Japan and its tabletop games have long been an area of fascination of mine, and it’s also why I have an ever growing pile of games from Japan I’m as yet unable to read. Among the games in this collection is a game about an out of control dungeon, and the plucky adventurers called Landmakers that can bring some semblance of order to this wild world. This game is called Meikyuu Kingdom!
1) Who Made This?
Meikyuu Kingdom, also sometimes known as Make You Kingdom, is a game published by Adventure Planning Services of Japan. An official English translation was announced in 2013, however no new information has since been released, though rough drafts of a fan translation exist.
2) What’s The Premise And Setting?
Meikyuu Kingdom is, as its name implies, a Kingdom building game, set in a world called the Infinite Dungeon. The players take on the role of the members of the royal court. In addition to working to build the kingdom, each member of the court also has their own personal goal, such as claiming a certain territory as part of the kingdom, or slaying a certain number of monsters.
However, the dungeon is, in fact, infinite, and even familiar places can change abruptly through a process known as Dungeonification. Additionally, your kingdom isn’t the only one in the dungeon, and the others may not always get along with yours.
3) What Are The Mechanics Like?
The dice mechanics of Meikyuu Kingdom are relatively simple: you roll 2d6, add the relevant attribute, and compare it to a target number. This mostly pertains to combat and skills. Meanwhile, the game’s management system is more binary; you either have the items or stats you need, or you don’t.
The game is also divided into two distinct phases: the Kingdom Phase and the Dungeon Phase. The Kingdom Phase is where you make decisions pertaining to the kingdom’s development, as well as preparations to enter the dungeon. By contrast, the Dungeon Phase consists of the sort of classic dungeon crawling challenges fans of fantasy roleplaying games would be more familiar with.
There’s also a somewhat unique mechanic Meikyuu Kingdom introduces called the d66 roll. The d66 roll is used for randomizing options on charts, such as random names or encounters. You roll two d6s as if you were rolling d%, but the lower number is always in the 10s place, and the highest number is always the ones place. With this setup, a result of 6 and 1 would be 16, or a result of 3 and 2 would be 23.
4) What Is It Similar To?
The most apt comparison to Meikyuu Kingdom is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, particularly with how the scope of the game changed past level 9, where the focus of the game began including building and maintaining keeps. Additionally, both games have a simple core mechanic, but numerous sub systems with all manner of charts.
However, being a more modern game Meikyuu Kingdom is more refined; the core mechanic is consistent throughout, and the subsystems are related to each other in meaningful ways. Exempli gratia followers are the lifeblood of the kingdom, a staple in many skills, and there are numerous ways to gain them.
Despite these similarities, though, it’s worth mentioning that this is still a Japanese game, and thus much more structured than most games you can expect to find in the English speaking tabletop gaming community.
5) Is It Worth Getting Into?
Yes, but only if you’re interested in a silly, light hearted, kingdom making game. Being from Japan, this game is kind of rigid in terms of what it can be used to accomplish. Much of the listed skills all work towards one of two ends: either building up the kingdom, or crawling through the dungeon.
Another consideration is also that the fan translation doesn’t include any of the official artwork; so for many of the items, monsters, classes and jobs, you’ll be relying on names alone. (Which is a shame, because some of the monsters, such as Mayonaise King, are just plain absurd!)
To support the official release, you’ll need to import the books from Japan. This is great since they had released a new edition in October 2018, but not so great since importing is a risky and expensive prospect.
Aaron der Schaedel has no impulse control, and usually winds up buying any books in Japanese that have cute anime girls on the cover. His legitimate copies of the Meikyuu Kingdom books are no exception. You can try tempting him by showing him other such books via twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: http://randompunk.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-world-of-meikyuu-kingdom-13-daily.html
As a reviewer I get to read a lot of games and almost without fail fantasy games come with magic fitted as standard. When faced with 90 pages of spells for forty three different professions I am simply not going to read every spell. I dip into each one. I read a few of the simpler spells that starting characters have access to, a few mid-range spells to see how things develop, and then some of the most powerful magics to see what greatness a GM will get to throw at players at the climax of their campaigns.
That is... normally. Sometimes you find a system that, before you know it, has you reading every word and that little devil on your shoulder is whispering, “How can I house rule this into my own game?”
Magic is one of those fantasy gaming essentials that is extremely difficult to separate from the setting. When I see a game pitching itself as “setting neutral” I wonder how the creators are going to justify the existence of magic in their world. If a setting has no gods, exactly how does divine magic work?
Setting neutral magic can be done, however, and what I consider the best magic system of all time is indeed setting neutral. In fact, I have played this game on and off since the late 1980s and I only learned last year that there was an official setting for it.
So here are my top three. Each is very different and it made little sense to try and put them in any other order than my own personal preference.
1) HERO System by Hero Games
HERO System is now in its sixth edition. I first played it as Champions back in the 1980s and it was my first introduction to ‘point buy’ as a way of creating characters. HERO System doesn’t really have a magic system at all. What it does have is a system for creating any special or super power, and that includes magic.
The tools provided for creating powers fall broadly into two styles. The first is all about defining one explicit power, or in this case spell. Each would be unique and one would end up with a very long list of such spells. The second set of tools are for grouping powers. A variable power pool is bought using the point buy system and that pool can be reused repeatedly for different effects. The size of the pool balances the magic in play but the sorts of magic that can be created are limited only by the player’s imagination.
You see, it is not the point buy or variable nature that makes Hero System’s treatment of magic outstanding. It is HERO System’s treatment of special effects that make it outstanding. To quote the rules, “If you read through this book, you won’t find any specific rules for things like ‘fire blasts’ or ‘lightning bolts’ or ‘magic’. Fire, lightning, and magic are all special effects, and HERO System rules let you pick the special effects you want.”
What the rules do provide you with are basic power descriptions such as Invisibility, Teleport, and Energy Blasts. You can then apply limitations on those basic powers so a Flame Arrow may be an Energy Blast but you can tailor the effects to emulate its fiery nature. You can also apply advantages that enhance the basic power to further get that spell effect spot on.
It is the coming together of pools of power that can be shaped any way the player wishes, limited only by their imagination, the visual effects that are also limited only by the imagination, and a set of mechanics that support but don’t restrict that makes this a genuinely universal magic system.
2) 7th Sea by John Wick Presents
7th Sea does not go down the setting neutral route. It is the setting for 7th Sea, Théah, that helps make this a standout game for me. The magic system for 7th is perfectly interwoven with this setting and so, naturally enough, it fits it like a glove. The rules define six explicit types of sorcery. Each one is a complete entity in its own right: they do not share game mechanics, and they are most certainly not a shuffling off of spells into piles so sorcerers get these spells, summoners get those and so on.
With 7th Sea each type of magic is a complete magic system. Each could easily have been the core magical system for a different game. Each is related to a world culture within Théah and reflects that cultural flavour. It is analogous to how the magical culture around Haitian Voodoo is totally different to European Wicca and to Native American Spirituality, the latter of which does not see itself as magic at all.
It is this individual treatment of each cultural tradition that makes these magical rules so strong. Nothing has to be compromised to fit in with a guiding mechanic. If one form has a dozen effects and the next two dozen, it doesn’t matter. No one is trying to make everything entirely equal, balanced, or fair. Your magic is your own and you make of it what you will.
When I read these rules the first time I didn’t skip from spell to spell. These pages deserved to be read and actually once I read them rather than moving on to Dueling, the next chapter in the rules, I found myself reading the Sorcery chapter again simply for the pleasure of it.
3) Zweihänder by Grim & Perilous Studios
Zweihänder claims to be setting neutral but it has a certain style, and that style is grim and perilous. The core of the Zweihänder magic, or magick in Zweihänder parlance, system is professions and those professions have lists of spells. This may not sound like a groundbreaking system. It does mean that should you want to translate your existing game into the Zweihänder rules, or play a Zweihänder powered game, in your favourite setting then it will work. The professions will most likely exist and they cast the sorts of spells you expect them to.
That alone is not really enough for an accolade, but there is more. Zweihänder has a rather simple mechanic that works for every single action in the game. It is a d100 game at its core and if you roll an 01 or a double, 11, 22, 33 etc., then that is a critical roll. If it is critical and successful then you get some bonus or beneficial effect. If you get a critical failure, as you may guess, things do not go well for you. Remember I said that this applies to every action? It applies to spell casting as well.
Every single spell in Zweihänder has a list of effects for Critical Success, Success, Failure and Critical Failures. As these are built into the actual spell itself this is not one of those, “Oh you failed, we will roll on the spell failure table,” games. Zweihänder criticals, be they successes or failures, will happen in one in ten attempts to cast a spell. You will fail, and critically fail, at some point.
It may seem odd to praise a magic system for its handling of failure, but this has more to do with its recognition that this is a real part of the magical world, integrating that failure into the spells themselves, and then using that failure to move the story forward.This isn’t a situation wherein a player misses their turn if they roll poorly. In this magical world stuff happens and it is not always good.
These three systems are so very different, with the ultra-flexibility of HERO System, the tightly integrated sorcery of 7th Sea, and the built in fallibility of magic of Zweihänder. What makes these three stand out is that they all have incredibly high design standards. I don’t mean page layout and pretty pictures. I mean that they have coherent and tight design goals and they hit them spot on. I think that their efforts in striving for excellence that makes these three that extra bit special.
Peter Rudin-Burgess is a gamer, game designer, and blogger. When not writing his own games he creates supplements for other peoples to sell on DriveThruRPG. His current obsessions are Shadow of the Demon Lord, 7th Sea 2nd Edition, and Zweihander.
Permission for picture given to writer for use in this article.
I was gone for quite some time. Decades, in fact. Now, don’t get me wrong, I kept cursory interest in the comings and goings of 3rd Edition and 3.5 Edition. I don’t think that I truly REMEMBER the release or products for 4th Edition due to my nearly all-consuming involvement in playing, Storytelling and writing for White Wolf Game Studios’ World of Darkness setting. But somewhere along the way, life happened and role-playing, running and writing games about monsters and the darkest aspects of the human condition stopped being fun for me and became more and more tedious in and of itself.
For me, my answer to the doldrums of role-playing was to pretty much abandon it altogether for a hobby quite new to me, which was tactical table-based miniature combat games such as Warmachine and Warhammer 40K.
I was “gone” for quite some time.
When the local store where I played my games closed in the Spring of 2011, I moved “full-time” to MMORPGs such as Elder Scrolls, EVE, and of course, World of Warcraft, which I had played off and on since its release. However, in the back of my mind and nearly always, there was this itch; all these games and all these settings and all the imagery and imagination that birthed them – all of them – had come from a singular parent.
Dungeons & Dragons.
So, I started to look online at where Wizards of the Coast had taken the game that had taught me – literally TAUGHT ME – how to tell stories, how to craft adventure, how to play, run and write for a role-playing game. I saw that 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, a new, fat-faced four-year-old, was still pretty much in its toddlerhood… so I began to gobble up the books one at a time and search for a group to play with.
It didn’t take long.
Here’s what I learned from my origins in D&D to my abandonment to my rediscovery:
1) Always Imitated, Never Duplicated
There is a form and a function to Dungeons & Dragons that sets it apart from every other role-playing game, table top or MMO. The worlds created within Dungeons & Dragons have, since 1974, dwarfed and, in many ways, miniaturized Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Howard’s Hyperboria and Moorcock’s Melnibone. Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, the Underdark, Faerun, Spelljammer… the Basic Rules set for Dungeons & Dragons looks like a small island off the coast of Virginia with the rest of the individualized settings for the game spanning out away from it like the rest of the known world. It is the format against which other RPGs – nearly every “World Sized” RPG in publication since the release of Dungeons & Dragons – measure themselves. Some have met success.
Most have not even come close to being able to call themselves a mediocre knock-off of the original.
The scope of the world(s) of Dungeons & Dragons is, for all intents and purposes, a world without end. Always imitated but never duplicated, in so many ways, all RPG roads seem to lead back to the world(s) of Dungeons & Dragons.
2) High Adventure, High Fantasy
The 80’s were absolutely rife with high fantasy tropes; Conan: the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, The Dark Crystal, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Ladyhawke, Willow… the list goes on and on and on. In a lot of ways, these cinematic offerings were a response to the times and there was a huge demand for them. On the other hand, these movies gave rise to the visualization of a lot of our campaigns and ideas that swam within RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. We began to write our own stories, inspired by the works of Moorcock, Salvatore, Donaldson, Brooks, Jordan, McAffrey, and McKiernan. With these scribblings, we learned how to tell stories. More importantly, we learned how to bend stories to our will because we became so well read. We learned how to not fall into tropes that worked just because they worked. We learned how to keep our players on the edges of their seats. We learned how to make a bad dice roll into something wonderful. We learned how to inject emotion and empathy into a game founded on myth and mathematics. We learned these things from playing Dungeons & Dragons. We learned that even though we may have had boring or inauspicious lives, all we needed for high adventure on a cold winter’s day was a couple of friends, a set of dice, some paper, a pencil and a good freakin’ story to tell each other.
What’s BEAUTIFUL about 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is that much of what has been released and written regarding pre-generated campaign publications has come with emotion and empathy included at no extra charge. The writing has been top notch, there seems to be no expense spared on the artwork, and in a world where game stores can be hard to find and where bookstores close on the daily, sites like Amazon and D&D Beyond serve to provide to-the-door delivery for books, supplements, and gear you may want or need to create your own provinces within the aforementioned world without end.
3) No One Does It Better Than Wizards of the Coast
Let’s be honest here; book publishing and games are a part of entertainment. Entertainment is one of those things that you spend discretionary income on. I played Magic: The Gathering for about 15 minutes when it was first released in the 1990’s. The CCG scene simply wasn’t my bag, personally, but I always admired people who stuck with it and who became strategically good at mastering the ins and outs of it. But that’s the FIRST TIME I heard the name “Wizards of the Coast.” I remember wondering in the mid-90’s, when WotC bought TSR and the rights to Dungeons & Dragons, how long it would be until the company completely consumed the whole of the RPG industry. Then, in 1999, Hasbro played the wildcard and bought WotC for somewhere around the sum of $325 million.
Close to 2 decades later, we have Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. While Wizards of the Coast suspended previous products from being sold in .pdf format on sites like DriveThruRPG.com, in July of 2014 they released the Basic Rules box for 5th Edition.
In between 4th and 5th Editions of the game, a lot of the RPG community had gotten used to “community generated” content and “print-on-demand,” .pdf-formats for RPG books that allowed for less overhead and risk for game manufacturers and publishers on the one hand, but that opened the door for a stunning potential for piracy on the other.
5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons books are hardbacks with crisp, quality printed paper and bindings that seem to be able to go the distance. They harken back to the “good old days” of RPGs, when there were core books and hardback supplement books and things people called splat books and the biggest difference (one that I personally like, to be completely honest) is that now, instead of your “modules” being these sort of flimsy little paper things that come in a little folder that can get grease-stained when some mouth-breather uses it as a pizza coaster on game night, they’re called “Campaign Sourcebooks,” and they’re hardbound, too. Woe to he that places a slice of pizza on the DM’s book…
Dungeon Tiles have been released to keep you from having to draw maps, Spell, Monster and Magic Item card decks have been released so that players and GMs have a more portable way to manage what they need when they must travel to and from a game. In short, it’s a class act. Wizards of the Coast has learned through doing what they do EXACTLY what players and consumers want. They listen to their marketing team, their play testers, and their product development people. Are their books and products expensive? Perhaps. When you’re talking
about discretionary income, ALL HOBBIES are expensive.
But they’re not Games Workshop’s level of expensive.
And when you buy a product from Wizards of the Coast, you most certainly will get what you pay for.
4) What’s Old Is New Again
I could sit here and literally rattle off a list of horror RPGs that I have played, or written for, or read about, or reviewed. Dungeons & Dragons did it first. Call of Cthulhu? Dungeons & Dragons’ 1st Edition of Deities & Demigods had the Cthulhu Mythos statted out for use as PC/NPC deities for use in the game. If you look long and hard enough, and you’re willing to pay the price for a copy in semi-decent condition, you can still find this book and you can, with a little elbow grease and brains, adapt Lovecraft’s mythos into Dungeons & Dragons. ShadowRun was (and perhaps still is, although I’m not certain that it is still in publication) Dungeons & Dragons in a science-fiction, Blade Runner-meets-Cyberpunk setting. Eberron takes Dungeons & Dragons into a fantasy, sort of steampunk-esque flavoring that works to compete and, in many ways, surpass games that have attempted to do the same thing in the past like Exalted. Here’s the deal: there is not a single RPG that I am aware of that is worth playing as it was written and published that CANNOT be adapted into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a talented Dungeon Master at the helm.
Some may say that they systems of play are too complicated, and to an extent I agree, but 5th Edition has streamlined the rules into very smooth playing with as little mathematics as possible slowing down the pace of the game. Some say that straight up d10 or d20 RPGs are superior because they – by the very nature of the dice you use to play them – eliminate most of the complications inherent to Dungeons & Dragons. I disagree with this in that when one mechanic is removed due to complication, another complication will arise due to individualistic perception of a rule as written, to wit, the only RPG that will ever be completely free of rules and systems complications will be the RPG that has no rules or systems. That’s not a game. That’s just chaos and tomfoolery while sitting at a table, so you might as well be playing Go Fish… although, there are rules for that game, too.
I find that the streamlined, more accessible and easier to understand rules system of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons a breath of fresh air. I sincerely missed it. I missed the Saving Throws. I missed the Perception Checks. I missed all the nuances that were available to you if you decided that you wanted to play a Halfling archer, although now, I’m more solidly set into the saddle of my Svirfneblin Gloom Stalker w/ Bracers of Archery.
While there are still some components of the game that can take some time to get used to, once you latch onto them, you’re hooked in, and things start to run as smoothly as clockwork… just like every edition before 5th.
5) It Makes Me Feel Young Again
I sincerely cannot remember a time when sitting down to write an outline for an RPG that I wanted to run didn’t feel like work to me. I cannot remember a time when playing an RPG didn’t disappoint me. Either there were too many constrictions on my splat, or there weren’t enough options for what I wanted to do with professions or skills or there were no modifiers for a specialization that I wanted to take for my character… so many of them just fell flat for me. It started to feel like work, and then, for a time, it WAS work, so I just gave it up for something else.
Then, about a month ago, I bought Mordenkainen’s Guide to Foes, and it was like looking at a photograph of your high-school sweetheart in her prom dress.
There they were: the Gith, the Lords of the Nine Hells, the Red Wizards of Thay. Names I hadn’t heard in literally decades. And it wasn’t enough. I got a fix… but I needed more.
So, I started to look up things that I didn’t know anything about; the Warforged… the Tiefling… the Dragonborn…
And I consumed these tomes one after another after another. Volo’s Guide to Monsters is hilarious… I read that one to my wife chapter by chapter, section by section (I did, however, skip the architecture of the lairs and dens to keep from putting her to sleep). Xanathar’s Guide to Everything - written by the Eye Tyrant Crime Kingpin of Waterdeep – Was fascinating in regard to the new subclasses and magic items that weren’t in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. And then, around Christmas of 2018, I bought a DM’s Screen and I waited to hear whispers of someone needing a DM.
That fell into my lap recently, as the DM of the group that I’ve been playing with for about six months got a new job and dropped out of the game. I was asked “Hey, Shannon… do you think YOU could run a game for us?”
I hadn’t been asked that question in I don’t even know how long.
And I smiled.
And I said yes.
And now, as I bring this blog entry to a close, I begin preparations for the second night of running Curse of Strahd for my players.
For them, it will be a well-orchestrated and organized dive into the horrors of Barovia and the treasures of Ravenloft if they are able to withstand the onslaught of a vampire older than the Harpers Guild itself.
For me, well… I’ve never felt quite as young as I do when I get to say “Well, you can certainly roll to try.”
Shannon W. Hennessy is a professional nurse, a long-time role player, a freelancer and a contributor to the Storytellers Vault. In his spare time, he writes, parents four children, and hunts the occasional dragon.
He can be reached at email@example.com
We got a chance to ask Ray Machuga some questions about his in-progress Kickstarter for Lex Draconis, which is a supplement for Modern RPG. This is an awesome looking indy RPG that I really recommend you checking out.
1) Tell us about Modern RPG, what is different about it from other games?
Modern RPG is a unique spin on fantasy. It places the characters in a story-driven urban fantasy setting that takes place in modern Earth, but one in which magic and monsters have always existed. It gives a rich, deep story to typical fantasy tropes and takes a very gritty stance on the role playing experience overall. Modern RPG gives realistic stories to the fantasy tropes you know, and creates a deep tapestry within which to play.
2) Why dragons?
Why not? There is no other beast that is more iconic. No other monster that is as clever or powerful in a fantasy setting. Much like Vampire: The Masquerade did for vampires in the 90s, I'm attempting to do with dragons in Lex Draconis. I want to give the myths and legends of dragons an anchor within which to create a deeply driven setting. I want to give dragons life. Moreover, I want to give players the chance to play dragons in a realistic, storied way.
3) What sort of game is this?
I like to say that it's story-driven urban fantasy. It's a d20-style tabletop role playing game in which you play the traumatized ancestors of the dragons of myth that embody mortal bodies.
4) From a long-term chronicle perspective, what sort of stories do you see being told with this game?
The beauty of Lex Draconis is that you can play a wide array of stories using the setting and system. Stories can center around draconic conflict where you and your clutch (a group of young dragons) face off against other clutches or even buck in rebellion against the machinations of the Old Wyrms - dragons of great age and power. Stories can also center around deeper issues of personal conflict where the dragon must come to terms with her new nature as a dragon, and determine what, if anything, can be salvaged from her mortal life from before she became what she is now. Balancing a dragon's previous mortal life with her newfound primordial power can be heart-wrenching and delve into great personal stories. Dragons can dive headlong into their legendary natures as well. These stories can delve deeply into the history of Earth and the cosmology within the setting and allow the dragon to "come into her own" as a Primordial Power. And of course, there is always the quest for a bigger, better hoard.
Check it out on Kickstarter now!
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games and he organized the first HLG Con. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
When coming up with a setting it’s easy to hit a block. Have you used up your creative juices on the last huge campaign you ran? Gotten halfway through and just got stuck? When writing up a campaign I like to use real world events to help my players connect to the game. “Write what you know,” as they say. So I have compiled a small list of six events in history that can be used to throw a bit of life into your creativity.
1) World Wars
The world wars were horrific, bloody and long lasting. If you have a huge campaign setting throw in one of your own wars, either one already started or one about to begin. Achtung Cthulhu! uses the backdrop of World War II to set its tone and offers an alternative timeline for supernatural and magical events throughout the war. Using this setting can be great for increasing tension or throwing your PCs into a huge battle to make them feel insignificant right before having to take on a great horror from the depth of space.
2) The Crusades
The crusades are similar in scale of the wars mentioned above but were very single sided in cause. A vast army of believers marched to cleanse the non believers from the lands. This concept could be used in many of your campaigns in various scales, whether a single cult or an army poised to attack a neighbouring land. This setting could be used very similarly to the world war setting with a more religious or belief driven story hook. Adding a magic system to this setting could be interesting, using it as the driving force of aggressor attempting to cleanse the land of magic or perhaps wishing to destroy ‘tainted’ magic similar to some wizards in the Harry Potter novels.
Long ago the greatest kingdoms sought to expand their empires by taking lesser kingdoms and utilising their resources. Colonisation was not met with warm welcomes; each smaller kingdom fought and most failed to deter the claims to their lands. The few perks of this were overshadowed by the treatment of the indigenous population and the attitude of the oppressors. Using this as a setting could set up guerrilla factions trying to stop their homes being taken by force, or even have the players on the side of the aggressor, enticing the players with land for conquering a region or simply wealth from the exploitation of the resources from with the area seized. Either way you could persuade the players with an item of great significance or usefulness to the party and let them decide how best to acquire it.
4) Cold War
The cold war was a tense time between nations and sparked a large espionage campaign by multiple countries. Tested alliances and covert treachery was rife throughout this period and makes a perfect setting for covert missions into enemy territory and delivering misinformation to sway events in your favour. This is the best conflict to read up on if you are interested in spy versus spy settings and can be readily applied to many cyberpunk style games.
5) Navajo Conflicts
The Navajo Conflicts were a series of battles ranging from skirmishes to raids between the Navajo people and various enemies including the Spanish and the American military. Using this as a setting could inspire very low tech guerrilla style combat where the party must infiltrate an enemy base steal supplies and escape unnoticed before beginning a full scale assault on the enemy positions.
These have been rife throughout history, anywhere there is power to be exploited there will be those who wish to do so. From Hitler to Castro there will always be people who feel superior to others. There will always be people who think that their ideals are more important than the public, those who believe that they are the only salvation for their country and will defend their power with everything they have. The perfect time for a band of misfits to come blow stuff up. Enter your PCs and a storyline that takes them on an opposing view from the dictator and let the chaos ensue.
History can teach us many lessons in real life and in our roleplaying games. If you do use a setting from history read up on it and find out the motivations behind the conflicts and how it affected the people around it. Try to find a way to allow your PCs to feel like they are part of a true struggle in their game world so they want to help the cause and no just farm the loot. There are many many more settings you can look into throughout history and chances are if you have read it in a supplement it probably has real world ties that you can look into and adjust for your own use.
Ross Reid is an RPG enthusiast who loves all things roleplay, from creating a local group to sponsored gaming marathons, he will dip his toe into anything that catches his eye.
Image source https://www.deviantart.com/zguernsey/art/Men-Of-Honor-111150790
I pay attention to what newbies ask in regards to running games, or what they hope to achieve. The common thread I find is about how to make or plan a more epic campaign. I always advise against making long term plans in games, because players very quickly derail things. For that reason, I always suggest learning how to improvise (a topic we’ve talked about quite a bit at High Level Games).
It’s still never the advice people want, though; they’re hell bent on planning a big elaborate campaign. In their defence, they may not have felt the crushing defeat that comes with a game falling to pieces before it gets to the good stuff you’ve planned. Or if they have, they remain optimistic about their long running campaign. (Good on you if you have that optimism.)
With that in mind, I have another unconventional piece of advice: plagiarize. I realize that’s a loaded term, and also often confused with copyright, but hear me out. When we’re in art or music class, we learn the basics before we go off developing our own style. To do that, we often copy what our teacher’s do, and what they do is copy masters who came well before them. This was even done by Hunter S. Thompson, an outstanding journalist and writer from the 1960’s and 70’s.
What I’m suggesting is this: if you’re new, borrow the plot lines from somewhere else, and adapt them to your new medium. Video games seem like a good place to start, since they’re a medium built around interactive story with challenge built into them. So with all that said, let’s look at some video game plots you can adapt into your roleplaying games!
1) Collect The Items To Defeat The Evil
As Seen In: The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy 1
There’s a great evil out there, and in order for the hero to defeat it, they must first collect a bunch of random items. In the original Final Fantasy, it was the four elemental crystals the Warriors of Light were looking for. Meanwhile, in Legend of Zelda, there’s usually some series of trials or items Link needs to collect before he can get the Master Sword and teach Ganon a lesson about screwing around with Hyrule.
Almost every Legend of Zelda game is just one giant series of fetch quests, yet the formula never gets old. This is because there’s always a feeling of progression as the player is exploring and completing dungeons. To replicate this same sort of feeling around a game table, be generous with the magical items if you aren’t normally. If they’re looking for elemental crystals like in Final Fantasy, go ahead and include things like a short sword +1 that’s made of never-melting ice in the dungeon with the ice elemental crystal.
2) Defeat The Minions To Reach The Evil
As Seen In: Megaman, the last world in Final Fantasy 5
Much like our first point, there’s a great evil out there, but to reach it, the players first have to defeat all of their equally evil minions first! In Megaman, this was the 8 Robot Masters you combat before tackling Dr. Wily’s Castle, or in the very end of Final Fantasy 5 when you’re wandering through the void looking for the Exdeath, you encounter all manner of other evil beings loyal to him that were hitherto unmentioned. This can be used in conjunction with the first point, as it was in Final Fantasy 5, or on it’s own like in Megaman. In either case, progression remains important.
For an interesting twist, you can make the minions optional, as a few entries in the Megaman X series have done. However, to execute this well, you mustn’t scale down the big evil, the minions should serve to prepare the heroes in some way. If you insist on taking on the final boss fair, though, you can always make a tactical retreat an option. (As Final Fantasy 5 does when the heroes enter the void; they can freely leave at any time.)
3) Chasing After The Evil To Defeat Them
As Seen In: Super Mario Brothers, the first disc of Final Fantasy 7
Evil isn’t always stationary. They’re either always on the move, like Sephiroth in the beginning of Final Fantasy 7, or they’ve got multiple fortresses throughout the land and are constantly running from one to the next when the heroes catch up, such as in many of the later Super Mario games.
This one is ideal for GMs who like to make maps and track how worlds change based on PC and NPC actions, and also provides some interesting twists! If the evil has a lot of fortresses and gained too much ground in the chase, the heroes could decide to instead draw the evil to them by razing the fortresses. Additionally, locals who were liberated by the heroes during the chase could help slow down evil should they wind up needing to backtrack during their flight.
4) Rebuilding After The Evil Has Done Their Worst
As Seen In: Dark Cloud, recurring theme in Final Fantasy 14’s Realm Reborn arc
Sometimes, evil wins and everything is destroyed, as is the case of the PS2 game Dark Cloud. The journey is all about reversing the damage as you strive to find a way to prevent another such catastrophe. In the Final Fantasy 14 Realm Reborn arc, evil was stopped, but at a great cost, and the story continues with a new generation of heroes picking up the pieces.
If a big cataclysmic battle happens, that may lead to collateral damage. If mighty spells are flung by both sides, what sort of impact would that have on the cosmology? How might it have scarred the landscape? The villages razed by an evil overlord don’t necessarily come back just because the one who razed them was defeated. If the cause of the evil is gone, there’s still the task of figuring out what damage was done, and how to fix it.
You’ve no doubt noticed a theme with all these, or at least that they’re all very similar or even overlap in some cases. That’s because there’s only so many original ideas, so much so that scholars have found how every story can be intertwined into one another, and even given this phenomenon a name: The Hero’s Journey.
Furthermore, just as every story archetype is inevitably intertwined, so is the history of video games and tabletop games; they’re both games that eventually came to be adapted as storytelling media. Players give their input, it gets parsed, the state of the game is updated, and story is progressed. The only difference is that video games use machines that can do the parsing.
However, what works for a video game, won’t necessarily work for tabletop. It’s expected that in a video game that things will be locked off; certain doors will only open if you have a key. In a tabletop game, however, expectations are different. If I have a super human strength and can smash wood and stone columns easily, why can’t I bash down a door made of similar materials?
And THAT, my fledgling GM friends, is why improvisation is also important: so you can keep your epic campaign moving along without a hitch!
Aaron der Schaedel once wrote for a now defunct website called Game Master’s Game Table, and one of his favorite articles for that site was one telling the intertwined history of video games and tabletop ones. This was his attempt at a spiritual successor to that article. Something something, absurd plug for his Twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: https://na.finalfantasyxiv.com/
5th edition Dungeons and Dragons was created to be high magic. Healing is readily available, spellcasters are relatively powerful from their first level, and magic items are often powerful and common. As a reaction to this, a lot of Dungeon Masters try “low magic campaigns” where spellcasters are rare and not allowed as PCs, magic items are nearly impossible to find, and magic itself is either a distant memory or never existed. If this sounds appealing to you, consider the following questions before deciding if you want a low magic campaign.
1) Do The Players Want It?
Sure, it’s your game, but the players need to have fun too. This is especially true if you’re playing with a group of friends and not some random people who signed up to play your game because it sounded fun. Do your players want a low-magic campaign? Depending on “how low you go” they would be limited to either completely martial classes, or third-casters (ranger, paladin, eldritch knight, arcane trickster), and would have access to very few magical items. Make sure they know what they’re getting into and be clear about what kind of game each person wants to play before imposing a low magic campaign upon them.
2) Does It Fit The Narrative?
Is there a narrative reason why magic would be rare in your world? Maybe the gods are absent or dead. Or perhaps some natural disaster has disconnected the “weave” from the material plane. You could even say that magic has been feared, and as such, it’s been destroyed and bred out of all but the most remote reaches of the world. No matter what you decide, come up with a legitimate reason for limiting or removing magic in your world. If you say, “I just don’t like magic as a Dungeon Master,” you’ll lose a bit of credibility with your players.
3) Will It Handicap Your Players?
Will removing magic severely limit the access your players have to vital healing, damage, and roleplay? While healing is frequently done through other means (like hit dice), a majority of it occurs through healing magic. If you’re looking for a deadly, gritty campaign, removing or weakening healing magic is definitely a good way to accomplish that, but it’s likely you’ll have to redo a few class mechanics as well as augment things like the healer’s kit and medicine checks. A large part of narrative and roleplaying also revolves around magic. If your players want that level of difficulty, that’s great, but make sure you are all aware of this when you discuss a low magic campaign. They will die, and probably quite often.
4) Will You Play By The Rules?
Don’t be one of those DMs who take magic away from the players and then uses magic against them. If you’re doing low or no magic you take away a significant amount of creatures you can throw at your players. No liches, arguably no dragons, no magical beasts, no animated objects, no lycanthropy. If you’re being fair you can’t even have anything with innate magic or psionics (illithids). Even undead like skeletons or zombies are out unless you can figure some non-magical way they are being resurrected. Sure, you can make up a reason you have magical creatures in a non-magical world, including the fallback “I’m the GM,” but none of your players will actually want that. Before you consider a low magic campaign, consider just how many creatures you’re willing to go without.
5) How Will You Make Up For It?
How are you going to make up for the vacuum that magic won’t fill? Will you have technology to make guns or other damage-dealing items? Will you allow for scientific alchemy to provide healing and utility mechanics? The replacement should be both mechanical and narrative, but as a DM you shouldn’t eliminate magic without replacing it with something. If you want to, I’d suggest playing a system other than 5e.
Wanting a low magic setting is understandable and can even be fun if it’s done in the right way. It is most important to talk with your players about it; discuss all the above questions with your players, and if you all agree, you could have an excellent campaign!
Ryan Langr is a DM, player, and content creator of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. His passions include epic plot twists, creating exceptionally scary creatures, and finding ways to bring his player’s characters to the brink of death. He also plays Pathfinder/3.5. In his real life, he is a stay at home dad, husband, and blogger of many other interests.
Picture Reference: https://inthelabyrinth.org/the-fantasy-trip/magic-low-fantasy-settings/
Listen, I love D&D. Medieval fantasy is my main jam and no matter what other games I play, there is a spot in my heart that will always be kept for that game and that genre. But for the good of D&D, I want you to stop playing D&D.
Now, let me explain: I’ve been playing D&D since I was 12, using a battered Red Box with no polyhedral dice and less understanding of the rules. I started DMing right away, and have remained in that position for the majority of the time that I have been in this hobby. I played out of the Basic Rules Cyclopedia, I played out of Gygax’s AD&D books, I played out of the 2nd Edition books, and eventually was dragged kicking and screaming into 3.0 and 3.5, where I spent the next decade. I didn’t get to play (but read) the 4E books, and have been off and on playing 5E since the day that it came out. I have played Pathfinder and 13th Age and I like a lot of what they bring to the table, but let’s face it, they are still D&D. I would guess that something like 90% of the hours I have actually spent playing tabletop RPGs have been in D&D.
But I am not playing it right now. And I am doing that, partially, so I can get better at D&D.
A little over a year ago, I challenged my home group to take a one year break from D&D. It was mainly because I had continued to become more and more aware of all of these other games; a buddy of mine ran a FATE Core game for about a year, which we made into an actual play you can find here. I backed the second edition of APOCALYPSE WORLD because I had been hearing about it and devoured it. It read like a profane graduate thesis in rethinking how you run any game!
So at this stage I started to devour and take a chance to play any game I hadn’t played before, from Mouse Guard to Call of Cthulhu to Night’s Black Agents. I learned a tonne of stuff and eventually ended up running a Star Trek Adventures game on Roll20, a Numenera game with my regular group, and playing an amazing Savage Rifts group. This all led me to write this challenge.
You need to stop playing D&D. Play and read all the other games you can. Come back to D&D after a bit. It’ll change your life.
That being said, I know most of you won’t take that advice, so being the good sport that I am, I have a few things that I have learned based on the games that I have been reading and playing.
1) FATE Core - Zones
I have started to use zones when I am running more tactical games that typically can either require or heavily suggest a grid map. Now, I am no opponent to grid maps, but there is no replacing theatre of the mind for ensuring that you are really envisioning the most badass things your character can do. So, in FATE as opposed to things like D&D you don’t use grids or hexes, you have zones. With zones, you break up an encounter into sections of the space in which people are acting.
Let’s use a bar fight for example, you would take out some Post-It notes or index cards and on one, you would write, “Common Room,” on the next, “Behind the Bar,” and on the next, “The Back.” We decide where our players are given those cards and then we can even place markers representing them on those cards. Each zone card represents an area of the bar that PCs can be in, or move into our out of.
Now, players can do pretty much anything, make their attacks, move around, etc., within a single zone. The amount of feet moved doesn’t need to be tracked, but passing outside of a zone means you used your full movement to get there, assuming it is feasible to move between the zones. If the door to the “Back Room” is locked, you may have to be more creative to move from the “Common Room” to the “Back Room.” This helps decide if folks get hit by an area of effect, decides what enemies are where and seeing which PCs, but beyond that it takes all of the grid-tracking usually required.
Of course, if the fight takes them into zones that you haven’t put down at the beginning, simply add them. They head out the back door? Now give a quick description of it and add a card that says “The Alley.” Goes the other way? “The Street.” See?
I find this stuff a little less effective in large scale or longer distance battles, but it is really effective at managing indoors, and small, dirty, battles with lots of terrain types or changes.
2) Numenera - Less DM Dice Rolling
In Numenera, the Game Master doesn’t touch dice. If a player wants to say, make an attack, they roll against the rank of the thing they are attacking, and if that thing wants to attack them back, the player rolls to defend. It is a simple and elegant system, and no one at the table is unsure if the GM is taking it easy or going hard on the group. Everything is all out in the open. Now, I am personally (but your fun isn’t wrong, it’s just me) against fudging rolls from behind a DM Screen. If I know or suspect that my DM is doing that, I automatically have about 25% less fun according to my calculations. The main reason? I want to know that the spectacular thing I accomplish was accomplished by me, not because the DM took pity.
So now, when I DM for D&D, I try to make most if of my rolls out in the open, for everyone to see. It adds tension to the table, people are staring at the dice as it tumbles across the table, wondering if the big bad is going to smash down their character, and I think it is the ultimate in fairness.
3) Apocalypse World - Threat Clock
I haven’t personally used this one yet, but I am aching for an opportunity to try it. In Apocalypse World the basic use of the clock is to provide a visual of rising threats in the fiction of the world that you are playing in. There are several things that can raise the threat level and if it hits say, “midnight” then something happens. Something like this is used in the D&D 5E adventure Out of the Abyss wherein *SPOILERS* a crew of drow hunters are pursuing your party, and if you do certain things, like leave a trail, wait too long in one place, or if the dice gods hate you, they can get closer and just spring on you wherever in the story you are, regardless of whether you are ready for them. I think that is a very effective tactic in making situations in your world somewhat unpredictable and tense.
In D&D I would adapt the Threat Clock to be specific to whatever you are facing. Let’s say for example the threat that is designated in your world is that the cultists are trying to raise a forgotten dark god to destroy the world. Every time that your players do something that hinders that, move the hand on the clock back, and every time they do something that either takes too much time or fails to hinder, or even helps them, the clock moves forward. If it hits midnight, something terrible happens. At lower levels it could be that the cultists find out that the players are after them and start to dispatch assassins. Mid-level, maybe they can summon a couple of demons to hunt the players or even that they suddenly change their plans to befuddle the players’ plans. High Level? Announce that if the clock hits midnight one to three (depending on how often it is happening for your group) times, the dark god will be raised. Each time it does, something bad happens, until the end of all things is upon the world.
4) 13th Age - One Unique Thing
OK, this may be cheating a bit, as I stand by my assertion that 13th Age is still technically D&D. That being said, it’s fantastic designers (Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, the lead designers of D&D 3rd and 4th Editions) have done a few things that are elegantly simple and add a bunch to gameplay. The one that I keep coming back to us your One Unique Thing. The One Unique Thing is something about your character that is completely different from everyone else. It provides no mechanical benefit but should be something that helps to define your character and at its best, provides a springboard for stories involving that aspect of your character.
For example, if your One Unique Thing is that you are “The last in a long line of warriors sworn to protect a dying religion” that sparks a lot of questions that can be answered in gameplay. Why are you the last? Why is the religion dying? What is the religion? And so on. At best, these things are not fully defined previous to gameplay but are discovered organically during gameplay.
5) Night’s Black Agents - GUMSHOE Style Investigations
In Night’s Black Agents you play disavowed spies uncovering a supernatural conspiracy, it is a game about investigations. And you know what is super not fun about most D&D investigations? Binary pass/fail rolls. Let’s face it, rolling a d20 an then adding a bonus or two, especially at low levels, mean that skills are very swingy, giving a relatively high percentage that “expert” characters routinely fail to notice things or find clues, or see something out of the corner of their eye, etc. They either do or they don’t. The GUMSHOE rules system was designed to address that problem, by just making any clue that was imperative to move the plot along, automatic. And the more I thought about it the more that I realized that that is exactly how it should be. How fun is it to have your plot grind to a halt because of one bad roll? Zero! It is zero fun.
In GUMSHOE, the primary clue is automatic, but you can spend skill points to get additional detail or additional clues that help. This can be easily adapted into D&D by allowing the roll, but no matter what that roll is, they get the main clue, the rest is to see extra detail or additional clues that may provide more context or speed up the investigation. And yes, that means that if you are playing that a Nat 1 is a critical fumble of some type on skill rolls, they need to be able to both fumble and get the clue.
OK, so you probably don’t have to stop playing D&D to learn these things.
I am just going to suggest that you read and play as many other games as possible, even just to try them and learn from them, because let me tell you, the designers of D&D do, they always have, and it make them better. And a version of 6th Edition’s best and most innovative mechanic is already out there being used somewhere, and it’s awesome.
Quinn C. Moerike is the CEO and Managing Partner of High Level Games, and is continuously working on a million projects. Right now, he is working with a team here at High Level Games to develop a new setting featuring anthropomorphic heroes for Savage Worlds called Archons of Nikud. He is also the resident grognard here and deeply appreciates his childhood tactical play of moving ten feet and then checking for traps.
Picture Reference: https://www.amazon.com/Numenera-Corebook-Monte-Cook/dp/1939979005
There has been a lot of complaining about the Pathfinder playtest, and believe me, I’ve done my share of it. And though I summed up what I felt was wrong with the game as a game back in October with My Final Thoughts on The Pathfinder 2nd Edition Playtest, I’d like to talk about something tangential that I feel hasn’t been covered as much in the debate of whether or not the playtest is or is not a good game.
Because I’ll admit that it’s functional, even if I feel it’s held together with duct tape and string in a couple of places. However, what it is not is Pathfinder as we know it.
That isn’t just grognard-speak for, “This new version of the game isn’t the one I learned, so therefore it’s ruined!” either. Because Pathfinder wasn’t just another fantasy RPG in a market where you can hit one of those by chucking a rock. It was a game with a very distinct identity, as well as a unique heritage that allowed it to fill a particular niche. It had a brand, and the people who played it (or who asked about it) understood what made it different from the competition.
This new version we’ve seen and played, though, doesn’t carry through any of that uniqueness, and it feels like it’s trying to ride the brand name without offering any of the things that players associate with the brand. For example…
1) Copying What’s Popular (Instead of Being The Unique Stand-Out)
When Pathfinder first claimed its market share, it did so by lifting the falling light of the DND 3.5 engine. There were other games using it, sure, but Paizo took that engine and made it bigger, faster, louder, and stronger. They carved out their own niche, and when the 4th Edition of DND under-performed, Pathfinder existed as a viable alternative that was mechanically different from 4th Edition in a lot of meaningful ways.
This new playtest, though, feels like it’s trying to play catch-up rather than stand-out.
While it’s true that it isn’t exactly the same as Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, you can see whose homework Paizo was copying with this playtest. And while 5th Edition is a stand-out in the marketplace, it’s on the other end of the kind of play that Pathfinder tends to be associated with. So it feels like Paizo is just trying to be more like the latest success story, which isn’t working because that game already exists, and this attempt to hybridize it is just not going to appeal to players who like Classic Pathfinder or players who like 5th Edition.
2) Limiting Mechanical Freedom
One of the biggest selling points Pathfinder has, in my view, is the sheer amount of mechanical freedom it offers. If you have a character concept, there is probably some way you can make it happen using the rules and options as they exist. And you aren’t just re-skinning an existing mechanic so that it looks different; you have the specific mechanics you need to manifest your idea.
My best example for this is playing someone descended from storm giants. In 5th Edition, for example, there is nothing that stops you from making this claim. You can use it to justify a maxed-out strength score, and describe your character as blocky and gray-skinned. If you’re playing Pathfinder, though, you can take a feat that states explicitly that you are a storm giant for all effects related to race. And if you take a second feat, you are now immune to any effects of electricity damage. It’s more than story justification; according to the physics of the world, you have storm giant heritage.
There are dozens of examples in Pathfinder Classic of this kind of mechanical freedom. You want to play a character that’s half-orc and half-elf? Cool, take this racial option and this feat. You now have a half-elf with a bite attack and tattoos, or a half-orc that can do tricks with a bow usually reserved only for elves. You want to play a Jekyll and Hyde character who literally transforms into someone else? There’s a prestige class for that. You want to be a celestial being raised on another plane who is coming to the material world as a foreigner? There’s options for that, too!
The playtest, though, is all about rigidity of path and tamping down on your mechanical freedom as a player. Multiclassing is discouraged to the point that it feels token, all classes are forced to make choices that narrowly define their abilities and progression, and the new feat system has all the complexity of the old one without any of the mix-and-match ability you had to make exactly the character you want to play.
One of Pathfinder’s greatest strengths as an RPG was the flexibility of its mechanics, and how you could blend them to form exactly the concept you wanted without having to bend any of the rules as they were presented. In this playtest you’re stuck with archetypes whose abilities are rigidly defined, and which gives you almost no options to meaningfully deviate from the path that’s been laid before you.
3) Pointless Complication
Pathfinder was always the crunchier fantasy game on the market. If you like a game that had rules for what penalties you deal with when you’re drunk, to exactly what saves you need to make to avoid drug addiction, then Pathfinder was your jam. However, even if you found some of the rules cumbersome or unnecessary, you could at least envision situations where they would be useful.
The playtest kept all the complexity, but distanced it from scenarios where it helped rather than hindered.
The best example of this is the bulk system. In Pathfinder Classic (and most games with encumbrance rules) you simply look at your Strength score, and that tells you your light, medium, and heavy loads, as well as your maximum amount of ability to lift, push, etc. The playtest uses a bulk system, which means you have to look up an individual item, determine what its bulk value is, and then run your attribute through a formula to figure out how much bulk you can carry.
You might argue that they were just trying to do something different, but any playtester would have told you immediately it was a bad idea. It overcomplicates a simple mechanic that most players would like to ignore in the first place, so why would you do that?
You see it all over the place in the playtest. If you want to make a combat maneuver like a disarm check or a grapple (things that, previously, any character could just try to do), now you need to make a specific skill check. Not only that, but if you’re not trained in that skill, then you may not even be able to attempt the thing you’re trying to do. It’s the same line of thought that staggers out your racial abilities over a dozen levels, because it makes complete sense for a half-orc to get darkvision only once they’ve killed enough monsters to activate the eyes they were born with.
Pathfinder players aren’t scared of a complicated game. But they’re used to the complications at least making sense, and too much of this game seems to have been complicated for no other reason than to make it crunchier even if those changes added nothing to the experience but irritation.
For more gaming thoughts from Neal Litherland, check out his Gamers archive, his blog Improved Initiative. To read his fiction, drop by his Amazon Author Page!
Picture Reference: https://paizo.com/pathfinderplaytest
While scanning your monster manual for fresh nasties to batter and maim your closest friends, you may be tempted to flip past the Stirge. As a tiny beast with four measly hitpoints you might fail to see its value as an adversary to even the lowest level adventurers. Stop. I’m about to teach you five steps to turn a buzzing gnat into pure terror and all-out panic.
For the uninitiated, the Stirge is a horrid flying thing that looks like a mixup between a bat and a mosquito. Its wingspan is roughly two feet across, and a six-inch long proboscis hangs limp from its face. To feed, the creature flexes powerful jowl muscles, transforming its sagging sucker into a ridged spike that it plunges deep into the flesh of its prey, drawing great volumes of blood as sustenance. They’re weak, they’re crunchy, they’re barely a snack, but when run right the stirge is absolute nightmare fuel.
1) Scourges Of Stirges
A stirge is like a locust or a rat. A pest by itself, but like all pests, you’ll almost never find it by itself. Stirges travel in scourges. No seriously, that’s the collective noun for a group of the horrid things. If you encounter one or two of these bloodsuckers a good crack with the business end of a heavy stick will probably do the job, but a scourge of stirges is something very different.
This is where you abandon the standard course for encounter design. Most encounters are fought to the bitter end. Not this one. Stirges travel in swarms so big that no adventuring party could exhaust their numbers. Maybe no army. Like locusts they descend on entire towns, leaving utter devastation in their wake. Where locusts obliterate crop fields, stirges suck the literal life out of every warm-blooded creature they can get their creepy pincers on; livestock and people alike.
Step one is to think of stirges as an event rather than an encounter. It’s not something you come across, it’s something horrifying that happens to you, to the town you’re in, to the community of people you’ve sworn to protect. A stirge encounter should be run like a hurricane.
2) Foreshadow The Event To Build Suspense
In The Birds, Hitchcock didn’t drop flocks of feral seagulls out of the sky without warning. He lets the tension build throughout the film by gathering more and more of them on wires and jungle gyms.
Set up the encounter long in advance by making your players think about the stirges before they’re a threat. Have a few perched on fence posts or circling above like vultures, then have their numbers gradually grow. Have townspeople who have experienced scourges of stirges in the past start becoming unnerved and then unglued as more of the little beasties arrive, as sheep and cattle start turning up dead with big hideous sucker holes in their sides. Give some of those people big old scars from proboscis wounds in their own necks and chests. Make this place well aware of what’s coming.
Watch the drive-in scene from the movie Twister. These people live where tornadoes are a persistent threat. Most days are normal days, but the threat of an unstoppable cataclysmic force dropping out of the sky is always looming. When the winds pick up, it takes about a minute for absolute panic to set in. That’s the way to run a stirge event. The people of this community know the danger they’re in better than the party does, but they’re about to learn.
3) A Scourge Is Not A Stirge
A stirge will grab onto you, plunge its proboscis deep into your flesh and suck the blood out of your body. That’s the threat. Absolutely horrifying obviously, but I want to impress upon you that the threat of a scourge of stirges is much more than just a lot of that.
Don’t get me wrong, it is going to be a lot of that. One after another of these repulsive bloodsuckers are going to latch on and pierce you with their fleshy spike-ended mouth-straws, and if you rip one off, two more are going to take its place. I just don’t want you to think that that’s the extent of your problems. What happens when a few hundred of them land on the roof of the rickety old barn you’re hiding in? It collapses on your head. If you’ve never been smashed in your face place by a big swinging joist take my word for it, you’re going to lose half a skull and a good bit of brain. With that many wild things thrashing around, mounted torches and candle sticks are going to get jostled. Things are going to catch on fire. People are going to go crazy. Your party will be dealing with absolute pandemonium, and anything you can dream up that goes along with that.
4) Keep Them Outside, Keep Them Moving, Make Shelter Scarce
If you’ve ever had to deal with a hornets nest you know that the terror mostly disappears when you scamper flailing back into your house and the door clacks shut behind. Don’t give your party that. Give them reasons to go outside. Give them long distances to run with only a few sparse overhangs, tree branches, or wood-sheds to crowd into for moments of respite before they’re overcome again. If they find a really good shelter give them a moment to build up that false sense of security before burning it to the ground. Give them children and infirm elders to protect in wide open spaces. Watch The Birds, The Mist, Twister, The Swarm, or any other movie where people are trying to survive a catastrophic event by hiding in doors. You’ll find that there’s always a reason to go outside.
5) Lay Waste And Move On
I think this final point is the one that really matters for inspiring a feeling of earnest dread. When the event is finally over, it’s not because the party saved the day. It’s not because of some daring do or some heroic sacrifice. It ends the way most catastrophic events end: without rhyme or reason. The sky clears, the daylight returns, the scourge moves on. It leaves of its own volition and you realize that you’re powerless against it.
Then you’re left with the aftermath. A town has been raised, people have died, the communities entire store of livestock has been decimated, and now they must recover. A stirge event reminds us that while our characters may be heroes of great power, the world they inhabit contains dangers well beyond even them.
With these five steps you can turn a 4hp ⅛ CR monster into an event that your players are sure to never forget. From that moment on, anytime a stirge turns up or flies by you’ll send waves of terror rippling across the table, and they’ll never look at a mosquito the same. Good luck!
Ryan Cartner and Dustin Hoogsteen are indie tabletop game designers at epiclutesolo.com. They are creating one game every month in 2019. You can download the first of these twelve planned releases for free at www.epiclutesolo.com/blog/games
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/432204895463483101/
Welcome back to our new feature, Storytellers Vault review, in which we take a look at various books our creators group is reviewing. We will be hosting various reviews of non-group works in the future as well.
1) Progenitors Crash Cart, Volume 2 by Shannon W. Hennessy - Matthew 7/10
The Progenitors Crash Cart took an interesting approach when organizing and presenting this book. All of the book spirals out from a single spindling point. This point is the fully fleshed out character Dr. Evan Grillard. The first chapter of the book covers the Doctor's history, current situation and a full character sheet. The following chapter after that covers in much greater details about organizations and the forces surrounding the Doctor and the city around him. The final go into merits, gear and rotes that would be used by progenitors. But all finding ways to connect back to this central npc. It was a fresh approach and the book makes it easy to base a story or even a campaign off the information presented just using this book.
From werewolf biker gang to an entrenched Verbena covenant. Even a mention of a nearby Black Spiral Hive. But to learn more pick up the book for yourself and give it a read. I should start this part with I'm not a good judge of art by any means. But, as much as I like this book I need to say, the art felt off. I like the art and the text, they seemed to having a jarring effect put together in this book. However, this is just my opinion. This supplement is useful in the hands of a Storyteller. It has great detail and plenty of ideas to pull from. Resonance granted for by this review is Bad Medicine.
2) Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 2 - Josh 8/10
First up: full disclosure. Shannon and I have done work together and I admire him as a person and a creator. That said, I really enjoyed Crash Cart Vol 2 for the reasons my fellow reviewers have mentioned. By starting with a character, and moving into deeper elements of the world being built this book actually flips the normal style of approach to the World of Darkness, and it works. It works in a way that sort of makes me step out and wonder how to present books I do in the future.
Satyros Brucato does a wonderful job when he is at the helm of Mage, but it is always interesting to see another writer’s take on a topic, particularly when they are also doing the design and layout guidance. It’s like approaching the same spell from different paradigms, and it works. I’m very happy to have purchased a copy of this book and I would heartily recommend it to those that are interested in Mage and the Technocracy in particular.
3) Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 2 - Emma 9/10
Despite its name, I found this book to be very much usable on its own!
Mostly for Storytellers, of which I am, I think this is one of the few Mage books that managed to be a great starting point for a couple of scenarios, be it directly for mage, or for other lines such as vampire which I'm far more familiar with.
I do not want to spoil its contents details, my apologies. Centered around one character's particular work and goals, the players can very much be their students or colleagues, as there are hints of other similar structures elsewhere (a subsidiary in another State? yas!), or investigate the events and rumors surrounding their existence, or plain antagonists to any other game. The author tackles tastefully one very specific American issue: healthcare and the opiod crisis, and the choice of Tampa, Florida isn't a coincidence, imho. I would have appreciated slightly more digging in that, but storytellers are free to do it on their own, so the choice is appreciated.
The powers described in this supplement are very fitting to the theme of the characters involved and would very much be useful to any Mage ST, and the relationship to the rest of the WoD cast is fueled enough to run on its own.
I believe this is a great product that can be easily tweaked to your personal chronicle or setting, and perhaps slightly toned down for those who play with more realism, or for players who aren't playing extremely experienced mages, or kept as it for a more epic over the top feel in terms of power level.
The unique aspect of this book relies on how it is presented with the character first, then the branches out. I found that very immersive and interesting.
The art placement and choices are quite fitting, including the hand drawn pieces that would have needed just a little digital clean up, but it's just nitpicking. I would have enjoyed a clickable table of contents but it is not much of a hinder in a 22p book.
4) Progenitors Crash Cart, Issue 2 - Sebastian
This book, primarily about a single character and his activity in the region, is a fun read. The author presented a web of usable personalities and motives which could be easily adaptable to our games. The presentation, layout, and uses of the game rules were all used very well. I might place more importance than others on layout. Perhaps it is superficial of me, but I like to feel like I am reading a Mage (or whatever other game when referring to other documents) supplement. This didn't disappoint.
The specific thing I liked about this short book was that all of the information was relevant to the characters and events. Yes, "flavor text" is great, but is a distraction when it isn't relevant. Same goes for entries like new powers, new items (Artifacts, etc), and other extensions of rules mechanics. This book made use of everything the author put into it.
The only thing I didn't care for really only comes down to how we all play the game differently and enjoy different aspects of it. The characters involved seemed a little too powerful or heavy-handed. They could work as masterminds for a larger chronicle based upon the actions of the Doctor and his associates, but the book just scratched the surface for potential stories like that. Similarly, if scaled down, I could see them as being very fun elements for characters to directly interact with. I really love crossovers, but in this case I would likely adapt this book to just slightly reduce the amount of "heavy hitters" from each of the supernaturals present.
Overall: fun ideas, absolutely could see using it in my games, but would reduce the power levels of provided characters
This book can be found here, on the Vault.
D&D Beyond has been around for a while now. It promised a new way to access the game system and new tools to help with our games. I've spent a lot of time using D&D Beyond as a DM and player, so I think it's time for me to give it a proper review. Here are six things I like and a bit about what I don’t.
1) Quick Rules Reference
This has got to be the number one benefit to using D&D Beyond; I use this more than anything. As long as I'm spelling my search right it works well. D&D Beyond helps a bit with misspellings, suggesting as you type via dropdown, and after the search across the top in a “did you mean” fashion after the search as well. Searching for a spell or monster in the middle of combat is fast and will even show a preview of the top result so I can start reading right away. In addition to searching, having multiple tabs open to different characters, monsters, or spells is a wonderful substitution for phone pictures, typing in notes, or especially copying everything by hand. Linking is also possible if you want to have an encounter ready in OneNote, or your own digital note taking tool. If you dig into the code a bit (or use a chrome extension) you can even link to specific headers on the page! I have even set up a DM screen in OneNote with links to the appropriate rules.
2) Popup Information
Something as simple as a small window popping up while hovering over a link is so elegant it makes popups a top feature for me; one I want in everything now. Hovering over a hyperlinked spell, actions, conditions, items and other mechanical bits will give you a quick popup (providing your resolution is above a certain threshold) detailing that bit. It's super useful for conditions and spells. You can even add these into your own homebrew creations.
3) Traveling Light
I am an over-prepared DM. I like to have a lot of things ready at my table if I need them. Sometimes I pack a rolling bag full of minis to bring to a game. With D&D Beyond, I can leave all the books at home. With eight rules references and twelve adventures as of this writing, this lot can get big. I also have all the monsters, items, and characters bits from all the adventures integrated into the main lists, saving me having three books open at once for one monster casting spells. A tablet paired with my All Rolled Up makes it so I can have all my 5e gaming needs (and any others system in pdf) in a small, easily portable package.
4) Custom Homebrew And Tools
The D&D Beyond team has been working hard at delivering editors to create our own (at the time of this writing) backgrounds, feats, magic items, monsters, races, spells and subclasses. They've even made adding homebrew an easy task, not some technical chore, so you can let your creative juices flow. Using D&D Beyond with chrome opens up a whole other avenue of customization with plugins that let you easily link sections, as well as organize and build your own encounters, initiative lists, and even add links on maps to their respective room descriptions! The team has really supported the community in the building of the site.
5) Sharing Books
While still limited to three campaigns D&D Beyond lets you share your whole library with anyone in those campaigns. You can post notes (and DM secrets) to the campaign, whitelist homebrew content (your as well as others), and, as a DM view character sheets. This is great during preparation if you are looking to notify everyone of something, such as the next game time, and creating encounters balanced to the party.
6) Printing And Reading
I've encountered a couple of tricks while using D&D Beyond. Viewing on a mobile device, or with a browser at a smaller width, and using a scrolling screenshot, I can screenshot an item and print it out on a three by five card to hand out to my players. Reading on mobile or tablet is nice, especially with the app that is in beta, but I do most of my reading on a kindle. With the save to kindle extension installed in chrome I can view the books a chapter at a time and send them formatted for reading to my kindle.
All in all, I find D&D Beyond to be a boon to DMs but not as useful to players. The site is being worked on and updated constantly, however. More and more non-retail book content is being added, like Lost Laboratory of Kwalish and the Tortle Package, and two Extra Life donation rewards. Someday maybe even non Wizards of the Coast products will be on there. There is no reason for me not to embrace this fully, as while I love the feel of a book, I prefer to stay digital because of space and manufacturing resources. The only downside to digital that I've encountered is not being able to flip through the book to find a specific page by sight.
Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains a blog, both of which can be found at www.slackernerds.com.
Picture provided by the author
A casual roleplaying game is one that has very few rules and mechanics. Most rulings are adjudicated on the fly, and for this reason they require a fair GM to run. The majority of roleplayers have a negative bias towards casual roleplaying games without having ever played any. Hopefully, with this article, I will be able to convince you to at least try them out!
1) Take A Break & Relax
Sometimes you can get tired of a really long campaign or a certain theme or setting. Maybe you’ve had a difficult week, and all you want to do is blast aliens with a space cannon instead of solving the delicate intricacies of a complicated plot full of intrigue and mystery. But you also don’t want to spend hours creating new characters or learning an entire new system.
Well in these cases, casual games are the way to go. They almost always have very short manuals, sometimes even being a single page long. They are also usually universal, meaning they have no setting or theme attached. Because of this, casual games are great for taking a short break.
2) Be Creative Again
Most crunchy roleplaying games don’t allow complete freedom, as you are limited by the mechanics of the game in one way or another. Your character ideas have to fit the predefined rules of the game or otherwise it can end up being unbalanced or ‘broken’. Casual games use the same rules for everything. This means that a time-traveling samurai with cybernetic implants is just as powerful as a wild barbarian with a two handed axe. It may seem weird at first, but it allows you to be creative with your character designs. It doesn’t matter what your character is, because it's going to be as strong as everyone else. So what really matters is how your character does things. Because the rules are also light, it means you can attempt almost anything and the rules will cover those actions very easily. This allows players to be as creative as they want without thinking too much about rules, and without putting any strain whatsoever on the GM.
3) Involve New Players
It’s also an ideal moment to invite new players to your table. Most detailed systems have very large manuals and a complicated rule set that must be learnt before a player can effectively join a game without slowing it down to a grind. Casual games usually take about 5 or 10 minutes to explain every single rule in the game. New players are also a great addition for casual games, because since they have never been bound by the rules of any system, they tend to be much more creative with their actions. After one or two sessions, these players might be willing to put a bit more effort and join your regular table.
4) Letting The GM Play
Contrary to popular opinion, most GMs like being players. A casual game is an excellent opportunity to switch who is running the game and let your GM take a break. I can assure you they will be grateful. Some casual games also have mechanics for in-game GM rotation, where everyone takes a turn at running the game. Others can even be run without a GM. It is also a great learning opportunity. Running a game will teach you many things that you can use when you are a player again. It is also good to learn what it's like being the one behind the screen.
5) Practice Your Improvising
Being a GM, one of the most difficult and useful abilities is improvisation. Without improvisation, every campaign you run will feel forced and players will lack any type of freedom. Most GMs don’t like improvising for fear it will ruin their campaign. Thats why, once again, casual games are a great time to train and hone those skills. If you’re feeling lucky, you could even improvise the entire oneshot, just following the players leads and seeing where that goes. I only recommend that as an exercise and not a style of running games. It can go either way, resulting in excellent stories or terribly dull ones.
Some of the universal casual games I recommend are GURPS-Lite, Risus, Tango RPG, and Freeform Universal. If you want to play a short casual game that is tied to a specific setting you can try Lasers & Feelings, Honey Heist, The Witch is Dead, and Cthulhu Dark.
There are many others out there, I hope you try some of them out!
Rodrigo Peralta is a roleplayer and a DM that likes to playtest many different rpgs. He enjoys both highly detailed complex systems and barebone casual games. He participates in local roleplaying events as both DM and player.
Picture provided by the writer
My earliest RPG experiences were with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, 4e, and Pathfinder. These are (each in their own right) wonderful games, full of arcane character options and high-powered tactical abilities that make it fun to build characters and fight monsters. However, while I have nothing against them personally, these are games I would have little to no interest in ever playing again and certainly never GMing again. This is in part because playing only those games gave me a narrow perception of what tabletop RPGs can be. Even D&D 5th edition, while more streamlined, is still far from my ideal game. I don’t mean to incite anyone to anger, again I have nothing against it personally, but for anyone with any interest in this artistic medium, it’s important to recognize that there are other kinds of games with other kinds of assumptions. With that knowledge, one can best leverage the strengths of a given system, or find the system best suited to a given game or to their preferred style, or bring aspects from one system to another. With that in mind, here are four games that changed how I think about tabletop RPGs.
1) Tenra Bansho Zero
This is a Japanese tabletop roleplaying game, one of the few that has been translated into English, and one of the first non-d20 games I ever read, although unfortunately I still have not played it. I would like to play it one day, but even if I never do, even just reading it opened up my mind to new ways to think about tabletop RPG mechanics. The setting is a science-fantasy alternate universe based heavily on Japanese culture, history, and mythology. It explores subjects such as the introduction of Buddhism into Japanese culture and its relationship with Shintoism, the conflict between the indigenous peoples of Japan and the ethnic Japanese, and the psychological impact of transhumanism through body horror. The biggest hook of the system, to me, was the karma mechanic. During character creation, you may accrue karma points to give your character stat boosts or special abilities, and karma can also be spent in-game to succeed when you would otherwise fail or do things that would normally be impossible, a sort of cinematic “anime-mode.” However, if you accrue enough karma, you become an asura, a demon, and your character is taken away from you to become an antagonistic NPC. Characters have a series of personal goals, and accruing these goals allows you to accrue points which can be converted to karma, but also resolving these goals allows you to relieve karma. While the mechanics in games like D&D 5e tend to focus on combat, the idea of using game mechanics to reflect a narrative or philosophical construct radically changed how I thought about what tabletop RPGs can be.
2) Narrative / Story Games (E.g. Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, FATE)
Narrative or story games are generally defined as systems that are simple, flexible, and intended to facilitate a particular kind of narrative. There are some contentions around the usage and definitions of these terms, but for the purpose of this article I think this is a useful way of thinking of these games. FATE uses a simple and customizable skill pyramid as the skeleton of all of its mechanics. Characters can effectively do anything it would make sense for them to be able to do from a narrative perspective by rolling a relevant skill. They may spending FATE points on aspects, short descriptors that interact with the environment or narrative, to give themselves benefits to their rolls. Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and other Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games are constructed for a very specific setting or genre. Actions are engaged with moves, meant to facilitate character interaction or interaction with the narrative. These actions are resolved with given degrees of success and failure on the roll that always keep the game moving forward. Both can be easily modified and are designed to be modified, but I like FATE Core for one-shots since it’s so simple and has a cinematic, fail-forward approach to gaming. I’m still wrapping my head around PbtA games, sometimes I feel like the mechanics in those games just get in the way of me doing what I would be doing anyway, but for someone with no experience with this style of play, these games can serve as good instructions for how to tell compelling narratives in a tabletop RPG.
3) Cypher System (Particularly Numenera)
Cypher system, initially created for the game Numenera, was designed by Monte Cook, one of the lead designers of D&D 3rd edition. He is a somewhat controversial figure in tabletop, but regardless of what you think of him as a person or businessperson, he is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in tabletop. Cypher is hands-down my favorite system, and while it seems to have carved a niche for itself, I think it’s a shame that it’s not more popular. Monte has stated that he designed the system as a way to correct for some of what he perceives as mistakes he made with D&D 3rd edition, and it feels as a result like a blend of the aforementioned narrativist games and traditional D&D, with some unique mechanics I have not seen anywhere else. It is super easy to run as a GM, with most obstacles or enemies being reducible to a single number. It also finds a strong balance between a wide variety of relatively deep character options that make character building fun, but does not pigeon-hole you into specific builds or become so deep or complex as to stifle storytelling. Many people seem to struggle with its three stat-pool system, which acts effectively as HP and ability points which can be spent to lower the difficulty of tasks as resolved by a d20 roll, but I think if you can wrap your head around it, it’s one of the most distinct and flexible mechanics of any RPG (although that may require a post unto itself).
The Numenera setting is also excellent. The book is packed full of beautiful art, the system is embedded within the game so the Cypher core book is not required, and the setting itself is flexible and open to interpretation. It’s a post-post-apocalyptic, far-future science fantasy setting, one where ancient and advanced technologies indistinguishable from magic are utilized by a medieval world that has sprung up in this glorious refuse. Besides being a perfectly weird setting in itself, it also explains how to build a weird world and tell stories within such a setting in a way that really changed how I thought about worldbuilding. Despite having read so many science fantasy novels, I don’t think I really understood what makes weird worlds work until reading Numenera.
4) OSR (e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells)
OSR, or old school renaissance (some people prefer to say revival), refers to retro-clones of old school (pre-3rd edition) D&D or games derived from those systems. OSR is defined by a complex and highly debated set of properties and sensibilities, but is usually associated with player skill over character skill, intentional lack of game balance, high challenge, low heroics, high mortality, randomization, and GM “rulings” over rules. While once narrow in scope, this term has more recently been associated with games that share these sensibilities but are not strictly tied to old school D&D. Popular examples of OSR games include the weird 17th century-esque Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the slightly more mechanically deep Dungeon Crawl Classics, and more recent games like Into the Odd, Maze Rats, and Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells, which are novel systems in their own right. Honestly, OSR is not my preferred style of play, but it is certainly an interesting way to think about tabletop gaming. It is distinct from the crunchier, more tactical games like D&D 3.X, Pathfinder, and D&D 5e, and also from the narrative games. It is worthwhile to understand the history of the medium, and also to explore this new branch of an old style of game, and if nothing else, it has attracted a scene of writers and artists doing really weird, avant garde, novel worldbuilding and game designing. Quite frankly I think it’s the most interesting work in tabletop gaming at the moment.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of every game you should play (or read), but these are a handful of games or game-types that have informed how I think about tabletop RPGs. I know I spend a lot of time in my articles talking about worldbuilding, and I consider myself a worldbuilder first and foremost, but game mechanics can inform a setting. Two games set in Forgotten Realms or some other traditional fantasy setting can feel completely different depending on whether you’re playing the heroic, tactical D&D 5e, or playing the deadly OSR games which encourage roguish behavior. A karma system like Tenra Bansho Zero allows you to explore philosophical conceits within the game itself. Narrative games allow you to tell a collaborative genre story without the game mechanics getting in the way of the story. Systems like Cypher may give you the best of all worlds, and a setting book like Numenera may make you a better worldbuilder and GM. No need to trash your D&D 5e or Pathfinder books, but if you’ve ever thought, “I wonder what else I can do?”, give some of these games a look!
Max Cantor is a graduate student and data analyst, whose love of all things science fiction, fantasy, and weird has inspired him to build worlds. He writes a blog called Weird & Wonderful Worlds and hopes people will use or be inspired by his ideas!
Picture Reference: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2016/07/07/16/46/roll-the-dice-1502706_1280.jpg
In a world of vampires, werewolves, mages, and even stranger creatures, it can be hard to stand out. For White Wolf’s line of creature horror RPGs, it can be harder still to keep the formula fresh. The new World of Darkness series (later renamed Chronicles of Darkness) was built with uniformity in mind. Each creature type had 5 subtypes and 5 social groups that defined them. Therefore, even though some mechanics and flavor would change between, say, Vampire and Werewolf, much of the experience felt tired and formulaic. Enter Mummy: the Curse, one of the last of the creature RPGs to be released before the Chronicles shake up. Though it shares the same basic structure as the others in its line, Mummy wildly alters the game’s feel. Here I’ll discuss why it’s worth a look, even if that look is a brief one.
1) Inversion Of Power
In most RPGs, characters raise their power levels through experience and fight to accomplish greater and greater tasks. In D&D, this means leveling up and going from protecting the town to saving the world. In World/Chronicles of Darkness, this means watching your creature gain dots in a powerful supernatural trait (Blood Potency for Vampires, Primal Urge for Werewolves). This gives them access to stronger supernatural abilities and allows them to eventually increase their attributes beyond normal mortal limitations. The creators of Mummy needed a different style, else their undead beasties would basically just be Vampire reskins. When the Mummy wakes, they begin play with the highest level of supernatural power available to them (called Sekhem). They still gain experience and can acquire new power or raise their skills, but their sheer capacity for supernatural influence begins at near divine levels. Over time, the Mummy loses its raw might, eventually returning to slumber once more until called again, This makes for a mighty opening to a campaign; players can take their Mummies to an ancient enemy’s stronghold within the first few sessions and accomplish the incredible with little planning. There must, then, be a balance to this power. This comes with Memory, the antithesis to the Mummy’s almighty Sekhem.
2) Limitations Of Memory
In another major change, Mummies begin play with only 3 dots of their “morality” trait, less than half that of their creature counterparts. Memory not only serves as the morality rating of the Mummy, dictating what actions they can accomplish without compromising their human values, but also how much they recall about their previous awakenings and their origins. At 3 dots, they care little about inflicting harm on mortals, and can recall only vagaries about their previous existence. They know their name and their purpose, but little else. As the Sekhem wanes over time, Memory can increase. This replaces supernatural might with the personal history of the Mummy, uncovering the identities of past lovers, friends, and joys. The descent into madness and inhumanity that often accompanies World/Chronicle of Darkness games is here reversed, allowing for bursts of strength followed by a softening of one’s heart and one’s muscle. Will the Mummy break from their curse of unlife and find apotheosis amidst a world they scarcely recognize? Or will they ignore their relationships and connections in favor of accomplishing their duty, that they may again sleep? Suffice it to say this change has implications far beyond the mechanical.
3) Redesign Of Format
It is possible to play Mummy: the Curse in the same fashion as other World/Chronicles games. Each player takes the role of a Mummy and works, mostly in concert, to secure vessels of power and combat supernatural foes. However, Mummy lends itself quite well to a distinct design. In our game, for instance, only one player controls a single Mummy. A second player is playing his timeless companion, a Sadikh. And all the other players are cultists, normal humans with little to no supernatural power. Because the Mummy is so powerful, it can be cumbersome to have a group of 4-6 of them running around, wrecking a city within hours of game start. With this new format, the Mummy must choose when to apply their power and when to use more subtle means. Cultists can make deals, get the Mummy on planes, and exploit important resources. This becomes even more meaningful when we take into account the fact that the Mummy cannot interact with most of humanity within the first few days of their reawakening. The cult acts as that important medium. And while they are fanatically loyal to the Mummy, they are still independent actors; their will is their own. It’s unwise to disobey the great master, but not impossible.
If you play a lot of White Wolf or Onyx Path like I do, then you tend to know what to expect when you open one of their books. Mummy pleasantly surprises, and while the lack of a major power progression keeps it from being an effective years-long campaign, it certainly makes for a satisfying and interesting short one.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of
leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about
gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact.
Picture Reference: http://theonyxpath.com/category/worlds/chroniclesofdarkness/mummythecurse/
As an advocate of solo D&D, one of the most frequent questions I hear is “how do I get started?”
Such a question, when posed in a setting such as a D&D Facebook group, can elicit a wide range of responses.
“You can’t play D&D solo. It’s a social game…”
“I think there were some solo modules that came out with first edition...”
“You mean video games, right?”
...which can all be a bit discouraging for someone eager to get into a bit of solo play.
Despite what you may have heard, solo play has been part of D&D since the very beginning. The first edition Player’s Handbook was released with a solo adventure included to teach the basic rules. This was my introduction to the game, and being my first experience of D&D, is probably why I spend a big chunk of my time creating solo resources for players. Also, TSR created many solo modules for use with the first and second editions of the game, in particular the XSOLO series. Some of you may even be familiar with gamebook such as Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf, and if you grew up in the 80s (especially in the UK or New Zealand or Australia) and were into D&D, chances are you were into those gamebooks as well. In the US, “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were a big hit, but I never got into these as they never called for dice rolls or combat scenarios.
This is not to detract from the social aspect of the game in any way. In fact, as you will see, it adds to and supports the social aspect. This is for those times in between games, or when you can’t find a group to play with.
There are a number of reasons why someone might want to play solo D&D, but probably the main one is that they can’t find a game. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of five things that will get you started playing D&D solo. And by solo, I mean without a Dungeon Master.
1) Get A Flipmat And Minis
To really make your solo play tangible, tabletop is the best way to go. And the best way to do that is to get yourself a flipmat and some minis. Paizo put out a product called “Pathfinder Flip Mat: Basic Terrain Multi Pack” which is a set of two, double-sided flipmats that portray wilderness, dungeon, ocean and urban backgrounds for you to draw on with dry erase markers.
Add miniatures to this, and you’re all set. Of course, Wizards of the Coast has a huge range of minis for every class, which you can find online or at your local game store. My method is to buy the mini, then create the character that fits with it.
You can start tabletop adventuring even cheaper than this. Go and buy a bunch of one inch washers from your local hardware store, then get some sticky paper and a one inch holepunch. Find a cool image for your PC, then print it onto sticky paper, punch it out with the holepunch (or adhere it to the washer and cut around the edge with scissors) and voila! Flat, circular tokens for your gameboard. You can do the same with monsters also.
If you are really strapped for cash, you could use coins or even dice to represent PCs and monsters. And you can find all sorts of great maps on Dungeon Master’s Guild (there’s a lot of free maps packs) and sites like dundjinni.com. With a little creativity, you can have a cost-effective tabletop setup in no time.
2) Question / Answer Mechanic
All right, you’re all set up and ready to get started with your solo tabletop campaign. What now?
You are going to need some tools to effectively replace the Dungeon Master. And the most important of these is a question/answer mechanic.
Simply put, this is a way of getting answers to questions using dice rolls as you journey through the adventure. Solo adventuring is pointless unless we can create the adventure as we move through it, so that the twists and turns are revealed as we encounter them. The most well-known version of the question/answer mechanic is the Mythic GM Emulator, which uses D100 rolls to answer yes/no questions framed by the player. There are likelihood modifiers (adjusted according to the current situation) and also a Chaos Factor which goes up or down according to events within your game. Also, every time you roll a double (11, 22, 33, 44) you get a random event, the nature of which can be determined by rolling on another table (or by any table you might choose to introduce). Mythic GM Emulator is available on Drivethrurpg here).
In my product, The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox (available on Dungeon Master’s Guild here), I created my own version of the question / answer mechanic which uses d20 rolls to get yes/no answers, with a likelihood modifier. This is basically a stripped-down version of the Mythic Mechanic.
Let me give you an example of a question / answer mechanic in action.
Lorna and Dumon, a druid and a ranger, enter the town of Wadale after several days on the road. Casting her eye about, Lorna looks for an inn.
At this point, the solo player poses the question: Is Lorna able to find an inn? (All questions need to be framed so they can be answered with either “yes” or “no”).
The town is a reasonable size, so it’s likely that there is an inn here. Using my own Q/A mechanic, the player can use the modifier +2 (Likely), and then make a d20 roll. The results could be as follows:
In this case, the result is an 11, but when we add the “Likely” modifier of +2, it pushes the result up to 13, which is a “Yes”. (If “maybe” is the result, then perhaps an investigation check is required). From this, we know that Lorna is able to find an inn. Now we can move to another table which tells us the nature of the inn, the name of the inn, what NPCs are there, and other details. Combining those elements with question / answer rolls, we can move through the adventure with ease.
3) Story Elements And Setting
It goes without saying that you will need a world for your adventurers to travel in. There is something to be said for using an established setting. All the worldbuilding has already been done for you, so when you reach Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms (for example) all you need to do is grab your copy of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (or type “Neverwinter” into Google) and you will instantly see what sort of things your PC might be dealing with.
But then, there is homebrew as well. The beauty of soloing with homebrew is that you get to flesh out your world as you travel through it!
By “Story Elements” I am referring to a way of answering specific questions, or providing detailed answers that the question / answer mechanic is incapable of furnishing. In the Mythic system, there are the Event Meaning Tables, which provide 100 subjects and 100 actions. Using two d100 rolls, we can create infinite combinations such as Travel / A Burden, Malice/Magic, Inspect/Messages, Disrupt/Leadership and many, many others.
In The Solo Adventurer’s toolbox, I have a chapter called Story Element Interaction Tables which provides a list of basic situations according to terrain, accompanied by a list of 499 verbs which the player can roll on until a situation presents itself.
4) Tables. Lots Of Tables
In order to generate a wide variety of encounters, situations, locations, NPCs and all the other things that make up a campaign for your character, you will need a large selection of tables and random generators to help you generate these things. Let me introduce you to a few excellent tools that will help you create all the variables you need for your campaign.
DONJON RPG TOOLS: If you are not already familiar with this site, you need to get to know this one. This site is a go-to for DMs and contains generative tools for creating NPCs, taverns, merchants, monster encounters, loot, towns, dungeons… everything you need for a full campaign. Pair these resources with a question / answer mechanic, and you are underway. Check out the Donjon page here.
With a goal of creating a one-stop shop for soloing, I created a similar spread of tables for The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox. But I also encourage players to use any tools that come to hand.
D100 TABLES: Here is another crazy resource that I found on Reddit one day. This is a community created selection of tables that covers just about everything you could think of, and more. Even if you’re not a solo player, this is well worth a look. Check out this insane collection of tables here.
And last, but by no means least, there is the concept of journaling, which is arguably the most crucial component of solo adventuring.
Simply put, journaling is the act of taking notes as you adventure, documenting your characters’ actions, discoveries, motivations, NPC interactions and everything else that occurs within the course of your campaign. There is no need to get overly detailed with your journaling. For example, you don’t want to be interrupting every stage of your quest to note: “Draxar moves down the corridor, then comes to a junction. He continues west, then comes to a door. It is locked. Taking out his thieves’ tools... “ etc. You don’t require that level of narration. Instead, you can let your PC complete stages of the quest, then summarise those stages in your journal.
What journaling does is make your adventuring concrete, and also provides you with a record of clues, quest notes, important NPCs and other things. It also goes a long way towards replicating DM narration. By entering the notes of the quest as you venture through it, you are effectively becoming a sort of pseudo-narrator yourself, telling the stories of your characters as they venture through your world. If you are venturing in your homebrew world, then these notes can form part of your worldbuilding.
And there is an added bonus to all this: once you are finished with your quest, you can convert the adventure concept for a full party. So your solo adventuring accomplishes two aims at once!
So, to summarise, solo D&D is definitely achievable, but we need to assemble a few tools to streamline the experience and make it easy and enjoyable. The five points listed above will be enough to get you started down the path of solo adventuring, and should provide you with a framework to create some meaningful and immersive quests.
With a view to facilitating freeform solo adventuring, I created a product entitled The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox. It contains all the things listed above (apart from flipmat and minis) and much more, comprising a complete system for freeform solo adventuring within any world. However, following the points listed above should be enough to get you started.
Also, come and find us on Facebook: we have a group dedicated to solo adventuring named Dungeons & Dragons Solo Adventures. It’s a great community where you will find many tips and resources all related to solo adventuring.
Paul Bimler is a writer of solo adventures for D&D and releases under the small label 5e Solo Gamebooks. He also teaches music production and lives in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. So far Paul has five gamebooks and a number of other products released on Dungeon Master's Guild. He also runs a Facebook page named D&D Solo Adventures.
Picture Reference: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/235268/DD-Solo-Adventure-Tables-Of-Doom--5E-Solo-Adventuring
Welcome to High Level Game’s newest feature. Storyteller’s Vault Reviews. The Storyteller’s Vault is a community content creation site developed in conjunction between White Wolf and DriveThruRPG/One Book Store. Several blog contributors are Vault creators, and are happy to help promote this community of creators. Some of these reviews may also be present on the Vault itself.
These articles will collect reviews from a club of creators on the Vault. Our major focus will be on reviewing works from creators in the club to start, and then we may expand out to other products on the vault. Our first book will be Guide to Dying, by Secrets of the Masquerade. This is a supplement for Wraith: The Oblivion, which was just released for creators on the Vault. Each reviewer has their section, rating, and then content of their review below.
So often when a Storyteller is spooling up a Wraith: the Oblivion game, they become preoccupied with the setting of the chronicle – because Wraith can have so many – and the antagonistic factions at work within the chronicle – because, again, Wraith can have so many – that simple yet critical details get lost in the shuffle of things that happen in between character generation and the first night of sitting at the table to begin the story. Arguably, one of the most important things that seem to get left at the truck stop isn’t so much “How did your character die?” but rather the investment of time, thought and, in fact, emotion, that should be attached to the answering of that question.
One of the things that makes Wraith: the Oblivion so emotional, and to be certain, one of the things that has endeared the game to those who love it the way that they do, is the emotional investment required of both the Storyteller and the characters who run and play the game, respectively. Within the overarching setting of the World of Darkness, there is no other game that demands of you to think about the most horrible thing that could possibly happen to you – a death so untimely and, in many or most cases, unfair – that it will literally define your character and everything that your character does throughout the duration of a chronicle’s lifespan. The Psyche, the Shadow, the Corpus, Memoriam, Fetters, Passions, Thorns… all these things are born from how your character met her end. People who die peacefully in their sleep do not generally leave ghosts behind. They simply “Transcend” into the next phase of existence and bypass the dark horror of the Underworld, the Shadowlands, the Dark Kingdoms of the Dead and the Labyrinth.
Shadows of the Masquerade’s Guide to Dying supplement is a kick-starter in its best-possible incarnation. Not for a story, but for characters entering a story. Not for setting a scene, but for the players on the stage, and for the director who will guide them through the gossamer of the Underworld. The supplement asks the question "How did you get here, anyway?" of the reader, and shifts the player out of a "comfort bubble" and into an area of thinking about things that most people do not want to think about on a regular basis.
Or even on rare occasions, for that matter.
While presented as a “Guide,” it is more of a toolbox of thought exercises than anything else. When I see the word “Guide” in a title, I think of mechanics and step-by-step instruction on how to do this or why you would want to do that. This is not necessarily the case with the Guide to Dying. In the most liberal sense, some of the explanations of causes of death could be viewed as a sort of mechanic… but even that is a bit of a stretch. What the Guide to Dying does do – and does well – is takes the time to clarify no only how a character’s death is reflected directly in the ghost that death creates across the Shroud, but why.
First off, the supplement is absolutely beautiful in the same way that all Wraith: the Oblivion products are. The solemn melancholy of the artwork lends to the mood of the subject matter, and the reader is stricken with a sense of wanting to curl up under a quilt to read it on a deep-gray Winter’s day.
A nice funerary bouquet of Internal and External causes of death are presented and explained – For example, “Malicious Intent,” “Freak Accident,” or “Death by Illness” – and then, in turn (which I found exceptionally cool, to be completely honest) there are three example characters proved who died in any number or, if you’d like, combinations of these causes.
Now that would be enough for a beginner coming to Wraith: the Oblivion for the first time. But Shadows of the Masquerade takes it a step further; for each cause of death that has befallen the given character, given their background and given a couple of the clarifications on their general disposition as conceptualizations, the overall effect that each cause has on their Fetters, Passions and Shadow is afforded and explained. This is an awesome tool for people who have a hard time with the concept that playing a ghost is actually about playing two distinctly different characters that are, while arch-enemies, also the most fundamentally closest of allies and, in fact, the same being. It’s a tricky concept for people new to the game and the systems, and the Guide to Dying handles this exceptionally well.
I had one, single heartache with the example characters as provided and written; each one of them, based on a given cause of death, is assigned to a Guild. Now, while this is somewhat helpful to an extent, I think what would have been even more useful would have been assignment within a Legion given the nature and causation of the deaths of the example characters. Sure, the Haunters might Reap a ghost who was accidentally killed by a Good Samaritan, and I roger that as being completely logical. However, The Reapers of the Lady of Fate would probably also have dibs on such a poor soul, and would have, additionally, Hierarchy “sanctioned” Haunters within their ranks. This doesn’t take away from what is presented in the Guide to Dying, but I do think that it bears mention that there are a lot of other factions and forces-at-large in the Underworld than just the Guilds Reaping Cauls on the regular.
With Wraith: the Oblivion being opened up to the Storytellers Vault in just the last week, Guide to Dying is a top-notch debut supplement that does a lot to set the standard for what Wraith: the Oblivion Storytellers and players will look for to enhance and enrich their trans-Shroud Chronicles.
I love toolkit books like this. Short, sweet, to the point, without need for tons of flowery exposition.
I found this short book to be quite helpful. Too often, I personally get a little bogged down by all of the metaphysical elements of Wraith. Granted, these elements are what makes the game more interesting, but in the end, it is about our characters.
This book is a refreshing gathering of examples and inspiration. Ideas that might be used to inspire my next character, the next antagonist, or even a full blown storyline. After all...the passions behind why anyone becomes a wraith is what drives the whole game.
I particularly like the introduction. Sure, we can all sit and brainstorm how a character died and how it affects them. But...having a bit of a "cheatsheet" of origins as they relate to the game can save a few minutes when preparing the next game session or story arc.
How did I die? Really, this is the central question in Wraith character creation, but often it is a quick sketch on the side of the character background and ignored. The elements of death help direct enfants toward a specific Legion, but these situations are large scale buckets and don’t take into account the small intricate details of how and why someone ended up crossing over with unfinished business like they did.
One of my favorite things about the Vault is the ability to find books and booklets that allow for creators to dive into the minutiae of the World of Darkness in a way no official work would ever be able to go.
Guide to Dying provides 2-3 options for how three different characters could die. It also precedes the pre-generated character details with some reasons why a character died, including external and potential internal factors to consider. These are all good factors and are well presented.
The layout is top-notch, and the art is very well suited to the material and SotM utilizes a mix of art packs provided by White Wolf, other artist works for sale on the Vault, and privately acquired art that really helps put the visual quality of the book nearly on par with a professional RPG product.
The only drawback here is that some of the sentence structure is awkward. It’s readable, but as an editor who helps other non-Native English speaking authors, I noticed quite a few sentences that were oddly structured. For me this does mar the product a little, but only a little. I do think the quality of the product is still top-notch and something that I would recommend to storytellers or players looking to get a better feel for this element of Wraith: The Oblivion.
To begin this review I would like to start by saying I found this products organization, both in layout and presenting information, was Stellar. It is quickly apparent that this product was well thought out and had a clear focus. That focus was to help determine the the effect of one's type of death has on the wraith character and help to guide the the character creation choices.
The book is divided into 2 parts. The first touches on the different types of death a character may experience. The second is a few sample characters. I want to point out I really enjoyed the approach taken with the way these sample characters were written. Each is presented with a background from before their death with some possible life highlighted life choices. Then it presents a few possible the deaths that lead to their rebirth as a wraith, and how each of these deaths would impact the direction of their supernatural existence. This part drew me right into this product, and I want to make this stand out as an excellent way to help both players and storytellers. Especially if the task at hand focuses on a young wraith. This book will be a great tool.
If I had to hunt of a drawback for this product, I would say it is very line focused. This book would have little use outside of use in the Wraith line. But this a minor flaw and one that many product is expect to have. As well, it may have little impact in helping design a elder wraith, it is a product that focuses on the moment of death and not the centuries past.
All and all I enjoyed examining the pdf and find my insight to the Wraith line enriched by reading. I would give this product 7.5 out of 10.
Resonance granted for by this review is Death Born.
Come back next time for our reviews of Progenitors: Crash Cart, Volume 2
Today we get the chance to grill the masterful Gentleman Gamer about his newest creation, They Came From Beneath The Sea! This game uses the Storypath System and is the fourth game to be deep in development by Onyx Path that uses that system. That said, this game is drastically different tonally than Scion 2nd Edition or Trinity Continuum, so we are looking forward to hearing from Matthew Dawkins himself about what makes They Came From Beneath The Sea! different than other games in the Storypath line. If you're unfamiliar with Mr. Dawkins, here are a few key links to learn about the guy. Facebook YouTube Onyx Path
1) Tell us a little about the setting and tone of the game, sir, if you could?
At first glance, the setting and tone of They Came from Beneath the Sea! is one of camp farce, humour, and rubbery costumes. In truth, it can go as harshly horrific as you like, or as ridiculous as you want. It has all the gravitas of a B-movie from the 1950s. The characters are utterly serious. The audiences... Not so much.
2) From what we've read so far, it seems like this is an excellent game for one-shots and single sessions. I'd like to know what sort of ways you expect people will play this as a campaign.
Good question! One of the best ways of running a lengthy campaign of They Came From is to delve into the alien societies. They may all wish to invade / destroy / enslave humanity, but they don't co-exist peacefully. With whom do you make an unholy pact, to drive back a third party? Start a campaign with a seaside invasion, take the fight to the aliens, go to the sea floor in a submarine, attack an alien base, find there's a manipulator behind it all, return to land to find another race of aliens has moved into your town... There's a lot of ways a campaign can go!
3) Why does Storypath work for this game? How have you adjusted the core system to fit with the themes and mood of the game more effectively?
Initially I was designing my own system for They Came From, but when I previewed Storypath I realised it was perfect. The character Paths are a wonderful way for constructing an archetypal character for this kind of game. Stunts are a lovely, spontaneous way of taking actions. Momentum (or in our case, Rewrites) are a fantastic mechanic for rewarding failures. I had to fold Quips, Cinematics, and Tropes into all that, and it was pretty seamless.
4) Using the basic set-up, is it possible we will see other B-Movie tropes in the book or in future supplements? Perhaps a kitschy Lost in Space type set-up?
Absolutely! Hijack a mad scientist's rocketship and go to the moon, where you'll find the true minds behind the brain-eater eels! As an example, anyway. This core book focuses on the aquatic threat, but can go anywhere from any B-movie medium.
5) What ways can the community get involved in this game?
Run actual plays! Give gaming reports! Do reviews of the early access document! Share and back the Kickstarter! The community has been so supportive of this brand new property and it's been truly heartening to see and experience. Please continue to do so into the new year, as it's important to me (and Onyx Path) that our properties like this do well and find their audience.
6) Let's digress a moment, tell our folks about the Onyx Pathcast and why they should be listening to it right now while reading this and backing They Came From Beneath The Sea!?
The Onyx Pathcast is great fun. Dixie Cochran, Eddy Webb, and myself chew the fat about the roleplaying industry, the construction of our books (from writing, to development, to editing, to art), and provide deep dives on many of our games. We have a great rapport you might enjoy and even get to interview industry guests every couple of episodes or so! And why back They Came from Beneath the Sea? It's the first game to explore this genre so well, and I've never playtested a game that's been so consistently fun to explore.
7) What else are you excited to see coming out from Onyx Path in the next, 6-10 months?
So many things.. Lunars is coming up for Exalted. Pirates of Pugmire is going to be fantastic. I'll be developing the stretch goals for V5 [Chicago By Night], and possibly further books for that line! Oh, and the Contagion Chronicle is coming, and you'll want to get infected...
We've got to thank Matthew for coming by and sharing his thoughts with us. Don't forget to back the Kickstarter and join up to fight the Crab Army! Every good American would! (*Should not be construed to exclude non-Americans from backing the Kickstarter. Capitalism will run roughshod across the back of the Communist Menace worldwide!)
The writing team here at High Level Games loves checking out new RPGs and sharing our experiences. Thus we have our attention focused on the horizon, ever watchful for the latest editions and originals in the works for our beloved hobby. As a New Year treat, we’d like to share with you the games and supplements that are “Coming Soon in 2019.” We don’t want to hog all the hype to ourselves; tis the season of giving, after all! With our breath bated and no further ado, here is each writer’s most anticipated 2019 release.
Editor’s Note: to the right of the dashes are the names of the writers that chose the games, not the names of the creators or publishers.
1) Swords of the Serpentine - Phil
Political drama? Check. Magic that’s as dangerous to the user as the target? Check. Gritty setting? Check. GUMSHOE? Check. Swords of the Serpentine checks off almost all of my boxes (we’ll see how much black humor pops up), and looks to be another excellent addition to the GUMSHOE line.
2) Kamigakari: God Hunter - Aaron der Schaedel
Kamigakari is a game from Japan, set in modern day Japan, where you play as a supernaturally endowed hunter of otherworldly beings protecting an unsuspecting populace of mortals otherwise ignorant to the horrors hidden from them. The kickstarter for Kamigakari was fully funded in November of 2018, and is expected to be available in the Summer of 2019.
3) Trinity Continuum: Aeon and Core - Josh Heath
The original versions of the Trinity Continuum are some of the few RPG books I’ve held onto over the years. I took Adventure! and Aberrant to Korea with me while I was in the Army. These games are part of the reason I explored non-World of Darkness games. The 2nd Edition will include a modern setting similar to the shows Leverage or other action story shows without high powered Supers. The Kickstarter ran in 2018. It will be coming with the Space Opera setting, Aeon. I’ve been reading the 1st Ed books in exciting anticipation. Color me sold, this is the game I’m most excited about in 2019.
4) Strongholds and Followers - Rich Fraser
Raising a cool 2.1 million dollars on kickstarter,Strongholds and Followers is my eagerly awaited gem. OK, so maybe this is cheating, but I didn’t think it would be out until January (technically the hardback won’t). Authored by the self proclaimed King of Kickstarter (jokingly, but it stuck as these things do), Matt Colville, this sourcebook for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons covers something sorely missing for this edition of D&D. It’s strongholds, and followers, get it? I played D&D from Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortals (BECMI) box sets through second edition before quitting and all of these editions had plans for strongholds and followers. Followers were an automatic thing once you reached ‘name level.’ See, in first edition, each level had a name associated with it and at ninth level you reached your name level (High Priest, Lord, Paladin, Ranger Knight, etc.). People started to know who you were so living in a bar isn't going to cut it anymore and some of these people want to join you, as opposed to just being hirelings. So Matt developed his own systems over the years and decided to release it to the public. With his extreme popularity, rightly so, on youtube he started a kickstarter and the rest is history.
5) Yellow King - Leyshon Campbell
This Kickstarter has been blasting through stretch goals because everyone knows Robin Laws knows how to make a great game. The multiple worlds and multiple selves will allow campaigns to run the gamut between subtle horror, alternate realities, and full dystopia. The different eras allow for even more variety, up to and including a generations-long legacy game where you play the great-grandchild of your first character. But even for those who will not run a whole game, there is so much rich material to mine here that it’s just not possible to not get your money’s worth out of this one.
6) Mon Dieu Cthulhu - Ross Reid
As a result of the success from the popular Achtung! Cthulhu, Modiphius has not only released multiple versions of it, but is also venturing out into other time periods. Mon Dieu Cthulhu currently only has a few fiction pieces but has been slated for a future RPG release which I for one cannot wait to get my tentacles on. Rubbing elbows with swashbuckling soldiers avoiding musket fire and blasting a cannon at the unholy gods of old is going to be a blast.
7) Silent Titans - Max Cantor
This is an OSR adventure written by one of the most prominent OSR writers, Patrick Stuart, with layout by Christian Kessler and art by Dirk Leichty. Patrick is an excellent writer full of engaging prose and weird, totally original ideas, and Dirk’s art looks incredible. This kind of avante garde work truly elevates tabletop into an artform, and is unlike anything you’ll find from the mainstream publishers. If Patrick’s other works such as Veins of the Earth or Fire on the Velvet Horizon are any indication, this book will be full of all sorts of interesting mechanical considerations that can be taken into other games, and will probably work as a setting unto itself. I’ve already backed the (currently live, and already successful) kickstarter, and would encourage anyone on the fence to check out his other works!
8) An Atlas of the Horizon - Jarod Lalonde
An Atlas of the Horizon is a passion project that has been worked on for the better part of five years, and as such, there are a lot of hopes riding on it. The kickstarter (which has already surpassed its goal) tells us that it is an intensely character driven rpg taking place in a world that is approaching a proverbial boom in culture, trade and all other aspects, and the world is just waiting for guiding hands to shape it into what it’s destined to be. Atlas is shaping up to be a game that looks to the horizon (god that nail was hit on the head) and smiles at what it sees. It focuses on optimistic themes, and honestly in this day and age, I really do think that we could all use a little more optimism. In all honesty, this appears to be a game that wants to make a statement, and I’m interested to see what it has to say in the coming year.
What are some of the upcoming games you are excited for? Drop us a line anytime and let us know!
High Level Games has a lot to be thankful for in 2018. We also have plenty that we’re eagerly awaiting in the coming year! Stick with us, because it’s going to be a blast. And if you want to show your support, take a look at our Patreon page. Thank you, and have a critically successful 2019!
-David Horwitz, Blog Manager
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/255133215/strongholds-and-streaming
Hooray! It’s Christmas time! Seeing as Santa is still busy making the gifts, we at High Level Games have taken it upon ourselves to gift you and your players preemptively, in an aggressive first strike against Santa. Our plans for jovial domination are not yet realized, and as such, this is primarily a way to distract you all long enough to not notice our Santa bots replacing the actual mythical figure. It’s time to receive our gifts!
1) The Coal Cannon
This is perfect for any campaign setting that has just a little bit of flintlock technology in it. Also suitable for magic settings. The coal cannon is the weapon Santa uses to fight off people who decide to assault the North Pole directly. It is a handheld cannon that takes one round to load with a piece of mundane coal. However, after being loaded, it grinds the coal up into shards and fires them at high velocity. As such, anyone within a ten foot cone in front of the user has to make a dexterity saving throw or be subjected to 3d10 piercing damage. There is, of course the option to heat the coal cannon. Once loaded, if the wielder waits a round or longer before firing the coal cannon, it begins to heat the coals, causing Xd6 fire damage where X is the number of rounds waited, on top of the base 3d10. However, if more than two rounds are waited, there is a 15% chance the coal cannon explodes. This destroys the item and causes 3d10 piercing damage and 5d6 fire damage to everyone in a 10 foot radius around the explosion.
An item like this is very useful, however it holds a lot of danger for the average user, particularly if they don’t know the full capabilities of the coal cannon. The item itself would be considered very rare or similarly difficult to come by, as Santa only produces a few of these: one for himself and some for his most elite guard.
2) The Cracker of Nuts
All know of the Nutcracker. It’s a simple tool often decorated during the holiday season to enhance feelings of Jolliness. However, this is no simple nutcracker. This is the Cracker of Nuts. The Cracker of Nuts is exactly the same in appearance to a normal holiday nutcracker, with the exception of it being labeled as “The Cracker of Nuts” on the base of the figurine in golden text, and it having truesight out to thirty feet. When any item small enough to fit inside the mouth of an average nutcracker is placed inside its mouth, the item transforms into a number of walnuts equal in value to the item used, oftentimes spilling out of the Cracker of Nuts mouth. Additionally, if walnuts are within the line of sight of the Cracker of Nuts, it transforms into a six foot tall version of itself and begins stomping on, or otherwise cracking all walnuts within sight.
The only issue with this otherwise comedic item is that there was a minor mistake in its creation. Once per year, on the 18th day of the 12th month, the Cracker of Nuts attempts to crack skulls as well as Nuts. On this day, any creature within the line of sight of the Cracker of Nuts is considered a walnut for the purposes of this magic item, and the Cracker of Nuts will commence the cracking. The Cracker of nuts has an AC of 18 (natural armor) and 225 hitpoints. It can take one action, being Crack, which deals 3d6 bludgeoning damage. His stats are listed below. The Cracker of Nuts is kept in a dungeon, in a cell by himself for the 12th month of the year, if it is located in a city or village.
The Cracker of Nuts:
3) The Chains of Krampus
We have begun to dabble in NSFNL (Not Safe For Naughty List) content. If you are on the naughty list, this is a very dangerous item indeed. These midnight black chains are warm to the touch and make anyone of evil alignment feel guilty when within ten feet of them. If the manacles are clamped onto a creature of evil alignment, the creature is considered frightened of the being that attached the chains on to it. Additionally, if the creature who put the chains on issues a command to the bearer of the chains, the creature must make a saving throw as per the Geas spell, with a difficulty class of 22. Lastly, as a bonus action, the creature who attached the chains can cause spikes to protrude inside the manacles, causing 2d4 piercing damage and causing the creature wearing the manacles to become petrified until a bonus action is used to release the creature from their petrification. The manacles have no effects on good or neutral aligned creatures, or Krampus himself. Fiends take 8d12 damage from the spikes inside the manacles when activated.
4) Hat of Festivities (Christmas Edition)
The Hat of Festivities is a fickle little item. However the Christmas variety is the least unpredictable. It grants the wearer a +2 to their AC as well as access to the Ray of Frost, Friends and Prestidigitation cantrips. Additionally the christmas edition grants the wearer resistance to frost damage. Hat of Festivities cannot be worn by anyone on the Naughty List (decided by the DM) and the hat will actively move off the heads of those on the Naughty List. Hats of Festivities only exist for the month in which their assigned holiday occurs, after which they disappear until they reappear the following year in a new location.
5) Gift of Giving
A delicate yet beloved magic item. The Gift of Giving appears around people who have just survived a hardship, such as a victorious army, a child surviving a sickness, an adventuring party narrowly escaping death and other similar situations. When someone opens the beautifully wrapped box and reaches in, roll percentile dice. A table is below to tell the DM what to give the character accordingly. The Gift of Giving is said to be a living creature that is made purely of sorrow, wanting only to spread cheer and kindness. When all creatures involved in the hardship have pulled something out of the box, it disappears, leaving behind the smell of peppermint in the air and a small note that says something kind to either the collective or each individual that took a gift.
01-25% - Trinket or Common Magical Item
26-50% - Uncommon or Rare Magical Item
51-75% - Very Rare or Legendary Magical Item
76-100% - Artefact or Gift they wanted as a child (because they can be just as important to a player)
I hope this helped spread some Holiday Cheer. Please, wherever you’re reading this, whatever holiday you’re celebrating, take a moment today and really bask in the knowledge that you’re here, and there’s so much good you can do in this world. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Jarod Lalonde is a young roleplayer and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Picture Reference: https://www.tribality.com/2014/12/24/dd-5e-holiday-adventure-the-darkest-night/
Editor’s Note: What’s the gift that keeps on giving? Patreon subscriptions! It’s like buying a game system or supplement for a friend. Sure, they’re going to love it, but you’ll get some joy out of it too. Check out our Patreon and give a little, get a little.
First off, full disclosure: I have worked on two projects for Pugsteady via Onyx Path Publishing. You’ll see my work in the forthcoming Roll of Good Dogs and Cats, and Adventures For Curious Cats, and so I am a tiny bit prejudiced in favor of the recently released Monarchies of Mau. That said, the book, the game, and the world of Realms of Pugmire is already one of my favorite fantasy RPG settings of all time. Why? What about this game of cats, dogs, and other animals catches my eye? Me, a fan of horror, deep storytelling, and games that are dark for the purpose of exposing light?
1) Not A Funny Cat Story
The first is that Pugmire and Mau are family friendly, but they are not games for children. They are intricate, deep, and powerful game worlds that offer a hook that people initially find funny. How? For example, you play anthropomorphic cats who wear armor and call themselves monarchs. They believe that they once were worshipped by The Old Ones, humanity. They take artifacts of Man and use them for Necromancy and other magic. These things seem like they could be silly. But then, they are also presented as people. People that laugh, that cry, that fight against the darkness to seize a chance at creating a world that is good for them and their families. Demons have destroyed at least one of the Monarchies of Mau. Darkness and corruption are attempting to infiltrate these places. Sure, you’re a cat, but you are also faced with challenges our feline friends would protect us from.
2) Intrigue and Adventure
The Monarchies of Mau are inspired by a mix of Venetian, Chinese, and Feline cultures. They are city states that hold secrets close to their hearts. Such a setting offers intercultural intrigues and stories of wheeling and dealing for those that love such things in their games. On top of this, high adventure can be had vying against creatures of various types, including unseen demons, undead, and the normal high fantasy creatures that you would expect to see in a fantasy game. So, run your favorite adventure for D&D, Pathfinder, or OSR, and toss in a splash of cats, dogs, badgers, and others. Or, pull out your paths, stories, and chronicles that touch on intrigue, diplomacy, and information and run those instead. The Realms of Pugmire are your oyster. They offer an opportunity for every sort of tale.
3) Well Crafted Mechanics
Monarchies of Mau is based on the OGL system for Dungeons and Dragons. It also pulls inspiration from 13th Age and other games that have done good things with the basic d20 OGL rules. In a sense, it pulls out the best of everything that has come before and distilled it perfectly for this game. Mau uses a simpler leveling system, distilling down to 10 levels what would normally take 20. And... this works. You gain an ability every level, and you start off more powerful than you would even in a 5th Edition game. The mechanics are the same, you roll a d20, with proficiency bonuses and Armor Classes, but the game feels peppier, quicker, and more powerful all at the same time. This is one of the best things that designers with years in the industry offer us, and Eddy Webb, the designer of Pugmire and Mau, has the background to help distill the best parts of the game system for his world.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s running a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Image from the GM’s Screen For Monarchies of Mau
Editor’s Note: What’s the gift that keeps on giving? Patreon subscriptions! It’s like buying a game system or supplement for a friend. Sure, they’re going to love it, but you’ll get some joy out of it too. Check out our Patreon and give a little, get a little.
Starting out in roleplaying games is more than buying the stuff and jumping in. Getting a group together is hard enough for some people, and then the extra monetary cost of buying minis, rulebooks, supplements and any extra bits and pieces for a game. Not everyone has enough surplus cash to throw at the hobby, so for those who don't want to break the bank to test the waters, here are eight free roleplaying games for you to check out. I mean why not, they’re free.
1) A+ Fantasy
A+ Fantasy has an attribute system very similar to classic RPGs but different enough to make it its own. Instead of rolling up numbers for your usual six attributes, A+ Fantasy has four to which you assign a grade, which range from A+ to D- and affect dice rolls. Modifiers are different than the norm, as to succeed you must roll two d6 and get at least one six, and the modifier adds to this. The ruleset is very easy to understand and is laid out in a great way, at least in my opinion, I read through the full rules in just over 30 minutes while sitting in a waiting room. This is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of diving into D&D.
2) Magic and Steel
This game has more reading to it than A+ Fantasy but has a fairly well developed system, based off of old style D&D with a few modern twists to keep it interesting. The character creation seems solid and is simple enough for a new player to get to grips with and complex enough for a seasoned vet to get in there and create more interesting characters. The rule book screams fan made and admits as much in the introduction, but if you like old school fantasy this is a game for you.
3) D100 Dungeon
D100 Dungeon intrigued me to no ends, I read the description and thought, how can I be both GM and player? The answer is I can’t, but D100 Dungeon can be the GM so I can be the player. Tailored so that you are not pitted against your friends this game provides everything you need to run solo. You print out your map sheets and character sheet and read through the rules, which really are quite easy to understand. It took me a couple of days to get through them but when I did I was eager to get going, to play all you need is the roll tables in the back, the print outs and if you didn’t already guess the dice type, some D100. I haven’t got round to playing this yet but it’s definitely on my todo list.
4) GURPS Lite
A great system used in various games and inspiration to even more, it has been used in tabletop games and video games such as the first Fallout games and even adapted for the later ones. The lite version of the system is free, however, and gives a good taste of how the full system works with all the key points laid out. Choose some buffs for your character and combine them with some flaws... it contains everything you need to create a GURPS game. The only downside is that I found it rather wordy so be prepared to read.
5) The Very Important Task
I loved this game as soon as I read the rule sheet. Yes a single sheet. In The Very Important Task everyone plays and GM’s another player’s game, taking it in turns, which simulate one month at your job. Each player tries to complete a task given to them by their manager (another player) as well as completing the very important task for their overall career, to win you simply must complete the very important task, gain executive level in your job or be the last employee standing (or sitting if its an office job). It’s not a long game but can fill an evening and helps introduce some key elements of roleplay as the managers are encouraged to go to the extremes when forging the personalities.
6) The Great Long Dark
Anyone looking to get into horror RPGs should consider this their first step. A quick game aimed at small groups, the rulebook has beautifully haunting artwork which helps set the scene. You take the role of both a child travelling to a place of mystery and despair, also as a parent escaping to a better place. Play takes shape in the form of five acts, the first two acts have you play two cards and roleplay the results, after which you answer a question of your choosing from a list from your character's point of view. No dice rolling but plenty of atmosphere and personal connections to help you come back for another helping.
7) Ghosts of NPCs Passed
Aimed at groups who are currently running a campaign, this game is a nice distraction for change of pace or can even just be implemented into a session to aid the players. It allows a GM to call forth the spirit of any NPC the players may have decapitated too early or a poor passerby who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Upon summoning a spirit the players go round one by one adding to a backstory for that NPC, ending on the second wave round the group with his last day and finally his demise at the hands of player X who plays the murderous warlock in the group. This game could also be used to emphasise how one player seems all too happy to help NPCs shuffle of the mortal coil.
8) To The Temple Of Doom!!!
A really nice little game, this easy to understand rule set has a revolving GM and a shared goal. Each player creates an archaeologist to play, assigning five stat points over three skills and then creates an artifact, ventures into the temple and takes it in turns to create a chamber within the temple. You then throw in some puzzles, bad guys and traps for the team to overcome. At the end is a big showdown against a vast evil trying to destroy the world. Death isn’t the end in this game either as anyone who falls prey to the traps of the chambers can either be possessed and show up to aid the evil or die and become the GM for the final encounter.
No matter which, if any of these you try out i’m sure you will have lots of fun and hopefully will inspire you to play other great roleplaying games out there. To compile this list I read through around 15 titles including some fan made RPGs from the likes of Inception and even the Metal Gear universe, but for the sake of the editors I chose the non fandom games, though they were really good systems and well worth checking out. Although the rules are free you will need dice and a way to print some items out in most of these but compared to a full price system the cost is much more affordable and accessible.
Ross Reid is a lover of all things tabletop, he recently hosted a gaming marathon for charity lasting 24 hours over three days, he is currently working on getting the rest of his family into roleplaying games so he no longer needs to leave the house to get his gaming fix.
Folks who’ve read my work over the years know I play a lot of games, but I’ve also done a fair bit of design work as well. I’ve worked with third-party publishers for popular games, and I’ve written for independent clients whose projects are all over the spectrum in terms of genre and mechanics. If you’re thinking of making your own game, then let me give you some quick advice on avoiding a few of the most common traps I’ve seen folks fall into.
Tip #1: The Fewer Steps, The Better
All tabletop RPGs have some variety of conflict resolution system. It might be dice, cards, a Jenga tower, rock-paper-scissors, but there is always some system in place to determine whether character actions succeed or fail when there is a challenge. And there are usually bonuses and negatives that you have to add in to modify your character’s chance of success.
I say this from the bottom of my heart: do not make players go through multiple steps to resolve something. Adding complication slows down the game, and makes a lot of players less likely to enjoy your system.
Give you an example. In your classic Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder game you add up all your character bonuses first, so they are a single, static number (this step can even be done before game start, saving a huge amount of time). You roll your die, then add that number. You compare the result to the target you have to hit. In the midst of a tense situation, such as swinging a sword, moving into position for a stealthy ambush, etc., a player does a single addition problem, and the result is generated. Boom, bam, done, move the story along.
A lot of designers, though, think that adding multiple steps to resolve a single action is a good idea. They give you multiple charts to roll on to find out what part of the body a blow landed on, for example, or they make you roll under a target number, and then divide by five to find out how many successes you got on that action. Sometimes they turn every action into a roll-off between the player and an NPC, which means you now have two people doing two separate equations to figure out if an action succeeded or failed.
Sometimes this is done in the name of realism, and sometimes it’s just to be different, but it is never a good idea. It’s like making someone fill out multiple forms at the checkout before they can buy that thing they want in your online store; you want actions resolved quickly, before your customer decides they’re better served elsewhere.
Tip #2: Addition is Better Than Subtraction
For most people, addition is easier than subtraction. Not only is it easier, though, it’s more satisfying. You will always get more engagement from players who are adding up bonuses to reach a higher target number, than you will players applying negatives and trying to squeak by a lower threshold.
Look at your game’s primary kind of math. If you’re asking players to do quick addition, then it’s going to be easier to learn, and more players are going to be able to get into the swing. If you’re asking players to subtract (or worse, divide), then you may quickly find yourself talking to the backs of potential players’ heads as they walk away.
Tip #3: Do Not Bury Your Lead
If you want your game to get noticed, then you need to offer your players a unique experience that’s unlike anything else they can get on the market. If your game allows players to be cyborg minotaurs fighting Viking sky pirates riding ice drakes, you should not only tell potential players that, but it should be your goddamn cover art!
A game will live or die based on what makes it different from its competition, since most players already have a shelf full of games. So what does your game have that all those other games don’t? Is it a totally unique fantasy setting that foregoes the usual Tolkien-esque elements? Is it a d12-based system that you can learn in less than an hour? Or is it a sci-fantasy game that embraces Afro futurism or Arab futurism rather than more traditional, Western genre visions? Don’t hide that! These are the elements that will get people to pay attention to your game, but so often designers push those things to the background so that someone can easily miss them if they don’t read to page 194 in the core rule book.
Tip #4: Don’t Be Different Just To Be Different
I talked about this in my post Fantasy Writers, If You’re Just Changing Something’s Name, Don’t Bother, but I feel this needs to be reiterated for all the game designers out there; there is nothing wrong with using the terms, ideas, and tropes that gamers are familiar with in your product. If you have orcs, that’s fine. If you have light elves and dark elves, more power to you. If your dwarves are known as miners and smiths, and your gnomes tend to make unstable inventions, that’s okay. These tropes will give players an immediate sense of familiarity, so using them is not some kind of cardinal sin you need to seek penance for.
On the other hand, if you just go through a setting with a thesaurus and change everything’s name, players aren’t going to thank you for that. Especially if your short, burly, bearded miners know for the quality of their smithing are called Urshines for no reason other than you didn’t want to have stereotypical dwarves in your game (despite making them exactly that, with a different name). The same is true when it comes to mechanics. If you’re using an Open Gaming License to make your system, don’t tweak and change stuff just to be different; all you’re going to do is frustrate and annoy players who now have to recall all the fiddly little differences if they don’t make a wide-ranging impact on how conflicts are resolved.
If you’re making changes, make those changes noticeable, memorable, and give them an impact in your game beyond making players remember a dozen pages of new terminology.
#5: Have An Overall Vision
To be clear, here, I’m never near the top of the chain of command when it comes to designing game settings and mechanics. I’m a merc, usually hired on to write setting fluff, or to contribute X number of powers, spells, feats, or what have you. Normally I like to think I’m pretty good at this job, however, if you’re not going to do everything in a game yourself, you need to have an overall vision to communicate to all the folks helping you build this game.
And even if you are making the whole thing by your one-some, you should still be able to communicate your vision for setting and overall mechanical structure to people you would like to buy and play your game once you finish it. An elevator pitch can make the difference between being forgettable to your public (or requesting mountains of edits from your work-for-hire team), and smooth sailing all the way to your publication date.
For more gaming advice from Neal Litherland, check out his Gamers archive, or visit his blog Improved Initiative. Alternatively, take a look at his Amazon Author Page if you’d like to check out his books!
Picture Reference: https://www.tested.com/tech/3275-dd-of-the-future-why-virtual-tabletop-gaming-is-going-to-be-awesome-video/
The Wild West is a unique genre of fiction. It has it’s larger-than-life characters and legends, including encounters with the other world, lawless lands where might makes right, and even tales of lost treasures! This genre has all the trappings that make for fantastic tales of adventure, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at Westbound, the tabletop RPG that blends The American Wild West with Fantasy!
1) Who Made This?
Westbound is produced and published by the Canadian game company Island of Bees, and is currently their only released game. Nevertheless, they’ve put a great amount of effort into designing the game, and it shows: marvelous artwork, handy diagrams and charts, and even layout flourishes that compliment the Wild West theme.
2) What’s The Premise And Setting?
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid watching any of the classic Clint Eastwood movies, or other flicks from the spaghetti-western genre, Westbound harkens to a romanticized era in North American history called “The Western Frontier.” This was an era when settlers from Europe expanding westward from the east coast of North America, into what would become the modern day nations of the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico.
However, Island of Bees punches up the fantastical element. While the Western Frontier is already a very storied body of history full of tall tales and unbelievable legends, Westbound also includes contemporary fantasy tropes. Among them are parallel worlds, magical wands and musical instruments, and the classic fare of races including elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins.
One thing I find particularly interesting about Westbound is some of the more unusual inclusions. Ogres are included as a playable race, complete with their own variety of magic that revolves around eating themselves stupid. There’s also the inclusion of musical instruments as weapons; they may not physically harm enemies, but they can still cause a great enough amount of distress to rob enemies of the will to fight. (Meaning you can annoy somebody into submission with an accordian.)
3) What Are The Mechanics Like?
Staying true to the western theme, Westbound forgoes using dice in favor of a standard deck of playing cards. (So if your GM or another player really ticks you off, you can switch to everybody’s favorite rage game of 52 Pick Up.) Outside of combat, drawing cards and comparing them to a target number is the method used for resolving checks.
In combat though is where things get interesting. The game changes from simple draw and compare to a meta-game of managing a hand of cards for your offence and defence. The long and short of it is that you can either play cards from your hand to raise your ability to resist damage, play them against opponents to take them out of a fight, or burn through your cards to get to something more useful.
To add an additional layer of strategy, though, each of the above combat actions functions a different way. Cards played to defend must be done in descending order, while cards played to attack must match the traditional sets from poker. (2 of a kind, full house, etc.)
Character creation is composed of picking a Sort, Breed, and Archetype, which are similar to Class, Race, and Background in Dungeons and Dragons. Each one grants a different kinds of abilities, with Sort mostly pertaining to combat, Archetype focusing on social interactions, and Breed granting miscellaneous abilities. Additionally, whenever a character levels up, they pick which of the three aspects they wish to improve, giving some control to the player over what their character shapes into.
4) What Is It Similar To?
As far as game mechanics go, Westbound’s use of a deck of cards is more than just a novelty. It grants some degree of certainty that a character will get an awesome moment, since used cards get discarded. It cuts both ways, though, since even those good draws will be discarded. The only other game I can think of that grants this much certainty over how much a character can truly accomplish is Golden Sky Stories, which completely eschews dice and randomness altogether!
In regards to setting, I’d be inclined to say that Westbound is a graceful advancing of the Dungeons and Dragons time period. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Western Frontier, there’s still plenty of contemporary fantasy elements to take hold of. This union of Wild West and Fantasy works really well together, because there was still lots of superstition that circulated in the 19th century to weave in magic.
5) Is It Worth Getting Into?
Definitely. If you want to try something new, but don’t want to abandon fantasy, Westbound is a great choice. It offers a unique set of mechanics, and a setting that’s refreshing and familiar all at once. Plus, the artwork is fantastic, and featured in a few sets of special playing card. Useful for if you want to add more flair to your games of Westbound, or if you like the art, but maybe not the game.
While Aaron der Schaedel is definitely enamored with Westbound, his favorite mix of wild west and fantasy remains the video game series Wild ARMs. You can inform Island of Bees of this treachery via Twitter @WestboundGame or tell Aaron his taste in video games is trash @Zamubei
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/82773185/westbound-revolvers-and-rituals
First, this isn’t designed as therapeutic advice, nor should it be construed as such. Mental health coaching and support is its own thing and we recommend you seek out a professional if you need that support. Second, this is not an attack on you if you are a chronically ill writer who is struggling in a way that makes everything you do harder. I empathize. I support you. Your productivity does not give you value as a person. These are the ways I make myself feel better, while fighting chronic illness and mental health monsters. Your mileage may vary, your output may vary, and you are still a writer. You are still a wonderful person that brings something to the world. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
These are my suggestions for writing through chronic pain and depression. You’ll find that some are on numerous blogs and suggestion lists. That’s fine, they might be good advice. If you have others, please leave them in the comments or refer to this work in your own blog! I’d love to have the community lift each other up and support one another.
1) Write Something
In 2004 I spent several months living in my car in and around San Diego. I worked, but I couldn’t afford an apartment. So, every night I’d go to Starbucks for 4-6 hours, read a book, and write. What I wrote wasn’t anything ‘useful’, it wasn’t a novel, or a game, or even a short story. It was the inner turmoil of my brain. One night, I realized I was depressed. Not because I was living in my car, but because my life had stalled. Then the next night I realized I knew where I wanted to go down the line. The day after that, I wrote out a plan to hit my goal. Most of my writing was internal ravings about writer’s block up until those three days. What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t write because I wasn’t supposed to be writing a story or a novel or anything like that. Instead, what I needed was a direction in life and I needed to write that. Writing whatever came to mind helped me to get somewhere, it just wasn’t where I thought I was going. I still have this notebook, in a box, somewhere in my house. It’s not filled with things I’ll ever publish. That wasn’t the point of writing those nights.
2) Acknowledge You Are Sick
This is also known as, TAKE A DAMN BREAK. It’s ok to realize you can’t keep writing. Hell, you might need to take a year, two, or more off before you can pick up the pen or slap the keyboard again. This is hard if you earn your living writing, though, and trust me, I understand. If the words are not traveling in their little caravan from your mind to the screen, or page, or whatever, then you can only force it so much. It’s ok to say, “I’m sick, and doing this isn’t good for me.” That doesn’t make you weak, or a failure, or a bad writer. It’s totally, unconditionally, without question, fair. If you wake up and you think, wow, the pain is a 9 today. I’m going to take it easy, drink a cup of tea (or coffee, or whatever), and that’s great. Admitting you need a break and taking one is strong, healthy, and helpful. Admitting you are sick is GOOD. Admitting where you are is a HUGE step toward making plans that work for you.
Writing through illness can be particularly hard because you do have ideas and you often start on them before a bad day slams you over the head and takes your brain away. So, how and what can you do with this? Collaborate. Seek out folks that are willing to work with you. Maybe you get 75% through a project and you get whammed. Reach out to your collaborators and go, I’ve got this piece, it’s this far finished, I think it should go here and here; does anyone want to work on it with me? 9/10, someone will go, yes, I’d love to work with you on this. Now, I’m not telling you not to pay them or cut them in on a percentage. I think you probably should do that, but it depends on your collaborator and how your relationship works. That’s on you, but I usually cut my collaborators in on a percentage or I pay them a bit up front to show them I appreciate their time, effort, and work. THEN I make sure to credit them alongside myself whenever I market the piece.
4) Work On Something Else
This can be having a few pieces to work on at a time, or it can be totally non-writing work that you feel is helpful to you to work on. For me, I’ve been doing layout for books that others write as a way to feel like I’m still doing something/producing work that I can be proud of. This works for me, it uses a different part of my brain, and it doesn’t require the same sort of mental health that my writing work requires of me. Now, for you, it might be knitting, building a car, whittling, playing video-games, or whatever it is. Find something else that you can do, that you love to do, and work on that for some time. You might get writing ideas while you do it, and even if you don’t, you are still doing something you love. Of course, this can be hard too, depending on your chronic illness. I’m with you. Go back to point 1, 2, or 3 if you are at this stage and you don’t know what to do. It’s ok to take the space and time you need to be healthy and happy.
5) Bonus Point – Have Allies
Your network of supports is essential to feeling like you belong to a community. That’s a human thing, but I find it really essential to accomplishing things when things get bad. Post on social media talking about how you are having trouble. Call a friend and talk about whatever works for you. Having allies, friends, and a support network will always help. And if you don’t have folks that get it around you or on social media? Find a group of fellow creatives online who will understand where you are coming from. Lurk, read their posts, engage with them, post about where you are in your life right then. All in all, my friends and family have done the most to keep me going when shit has gotten hard. Without them, I’d have drowned by now. Also, being a good writer ally requires you to give back when you can. Trust me, you might not have the spell slots all the time, but when you have them, use them. You’ll build hope, trust, and strength when this happens.
I hope these ideas and thoughts are helpful. You might wonder what they have to do with a gaming blog, but, honestly, I hope it is obvious. I haven’t had an article of my own here since MONTHS before HLG Con. That event broke me, for a while. I’m only now starting to realize just how bad, and doing things to work through it. Of course, it isn’t easy. For those gamers that run games, or play, or create them when dealing with these struggles, I salute and honor you today. You are worthy and I’m thankful for you.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s running a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Art by JH Illos
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games