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This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).

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2014-04-17 Crazy Campaign

Recently I was responding to a Google+ post by Gavin. He was putting together a list of potential goals for the wizards in his campaign because he felt that players tend to shy away from doing cool stuff.

I started thinking about the cool things that have happened in my campaign, and the cool things I wanted to happen in my campaign but which didn’t.

First, the failures. These were goals I had hoped players would set themselves but they did not.

In my games, I’ve been trying to let players find books on particular topics. I never went all out and maintained a page on the campaign wiki with the actual books they own. My idea was that the books would allow them to research spells related to these topics (one of my house rules says you can only learn spells from other casters, so this sort of research would be the only alternative). I’d say that “building a library” didn’t happen.

Another thing I had hoped for was that players would actively seek out wizards with particular spells but as it turns out, I have not been placing a lot of rumors about particular spells. All the casters they befriended they befriended because of an adventure they were having and they happened to meet and connect on some level. I’d say that “meeting and befriending other casters” went well, but “actively seeking out other casters and befriending them” didn’t happen.

There have been successes as well, though.

One character is sponsoring four sages (and plans to hire more, each costing about 2000 gold pieces per month; usually one week passes in-game for every session). For one, money spent generates XP (one of my house rules). At the same time, every sage writes a little something about the setting. It’s great for me to provide rumors and adventure hooks. It also allows me to add new spells to the campaign. I’d say “hiring sages” has been a success. I think this worked because one of my players is interested in learning new things about the setting, and because of the rules that requires players to think of ways to spend their goal.

The need to spend money has resulted in a lot of public buildings in the domain of my players. We use An Echo Resounding for the domain game, so the gold spent doesn’t actually grant mechanical benefits. But it generates a bit of setting: temples are built (and I can have pirates rob them and kidnap the priests), an ivory tower has been built for the sages, a hospital was built (and taken over by demon worshippers), a bath house has been built (and more are being planned as the backbone of a spy network), a unicorn station has been sponsored, a tavern has been built… “building infrastructure” and contributing to the setting has been a success powered by the rule requiring the expenditure of gold, a price list with various buildings on it, me listing the buildings on the campaign wiki for all to see (seeing the changes to the environment and “leaving your mark”), and events sometimes referring back to things built by players add to a sense of ownership.

Another thing I had was a “master of anatomy” who could graft extra stuff on to characters. One of my players got a replacement arm and a replacement leg (he had lost limbs due to the Death and Dismemberment table I have been using), but the new limbs were gray and shriveled. I just don’t feel like punishing players for missing limbs. If pirates can have a wooden leg, if captain Hook can have a missing arm, why can’t player characters? If you’re missing both legs or both arms, it’s time to quit. I guess “body modification” has been a success.

The same player also got two dragon wings, which required an auxiliary brain to control them (so now he’s a cone head) and the extra brain can act independently in an emergency (although I never remember to roll for it). The Frankenstein look sometimes provokes an explanation for negative results on the reaction rolls, but there is no Charisma penalty. I guess this worked because it was perceived as useful, it was cool and it felt special even if it didn’t provide any real benefit (except for flight, which hasn’t been an issue). I think I’ve managed to balance benefits and drawbacks on this issue. Great!

Another thing that happened was that the players befriended a devil worshiper who proceeded to invite them to a succubus party (a ritual, not a spell). I think this happened organically. I rolled up a random encounter with some hobgoblins carrying 5000 gold pieces. I decided that this was tax. The players defeated the hobgoblins and took the gold. They arrived at a castle and gifted the gold to the wizard, saying that they want to throw a huge party, not knowing that he is a devil worshipper. Excited, he agrees… This was unplanned, but “have fun with devil worshippers” definitely worked. I think the key was to have some lame idea and not being afraid to turn it up to eleventy one.

The key to pushing my campaign to eleven is to use every idea as soon as possible. Do not save good ideas for later! Use them now. You will have more good ideas in the future.

Another thing is that you need to take something the players are doing and amplify it. They want to throw a party? Think of something crazy and let it happen. They want to build something? Think of something crazy to happen to the building, a crazy person to visit the building, something, anything. Let there be cool consequences.

Being generous with cool stuff works even if you fear for game balance. Avoid mechanical consequences for characters, if you want to. That doesn’t mean it cannot be crazy, something for your players to talk about in the future, something the non-players characters talk about in-game!

Always keep adding new plot lines. Minor things. Provide your players with three to five options at the end of the session and ask them what they want to do next. Prepare that. Having players choose allows them to influence where the story is going. My campaign is still about reviving a dead god because a long time ago, one of the players decided that his character was interested in all things elven. When I let it be known that they had a dead god, the player wanted to learn more. This is great. I keep adding stuff where ever the players start looking. To them, the campaign is infinitely deep. It keeps growing where they are most interested because it grows where ever their characters actually do something. Sure, they don’t always follow the main plot and that’s OK.

Some of the best moments happen when the older players are trying to explain past events to new players. They sound like kids. It’s convoluted and confusing and oral history at its best.

I’m not sure these notes will make it easy for you to turn your campaign to eleven. If I had to list things to avoid, I’d say this: Don’t be too cautious. You will be able to fix things later. Don’t prepare too much, don’t have too much seting detail or you’ll be afraid to change it. You’ll be afraid of rulers getting killed, shops getting burnt, characters having to leave towns, the campaign taking surprising directions.


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2014-04-07 One Page Dungeon Contest

I’ve been trying to think of an entry for One Page Dungeon Contest and I keep coming up empty. I think I need to simply prep an upcoming adventure for my ongoing campaign and put it all on one page. How do you come up with your submission?



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2014-03-30 Switzerlad D&D

Recently I found this blog post about Localism which ended in the question what a campaign would look like if it were located in the area you live in.

For the north of Switzerland:

Forested hills. Dark and forbidding forests full of bandits. Trails connecting villages across along the ridges. Difficult terrain. Deer. Bears. Mostly bears.

Rivers. A large network of rivers flowing towards a distant sea. These rivers are hard to ford. They present major obstacles for the armies on either side. Where the rivers can be forded or bridged, they are. Toll towers control these choke points, small villages support these local lords.

Lakes. This is where people do their fishing and trading. The large cities are all built by a lake, usually by the river exit. Boats, rafting. Stilt house settlements. Small lakes up in the hills may be the homes of water witches, cursed, sunken castles, devils.

Castles and towers. Rocks and cliffs protecting fortifications high up overlooking the valleys, far away from disease. Petty power struggles. A distant emperor.

Swamps. The wider valleys are full of infested, treacherous swamps. Eels, trolls, will’o the wisps. Pots of gold buried to appease the water spirits. The drowned witches, bound and restless, struggling underground.

Cairns. Hidden up in the hills, ancient stones marking the ley lines of the land. Grave markers of the rich.

Mountains. On a fair day, you can see the wall of world. Up there, fell spirits guarding the passes. Devils. Giants. Blood pacts and cannibals. Dwarves and pots of gold, again. Caves. Waterfalls. Water spirits. Cows, sell cheese, buy salt.

Winter. The winter is cold. Snow covers everything, isolates people. The wolves cross the frozen rivers. When spring comes, we need to wear masks, burn effigies, ring cow bells and scare the winter spirits away. The living triumph, for an additional year.

Stilt houses

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Comments on 2014-03-30 Switzerlad D&D

Heh, I had one campaign in a quasi historical Holstein of the 10th century… swamp, moors, water, woods, and one major river and a lot of small ones. And the not too far north sea. No dikes yet, so drowned river lowlands by saltwater storm floods every autumn and spring. A very distant emperor, saxon and slavic tribes. Some frisians, some vikings (a recently sacked Hamburg). Wooden tower forts. Fairy people with gold in the barrows. Aurochs. Didn’t last too long, sadly.

Rorschachhamster 2014-03-30 20:49 UTC

I want to go to there.

– Harald 2014-03-31 06:59 UTC

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2014-03-24 Torchbearer

Today we played two and a half hours of Torchbearer. We had three players and started out with me playing the warrior, Johannes playing the halfling and Harald playing the dwarf. Pascal was running the game for us. It involved a kid disappearing into a tomb. We crawled into the tomb, got up, advanced down the corridor and met four skeletons. We went for a kill conflict and started with a disposition of 10 vs. 5 but by the second volley we were down to four and we just barely managed to avoid a total party kill. My warrior escaped, badly wounded, got lost in a swamp, was led astray by green flames dancing in the distance and nearly drowned.

We wound two replacement characters (the cleric and the magic user) and then we went there again. We realized that going for a kill was dangerous and tried a trick conflict. Again, we started with a disposition of 9 vs. a lot less, and within a few volleys we had lost. We were driven off by the skeletons never to return…

And that was that. We liked some ideas in theory. We liked the grind. We liked the light rules. We liked how enumbrance worked. But as soon as the conflict started, we got disconnected from the fiction. Attack, Defend, Feint and Maneuver—it was dry, hard to picture, very abstract, and we lost. And then we started noticing that the other systems didn’t seem to make a difference or didn’t result in a play experience more entertaining compared to using classic D&D.

We’ll be playing something different next indie night.


Comments on 2014-03-24 Torchbearer

Some discussion on Google+.

A thread on the forum for the same dungeon that went very differently: Dread Crypt of Skogenby.

And here’s a thread on the same dungeon where Luke advises: “Take care in the first conflict. The players may blithely walk into a Kill conflict and can easily lose (and thus get killed). So, go easy on them there. Don’t Feint!”. Advice for Dread Crypt of Skogenby? I also like the game master’s summary after the game: “The players didn’t much care for the rules. The main complaint was ‘way too many moving parts!’, with the opinion that the same sort of effect could have been gotten with a smaller and more cohesive ruleset […].” Very much like our reaction. The same game master later ran a different game which went much better, apparently. Second time's the charm: spider-killing for fun and profit.

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-25 11:05 UTC

Ynas Midgard
I’ve GMed Torchbearer thrice now; twice the starting scenario from the book in person and once the one you guys played on Google+. The first time went horribly wrong with players mostly into OSR games. The third one was also a failure, although not as big as the first one. The second one, however, was an ultimate success. Granted, I explained every rule thoroughly and made sure everybody understood what was what and how it worked; they really enjoyed the game, especially the conflict rules.

Ynas Midgard 2014-03-25 11:38 UTC

I’m sure this works for many people. As for myself, I need to ask myself the question: how many times must I have tried it before I confidently say, that it is not for me? After running a few sessions of Burning Wheel (campaign wiki), a one-shot at a convention, a session of Blossoms are Falling, and playing a few sessions of Mouseguard and buying at least six books, and trying to read Burning Empires, I must finally confront the Ugly Truth: where as I like the writing and the promise of these games, they fail me at the table.

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-25 14:11 UTC

As I was reading Ramanan's Google+ post and the comments, I went looking for those threads where Luke and Thor reported on their B/X D&D gaming.

“We’ve been playing D&D at BWHQ for the past four months…” on Google+

“I’m sort of embarrassed by how excited I am about this little tale of dungeon exploration…” on Story Games

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-26 12:50 UTC

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2014-03-18 Why You So Quiet

As I recently said on Google+: Everything has been said. We’re relaxing for a bit before starting all over again. You know, ascending AC, saving throws, edition wars, OGL, sandbox, entourage, megadungeon, no elves, kickstarters, alignment, comeliness, strength limits, ability modifiers, the umpteenth variant of barbarian, witch, bard and necromancer, how to draw maps, utility vs. good looking, and how really they’re the same, or not, also typography, porn, sexism, fun, and how it’s meaningless to talk about it, doing it anyway, and it’ll be 2006 all over again, and nobody will have learned a thing, except for those that have moved on, and somebody will have a fit and leave the blogosphere, and hate on Facebook, and post inappropriate political messages, and drop off the net, and delete their blog, and we will feel young again and everything will be fresh and in love and exciting.

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Comments on 2014-03-18 Why You So Quiet

Actually I think there some value in cyclical conversation. Like history, it gives us the opportunity to reflect, to take into account our experience, rephrase, educate, challenge, adapt.

There is also a certain futility about it and aren’t we all trying to run away from middle age and death and searching for the meaning of it all?

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-18 13:35 UTC

On the Roles, Rules, and Rolls blog Roger the GS argues the other way:

RPG Blog Dodge “wherein you resolve to dodge the topics of: ascending AC * what do hit points mean * what does [insert ability score] mean * race as class * racial level limits * gender stat limits * racial balance * class balance * Vancian casting * critical hits and fumbles * what good are megadungeons * lethal poison * character mortality * GMs fudging dice * railroading * where do monsters eat and shit in the dungeon * player skill dealing with traps * level draining * what should xp reward * do you use this goof-ass rule from old old D&D like brawling, weapon length, psionics, contracting diseases at taverns, etc. * sexual politics in RPG * racial politics in RPG * artistic depictions of women in RPG * real world religion and D&D * satanic panic * do you use alignment and if so what system * can rules stop bad or antisocial players * realism in D&D combat (lack of) * realism in D&D timekeeping (lack of) * encumbrance and how it sucks * wandering monsters * pretend sex and romance in your rpg * variable weapon damage * killer GMs * Monty Haul GMs * EDITION WAR * D&D VS OTHER GAME WAR * the morality of murderhoboism * do you use miniatures * do you make the players map * skill systems * behavior at cons * should RPGs be made for soccer moms or should the long demonic tongue be unfurled overtly in abomination * [insert class/race] does not belong in real D&D * rolling vs. building the characters * omg falling damage * pant pant stop”

I laughed because it’s true. :)

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-20 09:26 UTC

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2014-03-15 Old School Elite Monsters

Recently I found a comment by andrew ferris on a Google+ post by Urizen Shaitan I’d like to share.

What works best for fun is not really realistic and sometimes when attempting to implement something “realistic”, you get something even less realistic than if you hadn’t tried.

Okay, first to deal with armor and hit points. Now if one wants monsters to scale up the same way PCs scale up, you are going to have an issue. PCs gain 1 hit dice per a level and generally speaking armor and damage increase. With some classes the armor and damage increases considerably less than with others, but generally speaking it increases. The thing is that… well… there isn’t a good formula for what level of monster ought to be able to handle 4-5 PCs by themselves.

For instance, generally speaking if you have a level 5 PC fight 5 level 1 PCs, the level 5 PC has 5× the hit points as well as having better damage potential and being harder to hit. They will generally mop the floor with the 5 level 1s.

However, a level 25 PC would almost undoubtedly be demolished by 5 level 5s, particularly if those 5 level 5s have among them a thief, cleric, and particularly magic-user. This is particularly true given how in old D&D where PCs cap out at level 9.

Now, if something is going to be a challenge for 5 PCs it can only do one of the following

  1. Have 5× the health it normally does or have some method to avoid ⅘ of the attacks (such as a high AC). This can either be all in one go or it can be be recovered over the battle (regen or healing magic) and the average health of the creature would be 5× by the end of the average length of a battle.
  2. Deal out 5× the damage a PC could. It could have 5× the attacks, hit 5× as often or deal 5× the damage a normal enemy of that level would do.

If you do both, it will be 25× as strong as a normal enemy. It is also worthwhile considering the difference between a solo and a group. After all, if you are fighting a group of enemies and you can manage to deal ⅕ of the total hit points in damage to one of the enemies in the group then the group’s damage output is going to decrease by 20%. But if you deal ⅕ of the hit points to an enemy with 5× the health, then its damage output isn’t going to decrease unless there is a system for it to do so.

In addition, PCs generally fight in groups. This means that if the attacks simply do 5× the damage or there are 5× as many attacks that can (and narratively should) be aimed at a single target, then you deal with another issue. Generally speaking a single enemy attack against a PC ought to sap around ⅓–¼ of their life. But if the attack does 5× damage or there are 5× the amount of attacks, this will wipe out a PC with each successful hit. This will cause the group’s effectiveness to drop by 20%.

Because of this, it is probably best to increase both the hit points and the damage output by about double. You can improve the AC or the monster’s chances to hit, but I would do it by a point or two at the most. Increased hit points and an increased number of attacks is what I would advise in order to have an exciting encounter that is less likely to result in a TPK.

As for the narrative attacks…. one of the things I feel the OSR has been painfully lazy about is when it comes to monster attacks. Particularly the old set up “2 claws, 1 bite” no animal in the world fights like that. Ever. It is utterly unimaginable that within a 6 second span of time a beast is ever going to swing its paws at two separate targets and then bite a third. It just doesn’t work that way. Nor is an animal going to make one swipe with each claws and then pull them back before biting. Rather than ever having such a sequence, it would have been far more realistic to simply describe this whole attack as a single unarmed attack sequence which will either be successful or not as a whole and the number rolled on the damage dice would be evocative of how many of its natural weapons it hit with.

Instead of giving a solo monster multiple attacks, the far better thing to do would be to give the monster area-effecting attacks. For instance, it can charge in a straight line which means it can run over a PC, knock another aside and then slam into a third target which would be a great way to get those mages into melee combat. Or it can make a sweep with a giant claw or weapon that has a chance of dealing damage to all enemies engaged in melee. Or it could release a cloud of toxic gas which could affect everyone in a given area or it could even be capable of picking up or knocking a PC off their feet (i.e. a successful melee attack), hurling them at another turning one PC’s body into a weapon against another (making a ranged attack).

With those sorts of attacks, suddenly it becomes very clear why it is foolish to attack the monster with a regiment of very weak soldiers and why a group of elite adventurers are needed to handle the monster.

So basically, my advice is when designing solo monsters… Double its normal hit points. Give it some sort of area attack (or several options!) that would allow it to hit 1–3 enemies a turn and particularly to be able to get at those more vulnerable ranged combatants. Increase AC, attack bonus and damage of the monster minimally—only 1–2 points.

And then you just have to accept that if this monster is, for instance, an Ogre or a Troll, that its numbers are not evocative of simply adding levels to the monster.

– andrew ferris

What can I say. These days my players kill red dragons in the surprise round and survive cloud kill… but area effects are clearly the way to go!


Comments on 2014-03-15 Old School Elite Monsters

Ynas Midgard
Good thoughts! Solo or boss monsters have been on my mind lately, especially since Beedo mentioned them in connection with his new megadungeon project. I think OSR games tend to avoid creating monsters that are explicit boss fights, unless they are quite high in level (like unique demon lords and such).

Ynas Midgard 2014-03-17 18:15 UTC

Also, dragons. :)

I do wonder, however, whether classic D&D is well suited for boss fights. Is it just going to be a damage fest? Could be boring. Is going to involve special attacks? Could be save or die every round for at least one player character. My experience in recent sessions has been this:

  • green dragon, party runs
  • black dragon attacks first, party kill it quickly
  • red dragon flies overhead, party runs
  • red dragon, different party, they kill it in the surprise round
  • polymorphing demon turns into a dragon, gets chased and fought, dies quickly
  • more demons, they free a djinni who sinks the ship with the demons aboard

Are these the “boss fights” we know from computer role-playing games? The key aspect of those is that you need to figure out a particular weakness (in D&D terms: immunities) and hit it a few times in a row while avoiding damage (in D&D terms: avoiding tons of damage or save or die effects). In a pen & paper game, smart players learn about immunities before starting a fight, so perhaps it doesn’t “feel” like a boss fight?

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-17 18:40 UTC

Ynas Midgard
Boss fights are typically those which can be memorable for exploiting the mechanics. That is, if a game has plenty of different conditions (and ways of inflicting and removing them), bosses could be given different attack types that deal decent damage and/or inflict one more negative conditions on one or more targets. They could be accompanied by a large number of different creatures, as well; and the environment could be made more fantastical and easy to exploit.

Come to think of it, boss fights are typically those that need careful planning on the DM’s part. Not because of railroading purposes, but because their very nature require more attention; if boss fights are like fighting giants or dinosaurs in D&D (i.e. like normal encounters but with more damage and hit points), they are not really boss fights.

Ynas Midgard 2014-03-19 18:28 UTC

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2014-02-19 Huge Parties

Yesterday I ran a game for eight players (I usually cap at six). We had already established that this was going to be a raid on a pirate fortress. I knew that it was going to have 80 elves ready to fight, 80 elves sleeping (all 1st level), a 9th and a 7th level elf, and a red dragon. The party allied itself with some commando elves and so the attacking force consisted of eight player characters and their eight henchmen with levels between 1 and 7 as well as the command elves, six 6th level elves and eighteen ordinary 1st level elves; forty characters in all. I handed out little index cards with the stats of the elven commando leaders and their henchmen. Three hours later it was all over, most of the pirates slain, the dragon dead, the enemy leader killed, her second in command take prisoner, the dragon hoard secured and the fortress being towed to the players’ domain. (This is a big mashup campaign using Spelljammer ships and fortresses, and An Echo Resounding for domain level play.)

It was a very unusual adventure, but I like the change in pace!

The fortress was structured as a series of encounters with a mini map I kept behind the screen, usually with ten elves, sometimes with a leader of level 1d6+1; sometimes with more elves about to arrive. Good use was made of hold portal to prevent elves from joining up and good use was made of silence and sleep to surprise enemies and incapacitate a dozen foes in the surprise round, haste was used to quickly position archers and casters, sneaky thieves were used to scout ahead and best prepare for assaults, and to avoid tricky hallways with enemy archers hiding, several lightning bolts were used to kill the dragon before it could join the elven sorceress, they survived her cloudkill with minimal losses and managed to dispel it the next round…

It was a bloodbath.

For ease of reference and consistent spell selection of both the allied commando elves and the defending elf pirates, I used a technique I described previously: my spell book notation lists the spell-book of the top elf or magic-user with spell level and spell name, and a third column with the character level at which this spell is usually picked. This helps me run a lot of spell casters. This list would begin as follows, for example:

Spell Level Character Level Spell Name Notes
11sleep2d8 HD
12shieldAC 4, AC 2 vs. missiles
17detect magic
24detect invisibility5 rd./level
35haste30 min.
36dispel magic
47polymorphAC 0 1d6+1/1d6+1/3d10 MV 240
48dimension door360 ft. or 120 m
59cloud kill⌀ 30 ft., MV 6

The most important skill of all is a sort of military “go! go! go!” efficiency at the table, however. No questions about who rolls initiative. Roll all the dice – have d20s and damage dice of matching colors and have all the colors assigned to your dudes and roll them all at once. All enemy elves, regardless of level, had AC 4. When your turn comes up, just tell me “I hit three times, damage is 4, 5, 2.” That’s the plan, anyway. :) Also, pick a leader who tells me where the party goes. Which stairs do you pick? Quietly or quickly? When the fight is on, just keep pushing. When the fight is over, let players talk, laugh, investigate, debate.

That’s it.


The picture shows the kind of notes I had prepared ahead of time. As you can see these are crude sketches of the area and enemy positions. Most enemies were all elves with a single magic missile memorized. If the party won initiative, it was usually over in a few seconds.

As you can see on the little fold-out flow-chart on the left, the encounters weren’t all arranged linearly. My main idea was this:

  1. Failure to scout ahead would result in players fighting elves on catapult platforms, essentially wasting resources. As it turns out, players did scout ahead but decided to fight all the elves anyway, thinking that they wanted to any surprises behind their backs.
  2. Following the main entrances would put the focus on fighting, following the steamy passages left and down would allow more sneaking and would allow players to fight the dragon before it joined up with the leaders. Players chose to go for the sneakier variant.
  3. I had the vague idea of figuring out whether players were wasting time or being too loud and springing extra ambushes on them if they did. In the press of the moment and considering how lame rolling for “move quietly” would be in this context, I just used the flow-chart as is.
  4. When I gave the players the commando elves to run, I told them that the elves would evaluate their leadership and if they felt that the party had been betraying them (using them as cannon fodder), then surely they would turn on them – just as the party would have turned on them. The players accepted this.

It worked for me!

In the final analysis, it was a lot easier than I expected. Was it because the commando elves were too strong? Was it because the party had four extra players I had not expected? (Two of them are new players from my Sunday campaign and another two players are not regular players so I wasn’t counting on them.) Oh well, I think it’s only fair to not adjust difficulty levels on the fly.


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2014-02-17 No More Pendragon

We stopped play midway through year 510 of The Great Pendragon Campaign after a devastating battle in May and ended the campaign. Too much railroading, too many sudden death moments, too many fiddly rules that slow us down but don’t further our enjoyment, too much leafing back and forth in the book… I’m both sad and relieved, in  a way.

The discussion was kicked off by one player who felt like quitting the campaign and explaining all the things he didn’t like. I agreed with a lot of it. I had written about it myself. Another player said he’d like to play on weekdays instead of weekends. Another player was missing. My wife wanted to continue playing but was suffering because of a recent string of character deaths. The last player was new and said he had been unable “to get into it” in the three sessions he had played with us.

An astonishing thing happened during the discussion. My wife and the player who had started the discussion are both players in my mashup game—the old school sandbox game using Labyrinth Lord, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Spelljammer, Planescape, and An Echo Resounding. They started comparing the Pendragon campaign to this other game. The other game is crazy (“I’d describe the atmosphere as killer clowns”) but it has more player agency. Pendragon is more about how you deal with the events around you. My mashup game is about the things you do. I rarely need to pick up a rulebook and search for a rule. The NPCs are all strange and memorable. No king Leodegrance, Sir Cador, Centurion King and other faceless dudes that you haven’t interacted with. Pendragon not only suffers from an inflation of NPC names that players haven’t interacted with, it also encourages me to add names, exacerbating the problem. What are the names of the sons of Duke Ulfius? Who cares? I still feel compelled to look it up instead of making it up.

In a way, the big campaign provides a railroad that affects me as well. I am inspired by the campaign, I steer the players towards the rails, I entice them to stay on the rails, they are always present. Like those pesky Paizo Adventure Paths, they shackle my imagination and stiffle my improvisation.

So, where as I am sad to see it go, I am also happy to see how my players love the classic D&D sandbox and validate the choices I made for that mashup game.


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2014-02-17 Cool OSR Blog Posts

Two blog posts I enjoyed today:

Specialization and Assumed Competence illustrates that any system where the gap between a characters with and without specialization increases is a system where the general competence decreases even if the general challenge level of the environment and the actual stats remain unchanged.

On the Deadly Difference drives home a point I’ve been trying to adhere to for a while, now: announce risks and consequences before players make decisions. My Swiss Referee Style Manual ends with the very same advice, inspired by the very same blog.

The following list is from the Hack & Slash blog.

Announce consequences before players commit to actions. There can only be meaningful choice if players know what to expect. (“If you fail the roll, you’ll […]. Do you want to risk it?”)

Provide information if players are unsure. You can wrap it in vague language, but be sure to provide the necessary information. (“It’s hard to say, but you feel a nagging suspicion that he’s probably hiding something.”)

In the same vein, provide warnings if players are putting themselves in danger. You’re aiming for “I knew it!” when something bad befalls player characters. (“You notice that the hanging bridge above the tar pits seems frail. Just make sure nobody cuts those ropes!”)

Provide alternatives if you think that what players want should be impossible. (“You can’t just buy a magic weapon but they say there’s a hidden entrance to a goblin market in the Smoke Forest.”)

Add obstacles whenever players are getting what they want. (“The insect trainer will teach your lizard how to spy ahead if you provide her with a living giant wasp.”)


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2014-01-30 Fourty Years of Dungeons and Dragons

Did you do something special? I gave an interview to one of these newfangled, local, online news sites, in German. Wenn Erwachsene mit Stift und Papier in die Schlacht ziehen, or When adults do battle with pen and paper.

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Referrers: Ynas Midgard's RPG Blog Dyvers: The Great Blog Roll Call

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