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  • Become a Detective on Arrakis in Dune: House Secrets from Portal Games

    by W. Eric Martin

    At PortalCon 13, an online event hosted by Polish publisher Portal Games in place of its usual in-person event, designer Ignacy Trzewiczek announced new games and expansions for existing game lines due out in 2021, but I'll save those for another post and here focus on only one announcement — Dune: House Secrets, a 1-5 player co-operative game from Trzewiczek, Jakub Poczęty, Przemysław Rymer, and Weronika Spyra.

    Here's a summary of the setting and gameplay:
    Featuring the co-operative game system used in Portal's award-winning Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, Dune: House Secrets delivers a deeply thematic experience that drops one-to-five players in the middle of the highest stakes unfolding on the harsh desert planet of Arrakis.

    In this story-driven adventure game, players take on the roles of rebels who must solve a series of challenging missions with a finite amount of time and resources. Players cooperatively make decisions on how to progress the story as they decide to explore different regions of the world, follow leads, leverage allies, and overcome opposition of all kinds. During gameplay, players use a variety of physical and digital game components — a deck of cards with essential clues and plot twists, a dozen physical handouts, and a dedicated website with additional resources — to steer the narrative in fun and surprising directions for a truly immersive experience.


    Beginning with an introductory prologue designed to get players acquainted with the massive Dune universe, the game then continues with three big adventures, each taking roughly two-to-three hours to play. During each episode, players can earn experience points to level up their characters in between missions and unlock new options in future gameplay. Each adventure can be played separately as standalone episodes, yet should players complete all three episodes, they will unravel a master game narrative with an epic climax and unforgettable resolution with lasting impact on the future two games in the trilogy.

    Hey, how about that kicker in the final line?! Read more »
  • Run Your Business Carnegie-Style, Lead Your Class to Victory, and Trade (Flower) Stocks

    by Candice Harris

    Carnegie is an upcoming 2021 medium-heavy economic game inspired by the life of Andrew Carnegie from Xavier Georges (Ginkgopolis, Carson City, Troyes, Black Angel) and Quined Games that features beautiful, clean, signature artwork from the esteemed Ian O'Toole. Carnegie plays with 1-4 players in about 40 minutes per player, launched on Kickstarter in mid-January 2021 (KS link), and has been successfully funded with an estimated September 2021 release date.

    Here's an overview from the publisher of what you can expect:
    Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Scotland in 1835, emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1848. Although he started his career as a telegraphist, his role as one of the major players in the rise of the United States' steel industry made him one of the richest men in the world and an icon of the American dream.

    Andrew Carnegie was also a benefactor and philanthropist; upon his death in 1919, more than $350 million of his wealth was bequeathed to various foundations, with another $30 million going to various charities. His endowments created nearly 2,500 free public libraries that bear his name: the Carnegie Libraries.

    In Carnegie, you recruit and manage employees, expand your business, invest in real estate, produce and sell goods, and create transport chains across the United States; you may even work with important personalities of the era. Perhaps you will even become an illustrious benefactor who contributes to the greatness of their country through deeds and generosity!

    The game takes place over twenty rounds, with players each having one turn per round. On each turn, the active player chooses one of four actions, which the other players may follow.

    The goal of the game is to build the most prestigious company, as symbolized by victory points.

    Good news! Carnegie is already available on both Board Game Arena and Tabletop Simulator for folks to try it out. Big kudos to Quined Games for making it available on BGA the same time as the Kickstarter launch. I'm not sure whether any other publishing company has ever achieved this, but it's awesome that they're making it easy for everyone to play it in a streamlined, rules-enforced platform before deciding whether or not they want to back/buy.

    I had an opportunity to play a game of Carnegie in Tabletop Simulator with Steph and Matthew from BGG, then I played a half game a few days later on BGA with friends who were interested in checking it out. The only reason we didn't finish my second game was because we started late and a couple of people had to bow out early to get some sleep. Of course I was doing wayyyy better my second game and didn't want it to end.

    3-D render of Carnegie posted by the publisher
    From my wee bit of experience playing Carnegie, I really dig it. There are some interesting mechanisms that all work together smoothly and make it feel fresh. I find the elegance of Carnegie's design to be reminiscent of the What's Your Game? releases I love, such as Nippon and Madeira. One of my friends was noticing some Troyes and Black Angel influence as well.

    Carnegie is packed with lots of awesome decisions and rewarding moments with the way the income events work and how you manage your workers on your player board and on the game board. It really makes you think and plan, but it didn't burn my brain too hard where I felt drained after. In fact, I couldn't stop thinking about it the next day and wondering what I would do differently in future games, considering I made some mistakes that jammed me up my last few rounds of my first game. I'm looking forward to digging into this one more and would recommend checking it out if you're a fan of medium-heavy euros.

    Flowar is a new flower business-themed worker placement, hand-management game for 1-4 players that plays in 40-90 minutes, and is targeted for a 2021 release from the Llama Dice design-duo, Isra C. and Shei S. and Spanish publisher Ediciones Primigenio.

    Not a whole lot of details are out yet, but the brief description below from the publisher — and knowing Isra C. and Shei S. were also the design team behind The Red Cathedral and 1987 Channel Tunnel — already gets me excited to check it out:
    Do you know that the flower fair in Aalsmeer (Netherlands) is the biggest cut flower fair in the world? Every day is a frantic workday of buying and shipping flowers all around the globe!

    The four days prior to St. Valentine's Day are busy in the market, so go to buy — whether expensive but early, or cheap but too late — the flowers that will fulfill the contracts you've already taken. Manage your workers and don't send too many of them to the unemployment queue because they will go on strike! Be careful with your reputation as it will influence on your stock value!


    In this worker placement and management game, you represent a flower businessman that will work with companies trying to raise their stock value the four days prior to St. Valentine's Day.

    • Slated for a 2021 Kickstarter launch, Banker of the Gods is a worker placement, "friendly" stock market game from designer A. Gerald Fitzsimons and his Ireland-based publishing company FountainStone Games.

    In 60-90 minutes, 1-5 players compete as superstitious stock traders in an Ancient Japanese-inspired world illustrated by Fitzsimons. In more detail:
    Banker of the Gods is a game about superstitious civilizations competing on a friendly stock-market set in an ancient Japanese-inspired world. It has a unique stock-market mechanism that allows for deduction of market trends before you invest for the next round. There are over a million different kinds of markets to be generated. The market may booming during one playing of this game, while other games will confront you with a depression to survive or thrive in.


    In this alternate universe, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome have been attracted to a lucrative stock-market on Oki island in ancient Japan. Besides stocks, you may also try to succeed at having other players honor your Gods and harnessing their powers, or dabbling with products like sake (linked to the price of rice), or helping islanders by giving them home-loans for the best locations, or even trying your luck with tea-leaves at the geisha house, among other things.

    Traditionally stock market games have unfriendly take-that elements, but Banker of the Gods doesn't.

    Hegemony is an asymmetric, card-driven game with an intriguing blend of politics and economics designed by Varnavas Timotheou and Vangelis Bagiartakis (Among the Stars, Fields of Green, Kitchen Rush, Freedom!).

    Targeted for a 2021 Kickstarter launch, Hegemony will be the first release from Cyprus-based start-up gaming company Hegemonic Project Games, whose vision is to inspire gamers and non-gamers to learn more about the politico-economic dynamics of their societies playfully. Hegemony plays in 90-180 minutes and puts 2-4 players in the role of different citizen classes in a fictional state who are competing to lead their class better than their opponents, as described here below by the publisher:
    The Nation is in disarray, and a war is waging between the classes. The working class faces a dismantled welfare system, the capitalists are losing their hard-earned profits, the middle class is gradually fading, and the state is sinking into a deep deficit.

    Amidst all this chaos, the only person who can provide guidance is...you. Will you take the side of the working class and fight for social reforms? Or will you stand with the corporations and the free market? Will you help the government try to keep it all together, or will you try to enforce your agenda no matter the cost to the country?


    Hegemony is an asymmetric politico-economic card-driven board game for 2-4 players that puts you in the role of one of the socio-economic groups in a fictional state: The Working Class, the Middle Class, the Capitalist Class and the State itself.


    The Working class controls the workers. They work in companies, earning money which they spend to cover their basic needs: Food, health, education and if possible, entertainment. They can apply a lot of political pressure, and they can also form unions to increase their influence.

    The Capitalist class controls the companies. Workers work there, and the Capitalist sells the goods/services produced. Deals can also be made with foreign states, and pressure is also applied to the State when it comes to matters like taxation and tariffs. The goal of the Capitalist is very clear: Maximize the profit!

    The Middle class combines elements from both the Working class and the Capitalist. It has workers who can work in the Capitalist's companies, but it can also build companies of its own, yet smaller. It also struggles to cover the basic needs like food, health and education, while trying to keep a balance between producing, selling and consuming.

    Finally the State is trying to keep everyone happy, providing benefits and subsidies when needed but trying also to maintain a steady income through taxes to avoid going into debt. At the same time, it has to deal with a constant flux of events requiring immediate attention or face grave consequences.


    While players have their own separate goals, they are all limited by a series of policies that affect most of their actions, like Taxation, Labor Market, Foreign Trade etc. Voting on those policies and using their influence to change them is also very important.

    Through careful planning, strategic actions and political maneuvering, you will do your best to increase the power of your class and carry out your agenda. Will you be the one to lead your class to victory?

    Hegemony is heavily based on actual academic principles such as Social-Democracy, Neoliberalism, Nationalism, and Globalism, and it allows players to see their real world applications through engaging gameplay. There are many ways to achieve hegemony: Which one will you take?
    Read more »
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    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • 100 Hobbies for Deep Spacers - Vol 1
    Publisher: D10 Dimensions

    Hobbies are ways to pass the time and pursue an activity or object that is a passion for the character. In deep space this can take on a slightly different angle, as the possibilities of alien worlds, cultures, and situations allow for an even greater diversity of possibility and opportunity. From enjoyable games to useful skills to fringe gigs, hobbies are open to almost everyone without the extreme skill that dedicated occupations require.

    This list is intended for any deep space setting (like Star Wars, Traveler, Space Opera, Rifts, etc.) where people explore alien places and cultures as a common everyday activity. This little product gives you dozens of different ways to add a new dimension to nearly anyone in your campaign with just a dice roll. After all, who doesn’t need a hobby? If you want occupations, please see 200 Spacer Occupations (also by D10 Dimensions).

    This Roll Percentile list has one hundred possible results in this format:

    Roll result: The name of the Hobby (And a very brief description of what’s involved.)

    Example 101: Gardening (Includes the details of planting, caring, and harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs)

    100 Hobbies for Deep Spacers - Vol 1Price: $1.00 Read more »
  • 30 Sider Rollers: Cyber City Drop In Spots V3.0
    Publisher: Fishwife Games

    30 SIDER ROLLERS: CYBER CITY DROP IN SPOTS V3.0
    Got a big map for a cyberpunk city that you need to detail? Got a thirty sided die in your dice bag that you never use? Put them both to work! This 30 Sider Roller gives you the dirt on thirty different locations to designate on that big map of yours. Each entry provides the name of business/location, a random roll for occupants (using either a 30 sided die or a 6 sider), and a descriptive that often gives clues about possible criminal activity, connections to other elements in your campaign, who owns the turf, etc. Don’t own a thirty sider but want to use this product still? Do this until you can get a thirty sider: Roll 1d6. If the roll is 1-3 then roll a 1d20 for the first twenty locations. If the 6 sider rolled 4 to 6 then roll 1d10 for locations 21 to 30. And then go buy you a thirty sider. You know you want one.

    Sample Rolls:
    1    20th Century Sound (Occupants: 1d30+4): Crowded, busy shop that sells last century's music in a variety of formats. You can get restored stereos and other players here- yes, even 8 track decks!

    11    Evolution Kabob (Occupants: 2d6+1): Food vendor stall that sells lab grown "pork" kabobs. The porcine stem cell derived meat is paired up with tofu like cubes of sweet and sour flavored vegetable proteins. Though about as fake as meal you can get the stuff is amazingly tasty and nourishing.

    24    Shrine of the 303 (Occupants: 1d30+5): Weird techno-cult meditation center that is focused around the sounds of the iconic Roland TB-303 bass line synthesizer. A real analog 303 provides continuous meditative patterns which are often accompanied by a Roland TR-808 drum machine.







    30 Sider Rollers: Cyber City Drop In Spots V3.0Price: $0.60 Read more »
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    Gnome Stew

  • VideoGnomecast #109 – Picking Up New Editions
    Gnome Stew's Gnomecast

    Join Ang, Jared, and J.T. for a discussion about new editions of games, both from designer and consumer perspectives. Can these gnomes stay current enough to avoid being thrown in the stew?

  • Actually, It’s Gamenstein’s Monster: Ideas to Stitch Together Into Your Own Monstrosity
    Actually, It’s Gamenstein’s Monster: Ideas to Stitch Together Into Your Own Monstrosity

    It’s only a Gamenstein if it’s from the Gamenstein region of your FLGS. Otherwise it’s just sparkling overdone joke.

    Any given game that you pick up off a shelf (or grab from itch.io) is an experience, geared toward creating a specific type of story: a fantasy skirmish simulator, a Jane-Austenesque adventure in manners, or living life as a cozy lesbian snake to name just a few. But sometimes you want to mix and match a little, adding part of what you love in one game to another game, which was the topic of Gnomecast 107.

    Two things to keep in mind when adding parts of one game to another game:

    1. Be sure you’re still giving your players what they signed up for. Just because you’re interested in devoting a lot of attention to the ways in which languages rise and die doesn’t mean your players necessarily are. Get everyone on board before including these (or any) additional mechanics into your game, rather than springing it on them like some sort of bait-and-switch turducken with dice.
    2. Be willing to walk away if it doesn’t work. You’re not a professional game designer (probably), and no one expects you to thoroughly playtest every fevered idea that runs through your brain before you flop it onto the table, but the natural consequence of playing fast and loose with complex systems is that sometimes things fail. When failure happens, be prepared to walk away.

    The examples in this article (and part 2 coming up) are geared toward the Fifth Edition of the Game That No One Names for Weird Contractual Reasons, simply because it’s the most popular game out there. However, game mechanics are ideas plus decisions plus uncertainty, and all of these ideas can work equally well in any game, using that game’s preferred mechanism for inserting excitement (die rolls, cards, paper rock scissors, leg wrestling).

    Note that I name a bunch of other games in this list, all of which do a much, much better job of their core idea than anything you can simply shoehorn into another game. This is both because they’re written by actual game designers rather than a pretentious hobbyist, and because they’re whole freaking games devoted to an experience.

    If you really, really want a mystery game, play GUMSHOE. But if you want to play [game name redacted] with some mystery elements, graft away. Also, because I want to be respectful of the brilliant intellectual property of all the games involved here (as well as the word count of this article), I use only the broadest brushes to include this stuff rather than reproducing specific mechanics. If any of this seems interesting, absolutely get the games I’m referencing here. I’m only including the best of the best in this list, and all of these games are amazing.

    Idea 1: Tactical Relationships

    Sorry, Mandy, but by the third time we watched Brokeback Mountain together, I think we both knew what was going on.

    When I say “tactical relationships,” I’m not talking about that person you dated for three months hoping your parents would finally approve. I mean relationships between PCs. Many, maybe most, games have these as a matter of course, but if you’re interested in having more “game” in your role-playing game, while still cramming in relationships with all the fervid devotion of a Chuck Tingle novel, this is the approach for you.

    At its simplest, this is a matter of making the relationships between characters matter on a tactical level—trying to reproduce that moment when the hero flings themselves into the path of the attack that would have killed their friend.

    Blue Rose does a great job of this with its use of relationship stunts, and the Cypher System incorporates snippets of world-building quirks into the ways powers or backgrounds work within a group. Finally, Fiasco has the brilliant idea of rolling dice and “buying” relationships between characters based on how the dice come up.

    Note that many of these relationship abilities are relatively powerful (effectively imitating minor feats): that’s deliberate. The more your players use these abilities, the more they are reminded of the bonds that draw them together, which creates more roleplaying opportunities.

    Step 1: Roll a number of ten-sided dice equal to the number of players you have +1.

    Step 2: Going in order from quietest player to loudest player (or whatever order you want to use), have each player choose one a relationship corresponding with one of the remaining dice, as well as who that relationship applies to. Remove the result of that die roll from the “pool” so that the next player has one fewer relationship to choose from.

    1. Make sure the other player is okay with this relationship. If no one is comfortable with the available options, reroll all the remaining dice until people are cool with the results.
    2. Note that each of these relationships implies another “half” to the relationship. While both parts of the relationship are “true” from a story perspective, unless the other player chooses the corresponding relationship (e.g. “older sibling/younger sibling”), only the player who chose the relationship has access to the mechanical effect.
    Die Roll Relationship Mechanic
    1 Older sibling Pick a character to be your younger sibling. You receive a +2 bonus to attack any enemy adjacent to that character.
    2 Younger Sibling Pick a character to be your older sibling. When rolling initiative, if your initiative roll is lower than your older sibling, use your older sibling’s initiative roll +1. Everyone knows the younger siblings get into trouble first.
    3 Rival/Frenemies Pick a rival. As often as you can stand it, when you fail a skill roll that your rival has proficiency in, and you can hear and see your rival, have your rival make the same roll (using their stats). Take the higher roll. If the rival succeeds while you fail, your rival stepped in and fixed your mess. Again. They will almost certainly never let you live this down.
    4 Best Friend Pick a best friend. Once per game session, if your best friend is within 60 feet, on your turn, as a reaction, your best friend can take a standard action provided it benefits you in some way. “Can I ask a favor?”
    5 Mentor Pick a protegee and a skill that you both have proficiency in. One per game session, when you fail at a roll with that skill, instead succeed at that roll. Refreshing on the fundamentals is always useful.
    6 Protegee Pick a mentor and a skill that both you and your mentor have proficiency in. When you can see and hear your mentor, if your unmodified roll is a 1-5 on the skill, reroll and take the higher result, as your mentor warns you about a similar mistake they made once upon a time.
    7 Parent Pick a character who is your child (biological or chosen). When you are adjacent to your child, once per turn as a reaction, you may choose to take the damage from a single hit that would have reduced their hit points to 0, or when they are already at 0 hit points. Yelling at them for being careless is a free action, and entirely optional.
    8 Child Pick a character who is your parent (biological or chosen), and one skill that character is proficient in. You are now proficient in that skill. “The first duty of love is to listen.” -Paul Tillich.
    9 Battle Buddy When you successfully make an attack roll against an enemy adjacent to your battle buddy, that battle buddy can, as a reaction, make a melee attack against that enemy. Tactics!
    10 True Devotion Choose another player who is the object of your devotion. This can be true love, epic friendship, or any other boundless level of selflessness. This ability functions the same as the “parent” relationship, with the addition that once and only once, you can bring the character you are devoted to back from the dead with a heartfelt speech, regardless of whether or not survival is even remotely possible. True love can accomplish anything.

    Idea 2: Mysteries.

    Go-Go-Gadget Shameless Self Promotion!

    Content Warning: these examples get a little grisly.

    Mysteries are great, and many published RPG adventures include some element of whodunnit without any additional system work. That can work, but the GUMSHOE system is a masterclass in how to make a game focusing on this element of stories while still being fun. If you want to see one way of pulling all of this together into a single ready-to-go adventure, see my previous article, “Death in a Smoky Room”.

    The first and easiest thing to pull in from GUMSHOE is also probably its most defining feature: the characters find clues. They don’t roll to find clues, and they don’t have to name specific objects in a crime scene to look for them if they name the proper skill. They just find stuff. The uncertainty (and plot!) comes in interpreting those clues.

    First: during game prep, determine a set of clues that the characters can find, and the skills required to find them.

    If the character has proficiency in the required skill, they find this clue, provided they name the skill (“I’d like to search with Investigation”). Generally three are enough, though coming up with a clue for additional skills is never a bad idea. The more detailed and atmospheric you can make these clues, the better. Again, GUMSHOE games are absolutely filled to the brim with examples (in particular, Double Tap for Night’s Black Agents). It’s not a bad idea to just keep a running list of clues you might want to use sometime. Examples:

    1. [Investigation] Though the window in the room is broken, and previous investigators assumed it’s because the arrow that killed the victim came from outside the room, shards of glass and recent footprints you find in the rosebushes indicate that something inside the room was thrown outside to someone waiting nearby. Whoever did this was coming from inside the manor.
    2. [Medicine]: there is a lot of blood in this room, but not enough for the victim to have died from blood loss. Closer inspection of the body reveals bruising around the neck with a clear imprint from a necklace (now missing). The body was clearly slashed after being strangled, but because the blood was no longer pumping, there was less than a discerning investigator would expect.
    3. [Animal Handling]: The body has clearly been chewed on by some sort of animal, and previous investigators have taken this to be a cut-and-dried case of an animal attack. However, a player with experience with animal behavior will notice that while there are teeth and claw marks on the belly, the eyes and tongue appear to be plucked out without damage to the surrounding tissue. Further, while the body’s been picked over, there are large chunks of flesh remaining. This wasn’t the work of predators: this was scavengers working on a body that was already deceased.

    Second: rolling the dice, because everything is more fun with dice.

    Now that the players have determined what skills they are using to investigate, and have gotten the basic clues, a successful die roll can give additional details.

    1. [Investigation] an imprint in the ground by the footprints indicates that whatever was thrown out of the window was initially dropped by the catcher. The item was surprisingly heavy, but small, and you can reproduce the broad shape of it based on the imprint, possibly even identifying what’s missing from the room based on that.
    2. [Medicine]: The necklace used for strangulation was some kind of chain—verdigris on the bruising and the size of the imprint at the front indicates that whatever the necklace was, it wasn’t made of expensive materials, and whatever was on the front of it was heavy and awkwardly shaped—unusual for a victim this wealthy. Some kind of magical amulet, maybe?
    3. [Animal Handling]: The teeth and claw marks on the victim’s belly weren’t, in fact, made by teeth or claws—the spacing and depth are too regular, and there isn’t enough blood surrounding the wound. Someone was trying hard to make this look like a bear attack. Except bears haven’t been seen in this area for decades. This was done by someone unfamiliar with the region.

    If you like these game ideas, be sure to check back on February 3rd for Bride of Gamenstein, part II of this series. Also, if you have any feedback or thoughts on any of these systems, please feel free to let us know in the comments, or on social media!

    Read more »
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    RPGWatch Newsfeed

  • Path of Exile: Echoes of the Atlas - Most successful Expansion
    Grinding Gear Games announced that Path of Exile: Echoes of the Atlas has already become its most successful expansion to date: Path of Exile: Echoes of the Atlas Becomes Most Successful Expansion in Grinding Gear Games’ History With 265K+ simultaneous players at launch and becoming the #4 most popular game on Steam, The Maven is pleased… for now "Echoes of the Atlas has been Path of Exile's most successful expansion so far," Chris Wilson, co-founder of Grinding Gear Games said.... Read more »
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon - Review @ JRPG Jungle
    JRPG Jungle reviewed Yakuza: Like a Dragon: Review: Yakuza: Like a Dragon loading... Read more »
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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoPointcrawls for Cities and Overland Travel in D&D

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Pointcrawls provide a valuable model for overland travel focusing on fantastic locations and the in-world paths connecting them.

    A pointcrawl is a DM tool for handling overland travel in D&D. Much like building a dungeon from rooms and hallways, pointcrawls are built from meaningful locations connected by in-world pathways. Since they're built like dungeons, we can use good dungeon design characteristics (see the Alexandrian's Jaquaying the Dungeon) to make our pointcrawls interesting and give players meaningful options while traveling. These characteristics include multiple paths, loopbacks, shortcuts, and secret paths. Pointcrawls offer a flexible structure for overland, wilderness, and city-based adventures.

    For a video on this topic, you can watch my Pointcrawls for Overland Travel in D&D Youtube video.

    Here's an example of a pointcrawl for the Glass Plateau in Eberron.

    Pointcrawl of the Glass Plateau in Eberron

    Pointcrawls from the Dungeon Master's Guide

    The Dungeon Master's Guide describes pointcrawls without actually defining them as such. Here's a quote from chapter 5 of the DMG when discussing overland travel:

    One solution is to think of an outdoor setting in the same way you think about a dungeon. Even the most wide-open terrain presents clear pathways. Roads seldom run straight
 because they follow the contours of the land, finding
 the most level or otherwise easiest routes across uneven ground. Valleys and ridges channel travel in 
certain directions. Mountain ranges present forbidding barriers traversed only by remote passes. Even the most trackless desert reveals favored routes, where explorers and caravan drivers have discovered areas of wind-blasted rock that are easier to traverse than shifting sand.

    Thinking about building overland travel the same way we build dungeons is a helpful model. It gives us a usable but flexible structure when thinking about above-ground areas.

    The idea of pointcrawls grew from hexcrawls, the typical way D&D has handled overland travel for the past 40 years. Chris Kutalik described the original concept of pointcrawls in the article Crawling Without Hexes: the Pointcrawl back in 2012.

    Quick Pointcrawl Construction

    Here's one way to build a pointcrawl intended to support both improvisational play and lazy dungeon mastering.

    1. Write down ten interesting locations and landmarks the characters might visit while traveling through the area.
    2. Connect these locations with in-game routes such as rivers, paths, game trails, roads, portals, mountain passes or any other in-world pathway between two locations.
    3. Build in multiple paths, loopbacks, shortcuts, and secret paths between locations.

    Our goal is to make overland travel interesting, fun to explore, and offer meaningful choices to the characters along the way. We can drop encounters in at locations, the paths between locations, or both. Such encounters might involve meeting NPCs, exploring strange signs, learning something of the history of the area, getting into a fight, or all of the above.

    Tools for Building Pointcrawl Charts

    The easiest tools for documenting a pointcrawl are likely a pencil and a piece of paper. We can easily draw out a pointcrawl in a few minutes, take a picture with our phone, and we can take it wherever we need. Sticky notes might be a good way to document locations and reorganize them depending on the path. Mind mapping software can also do the trick if it's something you already use.

    There's a digital solution I stumbled across called GraphViz.it. It takes in a particular text-based format for the pointcrawl (actually a network) and renders that network out.

    Example: The City of Making

    Here's another example pointcrawl using GraphViz.it for the city of Making in Eberron.

    Pointcrawl of the city of Making in Eberron

    and here's the input generating this pointcrawl:

    # http://graphviz.it/#/new
    graph{
    "Entry - Gates of Making" -- "The Impaled" [label="Road of Triumph"]
    "The Impaled" -- "Fallen Colossus" [label="Massive Footsteps"]
    "Fallen Colossus" -- "Fortress of Blades" [label="Road of Fallen Blades"]
    "Fortress of Blades" -- "Skydancer Wreck" [label="Scorched Trench"]
    "Skydancer Wreck" -- "Entry - The Runoff" [label="Blackwater Way"]
    "Fortress of Blades" -- "Clawrift" [label="Road of Dead Machines"]
    "The Impaled" -- "Clawrift" [label="Road of Triumph"]
    "The Impaled" -- "Daughters' Earthmote" [label="The Slaughterfield"]
    "Silver Flame Spire" -- "Clawrift" [label="Cracked Road"]
    "Silver Flame Spire" -- "Shattered Laboratory" [label="Old Tunnel"]
    "Shattered Laboratory" -- "Clawrift" [label="Teleporter"]
    "The Impaled" -- "Living Weird" [label="Dreamwalk"]
    "Living Weird" -- "Silver Flame Spire" [label="Twisting Black Thread"]
    "Daughters' Earthmote" -- "Clawrift" [label="Trollhaunt Road"]
    }

    I tried to add some Jaquay-style designs to the map including multiple entrances, loops, and secret paths (like the path between the Shattered Laboratory and Clawrift). I also labeled the paths here to identify what connects these locations. The evocative names help me improvise what the characters might run into while going along that path.

    This is an extensive pointcrawl for a big city, not exactly what one might call lazy, but it didn't take terribly long and it may be useful for many sessions so I don't see the effort wasted. Many of these locations may end up as their own dungeons to crawl, such as the Shattered Laboratory, the Daughters' Earthmote, the Fallen Colossus, the Skydancer Wreck, the Fortress of Blades, and, of course, Clawrift itself which ends up as a multi-level dungeon all on its own.

    Another Tool for Lazy Dungeon Masters

    Pointcrawls aren't the end-all-be-all of our D&D games but they're a good structure when planning out overland travel, one backed by decades of use. Build pointcrawls by outlining interesting locations, the paths between them, ad interesting encounters they might engage with while there. Such pointcrawls give us a nice model and yet help us build a world that feels open and exciting to the players.

    Further Reading

    In researching this topic, I found numerous helpful articles on the topic pointcrawls and their parent hex crawls. Here's a list of the ones I found most useful:

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, watch Sly Flourish videos on Youtube, join the Sly Flourish Discord server, or support Sly Flourish on Patreon!

    Check out Mike's books including Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, Fantastic Adventures, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    Send feedback to mike@mikeshea.net.

    This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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  • Replace Flanking with Cinematic Advantage

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    Instead of using the optional flanking rule, offer deals to players to trade ability checks using in-world features to gain advantage on their next attack.

    Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master's Guide offers an optional rule for flanking in which creatures gain advantage against an enemy if an ally is on the opposite side of the enemy. It's a popular rule, used by about half of nearly 1,200 DMs polled on Twitter. I'm not a fan of it. First, it only works when playing with a 5 foot per square grid. It's not easy to use in combat using the theater of the mind. It also offers a major bonus for little risk. It's not hard to get around the other side of an enemy. Previous versions of D&D used to offer a +2 bonus for flanking while advantage results in something closer to +4 or +5. It also removes the value of many other features offering advantage in certain circumstances such as hiding, pack tactics, and others.

    Instead of offering flanking for positioning, why not offer advantage for big risky cinematic actions the characters take. Characters can get advantage for scaling a steep wall to gain the high ground. They can leap off of balconies, swing from chandeliers, or leap up onto a monster's back. There are so many cool cinematic ways we might offer advantage to a character beyond "I'm on the other side of it".

    Offering Deals

    Injecting cinematic advantage into your game is all about offering deals; trading in-world fiction and a skill check from players for advantage on their next attack. This helps draw players out of the mechanics of their characters and into the story of the situation itself.

    Most of the time the transactions of cinematic advantage comes down to the following:

    • While describing the situation, the DM describes interesting features in the area.
    • The player describes how they want to use a feature to get a cinematic advantage.
    • The DM determines what attribute and skill (or skills) might be used to accomplish the feat and how difficult it is on a scale of DC 10 to 20. Tell the player what the DC is and what penalty they face if they fail so they can make an informed choice.
    • The player rolls the check as part of their move or action. On a success, they get advantage on their next attack. On a failure something bad happens depending on what they tried, often falling prone.

    When you describe the situation during combat, clarify what features can be used. Write them down on a 3x5 card and stick them on the table if you want. This is an old trick from Fate in which we write down aspects of the scenes characters invoke to gain a bonus on their action. When each character is about to take their turn, remind them what options they have to gain a cinematic advantage. Offer them deals. Let them know what the DC is and what happens if they fail. Sometimes players riff off of these ideas and come up with something new — go for it!

    The goal of cinematic advantage to draw the players into the fiction and get the characters to take fun risks to get a boost. Offer good deals. Work with your players, not against them, to take the deal.

    Benefits of the Cinematic Advantage

    Cinematic advantage trades the pure mechanical aspects of flanking with cool action-packed in-world storytelling. It doesn't require miniatures or a grid, you can do it with any type of combat you run whether it's deep tactical play or free-wheeling theater of the mind. It draws the players into the fiction but still offers a clear mechanical boost for their creative effort. It lets players show off the capabilities of their characters, grabbing cinematic advantages with skills their characters are clearly good at.

    Don't set the DCs based on the characters, however. That chandelier doesn't get more awkward just because the character who wants to swing from it happens to be proficient in acrobatics and has a dexterity bonus of +5. Set the difficulty independently from the characters attempting the check. You want players to take these deals.

    Twenty Examples of Cinematic Advantage

    Here are twenty examples of ways characters might get advantage on an enemy. Most of these ways involve a succeeding on a skill check as part of their attack action to gain the advantage.

    • Leaping off of a balcony
    • Climbing onto the back of a larger foe
    • Sliding underneath a big foe and slashing at its vitals
    • Banking a shot off of a reflective wall
    • Leaping over dangerous terrain
    • Swinging from a chandelier or rope
    • Smashing something an adversary is standing on
    • Pocket sand!
    • Climbing and leaping off a big statue
    • Drawing arcane energy from a shattered crystal
    • Climbing to get the high ground
    • Drawing energy from a magical monument
    • Letting the anger of a desecrated altar flow over you
    • Drawing holy energy from an ancient elven fountain
    • Vaulting off of a crumbling wall
    • Pulling power from an unstable summoning circle
    • Balancing on a precarious perch
    • Smashing through a door to surprise your foes
    • Leaping off of a moving vehicle
    • Calling the troubled spirits of the fallen for aid

    Trading Mechanics for Fiction

    Take any opportunity you can to draw players into the fiction of the game. Instead of offering a purely mechanical benefit like flanking, consider offering cinematic opportunities for the characters to gain advantage. Work with them to tell action-packed stories of high adventure and take risks to gain the upper hand on their foes. Such techniques work across any combat style whether you play on a gridded battle map or using pure theater of the mind combat and can help your stories come alive at the table.

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, watch Sly Flourish videos on Youtube, join the Sly Flourish Discord server, or support Sly Flourish on Patreon!

    Check out Mike's books including Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the Lazy DM's Workbook, Fantastic Adventures, and Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.

    Send feedback to mike@mikeshea.net.

    This article is copyright 2020 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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