FrankenFourth: Elves, Dwarves, And Kobolds Oh My

Over on a much earlier, maybe even the first public alpha document for FrankenFourth (which is over a year old at this point, and there's even a link to a later one at the top of the document), one David L left the following response to a line in the Races section where I state that we're going to have "more mythologically accurate kobolds".

Here's the comment in its entirety:

The phrase "mythologically accurate" makes me highly skeptical. First off, what even counts as 'accurate' when it comes to centuries old stories passed down orally with countless variations? I mean, just looking at kobolds, are you going to use the version where they're the Germanic equivalent of brownies or of knockers? If mythological accuracy is all that's important, why pick one over the other? And of course, when it comes to how they fit into a game world, the brownie-like kobolds are tied to their house and can't leave, which greatly limits adventuring options. And if you go for the knocker-like kobolds, then they're going to start overlapping uncomfortable with dwarves (or rather, dwarfs, since we're being mythologically accurate, here).

Second, and much more importantly, as a fantasy game... I mean, do you intend on reverting elves back to their Nordic origin of "this may just be another name for 'dwarf', but it may be something else entirely, we can't tell"? Elves that stood more than a meter high did not exist before Tolkien*. To draw this line at halflings is incredibly arbitrary, particularly given the way the rest of this seems to be intending to evoke classic, old school D&D in terms of flavour. If you want to make a game that's more faithful to mythology that's great, and I would love such a thing, but it would be wholly distinct from the Tolkienesque high fantasy that is iconic to D&D, and you'd be far better off decoupling your system from its legacy (at least overtly, basically every system today can trace itself back to D&D one way or another, so don't worry about ripping off the mechanics).

*The description in myth is vague at best for dwarf/elf height, simply indicating that they were shorter than typical Norsemen to some unspecified degree. However, this is the general consensus in artwork up until Tolkien, and really, up until D&D.

Before I go about responding to it, I want to say that I got on the kobolds-instead-of-halflings train back when we worked on A Sundered World, but I forget exactly how it got started. Best I can recall, I think while looking up information on kobolds I realized that they're waaay more interesting than halflings, and can even look like halflings to boot.

Of course that wasn't the first time Melissa and I mined real world mythologies for ideas. I'd been doing that since those Wandering Monster articles during 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons development, during which I quickly realized just how much more awesome the source creature was than whatever the D&D team was coming up with.

For example, take the ghoul: the mythological ghoul is a type of jinni that can assume the form of an animal and take the form of the last person it ate, while the D&D ghoul is basically a humanoid undead creature that can paralyze everyone but elves. Former sounds way cooler, so that's the one we ran with.

With that out of the way, let's get back to that comment.

The phrase "mythologically accurate" makes me highly skeptical. First off, what even counts as 'accurate' when it comes to centuries old stories passed down orally with countless variations?

For the past three editions of Dungeons & Dragons, kobolds have been little draconian people with dragon's blood that typically serve or worship dragons. I recall Pathfinder actually linking their scale color and appearances to specific dragons, and I'd be surprised if no one else has done that, too. They're also good at digging and setting traps.

So, I'd say our kobolds are more mythologically accurate, which succeeds at our stated goal.

I mean, just looking at kobolds, are you going to use the version where they're the Germanic equivalent of brownies or of knockers? If mythological accuracy is all that's important, why pick one over the other?

As described in the alpha document, we're using three types. Players can pick whichever type they like the most, and there will be a talent in the Red Book (which is the full core game that will come out after the Black Book) that lets you choose a second and even third spirit type if you want to do that.

I never said mythological accuracy is all that's important, so I don't know why you're saying it now.

And of course, when it comes to how they fit into a game world, the brownie-like kobolds are tied to their house and can't leave, which greatly limits adventuring options.

Hearth kobolds (the closest thing to kobolds that live in homes) aren't tied to a house, obviously because no one would choose a race that is restricted to a house in a game where you're supposed to go on adventures. We gave hearth kobolds the ability to conjure flames in their hands, which in the full game will lead into you being able to fully transform into fire if you want to take it that far.

Remember: more mythologically accurate. We are ignoring certain things. Maybe. The mythology behind lots of things gets muddy and sometimes contradicts itself.

And if you go for the knocker-like kobolds, then they're going to start overlapping uncomfortable with dwarves (or rather, dwarfs, since we're being mythologically accurate, here).

Actually they won't: just compare the dwarf and kobold entries (specifically compare dwarves with mine kobolds). If you're just looking at mechanics, dwarves are really fucking tough, and I'm considering giving them another racial trait that makes them learn weaponsmithing and armorer skills twice as fast as other races.

Kobolds right now don't have much of a mechanical focus. The Charisma bonus will make them ideal for bards and sorcerers and the like, but for now they're the go-to race for social skills. The game doesn't assume certain numbers at certain points, so they're still good enough to get by at anything. Considering changing it so that your spirit type gives you a different stat bonus (so mine kobolds might get +1 Constitution instead of Charisma).

Again: more mythologically accurate..

Second, and much more importantly, as a fantasy game... I mean, do you intend on reverting elves back to their Nordic origin of "this may just be another name for 'dwarf', but it may be something else entirely, we can't tell"?

Check the elf entry to see what we did.

Elves that stood more than a meter high did not exist before Tolkien*.

When researching elves for A Sundered World, I came across stuff that mentioned elves being short, human-sized, and even taller than humans. One book stated that Tolkien's elves were actually pretty close to one particular elven mythology, and I'm inclined to agree. I also read stuff that described elves as being akin to gods or spirits of the dead.

So, I simply ran with elves being as tall or taller than humans. Seems to fit one mythology, and there are plenty of small things to choose from if I want to add another small player race.

To draw this line at halflings is incredibly arbitrary, particularly given the way the rest of this seems to be intending to evoke classic, old school D&D in terms of flavour.

Again, near as I can tell D&D elves were pretty close to an elven mythology, but I didn't "draw the line" at halflings.

First, our kobolds are a much more interesting race choice than a small, stealthy and maybe lucky human (and if you really want to use halflings it would be very easy to add them to the mix). Second, we've given a similar treatment to (for starters) chimeras, angels, ghouls, rakshasas, and gorgons (or what D&D typically calls a Medusa).

Mimics and doppelgangers are getting reworked, there's not going to be 20+ elven subraces to choose from, we've changed tieflings into cambions and tied them to sins, and instead of aasimar we've got ishim (and tied them to a Domain or virtue).

Basically, we're looking at the mythological source or equivalent or whatever you want to call it for a monster (when it exists), and if we think it's cooler we're doing that, and if we also like the D&D version we can do something different with it if we think it's cool enough to stand on its own.

As mentioned above, we're going with the mythological ghoul, and not bothering at all with the D&D incarnation. I like the look and ideas behind the current D&D  kobold (plus I've got a shitload of kobold minis I want to use), so we're going to keep the appearance, call them something else, and maybe change up their abilities.

If you want to make a game that's more faithful to mythology that's great, and I would love such a thing, but it would be wholly distinct from the Tolkienesque high fantasy that is iconic to D&D, and you'd be far better off decoupling your system from its legacy (at least overtly, basically every system today can trace itself back to D&D one way or another, so don't worry about ripping off the mechanics).

Being faithful to a specific mythology for it's own sake isn't really the point: we're going with what we feel makes more sense or is more interesting, rather than sticking with D&D because nostalgia or ease.

As mentioned above (a few times), Tolkien elves aren't that far off from one interpretation, and I don't really mind them like that, so we're just going to leave them alone. Mostly. They can still get access to minor magical powers at 1st-level (couldn't find any specifics so just went with a free wizard talent).

But, you're forgetting or ignoring other aspects of D&D, like pseudo-Vancian magic that gets incorrectly labeled as Vancian by people that have apparently never read The Dying Earth, the paladin, paladin mount, swanway, and other things from Three Hearts, Three Lions, and other things from various works from Appendix N roster. It's not all Tolkien.

That said, there's a bunch of stuff in this game that makes it distinct from D&D, while at the same time still giving you that D&D feel: just read through the Google Doc (specifically the much more recent one).

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
May 26, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

Another Dungeon World Character Sheet You Can Use

A week or so ago, someone asked if they could lift the classes from A Sundered Worldput them on the new Dungeon World character sheet, and distribute them. I told them sure, so long as it was just for personal reasons.

Not just because it would be silly to let someone else sell or even hand out a bunch of classes for free (I mean, we even released a race and class only PDF if that's all you're interested in) but because for some reason you aren't allowed to use the new Dungeon World character sheet for commercial reasons (and maybe even non-commercial stuff you share online).

In response to that we released a very barebones character sheet awhile back, to give people that didn't like the "official" Dungeon World sheet something they could use for commercial projects, but after that email exchange I decided to whip up another sheet.

This one not only has more visual flair, it also comes with a zip file filled with a variety of images so you can better choose a sheet that matches your preference. There's also images with just the linework and text: the background is transparent, making it easier to modify in something like Photoshop and do whatever you want with it.

The whole package is Pay What You Want, and if you use it in a commercial product we only ask that you credit us (but you can't just take it and re-sell it as-is).

To give you an idea of what's in there, here's the front of one of the versions:


And here's the back (again of one version):


Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
May 18, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

FrankenFourth: Age of Worms, Episode 603

Cast
  • Humal (level 10 wrathful cambion wizard)
  • Corzale (level 10 dwarf war cleric)
  • Sumia (level 10 elf rogue/ranger)

Summary
Not wanting to invade the now departed Earl of Coalchester's privacy, the party chose one of the two remaining doors at random.

It opened into a large chamber that was sparsely illuminated by four spherical lanterns. Another spherical structure hung from the center of the room, but rather than emit light it disgorged a black fluid onto a dark, glassy expanse of floor that seemed to simply absorb it.

Humal and Sumia checked for magic: the four lanterns radiated conjuration, which was expected due to the light. The central sphere also radiated conjuration, but its purpose was unclear. The mysterious, fluid-gobbling section of the floor didn't radiate anything at all, which was both surprising and more than a bit disconcerting.

Fortunately it was also at the lowest point of the room: a short flight of stairs led up to a raised platform that surrounded it, allowing them access to another pair of doors without having to go anywhere near it.

They again chose a door at random. This one opened into a much smaller chamber that contained an urn and some baskets filled with various trinkets and oddities: a few stone tablets written in what Humal assumed was a dialect of the Wind Dukes, some platinum jewelry, a silken gown with hundreds of gems sewn into it, and a wand featuring a predictably avian theme.

The urn radiated an intense aura of necromantic energies, which Humal deduced to be some sort of life-sapping trap, while the wand radiated evocation magic, but before they could examine anything more closely the presumed "floor" surged towards them, revealing it to in fact be a well-trained, impossibly vast black pudding.

Sumia loosed a few arrows, a she was wont to do, while Humal used a simple abjuration trick to fling the trapped urn at the ooze. Green lightning crackled about as it shuddered briefly: he desperately hoped that this hurt it, but he had no idea as to how badly. More than familiar with black pudding, Corzale warned everyone that its body was highly acidic as she conjured a wall of trees, leaving a small gap that Sumia and Humal could strike through.

She knew that the pudding would also be able to flow through the opening (and it would soon melt through the trees anyway), but they still impeded its progress. The party also backed into the smaller room, using the stone doors for cover since that was the one thing they knew it couldn't dissolve. It managed to get in a few strikes against Corzale before they finally destroyed it; while her flesh was severely burned, her armor was still functional.

Looting the remaining contents of the room, the silken gown literally vanished into thin air, leaving the pearls and sapphires behind, the platinum jewelry was merely obscenely valuable (moreso if they could find someone to purchase the entire lot), and the wand both enhanced its wielder's magic missiles, and granted them temporary flight after a generous investment of mana.

The other door led to a ramp that in turn led to a balcony, which dispelled any doubts as to where they were. From here they could see much of the tomb's exterior, suspended in an endless blue sky illuminated by sunlight that radiated from everywhere and nowhere.

A long bridge connected the balcony to another structure, several hundred feet away. It seemed stable enough, and though they weren't sure what would happen should they fall (nothing else was falling, or even moving), no one was particularly interested in figuring it out.

After crossing the bridge, they realized that the uppermost part of the structure was damaged, with chunks of stone simply floating above it, frozen in mid-destruction. The interior wasn't particularly impressive: the walls were covered in faded frescoes, but this time there were three doors to choose from. One was flanked by a large, bulky statue of an armored warrior and a pile of rubble. None of it radiated magic, hopefully ruling out the banal animated statue trap.

Random door selection led to yet another small chamber. This one contained a small shrine, with a suit of chainmail draped over a stone slab. Magic detection revealed that it would protect its wearer from lightning. Satisfied with her albeit mundane plate armor, Corzale took it anyway so that Humal could transfer the enchantment later. When she removed the armor, she saw a square depression in the stone slab, suggestion that something there had been removed.

Saving the rubble-and-statue door for last, they took the door directly across the chamber. It opened to a winding stone bridge, the middle of which was surrounded by a ring of slowly flowing water, studded with small patches of floating earth, all overgrown with grass and trees.

When they passed through the center of the ring, a water elemental shot out of it at Sumia. Corzale knocked it out of the air with her hammer, but it exploded into a torrent of water that bowled over Sumia and flung Humal into and through the ring, though he managed to catch himself on one of the tiny islands drifting about its exterior. Staggering to his feet, Humal was surprised to see that he had no trouble standing despite being perpendicular to everyone else.

The elemental again burst from the ring, colliding with and surrounding Sumia. Trapped inside its body, it began slamming itself into the bridge in an attempt to harm her. Unable to free herself, Sumia smashed open a flask of alchemist's fire she had been carrying: the ensuing explosion hurt them both (the elemental more than her), but it also blasted her free of its body.

Humal hopped across a few islands, relieved that he didn't go flying off, and conjured an illusionary force to attack the creature: fortunately it was intelligent enough to be affected by his magic. While it was momentarily stunned, Corzale commanded a tangle of thick roots to grow and crush the creature, drawing from the trees on the surrounding islands, but it was able to slip around and up them, again retreating into the ring to hide.

Humal scanned the water for any sign of its presence, but it managed to sneak up on him and knock him out with a single blow. Before it could finish the job, the sluggish flow of the water brought the island both it and Humal were standing on into Sumia's sight, and she destroyed it with a few well-placed arrows. Using the root bridge, Corzale was able to make it to Humal and revive him, and they returned to the stone bridge before they withered away.

Design Notes
If you've read/played A Gathering of Winds and remember it, you've probably realized that I've changed up this particular section quite a bit (the previous area was tweaked, just not nearly as much).

Here's a map from the original adventure:


Here's how I've changed it up (without spoiling anything to the players):


First time I've done the isometric thing, which I think makes it easier to explain the water-ring-with-islands, though looking at it now I think it'd be cooler to have the bridge twist about so that the building is on its side (instead of everything being level).

The big building is area 9, the small room in the lower-right hand side is room 10, the bridge with the water-ring represents area 11, and the building it connects to is area 12. I haven't drawn the rest of the area because I don't want to spoil what's in store.

Suffice to say I've got enough going on from this post and some other stuff I thought of, that I'm now working on this whole wind dungeon thing as its own adventure. Probably won't bother with the whole adventure path, but might link a few adventures or dungeons together to do a kind of campaign arc deal.

We'll see what time and attention span allows.

Another thing I want to mention is the wand. Never really liked D&D and wands-with-charges. The wand in the original adventures was a wand of eagle's splendor, which basically means you can use it to gain +4 Charisma for awhile, until it runs out of charges and becomes a useless stick.

Underwhelming, so I changed the wand to do the following, and you can assume other wands in FrankenFourth would do similar things:

  • It's a +1 wand, so you get +1 to attack and damage, and your save DCs go up by 1. Obviously very useful to all wizards.
  • Your Magic Missile range is doubled. Since all wizards get Magic Missile (make ranged Intelligence attack to deal force damage), this is also useful to all wizards.
  • You can spend 3d4 Mana to gain a fly Speed for 1 minute per wizard level. Basically gives you access to what the Fly talent would do, you just gotta have the wand on hand. Again, useful, though for a lower level wizard it's pretty risky (or at least liable to drain all of your Mana in one go).

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

A Sundered World Sandbox Campaign: Episode 101

Cast
  • Dusk (level 1 druid)
  • Elfi (level 1 mine kobold cleric)
  • Mister Tock (level 1 kytheran chronomancer)

Summary
Encrusted with mostly-dried, exploding-diseased-crow-filth, once they arrived in Kaivahl Elfi understandably wanted to hit up the inn and take a bath. Tock didn't need to eat or sleep, but went with her anyway so he could find a secluded corner and read the message they were carrying without anyone noticing.

Inside they ran into Dusk, another member of the Guild. He wasn't currently on a job, but he was looking for work, and given his particular area of expertise would be handy to have around the next time diseased exploding animals showed up. Or just animals in general.

While Dusk and Elfi talked shop, Tock slipped away to read the letter. Apparently someone was attempting to use chronomancy to rapidly age something called "people's brew", but the magic was reacting strangely with the containers, so they were going to try a smoking process involving cambions to some degree that they hoped would keep the wood alive.

Intriguing and risky, though Tock wasn't sure how he could act on this information without making it known that he'd read the letter in the first place. Ah, well, maybe it would come in handy later: with a quick twist of time he restored the letter to its previous state, just as if he'd never opened it.

During Elfi's conversation with Dusk, the innkeeper overheard her mention of a dead man, who after a few questions was revealed to have been a spice trader named Dougan. Initially distraught that Elfi and Tock left his corpse on the road, she offered to pay them if they retrieved his remains and the salt he was supposed to have been carrying. They agreed, but not wanting to have too many jobs on the docket Tock first delivered the letter before they left.

The ambient astral radiance had faded by the time they found the corpse. Unfortunately a trio of boggarts got to it first. Busy stripping it of everything Elfi and Tock left behind, the party was able to get in an opening salvo of magic, divine light, and crushing vines before the boggarts could react: as expected the only survivor attempted to flee, revealing that, like the crows, they were mysteriously afflicted by...something.

At least instead of strange growths and eyes peering out from snaking tongues, their spines were merely twisted about, and they didn't explode when killed. This deformity made it difficult for the boggart to move or fight back, and once it was slain the party searched Dougan's corpse to find that the salt was missing. After confirming that they in fact hadn't already taken it from the corpse the first time they found it, they checked the boggarts.

The boggarts had apparently barely gotten Dougan's shoes off by the time they showed up, which left a variety of unpleasant possibilities: had Dougan simply neglected to bring the salt? Had it been dropped on the way to the forest? Had it been dropped while the boggarts dragged his corpse off the road? Had someone else shown up and looted him before the boggarts?

After an extensive and presumably fruitless search of the surrounding area, Dusk found signs that a small astral craft had landed in the forest. Given its size and speed it probably wasn't going far, but they had no idea where it was going or if whoever was piloting it had taken the salt. They unceremoniously dragged the corpse back to Kaivahl, and informed the innkeeper as to what they'd discovered.

She paid them, albeit less since they hadn't returnd with the salt. Elfi and Dusk booked their own rooms, while Tock wandered about the village, keeping an eye out for any skiffs passing by or landing. The next day they'd do some more investigation, but sooner or later they'd need to return to the Guild and confirm the mission's completion.

Design Notes
Game went a lot smoother this time, in that we didn't have to redo or change anything after getting our asses kicked. Gotta whip up a bunch of druid talents for Dusk, as his player wants to focus pretty much exclusively on the skin-changing aspect.

Currently it works a lot like The Druid from Dungeon World: you declare that you want to change shape, some of your stats get bumped up and down, and then you get to pick another benefit like a damage bonus for natural weapons, an AC/DR bonus from having a thick hide, or swimming or flight.

Additional talents will let you change into bigger and smaller forms, choose more bonuses, and increase what they give you. So, for example, if you choose to have +1 AC/DR, you'd instead have +2 AC/DR. That or you'd get +1 AC/DR automatically, and can choose the option to bump it up yet again.

Only thing I gotta figure out is what to do with Favor, because if you don't have to choose a Favor-spender then you basically have a portion of the class going to waste. Just gotta find something that uses it and makes sense for all druids to have by default.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

Week Long Birthday Sale!

My birthday is coming up this Saturday, and while Melissa and I do giveaways on our birthdays and some holidays I figured I'd mark everything down in our store by 13% until then!

I'll keep it going until next Sunday, whenever I wake up and remember to change everything back.
May 07, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

Awful Good Art Retrospective

One of the first things I published was Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes, an adventure for Dungeon World. Looking over other Dungeon World adventures (and other content), I saw little to nothing in the way of production quality, but I figured I'd at least do something for a cover and call it good.

I'd owned a big-ass Intuos Wacom tablet for years but barely touched it (thought it'd get used for my Multimedia course but nope). I wasn't used to drawing while looking somewhere else completely, and despite trying to go with what I'd considered to be a simple Mignola-ish-look this was the result:


The next thing we did was The Vancomancer. I tried getting a bit more ambitious, but, well...


This was followed by The Skeleton, 10+ Treasures, and The Ghoul:


While I was working on 10+ Treasures, Melissa worked on The Mummy because hey we did a skeleton of all things so why not? She got a taste for class creation, releasing The Pirate and The Witch a few months later.


Looking back I still like the cover for The Witch, and I think The Pirate is fine, but the first cover for The Mummy was utter shit. At the time I was still learning the style and how to use the Wacom tablet, once way later I'd eventually replace it with a newer version...


...which was something we'd also do for The Vancomancer and 10+ Treasures (but in color since Melissa was coloring things by this point):


Melissa coloring my covers was a big, awesome change for us. It ramped up our production quality without adding to my workload (though we only had one tablet at the time).

I think the first thing she colored was The Cultist: compare the following cover to the the newer 10+ Treasures and Vancomancer covers above, and you can really see how she's improved.


For a more gradual transition, let's take a look at The Oni...


...The Golem...


...10+ Treasures: Sunken Treasures...


...The Cleric...


...The Rogue...



...and 10+ Treasures: Dwarven Vault.


Not Dungeon World related, but I'm really pleased with how the covers for Dungeons & Delvers and FrankenFourth turned out:


Ultimately I'm glad that Melissa and I toughed it out, and kept drawing our own shit. It's resulted in a consistent style that people recognize and love. We've gotten a lot better and faster: which is why instead of sticking with the usual amount of art we just started adding more to further improve production quality (also I reaaally hate blank spaces and blank pages).

We've bundled up most of our art into art packs, to help other indie creators give their work a consistent feel without spending a shitload of money. Of course we also do commissions if you want us to draw something specific. Here's some art we did for Tranzar's Redoubt (I think this was before Melissa was coloring stuff):


A cover I did for Tenet's Tales (there is a color version of this but I couldn't find it):


Another Tenet's Tales cover:


And a cover for Mort Tanis, something for A Sundered World that someone else is doing:


Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
May 06, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

10+ Treasures: Dwarven Vault

The Dwarven Vault has been opened (and added to our 10+ Treasure Trove Bundle)!

Our sixth 10+ Treasures volume features thirty magic items, including a burning sword that is but a fragment of its former self, a portable tunnel, a magical multitool, a potion that turns you into a dwarf (because some of these items are dwarf-only), and an eye that lets you shoot lasers!

There's also a selection of dungeon gear, including air filters, spore grenades, and crossbow bolts that both stick to your targets and dissolve them from the inside.

Finally, as with every other 10+ Treasure volume we've included extensive notes on how we go about making magic items.

This product contains two files. Both are digest-sized pdfs: one in color, the other in black and white, to make it easier/cheaper on you if you want to print it out at home.

You can see a preview of it over on DriveThruRPG.

Another Note: If you purchase using the PayPal Buy Now button, we will also send you a complimentary copy through DriveThruRPG. Please allow up to 24 hours for delivery, though it usually ends up being at most eight (depends on if you buy it after we've gone to bed).

$2.75

$2.99


Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
April 29, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

Awful Good Art Pack II

This art pack contains art from a variety of our products, just not anything from A Sundered World (though there is art from The Golden Spiral) and our earliest products (such as The Vancomancer, The Witch, and most of the undead stuff).

You can see everything included in the collection by downloading the PDF here, so do that before buying to make sure it has what you're looking for (you can also check the preview links on DriveThruRPG).

As with our other art packs, you can use the art in anything but another stock art collection (at least, not without asking us first), you can use it as much as you want, and you can edit it however you want to make it work. The only condition is that you need to credit us.

Another Note: If you purchase using the PayPal Buy Now button, we will also send you a complimentary copy through DriveThruRPG. Please allow up to 24 hours for delivery, though it usually ends up taking maybe a half hour, and at the most eight (depends on if you buy it after we've gone to bed).

$9.99
$9.99


$9.99


Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
April 27, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World Sandbox Campaign: Pilot Episode

Cast
  • Elfi (level 1 mine kobold cleric)
  • Mister Tock (level 1 kytheran chronomancer)

Summary
As novice graduates of the Guild of Infinite Adventure, Elfi and Tock decided to start out their illustrious career with a simple parcel delivery to the village of Kaivahl, because what's the worst that could happen, right? Unfortunately, being dirt poor they couldn't afford passage on an elemental dromond or even mounts, so they'd have to hoof it there themselves.

The road led the pair to a forest, but they didn't get far before they realized they were being followed. As best they could tell it was only one person, but they were new to this adventuring thing and wanted their fist job to succeed without any problems, so they just waited for him to approach and ask where he was going.

He seemed friendly enough, and claimed to be heading to Kaivahl for pleasure, which is the sort of thing you'd expect an assassin or thief to say (and paranoid adventurers to think). So, once they were done speaking Elfi and Tock bid him farewell before leaving the trail for a few minutes. They let him get a small headstart before resuming their journey, doing their best to seem like they weren't keeping their distance and watching him.

The stranger's pace for some reason quickened, and despite their efforts to catch up he soon vanished out of sight around one of the many bends in the trail. While the subsequent ambush was expected, they weren't expecting it to be a trio of massive crows covered in pulsating growths.

Tock's magic both harmed and slowed the crows, allowing him to keep his distance, but Elfi was small and only carried a mace: it would be impossible for her to flee. Worse, when slain the crows exploded, showering her in necrotic blood and viscera: by the time the third crow was slain she was barely standing. Since Elfi's god didn't grant healing miracles (which wouldn't have helped Tock anyway), hopefully their pay would cover the cost of an inn and some healing supplies.

Continuing down the path, they were surprised to discover the stranger's corpse. He'd been torn apart, but they couldn't tell by what. Tracks led away from the corpse, which probably ruled out diseased crows. The trail led off into the forest, but wounded and not wanting to press their luck they continued on to Kaivahl (after looting his corpse, of course): once they'd healed and delivered the message, they could consider tracking down who or what was responsible for the stranger's death.

Who knows, maybe there was a bounty on diseased crows?

Design Notes
The session started out with Adam breezing through some background details about our training with the Guild of Infinite Adventure, and loss of our first mentor to an unseen threat (which I implied to be dark young). The Guild is basically a way for us to easily introduce new characters and swap characters out so we can try new things (got a bunch of classes that need playtesting for the full rules), plus a mixed-level party.

Since we're doing A Sundered World I decided to go with the kytheran chronomancer: quick stats are +1 to Constitution, +1 AC/DR, immune to poison and disease, and don't need to eat, sleep, or breathe. Considering a floating +1 to either Intelligence or Strength. Downside is I can't be healed via potions or divine magic: only repair kits can restore lost Wound Points (and Transmutation talents that affect objects).

Since I hadn't given Adam the rules on making monsters, nor even vague guidelines on encounter building, I was actually dropped during the first turn of combat (and Elfi was guaranteed to die right after). But, hey, game is still in playtesting and Adam was new to it, so after a few tweaks we tried again and this time barely succeeded.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

FrankenFourth: Argons

Since beholders are WotC intellectual property, I decided to make something similar that everyone else can use. Behold, the argon!
Stats are for FrankenFourth, but just change Level to Hit Dice (or keep Level if your d20/D&Dish game of choice uses levels) and add/remove stats as necessary.

ARGON
Level 5 Medium Aberrant
XP 120

Ability Scores
STR +0 DEX +2 WIS +2
CON +2 INT +1 CHA +0

Skills
Arcana +4, Perception +4, Search +4

Defense
Initiative +2
Speed 30 feet; flying
AC 13 DR 1 (thick skin)
Fort +2 Ref +2 Will +4
Wounds 25 Vitality 10 Total 35

Offense
Bite: +4 to hit; 1d6+2 piercing damage.

Eye Rays: Argons possess four eyes spaced about what could be generously described as its body (in addition to their central eye on the front). Each eye grants the argon access to an arcane talent that the argon can use at will (no Fatigue cost). The eyes can extend on a fleshy stalk a few feet in length, which allows the argon to focus multiple eyes on a single target that it otherwise couldn't (or peek around corners/through small openings to spy on others).

(Considering making it so that extended eyes can be damaged and destroyed. Not sure how I wanna do this, though: could see it as a called shot that requires a slashing weapon and 5 points of damage to sever, but then players might want to called shot other things. I guess if you're doing something like Dungeon World then the messy tag is enough to get rid of them.)

Treasure
Argon antimagic eye, argon eyes (number equal to eyes it possessed)

Antimagic Eye: The central eye of an argon negates all arcane magic within a 60 feet cone that it can see.

The origins of argons would depend on your campaign (if you even want to define them). Maybe they come from a place where wizards have modified themselves such that they no longer needed the rest of their bodies, and are basically floating heads with a bunch of magic eyes. They could also come from another plane of existence (like the Far Realm), another planet, or even another timeline.

I think it would also be cool if they had collections of eyes with various magical powers that they could swap out from time to time. Some might work together, even sharing or trading eyes, but others would try and kill each other in order to gather up their eyes to add to their collection. I could also see them targeting wizards, using a process involving the wizard's eyes and brain to create new magic eyes.

To randomly determine eyes I'd make a big-ass table, but the GM can also just choose specific powers if they want.

Obviously you can give argons more eyes, but you could also base it on size: Large argons have 5-8 eyes, Huge argons have 9-12 eyes, and Gargantuan argons can have 13-16 eyes. Could even have it so that a Large argon is really two argons fused together (willingly or otherwise), a Huge argon is three, etc.

Arcane Talents
Obviously most argons would have access to various wizard talents. Just give them whichever ones you want, but since these would function normally (ie have a Fatigue cost) you'd also give them 4 Mana per level.

(For other games, just tack on wizard or sorcerer levels.)


Uses for Argon Eyes
The central eye of an argon can be made into an amulet or circlet that grants its wearer a +1 bonus to all saves made against arcane magic. If the spell requires an attack roll, you gain a +1 bonus to Armor Class, and if it inflicts damage, it is reduced by 1 (to a minimum of 0).

Other argon eyes can be made into a wand or ring that grants its wielder access to that arcane talent: they don't need to meet the perquisites for that talent, but must have at least one wizard level and pay the Fatigue cost as normal.

Multiple argon eyes can be incorporated into a staff or crown that allows its wielder access to any arcane talents that the eyes could use.

(For other games, the eyes make a wand/staff that lets you use those spells, either with charges or x times per day.)

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
April 23, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

Whiny, Entitled Players

It hasn't been nearly long enough since the last time I read a post that seems to have been written by a hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, overly protective mom who thinks that elf-games are very serious business.

I guess it shakes things up by not being about female gamers and how they need, no, deserve special treatment at the table, making sure your table is somehow diverse enough to get a pass from perpetually offended virtue-signalers, or using the meaningless X-card.

So let's go through it bit-by-bit.

“Your sword is gone.”
“WHAT?!?! What do you mean??”
“It doesn’t exist anymore. You have no sword.”
“But that was my +5 family heirloom sword! It cost me 50,000 GP and we spent four months in real time on a side quest to get it!!”
“...and you put it in an annihilation portal trap. Tough.”
“Don’t I get a saving throw?!? Or something??”

Okay, I’ve got a few questions.

First, what’s an "annihilation portal trap"? I'm guessing you mean a sphere of annihilation, which is an actual thing in Dungeons & Dragons. I'm also guessing you mean the infamous green face thing from Tomb of Horrors, which I've heard players mistake for a kind of portal that goes somewhere, but just instantly kills anyone that goes inside, no save.

Second, and more importantly, are you or your players normally in the habit of experimenting with strange phenomena using rare/valuable items like top-tier magic swords? Before doing other "no duh" things like using detect magic to try and get even a rough idea as to what it might do? Before using cheap, easily replaceable dungeon gear that they really should have on hand?

Because I've played with some really stupid players, and when we actually ran across a modified sphere of annihilation—as opposed to an apocryphal anecdote in which an imaginary player loses their imaginary magic item to whatever an annihilation portal trap is, so someone can fail to make a point—we tried sticks, coins, rocks, even a leather pouch filled with coins (which revealed to us that it didn't affect metal and stone).

At no point did we risk very rare and valuable magic items. That said...

...is “family heirloom” some obscure or homebrewed 3rd Edition magic weapon quality (because you can't by default just go around buying +5 weapons in 2nd Edition)? If you’re referring to a +5 magical sword that is also a family heirloom, then...

...why did you have to spend 50,000 gp and four months “in real time” to buy a magical family heirloom?

WARNING! All of the mechanics I mention below are risky. This does not mean any of them are forbidden, nor even bad.

Warning: You’re about to contradict yourself a bunch of times!

Some of them are actually quite common.

No, they aren’t. Unless maybe if you only play certain editions of Dungeons & Dragons (namely 2nd and 3rd, maybe 1st).

They are risky in the sense that they threaten to take the fun out of the game for some players.

Only if you’re a whiny, entitled millennial that hates losing certain things. You also just said above that these "aren't even bad".

I wrote an article about some rewards that role-playing gamers want to get from their games, then another about some of the games that do a good job of providing these rewards. Now it’s time to talk about the games that will ruin your fun by taking these rewards away.

If by games you mean Marvel Super Heroes and certain editions of Dungeons & Dragons, because those are the only two games you mention in your blog post. Again, you just said they "aren't even bad".

Taking away or delaying game rewards means consequences for in-game actions start to affect the player as well as their character.

Aww, poor babies.

Players often invest a lot of time and effort to get their characters to a particular stage, and these mechanics tend to negate that time and effort.

Again, poor babies. Really, it only "negates" things if you only care about levels and loot, both of which you can get back by, well, continuing to play.

In the case of loot, you can actually get better loot by continuing to play. Or, do you guys still piss and moan about the loss of some random +1 weapon even after you find a +2 weapon?

To be fair, there is definitely an appropriate time to have your heirloom sword permanently removed, or for your character to die.

I'd ask when, but you'll eventually get around to saying that it's only appropriate when the players are completely on board with it. Like, yeah, you "can" destroy their weapon, but only when they sign their consent forms: can't be throwing any curve balls at your players, don't wanna trigger them!

Gamemasters and players often want to play a high-stakes game.

I agree, and many other actual gamers agree, but the way you tell it GMs and players only want "high stakes" when they're both expecting it and give the okay.

Before you decide to apply a mechanic that could potentially undo or complicate the real-life work that players have put into the game you should talk about the risks, and decide as a group if having high-tension drama is worth suffering player-affecting consequences.

I love how you describe playing a fucking game as "real-life" work. GMs put work into their adventures and campaigns: players show up and enjoy the ride. As the guy that runs almost every game I play in, it's great being able to just kick back and see what the GM has in store.

But, I'm curious, what do you do when you watch a movie/read a book/play a video game with a shitty ending? What do you do if you're playing a game, die, and gotta reload to do a part over (possibly even multiple times)? What about losing at a board game with a lengthy setup/play time? What do you do when you're doing anything, actually put in time and maybe effort, and that time is essentially wasted?

Have you written an article whining about how you shouldn't be able to lose at board and video games, unless you give consent first? Seriously asking.

I'm sooo glad I started gaming when I did. I can't imagine having little pre-game powwows where we talk about the imaginary consequences of a rust monster eating my sword, forcing me to, I dunno, tell the DM that I go back to town and buy another (or maybe make an improvised weapon if I can't). There goes five seconds of my life I'll never get back!

Frankly I'm surprised your article doesn't at the least encourage DMs to provide a safe space room stocked with fucking adult coloring books, bubbles, and puppies.

Finally, "player-affecting consequences" reminds me of Dark Dungeons. Like, you're concerned that players might cut or even kill themselves because they lost an imaginary sword.

I mention three joykill mechanics, but there are certainly more pit traps out there. If you think of any that I should have targeted, write them in the comments! I picked these three because they are typical of the worst reward-removing mechanics. Here is the list.

You really only mention two: the whole "bad karma" thing is just spending XP to do things by another name, though I'm sure anyone appreciates the oh so very topical inclusion of a game released in the mid 80's.

2. Dungeoneering Drain - Dungeons and Dragons
“The vampire succeeds on a touch attack. You lose two levels.”
“Noooo! I just got to level twelve! I really wanted to cast sixth-level spells!”
“While you’re standing there, lamenting your fate, the vampire touches you again.”
“Nooooooo!”

Has a DM actually ever done that? Hit you with a vampire, and while you’re going “fuck I maybe lost two levels if no one can automatically remove them via magic or I fail to save against them later”, they give the vampire another free turn?

Because that sounds like a dick DM: rules got nothing to do with that.

There are more than three joykills in the grandaddy of all role-playing games (see the opening vignette about a 2nd edition AD&D scenario)...

I love how you refer people to the paragraph they just read, but at least you clear it up that you’re talking about 2nd Edition (except when you aren’t since you mentioned a +5 sword that the players bought), in which case if the PCs are ambushed by a vampire completely out of nowhere, well, them’s the breaks. If you can't handle it, try running away.

Seriously: if you think that you're supposed to be able to just kill everything the GM throws at you, you're retarded.

It's been quite some time, but if the PCs know that a vampire might be about somewhere you've got garlic and/or protection from evil. Garlic has no duration, and the vampire cannot attack anyone wearing garlic. Protection from evil imposes an attack penalty and gives affected PCs a saving throw bonus in case the vampire tries to charm them. There's also the higher level protection circle that affects a much wider radius.

Also, negative plane protection is, what, a 3rd-level cleric spell? Yeah, it only works against one successful attack, and yeah you gotta make a successful save, but by the time clerics can cast 6th-level spells they succeed on death saves with a mere 6 or higher.

...though many of them have been ironed out in subsequent editions. Some of them persist.

Jesus christ...

In 3rd Edition restoration is a 4th-level cleric spell that removes all negative levels, and even if you failed the save you can still restore them as long as they weren’t lost more than one day ago per cleric level. So, you got some time. You've actually got nearly a few weeks for the cleric to get around to prepping restoration.

4th and 5th Edition don't even have negative levels, so if you want to play an easier D&D without houseruling or not using certain monsters for fear your players will get all butthurt and flee to their safe spaces to whine on Tumblr, you've got a few official options.

Try not to use them without warning the players.

Yep, because it totally won’t kill the suspense or tension to warn the players, “By the way there are vampires around”. I'm sure it'll be fun watching them buy garlic or prepare specific spells despite having no in-character reason for doing so.

Personally I prefer examining the environment, asking around, exploring, figuring it out for myself. In 2nd Edition I remember actually running into a wraith (not as part of some contrived scenario that fails to illustrate a point).

We beat the wraith, and I think one player lost a level from the fight, and a few rooms later in the dungeon we found a restoration scroll (among other things), which the cleric was able to use to fix it. The best part was that even before we found the scroll, the player didn't bitch and moan about the lost level: he took it like a man and kept playing.

But, hey, whatever works for you: be sure to post trigger warnings and hand out permission slips. Wait, why not just run the vampire encounter as-is, level drain and all, but when the characters are of course victorious ask them if they're cool with the lost levels. If not, just say the level drain magically goes away and no one loses anything.

Everyone wins, and the treasure haul can even include participation awards!

Rust Monsters: Given that new gear is one of the rewards that players who like Dungeons and Dragons crave, creating a monster whose sole purpose is to eat gear is risky.

How is “creating” the monster risky? What’s the actual risk to the creator? Do you mean that fighting a rust monster is risky because it can eat your gear if you somehow don't know what a rust monster is by now? Or do you mean it's risky to create a monster because you might end up having to deal with whiny entitled players who will bitch and quit the game over maybe losing some possibly difficult to replace gear?

Frankly that sounds great to me: lets me know which players not to play with!

I'm wondering if you know that in 2nd Edition, magic loot has a chance of being completely unaffected by a rust monster's touch, to the tune of 10% per plus, and in 3rd Edition you get to make a Reflex save to negate the effect. 4th Edition lets weapons and armor take I think up to five hits before rusting, but if it eats your magic shit you can harvest residuum from the corpse and just remake them all over again.

Whether gear is bought, found, or quested for, a rust monster can easily remove an irreplaceable reward from play.

Only if you're talking about metal loot, the players/characters somehow fail to realize what a rust monster is (in 3rd Edition a simple Dungeoneering check would at the least indicate its only infamous ability to rust things), and the rust monster happens to rust a coveted magic item first (as opposed to any other non-magical object, such as armor, a shield, the head of a metal arrow or spear, a rogue's dagger, etc).

Though, again, magic items have a chance/saving throw to avoid rusting.

I'm curious: do your games include exactly one of every magic item? Is there only one +1 sword gathering dust in some dungeon, or available for purchase (like that +5 family heirloom weapon)? I mean, assuming that's true I suppose you could still find a +2 or better weapon at some point, so why all the pissing and moaning?

Keep fucking adventuring until you find something better, and the next time you run into rust monsters throw some gold pieces at them and run the fuck away.

Experience Points for Effects: Just like with the bad Karma above, there are some mechanics in Dungeons and Dragons that require a player to spend the points they would normally use for character development to achieve certain effects (usually magical ones).

Oh, so now we’re over to 3rd Edition, because in 2nd Edition a wish ages you 5 years, and a limited wish ages you 1 year/100 years of your normal lifespan. Funny how you focus on XP costs, which can be easily recovered via adventuring, and not loss of years, which cannot be normally reversed!

This is done to maintain game balance; the effects that are bought with experience points are usually quite powerful. This is risky, though, because having a mage at 10th level when everyone else is at 12th can get tedious; character advancement is as rewarding as new gear, if not more.

How is it "risky" when the player has to deliberately choose to cast the spell/do the things that require XP expenditure?

Do you not know what risky means? There is no chance of danger or loss: there is a cost, and the player knows exactly what it is. You don't cast wish and maybe lose 5,000 XP. You don't scribe a 1st-level scroll and maybe spend 1 XP: you must spend that XP, and it's entirely up to you whether it's worth the cost.

Not that the game ever expects or forces you to do these things: every XP-charging thing in 3rd Edition (because it's just 3rd Edition D&D that charges you XP for doing very specific things) must be chosen by you, first. Well, except for Scribe Scroll: wizards get that for free.

Frankly, in 3rd Edition I virtually never bothered to spend XP to craft magic items (and when I did it was backup scrolls for very specific spells), because in long-term campaigns I just didn't think it was worth it. Other players did, and that's fine: even as teenagers they knew the costs, and never bitched about it after the fact.

Also, how is a 10th-level "mage" in a 12th-level party "tedious"?

Level Drain: THE WORST!! Again, in a high-stakes game, level-draining creatures (often powerful undead) are specifically designed to hit the player where it hurts the most - in the experience points!

Only if XP is the most important thing for you, which just goes to show how shallow of a player you are. You'd probably be more comfortable playing something like Diablo 3: you won't lose XP or gear when you die, and you can keep the game on Normal as long as you want, which will probably be forever because we can't have your character losing, now can we?

The game even has an Adventuring mode, so you don't have to trouble yourself with trivial things like NPCs and plot: just endlessly grind loot and levels for-fucking-ever!

Don’t pit yourselves against a vampire unless everyone is on board with the fact that they might lose a couple of levels before it’s all said and done… as if levels were the worst thing to lose.

How do you pit yourselves against a vampire? Do you tell the GM what you want to fight at a given time? Doesn't make any fucking sense at all, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised. Do you also tell the GM what you want the dungeon to look like, and what treasure you'll find?

Also, you just fucking said that “level-draining creatures are specifically designed to hit players where it hurts the most”. Make up your fucking mind: is XP the worst thing to lose or isn't it?

3. The Ultimate Joykill - Character Death
“I’m going to run across the rickety bridge that spans the chasm.”
“Okay, roll for it.”
“Natural one.”
“Oh. Ouch. Um, make a reflex save.”
“Uh… also one.”
“Oh. Uh, I guess you fall screaming to your death.”
“On the first day?”

If that was your character, and the above actually happened (not that I believe any of the scenario described here actually occurred), I guess sucks you had a dick DM making you roll to run across a rickety bridge that I guess didn't have ropes, or didn't tell you that it was so shaky and rickety and falling apart that running across could result in death. But, if the DM told you that and you tried it anyway that's your fault, and would be the definition of risky.

Now, if you're the DM that did all that shit, and if you didn't even warn the player that there was a good possibility he'd just fly off the bridge and die then you're an asshole and terrible DM.

But, really, am I supposed to feel bad that a character died right out of the gate? Roll up a new character and jump back in. If you're butthurt because you wrote up a super elaborate backstory about how you were going to save the world and now you can't do that, maybe don't write up super elaborate backstories before the first session, and don't assume that you're the main character and definitely a hero that CANNOT die except when you give the DM the go ahead.

Something that is nearly invisible because it is assumed in most games, character death is a joykill mechanic.

Only when you're a whiny, entitled shithead that thinks the game must revolve around your super special snowflake character with an elaborate backstory that MUST reach 20th-level and defeat the bad guy.

For normal gamers, character death can suck I guess, but you either get resurrected if you're high enough level (which in 3rd Edition doesn't even need to be that high), can get resurrected as part of a quest or something (we've done it before in 3E when really low level), or roll up another character and get back in the game.

That death and loss? That makes the times you survive and get new shit meaningful, because you know you can die and lose your shit.

When you stop acting like your character is the center of the (imaginary) universe, and must succeed at every quest and never lose anything unless you first give the go-ahead, the game is much more fun. Just roll up a character and see what the GM has in store for you.

I may be opening myself to criticism, but I think allowing character death to be determined by the random rolling of dice is risky, and leads to a million absurdities from a storytelling perspective.

Yeah: you sound like a whiny, entitled shithead that hates to “lose” in a game where coming back to life and finding new/better gear is a thing, as is rolling up a new character. You sound like all the other whiny entitled “gamers” that think that their super special character with a backstory should always win and never lose things.

Which, again, if you always want to win and never lose things that can be easily replaced by continuing to play the game, go play games that just let you win and never lose things (unless of course you give the GM permission).

What happens when your character’s goal was to deliver information vital to the success of a world-saving mission, and they get taken out by a couple of bandits who happened to roll really well?

This, right here. First, I want to point out that all of your imaginary scenarios have been fucking absurd: has a single character’s goal ever been to deliver vital world-saving information? Just the one character? For the entire world?

Sounds pretty retarded to entrust that to one character (and a low-level one at that), and then have them go through dangerous terrain. Sounds like the kind of thing you might want to have more than one person privy to. You could also provide the person with an escort, or have it delivered via a number of magical means.

But, anyway, a normal gamer would be like, “Oh shit I died, whelp I’ll roll up a new character, meet up with the rest of the group, and help deliver the world saving information.” If everyone trying to deliver the vital information died, then world-shaking shit happens and now we get to try and deal with that.

Sounds like a fucking blast to me.

Or maybe the world just ends and we start a new campaign. Point is, it's not fun getting dumped into a campaign where victory is a certainty. Why even bother playing? I'd much rather play a game where I can lose, so if I manage to succeed it's actually satisfying.

I applaud games like Mutants and Masterminds and Fate that deliberately remove character death from the mechanics.

No surprise that a whiny, entitled player loves games where you can’t maybe “lose” via dying. Doesn't water down your "victories" at all, no siree! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for essentially showing up to the damn "game".

Characters can be ‘taken out:’ knocked out, captured, lost, or forgotten… but that just creates an interesting twist in the story.

Maybe you didn’t know this, but that can happen in any game, D&D included. In fact, I've run games where at the least the PCs get knocked out and awaken later in a prison and have to escape. Even better, since the players aren't expecting it, it's an actual twist, as opposed to an expectation.

Fate takes it a step further, and allows players to decide when character death would be appropriate, thereby allowing the players and the GM, in conversation, to decide when to raise the stakes.

Aww, just for death? What if I don’t think my character should fail a check, or get hurt at all? Why can’t my character just be super awesome and win at everything aaall the time?

It is essential to have conversations about when you are going to use high-stakes mechanics.

No, it’s not.

With all the special snowflake millenials whining about anything and everything I'm not surprised to see this brand of shit online, but people have been happily playing Dungeons & Dragons for over 40 fucking years without forcing their DMs to ask permission to include things that the game is famous (or infamous) for.

Of course, again, there are official editions that remove some of these threats: just play them instead of trying to convince people to neuter their DM so they can pretend that they're legitimately succeeding at, well, anything.

High-tension drama is vital to role-playing games, and these mechanics can provide that when appropriate.

Yes, they can...

Bust them out at the wrong time, though, and you will kill the fun for the players in your group.

...but not when you have to basically ask your group permission to use them. There is no tension when the GM tells you that there will be a vampire or rust monster in this game. There is no challenge when you know you can't die, or the GM has to spare your characters so you can just keep trying over and over until you invariably win.

Just go play a "game" where bad things happen only when you allow the GM to make bad things happen. Me? I'll keep playing games with actual surprises and risks: the victories and rewards are actually satisfying when the GM doesn't just hand them to me.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

The Rogue is our latest alternate-addition to the Dungeon World core class roster. If you want something different and/or more flexible than the thief, be sure to check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).
April 20, 2017
Posted by David Guyll

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