RPG

https://campaignwiki.org/rpg/ 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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2021-04-18 Blogosphere

Yet another list of links to blog posts I liked, inspired by the read through of @jmettraux’s End of Week Links 16. Like John, I get my links from the RPG Planet. Please join us, if you haven’t already.

“A thousand miles and a thousand years. That’s the Middle Ages as a setting for popular fiction and reference frame for Fantasy. Compared to many popular fantasy settings, that’s tiny. But there’s so much stuff in this little box. More space than you could ever possibly need to tell your stories” How large does a setting have to be?, by Spriggan’s Den. I often wonder about that when reading some adventure or setting background. On the one hand, we barely remember what happened one thousand years ago. Think about it. When was the last time you saw ruins that were 1,000 years old? 2,000 years? And yet, there are settings with back history going back several thousand years (the Wilderlands of High Fantasy being the one I remember right now). Totally unnecessary, I think. And yet… Thinking about the longevity of elves: even if they are not immortal and just live to a thousand years, two thousand years is something their grandparents might have been involved in, like my grandfather’s involvement in the second world war. It’s not something I know much about, but I certainly read about the war. And I know how to read the signs: I recognise the bunkers and tank barriers that dot our landscape. So perhaps we need to add more history than makes sense on the human scale? And yet, think about it. The bronze age was 3,000 years ago or so? City states 5,000 years ago? Agriculture 10,000 years ago? I’m hazy on the details. Modern humans about 300,000 years ago? I guess you could go all the way with Robert E. Howard’s The Hyborian Age, but I think that’d be weird. Either you wanted to link it up with the present in which case great, use the Hyborian Age, or you don’t, in which case you can simply posit your world as-is without having to trace a history through the millennia, or only as far as you actually need it to provide some texture. For example, my setting “an orc settlement style unchanged ever since the War of the Landgrab”, “a relic from the Old Lizard Wars”, “forged in Asgard by Ábria Proudaxe during the Vampire Wars”, etc. Who knows what else happened back then? Nobody cares unless it affects their magic items, I’m sure.

More about deep time: “Today their culture is old, proud, hide bound, jaded and decadent. You cannot tell them anything they have not seen before. Novelty is a precious thing.” Still Here: Lizardfolk culture post, by Seed of Worlds. I love such posts about culture and time. I first thought about this in a game with some elves played by @oliof, if I remember correctly. They basically told us: “Why fight? Let’s wait for 50 years and they are all dead anyway…” 🧝🧝 Well, if you put it that way…

“Some people look for epic battles – I look for epic ambushes. I try to scout and prepare so that the enemy is totally surprised and totally overwhelmed, all die or surrender in the first round.” Game design: life experiences, by the Viking Hat GM. This is my thinking exactly. And this is why I like my fights to be over in two rounds (at least that’s the goal). The last round is the most interesting one, so it’s more exiting if every round could be the last one. And if my players are well prepared, their plans just work, not much die rolling required. Some people might thing that anticlimactic, but as far as I am concerned, the planning was part of the game, and if the plan was well thought ought, we don’t need to roll to figure out whether it worked, unless there is some surprise change circumstances.

“How do you judge what was an important early influence? This is my (undoubtedly shoddy) rubric: if you look at it now, you still feel a visceral reaction to the possibilities it hints at.” (a repost from 2013) A Visual Tour of Boyhood Influences, but Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. “If I’d been called on to run a D&D campaign at age 10 or 12, these are the images and plots I would have drawn on to provide the inspiration for my game. … What were your earliest childhood fantasy inspirations? What did your fantasy world look like back then?” My Earliest Childhood Fantasy Inspirations, by DIY and Dragons. As for myself, I don’t know. I read Perry Rhodan, Darkover, Dragonriders of Pern, Karl May, and Jules Verne as a teenager. I’m not sure whether these influenced me in my gaming: there’s precious little of a fantastic science-fiction universe in my games, nor psychic redheads, not a lot of sexual themes, no riding of dragons, no bonding with huge creatures, no adventures in Kurdistan or North America, and precious little of strange submarines and descents into the centre of the earth.

“They’re a sub crew, piloting a demon-powered submarine through an eldritch, haunted water-world called the Bathosphere. To help capture the feeling of a crew with titles and jobs … I’ve made a menu of party roles for them. … what the player is in charge of calling and what their duties are. … The duties are an ad hoc mixture of notes you might be in charge of taking, and just a fun little flavor thing.” An OSR experiment: Party roles, by Seventy-Seven Vicious Princes. I guess this is something I’d like to see but that I never get to see: players taking on the roles of diplomat, pilot, quartermaster, dungeoneer, fireteam leader, ritualist, scrapmaster, epicure, jailer, divemaster… Inspiring! Perhaps I should think of it in terms of inspiring names and cool privileges instead of thinking of it in terms of duty: not who must draw the map, but who gets to decide which corridors to pick and what the marching order is going to be, for example.

Something I’ve brought up a few times in discussions on Mastodon was this: “I suspect that the reason the D&D campaigns go on for so long are built into the system. Spell levels structure D&D gameplay: on the one hand, every new spell level attained changes the gameplay itself (suddenly you can fly, or fireball large groups of kobolds), and it also advertises that change ahead of time in the rules: if you play until you get to level so and so, you’ll be able to do this and that. And immediately, people start dreaming.” Changing Gameplay Over Time.

“… maybe make a double attack and if both succeed you perform the maneuver, … utilize a contested strength roll. You then give the enemy who has suffered under the technique a disadvantage – next strike gets a bonus to hit them, … they degrade their armor class. You start thinking of how to balance this, … what class restrictions lay around it, and ask how will you rectify this maneuver with weapons that aren’t blade or blade-like. I recommend by default: don’t do this.” Less Rules To Do More: Combat Maneuvers, by Aboleth Overlords. I agree! At the time, I phrased it as “nobody gets to push Conan around, trip him or disarm him, unless he’s out of hit-points.” Combat Maneuvers.

“… there are tons of issues that come up when how we use rules conflicts with why rules were written that way. A gamer who’s looking forward to delight but is handed an elaborate fairness engine? Boring! A GM who’s excited to share their knowledge and has to work with a bunch of inspirational-but-goofy tables? Ugh! And so on. Pick any mismatch, you’ve probably seen it play out in the world.” The Many Utilities of Rules, by The Indie Game Reading Club. So true. That reminds me of my take on thieves: Originally, I wanted to get rid of them. Anybody who steals is a thief, I would say. But my wife did not agree, and she was playing a thief. So I left them in the Halberds and Helmets rules and just added: “Since thieves don’t cast spells and don’t wear a lot of armor, playing a thief is a bit like playing on skill level Hurt Me Plenty. You have been warned.”

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2021-04-13 Against EDO mono-culturalism

I was listening to @Judd’s podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons the other day. In episode 74 he was talking about avoiding mono-cultures in our world-building.

Good point! This tendency to think of monsters a bit like a different species in terms of biology, or calling it race, and then ascribing a single culture to all of them is something that often has me squirm in my seat. I know this is how we learn about the game, but there is an uncomfortably close connection to racism and all that. It bothers me here in Europe as well, on a smaller scale: the attitudes we ascribe to all Germans, the attitudes we ascribe to the mountain cantons in Switzerland, and so on. It’s weird. I don’t want to deny that sometimes there can be some truth to it – that is, I don’t want to deny the cultural differences themselves, but I do object to the idea that these cultural values are all-encompassing. It’s probably true that most people do not fit the mould; perhaps there’s just a tiny minority that does. If a small group fits the same mould, however, they might still stand out. What I’m trying to say that individual actions, individual words, are still what counts.

So, we have two forces at work, here. On the one hand, these shortcuts make it easy for us to all be on the same page. I can’t deny how well it suits me to have “elves, dwarves, orcs Fantasy” (EDO Fantasy) as a short hand. We can all agree on those archetypes (or prejudices, I guess). The question is, what do we do with the mould we are given? Break it, of course! Thus, on the other hand, I need a quick way as a referee, to generate cultures that are “close, but different”.

In order to keep the benefit of EDO Fantasy, I have to keep some of the cultural traits and at the same time, I want to make sure that the individuals aren’t predictable, that is: not every elf is haughty, not every dwarf is greedy, not every orc is hateful.

Elves live a lot longer than everybody else, so surely the aspects of their culture that derive from their longevity can be universal. They are patient. They are sticklers for detail. They have seen it all before. They are perfectionists. But some elves are cruel and some are kind, some like to travel and some stay in their regions, some are great builders and some are great gardeners. I often try to find an explanation for the local culture by looking at the local terrain. In this sense, the elves are a bit of an embodiment of where they live. So sure, wood elves can be similar to other wood elves, but it’d be a shame if every wood is the same as every other wood. So as I add diversity to woodlands, I add cultural diversity to wood elves, and as I add elves to other lands, even more diversity is created.

In my multi-planar campaigns, I often have elves be “first comers” in Tolkien style. This means, you can find elves everywhere, and they always embody some of the planar terroir as well. Surely, the wood elves are different from the elves living along the Astral Sea, and those are again different from the elves that live in a fiery hell.

Dwarves simply have access to better technology. That is to say, anybody can master it, if they want to: building, mining, steam engines, it’s knowledge that anybody can attain. And there are plenty of dwarves leading simple lives as travelling salespeople, tinkerers, knife sharpeners. I still keep trade and clan as talking points for dwarves. The importance of these can be universal, but the particulars must vary. Some are rich, some are poor, some are greedy, some are generous, some are far away from home and some have lived here for many generations.

In my campaigns, I often have dwarven strongholds associated with powerful monsters, colouring their culture. Fire giants, frost giants, dragons, beholders, chain devils, these all influence how the individual dwarves act. Beholder-friends might be travelling the area, spying on people, reporting back what they see. Chain devil-friends might be closeted, paranoid, xenophobic. Fire giant-friends might be proud of their products, makers for fantastic weapons and armour, or maybe even divided with respect to the giants. And so on.

Orcs are tricky in that I don’t particularly like the brute or hateful stereotype, but I also don’t want to fall into the noble savage trope. I see two ways out: for one, the Tolkien orcs marching across the plains of Mordor like soldiers in the first World War. There’s soot and fire and the cannons of hell, and all the plants are gone, and here are two orcs, complaining about having to march all these miles, having to guard these tunnels all these hours, resentful, but cruel or kind, spiteful or merciful, it all depends. The other orcs I like are the Skyrim orcs. They are peaceful people living away from the big cities. I don’t know where I got the idea, maybe it was from ktrey parker who suggested them to me as I was working on the Hex Describe tables for my setting: orcs are great cooks, and they like strong cheese. So now my orcs are often herders, dairy farmers, cheese makers, as well as martial artists in fantasy sword fighting schools, a bit like the fifty schools or more of kung-fu, maybe warlike, maybe peaceful, maybe xenophobic, maybe serving the long distance trade networks.

Given the context of their military leaders, or the dairy animals they keep, the food they cook, and the preferred fighting style of their clan, often allows me to give orcs their individual touch.

For other creatures, it gets harder. One way around that is to deny biology as we know it. The reason that trolls and goblins are all the same is that they’re magic. Goblins grow in the mud; trolls grow from dead trees that are kept in the dark, and so on. I find that such a magical origin story, without procreation, without family, makes them poorer, of course, but also allows me to use a mono-culture of magic creatures without feeling too weird about it.

And generally speaking, if, in your mind, the campaign is localised, then mono-culturalism isn’t a problem if the next campaign takes place in the same location, or if the next campaign has different elves, dwarves, and orcs. So if you are in fact playing mono-cultural EDO fantasy, but your EDO ideas change over time, then maybe that’s not a problem after all.

I’m just suspicious of people that play all elves, dwarves and orcs the same way, all the time. Happily, I don’t see this happening a lot in my games, so all’s good.

Comments on 2021-04-13 Against EDO mono-culturalism

EDO is probably the biggest reason why we run Zakhara where orcs etc are just part of the population. Basically the only difference is what ears you have. Sort of like a Duckburg except green. No-one bats an eye at an Ogre walking down the street. The lines of conflict are more planar.

– Sandra Snan 2021-04-14 05:45 UTC


Haha, I like the idea of ears being the important differentiator. Like Star Trek aliens, or Goblinoid Games’ Forehead Friday back in 2012.

– Alex 2021-04-14 06:39 UTC


This is why I find myself using elves in my games a lot more than dwarves or orcs even though I find dwarves and orcs infinitely more interesting than elves. The way elves seem to adapt to their environment (wood elves vs sea elves, dark elves vs high elves) means you can easily set one group of elves apart from others while still retaining one general feel for the entire species. They all share the same building blocks - haughty, magical, obsessed with nature - but the differences between a wood elf and dark elf are massive even though they’re still the same on the most basic level.

Individually, of course, it’s relatively easy to avoid every character being the same, but when talking about whole communities, you have to walk a fine line between what people like and expect from each species and what can be unique and surprising but different. If you go too rigid it gets uncomfortable, but if you go too loose you start to wonder why you don’t just replace dwarves with a human mining town.

– Malcolm 2021-04-16 07:59 UTC


Good point about the dwarves and the mining town, I agree. Perhaps the use of demihumans in Fantasy games is a way for us to make it easy on ourselves. Operating with prejudices and putting people into neat categories just makes it easier all around: the inexperienced player has a better idea of what their character’s personality might be like, the others have an immediate opportunity for interaction, after all: don’t all elves and all dwarves quarrel all the time? It’s how we started our elves & dwarves interactions as kids, in any case. 😀

As I think about it some more and as I consider my current Traveller campaign (the Tau Subsector), which doesn’t feature any aliens (no wolf-people, no lion-people, no Psionic-people), I wonder: why would I introduce aliens? What plots would they further? They definitely don’t fill the roles of elves, dwarves and orcs, at least not for me, since I’m absolutely clueless regarding their lore. They can’t serve as shortcuts for characterisation. So it would have to be an interesting first-contact story, or a “find the home world of the ancients” story, or an “explore strange sexuality” story.

A mono-gender race, the asari are distinctly feminine in appearance and possess maternal instincts. Their unique physiology, expressed in a millennium-long lifespan and the ability to reproduce with a partner of any gender or species, gives them a conservative yet convivial attitude toward other races.” – Asari on the Mass Effect Wiki

– Alex 2021-04-16 11:50 UTC


I agree with you entirely regarding including or not including aliens, because of the five main non-Imperial races in Traveller’s default setting, it’s the Zhodani and Solomani who’ve always interested me the most - even though they’re as human as the Imperials (moreso, arguably, since the Solomani are descended directly from us Earthlings).

It’s hard to roleplay a truly alien alien, so most PCs and NPCs alike are going to wind up being rubber-forehead types, who are more less just humans with one or two unique traits. Which means, in my eyes, that the more “human” of Traveller’s aliens - the Vargr (wolf vikings) and Aslan (lion samurai) - aren’t really all that distinguishable from the literally human “aliens”, who wind up being as interesting as them, if not more, even though their only differences from the Imperium are cultural.

I still like aliens (and elves/dwarves/orcs, for that matter) because I like the biological and surface-level cultural differences, but I think they’re better used as Star Wars-style “average galactic citizen who happens to be amphibious” characters than Star Trek-style “entire civilization defined by their love of war/peace/science/hats/etc” characters.

Malcolm 2021-04-17 05:16 UTC

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2021-04-09 New features for Gridmapper

Gridmapper hasn’t gotten a lot of new features lately, but today somebody calling themselves the Flying Neko (neko being a cat, if I remember correctly) (which reminds me of El Gato Volador by Gian Varela & El Chombo) (anyway, Gridmapper!!) submitted some small changes:

  • $ toggles the visibility of secrets
  • ! makes all the lines a bit thinner

Making the strokes thinner is something I might have appreciated twenty years ago, when my eyes were better. If you’re twenty years younger, have at it! 😀

Flying Neko also added unidirectional doors, which is a nice new feature.

If you want to see some of the things people are creating using Gridmapper, you can visit the web app and click the “Load” Link for a huge list, or you can visit the Grimapper wiki (which is where the maps are actually stored):

To open the map in Gridmapper, click on the link, and then click on the link at the top of the page.

Example:

Comments on 2021-04-09 New features for Gridmapper

Oh my goodness, hiding the secrets is a brilliant idea! Thanks to the Flying Neko whoever they are. 🙂

acodispo 2021-04-16 20:42 UTC


Now I’m wondering about secret notes! Maybe even multiline notes?

– Alex 2021-04-16 20:50 UTC

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2021-04-07 RPG Podcast Planet

If you are a RPG podcaster, would you like your podcast added to the RPG Podcast Planet? It works much like the RPG Planet except for Podcast episodes instead of blog posts.

I started it with my own podcast so that you can get a feel for it.

Et si vous avez un podcast français, la même offre s’applique à la planète podcast rôliste francophone, et à la planète de blog rôliste francophone. 😀

Comments on 2021-04-07 RPG Podcast Planet

I’ve got an RPG Podcast: Monster Man! It’s a micropod that releases multiple episodes weekly about monsters in fantasy RPGs broadly defined. You can find it here:

https://monsterman.libsyn.com/

James Holloway 2021-04-09 21:19 UTC


Added! It’ll be up in a few hours. As I’m going through monsters myself on my podcast, I’m going to have a listen to your old episodes. Over 300! Wow!

– Alex 2021-04-10 07:38 UTC


https://anchor.fm/thoughteater

– froth 2021-04-13 19:33 UTC


Added!

– Alex 2021-04-13 19:53 UTC


I added preload="false" to the templates because my browser made metadata requests for each episode. Documentation.

– Alex 2021-04-15 07:53 UTC

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2021-04-06 More directories!

Is there a good RPG podcast directory?

To be honest, I’m thinking of something like the RPG Planet, but for podcasts. You’d have the directory itself in the sidebar, and recent episode summary excerpts (if any) for the most recent episodes.

Is it worth it? Does somebody already maintain such a thing?

I’m also interested in expanding into other languages. So, if you’d like to help me setup and maintain a list of blogs, or a list of podcasts, in some other language, I’d love to help!

All I know is that @blechpirat runs rsp-blogs.de, “das Netzwerk der deutschsprachigen Rollenspielblogs.” So we have German blogs covered.

The help I need involves the following:

  • write a few pages in the respective language for the Planet wiki
  • get the OK of blog or podcast hosts (via email)

I’ll be happy to handle the technical side of things.

For now, it looks like @jmettraux will help me set up a French RPG podcasting directory. Yay! Let’s see how far we get on the upcoming weekend. 🙂

See 2021-04-07 RPG Podcast Planet for more.

Comments on 2021-04-06 More directories!

I don’t know of any such thing! I often see people online asking for this and the answers are scattered. Having an updated directory like the planet is sweet

– Oliver 2021-04-06 14:47 UTC


Well, we have French Podcasts, now! 😀

The English RPG podcasts are just a proof of concept...

– Alex 2021-04-07 07:17 UTC


And French RPG Blogs. 😀

– Alex 2021-04-07 11:21 UTC

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2021-04-05 The things I learned

“Every Wednesday morning I wake up with a sense of dread, remembering that on top of everything else I have to do that day I somehow have to run a game in the evening. Every Wednesday afternoon I seriously consider calling the session off. But every Wednesday night I sit down and log in and everything actually goes fine.” – Failing better: a GMing retrospective, by Joseph Manola

Last month, Joseph wrote about the campaigns he ran and what he learned from them, and at the time I thought to myself that someday I’d do the same. Well, I guess today is that day.

The format used in Joseph’s blog post is that he has four short paragraphs for each campaign: what it was, what worked, what didn’t, and lessons learned. We’ll see how well this goes!

I got Das Schwarze Auge from my mom and ran some modules for her and her friends when I must have been around twelve (1985). I ran three or four official adventures. The first edition rules were simple and characters were hard to kill: they started out with 20–30 hit points; there was an active defence roll (instead of using armour class); armour was damage reduction; magic used “astral” points; the game had no clerics. What worked: I remember we had plenty of players. I was a kid running the game for three adults and older teenagers and as far as I remember, it worked. What didn’t: It didn’t last long. One of the adults wanted to stop playing, and then the campaign stopped. Lessons learned: simple rules enable kids to run games. I also remember the last adventure I ran, where the party discovers a gate to another world. When one of the players said that we should develop trade between the two worlds, something opened up in my brain. An open world! My first whiff of the sandbox.

I ran some adventures of my own devising in high school when I was fifteen and sixteen. We used Das Schwarze Auge at first, switched to AD&D 1st ed. and then to AD&D 2nd ed.; we still had no concept of a “campaign” – we stopped buying Das Schwarze Auge modules and we didn’t buy TSR modules, we just wrote our own and played them one after another (1988-1989). What worked: we played D&D, we played in English, and we played our own adventures. What didn’t: we didn’t know how to handle party conflict and when the thief tried to steal another player character’s gems, we didn’t know how to deal with that and that player left the group. Shame on us! We also discovered that one of us was a rules lawyer and a power gamer. Lessons learned: The upgrade treadmill is relentless. There’s always somebody who wants to upgrade to the next edition. In hind-sight we managed to deal with the hot mess of AD&D rules pretty well.

I ran a few sessions of a light variant of Mutant Chronicles game for fellow students at university (1995). What worked: we played in some maintenance tunnels, which was creepy and cool. What didn’t: no rules, no structure, no adventure; I don’t quite remember why it fell apart but it did. Lessons learned: a cool place to game does not make a campaign.

Kurobano and the Dragons. I ran a D&D 3.5 campaign after a long hiatus (2006–2008). It started out with me using M20, but we soon switched to D&D 3.5 even though I dreaded the size of the rule books. I successfully managed to integrate my own starting setup with Red Hand of Doom; later, I added more Paizo adventures. What worked: I learned the D&D 3.5 rules. What didn’t: I ended up disliking the battle map; I felt I was being forced to play a wargame week after week, against five other humans, and I wasn’t even good at it. So I had to add tougher opponents to counteract the lack of tactics on my end. Lessons learned: high level D&D is weird; some players loved it even though they were bad at keeping track of it: the multiple attacks, the buffs, it was a chore. All they wanted was to be super-heroes! The rules were failing us.

Golden Lanterns. I played in the Shackled City adventure path using D&D 3.5 with DM James (2007–2010). I started running this game for a few sessions and then I handed it over to James. It was my first Adventure Path and I loved the idea. What worked: James managed to make the fights work; and given the rare opportunities to play, he skipped a lot of filler material. What didn’t: Advancement was fixed. I felt that sometimes I got new abilities even though I hadn’t even used all the abilities I had previously gained. My paladin found a Holy Avenger in an armoury somewhere and that was weird. I guess James had decided that we needed it for balance. Lessons learned: Adventure Paths are great and terrible. They are great because they promise a story arc that takes you to fantastic heights. They are terrible because advancement, opposition, power levels, it all has to harmonise and the more freedom the game offers, the harder this is.

Hagfish Tavern. I ran the Rise of the Runelords adventure path using D&D 3.5 (2008–2011). Another Adventure Path. What worked: Again, the beginning was awesome. What didn’t: Again, the it started to fall apart towards the end. High level D&D is complicated because what works at lower levels doesn’t get abandoned at higher levels. Bless is still there. If you have three or four attacks like +16/+11/+6/+1 you still roll that last one because who knows, you might get lucky. Lessons learned: the next campaign I would run was going to be a sandbox for sure!

Krythos. I ran a small Burning Wheel campaign inspired by ancient Greece (2008). It was my first attempt at Burning Wheel. It turned out to be a short campaign of six or seven sessions, by my standards. What worked: It was my first online game using TeamSpeak. I was able to use Burning Wheel’s Bloody Versus (simple opposed rolls) and the Duel of Wits (social combat). What didn’t: The game didn’t “sing” for me. I think I’d need a lot more practice. Lessons learned: online gaming can work. All you need is voice chat. At the time we had no video, no dice roller, no virtual tabletop.

Sohn des Schwarzen Marlin. I played in this D&D 3.5 campaign set along the Dragon Coast in the Forgotten Realms with DM Peter (2008). It was a sort of nautical sandbox. I don’t remember us ever leaving that initial island, though. What worked: We didn’t have a cleric in the game and it worked. What didn’t: I don’t remember. The campaign ended after a handful of sessions; I don’t remember why, though. Lessons learned: An island hopping game with pirates might be interesting.

City of the Spider Queen. I played in this D&D 3.5 adventure set in the Forgotten Realms with DM James (2008–2009). It’s a long adventure; dare I say a short Adventure Path? We started at a higher level, if I remember correctly. Somewhere around level ten? What worked: I liked playing a cleric of Shaundakul; I liked creating a character with a strong bond to another character, a kind of tag team. I liked leafing through that Forgotten Realms setting book for D&D 3.5 in order to write up a backstory. What didn’t: I didn’t enjoy the high level fights. Lessons learned: Tag team characters from the get go are fun. Avoid high level D&D 3.5.

Grenzmarken. I played in a D&D 3.5 campaign with a homebrew setting by DM Peter (2008–2010). I played a dwarf wizard licking his toad familiar and doing other small disgusting things. This was a kind of West Marches game: almost every session was an excursion that ended back in town. By this time we had established a way to split the game between the session itself and writing on the wiki. Reports got longer. Things happened between sessions. What worked: sandbox exploration was great, with many monsters to defeat and small dungeons to clear. The wiki saw a lot more use. What didn’t: After a while it was a bit formulaic, travel to the destination, fight, fight, end boss, skip over the trip home because we were running out of time. As fights took longer, the non-fighting was relegated to the wiki. Lessons learned: I need my sandbox to be more interesting than monster fighting. The excursion structure needs some tweaking but it’s very promising.

The Alder King. I ran a D&D 3.5 campaign in Lenap of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and later switched the game to the Solar System RPG (2008–2012). I used very slow advancement compared to the games I had seen with DM James since I didn’t actually want to reach those higher levels. I had decided to start the game with practically no high-level non-player characters, either. My thinking was: we’ll play the next campaign in the same setting and the surviving player characters of this campaign would be the high-level non-player characters of the next campaign. What worked: There were factions all over the place. Finding allies against Yarshag the lizardman and his giant wasp riding dragon-blood infused super-soldiers provided for a nice campaign arc. What didn’t: When the low-level henchmen formed a new party to play through the Caverns of Thracia, I didn’t enjoy myself as much. The dungeon and I did not quite agree. Lessons learned: my default implied D&D setting doesn’t work well with Greco-Roman sensibilities; I’m starting to suspect that by now I might not like playing through bought Adventure Paths, high level adventures, and big dungeons. Time to buy a lot less!

Die Reise nach Rhûn. I played in a heavily house-ruled Rolemaster campaign set in Middle Earth with GM Berni; we later switched to Legends of Middle Earth (2009–2010). What worked: Rolemaster was weird in a good way. What didn’t: the campaign was short lived. We tried switching to a rules light system but that didn’t work, either. Lessons learned: both rules heavy and rules light cannot save a campaign; I think we should have talked less about the system and more about what we actually wanted from the game.

Kaylash. I ran a Mongoose Traveller game which was later switched to Diaspora using a randomly generated subsector (2009–2010). What worked: The random subsector creation inspired a campaign. What didn’t: The Traveller rules seemed to imply that trading was the way to play the game, a bit like the old Elite computer game, except that nobody actually cared about trading; when using Fate, the game shifted away from trade to fighting zombies in space. Lessons learned: again, switching rules does not save the game if you don’t talk about what you actually want from the game.

Lied vom Eis. I played in a few sessions of an Song of Ice and Fire RPG with GM Berni (2010-2011). We rotated GM duties a few times. We had one player via video call. What worked: the new game rules worked for us. What didn’t: we had created all sorts of characters that then had no in-game reason to actually adventure together; at the same time we did not think of running our house like a stable of characters with people picking the appropriate ones, depending on the adventure at hand. Lessons learned: do not create parties that are too far apart, conceptually. You can make it work if you run your game like a fast-paced movie but it takes a lot of energy. I also remember once telling those players that I had come to play, not for the small talk. In retrospective, perhaps I should have invested into that small talk. We stopped playing together.

Desert Raiders. I played in the Legacy of Fire Adventure Path using Pathfinder RPG with GM James (2010–2011). What worked: Pathfinder worked a bit better than D&D 3.5 for us. The campaign also didn’t go all the way to level 20. Once again, the lower levels were super cool. What didn’t: I had created a mounted archer and got to use a horse maybe once. Lessons learned: talk to players if you don’t know how to incorporate their character concepts into the campaign. Also, never let anybody borrow your RPG books because now I’m missing one of the books from this Adventure Path.

Burning Six. I played in a six session Burning Wheel campaign (2011). It was a short game set in an Italian Renaissance town, or something like it. What worked: It was Burning Wheel. What didn’t: again, I feel that the lure of the Tolkien-style troupe of everything and everybody foiled our plans. Instead of being laser focused on a thing, we all created characters and dropped them into a situation. I think I was playing an abbess, there was an elf, and others… Lessons learned: at the time, I felt that Burning Wheel simply wasn’t for me; these days, after hearing the Shoeless Peasant podcast by Sean Nittner and Judd Karlmann, I feel that perhaps we just thought we could play Burning Wheel like we play D&D: create a bunch of weird characters based on the rules and it’ll all work out. Not so. First, laser focus on the kind of game we want to play!

Durgan’s Flying Circus. I played in a HARP game with a homebrew setting by GM Stefan (2011–2012). It was short lived. What worked: It was HARP. As I think back, I now get the feeling that often we played campaigns because we wanted to try new rules and had no other plans beyond that.

Mondschein Saga. I played a handful of sessions in an OSRIC campaign set in the Forgotten Realms with DM Peter (2012). It was a sandbox and Peter was searching for rules that were simpler than D&D 3.5. Unfortunately, he picked OSRIC, i.e. AD&D 1st ed., and those rules aren’t actually very simple. The printed book is substantial. What worked: the island hopping sandbox was once again improved. What didn’t: OSRIC was not smooth sailing. The players didn’t like it. Lessons learned: OSRIC and AD&D are not rules light. The island hopping sandbox can still be made to work.

Ymir’s Call. I played in a Barbarians of LemuriaCrypts & ThingsAdventure Conqueror King campaign with DM Florian (2011–2013). It was a frost sandbox. We were people in some sort of polar region and there was trouble all around us. What worked: I loved it. There were many places to visit, people to talk to. What didn’t: The rules for Barbarians of Lemuria did not convince me. On the one hand, they were too simple, and on the other hand, spending that point to mow down dozens was too weird. Crypts & Things was better, but still very much on the simple side. Lessons learned: I really started to love the wilderness sandbox. Just make sure there’s plenty of stuff to do wherever players go. As for the rules, I started to realise that I liked something somewhere between Crypts and Things and Adventure Conqueror King.

Ritter von Salisbury. I ran the Great Pendragon Campaign for the years 485 to 510, when Arthur pulls the sword from the stone (2012–2014). What worked: we had a rough campaign outline and we loved it; the traits that sometimes make characters do things the players did not expect. What didn’t: character creating took a long time; the deadly battles were frustrating if your character bit the grass; the inability to actually influence the outcome of these battles took some getting used to; you could build infrastructure but they had no effect on the game; the winter phase felt like an integral and badly designed part of the game. We always wanted something important to happen in winter but the rules did not deliver. We should have just narrated it. Lessons learned: There’s a cool, simpler game with those traits hidden somewhere in those rules.

Karameikos. I played in a Labyrinth Lord game set in Mystara every second Monday evening (2012–2015), by @oliof. We played B10 Night’s Dark Terror and it was very cool. What worked: the siege of Sukiskyn was fantastic; fighting vampires felt good. What didn’t: I’m not sure how the campaign ended. We arrived at the hidden valley and then… I don’t know. Lessons learned: B/X D&D is the level of D&D I like. After some initial enthusiasm regarding the Mystara setting, I’m much less enthusiastic about the incredible emptiness. Large maps with many empty hexes simply don’t inspire me as much.

Berem and Beyond. I played in an Adventure Conqueror King campaign with DM Florian (2013–2015). It was another sandbox, except no longer up in the icy north. What worked: I liked the sandbox; there was also a second group playing in the same area and I remember at least once we came upon a little mausoleum that had already been plundered. What didn’t: I saw Florian improvising a lot, rolling up encounters, and I didn’t like it. It broke my immersion because I no longer felt we were exploring a “real” place. It was being made up as we moved through it. The ACKS upkeep and other economy rules did not interest me. It felt like homework. Lessons learned: ACKS is too involved for my taste. When I run a game, I make sure to use a screen in order to better maintain immersion. If the players stray of the prepared material, I want to maintain the illusion for as long as possible.

Montag in Zürich. Various people interested in one-shots got together and experimented with new systems (2009–2015). What worked: I never again played so many different games as back then. It was amazing. What didn’t: eventually things broke down as people no longer volunteered to run new games. Lessons learned: there are a gazillion games out there. Also, not many of them seem to be made for the kind of long campaigns I like (50+ sessions). What I totally learned was to present a game, hand out characters, and run a game in 2½h.

Fünf Winde. I ran a Labyrinth Lord game set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy with a big dash of Planescape and Spelljammer on every second Tuesdays (2010–2017). What worked: plane hopping, B/X + house rules, building projects to spend gold and enrich the setting; references to the old player characters from the Alder King game. What didn’t: I had placed a few mega dungeons in the campaign setting but the players didn’t really want to go there; Planescape looks cool but if you’re actually looking for adventure material in the setting boxes, there is very little; the same is true for Spelljammer. Lessons learned: playing multiple campaigns in the same setting is a good idea; visible changes from one campaign to the next is great.

Wilderlande. I ran a Labyrinth Lord campaign set in a Points of Light campaign setting for my best friend and his three kids for two hours on a Friday evening every four weeks (2010–2018). What worked: one of the kids is my godchild and I managed to stay in touch for all these years. What didn’t work: I was unable to have the spark jump. As the older kids turned seventeen and eighteen, they showed up less and less. None of them wanted to pick up the referee mantle. Lessons learned: kids can play Labyrinth Lord; when they’re five and six, they might just sit there and draw pictures, making the occasional decision for their character, but as they grow older, they simply absorb the game. There’s no need for special games for children. Children don’t want toys made for children. Children want toys made for adults. They might ignore a lot of the rules, just like we did when we were kids, but that doesn’t prevent them from wanting the real deal.

Greyheim. I ran a Labyrinth Lord game around The Castle of the Mad Archmage (a megadungeon) on every second Wednesdays (2015–2018). It was a big dungeon, with a computer-generated wilderness map surrounding them. What worked: we played until we got down to level seven of the dungeon. We managed to invest the riches retrieved into infrastructure: a castle was being built soon after the campaign got going; we had a construction site, masons, carpenters, guards, a palisade, a quarry, and on and on. What didn’t: the wilderness map wasn’t populated with enough monsters, tribes, factions, and all that. We did have orcs and ogres and treants, and evil elves and necromancers, and whenever they were encountered, the game was great. I should have added a lot more at the beginning of the game.

Mondschein Saga. I played in a D&D 5 game with DM Peter, with no regular dates (2018-2020). This was a reprise of the earlier campaigns. Peter had refined his concept: islands, factions, sandbox, links to the rest of the Forgotten Realms (e.g. a visit to Baldur’s Gate), no single safe haven but a variety of safe harbours, more dungeons, and a group that took to D&D 5. What worked: Peter’s sandbox gained even more depth; a less formulaic approach. Player Rafael taught me the value of well written session reports to show character development and I started taking to it. Some of my best writing for role-playing games happened (in German, translate using DeepL if you’re curious): Der Wert eines Zwerges (talking at the campfire), Caer Corwell auf dem Opferaltar (burning down a city), Der Feuerzirkel von Rottesheim (epilogue after the party lost the last fight at the end of the campaign). What didn’t: I still have no great love for D&D 5, but playing with just the Basic Rules for D&D 5 actually works. I like that! Lessons learned: as a player, writing vignettes on a campaign wiki is great (or posting them on whatever medium you use to share writings for your campaign).

Rasiermesserküste. I ran a Halberds and Helmets game using Razor Coast on every second Wednesday (2017–2020). I was looking for a nautical sand box, islands and pirates and all that. What worked: a nice campaign with cool ideas using were shark and cultists. What didn’t: the book tries to square the role-playing book circle, it has everything – events, maps, dungeons, characters, prep sheets, and on and on. It’s huge. It’s dense. It takes a lot of work, I think. Lessons learned: try to run the next game without using any books and without big plans that need to be prepped.

Die dampfenden Dschungel von Chult: I played in a D&D 5 game with DM Peter, with no regular dates (2020-2021), via Skype. Same deal as before: I used the Basic Rules for D&D 5. Instead of a fire wizard I played a rogue and it was great. What worked: the mix of sandbox, interesting locations with smaller dungeons, the ruins of Omu, the big final dungeon. What didn’t: if at all, the big dungeon at the end was a bit too long, but just barely so. It was still a great game. Lessons learned: the D&D 5 sandbox still works! Yay!

Die drei Wälder. I ran a few sessions of Just Halberds, with no regular dates (2020), for a bunch of kids, via Zoom. What worked: it was a play test for the Just Halberds rules. What didn’t: I wasn’t really able to get into a good 2d6 groove and eventually the game just petered out. Perhaps the kids lost interest; perhaps gaming remotely using Jitsi, Zoom, and friends, isn’t made for larger groups of players. Lessons learned: for future games, I’m going to try and limit the number of players to three.

Die Zeit der Waldbrände. I’m playing in a Humblewood campaign using D&D 5 with DM Lars (2020–now), via Jitsi. What worked: D&D with anthropomorphic animals works better than I expected! The game is still ongoing, so it’s too early to talk about the things that didn’t work or the lessons learned.

Der Fluch des Stradh: I am playing in a D&D 5 game with DM Mircea, with no regular dates (2021–now), via Zoom. I’m playing a fighter that picked the Skilled feat to pick rogue skills. So, a rogue without sneak attack, haha. I’ve started using the D&D 5 Player’s Handbook, at long last. I guess it works for me because I’m playing a fighter. What works: the mix of interesting locations with smaller dungeons everywhere. The game is still ongoing, so it’s too early to talk about the things that didn’t work or the lessons learned.

Tau Subsector. I’m running a Classic Traveller game, with no regular dates (2021–now), more or less weekly, via Jitsi. I used a ton of random tables to provide even more details for the generated subsector and now I’m hoping that one thing leads to another, with not too much prep required. The game is still ongoing, so it’s too early to talk about the things that didn’t work or the lessons learned.

Lessons learned, overall: Keeping the notes of the games you played in, is future pleasure – in a jar. Do it! Open it a decade later and enjoy the memories, like I did.

Comments on 2021-04-05 The things I learned

Very interesting and a good read!

My lessons from the last decade:

  • Campaign wikis are great for lore, player background stories and interactions with the world. I also think they work better for character development and many aspects of role playing, as most people are more comfortable and creative at writing between sessions than at speaking during a session.
  • D&D 5e rules work. They are the best version of the rules in my opinion. Easy to get into, quite well balanced and without any really serious flaws. I would prefer them to be a bit more gritty and less Marvel Super Heroes style. The exploration/survival aspect is also too trivial.
  • Sandboxes are great. I love creating and running them. But pure wilderness hexploration as in the Grenzmarken campaign is a bit bland and can feel meaningless soon. Who cares about how many arch demons from Hell your hero killed in a forsaken dungeon in the wilderness? Killing an arch duke in a city or just having the power to possibly do so, is much more interesting and also character defining. So social sandboxes with fame and factions are more interesting for everyone, I think.
  • Dungeons are still the heart of the game and what the D&D 5e rules are made for. The players are on the edge of their toes and fully engaged most of the time: Thinking about tactics, spell selections, resting points etc. Everyone can contribute. The problem with social encounters is that usually it is just 1 or 2 players that are really engaged or relevant and the rest is fiddling their thumbs. I am just experiencing this again as player in DM Mirceas campaign.
  • Now here’s a big conflict with the point about sandboxes: For the campaign to be interesting and meaningful, you need a social setting rife with conflict and interactions. But in actual play it seems to me that running dungeons still works best. It is also less demanding of the DM than running and improvising interesting social encounters. So this led to my current kind of preferred gaming style of running mostly dungeons and combat in actual play and running a social sandbox for character development and world exploration on the campaign wiki.
  • There’s a also a social aspect of relevance at the meta-level: A smaller party size (3 or 4 max) would certainly make it easier to have more social interactions and character development during a session like we had in the past. But I also came to the conclusion that having a bigger party size makes the game and campaign much more relevant for everyone at the meta level. Many of my sessions with just 3 players felt a bit meaningless or bland in retrospective. If you kill the BBEG with a critical hit with just 2 companions at the table it doesn’t feel the same as with 5, where there’s always a lot of cheering, high-fiving etc. going on. It’s a bit like watching sports now in empty stadiums compared to fully packed ones in the past. It’s kind of stupid, but it really seems that among humans, everything becomes much more meaningful and long lasting in memory if there are a lot of spectators/companions.

– Peter 2021-04-05 20:59 UTC


This is a great post! Thank you for it! Is it just where you were in life or something about B/X based games that led to them lasting so long?

– Oliver 2021-04-05 22:39 UTC


It’s not just the B/X campaigns that went on for a long time; the D&D 3.5 and now the D&D 5 campaigns all went on for at least 30+ sessions, if not twice as much – even if I did not enjoy high level 3.5. I suspect that it has to do with how spell levels structure D&D gameplay: on the one hand, every new spell level attained changes the gameplay itself (suddenly you can fly, or fireball large groups of kobolds), and it also advertizes that change ahead of time in the rules: if you play until you get to level so and so, you’ll be able to do this and that. And immediately, people start dreaming.

See 2012-01-24 Changing Gameplay Over Time.

– Alex 2021-04-06 06:58 UTC

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2021-04-03 Episode 35

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about giant beetles and how I used them: pack animals for the underworld, war elephants for goblins and the like, or car sized monsters in dungeon corridors.

Links:

  • 2016-10-13 Giant Beetle: “When I ran Castle of the Mad Archmage, we encountered several rooms full of giant bombardier beetles and we fought them all using everything we had. It was a hell hole of flaming oil, charred corpses and madness, because somehow one of the players had claimed that you might be able to find gems inside dead giant beetles.”
  • Burning Corridors: “Fight! A lot of flaming oil was used but they just kept on coming. One of them got Simed and bite off a leg of him and then they killed Tristan. But eventually we managed to kill all the beasts.”
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files

A fearful human face in the foreground and a giant bug in the background, inspired by Starship Troopers

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2021-03-27 Blogosphere

Yeah, another list of links to blog posts I liked, inspired by the read through of @jmettraux’s End of Week Links 13. Like John, I get my links from the RPG Planet. Please join us, if you haven’t already.

Since I’m running a Traveller campaign, I was interested in some Traveller-related blog posts.

Classic Traveller skills are more like professions at The Viking Hat GM: «An inclusive rather than exclusive view means shorter skill lists in a game - you don’t need to list every trivial thing humans can do when you can handwave most of it as basic life skills - and also on the character sheet. You will see too a difference in play at the table. When every possible skill is listed, as the GM says, “And what do you do?” everyone looks down to their character sheet … RPGs are a social way to be creative with friends, and shorter skill lists and briefer character sheets encourage more creativity among players, and more socialising. They talk to each-other rather than looking at their character sheets. Play becomes more interesting.»

I can see it working both ways: either you use as few skills as possible, specially not for social interactions. But I know this is a controversial area. In my blog post Role Play, not Wish Fulfilment I argue that if you’re not a charming player, I think it’s OK for you not to play a charming character. In other words, just like a fearful player who wishes to play a courageous hero by cannot bring themselves to put their character into the front rank cannot be the thing they wish because they are not acting their part, a monosyllabic player who wishes to be a socialite cannot be the thing they wish because they cannot bring themselves to play the role. In this way, the role-playing I like is a bit like an acting skill: over the years, I hope you’ll get better at it. I hope I get better at it. Of course, the line is drawn arbitrarily. There’s no reason for the fantasy to be sexist and cruel, and that is a kind of wish fulfilment, of course. There’s no reason for the player of a fighter to be a good fighter, and that’s a kind of wish fulfilment. The reason I think I’m OK with it is that first of all, most of us are not good fighters, and second, if their descriptions of fighting is lame, we can at least roll dice and move on. But if we do this for all interactions as well, then we’re going to roll more and more dice until I just don’t enjoy the game anymore. So yeah, that line is going to be different for everybody. I’m just saying where my line is. And just because I favour this kind of play doesn’t mean I’m opposed to all other kinds of play. I really liked Sean Nittner’s and Judd Karlman’s Actual Play podcast (see 2021-01-19 Listening to Burning Wheel Actual Play) where they use Burning Wheel. There, the Duel of Wits is a way to resolve social conflict using dice, and it works in the context of a game where every roll ties into advancement, into your beliefs, your traits, and so on. Here, immersion is achieved not by forgetting the rules and just talking at the table but by using the rules to suffer setbacks and defeats (and triumphs, eventually) in areas your characters care about.

The Viking Hat GM has more, though: “But as with so many game systems, the author got it more-or-less right the first time. And so we play Classic Traveller. Classic Traveller, most especially Books 1-3, like AD&D1e, RuneQuest 1e and the like, is a good system because not despite the fact that it is incomplete. You fill in the blanks.” – CT: Books 1-3 - You fill in the blanks!

Together, these two posts reminded me of something I had recently posted myself: the skills these Traveller characters have are based on their past careers: Electronics, Mechanics, Computers, and a ton of weapon training, and some obscure things like driving tracked vehicles or acting as a forward observer for orbital artillery, and then they are dropped into a world of crooks, smugglers, narcs, and they are absolutely unprepared for a life of crime in a deadly world where well aimed shots can take you out.

This is underscored by yet another post I liked by The Viking GM, Conflict: Surprise & Initiative: “The unfortunate truth is that there really only three kinds of combats: Ambush! - all of you live, all of them die. Ambushed! - all of you die, all of them live. Stand-up fight - everyone dies.” What a summary!

That, in turn, led me via The Wandering Gamist’s Truer Combat as War and Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill Campaign to Rutskarn’s Boot Hill and the Fear of Dice: “You want players to be prudent, ambitious, ruthless, calculating, paranoid. You want them to respect their enemies and balance alliances carefully. Above all you want the constant, thrilling tension wrought by a high-stakes duel of wits: a deadly game where a single misstep in a dark alley could end an entire dynasty.” Isn’t that what it’s all about? If the game is deadly, and combat is a mistake unless you’ve rigged the stakes to favour you as much as possible, then that’s what I like: I like to make the decision of when to fight, now the minutiae of how to fight. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy if combat ends in two rounds. Yeah, picking up old threads from 2021-03-10 Blogosphere, again.

At the same time, the end effect of that ends up being that the players talk to everybody and prefer not to shoot, and after a while you realise: they’re not fighting because everything is dangerous, they’re not rolling dice for talking because there are no social skills in the game, so that’s it. It’s all talking.

And that in turn reminded me of some older blog posts at the Tales to Astound blog, like Casual and Improvisatory Nature of Early Traveller Play: “More talking than shooting – The session does feature some combat, but it occurs near the end when, after interacting with the natives for some time, the players finally realize that the natives are cannibals and see the PCs as a new source of protein. What the players don’t do is waltz into the caverns with FGMPs, battledress, and itchy trigger fingers ready to slag anything that moves. Even when the encounter with the natives slowly deteriorates, the players prefer to Jaw, jaw, jaw rather than War, war, war. The guns – and the dice – only come out when the players need to secure their retreat to the surface and then, rather than burn the caverns to the ground, they only use enough force to escape.”

There’s more in this follow-up post from the same blog, An Improvised Classic Traveller Convention Game. This time it’s not about the need to avoid combat in a lethal system but in how improvised a lot of the game is. I guess that’s the direction I want my own gaming to move towards: my goal is to “daydream” about the setting, write down some notes, names, some forces ready to clash as soon as the player characters appear, and that’s it. Almost no prep is also almost no wasted prep. 😁

That “Classic Traveller Out of the Box” blog post series is great. Just recently, one of my players sent me a link to An Approach to Refereeing and Throws in Original Traveller (Part I). «Keep in mind that I don’t think Classic Traveller has a Skill System. It has a Throw system (throw 2D6, equal or beat a number, add DMs from a variety of sources (skills, characteristics, and circumstances). Not everything Throw has a Skill DM. … Because it we have a system for Referee saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Roll these 2D6 and we’ll find out what happened.” All sorts of modifiers can come into play depending on what the roll is about. It is a universal system that looks like it has not system!» Note that the blog post also discusses the “Free Kriegsspiel” idea. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Anyway, all that Traveller talk reminded me of old blog posts in Richard’s Dystopian Pokeverse, like The implicit game in original Traveller’s ship loan rules: “the entry level offer for a high-performing merchant captain is a shipyard loan on a new-built Free Trader: capital cost 36-37 MegaCr at 6.2% interest, working out to a monthly payment of 150,000 Cr – roughly equivalent to room and board for 500 average Imperial citizens or 6 mail contracts to different systems, meaning you’d need a 6-week month to break even as a mail carrier.” Which is how you end up with a ton of mercenary work, narcotics, weapon smuggling, and so on. The honest way of life doesn’t pay in Traveller.

All of this then had me ready to think about other games. @jmettraux had me covered, linking to Links for Designing PbtA TTRPGs (where “PbtA” means “Powered by the Apocalypse”, usually referring to rolling something like 2d6 with very high results meaning a success, medium results meaning a complication, and low results meaning bad stuff heapens, and “TTRPG” meaning “Table Top Role-Playing Games”), which in turn linked to Simple World, which is a PDF that looks like a game but is actually a document telling you how to customise the basic rules to create a “Powered by the Apocalypse” game. It’s a super cool procedure to customise a procedural game! 😁

And John also has a post about Hnefatafl, and Freies Kriegsspiel in real life, and a link to cave maps, and a link to How the Germans Defined Auftragstaktik: What Mission Command is - AND - is Not in the Small Wars Journal, and a follow-up for readers of French, Ensemble tout devient plus lent, at La voie de l’épée, on ordering people around.

The Simple World post also reminded me of a super basic B/X document without spells, monsters, or classes – just people, if I understand it correctly. A foundation for your own game, perhaps. Quintessential BX, David Perry, at Lithyscaphe.

More cool links… Wow, this post is long.

“It is about characters’ inner struggles, and interpersonal struggles, and societal struggles, and that is broadly encoded in the Karma mechanic, but not by genre. It is about problem-solving, but less so in the sense of logic puzzles and resource management, and more in how you confront these weird and inexplicable circumstances- it’s more a creative challenge. I guess it’s more of a life challenge, if again I may be so pretentious.” It sounds weird. 🤔 Tabletop RPGs as Performance Art, at Weird & Wonderful Worlds.

Grymlorde quotes from Scientific American Supplement No. 586, 1887: “Torches consist of a bundle of loosely twisted threads which has been immersed in a mixture formed of two parts, by weight, of beeswax, eight of resin, and one of tallow. In warm, dry weather, these torches when lighted last for two hours when at rest, and for an hour and a quarter on a march. A good light is obtained by spacing them 20 or 30 yards apart.” – Torches through the editions & Real World

A blog post about reviews. I didn’t read it all, it was very wordy, but I found the comments very interesting: What's Broken: Reviews. As for myself, I stopped doing reviews when I realized that they were always hopelessly out of date as I wanted to run all the adventures before reviewing them. And people convinced me that talking about the things we don’t like is a waste of time. Life is short. Talk about the things you love. Do we need “a review culture to guide consumers”? Maybe not. But then again, I’m on the record with claiming that we also don’t need much of a market… For the controversial take, see 2020-02-14 Unprofessional.

Anyway, back to links…

«Everything can speak and understand Common. That’s Everything with a capital “E”, in the sense that everything a person could interact with (vegetable, animal, and mineral) can talk. Anything can have a discussion. … Caves of Qud, which allows you to attempt to talk and trade with most things, plants and pond fish included. They make poor traders and conversationalists. Still, being able to say: “Live and drink, aquafriend.” is a pretty significant bit of worldbuilding.» Everything Can Listen, But Nothing Wants to Talk, Goodberry Monthly.

“The game is well written and has a lot of charm. It has the level of complexity I was looking for. It is a great game to play with children and I think my children would also be able to play it on their own.” Playing Das Schwarze Auge after 37 Years, by Herr Zinnling. It’s what I started with! 😀

As an interesting tidbit circling back to social skills and my example with the fearful player and the courageous character: Das Schwarze Auge has a Courage attribute which might force your character to charge or accept a challenge even though the player might not want to. A bit like those traits in King Arthur Pendragon: knights have multiple traits that come in opposing pairs such as just vs. arbitrary and usually whenever you increase one, the other decreases; these traits sometimes get used to determine what the character does in spite of what the player might wish.

Comments on 2021-03-27 Blogosphere

I think the best example of Classic Traveller’s “do it yourself” nature is the conspicuous absence of laser pistols. There are even laser carbines which are, if I’m not misremembering, just a worse version of the laser rifle, barely cheaper and at the the same tech level - as if to say “You want a laser pistol? Have useless stats for a laser carbine instead! Let’s see if you can put two and two together and repurpose them.” Because in my experience, once you’ve hacked the rules once, it becomes easy to do it again and again - which I think is the whole point of CT.

– Malcolm 2021-03-28 08:08 UTC


Haha, yes! I guess Marc Miller thought: how is poking holes into people using lasers different from poking holes into people using metal slugs?

“While technology will certainly progress in the centuries that come, it will also remain a fact that one of the surest ways to injure or kill an adversary is to subject him or her to a large dose of kinetic energy; the simplest way to deliver that energy to someone is with bullet impact.” (The Traveller Book, p. 48)

I guess the only benefit would be lack of recoil.

“Virtually all weapons have recoil (except laser carbines and laser rifles) and in a zero·G environment this recoil can disorient or render helpless individuals not trained to compensate for it.” (ibid)

Then again, I don’t remember a single zero G scene in all of Star Wars… 😀

– Alex 2021-03-28 09:29 UTC


Thanks for these lists. I really love these curated and commented links! 😍

There is so much interesting content floating around waiting to be found.

– Ludos Curator 2021-03-31 08:16 UTC


Thanks! More at Seed of Worlds.

– Alex 2021-03-31 12:31 UTC

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2021-03-18 Hekadungeon using Text Mapper

The Gridmapper algorithm for Text Mapper to generate small dungeons was based on the blog post The Nine Forms of the Five Room Dungeon, by Matthew J. Neagley, which I then extended to 7-room dungeons, and then I added the combination of the two, which led to 10 (5+5), 12 (5+7), and 14 (7+7) room dungeons. It worked surprisingly well, see 2019-10-09 Ten random dungeons generated, and 2019-08-23 Gridmapper inside Text Mapper. It definitely worked better than the failed Megadungeon project I was working on a long time ago. Reload it a few times until you more than just one level and then click on the last image to open it in Gridmapper.

A few days ago I started wondering whether I could scale that up… and it turns out that I can!

Here’s an example with 200 rooms. It definitely needs fewer entrances – and the latest version of Text Mapper does that, of course. See 200 rooms.

Dungeon map with 200 rooms

Comments on 2021-03-18 Hekadungeon using Text Mapper

This is really great! I like the shape of these dungeons better than the random results I tend to get out of e.g. donjon.sh. And editing the results in Gridmapper is fantastic!

I’m confused about one thing – does this ever generate multi-level dungeons? You seem to imply so in your post, but I haven’t seen it do so.

acodispo 2021-03-22 20:33 UTC


Sadly it does not. I keep thinking about it, though…

– Alex 2021-03-22 20:54 UTC


Right now the problem is that text mapper doesn’t have a Z axis. Maybe it should. Then we could generate an overworld and an underworld that lines up.

– Alex 2021-03-23 07:51 UTC


The more I think about it the better I like it. But how to show this? It would probably have to be a new “page” and that’s not how SVG works. Just appending the second map below the first one might work, though. Hm.

– Alex 2021-03-23 08:45 UTC


For what it’s worth: when I was checking to see if it would do multiple levels, I assumed that I would see the 2nd level below the first on the page, as you suggest. This is probably intuitive! And I think it would work for the way Hex Describe uses these dungeon maps?

Me, I think I’m always going to open the maps in Gridmapper, edit to my liking, and then export in the format I need whether for online play, web display, or printing. I can stitch together multiple levels if I need to create multi-level dungeons.

I wish I knew more about how to work with SVG in this way. I’ve been making an attempt to add “modal GM notes” to Gridmapper and don’t quite have the chops for it! 😀

acodispo 2021-03-24 14:51 UTC


You mean, like those notes for cells in spreadsheet software, one corner is red or something, and if you hover over it, whatever you wrote there pops up?

– Alex 2021-03-24 20:05 UTC


That’s an idea I hadn’t thought of for UI! I was thinking of expanding Gridmapper’s labels. Specifically the behavior where when you type ' while the cursor is on an existing label, the label’s text pops up for editing.

So the GM note behavior would be similar to that, but:

  1. The content of the GM note isn’t displayed on the map, there’s a stand-in symbol. Perhaps +.
  2. When you type e.g. + while the cursor is over a + on the map, that note’s content is placed into an editing box. If there is no existing note, then a new one is created (just like a label).
  3. The editing area for notes is a larger textarea. (I was considering simply using the existing export/import box for this.)

The idea is that I like to put as much data about dungeon contents onto the map itself as possible (so I don’t have to reference a separate room key during play), but using labels can be a bit cumbersome depending on the amount of content. Being able to store longer notes that don’t get displayed on the map would help with this.

I’m fiddling with it off and on but haven’t made much progress! 😀

acodispo 2021-03-25 14:23 UTC

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2021-03-13 Portraits for modern games

I’ve been thinking about face generators a lot. I still think about the Face Generator web app a lot. But I also think about This Person Does Not Exist a lot. Those images are generated by an algorithm that has been trained by another one. The first algorithm is given the task of deciding whether a face we give it is a real face or not. Since we know the answer, we can train it. The second algorithm is given the task of creating a face. We obviously know that they’re all fake, so we mix these into the faces for the first algorithm. The goal of the second algorithm is to fool the first. This is a generative adversarial network (GAN) setup. It’s fascinating because it allows us to train a face generator without having to actually make any decisions since we simply train the first one on real faces.

The software exists. The person running This Person Does Not Exist links to three of them. One of them is called Lightweight GAN. It looks fascinating.

The problem is getting the faces. It seems to me that all such collections are ethically flawed. None of the people gave their consent: these are faces scrubbed from social networks, or mugshots, or whatever else. It makes me very uncomfortable.

And yet... And yet! It’s fascinating. With a little post-processing on the command-line, you can get great portraits for your campaign wiki.

True, I wonder about the colour mix, for example. But the fascination is there, for sure.

Montage of faces

This is my Makefile:

face: bw.png
	display bw.png

bw.png: source.jpg
	convert $< -resize 300x300 -monochrome -quality 9 $@

clean:
	rm *.jpg

# get image from the service
source.jpg:
	curl https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/image -o $@

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You probably want to contact me via one of the means listed on the Contact page. This is probably the wrong place to do it. 😄

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-22 12:19 UTC

Referrers: the roots of the rpg hobby osr