Nov 25 2020

A Very Short Solo Adventure ¬.¬

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Shady On the Attack!

In response to my Playing Shady Instead of Writing Her post, RebelSqurl gifted me with a copy of the Mythic Game Master Emulator and a few other similar items, with a brief description of how he’s basically been using it to run solo adventures with his own characters. So, having today off, I dug into it, combining it with some of the random adventure generation tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and a few notions of my own to create a “random Shade-Of-the-Candle adventure generator.”

Learning the system and getting comfortable with it took most of the day, but I developed a very intriguing story premise by taking a few seed words, asking a few pointed Fate Questions, and then creating the first scene which I played out using Shady’s D&D character sheet. Now that I’ve got a feel for it, I’m looking forward to “running” Shady through the rest of this adventure, and discovering the story as I go!

For your entertainment, here’s what I came up with, so far. If the final product comes out well (and I think it just might), I’ll go ahead and write it as a full-fledged story.

——

Step One: Create Setup

Generated Keywords: pirate, Dragonwatch Keep, pursuit of energy

Shady has found out about a shipment of materials used to make alchemist’s fire on its way to Dragonwatch Keep, and would love to get her claws on it, whether to sell it in Everkeep or to keep it for the Moonlit Horizon.

FATE QUESTION: Did the Lady Patrician point Shady toward this?
RESULT: “Exceptional No.” The Lady Patrician has agents working against the capture of the shipment!

FATE QUESTION: Is the Lady Patrician’s agent somebody Shady knows?
RESULT: “Exceptional Yes.” It’s somebody that Shady’s close to.

FATE QUESTION: Does Shady know that the agent works for the L.P.?
RESULT: No.

FATE QUESTION: Are they lovers?
RESULT: No.

FATE QUESTION: Is the agent another privateer?
RESULT: “Exceptional yes.” It’s the L.P.’s best!

Step Two: Generate Lists

CHARACTER LIST:
Shady
Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
The Privateer

CHAOS: 5

THREADS LIST:
Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues

Step Three: Create and Resolve Scenes

Opening Scene

A person of interest (the Harbormaster) sends Shady on the adventure
MODIFIED: Shady learns about the shipment by finagling a look at the Harbormaster’s log

“C’mon, Fean,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle. “There has GOT to be something. I’ve got a ship and crew both just baking in the sun and not a cargo in sight. Did Everkeep suddenly fall off the trade routes?”

Fean Wavecrest, the imposing, gray-skinned wharfmaster of Everkeep, blinked down at her impassively. “You don’t usually ship cargo,” he said. “And when you do bring it into the town, I always assume that it came from some other ship first.”

The tabaxi scowled. “Are you calling me a pirate?” she snarled. “The Moonlit Horizon is a licensed privateer. You’ve seen the letters of marque, signed by the Lady Patrician herself.”

“What the Moonlit Horizon may or may not be, there are no cargoes for her. Now move along, I have work to do.”

“How can you possibly have work to do if there are no cargoes in port?” Shady demanded.

“There are repairs, new ships to build, customs to levy, and hundreds of laborers to keep in line,” replied the goliath.

(SHADY INSIGHT DC 10: 2. She believes it. But she has another idea.) “The Dragonfly is prepping for a voyage,” she said. “How is it Ainsworth has a cargo and I don’t? I know he’s not on commission.”

“Captain Ainsworth has a private arrangement, you’d have to take it up with him.”

“But he had to put down something for your log.”

“He did. And your eyes will never see it.”

“Oh, c’moooon, Fean. Have I ever been anything but good to you? Give us a hint.” (SHADY PERSUASION DC 16: 17)

The goliath sighed. “I’m not getting you out from underfoot without throwing you a bone, am I?”

Shady grinned. “You bet your stoney butt you’re not.”

“Fine.” The goliath picked up his logbook, making a big show of holding up the logbook as if he were looking up something else, in a manner that Shady couldn’t help but see one of the pages. “What time is the tide today? Ah yes. Surely it must be soon. Why, it’s nearly upon us, isn’t it? I have it written down here.”

Shady’s eyes quickly scanned the page, until she came to the desired row. “Dragonfly, frigate out of Everkeep, Captain Dryden Ainsworth. Cargo: Munitions. Destination: Dragonwatch Keep. Leaving: Evening tide, 22 July 1704 N.K.” Shady’s eyes widened. Munitions could mean anything from cannonballs to empty muskets, but a shipment like that meant there was money involved.

Money that Shade-Of-the-Candle was not collecting.

Not yet.

She smirked up at the goliath wharfmaster, who quickly slapped the logbook shut. “Right,” he said. “I’m going now. I wonder if I might find a few loose coins just lying around on my desk when I get back.”

Shady grinned, already spreading a bit of gold on the desk before making for the door. “You just might, at that,” she said.

CHARACTER LIST:
Shady
Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest

CHAOS: 4

THREADS LIST:
Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues

NEXT SCENE:
Shady sneaking aboard (or snooping around) the Dragonfly to learn more about the shipment

Sep 08 2020

Being a Player or a DM in D&D

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GeekQuery! A new web channel featuring InkBlitz and myself, talking all things geeky. We jump right in this week, discussing what it’s like to switch to being a player in tabletop RPGs if you’re used to being the Gamemaster—or vice-versa. We’re just getting started and we’d love some feedback!

-The Gneech

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Aug 27 2020

Shady the Bard, Revisited

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The business end of Shade-Of-the-Candle
So I think I’ve talked myself into multiclassing Shady with bard instead of fighter. The question now becomes… when? My initial thought was that it would start at 11th level, because Reliable Talent is a broken class feature anyway, but I would miss the ability score bumps at 8 and 10, not to mention Evasion (which is amazing) and Panache (which is also amazing).

On the other hand… 11th level is really far away, if we even take it for granted that the game will get there. As players, we (admittedly, mostly me, but other players bought in to my reasoning) asked Inkblitz to slow levelling down when we hit sixth, and, well, it’s very rare for any D&D game to survive long past 10th. And since Bard Shady’s spells top out at 3rd level, if I wait for 11th to roll around, they’re going to be a lot more limited in application.

So I started thinking about what would happen if I made the switch immediately: what would I gain, and what would I lose? Since 9th level’s Panache and the 10th level ASI are sort of my benchmarks of pure rogue, I tried statting up Shady Rogue 10, and Shady Rogue 5/Bard 5, and this is what I got:

—–

SHADY: Rogue (Swashbuckler) 10
AC 17; hp 74
Speed: 30′, x2 w/ Feline Agility
Initiative: +8

Str 10, Dex 20, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 16
Saves: Dex +9, Int +4
Acrobatics +9, Animal Handling +1, Arcana +0, Athletics +8, Deception +3, History +0, Insight +1, Intimidation +7, Investigation +4, Medicine +1, Nature +0, Perception +9, Performance +3, Persuasion +11, Religion +0, Sleight of Hand +9, Stealth +13, Survival +1
Prof: Concertina, Dice Set, Thieves’ Tools

Cunning Action, Evasion, Fancy Footwork, Panache, Rakish Audacity, Sneak Attack +5d6, Uncanny Dodge

Crescent Moon: +10 to hit, 1d8+6 piercing (+5d6 sneak attack*)
Cutlass (off-hand): +9 to hit, 1d6 slashing
[average combined DPR 31.5]
Pistol: +9 to hit, 1d10+5 piercing (+5d6 sneak attack*) [average DPR 28]

*Sneak attack can only apply once per turn.

—–

SHADY: Rogue (Swashbuckler) 5/Bard (College of Swords) 5
AC 17 (+d8 Blade Flourish**); hp 74
Speed: 30′, 40′ w/ attack action (Blade Flourish), x2 w/ Feline Agility
Initiative: +9

Str 10, Dex 20, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 14
Saves: Dex +9, Int +4
Acrobatics +9, Animal Handling +3, Arcana +2, Athletics +8, Deception +6, History +2, Insight +3, Intimidation +6, Investigation +4, Medicine +3, Nature +2, Perception +9, Performance +4, Persuasion +10, Religion +2, Sleight of Hand +9, Stealth +13, Survival +3
Prof: Concertina, Dice Set, Navigator’s Tools, Thieves’ Tools

Bardic Inspiration d8 (2/short or long rest), Blade Flourish, Cunning Action, Fancy Footwork, Fighting Style (Two-Weapon Fighting), Jack of All Trades, Rakish Audacity, Sneak Attack +3d6, Song of Rest (d6), Uncanny Dodge

Spells: 0-level—Friendship, Mage Hand, Vicious Mockery; 1—level (4 slots)—Charm Person, Healing Word, Heroism, Longstrider, Sleep; 2-level (3 slots)—Blindness/Deafness, Enthrall; 3-level (2 slots)—Stinking Cloud

Crescent Moon: +10 to hit, 1d8+6 piercing (+3d6 sneak attack*, +d8 Blade Flourish**)
Cutlass (off-hand): +9 to hit, 1d6+5 slashing
[average combined DPR 34]
Pistol: +9 to hit, 1d10+5 piercing (+3d6 sneak attack*) [average DPR 21]

*Sneak attack can only apply once per turn.
**Blade Flourish cannot add to AC and weapon damage on the same turn, can only apply damage once per turn, and expends a use of Bardic Inspiration.

—–

CONCLUSIONS: Bard Shady’s swordsmanship suffers when not using blade flourishes, but is actually superior when she does use them. Unfortunately, she only has two per short rest. Her marksmanship drops noticeably, however. On the other hand, with Sleep, Stinking Cloud, and spammable Vicious Mockery, she has other options at range. She loses both Uncanny Dodge (ouch) and Panache (ouch), but gains a much more robust skill list, gets to plug a hole in her mariner skills w/ Navigator Tools, and becomes a better leader, with Bardic Inspiration, Healing Word, and Song of Rest available to bolster her crew.

If we assume that her “spells” are actually just items she’s carrying around in that utility belt, Mage Hand becomes her yoinking things from across the room with her grapple hook, Sleep can be sleeping powder or a sucker punch, and Blindness/Deafness and Stinking Cloud both become bags of stuff she lobs at her foes.

That running speed, tho. With Blade Flourish and Feline Agility, she can run 80′ on a turn and still attack someone—who then can’t hit her back when she’s running away thanks to Fancy Footwork. Add Longstrider to the mix and we’re looking at Sonic the Hedgehog. Bard Shady has a higher initiative than Rogue Shady despite having a lower Dex, but won’t be laughing off fireballs. She might just outrun them, tho. >.>

Ugh! It’s a tough choice! Bard Shady is better for the social pillar, Rogue Shady has more sustain in combat (at least against foes that don’t resist slashing and piercing), and the two of them bring different strengths to exploration.

At the end of the day, I think I need to pick the one that is most “in character” rather than being optimized. Given how much Shady loves to talk to people, pulls weird things out of her bag of tricks, wants to be a competent seafarer, and pokes her nose where it doesn’t belong, I suspect Bard Shady edges out Rogue Shady at the end of the day. But I’d love to hear opinions!

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Aug 11 2020

Creating Five Star Adventures

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I’ve been running a somewhat-modified Tomb of Annihilation lately, and while my players seem to be having a good time, I must admit that I’m not quite feeling the connection with it that I would like. Perhaps exacerbated by the fact that the group has had some seriously bad luck with navigation rolls and so keeps getting lost in the jungle, the game largely feels to me like a string of random fights, with little or no through-line of story or character development, which are famously the parts of any game that I’m the most interested in.

While I was looking for ways to address this for my next session, I happened across this video from Runesmith, in which he enumerates “five things an adventure should have.” What immediately struck me is that I’ve seen this concept before: the first time was in West End Games’s Star Wars Roleplaying Game, way back in 1987, but it’s also a core conceit of the Five Room Dungeon concept. Some of the specific bullet points of the five items vary, however, and if we map them to Dungeons & Dragons‘s “Three Pillars of Adventure” (Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat), we get…

Star Wars RPG Five Room Dungeon Runesmith
  1. Firefight (C)
  2. Ship Combat (C)
  3. Chase (E/C)
  4. NPC Interaction (S)
  5. Problem-Solving (E)
  1. Entrance/Guardian (E/S/C)
  2. Puzzle/RP Challenge (E or S)
  3. Trick/Setback (E or S)
  4. Climax/Big Battle (S or C)
  5. Reward/Revelation/Twist (E/S)
  1. Go Somewhere Cool (E)
  2. Talk to Someone Interesting (S)
  3. Learn Something New (E/S)
  4. Fight Something (C)
  5. Get a Reward (E)

Why five? First, it’s complex enough to be meaty without being so complex that it bogs down in detail or analysis paralysis. Second, it nicely maps to the familiar five-act story structure of setup > rising action > complication > climax > denouement. Finally, it’s a handy pocket size. The Star Wars example doesn’t quite map to the other two—”firefight,” “ship combat,” and “chase” are all more-or-less specific flavors of “fight something”—but the Star Wars setting, with its alien creatures and exotic worlds, has “go somewhere cool” baked into it universe design assumptions (and the inherent reward of any adventure assumed to be “victory for the Alliance”).

Looking at my Tomb of Annihilation game, I actually think that most of the individual sessions have hit the five points fairly consistently: the Burning Coast is an exciting region with dangers and wonders galore, there have been plenty of colorful NPCs, and so on. It has leaned a little heavily on the combat and exploration, but I think the point that may be falling down is rewards. Not just in terms of treasure (because there hasn’t been much, but in this setting gold and such is largely irrelevant), but in terms of the inherent reward of “moving the story forward.” The party came to the Burning Coast to find (and hopefully end) the Wasting Curse, and so far they’ve gone dino racing, rowed up the Amazon Soshenstar River, and now they’ve gotten entangled with the troubles of a lizardfolk village that may or may not have anything to do with the Big Problem. The barbarian, of all people, is wondering “Are we getting anywhere?” and maybe he has a point.

With this in mind, I think I’m going to remix a few of the elements of the next session to tie them more closely to the Big Problem, but more importantly, to show the players that it’s tied to the Big Problem. In an adventure where “loot” is not a metric, “plot coupons” are the actual reward, and I think maybe I’ve been too stingy with those. So I will address that.

-The Gneech

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Oct 18 2018

D&D Weather

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Angband, by Angus Mcbride, or, A Million Gazillion Orcs

Sunny days and crisp weather have arrived here, and that always puts Dungeons and Dragons on my brain– because way back in 1983 a bunch of us would hang out behind our high school on days like this and play through a very freeform megadungeon game of my own creation. I particularly remember a moment I’ve written about before, where one of my players (who always wanted to run ahead on his own) opened a door, only to be informed that behind it was a massive chamber with 200 orcs… to which his response is “I slam the door and run away!” Fun times. XD

At the time, I didn’t use the D&D rules, partially because I had all of a Holmes Basic Set and an AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide to work from (making for an incomplete and often contradictory ruleset to begin with), but mostly because I didn’t have the patience to sit down and puzzle it all out.

What I did have the patience for, for whatever reason, was to create my own ridiculously kloodgey homebrew system that took bits of D&D and blended it with bits of Heritage’s Dungeon Dwellers series and then, at the table, was mostly ignored. This game system was called “Mid-Evil,” which I was very proud of at the time. >.>

Did I mention I was 13?

A year later, I tried to leverage this same mostly-nonsensical system into an espionage/modern action game called “I Spy,” which was just as nonsensical and took the inspiration for its one usable scenario from a segment of “The Bloodhound Gang” from 3-2-1 Contact.

So, yeah, “ambitious, but not sophisticated,” about sums me up in those days.

But as dorky and sophomoric as all these things were, they had fire and a pure love of the game that still makes me grin to remember. As I began to develop more sophistication I moved on to MERP and from there to the HERO System, becoming ever more enamored of “realism” and “maturity”– mostly because I was still young and insecure about such things.

A lot of my games from this second period were very sophisticated by comparison– I had a “street-level superheroes” campaign that delved into dark topics and psychology and presaged things like The Killing Joke by a matter of years. But at the same time, a lot of my gaming sessions felt like work– we were trying so hard to Make Art out of the game, that we would lose sight of the fact that we were a bunch of nerds sitting around a table rolling dice to control the fate of fictional characters.

These days, I’d like to think I can have the best of both worlds. I have primarily returned to D&D (using the actual rules, even), but I work with the players to integrate their characters’ personalities and background into the campaign. There are random encounter tables, but they are built with an eye toward reinforcing the theme or environment of the adventure instead of being a giant kitchen sink of weirdness. There are serious NPC allies, enemies, or wildcards, but there are also moments of pure goofiness.

But most importantly, I remember these days why I fell in love with the game in the first place– those crazy moments of shared story that we were all creating together, where the stuff on the paper was there if we wanted it, but also didn’t matter if it didn’t actually make things more fun. And I’m always grateful for D&D weather, because that’s what it reminds me of.

-The Gneech

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Oct 17 2018

Uncanny Midnight Tales

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Uncanny Midnight Tales, by John

Madison Beacon-Examiner handout for UMT Back in 2008, I was a huge fan of Star Wars Saga Edition, and in some ways it’s still my favorite iteration of the d20 engine. For this game, I created a Call of Cthulhu tribute game, Uncanny Midnight Tales. With Halloween a mere two weeks away, I thought now might be a good time to once again share it with the world!

Watch out, Not Howard Carter!What’s presented is not a complete game– it requires the Star Wars Saga Edition rulebook to play (and of course, SWSE was not OGL, so there isn’t any SRD for it), but for the most part it could be played in 5E with little alteration. But it does include character creation, equipment, and a Gamemaster Guide with a ready-to-go adventure and a collection of creature and monster stats.

Really, the entire project was more an excuse for me to create “my vision” of what a d20-based CoC might look like, but I had a lot of fun with it and creating all the handouts, and I don’t want it to be lost to the world. So go forth! Click on any of the images and have some spoopy fun this Halloween, on me!

-The Gneech

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