Monday, December 30, 2019

The Differences in Mystara, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms (Part 4)

You may have thought that we had wrapped this up sufficiently, but I think we could benefit from
more than just looking at each setting individually. The points of overlap can sometimes also be interesting, and I can think of some more game-able stuff that'll apply to these. Which I realize may seem to run counter to what I said previously.

In a sense, wouldn't the best way to satisfy our goal of making each setting feel really, really distinct be to downplay what they have in common? Like, try to not step on each others' toes if you can help it. Especially for those points that technically overlap. Yes, all three of these settings has furry races. But Mystara is the one that really leans into it, so if you're doing one of the other two settings then maybe you should go out of your way to avoid furry races so as not to steal Mystara's thunder.

But any way in which they can be made distinct from the rules of default D&D is an opportunity to capitalize on.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Differences in Mystara, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms (Part 3)

I'm going to be upfront about this: this is not going to be a very positive article. In seeking to answer the question of this series (see title), I... just don't have much good to say about the Forgotten Realms. Maybe some FR superfans can come in and help me out but I feel like a lot of the obstacles in this article will serve to illustrate some of my more important arguments about setting and worldbuilding.

Forgotten Realms
So let's get into it. What are the main features that characterize FR in contrast against Greyhawk and Mystara?

  1. ... Uh ... Well...
  2. What does the Wikipedia article talk about? That should give us an idea of the most important stuff. Let's see...
  3. ...Uhhhh. Uh oh.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Running On Empty

Adventuring is tiring work, when you think about it. Traveling across wilderness after wasteland, slay beast foul and fantastic, saving the helpless and carting their lazy buts back to civilization, not to mention the loot. How can one forget the loot?! And it's not like it doesn't show up in the fiction either, I mean, dealing with being tired from walking is most of the page count of lord of the rings after all. 

But DnD and its ilk rarely have a good mechanic for this, or rather, not very usable ones. 3e had a pile of conditions, including fatigue and exhaustion that I'd always forget, and 5e has a downward spiral of exhaustion that I'd rather not remember, one that is so punishing that I can't hit the players with it too often or they'll not want to adventure at all. Besides, I usually play Knave, or my co-writers variant Brave, most of the time these days. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Differences in Mystara, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms (Part 2)

Picking up where we left off, we'll continue to identify all of the "greatest hits" of the three default campaign settings. We found Mystara, most associated with Basic D&D, to be a realm of exciting locations, potential for immortalized achievement, and waifus (furry and non-furry options available).

In contrast, let's talk about Greyhawk, the default setting of AD&D and Gary's own creation. Perhaps my favorite official campaign setting, here are the standout qualities to me. I find this one to be the most distinct of the three. It's also, to me, the easiest to envision mechanical structures to reinforce its qualities through gameplay:
  1. Sword and Sorcery, full stop. Gotta go hard in this direction. Magic is rare, powerful, and corrupting, morals and grey grey grey, people are selfish, there are no great and grand kingdoms anymore, etc.
    • I think a lot of people still picture "sword and sorcery" involving deserts somehow because of Conan the Barbarian fighting desert snake cults and Dark Sun and Barsoom and, to an extent, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. When Lieber described the setting outside Lankhmar itself, he wrote, "think of Saracens, Arabs, Parthians, Assyrians even. They ride the camel and elephant, and use the bow extensively." In any case, while there are deserts in the Flaeness, you would have to be able to pretty extensively envision Sword and Sorcery without it. Which really just means...

Friday, November 29, 2019

Here There Be Dragons

A common misstep I see dungeon masters make, myself especially, is to put off their good ideas. They, or rather I, take their craziest, most heroic adventures, monsters, dungeons, what have you and plan to run them sometime down the road. For myself at least, there are several reasons for this, working together to make my campaigns somewhat less than they ought to be.

The first is the idea of a campaign progression. The idea that I start with small, mundane challenges before diving into the realm of the fantastic. This makes sense, on both a storytelling and gameplay level- you need to set up the world before the characters see its extremes, and you need appropriate challenges for low level adventurers. The problem is that I often overdo it. I’ve never run a liche or a rakshasa, never ran an adventure in the lower planes, even though I’ve run more than one campaign that has lasted over a year. I don’t want to throw out my best stuff right away, and often never get to it. Especially since most of my campaigns don’t last more than a year.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Differences in Mystara, Greyhawk, and Forgotten Realms (Part 1)

D&D is a chance to share a world with people. So after an adventure, you probably want your players to remember the setting it took place it. The experience of being transported to that world is usually one of the important takeaways DMs want to instill in their audience. But unless your players are completely new to all fantasy fiction entirely (e.g. no real exposure to things like elves, wizards, dragons, orcs, etc.) then the baseline assumptions of D&D’s “implied setting” aren’t going to have that impact you’re looking for. You have to go a step beyond to make them feel the world as an element of the story.

Monday, November 18, 2019

What Kind of Content I'll Actually Buy or Use

I'm writing this just as much for myself as for others. When thinking up whatever it is I want to write and publish, I try very hard to keep in mind the question of what other people would even want. I wonder how close it is to the kinds of things I myself want.

If you don't already watch the YouTube channel Questing Beast, then you should. There are other channels that also review RPG products, even ones that focus on OSR content, but they aren't as good as this one. Same guy (Ben Milton) who wrote Knave, in fact. Anyway, you'll greatly enjoyed perusing his video collection and seeing all the wild and crazy shit that he's reviewed. There's no shortage of fantastic content being made by creative individuals in this hobby. So what factors make the difference whether I'll spend my money or not?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

BRAVE 1.0 - My Knave Hack

Hey! If you were linked here from elsewhere, this version is outdated. Please see here for the finished version of Brave

Here is a link to my custom mod for Ben Milton's minimalist RPG, Knave. [Edit] I've also now included the word document version. You can download this and then edit the text directly. It looks like if you don't have the fonts Ben picked out installed, you'll want those so the formatting is retained (Sebaldus-Gotisch and Crimson Text)
Just like the original, I recommend you print it out. Still just 7 pages, not too many changes. I anticipate editing it even more eventually, but this right here is the result of a fair amount of playtesting and changing what would work better for the folks I've played with.

The beginning lists the major additions, which include an adapted Death and Dismemberment ruleset, Patrick's Starvation rules from Veins of the Earth, my own Advanced Darkness, and then my own system for making leveling up a little bit more interesting. I also based healing rate on current level since every player I've had thought it was weird that you seem to get "worse" at healing the more experienced you are.

To make room for these, I took out all of the designer's notes. They were one of the best parts of the original Knave but if you're reading my version then you're probably already familiar with all of Ben's design choices.

I also changed a number of miscellaneous phrasing matters and small rules that, you may notice, bring the game slightly closer to 5E D&D than it was. Movement speed is 30'/round, an opposed check consists of both parties rolling, an attack roll must be greater than or equal to their Armor, renaming saving throws to Die Checks, etc. These help me and most of my players smooth over the transition between the two RPGs, especially since we usually go back and forth between them. One of the most annoying little hiccups in the game's flow is when someone accidentally makes reference to another game's terminology and then someone at the table who's never played that game says, "wait, what?" When 5E came out I kept accidentally saying "roll a Reflex/Fortitude/Will save" and my brand new players would get confused. It also means that all those passive little details in the rules that I'm really familiar with from 5E aren't wasted when switching to Knave for an evening.

The main reason I named this "Brave" is because, between Death and Dismemberment and my leveling system, this typically makes PCs much more powerful than in regular Knave. I mean, they're still just pathetic murder hobos compared to any D&D character, but it's all relative.


Monday, November 4, 2019


This article is entirely spitballing based on things I’ve been watching, reading, and thinking about lately. So one of the most common elements in RPGs is the idea of gaining experience, leveling up, and improving at your stats. Where other elements have changed dramatically, this has been consistent in every edition of D&D and is present in almost all other TTRPGs I’ve ever heard of. When videogames took inspiration from D&D, this was the element that earned the moniker “RPG,” and to this day is the main reason we refer to Final Fantasy and similar games as “RPGs” even though they don’t really have many of the characteristics most of us would consider more important to defining the medium of “role playing.”

Saturday, November 2, 2019

PSA to Dungeon Masters: Intentionally "Metagame" More

Let’s get through this one right off the bat: people generally take metagaming way too seriously. It’s a transition I see lots of gamers go through. They hear about it early on and spend way too much time and energy thinking about it as a problem that must be overcome or worked around or whatever, they experiment in how to get past it, they insist that metagaming is one of the most serious bad habits a player can have, and then… they eventually get over it. I’ve seen this journey of personal growth pretty consistently in lots of players at this point. So if I’m going to revisit the question of metagaming, I want to attack it from a new angle so that it’s worth it.

DMs are the worst about navigating the complications of metagaming. Yes, DMs.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Weird Dwarf Traits

It is important to me that the demihuman races feel properly distinct and non-human. Or at least, they should be exotic or foreign, and especially easy to roleplay in a memorable way. As we know, dwarrow (dwarves) tend to all be the same. We should fix that. Here are some miscellaneous things about dwarrow culture I’ve either brainstormed sitting here or accumulated over the years. Some are pretty creative and original, others are straight-up cultural appropriation but, like, you’ll enjoy them.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Navette (or Marquise) Story Structure

(Firstly, the culture around jewelry and precious stones is kind of stupid. Anyway...)

I want to tell you about a structural tool I find extremely useful, but it is slightly more advanced than a lot of other DMing advice out there. I think a lot of my stuff is. This blog isn't a 100 or 200 level course, it's a 300 or 400 level course, so I usually assume you've already done a lot of the basic readings (you know, Dungeoncraft 101, Metagaming 150, Player Types 210, Random Encounters 215, etc). Most of the stuff that Matt Colville would have made a video about or the Angry GM would write about, I assume you're familiar with. So I want to take a very basic concept and start deconstructing it: Railroads vs. Sandboxes.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Would "X" Be a Good Idea for a New Class?

I've long been mildly interested in following the logic of what does and doesn't justify its own existence as a potential character class in D&D. Like, at what point does a fantasy storytelling archetype become distinct enough that it should be a class? If you look at a lot of B/X homebrew, people will turn anything into a class. How about a whole class to be a Miner? Sure, I like that idea. Or a class for being a Queen? Well, sure... I guess. Or a class for being a Gothic Villain? What, like, from literature? Maybe a little specific. Or a class for being a princess made out of candy and sweets? Yes, of course, because lord knows that I've been needing that. A class specifically for playing as Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time is exactly what I've been looking for.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Campaigns Are Overrated

Postulate 1: there are many obstacles (mostly social and logistical) to playing D&D, contributing to the infamous “looking for group” dilemma.

Postulate 2: there are more people interested in playing D&D than people who actually play it.

Postulate 3: there are more people who have played D&D than people who are currently in the regular habit of playing it.

Postulate 4: people who aren’t currently in the regular habit of playing D&D are generally considered to be inactive gamers. At least, many of them think of themselves that way.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Advanced Darkness

Let’s do some more DIY D&D and hack the rules. I’m going to introduce to you my favorite and most important houserule: Advanced Darkness.


Why do we come up with houserules? Because there’s some kind of problem. Maybe not everyone sees it as a problem, but that’s oftentimes just because people have learned to live with it and be complacent with a deficiency that could be fixed.

How do we come up with houserules? We 1) identify the sources of the problems and 2) identify the results we would like to see instead. Creating a rule is creating the “cause” in a cause-and-effect relationship. In order to know what cause you should aim for, you need to know what effect you’re after.

What do we do with houserules? We test them out and explore their full implications. We look for vulnerabilities that could be exploited. We try to break them. We consider some unintended consequences. We try to think of ways it could interact with other game elements. We playtest it. We adapt it. We eventually figure out the best ruling possible. Maybe it’s a refined version of the houserule, or maybe it's the RPG’s original ruling after all.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Electrum is Underdark Money

This is an example of why we need to make DIY D&D the norm in this hobby. I have seen, far too often, DMs dismissing an idea or mechanic or game element because they don’t like how it works when they instead could've hacked it to unlock its true potential. How many DMs don’t even bother with Alignment or Encumbrance or Darkness just because, as they exist in 5th Edition (and throughout the editions, generally), they kind of suck and need some reworking? I’ll show you how to do that right now.

In D&D, currency comes in three common denominations. Ten copper pieces to one silver piece, ten silver pieces to one gold piece. Beyond that you can have ten gold pieces for one platinum piece, and of course the infamous one, five silver pieces to one electrum piece AKA two electrum pieces to one gold piece. Electrum is the one that breaks the nice, consistent pattern. It is exceedingly rare. It seems pointless. It feels like if you received that as your treasure from the DM then they were trying to troll you a bit. So most people don’t use it and that’s that.

That’s the lame way of doing things.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

How to Make Problems for Your Players

TL;DR: The Player's Handbook gives you a list of challenges for your players that you didn't realize. I included it at the bottom.

How do you plan a list of encounters? How do you think of problems for the heroes to overcome? Do you just pick a stat block out of the Monster Manual and put that monster in the next room? Pretty easy, but I think most of us are here because we agree that a great DM puts a little more effort in than that.

What if I told you that you were thinking about this all backwards? Like, literally backwards. Maybe you should be starting at the other end.