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  • Explore Kyoto as a Kitten, Fit Cats into Packs, and Evolve as a Species in Nature

    by W. Eric Martin

    Most of the comments I've read about the 2023 train game Arabella ask why a kitten is on the cover when the gameplay focuses on track-building and share-holding. The publisher explains that the kitten is intended to represent how easy the game is to learn, but any cat lover who picks up this title is in for a surprise since the gameplay does not involve kaiju cats demolishing railroads.


    Let me instead recommend that fans of felines check out one of the games listed below instead, each of which features cats in their gameplay, starting with Kyoto no Neko, a 2-4 player design from Cédric Millet that French publisher Matagot will release at SPIEL Essen 24:
    In Kyoto no Neko, 2 to 4 players are kittens who explore the modern-day city of Kyoto, Japan through a series of independent, replayable scenarios. In each scenario, players must fulfill a variety of missions, from befriending a school boy to fighting an aggressive stray cat, or stealing the food from other player's dinner bowl. Throughout the game, each player will evolve, developing their skills and gaining the ability to explore new parts of the map by climbing on bushes and rooftops.


    Using a system of skills, Kyoto no Neko will see each player interact with some of Kyoto's inhabitants, both animal and human. Each turn provides the opportunity to uncover something new about the city as players will reveal elements from little insects to specific objects or denizens of Kyoto. While some of these elements are represented by cardboard tiles, others come as standees, ensuring a stunning visual presence.

    In a press release announcing the game, Millet writes, "I wanted to give everyone the chance to embody a kitten in a condensed experience of exploration and skill development, based on a role-playing mechanic in which every dice roll has a positive outcome. (You succeed or you learn!) The game lets you experience the sensations of a kitten's life by performing the full variety of typically feline activities (at least a new one in each scenario); I hope it will delight cat fans of all ages!" Now that sounds like a full feline experience!

    • Speaking of "neko", in August 2024 the balancing game Nekojima from David Carmona, Karen Nguyen, and Unfriendly Games will become available in the U.S. courtesy of distributor Hachette Boardgames. An overview of this 1-5 player game:
    In Nekojima, "The Island of Cats" in Japan, an electricity network is developing to supply the various lively districts of the island. The installation of electric poles becomes more complex due to the narrowness of the territory and its curious population of cats strolling on the cables.

    Nekojima is a wooden game of skill and dexterity in which you have to keep an entire installation in balance. Players take turns placing or stacking denchuu — 電柱, or electrical poles — respecting the locations without any hanging cables touching. Be careful not to be the one to bring down the structure. This game requires reflection, concentration and skill.

    David Carmona schools me in a demo at SPIEL Essen 23
    —In competition, the player who knocks down the structure loses.
    —In co-operation, the goal is to go as far as possible.

    • Designer Tobias Hall is crowdfunding the tile-laying game Cat Packs through the end of April 2024, with the goal of debuting the game at SPIEL Essen 24 from his own All Or None Games:
    Cat Packs is a fast-paced card game in which you'll cleverly put together the cat gang of your most whimsical dreams! The game includes over one hundred unique illustrated cats by artist Liselotte Eriksson.


    On each turn, players draft a new cat from the alley and use resources to play out cards from their hand to add to their cat pack. All cats have different requirements and benefits, but not all cats fit well together, so players must carefully consider their positions. The goal of the game is to earn the most "catshine", which players receive by collecting sets of five cat types, surrounding certain cards with other cards, matching corners of four cards together in a catshine symbol, or winning the power struggle taking place after each round!


    Who doesn't want to give a good home to a rough-and-tumble meowboy who needs a blanket to snuggle under?

    • Do robotic cats count for this post? Let's say yes so that I can include Cyber Pet Quest, a design by Brendan Kendrick and Bernie Lin of Dead Alive Games that they are crowdfunding in April 2024, with plans for early sales at Gen Con 2024 in August. Here's an overview:
    Embark on a thrilling adventure with Jane, a fully bionic cat, and her cybernetically enhanced friends: Clay the dog, Freya the raccoon, and Roman the goose. Join this eclectic team as they set out to find Jane's missing owner, Howard, in the intra-apocalyptic city of San Lazaro. With its diverse and immersive locations and a quirky cast of enemies, this metropolis will keep you on the edge of your seat. As you delve deeper into the city, you'll need to flex your tactical muscles and harness the pets' array of unique abilities and powerful items to succeed in your quest. Will you uncover the truth behind Howard's disappearance and guide Jane to her missing owner? Your choices will determine the outcome.


    Designed for 1-4 players, Cyber Pet Quest is played as a multi-chapter campaign. Taking the roles of the four pets, players investigate and interact with the environment, complete chapter objectives, gain power items and charms, and outsmart the enemies who are trying to stop them. The campaign has twelve chapters in a branching format so that players can play the full game multiple times to see the different branching stories.

    • Should you care more for big cats, along with many more animals of a non-cat nature, turn your eyes to, um, Nature, a Dominic Crapuchettes design that publisher NorthStar Game Studio plans to release in August 2025 following a 2024 Kickstarter campaign.


    Nature is an evolution of Evolution, which the then-named North Star Games released in 2014, with that game being a Crapuchettes co-design with Dmitry Knorre and Sergey Machin, who were responsible for the 2010 title Evolution: The Origin of Species. Over the years, North Star evolved Evolution into the standalone games Evolution: Climate, Evolution: The Beginning, and Oceans, and now it's being transformed once again.

    The gameplay of Nature resembles that of earlier games, with players experiencing an ecosystem in which food is scarce and predators are ready to eat you...although sometimes you're the predator looking for that scarce food. You can adapt your species to the environment by playing traits like fast to evade predators, nesting to grow your population, and climbing to reach fruit high above ground.

    Nature will have five thematic modules — Jurassic, Flight, Natural Disasters, Arctic Tundra, and Amazon Rainforest — available at launch, and you can use 0-3 of them in a game to modify (or not) its length and complexity. As Crapuchettes writes:
    The base game, Nature, is a meaty filler that is can be taught and played in 45 minutes. Each expansion will change core rules to dramatically affect the emotional feel of the game and the strategy:

    —Add one expansion for a 60-minute game that's roughly the complexity of Evolution.
    —Add two expansions for a 90-minute game that's roughly the complexity of Climate.
    —Add three expansions for a 120-minute game that's roughly the complexity of Terraforming Mars

    NorthStar is polling to determine which modules to release in 2026, and it welcomes playtesters who want to help see how everything fits together.

    Evolution in action Read more »
  • Take Your Place as a Knight of the Round Table, and Confront the Outer Gods in Imperial Rome

    by W. Eric Martin

    • The cartoon short "Steamboat Willie" entered the public domain in 2024, along with Tigger, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence.

    I'm not sure whether designers will rush to create games out of this material — especially the first item given that Disney still owns everything else related to Mickey Mouse — but over time the public domain pool will only continue to grow, a pool that game designers and publishers will return to repeatedly for a chance to put their own spin on a story or group of characters known around the world, as with the announcement from U.S. publisher Crafty Games of Knights of the Round Table, a design by Jonny Pac that will see release in 2025.


    Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
    In each game of Knights of the Round Table, players choose a cycle of Arthurian myth to play, setting the tone and starting rules. They rally a company of knights and Arthurian personalities, deploying them to construct Camelot, repel invader hordes, and quest for the Holy Grail. Through their choices, players sculpt a unique narrative and unlock new modules until the grail is discovered, and a winner is crowned high king!

    The game features dozens of silkscreened wood pieces, a huge game board, and a 3D castle that players build during play. Multiple game modules allow for high variability and replayability across many aspects of Arthurian myth, with the intertwining of themes and mechanisms allowing players to organically create their own spin on these legends.

    • "Alice in Wonderland" remains a source of inspiration for game designers given the rich variety of ways to approach this fantastic world.


    In 2024, new publisher Borogove Games plans to crowdfund Rolling in Wonderland, a design for 2-4 players from Daniel Alves:
    Players become children who, just like Alice, stumble into Wonderland and meet all the famous characters from the works of Lewis Carroll. During play, you use actions to discover cards, make friends, and use your mushrooms to execute powerful combos in a highly strategic action-selection/dice-drafting system — all with the long-term goal of earning points.

    • And where Alice starts to walk, Cthulhu follows. A crossover between these IPs is inevitable, but until that happens we'll have to focus on the latest game design to draw on the works of H.P. Lovecraft — Cohors Cthulhu: Tactics, a horror-themed, solitaire/co-operative game from Modiphius Entertainment that's meant as a companion of sorts to the Cohors Cthulhu RPG that Modiphius crowdfunded in 2023 for release in 2024. An overview:
    Cohors Cthulhu: Tactics is set in the Cohors Cthulhu universe during the height of Imperial Rome. You begin your heroic journey as one of a handful of survivors of an ambush, desperately trying to escape the Mythos-ridden mists of a Germanic forest. As your heroes grow in experience and power, you will fulfill your destiny, becoming the leader of a powerful legion and facing the avatars of the Outer Gods themselves in full-scale war.


    The game is meant to fuse the strategic nuance of tabletop wargames with the immersive narrative of role playing games. Cohors Cthulhu: Tactics will feature a wide range of 28mm miniatures in both resin and 3D print at-home STL files. The miniatures range features Roman Centurions, scoundrels, nobles, hunters, priests, druids, assassins, soldiers, and warriors. Facing them will be the full might of the Outer Gods: The Cult of Mormo with their Priests, Servitors, Ghouls and Overlords of Mormo, Teufel Hounds, Fluttering Fiends, Sheehad, Elder Things, Chosen and Die Draugr.

    Modiphius notes that "Kickstarter backers will have an exclusive opportunity to grab one of several powerful Avatars of the Outer Gods in resin such as the Star Spawn of Cthulhu. Stretch Goals will unlock new factions, such as the Deep Ones, Mi-Go, and the corrupt Herjan's Horde, plus more mythos creatures, additional missions, and new gameplay options."

    I'm not sure how "exclusive" these might be given that the Outer Gods appear willing to partner with as many publishers as step up...

    • Oh, hey, I should have been more optimistic...or pessimistic. Not sure which one is appropriate here, but in any case Steamboat Willie World has announced a Kickstarter for Steamboat Willie playing cards...


    ...while in May 2024 new publisher Simply Play Games plans to crowdfund the tabletop game Steamboat Willie: Dark Days.


    Here's the teaser description:
    Take the role of our classic hero, "Steamboat Willie", or one of his pals in this modern return to the Forbidden Seas in this epic 2-4 player board game.

    Return to the most dangerous seas to help rescue Caroline the Cow as she tries to get on board his steamboat to safety. In these mysterious seas, there are tales of sea monsters and pirates looking to capture his booty!

    Take the role of our hero, Mickey Mouse "Steamboat Willie," or one of his pals — Minnie, Pete, Parrot, or Goat — in this epic 2-4 player table top game.

    Given the quality of this promotional image from the upcoming BackerKit campaign, I anticipate this game being a high-quality release that will endure for decades and become a treasure that our descendants will look forward to entering the public domain in the 22nd century so that they can riff on it themselves.

    Read more »
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    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • Quick Generator - Crop Concepts
    Publisher: Ennead Games

    Quick Generator - Crop Concepts

    Concepts and ideas for crops and harvestables

    Crops are cultivated plants, grown often on a large scale and harvested to provide food for sapient beings or fodder for animals.

    Their names can be reflective of where they come from, what they look like, or even the final product after processing.

    They come in many varietys, from the humble wheat and corn , to crops that generally only grow in more tropical locations like the coffee bean.

    This quick generator, gives you two d100 tables that, when the results are combined, give you 10,000 concepts, quick descriptions and ideas for crops, suitable for any genre and may resemble ones that already exist!

    Example outputs include:

    • Abyss Berry
    • Blood Lentil
    • Cinder Cabbage
    • Mountain Radish
    • Swamp Soybean
    Quick Generator - Crop ConceptsPrice: $1.99 Read more »
  • Haven Fallen - Solo Adventure - Shadow Of Disgrace
    Publisher: Original Frontiers

    Through the viewports of their colossal towers the highest ranking Executives can see a shadow which looms over the horizon for the Trinity Pact – the emergence of an insidious rogue AI known as "Echelon." Designed to enhance society's interconnectedness, Echelon's initial purpose has been perverted, leading to a cataclysmic event that threatens the very fabric of existence.

     As a skilled agent of the Pact’s Nexus Order, you are tasked with confronting this malevolent force before it consumes all. Echelon's capabilities are unlike anything seen before – it can infiltrate organic hosts, manipulating them to serve its dark agenda, while also harnessing nano-technology to endlessly replicate itself and spread like a digital plague.

    Armed with advanced cybernetic enhancements and an unyielding resolve, only you and few others stand against the demanufacture of organic life and a future besieged by chaos, where every shadow holds a potential threat. As you delve deeper into the mystery of Echelon's origins, you'll uncover dark secrets hidden within the depths of the digital realm. The choice to harness this power or to be consumed by it will be a choice very will have. Those who seek to eradicate this machine of hate, refuelled by that which it despises, will no doubt stand in awe at the scope of Echelon’s machinations.

    _____________________________________________

    In this Solo Adventure you assume the role of a Character in a Dark Science Fantasy setting. You will  require The Haven Fallen Core Rulebook (CRB), and any associated Expansions you wish to use to assist you, along with a pen and paper or word-processing document, to play.

    The story is set up with an Introduction, a handful of location details and a few pertinent Story Points. The rest is down to you and your imagination.

    The Actions you take should depend on who and what you see, and how you wish to interact. Keep a record of your story and adapt it as per the result of each Action. As you progress you will see that you are behaving as your own Storyteller, creating the interactive world in which you are playing.

    Use the Character Creation section of the CRB to create your Character and use the Storyteller section of the CRB to assist with generating NPCs.

    Once you have familiarised yourself with the  following few pages, you are ready to begin.

    THE BONUS DIE

    When allowed to roll a Bonus Die, roll two of the same required Dice and choose the most beneficial result.

    ___________________________________________________

    Haven Fallen - Solo Adventure - Shadow Of DisgracePrice: $0.50 Read more »
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    Gnome Stew

  • Dune: Fall of the Imperium Review

    The title of the page reads Dune: Adventures in the Imperium at the top, and Fall of the Imperium Sourcebook at the bottom. In the background is the appearance of a swirling galaxy, and a single planet. In front of that is the face of a bearded man looking to the right, a woman to the left in robes, two figures in armor, and another figure in robes. At the bottom of the page is a legion of people waving green and gold flags with a House symbol on them.

    Licensed games usually take the approach of presenting material that can happen far away from the canon events of the setting. This works especially well in settings like Star Trek or Star Wars, where there is a literal galaxy of locations available for storytelling. Player characters may hear about canon events, and there may be a butterfly effect on some of their options, but the assumption of the game is that the player characters aren’t going to be directly confronting and potentially contradicting the fictitious history of the setting.

    Despite this, there are some fans who want exactly that. If they are playing in a game about a given setting, they want to be present for the events they have read about or seen on screen. They may or may not want to step into the shoes of an existing character, either by playing that character, or by playing a character that replaces the canon character in the game table’s narrative. If you want to play through a campaign where it’s possible for Luke Skywalker to miss the shot that destroys the Death Star because a PC failed to keep a TIE Fighter off his tail, that’s largely on the game facilitator to navigate.

    Modiphius has taken an interesting approach to this with their Dune: Adventures in the Imperium RPG. While it largely assumes that player characters will be engaging in house politics in other corners of the galaxy or touching upon Arrakis in moments between galaxy shaking events, it has also introduced products that directly engage the canon narrative. The primary example of this has been the Agents of Dune boxed set, which places the player characters and their house in the place of House Atreides, inheriting Dune from the Harkonnens by decree of the emperor.

    The adventure we’re looking at today also places player characters directly in the path of galactic history, presenting a campaign that takes place just before, during, and in the aftermath of Paul Atreides’ takeover of the imperial throne.

     Dune: Fall of the Imperium

    Creative Lead Andrew Peregrine
    Line Editor/Canon Editor
    Rachel J. Wilkinson
    Writing
    Richard August, Simon Berman, Jason Brick, Jason Durall, Keith Garrett, Jack Norris, Andrew Peregrine, Dave Semark, Hilary Sklar, Devinder Thiara, Mari Tokuda, Rachel J. Wilkinson
    Graphic Design Chris Webb, Leigh Woosey, Jen Mccleary
    Art Direction
    Rocío Martín Pérez
    Cover Artist
    David Benzal
    Interior Artwork Artists
    Amir Zand, Joel Chaim Holtzman, János Tokity, Simone Rizzo, Jakub Kozlowski, Carmen Cornet, Eren Arik, Hans Park, Mikhail Palamarchuk, Mihail Spil-Haufter, Lixin Yin, Susanah Grace, Alexander Guillen Brox, Imad Awan, Louie Maryon, Justin Usher, Jonny Sun, Olivier Hennart, Pat Fix, Avishek Banerjee, Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme, Simone Rizzo
    Proofreading
    Stuart Gorman
    Project Management
    Daniel Lade
    Brand Management
    Joe Lefavi for Genuine Entertainment

    Disclaimer

    I am not working from a review copy of this product and did not receive a review copy to work from. I have received review copies from Modiphius Entertainment in the past. I have not had the opportunity to play or run this adventure. I do have a familiarity with the 2d20 system, having run and played multiple iterations of the rules.

    Layout and Design

    I am working from a PDF of the adventure. The adventure is available as a PDF or a physical book. Additionally, there is a Roll20 version of the adventure for sale. The PDF is 146 pages long. The content of those pages breaks down to this:

    • Covers–2 pages
    • Inside Front Cover Art–1 page
    • Company Title Page–1 page
    • Product Title Page–1 page
    • Credits Page–1 page
    • Table of Contents–1 page
    • Shuttle Map–1 page
    • Map of Arrakeen–1 page
    • Modiphius Product Ads–3 pages

    There is some glorious artwork in this book, and the design of most of the outfits, vehicles, architecture, etc. match the recent movies. While this book assumes the continuity of the original novels, the licensing is all bound together, meaning they don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to producing artwork. The pages are in a light parchment color, with geometric flourishes under the text. There is artwork throughout, especially depicting notable characters. Each of the chapters starts with a two-page spread of full color art.

    The layout varies depending on the purpose of the text. Most of the adventure is in a two-column layout, but background material and overviews are formatted in centered text boxes or single columns that run down the middle of the page. Sidebars are often in the lower right- or left-hand side of the page.

    The Judge of the Change

    This adventure is the framework for an entire campaign, if you couldn’t glean that from the introduction. The book itself is broken into the following sections:

    • Introduction
    • Act I: The Gathering Storm
    • Act II: Muad’Dib
    • Act III: Fall of the Imperium
    • Act IV: War Across a Million Worlds
    • Adventures in the Era of Muad’Dib

    Adventures in the Era of Muad’Dib is a section that details the kind of setting assumptions that should be considered for playing the RPG during the establishment of Paul’s reign. This includes the differences between the chaos and violence of that era, contrasted against the political maneuvering and quick betrayals of the previous era.

    Each act of the campaign has its own set of acts, which are the primary adventures that characters will engage with as that leg of the campaign progresses. This means that within all four acts, there are three adventures, each with their own three acts.

    While I mentioned the Agents of Dune campaign boxed set above, unlike that product, these adventures assume that the events of the novels happen when and how they are detailed in the source material. There are a few notes on what might happen if the GM and the players want to deviate from the story, but most sections assume that the path of history rolls forward unabated.

    A figure sits in a booth. To their right is a hooded figure in a robe, and to their right is a lightly armored bodyguard with a long knife. Standing and facing them on the opposite side of the room is a figure wearing a jacket, with another hooded figure next to them.Who Are You?

    The PCs are playing agents of their own house, managing their interests in light of emerging events. For several parts of the campaign, this means you’ll be dealing with the cascading effects of galactic history, rather than being right next to it. However, there are several places where the adventure narrows back down to canon events so the PCs can be present as witnesses.

    There is an interesting sidebar at the beginning of the adventure which I both agree with and think oversimplifies the situation, especially when it’s applied to the players and the decisions they are making. The sidebar mentions that both Paul and the Harkonnens are nobles whose people toil for the profit of their rulers, and that while the Harkonnens are vicious and violent in their tactics, Paul starts a war that kills billions of people. All on board with “Paul isn’t the Good Guy.” But it also frames this as “there are no villains,” which, no, that’s harder to take. Paul isn’t the good guy because of the repercussions of his actions, but it is hard to say that the Harkonnens aren’t villains. I think it’s pretty easy to conceive of a story where there are no heroes, only villains, rather than saying there are no heroes or villains.

    Part of why this sidebar exists, however, is to reinforce the concept that making decisions for a House in the Landsraad often means choosing between multiple bad options. If the PCs ally with the Harkonnens for a time, they aren’t suddenly the villains of the story, they may just be doing something very distasteful for them in order to help their house survive. There are several places in the narrative where characters have the option of throwing in with different houses against other houses, which means being allied doesn’t always mean being long term friends or business partners.

    As agents of a Landsraad House, there are a combination of missions you can undertake for the betterment of your house, which also happens to give you insight into the greater events unfolding. For example, trying to secure a hidden smuggler’s cache of spice after the Atreides take over Arrakis lets you stumble upon some Harkonnen records that may lead you to the hidden base of operations of a Sardukar agent, and so on.

    While the adventure has several places where events unfold at a distance from the events of the novels, there are a few key places where the PCs are funneled back into the main narrative. These include:

    • The night House Atreides falls
    • The Death of Rabban
    • The Death of Leto II
    • The sequence of Paul’s ascension to the throne and all the events surrounding it

    If you read “The Death of Leto II,” and thought, wait, I don’t want to be there for that, I completely understand. That particular aspect of the adventure kind of underscores some of the problems the adventure has whenever it funnels the PCs back to major canon events. It’s very clear you are pushed into those events to witness them. If you play the adventure as written, you are sent with the Sardukar on their raid of the sietch, and you arrive at the scene just after Leto II has been killed.

    In many of the “up close to history” scenes, your characters are rolling to avoid getting in anyone’s way and hoping to pick up some things beneficial to your house on the periphery of bigger events. One exception to this is the death of Rabban. The PCs have several paths to this point, but almost all of them involve someone wanting them to kill Rabban in the lead up to the most tumultuous events preceding Paul’s ascension.

    This would be a really neat, “that was your characters!” moment, except there are still some heavy handed sections where his location is a bait and switch, so you must encounter Feyd, and you can’t kill Rabban all by yourselves, Gurney Halleck will show up and either try to do it before you, or help you out.

    A figure sits at the top of a set of stairs, on a large, ornate throne. There are two guards flanking the figure on either side. At the bottom of the stairs, two cloaked figures stand on either side of a figure that is kneeling, with their hands bound behind their back.The Wide-Open Galaxy

    Act II is especially open compared to the rest of the adventure. Your characters are negotiating for spice as Harkonnen production slows. You chase spies on a ski resort planet. You skulk around backwaters looking for blackmail information and encrypted documents. In one of my favorite moments in the adventure, your characters navigate a night of betrayal that is both thematically calling back to the attack on House Atreides, but both more subtle and distinct. It’s one of those places where it really feels like the adventure delivers you a very “Dune” experience without just using canon Dune events.

    Act IV is strange. While it deals with events we know happened, broadly, i.e. Paul’s crusade ravaging worlds that failed to show their loyalty, the places where these adventures take place generally don’t have a lot of canon surrounding them, meaning that the PCs actions can have greater effect. The downside is that in many cases, the reason they are in the path of these events is very thin. In several cases, Paul issues an imperial decree for the PCs to go to a place, where they may work against his agents, and the next time they see Paul, “he sees something in their future that keeps him from acting against them,” and then they can go somewhere else and either discreetly or overtly defy him.

    The culmination of the entire adventure/campaign is that a House that has long been associated with the PCs’ House is accused of treason. The PCs can find out what is going on, disassociate themselves from their allies or exonerate them, and determine who to screw over and who to align themselves with to keep one of Paul’s lieutenants from declaring their House as an enemy of the throne.

    Mechanical Resolution

    An aspect of the adventure that I really enjoy is that it leans into the 2d20 concept of creating traits. If you aren’t familiar with traits in a 2d20 game (which have slightly different names depending on the 2d20 game in question), they function in a manner similar to Fate aspects. They are a broad description of something that is true. Depending on the narrative, traits either grant narrative permission to do something that wouldn’t be possible if the trait weren’t active, or it adds or subtracts from the difficulty of a task if it is relevant to that task.

    Depending on how the PCs resolve different scenes in the adventure, they may acquire different traits, which will be available for use either by the PCs or the GM if they are still active. For example, in many cases, PCs that ally with a house will gain a trait that denotes that they are “Ally of House X,” and any time that’s relevant, it might make a check either more or less difficult. They may also gain traits that reflect their reputation; for example, if they resolve a scene by hiding, they may get a “Cowardice” trait, which might come into play whenever dealing with characters that are proud of their martial accomplishments.

    There are also events that remove traits. For example, early in the adventure, it’s a lot easier for the PCs to pick up the “Ally to House Harkonnen” trait, which they may end up shedding if, later in the adventure, they advocate for the emperor to strip them of their rights to Arrakis.

    Like Star Trek Adventures, Dune: Adventures in the Imperium makes provisions for a player running characters other than their primary character, usually in circumstances where the PCs wouldn’t want to personally be involved in the activities they are directing. This is separate from, but adjacent to, Architect play, where PCs can say they are using resources from a distance to manipulate events, making checks for broad actions they are taking, to influence events.

    A figure stands in front of a window that has an intricate windowpane pattern throughout. They are looking out, with their back facing the room. There is a wall at the far side of the room, and behind the wall is a figure in a hood, with their face covered, holding a knife in one hand, peeking around the corner at the figure looking out the window.For example, if a character has troops as one of their resources, and there have been smugglers raiding their holdings, they could use Architect mode to send troops to take care of the smugglers without ever going to that location, rolling to see how well their orders are carried out versus the difficulty of the outcome they want. The downside to Architect play being that it’s hard to get specific granular results. In the example above, you might be able to get rid of the smugglers, but the GM may tell you that unless you show up yourself, you can’t expect your troops to capture a smuggler alive for interrogation.

    There are a few places in the adventure where broader goals are mentioned as something the PCs might attempt with Architect mode, usually in the periphery of events that surround the political maneuvering in Act II. There are also a few brief mentions of using supporting characters during certain events, especially if the player character in question isn’t a particularly martial specimen, and they tackle a mission like killing Rabban.

    Because these are excellent tools, I wish the adventure had spent more time expanding how they could be used to greater effect in various scenes. While I don’t think any scene where the PCs have most of their agency removed is going to be fun to sit through, I could see several of the “you must go this direction” encounters being easier to swallow if those scenes were expressly meant to be carried out by secondary character operatives. I suspect that this wasn’t done in part because the adventure wants your primary PCs to be present at these major events, not just a character you are playing.

    Having a few lines referencing, “they could get X, likely through Architect play,” isn’t nearly as satisfying as a more detailed list of resources or events that the PCs could undertake that had a direct effect on the narrative and the position of their house in each act.

    Aftermath

    When I first saw there was a section on Adventures in the Era of Muad’Dib, I was thinking something along the lines of the one-page mission briefs from Star Trek Adventures. This is, more precisely, tools and mechanics available to reflect the differences in the galaxy after Paul’s ascension to the throne and the spread of his religion. It introduces the faction template for the Qizarate, as well as six new talents that are either tied to that faction or involve interaction with Paul directly.

    While there aren’t “mission brief” style adventures, there are sections on what resistance to the throne looks like in this era, some of the espionage that might be going on, and a few adventure seeds surrounding interacting with Paul, the adherents of his faith, and the changing allegiances in the Imperium. These are generally short, one paragraph long descriptions.

     I feel like you’re either going to have some frustrating moments as written, or you’re going to be reworking some key scenes so that the PCs have actual agency in those moments 

    The Mystery of Life Isn’t a Problem to Solve, But A Reality to Experience

    I really appreciate the ambition of this adventure. It really shines in Act II, and a bit in Act IV, where the PCs have lots of options available to them, and the main thing that is determined by canon are the stakes they are navigating. I absolutely love the Night of Slow blades section of the adventure, because it hits that sweet spot of “this is tailored for your PCs” and “this feels like exactly what would happen in the novels.” There are also some other scenes across various acts that shine. While not everyone may take the road that leads to this, I really liked the details of negotiating with Baron Harkonnen, as well as the scenes where the PCs can debate with other agents of the Landsraad houses in court with the emperor.

    An Animal Caught in A Trap Will Gnaw Off Its Own Leg to Escape. What Will You Do?

    I wish that when the adventure pushes the PCs into “witness” mode, there was more for them to do than observe and make a few checks to see if they pick up a new trait or asset for themselves or their house. There are some brushes with canon events early on that feel especially frustrating. You may get into a fight with Rabban the night of the Atreides attack, but he’s got plot armor. You might see Jessica and Paul being herded onto an ornithopter in the distance, but you’re too far away to do anything about it. The absolute worse example of this is being present for Leto II’s death. I don’t expect the adventure to give you the opportunity to stop this from happening–it’s a pretty pivotal story beat. But I don’t know that my desire to witness the noteworthy events of Dune included helplessly traveling with the people that murder Paul’s infant son.

    Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.

    I don’t want to be too brutal. I think that if you are a fan of Dune (and I’m not sure why you would be buying Dune RPG material if you weren’t) you will find some use for this adventure. On the other hand, I feel like you’re either going to have some frustrating moments as written, or you’re going to be reworking some key scenes so that the PCs have actual agency in those moments. That’s a shame, because there are some wonderful moments in the adventure that tie the PCs and their house to events with a little more room to breathe, that would be great to see attached to an adventure that didn’t funnel you back into your front row seats for a show you can’t really affect.

    Read more »
  • mp3VideoGnomecast 186 – Mixing Genres

    Ang, Chris and Josh chat about mixing up genres in our RPGs and as a result touch on what genre is, and why we can and should mash it all up together!

    Links:

    D&D Lego!

    The Nebula Awards

    Daggerheart Playtest

    Read more »
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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRunning Combat-Focused Adventures

    This article is one in a series where we look at types of adventures and examine

    • how we prepare them.
    • how we run them.
    • what pitfalls we might run into.
    • how we avoid these pitfalls.

    These articles include:

    Your own adventure types and how you run them may differ from mine. That's totally fine. There are many right ways to enjoy this game.

    Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible – Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG inspired my thoughts on this topic.

    For a far more in-depth look at running monsters in combat encounters, please check out Forge of Foes, our book on building and running fantastic monsters for your 5e games.

    Understanding Combat Adventures

    Good fantasy RPG sessions most often include mixtures of exploration, roleplay, and combat. Adventures or sessions focusing on only one pillar of play may bypass players' preferences for the other elements.

    But, on occasion, we find ourselves with a session focused almost exclusively on combat.

    Completely combat-focused sessions may occur when characters face a big battle at the beginning of the session and we know this battle is going to take up most of the session. Other combat-focused sessions might happen when the characters face a gauntlet of battles, one right after the other, whether they're exploring a dangerous dungeon, defending a location, or otherwise find themselves with a series of battles staged in sequence.

    Combat-focused sessions should be rare. The best sessions include scenes and situations with opportunities for roleplaying, exploration, and combat. We want situations where the characters make meaningful decisions to move the story forward.

    But combat-focused sessions do happen and thus are worth examining.

    Preparing Combat Sessions

    During prep, GMs can prepare combat sessions by

    • understanding how these combat encounters begin and where they occur.
    • deciding on a style for combat. Are you going to run it in the theater of the mind, on a combat battle mat, or run abstract combat?
    • choosing a goal for the combat encounter. Sometimes the battle isn't all about killing the monsters but achieving another outcome.
    • selecting monsters for each combat encounter. Rich combat encounters often include two or more different monster types with some synergies between them – big brutes up front and nasty ranged attackers in the back for example.
    • choosing the environment surrounding the encounter. What larger environmental effects might be in play in the combat arena?
    • selecting interesting terrain features the characters and monsters might use (see Anatomy of an Environmental Effect – Chernobog's Well)
    • planning potential shifts in the encounter. What events might change the course of the battle?
    • outlining the transitions between each combat encounter. What takes the characters from battle A to battle B to battle C?
    • building out, drawing, or preparing your battle map – either digital or physical.
    • gathering miniatures, tokens, or digital assets if you're playing online.

    Running Combat Sessions

    For 5e games and other fantasy d20 games, combat tends to be the most well-articulated and refined style of gameplay. For combat-focused sessions, GMs need only start the session and get into the first battle. Between combat encounters ensure the sinew is there to connect one battle to the next. The rest falls on the rules of combat for our chosen system.

    Depending on the complexity of the encounters, the number of characters, and their level, combat encounters may be easy or difficult to run. The higher level the characters – the more power and capability they bring to the battlefield – the trickier it can be to maintain a consistent challenge. The dials of monster difficulty can help balance such a challenge.

    When running combat, continue to draw the players into the fiction of the world. Describe the situation from the point of view of the characters. Describe what attacks and hits look like. Ask players to do the same. Reveal secrets and clues when appropriate. Include opportunities for roleplaying with NPCs and enemies before, during, and after the battle. Avoid getting lost in the mechanics of combat and remember the story going on in the world.

    Pitfalls of Combat Sessions

    Here are several potential pitfalls when running combat-focused adventures and sessions:

    • Too many hard combat encounters becomes repetitive and tiresome.
    • Combat goals aren't clear. Players don't know why they're fighting.
    • Combat focuses exclusively on the mechanics with little focus on the story or fiction.
    • Combat encounters are tactically boring.
    • Players resent encounters built to contradict their characters' capabilities.
    • Battles take too long. Players who enjoy roleplaying and exploration miss out.

    Mitigating Pitfalls

    GMs can help mitigate these pitfalls by

    • mixing up easy and hard encounters or waves within a single encounter. Let the characters shine while fighting weaker foes as stronger ones come on later.
    • clarifying encounter goals. Tell players how things work in the encounter so they know what they need to do.
    • continually describe what's happening in the fiction of the game. Ask players to describe their actions including attacks and killing blows.
    • include different monster types and terrain features to keep encounter tactics interesting.
    • include lightning rods – monsters intended to show off the powerful capabilities of the characters.
    • include elements of roleplaying and exploration during combat. What do the villains say? What do the characters discover about the world and situation as they fight for their lives?

    An Uncommon Adventure Type

    Combat-focused sessions are best held for big battles against boss monsters. Other session types in this series of articles offer a better balance of exploration, roleplaying, and combat. Combat-focused sessions are prevalent enough, however, for us to internalize what makes them fun and what we can do to avoid common pitfalls.

    Build fantastic and intricate combat encounters and let the characters shine.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos including Build Your Own 5e and Add Black Flag's Luck to your 5e Games.

    RPG Tips

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

    • Offer opportunities for roleplaying even in the depths of the darkest dungeons.
    • Mix up battles with several smaller foes and fewer large foes.
    • Build encounters first from the fiction. What makes sense?
    • Add motivation and distance rolls to random encounters for unique experiences.
    • Include interactive monuments in bigger battles.
    • Write down connections between the characters and the next session you’re running.
    • Single monsters are at a significant disadvantage against a group of characters. This disadvantage gets worse the higher level the characters are.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »
  • VideoRunning Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    This article is one in a series where we look at types of adventures and examine

    • how we prepare them.
    • how we run them.
    • what pitfalls we might run into.
    • how we avoid these pitfalls.

    These articles include:

    Your own adventure types and how you run them may differ from mine. That's totally fine. There are many right ways to enjoy this game.

    Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible – Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG inspired my thoughts on this topic.

    Understanding Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    In adventures focused on roleplaying and intrigue, the characters primarily talk to NPCs to accomplish goals or learn information. Intrigue adventures often overlap with Investigations and Mysteries with less of a focus on location-based clues and expanding the goals beyond uncovering mysteries.

    Example goals in roleplay and intrigue adventures might include

    • convincing royalty to commit military forces in a war.
    • exposing treachery in a royal court.
    • saving the life of a condemned prisoner.
    • pitting two enemies against one another.
    • learning the location of a secret treasure vault.
    • getting permission to enter a closed city.
    • asking priests to hand over a powerful artifact.

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures are often built around a set of linear or networked scenes. In these scenes, the characters talk to one or more NPCs learning something or attaining a goal that leads them to the next scene.

    Preparing Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    During preparation for roleplay and intrigue adventures, GMs can focus on

    • clarifying the goal of the adventure.
    • fleshing out the backgrounds of notable NPCs.
    • finding artwork they can show to players for each notable NPC.
    • writing down what NPCs know and what they want.
    • defining secrets and clues the characters might uncover when talking to NPCs.
    • adding other adventure elements as needed from the eight steps.

    Running Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures can begin with a strong start to bring the players into the game, clarify the goals of the adventure, set the stage, and let the players begin interacting with NPCs.

    During play, the GM thinks as the NPCs would think given their backgrounds and goals as they interact with the players. As the conversation goes on, the GM may decide how NPCs react based on what the players say or they may have players roll ability checks if there's a meaningful chance for failure that doesn't end the adventure in a brick wall.

    GMs can use ability checks to determine how easily or how difficult it is to acquire information from an NPC or shift the NPCs attitude without shutting off entire paths if the adventure on a single bad check.

    Other elements from typical adventures may come up in these sessions including exploring locations or getting into a fight, even if the overall focus is on talking to NPCs.

    Pitfalls of Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures might suffer from the following pitfalls:

    • Players don't understand what they're doing or why.
    • Too many roleplay scenes in a row can bore action-focused players.
    • The characters blow important rolls or engage in the wrong approach and shut off critical paths for the story.
    • Players don't understand how best to engage the NPCs.
    • Characters have better social skills than their players have or vice versa.

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    GMs can avoid or mitigate these pitfalls by

    • Clarifying the characters' goals regularly.
    • Including other action-focused scenes in the adventure such as combat encounters or location exploration.
    • Ensuring the whole story doesn't get shut down on bad rolls or poor approaches and instead leads the story down a different, potentially harder, but still interesting path.
    • Use the result of a roll as a scale of how well or poorly something went instead of a hard success or failure. See 1d20 Shades of Gray.
    • Offer suggestions to players who have a hard time understanding how to engage with characters. Don't let them make foolish mistakes their characters would know better than to make. Show them opportunities their characters would recognize.
    • Use a high-charisma character's charisma as a baseline, recognizing that their character might be better at negotiating than the player is.
    • Use a charismatic player's approach as a baseline even if their character has a lousy charisma. Don't always call for a roll.

    A Common Sub-Adventure Type

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures might often slide into or be shuffled into other larger adventures. As one of the core pillars of roleplaying games, roleplay and intrigue scenes appear often throughout campaigns and can drive the story forward as much, or more so, than other adventure types.

    Clarifying the goal, building rich reactive NPCs, creating interesting paths forward regardless of the outcome, and delivering the other elements of gameplay can make roleplay and intrigue adventures as exciting as the most explosive combat encounters.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Running Evil Cities and 175 Free Tokens for Owlbear Rodeo.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

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

    Patreon Questions and Answers

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

    RPG Tips

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

    • Challenge high level characters by attacking several points — AC, saves, death saves, exhaustion, hit points, cumulative -1 penalties, and so on.
    • Build big arenas for big boss battles with interesting terrain and layers of monsters.
    • Offer weapon enchantment gemstones any character can affix to a weapon or armor to make it magical.
    • Let the characters glimpse their final villains. Make villains and boss monsters ever present.
    • With six regular players and two on-call players, five people have to cancel before you can’t get four to the table for a game.
    • Print maps, pen in one- or two-word room descriptions, and make a list of potential inhabitants.
    • Roll up treasure horde parcels and jot them down in your notes. Distribute them when it makes sense.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »

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