Wednesday, September 19, 2018

D&D Dragon Heist: Random Miniatures Suck

Trigger warning: Rant incoming.

I’ll never learn. Every once in a while I swear off random miniatures “for good”...

Then, a few sets go by which I avoid, or only buy a few singles, until one comes along where I’m all like “Hey, I could get a Griffin...  a War Elephant... a Beholder!”

Bzzzt! Dumb ass.

This is not entirely my fault. WizKids has this F’d up distribution where it’s actually likely that you may not get a Rare. Many boxes come with two Uncommons instead.

Not only that, but the Dragon Heist miniature Uncommons have some serious crap. In the few boxes I opened, not only did I not get a Rare miniature, I got the crappiest Uncommons in the list -- the Animated Door and the Vargouille.

Who f-ing idea was it to put both a Common and Uncommon Vargouille in the set? Who even uses that stupid-ass monster? I’ve been playing the game for 40 years and not once have I used or encountered a Vargouille. Not only that, but it’s a craptacular sculpt… and Animated Door? Really? How about something useful?

Animated Door - Vargouille
Seriously gang... Whose stupid ideas were these?

I get that sometimes you have to mix the popular, larger, and more expensive sculpts with ones that are cheaper to manufacture in order to keep costs down. But some of the minis is recent sets are just plain useless.

So here I am with an Animated Door and a Vargouille. I literally would prefer any other miniature from this set over these two pieces of Uncommon garbage. Heck, I can’t even find a damn non-random, unpainted Beholder... but that's another topic altogether.

I will never f-ing learn.

WizKids, you can do better.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hommlet - Best of D&D 4e

The Village of Hommlet 4th Edition cover
While the new cover art was pretty cool, it
did a poor job of illustrating the module itself.
Best of 4th Edition, Part 4 - The Village of Hommlet

Wait, what?!? I thought this was about the Best of 4th Edition... 

It is!  You see, during the D&D Encounters days, Wizards of the Coast gave out a limited edition, revised version of the Village of Hommlet to D&D Encounters DM’s. They later reprinted these revisions in Dungeon #212.

In this revision of Hommlet, they altered some of the encounters a bit to tie the moat house bandit activity directly to Lareth the Beautiful’s overall plan. The changes to the encounters give the adventure a bit more internal consistency.

However, Wizards had to fit the moat house on a single poster encounter map, so the scale of the fortress was altered (to the chagrin of some). The revision also includes a bit more detail on the major NPCs and the “delve” page format of the 4th edition version makes it easier to run.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dungeon - Best of D&D 4e

Dungeon #221 cover
Dungeon #221, December 2013
The Best of D&D 4th Edition, Part 3

Be sure to also check out Part 1 and Part 2.

As noted in my prior article on The Chaos Scar, product support for 4th Edition flourished under the Dragon and Dungeon PDF publications as a part of D&D Insider subscription. But what became one of the gems of the 4th Edition digital tools, had a bit of a rocky start.

In 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, which also marked the end of the print publication of Dragon and Dungeon Magazines. With the last issue (Dungeon #150) scheduled for release in August 2007, many fans of the magazines, myself included, were saddened and outspoken on forums about the demise of the print support.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Chaos Scar - Best of D&D 4e

Keep on the Borderlands

The Best of D&D 4th Edition, Part 2

Wait! Be sure to also read Part 1 of Best of D&D 4th Edition.

The 3rd Season of D&D Encounters (which later became Adventurer’s League) introduced the Chaos Scar in Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents. This Encounters season was a thematic hommage to the original B2 - Keep on the Borderlands module from 1980. It was not written as a conversion of the original module, as the Caves of Chaos were replaced by the Chaos Scar, a much larger ravine created hundreds of years prior by the crashing of a chaos-infused meteor from the Far Realms into the lands.

The Season of Serpents module was divided into 5 chapters, with 4 distinct 2-hour scenarios per chapter. The plot outlines a power struggle between Zehir and Tiamat cultists which involves machinations to control the Keep itself. Due to the D&D Encounters format (and the limitations thereof), the adventure is a fairly linear checklist of pre-defined combats to be run at game stores in order to introduce new players to the game. But, it is a fun adventure and the Chaos Scar setting itself was also supported through articles in the Dungeon Magazine PDFs, which immensely strengthens the overall utility of this module. The right DM can cobble the D&D Encounters module along with all of the supporting materials into a nice low-level sandbox campaign.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Reavers of Harkenwold - Best of D&D 4e

Reavers of HarkenwoldThe Best of D&D 4th Edition, Part 1

If you skipped D&D 4th Edition for whatever reason, you missed out on some amazing adventure content. Wizards of the Coast was testing out a different adventure designs with a publishing layout format requiring individual encounters within an adventure to fit on two pages only (mini-map included).

This format had its pros and cons, but despite its eventual abandonment, the format appears to have wrestled the creative juices out of the designers at the time (or perhaps in spite of it). The longs and short of it is that some of the adventures written for D&D 4th Edition are some of the best I’ve ever run over the course of many editions (for whatever reasons).

In this multi-part article, I will detail some of the best adventure content to come out of the core product and Dungeon Magazine teams that can be adapted to your D&D 5th edition (or any edition, really) game.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Low Cost D&D Terrain

Some simple 3D elements can make your table pop!
People who enjoy watching live-play D&D streams will notice some of the amazing terrain and dungeon set-ups that are often featured on these shows. There are products like Dwarven Forge and Miniature Building Authority that would make anyone oooh and aaah over the amazing creations that DMs can bring to the table… and there's a temptation to think we need to be as visually impressive in order to run a quality game.

But those props come at a relatively steep cost that make most game masters pause.

Do you really need those kinds of fancy props? Absolutely not… but sometimes you still want to put something out on the table that makes your players go “Wow… Cool!” You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to do it. Here are some cheap and easy options to spiff up your game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

GM 101: The D&D Quest Log

Campaigns have lots of moving parts. There are likely dozens of NPCs, a couple main quest hooks, and several side quest hooks. There are also clues, rumors, random bits of lore, and locations of significance that your players will stumble upon over the course of months. It's hard enough to remember what happened in the game 2 sessions ago, much less 3 or 4 months ago.

Quest Log note card
Notes in a quest log can be short and sweet.
How do they keep track of all of that?

The Quest Log

One of the biggest player challenges (and probably one of the simplest to solve) revolves around player note-taking. Ideally, there's at least one player at the table who is keeping a set of notes written and organized for easy reference... And yet, remembering (or finding) the information the PC's need, even when there are extensive notes, is often still a chore. 

One of my players keeps extraordinarily detailed notes. So detailed that the Google document is now dozens and dozens of pages long. I think he may be planning a novelization... But even with such extensive notes, something as simple as finding all the recent NPC hooks is a daunting task.

To simplify the burden, the GM should keep some simple colored index cards on hand during the sessions. Each time the PCs get an clue, plot, or quest hook, simple jot a couple quick notes down an hand it to the player. It's as easy a 4 lines.

Short hook description, NPC name, NPC location, notes... Perhaps a date stamp for organization. If you use a variety of colors, you can even use the card's color as part of the organization. Yellow for NPC quests, pink for plot clues, blue for interesting locations (with no specific quest attached)... Or anything along those lines. 

EDIT: For those that use a wiki and/or notebook, this method would not necessarily replace those notes, but enhance them with a stack of quest cards right at the table during play for easy reference.

Again, keep it short and simple. The idea is not for you to write all their notes for them, but to give them an easily organized visual reference for specific hooks to which they can add more notes. It should take no more than a minute or two to jot the quest or plot hook down, and your players will have a quick reference for all sorts of happenings in your game world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Problems Players and the Social Contract - GM 101, Episode 2

If social media is any indication, newer game masters have a lot of issues with disruptive players in their game. These issues are not difficult to resolve if you and your players understand the what the social contract is and how it applies to in-game and out of game behavior at the table. Here's advice on how you should manage disruptive players at your gaming table.

  0:00   Introduction
  0:55   What is the Social Contract?
  1:11   (moment of dementia)
  1:40   Rule 1 - Don't be a jerk.
  1:54   Don't do these things.
  2:22   D&D is a team sport.
  4:44   Don't be "that guy" (or gal).
  5:50   "It's what my character would do."
  6:52   How to manage the problem player as the DM.
  7:00   Don't "punish" the player. Talk to them.
  7:25   Example of how to approach the problem player.
10:20   Consensual in-game conflict
11:30   The DM also facilitates the social interactions
12:05   Personal anecdote of problem players
14:30   Summary points

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Is Gloomhaven overrated?

Gloomhaven pops up on my social media radar every couple weeks where inevitably someone asks “Is it really that good or is it all hype?”  

And inevitably there are two camps that answer.

Pro-GH: It’s the awesomest, amazingest best game ever. There’s a reason it’s #1 on BGG!

Anti-GH: Oh God. It’s soooo over-hyped and overrated. It’s just a boring/grindy RPG wanna-be card game riding the Cult-of-New wave.

Ok, perhaps a bit of hyperbole there, but the truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. I don’t usually write about board games, but this game in particular is RPG adjacent and I find these discussions on social media do very little to help the potential buyer know whether they might like it or not, so I’m adding my (hopefully) more measured response to the discussion.

So the question I answer is really “Given my game preferences, will I like Gloomhaven?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

D&D: The eSports Conniption

D&D social media pooped its pants the other day when the Hasbro CEO referred to “eSports” in a conversation about Magic, D&D, and their respective profitability.

So, first thing’s first. Unknot your panties and clean out your shorts.

First of all, if you actually watch the entire interview and look at context (I know, I know, it’s so much more fun to get mad about out-of-context quotes…), the Hasbro CEO was discussing the digital brands of Magic the Gathering and D&D… In other words, video games and such… not tabletop. He also specifically mentioned viewers watching competitive Magic the Gathering.

It’s not unimaginable that we might see PvP-style multiplayer video games with either Magic or D&D branding. Recall that the WotC President, Chris Cocks, comes from a video gaming background. Video games are high on his list of priorities. But hopefully something a bit more exciting than last year's Dungeon Chess (unfortunately, not kidding here).

Second, let’s pretend for a moment that he was talking about tabletop D&D -- to be clear, he wasn’t. Dungeons & Dragons has a long, long history of tournament adventures created for conventions.

To the Aid of Falx
The Egg of the Phoenix
The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
The Ghost Tower of Inverness
White Plume Mountain

The list goes on and on. Given the popularity of D&D streams, it’s not out of realm of possibility that adventures like these could be run as one-shot tournament streams for viewers, alongside longer campaigns like Critical Role.

So, take a pill and relax. You are literally already watching D&D on YouTube and Twitch. Tournament style D&D is just kickin’ it old school.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

D&D: Who is Ravnica for?

Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
Possibly useful for an urban homebrew campaign?
Yesterday’s announcement of a new hardback for a Ravnica D&D campaign setting has a lot of fans scratching their heads.

Eberron fans only got a PDF update with some fleshed out UA content that has gotten a bit of a “meh” reaction. Forgotten Realms fans are griping, “Where is our full campaign sourcebook?” (Given the release of SCAG and other edition resources from the DM’s Guild, a campaign guide is not likely to happen any time soon). Greyhawk fans are pissed that 2nd Edition was really the last time the setting saw any love what-so-ever… And there’s Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Planescape, and others... One can only hope for a PDF update on DM’s Guild (which I discussed yesterday).

So Why Ravnica?

It’s actually not too hard to figure out… Money.  As in, Magic the Gathering brings in way more money than D&D ever has. On a 2016 earnings call, Hasbro management estimated that they have from 15 to 20 million active Magic players. That's a lot of potential consumers.

D&D as a brand is growing and Wizards/Hasbro wants to leverage that brand for their other consumers. Magic is an obvious low-barrier avenue to expand the player base. Even though it’s a Pokemon-esque card flopping game, it is fantasy-themed and has a deep lore associated with it. Wizards of the Coast already has their internal “lore bibles” for all the Magic releases, so why not leverage all that unseen content?

EDIT: To be clear, I am not against this decision. It is a smart and profitable move by Wizards to expand the D&D audience.

There is a certain synergy in bringing the brands together in a joint marketing push.

1. Magic players are already familiar with Wizards of the Coast, and even if they don’t play D&D, they are certainly aware of it. There is already some Wizards of the Coast brand loyalty that exists.

2. Retailers can display the new D&D book right alongside their Magic decks and booster. There is a perfect “Hey, have you heard they released a D&D campaign setting?” sales pitch built in.

3. Don’t discount the power of the parent’s wallet. Younger kids may be playing Magic, but the purchase power really comes from Mom & Dad. Many of the parents may have played D&D in their younger days. Many of them even play Magic with their kids today. It makes sense to court the parents as well as the kids.

But Will It Sell?

There is always financial risk in courting a different market from your core fan base. Magic has deep lore built into the game… But how many Magic players actually care about the flavor text on their cards? Are there fans of Magic who are deep into the fluff of the game? Will they actually care enough to spend the money?

Plane Shift: Ixalan
Hmm... This could be a thing...
What we also don’t know is whether Ravnica will be a complete game with PC classes, game world, and monster stats all included, or if it will mostly be only a D&D campaign guide (the book cover and Planeshift PDFs seem to indicate the latter). We do know that D&D does not have a magic system that would support the “5 mana color” flavor of Magic spells. Will those lore fans be disappointed at a spell slot system that has none of the feel of Magic the Gathering?

Wizards likely has the market research that tells them this will at least be a moderate hit, and I’m sure they know exactly how many people have downloaded their D&D Planeshift PDFs… but downloading a free PDF is a far cry from purchasing a $50 hardback book.

However, if they are able to sell this book to one-tenth of 1% of their Magic fan base, that’s at least a half-million dollars in revenue. If they sell to half of 1% of their existing Magic players, that will likely be between $1.5 and $2 million in revenue for the D&D brand.

Final Thoughts

One thing I have noticed, is that the Plane Shift PDFs have come out in close proximity to similarly themed D&D adventures. Innistrad went with Curse of Strahd. Ixalan matches somewhat well with Tomb of Annihilation... and now Ravnica corresponds roughly with the release of a Waterdeep-based urban campaign.

For me personally, Ravnica holds little interest. Plane Shift: Ixalan feels like it could have been fleshed out even more into a full blown campaign setting. I’ll likely browse the Ravnica book when it hits retailers to see if there might be anything useful for a homebrew game, but I admit I am not the target market. The goal of Wizards is to turn at least a small percentage of their Magic players into D&D players.

And that would be a damn big payday for D&D... But it also risks of a big pile of unsold books. Let's hope for the former.

Monday, July 23, 2018

D&D: Eberron for 5th Edition is a Seismic Shift

Wizards of the Coast announced not just one, but two new campaign settings for D&D 5th Edition. The Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron is an PDF update release through the DM’s Guild for $20.

Eberron was originally introduced during D&D’s 3rd Edition and remained popular even during the D&D 4e rule set. Releasing this update through the DM’s Guild instead via print will be sure to upset some fans, but make a lot of business sense from Wizards’ perspective.

1. It allows them to gauge interest in the setting without the massive costs of publishing a hardback book. Assuming interest is strong, Wizards may offer a hardcover print-on-demand version through DM’s Guild. (Mike Mearls has already confirmed a POD version will be available when the rules are out of beta).

2. It opens up another setting to the DM’s Guild creators aside from Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft. This is especially nice for those with magic-tech ideas that might not fit more traditional D&D fantasy genre.

This is a seismic shift for Wizards of the coast, since no other official 5th Edition product has been offered direct-to-consumer through the DM’s Guild. There are some drawbacks with this move, though.

As noted, fans of the setting may feel slighted that Eberron is not getting a print release while Ravnica is. Additionally, the Friendly Local Game Stores may feel a bit of trepidation as this is the first direct-to-consumer offering from Wizards of the Coast. Up until today, no official D&D 5th Edition product has been offered as a PDF. If I were a bricks & mortar retailer, I might be somewhat unsettled by this development (while feeling somewhat calmed that Ravnica is coming -- more on that later).

Other Updates to Come?

For my part, I am immensely excited at the prospect. I’m not a big fan of the Eberron setting, but this development means there may be hope for other 5th Edition updates that are unlikely to get a hardback book. Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, and Planescape are all likely candidates for a PDF-only release.

Greyhawk hasn't seen an official release for... well, longer than most people can remember. Dragonlance had a major update during the 3rd Edition and Dark Sun got its own 4th Edition hardback... but any one of these could be a nice outreach to fans of those settings. Given that psionics is openly being worked on at Wizards of the Coast, Dark Sun would seem to be a strong candidate for the next PDF update, and since it is not as "generic fantasy" as Greyhawk and Nentir, it doesn't compete as much with the Forgotten Realms.

However, I’d really love to see an update for the Nentir Vale. During D&D’s 4th Edition, a Nentir Vale campaign setting almost (but-not-quite) saw print. It hit the release schedule, but was later removed. A fair amount of the content for the proposed book made it into Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, which was probably one of the best products of the entire 4th Edition line. However, a stand alone setting book was never released.

Recently, Mike Mearls has been updating his “home game” version of the Nentir Vale document and showing the occasional sneak-peek on Twitter. These peeks look a lot like what one might find in an official update. A Nentir Vale update on the DM’s Guild would be an amazing win for fans of 4th Edition and the Vale.

Friday, July 13, 2018

GM 101: Build Meaningful Encounters

D&D bar fight!
There is little doubt that combat encounters with fantastic creatures is a core focus in Dungeons & Dragons and its like. Often times, this contact may involve the judicious use of deadly force, but not always. Non-combat encounters also make up a large portion of the game.

When building encounters, present them in such a way that they don’t automatically result in a fight to the death. Encounters, as a general rule, should serve some larger purpose or meaning within the game beyond just rolling dice and killing orcs.

So as a GM, when you design an encounter, ask yourself, “What is the story goal?”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

D&D: Myths and Legends of Encounter Balance

Grumpy Old Man
In my day, we even didn't have armor. We tied dead raccoons
to our bodies to protect us from orcish arrows and we loved it!
“In my day, we didn’t have encounter balance. That’s the way it was and we liked it! The party would either run away or get eaten. We loved it!”

I constantly hear a old school grognards bitching and moaning about how the game is “terrible” now that “all encounters are balanced”. They rail against CR (or EL) as a tool because somehow believe it puts training wheels on the game.

I call bullshit.

First, CR is a tool, like any other, at the disposal of the Dungeon Master so that they might know how difficult a group of opponents may be to a party of of a particular level. Does this mean all encounters must be matched with the level of the party? 

Of course not. It’s a canard to suggest otherwise, to put it nicely. Or to put it less nicely, “Bullshit.”

Friday, June 22, 2018

GM 101: How Not to Run a D&D Convention Game

I debated whether I wanted to write this. I am the first to admit I am not the greatest DM out there. Almost all of my advice columns come directly from mistake that I made at the table that I only recognized in retrospect.

This is not a substitute for a room description.
However, I had yet another sub-par experience with D&D Adventurers League and there seem to be some obvious adjustments DMs could make for both games at conventions and in their home. Forgive me if this gets a bit ranty, but looking back in retrospect has bubbled up all those frustrations I had during play.

Don’t Skimp the Descriptions

This is my single biggest beef with organized play… and it has happened to me on more than one occasion.

DM: You’re enter the room and here’s what you see (places some markers on a map). Roll initiative!

Seriously, this pisses this shit out of me. D&D is a game of imagination. Players can’t immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the game if you don’t freaking give them any mental picture. A square with some squiggles on a dry erase map is not freakin’ enough!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gaming 101: Bullies and Samaritans

Miniature skirmish games often have awesome terrain.
I hate to start a post-con wrap up with this topic, but I think this is singularly important to point out what I witnessed this weekend. Notice I didn't say “discuss” because there is no discussion. What happened was awful behavior and I want everyone to recognize it and put a stop to it when they see it.

While this incident happened in a miniatures game, I've seen this kind of behavior in many different kinds of games, and even once at my own table... so the lesson here is universal.

My wife and I attended a miniatures event this weekend at a well known convention, which should have been incredibly fun, but was hamstrung by events that occurred in the first turn. The set up was this: the players were all monsters and the town was the focus of our destructive behavior. It was a players vs. the environment situation. It was like “Rampage” (the video game) but with giant miniatures and a pseudo-medieval setting.

However, there was a caveat -- PvP was allowed in the game. It wasn’t against the rules to attack another player, but it was obvious (to me at least) that this kind of thing might happen later in the game when chaos was in full swing and the event was winding down.

So, here’s where things went sideways.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ep 8: The Slog at Grudd Haug - Running Storm King's Thunder

The long overdue episode 8 where you can learn from my DM'ing mistakes!

Not only did it take my group forever to finish off this particular giant lair (basically, my fault), this video also runs a bit long... So if you just want the meat of my advice, watch the beginning and the end using the index below.

Addendum: One thing that I don't think I stressed enough in the video, is that I didn't create enough of a sense of urgency. As an example, the party didn't know Guh had prisoners that were on the menu. Even when the thief scouted, he did not specifically scout the prison area. I should have created a scene for him to witness with the prisoners suffering at the hands of the bugbears or similar to emphasize that time was a critical factor in their assault on the lair.

01:45 Considering the challenges in running a large lair with a multitude of opponents
2:00 Will it be a cakewalk or TPK?
4:20 How will the lair react once combat breaks out? Where will the creatures move?
6:40 When the PCs do commit, how to the monsters react based on their intelligence and allgiences?
8:40 How does one present clues and options to the players without telling them what to do?
9:00 When you group meets infrequently, how do you optimize sessions and keep momentum to get through a large lair like Grudd Haug?
10:00 - 35:00 My group's hit and run tactics on Grudd Haug
38:48 Send opponents in waves to amp up the combat pressure.
46:45 Give scouting hints.
47:10 Don't save them if they get over their heads, but consider non-TPK options if it happens.
50:00 Don't hold back intel. Better to overshare clues to keep them party moving than to give them too little.
52:00 For giant lairs, chop it up into larger combats, instead of lots of small combats with few opponents. YMMV.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

GM 101: Ep 1 - The Importance of Session 0

The first episode of my new GM 101 video blog is a companion piece to my earlier article on Session 0, I talk about what "Session 0" is and why it's so important to establish a baseline of expectations for your campaign before it starts, including aspects such as play style, realism, PvP, and character compatibility.

Sorry that the color balance is so far off. I may need to re-shoot, but I hope the content makes up for the video quality.

0:55  What is Session 0 and what does it entail?
1:50  Session 0 establishes the campaign framework and sets player expectations.
3:00  What is the genre? What is the level of realism? Heavy RP or kick-in-the-door combat?
5:00  Establish your genre and play style baseline.
6:50  How incompatible play styles can harm the fun.
7:55  Session 0 involves some compromise.
8:30  Discuss home brew rules so players aren't unpleasantly surprised.
9:40  The dangers of PvP aspects in a game, and how it can be handled at the table.
11:45  Example of how incompatible play style can break up the game.
17:20  Don't make a character incompatible with the group.
19:05  Discuss how the characters know one another and trust each other.
20:50  Next video teaser: the Social Contract

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Did the OGL save D&D?

Teos Abadia (@Alphastream) posted a “controversial” tweet about the Open Game License (OGL) which spurred a good debate about D&D and RPGs in general. I wanted to write more about that… not as a virtual poke in Teos' eye (whose ideas contribute greatly to the community), but more as a reflection of how I think the OGL has benefited the hobby as a whole.

@Alphastream wrote:
My unpopular opinion: I don’t think the OGL does much to keep our game alive. Real “life” comes from active community and active developing rules. You can keep playing the same old edition, but that is unlikely to thrive. Look at 5E for thriving.
So, I think I know where he’s going with this. If I am not taking him out of context, the opinion is that a new edition has the power of active designers publishing new materials, as well as an active player community. Whereas “old” editions slowly dwindle because there is little new development and new players aren’t really being brought into the community.

He’s not entirely wrong. D&D 5th Edition thrives because of the very active designers and players in the community, creating enthusiasm and outreach to a broader audience.

But I think that he missed the point of the OGL/d20 SRD as a “savior” (for lack of a better word) of D&D. The OGL was a preventative measure to ensure that D&D (as a concept, not a brand) would continue to be played as a tabletop RPG, rather than a shuttered intellectual property. The OGL was really an insurance policy against a large corporation acquiring the brand and sitting on it.

As Ryan Dancy wrote: "I also had the goal that the release of the SRD would ensure that D&D in a format that I felt was true to its legacy could never be removed from the market by capricious decisions by its owners." (Paizo forums, Nov 23, 2010)

You see, when a company like Hasbro acquires an IP like D&D, that doesn’t necessarily mean its future as a pen & paper tabletop game is assured. D&D as a brand is valuable for video games, movies, board games, and other future media (VR? Augmented Reality?).

Luckily for us, Hasbro (it seems) recognized that the value in the brand has tabletop at its heart and has given Wizards of the Coast the autonomy to grow the tabletop part of the brand in the best ways they are able… but it could have gone very differently.

The other point I think Teos didn’t closely consider is that the OGL is largely responsible for a large portion of the growth of RPGs as a hobby outside of D&D. This is the critical detail, in my mind, of how the OGL benefits the hobby. The OGL is largely responsible for the success of nearly all of the 3rd party publishers out there, making content not just for D&D, but also other IP developed under the OGL.

Paizo, Goodman Games, Kobold Press, Troll Lord Games, Green Ronin, Monte Cook Games, Frog God Games… the list goes on. Most of these companies were founded during d20 era when WotC published the d20 System Reference Document. The OGL allowed these nascent publishers to build D&D content (or D&D-like games) without having to worry about hiring costly lawyers to advise on all the IP and copyright restrictions (hazards) of publishing D&D-adjacent titles. The OGL was a one-stop shop for avoiding WotC/Hasbro lawsuits.

After these publishers established success using D&D as a stepping stone, many of them moved on to build other games. Pathfinder, Numenera, 13th Age, Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Future, Spycraft, Cypher System…  Manyof these spawned directly out of the d20 SRD, while the others are new creations that grew due to the economic benefit provided by the OGL. These publishers have also grown their own player communities within the hobby.

Final Thoughts

While the OGL may not have “saved” D&D, as a brand, it certainly has provided the hobby the fertile loam upon which independent publishers have grown and flourished which has, in turn, created a healthier ecosystem for D&D and its brethren.

In that way, the OGL has preserved D&D (and other TTRPGs) for future generations, regardless of what company holds the brand.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GM 101: Quick & Dirty Memorable NPCs

Pathfinder Face cards or similar NPC artwork
can help imprint NPCs into your players' memories.
There is a plethora of great advice on the web on making a memorable NPC, but often that advice assumes that NPC is one you have hand-crafted for a campaign as a spotlight character. Sometimes, you need an NPC on the spot, and you don’t want your players to regard him or her as “Random NPC #5”.

In a vibrant campaign, the potential should be there for the party to create a relationship with any NPC met along the way. Often times, the most surprising role playing can come out of a chance meeting with a random NPC.

There are a couple quick and dirty tricks I use which I call the “Quick & Dirty NPC Generator”. It's basically a sheet of paper with some notes to have nearby during your sessions. Here's how it works.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

D&D/OSR: Encumbrance Made Easy Redux

Ridiculously Encumbered PC
OK, but do you come with a cork screw?
Encumbrance is a bit of a pain in the rear, and has always been a tug of war between players and DMs, which is why most DMs hand-wave it. Players rarely track their weight, and PCs end up carrying all kinds of ridiculous equipment that apparently takes a single object interaction to get out of who knows which hole on the PC’s body.

In a previous article, I attempted to come up with a solution to the Swiss Army PC, but my players pretty quickly found the holes in the system, and I did not enforce its restrictions as I should have. Working on my BX-5 home brew rules, I’ve attempted to come up with a simpler, improved solution which can be more easily enforced.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Origins Registration Crapfest... Again

Every year, it's "Next year will be better!"

And then it isn't.

UPDATE 7:00 PM - The single event cart bug just got fixed, but the search is awful, since you need provide the date AND category along with the event name or number. Lots of small press RPG events appear to be missing from registration even though they are listed on the event grid csv.

UPDATE 05/03:  Missing - Every event from 9th Level Games, Most (about 20) from Pelgrane Press, and several others missing events from the registration portal (Steve Jackson, Green Ronin, etc). Of the roughly 6000 events, only about 3500 are present in the registration portal... an absolute sh!t show.

I hate being the Debbie Downer, but this absolutely preventable poop-storm just pisses me off. Again, this year (and just about every year since about 2010), Origins Game Fair registration arrived with yet another server or code catastrophe (or both)... because you can't always anticipate the unexpected, right?

Monday, April 30, 2018

D&D 5e: A Slower Healing Variant

For many who have played D&D over multiple editions, especially those from the TSR days, the rate of healing and recovery in 5th Edition may seem a bit fast. PCs come into every fight feeling fresh and energetic, which is a bit counter to the old school play style.

I wanted to be a healing and death to be a little more gritty than standard 5th Edition. I also wanted falling unconscious to be more dangerous and the possibility of instant death more likely. My desire was to removes some of the pop-tart effect of constantly letting the fighters drop to 0 hit points only to spring back up 6 seconds later. The healers should be doing their jobs before the front line falls unconscious.

When considering the changes, I thought the 7-day long rest variant as outlined in the Dungeon Master's Guide was overdoing it. While want healing magic to become a more important resource to be managed, I did not wish to alter other long rest recharge powers. In that vein, I wrote up a slower healing variant for B/X-5, my own home brew homage to Old School D&D. I think this modification strikes a balance between seemingly fast default healing and  overly slow variants I've seen. Healing works essentially the same as in 5th Edition with some minor changes highlighted below.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Star Wars Wrasslin' Wroundup

This is a bit of a diversion from the regular blog, but I decided to just have a Star Wars conversation with two RPG luminaries... for no other reason than because I wanted to.

Join me, Marty "Raging Owlbear" Walser, Tom "Dungeon Bastard" Lommel, and Chris "King Torg" O'Neill (All Hail King Torg!) for a fireside chat minus the fire, about all kinds of Star Wars adjacent topics, from science fiction and fandom to prequels and sequels.

I want to thank Tom Lommel (@DungeonBastard) and Chris O'Neill (@AllHailKingTorg) for humoring me in this effort. The conversation was tangential, unruly, unexpectedly weird at times, and funny.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

D&D 5e: There's No School Like Old School

Artist: Bill Willingham
A recent post on Facebook got me thinking about Old School play again, and how Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition can be adapted to imitate the feel of older editions.

The gist of the post was that a DM had his players roll 3d6 in order to determine their character's ability scores and the now 5th level Rogue was concerned about his exceptionally low hit points (which they are also rolling for) due to a low Constitution and some bad die rolls.

Of course, there was a combination of "Your DM sucks!" and "This is old school... Suck it up and have fun with it." responses, which all somewhat miss the point because Session 0 should have set the expectations for that game...

But I digress... because that's not what this post is about. It's about B/X-5.

You see, a couple years back I had actually started to compile a list of rules for an 5th Edition compatible "old school" game based upon the D&D 5th Edition System Reference Document (SRD5). But, you know how life can sometimes get in the way of shit you want to do.

Anyway, after seeing this post, I took some of the pieces of my original idea and crafted a document for anyone who wants to try their own version of Old School 5th Edition. You can view the Google document here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ep 7: Humor, Mass Combat, Foreshadowing - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 7 of Running Storm King's Thunder, I discuss humor at the table, the good and the bad, and what can be done if it is getting out of hand. Also, how to involve PCs in a mass combat (or run it "off screen"). Lastly, I talk a bit about my player's progress to Grud Haug and how it has given me some challenges in game.

(2:20) Humor vs. Disruptive Humor at the table
(4:00) Setting expectations with Session 0
(6:15) Talking to disruptive players about the tone
(8:00) Does the DM want a heavy tone and the players wants something lighter?
(12:00) Stop passive-aggressive bullying “humor” 
(16:35) Using DM humor to set a different tone for a scene
(16:55) Meta Humor in Storm King’s Thunder
(18:30) Heartbreak Old Tower
(21:00) Mass Combat options
(23:45) Building a PC encounter while running the mass combat “off stage”
(25:00) Focusing on the character actions in a “narrative” mass combat
(27:45) Setting up a set-piece encounter as a part of a mass battle
(31:10) Creating tension in a mass combat by ratcheting up the encounter challenge
(35:00) Using NPCs as a buffer against a TPK in a dangerous battle
(38:00) Foreshadowing important NPCs (redux)
(43:00) Player Motivation prior to the Eye
(43:45) Assault on Grudd Haug
(49:31) Giving the players “the objective”
(56:00) Sewer pieces I’m 3D printing for an upcoming session

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ep 6: Metagaming and Memorable NPCs - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 6, I briefly recap recent blog posts. I go into a little more detail on my recent DMing failure related to meta-gaming. Give advice on ways to set up important NPCs in Storm King's Thunder in advance of their appearance in the book as written, and tips to make NPCs stand out in the players' minds.

(02:45) GM 101 Blog Series 
(04:28) Giving Love To Other Small Publishers
(09:52) Don’t Make My Metagame Mistake
(11:05) As a good player, don’t spoil it for others!
(12:45) Players shouldn’t need to metagame to succeed in the game.
(14:45) Mistake 1: Scouting Grudd Haug
     (19:03) Mistake 2: Sneaking into Grudd Haug
     (19:30) What I should have done.
(27:42) Making NPCs memorable
(27:42) Challenges making NPC memorable in SKT
(29:30) Better utilizing major NPCs like Zephyros and Harshnag
(31:32) Improve the hooks by introducing or foreshadowing the NPCs earlier
(42:35) Use NPC letters of introduction
(44:25) NPCs On the Fly
     (44:25) Have a list of game world or culturally appropriate names ready.
(50:20) Make short notes on accent and personality
(54:10) Pick a couple quirks or affectations to make the NPCs stick in the player’s minds
(56:30) Go against type, subvert expectations
(59:35) Transitioning from Starter Set (Lost Mines)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Don't Forget the Little People

Goodman Games, Troll Lord Games, Kobold Press
Trolls, Kobolds, and Good Men are worthy of your attention.
♫ YouTube streams killed the RPG star... ♫

Matt Colville has made over $1 Million on his Kickstarter and well on his way to $1.5 M… That’s great. I’m not jealous. Really, I’m not… (ok, maybe just a bit).

I’ve been lucky enough to have a moderately successful blog that nets me just about enough advertising to buy 1 hardback book every 6 months or so. I’m reasonably pleased with my mild “success”, but I’m not trying to make a living in RPGs. Many others are (or at least supplementing their income).

This is a little reminder that there are a lot of creators out there working hard for the love of the game. Some have Patreons, some have Kickstarters, and some are full time game designers who really deserve your attention as well because they have amazing products. I’d like to highlight a few of them who have helped my game out.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

GM 101: Don't Sweat the Meta (too much)

Artist: Jim Holloway (Dragon #88)
So even after 40 years in gaming, I made a huge mistake in DMing last week’s session.

You see, I have this blind spot when it comes to metagaming.

I like the world to be mysterious. I want the characters (and therefore the players) to know only what they should know in the game. I want the mechanics to fade into the background as much as possible, so the “reality” of the situation is pure from a story perspective.

But sometimes I let that desire to have a metagame-free session get in the way of the what's best at the table.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ep 5: Chapter 3 and Side Treks - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 5, I recap the blog posts on Sandboxes, Railroads, and Social Contracts. I also dive a little deeper on Chapter 3 and side treks to give your players options during the more sandbox portion of the adventure. Spoilers start after minute 30.

(3:24) Sandboxes and Railroads
(10:30) Adding player agency to published adventures like Storm King’s Thunder
(18:00) Adjusting published material to the actions of the players
(21:00) The Social Contract and what it means for your table
(26:45) How Session 0 defines the Social Contract
(30:10) SKT - How to get the most out of Chapter 3
(31:00) Strategies to tease plot threads and side quests
    (33:25) Grouping encounters by their regional locations or their quests trees
    (35:00) Example - tying together regional plot hooks around the Evermoors
    (41:45) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters by their quest trees
    (43:00) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters make them the “best” with rumors
(44:55) Using rumors to get the PCs onto a plot thread
(48:05) Using shelved “random” encounters or side treks to improv as needed
(51:30) Random encounters don’t have to be about combat
(54:00) Examples of encounters to drop in
    (54:20) Womford Bat and Death in the Cornfields (
    (55:50) Dungeon #144 and the Evermoors
    (56:25) Fire Giant Dig Site
    (57:40) Pick out Barbarians to highlight
    (59:12) Drow encounter in the Dwarf fortress
    (1:01:30) Adventurer's League "Bad Fruul" adventures
    (1:02:45) Blagthokus the Cloud Giant (HotDQ)
    (1:03:45) Cloud Giant's Bargain
    (1:05:35) Frost Giants raiding the coastal towns

Thursday, February 8, 2018

GM 101: What is the social contract?

D&D characters arguing
So in my recent posts about “Railroading” and “Session 0”, I’ve talked a lot about expectations at the table, and how it is important for everyone to want the same (or at least similar) things out of the game to make sure everyone is having fun.  Implied in that statement is an idea that has gone around gaming circles for many years -- the “social contract”.

What is the social contract?

The idea of the social contract is that there is an unspoken agreement at the table that everyone is there to have fun and no one player or GM should act in such a way as to harm the fun of another player.

Basically, as Wil Wheaton put it, “Don’t be a d!ck.”

That’s the summary version, but there is a little more elaboration related to RPGs. We all play D&D (and similar games) as an escape from the day to day stresses. We have enough problems and personal conflict in the real world to have to come to a game only to face the same personal conflicts or stresses we’d like to put aside on a Friday or Saturday night. If it’s not fun, people will quit the game.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

GM 101: Railroads and Sandboxes and Agency, Oh My!

A lot (and I mean a LOT) of digital ink has been spilled over the topics of railroading, sandbox play, and player agency in games like Dungeons & Dragons… but often a new GM comes into these conversations not fully understanding what that actually means for their own game.  Well, I’m going to try to break it down for someone who is newer the the GM chair.

First, we need to define terms in the conversation, because depending upon your point of view, the terms themselves may already loaded with bias.

Player Agency - This is the ability for a player to have meaning choices in the game world. This is portrayed as freedom from pre-destination. Freedom from an "illusion of choice" where a particular path is forced upon the players by will of the game master. In other words, if the player selects path A, it will be different than if they had selected path B. The two paths can end up in the same place, but they must be meaningfully different (I’ll try to explain that more in a bit).

Railroad - This term is generally used for when the GM is guiding the players along a path upon which the players cannot diverge (i.e. - you can’t turn a train off its tracks. The players lose the ability to affect the plot (and therefore, player agency) , because a pre-defined course or story has already been set. This is usually used as a pejorative. However, there are times where rails are useful as a GM tool (I’ll also get to that in a minute), as long at the players understand and agree why they are there.

Sandbox - This term is used when the GM presents a “open world” scenario where the players have the most freedom to move in any direction, follow any adventure hook presented, or abandon said hooks at any time for something else that captures their interest. There are few constraints to the players actions. Sandbox games supposedly offer the most player agency, but even a sandbox game can turn into a railroad, or can suffer from other issues that remove player agency.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Episode 4: Goldenfields and Triboar - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 4, I get around to the Goldenfield and Triboar encounters. There's a lot to unpack in this episode. No major spoilers until after minute 20. Topics listed below the video.

(2:00) Streamlining the session to not waste gaming time
(9:02) Legacy Weapons (
(16:25) Tips for running large combats scenarios
(22:40) Using the area maps as a pseudo battle map

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Episode 3: Player Visuals, Maps and Handouts - Running Storm King's Thunder

Apologies for the rough end edit. The video was interrupted by my feverish 3 year old, so I had dad duties. I will get back to Goldenfields and Triboar in the next video, which I will try to release ahead of schedule.

In this episode:
(3:06) Finding miniatures in the clearance toy aisle or online
 Diana figure (
 Aquaman figure (
(8:22) Cheap gridded wrapping paper
(9:07) Mapping large encounter areas like Grudd Haug
(13:15) Todd McFarlane figures from Ebay
(18:03) Player visuals / NPC portraits
(20:40) Pathfinder NPC face cards (
(26:45) Player maps
(33:00) Don't hide your town's locations/features from the players

Monday, January 22, 2018

D&D/OSR: Legacy Weapons in D&D

Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
(c) Wizards of the Coast
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with magic items. As a DM, I’ve always wanted magic items to be a rare and cherished item in a character’s inventory. The challenge is that, as characters level up, that +1 Longsword becomes less useful and will be discarded for the next powerful “plus” that comes along, no matter how fancy a name you might give it.

Because I do not want to have to churn new magic items through the party every few levels (supposed to be rare, right?), I’ve had to come up with ways to keep existing items in the player’s inventory fresh. In this regard, I’ve stolen come up with ideas to improve magic weapon: Enchantment (rune/gem) Slots and Legacy Weapons.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Episode 2: Session 0, Miniatures, Terrain - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 2, I speak more generally about improving your game in the first half hour (no spoilers). Storm King Thunder specific tips come in the second half hour (mild spoilers).

(1:40) Importance of Session 0 (follow-up on the blog post from the other day).
(15:00) Using Assault of the Giants board game miniatures (
(20:12) Simple ways to use crafting to improve encounters
(22:20) Paper crafting as a simple way to create 3D elements (more on papercraft here)
(28:00) Leveling in D&D 5e and Storm King’s Thunder
(32:15) Putting the brakes on leveling for Nightstone and bridges to the next chapters
(33:45) Alternate utilization of Zephyros and Harshnag… and other throw-away NPCs
(38:50) Extending the mid-tier levels prior to getting into the main SKT story
(41:25) Finding other adventures that can tie into the SKT story arc
               (43:05) D&D 5th Edition Adventures by Level
               (44:15) Death in the Cornfields
               (49:15) Mustering at Morach Tor (Dungeon #144)
               (N/A) Kraken’s Gamble

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

GM 101: Why is Session Zero Important?

I often see the question “What is Session Zero?” on social media… or if they haven’t heard of “Session 0” before, one might see a complaint like “I wanted a wilderness-savvy ranger traveling between settlements and exploring the frontier, but everything in our campaign is in this giant capital city. I never get to use my character’s [insert favored class abilities here] and feel less than useful in the game… What can I do?”

[ UPDATE: I also talk a big more about Session 0 in my video blog here: ]


Session 0 is about setting expectations. It provides a way for the GM to outline what the campaign is about, give a rough sketch of setting details, what races, classes or other options are available (or if any do not exist or have some caveat) and any other details pertinent to to the players prior to character creation.

It also serves as a place to come to an agreement about the game. Remember that D&D and similar RPGs are a shared storytelling experience. It is not wholly up to the GM to dictate everything about the game, unless the players are fine with being passive about the game world particulars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Episode 1: Nightstone and Chapter 3 - Running Storm King's Thunder

I started out my blog posts on Storm King’s Thunder as a series of articles, but there is just so much to talk about, it’s just much quicker to do some extemporaneous videos instead of writing it all out (ain’t nobody got time for that). I have a lot to say, and video seems to be the better medium... So this is kind of a video reboot of the SKT series. This first episode focuses on the introductory chapters of Storm King’s Thunder and tips for starting out. Forgive me if I meander a bit. Episode 2 will be much tighter (30 minutes) with more of a scripted outline.

In this episode, I discuss:
  • Tom Lommel’s Disorganized Play videos (1:30)
  • Getting a handle on the sprawling Chapter 3 hooks and scenarios. (3:20)
  • Using a Google Doc (or other note software) to mine ideas out of Chapter 3. (8:00)
  • Write a one-sheet summary or encounter packet for upcoming encounters. (12:00)
  • Coming up with better introductory hooks than the weak ones in the book. (13:00)
  • The perils of using Storm King’s Thunder outside of the Forgotten Realms. (16:50)
  • Stealing other’s ideas. (19:00)
  • Teasing the broader story and mystery to the players. (19:40)
  • Tying the Nightstone attack back into the larger plot. (22:00)
  • Buffing Nightstone for higher level parties. (23:30)
  • Making set piece encounters more interesting with 3D visuals. (29:00)
  • Dollar store deals on gaming paper. (31:00)
  • More on 3D visuals and crafting. (34:20)
  • Teasing an upcoming video on the adventure in Dungeon #144. (38:00)
Some images of my 3D set ups using papercraft, styrofoam, Dwarven Forge, or even Lego.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

D&D Miniatures: New Plastics from Hero Forge

Hero Forge, the miniature 3D printing service, has again updated their plastic offerings. Aside from the somewhat pricey metals, they now offer “Plastic” and “Premium Plastic”. Premium Plastic, which I wrote about previously, used to named Gray Plastic when it was first introduced (replacing Ultra Detail). What used to be Strong Plastic (Nylon) is no longer offered. It was not particularly good, as the texture was too rough to take paint well. The newest offering, replacing Strong Plastic is just called Plastic.

Full disclosure: Hero Forge offered me a figure to test out without any expectation that I’d write a review. They were looking for feedback for their new material, but were open to any post I’d like to make about it.

First off, I have to say the figure creator has a lot of new options. There are more two-handed weapon poses, more weapons, more outfits, more headgear and more skin options. Many of the items from my character creation wish list I identified in my last post have been addressed. They could probably add a few more pose variants, but that’s a nit pick. I’m even more impressed with the character rendering options than before. Bravo, Hero Forge.

So how does Plastic compare with Premium Plastic?

The Plastic option costs $19.99 while the Premium option costs $29.99. The new Plastic option appears (I’m assuming here) to use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) while the Premium option uses Stereolithography printing.  Stereolithography allows for a much finer detail as the layers are much thinner.

Halfling Sorceress printed with the Plastic option
Halfling Sorceress printed with the Plastic option
The detail on the Plastic model is better than their prior offerings. The quality is much better than the old “Strong Plastic”, and probably equivalent to the “Ultra Detail” they used to offer. However, you can still see the banding created by the FDM process.

This means there will be a little bit of challenge hiding this texture when the model is painted. This is not generally a major problem if you prime and paint, but can become apparent on broad or flat surfaces like a cape or shield. A slightly thicker layer of paint should help with this, but if you use washes to shade, the wash may follow the contours left by the printing process, rather than the figure detail. Priming is a must.

Secondarily, some fine details will be lost. In the above picture, you see an up-close view of the standard Plastic offering. I added a black wash to allow for better pictures. Keep in mind that the wash over-emphasizes the print layers.

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