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  • Wyrmwood Dice Tray Review: The Coolest, Most Expensive Dice Tray on Earth
    Wyrmwood Dice Tray Review: The Coolest, Most Expensive Dice Tray on Earth

    The Wyrmwood dice tray is a luxury item that will make you the envy of your gaming group. Not only does it look great, but it also feels amazing in your hand and has a nice weight to it. The best part about this dice tray is the fact that you can roll any die (even metal ones) without them going flying off the table! It’s perfect for when you have friends over who don’t yet know how to play D&D or other roleplaying games; they’ll be reaching for their credit card before they know what hit them.

    In this article, I share my personal experience using a Wyrmwood Tabletop Dice Tray I purchased at a local gaming convention. My dice tray cost a pretty penny (around $150 at a convention discount). Yes, it’s only a dice tray, but there was a compelling reason to get one. I’m sure you all have a feeling of why. But, here’s what I think and perhaps why you may want to consider one of these dice rolling accessories for your gaming.

    Wyrmwood Dice Trays are expensive, but beautiful works of “functional art” (image credit:

    Summary (TL;DR)

    The Wyrmwood Dice Tray is a beautiful dice tray that has been crafted with an awesome design. Wyrmwood is a company that creates high-end gaming accessories, and this certainly shows in the Wyrmwood Dice Tray. These are some of the features you can expect to find:

    • The Wyrmwood dice tray has been made from handcrafted wood
    • It can be used as a rolling surface for all types of games
    • There’s also plenty of room for other items like cards and miniatures
    • Fancy dice trays make great gifts that every tabletop gamer can appreciate

    RELATED: OTHER GREAT (AFFORDABLE) DICE TRAYS FOR EVERY TABLETOP GAMER

    Why You Need a Dice Tray?

    “Roll for initiative!” The Dungeon Master bellowed, and I swiftly scooped up D20 from the table. “No way,” my friend, Matt said as he shuffled his character sheet. “It’s rigged.” The others in my gaming group nodded in agreement as they sat around our makeshift gaming table. Rolling my eyes at their naivety, I struggled to keep a straight face. I pulled the Wyrmwood dice tray from my bag and placed on the table.

    “Oh, let’s try it!,” Matt yells. He’s the first to throw his D20…on my dice tray!

    I’ve used my Bolivian Rosewood Dice Tray for years in countless games, e.g., RPGs, Boardgames, and Tabletop Miniature Wargaming such as Warhammer 40k. (Image credit: Tangible Day)

    A lot of gamers find dice trays to be a necessity, but not everybody agrees. Dice can roll all over the table causing a mess. Big, metal dice can knock over miniatures and ruin a nicely setup table. If you’re playing with friends, you might end up spilling something on the table and making your stuff dirty. Dice can roll into beverage cups, knocking them over, or into bags of chips. Indeed, my group plays rough! Several dice tray companies have come out with different types of designs, so there are pros and cons for each dice tray. Wyrmwood has made many different woodworking items that look great and the classic tabletop dice tray is one of them.

    I ended up buying one of the Wyrmwood dice trays at a convention I attended. It happened to be a beautiful Bolivian Rosewood dice tray with a leather rolling surface. It wasn’t cheap. In fact, it’s stupid expensive for what it was–a dice tray that cost me over $150. I think they cost even more nowadays. But, I still have mine and love it to death.

    A big D20 is ready for battle. (Image credit: Tangible Day)

    What is a Wyrmwood Dice Tray?

    Wyrmwood dice trays come in two different shapes and sizes: a tabletop size and personal sized tray (which is the smaller one I don’t have). There is some custom options, which I won’t get into, but you can see on the Wyrmwood website. Wyrmwood even offers the option for a Wyrmwood Dice Tray + a Wyrmwood dice tower, a great combo. In any case, Wyrmwood has many different gaming accessory options to choose from.

    More than a dice tray, I use mine to keep other gaming accessories organized on the gaming tabletop. (Image credit: Tangible Day)

    I’ve followed Wyrmwood since their days on Etsy and then their multiple (and successful) campaigns on Kickstarter. If I were chime in on their company talking points, I’d say that the  Wyrmwood Dice Trays are handcrafted by artisans with extra care given to every detail. I’m not 100% sure this is true, but in my experience with my tray and the others I’ve seen in person seem to prove it. Wyrmwood dice trays are made out of solid wood, and have a beautiful finish that has been durable in the years I’ve had mine. I recall being instructed to condition the leather on my dice tray to keep it from drying out and cracking. But, the wood and leather on my dice tray has lasted a long time without any maintenance (more than 5 years so far!).

    Here’s Some Useful Info About Wyrmwood Dice Trays

    Wyrmwood dice trays are precision cut with a full-length divider for organization of your stuff, e.g., dice, whatever. They’re laser engraved with the Wyrmwood logo, and hand sanded to provide a nice look and feel. Some gamers will use Wyrmwood Dice Trays for keeping their gaming supplies organized in a travel bag, too. They are also fairly compact and fit on any playing surface.

    Wyrmwood Tabletop Dice Trays come in a handsome size (10.6″ x 8.6″ x 1.4″).

    Wyrmwood Dice Trays come in 8 (or more) different species of wood that range from common (Cherry wood) to exotic (Macassar Ebony). The trays also have real authentic leather rolling surfaces, which feel soft and supple to the touch. Dice roll with a satisfying thump, with a subtle undertone “clunk” sound (depending on the weight of your dice, e.g., metal vs resin dice, and the density of the wood you’ve chosen). They just feel so good to use.

    Quick Pros and Cons about Wyrmwood Tabletop Dice Trays

    Pros:

    • Durable Wyrmwood material that doesn’t warp in heat or absorb moisture
    • The Wyrmwood Dice Tray has an aesthetic appeal to it
    • The Wyrmwood Dice Tray has a one inch lip to catch dice on all sides

    Cons:

    • Might be too bulky for smaller tables
    • Could require upkeep (e.g., leather can dry out)
    • Expensive (very)

    What Made Me Buy a Wyrmwood Dice Tray?

    They are beautiful. Yup, that’s about it. It’s expensive, but I wanted something unique. Certainly I could have opted for a custom personal dice tray (which you can see some custom dice tray examples of here).

    On my Dice Tray, made of Bolivian Rosewood (a middle-of-the road wood material), my polyhedrals and d6 dice for RPGs and wargames roll easily and often clack against the wooden side walls. Every gaming choice I make is reinforced with a tactile and audible experience!

    Their storage compartment on the side acts like a “margin” where you keep your other gaming accessories. Perhaps your dice and tokens go there, or your pens you use for writing on your character sheet. Pretty much anything you want can go in a Wyrmwood Dice Tray, i.e., dice, tokens, cards or whatever you need them for in the tray itself so that they’re right at your fingertips. I’ve even used a Wyrmwood dice tray to hold a hot coffee mug (when my host couldn’t find a suitable coaster).

    I painted this miniature for a Pathfinder Campaign! (Image credit: Tangible Day)

     

    My Final Opinion: Are Wyrmwood Dice Trays Worth It?

    When this tray is so expensive and any old cigar box or wooden board would do just as well, I can’t imagine why anyone would buy it. No, seriously. Then, I take mine out and use it while gaming, and I’m reminded how cool it is to just have one!

    You might think buying a dice tray is akin to buying furniture. And while you may get some nice tables out there, its functionally the same no matter what as long as it isn’t crappy enough to fall apart.

    If you are just looking for a functional product, then there is not much difference to justify Wyrmwood. However, if you really like the wood or aesthetic of their products or think that one of their trays might be a special item you keep as a reminder for those good times at the gaming session, then Wyrmwood trays are about enhancing that experience. Honestly, only you can answer this question of “value”, as it is dependent on your personal opinion. If they look really cool and you have the means to get one, I would recommend buying a Wyrmwood tray for yourself.

    While their design is stunning, the price of a Wyrmwood may take them out of reach to some gamers. It really just comes down to what your priorities are. For anywhere from $5-40, you could get a sweet looking, more affordable dice tray (check these custom dice trays out!).

    Oh, look! All my dice stay in one place. (Image credit: Tangible Day)

    Conclusion

    The Wyrmwood Dice Tray is a beautiful product with an minimalist design. It’s crafted by a company that creates high-end gaming accessories, and this shows in my experience with the tabletop dice tray. Wyrmwood trays accentuate your games by providing a place where you can store your dice apart from the table so it doesn’t get lost during gameplay — as well as making rolling dice more enjoyable through a tactile and audible experience ( a tad corny, but it’s a real thing!). Suffice it to say, I love mine.

    Of course, like any gaming accessory, there will be people who love them and those who don’t. Wyrmwood dice trays are worth it for the experiential component of using one. But, there may be cheaper options on the market that can do what a fancy Wyrmwood dice tray does at a lower cost. Ultimately, there will be people who like Wyrmwood dice trays and those who don’t.

    Do you have a Wyrmwood Dice Tray? Do you think they are worth the expense? Let me know below!

     

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  • Kang the Conqueror + Revenant – Monster Combo
    Kang the Conqueror + Revenant – Monster Combo

    Welcome to Monster Combo, a series of articles in which we will create some backstory, encounters, variations, and a bit of lore for monsters from different games and genres. From Lovecraftian horror and medieval fantasy creatures to sci-fi cyborgs and weird entities. This series is to stay system neutral so you can grab these ideas and port them to any game of your liking. If there are stats for the monster we will reverse engineer what the creature is good at and use its lore or create our own to apply to our ideas. Steal all you wish from these and suggest your own ideas or combos in the comments!

    Introduction

    Without going into spoilers, there’s definitely a reason why creating a monster based on Kang the Conqueror from Marvel came to mind. It just makes a lot of sense to mix this comic-book villain with some other monster and create an interesting new archnemesis for your game. I grabbed 5e’s Monster Manual, picked a random page, and I looked upon the revenant. An idea immediately sprang to mind, so I’ll share it for you to steal and use in your games.

    Monster Description

    Kang the Conqueror

    I wouldn’t call him a monster, but for this purpose, it fits the category. In a nutshell, Kang is a being from the future that comes to the past to fix it. There’s a ton you can play with just by using this premise. Kang may not come alone to the present day, but accompanied by different versions of himself from different timelines and realities. This means that your version of Kang could perfectly be a scientist the player characters will kill in the future, or ruin their life in some way or another. Remember that gal the crime boss ordered you to steal from? She came back from the future to destroy you as your actions created a butterfly effect that destroys a whole city!

    The great part about having Kang the Conqueror be a villain in your game is that even if you killed one version of him, a different version of himself can always return to torment the player characters. It can get old quickly if used repetitively, but if used intelligently you can create not only an interesting story but a great problem for your players to solve. As far as powers or abilities from Kang, he has none, but you can add your own. However, in the comics he is a super-genius with tons of knowledge from different sciences, especially all surrounding time travel. As this was not enough, he has hyper technology from the future that may end up in your player characters’ hands.

    Revenant

    Kang by itself is an interesting enough “monster”, but it wouldn’t be a Monster Combo if we didn’t add anything else to the mix! The revenant from D&D5e is a particularly interesting option because just like Kang, it always comes back. Now imagine if this revenant is from someone the characters kill in the future, travelling back in time to kill them at an earlier stage? By making some slight changes we can make it so that the revenant has sworn vengeance to the entire group of characters. Having a personal preference on one single player character can also create a fun dynamic, as the others will have to make sure they protect their ally at all times from the undead traveler.

    As far as how its abilities work, the revenant can continuously regenerate, meaning you can create scenes ala Terminator in which the revenant takes hundreds of gunshots as it keeps moving and its wounds heal. Additionally,  the revenant’s spirit can possess other corpses when dead, which can create horror scenes like the ones from the movie The Thing. This, however, comes with a countdown, as the revenant only has one year to kill their target. We can entirely remove this,  or make it so that the timer is due to some sort of battery that returns the revenant to the future when the time is complete. The Turn Immunity makes it all the more interesting because no matter which RPG you are playing, a priest will be no help. Lastly, all the remaining abilities can be justified and reskinned with futuristic tech.

    Bringing the Futuristic Revenant to your game

    This is when I usually would offer you a whole encounter for you to use this villain in your game. However, I believe that the best moment to place this enemy in your campaign is when you see it fit. The futuristic interdimensional revenant can present itself at any moment, but it’s going to appear after the characters do something important, or kill someone. It shouldn’t be difficult to spark a whole campaign out of this revenant concept. One of the player characters, or an NPC, did something wrong, and now a futuristic version of a dead man came from an alternate dimension to raise a group of extradimensional versions from this same entity that were killed as well. Now the characters need to do something to get rid of all these revenants, who know at all times where their target is.

    This concept can be reflavored for pretty much any setting and/or game. In a superhero game, you already have Kang the Conqueror as an example (go see him in the many animated Marvel shows to get some inspiration). Add more of a mad scientist and zombie feel to this villain if you are going for a horror vibe. It definitely fits the unkillable type of monster, as it always comes back even if you kill it (which should be difficult). More of an everyday/slice of life game? Time traveling usually creates a nice twist for those sort of stories, and this villain can easily be the first piece of the domino (more info on how to GM time-traveling stories HERE). Fantasy genre? This guy can be a priest using the divine magic from the time gods to come back in time. Alternatively, he could be using some powerful forgotten magic to travel in time.


    What’s your opinion on this particular concept? Would you use a time-traveling multiversal enemy in your game? Are you planning on using it? If so, which RPG would you run it on? Would you make some modifications to it? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • dScryb First Impressions
    dScryb First Impressions

    I love looking at shiny new rulebooks, or at least shiny new PDFs of rulebooks, and seeing all the new wonders contained therein. Every so often, however, I like to find something in the RPG space that isn’t the usual set of rules, adventures, or supplements. That leads me to the website I’m looking at today, dScryb.

    dScryb is a site that is dedicated to presenting boxed text for a variety of situations. Some of these items are available for free to users who register for the site, but several subscription levels grant access to more descriptions.

    Memberships

    Memberships for the site include both monthly and yearly membership costs. Members can subscribe to places, monsters, spells, items, or the hero subscription, which includes all the descriptions from the site.

    Membership Monthly Yearly
    Places 3.99 39.87
    Monsters 1.99 19.89
    Spells 1.99 19.89
    Items 1.99 19.89
    Hero 9.96 79.99

     

    Places are usually accompanied by maps. Monsters, spells, and items include descriptions of items included in the 5e SRD for that game with two “Ds” and an ampersand. With the hero-level membership, you also gain access to the scene and character request features, where you can submit your own requests for people and places in your campaign to have their descriptions written.

    In addition to all of this, there is also a feature called The Way of the Word, where users can submit their own descriptions which may be selected to be used on the site. More on that later.

    Exploring the Text Boxes

    To write this first impression article, I paid for the hero level membership to evaluate. Individual descriptions have a title, icons for bookmarks, and for requesting a new description at the upper right hand of the text box. At the bottom left hand of the text box, there are boxes for “nearby,” as well as a box for the author.

    “Nearby” provides options of similar descriptions. For example, the description for Rod of Alertness has “nearby” option boxes for Equipment and Magic Items. Clicking on the author’s name takes you to all the descriptions written by that author on the site.

    On the bottom right hand of the description box is a “share” button. This has over 180 different sharing options. The top options available are for Facebook, Twitter, Print, Email, Pinterest, Gmail, Linked In, Tumblr, and Messenger. I must admit, I think it might be kind of amusing to share links to dramatic text boxes on LinkedIn.

    “What kind of work do you do?”

    “The half-orc strikes a regal figure in gleaming plate armor . . . “

    The title page of the site has collections grouped by places, monsters, spells, and characters. The search function allows you to type in a keyword, and choose from places, monsters, spells, items, “other,” and characters. There are also some links to some of the newer descriptions, these being planes (as in planes of existence) and dialogue.

    Describing the Describers


    The contributing writers include Matt Sernett, Matt Click, Dan Helmick, Chris Sims, Kip Robisch, Megan Garner, Blue Bigwood-Mallin, Finch Neves, and Puja Vaarta. Editors include Nicola Aquino, Davy Kent, David Shulman, and Dwayne Strange. If you recognize some of the names on that list, you have probably seen them in various RPG rulebooks before.

    Describing the Descriptions

    One of the pages on the site provides a list of best practices for writing concise descriptions and provides a list of suggested reading. The descriptions themselves are very punchy and to the point.

    If I had to rank the utility of the text boxes, I would say that the item descriptions are the most useful. These give you specific descriptions with individual quirks of the items to make them feel distinct from other, similar items. The location descriptions are evocative, but by the nature of locations, these will be more useful if you tailor a scene you are building for a session rather than trying to find a perfect description that fits a location you have already envisioned. The monster descriptions that I have read are great, however, they often convey emotional information, motivations, or default assumptions about the creature.

    For example, the red dragon description goes into detail about the menace around the creature from years of horrific actions, and that works fine if you are describing an ancient red dragon that has, indeed, been the scourge of the land in its youth, and is still malevolent. However, if you want to flip the script, that description does a lot to imply “adversary,” so, for a benevolent hermit of a red dragon, most of the description is about menace and impression, rather than what the dragon looks like.

    Expanding Options

    One of the options that I couldn’t do much to research is site integration with the Foundry virtual tabletop. If you have followed my articles in the past, I’m just not the person to look into virtual tabletop functionality. If you have used dScryb in conjunction with Foundry, I would love to hear about the experience.

    On the other hand, I am good at clicking on locations on a map. I’ve been practicing with computer RPGs for years. One of the newer options on the site includes interactive maps. While all the locations have some kind of map, the interactive maps include multiple descriptions keyed to specific aspects of the map.

    The interactive maps have areas that will display descriptions when the cursor hovers over the item. In addition to these highlighted sections of the map, there is a list of descriptions to the right of the image. Clicking on those titles will zoom in on the section of the map to which the section is keyed.

    Some of the maps have more interactive functions than others. For example, the Roadside Campsite not only has multiple locations on the map, but there are also daytime and night time versions of the map with slightly different elements.

    First Impressions and Final Thoughts
     I’m still thinking of how I would use this toolset to its maximum effect, but seeing this tool makes me want to explore those possibilities in greater detail. 

    Between the increased popularity of roleplaying games, and the upswing in the accessibility of technology and online resources, I’m fascinated by the tools available to RPG enthusiasts. I’m still thinking of how I would use this toolset to its maximum effect, but seeing this tool makes me want to explore those possibilities in greater detail.

    There are still some disconnects. Some descriptions are slanted towards “selling” the creature or location being described to trigger an emotional effect for an encounter, rather than conveying more neutral details. This isn’t a bad thing, but it means that this is a tool that is doing multiple things, without the granularity to communicate not only the existence of a description but also the purpose of the description. I would love to see a division between “impressions” and “observations.”

    The Way of Words is a strange feature for me. This is a paid site that makes money from its descriptions, but there doesn’t appear to be anything in the process where someone writing a description would get paid for that description. Essentially it feels a bit like getting paid in exposure. To be completely fair, all accepted text through this program remains on the free side of the site.

    The aspect of this site that feels like it has a lot of potential is the ability to request descriptions. I can imagine that someone building up to a major encounter, with time to wait for quality work to be done, could have some slick accompanying text to bolster their big set pieces.

    Describing the Ending

    I haven’t touched on the entire discourse around text boxes in RPGs, which has flared up multiple times. In fact, I think this style of description is somewhat different than the descriptions that often get cited in those discussions. These aren’t text boxes trying to set up an encounter and also drop important clues that might be spread out across the next two chapters of an adventure. These are descriptions closely related to what is about to come next in the game.

    What kind of descriptions do you wish you had in the past? When you prep your games, do you include text boxes for you to read, or do you ad-lib your scene framing? We want to hear about your experiences with text boxes and descriptions in the comments below!

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  • VideoGnomecast #121 – A Return to Face to Face Gaming
    Gnome Stew's Gnomecast

    Join Ang, Phil, and special guest John Carney for a discussion about what to expect as you return to the in-person gaming tables. Are these gnomes going to be careful enough to keep out of the stew?

  • Plot Train Derailed (And Possibly On Fire): Now What?
    Photograph of a derailed train

    “No plot survives the first contact with your players.”

    Your recurring villain appeared right on schedule, but through a string of lucky crits, they’re now on the ground bleeding out.

    The players completed the dungeon, but in the process destroyed the McGuffin that you had planned to have aid them on their quest. In their defense, they thought it was evil.

    The carefully laid encounter that would introduce them to their next plot arc was circumvented. Why? Because the party flipped a coin and chose to go south instead of north.

    Once you’ve DMed long enough, you will run into cases of your carefully laid out plot becoming undone. Sometimes our players just out-think, outmaneuver, or just out-luck us. Since we’re all in it for the fun shared story (and as non-omniscient beings)… that’s okay. Perhaps frustrating, but okay. Of course, we should plan for our plans to become unplanned, and have contingencies for our plans, but sometimes we just can’t plan enough and things don’t go according to ANY plan we put down.

    Whatever the reason, this article is going to cover four strategies of what to do once the dust of a plot upset has settled, and what kinds of groups the strategies work best (and worst) with.

    Strategy One: Open Discourse

    We are all playing games to have fun together. One of the easiest ways to get things back on track is appealing to that common goal by explaining what’s going on behind the scenes.

    If in your game:

    • The players are there to slay demons
    • Demon slaying is fun to the players
    • There are demons in the hills

    And they are heading towards the forest with a stubbornness that no NPC can sway? Maybe just let them know, “There’s demons in them thar hills.”

    This strategy works really well for newer DMs who may not have as much experience in pivoting plot points and is especially true for certain more rigidly structured pre-written modules. If the module or your original prep doesn’t cover the great big city the players want to go to instead of the small town that the module is based in, it can be difficult to rework.

    Same goes for knocked off NPCs, missed McGuffins, etc.

    Here lies Sir Ouchibald, who you wrote way too much backstory for so little playtime.

    This strategy consists of sitting down with your players and explaining what’s going on. You can frame this discussion as, “I don’t want to undermine your achievements or your choices…,” and then lead into what’s going on.

    Try to avoid spoilers and lean on the side of vague. There’s no need to explain why the item was important or the many plot points of the city, but a simple, “It’s important to the plot” can give enough information, and even lead to more investment. Then lean on your players to help you come up with a reason to get back on course, or any modifications that can be made to be able to keep the game going smoothly.

    This can be through just complete retconning or through massaging of the story, but getting your players’ opinions helps keep their engagement and also allows them to have a say in what they want to see. This keeps their engagement as well, which is definitely always a plus.

    If you have a bit more flexibility, you can also use this to solicit player input for modifications to the plot. You can ask why they did what they did, what interested them, and use their suggestions to give them what they want to see. While you can get a lot of that information from a good Session 0, keeping conversation open to your players’ wants and needs is never a bad thing.

    Who does this strategy work well with?

    This strategy sees the best results in parties where players are more flexible, or parties in pre-written modules where there is a tacit understanding of pre-planned direction.

    If you have a group whose players are less likely to react well to any perception of railroading or who don’t enjoy seeing how the hotdog is made, this may not work as well.

    Strategy Two: Reskinning

    Before we get into reskinning, there is a very important disclaimer to this strategy. Reskin only if the players did something unintentionally. If your players deliberately chose not to pursue something, forcing plot onto them that they probably don’t want isn’t respecting their choices as players. And trust me, no one wants that.

    So what do I mean by reskinning?

    Okay, maybe not like this…

    They killed a plot relevant NPC? Assign that role to another NPC they will meet later. They go to Boringburg instead of Plottingtown? Well, just have the quest in Boringburg. They avoided an ambush where they would save the princess? Oh look, the bandit camp was somewhere else. Those demons I mentioned earlier? Forest demons now.

    This strategy has an inherent risk involved though when it comes to player autonomy. If the location of the bandit camp was known and they were trying to specifically avoid it (or they weren’t a huge fan of the princess in the first place), it won’t be much fun for them if it magically teleports. There is a fine line when using this strategy when it comes to respecting the players’ choices.

    Also be sure to avoid trivializing their achievements. If they thought they had slaughtered the big bad (and honestly, they had before you reskinned), only to learn it was just a measly bandit in disguise, that doesn’t feel good. Make it a powerful lieutenant, a clone, someone else who, even though it turned out it wasn’t the final boss, makes an impact that respects what they did. Don’t just make this a detour, make this an accomplishment for them.

    But again, as with my previous point, it’s imperative to respect their choices. If they went through the hoops of sneaking into the final boss’s castle, having the person they beat there suddenly not be the final boss can lead to some not-so-great feelings, no matter how important you make them.

    Sometimes, you just have to find something new.

    Who does this strategy work well with?

    This strategy works well for games with less out loud world-building or lower player engagement. If any of your players are super into the details of every town on the map, the backstory of the bandit camp, etc., it becomes harder to do this reasonably without raising some eyebrows (and potentially some hackles). The more they know, the harder it is to obfuscate things.

    For groups more focused on the here and now however, especially combat heavy groups, this tends to work well. What they don’t know can’t hurt them. Though again, use this strategy with care and respect.

    Strategy Three: Buy Time and Dig for More Plot!

    Sometimes, your best option is to just acknowledge your players’ victory or decisions and move forward. The big bad is dead early? Good job! They didn’t go after the McGuffin? Okay, that’s shelved. They decided to become a ragtag band of pirates and sail the seven seas? Well, your royal intrigue arc probably is probably going to be a bit delayed.

    Sometimes it works to just realize, “Hey, they did the thing and they’re having fun.” The plot may be out of the window, but that’s okay! Time to make a new one.

    Sometimes our players just out-think, outmaneuver, or just out-luck us. Since we’re all in it for the fun shared story (and as non-omniscient beings)… that’s okay.

    But you only have so many days before your next game, and the clock is now ticking. So what now?

    If someone, anyone, has a backstory, see how you can bring that into the game. Their home town needs some help, their family is in trouble, etc. If someone mentioned they wanted to do something, bring that into the game. Work on helping them find that long lost book. If they had an NPC that they really liked that was a one-off, drag them kicking and screaming back into the limelight.

    Oh no, “Unexpected Backstory” the kobold is in trouble! You have to go save him! Or maybe the kobold wants to go see his family and needs an escort if you don’t feel like damseling the little sweetheart.

    This strategy involves focusing on what your players and their characters have shown interest in and reforming it into plot. Now, keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be the be-all end-all of the campaign. This can just be fishing for side quests to keep them busy until you work on something new. But by leaning on the experiences you’ve already had with your players or their interests, you can get some good buy-in.

    And don’t think this is just limited to story-driven players. If your players are a huge fan of slashing their way through swarms of enemies and find enjoyment through combat? Hello random encounter tables!

    Who does this strategy work well with?

    This strategy obviously really works well on an engaged party, regardless of the direction of the engagement. If you have a party that shows less excitement about things or is more reserved, it may be harder to suss out things they want to see. But if your party has ever shown excitement about something as a group, leaning on that hard can either buy you some time or just completely replace your plot with something they already showed interest in.

    Strategy Four: Take a Break

    But what if none of that works?

    What if there is no way to reskin or retcon in a way that is satisfying? And what if the amount of time it would take to draw on players’ backstory for more would result in week-by-week struggle to plan without any ability to catch up? What if the idea of coming up with something on such short notice is just sapping your very will to be behind the DM screen?

    There are three words we don’t hear nearly enough when it comes to DMing (especially for DMs in more frequent campaigns).

    Take a break.

    Everyone deserves a break.

    I know that losing scheduling and momentum is the bane of any tabletop RPG, but swap out. It doesn’t mean you have to stop playing, or even stop DMing. Ask if someone else wants to run a few one shots or see if people are interested in trying a pre-written module. Switch it out to once every other week for a bit to give you more time. Try something new. Your game doesn’t have to reach the “until further notice” state by doing this.

    If you don’t feel like you’re going to do as good a job as you’d like? Give yourself the time you need to make something you want to make, not just something to satisfy the urge to game every week.

    Worried about losing the game to scheduling concerns? Give your players an estimated time of return. This gives them expectations and you a deadline. People are less likely to vanish off the face of the earth if you say you’ll return in 3 weeks and more likely to keep their calendars open with a solid date rather than, “Some vague point in the future.”

    Who does this strategy work well with?

    In a perfect world? All groups should be willing to let their DM take a break and then be raring to come back.

    In a world where time is limited and other interests abound, this tends to do better with groups that have another DM in their midst to take the reins, or older groups that have a lot of rapport already with the idea that a certain day of the week or month is permanently claimed. If you have a newer group, or a group with newer members, the likelihood of losing momentum is much higher and you risk losing a player or two to conflicting schedules.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a break though. You need to be kind to yourself.

    Wrapping Up

    And there you have it! Four ways to deal with a plot upset. Keep in mind, this article is not all-encompassing, and there are plenty of other ways to deal with a banged-up plot. I’m sure that there are books written on how to successfully pull each one of these four strategies off even.

    But hopefully these four will at least spark some thought on what to do next if something goes wrong and your players do the unexpected, even if it’s to the detriment of your planning.

    What are some creative ways that you’ve turned around a plot upset?

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  • Dr. Strangedeath, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the TPK
    Game Over

    Game masters walk a razor’s edge. On one hand, we’re tasked with pitting our players against ever-mounting challenges. The threat of death and loss needs to feel real. The greater the danger, the more satisfying the victory. But we don’t want to make it so tough they won’t survive. So we try to hit that sweet spot that lies somewhere between mashing the PCs to paste in the first room and having the dreaded Bandit King hand over his stolen loot without even a fight.

    But sometimes, even with the best of planning, everything goes south. A session filled with unlucky rolls combined with poor choices can end with all the members of your party either taking a dirt nap or running for their mommies. Unless you’re playing a game like Paranoia or Call of Cthulhu, few things grind an adventure to a halt faster than the dreaded Total Party Kill (or TPK, for short).

    TPK Avoidance

    When faced with the threat of a TPK, some game masters might try to tip the odds back in the favor of the players. Maybe one character has a sudden “eureka moment”, where they realize that the giant titanium robot who’s about to obliterate them has an access panel within easy reach. Or maybe that old, hapless farmer the party paid to lead them to the Bone Lord’s tomb conveniently turns out to be a Divine Cultist of Light in disguise. Perhaps a sandstorm suddenly springs up, obscuring the faltering heroes from the deadly aim of the relentless Telltale Assassin. Or maybe the game master just “fudges” some enemy die rolls.

    While these tactics can work to keep a session from going totally off the rails, they have drawbacks. Having the cavalry roll in to save the day can feel like a letdown. Last-minute reprieves can cheapen the experience. And even when you’re crouched behind a game master screen, many players can still pick up on when you’re fudging numbers (“Hey, what do you know? The Archduke’s poison blade missed again!”) Frequent use of these sorts of tools can actually spoil the game for your players.

    Prepare to Fail

    Simply talking about handling TPKs can make the danger more “real” in your players’ minds.
    An alternative to these types of tactics is to sit down with your group and plan for the worst. Before beginning a campaign, I’d suggest you discuss how to handle epic failures with your players. Not only does it make the game master’s job easier, but it lets the players get back up and running more quickly after such a catastrophe. As a bonus, simply talking about handling TPKs can make the danger more “real” in your players’ minds. Even if your game’s challenges are about as lethal as a paper cut, the fact that you have a post-mortem plan in place can convince your players that you won’t hesitate to mow them down, given the chance.

    Options for Handling TPKs

    While bringing in new characters is usually the first idea that pops into everyone’s head, it’s not the only viable recourse. Some other options for handling epic failures include:

    • Rewind The players re-try the same adventure with the same characters with no penalties.
    • Penalty The players re-try the same adventure with the same characters, but each pays an agreed upon “penalty” from the character’s wealth, goods, or other assets.
    • Change-up The players re-try the same adventure, but with some differences in the challenges; the game master switches up the adversaries, and shuffles things around a little.
    • Push on The PCs move on to the next adventure, foregoing cash and items that would have been acquired during the failed adventure.
    • Lose In this more challenging option, the PCs pay a penalty and move on to the next adventure.

    Typically, PCs should forfeit any cash, abilities, or items gained on a botched adventure, regardless of how you handle it.

    Post Mortem

    Epic Fail – Nemo Frenk

    At any rate, when an Epic Failure happens, it’s important for the game master and players to assess what went wrong. If it was just a combination of bad luck and poor decisions, then there is probably no need to change the way things are going. If, however, the party failed despite heroic efforts and decent rolls, this may be a sign that you’ve made the difficulty too high. In this case, consider scaling back on future challenge levels.

    The Joy of TPKs

    No matter how you slice it, TPKs are rough going. Even though the risk of failure is part of what makes victory so sweet, no one likes to lose. That said, botched adventures can be quite memorable, especially if the players know it’s not the end of the road. I’ve had PCs pull all kinds of crazy last-minute stunts when they knew that they literally had nothing to lose. Some of our wildest stories come from our most epic failures.

    So, what about you? Have you come up with a good way of handling TPKs? Got any memorable TPK stories?

     

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  • Grim Hollow–The Players Guide Review
    Grim Hollow–The Players Guide Review

    Grey moral choices, overcast skies, and long shadows make me think of fall, and since I’m not a fan of the summer (especially not this summer), I thought I’d review something that reminds me of something a bit more autumnal. Today I’m going to take a dive into Grim Hollow–The Players Guide, a third-party supplement for D&D’s 5e OGL.

    This is the second product in the Grim Hollow line, with the third, Grim Hollow–The Monster Grimoire, having just been funded on Kickstarter. This product follows Grim Hollow–The Campaign Guide, which was published last year. Because this follows a pattern like the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook, and Monster Manual publishing paradigm, it can be difficult to pick one as a vector for review.

    Ultimately, I went with The Players Guide because it’s the most likely to be useful to people not playing in the setting, and it’s the book that is most likely to be seen and consumed by more players at the table if the setting is being used. 

    Between the Covers

    Grim Hollow–The Players Guide is a 156-page product. This review is based on the PDF version of the book. The PDF contains a full-page map of the setting, an opening page, a credits page, and a table of contents. There is a full-page thank you, a single-page index, and a full-page OGL statement, as well as a full-page image of fashions from the various cultures in the setting.

    The layout, artwork, and formatting are on par with any other upper-tier third party D&D publisher, and similar to the official releases. There is full-color artwork, page borders, clearly laid out headers, sub-headers, and sidebars. It is a well-put-together package.

    A Quick Note on Inspirations and Artwork

    The book has a diverse range of people presented in the book. There are various adventurers that are people of color that appear in the book. I’m very happy to see this, although it’s also worth noting that the nations and fashions are very much rooted in eastern and northern European standards. There isn’t much of a hint of nations beyond the main landmass, and the landmass itself is largely self-contained with all of the European-themed nations.

    Chapter 1: Introduction

    Since this isn’t just a list of themed character options, but themed character options for a specific setting, the introduction primes us for the world of Etharis. Etharis is a dark fantasy setting with a lot of horror trappings, but if you are wondering what that means, specifically, this section spells it out.

    There are no gods, only the remaining Arch Seraphs and Arch Daemons that inspire or tempt humanity. Magic is either completely outlawed or strictly regulated, depending on where you are. People are generally a little on the paranoid and opportunistic side.

    Older, more established nations have fallen, the gods have died, and divine magic is rare. The player characters are likely to be some of the only people fighting back against the darkness, and some of the only people with the powers and abilities that they have.

    There is already a lot to cover, but I think it’s important to note the clarity of this being a dark fantasy setting. It’s easy to look at the trappings and see the horror elements, but in general, in a horror setting, survival is the main concern. In dark fantasy stories, heroes can make a difference and do more than survive, but it is usually at a cost — which frames the rest of the options presented herein.

    Chapter 2: Exotic Races of Etharis

    This section takes its cues from the Player’s Handbook presentation of races (while still using the term, ah well). Since the campaign guide framed how the more commonly known D&D ancestries exist in the setting, this section presents more unique options. These include:

    • Wechselkind (Constructed changelings that can appear as human children)
    • Laneshi (Aquatic species with twin elements of life and death in their society)
    • Ogresh (Wise, powerfully built, solitary species that excels at advising others)
    • Downcast (Mortal beings who were once celestials)
    • Dreamers (A species that escaped a cataclysm in their past by escaping to their dreams, but now cannot fully remember their past)
    • Disembodied (Partially ethereal victims of a magical experiment gone wrong)

    There is a very strong feel of “first-generation” 5e design, but that same feel makes the design feel very solid as well. Laneshi and downcast both rely heavily on sub-races to convey their story. Set ability score increases, alignment, languages, and skills are used to define many of the societal traits of these ancestries.

    The Laneshi aren’t so much based on an archetype, but have a very strong, unique feel to them for an aquatic race. The subclasses are based on if the character comes from the element of society that deals with life or death. Those that deal with death are likely spellcasters and were born as a twin. One twin is sacrificed and bound to the spellcaster as a spirit guide for the rest of their life. That’s a very specific societal trait, right there.

    I really like the concept of playing a now mortal angelic being, and the downcast are probably one of the most portable ancestries in this section because of that. The individual subclasses are tied to the setting’s unique Arch Seraphs, but that’s not a massive hurdle for anyone adapting them.

    The disembodied origin has strong Dragon Age vibes. These are survivors of a magical city that attempted to open itself to other planes of existence to tap into greater power, and then disappeared. The disembodied were changed into beings that are partially out of phase with reality, which is probably, on average, better than losing your soul to the Fade and having your body come back to ravage the mortal world.

    Overall, I enjoy this chapter. There is a good amount of portability with some of the ancestries, but it also doesn’t shy away from adding setting-specific details to build on for those using the setting.

    Chapter 3: Land of Etharis

    The next section of the book details the various lands of the setting, including the following:

    • The Burach Empire (What’s left of the older empire, with four provinces)
    • Ostoya (Haunted nation with a city of undead under it)
    • The Valikan Clans (Heavily Nordic region split between raiders and traders)
    • The Castinellan Provinces (Nation that’s home to the Arcanist Inquisition)
    • The Charneault Kingdom (Nation with a strong Fey influence)
    • Morencia (Free trading city-state)
    • Liesech (Former prosperous city-state now being slowly wrecked by a plague)

    As you may be able to tell from the descriptions or my note at the beginning of the review, there are many eastern and northern European influences in this setting. It also ticks off all of the boxes on the building blocks for a dark fantasy setting, from fallen, corrupt empires, undead haunted regions, and an intolerant inquisition. 

    I like that this is a Player’s Guide that provides a primer for the setting that doesn’t require the player to read the Campaign Guide, but for reasons we’ll get into later, this philosophy doesn’t hold all the way through the design process. I wanted to point out that instead of falling back on using ancestry names and Common for languages, we instead get unique languages for each nation, and sometimes multiple depending on the region within the nation.

    Chapter 4: Magic of Etharis

    Interestingly, this chapter is separated from other topics related to magic. It may be separated because this is setting information, while the later magic chapters are about mechanics, but we started with races, then moved to setting details, and then we’ll move to class information, so we’re doing some thematic weaving here.

    Since this is more setting information, this chapter is concerned with explaining the setting information that directly informs spellcasting classes. This means that we get a section on the death of the gods, Arch Seraphs, Arch Daemons, primordial elemental beings, magical colleges, licenses, and regulations.

    The lack of gods highlights the idea that while the Arch Seraphs can provide divine magic to the faithful, no god is going to show up to affect wide-scale change to the setting. All the Arch Seraphs embody a particular virtue, with an adjacent Arch Daemon that exists in opposition.

    The Primordials remind me of the same setting issues that struck me in 4th Edition D&D. These aren’t gods, but they are the source of nature magic. Gormadraug, the Prismatic Wyrm, is the embodiment of all elements, and serves a function like Jormungandr in Norse folklore, with the other elemental lords binding Gormadraug in place.

    One of the things I like about setting up magical regulation is that it’s an easy dial to adjust. You don’t have to always have your player characters on the run if they are magic users, but it’s an available plot hook for them to need to enter a land where their magic is illegal, or where the documentation has been lost. 

    While I don’t generally wonder too much about why the gods don’t make direct changes in a setting, I do like reinforcing the limits of divine intervention as a concept in a dark fantasy setting.

    Differences between revering primordials and gods aside, I do like the looming threat of an elemental “World Serpent” escaping its bonds as a heavy shadow hanging over the setting.

    Chapter 5: Player Classes

    This section introduces a lot of subclasses, all in one way or another themed to dark fantasy or horror. The subclasses include:

    • Barbarian
      • Path of the Fractured (Separate personalities and skills when raging and when not raging)
      • Path of the Primal Spirit (Barbarian with a spirit animal pet)
    • Bard
      • College of Adventurers (You gain lesser version of other class’ abilities)
      • College of Requiems (Add necromantic damage to allies attacks and animate the dead)
    • Cleric
      • Eldritch Domain (Worship dead gods or things beyond)
      • Inquisition Domain (Regulate the danger of magic in the world)
    • Druid
      • Circle of Blood (Gain access to some Sangromancy spells, leech hit dice from dying creatures, summon blood elementals)
      • Circle of Mutation (Gain a pool of mutation points to modify the stat blocks you use in wild shape)
    • Fighter
      • Bulwark Warrior (Fighter with enhanced protection tank abilities)
      • Living Crucible (Fighter that augments their abilities with various alchemical substances)
    • Monk
      • Way of the Leaden Crown (Inspire others to self-governance by resisting the power of mind control, use pressure points and gain access to various psionic themed spells)
      • Way of Pride (Monastic tradition based on inflating your reputation and being impressive)
    • Paladin
      • Oath of Pestilence (Face and spread death, especially in the form of disease)
      • Oath of Zeal (Focus on defeating specific groups or ideologies)
    • Ranger
      • Green Reaper (Ranger that excels at using and dealing with poison)
      • Vermin Lord (Ranger that has vermin swarm pets, does extra necrotic damage, and becomes resistant to disease)
    • Rogue
      • Highway Rider (Gain quick reactions, find a horse, sneak attack from a horse, and be harder to hit)
      • Misfortune Bringer (Bad luck rogue that gets jinx points and different curses they can trigger)
    • Sorcerer
      • Haunted (Gain sorcerous abilities due to a spirit that haunts you)
      • Wretched Bloodline (Gain sorcerous abilities because someone in your family broke a pact with a supernatural being)
    • Warlock
      • The First Vampire (Gain vampire-like life draining and shape-shifting from your patron)
      • The Parasite (Make a pact with a creature that lives in your body, and may let you spit out offspring eventually)
    • Wizard
      • Plague Doctor (Expend spell slots to heal, creature concoctions that cause conditions, eventually gain resistance to disease)
      • Sangromancer (Get special bonuses that interact with the Sangromancy spells in this book)

    There is a lot to like in this section, but first I want to summarize some trends. First, like the race chapter, these subclasses don’t default to using some of the more recent subclass “tech,” like uses per proficiency bonus, or using spell slots to supplement per rest abilities. There are also a lot of subclasses that grant you the ability to pick a few abilities from a longer list, which doesn’t feel wrong, but I don’t feel like we’ve seen that as much in 5e.

    Several of these subclasses feel like they play with elements traditionally associated with different main classes. That’s not a criticism, I like that kind of thematic expansion. Specifically, fighters using “artificial” means at body enhancement feels like it’s dovetailing with the monk, rogues playing with bad luck dovetails with the warlock, and barbarians with a pet feel like taking on some ranger trappings.

    Oddly, while I don’t mind that kind of thematic overlap, I’m not a fan of the College of Adventurers Bard and just getting lesser versions of some of the core classes’ signature abilities. Since they are lesser abilities, they are more of a “fill-in” ability, but it feels like it sits somewhere between “this won’t fully make up for not having that class,” and “but the bard doesn’t really have a personality other than makes up for not having that class.”

    The Oath of Pestilence and the Highway Rider both feel like they may be challenging play experiences, especially in the default setting. I’m not sure that the Oath of Pestilence and proving might makes right by surviving disease even works for an anti-hero in a dark fantasy game, and the Highway Rider’s abilities are so specific to being a mounted bandit, it feels tricky to work into an overall adventuring group.

    Chapter 6: Transformations

    Transformations are an interesting mechanic in this setting, effectively allowing you to have characters that become vampires, lycanthropes, or other afflicted characters, but adding those traits slowly and balancing them with limitations. This is one of those places where I wonder about splitting material between a campaign setting book and a Player’s Guide, because many of the core transformations you would expect to see, like vampires and lycanthropes, have extra options in this book, but don’t present enough material to play them.

    For a quick snapshot, there are four Transformation Levels, with a suggested class level range. So, you won’t get Level 4 abilities until you hit 17th level, or at least that’s the general guideline. For each transformation level, you get a boon and a flaw. While there are additional options for different levels for the transformations in the core book, the only ones presented completely in these rules are the Fey, The Primordial, and the Specter. While many of the level 1 flaws may serve as a good balance to these abilities, just from a story perspective, granting one of these transformations might heavily shift the story inertia towards the transformed character.

    Chapter 7: Backgrounds

    The campaign setting book introduced a new style of background – advanced backgrounds. This section of the book has both the traditional backgrounds, appropriate for the setting, and more advanced backgrounds.

    The traditional backgrounds add some features that are more “active,” and mechanically defined than the Player’s Handbook options. By this I mean, they might grant advantage or a reroll under very specific circumstances, a very narrow number of times per day, or other similar mechanics. I like this more solidly designed feature because I feel like people tend to use mechanically defined abilities more than narratively granted setting details. 

    That said, if you ever read the Dungeon Masters Guide on how to create backgrounds, it expressly tells you not to do this, and in this instance, the DMG is wrong. Sorry. Active, well-designed, and mechanically expressed is better than broad narrative position that a player may not be comfortable imposing on the campaign narrative.

    I’m less a fan of the advanced backgrounds. I like the concept of advanced backgrounds, i.e., a background that may evolve into something more over time, but the advanced backgrounds in this book almost suggest alternate campaign play that becomes its own narrative.

    Advanced backgrounds have ranks, which involve you performing a certain feat to gain that rank, then gaining holdings based on the new rank. Holdings take the form of people that answer to you, territory you control, etc. So your background may let you build a whole background criminal empire, but you need to do a few key important things to trigger the transition from one rank to another.

    In addition, you get a profession die tied to the background, and you can pick from a very specific list of situations where you can roll your profession die and add it to your ability check. Even in very limited circumstances, I’m not a big fan of creating situations where you can completely blow out the upper end of the bounded accuracy curve.

    All of these advanced backgrounds have a background framework, and then sub-backgrounds. Because of this, the most successful implementation I can see is if you were to have everyone in the campaign take the main background, so it’s easier to work on their individual goals while still participating in the campaign. 

    For example, Clan Members can be Raiders, Shaman, or Tribes Person, and I could see those working together in a campaign a lot more successfully than someone that has Clan Member as a base advanced background, and someone else that has Beggar, which is concerned with managing a city-based gang and criminal racket.

    Chapter 8: Archetypes

    Archetypes are a semi-mechanical aspect of the game, that introduces your aspirational approach to adventuring. Why are you an adventurer, and what do you want your story to be? This gives over twenty examples of archetypes, as well as what their goals may be.

    The semi-mechanical part comes in that each archetype provides an alternate list of ideals and flaws that you can use for your character, in addition to the ones provided by your background.

    I like this section, and how it expands options without expanding rules, as well as getting players to think on a meta-level about what they want to accomplish with their characters.

    Chapter 9: Spells

    There are 42 new spells in this section, and that’s a lot. Many of them are dark fantasy and horror flavored variations of standard spell effects, like damage dealing, and condition creation. Many of them are very story-appropriate for the themes of the campaign setting. But because there are so many new spells, I wanted to focus more on the new category of spells in this book, sangromancy.

    The common theme of sangromancy is bloodletting. In many cases, this means that a character will spend a hit die as part of casting the spell, and often rolls that hit die to determine the effect that spell will have. For example, you might cause a creature to take that hit dice worth of damage every round until the spell is finished whenever their turn starts.

    As you might expect, the Circle of Blood and Sangromancer subclasses earlier in the book have features that interact with this type of magic, for example, providing a few extra hit dice to “burn” than a “dabbler” might have.

    I like this addition to the rules, and for some reason, blood magic always has this visceral feel to it, like it’s a borderline forbidden tradition that creates strong setting elements. That said, it is a little difficult to judge the effectiveness of these spells against existing spells, because nothing really uses hit dice as a resource outside of resting and healing. I would still love to see some of these in play.

    Chapter 10: Advanced Weapons

    Advanced weapons rely on new weapon traits that are introduced and can only be used if a character has advanced weapon training. A character has advanced weapon training if they are 3rd level or higher and have proficiency with martial weapons.

    Traits include things like armor-piercing, which adds +1 to hit against armored foes, momentum, which does extra damage after moving in a straight line, and brutal, which adds an extra damage die whenever you roll a critical hit with the weapon. In addition to these traits, there are also traits like tripping and disarming weapons.

    I constantly live in a place where I want more weapons in D&D 5e, and where I don’t want weapons to get as complicated as they were in D&D 3.5. I feel like this is pushing a bit towards the latter. I’m not a fan of small, fiddly bonuses, but I don’t mind having certain circumstances where a weapon does a higher die of damage, for instance.

    I’m also not sure why the advanced weapon training rules were added to this. Many of these weapons are expensive enough that characters probably won’t be able to afford them until 3rd level, at any rate, and I’m not sure that their extra characteristics will be life or death deal-breakers even if someone has one of these at 1st level. The main conundrum that these rules serve to solve is to establish that black powder weapons require advanced weapon training.

    Chapter 11: Magic Items

    The majority of this section are special items that are specifically useful to people with transformations, and often require attunement by someone with a specific transformation. As such, there are Aberrant Horror, Fey, Fiend, Lich, Lycanthrope, Primordial, Seraph, Specter, and Vampire items. In many cases, these enhance existing abilities or help to mitigate specific weaknesses that individuals with these transformations might have.

    There are also a handful of magic items not tied to transformations, as well as a Grim Hollow Trinket Table. I’m a big fan of setting-specific trinkets, as I think they can subtly convey a lot about the setting details and the tone of the campaign.

    Chapter 12: Party Inspiration and Corruption

    This introduces two pools of dice, one for the players and one for the GM, that can be used to model the ebb and flow of fate.

    A character might spend one to add 1d6 to a saving throw, or two of them to make a death save. Characters may spend a die and roll it, multiply it, and determine equipment that they just happen to have brought along. All six can be spent to have a round of the whole party attacking with advantage against opponents who are all vulnerable to their attacks.

    The GM can spend the opposite pool to start an affliction such as a curse or a Transformation, boost a creature’s attack roll or hit points, or potentially inflict a failed death save on a player. All six in the pool can be spent to cause a major campaign villain to appear in the scene.

    I love GM currency, and narrative currency, but I struggle with adding them to D&D, since there are already so many currencies to track in the game. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, I’m just saying there is already a lot going on in that regard. That said, wow, I would not spend a GM resource to potentially give a PC a failed death save. That feels very adversarial to me. Also, compared to hero points in the DMG, it’s expensive to make a death save on the hero side.

    Chapter 13: Session Zero

    This is my favorite part of the whole book. More discussion of safety tools, session zero, and campaign expectations in all D&D books, across the board!

    This section is four pages long, and covers setting expectations, discussing tone and theme of the campaign, setting boundaries, using in-game safety tools, agreeing on party composition, and scheduling. 

    Not only do we get a discussion of safety, but we also get a section on what to do if you mess up in your implementation of safety. There are links to other sources that have discussed these issues in other venues. I appreciate this, because while I think a summary of these discussions is important to include, introducing players to a wider discussion of the topics is also important for normalizing such content. 

    A Light In the Darkness
     The section on Session Zero is much appreciated and well done, and I hope it can serve as a model of how to include this style of material in other 5e OGL work. 

    While the setting does appear to have similar elements to other existing, published settings, there are several subtle but substantial setting elements that distinguish the setting. Many solid options work both in the context of the setting, as well as for use outside of the setting. Some of the strongest “cross setting” material includes some of the ancestries, many of the subclasses, and the new magic subtype. The section on Session Zero is much appreciated and well done, and I hope it can serve as a model of how to include this style of material in other 5e OGL work. 

    Extinguished Lights

    Transformations are interesting, but some of the most “traditional” concepts represented by transformations are only detailed in the campaign guide, and not repeated in this section. The advanced backgrounds also contain material first introduced in the campaign guide, but share the same issue with that material, where it very specifically pulls characters in a specific “second life” outside of adventuring. The advanced weapons section is yet another concept introduced in the campaign guide, which introduces new weapon qualities and special rules for more granular weapon proficiency, but I’m not sure that we needed the secondary rules surrounding proficiency, outside of new weapon qualities. 

    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.

    If you want more optional rules and elements to add to your D&D 5e game, this book will give you lots of options, some stronger and better able to be used across settings than others. If you want a dark fantasy setting, it has some strong recommendations for it, although it’s definitely competing with some stiff competition in both the horror and dark fantasy genres.

    What genre tropes do you identify as being common to both horror and dark fantasy? What are your favorite settings that blend the two? What is really needed in a setting or a ruleset to distinguish dark fantasy from heroic fantasy? We want to hear from you in the comments below!

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  • Troy’s Crock Pot: A Sampling of Quest Givers
    Troy’s Crock Pot: A Sampling of Quest Givers

    It could be an interesting quest…

    Yes, the local ruler could set the player characters on their next fantasy adventure. 

    But if, as gamemaster, you want a different starting point, consider giving these a try.

    Apprentice to an arcanist

    1. Seeking help in obtaining a rare spellcasting component that is part of/protected by a dangerous creature. 

    2. Locate a long overdue mentor who had embarked on a journey to a wizarding conclave.

    3. Requires protection for a journey to a repository of lore, academy or library.

    4. Needs to convey an astrological and planar reading to a far-off ruler.

    Animal handler

    1. Seeks help in safely capturing a pair of rare creatures to add to a menagerie.

    2. Extends an invitation to a “Lost Valley” preserve featuring many creatures thought extinct.

    3. Hopes to save a herd of unicorns (or other rare creature) from poachers or trophy hunters.

    4. Some of the swiftest mounts live wild on the steppes; adding them to the crown’s stable would be a boon.

    Ecclesiastic

    1. A powerful relic once thought lost is believed to be in a ruin; adventurers are dispatched with a phylactery to contain it.

    2, A fereter has been stolen by a rival sect; retrieve it and the relics within and return them to the rightful congregation.

    3. A brother or sister in the faith engaged in doing important work translating a rare and ancient religious text needs protection for the journey from their monastery to the mother cathedral, especially from zealots whose ire has been raised by revelations in the text.

    4. Security is needed during an ecumenical conclave where contentious issues are discussed and debated.

    Ship’s captain

    1. Explorers experienced in peaceful first contacts are needed, should expedition encounter inhabitants during voyage.

    2. Capable marines sought for merchant run through seas claimed by an adversarial power.

    3. There is a famed pirate’s treasure map. X marks the spot, but the captain suspects retrieving the prize won’t be so straightforward.

    4. A rescue mission is being assembled to locate a missing ship and its crew from a region ruled by a dragon or other monster.

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  • Why your players do not want to try out other games
    Why your players do not want to try out other games

    Some weeks ago, the newest Unearthed Arcana came around for D&D5e. This included a collection of subclasses that can work for more than one class. I thought it was very imaginative of WotC to go that route, considering how they stuck to the same classes and subclasses formula for so long. In my group chat with my friends I DM for, they all started questioning if this meant we were getting close to a new edition for D&D. As the conversation progressed, they started to get pumped and were looking forward to this new edition… And that sparked an idea for a new article.

    If you’ve been following me lately on Twitter you may have noticed that as time passes, I look forward to trying out new RPGs and help the indie game devs. Partly, this is because I really like game development, be it for tabletop or videogames. However, this is also because, after 5 years of only playing D&D5e, I’m starting to get tired of it, how bothersome and unnecessarily complex the rules can be (even though they are pretty simple if you compare it with past editions), and primarily because it tries to be good at every aspect to be the perfect RPG for any style of play. Note that I don’t dislike D&D. I’m pretty sure it’s the thing I’ve invested most of my money on. However, I believe one needs to try other games to get out of one’s comfort zone, which will make you in the long run a better GM and player.

    Instead of making this a long rant, I prefer to analyze why it is that so many of the TTRPG players play D&D instead of other games. That’s why when my players were pumped about 6e I asked them why it was that they are eager to learn how to play a new edition but would not try out other games that might do everything they enjoy about the dragon game, some even better. I decided to get some of those answers and brainstorm a bit about everything that keeps a player from trying new games. If I am lucky enough, I may crack the puzzle and understand how to get them, and maybe you the reader (or your friends), to try out new things.

    My friends’ answers

    Despite being different editions, the core game remains the same

    This may be one of the most common answers, yet those who played through more than one edition know for a fact how different each one was from the one before it. The different D&D editions had different objectives in mind. I am no connoisseur, as I only played its latest edition and am pretty new to the hobby, but I have a faint idea of the things each of them tried to accomplish. They all tried their shot at different strategies, and when they felt it was time for a change, a new edition would appear.

    It is known for a fact that D&D 5e is by far the most successful edition yet, with popularity still exponentially increasing. This may lead us to think that the game will not change as much if the people at WotC decided to create a new edition. I still think we are pretty far away from them looking to make a big change, even though they showed there are some things that needed a fix-up, such as the races with their recent change to lineages.

    Does this mean that if a 6th edition was to come, its core would remain mostly the same? I believe we are still far away from knowing that, but I could be surprised. Nevertheless, there are still many other games you can try out that aren’t that different from D&D, which might fit your player group even better. Don’t be scared to giving them a try!

    We spent a lot of money and time on this system

    This is a huge factor why people don’t want to jump to other games, both GMs and players. I share a D&D Beyond account subscription with my players and did pay for pretty much all player content in there, while I also bought many of the books in physical format as well. Let’s compare, however, how much it costs to play D&D in comparison to other games though: Even though you can play with just the free SRD and Basic Rules, most of the D&D content requires the DM to have the PHB, the Monster Manual, and the DMG. That’s about $49.95 per book, meaning you need to spend about $150 to play. That’s how their business model works and I can get behind it, as players don’t really need the Monster Manual and the DMG, so it makes sense to keep them in separate books. If you compare that with other RPGs, a great deal of them have all the content you need in one single book (most of them even cheaper than $49.95!).

    Getting to play other RPGs doesn’t mean you have to burn your D&D books, however. Even if you like some other game more, you can always come back to D&D. I personally don’t have any intention to stop playing any time soon! Additionally, all those monsters from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, the cities in Storm King’s Thunder, and even some mechanics can be stolen and added to your Call of Cthulhu game for example. I even created a Monster Combo article mixing up a Call of Cthulhu monster with a D&D giant, and it shouldn’t be difficult for you to do something similar. What I am trying to get at, is that your money and time is not thrown away by trying out other games. In fact, you will surely become a better GM and/or player by trying out different stuff!

    It’s extremely easy to find stuff for D&D5e

    I can totally get behind this one. When one of my players said how easy it is for him to find videos of D&D shows, character-building, and more, I had to agree with him. D&D is a behemoth of a game, and the most popular RPG ever. There are videos, memes, homebrew stuff, 3rd party content, even TV shows and movies making references to it! If you have a doubt about a rule, you can google how it works and there surely is someone that came by before you and asked the same thing in a forum. Can other games compete against it? Not for now… But other games are slowly gaining popularity, so that could probably change a bit in the future.

    There’s a big distinction to make between the different types of games. Both rules-heavy and rules-light RPGs exist, with some of them being at a point in between. Rules-light RPGs don’t really have a need to have a lot of content around the net as everything you can imagine you can drop into the game without much problem. There’s no need for thousands of videos and articles of homebrew stuff you can add to your game, nor character builds because the simplicity in the rules creates such a structure in which you don’t need that. If you want your superhero character to control matter, it’s only the GM who can stop you from choosing that, not the rules! On the other hand, rules-heavy RPGs that are not very popular can present some difficulty when trying to find guides, debates, etc. online, which can be a problem for some people.

    D&D5e provides the right amount of complexity

    My players love the tactical aspect of combat D&D provides for them, as well as the cool aspect D&D gives as they level up by having tons of different things they can do. D&D has everything they want and does it well enough. Another thing one of them said is that a complex system gives them a guideline of all the things they can and can’t do. Therefore, they don’t need to be extremely creative when thinking of things to do, as their character sheet already has all possible answers. When playing a rules-light game, you often rely on the players’ and GM’s creativity to push the story forward. Only some things are statted out and the system is as great as the players’ imagination. In other words, rules-heavy games present guidelines for players who aren’t looking to be particularly creative when playing.

    Is D&D the only complex RPG though? Absolutely not. While rules-light games are the vast majority in the indie RPG space, there’s at least one rules-heavy game for each genre. Pathfinder is a great example of this in the medieval fantasy genre. Starfinder, Shadowrun, 7th Sea, Mutants & Masterminds are some other great examples from other genres. The downside, however, is that complex games require a lot more time to learn the rules, which makes jumping from D&D to one of these more difficult. Nevertheless, just like when you jump from an iPhone to an Android phone or vice-versa, you already know the basics, which makes learning a new system much faster than what it took you to learn to play your first RPG. Many things have similar mechanics, and you already tell all types of dice apart.

    You can just homebrew it

    D&D sells itself as a game that can work pretty much for every kind of game you might want to run, and if there’s something you can’t do with it, you can just homebrew it. This has kept lots of players from jumping to other games. D&D does a whole lot of things right, but at the same time there are lots of things in which it could be better, or you may want something to work differently. To put an example, last week I had a conversation with my friends in which they were talking about different ways in which AC could be more realistic or work better in D&D. There are a huge amount of homebrew rules that fix that, but there’s a reason why WotC decided to make AC work that way. WotC was looking for simplicity when building many of the rules for the game, which means some of the rules might not be perfect but are simple enough for new players to quickly understand.

    Homebrewing rules in D&D or changing the way it works can add a whole new level of complexity to the game. If there is something you might want to homebrew in, there surely is another game that does a better job at it. Pathfinder, for example, can be a better fit for you if you are still looking for a D&D-like level of complexity but want armor for example to work in a different way. Homebrewing stuff into your game can make it better, but don’t be scared to look at other games that might be offering exactly what you are looking for, in a way that might work better. What’s more, playing other games is a great way to learn new mechanics to homebrew into your D&D games! Blades in the Dark’s clock system works greatly in D&D for example!

    Dimension 20 shows how weird it can be

    I might not have seen as much of Dimension20 as I may want to, but from what I’ve seen, the show makes a great example of how you can homebrew stuff into your D&D games. Dimension20 has run games in a University setting, a present-day city game, a Candyland setting, and much more all using the D&D rules. Is it ok to do this? Absolutely! Could these games have been better if they used a more appropriate system for the setting? Possibly. Brennan is an amazing DM though and created great narratives and gameplay using a system that was not built for those kinds of settings. I’m using this as an example to show you that D&D can be heavily homebrewed and still work. A game of Fate may have been a better approach for these settings though. Go give a glimpse to its rules to see if is what you are looking for in your next campaign.

    Solutions

    Ask this same question

    First of all, if your players aren’t eager to try out new games, consider asking them why they might want to keep playing future D&D editions and not play other games. They may have reasonings you haven’t taken into consideration, as some of the ones I wrote about in this article. No matter the answer, D&D is still an amazing game and there’s nothing wrong with playing it, but broadening your horizons and trying out other stuff will surely make you a better gamer, and you may find some other game you enjoy playing more than D&D. Just don’t be an dic* if your players really don’t want to try out something else. The core idea of this article is to create some debating within your friends’ group to see if you can get to try new games.

    Ask if they want to try out 3/4 sessions game with you explaining the rules

    When I asked my friends if they would be willing to try a short campaign from some other game if I explained the rules, they mostly agreed. This is a great way to give your friends a sneak peak of what other games are about without committing to running long campaigns in games other than D&D. Best case scenario, your friends end up liking the short campaign so much they want to play the new game some more. Be sure to have this game ready with premade characters to jump quicker into the game. Wasting an entire session to explain the game rules might bore your friends, making them want to go back to their comfort zone. Jumping straight to the action and explaining the rules as you play is key to hook them into new games!

    Baby steps

    Truth is your players may not want to commit to something very long, more so if it’s in a system they haven’t still tried out. Start by playing one-shots of these other games that showcase the rules as best as they can. Rules-light games such as Fiasco are great examples of things you can try out to show your players that RPGs is much more than D&D. Start with short easy games, and slowly show them more complex stuff they might find interesting.


    Hopefully, this article may have given you and your players enough reasons to try out new games. D&D is not the only RPG, and there are definitely tons of ways to hook your players in stuff they might find even more interesting, or good enough to try out at least once.

    Is your player group (or you) stuck only playing D&D? Are you planning to try out other games, or have you accomplished to do so? If that’s the case, how did you manage to convince your friends to try out something different? Or what is keeping you from trying them out? Let me know in the comments below! I might end up doing a second part with your answers.

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  • VideoGnomecast #120 – Music to Our Ears
    Gnome Stew's Gnomecast

    Join Ang, Jared, and Senda for a discussion about ways that music can enhance your gaming experience. Are these gnomes musical enough to keep out of the stew?

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