- ● Designer Diary: Mental Blocks, or Can't We All Just Get Along?
by Micah Sawyer
For a long time, I've been fascinated by how people could be faced with the same thing and have vastly different opinions and views on it, both small things, like which TV show is the best of all time (Arrested Development, Seasons 1-3 — we don't speak of the others), but also big things like politics, God, or which humans we should treat like humans.
There have been so many ways to help understand this, from giant philosophy arguments to the comic of two people arguing over whether the number is a 9 or a 6, so when faced with the issue of depth of human communication and diversity of thought, the only logical choice to me was to make a 15-minute co-op game using foam blocks.
Because I'm a game designer, so I work with what I know.
In Mental Blocks, you're working as a team to build a single 3D structure in the center of the table under a time limit. Each player has only one perspective on the final solution, and each has restrictions about what they can do — and all the while one player MIGHT actually be working in bad faith against the team, trying to get them to lose.
It was fun and got people talking about their perspectives and how to better understand one another. I loved the idea that while everyone's view could be correct, no one's view was complete; I loved how there was a right answer, but that it was impossible to figure it out without listening to others, learning about what they thought, then working together. I considered "The Giant Block Game" a success — then life got busy and I put it in my pile of "neat things I should work on more someday".
Sometime later, I got a call from a friend at work needing me to come in the next morning and brainstorm a game for a client of ours. During the meeting, it was clear that something like "The Giant Block Game" could actually help them figure out some things, so with permission from work, I decided to pitch it to the client as an option for the project. They LOVED it! Well, parts of it. To make it work for them, I pulled out the restrictions on actions, simplified the perspectives, and made it a little less "gamey".
Meanwhile, I was also weekly-ish attending a local game designer meet-up called the Northwest Ohio Game Designers who have been kind enough to play many of my work games. We played "The Giant Block Game" (Work Edition), and they all really got into it and were excited about what it could be for a hobby game. After the game, one of the designers — and I'm pretty sure it was Jonathan Gilmour of Dead of Winter and Dinosaur Island fame — mentioned, "Whoa, what if you added a betrayer to this?" and suddenly things started clicking in my head. And since he is awesome, we decided to start working on the design together.
Adding "The Betrayer" took a very fun co-op game and added an entire new element to it. It became this crazy real-time social deduction game in which you watched everyone and tried to figure out who might be sabotaging the team. At that point, internally, we started calling it "Foam of Winter", but that name didn't stick for obvious reasons.
I started bringing it more often, making more puzzles, testing player counts, and trying different team and betrayer ideas.
The game first really felt like a success when I took it to a local con to get early feedback. I talked to the con organizers and got permission to set up on an open table, but after an hour or so, no one had stopped by yet...which was less than encouraging. I figured I'd hang out for another hour or two, then take off for the weekend. Bored, I decided to pile the blocks as high as I could and post a sign on the top: "1 minute to learn, 10 minutes to play". About five minutes later, I had my first group ask to try it. About fifty minutes and five games after that, I had to ask them to stop playing...because there was a line.
Apparently, there is something very attractive about a group of nine people frantically trying to build with blocks while yelling at each other and accusing one and all of being the betrayer. It was freaking hilarious to watch.
I called my wife and pulled her in to help manage it all, get puzzles ready for the next group, run games, etc. It was amazing and validating.
Around the time of BashCon, Jonathan showed the design to Pandasaurus Games, which decided that "The Giant Block Game" was maybe not the most marketable name. They pitched the name "Mental Blocks", which I must agree is a significantly better name in every conceivable way.
Moving into official build mode, our first goal was around forty puzzles, which was a decent amount. All our playtests had shown that groups can play the same puzzles multiple times without even realizing it due to how the information is split up. Unfortunately, we heard from manufactures that if we went over thirty puzzles (which would be 270 cards!), then our costs for the game were not viable.
Ultimately, we realized that most of our print-and-play testers were printing only single-sided cards and that approach worked great for them, so we decided to get rid of the back art and create double-sided puzzle cards, placing the easy level on one side and the challenge level on the other, which let us jump the number of puzzles up to a solid sixty.
Once we had the puzzles down, we moved into mass playtesting. Jonathan and Pandasaurus have a great network of vetted playtesters that allowed us to send tons of copies and get real-time feedback through forms and a private Reddit. We had the game in mass playtesting for four months, intentionally at the end of the year so that players would take the game to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's to try it with their non-gaming friends and family, in addition to their regular gaming groups. We asked for fifteen plays per group and had multiple groups that went way over that. One group reported 104 plays!
To help with the groups that were getting pretty skilled at the game, we introduced difficulty levels and the optional "Glitch" cards, which change how the game plays and add crazy table restrictions, e.g., "No one can talk; use only hand gestures," or "Two people must be touching each block to move it."
Some of the most rewarding feedback came through these forms, quotes like, "My family all had a good time. They didn't complain about me trying to get them to play one of those 'board games' I have. They all loved it, which was great for people that almost never play games." Or "This was my best gaming experience of the year." Or "It's so great to have a co-op game where we can work as a team, but it's impossible to have one person quarterback it all, so we can all play." Or "I tried this with several groups from heavy gamers and RPGers to family and friends who don't play games. Everyone enjoyed it and it is [a] super simple teach." All these quotes were really great to hear.
The feedback also told us where we messed up, where the rules were not clear, which puzzles could be broken, and where we had bad ideas. At one point, we had a "Win / Lose" tracker that added a legacy-style feel, the idea being that as you won, the game would get harder, and as you lost, the game would self-correct and get easier. In practice, it made "The Betrayer" feel like an outcast and worked against the quick pick-up-and-play nature of the game, so we ditched it.
To make rules as fast and clear as possible, I made a quick start sheet. Basically, you set out a puzzle on a sheet and that one image teaches the whole game.
The best thing we saw was that with the two modes — fully co-operative and potential betrayer — the game could fit with all types of players. Since the game took only a minute or two to teach, that meant pretty much any group was willing to try it, and then once they tried it, they wanted more. The groups that wanted a more causal party-style game could play fully co-op, while the groups that wanted to be more intense could up the challenge level or add the potential traitor. It was becoming the rare game that could introduce new people to modern board games, but still be fun for more experienced gamers.
Mental Blocks came a long way from a personal "art game" to something that hundreds of playtesters have played and loved — but when I think about my original goal, this feedback quote is my favorite of all: "[She] loved seeing her family work together and listen ([Which is] good for things outside of gaming). It also gives perspective that we all see things differently, and we could all be correct (she sorta got teary-eyed at this point) — Thanksgiving, gotta love emotional holiday time!"
Which means hey, it can be fun AND still make a point!
I'm excited to see Mental Blocks come out at Gen Con 2019 in August, so stop by the Pandasaurus Games booth (#1441) to try it. After all, it takes only a minute to learn and ten to play!
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- Funko Games Debuts with Harry Potter, Batman, Morty, Blanche, and More in the Funkoverse Strategy Gameacquired Seattle-based game design studio Forrest-Pruzan Creative, which releases most of its designs these days under the pseudonym Prospero Hall. (You might recognize the name from recent coverage of JAWS, Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, Horrified, and several other titles.)
In my write-up of that purchase, I wrote: "In recent years, FPC has been responsible for pop-culture-driven games such as Villainous, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, and Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, which makes it seem like an ideal fit within the Funko brand." And in a comment on that post, I wrote: "I can imagine Funko releasing a deluxe version of Villainous for $100-ish that contains large figures of all six characters, perhaps custom versions of those characters specific to that game. It's a gift, it's a game — it's two things in one!"
At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Funko has officially announced the formation of Funko Games as well as its debut line of games: the Funkoverse Strategy Game. From the press release:
The first wave of Funkoverse includes six collectible strategy board games based on some of the world's most beloved pop culture icons: Harry Potter, Rick & Morty, DC Comics, and The Golden Girls. The games incorporate Pop! into the flagship game with brand new three-inch figurines. The strategic game offers innovative gameplay and a fresh experience for both new and seasoned gamers. Funkoverse will be available at most major retailers this coming October.
"There's no better place to introduce Funko fanatics to Funko Games than at this year's San Diego Comic Con," said Jay Wheatley, General Manager of Funko Games. "Adults and children over 10 can now create a powerful team of characters from their favorite fandoms and face off in exciting table-top gameplay."
I appreciate the incorporation of the suggested age range in that quote, although it carries the feeling that nine-year-olds should go sit in a closet. In any case, here's a longer description of gameplay:
Face off in the ultimate Pop! battle
In the Funkoverse Strategy Game, you combine your favorite characters and go head-to-head in four exciting game scenarios. Use your characters' unique abilities to gain points and achieve victory!
Each turn, you select one of your characters and perform two actions. Each character has access to basic actions like moving and challenges as well as several unique abilities that may be performed only by spending ability tokens. Funkoverse uses an innovative "cooldown" system — the more powerful the ability, the longer it will take for the ability token to become available again — so players have to spend their ability tokens wisely. Each character in Funkoverse is unique, so players are encouraged to try out different combinations of characters and items in order to discover their favorite synergies and powerful strategies for all four game scenarios.
As of launch, the Funkoverse Strategy Game consists of four-character sets and two-character sets. Every four-character and two-character set is playable as a standalone game and comes with exclusive Funko Pop! Figures that aren't available anywhere else, a double-sided board, tokens, cards, an item, and dice. Sets may be combined with one another, allowing players the freedom to play how they like!
Funko Games will have a presence at Gen Con 2019, so I would imagine that the games will be available for demo there ahead of their release in October 2019. (I need to double-check on this, but the Funko folks are a tad busy in San Diego.) We'll have individual listings for each title in the BGG database later, but for now I can share pics of the components in each of the six individual releases of the Funkoverse Strategy Game.
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- VideoGame Preview: Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, or Ravensburger Pulls the LeverVillainous — or to use its proper title Disney Villainous — debuted in the middle of 2018, people immediately asked, "Who else have you got?"
In the game, you represent a villain from one of the Disney animated films. You have a personalized deck containing allies, items, effects, and more from that film, and you must use these cards to complete your master plan, which is unique for each villain and which embodies that character's plan from their film. The original Villainous game includes six characters, but cries went up for more and in March 2019 designer Prospero Hall and publisher Ravensburger delivered more in the form of Villainous: Wicked to the Core, a standalone game with three new villains that could also be played against the characters in the original game.
With San Diego Comic-Con 2019 opening today, July 18, and announcements of new licensed items coming out left and right, Ravensburger has contributed to the buzz by announcing Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, a new standalone expansion for 2-3 players that mirrors Wicked to the Core in format. The character line-up in this box is Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, and Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, and Scar from The Lion King — the new live-action version of which coincidentally opens this weekend. Absolutely a coincidence, I'm sure.
The basics of gameplay remain the same as in the earlier games:
On a turn, the active player moves their character to a different location on their player board, takes one or more of the actions visible on that space (often by playing cards from their hand), then refills their hand to four cards. Cards are allies, items, effects, and conditions. You need to use your cards to fulfill your unique win condition.
One of the actions allows you to choose another player, draw two cards from that player's fate deck, then play one of them on that player's board, covering two of the four action spaces on one of that player's locations. The fate deck contains heroes, items, and effects from that villain's movie, and these cards allow other players to mess with that particular villain.
Scar's winning condition is the most straightforward: Collect 15 points of strength in a succession pile, "collect" being a polite word for eliminate. You want to be king, after all, so your first challenge is to find and eliminate Mufasa, who is part of your fate deck. Opponents aren't likely to put Mufasa in play for you to kill, so you have effects cards in your deck — "Be Prepared" — to help place him in a position of vulnerability, after which you can use your hyena packs to bring him down. Once Mufasa falls, he counts as the start of the succession pile, giving you 6 of the 15 points you need for victory. Each hero that falls after that adds to your total, although opponents can sometimes pull them back from the pile or strengthen those heroes that remain on the plain to make life more difficult for you.
Ratigan needs to get the Robot Queen into play in his secret lair, then deliver it to Buckingham Palace — but the Robot Queen costs 15 power compared to the 0-3 power cost of everything else in your deck. Thankfully, you can place gears into play that lower the cost of items on a one-shot basis, and other cards will help you dig for the Queen, which you need to get into play before Basil shows up from your fate deck. If Basil comes into play while the Queen is out or can move onto its location, the Queen is discarded, which so enrages Ratigan that his goal transforms to the elimination of Basil. Thankfully you have Felicia in your deck to provide big hits...
The rules note that Yzma is the most difficult to play, and I can testify to that from my one playing of the game to date on a review copy from Ravensburger. Unlike all other Villainous characters, Yzma has her fate deck divided into four equal piles of four cards, with Kuzco hiding in one of those piles. Yzma needs to use her cards to find Kuzco's location, then place Kronk in that same location so that Kronk can take out Kuzco. Kronk doesn't really want to do this, of course, so each time you move Kronk to a new location, he collects power, and once he has three power, he switches sides, now acting as a hero against Yzma. She must then defeat him to return him to her deck so that she can employ him once again against Kuzco. Amongst the cards in her fate pile are two "Wrong Lever" cards, and if she reveals one, she loses half of her power. Why do they even have that lever?!
Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared is scheduled to debut as an exclusive with the Target retail chain in the U.S. on July 19, 2019, with a release on the broader retail market scheduled for September 2019.
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- Reiner Knizia's Quest for The Quest for El DoradoReiner Knizia caused a stir in the game industry when he tweeted the following:
Wait a minute? A new edition of The Quest for El Dorado, for which Knizia and Ravensburger received a Spiel des Jahres nomination in 2017? It's being released with new artwork by Vincent Dutrait while the original version with Franz Vohwinkel's iconic artwork is still on print? Large format cards wouldn't match the original, which means that the existing Heroes & Hexes expansion wouldn't be compatible — and what about The Golden Temples standalone expansion that Ravensburger teased at Spielwarenmesse 2019 ahead of a late 2019 release? Is Knizia talking about those expansions — or something else?
People started speculating what this announcement might entail for the future compatibility of base games and expansions, not to mention their availability. After seeing this new version listed on the Lautapelit.fi website — a listing removed almost immediately — I contacted Toni Niittymäki from Lautapelit.fi, who suggested that I contact lead publisher 999 Games, the representative of which gave me additional information while also suggesting that I contact Reiner Knizia himself, which is perhaps what I should have done in the first place since he's the one who kicked off this hullabaloo, so I did.
In this article, I might not answer all of your questions about this new edition, but I will address them as best as I can. As you'll see, though, answers might not come for a year or more — and in many cases, the answers will depend on you.
an hour-long retrospective in 2015 of his thirty-year career as a game designer that remains my favorite interview to date. I've spoken of my love for Knizia designs many times, most recently in my video overview of LAMA, and aside from being a fan of his designs, I'm also a fan of his business practices. More than anyone else I've encountered, Knizia merges the art of design with the business of ensuring that those designs get into print and stay there, and that's where this story begins.
"The first challenge is to find a publisher interested in the game," says Knizia. "Ideally that would be a publisher who is willing and able to take the game and market it to its largest potential worldwide. No publisher can do that by themselves, but many publishers have built up networks that extend their reach. I would like to work with a publisher who can do that because I'd give the game to one publisher, deal only with them, then everyone would work from the same template, which leads to bigger co-publications, which is more cost effective."
Learning about a publisher's plans for a design before you sign a contract with them is crucial. After all, if a publisher doesn't have a network of licensees or doesn't plan to market your game to others, then you don't want to give away rights that you could sell to others — and even if a publisher does have such a network, Knizia says that his contracts for worldwide rights typically contain a clause that allows unused languages or territories to come back under his control. "Publishers might want to try to make something happen, and in two or three years, if it doesn't work, then we might want to give it a try ourselves."
Knizia and Ravensburger have worked together on dozens of releases over the past two decades, with their first such collaboration being in 1995 (as best as I can determine) on the classic auction game High Society. Regarding The Quest for El Dorado, Knizia says, "Ravensburger has contributed an enormous amount to the success of the game. They've put their heart into it, and the game wouldn't be where it is today without them. That is clear. There is no rift with Ravensburger."
Since the game's debut in 2017, Ravensburger has released versions of The Quest for El Dorado in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian — and that was it as far as the company was concerned. Says Knizia, "Ravensburger did not want to cover the other territories, which meant that I had all the other territories to cover myself. This game is too close to my heart, and if they didn't want to cover it, then I wanted to do it myself."
There was one complication to this plan, however: Ravensburger didn't want to allow its graphics for the game to be used by other publishers. Publishing partnerships exist in many different formats, and while you might have a straight co-publication — with publisher B paying publisher A a licensing fee to be part of the same print run with only the text translated into a different language — you might instead have publisher B paying solely for the use of the artwork owned by publisher A and handling the manufacturing on its own.
Lato z Komarami, Egmont Polska's edition of LAMA, as an example of this, Knizia said that actually the Egmont version of that game matches his prototype as he had called the game "Mosquito" to highlight the annoying nature of them being left in your hand at the end of a round. "For AMIGO, the mosquito wasn't the most sympathetic character", says Knizia, so that publisher swapped the mosquito for a llama. Given the Spiel des Jahres nomination for that game, AMIGO might have made the right call...)
Knizia emphasizes that Ravensburger is perfectly within its rights not to license its art for whatever resasons it wants, but this decision made things difficult for his licensing efforts given that Ravensburger was already covering the largest markets — North America and much of Europe — on its own. "For smaller publishers with smaller markets, they might have a harder time paying for new art and graphics given how much is needed for this game," he says.
As a result, says Knizia, "For the first time in my career, I've financed and commissioned artwork for a game. I decided to step in and make sure that we would have unifying graphics. It cost me a lot of time, but that's what I had to invest to ensure that the game would exist in many countries." That said, Knizia knows that despite all of his years in the industry, his expertise is not in publishing and game production, so he went looking for someone who could handle all of the artwork, graphic design, and pre-production work.
He found Vincent Dutrait.
At this point, Knizia says they have the graphics, a working template of the game in the English language, and the ability to license the game in territories or language/territory combinations not covered by Ravensburger. When publishers want to join the project, they need only to replace the English in the master template with a translation of the text into the language(s) specified in their license with Knizia.
In a tweet on July 9, Knizia had stated that the game would appear in eleven languages not covered by Ravensburger, but following the publicity of his original announcement, a twelfth language edition has been signed. Those languages are Dutch (from 999 Games); Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish (from Lautapelit.fi); and (from publishers still to be announced) Chinese, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, and Russian. (The Lautapelit.fi edition will include components and rules in English, but it cannot be sold by the publisher outside of Finland and Scandinavia.)
Knizia declined to name the other publishers so that they could make announcements on their own schedule, although he chose to announce the existence of this edition himself in order to bring awareness of it to game markets worldwide because at this point he's still looking for a Baltic publisher, a publisher for a Portuguese edition, and a publisher able to cover New Zealand and Australia. During our call, he referenced a map with pins in countries around the world. Not every country has a pin, of course, so he's open to hearing from publishers in other areas as well...
In terms of the actual manufacturing of the game, that's another area outside of Knizia's expertise. Dutch publisher 999 Games is overseeing production of the base game — getting costs to licensees, ensuring that they submit translations for their part of the production line, etc. — for those publishers that want to sign up, which so far consists of 999 Games and Lautapelit.fi, as well as the publishers of the Hungarian, Japanese, and Korean versions. Eduard van Buggenum from 999 Games told me that "the coordinated production" of these games will allow for their release in early 2020.
Knizia notes that some of the licensees have their own production facilities, so they have decided to produce the game themselves with the new Dutrait graphics under the license with Knizia, and some of these versions will be on the market before the end of 2019.
As for the aforementioned expansions, Knizia says, "Being able to control doing the graphics, it gives me freedom to do expansions myself for different territories. There are lots of expansion opportunities in El Dorado, and the advantage now is that I don't have to convince an individual publisher. I discuss it with Vincent, and we do it."
That said, this doesn't mean that expansions for The Quest for El Dorado will appear for this version of the base game right away. "It's a bit too early for us to talk about those", says van Buggenum. "Speaking for 999 Games, usually a board game first has to 'prove itself' in our market before we print an expansion. For now, the currently planned production of the Vincent Dutrait version is for the base game only."
Knizia says that Dutrait has completed artwork for the cards in the promo pack for The Quest for El Dorado that was released in Spielbox and at Gen Con 2018. (The "Binoculars" card in the Twitter image at top is from the promo pack.) "Some publishers will include this in the box, and some will give it away as a promotional item."
"We have many ideas", continues Knizia. "They are in development, and it depends on individual publishers what we will do with them. For some publishers, it's important to have ideas of expansions, and others focus solely on the base game. The publishers will decide what they want to do. I will build the world, then the publishers can take one thing or another from it."
Admittedly, says Knizia, the situation is unusual compared to what existed before. "Now we have two arms, two different worlds: the Vohwinkel world and the Dutrait world. What is important to me is that Ravensburger has their market, their channels, and I'm now covering different channels, different markets. For many people in those markets, the game is brand new, which will create a drive for new expansions." Speaking of which, Knizia confirms that The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples is on track for release from Ravensburger at SPIEL '19 in October.
As for what follows after that, it largely depends on the market — by which I mean "markets", specifically the seventeen language-based markets that currently exist or will exist within the next twelve months for The Quest for El Dorado. People might be frustrated that the new Dutrait version of the game won't be sold in their country or their language, but keep in mind that the Heroes & Hexes expansion from Ravensburger currently exists solely in a dual English/German edition. Perhaps French, Spanish, and Italian versions will exist in the future, and perhaps not.
Publishers produce games because they think they can sell them, so you can't be assured that a Dutrait version of Heroes & Hexes or The Golden Temples will ever exist until you see them announced — and if everyone holds off from buying the Dutrait base game because they want to know first whether they can get the "whole" line, then poor sales will doom any chances of that. That situation can be frustrating, yes, but the alternative would be for not even the base game to exist in these languages. Knizia thought he could do more with his creation, so he created his own opportunities to do more. As for what treasure we'll find next in this line of games, we'll all find out together in the years to come.
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- VideoGame Overview: Las Vegas Boulevard, or Upgrades on the StripLas Vegas Royale revamps 2012's Spiel des Jahres-nominated Las Vegas from Rüdiger Dorn by drawing in elements from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion, but also by making small tweaks to the design as a whole.
For those who don't know, Las Vegas is a dice-based, area-majority game that no one outside of BGG would described as an area-majority game. You play multiple rounds, and at the start of each round, you lay out money next to six casinos. On a turn, you roll all the dice you have, then place all the dice of one number in the casino that matches that number, taking back the remaining dice to roll on your next turn. Once everyone has placed all of their dice, you payout the money in each casino, with the player who has the most dice in a casino getting the largest denomination bill in that casino, then the player with the next most dice getting the next-largest bill, etc.
The twist is that before divvying out the money, if you have the same number of dice in a casino as someone else, then you must remove your dice from that casino. Open that collar because ties are worthless in Vegas!
Las Vegas is brilliantly simple, with rules that get people playing within a minute. I've had great success over the years teaching it to casual players because all of them got into the gambling aspect of the game immediately, especially since you feel like you have staked a claim on a bill as soon as you place dice in a casino. You're invested in the game. Hands off my bucks!
Las Vegas Royale changes the base game in small but meaningful ways, such as giving players two chips each round that they can spend to place no dice in a casino after rolling; this lets you pass after terrible rolls or delay placing dice so that you can see which casinos have the most competition, but at the end of the game each chips is worth $10,000, so you have to weigh whether the cost is worth the potential of a better payout down the road. Each player also now has a giant die and seven small dice instead of only eight small dice — a change that originated in Las Vegas Boulevard — and that giant die counts as two dice when determining who takes home money from a casino. It feels good to have that giant die amongst all the others, the threat of it in each roll, with you being able to swing a casino into your column quickly.
The third main change is how money is placed at the casino at the start of each round. In Las Vegas, you dealt bills — which were valued from $10-90,000 — one by one until a casino had at least $50,000, which meant that many casinos had only a single bill or lots of little bills; in Las Vegas Royale, the bills are valued from $30,000 to $100,000, and at the start of each round you deal out six pairs of bills, then you arrange those bills at the casinos from high to low in the 6 to 1 casinos. Now two bills are in play at each casino, which changes how desirable those casinos are: two big bills will make you happy for second, and the two players with the most dice try to play nice; one big and one small creates a king of the hill feeling; and two small bills has the feel of a wasteland, yet one you're okay competing for only a die or two. Small bills are still better than no bills, after all.
The "Royale" part of Las Vegas Royale comes from the expansion tiles, with the game featuring eight double-sided tiles. The rules suggest playing with tiles on the 1-3 casinos, juicing up those casinos with a poor payout by giving players something else to fight over. Each of the sixteen tile sides has different rules, with some of them adding mini-games to the main game (which means more ways for you to win chips or money), some of them adding tools to thwart others at casinos, and some of them just being a way to grab more bills.
The base game of Las Vegas continues to dazzle as one of the best quick-playing dice games on the market, and the expansions — should you choose to use them — beef up the gameplay with twists that allow you to reclaim dice or gamble on the side apart from the main action at the casinos.
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- Designer Diary: Silver
by Ted AlspachCabo (first edition) at Greg Schloesser's weekly East Tennessee Gamers game night a few years ago. A recent transplant to Tennessee from California, I was discovering all sorts of great games that were super common in the southeast, while introducing west coast staples to the good folks here.
Cabo had been a surprise hit for the group. Lots of players who normally stick to heavier games enjoyed it, as well as casual gamers. I liked it right away, and when I tried to purchase a copy afterward, I discovered that it had been out of print for several years. After a little research, I found all sorts of similar card games that had the mechanism I call "point shedding", which is the process of reducing the sum of points in your hand by trading out your cards for other ones, and even reducing the number of cards in your hand overall. These games included Rat-a-Tat Cat, Skyjo, and the public domain Golf, played with a traditional card deck.
Cabo stood out because it provided abilities along with the base mechanisms, adding spice without too much randomness. It had a good chunk of interaction between players, a light memory element, and a dramatic reveal at the end of each round.
However, as a gamer, I wanted more. During many turns, I found myself going through the motions because there was an obvious play (take a lower card or one that matches an existing card) or no real option (just discard the card you drew).
With that in mind, I started working on a Cabo variant in which more cards had abilities. These abilities were offshoots of what Cabo did at a base level, but as I added them, the variant turned into something quite different.
The first thing I did was to reduce the memory element by keeping cards drawn from the discard pile face up. These were known cards already, and by placing them face down in Cabo, you have to remember their value along with the other cards you've viewed. Keeping track of seen cards was tiring and sometimes frustrating, and players with highly developed short-term memory skills would do better than those of us without that particular talent. Keeping cards face up that everyone has seen created a more level playing field.
Abilitizing Face-up Cards
The next thing was to add abilities to the low-number cards that work only when face up in your village. One of the first cards was the Bodyguard (#3), which could protect another card in your village from abilities that allow players to move or swap your cards. I quickly discovered that the only way to get a card face up in your village to protect your other cards was to draw it from the discard pile. This caused players to hang onto unseen cards, making the "peek" ability (which allows you to look at one of your cards) much more valuable. Further, no one wanted to give up a face-up 3 because it handed a huge advantage to the player on your left.
Thus, two new abilities were added: the Exposer (#5), which allows you to turn one of your own cards face up, and the Revealer (#6), which allows you to turn any card face up. These cards were valuable in the early game as they allowed players to find out what unknown cards were, and maybe add an ability to the mix if those were low cards.
Other low card abilities came soon after: The Empath (#2) allows you to view a face-down card each turn, and for each Rascal (#4) face up in front of you, you can draw an extra card from the deck (returning unchosen cards back on top of the deck). Just having these three abilities made drawing a 5 or 6 an interesting choice. If you've seen those three cards in front of you, which one do you turn face up? Being able to view unseen cards is huge, but protecting your low value cards is also valuable, and then there's the extra options you have by drawing two cards each turn (which also tells you what the player to your left might draw). That sort of decision is the kind of thing I look for in games, where the right answer is both subjective and situational.
Later in development, I added the Squire (#1) ability. Having a 1 is valuable by itself (and an easy target for other players), so I gave him an ability that benefits everyone. For each face-up Squire, a card from the top of the deck is also displayed face up. Players can then choose from the face-up deck card, the unseen top card of the deck, or the discard pile. As a bonus, taking a face-up deck card keeps it face up in front of you, so you don't have to memorize what the card is and can use its ability if it is a low card. Face-up Squires help keep games different and fresh.
It's great to have all those choices, but not so great that the other players have those choices, too. When multiple deck cards are face up, your opponents can learn a lot about your hidden cards by watching which card you choose.
The last card to get a face-up ability was the Villager (#0). For a long time the Villager was just a zero, already an amazing card to have in front of you. During the thousands of playtest rounds, I realized that I wanted more tension; if no one called, the deck would slowly run out, and the round would end with more of a whimper than a bang. The Villager's ability changes that. The game includes only two Villagers, and if, and only if, both of them are face up in front of players, the round ends instantly. No one else gets a turn, and you have to turn your cards face up.
The interesting thing about this is that the game runs along as usual until one of the Villagers is turned face up. At that point, it's a time bomb, especially if you don't know where the other Villager is (or even if anyone has him). Anyone can turn over a card and it could be the other Villager, ending the game suddenly, so with one Villager face up, your strategy has to adjust for this sudden end because you don't want to be stuck with any high value cards. On the other hand, if you've got a pretty good hand and you know where the other Villager is, flipping him face up could be huge for you — a low score for you and a potential high score for your opponents.
Adios Cabo, Hi-Yo Silver!
It wasn't long before the game became more than a Cabo variant. It needed its own identity. I also realized some things that weren't working were holdovers from Cabo (first edition) and could now be easily changed. On the chopping block were the following:
• The Cabo theme (or lack thereof)
• The funky artwork of the original edition
• The lack of variety in special abilities with a single deck
• The name of the game
• Playing up to five players
• Having only four cards in front of you
• Pretending your cards match just to see what they are
• Different length rounds based on how many players were playing
• Playing until a player reaches more than 100 points total (the game was too long)
• The lowest total always scores 0 points, whether that player called or not
• You can play a round forever if no one calls
• The 50-point kamikaze (if your four cards = 50 points, you get 0, everyone else gets 50)
• Jumping back down to 50 points if you hit 100 exactly
• The dreaded 13 card (only useful for the kamikaze)
First up was deciding whether this new game should have a theme, and what it might be. As I developed the game, I had been using familiar names for the cards from our other werewolf games and tried to match up some of the mechanisms loosely. The numbers though...what could they be?
Well, in most of our games, werewolves are the bad guys, and usually you want to eliminate them, so the numbers became the number of werewolves in your village, which showed how many werewolves followed the different characters. Thus, the high-powered Robber (#12) would have twelve werewolves hanging around him, while the lowly Villager wouldn't have any. Treating each player's line of cards as a village worked well (an idea borrowed from Legend Dan Hoffman's excellent Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition). Other themes could have also worked, but it was nice to fold this into the werewolf mythos, with similarly named characters and abilities to other games.
No, Really, It's Not from 3D Software
While developing the game, I used artwork from our other games, usually One Night where roles matched up. Once the theme was locked down, I went in search of an artist to fulfill the vision I had, and finally found one: Andrey Gordeev.
Andrey's art is absolutely amazing, and I was thrilled when he agreed to join the project. He's still working on artwork for future games in the Silver line even now, and my favorite emails are the ones I get from him that contain new sketches and color versions of new roles. Andrey's art looks like something you'd see in a Pixar or Dreamworks feature, but he actually creates it all the old-fashioned way (well, digitally old-fashioned, by painting in Photoshop, not with a dedicated 3D program). Each and every character he's created has a ton of personality and all sorts of great little tweaks. Since you're slogging through this really long diary, here's a fun secret for you: Each card has werewolves on it equal to the number on the card. Some are obvious, while some are hidden. When you, erm, spot the Cow in Silver Bullet, you'll know what I mean.
As there were more cards with special abilities in development than would fit in the game, I had been considering releasing this game on Kickstarter and using the other special ability cards as Kickstarter bonuses, then selling the bonus cards later as a bonus pack. It worked for the One Night games, after all.
But soon the number of cards in development was in the dozens, and I realized that the number would continue to grow. (We're currently testing about one hundred unique cards in addition to the ones that will be published this year.) That this might be a series of compatible games was forming as an idea, and I tentatively called the base game the A deck, with the next one being the B deck, etc.
The Game Names Themselves
As a game designer and publisher, trying to find a unique name for your game that somehow communicates what the game is about, while still being interesting and memorable is always a challenge — but in this case, the name came pretty naturally.
Once the Amulet of Protection (which had debuted in Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition) was added to the game, I didn't realize it, but the name was already decided once I started naming the decks/games with items alphabetically. The A deck had an amulet. The B deck should have (it seems so obvious now) a bullet! And what's more awesome for fighting werewolves than a silver bullet? Silver is something that's traditionally been used to defeat werewolves, so why not have a different object in each game? And they could all be silver!
The toughest part was deciding the name of the first game. I went back and forth between Silver and "Silver Amulet" for a while, before deciding on Silver, knowing that each follow-up game would start with the word "Silver" and have the item after it. The word "Amulet" is on some of the box sides, so if you do collect them all, you'll have a nice Amulet/Bullet/Cxxxx/Dxxxx/etc. display.
Goodbye, Player #5
Cabo supports up to eight players if you mix two decks together. Like "Trichu" (the horrendous three-player variant of Tichu), you should avoid this at all costs. With a single deck, up to five players could play. Unfortunately, this results in waiting wayyyyy too long for your turn, trying to track all of those face-down cards (since in Cabo every discard pile draw goes face down in front of you), and having opponents get five chances to destroy your call.
Four players makes the game more snappy, and with the new abilities, two and three players results in an entirely different feel. I've played hundreds of games at all player counts with Silver, and while everyone has their preference for the "best number of players", I truly couldn't tell you if one is better than another as I like all three different player counts for different reasons.
Hello, Card #5
Having four cards in front of you was less satisfying in terms of the rush you get when you exchange matching cards, so Silver starts with you having five cards. You still look at two at the beginning of the game, then have to figure out what the other three are. This fifth card provided more interesting options when you had face-up card abilities, too.
Fake Matchers, Beware!
The "fake matching card trade" trick that gamers did with Cabo always bugged me. In Cabo, you can always exchange any number of matching cards. If they don't match, you put the card you drew on the discard pile and flip your cards back down. The only penalty was a loss of your turn, but in the process, you learned what all your unknown cards were, without waiting for a "Peek" card. Gamers, hmmmph!
So a new rule said if two cards you tried to exchange didn't match, you had to keep the card you drew as well as the cards you tried to exchange. And if three or more cards don't match, you get the card you drew plus another card off the top of the deck. The goal was not to penalize folks who can't remember their cards, but to stop rampant fake-matching card trading, and it worked.
Consistency Between Player Counts
Because a Cabo deck ends up being smaller when you have more players, it changes the rhythm of the game, making abilities harder to balance.
In Silver, you deal out four sets of five cards regardless of how many people are playing. With fewer than four players, you place the unused sets of cards off to the side. This results in a deck that is always 31 cards (plus a face-up discard). It might seem like a little thing, but five extra cards in a three-player game, or ten extra in a two-player game changes the feel of the rounds as well as strategies — and not in a good way. Every round of Silver still has a varying number of turns (since players can draw from the discard pile as well as the draw deck), but there's less variance than if the deck was a different size for each player count.
Four Rounds Is Just Right!
Lots and lots of rounds of Silver later, we realized that a specific point total as game end wasn't right. Not only did it feel too long, there wasn't a good flow to the game. After a ton of experimenting with different ending conditions (Time limit! Lowest score to reach X! X successful calls! X rounds!), I settled on four rounds. It made the first game, as players learn the mechanisms and base strategies, take about 45 minutes, with subsequent games clocking in around 30 minutes.
Calling Is a Dramatic Event
Calling for a vote in Silver is higher stakes than in Cabo. In Cabo, you call "Cabo" if you think you have the lowest total. If you do, great, you get 0 points. If not, you get your sum +5, and the player with the actual lowest total gets 0. Calling isn't particularly a great strategy since if you have the lowest total you'll get 0 anyway, and you're mostly risking 5 points to end the round quickly.
In Silver, the reward and penalties are more dramatic. When you call for a vote in Silver, and you have the lowest (or match the lowest) number of werewolves in your village, you get 0 points. You also get the Silver Amulet of Protection, which gives you a special, one-time ability to permanently protect a card the next round. If you're wrong, you score the sum of your cards, plus ten points.
Rounds Should End, Right?
In Cabo, each round continues until someone calls. The deck is out? Shuffle the discard pile and keep playing until someone calls. In Silver, the round ends in one of three ways: someone calls for a vote, the deck runs out, or both Villagers are face up in players' villages. The round will end, often sooner than you originally expected.
Shooting the Moon
You have a way to catch the leader in Cabo — but only if things go according to plan. You must get both 13s and two of the four 12s, then someone else has to call, and no one can mess with your cards. Then you get 0 points and everyone else gets 50. I've played a lot of Cabo, and this is incredibly rare. We removed this from Silver because final game scores are much lower than in Cabo. Also, getting both 13s is easier because of the Master (#10) ability, which lets you grab a card of your choice from the discard pile.
If You Reach 100, Something Went Very Very Wrong
One cool thing in Cabo is that if you're losing, you can redeem yourself if your score equals 100 points exactly. It sounds hard, but it's fairly common among Cabo players. Since Silver scores should never get to 100 (at least, not with the base set of cards), we threw that rule out.
The 13 Is One of the Best Cards in Silver
As opposed to Cabo, where the 13 is only good for a kamikaze, the Doppelgänger (#13) in Silver automatically matches any other card(s) you are discarding, so having it in your village is a good thing (and it's usually a top choice when someone plays a Master, and a Doppelgänger is in the discard pile). Of course, if the game ends suddenly via double Villager exposure, you're hosed. But that edginess adds a lot of excitement to the game.
Cabo: Second Edition
Through all of the playtesting and developing of Silver, I had been trying to secure the license for Cabo itself. The good news, as you probably already know, is that we got it and made a whole bunch of little tweaks to Cabo, including:
• Cards from the discard pile stay face up
• A unicorn theme (some would say pasted on, but...whatever)
• Redid the artwork (inspired by the original very funky art)
• Removed the fifth player
• Added an anti-"fake matching card trade" rule
• Removed the "lowest total always gets 0" rule
• Changed the round-ending conditions to include running out of cards in the deck
• Lots of other little tweaks
All of which make Cabo even better!
Silver Now and Silver Bullet Soon
Silver launches with a limited number of copies at Gen Con 2019, and it should be available in stores in September 2019. Just one month later, we'll launch Silver Bullet at SPIEL '19. Silver Bullet has the same gameplay, but with fourteen new ability cards and a Silver Bullet in place of the Amulet.
As Silver was in development, there were a ton of ideas and thoughts about abilities. Only one ability from Cabo made it into Silver directly: the Apprentice Seer (#8), who can view a card in another player's village. "Peek" from Cabo was thrown out and replaced by the Beholder (#7), who can view two cards in your own village; knowing your cards is incredibly useful, and viewing two instead of one made a lot of sense with three initially unknown cards. "Swap" was also thrown out, replaced by the Robber (#12), who lets you steal a card from another player, then view your new card.
The new abilities in Silver Bullet change the game in some interesting ways, with a heavier focus on flipping cards face up and face down, the ability to use powers of cards you didn't draw that turn, and even the ability to slow down and speed up the round.
Once you play both games, you'll see some underlying rules we have for what abilities do with certain numbers. The 10 card in all decks is some sort of Vampire who interacts with the discard pile. The 7, 8, and 9 cards give you more information about face-down cards. The 5 and 6 are about flipping cards, and the 11 and 12 are interactive cards that affect other players directly. There are other guidelines, and they'll start to become apparent as we reveal additions to the Silver line. That's right, we are currently developing a whole bunch of additional Silver games (after all, we have a whole bunch of cards to work with), with two or three scheduled for 2020, and even more in 2021 — and some of the abilities are crazy fun.
These guidelines were really important when developing both the base game and the sequels because these aren't just standalone games. You can mix and match cards from the games together by replacing all the numbers from one set with the same numbers from another set. We spent a lot of time with Silver and Silver Bullet playtesting combos, such as evens and odds, lows and highs, and even primes and non-primes. Those are all seven sets of numbers from each, but you can mix any number of numbers and the game will still be balanced and fun.
We did some testing of other ways to combine the game, and while they work, the end result wasn't as solid as simply removing all of one number from one game and replacing it with all of that number from another game (for any number of numbers). We tested having two of each number from two different games, having one of each number from four different games, randomly picking 52 cards from a giant pile of cards from all the sets available (that wasn't fun), and even playing with multiple sets of the same number (like twelve 3s, sixteen 9s, and no 1s, 2s, 5s, 13s, 0s, or 12s). But the most consistently good games were those that swapped out complete sets of numbers.
The Silver App
While Silver has been in development, we've been hard at work developing an app for it. This free app has all the cards in the base game and provides a compelling two-player (you versus the AI) game that allows you to try out the game to see whether it's for you. Look for the app on iOS and Android soon!
Special Silver Components
Once we decided on including a silver amulet, we were determined to make it metal. (Real silver would have been nice, but it would've jacked up the MSRP a little too much.) Both the silver amulet and the silver bullet are solid metal, with a great feel and great table presence.
Silver includes a scorepad that is fifty double-sided pages, good for one hundred games or even more if some are two player. It even has dedicated rows for subtotals (after rounds two and three), and a total row at the bottom.
The four reference cards are great for your first few games, telling you things you can do each turn, and what the icons on the bottom of the cards mean.
Because we knew that there would be more games in the Silver series, and players would want to combine cards from each game, we worked with Noah at Game Trayz to create an insert that allows players to sort each numbered card set in the game (as well as the set of reference cards), whether those cards are sleeved or not. Because Noah is awesome, he created a pocket for the scorepad, and then he went totally nuts and designed another pocket for the silver token that will be in each game, and gave it a snap-tight lid so your amulet/bullet/whatever won't fly around the box — all out of a single piece of plastic. Game Trayz rock, if you didn't realize that before.
The Silver Debut with Game Mats
If you stop by the Bézier Games booth at Gen Con (or SPIEL), you'll notice that our tables are covered with giant 36" x 36" player mats specially designed for Silver and Silver Bullet. These are so awesome that we had extra ones printed for Gen Con attendees. (They aren't included with the game, but should be reasonably priced.)
We'd love to have you stop by at Gen Con, take a look at Silver (and Silver Bullet), and maybe pick up a copy. We're tight on timing, so we've air-shipped only five hundred copies to the show, so stop by early if you think it's something you'll enjoy.
Now, I'm back to working on the next batch of Silver games due in 2020! Thanks for reading the Silver design diary!
Ted Alspach Read more »
- VideoGame Overview: Undo: Curse from the Past, or Rewrite History for a Future Perfect
Following the success of the escape room game genre that launched in 2016, designers Michael Palm and Lukas Zach have created a twist on the genre with Undo, a concept that currently exists in three titles launched in early 2019 by German publisher Pegasus Spiele: Undo: Cherry Blossom Festival, Undo: Blood in the Gutter, and Undo: Curse from the Past, the title I focus on in the overview video below, mostly due to the strong typeface on the clue cards that make them easier to read on video.
The gist of each episode of Undo is that someone has died. People die all the time, of course, but for some reason you and fellow players, Weavers of Fate that you are, have taken particular interest in this person, so much so that you will revisit past events and meddle in those happenings to try to prevent this death.
You're not all-knowing, however. The past is laid out in eleven story cards (as well as one story card that takes place after the person's death), and over the nine rounds of the game, you encounter nine of these twelve story cards, piecing together what's happening so that when you're confronted with the A, B, and C choices of what should happen at the end of each story card, you make the best decision possible.
Based on my experience with each of these titles on review copies from Pegasus Spiele, each mini-scenario on a story card and its related choices spur lots of discussion among players, then you look at the fate card associated with your choice, e.g. 6C, to discover whether you've been assigned a 0 (meaning that you changed nothing about the person's fate), a positive number (which suggests a positive change), or a negative number (which suggests that you shouldn't meddle with such things because you're just making the situation worse).
After visiting nine locations in time, you sum the points on the fate cards, then look at the concluding elements to determine whether you saved the person. You also get to read a summary of events that brought the person to that critical moment as well as the most important elements in their past, the ones that ideally you will have switched onto a new track to undo the past.
Youtube Video Read more »
- Fight in Worlds Above in Yggdrasil Chronicles, Then Revisit Underwater CitiesLudonaute released a final printing of Yggdrasil from designers Cédric Lefebvre and Fabrice Rabellino, noting at the time that a "revamped version of the design" was in the works for 2019.
That revamped version is Yggdrasil Chronicles, a game solely by Lefebvre for 1-5 players that keeps the co-operative nature of the earlier game, while adding a campaign mode with a fifty-page saga book. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
In Yggdrasil Chronicles, each player takes the role of a Norse god and attempts to keep evil forces from devastating the nine worlds, destroying the world tree Yggdrasil, and surviving the onset of Ragnarök.
To set up, each player takes one of the seven Norse gods, 5-9 life points (depending on the player count), and a set of cards showing the six enemies who are attacking the nine worlds; you shuffle these enemy cards and place them next to you. These nine worlds are represented on a three-level, 3D game board, with the board having locations for artifact cards, creature cards, hero pawns, elf pawns, anonymous pawns, and more. Each level of the board depicts three worlds on it, and the middle board rotates.
At the start of a round, each player places the top card of their enemy deck on the "Wheel of Enemies". Players can take turns in any order. On a player's turn, they first reveal their enemy card. If this is the first appearance of this enemy this round, the player continues their turn; if not, then the enemy is activated, typically moving to a different world, then taking some action. If the enemy can't move, e.g., Surt is supposed to move up a level, but is already on the top level, you lose the game. If the enemy can't take its action, e.g., Loki needs to place an Iotunn pawn, but none remain in Iotunheim, you lose the game.
While normally you hope to avoid duplicating an enemy, you want to double up on Nidhögg as that enemy starts on the leftmost space in your saga book, and if Nidhögg moves all the way to the tree icon, you win the game. (Nidhögg might also trigger effects when moving to a new location.)
If an enemy moves to where another enemy is located, that world is devastated and no action is possible there except for healing the world tree.
Whether or not an enemy is activated, you can then move — either to a different world on the same level or a different level above or below your current location — then act, either performing the action of the world in which you're now located or fighting. Powerful god that you are, you always win a fight, but you suffer "risks" equal to the strength of the enemy. You can sacrifice heroes in Valhalla to remove risks or make saving throws on dice, possibly with an elf assist, but each risk you don't prevent costs you 1 life point — and if any god runs out of life points, you lose the game.
As for performing world actions, you can collect elves, heroes, artifact cards; remove Hel's anonymous minions or Surt's fire giants; or receive help from worldly creatures. If another god stands in this world, your action is improved; if an enemy stands in that world, then your action is penalized.
In addition to that base game, you can play Yggdrasil Chronicles on the hard mode, which increases the challenge of gameplay while giving each god unique powers. The game also includes a six-saga "Ragnarök campaign" that begins with Baldr's murder, then carries on from there.
Rio Grande Games has a second printing of Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities heading to market, with this version now including the Biodome promo that was originally released separately (and that's still available via the BGG Store). This edition also features an extra sheet of single resource chips, cardboard player boards instead of a paper ones, and a reinforced box bottom to keep all this stuff in place.
Ken Hill, production manager at Rio Grande, notes that while an upgrade pack is available via some European retailers to make the original English-language release from Delicious Games match the production of the first printing of the game from RGG, no upgrade pack is available for earlier editions to match the new edition coming from Rio Grande. "There was no real practical way to make this happen", says Hill. That said, "Current plans from Delicious Games include even better player boards to be made available in the expansion which will be out at SPIEL '19." Rio Grande Games will distribute that expansion in English for those not making the trip to Essen. Read more »
- Designer Diary: Shadows: Amsterdam
I work at Libellud with the best job in the world, awesome colleagues, nice projects, and a workplace located one hundred meters from my flat in the center of a welcoming city. My game has now been published by Libellud, a great French game publisher, as far as I know, even if I had never stepped around to the other side where designers and illustrators are interacting with us.
Episode I: Frustration
The Incident happened on the 24th of May in 2017. Wikipedia notes that May 24 is the birthday of Daniel Fahrenheit, Charlie Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Kristin Scott Thomas and that... Funny how the time can be wasted on Wikipedia!
This 24th of May was quite an event for me because it was the first time a publisher played one of my games — and this playing was involuntary.
I have made a lot of game prototypes, starting when I was ten with my bro Clément and my friend Camille, but the only purpose was to entertain our friends. Each time, it began with "Man, it would be awesome if we could do this", then we proposed some ideas. These ideas became games that existed in no more than a single sample, which gave us some bad/good times for an afternoon or evening. As we were far from the gaming world, we never thought one of our creations could be published. We also never used the word "prototype".
It is weird, but I did not have more expectations with this "Spies" prototype.
At that time, Libellud — especially the game designer team — was thinking about new image interpretation games that would function differently. This story begins with a Dixit-like prototype from Alexandre, who has done a great job of various experimentations with this game mechanism. I LOVE his One Key, and I like Illusions. Regarding the third prototype, I'm frustrated. It's May 15th, nine days before the Incident.
A light bulb turns on in my head: "Man, it would be awesome if we could plan several Dixit/Mysterium enigmas", that is puzzles that the guesser must solve. I talk about this idea to Alexandre and Valentin since both work as game designers for Libellud. One of them gives me the right answer: "That's a good idea. Guys from the game design team will think about it." The other one asks me why I don't do it myself. Funny question. Why not? The idea goes through my mind for several hours, and I decide to try that very evening.
In my view, the game plays out like a line. I know I have several consecutive enigmas to solve with my deck of cards; I must think about the best way to manage them all in a row, as a road — which will mean accepting that I cannot play the best card if it matches with an upcoming enigma. Hmm, a line could quickly become boring. I want to choose. I need to choose. Other roads? Some intersections? A map! As if we would move on a Mysterium/Codenames board card by card.
Then comes another flash. I have already had a similar "pictures-map" idea: The game takes place in 1944 in a Paris made from square cards viewed from above. Players are members of the French Resistance or German invaders. Moves are done from card to card, based on image interpretation. The Resistance leader gives several cards to their team, and some of these cards can be intercepted by the invaders' team. There's no real-time gameplay in this idea. Only a draft of this idea exists among everything else in my online sandbox on Google Docs. It has never been materialized.
Playing something similar, but in a competitive way fits the new idea. However, going from a square card to an adjacent one gives only four possible replies to an enigma. This is not enough for a Dixit player. By allowing for diagonal movement, each enigma would have eight possible replies, but this would be too complex while playing in real time. In the middle, there is the number six, as in Dixit.
Six, and therefore the hexagon.
Before building the first map, I decide that I want the first moves to be easy, then for gameplay to crescendo. By removing a few hexes around the central starting space, I can give players first the possibility of moving to one of three spaces (which helps them start in the desired direction), then one out of four, then one of five or six, which is where the adventure begins!
Players now have missions. They must find two spots of the same color (one of them is probably on a purple hexagon) without stopping on the forbidden tiles marked "Ø". The game is team-based and real time. In each team, a leader provides information by giving one or two cards to make their teammates move, then refills their hand to six cards. When receiving one card, teammates move their pawn from one space to an adjacent space. Receiving two cards enables teammates to move their pawn two spaces, which helps them move more quickly during the game, but which increases the number of spaces that they must consider, thereby increasing the risk that they go where the leader doesn't want them to. Receiving two cards enables them to move through forbidden tiles without penalty.
It's still May 15th. The night was fruitful, but nothing exists outside Google.
Episode II: Spies
I don't like cutting and gluing to make prototypes. This is an exhausting task that will be repeated 2, 3, 8, 42 times, possibly for nothing. Lots of ideas are here, crouching in a link in the toolbar of my browser, thirty pages of ideas, with 95% of them never having been used.
How to produce in an easy way around sixty cards? That's not difficult, but you have to commit an irredeemable act by selling your soul to the devil. Faint-hearted, please avoid reading the remainder of this paragraph and shield yourself from the image below while going directly to the next one. I gathered cards from Dixit that are related to mystery, doors, keys, races, vehicles, city, streets, documents, men in suits, money...and I used a pattern to cut them up. Four snips of scissors to shape the mythic Dixit cards into hexagons. Two evenings later, the result is quite satisfying.
Technically, I have all that I need. On Tuesday, May 23rd, I informed Valentin. His answer: "Cool. You'll bring it tomorrow, won't you? - Oh… well... OK." The goal was to playtest it with colleagues before they would go to Libellud's games night.
Battle stations! I needed to come up with an ending for the game. Once brooding in bed, I came up with one, with poker chips standing for the markers that need to be collected because I love the Splendor effect.
I then tested it with my former partner in order to confirm that the movement mechanism does work. I set up the game. It looks like Codenames, a bit. I haven't figured that out before. At this moment, it freaks me out. (Today, I think that the game screen in Mysterium is also a kind of giant Codenames key-card. The matrix is just transcripted in a different way.) We start playing the game, me proud and anxious.
And it's a flop. Sure, there is only one team, but the game itself does not work. There is no tension, and we keep moving around the board several times without winning or losing. I am peeved. It's 10 p.m. I have a spatial Mysterium/Codenames that does not work. We are the day before the Incident.
I can't go to bed after this. I know I will not be able to sleep. I reopen InDesign, needing to correct two things: tension and experience time. Yes, the game will have more tension when two teams are competing in real time, but the game still needs more. However, there must be an accomplishment, too, and for the moment, that is too weak. I increase the number of markers in the game to nine, with them becoming briefcases containing intelligence. Some spaces now contain several briefcases in order to bring interaction and decrease frustration. By adding markers to the game, I create room for players to make mistakes; even if you start moving the wrong way, you have more of a chance of arriving next to another briefcase.
I create nine stickers ready to be glued on poker chips the next day. I also add two "Exit" spaces where you have to go after having collected three briefcases. The theme is slowly being shaped, largely thanks to the images: In a cold-war atmosphere, two CIA teams have infiltrated Moscow. Each team must pick up three briefcases, then be the first to exfiltrate.
To increase the stress, I add a new element: Each team's pawn is a 30-second sand timer. If a team arrives on a KGB agent space (the spaces that previously showed a Ø), the team has 30 seconds to move two spaces away from the agent without running into another agent. At 3 a.m., I go to bed. It seems to be clearer, but I didn't playtest it.
The day after, at lunchtime, all is printed and glued, ready to play.
Episode III: The Incident
I set up the game at 6:15 p.m. seven players are here to play. I start explaining in a desultory way. In addition to my fatigue, all the information seems to come out randomly. The aim of the game is hard to comprehend, even by my colleagues which are used to Dixit and Mysterium. I decide to observe rather than play.
The first game starts, some additional explanations are required, then it ends after a two-minute hesitation following a KGB agent's encounter.
The second game is longer and, for the first time, intense. The race is real, stress is present as well as some insults and bullying. I can't remember how it ends, but it is quite positive — except for comments about the 30-second sand timer mechanism.
A third game starts with Alexandre and Léa as chiefs of their respective teams. You can feel the stress everywhere.
Then the incident occurs: Everybody likes or enjoys the game. I hear some sentences such as "heart-stopper", "ready to be published", and "Régis must play to it!" — Régis being Régis Bonnessée, the founder of Libellud and the designer of Himalaya, Seasons, and Dice Forge.
To my mind, it was an incident, meaning something abnormal was happening. I was expecting a bit of employer benevolence with a sentence such as "Quite cool game, but you should maybe rework some mechanisms...". Instead, I was destabilized by this positive feedback. That was completely confusing!
Back home, I created a file to follow up the versions: V0 for the version of the previous evening, and V1 for the first playtest version:
• V0 - Moderately smooth. goals are too linear. We go round in circles. Multiple exit spaces are needed.
• V1 - Hard rules explanations. The aim is not easy to get. It works. Poor interaction.
The next day, I bring the game to the Game Design department to present it to Régis. They have already got some development ideas. One week after, they do the presentation to Régis, and I do not join them since I have work to do. A few days later, Régis calls me into his office to tell me that Libellud will take my game into development in order to publish it. That's a surprise, a very amazing surprise.
Read more »
- Buy Pappy Winchester's Land, Then Go Boat Hopping in a Dragon Market
With that in mind, here are detailed descriptions of two titles from Blue Orange Games that will debut at Gen Con 2019, with one of them being the 2-5 player game Pappy Winchester from Jérémy Pinget. Turns out that Pappy Winchester is an auction game through and through, with 19 nineteen plots of land being auctioned over the course of the game and with the winning bids being distributed among the other players a là Traumfabrik. Here's a detail description of the game:
Pappy Winchester has kicked the bucket! Poor thing, he was the king of swindlers and everyone knows he was filthy rich! His final wish was that his descendants would share his fortune and the plots of his ranch, with the richest becoming the new head of the family. After all, for him the most important thing was that his money stayed in the family! Pappy thought of everything and left an outline of his belongings. In Pappy Winchester, you and the other heirs are now assembled around this map to divvy up Pappy's possessions...
The game board features 19 plots of land, divided into seven desert plots, six prairie plots, and six forest plots, with train tracks and a river running crossways through the land, and a saloon set apart from everything else. To set up play, give each player $8,000 and two secret objective cards, then place a bonus token face down on each plot of land.
On a turn, the active player draws a plot token at random, then players hold an auction for that plot, with the winner marking it with one of their tokens, then revealing the bonus token and carrying out its effects. This token might let you look at the face-down mine or ranch cards to determine the value of those plots; move the train or boat along the tracks or river, with players owning properties adjacent to this vehicle's location earning money; or collect funds from the saloon. The winner of the auction then divides their bid as equally as possible among all other players, with any remainder being placed on the saloon.
Each player starts the game with a duel token, and when a player is involved in an auction that's down to them and someone else, they can decide to sped that token. If they do, a third player shuffles two duel cards — one showing a gun being fired, and the other not — then each bidder takes one of them, with the player holding the firing gun winning the auction.
Five piles of banknotes are laid out at the start of play, with a different shared objective card placed on each pile. If the completion of an auction allows a player to meet one or more of the objectives, such as owning one of each type of land or having three plots that don't touch the river, then that player claims the banknotes under that card. After the 19th auction, players reveal their secret objectives, earning money for how well they've met those goals, and whoever owns the most plots of land receives $5,000. Whoever now holds the most money wins!
Marco Teubner's Dragon Market, which is for 2-4 players. We recorded an overview of the game at Spielwarenmesse 2019, but now we actually have a full game description in place:
In Dragon Market, players attempt to manipulate boats on a river in order to pick up the items they need to complete objective cards.
In more detail, each player starts the game with their figure on a pontoon in the corner of the board, and they take turns placing boats on the board, with each boat taking up three spaces; some boats have a sailor in the center space, while others have a sailor in the end seat. Each of the two empty spaces of each boat are then filled with two identical merchandise tokens, with the game including twenty types of merchandise. Each player starts the game with an objective card showing four different types of merchandise.
On a turn, the active player rolls the dice to determine how many actions they can take; they can spend 1-2 coins to add to this number of actions. Actions are:
—Slide a boat: You can move a boat any number of unoccupied spaces either forward or backward; a boat cannot move sideways.
—Rotate a boat: You can rotate a boat 90º around its sailor through unoccupied spaces.
—Move your figure: You can move your figure one space from a pontoon to a space on the boat that's empty or occupied by merchandise tokens or from one boat space to another or from a boat to a pontoon; you cannot move your figure over a sailor. When you move your figure onto a merchandise token showing on your objective card, you can pick it up.
If you don't spend all of your actions, take coins equal to the number of unspent actions to bank them for later. As soon as you have all of the merchandise needed for your objective card, return to your pontoon. Once you do, you draw a second objective card, and whoever completes two objective cards first wins.
Dragon Market also contains advanced objective cards that show 3-4 types of merchandise as well as a bonus. At the start of the game, each player draws two cards and keeps one of them. As soon as the player returns to their pontoon with the depicted goods, they reveal this objective card, then have access to this bonus, which provides either a one-time effect or an effect that can be used once each turn. They also draw two new objective cards and keep one of them. Whoever first completes three objective cards wins!
The game also includes team rules for both the regular and the advanced objective cards.
Okay, that's two more games detailed for our Gen Con 2019 Preview, which recently topped five hundred listings. Far too many to go... Read more »
- ● Friday Enhanced Map: 07-19-2019Publisher: Paratime Design
The July 19, 2019 Friday Enhanced Map product contains a multi-layered PDF (allowing the options of white or black backgrounds, numbered or non-numbered areas, and secret doors on or off) and a zip file with all relevant map files as individual jpg images.
THe Friday Enhanced map is for personal use only. If you are interested in licensing the map for commercial use, please contact Tim Hartin at Paratime Design for additional info.
Price Change Note: Since I'm putting twice the work/time into the Friday Enhanced maps, the price has been adjusted to reflect this. Even with the new price range, I believe the price is still a steal.Price: $2.00 Read more »
- ● Instruments of Our DevotionPublisher: Michael Brown
A (literal) engraved invitation leads to a meeting with a group of peaceful acetics who hire the team to recover some sacred musical instruments seized by soldiers. Naturally, things aren't all that they seem; what is the secret of the instruments that's worth risking reputations, freedom, and lives?
Instruments of Our Devotion is a short adventure for 2D6 science fiction RPGs such as Cepheus Engine and the Original Science Fiction Roleplaying Game (OSFRPG.)Price: $0.75 Read more »
- ● Star Log.EM-076: BelledamPublisher: Rogue Genius Games
By Alexander Augunas
Take your Starfinder campaign to new heights with Everybody Games’s Star Log.EM series! This high-crunch series specializes in everything from fantastic new aliens from recently discovered biomes to exciting new archetypes, feats, and class options based on futuristic ideology and traditional fantasy alike. Each week, a different Star Log.EM tackles a new, exciting topic.
This installment of Star Log.EM includes: 1,000 words introducing the belledam, an interplanar horror that spins web-like lairs in between the planes from which they can ensnare unsuspecting victims in a perfect facsimile of their own homes. Also includes is Gruesome Shapeshifter, a new feat that any shapeshifting character can take. After all, don’t YOU want a reptoid villain who literally rips off their skin before engaging the PCs?
Get everyone gaming with Everybody Games!Price: $2.95 Read more »
- ● 230+ 5E Monsters [BUNDLE]Publisher: Michael Tresca
This special bundle product contains the following titles. 5E Fearsome Critters
Regular price: $2.96
Bundle price: $1.50
Format: Watermarked PDF
Welcome to North America's Weird Mythology! "Fearsome critters" is a phrase for a uniquely American phenomenon. It first starts with American lumberjacks who were fond of inventing stories to pass the time. Sometimes those stories were invented to prank the newbies (known as “tenderfoots”), sometimes they were to explain unknown phenomena, and sometimes it’s clear they were created to just to be amusing. Often forgotten by fantasy bestiaries, these beasts are back to remind you that they're no pushovers. Inside, you'll find 47 new monsters for 5E games, ranging from the ball-tailed dingmaul to the soul-sucking dungavenhooter, from the fast-moving flitterick to the backwards-flying goofus bird, from the pathetic squonk to the elusive snipe...they're all here, waiting to... 5E Heaven & Hell
Regular price: $7.95
Bundle price: $6.00
Format: Watermarked PDF
What Happens to a Soul in Those 10 Days Before Raise Dead Fails? The answers are here: a soul ascends Purgatorus to enter Celestia or fall to Infernus. Drawing on Asian and Western mythology, including Dante's Divine Commedia (including Inferno, Paradiso, and Purgatorio) and the Dictionnaire Infernal, a host of evil-aligned damned, good blessed, and neutral pilgrims await adventurers who dare to visit the Nine Circles of Infernus, the Seven Tiers of Purgatorus, or the Five Spheres of Celestia. Inside, you'll find 112 new monsters for 5E games, ranging from celestians to infernals to purgatorans. In Celestia dwell ten different types of celestians and nine hiearchies of malakhim (types of angels), led by the four seraphs. In Infernus are tortured a dizzying variety of undead damned who ... 5E Lovecraftian Horrors
Regular price: $3.74
Bundle price: $2.50
Format: Watermarked PDF
What if Every Horror Movie Was Written by Lovecraft? Dive into the unknowable, the unthinkable, and the unspeakable with this collection of over 70 monsters for popular fantasy role-playing games. This collection includes monsters inspired by popular horror movies and a diverse array of creatures from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s original works. These monsters are true to the source material, which contains surprises for jaded adventurers. Players who think they know everything about Lovecraft’s mythos might be surprised to discover that shoggoths glow, wamps chuckle, and vooniths howl. There are plenty of aberrations in this collection, but there’s also fiends, undead, and a few plants. This PDF has a bookmarked table of contents, with monsters linked ...
Price: $14.65 Read more »
Total value: $14.65 Special bundle price: $10.00 Savings of: $4.65 (32%)
- ● Hex Kit: Spaceland Part One; SpacePublisher: cone of negative energy
Hex Kit: Spaceland Part One: Space is a tile set for the Hex Kit map making desktop application that suits sector and system maps for your favorite space faring RPGs. Included are over 1,100 new tile illustrations for planets, stars, anomolies, nebulae, grids, screens, warp gates, and more!
Installation: Download the zip file and drag the Spaceland.Space folder to your Hex Kit folder. Open the Hex Kit application, go to File, Import Tiles. Select the Spaceland.Space folder, and click the 'Select Folder' button. The import settings box will appear, you can ignore all the buttons and just click 'Save' and be good to go!
Note 1: When you import the tiles, you'll notice the edges hang off outside the yellow border on the import settings window; this is intentional. If you try to resize the tiles to be inside the yellow line it will mess up the way the black borders overlap.
Note 2: While Hex Kit does support tiles in both flat up and pointy up orientations, this tile set only comes with pointy up tiles!
By purchasing HK-Spaceland: Space you agree to the following terms:
These art assets can not be used for commercial purposes or any other income or money generating activity.
The art assets can not be distributed individually, as single tiles, or as an art asset in any capacity other than a completed map or work.
Derivative or modified versions of this artwork may not be distributed individually, as single tiles, or as an art asset in any capacity other than a completed map or work.
Hex Kit: The Black Spot and all included artwork is Copyright 2019 Cecil Howe
Feel free to share your maps and even your Hex Kit save files in any non-commercial capacity! For more information visit the Hex Kit FAQ at hex-kit dot com.
Price: $7.50 Read more »
- ● EN5ider #137- Beware of Mold & Other Dungeon HazardsPublisher: EN PublishingThis issue of EN5ider introduces a range of dungeon hazards to harrow down a group of adventurers—euphoria-inducing bliss mold, spell-resistant elven mold, deceptive mirage blight, horrifying living walls, mire mold, putrid slime, and umber mold!This is the 137th article of EN5ider, a D&D 5E Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/ensider/overview). Consider joining us for as low as $1 a month!In addition to free articles on the front page of the Patreon, we have excellent free content here on DriveThruRPG as well to promote the (funded in 4 minutes, over $100,000 raised, and ending tomorrow!) A TOUCH MORE CLASS Kickstarter: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/276167/5E-A-Touch-More-Class-Exclusive-Preview-The-Savant & https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/279780/5E-A-Touch-More-Class-Exclusive-Preview-The-Geomancer.Price: $0.69 Read more »
- ● Cypher Fantasy - Community Content [BUNDLE]Publisher: Monte Cook Games
This special bundle product contains the following titles. Changing Seasons - Emperox's Road: A Cypher Adventure
Regular price: $2.50
Bundle price: $1.88
Need more fantasy in your Cypher games? Here’s your answer. Changing Seasons, is a mini-adventure where the PCs discover the strange danger one can find far from the safety of the Emperox’s Road. A great beginning adventure for both Tier One and Two Cypher fantasy characters. This 7-page PDF includes: A new monster, the horrific Blood Cicada An introduction of the Emperox’s Road setting, a sparsely populated world in need of heroes Tips on how to dial up – or down – the darkness in your adventures You also can't go wrong with Mortal Fantasy, which gives you expanded options for both your Fantasy and Gods of the Fall Cypher games -- become a Doomed Paladin who Wears A Halo of Fire, a Gn... Cryptids and Creatures I
Regular price: $1.49
Bundle price: $1.12
We have more than just monsters for your Cypher game. Armed with suggestions on how to use them in a variety of genres, Cyptids and Creatures I are tied to the Phasic Realm, some are natives that can phase between their reality and ours. Others are invaders using the Phasic as a beachhead before setting their sights on us. We aim for Genre Friendly, instead of Genre Neutral, offering suggestions on how to fit these critters in Modern, Fantasy and SciFi settings. Have your player meet such monsters as: Phasic Predator Phasic Sentient Forma Overhive Ambassador Forma Overseer Foma Solider Forma Under Queen Forma Workers Allies and enemies alike, GM can fit these critters into their campaign as side quests or as a full-fledged adventure for several nights of gaming. Ganza Gaming strikes... Cryptids and Creatures II: Masterminds and Minions
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
There are the ones that conquer and those who obey. Cryptids and Creatures: Masterminds and Minions is a Genre Friendly, offering lots suggestions on how to fit these critters in your Fantasy, SciFi, Steampunk and Modern settings. These antagonists come in pairs. One creature bent on manipulating and mutating the unsuspecting. The other half are the poor souls who are now under their master’s sway. Have your player meet such deadly combo critters as: Crusader’s Armor Crusader Berserker Propaganda Fiend Avatar Propaganda Figurehead Shepherd Wasp Nest Shepherd Wasp Nest Slaves Sky Tyrant Sky Tyrant Spawn True Wendigo True Wendigo Cultist GMs can fit these critters into their campaign as side quests or as a full-fledged adventures for several nights of gaming. Ganza Gaming... Cryptids and Creatures III: Where's The Flour?
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
A good cook always shares their favorite recipes. Here you’ll find a particular brand of bizarre that we’re proud of. Each of these monstrosities will have your players stopping in their tracks and saying “What the …” flour? This 12-page PDF of 13 monsters offers Genre Friendly advice on how to fit these critters into your SciFi, Urban Fantasy and Fantasy game. Get ready for your crew to wonder what you’ve been imbibing lately to come up with these monstrosities. Inside you’ll find: Calibans Centinaga Fruit Meer Morderca Munch Munch Mob! Orphan Wraith Paradox Avatar Psychic Wolf Searcher Swamp Siblings (Bog, Drowned, Nightmare and Ternion) Ganza Gaming strikes again! Requires the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook G... Cryptids and Creatures IV: Odds and Oddities
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
The strangest things can be found in the darkest corners. Come with us to find truly bizarre monsters for your game. This 14-page PDF of 12 monsters offers wonders and terrors that could become great allies or grand enemies in either fantasy, science fiction or fantasy settings. Inside you’ll find: Ambassadors Chrysalis Donataur Fetch Haunting Hopping Vampire Ichthus Hominid Kelpie Mummy Beetles Ogre Red Herring Troll (Modern) Snag a copy and find out how odd your world can get. Ganza Gaming strikes again! Requires the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games. And if you want more Cypher goodness, check out these titles or look into my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming! ... Mortal Fantasy
Regular price: $3.95
Bundle price: $2.96
Revised! Thanks to our fans input over the last year, we've tweaked some Types and tackled a few typos! Plus more art! Now you can do your own traditional RPG fantasy spin using the Cypher System for your favorite fantasy RPG world or Monte Cook Games’ own Gods of the Fall setting - become a Doomed Paladin who Wears A Halo of Fire, a Gnome Adept who Explores Dark Places or a Fast Thief who Works the Back Alleys with their Goblin Crew. Discover a dark and dangerous world, Gods of the Fall, a land where there are no gods and even less mercy. This 47-page PDF includes: Six new Types that let you play traditional RPG fantasy heroes without sacrificing your Descriptors and Foci to do so A mini-adventure set in the Gods of the Fall un... Naphtha - Thora: Island of Bone
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
Be thankful the dead are restless. The three undead races of Thora island, Ghouls, Vampires and Lichs, are constantly undermining and outright attacking each other. As long as the stalemate holds, the world can breath easier. Thora, Island of Bone, is part of the modular Naphtha setting. Use it as is or drop the island near your favorite homebrewed coastline to terrorize the villagers until your PCs arrive. This 16-page PDF offers Genre Friendly advice on how to fit the fantasy island of Thora into your Steampunk, SciFi, and Lovecraftian settings and comes with a Naphtha appendix to get you kickstarted our cool world. On Island of Bone, you’ll find: A new aspect for PC parties, Undead Crews The history, culture, religions and personalities in the three undead city-states ... Naphtha: Hobgoblins - Isles of Ice and Sword
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
The northern reaches of the Phalan Alliance are shuttered against the deadly cold of winters … and the lethal sea raids of inhuman forces. Every year, the pleas for more troops and heroes goes unheeded as the soft center of civilization refuses to believe the wild stories. If the fat Assembly poltictians could see the glint of fang and steel in the firelight, then they'd know true fear. These are not your cookie cutter Hobgolins. They’re smarter, crueler and masters of the open waves! Naphtha: Hobgoblins - Isles of Ice and Sword is part of the modular Naphtha setting. Use it “as is” or drop the island near your favorite homebrewed coastline to terrorize the villagers until your PCs arrive. This 17-page PDF offers insight to the brutal life of the Hobgolins and ho... Naphtha: Islands on Fire
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.49
Welcome to your new playgroud, Naphtha: Islands on Fire. A new world built from the ground up for the Cypher System that can stand alone or be dropped into your current campaign. Aremed with Genre Friendly tips on how to tweak the world for Steampunk, Lovecraftian and SciFi, your crew could explore new lands every week in this modular setting. (Keep what you want, what you don't want never gets discovered.) Come to a new world, helmet and spear in hand: New boat rules New artifacts New creatures New weapons Ganza Gaming strikes again! Requires the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games. And if you want more Cypher goodness, check out these titles or look into my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/ganzagaming! ... Naphtha: Meiyou Zhen - Isles of Smoke and Gears
Regular price: $1.99
Bundle price: $1.50
The islands of the Meiyou Zhen Archipelago overcame their barren isles by turning to their mineral wealth and inventing powerful Alchemy, wondrous automatons and clockwork apparatuses. Meiyou Zhen: Isles of Smoke and Gears introduces proto-steampunk into the modular Naphtha setting. Use Meiyou “as is” or drop the island near your favorite homebrewed coastline to introduce new technologies and gadgets to your fantasy world. This 14-page PDF offers Genre Friendly advice on how to fit the fantasy island of Meiyou into your Victorian Steampunk, Science Fantasy, GrimDark and Lovecraftian settings and comes with a Naphtha appendix to get you kickstarted in our cool world. In Isle of Smoke and Gear you’ll find: The history, culture, religions and personalities in the h...
Price: $21.87 Read more »
Total value: $21.87 Special bundle price: $16.40 Savings of: $5.47 (25%)
- Gods of the Fall - Community Content [BUNDLE]Publisher: Monte Cook Games
This special bundle product contains the following titles. A Leak In the Dike: Cypher Adventure
Regular price: $1.50
Bundle price: $1.16
Useable for both Fantasy and Gods of the Fall games with the Cypher System Rulebook, A Leak in the Dike is a mini-adventure where a simple rescue mission becomes something much more as the PCs discover dark secrets that could change their world forever. A great beginning adventure for both tier one fantasy Cypher characters and tier one Gods of the Fall demigods that allows GMs to hint at larger events to come. Discover a dark and dangerous world, Gods of the Fall, a land where there are no gods and even less mercy. This 7-page PDF includes: An introduction of the CSR monster, Ghouls into the Gods of the Fall setting Tips on how to run the adventure in a traditional fantasy world. If you need more Gods of the Fall/Fantasy mash ups in your li... Bared Greed
Regular price: $1.50
Bundle price: $1.16
Useable for both Fantasy games (with the Cypher System Rulebook) and Gods of the Fall games, Bared Greed is a mini-adventure or both tier one fantasy Cypher characters and tier one Gods of the Fall demigods looking for hidden treasure. Discover a dark and dangerous world, Gods of the Fall, a land where there are no gods and even less mercy. This 6-page PDF includes: A Jade Wood encounter table A glimpse into the Jade Woods and the strange energies running through it Learn more about the strange snake man race, the Katheer. If you need more Gods of the Fall/Fantasy mash ups in your life, you can't go wrong with Mortal Fantasy, which gives you expanded options for both your&n... Mortal Fantasy
Regular price: $3.95
Bundle price: $3.04
Revised! Thanks to our fans input over the last year, we've tweaked some Types and tackled a few typos! Plus more art! Now you can do your own traditional RPG fantasy spin using the Cypher System for your favorite fantasy RPG world or Monte Cook Games’ own Gods of the Fall setting - become a Doomed Paladin who Wears A Halo of Fire, a Gnome Adept who Explores Dark Places or a Fast Thief who Works the Back Alleys with their Goblin Crew. Discover a dark and dangerous world, Gods of the Fall, a land where there are no gods and even less mercy. This 47-page PDF includes: Six new Types that let you play traditional RPG fantasy heroes without sacrificing your Descriptors and Foci to do so A mini-adventure set in the Gods of the Fall un... Somorrah in Soulrest
Regular price: $2.49
Bundle price: $1.92
In the Cypher System's Gods of the Fall fantasy game, Somorrah is a nexus of physical light and dark while being a bastion of freedom and relative safety. In the land of the dead called Soulrest, the city is a twisted mirror where one wrong step can lose a soul their free will. Discover the city anew ... from a different point of view. New monsters like the Neveri Pod or the Dylph. New locations and NPCs A GotF vignette All crammed into 13 beautiful pages. You'll need both the Cypher System Rulebook and the Gods of the Fall to play. Ganza Gaming strikes again! Requires the Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games. For more Cypher goodness, check out these other pdfs! ... Trap of Artifacts
Regular price: $1.50
Bundle price: $1.14
Useable for both Fantasy games (with the Cypher System Rulebook) and Gods of the Fall games, Trap of Artifacts is a mini-adventure where the party has joined a salvage guild are readyt to plumb the depths of the Deeps for gold and magic, but a traitor has sold them out before they have even taken their firt step into the darkness. A great beginning adventure for both tier one fantasy Cypher characters and tier one Gods of the Fall demigods that lets the GM introduce "dungeon delving" adventures into his Cypher game. Discover a dark and dangerous world, Gods of the Fall, a land where there are no gods and even less mercy. This 8-page PDF includes: New creatures, like the Nephilim of Sin A Third Deep locale in th...
Price: $10.94 Read more »
Total value: $10.94 Special bundle price: $8.42 Savings of: $2.52 (23%)
- The Rock Coast - (Join our PATREON)Publisher: Rocket Pig Games Inc.
- Our Monster Miniatures are Support-Free and print without any preparation!
- Each come with a based and a non-based version.
If you would like regular monthly monster miniatures, Deluxe models and Epic-sized model kits....then look no further!
JOIN our Monster Miniature PATREON and our DEATH HAVEN PATREON!
Rocket Pig Games is a leader in the 3D industry. We specialize in creating 3D printable files that work on your home or public 3D printer.
If you are looking for unique and flawless 3D printable files to create miniatures, modular terrain, and props then look no further!
We have yearly Kickstarters!
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These are the settings we have used to get perfect prints on our printers. Printers vary as do different types of filaments and how prints behave in different types of weather! You will need to get comfortable with your printer and how it prints in the hot, cold, and humidity. Regardless of the printer you choose, I recommend keeping your room cool and dry. I also, highly recommend using Hatchbox PLA. It may cost a bit more but it’s 100% worth it. Seriously.
Here's what is working really well with Hatchbox PLA:Price: $29.99 Read more »
TEMP: 195 (60 for bed depending on season)
SPEED: 60 mms
RETRACTION DISTANCE: 3.50
RETRACTION SPEED: 30
INFILL: 15% (for tiles)
TOP SOLID LAYERS: 6
BOTTOM SOLID LAYERS: 4
- ● Conventional Snacking
From the obligatory treats to share at game night to the nearly professional planning that some people put into convention supplies, we gamers really like our snacks. While I am not necessarily the best person to be giving advice on nutrition, I attend enough conventions to have some experience on the subject. After getting back from Queen City Conquest this past weekend, I thought it might be worth diving into the topic in relation to snacking (or eating in general) at conventions.
Most of us go into game conventions knowing our regular eating habits are going to be changed up for the duration, either a little or a lot. Maybe you’re not going to be eating as healthy as you do at home, maybe you’re going to be eating less frequently than you do at home, maybe there’s going to be a little more alcohol than normal. There are differences between large cons in big cities with many options or smaller cons with limited nearby choices for food or snacks, but your regular habits are still going to go off kilter.
It’s super easy to fall into unhealthy choices. The most convenient food to access or buy during conventions isn’t necessarily the best for you, leading to lots of fast food and few fresh, healthy options, and snacks are often just sweet or salty with little in between. Now, when you’re young and invincible, this might be just fine with a packed schedule of awesome gaming and not enough sleep, but as someone who is no longer young and absolutely not invincible, I can wreck myself during a convention if I’m not careful. I currently travel with an emergency supply of Tums, just in case. Not to mention, I know the crappier I eat, the larger the chance I’ll go home to develop a lovely case of Con Crud.
Here’s some thoughts on the subject:
- Water, Water, Everywhere. All good convention guides or tips will remind you to stay hydrated, and this one is no different. I’m touching on this point first because it is really so crucial. You can get your caffeine in whatever manner suits you, and you do you when it comes to the bars in the evening, but absolutely keep a water bottle handy. Most hotels and convention centers will have water out for the attendees, so make sure you take advantage. Even smaller cons will often note where the water fountains are or have bottles of water on hand. I mentioned that whole not being young thing anymore, so let me tell you that getting dehydrated becomes harder and harder to deal with as you get older. So yeah, drink lots of water.
- Healthy, Portable Snacks. While it seems easiest to load up on salty and sugary snacks, it is possible to bring some healthier snacks along with you. Celery sticks and carrot sticks are pretty easy to pack in small containers and actually keep quite well. Nuts are also quite portable and offer a relatively healthy boost. If you’ve got to mix in a bit of chocolate, make your own trail mix. It’s always nice to be able to choose what you want in the mix and not end up with a pile of what you don’t want left in the bag. I mean, raisins are fine but I don’t want THAT many in my trail mix.
- Don’t Let Yourself Get Hangry. Regardless of what your plans are for meals, make sure you pack SOMETHING to snack on in times of need. No one wants a distracted or irritable player or GM that’s in need of a snack at their table. Having a granola bar or couple of pieces of candy to tide yourself over will go a long way to making sure you get through the con in one piece. Let’s say you’ve scheduled yourself two 4-hour games in a row and then plan on getting dinner after that. Well, 8ish hours can be too long for some folks to go without a snack. Be prepared to keep your energy and mood up so you can enjoy the games you’re there to play.
- Go Easy on Yourself. I say this for two reasons. First, be kind to yourself. Maybe you intended to stick to your diet, but that goal went out the window on the first day of the con. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You can get back to your regular plans when you get home. Second, on the other side of the coin, don’t go completely hog wild with your choices. Just because you’ve decided to indulge doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a little kind to your body. Maybe the next choice after that deliciously cheesy and greasy order of pizza logs is a salad or something a tiny bit healthier.
- People Eat Together. Eating together is one a major bonding mechanism we use to grow closer to our friends. Take advantage of being at a con with all kinds of awesome people to plan meals together and enjoy each other’s company. Another option is to bring enough snacks to share at the gaming table. I have a handful of friends who will bring bags of candy to share with whoever even glances at the bag of goodies. Another friend always makes sure he has a couple extra water bottles on him to hand to folks who look like they’re in need.
Ultimately, the Sunday of the con comes around and you’ll see the over planner trying to hand off the leftover snacks they brought. Even if they have a ludicrous amount to get rid of, I can guarantee you they’re happy they brought enough to share and make it through the convention with some tasty snacks.Read more »
- Coriolis: My Favourite Sci-Fi TTRPG
For years, I’ve raved endlessly about Coriolis, a science fiction RPG by Fria Ligan (Free League) co-published with Modiphius Entertainment. It’s my favourite science-fiction tabletop roleplaying game of all time. Scratch that. It’s maybe one of my favourites irrespective of genre. There is something in the game for everyone. That’s why I rave about it at any given opportunity. Here’s why.
Choice. Character creation is one of my favourite parts of any tabletop RPG. PbtA playbooks read like branching stories – with your narrative changing directions as you select new moves and abilities. They differ from other styles of tabletop RPG in that playbooks come in different forms for a single game. In D&D, character sheets are not individualistic in structure. You’re led along a linear path of new abilities, with the narrative having little effect on how your character class changes. Meanwhile, Coriolis sits right in the middle. I very much enjoy the wide variety of character “concepts” – Artist, Data Spider, Fugitive, Negotiator, Operative, Pilot, Preacher, Scientist, Ship Worker, Soldier, and Trailblazer – presented to the reader. Now, unlike PbtA character sheets or D&D classes, your initial concept is more like a springboard into a unique creation of your choice. When you begin character creation, the loose concept you pick only has a mechanical bearing on certain skills you are particularly talented with and the strongest attribute you start with. But that’s really where it ends. You can pick any skill. Have any weapon. Be anyone. Like the idea of being a space archaeologist? Let the Scientist guide you in the beginning as you determine who you want your character to be through play. Want to be a corporate bodyguard? Pick the Operative if you want a more low-key background, or a Soldier if you want the military to figure heavily in your backstory.
Structured growth from freeform roleplaying. In many ways, tabletop roleplaying games are like real life. Like us, characters in tabletop RPGs encounter challenges, experience failure and triumph, and experience the world in a unique way. If we’re particularly lucky or insightful, we learn and grow from these experiences. In popular games like Dungeons & Dragons, player characters “grow” by obtaining “experience points” earned from overcoming challenges commonly taking the form of a combat encounter. See the antagonist. Kill said antagonist. Grow in ways unrelated to the mass murder you’ve just committed. In Coriolis, players improve their characters’ quantifiable skills and abilities in a much more self-reflective manner. The game system rewards players “experience points” by facilitating a structured debrief and discussion between players and the GM at the end of every gaming session This is based on the overall narrative actions of each character and not necessarily what they killed or how many challenges they overcame. Some of the questions asked include:
- Did you participate?
- Did you overcome a difficult challenge and help your group reach their goals?
- Did you learn something new about yourself?
- Did your personal problem(s) put your group at risk?
- Did you sacrifice or risk something for a member of the group to which you share a close bond?
Especially when playing tabletop RPGs with strangers or family members, systems like D&D and Pathfinder causes players to become preoccupied with “doing things” to level up their characters. Games generally descend into, sessions of “if we kill this many _____, we’ll gain this much experience.” Experience and growth are reduced to the consequences of death. Learning becomes a task. A game like Coriolis can be used to encourage more self-reflective (yet, goal-oriented) roleplay. The structured end-of-session debrief and discussion is a great way to have players recognize the weaknesses and strengths of their characters, mediate their own problems, and identify how their actions and behaviours can positively and negatively affect others.
I do, however, have mixed feelings about the “Arabian Knights in space” description attached to this product. While on one end there are clear undertones of Orientalist themes. But on the other, it presents a fictional Islamic world in a way that doesn’t problematize religion or depicts Muslims unfairly. As someone who’s spent a lot of time living and working in a Muslim country, I can very much appreciate what this game does for fair and positive representation. Perhaps I’ll discuss this in a future post on its own. Needless to say, the freedom to which you are able to create characters, the emphasis on storytelling and complications, and an easy to learn, yet highly tactical combat system makes Coriolis a unique game. It lets you be what you want and do what you want, all while providing a scaling degree of structure. It’s accessible and highly reflexive, and that’s what’s really important when assessing the value of a tabletop RPG.Read more »
- Scion: Origin Review
I follow a predictable theme where I tend to be just a wee bit attracted to urban fantasy related games and media. When a friend of mine invited me to play in a game of Scion, it didn’t take too much for me to pick up the big bundle of PDFs and dive into the game. I made a character that was the scion of Hel, who I envisioned as a cross between House and Dexter. He was a forensic pathologist, with a magic scalpel and the ability to summon his dead father for advice.
As it turned out, making my character really good at his job and giving him a flavorful gift from his mother meant that he wasn’t particularly good at anything to do with combat, other than jabbing someone with the scalpel once in a while, and eventually, my poor character was eaten by one of Fenrir’s overgrown pups. I also found out that Vancouver, where I said my character was from (a joke based on where many television series are filmed) has very, very few actual murders, meaning my character was also probably very bored for most of his career.
Anyway, about the time my character was being digested, the Kickstarter for Scion 2nd Edition came along, and my curiosity got the best of me. I’ve been waiting to dig in for a while now. I have to admit, part of me is wondering if my character would have to make the same hard choices about skills versus combat ability in the new edition.
The Book of Origins
This review is based on both the physical and PDF version of Scion: Origins. The book is 180 pages long, with a one-page character sheet, no index, and a Table of Contents.
The book is very attractive. Some of the artwork has been reused from the previous edition, but what makes it a little harder to pinpoint is that many of the same iconic characters are depicted, with some of them appearing in new artwork.
If you have seen any other Onyx Path books, there is certainly a similar style to the formatting, with “typeset” style headers and double column layout.
The book opens, even before the Table of Contents, with a piece of fiction by Kieron Gillen, who may have written just a few pieces of fiction dealing with urban fantasy and modern gods in the past. To flash forward a bit, this piece of fiction is a stand-alone piece, but there is an ongoing narrative that appears between the chapters. This ongoing story follows a scion from their day to day life up to the moment of their visitation (meeting with their divine parent, after which the character would move up to the rules in the next volume, Scion Hero).
The introduction explains the concept behind Scion, that the player characters are mortal children of gods (or others touched by divine power), who eventually gain an increasing amount of supernatural power, and become embroiled in more and more supernatural conflicts as their powers grow. Origin, specifically, details characters that have learned they have supernatural powers, but haven’t yet been visited by their divine parent or an agent of the supernatural power that has touched them.
In addition to a primer on roleplaying games (or storytelling games), the introduction mentions the themes and moods that should be present in a game of Scion. The primary pantheons that will be detailed are summarized, and inspirational material, ranging from novels, comics, and television, are also cited. There are even a few recommendations for non-fiction books on mythology. The introduction ends with a lexicon defining various terms used later in the book.
I appreciate a game that lists the themes and moods that they hope to include in the game up front, as well as some example media that the game has drawn from, because this helps to set expectations. It gives you an idea of why something might have been added, as well as giving you a measure to use for comparing if the mechanics are doing what you want them to do, and what they are intended to do.
Chapter One: The World
Chapter One details the setting of the game, and it takes up the next 32 pages of the book, so it isn’t a light treatment. In broad strokes, the chapter covers a wide range of topics.
Primordials are beings that very much are the embodiment of a given primal force. They don’t have much of a personality. They just kind of exist. Titans are one step down from Primordials. They don’t have much of a personality either, but they are self-aware, and what personality traits they have are dictated by an obsessive devotion to their portfolio. Gods have broader portfolios than Titans, and are more fully realized personalities. Part of this is because they have interacted with mortal worshipers, and the more mortals interacted with them, the more the mortals believed that the gods had to have some similar traits to mortals. The downside to this is that, if the gods spend too much time with mortals, those mortals start to define other elements of the gods. So the gods need human belief just enough to keep them as more fully developed personalities, but not enough that mortals can radically redefine them with their faith.
The World looks much like our own, but the pantheons included in the book never stopped being worshipped, they just lost a little bit of ground as more modern religions came into being. The supernatural isn’t so much a hidden world, as an obscured one. Everyone might know one person who has genuinely seen the supernatural at play, and every once in a while, a rampaging monster from folklore may make the news, but the vast majority of people haven’t seen anything literally magical their whole lives. They make due with cars and computers and email just like we do now.
There are supernatural “otherworlds,” known as Terra Incognito, and there are various ways to access these places, including the Axis Mundi, transition points between worlds where one can travel between the two by performing a specific set of trials.
Several cities in The World are outlined, with sections detailing the Terra Incognito and Axis Mundi that exist near that city, as well as what pantheons are most influential there, and where they might be connected to other cities in the world.
While most of the details about gods deal with the pantheons mentioned in the introduction, there are a few references to “new” divinities that have arisen in the intervening years from antiquity to the present. Columbia, the goddess of America is an example, and she is mentioned as having multiple potentially conflicting manifestations, as she is still settling on a core identity because of the beliefs of mortals and their relationship to her and their culture.
This section gives a whole lot of flavor on what The World should feel like, but doesn’t nail down a lot of absolutes. It establishes a few different conflicts (pantheon versus pantheon, god versus god, new god versus young god, gods versus titans), but because of the time and effort put into it, the conflict with titans feels like the default narrative well to draw from. The references to Columbia are interesting, as I remember her mainly from a supplement to the original edition of Scion, along with various national pantheons that arose specifically around World War II, with these gods being an optional expansion in the original material. Neither Columbia nor any other “younger” deity appears in the summary of gods at the end of the book, so her only reference is in this section.
The Storypath System
On its surface, the resolution mechanic for Scion resembles other Onyx Path games, in that it uses d10 dice pools, counts numbers of successes, and derives the dice pool from adding the number of dots a character has in two different sections of the character sheet together.
The difference in this case is that successes are used to purchase effects. Simple success is one thing you can purchase, but there may be other elements present on a given test that are worth purchasing as well. For example, there might be complications that are present, so that if you simply succeed, you have to deal with the complications if you don’t spend successes to mitigate the complications. There may be benefits that you may be able to gain, in addition to a simple success. Any given test might have enough extra elements going on to make deciding on what complications you want to buy down or what additional benefits you want to purchase an important decision.
Additionally, scale might be at play. Scale adds an enhancement for each level difference between the parties involved in a test, and enhancements are successes that are only added to your total if the initial roll is already a success. So a giant may have a hard time striking your human scion, but if they connect, they will have an easier time applying extra damage.
Whenever a character fails, they may gain momentum, a group resource that can be spent to activate special abilities, add dice to a die pool, or to add an interval to the round. Failing on something where you have a specialty grants you extra momentum. Failing and botching a roll (rolling a 1 on one of the dice in addition to gaining no successes) grants an additional momentum, and allows the Storyguide to add a new complication to the scene.
All of this sounds very simple, but the explanations for this get a little convoluted, to the point that I felt like I was missing something. For example, when explaining a test, the Storyguide is instructed to choose an arena for the test, from Physical, Mental, or Social. Since a roll is based on Skill plus Attribute, my assumption is that stating the arena limits the attribute to those under the given header (for example, Intellect, Cunning, and Resolve are under Mental). But the way the actual section is written, it almost sounds like the arena itself has a number of dots, rather than the attributes under them. Further confusing this is that the player chooses an approach, from Force, Finesse, or Resilience, which corresponds to which row a given attribute appears on the character sheet.
All of the test examples cut straight to the chase–the test is X, the character is doing Y to resolve it, so they add this skill to this attribute to get their pool. I can understand stating the Arena to narrow attributes, but the approach seems to be something that only really comes in to play when picking a favored approach for the number of available dots in character creation. It’s a matter of a fairly simple resolution mechanic that feels a little over explained and gives the impression of more complexity that is actually in evidence. That said, there is the option of attempting to spend successes to achieve unrelated goals on the same action (like entering a code with one hand and firing a gun with another), which requires you to roll with the least advantageous pool, and approach may be a useful tool for adjudicating just what the difference between those approaches may be.
The book also details three modes of play, Action-Adventure, Procedural, and Intrigue. This is important for two reasons–not only does it establish the expected cycles of play, but with the addition of stunts and complications, these frameworks give examples of how to use those rules in the context of these narrative frameworks. One particular aspect of the Intrigue section that I liked involved Bonds. Characters can create bonds with characters when they spend a scene creating or reinforcing a bond, which allows them to roll a pool of dice that creates a reserve of successes that can be used whenever the character’s bond is relevant to what is going on.
Creating a pool of successes to spend helps to address situations where a player wants to know how much they can do on their turn, and adding complications and enhancements are nice, built in ways to make tests more interesting by reinforcing them with narrative weight. I really like the idea of awarding the players a resource that they can utilize that builds from failed rolls, because it gives them more of a choice to lean on that resource when the resolution of a test is particularly pivotal. I just feel like some of the more straightforward details got lost in the explanations.
Chapter Three: Character Creation
The character creation chapter starts with five example characters, from multiple pantheons, as well as multiple real-world backgrounds. There are three male characters, and two female characters, and with that number of characters, I wish we had maybe seen a non-binary character in the mix as well. The character sheets don’t include a section for gender or pronouns, so their genders are all expressed by reading their backstories and finding the pronouns used there.
Characters pick a concept, an origin, role, and pantheon path, a favored approach, and a calling. The process of making these choices gives the character the number of dots they have available in skills and attributes, and will also let them know where they can pick their Knacks from (special abilities that are often subtle or overt supernatural powers). There is also a derived pool from Defense, and the number of boxes a character can check at each level of harm is determined by attributes.
There isn’t a bullet-pointed summary of character creation in the chapter, and I would have really appreciated that. In order to make sure I understood the instructions, I defaulted to checking the sample characters. In addition to the lack of summary, the character sheets can be a little confusing.
Characters have three Storypaths, which influence their starting skills, and can also be invoked, not unlike aspects in Fate. A Storypath can be invoked once per session without much trouble, but invoking it more than that may cause the character to generate ill-will or be forced to complete a long-term goal dedicated to repairing the good will of their contacts.
An element of advancement that I like is that XP is earned by setting, then achieving, short- or long-term goals. In addition to short- or long-term goals, the group as a whole can also set up group goals for them to work towards. While the rules mention that you can have up to five goals active at any given time, the character sheets only show short, long, and group goals as options.
The advancement section mentions Birthrights and Legend, neither of which are available to Origin characters, since they have not yet been visited by their divine parent. While these rules are mentioned briefly (but not defined), it is clear that this is a section of the rules that will be addressed in supplements.
Going back to my introduction, the ability to assign dots to skills and attributes feels less fiddly than in the previous incarnation of Scion, and it feels easier to make someone competent in their “mortal pursuits” without shorting them too much in survivability, I just wish there had been a better summary of character creation and a little clearer organization of the character sheet. I am glad they provided the sample characters, but I’m not sure sample characters should be doing the heavy lifting for clarification.
Chapter Four: Combat
The previous edition of Scion had a “shot clock” style initiative, where the action you choose to take would add a number to your score, moving you up on the clock, and meaning that taking some actions meant that some opponents might act more than once before you, if you took a particularly time-intensive action, and they took relatively quick actions.
In second edition, characters roll initiative, and then create slots for themselves and their allies, that can be used by anyone they are allied with. This method is very similar to the initiative system used by Fantasy Flight’s Genesys games.
When making combat rolls, characters spend their successes to buy stunts in combat. The simplest stunt is the inflict damage stunt, which costs a number of successes equal to a character’s armor. Inflicting a second instance of damage costs more successes to inflict a critical. Characters can spend defensive successes to dive out of range or to make themselves harder to hit.
Weapons and armor have special tags to define them. Weapons don’t specifically have damage ratings, but they may have tags that give the weapon enhancements or allow them to ignore cover. Armor tags can make the armor soft or hard. Soft armor increases the number of successes needed to successfully attack an opponent, while hard armor gives them more injury boxes to check.
In a trend I’m starting to see in more games, characters have the option to concede a fight, getting taken out without taking all of the various steps of injury in between, and keeping the character from potentially getting killed. This will take the character out of the scene, and may leave them in a bad position at the end of the scene, but it also adds momentum to the pool.
There are also rules to handle recovering injuries, first aid, disease, and poison. There aren’t rules for starting gear, just a note that most mundane gear only has three points worth of tags. This isn’t a change from 1st edition Scion, where only supernatural gear required a character to spend character options.
Chapter Five: Storyguiding
There is a lot of material in this chapter on researching myths, following the hero’s journey, alternating between multiple heroes in the spotlight, and how to reinforce the tone specifically for an Origin level game, where gods don’t show up directly, and there are more omens and signs than overt communication and miracles.
This section also contains what the text refers to as the Plot Engine, a series of steps to work through to generate appropriately themed campaign ideas.
At the very beginning of the chapter there is what has become a standard in facilitator advice, the tacit permission to ignore or modify rules, and in this section, there is also the advice to make sure that everyone at the table is comfortable and happy with the content of the game. While I appreciate this inclusion, it is a pretty light treatment on the broader topic of safety.
In various other chapters, the text spells out that the old gods don’t want to change their ideas as they move into the modern era, so they often hold antiquated and problematic opinions about acceptable actions, forms of worship, and the worth of human life, and that this can serve as a point of conflict for scions. Given that this is spelled out as a potential theme of campaigns, I think a better discussion of how much of this content to include, and how to do so would have been a good idea. In addition to the light touch on general safety, there isn’t really any discussion of active ongoing table safety, such as using safety tools during play.
Chapter Six: Antagonists
Antagonists in the game are assembled by giving them ranks in a primary pool, a secondary pool, a desperation pool, a health, defense, and initiative rating, then adding in qualities (modifiers to the above ratings), and flairs (special abilities that activate under certain circumstances).
In addition to outlining how antagonists are built, this section also details Tension, the resource that the Storyguide has which is similar to Momentum for players. Tension can be used to boost defenses, have an opponent take an extra turn, or to trigger certain types of flairs.
While I don’t want to spend too much time on the various pre-built antagonists that are included in the chapter, for some reason, I really appreciate that in The World, Men in Black aren’t aliens or government agents–they work for the Titans, probing for information on the gods and how to weaken the prisons where various Titans are held.
I have definitely become a fan of opponents in games that don’t require the same amount of rigor to create as player characters, and I like the a + b and maybe c approach to this creation. I’m also a fan of facilitator resources that can be spent, so I appreciate the Tension mechanics as well.
Appendix I, II, and III
The three appendices to the book deal with Supernatural Paths, Pantheons, and changes to the game between 1st edition Scion to 2nd edition Scion.
The Supernatural Paths are beings that might eventually end up ascending in power, but aren’t the literal children of the gods. The examples given include:
- Saints (strong believers in a given pantheon or religion)
- Kitsune (long lived shape changing foxes)
- Satyr (the exact mythological creature you would assume)
- Therianthrope (were creatures)
- Wolf-Warrior (berserkers)
- Cu Sith (self-aware fey canines)
There are also rules for modifying these paths to make them fit a variety of supernatural archetypes, such as using Wolf-Warriors to model Amazons.
The pantheons summarized in the book include the following:
- Tuatha De Danan
There isn’t a lot of information given on each of them, but there is a list of skills, gods, callings, and purviews to facilitate character creation for scions of each of the pantheons.
The section on explaining the changes from 1st to 2nd edition is very brief and there are lots of fine details not addressed, but reading through it actually makes a few of the 2nd edition rules clearer even if you don’t have a frame of reference from 1st edition.
Heaven SentThe rules are well suited to improvisational gaming within a defined space, and for many gamers, that is the creative sweet spot.
I enjoy that the setting isn’t so much a hidden world as it is an obscured world. I really enjoy the idea of being able to spend successes to achieve multiple goals when you take action. I am a big fan of spendable resources in game, and I really enjoy the flow of Momentum to the players. Making adversarial characters a modular building process is something I am on board with, and I am a huge fan of advancement being tied in part to story elements written by the player characters.
No Legend Quite Yet
There are places where it really feels like this book wants you to speed through the Origin level of play to get at the “real” starting point of Scion: Hero, even though I think there is a lot of value to getting comfortable with the starting level of play. There are some fairly simple concepts that are expressed in ways that seem more complicated than necessary, and the character sheet design implies that the rules may work in ways that they actually don’t. Given that this tier of play is closer to “mortal” level, I think more guidelines on starting equipment may have been useful (since characters aren’t receiving magical gifts from their parents yet). While I think all modern games need to discuss safety on some level, given some of the themes and topics brought up in this game, there really needed to be more space devoted to the topic.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
Scion: Origin is an imaginative game that will feel very comfortable to people that want open-ended stories, but want a little bit more support than a rules-light game would give them. The rules are well suited to improvisational gaming within a defined space, and for many gamers, that is the creative sweet spot. I really like what I have seen of the Storypath system, I just feel that to grasp it, it made me work a little harder than was needed.
How often have your games revolved around the plans of the gods? Do you prefer to have gods included in your game as story elements, vague notions, or active, ever-present characters? What are your favorite games for achieving your preference? We would love to hear about it in the comments below! We’ll look forward to hearing from you.Read more »
- TRYING OUT THE ALEXANDRIAN’S URBANCRAWL SYSTEM: DESIGNING THE CITY OF JUNTIAL PART 5
Obligatory recap: I’ve read about a system for creating urbancrawls (similar to hexcrawls but set in a city) from The Alexandrian. I had also been enjoying the Sorcery! gamebooks by Steve Jackson and their strange magic setting. Enter this series of articles, where I use The Alexandrian’s urbancrawl system to design my own urbancrawl with a strange magic theme.
- Part 1 of this series
- Part 2 of this series
- Part 3 of this series
- Part 4 of this series
- The Alexandrian’s Urbancrawl series
- Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!
We left off last time with:
- a list of districts
- a definition of what a neighborhood was
- a list of layers we were going to use
- a rough map
- a list and brief description for all neighborhoods.
Here’s a recap of our layer list from way back in part 1 and a few notes/additions along the way:
- Gazetteer/Landmarks: Done! This was part of the last few articles. We got a Gazetteer layer entry for each neighborhood along with the description for each.
- Gangs: This is getting broken down into two separate layers, a guards layer and a gangs layer. The gangs layer will be a little different than most others because I want “contested” neighborhoods but this wasn’t worth making multiple layers for since I want many small gangs all over the city. In this case I’ll note each neighborhood with a “primary” gang, but neighbor gangs may also be encountered there as they vie for territory.
- Guards: While the guard forces of the city are technically independently contracted mercenaries (and thus sometimes come into conflict), there is no overlapping territory, so outright conflict is more likely to be the result of some key event rather than regular clashes between say the city guard and the temple district guard.
- Heist: This promises to be one of the most difficult layers to make. While some layers we can get away with being handwavy or templaty, this one looks to be 24 actually planned out 5 room dungeons or bigger.
- Weirdness: This is another layer that can’t be handwaved or templated. Each one of these has to be unique.
- Aboleth: This layer is all plots and minions of the aboleth overlord. They’re not on it. Like the example for the Alexandrian’s articles where Count Ormu is lord of the vampires, and once you collect enough vampire clues you can confront him, the aboleth is somewhere on the map but isn’t up for random encounter or hunting down until a certain critical mass of interruption of their minions.
- Patrons/houses/politics: Like the gang layer, this layer is high contested/populated by multiple groups with a “primary” house or independent noble that is technically tasked with oversight of the neighborhood, but with the possibility of encountering representatives from other houses there as well.
- Shops: Though I don’t know how much use it will get, I want to put a unique/special shop in each neighborhood for PCs to find.
- Ruins/undercity: The event that destroyed most of the university district also destroyed buildings all over the city. In addition, there are numerous entrances to the sunken levels underneath the current city.
and fungus: I’ve got an idea for a bug themed “boss critter”. This means I want bugs to have their very own layer (otherwise it makes it harder to amass the clues needed to start hunting down the bosses. Before this concept, I had toyed with the idea of adding slimes to this list, but with bugs in their own layer, I’m not sure I see a value in a fungus/slime layer. They’re just too inactive and uninspiring for anyone to go hunting for them. Unless maybe a cult of Jubilex. Hmmmm…
- Cultists: I have this idea that the area was populated by some reclusive people before the city was built. They tried to stop further building before it got too big but were sent packing. Their descendants have infiltrated the city and work to bring it down or at least return it to their possession.
Some additional thoughts I’ve been kicking around:
Levels: Since this is an “open world” game, such that it is, I’m a little worried about PCs wandering into locations/encounters etc… that are far more than they can handle. I want it to be possible, but not something that happens regularly. To deal with this, the DC to find points of interest will scale with the challenge it presents. This will include an additional bump if what they’re looking for is kill on sight (which doesn’t include that many items anyway).
Roster: While some layers will be carefully keyed with every item on them pre-made, others don’t need to be so meticulously planned. With a few planned points of interest, the rest of the layer can be handled by a roster of NPCs (some generic, some specific) and maybe some on the fly 5 room dungeons. Thus most layers will need at least one roster, and some several.
Random encounters: I want random encounters in the city. Most, if not all of the encounters here can be pulled from the rosters of the various layers with just some differences in the encounter list for each neighborhood based on which layers are active and which are common and uncommon there.
Contents: I want to be sure to include a variety of types of items on the layers list. It would be boring if say, everything on the bugs layer was just bugs to fight. Here are the basic categories I want to be sure to include:
- NPCS: Using the very old school definition here which encompasses both (demi)human and Monsters, etc… Some of these will be best dealt with with diplomacy, others by skill checks, others by combat, but I’m not going to shoehorn which is which. Let the players figure it out.
- Tick/trap/puzzle: Probably not as common as in a dungeon setting, but it wouldn’t do to lease these out.
- Point of interest: Just some fun/notable scenery
- Combination: These come in three sizes, a single room/location, a small location (like a 5 room setup), and a large location (which will probably have to be pre-planned)
So now I know what I’m making, and how I’m making it. It’s time to stop procrastinating and eat this elephant. So next time I’ll have a layer roughed out and we’ll go from there. Wish me luck!Read more »
- Homebrew setting tips with Dustin
Homebrew setting creation is an important facet of the RPG experience. For many of us, world creation is what got us interested in RPGs in the first place. But whether you’re designing a setting for the first time or the hundredth time, there are some simple tips that can make the experience more productive and enjoyable.
The first step is don’t be intimidated. Playing published RPGs can give you the impression that hundreds of genius ideas must be put to paper before the game even starts. This is not the case. Many RPG settings are developed organically through play and experimentation, and yours should be too. So focus on having fun, don’t be over-worried about originality, and let the creative process take its course. While there is preliminary work to do before playing, it’s probably not as much as you think.
Think of the Aesthetics
A great place to start is thinking in big, broad terms. Be inspired by your favorite media, and look for themes and ideas that get your creative energy flowing. Love Ghost In The Shell? Definitely lift some cyberpunk aesthetic. Get pumped about Avatar: The Last Airbender? Some elemental magic and spiritual themes could be good. Genre mash your heart out, and don’t shy away from cliches. Instead, embrace a cliche and put a spin on it. So if your cyberpunk world is full of neon tubes, corrupt corporations, and elemental masters, maybe the strongest elemental masters are the most powerful CEOs! And the more powerful your magic, the more neon tube cybernetics you have to contain all your power flowing through your veins. Maybe elemental magic isn’t just for fighting; it powers all sorts of technology and daily life, and has become so important, it’s used as currency.
Think of the Core Conflict
Every great piece of media, while having a rich world, has a core conflict to explore. This makes the world feel alive, like it’s in motion and taking the players along for a ride. So what’s the big problem in your setting? Connect it to the aesthetics to make things feel cohesive. Maybe in this corrupt magical CEO world, a huge economic crisis has happened and companies are calling in all their debts. They’re forcibly reclaiming magic from the lower castes, and sometimes over pumping so much power out of people, it kills them. A classic haves and havenots story tailored to your world design. But don’t forget to connect this conflict to the players! In order to make it seem real, this problem needs to affect the players’ lives, their allies’ lives, and day to day struggles. Perhaps the players are all debtors trying to escape possibly lethal debt collection, and trying to train, focus, and gather enough elemental magic to pay off the creditors. Or maybe the players are actually a paid team of debt collectors, and have to journey to dangerous places and reclaim what “belongs” to the corporation, dealing with the moral struggles that entails.
Think of Factions
This is my favorite part of setting creation. The world really starts to feel fleshed out when you think about the social factors at play. The important thing to remember when creating factions is that dynamics matter much more than detail. It’s not so important to think about what a faction wears or eats or what language they speak, unless that somehow directly relates to the conflict and how that faction interacts with others. We already have the idea of two groups: haves and havenots. And we know one is oppressing the other. So what are some more interesting dynamic ideas to come out of this? Perhaps the havenots use extensive smuggler networks to move magic around and keep it hidden from the collectors. Maybe the havenots aren’t as educated or well trained, making it hard for them to produce useable elemental magic on their own. Or better yet, maybe the magically gifted among the havenots are forcibly recruited into wealthy society and removed from the people, keeping the economic disparity strong. This means gifted people hide their talents to try and support their communities from the sidelines.
Embrace the Unknown
You’re not going to answer every question about your setting while you brainstorm it. A lot of it is going to work itself out naturally as you play. What does it look like when the wealthy extract a magically gifted person from their neighborhood? Maybe you can brainstorm a whole session around it, and play it out to fill in the details. Or better yet, maybe a player has that sort of event in their backstory, and they can contribute their own ideas on how and when that happens. Don’t be afraid to let the players contribute! In fact, you can invite the players to contribute to this whole process, because great ideas can come from many minds when everyone respects and builds on each other’s contributions. My game Heroic Dark makes use of this fact, and makes setting creation into a structured, collaborative process for everyone at the table. The players become invested in the game world, because their ideas are a piece of it, and it makes the dangerous adventures in that world so much more compelling. Everyone is more willing to take risks, face challenges, and do heroic things because they want to see how their and others’ ideas play out in the high intensity story everyone is crafting together.
So after setting creation, it’s important to remember that worlds evolve. As you play the game, the players experience a mix of wins, losses, narrow survival, and tragic deaths. But as the consequences play out, you might find a setting detail is starting to feel vestigial or incongruent based on what has happened. Let the gameworld change! In our sample setting idea, if magic extractions always went unchallenged before, but now the havenots have been pushed to the edge, maybe they don’t take things lying down and extractions become dangerous and violent. This change could lead to another; as the wealthy see their authority challenged, they invent new, more brutal methods of extraction that are harder to resist.
Setting creation can be a much more fluid, relaxed, and flexible exercise than you may be used to. Following a stripped down process like this produces surprising results, because when you don’t weigh yourself down with figuring out every little detail and trying to be a genius, your creative juices can really flow. Between aesthetics, conflict, and faction dynamics, you should have a rich and living world ready for a fantastic adventure. By diving in before everything is nailed down, you let the details fill out organically and naturally, instead of arbitrarily making decisions just to put words on a page. But the most important thing to remember is to have fun. This is ultimately a game, not a writing competition, so the best measure of the success of your setting is having a good time.Read more »
- Check Out and Vote In The 2019 ENnies!
Head Gnome John Arcadian here with some GS news! The 2019 ENnies voting is live and ready for your eager vote. We’ve got some personal selections and GS affiliated projects we want to encourage you to vote for.
Wait, where’s Gnome Stew? Aren’t you usually in the running?
Yes, Gnome Stew has submitted to the ENnies and won silver or gold for MANY years. We decided not to submit for consideration this year. This year the ENnies changed a few things and merged a few categories. There is no longer a Blog specific category. We could have submitted for Best Online Content, but we’ve had more than a few years to build up an audience and a name. This, alongside the great content and great voices we try to give a platform to, has helped us do very well in the ENnies. Every year we always consider whether we should step into the field or not since we’ve had a few wins under our belt. With the removal of a blog specific category, we decided this was the year we were going to leave it to others and not nominate ourselves. That being said, we’ve got a few Gnome Affiliated projects and some very good projects out there that we would encourage you to look at. Remember, the ENnies are one person one vote and has a tiered voting system so mark your favorite with 1, second favorite with 2, etc.
Gnome Affiliated Projects
Podcasts – There are two great podcasts with Gnomes on them.
- She’s A Super Geek with Senda is a podcast featuring female GMs and something you should definitely vote for.
- Asians Represent! has newer gnome Daniel Kwan and is also something you should vote for.
Other Things We’d Encourage You To Look at
- Best Online Content – Molten Sulfur Blog by Tristan Zimmerman is a great RPG blog with a focus on bringing in historical emphasis to your games.
- Best Monster/Adversary – While there is a part of us that loathes suggesting something attached to Kobolds, the Creature Codex is a great supplement for 5e games.
- Best Layout and Design – Bluebeard’s Bride: Book of Rooms has a fantastic layout and is IGDN affiliated, and many gnomes are IGDN members.
- Best Electronic Book – Uncaged Volume 1 is a phenomenal resource in every way and well deserving of a vote.
Best Free Game – Die Laughing, Sliced up is another IGDN product and a very funny one that is fun to play.
- Best Game – There are many incredible contenders in Best Game. Companions’ Tale and Dialect are two I’ve (John) had wonderful experiences with and are both worthy of your vote.
There are a ton of great entries in the ENnies this year and we applaud the ENnies for the changes they have made to make the event and competition better. Go vote in the ENnies and give your support to some incredible gaming.
- mp3Gnomecast #70 – Meet an Old Gnome: John Arcadian
Join Ang for the first installment of our new series where we give the “Meet a New Gnome” treatment to some of our old gnomes. We start things off with Co-head Gnome John Arcadian. Catch John’s various origin stories and plans for the future of Gnome Stew. Will both these head gnomes grant each other immunity from the stew this week?
- The Indie Game Shelf: Eden
Welcome to The Indie Game Shelf! Each article in this series will highlight a different small press roleplaying game to showcase the wide variety of games available. Whether you’re new to the hobby and looking to see what’s out there or you’re a veteran gamer looking for something new, I hope The Indie Game Shelf always holds something fun and new for you to enjoy!
Eden by Marc Hobbs and Less Than Three Games is a no-prep, GMless story game designed for 3-5 players to explore the development of new human beings as influenced by their talking animal companions. It is a roleplaying game in the sense that each player creates a single character and is responsible for narrative control of that character throughout the game, but it is a story game in the sense that the mechanics focus on the structure, procedure, and outcome of a narrative. The game does not use dice, cards, or any randomizers, instead depending on narration and consensus to resolve conflicts.
The stories explored by Eden describe the emergence of the first generation of humans, who have arisen from the Garden, a setting collaboratively constructed at the beginning of play. All that is known prior to the game’s story is that the Garden is a land contained by a Wall and a Gate and is populated by these new humans and some intelligent, talking animals. Each player’s primary character is one of these humans, though as the narrative focus changes throughout the game, players may also roleplay talking animal characters or secondary human characters that are not the focus of the overall story.
Two primary themes that drive the game’s fiction are personal development and social dynamics. Personal development primarily motivates the main human characters. They begin play understanding and interacting with the world the way their favorite animals do. Over the course of play, the humans learn through interacting with more animals and other humans how they can come to understand the world for themselves and find their own place in it and a sense of their own selves. Social dynamics influence the world around these humans and generally take the form of how various animals regard the humans and their activities. Of particular interest is that the animals don’t have a moral sense; they operate on instinct. Though intelligent, they do not act like animal-shaped humans would act. Instead, they act as animals would act; they are just given the tools to communicate as humans would.The characters’ relationships with the world may figure into individual tales, but the game as a whole is far less about the Garden than it is about the people who live there: how they act, what they learn, and how they change.As a “no-prep” game, Eden encourages the “play to find out” ethos of story creation and does not depend on predetermined scenarios or any particular narrative goal. How (and when) the story ends is up to the players, and the game does not call for any particular advancement or resolution for characters. The setting is explicitly changed as the story progresses, but the narrative is decidedly focused on the main characters and not on the world around them. The characters’ relationships with the world may figure into individual tales, but the game as a whole is far less about the Garden than it is about the people who live there: how they act, what they learn, and how they change.
Because the bulk of the game mechanics relate to narrative procedure and because there are so few prescribed characteristics of the setting, Eden is an easy game to reskin for other stories. The core book itself contains some exciting variations on setting and play. For example, “The Playground” involves children learning how to act, and instead of talking animals, they might be guided by their toys or imaginary friends. Another variation is “Starship Eden,” which could follow newly-awakened clones being instructed by computerized artificial intelligence systems. The core components of any Eden story remain a group of protagonists looking to develop codes of belief, some established (if narrow) behaviors to draw from for inspiration, and an insulated social environment for them all to play around in. There are many stories that can be derived from that set of ingredients and themes, and all could be examined in a game of Eden.
The rules of Eden outline a structured procedure to generate stories. Much attention is paid to setting up both the overall game setting and individual scenes, but once the narrative portion of the game takes over, there are few to no mechanics that guide the story. Gameplay is divided into three main stages. The game begins with two setup phases and then proceeds to a roleplaying phase that is broken up into repeatable rounds of play.
The first setup phase concerns the setting of the story, the Garden. The Garden is assembled from different animals, lands, and other features, all determined by the players. The choices are recorded on a collaboratively drawn map, and this map will later be updated throughout gameplay as the world (and the characters in it) are changed by the fiction.
The second setup phase is dedicated to the humans in the Garden, the main characters controlled by the players as well as secondary characters that are not exclusively controlled by any specific player but who can appear in main characters’ stories and be roleplayed by any available player. This human setup stage is what would be thought of as character creation in a more traditional RPG structure, and it is a this point that characters gain a favorite animal, a Skill learned from that animal, and a Lesson imparted by learning that Skill. Skills are not mechanically significant in the sense that might be expected in other games; they are more useful as narrative prompts. Lessons form the record of the character’s development as a person; they make up what might be thought of as a moral code or some other means by which the human makes decisions or determines values.
The roleplaying stage of the game is divided into “scenes.” Each scene is framed according to a specific procedure, but once the scene framing is complete and the narrative play begins, gameplay switches to a more freeform process and ends only when the players decide it is time to end. Each player controls one scene in a “round.” The game consists of at least three rounds, but again, it is up to the players how many rounds that particular session will consist of.
Throughout play, there are two major ways that game progress is recorded. Focusing on personal development of the main characters, players can add or change (or remove!) Lessons on their character sheet, in this way showing how their main human character is growing and changing as they encounter various situations, challenges, and people. In addition, changes to the world at large are recorded on the shared map of the Garden. These changes are mostly driven by what has happened in each scene, but also they are not required to be; in some cases, changes to the Garden may take place that are unrelated to what is happening in scenes.
Finally, once the final round has ended, each player contributes an Epilogue, either about their character or about how the world was affected by their character, depending on what has happened to the character during the story.
Eden is available for purchase in print and PDF from Less Than Three Games and Indie Press Revolution. As previously established in this series, I do love games involving collaborative map-building. Eden specifically calls out The Quiet Year (Avery Alder/Buried without Ceremony), which I highly recommend. Some of my other favorite map-building games include Companions’ Tale (Laura Simpson/Sweet Potato Press) and The Skeletons (Jason Morningstar/Bully Pulpit Games). For a game with a similar theme of humans and their animal companions, I heartily recommend Familiars of Terra (Liz Chaipraditkul/Angry Hamster Publishing).
If you’ve got something on your shelf you want to recommend as well, let us know in the comments section below. Let’s fill our shelves together!Read more »
- 3 Medieval Tortures And The Exercises You Can Do To Experience Them
I am currently writing this post with my nose, as my arms are hanging uselessly from my sides like two of those sticky hands from grocery store vending machines; please forgive any typos. You see, being in the midst of what looks suspiciously like a full-fledged midlife crisis, I recently signed up for a personal trainer. My reasoning was, that while expensive, a personal trainer is still cheaper than a new Mustang and less destructive than an affair. Most of the time I think I made the right decision. Most of the time.
Growing buff enough to turn heads (or to do even a single push-up without my life flashing before my eyes) sounds great on paper, but the grim reality is that in doing this, I have opened myself up to a whole new world of pain. And so, being the kind of nerd I am, while gasping for breath on a sweat-slicked gym mat and trying to find my happy place, I found myself wondering: “what can I do to make this completely unrelated thing all about RPGs in ways that will alienate absolutely everyone at my gym?” And that, dear readers, is where this post came from.
Content warning: this article will contain lavish descriptions of the horrors that sadistic, merciless* human beings are willing to visit upon the bodies of other people, all while believing it is for the victim’s own good. It will also contain descriptions of torture (also jokes whose construction is so old, they might themselves predate the Spanish Inquisition**).
In seriousness, actual torture is terrible, and in some cases, still going on today. While I make a lot of jokes about the ways that medieval folks performed atrocities on each other, many of the things still happening today all over the world are just as traumatizing and terrible, just with different actors and different tools. If you’re able, consider a donation to Amnesty International to help them fight it.
As gamers and GMs, we may occasionally find ourselves trying to put ourselves more fully in the mindset of those experiencing the horrors of torture. It turns out that the Tower of London doesn’t offer hands-on demonstrations anymore, no matter how loudly you shout heresies, and your tour guide gets really uncomfortable when you try.It turns out that the Tower of London doesn’t offer hands-on demonstrations anymore, no matter how loudly you shout heresies, and your tour guide gets really uncomfortable when you try.So our best option is also among the most intimidating for many of us: going to the gym. Even on the surface, the similarities between exercise and torture are obvious: they both use elaborately-engineered devices designed to extract suffering from the bodies of their subjects, frequently under the watchful gaze of a theoretically blameless authority. Sure, instead of being without grave sin, authorities in the modern era have never had more than 15% body fat, and Reddit progress pictures have replaced the auto-da-fe as the preferred method of public penance and humiliation, but beyond that and the fact that relatively few people actually die at gyms (no matter how much they want to), not a lot has changed.
Should you find yourself wanting to more fully put yourself in the place of a PC being put to what they euphemistically used to call “the Question,” or if you just need to think of something else while you actually do one of these exercises, I offer to you the following three examples of Medieval European tortures and the common exercises they most resemble. Again, some of these descriptions are pretty graphic, so if you’re bothered by reading that kind of thing, stop reading now and click here. You’ll be happier for it.
Torture 1: The Oubliette/Planks
An oubliette, is by its purest definition, just a dungeon cell with an opening only at the top. However, some designs of the oubliette (and most of the famous ones) are cells too small for the victim to sit or lie down in. In some cases, they cannot even fully stand up. In such a painful predicament, a victim experiences no rest and must remain standing (or crouching awkwardly) until they are finally released. There is no rest or comfort in an oubliette, only the snail’s pace march of time until your captor or death releases you.
If you really need to work on your core, and you don’t care about how miserable doing so makes you, planks are pretty great. You “rest” on your forearms and tiptoes (or do jazz hands like the showoff in the illustration to the right here) while keeping the rest of your body ramrod-straight. That’s it. You don’t move, so it doesn’t feel like exercise. But you also can’t be comfortable, or anything like comfortable. The first five minutes or so, it’s fine. It’s just a weird position. Then you look at the clock and realize it hasn’t been five minutes. It’s been exactly two-and-a-half seconds. Another hour passes, and you look again. Seven seconds. If you’re lucky, you can make it to a minute or two absolute time. In relative time, you have experienced several small eternities. Theoretically, you could have solved the most intractable problems of human nature in that time. Of course, you haven’t actually solved anything because a) that’s not really how problems get solved, and b) well over 100% of your available brain capacity has been devoted to screaming at you how horrible this experience is. There is no rest or comfort in a plank, only the snail’s pace march of time until your trainer or death releases you.
Torture 2: The Wheel/Combo Exercise Machine
We often hear (or read) power-hungry rulers of some variety requesting that a victim be “broken on the wheel.” What this actually meant, it turns out, depended heavily on the ruler in question and their available equipment. The actual torture could be as simple as just strapping someone to what looked like a wagon wheel and hitting them with all the usual methods. Like moving to a new area and getting your driver’s license renewed, it’s the same painful experience—just different seating. More sadistic torturers would have two wheels, arranged like cogs in a clock, and run a victim through the intersection, or over fire or spikes, or just leave them exposed to the elements. Finally, in some cases, the occupant of the wheel might have their limbs broken, and then braided through the spokes of the wheel like Satan’s own friendship bracelet. What I’m saying is that “the wheel” is kind of like another great British innovation, “puddings” in that they both can mean lots of completely unrelated things that make no sense whatsoever.
Home gym machines are great. They can theoretically do anything (even if what they mostly do is gather dust in a garage until being passed off on Craigslist to the next sucker in the world’s slowest game of Hot Potato). You can do awkward bench presses, or awkward lat pull-downs, or awkward leg presses, or whatever that exercise is called where you try but fail to assemble something with instructions that look like they’ve been run through a version of Google Translate that has somehow gotten very, very drunk. No matter what you choose to do, you will look ridiculous, and since you’re doing it at home, you’re guaranteed to call it the wrong thing. Also, you’ll almost certainly smash body parts and end up in excruciating pain. Just like on the wheel!
Torture 3: The Brazen Bull/Literally Anything In July
In ancient Sicily, the tyrant Phalaris (in this case, “tyrant” was an official title, as well as apt descriptor), found himself terribly entertained with a life-sized bull made of brass. The inside of the bull was hollow, with a door on the side that a human could be forced into. Beneath, a fire could be stoked, such that the victim was slowly roasted alive inside. Inside the head of the bull was a complex of pipes that reportedly transformed the agonized screaming of the victim into the snorts and bellows of an enraged bull. In a suspiciously-pat piece of turnaround justice, reportedly both Phalaris and its inventor, Perillos, were eventually placed in the bull in order to suffer through it. Thankfully, as with many spectacularly gruesome exercises in human suffering (like the Viking “blood eagle“), there is some controversy over whether this “Brazen Bull” ever actually existed, or was just a political fable.
The most obvious analog to the Brazen Bull presents itself to anyone who has ever had to get into their car to go to the gym (or anywhere, really), in most of the U.S. in July. Every surface burns like red-hot brass, and even attempting to turn on the air conditioning just feels like you’ve opened a gateway directly into the center of the sun and had it blast into your face.Every surface burns like red-hot brass, and even attempting to turn on the air conditioning just feels like you’ve opened a gateway directly into the center of the sun and had it blast into your face.If you have leather seats, enraged/pained bellowing is virtually guaranteed. Of course, that’s not actually associated with exercise or gyms (unless you count trying to somehow position yourself so that you’re hovering several inches in the air as some sort of isometric workout). Realistically though, if you’re doing any kind of workout in a gym in July, you are already intimately familiar with the feeling of being roasted alive, since there is no gym in the world that is capable of maintaining adequate climate control for both normal people doing normal things and the grunting, pained masses of people trying to force their bodies into some kind of shape.
All joking aside, exercise is really good for you (and, again, torture is really bad). Not everyone has the ability or motivation to exercise in the same way, and that’s fine. But subject to your own limitations, it’s almost never a bad idea to get a little bit of movement in. The benefits to physical and mental health are clear, and while we all look ridiculous working out, let’s be honest with ourselves—if looking a little silly bothered us all that much, we’d probably have picked a hobby other than consulting tables and screaming at strangers about how well our imaginary elves are doing at fighting imaginary goblins. I personally find that framing real things in imaginary ways helps motivate me to persist through difficult tasks, and I sincerely hope that this gives your imagination just the little push it takes to join me. So with all that in mind, what exercises do you do? Do you find yourself imagining gaming-related stuff while you do so? If so, tell us in the comments.
For real. I’m genuinely curious how big of a weirdo I am with this.
*I am of course mostly kidding. My trainer is amazing and I’m making a ton of progress. Haha. Please don’t make me do any more mountain climbers.
**Completely unrelated: I learned while “researching” this article that the Inquisition technically continued until 1808. So, uh. Thank you, Napoleon?Read more »
- Character Birthdays and Advanced Aging
Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be obtaining my 46th level as a human being. I also received my very first RPG product (the Mentzer D&D red box set) a week or so after my 10th birthday. This means that this month, I’ll be bumping up to a level 36 RPG slinger with the archetype of Game Master.
This got me to thinking about aging in characters since I’m clearly getting older while on this world (which is better than the alternative, right?)There are a scant few games that I’ve come across that allow a character to start out older.
Most folks don’t think much about their character’s starting age unless they have a character archetype in mind (wizened old mage, high muckity-muck of some religion, battle-scarred veteran of three war campaigns, etc.). To be honest, most games assume that the characters are just starting out in life, so they’re somewhere in their human-equivalent of “late teens” when session zero concludes.
Some games allow for more freedom of choice in starting age with proper mechanics to support the aging of a character. Even the games that I’ve encountered that support the “starting with an older character” concept only scantly touch upon the aging process. It usually comes in the form of boosted mental capabilities and lowered physical prowess. Pretty simple. Pretty accurate for most folks. It works, but just scratches the surface.
There are a scant few games that I’ve come across that allow a character to start out older and fully represent the hardships, successes, failures, and toils that go into achieving those “higher levels” as a person. Traveller is one of the classic examples (but who really likes to die during character creation?). Cyberpunk 2020 does a decent job of this, but the upper limit of the starting age is somewhere in the early twenties. Your classic point-buy systems (GURPS and Hero) have a good grasp on the older characters at the start of the adventure. With the right aspects, so does Fate Core.
However, I’m still in search of a game (please leave a comment on this post if you know of one!) that gives small, incremental boosts to skills/abilities/powers as you age up, but also combines it with random events that can happen to the character as they make their life choices. These life events can be beneficial or detrimental to the character, and can provide a more in-depth background story for the character.
Life ChoicesLife choices presented to the player for their character would be wide and varied.
Each life choice ages the character a certain number of years, but they’re not all equal. An “entry level soldier” may only age a year as they learn the basics of how to be a soldier and go off on their first deployment. Meanwhile, an apprentice wizard would age 5 (or so) years as they master the basics of mystical powers. During these time periods, the soldier would learn quite a few different skills, but all at small increments. The apprentice wizard would probably be the opposite because of their focused learning. The wizard would only learn a handful of skills, but the increments would be larger for the wizard because of the focus (and time) spent on those skills.
In my mind, the life choices presented to the player for their character would be wide and varied. It would also allow a progression tree to be followed, so the apprentice wizard could eventually qualify to be a wizard, then an archmage, then a battle mage, and so on. Someone could even “change careers” in a way where they start out as a soldier, become a veteran, and then drop into apprentice wizard because of a life event.
Life EventsLife events are great for collaborative world building between the GM and the players.
During the course of the life event, random things would happen to the character. This is life. It likes to throw random things in our paths to see what we do with them. Each life choice made by the player for their character would result in rolling on a few tables to see what happens to them. It could be romance, friendship, enmity, finding a mentor, imprisonment (which could last for a certain number of additional years to age the character more), a financial windfall, and so on. There are lots of options here, and each one should be played out a bit between the GM and player to determine the exact facts of the results and people involved in the life event that occurs to the character.
These life events are great for collaborative world building between the GM and the players. It can be done in a manner which gives the players come control of the names, status, professions, etc. of the NPCs in the setting as well as some narrative control over the setting itself. This will invest the players more deeply into their characters and the world as a whole.
LimitsI recommend setting an age cap on the characters during session zero.
Of course, the more life choices someone makes, the more potent their skills are going to be. For game balance, there does need to be some sort of artificial limit put in place by the GM to ensure the characters are as balanced as possible. I’m not talking the “perfectly equal in power” type of balance, but we don’t want a party of Rifts characters where someone has a rusted knife and another character in the same party has high-powered psychic abilities and yet another character has the Most Deadly Power Armor In The Universe.
If older characters are more potent in the game system because of additional skill levels, then I recommend setting an age cap on the characters during session zero. If someone is dead set on playing the wet-behind-the-ears character that takes just a few life choices, then maybe balance some things out by giving them a boost elsewhere in the game, such as a few contacts, some extra income, or something similar.
Of course, if someone really pushes their luck with life choices and events, they may (intentionally or otherwise) find themselves playing the older character with some physical infirmities and about to go do battle against the invading horde of undead monstrosities. That’s where some good role playing opportunities come into play for everyone. While the young whipper-snappers are preparing for a rousing charge into the midst of the leading edge of the invasion, the limping gray-beard can stand back and use his razor-sharp wits to observe the goings on of the enemy and give guidance before the battle ensues. Quite honestly, the larger scope of age ranges in a party allows for a more broad approach at role playing than if everyone is freshly minted off the RPG PC assembly line.
Happy Birthday!There are loads of questions and approaches that can be used around birthdays.
To bring the concepts full circle, when are birthdays celebrated? Is it an annual thing (usually springtime) where “everyone gets older by a year” or are the “you’re older now” celebrations done individually? What if being the center of attention just because it’s the character’s birthday drives them nuts or elicits a rage-filled response? What if a PC decides that their birthday is an official day of rest for them and they refuse to work, march forward, or go adventuring on that day?
There are loads of questions and approaches that can be used around birthdays. Some are cultural. Many are personal. I know that this is just one day out of the hundreds that most calendar years have, but making a day special for a PC can really help create some fun adventures… especially if that special day gets interrupted by a dark nemesis.
As I asked for above, if you know of a game (outside the ones I’ve mentioned) that handles something similar to my concepts of life choices and life events, please let me know. I’d love to snag it and explore it. Also, if you have any special traditions (be it cultural, familial, or personal) that have to do with birthdays, and you’re willing to share them, please drop a line.Read more »
- ● Percy's Last Stand - A Post-Apocalyptic RPGWe received word that an indie post-apocalyptic RPG, named Percy's Last Stand will become available on the 25th of July on Steam. Central Louisiana, the year 2089... the brief peace after World War III ends with the collapse of global computer networks through an unknown virus.... Read more »
- A Legionary's Life - Version 0.12 ReleasedVersion 0.12 for A Legionary's Life has been released. Update 0.12 15 Jul @ 7:08pm - Sertorius As usual, most of the development time is being devoted to the Second Macedonian War. I decided against a partial release as it makes little sense to interrupt a game with permadeath in the middle of a campaign.... Read more »
- Edge Of Eternity - Chapter 3 in Early AccessThe third chapter, The Reunion, of Edge of Eternity is now available in Early Access. Edge of Eternity gets third chapter "The Reunion" in major update today Free expansion brings hours of new content 17th July 2019, Montpellier, France, Developer Midgard Studio and publisher Dear Villagers today announced the third free major update to their ambitious Early Access JRPG Edge of Eternity, which is currently available on Steam Early Access.... Read more »
- Gloomhaven - Early Access ReleaseThe Early Access version of Gloomhaven is now available on Steam: Gloomhaven's Early Access has Begun! Gloomhaven has now launched to Steam on PC for 24.99 USD/EUR. Enter the Early Access now and begin adventuring through the dungeons of Gloomhaven, facing off against a variety of deadly foes across a range of dungeons and encountering powerful bosses! Your journey to the darkened lands of Gloomhaven is complete and your adventures to prove your power have begun.... Read more »
- Forged of Blood - Screenshots and Release DateWorthplaying have some new screenshots for Forged of Blood and announce the release for 1st August. Forged of Blood’s Tri-Axis Personality Index dictates how the world responds to every interaction. Contrasting with o the usual binary of good and evil of most RPG’s, the system gives greater nuance to every act.... Read more »
- The Surge 2 - Videos and PreviewThe Sixth Axis previewed The Surge 2 and DSOGaming reports on many new videos. You actually find yourself waking up from a coma in a hospital gown with other inmates out for your blood, not to mention the guards, so you soon realise you’re going to have to fight your way out.... Read more »
- Solasta: Crown of the Magister - What is Verticality?Dev Diary #2 for Solasta: Crown of the Magister explains what is meant by verticality. Dev Diary #2: What is Verticality? 16 July 2019 Hello again folks! You've been many to ask what we mean by Verticality, so Zaz (Game Director) is back with some answers! Hello fellow adventurers, As you already know, Verticality is one of our Core Pillars.... Read more »
- Letters to New and Veteran Dungeon Masters
We're in an amazing time for our hobby. The number of people playing D&D appears to be roughly doubling every two years. That's a lot of new Dungeons & Dragons dungeon masters coming into the hobby every day.
Many of us have also been playing D&D for decades. We've been "holding the torch" as Grant Ellis says. We've played four or five versions of the game over the years and bring these decades of experience to the games we run.
This mix of new and veteran dungeon masters can bring an incredible wealth of shared experiences from both new DMs and veterans alike.
If we let it.
In today's article, I offer two letters; one to new dungeon masters and one to veteran dungeon masters. My goal is to help bridge the years between new and old DMs so we can equally share our experiences and all learn from one another without the years becoming barriers between us.
A Letter to New Dungeon Masters
Welcome to one of the most amazing hobbies in existence. Dungeons & Dragons brings friends together to share amazing stories that rival anything we've read in books or seen on a screen. With the mixture of creative ideas from ourselves, our players, and the randomness of the dice, we will watch stories unfold that will stay with us the rest of our lives. We're going to build worlds together.
This hobby can also be intimidating. We have to get past our inhibitions and become kids again. We have to be willing to play make-believe again. We have to be willing to make mistakes. We have to get past the fear that we'll look stupid in front of our friends. The smarter we get, the richer our imaginary worlds become, if we're willing to let go of the barriers our society has placed on us in their attempt to get us to "grow up".
We don't have to be afraid. Millions of people of all ages now enjoy Dungeons & Dragons. Groups like the team at Critical Role show us that adults playing make-believe is as fun to watch as it is to play.
It can also be intimidating when new players talk to people who have played D&D for decades. A lot of veterans in this hobby love to tell new players how long they've been playing. These stories might scare new dungeon masters, making them believe it takes decades before they'll be good at this game. Most of the time these veterans just love to have new people to share their old war-stories with. They love to talk about things like THAC0 and how hard Tomb of Horrors was back in '78. Its been a while since anyone cares to hear these stories so they're always looking for an ear.
A few veterans, however, use their experience as a way to try to prop themselves up above new DMs. They're intimidated by all of the new people coming into the hobby. They're afraid it will change their game in ways they don't like. They fear their voice doesn't hold as much weight as it used to. They may use their years of experience as a goal post new DMs need to meet—one they can't meet since it's entirely based on longevity.
Here's a secret. Those years of experience tell you nothing about how good a dungeon master they are. Those years of experience might even bind these experienced dungeon masters into old styles best left to decades past. Some experienced DMs have closed their minds to new ways of thinking about their game. They don't just ignore Critical Role, they actively speak against it. "That's not D&D" they'll say because it isn't the kind of D&D they're used to seeing and playing. They're shutting themselves off from the growth of the game.
In this hobby, years of experience is no indicator of skill. You can be a great dungeon master in just a few months. We've never had better resources to become great DMs than we do right now. We can learn the basics, watch people play, ask questions, share our experiences, gather tools, and find people to play with all online. The hobby has never been easier to get into and easier to get better at than it is right now.
You can be a great DM with just a dozen or so games under your belt. After about fifty games, you could be as good as any DM out there if you continually learn along the way.
This path, of course, isn't the same for everyone. You'll have to find which tips and tricks help you the most yourself. If you're looking to begin, you might start here.
You don't need years of experience to run great D&D games. Keep your eyes open. Continually learn. Share your experiences. Pay attention to the experiences of others. Do these things and you're well on your way to being a great dungeon master.
You can do it.
A Letter to Veteran Dungeon Masters
D&D is changing. You and I have some decisions to make as the number of people in this hobby continues to grow. We can resent this growth or we can embrace it. I doubt many of us actively resent it but that doesn't mean we're not resenting it subconsciously. We have to push this resentment away and remember that every new DM entering this hobby makes the whole hobby better. Every new DM gives us new experiences we can learn from ourselves.
This means welcoming new people into the hobby. It means teaching them the ropes and making it as easy as possible for them to see what this game has to offer. Put yourself in their shoes and teach them the things that will help them. They don't care about how hard multiclassing was back in 1st edition; they need to figure out what they need to run a game now.
We can start by making it as easy as possible to bring new people into the hobby without using our years of experience as a barrier. Don't start a conversation by mentioning how long you've played D&D. Ask them about their own experiences. Listen to them before you talk. If they ask how long you've played, just say "a while". Don't push them away by digging a canyon of decades between you.
Here's something even more important. You have as much to learn right now as you did years ago. New dungeon masters are coming from all sorts of places with all sorts of backgrounds and their own experiences. They'll have all sorts of new ideas we can learn from.
We can learn as much from new dungeon masters as they can learn from us.
Keep your mouth shut and watch them, whether it's in online discussions, in video, or in real life. Watch them, listen to them, and learn from them. See what they bring to the table.
The growth of our hobby is as useful to us veterans as it is to new DMs. We can watch more DMs running games now than ever before. We can learn from more systems, sources, and adventures than ever before. We have many wonderful avenues to share our experiences and learn from other DMs however long they've been playing.
We might think, with our decades of experience, that there is nothing new under the sun. We would be wrong. We can learn as much about how to run great games now as any new DM. Embrace the philosophy to always be learning and let your style improve as it never has before.
You might be perfectly happy playing the way you've been playing over the years. Your group might be happy too. If that's the case, go with the gods. There's no obligation to change the way you play. Don't assume your way is the right way, though. There are many ways to enjoy this game.
Even small tweaks can bring more joy to the games we run. Continuously running small experiments keeps our game fresh over the years. If you feel yourself resistant to change, take a step back to ask yourself why. What holds you back? You don't have to make huge leaps. Small experiments can go a long way.
Learn From One Another
Whether you have six months experience running D&D games or thirty years, we can all learn from one another. This hobby, more than ever, is filled with ways for us to share our experiences. We have more access to more material than we could ever digest. Run some games, watch some games, pick up some tips, listen to other DMs however long they've been playing, and run small experiments to make your game the best game it can be.Read more »
- Running Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 4: Dragon Season
Waterdeep Dragon Heist's chapters alternate through many different playstyles. Chapter 1 runs much like any standard Dungeons & Dragons adventure with a strong start, a quest, some investigation and roleplaying, a dungeon, and a boss. Chapter 2 is a big sandbox in which the characters get involved with a bunch of factions and set up their own tavern and manor. Chapter 3 is an investigation and infiltration of a noble's manor which runs well as a situation-based encounter in which a situation is occurring at Gralhund Villa and the characters get to decide how to deal with it.
Chapter 4 takes us down a new path; that of a chase. Chases are tricky in D&D, particularly if we try to define a scene as a chase up front and don't let the players decide how to actually approach the situation. As written, Urstel Floxin, an agent of the villain in the adventure (in my case it's the Cassalanters), grabs the Stone of Golorr (the MacGuffin of the adventure), and runs off. The characters traverse through eight separate scenes as they chase the stone through Waterdeep.
There are a few problems with this. First, what if the characters short circuit the chase? What if they cast hold person on Urstel and grab up the stone in scene 1? One way to handle it is to just let them do so and keep going forward but that removes a big piece of the book. In the book the Stone of Golorr doesn't want to be found early but that feels artificial to me. What does the stone care about our chase?
What if the characters don't follow Urstel right away. In that case either the whole scene waits for the characters to rest up which feels arbitrary, or Urstel zips off with the stone and the characters are left with no idea where it might have gone to.
Both of these situations are more likely than actually going through the chase as written. It's also a big let-down if the characters chase the stone all over Waterdeep and end up not getting it.
There's another way to run this chapter, though; one that follows more of the philosophy of chapter 3. Set it up as an investigation and let the players navigate the situation how they wish.
The rest of this article describes an alternate way to run chapter 4.
The Stone Gets Away
In our version of events by the time the characters finish up with Gralhund Villa in chapter 3, the stone is already gone. We're going to arrange it that the characters don't really have a way to get ahold of the stone during the chase. Urstel is already a few steps ahead.
We begin this setup by ensuring that Urstel escapes from Gralhund Villa and it takes some time for the characters find him. For example, Urstel Floxin could have used a teleporter in the cellar of Gralhund Villa and the characters need to spend hours figuring out where it led. They spend this time exploring Waterdeep, using arcana checks to triangulate where the teleporter ended up. When they find the location, the stone is already well on its way to its final destination.
What Path Does the Stone Take Regardless of the Characters?
When we're developing a situation like this, we can ask ourselves an important question. If the characters didn't get involved, what course of action would take place? In the Cassalanter scenario we use the summer encounter chain. If the characters don't get involved, the path of the stone's journey goes something like this:
- Urstel teleports to a mausoleum of the Cassalanters and gives the stone to some Cassalanter cultists.
- It turns out two of the four cultists are actually working for the Xanathar. They kill the other two and take the stone to the converted windmill to give it to Xanathar agents later that day.
- The Cassalanters have spine devil spies who see the ruse of the cultists. They kill cultists at the windmill and get the stone.
- The spined devils bring the stone to the Cassalanter butler, Willifort Crowelle, at his carriage in the alley.
- The three street kids dig a pit in the street and throw some canvas and dirt over the pit. Crowelle's carriage overturns and the kids steal the stone thinking it's some loot.
- Urstel Floxin, watching the path of the stone himself, sees that they lost control of it so he goes after the kids, wounds them, and takes the stone.
- Urstel Floxin takes the stone to the Cassalanters himself, something he had hoped to avoid so he wouldn't be seen going to the Cassalanter's villa.
- The Cassalanters now have the stone.
This whole series of events probably takes a few hours. The characters might start their investigation of the path of the stone while it's still happening or afterwards. If it's afterwards they can still learn the path of the stone and find out that it's with the Cassalanters.
You can change up your own series of events based on which season of Dragon Heist you're running. The big question to ask is "how does this series of events go if the characters don't get involved?"
Turning a Chase Into an Investigation
Now that we know what path the stone will take regardless of how the characters get involved, we can watch how they do get involved and see if it changes the path. If the stone is two or three steps ahead, the characters will have to move fast if they want to catch it, which isn't very likely. It is possible through scrying or invisible familiars they can watch it switching hands. Otherwise they'll have to look at clues, talk to witnesses, and gather the information they need to figure out where the stone went. Floxin and the Cassalanters were hoping to move the stone discreetly but when they get betrayed by their own cultists and robbed by three street urchins, they leave evidence behind that the characters can discover.
It's even possible the characters manage to short circuit the chain of events themselves by getting really lucky, really smart, or both. If they do, they succeed in getting the stone and it's off to the vault of dragons. If they don't, it's time for something else.
It's time for a heist.
In the next article on running Waterdeep Dragon Heist we'll talk about using the lairs in chapter 5 to add in the heist to steal the Stone of Golorr.Read more »
- Lazy Dungeon Master Adventure Prep Template
One of the nice things about the eight steps for preparing a session of D&D from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is that it works with just about any tool you already like to use. If you're a pen-and-paper DM, you can just write it down. If use Microsoft OneNote, as many DMs do, you can build templates in OneNote for each session using the eight steps.
I've recently been writing my session notes in text files as part of my Lazy DM Prep videos. I write them in Markdown so I can render them nicely on my phone. I actually wrote Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master using Markdown. It's a wonderful system-agnostic format that allows for a lot of rich markup without leaving behind the simplicity and cross-compatible nature of plain text.
Below you can find a text-based Markdown template for the eight step process from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. For a more specific description of each of these steps, see the free sample from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, watch the Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master videos, or [buy the book] and learn all about it.
To use this template, select it and copy it into a new blank text file. Save it as "adventure_template.txt" in the directory where you keep your adventure notes for a particular campaign. Each time you get ready to write up new adventure notes, make a new copy of this template with a new filename. You can also update the template with regularly appearing notes such as reoccuring NPCs and your character notes which tend to be the same from session to session. Resist the urge to copy over previous secrets and other information. That stuff is better thrown away and rewritten between sessions.
## Strong Start
Description of your strong start.
* Small scene description.
## Secrets and Clues
* Secret description
## Fantastic Locations
**Location**: aspect, aspect, aspect
**Location**: aspect, aspect, aspect
**Location**: aspect, aspect, aspect
**Location**: aspect, aspect, aspect
## Important NPCs
## Potential Monsters
## Potential Treasure
Here's an example of the template in action, this time formatted into HTML from the original Markdown version. These notes were for my first Shadow of the Demon Lord adventure but it can work just as well for D&D of course.
Leaky. (Bryan) Goblin magician Witch. Medicine. Proprieter of Leaky's Potion Shop. Between the sections of town. Likes spoons. Connection to the Fey. Leakys potion shop.
Smile Steel. (Sharon) Clockwork Priest Oracle. Teamster. Doctor. Follower of Astrid and the Church of the New God.
Pthank the Pleasant. (Mike) Orc MagicianSpellbinder. Torturer and Wilderness Guide.
Myab Shalin. (Michelle) Changling Rogue. Burgler. Engineer. Summer Court Fey connection.
Bobwise. (Gregg) Orc warrior fighter. Working in the guard. Politics and Arms Trader. Merchant polition.
Doogan. (Jorge). Dwarf Rogue. Charlatin and common teamster. Forger.
As the characters all cross by the well in the center of Grievings, the lowest district in Crossings, they come across a torn woman eating a man's body.
- The characters witness the devouring of Bront Muddy Knees, a down-and-out soldier.
- They meet Sergeant Alyse
- They see a hired killer (Asys Brightfang) watching the Moore house.
- They go into the well or into the Moore house
- They find Father Gregory in the Black Vault
Secrets and Clues
- Father Gregory has gone missing. Word was sent to the church of the New God to let them know. They are sending someone.
- Members of the Rude Boys have been watching the Moore House.
- A week or so past, cloaked and hooded figures emerged from the Moore House.
- The well in the center of Grievings used to produce fresh water but the water has gotten tained since the coming of the red star.
- Shady characters have been lurking about in the ruined buildings.
- Rumors say that the Black Hand of Azul, also called the City of Death, have come to Crossings.
- The inquisition of the New God have begun to arrive from Seven Spires, their holy city. Some think they will purge villainy from Crossings. Other think they will raize it to the ground.
- The mages from the Occlusion are always quiet but always watching. They have agents everywhere.
- Caden Fen, a seller of oddities, has spoken about wanting to join the mages of the Occlusion. He believes they have learend how to live forever.
- Someone saw four cloaked and hooded figures sock Father Gregory in the face and drag him into the Moore house about a week ago.
The Moore House: collapsed roof, obscene and troubling graffiti, litter of drug abuse
The Well: deep shaft in the ground, few trust the water within, bodies of the dead
The Tunnels: Natural endless caverns deep under the city, deep shafts leading down into nothingness, elven carvings and statues crying black blood
The Black Vault: Buried deep in the earth, maybe a thousand years old, covered with signs of the coming apocalypse, sacrificial altar upon which Father Gregory is being dissected while still alive
The Occlusion: Twisted tower of impossible angles, blots out the sun, surrounded by terrain of wreckage
The Faerie Spires: slender towers of white stone, impervious to damage, hum with secret calling to the fey
Salas Wisewatcher. Spy of the Black Hand. Keeping an eye on things in the Crossings and in Grievings.
Father Gregory. Follower of the new god. Worried about the portents and has sent word to the City of God.
Caden Fen. Young and eager seller of oddities. Has a spellbook he got from a murdered hedge mage and wants to be a member of the Black Sun
Sergeant Alyce Ironhand. Member of the Brown Cloaks who has been investigating disappearances. She grew up in Grievings and wants to help people there. She's beginning to realize the council doesn't give a shit.
- Corpse Flower
- Hired Killer
- Organ filch
Glimmer, an ancient elven dagger. You can use a triggered action when a creature gets a failure on an attack roll with a melee weapon to teleport to an open space within 1 yard of the triggering creature. You step through the Fey to reach your target.
100 copper pieces
I don't expect many people will directly use this template but hopefully it gives you a practical look what the eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master actually look like in use. Like all of the advice on this site, customize it and use it as it best helps you in your own game.Read more »
- Running Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 3: Fireball
Note: This article contains spoilers for Waterdeep Dragon Heist.
Chapter 3 of Waterdeep Dragon Heist may be the best chapter in the book. This chapter fits well into the model of adventure design proposed in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. It has the ultimate strong start: a fireball exploding in the street outside of Trollskull Manor. It also builds the adventure around the infiltration of a location: Gralhund Villa. These infiltration adventures give players lots of options and push us DMs to heavily improvise the reaction of the villains as the characters make their choices. In my mind, it's the ideal situation for a fantastic adventure.
Bad Guys Have Bad Days Too
Chapter 3 begins with a misunderstanding between two groups trying to accomplish the same thing. An agent of Raenar Neverember is bringing the Stone of Golorr to the characters. Agents of House Gralhund have been trailing the gnome and two different groups attack him at the same time. The first is the former Zhentarim assassin Urstul Floxin. The second is a nimblewright sent by the Gralhunds. If the Gralhunds had trusted Floxin to do his job, the characters might never have known that the gnome or the stone existed at all. Instead, the nimblewright screwed up and fireballed the gnome, causing a catastrophe and getting a lot of attention in Trollskull Alley.
Bringing In the Xanathar's Thugs
To complicate the situation we can drop in a handful of Xanathar thugs and warlocks who also happened to be tracking the gnome. Now when the fireball goes off we have a whole bunch of different groups chasing down the stone all at the same time. Floxin gets it first and flees the scene, sending in his own thugs to ward off the Xanathar thugs. That's when the characters get involved. They might track the nimblewright but Floxin is gone as is the stone. Only afterwards, when the situation has cleared up, do the characters learn that the former Zhent assassin got away with the stone.
Tracking the Stone to Gralhund Villa
The next part of the adventure has the characters learning about the Stone of Golorr from Raenar Neverember and hunting it down to Gralhund Villa. We might have dropped some clues about the Gralhunds already. In my game, the warehouse where Raenar Neverember was first kidnapped was actually leased by the Gralhunds as a front for the Cassalanters, the adventure's true villain in my game. This way when the characters hear about the Gralhunds, it isn't for the first time.
The book offers some false leads that send the characters on wild goose chases but we can make life a little easier on the characters and drop in some secrets and clues that the Gralhunds are behind the theft of the stone and that it's now at their manor.
Infiltrating Gralhund Villa
When the characters arrive at Gralhund Villa we drop into a great infiltration adventure. We can read ahead on who is where in the villa and let the players decide how they're going to approach it. Urstul Floxin is arguing with the Gralhunds about their stupidity. If the characters overhear it, it will give them a clue that these bad guys have made some bad choices and that they're also working for someone else. It won't be their last bad choices either.
Grandfather Gralhund, a wight, is wandering around in the villa's courtyard as he does every night while the Gralhund children are playing with matches up in their rooms.
To complicate the situation, a band of Xanathar spies and thugs might break into the compound the same time the characters get there with the same plan to steal the stone.
Adding a Mini-Dungeon
The Gralhunds are former worshippers of Tiamat so we might add a shrine to Tiamat in the basement. These chambers might include an old teleportation gate that Urstul Floxin can use to escape the villa before he's confronted by the characters. This will begin the chase in chapter 4 but with a different spin: instead of a chase, the characters have to track Urstul's movements through the city to find out where he's taking the Stone of Golorr. We'll talk more about converting the chase in chapter 4 into an investigation in our next article on the Waterdeep Dragon Heist.
Some of the Gralhund's cultist friends might be hiding down in the shrine; cultist friends the characters will have to deal with when they get down there.
Setting the Stage for Chapter 4
With Gralhund Villa thoroughy infiltrated, the more arcane-focused characters in the party might use some Intelligence (Arcana) checks to find out where the portal went to. This location becomes the first step in the trail followed in chapter 4. More on that in the future article. In the mean time, enjoy the investigation and the infiltration in chapter 3. Think of it as an excellent model with an interesting hook and a lot of agency for the characters to choose the path they want to take. Of all of the models of adventures, infiltrations are one of the best.Read more »
- On Writing Adventures
I've recently been doing a lot of adventure writing, the results of which you can find in the Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot Kickstarter. As part of this project, I wanted to dig deep into what makes great adventures. So, as I did when writing Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, I hit the books (and the blogs) to collect as much of the best advice on adventure design that I could.
Map from Temple of the Forgotten God, one of the adventures in Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot.
This article consolidates many of the sources I discovered and read on adventure design. In the article I describe the source and some of the key tips that stuck out to me.
Chris Perkins on Writing Your Own Adventures. Chris has some excellent advice in this video and summary writeup. Here are a few key ideas:
- Analyze existing adventures.
- What motivates the characters to go on the adventure?
- Adventures need three things: motivation, locations, and a villain.
- Put a unique spin on a common idea.
- Have a kickass map.
- A little silliness is ok.
D&D House Style Guide. This free set of documents from Wizards of the Coast includes the house styles the D&D team gives to freelancers. It includes a short paper on adventure writing. Here are a few key points:
- Focus on the importance of the characters.
- Include a solid credible threat.
- Blend familiar tropes with clever twists.
- Focus on the here and now. Omit verbose backstories.
- Include meaningful decisions.
- Include options for exploration, roleplaying, and combat.
- Offer more than a DM can come up with themselves.
- Include a great map.
DM David on Will Doyle's Dungeon Designs. In this excellent article, David Hartlage discusses Will Doyle's advice for designing great dungeons including the Tomb of the Nine Gods in Tomb of Annihilation.
- Show the final room first. Show the goal.
- Cut the dungeon with a river, rift, or stairwell. Break through a linear dungeon with a feature that cuts through the whole thing.
- Make the dungeon a puzzle.
- Give the players goals that force exploration.
- Give each level a distinctive theme.
How to Write Modules that Don't Suck. This outline for a seminar at a convention by Goodman Games has a lot of fantastic advice in it. Goodman Games ended up extending it into a much longer ebook of the same title. The original is a golden summary of great ideas. Here are a few key pieces of advice:
- Convey the fantastic.
- Produce what home DMs can't produce.
- Put new twists on classic ideas.
- Include a hidden room with cool treasure.
- Make levels distinct.
- Include an intelligent ecology.
- Exude atmosphere.
Kobold's Guide to Game Design: Adventures. This book has a ton of excellent essays on writing adventures. Some of the key points include:
- The DM is your audience. Write for them.
- Give the DM the tools to make a fun game for players.
- Small beats large. Keep it brief.
- Don't bore yourself.
- Read your work aloud.
- Be specific.
- You're doing the hard work DMs don't want to do.
- If Conan doesn't care, neither should you.
Merric Blackman's NPC Advice. Merric Blackman had some excellent NPC advice he posted to Twitter. Here are a few key ideas:
- What do they want?
- How do they respond to trickery, diplomacy, intimidation, or violence?
- Present NPCs as they're intended to be used.
- Important NPCs need more guidelines for DMs.
- Don't force a DM to search for an NPC's information.
- Limit the number of important NPCs.
Wolfgang Baur's Adventure Writer Series includes a number of great articles, though they tend to focus on the third edition of D&D. The most relevant articles include Writing Your First Adventure, Structures and Plot, and Setting the Hook. Here are a few tips from these articles:
- Avoid useless backstories.
- Start strong.
- Trim excess encounters.
- Pick a motive: curiosity, survival, greed, heroism, loyalty, honor, or revenge.
- Make hooks personal.
Jaquaying the Dungeon. This article on the website the Alexandrian offers excellent advice for building exciting dungeons in our adventures. Here are some key concepts:
- Include multiple entrances.
- Include loops.
- Include multiple level connections.
- Offer secret and unusual paths.
Writing With Style: An Editor's Advice for RPG Writers. This is an excellent resource from an RPG industry editor to RPG writers. There's so much good advice in this book that it is hard to summarize in a few bullet points. It's an excellent read all the way through.
Designing Adventures Podcast Series. Shawn Merwin and Chris Sniezak have been running a series of podcasts on designing adventures. There's too many tips to list here but the podcasts are definitely worth a listen.Read more »
- Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot Kickstarter
Last week I launched the Kickstarter for Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot. You can learn all about it on the Kickstarter's page, of course, but for those of you who frequent Sly Flourish, I wanted to offer some deeper insight into the project.
Over the past few years I've experimented with a few different products. After writing an article for Critical Hits on "What I Want from Published Adventures", I experimented with Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. This book offered twenty locations GMs could drop into their games abstracted from the story, monsters, NPCs, and other stuff we bring into our game. I love this product but it's not everyone's cup of tea. In particular, it purposefully didn't offer accurate maps because the design idea was that GMs would build their own maps. That might have been asking for too much heavy lifting.
The original Fantastic Adventures came next and it hit the mark for a lot of of GMs. I designed that book to offer short focused adventures that made it easy for GMs to prepare them, run them, and drop them into their own campaign worlds. I think they worked well. The book gets lots of complements from people who give hard looks to published adventures. The book also sells well; about a couple of hundred copies a month.
The result is Ruins of the Grendleroot, a book of ten adventures set in a single big mountain filled with ancient chambers, ruins, tunnels, catacombs, vaults, and lairs. It's a mountain of infinite possibilities for adventure centered around Deepdelver's Enclave, an outpost of explorers and adventures who just plain love digging down into all of those ruins.
Like Fantastic Adventures, each adventure is intended to run on its own. Unlike the original, five of these can actually be run in a series around a single miniature campaign arc. I wanted to add a little more theme to these adventures than the original had, and, if we meet the stretch goals, I'll add an entire history that GMs can pilfer from as they run these adventures.
Originally I had intended to build Ruins of the Grendleroot around randomness. Much like the tables in the Lazy DM's Workbook I thought it would act more like an adventure toolkit, something like Shadows over Driftchapel by Absolute Tabletop. After testing the idea out with some trusted advisors, however, it turned out that, like Fantastic Locations, it asked too much of the GM to build adventures out of the components without a hint. Thus, you'll find more refined adventures in this book but lots of advice for how to twist it and turn it around to fit your own story.
I am really excited for Ruins of the Grendleroot. So far it's the hardest project I've worked on with the most moving parts. The artwork, editing, and design are going to be awesome. I can't want to get it into your hands.
If you have the means, I hope you will give it your support.Read more »
- The Old Man and the Bowl
Leavold Goldenfingers worked his magic. Across the icy rocks of his home, high up in the Spine of the World, the sound of his tiny hammer clinking on the golden bowl echoed across the mountains. His knobby fingers fixed the rubies in place. They ached as he pressed the gems carefully into place feeling them set perfectly in the rim of the golden bowl. In a few tendays, each of the dozen rubies would be in place and then he could start etching the glyphs on the inside of the soft gold bowl, a bowl only he could make. A bowl that would, one day, serve a feast to heroes.
Leavold looked out over the rocky landscape of his home, the home he had lived in for nearly all of his eighty five years. He grew up here. He learned the crafting of the bowls from his father as he had planned to teach his sons.
Tears came to his eyes. For sixteen winters his son had watched him work, studying his art. Leavold told him of the heroes who purchased his bowls and used the divine food they served to push back the evils of the world. His son would smirk at these fantastic stories but soon he came to believe them. He believed them too much.
Leavold's son left to find his own way in the world, a world of adventure, discovery, and heroism. He only found the end of a gnoll's spear in his belly, setting in an infection that killed him a tenday later. His son's friend came to tell Leavold. They held eachother and wept together.
The next day Leavold continued to craft his bowl. He was the only one in the world capable of making such a fine bowl. With his arthritic fingers aching and sad memories in his eyes, he would continue to make them, one at a time, six moons passing before each was complete, until the day he died.
The Troubles of Heroes' Feast
There are a few troublesome spells in the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. One of them, in my opinion, is Heroes' Feast. This sixth-level cleric spell is powerful enough that many players will choose to cast it every day they can, giving its substantial benefits to all of the characters in the party every morning. Many of the spell's abilities are just fine. The hit point maximum and bonus hit points are great. Advantage on Wisdom saves is powerful but not game-breaking. Curing diseases and poisons is solid.
Then we come to its more difficult bonus: immunity to fear and poison. On the surface this doesn't seem like a big deal but many high challenge creatures are built around the damage they inflict with poison and the status effects they impose with both poison and fear. With every character in a party immune to these effects, certain monsters become much easier. This might be fine, but many of these monsters are intended to be truly powerful threats.
Let's consider the ancient green dragon. This challenge 22 monster inflicts most of its damage with its horrendous 77 point breath weapon, a weapon that is completely avoided with Heroes' Feast. Another of the dragon's powerful weapons, it's Frightful Presence is also negated by the same spell on all characters. This could potentially cut the ancient green dragon's challenge in half with a single spell.
The same is true with many other monsters. Yuan-ti rely on poison for the bulk of their damage. All of the high-challenge dragons use Frightful Presence as do many other monsters. Some of the most powerful monsters in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes rely on fear or poison for a good piece of their challenge including Baphomet, Moloch, Geryon (who uses both), and Hutijin.
The Fun of Breaking the Game
One of the core designs of the fifth edition of D&D is that certain spells, feats, and magic items can "break" the game. They go outside of the math that exists between characters and monsters. When the designers build a monster, like a green dragon or Geryon, they don't factor in spells like heroes' feast. They want those spells to shine in situations where it has an effect. Being able to go out of your way to make yourself immune to the breath weapon of a green dragon is a pretty cool part of the story.
Heroes' feast is so good, though, that many clerics and druids, when they have it, will cast it every day. Like mage armor for wizards, the whole party will get together every morning and spend an hour enjoying an amazing meal prepared by their priest.
There are lots of ways we DMs could screw with the power of heroes' feast if we wanted to. We could nerf it directly and make it resist poison instead of full immunity. We could have it give characters advantage on poison and fear saving throws instead of full immunity. That would solve all of the problems I have with it. Sure, it's powerful, but a green dragon's breath weapon still does something.
We could go the other direction as well and convert monsters' abilities to something other than poison or fear. We can't get away with this for green dragons, known for their poisonous breath, but we can for devil lords and others by converting poison damage to acid damage and converting fear checks to madness checks. This is probably worth doing when monsters are intended to provide a powerful challenge to parties (like Geryon or Baphomet).
The Scarcity of 1,000 gp Bowls
Another way to handle this is pure economics. Heroes' feast requires a 1,000 gp gem-encrusted bowl. Granted, by the time characters are high enough level to cast heroes' feast, they are also often high enough level to buy as many 1,000 gp bowls as they want. But who is going to sell those to them? Who has 1,000 gp bowls just sitting around in a stack like plasticware at a Walmart? The cost of a bowl like this speaks to its scarcity. There probably aren't a lot of bowls like this. Even if one has the 1,000 gp, finding those bowls might be a quest unto itself. Maybe the head of a temple gives an adventurer a bowl as a reward. Maybe they find one in an ancient tomb of a dragon priestess. Maybe there's an old man in the mountains who has made these bowls for 75 years but it takes him six months to make one and he only has two available.
We can prevent the over-proliferation of heroes' feast by limiting the component required to cast it. The characters can still decide when it's time to sit down and enjoy that fine meal before stepping into the ancient fortress of Coldsteel in the layer of hell known as Stygia.
This technique is a fun one because it helps balance a spell like heroes' feast within the story of the game. Acquiring bowls suitable for heroes' feast becomes it's own story.
Season 8 of Adventurer's League
Wizards of the Coast saw a problem like this one when looking at the Adventurer's League. After seven seasons of adventures and dungeon delving, high level characters in the Adventurer's League, like characters in home games, had plenty of gold to spend on bowls for Heroes' Feast. WOTC modified the adventurers league by severely limiting gold rewards in Adventurer's League games. This is fraught with all sorts of problems, well documented by Navy DM, DM David, and Merric Blackman, but it does take care of the Heroes' Feast problem. You really have to want those buffs to spend the 1,000 gp to cast it.
I don't Have a Problem. You Have a Problem!
Maybe you're reading this and thinking "Why are you nerfing Heroes' Feast like this? Let the players have their fun!" That's a perfectly acceptable reaction to these ideas. If your group is having a good time and you, the DM, don't care, don't worry about any of this. If you feel like the removal of poison and fear isn't a big deal, go with the gods. If, however, you feel like the challenge of certain high challenge monsters gets too easily avoided with a single casting of heroes' feast, consider following the money and make the bowls scarce.
The old man gazes over the frost-cracked rocks outside his home. A lifetime seems to swim in his eyes. Though often haunted by the ghosts of his memories, he still finds solace in his craft. Wincing as his arthritic knuckles crack, he begins his work again.
- D&D Tips from the 2018 D&D Open: Gangs of Waterdeep
In the summer of 2018 at Origins, Wizards of the Coast and the D&D Adventurer's League ran the D&D Open, a multi-table competition-based D&D adventure called "Gangs of Waterdeep" as a preview to their Waterdeep Dragon Heist adventure. This adventure was writtin by Shawn Merwin, James Introcaso, and Will Doyle.
The adventure is considered "competitive" but the competitive aspect was limited to a point-based system in which only one table out of about fifty could actually win. The competitive nature wasn't the interesting part of this adventure; the interesting part was the style and format. Today we're going to look at some design tips we can learn from the design of the D&D Open Gangs of Waterdeep adventure.
Warning, this article contains minor spoilers for Gangs of Waterdeep.
Build Situations, Not Encounters
Gangs of Waterdeep mastered the art of building situations instead of encounters. The whole adventure was broken up into 60 to 90 minute segments that each focused on a heist. These could be break-ins, infiltrations, hijacks, and other heist-like situations. Before each of these larger events, the DMs gave players information they could discover and time to prepare themselves for the situation. Then the operation began. Maybe characters would fight their way through it. Maybe they would sneak. Maybe they would like or bluff. How the players chose to approach the situation was up to them and it was up to the DM to adjudicate how it worked out.
These larger scenes are different from the typical way we might plan out our Dungeons & Dragons games with specific exploration, roleplay, or combat scenes with pre-determined starts and conclusions. These larger situations are exciting because our options are nearly unlimited and the outcomes can be completely different from anything anyone can expect.
The next time you're planning out a D&D game, build a larger situation and let the characters choose how they interact with that situation.
Add Planning and Execution Timers
When we set up situations and give the players time to discuss how they're going to go about it, we can add timers to keep it to a reasonable amount. If a scenario is likely to take about an hour, we can let the players know that they have fifteen minutes to plan the job before it begins. It helps to have an in-game reason for such a limitation.
One reason to put such a limit on the planning is that the players really don't have all the information about the situation and their plan is very likely to change when more information gets revealed. The longer the planning goes on, the more planning will be thrown away when things go sideways. Limiting the planning session gives players some time to prepare but wastes little time when things don't go as they expect. In some circumstances you want to give players all the time they want to plan an approach towards a situation, like deciding how to get onto a pirate ship and steal a specific treasure they hold. It's always best to watch the body language of the group and see if the planning is going overboard, however.
Let the Players Choose the Gameplay Pillar
When we build out situations, we don't determine how the scene will go. We don't decide ahead of time that a scene will involve combat, exploration, or roleplaying. We can let the players decide how to approach it, both as they plan and as the scene takes place during the game. This can be great fun for both players and DMs since no one knows how a scene is going to go. It can help us to explain this to the players before the game so they aren't looking to us for clues to "solve" the scene. It also helps if we're prepared to run some of our combat in the theater of the mind so that we can seamlessly transition between roleplaying, exploration, combat, and back again without a big break in the flow of the narrative. If we have to set up a battle map and miniatures for just one of those scenes, it can slow down everything else instead of giving us easy transitions in and out of combat. Of course, if combat does occur between a good number of different monster types in a complicated area, a battle map or even a loose sketch, can help everyone understand who is where and what is going on.
Choose Monsters that Make Sense
Gangs of Waterdeep broke away from the typical Adventurer's League style of building level-appropriate challenges for the characters. Typically Adventurer's League encounters are built around a character's level. This can result in fighting a weird hodgepodge of unlikely creatures for the situiation like four swashbucklers and three master thieves breaking into a dress shop to justify a level 8 battle.
Instead, we can choose the right monsters for the story regardless of the level of the characters. If the characters run into a band of thieves on the streets, those thieves are likely bandits. Maybe their street boss is a bandit captain.
It's ok to run combat encounters that are wildly in favor of the characters if it makes sense for the situiation. There's no reason you can't have a group of sixth level characters fight five bandits if that's what makes sense. In Gangs of Waterdeep our gang of level five characters fought three cultists at one point. Could they have been cult fanatics? Maybe, but plain cultists makes a lot more sense.
The only time we might want to be careful is if a battle might be deadly. Then it's worth checking out the math to make sure we won't accidently kill the whole party.
Use Props and Costumes
Props and costumes can add a whole new tacticle and visual feeling to the game. Dressing up as guards, wearing hoods, and otherwise changing our appearance for the game can draw in another level of immersion. So can other props we can use at the table like rustic notes, maps, physical props, and other objects. A puzzle box or cube can become a staple in a long-time campaign, something we hold throughout our adventures. A heart-shaped gem or black coin we can hold in our hand can represent the phylactery of a villain or the trapped soul of a companion. Look for props everywhere, particularly costume shops or hobby shops, and drop them into your game to add a new layer to the story.
Add New Gameplay Elements
From time to time it can be fun to add a new gameplay element to our normal D&D game. Using a big Jenga tower to represent the psionic battle between two opponents can be fun. We can use mastermind puzzles, Caesar cyphers, or strimko puzzles to represent the puzzles our characters find in-game. Keep in mind that these puzzles don't work for those who are visually impared so be ready to toss them aside if players can't take part in them. It's usually easy to change a puzzle into a series of skill checks if players either aren't figuring them out, don't care about them, or are physically unable to take part.
A Solid Adventure Design
The Gangs of Waterdeep adventure models an excellent design for adventures overall. Its focus on developing interesting situations that the characters can explore in many different ways gives a freedom we don't often find in published adventures. It focuses on the story by putting thematically appropriate monsters in the right spots regardless of whether it's an "appropriate" challenge to the party. It times both planning and execution of the scenes in the adventure, keeping the tension high without removing the agency of the players' decisions. It included some excellent props and costumes to help bring another layer of depth to the game. It also included a fun new gameplay type, one that worked in parallel to the rest of the adventure, that proved to be a fun event all to itself. Gangs of Waterdeep was an excellent model for the adventures we can run at our own game table.Read more »
- VideoChoosing the Right Steps from the Lazy DM Checklist
Chapter 12 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master describes ways to reduce the eight steps of RPG preparation down to the ones that matter the most for your game. This list changes depending on the type of game a DM runs and available material a DM has to run it.
Today we're going to look at which steps best fit common scenarios in which DMs often find themselves.
If you are not familiar with the eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master you can read this PDF preview of the book or watch these videos including this 8-step summary video to better understand the eight steps. For a quick summary, the steps include:
- Review the characters
- Create a strong start
- Outline potential scenes
- Define secrets and clues
- Develop fantastic locations
- Outline important NPCs
- Choose relevant monsters
- Select magic item rewards
This list of steps is all-inclusive but we can often skip steps depending on what sort of game we're preparing. You can watch me do this all the time in my Lazy DM prep video series in which I use the eight steps to prepare for my own weekend D&D games but often cut steps out depending on the type of game I'm about to run.
Let's look at some common scenarios and see which steps best fit.
The Continuous Homebrew Campaign
Based on the results of the 2016 Dungeon Master Survey, this scenario is likely the most common. Most DMs run their own campaign worlds and their own adventures. It's also likely most DMs run continuing campaigns and not a series of single-session adventures.
Of all of the potential ways to play D&D, this one likely needs most, if not all the steps, each session. Since you don't have a pre-existing published adventure, you can't easily fall back on other tools that help you skip certain steps.
Sometimes, when you're in the middle of a campaign, you might already know what fantastic locations are coming up. You might also have an idea of what scenes might take place or you simply don't care and plan to let the game go wherever it goes.
Generally, though, you'll want to go through all eight steps.
In a recent Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign I ran, I ended up falling back to my own story and my own campaign. Unlike running published adventures, I needed all eight steps to help me fill out each session. I found the checklist helpful (one would hope I would!) but I did need to go through each step on it.
Even if you are playing in someone else's campaign world (and most DMs likely are not), this won't really help you skip steps for any given session. An overall campaign world means less work on the details of the world but all eight steps are still relevant for the next session you plan to run.
When running your own series of adventures in your own campaign world, you'll likely benefit from going through each of the eight steps while preparing for your next game.
The Continuous Published Adventure
Though likely not in the majority, many DMs run larger published campaign adventures such as the D&D hardback adventures for fifth edition. Like the continuous homebrew campaign, these stories continue from session to session. Unlike homebrew campaigns, we have a lot of material we can fall back on that help us skip some the steps.
Big published adventures require a lot of work, but that work is mostly up front when reading the adventure through to understand what's in it. We'll also want to review the adventure before each session to know what comes up next. That said, such early preparation helps us skip steps session to session because the published adventure includes much of what we need. In particular, we can often skip the following steps:
- Scenes. We know what scenes are often coming up because they're listed in the adventure.
- Fantastic locations. We're using the locations in the book so we don't need to think them up ourselves.
- Important NPCs. We might still want to list the ones who matter to the characters but overall we don't need to come up with many NPCs from scratch because they're in the adventure itself.
- Relevant monsters. Again, these are likely in the adventure so we can skip it.
- Magic items. Also often rewarded in the adventure.
Some adventures, like Curse of Strahd, Storm King's Thunder, and Tomb of Annihilation have large open-ended chapters that require more prep from the steps above. When the adventure goes off the rails, it's up to us to fill them in with interesting scenes, locations, monsters, NPCs, and magic items. Most of the time, though, we can rely on the adventure to do that work for us.
This leaves us with the following steps we still need to do:
- Review the characters. We still need to focus on the actual characters in the game and how the world is reacting to them.
- Create a strong start. It still helps to start strong in our games, especially when we're in the middle of a published adventure.
- Define secrets and clues. Often we can drag these out of the background of a published adventure but we still have to write them down. These secrets are still tremendously valuable when we're actually running the game, published or not.
Going from eight to three steps is a nice drop, however, which is why I highly recommend running published adventures. There's a lot of value packed into these books.
Homebrew Single-Session Games
Like the homebrew continuous games, we're going to need all eight steps when running a single-session homebrew adventure. In particular, scenes become more important because we know we're going to need to fit in a full story arc in one session. Timing also becomes critical so we need to know where we can cut the story down and still get to the ending on time.
Overall, we still need the full eight steps when running a single-session homebrew game. That said, these eight steps help put together an entire adventure for four hours of entertainment which is a pretty great return for the effort.
Published Single-Session Games
We'll often see published single-session games when running organized play games or running games at conventions. Above all, the best value we get when running such a game is to read it and understand it before we run it. Often, time is the most critical factor. Like the homebrew single-session game, we have to complete a full story arc in the allotted time which can be a real challenge.
Some single-session published adventures may not have the same quality of design, editing, and playtesting as the big hardcover published adventures so it's worth paying special attention while reading it to ensure it can fit into a single session. This is the work we must do up front but, like the published continuing game, we don't have to use all of the eight steps.
Here are the steps we can likely skip:
- Review the characters. We often have no idea who the characters are so there's no real work to be done here.
- Create a strong start. Often these adventures start how they start. We might replace the strong start if the published start sucks but generally we'll use what they have.
- Develop fantastic locations. Already outlined in the adventure.
- Outline important NPCs. Already outlined in the adventure.
- Choose relevant monsters. Already outlined in the adventure.
- Select magic item rewards. Already outlined in the adventure.
This leaves us with two steps to focus on when running a single-session published adventure:
- Outline potential scenes. Because we know we're going to have to fit the adventure into a set amount of time, we want to have a solid understanding of the outline of the scenes and what we can cut if we need to get the time back on track. This step is vital for single-session published adventures when time is a factor.
- Define secrets and clues. It's still helpful to know what the clues the characters can learn to get them from point A to point Z during a single-session published adventure.
Pilfering Published Material for a Mashup Game
Many DMs enjoy taking published material and smashing it into their own campaign arc. This provides a lot of the benefit of a published adventure but with the creative fun of a home campaign.
When we're looting other published material, we don't have to stick to the fixed structure of a published adventure. This gives us more flexibility to share our own story but it means more work too.
When we pilfer published material, we're most likely to steal locations and NPCs. We'll still have to go through the rest of the checklist to fill in the blanks we have in our campaign. Finding interesting fantastic locations, however, can be a big benefit so it's always worth stealing what we can.
Further Room to Customize
These are just a few potential scenarios DMs will likely have while preparing their D&D games. Your own specific circumstances will determine which steps are most useful to you. As you prepare and run your own games, consider which steps help you the most. Focus on those, reduce or remove the rest, and continually improve your system to run the best game possible.Read more »
- Running Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 2: Trollskull Alley
This is the third in a series of articles on running Waterdeep Dragon Heist. The other articles include:
A Different Sort of Chapter in a Different Sort of Adventure
Waterdeep Dragon Heist is already a different sort of adventure than we're used to but, at least in chapter 1, it still feels like a typical adventure. A quest is given, the characters conduct an investigation, they crawl a dungeon, and face a boss. That's the outline of thousands of D&D adventures and it works really well.
Chapter 2 in Waterdeep Dragon Heist is nothing like this. Chapter 2 is mostly a toolkit for two major activities: restoring Trollskull Manor and getting connected with factions. There's no central storyline in this chapter and it's possible the activities in this chapter will take many tendays, months, or even longer depending on how you run it.
Running this chapter is not easy. If you find yourself having trouble running this chapter, hopefully this article will help.
Repairing the Manor
Much of this chapter will also revolve around repairing and funding the manor. It's up to you and your group to determine how much detail you want to expose in this venture. This event might be as simple as acquiring the funds to build up the inn once again. Maybe they hire an intermediary to do act as their agent in such matters, for a fee of course. Maybe your group really enjoys the detail of building out the inn. Some groups will love these details and some what to go off on adventures like they expect to. You'll have to gauge this yourself.
Choosing Factions and Quests
The rest of this chapter brings in seven factions that can potentially recruit the characters and send them off on a variety of missions. There are 28 such missions, none of which have anything to do with Raenar Neverember or the missing dragons.
I have two recommendations for these faction quests:
Choose one to three factions you want to introduce and ignore the rest. You might choose the Zhentarim, Bregan D'aerthe, and the Gray Hands as three interesting ones to drop into the game. You might choose three others. You likely don't want to introduce all seven of these factions. Pick the ones that fit the characters and the game and dump the rest.
Choose the faction missions which sound the most fun. There are tons of these faction missions and introducing them all can send the characters off on wild goose chases for weeks. Instead, pick a few that fit the current story of the characters and improvise any others you want to bring in.
Choose Your Own Adventures
This chapter is the perfect time to bring in your own small adventure seeds if you want. You can build these seeds from the backgrounds of your characters, inserting personal quests or group quests that focus on one particular character or another while they are busy fixing up the inn and dealing with the other issues going on. You can expand upon the rivalry between the new owners of Trollskull Manor and Emmek Frewn. Maybe it's your own little version of Patrick Swayze's Roadhouse. If you ever wanted to run some low level city adventures, this is a great time.
The Haunting of Trollskull Manor
For a more direct introduction to the chapter we can haunt Trollskull Manor, not just with Lief the poltergeist, but maybe with the hag mentioned in the manor's background. Back in Trollskull Manor's history, it was once owned by a hag who pretended to run it as an orphanage before she was routed by paladins of Helm.
What if that hag is still around?
This is our chance to add in some of our own mini-adventure. The two times I've run this chapter I added in a green hag named Auntie Potiti who had been routed from Trollskull Manor long ago but isn't fully gone. She still haunts the manor and adds all sorts of terrible discoveries including:
- A giant closet that eats people.
- Dead children that stomp around on upper floors or talk to the party.
- A crazy big hag hand that comes out of a painting.
- An illusion of a woman bathing in childrens' blood.
- Paintings that depict the characters as young children hand in hand with the hag herself.
- A glimpse of the hag's outdoor lair complete with catoblepas herds.
We can channel our best interpretations from It, Poltergeist, and The Shining to build out this our haunted manor. You might even replace it with your own version of Death House if you haven't run it before.
The hag might have a pet Banderhobb lurking in the cellar and the cellar itself might have a secret entrance into the Waterdeep sewers or even to Undermountain.
The goal of the party in this sequence is to survive the hauntings for one night and to route the hag. She will leave the manor but is still out there and may haunt the characters from time to time. Hags are fun.
The Mystery of Leif's Murder
Another interesting storyline to investigate in this chapter is Leif's murder. Perhaps the murderer was Leif's assistant, a young man at the time but old man now. Perhaps this assistant did so only after being fed lies by the rival innkeeper Emmek Frewn. Now the assistant is down at the dock wards, continually down on his luck. He has never forgiven himself for killing the only man who ever showed him kindness. It's up to the characters to find this killer and bring him to Leif, not so the ghost can kill the poor old man, but forgive him. In my game, one of the characters found out his name and used one of the paper bird messengers to summon him to the manor for a mysterious treasure. Smart!
If your group needs more structure and you want to throw a dungeon in the middle of this chapter, consider running Blue Alley by MT Black. This deathtrap alleyway is a fun way for the characters to engage with some wild traps and earn some valuable treasure to help them fund the reconstruction of Trollskull Manor. The dungeon can be unforgiving in some places so add in some valuable relics so the characters can earn more coin or acquire one or two nice powerful single-use magic items for their adventures to come.
Whenever you feel like the pacing of this chapter is getting to be too slow, it's time to drop in the fireball. Chapter 3 of Waterdeep Dragon Heist focuses on the aftermath of an explosion that rocks the alley. It's a strong start to the rest of the story of this adventure. You can drop in this event at any point while running chapter 2 so it's a great way to help you tune the pacing of the adventure. If you ever feel like things are getting stale or boring, drop in the fireball.
An Open but Challenging Chapter
Chapter 2 of Waterdeep Dragon Heist gives DMs a lot of freedom to bring in new elements to the story. It also gives players a new style of game. Instead of chasing leads, fighting bad guys, and delving into dungeons; they get to build up their own home base, meet interesting factions, and go off on small quests. It's a way for them to feel the living and breathing city of Waterdeep.
This wide open narrative can be equally challenging to run. Take some time, shrink the aperture, and build it into the chapter you want it to be.Read more »