What can you do when you have no players waiting for you to blow their minds with a great story? Well, I looked to my kids one night after a bedtime story request. My trouble was that I find reading my kids bedtime stories to be more of a tedious chore, so I decided to stick to what I enjoy and pulled out a child-friendly RPG. Getting kids into roleplaying games can be tricky, the following are my choices of systems that I think are great roleplaying games to play with kids.
1) Tails Of Equestria
Created by one of the writers of the My Little Pony TV show, this book contains the core rules and an adventure to get you started. All you need are character sheets, dice and some tokens to reward good roleplaying. The book takes you step by step through the very easy to read rules and character creation, with the addition of a starter adventure that would take two perhaps even three sessions.
As it comes from an existing universe of characters and locations, there are lots of possibilities to grasp your young ones’ imagination, aided by a TV show that you can use as an inspiration source.
2) FATE Accelerated
This version works better than Core FATE for kids, as the Approach system is far easier for younger kids to understand, compared to using a list of skills. Asking a child “what does your character do?” followed by “how does s/he do that?” then having them roll the dice and get excited about the result is very rewarding.
There’s no setting too far for this generic system to work with: the sky, or underdark, or goblin mines, or starship… you get the point. My only advice is to get some ideas about a good point economy before just jumping in.
3) Amazing Tales
Fairly new to the market, I picked this up as soon as I found out about it. It’s very simple and you can be running a game with your kids in around 10 minutes after opening the front cover. The character creation is fun and simple. You just need a name, picture, and things they are good at and your kid is ready to get adventuring.
With only three parts to character creation kids should easily be able to concentrate long enough to get the job done, just fill out the super simple character sheet, of which there are a few designs (either text only or picture boxes to explain your skills), and you’re on your way. The rulebook comes with three child friendly settings for you to jump in feet first.
4) Lasers and Feelings
This is a free, one page rule set that makes it simple to quickly roll up an entire game using only 3d6, although it is better with a few more dice. Within just a few steps and the provided tables you can roll up a character and the GM can quickly throw together a session. If you scout online you may even find homebrew variations including settings like Mouseguard.
With only a single page of rules, Lasers Feeling is the simplest game to run: name your character, pick a number between two and five (inclusive), then roll up an adventure on the tables.
Whatever game you choose from this list or elsewhere, make sure you keep in mind that children can have short attention spans which can lead to them not playing. This is fine, just call a break and come back another time. Including your child’s ideas into the game can prolong their enjoyment of it and focus, so be flexible and remember that if they enjoy playing now, you can run games for them and their friends creating the next generation of roleplayers. Let’s keep this great hobby alive!
Ross Reid is a roleplay enthusiast who enjoys creating and running campaigns both as GM and player, he is currently in the middle of a one year CoC campaign with his original character still breathing, and has a preference toward the FATE games. He is currently working on a 24 hour roleplay marathon split over three days to raise money for a children's hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Picture Reference: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/222950/Amazing-Tales-complete-kids-RPG
The dungeon master has the power to make or break a game. Good dungeon masters can transport you to a land of fantasy, and make even the clunkiest of game mechanics fun and engaging. Bad dungeon masters, on the other hand, can take what looks like a great game on paper and make it into the kind of experience that will drive you to drink.
If you have yet to be visited by any of the dungeon masters on this list, then beware! For in your future you may yet have to contend with…
1) The Naked Emperor
Every dungeon master was once new. There was a time when you didn’t know where the monster stats were, when you bungled a plot twist, or when you messed up rules calls more often than you got them right. But most dungeon masters learn from these mistakes, re-read the text, and eventually find their groove.
Not the Naked Emperor.
No, for you see, the Emperor has no need of such plebeian things like books or lore with which to make their decisions. Clothed in the invisible garments of their own brilliance, it’s uncommon for the Emperor to even know the mechanics of the game they’re running beyond the very basics. Convinced that the stories they have to tell transcend such things, questions about damage, resistances, or even class features are met with a dismissive wave of the hand.
In short, the Naked Emperor is the know-nothing DM who has no interest in getting into the mechanics of how the game runs, because that isn’t their concern. They rarely keep players for long, and when those players find other groups it can take some time to forget the behavior they learned in the Emperor’s Court.
2) The Author
In an ideal game setting, the dungeon master runs the non-player characters, the plot, and the world physics. The players are in control of their characters, and the actions those characters take. The dungeon master sets up the situation, the players react to it, and collaboratively they tell a story.
Not at the Author’s table.
The Author sees themselves more as a director of all the action taking place at the table. While the players might be the ones behind the characters, they’re treated more like actors on a set. They can improvise, and put their own spin on things, but the Author insists on certain paths being taken, and certain actions not being taken. Their games are characterized by problems with one-and-only-one solution, by constant interruptions explaining to players why their current actions will not work, and at times literal divine intervention pointing an arrow down a specific path.
No matter how beautiful the setting, how flowery the words, or how attentive to mechanical detail an author is, their games tend to feel more like a police state where you are attempting to guess the dungeon master’s desires rather than playing. Because without freedom, you’re not playing a game… you’re just part of a play where only one of you has the script, and he won’t share it with everyone else.
3) The Schoolmaster
A good gaming group has its share of messing around, in-jokes, and silliness. After all, you’re getting together around a table with your friends pretending to be elves, dwarves, wizards, and assassins… it’s kind of a silly thing to be doing, and taking yourself too seriously can backfire.
No one seems to have told the Schoolmaster this, though.
The Schoolmaster has underlying rules to how a game table should be managed. Players should be attentive, listening to all of the information they relate before taking the baton back so they can begin roleplaying again. The Schoolmaster expects you to listen when they talk, and to follow their lead. In short, they treat their players more like children who need to be corralled, and less like adults who are here to have fun together.
When the dungeon master tries to get everyone’s attention, it’s a good idea to listen. But when they start threatening to give players detention, and lecturing instead of being part of the game, it’s time to move on to a table run by someone who isn’t possessed by the spirit of Ichabod Crane.
4) The Adversary
RPGs are full of uphill battles, ambushes, tense negotiations, and hard-fought skirmishes. These are the challenges the characters have to overcome in order to reach their goal, and to bring the story to its completion. And while no dungeon master wants to make it easy on the players, most of them don’t want to kill the party.
The Adversary does.
For the Adversary, the story is a secondary concern. The game has a binary outcome, and for them to win, the party has to die. Adversaries tend to have enemies that are noticeably outside the party’s weight class, but they are also the first to cry foul if a tactic or power proves particularly successful against their villains. They will out-and-out strip abilities from player characters, stating that they no longer work, or switch tactics entirely to ensure that strategy is nullified completely. Worst of all, though, Adversaries have no empathy for the players’ goals. They may pay lip service to the idea that you’re all here to tell a story, but the Adversary won’t consider the game a victory if they haven’t made the players bleed for every inch of ground they cover.
Adversaries breed mistrust, but even worse, they can lead to players grabbing every advantage they can possibly find. This often leads to dungeon masters who aren’t adversarial thinking these players are just power-gaming munchkins, more concerned with bonuses than with the story. Adversaries leave scars and habits that can be hard to unlearn.
5) The Punisher
A good dungeon master lets the laws of cause and effect play out in the world. They arbitrate things neutrally, and allow complications and solutions to arise naturally from the actions of the player characters. In short, their actions have consequences, but those consequences fall into the “what comes up must come down” school of mechanics.
This is not the case for the Punisher.
For the Punisher, any act that fails is an excuse to inflict upon that character an Old Testament level of pain or humiliation. A Punisher’s critical fumble deck is well-thumbed and dog-eared from use, and they’ve never once asked players if they even wanted to use that optional mechanic. They simply take it as a given. The Punisher takes glee in natural 1’s, and may even attach consequences to regular failed rolls, as well. Broken weapons, injuring yourself, feedback from spells that failed to penetrate an enemy’s defenses, and even slipping on random banana peels and falling prone in the middle of a fight are all commonplace for the Punisher’s games. Some Punishers play it straight, giving the same drawbacks to the monsters, but they fail to see that a monster breaking its weapon has a much smaller impact overall than a PC who has lost their primary weapon in the middle of a dungeon.
Punishers tend to suck the fun out of a game, particularly if the table is on a good run of bad luck. Adding insult to injury may be done in the name of “realism,” but the result is more often a game that feels like it actively wants you to stop playing.
There are certain challenges we all have to face in life as gamers. Remember that if you’re ever faced with one of these dread DMs, remember that if you survive you get XP… and you’ll learn to recognize the signs the next time you see one of these game masters across a table.
For more from Neal Litherland, check out his Gamers archive along with his blog Improved Initiative!
Picture Reference: https://dungeondutchess.com/tag/gm/
“Any axe is a good axe.” Ah, Dwarves. Every races has a certain stigma behind them in small human towns. For the most part, adventurers seem to be the exception to this. Although not every Elf is for equal rights, and not every Halfling is brooding and in (really adorable) plate armor. Of course it's worth exploring these wonderful little worlds of stereotypes because often they're based on a shred of truth. Or in other cases, a rather large pile of truth.
A personal favorite of mine, Elves are the pointy eared, bow-shooting, magic-casting tree folk with an unnatural beauty and a thoughtful nature. Beware, because behind that calm and collected nature sits a xenophobe true and true. Who hasn’t wanted to spew racial slurs at everything under the sun every now and then?
Humans? Inferior. Dwarves? Idiots. Halflings? Won’t amount to anything. Elves are the gods’ masterpiece and no one can take that away from them. When you start peppering everyone on the field in a volley of well aimed arrows, the party may reconsider using you as gnoll bait.
Drunken brawling is a fun hobby, and the only hobby that Dwarves probably made into an art. If you can’t drink yourself under the table as a Dwarf, you just aren’t living to their full potential. Not to mention your average Dwarf almost likes their liquor as much as they like their friends, with their Lawful Good tendencies and all.
You’ll be the envy of the party, as being proficient in smith's tools lets you maintain and create armour and weapons for the party. But don’t let those pesky Elves get word of your craftsmanship, otherwise they’ll be begging for some of your work.
Wisecracking and friendly sometimes Gnomes are a little underrated, but when you mix magic and tinkering the results are usually rather splendid. Albeit being so small may have its disadvantages, it usually means you’re just that much harder to hit with a battleaxe.
When the going gets tough, Gnomes have a tendency to make the going softer, between a loveable nature and invaluable skills Gnomes are quite the asset to any adventuring group, mostly due to their friendly natures and the neat little gadgets and do dads. Just don’t let them hear you demean their work, or it may spark quite the little fury.
Fury. Gods. Good and evil. These are all the truths that a Half-orc faces in their lives. They all feel the pull of the god that calls to their very blood. All know the anger that makes their heart beat and their blood boil. The very fact that they are seen as being born of evil causes many to end up there.
Their tenacity, both of body and mind are what marks Half-orcs. They aren’t made of stone. They’re made of bone, and when they pull yours from your body, you’ll know what it means to be a Half-orc. Bunch of badasses.
Of course, real world stereotypes aren’t fun, but games are games, right?
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.pinterest.ie/pin/299207968980723733/
With the amount of media the average game master encounters in their day-to-day lives, It’s easy for them to assimilate that media into their games. Some may consider this unoriginal, but in this ever expanding sea of pop culture we find ourselves in, it is impossible not to be inspired. When it comes to your home games, there’s no reason you can’t take ideas you like from your favorite franchises and blend them together. As a matter of fact, I would argue that doing so for your group can be incredibly beneficial. I’m not condoning plagiarism of course, or trying to rewrite an existing setting and sell it. But if it’s for the entertainment of those in your group, there’s no reason not to pillage and plunder intriguing concepts by other creative types. Here are four reasons it can be beneficial to your campaign.
When everyone is inhabiting an imaginary world together, it helps if all of the players and GM are on the same page. If your world features a concept that is similar to something found in pop culture, it can pay to simply explain that to the players. There’s a reason many fantasy settings feature the classic races of Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. They’re familiar. Most gamers have at least heard of Lord of the Rings and the creatures found within Middle Earth.
This is not to say that you need to follow a path that is so well trod. There are so many wonderful places to pull from that many gamers would understand. If you’re running a dark sci-fi game that features man-eating aliens, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out their similarities to the Xenomorphs from the Alien movies. This puts the players in the right frame of mind from
2) Catered to the Players
If a game master is familiar with their player’s interests, it can help to reference those things and spark their passions. While this is similar to familiarity it is separate for one major reason: Passion. Just because someone is familiar with something doesn’t mean they are passionate about it. Is a player in your group obsessed with Harry Potter? Why not add a school for heroes in your setting? Do you have a player that loves the exploratory aspect of Star Trek? Consider running a hex-crawl in your setting.
3) Something Totally New
My favorite reason to steal ideas from various sources is how easy and fun it can be to combine those ideas into something else completely different. Some of the most unusual concepts can be merged together to create something amazing. The results could be bizzare, like combining the dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm with the far-flung future of the modern space opera. Alternatively it could be a bit more subtle, like combining elements of the matrix with vampire hunting. Regardless, the results can be wholly awesome, and incredibly unique.
4) The Hype Train
With the Marvel movies in full swing right now, it’s no surprise that superhero RPGs are big sellers. These sort of influences can really get a gamer pumped, and there’s no reason a game master can’t tap into that. Have you designed a space opera setting? Ask the players if they want to play in a campaign where they are wanted criminals who happen to be the universe’s last hope, like the Guardians of the Galaxy. If you time it right, this can be a big boost of energy to get a campaign started. This may be best for shorter campaigns; as the hype dies you may find the game loses its staying power.
We all have influences from our favorite franchises, and there’s nothing wrong with embracing those passions and putting them into the game. They are a part of you after all, you may as well use them to your advantage.
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://comicbook.com/marvel/2018/03/07/marvel-cinematic-universe-movies-ranked-best-worst-black-panther/
Since their introduction in the Van Richten's Guide, Ravenloft has gone to great lengths to make fiends diabolical again. There are no legions of hellspawn, no hells or heavens to travel to, no blood war cutting down thousands of faceless fiends an hour, cannon fodder for a multiversal conflict. Fiends in Ravenloft are rare, each a unique individual character, usually surrounded by a web of intrigue best suited for a high level party.
However, this is still a fantasy setting, and making fiends rare and unique has made them less accessible for situations when the plot calls for it. Friendly contact with an evil outsider is a requirement to get into the Blackguard prestige class, and Pathfinder gave us many more classes and archetypes that assume these monsters are everywhere. If your plot calls for a pact with darkness but fiends are scarce, here are some creative ways to get the job done.
1) The Ebonbane
Despite being trapped with in a magical crystal coffin in a very remote location, the Ebonbane's legend has spread among those seeking shortcuts to power. Those who come to bargain with him are frequently lulled by his imprisonment, thinking themselves in control as they slice their palms and place a bloody handprint on enchanted crystal. The truth is, they will never leave Shadowborn Manor unless he owns them, body and soul.
What he offers: Black Blade magus archetype, enchanted magic swords.
What he asks: the Ebonbane compels his agents to work against the Knights of the Shadows.
They find themselves hating anyone wearing the insignia or cloak of the Circle. Over time, this hatred grows to overshadow any prior ambition that caused them to strike their original bargain.
The Bound Slumber spell cast on Baltoi doesn't prevent her from dreaming. She has one of the few perpetual dream spheres in the Nightmare Lands, and while the Nightmare Court has tried to corral her influence by sequestering that sphere in a Mist Oubliette, she has corrupted some of their ennui. Born of nightmares and tainted with demonic essence, these vile creatures bring her dreamers to tempt and corrupt.
What she asks: Baltoi demands that each of these diabolists perform a rite that grants her domain powers, or weakens the spells that bind her. She doesn't care what they do after that.
What she offers: Many don't survive performing the rites she demands. Those that do gain access to the full spectrum of summoning from the lower planes and undergo two stages of transposition with a fiend of the appropriate alignment.
3) Tsvtieyft Schattendertodd
Bearing a name that means roughly “Second Shadow of Death,” this tenebris elevates the depraved and disturbed into legendary serial killers, its “Lustmorde.” The legends of its proteges always mention the city of Morfenzi, so those who would seek it out know to look for it there. If your campaign calls for a Jack the Ripper or Sweeney Todd, it's easy enough to say they traveled through Morfenzi at one point, and followed the call of darkness underground before journeying on.
What it offers: The Lustmorde are not usually spellcasters, so the gifts of the Second Shadow are those befitting a cinematic serial killer: mild damage resistance or natural armor, even bonus feats that like Diehard are perfect for a killer who just keeps coming.
What it asks: The master of the Lustmorde demands not just a body count, but murder as art. It drives its proteges to take risks for more kills even as it protects them.
Of course, all three of these fiends are powerful enough that they might grant any boon the plot calls for, and ambitious or desperate enough to assist anyone for any reason. While you can always have your would-be diabolist stumble across The Black Duke or Elsepeth, it's nice to know some fiends that are exactly as far reaching as you need them to be.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently running the “Queen of Orphans” Ravenloft campaign.
Picture Reference: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17529/Van-Richtens-Guide-to-Fiends-2e?it=1
Character creation can be a truly enjoyable experience if done correctly, or a real chore otherwise. Sometimes this line is a fine one. Hero Builder, a new production by The Table Candle, endeavors to bring full customization to the d20 system experience. Much like Mutants and Masterminds or other similar point-buy systems, this game gives the power to the players in creating every aspect of their characters. Here are three reasons to give it a look.
1) Familiar Mechanics
Most players and GMs today are at least somewhat knowledgeable about the d20 system, be it through D&D, Pathfinder, or the countless products released after the system went OGL. While it has a few tweaks here and there, the Hero Builder system is largely the same as other d20 products. The GM (here called the Hero Master) sets a DC for each action and the players roll d20 plus skills and bonuses. It is more akin to Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 than 5th ed. While many may see this as a step backwards, those older editions did allow for more customization and less simplification, something Hero Builder benefits from immensely. The game works best on a grid system; in our test game, players took advantage of the tactical options available to get the best use of their powers and abilities.
2) Unique Abilities
Hero Builder contains a long list of abilities that modify or enhance actions characters can take, much like the proficiencies and feats of the aforementioned d20 games. These come from characters’ Bloodlines (custom races or backgrounds) or are added separately as special abilities of the character. When you create a Bloodline, other characters can be of the same bloodline and attain the same abilities, or generate their own bloodline. This not only helps create important distinctions or commonalities between characters, but also aids in world building. The Hero Master can co-opt the player-created bloodlines into their narrative to customize the game setting and provide touchstones for in-game cultures.
3) Sheer Breadth Of Power
After generating the statistics and special abilities of characters, players then build their powers from the ground up. Powers are categorized by type, and each section describes how to build the power using points assigned at character creation. Powers cost a resource to purchase and a resource to use in game. So a player might make a bruiser who has a bunch of low cost survivability and damage enhancing powers, or another may create a single utility power and one massive damage dealing power, becoming the archetypal glass cannon. Players can create anything in between, adding healing, summoning, warding, or buffing powers to their repertoire. The balance seemed to be without major issue during out playtest, with each character able to perform as intended and to satisfying effect.
Hero Builder does also have a few issues to work through in its current state. The complexity of the character creation process absolutely necessitates a “session 0.” During my second attempt at a playtest, my group sat down to make characters and play, but I had to give up in the middle of character generation because my players were getting too restless. The GM needs to sit down with each player individually to create their characters well in advance of the first session, and as such, the game does not lend itself well to one-shots. With so much time invested in creating unique and intriguing characters, players will be loath to abandon them after a single session, or more likely, loath to put the time in necessary to create them in the first place.
There are other minor issues with the book, including typos and the like, but largely, Hero Builder brings fun customizable high-fantasy flair to the d20 system. The game includes three modes of play: commoner, heroic, and godly, though I highly recommend the latter two. If you’re going to loosen the reigns and let players create their dream hero, give them the points to go wild with it.
Hero Builder is available here!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor 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: https://funnyjunk.com/Hero+builder/bmTzLoz/
Shadowrun! It’s the oft overlooked and sometimes reviled cousin of Dungeons and Dragons. As a franchise, Shadowrun does everything Dungeon and Dragons does. It’s got novelizations, board game and video game spin-offs, and is even up to five editions! Some of these editions even vary wildly from one another to the point where you may as well be playing a different game when you use a different edition.
Despite this, Shadowrun sometimes feels like it’s cursed to live in the shadows (Ha!) of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s not without reason, though. After all, their 5th edition core book is about 500 pages long, all of which you must have AT LEAST a passing familiarity with. By contrast, D&D has three core rulebooks, but you only need one of them to know the rules, and it can be treated more like an encyclopedia if you know what to look for.
Enter Shadowrun: Anarchy. This is a ruleslite and scalable edition of Shadowrun. Today, we discuss the edition of Shadowrun that breaks all the rules, so strap in, chummers!
1) The Setting
For the uninitiated, Shadowrun is a game set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future. To make this even more nutso-buttso, it’s our world 50 years from now with magic having returned to the world in 2012. Magic here refers to spells, otherworldly energy, and all manner of supernatural critters. Critters, such as otherwise ordinary wild animals that were made more vicious because of the influx of magic, vampires and ghouls whose conditions are literally a disease, or even the god-like Dragons who, in Shadowrun, are embodiments of magic itself.
While technology advanced rapidly in Shadowrun, it’s still very familiar to the technology we have today. What’s a comm-link? It’s like a smart-phone. What’s the Matrix? The Internet. Why is everything, including my gun, connected to the Matrix? Probably the same reason our world has WiFi slow-cookers.
Being set in an alternate version of our world works to great effect in Shadowrun; it makes everything much more immediately relatable. For anybody like our Corporate Overlord Josh Heath who is interested in promoting diversity and inclusivity, this is a very useful quality. If you’ve lived on planet earth, you have a place with some emotional attachment in Shadowrun, and that’s a good starting point for imagining yourself in a different world.
2) The Rules Are Still Very Similar To Core Shadowrun
As mentioned earlier, Shadowrun 5th Edition has some dense rules, which makes it difficult to cut things out or simplify them without damaging the feel of the game. Shadowrun: Anarchy is a fine example of this; it drastically simplifies things, and something does get lost along the way.
However, the end result still resembles Shadowrun: fists full of dice that either end in a total miss, or an accidental kill. There’s still the divide between magic and cybernetics; going too heavy on one makes the other impractical. That je ne sais quoi they call Edge is also still present, allowing somebody who’s otherwise not special in any way what-so-ever to somehow accomplish big things through dumb luck.
Shadowrun: Anarchy is a narrativist take on Shadowrun, but it still still remembers that it’s Shadowrun, and most importantly, that it’s a game. The story is much more important in Anarchy, sure, but they don’t neglect players (such as yours truly) who want the figurative crunchy bits they can sink their teeth into.
3) Gameplay Is Scalable
Shadowrun Anarchy, to contrast many of the other editions of Shadowrun, doesn’t have a lot of content; not explicitly written in the book, at least. There is a few basic lists of everything you’d expect: weapons, tools, spells, NPCs and sample characters.
For folks who find these lists lacking and want more, Shadowrun Anarchy does include methods for padding them out. The first such method being a conversion guide, which describes how to bring a character, spell, or other thing from the more detailed versions of the game into Anarchy. Since Anarchy is the simpler of the two, this usually means stripping away details that Anarchy doesn’t accommodate, such as the difficulty of acquiring a given item or learning a spell.
The second method is the “Shadow Amp” creation rules. Shadow Amp is the name Anarchy has given to spells, traits, cyberware, and other stuff that would otherwise amplify a shadowrunner’s abilities. These are guidelines which can be used to create anything your imagination can dream up.
Though if you’re really pressed for time, such as introducing a strange new piece of technology or magical artifact mid-game, there’s even a guideline Shadowrun Anarchy has for completely improvising new things: it gives a 2 dice bonus (or penalty!) to whatever it sounds like it would.
The conversion rules, character creation, shadow amp creation, and the various sample lists means that Shadowrun Anarchy comes with numerous ways to play, both out of the box and for those who want to take their game a little bit further.
4) It’s Not Dungeons And Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons is the one game almost everybody in the tabletop gaming fandom has some familiarity with. Despite this, though, it doesn’t really do a good job as a “common language” among RPGs; it’s too wildly different from everything else that exists.
In fact, it can be argued that there really isn’t any unifying thread between RPGs other than they’re played around a table and dice get thrown around. In other words: if you want to overall become better as a GM or a player, exposing yourself to different games is the thing to do.
After all, different rulesets are suited to different games. Shadowrun’s tendency for rolls to be either wildly successful or hilariously pitiful allows for more incorporation of improvisation, especially in it’s more narrativist form as Anarchy. Any plans, be they the players’ or the GM’s, aren’t guaranteed to happen without a hitch.
And if that sounds like a familiar scenario in other games you play, what better way to practice handling it than playing a game where such a scenario is commonplace?
Aaron der Schaedel’s claim to fame before being the resident weeb of High Level Games was a series of videos he did breaking down the rules of Shadowrun 5th Edition. They’re still available on his now scarcely updated YouTube channel.
Picture Reference: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/194759/Shadowrun-Anarchy
If you are familiar with my show, The Dragon’s Horde, then you will also be familiar with the concept of “the sleepy dragon list.” For those of you not in The Horde, the sleepy dragon list is a bit of an albatross hanging from my dungeon mastering neck. In brief, it is a shorthand list of ideas that I have for items, adventures, NPCs, and such. Items on the list include things like “He thinks he is a werewolf. He is not” or “weird (sexy?) key.” Then there is the infamous “sleepy dragon.” It has dwelt within the list for nigh 4 years now, and I have yet to remember what the heck I wanted to do concerning a sleepy dragon. Despite this, I have continued to expand my sleepy dragon list with tons of narrative seeds to get a story on track. One of the most frequent questions we get on the show is from new DMs asking how to get things started. To this I say, ask no more, friends; Pendragon has 7 adventure introductions to get the creative juices flowing!
1) The Herd
In the city of Sherrack there is a small village nestled within a grassy basin. Here, traders and farm hands amble about their day selling, harvesting, and discussing the recent goings-on over at Gumby’s farm. As of late, the resident octogenarian and shepherd has had quite the ordeal keeping his flock alive. Every day or two several of his flock go mysteriously missing; stranger yet, more sheep emerge from the woods to to fill their place the following day. Little do Gumby’s neighbors know, that he had recently developed an acute fear of his impending mortality and has turned experimenting on his flock to find the secrets of immortality. And little does Gumby know that the Divine have their eye on him and have sent a couple watchdogs his way in the form of sheep whose wool cannot be sheared.
2) Maiden Voyage
The Briny Steed had seen much better days on the sea. Now it rests patiently in harbor, waiting for its next (and probably final) voyage. Through bribery, philandering, and “oh, come on’s” the wannabe captain, Earl Stoutheart has managed to convince the party to commandeer the vessel and sail it across the Scattered Sea. The gang lies in the belly of the ship, waiting for nightfall, but when the time arrives, they emerge to a sight most strange. The ship has already departed on its own accord and seems to be in command of its own heading. It is a ship’s turn to do some commandeering for a change, and the party is along for the ride of a now sentient maritime vessel.
3) Alcohol Poisoning
You haven’t heard of the Drinking Hat?! Why, it’s the finest saloon for miles around. Well, it used to be anyway. Built in the husk of an abandoned grain silo, the proprietors of the bar have converted it into a massive, multi tiered drinking house. Tubes snake their way from the mountain of barrels above down to the respective patron, but I wouldn’t go there if I were you. Recently, a group of thieves guilders met an unfortunate end after having their drinks. They could have chosen any number of barrels to sip from, but the poor sods must have gotten one that had been tampered with. Some say it was just bad luck, but I say differently. I say they were assassinated. On my honor as guild master Roan, those responsible for the death of my men will pay with more than just coins.
The bardic hall in Brint is known nationwide for being the home to more than its fair share of celebrities. The flying Charnelli twins. Finnigan the wondrous. Heck, even Mertick and his performing bear Bathsalts have stopped by on occasion. No one expected a show stopper from Cleopatra though, but a show stopper it was. Everyone assumed she would live and die as a modest tailor until she took the stage to sing. The issue is, no one will ever know how the show actually went, because no one ever left. The morning after her performance, the the owner of the hall found the entire crowd dead in their seats! She has since been arrested for murder, but she says she is innocent and they simply dropped dead in the middle of her act. Cleopatra’s head is on the chopping block, and your party may be the only ones who can prove her innocence.
Let it never be said of Matilda that she was anything but a saint. Known for her meek generosity, Matilda enlists the help of the party to help her with a job a little outside the capabilities of a sweet aged woman. The thing is, locals are tired of the stagnant water of the swamp nearby, and they plan on draining it completely. This is all fine and good for most people, but not ‘ol Matilda. She informs the party that she left a large cache of treasure in a lockbox somewhere within the belly of the marsh. Should they find it, she would be more than happy to give them a cut of the booty. The party drudges around in the murky waters, following Matildas instructions closely, but when they arrive, not only do they find treasure but also a corpse clutching the lockbox. Upon further investigation, it appears that the body is wearing a locket with a picture of Matilda inside. Upon further further investigation, the party hears a group of locals approaching. Upon further further further investigation, the party is discovered by the locals (Matilda included) ripping the lockbox from the arms of a dead man. “That’s Harold!” Matilda shrieks, “And that is my lockbox!” Turns out Harold had mysteriously disappeared a year ago, taking both his and his wife’s savings with him. Matilda weeps in the arms of the closest friendly local, but what’s that? Did she just glance over and smirk?
6) The Call Of Pazuzu
(I incorporate something similar to the following in each of my campaigns. This cult is kind of like my signature; I would love to know if this inspired an adventure of your own). Your party is headed off for a new adventure in unfamiliar territory. About a day from their destination, a group of naked elves and humans approaches with open arms. They inform the party that they are thrilled to see new faces and are about to, in short, start a celebration. Whether they join the naked folk or not, the party has to pass by the strangers’ camp which has a massive, half finished totem looming overhead. The nudists are busily gathering scrap wood to finish the totem, and they gleefully sing, dance, and try to rope the group into helping. Despite their cordial, unsuspecting nature, these individuals have been waiting a year for that particular night to summon their favorite pestilence demi-god, Pazuzu! An otherwise silver moon slowly begins to shift to a blood red crimson; then, with the totem complete, Pazuzu in all of her pestilent glory animates the statue and chooses it as her personal avatar. Whoops.
7) The Bane Of My Existence
The role of an effective storyteller can be a daunting task, especially since most of the work of a Dungeon Master happens in real time, but having good narrative seeds chock full of possible hooks and intrigue can make the job that much easier. Nothing feels worse than getting to the table and not feeling like you have enough content to work with; veteran and beginner DMs alike know this. Hopefully you can find ways to plant these seeds if you find yourself in a pinch, and maybe you can start crafting a Sleepy Dragon list of your own! A brief aside, if you come up with a cool answer to the Sleepy Dragon conundrum, feel free to tell me about it at TheDragonsHordeCast@gmail.com so we can feature it on the podcast!
Andrew Pendragon is a veteran role player, Dungeon Master, and story teller. His work can be seen featured on outlets like the Chilling Tales for Dark Nights podcast and Youtube channel BlackEyedBlonde, but he takes the most pride in his High Level Games affiliate podcast The Dragon’s Horde where he, alongside his co host, answers listener submitted roleplay questions and weaves them into a false-actual-play adventure!
Picture Reference: https://www.deviantart.com/legend13/art/Sleepy-Dragon-s-Teddy-275967993
GMs the world over have felt the need for more and varied content to inject into their worlds. After all, even in the most linear of campaigns, PCs will delight in moving off the rails to inspect the living world around them. Take it from me: there is no amount of preparation a GM can do to account for every possible contingency the players can throw at them. That is why sourcebooks are so handy; they remove the burden of constant improvisation. Though this can be fun, it is eventually exhausting. What happens if your players keep poking around towns that are supposed to be simple stops on the journey of your intricately crafted plot? Eventually, all of us could use a little outside help. Here follows 3 enjoyable aspects of the small but eminently useful A Baker’s Dozen of Rumours (and the Truth Behind Them), written by Neal Litherland for Azukail Games.
1) Ease Of Introduction
The entries in the list of rumours are focused towards a fantasy game of no particular description. There are Cardinals, ships, and half-orcs, to be sure, but each of these are interchangeable with other similar nouns. Trade out the Cardinal for a local temple priest, or the half-orcs for human barbarians. In this fashion, these rumours fit perfectly well in any fantasy game with naught but a minor alteration here and there. Need a little chatter for a port town’s common square? Try Black Sails and Bloody Currents, a rumour about a group of privateers that suggests they may also be the pirates they are hired to combat. Looking for something a bit more mystical? The Wizard Alshamus, a tale of a black tower and the wizard who resides there. He’s friendly to all appearances, but is there something sinister sequestered in his spire? These rumours can function even as lead ins to campaign beats you’ve already planned, as many possibilities are covered with these 13 entries.
2) Style And Substance
The rumours and truths in each of the 13 tales are not only accessible, but also flavorful. The stories presented here most often skillfully avoid tropes while still featuring familiar archetypes. Sure, there’s a tale about a witch in the woods, but the witch is a man and is ultimately not responsible for the calamity at hand. The other twelve stories are equally well written. The premises are each interesting and the follow through on the truths do not disappoint. What’s more, the structure of the stories as rumour followed by truth is a clever way to allow the GM to quickly read the shorter rumour section during play, if need be. The truth sections can be absorbed during downtime or between sessions.
3) Mutable Truths
The resolutions of each rumour are presented as possible scenarios, not required outcomes. This makes them endlessly tweakable for those of us who like to infuse our own creativity into sourcebooks. One notion I had was to create other possible outcomes to the rumours and let the party follow whichever path they prefer, or use the other as a source of red herrings. The versatility of the rumour/truth presentation allows for adaptability and variance so the GM can keep things interesting and thematic.
This sourcebook is a great table mate. What’s more, I would like to see more of these bite-sized story seeds in this format produced for other settings. The only mild criticism I would level is more of a hope, and that would be that future entries include an illustration of each tale if possible. As it stands, there are only four in the publication, and as I like the minimalist style presented, I would like to see more. However, at the price of 2 dollars american, this sixteen page treasure trove of ideas is well worth it.
You can check it out or pick it up at RPGNow, and find more of Neal Litherland’s works at his website.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor 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://www.rpgnow.com/product/246287/A-Bakers-Dozen-of-Rumours-And-The-Truth-Behind-Them?src=hottest_filtered
Anyone who knows me know that I'm a die-hard Pathfinder fan. I've been playing it since the end of the 3.5 era, when so many of us jumped ship from Wizards as a refusal to move on to their 4th edition. I've been quite happy with it, on the whole, and I even went on record back in the end of 2016 to explain Why Pathfinder is My Game of Choice.
With that said, Pathfinder isn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. So when I heard that Paizo was working on a 2.0 update, I was tentative, but interested. And now that the playtest rules have been released I can say without equivocation that I am the furthest possible thing from interested in this new iteration of what has long been my go-to game.
Why? Well, I'll give you some of the major reasons, and the conclusions I drew after my read through.
1) The Feats Are A Mess
Feats were your bread and butted in any Pathfinder Classic game. Whether you wanted to be a knight riding his destrier into battle, a master of metamagic, or someone whose unique bloodline had allowed them to awaken sorcerous power without having to take sorcerer levels, feats made all sorts of stuff possible. And which feats you took was entirely up to you. If you wanted to have nothing but combat feats (the equivalent of going to the buffet and loading your entire plate up with pork roast), you were more than welcome to do that. If you wanted to dedicate your feats to becoming a master of certain skills, that was also an option. If you wanted to bolster your class features by gaining extra rounds of rage, more uses of lay on hands, or bonus arcana points, you could do that too.
You can't do that in 2.0.
Oh there are still feats, don't get me wrong. But now we have class feats, we have ancestry feats (race feats for those not up on the new terminology), and we have general feats, along with a few other classifications. And rather than letting you pick whichever feat you qualify for every other level, you now get different types of feats at different levels. So it doesn't matter if you don't actually want to take any of the ancestry feats you have access to, or that you find your class feats useless until you hit level seven; you're stuck with them.
This limits your ability to customize your character, and puts you on very specific tracks of advancement. Not good for folks who like the ability to load their plate however they want to in order to achieve specific results.
2) Where The Hell Are My Combat Maneuvers?
One of the things I was most grateful for as a player was the invention of Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense. Nothing was more nightmarish (or prone to cause arguments), than constant roll-offs between a player and the DM whenever the player wanted to do something other than hit the big bad with his sword, or cast a spell at him.
So I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that those things are absent from version 2.0.
The maneuvers still exist, but they're buried in the skills section. Why are they in the skills section, you ask? Well, because now instead of making attack rolls, you make skill rolls for many of the combat maneuvers. Even stranger than that decision, though, is that when you make these rolls, you're going against your enemy's saving throws. Why? Hell if I know.
There's another issue, though. Because in this version, you don't have skill points. Instead, your skills (and a lot of other stuff, but we'll get to that) are influenced by your proficiency level. There are five of them; untrained, trained, expert, master, legendary. These determine what bonuses you get on skill checks, but they also determine when you can or can't use them for certain things.
And if you're not trained in Athletics, then you can't make a disarm attempt. Or feint in combat, if you're not trained in Deception.
This is a very specific example, but it shows up throughout the game. Things that everyone used to be able to do (attempt a combat maneuver check, make attacks of opportunity, etc.) are now limited to very specific classes. So much like feats putting you on a certain track, there are options that were available to anyone regardless of class in Classic that are now kept behind glass unless you have the right proficiency level.
3) What's The Big Deal With Proficiency?
In the Classic edition, proficiency simply means you can do something without penalty. If you're proficient in heavy armor, you can wear heavy armor. If you're proficient with martial weapons, then you can wield martial weapons. It did nothing, unless you didn't have it, which meant you were dealing with a non-proficiency penalty.
In the playtest, this word does not mean what you think it means.
Those levels of proficiency literally control all major aspects of your character. If you're untrained, you have a proficiency bonus of your character level -2. If you're legendary, it's your character level +3. Each level between changes that number by one.
I'm not exaggerating here, either. Proficiency determines everything from your attack bonus with a weapon, to your bonuses on spells, to what your skill checks are, to your saving throws, to your goddamn armor class. It is the central mechanic that this entire playtest is built around, and it only comes in one of five varieties.
This means that huge parts of your character just get automatic progression along your track. A 10th level character gets a +8 bonus on untrained checks from their proficiency. Doesn't matter if Hrothgar Bloodbeard had never attempted diplomacy in his life, he'll still be pretty okay at it. Call me a cantankerous grognard if you must, but I am not a fan of the idea that you just automatically get better at everything as you go up in level. Especially stuff that you've never invested time, resources, or effort in mastering.
4) No More A La Carte Options
Another thing that I adored when Paizo brought out Pathfinder back in the early post-3.5 days was what I call a la carte options. Barbarians had a list of Rage powers, rogues had a slew of talents, ninjas got a list of tricks, alchemists got discoveries, and so on and so forth. This gave you a lot more control over the powers your character gained as you leveled, and you could use those powers in combination with feats to produce exactly the effects you wanted.
As with anything else on this list I was a fan of, that's gone too.
While a lot of these choices have made it to version 2.0 as options you can take, you aren't allowed to freely choose from the list like you were earlier. Barbarians, for example, are now locked into a choice of totem (which was completely optional in the previous edition if you never wanted to take a totem-style power). Rogues receive a number of options to choose from, but they are only available at certain levels. Alchemists... don't even get me started. While they're now a base class, their progression gives me a headache every time I try to read through it.
It is the same for feats. What was once a wide open menu of choice where you could pick whatever you wanted as long as you qualified for it has been narrowed down to a bare handful of options, and a lot of them are arbitrarily shut behind a certain amount of level progression.
And to those of your clearing your throats and asking if I'm comparing a single book to the huge morass of a decade or more of Classic publications, no, I'm not. Core book versus core book, you had more freedom in the older edition than you do now. All the stuff that's come out since the core book was published is just frosting on top.
5) There is No Multiclassing (Not As We Know It, Anyway)
Real talk here. In the decade and a half since I got my first set of dice, I've played between one and three single-class characters. Every other character I have ever brought to the table has been multiclassed. So when I finally got to the section on leveling up, I noticed right away that this playtest assumes you are never going to deviate from the class you started in.
But what if you really want to? Well, you can take an archetype.
What does that mean? Well, it means you're technically still taking levels of your original class. But now you're replacing your class feats with the class feats that belong to your archetype. And let me tell you, this method is an out-and-out dealbreaker from where I'm sitting. It's messy, overly complicated, and sends a very loud, very clear message that if you start off as a fighter, barbarian, or wizard, then you'd better get comfy, because acquiring the specialties of another class is going to be a headache for you and your DM alike.
… And Then It Hit Me
There came a moment, around page 390 or so, where I realized something. In addition to all the red flags I've mentioned, there were a dozen little tweaks that felt familiar in their annoyance. Rage that lasts for an arbitrary amount of time, instead of increasing with you as you level? Sneak attack that requires you to use a ranged, agile, or finesse weapon? Three or four different levels of dying, fear, or fatigue rather than specific conditions that you are or are not in?
This is not Pathfinder... this is Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.
As I've said time and time again, the Classic edition was what we got when Paizo put Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 on the table, and gave it some juice. It came out bigger, tougher, and just as flexible and customizable as it's ever been. It was also just as complex, and required just as much investment. The second edition, though, has nothing to do with 3.5 at all. It's Paizo giving Wizards of The Coast's 5th Edition property the exact same treatment and hoping that the lightning will strike twice.
Why? No clue. Because when the lightning struck the first time there was a big audience clambering for support for a system that Wizards had dropped... but 5th Edition is riding high right now. It is, though it galls me to say it, probably the RPG of choice for the current tabletop renaissance. However, it holds that title because it is basic, it is clean, and it is literally something you could teach a person who has never gamed in their life with maybe a 15-minute run down.
Reading through this playtest, it has all of the complexity and confusion of Pathfinder's elaborate rules, but none of the simplicity and ease of learning that 5th Edition has. The mechanics have different names, and many of them have been split into three or four parts, but this is just 5th Edition with a bunch of gears glued on it to make it feel different.
Maybe I missed something in the lead-up to all this, but no one mentioned to me that the company was changing out the engine that ran the game, and which formed the core of what made everything else run. Because no matter what edition you're playing, if you want a 3.5 engine, you are not going to get those results running a 5E motor.
Folks who read my last post, 5 Things I Hate About Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, will know exactly how damning this next statement will be; I would never play this game over 5E.
For more of Neal Litherland's work, check out his gaming blog Improved Initiative, or take a look at his archive over at Gamers!
Picture Reference: https://geekdad.com/2018/03/pathfinder-version-2-0-playtest-anounced/
Human history is filled with places and events that are so interesting and amazing that they just invite themselves to become the background of an RPG adventure. I don’t even mean specifically fantasy adventures; what has happened in these instances will happen again, certainly, because we were humans then, are humans now, and will be the same faulty humans for a long long time to come.
Quick note: History is subjective to begin with, as it is dictated by the interpretation of the narrator. I am completely aware that in some (perhaps all) of the places and events I describe below, pretty nasty things were happening to people, due to discrimination, slavery, and, well, genocide. I don’t refer to these, not because I don’t think they are important or relevant, or am trying to make light of them, but simply because I’m not an historian, would not know enough about them to start with, and would therefore not be the best person to begin this conversation. I’m simply picking broad events and areas and seeing what could be used in a narrative.
1) War Of The Roses/English Civil War
This is so much like Game of Thrones that… well, George RR Martin is actually on record saying he loosely used this as inspiration for a Song of Ice and Fire. It was family against family, brother vs. brother, with the ultimate prize being the English throne. The GoT connection is the best possible description. Dozens of noble families, whole branches of royal houses simply disappearing overnight, in some pretty heated battles. The Wikipedia entry has a family tree that just makes your eyes water with the effort of following who is cousin to whom. If you want an overarching conflict, with lots of deaths and noble houses, this is your jam.
300 Spartans fighting off a few tens of thousands (estimates vary) of Persian soldiers. This battle has been much embellished over recent years (with the movie 300, based on the graphic novel of the same name, itself a highly built up adaptation of the known parts of the battle). It would be the perfect seed for a few characters against an army. There’s not a lot of RPG material here as it was just a battle, but I’ve always thought that having the players as, say, spies or messengers moving against the background of the battle would be really cool.
3) The Byzantine Empire
This one has ‘fantasy RPG’ written all over it. From the exoticism of the ‘east meets west’ culture and language, to the gigantic palaces and temples, if you have a look at a lot of RPG core books, specially images of markets and buildings, you can easily see how Byzantium is a bit of an inspiration. On any random street, you could find products from all over the known world, and the palatial intrigue was ridiculous. It got so bad, the local rulers had to hire Viking mercenaries because everyone else in the area wanted to kill them. A good inspiration for cities, markets, commercial areas, etc.
This one has a lot of caveats, as so much of the City by the Tiber has been used in the past, by pretty much everyone, from RPG writers to Napoleon. If you want an ancient city, with streets, temples, slums, docks, etc, this is your standard.
5) The Silk Road
Although it was totally not a single Road, the Silk Route was in fact a series of trading posts and small stretches of road works that connected China to the West. This is the best possible scenario for trading stories/escort stories. It even has loads of ghost towns, built and abandoned, as the tides of trade ebbed and flowed.
6) The Great Wall of China
Just using a monument as a starting point, I mean, picture it: a mysterious, highly advanced kingdom decided to turn inwards and focus on itself and is so paranoid about attacks from the outside that it builds a gigantic series of walls to keep everyone else away. The functionality is immaterial. Imagine cresting a hill and seeing a wall that went from horizon to horizon.
7) Edo Japan
This is so appropriate that is has already been adapted to RPG’s, even to D&D. This was the time of the samurai and ronin and noble battles and ninjas. A lot of it has been exaggerated and embellished, but it’s still a background rife with warriors and noble ladies doing martial arts and emperors and so on.
What other historical places or times have you used in games, or indeed, think that would be good to use in games?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, three years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a couple of years, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Picture Reference: https://ludwigheinrichdyck.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/the-battle-of-thermopylae-480-bc-defending-the-pass/
There are plenty of fantastic systems available to gamers that come in a variety of complexities. While many of the “crunchier” games offer a lot to gamers, I personally find that rules-lite gaming offers just as much, but in a different way. These games often let myself and my players tell a good story without worrying too much about how far they can move in a turn or how many times they can cast a certain spell. An upside to rules-lite games is that they are easy for everyone at the table to grasp so you can jump right in. To sweeten the pot, many rules-lite games can be had for free. Below are five of my personal favorites. All of them are also “generic” meaning they can handle just about any genre you throw at them!
1) FATE Accelerated
One of the most popular narrative systems available, FATE Core is derived from the FUDGE RPG and uses a nifty system of player defined abilities called aspects. FATE itself is rules medium, though it relies heavily on the imaginations of the players and Game Master. Evil Hat Productions then released a lighter version that was much easier to take on the go and accelerated gameplay. This version uses the aforementioned aspects and 6 approaches that define how your character will attempt to perform a task. Will they be forceful? Flashy? These kind of approaches determine the narrative direction for the action taken. The game itself is released under the Open Gaming License.
2) Mini Six
This fantastic little gem was created using the Open D6 system, which originated as the Star Wars RPG by West End games. While Open D6 itself is available as a system reference document, I personally find Mini Six to be a better and more streamlined version of the game. The system itself uses a dice pool, allowing players to roll a number of d6’s equal to their stat+skill and add the results together. It’s a simple and straightforward game with several example settings and various optional rules included.
This wonderfully goofy game has been around for 25 years and is still going strong. It is a whopping four pages long, with all the rules you’ll need to tell a great story. This game also relies on a dice pool mechanic where players roll a number of d6’s equal to their most relevant stat (referred to as cliches) and adds them together. The main pull of the game for many players are the cliches, which are player defined stats that can range from something like “Lady’s Man” to “Lovable Cyborg Bear.” Risus has a thriving community and is worth checking out if you like very simple and narrative games.
Prose Descriptive Qualities (PDQ) is another RPG that uses player defined stats (called Qualities) that range from Poor to Master level. Each level grants a penalty or bonus on a 2d6 roll. When a character fails at a task, they decrease the level of the the Quality rolled, which works well narratively to showcase how they are worn down by their failures. Several fantastic games have been made using this engine including the fantasy game Zorcerer of Zo and the superhero powerhouse, Truth & Justice.
This game boasts itself as an RPG in just two pages. While this is mostly true, it’s worth noting that the player’s guide and the Game Master’s guide are each two pages. The core mechanic is simple: roll 2d6+stat; a seven or higher is a success. The system offers skills that grant special abilities to make your character stand out more. While the game is rather small, it is most definitely complete and offers a variety of simple and compact rules to handle various scenarios. While the basic aesthetic is fantasy, the game can handle any genre. There are a plethora of mini settings for the system that can be had on the cheap as well.
It is my firm belief that an amazing campaign can be had with nothing more than a few friends, dice, and some scrap paper. There isn’t really a need for stacks of books, miniatures, and an in-depth understanding of the game in question. So what are you waiting for? Go tell a story.
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 email@example.com or check out the TTG website at https://nathanccarmen.wixsite.com/trickytrollgames
Picture Reference: https://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core-kickstarter-highlights-3-fate-accelerated-edition/
Before we get into the interview below, please come by and check out www.hlgcon.com We are running this convention in Atlantic City, NJ October 12-14th 2018. We’ll be running a Blood and Betrayal Chronicle larp, as well as a ton of other cool games, including V5!
For those of you that have been following our site for some time you know that I (Josh Heath, our humble COO) is deeply involved in the World of Darkness as a gamer and as a community member. So, I have been following the development of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th edition (V5) very closely. There have been ups and downs and twists and turns as this project has come to the world but I wanted to speak with some of the folks at White Wolf involved with the production of this game to get their views and to hear some more about where the game is going as we are so close to its release. We are joined by Matthew Dawkins (Senior Community Director at White Wolf and a writer on V5) and Jason Carl (V5 Producer, CEO of By Night Studios, and Executive VP of Community Development at White Wolf).
Gentlemen, can you tell us, in two sentences what V5 is and why it is important?
V5 is the newest edition of one of the greatest RPGs ever created, Vampire: The Masquerade. This edition is important as it delves deeper into the nuances, the tragedies, and horror of playing vampires in a modern world.
How does this book balance the darkness of the World of Darkness against the troubles we see around us in our real world?
Matthew: It's a fine balance, with some elements of the Second Inquisition coming from real-world agencies and paramilitary groups, and some elements of the Vampire saga made from wholly new imaginings. We mix the mundane with the supernatural. We do need to be careful to always punch upward, highlighting the struggle of neonate vampires (outsider to begin with rendered even moreso by an elder-run, elitist society) and condemn groups in need of such treatment. Undoubtedly, real world situations such as the resurgence of the far right, street protests, corrupt banks and economies, and the abandonment of society in exchange for "me and mine" thinking are reflected in some aspects of Vampire, as they always have been. We need to tackle such issues with care and a mature attitude, and give the tools to players to do the same thing.
Jason: While crafting V5 we saw Vampire: The Masquerade first edition as our touchstone, both in tone and message. Vampire's original creative mission was to encourage us to explore the nature of evil in many forms, including personal, cultural, and institutional, and to do so through the lens of the monstrous vampires. That hasn't changed and we try to be as thoughtful and conscientious about it as were the writers in whose footsteps we follow. We see ourselves as stewards and custodians of their legacy, and we want to be as thought-provoking as they were in portraying real-world evils as problems in the game, without ever being gratuitous.
How are you ensuring player safety, consent, and engagement with a product that tackles dark horrific storylines?
We've tackled this in a few ways. There's very little egregious material in the core book. While we have some material some readers may find offensive, we attempt to couch it in mature context. We have a strong foreword covering the subject of consent, adult material, and how to play the game responsibly. We also have a several pages long appendix in the core book that handles matters such as consent, controversial and offensive elements in games, mature conduct, and similar. We hired Jacqueline Bryk to write it after she co-wrote similar guidelines for Changeling: The Lost Second Edition and after I hired her to do the same on an upcoming sourcebook for Kult: Divinity Lost. Jax is an excellent writer with a real expertise in the subject matter of handling traumatic material in roleplaying games, and her contribution has been fantastic.
What is updated? Why should I buy this if I already have 27 years of books sitting on my bookshelf, right now, calling to me?
The setting has gone through some changes in the last couple of decades, many of which were alluded to in Beckett's Jyhad Diary! A lot of elders and Methuselahs have been "Beckoned" to North Africa and the Middle East by someone or somethings; the Sabbat have in large part pursued them in what they call the "Gehenna Crusade," leaving many domains scarcely populated with Kindred; London and Vienna have been targeted by the Second Inquisition, a new body of hunters; the Tremere are splintered into factions; some clans have switched sects; we have exciting new mechanics for Blood Potency, Hunger, creating your own Disciplines via Blood Alchemy, and so much more.
Tell us about the most radical mechanical change that this edition of the game is bringing to the table?
Matthew: For me, it's Hunger. At first I was on the fence regarding this one, but seeing it in play and running games including it really emphasised the vampiric need to feed. In the past, it was a bean counting exercise. In V5, Hunger is ever-present. It doesn't disable the game or make your character a drooling beast, but it does add an air of danger to an already tense situation. I'm also a big fan of Memoriam, allowing characters to indulge in flashbacks to answer questions and solve conundrums, as well as providing fun elder play.
Jason: (in addition to the above) For me one of the best and fundamental mechanical changes is that creating characters and coteries is now a group activity by default. You can still create a character in isolation, but the rules for making characters and coteries as a player group are so fun and engaging that it's easily my favorite new mechanic in the entire game. Roleplaying should always be a fun, collaborative activity, and these new rules support that idea very strongly.
What is staying largely the same?
Matthew: The Camarilla, the Anarchs, and the Sabbat are all still around, even if they've undergone tweaks. No clans have been annihilated. Vampires still can't daywalk. And Mithras will rule London forever, in whatever form he takes.
Jason: In terms of play experience the game is as flexible as ever. Moreso, really: V5 can be played as a sweeping, international blood opera of deep political conspiracies, or as a super-gritty, hyper-realistic street drama of intensely individual stories, and everything in between.
The book is being printed, right now, the PDF is due on 2nd August to pre-order backers, that includes myself. Tell us about the one thing we should read first?
Matthew: I always tell players to read the "splats" — the clans — first and foremost. People want to know their playable options and I've seen new players read these ones when we've done playtests, and immediately come up with a character concept and ideas for their role in a chronicle. It's been great to see.
Jason: I like to encourage players to browse the clans first because they provide the best overview of what kinds of stories you'll tell in V5, but also check out the Coterie Types for inspirations about how your characters will all interact together.
This setting has a large community, some might call it fractious and be close to accurate. Can you tell us more about how White Wolf is moving forward with community engagement?
Matthew: White Wolf definitely made some mis-steps at first by not engaging the community more closely. Now myself and Jason have taken the lead on this, we're rolling out the Gentleman's Guide to Vampires series (and look at the comments on those videos if you want to see something uplifting), clan teaser videos, regular posts on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and the White Wolf website has undergone a major overhaul. This is just the start of reaching out to the community, finding out what our fans wants, and responding to their concerns. We are also hiring several community managers to help with this task. We hope to see live streams, AMAs, interviews, and gaming advice to come!
Jason: (in addition to the above) We are planning better convention and event support, including a volunteer Storyteller demo program.
Why would someone want to be a community manager for White Wolf?
Matthew: You mentioned we have a fractious community and you're correct. Being a community manager wouldn't be entirely peaceful. That said, it will be interesting, challenging, and exciting to work for the company responsible for developing Vampire: The Masquerade. The role gives you a look into our direction, helps you engage and enervate the community, and puts you in a position where you can assist all our fans.
Jason: We have an incredible number of fans who are extraordinarily passionate about this story world and its games. Becoming a community manager is one of the best ways to share this passion, to channel it into activities that can grow and strengthen the community, and invite even more people to share it with us.
What can we expect next as far as books?
We aim for the Camarilla and Anarch books to come out before the end of 2018, and hope to get the Sabbat book out by close of 2019. There will also be a quickstart chronicle (already written) available for download from worldofdarkness.com. As for the rest? You may just have to wait and see....
How does the Larp management of Blood and Betrayal Chronicle tie into this release? Does it?
The Blood and Betrayal Mind's Eye Theatre chronicle is still in development. We realized that, as eager as we are to make it happen, we needed to focus on completing V5 and getting it out into the world. Now that V5 is a reality, we can give some love again to this LARP chronicle concept.
If a person that is reading this hasn't pre-ordered the book, where should they go to pick up a copy?
V5 will start appearing on the shelves at your local hobby game retailer in mid-to-late August, depending on where you live. If your local retailer doesn't carry it, you can ask them to order it from their usual distributors. You can also order it directly from Modiphius, our distribution partner, online at https://www.modiphius.net/collections/vampire-the-masquerade. If you'd like to buy just the PDF, you can get that online at worldofdarkness.com, starting on 2 August.
What, if anything, can you tease about Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th Edition?
Matthew: We have been listening to our community, what they want, what they don't want, and are determined to deliver a product that does not court controversy for controversy's sake. It's always tricky when creating a new edition of a game not to be entirely swayed by shouting fans, but as long as the creative vision is mature and responsible, as well as exciting and engaging, we're confident people will love it. The next edition will be fast, desperate, and as rage-filled as the Werewolf you've come to know.
Jason: Werewolf: The Apocalypse has a fan community that is intensely passionate about the Garou and their story, and we want to take their opinions into account as we craft this new version of the game. As with Vampire, the setting will be updated to the modern day, and that means looking hard and realistically at many of the environmental and ecological problems of the world--and their causes--through the eyes and actions of the werewolves.
What is the last thought you'd want to leave someone with after reading this interview?
Matthew: Thank you so much for your interest in V5! We really want you to pick it up, run it for your friends in person or online, and tell us (and everyone else!) about the good time you've had. RPGs should bring people together, and we hope to do that with all our games.
Jason: We hope that you'll enjoy V5--if you're not sure about it yet, get the free Quickstart, round up a few friends, and see how it plays. Then tell us what you experienced. And if you are playing V5, we want to hear from you about what you like and what you think could be improved. We especially want to hear about the stories that you and your friends are telling together!
Josh is the Chief Operations Officer at High Level Games. He is also the madman in charge of www.hlgcon.com please come by and purchase some tickets and come play games with him.
When I started gaming, I loved to read the early Dragon anthologies for their insight into the early game. One of my favorite anecdotes was about a Lake Geneva player who took “wall" as a language, and proceeded to interrogate dungeon walls as to what was behind them. His creativity was only matched by the DM, who had all the walls reply in drunken slurs that they had no idea because they were all “plastered.”
Apart from comic relief, this scenario raises the question of the role languages might play in various games. The Ravenloft setting dispensed with the simplicity of a “Common" tongue found in other settings because it clashed with the insular, xenophobic nature of the setting. This has forced players to strongly consider their choices for what many other settings consider an afterthought. To make sure you are covering all you bases, consider the 4 S’s.
1) Secret Societies
Like Druidic in previous editions, knowledge of a particular language is extremely useful for identifying who is part of your secret club. Hidden messages become much more secure, as the eccentricities of a language are far more confusing than any code. Even when translated by magic, cryptic jargon or slang still remains, such as with Navajo code talking. This also adds to the flavor of the secret society, as the language in question is tied to pragmatic or philosophical roots of the group. Vampyrs of Falkovnia might use Wardin (the language of their leader’s lost world) as a way to express their ambitions, and a prospective Knight of the Shadows might be expected to learn Nidalan before the annual trip to the The Shadowlands.
It was suggested in the Ravenloft Dungeon Master’s Guide that Draconic--the language of arcane spellcasting--was one possible bridge between the diverse patchwork of peoples scattered throughout the Mists. An example of this was given in Van Richten's Arsenal, when Celebrant Agatha Clairmont and Gennifer Weathermay-Foxgrove found it the only common language they could write letters in. In academic circles, knowledge of Draconic or other dead languages might be a significant status symbol. After all, Mordentish may be the language of scholars across the Core, but in Mordent it’s the language of everyone, from the dean to the drunkards. Dead languages are a much better reference than living ones when you are trying to sort out the ones who had quality schooling.
Summoning spells get short shrift in Ravenloft due to the restrictions on summoning extraplanar creatures, but there are ways around these restrictions. The simplest is the Entities from the Id feat from the RLDMG, which allows the full summoning list to anyone who has failed a Madness check. This has been expanded on for Pathfinder to allow for the Summoner core class using madness in a character backstory. However you choose to specialize in summoning, many summoned creatures need direction in their own language to do anything other than attack, so language slots add a lot to their versatility.
Sometimes the language slot is the best place for a language-like skill that doesn't fit elsewhere. Vistani ‘tralaks’ or trail signs don't have a ‘spoken’ form, but this is a language available to PC’s, unlike Paaterna. Like gnomes speaking to burrowing mammals, there might be a character with a supernatural ability to understand the speech of the undead, the shared chorus of elementals, or some ancient language from a past life.
I thought about that guy who talked to walls when a player unfamiliar with Ravenloft put drow sign language in their list of languages. Drow are barely even legends in Ravenloft, so this was perhaps the least useful language choice possible. However, it inspired me to think about the role of sign language in the Land of Mists, and I created an esoteric sign language for this character, one used by La Serrure et Cle due to problems speaking while masked (and to further hide deformities that affected speech). Years later, “Surreran Sign" continues to be an interesting feature of my games. Consider this challenge next time a player proposes a rare or unorthodox language. There could be a great story there, and at the end of the day, great stories are what roleplaying games are all about.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently running the “Queen of Orphans” Ravenloft campaign on Discord.
Picture Reference: http://termcoord.eu/2016/04/j-r-r-tolkiens-guide-to-inventing-a-fantasy-language/
On the surface, pretending to be someone else for four hours a week may not seem like an activity that you could participate in that would help you connect with yourself better. However, the similarities and differences between character and player can help you define yourself. I have had a lot of issues over the years with finding myself. With finding a way to state who I am clearly. D&D provided a way for me to explore who I am.
I started playing D&D when I was six years old. My father (a grognard) introduced me to the game with second edition intermingled with AD&D. At that age, it was really just closer to make believe. Just pretend. It also means that I’m probably the only modern D&D player I know who knows what the hell a THAC0 is. I played with my dad for another two or three years before things started to get hard in my family.
The oil crisis hit, and my dad was working up north at the time. He got laid off. My family used to sit pretty comfortably, but before long, we had to sell the house and move into a trailer, where we still live. My dad ended up depressed and he put on more weight. An issue he had been struggling with for a long time at this point. I’m talking since he was ten. I remembered at this point how happy my dad was when we were playing that game, and I brought it up again, about two years after we had moved. We went to the warehouse within the week and rounded up the old books.
At this point, the game represented a world where I had power. Where I had control over something; felt like I was progressing in some way. It was around this time in my life where I was really starting to struggle academically. I had to retake my fifth grade math course right before we moved simply because I didn’t do any of the work. I wasn’t very social either.
My sixth grade year was when I started to show promise with something - writing. I had such a flare for making up worlds and scenarios. Looking back, I know the reason was my experience with the fantastical worlds of D&D. However at the time it was chalked up to an active imagination and the fact that I read a lot, and quickly. This, quite obviously, is still a hobby of mine to this day. Another thing that sparked around the time of this reintroduction of the game into my life was my newfound love for medieval history and historical martial arts.
The year afterward, I started to play with people other than just my father. His depression was starting to get a little bit better because it had been diagnosed and he was on medication for it. He was still working minor jobs while my mother continued working two jobs. I was playing with two close friends of mine in particular, who I’ll call E and A. E was a little bit of a pain in the ass and can be a rules lawyer sometimes, but his unique characters usually means he’s got something to add to the group. A was twice as shy as I was, but he was incredibly creative. His characters were killer. My father usually DM’d for us when he had the time.
Academically I started to flourish. I saw my work as a way to increase my stats and gain new proficiencies. My life was pretty much defined by games and pretend. I was still writing and rocking a 90% or more in my english classes. However something wasn’t quite right during all this time. It all felt off. I felt these characters I was playing were more fleshed out than I was. More real than me. I had made them, yet they had a hundred things more going for them than me. As absurd as it sounds, I got jealous of my characters and for awhile I didn’t want to touch the game.
This marks a bit of a dry spell when it comes to gaming in my life and bit of a very unique time developmentally for me. I started looking around myself and seeing adventure in a different light. Adventure wasn’t just something that could happen for and shape my characters, it could happen for me and change me. I became outgoing. I wanted to do and try as much as I could, and I still do to this day. I like to refer to this point in my life as “The Great Exploration” and I feel that it is an integral part of every person development.
It took awhile of me messing around but I started to settle again close to the begining of highschool. Not that I wasn’t still ready to have fun, but I looked at myself and knew that I was in fact a character, and I had to develop my skills.
It was at the beginning of this year where I started to fall in love with D&D all over again, and I created a character I still play to this day with my dad - Aramil “Lupus” Lupintine. Lupus was just supposed to be a kinda strong one shot character. He started at level 5 with a little bit of backstory and a few magic items. But above all he had personality in spades. He was charming, dashing, and clever and he knew it. This man exuded confidence and made sure everyone was aware of this. As I played Lupus, I noticed that I felt more at home pretending to be him than actually being myself. Instead of scaring me off, I took this into consideration and started to try and act more like him. (At least his better qualities, I didn’t want to become a douchebag and a show off.)
It’s crucial to note that this was a character only I and my dad played. It was a one on one campaign. My father told me he was seeing Lupus in me more and more and that it’s not really a bad thing. It’s also worth noting that this was around the time I started writing for this site. My passion for the game at this point was unparalleled. I can still find exact pages in the 5e books without even having to check because of how much time I spent pouring over those books for me and my friends.
I’m a completely different person now in my life. I’ve seen a lot of change in a very short period of time, some good, some bad. But a lot of the better stuff was thanks to D&D and it allowing me to explore myself in a unique, safe way.
To this day, every now and then, when things get tough I look myself in the mirror and ask, what would Lupus do?
The answer is more often than not, “insult someone in a position of power, walk away scott free and take a piss in the shrubbery on the way out.” However when that isn’t an option, the answer is “just keep fighting.” Which is what I think we should all take out of our D&D characters. When faced with insurmountable odds, our adventurers don’t sit back and say “Well… shit.” They spit in the face of adversity, stomp on its foot and then beat the crap out of it while it’s still reeling. Sometimes you need to push through in the way best for you. That’s why there’s different classes, because we all have different plans for how to win. That’s the story of every D&D character, and that’s the story of everyone who is trying to make a place for themselves in this world.
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.pinterest.com/pin/303993043583155351/
Hey, Jim here! Before Frankie gets started, I wanted to remind you that High Level Games is bringing you game content and commentary absolutely free, as well as providing a home and launching point for a slew of great creators! If you want to support our endeavors, we'd love it if you stopped by our Patreon to show your support. Of course, if you'd like a little something for your hard earned money, you could always pick up one of our fine game products as well.
It’s no secret that adventurers stick out like a sore thumb in the Core. Heavy armor and ostentatious magic draw all manner of unwanted attention, and the wisest heroes learn quickly to travel incognito if they want to avoid overt hostility from the worst of the abominations that stalk the realms of men.
Early in our correspondence, I gave you some advice on how a spellcaster might ply their trade without arousing too much suspicion. I thought we might revisit a similar topic and discuss those of a more surreptitious bent.
Rogues (better known by their more honest sobriquet: thieves) are a staple of the adventuring party. Mundane skills of legerdemain, acrobatics, and ambush attacks make them indispensable to the travelling hero, but this sort of champion has a tendency to run afoul of the law, and with the exception of the ever-rare paladin, they top the Darklords Most Wanted lists in most domains. Fortunately, there are a number of guises the enterprising footpad can operate under if they want to avoid the watchful eye of the Core’s dark masters. Or just the local constabulary.
1) The Butler
Great warriors often travel with a retinue. Fortunately, when faced with a wrathful cavalier, very few intelligent monsters will turn their back on the most visible threat to attack the help. Wealthy merchants, priests, diplomats: really, anyone with money can have a valet with them without arousing suspicion. In matters of espionage, the butler can often go places, especially in more medieval settings, where a notable hero might be noticed.
Pulling off the role of the butler requires a bit of skill as a valet. Knowledge of how to prepare a meal, how to ready a horse or suit of armor, and how to craft or repair articles of clothing go a long way to selling the ruse, in addition to ingratiating you with your group, since these amenities can be welcoming comforts on the road. The best valets also double as barbers, of course, keeping their lords’ hair and faces immaculately trimmed and shaved. This provides a useful excuse for carrying a straight razor. Letter openers and small tack hammers can also be included without disrupting the image.
2) The Fur Trapper
The quests of adventurers can sometimes take them far into the wilderness, and many groups take to hiring guides familiar with the lands they’re traversing. If your group isn’t fortunate enough to have such a guide, you might make your own fortune by disguising yourself as one. Providing you speak the local language, you may find rugged ‘working poor’ types more amenable to discussing current events with a fellow peasant.
Knowledge in how to make, set, and disarm traps is one of the most quintessential thief skills, so it’s something you probably won’t have to go out of your way to learn. The profession gives you a reasonable excuse to carry a small selection of snares, wires, and jaw traps wherever you go as well as tools with which to work on them, and despite the name a skinning knife is still perfectly capable of slitting a throat when required. Of course, the large, shaggy furs that are common with these frontiersfolk are wonderfully useful for hiding any tools or items you wouldn’t want local law enforcement to find.
3) The Clown
What better way to justify your acrobatics than by being an actual acrobat? The Skurra have long been aware that performers of all types are often allowed to get much closer to targets than a wandering sell-sword might be, and given more leeway in breaking social mores. While denizens of the more buttoned-up domains like Lamordia or Mordent may give such a performer the cold shoulder, many places see a street performer as a welcome break from their daily monotony, and may be more forthcoming with information (or just easy access to their coinpurses).
Skill at performance is a must for this role, requiring the thief not only be a skilled gymnast, but that she have the ability to captivate an audience as well. Mimes, jugglers, or prestidigitators can help distract guards or crowds while their parties engage in clandestine activities, and the trappings of the clown can include a number of items that can be turned to lethal purpose, including juggling pins or knives, as well as potions or smokepowders for more dramatic effects. Oversized ruffs, shoes, and prosthetics can offer an easy place to hide smuggled goods, or as a decoy to keep eagle-eyed guards from noticing more cleverly concealed items.
4) The Bureaucrat
Kingdoms aren’t built on swords and soldiers. Real kingdoms are built on paperwork. A thief who understands the machinations of seal and signet can be a much more dangerous threat than one who works with daggers and lockpicks. Diplomats, tax collectors, and lawyers can gain access to storerooms, prisons, and state halls with ease, and a balding, ink-stained clerical worker is rarely considered a threat by the fiends adventurers make a business of confronting.
Pulling off this role requires either a wealth of knowledge in the field being infiltrated, or a phenomenal ability to bluff. Knowledge of local and international laws helps, as does being a dab hand at forgery. While the accoutrements of this disguise aren’t as useful for concealing deadly implements, wealthy or important bureaucrats can easily justify hiring professional muscle (read: the rest of the party) to keep them safe, cloaking the entire heroic venture in a veneer of legitimacy.
Every domain is accepting of at least some form of medical professional, with the more developed nations boasting a wide variety of physicians, alienists, and naturalists. The biggest benefit of adventuring as such an intellectual is the status it affords: the wealthy and the educated are often more open with someone they view as a social peer. The curiosity of these professions serves as a plausible excuse for the nosiness of the typical adventurer, and many people who balk at the idea of turning to barbarians with swords to address their needs are more willing to talk to someone they see as being able to solve their problems with reason and science.
Investigative adventurers may love this role: it encourages them to carry a number of inspector's tools, such as magnifying lenses, sample vials, and chemistry kits. The surgical tools that many medical professionals keep on their person make efficient (and at times extremely gruesome) weapons, but also provide a lucrative, if visceral, source of income, since many monster body parts can fetch a high value from the arcane crowd.
At the end of the day
Any thief is better than no thief at all. Although they don't have the martial prowess of the fighter or the eldritch knowledge of the mage, their utilitarian skillset is too valuable for any party to be without.
Still, whether you're looking to duck the wrath of Azalin Rex or just Constable Bob, a little subtlety never hurts.
Good luck, and happy hunting.
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Frankie Drakeson is a retired rifleman and the current mayor of Carinford-Halldon in Mordent. He is married to Gwendolyn Drakeson, the granddaughter of Nathan Timothy.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: https://www.deviantart.com/gandolf67/art/Rogues-Den-375845519
There has been something of a surge in tabletop RPGs over the past few years, and while a lot of systems have grown their player base, no one has gotten as big as DND 5th Edition. Driven by the popularity of shows like Critical Role, it isn't much of an exaggeration to say that this edition of DND has finally clawed the Wizards of The Coast property back onto the lofty perch it was knocked off of when they released the previous edition.
Since I like to check out popular games, I've played my share of DND 5E. I've also created content for it, which has necessitated going more than wrist-deep into the mechanics that make it work. As a gaming system, 5E is perfectly functional. It's fast-paced, easy to learn, and you can tinker with it relatively easily. With that said, though, there are certain aspects of it that I (as a player, an occasional DM, and a designer) absolutely hate.
And, as always, one player's flaw is another player's feature. So keep that in mind as you go through my list.
1) The Narrowing of Class Features
When I sit down with an RPG, one of the things that I enjoy is outright ignoring the stereotypes of a given class, and how they use their powers. Unfortunately, though, 5E has narrowed the functionality of class features to the point that character concepts which were simple to create in previous editions are outright impossible to make now.
I’ll give you an example. A barbarian's Rage now has the caveat that you have to either attack a foe or take damage pretty much every round in order to keep your Rage going. This reduces Rage to nothing but a combat-focused ability, taking away any other potential uses for the power. You can't use your enhanced strength to pick up fallen comrades as you flee from battle, for example, and you can't use it to give you an extra boost while climbing a mountain side. You can't use it to outrun people chasing you across the rooftops, and unless you're actively being hurt you couldn't even use it for something like rescuing NPCs from a burning building. Even winning an arm wrestling contest is out, by the rules as they're written.
This single-purpose mentality extends to a lot of classes, and it restricts play style unnecessarily. Rogues can only sneak attack with finesse weapons? Paladins can only use their smite on melee attacks? Was a paladin with a longbow whose hand is guided by the divine too game breaking?
And so on, and so forth.
The desire to be less flexible in terms of how abilities work, and thus to restrict character concepts, is one thing that turns me off hard about this edition.
2) Alignment Is More Pointless Than Ever Before
Nothing starts arguments faster than talking about alignment in tabletop RPGs, but at least back in the 3.0 and 3.5 edition of the game alignment had some kind of purpose. Certain spells might affect you differently based on your alignment, you had to be of a certain alignment to be part of certain classes, and there were weapons that wouldn't work for you if your alignment didn't match theirs. It wasn't the most important feature of your character most of the time, but it would have mechanical repercussions in the game.
I've played through a dozen levels in various 5E games so far, and alignment has never once come up. I haven't seen it mentioned in any spells I've looked at, nor in the descriptions of any magic items. There are suggestions in the class descriptions, but nothing happens to you if your paladin, monk, or cleric's alignment shifts away from what it was at the start. It doesn't restrict which classes you can mash up, either.
Which begs the question; why the hell is it even here?
While I'm sure there are a lot of folks who are extremely glad that alignment no longer impacts their in-game choices, if it doesn't actually do anything, then why was it included at all? Why not replace the pages talking about alignment with a deeper, more in-depth discussion of character beliefs and morality, since that's all been reduced to pure roleplay (as far as I can tell)?
3) An Overabundance Of DM Discretion
The Dungeon Master is one of the most important positions at the table; without them, there's no game. However, 5E is a lot more like the second edition of the game, in that it expects the DM to not just rule on what's happening (like a judge or a referee), but to actively use their discretion as part of the core rules.
I'll give you an example so you can see what I'm talking about. The wild magic sorcerer's description says that the DM may choose to make them roll a d20 any time they cast a spell of 1st-level or higher. If that roll is a 1, then they roll on the wild magic surge chart.
A core feature of a class is entirely dependent on the DM's discretion. If you have a DM who doesn't know, or doesn't care, then the sorcerer will never actually roll on that table, which means a big part of that class will never function. Why put that decision on the DM, instead of just writing a rule that made the sorcerer roll that d20 every time they cast a spell, thus making it both truly random and feel like a game of Russian roulette? Or why not instead offer expanded language that states that when the sorcerer is in a stressful situation, or is suffering from any conditions, they must roll the d20 then?
It's both one more thing for a DM to keep track of and it's asking them to put their nose directly into a player's core class feature.
This isn't the only instance of this thinking showing through in the rules, either. If you look at skill checks, there's no longer a chart showing the appropriate difficulty check for certain tasks. Not so long ago, if you wanted to make an appropriate knowledge roll to know what monster you were facing, there would be a formula for determining that DC (typically something like monster CR + 10), and you would be able to ask questions about it based on how high above the DC you rolled. There were similar formulas for determining the DC for making a certain jump, for successfully persuading or intimidating a target, etc. Now there's a footnote in the Dungeon Master's Guide regarding average DC level based on how difficult a task might be, but there are no specific tables for particular tasks and challenges, or for modifiers to them.
If you have a good DM, this isn't a big deal. If you have one who isn't mechanically savvy, or who decides to arbitrarily punish the group by setting nigh-impossible difficulty checks, then there's nothing in the rules you could raise as a point in your defense.
4) Big Gaps In The Rules
It's impossible to make a rules system that covers everything. Even attempting such an impossible task is to court madness. But with the exception of when I joined a second edition campaign, I have never seen a game where there were fewer answers in the official rules about things that will actually come up with a fair bit of regularity.
For example, we have some inkling of when certain races get older... but where are the age penalties/benefits (and if they don't exist, then what difference does it make how old you are)? We have rules for breaking objects, but no specific rules about trying to sunder the weapon, armor, or shield being wielded by an opponent. We have no set DC levels for given skills, as mentioned above, and there are no real rules for how you learn new languages. As a sample of the things that, while I was trying to build characters and figure out twists for an intro adventure, left me sighing and muttering, “Goddammit, 5E...”
Sure, these aren't insurmountable problems. But if someone tries to sell you a car, and that car has parts missing, you'd be understandably irritated as you find ways to fill in those gaps. Especially if you were in the middle of a long campaign when you realized a piece you figured would be there just isn't.
When I first came across the concept of archetypes back in 3.5, and then later on in Pathfinder, I thought they were a phenomenal idea. You took a base class like the fighter or the rogue (which already had a general, level 1-20 progression), and you swapped out certain abilities to make a more custom package of abilities. Maybe your fighter gave up heavy armor proficiency in exchange for additional damage with light weapons, making them into a duelist, or your ranger gave up spells in exchange for the ability to create traps. Archetypes were taking an already solid foundation, and providing you additional options you could use to better realize certain concepts.
The keyword there is option. Archetypes were not a required part of the game. Much like prestige classes, you could use them if they suited your concept, or ignore them if they didn't.
One of the most irritating aspects of 5E for me is that it kept what I can only think of as a holdover from 4E, in that classes much choose a particular archetype which more specifically defines their powers. Rogues have to make the choice between arcane trickster, shadow dancer, and assassin, for example. Barbarians can elect to go berserker, or totem worshiper. And so on, and so forth.
Yes there are more options than that now, but these are the choices you're faced with in the base book.
The problem is that there is no longer a foundation class; every class has branching paths. And the specificity of those branching paths often eliminates certain character concepts (perhaps just as much as the narrowing of class features I mentioned in the beginning). I don't mind their existence, as several of these archetypes are fun to play with; I object to them being mandatory. Because if they are optional, they give you additional tools to use for making your best game. If they aren't, then you're just being forced to cram your concept into one of these more narrowly defined paths which feels more like something out of an MMORPG like Diablo or World of Warcraft than the free-form universe of options and customization that tabletop RPGs have the ability to offer.
While you can make the argument that the DM can just change the rules at their own table, these criticisms apply to the rules as they're written, not how someone may modify them in their personal games.
For more of Neal Litherland's work, check out his gaming blog Improved Initiative, or take a look at his archive over at Gamers!
Picture Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUDJzEagqE0
Recently going through Twitter I saw a lot of the people we follow really excited about a Kickstarter that had just launched. That game Kickstarter is Power Outage, a kid-friendly, kid-focused, Supers RPG that focused on accessibility, teamwork, and fun. So, even though I am already way over Kickstarter budget for the year I had to back this game. So, I did. Then, I reached out to the creator because I wanted to hear more about what this game was about and why the creator had chosen to develop this particular game.
So, first, Bebarce, tell us a bit about yourself and why Power Outage? Is this your first foray into writing RPGs?
So my name is Bebarce El-Tayib. I'm a supervisor of technology for a school district in NJ. Originally Power Outage came about with my (then 4 and 6 year old) daughters continuously stealing my poly dice. I figured, if they were going to have them, I might as well come up with a game for them to play. Dungeons and Dragons, as enjoyable as it was, didn't fit my needs exactly, and when I started out, I wasn't aware as much about what was out there, so we built a miniature game from the ground up with very simple rules. After thinking back over the fun we had, I decided that I'd like to really see this game become something that encourages parents to play with their kids, in a form of structured/unstructured imaginative play. Over time, that simple game developed and redeveloped, and morphed into what the game is now, and likewise, so too did it's promise.
This is definitely my first foray into writing RPGs, but not my first foray into writing or game design. This is the first time however that I've committed myself so wholeheartedly to a single purpose for such an extended period of time.
You mention accessibility and wanting to develop a product with this focus. Tell us more about what this means for you and for Power Outage?
While there is a part of me that has attachments to people in my life that have disabilities, I believe that it's importants not just for me, but for all of us to endeavor as best we can to create more inclusive and accessible environments. We don't always succeed, but it's important that we try, regardless of whether we directly connect to a person with disabilities. I've been attending a fantastic series of conventions in NJ by Dexposure (Metatopia, Dreamation, and Dexcon) and the focus and effort they put in accommodations shows. It shows on the faces of people who feel invited, and who feel welcome without exclusion. Tabletop Roleplaying games become a haven for many of us. A place to express our emotions through our avatars, to connect to other people, to gain a sense of being something. Making sure EVERYONE has access to that same feeling? That's pretty much the most important task we should all be undertaking.
Power Outage is tackling it in two ways. Within the book I have a small amount of generalized guidance on Accommodations that are divided into 5 primary domains other than general guidance (Physical, Communicative/Receptive, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Emotional). The idea was to approach things from a symptomatic approach rather than focusing on particular conditions. Addressing the effect, and providing guidance and support for that, without focusing on the cause. I've found it to be the best method for creating a large net of coverage of disability accommodations than just focusing on a single condition. But secondly the book refers back to a website that I set up called www.accessible-rpg.com. It's not much yet, and what is there currently is geared toward gaming with kids. It's a wiki that still needs a lot of revision, guidance, and thoughtfulness. Most importantly it needs input directly from people within the community. People that have disabilities. Once I finish this Kickstarting campaign, my focus will most likely shift back to that site, while my designer and artist work on the book.
What do you want to accomplish with this Kickstarter in particular?
This Kickstarter specifically is an attempt to fund the cost of a designer, editor, and artist, with whatever is left over going toward miscellaneous production costs. The honest truth is with enough time, I could probably release the book with much less art, and my somewhat shoddy design skills. I don't believe however, that this is what Power Outage deserves. I believe the system is great, and it has a lot of promise. I don't want it to be chained by my inability to make it stand out among a stack of other TRPGs. I believe we have something really special here, that I'm willing to dedicate my life to, and that means reaching out to others to get it to where it needs to be.
Have you looked into connecting with RPG Research, Wheelhouse Workshop, or any of the other RPG therapy groups out there? This seems like a game that would really help their practices.
I think it would! I've talked to RPG Research about the wiki, primarily and again because I want to ensure that the guidance I'm providing is sound, functional, relevant, and non-offensive. To this point, I've also partnered up with some local professionals that I know through my work in public education that are doctors in the fields of counseling and psychology. When I have a book, that I am confident will benefit the community as a whole, I'll do everything within my means to ensure that they have enough resources to play the game. I've also communicated with some great twitter community members to help refine and restructure guidance.But yeah, I think this would work fantastically in a counseling setting, and the professionals I work with agree. One aspect of the game, aside from it's flexibility in rule structures, is the concept of meta weaknesses applied to villains. In this way, achievements that occur outside of the game, can have an impact within. This helps bridge the gap between personal goals and game goals, and slots in perfectly as an educational aide.
If you had one thing that you wanted to leave us with today, what would that be?
There are a couple things to know about kids. They're more capable then they're often given credit for. They often think in circles around squares. And they are the next generation of players that will be sitting at your tables. This is our opportunity to use our games to impact the up and coming generation. To help give shape to the importance of empathy. Of teamwork. Of dedication to a cause. To the nobility of altruism. And we can do so, while having a pretty fun time of it. So get out there and be a hero to some kid. Help them learn about the hero they're meant to be.
Thank you Bebarce for telling us more about Power Outage. If you are interested in learning more you can go to the Kickstarter and become a backer.
Josh Heath is the COO of this outfit. He’s also organizing HLG Con. www.hlgcon.com in Atlantic City October 12-14th. Come join us!
Lorecraft has become especially popular in recent years thanks to games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and with its resurgence as a storytelling mode, many creators both professional and amateur are attempting to carve out their own plot of narrative real estate. This isn’t a new frontier, however, and savvy world builders would be wise to recognize that. Lore is all about longevity, about reaching from the past to inoculate those of the future. With this in mind, try to think about something, anything that has existed in its original, unmolested state for, say, one hundred years. What about two hundred? Or a thousand? The simple answer is none, but “simple” seldom makes for satisfying stories. That, at its heart, is what lorecraft is all about. It is simulating the persistent effect of time on a culture, idea, structure, or even a single person. It is telling the story (whatever that story may be) as it was by how it is now. To do this, you need a story that can turn into lore; here are some tips on how to do just that.
Think about lore as footprints or tracks that players have to trace backwards. Unlike conventional storytelling where the narrative unfurls before the protagonist, lore and legend by their very nature require that at least part of the story has already been told. But you already know that. You have already stepped in those footprints before, you remember. Don’t you: the house down the street, with the loose-hinged shutters sun bleached and dropping jagged paint chips like leaves from a maple tree. Derelict and abused, the house is perched on your street like a gargoyle, watching the jittering plans of you and your neighbors for years. Local children would bribe one another with melted snickers to go inside on hot summer nights when the moon was brightest. Some would go in, plucking up the courage (or naïveté) only to rocket out screaming from the houses yawning doorway. You remember hearing about the night she went in. You remember waiting for her to come out, the kids around you calling out her name in nervous laughs. You remember eventually going home. You don’t remember seeing her again.
The haunted house! Everyone has at least heard of one! It’s a great way to build micro-lore that resonates with a lot of people. This idea of a physical structure that’s mere existence compels those nearby to fabricate a story around it. It’s an important part of culture, crafting legends around structures, and we have been doing it for thousands of years. Houses of worship often fall into this column, but we will get to religion in a bit. For now, be thinking of lore in the way you think of that haunted house. What makes it unique? What makes it memorable? Most of the time, it’s the aesthetic. It’s the fact that it isn’t like the surroundings. It possesses an air about it that begs for a story. All the important ancient structures that exist today exhibit that. Maybe at one time they fit right in, but something happened. Everything changed and for one reason or another, it had the tenacity to brave the storm of time. So often, buildings don’t stand the test of time; that is why I said it’s great for micro lore. It helps creators get a grasp on the idea of persistence and setting because lore has a tendency to lean on the philosophical. Without a strong presence of mood and setting to ground wayward protagonists, lore might just be perceived as a history lecture. Buildings like temples, pyramids, even creepy homes are a good way to avoid some of the wordiness of legacy and provide engaging avenues to show rather than tell. History is learned. Lore is explored. Keep that in mind with buildings.
This may be the most familiar form of lore that we digest today. Stories of heroes of a bygone era and the adventures they undertook is the soul of most roleplaying games. While players often are participating in reactive story telling (The monster is doing this; so, you do this), lore is post-active storytelling. The analogy of the footprints is especially true for folk tales and post-active narratives. For example, one of my favorite Native American folktales from the Muscogee tribe describe the events that lead to opossums having bald tails. In short, a clever opossum catches his tail alight to bring fire to those that needed it most, Prometheus style. Post-active storytelling does not have much of a pension to be changed on the fly, but its results are able to be engaged with and are usually the reason the story is being told in the first place even if that reason is “I wonder why opossums have bald tails?”
Folktales are a way to humanize history through lore. It is a vehicle that allows us to make an impression on one of the most difficult surfaces to reach: the past. If you want to build character-centric lore, go to the folktale and see what makes them tick. Soon, you will be begin to notice that classically there are uncanny archetypal characters that mirror other characters from vastly different locations and points in history. Folktales palletize grandiose ideas of the human experience, but at their heart, they tether the present to the past through caution and familiarity. The best heroes of lore, despite how godlike or untouchable, are always actualized by what makes them most human.
The backbone of most prominent religions presently is preservation. Someone thought that the world works/should work a certain way, and they made sure that their ideology could be propagated beyond their lifetime. It’s a pretty daunting task. Regardless of validity, religions deserve a pat on the back for lasting as long as they have. This deliberate, theological persistence is engineered to imbed itself into culture to survive; it does this through lorecraft.
For sake of illustration, let’s make up a religion. A group of intelligent creatures live on the shoreline of a massive sea. Every once in a while they see curious beasts ferrying men across the water. These beasts have large white structures that catch the wind and propel them forward. Without the technology to observe these things closer, the little colony agrees that the beasts must be some massive water bird capable of carrying humans over past the horizon.
“Well what is on the other side of the horizon?” one asks.
“Who knows? Everyone that goes out there never comes back,” replies another.
There is the seed. Mystery, intrigue, mortality. Over the next couple of generations this seed grows and evolves as more people throw their theories into the ring, and before you know it, we have a fully fleshed out mythology about gatekeeping birds transporting chosen humans into another realm. As silly as it sounds, Americans actually tried to synthesize a religion to keep people out of nuclear test sites in this very way (Vox and the podcast 99% Invisible have an amazing video on this which can be found here https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/1/29/16932718/biohazard-design-nuclear-waste). Take an icon. Let that icon grow bigger in scope though intrigue, and once it grows too big or esoteric for people to completely understand, eventually someone is going to stand up and say, “Hey what if we aren’t supposed to completely understand? Maybe it is supernatural.”
We mentioned before that folklore was designed to connect the human condition to the often foggy interpretation of the past. Religion connects the human condition to the supernatural in much the same way. It’s important to keep in mind that rich lore often deals with the mortality of man and the anxiety it can induce. Throughout human history the desire to feel like the unexplainable is being orchestrated by something bigger than man has cropped up again and again. We build lore around it to contain the philosophical musings that we feel are most satisfying. When it comes to religion, think of lore as a glass terrarium that not only provides enough structure to keep everything in one place but also remains transparent enough so that we can see whats inside.
If folktales highlight the best in human design, then monsters are the downers at the party that point out how awful things are. In a way, the story of the monster is the antithesis of the folktale. If folktales tell us, “Hey, humans can transcend themselves and do amazing things,” the monster story warns us, “Humans can transcend themselves, but you may not like what the end result looks like.”
We see great examples of that warning in familiar stories like “Frankenstein,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” basically all werewolf and vampire stories, and so many more. The next time you read or watch something about a monster shift your perspective and try to see it as the protagonist. More often than not there is a sympathetic turn; a genesis story of sorts. Your lore alarm should be buzzing right about now. While most lore is about taking steps back in time, the specific lore surrounding monsters often has us taking steps back to scrutinize ourselves (specifically our psychology).
Where monsters are concerned, good lore builders are able to hold up a mirror and make you see something worse than your reflection. I don’t know about you, but my usual reflection is bad enough. Take the idea of the classic Kraken myth. It’s not scary because it has tentacles or is impressively large or even that it eats boats. It’s scary because it has alien motivations and wants to eat your boat. It embodies the fears of many sailors and the anxiety of traveling into the unknown, an anxiety that keep many people for exploring anything at all. The Kraken has effective lore because it begs the question, “Why is it scary?”
One more example: the witch. In fact, watching the movie “The Witch” tries to convey much of what I have already said about monsters. The archetype of the witch has us asking, yet again, why we are so concerned with relatively innocuous things when seen at face value. Old ladies are not scary, per se. Neither is magic nor the idea of the supernatural. The witch has been so alarming for much of English, Irish, and German history because of what it represents to humans in a general way. The lore behind the witch gives it its weight. The concept of dark, corrupting knowledge that poisons your very nature and potentially those around you is terrifying, especially for colonials during that time. The idea of the “other” has lead people to do terrible things, but the lore behind it is important. Lore helps us tackle these issues with a degree of skeptical separation.
Lore is a powerful tool at a creator’s disposal, but getting bogged down in time lines, he-said-she-said, and esoterica can really detract from the heart of what makes lore compelling. That is, our actions matter and can echo through time long after we are gone. An old professor said something to me once that I still think about today when I’m writing story: “The most engaging part of a treasure hunt is why it needs to be hunted in the first place. If you don’t know that, you’re just writing about a dirty box full of scrap metal.”
Andrew Pendragon is a veteran role player, Dungeon Master, and story teller. His work can be seen featured on outlets like the Simply Scary Podcast and Youtube channel BlackEyedBlonde, but he takes the most pride in his High Level Games affiliate podcast The Dragon’s Horde where he, alongside his co host, answers listener submitted roleplay questions and weaves them into a false-actual-play.
Picture Reference: https://funnyjunk.com/channel/vidyagaems/Bloodborne+lore+ilustrado+ludwig/wYGsLjL/
It’s no secret that Modiphius is the biggest company to hit the tabletop gaming scene since Fantasy Flight. They continue to produce high quality products on a regular and often reliable release schedule. From Infinity and Conan to older titles like Achtung! Cthulhu and Mutant Chronicles, Modiphius’ library seems ever expanding and continually improving. The throughline for their newest releases is the 2d20 system, a rule set and dice mechanic that itself has been growing and adapting much like the company that spawned it. I really enjoy the system; the following three aspects are some of the high points. Let’s have a look!
Whether you’re hacking a quantronic computer to dig up information about the latest rogue AI, piloting a starship through a nest of Klingon Warbirds, or seeking high adventure in the Hyborian Age, 2d20 works and works well. The system is meant to have a certain measure of “give” so that it can bend to the constraints of a particular setting or genre without breaking. The basics are always the same: roll 2d20 and try to get at or below your combined attribute and skill There’s a kicker though. Some more difficult actions will require more successes than you have dice, and while you can crit for more successes, you might find that you need 5 successes to pull off the badass move you’ve been planning for three turns. That’s where the game’s Momentum system comes into play, which I describe in more detail below.
The base system receives tweaks in order to capture the feel of the game and setting it’s attached to. In Conan, the magic is added as an additional system. In Star Trek, the skill system is reduced to only six fields of study, but the breadth of each is increased dramatically. This refocuses the gaming experience to support the thrills of discovery and clever thinking. Thus, a player will find each game that uses the system familiar, and will simply need to learn the changes before jumping into a session.
Only 2d20? But what if I don’t net any successes? What if I need three successes to perform the action in question? Time to buy more dice! The player characters receive and continually build a pool of Momentum. These points let players augment their dice pools and damage, and sometimes achieve even cooler more specific effects. Does the medic absolutely have to pass their roll to save the life of another PC? Spend some Momentum and grab three more dice. Running out of Momentum? Refill the pool by overachieving easier tasks; extra successes net you more of those sweet dice-adding points. This mechanic not only provides some much needed aid to the player characters and lets them feel awesome, it also provides a gauge of how much potential success the player characters have on their side. They can then make decisions as a team regarding whether to fight or flee. It also rewards them for doing simple tasks such as preparing for a fight by cleaning their weapons or rigging simple traps, each of which can potentially add Momentum to the pool before a big scene wherein heroics are a must.
But what if the pool runs dry and you still need extra dice? Most variants of 2d20 allow for the players to provide the GM with their own dice-adding resource in order to mimic the effects of Momentum. Referred to as “Heat” in Infinity, this resource can be spent by the GM to increase the dice pools of significant adversaries, call in reinforcements, or just cause a little mayhem for the party when they get complacent. It’s this push and pull that really makes the system come alive.
And it’s this same push and pull that creates and maintains dramatic tension throughout the gaming experience. Heat and Momentum provide incentive for players and the GM to keep the pressure up. If you sit on your laurels, you start bleeding Momentum. If you take too long deciding how to take your turn, the GM starts generating Heat. This makes conflicts feel exciting and intense. Even negotiations with new alien species have their drama turned up to 11 using this system. 2d20 effectively works to eliminate as many dull moments as possible, which is a welcome feeling in the age of the cell phone. It keeps players focused on the action and guides the GM by giving them an idea of what they can add to a scene to make it even more exciting, but still balanced. It’s hard to find another system that fights so hard for the enjoyment of the players at the table.
2d20 is a growing, living entity. It receives revisions for each game and supplement that comes out. Since Modiphius does not appear to be losing steam (they just acquired the production rights to Vampire: the Masquerade, after all), I’m positive we’ll see even more iterations of this cool new system with updates and fixes. No system is without its flaws, of course. Come back next month for my critique of the system, whereby we will explore three of the main issues that I’ve discovered. In the meanwhile, let me know what you think of the system and the games that it’s attached to!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor 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://www.modiphius.com/2d20.html
About a year and a half ago, in March of 2017, I was introduced to a fairly recently released game from Japan called Detatoko Saga. I was enamored with the notion of the being one of the first English speaking players of a game from Japan, and took meticulous notes on how the game ran. Though after a month or so of regular play, the group moved on to a different game, and thus my collection of the rules was incomplete.
I then did what any sensible person would do; I acquired a copy of the game myself and finished the translation on my own.
Perhaps I should say that’s what I PLANNED to do, because I didn’t understand Japanese at the time. It’s been about a year or so since then, and I’ve made significant strides in learning the language, and I’m finally able to begin my harebrained scheme of bringing one of Japan’s games into the English speaking world.
And through this journey, I’ve confirmed many things that up to this point I’ve only heard said by other people. Presented for your reading enjoyment are some of those points.
1) Japan Designs Their Rulebooks Differently (If Ever So Slightly)
Recall your favorite RPG Rulebook. What are the first few pages dedicate to? For more modern games, it’s likely a short chapter introducing the idea of an RPG to you, followed by some of the basic mechanics of the game, and then a chapter dedicated to creating your character. While Japan more or less follows this same approach, they typically lead off with something you don’t often see in American or European games at all.
The first 15 or so pages of Detatoko Saga were dedicated to what in Japan is known as a “Replay;” a complete text transcript of what went on during a session of the game. This isn’t unique to Detatoko Saga, either. Some of Japan’s games may even have several of these Replays compiled in the beginning of their rulebooks, turning them into works of fiction with a rule compendium in the back. (The translation company Kotodama Heavy Industries is planning to release the English rulebook for Shinobigami in this format, if you’re curious to see what I mean!)
One other interesting feature to Detatoko Saga hinges on the fact that many Japanese books are softcover with a dust jacket. Removing this jacket reveals that the front cover of the book is a copy of a character sheet for the game! This is an important addition, since print media still dominates the book market in Japan; it’s rare to find .pdf or other ebook variants of Japanese publications.
2) Translating Is An Art, Not A Science
One of the golden rules of translation is that it’s not a mechanical task; it’s why Google Translate is generally regarded as better for individual words and phrases than complete sentences. The way certain words are used, especially when coupled with other words, can make a world of difference.
A similar scenario I encountered when translating Detatoko Saga was the name of a skill possessed by the “Dragon” class. It was a skill that could be used in combat to retaliate against an enemy attack. This was originally translated as “Counter.”
The translator for this game was going through quickly, and admitted that a few times he picked names for the skills based on what they did, as opposed to what they were actually named. So I went back to re-translate it for practice. The skill that was known as “Counter” was spelled “逆鱗” which means “Imperial Wrath” or “One’s Superior’s Anger.”
There’s also additional layers of meaning added to the original name: the individual kanji that make it up are 逆 for “reverse” or “oppose” and 鱗 for “scales” like those on a fish or lizard. So this skill is thus used by a creature with scales to oppose being attacked, which would rightfully make them angry.
This illustrates perfectly why translating is a creative skill: neither “Counter” nor “Imperial Wrath” is more correct than the other. One gets the point across of what the skill does just by the name, while the other is specifically what was said, even if the word play gets lost in translation. Which is also to say nothing about the option of re-writing the name to capture that same whimsical word play by using a name like “Red Hot Fury.” (Since Dragon’s are popularly known as fire breathing creatures.)
3) It’s Practical Experience In Using A Language
I spent around a year reading up about the basics of reading and speaking Japanese, as well as using a bunch of language learning apps. Every so often, I would crack open my copy of Detatoko Saga with the hopes that I knew enough and it’d make sense at a glance.
I’d pick a passage, and see if anything stood out or made sense. When I couldn’t recognize anything, I put my rulebook away and went back to my language books, hoping that more study would get me ready.
It never did, by the way.
Translating a game was much like how I described learning a new game; at some point, I needed to take the plunge and work with what I knew, or I’d wind up perpetually saying, “Just a little bit more study, then I’ll be ready!”
It’s been slow. I’ve clumsily had to stare at various kanji to decipher how they’re constructed before I could punch them into my dictionary, and one line of text would take me roughly 15 minutes to figure out. However, these were words that my language apps and text books weren’t teaching me, so I couldn’t necessarily wait.
I had to let the experience of figuring them out for myself teach them to me. From time to time, I’ll encounter Japanese words in other places, and since I’ve taken that leap to figure them out from Detatoko Saga, it wasn’t as difficult for me to understand it that second time around.
If it wasn’t already obvious, translation is a complicated subject. It’s why it took eight years for Tenra Bansho Zero to be completely translated. Not only was it close to 1000 pages of material, but there was also a great deal of cultural detail that needed to be considered at the same time.
Which is to say nothing of the fact that Japanese is such a wildly different language from English or many of the other European languages. Despite the long road I had to take to start making sense of Detatoko Saga, though, I’d have to say that starting it was worthwhile.
Much like the difficulty of learning about and playing roleplaying games.
Aaron der Schaedel is the resident weeb at High Level Games, and is still a really long ways off from finishing the translation of Detatoko Saga. You should find him on Twitter (@Zamubei) and tweet pictures of catgirls at him.
Picture Reference: https://www.amazon.com/Detatoko-saga-Ryo-Kamiya/dp/4775313274
The tabletop RPG industry is growing. As a result, people from all walks of life have come together at the table. While this is certainly a great thing, especially if a Game Master is intentionally inclusive, but this can also result in miscommunication and awkward storytelling. Personally, I find that there's nothing worse as a Game Master than unwittingly making a player uncomfortable at the table and not knowing until much later.
Enter the X-Card, a concept developed by John Stavropoulos. Plain and simple, the X-Card is an index card with a large X on it. If a player is ever uncomfortable, they can tap the card or hold it up. The Game Master will then continue on, or back up a bit and re-write what just happened in the story. No one is to ask for an explanation as to why the player was made uncomfortable by this particular story development. Everyone just accepts it, and moves on. Afterwards, the Game Master and player can talk it over, so that the Game Master can better understand how to guide the games for everyone's benefit in the future.
You may have a group of gamers already established, and naturally know where the line is for them. If that's the case, the X-Card may not be for you. But if you have had issues in the past, with players being hurt or upset over the content in your game, then here are five good reasons you should take a look at this handy tool.
1) It Says “I Care”
Utilizing the X-Card at your table lets the players know immediately that you care about their feelings. This is more important in an environment where you don't know the individuals very well. If you have a new player or two that are friends of your current players but who you don't know personally, the X-Card can help set up a safe environment quickly. It can help players see that you are attentive to their personal needs.
2) It Makes Players More Comfortable
I have heard other players state how much more comfortable they were at the game table when they discovered that the X-Card was being used. They realized that if they had an issue, they could say so quickly and without trouble. Having relaxed players will help keep everyone having a good time.
3) It Puts The GM In A Good Mindset
With the X-Card in play, the Game Master can feel free to tell their story and trust the players to utilize it when they need to. I am certainly not suggesting that the Game Master should just say and do whatever they want, waiting for players to tell them otherwise. Instead, the Game Master can rest easy knowing that there is a device in place should the situation arise.
4) It’s In The Creative Commons
If you're like me, and you prefer to do things the legal way when it comes to purchasing and exchanging RPG material, fear not. The X-Card document is in the Creative Commons and may be shared freely. As a matter of fact, you can even incorporate it into an RPG of your own design as a mechanic if you so desire. You simply have to attribute the original author and share the work under the same license. This flexibility makes the X-Card easy to modify and use as you see fit, and you can also exchange the document with your gaming group with ease.
5) It's Great For Convention Games
If you're running a game at a convention, you're likely to run into all sorts of people. You'll be gaming with total strangers, which can make for some potentially uncomfortable encounters. While I would recommend staying away from touchy subjects at a convention table, it's still wise to utilize the this tool. This will avoid any miscommunication that could easily happen at a table with a group of gamers you've hardly met.
For many of us, gaming is about escapism; taking a moment to explore a world that never was and slay the proverbial dragon. Making sure that these moments together are safe and even empowering can be difficult to achieve. No tool works for every situation, but the X-Card certainly is helpful.
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://docs.google.com/document/d/1SB0jsx34bWHZWbnNIVVuMjhDkrdFGo1_hSC2BWPlI3A/edit#
One of the trends in gaming lately has been trying out new mechanics and ways of resolving conflict. Suited takes the whole “using cards” thing to its logical conclusion and breaks out the playing cards to create a wacky, setting-adaptive system, excellent for one-shot adventures. The best part is that the system was developed in the best place ever to use playing cards: a road trip. Check out what designers Ted Pick Jr. and Erin Johnson had to say about the game below.
First, Suited looks like a blast, but it seems like the car ride that spawned it may not have been. Did you have the idea to work on a game before you set out, or did the deck of cards get you thinking?
The car ride itself actually was a lot of fun, Texas has a gorgeous countryside that is worth driving through if you get a chance. But to answer your question, we had discussed working on designing a tabletop game the night before the drive, and we decided to spend some of our time during the drive working on one. At the time we had just gotten our hands on a copy of WYRD'S "Through the Breach" which uses a card-based system, as opposed to dice, and we fell in love with that idea and couldn't figure out why there weren't more card-based game systems out there. So we started spit-balling ideas on how we could put together a Two-page RPG using card mechanics, and about 3 hours later we had the bare bones of Suited. Side note: We seem to do our best game creation while driving, over the course of two other drives we designed two completely new playsets that we are planning on releasing as stand-alones at some point.
You state in the sample document that one of the goals of the game was to keep it quick. What was your biggest challenge to keeping the pace of the game up?
The biggest challenge to keeping the game fast was in trying to keep everything slimmed down. There are volumes of games out there (that we love dearly) that have page upon page on game mechanics, enemies, weapons, and chapters detailing how to level your character. While these games are fun, we wanted to create a game that people could pick up, spend maybe 10-15 minutes reading over the rules, and then start playing. Originally we designed Suited for a Two-Page RPG challenge, but as we worked on it we realized that we could never fit everything on just two pages, and as we designed more playsets we had to add in a few more rules mechanics to accommodate actions that could occur in that setting, which then required trying to keep the rules slim enough to not slow down the game, but in-depth enough to do what they needed to do.
All of the missions are randomly assembled by the GM. What’s been your favorite combination, and what were some of the hijinks that ensued?
I think my favorite combination so far occurred in the Post Apocalypse Playset. The group in the Post Apocalypse game had gotten a world that was run by robot overlords. Working with them to design the world, we decided that it was a world where humans were cloned and used as batteries by the machines, but that some humans had gotten free, but they were dying off because the robots wiped the knowledge of how to reproduce from their genes. The item that the group started with was a VHS Tape and their mission was to Save The Information. So they decided the tape was a copy of Debby Does Dallas and the information they had to save was the way humans reproduced (as demonstrated in the tape). The downside was that the only way to copy the tape was controlled by the villain, Emperor Gor-Urs, so they had to make a dangerous trek across the land to his base and convince him to allow them to transfer the data and copy the VHS tape. They started in Guttown in a desert and immediately got into a scrap with some robot sentinels out looking for free humans. The group then had a run in with some free people hiding in an old scrapyard (The Dumps), and were then chased up into the Mountains where Emperor Gor-Urs lives by a Robot Hunting Pack. They successfully destroyed the pack, found Gor-Urs base, and convinced him to let them use his VHS copier. It was a blast!
In the free sample you have rules for noir, western, and post-apocalyptic settings, and you have announced rules for anthropomorphic animals, space exploration sci-fi, and wushu settings. Can you give a hint for future settings?
Our plans are to release two Pay-What-You-Want expansion packs, both with 3 new playsets, and then combine the two expansions and the free edition playsets into a high-quality full book that will be available for purchase on DriveThruRPG. So right now we have the six playsets you mentioned, and then another seven playsets planned for the core book that would range over all of the common settings people enjoy roleplaying, everything from 80's action hero to horror to high fantasy. We also have a couple of stand-alone playsets like I mentioned earlier that we will save for special events, kickstarter stretch goals, and the occasional April Fools release. One example of the stand-alones is a touring band simulator in the idea of Spinaltap/Airheads.
We cannot express how awesome it feels to have people looking over our works and playing our game, and if you haven't checked out the DriveThruRPG file lately, we released an updated version of Suited: Free Sample Edition last month with better graphics, and much nicer layout, and a slightly larger section on the rules mechanics of the game. We hope that you enjoy Suited, and should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to let us know!
Check out Suited 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: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/241178/Suited-Free-Sample-Edition
Before you begin reading this guide, I would like to formally make note of my identity. I am Balamast, Master Thief of the local thieves guild; some of you may know me as Fox Fingers and if you don’t, I am terribly disappointed. I have spent the last 20 years perfecting my craft and now I will give you the five most useful tips I can share to improve your skills. If you are not of the charismatic or dexterous among us, please stop reading and go learn how to be like the rest of the barbarians. Well, shall we begin?
1) Make Sure You Have A Silver Tongue
Not every problem can be solved with metal, sometimes you must use your charm to get away with things you otherwise wouldn't. You must obtain a silver tongue. To do this, practice speaking to all manners of people. Try convincing someone that you’re somebody you’re not. Start simple, pretend to be a merchant from a far away place seeking land to be purchased. The more you practice, the better you will get at speaking quickly; especially when you are caught off guard. This is by far your most valuable asset as it will save your life in a pinch. This skill allows you to learn information that will give you an edge in these situations.
2) Light On Your Feet
I can boldly assume you understand that being light on your feet is an important mechanic to becoming a good thief, right? Well, when it comes to running away from a caravan of guards who just caught you stealing from the king's cache, you bet that your not fighting them. Do what we thieves do best, RUN! Running isn’t just about beating your feet and controlling your breathing, it’s about fluidity of movement. We need to teach you how to fall from great heights, jump over railings, using alleyway walls to climb up onto a roof, the like. What I am getting at is that you need to go practice. Find some buildings to play around with, practice running as fast as you can, stretch your muscles and let it become not thought, but instinct. Eventually everything will become muscle memory and will be easily applicable where ever you go.
3) Know What You Are Dealing With
Every rookie thief has made this mistake in the past, going in blind. You must know at all times what you are dealing with and the repercussions of such. What I mean by this is that when you pick your target, who does it belong to, what kind of power do they hold, are you willing it take to risks if you get caught. There are lots of different people out in the world, you could be stealing from a powerful wizard and you just might end up becoming a toad for the rest of your measly existence. So do yourself a favor and study. Learn everything you can about what it is your after so you have the best chances of succeeding. I am friends with far too many toads now.
4) The Thieves Language
So, once we have our shinies and bobbles, where the hell do we go to sell them? Well, we must look for the marks. Have you learned thieves cant? We use this to mark places of interest under the naked eye of the city. We use it to communicate guard patterns, places to sell your stolen goods, jobs or even some useful items for any traveling thief. Thieves cant can also be used to communicate directly to others with slight hand gestures, that's how group jobs are performed, we do it without saying a word. So keep an eye out for these markings throughout the cities, you will be surprised by what might turn up.
5) Last Resort
I always put this as my last lesson when it comes to teaching thieves. I am not a believer in killing, nor do I condone what ever acts you take outside of these teachings. But, as a thief you must be able to play dirty, a good majority of us are not tough fighters. I would always say run first but at some point in your career your going to be surrounded. Step one is to take a good hard look at your surroundings, see what you can use to advantage. Whether it be sand to throw in their faces or a rock to hide behind. Find a way to get in between the armor. Exploit weaknesses when possible, i guarantee you will always be able to out fight a man in plate. Exhaust him by dodging his attacks and when an opportunity arises go for it. We thieves tend to excel at knowing the human body allowing us to perform what I like to call “Sneak Attacks”; I am clever. Basicly pointing your blade into a weak point of the body, this tends to be more difficult with bigger weapons so we tend to stick with the knife.
Thank you for taking the time in reading this guide as I hope it helps you achieve your goals and dreams of obtaining whatever it is your after. Remember to speak well, be nimble as a fox, learn about your target, know our language and when you have nothing else know how to fight. I do not run an assassins guild so if you get in trouble for murder, understand that purchasing this document holds me under no legalities of your actions.
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Picture provided by the author
Party balance. I kind of hate this term. Maybe not the term, so much as the idea it represents. Yes, having your balanced party of a healer, a damage dealer, a damage sponge, and the person who does out of combat stuff covers all your bases. But I find that configuration so incredibly boring!!
I get it, though. I really do. Having all your bases covered is the best way to ensure success. But sometimes, it’s more exciting to completely overwhelm a challenge with what you’re good at, and then wonder if you can just overcompensate for what you can’t do.
With that in mind, I decided to look at some of the fun that can be had with parties that are all the same class. I find that restrictions like that really let my creativity shine. So for your reading pleasure, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite ideas for same class parties in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, using only the Player’s Handbook.
1) All Fighter Party
Fighter is often thought of as the beginner class, or worse, the boring class. However, if there’s one class that could handle any feasible situation as a same class party, it would be our humble fighting man. After all, they’re the one class that gains the single most ability score increases on the way to level 20. (All classes gain five increases, with the exception of rogue and fighter who gain six and seven, respectively.) Anywhere an ability score increase can be taken, a feat can be taken instead, allowing a fighter to either round out party weaknesses, or hone their strengths further.
Even if the GM doesn’t allow taking feats in lieu of ability score increases, some of their class features make them very well suited to dealing with almost any sort of violent or dangerous theat. They have the second highest hit dice, as well as the Second Wind feature. These combined grant them considerable healing capacity for themselves, since a short rest would let them regain quite a bit of HP, and then they regain use of their second wind which gives them yet another burst of HP.
Things get really crazy when you consider that they can get up to 4 attacks per round, and they also possess the Action Surge ability, which lets them act a second time immediately after their turn. If the all fighter party absolutely needs to finish off an enemy with a quickness, they can all use their Action Surges in one combat round to double the amount of attacks they can make. This means that a party of four level 20 fighters can belt out 32 attacks in one turn!
For Added Fun: All variant humans. Because extra versatility from an extra proficiency and an extra feat is exactly what the most versatile combat class needs.
2) All Barbarian Party
The all barbarian party is similar in many ways to the all fighter party. They’re all exceptional with weapons, have a great deal of HP and also possess some short term effects that allow them to really push forward when needed. Barbarians, however, will be relying a little more heavily on their special abilities than fighters would.
Rage is what makes barbarians special, and it’s simultaneously what limits what they can do, since it improves strength based attacks. This means that to deal with far off enemies, they’ll need to either throw things, or just try to close ranks. (Luckily, they do gain some abilities to make them more mobile.)
One of the other benefits of rage is that it’ll also make them even tougher to defeat, making them resistant to most normal damage. Coupled with an AC that’s improved by dexterity AND constitution, and you’ll have a maniacal horde with high HP that can rampage their way through any threat.
For Added Fun: All dragonborn. Call them the BARFbarians, because they’ll be puking up fire, acid, lightning, and Pelor knows what else on their enemies in their fits of rage.
3) All Monk Party
Monk, in a way, is a very selfish class. Much of their abilities only benefit them, usually by granting them all manner of resistances to different effects, or a greatly increased movement speed. An individual monk is only useful in terms of their ability to move quickly on the battlefield and to tell the GM “No, that monster’s ability actually does nothing to me. :^)”
Though when we carry these abilities to the illogical conclusion of making the party nothing but Monks, it trivializes a lot of the more mundane, non-combat challenges a GM can throw at the players. Noxious gas in a disease ridden warren? Breathing it like fresh air. Charming them to cause them attack allies? One turn later, they have a clear head.
This makes monk an odd class out that doesn’t really excel at removing problems, but instead causing most problems to not matter to them, which is a strikingly appropriate theme. An entire party of monks is thus free from worldly concerns, allowing them to focus on greater causes.
For Added Fun: All elves. They’ll already be eschewing all sorts of things like eating, knowing the languages of people they talk to, and even obeying the laws of gravity; we may as well add sleeping and needing light to see to that list.
4) All Warlock Party
Warlock is, hands down, one of the most bizarre classes in D&D 5e. I’d dare to say that they’re best described as how they contrast against fighters. While a fighter has all manner of flexibility in regards to combat abilities and numerous feats, the warlock has access to all sorts of loosely related magical abilities, many of which are not combative in nature.
With that said, for both story and ability cohesion, the best way to make the strengths of the warlock apparent is for all of them to have the same patron. (Incidentally, patron choice also has the least impact on what abilities a warlock has!) Once this is done, however, the plot hooks write themselves, and their sinister nature shines in all it’s terrifying glory.
For example, a party of all Great Old One patron warlocks could easily spy on and conspire against the inhabitants of a city using their Create Thrall ability, or a group of Fiend warlocks could demonstrate their might to a remote village with Hurl Through Hell. From there, the insidious conspiracies can only grow.
For Added Fun: All tieflings. When polite society rejected them, they found solace in religion. Not Helm, nor Lathander. No no no. They started following Nyarlathotep, to return the favor of the world giving them nothing but suffering.
5) All Rogue Party
Rogue is, without a doubt, my favorite class in D&D. In 5th edition, they’re capable of all kinds of shenanigans. This propensity for silliness only becomes more apparent when you have a party of nothing but rogues.
For starters, a rogue gains 5 proficiencies from their class, along with an additional 4 from their background, and anywhere from 1-3 from their race. If one source grants a proficiency a character already has, the player may then pick any other proficiency instead. This gives rogues a tremendous amount of flexibility in picking skills. Which is to say nothing about how a level 6 rogue will have four skills with double their proficiency bonus. (Further meaning that a party of four rogues will have 16 such skills!)
They’re nothing to sneeze at in combat, either. Assume a four rogue party is armed with both ranged and melee weapons. If they split up into groups of two, with proper positioning, all four rogues can have sneak attack against every target. (Proper positioning meaning one duo approaches a target, allowing the other duo to make ranged attacks against it with sneak attack.)
Which is to say nothing of some of the other abilities rogues have, many of which either improve their action economy in combat, or further improve their skill rolls. This isn’t to say rogue is without drawbacks, though. They’re one of the more fragile classes, and once one of them is dispatched, the rest will likely fall just as quickly.
For Added Fun: All Half-elves. Because two more skills they can freely place proficiency in is precisely what the most skilled class needs.
There we have it: some of the bizarre outcomes of compounding the strengths of a particular class onto itself more times than might be necessary. While party balance is a nice, safe bet to take, I’d encourage you to play on the wild side from time to time by getting together with your other players and agreeing on a same class party. It’s one thing to read and imagine what such a party would be like, but it’s another thing entirely to see it in action.
Just be sure to find some way to compensate for what your party will be missing if you do!
Aaron der Schaedel is often more consumed with the idea of whether something could be done, than whether it should be done. This more often than not gets him into trouble, but he always has a hilarious story to tell afterwards. For example, he’s going to include an unrelated link here to meet his external link quota, and go completely meta in explaining his intentions. You can tell him if you thought this was a good idea or not on Twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: http://looneydm.blogspot.com/2012/06/all-wizard-party.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.