Friday, December 24, 2021

Subterranean Thoughts

So I recently took greater notice that many of my favorite gaming writers will post little snippets of what they've been working on to their blog. Even if it's incomplete, it's still a solid preview, can build hype, and is probably somewhat usable on its own. So why don't I try that?

My home campaign setting is called Underworld, and is all about that sweet, dank Underdark, baby. When I first started working on it, I spent a long time thinking about how to bring more out of the Underdark experience in D&D. How much depth would need to be added in order for that one trope to carry an entire campaign? And I like thinking in terms of rules and mechanics at least as much as lore, when it comes to worldbuilding and reinforcing themes.

The following materials were mostly written around 2016 and 2017 but I was heavily sidetracked by worldbuilding and "higher level" game design. Oh, and getting a bachelor's degree. But I consider all of this to be stuff that I one day will return to and do justice, because it's important (in fact, I made a couple edits as I copy/pasted it here). I anticipate eventually either putting this stuff into a Brave supplement that'll have rules, systems, and tables for Underworld stuff, or I might just compile and publish my setting outright and put this stuff there instead. Contained within the following thoughts are some implied setting assumptions that may not be true for the "default, vanilla" Underdark, but you'll still enjoy it. Plus, I included lots of great pictures you'll want to expand.

And yes, the release of Veins of the Earth did stifle me a bit. But while that book is indeed excellent, I also think you'll agree that much of what follows builds onto it quite nicely and covers things it doesn't address.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

A Thorough Look at Skill Challenges (Part 2: Analysis)

The moment I started seeing this meme everywhere, I knew it was inevitable that there would be a
D&D blogger who'd riff on it. So I decided to be that very blogger.
After my last face-meltingly long post compiling every variation on Skill Challenges (SC) out there, it's time to do a critical analysis of this concept. When I started this project, I was just imagining that I'd be making a simple pros and cons list. But after all that research, I have a lot of things to say.

So, this post will sorta have three main sections. Firstly, we can talk about Skill Challenges just, like, as a concept. Then, we can start reviewing each of the little variations on rules and deciding which ones are good and which ones are bad. Lastly, the results of this thinking, which ideally should be "the best version of how to do Skill Challenges for a D&D 5E game, at least in the style that Dwiz enjoys," but which is also the part where I note some things I feel like stealing for my OSR game Brave.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Thorough Look at Skill Challenges (Part 1: the Rules)

Who's ready for another stupidly long post? That's the spirit!

The "Skill Challenge" is an interesting type of generalist gameplay procedure that's not a core experience of many games, but which often comes recommended as a good level design trick for all sorts of reasons. Here's kind of a funny game you can play: try asking a question on any RPG thread or forum or Discord community about "how would you adjudicate so-and-so challenge?" and see how long it takes for someone to recommend using a Skill Challenge (SC).

But even though there are so many people eager to recommend them, I have more... complicated feelings about them. So maybe it's worth taking some time to explore their design in a more dispassionate, neutral fashion.

Another reason I thought this could be of some value to write out is that, to my surprise, we cannot all agree on what precisely a Skill Challenge even is! Yes, individual variations are actually very common, and some of the seemingly-minor changes people make have a huge impact on the end result.

I'm splitting this post into two parts. Here in Part 1, I'm comparing and contrasting different versions of the SC, with occasional observations about them beyond just stating the rules. Once we've covered every major iteration of the SC that I can find, as well as a few similar systems from other sources, in Part 2 I'm gunna do a deeper analysis of the pros and cons of this system and its greater role in game design. Expect that article in a couple days.

I hope you like mechanics, because these two posts are detailed. There are tons and tons of "introduction to Skill Challenges" articles and videos out there if you want something quick. But this here is for the game design nuts. Even with me already splitting it in two, you'll still probably want to split this first part up into a few separate reading sessions.