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  • Designer Diary: Satori

    by Paco Yanez

    Hello, I'm Paco Yanez, the designer of Satori. I am also a Japan lover who almost always gets inspiration from Japanese culture when starting work on a game, at least to feel more comfortable testing whether the preliminary ideas work. At the same time, I'm aware that most of the time the theme may change when the game is published, depending on the publisher's preferences. However, in the case of Satori, it evolved while maintaining the essence it had from the beginning, including the name.

    In December 2021, I came up with the idea of creating a game centered around Buddhist monks' meditation while using time as part of the mechanisms. The monks would venture to the mountains to meditate and attain certain "things", which would enable them to reach other things and so on. In other words, they will experience "satori", a Japanese term describing the moment of enlightenment in Buddhism.

    From the beginning, I consider the feelings I would like to convey with the game as this prevents me from easily losing my way. I wanted each game to be different and to have a lot of interaction between players — the more interaction, the better. I wanted to have many moments of satisfaction throughout the game...even on each turn, if possible.

    On the other hand, I enjoy incorporating common elements that create synergies and offer variable benefits to players depending on the moment. Furthermore, I try to make the theme relevant in the game since it simplifies the mechanisms and ultimately enhances the gameplay experience.

    First prototype
    In January 2022, I began working on the initial ideas for the game. I started by designing several altars and the three mountains where the monks would go to meditate. The altars each represent the available actions in the game, and players can build new altars that will alter the initial actions since new altars would be customized when built, giving the game dynamism and variability.

    At first, monks in the mountains "connect" with the devotees at the altars to receive "bonuses", and these bonuses were delimited by the available actions of the altars. However, once satori tiles were introduced, the game saw a rise in variability, which intensified the decision-making and increased the potential for chain reactions.

    I like to impose restrictions or limitations on components as it helps me get the ideas flowing, especially at the beginning. Therefore, I changed the devotee's meeples to cards, which facilitated the introduction of a draft mechanism to trigger interaction from the start of each round.

    Devotees as cards
    Besides the altars and mountains, there was an area with two reward tracks. You had to choose on which track to progress when you executed this action, weighing the benefits of immediate rewards versus end-of-game points, which also depended on other elements you had developed during the game.

    The two pagoda tracks
    The next step was introducing the pagoda in the game. It became another way to score points and ended up replacing the two previous tracks.

    The pagoda brought more options to connect with other game elements like the satori tiles, which also function as a ceiling, turning it into another resource for the game and suddenly, connecting all the elements of the game becomes essential.

    First test of the pagoda
    As testing progressed, I tried to manage the weight that each element and mechanism had in the game to ensure that they were balanced without any isolated element. I used to do checkpoints at regular intervals to check each layer of the game, and one of these checks brought one of the first changes, which was to turn devotee cards into meeples again and get rid of the constant draft mechanism, which in practice was an additional layer that contributed nothing, while meeples allowed turns to be resolved faster.

    Thanks to this, the area where the devotee cards were played within the altars made way for the idea of incense burners (jokoros), which at first were built only on the altars, boosting your final score based on how many different altars on which you had built, but later the jokoros extended to the pagoda, where the scoring depends on the pagoda's level of development at the end of the game.

    Devotees become meeples again
    I continued playtesting the game for an extended period until I discovered the most significant change that transformed it from an idea into a more serious prototype. This change introduced the prayer wheel, then incense as a new resource. These additions completely transformed the gameplay experience, intensifying chain reactions and enhancing game variability.

    Incense burners as cubes on the pagoda's floors and the prayer wheel
    Conversations with different publishers were held until November 2022. I eventually signed a contract with Perro Loko Games, a small Spanish publisher known for the care and commitment put into each of its games, and this is what I was looking for. Then, as an incentive, they told me that the game would be illustrated by Edu Valls, who you might recognize for his work in Bitoku or the recent 3 Ring Circus. I couldn't have been more excited...

    From that moment on, we started working together. The amazing Perro Loko testers and I spent around four months working on and enjoying the game twice a week. During this time, we adjusted many elements, and even ideas that had I discarded at the beginning came up again, such as the objective cards that were polished during this phase.

    I took statistical notes by rounds, tracking the source of points of every single game during this period so that I could compare the impact of every change we made.

    I was not the best player
    Although the temples were adjusted throughout the development of the game and provided variability of the available actions, we felt that they were a little out of the player's interaction — until I introduced the offerings' track, which now allows all the elements to be connected.

    Offering track on TTS
    Soon Edu's first illustrations began to arrive, and it was brutal to see how the game was coming to life.

    Incense burner (above) and an altar (below)

    The solo mode and the pagoda's sōrin (the vertical shaft on top of the pagoda) were the last elements to arrive. The sōrin came in to boost a variable scoring source in the last round of the game.

    For the solo mode, I wanted you not to have to learn to play a different game, so in Satori, the AI reacts in one way or another to your actions through simple rules. You must try to optimize each of your turns as in the regular game, while also preventing the AI from taking too much advantage from its reaction to your turn; at the same time, you want to shape the actions of the AI for your own benefit.

    Satori has been a lot of time and work, but it was satisfying in the end, so I would like to give thanks to all testers. Every single play was valuable to me and helped me to make the game better.

    Paco Yanez

    Images of the production components Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Friedemann Friese vs. 2023 (and 2022)

    by Friedemann Friese

    Given my surprise to harsh reactions over my design decisions in Findorff, I decided to write short explanations of my games before the Essen game fair starts.

    With Findorff, people complained about all of the cards having a fixed amount of 50 VPs. Some even called that decision a result of "laziness".

    However, initially the game design was only about building these cards, and in the first prototype you got five cards, and whoever built them first won. That turned out not to be suitable for this design, but I prefer race-style games to VP-optimizing games and wanted to focus the game strategy on building these cards. I hate that in almost all modern VP games that my focus while gaming is directed to micro-optimizing points. I think the idea that all games have to be balanced to death is a trap for modern game design, and a result of this goal is that often no matter what you do, you will still be fighting for victory in the end.

    This might sound satisfying as a design goal for a game, but on the other hand, what are the consequences of this? No big (emotional) events in a game are possible because no one can make a giant leap; you get points for everything — even breathing, it seems — and in the end the person who does micro-VP calculations best wins because everything else is so balanced that it is unimportant.

    I took a different approach in Findorff. If you manage to build more cards than the others, you win.

    I want to design games I like to play, and in Findorff I can focus only on big points to win — and if somebody plays as well as I do, then we have to fight for small points because we've equaled out our big points.

    But let me stop lamenting about last year. Another year has passed, so let's look at other choices I've made in designing my games.

    First, I did an expansion for Fancy FeathersIt is getting colorful!

    Fancy Feathers doesn't have the highest BGG rating — not a surprise for a filler game — but it sold well and was easy to expand because the concept already has you using only some of the sets of cards included in the game. Now you have more sets from which to choose.

    Also, Fancy Feathers won the 2023 Austrian "Spiel der Spiele" award for card games, and a successful game needs an expansion!

    Faiyum is my second-best game, based on the average rating at BGG, and I already said in the rules that I planned to do an expansion — but even successful games receive complaints, and when complaining about Faiyum, gamers think the game is too long, that it has too many cards, especially for two players. A lot of people just cut out a number of random cards from the beginning and seem to be happy with this. We had this discussion in the prototype times, and I agreed with one of my testers that the game needs this length to build up the strategy, but tastes differ.

    I wanted to make this expansion, but had in mind that the game already has more than enough cards in it, so it took me some time to think about how to add more cards without making the game longer. It was a paradox, but while thinking about the situation, I had the idea of introducing privileges: cards that do not enter a player's hand.

    If these cards are added to the game, the pile of cards will be bigger, yes, and the number of turns in which you buy cards will be higher, yes, so the number of turns in the game will rise, yes! — but the turns in which you buy cards are the fastest in the game, and if you buy an instant card and use it right away, it's done and gone, so that's not much longer.

    Permanent privileges
    On top of that, if you buy a card that stays on the table and gives you discounts or more resources, you can have better turns, and more importantly you can get rid of the least powerful cards in your hand earlier in the game, so the cards from the starting deck will not played as many times as before, so you'll end up taking fewer turns overall, which sounds weird but is true.

    In the end, the game is nearly as long as it was without the expansion, but now you have more different options, so what's not to like...

    Freaky Frogs From Outaspace is a solo game, one of several I've made.

    Some people tell me that Friday is the best pure solo game ever. We've sold over 100,000 copies, so it is a huge success. Finished! is not such a big success, but I play it every single day, and (if I look in the daily high scores on the app) about a hundred other people play it that often. Finished! is a game that you dislike or become addicted to. I often meet these addicted gamers, and they tell me that they play it very often. I only play the app now because I've worn out fifteen physical copies of the game. (I try to have single-player modes for my other games, but I do not like to play against bots, so I try to make version without bots.)

    Freaky Frogs From Outaspace is a pinball machine game for one player. I had really looked forward to playing Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade, but when I played it the first time, I was disappointed because it does not simulate a pinball machine. It is just a very well done roll-and-write VP-optimizing game with a well-matching theme, but not pinball as a game. Pinball has to be a game in which you can theoretically play endlessly. (It's not very probable, of course, but it is possible.)

    So I started to design a pinball-machine card game. In Freaky Frogs From Outaspace, you will start to be happy to go over 10K points, but the more you play, the better you get, and my actual high score is over 350K. (It took me over an hour real time playing it that was long and exhausting, but great.)

    Dale Yu from The Opinionated Gamers helped us on the English rules, got the game for playing, and had a similar experience. I met him earlier this year, and he came to me asking, "If I get the Multiball early in the game, I could play forever?!" I agreed and said that this was the purpose of the design. To be honest, it is like a game in which you roll a die and as long as you do not roll a "1", you stay in the game. This is theoretically endless, yet in practice not — but I wanted to have that feeling.

    In Freaky Frogs From Outaspace you have, of course, more decisions than only rolling a die, and there is a learning curve to get to know your card deck and the pinball machine better. Maura is a real pinball enthusiast, so the artwork is amazing.

    Final pinball table
    That said, I am a bit stressed because I know many people will not like it because this game can be absolutely unfair (like a real pinball machine). When my first physical copy arrived, I played my first game and got over 100K points, but the next four(!) games, I didn't even score my final ball because they were all around 1K or 2K points. My sixth game, though, was over 170K, and this is the reason I love the design: If I lose, I do it quickly, but if it really goes well, I play longer and get into the flow and this is so satisfying.

    FTW?! is one of these filler card games to play just for fun — sitting around a table, shuffling, dealing, playing a card, and looking at how the next player reacts.

    I had very good games at the Gathering of Friends in Niagara Falls with a lot of different people, but a while later there were BGG ratings — not-so-good ratings, that is — from people I did not play with. Looking into what happened, I discovered that one player had put it on and the game could be played there. (I don't recall anybody asking if it would be okay to put it on this platform.)

    Personally I think a game is everything together: the physical copy, the players with me at the table, and the artwork. I think I would not like this game as much as I like it now if I had played it only as an abstract challenge online without the direct reactions of my fellow players. I hope this will not lower the game's chances on the market.

    The game is surprisingly good, and you have to play it at least two times. The rules are easy, and you can play it as a kind of climbing-number game. When you cannot or do not want to play a higher card, you still have to play a card, but you also take a card from the discard pile. The most interesting idea about this game is that it ends when one player has only one card left — you don't have to get rid of all your cards — and you try to have one very high card left because you score positive points for your highest card and negative points for all other cards in hand. The first time you play FTW?!, you cannot imagine what will happen in this endgame. The second time you play it, you will change your strategy and see something new.

    In the end, I think this game is for people who are sitting at a table (maybe with some drinks) and playing it. Playing it online is only a theoretically analytical challenge — not so much fun!

    Black Friday is the new version of Schwarzer Freitag, but really it's a new edition with major changes.

    Schwarzer Freitag had one of the worst rulebooks ever made, and only pure fans managed to play it right and enjoy it. The game still has these fans, and some tried to influence Rio Grande Games into making it again. Additionally, in Asia stock-trading games are very popular, so our Asian partners were really happy that we wanted to republish it.

    I still think it is one of the best stock-trading games and was happy to rework it. First, I did normal things like changing the values of the shares so that the higher numbers end only with a "0", which means players can more easily calculate the money to pay or to get.

    Second, the most important change was cutting out the loans. In the old version, you took loans only when you needed money, but with this theme you should be able to take as many loans as you are permitted to. However, some players don't like having loans and always think they are bad. (In real life this might help your finances, but if you play a game with a finance shark, you should think differently.) These players lose the game only because they try to avoid loans, and this was not the intention of the designer.

    Game board
    To have a better game experience, every player now gets initial money and this works so much better. Putting the shares in the drawing bag and drawing them to change the stock prices and the built-in crisis is still the core mechanism of the game, but the passing action now has more strategic use, which is good for players who sold all their shares (in the endgame) to have some more decisions to make when passing.

    I do my designs the way I like them and hope you all like them as well, but sometimes I feel so misunderstood. Every single design has this problem. I have to like the design and must get a feeling for it in order to put so much work and time into it, but in the end I also want to make games that the gamers like.

    Even so, I'm still not convinced to work only for the market, and I like my design philosophy: "If I like the game, then there will be enough people out there who will like it as well!" Sometimes it works better like with Power Grid, sometimes not.

    Another year, and I think: We made great games...again!

    Friedemann Friese
    2F-Spiele Read more »
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  • Retool or Dump

    I almost canceled my new Cyberpunk: Red campaign. Well…I thought about it. I was four sessions in and the game had not gelled. That is a red flag for me. I did some introspection and pondered what about it was not working for me. When I had a handle on what wasn’t working, I talked to my players. After a good discussion, we decided not to dump the game, but rather re-tool the campaign. So, I thought I would talk today about the two options, we have when a game is not quite doing it for us: Retool or Dump.

    Gelling The Campaign

    A new campaign is like the first season of a TV series. The characters are not fully developed, and everything is a bit clunky. With a good TV series, within a few episodes, it either comes together and forms a solid series, or it never gels and winds up getting canceled. 

    The same holds true for campaigns. In those first few sessions, everything is a bit clunky. Players have not fully embodied their characters, the first story never has the same emotional hooks or depth, and if the system is new, everyone is fumbling with the system. After a few sessions, one of two things happens… It gels, that is everything starts working, players get a good feel for their characters, the emotional investment in the story takes hold, and everyone starts getting comfortable with the game system, or it does not. 

    I can’t list all the characteristics of what a campaign feels like when it gels, but you can feel it. The game starts working, people are interested, the story is compelling, the system is fun to play, and overall everyone is having a good time. When it does not gel, it’s the opposite, everything is a struggle. 

    Fail Early

    I have in my 40+ year tenure as a GM, had a lot of campaigns not take off. I have canceled more of them than I can keep track of. Over the years, I developed a philosophy of: “Fail Early and Move On.” This means that if a game is not working out after a few sessions, it’s time to make a decision about retooling it or dumping it. 

     If your game is not generating joy for you, scrap it and find another game that will bring you joy. 

    The idea is that time is limited and precious. If your game is not generating joy for you, scrap it and find another game that will bring you joy. For those of you who only play one system, scrap the campaign you have for another one…

    The Four Session Rule

    To help this along, I have what I call the Four Session Rule: Play four full sessions of the campaign, with no changes. I like four sessions because it gives you a few sessions to get used to the rules, as well as enough play to engage most of the core rules of the game. It also lets you get at least one full story done, so you can see if the setting and plots are working, and four sessions lets the players get comfortable with their characters. 

    At the end of the fourth session, discuss as a group if this game is gelling or not. If it is, keep playing. If it is not, what needs to be changed/fixed to get the game to gel? 

    This rule has become a part of the Social Contract for my group. At the end of the fourth session, we have a discussion and make a decision. 

    What to Look For

    So how do you know if you should dump a campaign or just retool it? Again, there is no exact science on this, but here are the criteria that I use. 

    The problem areas I look for are the following:

    Rules are not a good fit

     I am a person who likes a light to moderate amount of crunch to a game. I like rules and I like mechanics until they become too complex. So if a game has rules that are either too simple or too complex, then the rules are not a good fit for me. That is also true for my players. If the rules are not working for them, then it also is not a good fit. I am lucky in that my players have about the same range of rule complexity as I do. 

    In this same category is also something a bit more subjective. Are the rules fun? That is, is the game fun to play?  If the rules are annoying or frustrating then they are likely going to be a pass for me.

    Setting Is Not Working

    The next issue, for me, is if the setting is not engaging or worse is frustrating. As a GM, the setting of the game is the foundation for the stories that I am going to facilitate. If the setting is not exciting, or designed in a way that is hindering my ability to craft the plots I want to tell, then the game is going to be less enjoyable for me and start draining my energy.

    The Core Loop Is Not Interesting

    The core loop of the game is the main type of story that the characters engage in. For something like Blades in the Dark, these are jobs. In a Gumshoe game, investigations. For a D&D game, it might be Dungeon Crawling. Whatever that core loop is, it needs to be interesting and enjoyable for more than one session. After all, it’s the core loop, the majority of stories will be centered around this activity, so if this is difficult or a struggle, then why are we playing it?

    Issues with Characters

    Are the characters fitting into the setting, the core loop, and within the rules? Are the characters interesting, the kind of people I want to get to know through a campaign? Are they a good team/group/party?

    No matter what you think, as a GM, your best plots and ideas, don’t work unless the characters are interesting, work mechanically, and can operate as a team. 

    Retool or Dump

    Once you know what is not working. Now you have to decide if you want to retool or dump the campaign. This boils down to the following question:

    Can you easily change something or several things to get the game to gel?

    Some things are going to be easy to change and some things are embedded into the fabric of the game. Here is what I think about:

    • Rules – Can a house rule or two fix the issues? Then retool. Otherwise, dump the campaign for a rules system that is a better fit. 
    • Setting – Can you change the thing you are not enjoying with the setting without the premise of the setting unraveling? For instance, can you just move the game to another location and solve the problem, or are you fighting with the concept of magic in Eberon? The former is easily fixed, but the latter is not.
    • Core Loop – This one is tricky. Some games tightly couple the core loop of the game to the setting and rules (e.g. Blades in the Dark). Whereas other games have a far less tightly coupled core loop (e.g. D&D). You can’t really play Blades In the Dark if you do not want to “do jobs”, but you could find something else to do if you did not want to Dungeon Delve in D&D.
    • Characters – Are the players amenable to making changes to their characters? Would some of them make new characters? Make mechanical changes to them? Can the group change the premise of how they came together as a group? 

    After you look at the changes that need to be made you can decide if you want to retool the game or dump it. 

    If you Dump It

    This is pretty easy. Stop playing that campaign and look for something that is going to work better. Use what you learned as a way to inform your next campaign choice. 

    If you Retool

    If you retool, figure out what you need to change. Discuss with your group what story and continuity changes may need to be made to make the adjustments. Keep the parts of the game you like, anc change out what is not working. 

    You can decide to have an in-game reason for why these changes took place, or you can just make the changes by fiat, and move on. 

    CPR Case Study

    For my Cyberpunk Red campaign, there were a few issues that were preventing things from gelling:

    • The Red setting is different from 2020 or 2070, and I struggled with how it at times felt more post-apocalyptic and less chrome and neon. That was an issue that I could not fix wholesale, but I could lessen it by keeping the characters in Night City and not putting them out on the wasteland roads.
    • Core Loop – our campaign idea was to be a Nomad family traveling around helping people, but that was emphasizing the setting issues. 
    • Characters – I had one player who made a variant of the Rockerboy (Celebrity Chef) that on paper worked, but at the table never worked for me. We also did not have anyone who could do healing and we lacked a Netrunner. Not having a Netrunner in any Cyberpunk game was making writing plots a challenge.

    As I said, we decided to keep the game, and here are the fixes we made:

    • We centered the game in Night City. Our Nomad clan existed, but the characters were charged to set up a home base in Night City where the Clan could come to when they were in town, and the characters could acquire supplies for the nomads while they were on the road. 
    • Instead of helping people on the road, the characters are going to clear out and then take responsibility for some city blocks in the combat zone. They can still do good and help people, but it will be centered in the city, and in doing so will also allow us to have more recurring NPC, which is something the players wanted.
    • The one player who was playing the Nomad retired that character and created a MedTech, so the group had access to medical aid. The Rockerboy/Chef retired their character and made a Netrunner. 

    We have had two sessions, since then, and the game is running much better. It is starting to gel, and I think overall we are all happier. 

    A Watched Campaign Never Gels? (That isn’t true, but it’s catchy.)

    Campaigns are tricky. Some work and some don’t, and it’s hard to get all the factors right before you start playing the game. At the same time, your gaming time is valuable and you should be getting energy from your game. So run a new campaign for a bit (I like 4 sessions) and see if it gels. If not, figure out why it’s not working and then decide if you need to retool or dump it. 

    How about you? Do you have a set number of sessions to see if a campaign is going to gel? Do you retool struggling campaigns or do you just move on to something else? 

    Read more »
  • mp3Gnomecast#173 – Welcome Back Walt

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoShare PDFs With Your Players

    There are times when we're running our RPGs where we want to be able to share PDFs of game materials with our players. Maybe we're including 5e published material not available on D&D Beyond. Maybe we're running an entirely different roleplaying game. In either scenario, it can be either expensive for players to buy the material themselves or we'd be breaking the law (and generally behaving badly) by sharing copies of our RPG PDFs directly with players.

    It isn't reasonable to expect each of our players to drop $20 to $60 on PDFs for one campaign or one run of a new RPG and not every game offers cheap or free alternatives. I expect a lot of GMs send players copies of these PDFs but doing so is illegal and risky. Many of these PDFs are watermarked to the person purchasing the PDF. Should the watermarked PDF be widely distributed, the original purchaser could be under considerable risk. It's also morally questionable. Don't bootleg PDFs.

    So here's a better way – a free and safer way to share PDFs with your players. This content-sharing method follows the same content-sharing model used by D&D Beyond and Roll20. Just about all popular VTTs with roleplaying content allows this sharing model. This method, however, doesn't require a VTT – just Google Drive.

    If you'd rather watch a step by step video on this tip, please check out the Share PDFs With Your Players YouTube Video.

    This trick uses Google Drive so you and your players each need to have a Google account to use it.

    These steps are for the person sharing the PDF to others.

    1. Create a "shared PDF" folder in your Google Drive folder.
    2. Open that folder and upload the PDF or PDFs you want to share with your players.
    3. Select the files you want to share. Right click and press "Share".
    4. Add the Google email addresses for each of the players with whom you want to share the PDF. Make sure they're selected as "Viewer".
    5. In the upper right corner of the share window is a little gear "settings" icon. Click that icon.
    6. Ensure that "Viewers and commenters can see the option to download, print, and copy" is not selected. This ensures that the viewer can't download or print the file.
    7. Save your settings and notify your players that you shared your file.

    For the reader, they can go to their Google Drive and see that these PDFs are now shared with them. As long as the person sharing the file continues to do so, they'll be able to read the file through their browser on Google Drive but can't download it or print it.

    Sharing PDFs using Google Drive is an extremely useful trick to keep on hand anytime you want to give the players new character options, player guides, or entire rules to a game without worrying that they'll get out there to the open internet and without requiring each player to drop a lot of cash to get the materials you want to share. When you're done with the campaign, remove their access.

    Pass this tip, the article, and the video to anyone you think will find it useful!

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    This week I posted a YouTube video on the Return to Wardenwood – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 4 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

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

    • Ensure there's a choice and multiple outcomes in every scene.
    • Strong starts need not be combat but they should draw the characters (and the players) into the game.
    • What's your minimum viable set of tools and prep to run a great game?
    • Discard NPCs that don't resonate with the players.
    • Let the characters' exploits follow ahead of them as they meet new NPCs.
    • Give gods "masks" – alternative personas they wear while engaging in the world of mortals.
    • Give each monster you run an interesting flavorful move or power that defines them in the world.

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  • VideoLimit Sources While Using D&D Beyond

    Over the lifespan of D&D 5th edition Wizards of the Coast released dozens of sourcebooks including new races, subclasses, spells, backgrounds, and feats. Allowing access to all features from all sources for every campaign can result in strange character combinations fitting no particular theme and create weird game-stressing results at the table. The expansion of materials leads to players choosing the same optimal selections regardless of the direction a campaign takes (I'm looking at you, Toll the Dead) .

    Limiting sources lets you focus a campaign around a theme. For a draconic-focused campaign you might limit sources to the Player's Handbook and Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. For a more gothic horror-focused campaign you might add Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. However not every sourcebook fits in every campaign.

    D&D Beyond's Limitations

    D&D Beyond doesn't do a good job of limiting sources or identifying where material comes from. If a player owns a particular sourcebook, the options from that sourcebook appear in the character builder even if a DM limits sources in the campaign manager.

    The character builder itself has limited functions to filter out Magic: The Gathering and Critical Role content but books it considers "core" sources (I don't know whats included in that category) are always available if a player owns them. Thus, if a player owns Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, all options from that book show up.

    Even though the introductions of many of these supplemental D&D books state that their rules are optional and at the DM's discretion, D&D Beyond includes them automatically regardless of what you select in the character builder.

    Thus, if we want to limit source material (and I argue we do), it's up to us to communicate clearly to our players how to choose from limited options.

    During our session zero we want to clarify which sources are allowed, which sources are not, and how to use D&D Beyond with these limitations in mind. Here's an example list we might offer to players during our session zero of a dragon-themed campaign:

    • This campaign uses a limited set of character options from specific sourcebooks. We do not use every option available in D&D Beyond.
    • Races for this campaign include those in the Player's Handbook and those in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons.
    • Character options and spells for this campaign can be selected from the Player's Handbook,, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. We also use the "Customizing Your Origin," "Changing Your Skill," "Changing Your Subclass," and the "Optional Class Features" from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (but not its subclasses or most of its spells).
    • We'll replace the Players Handbook "conjure" spells with the Tasha's "summon" spells.
    • Please note that D&D Beyond doesn't clearly display which options are from which sources. There's no good way to limit sources in D&D Beyond. Thus, pay careful attention to which races, subclasses, spells, and feats you select and ensure they're coming from the sources above.
    • When selecting features, look up subclasses, spells, and feats from the sourcebooks above. Don't browse options in the character builder. It displays every option available and doesn't make it clear where a source came from.
    • Likewise the "Game Rules" links often show all available sources such as every subclass for a given class. Instead, read the sourcebooks mentioned above under "sources."
    • Once you've selected the features you want from the sourcebooks directly, select those options in the character builder.

    Here's a potential shorter explanation suitable for a one-page campaign guide:

    This campaign uses limited sources. When using D&D Beyond, ensure you browse and select options from the sourcebook directly before choosing options in the character builder. The character builder does not filter out options from other sourcebooks.

    Selecting from limited options in D&D Beyond is an arduous process but without a good way to filter sources, we have to work with our players to help them select only the features available in the sources we want for our campaign.

    You might ask again if it's worth the trouble to limit sources in your campaign. I argue it is. Limitations fuel creativity. Selecting specific sourcebooks lets every campaign we run feel different from the others, with new and often undervalued options available to players who might otherwise focus on the most optimal options regardless of the theme of the campaign.

    With some work on our part and that of our players, we can weave a rich tapestry of unique campaigns we run for years to come.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    This week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on The Idol of Unduluk – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 3 Lazy GM Prep and Choosing Perfect Monsters.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patreons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

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

    • Build big scenes involving combat, exploration, and roleplaying all mashed together.
    • Think about your dungeons in three dimensions. What's above and what's below?
    • Throw in lots of extra monsters and let your characters get away with all sorts of shenanigans.
    • Let players hurl bad guys off of cliffs.
    • Provoke opportunity attacks.
    • Are your characters particularly powerful? Throw more monsters at them.
    • Avoid stereotypical intelligent creatures. Derro aren't "crazy", they see multiple worlds simultaneously!

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    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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