D&D has infrastructure: Things to consider when suggesting games to replace it

One of the things that makes D&D such an attractive game to run is that it has infrastructure. There are entire companies that make adventures for it. It has campaign settings. If I don’t have money there are hundreds of free adventures for it on the internet. Want to write your own adventures, but not the full world? TSR and Wizards have put out something like a dozen settings, and other companies dozens more, and most of these have adventures set in them.

That makes DMing D&D a very easy experience, even if it’s rules are harder to work with.

As someone who enjoys DMing but does not enjoy writing adventures, this is a big factor in me choosing what game I’m going to run. A lot of games seem to look down on the idea that you would use a premade adventure, a stance I strongly disagree with.

I’ve only found one other game with a basically unlimited supply of free adventures: Call of Cthulhu. I think this comes from the fact it had some very good adventures early on, showing people that prewritten adventures can be a powerful shared experience between playgroups. Couple that with a strong convention scene, and a lot of DMs have posted their adventures online over the years.  Additionally, if you have money, there are LOTS of pre-written adventures available for purchase, some of them very good.

I would love to hear about other games with good adventure and campaign setting support, please let me know if there are other games out there with this level of support.

Published in: on July 8, 2020 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Why it is hard to replace D&D with indie RPGs

Alright, so WotC is facing a lot of backlash that is pushing people away from D&D. I’m not going to write about that, much more qualified people then me already have.

I am going to write about why I think calls to play indie RPGs instead of D&D are naive and misguided.

Indie RPGs are smart, well written, simpler to play then D&D and never going to replace D&D for the same reason that arthouse cinema is never going to replace action movies or hallmark romances. D&D is a game you can play when things outside are dark and you need to escape from reality for a while. Indie RPGs, at least the ones I see being pushed on Twitter to replace D&D tend to have themes and messages and don’t fill the same niche in my opinion.

To put it another way: These type of indie RPGs are a dinner at a classy French restaurant, D&D is the local pub. Yes, the French restaurant is better food in most ways, but you have to put on nice cloths and take the time to learn an etiquette about forks and such. D&D is the local diner- yeah, it is greasy and probably bad for you, but you already know where it is and can go in your comfortable cloths. (I mean, D&D probably costs more then the indie RPG, but no metaphor is perfect)

Let me break down what I mean. D&D relies on tropes most people already know: Dwarves are short and like ale. Elves are dexterous archers and wizards. Halfings are hombodies. Adventures tend to be simple- There is a dragon that has taken over the Dwarves homeland, there was a murder at the harvest festival and you need to find who did it, etc.

Most indie RPGs try and get away from this. That means the amount of buy-in you need is much larger. You need to sit down and put in WORK to learn the new setting. You can’t rely on easy tropes you already know. That is an issue, it makes the game less accessible to new players. Now, I agree and am learning more and more that a lot of these tropes are harmful and we need to stop using them- that doesn’t mean we can just stop having tropes though, that means we need to use less harmful ones.

Another thing is that D&D’s style of mechnics are very simple to learn as a player. The DM is the world and all the people who aren’t players. The player controls a character. A lot of indie RPGs break this model, which makes things harder on both the DM and player. I’ve talked online a lot about how narrative games are a bad fit for mysteries, as the DM can’t assume the players won’t add details that change clues or give the person they had intended to have committed an alibi.

Therefore if you want to replace D&D with something, I would suggest looking for games that fulfill the same niche as it. Easy to understand the setting, uses elements that people are already familiar with from popular culture, and that uses traditional mechanics.

Some games I think that are examples of this, though many of them have their own problematic elements:

  • Pathfinder (Ok, it is basically D&D)
  • Numenera
  • Alternity (Star Drive is basically a 90s version of Mass Effect meets Firefly, Dark Matter is basically the X-Files RPG)
  • The Call of Cthulhu (1920s and 1990s are both fairly easy settings to grasp, and it is easier then you’d expect to cut out the racist elements or even all of the supernatural bits.)
  • Basic Roleplay System (BRP) (Powers Call of Cthulhu)
  • GURPS – Much more complicated setup then D&D, but much faster then you would think in play. No setting though, but you could steal another games setting and such if the DM is willing to do some work

I would love for other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments

Published in: on July 5, 2020 at 11:54 am  Comments (1)  

On a Wildspace Deluge

Continuing my series of finding the best Spelljammer bits from around the web, Hack & Slash has a post showing some of the best

Ghost Ship by Brom, showing a group of people with drawn weapons on a very battered hammership.

Spelljammer could have used more art like this. It feels like something is happening in this picture, rather then just people standing around.

official art. For example, I did not know that Brom did Spelljammer art. It also shows off some of the problems with the art: Designs that didn’t match the rules, or descriptions of the ships, a lot of the art being reused too many times to save costs, and some of it being um, rather bland to be honest. You’ve got a swashbuckling setting with people leaping from ship to ship, and most of the art just has people standing around.

Hope you enjoy this little bit of Spelljammer,
–Canageek

Published in: on July 23, 2016 at 9:00 am  Comments (4)  
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On Reflections in Wildspace

I love the Spelljammer setting. It is silly, swashbucklery and D&D IN SPAAACEEEE. However, it has some issues that occur when contact is made with the players. This post, from the Hack and Slash blog has solutions to a number of the problems with Spelljammer. First, it solves why you can’t make a killing just running goods from one point on a planet to another, in a really nice way. Then it has some advice about trying to do too much, some ideas about 3D space battles and why you can rule no 3D battles (I’d just rule that moving off the 2D plane is a very slow process that can take hours, myself, but each to their own.) It them wraps up with some details on XP, gold, weapon ranges and some other system-specific things.

I recommend any DM running SJ check it out, it isn’t long and has some good points.

Until next time, stay geeky.
—Canageek

Published in: on July 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Odd Sources of Inspiration: Russian Military Mapping textbook: Post 1: Time

I read a couple of really cool articles a while back, Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers and The Soviet Military’s Eerily Detailed Guide to San Diego (Both by Greg Miller on Wired). These articles directed me to “Russian Military Mapping: A Guide ot Using the Most Compreshensive Source of Global Geospatial Intelligence” (East View Cartographic, 2005), a translation of a Russian military textbook. Based on some of the reviews and comments, I thought this would be an excellent resource for ideas for a DM.

Time: I’ve rarly seen it mentioned that days get shorter in most worlds as you go north and south. When going to the icy north, remember that days will be shorter in winter, and crazily long in the summer. This is something people notice easily; how many times do we talk about how short the days get in winter, despite it happening every year? If you are travelling north rapidly, even on foot, you’ll notice this much more quickly then normal, doubly so if you are travelling north in the fall, or south in the spring.
Also, at high levels with teleport spells recall that time zones are a thing. If the players teleport three large kingdoms over, it could be an hour or two out, depending on the scale of your maps. Easily enough forgotten if clocks aren’t common. But if they start teleporting really long distances, then they’ll notice it was morning when they cast the spell, and evening now. You could use this to add time pressure to a game. The players know they have to stop a plot that happens at midnight, and teleport to the right location early in the morning, and are horrified to discover the stars already in the sky!

I think I’ll keep these posts short, and on one topic, so I’ll leave this one off for here. Until next time, stay geeky.
–Canageek

Published in: on May 9, 2016 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Cosmonomicon: Spelljammer + Dragonstar + 5th Edition D&D

Another post on some cool Spelljammer stuff I found the web a while ago. Jordan Short over at The Mox Boarding House has written up a cool mashup of Spelljammer with Dragonstar, and given advice on how to run it in 5th edition. It strips down a lot of the stuff blogging down both Spelljammer and Dragonstar, mostly edition-specific rules that neither are really enhanced by, and makes a pretty cool setting out of it, known as The Cosmonomicon.

For those that don’t know:

Spelljammer was a 1st and 2nd edition AD&D setting that took D&D into space, and let you fly ships from one campaign setting to the next using magically enchanted boats. It never really caught on, due to how strange it was, and, likely, due to a lot of rules and bookkeeping related to the flying ships and spellcasting in space. Mostly though, I think it was how strange it was, an odd mashup of swashbuckling, D&D and planar travel. There was also a Shadows of the Spider Moon article in Polyhedron magazine that attempted to update things to 3rd edition with a new setting.

Dragonstar was one of the setting that came out in the rush of 3rd party products after the OGL came out and was mostly lost in the rush (The company killing Living Dragonstar didn’t help.) It added a lot of Science Fiction elements to D&D, and made the players trying to exist on the edges of the Draconic Empire, right after a red dragon took the throne and has begun sending out his orc legions and drow secret police. This gives a very Star Wars + D&D type vibe that I find really cool.

The Cosmonomicon takes the Dragon Empire from Dragonstar, some setting bits from Shadows of the Spider Moon, removes the technology from Dragonstar and replaces it with Spelljammer’s flying ships. It doesn’t have all the details from Spelljammer (no crystal spheres or such), but I think that enhances things and removes a lot of the unnecessary complications. He also gives some useful details for playing in the setting in 5th edition.

I encourage you to check this setting out and enjoy: I think I’ll be borrowing some of this if I ever run a Spelljammer game. As a note to my readers: these posts on Spelljammer material are being shared to Wildspace: The Spelljammer Fanzine, which is something you should check out.

Until next time, stay geeky
–Canageek

Stripped Down Spelljammer

I’m a bit late on this, but the excellent Blog of Holding has published stripped down rules for Spelljammer, trying to fit the essentials onto one page. I agree with his point that Spelljammer has a couple cool ideas, then bogs them down with a bunch of overly-complicated rules about Grubbian physics and extra rules for clerics. To quote: “I’ll break out my copy of Spelljammer. OH NO IT’S 200 PAGES! THIS BOOK IS TAKING TOO LONG TO READ! THE PCS HAVE ALREADY IMPLODED IN THE VACUUM”

The first blog post covers the basics of the setting and physics, boiling it down to a short paragraph (plus expositions explaining the decisions to help the DM understand why they have done, something useful for when you want to expand upon it for your game.

The second builds a 20 entry random encounter table that also helps explain the setting.

And finally they flesh out the setting and compile things into a one page (illustrated!) setting document.

Published in: on January 26, 2016 at 12:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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Advice for New DMs

#RPGChat recently had a discussion of advice for new DMs. I wasn’t able to find it in time, but went back to through my writing in past RPGChats and pulled out what I think my best advice for DMs is. A lot of this isn’t direct advice on how to run a game; there are a lot of lists of that stuff already, so it is hard to find new things to say; rather, this is mostly advice on issues around the game and even advice on other advice. I’ve also limited this list to advice I’ve got personal experience with from one side of the table or the other.

  1. Take all advice you read online with a grain of salt. There is a standard rule you see in every list, which is “Don’t railroad.” Guess what? I once had a very unsuccessful session, one of the worst ones I’ve run. I sat down and talked to the players. They asked me to give more guidance in the sessions and have them less freeform. Take away: Not every rule works for every DM and every group.
  2. Figure out how many people you are comfortable with running for and don’t go over that number. I’m fine with 4-6 depending on the game, I know other GMs who won’t run for more then 4. Running for more people is harder. More people means it is harder to get them to agree on what they are doing, you have to split your attention more ways, running larger combats is harder, and you might not even hear what quieter players want to do. Feel free to tell people your game is full; you don’t have to invite all your friends.
  3. Only you are allowed to invite new people to the game. If someone has a friend, relative, significant other that they want to invite, have them talk to you first. I was once in a game where the DM was not the host. The host kept inviting more and more people until we topped a dozen. The game did not last long after that, since running a game for that many people is really hard. I set a rule during my Call of Cthulhu days limiting it to 4 people; the sessions when I stuck to that rule were by far the best ones of the campaign.
  4. Put the most soft-spoken or shy players close to you. The loud, attention-demanding players will make themselves heard from across the table, the softer-spoken or new and shy players will not.
  5. Feel free to uninvite players. I’ve had some very good friends who were not good players. We simply stopped inviting them. Some got better with time, and in a few years started gaming with us again, others never did. Don’t let one bad player ruin your game. (If you can help it. It is more tricky when they are providing rides for everyone else, or are someones significant other.) To be honest, in some of these cases we would literally just stop inviting the person and not talk about the game around them; that made letting them back into the game when they’d gotten more mature a few years later much easier and avoided a conflict with a good friend. I’m not saying that is the best or most mature approach, just the one we used when we were in high school.
  6. Feel free to ask players to help contribute to out of game stuff. I did a lot of DMing when I was in high school and had no money. I developed the method of asking everyone to bring a contribution to dinner. I’d provide sausages or burgers, and the players would contribute side-dishes, drinks and snacks as they were able. Players who couldn’t afford to do that would help with the cooking and cleaning. On the note of cleaning, don’t be afraid to ask players to help clean up. This is obvious now, but back in high school days we’d game until 2 am, I’d usher everyone out the door and then collapse, then have to spend the next morning cleaning. One day it clicked that I could ask everyone to help tidy before they left, and hosting got a lot more pleasant.
  7. Don’t kill a player’s character the first few sessions they are there. It sucks, and discourages them from wanting to come back. Even in a horror game you can scare the pants off them without killing them.
  8. Design problems, not puzzles. A puzzle has a set solution; your players might not think of it. A problem has an infinite number of solutions, and that is just counting the ones you haven’t thought of. You can give the players some ways to solve a problem, sure, but be sure to keep an open mind to things you haven’t thought of.

Well, those are my random tips for new and young GMs. Hope you find them useful, and I’d love to hear any tips that you have that you think aren’t said enough onlne. Until next time, stay geeky.

–Canageek

Published in: on September 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Convention Game Advice: RPG Blog Carnival

The Logo of the RPG Blog Carnival. My father took me to my first gaming convention when I was just starting Grade 9: a small two day convention in the next town over to introduce people to Living Greyhawk. Since then I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing various convention games; for most of my gaming career I had spent more time playing at conventions than home games, and in 2006 I managed to make it out to Gencon, followed by Origins in 2007. Given the topic of this months blog carnival, I thought I’d dispense some advice I’ve gained through all this time at the convention table.

  1. Stay on target. Convention games are rather different than home games. The main difference is that you typically only have four hours. No “Lets pick this up next time” or “See you next week”. Four hours, sometimes eight, then done, and it really sucks to have to leave a game mid-plot, or to have to choose between lunch and finishing the game. Therefore, you need to stick to the plot. Roleplaying is good; stay in character. That said, try and make sure that your roleplay will move the plot forward, or at least won’t take very long. I’ve seen some amazing in-character discussion at conventions, but I’ve also seen tables annoyed by the one gnome that won’t stop jabbering with every farmer along the road when there is a long adventure ahead of them and not much time to do it in. It is a fine line; try and watch the other players and DM for clues. Also try and keep off-topic chat to a minimum. That is neither good roleplay or constructive to moving the game along.
  2. Conventions are noisy places. Try and keep table talk to a minimum, doubly so if you are right beside the DM. Likewise, when speaking, make sure to speak up; I hate it when I miss things players are trying to do because I can’t hear them, and as a player it sucks when you want to do something cool and the DM can’t hear you. Also, time spent repeating things more loudly is wasted (see point 1).
  3. Focus on your character. Your character might be different then you normally play if your game has pregens. This is a great chance to expand your repertoire and try out a new type of character. Please don’t play your brave, self-sacrificing knight like the self-centred rogues you normally play; it can really mess up the party dynamics for the other players.
  4. Resources are placed in the adventure for that adventure. Now, this doesn’t apply to Living Games such as Living Greyhawk, Pathfinder Adventures and so on, but for other games this is important: Don’t hoard items. They all go away at the end of the adventure, so might as well use them now. Chances are they’ve been put in there by the DM to help you. That said, don’t waste them; They may well have been put in there at the to be used in a specific circumstance. Also, don’t burn through healing potions and whatnot early in the adventure, if you can help it. Remember that retreating and coming back with fresh resources is much less of an option then in home games.
  5. Go for the plothook. This is much the same as point 1, but more specific. If you are bringing characters with you the DM is going to try and tie you all into the adventure quickly so you can get to the fun bits. Watch for the dangling plot-bait and bite down on it. I’ve seen players blatantly ignore the obvious plot hook while the DM and the rest of the players all tried to get out of the tavern and into the adventure. Don’t be that person. Yes, the plot hook is often the most contrived part of the adventure, but if you don’t jump on it, you might as well get up and walk away from the table and save yourself 4 hours.

Final bonus point: Don’t be a dick, and really don’t be a dick for RP purposes. My Dad and I were once at a convention, and someone sits down with a character slightly above the rest of the party. No problem, the Average Party Level system Living Greyhawk used could account for that. However, then he wanted to bring his special dog he got in an earlier adventure with him, despite the fact that it would drag the rest of the party up an APL increment. Well, we weren’t super happy about it, but he insisted it was an essential part of his character and well, it was a pretty badass dog (More HP then any party member, even.) Do you know what he had that dog do all adventure? Sit by his feet and avoid combat, since he was worried about losing it if he sent it into combat. He just wanted to bring it along to show off the crazy powerful dog his character had. Don’t be that person: Don’t put your fun ahead of the party’s.

-Until next time, stay geeky.

—Canageek

Published in: on August 8, 2015 at 8:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Retrosmack!

A black Magic Card for Star Wars (1977). Caption: Luck Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the EMpire's world0-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Trickster started Retrosmack off with one of my favourite movies: Star Wars

For a long time I’ve been a fan of The Adventure Gamer, a blog in which Trickster played through each and every graphical adventure game ever made, in chronological order, and blogged about them. It was a solid successor to The CRPG Addict (Where someone going by the name Chet did the same with Computer RPGs.) As a result of my enjoying both of them quite a lot I’ve had links to them in my sidebar for some time.

Well, a few months ago Trickster tired of playing every adventure game; he wanted to play other genres, enjoy other types of entertainment. So he turned the blog over to the community and moved on. Well, I got busy shortly after that and fell behind in my blog reading, so it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Trickster had started a new blog: Retrosmack. Starting in 1977, the year of his birth, he is blogging through what seems to be the most culturally important things to come out that year in several genres. Comics, games, TV, movies, books, the whole shebang. Each year he is picking items equal to the year – 1900, so in 1977 he will blog about 77 things. So far topics have included Dr. Who (Which I’ve become a much larger fan of since I met my girlfriend via it), Ogre (Which I recently bought at my FLGS and need to sit down and play), Shannara and the Atari 2600.

Now, that is cool enough, but Trickster thought up a cool idea on The Adventure Gamer: CAPS or Companion Assist Points. He wanted a way to reward people who helped him out, and punish those who gave him spoilers, so he created an imaginary currency. That worked REALLY well, with even those of us who don’t know adventure games being able to earn a considerable amount. However, it was a fair bit of work adding up all the rewards, managing trades, and so on. This time Trickster has automated most of the process using a bunch of wordpress plugins. Also, this time instead of spending them on forcing him to play more games, we can buy trading cards with them. They don’t do anything, but he figures the collector mentality runs strong in geeks, and he is probably right; I’d bought the Star Wars trading card before I’d even figured out what they were, what Smacks were and how to get more.

Anyway, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Trickster did a great job with The Adventure Gamer, and he is using every bit of writing experience he got last time here. He brought some of his very welcoming community with him, and is looking to grow it, so I thought I’d help him out. Once again, give Retrosmack a look: You won’t regret it.