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  • Keep the Death Star from Completion in Star Wars: Dark Side Rising

    by W. Eric Martin

    If you liked the sound of the co-operative dice and card game Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War, but didn't care whether Thanos snapped away a bunch of superheroes or not, perhaps you will instead find yourself drawn to Star Wars: Dark Side Rising, announced today by The OP for release in Q4 2019 — albeit only in Europe, Middle Eastern, and African regions due to licensing restrictions.

    As for the game's setting, here's an overview:

    Star Wars: Dark Side Rising is a co-operative card and dice game inspired by the events leading up to and through Star Wars: A New Hope.

    In the game, players must work together to recruit rebels and prevent the construction of the ultimate weapon, the original Death Star. Each player starts with an individual board that indicates the Rebel cell they are leading: Intelligence, Leadership, Support or Tactical. The player boards depict the Base of Operations — Tatooine, Alderaan, Yavin 4, or Lothal — and team leader (starting character asset) for each player: Captain Cassian Andor, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Hera Syndulla.

    Players must coordinate efforts to recruit iconic characters, such as C-3PO, R2-D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Admiral Raddus and Han Solo, and organize their cells to thwart the Empire's rise to galactic domination.

    The main game board features a custom-sculpted 3D Darth Vader bust that commands the Imperial operatives and actions with orders to wipe out the Rebels and to make the Death Star operational. Meanwhile, in a race against time, players must be one with the Force as they direct their Rebel efforts across different locations in the galaxy, including Scarif, Eadu and Jedha. To restore freedom to the galaxy, the Rebels must defeat enough sinister agents before the Empire can either complete construction of the lethal space station or eliminate too many Rebel assets.

    Star Wars: Dark Side Rising retails for US$50 (in whatever currency is appropriate for the regions in which it's sold), and The OP plans to demo the game at UK Game Expo in early June 2019.

    Which franchise might rise next, do you think?

    Read more »
  • More Titles at Tokyo Game Market in May 2019: Moon Base, Sinomilia, Elegantu, Natsumemo & Leiden 1593: The Beginning of Tulip Cultivation

    by W. Eric Martin

    Tokyo Game Market runs May 25-26, and if you plan to attend, you're probably already in Japan or on an airplane traveling there.

    While BGG is missing out on TGM this time due to us hosting our own event — BGG.Spring, which opens the same day — I've been opening dozens of tabs with new games that will be featured at that show and sending myself link after link after link of new games to check out. It's overwhelming, especially since each page I open typically leads to still more pages as I discover a JP version of an existing game and want to create a version listing for that, then yet another new game that has a co-publisher which also needs a new page, etc.

    All that said, here's a tiny sampling of what will be at TGM, much of it courtesy of Jon Power, who helps encourage submissions to the BGG database by JP game designers and publishers and whose initials are (coincidentally?) JP:

    なつめも (Natsumemo) is a roll-and-write game for 2-6 players from 宮野 華也 (Kaya Miyano) and cosaic that has the most delightful setting ever:

    "なつめも" (pronounced "natsumemo") means "summer memo", and it's the practice of children keeping a summer holiday diary.

    Natsumemo is a flip & write game with a summer vacation theme. Each player receives a special calendar sheet and a hidden sheet, pencils and dice. Each round, the active player flips the card of the week and declares the day on which the event will occur. All players choose to join or not join the event all at once, and if they join, write them on their calendars. Of course, you cannot take part in the events of the day if you already filled that date on your calendar.

    The biggest feature is the special bond that grows between the characters who participated in the same event. Players plan the events in order to develop friendships and score more points. "Oh, only Hana and Vivian and I are free on Tuesday, so if I suggest going to swim in the sea on Tuesdays and Wednesday, maybe only I can deepen the bonds with the two girls ...!" This is how boys and girls develop serious feelings and judgments are born one after another. Furthermore, "I was the only one who went to the sea when I tried to open the lid!" These goofy developments, the emotions that come from them are the most enjoyable!

    Another feature is homework. Players must balance having fun with friends, and getting their summer homework done, too. If you do not reach a certain number of pages by the end of the holidays, you get deducted points. You will end up cramming all alone the last week, instead of deepening your new friendships. This reality is unbearable.

    Saigo, who translates Game Market reports for BGG and who tweets about JP games, notes that a Chinese-language edition of the game is likely in the works, so perhaps someone will sign on for an English-language edition as well. We'll see!

    エレガンツ (Elegantu) is a Mao-like card game from Osamu Iijima and ボボン・ボン・ボジワーイ連邦 (The Bobon Bon Bojiwaai Union) in which players attempt to play cards and gain points, but they don't know the "rules for etiquette" that are in effect this game. They'll discover these rules only during play when someone stops them (based on a rules card in their hand) and penalizes the player for doing something wrong. You must remember and follow all of the rules in order to play well!

    Elegantu is a second edition of the game, with some English on the cards, whereas the first edition in 2018 had only Japanese text.

    Leiden 1593: ライデン-チューリップ栽培の始まり- (Leiden 1593: The Beginning of Tulip Cultivation) is a speculation game from designer ハイライフ (high-life) and publisher Spieldisorder, which released the David Bowie-themed Across the Universe in 2017. Here's a summary of the gameplay:

    As tulip merchants, players reclaim the garden, raise tulips, and ship them out. With the help of hired artisans, they aim to be the wealthiest merchant.

    At the beginning of the game, several cards are laid on the table to form the tulip garden. Each card represents 2x3 squares of garden, which is single-colored or double-colored to represent species of tulip. Each turn, you may place a garden card, build your hut, or upgrade your hut into a house:

    —When you place a garden card, you must partially overlay it on existing garden; the overlaid color of tulip becomes rare, so therefore its market value is raised.
    —When you build a hut or a house, you discard several cards and place the building on the garden. You may hire an artisan when you have built a house. Each artisan has a special ability.

    At the end of the game, for each color, you score victory points equal to the market value of that color multiplied by the number of squares your buildings occupy on that color. Then add some bonus depending on your buildings' location. The highest scorer wins.

    Moon Base is a two-player game from Naotaka Shimamoto and itten, with players placing ownership rings on the craters of the moon. Each crater you place eliminates the possible placement of other craters, although as you build up craters, you can place other ones on top of them in a second or third layer. You're trying to place residential zones and resource facilities to score points.

    • At TGM in May 2019, itten will also release Tokyo Highway: Cars & Buildings, an expansion for either Tokyo Highway base game that allows you to add four new building obstacles to the playing area, while giving each player a set of ten vehicles that range from the tiny cars of the original game to buses and tractor trailers.

    • Finally, for this post at least, is a game that seems tailor-made for my tastes: συνομιλία, a.k.a. シノミリア, a.k.a. Sinomilia by designer Kengo Ōtsuka and シノミリアプロジェクト (Shinomiria Project). "Sinomilia" is the Greek word for "conversation", and this two-player game exists as a conversation of sorts carried out via gameplay. Here's a summary of how it works:

    Each player receives a set of cards numbered 0-9 and fifteen chips. At the start of a round, each player places one of their cards face down to predict how many chips will be played that round. Players then take turns, and on a turn you can either place a chip in the playing area or pass. Do you add chips to get closer to your prediction at the risk of losing more of your chips, or will you pass and let your opponent control the conversation?

    Once either both players have passed or a total of nine chips have been played, the round ends and players reveal their cards. If your card is closer than your opponent's to the total number of chips played, you win and collect all the chips played, plus two additional chips from your opponent. If the two cards are equally close to the total, whoever last took an action loses and whoever passed first wins. Play multiple rounds to determine the winner.

    From the description, Sinomilia sounds as minimalist as The Mind, sounds like something that shouldn't work — yet I can already imagine how a round might play out, with subsequent rounds building on what's already happened. I need the full rules to know for sure what's going on and how the rounds relate to one another and how someone wins, but I'm already in. Now I just need to figure out how to get a copy...

    Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • Friday Enhanced Map: 05-24-2019
    Friday Enhanced Map: 05-24-2019Publisher: Paratime Design

    The May 24, 2019 Friday Enhanced Map product contains a multi-layered PDF (allowing the options of white or black backgrounds, numbered or non-numbered areas, and secret doors on or off) and a zip file with all relevant map files as individual jpg images.

    Price: $1.00 Read more »
  • 10 Paces
    10 PacesPublisher: Wannabe Games

    10 Paces brings Wannabe Games flair to the western world. Using pace die to bring the excitement of quick draw duels to the tabletop world. 10 Paces is a simple and flexible system that allows players to pick up and start playing in just a few minutes.

    The world of 10 Paces is ruled by the almighty equalizer of the bullet. Many live in fear of the threat of violence, and there is little difference between an outlaw and the wannabe lawman. With prospecting towns popping up constantly there are fortunes to be earned, or stolen. The federal government has little oversight of the area, making the choice to draw your gun the most important one you can ever make.

    This game was created live on Twitch (with some editing later on) on 5/19 by Alexander Sprague and Jessica Geyer of WannaBeGames. We are working on flexing our creative muscles and making new fun things for people. Follow us on twitter @jawska and @kittycrusade and drop us a suggestion for a game idea. We make something new every Sunday!

    Price: $0.00 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • What I Prep
    What I Prep

    Last month I got on my soapbox about prep, specifically talking about how it does not matter how long your prep is, and I thought I would stay on the topic and talk about how I prep a game today.  This article will be a snapshot of my prep process because this is a GM skill that constantly evolves. It is one that is both a product of the way I GM, and the games I play. What I want to show you is the thought process behind how I get a game ready for the table, what stays in my head, and what gets written down.

    Two Page Prep

    Today, my prep is basically two pages, or one-page front and back, if you are getting really technical. That is not a constraint, but rather where I wind up. That prep is good for 4-8 hours of play, depending on how hard I am driving the game. I don’t have a single format, allowing the prep to fit the structure of what I am playing, but I do have elements that are always present. When I run a game for the first time, I usually spend a bit of time figuring out the template for my prep, which involves incorporating the important elements I need with the overall structure of the game. For instance: In my prep for Blades in the Dark, the middle portion of my prep is sectioned into Freeplay, The Job, and Downtime, to reflect the three major phases of the game.

    How I GM and What I Play

    I mentioned in the intro that your GMing style and what you run has a major impact on how you prep. So that the rest of this makes sense, let me take a few sentences to explain both of those. My GMing style is about 70% improv and 30% planned, with my planning mostly up front. I like to come up with a general idea of what is going to happen in the session, set that up, and then let the players loose. I then improv as I play off of what the characters do, always using where I had originally intended the game to go as a guide to where play should lead, but never adhering to that too hard. I am very much a play to see what happens GM.

    As for what I play, I mostly play Powered by the Apocalypse games, because they mesh well with how I want to GM. Aside from PbtA games, I have been enjoying the Mutant Year Zero mechanics, used in Tales of the Loop.

    The Essential Elements … For Me

    When it comes to what I put into my prep, here are my essential elements that are always in my prep:

    What Is Going On

    This section was inspired by Fear The Boot and has never left my prep, once I learned about it. It is a few paragraphs that describe what is going on in the adventure and can sometimes take up to 25% of my 2-page prep. It is nearly always written in the absence of the player characters and does two things. One, it gives me a background of what has been going on, before the characters get involved. Two, it tells me what the forces in play will do if the characters do not succeed in intervening.

    I cannot emphasize enough how important for me this piece is. If I had to reduce or eliminate most of my prep, I would not cut into this section one bit. I can do more with just this section than anything else I prep.

    This piece is crucial for me because this gives me the logical construct for the game. What I mean is that as a background, it gives me some understanding of why things are going on and what has happened before. That is important for understanding motivations, clues, and for answering questions about what is going on. As a direction of what is going to happen, it gives me a direction in which to improv the actions/reactions of the NPCs, which then makes their actions drive towards a logical goal.

    I cannot emphasize enough how important for me this piece is. If I had to reduce or eliminate most of my prep, I would not cut into this section one bit. I can do more with just this section than anything else I prep.

    Major Scenes

    Building off the information in What Is Going On, I then come up with 4-6 scenes that I think are most likely to happen in the session. The earliest scenes are the most probable to happen while the latter ones are less possible, as the game unfolds through play. These scenes are typically based on the story beats that would need to be achieved to accomplish the players’ goal, which is nearly always to interfere with the NPCs goal that I outlined above.

    As I do for the overall story, I prep these scenes to set up a problem but not how to solve it (something learned from Vincent Baker in Dogs in the Vineyard). They are always based on a logical path to how the problem would be solved.

    Example: In a dungeon exploration game (not a dungeon crawl) where the players are to recover a holy artifact, my major scenes would be something like this:

    • Entering The Dungeon – encounter with some monsters to set the tone.
    • Finding Clues of The Big Monster – a scene where I reveal something much worse is in the dungeon, that the players did not know about.
    • Navigating Ancient Traps – a scene about getting past an elaborate trap.
    • Dangerous Battle – combat scene in a location with difficult/dangerous terrain.
    • The Big Monster and the Artifact – A confrontation with the big monster who is also trying to use the artifact.

    In each of those cases, there is a clear set-up for what the scene will be about, and then I leave it up to the players’ ideas, the mechanics of the game, the genre we are playing in, and my improv skills to do the rest.

    Essential Dialog or Clues

    At all costs, I never want to retcon my game to give the players some important piece of information or clue that I was supposed to give them earlier, that I forgot in a past scene. So all of those essential pieces of information get written into my prep so that they can be referenced in play.

    Stat Blocks

    I always include the stat blocks for anything that the players may encounter. Even if the block is listed in the main book, I copy it into my notes. I do not want to stop and look things up, mid game. I want that information right at my fingertips.

    If my game has a lot of different stat blocks, then I may make this its own page (sometimes expanding past my 2-page prep, if needed) and then I have them all in one place. In most cases, I will just put the block or two I need inline with my text.

    Relevant Rules

    If the scene has any esoteric rules that are not part of my normal play, then they get copied into this section so that, once again, I am not flipping through the book during the game.


    As a way to wrap up the session, I have a section where I have notes about how to bring the session to a conclusion. These are often in the form of, “If the players do this, then that happens”. It also includes reminders for any end of session mechanics that need to be engaged.

    Putting That All Together

    In the absence of the elements or structures needed for a specific game, this is what my prep looks like, at it’s core:

    • What is going on
    • Opening Scene
      • Essential Dialog/Clues
      • Stats
      • Rules
    • Scene
      • Essential Dialog/Clues
      • Stats
      • Rules
    • Scene
      • Essential Dialog/Clues
      • Stats
      • Rules
    • Scene
      • Essential Dialog/Clues
      • Stats
      • Rules
    • Conclusion

    I Showed You Mine…Show Me Yours

    Your prep is a constantly evolving structure. It changes as you grow as a GM and as you play different games. It is something that both naturally evolves as well as something you can hone.

    I showed you what goes into my prep, now show me yours. What elements are essential to you? What structures do you use? What element could you never give up?

    Read more »
  • Make Time for What You Love
    Make Time for What You Love

    To create a game is to learn that the act of gaming is more important than your creation. The same can be said for preparing a game.

         The activity is bigger than the product or plan. The product is a tool of the activity, not the other way around. The same could be said about any creative endeavor.

    An Augmented Reality

    We live in an interesting world full of more things to do and more places to see than we can ever hope to accomplish.

    Marketing teams remind me every time I check my email.

    • RE: your next trip—Just For You
    • Must-Try Activities
    • NEW Weekend Deals

    Social media knows what I look at and who I care about, targeting me with content.

    • Flashy pictures of who, what, and where I search
    • Click bait headlines of what I read about
    • The ever-evolving drama of friends, family, and associates

    Overwhelming amounts of advertisements lead the lists of our search engines and surround our shows, it is almost inescapable! Our constant connection to the internet can distract us with something new or something noteworthy at nearly every moment. Trying to reduce the number of notifications by unsubscribing, changing settings (in each app), and unfollowing people is a constant battle as software updates and mailing lists grow.

    When was the last time you were bored? When was the last time you didn’t have something you needed to do?

    I didn’t ask the last time you had to replace your cell phone.

    I mean truly bored. Bored enough to try something new.

    A War Is Being Fought For Your Attention

    Your attention, your time, is precious and you only have so much of it. Just think about it.

    When do you have a valuable attention span?

    • First thing in the morning?
    • Just before noon?
    • After the kiddos are asleep?

    What do you do with it and when do you spend time doing what you love?  Do they align?


    Fight Back

    Make time for what you love to do. In the battle for your attention, you must make it a point to spend time doing what you love.  Because when you are not, you are allowing all the distractions, all the advertising, all the junk — to occupy your valuable time.

    If you don’t choose how to spend your time, someone else will choose for you.

    What activity will make your heart sing? What do you create to share with others, enrich others?

    Look around, if you have even one person nearby, you’ll see it. It isn’t just you or me. The clutter is robbing us of time with our loved ones too. Why do you think it is so hard to get people to show up to game? Everyone is short on time. Everyone is a victim.

    If you are not standing up for what you love, you are letting it wither. Letting it just fade into the background — the void. So many things are vying for your time and the time of others, don’t lose the things you love in the process. Maybe you draw dungeons, maybe you write worlds, maybe you write for Gnome Stew. When people no longer pay attention to tabletop role-playing games, what is left of your creations?

    If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

    Don’t let your thing go quietly.



    I love role playing games. We have been through thick and thin together. Like a constant companion, we have visited dangerous places, faced great challenges, and even managed to save the day on occasion. I have so many great friends and shared memories thanks to this hobby. I have been able to explore new worlds and creatively express myself without the repercussions of a society that is too quick to judge. I’ve been so many different characters and lived so many different lives. Who else can say that?

    Profess your love, don’t hide from it.  Don’t hide it from other people.  

    Take the time to stand up for what you are passionate about.  Make a point to pursue the things you love, before they fade behind the noise of notifications or the next new iPhone game.

    Make time for what you love.


    What do you need to make more time for? How do you remind players to make time for gaming? How do you find more time for gaming? 

    Read more »

    RPGWatch Newsfeed

  • Elleros Origins: Wytchsun - Releasing May 27th
    Wytchsun: Elleros Origins is an Elder Scrolls like open world game which will release May 27th. loading...You are the only one who can stop the cataclysm from destroying the land of Elleros. Every 400 years a cataclysm wipes out nearly all life in the land of Elleros.... Read more »
  • ATOM RPG - Review @ Topless Robot
    Topless Robot checked out the ATOM RPG: Atom RPG - v1.08 Quality of Life Update | Backlog Quest! loading... Today Bawss Sawss dives into the vast alternative past of a post-nuclear Russia. Atom RPG - v1.08 Quality of Life Update has added a lot of life to this excellent and immersive homage to the old Black Isle Fallout titles while still keeping a unique flavor all its own.... Read more »

    Sly Flourish

  • VideoChoosing the Right Steps from the Lazy DM Checklist

    Chapter 12 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master describes ways to reduce the eight steps of RPG preparation down to the ones that matter the most for your game. This list changes depending on the type of game a DM runs and available material a DM has to run it.

    Today we're going to look at which steps best fit common scenarios in which DMs often find themselves.

    If you are not familiar with the eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master you can read this PDF preview of the book or watch these videos including this 8-step summary video to better understand the eight steps. For a quick summary, the steps include:

    • Review the characters
    • Create a strong start
    • Outline potential scenes
    • Define secrets and clues
    • Develop fantastic locations
    • Outline important NPCs
    • Choose relevant monsters
    • Select magic item rewards

    This list of steps is all-inclusive but we can often skip steps depending on what sort of game we're preparing. You can watch me do this all the time in my Lazy DM prep video series in which I use the eight steps to prepare for my own weekend D&D games but often cut steps out depending on the type of game I'm about to run.

    Let's look at some common scenarios and see which steps best fit.

    The Continuous Homebrew Campaign

    Based on the results of the 2016 Dungeon Master Survey, this scenario is likely the most common. Most DMs run their own campaign worlds and their own adventures. It's also likely most DMs run continuing campaigns and not a series of single-session adventures.

    Of all of the potential ways to play D&D, this one likely needs most, if not all the steps, each session. Since you don't have a pre-existing published adventure, you can't easily fall back on other tools that help you skip certain steps.

    Sometimes, when you're in the middle of a campaign, you might already know what fantastic locations are coming up. You might also have an idea of what scenes might take place or you simply don't care and plan to let the game go wherever it goes.

    Generally, though, you'll want to go through all eight steps.

    In a recent Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign I ran, I ended up falling back to my own story and my own campaign. Unlike running published adventures, I needed all eight steps to help me fill out each session. I found the checklist helpful (one would hope I would!) but I did need to go through each step on it.

    Even if you are playing in someone else's campaign world (and most DMs likely are not), this won't really help you skip steps for any given session. An overall campaign world means less work on the details of the world but all eight steps are still relevant for the next session you plan to run.

    When running your own series of adventures in your own campaign world, you'll likely benefit from going through each of the eight steps while preparing for your next game.

    The Continuous Published Adventure

    Though likely not in the majority, many DMs run larger published campaign adventures such as the D&D hardback adventures for fifth edition. Like the continuous homebrew campaign, these stories continue from session to session. Unlike homebrew campaigns, we have a lot of material we can fall back on that help us skip some the steps.

    Big published adventures require a lot of work, but that work is mostly up front when reading the adventure through to understand what's in it. We'll also want to review the adventure before each session to know what comes up next. That said, such early preparation helps us skip steps session to session because the published adventure includes much of what we need. In particular, we can often skip the following steps:

    • Scenes. We know what scenes are often coming up because they're listed in the adventure.
    • Fantastic locations. We're using the locations in the book so we don't need to think them up ourselves.
    • Important NPCs. We might still want to list the ones who matter to the characters but overall we don't need to come up with many NPCs from scratch because they're in the adventure itself.
    • Relevant monsters. Again, these are likely in the adventure so we can skip it.
    • Magic items. Also often rewarded in the adventure.

    Some adventures, like Curse of Strahd, Storm King's Thunder, and Tomb of Annihilation have large open-ended chapters that require more prep from the steps above. When the adventure goes off the rails, it's up to us to fill them in with interesting scenes, locations, monsters, NPCs, and magic items. Most of the time, though, we can rely on the adventure to do that work for us.

    This leaves us with the following steps we still need to do:

    • Review the characters. We still need to focus on the actual characters in the game and how the world is reacting to them.
    • Create a strong start. It still helps to start strong in our games, especially when we're in the middle of a published adventure.
    • Define secrets and clues. Often we can drag these out of the background of a published adventure but we still have to write them down. These secrets are still tremendously valuable when we're actually running the game, published or not.

    Going from eight to three steps is a nice drop, however, which is why I highly recommend running published adventures. There's a lot of value packed into these books.

    Homebrew Single-Session Games

    Like the homebrew continuous games, we're going to need all eight steps when running a single-session homebrew adventure. In particular, scenes become more important because we know we're going to need to fit in a full story arc in one session. Timing also becomes critical so we need to know where we can cut the story down and still get to the ending on time.

    Overall, we still need the full eight steps when running a single-session homebrew game. That said, these eight steps help put together an entire adventure for four hours of entertainment which is a pretty great return for the effort.

    Published Single-Session Games

    We'll often see published single-session games when running organized play games or running games at conventions. Above all, the best value we get when running such a game is to read it and understand it before we run it. Often, time is the most critical factor. Like the homebrew single-session game, we have to complete a full story arc in the allotted time which can be a real challenge.

    Some single-session published adventures may not have the same quality of design, editing, and playtesting as the big hardcover published adventures so it's worth paying special attention while reading it to ensure it can fit into a single session. This is the work we must do up front but, like the published continuing game, we don't have to use all of the eight steps.

    Here are the steps we can likely skip:

    • Review the characters. We often have no idea who the characters are so there's no real work to be done here.
    • Create a strong start. Often these adventures start how they start. We might replace the strong start if the published start sucks but generally we'll use what they have.
    • Develop fantastic locations. Already outlined in the adventure.
    • Outline important NPCs. Already outlined in the adventure.
    • Choose relevant monsters. Already outlined in the adventure.
    • Select magic item rewards. Already outlined in the adventure.

    This leaves us with two steps to focus on when running a single-session published adventure:

    • Outline potential scenes. Because we know we're going to have to fit the adventure into a set amount of time, we want to have a solid understanding of the outline of the scenes and what we can cut if we need to get the time back on track. This step is vital for single-session published adventures when time is a factor.
    • Define secrets and clues. It's still helpful to know what the clues the characters can learn to get them from point A to point Z during a single-session published adventure.

    Pilfering Published Material for a Mashup Game

    Many DMs enjoy taking published material and smashing it into their own campaign arc. This provides a lot of the benefit of a published adventure but with the creative fun of a home campaign.

    When we're looting other published material, we don't have to stick to the fixed structure of a published adventure. This gives us more flexibility to share our own story but it means more work too.

    When we pilfer published material, we're most likely to steal locations and NPCs. We'll still have to go through the rest of the checklist to fill in the blanks we have in our campaign. Finding interesting fantastic locations, however, can be a big benefit so it's always worth stealing what we can.

    Further Room to Customize

    These are just a few potential scenarios DMs will likely have while preparing their D&D games. Your own specific circumstances will determine which steps are most useful to you. As you prepare and run your own games, consider which steps help you the most. Focus on those, reduce or remove the rest, and continually improve your system to run the best game possible.

    Read more »
  • Running Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 2: Trollskull Alley

    This is the third in a series of articles on running Waterdeep Dragon Heist. The other articles include:

    A Different Sort of Chapter in a Different Sort of Adventure

    Waterdeep Dragon Heist is already a different sort of adventure than we're used to but, at least in chapter 1, it still feels like a typical adventure. A quest is given, the characters conduct an investigation, they crawl a dungeon, and face a boss. That's the outline of thousands of D&D adventures and it works really well.

    Chapter 2 in Waterdeep Dragon Heist is nothing like this. Chapter 2 is mostly a toolkit for two major activities: restoring Trollskull Manor and getting connected with factions. There's no central storyline in this chapter and it's possible the activities in this chapter will take many tendays, months, or even longer depending on how you run it.

    Running this chapter is not easy. If you find yourself having trouble running this chapter, hopefully this article will help.

    Repairing the Manor

    Much of this chapter will also revolve around repairing and funding the manor. It's up to you and your group to determine how much detail you want to expose in this venture. This event might be as simple as acquiring the funds to build up the inn once again. Maybe they hire an intermediary to do act as their agent in such matters, for a fee of course. Maybe your group really enjoys the detail of building out the inn. Some groups will love these details and some what to go off on adventures like they expect to. You'll have to gauge this yourself.

    Choosing Factions and Quests

    The rest of this chapter brings in seven factions that can potentially recruit the characters and send them off on a variety of missions. There are 28 such missions, none of which have anything to do with Raenar Neverember or the missing dragons.

    I have two recommendations for these faction quests:

    1. Choose one to three factions you want to introduce and ignore the rest. You might choose the Zhentarim, Bregan D'aerthe, and the Gray Hands as three interesting ones to drop into the game. You might choose three others. You likely don't want to introduce all seven of these factions. Pick the ones that fit the characters and the game and dump the rest.

    2. Choose the faction missions which sound the most fun. There are tons of these faction missions and introducing them all can send the characters off on wild goose chases for weeks. Instead, pick a few that fit the current story of the characters and improvise any others you want to bring in.

    Choose Your Own Adventures

    This chapter is the perfect time to bring in your own small adventure seeds if you want. You can build these seeds from the backgrounds of your characters, inserting personal quests or group quests that focus on one particular character or another while they are busy fixing up the inn and dealing with the other issues going on. You can expand upon the rivalry between the new owners of Trollskull Manor and Emmek Frewn. Maybe it's your own little version of Patrick Swayze's Roadhouse. If you ever wanted to run some low level city adventures, this is a great time.

    The Haunting of Trollskull Manor

    For a more direct introduction to the chapter we can haunt Trollskull Manor, not just with Lief the poltergeist, but maybe with the hag mentioned in the manor's background. Back in Trollskull Manor's history, it was once owned by a hag who pretended to run it as an orphanage before she was routed by paladins of Helm.

    What if that hag is still around?

    This is our chance to add in some of our own mini-adventure. The two times I've run this chapter I added in a green hag named Auntie Potiti who had been routed from Trollskull Manor long ago but isn't fully gone. She still haunts the manor and adds all sorts of terrible discoveries including:

    • A giant closet that eats people.
    • Dead children that stomp around on upper floors or talk to the party.
    • A crazy big hag hand that comes out of a painting.
    • An illusion of a woman bathing in childrens' blood.
    • Paintings that depict the characters as young children hand in hand with the hag herself.
    • A glimpse of the hag's outdoor lair complete with catoblepas herds.

    We can channel our best interpretations from It, Poltergeist, and The Shining to build out this our haunted manor. You might even replace it with your own version of Death House if you haven't run it before.

    The hag might have a pet Banderhobb lurking in the cellar and the cellar itself might have a secret entrance into the Waterdeep sewers or even to Undermountain.

    The goal of the party in this sequence is to survive the hauntings for one night and to route the hag. She will leave the manor but is still out there and may haunt the characters from time to time. Hags are fun.

    The Mystery of Leif's Murder

    Another interesting storyline to investigate in this chapter is Leif's murder. Perhaps the murderer was Leif's assistant, a young man at the time but old man now. Perhaps this assistant did so only after being fed lies by the rival innkeeper Emmek Frewn. Now the assistant is down at the dock wards, continually down on his luck. He has never forgiven himself for killing the only man who ever showed him kindness. It's up to the characters to find this killer and bring him to Leif, not so the ghost can kill the poor old man, but forgive him. In my game, one of the characters found out his name and used one of the paper bird messengers to summon him to the manor for a mysterious treasure. Smart!

    Blue Alley

    If your group needs more structure and you want to throw a dungeon in the middle of this chapter, consider running Blue Alley by MT Black. This deathtrap alleyway is a fun way for the characters to engage with some wild traps and earn some valuable treasure to help them fund the reconstruction of Trollskull Manor. The dungeon can be unforgiving in some places so add in some valuable relics so the characters can earn more coin or acquire one or two nice powerful single-use magic items for their adventures to come.


    Whenever you feel like the pacing of this chapter is getting to be too slow, it's time to drop in the fireball. Chapter 3 of Waterdeep Dragon Heist focuses on the aftermath of an explosion that rocks the alley. It's a strong start to the rest of the story of this adventure. You can drop in this event at any point while running chapter 2 so it's a great way to help you tune the pacing of the adventure. If you ever feel like things are getting stale or boring, drop in the fireball.

    An Open but Challenging Chapter

    Chapter 2 of Waterdeep Dragon Heist gives DMs a lot of freedom to bring in new elements to the story. It also gives players a new style of game. Instead of chasing leads, fighting bad guys, and delving into dungeons; they get to build up their own home base, meet interesting factions, and go off on small quests. It's a way for them to feel the living and breathing city of Waterdeep.

    This wide open narrative can be equally challenging to run. Take some time, shrink the aperture, and build it into the chapter you want it to be.

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