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  • Get a Relief Column to Peking, Resolve Russian Civil War Crises, and Battle in World War II in Twenty Minutes

    by Candice Harris

    Deluxe Edition(not final)• Wargame aficionados, in February 2021 Worthington Publishing launched a Kickstarter campaign (KS link) for a new deluxe edition of John Welch's solitaire gem Keep Up The Fire!: The Boxer Rebellion, which was originally released by Victory Point Games in 2011.

    Keep Up The Fire!, the tenth game in the States of Siege series, plays in 45 minutes and is getting a fresh coat of paint with updated artwork, all mounted boards, thick counters, and more.

    Here's a brief overview of the setting and challenges you'll face:
    Keep Up The Fire! is a solitaire States of Siege series game set in 1900 Peking (modern day Beijing), China where Foreign Legations (areas assigned to Imperial powers including ambassadors, business people, and a handful of troops to provide security) are besieged in their compound by Chinese anti-imperialist forces. The Chinese "Boxers" (Society of the Harmonious Fists), with the Imperial Manchu forces of the Qing Army, are angry and determined to expel these foreigners from China.

    At the Legation Compound siege, you must coordinate the various foreign detachments that have joined to defend their position until a Relief Column arrives. You also command the Relief Column, battling their way from the port of Taku inland through hostile territory to break the siege at Peking.

    Note that this game can also be enjoyed in teams working together (just as the Eight Nations had to), deciding how best to defend the Legation Compound and get the Relief Column to Peking in time!

    A set of five standards-based lesson plans are also available for classroom teachers should they wish to use this game as a teaching tool.

    The game is a race against time as the Chinese forces besieging the Legation Compound are attacking relentlessly while the Relief Column battles its way to the rescue. With limited time and relentless attacks on the Compound, will you manage to keep up the fire?

    • In addition to Keep Up The Fire!, Worthington Publishing's reprinted deluxe edition of Darin A. Leviloff's Soviet Dawn, which was originally released in 2009 from Victory Points Games as another solitaire game in the States of Siege series, will be available in March 2021.

    Soviet Dawn (Deluxe Edition) was successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) in late 2020 and has also been spruced up and upgraded with new-and-improved components thanks to Worthington Publishing. In more detail:
    Soviet Dawn (Deluxe Edition) brings Darin Leviloff's novel States of Siege game system back for a much larger storytelling adventure covering the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921. Upgraded with a bigger, hard mounted game board, beautiful linen finish cards, large counters, full color rules, and more!

    With several enemy "Fronts" converging on Moscow, the fate of the revolution and the prestige of international communism rests on your ability to manage and resolve every crisis that the "Whites" can assail you with. As the headlines unfold, you draw upon military and political resources to help you, or try to reorganize the Red Army for special abilities that can greatly enhance your position. Who knows? You might even capture the Imperial Gold Reserve!

    Can you deal with the great crises of that time and defend the revolution? Will you withdraw from the Great War (WW1) or exercise the Bukharin Option and fight on? Can you execute the Czar in time, or will the Whites rescue him? Will you fortify Petrograd or press your offensives home? How will you deal with internal and external dissent? Play Soviet Dawn and see!

    This Deluxe Edition includes the expansion set.

    • Speaking of refreshing older games, in the February Update Newsletter from GMT Games, Gene shared some excitement for a new P500 addition: a reprint of Vietnam 1965-1975, Nick Karp's award-winning, classic Vietnam game of the 1980s.

    Vietnam 1965-1975, originally released by Victory Games in 1984, is a two-player game considered to be quintessential grand operational Vietnam game. There are no major rules changes expected, and GMT's primary goal is to modernize the components and clean up any ambiguity in the rules.

    Vietnam 1965-1975 has a jaw-dropping (for some) playtime range of 360-6000 minutes because it can be played as scenarios or you can strap in for the entire campaign as briefly described below from original publisher, Victory Games:
    This simulation game re-creates one of the longest, most complex, and least understood conflicts in U.S. history in all of its military and political aspects.

    Non-final P500 cover image from GMT's website
    The rules include detailed treatment of movement, terrain, search and destroy operations, special operations, firepower, air mobility, riverines, brigade-level formations, limited intelligence and auxiliary units in each scenario. The scenarios start out small with Operation Starlite, and slowly build in complexity, introducing more rules, until the entire Campaign Scenario which covers the entire war from 1965 to 1975 and introduces South Vietnamese politics, morale and commitment, strategic bombing, reinforcements, and pacification.

    • I was perusing some upcoming releases the other night and was excited to discover Paolo Mori's 2019 release, Blitzkrieg!, from PSC Games has a new "square edition" coming in Q2 2021. Not only will you save some shelf space, but this version also includes the Nippon expansion as an added bonus.

    If you're not familiar with Blitzkrieg!, it's an excellent, WWII-themed filler game for 1-2 players that's packed with fun, exciting, and tense moments and even features a solo mode designed by Dávid Turczi, who probably has a doctorate in solo game design at this point. It's also easy to learn and can be played quickly, true to its tag line: "World War Two in 20 Minutes". Here's a brief description with more details from publisher:
    The perfect wargame for non-wargamers, Blitzkrieg! allows two players to battle across the War's most iconic theaters, winning key campaigns and building military might.

    Original rectangular box cover
    Players draw army tokens from a bag to determine their starting forces and to replenish their losses. Rather than "fighting" battles with dice or cards, players allocate their military resources to each theater's campaigns, winning victory points, further resources, special weapons, and strategic advantages as they play. Refight World War Two several times in one evening!

    Blitzkrieg! is one of my favorite filler games, and I feel it is a hidden gem that deserves to be more widely known, so I'm glad that's it going to be available again for folks to check out! Read more »
  • VideoRace, Marry, Crawl, Meditate, Fight, and Dominate the Forest

    by W. Eric Martin

    I moved away from regular Kickstarter update posts a while ago, yet when I look at my inbox this week, recently announced Kickstarter projects dominate that space. Let's take a glance at a few of the projects holding out the hat for your gaming dollar:

    • On a turn in David Van Drunen's Block and Key from Inside Up Games, you either take blocks from a reserve or add a block you have to a shared gamespace, ideally completing objective cards when you do — but you can complete such a card only when your particular 2D perspective of the 3D playing area matches what is depicted on the card. You play the game on an elevated platform so that your eyes will be at board level without you crouching down to rest your chin on the table like a sad dog. (KS link)

    Zombicide: Undead or Alive will land in 2022, marking ten years since CMON Limited debuted with Zombicide, the game that arguably defined what a table game Kickstarter should be. This zombie-fighting design from the original team of Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult is set in the mythic wild West and invites you to mow down zombies with dynamite and locomotives as our ancestors did generations ago. (KS link)

    • Designer Mitsuo Yamamoto regularly creates abstract strategy games from ceramic tiles, and for his current project he's offering a quartet of Shogi games — on a standard 9x9 board, on a 4x7 board, on a 4x6 board ("Le Shogi"), and on a 3x3 board ("Pop Shogi", which is Yamamoto's own design) — with a more accessible design for the pieces for those who don't speak Japanese. (KS link)

    • Within three days of launching, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition from Jacob Fryxelius, Sydney Engelstein, Nick Little, FryxGames, and Stronghold Games had garnered nearly $600k in support. The (KS page) could probably show nothing more than a logo and still do well, but of course it details the solo and co-operative play modes as well as the regular competitive gameplay in which you're once again trying to make Mars habitable.

    Bloodstone is a 1-8 player combat arena game from James Hudson and Druid City Games that was added to the BGG database back in 2017 and that will become a reality in 2022 — but only for those who back the KS campaign since the title won't have a retail release (outside of the publisher's webstore). Hudson explains why here.

    Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games are continuing their "tiny epic" game series with Tiny Epic Dungeons, this being a co-operative dungeon-crawling game in which 1-4 players must make it through a modular dungeon before their torchlight runs out so that they can face the "dungeon boss" that awaits for them in the second act of the game. (KS link)

    A Universal Truth is a Regency Era courtship game for 1-5 players from Patrick Einheber and Danger Toad Games that's filled with more than two hundred multi-use cards with which you'll earn money, build relationships with friends and family, get two people to fancy one another, then wed before anyone else. (The game ends at that point, so you will have to watch Bridgerton once again to experience the marriage's consummation.) (KS link)

    Root: The Marauder Expansion from Cole Wehrle, Patrick Leder, and Leder Games will be a thing, but you might know that already given the write-up from Candice Harris in mid-February 2021. The KS campaign has nearly $1.2 million in support as of Feb. 25, 2021, so apparently lots of people know.

    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game from Daryl Andrews, Morgan Dontanville, and Cryptozoic Entertainment is a solitaire game in which you play through the four "books" of Frank Miller's iconic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, with each book taking 90 minutes. Check out these ridiculously on-brand dice! (KS link)

    • In January 2020, I wrote about ZEN Tiles Solo from Youichirou Kawaguchi and ChagaChaga Games. Here's a short description:
    ZEN Tiles Solo is a solitaire board game that challenges you to look at yourself objectively while placing emotion tiles on a 24-hour timeline.

    To win, you need to find a spot to place twenty different emotion tiles above these time boards, so think carefully about "your yesterday". You might have become happy about yourself — "I had a positive thoughts!" — or were perhaps surprised: "I didn't realize that I have negative feelings every time when I see this person."

    In 2020, Kawaguchi released ZEN Tiles Basic, a lightly competitive version of this game that can be played with up to four people, and now the designer is using Kickstarter ( to make this game easily available to people outside of Japan.

    • At Spielwarenmesse 2020, BGG recorded an overview of Tiny Turbo Cars from designers Hjalmar Hach, Laura Severino, Alessandro Manuini, Jonathan Panada, and Giulia Tamagni — and now Italian publisher Horrible Guild has brought the game to Kickstarter (link) for delivery by the end of 2021.

    The hook in this racing game is that each player has a sliding puzzle to serve as their remote controller, and you program your moves for the round by sliding tiles into the middle two rows of the controller, with players moving in the order in which they lock in their moves. The faster you finish, the more likely you are to make the moves you set up — and the more likely you are to make mistakes, too. More details in the video below:

    Youtube Video Read more »
    - Newest Items

  • Eight
    Publisher: Chaosium

    Seven are the tenets of the Knights Gesa. Twenty are the knights sworn to the Graal. But an eight tenet exists known only to one child. This is his story.

    Includes a writeup for a new type of Glamour Knight, The Eighth.
    And a new possible Antagonist Secret Society, The Theotokos.

    EightPrice: $2.50 Read more »
  • Barbaric!
    Publisher: Stellagama Publishing

    Barbarians! Civilized men huddle behind tall stone walls, trembling at the thought. The soldiers of civilization tighten their shield walls against the oncoming onslaught. And then they come. Savage men and women, screaming at the top of their lungs, oblivious to fear, frothing at the mouth from rage and lust for war. Wave after wave, they storm shields and fortifications. Many die; the pagan gods bless their souls. But eventually, mail and castle fail. Then, the flames of barbarism will sweep the land, leaving no stone unturned!

    Sword and sorcery tales speak of cunning thieves, power-hungry sorcerers, and, indeed, barbaric warriors. This game – Barbaric! – lets you play such heroes. Or, more often, anti-heroes. Pit your sword-arm and knowledge of eldritch secrets against ravaging bandits, scheming nobles, diabolic demons, mighty dragons – and, ultimately, the rotten and ugly face of moribund civilization itself.

    So, pour your drinks, devour your pizza, turn up the volume of your favorite heavy metal album – and prepare to become… Barbaric!

    Barbaric! is a lightweight sword & sorcery ruleset perfect for convention games, one-off adventures, and mini-campaigns where easy-to-learn rules and fast play are preferred. It includes:

    • Simple skill-based task resolution!
    • Lightning-fast but customizable character generation!
    • 30 Traits to spice up your barbarian!
    • Brutal combat with varied combat maneuvers and murderous critical hits!
    • Dangerous sorcery - risk your soul to gain eldrich might!
    • 36 deadly spells!
    • 50 fearsome monsters!
    • Treasures for your barbarians to loot!

    All in a mere 57 small pages!

    Barbaric! is compatible with Stellagama Publishing's Cepheus Atom post-apocalyptic rules. Mutate your barbarians! Arm them with laser rapiers! Bring dark sorcery to your post-apocalyptic wasteland!

    Barbaric!Price: $2.99 Read more »

    Gnome Stew

  • Storyteller or Facilitator — Two Approaches
    An open book on a table with an image of a pirate standing on one side and a ship on the water on the other.

    Over my nearly 40 years as a GM, I have changed the ways that I have created stories at the table. Similarly, what I look for in games has changed as well. At different times during my tenure as a GM I have been a storyteller, and other times I have been a story facilitator. Both have created amazing times at the table, but both are different experiences and need different things. So today, I thought I would look at these two styles with a little more depth and talk about their needs, the experiences they produce, etc. 

    Laying Down Some Definitions

    In order for us to get started, I need to establish the main terms for what we are talking about since neither of these terms is universally understood or accepted in the hobby. So for the rest of this article, we will work from these terms.


    A storyteller is a type of GM who crafts a story to share with their players. The player characters are the protagonists of the story as the storyteller guides them through it. Through play, the characters experience the story. On the good side of this, the players have agency and are able to influence the conclusion of the story. On the bad side of this, the players are on what is often referred to as a Railroad, where their actions do not affect the outcome. 

    The defining trait of the storyteller is the idea that the scenario they are running is a story that they are telling to the players, and that they have some idea of the outcome/outcomes of the story when it concludes. Their job is to make that story unfold and guide the players through it. The players are to play their characters and move through the story.

    Story Facilitator

    The story facilitator, or just facilitator, is someone who sees their job as helping the group, as a whole, create a story through play. They often have the idea of a plot or challenge, but not much beyond that. Through play, the characters will figure out how to resolve the plot or challenge, and the GM is there to engage the rules and to add things to the developing story to keep it from going stale. On the good end of this, the facilitator brings an exciting challenge to the table and works to keep things moving along, nudging things when needed. On the bad end, they come to the session with very little and push the work onto the players to make things happen at the table.

    The defining trait of the facilitator is the idea that they have an idea of how things will start, but are totally open to how the story will end. Their job is to set things up, and then make way for the players to determine how things will end. They are equally as surprised as the players in how the story turned out. 

    We Are Not Dealing In Absolutes…

    No one is 100%, Storyteller or Facilitator. We are always some blend of these. Perhaps you are a Storyteller who at a point in the game when the player’s actions have changed so much of the story, flip over to the Facilitator and guide the game to its new conclusion. Or perhaps you are a Facilitator who really likes to create a story by crafting very specific plots and situations and uses your moments of facilitation to build upon the story you have in mind. 

    …But we have Preferences

    Without a doubt, you have a preference, which is comprised of some combination of these two approaches. That preference can change over time, it can change with different games, etc. That is perfectly natural.

    Without a doubt, you have a preference, which is comprised of some combination of these two approaches. That preference can change over time, it can change with different games, etc. That is perfectly natural. Sometimes our general preference changes, because how we derive enjoyment from RPGs changes. Other times our general preference can change because who we are changes, again leading to how we derive enjoyment from RPGs. The group you play with can help determine your preference. If your players are the kind who enjoy participating in a story, then their enjoyment and in part your own may come from a more Storyteller approach. In other cases, the game itself may make the choice for you. If a game you enjoy requires the GM to be more of a Facilitator, then you may find your joy in that role.

    The Influence of Group And Game

    As mentioned above, the group you play with and the games you play may lend themselves to different styles. The truth is any group and any game can be played in either approach, but there are more optimal configurations depending on your overall preference.

    When you are more Storyteller…

    You will enjoy games where the majority of narrative control remains with the GM — games where the GM sets scenes, narrates the outcomes of skill checks, etc. These are sometimes referred to as more traditional games. Think of something like D&D where the GM has the narrative control and the players embody their characters. Games of this style work well for the Storyteller because they have the most control of the narrative and can use that to tell the story.

    In terms of players, the Storyteller does best with a group of players who are more focused on the actions of their characters rather than the flow and structure of the story. With this character focus, these players are ready to embody their characters and react to the world. This allows them to play their part in the story and react to the story as the GM unfolds it before them. 

    When you are more the Facilitator 

    You will enjoy games where the narrative control of the game is more de-centralized, with the GM having some of the control and the players having some as well. The GM may still set scenes and such, but the players will be able to help shape those scenes as well as help to create upcoming scenes. Think of something like a Powered by the Apocalypse game, where the 7-9 result of a Move gives the players ways to shape the narrative of the game, but there is still a centralized GM role. 

    In addition, you may also enjoy games with a fully decentralized GM role, where an even larger amount of narrative control is spread out among the players. Think of something like Fiasco, where there is no GM, but there can be a player who is more familiar with the rules to help facilitate the game.

    In terms of players, the Facilitator does well when paired with players who also have an interest in shaping the story; their focus is less on their individual character but more on the story that is being told. These types of players readily enjoy having narrative control and using it not to “win” the game, but to make the game “more interesting” even if that results in endangering their character to do so. These kinds of players are the ones who want to take an active role in shaping the story and will work with the GM to make that happen. 

    My Own Preferences

    In the 40 years I have played, I have been both a strong Storyteller and a strong Facilitator. In the ’90s and early ‘00s, I went through a phase where I loved being the Storyteller and crafting stories that my group would play through. We played a lot of traditional games, then, and my group was very content to play in that style. We created a lot of great stories during that time.

    In the early 10’s I had an experience in my d20 Modern game that showed me how much I enjoyed improvisation. You can read more about that in Engine Publishing’s book Unframed. After that, I had a gradual shift in preference from Storyteller to Facilitator. I started playing more indie games where the GM role was decentralized.

    Today, I have reached a point where I am very unscientifically 70% Facilitator and 30% Storyteller. I appreciate creating an overall story for my campaigns, but within the session, I enjoy facilitating much more. My main source of enjoyment is playing along with the players to see where the story goes, and ending a session as surprised as they are with where the game went. 

    To that point, I still enjoy a lot of indie games, but I run plenty of traditional games as well. I like indie games that have a GM role, but then share out some of the narrative control to the players, so I play a lot of Powered by the Apocalypse games. For the more traditional games I run, I need more random tables to help create the uncertainty of what will happen next. It is one of the reasons I enjoy the traveling mechanics of Forbidden Lands so much. It is very much a traditional game with random elements that come up that I have to facilitate. 

    Your Preference

    You have a preference as well. Are you a strong storyteller, crafting masterful plots of intrigue and adventure, or are you a strong Facilitator looking to guide your group through their session making a story by laying the tracks in front of you as you go? More likely you are somewhere in-between. 

    What is your preference? What kinds of games work best for you? Is your game group in alignment with your preference as well? 

    Read more »
  • Bizarre Traditions
    Man Riding Horses

    Different societies and cultures have wildly differing traditions. Some of them are fairly mundane when you look at them from inside the culture that follows a tradition, but if you take a step back – maybe several steps back – you’ll see things from a fresh perspective. This new angle will reveal some really odd things.

    I was born and raised in west Texas. This makes me a United States citizen, so I grew up with quite a few odd traditions. To me, they seemed perfectly normal, but I’m going to step back from myself for a bit and describe these bizarre happenings in the weirdest way possible just to illustrate how truly off the wall some of these things are. All of these are from my personal experience, and I’m certain that many of you out there in the world will have things you’ll consider even more strange than what I’m describing here.

    Rodent Predicts the Weather

    Every year, as the the winter season reaches its peak in early February, men and women dress in clothing from almost one hundred years ago, track down a rodent in its lair, and yank it from its warm and cozy hole. This “Inner Circle” then hoists up the rodent and demands that it look for its shadow. If it sees the shadow, winter will be longer than normal. Otherwise, we’re in for a regular spring. I don’t know how this Inner Circle cajoles the rodent to seek the shadow of itself, but they claim their efforts are incredibly accurate.

    Make a Wish; Rip the Bone

    Around the Thanksgiving dinner table (which is a rich tradition to explore), we’d pass along the mostly-eaten turkey carcass and rip the meat off with our bare hands. Eventually, the poor bird’s “wishbone” would be exposed by a fortunate soul. That person and the person on their right (always on the right since the bird went around the table counterclockwise like any good NASCAR fans would do) would then carefully dissect the bone from the dead bird with whatever nearby sharp implements they could find. Then, each person would grip a spur of the wishbone, make a wish, and pull. The person who came away with the turkey’s sternum (the central prong of the wishbone) would have their wish granted, but only if it was a humble wish. Ask for too much, and misfortune will befall your entire family (which were usually there with you at the dinner table) for the remainder of the year. I find it extraordinarily strange that a dead bird’s skeletal system could grant a wish, but there are probably even more ways to try and tell the future, I suppose.

    Teens Turn to Arson for Good Luck

    I don’t have to step too far away from this one to make it weird because I’ve never really understood it. Before the Big High School Football Game against the Main Cross-Town Rival each year, both parking lots at the high schools would be piled high in the center with lumber, wood palettes, a center-piece joist to support it all, and pretty much anything else that would burn without being blown into a neighboring yard. With the fire department on hand, teens would be allowed to douse the entire structure in gasoline, make a trail of accelerant away from the pile, and then light it up! While the giant bonfire burned at the school, everyone would cackle wildly, dance around the fire, play their drums (or other portable band instruments), and cavort deep into the night. Standing far enough back from the fray, I was able to watch it with the appreciation of Rob Zombie filming a wild ritualistic scene from his imagination. Both high schools would time how long their particular bonfire burned, and the school with the longest-burning flame of ritual was guaranteed victory in the next night’s game.

    Game Applications

    I’m not recommending that we get together and make a book of rules and guidelines for bizarre traditions. These are too wide and varied for any type of “crunchy” approach at codifying them. Instead, leave the weirdness for the “fluff” of the game in which the true richness and depth of world building can be found. Find a seminal (probably beneficial) event in a community’s past, and see what kind of incredible lengths the local populace will go through in order to try and recapture the event again. This is how traditions are formed. Take it to the next level if you can. Put that core event two or three generations in the past and see how the current generation is going to interpret the event and traditions. How are they going to change and morph over the course of time? That’s were truly great world building comes into play.

    Read more »

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  • Underrail - New Content Update
    A new content update for Underrail adds new areas if you have the Expedition DLC. Dev Log #69: Crossing the Styx ( Hi guys,We're rolling out a new content update. It's going to be a somewhat weird update because the main bulk of the content is centered around something that is not part of a mainstream playthrough.... Read more »
  • System Shock - February Update
    Redglyph spotted the February update for the System Shock remake: February Update Welcome back Hackers! We’ve got a very special update this month - as you are aware we’re releasing our final demo and opening pre-orders on Steam, GOG, and the Epic Games Store which should be available as you read this.... Read more »

    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRime of the Frostmaiden Session Zero

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    This article discusses how to run a session zero for the D&D hardcover adventure, Rime of the Frostmaiden and contains spoilers for the adventure.

    For a video on this topic, watch my Frostmaiden Session Zero YouTube Video.

    Clarifying the Theme of Rime of the Frostmaiden

    Unlike other adventures, Rime of the Frostmaiden is designed as a book of related quests than a single cohesive storyline. While one might assume the drive of Rime of the Frostmaiden is to "end the eternal night", that drive isn't the best way to motivate the characters in the early parts of the adventure. Instead, we can motivate the characters to follow the wide range of quests in this adventure with the following theme:

    "Help the people of Ten Towns survive the endless night."

    This gives our characters a clear motivation to follow quests in the adventure wherever they may lead. A common complaint of Frostmaiden is that it lacks this single cohesive narrative that drives the characters through all of the material of the book. If, instead, we reinforce the theme that the characters are there to help the people of Ten Towns, just about every quest works well.

    Frostmaiden Session Zero Checklist

    When we run a session zero, it helps to clarify our goals in a checklist. Here's my own Frostmaiden session zero checklist:

    • Give out the Frostmaiden one-page Frostmaiden Campaign Handout and discuss it.
    • Discuss Frostmaiden's themes and our group's safety tools.
    • Work with the players to choose a group patron.
    • Give players their character's secret.
    • Work with the players to build characters together.
    • Give the players the optional Icewind Dale backgrounds in the book's introduction.
    • Give each character a trinket from Appendix A.
    • Run a short introductory adventure.

    Beginning in Bryn Shander

    Rime of the Frostmaiden gives you the option to start in any of the ten towns of Ten Towns. It recommends, if you cannot choose, to select Bryn Shander, which is what I did. I've seen many discussions online about which town to start in but this one worked well for me.

    Frostmaiden One-Page Campaign Guide

    For every campaign I run I like to give out a one-page campaign handout. Here's the PDF of my one-page Frostmaiden Campaign Handout. I usually give out these handouts a couple of days before the session zero so the players have enough of a chance to give it a read but not so much that their imaginations go wild and they come to the game with characters fully fleshed out. We want the players to build characters together so they fill in the right roles and build some inter-character relationships before we start.

    The Importance of Safety Tools

    Rime of the Frostmaiden is a rough adventure. Reading through the adventure, I came to the following potentially uncomfortable material:

    • Darkness
    • Deadly Cold
    • Betrayal
    • Paranoia
    • Murder
    • Incest
    • Isolation
    • Cannibalism
    • Mental assault
    • Ritual sacrifice
    • Parasitic monsters
    • Child endangerment
    • Violence towards animals

    It's worth discussing the content of this adventure before you choose to run it, even before a session zero, but its certainly worth discussing during your session zero as well.

    Consider using the checklist from Monte Cook Games's Consent in Gaming to see if there are any issues players might have with the content in Icewind Dale.

    Even after you've worked with your players to discuss the themes they're comfortable and uncomfortable with, you'll want some sort of safety tool in place during the game. Situations can come up quickly that may push a player out of their comfort zone and you want to ensure you can grab onto this quickly and move the story away from the subject at hand. This may seem overly cautious but it can happen to anyone, regardless of how long they've been gaming, and it's best to ensure you're steering the game towards enjoyment for all.

    See this excellent safety tool reference by Tomer Gurantz for details on lines, veils, X cards, and so on.

    In my own game I chose to use lines, veils, and a verbal X-card for our group in which anyone can say "pause for a second" over chat to break character and discuss whats going on out of character.

    You can see more about how I use these in my safety tools video.

    Group Patrons

    Tasha's Cauldron of Everything describes options for adding group patrons to our game and Frostmaiden is a great place to do it. You can spend some time reading through the adventure and choosing your own group patrons. I chose the following four:

    • Vellynne Harpell. A neutral-aligned Member of the Arcane Brotherhood, Vellynne becomes more important in the later parts of the adventure but she'd make for a fun and somewhat sinister group patron early on. Vellynne can be inclined to aid the people of Ten Towns to restore the damage done by Vaelish Gant years before and to gather more information about the secrets locked under the ice of Icewind Dale. Potential Tasha's group patron benefits: Academy.

    • Sheriff Markham Southwell. A lawful good sheriff of Bryn Shander, Sheriff Markham makes for a very solid group patron with ties to Bryn Shander's speaker, Duvessa Shane, and knowledge of the other towns. The sheriff would bring on the characters to take care of the jobs that he and the town guard cannot do themselves, including building stronger relationships with the other towns and aiding in their problems. Potential Tasha's group patron benefits: Military Force.

    • Hlin Trollbane. The neutral good Hlin can make for a good group patron serving outside of the law but with the drive to serve as a bastion of good in the darkness surrounding Ten Towns. Her first drive to hunt down the cold hearted murderer is a great start. Potential Tasha's group patron benefits: Guild.

    • Dannika Graysteel. The chaotic good half-elf scholar who comes to Ten Towns to understand what strange phenomena brought the endless night to Ten Towns can make a strong group patron. Like the others, she desires to help the people of Ten Towns but in particular wants to understand what has changed the natural order of things in Icewind Dale. Potential Tasha's group patron benefits: Religious Order.

    Alternative Character Secrets

    If you're using the character secrets in Frostmaiden, it's better to let players choose them before they start building characters. In many cases the secrets have racial limitations and won't work if the players choose races outside of those tied to the secret.

    I wasn't crazy about the secrets in the book. I found them too limiting and felt they took agency away from the player when building their characters. Instead, I offered randomly selected options from the list below which includes more open-ended secrets so the player has more room to fill it in with their own details. Use this list of alternative secrets if you prefer them:

    1. You are a spy keeping an eye out for the Arcane Brotherhood.
    2. You are being hunted by a noble family for a crime or slight you committed.
    3. You are fleeing from gangsters of the city of Luskin.
    4. As a child you were left in the cold to die but an owl-shaped humanoid saved you.
    5. You were secretly raised by yetis.
    6. You were infected by an otherworldly parasite.
    7. You are the secret heir for royalty in hiding.
    8. You have hazy dreams of being kidnapped by an alien race and then crashing down in the ice.
    9. You seek an heirloom was stolen from you long ago.
    10. You covet a small amulet made of a strange black and silver metal. Sometimes you hear it speaking to you.
    11. You have dreams of a massive strange black structure, a city, buried under the ice.
    12. Someone you love was murdered by a ghost.
    13. You are actually an escaped clone, a construct, built by the Arcane Brotherhood for some unknown purpose.
    14. You were reincarnated into your current form by a mysterious druid.
    15. You are outcast for having documented forbidden text. It could be dark magic or a tell-all book.
    16. You are an escaped and hunted prisoner.
    17. You have a phobia of talking animals.
    18. You witnessed a terrible crime and fear the one who committed it.
    19. You escaped a mark for sacrifice to Auril.
    20. Your dreams are filled with tentacled nightmares.

    One important tip for assigning secrets is to not let the players see the whole list so they can't guess what the secret is for another player. Instead, have them roll 1d20 and tell them privately what the secret is. If they like it, they keep it. If they hate it, they roll again for a new secret. They never, however, see the entire list of secrets so they can't guess what secrets another character has.

    A Better Cold Open

    Rime of the Frostmaiden offers 13 potential starter quests but gives us no idea which ones work well at any given level. Instead, we have to figure it out or we face the potential of our characters becoming overwhelmed by a deadly encounter. Most of the time, at 2nd level and above, the characters my get over their head but can probably escape. 1st level, however, is the deadliest level in D&D by far. It really should have its own rules for encounter building.

    Thus, I recommend running a short adventure specifically designed for 1st level characters to get them to 2nd level quickly.

    In my own game, I began with the characters making their way to the Northlook Inn to meet with their group patron when they saw a number of figures (one for every two characters) hunched over and chewing on a body. When the characters investigate, these creatures reveal themselves to be ghouls. When the characters dispatch the ghouls, they investigate the body and discover that the ghouls were eating it but they clearly didn't kill it. Instead it was killed with an frozen dagger, the icy blade still in the lethal wound.

    When they take their findings to their patron, they get 2nd level and are now better prepared for the trials of Ten Towns.

    This introduction leads the characters to the larger Cold Open quest and their hunt for Sephek Kaltro. Sephek is deadly for 1st level characters but can be defeated at higher levels. If the characters face him at 3rd or 4th level, you can have him summon some icy ghouls tied to his connection to Auril to make the encounter even more dangerous.

    A Strong Introduction to an Icy Adventure

    Session zeros are vital for running excellent cohesive campaigns in which the characters are tied to one another and to the theme and drive of the campaign's story.

    There's more to come as we dig deeper into Rime of the Frostmaiden including grouping the chapter 1 quests into more manageable batches.

    Hopefully this article gave you your own tools to run an awesome session zero and begin a fantastic adventure with your friends.

    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

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

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  • Handling Rests in D&D

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    The frequency of rests, both long rests and short rests, is critical to the pacing of our D&D games. Too many rests and the characters enter every situation armed with the full force of their character at their disposal. Too few and players feel helpless and frustrated as they watch their characters dwindle down to their last remaining hit point.

    It behooves DMs to recognize how and when we offer rests to the characters. It helps when we pay conscious attention to it and arm ourselves with the tools to manage rests and maintain the right exciting pacing of our D&D games.

    Reviewing the Core Books

    On any topic like this, it always helps to go back to the core books and see what they have to say on the topic. Chapter 8 of the Player's Handbook includes the basic descriptions of short and long rests. An interesting note, the default rules state that a character only regains half their maximum hit dice on a single long rest. That often gets omitted in play. The section is worth reviewing but offers no guidance for DMs on how best to offer or control such rests. Also worth noting is that a character can only benefit from one long rest in 24 hours.

    Chapter 3 of the Dungeon Master's Guide describes the expectation that characters receive two short rests per adventuring day. Xanathar's Guide to Everything offers optional exhaustion rules should characters choose to forgo a long rest during a 24 hour period of time.

    An oft-described and, in my opinion, misinterpreted description in the Dungeon Master's Guide states the following:

    "Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day."

    This is often interpreted that characters should face six to eight encounters in an adventuring day. I disagree. Instead, characters should face as many encounters as makes sense given the situation and circumstances. More on this in a moment.

    With all of their descriptions, the Dungeon Master's Guide and Xanathar's Guide don't offer much guidance on how best to handle rests in our D&D games to maintain the right pacing. Let's fix that now.

    Rests and Combat Challenge

    How well rested the characters are is a major factor in how challenging they find combat encounters. Well-rested characters, particularly at high levels, have many more resources at their disposal and can often succeed in very difficult battles, sometimes with ease. Characters that have faced a significant number of foes and expended many of their daily resources will have a much harder time when facing difficult encounters.

    Ensuring the characters don't face a final battle fully prepared is one of the top suggested ways to ensure the characters don't destroy boss monsters too easily.

    When designing a combat encounter intended to be challenging, it helps to burn down the characters' resources with previous battles and little chance to rest. This is why waves of monsters works particularly well in boss fights. Two waves of monsters before a final boss is a great way to ensure the boss doesn't face fully-rested characters ready to nuke them from orbit.

    When to Offer Rests

    The easiest way to manage rests is to let the story dictate when and where rests can take place. If the characters are on a long journey on a well-traveled road or exploring a safe city, it's likely they'll be able to take long rests without difficulty. If they're deep in a dungeon filled with terrible monsters and few safe rooms, it's unlikely the characters can stop in the middle of a four-way hallway and rest for eight hours undisturbed. Much of the time we can let the story dictate how often the characters can take short or long rests. Even then, we may need to be explicit in describing these opportunities to the players.

    Explicitly Describe Opportunities for Rests or the Lack Thereof

    Players don't understand what's going on about half the time. This is a common rule of mine to help me recognize that while the story and situation may be perfectly clear in my mind, it isn't necessarily as clear to my players. This is equally true with rests. It may not be clear to the players that their characters can take the opportunity for a short or long rest or what might happen if they do.

    For this reason it's best to be explicit in describing the opportunities and risks for taking rests. If you know they've reached a chamber in a dungeon monsters avoid, you might mention to the players that they can take this opportunity for a short rest without risk. If they've cleared out a chamber likely safe for eight hours or more, you can mention that they have the opportunity for a long rest without risk.

    Likewise, when they enter dangerous locations for the first time, mention to them that their opportunities for rests will be rare, or even non-existent, and that they should plan accordingly. Mention this up front so players know they must manage their resources accordingly. You may go a step further and mention that they may have only one or two opportunities for a short rest in such a place.

    Managing Rests with Time Sensitive Quests

    While dangerous locations ensure characters can't take a lot of rests, spells like Leomund's Tiny Hut can make even the most dangerous locations safe. The best way to threaten the characters here isn't with wandering monsters or random encounters but with time-sensitive quests. If the characters are trying to stop a villain from completing a ritual, you can mention that the villains will certainly be done with the ritual before the characters can complete a long rest. Likewise, if they're chasing a particular villain, that villain may escape or move on if the characters wait too long. As the DM you can keep your hand on this dial, informing the players that they do not have time for a long rest if they want to successfully complete their quest but may have time for a short rest.

    Running time-sensitive quests is one of the most effective ways to manage rests in your D&D games.

    Rest Interrupters

    If rests come too quickly and easily, you may need to inject environmental effects or situations that prevent the characters from resting too often. Here are ten examples of effects or situations that prevent the characters from taking either a short or long rest (your choice).

    1. Spectral wailing
    2. A character's disease will overtake them
    3. Planar instability
    4. Hostile environments (too cold, too hot)
    5. Psychic resonance
    6. Tectonic shifts
    7. The drive of an intelligent item
    8. A lifedraining effect
    9. Horrible nightmares
    10. Continual loud noises

    Characters can only take rests in areas conducive to such rests. Many circumstances may continually interrupt the characters in ways they cannot control. Spells like Leomand's Tiny Hut, however, will likely bypass such difficulties.

    If you need to better control the rests the characters can take, tailor one or more of the effects above to prevent the characters from taking short or long rests too easily.

    Restful Opportunities

    The flip side of this is dropping opportunities for rests, short or long, when it may not seem like such an opportunity would be available. Here are ten ways to drop opportunities to rest in the middle of hostile locations, like dungeons. Many of these can restore the characters as though they had taken a short or long rest without actually requiring the time. This helps offer rests even when time is tight.

    1. A secret door leads to a lost healing font
    2. The characters find potions that offer the equivalent of a rest
    3. The villain's plans have been set back, offering time for a rest
    4. A trapped celestial entity offers to restore the characters
    5. A forgotten passage leads to a hidden room safe for rests
    6. The characters find a magic item with a single use of Leomund's tiny hut
    7. The characters enter a dream state that offers them a rest in shorter time
    8. A divine caster's god or patron bestows a restful blessing upon the party
    9. Infighting between hostile factions draws attention away from the characters
    10. Invigorated by their recent victories, the characters earn the equivalent of a short rest

    Control Rests and Control the Pacing of your Games

    By taking an active hand in managing how and when short and long rests become available, you have a better hand in controlling the pacing of your game. Players feel powerful and optimistic when rested, and vulnerable and cautious when they haven't rested in some time. Most of the time you can let the story dictate when the characters can rest. Other times, however, you'll want to carefully plan how and when the characters can take rests, both short and long, and describe this to your players so they know how to manage their resources up front. Use rests as a dial to manage the upward beats, downward beats, and pacing of your D&D games.

    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

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

    Read more »

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