Continuing my theme of music on YouTube, somehow Renato Gues's drum cover of "Heaven Only Knows" is still under 1,000 views? Let's fix that.
I just wrote a bit about this video on my new Patreon page, and needed (needed!) to share it here.
I can't say that I care much for the original of this song, but hot damn if I can't stop listening to this.
This is Kira Puru covering Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" for triple j's "Like A Version". Enjoy! ❤
Accustomed to a certain lifestyle
While thinking about commerce in Dungeons & Dragons, I keep coming back to the question of how the average person affords the lifestyle they live. As the books are primarily written for the players, many of the rules regarding buying goods and services are built around abstracted costs of living between adventures. These costs are shown first in a high-level abstraction called Lifestyle Expenses, which represent the average daily costs of living in certain levels of comfort. This covers food and lodging, and determines the social strata that your character might interact with during their periods of downtime. The fresher the food or more comfortable the bed, the more expensive the daily costs.
I happen to like the online version of these rules a bit better than the printed copy, and the Basic Rules on expenses can be found here: https://www.dndbeyond.com/compendium/rules/basic-rules/equipment#Expenses
The prices are then broken down into food and lodging of various comfort levels, also on a daily basis, and then food is broken down into individual items that one might order off a standard tavern menu. You know-- meat hunks, loaves of bread, gallons of ale and the like. This is my personal preferred view, though I might honestly prefer a more in-depth table based on the level of preparation, craftsmanship, and cost to import certain ingredients, but we'll get to that later.
The mile-high view of Lifestyle Expenses is interesting to me because its brevity indicates that there is an expectations for players to not pay it much mind. It creates a simple metric by which players can roughly estimate the cost of their lifestyle, and brush it aside as simply "the time until the next real thing." In truth, I have yet to see a player or dungeon master even reference these rules during play, to the point where for a time I didn't believe they existed. This is just as well, though, because even low-level adventures tend to ensure that players can quickly afford the Modest or Comfortable strati within the first dungeon delve. More, if they're crafty.
For example, a character who survives the introductory adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver (or Here There Be Gerblins, for fans of The Adventure Zone) can expect to come away with anywhere from 10 to 50gp, plus a magical item or two, if they play their cards right. While this isn't enough to jump straight into the glamorous life of wealth and fame, it's more than enough to live comfortably until heading off into the next adventure.
That's all well and good for the adventuring type-- the stoic Paladin or fearsome Barbarian who might throw themselves headlong into certain doom, with naught but a prayer to see them safely to the other side. They can use the spoils of their small wars to fund a certain lifestyle until the next evil emerges from its respective pit, and that'll be fine for them. What I wonder about consistently when reviewing these rules is how we are treating player- and non-player-characters who don't want that life for themselves? Even the smallest village is likely to have a humble carpenter, blacksmith, or shepherd. How do they earn enough to live?
Let's take an example laid out in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and say that my Human Ranger "Karrson" has inherited a smithy.
Thanks to his inheritance, Karrson doesn't have to shell out the cash to build "Karrson & Sons Smithy" from the ground up, so that's one expense out of the way. All Karsson needs to worry about here are the expenses for daily upkeep. The Player's Handbook and DMG provide some useful tables for average daily costs of a business, such as an inn, but smithy isn't on the list, so we get to improvise a little here.
Running a smithy "by the book"
To begin running Karrson's smithy according to the books, we need to figure out what the average daily cost of business is. This includes paying staff, and purchasing basic supplies to keep the place running. For the average smithy, you might need 1 "Skilled" hireling to do the bulk of the blacksmithing, and 2 or 3 "Untrained" hirelings to be assistants, or clean the shop at the end of the day. Per the Player's Handbook, that comes to 2gp and 6sp per day, which we'll round up to 3gp for accounting's sake. Then we'll need raw materials to turn into our product, which we'll say is swords and axes. We'll estimate that we need about 10 pounds of iron per day, on average, depending on the work being done. That gives us enough to make a decent longsword or a big war axe, plus some extra for smaller orders (nails and the like). I will admit to not being a professional blacksmith, so one might argue for a smaller or larger number of pounds, that's fine. I'm saying 10 pounds solely so that we can say that our average daily cost for supplies is 1 gold piece.
That brings us to 4 gold pieces per day to run the Karsson & Sons Smithy, which sounds fair! According to the Dungeon Master's Guide, that places us somewhere between running a shop and a guildhall, which feels appropriate for the concept.
According to the DMG rules for running a business, whenever a player spends their downtime minding their business, as it were, they roll a percentile die. They add the number of days spent on this activity to their roll, with a maximum of 30 days, and subtract 10 from the roll for any missed payments. The result of the roll determines how the times goes for the business in a general sense, with higher numbers being generally better. For example, a roll of 41-60 reads "The business covers its own maintenance cost for each of the days", while a roll of 81-90 reads "The business covers its own cost for each of the days. It earns a profit of 2d8 x 5 gp." Lower rolls require the player to pay for office maintenance costs out of their own pocket, which may lead to the aforementioned missed payments.
As you may have expected, I have a few problems with it. Why? Because, dear reader, I -- *pushes up glasses* -- am a loser.
The book isn't what I need, and that's okay
I want to be really careful here: the book is not wrong. I have only found that in the particular kind of game that I want to play, these rules do not fit the mechanics or narrative that I want. In the spirit of Unearthed Arcana and years of D&D modules before me, all I want to do here is explore an alternative that I find interesting.
The book doesn't provide what I'm looking for because of a few simple reasons:
First, the rules only come into effect while the player is actively spending time on the business. This implies that while the player is not actively there, everything goes pretty much according to plan, and the business stays afloat. This incentivizes the player into never spending time on their business, for fear of losing money.
Second, the rules specifically list a maximum of 30 days per roll. While this is most definitely included to prevent rolls consistently over 100+ (I can just see myself saying "I spend 100 days on my business lol"), it encourages players and Dungeon Masters to move swiftly between adventures, while sweeping the in-between stuff under the proverbial rug. This is fine if you want to focus primarily on going from dungeon to dungeon and dragon to dragon, but.... I don't? I know, it's the name of the game, it's fine.
Last and most importantly to me, it reduces the entirety of your downtime, up to thirty days' worth of hard work and interactions, to a single roll. Yes, this can be filled in (and done well!) with role-play and narration, but it presents a stark mechanical imbalance when compared to things like combat. Could you imagine reducing an entire dungeon crawl to a single percentile roll? No, of course not, don’t be ridiculous. And why is that? Because the player character, as an entity, is written for combat. The rules for combat in Dungeons & Dragons are more complex, more fleshed out, and more interesting to play.
The argument that I would like to present is that the player character is equally constructed for trade and social interaction, and with the proper implementation of rules that respect that fact, we can make running a shop as mechanically interesting as raiding a dungeon.
Below is a first draft of how those rules may look. Admittedly, I've written these down in spare moments over a number of days, so some thoughts may be incomplete or inconsistent. The intention is to use this as a starting point on the road towards making and play-testing something more "real".
Going into Business
Whether you are inheriting a business or starting something from the ground up, there are many factors that you'll want to keep track of as you get started. It's recommended that you do this on a separate sheet, or in the "Additional Notes" of your character sheet if possible. At the top of the page, outline the general description of your business: name, rough outline of what the business provides, and the primary operating location. Especially if you're building your business from scratch, you'll want to work with the Dungeon Master to figure out the cost of building (or buying) a location to use as your primary operating location.
Below the general description, create three columns: Assets, Expenses, and Extra.
Assets are anything that you can, will, or are actively making money from. This can be physical items that you want to sell, services that you can provide, space that you can rent, and so on. Really, it's anything that you can convince the Dungeon Master that someone else may want to pay an amount of money for at some point. These will be the things that you sell to customers when they come to your primary place of business, which we'll get to later. For example, if you run a small inn, your assets may be a small number of rooms to let, a small breakfast served in the morning, and a warm dinner at night.
Expenses are everything that you have to pay money for to keep your business running. This includes the cost of crafting or maintaining the things in your Assets column. For example, if you are running a smithy (as in our example earlier), one of your Assets may be "Longswords". A corresponding expense may be the iron needed to craft new longswords, or hiring a blacksmith or assistant to do the actual crafting. Expenses for an inn may include the food to prepare for meals, and a hireling or two to help keep the rooms clean.
Players and Dungeon Masters should work together to determine the prices and costs of both Assets and Expenses, starting with the examples provided by the book (we'll consider those "market value" for most items). Players may freely opt to mark up or down the prices of the Assets, though that may affect a customer's willingness to purchase something later on. One of the additional projects that I'm laying out for myself currently is writing up lists of example Assets and Expenses, to create a sample set for your businesses. This may turn into something resembling a separate character sheet for shopkeepers, but we'll keep things loosey-goosey for the time being.
While a character owns a business, the business sees a number of customers per day equal to the character's Charisma modifier (minimum 0, though perhaps we could make a case for having an negative number of customers). This number can be increased through Marketing, which we'll talk about some time later on. Customers, from the Dungeon Master's perspective, should be treated like monsters. They have lives, react to other customers, and can intersect with the character's lives at the worst possible moments.
When a customer enters the shop, give them a Goal, an Expectation, and a Demeanor. These can be selected from the list below or chosen randomly by rolling the corresponding dice. Goal and Expectation are to be kept secret by the Dungeon Master, while the Demeanor should be made known to the players immediately.
The Demeanor reflects both how the character behaves while in the shop, and the mechanical challenges that the player may face while they remain there. The Demeanor can be changed through successful skill checks, outlined in Making the Sale below.
The Goal reflects the initial desires of the customer (which they may or may not be honest about), and affects every roll made involving them.
The Expectation reflects what is likely to catch the customer off-guard, and give the player the advantage. The first time a player character performs an action that proves the customer's expectation wrong, they gain advantage on their next roll.
To purchase the most expensive item or service available at a 50% discount. (+2 DC against rolls to improve Demeanor)
To haggle with the merchant as much as possible. (Failed Making the Sale rolls reduce the Demeanor by 2, to a minimum Demeanor of 1)
To purchase a specific item or service at 80% market value. (+1 DC against rolls to improve Demeanor)
To purchase something at an acceptable price. (+2 DC against rolls to improve Demeanor beyond 4)
To spend money freely in exchange for premium service. (-2 DC against rolls to improve Demeanor. If another customer's needs are given priority, Demeanor is instantly reduced to 2)
To purchase the desired item or without causing too much trouble.
That service will be slow.
That this store will not have the specific item/service that I need.
To have to haggle to receive a fair price.
That assumptions will be made about me based on appearance.
That the merchant will know nothing about their product.
That the quality of the item/service that I receive will be lacking.
Upset. Will pay 50% of market price. DC 18 to improve.
Irked. Will pay 60% of market price. DC 16 to improve.
Unsure. Will pay 80% of market price. DC 14 to improve.
Reasonable. Will pay market price. DC 14 to improve.
Gleeful. Will pay 125% market price. DC 12 to improve.
Ecstatic. Will pay 150% market price. Cannot be improved.
When asked, a customer should be specific about the kind of item or service they intend to purchase. If a customer enters the store with a Gleeful or Ecstatic Demeanor, they may not even wait to be asked. The item or service should always be within the realm of what the business has to offer-- though it would be "more realistic" in some cases, we don't want customers coming into our smithy looking for the bed and breakfast. Additionally, the customer enters the store with the intention of purchasing something. If the Dungeon Master wants to bring in characters that are "window shopping", that's fine, but they should be treated separately from Customers.
As I mentioned about, when creating the business, Dungeon Masters and players should work together to create a short list of the kinds of items and services that the business is likely to have on-hand, and use the prices outlined in the books to create a sort of "menu" that can be referenced. Customers who may have doubts about the availability of a product or the shop's ability to produce it are likely looking at the more expensive products on the "menu", while most other customers are likely looking for something towards the middle.
Making the Sale
When you interact with a customer with the intention of changing their demeanor, describe what action you take, and make a check according to the relevant skill. For example, lying to the customer about a product's value would require a Deception check, while extolling the virtues of a service may require a Performance check. If you are unsure what skill your action requires, defer to the Dungeon Master's judgement, or simply add your Charisma modifier to your roll. If your roll meets or exceeds the DC listed on the customer's current Demeanor, their Demeanor increases by 1 point, to a maximum of 6. Otherwise, the Demeanor decreases by 1. If the player's action is focused on a target on than the customer, their Demeanor decreases by 1 per action.
If a customer's Demeanor reaches 0, or if the item or service they require is not offered for some reason, they will leave the establishment without purchasing anything.
At any point while interacting with the customer, the player may opt to Make the Sale. At this point, they expend the item or service from their inventory, in exchange for the agreed upon amount. The customer then leaves the business. In the case that the item or service requires the customer remain at the place of business, such as renting a room in an inn, no further rolls are required for Making the Sale, and this has no impact on the number of customers seen per day.
While not required, I highly recommend creating names and quick descriptions for each customer. This can be something the player and Dungeon Master come up with together, or something pulled from a random generator for sake of ease. This is important to me, because it opens up the possibility to have recurring customers, adding further depth to the world and creating connections that may not have otherwise been made. Recurring customers could turn out to be the captain of the town guard, or a passing noble, or even the campaign's main villain. These characters can be played however the Dungeon Master prefers, and their goals, expectations, and demeanor may change freely.
Marketing and Advancement
While I enjoy the idea of a player character’s Charisma modifier dictating the number of customers a store sees each day, as it represents a sort of abstract word of mouth, I want there to be room for improvement in all things. We can’t leave out low-charisma characters, after all, and we should reward players who want to take the time and strategize well. There are a couple ways that I can think to do this, both of which I’ll look to detail further in later posts (because I believe I’ve written enough here, don’t you think?).
The first method would be to give each store a separate character sheet, complete with attributes and skills and everything. Initially, the store’s sheet would match the character running the shop, but as the store earns capital, it can exchange it for experience points. This is similar to more “old-school” games like Labyrinth Lord or Dungeon Crawl Classics (though you can check my memory on that one). We’d have to do a bit of conversion math, but at a glance I feel that a 1 to 3 gold-to-XP ratio sounds fair.
What this allows us to do is separate the store’s progression from the character. If the store does well, it advances well, and at certain levels it can take advantage of an attribute point increase, then begin to use its own charisma modifier to bring in customers, rather than the player’s. We could conceivably translate a good number of feats to relate to commerce instead of combat, as well.
The alternative, which I might like even better, is to take advantage of the existing hireling rules that I mentioned earlier. Only, instead of hiring someone to carry your things or help make new items, you hire town criers and advertisers to go around promoting your business. The conversion on this is fairly easy as well, if we think of a purely monetary value: skilled hirelings bring in one more customer per day, and unskilled hirelings bring in one new customer every 1d4 days. This is roughly equivalent to the kinds of daily value you can get from hirelings performing other tasks, and gives players a decent chance of breaking even on their investments rather quickly.
I’d like to work on creating some fillable character sheets for stores, and perhaps coming up with a few commercial archetypes— weapon shops, taverns, inns, etc. It would be fun to treat these like classes in the PHB, with unique perks as they level up and everything.
What I’ll write on next, though, is the idea of politics and public works. We’ll explore ways that players can, through their actions and investments, indirectly influence the events in a location, and how a Dungeon Master can help draw the lines between actions and outcomes on a large scale.
A Question of Loot
While running a game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition recently, as the adventure wound to a close, and the adventurers made their way out of the Sunless Citadel, and the telling signs of late-night exhaustion made their way 'round my players' faces, I was struck with an urge to remind everyone of what loot they find on their way out. This wasn't something that we had much paid attention to (I'm lucky to play with people whose first instinct isn't always to loot the bodies), but the adventure's end triggered something in my lizardfolk-DM brain, saying that they might need these small treasures later on.
Now, in the cold light of day, I don't think that they do.
Of the combined 640+ pages of the 5e Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, less than ten pages are dedicated to things that you can reasonably purchase on the daily. There's a chapter on Magical Items in the DMG, yes, but it's difficult to justify the average shop having anything more than a few Potions of Healing available on any given Tyr's Day. I'm strictly thinking of items that you can walk into a store and buy between adventures.
While providing dense tables of trinkets and adventuring gear, replete with weight and cost and flavor, the latest edition of D&D is content with letting the mechanics of these tables play out "off-screen." I have yet to play in or watch a session in which the purchasing of equipment or "mundane" items is not hand-waved away with a "Sure, we'll say you got that while in town. Anyway, on to the combat..." Spending gold just is not the most interesting thing to do in this game. Neither is haggling for a better price, or determine an object's true value. A single successfully Deception or Persuasion check can get an NPC to do what you want, for the most part, while a single successful Insight or Investigation check will let you know what they're hiding. Why waste time on the <10 pages of paying for things and talking to people, when we can focus on the 20+ pages of combat rules, status conditions, and debates over the definitions of "grapple" and "invisibility"? Not to even mention the scores upon scores of spells and incantations to prepare each day.
Why, indeed. Most people-- commonly referred to as "normal people"-- will agree that the exploration and combat elements of D&D are the most interesting, and provide the most mechanically interesting elements for a role-playing session. "The tables on buying land and paying upkeep are serviceable, and the rules for social interaction pillar were clearly intended to be fluid and allow for in-character improvisation and fun," the voices in my head tell me. Why would we fix what isn't broken?
Let's be Barons
Of every campaign I've been a part of, the one I talk about most was the first one. You never forget your first, as they say. It was a fairly modified version of Decipher's The Lord of the Rings, which had been crudely printed out and shoved into a three-ring binder. Our group, which had consisted of mostly the same characters for the whole run, had been playing for four years in real-time, and nearly a decade in-game. This meant that, in addition to wielding mythical weapons of power, one of the three Elvish Rings of Power, and (not to brag) enough magical aptitude to take down a dragon in a single blow, we were also filthy rich.
My father, a telecom engineer and the group's de facto banker, realized somewhat suddenly one day that his character (a ranger of the north), had been carrying roughly 900 pounds of gold, jewels, and knick-knacks on his person. Encumbrance issues aside, we hadn't the faintest what to spend it on. By that point, we had become heroes of the land, and were welcome with food and lodging wherever we traveled. We wanted for naught but the cool breeze of adventure in our faces and the warmth of victory at our backs.
When our game master, a history teacher, presented us with a down-on-its-luck stronghold in need of proper management, there was only one true solution: we bought it, and became barons of the land.
Over the course of several months, spreadsheets were drawn up, detailing the intricate daily plans of the keep. Everything from transporting stones from the quarry to bringing in farmers and cattle to occupy the surrounding hills was detailed with an approximate cost in gold coins. We would hold small council meetings before and after each adventure, voting on which endeavors to fund and which to put on the back burner, slowly building a village around our new castle. With our spreadsheets, we could see the real-time impact of each decision, prompting us to develop investment schemes, saving plans, and plan adventures around how much gold we could bring back to continue our pet projects. I was more enthusiastic and responsible regarding this imaginary money than I have ever been, and potentially ever will be, about the small amount of money I possess in real life.
So while the social and commercial interactions in D&D aren't broken, by any means, I miss that level of exuberant obsession in tabletop games. The kind ridiculed on TV and in movies, where nerds sit around a table for weeks on end, drowning in their own filth as they calculate the odds of a single arrow sparking a cultural revolution in the east. It was a sort of pure joy that people who liked math and stories could enjoy together, getting lost in not only the fantasy of being a knight in shining armor, but the mystical realities of being a capable accountant, shrewd lawyer, and wise ruler.
New Adventures in Old Mundanity
Using Dungeons & Dragons as a framework, my intention is to write a small series of rules for adding a welcome complexity to the hum-drum everyday life of an adventurer between missions. Hopefully not too much complexity, but enough to make interaction, rolls, and a player's time valuable. The intent is to make it fun and interesting for players to haggle on prices, set up shops, compete with NPCs for market share, throw parties, and take time enjoying the finer things in life.
Each set of rules will become a new post here, and they'll eventually compiled in a small bundle called "A More Comprehensive Ruleset for Adventurers Between Adventures". I won't write them quickly, I'm sure, but that's the goal.
Topics I'll be covering include the following:
- Spending Money
- Property Management
- Business Management
- Marketing and Propaganda
- Laws and Lawyers
- Friends, Family, and Romantic Interests
- Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events
With the introduction out of the way-- have you played games like this before? Would you play them again? What topics am I missing, or am I reinventing well-greased wheels?
I enjoy the physical act of writing-- sitting seriously in a coffee shop somewhere, putting my headphones in, typing away at nothing in particular. Looking into the middle distance for long periods of time, accomplishing nothing. You know the kind.
That said, what I've run into a lot lately is that I often lack (or think that I lack) the things to actually write about. While the flesh is willing, the spirit is weak, as they say. This listlessness quickly turns into mindless googling, and before I know it I've spent all my dedicated writing time reading about the history of a particular Bulgarian thatching method on Wikipedia.
To try and stave off this feeling, I made a game called "That Which Is Known", which you can read more about here:
Two years ago, almost to the day, I was on the phone with Lauren. She was visiting a friend in London, and they had been waiting at a train stop after a day trip to visit Durham (in the north of England).
“How was it?”
”It was...” it took her a long time to come up with the right words, “it kind of turned into an interview?”
Durham, site of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral, the national heritage site where St. Cuthbert is interred, is also home to Durham University. It’s known for a lot of things, one of which being many locations for the first few Harry Potter films, but it also has the fourth best archaeology program in the world. Lauren, both a Harry Potter fan and increasingly interested in pursuing a career in archaeology, went for a visit and a campus tour.
When no tour guides were available, the school called up the head of the archaeology department, who happened to be on campus, getting ready for the start of the next term.
After an hour of walking around campus and discussing archaeology, conservation, and the differences in how our countries handled such things, the tour came to a close.
”I’ll just count this as your entrance interview,” he said, “I’m looking forward to your application.”
This past December, Lauren got a letter in the mail. She had been accepted to study Conservation of Archaeological Artifacts at Durham University, starting October 2018. A program that only ten students are accepted to each year.
So: that’s the big news. We’re moving to England!
Her term begins the first week of October, so we’ll be packing up and leaving mid-to-late September. Between now and then we’ll be selling a lot of our stuff, storing the rest, and finding a place to live.
That’s kind of where you come in.
Some of you may already know this, but I’m already a British citizen, which is part of what makes this move possible. I’ll be looking for work while Lauren’s in school, and will likely work a few part-time jobs here and there to pay the bills. Like always, we'll find a way to make ends meet. But, while supporting my partner in her dream, I’m taking the opportunity to try and live out mine: make a living (or part of one) writing and making games.
If you follow my blog or any of my posts online, you probably know that this is something I’ve considered doing for a while, but now I have a reason to ask for money for it. If you like the things I write, or the games I make, or just want to help support our crazy move halfway around the world, I want your help. Here's how:
If you like what I do and want to buy me coffee sometime, consider making a one-time donation to my Ko-Fi page:
Naturally, I'll be keeping you all up to date with our move and the next leg of this crazy adventure we're going on, so don't worry about missing out. I know times are tough for everyone right now, so if you can't help out financially right now, that's super okay. Just reach out and say hi! Whatever support you can provide, in any form, is incredibly appreciated.
More updates as they happen!
When we as a culture say that we have begun a “settlement”, we rarely mean that we are settled. Settling new land is violent, trudging, and painful. The people... most people are not built for such work. We have brought them with us to be useful in small ways– to build houses and raise livestock and raise young ones– but they cannot flatten the mountains that stand in our way, or blaze the trail that we seek. Many of them don’t hear the call of the land that we seek, they cannot see the green fields of Vinland when they sleep. They need Icons, Others... they need Heroes to lead them.
Heroes are not like the others, they do not belong with the People. They are outcast, set apart, forced by destiny and expectation to go out and forge a new trail for the People to follow. They do not know this new land any more than we do, but they are not afraid of it, and will not be deterred.
Below are those that we need to lead us. Each comes around only once per generation, if we’re lucky.
Every hero has within them what we will refer to as the five basic Attributes. These are the elements of a heroic soul, the building blocks of the spirit, and are what are channeled into each action of consequence in a hero’s life.
While it burns, the Flame represents many things. While, yes, it is often associated with destruction and pain inflicted, it can also be cleansing. A hero’s flame represents the physical effect they have on the outside world-- clearing paths, piercing obstacles, and creating a new beginning.
The Stream represents a swiftness towards a point on the horizon. Though it may encounter many things in its path, it does not slow. A stream is also a continuum, and cannot be defined to any one of its individual parts. Is a raindrop a stream before it has joined the flow? A hero’s Stream represents their own swiftness in the world, and their ability to flow around objects, attuning with nature as a raindrop to the stream.
Imagine an apple tree that has produce more apples than you’ve ever seen in your life. This magical tree that has sprung up suddenly to feed all of the villages for miles around, and still has apples left over to bake and to save. Imagine, however, that this tree does not have roots. When the autumn winds blow, the weight of the tree’s bounty topple quickly, as there is nothing in the ground to hold it aloft. A hero’s root acts the same way, it keeps them planted, and ensures their safety as the cold winds blow.
While a hero’s calling may be to the wilds, there is no replacement for the hearth in their lives. This is where their family is, where their hearts find strength, where their minds find rest. Hearth for a hero is about reviving spirits, and making connections with the spirits of others.
In the hills, there is a silence that falls in the mist; an isolating, impenetrable silence. In the low-lying clouds, even the slightest sound rings out like a bell. This mist resides in the heart of each hero-- it is the force that sets them apart from normal folk. In the mist await mysterious things, just waiting to be discovered.
It is said that the Ulfhednar, the wolf-coats, of certain clans can forsake all notion of pain or hesitation in battle. Forsaking shields and all but the necessary clothing, they carry their spears into battle with a deafening howl. In my youth, I saw an Ulfhednar recruit perform the sacred trials in a village nearby. The young hopeful, eager to join the ranks of their forefathers, faced a feral bear in unarmed combat. Before the combat ended, I had to leave the village, on the first day after Summer Solstice. When I returned just past Yule, that same combat was still underway.
Treat your Flame and Root runes as 6 for ten minutes, or the remainder of a conflict. After the conflict ends, treat them as 1 until a period of rest.
When taking damage, reduce the amount of damage taken by one level of severity.
When using force to clear a path, increase the damage dealt by one level of severity.
Like the Barbarian, all moves revolve around improving the Berserk move, or lessening the after-effects of it.
I have had enough of foxes. Each night, I check that my chickens are put away in their hutch, that the door is locked tight. Each year I’ve made a new lock for the door– more complex, more expensive. This year, I’ve hired young Stenos to guard the door. I gave him my bow, a few arrows. Each night, without fail, I hear the whistle of an arrow in the air, as Stenos chases the Fox away. Each morning, I have one fewer chicken.
Uses Root and Stream to evade detection, slip in and out unnoticed, and disappear in nature.
Like the Killer in The Sprawl, focused on getting into and out of dangerous situations, and reading situations.
More combat-focused than the Rabbit.
Move that lets you survey ahead, and hold for +1 bonuses when acting on the information. Maybe spend one hold to instantly escape back to a selected point within a range (like Sombre’s teleport ability in Overwatch).
When Loki was a child, he built a trap to catch rabbits at the edge of the woods, using vegetables and breadcrumbs as bait. He checked the trap each day, and found it had sprung, but was empty. Not only had no rabbit been caught, but the bait had gone as well. After nine days, the god-child decided to make camp and watch the trap for a full day. At dusk, the rabbit came. From his hiding place, Loki witnessed the hare step willingly into the trap, which instantly trapped and slew the animal. Then, in a blink, the hare was eating the food beside the sprung trap, as if nothing had happened. That was the day that Loki learned what Magic really was.
Uses Hearth to escape impossible situations, regain health, trick death.
Like a non-lethal Rogue. Moves are all geared towards rewarding getting yourself into a bad situation, then bonuses for getting out of those situations.
More magic focused than the Fox.
Move that moves health from one creature to another.
As the messengers of Odin, the Raven comes before the east wind, after which nothing good can follow. Against the star-lit skies, their black wings swallow whole all that man holds dear. Even in the warm Summer nights, the wind beneath them chills to the bone. When they land, it is only to speak ill, to give warning, or to lure the innocent to their doom. Few amongst the People can say with honesty that they have witnessed the Raven– and those who have knew that it was already too late.
Uses Mist to shape elements, create shadow, see signs and portents.
Similar to Dungeon World's Druid.
Don’t want long list of spells, maybe a way to create one or two general use spells like the Spellslinger in Monster of the Week.
Spell casting could involve selecting a couple element-focused bases, and a couple action-focused effects. Then when you cast a spell, you select one of each.
Uses Mist and Hearth to see the unseen, speak many languages, convince others of the rightness of their ways.
Similar to Dungeon World Paladin in that they use their other-worldly nature to affect others in a non-physical way.
Move that lets one other player’s Rune match the Serpent’s corresponding Rune while they are within earshot of each other.
Uses Stream and Flame to hunt from a distance.
Like the traditional RPG ranger classes, should come with an animal companion.
Best at distances, learning about one target at a time, and utilizing ranged force where necessary.
Bonuses to scouting ahead when moving the settlement.
I've been sitting on this for a bit, and can't figure out for the life of me what else to do with it. I've written up all of the rules and playbooks for Hell or High Water, comprised them in a handy PDF, and we're ready to start play-testing.
If you like adventurous outer space stories like Firefly, Farscape, or Babylon 5, and want to try a tabletop game that gets you right into that mood (hopefully), I really hope you'll give this a go for your next game night:
I'll be running a test of this myself soon, and will likely immediately make changes to it, which of course I'll document here. If you play the game, let me know what you think! This is obviously not the final version, there are still a few things left to do, such as find an illustrator, write detailed rules for running the game, and finalize an example mission to include in the book.
Reach out any time with feedback, I'm honestly all ears. Once finished, I'd love to be able to put this up on DriveThruRPG or something and sell copies, maybe even get a physical version made.
“This Is America” is a phenomenal song and video from Childish Gambino, and may be one of the most important music videos of this decade.
Unfortunately, the video just happens to sync perfectly with a whole bunch of popular songs, and thus a meme was born.
Without giving too much more away, I contributed to that meme today, and I’m very sorry:
Before we get too far: This is not a review of Solo, and there will absolutely be spoilers ahead. I'll see how far I can get before they come up, and there will be a clear indication for when they're about to start, but you should know that they absolutely will be here.
What follows is kind of a rant, and I apologize in advance.
Solo, much like Rogue One before it, is an ambitious attempt at smoothing the harsh cut between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Both movies come in the still-undulating wake of Disney cutting ties to all "unofficial" Star Wars content, and replacing it with their own. Rather than allowing the public (and a good helping of professional writers, artists, developers, and filmmakers) fill in the gaps left by the main Saga, Disney opted to do the work themselves, seizing empiric control over what's known as the "Star Wars Expanded Universe". Everything created before that point was de-canonized, and rebranded as "Star Wars Legends", which is a polite way of saying that it was taken out back and shot. Star Wars fans have plenty of feelings about that move, and I won't go into detail about them here. Largely, the consensus is that "Star Wars is over" and the series has been thoroughly ruined by corporate greed.
I... only sort of agree with that.
Star Wars is kind of a tough nut to crack. The “main” story (which I consider to be episodes 4 through 6) adheres so strictly to the Joseph Campbell-esque hero’s quest, that its ending does feel pretty complete. The evil is vanquished, the student has become the master, the scamp gets the girl, and so forth. There isn’t much left to tell there that wouldn’t somehow re-trod that same ground. As a result of this, everything that has been added to the “main” saga has felt relatively tacked-on.
And I don’t mean offense by that— The Force Awakens is a wonderful movie, and even The Phantom Menace still has a place in my heart. But, realistically, they don’t do much to affect the universe set by the original trilogy. The thing that makes these additions interesting is how they introduce settings, and fill them with characters and details that bring the world to life.
As a young teen, some of my favorite books were the Star Wars Encyclopedias, a Scholastic Books product that tried its best to make the franchise feel educational somehow. There was an encyclopedia for each movie, and they went into the smallest details about every character, prop, and concept contained therein. I would spend hours learning about the various lightsaber stances taught by the Jedi, the ingredients of a death stick, the different species of flora and fauna native to Naboo, and so forth. It was the density of these details that brought the universe to life for me, and kept me interested despite the lackluster story of the prequel trilogy.
It's the same density of detail that interested hundreds and thousands of authors to write their own stories set in the universe, adding all sorts of flavor to the existing universe. This is how we got stories like the daily lives of Stormtroopers, the interpersonal drama of moisture farmers, the last thoughts of a Rebel pilot. This is also how we got Admiral Thrawn, who I guess is coming back into the canon now, which I'll have to learn more about.
These stories, while they often referenced events of the original trilogy, existed firmly outside of them. They added detail and filled in the gaps and allowed us to better imagine ourselves in the world where the force is real, beat-up X-wings zip across sandy dunes, and we really can be anything we want to be. The main story and characters were still there, and we could appreciate them from a distance, but these stories preferred to get lost in the weeds and explore on their own.
It's understandable why so many people are angry about Disney deeming these stories as "non-canon". They were, for lack of a better analogy, the New Testament for Star Wars fans-- a message meant for everyone, inviting each person to a galaxy far, far away. Then, to add insult to injury, they've started creating their own offshoots and expanded universe content? Of course fans are angry, I think that's natural.
But I don't think that this means that Star Wars is over.
For starters, they can never take my Expanded Universe from me. I will cherish every moment spent imagining alternative Jedi weaponry, or the obscure games played in back-alley casinos. I personally triple-dog-dare George Lucas to come to my house and take my copy of the Christmas Special. Also there is nothing anyone can do to erase my battle droid fan fiction. Nothing.
But more than that, this effort to re-do the Expanded Universe reflects, I think, a recognition that people want to see what's at the edges of this world. As a Disney subsidiary, Lucasfilm gets to create these side-stories with an actual budget, and we get to vote with our dollars regarding what we do and don't want to see more of.
It also means that the side-stories are all managed from one place. While this can contribute to the feeling of corporatization that so many complain about, it also means that these stories exist in the same universe in a more tangible way, which is where Solo really shines.
If you want my opinion, this isn't the end of Star Wars. This is the start of something new.
OKAY, SPOILERS FOR SOLO AHEAD. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK, YOU SCRUFFY-LOOKING NERF HERDERS.
I'll start with the one thing I thought was weird: the dice. So prominently were they featured in the first act of the movie, I think Lucasfilm realized that no one knew what the hell they were in The Last Jedi, and had Ron Howard film them from every conceivable angle.
Okay, now for what I liked:
But not for the reasons you think. Sure, it was nice that we get to see Han in a relationship before Leia (because of course he was), but more important: we get to see what Han could have become. Qi'ra, a fellow runaway indentured to Lady Proxima, moves from position of servitude to position of servitude, patiently biding her time until an opportunity presents itself. When she finally gets out from under Dryden Vos' thumb, she absolutely could have gone with Han and maybe have been happy leading that life. But she knows too much, and she knows that going with Han is not the safe play here. No matter where she goes, she knows that she will continue to be either beholden to someone, or hunted by them. "Everyone serves someone", she tells Han early on, and she lives by that. She knows that the safe play here is to lean into the Crimson Dawn, and usurp Vos as an information broker. While she's still serving someone (who I'll talk about later), this position affords her a degree of security. For Mass Effect fans, this gave me similar vibes to the Shadow Broker storyline, which I loved.
I also love that storyline because it gives us a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of Star Wars that actually does something. In A New Hope we see Mos Eisley, the wretched hive of scum and villainy, but nobody there is doing anything particularly scummy or villainous. Save for an infamous blaster duel, the cantina reads very similarly to an Elks lodge, and doesn't pose the same threat that the setup tries to give it. It's refreshing to know that crime is a real industry in this world, and has real teeth to watch out for.
A lot of people will list L3 among the best characters of the year, and with good reason. She's funny, poignant, and introduces the idea of human/droid sex into the Star Wars universe.
But she also raises questions that are important to the Star Wars universe, specifically about robot sentience. This is something that is in the cultural zeitgeist lately, with shows like Westworld and games like Detroit: Become Human and Nier: Automata taking center stage. Up until now in the Star Wars universe, while droids have often been a favorite character, they have been firmly placed in an "other" category. "We don't serve their kind here," is a line that rings true with too many people, and not much is done to rectify it. Rather than stand up for his friends who changed (and effectively saved) his life, Luke asks C-3PO and R2-D2 to wait outside.
In Solo, L3 serves as the droid Spartacus, and in addition to actually leading a droid rebellion, shows us in a mechanical sense how many of the beings that we see in the background are being controlled. She demonstrates several times that when that control is removed, many droids would rather be doing something else. As a series that is finally starting to put women and people of color into positions of power, it's good to see this equality begin to extend to all sentience.
The thing that I appreciate most about Enfys Nest is that not much is explained. We get bits and pieces of backstory (their mother wore the mask previously, for example), and a demonstration of what the so-called marauders are capable of, but the film doesn't go too deep into any one thing. We could have gotten so many things-- the origin of the mask, the location of their home planet, the technology powering their unique hover-cycles, and so forth. But we don't, because it's not important.
What is important is what Enfys Nest represents. At the end of the film, Enfys tries to recruit Han to join... something. Something new, something big, something that doesn't have a name yet. It's a chance, a hope, a rebellion. While that last word they use will either delight or frustrate you, it reminds us that there is an optimism in this world still. After a whole movie where actions are motivated by a need for survival, and each success is met with a betrayal, this optimism is a welcome presence. It reminds us that in the face of hardship, we do not always need to become cold or harsh, or attempt to run away from our problems. We can always choose to lean in, to run towards danger with a smile on our face and our friends at our side.
This is a quick one: I love how they named him Solo. It brings up so many more questions about the naming schemes in the Empire. Is this a John Snow situation, where all nameless bastards are given a common last name? Are there other Solos out there? If Han had a twin, would he be Han Duo?
This is the last one, both because I've written a lot (too much?) already, and this is my main point: the introduction of Darth Maul at the end of the movie represents Disney/Lucasfilms commitment to the promise that they are creating their own Extended Universe.
While I haven't yet watched Star Wars Rebels, I'm sure as hell going to now. In animated the series, now the only canonical TV show in the Star Wars universe, it's revealed that Darth Maul survived his fight with Obi-wan in The Phantom Menace. He returns, a bit worse for wear, with robot legs and a new lightsaber, fashioned from the parts of new weaponry introduced in the show.
That same Maul, those same legs, that same saber, appear in Solo. The events of a television show, which existed pretty much entirely outside of the main arc of the Star Wars saga, have directly affected a plot point in a Star Wars motion picture. Whether or not they'll go anywhere with it, I guess that remains to be seen. I hope they do, even in small ways. Maybe Qi'ra makes an appearance in Rebels? Again, I haven't seen the show yet, I'm not sure. But what this proves is that the relationship of Star Wars movies to other media is no longer a one-way street, and what happens in the other properties can (and should) have an effect on what we see on the big screen.
Up until now, we've only seen shows, comic books, video games, and so forth, based on the Star Wars movies. Solo represents a significant change in the other direction. Moving forward, who knows what we'll see? Movies based on the video games? The conclusions of plot points started in the comic books?
If Solo works-- not just for us, but also financially for Lucasfilm and Disney-- it can represent a huge opportunity for the franchise, and for the creators who love it. The Expanded Universe may be dead, but its spirit lives on in this gesture. Ideas can come from anywhere, and the canon has more than enough room to expand.
Star Wars isn't over. Star Wars is just getting started.
Edit (May 2, 2019): Nearly a year later, this is somehow the most popular thing I’ve ever written. If you use this method in your game, can you do me a favor and drop a comment below to let me know how it went?
The 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons is very up-front about what it is.
The game rests, as it states in the first chapter of the Player’s Handbook, on three pillars of gameplay: Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat. This simplicity helps keep the game and its players focused, aligned, and (for the most part) friendly. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that one of the pillars— Combat— is terrible.
I say this fully cognisant that it may be an unpopular opinion, so let me qualify it a bit: combat beyond 5th level, or Combat between player characters, can be incredibly rewarding. It’s at those points in the game where you can most accurately weigh the pros and cons of each action, and there is enough variety of available actions to provide actual depth and choice to each round. It’s the getting to that point that I can’t stand.
For example: most new parties of first or first-ish level will likely be introduced to fifth edition through a pre-written campaign like Hoard of the Dragon Queen. This is a perfectly fine set of adventures, and was my own introduction into the new rule set. The first set of combat encounters here primarily involve kobolds, which players will recognise as the bread and butter of the dungeon crawl.
For the uninitiated: kobolds are small, lizard-like creatures, famous for their cowardice and lack of combat prowess. Dungeon masters throw them at players like pretzels on the route from first to third level.
In the fiction, kobolds make a great choice for the start of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. They create an interesting plot that leads players on the path towards a cult of Tiamat-worshippers and a veritable sample platter of tasks that are typical for an adventuring party. I’m not here to complain specifically about kobolds.
But, since you insisted, I will.
Brief tangent warning!
Kobolds are the prime example of low-level combat that sets a false expectation for players and Dungeon Masters alike, specifically for maths reasons. This is supremely uninteresting to anyone but me. To begin, standard Monster Manual kobolds have an Armour Class of 12, and their winged cousins have 13. For the standard first-level adventurer with a Strength or Dexterity modifier between 1 and 3, you would need to roll an average of 10 or better to land a hit. On a 20-sided die, this gives players about a 50/50 chance to hit one kobold per round.
Then, consider the basic attacks given to kobolds in the Monster Manual: unless the DM decides to change something, they are given a dagger that does 1d4 + 2 damage, with a +4 bonus to hit.
Unless a DM hands out the more expensive armour at first level, the average player’s Armour Class sits at around 14. This puts the odds of a kobold hitting a player dead even with the odds of being hit themselves. While this may sound completely fair at first, let’s move finally to the kobold’s Challenge Rating. A challenge rating tells the Dungeon Master how difficult a particular monster is, and typically you’ll want to match the CR to the average level of the party (the book assumes four players in a party). The kobold has a CR of 1/8, meaning that an appropriate number of kobolds to throw at a party of first-level adventurers is EIGHT.
From that, let’s build a scenario: a first-level fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric, walk into a tavern. For some inexplicable reason, the only other occupants of the tavern are eight hungry kobolds. Everyone rolls for initiative, and each adventurer squares off against two kobolds.
The Kobold Dilemma
The fighter goes first, and thanks to the 50/50 chance I mentioned earlier, they all but flip a coin to see if they can hit one of their two opponents.
For the sake of argument (and as a demonstration of how my luck goes), let’s assume they miss. The two kobolds then each take a swing at the fighter, again with the coin flip’s odds. The kobolds now have twice as many chances to hit the fighter as the fighter did to hit them. It doesn’t even matter at this point whether they hit or not, because until one of them is eliminated, the statistical imbalance remains.
This pattern continues with the rest of the party, though the others may not fair as well. The wizard, while she may be able to keep a distance at first and fire off a Magic Missile, will suffer from a lower AC than the fighter, further tipping the odds in the kobolds’ favour.
Of all of the players in this scenario, the cleric may actually fair the best; they have access to decent AC, average strength, and healing spells. However, having only one action per turn, they would have to completely sacrifice their chance at hitting a kobold in order to heal members of their party. Even incredibly kind DMs wouldn’t pass up that opportunity to have the kobolds gang up on a party member (remember kids, always kill the healer first).
Finally, after all of the players and their respective kobolds have taken a turn, we circle back around to the fighter, who has not yet done anything useful in this combat. For anyone who has twiddled their thumbs for fifteen minutes while seven characters take their sweet time failing to hit each other, you know this feeling.
This brings me out of my first point:
I really hate kobolds
and onto my second:
Missing in combat feels bad, and it shouldn’t.
As it stands, missing in combat is essentially your cue to get up, get a snack, maybe use the restroom, and browse twitter for a bit. When you roll to swing your sword, preparing for the ecstasy of seeing a monster cleft in twain, missing that roll completely ceases the flow of combat. It is literally saying, “nothing happens, and your turn is now over.”
If you got into D&D to experience the escapist fantasy of being a capable adventurer in a high-fantasy world, this mechanic quickly whittles away at that ideal. I already have a hard enough time liking myself despite my stupid mistakes, I certainly don’t want to find myself feeling that way about a half-orc barbarian pirate that I’m trying to personify. Remember, Dungeons & Dragons is supposed to be a fun activity. I don’t know about you, but I would rather try and avoid that kind of existential dilemma if at all possible.
My main issue with missing attacks in low-level combat is that it fully breaks the illusion, and feels neither fair to the player, nor true to the fiction. This is not to say that missing an attack does not happen in combat— it certainly does! However, the context of that miss is important.
Tricks vs. Skill
In high school, I was part of a fencing club. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible either.
Largely, I attribute not being terrible to being left-handed, which gives you a sort of built-in advantage unless your opponent has a lot of experience fencing lefties, or is also left-handed, creating a sort of reverse-Princess Bride scenario.
My level of actual skill with the sword was fairly median, and once you figured out the one or two tricks I had in my back pocket, I became a middling-to-low-level opponent. Experienced fencers could not only pick up on this tricks, but had significantly more of their own. While they still fence within the rules of of the sport, the patterns that experienced fencers follow vary such that it becomes increasingly difficult to predict their line of attack, making each one more difficult to avoid.
At higher levels of D&D, combat can be very well suited to match that feeling, and missing a roll can play an important part in the fiction: though your aim may be true, your opponent is able to parry it away at the last second. Though you have prepared for the worst, they outsmarted you for a moment, but you can get them next time. It can feel very much like a real sword fight, with a back-and-forth leading to a worthwhile conclusion.
By contrast, Kobolds don’t even know what a parry is, much less how to perform one consistently.
So how do we fix this?
Using my narrow scope of frustration, one might be tempted to say “let’s just nerf kobolds”. But the problem extends beyond a singular monster. The root of this issue, the reason why missing an attack roll feels bad, is this:
What are we meant to gain from combat?
At early levels, the goal of combat against low-level creatures (such as kobolds, but also goblins or simple beasts) is simply to gain experience. With experience, you’ll level up, and eventually this will get interesting.
The trouble with this is that it takes time for experience to accumulate, and early levels may not give you the benefits necessary to ease the pain of missing an attack roll in combat. At best, you have something like the Fighter, which gains Action Surge at second level. This gives you one extra attack, once per rest, which... kind of helps? It feels like a waste to spend that move on a kobold, and waiting for a rest can feel like forever.
Plus, second level requires 300 experience points. That’s twelve kobolds that a character would have to take down by themselves, unless the DM gives out lots of non-combat experience. That’s like flipping a coin once every fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, until twelve of them come up heads. All for a reward that lets you flip twice one of those times.
What we want here is a way to reward the intelligence, experience, and dynamics of the character, relative to that of the monster they are fighting. While it’s appropriate for a fighter to square off against a bandit or lizardfolk of similar intelligence, it just doesn’t make sense for them to have the same experience when facing off against a lowly kobold or a goblin, at least after the first encounter or two.
My proposal to fix this requires a bit of dedication, and is best started at first level. If you’ve made it this far, I think you’ll be okay.
On the back of your character sheet, write down your Intelligence score.
Below that, make a simple two-column table. Label the left column “Name” and the right column “Experience”.
When you encounter a creature in combat, add its name to the “Name” column, if it’s not there already. When you declare an attack against that creature— regardless of the attack’s success— mark a tally in the “Experience” column next the the creature’s name. The represents what you have learned about this creature’s fighting style, strengths and weaknesses, and general patterns.
If your Intelligence score plus your Experience with a creature exceeds that creature’s Intelligence score, you do not need to roll when declaring an attack. Thanks to your experience and careful study of the creature, you have learned how to consistently defeat it in fair combat.
Using this mechanic, every attack, even a miss, represents a tiny bit of progress. Even for that fighter who missed the first attack, and now has to wait twenty minutes for their turn again, that miss didn’t make them completely useless, and they’ll come back stronger for it.
While for some players and some creatures, this means that after one attack (even a miss!) you will be able to land hits each time, that makes sense in the fiction for some characters.
Are you a highly intelligent rogue or ranger who has spent time studying the combat styles of a particular creature? It makes sense that you would quickly find a way to counter that style.
Conversely, if you’re a big, low-INT barbarian stomping around, it may take you a bit longer to really get the feel for fighting some monsters, but your brute strength will get you there eventually.
Additionally, as you face higher-level monsters with higher intelligence scores, this will become a steadily more difficult feat to accomplish. While you may learn a little about how a vampire fights in a couple rounds of combat, it’s a safe bet that they won’t stick around long enough for you to learn all of their tricks in one fight.
As your characters advance in levels, the combat experience stays with them. When they return to fighting kobolds and goblins on the way to the next adventure not only because they are stronger and have magical weapons, but because in true Sun Tzu fashion, they have come to know their enemy.
A while ago, I was sent this Tumblr post, which many of you will likely have seen:
God help me, I started working out what this might look like. These sat in my Notes app for a bit, and have lingered long enough. Please, for the love of all that is good: Help me fill in the blanks and finish game.
Critically Acclaimed at the Sundance Film Festival: The Tabletop Role-Playing Game
Congratulations, your film made it to Sundance, and critics say they're looking forward to it! Only problem is, you haven't written it yet. You're more of an avant-garde director, you tell people, and let the characters write themselves.
This game is about being the characters in a witty, hipster-y, rom-com-y feature film that's sure to do well at Sundance, and will make waves at Tribeca.
1. Character Creation
Assign -1, 0, 0, +1, +2, +3 as you like to the following:
- Childlike Wonder
- The Cut of my Gib
- A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi
2. Basic Moves
Get out of Uncomfortable Situation
10+ you successfully escape the uncomfortable situation without causing offense
7-9 the Narrator is going to give you a worse outcome, hard choice, or price to pay
On a miss, things get weird
When you help another player with a move they are making, roll +Moxy
On a 10+, your help grants them +1 to their roll.
On a 7-9 your help grants them +1 to their roll, but you also open yourself up to an awkward situation
On a miss, you walk right into an awkward situation without helping
Note that bonuses don’t stack. If two players successfully help out, the target character only gets +1 to their roll.
Read the room
When you try to get a feel for a situation, roll +Childlike Wonder
On a 10+ hold 3
On a 7-9 hold 1
While you are in this room or situation, you may spend hold 1-for-1 to ask the Narrator a question from the following list:
- What happened here?
- What are people trying to hide?
- What is the biggest threat?
- What’s my best way out of this?
- What should I look out for?
- What’s going to happen next?
- Are things going to get worse before they get better?
On a miss, you reveal some information to the room or someone you’re talking to. The Narrator may ask you some questions, which you will have to answer.
When you exchange biting words with someone, roll +The Cut Of My Gib.
On a 7+, you and whoever you’re talking to become engaged in verbal repartee, and inflict embarrassment on each other. The usually means that you inflict embarrassment equal to the interpersonal skills you have equipped, and the other person deals embarrassment to you.
When taking embarrassment, you subtract the amount taken from your Self-Confidence. If you are lowered to 0 self-confidence, you proceed to a "Second-Act Montage".
If you roll a 10+, choose one extra effect:
- You gain the upper-hand: take +1 forward, or give +1 forward to another player.
- You are especially witty today (deal +1 embarrassment)
- The other person gets tongue-tied (take -1 embarrassment)
- You put them exactly where you want them
On a miss, you suffer embarrassment, and do not deal any embarrassment to the other person.
This move is used when getting someone to do something they don’t want to do. To get them to do what you’re asking, you’ll need a good reason, or some kind of leverage.
Once you have given them a reason, tell them what you want them to do and roll +A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi.
For a normal person:
10+: They’ll do it for the reason you gave them. If you asked too much, they’ll tell you the minimum it would take for them to do it (or if there’s really no way).
7-9: They’ll do it, but only if you do something for them first, to show that you really mean it. If you asked too much, they’ll tell you what (if anything) it would take for them to do it.
On a miss, your approach is totally wrong: they’ll take offense or get angry.
For another player:
10+: if they do what you want, they mark experience and get +1 forward
7-9: they mark experience if they do what you ask
On a miss, they decide how angry or annoyed they are at you. They mark experience if they choose not to do what you asked.
To The Rescue
When another player is about to suffer embarrassment and you swoop in to protect them, roll +Gumption.
7+: You protect them, but you’ll suffer some or all of the embarrassment meant for them
10+, choose an extra:
- You suffer less embarrassment (-1 embarrassment)
- All eyes are now on you
- You inflict embarrassment back
- You hold the other person back
- On a miss, you make things worse
At the end of the day, you’re still living a movie, so a lot of weird stuff is possible. When you want to accomplish something that isn’t necessarily possible in real life, roll +A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi.
10+: the improbable movie magic comes through without issue. Choose 1 effect from the list below.
7-9: it works... imperfectly. Choose 1 effect and 1 glitch.
On a miss, it’s out of your control. This isn’t going to end well. The narrator picks 1 effect that happens immediately, but does not expose you to immediate embarrassment or awkward situations. They may also choose one glitch that could change that.
- Inflict 1 embarrassment on a target
- Confidence Boost (Your interpersonal skill gains +1 Embarrassment and +magic)
- Do one thing beyond human limitations
- Prevent a single person from finding something out
- Remove a person or bad influence from a place
- Introduce a new character
- Communicate with someone you do not share a language with
- Learn a secret about someone
- Heal one point of self-confidence
- The effect is weakened
- The effect is of a short duration
- You take 1 embarrassment
- You draw immediate, unwelcome attention
The blanks still to be filled:
- What roles would players actually play as? What unique moves would they use?
- What would a typical session set inside a hipster rom-com look like?
- How will you know when it ends?
- What tools can we give the Narrator for creating a plot-line and propelling the characters forward?
A few weeks back, I wrote into one of my favorite podcasts, Teenagers With Attitude. It's a wonderful weekly Power Rangers recap podcast, which some people may recognize as one of the inspirations for You Activated My Podcast!. I wrote in because I'd finally made good on a promise that I thought I had made a year ago-- turns out, I'd written to them nearly two years ago to the day, commenting on the announcement of Rita Repulsa's wardrobe for the then-upcoming Power Rangers reboot movie. At the end of my email way back when, I'd mentioned that I was working up a since-abandoned role-playing game called "SPEEDPUNKS", based on a since-abandoned inside joke in the show.
"SPEEDPUNKS", which was going to be a Rangers-inspired mess of kicking and driving and monsters and rolling far more dice than can be held in two hands, was put on hold after a time as the Power Rangers Hyperforce RPG and Hyper RPG Twitch streams were announced last year. It didn't seem to me that there was really a need for two Power Rangers role-playing games to exist in the world at one time.
Then about a month ago I was going through some old files, and realized that that was fucking bullshit, and I could do whatever I wanted. And I'll be damned if these weird folks didn't deserve a game that represented their (in their words) unique brand of bullshit. So I made one, and sent it to them, and I'm really proud of it.
The game is aptly titled "Teenagers With Attitude", and it's a pseudo-role-playing, story-telling game for 3-6 players, in which you collaboratively create and tell a new episode of Power Rangers. You can listen to the podcast episode where they talk about it here, and download the 3-page PDF of the rules here. While it does help to be a fan of the podcast before playing the game, it should be fun even if you're just a fan of Mighty Morphin'.
I hope you enjoy! Please go listen to the podcast, and may the Power protect you, always.
A few weeks back, Lauren and I got to teach a few friends how to play 5th Edition D&D. While the whole thing has been streamlined by Wizards and clearly leans towards new players, we were hard-pressed to find ways to explain rules without referring back to previous versions of them. While things like proficiency bonuses or hit dice calculation should be easy enough to explain on their own, the context of what these rules used to be helped us shape a narrative for the gameplay itself.
For those of us who have played most of the versions of long-running games like Dungeons & Dragons, or many variations of a game like the Powered by the Apocalypse suite, one of the ways that we help make sense of rule systems is by comparing them to each other. The similarities and differences help us create a shorthand that helps us get internalize the mechanics and dive further into the real meat of the game.
So then I had this dumb idea.
What if there was a game where an underlying structure of the game was to create more of the game?
Imagine a game in the Powered by the Apocalypse style, but instead of players selecting roles and backstories and such right off the bat, we begin with only a set of basic moves and a general character description. The GM defines the general setting (fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, etc.) and play begins.
As the characters act in the world and begin to make rolls (with the usual 2d6 used by the system), they keep track of their rolls both below 7 and above 9. For every roll below a 7, the player marks a "New Rule" counter. For every roll above 9, they mark a "New Move" counter. Once one of the counters reaches its limit, the player gets to add something new to the game, and the counter resets.
If the "New Rule" counter reaches 5, the player may add a new rule to the game that must affect all players. Ideally, these should be kept simple, and the GM is allowed to veto where necessary. For example, a new rule could be "Short swords deal 6 damage" or "The last person who bought food for the group gets to go first" or "Making a good speech in real life gives you a +1 bonus to diplomacy". You can also elect to remove a previously-made rule, however there must be a majority agreement of the players present to do so. If a rule is removed this way, keep a record of the rule and the date that it was removed (and optionally who it was removed by).
If the "New Move" counter reaches 3, the player may create a new move for themselves, which their character will have access to going forward. This move must conform to the standard rules, and have a specific trigger, success result, and mixed success result. Optionally, it may have a failure result as well. The GM has veto power for new moves, and you cannot create a move that matches an already-existing move. For example, a player who wants to be stealthy can create a move like this:
When you sneak up behind someone, roll +Cool. On a 7-9 hold 1, on a 10+ hold 2. You may spend hold one-for-one to achieve an effect from this list:
- Deal your weapon's damage
- Steal 1 gold
- Steal a loose object
- Plant a small item on their person
Once a player has made two moves this way, they may define a role for themselves. The player's two moves are now that role's basic moves. If a new player joins the game (or if someone has to make a new character) and there is no one else currently playing as this role, they may select this role and automatically receive the basic moves. Any new moves created by player who created this role are now the role's advanced moves. New characters who select this role after it has advanced moves may select one advanced move in addition to the basic moves.
In the event that a character selects an existing role at character creation, then creates a new move as they play the game, they are now multi-classing. Keep track of the new moves, and once the player has created two of them, they create a new role, following the same rules as before. On this player's character sheet, list both the original role and the new role that the player has created. The new role can also be selected by new players.
Once all of the players present have created one new rule and two new moves, you have reached a new "edition" of the game. Write down all of the new rules and moves and keep track of the date. After the first edition, every time all of the players have created one new rule or one new move, that is a new edition. Continue to keep track of the changes and dates, potentially in a group document using Google Drive or Dropbox.
Because the GM never rolls, their job becomes more about improvising with the characters, and introducing obstacles that fit the direction that the players want to go-- both in story, and mechanics.
Again, this is probably a bad idea and no good at all, but I'd like to try it.
In my most recent post, I outlined some of the roles that players will take on in Hell or High Water, and some of the unique moves that are available to them. While those role-specific moves help set the character apart from the others, they're far from a complete list of what the character is capable of. Here, I'll be outlining how players can attempt to do... anything else.
Action vs. Purpose
Remember that Hell or High Water is about the dynamic between two kinds of intent. On one side: Hell, representing malice, hunger for power, force for force's sake. On the other: High Water, representing self-preservation, fear, survival. If all you are doing as a player is describing the action that you intend to take, you're only doing half the job. Basic Moves is a set of example actions, and examples of what using each action with various intents looks like. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the players should work together to determine what kind of roll is necessary for a given action, as well as the end result of a success or failure.
Force a Hand
Usually considered a Hell roll, forcing a hand involves placing pressure on another party so that they reveal their position, their secrets, or a weakness. This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the situation, but is generally a physical action, such as firing a gun, releasing an air lock, pulling the proverbial plug, and so forth. It can be a High Water roll if this is done in self defense, or in the defense of others. For example, forcing the hand of someone who has taken hostages may be a Hell roll if made by an outside party, but a High Water roll if made by one of the hostages.
Withstanding the Odds
When beset upon by outside forces, a player may roll to resist them and their effects; think of this as the inverse of the Force a Hand move. When done successfully, the player moves the story forward by maintaining the status quo against adversity. Usually, this is seen as a High Water roll, as it is done primarily in self-defense, however it can be construed as a Hell roll if the move is done with the intent of harming others. For example, flying through an asteroid field may warrant a High Water roll, but flying through that same field with the intent of outmaneuvering the ships behind you and watching as they explode against the rocks, may be a Hell roll.
Read the Situation
In many cases, it is impossible to know which move is the correct one to take without first getting a feel for the room. In such cases, a player may want to attempt a roll to learn about the people, the set pieces, or the potentially dangers of the scene around them. The answers provided by a success are up to the specific questions asked and the Narrator's discretion, however this kind of roll is useful in determining your character's awareness, and the willingness of the scene to share its secrets. Typically, this is a High Water roll, as there is not an explicit offensive angle in most situations. However, if the question being asked is along the lines of "What is this person's weak point?" then the roll can just as easily be considered Hell.
Help or Hinder Another Character
One of the things that I love most about the gritty space-faring setting of Hell or High Water is that the narrative works best with a crew. While it's certainly possible to tell the story of a lone spacer traveling the length and breadth of the Reach without the moral obligations of teamwork, it's more interesting narratively and mechanically to have others along for the ride. When another character is in a bad spot, it is useful to try rolling to see if your character can get them out of it. This is typically a High Water roll if your intent is to work together. However, if your intent is to get the character out of the proverbial frying pan only so you can extort money or information from them, then it is likely a Hell roll instead.
Convince and Persuade
Over the course of play in Hell or High Water, you will likely need things that other characters don't want to give you. In these cases, rolling to convince them otherwise will quickly become necessary. The way that you roll will depend a little bit on the request, but a lot on how you ask it. Are you willing to cooperate with the target, meet them half-way, or appeal to the target's humanity? That's likely a High Water roll. Are you threatening them? That's a Hell roll every time.
Over the last few days, I've been experimenting with using the new-ish Poll and Type features in Instagram Stories to create a loose choose-your-own-adventure format story. The story was called "VOID COUPON // CYBERPUNK JANITOR", and if you're on a mobile device, you can see it in the highlighted stories here: https://instagram.com/tylerdotgames
The story centered around a character named Void Coupon, whose only skills in life are being a Cyberpunk and being a Janitor. As the story progressed, Void would reach a point where the audience could vote on which aspect they should take action with: Cyberpunk or Janitor. I'd then write the next chunk of the story with the winning aspect in mind. Here's a small sampling of what some of those turning points looked like:
For the most part, I think the experiment paid off really well! I got lots of good feedback from my friends who read it, and maintained a fairly consistent reader base throughout the story. With a little more prep next time, I'm excited to come back to this idea in the future.
Pros: Instant feedback, fun surprises, and an excuse to write a cyberpunk game for my friends. It's a great way to force myself to write something relatively interesting every day.
Cons: Had to write something new and interesting each day, which apparently I’m not accustomed to yet. We’ll get there. Also, “Cyberpunk” didn’t quite fit in the allotted space for polls, so I shortened it to “cybrpunk”. For future reference: Instagram Polls have eight-character lines.
It also provided a great excuse to release a micro-RPG I've written called CYBERPUNK DAY JOB. The is game based in the same world as the Cyberpunk Janitor story, and fits on a single 8.5-by-11-inch page. You can read about it and download the free PDF here:
To survive in the Reach, you'll need a good crew behind you. It's one thing to talk a good game, but without someone to pilot, repair, or protect your ship, you won't get anywhere fast. When the job goes wrong, you'll need someone to patch you up, and someone else to reel in the next client.
As we saw in my last post for Hell or High Water, the core mechanic of the game is fairly simple. This is done on purpose, as my ultimate goal here is for this game to be something that can be learned quickly, and manipulated over time. To achieve this, the main differences between the roles will be in the ways that they can make use of (or completely change) their own Guideline, and mechanically reward good role-play.
Listed below are the current list of roles, a brief description of each, and an initial sampling of their Role-Specific Moves. At the start of the game, or at periods of rest, a player may spend 1 Coin to gain one of their role-specific moves. This coin represents several days of training and practice to begin mastering a particular skill. They may also spend 3 Coin to learn a move from a different role, though they may only do this twice over the course of a character's career.
At the start of each new job, re-draw your Guideline on any number between 2 and 9.
Describe your favorite weapon. When using that weapon, subtract 2 from your roll.
Blow the Doors Off
When using force to change the setting, can opt to roll either Hell or High Water.
A Little Extra
When negotiating the terms of a job, roll High Water. On a success, you get paid a little extra. On a failure, you can get a little extra if you do a little extra.
Nothing to See Here
When you get caught somewhere you're not supposed to be, roll High Water. On a success, you can get out if you move quick. On a failure, you accidentally draw more attention.
When using wit and charm to diffuse a situation, add two to your roll.
Leaf on the Wind
When piloting a vehicle of any sort, add two to High Water rolls.
Get the Lead Out
When throwing a vehicle into high gear to escape a situation, roll the die (this is neither a Hell or High Water roll). If you roll at your Guideline, you make it out without a scratch. If you roll on the Hell side of the Guideline, the vehicle loses something valuable. If you roll on the High Water side of the Guideline, the vehicle takes damage.
Got it Where it Counts
Vehicles have one extra point of health while you're driving them.
Keep It Flying
When the ship has dropped below its maximum health and you're working to keep it together, roll High Water. On a success, the ship regains 1 health. On a miss, you get yourself into an awkward spot.
During a period of rest, you can spend coin to purchase new parts for the ship. Each part is either a Weapon (+1 Ship Attack) or Armor (+1 Maximum Ship Health), and costs 2 Coins. Declare what you'd like to buy and roll the die. If the roll matches your Guideline, reduce cost of item by 2 Coins. If you roll on the Hell side, reduce the cost of a Weapons purchase by 1 Coin. If you roll on the High Water side, reduce the cost of an Armor purchase by 1 Coin.
It's My Baby
When working with a vehicle that you have installed parts on, add two to your rolls.
When you risk something to protect your ship and crew, add two to your roll.
Friends in Low Places
Once per job, you can call upon a contact from your past. Name the contact, and roll the die. If the roll matches your Guideline, they were expecting your call, and are happy to help. If your roll is on the Hell side of the Guideline, they have what you need, but you'll need to make up for screwing them over last time. Roll on the High Water side, and they're happy to help, but don't have what you need.
One of the big thoughts that I’ve been bouncing around during the production of Norumbega is that I want the central dice mechanic to mirror the thoughts, feelings, and belief structures of the characters.
I’ve written briefly in the past about my thoughts on dice mechanics matching the character actions, and I’m a big believer in the idea that the mechanics should serve the setting. In a setting that’s emphasizing harsh environments, trudging through snow, negotiating with hostile nations, contrasted by peaceful interludes, a standard D20 feels inappropriate.
I’ve already decided that I’d like for it to be a variant on the Powered by the Apocalypse system, as that’s a system that I’m really enjoying lately. And I say “variant on” in that there are two six-sided dice, role-specific moves, and a fixed set of results (6 or less is a failure, 7-9 is a mixed result, 10+ is a success). The latter of which is the most interesting to me, as I feel that it’s important for season explorers to know approximately how difficult any giving action will be. I feel like it’s more interesting for characters to have to weigh the pros and cons of an action while knowing all of the variables, rather than fearing that I’ve kept something secret. This also allows me to set up one of the main mechanics for the game:
In Norumbega, the way you roll the dice varies based on your beliefs.
The Viking Age was a really tumultuous time religiously for Scandinavia, and I feel hard pressed to try and make a game about any portion of that time that doesn’t at least touch on it. Especially if you focus in on the 10th and 11th centuries, you see a sharp turn from wide-spread paganism and polytheism to a hybrid monotheism, to devout Catholicism. This kind of change in a society would impact a person over the course of their life, especially if that life is spent ensuring the safety of that society. I want this game to represent that impact mechanically.
Throughout the game, all characters will have the same set of attributes, which help dictate their effectiveness at certain actions. While I haven't nailed down the names of them, here is the gist:
- Flame: Ferocity, physical action, brutality.
- River: Speed, dexterity, agility.
- Root: Defense, self-preservation, healing.
- Hearth: Inter-personal aptitude, self-confidence, charisma.
- Mist: The unknowable, the weird, the mysterious.
Characters will be able to assign bonuses to these attributes between -1 and +2 at the start of play, based on the Roles that they choose, which I'll discuss in a later post. While the attributes themselves will not change, the way that players roll the dice and add them will.
The Old Ways
Every character will start with the belief in The Old Ways. This is a purposefully vague stand-in for early pagan rituals, and the players are invited to interpret what it means specifically on an individual basis (each role with have a description of what each faith means to them). When a follower of The Old Ways starts a new day, they Cast Runes.
For each attribute, roll 1d6. Keep a note of that roll, or keep the die next to the attribute on your sheet (if you have enough dice). These are your runes. For the remainder of the day, any time that the Narrator asks for a roll, only roll 1d6. Add that roll to the rune of the appropriate attribute, as well as any inherent bonuses your character may have for that attribute, to get your final result.
The Old Ways are all about looking ahead-- while the results may be tumultuous, and often not what the player wants, it gives them a unique glimpse into the future to play off of. For example, if a strength-focused character rolls a 1 on Flame and a 6 on Mist at the start of the day, they may cater their actions to fit their fortunes, rather than the usual strengths of their role.
The unknowable quality of The Old Ways also primes them for being affected by moves that the characters make, as their actions affect the fortunes that guide them.
When a character fails a roll or completes one of their personal missions, they mark one point of experience. After six points, the player may advance their character. There will be a lot of options for advancement, such as improving an attribute or gaining a new move, however one of the options will be to Change Your Belief. This represents a major change in the way the character approaches the world, and the way they operate mechanically within the game. When changing your belief, the character progresses to the next form of faith. Once a character has changed to a belief system, they cannot select that faith again later on.
If a character advances through each faith, their next advancement option must be retirement, which is a separate feature that I'll write about eventually. As the theme of this game requires the passage of time, I want there to be a mechanic for easily moving to a new character, and potentially passing on some of the aspects of the previous one, if desired.
The following will be a rough outline of the remaining faiths available. The names aren't finalized, and there may be more down the road, but this represents the mechanical shift that can be undergone by each character throughout the game.
On taking this belief, roll for each attribute as per The Old Ways, but these numbers do not change daily, and cannot be changed by moves. Once per long period of rest within the settlement, a character may select one attribute to re-roll, and keep either the new or old result.
Rather than rolling runes for attributes, assign 3 to each, representing faith. These numbers can be modified by any move that would modify runes.
You have abandoned the gods, and so too have they abandoned you. Erase all rune numbers from your sheet, leaving only your character's innate attribute bonuses. Continue to only roll 1d6 when asked for a roll.
The Narrow Path
As with Monotheism, assign 3 to each attribute. When you make a roll, after calculating and acting on the result of the roll, add one to the rolled attribute, and subtract one from another attribute.
I feel as though I may add more, or potentially take one away. In addition to beliefs, characters will have other important choices available at advancement. This will include things like their place in society, or acceptance of new technology and discoveries in the world. My hope is that there will be many opportunities for rules to interact in unique ways because of this.
What do you think? Is this interesting, or too mechanically heavy?
When you look at early maps of the American north-east, right up until we started calling them colonies, there is a tiny marking along the coast called "Norumbega". To this day, nobody knows for certain what it is, but the rumor is that when the vikings first came to Newfoundland, they found the harsh environment of Baffin Island ("Helluland") untenable, and traveled south through deep woods ("Markland"), until they reached the promised "Vinland". There, they established Norumbega, a great city with halls of gold and fertile earth and an overwhelming sense of peace. It's a city that vanished after colonisation, either through war, or natural disaster, or (more likely) cultural assimilation.
The idea of Norumbega was an understandably enticing one towards the middle and end of the Viking Age. In Vinland, they could work the soil more easily, catch fish from the shore without danger. The hills and valleys formed natural fortresses, and there could be long stretches of time without the need for violence. Like all pilgrimages, those who sought out Vinland were truly hoping to make a change. Around this time in the 11th and 12th centuries, Christianity was spreading through Norse culture, and the old guard found themselves dying out, traditions kept on only in little bits and pieces. The search for Vinland, for Norumbega, represented a chance to start fresh for some, and to bring the old way to a place where it would not be touched.
Norumbega is also a tabletop role-playing game that I'm writing about that search, and I'll be keeping track of what I'm writing right here.
In the game, players will take on the role of the leaders of a settlement, trekking from the icy Helluland towards the promise of Vinland in the south. They act as scouts, trailblazers, and protectors as they find a path towards their new home. This journey may take years, but the knowledge that finding this land will keep their families safe is what makes it worth taking.
As players progress through the lands in Norumbega, from the icy Helluland, to the wooded Markland, to the open fields of green in Vinland, the world around them will change dramatically. They'll have to make choices about how they react to it. As they head south, the needs of the settlers will change, religions will take rise, they'll meet colonisers and the native skraeling, and each of the characters will be forced to grapple with question: is hanging onto the old ways really worth it?
Recently I had the privilege of running a Monster of the Week one-shot for my partner Lauren and co-host Jimmy, and it had me thinking about the nature of the quick "one-shot" gaming sessions, and their place in the role-playing community.
While role-playing has come to the fore in the last few years, thanks to media paragons like Critical Role or The Adventure Zone, it's remains difficult to really bring new fans into the fold. Take, for example, one of my favorite podcasts Friends at the Table, which I've been trying to get Lauren into for over a year now. Because the show has been going on for years now, the emotional beats rely on at least being generally aware of the history of the characters (some of which have been a part of the story for years).
The hosts do a good job ensuring that enough of the relevant plot points are known even to new listeners, but there's something missing there when you just hop in mid-story. Not to mention each episode is at least an hour/hour-and-a-half long, which is reasonably restrictive for a podcast where you're coming into what's effectively the middle of a years-long conversation. This is similar to the reason I haven't truly started watching Critical Role on a regular basis-- why am I going to settle into watching a 4-hour video, just for it to be mostly in-jokes that I don't get?
Conversely, we run into the opposite issues with media focus on one-shot games. While it's easier to see the start and end of the story, getting the "in" on the in-jokes or character arcs, the brevity restricts how close we can become to the players and their characters. While the lows of a one-shot adventure are much higher, the highs are much lower. You see this in podcasts like Party of One, the latest mini-arcs of The Adventure Zone, or the aptly-named One Shot Podcast. While moment-for-moment these pieces give a decent overview of a game's mechanics, and all are produced to a level of quality that deserves attention, they lose the emotional impact provided by longer-running campaigns.
For example, things like player banter, character deaths, or plot resolution tend to have more weight behind them when you are given the time to really flesh out the characters, the world, and the relationships. The same is true while actually playing the game. Longer campaigns, while more difficult to start and maintain, provide more opportunities for moments of genuine celebration or mourning. There seems to be an inverse relationship between length of a campaign and its lasting emotional impact, and if there's a sweet spot somewhere between the two, I don't know that I've found it yet.
So, back to the game I ran the other night: as a group, we fell into what seems like a decent compromise between campaign length and emotional depth. For the last few sessions of Monster of the Week, Lauren has been running a larger adventure for Jimmy and myself, which had just wrapped up for the RPG equivalent of a mid-season hiatus. We decided that we wanted to play something, but didn't want to go through the trouble of establishing whole new characters and a new universe to romp around in. We wanted to know what we were dealing with off the jump, and make it mean something.
We decided to keep the universe of Lauren's original campaign (which, due to a good roll and a few poor choices, we have coined "The Agents of DIPSHIT (Department for Internal and Public Safety and Health: Inspect Taskforce)"), and Jimmy continued to play his current character Deke, the over-paranoid conspiracy theorist. Rather than continuing the current story, we reverted to a flashback, exploring some more of Deke's earlier life and time with his mentor, a character named "Sunshine" that Lauren rolled up on the fly.
Thanks to making it a flashback, we were able to do a lot of things that ultimately didn't affect the world at large (Guy Fieri is a Flavor Vampire, for instance), but allowed us as a group to set up some fun things that happened in our regular game. For instance, Jimmy failing a big magic roll at the end gave me a space to introduce my main character, the ghost of a K-Pop star named Donny Spektre.
The whole thing only took about three hours of total playtime, and by the end of it we all felt pretty good about our contribution (while some of it was admittedly just silliness for silliness' sake).
Perhaps there's something there, running one-shots in a single Marvel Cinematic-style connected universe? What do you think? Are there any podcasts or video streams that do this that I should get into? Should we make one together? Let me know.