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  • Links: Leacock on Pandemic in Today's World, Tales of Tricks Taken, and Nominees for the 2020 Origins Awards

    by W. Eric Martin

    • To follow up on my post of March 14, 2020, Pandemic was in the news again thanks to an opinion column by designer Matt Leacock in the March 25, 2020 New York Times titled "No Single Player Can Win This Board Game. It's Called Pandemic." Here's an excerpt:
    My hope is that Pandemic can provide a model for us in this time of crisis. We don't all have to be globe-trotting heroes to do our part. We each have special skills and should use them to make the city and statewide lockdowns safer and easier to bear. We need to communicate effectively, reach out to our friends and loved ones — as well as ensure that whatever we share on social media is based on facts.

    We need to cooperate, look after our older neighbors and find ways to work from home wherever possible. And we need to coordinate and share ideas for keeping the kids entertained, for helping others obtain hard-to-get supplies and for supporting health care workers on the front lines. It's going to take serious collective action and sacrifice to slow the spread of the virus. It's heartening to see organizations, individuals and some government leaders step up.

    • This headline from a February 7, 2020 article in the Wisconsin State Journal tells you almost everything you need to know: "GOP state senator wants legislative pages to stop playing 'Secret Hitler' at work".

    • Due to all the hubbub that's followed GAMA Expo 2020, I've only just now realized that I never posted the nominees for the 2020 Origins Awards, nominees that were revealed during that show. Titles released between Nov. 15, 2019 and Nov. 14, 2019 were eligible for consideration, with a jury of forty industry professionals determining the nominees, which are:

    Board Game Category
    Cloudspire, Chip Theory Games
    Colors of Paris, Super Meeple
    Guardian's Call, Druid City Games / Skybound Games
    PARKS, Keymaster Games
    Prêt-à-Porter, Portal Games
    Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare, PSC Games
    Tonari, IDW Games
    Tricky Tides, Gold Seal Games / Zafty Games

    Card Game Category
    Cogs and Comissars, Atlas Games
    DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth, Cryptozoic Entertainment
    Embers of Memory: A Throne of Glass Game, Osprey Games
    Kamigami Battles: River of Souls, Japanime Games
    Lockup: A Roll Player Tale, Thunderworks Games
    Shuffle Grand Prix, Bicycle
    UNDO: Cherry Blossom Festival, Pegasus Spiele

    Family Games Category
    ClipCut Parks, Renegade Game Studios
    Code Stack! , AMIGO Games
    Dirty Pig, North Star Games
    Draftosaurus, Ankama Boardgames
    Finger Guns at High Noon, Indie Boards and Cards

    Historical Game Category
    Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel (3rd edition), Academy Games
    Pandemic: Fall of Rome, Z-Man Games
    U-BOOT: The Board Game, Ares Games
    Watergate, Capstone Games

    Miniatures Game Category
    Gaslands: Refuelled, Osprey Games
    Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid, Renegade Game Studios
    Reality's Edge: Cyberpunk Skirmish Rules, Osprey Games
    Riot Quest, Privateer Press
    Warcry, Games Workshop

    These nominees can be viewed and demoed during Origins Game Fair 2020 — assuming that the show takes place, of course — with the winner of each category being determined by The Academy of Adventure Gaming and Arts and announced on June 20, 2020. Origins attendees can vote for their "fan favorite" in each category through the Origins Game Fair app during the show, and GAMA members will vote upon the "Game of the Year" via a digital survey.

    • In January 2020 on Opinionated Gamers, James Nathan recounted the events (from his perspective) of T6, a.k.a. "That Terrific Trick-Taking Thing Two", during which he played dozens of trick-taking games, including many Japanese releases and older titles that few people will have on their "must play" lists. An excerpt:
    One of the categories I got to add [to my spreadsheet of trick-taking games] was "may have more than 1 unresolved trick". What a category! I had only known of 1 game that would fit such a category, but am not letting myself add a column until at least 2 games necessitate it. Now this category has 6!

    That's how I knew I wanted to try Stichling. The game is played over 3 rounds, and in each round the players get 3 cards each that will grant points based on the modulus of how many tricks they win. That is, you arrange the cards in a certain order, and when you win one trick, you flip over the first card. If you win a second, you flip over the second card, and the first goes face down. The same process happens with the third trick, but for the fourth, you'll flip the third card face down, and the first will be face up again.

    The game can have up to 4 simultaneous tricks, and for much of the game, you cannot not follow suit. That is, if you don't have a purple card, you can't play a green card to a purple trick if there is another trick available to play it to, or you have room to start a new one. Players use a wooden disc in their color to mark tricks they're winning, but otherwise don't track who played which card. Tricks resolve when 4 cards have been played, and as there's no bookkeeping of who played which card, it may be that one player contributed more than one or even all of the cards to a single trick.
    Read more »
  • Duel Anew in Bohnanza to Celebrate Uwe Rosenberg's Birthday

    by W. Eric Martin

    To celebrate designer Uwe Rosenberg's fiftieth birthday, German publisher AMIGO has released a deluxe edition of Bohnanza: Das Duell. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing this item:
    In autumn 1995, Uwe Rosenberg presented the idea for the Bohnanza card game to AMIGO for the first time. Twenty-five years and numerous extensions later, Bohnanza is still an integral part of the AMIGO program. Thus, Uwe Rosenberg not only made his breakthrough as a game designer with Bohnanza in the 1990s, the bean game has accompanied him for half his life.

    With this birthday edition of its two-player version of Bohnanza, the game publisher is fulfilling a very special birthday wish for Uwe Rosenberg.

    In case you're not already familiar with the game, here's how it works:
    Give as good as you get in Bohnanza: The Duel!

    What was that thing about the gift horse? In this two-player variant of Bohnanza, both bean farmers give each other gifts of beans they can't use themselves — to make life harder for their opponent, if possible. Trying to fulfill their secret "bo(h)nus" requirements, they both need to keep a vigilant eye on the other player's bean fields.

    In more detail, both duelists have bean field mats in front of themselves on which to plant their beans. Between them is a row of eight gift cards. Each player holds five hand cards and three "bo(h)nus cards" with secret objectives. In this game, you have the option of planting more than one type of bean in the same field, but when you plant a different bean than the one you've planted previously, this new bean type must be the next highest number. When harvesting your beans, the beanometer of the card you've most recently planted is what counts.

    At the start of each turn, the active player plants two beans from their hand, then reveals bean cards from the deck as usual. Instead of trading, however, they offer their opponent one bean as a gift by pushing this bean type's gift card in their direction. The other player can accept the gift or decline it, but if they don't take it, they have to offer a gift in return. You are allowed to bluff, but it may cost you if your bluff is called! Important: Only the first player to accept a gift actually receives the bean card in question. After this exchange, plant all beans you have received and turned over, then draw new cards. "Bo(h)nus" cards can be fulfilled at any time when the required combination of beans printed on the card can be found in any bean field. Fulfilling an objective earns you bean dollars and the brand new bean cents. When the draw pile is used up, the player with the most bean dollars wins.

    This deluxe edition of Bohnanza: The Duel replaces the gift cards with a game board and gift tokens. This edition also contains newly designed bean fields and bonus cards. Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • Wild West - Trappers 3 Gold Rush
    Publisher: PERMES

    Wild West Trappers #3 Gold Rush
    PERMES Historical Series

    This set contains total 20 front and back artwork 30mm scale papercraft Wild West Gold Rush and migration to frontier lands period of history ready to cut figurines in various poses and colours, with different accessories and weapons plus props and scenery elements.

    Set includes "Praire Schooners" - covered Old West wagons, oxen and mule trains, mountaineers, traders and trappers - settlers, pioneers and explorators as well as the pony express courier figurine.

    The set is a good supplement and addition to previously released Trapers 1. Hunters and Trapers 2. Canoes PERMES Wild West series sets.

    The final page to print out includes a selection of 3 different bases (grass, and and rock) to cut to size and fit to your completed minis. All minis, parts, accessories and elements of scenery are 300dpi 30mm front and back full colour artwork suitable both for RPG and wargaming.

    PERMES Wild West Trappers 3 - Gold Rush - preview 1

    PERMES Wild West Trappers 3 - Gold Rush  - preview 2

    PERMES Wild West Trappers 3 - Gold Rush - preview 3

    PERMES Wild West Trappers 3 - Gold Rush - preview 4

    We hope you will enjoy adding PERMES historical minis to your game worlds!

    PERMES Cardboard Models

    Wild West - Trappers 3 Gold RushPrice: $2.99 Read more »
  • Sprig (Issue 3 - Shoot)
    Publisher: Houston Hare

    ISSUE 3 of the ongoing series!

    Get Issue 1 here for Free

    A seed of hope in a world of hate...

    War rages as land runs out. Elves, Dwarves, Humans, and other races fight for control of the limited space they have. When a land mass suddenly appears out of nowhere, people flock to it, only to be caught up in its mysteries.

    Kaia, one of the last living members of the Treek race, heads to the new land to find others like herself and escape the war that surrounds her. With conflict at her back, and untamed wilderness ahead, she and the companions she makes discover the truths of the new land and themselves.


    In this issue, Kaia and the group journey to another key location on Daegal, a large forest north of the ruined tower. With Tigala missing, and a potential run-in with the Beastfolk, alliances are tested as new discoveries are made.

    109 pages. 20,210 words. Available in EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats.

    Sprig (Issue 3 - Shoot)Price: $0.99 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • VideoFour Ways to Fill Your Table (and Your Time)
    Four Ways to Fill Your Table (and Your Time)

    A combination of 3D printed files (from Printable Scenery) and toilet-paper-based stalagmites.

    If you’re like me, you also have a great gray marching horde of unpainted miniatures just waiting to get painted. But when/if you’ve painted all of them (or more likely, just need a distraction), you might find yourself turning toward other ways to add to the landscape of your table. You might also find yourself with some extra time on your hands. And if you’re reading this, you’re someone who thinks of gaming now and then. If you’re big into miniatures and making your table look awesome, this might be a good time to think of ways that you can wow your players with a set-piece encounter or two when you’re finally able to physically get back together. And if you happen to live with your gaming group (you lucky so-and-so) building terrain can be a fun way for the group to pull together with some projects everyone gets to enjoy.

    To be clear: theater of the mind is great and no one is requiring that you present hugely elaborate dioramas representing hours of work to your players—no game really requires it, but if you have the time, materials, and inclination, they can be a lot of fun to play with, and (for some of us), even more fun to make. Things like maps, miniatures, and terrain can add a lot to a game (elaborated in this article I’m shamelessly self-promoting here).

    Not all of these options are available to everyone, and all of them require some combination of money, patience, or specialized stuff that you might not have on hand. That’s okay—as with all things in RPGs, take what you want and leave the rest.

    Make it yourself

    Stalagmites made from toilet paper (plus one with an LED tealight).

    There’s a lot of terrain-building advice out there. Much of it requires special materials (like cork board, specialized foam, or wood) that you might not have on-hand. Don’t get me wrong: the results of these kinds of super-intensive builds are incredible, and Black Magic Craft and The DM’s Craft are legendary for the stuff they create. However, if you’re stuck at home and don’t want to go out, you really don’t need a lot to create some really neat stuff.

    Using a 50/50 mix of PVA/school glue, some of that toilet paper you’ve been hoarding, hot glue, and the backs of old notebooks, you can create killer scatter terrain. Here is a tutorial on creating stalagmites, but the same technique works great for making rocks and trees if you use a framework of aluminum foil. You’ll still need to paint the results, but you don’t need to use expensive hobby paints to do it: go with three similar colors of varying lightness: a dark layer, a lighter medium layer, and a very dry brush of a light color on top will make them pop great. Warning: though you can build out pretty much anything your heart desires doing this, toilet papier-mâché takes forever to dry before you can paint it (24 hours or more), and feels just…incredibly gross when you handle it. I’m not squeamish; I’m the person who reaches into a clogged garbage disposal and pulls out decayed globs of food without flinching, and for fun, I’ve even been known to [redacted] with [redacted] while [redacted] (Editor’s note: CHUCK! This is a FAMILY website!). But all the same, I found myself stepping away from the table multiple times to wash my hands, and afterward, the residue from all the glue made the table I was working on look like [redacted] (FAMILY! WEBSITE!). I might never be clean again.

    Also, a dire warning: remember when you were a kid and you looked at clouds thinking “wow, that kind of looks like a dragon!?” Remember that feeling of wonder: you’ll need it, because if you start down this path, you will start looking at boxes, containers and random household detritus not as “things to be thrown away,” but as “things I can maybe turn into terrain.” Your life will become a grotesque combination of childhood whimsy and an episode of Hoarders. Mere hours after starting you will find yourself with a full box of shame somewhere, containing egg cartons, old plastic packaging, and Pringles cans that you will tell yourself you’re going to turn into something awesome. And maybe you will (you won’t). You will join one of the tabletop crafting Facebook groups, nearly all of which have dozens of “works in progress” posts that might be better labeled “here, look at my garbage,” and dozens more posts from people who clearly have advanced degrees in turning litter into three-dimensional, moving masterpieces.

    You will join one of the tabletop crafting Facebook groups, nearly all of which have dozens of “works in progress” posts that might be better labeled “here, look at my garbage,” and dozens more posts from people who clearly have advanced degrees in turning litter into three-dimensional, moving masterpieces.
    You will become one of those two types of people, and it will, absolutely, 100% be the first kind.

    Buying Stuff

    We kind of live in a golden age of miniatures and terrain. Everything from Dwarven Forge tiles to gigantic “miniatures” to ships and fully-painted evil laboratory sets pack the shelves of our

    Some miniatures from “meh” board games that make really rocking, fairly cheap minis.

    friendly local gaming stores. Admittedly, right now is not the best time to go out shopping, but when this all passes, it’s definitely something to keep in mind. It’s hard to beat this option for speed and ease. Of course, a drug habit would be cheaper. Luckily, if you’re not willing or able to sell a kidney to pay for your gaming group’s fun, there are cheaper options.

    • Board games. There are a lot of board games out there that have some really great pieces. Some of them (I’m looking at you, Arena of the Planeswalkers) might not be as much fun to play as you might expect. This is actually good news, as they can often be found online or lightly used for a fraction of their original price (still looking at you, Arena of the Planeswalkers). The minis are great, and if you snap off the base with a box cutter and replace it with another base, they look pretty much exactly like the minis you’re used to. D&D-themed board games are more table-ready in scale, and when painted, can serve double duty. Other games, like HeroClix, will often have “filler” pieces available online for pennies, and you can give them the same treatment.
    • Model railroad terrain. Okay, model train enthusiasts. I can hear you laughing at me for calling this “cheap,” but there are inexpensive options—like tree kits—that you can use to build a truly stunning amount of scatter trees for not very much money at all. Thrift shops, estate sales, and garage sales will also sometimes have terrain or train stuff that you can get really cheaply. S gauge is reportedly the scale to ideally use, but with things like trees and hills, scale matters a lot less than with buildings.
    • Aquarium decorations. Hobbit houses, castles, fairy hills. Goldfish have got to be playing the best D&D games. Plus, with their memories, they can just replay their favorite modules over and over. Am I jealous? Absolutely. Luckily, you don’t have to eat garbage flakes or poop in your own bathwater to take advantage (I mean, you can, but ew). A word to the wise: never buy aquarium decorations at retail prices: they’re just as expensive as regular terrain that way. But every pet store I’ve seen has a discount table/rack just packed with these things.


    While not as intuitive as I expected, papercraft is cheap (or free) and can fill out your table fast.

    Before starting this article, I’d actually never done papercrafting, and there’s definitely a learning curve, but I learned that if you have a printer and cardstock, you can throw together some really visually stunning buildings cheaply in very little time. There are lots of free options, but the examples here are from Fat Dragon Games’ Ravenfell Core Set and Numenera Core Building Set. Also, because of the relatively low barrier to entry for creating this kind of content, there is a huge selection of papercrafted terrain patterns out there.

    Note that if you look for advice online, much of it involves taking your papercraft “to the next level” with foamcore and markers and tools and a self-healing craft board and hot glue and a knife forged by the light of the full moon while you whisper the name of your most hated enemy. And, I mean, yeah. The results are great, but…do you really need to take this to “the next level?” I did mine with cardstock, an old kitchen cutting board, and a box cutter so janky that I’m pretty sure I gave you tetanus just by making you read about it. And the results were still…I mean, they’re okay. Reading the instructions probably would have helped. So my advice definitely includes “actually read the instructions.” Of all the things in this article, papercraft is probably the perfect intersection of inexpensive, low-effort, and really freaking cool. I will definitely be doing more of this.

    3D Printing

    If you already have a 3D printer, none of what I say is going to be new to you. If you’re thinking of getting one? Run away now. I’m saying this because if anything I can possibly say to you will

    3D printing can be expensive, tedious and frustrating, but when you’re holding a freaking Wand of Orcus, it’s hard not to love it.

    convince you to not get one, you don’t want it badly enough. This is not a “this hobby is only for the hardcore” kind of humblebrag. 3D printers can be ruinously expensive. 3D printers are also miserable. They’re a combination of all the most frustrating parts of a regular printer, plus the complexities of multiple bewildering new pieces of software and a dash of giving yourself a crash course in materials science, all wrapped up in an expensive toy where even the slightest mistake can cost hundreds of dollars in replacement parts for the stuff you broke. And you will break stuff, even after years of experience. As I type this, our 3D printer is out of commission due to a broken part.

    Now that that’s out of the way: 3D PRINTED GAMING TERRAIN IS AMAZING. There are tens of thousands of free files out there on Thingiverse, and a search engine that will also take you to files you can buy. If you can afford it and have the time to devote to getting decent at it, your options become limitless. If you pick up a free 3D modeling program (like Meshmixer) and can get through the tool flail, you can also mix, match, and edit files to create pretty much anything you want. 3D printed terrain also has the same advantage as home built terrain in that you don’t have to use expensive model paints—I’ve painted most of my 3D printed stuff using test pots of paint from Home Depot that I bought almost four years ago. And I’m still on the same test pots.

    If you only want to print a few things, and can’t (or don’t want to) make the investment in time and money to do your own 3D printing, many public libraries have a 3D printer available for community use. As a matter of courtesy, it’s probably best to not print out entire castles, and it’s rarely free (nor should it be) but if you’re lucky enough to be near a library that offers the service, there’s nothing stopping you from getting a few pieces of neat, complex, and really unique terrain printed out for you.

    So that’s it. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to come out of this social isolation with some really amazing things to show your players. You’ll also come out of it with a very real storage problem, a box of full of trash, terrible board games, and sticky hands covered in toilet paper. But you’ll love every minute.

    So did I miss anything? What do you use to build out terrain for your games?

    Read more »
  • Why Pokemon Campaigns Don’t Work
    Why Pokemon Campaigns Don’t Work

    subtitle: and how to make em work anyways.

    There’s a high overlap between nerds that like to roll dice and nerds that like pokemon. I think it’s fair to assume that most any nerd you come face-to-face with has some stance on pokemon as to whether or not they like it.

    I’ve been playing ttrpgs for a decent enough amount of time that I’ve seen numerous pokemon port attempts to systems such as d&d 3.5, 4e, 5e, FATE, and I think one time Shadowrun. Point is, I’ve seen a lot of people that want to play pokemon. There’s even a major, highly unique, pokemon tabletop game called Pokemon Tabletop United(PTU), which is pretty much the spiritual successor to Pokemon Tabletop Adventures(PTA). It even has a lot of the same devs.

    But I’m not here to talk about any specific system and why or why not it works, but instead I want to talk about why pokemon campaigns — at least with the standard fare of 6 pokemon trainer teams — just don’t work with tabletops.

    In saying that, however, I also plan to recommend how pokemon campaigns could be run.


    The Broken Formula

    Photo by Melvina Mak on Unsplash

    As someone that desperately places play speed and action resolution above almost every other aspect of a tabletop roleplaying game, I’m already at odds with most tabletops on the market. While there are certainly GMs capable of bringing rounds of 7-players under 10-minutes, this, to me, is an exception to a wider epidemic of slow play involving “can I do this? no? what about this?” This is particularly evident to me whenever I play D&D 5e as I typically see rounds lasting anywhere up to 45-minutes to an hour for as little as 5-player games. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the fault of 5e — I grew up playing D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder and those are notorious for the sheer number of abilities that can paralyze unprepared players. For me, this sort of slowdown seems prevalent to mostly d20 systems as I rarely see the same type of slowdown from Powered by the Apocalypse and other narrative-heavy games. But that might be just because the d20 systems I’ve played have way too many abilities to work with.

    Either way, the point is that I care a lot about play speed. Multiplayer games tend to be fairly slow with just singular players and their characters. Gameplay lasts forever and eternity as is.

    So why did anyone think it was a good idea to give all these players up to 6-units to play with?

    It’s one of those cases where the video game, the source material, works perfectly well /because/ it’s a single-player game. Tabletops, unless you play those particularly intimate 1-to-1 games, are ultimately a multiplayer experience. In the format folks are most familiar with, there’s a nearly fixed rate of 6-pokes per trainer. Each poke can also be switched out, healed, and otherwise as the main pokemon ttrpgs out there have separate trainer and pokemon actions.

    If we were to take a standard combat encounter, let’s say against a wild pokemon, with a team of four players, we’re looking at a potentially 24-on-1 encounter. Even the most badass of legendaries couldn’t handle that kind of pressure. This doesn’t even include pokemon trainer battles. Assuming a decently prepared enemy with 6, and assuming only one trainer fights them at a time, that’s a 6-on-6 fight where the other players are just waiting on the sidelines for combat to finish so they can get back to playing.

    In this most standard of scenarios, the best case either way still leads to extended combat encounters with a lot of wait times for everyone. I feel the resulting conclusions as to why this is bad are self-evident.

    —Tangent: A Grinding Nightmare

    Not only does each and every battle for each trainer take bloody forever, but each player is also going to want to grind up each and every one of their pokemon. Unless the GM is going to explain to everyone ‘hey don’t worry about it, don’t grind and let’s move on’ each and every campaign, the players are going to be fairly insistent on the grind. Imagine trying to equally level up 6-units per person through random battles. Now imagine doing that 5 times over for each of your players.

    Either the GM is going to allow level ups every fight, ergo trivializing the value of levels, or they actually go through each and every grindy battle with realistic exp and feed into the time-sink fully.

    A different response to this is to just roll an overall ‘grinding check’ to see how many levels someone gains each day, but even that’s just waving away an obvious problem in the mechanics surrounding level grinding. Rule 0 “if it’s broke I can just fix it” isn’t a good defense for lackluster mechanics.

    Combat Formula

    Pokemon works as a video game with its large amount of types and typing combinations because a lot of the calculations surrounding it are completely done off-hand by computers. Calculating and checking each damage typing versus the defensive typing of a pokemon every time an attack becomes either tedious or complicated. Pop Quiz: My level 34 Steelix uses Iron Tail, a Steel-type move that deals 3d8+10 damage at +2 Attack against a pokemon with Fire/Dragon at -1 Defense. Not even counting the stats and the natures, this is already looking to be a hassle, right? All of these things make it somehow more annoying to hit than it is to fail.

    As one of the most prolific and complete systems, I’d like to bring Pokemon Tabletop United (or PTU) as my leading example. Let’s look at their damage formulas to the right.

    I want to say that I think PTU is well done and it does well to replicate the damage formulas of the original games. My main concern is that it’s done /too well/ and that its accuracy is part of what ultimately slows it down. Imagine doing this damage formula for every attack, between every pokemon, for each trainer, for each combat session. There’s a lot of helpful charts and documents to expedite this, but those are less ‘just to help’ and more ‘absolutely necessary’ for the game to function at a reasonable crawl compared to an absurd one.

    As is, being accurate to this degree, when doing pokemon in this analog pen-and-paper way, is too slow. It works in the video game, again, because the game does all of these calculations on its own. I think that perhaps using an alternative health system such as wounds instead of hit points could be a good start, but there aren’t currently any major systems that have made that work.

    The Solution

    I want to emphasize that I’m not just here to bash pokemon tabletops. I think all the projects out there to make pokemon tabletops are cool. People like pokemon, people like tabletops, so why wouldn’t the two of them be cool together? Despite those reasons, however, I believe how people play them, as well as the type of mechanics that govern them, are fairly misguided. I’ll start with the mechanics first as that seems simpler to address.

    —Mechanics & A Recommended System

    When it comes to the mechanics, I feel the transition from video game to tabletop seems fairly straightforward. Here are a bunch of stats, such as HP, so just translate that to a sheet, right? The problem with pokemon stats and all these base value combinations, however, is that almost every pokemon tabletop I’ve seen attempts to replicate the leveling up aspect of pokemon in some form. Be it d20 systems replicating it within 20-levels, or even PTU’s 100 levels. This leads to fairly inflated pools and stats that you still need to keep track of individual character sheets for almost every pokemon.

    If the enemy needs to smack down six of my pokes with 80+ HP to provide an honest threat, then either they’re doing too little too slowly, or practically one-shotting me. This, alongside the various damage calculations I’ve seen in an attempt to replicate the game, could honestly all be replaced with a simple wound system like in Savage Worlds.

    All your pokes can take 3 wounds before going down. In Savage Worlds, you need to beat both a Parry(to hit) and Toughness(to hurt) to strike a wound. Every 4 you hit above Toughness, you score an additional wound. So if a move was super effective, it’d deal +4 damage, thereby ensuring an extra wound if it hits, or if it was ineffective deal -2 damage and make it difficult to hit. Each wound you have is a -1 to all your rolls, thereby replicating the battle damage that your pokes accumulate. Furthermore, Savage Worlds is an extremely fast game — there was a time I got through 12-players in a zombie apocalypse game within a half hour. Even with pokemon’s team inflation, I’d be able to get through that in a solid heartbeat.

    Other systems it would work with would be, say, FATE Core, Apocalypse Worlds, or even any other rules-lite system. While there is definitely an urge to take the more statistical, game-like approach, a lot of fun in the anime series tends to revolve around things like the Power of Friendship™. Rules-lite systems shine where rules-heavy systems could weigh too much on the overall enjoyment of a game. I’m actually planning on running some pokemon one-shots in Dozens RPG, a recent and totally free rules-lite system, for some new players in light of the quarantine. This is 100% because I’m a sucker for d12 systems.

    Photo by Martin Vorel

    —How to Play

    When it comes to pokemon, the first thing you need to address is the 6-unit team problem. Outside of the game, having 6-pokemon is just too much. If you were to GM almost any other system, it’s regularly felt that having to deal with player groups of 8-10 is extremely difficult. With that number in mind, try to aim to limit the number of pokes you, as the GM, have to deal with to 10 at most.

    1 player = 6 pokemon
    2 players = 4-5 pokemon
    3 players = 3 pokemon
    4 players = 2 pokemon
    5 players = 2 pokemon

    Personally, I honestly prefer to limit pokemon campaigns to using only 3 pokemon per player regardless of the number of players. I think it allows a trainer to have a nice and balanced team, all while not inflating the game.

    I’m also quite a fan of what the mobile game, Pokemon Masters, did in that all the trainers you gacha for have a Partner Pokemon or the singular main pokemon of any given trainer. I understand it can be fairly limiting — pokemon is supposed to be about adventuring and catching them all — but it adds a lot to the tension of any singular fight. PTU, in particular, has mechanics for you to be a fully playable trainer with physical skills. Admittedly I’d absolutely love to play some sort of phantom thief pokemon campaign where you and your partner poke are trying to rob a museum.

    Another element of the game is to figure out how to make each fight relevant and important and to not see certain pokes as throwaways in order to win the full match. My response to this is that when a pokemon is knocked out, they need to be recovered at a pokemon center. However, it takes a long time for them to recover properly, and likely won’t be usable for several days, or until they hit up another pokemon center. Since pokemon can just be deposited in a box, you won’t have to pick them up from the same center. With this sort of ruleset, it’d also mean I wouldn’t allow items like revive or max-revive. This makes each exchange between your pokemon and the opponent’s both meaningful and tense.

    One more recent development, or at least call-back, in the pokemon community is the remake of Pokemon Mystery Dungeons. In these games, you play a pokemon and their team of pals out to rescue other pokemon in danger. Aside from the potential limitations of being only a singular pokemon, you’ll at least have a diverse party capable of handling most issues. Needless to say, being a pokemon is also a fantastic way to play a pokemon campaign outside of the standard catch’n’battle affair..


    So, Yeah

    I think pokemon is great. I have Pokemon Sword and I’m super excited for the later expansions. I also think tabletops are super great too. In the end, however, while nearly anything can be translated to tabletops — I’m currently working on a Megaman Battle Network playdoc if you’re into that sort of thing — I don’t think everything should.

    But, if you did want to catch them all using pen & paper — or whatever other digital tool you might use instead — here are some suggestions as to how you could and/or should.


    ~Di, signing out

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoShared Experiences Playing D&D Online

    Many of us currently find ourselves stuck at home and unable to play our in-person D&D games. If we want to keep playing D&D, we have to move our games online. While it may be harder for us to get our gaming groups together, it has never been more critical. Getting together with our friends and family to relax, enjoy ourselves, and share in some stories of high fantasy may be crucial to our mental health while stuck at home.

    Many DMs have been playing games online for years and the rest of us can learn from their experiences. James Introcaso and I, for example, talked about his top tips for running D&D on Roll20 on a previous episode of the DM's Deep Dive. More recently Todd Kendrick talked to Lauren Urban about playing D&D online.

    Running online games isn't a specialty of mine so I asked for feedback in this Twitter thread. The feedback I received helps support the ideas in the rest of this article. Let's look at some tools and tips for running D&D online.

    Voice-Only Options

    All we need to play D&D online is a tool to let us chat with our friends. There are many such tools used by D&D groups online including Discord, Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. We need no other online tools. While playing, we can use all the physical stuff we typically use to play D&D at the table including books, character sheets, and dice. We don't even need a computer. A phone with one of the above audio chat programs works just fine.

    Let players roll their own dice on their own table if they want to. Trust them. As a DM, we can use our own books, dice, and physical notes to run our game just as we would in a physical game. Write things down on paper if you want. Use 3x5 cards to keep track of initiative, character names, or just about anything else you need.

    Beyond a way to talk online, we don't need anything else to play D&D online.

    Sharing Visuals

    Most text and voice chat programs have a way to share images. Discord, for example, lets you drop images right into the text channel for your server. This works well for pictures of NPCs, handouts, artwork, and other visuals. For maps, you can cut and paste the relevant parts of a map and share it as an individual image. Load up the map on your computer, screen grab the relevant portion, and paste it into the chat window so everyone can see what the area looks like around their characters. This works for both exploration of a location or for visualizing a combat location.

    Some DMs have had success using Google Drawings to share multi-layered images with their players. Drop in the map and draw some shapes over it to act as a fog of war. As the characters explore you can move the fog of war around and reveal what they can see. Because it's a shared image, the players can move their tokens around as well. This works well if the players are using desktop or laptop computers but probably won't work if they're on a tablet or phone. Instead, consider capturing the relevant parts of a map and sharing them as images in your chat program.

    Other DMs have had success using layered image software like Photoshop or Gimp to act as a local virtual tabletop. You can use image layers for the map, fog of war, and tokens. You can erase the fog of war layer to reveal the map and move the tokens around to represent the positions of both characters and monsters. This requires that the DM moves the tokens around, which isn't ideal, but the whole view can be shared over the screen sharing function of most chat programs or the "broadcast" feature of Discord and is more compatible with those on phones or tablets.

    For tokens, you can use for excellent generic monster and hero tokens or generate your own tokens using art from the web and Token Stamp from Roll Advantage. The Avrae Discord bot, a wonderful D&D-focused bot for Discord, lets you pull up monster tokens for SRD monsters with the "!token otyugh" command. And, of course, for maps, we have the nearly 1,000 Dyson Logo maps, all perfect for digital play.

    The Single-App Solution: Discord

    For a simple single-app solution to play online, I recommend Discord. It's free, well supported in the D&D community, and available on the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. The voice chat is relatively solid although drops do occur. The best way to fix consistent drops is to disconnect and reconnect to the voice channel.

    The Avrae Discord bot is a wonderful way to integrate D&D Beyond into Discord. This full-featured bot includes initiative tracking; spell, monster, and ability lookups; token lookups; character sheet integration; and dice rolling. You need not use all of it, though. Using it as just a dice roller works perfectly fine, as does using it to quickly look up monster statistics. Some players can use it fully with their D&D Beyond character fully integrated while others can skip it entirely and both methods work just fine in the same group. You and your players can choose as much of it or as little of it as you want.

    For visuals we can drop in pictures of NPCs, handouts, pieces of maps, battlemap images, and any other images into the text chat so players can follow along visually. Using Discord to play D&D is probably one of the easiest ways to play D&D online.

    Other Online Tools

    The list of tools to expand your online D&D game is nearly endless. I'll just touch on a few of the more popular ones here.

    Roll20. Roll20 is a well-known and well-received web-based tool for running roleplaying games online. It has a built-in 5e D&D character sheet. Purchasable add-ons give you all of the material in the D&D core books. Getting started is free, includes the D&D basic rules, and a free adventure called The Master's Vault written by James Introcaso. Roll20 has a high learning curve and a lot of features to dig into. If you and your players are willing to give it the time to learn, it can bring the full tabletop experience to your online game.

    D&D Beyond. The number one online tool for building D&D characters and online access to digital D&D sourcebooks, D&D Beyond goes hand-in-hand with online play. Players can build their characters and share them with the DM. It's integration into Discord through the Avrae Discord bot is very powerful. A popular Chrome extension integrates D&D Beyond with Roll20. None of this is needed to play D&D online but some groups might enjoy the technology integration.

    Fantasy Grounds. A very popular shared tabletop application for RPGs, Fantasy Grounds is a paid application for your desktop or laptop. Like Roll20 it has all the D&D books available for purchase and integrated into the application. Like Roll20's integrated book licenses, these don't share across systems so if you start buying books for one application, you'll likely want to stick to that application. The more recent Fantasy Grounds Unity has a free version able to play in games and monthly paid versions to host games. It's client-focused nature means it tends to run smoother than web-based applications who are limited by the nature of the different web browsers we use.

    For a more detailed look into these tools, check out Roleplaying Tips on Moving Your RPG Campaign Online and RPG Musing's List of Online RPG Tools

    The Common Virtual Battlemap Solution: Discord and Roll20

    Many DMs use a mixture of Discord for audio and video chat with Roll20 for the virtual tabletop. Some groups leave the dice rolling and text chat to Discord while others move the dice rolling and text chat to Roll20. Feedback suggests that the audio and video quality of Discord is superior that within Roll20; enough that it's worth having it as a secondary system to carry the load of audio and video chat.

    This pairing works well for technically savvy DMs and players who have good desktop and laptop computers to play from. It doesn't work well for those who are using a phone or tablet to play. For them, sharing the DM's screen for maps and visuals through Discord's "broadcast" feature or sticking to pure audio and theater of the mind play likely works best. You and your group will have to decide what setup works best for your group.

    Online D&D Tip: Play With Fewer Players

    This is a hard lesson but an important one. Running with six players is hard for in-person games and even harder online. The latency of online services means people will often talk over one another. The more players you have, the worse this problem can get. A simple but hard way to deal with it is have fewer players. Playing with four, three, two, or even one player can go a long way to help you streamline an online game. If you have a lot of people who want to play, try splitting them up into separate groups even if they're in the same campaign.

    Online D&D Tip: Simplify the Story and Situations

    When it comes to understanding what's going on in a D&D game, players are in trouble about half the time. Playing online can make this even worse. Keep your story simple. Keep the plot simple. Keep the situations simple. Keep your combat encounters simple. Dig into the fun part of your story and focus on that. Laurin Urban recommends focusing more on the story and less on the complexity of the combat environment. We can put our focus on a different aspect of the game than tactical complexity, heresy to some I am sure, but useful for keeping things smooth while playing D&D online.

    Online D&D Tip: Use Theater of the Mind

    More DMs and players are beginning to accept theater of the mind play for D&D combat. For online games, running in the theater of the mind means things stay simple, fast, and fun. You don't need anything but an audio connection with your players to run a full game of D&D if you're willing to run combat in the theater of the mind.

    Running combat in the theater of the mind goes hand-in-hand with running with fewer players. The fewer players there are, the easier it is to understand what's going on when we're describing a battle. The fewer characters, the fewer monsters. The whole situation becomes simpler, easier to understand, and easier to visualize.

    Online D&D Tip: Communicate Online Table Etiquette

    Playing online is different than playing in person and we need new rules of table etiquette to account for it. Discuss these with your players early and often to make your games run well for everyone.

    Take extra time for tech support. When you bring four to six people online to play D&D, someone's going to have trouble with their setup. Getting all of the audio working, both in and out, is tricky. Different systems, different software, different setups; all of these complicate getting connected. When you bring in a handful of people to play online someone will have a problem.

    Ask your players to come early to get set up or, better yet, set up an individual session with each of them ahead of time to make sure everything is working. Even then it may work at one time but not another so be patient and be prepared to help them out or have another player help them out. When in doubt, call them on the phone and walk them through any problems they might have.

    Mute audio between turns. If you have more than a couple of players you may want them to mute their mics between turns. Latency and drop-outs can break up the smooth stream of conversation so muting mics can help prevent interruptions at the wrong time. If it gets really bad you can use the text channel to have people queue up with questions so when you're done with your (hopefully short) narrative you can go through the list of folks who have questions.

    Shine the spotlight equally. When you don't have the players there in front of you it can be hard to ensure you're giving each player their due attention. This can get exasperated if some of your players are more active (and loud) than others. You'll want to pay special attention to ensure you're giving each player their due time. You might go so far as to keep them in initiative order throughout the whole game and keep going through the list to see what they will do in any given circumstances. Let players know you'll be cutting them off to bring other players in when their turn is up.

    Use webcams to increase engagement. Many online DMs mentioned the value of using webcams. Not only do they help keep people more physically connected to one another but they help players to stay engaged with the game itself. Without a camera it's easy to alt-tab over and check the news. No one wants to do that.

    Use headphones. Some camera and mic setups are sophisticated enough to avoid feeding audio back into the mic but many are not and even the good ones screw it up from time to time. Ask your players to wear headphones when they play. Mention it before the game so everyone's prepared.

    Lowering the Barrier to Play D&D

    When we find ourselves unable to get together in person to play D&D, it's worth the effort to play online. I'd say it's important. Socializing with other people is a critical component of our health. Playing D&D online takes work but we need nothing more than a good audio chat program to continue to share fantastic stories with our friends and loved ones.

    If you haven't tried playing D&D online or are not comfortable doing so, give it another try. In these days of social distancing it is ever more important to our health and well being to take the opportunities we can to play games with our friends. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and have some fun playing D&D online.

    If you enjoyed this article please support Sly Flourish on Patreon and take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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  • VideoCrafting Lazy Monster Tokens for D&D

    What to use to represent characters and monsters when running combat in D&D is a constant and continual conversation among D&D enthusiasts. Some swear by the need for a large collection of pre-painted miniatures. Others, myself included, claim you can run large elaborate battles with nothing but a quick diagram on a sheet of paper and some good narrative. From these conversations come a few valuable insights:

    • You need little more than common household items to represent characters and monsters.
    • Some form of character, monster, and location representation helps a lot of players visualize what is going on in a battle.
    • There are many options at many prices for representing characters and monsters.

    On Miniatures

    Miniatures are awesome but come with some big drawbacks. First, miniatures are expensive. Some lucky folks, myself included, bought a lot of miniatures when they were cheap; sometimes as little as fifty cents a miniature. Today even unpainted miniatures are about two to four bucks a piece. Second, you never seem to have all the miniatures you need. There's always some encounter you want to run that has some number of creatures outside of the miniatures you have. Third, organizing, sorting, and pulling the miniatures for any given encounter takes time. Because of this, its hard to improvise encounters when they come up if you have to quickly sort through your large collection of miniatures to represent.

    These problems often limit the stories we can tell. We don't run that cool encounter the way we want because we want to use the minis we have. Maybe we end up railroading characters towards particular encounters, or even force combat when some roleplaying would have worked, because we have our minis already prepared for a situation. Adding the time to pick out potential miniatures means we might have to spend less time on other more important aspects of our game.

    Yet we still want some form of representation for characters and monsters to help everyone see how things are oriented in battle. Some people use legos, some use Starbursts, some use dice, some use whatever miniatures they have on hand regardless of whether the model fits or not.

    Today I offer another alternative. [Lazy monster tokens].

    Crafting Your Lazy Monster Tokens

    If you'd prefer, you can watch this ten minute Youtube video on crafting lazy monster tokens.

    The following concept isn't new and I'm not the one who invented it. DMs have been building tokens like this for decades and there are many variants. This is the method I've found to be the easiest to do with the least amount of equipment needed that offers the most universal set of monster tokens for our D&D game.

    Here's the material you'll need (with links to Amazon):

    The hole punch, epoxy stickers, magnets, and glue stick will run about $30.

    Here's how you build the tokens:

    1. Print the Lazy Monster Token PDF on a single sheet of rigid paper.
    2. Trim the paper so you can fit your 1" hole puncher over the icons. Make sure they're well centered.
    3. Punch out the tokens with the 1" hole punch.
    4. Stick the 1" epoxy stickers on the front of each token.
    5. Use the glue stick to stick pairs of tokens together:
      • Stick cultists to beasts.
      • Stick helms to skulls.
      • Stick crowned skulls to dragons.
      • Stick tokens together in reverse numerical order 1 to 6, 2 to 5, etc. This lets you use opposite-side tokens together and still start at number 1.
    6. Stick a 1" magnet on the back side of the sword gripping "adventurer" icons. These act as generic character tokens should you need them. Otherwise customize your tokens with some printed color character art.

    Once done you'll have a set of twenty tokens: six adventurer tokens and fourteen monster tokens. The monster tokens can represent humanoids, monsters, undead, and spellcasters with the skulls filling in for anything weird. The crowned skulls and dragon heads represent boss monsters. The adventurer tokens represent characters who aren't represented as miniatures (more on this in a moment).

    These lightweight tokens are the perfect companion for your DM kit on the go. With the materials above you can build two sets, one for your home kit and one for a kit on the go. Or you can give your extra set to another friendly DM. Mix the tokens together with a Pathfinder Flip Mat and you have a perfect solution for visualizing combat in D&D for under $40.

    These tokens save you both time and money. You don't have to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars building a collection of miniatures that is perpetually incomplete. You don't have to spend time organizing, sorting, selecting, and preparing miniatures ahead of time. You'll be prepared to run any battle that happens to come up in your game without any need to prep tokens or miniatures ahead of time.

    Representing Characters with Custom Tokens or Miniatures

    These monster tokens work well for the wide range of creatures the characters may fight but the characters are far more important. It may be worth it to invest in nice miniatures for player characters. There are lots of ways to do this. The players may buy miniatures representing their characters themselves. You might decide to pick up a collection of character-focused miniatures. You might get them 3d printed.

    Another cheaper alternative is to ask players for an image online of their character that you then scale, print, trim, punch, and turn into a token using the same steps above for making monster tokens. Discarded magic cards at your local game shop also have excellent artwork you can cut, punch, and turn into a token for a character or unique boss token.

    Doing something special for character miniatures or tokens is worth the investment. The characters are the most important part of the story and its worth giving them a good representation.

    If you're running single-session games and don't know what characters will be in the game, the "adventurer" tokens in the PDF can serve as character tokens.

    Representing Large Monsters

    There are a few ways to represent large monsters using such tokens. Some DMs prefer to keep a few 2" miniature bases handy. You can also get 2" wooden disks at a local hobby store. Put your 1" token on top of the disk and now it's a large monster.

    Another lazier way, which I obviously prefer, is to say "this is a large monster" and treat it accordingly. If you're playing on a flip mat, you can place it in the center of four squares and draw a circle around it.

    If you want to get fancy, you can use 2" magnets, a 2" hole punch, and 2" epoxy stickers but I haven't tried that and they didn't review as well on Amazon.

    Augmenting your Miniatures Collection

    You don't have to use these tokens in place of miniatures you may already have. These monster tokens can augment your existing miniatures collection. Like me, you may already have a huge investment in pre-painted miniatures. Keep these tokens on hand when you either don't have the time to pull out the minis you need or don't have the actual minis to represent the creatures in a fight. If you have one of a creature but needed more, you can use one miniature to represent the type of monster and tokens to represent the additional monsters.

    Likewise, as mentioned, nice pre-painted character miniatures and maybe boss miniatures work well side-by-side with these monster tokens.

    Alternative Builds

    There are many alternative ways to build tokens like this. You can use this token builder to put a ring around the token and choose your own art. I chose not to do that for these tokens because they look good as-is but some like the ring.

    My friend Enrique Bertran, the Newbie DM, has a different approach for tokens that works well for him. With his method you have one representative monster token and then a set of generic number tokens to represent the rest of them. Different colored rings represent different types of monsters.

    A Simple Tool to Help You Tell Epic Stories

    Having a small set of universal monster tokens fits well with the philosophy of the Lazy Dungeon Master. Being able to use these tokens in just about any situation means you always have the tools on hand to tell any story that comes up in the game. It reduces your prep time, keeps your costs down, and gives you what you need to improvise at the table. Even if you have a substantial miniatures collection, a set of tokens like these can help fill in the blanks when you need it.

    Stay nimble and let epic stories unfold at your table.

    If you enjoyed this article please support Sly Flourish on Patreon and take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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