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  • Lang, Gruhl, and Hasbro Invite You to Life in Reterra

    by W. Eric Martin

    The world has ended...again, but you and your fellow humans are hearty sorts who don't shy away from a challenge, so you each vow to build a new community, using whatever you can find to discover relics of the past, erect new buildings, and attract inhabitants to your land.


    That's the set-up of Life in Reterra, a tile-placement game from Eric M. Lang and Ken Gruhl that Hasbro is launching at the 2024 Festival International des Jeux, the game fair in Cannes, France.

    Yes, Hasbro has published a Eurogame. (I mean, sure, Hasbro has done this in the past as well with Rheinländer and Traumfabrik, but that was more than two decades ago.)

    Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
    To set up, choose one of three ready-to-play themed building sets, or put together a set of your own. Each set consists of five building cards, with associated building tiles for each card.

    Each building card is double-sided
    Each player starts with one square land tile in play. Each land tile is divided into a 2x2 grid, with one of five types of terrain in each grid space; a space might also hold a gear icon or one of four types of relics. Players also have three land tiles in hand, and five land tiles are displayed face up.

    On a turn, choose a land tile from your hand or the display, then add it to your community, which can be at most four tiles on each side. When the tile has a gear, you can either place an inhabitant from the reserve on this gear or place a building tile in your community...but each part of the building must be supported by a gear and all of these gears must be on the same type of terrain.

    Game in progress, along with all of the component trays
    After you have a building in play, you gain the power of the building card and can use it once on each of your subsequent turns. Maybe you can place relic tokens for additional points, place additional inhabitants, junk an opponent's relics, or score for building large sections of a terrain or having more of a building than anyone else.

    Once everyone has sixteen tiles in their community, players score for what they've built, earning points for blocks of terrain of at least seven spaces, surrounded energy sources (which are a special type of tile), inhabitants, relics, and buildings.

    As noted above, Life in Reterra is available in French now, with the German edition coming soon and the English edition becoming available for pre-order on April 22, 2024, exclusively at Target.


    In a Facebook post, Lang says this:
    Reterra is what I've been referring to as "lifestyle gateway" — a broadly accessible strategy game with huge amounts of variety, discoverability and depth. A game "bigger than the box" you can play over and over again with endless discoverability....

    It's fast, clever-but-not-too-nerdy, addictive and extremely versatile—the game-to-game variety is huge (there are thousands of setups, and they all feel different).

    The rules are clean, intuitive and approachable. I can explain this game in plain English, but it has a lot of elements that make hobby games great.

    Example of a finished community
    It's my intention to make this game the first "lifestyle" experience for a theoretical mass market audience...and every part of the design reflects that.

    Partnering with Hasbro was key. They have a reach beyond any, placement on mass, an access to an audience we can win over. And they were AMAZING to work with; my codesigner Ken and I were involved in every step of the game's development and the attention to detail from all teams is evident IMO.

    We've been working on this game for years, and while I don't think it's going to wow hardcore game designers, I consider this among my strongest designs ever...


    I can't wait to get this into people's hands, and to continue with my assertion that there's little meaningful difference between "mass market" and hobby when it really counts.

    I truly feel we might surprise and delight a whole new generation of gamers. And you guys, the current hobby, may be surprised how much this could be the game you never thought you needed.

    I think it's safe to say that Life in Reterra is not a one-off design, but an example of something new from Hasbro that we'll see more of down the road. Of course, folks might have thought the same after the release of Rheinländer and Traumfabrik, so we'll see! Read more »
  • VideoDesigner Diary: The Struggle for Zorn: The Red Blight

    by HERMANN LUTTMANN

    After investigating my copy of The Struggle for Zorn: The Red Blight, one of my wargaming friends asked why I decided to design what essentially is a fantasy wargame. An interesting question, and one that I had to consider for a while.

    I've been designing boardgames for about twelve years, and the overwhelming majority of my designs have been traditional historical wargames, but interestingly enough, my most successful designs — as far as sales, posts, ratings, and overall "buzz" — have been two decidedly non-historical wargames: Dawn of the Zeds and the late 2023 release The Plum Island Horror. It's become pretty obvious to me that these fictional game designs are desired by the gaming public, and thankfully I really enjoy designing such games. They are what I consider to be "palette cleanser" designs as they allow me the freedom to design mechanisms to my heart's content, limited only by my imagination rather than by the historical facts of a battle or campaign. In that sense, I can just design game elements that are fun and justify it all later on!

    Combine this fictional game design aspect with my more recent dilemma (or more accurately, my latest fixation) of trying to marry my love of wargames with my passion for fantasy, horror, and science-fiction genres. I've already done my horror games, so that thirst is sated. I've also designed some small science-fiction games – Invader from Dimension X, Attack of the 50-foot Colossi, Volters Lead the Way — with more on the horizon, so I've taken care of those two entries on my designing bucket list.

    All that remained was a fantasy game, which in retrospect is odd since I've been a fan of fantasy since reading Lord of the Rings when I was fifteen years old. I also play many fantasy adventure games and dungeon crawlers, and I enjoy fantasy-themed TV shows and movies, like Game of Thrones. Oddly enough, there haven't been that many fantasy-themed wargames designed and – finally answering my friend's question – I told him that this game was the design that allowed me to combine multiple aspects of my favorite gaming themes and mechanisms.

    The Struggle of Zorn: The Red Blight is designed to meld more "mainstream" gaming mechanisms and levels of accessibility with the deeper strategy, tactics, command decisions, and drama of a traditional wargame — and I figured that as long as I was tackling my designer "bucket list", I might as well throw one more idea in that I've been wanting to use: It's a co-operative multiplayer game as well. Go big or go home, as they say.

    This is another aspect of wargaming that has been severely lacking – there are very few co-operative wargames, and I love co-operative games of all sorts. I genuinely enjoy the dynamics and game flow of having to work together with my friends as a team to beat a game's artificial intelligence, as opposed to playing in a "me-against-you" two-player mode. I've always felt this was one of the main weaknesses of most wargames: they can only be played comfortably and conveniently with two players. I wanted to do something about that.

    With that all in mind, our design team – Fred Manzo, Ryan Heilman, and myself (with valuable assistance from Dave Shaw) — set about constructing a multiplayer, semi-cooperative fantasy wargame that was both accessible and challenging, but ultimately hopefully a lot of fun to play, too.

    The danger in creating a hybrid design like this – half wargame and half fantasy adventure game – is that you will split your audience and neither of your targeted gamers will be satisfied with the experience. Wargamers will think it's not "crunchy" enough and fantasy gamers will think it's too "wargamey". Well, yeah, this is a real issue but a risk we were willing to take, and we set about thinking how we could minimize these concerns. To appeal to the wargamer side of the equation, the game design contains many essentials that I feel wargamers want to see in their wargames:

    1) Competition: Yes, I know I said I wanted a multiplayer co-operative approach to this game design, but the competitive aspect can still be achieved by cheating a little. Thus, I designed this game to be semi-cooperative. For those who don't know, this is a style of game in which the players, as a group, work together toward a common goal. They can lose the game as a group, so if the team fails in the game, the "game" wins (and the "game" in this case is represented by the evil Red Blight). There is no winning player because everyone loses.

    However, if the Red Blight does not win, the players' goal has been achieved and they beat the game. Everyone cheers and pats each other on the back – until you determine which player actually wins the game. This is where the game is competitive. Players want their group to win the game, but each player is trying to "win better" than the other players. This is measured by players each tracking their glory points, which are earned by a player defeating Red Blight enemy units, capturing "relics", and hoarding valuables, gold, and fresh units. Thus, players compete against one another, while also trying to co-operatively succeed. This taps into the competitive nature of wargamers while simultaneously creating an atmosphere of cooperation.


    2) Unit Types: Another essential ingredient for a wargamer to enjoy a game is that it should have one or more formations of military units, preferably each with specific characteristics that define their role on the battlefield. The challenge for the gamer is commanding these various units and using them to their potential, while avoiding or mitigating their specific weaknesses.

    As a result, The Struggle for Zorn: The Red Blight has myriad types of military units that each player will control in their faction. A faction is one of the five "Houses" in the Kingdom of Zorn, and each player controls one such House. Each unit has combat abilities reflecting its skill in melee combat (close range and even hand-to-hand fighting), missile combat (the ability to fire a weapon at range, whether that be by bow and arrow, gunfire, catapult, throwing, or such), bravery (how well trained the unit is and/or its previous experience in combat), and movement (is the unit quick or does it slog across the battlefield). Unit variety is key, and we have eight types of player units in the game:

    • Royal Ironmen Squadron: Armored knights on horseback with great melee power and good speed
    • Swordstrikers Regiment: Tenacious foot swordsmen with good melee combat ability
    • Boomstickers Regiment: Arquebusiers with great missile combat skill, but very slow
    • Harassers Team: Versatile light troops who can throw javelins, forage for food or supplies, and scout out the enemy
    • Royal Archers Regiment: Long bow archers with good range who are deadly shots
    • Rock Thrower Machine Team: Trebuchet-type catapult artillery units
    • Levy Division: Huge mobs of lightly armed peasant units, which are not a very valuable unit but easy to replace
    • Pikers Wedge Regiment: Specially trained soldiers armed with long pikes who are able to push enemies away

    Additionally, three types of mercenary units can be hired by any player, regardless of affiliation, by spending gold resources they've discovered and accumulated. These are:

    • Vagnar Corps: A formation of tough warriors particularly skilled with their crossbows. This unit can also represent former hostages, hiding townspeople, and garrison units who are liberated and join the player's House.
    • Argonian Berserkers: Vicious soldiers from Zorn's rugged frontier. These berserkers will fight harder if they are injured, sending them into a fury that is visited upon their enemies.
    • Death Riders: Extremely heavily armored knights who are so resilient that they get a "saving roll" for each hit received in combat.

    3) Unique Unit Capabilities: Aside from a good variety of unit types, wargamers like their units to have special capabilities that further define their role on the battlefield. This not only gives a feeling of realism and specialty, but also makes tactical gameplay more interesting as players attempt to maneuver their units into a battle situation that will allow units to display their talents to the greatest effect.

    Every unit, whether House or Red Blight, has one or more special abilities that allow it to break a game rule or enhance its normal combat or movement ability. For example, the Royal Ironmen unit (basically mounted knights) has a high normal movement allowance, has good melee combat ability, and is quite brave. In addition, its special ability is "Mounted Charge", which grants an extra D6 in melee combat if it's attacking in a plains area. By the same token, because these are heavy knights, they are penalized if fighting in bog terrain.

    As a result, a player will ideally handle these units so that they can fight predominantly in the plains to explout the "Mounted Charge" ability. At the same, the player will be challenged to avoid bog terrain. All in all, these are the kinds of decisions on which wargamers thrive.


    4) Combat: What self-respecting wargamer wouldn't want combat in their game? It is probably the single most important category-defining feature.

    Though this design has built into it a number of other ways in which players and Red Blight can achieve their goals, combat is the main method that will be used to win the game. Thus, players will attempt to engage the Red Blight in both melee combat, which represents up close and personal combat, and missile combat, attacking from a distance using firearms or arrows. For the most part, the Red Blight units will be doing likewise, so combat is an important tool for both sides.

    That said, how that combat is resolved is something that we are hoping both wargamers and fantasy adventure gamers will equally appreciate. The combat system does use dice, and a variety of different types of dice at that, but not in the traditional wargame manner. There is no combat results table (CRT), but all the main elements of combat are present. I'll discuss this in more detail later.

    5) Strategic Choices: Aside from the tactical aspects of maneuvering formations, optimizing unit capabilities, and exploiting unit special abilities, wargamers need to have the ability to think strategically. What are the goals of the forces involved, and how do you achieve them? What is the expected level of resistance from the enemy? Where do we put our strength, and where are we vulnerable? And in the case of a multiplayer game like this, what is each player's job along the frontlines? Who is responsible for watching our backs and flanks? And how do we co-operate to achieve the ultimate goal of victory over the Red Blight?

    All of these questions can be asked and answered in this design. There are a multitude of strategic options and choices...and risks. Players will constantly be balancing the need to maneuver and fight to defeat the big baddies, while at the same time making darn sure that they secure enough glory points to be the winner in the end. In this regard, The Struggle for Zorn is a unique wargame experience as it challenges players to think and plan on both of these levels. I think they will find this to be a wonderful and fun challenge.


    These design features will hopefully keep the traditional wagamers happy, giving them some nice and "crunchy" unit diversity, strategy and tactics, and combat resolution — but what about a player who is more into the fantasy adventure aspect of the game design? Well, The Struggle for Zorn; The Red Blight has you covered. Here's what I think fantasy game players want in their game, and this game has it all:

    1) A Fantasy Realm: The minimum requirement of any good fantasy game is to have a living, breathing — and believable — fantasy world that supports the game's narrative and action. We think that Zorn is such a place and that fantasy gamers will embrace the realm.

    I came up with the basic outline of the world and the premise for the game, then as we developed the design, all of the team contributed more to the story and filled in the details. Each of us added an element to the background stories of each of the individual commanders and magic users (which are each individually named characters, represented as standees), then we converted those traits into actual abilities in the game.

    For us, the story behind the game and its main participants helped us design the gameplay itself. Zorn is a land which has a rich history and is just coming into its own, finally beginning to unite under the steady leadership of King Rufus V; it's a happy and peaceful kingdom with a bright future...until the first signs of trouble showed themselves with the arrival of Red Blight ambushers. These marauders began raiding along the roads from the north entering the Slumbering Troll Valley (represented by the game's map), taking prisoners, looting valuables, and destroying villages.

    After that initial wave of strikes, larger and more powerful evil forces marched on the unsuspecting valley, and with no military presence in the region – the people of Slumbering Troll Valley forbid men-at-arms in their community – the entire valley was overrun and subsumed. The Red Blight forces consolidated their gains and established Blight Dens, in which they housed their ill-gotten gains and kept their captives. These dens were then guarded by the Tortoses Garrisons, which are tough mutated turtle-like creatures. With this premise, the fantasy world for The Struggle for Zorn is established, and the entire design team thinks that it has many possibilities for future adventures – and we hope fantasy gamers feel the same way.

    2) Magic: Hey, what would a fantasy game be without magic, right? Well, we have a terrifically simple magic system (initially created by Fred Manzo) that adequately brings magic spells and effects into the game, but without being overbearing to use or overpowering in game effect.

    Each player begins the game with one magic user, either assigned randomly or chosen — that's up to the players. That magic user has a School of Magic that allows two possible spells, usually one that does an area effect and another that is a little more focused. Casting magic is an easy procedure: If the magic user is at levels 1 or 2 — yes, there are five levels and magicians can be upgraded during the game — the player rolls two D6 and needs to get a 6 or more on one or both of the dice to successfully cast the chosen spell. A 5 means the spell is felt by the enemy but might only stun them. At higher levels, the player will substitute one of the D6 for a better die, increasing their chances for a successful cast. And yes, of course, if you roll poorly, there is a chance that the magic user could injure themself! The world of magic is fickle and dangerous.


    3) Searching for Treasure/Quests: One of the primary goals for the players is to seek out and capture the various treasure tokens scattered about the map at the Blight Dens. You could even consider these to be quests of sorts. Players will not normally know what is hidden in these places, so uncovering them is an exciting (and nerve-racking) exercise. The players will be rewarded with supplies, gold, food, or allies but are especially keen on finding relics, special treasures that not only upgrade a player's magic user but also reward the player with glory points. More importantly, their capture denies terror points to the Red Blight, which is their measure for evil victory.

    4) Artwork: Another essential requirement to a good fantasy game is compelling and unique artwork. We knew that was going to be a priority, and we set about making sure that would happen with this design. Thankfully, Ryan was able to acquire the wonderful services of Tawa Abiwa, Patrick Gomes, and Ilya Kudriashov, in addition to contributing artwork and graphics himself. As a result, the game has its own look, and we find the images and figures created to be quite compelling and interesting (and in some cases, pretty frightening). This unique look sets the tone for the entire game and the world in which it lives, and we are quite proud of how it looks.

    5) Dice Variety: While maybe not an essential ingredient, a nod here goes to all those fantasy RPG players who covet their "bucket of many dice".

    Yes, in order to make the combat system not only meaningful, but also palatable and extremely variable, I've developed a mechanism in which units are rated on how well they fight by the type of die they roll in combat. The more sides to the die, the better the skill. This is a simple "roll higher than the other side" mechanism, and when multiple units are on a side, they add their respective die results together to make one grand total. This is about as simple as I can make combat, yet it still allows better units to perform (on average) better than lesser skilled units.

    The added excitement factor is that even if a D12 unit is fighting a D6 unit, that D12 can still roll a 1 — and that means that any combat, regardless of match-up, can have the lesser unit make a successful last stand or conduct an audacious victorious attack against a superior foe. If one side scores enough with their dice roll total to double the opponent's score, then two hits are inflicted; triple the score is three hits, etc., so, the combat system has lots of variety, but is still weighted so that better units tend to win more often. Ultimately, combat is quite easy to use and resolve.


    6) Cool Evil Enemies: Though wargamers also like fighting "cool evil enemies", those enemies are well known and almost always human. The awesome thing about fantasy villains is that they can be just about anything: mutated humans, demons, monsters, blighted creatures, etc.

    And this game has some really cool evil enemies — the Red Blight is an unpleasant bunch, that's for sure! Little is known about their origins, but what is known is that they have some kind of supernatural qualities combined with an ability to mutate otherwise normal beings into horrible creatures. There have been rumors of their existence for hundreds of years, and they even appear in nursery rhymes and religious texts. For this game, the Red Blight consists of a number of different types of units:

    • Tortoses Garrisons: As mentioned before, these are mutated turtle-ish creatures assigned to guard the hoard of valuables and hostages captured by the Red Blight.
    • Ambushers: These units represent large swarms of demented creatures (spiders, snakes, rats, roaches, etc.) that spew out of hiding, often at the worst possible time. This includes the ability to appear due to an ambush action, which can occur when some Tortose Garrisons are revealed.
    • Minion Hordes: The demonic, gargoyle-like mainstays of the Red Blight and the bulk of its forces.
    • Terror Beasts: Each of these units represents enormous and vicious monsters, housed and trained in the bowels of the Red Blight's beast pens.
    • Fetid Knights: Horrifically mutated once-human elite warriors.
    • Far-Seer Champions: These are the leaders of the Red Blight. They are individual named characters represented with standees. They are the toughest Blight units in the game, and each has a unique set of special and deadly abilities – including the ability to lead the other Blight units.

    As you can see, we did include a good number of different types of baddies, but without it being overwhelming. We wanted variety in the Red Blight, but not to the extent that it would be a chore remembering all the units' abilities.

    7) Game Narrative: Finally, one more key ingredient in the fantasy stew is generating a good narrative. Storytelling is an element of fantasy gaming that is a core requirement as it provides the framework for everything you are doing and drives the game's strategy and progress, so the game starts with a strong narrative premise: the Red Blight has invaded the Sleeping Troll Valley of the Kingdom of Zorn and conquered it.

    The players, each representing a House of the Kingdom, are called together by King Rufus V to form an army and take back the valley from the Red Blight. Players build their forces and enter the game together from the south end of the map, each with a commander, a magic user, and their House's armed forces. They then advance up the map and attempt to recapture valuables, hostages, relics, etc. while engaging and hopefully defeating any Red Blight units they encounter. These actions will win them individual glory points, but players must also keep the Red Blight from scoring too many terror points, or all players will lose. Thus, the whole premise and progress of the game is built on that fantasy narrative.

    To add even more spice to our fantasy stew, the game creates multiple opportunities — and problems — through the event table. This table is triggered via the Red Blight activation cards that are used to control what the Red Blight units do each activation. When drawn, someone rolls a D20, which produces all sorts of events that not only create a game situation or effect that must be enacted or dealt with, but also adds to the overall fantasy narrative of this strange land. We think players – wargamers and fantasy adventure gamers alike – will find these effects to be challenging and entertaining.


    In conclusion, the whole team has tried our best to serve both the wargaming and fantasy adventure game communities with the design of The Struggle for Zorn: The Red Blight. Have we succeeded? Time will tell. All I can say is that Ryan, Fred, and I have tried to provide a comprehensive fantasy wargame experience that we feel you'll be able to play over and over again.

    Our main goal is to provide a solid multiplayer experience with the semi-cooperative play dynamic, while also offering a legitimate fantasy wargame narrative at the same time. In other words, mechanisms plus theme married together into a cohesive whole.

    I think we've made the game easy to play, yet fulfilling as far as player decision-making, both strategically and tactically, so players can get that experience of good, deep gameplay but without all the rules weight. At the same time, I think the design allows players an adventure – to get lost in a fantasy world where almost anything can happen. The game will throw all sorts of curveballs at you, but those surprises will make sense in the context of this fantasy world. And this design provides variety – no two sessions will ever be the same. We're hoping that the "fun factor" of the theme combined with the solid wargame mechanisms will give players a fulfilling gameplay experience.

    I understand our goal here was a little lofty, but I'm confident that we have a game design that will make wargamers, fantasy gamers, new gamers, and veteran gamers pleased. The Struggle for Zorn: The Red Blight is available from publisher Blue Panther on its website.

    Thanks so much for reading all this – I know it was a long slog, but I hope you've enjoyed it nonetheless. Good gaming!

    Hermann Luttmann

    Youtube Video
    Youtube Video
    Youtube Video Read more »
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    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • DE3 - Awakening (Solo 5e Adventure)
    Publisher: Elfypunk

    As you finally ascend over the final hill, you see the village of Wildale surrounded by an attacking force of dragonhunds. Within moments, some of the dragonhunds split off the main attacking force and move towards your group to attack!

    ---

    You are hired by Miles, a sergeant of the Guard to travel to the village of Wildale to discuss a growing threat to Eryndor. When you arrive in Wildale, the town is under attack, and Miles is in danger of losing his life.

    Can you defend the town and save the sergeant?

    —------

    ‘Awakening’ (DE3) is the third book in the Dragons of Eryndor series and takes place in Brair Province in the Kingdom of Eryndor.

    A 5th edition solo, co-op or party adventure for one to four players with level 3 characters.



    DE3 - Awakening (Solo 5e Adventure)Price: $2.99 Read more »
  • ET7 - Shard of Twilight (Solo 5e Adventure)
    Publisher: Elfypunk

    The war council has identified three major bounties to help in the fight against the End Times cult:


    • Ravencloak Mansion: Sir Ravencloak has started enquiring locally about the whereabouts of the Twilight Shard, a living gem. We don't know if he is under the influence of the End Times cult, but we cannot let him get hold of the Twilight Shard!


    • The abandoned shrine: In the heart of Dunlaith lies an old shrine to Padros. The building was the resting place of the Twilight Shard for hundreds of years. Make contact with the old minister and see what has befallen the old House of Padros - and the Twilight Shard.


    • Trouble in the meat market: Pig tower overlooks the meat market in this part of the town, the smell of fresh meat permeating the air. Lately though, Pig Tower’s doors have been closed for business and the market is in chaos. 


    We could have a riot on our hands!

    ---

    Shard of Twilight’ (ET7) is the seventh book in the End Times of Eryndor series.

    ---

    A 5th edition solo, co-op or party adventure for one to four players with level 7 characters.

    ET7 - Shard of Twilight (Solo 5e Adventure)Price: $2.99 Read more »
    -

    DriveThruRPG.com Newest Items

  • DE3 - Awakening (Solo 5e Adventure)
    Publisher: Elfypunk

    As you finally ascend over the final hill, you see the village of Wildale surrounded by an attacking force of dragonhunds. Within moments, some of the dragonhunds split off the main attacking force and move towards your group to attack!

    ---

    You are hired by Miles, a sergeant of the Guard to travel to the village of Wildale to discuss a growing threat to Eryndor. When you arrive in Wildale, the town is under attack, and Miles is in danger of losing his life.

    Can you defend the town and save the sergeant?

    —------

    ‘Awakening’ (DE3) is the third book in the Dragons of Eryndor series and takes place in Brair Province in the Kingdom of Eryndor.

    A 5th edition solo, co-op or party adventure for one to four players with level 3 characters.



    DE3 - Awakening (Solo 5e Adventure)Price: $2.99 Read more »
  • ET7 - Shard of Twilight (Solo 5e Adventure)
    Publisher: Elfypunk

    The war council has identified three major bounties to help in the fight against the End Times cult:


    • Ravencloak Mansion: Sir Ravencloak has started enquiring locally about the whereabouts of the Twilight Shard, a living gem. We don't know if he is under the influence of the End Times cult, but we cannot let him get hold of the Twilight Shard!


    • The abandoned shrine: In the heart of Dunlaith lies an old shrine to Padros. The building was the resting place of the Twilight Shard for hundreds of years. Make contact with the old minister and see what has befallen the old House of Padros - and the Twilight Shard.


    • Trouble in the meat market: Pig tower overlooks the meat market in this part of the town, the smell of fresh meat permeating the air. Lately though, Pig Tower’s doors have been closed for business and the market is in chaos. 


    We could have a riot on our hands!

    ---

    Shard of Twilight’ (ET7) is the seventh book in the End Times of Eryndor series.

    ---

    A 5th edition solo, co-op or party adventure for one to four players with level 7 characters.

    ET7 - Shard of Twilight (Solo 5e Adventure)Price: $2.99 Read more »
    -

    Sly Flourish

  • VideoUsing Advantage and Disadvantage in 5e

    "Advantage" and "disadvantage" are fantastic improvisational tools for 5e GMs. They give you incentives and discouragements to steer things towards the fun. Always remember that you have the ability to assign advantage and disadvantage in your toolbox to make the game more fun.

    Many situations in the game already apply advantage or disadvantage. Being invisible or being unable to see applies such effects. Attacking someone within 5 feet who is prone gives you advantage while shooting at them from range gives you disadvantage.

    Setting DCs and Offering Advantage or Disadvantage

    It's important to understand when to raise or lower a DC and when to use advantage and disadvantage. Here's my lazy rule of thumb: You set a DC for a given situation regardless of the character performing the action. Breaking down a door might be a DC 18 but it's a DC 18 for anyone. The DC doesn't change based on who's doing it.

    Advantage and disadvantage can change depending on who's performing the action. A circus performer might have a better chance at calming down an owlbear who used to work at the circus. Not only do they use their Wisdom bonus and add their proficiency with Animal Handling but their own special background makes them particularly good at this one specific thing. You might decide that their past experiences grants them advantage.

    DCs are fixed based on the situation – advantage and disadvantage are circumstantial to the characters performing the action.

    Advantageous Situations

    There are many other places we can offer advantage. Here are a few:

    Terrain features. High ground might give characters advantage against targets down below. Fighting in a big mud pit might provide disadvantage.

    Cinematic Action. Performing a fantastic acrobatic feat might provide advantage if you make the right check (see "Cinematic Advantage" for details).

    Superior knowledge. A character's background, upbringing, species, or some other part of their history might grant them advantage on particular ability checks alongside their skill proficiency.

    Incentives for Dangerous Choices. We can use advantage to incentivize players to draw characters into danger. Often we'd do this through inspiration, giving them inspiration for being willing to accept a risk they might not otherwise take but we might also offer direct advantage in the situation. Hugging the door isn't enough to get a great view of the arcane pillar but if they get right on top of it, they'd have advantage on the check.

    For superior roleplaying. Often we hear about the situation in which a player does an amazing job roleplaying a situation but rolls a 2 on their Charisma (Persuasion) check. We can offer a player advantage if they do a particularly great job attempting to convince the viceroy of their need to speak to the queen. If a player does an amazing job roleplaying, maybe they automatically succeed.

    Encouraging Teamwork. Lean in on characters helping one another by providing the character with the best overall bonus advantage as one or more other characters use the "help" action (see chapter 9 of the Player's Handbook) to help them succeed. Don't look for ways to stop two characters working on a problem – leap at the chance.

    Steering Away with Disadvantage

    We probably want to invoke disadvantage less often than we offer advantage. For every ten times we offer advantage, we may invoke disadvantage once. We can use disadvantage to steer characters away from things that clearly wouldn't work and we can declare it ahead of time. If a character is attempting something clearly too difficult, we might give it a high DC and disadvantage.

    Often we invoke disadvantage with the expectation that the character simply changes their mind. That's totally fine.

    Your GM's Helper

    Advantage and disadvantage are powerful and easy tools to shift the direction of the game. Give them freely and use them to steer the game towards the most fun.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Last Minute RPG Prep and Journey to the Marrow Tree – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 21 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Watch out for the long monologue. Get to character decisions quickly.
    • Let players customize improvised home bases.
    • Make it clear when social chatter has stopped and the game has begun.
    • Clarify the need for player consensus on in-world conflicts.
    • Use table tools and notebooks you love to connect you to the joy of the game.
    • Have an easy way to take notes during the game.
    • A weird trans-dimensional home base is a great way to bring in irregular characters.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »
  • VideoTell, Don't Show

    "Most readers are in trouble about half the time."

    • E.B. White

    In 1990, Elizabeth Newman at Stanford University earned her PhD with an experiment. She had one participant tap out the rhythm of a popular song with their fingers while the other participant tried to guess what it was.

    The tappers expected that 50% of the time respondents would be able to guess the song. It was actually 2.5%.

    We GMs build rich worlds in our heads. We think through complex situations. We imagine NPCs living their lives, villains moving through their plots, vast dungeons buried beneath ancient mountains, and monsters lurking in the depths.

    We do our best to describe these worlds and situations and adjudicate the results of the actions of the characters to our players. We love to imagine that the world we've built in our heads is the same one living in the heads of our players.

    It's not.

    Players understand about half of what we describe to them.

    For a video on this topic, watch my Tell, Don't Show YouTube video.

    A lot of the time, players don't really grab what's going on and we see this manifest in lots of ways.

    • Players don't realize the danger of their situation.
    • Players miss a potential quest hook they'd be interested in.
    • Players misinterpret an NPC's motivation or mannerisms.
    • Players grab onto a piece of lore thinking it's a main quest when it's not.
    • Players go after a minor villain and ignore the major one.
    • Players make a poor choice on where to defend or where to rest.
    • Players miss an obvious safe path and follow a more dangerous one.
    • Players fully expect a trap when it's perfectly safe.
    • Players think a location is perfectly safe when it's obviously trapped.

    Don't Hold Your Cards Too Close

    Many DMs hold back information, thinking it's too much to tell players what's going on. They think it should be a surprise or the players need to say the right words to get the information they need. They think telling too much is leading the players or taking agency away from them.

    But, when we realize players aren't always grasping the situation, we should put those cards on the table. Explain the situation. Reiterate things we think we've already said. Repeat ourselves. Emphasize what's important to understand.

    The Players Are Not Their Characters

    The characters in our games are full-time adventurers. They have eyes and ears and fingers most of the time. They're there in the situation. Our players are not. Players aren’t adventurers. Their lives aren't on the line. They're busy people with lives and jobs and families sitting at our table for an evening of fun. They're not really seeing what's going on the same way their characters are. Don't assume players understand what's going on.

    Help players see what their characters see. If a player makes a bonehead decision, don't punish them for it. Reinforce what their character sees and what their character knows. Assume their character acts appropriately for their experience and their place in the world.

    Assume players aren't grabbing what you're describing and help them out.

    Tell, Don't Show

    Sometimes, instead of waxing colorful metaphors, just tell players what's going on. Here are some situations where it might make sense.

    • A monster is clearly out of the characters' league.
    • A monster is legendary and has legendary resistances.
    • What happened the turn before in combat impacts the situation surrounding the character now.
    • The characters exhausted all of the information they're going to get from an NPC.
    • The characters thoroughly checked a room for traps, secrets, and treasure.
    • A character will provoke an opportunity attack if they move.
    • The three paths that stand in front of the characters.
    • The characters' current goal in the area they're exploring.
    • The characters don't have the item they need to progress further.
    • The characters learned everything they can about a new magic item.
    • When the characters act on a misunderstanding or follow a red herring too far.

    Many of these things may seem obvious. You've given them the signs. You've seeded the secrets. And yet they're not grabbing on.

    Just tell them.

    Tell Them Colorfully

    We don't have to fully break character when we tell them what's going on. We can keep our flowery narrative. Here are some in-world ways to make it clear to the players what's going on:

    • Looking at Xartherex the Balor, you are confident that this foe is beyond any of you.
    • Behold! You face Hellmaw, the legendary ancient red dragon.
    • After a thorough search, you are confident you've learned everything you can in this room.
    • After careful study, you are confident you've learned everything you can about this magic sword.
    • Study as you might, you can't get your head around these runes. You think only another primer or a more learned sage can help you.
    • After a thorough examination, you don't believe spell, lock pick, or the mightiest hammer swing will break this massive door.

    Feel free to keep your language colorful and stay in the world but state clearly what the characters know, or should know, about the situation. Give players the information they need to have fun.

    Tell players what's going on.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Fantasy RPG Adventure Structures and Stuck Between a Gelatinous Cube and Two Air Elementals– Shadowdark Gloaming Session 20 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Pool damage in one tally for large groups of monsters. Each time it has enough damage to kill a monster, remove the last monster hit.
    • Roll once for several attacks or saves for large numbers of monsters. Choose a number of rolls and divide total damage by the number of rolls.
    • For quick skirmishes, go around the table or alphabetically instead of rolling for initiative.
    • Ask players to describe new features to the group when they level up.
    • Let characters build their own safe haven for resting even in the darkest dungeons.
    • Feeling overwhelmed? Boil your next session down to its most necessary elements: a strong start, a map, some monsters, and some discoveries.
    • Improvise monsters with core stats and an interesting feature or two.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »

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