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  • Next Move Welcomes Killer Beez

    by W. Eric Martin

    Not killer bees, mind you, because that would be weird and self-destructive and bad for publicity.

    No, instead Canadian publisher Next Move Games is welcoming a new game titled Beez to its catalog, with this Dan Halstad design having a killer look thanks to the ever reliable Chris Quilliams. (I shared a logo- and title-free version of the cover with BGG personnel at our recent planning retreat, and all of them identified the publisher correctly. That's strong branding for you!)

    As for gameplay, well, Next Move has released only this short description for now:
    Prepare yourself to take flight as a bee!

    In Beez, players compete to optimize their flight plans to secure nectar for their hive. Be careful of the other bees as you will compete with them over a set of public and private scoring goals. The challenge in planning and storing the nectar will make your brain buzz!

    Mike Young at Next Move notes that your movement dial also controls how you store nectar and affects how you score points. BGG will get a first-hand look at Beez at the Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair at the beginning of February, and I'll post more about the game then. In conclusion, insert bee pun here.

    Read more »
  • AEG in 2020: Race Dice, Arrange Chocolates, Treat Cats, and Split Your Time Between Atlantis and Santa Monica

    by Candice Harris

    In early January 2020, Eric shared the news of Elizabeth Hargrave's upcoming release, Mariposas, and I'm sure fans of Wingspan are thrilled. Fortunately, even more enticing games and expansions are coming our way from Alderac Entertainment Group in 2020. AEG's Todd Rowland has graciously uploaded pics of a few of these new releases to give us a sneak peek.

    Truffle Shuffle is a card-drafting, set-collection game designed by Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin and Shawn Stankewich, the team behind 2019's Point Salad from AEG. Glancing at the cover art below, I'm realizing I have a killer craving for chocolate all of a sudden...and this is definitely not a Goonies-themed game as I initially suspected. (We were all thinking it!)

    Here's a brief description of the gameplay from the publisher:
    In the quick-playing, card-drafting game Truffle Shuffle, players take turns selecting truffles from a shared box of overlapping cards in order to make their own arrangements of chocolates to sell. Players can complete a variety of sets, using special modifiers and action cards. With so many different chocolate truffles to unwrap and different ways to combine them, every game of Truffle Shuffle is unique!

    Santa Monica is a new card-drafting, set collection game from Josh Wood, the designer of Cat Lady. Here's a summary of the setting with a touch of gameplay:
    In Santa Monica, you are trying to create the most appealing neighborhood in southern California. Will you choose to create a calm, quiet beach focused on nature, a bustling beach full of tourists, or something in-between to appeal to the locals?

    Each turn, you draft a feature card from the display to build up either your beach or your street. These features work together to score you victory points. The player with the most points wins!

    Santa Monica prototype pic from the AEG Larkstone playtest house
    • Speaking of Cat Lady, AEG will also be releasing Box of Treats, Wood's first expansion for that game. Box of Treats includes more cats, new items, boxes, and cat treats! In addition, the expansion allows Cat Lady to be played with up to six players.

    John D. Clair's Cubitos is a dice-rolling, press- your-luck game in which players compete to become the Cubitos Champion. In slightly more detail:
    In Cubitos, players take on the role of participants in the annual Cube Cup, a race of strategy and luck to determine the Cubitos Champion. Each player has a runner on the racetrack and a support team, which is represented by all the dice you roll. Each turn, you roll dice and use their results to move along the racetrack, buy new dice, and use abilities — but you must be careful not to push your luck rolling too much or you could bust!

    Cubitos prototype pic from Larkstone

    • Like Wood, Clair also has an expansion for a well-received AEG title, with Mystic Vale: Nemesis adding new advancement and vale cards for even more combo options. Nemesis also includes titan leader cards that grant abilities with the potential to become more powerful when upgraded as well as a new variant for solo gameplay.

    Jani & Tero Moliis' Lost Atlantis was first mentioned in this space in December 2017 with this brief description: a "3X game under the sea". The release date for this title is now sometime in 2020 instead of Q4 2018, but we still don't have a longer description at this point. Even so, between that description and the prototype photo below, my curiosity is piqued!

    Another Larkstone prototype pic, this time showing Lost Atlantis
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    - Newest Items

  • RPG Stock Art: Orc Shaman
    Publisher: Avatar Games

    Orc shamans are the priests of the savage tribes. They use magic to aid in battle and provide guidance to their tribes by communing with ancestor spirits.

    This beautiful full-color stock art is painted by Geun Cheol Jang, phenom fantasy illustrator, and designed specifically for ttrpg games. Use it for your own publications, homebrews, or character art.

    All stock art has a non-exclusive multi-use license, and presented in RGB color, 3000 pixels wide @ 300 dpi, appropriate for full-page layouts. Included are:

    - 1 opague JPG file with background
    - 1 transparent PNG file without background
    - 1 TIF file with layers, including shadow

    All art files are bundled in a ZIP file. If you require any other format, please contact us about special orders.

    RPG Stock Art: Orc ShamanPrice: $14.95 Read more »
  • Battlemap : The Source
    Publisher: Christian Hollnbuchner

    This full color battlemap is the 487th of a series featuring various terrains. This installment of the battlemap series features a magical cauldron sitting atop a hill, chained to pillars of rock, emitting a continous stream of energy.

    The map is 28 x 30 squares in size, with each 1 inch square scaled to represent 5 feet. It is provided in 12 segments, which need to be assembled, in a single PDF using the letter format.

    The product has been updated to include a large gridless JPG image of the map, intended for use with VTT software. It is 2016x2160 pixels in size at 72dpi.

    Battlemap : The SourcePrice: $1.33 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • Imp of the Perverse Review
    Imp of the Perverse Review

    There are times when I am drawn to a game because it seems like a twist to a similar concept that already interests me. Anyone that has read a good number of my reviews knows that I’m an easy mark for urban fantasy and monster hunting games, so a game about hunting monsters inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe caught my attention quickly.

    Imp of the Perverse goes beyond trying to be a Poe simulator, however. Instead of leaning heavily on elements intrinsic to any of Poe’s works, the game is much more about looking at the themes established in Poe’s work than recycling the literal elements found in any of them.

    With all of that said, let’s take a look at Imp of the Perverse.

    Defining the Opus

    This review is based on the PDF and physical copies of Imp of the Perverse. The book deserves special commentary, because unlike many modern games, it eschews external artwork, but has a striking red cover with a gold title on the front of the book. The texture and appearance of the book reminds me of some of the older books I would find in my grandmother’s bookshelf, and it is a great aesthetic for the subject matter.

    The PDF is 225 pages long, with red and black ink, and color plates that are highlighted in shades of red. The art in the book is reminiscent of political cartoons or illustrations of the time, with exaggerated but expressive figures. In many cases, given that the topic includes supernatural horrors, these figures are often very exaggerated.

    There are also several bordered sidebars discussing ancillary topics throughout the text.

    Content Warning

    This game touches on a lot of potentially difficult subject matter. It is set during the Jacksonian era, and I have to admit, that made some sections difficult for me to read. While the core action deals with hunting monsters, the context of different perversions often deals with the evils of the time.

    Topics touched on include racism, slavery, reproductive rights, and violence against domestic partners and children. There are several historical sidebars discussing how various marginalized people were treated in the Jacksonian era. While some of this exists to create a discussion about what to include and exclude in your game, the discussion brings up many of the least pleasant aspects of the era.

    Part One

    Part One of this book contains the Introduction and Central Concepts. As subcategories under these sections, the following topics are addressed:

    • What You’re In For
    • A Dark Reflection: Jacksonian Gothic America
    • A Trembling Framework
    • The Arc of Play
    • Getting Started
    • Continued Play
    • Using This Book

    In broad strokes, this section explains what the game is about. The game is very focused in America during the cited time period. Characters will have regional differences based on their origin, and each Protagonist (player character) will have their own Imp of the Perverse, a supernatural creature urging them to indulge in their worst traits.

    Characters are tracking down monsters, people who have fully given in to the temptation presented by their own imps. The protagonists follow clues and stop the monster. The structure of play doesn’t make it a question of “if” the protagonists confront the monster, but rather how much damage the monster has done before it’s rampage is over.

    Part Two

    Part Two contains the subsection Making Monsters, which is split between Born of Perversity and Making Monsters from Protagonists.

    Monsters are connected in some way to The Shroud, the name for the supernatural in this setting. Monsters that are still alive are Close to the Shroud, monsters that have died, but never left the mortal realm are Past the Shroud, and monsters that have returned from the afterlife are Returned from Beyond the Shroud.

    Monsters that are further removed from life can influence the imps attached to the protagonists more profoundly, resulting in more Weirding Dice for the Editor (Game Moderator). Monsters also have a web that shows different levels of victims. The longer it takes for the protagonists to confront the monster, the further out from the center the monster moves. The furthest points on the monster’s web will touch on characters important to the protagonists, making the monster’s rampage more personal the longer it goes on.

    There is a sample monster, focusing on a monster Close to the Shroud that is obsessed with exacerbating the flaws of others, and who destroys lives with blackmail. A sample web is shown for this monster as well.

    There is also a section on converting a protagonist to a monster. If the protagonist fully gives in to their perversity, they become a monster themselves. This means that the current editor can create a protagonist and let the player whose character became a monster take over the editor position, or the player can allow the current editor to use their character as the monster for the next session.

    One thing I would like to touch on here, and revisit later, is that once someone becomes a monster, the game assumes there is no way out for them except to destroy them. There is not a redemption path for someone that has fully given in to their imps. It’s also worth noting that monsters are not meant to follow an existing monster’s structure. In other words, there aren’t vampires or werewolves, but individual perversions may cause someone to turn into a blood-drinking creature or something with bestial traits.

    Part Three

    Part Three of the book includes the following:

    • Dramatis Personae
    • Composing a Protagonist
    • The Workshop

    There is also a sample protagonist shown at the end of this section.

    There are a series of questions that the player answers. These questions are slightly different depending on what part of the country from whence the character originated. Depending on how questions are answered, points are added to various parts of the character sheet.

    Characters will determine what kind of career they had, what kind of family life they had, and their marital and immediate familiar situation. Then the player must determine if the character has hunted a monster before, the perversity they struggle with, and their greatest strength. There are a lot of checklists and bullet points to guide a player through and to explain the differences between choices.

    This section has a sidebar emblematic of both the positive aspects of what this game is doing, but also the challenges it presents. The sidebar discusses slavery, and mentions the practical realities of having a protagonist that is a slave (how free will they be to move about for the adventure), and rightly mentions that playing a slave or any marginalized person that will be dealing with the oppressive nature of the setting on their character needs to be discussed with the group and met with enthusiastic consent, and that the game should be played with safety tools.

    This is all good advice, but what makes me a little more reticent is that there isn’t a discussion on the potential pitfalls of having non-marginalized players running marginalized protagonists, or any kind of best practices for that situation. It’s good to remind people to be careful, but there aren’t deep safety guidelines to show what that would look like in this case.

    Another aspect of the game that is both intriguing, but also potentially frightening, is the character’s perversity. The text instructs players not to base their perversity on what people of the era would consider perverse, but something they find problematic. While this partially addresses characters built around harmful opinions of the time, perversity is left very open. Even the term “perverse,” while very era-appropriate, feels very loaded. In-game terms, it’s much more like a moral shortcoming of the player, but “perversity” adds a level of connotation that might push someone further than, for example, “I have a bad temper.”

    I’m also a little uncomfortable with the sample character in the chapter. I am glad to see an example using a Creole sailor in New Orleans, showing the game’s inclusive nature, but I’m less thrilled with what could be seen as a stereotypical element added to the character, a child out of wedlock that is being cared for by a relative.

    A welcome inclusion in this section is The Workshop, the phase of character creation where the table comes together to look at the concepts and the themes in the game, where they can discuss what they do and do not want to explore in play.

    Part Four 

    Part four includes the following subsections:

    • The Basics
    • Processes of Play
    • Aesthetics
    • Ontogenesis
    • Games with 1 or 2 Protagonists

    Protagonists have several pools that represent their resources and their contacts, which they can spend to answer questions. Questions get increasingly more expensive, requiring more of an expenditure of the pools, as the anxiety die goes up in play. The anxiety die is a six-sided die that the editor has on the table to show how far the monster’s plans have progressed, and while the game itself does not play out similarly, this immediately reminded me of the Escalation Die from 13th Age.

    Protagonists can ask their Imp a question directly. If they don’t want to spend points (or can’t) and don’t want to resort to giving in to their Imp, they can make an Exertion roll, representing them imposing their will on the world. Depending on their qualities, strengths, and relationships, they can add black dice to their pool. Depending on their perversity or edge, they can add red dice to the pool.

    Other players have Weirding Dice they can offer to the player making the check, representing temptations from the character’s imp, and the Editor can spend their Weirding dice to replace dice in the protagonist’s pool. Protagonists have Lucidity and Composure as stats. Dice equal or above Lucidity are a success, but if more red than black dice scored hits, you record a red checkmark, and if you have more black than red, you record a black checkmark. Rated traits are at risk of going down if you don’t spend successes to maintain that aspect of your character, so this can represent losing part of your personality, or straining a bond with a family member.

    At the end of a chapter, players roll a number of dice equal to their checkmarks of each kind, red and black. If a character rolls higher on the black dice, their Lucidity goes up. If they roll higher on their red dice, their Composure goes down. Characters that have spend points from their Empathy pool can choose to remove red checkmarks before making this check. If a character maxes out their Lucidity, they have banished their imp. They aren’t tormented by the supernatural any longer, but they are no longer part of the “hunting” community. If their composure drops to 1, they become a monster, losing all of their humanity.

    Why not use the pools for everything? Because it gets increasingly more expensive to do so, and the pools take some time to replenish. Based on the number of black or red checks you have, you can modify relationships or traits, replenish pools, or even potentially increase your capacity in pools.

    This section mentions safety in the process of play once again, and goes into detail on The Red Mist. This is a technique in this game where any scene where action is about to happen that the table does not want to describe in detail is shrouded in The Red Mist. In this case, the group knows something terrible has happened, and the general idea of what has happened, but it happens under the mist, out of sight.

    Part Five

    Part five is an exhaustive look at Jacksonian America, with the following subsections:

    • Why Now?
    • Jacksonian America
    • The East
    • The South
    • The West

    This section explores why this point in time works for these types of stories, being a time where America was beginning to wrestle with its positive image of itself versus the actions taken in the name of Manifest Destiny.

    From a historical standpoint, it’s a really extensive look at the period and the various conflicts that were brewing. Even outside of potentially running the game, I found the section to be a great read. That said, this section was also a potentially stressful read, because it clearly outlines some of the worst aspects of the time period, and I’ll admit that I have a great deal of antipathy for Andrew Jackson and the events that took place under his watch.

    This section doesn’t just touch on the differences in the various geographical locations, but also discusses how those areas change over several decades, and what emergent issues come to light as time moves forward.

    Part Six

    Part six is divided into A Menagerie of Horror and Ready-to-Play Chapters. The Menagerie introduces some sample monsters submitted by Kickstarter backers, and fully realized for use in play, and the Ready-to-Play chapters introduce monsters, webs, and notes on scenarios that can be used in the game.

    This is another difficult part of the book. Some of the monsters touch on potentially troubling aspects of human existence, and while the workshop session should help establish boundaries, and active safety tools at the table should help to manage emergent issues, some of these monsters are so predicated on their perversities that an emergent issue is going to make them very difficult to modify at a moment’s notice.

    This section also reminds me that I’m a little uncomfortable with the fate of all monsters being destruction. One of the monsters feels as if they are dominating and controlling situations, but it feels strange to kill someone as a response to even extreme domineering. The monsters Past the Shroud and Beyond the Shroud feel easier to reconcile with a destructive solution.

    One interesting aspect of the Ready-to-Play chapters is that there are pre-made characters that leave enough blanks to quickly fill in with specific details, but cut down on the lengthier questioning process for protagonist creation.

    I also don’t want to give the wrong impression of this chapter. There are a lot of fascinating horror scenarios posited in this section, I just think that this book’s greatest strength is often its sharpest edge. It pushes a lot of boundaries thoughtfully, but aggressively.


    This section includes a bibliography, maps of various regions, the ludography (games that inspired this one), and the index for the book.

    Full Lucidity

    Emulating Poe by modeling that you will resolve the situation, and the only variables are what toll the resolution takes on you and others, makes perfect sense. I also love that the stakes aren’t life or death, but the state of your character’s soul.

    I enjoy the idea of spending resources to advance the plot for much of the game, and reserving the use of dice for situations that feel a bit more desperate. In this case, the resolution mechanic then plays back into the idea of moving closer to freedom from, or total domination by, your imp.

    Lack of Composure
    I enjoy the idea of spending resources to advance the plot for much of the game, and reserving the use of dice for situations that feel a bit more desperate.

    For some of the topics brought up, I would feel a lot better having a more in-depth treatment of how to handle various issues in discreet, dedicated sections. The era demands addressing issues of race, gender, and marginalization, but even though the book has some excellent discussion of safety tools, the safety tools themselves are more useful for the horror elements than the sociological elements.

    I touched on this in the previous sections, but the language in this book is carefully used to convey the setting. Despite this, perversity feels like a very loaded term. I think I may have felt more comfortable with this terminology if we had more examples that emphasized “perversity” as “negative trait.” The strict definition is “a deliberate desire to behave in an unreasonable or unacceptable way,” but a more connotative definition is “human behavior that deviates from that which is understood to be orthodox or normal.” Under the second definition, it’s a lot easier to see behavior that isn’t negative, but just “not part of the mainstream,” being twisted into being a “perversion.”

    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.

    The same things that make me love this game also make me hesitant to widely recommend it. Honestly speaking, I think the game does great things, and if you want to read a game that engages an interesting topic in a well-realized, gamified manner, you really should get this book. The historical aspects alone are a great read.

    On the other hand, if the topics addressed are ones that cause you potential stress, or if you are planning to bring this to the table, you may need to examine what you want to get out of the game a bit more closely.

    What games are your favorite alternative takes on history? What genres have you seen blended with other eras that you particularly enjoy? Let us know in the comments below, we’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

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  • Death in a Smoky Room: A (Mostly) System-Neutral Fantasy Murder Mystery
    Death in a  Smoky Room: A (Mostly) System-Neutral Fantasy Murder Mystery

    Sometimes, you just need a good atmospheric murder mystery. It seems like the options are endless: mysteries involving British trains. Mysteries with British aristocrats solving murders involving tea. Mysteries involving time-traveling British people who are also somehow aliens. Mysteries involving unspeakable cults in Massachusetts from storied British families. British murders by British people, solved Britishly.

    What I’m saying is that in time-honored historical tradition, maybe if you travel in Britain (or are from there), have someone else taste your food before you eat it. They will also probably find it bland and flavorless, but if you can detect the difference between your taster choking because they would shiv their grandmother for chili powder in that moment vs. actually being poisoned, you’re golden (note that none of this applies to Scotland, which has both curries and haggis, which are delicious. Fight me).

    But what does this have to do with you, dear reader? Well, if you’re at all like me, you’re pretty much constantly absorbing media and thinking “this is fine, but it would be better with wizards and dice.” Sure, it makes for tiresome and bewildering conversation with strangers at the DMV, but it does tend to lead to a profusion of gaming scenarios rattling around in one’s head.

    Assuming that you’re into running a mystery for your players, but don’t want to show up on a watchlist because you Googled “hiding a body” one too many times, I have a treat for you: a mostly system-neutral murder mystery.

    I say “mostly system neutral,” because I initially wrote this scenario for my local Blue Rose group, and I didn’t so much “file the serial numbers off” as “clumsily try to change one number like a guilty elementary-schooler with an F on their grade card.”

     I say “mostly system neutral,” because I initially wrote this scenario for my local Blue Rose group, and I didn’t so much “file the serial numbers off” as “clumsily try to change one number like a guilty elementary-schooler with an F on their grade card.” 

    System and Assumptions:

    This game assumes that your world is high magic and reasonably civilized. Think magic crystals, colleges, and adequate public sanitation. Waterdeep, anywhere in Eberron, or (of course) Aldis are all appropriate settings.

    Politically, this game works best with a hostile neighboring nation that was recently defeated, but is clawing its way back into being a threat. For purposes of this scenario, we will call this nation “Badveria.”

    A note on clues: borrowing from the central conceit of the brilliant GUMSHOE system, it is assumed that characters find every clue they look for. Exceptional rolls or specific skills provide additional insight, as opposed to finding things in the first place. Nothing grinds a murder mystery to a halt faster than just…failing to find a clue.

    The Backstory/NPCs:

    Orthallen Dagworth, a brilliant young alchemical student with Setting Appropriate College (GO, MASCOTS!) was murdered by agents of Badveria, who were seeking out his notes. His research is tremendously valuable to Badveria in its desire to build a more effective method of ensuring air superiority, as well as driving forward their understanding of ballistics.

    The murderer, Aiden Strelley, is also a student at the college. He is from a prominent local family who has made their fortune mining magical crystals on their ancestral land, where there was a rich vein, but this vein ran out five or so years ago. Aiden’s father, Mardic Strelley, made a deal with Badveria to continue to supply crystals in order to maintain the appearance of wealth. Badveria has been doing this for several years—the crystals supplied by the Strelley line are now used in infrastructure, weapons, and toys across the nation. Aiden, who is studying medicine, poisoned Orthallen and set up his lab to look like he died in an accident.

    Orthallen’s received orders from Badveria through Tulli Bettesthorne, a deep cover agent. Tulli is an anatomy instructor, as well as the functional medical examiner for the city. Tulli arranged for the death to be declared an accident from inhaling alchemical fumes while he was studying. Aiden has never met Tulli as her true self, and only knows her as “Mortissa,” which he overheard a Badverian agent calling her after she thought he left.

    Trevor Peckham: Orthallen’s partner. Devoted, fiery, furious, smart, and tenacious. He is also an alchemy student, and the only person alive (not working for Badveria) who had any knowledge of Orthallen’s research. It is Trevor who draws the characters’ attention to what he strongly suspects was foul play.

    Location 1: The Scene of the Crime

    It is assumed that characters will start here, but feel free to modify according to the needs of your group—it’s entirely possible they will come up with creative and/or ludicrous ideas. Roll with it.

    • Clue 1: Orthallen’s body has already been removed. However, the room still is covered in stains and stinks strongly of the alchemical reagents that are the official cause of his death. Several books of Orthallen’s notes still remain. Careful examination of the notes reveals that some of them are missing. Though the notebooks he used are rough, there are clear stresses on the binding that indicate pages have been taken out. Had the pages been ripped out while the notebooks were in use, the whole things would have fallen apart. Use of an appropriate investigation skill (with a high difficulty) reveals that the sections missing were on gases that are lighter than air, as well as the properties of ashes of certain trees near the border of Badveria.
    • Clue 2: There are several books on the desk that refer to the work Orthallen was doing. However, it’s very clear from suspicious gaps in the mess on Orthallen’s desk that these were not the only books he was using, indicating that it’s an incomplete overview of his research. It is common knowledge that the library only allows one book to be taken out at once without special dispensation. The fact that Orthallen had three (or more) indicates that he had specific permission from the administration to check out more—a sign of groundbreaking and important breakthroughs on the horizon. Characters without any sort of academic background, or who fail an appropriate (and difficult) roll, are unable to tell anything about the books themselves—they’re highly specialized and incomprehensible to anyone outside of Orthallen’s field of study. Characters who pass their roll are given the following titles:
      • Luminous Gases and their Properties, Volumes 1 and 3.
      • On the Hermetic Sealing of Flexible Materials for Maritime and Agricultural Use.
      • Volatile Miasms: Manufacture and Storage: Introduction.

    Location 2: The Morgue

    This area is kept cold by means of magical crystals; the workers in the morgue are very proud of them and declare as soon as the characters arrive that “These are Strelley crystals—the best you can get!” Orthallen’s body is currently the only one in the morgue.

    • Clue 1: any discussion with the staff of the morgue, or review of the paperwork in the morgue reveal that the medical examination was conducted by Aiden Strelley.
    • Clue 2: Any examination of Orthallen’s body reveals that it shows no contamination from the alchemical reagents that were theoretically the cause of his death. There is no staining, and not even a hint of the stench in the room. A successful healing or other investigative check reveals that he was killed through a sudden hemorrhagic event, with no sign of trauma to his windpipe or lungs. This is wildly inconsistent with the reports of his death, which indicate that he choked on gases that he was working with as part of his research. A truly exceptional success should reveal that the cause of death was an overdose of a common painkiller derived from the bark of the fevertree—something that only a medical student would have access to in sufficient quantity to cause death.

    Location 3: the Library (Probably)

    This scene can take place anywhere, but most likely, the characters will attempt to investigate at the library to find out what other books Orthallen had been reading.

    • Combat! The characters discover that Badverian agents have been told by someone they only know as “Mortissa” to watch out for anyone snooping around after looking in on the alchemical laboratories. Build this encounter according to the rules and appetite for challenge of your players—since this is only one of three potential combat encounters, it should be challenging enough to keep combat-heavy players happy.
    • If the characters manage to avoid burning down the library, they are able to piece together that Orthallen was researching how to make lighter-than-air transport and gunpowder, and that Badveria was interested in the results. The only way they could have known what he was researching though, was if they had a person on the inside.

    The Badverian agents should have access to a special ability (a recharge ability, stunt, or other system-appropriate power) that enables them to turn off or control any crystal-based magic on the characters or in the library.

    Location 4: Aiden’s Chambers

    • Aiden can be found (alone) in the dormitories. These are small, windowless rooms with heavy doors and thick stone walls, clearly older than the rest of the college.
    • When the characters confront Aiden, if they have sufficient evidence to convict him, he panics by closing the dormitories and knocking together several flasks on his desk. The combination causes the room to begin to fill with a noxious gas.
      • Figuring out how to ventilate or neutralize this gas should be a complex task, though as usual, clever roleplay or the use of magic should be both encouraged and effective.
      • Every round that takes place, the characters must lose an aggregate of 1/5 of the total party’s hit points from the characters breathing in noxious gas. The characters may assign this as they wish.
      • Additionally, each round, one character gets one level of fatigue or other appropriate condition. This can also be assigned by consensus of the players.
    • If the characters fail, they come to in the healer’s college. Aiden has died from inhaling noxious fumes, and they’re regarded as something kind of like heroes for uncovering the treachery.
    • If they succeed, they can confront Aiden, who has an appointment with “Mortissa” later that night, and is willing to tell them the details in exchange for his life.
    • Confrontation with Mortissa can take place anywhere that speaks to your players, but by default, it should be somewhere out of the way, and unlikely to be visited by the city watch. This is a boss fight, so be sure to make it difficult. Don’t skimp on the henchpeople. If Mortissa/Tulli beats the characters, she knows her cover is blown, and she leaves the characters to flee back to Badveria with all possible speed. If the characters beat her (and leave her alive for interrogation), she reveals the whole scheme.

    Epilogue/Further Adventures

    As of the end of the game, the characters should be able to connect the dots and realize that virtually all of their military and infrastructure is potentially contaminated with Badverian crystals, and thus vulnerable to Badverian meddling. Additionally, the Badverians are now ahead of the characters’ own nation in terms of both air travel and gunpowder. If this knowledge were to get out, it would cause mass panic, but something clearly must be done—it’s up to the characters to stop the Badverians before it’s too late!

    So what do you think? Does this sound like the kind of scenario your group would enjoy? Sound off in the comments!




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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRunning Episodic Games

    I'm a huge fan of serials. Shows like True Detective put a limit on the overall story but give that story enough room to breathe and fill out across many episodes. The game Shadow of the Demon Lord by Robert Schwalb builds itself around this episodic structure as the core of the game. Characters are intended to level each session across eleven sessions that make up an entire Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign. This builds a strict structure around the campaign. Some may find it too restrictive but others, like myself, enjoy having this fixed structure to build around.

    We can take this same episodic approach with our Dungeons & Dragons games. Often, when running large hardback adventures, we let the game go however it goes. It begins where it left off previously and it ends wherever it ends as time allows. This can be a fine and relaxing way to play, one that doesn't push a lot of adventure time management onto the DM's already long list of required activities. When running a campaign adventure like Tomb of Annihilation, we can let it go as long as it needs to go.

    There can be some fun in building a more focused episodic structure to our campaigns, one in which the each session has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Such a campaign might have a fixed number of "episodes" until the end of the campaign. It works well if you know that your group has a limited number of sessions already. It also works well if your game is somewhat irregular but each session is still long enough to fit in a whole adventure. Four hours is a good benchmark.

    Planning Out the Serial Campaign

    When following the concepts in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master we focus our attention on the next session and have, at best, a loose outline for the rest of a campaign. This works well if we have no real time limits on each session or on the campaign as a whole. When we're running a focused episodic campaign, like an eleven-session Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign, we'll need more structure than that.

    It doesn't have to be much more structure, however. If we look at the level 1 to 20 gnoll campaign outline we only need a one-line description for each session beyond the next one and a general idea how the story is going to go. We still focus our attention on the next game but we have a more fixed and focused outline to work from.

    Here's an example for my Shadow of the Demon Lord game but it can work just as easily for a D&D game. The overall goal of this campaign is to stop the coming of the Demon Lord by destroying the four anchors that pull him into the world. Each anchor is an object or being of great power and requires a single item to destroy it (known as a "breaker"). Here's the eleven session campaign outline:

    • Rescue Father Gregory from the Black Vault beneath Crossings
    • "Rescue" Candace Dreen from the thugs who kidnapped her (turns out she's a demon).
    • Break into the Dreen mansion to recover notes from the demonologist Moore.
    • Recover the first Breaker: the Sword of Stars
    • Recover the second Breaker: the Shard of Night
    • Recover the third Breaker: the Blackfire Wand
    • Recover the fourth Breaker: the Bone of the Innocent
    • Destroy the first Anchor: the Demon Prince
    • Destroy the second Anchor: the White Princess
    • Destroy the third Anchor: the Black Sun Manuscript
    • Destroy the fourth Anchor: The Eye of the Demon Lord

    You can see the clear structure of this campaign. Because it breaks out into two groups of four objectives, the characters can accomplish each of these four objectives in whatever order they want. I only flesh out these individual adventures when I'm getting ready to run the session. It's enough to have the outline to work off of and know I have a clear direction for the campaign.

    Sometimes it behooves us to expose this structure to the players. In the outline above, the players learned the general structure for the campaign in session three. They know they'll need to recover four breakers to destroy four anchors. They know each session will cover one of these events. They'll be as committed as we are to follow the structure of the campaign.

    Maybe our campaign doesn't actually end up this way and the outline changes. That's ok. Sometimes the best stories take a hard left turn and become something very different. We can be cool with that and it might actually end up being a better game. It still has to fit within the structure, however, so when that hard left turn happens, it's time to rebuild the outline and not let the story get out of hand.

    Building In Flexibility

    Because each adventure is intended to fit within a game session and because adventures have a tendency to go off the rails we have to build in a fair bit of flexibility into them. We may have to dramatically shorten our adventure or pad it out to fit within the session depending on how things go. Most of the time we'll need to shorten it up. It's rare when we don't have enough material to fill out a session and much more likely that we have too much.

    Our first goal is to have the end in mind always. We need to know what the final conclusion of the adventure will be and be prepared to push the adventure to that conclusion as fast as possible if needed. If we're running an adventure based on the rescue of Father Gregory from the Black Vault, we have to be ready to get the characters to the Black Vault, find Father Gregory, and face the harvester that's carving him up within the last 30 to 45 minutes of the game. We can use our tricks to time and pace each adventure with moving keys and moving MacGuffins.

    Managing time becomes crucial in such short episodic adventures so we need to be thinking about that conclusion every thirty minutes ensuring that its headed towards that conclusion quickly. Clues become much easier to discover later in a game. Dungeons become smaller. Piles of monsters in the way suddenly disappear. The very next room the characters enter just so happens to be the Black Vault.

    There are a few ways we can build in this flexibility into our games. Here are two:

    First, we can shrink the dungeon. If we're using a map for our dungeon, say the catacombs map from the Lazy DM's Workbook, we can collapse hallways and cut off rooms until a twelve-room dungeon becomes a five-room dungeon.

    Second, we can cut encounters. Scenes, particularly combat scenes, all take up a lot of time in our games. When we're building out our single-session adventure we can build-in flexibility by being ready to cut scenes when we need. Maybe those wights never burst out of the sarcophagi as the characters make their way to the dead general's crypt. Maybe instead of having to negotiate with a ghost to get into the lower tomb, the characters learn some interesting lore from a fresco on the wall and find the door already open. We always want enough encounters to fill out the game but we should be ready to cut whatever we need to cut to get to the ending on time.

    Character Montages Between Sessions

    Because each of our games is a self-contained story, we can throw in some downtime in between each session. At the beginning of each session we can go around the table and ask what each character has been up to for this period of downtime. We can shrink or extend this downtime as it fits the story. Maybe it's only one day. Maybe it's a tenday. Maybe it's a month. A lot of interesting things can happen to the characters in this downtime and some of it may move the story into new and interesting directions. Players can have clear ideas of what their character did and learned during the downtime which is a great way to drop in some secrets and clues. Other players might not have anything particular in mind so maybe they roll on the carousing table from Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Let your players know that you'll be asking about their downtime and they may come up with some interesting ideas between sessions. This is a fun way to play D&D away from the table as well as on it.

    Leveling Every Session

    In an episode of the DM's Deep Dive, Mike Mearls mentioned that he felt that characters typically leveled too slowly. He went so far as to recommend leveling characters every session to see how it felt. Many DMs didn't like that idea, often describing that they felt players wouldn't have enough time to understand their characters' new abilities.

    A short-run episodic campaign, however, might be just the time to try out faster leveling. Experienced players won't have much trouble understanding the new abilities of their characters and as long as as each episode happens close to the others, say weekly, players will watch their characters grow level by level each session.

    A six-session, ten-session, or even twenty-session episodic campaign might be just the way to enjoy the feeling of a full D&D campaign without having to play for two years to complete it.

    One Alternative Style of Play

    Episodic D&D games isn't a new wonderful way to play D&D. It is one possible way we can run our games when the story and situation is right. I very much enjoyed my eleven episode Shadow of the Demon Lord game but it isn't likely to be my preferred style. The relaxed nature of an ongoing campaign means I don't have to worry about tying up every loose end at the end of a session. I don't have to have an eleven-episode outline for the whole campaign. I can run multiple villains, multiple stories, and multiple hooks and see where the characters want to go.

    If you see a short focused campaign in your future, however, the episodic campaign may be just the fit. Add it to your DMing toolkit.

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  • VideoYour Most Important Game

    Your most important Dungeons & Dragons game is the next one you're going to run.

    This might be blindingly obvious or it might be completely alien to you. We DMs have big dreams. We have big plans. We plan out entire 1 to 20 campaigns before we've had our session zero. We love to build out campaign worlds for years before our characters step outside of their single town. We think about future boss monsters. We think about future combat encounters. We think about big twists that may take place in the story.

    None of that really matters. It's all ethereal until it hits the table. Your future four-year campaign doesn't exist until its over.

    All that matters is your next game.

    Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master spends a lot of time on individual game preparation for this reason. It's useful to think about the big truths in a campaign world. It's fun to think about the villains, where they're going, and what they're doing. We like to be able to describe a campaign with a clear elevator pitch. But, in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master we don't spend a lot of time on building large campaign arcs because, deep down, they don't matter. Only the next game matters. The results for each eight steps matter.

    How are we going to make our next game the best game we can? What can we stick into it that will really blow the players away? Who are the characters? What is our strong start? What scenes might occur? What secrets will they uncover? What locations will they explore? Who will they meet? What monsters will they face? What treasure might they uncover? That's what we should focus on.

    What can we do to make our next game awesome? Is it handouts? Is it a cool location map? Is it some evocative 3D terrain? Is it a character's hook we can finally reel in?

    Our DM's mind wanders. When we're given permission to build entire universes in our head, it's hard not to let our minds rush outward. We can build planet-sized dungeons. We can establish histories that go back millions of years. We can build entire pantheons of gods. How can we not give our minds the freedom to do so?

    We can, but not at the expense of our game. None of those things become real until they play out at our game and things only really play out in the next session we run. Until then, nothing else matters. Nothing else exists.

    The more we detail future adventures our minds, the more we might lose sight of what comes next. If we're ever struggling to know what to do, how to prepare, and how to fit it such preparation into our busy lives, it is freeing to recognize that the only game we need to worry about is the next one we're going to run.

    Focus on your next game.

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