- Links: Thoughts on Virtual Conventions, and Game Sales During a PandemicGil Hova details what didn't work in these virtual cons and what he hopes to see in the future. An excerpt:This gets to my biggest issue with virtual conventions, as they're implemented right now: they are too decentralized. A convention is, at its lexical and literal heart, a place where people convene. It's a place where we serendipitously bump into people we haven't seen in years. It's a place where we meet old friends and make new friends, where we go out to dinner at local restaurants to catch up and talk about stuff.
None of that stuff is possible at a virtual convention right now.
Another:The big thing is that the whole convention must be in the same Discord server. This is vital for the convention to work — it's what makes the convention feel like "convening," instead of just a place to organize games.
I think this is where the Gen Con experience didn't work great for me. Gen Con forbade gaming on their Discord server (with one exception, which I'll get to). Instead, everyone who ran an event was responsible for running it on their own platform — Discord, Skype, Tabletop Simulator built-in chat, etc.
This meant that as you moved from text channel to another in Gen Con's Discord, you saw...no gaming. People talking about games, maybe planning games, asking for help with games, but no gaming.
This is so far removed from the in-person Gen Con experience, it's almost breathtaking. Gen Con is predicated on gaming. Gen Con Online kept gaming very far out of sight, almost as if it was a shameful, unsavory thing.
I didn't participate in VGC, and I'm still not sure what to think about Gen Con Online. I was as tired afterwards as I am following an in-person Gen Con and I played no games (which is typical), but I did appreciate the short travel distance I had to navigate to reach my broadcast space...
highlighted a 144% sales increase of Catan in the first five months of 2020, crediting folks looking for things to do indoors courtesy of the coronavirus.
• Along those same lines in late July 2020, People magazine spotlighted "12 Board Games to Keep You Occupied and Entertained at Home", including Azul (best new board game), Splendor (best strategy board game), and Codenames (best for adults). Lots of old-school mainstream titles on that list, too.
Andy Looney posted his original design notes for what become Fluxx, with those notes being twenty-four years old. Short description: "I have an idea for a completely wacky and unpredictable card game that would be the ultimate in easy to learn."
• On July 27, 2020, Hasbro reported Q2 2020 revenue of $860.3 million, "down 29% on a pro forma basis" from Q2 2019 when revenue was $1.2 billion. This announcement led to Hasbro's share price falling 8% that day.
That said, Hasbro Gaming revenues for Q2 2020 were up 11% compared to the previous year. Two excerpts from its Q2 2020 financial report:Read more »• Hasbro's Gaming revenues grew 11% and gaming point of sale was up globally over 50% (Note: Point of sale does not include Wizards of the Coast brands). JENGA, CONNECT 4, BATTLESHIP, MOUSETRAP and TWISTER were among the top revenue increases in the quarter. Supply chain disruption led to in stock levels below normal thresholds and limited shipments in the quarter.
• MAGIC: THE GATHERING revenues declined as expected in the quarter, reflecting a difficult comparison with a major release in the second quarter of 2019 and the previously disclosed accelerated shipments into Q1 2020 to minimize disruption from COVID-19. Digital revenues for MAGIC: THE GATHERING, including Arena, increased slightly in the quarter. Strong analog and digital releases are expected to support the brand in the second half of 2020.
- Designer Interview: Richard Breese, Creator of the "Key" Series
by Neil Bunker[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]
Richard Breese, designer of Keydom, one of the first games to use "worker placement", and Keyflower joins Neil from Diagonal Move to look at how the "Key" series developed.
DM: Over the course of your career, you have become well known for the "Key" series of games — but that wasn't how your career began. Can you tell about the early days of your career?
RB: Thanks for having me, Neil. Since my childhood, I have always enjoyed creating games. My first published game, Chamelequin, was initially inspired by games of Dungeons & Dragons. I attributed different movement abilities to the different character classes and eventually reduced this down to an abstract game which I thought was interesting enough to be published.
I promoted the game at the London Toy Fair where I met Brian Walker, editor of a UK boardgames magazine Boardgames International, and Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop, who suggested I should go to SPIEL in Essen. I hired a stand there the following year in 1991 and discovered the world of "German" games, or Eurogames as they are now referred to. The gaming world was a lot smaller thirty years ago, with only twenty or so new gamers' games launched at each year's SPIEL.
Having discovered Eurogames, I was motivated to try to produce games in a similar style myself. The first was Keywood, which I entered into a games magazine's design competition, which pleasingly it won. I then took Keywood to SPIEL in 1995 and have returned every year since.
DM: Your game Keydom is often cited as being one of the first (if not the first) worker-placement games. Where did the concept of using "workers" to take actions originate for you?
RB: Yes, you are correct in that Keydom is widely recognized as the first worker-placement game. The game was subsequently re-issued as Morgenland in Germany and Aladdin's Dragons in the U.S.
The mechanism idea evolved from my plays of Settlers of Catan. In that game, resources are obtained from you building adjacent to the terrain hexes containing different resources, but the resources are generated only when a matching dice number is rolled. I wanted to create a mechanism where resources were obtained through player choice — the worker placement — and not through the luck of a dice roll.
DM: How did that initial concept of worker placement develop during the following years within the Key series leading eventually to Keyflower, Keyper and Key Flow?
RB: I have used the worker-placement mechanism in several of the later Key games, but when I publish a new game, I want there to be something new and different in the game. To take three examples:
• In Keythedral, the workers (or "keyples" as I have called them in later Key series games) are placed in accordance with a player-selected numerical order, emerging from cottages or houses that the player has placed strategically at the start of the game.
• In Keyflower, which was a co-design with Sebastian Bleasdale, each player has an initial mix of three different colors of keyples. The keyples can be placed freely, but only on tiles which are unused or which have previously been used by keyples of that same color. This creates a nice tension of which colors to use, when and where.
• In Keyper, when one player places a keyple on a country board, another player can join them with a matching-colored keyple on that first player's turn to the benefit of both players. In this way, some players are likely to have played all their keyples before others, with all keyples having the potential to work twice. The tension is to play your keyples as quickly as possible, but also to use them to gather the resources which are most useful to you.
• Key Flow is a card-driven game based on many of the ideas contained in Keyflower, but it does not use keyples and is really only a worker placement game by association with Keyflower. The game was co-designed by Sebastian and Ian Vincent and flows quickly over four game rounds, allowing players to develop their own unique village.
DM: Each game in the Key series shares similarities thematically. Does creating installments within a thematic series offer freedom to experiment mechanically?
RB: It is the mechanisms that drive the game development for me. If these lead naturally to the medieval theme with the scale of workers and a landscape, then I will use it to expand the Key universe. Often the mechanisms don't allow this or more naturally fit a different theme, such as in my games Fowl Play, Inhabit the Earth and Reef Encounter, which all have animal themes.
The Key series was not pre-planned, but came about incrementally following the success of the previous Key titles. The Key branding certainly helps the game get more visibility on what is now a much more crowded market than it was when the series began in 1995.
DM: Worker placement is a significant feature in many of your games, often in combination with resource management. Since the release of Keydom, these mechanisms have become board game staples. How do you keep the concepts fresh?
RB: I enjoy playing worker-placement games and do spend a lot of time thinking about games and mechanisms. It helps to play a lot of other games to learn what mechanisms work well, although I would not use an idea without adding some new twist to the mechanism. Inspiration can also come from designing with others, for example with Sebastian Bleasdale with Keyflower, or from a new gaming piece, such as the folding boards in Keyper.
DM: Keyflower is probably your most well-known game. Eight years after release, it is number 53 in the BGG rankings. What effect do you think this recognition has had on your career?
RB: Keyflower has undoubtedly introduced more people to R&D Games, so it is likely to have helped the visibility of the later games and also the demand for some of the earlier games, which are now out of print. It is nice to have had the relative success of Keyflower, however it was probably the positive response to the earlier titles Keythedral and Reef Encounter that gave me the confidence that I could design a polished game.
Regarding publishing, because I publish using my own R&D Games label, I have not needed to find publishers. It is nice to win awards, but I think the high rating in BGG probably has more impact. When new gamers discover the hobby, it is likely they will soon discover BGG and then, if they are looking for new games to buy, are likely to look at the rankings list to see which games are most highly rated by other gamers.
DM: Several games in the Key series, including Keyflower, have been co-designed, most notably with Sebastian Bleasdale. How did this partnership with him develop?
RB: Sebastian, David Brain, and Ian Vincent were all part of a playtesting group run by Alan and Charlie Paull of Surprised Stare Games. With regard to Keyflower, Sebastian had a small bidding game called "Turf Wars" which I playtested and saw the potential for a larger game and asked Sebastian whether he would be interested in working together to develop the game further.
Similarly, David had a game called "Book of Hours". This was more fully formed than "Turf Wars", and when I suggested publishing the game as "Key Market", I said to David I would be happy just to be listed as the developer. Ian is a seasoned card player, and he approached Sebastian and I with the idea of a card version of Keyflower, which then became Key Flow.
DM: Board games are always the product of a team effort — the developers, playtesters, graphic designers and others that contribute to a game in addition to the person credited for the design? How does the process differ for a co-designed game?
RB: Being part of a team is one of the pleasures of board game designing. You get time to play games with your playtesters whose opinions you value and whose company you enjoy, and in addition you are creating something.
I don't notice a huge difference in co-designing. That is largely because I am in the unusual position of being the publisher as well as a co-designer, so I can if required insist on a particular approach if necessary. Although I think in every occasion I have reached a consensus on how to proceed with a design. However, that said, it is undoubtedly a benefit in having more than one person independently playtesting and exploring different ideas on how to develop a game.
DM: What is next for yourself and R&D Games?
RB: This year I hope to publish Keyper at Sea, which is an expansion for Keyper and also includes a Keyper solo game from Dávid Turczi. After that I will probably publish Keydom's Dragons, which is effectively a re-issue of Aladdin's Dragons (a.k.a., Morgenland) set in the Key universe and with illustrations again by Vicki Dalton. Then there is likely to be Keyside, a brand-new Key game which is a co-design with Dávid Turczi.
DM: Do you have any advice that you would like to share with aspiring game designers?
RB: Yes, firstly play as many different games as you can so that you can become familiar with what a published game feels like and what works for you.
Get as many people involved in the playtesting as possible, especially seasoned gamers. Make a point of understanding what they like and don't like about your game. Do take notice of any criticisms. Try to address these or alternatively be comfortable that your game idea is solid notwithstanding the criticism. Stay true to your vision. Continue playtesting until you play a couple of games where you can think of no more tweaks or changes that you want to make to the game.
When you contact publishers, try to select those who publish the sort of game you have designed. That should give you a better chance of reaching a publishing deal. If you decide to publish, don't commit more funds than you can afford to lose. There is a saying that the way to make a small fortune in boardgaming is to start with a large fortune. However with crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, it is now much easier to get your gaming idea published.
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- Wolfgang Warsch and Schmidt Spiele Bring Alchemists to Quedlinburg and Challenge You to Be Three Times as CleverSchmidt Spiele has released info on its late 2020 titles, and designer Wolfgang Warsch has two titles on the list, both follow-ups to earlier hit titles from Schmidt.
Clever hoch drei features the same gameplay as Ganz schön clever and Doppelt so clever, but with new categories in which to score — sometimes with several dice at the same time.
Your goal, in case you're not familiar with the series: Choose dice, then place the numbers into the matching colored area, put together tricky chain-scoring opportunities, and rack up the points. The dice you don't use are as important as what you do because every die that's smaller than the chosen one can be used by the other players, keeping everyone in the game at all times.
I have no details yet as to how the categories shown below might be scored, but that has not stopped people from trying to guess. Join in if you think you have better ideas!
Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg: Die Alchemisten, the second expansion for The Quacks of Quedlinburg. This expansion introduces nightmares, obsession, and hysteria to the base game, with players working in new laboratories to distill essences that can free the citizens of Quedlinburg from these afflictions.
Die Alchemisten can be played with only the base game or combined with The Herb Witches expansion.
Ligretto: Das Brettspiel, a Rudi Biber design in which all players race to place their tiles on the board first in the style of the Ligretto card game, and two Break In titles — Break In: Alcatraz and Break In: Area 51 — that go one step beyond escape room games. These latter titles originated from U.S. publisher PlayMonster, which is also releasing Break In: Chichén Itzá.
For an overview of how these games differ from escape room titles, here's a description of Area 51:Read more »To escape, you must first...break in!
Each title in the Break In game line presents a collaborative experience that begins the moment you lift the lid off the game box. Inside, you will see a 3D shape with graphics representing the area you are trying to break into. Your paperwork tells you to STOP and make sure you are all ready before you begin — get your cards laid out, settle in with all the players, read your instructions, then begin looking for clues to solve puzzles!
Soon, you will be told to open the game board and unfold the first of three layers, expanding your board and revealing the next layer you have to explore to uncover clues that will lead you further inside! It's a one-of-a-kind unboxing experience! Along the way, you'll see wonderful things, meet interesting characters, and complete amazing challenges using clever hints and a unique solution system. The final puzzle leads you to your goal — and then you must escape!
In Break In: Area 51, you are an alien trying to rescue your ship that was stolen by humans and is being dismantled deep inside the facility.
- Fly to the Light and Sink Your Score in the Tiny German Games Allegra and Nachtschwärmer
Drei Hasen in der Abendsonne has announced its new release for late 2020: Allegra, which is a version of the public card game "Golf", which has been the inspiration in recent years for titles such as CABO, Skyjo, HILO, and Bézier Games' Silver series.
Allegra, from designer Bella Lucca, mixes up the Golf formula by allowing — and forcing — players to cooperate in order to lower their score. Here's a detailed overview of the game:The deck consists of cards numbered -1 to 11, and in each of the three rounds, each player starts with twelve cards face down in a grid of four columns and three rows. Your rightmost column is also considered to belong to your right-hand neighbor, and likewise your area includes the rightmost column of your left-hand neighbor. Each player reveals any two cards in their area, then the round begins.
On a turn, you either draw the top card of the deck and reveal it, or draw the top card of the discard pile. If you draw from the discard pile, swap that card with any card in your area, then discard the replaced card. If you draw from the deck, you can discard that card (turning any card in your area face up) or you can swap that card with any card in your area.
If you draw from the deck, any other player can knock on the table to indicate that they want this card. You can ignore the knock, or you can give them the card; in the latter case, they then replace one card in their area with this new card, taking the old card in their hand. You then take any one card in their area and swap it for a card in your area, discarding the replaced card. The other player then places the card in their hand into the hole you created when you took one of their cards.
Any time you have three identical cards in a row or column — even a row that includes a card in your left neighbor's rightmost column! — you discard those cards from play.
Whenever one player has all their cards face up, each other player takes one more turn, then players sum the value of the cards in their area (which includes any cards remaining their neighbor's rightmost column). If the player who triggered the end of the round doesn't have the lowest sum, their sum is doubled. The player with the lowest total score after three rounds wins.
Nachtschwärmer from Sabrina von Contzen of Dachshund Games. This 2-6 player game seems ideally designed for play in a German bar, and the first one hundred copies sold (via the Dachshund Games website) include a travel bag and bottle opener to complete the package. Here's an overview of how the game works:In Nachtschwärmer ("Night Owls"), each player is a moth that wants to reach the light in the center of the table before anyone else — but moths don't fly in a straight line, so you need to figure out how to wiggle well to win.
The game consists of one six-sided die and eight bar coasters: one a "flying" disc that has arcs marked 1, 2, 3, and 4 along its edge and seven moth/light discs. Each player takes a coaster and places it moth-side up in front of them, while one coast is placed light-side up equidistant from all players. The moth side of a coaster has two black lines intersecting the perimeter (180º apart) and a red line every 22.5º around the perimeter.
On your turn, announce a number from 1 to 6, then roll the die. If you guess correctly, you advance your moth, possibly take a second turn, or even send a player back to start; if you guess incorrectly, you might still advance (although not as much) or another player might move instead of you.
To move your moth, take the flying disc and place the edge of the 1, 2, 3 or 4 space (depending on what you rolled) adjacent to one of the black edges on the perimeter of your moth disc, then roll your moth disc until a red line on your disc hits the other black edge of the 1, 2, 3 or 4 space. The higher the number, the farther your moth will move — albeit in a curved manner instead of straight toward the light.
No disc can ever be placed on top of another, so if a moth is blocking your way, then you must fly elsewhere! Whoever first touches their moth to the light disc wins!
Nachtschwärmer includes three variants, one of which has you start the game with several obstacles in play, say pretzels or gummis. Any time you hit an obstacle, you must eat it, then return your moth to its starting point.
The ideal way to demonstrate movement in the game comes via this gif on the Dachshund Games website. So intuitive once you see it in action!
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- Dune: Imperium Coming from Dire Wolf Digital; Disney Shadowed Kingdom Available from MondoDire Wolf Digital is testing that limit with the news that it will release a game called Dune: Imperium that contains deck-building and worker-placement elements.
That's the extent of what it can say about the game at this time.
• Similarly, a new game has appeared for sale at the Target retail chain in the U.S., but publisher Mondo Games can't officially talk about the game as the licensor Disney hasn't yet authorized it to do so. That said, I can pass along the following description of Disney Shadowed Kingdom from designer Darth Rimmer:In this two-player co-operative card game, you enlist the help of your favorite Disney hero and team up with a friend to dispel the Shadow polluting The Kingdom and journey to discover lost Magic.
Gameplay revolves around silently adding cards face-down to a 2x2 grid in one of two directions, causing cards to be pushed either into the hand of your partner for discovery or out of the grid completely, dispelling them from play. Each card that is discovered features either:
—Magic, which counts toward points needed for victory
—Shadow, which inches you further from your goal
—Locations that are explored, triggering in-game effects
Disney heroes provide special powers that can be activated throughout the course of your journey. To win, max out your Magic Tracker before the Shadow Tracker is full.
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- Game Overview: High Rise, or City Building with a Healthy Dose of CorruptionHigh Rise at Formal Ferret's booth when I attended GAMA Expo in March 2020. It wasn't a booth I could just casually walk by or pause at for a few seconds, then move on. I had to stop and ask about this visually unique and captivating game. When Gil Hova, the designer and publisher, gave me a high-level overview, it sounded interesting enough that I knew I definitely wanted to play High Rise at some point.
Fast forward four months, I received a box in the mail thanks to Gil, and when I opened it, I found a large game box with one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in awhile. It came as no surprise when I discovered Kwanchai Moriya had his artistic hands in the mix. Since I had the opportunity to play a couple games of High Rise, I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions.
In High Rise, 1-4 players represent moguls in a new city trying to score the most victory points by constructing the tallest buildings for wealthy and powerful corporate tenants. The core gameplay revolves around a one-way track surrounding five different neighbors in the city.
Over the course of 2-3 rounds, players move their moguls to action spaces along the one-way track, taking the corresponding action where they stop. For the most part, you're collecting resources that are colored floor tiles and UltraPlastic (a wild resource), and trying to match the current round's blueprints in order to construct buildings. Some of the action spaces are tenant tiles that vary from game to game, tiles where you gain either an immediate bonus or a power card that you can use later. At the end of each round when each player's mogul has entered the stop zone, you score victory points for the tallest buildings in each neighborhood and overall. At the end of the game, just as you'd expect, the player with the most victory points wins.
One thing that keeps High Rise on the simpler side of the complexity scale is that there's no money to manage. Instead, you have a corruption-based economy. Actions are generally free, but some actions cause you to gain corruption or give you optional extra bonuses if you're willing to take a little corruption. Be careful, though, because at the end of each round the players with the most corruption are penalized.
player's construction yard (bottom)
w/ floor tiles matching the third blueprintWhile a few helpful actions allow you to lose corruption, it's not the end of the world if you gain a little here and there...depending on your opponents. You're definitely going to want to and sometimes have to gain corruption, so it's in your best interest to pay attention and monitor your opponents' corruption level relative to your own so that you don't get stuck with the penalty and lose victory points. There will be moments when you need to gain an extra floor tile or even stop on a specific action space that causes you to gain corruption, which might push you into having the most corruption. You have to balance risk versus reward, but I found it fun to juggle corruption, and I appreciated the interesting choices it provided.
The main way you gain victory points in High Rise is by constructing buildings. Not only do you score for tallest buildings at the end of each round, but you also score points immediately when you construct a building. To do so, you need to stop in one of the four construction zones and discard floors from your personal supply (construction yard) that match the current round's blueprints. This is typically how you determine which size building you can place, but you can increase the height of the building a couple of ways, such as being the first to build a specific blueprint or having power cards with special construction benefits.
Tenant powers are based on the tenant tiles randomly placed on the game board in each neighborhood during set-up. They come in a variety of flavors, allowing players to gain power cards and immediate bonuses such as victory points, resources, and ways to lose corruption. When you land on a tenant tile connected to an opponent's building, you get to take the action, but they'll gain a random floor tile. Alternatively, if you land on a tenant tile with one of your own buildings, you take the associated action as usual, then you can also gain a random floor tile topped with a bit of corruption because as the rulebook says, "you're clearly embezzling".
The variety of tenant tiles ups the replay value of High Rise since each neighborhood has nine different tiles, and you selecting only three or four are random each game. This is all to say, when you're choosing a location to construct a building, you have lots to consider: Do you want to place it in an area where you'll have one of the tallest buildings for end of round scoring? Or do you place where you'll immediately activate a tenant power that will help your next turn? Or do you place it where there's a tenant power you're expecting many opponents to land on so you'll get passive benefits when it's not your turn?
While building construction and the majority of actions are straightforward and pretty quick execution-wise, the decision of where to move is where things get challenging in High Rise. Turn order is variable and always led by whichever player's mogul is furthest behind on the one-way track. Unlike most games that utilize the well-loved time track mechanism, High Rise features a slight twist by having action spaces grouped into zones, and as a rule of movement, you must always move your mogul to a different zone and can never occupy the same space as an opponent.
Between certain zones are juicy bonus spaces that make the decision of jumping further ahead even more enticing and tend to open up a strategic can of worms. The bonus spaces include a limited amount of first come, first serve perks, from extra floors or UltraPlastic to power cards and spires that make your buildings even taller. Each turn, you'll more than likely struggle with the decision of hanging back and hopefully getting more actions than your opponents, or jumping ahead to take advantage of the bonus space goodies, or taking an earlier action space to avoid gaining corruption. Moving and deciding where to place my buildings always seemed to be the toughest decisions in High Rise.
Once all players' moguls have entered the stop zone of the final round, you do endgame scoring, score the tallest buildings, and determine who gets the corruption penalty, then the player with the most points wins.
The solo and two-player games integrate the use of neutral moguls. In a two-player game, there's one neutral mogul that players alternate controlling, and in a solo game, you control two neutral moguls. In either case, the neutral mogul can be used to either block or move. If you block, you place the neutral mogul in the first available action space in the zone ahead of the lead player, whereas if you move, you gain a corruption, but you get to move the neutral mogul to any legal space and you get to take the associated action.
In both the solo and two-player games, I enjoyed having that option of taking corruption to gain extra actions or avoiding the corruption but potentially blocking a space I needed to go to. Even though both use neutral moguls, they feel very different since your opponent could be using the neutral mogul defensively against you, but in the solo game, corruption is evaluated differently so you end up gambling a bit, the more corruption you take. In the solo game, you're trying to score as many points as you can compared to a scoring chart, which is not all that exciting for some, including myself. However, I liked playing with the neutral moguls and thought it was a clever approach to making High Rise a compelling experience at lower player counts.
All in all, High Rise is a solid city-building, area-influence game with an interesting twist on the time track mechanism. It's fairly simple to play once you are familiar with the iconography, even though its eye-catching table presence makes it look much heavier. Honestly, the hardest part for me was the initial set-up. There are a lot of different components and the set-up steps in the rulebook did not have numbers corresponding to the example set-up image, so it took a lot of reading and careful flipping back and forth to make sure I was setting it up correctly. That part felt tedious the first time. Of course, after playing my first game, setting it up for future games felt like a breeze, but even still, I wouldn't call it a quick set-up game.
I loved all of the tough decisions when it comes to moving around the one-way track and having a corruption-based economy. Constructing buildings always felt exciting because you're immediately getting victory points and activating a tenant power, not to mention the satisfaction from occasionally demolishing your opponents' smaller buildings!
There's plenty of variety with tenant tiles, power cards, bonus tiles, and blueprint cards that will likely keep each game feeling fresh. However, it may cause some AP and slower turns since players will need to get familiar with each different tenant tile that's placed on the game board. The tenant tiles are not complicated, though, so I'm sure things will move quicker, as always, after you've played a few games. The rulebook has a handy appendix section with detailed explanations of all of the tenant tiles and power cards, not to mention Gil Hova's fun humor sprinkled throughout.
Most importantly, High Rise made me realize that I'm not nearly as corrupt as some of my friends, although I'm still very eager to build a 15-floor building, so who knows how corrupt I'll end up being by the time I figure that out!
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- VideoBring Dungeons & Dragons to the Table for New PlayersRichard Garfield's card game The Great Dalmuti, publisher Wizards of the Coast will release a Dungeons & Dragons-themed version in November 2020.
For those not familiar with the game, here's an overview: The 80-card deck consists of one 1, two 2s, and so on up to twelve 12s, with two wild jesters that are counted as 13s when played on their own. Each player has a hand of cards, and the start player for the round — dubbed the Greater Dalmuti — leads one or more cards, which must all have the same value. The next player can play the same number of cards but of a better (i.e., lower) rank or pass. Once all players have passed in turn, whoever last played clears the cards and leads something else.
Whoever empties their hand first becomes Greater Dalmuti for the next round of play, with other players taking positions relative to this player in clockwise order; the player who has last has cards in hand becomes the Greater Peon.
• Another recently announced D&D item is Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins, a co-operative board game for 2-4 players from Hasbro that is meant to serve as an entry point to the RPG. Here's an overview of the game:Players choose their characters, then journey through the lands of Neverwinter, working together to overcome fantastic obstacles, battle monsters, and defeat the Boss monster terrorizing the realm. The role of Dungeon Master passes from player to player with each turn, so everyone gets to be part of the storytelling.
Okay, that description doesn't tell you much about gameplay and other details, but Hasbro has posted a ten-minute video that covers all the details of how to play:
Youtube Video Read more »
- Designer Diary: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars
by Dave NealeWhat follows is an account of my thought processes and experience designing Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars, a game in the Consulting Detective line. It has been designed as an introduction to Consulting Detective for those who have never played before, while also giving experienced players something new.
The Case of the Missing Mysteries
It was a clear winter's day in 2013 when I was shown into the rooms of the world's most famous detective. He was standing at the fireplace, pipe in hand; his brow furrowed. I had no doubt he was tackling some fiendish puzzle of great importance on which, perhaps, the fate of the entire country depended.
"Holmes", I ventured, timidly, "sorry to disturb you, but I am here to ask for your help."
"Ah, Mr. Neale", he said, looking up. "I was just wondering what to have for lunch. Pray, join me — the table is laid for two."
"You expected me?"
"But how could you possibly..."
"Elementary, Mr. Neale. I noted that after you last helped me solve a case, you seemed restless. You have spent much of your time perusing the works of my good friend, John Watson, and although your countenance indicated you did so with pleasure, there was also an air of despondency. It was as if you felt something was missing. Clearly, you were facing an interminable problem." He moved to the window and gazed out at the passers-by, then added, "And when people have problems, they come to me."
I nodded, and took a seat at the table. "It is as you say, Holmes. Some time ago, I discovered an old copy of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and fell in love with the game. I eagerly sought out all of the expansions and played those, too. It is a game that perfectly captures the atmosphere of your adventures, drawing the players into the world of Victorian London with compelling and inventive mysteries. And it is an elegant system. First, you read the introduction, consult the map, newspaper and London Directory, and decide where to go to investigate the mystery. After reading the entry for your chosen destination, you repeat the process until you think you have solved the case. At that point, you answer the questions and read the solution. But now, I have played the last of the mysteries and I am bereft. My mind rebels at stagnation. I crave for mental exaltation."
"Very well put — particularly those last two statements", said Holmes, thoughtfully. "I'll remember them. And yours is a position I thoroughly appreciate. But there are no more mysteries. You know that. Even to a brain as astute as mine, no solution can present itself. It is simply..." He paused, and I detected a glimmer in his eyes.
"What is it, Holmes?"
"Well, Mr. Neale. There is one possibility. But it is so outlandish, so extraordinary, that I do not feel you should give it any serious consideration."
"Let me be the judge of that, Holmes."
The great detective raised his eyebrows. "Very well. There are no more mysteries. So why don't you create some yourself? You have written stories all your life, have you not? You have been reading Watson's works since you were eight. Correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that you even composed and performed plays featuring yours truly, for the other children in your school. Now would seem an opportune time to resume such literary endeavors."
"Yes, Holmes", I said. "You are right. I think I could even create a whole series of cases... I will begin at once. Thank you."
I began to stand, but Holmes said, "Hold on, Mr. Neale. Do not be so hasty. There is much to consider before you begin."
"Such as the process of creating a case. Such as whether you will modify or extend the rules. Such as how you will ensure the wonder of my unrivaled intellect is as prominent as it is in the original cases."
"Some say you cheated in those cases."
"I never cheat! It is true that I make a lucky guess on occasion, but unless you are good at guessing it is not much use being a detective, as someone once said. I forget who it was."
"Still, perhaps we should minimize the guessing."
"Meaning I will expound a clear thread of impeccable logic that shows how I reached the solution? Very well. I can do that. In fact, some might say it is my raison d'etre."
"Quite. That's what I'll aim for, anyway. And at the same time, I may update the rules to address some other concerns players had with the original cases. I mean, it is an excellent game — still, perhaps, my favorite — and was a trailblazer in its time, bringing co-operative storytelling to the table long before it became the industry-wide phenomenon it is today, but it's now over thirty years old. Games have changed a lot since then, and players have had ample time to voice their likes and dislikes. For example, many players find it too hard."
"Too hard?" Holmes cried. "But Mr. Neale, the mysteries practically solve themselves!"
"For you, Holmes, but not for most people. In my first few games, we were happy when we got a score above zero. Out of 100."
"Perhaps it could be a touch easier, but many people adore a challenge."
"You're right, so I feel the cases should also cater to those people, but I can't do both, can I?"
"Yes, you can. It is all about the peripheral clues, Mr. Neale. Have a direct path that leads to a solution — the one which I follow, of course — but ensure that for players who wander from that path, there are some encounters that generate further clues, pushing them gently back in the right direction. Thus, those who crave a significant challenge can attempt to follow my path exactly, while those who find it too difficult will gain help by visiting the other locations. To some extent, the game will adapt to the ability of the players."
"That makes sense." I thought for a moment then added, "Although in some cases I have in mind that will be hard to do because there could be one specific thing players have to do to progress."
"Ah, like these 'escape room' games I hear have become rather popular."
"Indeed. And those games help stuck players by using a hints system, so I could do the same. I'll give stuck players help on those cases by making you more useful."
Holmes muttered, "I beg your pardon?"
"Sorry, I meant useful to the players. Some have pointed out that in the original game the rules say they can visit you if they get stuck, but the hints you give often aren't very helpful."
"I didn't want to spoil it for them."
"If they've got to the point where they come to you for help, they want some of it spoiled. They want useful hints."
"A three-pipe problem, indeed," I replied. "But perhaps I can deal with it in the same way I intend to tackle another problem."
"Sometimes, in the original cases, players would visit a location and the entry they read would not make much sense, referring to people and events they knew nothing about. The writers thought the players would go somewhere else first, and so the entry assumed they had knowledge they did not actually have. And I've realized that can be fixed that quite simply, using a tracking system. I will give the game a memory. At some points it will instruct players to circle a letter of the alphabet — for example, if you learn about a stolen wheelbarrow, it may say 'circle the letter H'. Then, when you go to the wheelbarrow shop, you will read one thing if H is circled, and something else if it is not."
"I'm not sure wheelbarrow shops exist."
"That's not the point, Holmes. The point is that the game will 'know' where players have been and what they know. And that means that if they come to you for help, they can read a different hint depending on which letters they have circled. They will get help related to where they are in the case."
"Excellent, Mr. Neale. I believe you are on to something. It also means that during a case, players could acquire useful crime-fighting items, such as a magnifying glass or a deerstalker hat."
"Yes," I replied, and then suddenly, my mind was racing. "And this means that some cases could have objectives! Rather than play until you think you've solved it, maybe you need to rescue someone or find something. And the final case could have multiple possible endings...and perhaps it is a sort of climactic finale like the last episode of a TV series, bringing hidden threads together, weaving them into an unexpected but..."
"Enough!" Holmes interrupted. "I suggested only players could find a hat, and you turn it into War and Peace. By all means, attempt these grand schemes if you are so inclined, but you haven't written one word yet, Mr. Neale, and I fear you are getting a little ahead of yourself." I nodded, suitably abashed. Holmes continued, "Instead, let's move to more immediate concerns — how will you go about devising these mysteries? If I may, I would like to make two suggestions."
"By all means, Holmes."
"It strikes me that one can approach this from the start or the end. If from the end, you create a series of events that lead to a crime, then devise a way of making them appear uncommon and mysterious. Conversely, approaching it from the start, you invent a perplexing mystery — something you find bizarre and cannot explain — and then devise a solution."
"Hmm, I see", I said, mulling this over. "I think I will use both. But I particularly like the second option — in a sense, it means I'd be solving the mystery myself. For example..." I paused to glance around the room, and my eyes settled on the table laid for lunch. "A man is at a restaurant dining with a friend. He leaves the room for a moment part way through the meal, and when he returns the friend is gone. No note, no word, there was no argument or anything he can think of to explain the disappearance. He has not seen his friend since. That seems like an intriguing beginning, so now I just need to think of an explanation that makes logical sense."
"More than one explanation, Mr. Neale. The first one you devise is likely to be the one most players will settle on first, and it will be more interesting if that is not the actual solution. So reject your first solution, and find another."
"Find two logical solutions for an apparently inexplicable series of events?"
"Indeed. Or maybe three or even…"
"I'll stick with two, thank you."
There was a moment of silence, then Holmes suddenly let out a sharp laugh and exclaimed, "Capital!"
Seeing the look of bafflement on my face, he said, "Apologies. An idea just occurred to me that would be highly amusing. As I have often said to Watson..." He paused a moment. "I feel if I spoke this aloud it could constitute what you call a 'spoiler'."
"Perhaps you should whisper it."
Holmes nodded, leaned forward, and whispered seven words in my ear.
I laughed and said, "Yes, I will use that. I think I can make it work."
"Excellent," Holmes replied, with a smile. "Now, Mr. Neale, the game is truly afoot."
Writing the cases was a long, difficult, but rewarding process, and a lot of playtesting was required. And as all designers know, people never do what you expect them to do. I remember some of my first playtests, when, after creating what I felt was a perfectly crafted case, I would watch with growing surprise as the players latched on to viable theories I had never considered, tried to follow up clues I had never intended to be there, and missed clues I had feared were far too obvious. Sometimes, entire rewrites were required. Slowly, from 2013 to 2017, I created ten cases. Thankfully, I found the process became a lot faster and easier as I progressed; I was learning how to anticipate players' decisions and thought processes far more accurately.
Wanting to ensure as far as possible that the logic of the cases was strong, I set myself the benchmark that until at least six groups in succession — all composed of strangers — said they found no problems with Sherlock's solution or the plausibility of it, I would not consider that case for inclusion in the set. A couple of cases never reached this point and were dropped. Those that did reach that point entered another round of testing and were then sent to the publisher (who did more testing).
Early on, I decided I wanted my set to have some kind of coherent theme. In the original Consulting Detective, you are told that you are members of the Baker Street Irregulars, but I felt that, apart from their leader, Wiggins, they never felt that present in the game. I realized that putting them under the magnifying glass was a great way to connect a series of cases and make players feel more invested in the game world as part of a team of recognizable characters.
To this end, the first case in my set is the first full case the Baker Street Irregulars ever worked on, and the following three cases each center around a different member of the Irregulars. After that comes a series of six cases telling the story of a particular year and the arrival of a new Irregular. When Space Cowboys asked me to write a free introductory case, the narrative was complete. Starting with the short demo, An Irregular Meeting, and playing through to the final case in my set, Death of a Detective, players can now follow a story that spans a decade. They will witness the beginnings of the Baker Street Irregulars, learn more about the lives of some of the members, then experience the dramatic and emotional conclusion of one of their most challenging years.
It wasn't until 2016 that I learned my cases would be published. I had sent the first case, The Curzon Street Kidnapping, to Ystari Games in 2014, then sent another two cases in 2015, but various factors meant a long delay before I received a response (mainly the merging of Ystari with Space Cowboys, and internal decisions about what they wanted to do with the line). But I was understandably thrilled when, eventually, they emailed to say they wanted me to create an entire set, and I am forever indebted to Thomas Cauët for championing my cause and persuading the Space Cowboys team of the quality of my work.
And that was only the start of my journey. While writing my cases, I discovered the excellent Playtest UK and met designers Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan, among others, at the Cambridge group. I went to SPIEL, which is now an annual trip (bar 2020, of course), where I pitched new narrative games to publishers and was offered more contracts. When Space Cowboys asked me to visit them in Paris in 2018, I came up with an idea for a Sherlock Holmes Unlock! scenario, which I pitched to them, and they published.
In sum, writing that first Consulting Detective case was the spark that ignited my game design career — a small project that completely changed my life. And it was a meaningful moment for me in 2017 when I was put in contact with one of the original designers, Suzanne Goldberg, and was able to tell her that.
Slowly, I entered the room. Holmes was once again at the fireplace, but this time he looked entirely relaxed. A gentle smile played at his lips.
"I imagine", he continued, "you are hesitating because you feel a sense of guilt for not having visited me in so long."
"Yes", I replied. "I am sorry not to have called, but what we talked about last time — it's all come together, better than I could have imagined. And it's occupied my time, I've been..."
"Solving tantalising mysteries."
"Lost in the gaslit fog of Victorian London."
"Re-reading Watson's works with a new appreciation; noticing things you never noticed before."
I realized there was no point in speaking. I just nodded.
"In short", he continued, "you have been engaged in all the things you were searching for when you last came to me. Your absence has been proof of my success — do not feel guilty for it. My only question is, why have you come to me now?"
I shifted uneasily. "Because I have an idea. Well, more than one, actually." As I spoke, I handed him a file with some sheets of paper: sketches, names, plot outlines, diagrams...
He spent a minute or two looking over them, and I noticed him grin when he saw a familiar face. Then he said, "I see. You are concerned that in writing mysteries where I am not the central figure I may feel resentment; that perhaps in some way you would be betraying me. Well, I can assure you that is not the case at all, Mr. Neale. I may be the greatest detective, but I know I am not the only detective. This simply shows your problem will not return for some time yet, if ever. You have found a way to keep mysteries at the heart of your life, and there are so many stories to tell. Go and tell them, with my blessing."
"Thank you, Holmes."
As I moved towards the door, he said, "I have also had an idea."
"This set of cases you have written. What if there was more for players to discover?"
"What do you mean?"
"Ha!" He exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "I am aware this may be another 'spoiler', so I have taken the liberty of writing it down for you." He passed me an envelope, which I pocketed.
"I will be sure to include it," I said.
"Excellent. And remember, whenever you need me, I am here." He gave a small bow, then walked over to the armchair.
Outside, I paused to look up at the window where he sat. He had lit his pipe and was letting the smoke drift and curl around him as he gazed over Baker Street, bathed in the last of the evening light. Seeing his meditative expression, I suddenly realized it reflected his confidence that there will always be more problems to solve, and that the world will never fail to present new and intriguing mysteries to those who go looking for them.
Dave Neale Read more »
- New Game Preview for Sept/Oct 2020; Request for Feedback on BGG's Gen Con Online Livestream
The new game release preview for Sep/Oct 2020 is now live, with 134 titles listed as of the writing of this note. Some publishers have already sent lists of titles to be added to this preview, and I'm writing to all the publishers in my database this week to (1) request information and images and (2) solicit their interest in participating in BGG's livestream as part of SPIEL.digital 2020.
Each year at SPIEL, BGG typically records video overviews of 300+ games, whereas at Gen Con and Origins we record overviews of about two hundred games. During our Gen Con Online livestream, we covered just over sixty games, and we did the same during our livestream from Comic-Con@Home — which means we can't cover anywhere close to three hundred games unless we livestreamed for twenty days, which is impossible given that four days of streaming tired us out as much as a regular in-person convention.
With that thought in mind, if you watched any part of the BGG livestream during Gen Con Online and have feedback, I'd love to hear it. How well does the format work in terms of presenting new games? What's missing that we could possibly add? Which presentations stood out as most effective? Which were not effective?
We had many publishers ask about presenting games on TTS and Tabletopia, but we want to stick with physical games as much as possible since this is BoardGameGeek and since the look and presence of the actual components matters when you have the game on your own table.
Whatever we do, though, we're going to have to be much choosier when it comes to booking presenters for SPIEL.digital 2020, and I apologize in advance for all the designers, publishers, and game players we disappoint by not featuring game Y instead of game X. I love being able to feature a huge variety of games and publishers to ideally highlight something for everyone, but we're going to have to find new ways to do things this year, which feels like the de facto motto for 2020.
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- VideoFantasy Flight's Announcements from Gen Con Online 2020: Twilight Imperium: Prophecy of Kings, KeyForge: Dark Tidings, X-Men: Mutant Insurrection, and More Colonized Titles
The biggest reveal each year at Gen Con is the Fantasy Flight Games In-Flight report. Due to technical issues, FFG could not go live with the report as planned on Wednesday evening, instead publishing a recording of the report on Twitch and YouTube. Aside from gobs of new figures and ships for Star Wars: Legion (Clone Wars-era expansions summarized here), Star Wars: X-Wing (six expansions detailed here), and Star Wars: Armada (summary posts here, here, and here), FFG has a couple of big boxes on the way, such as Dane Beltrami's Prophecy of Kings expansion for Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition), which is due out in November 2020, bears a $100 MSRP, and has this description:The Prophecy of Kings expansion is packed with new content for Twilight Imperium (Fourth Edition). The galaxy has grown far larger as seven never-before-seen factions enter the game, each boasting its own unique strengths and weaknesses, from the gene-altering powers of the Mahact to the watchful guard of the Argent Flight, to the mysterious and ancient Empyrean. And new factions aren't the only way the galaxy grows bigger! Forty new system and hyperlane tiles add new planets and obstacles to the map, and with two new colors of player components included in the box, you can play Twilight Imperium with up to eight players.
But that's only a fraction of what you'll find in this expansion! Adding even more flavor to your chosen species, a wealth of unique leader cards arrive to support every faction in the game, giving you powers to unlock during the game. Lumbering mechs stomp onto the battlefield as powerful new ground forces with unique special abilities for every faction. As you venture into the unknown regions of space, brand-new exploration decks seed new planets and the void of space with new discoveries, including fragments you can combine to create awe-inspiring relics. On top of this, Prophecy of Kings includes new action cards, agenda cards, objectives, technologies, promissory notes, legendary planets, and more.
The fourth series of Richard Garfield's "unique deck game" KeyForge — Mass Mutation — debuted in July 2020, and during the In-Flight report FFG was already looking ahead to the fifth series: Dark Tidings, which will debut in February 2021. Some details on this series:As always, each deck in the line contains cards from three of the seven houses included in the line, but for Dark Tidings the Dis house will be replaced with the Unfathomable, which specializes in controlling their foes by exhausting enemy creatures. Some cards keep your opponent's creatures down, making it difficult for them to muster a fighting force or reap enough æmber. Once your enemies are exhausted, you can keep them out of commission with other cards or even wipe away their board.
Each Dark Tidings deck also includes a high/low tide card. The card starts the game out of play, but eventually one player will bring it into play, especially since some cards in Dark Tidings can carry out their effects — or have a massively larger effect — when the high tide is on that player's side. Many effects can raise the tide, but if they're not available, the player with low tide can always suffer three chains to turn the tide in their favor.
Dark Tidings also features the debut of "evil twin decks", a new type of deck. For example, you may open a deck that's entitled "Speaker Domitia's Evil Twin". This deck is an exact copy of "Speaker Domitia", a real deck that has been printed and can be found by another player out in the world. The crucial difference is that in an evil twin deck, many of your creatures look a little different. Specifically, in Dark Tidings, many creatures have evil twin variants, and if you find an evil twin deck, every creature with an evil twin variant appears in that form. These evil twin creatures feature new artwork, graphic design, and abilities, making them a significant departure from the original creature.
Marvel Champions: The Card Game will continue to see new monthly releases into Q1 2021, with the Ant-Man Hero Pack debuting in November 2020, followed by Hero Packs for Wasp, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, with both the first two and last two packs synergizing when combined, given the close relationships of those heroes. These will be followed in February 2021 by Galaxy's Most Wanted, the second campaign pack for Marvel Champions following the September 2020 release of The Rise of Red Skull.
Aside from these expansion, FFG will release the standalone game X-Men: Mutant Insurrection from designers Richard Launius and Brandon Perdue in Q1 2021. An overview:Though the world may despise them, the team of heroic mutants known as X-Men fight tirelessly to protect humanity from the sinister machinations of evildoers. Leap into the action with X-Men: Mutant Insurrection, a fast-paced, co-operative, dice-driven card game for one to six players! You'll build a team of iconic heroes such as Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, and Jubilee from the sixteen heroes included, embark on dangerous missions around the world, and accelerate toward a thrilling showdown with a villain such as Dark Phoenix, Magneto, or the Hellfire Club.
X-Men: Mutant Insurrection invites you to travel the globe on death-defying missions to recruit new mutants, capture criminals, protect innocent lives, and battle some of the most memorable X-Men supervillains. Eight distinct scenarios await you and your X-Men, each with their own challenges and each leading to a no-holds-barred showdown against the villain. The Blackbird is ready to launch — join your team and fight for the future!
FFG posted a long overview of the game, detailing how heroes can work together to overcome a villain's objectives and how the ties between heroes can break over time.
The final big item from FFG's In-Flight report was a last-second tease of Descent: Legends of the Dark, a title that was inadvertently leaked in early July 2020. This title from in-house developers Kara Centell-Dunk and Nathan Hajek — who have worked on many expansions for Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) — carries an "Act 1" logo in the lower-right corner and comes packaged in what appears to be a cube-sized box that's about twelve inches on each side. Now that's how you leave an audience wanting more!
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- ● Mage Bane Hideout - 30x20 BattlemapPublisher: Bad Luck Press
Mage Bane Hideout Battlemap
Mage Bane Hideout is a 30x20 battlemap based on a standard 1" grid that is designed to be printed at home on U.S. Letter size paper. It would make a great lair or hideout for your next session or use the included Call to Adventure for a night of adventure.
Call to Adventure
The assassins of Darkhold are known for their expertise in eliminating mages that their high-paying clientele find troublesome. The secret of their particular effectiveness in murdering mages comes from their use of the substance known as Mage Bane. Produced from compounds found in a rare type of cave mushroom, Mage Bane causes a momentary disruption in the weave of arcane energies. It is in this disruption that the assassins strike, as their victims struggle to understand why the magics they have come to depend on for much of their now ending lives have suddenly failed them.
After much research (and more coin) the mage guild has located a cave that seems to be the primary site where the Mage Bane mushrooms grow. They have offered your party a substantial reward to go to the cave and destroy the mushrooms, dealing with any other threats found at the cave.
The assassins protect the cave with a group of trusted guards and guild members. But in the mushroom chamber at the back of the cave has a trio of special guardians; a trio of large wormlike, tentacled creatures known as gricks. The assassins keep their pet gricks well feed with the bodies of their work and anyone who is unfortunate enough to wander too near the cave.
Price: $1.45 Read more »
- (1) PDF with a 1" gridded version of the full-size map broken down to easily print as tiles on standard letter size paper
- (1) PDF with a 1" non-gridded version of the full-size map broken down to easily print as tiles on standard letter size paper
- (1) 30"x20" full-size gridded JPG of the map for poster printing or VTT's
- (1) 30"x20" full-sizei non-gridded JPG of the map for poster printing or VTT's
- ● EntomobiaPublisher: Plush Pangolin Creations
You are a bug.
Above you, strange, unspeakable, unknowable monsters known as Swatters (or less commonly, humans) perform strange unknowable acts. They kill on sight, or carry you great distances in a single step. They drop wonderous prizes, or produce terrible poisons. There is no telling what their next action might be.
In the grass, Ant paladins and Beetle barbarians battle giants like chipmunks and frogs. Roach artificers construct strange contraptions in the walls of Swatter dwellings. Cricket townsfolk prepare to fight of a hoard of invading Dragonflies. A Moth warlock receives new powers from their Opossum patron.
Welcome to the world of Entomobia.
Entomobia is a setting for 5e that puts you in the role of the insects that surround you. Pick from ten different arthropod races, with twelve subraces. Explore the realm of Hudson Springs, a peaceful park for humans, but a land strewn with danger for the typical Entomobian. Fight against 26 different beasts and monsters, scaled to insect proportions.
Just watch out for the Swatters.Price: $4.99 Read more »
- ● 100 Items in a Cyber Cop's PocketPublisher: D10 Dimensions
This list is intended for any dark future setting (like Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Rifts, etc.) where high technology is running rampant, and where criminals of all kinds are common. This list can be applied to an empty locker in a forgotten precinct, a grim member of corporate security, or a street detective chilling with some fast food. This roleplaying tool gives you dozens of different ways to add a new dimension to your next defender.
This Roll Percentile list has one hundred possible results in this format:
Roll result. A brief description of the object(s) that can found in pockets of this warrior.
Example: 101 Faded Love Letter from Prison (heavier card stock; hidden in the letter is a map to loot).
- ● Items of Adventure - The Ember GatePublisher: Double Tome Studios
What is The Ember Gate and why does it always appear where things are hottest? Who wrote this tome and what were their goals? Do you dare open the cover and read the words within?
Price: $1.50 Read more »
The Items of Adventure series provides you, the gamemaster, with an engaging object to add to your world. Each product focuses on a unique item and provides a detailed description along with 3 story hooks and 3 plot threads to mix and match. These provide ready-made ways to introduce the item and spark ideas to further your story.
- ● Doggo DungeonsPublisher: Squibbles
This PDF gives acess to the Dogoid race, which is based on four breeds of domestic dog, specifically the Saint Bernards, Border Collies, Pitbulls, and Chihuahuas. Whether you want to play this race or use it as an NPC. This is the first of 4 volumes to be posted, so if you like it stay tuned for more.Price: $2.23 Read more »
- ● Ratas en las paredes: La semilla del vacíoPublisher: D.Ryalbran
CAJA DE HERRAMIENTAS PARA UNA AVENTURA DE RATAS EN LAS PAREDES
En cuanto empiezas a leer Ratas en las paredes te das cuenta de que es una de esas pequeñas joyas que encierran mucho más de lo que su tamaño puede hacerte pensar. Más allá del juego, también es una herramienta multiusos que, por un lado, te hace estallar la cabeza con mil ideas para crear tus partidas y, por el otro, te va a permitir llevar cualquier cosa que te pase por la mente al terreno del horror cósmico.
Una de las metas que me propongo cuando empiezo a trabajar en una aventura es intentar salirme de lo clásico y, sobre todo, buscar generar algo que sea interactivo, adaptativo e integrador con el DJ y la mesa donde se va a jugar. No voy a entrar a profundizar en teoría, pero me gusta mucho el concepto de las islas y la hibridación con las cajas de arena.
Esta vez, mientras pasaba las páginas del libro, vi claro que me apetecía mucho crear una historia de horror cósmico fuera del ambiente tradicional donde se suele jugar. Pensando en los primeros detalles de la trama, me vino a la cabeza un reto: intentar generar todas las herramientas necesarias para crear una aventura de Ratas en las paredes en un A3 a doble cara, fácil de plegar, transportable y sencillo para tener sobre la mesa. Es evidente que, al hacerlo así, sólo aparece el bosquejo del lienzo y va a depender de la mesa de juego generar toda la riqueza y detalles que necesite la narración para cobrar vida.
De esta forma, en la primera cara encontraréis la introducción de la trama, una escena descrita para entrar en la atmósfera, el punto de partida de la investigación, una descripción de las varias escenas en que se puede dividir la historia y como pueden conectarse entre ellas y una serie de anotaciones cortas para despertaros la imaginación. La segunda cara, a su vez, consta de las reglas -algunas de ellas mínimamente adaptadas al escenario- y las tablas de referencia rápida para su consulta.
Además, hay una serie de ayudas en formato A4 que podéis elegir descargar en un único PDF junto al A3 o por separdo. Incluyen una serie de imágenes sugeridas para los glifos que aparecen en la trama, una lista de nombres para generar PJs y NPJs y unas anotaciones para darle profundidad a los antagonistas y secundarios que aparecen. Por último, vienen cinco fichas de personajes pregenerados; en este caso, los PDFs individuales son completamente personalizables para que podáis inspiraros y hacerlos vuestros.
Me he permitido incluir una pequeña locución amateur para darle un toque muy personal al final de la aventura. Es un pequeño intento de dar un plumazo diferenciador y que no tiene nada que ver con una locución profesional, pero espero que os guste como idea.
Para finalizar, me gustaría agradecer y felicitar por su trabajo a The Hills Press y animaros a haceros con una copia del manual escrito por Kobayashi si aun no lo tenéis. Todo lo que publica este autor es material muy a tener en cuenta.
Todas las reglas y las descripciones de hechizos, profesiones y reputaciones están tomadas o modificadas del manual de Ratas en las paredes de The Hills Press©Price: $3.54 Read more »
- ● Tras la lluvia - Forged in The DarkPublisher: D.Ryalbran
TRAS LA LLUVIA
Caja de herramientas Forged in The Dark
En este PDF encontraréis un hack de Forged in The Dark con las herramientas necesarias para poder jugar una pequeña aventura improvisada de hasta 5 sesiones. Para empezar, todos participaréis en la creación del mundo de juego generando sus rasgos principales de una manera intuitiva y sencilla.
Una vez tengáis el escenario, jugaréis 4 analepsis para completar el trasfondo de vuestros personajes y entender su destino en el presente; que quedará rubricado en una escena final donde todo lo que habéis creado entre en juego. De cada viaje al pasado, obtendréis además los elementos de la trama; personajes, antagonistas, tesoros, localizaciones... Pudiéndolos resumir de forma sencilla con unas pequeñas fichas de PNJ, del antagonista principal y de "etiquetas".
Todo ello se va a inspirar en una metáfora que os predisponga a generar algo bello y maravilloso: vais a ser los maestros que creen una serie de poderosas pinturas donde se capte todo el drama de cada escena.
Espero que estas herramientes os ayuden a inspirar historias maravillosas, ya sean de épicas aventuras o de íntimos dramas.Price: $3.54 Read more »
- ● Minimal Worlds - FantasyPublisher: QuestWise Publishing
Minimal Worlds - Fantasy is a minimalist roleplaying game based on the On The Fly rpg (the rules of which are included in the document).
Minimal Worlds is a narratively driven roleplaying game useful for one shot or mini campaign games. On The Fly was created to introduce new players to the hobby, and Minimal Worlds - Fantasy (the first of several genre specific 'expansions') is a set of essays and options to fill out the On The Fly rules.Price: $3.00 Read more »
- ● What Gallen FoundPublisher: Ridgecrest Adventure Company
Gallen Ridgecrest is missing! The brave and charismatic leader of the small guild, Belmoore’s Remnant, was last seen delving deep into the treasure-laden Nevertomb, following a lead on a treasure that would take the Remnant from a hodge-podge group of adventurers to one of Nevertown’s top guilds.
Finding the treasure falls to you. Delve into the Nevertomb, meets some of its other delvers and make the name of Belmoore's Remnant famous, if you can find What Gallen Found.
This purchase includes a copy of What Gallen Found and two maps, as well as a simplified version designed with screen readers in mind.Price: $3.95 Read more »
- ● Battlemaps - TavernsPublisher: Tibor Szilágyi
Battlemaps – TavernsPrice: $9.99 Read more »
Battlemaps for tabletop RPG’s.
With these four maps you would be able to play through your battles in your adventures, for example in D&D, Pathfinder or any other similar Tabletop Fantasy RPG.
The names of the taverns created by my fantasy, however you can come up with any other name in your session.
The Battlemaps are not modulars, but fix maps in .jpg and PDF format. Also both taverns files are availabe to download in .zip folder.
The package includes:
Blue Goat Tavern:
- One 4096 x 2896 pixel resolution - Blue Goat Main - Battlemap in .jpg format
- One 2480 x 3508 pixel resolution - Blue Goat Main - Battlemap in .jpg format (A4 size: 21 cm x 29.7 cm)
- All together separated in PDF format.
Hairy Shark Tavern
- One 4096 x 2896 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark Main Basement - Battlemap in .jpg format
- One 4096 x 2896 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark Main A - Battlemap in .jpg format
- One 4096 x 2896 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark Main B – Battlemap in .jpg format
- One 2480 x 3508 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark Main Basement - Battlemap in .jpg format (A4 size: 21 cm x 29.7 cm)
- One 2480 x 3508 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark Main A - Battlemap in .jpg format (A4 size: 21 cm x 29.7 cm)
- One 2480 x 3508 pixel resolution - Hairy Shark main B – Battlemap in .jpg format (A4 size: 21 cm x 29.7 cm)
- All together separated in PDF format.
- VideoGnomecast #97 – Online Conventions with Laura Hamel
- Shortcuts to a Campaign’s End
There are times when a campaign gets long in the tooth. While the game play might still be enjoyable, there are times when the players and/or GM will get the urge to move on to the next campaign, the next system, or the next idea. It’s a natural progression of things, so if you’re running the game, don’t get offended if the players fire up the “What are we playing next?” conversation. Unless you arrange for someone else to start prep on the next thing while the current game is being played as a regular thing, then this question is usually an indicator that you might want to wrap things up. It doesn’t have to be sudden, short-term, or even a total party kill, but it does need to be on your radar.
Of course, the game can be “paused” while another one is played, but let’s be honest with ourselves here. How often do these paused games resume? For me, it’s incredibly rare for a game to survive pausing for more than a couple of months. People forget where the game’s storyline was at. They lose character sheets. The GM has lost track of their plans or replaces the intense game knowledge with other systems.
This means things need to be wrapped up, and there are some approaches to give a satisfying ending to a campaign arc other than simply stopping the game.
Move the Goals
I’m assuming that since we’re talking about long-running campaigns, the party has goals to accomplish. That’s usually how games go, so I think it’s a safe assumption. Working with that, it’s possible to reduce the amount of game time it takes to accomplish a goal if the party finds the McGuffin or Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) or whatever closer to where they are at than they expected. Shift the McGuffin from the final room of the dungeon to somewhere in the middle. Cut out the 30 rooms of dungeon crawl between the party’s location and the BBEG’s lair.Put the thing they are looking for nearby or at the next plot point.
If the game is wilderness-based or a plot point arc, then put the thing they are looking for in the next forest clearing or one-to-two plot points away from where they are now instead of farther down the road.
Unless they have super clear directions to the location of the McGuffin or BBEG, then they’ll never know that you gave them a shortcut to their goal. Just make sure they earn the acquisition of the thing they are looking for. Don’t just give it to them because it’s nearby.
Combine GoalsPerhaps the BBEG has the McGuffin tucked into his belt when the party defeats him.
Perhaps the BBEG has the McGuffin tucked into his belt when the party defeats him. Boom. Two things done with a single combat. Alternatively, if they are trying to piece together something (e.g.: The Rod of Seven Parts from D&D lore), then maybe someone else is trying to do the same. That someone else could have already assembled (or collected) three of the parts. Then the other owner of parts could track down the party with the goal of acquiring their parts (probably not in a friendly manner, so it’s that much more fun). This combines goals and brings the parts to the party, so it moves goals closer to the party.
Move the Players
If you’re playing sci-fi with transporters, FTL, or other super cool tech, then it’s easy enough to have the “warp coil overload due to a negative neutron quark strike on the power inverter” (or some other techno babble) and move the party farther along their route than they had intended, thus putting them closer to their goal.
Of course, in fantasy, there’s the staple of teleportation circles, summonings, teleportation accidents, and so on that can easily shift the party closer to their goal, even if they don’t know that’s what happened.
If you’re in a modern or other “mundane” setting, then cutting out obstacles between the party and their goals is effectively moving the party closer to the goals.
If you had planned on a kidnapping to happen and then the party learns of a rumor from the person they rescue that points them in the next direction for their main quest, I would recommend dropping the kidnapping subplot. That’s easily a session or two of play that you can avoid to get to the end faster. Instead of making the players work for a clue, have them overhear it in the street or tavern or spaceport.Allow your players to earn knowledge, but do it in a manner that is quick and easy at the table.
If you want the players to earn it, then give them a hint that a nearby library (or neural network) might contain the information that they need. A quick skill check with a low difficulty can result in them gaining the knowledge. It’s easy enough to tell the players that their characters spend three days digging through musty tomes to get the information, and merge that into the single skill check. The “three days pass” make it feel like an earned victory, but the real world time it takes is just a few minutes.
The more chances for NPC interaction the PCs have, the more time things will take to resolve the story elements. This is the fun part of the game (for me and my group), so I dislike cutting out cool NPCs that I’ve baked up for the game experience. However, I can always save and alter those NPCs for later use.
Reduce MonstersYou can also skip non-important combats.
If a combat calls for 8 hobgoblins, 3 ogres, and 2 hill giants, I would recommend reducing the opposing forces to no hobgoblins, 2 ogres, and a single hill giant. The fight can still be dangerous and perhaps a bit of a challenge for your party, but it will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to resolve the combat.
You can also skip non-important combats. Keep in mind that since you’re wrapping up the campaign soon, throwing in a combat scene “to give the characters some experience points and loot” is no longer a thing you really have to do.
What About You?
If you’ve had to shortcut to the end of a campaign to wrap up a storyline, what tips or tricks did you use along these lines? Anything I forgot to mention?Read more »
- Feeling Seen in Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall
I never thought I’d ever see “Bob’s Burgers” and jiangshi ever be referenced in the same document, but life has a way of throwing surprises at you. Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall is a new game up for Kickstarting (follow the link here) until August 14th and it promises to fulfill your diner management fantasies, all while addressing poignant themes such as racism and cultural assimilation through zombification. It feels like a weighty promise, and believe me it is, but it does well to explore this through the document to the best of its ability.
Note: due to the current epidemic, I’ve been unable to playtest this game on the table. What insights I may have might not translate to actual gameplay.
Note+: I will be referring to two elements in this similarly: ‘jiangshi’ in reference to the hopping vampires, and “Jiangshi” for the game itself.
The thing to notice with Jiangshi is the gorgeous cover art (done by the talented Kwanchai Moriya), individual set-pieces (by Steven Wu) and the detailed graphic design (this time by Matthias Bonnici). Immediately, before you even read a single word, you are impressed upon everything the game is about. While yes, one of the central antagonists is racism itself, the game is ultimately about family and the bonds between generations. The jiangshi in the center (whom of which I feel resembles the mother on the right), however, also shows the important elements of life and death central to the game’s conflicts.
Personally, I find it very fitting for the family business to be centered around a restaurant. Restaurants are social melting pots where people from all over gather in a single locale. This attracts the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the proper and the delinquent, as well as folks from many ethnic groups. Furthermore, I also find [food] to be such a central focus of life. It sustains us and binds our memories to the scents and flavors, and is deeply tied to love and community. Food is about life and jiangshi, even in unlife, desire to feed to fill that aching lack of life within them.
One thing that personally gets me going with this game is the fact it requires a whole box set. It blends tabletop roleplaying with board-game mechanics beautifully well. The last time I could think of a game that involved this much movement of pieces and cards was Phoenix Dawn Command and that thing was a work of art. It might seem a bit shallow of a reason, but I have high hopes for any game that tries to blend the two major elements of analog-nerdom. Physical pieces of a game on a table deliver weight and import simply because they’re on the table, begging to be paid attention to.
This is a game about a Chinese family making their living by running a restaurant in America’s Chinatowns, circa 1920. Despite societal backlash and anti-Chinese laws, they have turned a profit and their quality of life has recently improved.
Night, however, brings a new terror.
Players take on the roles of members of the Chinese family (mostly from Guangdong province), spanning three generations, who face threats of jiangshi (vampires) at night and racism by day. This is primarily a game about storytelling. Combat is limited, but horror and drama are the primary vehicles for driving the game forward.
The overview, at least in the version of the game I have access to, is evocative. Immediately you come to understand just who you are, what you’re faced with, and an idea on how the game should be played. Few games really capture this in their opening lines, often leaving the interpretation and themes to the GM (game moderator in Jiangshi). With games aiming to evoke specific tones and topics, the overview itself provides a touchstone to draw back to.
Outlined explicitly near the beginning of the book is a Safety section. It holds not just one tool of safety but THREE. This is especially important considering the fact the subject matter (you know, the whole racism theme), but most games barely have one. Hell, most games with these kinds of safety tools still end up placing them all near the back of the book like some sort of add-on. Jiangshi jumps to saying “hey these are extremely important so they’re going in front and center!” and this needs to be talked about more. This is great where it is because within the next couple pages is the sweat-dripping “How to be racist” section.
To all those getting nervous about that, don’t.
Don’t look away.
It’s really easy to try to forget racism exists (especially if it doesn’t typically apply to you) but a central theme is about handling and exploring the sort of situations Chinese-Americans had to go through. It’s a very authentic place to be and, even though it makes some folks uncomfortable, it’s an important part of early 20th-Century culture that gets glossed over.
Jiangshi then goes through (at the time of reading) more than 15-pages of raw historical and cultural settings and timepieces. Even if you’re neither a history buff nor knowledgeable on Chinese culture the section does a lot to really ingrain the backdrop into you. As interesting as the actual mechanics are, if you skip by the setting details — much like I do so for most TRPGs I pick up — you’ll be missing a lot of key and important details to make your own game authentic and weighty.
Speaking of mechanics…
Jiangshi does something I’ve never really ever seen before: it includes cultural superstitions and influence into the dice. In both Chinese and Japanese, the character for the number 4 is extremely similar to the one for death. This has lead to the association with 4 being a particularly unlucky number. Dice in Jiangshi focus on two different pools: a family pool (6d8) players roll to make checks, as well as an individual pool (2d8) you role when attempting to assist others.
Here’s the kicker: for every 4 you get in the roll, it neutralizes the highest number in the pool.
So if you were to roll 224568, you remove the 8, meaning your final result is a 6.
I can honestly say that I’ve never seen such a smooth and natural incorporation of cultural superstition into an active dice mechanic… well, ever. If I’m wrong, please feel free to leave a comment where I can find such. I’m not really counting ‘lucky number 7’ for craps because it’s not a conflict resolution mechanic for a tabletop (just to be clear).
You initially start with a 6d8 for your family pool. This decreases by 1 for every day (of 5-days) of the session or adventure. This represents the wear of the jiangshi eating at your family’s spirit. Another thing I’m in love with however, is the fact that the individual dice of 2d8 never really decreases. In fact, it increases on failures, gaining an additional 1 whenever you fail. While the family pool might decrease, the extra effort you as an individual put forth to help your family never does. This exquisitely emphasizes the importance of your familial bonds in trying times. The world is difficult but together, as a family, you can do this.
The dice mechanics both incorporate cultural superstitions, as well as stress the importance of family, all from just playing the game and rolling dice.
I’m excited for Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall.
As an Asian POC myself, seeing this kind of representation — despite only being a quarter Chinese (the rest being Filipino) — gives me a lot of hope for more successful games like this. Through the years I’ve been playing and GMing I’ve regularly come upon Chinese influenced games often written by non-Chinese creators. I’m not saying there’s anything particularly wrong with writing about something you love, but there’s always been this sort of… observatory feel to it. It feels like the mysticism and martial arts always get played up and there’s little cultural backing outside of stereotypes I might see on television (or I suppose web) shows.
Jiangshi was the first time I really felt that the cultural backing of the game was really uplifted and treated authentically. The themes are strong and really play to the struggles many Chinese-Americans (as well as Canadians) face. Struggles of racism, assimilation into western society, the loss of identity wonderfully paralleled through the zombification… There’s even a whole section emphasizing choosing proper Chinese family names, a Chinese generational and given name (of which Jiangshi also includes non-binary names somehow), but then the character sheet has a part specifically about your English name and that just… kinda hurts to think about.
There’s something really special here and anyone would regret missing out on this game.
~Di, signing offRead more »
- Di’s 7 Swords — The 1st: Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
*Di’s 7 Swords is a collection of views, opinions, and her overall stance on what elements make good Tabletop RPGs. These are by no means absolute catch-alls, and simply reflect a single person’s beliefs.
Table of Contents
[The 1st. Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast]
The 2nd. Endless Depth in Customization
The 3rd. True Strength Lies in Simplicity
The 4th. Dissociated Mechanics are Fine; Fiction is Cheap
The 5th. Agency is an Illusion; Slay It or Play to It
The 6th. Chase the Consequences to their Limit
The 7th. The GM is a God to be Slain.
Note: This list will be updated with links to the articles as they come up.
Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
If I had to lean in on the Sword metaphor, my 1st Sword is by far my most reckless of the bunch. It’s hard to defend with, as there exist many games here and there that are all about the long and poignant moments between your actions—games that emphasize counting all our bonuses and conditions before giving you the final result. But my 1st is also perfect to attack with, as there is very little to guard back with it. If I had to give it a shape, it’d be a viking seax. Simple and cutting, and lacking a guard to protect itself.
Good lord, someone please stop this pompous writing.
Hey look, a segue.
The 1st Sword is simple: when you design a game, whatever conflict resolution mechanic (CRM) you decide on MUST be fast enough to execute immediately.
Please don’t let the dragging preamble of this article suggest otherwise.
What this means is that when you decide to play your card or roll the dice, you should have a rough estimate what the result is the MOMENT it drops. Not counting modifiers, weird rules or conditions, or anything else in-between. It should be unambiguous and, hopefully, you shouldn’t be referencing any tables as you do so either.
Furthermore, when a conflict arises and it is decided that you need to resolve it, the point from “I need to do x” and “resolving x” needs to be as short as possible. If it takes a player more than a minute to gather all the dice they need to roll (for example rolling 3d6 for base, +2d6 for a skill and +1d6 for a boost) then the game better be only using the same type of dice. If you’ve ever dealt with a player having to either find all their relevant dice after referencing their sheet, or having to outsource and borrow dice from everyone else, then you know what I’m talking about. Anything more than 30-seconds feels too long, let alone having to handle everyone taking 1–2 minutes per die roll.
Assume Event X
For the sake of representation, X is the event in which you actually attempt to resolve the conflict. For many games, this is rolling dice or drawing a playing card. From this, there are three possible points for the conflict resolution to lag at, ‘Before X,’ ‘During X’ and ‘After X.’
Before X is the amount of time it takes to reference and gather all the rules necessary prior to a roll. This is looking up which roll or (in Powered by the Apocalypse) this is looking up which move you are using. For ability heavy games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, this is where the Wizard — upon their turn starting — often decides is NOW a good time to open up their spellbook and choose the perfect spell to use.
During X, as stated earlier, is when you actually do the action, and obtain a result. For the most part, I use ‘roll’ generally as it’s the most common (and simplest) form of conflict resolution. There are definitely games out there that require longer elements such as drawing a face-down card from a person’s hand. This specific example leads into an entire sub-game where you need to read the opponent before drawing the card. There are most certainly games where this is the whole point (for a board game example, Sheriff of Nottingham is perfect). Us dice rollers often take this step for granted, though if you’ve ever had trouble with players rolling on the table or rerolling, During X can still be affected.
After X is the amount of time in your game for you to figure out what Event X /means/ and how it is to be affected. This is simply known as ‘Interpreting the Result.’ If you’re in a game with modifiers, this is where you add them to the dice. If you’re in a game that uses Armor Class/Difficulty Check (ACDC yeaaaaah), this is where you check them against the number to beat. If you have a penalty from somewhere, this is also where it applies.
Slower resolution can actually do a lot to affect tension and mood in game. However, if it’s slow at all three points of Event X, then the entire game becomes a slog and will drag on exceptionally long. The most common gamemastery tips when it comes to speeding up your game involve getting your players to think about their turns beforehand or rewarding fast declaration of their actions. It’s also often about getting your more anxious players to not spend their turn going “if I do this, what will happen” for about 20-minutes. This is about reducing the amount of Before X events, which can work, but do nothing to really affect After X events.
This doesn’t even take into account the overall pace the GM might have, the players might take in roleplaying, or even the delays anyone might have in just deciding what to do. Add in online Virtual Tabletop issues such as lag, connection, or just figuring out /how to roll/ your dice, and you have a million points where a game can slow to a crawl.
Note: there’s nothing wrong with roleplaying, as that’s all part of the story-game, but imagine dealing with everyone roleplaying without you because you’re not in the scene.
A quick peek into 5e (and the D&D CRM as a whole)
If you’ve read my past articles or (by the Gods, forbid) my Twitter, you might know that I’m particularly critical of 5e for its pace. Combat in 5e tends to take forever for me, and I’ve had games where players can take anywhere from 1-15 minutes per turn, and a round of 7 players and a bunch of creeps can take up to 45-minutes just to get back to me. Why is that?
Dungeons & Dragons, as a whole, tries to be a particularly robust game. This means there are unique abilities, effects, and conditions, as well as the creatures using them. Lets use an Event-X Template.
- Before X: Check abilities (HUGE), check conditions (do you have advantage/disadvantage).
- During X: Roll dice (more if you have dis/advantage).
- After X: Modify result, check reroll abilities (if applicable, return to During X), check vs AC/DC, check conditions (do you have penalties), check dis/advantage, check own abilities, check enemy abilities, check resistances/vulnerabilities
When you succeed in 5e rolls, you actually have more to check (abilities/resistances/vulnerabilities/conditions). When you fail, it can typically stop after modifying the result, checking AC/DC, conditions, and dis/advantage. For 5e, failure is the FASTER result, which is odd as speed is supposed to be a favorable result.
Part of what I found so interesting about 5e was its dis/advantage system, because it was able to remove more complex conditions and replace them with dis/advantage. Rolling dis/advantage is a During X event, and it often results in more immediate knowledge of success and failure. Because advantage bumps a Nat20 from 5% to 9.8%, you’re more likely to see a Nat20 and to have the GM just ‘hand wave’ a bunch of steps.
Advantage actually moves the time burden from Before/After X events into During X, which is way easier to resolve.
D&D, however, loads a lot on Before/After X events. Even if you find ways to quicken the game for your players, it doesn’t change that the system itself is designed to be bulky and slow. As I covered before, the most common tip for gamemasters is to get the players to think about the Before X events. Despite all the changes and shifts towards simplicity, as it is touted as the most ‘streamlined’ edition of the game, it’s unable to completely avoid the weight bulked on After X events. Unless that itself gets fixed, Dungeons & Dragons is always going to be slower than its contemporaries.
Whatever CRM you ultimately decide on has to be fast enough that the During X event is as quick and painless as possible. Things like having to redo (reroll) the During X event shouldn’t be a pain in the ass and, instead, be something fun to look forward to. A game will always have things in the Before/After X, so that’s not something I can particularly critique. However, reducing all sides of the equation (even the inside), can always speed up the game significantly.
Game Speed is imperative to controlling the overall pacing. At the end of the day, no matter how many techniques you might have to speed up the game and handle the players, you’re never going to really be able to outpace the rate in which the game resolves its conflicts. It’s like attempting to run a mile in weighted clothing; unless you unburden yourself and reduce the mechanics slowing you down, the amount of effort you put into it will always result in sub-optimal results.
And with that, I hopefully put away my 1st Sword. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the rest.
~Di, signing off
<– [Preamble]Read more »
[The 2nd Sword]: Endless Depth in Customization
- Di’s 7 Swords of TRPG Design
Hello and welcome to “Di’s 7 Swords of TRPG Design,” a highly egotistic [proclamation] on Tabletop RPG design and gamemastery. What I mean by this is that I plan to declare my views and opinions on what I believe makes a good game — be it from the design angle or the gamemastery at the point of play. The two are intimately linked: the rules influence how the game master (GM) acts, while the GM always has the power to completely alter or abolish the rules outright.
The stances I take here will not apply to everything. They do not represent what necessarily makes a good game. Using all of them will not make a game automatically good, and many fantastic games exist and will exist without ever using a single one of these. These statements are meant to declare what I believe to make good games (both in design and play) and to challenge myself on my ability to defend these stances. If you agree on any of these, then thank you for taking the time to read my take on them. If you disagree with them, thank you for taking the time to read on them, feel free to comment and, hopefully, we can argue about them until the morning.
Also, because I’m using the whole “Swords” shtick, I’m likely going to randomly sound pompous and stuck up at times (I don’t know, I haven’t written all of these yet). This might come off as unnecessary, but I aim to capture my thoughts as closely to their essence and inspiration as possible. Sorry for that in advance.
Table of Contents
The 1st. Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
The 2nd. Endless Depth in Customization
The 3rd. True Strength Lies in Simplicity
The 4th. Dissociated Mechanics are Fine; Fiction is Cheap
The 5th. Agency is an Illusion; Slay It or Play to It
The 6th. Chase the Consequences to their Limit
The 7th. The GM is a God to be Slain.
Note: This list will be updated with links to the articles as they come up.
Why the Sword Metaphor?
A while ago, I was asked by a friend as to what I believe in when it came to tabletops. They had written pieces of their own manifesto — their own statement of what they believed to be good game design. While I had many ideas and beliefs, I had never penned any of them down. It was like being a blacksmith with the steel and dreaming what to make of it but never giving them true form and shape.
I had a very clear image in my head when I went to the Sword metaphor. I imagined a personal armory with Swords lined up and mounted on the wall. Each had a history to them and each was treasured—be it from their use on the battlefield, or by what they represented. Each was sharpened, honed at a smithy until they were as strong as they reasonably could be.
Swords, from what limited knowledge of weaponry I have, are ultimately defensive weapons (aside from using greatswords as clubs with the mordhau). Their cutting power is completely stopped by armor unless you aim directly for weak, unarmored points. They’re most powerful only in fantasy, where adventurers can swing them with enough power to cleave through platemail and dragonscale alike.
The Swords I’m laying out here are similar in that they only have real power in the fantasyscape of Tabletop RPGs. They’re only as powerful as you’re capable of defending yourself with them, and often unrealistically revered compared to every other weapon available. They are treasured, less for what they are or what they do, but for what they represent. I could find no better parallel to the sort of statements I’m planning to make.
An Introduction to the Concepts
‡ The 1st: Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast
When conflict rears its head and the players decide to solve it by rolling the dice, there must be as minimal of a time to the resolution as reasonably possible.
‡ The 2nd: Endless Depth in Customization
A player should be capable of creating as endless a number of mechanically diverse characters as the player can create campaigns.
‡ The 3rd: True Strength Lies in Simplicity
The game will always find ways to make a situation more complex and complicated for every factor involved. If you don’t build for simple and clear resolution, games will slow down to a crawl.
‡ The 4th: Dissociated Mechanics are Fine; Fiction is Cheap
Mechanics and information being non-related to in-world events and interactions are fine. It’s extremely easy to write in an in-world explanation for them. D&D 4e was fine, fight me.
‡ The 5th: Agency is an Illusion; Slay It or Play to It
Player Agency, in this current landscape of online tabletops, doesn’t exist as powerfully due to the abundance of plot armor. Either slay the illusion and give your players true agency, or ham it up for the drama and story.
‡ The 6th: Chase the Consequences to their Limit
Player Agency is only as free in the world as its ability to chase the player’s choices with honest and straightforward consequences.
‡ The 7th: The GM is a God to be Slain
As the GM you will lose almost every encounter, every fight, every conflict you come at the players with. That is the very nature of the role. But by damned if you can’t put on one hell of a show.
If you happen to have any comments, agreements, or arguments to anything I have to say, feel free to lay it on me in the comment section down below. Alternatively, you can hit me up at my Twitter (@DiceQueenDi).
I want to be able to defend my opinions. If anything else, I’d like to also hear if anything I said resonates with you as well. Kind of as a confirmation I’m not some crazed wackadoodle just spewing bad opinions into the internet?
I hope you find something here to use.
~Di, signing off
[The 1st Sword]: Resolution Mechanics Must be Fast –>Read more »
- Quest Review
The review that I’m writing today came about somewhat out of the blue. When people started discussing alternatives to Dungeons and Dragons, one game was mentioned a lot. Quest is a game about playing archetypal characters in fantasy adventures, with simple rules and a clear variety of options.
There are various reasons that people have cited for exploring the game. Commentary has ranged from the game being a good game for beginners, the game being less prone to harmful fantasy tropes, and the game being well suited for streaming.
That means that while I wanted to go into this fresh, I’ve already run into a lot of opinions about the game online. I’ll just cite upfront that while I’m trying to engage this with fresh eyes, it’s been hard to avoid any opinions on the subject.
Style and Substance
A lot of the commentary about this game is about its presentation, and it does have a unique form factor. While I am basing this review on the PDF, which is what I currently own, I have taken some time to look at the components of the physical game.
In addition to the book, there are decks available, including a Core Deck, Creature Deck, and a Treasure Deck. Most of the mechanics of the game don’t require the decks, but there are a few references to using the cards as, well, cards.
The PDF version of the product has separate files for the book, character and world profiles, a character worksheet, a combined version of the character profile and worksheet, and PDFs for the Core Deck, Creature Deck, and Treasure Deck. The PDF of the book is 155 pages, with a credits page and a Table of Contents. There are full color, full-page images between sections of the book, as well as illustrations on many pages throughout.
The formatting of the book shifts all the way up to four columns, but with the whitespace and formatting used, this doesn’t get as confusing as it would otherwise seem. In fact, the whitespace and room to breathe in the book makes it very easy to engage with the text.
The book has a very simple, intentionally focused structure. It’s broken up into the “how to play” section, “creating a character” section, then “abilities and equipment,” and finally, “for the guide.” These sections are introduced conversationally on the index page.
While the information contained in the Core Deck and the Treasure Deck are both contained within, only the basic creature rules are presented in the book itself, along with the definitions of various traits. The actual example creatures are present only on the cards in the Creature Deck.
Each of the chapters has a summary at the beginning showing the estimated amount of time it will take to read through the chapter.
“First, We’ll Teach You How to Play the Game”
This section introduces the core conceits of the game. It is presenting a fantasy world that is highly magical, but less technologically advanced than our world. Beyond this description, the assumptions of the game are largely expressed by the explanations of various elements within the text later in the book.
The game itself uses a d20, and in addition to this, it presents other requirements and suggested items for gameplay. This is written in a manner that makes it clear this is addressing an audience that may not be familiar with any kind of roleplaying text.
The resolution results on the d20 break down into ranges that include Catastrophe, Failure, Tough Choice, Success, and Triumph.
This section introduces the idea of scene framing, character actions, and when to roll dice to make a scene more interesting. It also lays out the concept of distances, generally using four broad categories. Characters track their health with hit points, with the greatest danger to characters being taking damage after already running out of hit points. All characters start with the same number of hit points, and your maximum hit points don’t change over time.
Characters get Adventure Points that they can use to trigger their special abilities, and each character starts with six special abilities. As they progress, they can gain more special abilities to add to this list of talents. There is no wealth in the game. Characters are assumed to be able to get subsistence level items, and anything else involves trading items that the character already has. Like hit points, there are a set number of slots that any character has for carrying gear, which isn’t affected by anything else in the game.
There are two pages of rules grouped under “Be Good to Each Other,” split roughly between guidelines for participating in the game and respecting other players at the table. Safety oriented guidelines involve respecting boundaries and asking for consent when interacting with other characters, while “content” guidelines involve making intent clear and separating meta-knowledge from character knowledge.
The rules are friendly and approachable, but it’s worth noting that example encounters involve fighting a bear, and there are multiple pictures of characters getting into fights and using weapons against animals. That’s no worse than any other roleplaying game, but these examples, especially given the lack of setting description and assumption, do flavor the concepts of what the game can be used to model.
“Second, You’ll Create A Unique Character with a Backstory, a Dream, and a Role to Play.”
The very first page of the character creation section involves answering a questionnaire style character sheet asking about the character’s traits, including what the character’s people are known for, what they believe in, and what their dreams are. This comes before roles, special abilities, or anything mechanical.
There are no ancestries in the game, and anything resembling ancestry or species is addressed with various suggested options for the character’s appearance and cultural traits for which the people are known.
All the items for which there is a question on the character sheet have extensive examples provided in this chapter. While players may have a clearer idea of what they want their character to look like, it can be helpful to have example ideals, flaws, and dreams.
“Third, You’ll Prepare Your Character With Special Abilities and Equipment.”
Each character has a role, and those roles include the following:
Some of these roles are straightforward, and others have their own nuance in Quest. Invokers almost hearken back to the 4th edition D&D class of the same name, being a class interested in belief and ideals that gets some “smiting” ability. The Doctor is a mix of Dr. Frankenstein and Necromancer tropes. The Magician is the illusion based spellcaster, while the Wizard is more of the magical “general practitioner.”
The spy is interesting, in that some of its abilities are what you might expect from a rogue or an assassin archetype, but it also leans heavily into a magical version of a gadget wielding spy, borrowing more from modern archetypes.
Gear is simple in the game, in many cases serving as narrative permission to engage the fiction in a specific manner, but much of the gear is flavored to have some kind of useful enchantment upon it. The magical elements do infuse the setting with a feeling that magic is a common thing. For example, adventurers have the option of magical ropes that coil themselves, candles that never burn down, flutes that can signal only friendly creatures, and communication devices in the form of amulets, as examples.
The character roles allow characters to pick special abilities from individual paths. These paths function like a simplified talent tree that players may be familiar with from other roleplaying games or video games. You can pick up the starting options for multiple paths, but you can only pick up additional talents in the order prescribed by the path, without skipping the steps in between.
Many of these abilities have simple resolutions. For example, disarm requires you to spend an Adventure Point to declare that you disarm an opponent. Other abilities give you an alternate set of outcomes for the normal Catastrophe, Failure, Tough Choice, Success, and Triumph results, often making the individual beneficial tiers more effective.
In addition to having multiple paths for each role, each role has a special path referred to as “Legendary.” These abilities don’t need to be taken in any specific order, and they are only available to characters when the Guide has determined that the adventure that the group has just completed was especially momentous.
These are also resolved simply but may grant narrative permission to do major things in the campaign world. These Legendary abilities are flavored by the role. For example, rangers can become friends to all animals, or pick up the ability to wipe out all minions in a scene at the cost of some adventure points. Naturalists, on the other hand, can effectively set loose the Genesis Wave from Wrath of Khan, but without killing the people and animals as the world is rewritten.
Even beyond the Legendary abilities, some Special Abilities have some wild swings to their resolution, doing amazing things, and then have drastic, violent downsides on a low roll.
Some elements feel odd to me as they interact with the game’s assumptions. For example, some abilities require a character to pay for something to be done, but that can only be done by giving up an item in the character’s inventory, because barter is the only form of transaction in the game. Some abilities within the Spy role feel like they push the narrative of the setting in a very specific direction, introducing the ability to “clone” magical amulets used for communication like modern cell phones. This isn’t bad, it just means that there are setting elements that creep into the game from the expression of game rules, rather than being explicitly stated.
“Finally, If You’re the Guide, We’ll Teach You How to Run the Game.”
The guide section has another section that discusses player safety and boundaries. It also introduces the concept of the Stop Sign, which is one of the cards included in the Core Deck. The stop sign functions much like an “X-card”, which is a signal to stop and reevaluate a potentially uncomfortable element introduced into the game.
The World Profile is a “fill in the blank” form that is similar to the character sheet questionnaire. Much like the player section, this section also has many examples for starting areas, regions, and basic descriptions, and the general hopes and fears of people in the setting. There is also a set of examples for opening adventure hooks.
The thought process for framing scenes is examined, with steps to resolving scenes framed as distinct boxes that break down those topics. There are summary elements like this for both clues and challenges.
The d20 is never modified. Without abilities being triggered which often remove any randomizer, the d20 resolution always has the same distribution. While some of the suggested complications involve a character being counterattacked, Guide controlled characters still roll a d20 to resolve their actions.
Non-Player Characters have three basic templates, Commoners, Minions, and Bosses. This determines their hit points and the damage of their attacks. Various abilities mentioned in the “roles” section either don’t work on bosses or work differently based on how many hit points the boss has remaining. In addition to the base hit points and damage, NPCs also have features, which modify the character, meaning they may be immune to some kinds of damage, they might be bigger than normal (and thus have more hit points and do more damage), or they might gain hit points when they cause damage.
Turn structure is very simple. If NPCs ambush the player characters, they go first, then the players go. Otherwise, the players all take their turns, then the NPCs take their turns.
There is also a way to measure combat difficulty that involves measuring the hit points and damage potential of the opponents to create a relative threat of the NPCs in the scene. This is a very simple equation, although I would say that in many cases, Quest’s rules aren’t really “balanced,” and there is a lot that characters can do that isn’t predefined.
The section also addresses what first sessions should look like, how to wrap up sessions, and long-term play. In general, characters can gain more Adventure Points based on roleplaying, and get more Adventure Points each session. Characters can pick up a new special ability at the end of an adventure. There is very little bookkeeping involved.
There are also “Advanced Rules,” that involve modifying the rate of character growth, the number of Adventure Points awarded, and allowing characters to pick up special abilities as quirks of how the character has advanced.
The final section of the book addresses the wide range of items available in the game. Treasure has a rarity (which is often used for the barter system in the game) and may give narrative permission to do something useful. A treasure may have a number listed by an ability that allows a special ability associated with the item to be triggered.
Despite the whimsical tone, and the example of the open-ended magical nature of the world, the sample combat is a party barging in on a group of goblins playing cards and murdering them. It feels like a bit of tonal dissonance with some of the other elements presented in the game.
SuccessReading this book really makes me want to take it for a test drive. There is a nice mix of traditional fantasy tropes, adjacent supernatural tropes, and wider modern fantasy concepts that tickles the imagination.
The book is a joy to read, with artwork that matches the tone of the text, and it unfolds at a comfortable pace. The number of special abilities allows for a ton of customization when making characters, and the number of NPC traits gives the Guide a solid base for building interesting challenges. It feels like you could explain the game concepts to a group and be up and running a game very quickly.
There is some tonal dissonance between a few examples, that seems to call back to the older days of dungeon raiding fantasy, and the more open-ended exploring portrayed in most of the book. There are very few places where the cards are used in the rules as cards (i.e. using a random draw), but there are so few instances of this that it feels off when it does come up. There are some open-ended examples of awarding extra Adventure Points that hearken back to “reward people that are more outgoing” rules, which I don’t always think benefit a group. The simple and engaging explanations get players up to speed quickly, but it feels like a more in-depth “advanced” section would have been welcomed.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
Reading this book really makes me want to take it for a test drive. There is a nice mix of traditional fantasy tropes, adjacent supernatural tropes, and wider modern fantasy concepts that tickles the imagination. I just wish there were a few more guidelines about what this game wants you to do with it. I’m a little concerned about rolls always being random, but I also want to see what that feels like.
This feels like a beautiful, well-polished experiment in storytelling, and I want to engage in that experiment. I’m not sure it’s as widely applicable as a fantasy gaming “solution” as it may seem at first pass.
What are some of your favorite fantasy games that both use and subvert tropes? How much explicit setting explanation do you want in your RPG rules? What kind of examples do you like in a rules section? We are looking forward to hearing from you in the comments below. Thanks!Read more »
- An Only Slightly Gushing Review of WarLock Tiles
Recently, WizKids has released several sets of interlocking three-dimensional tiles (called WarLock) that can be used to physically build encounter locations. This is clearly their answer to Dwarven Forge tile sets, and while it isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, it is also very, very cool. TL;DR: if you have the money and inclination to spare for this kind of thing, I highly recommend them, though some sets are better than others. As an overall product, I give Warlock a 10/10: this is an excellent addition to the gaming marketplace.
A couple of disclosures.
- I received no promotional considerations, discounts, or freebies for this review. I’m just some semi-adult nobody who still likes playing with toys, and I paid full list price at a friendly local gaming store for these. I have no regrets, and will almost certainly be buying more as they come out.
- I don’t actually own any Dwarven Forge tiles, primarily because up until a couple of weeks ago, when I wanted tiles or terrain I either 3D printed or made them. However, the information I use for comparison is freely available on the Dwarven Forge website. While I’m sure there are differences in quality and how they work in-play, unless rubbing Dwarven Forge tiles grants wishes or something, I’m confident the comparison is fair, even if I’m not personally holding a piece at the time.…unless rubbing Dwarven Forge tiles grants wishes or something, I’m confident the comparison is fair, even if I’m not personally holding a piece at the time.
- Cost: at 100 bucks for a starter set, these are not cheap. However, that’s less than the cost of two core books for most of the non-indie games that are out there now, so it’s not aninsurmountable obstacle for players who are in the market for this kind of thing.
- Availability: this is a big, big deal. The main reason I never bought Dwarven Forge stuff is honestly because it wasn’t available at any of the stores I shop at, and I’m really, really big into instant gratification. I’m blessed to be in an area where there are no fewer than four local gaming stores I go to on a fairly regular basis; three of the four had these tiles in stock on opening weekend.
- Visual appeal: all tiles are pre-painted (thank goodness), and when clipped together, they look seamless. These are gorgeous pieces.
- Size: at 168 square inches of floor coverage, the Dungeon I set is just a little under a quarter of the footprint of a Paizo battle map. You won’t be building any megadungeons with this unless you also plan on spending megabucks. The Town & Village set is much smaller at the same price, clocking at 96 inches. The basic dungeon set is about the same cost per square inch of coverage as a pre-painted Dwarven Forge starter set (58-60 cents/square inch).
- In what might be the single-best idea Wizards had, the floor tiles are all two-sided, with one side being stone floors, and the other being wood. This vastly increases the flexibility of the sets, since you can swap floors between town and dungeon options. The fact that the walls clip on, rather than being built in also improves their flexibility.
- The walls are all half-height, with some pieces (windows and doors) rising higher.
- Doorways come in several varieties: external doors that clip to floors, including some double-doors. All external doors open and close. Internal doors slide between floor tiles.
- There are also several internal wall pieces that also slide between floor tiles, which is both a brilliant idea, and lets you create complex internal structures.
- Walls can go in pretty much any square configuration, which means that the square inch-age you get is more flexible than comparison sets.
- Also included in both core sets are columns that clip directly to the walls and can be used to close the awkward gaps that appear any time you’re trying to build out walls for this kind of exercise.
- The walls and floors connect using plastic clips in some cleverly-designed slots in the bases. The sets also come with additional clips to make them compatible with 3D-printed pieces, which
was a big selling point for me. Testing this with OpenLock (my 3D printed tiles of choice), other than a slight difference in color due to the palette I chose for painting my tiles, it works flawlessly, which was a delightful surprise.
- The material is basic plastic, but given the number of times I shot a piece across the room when I tried to awkwardly force a clip in, they stand up pretty well to basic rough-and-tumble play. Don’t barbarian rage and huck them at your players or run over them with a wagon, and you should be fine. The weak points are likely to be the clips, which you can buy additional packs of fairly cheaply.
- Building rooms with these goes fairly fast, but it’s not instant—it took me about an hour to make the piece on the featured image, but compared to hours or days to make your own, that’s lightning fast.
Dungeon Tiles I (10/10, $99.99): If you only get one set, get this one. It’s not fancy, but it lets you do everything you want to do with building out dungeon rooms, and provides a baseline you can add other sets to. This is hands down the best set in the bunch.
Town & Village (9/10, $99.99): probably the neatest-looking set, but it has substantially less floor coverage, and unless you’re doing a lot of indoor battles, it will probably see less use. Interestingly, the lack of floor coverage is due to including two fewer basic floor pieces and not including the larger floor tiles (2X8 and 4X4) in this set that were included in Dungeon Tiles I. I’m not sure what drove this decision, other than potentially materials cost, but it puts this set in a clear “second place,” and is the only reason it doesn’t get 10/10.
Expansion Pack I (7/10, $49.99): This provides more doors, walls, and corners for both the Town & Village set and the Dungeon Tiles I set. It’s a good set, but I’m having a really hard time recommending it. There are no floors, so you’re not improving your coverage with it, and while it includes a lot of pieces that let you do more with the basic sets, at half the cost of one of the full sets, you’re honestly probably better just buying a second starter of the one you’re more likely to use (or saving your money). There’s a pretty narrow use case of “I’m already buying both core sets and want to expand their usefulness” that might make it more worthwhile, so I can’t say “definitely don’t buy this,” but there are probably better options.
Stairs & Ladders (9/10, $49.99): This set includes both stone and wooden stairs, as well as blocks you can use to build out the wooden stairs into various configurations. Remember: all the walls are half-height, so you can’t make multi-level buildings that stack on each other, but these visually work very well together. One nitpick that applies equally well to all the pieces after this: none of the expansion sets other than the basic one connect to the tiles themselves in any way.
Admittedly, making physical objects that can be affixed to other physical objects is really, really hard, and finding ways to maximize their flexibility is even harder. However, given all of the creativity that went into the core sets and making them play together nicely, I was disappointed that basically none of the expansions connect with the basic sets.
Summoning Circles (9/10, $49.99): The core of this accessory pack is an LED panel that activates when you press the center. It has pulsating light and steady light options in green, red, and white settings. There are a set of 5 different stone-textured “skins” available to place over the top of this panel, creating a lot of (ultimately pretty samey) magical circle options. While this set definitely has some “wow” factor, there were a few clear misses here I was disappointed in. First, unique among the floor options, the LED panel doesn’t clip to anything, meaning that if you’re moving around a room with a summoning circle in it, you’re going to have one piece just sort of flopping around loose. Second, the skins don’t attach to the LED panel in any way, either. While they’re flush with other floors, so they likely won’t move around in play, the overall lack of connection points makes this set feel more like an afterthought than a well-considered addition to the set. Finally, and this is a little nitpicky, all of the skins are just variants on “complicated, mystical-looking drawings.” There was a real opportunity here to use the bright LED lights to set up things like glowing obelisks, altars, desks with candles or glowing crystal balls, or any number of other 3D options, and they just…didn’t.
Doors (9/10, $49.99): The doors that aren’t already included in other sets mostly just sit on top of the tiles with a clear acrylic base. The jail doors are very cool, the hidden passageway opens, and the iron portcullis is just the piece to really make a courtyard pop. This is a good set, if not essential.
Dungeon Dressings (7/10, $49.99): This set is just basic internal scatter terrain. Also, this is the set where it becomes the most obvious that this whole exercise is just playing with a dollhouse (which I love about this whole hobby, tbh). There are cheaper and more complete options for scatter terrain though, especially if you paint your own. If you don’t mind spending the money, or if having the terrain pre-painted is worth it to you, there’s nothing wrong with this set. But there’s nothing to particularly recommend it, either.
What I’d like to see in the future.
- Featured community builds/contests: Wizards is already featuring products, encounters, and a ton of other content on D&D Beyond. Adding weekly or monthly contests where DM’s show off the things they’ve built with the WarLock tiles (along with what they used to build them) is a great way to build engagement with the product, while also leveraging community creativity to show off what can be done. Prizes like free tiles should be negligible in terms of expense, but would incentivize users to show off what they’re doing. For DMs who really want to throw things out there other than square room>hallway>square room, this kind of thing would be a gift. For extra credit, something like Lego’s Build Ideas would be amazing.
- Iconic locations/Encounters. Sets for specific locations in past and future scenarios would really capitalize on the fact that Wizards has full creative control and (forgive the soulless corporate speak here), build some enormous brand synergy. I for one would break a land speed record buying a “Yawning Portal” set. They’ve already started down this pathway with some existing scatter terrain sets (see Halaster’s Lab, Jungle Shrine, Elder Brain).
- A floor expansion set. This should be a gimme, especially since Dwarven Forge offers such a set when it’s not sold out. For the love of Lawful Good, the larger floors available in the Dungeon I set should be part of this.
- Rounded/uneven walls and floors. You want square rooms? You’ve got square rooms all day long. You want anything rounded right now, you’re out of luck, neighbor.
- Cavern tiles. Gimme some of that sweet, sweet Underdark action. Velkynvelve, stalagmites, rope bridges over chasms. You get the idea.
Are you thinking of buying the WarLock tiles (or have you already)? Feel like showing off what you’ve built? Please do; I need ideas.
- Finding My Lost Creativity
Just a warning. This post is a bit less structured than my normal posts and is a bit more stream of consciousness. This topic is something that has been on my mind for a while but not something I have a fix for, so I cannot lay out a structured approach of problem and solution.
Rather, today I am going to tell you my problem, what I have done so far, and hopefully, through writing, find what I should do next.
To put it simply, I lost my creativity.
I suspect I am not the only person who lost theirs.
Where Did I Last See It?
Well, this will come as no surprise, it was sometime in early March. You know, before the Pandemic changed everything. I don’t mean to be coy about that, there is nothing coy or funny about what has happened and what is still happening. But before the lockdown, which for me was March 16th 8:15 am (that’s a story for another time), I was doing fine on the creativity front. My creative energies were up, though I was working on a very large project at work, which was taking up a lot of brain-space.
After the lockdown, my creativity was gone. The most likely explanation of this was from something on Facebook that talked about Maslow’s Pyramid which basically said that because my security was at risk, activities like creativity (part of self-actualization) were shut down. I don’t really know if that is true or not, but it was comforting when I read it. It also seemed to make sense at the time. There was fear of catching covid-19, there were shortages of some foods in the grocery store, the uncertainty of how the kids were going to do school, etc.
The first thing I did, and likely the best thing I did for me, was to quickly forgive myself of any creative endeavors. We skipped a few podcast episodes, I stopped working on the game that Encoded was gearing up to put on Kickstarter, another game I was designing with Senda, etc. I took that extra time and allocated it for self-care, which turned out to be a lot of Star Trek, Minecraft, Mario Kart Tour, and TikTok.
To be clear, I understand that is a very privileged thing to do. My day job, which I chose to keep when I started in the industry, was secure and pays for all the necessities. So, I was able to slow down my RPG hustle and care for myself, friends, and family. There are people who are not in that position, and I want to recognize that.
While my creativity was down, my desire to play RPGs was still high. While writing adventures and campaign management did not seem like fun, getting together on Zoom, and playing with my gaming groups did. So I maintained that, by running mostly published material. This was another way to relieve me of having to be highly creative. By using published adventures, and making tweaks along the way, I was engaging in what was the fun part of gaming (at this time) while avoiding the parts that I was not up for.
These two efforts have sustained me for a number of months.
The Creative Itch
Late last month, a number of things in my life started to clear up. The kids were on summer break. My largest project for the year, the one that I was working on in March that got delayed, finally completed. While the pandemic is still raging, here in New York State the curve is currently flattened, and I feel safe taking trips out with my mask on, or even sitting outside with friends (socially distanced, of course).
That is when the itch returned. One day I started to get the urge to make something new. The problem was I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to make. All I knew was that the creative itch was back.
Going back to Maslow’s pyramid, it’s not that I am that much safer than before. While infection rates are down in my area, they are not anywhere else, there is no vaccine, nor any reliable front-line treatments. But here I am looking for something to work on. I also ran into another article online that said that while Maslow’s pyramid is a nice concept, we are capable of working on different levels non-linearly. It explains how art can be made in wartime. Again, I am no expert, but it made sense to me. I am also thinking the universe keeps putting these things out in the world for me to find, as forms of guidance (Thanks Universe).
Finding An Outlet
So now with a creative itch, I could not figure out how to express it. Normally my burst of creativity comes with something to do, something to write, or something to make. But nothing seems interesting.
So at times when I am lost, I fall back to some brainstorming in the form of mind maps. I made a mind map of all the things I could work on. It was not a small number of things, but after a few days of adding to it and reviewing it, I did not find a thing that I wanted to jump into.
So I made a second mind map and started to address why I wanted to do something creative. The idea is that if I knew why I wanted to be creative, as in what would be creatively satisfying, then it might help me find what to work on. This was fruitful in that it showed me what I was currently valuing and not:
Valuing: Problem-solving, creative expression, learning something new, self-enjoyment, external approval of friends.
Not valuing: Making something permanent, feeling relevant in the industry, external approval of strangers, external approval of my peers.
That list is not the same as pre-pandemic. What it tells me is that my urge to be creative is something I want personally, for me. It is not the need to make things for consumption. But it also shows me that these needs change in different situations.
So What Am I Going To Work On?
I am not sure. I think that where I need to look is at things that are not going to be future Encoded products, and rather things I can create for me and my friends. That means I should be working on something that I can share and run for them, without worrying about whether it is publishable, needs licensing, etc.
That does narrow down the field a bit as I continue to look.
My Advice To You
I don’t like to write articles without providing advice to you. So here is what I have learned over the past few months.
- It is normal in these uncertain times to not feel as creative as you once were.
- It is normal to not be interested in the projects and games you were before all this started.
- Be kind to yourself. Do not be down on yourself for where you are and what you are feeling.
- Engage in self-care. Take care of yourself and make sure that you are not only surviving but in the quiet moments between the stresses of life, that you have a bit of enjoyment. A video game, a square of chocolate, cooking a new or favorite meal, enjoying a game with friends.
- Use published material if you are not feeling creative but still want to game.
- When you do start feeling creative, ease back into it.
- Spend some time self-reflecting on what you want out of doing something creative, and then go and find something that matches that as best as possible.
Good luck, take care, and be safe.
- Taking Your Convention Virtual
In March, I was organizing what Angela Murray has labeled a “bespoke artisanal convention.” We were thirty friends planning to spend a weekend in April at an inexpensive hotel playing roleplaying games. One month before the con, we determined that because of COVID-19 concerns, it would not be safe, responsible, or legal to hold our small convention as we had planned. Rather than cancel the event, I asked if the participants would like to play online, and that was what we did. We gathered via Discord, Roll20, Zoom, and the like, and collectively played 18 RPG sessions. It was a strange experience to many of them, who had not roleplayed online before. However, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many saying, “I had a great weekend, and I really needed this.”
Because of COVID-19, meat-space conventions are not safe. There, I said it. Reality bites. Getting together at a typical gaming convention won’t be safe for some time. Depending on how the situation evolves, it may not even be legal to hold your convention. Some organizers are trying to fill the void by “going virtual” and holding their conventions online. The local con I support, U-Con, made the decision in July to transition our November convention to virtual.
There are many possible motivations for doing so. Financial and liability issues aside, there are several reasons to host an online convention. The con organization may wish to maintain their brand for when gamers are able to return in person. The opportunity could be used to raise money for a favored cause or charity. Perhaps most importantly, there are large numbers of gamers out there who had their physical cons cancelled. Attending cons is the highlight of the year for many of us. Some of us are probably willing to try out this online thing in order to get the games we are missing.
While online can’t replace a physical convention, it can replicate some of the experiences we seek at conventions: playing games, meeting those with like interests, meeting creators, experiencing geek culture, and shopping for geek stuff. Whatever reason appeals to you, as the organizer of a convention choosing to go virtual, the major task ahead of you is to educate your attendees on how to run and play in online games.
What Games Work Best?
The most common reason people attend conventions is to play games. There are tens of thousands of different games listed on BoardGameGeek, but not all of them are packaged or workable for online play. Let’s take a look at some common game types and see how they can work online.While online can’t replace a physical convention, it can replicate some of the experiences we seek at conventionsRoleplaying games translate fairly well to the online format. A theater-of-the-mind style game only requires video conferencing software (discussed later) and your imagination. To add some flair to your game, use screensharing to display digital maps and art; just be sure to keep your gamemaster notes hidden. Online gaming veterans might wish to use virtual table top (VTT) tools like Roll20, MapTool, or Fantasy Grounds for an experience complete with character sheets, digital maps, tokens, and virtual dice. Make sure to practice ahead of the actual game session, though, as these tools are both more complicated to set up and sometimes need tech support to operate.
Board games and miniatures will require specific software to run. There are a wide variety of platforms with various capabilities, some devoted to single games while others have vast board game libraries. The costs vary as well, with many platforms hosting free games, and some platforms requiring a purchase either by one or all participants. Where possible, I strongly recommend that gamemasters choose platforms that are free for players to avoid limiting their audience, but if that is not possible, they should explain requirements and costs in their event descriptions. A few well known services are Board Game Arena, Yucata, Happy Meeple, Tabletopia, and Tabletop Simulator.
A few board games exist which have an open board state, meaning little or no hidden information. This set includes abstract games, such as Go and Chess, but also think basic King of Tokyo. For that type of game, it is possible to run a session with a single copy of the game and a web camera, with players making their decisions verbally. I used this method to run Codenames for friends, sharing a photo of the spymaster card with the spymasters as the only secret information in the game. Before you commit to running a game like this, try it out with friends to see if it’s fun in this format. (YMMV, as King of Tokyo happens to be available on Tabletop Simulator, and you actually get to roll the virtual dice.)
One area where a virtual convention can shine is with seminars and panels. Webinar software is a slight variation on typical video conference software which allows the meeting host to control who is unmuted as well as ensuring that side-chat conversations can be moderated. A Twitch stream is also an option for the savvy content provider. A popular guest or discussion panel can easily support hundreds of viewers. A charity game event or online-party game (e.g. Jackbox) could be live-streamed. A webinar or video stream could also be a great method to allow vendors to offer live demos of their games.
The situation where all players attend from the comfort of their homes may introduce new options rarely seen onsite at gaming conventions. There is a substantial overlap between tabletop gamers and video gamers. Have you ever considered hosting a meetup inside a MMORPG? Maybe you’ll get 5 people, or maybe you’ll get 50. The crafty gamemaster who might organize such an event should consider how the players would be entertained – e.g. going on a certain quest or raiding a particular dungeon.
Meat-space vs Virtual: How Does the Experience Differ?
Running a game online comes with a different set of challenges and requires a different skill set than running a game in person. Each gamemaster should decide what games and platforms they are comfortable with. Depending on the game, your choice of platforms may be limited. Regardless of the technology, gamemasters should practice using these tools ahead of time and be prepared to do some minor troubleshooting with their players. Do NOT try to figure out these tools in the moment. Experienced online gamemasters make it look easy, but it is a skill that is acquired through practice (and learning from misfires).
Most games will require some sort of videoconferencing. Luckily (or perhaps not so luckily), over the past few months many people have become far more familiar and more comfortable with videoconferencing. These tools are widely available and generally easy to use. Google Meet and Discord are free to end users. Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting are also good options, but they require one participant (in our case the gamemaster) to have access to a paid account.
Participants will generally need a low-end computer, internet access, speakers or headphones, and a microphone. The microphone embedded in a laptop can do in a pinch, but a $20-50 headset goes a long way if one has the cash. Using headphones or a headset rather than speakers will also reduce instances of audio feedback. If you are comfortable with it, I also suggest using a web camera to show your shiny face and communicate with gestures (nice ones, hopefully). Visual cues are particularly helpful for indicating who wants to talk and providing clues that a player is distracted or bored. Some game software may require a moderately powered computer to run graphics, so gamemasters should be encouraged to provide (simplified) system requirements to their players at the same time they provide platform and connection information.
As with any form of widely distributed technology, there is going to be someone who has trouble with it. As a convention organizer, you are going to need to decide whose job it is to help your attendees troubleshoot those problems. Is it the individual gamemaster’s job to support their players? Or do you have a dedicated support person available. That is something each con will have to decide. In the case of the 30-person con I described above, we were able to test out audio and video a week ahead of the conference, making the actual weekend a smooth experience for all.
Whatever you choose, it is a good idea to ask for the patience of your players when dealing with their own technology issues and those of others. Disruptions are far more likely than with a face-to-face event. Problems can range from interrupting children (and pets) to lag or disconnection, and software issues could bring the game to a halt. Such interruptions can become very frustrating, and nobody likes having their time wasted. During video conferences, be particularly courteous to your fellow players, try not to interrupt, and use longer pauses when you finish speaking. As with physical games, gamemasters should act as moderators to ensure that everyone is having fun. Remember that we are all there to play games, and it is incumbent upon all participants to make their games a positive experience for all to the extent possible. A little patience with the technology, or your frazzled gamemaster, will go a long way.
How Does the Con Differ Functionally?
Some of my favorite in-person conventions support the concept of generic tickets. The idea is that you can sit down at an empty seat and start playing. When the games involve video conferencing links and virtual tabletops, it is not a simple matter to accommodate players who haven’t signed up. While theoretically that could be organized via a Discord server, it’s probably a challenge to manage, and not necessary for a functioning con. It’s a lot easier to manage players when game tickets are reserved ahead of time and video conference and platform information is passed to the players in advance, ideally through your game ticketing system.
There is no question that the online experience is not a perfect replacement for a physical convention. The cost of the attending should reflect that. Remember that attendees and gamemasters might need to purchase software or services just to play some events; they don’t need ticket fees on top of that. A free, cheap, or pay-what-you-want event will earn goodwill from the attendees, who will feel less pressure to make sure their money is well spent. That is doubly true in this economy, where many gamers are between jobs and the games industry itself is hurting. The costs of running a convention online are non-zero, but comparably low, so cover them with a low entry fee if needed. If your organization can afford it, consider donating the rest of your proceeds to a charity or cause. There are many great charities out there, supporting those unable to work with food or cash in this particular time of need. If nothing else, keep your first virtual convention affordable until you work out all the kinks.
A virtual vendor hall is another idea to consider. The game industry is particularly hard hit by the economy. Your game convention typically supports the industry by connecting creators and retailers to customers. A virtual vendor hall would facilitate such connection without the physical presence. Vendors will want a place to show off their wares, possibly directing customers to their regular online storefronts. Gamers will want a means to browse or connect with individual stores. Hosted demo events or streams provide content as well as advertising opportunities. Like many gamers, vendors are hard hit by the economy so, if possible, enable the participation of vendors with free or low-cost options. Provide them with Discord channels, promotional messages, and support for running demos. They will remember when you treat them well, and hopefully support your con in the future.
Any Final Advice?
Online games cannot fully replace the experience of being at a convention. However, through its usage of tools, the virtual convention can provide a means to facilitate meeting friends, old and new. Consider hosting a Discord server for your gamers for a social interaction outlet. Provide them with topic-based chat and video conference rooms, and offer your content-provider groups their own channels. Put events on your schedule specifically for socializing, perhaps late at night or between big events. Make sure such gatherings they are moderated, as any policies about behavior that apply at your physical convention should apply to your virtual convention as well.
We’re all tired of dealing with the plague and its fallout. We all miss seeing our con friends and learning new games. Let’s make the best with what we have and provide a virtual experience. Your challenge is to show your audience that online games are fun, can work, and can give everyone some of the experiences that keep them attending cons. With a little bit of convincing, plus some guidance and support, your loyal followers will be willing to test the virtual waters with you.Read more »
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- Zone-based Combat in D&D
D&D is a game of action and high adventure yet sometimes we lose the sense of wonder and excitement when we fall into the minutia of the mechanics. We also may want a combat system that doesn't require a battle map to play. Zone-based combat helps us maintain the fast pace and bold excitement of D&D without requiring a 5-foot-per-square grid.
This implementation of grid-based combat is loosely based on the zone-based combat systems in Fate Condensed by Evil Hat Games, Forbidden Rules by Robert Schwalb, and 5e Hardcore Mode by Runehammer Games.
Implementing Zone-based Combat in D&D
Here's a quick summary for using zone-based combat in D&D.
- If a combat area is bigger than 30 feet square, break up the combat area into "zones" with in-world names such as "blood-iron throne dias" or "pillars of fallen heroes". If you need only one zone you don't need to define it.
- Write down zone names on 3x5 cards, in a text-based list for online play, or as big areas on a battle map so everyone can see them.
- On their turn, characters can move anywhere within a zone or move from one zone to another.
- Assume characters are not within threatening reach of an enemy unless they were attacked by that enemy with a melee attack.
- Ranged attacks can hit someone within the same zone or in an adjacent zone. If they were attaked by an enemy with a melee attack, we assume they're within 5 feet of that enemy and thus have disadvantage on ranged attacks.
- Adjudicate specific situations as the come up in gameplay. Base your decision on what makes sense in the situation and favor the character when possible.
- Assume characters move and act smartly. They will avoid obvious hazards or unneeded opportunity attacks. Don't surprise the players with gotchas.
- For areas of effect, adjudicate the number of potentially effected targets using the rules on page 247 of the Dungeon Master's Guide or using these basic rules: small area = 2, medium area = 3, large area = 4, very large area = 8+.
A Flexible System for Many Different Types of Gameplay
This zone-based approach for D&D combat works with all types of combat styles including elaborate 3D terrain, beautiful pre-printed battle maps, online play with or without a virtual tabletop, hand-drawn maps, a stack of 3x5 cards, a dry-erase flip map, or even pure theater of the mind play. Whatever combat system you use, whatever accessories you enjoy, this zone-based approach works well.
Inspirational Zone Names
Use inspirational in-world zone names with clear hooks the players can grab onto to make things exciting and fun. Here are ten inspirational zone names intended to inspire players to leap into the action:
- Large crumbling statues
- Boiling oil pit
- Spiked throne
- Precarious rope bridge
- Cracked elemental sarcophagus
- Bottomless pit
- Burning Unholy Altar
- Advantageous Overlook
- Lightning-infused monolith
- Ancient portal to the eighth hell
If the players need some motivation to use these effects, offer them suggestions and perhaps offer them inspiration if they're willing to take a chance at some danger. Motivate them to take risks.
Handling Edge Cases
Because D&D uses specific 5 foot distances, there are situations that don't fit well into a zone-based approach. The main solution is for the DM to adjudicate such situations as they come up. In general, DMs adjudicate towards what makese sense for the situation and lean in favor the characters.
Character With Extra Movement
Some characters move faster than others such as wood elves, monks, and rogues. When we abstract distances with zones, it takes away from the advantages of playing with these characters. What good is it if a monk gains an extra 5 feet of movement if we're not bothering to play in 5 foot squares?
First, we have to ask, how important is that extra movement really? How often would it come up when we do play on a 5 foot per square grid? For some, like the monk and rogue, it can come up often. They get whole piles of extra movement, not just 5 feet.
For those characters who get entire extra move actions, we can use a nice simple guideline:
Most characters can move within a zone or from one zone to another. Monks and rogues, however, can jump two whole zones if they want to.
For an example, we might have a battle on a three-decked ship. Normal characters can move from one deck to another. Monks and rogues can move from any deck to any other.
As far as the extra 5 or 10 feet of movement that some characters have over another, we have to ask our players to accept that we're rounding that off in order to focus on the bigger and more heroic elements of the battle. You can also go with one of my favorites: "you would have been 10 feet short of your goal but since you're an elf, you made it!" That aways gets a narrowed-eyed harumph.
Adjudicating Areas of Effect
When we put a map down, fill it up with miniatures, and begin to run combat; we're bound to come to the discussion of how many targets—friends or foes—can fit in the area. Our best approach to this is to let the players know up front what they should expect from a spell's area to begin with.
The Dungeon Master's Guide outlines rules for this on page 247. We abstracted this further in our Guidelines for Theater of the Mind Combat into four categories: small areas (2), medium areas (3) large areas (4), and huge areas (8+). That's the starting guideline but circumstances can move that number up or down.
Opportunity Attacks and Sentinels
Opportunity attacks have been in the game even before the game focused on 5 foot squares. Though we may not have a specific visualization to recognize opportunity attacks, we can figure them out easily enough with some simple guidelines:
- If a character was attacked by an enemy with a melee attack, they're within that enemy's threatening reach. This means disadvantage on ranged attacks or taking an opportunity attack if they try to move away.
- If certain creatures are blocking access to another creature, such as a pair of iron golems blocking access to a lich, we can assume the iron golems will get opportunity attacks if someone tries to run past them to get to the lich.
Most of all, we assume creatures move smartly to avoid opportunity attacks when they can. Don't surprise players with an opportunity attack. The players can't see the situation the same way their characters can. Describe the risks and let the player choose what to do.
On the DM side, we should feel free to have monsters provoke opportunity attacks. It's great fun for players and we always have more monsters.
What about feats like sentinel? Again, we can fall back to the players intent. Ask them what they want to do and then set up the situation so they can do it. This is a fundamental principle for running theater-of-the-mind combat along with running combat with zones.
Focusing on High Adventure
Our overall goal when using abstract battle maps is to break away from the minutia of miniature wargaming and bring the focus back to the fast action and high adventure of our roleplaying game. Beyond being useful aids to ensure players share a common view of the battle, detailed battle maps and miniatures can be a wonderful rich part of this game we love. By abstracting distances while using physical maps, we can get the best of both worlds: detailed physical battle areas with beautiful miniatures and the high adventure we love best in D&D.
This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.Read more »
In previous articles on Sly Flourish I wrote about the value of randomness in our D&D games and offered random tables to help inspire your own adventures such as those in the Lazy DM's Workbook, Random Lists for Adventure Inspiration, and 1d100 Eberron Factions. This last one is intended to fuel other random tables you find either in the links above or in the Dungeon Master's Guide. With a 1d100 faction table you can tie in-world lore to the objects and locations directly in front of the characters. Each object in the world can teach them a little bit of lore or tie together major world plotlines one dirt-covered coin at a time.
Today we have 1d100 factions for the Forgotten Realms. The Forgotten Realms is vast. There's probably more like 1,000 factions. This list, however, covers much of what you'd find in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, this edition's slimmed down sourcebook for the Forgotten Realms.
Like other 1d100 tables, you can use the items on this list to build your own more refined list that fits the campaign you're telling and what information helps push that campaign forward. A Tyranny of Dragons campaign may benefit from a refined 1d20 list that includes more factions focused on and around that campaign. As the characters dig around they find clues that point to other elements tangential to the campaign.
Each faction includes a symbol that the characters might find while uncovering the secret and clue about this faction.
Without further ado, here are 1d100 Forgotten Realms factions. You can also download a PDF of 1d100 Forgotten Realms factions to add to your DM kit.
|1||Akadi||Goddess of air. (Cloud)|
|2||Amaunator||God of the sun. (Golden sun)|
|3||Asmodeus||God of indulgence. (Three inverted triangles arranged in a long triangle)|
|4||Auril||Goddess of winter. (Six-pointed snowflake)|
|5||Azuth||God of wizardry. (Left hand pointing upward, outlined in fire)|
|6||Bane||God of tyranny. (Upright black hand, thumb and fingers together)|
|7||Beshaba||Goddess of misfortune. (Black antlers)|
|8||Bhaal||God of murder. (Skull surrounded by ring of bloody droplets)|
|9||Chauntea||Goddess of agriculture. (Sheaf of grain or a blooming rose over grain)|
|10||Cyric||God of lies. (White jawless skull on black or purple sunburst)|
|11||Deneir||God of writing. (Lit candle above an open eye)|
|12||Eldath||Goddess of peace. (Waterfall plunging into a still pool)|
|13||Gond||God of craft. (Toothed cog with four spokes)|
|14||Grumbar||God of earth. (Mountain)|
|15||Gwaeron Windstrom||God of tracking. (Paw print with a five-pointed star in its center)|
|16||Helm||God of watchfulness. (Staring eye on upright left gauntlet)|
|17||Hoar||God of revenge and retribution. (A coin with a two-faced head)|
|18||Ilmater||God of endurance. (Hands bound at the wrist with red cord)|
|19||Istishia||God of water. (Wave)|
|20||Jergal||Scribe of the dead. (A skull biting a scroll)|
|21||Kelemvor||God of the dead. (Upright skeletal arm holding balanced scales)|
|22||Kossuth||God of fire. (Flame)|
|23||Lathander||God of dawn and renewal. (Road traveling into a sunrise)|
|24||Leira||Goddess of illusion. (Point-down triangle containing a swirl of mist)|
|25||Lliira||Goddess of joy. (Triangle of three six-pointed stars)|
|26||Loviatar||Goddess of pain. (Nine-tailed barbed scourge)|
|27||Malar||God of the hunt. (Clawed paw)|
|28||Mask||God of thieves. (Black mask)|
|29||Mielikki||Goddess of forests. (Unicorn's head)|
|30||Milil||God of poetry and song. (Five-stringed harp made of leaves)|
|31||Myrkul||God of death. (White human skull)|
|32||Mystra||Goddess of magic. (Circle of seven stars, nine stars encircling a flowing red mist, or a single star)|
|33||Oghma||God of knowledge. (Blank scroll)|
|34||The Red Knight||Goddess of strategy. (Red knight lanceboard piece with stars for eyes)|
|35||Savras||God of divination and fate. (Crystal ball containing many kinds of eyes)|
|36||Selune||Goddess of the moon. (Pair of eyes surrounded by seven stars)|
|37||Shar||Goddess of darkness and loss. (Black disk encircled with a purple border)|
|38||Silvanus||God of wild nature. (Oak leaf)|
|39||Sune||Goddess of love and beauty. (Face of a beautiful red-haired woman)|
|40||Talona||Goddess of poison and disease. (Three teardrops in a triangle)|
|41||Talos||God of storms. (Three lightning bolts radiating from a point)|
|42||Tempus||God of war. (Upright flaming sword)|
|43||Torm||God of courage and self-sacrifice. (White right gauntlet)|
|44||Tymora||Goddess of good fortune. (Face-up coin)|
|45||Tyr||God of justice. (Balanced scales resting on a warhammer)|
|46||Umberlee||Goddess of the sea. (Wave curling left and right)|
|47||Valkur||Northlander god of sailors. (A cloud and three lightning bolts)|
|48||Waukeen||Goddess of trade. (Upright coin with Waukeen's profile facing left)|
|49||Harpers||Network of spies who advocate equality and covertly oppose the abuse of power. (Silver harp)|
|50||Order of the Gauntlet||Clerics and paladins sworn to destroy evil in the world. (Iron gauntlet holding a sword)|
|51||Zhentarim (new)||Mercenary company known as the black network. (Winged serpent)|
|52||Emerald Enclave||Druids and others who believe in nature's preservation Horned stag over green.|
|53||Lord's Alliance||Organization of leaders of the Sword Coast. (A crown over gold and orange)|
|54||Cult of the Dragon (original)||Cult aiming to transform dragons into dracolichs. (Eyes within flame above a bone dragon claw)|
|55||Cult fo the Dragon (new)||Cult aiming to return Tiamat to Faerun. (Five slashes across a dragon's profile)|
|56||Netheril||Ancient human magocracy of great power. (Floating city)|
|57||Abolethic Sovereignty||Aboleths who resided in Faerun for millions of years. (Black swirling glyphs within a circle)|
|58||Neverwinter||City of corruption in the northern Sword Coast. (Eye with three droplets below)|
|59||Waterdeep||largest city in Faerun on the Sword Coast. (Crescent moon over water on blue)|
|60||Baldur's Gate||Corrupt city of southern Faerun. (Ship and castle on blue)|
|61||Silverymoon||Jewel of the North and capital of Silver Marches. (Crescent moon and star on blue)|
|62||Gauntlgrym||Ancient dwarven city and capital of the Delzoun dwarves. (Stern dwarven face)|
|63||Mithral Hall||Northern dwarven city. (Tankard)|
|64||Delzoun||Ancient dwarves of the sword coast and the north. (Stern dwarven face)|
|65||Myth Drannor||Ancient elven city of central Faerun.|
|66||Shadowdale||Small town in the center of the Dalelands and home to Elminster. (Moon over a white tower)|
|67||Menzoberranzan||City of the drow and throne of the spider queen in Faerun. (Spider over a diamond)|
|68||Evermeet||Island paradise of the elves.|
|69||Many-arrows||Empire of orcs in the north. (Five arrows pointed up)|
|70||Moonshaes||Islands with the Ffolk and an elf offshoot known as the Llewyr. (A silver bear on its hind legs)|
|71||Mantol-Derith||Trading post between the surface and the underdark.|
|72||Amn||A city of wealthy dynasties and trade. (Lady's profile over gold)|
|73||Thay||Magocracy of the Red Wizards. (Eight orbeting orbs over a bolting spark)|
|74||Calimshan||City of former slaves under genie masters. (Diagnal stripes across a golden sphere)|
|75||Halruaa||Returned magocracy of skyships and earthmotes. (Three rings of silver on red)|
|76||Zhentil Keep||Powerful city of the Zhentarim (old). (Black dragon holding a golden sphere)|
|77||Zhentarim (old)||Army led by the Manshoon and Fzoul Chembryl. (Black dragon behind golden sphere)|
|78||Darkhold||Former giant citadel of the Zhentarim (old). (Tower on a mountain)|
|79||Iqua'Tel'Quessir||The creator races; reptilian, avian, and amphibian rulers of Faerun 10,000+ years ago.|
|80||Aryvandaar||Sun elf kingdom that fell during the Fifth Crown War.|
|81||Beselmir||Dwarven realm in hills of the valley of the River Dessarin 6,000 years ago. (Wheel over a plow)|
|82||Miyeritar||Drow empire in northwestern Faerun, destroyed 13K years ago. (Dancing drow over full moon)|
|83||Illefarn||Elven city-state that was founded during the First Flowering in -22,900 DR .|
|84||Aelinthaldaar||Capital of Illefarn, ancient elven civilization in northwest Faerun where Waterdeep stands now.|
|85||Eaerlann||Elven kingdom in the valley of the Delimbiyr River. (Green tree with golden leaves)|
|86||Abbathor||God of greed. (Jeweled dagger, point-down)|
|87||Clangeddin Silverbeard||God of war. (Crossed silver battleaxes)|
|88||Deep Duerra||Duergar goddess of conquest and psionics. (Mind flayer skull)|
|89||Dumathoin||God of buried secrets. (Mountain silhouette with a central gemstone)|
|90||Moradin||God of creation. (Hammer and anvil)|
|91||Corellon Larethian||God of art and magic. (Crescent moon)|
|92||Sehanine Moonbow||Goddess of divination. (Full moon under a moonbow)|
|93||Gruumsh||God of storms and war. (Unblinking eye)|
|94||Yondalla||Goddess of fertility and protection. (Cornucopia on a shield)|
|95||Eilistraee||Goddess of song and moonlight. (Dancing drow female silhouetted against the full moon)|
|96||Lolth||Goddess of spiders. (Spider)|
|97||Tiamat||Goddess of dragons. (Five-headed dragon)|
|98||Uthgardt||Barbarian tribes of the Sword Coast.|
|99||Reghed||Barbarian tribes of the north.|
|100||Ascalhorn||Former citadel of the Eaerlann elves, now known as Hellgate Keep.|
This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.Read more »
Since all of my in-person games have moved online in 2020 I've become fascinated with the best practices for playing D&D online. While there are many solutions out there, I've found that playing D&D over Discord offered the easiest setup for players and the easiest prep and play time for me as the dungeon master.
I've been running combat almost exclusively in the theater of the mind while playing online. Online programs like Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds offer excellent virtual tabletops for online play and many groups love and swear by these tools. I find they take more work than I'm willing to put in as a lazy dungeon master. I like things simple. I'll take screen captures of Dyson maps and paste them into the text chat of Discord instead of using a virtual tabletop. This style isn't for everyone but it works well for me.
In pure theater of the mind combat it's easy for players to lose track of what's going on. Who is where? Who is next to who? How many are left? Who is grouped up? How many can I hit with grease? Can I reach them with a move action? These questions must be constantly and continually addressed by the players and the DM during theater of the mind combat. It removes agency from the players and that can be frustrating.
Abstract maps are an excellent way to handle these questions and still keep the flexibility and fluidity of theater of the mind combat. There isn't a great way to do this in my Discord-only style of online play however.
Until my wife and I came up with the following idea: text-based battle maps.
What if you could visualize combat in D&D using only text? What would that look like? How could it work? It works if we think about combat not on a 2d grid but in a one dimensional line. For a great example of one-dimensional combat, take a look at the excellent computer RPG Darkest Dungeon. Here's what combat in Darkest Dungeon looks like.
Combat is all in a line with front-line combatants and back-line combatants. We can simulate this style of combat in a simple text list that we paste into Discord's text channel so people can get a general idea where they're positioned.
We can also use Fate-style zones to identify specific locations if there are more than one in a single battle. Let's look at an example.
A Quick Example of Text-based Combat
When we write out a one-dimensional battle map in text, it looks like this:
**Eastern Doorway** Iron Mohawk Animated Armor 12 _Sabre_ Brass Animated Armor 16 _Banner_ --- **Northern Hallway** One-eye Gnoll 4 Purple Fur Gnoll 4 _Shane_ --- **Southern Doorway** _Arwin_ _Zarantyr_ _Shift_
When this Markdown text is rendered in Discord, it looks like this:
Iron Mohawk Animated Armor 12
Brass Animated Armor 16
One-eye Gnoll 4
Purple Fur Gnoll 4
Our Markdown text lets us bold locations and italicizing characters. We separate "zones" with a "---" which represents a distance of about 20 to 30 feet or so, about a move action. Characters grouped up in a single location are considered within 5 to 10 feet of one another and can generally move around within that zone without taking an opportunity attack. Areas of effect can hit some number of creatures within a zone depending on the size and the situation.
DMs can keep this text-based battle map in a text editor outside of Discord and use it to track damage and status effects. As the battle moves on they update it and re-paste it into Discord so everyone can see the current situation.
Here's another example with a whole ton of crawling claws. We can group up a lot of monsters into a single group with a "Nx" where N is the number of monsters.
50x Crawling Claws
25x Crawling Claws
25x Crawling Claws
We can use some simplified horde rules to run a battle like this. For example, we can assume about one in five crawling claws hit when they attack or save when hit with an area of effect.
Here's a battle in which the characters are surrounded by trolls.
We can use the character positioning to determine who's in the middle of the group (Hadrian and Odelle) and who's outside waiting to face the oncoming trolls (Lux and Cratash).
Markdown Map Syntax
These one-dimensional text-based battle maps use the following Markdown-based syntax:
- Player characters are italicized by wrapping them in underscores "_".
- Locations are bolded with a pair of asterisks "**".
- Three dashes (---) represent distance between groups or locations. Each set of dashes represents a distance of around 15 to 30 feet; generally the distance a character can move on a turn. Each additional set of dashes is another 15 to 30 feet, another move.
- Creatures within one location are generally considered within 5 to 10 feet of one another. They can generally move around within the location without taking an opportunity attack but may take an opportunity attack if moving to another location.
- Groups of monsters can be represented with "Nx" before their name where N is the number of monsters (example 6x Kobolds).
- Damage inflicted to one monster or a group can be denoted with a number at the end of the monster's name (One-eyed gnoll 7). We can account for hordes this way by removing one monster from the group when the damage is equal to the hit points of a single monster in the group (14x skeletons 7).
- Status effects can be put at the front of a creature's name like "S" for sleep, "P" for prone, or "H" for hypnotized. You don't need a full key for this, just use the first letter of the effect and people will figure it out. You can also just write out the effect like "(Sleep)" or "(Hypnotized)".
The Character Marching Order
Our simplest group representation can represent the marching order of the characters. Here's the example marching order for a group of characters.
We can keep this in our text editor and paste it and pin it in Discord so everyone knows who is where while exploring. When the characters get attacked, we add monster names to the top of the list. Here our group ran into a pair of ogres.
If the characters split up into multiple groups with distance between them, we can split up the group and note the locations of the area. Here's a single-room example where the party is all together.
We can assume that any character directly above or below a creature is considered within 5 feet. It's likely that the second one down is also within 5 feet. Thus either animated armor can attack either Banner or Sabre but not Shane, Xi, Shift, or Zarantier. Characters can move around to offer more attacks. We can assume that creatures can move around in the list to surround their foes. If they move two slots away from an enemy, they likely take an opportunity attack. Here the animated armors have waded in to get to the middle line:
Now the second animated armor can likely hit Xi and Shane. Perhaps the back-line characters wanted to get away from the animated armors. We can represent this with distance by separating groups with "---". We assume this represents roughly 25 feet; enough to traverse with a move.
This sets up a second group of characters with distance between them and the first group. The animated armors can't get to Xi, Shift, or Zarantier without taking opportunity attacks from Banner, Sabre, and Shane.
Using Locations as "Zones"
With this style of combat representation we can separate specific locations in an area. Each location is its own "zone", a roughly 25 foot square area. Some battle areas will have multiple locations. Generally, while moving, characters can move around within a zone or move from one zone to another. We use location names to give players an in-game representation of the location of their characters. Here's an example of a situation with three zones:
Northern Vault Doorway
One gnoll is flying about 60 feet away from the northern door on a flying disc. Two other gnolls left their discs and are on the docks about 25 feet away from the northern door. The characters are all at the northern door in their marching order.
As combat moves forward, characters and creatures will move from one zone to another. Some characters will move up and engage the gnolls on the docks. The gnoll on the disc is hit with a blast that knocks him off his disc and down onto the towers of Sharn a thousand feet below. Now the battle looks like this:
Northern Vault Doorway
As the battle moves on we edit our text version of the markdown map in a text editor and paste it back into Discord to show the current situation. Copying and pasting from our text editor to Discord is fast and easy.
We can use a series of "---"s to represent even longer distances. Let's say a gnoll sniper on a flying disc is purposefully staying away from the group:
Northern Vault Doorway
The gnoll on the further flying disc is 50 to 60 feet way or so in this representation. Hard to reach, particularly when flying through the air.
Player-Identified Monster Characteristics
When we first start out we can define monsters by their generic name like "shadowfey skeleton". When a character first inflicts damage to them we can ask the player to define a notable physical characteristic of that enemy to define them better within the context of the game. This is a great way to get the players into the fiction of the game and better define targets for other players. When the player identifies such a characteristic we can rename the monster in our text-based battle map and paste it into the text chat so everyone can see it. After a few rounds of combat, our map might look like this:
Loop-Earring Gnoll 7
One-eyed Gnoll 11
Northern Vault Doorway
As a DM, we already need some way to track monster damage. We can use this same text-based battle map to track damage and can let our players know how much has been inflicted. The example above shows that the loop-earring gnoll has taken 7 damage and the one-eyed gnoll has taken 11.
If we want to get fancy and run large numbers of monsters, we can group monsters together in a single line of text and track damage done to the whole group. Every time the group takes enough damage to kill a single monster, we remove one of the monsters. Here the characters are getting attacked by a horde of skeletons:
16x Skeletons 7
25x Crawling Claws
25x Crawling Claws
Instead of rolling dice for all of these monster hordes, we can use our horde rules and assume that one-in-four of them succeeds on an attack or saving throw. If they're particularly weak, this might be one-in-five to one-in-ten instead.
Adjudicating Areas of Effect
We can use the representation of zones and groups to help adjudicate areas of effect. In this example, two gnolls are grouped up at the aerial dock:
Shane Husk moves up to the aerial dock and targets the two gnolls with thunder wave, potentially sending them off the edge and into the night air above Sharn. One of them fails and is sent soaring. The other held his ground but took six damage. Now it looks like this:
Hang On with a Loose Grip
This text-based battle map isn't intended to be a perfect representation of what is going on. It's a loose and general representation. Both you and your players need to hang onto this with a loose grip. Keep it flexible, use your verbal descriptions to clarify the situation, and change it as needed. Don't get too wrapped around the "rules" for this battle map. It's imperfect. Treat it thusly.
A Quick, Flexible, and Imperfect Tactical Solution
For players seeking the full tactical experience that 5e can offer with a two-dimensional grid, this isn't going to give it to them. You can mimic some level of tactics with this system. Who is within 5 feet of who, who is grouped up, who is in what location, how far away is someone; that sort of thing can be generally represented but that's not the same as seeing how many skeletons you can hit with a fireball template on a 2d grid.
The intent of this simplified text-based combat map is to help players get a general feel for the situation in a battle while running narrative theater-of-the-mind-style combat. It's meant to be fast, simple, easy, and usable in just about any text-chat (although the Markdown rendering in Discord helps). It doesn't solve every solution for representing combat but it serves well where it serves.
Try it out and see what you think.
This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.Read more »