Friday, May 17, 2019

Finally Fifty: Five More Forest Hexes for Your Friday

Finally reached the half-century mark!

These Forest Hexes as part of my ongoing Wilderness Hexes project (browse the hexes tag on this blog for more).

This time we have:

  • A small stream that needs crossing
  • A Green Grotto chock-full of surprises
  • Treant Adolescents!
  • The Forest's very own Genius Loci
  • And a treacherous wooden bridge!

Fifty is a great milestone to finally hit, and I can't believe I've managed to stick with it this long given my easily distracted nature :)

As always, I welcome any feedback or stories about how these work out for your table! Might celebrate by researching some POD options (cue trumpets & tuckets), so I'd love any information or options anyone is willing to share about that whole can of worms!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Masked Ones (“Just Use Goblins”)

Here's another attempt at wrangling unruly layouts and the “Just Use Goblins” concept into something useful for handling encounters and descriptions at the table.

This time, I've taken some of the feedback from the previous post and replaced most of the “stat-block facts/lore dumps” with Rumors that harness that old workhorse: The Requisite Reaction Roll. You can choose to have even/unshaded numbers be True or False, or they can be deemed accurate on a case-by-case basis through direct interaction with these pesky thesps during play. It ends up doing quadruple duty by also determining the factions (my line of thinking here is that some are more likely to be friendlier than others) and even provides some sample descriptive assistance in addition to setting the traditional disposition of the encounter with the good ol’ bell curve.

I don’t mind how this seems to work on the surface, but as always feedback is greatly appreciated. I probably wouldn’t have hit on this specific line-of-thinking without the gracious and helpful observations of HDA from My Terrible Sorcery Is Without Equal In The West and Anne from DIY & Dragons. Thank you both ever so much!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Character Backgrounds & Prior Vocations

Some recent discussion on Reddit got me blathering on about Backgrounds. One of the things that draws me to skill-less systems is the freedom they provide to the players. A set-in-stone Skill List informs play and can narrow the scope of player actions as they look in askance at the Character Sheet for options and tactics, and a tendency develops to view Skills as “this is everything you can do.” They also discourage attempts by telegraphing odds directly (a Player whose sheet constantly informs them that they are terrible at Sneaking About will probably never try).

I really enjoy systems like WHITEHACK that bundle these potential activities into Vocations (or Backgrounds). All of the “Skills/Competencies/Familiarities” that come attached to a single Vocation will usually encompass more individual abilities that can fit on a character's sheet anyway, and best of all: it encourages the player to think of creative ways that their character could potentially interact with a situation based on their imagined history. The only challenge with more free-form systems like this tends to be the occasionally creative paralysis when a player is lightly pressed with “You can be anything, tell me about your character” without any kind of concept in mind. Mind you, I’m not a big proponent of preconceived character concepts and would much rather let the oracular dice do this work for me, but every tablemate is different.

So here’s a table of 100 Character Backgrounds & Prior Vocations to help inspire players that might find themselves in this rut, or simply enjoy the challenge of trying something new and breaking out of the classic class stereotypes. I like “Roll or Choose” for tables like these because they provide some agency, but this list should by no means considered exhaustive. I always recommend trying to accommodate any character you can, most settings can cope surprisingly well (it’s fantasy after all, and stories shared are best):

Remember that long-lists of Backgrounds like this can perform double-duty. They can help significantly with the legwork to communicate and develop an Implied Setting (TROIKA!’s Backgrounds are phenomenal at this). Don't simply stop with selection however: Always try to ask a few Leading Questions to flesh things out. In the Backgrounds Above for instance, a glance may pique some curiosity and some questions about the world we're playing in may spring to mind: Why is Magic so apparently dangerous? What’s an Ooze Wrangler or an Ex-Wood-Spouse? It sure seems like some of the Cleric Backgrounds suggest that not all is on the up-and-up, etc. I try to leave these mostly as an exercise to the player (only putting on the DM hat when a drastic misalignment in vision/fiction can’t be resolved through compromise or might not be fun or fair for everyone).

As always, I’d love to hear about how this works out for your group if you give it a spin.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

These City-Dwellers Are... (d100 Table)

As a follow up to a previous post (These Village-folk Are...), not all local-color need be campestral. The exciting urban sprawl of a fantasy city can be a tempting destination post-delve to unload all that lovely lifted loot and purloined plunder. Let us breathe a little life into our Blocks & Boroughs as well:

Need a quick map? I have been enjoying experimenting with this wonderful Medieval Fantasy City Generator. I’d almost be tempted to give each of the different districts it designates a little bit of strategic embroidering as the players move between wards.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

“Just Use Goblins”

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a huge proponent of Just Use Bears when it comes to monsters and have been exploiting this chicanery for ages. Like many DMs that have been running games for a significant amount of time, I don’t always need to refer to a shiny new custom stat-block to adjudicate a memorable encounter on-the-fly, and hacks like this can be extremely useful to keep in mind.

There’s been an interesting compatibility development recently when sharing statistics to keep them system neutral, especially for Armor Class which can vary significantly between versions and reinterpretations. Seeing AC expressed with “as Chain” makes me happy, because I know instinctively what this works out to be in just about all the flavors I frequent. So for a while now to save space, I’ve just been expressing the Monster Stat-block with “as Goblin” or “as Ogre” with a few scribbled exceptions to emphasize utility. These are some monsters that I most frequently re-skin, and have grown to know the blocks pretty much by heart.

I’ve begun to take this trick to another level and I’m in the early stages of devising a supplement/tool tentatively titled “Just Use Goblins.” All it should require is access to, or a fair amount of familiarity with, the traditional Goblin Stat Block for the clone system of your choice. By reskinning one of the most frequently cast standbys we can eke a little more mileage out of them and even still steer things in a more fantastical direction (or simply just keep foes fresh and unpredictable). Players may be confident in their ability to thoroughly mess up a malignity of generic Goblins, but just might hesitate a bit when confronted with a tittering cluster of strange humanoids with Sea-Urchins on their shoulders instead of heads.

Here’s a sample spread/prototype page. It’s kind of dense, and I’d dearly love to squeeze in some art/illustration somehow eventually.

What would you modify to try and free up some space? The tables will likely vary somewhat for each re-skin. Is this intuitive? Too crowded? Are some features less than useful to have on a single spread and perhaps better served as a separate section/appendix?

I was really drawn to the concept from Middenmurk of overloading the assorted rolls associated with encounter generation (HD, No. Appearing, etc) wherever possible as a time-saver. Since one is rolling them anyway, let them perform some additional duties. But do you think this is actually something feasible to use during play, or only somewhat helpful during preparatory work?

I’d love to hear any feedback. Just something to work on periodically when I grow a little weary of staring at Hex Tables and need to recharge my creativity by distracting myself with something else. :)

Monday, May 6, 2019

These Village-Folk Are... (d100 Table)

The party has been slogging along through the unwelcoming wilderness for weeks now, and both rations and morale are at an all-time-low.

A dry bed, balmy bath, and a home-made meal featuring fresh ingredients that haven’t done a stretch in the Dwarf’s sweaty pack certainly wouldn’t go amiss. Distant curls of smoke slinking lazily above the horizon lead them to a well-worn and wagon-rutted road, which in turn winds its way toward a small settlement (or thorp, hamlet, village, etc.).

Need to give its population some distinctive peculiarities or breathe a little life into this mote on the map? Here's a table:

Friday, May 3, 2019

Friday Five (More Forest Hexes)

Happy Friday!

Here are five more Forest Hexes as part of my ongoing Wilderness Hexes project that I'm working on in idle moments.
(browse the hexes tag on this blog for more)

This time we have:

  • An orchard overtaken by the wilds
  • A bearded boulder hill with a mysterious past
  • Ancient aqueducts
  • The biggest Bear
  • The previously portended Serpent Plinth.

Hope they bring you some fun and inspiration for your overland crawls! I can't believe I'm almost at Fifty for this terrain type :).