Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts

Dec 28, 2018

Draft of my HLG blog post

This is a post from my patreon page.

I have a monthly post on Here's a preview of my next one.

6 reasons why I like DNDBeyond
DNDBeyond has been out for a while now, it promised a new way to access the system and new tools to help with our games. I've had a lot of time with DNDBeyond as a DM and player, so it's time for me to give it a proper review. Here are six things I like and one thing I dont.
1) Ease of Reference
This has got to be the number one benefit to using DNDBeyond. I use this more than anything and as long as I'm spelling it right it works well. It suggests as you type in a dropdown and after the search comes back as well. Searching for a spell or monster in the middle of combat is fast and will even show a preview of the top result so I can start reading right away. In addition to searching, having multiple tabs open to different monsters or spells is a wonderful substitution for phone pics or typing in notes. Linking is also possible if you want to have an encounter ready in OneNote, or your own digital note tool. If you dig into the code a bit you can even link to specific headers on the page! I have even set up a DM screen in OneNote with links to the appropriate rules.
2) Popup Links
Hovering over a hyperlinked spell, actions, conditions, items and other mechanical bits will give you a quick popup (providing your resolution is above a certain threshold) detailing that bit. It's super useful for conditions and spells. You can even add these into your own homebrew creations.
3) Travel Light
I am an over prepared DM. I like to have a lot of things ready at my table if I need them. Sometimes I pack a rolling bag full of minis to bring to a game. With DNDBeyond, I can leave all the books at home. With eight rules references and 12 adventures, this can get big. I also have all the monsters, items, and characters bits from all the adventures integrated into the main lists, saving me having three books open at once for one monster casting spells. A tablet paired with my All Rolled Up makes it so I can have all my 5e gaming needs (and any others system in pdf) in a small, easily portable package.
4) Custom Homebrew and Tools
The DNDBeyond team has been working hard at delivering editors to create our own (at the time of this writing) backgrounds, feats, magic items, monsters, races, spells and subclasses. They've even made adding homebrew an easy task, not some technical chore, so you can let your creative juices flow. Using DNDBeyond with chrome opens up a whole other avenue of customization with plug ins that let you easily link sections, as well as organize and build your own encounters, initiative lists, and even add links on maps to their respective room descriptions! The team has really supported the community in the building of the site.
5) Sharing Books
While still limited to three campaigns DNDBeyond lets you share your whole library with anyone in those campaigns. You can post notes (and DM secrets) to the campaign, whitelist homebrew content (your as well as others), and, as a DM view character sheets. This is great during preparation if you are looking to notify everyone of something, such as the next game time, and creating encounters balanced to the party.
6) Printing and Reading
I've encountered a couple of tricks while using DNDBeyond. Viewing on a mobile device, or with a browser at a smaller width, and using a scrolling screenshot, I can screen shot an item and print it out on a three by five card to hand out to my players. Reading on mobile or tablet is nice, especially with the app that is in beta, but I do most of my reading on a kindle. With the save to kindle extension installed in chrome I can view the books a chapter at a time and send them formatted for reading to my kindle.
All in all, I find DNDBeyond to be a boon to DMs and useful as a player. The site is being worked on and updated constantly, more and more non-retail book content is being added, like Lost Laboratory of Kwalish, and someday maybe even non Wizards of the Coast products will be on there.  There are no reasons for me not to embrace this fully, while I love the feel of a book, I prefer digital because of space and manufacturing resources. Not being able to flip through the book to recognize a specific page I see as being its greatest flaw, but I have only encountered this in books I have read before DNDBeyond existed.
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

Dec 17, 2018

Cockatrice nuggets 38 up

There's a great recap done by one of my players in this episode. I also talk about my zine and answer a few calls.

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

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

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)

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

Ogre hunting (d4+4 on this table) or traveling home with his kill at night.
1d4 clerics (from 16) performing a blood rite
Clerics (from 16) foraging for food
2d4 boars
Bear foraging
2d4 Wolves; aggressive at night
2d4 elk (day) or two giant owls (night)
Swarm of ravens (day) or swarm of bats (night)
2d4 giant goats
2d4 goblins
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 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,, 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.


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!

Aug 28, 2018

OneNote dump from my current podcast

Podcast located here.

GMbinder here.


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.


Days travel adds to DC
Region adds to DC

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


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

Aug 23, 2017

Carousing for a non partying party

I'm taking some in game downtime to have my group research the location of their next 2 adventures. Of all the activities I am offering, carousing seems like the worst choice for my group, so I am making a non-alcoholic carousing table. Like O'Doules, but better.

It's only a google search away from some inspiration, there's this PbtA chart and this one I really like. One of my player's character, Losten, really wants to steal some cash for a Hat of Disguise, so thieving is going to be my theme.

Most of the tables I've been looking at have had lower numbers be bad and higher numbers be good. I like the way that works with bonuses and minuses, also, you can throw extra money at the table for bonuses. Looking at the Ability Modifier Table (Did I mention we're playing D&D? We're playing D&D.) the max natural bonus (for a twenty) is +5 so I want that to almost cancel out the bad things. Its nice to be rewarded for doing the basics instead of fancy feats. So our table will look like (using SW style outcomes):

1-2       Failure with Despair
3-4       Failure with Threat
5-6       Failure with advantage
7-8       Failure with Triumph
9-10     Failure
11-12   Success
13-14   Success with Threat
15-16   Success with Despair
17-18   Success with advantage
19-20   Success with Triumph

Ok, so what do these look like? Well, success and failure are pretty straight forward, so looking for info and establishing an alibi are the two things Losten is looking to do. So someone helps or nothing happens. on the success side, there are two negatives, I'm thinking blackmail and the person is a squealer. Now that I type that out (The person who helped you will crack under any pressure from the law) I'm thinking it might be more of an overall negative thing, so I'll move that down to 3-4. I'll change 15-16 to "You get wrong information," meaning that there is a miscommunication of some sort; wrong time for alibi, someone will be in the house, etc. In fact, I like that wording better. Now the good stuff, the best one has to be a direct link, I know the guy or I'm on the inside kind of thing, and I wanted on of the to be "You made a new contact," because Losten's player mentioned that. OK, top half done, now whats the worst thing that could happen? Jail, easy, of course you can bribe your way out. Losten has around 300g, so 100g per level seems steep, lets go with 1d6x10g per level he's level 7 so 7x3.5=24.5 or 245g. Perfect, he can do the time if he rolls high. Now failing with advantage should be a wasted effort with success on the next try, so a +5 to the roll should cover that. Failure with triumph will be a different way to do it, so maybe this guy already has a plan and needs some help. OK, now our table looks like this:
1-2       Jailed for 1d6+1 days or a fine of 1d6x10g per level
3-4       The person who helped you will crack under any pressure from the law
5-6       nothing, +5 to next roll
7-8       the person won't help you, but has a job for you.
9-10     Nothing this time
11-12   Someone is able to help you
13-14   The person who helps you seeks to use it against you
15-16   There is a miscommunication with the person
17-18   You made a new contact who can help you.
19-20   Person has a direct link to what you are asking.
Time to spruce it up, remember we're role playing here.

1-2       What? I'm a constable, come with me. Jailed for 1d6+1 days or a fine of 1d6x10g per level.
3-4       Sure I can help you, as long as no one asks any questions.
5-6       Not me, but I know some people on the other side of town that do that kind of thing. +5 to next roll
7-8       Sorry, can't help you, but I have some work that you might be interested in.
9-10     Nothing this time, no one seems to be able to help.
11-12   Sure, I got your back.
13-14   I'll help you, for an unnamed favor to be used later.
15-16   Yea, sure, what was that? Yea, yea, yea sound like a plan, I got to run.
17-18   I like the cut of your jib, I'm in and why don't you look me up if you need anything else.
19-20   You're kidding, I was just thinking of what I was going to do with this information!
Boom, carousing table for assistance in criminal activities. Next project is the actual crime.

After testing this out a couple times, I've tweaked the numbers to reflect the typical DCs in the DMG.

1-3       What? I'm a constable, come with me. Jailed for 1d6+1 days or a fine of 1d6x10g per level.
4-6       Sure I can help you, as long as no one asks any questions.
7-9       Not me, but I know some people on the other side of town that do that kind of thing. +5 to next roll
10-12   Sorry, can't help you, but I have some work that you might be interested in.
13-15   Nothing this time, no one seems to be able to help.
16-18   Sure, I got your back.
19-21   I'll help you, for an unnamed favor to be used later.
22-24   Yea, sure, what was that? Yea, yea, yea sound like a plan, I got to run.
25-27   I like the cut of your jib, I'm in and why don't you look me up if you need anything else.
27-30   You're kidding, I was just thinking of what I was going to do with this information!