I ran my first session of D&D 5e this week and despite my issues with the d20 system in general I think my response on twitter summed up the experience:
Why did it feel so good to get back to the role of GM? Partially because I have always preferred it to being a player. I like the role of setting up scenes and watching them play out. I like having to gauge the impact of PC actions on the bigger picture. Most of all I like seeing the response of players as they realise what is going on or come up with a solution I couldn’t have foreseen (as the Happyjacks hosts are fond of saying the GM should create problems, not solutions).
The other reason it felt so good was that I went in with a plan to engage the players and I feel like it worked. I was GMing in what is best described as a community campaign akin to the Adventurers League. There’s a pool of players and GMs but each session will see a different combination of them come together. The big difference though is that there are no parallel sessions of the same adventure. Every session is a unique and self-contained standalone adventure set within the wider campaign world. The starting point for any adventure is the players, they state what their character is investigating or up to and then put a group together.
It’s not the easiest way of doing things. Individual sessions can be a little disjointed with only loose tie-ins to those that came before. For this, my first session, I had to prep an adventure based on brief summaries from one player and the previous GM. Not the easiest of asks, even for an experienced GM. It also had to engage the players in such a way that they would want to follow up on it, to generate enough interest in the events that it could become a plot in its own right.
This meant having a plan – introducing a new faction that could make an immediate impact and that had the potential for being a long-term threat. So in came a heretical cult within the ranks of Lathander that place particular importance on the divide between day and night, for the sun can only rise if it has first set. To establish their importance I put the party in position to witness (and ultimately disrupt) a ritual that had taken place hundreds of years before. It explained why nobody had ever heard of the cult and presented a clear threat to the established status quo in the present.
For me, as the GM, it also presented a way to engage long term with the wider setting as I’ll be able to build up the details of the threat over multiple sessions if and when the players engage with it. Given one of them is already planning a follow-up I’d count it as a success.
Demon Hunters: Slice of Life is an anthology web series from Dead Gentlemen Productions that funded on Kickstarter last year. It explores the everyday lives of characters within the wider setting, from the eternal duo of Gabriel and Silent Jim to new faces such as Wen, the first succubus to work for the Brotherhood. Alongside each episode comes the ‘Be Vigilant…’ and ‘Ask Sally’ shorts which respectively delve into potential threats to budding hunters and Anti-Tank Sally’s patience.
The series starts with Missionary Opposition with a rolling release of episodes over the coming weeks. As of publication 5 episodes have been released with more to come and as a Kickstarter Backer who has had advanced access, I can promise that the best of the series is still to come.
As an added bonus for fans of the associated RPG Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors I have pledged to release adventure starters inspired by each of the main episodes. You can find Missionary Opposition on drivethruRPG while Lockdown, inspired by an as yet unreleased episode is currently being edited before I start on the layout. And if that wasn’t enough for you the Demon Hunting Manual A771: An Impractical Guide to Mission Planning has also just launched, providing further advice on creating missions and adventures to challenge Chapters from the heights of the Alphas all the way down to the lowly Omegas.
There’s a week to go in drivethruRPGs Christmas in July sale, the annual promotion to clear the virtual shelves before GenCon ushers in a wave of new shiny goodness so I wanted to quickly promote a selection of publishers that are included and worth looking at. All of these are personal picks based upon my own purchases and I did not receive any review or promotional copies.
Spy Master by CM Games
When it comes to spies and espionage there are few individuals more iconic than James Bond, sat the casino table with a martini in his hand. Utilising a system inspired by the equally iconic casino game of blackjack Spy Master works aims to emulate the genre with rapid fire mechanics where players must push their luck as they draw cards to build upon their characters specialities. The rules are designed to support play that sticks closely to the spy genre and avoids the trap of many games that try to build in eventualities for every gadget or weapon. Agent characters are just as deadly when wielding a pencil as they would be with a silenced Walther PPK, allowing for the action to spring forth from each and every scene.
You can find Spy Master on DrivethruRPG
The Cthulhu Hack by Just Crunch Games
Built upon the popular Black Hack OSR system the Cthulhu Hack applied the lightweight approach to the otherworldly incursions of H.P. Lovecraft to create a standalone game of investigative horror. With a focus upon simple, elegant mechanics the system is quick to learn yet provides enough depth to facilitate campaign play and the near infinity mythos of the parental material. Character creation is quick, befitting a setting where character death should be expected and campaigns may require a rotating cast of characters who interact only through the diaries and clues they may leave behind. Well worth picking up for both Lovecraft fans and those who have just begun their journey into the cosmic mythos.
You can find The Cthulhu Hack and its supplements on DrivethruRPG
RPG stock art by James Shields
JEShields should be a familiar name to anybody following my Demon Hunters or Project Cassandra posts as the majority of the artwork I have used in them has been sourced from him. Why do I keep going back to his art? First and foremost because of the consistent high quality and clear style that is available across a range of genres. Second because of the price, both stock art and direct commissions are extremely well priced. Finally because every interaction I have had with James has been positive and professional, both through his patreon and when commissioning artwork directly.
You can find his work on DrivethruRPG and on Patreon
Printable miniatures by Trash Mob Minis
Using miniatures at your game table can turn quickly become either expensive or restrictive as you either expand your collection to allow for the adventure your players seek or limit yourself to what you have at hand. Trash mob mini’s provides a way out with their themed collections of printable mini’s. For only a couple of pounds per pack you get multiple mini’s (most packs have 6) with front and back artwork plus bases. Simply print onto thick paper and cut out to build your encounter. Need a mob of goblins? Then print out multiple sheets and quickly expand your forces. With clear artwork in a fun, cartoony style Trash Mob Mini’s make a perfect addition to any fantasy RPG combat.
You can find Trash Mob Minis on DrivethruRPG
I’d been planning to make this a rant about D&D, about how frustrated I am with it and the fact I’m struggling to find a group playing something else while D&D games fill within minutes of being posted.
But then on the bus this morning I started to think should I really be ranting about this? My answer was no. Does it annoy me that a game I’m not overly fond of is popular? Yes, immensely but right now it’s popularity is part of a resurgence of the hobby I love. The combination of D&D 5e and actual play streams have raised the visibility of tabletop games to a level I honestly didn’t think we’d ever see. I still don’t know if I would call RPGs mainstream in the way that board games might now be but certainly, the level of awareness is reaching that level. I didn’t roll my first skill checks until the mid-2000’s, so I never directly experienced the stigma that was often associated with RPGs during prior to that but as a minis gamer during the 90’s, I knew what it was like. I knew what it was like to have the nerdy hobby, to be labelled as a gamer at an age when I wasn’t confident enough to truly embrace it.
So no, I decided I’m not going to rant about D&D today. It will never be my preferred system, I find the rules clunky and I’ve had one too many negative experiences with gamers that propagate the worst stereotypes of the hobby. But I’m not going to bash the people that have joined the hobby because of it, that enjoy it and flock to it. If it’s the only gaming that’s available then I’m going to damn well step forward and give it a try. I’m not saying I’ll stick with a game or group that I don’t enjoy but I’m tired of holding myself back just because it isn’t exactly what I want.
And who knows, maybe I can introduce a few more people to the joys of other systems while I’m at it. Nothing says anybody has to just play D&D…
The next entry in Dr Ahoudi’s mutant menagerie is… the Spider-bear!
Inspired by both the image (acquired as usual by backing the patreon of JEShields) and the classic D&D monster the bugbear the spider-bear is a literal take on the name.
Strong, fast, aggressive and able to soak a number of hits the creature is perfect as a lone threat or as the central threat amongst a swarm of smaller assailants.
Download the Spider-bear character sheet now.
Having done a full character in the form of the Aether Knight I wanted to turn my hand towards a simpler creature for the next release. With the Demon Hunters setting incorporating both magic and mad science it was all too easy to imagine a range of unusual and warped creatures. The Volta Cingulata, or voltaic armadillo, is the first of those, a mad science experiment that didn’t quite have the impact its creator intended.
As an opponent the armadillo is easily overlooked. Small, relatively weak and not particularly aggressive. In its favour is its armoured shell and lone stunt, which allows it a single strong attack in response to being startled.
In developing the stunt I included an option to recharge it through the use of Demon Dice. Overall I find that with the exception of invoking aspects I fail to really make use of this GM resource, especially as I’m not fond of clearing NPC conditions without an in fiction reason. So instead my aim is to start incorporating their use into stunts, to make them a little more special and unique, which led to the idea of recharging a single use ability.
You can download the Volta Cingulata character sheet here
The latest gaming tag to do the rounds on Twitter is that of #RPGStruck4, where people post up images for 4 games that define them, my own post for it was this:
and while most people have been posting without explanation I wanted to briefly dig into why these four games are personally significant.
- Torg – Long after it had gone out of print this was my introduction to tabletop gaming. I’d LARPed before, I’d participated in freeform play by posts but had never rolled dice or filled in a traditional character sheet. As an introduction to ttRPGs I couldn’t have asked for more. I was hooked and before long was itching to run my own game, largely thanks to how well Snap, our amazing GM, had run that first campaign.
- Serenity – My first foray into GMing was… disastrous. A massive Firefly fan I’d eagerly picked up the game on its release and dived into learning the system which was very different from what I’d experienced up to that point. I’d prepped heavily, with a focus squarely on all the wrong things and the first session was a catalogue of errors. Somehow it didn’t put me off running games and Cortex quickly cemented itself into one of my go to systems, which neatly leads me on to…
- Demon Hunters – As is evidenced by the plethora of posts about it you could say I’m a bit of a fan. While I knew of The Gamers it was the original Demon Hunters that made me a true fan of Dead Gentlemen Productions. It’s my go to light hearted setting, perfect for both one off sessions between campaigns as well as campaigns themselves. The setting can handle over the top chaotic slapstick as or serious urban fantasy (I tend to drift toward the former) and the writing is just as fun, to the extent that it’s almost as good to read as it is run. The second edition builds on the first with a new system, refreshed lore and brand new comic book look based on the short lived webcomic. Oh and a few adventures by yours truly.
- Legend of the Five Rings – When it comes to games with hefty reputations few can compete with the world of Rokugan and it’s samurai society. The setting clearly defines not only the role of PCs within that society but sets out clear expectations for their behaviour and consequences for going against those very expectations. Framed by the tenets of Bushido and an honourable ideal it’s a world where doing the right thing almost always has consequences, in stark contrast to the kill, loot, profit style espoused by many D&D games. It’s not only a world that I love returning to but once that has influenced my wider thinking on the positioning of PCs within wider settings and idea of lasting consequences.