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  • VideoGame Overview: Castello Methoni, or Acquiring Triangles for Fun and Profit

    by W. Eric Martin

    One of the prime appeals of a game like Agricola is that over the course of play, you create a personal farm that serves as a record of all that you did. Win or lose, you have a sense of satisfaction at what you put together: Hey, look at all those cattle! And that oven you built that keeps you from starving! And your two children that now toil next to you and your spouse! Get to work, brats!

    While I enjoy such games, I prefer designs that put players in the same gamespace, designs in which we collectively create something that serves as a record of play while also being meaningful in terms of who wins, designs such as Leo Colovini's Castello Methoni from Mandoo Games.

    After the first game
    In this game, the board starts empty, and you have a hand of five cards. On a turn, you take one or two actions, and you have two choices for each action: (1) Discard a card to get two coins from the bank for an active market (but no markets are active to start with), or (2) Discard a card to place a wall on the empty border of a triangle that matches the color of the card discarded, after which you place one of your cubic houses on one side of the wall and a house of either of your neighbors (i.e., the players sitting to your left and right) on the other side.

    If you enclose a space with walls, you create a domain — but you must be able to afford the domain to create it, paying 1 coin per triangle in it to the bank and 1 coin per house that is not yours to the owner of that house. If three houses of the same color are in a domain, you remove those houses and replace them with a villa of the same color. If you enclose a market in a domain, that market is now active, and you claim the coin from that market. You then mark this domain with a tower, and you have only four towers, so you can create only four domains...sort of.

    We made a balloon!
    When a domain you create shares a wall with another domain, you can annex that domain that same turn by buying out its owner, paying them 2 coins per triangle in the domain, 1 coin per house, and 5 coins per villa. The color of the houses and villas don't matter because it's all owned by whoever has their tower in that domain. If your enlarged domain shares a wall with another, you can annex that domain as long as you can afford to do so, converting three houses of a color to a villa following each annexation.

    The house-to-villa transformation matters because it boosts the cost of someone else buying you out. Sometimes, you want to be bought out because each coin is worth 1 point at game's end, whereas each triangle in a domain of yours is worth 3 points. The trapezoid on the right edge of the image below would cost 13 to annex (6 for the triangles + 2 for the houses + 5 for the villa), but it's worth only 9 points...maybe.


    At the start of a turn, for each market in a domain you own, you receive 2 coins from the bank — and coins are worth points, in addition to being a tool to take actions. Additionally, each player has a secret scoring card that shows three adjacent landscape types, and each triangle of those types in a domain of yours is worth 4 points instead of 3, so that domain might be worth 12 points to you, with a market payout next turn (assuming you still own it then) to make it worth 14 — or maybe even 16 or 18.

    Finally, the largest domain on the board at game's end earns its owner 10 points, while the second-largest domain is worth 5 points. Ties are super friendly, with a tie for first place giving each tied player 10 points and with second place still being awarded.

    Final development of that board
    I've played Castello Methoni five times on a copy I bought at SPIEL '19, three times with three players, twice with four, and I'm sorry it took me this long to get it to the table because the game — being a tactical, highly-interactive framework that's filled in by the players' collective actions — is squarely in my wheelhouse. Honestly, I got it to the table only thanks to BGG now selling Castello Methoni in the BGG Store, which created a work-related purpose to play it. No matter how much I anticipate playing a game, if I'm playing it "solely" for fun, it takes a back seat to other games that I'm covering in this space. That's demented, but apparently I can't help it.

    Castello Methoni has superficial similarities to Leo Colovini's Masons, which was released in 2006 because in that game, you're placing walls on the board, then placing a colored house on each side of the wall. However, in that game, what you're trying to do is create domains of certain sizes, or certain numbers of domains, or a domain that has certain color houses in it, or a scattering of colored houses outside of domains in order to score goal cards that you have in your hand. Each player has individual goals that they are trying to achieve based on a shared landscape. Castello Methoni feels like a cousin of Mason since you're placing walls and colored houses, but it goes in a completely different direction.

    Every player but one who has played Castello Methoni with me has said, "Oh, this feels like a modern day Acquire" — and the one player who didn't say that has not played Acquire.

    Castello Methoni is actually a stock game in disguise with the landscape serving as the stock. You found a company, i.e., create a domain, then either increase the size of that company (by creating an adjacent domain, then merging the two, which costs you nothing) or hope that someone else buys you out. When you're bought out, the money that you receive for that domain is always worth more than what you spent to acquire it, which means you've increased your net worth — but that money might be less valuable than the number of points that domain's owner will receive at game's end, which means the buyer is also increasing their net worth.

    Ideally, you're working virtuously with the other players to sort of partner with them to increase your holdings collectively. I've played games in which I annex things back and forth with other players, but at a certain point, it doesn't make sense to buy someone out, so you do need a bit of in-game calculation to determine when you reach that threshold.

    My first four-player game
    Still, Castello Methoni is far cleaner and smoother than Acquire in how domains merge. You have more control (sort of) over what's going to happen on the game board because you have five cards in hand and don't need to rely on having a specific letter-number tile to ensure that two companies are merged. In this game, a red card lets you play on any border in that territory and a yellow anywhere in that territory, and the combined market/seashore card allows you to play on any outer border space or the border of any market, whether active or not.

    You can play at most two cards on a turn, so you play those based on what you might want to do with the other three on the subsequent turn. Ideally, you're setting things up so that you can close out a domain in the future or annex something or build on something someone has done before, but everything you do is contingent upon what other players do — and that's a hallmark of Colovini designs. You exist in a shared game space, and it's extremely difficult to do anything on your own, and whatever you do impacts the immediate choices of everyone else. Anywhere you put down a wall, any other player (if they have the right cards) can place two walls and create a one-triangle domain. Anyone with the right two cards can create a one-triangle domain adjacent to another domain, then (depending on their cash) annex it.


    Our games have played out very differently. In one game, everyone tried to get markets first because you're getting ducats from the bank — but everyone was building very tiny domains, so little money was going into the bank, so a market was worth no more than any other space. The next game played out completely differently, with us largely ignoring markets for the first half of the game. You can count cards and hope to set up a large domain that no one else can close before your turn comes around again — although domains that start large are ripe takeover targets since they contain fewer houses per triangle. (Buying a triangle + a house costs 3 coins, but that triangle is worth "only" 3 points at game's end, so you're breaking even on the purchase unless the domain is one of the two largest or in your secret scoring areas.)

    The look of Castello Methoni is old-school German design where everything is made for function. The landscapes look nice, but the board is crisply divided into land types along the line of older Colovini titles such as Clans and Alexandros. There's no transition between land types; the board is strictly divided so that you know exactly where everything is and what is connected to what.

    I go into yet more detail about the game, such as how you can affect the pace of play, in this overview video. I was going to hold off on creating a video until I had played a couple of times with five players — a set-up that would give you only 12 starting money compared to 15 with four players and 20 with three — but I also thought that I had waited long enough on this game already and wanted to share my joy with it before too much more time had passed...

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • VideoKnizia Game Round-up: Smuggle Soda, Collect Accomplices, and Rise in the Feline Mafia

    by W. Eric Martin

    Is it already time for another round-up of titles from prolific designer Reiner Knizia? Apparently so, with new U.S. publisher Bitewing Games launching with a trio of Knizia card games that it's dubbing the "Criminal Capers Collection", with a Kickstarter for these titles taking place in August 2021.

    Title #1 in the series is Soda Smugglers, a game for 3-8 players that BGG is currently listing as a reimplementation of the 2019 game Heisse Ware: Krimi-Kartenspiel from Gmeiner-Verlag, although it's not clear right now whether the games differ. In any case, here's an overview:
    Lawmakers are cracking down on soda, and tight regulation has made way for lucrative smuggling. One bottle per person is the new law — thus bribes, suitcase inspections, and arrests are on the agenda. Only one will emerge the Soda Kingpin.

    Each round in Soda Smugglers, one player takes a turn in the role of a border guard while the other players act as travelers. In a quest to acquire coveted carbonation and its accompanying bottle caps, the border guard tries to confiscate as many sodas as possible while only the cleverest travelers will sneak across with their fizzy contraband. After each player has been the border guard (twice in a 3-4 player game, once in a 5-8 player game), the game ends and whoever has the most bottle caps wins!

    Title #2 is Pumafiosi, a new edition of the 2004 game Rooster Booster that has undergone multiple changes. Here's a rundown of this quasi-bidding, quasi-trick-taking card game for 2-5 players:
    The Pumafiosi (Puma Mafiosi) operate in a strict hierarchy from the family's boss down to the lowest Picciotti. Everyone wants to reach the top, and no one wants to end up at the bottom — or even beneath the soil. Amongst these aspiring Pumafiosi, it is wise to keep your head out of the firing line. Stand out too much, and you'll soon find yourself in prison, if not murdered by the rival families.

    Pumafiosi is a refreshingly unique blend of simple trick-taking and precarious press-your-luck. Each trick, the person who plays the second-highest card wins the round, and they decide where to place that winning card in the hierarchy. You can even choose to place your measly card at the top of the hierarchy to stake your claim on the big boss points. The catch is that these cards can be knocked down one or more steps on the hierarchy by higher-valued cards, and whoever owns a falling card is penalized!


    Pumafiosi differs from the older title Rooster Booster thanks to designer Reiner Knizia:

    —Increasing the strategy by narrowing the deck to a range of 1-55
    —Crafting a satisfying two-player experience
    —Raising the stakes by tweaking the hierarchy values and penalties
    —Tailoring a theme that gives context to the rules
    —Enhancing the drama by including physical penalty points
    —Layering decisions with further depth and tension via one-time-use items

    Title #3 is Hot Lead, a simultaneous bidding game for 2-5 players that works as follows:
    Lead the undercover investigation against five criminal groups to gather enough evidence to convict them. However, if you investigate too aggressively, the criminals will smell a rat and go dark!


    In each round of Hot Lead, criminal cards are displayed in a column equal to the number of players. Players then make their bid by simultaneously revealing an investigator card from their hand. The highest investigator bid takes the criminal card closest to the deck, the second highest takes the second closest, and so on. These cards are worth points equal to their face value (0-5).

    Gather enough evidence on one criminal organization to convict them when the game concludes after ten rounds; in game terms, by having exactly three of a suit, you earn 10 bonus points. Ten bonus points are also awarded to those who acquire criminal cards of all five suits. If you investigate too aggressively and grab the fourth card of a suit, those criminals will sense a rat and you'll scare them underground, thereby losing all of those cards. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

    • To step aside from Knizia games for a moment, in 2022 Bitewing Games also plans to release the 3-10 player card game Social Grooming from company co-founder Nick Murray, a game that seems aimed squarely at a post-Covid market in which lots of gamers are interacting closely once again. An overview:
    "Social grooming" is a communal ritual most elegantly performed by majestic beasts known as primates. It is the act of removing dirt, insects, and debris from the difficult-to-reach and difficult-to-see places of each other’s fur. Reciprocation is expected and awarded in this kind of monkey business! The player who acquires the most diverse and exotic collection of groomed goods will earn the respect of their fellow primates and be awarded the golden banana of victory.

    Non-final card designs — start interpreting the symbols!
    In the game Social Grooming, players are primates who start out with a personal deck of face-down cards. Without looking at the card(s) in their hand, players simultaneously trade or keep their hand, one or two cards at a time, to form a personal collection. Once all cards have been traded or kept, players tally their collections and the highest score wins — but pairs can cancel out and special cards are not always helpful, so trade carefully!

    Similar to the popular game Hanabi, in Social Grooming players hold their cards facing away from themselves...but instead of being a co-operative memory game, this is a competitive negotiation and bluffing game. Things get even more interesting once players realize that every card can either be very good or very bad for one's collection, depending on the context. You'll have to convince your opponents to keep bad cards for themselves and give great cards to you if you want to swing away with the win...

    • Online gaming site Triqqy has digital versions of Knizia's Tigris & Euphrates, Lost Cities, Samurai, and Axio available for play, in addition to other games.

    • And looping back to German publisher Gmeiner-Verlag, in March 2021 it released the Knizia party game Komplize gesucht!, which is for 3-8 players and probably not playable by those who don't understand German:
    Who would you rob a bank with? Who would be the right partner for a small betting fraud? And who would you choose to get the pesky nightclub bouncer out of the way?


    The world is full of criminal challenges, and there are plenty of prominent candidates for your next coup: politicians, artists, athletes, actors, scholars, musicians. In Komplize gesucht!, you get to name who your accomplices would be for these crimes and more.

    • We'll close this post with an interview that Alicja from Polish publisher Nasza Księgarnia conducted with Knizia in March 2021 about The Quest for El Dorado and other things:

    Youtube Video Read more »
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  • Les Ombres d'El Djem, une aventure à jouer
    Publisher: Studio 09

    « El-Djem, tortueuses sont tes ruelles, et tortueuses tes âmes aussi... »

    Bienvenue dans l'univers des Ombres d’El-Djem. Vous y incarnez un jeune voleur, apprenti au sein d’une organisation occulte appelée la Fraternité. Un grand jour s’annonce pour vous : c’est le début de votre épreuve d’initiation, à l’issue de laquelle vous deviendrez, peut-être, un membre de l’organisation à part entière.

    Dans l’immense cité d’El-Djem, aux parfums orientaux, les opportunités sont nombreuses ; les dangers également. Bien vite, vous allez vous retrouver mêlé à une intrigue aux implications géopolitiques qui pourraient vous broyer si vous manquez de perspicacité.

    Cette aventure aux enjeux multiples, et dont vous et vous seul écrirez l’issue, est adaptée au D6 System.

    Les Ombres d'El Djem, une aventure à jouerPrice: $9.00 Read more »
  • BASH ‘Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting’ [BUNDLE]
    Publisher: Skirmisher Publishing
    This special 43% off bundle contains the universal Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting, a system-free sourcebook dedicated to an area within it, two licensed supplements for the BASH roleplaying game, and two full-color regional maps! Its price is equal to that of the campaign setting alone.

    Aegean Regional Map (Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting)
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    This high-resolution JPEG format map depicts the Aegean region of the Mediterranean and is suitable for use with any fantasy or alternate history games set in this area, including the Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting. It was created by acclaimed fantasy artist/cartographer Francesca Baerald.  This map is bounded by the Black Sea in the north, mainland Asia in the east, the sprawling island of Crete in the south, and the Ionian sea in the west. It encompasses the area occupied in whole or in part by the modern countries of Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. States represented on the map, both with political boundaries and their national symbols, include the city and island of Kos, Abbadonia, the Tetrarchy of Anatolia, Attica and the city state of Athens, Çatalhöyük, the ...

    In the Footsteps of Hercules
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    In the Footsteps of Hercules is a system-free sourcebook devoted to a pilgrimage trail that can be used in con­junction with any fantasy role-playing game. This book describes the various sections of the trail and the prevailing terrain and conditions associated with them; how most pilgrims travel them; alternate ways some pilgrims choose to approach the trail overall or specific parts of it; the things they generally hope to accomplish along the way; and things they might encounter on it.  It contains a detailed entry on the title pilgrimage trail and entries on thirteen other places, communities, or events, including a bathhouse, farm, hermitage, hospital, hostel, monastery, oracle, port, shrine, stables, temple, tournament ground, and trade fair.  There are many ways this b...

    Mediterranean Campaign Map (Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting)
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    Sail the wine-dark seas with this Mediterranean Campaign Map that depicts the lands surrounding the sprawling body of water! It is provided as a high-resolution JPEG that can be printed out in any standard paper sizes and is suitable for use with any fantasy or alternate history games set in this area, including the Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting. It was created by acclaimed fantasy artist/cartographer Francesca Baerald.  This map is bounded by the Black Sea and central Europe in the north, the Persian Gulf in the east, North Africa in the south, and the Pillars of Herakles and the Atlantic Ocean in the west. States represented on the map, both with political boundaries and their national symbols, include Aigyptos, Amazonia, the Tetrarchy of Anatolia, Attica and the city...

    Men & Monsters of the Aegean (BASH Fantasy)
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    Men & Monsters of the Aegean is Skirmisher Publishing's first title for the BASH Fantasy role-playing game system. It presents a dozen player character races and 30 types of monster, with multiple variants for many of them, all inspired by the myths and legends of the Classical world and each with an Adventure Hook and background information integrating it into the setting. New races include the hulking Antaeans, the Myrmidons who followed Achilles in the Trojan War, and the dog-head Cynocephalians. Monsters include everything from familiar creatures like the Cyclops, Manticore, Pegasus, and Sphinx to more exotic ones like the Drakon, Empusa, Hippalectryon, Ophiotaurus, and Sea Leopard. This fully-illustrated manual also includes sections on using existing creatures in an ...

    Player's Guide to the Aegean (BASH Fantasy)
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    Player's Guide to the Aegean for BASH!/BASH! Fantasy provides all the information you need to create characters for campaigns and scenarios in a Classical setting. It accomplishes this by presenting the various playable races and backgrounds and providing you with the details you need to generate a character of that race, including the exciting new Antaean, Arachean, Bull Centaur, Cynocephalian, and Myrmidon. This fully-illustrated sourcebook also provides you with options for play, like signature spells, or specialties for a specific culture, some information on their common worldview, gods worshipped, favored weapons, technology, companions, likes, and dislikes. It also includes information on using existing races in an Aegean campaign and new items, powers, advantages, and d...

    Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting
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    Welcome to the Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting, a swords-and-sorcery milieu set in a Dark Ages fantasy version of the Mediterranean and the lands surrounding it! It is set a century after a Great Cataclysm destroyed the old world, plunged it into chaos, and reawakened magic and all form of ancient races and monsters. Now, the agents of Gods and Titans struggle against each other on behalf of their masters, nations strive to survive or dominate one another, and adventurers descend into the ruins in search of wealth and lost technology.  This universal campaign setting, which represents 14 years of development and has roots in the early 1980s, is ideal for adventures of the sorts inspired by the works of Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and Jack Vance. It has deliberately been desi...

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    Gnome Stew

  • Player Characters: Your Core Concept
    Player Characters: Your Core Concept

    Have you ever known something to be true about your character, but you never had a chance to share it at the table? Worse yet, have you ever known something to be true about your character, and had other players assume something contradictory? Just like in real life, it can be hard to shake off the expectations that other people put on you.

    It may even be harder if you are used to being a game facilitator because it is often seen as a positive thing to modify NPCs to fit the player’s understanding of that character, so that they can relate to them better. If you transition from facilitating a game, to running a single character, that desire to tailor a setting element to the expectation of other characters can be strong.

    A Tale of Three PCs

    I was in a Pathfinder 1e game where my character was a cleric of Besmara, the queen of pirates. While it wasn’t the most nuanced concept that I could have come up with, she was the daughter of an Andoran privateer who hated pirates, and who also didn’t think his daughter should serve in the navy. She often drank too much between adventures and was grudgingly participating with a “heroic” mission because she had lost her ship and her crew.

    I was also in a Star Wars Force and Destiny game where my character was an Ithorian padawan who specialized in healing. He was a naturally peaceful character that tended the plants that he kept on the ship. He was traumatized by Order 66 and had become extremely attached to his crewmates. He eventually “fell” to the Dark Side when he used his healing abilities to harm a mutant rancor attacking the party, because no one was going to take away his adopted family ever again.

    As a final example, I was playing a character in a Werewolf: The Forsaken game. I patterned his speaking patterns on Mitch Hedberg. He was living on the streets when he was found by the rest of the pack, but he used to be a software developer. He had the ability to see the spirits of people that had died, but he never liked to use this power.

    Goals

    • My cleric of Besmara wanted to become a hero. She wanted to prove that serving in the navy wasn’t beyond her, and that being a hero didn’t mean serving the nation of Andoran, and I wanted to perform something suitably heroic so that I could have that homecoming where she returned to her father to confront him with who she was.
    • My Ithorian wanted to have a traditional Star Wars redemption arc. I didn’t want his fall to be too terrible, so it wouldn’t be too hard to reconcile his return to the light, but I also wanted to emphasize how easy it was for him to use the Force to directly harm others now that he had fallen. I just wanted some friends to offer to help.
    • My Werewolf character had lost his wife around the same time that he became a werewolf, and he was afraid that he would see her spirit, and she would see what he had become. I wanted him to have that confrontation with his wife’s spirit so that he could learn that he was good enough regardless of what troubles life had thrown his way.

    What Actually Happened

    The group, especially one player, assumed that my cleric of Besmara was a dedicated pirate, and that all the cynicism and drinking was the core of who she was. The assumption wasn’t that she was a hero that wanted to know it was okay to define who she was, it was that there was nothing more to her than being a greedy, hedonistic anti-hero.

    As soon as the group knew that I had fallen to the Dark Side in the Star Wars game, one member of the group constantly stunned me whenever I would do something that seemed too “bad.” Another member of the group would use their Force abilities to take away my ability to act on my darker impulses. Instead of anyone espousing the light side or telling me that there was good in me, I literally got other players trying to take away my ability to do anything “Dark Side.”

    Because all of the other members of the werewolf pack in our game had important “day jobs,” and because I was the last one they found, my werewolf was treated as a burden. I wouldn’t use my powers, and I didn’t have a social standing in my human life, so I was the butt of jokes from all of the other members of the pack.

    External Factors

    The first thing that I think is important in any of these instances is to realize that you may have a concept for your character, but others also have a concept for theirs. If you don’t want anyone assigning traits to your character or defining them in ways that you don’t want, make sure you are giving others the same consideration.

    It can be fun to mention a recurring issue to show that you and another character have a connection. It is a little too easy to assume that you “know” everything about that character because you have identified patterns. If you find yourself referencing things that character does over time, try to find a way to work in an understanding of each other in game.

    Ask a character why they always carry a certain item with them. Ask them why they make the same choice in every situation when that choice may not have worked out well in the past. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask the player what they are doing with their character. One of the biggest mistakes we make around the game table is trying to do too much “in game.”

    All kinds of media have ways of communicating motivation that aren’t limited to character-to-character interactions. Sometimes a character will narrate their own story, and sometimes there are other outside narrators. Don’t look at asking a “meta” question as breaking the storytelling side of things, look at it as understanding the character in context of the story.

    Internal Factors

    Make sure you have communicated what you want to do with your character to your group. It has been said many times before, but until something happens at the table, it isn’t really “true” for the campaign. This goes beyond just backstory elements, and encompasses personality traits, attitudes, motivations, and goals.

    Don’t dictate your complete story arc to the game facilitator but do collaborate with them by letting them know you would like to hit certain story beats. Communicate to other players to clarify “you, as the player character, don’t know this yet, but you, the audience member enjoying the story of our game, should have this context.”

    In my case, when playing in that Pathfinder campaign, this was well before I started thinking more deeply about collaborations in games. Discussions about what kind of game we wanted to have were usually limited to when games started to go off the rails. If we had a session zero, I could have clearly elaborated to the whole party what I wanted to do with the character.

    In the case of the Ithorian character, I did, repeatedly, tell the group that I wanted to play out a redemption arc for the character, but we had a difference of opinion on what that meant. They felt that my arc was mine to tell, so if I was going to be redeemed, I should, without input from the other characters, realize that arc. They felt that their characters were doing nothing wrong.

    While I think our game facilitator should have stepped in when we were effectively descending into player versus player activities, we also didn’t have a session zero to confirm what was and wasn’t on the table for that kind of behavior. Now, I would have left the table, because my playstyle didn’t mesh well with the table assumptions, but at the time, I had the Ithorian character leave and made another character that wasn’t looking for validation from other player characters.

    I had communicated my thoughts for my Werewolf character to my game facilitator, and expressed that I, as a person, wasn’t comfortable with everyone treating my character as a burden. The facilitator gave me an important purpose where I had to use my ability to speak with the dead to solve a crisis, and I appreciated her response to my concerns.

    What If I Don’t Know What I Want to Be?

    It’s perfectly fine not to have a deep, well developed story arc in your head for your character. In fact, it’s probably much better to not get much deeper than having some story beats you would like to hit. But even if you don’t have those, you may have an idea of what feels right for the character and what feels wrong.

    In these cases, you may not be able to tell your facilitator that you want certain things, but you should be able to tell everyone when they have made an assumption about your character that doesn’t feel correct. People will sometimes say “so is this like when character X did that thing in movie Y?” and that may feel correct or incorrect. Don’t be afraid to say that, no, it’s not quite the same situation.

    Meta-Character Concepts and Safety Tools

    Adding formality to your discussion of things sometimes reinforces that the discussion means something important to you. While we usually talk about using safety tools to move past harmful material, losing sight of the character you want to portray can be detrimental to your enjoyment and comfort in the long term.

    It’s easy for a conversation about your character’s motivation to have a casual tone and to feel like two people disagreeing over how a superhero is portrayed in a movie. But this isn’t a situation where everyone’s input is equally valid. This is your creation, and your means of interacting with the game.

    If you feel strongly that you are losing the narrative of your own character, don’t be afraid to use safety tools to emphasize this. If you are using a consent revoking tool, feel free to use it to point out that you are not okay with the assumptions other players are making of your character. If you are using tools that allow you to pause the game or rewind it, use those tools to explain what your character is thinking and why, so that the group doesn’t just fill in the gaps themselves.

    It’s Not You, It’s Me

    One thing to give serious thought to when your character does seem to be redefined by the rest of the table–make sure you made a character that works in this campaign. Sometimes people are projecting their own biases onto your character, but other times, they may be hoping that your character has a reason to be on the same page with everyone else.

    Think about your goals, and if those goals will force the entire party to do something they may not be inclined to do. Think about your motivations, and if those motivations would make it unlikely that they would work with this group to attain their goals. Talk to the game facilitator about what you want to see but make it clear that you want to work with them. It may turn out that you drifted into a character that just doesn’t fit the current campaign.

    In that case, you need to decide if you enjoy the campaign, and want a character that is a better fit, or if you need to wait for a campaign that is more aligned with your interests.

    Players, Not Player Characters

    It’s also important to understand that other people may understand something different than their characters on the “meta” level. Just because a player character constantly assumes something wrong about the character, that doesn’t mean the player doesn’t understand what your character’s motivations are.

    Make sure whenever situations like this come up, you have a discussion with other players about this situation. In fact, it can be too easy for a situation like this to turn into a snowball effect, with you assuming another player thinks something about your character, and that makes you ascribe consents to their character.

    Sometimes it’s fun to know that someone in the party doesn’t get your character, while they player completely understands what you are trying to do with your character.

    When It’s Time to Change . . .

    I talked about how you may not have a strong concept, but you know what feels right or wrong. You may also have already had a concept, but the assumptions that others have made about your character actually sound like more fun than what you came up with. If you honestly like the character details that other players or the game facilitator are providing to you, and you want to pivot in that direction, feel free to do so.

    It’s not wrong to change your idea of who you want to play, it’s only wrong when you change because there is pressure to deviate from a character that you want to play, when that character fits with the campaign structure.

    The Biggest Disclaimer

    We’ve already touched on making a character that fits the campaign, but the other thing I cannot stress enough is that none of your character’s motivations or goals should be an excuse to be a jerk at the table. Don’t be that person that says, “it’s what my character would do.”

    In fact, you can be proactive in situations like this. Pause the game and say, “I think my character would do this thing, but I also know that will screw up our ongoing plans. What does everyone think?”

    Other players may help you think of ways to be true to your character or they may be okay with your proposed derailment. The important part is not just to unilaterally act in a way that torpedoes the fun of everyone at the table. If you think it will impact the group and the game, bring it up before you commit.

    Summary

    Pause the game and say, “I think my character would do this thing, but I also know that will screw up our ongoing plans. What does everyone think?”

    • If the group agrees, session zero a campaign or have discussions in the run up to the game about who everyone is and what they want out of the game
    • If you have a clear concept of your character, make sure to share it with the group
    • If the group makes assumptions about your character that you don’t agree with, let them know where you think they are mistaken
    • Tell the game facilitator if there are issues with how the group is relating to your character
    • Don’t be afraid to have meta-discussions about motivation and goals
    • Don’t be afraid to correct people about what feels right and wrong about assumptions made about your character even if you don’t have a clear picture of them yet
    • Don’t be afraid to use safety tools to emphasize the importance of communicating your control over your own character’s story arc
    • It’s okay to change your mind and take direction from others, if you really like the concepts presented to you better than your own starting point

    Have you ever had a character that was viewed much differently by the table than how you viewed them? Did you ever change a character based on the assumptions that the table made about your character? How often have you changed a character’s motivation and goals from when you first conceived them, to when those desires were addressed in the campaign? Tell us about your characters in the comments below!

    Read more »
  • Thou Shalt Not Fudge
    A hand holding a pair of dice.

     

    In the world of tabletop RPGs, few practices are as divisive as the fudging of dice rolls. Most people have strong opinions on the subject either way, and it’s often difficult to find a middle ground. This article attempts to take a balanced, neutral approach to fudging. While at times, it may be necessary to fudge the odd roll, it’s often better to simply avoid putting yourself in a position where you need to fudge.

    The Problem With Fudging

    Don’t be naïve. Players will catch on to your fudging!
    When you fudge a die roll, you are taking away some player agency. Each time you alter a roll, you’re affecting the outcome of someone’s choices.  As a result, the players’ choices won’t matter as much as they should anymore. In extreme cases, you may as well be reading them a pre-written story.

    Don’t be naïve. Players will catch on to your fudging! And when they realise all decisions rest in your hands, their sense of danger and adventure will be gone. Sure, they may have slain a dragon. But did they really win that fight? Or did the ‘fudging GM’ just let them win? No matter what you say, they’ll never feel like they truly earned that victory. And what if the characters get captured, maimed, or even killed? Will the players blame the dice or the fudging GM? At the very least, it’s a little of both…

    Fudging is a pernicious poison. While the practice promises a quick and easy fix, its dangers lie in overindulgence. Certainly, the occasional tweak behind the screen will do no harm. But the habit may become difficult to shake. And once you’ve gained a reputation for fudging, every call you make will be questioned by the players, either subconsciously or out loud. “Once a fudger, always a fudger”, they’ll say…

    A Necessary Evil

    So why fudge the dice at all? Because, sometimes, not fudging the dice ruins the fun. And that’s actually an excellent reason (perhaps the only one) to fudge things!

    The truth of the matter is that dice-fudging is just another tool in the GM’s grand arsenal. I like to think of this ‘fudging tool’ as a roll of duct tape sitting in a plumber’s toolbox. The plumber in this analogy, of course, represents the GM. And a GM who fudges too often is a lot like a plumber who overly relies on duct tape to fix leaks. Sure: they can fix everything quickly and on the cheap, leaving a trail of happy customers in their wake!  Yet at the same time, our plumber is setting the table for a massive avalanche of trouble down the road, when those taped-up pipes inevitably burst.

    But just like that roll of duct tape, fudging remains a valuable a tool in the GM’s toolbox, albeit a tool of last resort. When the proverbial dragon turd hits the blade barrier, it’s almost always better to fudge than do nothing at all! Ultimately, the urge to fudge arises from the need to fix a problem during play. So why don’t we examine some of the most common reasons to fudge the dice and see if we can prevent those problems from arising in the first place?

    1. Avoiding Character Death

    If you’re not prepared to accept an encounter ending in the death of a player character, why make it about trying to kill them in the first place?
    Saving a beloved character from a random, ignominious, or otherwise unwanted demise is probably the number one reason to fudge the dice. We’ve all been there: a random encounter with 2d6 frisky goblins suddenly goes south, killing the characters before the campaign has even begun. Oops – talk about rotten luck! So, should you fudge the dice? I guess… but why did you let things come this far?

    If you’re not prepared to accept an encounter ending in the death of a player character, why did you make it about trying to kill them in the first place? It’s a rare monster that just wants to kill people. Some want food, others seek treasure. Most just want to be left alone. Factor those motives into your encounters! Not only will it breathe life into your game, but ‘boring old death’ is no longer the outcome of every single combat. The frightened goblins hoist a white flag, requesting safe passage. The starved owlbear goes after your rations pouch. And don’t forget about morale! Creatures, in general, dislike being maimed or killed, and will beat a hasty retreat if the tide turns against them. Remind the players that their characters, too, can (usually) hide, flee, surrender, or otherwise avoid combat if they choose to do so.

    Ragnar didn’t see that one coming!

    Of course, it’s not all up to the GM. Sometimes it’s the players who decide the encounter will result in a fight to the death. Well, if that’s a choice they’ve made, I say: “Let the dice fall where they may!” I’ll still take motives and morale into account, but if a character dies, that’s too bad. The reason we want to avoid forcing the player characters into random life-or-death situations is because losing your character to such an encounter feels unfair, since the player had no choice in the matter. If they choose and lose, however, those are the breaks.

    Does this mean your monsters should never go for the kill? Of course not! But by making life-or-death encounters less common, as well as the result of the players’ choices, you won’t feel the need to fudge things as much.

    2. Single Point of Failure

    Let’s say the characters are investigating a murder. The killer hastily buried a bloodied glove at the scene of the crime; the one mistake which could lead to their arrest! The characters search the site and… roll a 2. “Nothing here, I guess!” End of scenario? Or do you fudge the roll?

    Of course you should fudge the roll in this case! Had you given more thought to preparing the adventure, however, that would not have been necessary. If finding that glove was the only way to advance the scenario, you’ve created yourself a Single Point of Failure (SPOF).

    SPOFs are problematic because they almost invariably force the GM to fudge, leading to awkward conversations at the table. “Yeah, I know you rolled a 2, but it turns out it was really poorly hidden…” Uh huh. Sure.

    The good news is that if SPOFs are your problem, the fix is easy! When prepping your game, first identify any potential SPOFs. For every SPOF you find, devise one or two additional solutions the characters can uncover to keep the game flowing! In our example, the bloodied glove should not be your only clue. You’ll need a few others to ensure the characters don’t get stuck due to a failed roll. It goes without saying you should spread out these additional clues as much as possible and avoid making them all dependent on the same type of check. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

    3. Pointless Rolls

    While reading about SPOFs, you may have been thinking: “Well, in my games I’d have them find that glove without even rolling!” That’s also an excellent solution! And it brings us straight to the concept of pointless rolls, which, broadly speaking, come in two flavours:

    The first type of pointless roll is cousin to the SPOF: rolling the dice when you’ve already decided the result. When the dice don’t support the GM’s preconceived outcome, their bumbling attempt at fudging is revealed. So why bother rolling the dice in this case? Just tell the player what happens: “A careful search reveals a bloodied glove buried in the sand.” Clever readers will now throw back their heads, exclaiming: “Whoa! GM fiat! Isn’t that just next-level fudging?!” Well, ‘potayto – potahto’ – at least you‘re sending the message you’re not screwing with the dice. GM fiat, by the way, isn’t always a bad thing. While this is food for a whole new article, GM fiat also comes in two flavours: enabling and negating.

    There’s really no excuse for fudging a pointless roll. Either make a roll meaningful, or don’t roll at all.
    As long as you use your powers of GM fiat to enable player choice, rather than negating it, you’re golden as far as I’m concerned. Note you could just as well tell the player they don’t find anything at the crime scene. That’s not negating choice; it’s simply moving things along and not wasting precious play time with pointless dice rolls.

    The second type of pointless roll is when failure has no meaningful impact. Lockpicking is a common example. A character wants to pick a lock. They roll the dice. They fail. They try again. They fail … Urgh. There’s two ways to handle this. One is to consider the best possible check result, compare that to the target number, and tell the player their character eventually succeeds – or realises they never will – after a certain amount of time. Veteran D&D 3.5 players may recognise this solution as the ‘take 20’ rule.

    Another technique is to fail forward and have a failed roll still result in the character achieving their goal, albeit with undesirable consequences. Instead of calling for endless repeat attempts or – God forbid – fudging the roll, add a layer of meaning by asking a different question. Revisiting our lockpicking example, you might decide that the check result will not answer the question of whether or not the rogue can open the door (they’re capable enough), but rather if they can open it before the guards turn the corner! If you choose to reframe the question like this, you should tell the players what’s at stake before they choose to go ahead with their action. Perhaps the players really don’t want to risk running into the guards and they want to swiftly kick in that door instead. Note that any consequences you choose to introduce should further enable player choice (“You hear the guards approaching – what do you do?”) instead of negating it (“The guards are here – roll initiative!”).

    In summary, there’s really no excuse for fudging a pointless roll. Either make a roll meaningful, or don’t roll at all.

    4. Random Tables

    Rolling on random tables eases the agony of choice.

    Here’s where things get a little philosophical. Say you’re rolling on some table to select a random monster and decide to alter the result. Did you even fudge?

    If you ask me, this is pretty much a grey area. On the one hand: if I’m using a random dungeon room table to design my next adventure, and I alter any results I don’t like, am I being a dirty little fudger? No, of course not! If, on the other hand, I’m altering a roll on the Wild Magic Surge or Reincarnation tables, it does begin to look a lot like fudging. Random encounter tables? I guess it depends. Let’s see if we can elocute the differences between these three cases and hash out some guidelines.

    Broadly speaking, you might say there are two kinds of random tables: ‘creative tables’, which aid the GM in bringing the world to life, and ‘mechanical tables’, which support certain game mechanics.

    When you’re using creative tables, you’re actually delegating your GM fiat to the result of a dice roll. And as previously mentioned, GM fiat (provided it’s the choice-enabling kind) isn’t considered fudging! If our random dungeon room table suggests we place a dark corridor beyond the entrance, the choice is: “Here’s a dark corridor. Do you want to go down it, or not?” Had I chosen to alter the result to a different area (say, a guard room), the same choice would still be there: “Do you go in, or not?

    While mechanical tables might also enable choices (being reincarnated as a gnome does force one to make some interesting new choices indeed!), they are at the same time the result of a player’s choice. When you choose to cast wild magic, for instance, all the potential results on that table factor into making that decision. So, yes, I’d probably consider it fudging if the GM altered such a result.

    But it all starts to become fuzzy when considering things like a wandering monster table, which includes both creative and mechanical elements. And this is where I believe the GM should check their motives and decide for themselves if it’s okay to fudge.

    If you want to alter the result because it would better serve the story (either for reasons of verisimilitude or enabling choice), go for it! If, on the other hand, you want to change things for purely mechanical reasons (such as increasing or decreasing the challenge during play), consider not doing it.

    In any event, before altering the roll, I like to give myself a few seconds to come up with an idea to make the result work anyway – purely as an exercise in creativity. Maybe there’s a reason this white dragon is scouring the desert? Or perhaps there really is an enclave of goblins in the fifth circle of Hell?

    Whenever you feel inclined to mess with random tables: “Search thy feelings, and thou shalt know when thou fudgeth!” But don’t sweat it. Remember, the key is to get creative and have fun!

    5. Rubber-banding Challenges

    “Yeah, I don’t have time for this!”

    ‘Rubber-banding’ is a term borrowed from poor racing videogames, where the AI cars behave as if they were connected to the player’s car by invisible rubber bands. If you do well and pull ahead of the pack, the bands will tighten as the AI cars suddenly begin closing the distance with astounding speed and skill. If, however, you drive poorly (like I do), those same AI cars will linger, idle, slip, or drive into walls like bumbling idiots, allowing you to catch up. So, does rubber-banding AI increase the challenge of the race? Absolutely! And is it fun for the player? Not in the least! Once you realise that’s the way the game works, skill and strategy cease to have meaning – except maybe in those final yards of the very last lap.

    The same goes for GMs who ‘rubber-band’ challenges by fudging dice rolls, hit points, and spell slots on the fly. It’s all great fun until the players start recognising the pattern. And please don’t kid yourself: they absolutely will! All battles suddenly become boring; each victory resounds hollow and every defeat turns suspicious.

    Did the characters stomp all over your big bad evil guy? Well, hooray! Allow them to celebrate the awesomeness of that moment!
    The fix is simple: just don’t do it! Did the characters stomp all over your big bad evil guy? Well, hooray! Allow them to celebrate the awesomeness of that moment! Not every battle has to be an epic, three-hour showdown. Remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones simply shrugged and shot the scimitar-wielding brute? That’s just as memorable (if not more so)!

    But what of the opposite scenario, where you rubber-band the challenge to make things easier on the characters? Well, why would you? You’re no longer forcing them into potentially lethal situations, right?

    Reaping Honesty’s Rewards

    When it comes to toting GM advice, my policy is: “Tools, not Rules”. This means that although I stand by these techniques, I do not recommend you start blindly applying them to your own campaign, because that may not work. Rather, my advice is to gently ease into any new approaches and adding them to your GM toolbox one by one at a pace you’re comfortable with (perhaps with a few tweaks of your own). Before long, you’ll find the need to fudge will decrease as a result, and you can start reaping honesty’s rich rewards: trust and participation!

     When the players trust the impartiality of your rolls, they’ll feel their choices matter. 
    When the players trust the impartiality of your rolls, they’ll feel their choices matter, and they will own every victory, as well as every defeat. Combined with the fact they no longer need to subconsciously assess the GM’s intentions on a metagame level, it will improve their sense of immersion.

    But perhaps it’s the GM who has the most to gain! By letting the dice decide, they are free to participate in the game to a much greater extent. When the GM, too, must roll to see what happens in the game, that’s so much more exciting than slavishly adhering to some preconceived plot. The burden of ensuring everyone’s having fun no longer rests squarely on their shoulders – the players and the dice are making all the decisions. The GM is just there to provide the context and interpret the results. And, of course, to enjoy the story unfolding at the table!

    This, more than anything else, is why I love being a GM! I simply set the scene, prep some NPCs, agendas, and locations. But do I know where the adventure is going? Absolutely not. And that’s fantastic! It also allows me to be a true fan of the characters, and I can actively root for them without showing any favouritism.

    The only way to get there, however, is to roll all (or at least most) of your dice in the open, in full view of the players. Resist the urge to fudge – you don’t need to put yourself in those situations anymore! Make the roll work and move the game forward. But don’t take my word for it – give it a go!

    Conclusion

    Time to fess up! Do you find yourself fudging the dice too often? If so, have we managed to convince you to try and mend your wicked, wicked ways? And just how did you implement these guidelines at your own table? Let us know in the comments!

    Read more »
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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRun Simple Adventures

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    As DMs, our drive and creativity often lead us to build big, complex adventures. Yet often the best stories come from simple adventures bursting with unique results as we play them at our table. Don't shy away from simple adventures with straight forward hooks and typical fantasy locations. Let the characters' actions complicate the situation.

    For more on this topic, see my three-minute YouTube video on Running Simple Adventures.

    Dragon of Icespire Peak, the adventure in the D&D Essentials Boxed Set, is noteworthy in many ways. It may be my favorite D&D adventure, up there with Curse of Strahd and Lost Mine of Phandelver. One of its great strengths is it's simplicity. Characters pick up jobs from a local job board, go on quests, complete them, and return home for a new one. It seems almost too simple, and for some groups it may be, but many enjoy this adventure not because of what it has in it but how it plays out at the table.

    The most interesting events in our game occur at the table, not when we plan our adventure. Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is built on this idea. We prepare what we need to let the game travel in interesting directions at the table. This is why we don't tie secrets and clues to specific locations, NPCs, or objects. We improvise their discovery during the game.

    We can plan deep and rich adventures with lots of details, intrigue, and complications; or we can run a simple classic adventure and let the complications happen at the table.

    Examples of Simple Adventures

    What do simple adventures look like? Here are ten example straight-forward quests you might use or that might inspire your own:

    • Collect the holy bell at the fallen monastery.
    • Rescue the old cobbler lost in forgotten sewers.
    • Defeat the elven warlord camping out at the ruined keep.
    • Route the bandits threatening the village from the old dwarven mines.
    • End the Black Sun cultist's ritual at the unhallowed megaliths.
    • Find the sword of Kavan buried in the decrepit crypts outside of town.
    • Root out the rat queen infesting the local inn with giant rats in the old cellars.
    • Hunt down the murderous beast lairing in the caves along the southern foothills.
    • Put the spirit of the red king to rest in the catacombs beneath the old church.
    • Slay the Lord of Pigs in the infested warrens deep in the western forest.

    Grab a Dyson Logos map, write down ten secrets and clues the characters might uncover in the location, throw in some monsters and treasure, and you have yourself a D&D game.

    Shaking Up the Cliche

    Sometimes a straight forward quest and adventure are all we need. Other times its worth shaking things up a little bit to make it unique. Here are ten ways we might shake up our otherwise common adventure:

    • Why are the villains right to do what they do?
    • Shake up the ancestries and origins of the quest givers and the enemies.
    • Add fantastic features: something huge, something old, something otherworldly.
    • A villain or henchman is related to one of the characters.
    • The antagonists are righteous to a fault.
    • Add a new theme to the monsters: fiery, cold, acidic, necrotic, radiant, electric, poisonous, etc.
    • Mix monster types: undead hellhounds, shadowy orcs, celestial werewolves.
    • Add factions to the monsters and villains. Can the characters pit one side against another?
    • Layer threats. Perhaps the villains are trying to escape something even worse.
    • Escalation. The whole event was far worse than it seems.

    Many times, however, we need not shake things up like this. A straight forward adventure will shake itself up as our mind runs off during the game.

    Hanging On to Classic D&D

    "Classic" D&D had adventurers delving deep into dungeons to find lost treasure and face terrible monsters. There's no reason we can't keep that purity in heart. While many have taken the game into tremendous depths of character and story, sometimes we just want to stab a giant rat with a sword. Run simple adventures.

    Related Articles

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, watch Sly Flourish videos on Youtube, join the Sly Flourish Discord server, or support Sly Flourish on Patreon!

    Check out Mike's books including Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, Fantastic Adventures, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    Send feedback to mike@mikeshea.net.

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

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  • VideoTypes of Secrets

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Secrets and clues are the powerhouse step in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. They're the glue that ties our games together. They're the reward for exploration and discovery. They're the interface between the characters and the world.

    Secrets can be tricky, though, when you're just starting out. It's easy to over-think them. It may be easier to think about the types of secrets we can write up and go through these types when we're writing up the ten secrets for our next session. Some of these secret types include:

    • Character secrets
    • Location secrets
    • Historical secrets
    • NPC or villain secrets
    • Plot-revealing secrets
    • Adventure hooks

    Let's take a look.

    Character Secrets

    Review the characters is the first step from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master for a few reasons. Most importantly, it helps us remember that the characters are the center of the game and thus the rest of our prep circles around them. Secrets are no different. Character-driven secrets are a powerful way to draw the character (and the player) into the game. Here are a few character-driven secrets:

    • Atrabe's cousin became a high-ranking member of the Cult of the Dragon.
    • Arwin's medallion secretly contains the soul of her father.
    • Shift's brother, Lord Krash, became a prominent leader of the Emerald Claw.
    • Banner's swordsiblings from the Last War have become members of the Lord of Blades.
    • The illithid parasite within Shadow Hawk grows stronger and only the illithids can remove it.

    Character-driven secrets can tie characters to historical facts, NPCs, villains, items, or be self-contained.

    Location Secrets

    What information might the characters learn about the locations around them? These secrets can capture and reveal the history of the world by the physical locations the characters explore. Here are some example location-based secrets.

    • The Mournland is a twisted hellscape formed at the end of the Last War when a weapon of terrible power destroyed the entire nation of Cyre.
    • Clawrift once served as a vast artificers' laboratory in the city of Making until a terrible explosion bored a hole through its center.
    • Myre's End once served as retreat for the fey prince Blackhorn but now serves as his mausoleum.
    • The once mighty citadel of the Besilmer dwarves, Harrowholme has become a twisted temple to the demon prince Zuggtmoy.
    • The academy of Eberron, a magical academy of Cyre, now serves as the headquarters to the Night's Kiss assassins.

    Use secrets to give the characters and players insight into the locations in which they delve.

    Historical Secrets

    Vast histories of our campaign worlds usually don't stick in the minds of our players and no one wants to hear us read a history book for two hours. Secrets and clues help the characters (and players) learn the history of the world around them while they engage in their adventures. History and location-based secrets often overlap.

    • The Reghed tribes sometimes warred with and sometimes allied with the people of Ten Towns. One can never say how the tribes will react to their neighbors in Icewind Dale.
    • The goblin empire of the Dhakaani once wielded arcane power surpassing even the modern day magic of Khorvaire.
    • Once the Cult of the Dragon served ancient dragons by aiding their transformation into powerful dracolichs. Now the Cult of the Dragon seeks to draw Tiamat from Avernus.
    • Lord Degault Neverember once served as the Open Lord of Waterdeep but left Waterdeep in disgrace after failing to deal with the Dragon Cult threat and returned to his home city of Neverwinter.
    • Centuries ago, four heroes of the Desserin Valley built four citadels atop the dungeons they had explored, intending to defend against the evil that lay below.

    Add historical secrets to expose the world of the campaign to your players one sentence at a time.

    NPC and Villain Secrets

    In our dynamic D&D games, our NPCs and villains are living and (sometimes) breathing beings. They're doing things. They came from somewhere. NPC and villain secrets show their movement in the world otherwise invisible to the players. Here are some examples.

    • The Daughters of Sora Kell never leave their ziggurats in the depths of Droaam and yet they've been sighted in the city of Making within the Mournland.
    • Iymrith protects herself with a tribe of desert dwellers who worshiped her as a god for centuries.
    • The Xanathar sent his best hunters and assassins into the streets of Waterdeep seeking an artifact said to be the key to a half-million gold dragons (the coin, not the beasts).
    • Acererak the archlich found the dead husk of an unborn god in the darkest reaches of the astral sea and now hopes to bring it back to live with the sacrifice of million souls.
    • House Xorlarrin never forgets a slight. They have sent the Night's Kiss assassins to Ten Towns to hunt down Shadow Hawk and bring his head back to Menzorberranzan.

    Use NPC and villain secrets to show players the history and movement of the NPCs in the world.

    Adventure Hooks

    The eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master don't include adventure hooks. Secrets and clues are one great place to add adventure hooks into our prep notes. These might take the place of rumors the characters hear or plots driven by their enemies. Here are some examples.

    • Within the ruined city of Eston lies a half-machine half-god able to make the journey across the Mournland to the city of Making.
    • The Daughters of Sora Kell, the armies of the Lord of Blades, and a powerful wizard of the Aurum all seek the weapon lost and buried in the center of Making.
    • An old woman is the lone survivor of a village atop a bluff in eastern Chult. This wise woman is one of the few in Chult who know the location of the lost city of Omu.
    • Two adventurers went to the mansion outside of Saltmarsh, the body of one of them washed ashore, her hands bound and armaments removed.
    • Only Madame Eva of the Vistani knows how the devil Strahd might one day be destroyed.

    Use secrets and clues to drop adventure hooks in front of the characters.

    And Many More

    These are but a few of the most popular types of secrets and clues. Above all, remember that secrets and clues serve you. Use them however you will to give you the lore you need when the opportunity arises in your next game.

    Related Articles

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, watch Sly Flourish videos on Youtube, join the Sly Flourish Discord server, or support Sly Flourish on Patreon!

    Check out Mike's books including Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, Fantastic Adventures, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    Send feedback to mike@mikeshea.net.

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

    Read more »

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