#RPGaDay2019 31st August: ‘Last’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 31: Last

The last game I was in was D&D 5th Edition, a campaign that I’ve been GMing since the start of the year. We’ve entered the final arc and I’ve got to admit that while I have enjoyed it I am looking forward to a change of system. d20 will never be my system of choice, there are just too many parts that I don’t enjoy. Perhaps the biggest is combat. I am really tired of trying to make combat more interesting when a hit rarely does anything more than whittle away HP. I want each and every hit to have a narrative consequence, not ‘you get hit by an arrow for the 5th time this combat, lose 7 HP’. I’ve got workarounds but ultimately the issue is with the system. We’re probably moving on to Demon Hunters next, which utilises narrative conditions. I can’t wait for the change in pace and the opportunity to introduce the group to the wider world of both the setting and role playing in general.

And with that we bring RPGaDay 2019 to a close. It’s been an interesting challenge responding to the daily prompts and I hope that people have appreciated my stream of consciousness approach to it.

#RPGaDay2019 23rd August: ‘Surprise’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 23: Surprise

When it comes to combat encounters I like systems where surprise makes a significant difference. During one encounter in our current D&D game the PCs set up a well thought out ambush – they had height, concealment and were able to ensure that the enemy had limited options for retreat. They stacked the deck so well in their favour that they downed half the enemy during the first turn (they were only level 3 so no over inflated HPs to grind down). I looked over the numbers again afterwards and it should have been a much harder fight, not the rout that they inflicted.

Unfortunately that is rarely the case. If we had been playing at higher levels the chance of one-shotting an enemy is basically zero, which I find frustrating. Even in games with modern settings and advanced weaponry it is usually exceedingly difficult to down an opponent with a single attack even if you are prepared (GURPS seems to be one of the rare exceptions to this). From a narrative perspective I understand why, it doesn’t make for a great story if PCs can die instantly but I think this is one of those cases where more games would benefit from an asymmetrical approach to character design. NPCs that go down quickly while PCs can almost always take a significant amount of damage. It’s certainly more cinematic though would need to ensure there is a way to heavily wound PCs on occasion.

#RPGaDay2019 21th August: ‘Vast’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 21: Vast

Despite playing a wide variety of systems I’m extremely aware that there are vast sections of the hobby that I have had minimal interaction with. If I created a venn diagram of overlapping spheres of influence my main intersection would be with “traditional non-D&D” then much smaller overlaps with D&D and indie games with a final tiny overlap with OSR and story games. There is just so much out there that I can’t understand how people can stick to just one or even one type of game. I’d happily play or run a different system every day if I could and I’d still only skim the surface of what was out there.

#RPGaDay2019 20th August: ‘Noble’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 20: Noble

The first time I played D&D I ended up playing a character who was pretending to be the servant of a noble PC while we infiltrated a vampires castle. Having to maintain the pretence that I was a downtrodden, bored butler while sneaking around was great fun. We had 2 noble born PCs that had to sell their foppishness while the rest of us had to downplay our character competencies and pretend to be regular members of the household staff. That part of the game, focused on the roleplay was fantastic.

Unfortunately the character build itself wasn’t.

The GM had put it together for me (based on an outline of what I was after) as I was joining an existing game and he had clearly wanted to show off how well he knew the system. As a new player I’d expected a basic sneak/bluff rouge based character but instead found myself with a multi-classed factotum/chameleon that could blend in by switching abilities each day. Not surprisingly that didn’t work out so well. Having picked abilities for the day that facilitated sneaking at the expense of combat I quickly encountered a glass golem that I was essentially unable to harm but the GM really wanted to run the encounter. So I ran, it chased me and we went round and round until I finally succeeding in picking the lock I’d somehow triggered after entering the side tower I was in.

It’s no surprise that the rest of the game followed a similar pattern, a few moments of great RP interspaced with awkwardness and lousy encounters. It wasn’t a great loss when the campaign fizzled out after the very next session.

#RPGaDay2019 9th August: ‘Critical’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 9: Critical

I wish the success of Critical Role would expand out more into the hobby as a whole. I’ve come across so many new gamers in the last few years that have been drawn in by the show but know of virtually nothing outside of D&D. The hardest part is that many aren’t even interested in trying a different game, whether due to a lack of interest in non-fantasy settings or from the belief that you can just reskin D&D 5th edition ad infinitum. I had hoped we’d seen the back of that after the bubble burst on the 3.5/d20 market. It’s especially frustrating as somebody that got into gaming through a society where virtually every table was running a different system. This isn’t to say that I blame Critical Role or wish it didn’t exist. I think they have made tremendous strides in attracting new people to the hobby and showcasing what is possible. I just wonder what they could achieve if they started expanding out into other systems rather than sticking almost exclusively to D&D. They’ve got a fanbase that would leap onto anything that appeared on the show, to the point that even just discussing a smaller game would probably boost its sales significantly.

#RPGaDay2019 6th August: ‘Ancient’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 6: Ancient

Ancient dragons may be a classic creature for D&D but I’ve yet to actually use one in a game for the simple reason that I really hate playing beyond the first tier (Levels 1-10). Go above that and I tend to think the game just slows down too much, the PCs are overpowered and the chipping away at HP becomes excruciatingly slow. How anybody plays all the way to level 30 is beyond me. This means that I spend a lot of time reskinning monsters, using the stats from an established creature as a quick tool to help with balance. As has been pointed out to me in the past D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons, so why aren’t both given proper spotlight? I need to look through the DMs Guild to see if it has been done but I would really like a compressed version of monsters, allowing for lower tier play without sacrificing the many iconic creatures that the game has developed over the years.

Review: D&D Monster Cards 6-16 by Gale Force Nine

As my D&D campaign has progressed my players have slowly murdered encountered tougher and tougher opponents. It’s the way that D&D works, which meant that sooner or later I was going to want to field creatures with challenge ratings above 5. We’ve now reached that point, so it seems appropriate to review the second of Gale Force Nine’s Monster Card packs, which covers CR 6-16.

This slighly smaller pack provides 74 creatures, once again using a mix of regular and double width cards with images on the front and stats on the back. The majority are double width, which isn’t really surprising given the more complex rules associated with many of these creatures. As with the CR 0-5 pack the cards are of good quality and presented in a consistent, clear format that includes their special abilities. As a reference resource they work, though you’ll need to look up the details of any spells that are listed (which is understandable)

Unfortunately, as with the CR 0-5 pack (reviewed here) Gale Force Nine have chosen to omit a number of monsters, including some of the more iconic entries. You get, for example, all of the Young Dragons but not a single Adult Dragon. There’s also no Beholder but for some reason the CR 17 Dragon Turtle and Goristro are present (I don’t know if this is a mistake in my pack or not because GF9 don’t list the contents anywhere I could find). Apparently some of the omissions are because they didn’t want to include anything with a lair action, which I think is a rather ludicrous choice given the stated CR range.

All in all the pack is rather disappointing, while I will make use of the cards for quick reference the omissions compromise it too much for me to recommend it at the RRP of $16/£13. That goes double if you already have easy access to the Monster Manual.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

2019 Progress: Halfway there?

As ever time marches on and all too soon the first six months of the year have passed. Given my hope of this year being the one where I move a host of projects forward I thought it would be worthwhile to do an update on my goals for 2019.

Have dones

  • Written and playtested Ghosts of Iron for the Crystal Heart RPG. I’m in the process of revising the text before I submit it. Should be released to Kickstarter backers later this year.
  • Completed the draft for Trick of the Light, my next Demon Hunters adventure starter inspired by the Slice of Life web series. Currently editing and moving it to layout so should hopefully be released soon (ideally before GenCon).
  • Drafted three missions for The Sprawl and handed them over to @HyveMynd for editing / layout. Aiming for a release later this year.

Ongoing

  • Attending conventions – I made a 1 day trip to UK Games Expo 2019 and will be attending BurritoCon 3 in Manchester later this month. I’m also aiming to attend DragonMeet later in the year, if I do I’ll be running games as part of Games on Demand.
  • Progress on Project Cassandra! I posted up the current characters and a rules summary (which is now itself out of date) and am in the process of putting together a playtest packet for BurritoCon. First public playtest since the disaster of Dragonmeet.
  • I have notes for the remaining two Slice of Life adventures and have decided that the Clean-up Crew scenario will be a Fiasco playset given how well the episode meshes with that system. These will be my next focus after Ghosts of Iron and Trick of the Light.
  • The D&D Immortals campaign continues and has passed the tipping point, with the characters ensnared by Destiny and heading towards some epic showdowns with the previous generation of Immortals.

Will I evers

  • Patreon. With the change in how Patreon were going to charge creators I decided to sign up for one with the thought of actually starting it later in the year. Right now I’m sitting on it for the simple reason that it won’t work until I manage to build some interest in what I produce and the first step in that is to actually produce some material. I haven’t released anything since last year and right now I don’t have a core focus for any Patreon project. I don’t know if there is enough interest in material focusing solely on Demon Hunters while most of my other projects have been standalone. Regardless of whether I ever do use it my first goal has to be building up a catalogue of material I can point to.
  • The Kingsport Tribune one-page Cthulhu idea looks like it is going nowhere, just didn’t come together though it did give me some practice with a newspaper style layout.
  • Rocket Demons of Antiquity is on the backburner for now. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a scenario that will require an ongoing campaign to delve into as opposed to my typical one-shot playtests. Plus I’ve got at least three other adventures inspired by previous campaigns where I already know the story-beats to write up first.
  • DMs Guild material – While I have notes for a few products I’ve yet to make any move or progress towards writing them up. Although I expect they would be far bigger sellers than anything I’ve produced to date I’m fortunate enough to be in the position where that isn’t a priority so I can focus on the material that most interests me.

Rambling: Shifting expectations – From one-shots to campaigns

Until we started our current D&D game my recent gaming had been orientated towards one-shots or, at most, mini-campaigns. It was only following our most recent session, that it struck me how the switch to a campaign hadn’t resulted in a proper reorientation of my mindset.

The One-Shot

By their very nature, one-shot games are constrained by time. This is especially true for convention games which typically need to fit into a four-hour time slot. Typically that will include not only the actual game but picking characters, explaining the system and introducing the scenario. The format also requires the plot to take a specific shape. Scenes need to be concise and limited to only those that are directly relevant. Characters should be clearly defined, often to the point of exaggeration, to ensure that they are both easy to pick up and are able to shine during the adventure. Even if you are running a prep-lite game you need to be on the ball, responsive and focused. Anything else and you risk going over or having to trim down the game.

The Campaign

Campaigns are the polar opposite and I had thought that shifting to one would have led to a pretty instant shift in my preparations and expectations. On the surface it did. The adventures are now spread over multiple sessions, there is more time to socialise and go over rules and with a more relaxed approach to the plot, I’ve even found that sessions can comfortably run short. We typically end up with closer to three hours of gaming than four thanks to the knowledge that we’ll be picking things up again the next week.

Well of course there’s a difference…

Most people that have read the above are probably thinking that I’m pointing out the obvious and you’d be right, I am. In shifting my point of reference though I’ve been reminded how easy it is to overlook the obvious. The structure of a one-shot vs campaign starter vs mid-campaign session are all different. But with the transition from one format to another how often have I actively thought about those different structures?

How often have I paused and reminded myself of those constraints and what they force me to leave out?

The answer to that is not enough. It’s human nature to take shortcuts, which in the case of adventure prep means going with what you have become used to. When we started The Immortals I knew every session would have a followup and started thinking about multi-session arc and plots. Yet on a session to session basis, I maintained too many approaches that are better suited to a one-shot.

Most obvious – that our first few sessions all concluded with a mini-cliffhanger. On one hand that’s great, it can help maintain engagement but on the other hand, I was found myself leaning on the one-shot beat structure session after session. We’d start by resolving the cliffhanger, rest and recover, explore the new situation and then rapidly build to another point of drama. I was forcing the pace of each session to try and ensure it ended on a high because that was what I’d become used to. I did it without thinking, even though I knew I had time to spare. Even though I knew that we could end on a low or with the characters in the middle of something.

All because I had assumed I would automatically switch my habits back to approaches I’d learned when I was running regular campaigns.

Going forward its clear that I need to pause and reflect more often, not just on the big picture but on the fine details. I’m fairly confident that overall I run a good game but I don’t want to just run a good game, I want to run an amazing one. I’ve got a table full of new players and I want them to come out of the campaign wanting more. I want them to love this hobby as much as I do and that’s not going to happen if I just rely on past experience.

Note: Ok, so this post got away from me and just wouldn’t come together the way I wanted it to. Normally I’d work on it a bit more but the more I do the less I feel like it is going to go anywhere. So here it is, just some rambling thoughts that I hope make at least some sense.

Review: D&D Monster Cards 0-5 by Gale Force Nine

One of the things I’m slowly coming to appreciate with D&D is just how central monsters are to the game, more so than for any of the other systems I have run. Combat is a central thematic pillar and the majority of the time the expectation is that those combats will involve Monsters as opposed to intelligent NPCs. That one of the core books is the Monster Manual should be a massive giveaway here. As part of our Fall of the Immortals campaign, I’ve been trying to utilise a wider array of monsters than I am naturally inclined to thanks to my previous GM experience.

It quickly became apparent that keeping a copy of the Basic Rules on my tablet for reference just wasn’t going to cut it. Interesting combats should include a variety of creatures, which meant that I found myself flicking back and forth between pages every combat round to double check stats and abilities. It slowed the game down and was generally just a pain to deal with. Printing off the monster stats in advance helped quite a bit, right up until my players turned left and initiated an encounter I hadn’t planned for. Fortunately, Gale Force Nine produce a product that is ideal for this situation – Monster Cards, with sets covering CR 0-5 and CR 6-16.

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The CR 0-5 set covers 177 monsters, presented as a mix of standard and double sized cards. The front features artwork depicting the monster in question while the reverse covers the game statistics, with the double width cards employed when creatures have a number of special mechanics. Due to the size constraints of the card format there is absolutely no descriptive information, you’ll need to refer to the Monster Manual if you need that.

Overall, the Monster Cards do exactly what I need them to – provide a quick reference for in-game statistics. I’ve taken to clipping them to the top of my GM screen during play, allowing the players to see what keeping the multiple stat blocks right in front of me. The artwork is high quality and primarily lifted from the Monster Manual (from what I can tell). There are a few variant pieces featuring backgrounds, primarily used for cards representing tougher versions of a standard creature. Each card also includes a clear artist credit, an especially nice touch that many products would have omitted. The layout is just as professional and ensures that the details are clear and easily readable despite the condensed nature of the card format. Long term I will probably sleeve the cards to protect them, they only just fit the box and I’ve already seen one card pick up a small amount of damage just through the process of opening the box.

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So what’s not to like? I have one main issue, which is the contents. There are a number of creatures that are present in the Monster Manual/basic rules but absent from this set. The various beast forms that a druid might shift into are prominent examples, so if you were buying the set for that you’re out of luck. Similarly, there are no NPC type cards, no guard or bandit etc. While I can’t complain at the sheer number of cards included these seem like they should have been clear inclusions given how often most groups are likely to use them.

That these cards are missing is particularly frustrating because Gale Force Nine don’t list this fact or include the set contents anywhere on their website. Thanks to some research I knew about this going in but given these are officially licensed cards it would have been reasonable to expect either all of the relevant entries from the Monster Manual or a card listing. This problem doesn’t seem to be limited to this set, a number of comments online suggest that the CR 6-16 set omits a number of the most iconic Legendary creatures that grace the pages of the Monster Manual. Presumably, they’ll be included in a third set in the future but the omission is striking.

So would I recommend the Monster Card CR 0-6 set? For a GM seeking a quick reference tool, the answer is yes so long as you know that you will still need to refer to the Monster Manual for a number of entries. For players? No, this really is a GM orientated resource. Even if it included all of the forms a druid could shift into I still wouldn’t recommend it, there are simply too many cards that would go unused. You’d be better off checking the basic rules or SRD and getting the attributes from there.

Addendum: Since releasing this review I have also reviewed the followup pack which covers monsters with challenge ratings of 6-16 and can be found at: D&D Monster Cards 6-16 by Gale Force Nine.

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All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.