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  • Designer Diary: Flutter, or Tiles and Monarchs

    by Matt Bahntge

    The Seed

    A spatial economy — that was the seed of the idea in 2018 that would ultimately become Flutter.

    I have always been fascinated by different market mechanisms like supply and demand, as well as by the games exploring them. I wanted to create something with the fun of speculation, risk management, and forward planning, without trending toward spreadsheet analysis (as market-heavy games often do). This seed would carry the game, initially titled "Gemcutter", through years of design and refinement until finding its final form, a game in which players are building a colorful meadow through an under-the-hood market of petals and pollen.


    The first prototype featured mine shafts producing rough gems that players would exchange for finished stones, but the long rectangular mine shaft tiles felt bland and unoriginal.

    In testing with Jeff Siadek, at some point I stumbled on the idea of more uniquely-shaped pieces: rhombuses, trapezoids, and triangles — all connecting with 60º or 120º angles. All of a sudden, the game felt unique, and looking for matches by joining the corners was satisfying in a puzzly sort of way.


    The market's inner workings fell into place: supply would be at the corners of the tile, demand would be in the center. You'd match corners to generate rough stones, and surrounding tiles to spend those stones on finished gems (i.e., endgame points) meshed seamlessly, leaving each tile placement feeling weighty and interesting.

    These two things produced the unexpected arc that has stayed with the game: the number of choices expands from the first tile placement, then shifts and levels off as tiles are enclosed. You generate more stones at the beginning, and even though it seems like you'll never be able to afford closing off tiles, you find more and more scoring opportunities that open up. This creates an organic introductory arc to the game, but also ensures that your options reach a wide (yet comprehensible) level about halfway through the game.


    Growth

    I continued to test the design with experienced designers such as John D. Clair and Josh Wood (whose advice I'm very grateful for) and made changes to try to highlight the most fun parts of the game. Enclosing a tile for gems and gaining stones felt great, but enclosing multiple tiles had your opponents envious. It turned out that allowing players to enclose open spaces enabled them to close even more tiles at once, creating pivotal plays and dramatic moments.

    The steps involved with each tile placement also had to be looked at: you gain stones from matching corners, pay stones for any corners that don't match, and exchange stones for points if you enclosed tiles. It became clear that gaining stones before you paid anything opened up possibilities, but led to waaay too many (overly mathy) options.

    Switching the order of those actions so that you always paid before you gained made the game much simpler to visually parse...and still left you weighing if and when you wanted to pay for non-matching corners.


    At this point, I felt the game starting to take full form. I noticed both that players immediately became engrossed in the puzzle of it even when it wasn't their turn, and that experienced players strategized ahead to increasingly impressive plays.


    Finding a Home

    Pitchspiration had struck, and I had the great fortune of getting the attention of Jason Miceli and Darrin Horbal of Phase Shift Games[company=40136][/company] in mid-2021. Despite having seen the quality of their Kickstarter and publication, I did not expect it to be such an incredible joy to work with these guys. After signing our contract a few months later, they helped me push and prod at the game from every angle of development.

    The first element we looked at was the theme, as the use of jewels and stones in "Gemcutter" was meant to appeal to a broad audience in the way that Splendor or Bejeweled do, but the flipside of that approach is that it lacked uniqueness.

    Inspired by the familiar-yet-unique thematic approach of games like Azul or Sagrada, we collectively wrote a small novel's worth of discussion over finding a theme that fit both the unique shape of the tiles, and the functional relationship between the elements in the corners and centers of tiles.

    The theme of assembling dreamcatchers with their beads and feathers representing the supply and demand of nightmares and good dreams was strongly considered. In a testament to their diligence, Phase Shift contacted several Native American elders and community leaders of the Ojibwe and found enough of a cautionary response that we decided against it.

    Crystallizing the Meadow

    Back at the drawing board, the proposed theme of a meadow where flowers were built at the corners of tiles for the pollinating critters (which we discovered were many more than just bees) was a perfect connection mechanically, but I couldn't fully get on board until the last remaining piece popped into my head: a low-poly world in which plants and animals alike all existed in an angular geometry.

    For me, this was the same "eureka" feeling I had with the fun of using these angular shapes, but from the thematic direction. This was the symbiotic relationship between the two. Phase Shift employed the fantastically talented Steven Tu, who brought this low-poly prototype world to life almost overnight, cementing our direction.


    Phase Shift wisely pushed for mechanical development as well, asking if we couldn't find that "little extra", and I'm glad they did.

    One element that had needed a little massaging from the beginning was which tiles could be played and when. Until this point, players were dealt one of each tile and the tiles were lined up randomly, allowing a player to use either the rightmost or leftmost tile of their line.

    While functional, this approach was also somewhat sterile, caused breaks in play (to deal out new rows of tiles), and felt a little overly balanced since it ensured that every player would play the same shapes. We found that using a rondel system for tile selection — with a sun token circling the sky as it travels around the tile-tracking position on the rondel — not only allowed for almost instantaneous set-up, but also created a whole new layer of interesting tactical decisions and options. You could now pay an increasingly steep price to skip ahead on the rondel, a move that you need to worry about only later in the game and once you have some experience with the system.

    Finally, to add a more long-term strategic element (while still keeping with the "no-cards no-text" elegance of the game), each player received a "bee" token. The bee allows players to effectively stake a bet on a tile and pursue a variety of strategies that emerge from this small addition, such as dissuading an opponent from enclosing the tile, or banking on one that they're eyeing...

    While all this was happening, Jason (actually a long time monarch-hatcher with his family) started a partnership with the Save Our Monarchs foundation to send proceeds from each sale toward monarch butterfly conservation. Migratory monarchs are not only endangered, they're also fascinating creatures that make multi-generational migrations between central Mexico and the entire United States...with a top speed of 6 mph no less. Crazy.


    We're extremely proud of the final product, and I have nothing but thanks for all the help I've gotten along the way in bringing Flutter to life.

    Matt Bahntge

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Streamer Standoff

    by Jeb Havens

    DrLupo Presents: Streamer Standoff started with an ambitious goal: to capture the chaotic (and sometimes ridiculous) world of streamers and influencers in a simple card game that is quick to learn, is packed with hilarious moments, and has just the right amount of strategic depth.


    To pull this off, I worked closely with co-designer Bobby West, publisher Maestro Media, and legendary streamer DrLupo, who is mostly known by his millions of followers for his video gaming and charity work — but he's also a big fan of tabletop games, so he was excited for the "epic collab", as the streamers say.

    The initial core concept almost wrote itself: Players would step into the role of budding streamers competing for subscribers. Early on, the phrase "The Race to 20 Million Subs" resonated with the team (and a random sampling of friends), so that became my north star.

    DrLupo was on board with the idea and liked that it let us (as well as the players) poke fun at the industry, but in a light-hearted way that never turned mean or disrespectful. We decided that the game should feel social, with some player interaction, while still being strategic. We also needed the game to work well on livestream (for obvious marketing reasons), so it had to be as much fun to watch as it was to play.

    Getting Scrappy

    As a designer, my process always starts with a lot of scrap paper, quickly prototyping and playtesting as early as possible. It's the fastest way to go from "seemingly-perfect idea in my head" to "fatally flawed idea from which I can learn", and it keeps me from spending too much time on any one concept until I've seen it "in motion" with some real players.


    Over the course of a few months, I built, tested, learned from, and iterated on about a dozen different simple prototypes. Each one focused on a core mechanism that could potentially be the foundation of a full design. Some prototypes focused on channel upgrades, some on predicting trending topics, some on the business of streaming, and some on the story arc of a streaming persona. From these simple prototypes and their iterations, I narrowed things down to two I thought were especially promising:

    Prototype 1: The first prototype focused on predicting a moving timeline of trending topics. Players revealed their moves simultaneously and jockeyed for position to make sure their channel was the most popular in a topic at the time it went viral (for a big payout in subscribers). The game had a lot of strategy and fun moments — such as a surprising shake-up just before the next hot trend popped — but it came at the cost of being more complex to learn and play, while having a longer playtime overall. Also, the "jockeying" mechanisms really shined only at 4+ players, and we knew we wanted something that could work great for as few as two.

    Prototype 2: The other prototype focused more directly on the humor and fiction of the streaming world. Players would see a few ridiculous trends in the middle of the table and take turns combining cards in their hands to make funny "Mad Libs-style" video titles to match one of the trends, claiming it and scoring some subscribers. The gameplay was much simpler to explain and understand, it moved a lot faster, and players were able to jump in and start having fun right away. (Also, it generated a lot of table talk as players joked about the crazy trends and video titles they came up with.)

    I presented both prototypes to DrLupo and the Maestro Media team, including Bobby West, one of the Maestro Media developers who then joined me as a co-designer. Everyone agreed the second prototype was a better fit for our audience and DrLupo's brand, and we knew it would play better on livestream.


    Putting It to the Test

    After the team agreed on the basic structure and feel, Bobby and I began a much more focused playtesting and iteration effort. We ran tests with a variety of gaming groups, and we found that players loved the theme and humor of the game, and they immediately understood the core mechanism of combining cards to make videos that matched available trends to score subscribers.

    A lot was working, but the arc of the game still felt a bit flat. We were missing the big "wow" moments, the feeling of building up a channel over time, and the all-important player interaction.

    We knew we'd seen some of these things in Prototype 1, so we pulled it out of the proverbial dustbin and raided its mechanisms to see what made sense to salvage. That prototype may have been too complicated, but it had some great spare parts.

    Early prototype, with playtesting fuel in the background
    Keeping Things on Track

    The first idea we brought over was the "trend track". Newly-revealed trends would start out on the left of the track as not very popular (and worth only a few subscribers), but would gradually grow in popularity as they shifted to the right, only to tumble in value once people were "over it".

    This reintroduced a sense of timing and urgency to the game. Players had to time their video releases for maximum payoff, but if they waited too long, another player could snag the trend first — or the internet might just decide it's not cool anymore.

    This change also simplified the components. Each trend no longer had to specify how many subscribers it would award; that was determined by its position along the track. Plus, testers had a lot of fun with the narrative as trends became "hot", then faded just as quickly ("Sorry, fanny packs, you had your time, but we're on to the next big thing.")


    Changing the Channel

    We also brought in some "channel development" mechanisms from the other prototype. As a player would capture trends in a given topic, their channel would become known for that type of content, making it faster and easier to capture similar future trends.

    So instead of having a flat pace from beginning to end, the scoring accelerated and players felt more powerful as the game progressed — but they also encountered new roadblocks as their channel specialized and got locked out of other trends!

    As a side bonus, this gave us an opportunity to add the concept of "collabs". Collaborating with other content creators is a big part of how real streamers grow their audience, so we were happy to find a natural place for it in the game. If a player's channel gained enough cred in the right topics, they could grab one of a limited set of "collab opportunities", giving them a big exciting windfall of new subscribers, which could often put them across the finish line.


    Playing Nice

    Finally, we had to tackle player interaction. We knew the game needed funny ways that players could mess with each other. Competitive multiplayer gaming and good-natured trash talking are a big part of DrLupo's brand. In early meetings, whenever he talked about the tabletop games that he loved to play with his friends and family, there was always an element of PvP.

    Many card games focus on direct player attacks, which can be very entertaining, but they can often devolve into "kingmaker" scenarios in which one player decides which other player wins, making the game feel a bit random and unsatisfying. We wanted the game to feel strategic as well as social, so we opted for a form of player interaction that was less direct, while still being funny and supporting the overall theme.

    We liked the jockeying and bluffing elements in the more complex prototype, so we combined some of those mechanisms into a system of influence tokens. One token might let a player swap the position of trends on the track, while another would let them look at someone else's hand and steal a card. During one of our meetings with DrLupo, he made a joke about slapping a video with a DMCA takedown (referring to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that targets copyrighted material online), so we turned that into a token you can play on another player's video to delay its release by a turn.

    All the influence tokens are kept secret until played, so you never know exactly what other players could be plotting. Some tokens are even played face down and not revealed until after a trend is scored, allowing players to bluff other players into avoiding a trend they might otherwise try to claim.

    With all of these elements in place, Bobby and I finally got the dynamic gameplay arc and fun social moments that we'd been aiming for.

    Playtesting at Gen Con 2023
    Working with Ben

    It's no secret that when someone has millions of followers, there's a possibility they might be difficult to work with. Before originally agreeing to take on this project, I knew I'd need to talk directly with Ben Lupo (the man behind the channel) to see what I might be getting into.

    From the first meeting, I was convinced. Ben is a refreshingly sincere and down-to-earth guy, and was fantastic to work with throughout the process. He shared stories about his love of board and card games, and we bonded over playing (and often losing) games as a kid against our older brothers. Ben was genuinely excited to be involved from the ground floor, offering lots of great feedback and ideas, while at the same time putting his trust in the design and publishing team.

    We were able to leverage his insider knowledge for references, in-jokes, and a gut-check on what things his audience (and the streaming world) would find funny and authentic. We wanted his fans to love it, while also making sure it would appeal to a larger general mass market.

    Ben officially announced the launch of Streamer Standoff in March 2024 on his live birthday stream, playing a digital version of the game with three of his friends. The audience ate it up, loving the hilarious table-talk while also appreciating that this was a "real game" with a lot of strategy, not just a money grab with his name slapped on it. At one point, the chat started counting down in real-time as we quickly sold out of the five hundred advance copies that were available.


    Living the Stream

    Creating a licensed game is always challenging, and even more so when that "license" is a person. We wanted to capture the essence of DrLupo's brand as a competitive gaming and lifestyle streamer, but also his love of fun accessible tabletop games, his connection with his fans, and his sense of humor about the industry and internet culture.

    It took a lot of experimentation and prototyping and testing, and it was a team effort throughout, but I'm really proud of the game we ended up with. There are jokes and references just for the fans, but tons of humor that anyone can relate to. The gameplay is simple enough to learn and start playing within minutes, but with layers of strategy and depth for more competitive players to discover.

    If you think you're ready to try your hand at streamer stardom, the remaining copies of DrLupo Presents: Streamer Standoff hit retail in July 2024.

    Jeb Havens

    Designers cornered: Bobby West (l) and Jeb Havens Read more »
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    Gnome Stew

  • Start your Campaign with a Wedding

    Since the beginning of the hobby starting at a tavern has been the most cliche and stereotypical beginning for medieval fantasy campaigns in TTRPG. They are that way for a reason! Taverns are meeting places for all different kinds of people to group up and find missions to get started. The tavern keeper always has some gossip or information to give, maybe some rats to kill in the attic. There is always that mysterious person in the shadows as well, ready to approach the group of wacky individuals and make a team out of them. I, however, come here to offer you something that is far better (in my opinion) than the tavern beginning, and it can easily be applied to any TTRPG.

    The Wedding

    Note that even though I say a wedding, many sort of similar parties apply. A “fiesta de quinceañera“, a funeral, a bachelor party, or any sort of meeting that encompasses people from different areas connected to one same person or group of people works fine. All of these usually have events going on during the meeting in which everyone is invited to participate. Apart from that, people are put in groups or these self-gravitate into forming smaller groups of people to chat with. Once they are all together in one same spot, within the same subgroup, it’s time for something to go wrong or have someone recruit the group.

    I tried this approach at the start of two of the last campaigns I ran: one for Pathfinder 2e, the other for City of Mist (which you can see in a soon to come Spanish Actual Play by RolDe10). The Pathfinder campaign involved the wedding of the Emperor’s right-hand man, having all party members meet up and put into one table together with one NPC that was going to be important to the story. During the event, there is an assassination attempt on the Emperor’s right-hand man, and the story starts from there. For City of Mist, all player characters meet during the “fiesta de quinceañera” (an event celebrated in Latin America when a woman turns 15) and the birthday girl never appears, because she was kidnapped. Both events are kind of similar, having the players meet at an event without knowing each other (or having a few connections with each other), and something happens that kickstarts the campaign.

    The best tutorial

    Both times I ran this kickstart event for a campaign, I was teaching the players how to play the game. At the same time, they were getting to better know their characters. These meetings usually have events going on in them. It is pretty usual for weddings to have games, or have the classical “grasp the flower bouquet”. Think of them as the first checks or interactions the players will have with the system. It’s a no-risk situation that players always want to participate in because they are just fun. Even if they decide to have their character not participate in it, that also shows the kind of character the player is playing.

    In Media Res

    In media res, which is Latin for “in the middle of” means dropping the players into the action from the very start. I have tried this several times, and it has never failed me. It immediately hooks the players and gets them into character. Being in the middle of a celebratory event, you can have them start in some low-risk but action-heavy event, such as dancing with an important NPC, or carrying a plate full of food as a waiter. Once you have them there, they describe their character, what they are doing, and how, and they make a first roll. Players get to know a bit about the system immediately, allowing them to better know how their actions have consequences.

    Campaign Kickoff

    Once the big meeting has occurred, and all the key parts of the campaign have been introduced (players and important NPCs), it’s time to show what the campaign will be all about. This can happen by having something or someone break into the meeting, or by having an NPC approach the player characters to fill them in with information. As I said, I used both an assassination attempt, and a kidnapping as past examples and both worked excellently. Having a knight of the king break in, having the mother of the birthday person abducted by an alien, or having an NPC approach the PCs because they did extremely well in an event that transpired there could work just as well.


    The 4 steps to make it work

    In essence, this meeting will be separated into 4 different steps:

    1. In Media Res Start. Start with a bang to instantly drop the players into the game. Have them rolling from early on an you will have them interested in no time.
    2. The First Meeting. Players are put together at the start of the meeting. Maybe there was no one else they knew at the party so they are put with each other, maybe it’s a mere coincidence. Note that not all player characters must be together at the start, but it is recommended most of them do. That way it is not as difficult to put them together to continue the campaign.
    3. The Mini Events: Just like minigames, the mini events are risk-free reasons for the players to interact with the system through their characters, as well as getting to know important NPCs. In funerals this may be doing a whole oratory about the now deceased person, in birthday parties hitting the piñata, etc.
    4. Campaign Kickoff: Have something happen that sets the player characters in motion to work together for the duration of the campaign.

    Conclusion

    Simple, right? Next time you start a campaign, no matter the game system, try doing so with a wedding or similar event! You will see in no time how great of a campaign starter it is. It will also catch your players by surprise, who might be expecting another tavern beginning!

    Have you ever started your campaign with a similar event? If so, let me know in the comments below, so we all can inspire each other campaign starters!

    Read more »
  • mp3Gnomecast 193 – GMing for Turtles

    Join Ang, Josh, and Phil as they talk about GMing for Turtles. No, not those charming reptiles with a house on their back, but the players that end up not wanting to engage with what you’re putting down in front of them!

    LINKS:

    Sandra Taylor’s ‘Structuring Life to Support Creativity

    2024 D&D

    Daggerheart

    Meguey Baker

    Read more »
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    RPGWatch Newsfeed

  • Pennon and Battle - Released into Early Access
    The strategy RPG Pennon and Battle has been released into Early Access: New strategy game Pennon and Battle first gameplay reveal Read more »
  • Space Prison - Released
    The tactical RPG Space Prison has been released: Space Prison - Gameplay Trailer Survive the galaxy's toughest prison and rise to the top of a space gang! Explore, fight, craft, trade and learn convicts' stories to escape the facility. Space Prison is a turn-based tactical survival game with deep strategy and social RPG elements.... Read more »
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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoGetting Ideas for your RPGs

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    Over at the Sly Flourish Patreon I get asked where ideas for our games come from. For me, great ideas come from great fiction.

    Chapter 25 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master offers a list of fiction I found fueled my own GM's brain attic. It's been a few years so I extended the list with the one below.

    These books, TV shows, movies, and games are sources of fiction that spoke to me. They may not speak to you. Instead, write up and share your own list.

    Books

    • Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames
    • East of West by Jonathan Hickman
    • Fairy Tale by Stephen King
    • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
    • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
    • Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

    TV Shows

    • Andor
    • Book of Boba Fett
    • Castlevania
    • Dark
    • Dracula by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
    • For All Mankind
    • Good Omens
    • Locke and Key
    • Love, Death, and Robots
    • Mandalorian
    • Midnight Mass
    • One Piece
    • Peaky Blinders
    • The Expanse
    • The Outsider
    • The Witcher

    Movies

    • American Werewolf in London
    • Avengers Infinity War & End Game
    • Blade Runner 2049
    • Clash of the Titans (the old 1981 one)
    • Color Out of Space
    • Doctor Sleep
    • Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves
    • Dune part 1 & 2 (Denis Villeneuve)
    • Eternals
    • Everything Everywhere All at Once
    • Hereditary
    • It Chapters 1 and 2
    • John Wick 1-4
    • Midsommar
    • Nope
    • Pan's Labyrinth
    • Prey
    • Snowpiercer
    • Tenet
    • The Endless
    • The Green Knight
    • The Witch
    • Thor Love and Thunder
    • Wakanda Forever

    Games

    • Baldur's Gate 3
    • Diablo 4
    • Elden Ring
    • Horizon Forbidden West
    • Remnant 2

    Other RPG Products

    The amount of material published for fantasy RPGs is tremendous and it's all useful to fire up your imagination. Borrowing ideas for your game from published RPG material is a time-honored tradition. Wolfgang Baur, lead kobold at Kobold Press, said that people stealing ideas from Midgard and bringing them into their own world was his greatest hope for the setting.

    For some excellent 5e-based products to boost your creativity, check out Notable 5e Products and Ten Notable 5e Products for 2022.

    Shaking Up Your Brain with Random Tables

    Another great tool to shake up your brain and generate some great ideas are random tables and generators. Whether it's a random monument, NPC generator, magic item, or something bigger like a whole world; random tables get your mind out of a groove and push it in a new direction.

    I built the Lazy DM's Companion with this need in mind. It offers story-based adventure ideas, each with lists of twenty options for several variables to give you all new ideas.

    It's Jaws but with a chaotic chimera awoken from a long slumber that sprays acid living in a volcanic cave protected by hags and hunted by greedy bandits.

    Raging Swan has some awesome random tables if you're looking for random tables beyond those in the Companion.

    Fill Your Mind Palace

    Generating good ideas comes from all of the sources you let into your brain and the practice of transforming them into new ideas. Our favorite RPGs let us do this transformation every week if we exercise it. Watch some great shows, play with some random tables, and draw upon your own list of awesome ideas for your game.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Excellent Short-Form 5e Adventure Publishers and Ulgar – Champion of Ramlaat – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 36 Lazy GM Prep.

    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:

    • Give two or three paths for longer journeys to adventure locations.
    • Break up travel with interesting encounters at fantastic locations.
    • Add interesting lore to typical random encounters.
    • Stage random encounters at notable locations.
    • Give the characters the latest news through town or city heralds.
    • Let the characters see the long term results of their heroic actions.
    • Give the characters a nice coffee shop they enjoy hanging out at between adventures.

    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 »
  • VideoBuild Your Own Vecna Campaign

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    I'm not going to spend a lot of time on details but I wasn't a fan of the plot of WOTC's Vecna – Eve of Ruin adventure. Without spoiling, I'll say that the adventure hinges on one bit of deception that, when revealed, unravels the whole purpose of the rest of the adventure.

    But fear not! We can build our own Vecna adventure!

    This article contains a campaign outline you can use directly or use to inspire your own Vecna-based multiverse-spanning adventure. You can use it to refactor material from Vecna – Eve of Ruin or you can save yourself $60 and build your own Vecna-based adventure exactly the way you want it.

    Here's one potential outline for your own Vecna-based adventure.

    Vecna's Motivation

    As a mortal-become-god, Vecna continually sought the one thing he wanted most – power. Until, at the culmination of his might, he realized his folly. In his quest for power, he lost his happiest moment forever – a moment side-by-side with his partner, Kas, before the two of them began their individual quests for power. This drive for power destroyed them, sending Kas to the domain of Dread known as Torvag after his betrayal of Vecna and Vecna on his insatiable quest for godhood.

    Realizing his loss and recognizing he can never find that happiness again, Vecna seeks to undo reality. He wants to roll back the multiverse to the moment before he and Kas focused on power above all, leading to Kas's betrayal. In doing so, he will destroy everything and everyone in all worlds that followed after that one moment.

    Thus, Vecna travels to Pandemonium to conduct the ritual of unmaking and it's up to our heroes to stop him.

    Kas and the Cult of Vengeance

    In their search for power, Vecna and Kas once stood side by side. Vecna forged a powerful weapon and gifted it to Kas, the legendary Sword of Kas. None know what led to Kas's betrayal. Some say the sword itself suggested it to Kas. But it's well known that in his attempt to slay Vecna and usurp his power, Vecna lost his eye and his hand while Kas lost his life – becoming a vampire trapped in the prison world of Torvag, bound by the chains of the Dark Powers.

    Kas now believes he has escaped his prison world of Torvag not realizing the Dark Powers holding him there wanted him to escape. Along with his fanatical followers, Kas plots revenge against Vecna. He seeks the Rod of Seven Parts, spread across several worlds of the multiverse: Oerth, Athas, Krynn, Toril, Eberron, Barovia, and the Astral Sea. Kas knows only the rod, and the entity it releases, can give him the power needed to defeat Vecna. With the Rod of Seven Parts in his possession, he can call forth one of the most powerful horrors in the multiverse, Miska the Wolf Spider.

    Kas's Cult of Vengeance spreads out across these worlds seeking the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts.

    Heroes of the Wizards Three

    Our heroes begin by infiltrating a forgotten temple deep beneath Neverwinter where they face a powerful cult of worshippers of Vecna, including a lich in his service. After the lich's defeat, the characters discover that Vecna has begun a ritual of unmaking in the plane of Pandemonium. They are contacted by three wizards – Mordenkainen, Alustriel, and Tasha.

    The wizards three know the only way to defeat Vecna is to gather the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts which can pierce through his divinity and bring him down to his original archlich self. They are currently unaware that Kas too seeks pieces of the rod. The wizards aid the characters by discovering locations where the pieces might be found, teleporting the characters to those locations, and attempting to contact the gods for aid (which is unsuccessful – the gods simply don't believe them or the severity of the threat.)

    Quests Across the Multiverse

    The wizards offer three locations to the characters where the wizards know pieces of the rod might be kept. When the characters reach the second location, they run into members of Kas's Cult of Vengeance also seeking the pieces of the rod. The piece at the third location, the wizards discover, has already been captured by Kas's cultists. The wizards then offer the next three locations.

    After the characters return from their fourth world, the cult of Kas has recovered two pieces from two other worlds, leaving a final piece in play. At this final location, the characters face the strongest followers of Kas and attempt to recover a fifth piece.

    Final Confrontations with Kas, Miska, and Vecna

    With their own pieces in possession and knowing that Kas has the remaining two pieces, they travel to the prison realm of Miska the Wolf Spider. There they face Kas, weakened by his lack of pieces of the rod, and Miska. Should they successfully defeat the two forces, the characters receive all seven parts of the rod.

    With all seven pieces in hand, the characters assemble the rod and face Vecna himself in the center of Pandemonium. Their use of the rod makes the elder god mortal once again, though extremely powerful. If the characters succeed, the multiverse is saved. If they fail, all reality is unmade to a time thousands of years previous – the last happy moment for the archlich.

    Level Progression

    This campaign would begin at 12th level and take the characters to 20th level before they face Vecna. Adventure progression is as follows:

    • Defeat the Cult of Vecna – 13th Level
    • Recover the first piece of the rod – 14th Level
    • Recover the second piece of the rod – 15th Level
    • Recover the third piece of the rod – 16th Level
    • Recover the fourth piece of the Rod – 17th Level
    • Recover the fifth piece of the Rod – 18th Level
    • Defeat Kas – 19th Level
    • Defeat Miska – 20th Level
    • Face Vecna

    Choosing Locations

    This campaign outline lets you choose which worlds you want to offer to the characters. You can choose whatever worlds are meaningful to you and your players. This way the players can choose which ones they want to visit. Let them know that they only get to choose two of the three before the piece of the rod at the third is taken by the cult.

    You can choose one world for the final piece of the rod if you have a favorite.

    You can add your own side-quests as well. Perhaps the wizards send the characters to worlds where Kas's cult already acquired a piece in order to learn more information. The characters might also go to Kas's former prison domain of Torvag. Perhaps the characters can unravel why the Dark Powers released Kaz in the first place. Perhaps those Dark Powers seek Vecna himself to add to their terrible menagerie of villains. You can expand this campaign wherever your shared story takes you.

    Your Own Take on Classic D&D Worlds

    This outline gives you freedom to build a flexible campaign for your players based on the material you want to run and your players' choices. Choose the worlds and sites you want to visit. Choose a map, select inhabitants, add some secrets and clues, reskin some monsters, and bathe it in the lore of these classic worlds to build awesome adventures for your group.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Splitting Up Components of your Game Prep and Last Watch – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 35 Lazy GM Prep.

    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:

    • If players have a name for an NPC different from yours, go with their names.
    • Build NPCs from goals and motivations. Get into their heads and react as they would.
    • Reskin monsters often to make each one unique. A simple skeleton can be a skeletal jailer with a cage over their skulls or a blackfire skeleton that does necrotic damage instead of piercing and slashing.
    • Assume one scene for every 45 minutes of gameplay.
    • Take breaks every 90 minutes or so.
    • Leave time at the beginning and end of your game for chit-chat.
    • Add environmental effects and options that showcase the characters and their abilities.

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