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  • Designer Diary: Mental Blocks, or Can't We All Just Get Along?

    by Micah Sawyer

    When I make games, I typically start from a feeling or big moment I want people to experience: What kind of emotional reactions do I want during play, and what do I want them to be thinking about afterward?

    For a long time, I've been fascinated by how people could be faced with the same thing and have vastly different opinions and views on it, both small things, like which TV show is the best of all time (Arrested Development, Seasons 1-3 — we don't speak of the others), but also big things like politics, God, or which humans we should treat like humans.

    There have been so many ways to help understand this, from giant philosophy arguments to the comic of two people arguing over whether the number is a 9 or a 6, so when faced with the issue of depth of human communication and diversity of thought, the only logical choice to me was to make a 15-minute co-op game using foam blocks.

    Because I'm a game designer, so I work with what I know.

    The reason you need lines under numbers

    In Mental Blocks, you're working as a team to build a single 3D structure in the center of the table under a time limit. Each player has only one perspective on the final solution, and each has restrictions about what they can do — and all the while one player MIGHT actually be working in bad faith against the team, trying to get them to lose.

    Piles of blocks left over from previous client's game projectThe original version of this design (affectionately known as "The Giant Block Game") was more of an experience than a game as it was fully co-op with only a single puzzle. As a fun bonus, it used giant foot-long foam blocks (leftover material from a work project) that I cut into shapes with a bread knife.

    It was fun and got people talking about their perspectives and how to better understand one another. I loved the idea that while everyone's view could be correct, no one's view was complete; I loved how there was a right answer, but that it was impossible to figure it out without listening to others, learning about what they thought, then working together. I considered "The Giant Block Game" a success — then life got busy and I put it in my pile of "neat things I should work on more someday".

    Sometime later, I got a call from a friend at work needing me to come in the next morning and brainstorm a game for a client of ours. During the meeting, it was clear that something like "The Giant Block Game" could actually help them figure out some things, so with permission from work, I decided to pitch it to the client as an option for the project. They LOVED it! Well, parts of it. To make it work for them, I pulled out the restrictions on actions, simplified the perspectives, and made it a little less "gamey".

    Meanwhile, I was also weekly-ish attending a local game designer meet-up called the Northwest Ohio Game Designers who have been kind enough to play many of my work games. We played "The Giant Block Game" (Work Edition), and they all really got into it and were excited about what it could be for a hobby game. After the game, one of the designers — and I'm pretty sure it was Jonathan Gilmour of Dead of Winter and Dinosaur Island fame — mentioned, "Whoa, what if you added a betrayer to this?" and suddenly things started clicking in my head. And since he is awesome, we decided to start working on the design together.

    Early playtest, including a cut-in-half Jonathan

    Adding "The Betrayer" took a very fun co-op game and added an entire new element to it. It became this crazy real-time social deduction game in which you watched everyone and tried to figure out who might be sabotaging the team. At that point, internally, we started calling it "Foam of Winter", but that name didn't stick for obvious reasons.

    I started bringing it more often, making more puzzles, testing player counts, and trying different team and betrayer ideas.

    Prototype version, with the old ugly colors

    The game first really felt like a success when I took it to a local con to get early feedback. I talked to the con organizers and got permission to set up on an open table, but after an hour or so, no one had stopped by yet...which was less than encouraging. I figured I'd hang out for another hour or two, then take off for the weekend. Bored, I decided to pile the blocks as high as I could and post a sign on the top: "1 minute to learn, 10 minutes to play". About five minutes later, I had my first group ask to try it. About fifty minutes and five games after that, I had to ask them to stop playing...because there was a line.

    Apparently, there is something very attractive about a group of nine people frantically trying to build with blocks while yelling at each other and accusing one and all of being the betrayer. It was freaking hilarious to watch.

    I called my wife and pulled her in to help manage it all, get puzzles ready for the next group, run games, etc. It was amazing and validating.

    One of the first BashCon groups to try the game

    Around the time of BashCon, Jonathan showed the design to Pandasaurus Games, which decided that "The Giant Block Game" was maybe not the most marketable name. They pitched the name "Mental Blocks", which I must agree is a significantly better name in every conceivable way.

    Moving into official build mode, our first goal was around forty puzzles, which was a decent amount. All our playtests had shown that groups can play the same puzzles multiple times without even realizing it due to how the information is split up. Unfortunately, we heard from manufactures that if we went over thirty puzzles (which would be 270 cards!), then our costs for the game were not viable.

    My wife, remaking my badly handwritten original sign at BashCon

    Ultimately, we realized that most of our print-and-play testers were printing only single-sided cards and that approach worked great for them, so we decided to get rid of the back art and create double-sided puzzle cards, placing the easy level on one side and the challenge level on the other, which let us jump the number of puzzles up to a solid sixty.

    Once we had the puzzles down, we moved into mass playtesting. Jonathan and Pandasaurus have a great network of vetted playtesters that allowed us to send tons of copies and get real-time feedback through forms and a private Reddit. We had the game in mass playtesting for four months, intentionally at the end of the year so that players would take the game to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's to try it with their non-gaming friends and family, in addition to their regular gaming groups. We asked for fifteen plays per group and had multiple groups that went way over that. One group reported 104 plays!

    To help with the groups that were getting pretty skilled at the game, we introduced difficulty levels and the optional "Glitch" cards, which change how the game plays and add crazy table restrictions, e.g., "No one can talk; use only hand gestures," or "Two people must be touching each block to move it."

    Ugly prototype Glitch cards

    Some of the most rewarding feedback came through these forms, quotes like, "My family all had a good time. They didn't complain about me trying to get them to play one of those 'board games' I have. They all loved it, which was great for people that almost never play games." Or "This was my best gaming experience of the year." Or "It's so great to have a co-op game where we can work as a team, but it's impossible to have one person quarterback it all, so we can all play." Or "I tried this with several groups from heavy gamers and RPGers to family and friends who don't play games. Everyone enjoyed it and it is [a] super simple teach." All these quotes were really great to hear.

    The feedback also told us where we messed up, where the rules were not clear, which puzzles could be broken, and where we had bad ideas. At one point, we had a "Win / Lose" tracker that added a legacy-style feel, the idea being that as you won, the game would get harder, and as you lost, the game would self-correct and get easier. In practice, it made "The Betrayer" feel like an outcast and worked against the quick pick-up-and-play nature of the game, so we ditched it.

    The first version of the quick-play mat

    To make rules as fast and clear as possible, I made a quick start sheet. Basically, you set out a puzzle on a sheet and that one image teaches the whole game.

    The best thing we saw was that with the two modes — fully co-operative and potential betrayer — the game could fit with all types of players. Since the game took only a minute or two to teach, that meant pretty much any group was willing to try it, and then once they tried it, they wanted more. The groups that wanted a more causal party-style game could play fully co-op, while the groups that wanted to be more intense could up the challenge level or add the potential traitor. It was becoming the rare game that could introduce new people to modern board games, but still be fun for more experienced gamers.

    Mental Blocks came a long way from a personal "art game" to something that hundreds of playtesters have played and loved — but when I think about my original goal, this feedback quote is my favorite of all: "[She] loved seeing her family work together and listen ([Which is] good for things outside of gaming). It also gives perspective that we all see things differently, and we could all be correct (she sorta got teary-eyed at this point) — Thanksgiving, gotta love emotional holiday time!"

    Which means hey, it can be fun AND still make a point!

    I'm excited to see Mental Blocks come out at Gen Con 2019 in August, so stop by the Pandasaurus Games booth (#1441) to try it. After all, it takes only a minute to learn and ten to play!

    Micah Sawyer Read more »
  • Funko Games Debuts with Harry Potter, Batman, Morty, Blanche, and More in the Funkoverse Strategy Game

    by W. Eric Martin

    In February 2019, pop-culture giant Funko acquired Seattle-based game design studio Forrest-Pruzan Creative, which releases most of its designs these days under the pseudonym Prospero Hall. (You might recognize the name from recent coverage of JAWS, Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, Horrified, and several other titles.)

    In my write-up of that purchase, I wrote: "In recent years, FPC has been responsible for pop-culture-driven games such as Villainous, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, and Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, which makes it seem like an ideal fit within the Funko brand." And in a comment on that post, I wrote: "I can imagine Funko releasing a deluxe version of Villainous for $100-ish that contains large figures of all six characters, perhaps custom versions of those characters specific to that game. It's a gift, it's a game — it's two things in one!"

    So close.

    At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Funko has officially announced the formation of Funko Games as well as its debut line of games: the Funkoverse Strategy Game. From the press release:

    The first wave of Funkoverse includes six collectible strategy board games based on some of the world's most beloved pop culture icons: Harry Potter, Rick & Morty, DC Comics, and The Golden Girls. The games incorporate Pop! into the flagship game with brand new three-inch figurines. The strategic game offers innovative gameplay and a fresh experience for both new and seasoned gamers. Funkoverse will be available at most major retailers this coming October.

    "There's no better place to introduce Funko fanatics to Funko Games than at this year's San Diego Comic Con," said Jay Wheatley, General Manager of Funko Games. "Adults and children over 10 can now create a powerful team of characters from their favorite fandoms and face off in exciting table-top gameplay."

    I appreciate the incorporation of the suggested age range in that quote, although it carries the feeling that nine-year-olds should go sit in a closet. In any case, here's a longer description of gameplay:

    Face off in the ultimate Pop! battle

    In the Funkoverse Strategy Game, you combine your favorite characters and go head-to-head in four exciting game scenarios. Use your characters' unique abilities to gain points and achieve victory!

    Each turn, you select one of your characters and perform two actions. Each character has access to basic actions like moving and challenges as well as several unique abilities that may be performed only by spending ability tokens. Funkoverse uses an innovative "cooldown" system — the more powerful the ability, the longer it will take for the ability token to become available again — so players have to spend their ability tokens wisely. Each character in Funkoverse is unique, so players are encouraged to try out different combinations of characters and items in order to discover their favorite synergies and powerful strategies for all four game scenarios.

    As of launch, the Funkoverse Strategy Game consists of four-character sets and two-character sets. Every four-character and two-character set is playable as a standalone game and comes with exclusive Funko Pop! Figures that aren't available anywhere else, a double-sided board, tokens, cards, an item, and dice. Sets may be combined with one another, allowing players the freedom to play how they like!

    Funko Games will have a presence at Gen Con 2019, so I would imagine that the games will be available for demo there ahead of their release in October 2019. (I need to double-check on this, but the Funko folks are a tad busy in San Diego.) We'll have individual listings for each title in the BGG database later, but for now I can share pics of the components in each of the six individual releases of the Funkoverse Strategy Game.

    Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • Friday Enhanced Map: 07-19-2019
    Friday Enhanced Map: 07-19-2019Publisher: Paratime Design

    The July 19, 2019 Friday Enhanced Map product contains a multi-layered PDF (allowing the options of white or black backgrounds, numbered or non-numbered areas, and secret doors on or off) and a zip file with all relevant map files as individual jpg images.

    THe Friday Enhanced map is for personal use only. If you are interested in licensing the map for commercial use, please contact Tim Hartin at Paratime Design for additional info.

    Price Change Note: Since I'm putting twice the work/time into the Friday Enhanced maps, the price has been adjusted to reflect this. Even with the new price range, I believe the price is still a steal.

    Price: $2.00 Read more »
  • Instruments of Our Devotion
    Instruments of Our DevotionPublisher: Michael Brown

    A (literal) engraved invitation leads to a meeting with a group of peaceful acetics who hire the team to recover some sacred musical instruments seized by soldiers. Naturally, things aren't all that they seem; what is the secret of the instruments that's worth risking reputations, freedom, and lives?

    Instruments of Our Devotion is a short adventure for 2D6 science fiction RPGs such as Cepheus Engine and the Original Science Fiction Roleplaying Game (OSFRPG.)

    Price: $0.75 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • Conventional Snacking
    Conventional Snacking

    Sometimes at cons I feel like the Templeton from Charlotte’s Web…

    From the obligatory treats to share at game night to the nearly professional planning that some people put into convention supplies, we gamers really like our snacks. While I am not necessarily the best person to be giving advice on nutrition, I attend enough conventions to have some experience on the subject. After getting back from Queen City Conquest this past weekend, I thought it might be worth diving into the topic in relation to snacking (or eating in general) at conventions.

    Most of us go into game conventions knowing our regular eating habits are going to be changed up for the duration, either a little or a lot. Maybe you’re not going to be eating as healthy as you do at home, maybe you’re going to be eating less frequently than you do at home, maybe there’s going to be a little more alcohol than normal. There are differences between large cons in big cities with many options or smaller cons with limited nearby choices for food or snacks, but your regular habits are still going to go off kilter.

    It’s super easy to fall into unhealthy choices. The most convenient food to access or buy during conventions isn’t necessarily the best for you, leading to lots of fast food and few fresh, healthy options, and snacks are often just sweet or salty with little in between. Now, when you’re young and invincible, this might be just fine with a packed schedule of awesome gaming and not enough sleep, but as someone who is no longer young and absolutely not invincible, I can wreck myself during a convention if I’m not careful. I currently travel with an emergency supply of Tums, just in case. Not to mention, I know the crappier I eat, the larger the chance I’ll go home to develop a lovely case of Con Crud.

    Here’s some thoughts on the subject:

    • Water, Water, Everywhere. All good convention guides or tips will remind you to stay hydrated, and this one is no different. I’m touching on this point first because it is really so crucial. You can get your caffeine in whatever manner suits you, and you do you when it comes to the bars in the evening, but absolutely keep a water bottle handy. Most hotels and convention centers will have water out for the attendees, so make sure you take advantage. Even smaller cons will often note where the water fountains are or have bottles of water on hand. I mentioned that whole not being young thing anymore, so let me tell you that getting dehydrated becomes harder and harder to deal with as you get older. So yeah, drink lots of water.
    • Healthy, Portable Snacks. While it seems easiest to load up on salty and sugary snacks, it is possible to bring some healthier snacks along with you. Celery sticks and carrot sticks are pretty easy to pack in small containers and actually keep quite well. Nuts are also quite portable and offer a relatively healthy boost. If you’ve got to mix in a bit of chocolate, make your own trail mix. It’s always nice to be able to choose what you want in the mix and not end up with a pile of what you don’t want left in the bag. I mean, raisins are fine but I don’t want THAT many in my trail mix.
    • Don’t Let Yourself Get Hangry. Regardless of what your plans are for meals, make sure you pack SOMETHING to snack on in times of need. No one wants a distracted or irritable player or GM that’s in need of a snack at their table. Having a granola bar or couple of pieces of candy to tide yourself over will go a long way to making sure you get through the con in one piece. Let’s say you’ve scheduled yourself two 4-hour games in a row and then plan on getting dinner after that. Well, 8ish hours can be too long for some folks to go without a snack. Be prepared to keep your energy and mood up so you can enjoy the games you’re there to play.
    • Go Easy on Yourself. I say this for two reasons. First, be kind to yourself. Maybe you intended to stick to your diet, but that goal went out the window on the first day of the con. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You can get back to your regular plans when you get home. Second, on the other side of the coin, don’t go completely hog wild with your choices. Just because you’ve decided to indulge doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a little kind to your body. Maybe the next choice after that deliciously cheesy and greasy order of pizza logs is a salad or something a tiny bit healthier.
    • People Eat Together. Eating together is one a major bonding mechanism we use to grow closer to our friends. Take advantage of being at a con with all kinds of awesome people to plan meals together and enjoy each other’s company. Another option is to bring enough snacks to share at the gaming table. I have a handful of friends who will bring bags of candy to share with whoever even glances at the bag of goodies. Another friend always makes sure he has a couple extra water bottles on him to hand to folks who look like they’re in need.

    Ultimately, the Sunday of the con comes around and you’ll see the over planner trying to hand off the leftover snacks they brought. Even if they have a ludicrous amount to get rid of, I can guarantee you they’re happy they brought enough to share and make it through the convention with some tasty snacks.

    Read more »
  • Coriolis: My Favourite Sci-Fi TTRPG
    Coriolis: My Favourite Sci-Fi TTRPG

    For years, I’ve raved endlessly about Coriolis, a science fiction RPG by Fria Ligan (Free League) co-published with Modiphius Entertainment. It’s my favourite science-fiction tabletop roleplaying game of all time. Scratch that. It’s maybe one of my favourites irrespective of genre. There is something in the game for everyone. That’s why I rave about it at any given opportunity. Here’s why.

    Choice. Character creation is one of my favourite parts of any tabletop RPG. PbtA playbooks read like branching stories – with your narrative changing directions as you select new moves and abilities. They differ from other styles of tabletop RPG in that playbooks come in different forms for a single game. In D&D, character sheets are not individualistic in structure. You’re led along a linear path of new abilities, with the narrative having little effect on how your character class changes. Meanwhile, Coriolis sits right in the middle. I very much enjoy the wide variety of character “concepts” – Artist, Data Spider, Fugitive, Negotiator, Operative, Pilot, Preacher, Scientist, Ship Worker, Soldier, and Trailblazer – presented to the reader. Now, unlike PbtA character sheets or D&D classes, your initial concept is more like a springboard into a unique creation of your choice. When you begin character creation, the loose concept you pick only has a mechanical bearing on certain skills you are particularly talented with and the strongest attribute you start with. But that’s really where it ends. You can pick any skill. Have any weapon. Be anyone. Like the idea of being a space archaeologist? Let the Scientist guide you in the beginning as you determine who you want your character to be through play. Want to be a corporate bodyguard? Pick the Operative if you want a more low-key background, or a Soldier if you want the military to figure heavily in your backstory.

    Structured growth from freeform roleplaying. In many ways, tabletop roleplaying games are like real life. Like us, characters in tabletop RPGs encounter challenges, experience failure and triumph, and experience the world in a unique way. If we’re particularly lucky or insightful, we learn and grow from these experiences. In popular games like Dungeons & Dragons, player characters “grow” by obtaining “experience points” earned from overcoming challenges commonly taking the form of a combat encounter. See the antagonist. Kill said antagonist. Grow in ways unrelated to the mass murder you’ve just committed. In Coriolis, players improve their characters’ quantifiable skills and abilities in a much more self-reflective manner. The game system rewards players “experience points” by facilitating a structured debrief and discussion between players and the GM at the end of every gaming session This is based on the overall narrative actions of each character and not necessarily what they killed or how many challenges they overcame. Some of the questions asked include:

    • Did you participate?
    • Did you overcome a difficult challenge and help your group reach their goals?
    • Did you learn something new about yourself?
    • Did your personal problem(s) put your group at risk?
    • Did you sacrifice or risk something for a member of the group to which you share a close bond?

    Especially when playing tabletop RPGs with strangers or family members, systems like D&D and Pathfinder causes players to become preoccupied with “doing things” to level up their characters. Games generally descend into, sessions of “if we kill this many _____, we’ll gain this much experience.” Experience and growth are reduced to the consequences of death. Learning becomes a task. A game like Coriolis can be used to encourage more self-reflective (yet, goal-oriented) roleplay. The structured end-of-session debrief and discussion is a great way to have players recognize the weaknesses and strengths of their characters, mediate their own problems, and identify how their actions and behaviours can positively and negatively affect others.

    I do, however, have mixed feelings about the “Arabian Knights in space” description attached to this product. While on one end there are clear undertones of Orientalist themes. But on the other, it presents a fictional Islamic world in a way that doesn’t problematize religion or depicts Muslims unfairly. As someone who’s spent a lot of time living and working in a Muslim country, I can very much appreciate what this game does for fair and positive representation. Perhaps I’ll discuss this in a future post on its own. Needless to say, the freedom to which you are able to create characters, the emphasis on storytelling and complications, and an easy to learn, yet highly tactical combat system makes Coriolis a unique game. It lets you be what you want and do what you want, all while providing a scaling degree of structure. It’s accessible and highly reflexive, and that’s what’s really important when assessing the value of a tabletop RPG.

    Read more »

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  • Percy's Last Stand - A Post-Apocalyptic RPG
    We received word that an indie post-apocalyptic RPG, named Percy's Last Stand will become available on the 25th of July on Steam. Central Louisiana, the year 2089... the brief peace after World War III ends with the collapse of global computer networks through an unknown virus.... Read more »
  • Rebel Galaxy Outlaw - Release Date Trailer
    The release date trailer for Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. loading... August 13th, 2019 - That's what you wanted to know, right? You want to know MORE? Then visit us at- Read more »

    Sly Flourish

  • Letters to New and Veteran Dungeon Masters

    We're in an amazing time for our hobby. The number of people playing D&D appears to be roughly doubling every two years. That's a lot of new Dungeons & Dragons dungeon masters coming into the hobby every day.

    Many of us have also been playing D&D for decades. We've been "holding the torch" as Grant Ellis says. We've played four or five versions of the game over the years and bring these decades of experience to the games we run.

    This mix of new and veteran dungeon masters can bring an incredible wealth of shared experiences from both new DMs and veterans alike.

    If we let it.

    In today's article, I offer two letters; one to new dungeon masters and one to veteran dungeon masters. My goal is to help bridge the years between new and old DMs so we can equally share our experiences and all learn from one another without the years becoming barriers between us.

    A Letter to New Dungeon Masters

    Welcome to one of the most amazing hobbies in existence. Dungeons & Dragons brings friends together to share amazing stories that rival anything we've read in books or seen on a screen. With the mixture of creative ideas from ourselves, our players, and the randomness of the dice, we will watch stories unfold that will stay with us the rest of our lives. We're going to build worlds together.

    This hobby can also be intimidating. We have to get past our inhibitions and become kids again. We have to be willing to play make-believe again. We have to be willing to make mistakes. We have to get past the fear that we'll look stupid in front of our friends. The smarter we get, the richer our imaginary worlds become, if we're willing to let go of the barriers our society has placed on us in their attempt to get us to "grow up".

    We don't have to be afraid. Millions of people of all ages now enjoy Dungeons & Dragons. Groups like the team at Critical Role show us that adults playing make-believe is as fun to watch as it is to play.

    It can also be intimidating when new players talk to people who have played D&D for decades. A lot of veterans in this hobby love to tell new players how long they've been playing. These stories might scare new dungeon masters, making them believe it takes decades before they'll be good at this game. Most of the time these veterans just love to have new people to share their old war-stories with. They love to talk about things like THAC0 and how hard Tomb of Horrors was back in '78. Its been a while since anyone cares to hear these stories so they're always looking for an ear.

    A few veterans, however, use their experience as a way to try to prop themselves up above new DMs. They're intimidated by all of the new people coming into the hobby. They're afraid it will change their game in ways they don't like. They fear their voice doesn't hold as much weight as it used to. They may use their years of experience as a goal post new DMs need to meet—one they can't meet since it's entirely based on longevity.

    Here's a secret. Those years of experience tell you nothing about how good a dungeon master they are. Those years of experience might even bind these experienced dungeon masters into old styles best left to decades past. Some experienced DMs have closed their minds to new ways of thinking about their game. They don't just ignore Critical Role, they actively speak against it. "That's not D&D" they'll say because it isn't the kind of D&D they're used to seeing and playing. They're shutting themselves off from the growth of the game.

    In this hobby, years of experience is no indicator of skill. You can be a great dungeon master in just a few months. We've never had better resources to become great DMs than we do right now. We can learn the basics, watch people play, ask questions, share our experiences, gather tools, and find people to play with all online. The hobby has never been easier to get into and easier to get better at than it is right now.

    You can be a great DM with just a dozen or so games under your belt. After about fifty games, you could be as good as any DM out there if you continually learn along the way.

    This path, of course, isn't the same for everyone. You'll have to find which tips and tricks help you the most yourself. If you're looking to begin, you might start here.

    You don't need years of experience to run great D&D games. Keep your eyes open. Continually learn. Share your experiences. Pay attention to the experiences of others. Do these things and you're well on your way to being a great dungeon master.

    You can do it.

    A Letter to Veteran Dungeon Masters

    D&D is changing. You and I have some decisions to make as the number of people in this hobby continues to grow. We can resent this growth or we can embrace it. I doubt many of us actively resent it but that doesn't mean we're not resenting it subconsciously. We have to push this resentment away and remember that every new DM entering this hobby makes the whole hobby better. Every new DM gives us new experiences we can learn from ourselves.

    This means welcoming new people into the hobby. It means teaching them the ropes and making it as easy as possible for them to see what this game has to offer. Put yourself in their shoes and teach them the things that will help them. They don't care about how hard multiclassing was back in 1st edition; they need to figure out what they need to run a game now.

    We can start by making it as easy as possible to bring new people into the hobby without using our years of experience as a barrier. Don't start a conversation by mentioning how long you've played D&D. Ask them about their own experiences. Listen to them before you talk. If they ask how long you've played, just say "a while". Don't push them away by digging a canyon of decades between you.

    Here's something even more important. You have as much to learn right now as you did years ago. New dungeon masters are coming from all sorts of places with all sorts of backgrounds and their own experiences. They'll have all sorts of new ideas we can learn from.

    We can learn as much from new dungeon masters as they can learn from us.

    Keep your mouth shut and watch them, whether it's in online discussions, in video, or in real life. Watch them, listen to them, and learn from them. See what they bring to the table.

    The growth of our hobby is as useful to us veterans as it is to new DMs. We can watch more DMs running games now than ever before. We can learn from more systems, sources, and adventures than ever before. We have many wonderful avenues to share our experiences and learn from other DMs however long they've been playing.

    We might think, with our decades of experience, that there is nothing new under the sun. We would be wrong. We can learn as much about how to run great games now as any new DM. Embrace the philosophy to always be learning and let your style improve as it never has before.

    You might be perfectly happy playing the way you've been playing over the years. Your group might be happy too. If that's the case, go with the gods. There's no obligation to change the way you play. Don't assume your way is the right way, though. There are many ways to enjoy this game.

    Even small tweaks can bring more joy to the games we run. Continuously running small experiments keeps our game fresh over the years. If you feel yourself resistant to change, take a step back to ask yourself why. What holds you back? You don't have to make huge leaps. Small experiments can go a long way.

    Learn From One Another

    Whether you have six months experience running D&D games or thirty years, we can all learn from one another. This hobby, more than ever, is filled with ways for us to share our experiences. We have more access to more material than we could ever digest. Run some games, watch some games, pick up some tips, listen to other DMs however long they've been playing, and run small experiments to make your game the best game it can be.

    Read more »
  • Running Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 4: Dragon Season

    Waterdeep Dragon Heist's chapters alternate through many different playstyles. Chapter 1 runs much like any standard Dungeons & Dragons adventure with a strong start, a quest, some investigation and roleplaying, a dungeon, and a boss. Chapter 2 is a big sandbox in which the characters get involved with a bunch of factions and set up their own tavern and manor. Chapter 3 is an investigation and infiltration of a noble's manor which runs well as a situation-based encounter in which a situation is occurring at Gralhund Villa and the characters get to decide how to deal with it.

    Chapter 4 takes us down a new path; that of a chase. Chases are tricky in D&D, particularly if we try to define a scene as a chase up front and don't let the players decide how to actually approach the situation. As written, Urstel Floxin, an agent of the villain in the adventure (in my case it's the Cassalanters), grabs the Stone of Golorr (the MacGuffin of the adventure), and runs off. The characters traverse through eight separate scenes as they chase the stone through Waterdeep.

    There are a few problems with this. First, what if the characters short circuit the chase? What if they cast hold person on Urstel and grab up the stone in scene 1? One way to handle it is to just let them do so and keep going forward but that removes a big piece of the book. In the book the Stone of Golorr doesn't want to be found early but that feels artificial to me. What does the stone care about our chase?

    What if the characters don't follow Urstel right away. In that case either the whole scene waits for the characters to rest up which feels arbitrary, or Urstel zips off with the stone and the characters are left with no idea where it might have gone to.

    Both of these situations are more likely than actually going through the chase as written. It's also a big let-down if the characters chase the stone all over Waterdeep and end up not getting it.

    There's another way to run this chapter, though; one that follows more of the philosophy of chapter 3. Set it up as an investigation and let the players navigate the situation how they wish.

    The rest of this article describes an alternate way to run chapter 4.

    The Stone Gets Away

    In our version of events by the time the characters finish up with Gralhund Villa in chapter 3, the stone is already gone. We're going to arrange it that the characters don't really have a way to get ahold of the stone during the chase. Urstel is already a few steps ahead.

    We begin this setup by ensuring that Urstel escapes from Gralhund Villa and it takes some time for the characters find him. For example, Urstel Floxin could have used a teleporter in the cellar of Gralhund Villa and the characters need to spend hours figuring out where it led. They spend this time exploring Waterdeep, using arcana checks to triangulate where the teleporter ended up. When they find the location, the stone is already well on its way to its final destination.

    What Path Does the Stone Take Regardless of the Characters?

    When we're developing a situation like this, we can ask ourselves an important question. If the characters didn't get involved, what course of action would take place? In the Cassalanter scenario we use the summer encounter chain. If the characters don't get involved, the path of the stone's journey goes something like this:

    1. Urstel teleports to a mausoleum of the Cassalanters and gives the stone to some Cassalanter cultists.
    2. It turns out two of the four cultists are actually working for the Xanathar. They kill the other two and take the stone to the converted windmill to give it to Xanathar agents later that day.
    3. The Cassalanters have spine devil spies who see the ruse of the cultists. They kill cultists at the windmill and get the stone.
    4. The spined devils bring the stone to the Cassalanter butler, Willifort Crowelle, at his carriage in the alley.
    5. The three street kids dig a pit in the street and throw some canvas and dirt over the pit. Crowelle's carriage overturns and the kids steal the stone thinking it's some loot.
    6. Urstel Floxin, watching the path of the stone himself, sees that they lost control of it so he goes after the kids, wounds them, and takes the stone.
    7. Urstel Floxin takes the stone to the Cassalanters himself, something he had hoped to avoid so he wouldn't be seen going to the Cassalanter's villa.
    8. The Cassalanters now have the stone.

    This whole series of events probably takes a few hours. The characters might start their investigation of the path of the stone while it's still happening or afterwards. If it's afterwards they can still learn the path of the stone and find out that it's with the Cassalanters.

    You can change up your own series of events based on which season of Dragon Heist you're running. The big question to ask is "how does this series of events go if the characters don't get involved?"

    Turning a Chase Into an Investigation

    Now that we know what path the stone will take regardless of how the characters get involved, we can watch how they do get involved and see if it changes the path. If the stone is two or three steps ahead, the characters will have to move fast if they want to catch it, which isn't very likely. It is possible through scrying or invisible familiars they can watch it switching hands. Otherwise they'll have to look at clues, talk to witnesses, and gather the information they need to figure out where the stone went. Floxin and the Cassalanters were hoping to move the stone discreetly but when they get betrayed by their own cultists and robbed by three street urchins, they leave evidence behind that the characters can discover.

    It's even possible the characters manage to short circuit the chain of events themselves by getting really lucky, really smart, or both. If they do, they succeed in getting the stone and it's off to the vault of dragons. If they don't, it's time for something else.

    It's time for a heist.

    In the next article on running Waterdeep Dragon Heist we'll talk about using the lairs in chapter 5 to add in the heist to steal the Stone of Golorr.

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