Flight was purchased by Asmodee, their RPG properties appeared to be in limbo, but eventually, Edge Studios emerged as the new company spun off by Asmodee to handle the RPG properties now inherited from Fantasy Flight. Once Edge Studios began to establish a social media presence, one of the first things the account teased was a return to the Midnight setting. Because of some of the changes to how magic and classes worked in the setting, I was fully expecting a Genesys implementation of the setting, but instead, Edge studies went back to the roots of the setting and created a 5e OGL version.


    I owned the 3rd edition version of the Midnight setting, and I have watched The Midnight Chronicles, but I have not had the opportunity to play in the setting under any edition. I am, however, very familiar with D&D 5e both as a player and as a DM. I am working from my own copy of the Midnight Legacy of Darkness book, but I have received a review copy of other products from Edge Studios in the past.

     Midnight Legacy of Darkness

    Previous Editions Design and Development Greg Benage and Robert Vaughn
    Current Edition Design and Development Sam Gregor-Stewart
    Additional Writing and Development Jeffery Barber, Greg Benage, Ian J. Brogan, Shannon Kalvar, Eric Olson, Wil Upchurch, Robert Vaughn, and Sam Witt with Jack Holcomb
    Editing Christine Crabb
    Proofreading Max Brooke and Kate Cunningham
    Sensitivity Review Coordinator Erin Olds
    Sensitivity Readers Heba Elsherief, Savannah Tenderfoot, and Tova Seltzer
    RPG Manager Sam Gregor-Stewart
    Graphic Design Paco Dana Graphic
    Design Manager Curro Marín
    Cover Art Antonio Maínez and Paco Dana
    Cartography Francesca Baerald
    Art Director Antonio Maínez
    Interior Art Yunir Bagautdinov, Klaher Baklaher, Massinissa Belabbas, Michael Bierek, Mauro Dal Bo, Caravan Studio, Javier Charro, Paco Dana, Nathan Elmer, Victor García, Yorsy Hernandez, Tomas Honz, Pawel Hordyniak, Nicolas Jamme, Sarunas Macijauskas, Antonio Maínez, Monsters Pit, Tomasz Morano, Daniel Pinal, Adrian Prado, Unreal Studio, Halil Ural, Bram Willemot and Ting Xu
    Development Manager Luis E. Sánchez
    Studio Coordinator Stéphane Bogard
    Head of Studio Gilles Garnier
    Fantasy Flight Games Midnight Setting created by Greg Bena

    The Midnight Book

    This review is based both on the physical book and the PDF version of the product. At the time of my purchase, the book came plastic wrapped, with a code for PDF redemption inside the front cover.

    The product is 373 pages long, including endpapers, a code redemption and publication page, a title page, a credits page, a one-page table of contents, a three-page index, an ad for an upcoming supplement, Crown of Shadow, and a full page OGL statement.

    I’ve now seen two Edge Studios 5e OGL books, and they are both gorgeous. This book is full color, although that palette runs to darker colors with muted backdrops. While the artwork in the original was excellent for its time, the artwork in this volume is thematically consistent with its topics and meshes well across the book.

    A gaunt, pale elf, holding a staff topped by a blue gem.Differences between Editions

    I wanted to quickly touch on the differences between the 3.0 version of the setting and this version. The first thing to note is that the original version of the setting was about 250 pages, which means this volume is over 100 pages longer than the previous version.

    While much of the broad strokes of the campaign setting remain consistent, there are some changes between them. The original version of the setting introduced new classes like the Channeler, the Defender, and the Wildlander, because traditional versions of classes like wizards, sorcerers, paladins, and rangers weren’t allowed in the setting. The Channeler could learn traditional spells much more slowly than casters in the core game, and classes could pick up lower-level spells by learning feats. This was to simulate the hardships of learning magic in a setting where spellcasters are hunted down.

    The races in the setting included a section called “half-breeds,” which included dwarf-orc children that were framed as always having a tragic origin rooted in slavery and abuse.

    Orcs in the original setting were a race created to be evil by the fallen god Izrador, mutated from existing dwarves. Instead of making them created servants, the new edition adds more cultural details to orcs before they were pressed into service by Izrador and clarifies that they were a naturally occurring people that were no more likely to be prone to evil, except that Izrador’s first conquered territory happened to be their homelands.

    The version of Heroic Paths that existed in the original version of the setting were lists of abilities, based on the individual path, that automatically granted new powers at each level of progression, often in the form of spells tailored to help that character act out their destiny, and framed as innate heroic magic, rather than learned spellcasting.

    The Night King known as the Sword of the Shadow got a name change between editions. In the previous edition, the Night King’s name was Jahzir Kamael, but this was changed to Othaeron Mortenbreth, possibly to avoid the Tolkien-originated trope of allying folk with MENA attributes (or names) with the evil overlord of the setting.

    And finally, the original version of the campaign setting contained a sample adventure, which for all the expanded page count of the new edition, this version did not include.

    A massive, rotting humanoid figure wearning a horned helm and armor, holding a huge metal bar of a sword.Setting Material

    Much of the page count of this book is invested in the campaign setting’s history and locations. There is a broad section that describes what laws exist in occupied lands, how spellcasters are hunted, what lands remain free, and what languages exist in the setting.

    In the World of Midnight section, there is information that may be largely known to player characters. This section details the three human cultures of the setting, including the former human nation comprised of the other cultures, now under occupation, as well as the riders and raiders living on the run from Izrador’s troops.

    This also looks at the halfling’s lands, where the halflings are often subjugated by occupying forces, and the river lands, home of the gnomes, who carefully work for Izrador’s forces while acting as smugglers and spies.

    The dwarven lands remain free of Izrador, but that’s largely because they are isolated. They take in some humans that have fled to their lands but prepare to eventually be overrun once the armies tunnel into their underground lairs or scale the peaks.

    The massive forest Caraheen is the battleground between the Witch Queen and her elves, and the forces trying to press into the forest or burn it down. The forest is large enough to have rainforests in the south, and snowy regions in the North, and the elves use the spirits of the dead, bound to the trees, to create the Whisper that warns them of what is coming.

    The lands controlled by Izrador’s forces are covered in The Secrets of Midnight section of the book, which discusses the Northern Marches, the lands formerly settled by the orcs, as well as the occupied sections of other lands. This also details the various temples of Izrador and their Black Mirrors, sacrificial altars that are slowly sucking the magic out of the world to help Izrador rebuild his physical form.

    This section also spends a lot more time discussing orc culture, looking at how orcs have some of the most sophisticated linguistics of all the species in the setting. They also delve into the orc’s matriarchal culture, and how there is a growing matriarchal cult that is encouraging orcs to desert Izrador’s service and reclaim their own society.

    A terrier watching over two terrier puppies playing with a stick.Unique Creatures of the Setting

    The interesting thing about the Midnight setting is that it’s in some ways the aftermath of what a D&D setting might look like after an evil overlord’s shadow passed over the land, but not every D&D-ism is native to the setting. In this way, it’s not entirely unlike Dark Sun, but minus the ecological disaster and the separate masters of individual city-states.

    The Creatures of Midnight section touches on each of the major monster types used for D&D, and explains, in broad strokes, which ones exist here, which ones used to exist here, and what shows up here that doesn’t appear elsewhere.

    As an example of some changes to the setting’s lore for creatures, many Dire animals are actually intelligent creatures that seek to preserve nature and resist Izrador’s troops, although not in organized resistance. Constructs are strictly the product of divine magic, so only those created by followers of Izrador function in the current age. Dragons are unique entities, rather than individual species. The only surviving giants are hill giants, who are pressed into Izrador’s service. Because of the barrier keeping out the gods, celestials and fiends that were in the world when the barrier went up are trapped in the world.

    Of the unique creatures in the setting, the Astirax are fiends used by the Legates, Izrador’s clerics, to sniff out and hunt magic, and they do this by possessing natural animals. Fiends and celestials that have been destroyed, but can’t reform in their home planes, become possessing spirits known as Wrathstalkers and Haunting Angels. Halflings have the absolute best friends ever in the form of Wogren, “monstrosities” that appear like dogs and can sense the presence of supernatural creatures. They use these senses to help keep halfling communities safe, and the Wogren puppy artwork makes me want one.

    NPC stat blocks include varying CR stat blocks for soldiers in Izrador’s legion, Legates of different orders, including the Witch Takers, who specialize in finding spellcasters for reeducation or sacrifice. There are also a few stat blocks for different resistance fighters from various cultures.

    The Night Kings, Izrador’s most powerful servants, all get stat blocks as well:

    • Ardherin, The Sorcerer of Shadow (CR 25)
    • Othaeron, The Sword of Shadow (CR 25)
    • Sunulael, The Priest of Shadow (CR 25)
    • Zardrix, The Wrath of Shadow (CR 26)

    All the Night Kings were once servants of good, who became tempted, corrupted, or lost hope in the face of Izrador’s victory. Each one commands an aspect of Izrador’s legions or a facet of his overall plan, although Zardrix, the tragically corrupted dragon, is largely a force of destruction let off her leash when Izrador needs wide scale destruction.


    While this version of the setting no longer has the custom core classes, there are still some mechanical changes and additions that the book introduces. There are no tieflings, dragonborn, half-elves, or half-orcs in the setting, and there are no clerics, monks, or warlocks.

    Unfortunately, the book still uses the term “race” for the individual cultures, and it presents them in the older 2014 standard, meaning that stat bonuses are attached to these races. None of the entries include an alignment line, because the book assumes that no one is playing villains in the game, and anyone can be a survivor or a hero. The “standard” races included in the book get Midnight-specific statistics, and these include:

    • Humans
      • Dorns
      • Sarcosans
      • Erenlanders
    • Dwarves
      • Clan
      • Kurgun
    • Elves
      • Caransil (High)
      • Danisil (Wood)
      • Erunsil (Sea)
      • Miransil (Snow)
    • Gnome
    • Halfling
      • Enslaved
      • Nomadic
    • Orc

    The Heroic Paths that existed in the previous editions are present here, but instead of a level-by-level “add-on” set of benefits, characters interact with these Heroic Path abilities via feat trees (not unlike how characters in previous editions gained access to spellcasting). These Heroic Paths are:

    • Avenger
    • Beastborn
    • Believer
    • Channeler
    • Dragonblooded
    • Earthblooded
    • Guardian
    • Ironborn
    • Preserver
    • Speaker
    • Sunderborn
    • Wildblooded

    While each character can choose an initial Heroic Path feat, the later feats in the feat tree are only gained if the character uses their normal progression choices to pick those feats. Each of these feat trees has five feats, and the last four feats in this tree have prerequisites of 4th, 8th, 12th, and 16th level, as well as the requirement to take the previous feat in the chain.

    A standing corpse with long rotting hair, wearing a crown and jewelry, with red eyes.Some of these feat trees can shore up missing elements from traditional D&D settings. For example, the Believer gains the ability to turn some kinds of foes due to their belief in something better beyond Izrador, while the Preserver picks up some extra healing ability.

    There are also unique backgrounds to the setting, new spells (many of which interact with elements that exist in the setting, such as the Astirax), and new feats. There are also notes on what spells do not function in the setting. These consist of various spells that rely on access to the planes, as well as some divination spells.

    This does lead me to a bit of confusion over a comment made in the book about returning the dead to life. Revivify, Raise Dead, and Resurrection aren’t on the list of spells that don’t exist in Midnight. Later in the book it mentions that the only way to avoid death for a PC is to be raised by a Legate of Izrador (bad option) or to be reincarnated by a Druid. However, Bards have all those spells on their class list, and Paladins eventually get Revivify.

    The DM facing mechanics include the rules for Power Nexuses, as well as several examples of where they exist in the setting. Power Nexuses can be tapped into to cast spells, but each only generates a certain number of charges, and has a cap on its maximum charges, as well as a set limit to how many charges regenerate per day. In addition to assisting in casting spells, Power Nexuses are the only locations where new magic items can be created.

    There are also Keeper of Obsidian, Soldier Legate, and Witch Taker class options, not for players, but for the DM that wants to build a Legate villain using the same rules for PCs. While I’m not usually too interested in spending time building NPCs with PC rules, it is interesting seeing cleric options that are framed around clerical orders instead of domains.

    They still mechanically get bonus spells and Channel Divinity options, but these play around with the assumptions that your 8th level subclass ability will revolve around cantrip casting or additional melee damage, and by using “order” instead of “domain,” it feels like you can cast a slightly wider net when it comes to telling a story with the abilities. I’d be interested to see this used for other clerical orders in a different setting.

    Running the Game

    Right from the start, I’m glad that the first section in Running the Game is a discussion of calibration and safety tools. In addition to explaining what Lines and Veils and X-Cards are, this section gives a shorthand of what content warnings to give players about the setting:

    • War (an especially bloody, grueling, and often asymmetrical war) and occupation by a foreign power.
    • Murder and human sacrifice (especially by the legates).
    • Child abduction (especially by the legate Witch Takers), child soldiers (especially amongst the orc legions), and potential child abuse.

    An undead dragon hovering in the air, with a wound where it's heart should be.Not only does it give these out as general content warnings, but also tells the DM to do what they can to work with players to remove content that they don’t want in the game, even if it is included in the setting itself.

    One thing that I noticed in all of the setting information is that while there is a lot that a DM can extrapolate as elements that can be added to a game, the gazetteer section is very “traditional” in its presentation, in that it doesn’t stop to address the reader about what kinds of adventures or adventure hooks might be facilitated by a specific region. Sometimes it’s not hard to do this work, but I think it’s always useful to have that more overt discussion with the DM as someone running a setting, not just reading fictional background material.

    Because of this, I was excited that there was a section called Midnight Adventures and Campaigns because I was really hoping to see outlines of what a long-running campaign might look like in this setting. Unfortunately, most of this section is about what standard D&D stories won’t work in Midnight.

    The biggest friction, to me, is that the advice is to always give the PCs hope of doing something positive, but always make sure its on a small scale. It specifically spells out that the setting isn’t about defeating Izrador and bringing a new age of peace to the land, it’s about saving this group of villagers that were taken by Legates for whatever reason. That’s fine, but it feels strange to provide heroic feat options up to 16th level, while still constraining exactly what the PCs should expect to be able to accomplish.

    I’m not even saying that a single campaign should always have its ultimate goal as defeating Izrador, but I could envision a generational approach to the setting where different campaigns managed to defeat different Night Kings, and undermine Izrador’s plans over the course of generations. Is that beyond the scope that we should be looking at for a 1st to 20th level campaign? I’m not sure from reading this.

    Honestly, I just want to see some bullet points on “this is what a tier one Midnight game should do,” “this is what a tier two Midnight game should do,” etc. But unfortunately, in this edition, we don’t even get a sample adventure to model what our first foray into the setting should be. While I have ideas on how I would run this game, I really wish we had more tools to bridge that gap from traditional D&D to this kind of setting.

    Promise of Hope

    This setting was compelling to me in the 3rd edition era, and it remains compelling to me. I love the increased lore and texture given to orc culture, and I like some of the course corrections made in the content of the campaign. In many cases, these feel less like things were removed, and more like they were slightly realigned and given more context. I like that the 5e implementation doesn’t attempt to swim upstream by reworking the magic system and creating alternative classes, given that this setting should feel like “a D&D setting where evil won.” I think swapping around too many assumed abilities, like higher-level spells, really messes with the ability of the DM to use their existing skills to plan adventures and encounters, so I’m glad that magic is a little more forgiving this time around.

    The Sundering
    I think there is going to be a disconnect between being excited about the potential of the setting and using the tools in this book to implement the setting in a game with other gamers.

     I can picture lots of individual adventures in this setting, but it’s hard to piece those together into a building narrative in my mind. All the things that feel like they should be adventurer goals, especially at higher level, are held out as things that are just part of the status quo. By 15th level, I’m not supposed to be planning how to invade a temple and destroy a Black Mirror? That doesn’t feel quite right to me. I loved the setting information, but I wish we got a little bit of a breather after individual sections, talking to us as people using this material in a game.

    Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

    My hesitation in giving this a greater recommendation isn’t because it’s not a compelling, well-written setting in a gorgeous package. It’s because I think there is going to be a disconnect between being excited about the potential of the setting and using the tools in this book to implement the setting in a game with other gamers.

    I think as this line gets more adventures and supplements, it’s probably going to be a lot easier to envision what your characters should be doing as they progress through different tiers of gameplay, but as it stands now, it feels like maintaining the status quo of the campaign world is one of the primary GM principles, and that means the play space needs a lot more definition.

    Do you have a favorite post-apocalyptic setting? What are your goals in those settings? Can you play a long-term game with your primary expectation being personal survival? We want to hear from you in the comments below.

    Read more »
  • mp3Gnomecast 153 – Our Favorite Adversaries

    We’re talking about our favorite baddies and then get a little deeper into the variations of adversaries in our ttrpgs.

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoWhat Does Challenge Rating Mean in D&D 5e?

    If you take nothing else from this article, consider this:

    A monster's challenge rating is a loose approximation of a monster's difficulty. Many factors not included in challenge ratings often affect the difficulty of a battle. Use the lazy encounter benchmark and dials of monster difficulty to build and run fun encounters and don't be afraid to run easy battles sometimes.

    The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons uses "challenge rating" (hereby referred to as CR) as a measure of the challenge of a monster. Every stat block for a monster or NPC has a challenge rating. Here's the description from the front pages of the Monster Manual.

    A monster’s challenge rating tells you how great a threat the monster is, according to the encounter-building guidelines in chapter 3 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Those guidelines specify the numbers of adventurers of a certain level that should be able to defeat a monster of a particular challenge rating without suffering any deaths. An appropriately equipped and well-rested party of four adventurers should be able to defeat a monster that has a challenge rating equal to its level without suffering any deaths. For example, a party of four 3rd-level characters should find a monster with a challenge rating of 3 to be a worthy challenge, but not a deadly one.

    Monsters that are significantly weaker than 1st-level characters have a challenge rating lower than 1. Monsters with a challenge rating of 0 are insignificant except in large numbers; those with no effective attacks are worth no experience points, while those that have attacks are worth 10 XP each.

    Some monsters present a greater challenge than even a typical 20th-level party can handle. These monsters have a challenge rating of 21 or higher and are specifically designed to test player skill.

    I've highlighted a couple of key sentences. The first highlighted sentence is the one we should pay the most attention to. A monster should be a worthy challenge — but not a deadly challenge — for four characters of an equal level to the CR of the monster.

    That's not a terrible rule of thumb, but it's not terribly useful. Many factors go into whether a particular battle is going to be challenging beyond just the challenge rating of a monster and the levels of the characters. These factors include

    • How many monsters there are in the battle compared to characters
    • Who wins initiative
    • How well rested the characters are
    • What spells the characters have access to
    • What magic items the characters have
    • The environment in which the battle occurs
    • How well the characters work together

    and more.

    What's important to note from the CR description above is that a single monster is roughly equivalent to four characters of an equal level to their challenge rating. That doesn't help us understand how multiple monsters work out, though. Which is why the Dungeon Master's Guide has it's crazy two-dial system for figuring out combat difficulty — a system both overly complicated and inaccurate in its results.

    Challenge rating is a loose guide at best. Not only does monster difficulty vary significantly within a given challenge rating but monster difficulty also changes as challenge ratings go up. CR 1/2 creatures, for example, are much more deadly to 1st level characters than CR 5 monsters are for 10th level characters.

    An Average of Multiple Statistics

    Challenge rating is an aggregate score of several statistics in a monster's stat block. A monster's challenge rating is the average of two measurements: offensive challenge and defensive challenge. Each of these two categories have various characteristics, measurements, and weights affecting their final calculation. You can find a full breakdown of these characteristics and measurements in the "Creating a Monster" section of chapter 9 in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

    Sometimes these weighted characteristics dramatically change a monster's challenge rating but might not come into play in an actual battle. Other times, particular characteristics are overweighted, giving a monster a greater challenge rating than the actual threat it brings to a battle.

    I often complain that high challenge monsters aren't nearly the threat that lower challenge monsters when compared to appropriately leveled characters. I argue that the characteristics of higher challenge monsters are weighed too heavily — high CR monsters need those abilities to challenge high level characters. An example is "legendary resistance" which counts as increasing the hit points of a monster but the whole reason a monster has "legendary resistance" is because it's going to be a huge target of "save or suck" spells. It needs those resistances because of the role legendary monsters play in the game. That's one example of many.

    It's not important to break down every characteristic to see why a monster landed at the challenge rating it did. Instead, note the most important conclusion of this article:

    Challenge rating is, at best, a loose approximation of the difficulty of a monster.

    How do you make sure high CR monsters fight at their challenge rating? Bump up their damage.

    Tools for Encounter Measurements

    Two online tools help calculate encounter difficulty using the math from the Dungeon Master's Guide: Kobold Plus Fight Club and the D&D Beyond Encounter Builder. Both use the DMG math which, as noted, isn't particularly accurate in a vacuum. I'd argue "hard" encounters by these calculations aren't actually hard above level 7 or so given what characters bring to the table.

    CR Guidelines to Keep In Mind

    If you're looking for easy measurements of combat challenge you can keep in your head, consider the lazy encounter benchmark. This benchmark doesn't break down "easy", "medium", "hard", or "deadly" levels. Instead, it focuses on identifying potentially deadly encounters. Encounters below that benchmark are easier and things above it are harder. Here's the benchmark:

    An encounter might be deadly if the total of monster challenge ratings is greater than 1/4th of the total of character levels, or 1/2 if the characters are above 5th level.

    These are loose measures at best. Due to all of the factors described earlier in this article, this comparison is only a loose gauge. Various circumstances and criteria change an encounter's difficulty dramatically.

    The Higher the Level, the Swingier Things Get

    High level characters have so many resources at their disposal that combat gets even less predictable. In the original Monster Manual description above I highlighted the section talking about CR 20+ monsters being significant challenges for 20th level characters. That's certainly not been my experience. I've watched high level characters eat through challenges far greater than a single CR 20 monster.

    So What Does CR Mean Again?

    Returning to the main question, what does CR actually mean?

    Challenge rating is a loose approximation of the difficulty of a particular monster compared to the level of the characters. Only when combining it with some encounter building math can we figure out its true relationship to the characters and those results are, at best, a loose approximation of encounter difficulty. Many factors go into the difficulty of a battle and thus it's up to each of us DMs to gauge each encounter and the potential difficulty it brings to the table.

    What can you do with challenge ratings? Use the lazy encounter benchmark to gauge a potentially deadly encounter and use the dials of monster difficulty to tune monsters to suit the situation and pacing of the game.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos including the Lazy D&D Talk Show and Session 7 of my Scarlet Citadel Lazy DM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer some of the questions I get on the monthly Sly Flourish Patreon questions and answer thread. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    D&D Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last D&D game and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's D&D tips:

    • Leave blanks in your story and setting. Fill them in as the campaign moves forward.
    • Don't get too wrapped in the zeitgeist of D&D. Focus on what helps you and your friends enjoy the game around the table.
    • It's easy to get overwhelmed with how awesome this game is. Remember it's just a game and focus on what will make it fun at your next session.
    • Build overland travel like a dungeon with paths and locations instead of hallways and chambers.
    • Increase the detail of a location only when you know the characters are going there.
    • Add interesting side locations to your overland travel. Fill them with interesting lore and treasure to discover.
    • Playing D&D one-on-one is a fantastic way to focus the campaign around a single character and much easier to schedule. Give it a try.

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  • VideoReinforce the Theme of your D&D Campaign

    Campaigns like Wild Beyond the Witchlight, Rime of the Frostmaiden, and Descent into Avernus all have themes to them. Your homebrew campaign has a theme to it. We can best try to articulate this theme by defining it with a short phrase or even a single word. Here are some examples:

    • Rime of the Frostmaiden: Isolation
    • Wild Beyond the Witchlight: Whimsy
    • Descent into Avernus: Redemption

    You may not agree with the themes above. That's cool. Reinforce the themes you want for your campaign. Perhaps, instead of "redemption" for Descent into Avernus, you prefer "fall from grace". You get to choose.

    Defining the theme of your campaign gives it focus. Every strong start, every scene, every secret or clue, every location, every NPC, every monster, every piece of treasure; every component of our prep and story reinforces this theme.

    Wild Beyond the Witchlight doesn't just have bullywugs, it has bullywugs in a silly court of constant betrayal all while wearing funny hats and frocks. Descent into Avernus doesn't just have death knights, it has death knights who once were members of an angel's army and now serve her after her fall knowing how far she has fallen. Rime of the Frostmaiden doesn't just have a ruined city, it has a city trapped under the ice for thousands of years.

    Here are two questions to ask yourself right now:

    What is the one-word theme of your current campaign?

    How do the components of your next game reinforce this theme?

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos including "Describe D&D Character Abilities on Leveling Up" and "lazy DM Prep for Scarlet Citadel Session 6".

    Patreons of Sly Flourish got lots of cool new things this past week:

    • A biography and stat block for the assassin-priest Brother Cavel for the City of Arches PDF.
    • A greatly expanded section on the Worlds Beyond the Arches for the City of Arches PDF.
    • A new Lazy DM Generator with random generators for all sorts of people, places, items, and worlds.

    Check out the November Patreon preview in the Lazy D&D Talk Show. Patrons can find them in your Patreon rewards post.

    Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from the monthly Sly Flourish Patreon Q&A thread. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    D&D Tips

    Each week I ponder what I learned in my last D&D game and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's D&D tips:

    • Prep scenes with fantastic locations, interesting NPCs, potential secrets to unravel, and a situation to unravel.
    • Expose history and narrative in small bites over the course of an adventure.
    • Don’t take away magic items.
    • Keep a list of potential magic items that fit the characters. Award them when it fits the situation.
    • Make each magic item unique with a history and, if it makes sense, a once per day spell effect.
    • Be wary putting the characters up against undefeatable foes. It’s a downward beat before it even begins.
    • Dot your maps with small lairs and old ruins to explore as sidequests.
    • Draw simple pointcrawl maps by hand. Be a kid again!

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »

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