06 January 2017

The Only Accurate Alignment Chart


I know I usually post more substantive things but this popped up on my Twitter feed and I didn't want to lose it. This really is the only accurate alignment chart that I've seen! \

I mean, what would you change?

03 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics, Part 2

The other reason I'm thinking about campfire mechanics is because of one of my favorite games of the past couple of years: Renowned Explorers. If you haven't played it, here's the general conceit:

There are a large number of characters- choose one to be your expedition leader (this gives a unique bonus) and then two to be expedition members. Each character has one of a number of skills and abilities, and also approaches. Central to the RE experience is the idea of attitudes; that is, the effect of your actions on your opponents. Your attitude can be Friendly, Devious, or Aggressive, and so can your opponent. Each adventurer has three moves (and gains more); one each of Aggressive, Devious, and Friendly. Also important are moods and spirit- a mood can be either negative or positive. Whether it's negative or positive matters for the moods that can be applied by moves. Moods take the place of standard fantasy buffs or debuffs- for example, Excited characters have +25% speech and Enraged characters have 25% less defense.

In the middle of an adventure, you are allowed to build a campfire. The three characters relax around the campfire and you draw from a deck of cards. Each character has different campfire cards, and there are some basic generic cards that round out the deck.

As you can see from this screenshot, the presence of Yvonne has included a unique card of hers, which provides certain benefits- in this case, a bonus when you recruit a certain hireling. (Renown are "victory points" and accumulating renown is how you the high score and a good ending.)

Pedrinho (the bald black man) also has a unique card. Every character does- every character has something that only they can do, and only when resting. Some cards are not particularly interesting- Yvonne's just gives you a bonus for something you were probably doing anyways, and it's not often practical to try and recruit many Journalists. They're limited in number, for one. But still, it's a decent bonus.

One of my favorite cards is for a Russian fighter named Ivan- his card halves his attack but gives him a significant bonus to speech, turning him from a formidable brawler to a defensive speaker (sort of). Once used, this change lasts for the entire game, with no way to turn back. It's a powerful bonus, but you have to have been ready for it. You have to have built your party around it!

It's a series of very cool decisions by a very savvy group of game designers, and I love it. I wish I could see more of it. 

01 January 2017

Campfire Mechanics

Darkest Dungeon has a really cool feature that I think is under-utilized in tabletop games: The Campfire Mechanic. If you've never played it, here's a quick rundown:

In Darkest Dungeon, you play as four heroes of varying class. You explore a dungeon in straight-passage sections. You encounter obstacles and opponents, both of which have varying effects on your health and sanity. You can bring items into the dungeon, and there's usually valuable goods there. You spend the money on better gear and more supplies for next time. If you lose all your sanity, your hero loses effectiveness- and if you do it again, your hero immediately dies. If you lose all your health, your hero immediately dies. Hero death is permanent and irreversible (without cheating).

On longer expeditions, you might be able to choose to rest. If you do, you are given X units of time. Each character has a couple of things they can do with these time units- characters can tend to each others' wounds, lead the group in a prayer, or perform occult rituals. You can't get some of these bonuses any other way, and a well-formed group will exit a resting state much stronger than it would have otherwise been.

On longer and more difficult expeditions, this resting phase is essential to completing the game's content. What a given character class can do at camp is an important consideration (although less so given the makeup of the game*), and I'd like to see that in a tabletop game.

*The balance of the game isn't perfect, and some characters happen to have both good campfire skills and battle abilities, and some don't have either.

Of course, part of the reason it works so well in Darkest Dungeon is that the game makes no pretense at any sort of real-life justification for its mechanics. Why don't you exit town with these buffs? Because you don't. You can't rest when you want to because the game only gives you a limited amount of firewood and there's no way to get more. In real life, of course, we can rest whenever we'd like.

And so it is in most  tabletop games. Finding time to rest is actually pretty easy- most games seem to proceed at a leisurely pace, and we all know about the "15 minute adventuring day". The only real way to avoid it is to either restrict access to time* or removing the limitation altogether.

In this situation, it's the difference between a class feature that lets you spend campfire time for a defensive bonus that lasts a couple of hours and a class feature that simply gives you and your party a static bonus all the time because you're assumed to be casting the ritual on any convenient downtime.

*Putting time pressures on the party- timed objectives, wandering monsters, cost of living, reinforcing patrols, that sort of thing.

I actually started writing a little system that included campfire mechanics using D&D terminology. In this little thing, a short rest was now 1 campfire move long, and a long rest being 2. You could also decide to go into "downtime," which would let you basically do as many campfire actions as you thought wise. This downtime ties into cost-of-living, which means that the players need to have some sort of income. This is probably adventuring loot.

Anyways, the general idea is that you can tend people's wounds if you need to, which is assumed to sort of be the D&D standard. If you're not doing that, then you might be doing something in the game world- standing watch, studying something

More on that later, probably. This post is almost as much of a brainstorming session as the original!

11 December 2016

Running 5e

Fifth Edition D&D is a giant pain in the ass.

It's just a thousand different things that I don't like. I could list them all (and I very nearly did), but you all know what I'm talking about. It's really not much of a game, and that's a big part of the reason why it works so well. There's enough of a combat minigame that you can break out the minis, even though it's not a very good minigame. Or a very deep one. But it doesn't last very long, so it's ok. And it turns out that your character's background is the last time you'll ever get the option to have any sort of link with the wider world, but that's ok because at least the bonus is pretty useful all the time.

And so on and so on. The monsters are overly complex but in actual play you mostly just use the two stats. And you can refluff them anyways, since they're just a bundle of stats with a power or two. If you describe the power differently, nobody will notice, and if you don't use it, then nobody will know it was ever there.

And it's like, that's all cool. I like a system that knows how to get out of the way- I'd been running D&D like that for years.

But there's so much to 5e, and there are some really significant parts that it doesn't want you to throw away.

Classes and races, obviously. Races change your attributes and sometimes give you powers. Classes give you health and attack bonii and combat powers, and sometimes even out of combat things you can do. At least, indirectly. Martial-type characters are mostly only good at fighting, for whatever reason. Unless you're the ranger, and then you're good at exploring.

The whole thing makes me just want to play Shadow of the Demon Lord instead. I wish that the name weren't so incredibly stupid- I think if it got somebody with an ounce of sense to redesign the branding and the interior layout it'd have a great shot of really being a common name in tabletop circles. I'd love to be able to find a bunch of SotDL players and run that instead of 5e, but alas.

12 November 2016


These guys are birdmen from a cold climate. Although the climate is barren, the birdmen have learned a lot of magic to manage the place. They have developed the use of magical ice equipment, which unfortunately weakens in warmer climates. This magical ice weakens in warmer climates. They will lance the heck out of things, and also like archery. Their culture highly prizes literacy and religiosity. They're sort of elitists, and they believe that their god is the best but that only birdmen are good enough to follow him, because he demands the best and challenges you all the time.

These Aarakocra form a proud and arrogant society based on literacy and, somewhat bizarrely, snow. Your typical Aarakocra is a member of a temple, the organization that dominates his life. Temple life is harsh and difficult. The only materials available are stone and snow, and so they build simple spires on which to roost. The temple, on the other hand, is dedicated to a local god, who can grow in strength as the Aarakocra help the god's multitude of needs. Gods have their own powers, as immortal and immutable beings, but require sustenance in this world. A god is sustained by a good, clean temple and supported by righteous acts. They are often off doing their own thing somewhere else, and only rarely return home. But the Aarakocra sacrifice their own food for the hope that even the smell might help in its own way, as little as it might be.

The Aarakocra are hopelessly devoted to their gods and to the ultimate goal: to cover the world in its sacred frost. The world was once cold and delightful. Food was plentiful then, and the skies chattered with life. The Aaracokra built high spires then, and lived in harmony with the world. There was then a singular god that was obviously the best but his people failed him in a critical moment and he was slain by invading gods. The gods of heat came and started wrecking the place, turning tundras into cancerous forests and lakes into fetid and pestilent swamps.

Their strength, magical ability, and daring is what got the Aaracokra this far, and they know it. As a result, they are nearly impossible to dissuade, and are willing to use betrayal and deception at any time.

Desert Aaracokra
The Aaracokra have decided to set up a desert outpost. They're extremely uncomfortable but suprisingly pleasant. They don't need much from the locals that they happen to live by, and are amenable to most agreements as long as the Aaracokra are given enough space. They first attempt to peacefully keep a respectful boundary between the two races and then defend their territory with spear and claw. They are led by a singular mage-priest commander.

Rogue Aaracokra
Some Aaracokra have abandoned the religion of their ancestors and have resigned themselves to surviving in the fetid filth of the rest of the world. They are still strongly attached to their insular culture, and continue to define themselves in terms of the main culture which they are avoiding.

These Rogue Aaracokra have no more loyalty for those around them than they have proven to have to their gods, and often take roles as mercenaries, messengers, and smugglers for the benefit of the terrestrial creatures they associate with.

27 September 2016


For posterity purposes, I have recorded this stage of the production.

I started this idea today, and it's coming along rather nicely. Or, at least, the formatting is. The game itself? We'll see. It's been a lot of fun to take this from zero to half-finished PDF in a single day, and I'm hoping that the framework is robust enough that I can get some real meaningful games out of it. Wish me luck!

25 September 2016

Fantasy Race Brainstorm

There's a very tiny sliver of people who like sociology-flavored fantasy races for their tabletop games, but by god we like to write things too! So this is how I spent part of my morning.

Each race is internally consistent and has unique but recognizable cultural aspects. What do I mean by that? I mean that my dwarves only ever drink beer and it makes sense. Elves are all distant arrogant philosophers and their written culture reflects that.

Here, check out what I mean:


Highlights, if you're on the fence:

"because they spend so much time looking at long-term patterns, they've become quite the masters at older techniques. a dwarf never abandons an idea, they just modify it and keep re-using it. as it turns out, that applies beautifully to plants and agriculture in general. dwarves have managed to produce a certain kind of barley that provides nearly all the nutrients that a dwarf-shaped omnivore might require. "


goblins will co-exist with other races and can be found making a sprawling society even in the harshest lands. this means that in particularly barren places with excellent resources, goblins will sort of naturally collect and fill the available space. this means that other races, when expanding, often need to expel the local goblins to gain acccess to, for example, mines and groves. goblins also especially make their homes in abandoned places, and any place not kept closed and used actively quickly finds itself home to a goblin's ever-expanding brood."

24 September 2016


Warning: this is only half-finished.

Ogre Dust 9-23.pdf

I haven't had the motivation or the time to work on this like it probably deserves to be. It's sort of mostly finished, but there are a couple of things holding me back.

1) There really should be more monsters, at least more iconic monsters. I expect for GMs to create their own monsters as they see fit, but getting people in the right "spirit" should make things a little better for everybody.

2) Some of the classes are half-finished. I constantly rethink and revise the classes based on how I'd like overall combat flow to go with them. The social aspect of the game is underwhelming and the dungeoneering is basic. But it (hopefully) all flows in a satisfying way to create a combat that's engaging not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the story. My point is that as systems shift, sometimes classes' existing abilities no longer fit, so I have to rework what it is that a druid does, for example.

3) Formatting, art: I'm slow at both of these things. I don't make my own art, so that means scavenging google images and hoping the creator doesn't mind.

4) Magic items: Very important, and almost completely absent.

5) Dungoneering refocus: Right now, the game is combat heavy. There's a functional dungoneering section but it's scattered across a dozen pages and plus the exciting stuff on your character sheet doesn't interact with it.

But here it is, in its most finished state. So far.