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  • Every Day Is Halloween at Trick or Treat Studios

    by W. Eric Martin

    Chris Zephro, president and co-founder of Trick or Treat Studios in Santa Cruz, California, has been a gamer for as long as he can remember. "I bought my first D&D box set in fourth grade," he says.

    In junior high, he met and befriended Luke Gygax, son of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, who was temporarily living in Los Angeles because Marvel Productions was working on a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series. "I met him on a Friday during roll call in sixth period," says Zephro. As soon as he heard the name "Gygax", Zephro approached Luke to confirm that he was indeed related to Gary Gygax. "I said, 'My name is Chris, and I'm spending the night at your house.'"

    After spending two decades working for various corporations, in 2010 Zephro and artist/sculptor Justin Mabry founded Trick or Treat Studios, which initially focused on designing and manufacturing Halloween masks and costumes. "We always knew that we would branch out," says Zephro. Over the years, the company added to its catalog: weapon props, action figures, home decor, jewelry, air fresheners, and much more. "Tabletop gaming was always on the list."

    Trick or Treat Studios debuted its game line at Gen Con 2021, albeit only with demo copies. "The original plan was to have the games out by Halloween," says Zephro, but the manufacturing and shipping issues that have been plaguing the game industry, as well as pretty much all industries, since Covid-19 hit in early 2020 have affected them as well.

    At this point, the first four titles from Trick or Treat Studios are scheduled for release in the first half of 2022, with many others planned through 2024.

    • One of those first titles is the card game Creature Feature from Richard Garfield. Says Zephro, "I reached out to all my favorite designers, and they all got back to me. I always assumed that designers like Richard Garfield would have a jillion publishers banging down their door, but it's more common for designers to be the ones doing the pitching."

    Creature Feature plays out over three seasons of movie-making, and in a season each of the 3-6 players has 8-10 cards in hand that they will use to audition for a spot in 4-5 movies. Cards range in value from 1-11, with some of them having special powers. To play, you reveal a movie worth 2-6 points, then each player chooses a pair of cards in their hand to audition for the star and co-star spots in this movie. Everyone reveals their co-star card, then in turn players have the option to withdraw from the movie to instead audition for a short film worth half as many points as the movie (1-3 instead of 2-6); you can even withdraw from that competition, moving your cards to the "fold" space on your player board.

    Once everyone has decided to fold or locked in their audition spots, players reveal their stars to see who has the higher sum of actors for the movie or the short. One twist, however, is that your actors are ignored if your co-star has an equal or higher value than your star — unless this is true for everyone who has auditioned for the same spot. Whoever wins the movie spot claims that tile and all actors who auditioned for that spot. These actors are score face down and worth 1 point each — unless you won the spot with a star that didn't outrank the co-star, in which case your actor cards are scored face up, with them being worth 2-5 points each.


    After you play through a hand of cards, you've completed a season, record your points on the scoretrack, then shuffle the cards to prepare for the next season. The deck includes helper cards that you can play while placing star and co-star cards, while resolving cards, and during other situations, with a helper replacing itself immediately so that you can have enough actors to fulfill all possible movie roles.

    Blood Orders is a game from newcomer Nick Badagliacca in which 2-4 players "each take on the roles of powerful but disgraced vampires, exiled from a centuries-old order and hoping to build a new underground kingdom of their own in an unfamiliar city. Players visit locations in disguise to gain resources, perform arcane rituals, and hypnotize the citizenry...but most importantly, to turn hapless victims into fresh, bloodthirsty vampires under their command!"

    In more detail:
    To build your new order, you must manage a continuously evolving hand of vampire cards at your command, sending them throughout the city to visit locations, perform arcane rituals, bewitch victims, and recruit new vampires, all over the course of nine rounds (days). All of these activities take the form of cards activated by your order tokens on the board, allowing you to amass critical resources, perform useful actions, and earn points. However, as your power grows, so does fear within the city, making your quest increasingly difficult as the days go by.


    At the end of the ninth day, the vampire player with the most points reigns supreme!

    And in still more detail: Blood Orders takes place over three acts, with each act consisting of three days, with rituals, locations, and victims being divided by act.

    Each day, you secretly program three order tokens (dawn, dusk, night) based on whether you want to visit the altar to select a ritual, the catacombs to have a garden-variety vampire join your order, or a specific quarter of the city, where you can carry out the effect of a location, pay influence to use a victim's ability, or acquire a specific victim for your order. You use your vampires to overcome the fear values in city quarters, and you must feed vampires blood to recover them from torpor at the end of a day.

    TrollFest is another 3-6 player game, this time from Bruno Faidutti and Camille Mathieu, and the best description of the game might come from Faidutti himself, who posted a diary about the game on his blog in September 2021:
    A game of TrollFest is made of three phases. At the beginning of the game, players draft action and musician cards and build an amateur band of at least four musicians: a singer, a drummer, a guitar and a bass guitar player.

    Every group then leaves its starting city for a big tour around the country, moving from town to town, holding concerts, sometimes recruiting additional or better musicians, sometimes even hiring dragons for the final light show. The main way to score points during the tour is to give concerts. The most successful ones are in the cities where the local crowd is most receptive to your musical style — basically, dwarves like dwarven music played by dwarven musicians, trolls like troll music played by trolls, etc. While playing elf pop in orc city halls makes little sense, multicultural big bands can have some success everywhere, especially if they also recruit a few exotic characters, like a siren or minotaur.

    Sample cards
    Unexpected events such as disagreement between musicians, snow storm, or yellow vests blocking the roads sometimes interfere with the band's well-planned tours. Nothing is more classy, of course, than to arrive on a dragon's back to end one's tour in one's home city.

    In spirit, TrollFest seems like a blending of Ticket to Ride and Elfenland, with players starting the game with 10-16 tour tokens and choosing one of the 25 cities as their hometown, that is, the starting point for their band.

    On a turn, you move along a road to a neighboring city — collecting a dragon token if one awaits on the side of the road and you don't already have it — then you conduct a tour in that city if you haven't already done so, scoring points based on the band members that match that city's named species, with bonus points if you're the first one to hold a concert there (as recorded by the depositing of a tour token). Some cities let you draft a new action card or draft a new musician for your band, thereby letting you adapt to future cities on your travel itinerary or prepare for varied endgame bonuses based on your band's authenticity; diversity; collection of dragon tokens and light shows; and attribute scores in energy, charisma, and skill.

    World-Z League is a straightforward zombie-killing game from David Gregg for 1-4 players, with those players using rubber bands to shoot at targets.

    To set up, take turns placing a building and a zombie, an obstacle and a zombie, then your final two zombies. The game includes rules that cover all the details of placement, but in general you need to leave at least half of your first two zombies exposed and all of your last two zombies in the open. Zombies have different point values on the back, and when you strike down an opposing zombie with a rubber band, you also score for zombies that have been knocked down by their owners.


    • Regarding the look of games from Trick or Treat Studios, Faidutti wrote this about TrollFest: "Their graphic artist, David Hartman, also works with Rob Zombie, a metal musician and horror movie producer. [Hartman] made the video clips for the movies Lords of Salem and American Witch, and the art for his albums. His style is of course dark and gore, but also light and full of humor, and he visibly had great fun drawing the musicians for TrollFest, which he did incredibly fast. It's different from what we are used to in the boardgaming world, but I think we will see it also in other games by Trick or Treat Studios."

    Zephro confirms this, noting that the company has used plenty of great artists over the years who will now bring their talents to board games. "It's like a breath of fresh air because no one has ever seen their stuff", he says.

    TrollFest game board
    Combined with the desire to bring a new look to their games, Zephro and project manager Andy Van Zandt are excited to have their games featured in new locations. Says Zephro, "We have established channels in the collectibles market for horror and costuming. We sell in tattoo shops, auto shops, toy stores, and elsewhere, so you'll see games in Hot Topic and other non-traditional channels that focus on horror, monsters, fun, and fantasy."

    These new markets and new artists will be combined with familiar designers as Zephro notes that Trick or Treat Studios is also working with established talent like Richard Launius, Banana Chan, Tom Lehmann, John D. Clair, Emerson Matsuuchi, Scott Rogers, and Reiner Knizia. "We're doing both original IPs and a number of licensed IPs as TTS has worked with over 150 licensed IPs," he says, specifically mentioning Child's Play and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

    • So what will you see from Trick or Treat Studios in years to come? Says Zephro, "I love Specter Ops, and Emerson [Matsuuchi] and I talked about how cool it would be to have a game like that based on Halloween. One character is Michael Myers, and everyone else is trying to escape from him."

    "Richard Launius was working with Mondo on a cool game called LA-1," says Zephro, but Mondo is now out of the picture, with Trick or Treat Studios being in. "It's the version of Arkham Horror that you've always wanted that game to be, and it takes place in a Blade Runner/The Fifth Element-type of universe."

    Launis also has a co-operative game based on the original Halloween film from 1978, and Zephro says one of the challenges of selling games into markets that don't normally carry games is that you have to help them understand that despite this game having the same license as the Matsuuchi design, the games themselves stand on their own. "They're mechanically different", he says. "I've had to do a lot of explaining."

    Aside from World-Z League, designer David Gregg is working on a new version of the deck-building game Nightfall, with Zephro describing it as a 2.0 version that will feature Universal classic monsters.

    Finally in this short list of teasers we come to Reiner Knizia's Dream Factory, a.k.a. Traumfabrik, a.k.a. Hollywood Golden Age. Zephro says that they've transformed the game into Nightmare Factory, with the game featuring all new art and with players now creating horror movies. "The artwork is spectacular", he says. "We're definitely going to make a big splash."

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Interior Design for the Discerning Overlord, or Making Dungeon Decorators Shine

    by Jen Kitzman SlugFest Games

    Introduction with designer Jeff LaFlam

    I never thought Minecraft was a game about decorating...but in some ways, and depending on the person, it is. That person is my son. He would spend hours and hours in that game building all kinds of interesting buildings, then he'd call me over to show me what he had built. He had a tour route already planned where I would see each room one by one. He would go into extreme detail: "See the torch I placed onto this wall so that you can see in the hallway", and "I put this chest next to the bed so a person can grab their stuff when they wake." He had a reason for just about every item he placed, where he placed it, and why that all made sense. It wasn't as much about the buildings, it was how he decorated them — and that's how my idea for Dungeon Decorators started.

    I immediately began building a prototype. I made some simple two-, three-, and four-way hallway tiles on the top half of cards and decorations on the bottom half. Before you knew it, I was at a Protospiel running a test of the design. I quickly learned through experience that tucking cards under other cards was a real pain while building your dungeon. Shortly after that, chatting with some designer friends led to the idea of making decorations into tiles instead of cards. I started to test with that, and all of a sudden a decent game was formed.

    The game had two types of objective cards that players could work on during play. One was based on the shape of your dungeon layout; I called them shape goals. The other was based on decorating. I noticed that some playtesters enjoyed doing one type of goal over another; some just wanted to do a cool layout; and others wanted to intricately place objects in their dungeons, so I needed both. While designing goals, I thought to myself, "What would a skeleton want to have to be a part of my dungeon?" Maybe it needed a sword rack and a few cobwebs. Maybe it'd like a cluster of rooms at the end of a long hall. What about other monsters? I would build from there.


    Every turn, players had to choose between a hall or room tile with which they could extend their dungeon or a decoration tile that they could then place next to an existing wall. A decoration could be placed only on a wall, not on an opening to a room or hallway. This was fine...unless you lacked an equal amount of decorations and dungeon layout tiles, which is why the double-sided tile came into play.

    With this change, you had an equal number of decorations on one side as the number of "exits" on the dungeon layout side. What's more, you never needed to flip over a tile to see what kind of dungeon layout tile was beneath. If the tile had four decorations, you knew a four-way hallway was underneath; if it had one decoration, it was a room; and so on. Drafting those tiles was working at that point, but it still had some issues.


    Eventually, I added an ordering system and some player-drafting powers to each of the tiles so that drafting was more interesting to players, similar to Kingdomino. Sure, you could take the best tile this round if you were first, but then you would select last in the next round. Next, I had to figure out how many rounds a game should go for and how many tiles the game needed to support that game length.


    In playtesting, I found that when people knew the game was coming to an end (as they could see just a few tiles left), they would give up on their objectives and just try to find points here and there. That is when I changed the end of the game to be when the third of three endgame tiles from the second-half set was revealed.

    Players would see the first endgame tile come up and you could see them take that as a warning. When the second endgame tile arrived, players were on edge since they really wanted to finish off their current objectives! Now, the game was usually ending before players wanted it to, and that was a great moment, just like Ethnos.


    I had a game, but now what?

    There was a game manufacturing trade show in Reno where they had a "pitch" session for designers and publishers. I set my game up and waited for publishers to come by. Those that were interested sat down and asked questions, while others moved by. I had a few bites that night that I followed up on, one of which was SlugFest Games.

    I ended up creating a Tabletop Simulator version of my game so that they could test it online since the company is comprised of people in different areas of the country. I was asked a few questions about my design choices, then eventually they announced they wanted to sign my game! We had some great back-and-forth during the development of the game, which was interesting and rewarding to see for the first time. They streamlined the game and left some of my design out for potential future work.

    My game design started from watching my son play Minecraft, and then realizing what made that game so much fun for him. I wanted to capture that fun in a board game, so that is what I set out to do. I usually get inspired by playing a game myself or seeing something inspiring and thinking, oh, what if this was to happen? It never occurred to me that you can also get ideas from watching and analyzing others play. My eyes have a new filter on the world now, and it's fun.

    And now SlugFest Games chimes in, with Jeff Morrow!

    For many years, the GAMA Trade Show has been a great venue for publishers to meet prospective game designers and look at their creations. At the 2019 show, we saw a game by designer Jeff LaFlam. It was a bit rough around the edges, but it was highly flavorful and had the elegant mechanism of players drafting double-sided tiles and deciding which way to place them when building their dungeon.

    After a bit of exploration and discussion post-show, we decided to license the game and start digging into it. This post talks a bit about what we changed and what we didn't.

    Let's start with what we kept: the draft mechanism and the tiles survived almost unchanged from Jeff's original design. The main changes we made were adding a fifth and sixth tile color, as well as slightly tweaking some of the assistant abilities. We also moved the "draw/mulligan" spot from the end of the line to the middle and changed its functionality ever so slightly.

    One other small change that we made was to the draft process. In the original game, you would fill the draft board each round with N tiles, where N is the number of players in the game. We changed that to four tiles regardless of N. This was easier to remember, and it ensured that the game lasted the same number of rounds no matter how many players were playing.

    SlugFest is best known for our flagship comedy card game The Red Dragon Inn. While we knew that we didn't want to try embedding this game in the RDI world, we felt it would be a good idea to add some "dungeon comedy" to the game, so while the original game had somewhat generic elements like goblins, rogues and skeletons, we went with cards like the Dragon Day Care Center and the Sharp Pointy Object Storage.


    Where we ended up making more extensive changes was in how players score points. In the original design, players had a hand of decoration goals, there were one or two shared shape goals on the table, and there were no boss goals. The decoration goals worked pretty well, but the shared shape goals were worth lots of points, were rather difficult to make, and gave diminishing point values as each player achieved that shape.

    Unfortunately, this tended to make them very decisive; players were generally forced to go after them, lest they find themselves in a big hole relative to the players who did. So we made shape goals easier, and we made a new deck out of them. This gave the players more agency since they could decide whether to focus more on decorations or more on shapes.


    However, we later decided that it would still be good to have some kind of shared goals. For this, we turned to an experimental mechanism that Jeff had just added to his prototype: "overlord" cards, which eventually turned into boss goals. By creating two different decks of boss goals and having one of each at the beginning of the game, it allowed us to make a mechanism that gave gentle nudges to players. This, in turn, made it so that each play of the game was somewhat different, while also mitigating the problem mentioned above in which shared shape goals were super important and therefore also super high-stakes.


    After making these changes, we kept playing the game, and we kept liking it. For those of you not in the industry, we should explain: Most of the time, after we playtest a game for a while, we get really, REALLY sick of it. We knew this game was special because that never happened. In fact, it STILL hasn't happened. We still really enjoy this game, and we hope you all do, too.

    Thanks for reading! Read more »
    -

    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadows
    Publisher: Figu Design

    Happy Halloween! From now through October 31st, this digital title has been marked down by up to 20%.

    There is a deep, silent and very cold place far away from other lands. There is no colour, no life, sun never shines here. Bones lies all over on the ground and death is everywhere.

    Yes, you stand this entry of the crypt. The Crypt of shadows! The voice of your steps starts to wake up the darkness.  Anything could happen at Halloween Night!

    May the odds be ever in your favour!


    crypt__rpg1.jpg


    Detailed and realistic graphic for a more scenic game

    I am creating this artwork in 200DPI which allows you to print this set out in photo quality to be worthy of your tabletop game.

    crypt__rpg3.jpg


    About my tile sets:

    My FiguD's tiles include 6x6 inch sized tiles which you can build up your own maps.
    In the folder of this product you will find PDF files. These files include the tiles of the Crypt of shadows with layers. You can customize every tile easily with buttons within the PDF files right before you print it. 

    Every tile includes switchable objects, lights.

    crypt__rpg2.jpg

    You will get:

    - 14 customizable tiles ( empty tiles, tiles with objects, light tiles, objects+light tiles)
    - Tiles in JPG format to online VTT-s
    - Cut-Outs

    cutoutobjects.jpg

    Image format: PDF, U.S. Letter, 200 dpi

    For personal use only. Enjoy it!

    FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadowsPrice: $4.79 Read more »
  • The Right to Bear Arm
    Publisher: Martin Ackerfors

    Somehow, you are now in possession of an arm. Cut off, somewhere between the shoulder and the elbow. Chop chop. Grind marks c l e a r l y v i s i b l e . Tattooed on the arm is a labyrinthine map, and the hand holds the head of a sceptre in a firm grip. It is brown, tinted in azure, and smooth like porcelain. The arm is heavy, and you become briefly aware that you, also, are MEAT, heavy save for the frail muscles in your body.

    You get a strong feeling that the arm may lead you to something quite VALUABLE, or POWERFUL (or both!) ...

    Venture in to the fortress-like complex, encounter Tarragon Cultists awaiting the arrival of the wyrm, visit the court of the Raven Lord, and learn the fate of the owner of the arm in your possession.

    About The Right to Bear Arm

    This is a dungeon adventure for the best-selling role-playing game Mörk Borg by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell, released under their third-party license. Intended for 2-3 game sessions.

    24 fully illustrated 6" * 9" pages, complete with map, stats, and encounters.

    Text and illustrations by Martin Ackerfors (with additions conjured from the public domain

    Legal stuff

    The Right to Bear Arm is an independent production by the true owner of the arm, Martin Ackerfors, and is not affiliated with Ockult Örtmästare Games or Stockholm Kartell. It is published under the MÖRK BORG Third Party License.

    MÖRK BORG is copyright Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell.

    The Right to Bear ArmPrice: $3.97 Read more »
    -

    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadows
    Publisher: Figu Design

    Happy Halloween! From now through October 31st, this digital title has been marked down by up to 20%.

    There is a deep, silent and very cold place far away from other lands. There is no colour, no life, sun never shines here. Bones lies all over on the ground and death is everywhere.

    Yes, you stand this entry of the crypt. The Crypt of shadows! The voice of your steps starts to wake up the darkness.  Anything could happen at Halloween Night!

    May the odds be ever in your favour!


    crypt__rpg1.jpg


    Detailed and realistic graphic for a more scenic game

    I am creating this artwork in 200DPI which allows you to print this set out in photo quality to be worthy of your tabletop game.

    crypt__rpg3.jpg


    About my tile sets:

    My FiguD's tiles include 6x6 inch sized tiles which you can build up your own maps.
    In the folder of this product you will find PDF files. These files include the tiles of the Crypt of shadows with layers. You can customize every tile easily with buttons within the PDF files right before you print it. 

    Every tile includes switchable objects, lights.

    crypt__rpg2.jpg

    You will get:

    - 14 customizable tiles ( empty tiles, tiles with objects, light tiles, objects+light tiles)
    - Tiles in JPG format to online VTT-s
    - Cut-Outs

    cutoutobjects.jpg

    Image format: PDF, U.S. Letter, 200 dpi

    For personal use only. Enjoy it!

    FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadowsPrice: $4.79 Read more »
  • The Right to Bear Arm
    Publisher: Martin Ackerfors

    Somehow, you are now in possession of an arm. Cut off, somewhere between the shoulder and the elbow. Chop chop. Grind marks c l e a r l y v i s i b l e . Tattooed on the arm is a labyrinthine map, and the hand holds the head of a sceptre in a firm grip. It is brown, tinted in azure, and smooth like porcelain. The arm is heavy, and you become briefly aware that you, also, are MEAT, heavy save for the frail muscles in your body.

    You get a strong feeling that the arm may lead you to something quite VALUABLE, or POWERFUL (or both!) ...

    Venture in to the fortress-like complex, encounter Tarragon Cultists awaiting the arrival of the wyrm, visit the court of the Raven Lord, and learn the fate of the owner of the arm in your possession.

    About The Right to Bear Arm

    This is a dungeon adventure for the best-selling role-playing game Mörk Borg by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell, released under their third-party license. Intended for 2-3 game sessions.

    24 fully illustrated 6" * 9" pages, complete with map, stats, and encounters.

    Text and illustrations by Martin Ackerfors (with additions conjured from the public domain

    Legal stuff

    The Right to Bear Arm is an independent production by the true owner of the arm, Martin Ackerfors, and is not affiliated with Ockult Örtmästare Games or Stockholm Kartell. It is published under the MÖRK BORG Third Party License.

    MÖRK BORG is copyright Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell.

    The Right to Bear ArmPrice: $3.97 Read more »
    -

    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadows
    Publisher: Figu Design

    Happy Halloween! From now through October 31st, this digital title has been marked down by up to 20%.

    There is a deep, silent and very cold place far away from other lands. There is no colour, no life, sun never shines here. Bones lies all over on the ground and death is everywhere.

    Yes, you stand this entry of the crypt. The Crypt of shadows! The voice of your steps starts to wake up the darkness.  Anything could happen at Halloween Night!

    May the odds be ever in your favour!


    crypt__rpg1.jpg


    Detailed and realistic graphic for a more scenic game

    I am creating this artwork in 200DPI which allows you to print this set out in photo quality to be worthy of your tabletop game.

    crypt__rpg3.jpg


    About my tile sets:

    My FiguD's tiles include 6x6 inch sized tiles which you can build up your own maps.
    In the folder of this product you will find PDF files. These files include the tiles of the Crypt of shadows with layers. You can customize every tile easily with buttons within the PDF files right before you print it. 

    Every tile includes switchable objects, lights.

    crypt__rpg2.jpg

    You will get:

    - 14 customizable tiles ( empty tiles, tiles with objects, light tiles, objects+light tiles)
    - Tiles in JPG format to online VTT-s
    - Cut-Outs

    cutoutobjects.jpg

    Image format: PDF, U.S. Letter, 200 dpi

    For personal use only. Enjoy it!

    FiguD's Tiles1 - Crypt of shadowsPrice: $4.79 Read more »
  • The Right to Bear Arm
    Publisher: Martin Ackerfors

    Somehow, you are now in possession of an arm. Cut off, somewhere between the shoulder and the elbow. Chop chop. Grind marks c l e a r l y v i s i b l e . Tattooed on the arm is a labyrinthine map, and the hand holds the head of a sceptre in a firm grip. It is brown, tinted in azure, and smooth like porcelain. The arm is heavy, and you become briefly aware that you, also, are MEAT, heavy save for the frail muscles in your body.

    You get a strong feeling that the arm may lead you to something quite VALUABLE, or POWERFUL (or both!) ...

    Venture in to the fortress-like complex, encounter Tarragon Cultists awaiting the arrival of the wyrm, visit the court of the Raven Lord, and learn the fate of the owner of the arm in your possession.

    About The Right to Bear Arm

    This is a dungeon adventure for the best-selling role-playing game Mörk Borg by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell, released under their third-party license. Intended for 2-3 game sessions.

    24 fully illustrated 6" * 9" pages, complete with map, stats, and encounters.

    Text and illustrations by Martin Ackerfors (with additions conjured from the public domain

    Legal stuff

    The Right to Bear Arm is an independent production by the true owner of the arm, Martin Ackerfors, and is not affiliated with Ockult Örtmästare Games or Stockholm Kartell. It is published under the MÖRK BORG Third Party License.

    MÖRK BORG is copyright Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell.

    The Right to Bear ArmPrice: $3.97 Read more »
    -

    Sly Flourish

  • My Top Advice for D&D DMs

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Hello friend!

    We're in the final days of the Kickstarter for the Lazy DM's Companion! The Lazy DM's Companion is a book of guidelines and inspirational generators, built around the lazy DM style, to help you prepare and run fantastic games for your friends and family. Take a look and check out the free 17 page preview with tools you can use right now!

    On to the article!

    I've spent the past decade running D&D games, talking to other DMs, writing articles, shooting videos, writing books, and designing adventures for both publication and running in my own games. I've spent much of this time collecting as much good advice as I could from the far reaches of the hobby.

    This article contains my top advice to DMs for running great D&D games. These ideas aren't original. They're also one level deeper than the surface-level advice of the "relax and have fun" variety. I aimed for practicality. They're often opinionated ideas. Some DMs no doubt run great games either ignoring these suggestions or going directly against them. As always, your mileage may vary.

    Let the story unfold at the table. The tales of our games don't happen when we prepare them but at the table itself. DMs bring the world, the situation, the quests, and the non-player characters to the table and then watch and react as the characters crash into them. We don't know what's going to happen. Expecting the game to go a certain way is the most common mistake DMs make and have made for nearly four decades. Instead, remember that the story unfolds at the table, and not before.

    Set up situations and let the characters navigate them. Instead of developing plots for our games, with directions we expect the characters to follow, develop situations in which the characters get involved. Think of this like a heist movie. There's a location, there's a goal, and there are inhabitants at the location. The situation changes as the characters choose their path and engage with the situation in whatever way they choose. Ensure there are multiple possible ways the characters can deal with the situation and don't let the whole situation hang on a single ability check.

    Be on the characters' side. DMs are not competitors to the players. We're facilitators for the game. It's our job to help the characters look awesome. We want to help them meet their intent. Players only understand about half of what we're describing and the characters are much more aware of what's going on than the players are. Remember that and help players avoid doing clearly stupid things because they don't grab the whole situation. Treat characters as the heroic experienced adventurers they are.

    Use tools and techniques that help you prepare to improvise. The tips, tricks, and tools that best serve us are the ones most easily used to help us improvise during the game. A blank dry-erase poster map is far more useful than one with a map printed on it. A set of general purpose tokens more easily serves the game than crates of pre-painted miniatures. The best tools are the ones you can keep directly in your head like knowing that difficulty checks are generally between 10 and 20 or that roughly one quarter of a mob of attacking skeletons are likely to hit or make their saving throws. Grab on to the most useful and simple tools you can to help you stay flexible during the game.

    Focus on your next game. We may have big ideas for a multi-year campaign but the only game we should worry about is the next one we're going to run. Don't worry about preparing the next six sessions of a game or spending hours building out your huge end-game dungeon. Worry about where your next game is going to start, what may happen during that session, where they are going to go, what they might find there, and what secrets and clues they might uncover while there. As huge as our campaigns may be, we only have to worry about having the material to fill in the specific hours of our very next session. Worry about that.

    Build your world, campaign, and adventures from the characters outwards. When developing your own campaign or game world, instead of starting with gods and histories and huge maps, focus the campaign down to what matters to the characters and what matters to the players. As much as you love your huge campaign world, your players love their characters and largely aren't paying attention to the larger world. What is the central theme of your campaign? What makes it unique among campaigns? Where do the characters start? What local locations might the characters be interested in? What three adventure locations lie just over the horizon, or just below the adventurer's feet? Focus your attention in the characters and what's around them before building out the larger world far outside their view.

    Pay attention to pacing. I've played in a lot of D&D games and the most common problem I see is with pacing. It is really hard not to get stuck in a scene with no way out and really easy to lose track of time and find yourself halfway through a planned session with twenty minutes left in the game. Track your time and find ways to continually move things forward. Get into the action. Drop monster hit points to 1 when it's time for a battle to end. Have minions turn to dust when the final boss is defeated. Always be ready to cut the middle of your adventure to get to the end.

    Focus on the fiction first and the mechanics second. It's easy to get lost in the dice and the mechanics of D&D's monsters and characters. The story comes first and the mechanics support that story. Instead of starting with the mechanics for things like a series of skill checks, puzzles, or combat encounter building; start by asking yourself what makes sense in the world itself and let that drive the mechanics to represent it.

    An Endless Evolving Hobby

    Dungeons & Dragons isn't like other games. It continually evolves and we evolve with it. We can make it whatever we want and learn entirely new ways to play it. Every tip we take in we can match up against what we know about the game and shift our style just a little bit to test it out and see how it goes. The DMs we are today are not the type of DMs we might have been years ago or the types of DMs we'll be years into the future. Above all, if we want to improve as DMs, it comes down to three words:

    Always be learning.

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  • VideoSelect the Right Accessories

    New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!

    Hello friend!

    I'm currently running the Kickstarter for the Lazy DM's Companion! The Lazy DM's Companion* is a book of guidelines and inspirational generators, built around the lazy DM style, to help you prepare and run fantastic games for your friends and family. Take a look and check out the free 17 page preview with tools you can use right now!

    Now on to the article...

    On a scale of 1 to 10, how much better do you think your D&D game will improve if you pick up that new accessory you have your eye on?

    There's a huge range of accessories for our D&D hobby with a nearly limitless price tag. Not all of them help you and your players share fantastic stories around the table. As DMs, it's worth our time to think deep about which accessories help us share these tales and immerse ourselves in the fiction of the world and which offer little actual value or, even worse, get in the way.

    For a video on this topic, check out my YouTube video, the Best Tools are Free.

    On a scale of 1 to 10, how good is your game right now? Ask this of yourself. Ask it of your players.

    Now, as you add in that fancy new accessory, how good is your game now on a scale of 1 to 10? It's unlikely any accessory, at just about any price, moves the score up two whole points.

    For many players, going from pure theater of the mind combat to any sort of battle map moves their score up a couple of points. But going from a Pathfinder flip mat to a nice pre-printed map or a TV embedded in your dining room table? How much better is the game then? Maybe one point? Maybe less if it becomes harder to set up or takes longer to use.

    Maybe people enjoy D&D more when the technology is out of the way. When we play with just a handful of dice, some character sheets, and whatever we can find to represent the characters on a blank piece of graph paper.

    You need very little to run an awesome D&D game. Many things you can do to improve your game significantly cost nothing at all. Put the characters first in your campaign. Spend time thinking through the eyes of your villains. Build situations and let the characters choose how to navigate them. Sharpen your improvisation skills. Immerse yourself in great fiction.

    What tools provide the highest impact to your D&D game? Check out my Tools of the Lazy Dungeon Master article and Tools of the Lazy Dungeon Master YouTube Video for my suggestions.

    When you see a new accessory, particularly when you see one on the internet, step away from the FOMO and really ask yourself how much better it will make your game on a scale of 1 to 10. I bet it isn't as much as you think.

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    Want More from Sly Flourish?

    Check Out Sly Flourish's Books

    Send feedback to mike@mikeshea.net.

    Article copyright 2021 by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish.

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