With the dual launch of the first novel and RPG for Questlings - A Children's Book Series and RPG Adventure, I was excited to schedule an interview with the game designers, Banana Chan and Tim Devine, as well as the author, Dan Letzring, about these two products. I’ve interviewed Banana Chan at High Level Games and reviewed Tim Devine’s North Sea Epilogues at d20 Radio, so I was eager to learn more about this all-ages franchise.
EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for talking with me. What is Questlings - A Children's Book Series and RPG Adventure?
DAN LETZRING (DAN): The stories and RPG are all about finding your inner hero. In the So You Want To Be A... series of children’s books, the characters find themselves looking at what they aspire to be without realizing that they may already embody the ideals of those to whom they look up. Each story is a heartwarming tale that sees our characters on journeys that involve friendship, heart, and being true to oneself.
BANANA CHAN (BANANA): Questlings is a tabletop RPG that’s based on that series of kids’ books! The players take on the roles of kids who are trying to accomplish their goals by gathering items. When they get to a challenge, they call upon their Inner Hero for help, just like the book series.
TIM DEVINE (TIM): Questlings, the RPG is a great introduction to new players and new GMs and a fun way to get the family together to create amazing stories.
EGG: For the RPG, how does the system work?
BANANA: The RPG uses a map and each location has two sides to them, just like the characters have a reality version and a fantasy version. When a difficult challenge happens, the location turns into its fantasy version and that’s when the kids become their Inner Hero. The Game Moderator uses a storybook full of prompts to read through that will guide them through the map. It’s heavily inspired by Choose Your Own Path systems, so newer GMs can get a handle of how to moderate the game.
TIM: All of the information a player needs to play is right on their character sheet, in an accessible and kid-friendly way. When the GM asks for a dice roll, players will roll one six-sided die if they are their kid, or one eight-sided die if they are their Inner Hero. The outcomes are narrated by the player and GM together. The sheet also has a place to track Boosts, which are a cool resource that players earn when they roll low and things don’t go their way. Boosts can be used later on to re-roll dice, move more than one space or bargain with the GM. Questlings has safety rules built right into the character sheet, with three face icons; green, yellow and red, which players can tap to indicate if they are really enjoying something, would rather not keep talking about something or simply remove something from the story. Teaching kids this way of playing really empowers them and makes for a much better experience for everyone.
EGG: What’s character creation like? Are the main characters from the book playable within the game?
BANANA: There are 6 different pregenerated characters that the players can choose from (these are the characters from the books), but players can definitely make their own if they want to! We have a blank sheet for players to draw and fill out.
TIM: Players can really make their characters their own, even if using the pregens, however they imagine their character or Inner Hero. As they describe their actions and how they face challenges, they can be totally unique. Players will give their character and Inner Hero names and assign stars to their three stats; Creativity, Determination and Problem Solving. Finally each character will need a goal, or the thing they are trying to accomplish by the end of the game.
EGG: Questlings is a series of kids books created by Bryce O'Connor, Nicholas Yu, and Dan Letzring with illustrations by Jacqui Davis, correct? You’re launching with the first book (of six) and the RPG, why kickstart the first novel and the RPG at the same time?
DAN: We were originally going to release the first two kids books together. However we decided that since these are RPG inspired stories it would be a lot of fun to launch the first book with an RPG set in this IP. Once we really thought about that idea it seemed smart to be able to hit multiple age ranges and audiences within the same campaign! If all goes well we will plan to launch each kids book one at a time paired with RPG supplemental material.
EGG: What age range are the books and RPG for?
DAN: The kids books are targeted to ages 3-7 and the RPG is for ages 8+ (though suitable for younger).
BANANA: I’ve played this with adults and they also seem to enjoy it, so it might be good for new roleplayers as well as a gateway game, before they get into something crunchier!
EGG: How long is each book? How many pages will the RPG be? Will these fulfill and deliver together?
DAN: The children’s books are 32 fully illustrated pages and the RPG is still in process but is expected to be around 40-50 pages.
BANANA: We just keep adding more and more pages to the RPG! I’m thinking we’ll have more supplemental stuff for the next Kickstarter.
EGG: While the content points towards an RPG, what was the catalyst to actually create that game?
DAN: Banana and I had met years ago and had run into each other again at PAXU last year. I approached her about making an RPG set in the world of one of my previously published games, Groves. Both of us were not all in on this project for a multitude of reasons and while casually taking I mentioned the Questlings line of books. This sparked a fire in the creation process and we had a solid plan for the RPG quickly. Banana then went to work making something truly special. She then recommended bringing Tim in on the project and I must say that it has all come together better than I hoped.
BANANA: It really is a really great team! Initially when Dan reached out to me, I had an idea of what to do and I did a quick brainstorm with Mabel Harper, who has experience with planning out TTRPG adventures and I wanted to get her take, before putting anything on paper. Once I had a good understanding of what the world look like and how to make it accessible, I did a first draft. I had a chance to playtest it a few times with adults (parents), but when things started moving to a digital sphere, I needed to bring on someone else. Tim has kids at home so he can continuously playtest with them.
TIM: Having played and designed RPGs for my son since he was 3 years old, I was delighted when Banana approached me about joining the project. I’ve enjoyed playtesting and running this game through it’s iterations and seeing the joy on the faces of the kids and adults playing.
EGG: What stretch goals are you hoping to unlock?
DAN: Additional prompts and materials to supplement the RPG as well as additional art within the RPG booklet!
BANANA: We’ll also have a pledge level for backers to play with streamers! Lysa Penrose and Gabe Hicks are the two streamers who we have the pleasure of having on the project as guest GMs.
EGG: Beyond this project, what else are you working on?
TIM: My partner and I have a long format campaign adventure coming out soon with Hunters Entertainment and Renegade Games for the Teens in Space RPG. We also have some awesome RPG podcasts over at the Roll to Play Network!
BANANA: I’m working on a TTRPG with the podcast Crypto-Z! It’s a game about the world after climate change has destroyed everything and cryptids roam the earth. We’re expecting to launch that sometime in 2021. I’m also working on a few things with Austin Knight, Sen-Foong Lim, Sadia Bies and Jason Slingerland that are in the works!
DAN: We have been working on two lines of games. One is Adventure Tactics, a campaign based encounter driven miniatures TTRPG inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics. The game is releasing early next year and we have a lot of expansion content in the works. We also just released a standalone expansion to our 18-card game Squire for Hire as well as a digital app of the game. We are working on more 18 card games both related to squire for hire as well as separate.
EGG: I appreciate you talking with me. Where can fans learn more about your work?
TIM: I am half of Dice Up Games [website here] and [a third] of the founding members of the Roll to Play Podcast Network. You can find me on Twitter @GMTimD.
BANANA: Game and a Curry’s website is [here] and you can find us on Twitter and Facebook @gameandacurry. As for me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @bananachangames!
DAN: Our website is [here] and I am on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @letimangames
Questlings - A Children's Book Series and RPG Adventure! from Letiman Games and Game and a Curry
End Date: Thu, December 10 2020 10:00 PM EST.
“Questlings is an RPG-inspired children's book series and RPG game system about finding your Inner Hero.”
Egg Embry is a freelance tabletop roleplaying game journalist writing for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table, RPG News, d20 Radio, the Tessera Guild, the Open Gaming Network, the AetherCon Convention Magazine, GAMA’s Around the Table, and more. His areas of focus are RPG crowdfunding projects and RPG reviews as well as interviews with a range of gaming professionals from freelancers to CEOs. Beyond journalism, he dabbles in freelance writing and producing gaming zines for the roleplaying zine-aissance, including POWERED by the DREAMR, a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG zine about living out your dreams within other’s dreams.
This is an introduction to how to build your very own campaign world. In it I hope to introduce you to some world building concepts and ideas that you can use or chose to ignore when designing your own campaign world.
There are a lot of campaign worlds out there, but nothing is as unique, and as well known by you, as your own campaign world. There are lots of ways to build your world, but the best way, in my opinion, is to model off of our own world. After all it is the world we know best and the only world that we know can support intelligent life, at least for now.
1) Start With The Macro Scale
Is your campaign world even a planet and if so, what shape would it be in? A spherical world is common and the result of constant gravitational effects on assembled particles. It is theorized that dust was formed when the Sun, Sol, was born and out of these dust clouds the planets coalesced. Then the asteroids that formed clumped together or fell to the planets and some became moons. Most though were absorbed by the planets and evolved into the round balls we know so well. Well, what if your world is flat (it sure would be easy to map)? What if it were a toroid or square, or some wild shape? The intervention of magic can do a lot, so could a planar gate with connections to other planes either outer or inner. The majority of worlds will be spherical and resemble earth, but that doesn’t render the rest of this discussion different if you chose a different shape for your world. What shape will you choose for your world?
2) What Is The Density Of The World And Its Organization?
Jack Vance, the science fiction author, invented a big world in one novel. It was the size of Jupiter and had a low density. Its size allowed it to hold its atmosphere, but its huge size allowed for vast land areas and huge continents. The only problem was that metal was rare, most of it came from the occasional meteor that crashed into the planet and those deposits of metal were very valuable. Nations would go to war over them. Philip José Farmer invented the Riverworld; it was a unique world designed for unknown reasons to hold the afterlife of all humans who died before sometime in the 21st century. The world was one Mississippi sized river bordered by mountains that wrapped around the entire planet in a loop. Along its shores everyone who had ever been born got to live again. The first and best novel in the series centered on Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his quest to build a great steam powered riverboat that could circumnavigate the planet in a goal to find out why Riverworld existed and what the motives of its creators were. Along the way he had to work with evil King John (out of Robin Hood) and he read about the journeys of Richard Burton who was able to explore the world and find its headwaters.
Larry Niven wanted to invent a world, so he took a blue ribbon, laid it on its side and stuck a candle in the middle. Then he expanded the world into his famous Ringworld and the candle at its center became a small sun. One DM I knew invested heavily in Judge’s Guild maps and modules and he strung them together side-by-side to create a ringworld for his home world. Which world will you build, how will it be unique, and what will it have in common with standard D&D worlds?
3) Choosing The Right World
Your choice of a world and its shape should be determined by the kind of campaigns you want to run in it. In a massive world you can fit a whole lot of continents and civilizations, monsters, and everything else. But travel across this world would be a difficult deal, especially if you have to go a large distance. Remember that Teleport only has a 500 mile per level range. If you want a world were all the past people have come to life, then you can do Riverworld. If you want a huge world that is science fiction in origin you can create a ringworld. You could also do a torus (donut shaped) or one of Larry Niven’s early ideas: Diskworld. On Diskworld the sun is at the core the world is flat and there are huge mountains at the outer edge to hold in the atmosphere. As you go closer to the sun you had deserts and hotter people like magma men, as you got further from the center you got colder lands and arctic creatures. You had a huge area to adventure in and that was only counting one side of the world. If you wanted, you could make the outer planes on the flip side and the elemental planes as zones on the disk. Most people will want to stick to a standard spherical world. How will your campaign design shape your world? Do you want to bring back all the famous people of history, do you want a huge area to explore, do you want to have your players discover new lands or do you have something even bolder in mind?
4) What Makes Up A Spherical World?
Most are plates of crust that sit on a molten core. These tectonic plates float on the sea of magma and move around. They may have started as Pangaea, but they have moved around before. Australia has been a past neighbor to India, South America used to be a neighbor to Africa and so on. Currently, the Pacific Ocean is shrinking, and the Atlantic Ocean is growing wider as the plates slowly drift. Half of California and the San Andres plate is shifting north and half of it is shifting south. If you have a world it is theorized that a dynamic ecosystem is due to volcanic action releasing heat and gases into the world which interacted with lightning to create the building blocks of life and went on to form life in the seas. Now it is true this is a theory, no one was around to witness the early earth so we can only make theories about it. This theory is one that is almost universally accepted by the scientific community, but it doesn’t have to be true for your world. Did your world have a more biblical creation by the god(s)? Did they get together and forge the planet out of their imagination? Or do your peoples just believe that? It is your world so you can do anything, and you can make any arguments about how it was formed. Is your world actually a liquid world with floating islands on it, or is it a huge gas world with floating continents moving around in the air cylinder (I once had a world like this and the natives used massive ships that would sail between floating continents). If you use tectonic plates then where they split oceans will form, where they clash mountains will form. Where they rub against each other earthquakes will happen, and where they are thin volcanoes will form. This action will be the major land and sea forming method on many worlds.
5) Water Runs Downhill
This simple and obvious statement is how most of the Earth has been formed, but the action of wind, wave, and running water. Water carved the Grand Canyon and its action has weathered down the mountains. The lack of water causes deserts and where there is too much there are rainforests. Water will always try to flow to the sea and often it dives under the earth and comes to the surface as springs and the headwaters of a river. Both the mighty Columbia River and the Thames River start as small creeks and streams that come together to become a big river that runs to the sea. The Nile river is sourced in Victoria Lake and starts coming across some of the greatest falls in the world, Victoria Falls. It was a major expedition to reach the headwaters; you could plan a similar campaign for your group. Most life and civilizations occur where land meets water. Water is an inescapable need of every living creature (but not always of aberrations or outer planner creatures). Water also makes a great way to travel, you go slower by most river travel, but you can travel 24 hours a day, so you can go faster than if you travel on horseback, and both forms of travel are faster than walking. Bodies of water were early highways for civilization and spread limestone to Egypt, Portuguese merchants to as far away as China and Japan, allowed the colonization of Easter Island, Hawaii, and Australia, and the great English Empire was built on their mighty warships and trading fleet. How will the forces of magic and nature shape your world?
6) Similarities Among Worlds
Most fantasy worlds will develop along similar lines. Most fantasy worlds work in a time period from Hellenistic Greek to Ancient Rome, to the Dark Ages, to the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, to even the early Industrial Age. When will your time period for your world be set? Hellenistic Greeks and Ancient Rome had bronze plate mail, as steel wasn’t invented until centuries later. Centuries after that gunpowder was invented. When I ran an Ancient Roman World, glass was very rare, so potion vials were clay. On Pacific islands metal was not that common so clubs lined with shark teeth made great weapons. Different time periods and different locations had different technology. It took the Chinese to develop gunpowder. When they did, they used it in everything from life prolonging potions to fireworks. It took the more militant Europeans to develop guns. How would this affect the technology of your world and what equipment is available to the party?
7) The Flow Of History
Why were the Europeans more militant and driven more to explore than the Chinese? A big part of it was their world view. The Chinese called themselves the Middle Kingdom. Once they had united their nation they were happy and didn’t see much of a reason to go out into the world exploring. The Warring States Period was when China tried to unite itself, often under different nations and by different rulers. Sun Tzu lived and wrote during this period and his book on tactics is still studied to this day. The Chinese fought to form one nation as did the Japanese. Over in Europe there were various tribes of barbarians and primitive people. Many of those people were, at one time, ruled from Rome. Rome was comprised of the literal descendants of the Ancient Greeks. In Europe the competing tribes of barbarians took over various lands and used their own language as a basis for those lands. That is why there are so many languages in Europe and their constant rivalry was a bitter issue. The European barbarians first held Rome to ransom and then sacked it. Most Roman statues had their heads cut off and disfigured by the Vandals. That is the root of the world Vandalism. When the Roman Empire fell the Vandals turned their savagery on other tribes and eventually founding Germany and the other nations of Europe. Europe was almost constantly locked in a war of some sort as the various rulers tried to take over or hold onto their lands. This constant competition became a source of great scientific development as well as great human horror like the Black Plague and the Crusades. These two forces had global consequences from trying to oust the Islamic from the Holy Lands to the rise of the middle class. The Islamic Revolution has its roots in the Crusades and the Black Plague finally made the labor of one skilled man valuable and those craftsmen were higher paid and became the merchants, skilled labors, and builders of strong economies. The biggest event in the Forgotten Realms was when the Gods walked the planet and some lost or gained their divinity during this time. The imprisoning of Rovaug, the crash of the spaceship Divinity and the death of the God of Humanity, Aroden were all major events in the development of Golarion. What forces were at work to shape the history of your world?
8) Populating Your World
Now it is time to get down to the smaller scale; where are your various races sourced? Where do they live, where do they come from and where do they want to go? Are humans the most common race, as D&D assumes? Do dwarves come from an underground civilization, are the orcs their rivals and hated foes. Are there Drow in your world? With the light of the Elves should come the evil of the Drow as a counterbalance. What about the dwarves, do they duergar (evil slaver dwarves) exist? Is there an evil counterpart to the gnomes or just the good deep gnomes? Do you have halflings in your world or an evil counterpart to them? Races are the core foundation for civilization and the formation of countries, but humans are rarely allied just by race so often they work against each other, this keeps the humans from taking over from the other races or from exterminating them. Humans are more interested in killing off each other than other races. In Tolkien's world Halflings were jovial people who ate second breakfast and were isolationists. It is not that they didn’t like the biguns of the world, it is just that they thought they lived their lives too strangely, too fast, and with too much magic. Bilbo broke the mold when he became a thief and an adventurer. What are the races of your world and what are the forces; political, racial tensions, or the fight between good and evil that are at work in your world? Don’t feel you have to include a race just because it is in the handbooks and don’t feel that you can’t create an entirely new race just because you want to. What are the politics of your world?
9) What Adventures Are Available?
Now that you have gotten down to this scale you can start to think about what you want your player characters to do. Will they form a hearty band of adventurers on a noble quest like the destruction of an evil relic or are they on the search to restore a kingdom? Or will your group be aimless adventurers gathered for no particular purpose, coming from no particular area, and only going on missions you send them on to kill monsters and get paid for it, by robbing their corpses? This creates a group of murder hobos; people who shiftlessly move around and get rich through petty crime sometimes verging on the felony. Now there is nothing wrong with doing this, if this is what your players want to do, but most DMs have a nobler quest in mind, if not in the vein of Tolkien, then something similar to it. If you create a fantasy world with a new land to be discovered, then you can have your players be either conquistadors or be members of the primitive tribes trying to fight the incoming Europeans. Will you have an Europe analog or a Oriental analog? Most of the character classes are drawn on European models, but monks with a flurry of blows, ninjas and samurai are from an Eastern world and if you don’t have that world represented in your setting, then you will disappoint those players who want to play those type of characters. Of course, the Bard and the Skald came from Scottish and Irish tales and heroes, yet we apply them to entire continents. There were monks in Europe, but they were far more scholarly than adventuring. The monks of the Shaolin Temples were both; keeping vast temples full of records from clay tablets to written books. They also adventured across China as righters of wrongs; dispensers of wisdom and justice. What type of campaigns you want to run will have a major influence in how your form that world, so how do you form your world? What goals will you have in mind for the party and for future parties?
10) Detailing The Histories
A well developed world has history to it; that lends it gravitas, dignity and power. I know a DM who has had the same world for over 20 years, and he brings in changes made by players into each campaign. If you play with him in several games then you learn certain features of his world, what exists and where, and even some things you and get away with in certain areas. I have played in wide ranging games in his world from the pocket dimension to safeguard civilization to an exploration of the catacombs under a megalopolis, to the crushing of a slave uprising. He has a rich developed world with a lot of NPCs both weak and powerful and institutions that have a long history. There are parts of his world that are ignorant of other parts and even pockets that are near impossible to escape from. They use pocket dimensions to house the town’s population and feed and clothe them. Undead can become recognized citizens. There are a lot of unique factors in his world because of his development and because of what he has added to the world over the years that he has been playing.
Golarion has a well developed history because a full team of writers have worked on it. There is an analog to Egypt, China even America. There is an evil empire, a lost world ruled by a demon ape, a crashed spaceship, a Norse analog, a barely restrained demonic invasion, and a crusade against it. There are a lot of factors going on in their world. In contrast Greyhawk had only a little development, because most of it was in mind of Gary Gygax and he didn’t want people to copy what he had done, but to do their own creative work. The Forgotten Worlds was mostly in the mind of Ed Greenwood and so there wasn’t a lot written about it without his approval or permission. He had a limited world because he had a small staff working on it; himself. He was using the world he had developed from his own game, and he just spread it to the larger world. Eberron and the Spelljammer universe were well developed, but aside from the Dragonlance chronicles little went on in the Dragonlance world. I have read about all these campaign worlds and more.
When you build your world, you should take examples and inspirations from other worlds and use it in your own. You can take what you like, ignore what you don’t like, change things around, and be unique all on your own. Happy gaming and happy world building.
Daniel Joseph Mello is active under that name on the Facebook d20prfsr.com and Pathfinder Gamemasters forum. Feel free to login to Facebook, on of these groups and drop him a line. He has been involved in D&D since 1981 and by the 5th game he was the DM. He has gamed in the Army, in college, and at conventions. He has written tournament level modules for gaming conventions and has been writing about D&D on Facebook for over 3 years. He is also a budding fantasy writer.
Picture Reference: www.shutterstock.com
Please take a moment to consider supporting this platform at Patreon. Also, please note this article gets pretty vulgar, and contains mild spoilers for a whole crapload of shows, movies, and video games, most notably Halo and Assassin’s Creed.
Everyone's been there. You're at the table, Cheetos in hand, dice at the ready, and the GM gives you that look. That look. The 'I'm-so-great' look. That smug half-smile that tells you they're about to drop their latest display of their own genius (or edginess, or creativity, or whatever) on you and your unsuspecting comrades.
Except whatever it is, you've seen it. You haven't just seen it, you've seen it done a million times, backwards and forwards, ever since you were a wee baby gamer critting your nappies. Maybe it’s cringey, maybe it’s just played out, but either way, you’re sick of it. Good news: so am I! So let’s get all these pet peeves out on the table.
1) Questgiver Betrays You
If my entire career’s contribution to gaming is to get people to do this one less, my life will not have been spent in vain. I suppose I can hardly be shocked that this crap shows up in our tabletop games over and over, because it shows up in our larger media over and over as well. Grognards, look back at our formative adventure media, like Buffy, Xena, Hercules, Charmed, Highlander: how many episodes revolved around the titular hero(es) being asked for help by some put-upon victim only to find out that the ‘victim’ was either setting them up for an ambush, or using them as a catspaw to eliminate a rival (and probably then die in an ambush…)? It’s okay, you don’t have to answer. And if you haven’t seen any of these shows, then spoiler alert: it’s all of them.
This trope turns up in video games, too. Like, all of them. Linear games like the first installments of Assassin’s Creed and Halo went through a period in the early 2000’s where virtually every game was built on a framework of a mysterious knowledge holder parceling out jobs for you only to betray you in the end, usually fighting you with an arsenal of shit you’d handed to them. Fortunately, video games now have moved on to the era where the only type of game anyone makes anymore (other than indy sidescrollers where you play a deformed cartoon child who’s dreaming and/or dead) are massive sandbox games, where we can joyfully exchange the predictable disappointment of being betrayed by the primary questgiver for the mind-numbing tedium of being betrayed over and over by an endless stream of sidequest-givers!
I’m a huge fan of stealing things from books, movies, TV shows, and video games for your TTRPGs. Do that, as much as possible. But don’t steal this concept. Like, ever.
2) The Treasure Was A Fake
Now, don’t get me confused: I’m not talking about a Maltese Falcon situation, where the treasure the story is ostensibly centered around turns out to have been counterfeit. If the true goal of your story or campaign was something else, with the treasure as a MacGuffin to move things along, then go with God.
No, no, I mean when the primary goal of a story is a specific treasure (be it actual money, a magic item, or even a person) and the end result of the story is that the promised treasure isn’t just not where they thought it would be, but that it never existed in the first place (or has long since been destroyed).
Here’s the deal: that treasure is the carrot you’ve used to goad us poor pack mules into moving this story along for you. We’ve dutifully carried your GM baggage up all these goddam hills, over the rickety bridges, and we force marched through the night for you. Now it's time to pay up. I understand that sometimes an interesting bait-and-switch keeps a game exciting, so you need to give the asses across the table from you an apple or a bag of oats instead of the promised carrot. But if you don’t give us anything, then it’s not a cooperative journey anymore, it’s just animal abuse.
3) You Wake Up Pregnant
It’s a tale as old as TTRPGs themselves. The men in the group carouse like there’s no tomorrow. Elven prostitutes are purchased by the truckload. Farmer’s daughters fall before the bard in droves. The moment the one woman in the group dares to take a dashing stevedore to her bedchamber, though, suddenly the tone shifts. The next morning, as the group prepares to depart, she suffers a sudden and “unexplained” bout of nausea.
Right about then, I do too.
I’m not talking about situations where there’s a good story reason. 99 times out of 100, that isn’t the case with this silliness. It’s almost always a reactionary lashing out. The woman character is being punished for daring to express sexuality, while the men continue to dip their wicks with impunity without fear of pregnancy (I cannot help but notice that the elven hookers and farmers’ daughters of the world return demanding child support with far less frequency than the lady adventurers wind up trying to find the Middle Earth family planning center) nor the rampant sexually transmitted diseases they ought to be racking up.
4) It Was All a Dream
AKA, the coward’s way out of a TPK.
Now I don’t mean a scene which is clearly a nightmare or a vision; that’s totally fair game. I mean scenes where the players made meaningful progress in their stories, suffered meaningful consequences (and yes, that progress might have been a fatal mistake leading to the consequence of dying), and are then told all that time was just meaningless. Nothing steals the impact from an important event like finding out it was all a hallucination.
Most of the time this is a problem, it’s because the GM is trying to fix something they screwed up. Even when they planned it out, this shtick can fall flat if it falls into the valley of mundanity: the dream sequence is engaging enough that the players care about what happened in it, but mundane enough that it seems believable. You need to either have a clue here or there that something is wrong, to prevent them from feeling that the rug is getting yanked out from under them, or else you need to go full-tilt Hellraiser on them and make the adventurers beg to wake up in a urine-soaked bedroll.
5) He Was Just an Old Man!
The heroes have successfully infiltrated the villain lair, and finally spotted him: the dastardly mastermind is caught unawares or jumps out to menace them. They roll initiative, start throwing fists, and to their shock, pulp the boss in one shot. Like, horrendously. Usually accompanied by a gruesome description of necks shattering, eyes bulging, and blood flying. Unless you’re playing a hyper-moral game (like most superhero RPGs), there will inevitably be a frightened eyewitness to point a horrified finger and scream about what monsters the PCs are.
“Look what you did! He was just an old man!”
Look, I get it: most heroes tend to pull the “Get ‘er, Ray!” plan as their primary tactic. It can be frustrating as a GM, but this ends up backfiring most of the time. In many TTRPGs, letting the villain go first will often spell certain death for PCs or innocent bystanders, and unless their recklessness is really out of control and you need to give them a reality check, pulling this trick on your players makes them doubt their own abilities. A villain who controls a vast network of evil minions in a setting where adventuring vigilantes are common shouldn’t be going down in a single stroke to aforementioned vigilantes.
6) Oh Look, Another Evil Child
In many ways the exact opposite of the last trope. You’ve seen this one over and over: the veneer of innocent child, and in a shocking twist, the kid is evil! Ooh, surprising! Unless you’ve already seen The Omen, Children of the Corn, the Exorcist, The Good Son, The Bad Seed, select episodes of Buffy, Angel, Highlander, and the X-Files, or every third episode of Supernatural…
You need innocent kids (and innocent bystanders). That kind of hook is your nuclear option for getting recalcitrant players invested in a plot, and when you suborn it like this, you screw yourself over in the long run.
My players would probably make the argument that ‘Sweet Elderly Person Who Turns Out to Be a Supernatural Powerhouse’ should fall under this heading too, but fuck ‘em. That one’s my bread and butter, and I’m going to run that particular horse is never too dead for me to beat one more time.
No, wait. You know what? I’ve got one more bonus pet peeve. A repetitious occurrence that’s been infuriating me the last few hours:
Bonus: This Shitty Listicle
Seriously. Who does this guy think he is? If I think back on my absolute favorite moments in gaming, a huge number of them fall under one of these headings, or used one of these tropes to further their story. So why do I hate them so much? Why would I break my normal rule about negative articles and spend hours writing the most hateful soapbox speech I could think of?
Look, I think these ideas are played out. I’ve seen them over and over again, and gotten seriously tired of them over the years. Does that mean they’re bad ideas? Not necessarily. In point of fact, like most things that are ‘basic,’ they’re so widespread because they’re extremely enjoyable. You could use any one of these ideas and craft a pretty damn good story.
So what’s the takeaway? Maybe just keep an eye on your friends, and try to be aware of what tropes are getting overused in your group. When you get more than one eyeroll at a reveal, maybe it isn’t your voicework or the monster that’s getting the reaction; maybe it’s the set-up that folks are tired of seeing.
In an event, what are your favorite tropes to hit over and over again? Which story tropes are you absolutely sick of seeing repeated ad infinitum?
In addition to being a complete hypocrite who has used every single one of these tropes multiple times, Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. He enjoys writing for High Level Games when he isn’t writing for the Black Library or Mad Scientist Journal. His most can be found in Inferno! (vol 2) from Black Library. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Picture Reference: http://lukebrimblecombe.blogspot.com/2015/08/fantasy-tropes.html
Japan and its tabletop games have long been an area of fascination of mine, and it’s also why I have an ever growing pile of games from Japan I’m as yet unable to read. Among the games in this collection is a game about an out of control dungeon, and the plucky adventurers called Landmakers that can bring some semblance of order to this wild world. This game is called Meikyuu Kingdom!
1) Who Made This?
Meikyuu Kingdom, also sometimes known as Make You Kingdom, is a game published by Adventure Planning Services of Japan. An official English translation was announced in 2013, however no new information has since been released, though rough drafts of a fan translation exist.
2) What’s The Premise And Setting?
Meikyuu Kingdom is, as its name implies, a Kingdom building game, set in a world called the Infinite Dungeon. The players take on the role of the members of the royal court. In addition to working to build the kingdom, each member of the court also has their own personal goal, such as claiming a certain territory as part of the kingdom, or slaying a certain number of monsters.
However, the dungeon is, in fact, infinite, and even familiar places can change abruptly through a process known as Dungeonification. Additionally, your kingdom isn’t the only one in the dungeon, and the others may not always get along with yours.
3) What Are The Mechanics Like?
The dice mechanics of Meikyuu Kingdom are relatively simple: you roll 2d6, add the relevant attribute, and compare it to a target number. This mostly pertains to combat and skills. Meanwhile, the game’s management system is more binary; you either have the items or stats you need, or you don’t.
The game is also divided into two distinct phases: the Kingdom Phase and the Dungeon Phase. The Kingdom Phase is where you make decisions pertaining to the kingdom’s development, as well as preparations to enter the dungeon. By contrast, the Dungeon Phase consists of the sort of classic dungeon crawling challenges fans of fantasy roleplaying games would be more familiar with.
There’s also a somewhat unique mechanic Meikyuu Kingdom introduces called the d66 roll. The d66 roll is used for randomizing options on charts, such as random names or encounters. You roll two d6s as if you were rolling d%, but the lower number is always in the 10s place, and the highest number is always the ones place. With this setup, a result of 6 and 1 would be 16, or a result of 3 and 2 would be 23.
4) What Is It Similar To?
The most apt comparison to Meikyuu Kingdom is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition, particularly with how the scope of the game changed past level 9, where the focus of the game began including building and maintaining keeps. Additionally, both games have a simple core mechanic, but numerous sub systems with all manner of charts.
However, being a more modern game Meikyuu Kingdom is more refined; the core mechanic is consistent throughout, and the subsystems are related to each other in meaningful ways. Exempli gratia followers are the lifeblood of the kingdom, a staple in many skills, and there are numerous ways to gain them.
Despite these similarities, though, it’s worth mentioning that this is still a Japanese game, and thus much more structured than most games you can expect to find in the English speaking tabletop gaming community.
5) Is It Worth Getting Into?
Yes, but only if you’re interested in a silly, light hearted, kingdom making game. Being from Japan, this game is kind of rigid in terms of what it can be used to accomplish. Much of the listed skills all work towards one of two ends: either building up the kingdom, or crawling through the dungeon.
Another consideration is also that the fan translation doesn’t include any of the official artwork; so for many of the items, monsters, classes and jobs, you’ll be relying on names alone. (Which is a shame, because some of the monsters, such as Mayonaise King, are just plain absurd!)
To support the official release, you’ll need to import the books from Japan. This is great since they had released a new edition in October 2018, but not so great since importing is a risky and expensive prospect.
Aaron der Schaedel has no impulse control, and usually winds up buying any books in Japanese that have cute anime girls on the cover. His legitimate copies of the Meikyuu Kingdom books are no exception. You can try tempting him by showing him other such books via twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: http://randompunk.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-world-of-meikyuu-kingdom-13-daily.html
When I started my foray into the world of pen, paper, and imagination, I was in High School, and could have never predicted that playing tabletop games as a hobby (and later a passion) would outlast my varied collection of other interests. There are skills that I have honed over the last ten or so years that have helped me study in school, work more efficiently at jobs, and resolve minor conflicts among friends.
1. Conflict Resolution - D&D has taught me that there’s always more than one way to solve an encounter. Whether it’s a Dragon protecting its Horde, a room full of traps about to obliterate the PC’s, a band of Orcs demanding ransom for a Princess, or the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) on an altar, about to sacrifice a poor soul in order to summon a Devil. Sure, you can hack, slash, or shoot your way through all of those scenarios, but a craft Rogue can sneak ahead and determine the largest threats, a Bard can woo or convert an aggressive creature into a possible ally through Charm and wit, and the Cleric/Paladin/Monk can pray/meditate upon what the future holds to determine the best course of action. Every Player, every Class has its strengths and strategies. Away from the table, the ability to see friends for their potential strengths, and their attributes, can help to quell minor qualms, and know the best course of action. I’ve learned how to “size up” a potential situation or encounter, and it has paid out in spades.
2. Creative Writing Skills - My favorite part of the character creation process for a new game is crafting the individual, the person who will fit into this new world and new adventure. Beyond the character sheet, I’ll write a backstory for my character, giving them a home, a family, a history, and a reason for the DM, the party, and myself to invest in the well-being of this new addition to the team. I’ve created some odd characters, pushing my creative boundaries, generating against type characters, and learning how my brain operates when taking on a new role, and how to successfully adapt at the table.
3. Meta Knowledge = Confidentiality - Having worked in a few jobs where confidentiality is of utmost importance (Human Resources paperwork, following FERPA laws for students, etc), I’ve had an easier time learning where the line between meta and table knowledge meet. While I may be privy to something that the DM (my boss) has told me, other players (co-workers) haven’t come across that story point (fact) yet, and it’s up to the DM to divulge it at the right time and place. Gamifying work as a whole makes the entire day go by faster, and makes tasks less tedious - just another step on the questline.
4. Alignment Axis: A lesson in Philosophy - Inevitably, when you have more than one human in a room, you will have more than one viewpoint and philosophy. Learning how to step into another person’s shoes and seeing through their eyes benefits… everything. I’m having a hard time thinking of a situation where you wouldn’t want to understand both sides of a conversation, argument, or debate. Political, religious, spiritual, ethical, scientific… all of these topics benefit from a moment of passivity, observation, and understanding. I view it as a sort of challenge when the debaters in question all have the in-game capability to kill one another, because this challenges the players on their and their character’s convictions; how long can a direct conflict to a character’s worldview last before being quashed? Is there a resolution beyond violence? Also, it certainly helps to generate great inter-character conversations, like a zealous Paladin talking to a whimsical Druid and a cynical Rogue. These kinds of discussions can spur a new type of party growth, beyond XP and encounters. Not only is there party growth, but you also can find a new appreciation for your friends around the table and their viewpoints on the world.
5. A Comfortable Space to Practice Confidence - By the nature of the hobby, tabletop games bring friends and like-minded people together into a safe environment to try new techniques of conflict resolution and immersion into a new role. Beyond the confines of the rulebook and character sheet, there is a world of freedom to be found in a comfortable setting. My public speaking skills have benefited from my hours around the table; I have a friend who does voice acting, and uses new characters as a test bed for accents, pitch changes, and vocal range. Beyond the practice for improvisational humor and reactions, as well as the grounds for many an inside joke for future storytelling, I can think of no better place to freely express oneself and speak openly and confidently without reproach.
Tabletop games, and D&D in particular, have taught me more about myself than I could have learned from any other hobby. Further, this ‘hobby’ has become a lifestyle, and has helped to challenge, change, and mold my analytical skills, problem solving, and communication with the world at large. Also, I can be a cat person.
Angela Daurio is a DM and player of D&D 5e, is eagerly looking forward to Pugmire, and enjoys board games on a weekly basis. She resides in New Jersey, where she and her fiance are currently playing in two campaigns, and plotting the return of their own campaigns.
If I could give you one fact about myself, it is that I love games. Video games, sports (i.e. games with running), role-playing games, but most of all, board games. I have been playing board games since I was old enough to not swallow the pieces. I just couldn’t play enough; my poor parents could only handle so much Monopoly with a five year old, so I often ended up playing games against myself, typically playing all 4 players (and so great was my adolescent skill, I always won.) As I got older, the games got more complicated and my competitors diverse. Like many modern board gamers, I’ve played ungodly amounts of Catan, Carcassonne, and Dominion. I now find myself most drawn to deeper strategy games, (e.g. Agricola, Through the Ages), with a general rule being that the length of the rulebook is directly proportional to the enjoyment I’ll get out of a game (provided I can find people willing/gullible enough with which to play).
I only began role-playing a few years ago, drawn to the tabletop by its preponderance of rule-books. A single role playing game offers hundreds (often thousands) of pages of game mechanics and interactions to learn and explore, all of which made me metaphorically salivate. However, I soon realized that there is greater disparity between understanding the mechanics and playing the game in role-playing games than there is in board games (i.e. a perfect understanding of the D&D mechanics will do nothing to bring a character to life). While I had much to learn, I realized that a lifetime of board games had prepared me for joining a role-playing group in several ways.
1. The capacity for make-believe. To fully enjoy any board game, a certain amount of imagination is needed. I’m not just pushing a tiny plastic tank and a bunch of gray chips across a board, I’m blitzkrieging into Russia in a war encompassing the entire world. I’m not just rolling some dice, I’m producing resources in support of my bid to control the continent. These aren’t just cards, they’re equipment, contacts, and programs used to hack a nefarious corporation. Without imagination, a board game becomes merely a banal collection of mechanics and rules, devoid of life and the spark that makes games inherently fun.
This need of imagination is even more necessary when role-playing. Players are given a whole slew of mechanics and are expected to use them to bring to life a rich, vivid world without even board or piece for reference. Of course, there are visual aids used in RPGs, such as miniatures, maps, or pictures, but the vast majority of role-playing is seen through the mind’s eye of each player. I was already used to playing make-believe with my many games, whether I was becoming a rich mogul, daring general, or a dastardly spy. While I was initially thrown by my lack of physical representation within the game, I was able to quickly bring the world to life in my mind thanks to an imagination well-seasoned by the board.
2. The development of good game etiquette. People often take being nice for granted, especially around a game table. Everyone knows someone with whom they refuse to play games, whether they be role-playing, video, sports, or board, due to that person’s poor behavior. Some throw a fi(s)t when they lose. Others become insufferable upon winning. Some will not stop cheating, even when caught red-handed (I’m looking at you, Steve). Regardless of which sort of negative behavior is exhibited, it saps the enjoyment of the other players.
In my years playing board games, I have played against each type of person and have even been that person myself. The best lessons are reciprocal. I learned not to be an arrogant, pompous bastard after winning when I was beaten by a pompous, arrogant bastard. I learned not to be a sore loser myself by defeating others who were. All of these experiences facilitated my development of good game etiquette. The idea is simple: don’t be a barbarian at the game table (even if you are one in the game). If you’re pissed at what happened in game, be pissed at yourself for the stupid decisions that led you there or the dice for their uncooperative behavior (and then melt them), not pissed at other players or the DM. Don’t cheat by rolling 20s when no one was watching or purposefully altering rules. These things make games less fun for everyone involved. These bad behaviors come out much faster in board than role-playing games due to their shorter nature and clear distinction between winner and loser(s), so play a few board games with your group if you want to discern players with good game etiquette from those with poor game etiquette.
3. The familiarity with rules and game mechanics. While not everyone may agree with this, the rules in a role-playing game are central to the experience; without rules, D&D would be a medieval Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book (not that I’m hating on Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, mind you. Anyone who did that would be certifiable). The rules and mechanics put the ‘game’ in role-playing game. The better each player understands the rules as they relate to their character, the more time can be spent playing the game and becoming a part of a legendary story (to see the opposite of this, watch a session of Shadowrun played by a group that’s never played before.)
With a love of board games comes an inevitable familiarity with rules. Whether, like me, you love rules and game mechanics to the point where you will read the instruction manuals for games you don’t even have or if you hate rule-books and just want to dig right into a game without having to spend time among dry pages, board game players all are experienced in playing by the rules. This does not mean merely know how many dice to roll or how much Boardwalk costs to purchase, but also being able to work with multiple game mechanics to achieve victory. Even the most complex of board games, with an incredible variety of mechanics and features, pales in comparison to the complexity of game mechanics in an average RPG. Many years spent figuring out how to best manipulate board game mechanics allowed me to move quickly past the early role-playing stages of figuring out how to play my character according the rules (e.g. how many dice do I roll to shoot my pistol) and onto more complex concepts, such as learning how to develop and portray a personality for my character (e.g. thinking like a mob hitman and learning a Russian accent).
4. The honing of tactical instincts. Every role-playing group is different. Some are lax on adherence to the rules with a greater focus on building a great story. Others place more emphasis on simulation and playing strictly by-the-book. Combat is an inherent part of both of these role-playing styles. Regardless of whether combat is played out in a tense simulation with miniatures on a grid or is told as a tale of grand strokes and spells (or, more than likely, a combination of simulation and narrative epic), good tactics will often be the difference between life and death, between heroic and sad, bloody mess .
Board games offer players the chance to hone their tactical skills across a wide variety of challenges. Admittedly, not every board game offers deep tactical challenge, i.e. you can’t lay an ambush for your opponents in Monopoly (though that might make me play the game again). However, even simple board games require decisions which affect the outcome of the game, e.g. whether or not to buy a particular property in Monopoly when your funds are low. These decisions can be boiled down to a benefit versus risk analysis by the player (often made without thinking in such terms). RPG combat requires the same type of decision-making as can be found in any board game, a risk-benefit analysis of what attacks/spells are most useful in each situation, which enemies to concentrate fire upon, when the tide of battle has turned, etc. I’m not saying that every board gamer is a born tactician or that veteran tacticians can’t be defeated by the simplest of enemies. However, a board game is a concise exercise in tactical decision making; many years spent playing board games is many years spent honing tactical instincts through practice in diverse scenarios.
While I’m sure not everyone who board gamed before they leveled up to role-playing has had the same experience as me, I hope many of you can relate. Happy gaming!
Jake is an avid board gamer, outdoorsman, and low level role-player who lives in College Station, Texas.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games