Archive for May 2014

Legends & Lore: Still Getting With The Times

A lot of people are overjoyed that Wizards of the Coast is going to offer a kind of "basic" Dungeons & Dragons as a free pdf. Content-wise it is nothing special: it goes from levels 1-20 and covers the same arbitrarily "core" races and classes that you expect out a generic fantasy game. But then, did you expect more from the game company that is trying to sell you yet another rendition of the Forgotten Realms and oh-look-another-campaign-with-Tiamat.

I want to ask why they could not come up with anything better, but then this is the company that actually paid someone to write "gems" like Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire Labyrinth so, yeah...

would wish this was being done for a better game, but then there are already better games that offer up their rules legally for free, and at least this way I will not have to pay them anything just to vindicate my expectations. Really this is less a bold/positive move for WotC so much as it is them still just trying to catch up with the times, but I am surprised; after all the antiquated mechanics they recycled during the two fucking year "design" process, Forgotten Realms, and Tiamat this seems uncharacteristically progressive of them.

Something that I found interesting was the statement, "Your feedback and steadily increasing approval in our surveys showed that we were on the right track."

Back when 3rd Edition came out I was excited by all the strides forward that the game had made with whatever you would have called the "D&D" system at the time: you just added bonuses to a d20 roll, and you always wanted to roll high, every ability score had the same modifier, every class used the same XP table, multiclassing was really easy to figure out (even if it rarely worked out well for you), I guess they tried to balance classes better, etc.

It was still glaringly flawed, but you could see the improvements, and the same thing happened with 4th Edition: Hit Dice were removed, attack rolls were always made by the attacker (instead of being sometimes made by someone else), martial characters were actually viable at high level, clerics were no longer mandatory, and encounter difficulty was insanely accurate. There were still problems, like boring magic items and magic that made absolutely no sense, but it still evolved.

No so with 5th Edition: among other things Hit Dice are back, clerics/druids with healing are again necessary, saving throws are sometimes a thing, encounter difficulty is unreliable to say the least, lots of stuff is based on the day, and I have to ask why? I know that WotC wants to make as big a profit as they can, so I do not believe that they would lie about survey results, so this is not a why to them but to the gamers that actually lobbied for this shit: why do you want something like Hit Dice or pseudo-Vancian magic?

Do you—the people that wanted Hit Dice and pseudo-Vancian magic—think that Hit Dice are the best possible way to express a character's toughness? Is pseudo-Vancian the best way (or even a decent one) to express a magic system, despite not making any sense or being at all like the fiction that purportedly inspired it? I do not think so, and none of the 5th Edition fans have been able to explain this to me. They just say "its popular", "its D&D", "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", or go off on a tangent about MMOs and player entitlement, as if that addresses the question or is all the validation it needs.

For all of its flaws,4th Edition feels like Dungeons & Dragons, and better yet a Dungeons & Dragons that does what it is supposed to do, with minimal fuss: it is easy to build whatever party you want, build/scale encounters and monsters on the fly, and you do not have to fret so much about what they can do or their resources. Hell, even Dungeon World feels more like like Dungeons & Dragons than Dungeons & Dragons: sure, the magic system needs work, but it does not have you rolling for stats or hit points, your class determines your damage, and you only need a handful of XP to level up.

5th Edition reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons, but for all the wrong reasons: the Hit Dice, saving throws, nonsense magic, mandatory magical healers, limited resources, pacing issues, and swingy encounters. It reminds me why I started to grow disenchanted with the game (which at the time was 2nd Edition), and try out other games like RiftsPalladium Fantasy, Shadowrun, and plenty of others. In a way I suppose I should be thankful, as 5th Edition has caused me to put more time into other RPGs like Dungeon World, The Dresden Files, and even a brief stint with Numenera.

So...thanks Mike. You have shown me that I do not need to play Dungeons & Dragons to scratch my fantasy-adventure itch: there are better games out there that do the same thing, at a fraction of the entry fee (when they even have one).
May 29, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Trolled in the Trollmaze

  • Augustine (4th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (5th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (4th-level gnome thief)

Mouse scurried up the rope first. He liked his blood precisely where it was, and was all too eager to get out of Madra's lair before she spotted him and tried roping him into some kind of literal blood contract...or just roping him up and making a withdrawal whenever she damn well pleased.

He reached the surface, but as he started hauling himself out of the hole the sun was suddenly eclipsed by a rock-like hand that was reaching for him. His grip slackened, and he quickly slid back into the hole. The hand followed, and Mouse watched as it flailed about in vain before withdrawing, only to be replaced by the face of a craggy-faced creature. It peered in the hole with a crystalline eye, but by the time it spotted Mouse a dagger was lodged firmly in it. Its howls of pain echoed throughout the cavern, but were quickly drowned out by Jaya's own magically amplified wail.

It stumbled back, and with a powerful tug Mouse was launched back up to the surface. Dangling from the rope he saw that there were two of the creatures: the one he had struck in the eye had the rope, while another one, wielding a club, stood on the opposite side of the hole. It tried to pluck Mouse out of the air, but he managed to twist about and evade it, using the rope to swing around and perch on its arm. Both of the creatures stood there, dumb-founded, which gave Mouse ample time to hurl a dagger into Club-Troll's face, leap to the ground, and scurry away.

As Club-Troll chased Mouse, Rope-Troll continued to yank on the rope in an attempt to fish out whatever was attached to it. The first jerk smashed Augustine into the ceiling, but the second attempt was powerful enough that he actually broke through part of the ridge as he was hauled out. On one hand he was out of the hole, but on the other, troll. It grinned, mouth filled with blocky, black teeth, and moved to crush him with its feet. Mouse saw this as he scrambled about, dodging Club-Troll's slow, predictable swings, and with a toss of his throwing blade opened up a sizable gash across Rope-Troll's leg.

It rumbled in surprise as the wound began to ooze a dark, tarry substance. It glowered at Mouse, teeth actually grinding with anger, but as it began lumbering towards him Club-Troll pointed behind him and made a noise not-unlike falling stones. Rope-Troll turned around in time to see Augustine rushing at him, wielding Mardral's hammer. Hey, if it could smash mountains, then it could probably do a number on these guys, too.

Unfortunately due to the unwieldy nature of the hammer, the troll was still able to keep up despite its ponderous speed. It swatted and kicked Augustine about, and eventually knocked the hammer from his grasp. Unable to get to his halberd quickly enough, he drew the shadowsteel dagger and stabbed at the troll's hand as it grabbed him. The dagger became embedded in the back of its hand, but the troll gave no indication that it noticed anything. Augustine gave it a few pulls, but was unable to free it before the troll slammed him into the ground, knocking the wind out of him.

It was at this point that Jaya managed to reach the surface. She looked about and saw that Rope-Troll was preparing to bring its foot down upon Augustine, while Mouse was occupied with Club-Troll. She sang out a low note, and Rope-Troll paused midstep as Club-Troll, stumbling and flailing about, smashed him in the head. Rope-Troll cascaded to the ground, and more dark ichor began burbling several wide cracks in its head. Club-Troll stood there with an expression that Jaya could only assume was shock, before it turned to her with an expression that she knew to be anger.

It raised its club above its head, but as it moved to pulverize her Augustine stood before it, again wielding the hammer. It unleashed a bellow of rage that shook the walls of the Trollmaze, and they both swung at each other. Hammer met club, and though the club cracked the hammer was again knocked out of Augustine's grasp. As the troll raised its club to finish the job, Mouse lept on its back, stabbing frantically with the shadowsteel dagger he had taken from Rope-Troll's hand. He was more than a bit dismayed that it barely caused a scratch—he assumed it was magical in some way—so he tossed Augustine his short sword to give him something to try and defend himself with.

Augustine did his best to avoid the club while Jaya tried to keep him on his feet with her healing magic, but her words resonated off the canyon walls and Rope-Troll began to stir. At this Mouse leapt off of Club-Troll's back, scampered over to Rope-Troll's body, and hacked at its skull with this throwing blade until it stopped moving.

Then he saw the hammer.

He hauled it toward Club-Troll, who was fully occupied with trying to bash in Augustine's skull, and once he was in position spun around and swung it at the troll's leg.

He missed.

That was not the worst part.

The hammer struck the ground, causing it shake, crack and buckle. This was also not the worst of it: since Madra's den was directly beneath them, the ground also collapsed into it. Mouse managed to leap to safety, while Augustine and Jaya landed on a thick sheet of webbing. The canyon troll, being made of rock, fell through the webbing and shattered on the ground below.

Madra was understandably angry, and demanded to know who was responsible. Jaya told her that the trolls had done it, and when Madra stated that it sounded like someone had swung Mardral's hammer she further elaborated that during the conflict one of them had picked it up. When this did little to mollify her, Mouse piped up.

He told her that she could have the hammer, but that Augustine and Jaya were to go free unharmed. When Madra inquired as to how Mouse was going to enforce that request, he held out a torch and lit it: there was a lot of webbing down there. Though her face could not actually change expressions, he got the sense that she was glaring, but after several long seconds of silence agreed. Thankfully the rope was still intact: Augustine and Jaya were able to climb out without any assistance, and together they ventured off to Pine's Draw.

They arrived at Pine's Draw without further incident. Burdened with a surplus of coin and the loss of a legendary hammer, they purchased Augustine some better armor and a shield in order to ease both. When they were done they saw that one of the armorsmith's assistants was loading up a wagon with more armor, a wagon that was ridden by Jacob. They greeted him, more or less, and after asking why he had a wagon full of armor, explained that the elves were getting uppity as of late, attacking saw mills and villages near the Great Forest, so he was heading to the former-baron's keep to drop off some supplies.

They were not sure which was more surprising: that word of the baron's death had not reached this far after so many days, or that someone had entrusted Jacob with the task of carting thousands of coins-worth of weapons and armor through hostile territory. They decided to tag along, not for Jacob's benefit but for Fiona's: she might actually need that stuff to help deal with the troubles that seemed to be brewing. Case in point, the following day they came across a saw mill: all the buildings were intact, but aside from a lone elf walking about there was no one to be found.

Behind the Scenes
Yes, much of the session was that fight against a pair of trolls, but that made me realize some things:

  • In Dungeons & Dragons the things I did—landing on the troll's arm and throwing a dagger at it, climbing on its back to distract it, and trying to swing Mardral's hammer—would have involved numerous ability checks and/or a penalty so severe that I might as well not even bother, despite that in the end it would result in a narratively exciting attack.
  • Despite taking awhile the fight remained interesting, as unlike 3rd/5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons we did not just stand there and trade blows until someone fell down: our actions and decisions determined a number of things beyond damage.
  • If we were to come back in a few levels those trolls would still be dangerous. Yeah, we might have a few more moves and be able to kill them a bit faster (assuming we took +damage moves), but our hit points might only go up by a handful of points. It is not like we could go strolling through the Trollmaze without a care in the world. This makes me rethink my stance on how in 4th Edition monsters can be any level, meaning that kobolds can still be dangerous at level 30 (though I still think they should not be as dangerous as demons and dragons, and the scaling math should go the way of THAC0).
  • I love how details can be added during the course of play. For example, it was not until after several failed attempts to harm the troll did we learn that shadowsteel is just not effective against trolls. I find this helps add a layer of mystery to a campaign: even after you fight trolls several times, they do not necessarily have the same qualities and habits as they did in a previous campaign or adventure.

Important Announcements
So, three big things:
  • The first is that I am looking for people that want to check out various chapter/playbook drafts of Sundered World. The first chapter, Living in a Sundered World, is basically done, I have the wizard playbook to a point where it is ready to be reviewed, and the next chapter up is What Remains
  • The second is that Melissa has been grinding away at a pirate playbook for Dungeon World, and is also looking for people to check it out and critique it.
  • Finally, we are also also looking for people that want to check out the alpha draft of Fright Night. It will be our first RPG, and we are pretty stoked about how it works in terms of evoking horror.

If you are interested in any of these things, lemme know in the comments and I'll share the various Google docs with you. In terms of compensation, about the best we can do at this point is give you a free copy when they are done.

I plan on kickstarting Sundered World once the text is at least 95% done (so as to avoid delays and mistakes causing it to come out late), and I am not sure if we will be kickstarting Fright Night. Really the only reason we need to do this for either is for art, so it will boil down to how much we want and how expensive that will be.

Dungeon World: If These Stones Could Scream Update

If These Stones Could Scream has been extensively updated with a new, much cleaner layout, better fleshed out dangers, steadings and dungeons, improved location and dungeon moves, more dangers, dungeon gear, and magic items, and so on and so forth.

If you already own it, re-download it and prepare to be amazed. If not, check out the previews and then buy it. In all seriousness, if you enjoyed Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes you will most certainly enjoy this, too. Probably a lot more.

With this (and all those playbooks) finally off my plate, I am going to be able to finally focus more on Sundered World and my next adventure: There Was a Method to Her Madness.

If anyone wants to get it on either of those let me know. 

Dungeon World: When You Format An Adventure...

I have been linked by Jacob from Ramblings of Jacob and Delos twice now for a pair of Dungeon World conversions I did for the adventures Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire Labyrinth.

Now these adventures are undeniably, unexpectedly, inexplicably horrible (especially coming from a big company like Wizards of the Coast), but that is not what this post is about: Jacob seems to really like the layout and style of these conversions, and with Sundered World coming up I am very interested in what other people think of how I format steadings and dungeons.

If you do not own either of my adventures (AND WHY NOT?!) and cannot be bothered to check out the conversions (ALSO WHY NOT?!), content-wise my current approach is to provide enough information to set the mood and feel of a place, provide some building blocks to work with, and let the players and GMs flesh it out as needed; after all, two of the principles are "draw maps, leave blanks" and "ask questions and use the answers".

It might sound lazy but Dungeon World really is about playing to find out what happens, and the more you set in stone ahead of time the harder that becomes. This is part of the reason I dislike so many Dungeons & Dragons adventures: every room, monster, NPC, and treasure is spelled out, and if you decided to wing it a missing item, encounter, or room might cause unexpected problems down the line, which means you will need further winging, and so on.

(NOTE: The same thing applies for campaign settings, which is one of the reasons I dislike Forgotten Realms.)

Anyway, the "building blocks" I currently use are the steading/dungeon name, tags, impressions, cast, places, custom moves (which I call location/dungeon moves), monsters, and treasure. Questions and stakes are sometimes included as a way to get the GM and players thinking about it, so that they can better tailor it for their campaign and story, or even to flesh out their own characters.

Here is a breakdown of each:

Steading/Dungeon Name
Pretty straightforward: this is the name of the steading or dungeon. I generally follow this with some brief history or flavor text to help describe it and set the tone.

This is mostly relevant for steadings, which explicitly are said to have tags, though I could see tagging a dungeon for general things being useful, too. I give Prosperity, Population, and Defenses their own lines, and lump much of the rest in Other unless I feel they need some explanation: Personage, Guild, and History for example.

A small list of sensory information to give the GM a foundation to work with when describing the place. As with the block of text following the name it can help set the mood and let the players know what to expect.

I mostly use this for steadings, though I can see a dungeon having a cast if there is someone noteworthy about it, like an orc leader or a wandering ghost.

I have only ever used this for steadings though, again, I could see this being used to designate special rooms or regions of a dungeon.

Location/Dungeon Moves
I start with a bulleted list of example moves to give a GM how to use the moves on page 165: use a monster, danger, or location move, reveal an unwelcome truth, show signs of an approaching threat, etc. I try to have them build up from the top to the bottom, so the list might start out by mentioning that "you find an orcish totem made from the corpse of a human", then "you stumble into an orcish trap", then "orcs attack from the cliffs above you".

Something I have considered is associating them with a type of move on the pg 165 list, so instead of just saying "you find bloody claw marks", it would read:

  • Show signs of an approaching threat: you find bloody claw marks, someone screams in the distance, a slurping sound coming from the pit just ahead, the bridge begins to crumble

Or even something like this:

  • You find bloody claw marks (show signs of an approaching threat)
  • Someone screams in the distance (show signs of an approaching threat)
  • etc

What do you think?

Once I get a list hashed out I follow up with the custom moves. I considered putting them in their own section in the back, but I think it works better having them in the section that they directly pertain to. I mean, I have not had an instance where I would need to repeat it. What would you prefer: keep them in a relevant section, repeat as necessary, reference to the original page, keep them in the back, or some combination?

I use this for both steadings and dungeons (especially if a steading has the Blight tag) to mention both monsters from the Dungeon World book and homebrew stuff that can often be found there.

So far this has been a dungeon-only section. I use it to give the GM a list of example treasures to refer to when treasure is found. I usually try to follow the types of treasure from the book, meaning that I start out with coins, then move on to useful items, gems, minor trinkets, etc.

Sometimes I will add in a questions and/or stakes section for both the GM and players. This can help personalize and flesh out a location (and possibly even the characters), as well as provide adventure hooks. Here are a few examples taken from the port city Qasir (If These Stones Could Scream):
  • "Which of you owns/owned a ship?"
  • "Who has fought the sahuagin and bears the scars to prove it?"
  • "Who owes one of the captains a favor?" (alternatively, you could switch this to "who among you does a captain owe a favor?")

As an example of all of this in play here is the current draft of Mathunhain, one of the locations from Sundered World.

Mathunhain is the largest village on Bodil's Bounty, a free island located at the edge of the Bhalen'lad Cluster, near a gulf of unclaimed Astral space that divides it from the Bahamut Span. Much of the island is dominated by jagged mountains and thick forests, though there are enough open fields to support several villages of hard-working humans and dwarves, in no small part due to their patron spirit: Bodil.

Prosperity Moderate
Population Steady
Defenses Watch
Denizens Mortals (humans, dwarves), Spirits
Personage Bodil—a bear spirit that protects the island, Sindri—a benevolent river spirit that flows nearby
Other Blight (the Oak Sisters, orcs), Trade (food, water), History (battle), Guild (druids)

  • Farmers work the fields; some of the animals look like they are made of wood or stone
  • Boisterous singing and drumming emanates from a mead hall
  • Smell of earth and herbs
  • Houses bear carvings of animals and faces, particularly bears
  • One or more eyes briefly appear in houses, rocks, and trees, look about, and vanish
  • Tiny spirits appear from the ground, stealing or begging for food
  • Some of the animals speak, and even have human-like faces

Bodil is an old, powerful bear spirit that lays claim to the island, a claim that she has upheld twice against orcish hordes. She spends more of her time slumbering within the mountains, occasionally choosing someone from a village to teach druidic magic.

Sindri is a wide, winding river spirit that is on friendly terms with Bodil. The villagers also worship him, and in return he provides them with fish and water.

Bodil's shrine is the crumbling shell of the fortress that was temporarily claimed by the orcs during their first attack, and sheltered the villagers during the second. The island's inhabitants regularly visit to leave her offerings.

The blood forest is the dominion of the Oak Sisters. They embody a more savage side of nature and anyone that enters the forest is potential prey to them.

Location Moves
  • Something moves within the trees.
  • A pack of wolfwood attacks.
  • You hear rumors that the orcs hid treasure deep within the ruined fortress.
  • A spirit appears and demands an offering.
  • A corrupted or frenzied spirit manifests and attacks
  • A fleet of orc spearships arrives.

When you leave an offering at Bodil's shrine, roll+CHA. *On a 10+, hold 3 blessing. *On a 7-9, hold 1 blessing. Spend 1 blessing to do one of the following:
  • Regain 1d4 hit points.
  • Take +1 forward to endure harm.
  • Take +1 forward to protect someone from harm.

Bodil Solitary, Large, Intelligent, Spirit
Mauling claws (d10 +2 damage) 20 HP 1 Armor
Reach, Forceful
Special Qualities: Spirit of stone and thunder
Her bones are the mountains, her breath the wind, and her roar a deafening peal of thunder. Bodil spends most of her time sleeping, and it is rare for her to leave the mountains unless a village is under attack. Instinct: To protect her worshipers from harm
  • Suddenly manifest in an explosive display of rock and thunder
  • Unleash a bone-shattering roar of thunder and lightning
  • Draw upon stone to reconstitute her form or grow in size

Wolfwood Group, Stealthy, Construct
Thorny teeth (d8 damage, 1 piercing) 10 HP 1 Armor
Special Qualities: Made of wood
The hounds of the Oak Sisters, woven from wood and vines. They are not spirits, but something made, and some say that they are given sentience from souls captured by the Oak Sisters, forced to serve as the vanguard of their hunts. Instinct: To hunt
  • Conceal itself among foliage
  • Entangle a creature in vines

  • Coins
  • Animals can provide rations
  • An idol made of stone or bone
  • A blessing from Bodil or Sindri
  • Spirit shrines contain food, water, and fetishes
  • Though crude and often poorly maintained, orcs carry weapons and wear armor
  • Rare herbs can be found in the Blood Forest
  • A stone chest filled with coins
May 21, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: The Heart of Darkness

  • Augustine (4th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (4th-level human bard)
  • Kamon (3rd-level human wizard)
  • Mouse (level 4 gnome thief)

Wolf-Mouse loped outside, and was strangely pleased that he was immediately confronted by a wolf that was much larger than himself, almost the size of a horse, with arrows jutting from its flanks.

It was a safe bet that it was the Baron's wolf-form.

The old Mouse would have darted back inside, hopped out a window, circled back around, and waited until the Baron was occupied, preferably by Augustine's hammer, before striking. Wolf-Mouse? He was still gripped by the wolf's spirit, and it was was eager to prove itself, to kill the Baron and taste his blood: it urged him forward in a heedless charge, and he found himself not even trying to resist.

Mouse was already fast, and the wolf spirit made him faster still. Unfortunately the Baron was not only much larger, stronger, and tougher, he also had more experience as a wolf. Mouse darted in, and though his teeth found their mark he was not able to leap away in time to avoid the Baron's own bite. He yelped in agony as the Baron bit down and flung him dismissively aside. Mouse's entire body throbbed with pain, and as he picked himself up saw that the Baron was stalking towards him to finish the job.

He wanted to flee, and was thankful that the wolf-spirit seemed to agree, but did not think he would be able to outrun the Baron for long. Thankfully Augustine appeared at the door, halberd in hand. He saw Mouse, bloody and struggling to stand, and strode towards the Baron menacingly, mocking him about picking on someone his own size. The Baron snarled and charged, and Augustine set himself to receive it. He intended to use the Baron's own momentum against him, but he shifted aside at the last moment, narrowly avoiding the halberd's blade and crashing into Augustine.

The impact bowled Augustine over, and as the Baron lunged for his throat he was barely able to intercept his jaws with the haft of his halberd. Augustine tried to kick the Baron off, but he was far too heavy, and after a brief struggle the Baron managed to wrench his halberd away and toss it far into the woods. Augustine looked about and considered his options: Mouse had fled, which was not surprising, and he was lying on his hammer, giving him nothing with which to defend himself with.

The Baron slowly craned his head back towards Augustine and held him in a long stare, allowing the severity, the finality of the moment to sink in.

Then he struck.

Jaya was hot on Augustine's heels as he went outside in pursuit of Mouse, but stopped as she heard Fiona gasp from behind the curtain that they had used to conceal themselves from the Baron's men. She called out to Fiona, asking if she was alright, and when she heard no response drew her rapier and cautiously walked towards the curtain. She paused in front of the it, asked again, and when she still heard nothing drew it aside with her rapier's tip.

Fiona sat there, eyes wide with terror. At first Jaya did not notice him, but as she scanned the darkness of the alcove saw the barest reflection of light on a pair of eyes. A voice whispered for her to back away, lest he be forced to slit Fiona's throat, and Jaya did. He then ordered both Jaya and Jarl to drop their weapons, which they also did. He then pushed Fiona forward, and as they both slowly emerged from the alcove Jaya was able to pick out a few more details.

He was more or less elfin in appearance, his skin was black, and he was clad in all black. Jaya demanded to know who he was, though given what Mouse had said earlier about a shadowy-assassin serving the Baron she had a good idea. He introduced himself as the Shadowyn, and explained that he had come for Jarl's antlers, the source of his power and immortality. If they handed them over he would let her live, and if not, well, they got the picture.

Jaya tried to stall him, hoping that if she could keep him talking long enough that an opening would present itself, or maybe she would learn something that she could use against him, but when it was clear he was not going to wait she asked if there was something that she could do, or give him to get him to leave.

In the blink of an eye he was standing before her. He told her to come with him to whatever shadowy realm he had come from. She inquired as to why he would abandon his task just for her, and he replied that she was far more interesting than Fiona, Jarl, or even the Baron's machinations. Jaya considered the proposition, but when she asked if she would be able to leave he seemed confused as to why anyone would ever want to.

Jaya was not sure what to say: accepting a fey's bargain and reneging on it could have...painful consequences, but if she said no he might kill her and Fiona, abduct her anyway, or some combination thereof. She tried to think of something else she could offer, but her thoughts were broken by the painful whimper of a large animal, which was followed by a howl of triumph. When she turned back to the Shadowyn, he flatly stated that her time was up and vanished.

She was not sure what he meant and feared that the Baron had managed to kill both Augustine and Mouse, but was relieved when Augustine returned: apparently Mouse had retrieved Augustine's halberd, but when he saw that he was pinned dropped it and went in for a killing blow while the Baron was occupied.

Augustine had a few scratches and his armor was covered in blood, but he assured her that most of it was the Baron's and he was fine. Mouse on the other hand was not: much of the blood covering him was his own, and he seemed to teeter of the verge of consciousness. Jaya sang a brief tune that knitted some of his wounds closed, and once she was certain he would not bleed out told them that the Shadowyn had been there, that he could teleport about, and that he was after the Jarl's antlers.

Mouse did his best to look nonchalant as he scanned every shadowed corner of the Jarl's house, but his eyes invariably settled on the corpses of the Baron's men. As he idly wondered if they had thought to bring coin with them realized that he had forgotten something very, very important: the Baron was rich. Who knew what he had been carrying with him?

He slipped outside and sure enough, the Baron had reverted to his human form. He rifled through his belt pouches, but only found a small pouch stitched from a black fabric. Even though he had no idea what was inside, he was more than a bit disappointed at its lightness. Well, maybe it would be a really light gem of some sort. He opened it and saw only darkness, and when he reached in he felt nothing. He frowned, and wondered who would want an empty bag.

"Me," said the Shadowyn.

Though Mouse was skilled at getting into places that he was not strictly permitted to be in, he was by no means perfect: he had gotten caught before, and would get caught again. As a result over the years his reflexes had been honed by experience, practice, and necessity, and as soon as he heard the voice speak he acted with great swiftness and precision.

He bolted for the house, but unfortunately the Shadowyn was far older and more experienced, and in all likelihood anticipated this response. Mouse was not sure what happened next. He did not feel a blade cut his flesh, or any kind of presence invade his mind. No, it just felt like an icy sliver had pierced his heart. He made it into Jarl's home and rushed towards the fire place, where it was warm, bright, and hopefully safe.

Jaya asked what had happened as he frantically tore his clothes off, demanding to know if they could see...something on his back: a cut, a puncture wound, a patch of blackened skin, dark veins, anything that signified an obvious and/or unusual wound. When she assured him that she could see nothing, he told them that he had gone outside to investigate the Baron's corpse, found a pouch of shadows, and that the Shadowyn had done something to him when he fled with it.

Jaya had no idea what the pouch was, so Mouse turned to Jarl for answers, and when he explained that it was the Shadowyn's heart it made sense why he was so keen to have it. Mouse suggested shining a light into it just to see what would happen, and to his surprise Jaya agreed, but as soon as she took the bag a dagger shot across the room. It nicked her hand, causing her to drop the bag, and as it fell to the ground it vanished in a puff of smoke.

A voice whispered its thanks from behind Fiona, where the Shadowyn again stood with a dagger to her throat. Before anyone could speak Mouse angrily hurled his throwing blade in arc so it that it seemed to miss the Shadowun, but struck his hand as it returned, cutting a deep gash that caused him to drop his dagger and recoil in pain, giving Fiona time to escape. He tried picking it up with his good hand, but Augustine, hammer reverberating with Jaya's song, crushed him with a single mighty blow.

His form slowly dissipated, leaving just the dagger and bag. Mouse picked up the dagger: it was light and exceptionally balanced. He gave it to Augustine, who was clearly in need of something better suited to close encounters. They then hauled the bodies out and spent the night in Jarl's home.

The next day they left for Pine's Draw. Thanks to Jarl's presence nothing in the Great Forest hindered them, which made the return trip much quicker and safer. The day before they would arrive Jarl broke off his antlers, giving all of them save for a single piece to Fiona. He then told her to return to the Baron's keep, and he would meet her there with their daughter as soon as he was able. Over the course of the day he hollowed out the piece he had kept into a flute and gave it to Jaya, instructing her that if she played it while someone was dying it would draw their soul from the Black Gate.

They stopped in Pine's Draw only to restock their food, traveled to the Trollmaze, avoided a few sleeping trolls, and found an opening that lead directly to Madra's lair. They tied off a rope and climbed down. Jaya and Augustine remained near the rope in case something went wrong, while Mouse darted off into the shadows, also in case something went wrong. Jarl approached Madra and the two spoke about a variety of topics like how had he been, where his horns had gone, and whether he would be joining the Autumn Courts in some fey war.

It was not until near the end of their conversation, when she mentioned his daughter being an omen that would bring rise to disaster in the western lands that Mouse, who had been trying to formulate a plan to rob Madra blind, started paying attention. He recalled the rakshasa mentioning something bad about to go down...maybe there was something to it, after all? He did not want to let her know that he was there, what with her appetite for fey blood and all, so decided to remain quiet.

Their conversation concluded Madra returned the Jarl's daughter, and as she went to claim Mardral's Hammer from Augustine Jaya suggested something else: the Shadowyn's heart. After all he was dead, or so it seemed, and it was probably better it in her hands than theirs. She examined the bag and then readily accepted the offer, which probably meant that they had just done something bad.

Eh, hindsight and all that.

Behind the Scenes
Melissa went with a multiclass move and picked up an owl companion. I did not really mention it because she was noodling on something to take while we were leaving the Great Forest, and did not make a decision until we were already in Pine's Draw. When Dan asked her how she found the owl, she figured it would make the most sense if it came to her after she got the flute, but before they actually left the forest.

Mouse also got some more stuff...too bad it is stuff that I not only cannot sell, but it likely going to screw me over at some point: a point of a kind of hold that Dan called "call of the wild", as well as a "shard of fear in his heart". Oh well, I like taking risks and it allowed us to keep the hammer for Augustine.

Dan asked me to write up a compendium class around the belt, which I will post once I have something better fleshed out: I have been super busy with a pair of contract jobs that I started, the revamp of If These Stones Could Scream, reviewing someone else's adventure, and finalizing the Setting and Location chapters for A Sundered World.

Dan also gave me the okay to wrap up the content for this campaign as a pdf, so that is something else to add to the roster. While you wait, here is a simple magic item:

Jarl's Hornflute 0 weight
When you play a sorrowful dirge using this flute within a few minutes of someone failing their last breath, they can roll again.
May 18, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Tune Out Attunement

I thought one of the selling points for 5th Edition was that magic items were not going to be an assumed part of the game, and that it would be entirely up to the Dungeon Master as to what, when, and where they are found. If that is still the case, then why does the Dungeon Master need another fictionally bankrupt "safeguard"?

At least, that is just one of the "big benefits" that Mike "the Spin-Man" Mearls tries to justify for magic item attunement, ie the poor man and/or lazy designer's artifact concordance. The other is...well, he says that it is also a big benefit "for DMs". Not sure how, but there ya go.

As a quick refresher—according to the latest public playtest packet—magic item attunement involves you spending 10 minutes dicking around with a magic item, after which you get to squeeze some more numbers out of it (or numbers at all in the case of the defender). According to the article, attuning to some items might allow it to try and compel you to do something, or maybe just fuck you over in certain circumstances.

From a narrative standpoint the rationalization is that the magic item's magic mingles with your life essence, and because it is somehow straining I guess you can only attune to three items at a time. Why three? No idea: your height, weight, gender, age, sexuality, shoe size, race, sub-race, medical history, allergies, stats, skills, or class have no impact on this number. Being attuned also causes no penalties at all: you do not have trouble eating, sleeping, pooping, you do not get tired faster, experience hallucinations, strange cravings, loss of appetite, or nausea, you do not see a reduced attunement effect from other stuff, it does not even interfere with other magic or magic items.

I would be surprised, but mechanics translating into the game's narrative has never exactly been a strong suit for Dungeons & Dragons (see spellcasting in general, various mastery feats, hit points, and advantage/disadvantage).

To put it bluntly the attunement cap makes no sense, and not just because they pulled a number out of their asses. There should be some way to determine your attunement cap and/or it should be affected by something else (race, alignment, feats, skills, etc), and if it strains you then it should have an impact. Legacy weapons from Weapons of Legacy had more thought put into them and not only even kind of fit the whole "soul-straining" bill, but also helped solve the problem of item-upgrading; given that it was a 3rd Edition book I am surprised they did not just crib that and call it a day.

What I would do is give each attunement property/power a point or slot cost. Your race and alignment could affect this cost (a holy weapon could cost less for a Good character, while a bow might cost less for an elf). You could also create feats that give you more (in addition to something else, since magic items are not assumed), and if classes were actually flexible I would have also gone that route, too. If you want to go above the limit, you could, but would be penalized in some way (not sure how: maybe reduced hit points, saving throw penalties, attacks, etc).

This would not only provide more balance (better properties/powers cost more), but would also support the whole soul-stress narrative: some weapons demand more of you, and if you push yourself too hard then you become mechanically weaker. Hell, this could even force the character to make a choice: maybe they really need a weapon's power, but are they willing to pay the cost? Yeah, it is more granular, but it is more interesting and makes more sense than the lazy, uninspiring "everyone gets three" model they are going with.

Of course they could have just stuck with 4th Edition's artifact concordance, as it has the benefits of both making sense and working better.

In 4th Edition all artifacts are sentient to some degree. When you do stuff they want you to do, you gain concordance, and when you do something they do not want you to do, you lose it. When you gain enough points the artifact grants you more powers, but if it gets too low it not only loses powers, but can sometimes penalize you. Eventually the artifact moves on, and how and when it does so depends on how well you satisfied it: if you did a good job it might leave you with a lesser, albeit still magical item in its stead, but if you do a bad job then it might leave you when you need it most.

So right away there is no bullshit limitation that is not supported in the game's narraritive in any way. In addition the player is given an incentive (similar to the one that was missing from last week's article on character personality): sometimes these goals are what the player wants to do anyway, which is fine, but sometimes they do not line up exactly, or even directly contradict what you want to do, which is even better because it forces the player to make, yet again, a meaningful choice.

On a somewhat more positive note I actually appreciate that they still allow you to identify what a magic item does during a short rest, especially after so many decades of tradition that for some reason either forced you to spend an hour and 100 gp to figure out what a single item does (yes, even potions), or run down a checklist of things to try in the hopes that the Dungeon Master divulges anything useful about it.

Not that they fully excised identify from the equation: if the item has attunement properties/powers, then simply experimenting with the item for some reason only reveals the normal stuff and that the item can be attuned, not what attuning does, so if the item has some sort of drawback built into its attunement then you are fucked. The kicker is that that is not even the part that bugs me: I am all for items having a curse or some sort of downside to handling them, what gets me is that it is so easy to figure out what it is, risk free.

Mikey McSpinmeister opens this section with the claim that "part of D&D's sense of wonder comes from the mystery that surrounds magic items", but then goes on to tell you how a 1st-level spell infallibly wipes away any questions, concerns, or doubts. A 1st-level spell, that always works, no matter what the item is. They even removed the 100 gp pearl (god I hate how gems have arbitrary gp values attached to them), so now the only cost is an hour of your time.

"You find an inky black sword. It deals +1 damage against living things and you can attune to it, but you will not know what additional powers it confers unt—."

"I cast identify on it."

"Okay, an hour later you discover [insert every single thing that the item does]."

Wow, so much wonder and mystery. I mean it is not like we the players have to sit there for an hour, and if for some reason there is an in-game time crunch? Eh, I can wait, especially since I can still use the item anyway. Big fucking deal.

I have mentioned before how I would handle magic item identification. Rather than look up the blog post I will just repeat myself, partially because it is incredibly simple, partially because I do not want to take the time to try and dig it up:
  • Properties/powers that can be automatically figured out during a short rest.
  • Properties/powers that can be automatically figured out during a long rest.
  • Properties/powers that require an Arcana/History check.
  • Properties/powers that require divination.

The Arcana check would receive a bonus if you use it during a long rest, representing that you have extra time to carefully examine the item, consult books, etc to figure it out. Divination could require a spell of sufficient power (meaning that an extremely basic spell that any wizard can learn before they finish wizard school), but it might also mean that someone/something specific has to tell you (an oracle, sphinx, cleric devoted to a god of knowledge/magic, a devil,e etc).

This could allow for layered discovery, which would actually convey the sense of mystery. They can figure out the obvious properties/powers, characters with an understanding of magic items have a better chance of learning more, and magic can help but is not infallible, meaning that the characters have no guaranteed method of knowing every single thing about an item with the simple use of a simple spell that frankly has no cost. Combine this with a system where items can "level up", and you have a recipe that by the rules keeps the players guessing.
May 13, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: A Gnome in Wolf's Clothing

  • Augustine (3rd-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (3rd-level human bard)
  • Mouse (3rd-level gnome thief)
  • Visete (3rd-level human wizard)

As the night progressed Mouse found himself talking with the shadowy figure he had swapped poisons with a few hours ago. Despite being shadowy and a vendor of questionable items, he had a pleasant personality and was strangely very open about a variety of topics, which ranged from poisons, to just how delicious babies were, to the fact that he was a rakshasa.

It is important to note that Mouse had no idea what a rakshasa was. If he did then he might have been afraid, or maybe at least concerned, but if nothing else the conversation flow would have made more sense: after all they do love them some babies. Instead he asked what a rakshasa was.

The Rakshasa-To-Be-Named replied that it allowed him to, among other things, rotate his hands completely around. It is also important to note that Mouse had seen a lot of strange things in the past few days, including a massive talking spider-fey-creature with a human-face-mask that also enjoyed babies (maybe there was something to this whole baby thing), and he was also quite drunk, so when the rakshasa demonstrated his...talent Mouse not only took it in stride, but asked if he could show him how to do it: who knew when a spinning hand could be useful?

Rak laughed and asked Mouse if he was any good at handling knives, specifically throwing them. Mouse proudly boasted that when people were paying attention to him, keeping his distance was certainly preferable to getting up close and personal. Rak nodded in approval and produced a strange implement that looked less like a knife, more like a sharpened hook-cross, and asked Mouse if he was up for a friendly wager: his weapon against a hundred coins.

They went outside and found a tree. The rules were simple: whoever could hit the tree more accurately won. Mouse went first, planting his dagger squarely in a tree behind the one that they had agreed upon, and cursed under his breath, hoping that Rak was as many mugs deep into the dwarven ale as he was. Rak then threw his, and Mouse watched with a mixture of chagrin and amazement as it spun, curving around behind the intended target, dislodged his knife, and returned to the his hand.

Sure, it was fancy, but technically he did fail to hit any trees at all. Mouse considered trying to point that out, but it was clear that the throw was deliberate, and the last thing he needed was another enemy, especially one that knew how to use poisons and could throw like that. Besides, the rest of the gang was not aware of exactly how much cash they had on tap, which was enough that Mouse could easily slip him a hundred without anyone being the wiser for it.

To his surprise when he went to pay up Rak laughed gruffly, and told Mouse that he could have the weapon anyway. As Mouse tried to consider what angle he could possibly be playing, Rak leaned close and whispered that bad times were coming, he was heading east across the mountains, and that he should come with. Mouse was at a loss for words, and at his clearly puzzled expression Rak elaborated that Baron Hargrave had "gained" the employ of a certain shadowy assassin through the use of goldenroot poison, and that it would behoove him to get out of the region until everything settled down.

The fey are not like mortals. They do not die of old age, but at a certain point are...consumed by shadows. Thus, they tend to fear beings made of shadow, or anyone that can shape and wield them. If the Baron had gained the "loyalty" of such a creature, then it meant Jarl, or for that matter any fey in the region, was in a lot of danger. Mouse managed to compose a smile, thank Rak for the offer, and politely decline. He told him that he still had a job to do and friends that were counting on him. Rak again nodded, and said that if he should change his mind to make his way across the mountains to a place called Qasir. Mouse again thanked him, and headed back inside the tavern.

Augustine was in the stables, thoroughly drunk, with Whitestar. So, business as usual. He had not yet passed out—though not for a lack of trying—and was wracking his brain trying to remember just when or how he had gotten there, but a strange splashing noise was making it impossible to concentrate. Eventually he realized that it was Whitestar, who had been lapping at his mug. Augustine peered into it, saw that it was mostly drained, and surrendered what was left to the horse.

As Whitestar finished it off he wondered what a horse would act like when drunk. He expected that it would not be much different from a person, which is one reason why it surprised him when Whitestar's form melted away, revealing a man, thankfully fully clothed. He stared in shock, looking back and forth between the mug and his former horse: had Mouse put something in his ale, or was he hallucinating just one of the side-effects of dwarven booze? After all, he had heard that it was sometimes made from mushrooms. It was not until the man talked, addressing him by name, that he realized that he knew this person: a wizard of no small skill named Visete.

Then he passed out.

The next day, with everyone more or less sober, Visete was able to formally introduce himself. He was a friend of Augustine's who had been transformed into a horse by Hargrave after discovering that he had acquired a set of spirit-bound wolf-skin belts that allowed the wearer to transform into a wolf. He planned on using them to lead a team of his most skilled soldiers into the Great Forest, sniff out the location of Jarl, and kill him. This would leave no one in the region to oppose Hargrave, which was decidedly bad, so they had to find Jarl first.

Thankfully Fiona knew her way through the forest and, even better, the exact location of Jarl's home. It was an advantage, but not much, so they quickly packed their wagon, bought a new horse, and set out. Unfortunately the forest was less than an ideal environment for the wagon, so they had to abandon it shortly after entering.

They followed Fiona's lead, who was able to deftly tread through foliage despite most of the sun being blocked out by the towering trees. The trek went smoothly until Mouse glanced up and somehow spotted a well-camouflaged elf aiming intently for Augustine. He shouted a warning before darting behind a tree, giving Augustine enough time to step aside and narrowly avoid the shot. Augustine responded by heaving Mardral's hammer at the tree: the impact shook it violently, causing the elf to fall to the ground, but it gracefully rolled with the fall and came up standing before Augustine, sword drawn.

As Augustine tried to wrench the hammer free, the elf seized the opportunity and charged, but before he could strike the point of a blade erupted from his chest. The blade retreated, and by the time the elf crumpled to the ground whoever had delivered the strike had vanished, which probably meant that it was Mouse.

Jaya pulled Fiona behind a tree, scanning the boughs for any more snipers. There were several more, positioned as such to surround them in a wide ring: apparently they had anticipated where they were traveling.

Visete muttered words of power, channeling his will into a sphere of fire that he clutched in his hand. Once he felt that he could contain it no longer, he hurled it at a pair of trees where some of the elves were closely perched, but a powerful gust of wind blew it off course. It detonated some distance away, lighting a copse and some underbrush on fire. Another elf, dressed in white robes, floated into view, her robes billowing as if from a strong breeze.

Augustine moved to strike another tree: climbing them would take too long, so his only option was to try dislodging them, disrupt their aim, or at least to draw their attention while Mouse and Visete picked them off. A pair of elves realized what he was trying to do, but as they aimed for him Jaya whistled sharply, causing one of them to grunt painfully and accidentally shoot the floating elf. Despite the wound she managed a graceful landing on a thick branch, and with a wide sweep of her good arm she conjured a gust of wind that drew in smoke from the nearby burning trees.

While Augustine blindly swung about hoping to hit a tree, or preferably an elf, Visete carefully aimed where he remembered the robed elf standing and fired off a few bolts of force. Surprisingly he heard her gasp in pain. Nothing else happened, and by the time the smoke cleared the elves were nowhere to be seen. They scanned the trees for a few minutes, but when they neither saw anything or were skewered by arrows cautiously continued walking, and made it to Jarl's home a few hours later without further incident.

It was located in a deep bowl. Stone walls were erected between the thick roots of a mighty tree. There were several openings in the walls of various sizes: a door and some windows. They could see lights inside and smoke was issuing from a hole somewhere: it looked like Jarl was still home. He was tall, much taller than Augustine, with dark skin and broad shoulders. His hair was long and dark, and a pair of massive antlers grew from his head. Though he wore no shirt a thick, tangled beard covered most of his chest, and he was carrying a bow that was as tall as he was, but judging by his physique it looked like it would be an easy feat for him to draw it.

Visete explained everything: the baron, belts, and the Baron's plan. Fiona followed up with the fact that their daughter Brigette was in the clutches of a spider-fey creature, that also had a penchant for fey blood and dwelled beyond the borders of the Great Forest. All things considered he took the news surprisingly well, and agreed to come with them to see Madra if they would stand by him against the Baron and his men: they were the primary threat to his forest, so if they could defeat him then there would be less risk if he were to leave.

They decided to wait for the Baron to arrive and hole up in Jarl's home. There were no doors or shutters, so they stacked up some antlers beneath the windows, and then everyone but Jarl hid throughout the house. They hoped that when the Baron and his men arrived they would be too focused on Jarl to notice any other scents, giving everyone else a chance to take them by surprise.

The first encounter was relatively uneventful: a single wolf cautiously crept through the front door, sniffing about until an arrow from Jarl's bow pinned it to a wall, killing it instantly. From his hiding place Mouse watched it revert to the form of a well-armored human, wearing a fur belt.

The next attack was more heedless: a pair of wolves each burst through the front and back door, loping towards Jarl. As they cornered him in the den Visete lobbed a sphere of fire. It enveloped all of them, which was good, but it drew their collective attention, which was bad since he was woefully ineffective in actual combat. Fur singed and smoking they descended upon him, knocking him to the ground and wildly tear at him. So occupied it was easy for Mouse to sneak up and drive his sword through the back of one's skull, and as it reverted to its true form he could not help but notice the belt.

Augustine arrived soon after, armor clanging loudly as he thundered through the winding halls. The hammer would be too unwieldy in such close quarters so he had opted for his halberd, the length of which had the added benefit of allowing him to keep the wolves at bay. Visete crawled away from the wolves, hoping to get some distance, maybe find his ear that hard been torn off, and that Jaya or Augustine could reattach it. Jaya played a high-pitched note on her flute, weaving it around Mouse's sword: she expected Augustine to occupy the wolves while Mouse darted in, as they had done with the troglodytes a few days ago.

Instead, Mouse put the belt on, transforming into a normal-sized wolf.

Unsure what Mouse would do next, Augustine went on the offensive, hacking one of the wolves down, while Visete angrily punched a hole through another's skull with a word and a violent gesture. Wolf-Mouse leaped past Augustine in a blur of motion, colliding with the last wolf. They fought in a frenzy of teeth and fur, biting and clawing at each other, but in the end Mouse managed to overtake his opponent and savagely tear his throat out. With his senses heightened Mouse realized that he could smell the Baron close by, and overtaken with bloodlust he bolted out the door.

Curious, Visete picked up one of the belts, assuming that he would need to wear it for it to have any effect on him. However as he examined it, he could hear the spirit within whispering into his mind, urging him to don it, to give chase, to feel the thrill of the hunt, the kill, and the exhilarating taste of blood.

He did.

Behind the Scenes
Of course I put on the belt. How could I not? I mean, to be fair it worked out up until the point where Mouse ran off after the Baron, but I am sure he will be juuust fine. I wonder if this will open up a compendium class?

I also totally recycled the name Qasir from If These Stones Could Scream: hopefully if/when we go there, there will not be bleeding, tortured statues trying to rip us apart.
May 11, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Recognition, Vindication, Liebsteration, Part 1

Last week Points of Light (that's me!) got nominated for a Liebster Award by Dan and Sally's Digital Domain. From what I can gather, the Liebster Award is a way to "throw a little recognition around": you are supposed to participate by posting ten things about yourself, answer ten questions from the blog that nominated you, and then nominate ten more blogs, giving them ten questions of your own to answer.

This post tackles the first half: I do not even regularly read ten blogs, and I am not sure how many in my blogroll are even still active. In other words at some point I will have to hunt some down to fill in the gaps, and then badger them about it.

10 Things About Me
I could not any find requirements about this part, so I assume they can be any ten facts I want, which means some of them are going to be opinions about stuff that I factually believe. Scathing opinions. I would say skip to number 4 if you want to avoid them, but I think that is just going to make people read the whole thing all the more.

1. Opening strong, I think that 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a very lazy, uninspired game with nonsense legacy mechanics intended to appeal to traditionalists that fear progress. It is disappointing that after all the strides 4th Edition made in the game's design and tone, that virtually everything had to be jettisoned because, like Paizo, WotC wants to play it safe/get back people that already have the kind of game they are trying to peddle. Kind of like Nintendo and their Mario, Metroid, and Zelda re-treads.

Shocker, I know.

2. I also think Frozen was a terrible movie. I have no idea how it maintains even an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Like, how did Elsa get her ice-powers? Why did they have to change her sister's memories? Why could they not tell her that she has ice-powers (it apparently was fine when they grew up)? Why would you lock your daughter-to-be-queen away and prevent social interaction (and the other one, too)? Why would you tell her to just subdue her emotions instead of learning to deal with them? I mean, it was just one honest mistake; it is not like she got angry and zapped her sister. Why did Elsa run away and build an ice castle (which I guess is a thing she can do despite not using her powers for years)? What was her long-term plan? To just, I dunno, hang out there and let everyone freeze?

3. I think the whole Tucker's Kobolds story is seriously overrated. Maybe there is something I am missing, but any DM can make any monster deadly if they stack the odds in its favor enough. If the players are more afraid of kobolds than "huge flaming demons" you are doing something very, very wrong. I would like to point out that if you want an edition of D&D that made kobolds into competent, even dangerous opponents, 4th Edition does it without having to give them a heap of advantages.

4. Shifting gears to something a bit more positive, I got into gaming with Dungeons & Dragons back when I was ten, I think. I started with whatever version had Zanzer Tem's dungeon, which was fucking ridiculous and rail-roady. I remember that no matter what you would get arrested trying to deliver a basilisk with a bag over its head (possibly after a child reveals it and gets petrified), and somehow wind up in Zanzer Tem's dungeon (who I think was the guy you were supposed to deliver it to). When I was in junior high we moved, and I made some friends there that had 2nd Edition, which I played for a few years before getting into Rifts until 3rd Edition came out.

"Campaigns" rarely lasted for more than a session or two, most games involved us either milling about trying to find something interesting to do, or saw the DM/GM brow-beat us with a ridiculously powerful NPC (sometimes while bemoaning that our 1st-level characters were "too powerful"). Nowadays things are much better: campaigns last for more than a few sessions and there is often a plot. Looking back, I am not sure why I kept bothering with RPGs, but I am glad I did.

5. If I could take any RPG back in time to when I was a kid, or even a teenager when I had a lot more time to play, I would go with 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (especially if money was no object), since I would actually need all that time to get through a 1-30 campaign "by the book".

Otherwise I could see FATE, especially if money was an object, which it was back then because we were pretty poor. Dungeon World would be second since we would probably plow through all the classes and levels pretty quickly, though it would be interesting to see what kind of crazy-ass classes we would concoct in our game design ignorance/innocence.

6. I once stayed up until 4 AM every day of summer vacation one year painting Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 armies (for myself and my friends) while watching back to back episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Cheers, and Star Trek: Voyager. Not because I was particularly interested in Star Trek or Cheers, but because it was the only thing on (oh, the days before internet was a major thing). I must have gone through some 6,000 points of units, and who knows how many paints and brushes.

7. I really dig Lovecraftian horror. I tend to put it in every game I run, and have been writing up both a bronze-age and "wild west" style campaign setting with Lovecraftian elements.

8. My last name is pronounced "Gwill".

9. I have lived all up and down the west coast, most of it when I was really young so the only place I really remember nowadays is Oregon. I love the rain, and people who use umbrellas confuse me.

10. I write every single day, which is a good thing for some, not so much for others.

No One Expects The Dan-And-Sally-Quisition
Now for the Dan's questions.

1. What is your blog about, and why did you start it?
This blog originally started as a way to talk about 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, in particular as a place where I could consolidate my play experiences and responses to criticisms that were being directed at it. It gradually grew to include homebrew content, adventure and book reviews, and information from upcoming releases.

Awhile ago it expanded to include pretty much anything about any game I am playing at the moment, including my own third-party products.

2. Did you serve in the military? Why or why not?
I did not, because I have not had any real cause to, I guess. Nothing about it appeals to me, and almost everyone I knew that went came back with a lot of bad experiences, so I am not in any real hurry.

3. Are you an athlete? What's your favorite sport?
I am not. I am not a sports fan at all; I do not even like watching them.

4. Name three authors that other people should spend more time reading.
I think any authors I name are authors that people are already familiar with, but here goes: Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files and Codex Alera), Gregory Keyes (The Waterborn, The Black God, and The Hounds of Ash), and Robert Holdstock (Lavondyss, Mythago Wood, The Hallowing, and more).

5. If you had to rename your blog, what would you call it?
I am not sure. I might just shift it to Awful Good Games, but definitely something less intrinsically 4th Edition-y.

6. When you read comics, do you pay more attention to the writing or the art?
The writing, definitely. A comic can have some pretty abysmal art, but if the writing is good enough I will keep reading. I mean there is a lot from, say, The Sandman that I thought was pretty badly drawn (up until the last collection, from what I recall), but the plot and characters were compelling enough that I managed to slog through.

It also depends on character design: I think that a lot of the superhero stuff is well drawn in a kind of technical sense, I guess, but the designs are almost always terrible, so I just cannot get into it.

7. Marvel has had a string of hit movies, but DC has fallen behind. Besides Superman, Batman, and/or Wonder Woman, what DC superhero would you like to see in a movie?
I am also not a big Marvel or DC fan: most of my knowledge comes from the movies. I think it could maybe possibly be interesting if they could crank out a good Superman movie.

8. The game Dungeons & Dragons uses a set statistical block to describe Player Character abilities on a scale of 3-18: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Rate yourself, 3-18, in each stat. Also, if you were a D&D character would you be a fighter, rogue, wizard, or cleric?
Heh, I remember doing this when I was a kid. If we are not relying on point buy, my best guess is something like this: STR 10, CON 14, DEX 11, INT 14, WIS 13, CHA 12. I am sure others will disagree in various directions, but there ya go.

As for class, I guess I would gravitate towards a wizard. If we are talking 3rd Edition, definitely a wizard since I could eventually dominate the game, but if we go with 4th Edition I could also see a bard since I like telling stories and they are not made of suck. It would be nice if I could get an elite array to go with. :-P

9. The secret of your success is...?
Success, eh? I write every day, though I do not always post, and it is not always blog-related. I have about a thousand draft articles that I just never got around to finishing, several campaign settings, a bunch of adventures, and cliffnotes for other bits of content on Google Drive. I also participate in social communities and frequently lurk in several forums to see what others think about subjects that I can relate with.

10. If you're still in school, then what do you want to be when you grow up? If you're grown up and working, what are you doing now? How does that compare to what you thought you'd be doing back when you were a kid?
As a kid I started out wanting to be an astronaut because I liked space, then it turned to art, then computers, then web design. Nowadays I tend to float between the latter two (and am looking for a job in the Beaverton area if anyone has something!), though I am slowly turning my writing into something I actually get paid for.

And that is it for part 1. Next time I will nominate ten blogs and grill them with my own questions.
May 09, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: The Ghoul Playbook and Bundle of the Dead

The ghoul playbook is up for sale on Drivethrurpg.

This one was more straightforward than the skeleton and mummy (the former of which required some...creative license to make it a viable playbook). This was one reason why we did not do any playtest sessions. The other was that the feedback was pretty positive from the get-go, and we are pretty busy with other stuff (like Sundered World and an Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for Dungeon World article).

It is largely based on the ghoul from Arabic mythology, with a dash of Dungeons & Dragons and Left 4 Dead (namely the hunter and boomer special infected): you can assume the appearance of someone that you kill, transform into a scavenging animal, deal bonus damage to living creatures (lots of bonus damage), slink away into the darkness, notice things hiding, and more. All told there are twenty-three advanced moves to choose from.

It's main shtick are the Hunger and Frenzy mechanics. The longer you go without eating, the more Hunger you can get. When you get too much you go on a hunting/killing spree. When you are trying to chow down on something and miss, you gain Frenzy, which is a double-edged sword: you deal extra damage while you have it, but if you have some when the dust settles it gets moved over to Hunger.

So, be careful with that.

The only way to reduce Hunger is to gorge yourself on the corpses of the dead. It is not a guarantee since you roll+Corpses consumed each time, but the more you have on hand the better your odds of temporarily sating your hunger.

Another related announcement is that since we have three undead-themed playbooks up, we are also offering a Bundle of the Dead, which all told saves you $2.25. That is like, a couple things at a fast food restaurant!

Legends & Lore: Getting With The Times

Before I get into the whole Mike wanting to convince us that 5th Edition has any uniquely positive traits thing, I want to address his statement that "plenty of games call themselves RPGs that don't require or even particularly encourage roleplaying". I understand why Mike might feel this way, because what he—and I am sure many, many others—narrowly interprets as roleplaying is in fact not the universal definition.

With that out of the way Dungeons & Dragons has puttered along for decades without any hard rules forcing—or even really encouraging—his particular brand of social roleplaying, and I do not even think it has exactly suffered from it. But that is all about to change, because 5th Edition will feature...some social role-playing guidelines with no mechanical impact?

The meat of the article showcases examples from one of the backgrounds, which "probably won't exactly match what you see in the final game" (because I guess they are still tweaking them?), and are intended to "highlight the unique traits that make D&D different from other types of games".

First off, being able to add a personality to a character, establish goals, etc is not anything new for Dungeons & Dragons. At the absolute latest it is in 4th Edition's Player's Handbook (pages 23-24, with a sidebar on alignment versus personality on page 19), but I am guessing it is somewhere in 3rd Edition, and I assume that the topic has been addressed in Dragon magazine on more than a few occasions. The only difference with this is that it looks like they are going to devote a more substantial chunk of page count to it, which is kind of step forward.

Second, this does absolutely nothing to "highlight unique traits". If you have never read or played FATE, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World, and who knows how many other games out there, then yeah, it might seem pretty unique. Actually, those games also provide a mechanical incentive for playing your character as established—tagging/compelling aspects, XP for alignment/bond resolution, etc—so I guess the lack of that might make Dungeons & Dragons unique, just not in a good way.

On that note, I also think that some of the traits are too extreme. Like, "I always try to help those in need, no matter the cost" (which seems to clash with Mike's statement that these will "have only as much effect on how you play your character as you want them to"), or "I quote (or misquote) sacred texts or proverbs in almost every situation" (which sounds like it could get annoying). This is where an incentive could come into play: you do not require the players to do something, but give them a reward when they do.

For example in Dungeon World you would not "always have to help those in need", but if you did you would gain 1 XP, while in FATE if you have an aspect of Helping Those in Need, you could spend a Fate point to either gain a bonus on a skill roll or re-roll all of the dice, as long as the check was applicable to the situation.

Again, to be fair, I still think this is a step forward, albeit a small one. Assuming there is a section on writing your own stuff (like how FATE and Dungeon World tells you how to write good aspects and bonds respectively), I think it would also benefit from being required, having an incentive, and less "always/must" examples.

Super Dungeon Explore: Meet the Heroes, Part 1

Last time I talked about Super Dungeon Explore, I went over some brief tactics about how to better crush the heroes. This time I want to actually talk about the heroes. Well, some of them: right now there are 15 to choose from (16 if you can get your hands on Candy & Cola), with four more appearing in The Forgotten King, like ten more that will be available in the Blacksmith Shop or other warbands, and I hear that they are going to make the Relic Knight crossovers available once all those guys get their Kickstarter packages.

So, yeah, I am going to start simple with the "core" set of heroes: later articles will touch on the others.

Before I get started I want to point out how potions work, since I mention them quite a bit and there can be some confusion surrounding them. Each hero has a potion ability, and while more recent ones can require actions to use, in the standard box you can use them for free at almost any time: you just cannot use one to undo an effect, or to gain a potion after rolling one (heroes have potion caps, so if everyone is at their potion cap and one comes up, too bad). Otherwise you can use them even when it is not your turn, on any hero no matter where they are.

Otherwise the rest of this article is going to assume that you are familiar with the game. If not you can read up on the most recent version of the rules, or have someone explain the rules and walk you through a game.

NOTE: If you do not feel like reading the whole thing, my primary choices for any game are (in alphabetical order): Claw Tribe Barbarian, Ember Mage, Hearthsworn Fighter, and Royal Paladin. In a three-player game you could also add in Deeproot Druid and Glimmerdusk Ranger, as well as the Hexcast Sorceress and Riftling Rogue if you are feeling a bit daring, but I would save them for 4-5 man party.

Claw Tribe Barbarian
She is one of the best heroes in the starting box, and my go-to hero when I am not feeling like thinking too much, or I just lost and "really want to win this time, dammit". Her offensive power and durability are just fucking insane: attack starts at 2R, and when she activates she both heals a wound and can make a free attack so long as you do not use Rage (or rather, you can use Rage if you do not make the free attack).

What is Rage, you ask? Rage uses up all three of her action points, but lets her make an attack every time she moves. Since by default her speed is 6 this means that she can make up to six attacks in a turn. The only drawback is that her Armor is reduced by 1B until she activates again. Of course that might not be an issue since those six attacks can be used to hew through a sizable group of monsters, including a mini-boss or even boss.

Oh, she also has a potion that gives whoever uses it +1B Armor and Backlash, which causes whoever attacks you to take a wound if you make your defense roll. Since her attack dice start out all reds, there is a decent chance of her rolling potions (especially if you use Rage).

My Cheap Strategies
  • If someone is playing with the Riftling Rogue have her use Dimensional Draught to teleport you over to a spawn point, use Rage, and butcher it and probably whatever monsters are nearby. You can also get similar results using the Hexcast Sorceress's potion and flying over any hazards/denizens in the way.
  • Do not be afraid to use your potion constantly. In fact, you might want to encourage others to use theirs, too. I tend to drink it before making any attacks since I will probably just get it back, and if I feel lucky will even drop it on other allies to make them harder to hurt (as well as hurt monsters if they make the Armor roll).

Deeproot Druid
This guy reminds me of the druid from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (which is awesome), in that you can freely switch between two "modes" of play. Unfortunately my experience has been met with mixed success.

In druid form he can do okay in melee, but his main strengths are that all of his attacks add Poison and Stranglethorn, a ranged area-effect that also adds Slow. I find it has a tendency to not work at the start of the game despite having decent odds of rolling two stars (which is generally what is needed to hurt most things), but if you can get any Will boosts (Princess Ruby's Maiden's Token, the Hexcast Sorceress's potion, or loot/relic drops) then it is great for clearing out groups of minions, and greatly hindering tougher melee-oriented monsters.

As Angry Bear he is both stronger in melee, tougher in general, and is immune to Knockdown (which a lot of the dragons and Rex have). Really the only downside is that he no longer lumps on Poison, though in addition to all the Red dice he gets to throw around he also has a pair of special attacks that either let him add Knockdown, or both Immobile and Weak.

My Cheap Strategies
  • If you can get Angry Bear some Attack bonuses, give a mini-boss or boss a Bear Hug, then let other heroes finish it off with ranged attacks, or keep slapping it with Angry Bear since it will probably never hurt you thanks to Weak.
  • If you can get some Armor-boosting loot or relics (which can give you fabled Green dice), you can pretty much run around in druid form with Backlash always on. Melissa did this in one game and basically cleared the board solo as my monsters suicided against her.
  • If you are playing with the Hexcast Sorceress, down her potion (preferably before even rolling initiative): this will give you an added boost for an opening Stranglethorn.

Ember Mage
Another very strong hero. She not only has a great Will stat and range, adds Fire to everything she hits, but has some pretty flexible attacks: going up against something with a lot of Armor? She can burn two action points to use Magma Strike, which lumps on three more Blue dice to the attack (and since it applies until she activates again, also helps out with the Initiative roll). If she gets surrounded Fire Wave lets her hit everything next to her at the cost of two points: as long as there are three or more denizens in range it is economically viable.

She also comes with two different potions, and can pack up to two. Fire Water gives her allies a chance to fan the flames by adding +1B Attack and Fire to their attacks: toss that on the Claw Tribe Barbarian and watch her leave nothing but burned corpses and razed spawning points in her wake. The other is an area-effect Heal 1. Granted it is not much, but it affects a really big area, making it very likely that you will catch multiple heroes with it.

My Not So Cheap Strategies
There is really nothing cheap about Ember Mage, unless you count lighting a monster on fire and watching it just gradually burn to death. She is just really straight forward: hang back and start blasting. If you get surrounded use Fire Wave, and if you really need to make an attack count, use Magma Strike. Help your friends out by having them knock back some Fire Water: your main attacks use Red dice, which means more potions, and you can carry two at a time.

Glimmerdusk Ranger
I have not had much experience with this one, nor seen many people pick her. Like the Ember Mage she has good range and solid attack dice, I am not saying she is a bad hero, but there is not much about her that really grabs me. She has a 2 action point area-attack, can remove all status effects with one action point, and her potion gives you a +1B boost to Dexterity and Stealth.

Again, nothing particularly bad, but if I wanted to "go bow" I would probably play the Celestial Herald.

Hearthsworn Fighter
The "tanky" melee character out of the bunch, he is similar to the Claw Tribe Barbarian but requires a bit of prep work to get the most out of his offensive capabilities.

Cleave lets you hit up to three monsters at a time at the cost of one action point. If they are not set up ahead of time, you can use Dwarven Curse to group them together and really make the most out of it (which can also be helpful to other heroes with area-effect attacks). He is also immune to knockdown and poison, the former of which crops up a lot with the dragons out of the starter set, and the latter I have only seen on the Crypt Spider from Von Drakk's Manor.

His potion is so-so: whoever drinks it takes a hit for someone. It can be nice to save someone's butt, but we have never used it much.

My Strategies
Cleave as often as you can, setting them up with Dwarven Curse if you must. Even if you fail the first time, it might ultimately benefit you more to try again, especially if A) they have already activated, and B) someone with an area-effect attack can go next.

Hexcast Sorceress
This is a kind of strange caster type because her Will dice start a bit under par, but everything she does kicks it up a notch by adding +1 Blue and some kind of status effect, two of which are great for crippling mini-boss and bosses alike. The downside is that they are all special attacks, which can be locked out by Pacify, so you might want to avoid her in Delve runs against dragons (or if the Consul if using Succubus Vandella).

Her potion adds fly, which I have found to be pretty situational, but is also adds +1B Will, which can be really handy, especially if someone else is playing a caster like the Deeproot Druid or Ember Mage: drop it on them before you even roll initiative to get a head start in clearing the tile.

Riftling Rogue
I tend to shun her outside of larger games (3+ heroes, though I recommend a four-hero game), because she seems to function best as a supporting character:
  • Despite having Dodge she can be pretty fragile, especially if she gets hit with Knockdown (which a lot of the dragons and Rex can do), Immobile, Slow (which the Crypt Spider can do automatically), or gets surrounded by a lot of denizens with Mob (which all the kobolds and some of the weaker skeletons have). 
  • Backstab is nice for polishing things off, especially if you can load her up with lots of loot that adds status effects (like Weak, which will make it even harder to hurt her). 
  • Luck makes it more likely that you will get awesome loot out of treasure chests, and the more heroes you have the more chests you can crack.
  • Her potion can be great for zipping around, smashing spawn points and cracking chests, and the more heroes you have, the more likely you will get potion drops.

My Cheap Strategies
Use her potion to teleport her or someone else over to a distant spawn point and smash it. If you have someone with lots of Red dice, you can keep using them to zip multiple party members around.

Royal Paladin
I am normally not a fan of the paladin concept, but I have to admit that this guy is a solid choice, especially in larger games and/or when you are going up against undead. His stats are alright, but his special abilities are where he really shines: every time he rolls a heart you get two, he can re-roll an attack die against undead or demons, he can give every nearby ally +1B Armor, he has a special attack that adds a Red die, Knockdown, and Fire on a hit, and his potion removes three wounds and all status effects.

My (Somewhat) Cheap Strategies
  • Use Iron Halo to make everyone nearby harder to hit. If you can combine this with the Claw Tribe Barbarian's potion or Deeproot Druid's Briar Armor, even better. 
  • You can use potions almost whenever you want, so feel free to drop it on a hero suffering from Knockdown or Poison before they activate, so that they get their full suite of action points.
  • Use Smite on a monster with 2 or more hearts, and just watch it burn to death. This works especially well against undead mini-bosses and bosses.

May 03, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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