Gnome Stew

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    Gnome Stew

  • In-Game Adjustments

    A few weeks ago I was running my Night’s Black Agents (NBA) game, and the agents had just come off of one kinetic op, and right into another (because the timing was critical). They were banged up and their skill pools were somewhat depleted. Their opposition at the other site was not overwhelming but was going to be tough. Fast Forward. They are in the middle of the fight, and several of them are rolling poorly, and the tough encounter is now getting much harder. I have three vampires bottled up in a lab, and if they break out, they will overwhelm the agents. So rather than just crushing them, I task two of them to secure samples, taking them out of the fight, and I take one vampire and steer them at the agents, making for tense combat, but one that is winnable. In the end, the agents did defeat all the vampires but also got pretty banged up, and it made for a very exciting session. 

    Afterward, I reflected on exactly what I had done – that is, I made in-game adjustments to the difficulty of the encounter in order to make the encounter exciting. I could have easily overwhelmed them if I had wanted to, but rather I chose to adjust the difficulty of the encounter to better match the players. Was I going to flat out let them win? No. There need to be chances of failure to keep tension, but at the same time just overwhelming them would not seem fun.

    I realized that those adjustments are things I have done for years, in nearly every game I have played. It is not something that the rulebook taught me to do, and it is not a thing that any game codified in its rules. Despite all that, it is a skill that I have, one that I use, and when I talked to some other GMs they have it too. So let’s talk more about this skill/technique.

    The Little Adjustments We Do

    As the GM, we are the main interface to the rest of the game world. We possess knowledge beyond what the players know in the game, which extends to things like stat blocks and the contents of encounters. We are also, in most cases, the arbitrator of the rules of the game, and in many games empowered to determine the difficulty of a given task or opposition. It is within all of these abilities that lies our ability to make adjustments to the game on the fly. A task that was DC 15 can become DC 13 if we want, or vice versa. We can be arbitrary about it, or we can wrap it in some narrative dressing, but when it comes down to it, we have the ability to adjust the difficulty of the game as it is played. 

    Why Would We Adjust? 

    There are a number of reasons why we might make adjustments. From my own tenure as GM, here are some of the reasons I have done it: 

    • Cooling off or Heating up a Combat – the combat encounter has become too easy or too hard, and adjustments are made to get it into that sweet middle spot. 
    • Prep Mistake – This one often ties to the one above, but when you prepped the session you set the encounter to one difficulty, but in play realize it needs to be adjusted up or down. 
    • The player is having a bad night – The player is not rolling well and can’t catch a break. They have become frustrated and they are not having fun – and potentially it’s impacting everyone else. (Note – I don’t adjust things if a player is on a roll. If they are doing well, I don’t knock them down). 
    • Narrative Positioning – The players have described action or some part of the environment in a creative way that would make things easier. I will make an adjustment to reward creativity. 

    In most cases, I am making adjustments to fine-tune combat, be it to correct a prep mistake or to dial in the tension of the combat scene. 

    Ways to make Adjustments

    How you make your adjustments will have a lot to do with the game you are playing. The best adjustments operate within the rules system, in the places where we have some latitude. Here is a list of some of the more popular ways I have made adjustments. 

    Hit Point Adjustments

    This one is easy and works in any game that has a point system for taking damage. You can give or take away points from NPCs to make combat go longer or shorter, respectively. Sometimes, I just add some points to an NPC, sometimes I just give the PCs the kill if the creature is a point or two away from zero, etc. 

    Difficulty Adjustments

    This one is also straightforward. You can adjust the difficulty of a check up or down to make it harder or easier (depending on how your system works). This is true for things like skill checks, but it is also true for the difficulty of hitting an NPC in combat. Sometimes, I will give a narrative explanation, other times I just simply will say if a challenge passes or fails. 

    Narrative Positioning Bonuses

    This one is giving a reward or penalty based on some description of the task or attack. The bonus is never anything too powerful in either direction, but enough to make it meaningful. This one is good in Powered by the Apocalypse games where I can give a +1 Forward for something good that the player has come up with. 

    Motivation/Action

    This is my favorite adjustment technique. You give the NPCs motivations beyond “kill all characters”. Then you have the narrative latitude to decide if an NPC is going to press an attack or follow their other motivation. That motivation might be that they don’t want to die and that they may run or surrender. They may have another objective like to get something or someone to safety, so they would rather escape combat rather than stay and fight. This achieves the same goal as the next item, but it allows you to have the NPC change their mind and re-engage the combat if you need to dial it back up.

    Reducing opponents

    Another technique I often use is waves of opponents. I will prep 2-3 waves of opponents, with the first wave clearly visible when the encounter starts and the other waves arriving mid-combat. If the players clear that first wave easily, then the second wave engages at once, if the first wave turns out to give them problems, then I delay the second wave, or I reduce the second wave’s numbers, etc. Because they are not visible to the players, they don’t see me making NPCs vanish before their eyes.

    Banking for Future Use (Offscreen)

    This is a favorite of mine in PbtA games. If I need to cool off an encounter that is starting to overwhelm the players, then when I get to take a move, I will always pick the one that happens offscreen. This then takes some immediate pressure off the players, while at the same time, keeping some tension, as they know something else is going to happen. 

    Those are just a handful of the techniques I have used. There are many other ones, and I suspect you know a bunch for the games that you are well versed in. 

    Do you Do This All The Time?

    It is worth saying that I don’t do this with every encounter. Failure in games is important, and sometimes it’s fine to let characters get overrun and have to retreat. These techniques are a tool – one that I use when I feel that the play of the game is not aligned with the feel of the game I am going for. Then I will use one of these tools to put those into closer alignment. 

    Should We Talk About This?

    In most games, this is not explicitly defined as a GM role, and yet, for many of us, we are using these techniques to make our games more enjoyable for us and our players. Should we talk about this with our players? 

    At Session Zero

    If there is a time for having this discussion I think it is during Session Zero when it is more of a theoretical discussion and used to set expectations. Telling the players that these are techniques you use, and asking if they are ok with them, is a good way to get some consent, as well as perhaps to set some boundaries on when you will use it, or certain techniques you will or won’t use.

    During The Session

    Personally, I never do this. This to me is “making the sausage”, which is the thing the players do not want to see, because it may ruin the experience of play. When I do these things, I just do them at the table and move along. 

    After The Session

    I don’t always tell my players if I have made any adjustments about a session, but if I did, it would be after – but even then, I am not inclined to tell them. My one exception is that if the explanation will help teach a newer GM, then I am fine pulling back the curtain and explaining to them how some of these things work. 

    You Made Your Point Hans

    RPGs are not always predictable, in a good way. On any given night an encounter can be spectacular or a flop. You can, and there is nothing wrong with it, leave everything to chance, let the dice fall where they may. But for many GMs, we are looking to create a certain kind of experience, and sometimes that means making some adjustments to encounters to tune them to the desired effect. In order to do that, we can employ a number of tools, based on the games we are playing. When done well, and for the right reasons, you can help craft memorable experiences. 

    What about you? Do you make in-game adjustments? What is the most common reason you do it? What are the techniques you like to employ? 

     

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  • mp3GNOMECAST #149 – Travel and Journey’s

    This episode of the Gnomecast features Ang, Phil, and John talking about getting around in RPGs.

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  • Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Case: Creatures First Impression

    Today we’re going to take a little bit of a break from diving through rulebooks and take a look at a tool for running games at the table. As more games have provided additional tactical options, it has become increasingly important to have a way to represent position, usually on a grid. Even in games that don’t use a precise grid, it is often important to be able to track if characters are engaged with other characters.

    Miniatures are absolutely wonderful, but they aren’t always the best solution, especially when the cost is factored into the equation. Sometimes it might be worthwhile to have miniatures of your player characters or the major campaign challenges, but all of those creatures in between can be difficult to find and expensive to collect.

    Disclaimer

    I haven’t had a chance to use this product at the table, but that’s mainly because I don’t have any current face-to-face games. I did have the opportunity to take them out and use the various clings. I was not sent this set as a review copy, and I have not only used tactical miniatures before, but I have also written reviews that look at other non-miniature solutions for tactical placement in games.

    Dimensional Monsters

    The Campaign Case itself is 2.21 x 9.21 x 12.09 inches and weighs about four and a half pounds. There are 64 total tokens in three different sizes and four different colors. There are five sheets of creature clings to adhere to the disks, and a folder to hold the sheets.

    The case itself is really striking. The artwork on the individual clings is taken from various D&D 5e publications, sometimes utilizing artwork from adventures in lieu of using the artwork from the Monster Manual. For example, the Frost Giant and Hill Giant images appear to come from Storm King’s Thunder.

    Presentation

    Not only is the case attractive, but it also feels solid. It has a rope handle and a magnetic closure. Inside the case, there is room for two individual containers with clear plastic lids, each one housing two colors of disks. In the center of the case, there is a recess that has the folder which holds the clings for this set. This section is deeper than it needs to be in order to hold the folder, which I’m assuming is an intentional nod towards expanded sets being stored within the case.

    There are four different colors of disks, red, blue, white, and black. I like having the option of having multiple colors, although I would have almost rather had three colors, assuming “allied,” “neutral,” and “adversary” colors. That’s just my own preference, however.

    When the product description says that the disks are weighted, they aren’t kidding. These are solid pieces of plastic, and they have a nice, pleasant weight to them. These don’t feel like they are going to accidentally slide across a surface with minor bumps or jostling. The colors are also bright and pleasant, and the disks themselves are nice and shiny.

    The Numbers Game

    So exactly how many of each item is included in the case?

    Tokens

    • Huge Tokens: 4 (1 of each color)
    • Large Tokens: 20 (5 of each color)
    • Medium Tokens: 40 (10 of each color)

    Clings

    A through F letters: 2 sets Earth Elemental: 1 Human Archer: 1 Pit Fiend: 1
    Aaracocra: 1 Efreet: 1 Human Bard: 1 Purple Worm: 1
    Adult Black Dragon: 1 Elf Bard: 1 Human Cleric: 1 Red Slaad: 1
    Adult Black Dragon: 1 Elf Warrior: 2 Human Fighter: 1 Red Wizard of Thay: 1
    Adult Blue Dragon: 1 Ettin: 1 Human Paladin: 1 Roper: 1
    Adult Green Dragon: 1 Fire Elemental: 1 Human Rogue: 2 Rust Monster: 1
    Adult Red Dragon: 1 Fire Giant: 1 Human Sorcerer: 1 Shambling Mound: 1
    Adult White Dragon: 1 Flameskull: 1 Human Warrior: 2 Shreiker: 1
    Air Elemental: 1 Flesh Golem: 1 Human Wizard: 1 Skeletons, Archers: 2
    Balor: 1 Frost Giant: 1 Imp: 1 Skeletons, Melee: 4
    Banshee: 1 Gelatinous Cube: 1 Intellect Devourer: 1 Spectator: 1
    Bar-Lgura: 1 Ghouls: 2 Iron Golem: 1 Stars: 6
    Barghest: 1 Giant Spider: 1 Kobolds: 6 Stone Golem: 1
    Basilisk: 1 Gnolls: 2 Lich: 1 Strahd: 1
    Beholder: 1 Gnome Rogue: 1 Manticore: 1 Tiefling Warlock: 1
    Blink Dog: 1 Gnome Wizard: 1 Mimic: 1 Treant: 1
    Bugbears: 2 Goblins: 6 Mind Flayers: 2 Troll: 1
    Bulette: 1 Grick: 1 Minotaur: 1 Umber Hulk: 1
    Bullywug: 2 Griffon: 1 Mummy: 1 Unicorn: 1
    Carrion Crawler: 1 Half-orc Bard: 1 Myconid: 1 Vampire Spawn: 1
    Centaur: 1 Half-orc Fighter: 1 Nightmare: 1 Water Elemental: 1
    Changeling Rogue: 1 Halfling Druid: 1 Nothic: 1 Werewolf: 1
    Chimera: 1 Halfling Wizard: 1 Numbers 1 through 6: 2 sets Wolves: 2
    Displacer Beast: 1 Halfling: 1 Ochre Jelly: 1 Wraith: 1
    Dragonborn Paladin: 1 Hell Hound: 1 Ogres: 2 Young Blue Dragon: 1
    Dragonborn Wizard: 1 Hezrou: 1 Oni: 1 Young Green Dragon: 1
    Drider: 1 Hill Giant: 1 Orcs: 6 Young Red Dragon: 1
    Drow Matron Mother: 1 Hippogriff: 1 Otyugh: 1 Young White Dragon: 1
    Drow Rogue: 2 Hobgoblins: 2 Owlbear: 1 Yuan-Ti Abomination: 1
    Dwarves: 2 Hook Horror: 1 Pegasus: 1 Zombies: 6

     

    I feel like there is always a bit of a trade-off when coming up with large-scale token offerings. There is a decision that has to be made between the breadth of creatures offered, and the number offered. For example, you rarely need more than one dragon for an encounter, but having run Storm King’s Thunder, it would be hard to come up with some of the giant encounters from that book with this set, given that there are only single example of the giants included. There is also a decent selection of “PC-ish” clings, but there are still gaps, and we definitely don’t touch on many of the newer player ancestries introduced to the game.

    While I feel like there are plenty of medium and large tokens for most encounters, at higher levels you may need a few more than four huge tokens, especially if the PCs get up to summoning or shape-changing shenanigans. And then there is the gargantuan Tarrasque in the room. Or rather, the gargantuan Tarrasque that isn’t in the room, or the case.

    Playing in a tier 1 or 2 game, you probably aren’t going to need a gargantuan token or clings. But the higher level you get, the more likely you are going to need that really big token, and maybe some clings to represent those Tarrasques and Great Wyrms. I can see gargantuan tokens being offered later on, after WotC sees how successful this idea is, but given that the case is built for future expansion, with the extra room for more folders, there isn’t a good place to store gargantuan tokens if they are produced.

    Final Thoughts
     I don’t think anyone that likes the feel of a nice, heavy token on a map is going to be disappointed. It’s just that one case isn’t going to solve all of your problems in one shot. 

    I love these tokens. I want to state that upfront. They look great and they feel great. However, if we’re looking at just this kit, and not the concept of the tokens and clings, this set may not have the longevity that a DM may desire, unless they are supplementing some of their representational needs with minis or other solutions.

    It’s a great broad selection, but it’s not a great deep selection, and I feel like any kind of solution of this nature is going to run into that problem at some point in the production process. I don’t think anyone that likes the feel of a nice, heavy token on a map is going to be disappointed. It’s just that one case isn’t going to solve all of your problems in one shot.

    Future Wishes

    I would love to see future sets sold tied to releases. For example, a set of hypothetical Dragonlance clings that contain all of the clings needed to run that adventure. I’m not sure if that’s the way these will be sold, but it’s what I would love to see.

    That said, we still need some additional sets to fill in the creatures that could use some additional support. I’m not sure if I would rather that be based on a broad or a narrow theme. For example, would it be better to see a set of giants, with all different kinds of true giants, ogres, trolls, etc. included?

    It is also interesting to see that this is a solution that has a lot of competition. I don’t think this product is designed to replace miniatures. At best, I think a lot of groups that like miniatures might still get this as a supplement to them. However, the 2D acrylic miniatures produced by WizKids might be competing for the same space. This solution, of course, is an in-house solution, but does that make it more likely to be supported?

    If you have the discretionary funds, or you are someone that has started down the accursed path of an RPG reviewer, I don’t think this is a bad purchase, but if this is still a bit of a squeeze on your budget, I would wait to see what kind of additional support this line is going to get, and how other creatures are released.

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  • 7 Tips to Being a Better TTRPG Player

    Together we can all make the game better.

    When searching for words of wisdom for all things tabletop, there’s lots of resources for how to be a good Game Master – but few for being a good player. The GM facilitates the game, but everyone at the table is responsible for cooperation and fun. For those of us who care deeply about making our GMs (and other players) feel valued and appreciated, these tips are a love song to you. 

    Know the rules and your character sheet

    Nobody should expect you to have all the rules memorized immediately, but get a general sense of what they are and know where to find them in a pinch, and you should strive to know the ones that impact your character the most. During combat, try to figure out what you want to do before it’s your turn – giving yourself a few options in case you need a sudden change of plans.

    Why it matters to your GM: Between building the world, characters, story, and encounters, your GM has enough on their plate. Though they are the final arbiter of the rules, you can help make the process a lot easier by understanding the rules that apply to you – including your character’s abilities.

    Why it matters to your fellow players: Interruptions break up the immersion and momentum of the game. If you have to interrupt the story to look up a rule you should know, or hold everyone up during combat when it’s your turn, then the other players will disengage at best, and get annoyed at worst.

    Set expectations with yourself, your players, and the GM

    Learn about what type of game your GM wants to have – whether it’s a romantic comedy, grimdark, or traditional fantasy adventure – and share what you’d love to be brought to the table. If they haven’t already, suggest they host a Session Zero.

    Why it matters to your GM: They need to know what type of game is going to be interesting for everyone at the table, as well as what elements are the most engaging. Most importantly, everyone needs to be aligned in order to have a mutually good time. What if you’re playing the game like it’s a lighthearted romp, but another player acts like it’s a gritty realism, and meanwhile the GM is running the game like it’s a political intrigue? Getting on the same page is helpful for a mutual experience.

    Why it matters to the players: Most newer players don’t think on the meta-level of what themes or tone they want to explore, and so sparking this conversation and sharing what you personally enjoy will help to get others to think about what they would enjoy most out of a game.

    A note for when the table can’t agree: No matter whether you’re playing with friends or randoms online, the group might not be the one for you. If you find that people aren’t on the same page, are crossing boundaries, etc, you may want to keep looking until you find the players you enjoy playing with. As the saying often goes, no D&D is often better than bad D&D.

    Make a character that wants to engage in the story and with the other characters

    You are in charge of your character, so create a character that wants to be an adventurer and has a reason for being with the party. When your GM dangles a cue or plot hook in front of you, take it! If they’re setting you up to start one quest, try not to go in the opposite direction.

    You are in charge of your character, so create a character that wants to be an adventurer and has a reason for being with the party.

    Take this example: Shifty Pete the swashbuckler rogue is a loner (doesn’t participate in role play with others); steals from the party; goes off to do their own thing; and if they find loot, they take it for themselves and hide it from the party. This type of character is playing a single-player mindset in a multiplayer game. In-game, the other players don’t necessarily have a reason to stick around with them.

    Instead, you can rewrite: Shifty Pete has a hard time opening up, but is working on it; steals for the party; volunteers for scouting missions, but usually takes a buddy; shares loot with everyone, even if they seem reluctant.

    After you’ve figured out why your character wants to adventure and be with the party, you can explore some other ways of engaging with your fellow player characters. Check out Roles For Social Encounters for useful roles you can take to move your GM’s story forward.

    Why it matters to the GM: Your GM generally puts a lot of effort into their game and wants to tell an entertaining story with a group. If they’ve spent a lot of time planning interesting plot hooks and adventures, and your character takes no interest in it, then their hard work would be for naught.

    Why it matters to the players: If your character doesn’t want to participate, then the party would have to either leave your character behind, or spend a lot of time trying to convince your character to participate so everyone can get to the story they came there to play.

    Share the spotlight with your fellow PCs

    Try to notice when other characters are having a moment in the spotlight, such as a confrontation with an NPC from their backstory, or a return to their homeland. When you see this happening, give them the space for their character to shine. Don’t worry, you’ll have your moments, too! You can ask their character questions, and have your own quips, but try to avoid becoming the main character of the scene.

    Why it matters to the GM: One of the unwritten rules of GMing is to tell a story where each player can be the hero (or the villain). To that end, they all deserve their moments to feel like a main character just as much as everyone else at the table.

    Why it matters to the players: When it’s their chance to have a main character moment, it can feel bad to be pushed back to supporting cast. 

    Engage throughout the game

    Put your phone down, avoid browsing other tabs, and be an active listener. If you are someone who needs to multitask in order to focus, consider getting a stim toy or taking careful notes during the session.

    Seeing that one person is distracted gives others an indirect permission statement to also distract themselves, throwing the focus away from the game.
    Think about key moments that will be useful to remember, and make sure to jot them down. Keep track of NPC names, locations, plot hooks, major story beats, etc – anything that feels important. If you find that you have too hard a time taking notes during the session, set aside 5-10 minutes after the session to jot down a summary while the memories are still fresh in your head.

    Why it matters to the GM: The GM probably spent a lot of time crafting the world and the story, and so it would probably feel bad if the players were too distracted and didn’t remember any of it..

    Why it matters to players: Seeing that one person is distracted gives others an indirect permission statement to also distract themselves, throwing the focus away from the game. On the flip side, engaged players foster engaged players – inspiring participation and, sometimes, more notetaking! More notes means more comparison and completion of information, which can lead to better party decision making.

    Offer to help wherever possible

    Ask your GM directly about any tasks that you could offer to take over, like being in charge of rescheduling games or tracking initiative. Make yourself available to do the task whenever needed and be proactive – don’t wait for the GM to ask you to do it each time. 

    It’s also helpful to be responsive when the GM requests something from the players, such as answering a question out-of-game or coordinating the next course of action in-game. 

    Why it matters to the GM: Creating a campaign is tough enough without also worrying about scheduling, rules arbitration, and initiative tracking. Offering to help — even if the GM doesn’t need it – can show that you’re supportive and willing to carry your own weight.

    Why it matters to players: Helping out makes the game play out more efficiently, and encourages others to step up to offer their help as well. 

    Respect consent and autonomy

    Don’t remove the autonomy of another character, such as attempting to mind control or kidnap them, unless everyone at the table is on board (another aspect of setting expectations!). If your GM hasn’t already, it’s also good to offer Safety Tools to make sure everyone knows which topics are greenlit and which are off limits.

    If Safety Tools are in play, you can enforce them by speaking up when a boundary may be breached. This can help the group feel encouraged to take them seriously.

    Why it matters to the GM: Safety is not just the responsibility of the GM; it’s everyone at the table’s job. By bringing it up at the beginning of the session or campaign (and enforcing those boundaries throughout the game) you help everyone. 

    If you have your own favorite safety tools, you could be teaching the GM about ones they haven’t heard of before, giving you the opportunity to improve the overall safety of the game. 

    Why it matters to players: Making something happen to a player character against their will without any ability to prevent it takes away their agency. Frankly, it feels bad – especially if they’re playing the game as a manner of escapism from the real world. Uncomfortable story beats can also bring people out of the game and into a reality they may not be comfortable with. Safety Tools help ensure everyone at the table has psychological safety, which will help lead to mutually-assured fun.

     

    These tips can boil down to a few themes: respect and enthusiasm for the game, the players, and the GM. Whether you’ve already done some or none of these before, you can try them out in your games going forward. Your friends at the table may appreciate it, and you may find yourself having more connection with them than you did before.

    Do you have any other tips to be a better player? Let us know!

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  • RPG with Friends, Family, and Strangers

     

    Dr. Lisa Su states that “Gaming brings people together.”

    There are benefits and drawbacks of playing RPGs with people we know versus people we don’t. There are advantages and disadvantages to gaming with the people we are closest to, and the people we’ve never met. This article discusses playing RPGs with friends, family, and strangers.

    RPGs with Friends

    Playing with your besties is usually the easiest way to go. There’s a standing Friday or Saturday night game at your favorite bar or basement, so no one must think of where to go or what to do that night. It’s already pre-planned!  Here are the pros and cons of playing RPGs with your friends.

    Advantages to RPGs with Friends

    • I know this firsthand. RPGs have brought me closer to friends, especially during difficult times. RPGs can build relationships within a campaign.
    • A cohesive group is stress-relieving and a lot of fun to play.
    • Having an establish playing time (weekly, monthly, etc.) will keep players in touch with each other.

    Disadvantages to RPGs with Friends

    • Conflicts can happen and players can have hurt feelings. It’s worse if players take sides.
    • Gaming only with friends prevents others from joining the RPG circles.
    • It can be awkward and affect the friendship if one or more of the players leave the group.

    RPGs with Family

    At a family gathering, especially if members are stuck inside due to inclement weather, RPGs can be a lifesaver. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of gaming with beloved family members.

    Advantages to RPGs with Family

    • A good RPG session can replace awkward conversations, steer away from sensitive topics, and avert unnecessary family drama.
    • The rules in RPGs use a lot of math, which is a great review for all participants.
    • A good storyline is a good opportunity for bonding with family members. Nothing keeps the family together quite like a good RPG battle!
    • This is a great multiage activity, as 9-year-olds can play along with grand and great-grandparents! Both tweens/teens and seniors can be hard to entertain, so it’s a great time to introduce them to RPGs.

    Disadvantages to RPGs with Family 

    • Time constraints can prevent a good gaming session.
    • Figuring out who will be the DM and which game and version to play could be problematic.
    • If there are too many players, it could be difficult for the DM to handle.
    • Unless characters are created in advance, learning the game can be challenging.
    • Some family members are hesitant/reticent to use technology like D&D Beyond, so, you may want to team up a non-techie person with someone who is comfortable and patient.

    RPGs with Strangers

                This one is a tough one for me, but recently I’ve had a change of heart. A couple of people who I didn’t know previously joined one of my groups. It turned out to be a great experience! Here are the good and the bad when gaming with strangers.

    Advantages to RPGs with Strangers 

    • Gaming with strangers livens up a session and a potentially stagnant campaign.
    • Strangers in RPGs can quickly become friends.
    • Unless one of the strangers is a rules lawyer, strangers are usually easy to play with, as they want to fit in.
    • If you are gaming with strangers at a Con, if the game is not going well, you can always leave.

    Disadvantages to RPGs with Strangers 

    • When bringing a new player into the group, the dynamic changes, and not always for the better.
    • If the player does not fit in well with the group, it can be an uncomfortable experience.
    • If you are gaming with strangers at a Con, it’s four hours of your life you won’t get back.

    Do you prefer to play with family, friends, or strangers? Please share your experiences!

     

     

     

     

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  • mp3GNOMECAST #148 – Know When to Roll’em

    On this episode we’re going to talk about that GM skill of knowing when to ask for dice rolls and went to not. As the saying goes, “Y’gotta know when to roll ‘em, y’gotta know when to hold ‘em…”

    Download Gnomecast 148 Here

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  • Hunter the Reckoning Review

    A Hunter, in profile, against an orange lit city backdrop, holding a sub-machine gun.

    In the 90s, when the World of Darkness became the hottest thing in RPGs, I was on the outside looking in. My friends went off to college, and our gaming got more and more sporadic. That meant that I didn’t really want to spend time learning a new system and exploring what all of this was about. In addition, the “hot new thing” that my friends brought back home from college was Shadowrun.

    When I got back into RPGs in the early 2000s, all of the people that played in World of Darkness games were very into the lore. It was intimidating to me, because it wasn’t just about “knowing” things, it was about “doing it right.” It felt like there was some special vibe that you had to understand, and that intimidated me more than reading twenty to thirty books just to know what was going on.

    I mention that, because Hunter the Reckoning is something that should have been right up my alley. I love modern urban fantasy, and I really love monster hunting stories. But I was afraid it was tangled up in this vibe that I just might not get if I wasn’t on the inside of the World of Darkness. But now, more than a decade later, I’m much less likely to get put off by the “vibe” at the FLGS, and much more interested in forming my own opinions. And we just happen to have a new edition of Hunter the Reckoning on the shelves.

    Disclaimer

    I purchased my own copy of the Hunter the Reckoning RPG for this review, and was not provided a review copy. I have not had the opportunity to play the game, but I have experience playing Chronicles of Darkness and Storyteller System games, which have some similar touchstones. I have also played in games run by one of the playtesters listed in the credits, but not with this particular material.

    Hunter the Reckoning

    Written by Justin Achilli, Daniel Braga, Johnathan Byerly, Edward Austin Hall, Karim Muammar, Mario Ortegón, Pam Punzalan, and Erin Roberts

    Advice for Considerate Play appendix by Jacqueline Bryk

    Editing and Indexing by Ronni Radner

    Concept Diversity Consultancy and Diversity Reading by Maple Intersectionality Consulting

    Art Director: Tomas Arfert

    Cover Art: Mark Kelly, Paulina Westerling, Tomas Arfert

    Interior Art and Illustration: Tomas Arfert, Krzysztof Bieniawski, Lloyd Drake-Brockman, Raquel Cornejo, Mirko Failoni, Per Gradin, Mark Kelly, Ronja Melin, Anders Muammar, Paulina Westerling

    Graphic Design and Layout: Tomas Arfert

    Proofreading: Jason Carl, Dhaunae De Vir, Sean Greaney, Karim Muammar, Amanda “Huddy” Huddleston, Martyna “Outstar” Zych

    Pages in the Journal

    This review is based on the PDF version of the book, which is 288 pages. These pages include a credits page, a table of contents, two pages of opening fiction, a two-page index, a two-page character sheet, two pages of blank stationary from organizations in the setting, and a two-page spread of live models in lighting that matches the color scheme of the book.

    The book itself is primarily laid out in a two-column layout. I’m happy to see this change from the Vampire 5e core rulebook, because I’ll freely admit that I’m biased. Three column layout makes it really hard for me to follow text. The book is laid out in black, white, and orange themes. Much of the artwork is black and white with orange color splashes for emphasis.

    On the Inside

    The book has the following sections:

    • Introduction
    • Chapter One: A Coming Reckoning
    • Chapter Two: Characters
    • Chapter Three: Edges and Equipment
    • Chapter Four: Rules
    • Chapter Five: Storytelling
    • Chapter Six: Supernatural Threats
    • Chapter Seven: Rival Organizations
    • Appendix: Advice for Considerate Play

    An armed Hunter is arguing with someone else wearing an ID badge, with a wolf like monster in the foreground, against a city backdrop.Past and Present

    One thing that I wanted to address right off the top is the change in focus for this version of Hunter the Reckoning. While I didn’t play previous versions of the game, I knew a little bit about the core concepts, and I have seen some of the online discussions about the game. If you are a fan of the previous material, you may want to be aware of one of the changes to the game.

    In this version of Hunter the Reckoning, you are playing mortal hunters. There are some edges that might give you abilities that touch on supernatural powers, but without taking any of those, you are playing human beings caught up in a supernatural world and driven to hunt the monsters that you know exist.

    This differs from the original version of the game, where characters would come in contact with Heralds and become Imbued, basically meaning that hunters were their own flavor of supernatural being. Because I like to wear my biases on my sleeve, I’ll say that I like this change, and I prefer to have a little more distance between the supernatural and the Hunters that this game assumes. You may want to keep all of that in mind as you read on.

    Mechanics

    For anyone familiar with the World of Darkness games, I doubt you would be shocked to find out that this is a d10 dice pool-based game. Characters have Attributes and Skills. When making tests, characters add together a relevant Attribute with a relevant Skill, and roll that many d10s. Each of them that comes up six or higher is a success. If the player rolls a number of successes equal to the difficulty of a task, they succeed.

    Advantages and Flaws are ranked just like Attributes and Skills. Unlike Attributes and Skills, Advantages and Flaws aren’t often used to roll dice pools (although they are in some cases), but instead, at different rankings, they grant different benefits or disadvantages.

    Edges and Perks are sort of one-off abilities. Edges grant access to Perks, so a character that has an Edge can then pick up multiple Perks associated with that Edge. Edges and Perks might grant a Hunter more reliable access to weapons, vehicles, or gear, a better chance to gain relevant information when researching, or even the ability to work with natural animals.

    Endowments are Edges and Perks that skirt into the supernatural. This involves sensing supernatural creatures, the ability to ward against the presences of the supernatural, or even the ownership of an artifact with supernatural ability. There are multiple ways that these abilities can manifest. For example, a character with strong faith may ward against the supernatural by presenting a holy symbol, which is an extension of their Endowment, not necessarily a weakness native to a supernatural creature.

    Weapons and armor are fairly simple to express. Weapon damage adds damage after an opposed roll between an attacker and a defender, and armor reduces damage that the wearer takes. The game also presents some upgrades, like incendiary rounds that cause fire damage whenever a round hits a target, which can be pretty useful against monsters that are flammable (including vampires).

    The equipment chapter also gives you a brief glimpse of the state-of-the-art monster detecting equipment used by larger organizations, which can detect creatures with no heartbeat and things with excessive extra dimensional energy.

    Characters have Health and Willpower, which measures their physical and mental ability to keep going, respectively. Standard damage heals quickly, while Aggravated damage takes more time, and may even require special steps that need to be taken before healing can happen. While most edged, heavy, or ballistic weapons are going to do Aggravated damage to humans, finding out a monster’s weakness is part of the process of learning how to deal with a threat, as those weaknesses often allow Hunters to deal Aggravated damage to the supernatural threat in question. Willpower can be spent to allow for rerolls, but it can also be spent when monsters do things like causing fear or dominating a character, so they can ignore the effects of those conditions.

    Bonus points awarded by me for referencing a George Carlin bit when it comes to the section on flamethrowers.

    Hunter’s Signature Rules

    Much as Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition introduces Hunger Dice to represent the unique threat of a vampire losing control of their Hunger, Hunter the Reckoning uses Desperation Dice to represent the growing chaos of dangerous situations Hunters may find themselves within.

    The Desperation pool may go up at the end of a scene based on a number of questions about what happened in that scene. For example, Hunters taking serious harm, allowing their quarry to escape, or failing to stop the quarry from harming innocents may cause the Desperation pool to go up. But Desperation can work in the Hunter’s favor. If a Hunter can explain why their Drive is pushing them to take an action, they may add the Desperation dice to their die pool. If they do this, any 1s add to the Danger pool, and two or more 1s cause the Hunter to fall into Despair. Characters in Despair can’t use their drive to access the Desperation pool until they have taken a specific action that essentially clears their head and reinvigorates them.

    The Danger Pool can be added to the difficulty of some situations. For example, it might be harder to gather information as the Danger Pool goes up, or at different Danger levels, different events might trigger, like an antagonist adding bodyguards to their retinue, or the antagonist being moved to put a Hunter’s ally or contact in danger.

    The Setting (and the Perspective)

    The setting is, not surprisingly, the World of Darkness. That means that this game takes place in the same world where Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition is set, as well as the same world where the upcoming new version of Werewolf the Apocalypse will take place. That said, the perspective of the characters is decidedly mortal, and they are more likely to know about the Organizations or Orgs that also hunt, detail, or regulate monsters than they are the deep underpinnings of vampire or werewolf society.

    The supernatural is a secret that is just barely under the surface of the world. There are airport scanners that can detect vampires and alert federal agencies when they get off an airplane. There are international collaborative efforts to share information about monsters between the agencies of various nations, and Homeland Security has vampires listed as terrorists.

    There are branches of the FBI dedicated to handling vampire threats, and an organization that nominally answers to the DoD that might recruit hunters or even the supernatural to protect American interests against other supernatural threats. We also get some glimpses of the government anti-monster forces from Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines. There is a long-established Vatican affiliated monster hunting order, as well as a cult of purity that seeks to not only rid the world of monsters, but also of any actions that lead to disharmony. Corporations don’t get left out either, as there are private security firms that specialize in monster hunting, companies that develop mass produced weapons and gear for monster hunting groups, and even a company using a gig based app to help people get revenge on the monsters that may have harmed them or their loved ones.

    The game assumes that your Hunters will not belong to an org, although they may have in the past. The focus is on individual cells trying to hunt monsters while also threading the needle between the interests of the various orgs, that may help, hinder, or complicate the lives of the hunters. It’s made clear that the orgs all have something going against them that makes them less than desirable employers. Some of them may only seek to gain information about monsters, but not eliminate them. Others may be only working to control the supernatural rather than eliminate it. Still others are very narrow about how humanity itself should be living their lives.

    Hunters come from various creeds. Essentially, the creeds are the general mindset and approach a Hunter uses when adopting the lifestyle, including the following:

    • Entrepreneurial
    • Faithful
    • Inquisitive
    • Martial
    • Underground

    There are nuances to all of these creeds. The Entrepreneurial may not just be about monetizing their monster hunting, but about making sure the cell can pay its bills and afford to do research on how to hunt monsters more efficiently. The Faithful may have a complicated relationship with orgs that have similar beliefs. The Inquisitive might get in trouble because they are looking for the “big picture,” while threats right in front of them may be endangering them. The Martial is less likely to do long term planning if they feel they have the tools they need and can act right now. The Underground may be in so much trouble that they can only reach out to others that are on the wrong side of the law, but this can also provide cells with more resources than they might otherwise have.

    The difference between Hunters and hunters isn’t a supernatural ability to hunt monsters, but the fact that Hunters have a Drive. The hunters that work for orgs might not like monsters, or they may like the paycheck they get for fighting them. They might feel like they are doing the right thing in fighting creatures of the night. But Hunters have a Drive that pushes them to fight monsters, which ties in with The Reckoning. The Reckoning is the belief that the world is at a pivotal moment, and the darker side of the supernatural has to be opposed now, or else it may be too late to avert a disaster.

    Much of what differentiates Hunter the Reckoning from monster hunting games without a built-in setting is the relationship of the Hunters with the orgs. You can use the rules to hunt a different monster each session, but that misses some of what makes the setting unique. Orgs might hire the cell as temporary freelancers, only to hang them out to dry. The cell might have a dedicated org team as recurring rivals, or they may even steal some of the toys that have been developed by the bigger orgs with the big budgets when they really need the upper hand.

    Two Hunters are reflected in a puddle on the ground. Behind them is a lurking figure about to surprise them both, also in the reflection.Supernatural Threats

    The example threats help to shape the narrative of Hunter. There are general stats for things like vampires and werewolves, but there are also named, unique threats from a variety of locations. Vampires and werewolves aren’t framed in terms of what clan or tribe they are from, and they don’t reference the politics of their social structure. Hunters work hard just to learn about the weaknesses of various monsters, let alone find out about deep social structures.

    Monsters have simplified expressions for their statistics. Rather than having specific Attributes and Skills, they have Standard Dice Pools for Physical, Social, and Mental tasks. They also have Abilities and Weaknesses. These include Regenerate (recover X amount of health per turn), or Vulnerability (Damage from this source is Aggravated and can’t be Regenerated), as well as other Abilities and Weaknesses.

    Most of the example vampires and werewolves presented are loners that have broken off from wider organizations. You might find a loner vampire running a criminal empire, or one that is a bizarre mutated experiment. A werewolf might be an old creature ready to go down in a blaze of glory, that has learned to become invisible in the shadows, or a vigilante werewolf that takes offense when they see Confederate flags or belligerently jingoistic folk.

    There are also sorcerers, people using magic they don’t understand, ghosts with unique stories, science experiments, and fey adjacent predators. The main unifying factor is that the Hunters will need to do research to learn about who is getting harmed, by what, and how to stop it. Not every monster needs to be destroyed. For example, some ghosts really just need to know that some loose end from their life will be addressed.

    This section of the book is great from an expectation setting standpoint, and also one of the roughest parts of the ruleset. Mechanically, monsters use a simplified version of the rules used for the game itself, which makes them easy to reskin and relatively easy to run. Where the difficulty comes is the narrative elements.

    On the up side, this section doesn’t present the United States as the center of the universe, with plot hooks from various places like Mexico and the Philippines as well. The downside is that some narratives can be much more fraught depending on the context in which they are presented.

    Out of context, some of the scenarios can make other countries seem more prone to corruption than America, frame immigrants as victims, use transplant recipients as victims, and presents a handsome male presenting creature that is pansexual as a dangerous individual that takes out their frustration about not knowing what they want in a mate as the motive for their supernatural assaults.

    As an example, many of the narratives present supernatural events happening in economically disadvantaged areas. The plot hooks around the Philippines and Mexico introduce a lot of government corruption, and there are a few recurring situations where migrants attempting to reach the US are put in danger, or are flat out murdered. In at least one of these situations, there is almost a whimsical aspect to the supernatural threat that is in stark contrast to how characters are introduced to the existence of the threat, that being a migrant woman dying in childbirth.

    I don’t doubt that the designers adding these story hooks were trying to diversify the range of possible stories. The problem I have is that if you have Hunters from outside of the communities being presented resolving these situations, it’s really easy to devolve into a White Savior narrative. While I think you can create a satisfying narrative about opposing monsters that prey on the disenfranchised and vulnerable, there are a lot of narratives that revolve around that assumption, and I feel like there needs to be a little more in the way of guidance to avoid the pitfalls of those narrative elements.

    I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think any of these story hooks are automatically bad, just that with the current state of the modern world, it would be very easy to fall into harmful tropes if the Storyteller isn’t careful about how they use these hooks.

    Setting Expectations

    There are a few sections in the book that deal with setting expectations. The first section that deals with this is in the Storytelling section, under Chronicle Tenets. There are four examples of these tenets in this section, and they set the expectations for the campaign. For example, is it just known to all of the Hunters that you don’t endanger innocents? Is the story going to feature redemption arcs? Is the story going to explore the vices that the Hunters indulge to make their lives more bearable, in light of the horrific supernatural events they have seen?

    The next section that deals with this is the Advice for Considerate Play Appendix, which is six pages long, and deals with topics like safety tools at the table, what is and isn’t acceptable as part of the story, and how to talk about uncomfortable situations that come up in play. In addition to presenting calibration techniques and active safety tools for play, there is also a section for additional reading.

    Given the tone of the setting, and the general horror genre, I think these are both important sections to include, and both sections are well done. Because they focus on empathy and player driven calibration, I do think they still fall a little short of addressing some of the potential context issues in the Supernatural Threats chapter, but paying close attention to this section and having an open play environment will definitely help to de-escalate situations that might arise from mismatched expectations and context.

    Closing In
     I like the way that the Desperation system is similar to, but distinct from, the Hunger dice in Vampire, and I’m thrilled that the Orgs presented help to frame a very distinct monster hunting setting within a genre that has a lot of different options. 

    I have to admit, other games that are connected to World of Darkness properties feel like they sometimes present relatively simple rules in ways that make them feel less transparent. This text does a good job of avoiding that pitfall, and making the systems and subsystems very clear. I like the way that the Desperation system is similar to, but distinct from, the Hunger dice in Vampire, and I’m thrilled that the Orgs presented help to frame a very distinct monster hunting setting within a genre that has a lot of different options.

    Lost Opportunity

    I think the Supernatural Threats chapter is extremely ambitious when it comes to providing deeper, meaningful story hooks, but a little more discussion about what context could be harmful would help immensely. While I think this is very player friendly when it comes to people’s first contact with World of Darkness games, it’s really easy to establish some truths in a Hunter game that may not line up with the greater World of Darkness, if those new players engage with the wider product line.

    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 are a fan of modern urban fantasy and monster hunting, I think this will be an easy recommendation, although it’s important to understand the potential tone of the setting before picking up the game. Even if you don’t employ the story elements involved, some of the content can be heavy to engage. I’m also interested to see how well people will transition from what is essentially a “lighter touch” regarding lore as they transition from this game to Vampire, if they choose to do so.

    What kind of urban fantasy do you enjoy? If you enjoy monster hunting, what are your favorite examples of media that involves monster hunters? We want to hear from you in the comments below!

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  • Gen Con 2022: The Good and The Bad

     

    Like any vacation, Gen Con is a mixed bag of mostly fun and minor frustration. Sometimes you roll a 20 and occasionally you roll a 1. This year was a mixed dice bag, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to visit Indy, enjoy the Con, and hang out with my gaming fam. In this article, I will be addressing the good and the bad parts of the adventure.

    The Good

    There were a lot of good moments at Gen Con 2022, but for brevity’s sake I’d like to highlight three memorable events: one features an author, another a game store, and the third is the hotel stay.

    Elevator Fan Girl

    Steve and I are in the elevator going down to breakfast and there’s a sweet, shy man holding a sign that has the Slaying the Dragon book cover. (This book was referenced in an earlier Gnome Stew article-check it out!) I exclaimed and said, “Hey, I’m reading that book!” The man quips, “Hey, I wrote that book!” Ben Riggs probably wanted to fetch his coffee and escape from this elevator fan girl, but he was gracious. Steve and I stopped by his booth several times to have our copy signed, but the elusive Ben was away, so we ended up with a signed book card. That would suffice.

    Good Games Indianapolis

    We strolled down South Meridian Street, people-watched (lots of cosplay here), and ventured to Good Games Indianapolis. It’s a nifty shop that is much bigger inside than it looks from the outside. I can’t say enough good things about the staff and the merch, as they were friendly and helpful. I left the store with a Bard miniature for a new 5e character, a jumbo D20 die, and a game called Cat Lady.

    Hotel

    We were lucky in the lottery this year and ended up staying at our favorite place, The Hilton. The staff was also gracious to us and allowed us to commandeer a table and play our annual Saturday night game in their bar area. Check-in and check-out were seamless, and the discounted breakfast was tasty. Also, I had a new haircut, hot stone massage (highly recommend!), and a pedicure.

    The Bad

    I like to focus on the positive without being too Pollyanna about it. There were only a few blips this con. For us, the bad was due to limited mobility, schedules, and weather.

    Limited Mobility

    Unfortunately, I am currently experiencing post-op complications which limits my mobility to walk long distances without pain.  So, I couldn’t visit the Con as often as I would have liked. But I made my own fun by getting a new haircut, a massage, and a pedicure. (The spa at the Hilton is terrific! I made new friends there.)

    Schedules

      This is the one bad instance that we can control, and moving forward, will do. Steve GMs four games for the Con, and that is awesome and all, but we hardly saw each other. Next year, Steve will either limit the number of games to run, or we will coordinate schedules better, so we have some time to spend together.

    Weather

      Luckily, except for the Food Trucks, the Con is held indoors, so we’re not stuck inside on a tropical island. However, it rained most of the weekend, and it made travelling a little more difficult. Other than that, it wasn’t a big deal.

     Did you visit any conventions this year? How were your experiences?

     

     

     

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  • A Simpler Alternative D&D Currency System

    Futuristic Chinatown Market In The Rain

    I’m currently running a D&D game in the Final Fantasy XIV world setting using a modified version of the excellent FFXIV x DND homebrew. At its core, it’s still D&D 5e, but I’ve been taking the opportunities the setting gives me to tweak and open up some of the systems to fit the more modular and open gaming style I tend to enjoy. I already wrote one article about the Point Buy Feats system I created to give my players more diverse options. Today I want to drop my setup for removing a ton of complexity from the D&D item system.

    Why Change Things?

    I’ve always had a few personal issues with the way money and currency are handled in D&D games. I played way back when, in the days of 2e, and I get where the system has its historical roots. It works fine, but it always feels off. Whether it’s bribing a guard with what would be a year’s salary or realizing that the prices this “poor blacksmith” is selling their goods for should result in them living in opulent wealth, it just never seems to add up in a way that is quite understandable. If the tech level differs a bit or there are more advanced options in the world, the system feels even more off balance. Sure, you just handwave and move along so you can get to the fun parts of the game, but I’ve always felt there are better ways.

    I’ve tried using skill and resource based systems like in old World of Darkness games, and I’ve dipped into not bothering with it at all and just pushing those elements to the narrative. The issue always comes back to the players wanting to have that ‘gaining money’ experience, and it’s hard to do that without some quantification of the resource. It’s rarely satisfying to say “The quest giver offers you a ‘good amount of money’ to do this job” and then move on. Would the characters be motivated beyond the danger? Would they want more? How much more should they negotiate for? Would they scoff and not take the danger on for that paltry sum? So, from a narrative perspective, money needs at least a little definition to create the experience that fits the scope of D&D games. Really, all games in any setting need some sort of conceptualization of money if it is at all a part of the tropes. Would the elite merc group take on the deadly mission for $500? Would the tramp freighter group try to run the imperial blockade for 4,000 credits? Without some concept of relative worth, some of the verisimilitude breaks down, but the super detailed and accurate item accounting can cause it’s own issues and be a pain to keep track of. So, what’s the solution?

    Relative Costs

    I’ve played around with lots of ways to get around the issues I find in the D&D currency system, but the one that resonates and seems to fix most of my issues is figuring out the relative costs for some important categories and providing an adequate range for items of that type. Making a kind of matrix of value in the game world. Having the range of costs for a basic category gives you enough flexibility to quickly figure out a price for almost anything, while also allowing you to vary up things based on market conditions.

    Here are my relative costs for my FFXIVxDND game. Everything is converted to GIL for my world, but if you wanted to convert this back to stock D&D quickly consider using the silver standard. You could just change Gil to Silver and tweak as needed to fit your own pricing desires. The “Silver Standard” paradigm is a popular way to re-conceptualize and make the D&D prices feel more understandable. It dovetails nicely enough with the Gil. I’m always a fan of a named currency rather than currency being a standardized piece of a precious metal.

     

    Basic Goods (In Gil)

    Cost Range (Gil) Mundane Item Ammunition
    (Per piece)
    Adventuring Gear Apothecary /
    Herbalism Item
    Cheap 1 – 10 Gil 1 Gil 1 – 20 Gil 10 – 30 Gil
    Moderate 10 – 30 Gil 1 – 2 Gil 30 – 75 Gil 30 – 150 Gil
    Expensive 30 – 75 Gil 3 – 5 Gil 75 – 300 Gil 150 – 500 Gil
    Very Expensive 75 – 150 Gil 6 – 40 Gil 300 – 1,000 Gil 500 – 2,000 Gil
    Extravagant 150 – 1,000 Gil 40 – 100 Gil 1,000 – 5,000 Gil 2,000 – 5,000 Gil

     

    Lifestyle (In Gil)

    Cost Range (Gil) Food and Drink
    (Full Meal)
    Food and Drink
    (Single Item)
    Lodging
    (Inn Stay)
    Lifestyle / Pay
    (Day)
    Lifestyle / Salary
    (Month)
    Cheap 5 – 15 Gil 2 – 4 Gil 20 – 40 Gil 10 – 30 Gil 300 – 900 Gil
    Moderate 15 – 30 Gil 6 – 12 Gil 40 – 80 Gil 30 – 80 Gil 900 – 2,400 Gil
    Expensive 30 – 60 Gil 12 – 20 Gil 80 – 150 Gil 80 – 120 Gil 2,400 – 3,600 Gil
    Very Expensive 60 – 100 Gil 20 – 40 Gil 150 – 300 Gil 120 – 200 Gil 3,600 – 6,000 Gil
    Extravagant 100 – 200 Gil 40 – 60 Gil 300 – 500 Gil 200 – 500 Gil 6,000 – 15,000 Gil

     

    Travel (In Gil, Per person)

    Distance Cart / Mount Boat Airship Aetheryte
    Short 10 – 30 Gil 30 – 60 Gil 80 – 100 Gil 150 – 300 Gil
    Moderate 30 – 50 Gil 60 – 100 Gil 100 – 300 Gil 300 – 600 Gil
    Far 50 – 200 Gil 100 – 250 Gil 300 – 500 Gil 600 – 900 Gil
    Very Far 200 – 400 Gil 250 – 500 Gil 500 – 900 Gil 900 – 1500 Gil
    Extreme 400 – 1000 Gil 500 – 900 Gil 900 – 1,200+ Gil 1,500+ Gil

     

    Special / Magic Item General Price

    Modified from the DMG chart, magic item prices will vary greatly depending on usage. This chart is for general consideration only.

    Rarity Char Level Bonus Value
    Common 1st or higher 100 – 500 Gil
    Uncommon 1st or higher 500 -5,000 Gil
    Rare 5th or higher +1 5,000 – 50,000 Gil
    Very rare 11th or higher +2 50,00 – 250,000 Gil
    Legendary 17th or higher +3 250,000+ Gil

     

    The Breakdown – Or what’s so great about this?

    What I love about this setup is that I can instantly ditch set item prices. I have converted a lot of the D&D items to Gil within this paradigm, but when it comes down to figuring out how much some item should cost that isn’t listed, I’ve got some lines I can color within. Maybe a player gets a very smart idea to bribe the librarian for the arcanum they need access to with a super nice journal or a rare book. All I have to do is consider what category it is within – let’s say low range of extravagant – and give the player some options. Perhaps give them a choice between a journal bound in rare leather and transported from a far away land for about 180 gil or a tome of Ben Hur 1860, third edition with the erratum on page 116 for only 376 gil. Both rare books, simple enough to figure out a price without referencing the item lists and then trying to determine how much it might be based off of standard D&D.

    Book prices aren’t written up anywhere I know of in the stock D&D setting, and their value may change depending on setting and the rarity. With the relative system in place, all I have to do is decide if they are common or extravagant and decide how much this area may have one available for. Take a common item such as a set of blacksmith’s tools. I could determine that it is cheaper in a more populous area (say 65 gil for a hammer and tongs) while in a frontier outpost it costs more (125 gil) because of lack of supply and demand. I just have to target what I want the cost to represent for the item. Working with ranges lets you be flexible.

    As you can see from the breakdowns I wrote up, you can also create ranges for many different types of sellable items or services. Modifying lifestyle options lets you get a general idea of how much a good bribe might be or how much fancy meals would cost within the range. With travel I can make the categories representative rather than 3 gil per mile and have to figure out the math. I can also break out of the ranges for special circumstances. Sure, it’s only a short travel by airship or boat but the island is supposed to be haunted and the captain requires triple the pay per person.

    The Real Handwave – Real World Pricing

    One more thing I like to do to ease things even more is make things equivalent to common scope of real world items. Matching what you and your players understand as real world value in USD, CAD, Euro, Rands, Yen, etc. and building the categories based off of that will let you just come up with prices immediately. You could even shift your money system by an amount if you wanted to make it feel unique but still match a common understanding of value. If something would cost 20 dollars USD you could decide it is around 200 gil in the game setting because everything is about 10x real world prices in gil. Something that wouldn’t be mass manufactured may accommodate the hand crafting cost, but  – if you match to real world money paradigms, much easier to figure things out. if you don’t, and you set up your relative price ranges well you can still easily grok general costs. You may look up hand made soap on Etsy and see people sell it for around 4 to 6 bucks per piece. Great – that’s 4 gil to 6 gil or 400 gil to 600 gil if you are shifting prices for a unique feeling.

    Final Thoughts

    This is not a system based in realism, except where it is. Maybe it’s more true to say it isn’t a system based in exacts, but neither are real world money systems. Look almost anything up on amazon or any similar marketplace and you’ll see pricing varies greatly for goods that are made by multiple different manufacturers. The same goods also cost different prices in different locations. Anything on an island is usually more expensive because of supply chain costs and buying something from an open air market compared to an established shop will see great variation in the costs. This is a system more about defining the value than the exacts, and that can be incredibly freeing. The paradigm works across many settings and it becomes easy to shift and move when the current game situation requires it.

    What do you think about relative money systems like this? Do you see yourself using something like this to ease some bookkeeping? What other categories would you create to accommodate your in-game needs?

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  • The Art of Improvisation in Role Playing Games

    Are you a DM or player and stuck in a situation you didn’t expect? Improvisation might be the key to get you out! Improvisation is an important skill in any form of performance, but it’s especially vital in role playing games. When you’re playing a character in an RPG, you never know what’s going to happen next. The most successful players are often those who are able to think on their feet and come up with solutions to problems that their characters face.

    In this article, we’re going to explore the art of improvisation in role playing games. We’ll discuss what it is, why it’s important, and how you can use it to your advantage as a player or DM.

    What is Improvisation and Why is it Important?

    Improvisation is the act of making something up on the spot. It’s often used in theater, music, and other forms of performance where the outcome is not predetermined. In role playing games, improvisation is vital because it allows players and DMs to create solutions to problems that they didn’t anticipate.

    Unless you’re writing your TTRPG stories with every turn and twist planned out, chances are that improvisation will be a key part of your game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Improvisation can lead to some of the most memorable moments in role playing games.

    Players and DMs who are able to improvise well often find themselves with an advantage over those who don’t. If you can think on your feet and come up with creative solutions to problems, you’ll be able to keep your game moving forward even when things don’t go as planned.

    One of the biggest challenges in role playing games is that they are unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen next, and this can make it difficult to plan ahead. Improvisation allows you to react to the situation as it unfolds, making it an essential skill for both players and DMs.

    There are many reasons why improvisation is important in RPGs. It can help you:

    • Create believable and interesting characters
    • Make the game more fun for everyone involved
    • Handle unexpected events in a game
    • Develop problem solving skills

    How Can You Use Improvisation to Your Advantage as a Player or DM?

    There are many ways that you can use improvisation to your advantage as a player or DM. Here are a few tips:

    1. Be Prepared

    The best way to use improvisation is to be prepared for it. This means having a general understanding of the game world and your character’s place in it. The more you know about the game, the easier it will be to come up with solutions to problems that arise.

    2. Practice Makes Perfect

    Improvisation is a skill that takes practice to perfect. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at thinking on your feet and coming up with creative solutions.

    3. Be Creative

    One of the best things about improvisation is that it allows you to be creative. There are no rules or limitations, so you can let your imagination run wild. This is a great way to come up with ideas for characters, storylines, and events in the game.

    4. Listen to Your Fellow Players

    Improvisation is not a solo activity. It’s important to listen to what other players are saying and doing, as this can give you clues about how to proceed. Pay attention to the non-verbal cues as well, such as body language and tone of voice.

    5. Keep an Open Mind

    It’s also important to keep an open mind when improvising. Be willing to try new things and go with the flow. This will help you come up with better ideas and make the game more enjoyable for everyone involved.

    6. Have Fun

    Above all, remember that improvisation is supposed to be fun. It’s a way to add excitement and creativity to the game. So don’t take it too seriously and enjoy the ride!

    3 Things to Avoid When Improvising in a Game

    While improvisation is a great tool to have in your toolbox, there are a few things that you should avoid when using it in a game. Here are three of the most important:

    1. Don’t Metagame

    Metagaming is the act of using out-of-character knowledge to make in-character decisions. This is often done in an attempt to gain an advantage over other players. For example, if you know that the dragon is weak to fire, you might have your character use a fireball spell even though it doesn’t make sense for them to know that…indeed, there are rules you should continue to follow. Improvisation requires sticking to rules while trying to find creative ways to explore, interact, and engage with unexpected problems and scenarios.

    Metagaming can ruin the game for everyone involved, so it’s important to avoid it. The process of metagaming also detracts from the immersive experience and removes the original reason why anyone would really want to play a TTRPG.

    2. Don’t God Mode

    Entering God mode is similar to metagaming, but it’s done in an attempt to make your character or your NPCs invincible. For example, if you know that the enemy is going to attack your NPC, boss, or character, you might have them use a spell that makes them immune to all damage. God mode actions take away from the fun and challenge of the game, so they should be avoided. A lot of playing an open world, exploratory type TTRPG game well is knowing how to keep the game realistic and within the bounds of what “could happen”. Improvisation should maintain some sense of grounded reality that has already been established.

    3. Don’t Power Game

    Power gaming is the act of min-maxing your character in an attempt to make them as powerful as possible. This often results in characters that are one-dimensional and lack personality. For example, if you’re playing a fighter, you might choose to only take feats that increase your damage output and ignore everything else. You’re taking numbers and statistics, and placing that over and above narrative and in-game role play.

    This robs you and your party of the best reason for playing a TTRPG… discovery, relationships (good or bad ones in-game), and the story that you’re traveling through. Power gaming can make the game less fun for everyone involved, because it steals the thunder of adventure and the unknown. A good DM or player will avoid power gaming because in a TTRPG winning isn’t necessarily being the best or most powerful. Really, victory comes in creating lasting memories and unique stories that you can share to others or carry with you when the dice stop rolling.

    Conclusion

    Improvisation is a great way to add creativity and excitement to your role-playing game. It is a skill and a method for overcoming unexpected challenges, while maintaining the sense of realism and immersion within an RPG. When I encounter situations in real life that require improvisation, I often find myself drawing upon that same agile approach I use when I’m faced with unique scenarios in my tabletop gaming sessions.

    I hope you found this article useful and that it will help you in your next game. Thanks for reading!

    Have questions? Do you improvise as part of your campaign? Let us know with a comment below!

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