Dec 6, 2018

Cockatrice nuggets #36

I got to have a sit down with Collin Green of Spikepit fame!

Listen to this episode of my podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets - a D&D podcast, 36 - Cockatrice Pit https://anchor.fm/rich-fraser/episodes/36---Cockatrice-Pit-e2lt1e

https://anchor.fm/spikepit

New High Level Games post

This is a copy of the post that appears here.


Metagaming, in a board game, is the game above the game. It's the social savvy in Bohnanza or Monopoly, tricky wording and deals in Cosmic Encounter or Diplomacy, or the planning ahead needed in a game of Chess or Risk. Metagaming is a board gaming skill used in most games, from Yahtzee to poker. So why is it so frowned upon in role playing games? The common scenario is that a group of players come across a troll and start burning it or throwing acid and the GM calls shenanigans. I believe this is because the dungeon master feels cheated because their encounter becomes trivialized with the knowledge the players bring to the table. In my opinion, player knowledge and skill helps the players get into the game. Who, in a fantasy world rife with orcs, trolls, and vampires, would venture out to fight monsters with no common knowledge? Tell me, how do you kill a vampire? Do you think someone who lived in a world where vampires really exist would have more or less knowledge than you? Taking all that into perspective metagaming takes many forms that we just don't recognize. Let's take a look at some of the oft overlooked forms of metagaming that we already do at the table and then we can talk about that player who brings a monster manual to the table.

1) It's A Game

First up, the shortest answer: it’s a game. Frank the fighter doesn't know what second wind or weapon proficiencies are. He only knows how to power through and what he can wield. Anytime you invoke mechanics not based in the fiction, react with rules, or state an action to perform, you are metagaming. 

2) Player Skill

D&D has its roots in player skill. It is only in the later editions that emphasis on skill checks have made their way to the front of gaming. Deciding when to cast a spell or invoke an ability is player skill. Figuring out puzzles or how to get past an obstacle is the player using their skill to complete a challenge. Skill use is still metagaming by using a mechanic to eliminate a barrier. By leaving the decision in the players hands they can be the guide of their character and keep them in the game longer.
3) We're All Playing Together
Hey, let's have fun. We don't need to come down on a player that uses common sense, even if it's outside of a fictional character. Keeping the game moving and fun sometimes needs a little nudge from outside of the fiction. Sometimes the player, if they realize they've gotten off track, can be creative and move the group back in the right direction. If everyone focused on the fiction, there may be no reason to play after one adventure because that haul set you up for years. Besides, adventuring is stupid and dangerous. But since we all got together to roll some dice with familiar characters, buck up young cleric and head to into that dungeon anyway!

4) PvP Can Be Fun...

...but only when everyone has bought in. Can we have a discussion in real life before we start a fight to assure that we are all on the same page? We can in a role playing game, and if we can see both sides of the disagreement it makes the player versus player all the more fun. What could be more fun than taking the age old “paladin versus thief” conundrum meta? Maybe the paladin’s player sees the thief’s player roll a pickpocket check, but tells the dungeon master that he wants to hear the reaction and go to the person aid when they discover what’s missing.  This can build tension at the table instead of resentment, especially if the thief’s player can get meta and explain the (lack of) remorse when the party offers to help retrieve the item. Other players can chime in with ideas that could lead to the thief planting evidence on one of her biggest adversaries and pinning the theft on them! A whole scene, and maybe an adventure, created by using the players to control the characters and the scene. So meta.

5) Keeping Secrets Is Bad

Who's the new guy and why is he so quiet? What's he hiding? If we all know these things at the table, then we can ask leading questions and make our scenes all the better. Why worry if the dungeon master brought in a ringer if the DM can just say, “this guy will betray you, but your characters don't know it.” What an exciting betrayal you all can set up together. I love working with my players to make plots against their characters. Two heads (or even more) are better than one, so why not let them in on the fun?! Of course I still like to play some things close to the vest, if only for the surprise factor.

Cooperative storytelling works a lot better if we all work together to advance the fiction. How better to bring a team together than by taking input from all sources? It’s like a brainstorming session; there are no wrong answers, only ideas! By sourcing our table and asking what is good for our fiction we can go beyond the limits of one mind and can riff off of each others’ suggestions. Playing in and building together a shared world remains the best reason to accept metagaming at your table.

Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains a blog, both of which can be found at www.slackernerds.com.

Picture provided by the author

 

Nov 28, 2018

Cockatrice Nuggets #35

This weeks Midgard: Zobeck recap. It was a short session, but we got some stuff done.

Cockatrice Nuggets - a D&D podcast, 35 - Midgard D&D recap - Sumnes and Camayd (Se1Ep14)

https://anchor.fm/rich-fraser/episodes/35---Midgard-DD-recap---Sumnes-and-Camayd-Se1Ep14-e2lg1a

Dungeon World

Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica

Nov 19, 2018

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and new rulings

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (W:DH) is more than just a setting or adventure; Wizards of the Coast used it to sneak some new interpretations of the rules. Reading through this adventure, I caught a lot of unique situations that gave old rules a new twist or brought up something hither-to uncovered by the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. Here, in order of useful, interesting and annoying, are the things I found in W:DH.

Stealth is an oft used skill at my table, the ability to sneak past or up to your enemy is a nice option to have. W:DH gives two additional options in the case your sneak-thieves need a little help. Take disadvantage on stealth to give someone else advantage, I really like this as it moves the math around and someone with a high stealth can be seen to pad load armor or cast stones off in a different direction to distract the perceiver's attention from the character being aided. A second little tweak gave advantage to those trying to sneak through a carpeted house. From this we can see the developers (of this adventure, at least) intended to have advantage handed out regularly.

Stealth wasn't the only check that got some options, gambling players (Three Dragon Ante) get to roll Intelligence (Gaming Set) to win a game. I never came up with this myself, using sleight of hand instead, but now I will have this to fall back on. I think if I use it I will restrict it to cards/dice/board games depending on the gaming set chosen by the player. There is a combination safe hidden somewhere in Waterdeep and if you want to try to open it you need to make a Dexterity (investigation) roll. I would have went for Intelligence (Thieves' Tools), but the designer's choice fits better (and there is no stethoscope in Thieves' Tools). Combat got a little love, with the first ever strength based longbow appearing. It acts like a normal longbow but is larger and its damage is 2d6 plus strength modifier, bumping up average damage by 2.5! 

Instead of making non-player characters entirely new stat blocks, the writers just directed you to currently published stat blocks and added racial abilities to them. This is something that third party publishers (like Kobold Press in Tome of Beasts) have used before, but to my knowledge, this is it's first appearance in fifth edition. This makes good use of the NPC Features table in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Speaking of tables, the awesome Rooftop Chase Complications table has some good ideas for things to throw at players in cinematic rooftop chases.

Some of the more interesting things I found are more niche uses. There is a slime covered floor that causes problems (difficult terrain) for creatures without the slippery trait. A fresco that charms you in to hanging around and protecting it. More information on running a business is great to have. Faction quests, Scroll prices, and weather effects round out this list of may be useful in your campaign things.

Only a few things stuck out as bad in my eyes. Advice on ending chases mostly came to "or when you want the chase to end," which is to say they aren't relevant and are just exposition. In my eyes that's stuff that should just be explained; giving a player no chance of changing the outcome is a bad presedent to set. Also making a map with ten foot squares is another odd choice of the developers. Fifth edition dungeons and dragons uses a five foot square grid for miniature play and all the maps in it's products should support that. The only other thing bad I can say about W:DH is that they use pages to reprint monsters who aren't in the monster manual. I get the idea behind this, but it feels like a waste to have multiple sources with the same monster.

All in all, if you like official adventures this is another step forward for wizards of the Coast. I like that the adventure makes me reconcider some of the ways to use rules by giving new examples. I really like the modularity of the book and will reuse a lot of the material in here for my homebrew campaign even though I am not planning on running it yet. You can buy Waterdeep: Dragon Heist at your friendly local game store or on Amazon (affiliate link).

Nov 9, 2018

Seven Hexes For Use In Your Campaign



This is a slightly updated version of the one that appears in my Nuggets #1 zine.
I've been creating a new world seven hexagonal spaces at a time. Here is the beginning of that; an area for your player character to explore around a small village. It is written system agnostic and is easily adapted to any edition of old school role playing games. In fact, I used the tables in Zak Smith's Frostbitten and Mutilated for inspiration! The village, Victoria's Tower, was built around and is named after a the wizard's tower at its center. There was an accident and the sun is frozen at dusk for 20 more days (totaling a month). The village and its surrounding hexes are stuck out of time. Anyone can travel back and forth, but no time passes naturally until the end of the month. Spells and other magical effects work normally.


1) Plains And Village
A mage, Victoria, lives in a tower and a village has evolved up around it. Victoria built here because of the magic contained in the burial mounds from a long dead civilization.  The village provides reagents from the sea in exchange for protection from the wizard. Victoria has frozen herself and cannot fix this. Her tower is protected with glyphs of warding and arcane locks. There are about 20 small crates filled with enchanted fish (see 12) here waiting for Victoria to open her door.


2) Plains And Farms


Mostly farms and the location of the ancient burial mounds, these plains feed the village. There is an underground tunnel connecting the mounds to Victoria’s tower. If the twelve mounds are explored, four are connected to the tower and found emptied, four more are silent, and the last four are haunted by undead. One contains a flail, Beast Render, that smells of patchouli and deals +2 damage to beasts.


3) Plains And Lakeshore


A body of water where fishermen catch gillies and stuff them into enchanted scarecrows on the shore. After four days the fish are removed and delivered to the wizard. There is also an island where reagents and medicinal herbs are grown. Barren mothers (unknowingly cause by Victoria’s experimentation with ancient magics) come here with their husbands to tend the area while the men fish.


4) South Tower Hills


A well traveled road has signs of a fight and two dead worgs killed by a piercing weapon. There is a woman nursing her wounds under a small rocky overhang away from the road. Lune, an elven warrior, is armed with 2 short swords. She stands her ground if threatened, but seeks to be left alone. She is bringing the remains of two humans to add to the scarecrows in area 3. Once a month the scarecrows need to be refilled with fresh kills. Only Lune and Victoria know of this dark deed. Lune will not let players know about this unless her life depends on it. She will say that the remains she carries are from her family and she is making a pilgrimage to the lake to bury them at sea.


5) Moonlit Hills


These tree barren hills hide a duchess, Lady Em Winter-Borough, waiting under the moonlight for a clandestine meeting with one of the clerics, she is dying and has a book of secrets to trade for a cure. The players will not recognize Lady Em, as she is from a kingdom far away. She claims to be Dass Whitehall, a noble from a nearby kingdom and is waiting for her slower coach, with her luggage, to catch up. Her coach is hidden here and can be found if players search the hex. If the players search within the coach they can find a diary and a contract that reveals Lady Em’s true identity and the fact that she is dying.  Her family made a pact with a devil that has cursed her with disease. She is looking to find a cure or a loophole in the contract.


6) Ogre Hills


An ogre, Rockgrinder, make his home here in an out of the way cave that players can find if they search this hex well. He hides if seen and has promised a raven (actually Victoria) to keep the town safe. Rockgrinder has a ring that lets him talk to animals and uses them for information. In addition to hunting predators, the raven leads him to food, but has been absent for over a week.


7) Plains Of Dissonance


The wizard’s apprentice stays with a group of traveling men. These are clerics of an uncaring god and they seek to destroy the wizard because she is tampering with ancient magics. The clerics have no names. The apprentice can locate all the wards in the wizard’s tower and is being charmed by the clerics to give them the information. The apprentice has not entered the tower in eleven days for fear of accidentally setting the wards off.


Encounter table


2d6
Encounter
2
Ogre hunting (d4+4 on this table) or traveling home with his kill at night.
3
1d4 clerics (from 16) performing a blood rite
4
Clerics (from 16) foraging for food
5
2d4 boars
6
Bear foraging
7
2d4 Wolves; aggressive at night
8
2d4 elk (day) or two giant owls (night)
9
Swarm of ravens (day) or swarm of bats (night)
10
2d4 giant goats
11
2d4 goblins
12
A hobgoblin and d4 goblins


Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains this blog.

Oct 28, 2018

Tools of the Trade: Paper


It's the little details that often get overlooked in advice for dungeon masters. I'm going to delve deep into some of the overlooked intricacies of the tools we dungeon masters like to use. This. series will be a look at what I tend to towards and maybe some comments on what others use. So step into my workshop as we delve into the tools of the trade.

Paper. 


Paper has been a cornerstone of role playing games as much, if not more, than dice. I tend to be a 'digital DM,' but I still use my fair share of paper. In fact I still use paper for thing I could probably do on my computer. Mapping is the big one for me, visual aids and laying out battle mats and accessories for them are also pretty high up there. I still take some notes on paper sometimes and track certain things that don't happen every session as well.

For general one sided printing, I use 20 lb copy paper, but I think I'm moving to 24 lb paper for double sided or heavy inkjet printing. I like the feel of it and my fineliner pens don't bleed through as easily. I haven't found a graph paper that I like, so i use Photoshop and make my own. I print my own hex paper as well so I can customize the sub hexes to the number I need. For printing something that's going to be around a while, maps, minis and props, I may use some 110 lb card stock instead. There is all kinds of specialized gaming paper as well, but I'll cover that when I do a battle maps article.

One of the things that had saved me terms of paper use is a lamination. Anything I plan on using multiple times i laminate. Turn trackers, character sheets, encounter worksheets, I even laminate my pawns! I used several methods to laminate depending on the situation. For permanent I use 5 mil thermal laminating pouches. I like the way they feel, with a sturdy, plastic cover, as compared to the floppiness of the 3 mil pouches. They come in various sizes, from full page to 3x5. To temporarily laminate I use page protectors, this works best for character sheets, but if you use spell cards, monster cards or make your own they come in various sizes too. Lastly, when making something I need to cut in a cutting machine, I use self-sealing pouches.

Laminate it!

Speaking of cutting I use a couple of tools for different jobs. Sometimes plain old scissors or a hobby knife just won't cut it. My wife bought a Cricut that I use to cut out repeatable or intricate shapes. Mostly I use it for paper miniatures, but every now and then I cut out a paper prop with it. If I need a straight cut I have a paper cutter, it's basically a giant pair of scissors attached to a board for aligning the paper and cutting straight edges. I use it a lot for cutting the edges off of what I laminate.

Disc bound books

So where do I put all this paper? I use to use binders for everything, but I've since moved on to disc bound folders. Basically there are discs every inch that the specially cut paper fits onto. The punch is a tad expensive, but I started with a cheaper single page punch. The thing that really sold me was the ability to easily remove and reorder pages without unlocking anything like a binder. The first thing I mass punched was my 5e monster manual. The binding cracked and pages started to fall out (a common problem) so I weighed my options and between binder, page protectors, or spiral binding, I went with disc bound. When my curse of strahd's spine cracked I went straight to my disc punch. I love being able to pull out pages and have the book like open flat.

Easy removal



Oct 16, 2018

Six Tools For Sandbox Dungeon Masters


Six Tools For Sandbox Dungeon Masters







Running a sandbox game isn't for the light hearted, organization is prime and being ready to respond to player actions is a close second. If you are properly prepared, a sandbox is an easy way to run a game. There are books, blogs, and podcasts by the dozens talking about different methods of pregame preparation. All have their own method; preparation is something that everyone does differently, just like dungeon mastering. So which one is for you? I can't say, but I can give you insight into the tools I use. Aside from good pens, a mechanical pencil, and a bunch of dice what do you need to prepare for a sandbox game? I'll tell you what I use and why.





1) Red Tide And An Echo Resounding


These two books by Kevin Crawford revolutionized my preparation style. They have advice on your GM binder and what to keep in it, an easy system for randomly determining and populating an area with cities, towns, ruins, and lairs and maps to steal. An Echo Resounding sets up domains and factions, details domain turns, and mass combat, should things get ugly. Both are short and easy to read and come with detailed examples to help you work through it the first time. I've adapted them to my style and use them for most of my randomly determined areas, and sometimes for pre-populated ones too. These two well worn and sticky-tabbed books are easily in the top three most used in my library. What's the top one?





2) Dungeon Masters Guide

I prefer the first edition dungeon masters guide, but the fifth edition is no slouch! Both cover things beyond the rules of their respective edition, talking about time, non-player characters, and adventure locales just to name a few topics. The random tables in each cover personalities, traits, motives, and best of all random dungeons. If I'm drawing out a dungeon for a game, making non-player characters, or creating an encounter, one of these is what I reach for. Seeing a theme yet?





3) Random Tables

Random tables help you get away from same thinking. Anytime I need a question answered in my preparation I turn to a random table to break out of similar ideas. Similar ideas can be great in the beginning, even enforce a theme, but after a few sessions they start to seem stale. Random tables mix it up creating wild combinations that you need to make sense of; things I couldn't have come up with on my own. The books on my table lately have been The Dungeon Dozen, d30 sandbox and Tome of Adventure Design. The latter being my most used book in the last six sessions I prepared.





4) A Good Monster Book

Monsters are the base of encounters in Dungeons and Dragons. Whether you are making random tables or static encounters, you are going to need a lot more enemies than the ones in the back of the Players Handbook. Sometimes just flipping through a book will inspire an encounter or maybe even a whole adventure. That's the way the fifth edition Monster Manual is written, according to Mike Mearls. If you haven't read the Monster Manual, take the time, as it's well worth it. After exhausting that, pick up Tome of Beasts, Tome of Horrors, or use the fifth edition Dungeon Masters Guide and make some of your own!





5) Tablet, Laptop, Or PC

I like to run digital. Most of my collection is in PDFs, I make maps and graph paper, and keep all my notes online. At my game I run with my laptop, dndbeyond.com, and Nitro PDF reader. I even have a tv set up for maps, pictures of monsters, and rules to show the players. At home I like to prepare on my PC; there are four basic programs I use. A digital art program for maps, handouts, and paper minis. Photoshop is what I use, but GIMP, painter or whatever you have will work too. With online notes syncing across all devices, I can prepare wherever on whatever is handy (I do a lot of work on my phone). I use OneNote as my GM binder and have a lot of worksheets and forms set up to help me with the common things like settlements and adventures. OneNote works for me, but Evernote and Google Drive, or offline applications like Scrivener and Campaign Logger are also options. A PDF reader for all my PDFs, Nitro, Foxit, or Acrobat all work fine. The last one is a web browser. I get a lot of encounters, maps, paper minis, and ideas from the internet. Places like ENWorld, reddit, and Discord are some of my go-to communities. Remember great dungeon masters steal ideas! Just don't publish stolen material.





6) Paper

Yes, as digital as I like to be, plain old paper is a staple for my game preparation. If only for scribbling notes or sketching an encounter, I always seem to find a need for paper. I have a disc bound notebook to jot stuff down quickly or take notes during an encounter. I use this notebook for when I'm stuck, somehow staring at a blank sheet of paper gets my creative juices flowing. A doodle here, a number there, a list of names, and I'm off to the races, heading toward OneNote with ideas in hand ready to develop into a solid encounter.





Preparing for a game is a path all dungeon masters have to trudge down, but it doesn't have to be such a chore. We're dungeon masters partially because we love to create and sometimes we need some help with that creation. Having the right tools can make that session preparation a whole lot more fun and easy. I hope I’ve introduced you to some that fit into your preparation style.





Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains this blog

Oct 9, 2018

D&D Review - Frostbitten and Mutilated

I love A5 or digest sized books

Zak Smith's latest release Frostbitten and Mutilated (March 2018) is about a cold, harsh land and the amazons that inhabit it. The players enter for whatever reason (probably making money in the untamed north) and begin a cycle of events that could end the world. By default the attempt fails, but more on that later, for now lets start at the beginning. 

I really OSR/DIY D&D book for their A5 (digest sized) books and the general quiality of binding and paper choice. The next thing I notice in almost any book is the art, Zak had previewed a lot of this on his blog but seeing it in print is another thing. I really like black and white art (because I'm color blind) and Zak brings so much depth to his pieces. By far, my favorite is a frost giant reaching down to grab the viewer. All of the pieces have the potential to enthrall me for hours and distract me from the text within.


Frost Giant of the Hatemountain
After initially flipping through looking at the art the next thing that catches the eye is the use of endpapers. This is an OSR/DIY D&D thing that take what the author thinks you will use the most, in i search the body and the map, and puts them in an easy to reference place; inside the front and back covers. I usually tear apart the pdf and put it into OneNote, but if i were running one of Zak's books, I could run it with little else; probably only a bullet journal. The map is a simple grid, with rectangular sections to make the reading easier, is well laid out, and there is something in every section.

Endpapers

The book starts out with a bit of advice from Zak about playing the environment. See, the rough landscape and inhospitable cold are not merely that, it are the ultimate foe of the party, the lands seeks to destroy those who interlope, crush the weak, and basically wreak all of humanity that it can. Those who can survive here are changed by the icy cold. Amazons born on the ice, witches with strange ways and new magic, and animals smarter than we. The animals are an interesting bit that make the land feel different from the usual dark fantasy. Opinionated goats, envious rats that seek to take all the humans build and wolves who don't stop until they get one of you. The animals here are truly unique to this land and have a voice of their own, if you can speak with animals.

The arrival of the party (re)starts a Groundhog's Day like cycle of failure to summon the demon Belphagor the Beast, trapping them until they deal with the powers that are trying to summon it or they succeed and end the world. Its a unique spin on an adventure that I have tossed around in my head a few times. The staging is sound and the reasons make sense, if I do run this, I will make sure the party goes through at least one cycle and restarts. There are two dungeons in the book, one plot related and the other one I'd like to drop into my current world. They both breathe the atmosphere of the setting and expand upon it to the players. Giving the players some knowledge of the setting is one of the harder jobs of the Dungeon Master and having a bit of help is a good thing.

After 100 pages of mostly setting and exposition come the crunch, the first of which is two new classes. The Amazon and the Witch. Both of these take a base OSR class (fighter and mage, respectively) and add a random roll to level ups instead of traditional gains from attaining new levels; like the Alice class in A Red and Pleasant Land. These are some great thing like a plus to an ability, weapon making, damage resistance, souring milk with a glance, bathing or eating requirements, modifications to spells and so many more differentiating abilities to make each character unique. These thing are going to make their way into my current campaign as boons and curses. This section of the book rounds out with substances, survival and some really good (like I'm going to use it RIGHT NOW) advice for running a wilderness sandbox.

The last bit is random tables. Adventure elements for making innocuous connections into adventures, random locations for adding to the map, Amazon divination results and tables to make new amazon tribes, twenty drastic measures to rid yourself of a curse, non-player confrontations for figuring out why these two groups are hanging out, mutations, two treasure tables; the regular 'I search the body," and "If you look closely," descriptive combat injuries for spicing up combat, random encounters and rival NPC parties for quick determination of who the party stumbled upon. Again most of these are going right into my current campaign in some form or other. I really dig random tables and the quality of these goes beyond the regular to the outlandish and sometimes gonzo that I've come to expect from OSR/DIY D&D.

Overall another success for Zak Smith, I can hardly say a bad word about it, but if I did I would say that Zak's writing is a bit above my grade level and I need a dictionary to read it. Also this is a hard thing to just drop into a regular 'vanilla' fantasy game. If you've already established a base line for regular orcs and goblins, then you may have a difficult time getting buy in from the players. Even though I will probably not play this through as a campaign, I will definitely cherry pick some a lot of the ideas and themes from it.


Oct 3, 2018

Sewer Crawl


I've been working on an abstract means of exploration for dungeon, city, and other small areas I don't feel like mapping as we go at the table. The need comes from wanting to prep less and have more surprises at the table. I've always liked random dungeon generation, in fact I rarely make dungeons by hand without my 1st edition DMG.

1st edition DMG



I decided on hexs, as I am going for the wilderness hex crawl feel, but I could have just as easily gone with squares. Using hex size based on my maps (City of Zobeck) and preference of sub hexes (six per hex) I came up with hexes approximately 144 feet from flat to flat. Exploring a dungeon at my table takes ten minutes for two hundred feet, or a dungeon turn. I abstract that further to say a turn is between 3-10 minutes and keep track of it with six dice I drop into a cup at the table and roll for encounters when it is full or when they make a lot of noise. This abstracts nice to my 144 foot hex assuming it is not a straight corridor, which I am. I broke out my 5e DMG (gasp!) and rolled up a dungeon on a hex that size for a visual sample of what the players are navigating. 
Random sample dungeon hex
I've been using the Tome of Adventure Design for my last six sessions. It has extensive tables, that I am using, for random dungeon creation. Basically my plan was to strip out the corridors and use it as is. Of course, as is is never enough for me, so I started customizing table. The table gives a 50% chance for an empty hex (good average for an average adventure) and a 10% chance for an encounter. Normally I'd roll every so often for encounters, but this has it baked in so every turn (10 minutes, remember?) there is a 1 in 10 chance for an encounter, that's equal to the average hostile wilderness or dungeon area in many supplemental RPGs. In addition to rolling on the table I am using a d6-1 to account for exits from the hex a roll of 0 has a 30% chance (1-2 on a six sider) for a secret door.  After my initial plan, I got to generating a sample map; not only to see how my distribution looked in practice but to show my players should they choose to map. I started off with a d10 table, but I didn't like how often some things (like level changes and large monuments) were coming up. I changed to a d12, but eventually settled on a d20.

OneNote tables
Exit locations are just placed how I like on my sample, but I plan on rolling a d6 for direction at the table. At this time I am not sure how I like it, but am going to generate a sample with a d4-1 for number of exits to see how that looks. I also like the idea of rolling 3 dice every time, what's here (d20), number od exits (d4-1), and exit location or secret door chance (d6). Although typing that out I'd need to roll up to two times more for extra exits.

Too many stairs
Numbers are locations (roll of 1-10) and dots are explored areas. So far its looking pretty good, but I have some more testing to do today and we need to see how it stands up at the table!

Update: I'm liking the d4-1 for exits, but stairs are coming up scarce!

Sep 20, 2018

6 Things Waterdeep: Dragon Heist Does For New Dungeon Masters

Wizards of the Coast recently released Waterdeep: Dragon Heist into the wild and it is a unique take on their usual two hundred fifty plus hardback adventures. Instead of starting at level five and going to fifteen or past, this adventure is purely tier one, levels one to four (five by the end). Wizards had Kobold Press do something similar in the beginning of fifth edition with Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, but this is the first hardback that focuses on such low levels and newer dungeon masters. Wizards has a habit of writing adventures for people who have played Dungeons and Dragons before, leaving a lot of advice, technique and common issues left out. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist does a good job of putting options and comments in the text that encourage good gaming habits.

1) Useable Maps

Although a printed Mike Schley map looks great on the table, a drawn map is more common occurrence at the tables I’ve played at. Instead of the usual (albeit beautiful) Schley painted maps we have more generic Dyson Logos maps. Dyson has a simplistic, gameable style that translates well on to battle maps that most of us use for our games. Also, these maps are smaller and lend themselves to be used over and over; in fact the book leads the new dungeon master to this conclusion.

2) Replayability

There are often things written in adventures directed to entertain the dungeon master while reading that the players will never see. This book takes that a step further and gives you four ten step paths reusing the same ten maps as different locations each time. Again, this promotes good dungeon master habits (reuse, repurpose, and steal) in new dungeon masters and keeps the dungeon master entertained on subsequent playthroughs of the hardback. Getting your fifty dollars out of a product has never been this fun. A dungeon master can run this for the same group and only the first two chapter are the same, and even those will likely play out different as the second is very free form and weather effects will wreak havoc on the players’ plans.

3) Leads Dungeon Masters In the Right Direction When Things Go Wrong

It’s said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, this is true in dungeons and dragons as well. When four minds go up against one, those four players will always think of things the dungeon master has forgotten. For example, when a non player character is mentioned they let the dungeon master know that if that NPC is dead or otherwise removed from play they can just be substituted with a generic version of them. There are also many mentions of how to handle the situation when those players go sideways or get stuck in the story.

4)Sandbox Done Right

Starting at around level two, the players are given the option to do what they want. New, and even seasoned players, can get analyzation paralyzation when faced with more than three choices. When the dungeon master looks at you and says, “what do you want to do,” a player will likely freeze up. In the sandbox chapter of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, they don’t just dump you into a list of locations hundreds of miles apart (looking at you Storm King’s Thunder), but give you ideas of what the players can do and things that can happen during this time.
5) Using Non Standard Rules

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist could have stuck to the core rules and not made any changes to them,but instead Wizards again chooses to lead a new dungeon master into a good routine by suggesting that some things may not work the normal way. Using variant rules like “Skills with Different Abilities,” taking disadvantage to give another player advantage, or the addition of constant weather effects during each season, Wizards supports a new dungeon master to look beyond the rules for options as they come up.

6) Obvious Money Sinks

In Dungeons & Dragons hardback adventures there is always an incredible influx of cash. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist expands upon some of the rules in the Dungeon Masters Guide for spending gold. Running a business is covered in the Dungeon Masters Guide, but setting one up isn’t. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist not only lets the dungeon master know how much gold is needed to repair and run the business, but who players will need to talk to and what happens if players eschew the guilds.There are prices for some scrolls as well if the players wish to purchase them, I don’t remember seeing these anywhere else and will use them as a base when pricing scrolls in the future.
In the Dungeons and Dragons official material there is a lack of advice for someone just starting to run games. As far as direct advice, there still is, but if you take a look at the habits Wizards is trying to develop in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist there is some great insights. While I’d rather see a section of advice, this is heading in a good direction. In fact, I think Wizards of the Coast finally out did the Starter Set adventure (Lost Mine of Phandelver) in ease of entry for a new gaming group. This would be might new recommendation for a dungeon master just starting if the money to spent on Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Monster Manual, and dice weren’t so high.

Sep 3, 2018

All creatures great and small

KuSo I posted a picture of the new Creature Codex from Kobold Press to my D&D groups Facebook and said, "Boy are you f*cked."

Man I love this book. I just finished demons and already have encounters germinating in my head. I even have some that could spring into multi session adventures! My thoughts so far:

There is a good spread of creatures with amazing nuggets of flavor. I've caught myself thinking this is to high or to low for a sprouting idea in my head, only to see the CR is opposite what I would have thought. So far the CR does not effect the depth of background at all.

Did I mention variety? As the second Kobold Press (5th if you count the WoTC three) monster tome there could have been a lot of variation on the same sets of monsters, sure there's enough new clockwork, derro and other staples to add to your collection, but the vastness of the content in between is varied and mostly unique.

So what dont I like? KP has to steer clear of WoTC IP, no beholders, going and other property of Wizards, so they see the need to fill that gap with stuff of their own. This is a problem with the Kobolds supporting their own setting, Midgard. They can't say going live here and use kuo-toa there, they need to make up creatures for that gap (cueytal and deep ones respectively).

That the short and sweet first look. I only got the pdf, so I didn't really do a flip through, just started reading from the beginning. Let me know what you think!

Aug 28, 2018

OneNote dump from my current podcast

Podcast located here.

GMbinder here.

Inspiration:

Ways to use your inspiration:

  • reroll (not advantage, just reroll) any roll (even mine!)
  • add a flat 5 to the roll
  • take an extra action
  • Auto Stablize
  • "If only..." (I had a 1 more spell slot, bought this, grabbed that, etc
  • Spend for 50 xp (10xlevel?)
  • You can use it to have retroactively planned or done something _plausible_ offscreen (brought a specific tool, told someone something, etc) but you have to act it out.
  • You can use it to introduce a plot connection with a character that's plausible. ("Wait, is that guard Murray the Guard? We went to school together.")
  • Regain one  short rest ability


Gaining inspiration:

  • RP a flaw
  • doing nothing during downtime (not investigate, work, or train)
  • They gain inspiration if they press through multiple encounters without a long rest (after 2).
  • Reminding me of something not in their favor, like that I haven't used the boss's Lair Action this turn.

Travel:


Days travel adds to DC
Region adds to DC
Easy
 City
Moderate
 Borderlands
Hard
Wildlands

8 successes/ 3 failures
Each failure means roll on the table

d12

1
1 per level worth of abilities (2nd level 2 spells/abilities)
2
+1 Exhaustion
3-4
Encounter (2nd or third means harder encounter)
5
Lose level/2 hit dice
6-8
Lose 2*PCs pieces of equipment (bolts/arrows etc count as sold)
9-11
Lost add 1 day per level
12
Lose 1 from attribute used until long rest

Aug 25, 2018

Palthar's Sundry Review

I grabbed Palthar's Sundry, a free adventure, from Troll Lord Games last week and found the perfect spot to drop into my current campaign. The map is a small 12 room Dyson, filled with some staple encounters.

I had given the players a treasure map already and planned on adding a coin, the second piece of the intro to the adventure, but my players jumped on the map this week! Palthar's Sundry is an out of the way retreat for a former adventuring party that died in the field. Some driders had taken over and looted the place and made it a cozy home for some spiders.

There's a painful trap on the stairs that repeats if the players don't watch out, but clever players will take it as a reward. The fights are straight forward and players are rewarded for being stealthy. The last fight is against 2 driders, which my 4 player, 3rd level party was not ready for. Running was the plan, but a few wanted the cash they assumed was hiding after the driders. After a good 40 minutes of intense discussion, they devised a plan. Cleverly, they used the environment to their advantage and cut the rope bridge spanning the 2 sides of the complex.

Palathar's Sundry is a good little dungeon to drop into your campaign when you need a small adventure for your party to stumble into or as part of your plot.


https://www.trolllord.com/tlgstore/#!/Palthars-Sundry/p/113460050

Mar 15, 2018

Play This Character: Grave Cleric

The problem with being a DM is that I don't get to play characters too often. I get a lot of concepts floating around in my head that never get used, I don't want some sugar-coated DMPC tromping all over the fun of my players, so I thought I'd write this one out.

My cleric was convicted of a crime, before the became devout, and sentenced to a life in the Monastery of the Death God. She started with the grim, reclaiming bodies from war, plague or nature, burial duties and general clean up duties around the morgue. They soon realized that not only did she have the stomach for such repulsive work, but she was beginning to embrace it. She was promoted to work with those living near death, hospice shifts and taking care of the dying outside of the monastery. After years of increasingly reliable actions, learning rites and rituals, becoming more devout, her belief in her god solidified. All these thing led up to her training to become a monastic representative, a cleric of the god of death.

Race

A lot of races work well with this idea in mind, numerically only a few give points to wisdom, Aarakocra, Protector Aasimar, Hill Dwarf, Wood Elf, Firbolg(+2), Water Genasi, and Half Elf or Human. Unofficially there are Zendikar Elves (+2, Planeshift: Zendikar) Pacifier Bearfolk, Centaur, Gearforged, Savage Gnolls and Nightwhisper Trollkin (All from Midgard Heroe's Handbook)

I tend to like Aasimar and Half Elves, but again, +1 wisdom is not all that much depending on your stats and how you get them. I'm going to appeal to as many people as I can  and stick with PHB+1, so we'll go with something out of my comfort zone, Hill Dwarf. I'll choose mason tools, maybe she was a white collar criminal forging carvings.

Attributes

Using point buy, Strength 12 for a bit of melee, 14 Dexterity max bonus with medium armor, 14 Constitution (+2) for HP and concentration checks, Intelligence 8 dump, Wisdom 15 (+1) main stat, and Charisma 8 dump. Again these are going to be different if you don't want to min/max; but why not be the best?

Class

We'll be using the Grave Domain from Xanathar's Guide to Everything. We get 2 proficiencies, I'll pick Insight and Medicine both wisdom. 

Description

Acolyte background gets us Religion, and I'll choose Survival to help me live in between adventures. Two languages useful to your campaign. I'll take Giant and Celestial from my studies. TraitsI’ve spent so long in the temple that I have little practical experience dealing with people in the outside world. and I see omens in every event and action. The gods try to speak to us, we just need to listen. Ideals: Tradition. The ancient traditions of worship and sacrifice must be preserved and upheld. (Lawful) I can relate this to my Giant language and studies. Bonds: I owe my life to the priest who took me in when my parents died. I'll change priest to temple and dead parents into incarceration. I owe my life to the temple that took me in when I was incarcerated. Flaws: I put too much trust in those who wield power within my temple’s hierarchy.


Alignment: Lawful Neutral, lifestyle: Poor.

Equiptment

Warhammer is better than mace, scale for armor, a light crossbow is better to use because of our dexterity, a priest pack, and a shield and an amulet for my holy symbol. Acolyte gives us some more choices, I'll take a reliquary and prayer wheel to keep in it. I like to have some standard adventuring gear, ball bearings, pitons, rope, 10 ft pole and grappling hook totaling 4g 1s.

Spells

Since we're in XGtE, we'll take Toll of the Dead, but chill touch is another great thematic choice for damage. Thaumaturgy is a must as is Mending (now we can cut up that 10' pole into manageable parts!) Guidance and light are also some go to cantrips. Cure wounds Healing Word, and Bless are staples of this class, in addition I will grab Protection from Good/Evil for the undead theme.

And there we have it, my take on the Grave Cleric.