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  • Charles S. Roberts Awards Pending, Plus Wargames for Two from Worthington, Hollandspiele & GMT

    by Candice Harris

    • In June 2020, I posted an article announcing the exciting comeback of the Charles S. Roberts Awards for Excellence in Conflict Simulation after seven years of inactivity. Well, today I'm happy to report that the results are in and will be announced on October 25, 2020 at 8 p.m. EDT (UTC-4) on the No Enemies Here YouTube channel. Thanks to everyone who submitted votes and the CSR Awards team who compiled the results!

    The presenters for the CSR Awards include Trevor Bender, Fritz Bronner, Jack Greene, Jan Heinemann, Mark Herman, Lawrence Hung, Steve Jackson, Tim Kask, Derek Landel, Dean Liggett, Riccardo Masini, Bruce Monnin, Marc Miller, Allan Rothberg, Fred Serval, and Kevin Bertram...with a "Candice cameo" where I'll present the Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Wargame category.

    You can check out the list of 2019 nominees on the Charles S. Roberts website and start making your guesses.

    In the spirit of the upcoming CSR Awards broadcast, here are a few interesting 2020 wargame releases to check out:

    Worthington Publishing is releasing Maurice Suckling's American Civil War-based, card-driven game Chancellorsville 1863. Suckling's 2019 release Freeman's Farm 1777 is, coincidentally, one of the 2019 nominees for the CSR Awards' Best Ancients to Pre-Napoleonic Era Board Wargame category.

    Here's a brief overview of how Suckling's 2020 follow-up to Freeman's Farm 1777 works, as described by the publisher:
    Chancellorsville 1863 is a card-driven game on the American Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville. Playable by 1 to 2 players in one hour, the game comes with a card-driven solitaire engine. Designed by Maurice Suckling (designer of Freeman's Farm 1777), the game uses many of the concepts from that game. However, added hidden movement, much more maneuver, and other design tweaks make this a truly unique game.


    Each turn, players play one of their three in-hand formation cards to maneuver or attack enemy forces, gaining momentum cubes based on the formation activated. Each formation is a Confederate division or Union corps. Each formation card allows a major and possibly an additional minor activation: major allowing two moves for a formation while the minor allows one move. After each formation moves, combat can occur if a move ends in a location with an enemy formation. Tactic cards may be played during the formation's activation giving it movement or combat bonuses.

    At the end of the formation card activation, players may spend their momentum cubes to buy tactics cards which may give them benefits in combat or movement in future turns. Players then draw a new formation card refilling their hands to three. Hooker, Lee, and Jackson have bonuses that can be played once a game, adding to movement and combat.

    Game board w/ hidden map screen posted by the publisher
    Victory is determined by destroying enemy formations through morale/strength loss, or the Union occupying the three victory locations that represent cutting off the Confederate army from Richmond.

    Additional rules allow for fixed defensive positions, Jackson's Flank March, and even his death.

    • In September 2020, "wargames and weirdgames" indie publisher Hollandspiele announced the release of White Eagle Defiant from Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw, the design team that brought us Brave Little Beligium in 2019, which is another CSR Awards nominee, but in the Best Post-Napoleonic to Pre-World War 2 Era Board Wargame category.

    Here's a preview of what you can expect from White Eagle Defiant, the 1-2 player, chit-pulling, wargame that partially follows the footsteps of its predecessor Brave Little Belgium:
    White Eagle Defiant recreates the German, Slovak, and Soviet invasion of Poland in September and October 1939 that marked the beginning of the Second World War. Germany and its Slovakian ally began the invasion on September 1, 1939; the Soviet Union followed suit on the 17th. Known in Poland as the September Campaign and in Germany by the codename Fall Weiss (Case White), the campaign ended on October 6, 1939 with Germany and the Soviet Union splitting the country in two.

    In White Eagle Defiant, one player controls the Germans, Slovaks and Soviets (simplified as the Germans in the game) while the other player commands the Poles. The German objective is to gain control of Warsaw and other designated Victory cities while preventing Polish forces from destroying their forts in East Prussia and recapturing Victory cities. If the German player does so in less time than the historical campaign, they win the game. Anything less is a draw or a win for the Polish player.


    This quick-playing wargame employs very similar mechanims as Brave Little Belgium, but with a modest increase in complexity. The game uses a point-to-point map and a chit-pull mechanism to simulate the campaign, with each turn representing four days. Random event chits are included to add variety and excitement to the game, reflecting the weapons (such as armored trains and aerial bombardment) used at the beginning of World War II. The combat system, while still simple, is enhanced to better simulate mechanized warfare, as well as the use of combined forces. (Players can bring forces from adjacent spaces into an attack, creating primary and secondary combat groups.)

    Other new features in White Eagle Defiant include Panzers for the Germans (which can roll two dice instead of one) and cavalry for the Poles (which can roll a "first shot" at the beginning of a combat round). A Victory Point track allows for variable entry of Soviet forces (depending on the success of the German player in capturing Victory cities), as well as the possibility of the Allies launching an attack in the West (if the German player fails to do well in capturing Victory cities). Finally, a "blitzkrieg breakdown" track is used by the German player; if the turn ends before both German army group chits are pulled, the German player may elect to activate a group, but possibly suffer a "breakdown" while doing so — and if five such breakdowns occur, the German player automatically loses the game.

    Players who enjoyed Brave Little Belgium will find that White Eagle Defiant offers the same tense play for both sides, while presenting new challenges that reflect the dawn of the blitzkrieg era.

    • On the GMT Games front, I'm looking forward to sharing some impressions of their latest COIN series release, VPJ Arponen's All Bridges Burning, once I get a couple more plays in, but Mark Simonitch's Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul recently caught my attention since it's a reimplementation of Simonitch's asymmetrical, card-driven classic Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, which is on my list to try.

    From the publisher's description below, it sounds like you'll ease right into Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul if you're familiar with Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or PHALANX's 20th anniversary edition of that game, Hannibal & Hamilcar, but it should be a solid entry point even if you're new to the system, like me. Here's that description:
    Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul is a fast-playing, easy-to-learn, two-player card-driven game on Caesar's conquest of Gaul. One player plays Caesar as he attempts to gain wealth and fame in Gallia at the expense of the Gauls; the other player controls all the independent tribes of Gaul as they slowly awake to the peril of Roman conquest.

    Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul uses many of the core rules and systems used in Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. Players are dealt seven cards at the start of each turn and use their cards to move their armies and place control markers. Players familiar with Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage will quickly learn this game.


    The game covers the height of the Gallic Wars, the period between 57 BCE and 52 BCE when Caesar campaigned back and forth across Gaul putting down one rebellion after another and invading Germania and Britannia. Units are individual Roman Legions or Gallic Tribes. Each turn represents one year.
    Read more »
  • VideoGame Preview: Switch & Signal, or Funneling Trains to Marseille

    by W. Eric Martin

    BGG.CONline — our game demo livestream — starts on Oct. 22 at 12:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4) just 90 minutes from me writing these words, so let me invite you to join us on the stream to get overviews of new games from SPIEL.digital 2020, while also leaving you with a personal overview of one game in particular.

    Signal & Switch is a co-operative game for 2-4 players from David Thompson and KOSMOS in which you collectively manage a rail network that must pick up goods in four cities and deliver them to one or two port cities, depending on which side of the game board you use. Everything about the design is straightforward to understand and play, but you are nicely challenged to handle lots of uncertainty — thanks to the cards and dice — and complexity, thanks to the system of signals and switches that you need to monitor and adjust as trains move between cities.

    I'd write more, but I must away and tend to my ravens prepare for my host duties during BGG.CONline. David Thompson will be on air on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 12:30 p.m. EDT should you care to ask him any questions about the game.

    Youtube Video Read more »
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    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • 100 Cyber City Treasures - Vol 2: Cash
    Publisher: D10 Dimensions

    Cash. Eurodollars. Eurobucks. Eddies. New Yen or Nuyen. Universal credits. Money makes the world go round, so if you don’t have any then expect your world to stop. Dead.

    This list is intended for any dark future setting where stealing wallets and pick pocketing is common. You can apply it to a cooling corpse, a distracted corporate, or a street samurai chilling with her girlfriend. The results in this list include a certain amount of cash (we use the generic term “cash” to refer to your game’s dominant currency), foreign funds (another currency that isn’t dominant in the area), counterfeit credits (fake cash with no monetary value created by criminals), and gambling chips (worth their stated value at any casino or gambling establishment they’re submitted to). This list works perfectly with all “100 items in a pocket” products made by D10 Dimensions.

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

    Roll result. A brief description of the wealth collected from a particular person or source.

    Example: 101 5d4 + 25 cash / Gambling Chips (1d6 x $10) / Foreign Funds (3d6 + 15)

    NEED CYBER CITY IN YOUR LIFE?

    Join the facebook group: Cyber City - Dark Future RPG Ideas, Products and More

    100 Cyber City Treasures - Vol 2: CashPrice: $1.00 Read more »
  • 60x20 Battlemap - Awakened Blood Gate
    Publisher: Seafoot Games

    Awakened Blood Gate

    After the dam broke, the lower forest and plains become flooded, slowly turning into swampy marshes. Many fled, abandoning homes and ancient places of worship. This site of magic was one such place.

    Eight statues stand upon large stone pedestals watching over the location. Now overgrown by small white flowers, this place has been long abandoned, until recently when the gate was activated, warping the bog-land and its inhabitants.


    What You Will Receive 
    A home-printable 60x20 battlemap, compatible with any role-play game, and VTTs such as Roll20.

    Download Contains

    • Home-printable, A4 .PDF of the gridded map at 300dpi, spread over several pages.
    • 300dpi .JPEGs of the map for A1 poster printing or VTT.
    • 72dpi .JPEGs of the map for VTTs.

    Map image

    Map image

    Join me on Patreon for $1 and get over 20 battlemaps a month. Experience how good level design can make encounters MUCH more engaging! 

    Want one free map a week instead? Become part of my community on Facebook.

    60x20 Battlemap - Awakened Blood GatePrice: $2.98 Read more »
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    Gnome Stew

  • Reach Out to Your Missing Gamers
    Reach Out to Your Missing Gamers

    Wait, no touching hands! Or if you do, wash your hands right away. God I miss people…

    Man, it’s been a year already, hasn’t it? Everything has been turned on its head thanks to the pandemic and many of us are dealing with more than a little anxiety and dread about the current state of the world. For me, the lack of my gaming conventions and seeing the wider social circle of my gaming friends has been hard. I joke that I’m an extroverted introvert, so that lack of connection has been seriously felt. So, I guess this is as good a time as any to remind folks to reach out to your gamer community and friends you’ve been missing.

    Back in March, at the beginning of this mess, I did a quick post about how to take your gaming group online. This has been an absolute lifesaver for me, and to be honest, I’ve actually gotten more gaming in over the past seven months than I would have otherwise, cons included. We also invited U-Con’s Laura Hamel on to do a guest post about taking conventions online. Thing is, online tabletop gaming is often not an option for some folks.

    First off, there’s the fact that our rural communities are woefully underserved by internet service providers. Several of my friends live out in the country and have had to make hard choices. One has been using a cell phone hotspot to work. Another just doesn’t have enough bandwidth available to support everything his family needs to do online AND game via zoom or the like. Even folks in urban and suburban areas may struggle with quality internet. While not relevant to the pandemic, one friend had to wage a war with the squirrels on his property as they kept chewing through the cable line every couple of months.

    Second, online gaming just isn’t right for everyone. Several friends have been going without gaming because it just doesn’t suit their lifestyle. For folks who spend much of their day in front of a screen for their job, the idea of spending another few hours in front of it to game is extremely unappealing. One pair of friends just can’t focus on the game well enough to make it work. They’re too distracted by the technical difficulties and the oddities of online conference chatting. A particularly extroverted friend simply gets too fidgety as his brain struggles to be present for the game when no one else is physically around.

    Whatever reason someone has for not gaming online, it doesn’t matter. Like many things, life is incredibly complicated right now and we’re all dealing with things in our own way. No matter how much I rave about my experiences gaming online (and how sometimes it feels like the only thing keeping me hanging on), that doesn’t change another person’s situation or feelings about the option. I will still totally play tech support for any friend that wants to try it out, but I’m not going to harass anyone into doing something they don’t want.

    So, what to do? Reach out. Text, call, e-mail, tag them on Facebook or wherever you have a social media connection, or hell, send them a freaking letter with a postage stamp and everything like it’s 1918 or something. Even if you can’t game with them in the near future, it’s worth reaching out to check in with them. Basically, if there’s someone you probably would have gamed with at some point over the last seven months, but you haven’t because of the pandemic, reach out. Keep your gaming network of friends healthy, even if getting together right now isn’t going to happen.

    Things will eventually return to normal. That normal may be nothing like what normal used to be, but that’s actually how life is anyway. There may be some common threads, but change really is the only constant. That said, I’m certainly going to do the work to keep in touch with the gamers I miss.

    Read more »
  • VideoAlice is Missing Review
    Alice is Missing Review

    Every so often, an idea really jumps out at you. Roleplaying games that use cards, dice with special symbols, or function entirely on the spending of narrative currency. Adding to that list, for me, is a roleplaying game that is played entirely by text message.

    Alice is Missing is a game where players take one of a limited set of roles in a story where a group of acquaintances attempts to find out what has happened to their friend, who has disappeared. There is a very specific procedure for playing this game, and the game is guided by drawing various prompt cards.

    Forensic Evidence

    My review is based on the PDF release of the product. To get a better idea of the product, I printed out the cards that are included in the release, and laminated them. Additionally, I had a hard time setting up a playtest for this, so unlike most reviews, I searched out a playthrough to watch to assist in this review, which you can see here:

    GenCon 2020: Alice is Missing Live Play

    The items included in the PDF bundle include PDFs for printing out the prompt cards, a summary of play sheet, an instruction booklet, a PDF of different missing posters, and a character sheet. In addition to these components, there is a link to a video used for timing the play experience, triggering various prompt cards, which you can find here:

    Alice is Missing – Animated Timer

    The cards are split into the following subcategories:

    • Introduction
    • Suspect
    • X Card
    • Character
    • Drive
    • Searching
    • Location
    • Clue
    • Debrief

    These cards are distributed and flipped based on the procedure of the game (except for the X Card, which serves as a safety tool for the game).

    The character sheet isn’t the usual character sheet, with ratings for different traits. Instead, it is a combination of areas for recording the answers of other players when they answer questions, and a place where characters can take notes as the mystery evolves.

    What You Need

    In addition to the above-mentioned items, players will need a means of recording data on their character sheets, and either cell phones, or some means of simulating a text-only set of communications between multiple people, which also allows for side conversations that aren’t intended to be public for the entire group.

    You could use a regular timer to trigger the cards in the game, but the linked video subtly changes the soundtrack, which should be the only sound heard during the game, as the story advances over an hour and a half.

    In addition, this is a game that is likely going to need a quiet space to play for maximum effect. While the game mentions convention play, this is going to be more or less challenging based on the play spaces provided by the convention. Also, there are a few prompts, like shutting off lights to emulate some events, that may not be possible outside of a private space set aside for the game.

    Characters will also need to have the means to record a message that can be played later in the game.

    Preparing to Investigate

    The rulebook has a three-page section on how to modify play for fully online play, which is probably good, considering when this game is being released. The online suggestions involve setting up a lot of information upfront, so less has to be shared when characters get together to play the game. Beyond that, most of this review is going to look at the “standard” assumptions of playing the game together, face to face.

    One player acts as the facilitator, but that player isn’t really “running” the game, as they are also playing a character. They are just the character that assumes the extra duty of keeping the process moving smoothly. That player always plays the same personality in the game.

    There is some fairly extensive set up for the game. It’s not complicated, but they are a series of procedures that have to be done in a specific way so that the game unfolds properly once the timer starts.

    Players pick one of the Missing posters for Alice. There are various images of Alice, portraying her in diverse depictions, from physical traits to clothing and style. Characters will pick one of the characters’ cards, which are the same five characters for every play through of the scenario. The game needs three to five players, in part because too few players, and some aspects of the final resolution don’t work properly.

    One of the things I greatly appreciate about this game is that it is part of the setup process to go through the lines and veils process. Players will mention plot elements that they don’t want to be included, or plot elements that they are okay including, but for which they don’t want lingering details. There is even a default set of lines and veils suggested for the game. An X Card is included as part of the deck, but there is also an instruction on using parentheses to communicate out of character messages, including sending an (X) as a virtual text message version of the card. Given that this is a game about a missing girl that could involve violence and crime, all of this is very appreciated.

    Characters introduce one another and answer some questions, which they can record on their character sheet. Each character has a secret, which they are encouraged to reveal at some time during play. Characters are distributed Clue Cards, which have a number on the back. The cards are turned over when the timer reaches that number, so that the character can perform the actions on the card. Characters also pick locations and suspects, for which they create reasons for why those locations or people are suspicious.

    Characters also record their last voice message that they left Alice before she went missing, for use later in the game.

    Playing the Game

    The facilitator gets the first Clue Card, which instructs them to frame the search for Alice. Characters can go to different locations and draw Searching cards. These cards don’t tie directly into the plot, but tell characters what they find in different places when they investigate. No two players can show up at the same location at the same time.

    When the time displayed on the back of the Clue Card is indicated, the player with that card turns the card over, and performs the actions on the card. Sometimes this instructs players that they have found something significant to the story (for which they may work in their Searching cards).

    Characters cannot find Alice, her cell phone, or her car in any of their narrations. Eventually, some of the later cards will give the players instructions on how to shuffle and narrow down the suspects and locations directly connected to the mystery. Several of the late-game cards indicate that a searcher might be injured or even killed, and those cards give the player directives on how to communicate information, and when to stop. In some cases, the characters will flip a coin to decide how an important event will play out.

    This all eventually narrows to finding out where Alice is, what happened to her, her fate, and what happened to the person that managed to find her. After all of this happens, characters will play their recorded voice messages to Alice that they created before the timer started.

    The final stage of the game is a debrief. This is summarized on a card, and it involves tying up loose ends, and checking in with players to make sure they are emotionally okay. Players are instructed to spend as much time as they need to work through the thoughts and feelings they have, depending on how the game has unfolded.

    The Offramp

    The rulebook also addresses that the game is an opt-in experience with an open table. This means that if a character needs to leave, they should feel welcome to leave. This does mean that the facilitator will need to make sure the Clue Cards are handled at the proper time, and the facilitator is directed to invite the player back to the table to participate in the debrief if they feel comfortable doing so.

    Light at the End of the Tunnel
    I really think this is going to be a game that people looking for an emotional experience will appreciate.

    Just reading the process for this game triggers some emotional responses. I really think this is going to be a game that people looking for an emotional experience will appreciate. I love the means of conveying both the distance and immediacy of the search and the character’s relationships via text messages. The timer mechanism creates an external expectation that can easily facilitate dread or excitement. I like the clearly marked sets of cards as triggers and prompts to move the game forward, and that the randomizers are quick, brief, and used towards the end of the game. I love how well-integrated safety procedures are into the overall process of the game, and the rules.

    Late Sunrise

    There is a lot of procedure to this game, and if you miss one too many beats of that procedure, what was building to a very emotional experience could get derailed. I like the idea of the Searching cards, but it also feels as it if would be at least possible for players to get too carried away with their integration of these cards into the mystery, to the detriment of later developments on the Clue Cards. While there is some hardcoded inclusion of marginalized populations and issues that might come up, I kind of wish there was a whole section dealing with more marginalized identities and how to incorporate those topics with an eye towards safety.

    Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

    If you like heavily story-based, emotional games, I think you will want to check this out. Even if you are interested in examining unique mechanics as a means of telling a story based on a timer and prompts, this will make for some great analysis.

    While I pointed out some other topics I wish the game had touched on, I want to reiterate that it does exactly what I wish more games would do in the modern era; integrate safety into the assumptions of the game, rather than adding safety concerns as a “module” after the fact.

    What other role-based storytelling games have you encountered? Do timers in a specific scenario enhance the experience for you when playing a game? How often have you felt that the play space really needed to be right to make a game work? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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  • Caves of Qud - Review @ SsethTzeentach
    SsethTzeentach reviewed Caves of Qud: Caves of Qud Review loading... Read more »
  • Baldur's Gate 3 - Early Access Review @ Collider
    Collider checked out Baldur's Gate III: 'Baldur’s Gate III' Review: Can Larian Studios Save ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ From Itself? Baldur’s Gate III, the unexpected sequel to Bioware’s CRPG classic Baldur’s Gate II, was released in Early Access two weeks ago.... Read more »
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    Sly Flourish

  • Running Ravenloft / Curse of Strahd in a Single Session

    Note: This article has been updated since its original version published in November 2012.

    Published in 1983, the classic D&D adventure I6 Ravenloft, was ranked in 2004 by Dungeon magazine as the second greatest adventure of all time. Five years before its publication, Tracy and Laura Hickman ran the classic D&D module every Halloween. Ravenloft contains one of the best open-ended randomly determined adventures produced for Dungeons & Dragons and it's perfect for a Halloween one-shot game.

    With the release of Curse of Strahd, we have Ravenloft fully updated to the 5th edition D&D. Though intended for a long campaign, we can strip Curse of Strahd down to a single five-hour game for 7th level characters perfect for us to run on or around Halloween every year.

    Here's one way to run Curse of Strahd in a single session Halloween-themed adventure.

    The Party's Goals

    Strip down the goals of Ravenloft to one single goal: Kill Strahd. Expanding this a bit, the characters must hunt down the devil Strahd to save Ireena Kolyana from becoming his dark bride.

    To help them kill Strahd, the characters must seek out three powerful artifacts hidden within the castle including the Sun Sword, the Icon of Ravenloft, and the Tome of Strahd.

    I've replaced the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind with the Icon of Ravenloft because the Icon's abilities better fit the theme of this game and a paralyzed Strahd isn't much fun. That means the Icon of Ravenloft does not sit on the altar in room K15. Instead, replace it with a large bowl of holy water able to restore the vitality of the party once, giving them the equivalent of a short or long rest depending on how hard a time the characters are having.

    We're also going to add a trait to the Tome of Strahd to streamline this single-session run of Ravenloft. When defeated, the characters can burn the Tome of Strahd to destroy Strahd permanently instead of seeking out his coffin. This is likely the only item the characters need to truly defeat Strahd.

    Ireena as a Character

    In this scenario Ireena accompanies the group into Ravenloft. She isn't putting up with his creepy stalker ways and is taking the fight right to him. You can either let one of the players run Ireena as a veteran along with their main character or you can have one of the characters play Ireena herself as their main character. Ireena is a human but can be of any class the players choose and is the same level as the rest of the party.

    Ravenloft Character Bonds

    To keep this game simple, every character has the following bond:

    By blood or by deed you and your companions are sworn to aid and protect Ireena from the devil Strahd.

    With this bond every character has a built-in motivation to group together, go to Ravenloft with Ireena, and destroy the vampire once and for all.

    Intro: The Carriage Ride to Ravenloft and the Drawing

    When the characters begin the adventure, read or summarize the following:

    The ornate black carriage roars along the narrow winding road leading to Castle Ravenloft. Peering out one window, you watch rocks fall one thousand feet to the river below. Ahead the carriage master turns his cowled face towards you, his eyes shrouded under his tattered leather tricorn hat. Reaching back with an arm too long for his body, he gently pushes you back into the carriage and locks the door.

    Raspy laughter rattles the glyphed coins of Madame Eva's veil. Sitting across from you, she draws an ancient worn deck of cards from her colored robes and begins placing them face up on the small table inside the carriage.

    When using Curse of Strahd for this run of Ravenloft, we'll use the simplified fortune drawing described in James Introcaso's Guide to Running Curse of Strahd as a one-shot adventure with one minor exception: skip the ally and stick to the three artifacts and Strahd's location. Remove all but the following cards from the common cards in the Tarokka deck or a normal deck of cards:

    • Paladin (2 of Swords/Spades)
    • Mercenary (4 of Swords/Spades)
    • Berserker (6 of Swords/Spades)
    • Dictator (8 of Swords/Spades)
    • Warrior (Master of Swords/10 of Spades)
    • Transmuter (1 of Stars/Ace of Clubs)
    • Evoker (6 of Stars/Clubs)
    • Necromancer (8 of Stars/Clubs)
    • Swashbuckler (1 of Coins/Ace of Diamonds)
    • Merchant (4 of Coins/Diamonds)
    • Guild Member (5 of Coins/Diamonds)
    • Miser (9 of Coins/Diamonds)
    • Shepherd (4 of Glyphs/Hearts)
    • Anarchist (6 of Glyphs/Hearts)
    • Priest (Master of Glyphs/10 of Hearts)

    Madame Eva places out four cards, three from the common deck (one for each artifact) and one from the high deck which represents Strahd's location. With those cards placed, the adventure is ready to begin.

    Strahd's Invitation

    The characters arrive at Castle Ravenloft under the invitation of Strahd as described in the book. Instead of an illusion of Strahd playing the grand organ, it is Strahd himself. As they dine, Strahd lays out the rules of his "game" which, in short is the following:

    "Defeat me and you save Ireena. Perish and she is mine."

    In his unfathomable cruelty he asks Ireena a simple question:

    "Give yourself to me now, my love, and you can save their lives."

    Ireena looks to the party for guidance. If she appears as though she will give herself to Strahd, he turns to them and asks:

    "and you would allow this?".

    Should they choose to hand her over, Strahd looks very disappointed.

    "They are not worth your affection. Let them rot in this castle and let you walk with them and see the results of their cowardice first hand."

    Strahd then departs from the dinner as the room grows cold.

    Should the characters decide to confront Strahd there and then, Strahd is accompanied by two vampire spawns and has an additional spawn for every character above four. Strahd himself may battle the characters but leaves the characters to his vampire spawn and departs.

    Recover the Three Artifacts Before Facing Strahd

    The party must find all three artifacts before facing Strahd. 45 minutes before the end of the game, Strahd attacks the characters wherever they are and with whatever artifacts they have received. If the party does not have the Tome of Strahd, they cannot truly defeat the vampire in this scenario.

    Maps for Online Play

    Because of the timing, it's best to run this scenario mostly in the theater of the mind. It can help, however, for the players to see the rooms they're in and what rooms they've already explored. The maps in Curse of Strahd follow the isometric versions found in the original I6 Ravenloft module but you can find top-down maps on the DM's Guild. I preferred these realistic Ravenloft maps.

    When running online, you can use a lasso-style copy and paste utility to grab the part of the map the characters have seen and avoid showing rooms they haven't yet gotten to. With some practice, this is a fast way to show off parts of this massive dungeon.

    Strahd's Interjections

    Throughout the session, Strahd might join in another encounter and harass the party. He may arrive in his hybrid bat form or his hybrid wolf form, poke at the party, and then leave. Each time Strahd arrives, his entrance is foreshadowed by his children of the night ability.

    Facing Strahd von Zarovich

    45 minute before the end of the game, Strahd arrives and unleashes his full power. Take a few minutes to read Strahd's full entry in the book before the game to remember all of his intricacies. As a spellcasting vampire, Strahd is a complicated monster to run.

    If the characters have the three items, Strahd may find himself at at a great disadvantage. Greater invisibility may end up his most dangerous spell, removing any disadvantage he has, preventing him from being targeted by spells that require sight, letting him move freely without opportunity attacks, and preventing his spells from getting countered. This does, however, remove his ability to charm. Whether he casts it before he engages in combat or if things start to look bad for him is up to you. Strahd's spider climb is an effective way of staying out of reach of powerful melee characters. His charm ability is likely best dropped on those with poor wisdom saving throws and Strahd is smart enough to avoid elves (who have advantage against charms) or paladins with crazy-high saving throw bonuses. Non-elven fighters and non-wisdom spellcasters are the best targets. For more tactics on running vampires, see the Monster Knows What They're Doing on Vampires.

    Strahd is likely a hard challenge for a group of 7th level characters. If you happen to be running him at a higher level or feel he needs to be beefed up, add one or more of the following enhancements:

    • Increase Strahd's hit points up to to 200.
    • Give Strahd an AC of 17 (mage armor).
    • Increase the necrotic damage of Strahd's bite to 14 (4d6) or 21 (6d6).
    • Make these changes to Strahd's prepared spells: shield instead of comprehend languages, mage armor instead of prestidigitation, counterspell instead of nondetection, lightning bolt instead of fireball, and dispel magic instead of scrying.
    • Give Strahd Beguiling Gaze: As a bonus action, Strahd fixes his gaze on a creature he can see within 30 feet of him. If the target can see Strahd, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or Strahd has advantage on attack rolls against the target. The effect lasts until the target takes damage or until the start of Strahd's next turn. For that time, the affected creature is also a willing target for Strahd's bite attack. A creature that can't be charmed is immune to this effect. A creature that successfully saves against Strahd's gaze is immune to it for 1 hour.

    If you have more than four characters, consider adding one vampire spawn for each character above four. These spawn may serve as Strahd's brides. If you want to give them some mechanical flavor, you can give them the capabilities of a mage, veteran, or assassin (without the poison).

    A Halloween Tradition

    With Curse of Strahd in hand and your streamlined plans in place, you can make Castle Ravenloft your very own Halloween D&D tradition.

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, 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.

    Support Sly Flourish by using these links to purchase the D&D Essentials Kit, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide, or dice from Easy Roller Dice.

    Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.

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

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  • Using the Guilds of Ravnica in Eberron

    Mashing up the ideas from published D&D books is one of the best ways to capitalize off of the massive benefit from published books while, at the same time, turning published worlds into one of our own. Today we'll take two campaign sourcebooks from very different origins: the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica and Eberron: Rising from the Last War. While they each have a unique focus, both of these books work surprisingly well together. We can, for example, use the guilds from Ravnica to fill out some of the lesser known factions of Eberron.

    Let's take a look.

    Rakdos and the Mockery

    Eberron's pantheon includes a group of sinister gods known as the Dark Six. Little is given for these six gods other than evocative names and a couple of lines of description. The Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, however, gives over huge sections to their guilds. What if we took material from Ravnica's Cult of Rakdos and turned it into the cult behind the Mockery, one of the dark six?

    The Children of Mockery, as we'll call them, often perform in small towns, villages, and cities. For the most part they stay just above the law but their shows often turn violent and it isn't uncommon for members of the audience to disappear during the performances. The Children also host bloody gladiatorial events that draw in contestants from all over Khorvaire. It is said the Children have their own city of entertainment just on the edge of the Demon Wastes though no one knows exactly how to find it until it wants to be found.

    Monsters of the Droaam sometimes split their loyalty between the Children of Mockery and the Daughters of Sora Kell. There's a shaky truce between the two groups, one that could shatter under the wrong circumstances.

    Some say a demon leads the Children of Mockery and acts as the master of ceremonies in this hidden city of blood and debauchery.

    Using the Cult of Rakdos for the Children of Mockery gives us a ton of value. We fill in a few lines of text in Eberron: Rising from the Last War with a huge section of the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica. We have all kinds of fantastic art we can use and show our players. We have an awesome selection of monsters and stat blocks that fit perfectly with the Mockery. It works perfectly and requires almost no work at all from us to integrate.

    Gruul Clans and the Droaam

    The wild and bestial nature of the Gruul clans works well within the Droaam, the nation of monsters in Khorvaire. The various clans can be lifted right from Ravnica and dropped in as clans within the loose bonds of the Droaam who follow the daughters of Sora Kell, the three hag leaders of the Droaam.

    Orzhov Syndicate and Karrnath

    The bond between the living and the dead in the nation of Karrnath fits well with the lawful evil Orzhov syndicate, a guild of bankers and religious leaders ruled by the undead. The banking aspect of the Orzhov isn't a clean fit but the societal connection between the living and the dead fits very well indeed.

    Golgari Swarm and Avassh, the Twister of Roots

    We can delve deep into the realms of the Daelkyr, the lords of madness in the depths of Khyber and draw upon the Golari swarm to fill out the followers of Avassh, the Twister of Roots. It's given only a single line in Eberron: Rising from the Last War that's mostly filled with evil plant stuff but the necrotic hivemind of the Golgari swarm fits nicely with that description. The locations and monsters work perfectly for this necrotic-touched plant-based lord of madness.

    House Dimir and House Thuranni

    The dragonmarked house of Thuranni is a good fit for the material from House Dimir in the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica. The fact that the house could be led by a vampire is pretty compelling and the overlap of spies and assassins makes it a good fit.

    Izzet League and House Cannith

    The chaotic and inventive nature of the Izzet League fits well with House Cannith. Both of them seek invention over all and may have caused catastrophic chaos in the past.

    Simic Combine and the Cult of the Dragon Below

    The strange fascination of magic and biology can fall under the umbrella of the cults of the Dragon Below. Cult members may exist in other dragonmarked houses or hidden away in the chambers beneath Sharn conducting horrible experiments that focus on the nexus of biology and magic we find with the Simic Combine.

    Art, Maps, Adventure Seeds, NPCs, Monsters

    When we pull the guilds out of Ravnica, we get a ton of material we can drop into our Eberron game largely untouched. The guilds in the Guildmaster's Guide include fantastic art, adventure seeds, location maps, NPC descriptions, and awesome monsters. All of this expands our Eberron game without us having to do much work at all. Steal, mash up, and build new worlds you and your players can experience.

    New to Sly Flourish? Start here, subscribe to the weekly newsletter, 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.

    Support Sly Flourish by using these links to purchase the D&D Essentials Kit, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master's Guide, or dice from Easy Roller Dice.

    Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.

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

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