What’s more terrifying than the horrific monster charging towards you? The horrific monster you can’t see or understand. Mysteries are impossible to anticipate, and each can be a source of dread for your party. Intrigue occurs when your party goes to the mystery. Horror occurs when the mystery comes for them. In this special article by yours truly, the Malicious Manager, we’ll explore three types of unavoidable dooms that can stalk your PCs, make them distrust each other or even their own perceptions. The outcomes of these tales are played for dramatic effect. You wouldn’t let such terrible fates befall your PCs, would you?
1) The Inevitable Storm
It starts with a low rumble. The trundling of dark clouds across the twilit sky comes next, edging ever closer. You can't help but stare into the encroaching darkness, lost in the shifting shadows that play along the horizon. Look too long and you might see a face, or maybe just a pair of cold, dead eyes, looking back at you. It mocks you and your insignificance. You think to warn the others, but they don’t see what you see. A thunderstorm holds fear only for children, they tell you. You look again. It sneers from the heavens and presses ever closer.
Now you can hear it. The very air you breathe is heavy with its whispers. They fill you, mind, body, and soul. The rumbling is getting louder. Flashes of light crack within its profound darkness, and with each illumination, more of the presence can be seen. Panic starts setting in. You try to fight it, to tell yourself it’s all a trick of the light. You’re just imagining things. Then the storm covers the moon and darkness spreads across the town like a funeral shroud.
Twisted terrors stumble out of the shadows at the edge of your perception. You cry to passerbys, to acquaintances, to your own friends, but no one believes you. They tell you to come inside the tavern, sit down, and remain calm. The storm will pass soon. You sit, wrapped in a quilt and sip warm cider by the fire. The shadows flicker and dance on the walls, but then, they aren’t your shadows. There’s a knock on the door. Before you can stop them, your friends open it wide. The crashing thunder mixes with their screams.
The storm is here.
2) The Hunting Horror
You’ve been traveling for a long while now through foreign lands, a guest of the local regency on a quest to pacify a cult-like insurrection. It’s nothing you and your companions haven’t dealt with before. The woods are especially dark at night, however, and a sense of unease is visited upon your camp before you sleep. One of your trusted friends reports hearing strange noises when they woke after midnight. You try to put such concerns out of your mind; it won’t be but another day before you reach the insurgents’ encampment.
You reach the encampment the next day, or at least where it should be. It’s merely a circle of bleach-white stones, interlaid with a complex pattern of gashes carved into the earth. Neither your cleric nor warlock can make sense of the symbol. They conjure spells of detection and scrying to seek out nearby energies or life forms. Nothing can be found. Your cleric insists on purifying the earth before you move on, and they seem particularly troubled. You all agree and let them set to work.
It happens faster than you can react. The cleric is pulled from the circle by a sickly green blur. You draw weapons, but all you see is the circle of stones, spinning and dancing through the air. The warlock is next, ripped bodily from your presence and into the surrounding wood. You are alone now.
The insurrection never existed. This is the outcome intended by the regency. You hear it breathing now, still hungering, still slavering. It comes for you.
3) The Dread Within
It’s really not a problem, you have to keep telling your party. It’s just a sense of malaise, something that all seasoned adventurers feel on occasion and let pass through them. The holy warrior you’ve come to trust with your life insists you visit a temple to seek succor, but you dismiss the notion. After all, your party won’t be able to track down those missing children without you, their trusty ranger.
You follow the signs of passage through the marshlands. Fetid air surrounds you, causing a few of your number to double over and retch. The malaise has now become a serious headache, no doubt compounded by the stress of this particular quest and the uninviting conditions of the region. You press on, however, deeper into the swamp. The tracks suddenly stop, and what’s worse, you can’t even find the path you took that led you here. This is plainly impossible; you reassure your comrades, and yourself, that you will soon find the path.
Indeed you do. Strange markings and crusted blood line the rotten trees, leading you down a long, empty road. A child suddenly steps from the woodwork, not but thirty meters away. You call out, trying get their attention. The child smiles. Your head pounds and you drop to your knees. When you look up, the child, if that’s what it was, is gone. You hear chuckling all around you. Your companions are laughing at you! One of them turns suddenly and you realize that you can’t recognize them anymore. They all close in on you, suffocating you with their stink. Their faces are misshapen mockeries of natural forms. You draw your blade. They cackle and produce yellow claws at the tips of their withered fingers.
When you’re finally found, you can’t explain why you slaughtered your companions in their sleep.
Your rescuers listen to your tale and one of them looks at another worriedly.
“What missing children?” he asks.
That concludes this series of stories, kiddies. Doom waits for no one, and now I am called away for another year, only to return next All Hallows’ Eve. Until then, may you roll well. In your graves, that is!
David Horwitz (the Malicious Manager) is at once writer, editor, and blog manager for HLG. His love of horror media extends even to B Movie schlock, and will happily chat the night away with fellow connoisseurs of creepiness. You can find his work and contact info at his site, www.davidhorwitzwrites.com. Happy Halloween!
Picture Reference: https://non-aliencreatures.fandom.com/wiki/File:CryptKeeper.png
Let’s get one thing straight: I love Warhammer. I started with Warhammer 40,000 in my freshman year of high school, then was dragged into Warhammer Fantasy Battles before graduation. I left the hobby behind for years because I was broke (J/K! Still am!). As an adult I picked up roleplaying games. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when I realized the newest edition of Warhammer Fantasy R
oleplay was in development and the game went to the top of my “must play” list, along with many others who are craving Old World action (RIP WFB). Now that the game is here, does it live it to the expectations and standards of 30 years of WFRP history?
Full disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the PDF for review purposes.
Combat in WFRP is quick, narrative, and brutal. Cubicle 7 managed to tweak the typically slow pace of combat that is usually found in BRP games by adding in the advantage system. Attack rolls are always opposed and the winner is determined by who rolls the furthest under (or least over!) their melee skill. If the attacker wins, they hit and gain a cumulative +10% on their combat rolls; if the defender wins, they gain advantage. Whoever loses the roll also loses advantage. It’s also totally possible to crit will losing a roll, even if you’re defending, or fumble while succeeding; something that appeals to the black comedy inherent in the setting.
It’s also pretty easy to knock characters down or kill them. In our second game, our party’s Apprentice Wizard lost half of his wounds to a single wolf bite. The following session, he was dropped to zero in two hits and nearly bled out. Thankfully PCs have resources at their disposal to keep themselves from dying on their first few adventures. Fate, fortune, resolve, and resilience allow PCs to avoid death, cancel out conditions like bleeding, prevent mutations (for now…) or possibly avoid the effects of critical hits. Crits don’t just do extra damage, they can maim or kill your character. You may not die, but have fun walking around without your left foot.
Careers have been in WFRP since the game began in the 1980s, but they’ve been reimagined for the new edition. Career paths have been unified (it’s now easier to make it from an Interrogator to Witchfinder General) and lumped together in classes, which is mostly arrangement by theme. The list of careers is broad and varied. It’s possible to play anything from a Rat Catcher to a Noble, River Warden to Investigator. The careers can lead to some interesting parties. If you choose randomly, something encouraged by the game through bonus experience, you can wind up with a party that has a Scholar, a Witch, a Witch Hunter, and a Servant. That’s pretty diverse, but it can lead to narrative issues. Why is a servant out adventuring? And let’s hope the Witch Hunter doesn’t find out about the Witch! Careers can be changed through spending experience, allowing players to make the characters they really want to play, and allowing them to pick up skills and talents they can’t advance through their current skills. GMs are also encouraged to change PC careers based on narrative. On the lam? Now you’re all Outlaws. Did the Wizard start messing with dark magic? I guess he’s a Witch now.
Seeing as the setting is based on Renaissance Germany, it not terribly surprising to see class and status show up in the game. Status influences how much money you can earn between adventures (remember, they’re careers, not classes), and how you interact with others; it’s a bit tougher to for a beggar to intimidate a merchant than it would be for a noble. It feels like a gritty, grimdark world where the rich feast and the poor pick up the scraps.
4) So Many Things To Keep Track Of
There’s a lot going on in this game and a lot to keep track of. Characters have to think about where their armour is covering them, how many fate, fortune, resilience and resolve points they have, lingering wounds from critical hits, whether or not there’s an infection from those wounds, and corruption from Chaotic influences. All of this on top of the encumbrance packed on their backs. It can be overwhelming. Fortunately there are a ton of optional rules to reduce the amount bookkeeping, simplifying armour points, and reminding the GM they can ignore encumbrance as they see fit. But out of the box the game gives you a lot of to keep track of, especially between adventures.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to find a game full of inclusivity, and I didn’t. Well, not entirely. There were a few pleasant surprises. For starters, there are no “races”. Instead they have been rebranded as species which is a welcome change and way more accurate. They also explicitly state that regardless of the name of the career, it’s open to everyone. Yes, we all know that anyone can be a “Townsman”, but it’s nice to see it in writing. It’s also nice to see at least a couple of careers with female-gendered titles. Seeing Nun instead of Monk, and Riverwoman was a pleasant surprise. It is about a fifty/fifty split between male and female career examples (at least until they get to the soldiers). There’s also a surprising amount of people of color displayed. That was one of the biggest surprises. Not to say there is equal representation (it’s still overwhelmingly white), but seeing a black man as a Noble was a treat. It should also be said that ethnic diversity in the setting is something that hasn’t been well communicated from Games Workshop or other IP holders to consumers (myself included). The Empire, especially in the east, has a wide array of skin-tones and isn’t the pasty Germanic nation that I previously thought it was.
That’s not to say that representation is perfect. As I’ve said before, it’s overwhelmingly white and gender representation slips. There’s also the nagging lore bits that type-cast non-human species. Dwarfs hang on to grudges, High Elves are aloof, Halflings like to eat, and Wood Elves are wild and xenophobic. There are “good” and “bad” species. There’s a ton of intolerance too. Xenophobia, sex-negativity (thanks Slaanesh), and a deeply ingrained fear of the different are baked into the setting. But I suppose it wouldn’t be grimdark, and therefore Warhammer, if it wasn’t there.
6) Organization and Clarity
The book can be a bit scattershot and unclear. There are places where one would expect to find particular rules, but they aren’t there, or you have to go searching for a trail of breadcrumbs to find the appropriate rules. As an example, the rules for Size begin in the combat section, but are more fully fleshed out in the Bestiary section. This isn’t too unreasonable, but the specific rules for how size affect damage (Damaging and Impact) are found in the weapons rules. One would also expect to find Injuries and Critical Wounds immediately after determining damage, but they’re preceded by movement, conditions, and Fate and Resilience. None of this is to say that the organization lacks logic, but it could use improvement.
Where the editorial team did fail, however, was clarity. The book lacks clear examples of how rules work in actual play, and can be contradictory at times. It would’ve been really nice to have at least one example of how combat actually plays out or how to build enough advantage to cast a tough spell. There are also rules that could be a bit clearer. The worst example is on off-hand penalties for defending. At one point the rules seem to indicate that the penalty only applies on attacks, but weapons in the parry group ignore that penalty. Overall, there is nothing so egregious that a well written and thought out FAQ and Errata couldn’t fix, but it’s disappointing that the book requires on at all.
Despite the fiddly bits and lack of clarity, this game is fantastic. Veteran gamers can grok it in a session, though newcomers might take a little more time. It’s worth it, because when they pick it up combat flies by and turns into the lethal character grinder that veteran WFRP players expect. If gritty and lethal isn’t your thing, this isn’t the game for you. But if you’re a fan of the Old World, or want to keep get a little dirtier than your favorite game, pick up the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay here.
Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
© Games Workshop 2018
Savage Worlds has been a fan-favorite setting-agnostic system for going on 15 years. But with a new edition and Kickstarter just around the corner things are a-changin’. We sat down with President Shane Hensley as well as COO and Managing Editor Jodi Black to talk about what’s new in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.
Savage Worlds Deluxe has been out for six years. Why bring out a new edition now?
Jodi: Savage Worlds hasn't changed much since it was first released in 2003, but there have been changes, for example, to Shaken a couple years back. We had updated the PDF but needed to reprint the book to reflect that change, plus we wanted to redesign the layout for our Graphic Novel format. With any new printing we try to make things better, and the new Adventure Edition received the same treatment. We've been listening--literally--to thousands of Game Masters and paid attention to feedback in our official online communities now for more than a decade. Shane and Clint and the rest of the Pinnacle team have discussed rule tweaks for years, and held off because of the cascading effects such a change might make. The result is the Adventure Edition: updated to be Faster, more Furious in action, and more Fun to play!
Which of the rule changes are you most excited about and why?
Shane: Chases are pretty exciting, as are Quick Encounters, but my favorite by far is Tests (which replaces Tricks and Tests of Will) and Support (which replaces cooperative rolls). It seems subtle at first, but the way it actually plays means there's much more interaction between players, and it tends to be incredibly creative. We've had playtesters bamboozle a space pirate with her Science skill (Test with Science vs Smarts) and keep a teammate alive simply by telling them how much they admire their courage (Support with Persuasion while they were Bleeding Out). That's pretty cool.
How easy will it be to convert older content to Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, and will there be a conversion guide of some sort in the foreseeable future?
We'll release a simple conversion guide, but it's pretty easy. Mostly you'll just want to add a few new skills and ignore some old ones. If something points to an Edge or Hindrance, just use the one in the new edition rather than the old...that kind of thing. Of course a few things might need a bit more work...we've changed Chases completely, for example, so any book that has a special rule for Chases might not make sense in the new system
Why did you decide to break from your previous model and release GM tips separately from the core rules?
Shane: The Savage Worlds Adventure Edition focuses on the adventures our friends around the world are having...mostly as players. It takes a special kind of person to step up and agree to Game Master for her group, so we decided to keep those sections separate. While it's certainly beneficial for a player to read the Game Master section, odds are higher he will focus on the sections to create his character instead.
You recently unveiled a new licensing program called Savage Worlds Adventurer’s Guild. What makes this licensing program different from what you have previously done, and what sets it apart from what other companies are doing?
Jodi: Several other companies have created "Community Content" programs like DM's Guild is for Dungeons & Dragons, and each has essentially copied the setup and edited to their needs. We confess to doing largely the same, but with some very important changes.
Licensing is tricky, right? We cannot allow there to be any confusion about intellectual properties we have licensed for Savage Worlds such as Flash Gordon™, Rifts®, The Goon™, Fear Agent™, The Sixth Gun, Lankhmar, or Solomon Kane. We also need to retain the intellectual property rights for our own settings like Deadlands, The Last Parsec, East Texas University, Weird Wars, and Rippers. For these reasons and more, no setting IP is available for use by the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild. Guild licensing allows access to the core Savage Worlds game mechanics (only), so creators can make their own settings come alive!
We also decided creators should keep their own IP. This means anyone who publishes content in the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild retains the rights to that product. They can sell the rights, defend them, and if HBO comes calling (just as an example) to develop their cool story idea into a miniseries, Pinnacle doesn't have a place at the negotiation table. This is different from other Community Content programs.
Next, products published in any Community Content program pay royalties to OneBookShelf (who hosts the site) and the company who created the game system. Instead of the higher royalty fees others are collecting, Pinnacle's royalty is only 10%. This is largely to offset the development costs of templates, art, and other assets Guild members will have access to.
Finally, some Community Content programs limit the formats available. We're opening it up to everything. Cards, Fiction, Adventures, Maps, etc. ...all are allowed in our program!
We're pretty excited about the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild and can't wait to see what cool products our friends make to share. If everyone says your homebrew setting or campaign is epic, write it up! Got a cool science fiction character stat block, art, and backstory to share? Or maybe it's the diary of your campaign, written from the point of view of your bard character in iambic pentameter. Whatever it is, if you think others might like it too, the Savage Worlds Adventurer's Guild may be the place for it.
If you could bring in any new IP as an officially supported setting, what would it be?
Jodi: We've got a LOT we want to do after the release of the Adventure Edition, and a new Deadlands edition is near the top of the list! There are always a lot of cool settings which catch our eye, but we prefer to play those cards when the time is right. :)
Check out Pinnacle Entertainment’s whole line including plenty of Savage Worlds here, and the new Savage Worlds Adventure Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/545820095/savage-worlds-adventure-edition
There are a lot of game designers within our small community of tabletop RPGs that have created a wide variety of games. The creativity of our fellow gamers is truly staggering, and with the many D20 variants, D6 games, and and completely original mechanics, it's no surprise when only a select few catch our eye. I enjoy digging through the sea of available games from time to time, and finding ones that really shine. Below are five roleplaying games that deserve your time and attention.
1) Vs Ghosts
Want a nostalgic throwback to the glorious days of the Ghostbusters? Look no further. Vs Ghosts focuses on the goofier side of monster hunting in the modern era with fun cartoonish art and eye-catching layout. It uses a standard deck of playing cards as a randomizer, with a character drawing a number of cards equal to their most relevant attribute and choosing the highest card. It is rules lite, and would be easy to teach to kids for a fun romp through a haunted mansion. It would be great for the occasional one-shot but has the legs to run a longer campaign as well.
2) Romance Of The Perilous Land
This hidden gem revolves around Romantic Fantasy, focusing on old British folklore. It is a complete game in only 50 pages, and uses a straightforward d20 system firmly rooted in OSR games. This game is clearly inspired by the fantastic Black Hack system, which means it’s fast and flexible. There are six classes to choose from: Knight, Ranger, Thief, Cunning Folk, Barbarian, and Bard. A full bestiary containing many creatures from ancient lore can be found as well. There is only a PDF version on DrivethruRPG, which is Pay What You Want so it can be had for free if you’re so inclined.
The setting in Summerland is highly evocative, a post-apocalyptic world where nature took over, destroying the modern world and forcing mankind into a simpler life. To make matters worse, there are those who feel a primal call to revert to their base nature, and must fight against it. Summerland is a game of people overcoming past traumas and finding healing in a primal world. The current edition of Summerland uses a version of the Open D6 engine while the first edition had original mechanics that were more simplistic and narrative.
This fantastic game tasks the players with slaying gods while struggling to maintain their humanity, resisting the call of god-hood. The more a character strives to slay the oppressive gods from above, the more likely they are to succumb to their power as they grow strong enough to slay them. The game itself is fairly narrative, but the rules are also heavy and take a while to get used to. You'll need a lot of dice and chips/game tokens, but you're in for one epic tale. And to sweeten the pot, the PDF is free with an option to buy a print version.
5) Blood Of Pangea
This game is firmly rooted in the sword and sorcery genre, where savage barbarians take on sinister wizards with only an axe in hand. It revolves around a 2d6 mechanic, and a resource called Might that players can use to boost their rolls, cast magic, or avoid death. Character creation revolves around writing out a short story for your character composed of only 30 words. Though the game is primarily narrative, there are still rules for encumbrance, armor, and money, giving it a solid old school feel. The game really stresses resource management, knowing when to spend Might, rely on your armor to stop a hit, or when to use Might to increase a roll.
It's easy to spend money on some of the games with higher production values and the flashy cover. But next time you're thinking about buying a new game, maybe check out one of these hidden gems. The passion that these developers put into their work shows, and is worth the asking price.
Nathan Carmen is the founder and head writer of the Indie RPG company, Tricky Troll Games. Nathan loves building worlds and improving his craft when he’s not busy parenting. Reach Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the TTG website at https://nathanccarmen.wixsite.com/trickytrollgames
Picture Reference: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/187788/vs-Ghosts?term=vs+ghosts&test_epoch=0affiliate_id=657321
Being the Game Master is hard. I get it, you’re the one that has to do all the checks and balances of the campaign. NPCs, items, spells, maps, dungeon layouts, and the story. You also have to check and balance the PC’s character sheets to make sure everything adds up and balances out, and if you have a gaming group even remotely similar to my own, you may find yourself the only one who can actually math properly. So I can sympathize when you might just NOT want to bother trying to balance an entire campaign setting AND plot along with everything else.
It’s just easier to use the book…
I can sympathize, but I also humbly disagree. I already find most premade campaigns lacking in substance, but I am not referring just to the premade materials. You can use a large portion, (if not all), of premade campaigns and still create a largely story-driven setting. I would also like to note I am also not suggesting you create an entire mechanics system from the ground up for your story, (though I have been known to do this and even keep that entire system due to the preference of my gamers).
I also realize you probably don’t want to have stacks and stacks of paper notes sitting on your side of the table. (I have also been known to get… over zealous on the notes at times.) I know your PCs do not want to sit there for 15 minutes watching you leaf through stacks and stacks of notes while you try to figure out where they are going next. I get it! I really do! However, as both a writer and a Game Master, I have learned some nifty little tricks to help you create a more immersive and story-driven world without doing more than you are likely already doing as a Game Master.
1) Weapons And/Or Armor Level Up
Part of the problem with many campaigns, especially like the ones found in Dungeons and Dragons, is managing all the items, weapons, armor, and other such gear your PCs will acquire. To minimize bloat, (and save some of the Game Master’s brain cells), try creating weapons and/or armor that level up with your PCs. This can be as simple as magic weapons that grow as the player characters face certain challenges in the campaign world, gain feats, or face, and in some cases conquer, their fears.
A personal favorite of mine, if you really wanna get creative, create living weapons with souls with and their own personalities. Weapons that the players must form a bond with in order to properly wield and unlock the weapons most powerful innate abilities.
2) Edges And Flaws For All Characters
This is a requirement in all of my campaigns of any length! I played DnD for years and got really bored with how almost all characters were similar. When I picked up Shadowrun 3rd edition, I was blown away by the level of customizability for just the characters alone, not even counting weapons, armor, and cybernetic implant modifications. Requiring all characters to have Edges and Flaws can add an entire new layer of story and plot to your campaign. Runa the mage has a severe case of arachnophobia? Well, when the party faces off against a group of Driders in the underdark she’s gonna be put through her own personal hell.
Gorag Stone-Heart is a brave dwarven warrior who fears nothing… but he can’t swim and is secretly too terrified of water to learn? Well when your ship sinks off the frigid coast due to a pirate attack now you have a whole new layer of drama added to your campaign.
The possibilities are literally endless!
3) Center The Campaign Around Player Character Back-Stories
Almost every player I have ever sat down with has some kind of story for their character. We’re all human. We love to hear and create our own stories, especially when we feel passionate about something or we are trying to explain the unknown. (Ahem… Religion… Ahem!) So why not integrate that concept into the very meat of your campaign?
Create or tailor the campaign around who… or better yet, what your characters are. Your party is composed mostly of fighter classes? Perhaps they are all students of a guild going on an epic quest to prove themselves? Maybe they are classmates of a combat school that never really got along and are now stuck working together.
Have a party of a bunch of different classes and/or races? They were forced to work together by a king or deity and not a damn one of them has ever wanted to get to know the other, let alone work with the other. However, now they have no choice but to try and get over themselves if they are going to have any hope of survival.
Racism is an epic flaw or back-story to use here!
4) Allow Time For Social Interaction
In every, and yes, I mean every campaign I have ever run, or have ever had the pleasure… (or displeasure in some cases) to play in, there is always… always a point where we are sitting around a campfire, at a tavern, or in some social environment and nine-times-out-of-ten, there is drinking involved! Use this time to allow your player characters to be social with one another.
Attractive female elf has caught the eye of the Barbarian? Let the scene play out! The half-drow rogue gets drunk enough to finally open up to the priestess? Let her talk about her feelings and her time in the underdark. A long conversation/conning session starts up between the bard and the high-level wizard NPC? Let them hash-it-out verbally.
I’ve seen better character development in one dialogue session than in all the dungeons they’ve run combined.
5) Two Words: White Wolf
This may seem like a joke entry but I am being completely honest here. White Wolf games do not have Game Masters, they have Storytellers! The reason they are called Storytellers and the reason all of their settings have a unique but interchangeable character sheet is simple... Their system is literally BASED around telling a story and letting the players be “actors” within the story.
I had a player who wished to play a Masquerade style vampire in one of my Shadowrun sessions once. Though technically this could be considered “lore-breaking” as vampires in Shadowrun are very different than Masquerade vampires, I allowed it. I found the system actually transfers very well into any game system.
This is not to say you should go to the same trouble of doing conversions for one system to another but take a look at one of their books and system, really dig into it! Sit in on a White Wolf or World of Darkness game session sometime and see how they structure their campaigns and stories.
The results might surprise you!
6) The Social Experiment
You awaken from cryosleep. As you fall out of your stasis pod, gasping for breath and freezing on the cold-metal floor, you realize you are surrounded by several other individuals, all wearing the same prison jumpsuit as you. The alarms are blaring and you can feel the ship groan and rumble; chunks of it break apart into the void of space. A digitized voice crackles on the overhead speakers, looping the same warning message: “The main haul has been breached! Life-support is failing, all personnel please evacuate to the escape pods immediately!”
You look to the few survivors around you, the lot of you come to the same bleak discovery: Not a single one of you can remember who you are or why you are here! You have little time to think about that however, as you can hear… something… tearing and clawing at the airlocks. The hardened doors begin to twist and buckle against the abuse, threatening to dislodge at any moment. You have no choice. If you want to survive this, you’ll have to work together and figure out who you are and why you are here!
I ran this plot during a space opera I designed recently and my players absolutely LOVED it! It allows for maximum social development and plenty of hack-n-slash mixed in. Easiest way to do this is with an all human campaign. The Game Master hands all players a blank sheet of paper and creates mock character sheets as references for him/herself. As players are faced with challenges and find weapons, you have them roll to discover their abilities.
Conversely, if you wish for a little more creativity you may have your players pick race, height, weight, eye color, hair color/style, etc. Adding flaws to the player-characters’ sheets contributes to an epic adventure, and when the players are under duress, (facing overwhelming odds and/or are injured) forcing them to roll a Willpower check decides whether their negative personality flaws and traits manifest themselves or not. Nature Vs Nurture.
Last but surely not least…
7) It Is Called R.O.L.E. Playing Not R.O.L.L. Playing
Sadly sometimes I think this rule is lost on many a Game Master. The point of role-playing is to escape reality for a bit and have some fun! The dice should never replace creativity or fun. Dice should only be used to retain balance and to resolve whether an action is successful or not.
The more creative you let your players be, and, conversely, the less restrictive your rules are, the more joy and fun you as the Game Master, and your players by extension, will have at the table. You don’t have to get so caught up in the storyline and plot that your PCs can’t make their own choices. Heck if you want, let them write the majority of the plot with their decisions. Just make sure they don’t kill themselves or destroy the world in the process!
I have played a number of tabletop games and have designed a number of campaigns that I have run to conclusion. Some I have had to let go for various reasons… lost players, work schedules, etc. I will admit, going for more of a storytelling feel and losing a player or having a character die can put a dampener on the campaign as a whole. But if you are clever and creative, you can turn even this problematic situation into storytelling gold! Incorporating one or even all of these rules into your next campaign may just bring an added, (or missing), spark to your game night and hell, who knows…
You might just decide to publish something too… one day.
Lilliana Deeters is a veteran gamer and Game Master. She has written and designed a number of custom campaign systems, (Trademarks Pending), as well as developed easy to implement conversion tables for already popular tabletop rpg systems. Lilliana is a three-time published author, all three of her novels are based around a Shadowrun campaign https://www.amazon.com/s?k=remnants+the+corporate+Chronicles. Lilliana also works as a Graphic Artist for Black Starr Creations, who generously custom designed a free image for this article.
There is a place for stock monsters like skeletons and ghouls, but there are those who believe that every monster should be unique, and that every unique monster should be a story unto themselves. With Halloween fast approaching, we can use the themes of the holiday to explore how to create unique monsters without relying on tired cliches that have lost much of their meaning. Last Halloween, I ran a one-shot in my Phantasmos campaign setting which was intended to evoke the feeling of Halloween, while using mostly original or repurposed monsters, so this will be a breakdown of how I used the themes of Halloween to create new monsters.
1) Start With A Basic Concept
Halloween is a holiday about spooky monsters, candy, “trick or treat,” and costumes, and it is also thought to be related to pagan harvest rituals. One could easily go to skeletons, vampires, ghouls, ghosts, werewolves, jack o’lanterns, and other recognizable monsters, but to me these only represent superficial characteristics of the holiday. Let’s explore the underlying themes of the holiday derived from the original pagan harvest rituals. Let’s create a new pantheon of monsters, unburdened by prior expectations, to frighten and unsettle your party. Through these creations, we can also explore the concepts of labor, the rewards for one's labor, and the anxieties around failure and uncertainty in trying times.
2) Setting The Tone
In order to set the tone, I created Daddy Delightful, an ominous, fey-like being, a bringer of the harvest, like Santa Claus with a dark twist. He rewards those who overcome their fears and anxieties towards labor. While he will defer the suffering of those who fail in their labors by providing them candied fruits and syrupy sweets, this will only exacerbate their inevitable suffering at his hands. He comes to the village once a year, just before the harvest. He is generally subdued, but can be a manic influence on those around him. He has no tolerance for those who express their anxieties publicly, especially those who would incite fear in others. He is tall, lanky, and thin. He wears a black tunic with a neon, multicolored quilted pattern. His face is obscured by a pointy hat. He carries a staff of pumpkin on a stick, and can summon a mechanical plow which he rides down roads and fields alike.
3) Driving The Plot
The village is full of fey creatures, and one in particular is the nuno sa punso (nuno), adapted from Philippine mythology. Nunos are dwarf-like, have the appearance of old men, and live in termite mounds. I decided to make them more explicitly termite-like fey creatures. Things like nail-biting and nervous eating or teeth grinding are commonly associated with anxiety, so I thought the wood-eating and mound-building behaviors of termites would be a good analogy for these anxiety behaviors and themes of labor and harvest. Bloody Fingers is an urban legend, a nervous old nuno afraid of change and afraid of others, his fingers bloody from ripping his nails, which stick in his bloody teeth. It is said that he resides in the Lost Mounds, and will kill anyone who trespasses for being too carefree and playing when they should be laboring. The urban legend explores the fears of the elderly about the youth, the trend that the elderly believe the young are too lazy, and this is reflected in his violent misanthropic and nail biting behaviors. Whereas the party’s interactions with Daddy Delightful may be dependent on their own behaviors, if they even get entangled with him at all, Bloody Fingers is an unambiguous threat, and for whatever reason the party is in the village, he will be an obstacle they must overcome to achieve their goals.
4) Fill In The Middle
We’ve established that this is a fey village, that at least one type of fey, the nuno, have termite-like features and behaviors, and that this is a time of harvest. Between the village and the Lost Mounds are the oko-men, based loosely on the Orisha Oko from Yoruba Mythology. They are multi-headed creatures of various sizes and shapes in the general appearance of pumpkins on a stick, and are said to be the spirits of those who failed at their goals or those who wrongly embrace a novel thing as tradition. While they are essentially stock undead monsters in terms of game mechanics, their appearance and mythology contributes to the basic concept we’re exploring. “Pumpkin on a stick” is reminiscent of pumpkins, which are associated with Halloween, but have a bright red color like a tomato and are small and multi-headed; they are familiar and evoke a sense of Halloween, but are different enough to signal that this is not your usual jack o’lantern. The myth serves several purposes. There is the recurring theme of failure at labor and the consequences of failure during harvest, but also a critique on how traditions change or their meanings are lost, how they can outlive their purpose, and this ties back to Bloody Fingers as the old man afraid of the youth and afraid of giving up traditions.
5) The Twist (The Final Horror)
While it may already be the case that the party doesn’t know what to expect in this unusual Halloween world, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a twist: one last monster to encounter right at the end, the Big Bad they didn’t even know to be afraid of. It turns out Bloody Fingers isn’t just a vaguely supernatural, murderous old man, but is in fact possessed by a demon. Inside Bloody Fingers is the Laplace Demon, a giant beast who will tear through the little nuno’s body upon encountering the party. The Laplace Demon is a real-world concept, an attempt to mathematically model a deterministic universe. Conceptually, this is intended to evoke the self-fulfilling prophecies of those so afraid of failure that they never try in the first place. It has the spine and musculature of a boar but the underside and legs of a termite. In addition to the termite legs, it has a secondary set of front limbs like a bat, with insect-like wing membranes. Its face is like a cross between a boar, a bat, and a termite. The termite and insectoid features support the visual theme of insectoid fey, the bat wings evokes the association between bats and Halloween, and the boar-like features reflect over-consumption or the wrecking of harvest.
And with that, we’ve created a very basic, Halloween-themed micro-setting. It explores the basic concept of Halloween as a harvest ritual and the historical fears associated with the changing of seasons from fall to winter, but it does so in a way that does not rely on tired cliches that have lost their meaning (and critiques it, to boot). Even if you’re not interested in the thematic through-line, these monsters could be used to spice up an otherwise traditional Halloween setting. On the other hand, even if you’re not into the monsters, you could explore this thematic through-line using your own monsters, or even the traditional monsters.
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://wallpaperstock.net/house%2c-halloween_wallpapers_54545_1920x1080_1.html
We have all been there. That friend who’s been fence-sitting for years finally agrees to give D&D a shot. The significant other who has been curious but hesitant to get their feet wet. And if you are anything like myself, your love of spreading the good word of our delightful hobby can be a bit, shall we say, enthusiastic. Okay, why mince words, we can get a bit crazy. Not that I blame us. Like anyone who is truly passionate about their pastimes, we want to share, and we want others to see what we see. We want to them to experience the adventures, the stories, and the grand worlds of our imagination. But that desire to share can quickly become intimidating and, let’s be honest, overwhelming for those taking their first steps into the world of tabletop gaming.
Now, to keep from scaring the straights, here are a few hard-earned lessons from mistakes I have made in the past.
1) Let The Wookie Win
It is no secret that games like Dungeons and Dragons can rack up its share of dead player characters, and this can do wonders for creating suspense, drama, and realism to the action that can propel a game. But nothing can be more frustrating to a new player than being hacked to pieces by a dice-lucky kobold. By making your new player think they can’t win, or that an already complicated game is obviously too difficult for them is a serious turn off. So, let them get some games under their belts before you bring out the murder mobs. Instead, if you want to create a sense of lethality and danger, make an important NPC and let them take the fall at a key moment. Star Trek had Red Shirts for a reason. Let your newbie be Kirk.
It may also help to run a mock combat BEFORE the real game starts. Let’s face it: the combat mechanics are the stressor, so maybe giving your new players a test drive may help sell them on the car, or game as the case may be.
2) Bait The Hook Early
With more experienced gamers, you can take your time, set the mood, build the suspense through careful and deliberate subtlety. But if you don’t hook new players early, you may never. Having them spend 2 hours shopping at the village store and whacking mole rats for a bit of coin may be a great way to establish a rich character background, but players who have no idea of the scope and depth an RPG can reach are going to be whipping out the iPhones to kill the clock right quick. So don’t hold back. Give them a taste of the action early and don’t let up!
3) Keep It Simple
Tabletop roleplaying games are light years beyond most board games in complexity, and the hundreds of pages of rules can scare the dickens out of new players. There is no reason to come out of the gate with every subtle rule and nuanced monster. Keep the rules down to the basics, only what you need to make the game fun and interactive. And don’t rule-lawyer them! If it doesn’t ruin the game, flub a rule or three. It will create a more interactive game and allow your players to warm up before they really start to dive in. If you like, try working up some simplified house rules that cut down on the mechanics and raise up the fun.
4) Play Their Game, Not Yours
The best way to hook players is to show them how games can reflect their tastes and interests. If you know your group is into Marvel movies and Teen Titans re-runs, then it’s time to get caught up on your capes and cowls. If they have read Harry Potter to the point of breaking the spine of the book, maybe a touch of modern fantasy might be in order. Either way, play what they like. If they get into the game, you can start to introduce them to new materials, and eventually they will learn that an inspired Storyteller is best, and they will hopefully be willing to try out that epic Space Pirates game you been plotting for years.
This rule is especially true of mood and theme. If you know your players like a dramatic, character driven game, don’t hit them with a dungeon crawl. If they like a humorous romp, don’t try to hand them a dark goth-punk world full of despair and horror. And for the love of Tyr, know your players! Don’t run themes that hit on real world issues and traumas that your players have experienced. If they have recently lost someone close to them, don’t murder their home village! This will turn them away from game, most likely permanently, and justifiably so.
5) Let Them “Role” At Their Own Pace
Roleplaying games can be intimidating, especially to people who might be shy or uncomfortable in a new situation. Keep this in mind, because while most of the fun of a good roleplaying game is diving into the characters and sharing their story, the act of roleplaying a character for the first time can be scary. Let them roleplay as much as they feel comfortable. If they simply want to tell you what their Cold-war spy character does instead of speaking in a phony Russian accent, let them. Forcing roleplay is only going to create pressure, and games should be fun. Don’t be a bully and let them play.
6) Create Suspense, Not Confusion
Nothing works better for a hook than a good question. By building suspense, your players instinctively want to know what will happen next. Let them hear the scratching at the door without showing them the monster. Let a few NPC’s vanish without immediate explanation. If you can make them curious, you can make them invest more into your game.
But keep it simple. Like tip number 3, introducing too complex of a story can be just as overwhelming as the mechanics. While we all want the political intrigue of Game of Thrones or sweeping mythos of Call of Cthulhu, asking your noobs to keep straight 30 NPCs, six political factions, and a pantheon of deities worthy of the Greeks is a fast path to a rage quit.
7) Hold Off On Showing Them Critical Role
Don’t misunderstand me. I love me some Matt Mercer, but don’t set the bar this high. If your players come in with a visions of high production value and professional actors to bring the game to life, they are going to leave disappointed. Remember, shows like this have a magic wand called “editing” that can smooth over the spots where we take a potty break or roleplay our character with a mouth full of Doritos. No one would watch a video of you and your friends spending 45 minutes looking up encumbrance rules. Let your players go into this knowing it is a game with friends and leave these awesome shows for after they have fallen in love with the “reality” of the game.
8) If All Else Fails, Let Them Go
As soul crushing as it may feel, not everyone is going to be into gaming. It is a truth we all must come to grips with. If a new player shows up, gives it the old college try, and still walks away ‘meh’, then that is that. Some people juggle geese, and that is okay. Don’t ruin a friendship or relationship over a game. You don’t want someone who games out of obligation, and you seriously don’t want to pressure friends and family into an activity that takes up hours upon hours of their week if they are not having fun. Smile, let them go, and find something else that you both like to do.
Michael Lee Bross a contributing editor for D10Again.com and an avid lifetime gamer. He been a game master, player, world-builder, and designer for nearly 30 years. He is also a graduate of the MFA in Poetry program at Drew University, and is an active writer of both poetry and speculative fiction. His work has been published in such periodicals as Lifeboat, Mobius Poetry Magazine, and Let’s talk Philadelphia. His poetry chapbook, “Meditations on an Empty Stomach” also won the 2015 Arts by the People Chapbook Award. Michael currently teaches English at the University of Scranton and East Stroudsburg University.
Picture Reference: http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/rpg_starterset
Running a sandbox game isn't for the light hearted, organization is prime and being ready to respond to player actions is a close second. If you are properly prepared, a sandbox is an easy way to run a game. There are books, blogs, and podcasts by the dozens talking about different methods of pregame preparation. All have their own method; preparation is something that everyone does differently, just like dungeon mastering. So which one is for you? I can't say, but I can give you insight into the tools I use. Aside from good pens, a mechanical pencil, and a bunch of dice what do you need to prepare for a sandbox game? I'll tell you what I use and why.
1) Red Tide And An Echo Resounding
These two books by Kevin Crawford revolutionized my preparation style. They have advice on your GM binder and what to keep in it, an easy system for randomly determining and populating an area with cities, towns, ruins, and lairs and maps to steal. An Echo Resounding sets up domains and factions, details domain turns, and mass combat, should things get ugly. Both are short and easy to read and come with detailed examples to help you work through it the first time. I've adapted them to my style and use them for most of my randomly determined areas, and sometimes for pre-populated ones too. These two well worn and sticky-tabbed books are easily in the top three most used in my library. What's the top one?
2) Dungeon Masters Guide
I prefer the first edition dungeon masters guide, but the fifth edition is no slouch! Both cover things beyond the rules of their respective edition, talking about time, non-player characters, and adventure locales just to name a few topics. The random tables in each cover personalities, traits, motives, and best of all random dungeons. If I'm drawing out a dungeon for a game, making non-player characters, or creating an encounter, one of these is what I reach for. Seeing a theme yet?
3) Random Tables
Random tables help you get away from same thinking. Anytime I need a question answered in my preparation I turn to a random table to break out of similar ideas. Similar ideas can be great in the beginning, even enforce a theme, but after a few sessions they start to seem stale. Random tables mix it up creating wild combinations that you need to make sense of; things I couldn't have come up with on my own. The books on my table lately have been The Dungeon Dozen, d30 sandbox and Tome of Adventure Design. The latter being my most used book in the last six sessions I prepared.
4) A Good Monster Book
Monsters are the base of encounters in Dungeons and Dragons. Whether you are making random tables or static encounters, you are going to need a lot more enemies than the ones in the back of the Players Handbook. Sometimes just flipping through a book will inspire an encounter or maybe even a whole adventure. That's the way the fifth edition Monster Manual is written, according to Mike Mearls. If you haven't read the Monster Manual, take the time, as it's well worth it. After exhausting that, pick up Tome of Beasts, Tome of Horrors, or use the fifth edition Dungeon Masters Guide and make some of your own!
5) Tablet, Laptop, Or PC
I like to run digital. Most of my collection is in PDFs, I make maps and graph paper, and keep all my notes online. At my game I run with my laptop, dndbeyond.com, and Nitro PDF reader. I even have a tv set up for maps, pictures of monsters, and rules to show the players. At home I like to prepare on my PC; there are four basic programs I use. A digital art program for maps, handouts, and paper minis. Photoshop is what I use, but GIMP, painter or whatever you have will work too. With online notes syncing across all devices, I can prepare wherever on whatever is handy (I do a lot of work on my phone). I use OneNote as my GM binder and have a lot of worksheets and forms set up to help me with the common things like settlements and adventures. OneNote works for me, but Evernote and Google Drive, or offline applications like Scrivener and Campaign Logger are also options. A PDF reader for all my PDFs, Nitro, Foxit, or Acrobat all work fine. The last one is a web browser. I get a lot of encounters, maps, paper minis, and ideas from the internet. Places like ENWorld, reddit, and Discord are some of my go-to communities. Remember great dungeon masters steal ideas! Just don't publish stolen material.
Yes, as digital as I like to be, plain old paper is a staple for my game preparation. If only for scribbling notes or sketching an encounter, I always seem to find a need for paper. I have a disc bound notebook to jot stuff down quickly or take notes during an encounter. I use this notebook for when I'm stuck, somehow staring at a blank sheet of paper gets my creative juices flowing. A doodle here, a number there, a list of names, and I'm off to the races, heading toward OneNote with ideas in hand ready to develop into a solid encounter.
Preparing for a game is a path all dungeon masters have to trudge down, but it doesn't have to be such a chore. We're dungeon masters partially because we love to create and sometimes we need some help with that creation. Having the right tools can make that session preparation a whole lot more fun and easy. I hope I’ve introduced you to some that fit into your preparation style.
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.
As someone who takes a visceral pleasure in knowing the ins and outs of a system, I understand the appeal of making it do things that some people don’t expect it to. Whether it’s making a character build for Luke Cage in Pathfinder, or coming up with unexpected multiclass combinations for 5th Edition DND, doing something out of the ordinary with an existing rules system can be a lot of fun.
However, with that said, it’s also true that a lot of the time a certain game is simply not meant to accommodate certain themes or play styles. As an example, Pathfinder is so steeped in high magic (it’s in the history, the culture, the Golarion setting, and what feels like more than half the available classes get spellcasting) that attempting to run a low-to-no magic game is going to be problematic past the first few levels. If for no other reason than the game is assuming you have access to magic weapons to fight monsters, magical healing to press through multiple encounters, etc. so you’ll have to re-engineer everything from the ground up. Call of Cthulhu is great for investigative type games, but making it a class and level-based game is sort of the opposite of what it’s intended for. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons is a lot of fun, and it’s really flexible, but it doesn’t really accommodate a modern fantasy game that’s more about monsters like werewolves and vampires as PCs. Especially one where there are no fantasy races, no divine casters, and where other major elements of the rules don’t apply.
Despite that, though, I bet we all have a story about a DM who tried to make an idea like this work. If you’re that DM, here are some questions you should ask yourself.
1) Can I Make This Work?
The first thing you need to do is look at all the parts and pieces you have, and ask if it’s possible to turn the game you have into the game you want. While it might seem obvious, a lot of DMs don’t sit down and evaluate the materials they’re working with first; they just dive in and start making changes, assuming they can get the end results they want with enough tinkering.
Reflection at this stage can save you a lot of frustration later on.
2) What’s My Return On Investment?
I’m all for modding a game to make it more fun. Hell, you could make the argument that a large portion of my job is to think of stuff for other dungeon masters to add into their games to keep their fun and engagement running high. But from one mechanic to another, let me ask you this… how much work are you willing to put in when you don’t have to?
Imagine, for a moment, that your game of choice is a pickup truck. It’s durable, it’s dependable, and you know that if you need to really haul some heavy weight, it will do the job. What that truck will not do, though, is win a drag race against a sleek little speed demon geared to pick up and play. It doesn’t matter if you beef up the engine, add a NOS unit, and remove some of the bulkier, workhorse aspects… this truck isn’t meant to be a dragster. You can make it faster… but the question is why? Why would you do that, instead of just getting one car for racing, and one car for hauling?
This is what I mean when I talk about return on investment when it comes to your time and energy as a DM. Because on the one hand, if you really know a system, you’ve already put in that time to learn it. You’ve probably got books and pdf files chock full of resources, as well as experience. But what that doesn’t cover is how much work you’re going to have to do to modify the game, and then to explain/teach those modifications to your players. Then there’s all the re-tooling you’ll have to do to your modifications (often on the fly), when it turns out something you thought was solid doesn’t actually hold up in practice. That can lead to frustration all around the table, and sap the energy from a session.
Before you start a mod, all you need to do is ask yourself this question; are you putting in more time, energy, and resources into modding the game you know than you would in finding a different game that was made expressly to do what you want? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself why you’re doing that. Because on the one hand, it’s true that learning a different game takes time, effort, and usually costs you money. On the other hand, though, you’re also putting in resources to mod an existing game… and the further you have to mod it to do what you want, the more resources you’re putting in.
3) Am I Stuck In My Comfort Zone?
There is another factor at play when it comes to these total overhauls, and it’s one that kicks objectivity right out the window. Because if you know a game really well, and you like playing it, then you may not want to start over to learn something else. And if you’re going to be the DM, you’d rather have some version of your game of choice than a game you’re less familiar with… even if that game does exactly what you want for your story.
However, while it’s perfectly possible to assemble a Russian fighter jet cockpit from spare farming equipment parts, you may want to step back and ask why you did that. Because even if you can recognize all of the parts and pieces in play, and even if you can drive a tractor, that doesn’t mean you can fly a MIG made of tractor parts. Or that your players will want to.
The question of when changes have become too much will depend entirely on you, and your game. But when you start trying to twist your game’s mechanics to do things it was never intended for, it might be time to put down the combine harvester, and to look for a different machine specifically built to do the job you need.
But if you decide to stick with your initial plan to heavily modify an existing game, ask yourself why? Is it because this is really the best game to tell the story you want, and to provide your players with the proper experience? Or is it because this is the game you know best, and you’d be more comfortable trying to make a tractor fly than in using an actual plane?
For more by Neal Litherland, check out his Gamers archive, or head to his blog Improved Initiative!
Picture Reference: http://www.infobarrel.com/How_to_Build_Luke_Cage_in_The_Pathfinder_RPG
The following article discusses a game that contains disturbing images and scenes of explicit violence and gore.
If you’re a fan of Capcom’s survival horror games, most notably the Resident Evil series, the above line is without a doubt familiar to you. It’s similar to the message splayed across the screen every time you boot one up, warning you that what you’re about to see is, frankly, horrifying.
I bring this up because it’s something I can’t stress enough: today, we’re going to be talking about Nechronica, a fan-translated game from Japan about zombie-cyborg little girls in a far flung future where humanity is completely wiped out. The themes and imagery used in this game are gruesome.
If you’ve got a weak stomach or are easily disturbed, this isn’t the game for you.
Consider yourself warned, dear reader.
1) Who Made This?
This game was developed by the Japanese game company Incog Labs. This is a company that was also responsible for the release of a game Golden Sky Stories, which is the absolute polar opposite of Nechronica (by virtue of it being a heartwarming game about cute animal spirits helping the villagers).
An unofficial translation is currently available, and still a work in progress. The core rules for playing (dice mechanics, character creation, etc.) have been completed, as well as some of the game’s setting information, and even a few sample scenarios to help give any new GMs an idea of how the game might be run.
What the game is missing, however, is details on devising one’s own scenarios. So while one could extrapolate from the information present in the sample scenarios, that only does so much in lieu of more distinct guidelines.
2) What’s The Premise and Setting?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Nechronica is a game set in the far flung future, about 200 years from modern times. As computer and weapon technology advanced, humanity found themselves in a constant state of war. It was initially between nations, but as bio-weapons began seeing use, war quickly changed: humans were now trying to survive against their creations.
The humans lose, and after they’re completely wiped out, all that’s left are the bio-weapons called dolls and their AI commanders called Necromancers. To idle their time away, the Necromancers like to instill memories of what human-life was once like into their dolls, making what once destroyed humanity into a facsimile of it.
Nechronica is a game where you play as one of these dolls, possessing memories you can just barely recall of a life you may have never actually lived, while dancing along a war-torn hellscape to your sadistic master’s whims.
3) What Are The Mechanics Like?
Characters in Nechronica are composed mostly of skills and equipment they posses, most of which affect what you can accomplish in combat. Skills are acquired from your Position (what role you serve in Doll society) and your Classes. Additionally, your Classes also dictate what parts are available to you.
This game has some very detailed combat rules, with almost every part that makes up your character serving some purpose in combat. Outside of combat, most of what you’ll be doing is exploring and conversing with other players in character. Any sort of roll made outside of combat can be assisted with any part you have, assuming you can justify how it would help. (Thankfully, these parts include basic things like “Eyes” and “Arms.”)
Nechronica has comparatively simple mechanics. Everything is based on d10s, and you’re aiming to hit 6 or higher to succeed. Anything higher than 10 is critical success, which usually only grants special results in combat. However, critical failures are achieved on a 1, which usually end with any parts involved being destroyed.
The threats in this game are both being destroyed utterly, which happens when all parts are broken, and having your heart broken. Dolls in Nechronica have what are called “Fetters,” which represent their connections to other dolls. Stressful situations, such as horrifying encounters or even battle, cause these Fetters to acquire madness. When all of a Doll’s Fetters acquire a certain amount, their heart is broken, they lose their mind, and become one of the very monsters they fight against.
4) What Is This Similar To?
I’ve frankly had trouble finding any contemporary game that can accurately be compared to Nechronica. However it does have a few idiosyncrasies that are more common in Japanese games (tabletop and computer) than their Western counterparts.
There’s a certain kind of poetry present in the names. For example, in combat, there are five zones that characters can be in; a center zone shared between enemies and the players, and two back row zones for either side. Instead of naming them something like “center,” “short” and “long” for either side, the zones are instead named after various after-life worlds, such as Elysium, Tartarus, or Eden.
Additionally, much like many other games from Japan, Nechronica has very effective mechanics in place that unite combat and roleplaying without being cumbersome. For this game, it’s Madness and Parts. Madness is gained during combat, so it behooves you to participate outside of combat to reduce it beforehand. Furthermore, while Parts have explicit uses in combat, and their outside of combat use is left open ended. Overusing them is ill advised: critical failures are always a possibility that end with Parts breaking.
5) Is It Worth Getting Into?
This game is meant to be really dramatic; you’re taking on the role of a literal plaything, that may wind up completely broken either physically or mentally. So if you can stomach horror and play things straight, this game can really dial up drama.
If you’re more prone to clowning around and turning everything into a farcical comedy (like yours truly), it can lend itself to some hilarious moments. Moments such as an obsessive cannibal being trusted wholeheartedly by an oblivious ditz. A ditz that isn’t freaked out by a slimy green ooze seeping out of their third party member’s eye and into their mouth. Instead, the ditz would completely lose her mind when her favorite dress gets ripped up.
Just bear in mind: as of this writing, there’s no official translation, so if you’re the sort that insists on supporting the original creator no matter what, you’ll need to engage in the somewhat risky and very expensive practice of importing from Japan.
Aaron der Schaedel may or may not have inadvertently joined a frog-worshipping cult after making a soft-cover book out of the fan-translated .pdf of Nechronica. He actually isn’t sure if they’re really a cult, but even if they are, at least this isn’t the first time he’s found himself in the company of cultists. Aaron can be found on twitter @Zamubei (For now…)
Picture Reference: https://solarisjapan.com/products/nechronica-supplement-hakoniwa-no-monogatari-guide-book-role-playing-game
Wizards of the Coast recently released Waterdeep: Dragon Heist into the wild and it is a unique take on their usual two hundred fifty plus hardback adventures. Instead of starting at level five and going to fifteen or past, this adventure is purely tier one, levels one to four (five by the end). Wizards had Kobold Press do something similar in the beginning of fifth edition with Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, but this is the first hardback that focuses on the lowest levels and newer dungeon masters. Wizards has a habit of writing adventures for people who have played Dungeons and Dragons before, leaving a lot of advice, technique and common issues left out. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist does a good job of putting options and comments in the text that encourage good gaming habits.
1) Useable Maps
Although a printed Mike Schley map looks great on the table, a drawn map is a more common occurrence at the tables I’ve played at. Instead of the usual (albeit beautiful) Schley painted maps we have more generic Dyson Logos maps. Dyson has a simplistic, gameable style that translates well to the battle maps that most of us use for our games. Also, these maps are smaller and lend themselves to be used over and over; in fact the book leads the new dungeon master to this conclusion.
There are often things written in adventures directed to entertain the dungeon master while reading that the players will never see. This book takes that a step further and gives you four ten step paths reusing the same ten maps as different locations each time. Again, this promotes good dungeon master habits (reuse, repurpose, and steal) in new dungeon masters and keeps the dungeon master entertained on subsequent playthroughs of the hardback. Getting your fifty dollars out of a product has never been this fun. A dungeon master can run this for the same group and only the first two chapter are the same, and even those will likely play out different as the second is very free form and weather effects will wreak havoc on the players’ plans.
3) Leads Dungeon Masters In the Right Direction When Things Go Wrong
It’s said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, this is true in Dungeons and Dragons as well. When four minds go up against one, those four players will always think of things the dungeon master has forgotten. For example, when a non player character is mentioned they let the dungeon master know that if that NPC is dead or otherwise removed from play they can just be substituted with a generic version of them. There are also many ideas of how to handle the situation when those players go sideways or get stuck in the story.
4) Sandbox Done Right
Starting at around level two, the players are given the option to do what they want. New and even seasoned players can get analyzation paralyzation when faced with more than three choices. When the dungeon master looks at you and asks, “What do you want to do?” a player will likely freeze up. In the sandbox chapter of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, they don’t just dump you into a list of locations hundreds of miles apart (looking at you Storm King’s Thunder), but instead give you ideas of what the players can do and of things that can happen during this time.
5) Using Non Standard Rules
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist could have stuck to the core rules and not made any changes to them, but instead Wizards again chooses to lead a new dungeon master into a good routine by suggesting that some things may not work the normal way. Using variant rules like “Skills with Different Abilities,” taking disadvantage to give another player advantage, or the addition of constant weather effects during each season, Wizards encourages a new dungeon master to look beyond the rules for options as they come up.
6) Obvious Money Sinks
In each Dungeons & Dragons hardback adventure there is always an incredible influx of gold that the characters receive. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist expands upon some of the rules in the Dungeon Masters Guide for spending gold. Running a business is covered in the Dungeon Masters Guide, but setting one up isn’t. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist not only lets the dungeon master know how much gold is needed to repair and run the business, but also who players will need to talk to and what happens if players eschew the guilds. There are prices for some scrolls as well if the players wish to purchase them, I don’t remember seeing these anywhere else and will use them as a base when pricing scrolls in the future.
In most Dungeons and Dragons official material there is a lack of advice for someone just starting to run games. As far as direct advice, there still is, but if you take a look at the habits Wizards is trying to develop in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist there is some great insights. While I’d rather see a section of advice, this is heading in a good direction. In fact, I think Wizards of the Coast finally out did the Starter Set adventure (Lost Mine of Phandelver) in ease of entry for a new gaming group. This would be my new recommendation for a dungeon master just starting if the price of the required books and dice wasn't so high.
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.
Image source: 2018 Wizards of the Coast
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