Tuesday, March 22, 2016

new 5th edition campaign setup

I just sent this off to a bunch of (potential) players for my next longer form game. I'm excited to see how it goes! It is back to the Forgotten Realms, this time to the nation just south of the Cloud Peak mountains: Amn!

Amn is ruled by the Council of Five, a tribunal of feuding merchant lords slavering at the chance to grow their power. The council is based in capital Athkatla and acts as a sort of regulatory body, preventing any group from crippling the flow of trade into and out Amn.

The Cowled Wizards, in order to control and regulate all magical knowledge, have banned the open and unregulated use of arcane magic through out the region; their power is most felt in the cities but a few caravans of agents criss-cross the sparse eastern settlements. Mages are distrusted throughout the nation.

The Shadow Thieves exert their influence through subtle and unsavory means, slowly subverting the dominance of the many merchant houses and building their own little empire; they rank among the 10 wealthiest organizations in Amn.

These potential patrons are among the many factions vying for power, secrets, and wealth in the Lands of Intrigue.

Adventure can be found not only in the cities, such as Athkatla or Murann, but also in the ruins and wastes to the east. As you move away from the fertile coastal region, Amn quickly becomes a rough and unforgiving land with only a few scarce settlements strewn about. Many people, places, and things have been lost in those wastes, both purposefully and not. Are the rewards that lurk in these caves, swamps, and ruins worth the risks that might lurk within?

The players we be taking on the roles of problem solvers, tomb raiders, bounty hunters, mercenaries, etc. You work together as a group of professional adventurers, a not uncommon endeavor in the Lands of Intrigue. You're veterans of a few small jobs, but now you're looking for your first big contract together. You'll be starting in Athkatla, the City of Coin.

Some of you might know Amn and its capital city Athkatla from the Baldur's Gate 2 video game. I'm mixing that nation with the Border Prince's region from Warhammer Fantasy along with a big dash of the 2nd edition setting of Al-Qadim.

System with 5th edition with the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide supplement; I'm thinking of starting at level 2. I probably will be using the exploration turns from the D and D Next playtest with correlated torches etc, along with the LotFP encumbrance rules because they are my favorite. The exploration turns will result in more overall dice rolling, but the hope is that this improves the actual experience of "exploring" by expanding the number of encounter types. Also, increasing the options and level might lead to a longer character creation session, but hopefully our familiarity with 5E will overcome that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Generating Operation and Mission titles!

I love naming the adventures and campaigns I develop. Sometimes, it is fun to generate an adventure name and then work from there. A great example of one of these generators is for the Astonishing  Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, though it works for all D&D/fantasy type games.

Here is a neat little trick for modern/sci-fi mission titles I was told about through the forums I read; It is the Metal Gear Boss name generator!

Roll d% twice on the following table. The resulting mission is titled "Operation <roll 1> <roll 2>". It works better than you'd expect.

Any other good examples?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Feng Shui fight setup generator


  1. Contemporary.
  2. Past.
  3. Ancient.
  4. Future.
  5. Netherworld
  6. Pop-Up.


  1. Protect NPC(s).
  2. Locate NPC(s).
  3. Plant object.
  4. Retrieve object.
  5. Capture site.
  6. Destroy site.
  7. Assasinate NPC(s).
  8. Capture NPC(s).
  9. Guard site.
  10. Roll twice.

Enemy Faction

  1. Ascended.
  2. Eaters of the Lotus.
  3. Guiding Hand.
  4. Jammers.
  5. New Simian Army.
  6. Four Monarchs. Roll 1d4: 1 = Fire, 2 = Ice, 3 = Thunder, 4 = Darkness.


  1. Temple.
  2. Casino.
  3. Laboratory.
  4. Mansion.
  5. Castle.
  6. Restaurant.
  7. Forest/Jungle.
  8. Nightclub.


  1. Car chase!
  2. Bomb!
  3. Ambush!
  4. Outgunned!
  5. Innocent bystanders!
  6. Helpful NPC!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer games! and a brief update on the Purple Coast!

I've always have had a lot of trouble running games over the summer; either I've just wrapped up a long running campaign and I need a bit of a refractory period before the next one, or all my players have disappeared for the summer and no one is around to game.

I've tried a few things to try and over come the summer lull. It is a great opportunity for a new GM to step up and run the new regular game. A couple summers ago, one of my friends took over for the summer and ran a heavily homebrewed version of the Pokemon Tabletop rules. It was a fantastic game and really kept us all playing through the entire summer.

The other strategy we tried was running alternating one-shots or short, 2 to 4 session games. This was a great opportunity for us to try out strong, tiny game ideas. For example, the same woman who ran the Pokemon game ended up running a short Honor and Intrigue game which introduced a lot of my extended group to the Barbarians of the Lemuria system (a personal favorite). This strategy also let me run Dark Heresy for all these 40k neophytes, which was so much fun I had to blog about it.

This summer, I ended up starting a new weekly campaign which has been absolutely wonderful. The weeks running up to GenCon the players were able to cover a lot of ground, leaving us with a great cliff hanger before we all headed out to GenCon.

This coming Sunday my group is picking up deep within the Cloakwood Forest hunting down the lost Manse of a lost, legendary wizard. And a mine the Iron Throne is interested in...acquiring. While also saving Ankylosaur babies from Allosaur assaults!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Roundtable 6: the sliding scale of difficulty

Another month, another GM Roundtable post.

The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. We endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you'd like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you're a blogger who'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at gamemastersjourney@gmail.com.

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Lex Starwalker:

Many of us probably remember the AD&D days when the DM could roll a black dragon on the random encounter table and end a low-level party's career. The 3rd and 4th editions of the game led some newer players to believe that every encounter should be defeatable and appropriate to their level and capabilities. However, 5th edition has moved away from this structure.

We see this mirrored in other games as well. At one end of the spectrum is the style and belief that the PCs should be able to overcome any challenge that comes their way, that challenges should be "appropriate". On the other end of the spectrum is the style and belief that the world should be realistic, that every fight shouldn't be able to be won, and that one of the requisite skills of the game is knowing when to fight and when to run.

Where do you, as a GM, fall on this spectrum, and why? Should the PCs always be able to win?

I'll preface this by blog entry by saying that these days I tend to favor very difficult combat encounters where the precise number of enemies is randomly generated at the moment the encounter starts. I write a brief skeleton of what NPCs are there, and then I give them each a small range of number occurring (e.g. 2 x (# PCs - 1) or 2d4 - 2). I use the following discussion to detail an observed alternative approach to the standard D&D encounter building paradigm. What follows that is kind of an unfocused discussion about 5e. No real conclusions are drawn.

I've generally heard of encounter design spanning the continuum between two end members: purely status quo versus purely tailored. In this situation, purely status quo refers where all encountered are set in stone or played as written and no amount of adjustment is made based on the abilities/level of the party. In contrast, purely tailored refers to where all encounters are specifically designed to be appropriate/"click with" with the abilities/level of the party.

Something I've always wondered about is figuring out how to do both simultaneously.

In my experience, typical encounter guidelines for modern incarnations of D&D try to find a middle ground by presenting advice to tailoring encounter to a difficulty level for the party. So that you can have a tailored hard encounter or a tailored easy encounter. This approaches, however, do not cause the values (e.g. monster stats) to move along with the players. Instead, you substitute new and more obstacles until you've reached some "threshold" deemed appropriate.

An alternative approach to encounter design is championed by Fantasy Craft. Fantasy Craft presents a formula, or series dials, that can be manipulated to provide a possibly "hard" or "easy" encounter regardless of party level or which NPCs are involved. This is also extended to traps. The approach isn't perfect and tends underestimate PC complexity/abilities around level 8 (common for d20 games), but it provides an incredible template and alternative to the received wisdom that is the D&D DMG.

All Fantasy Craft adventures have a Menance, which is a value between 1 and 5 describing the expected deadliness of the adventure. Menace of 1 is trivially easy while a Menace of 5 is expected to kill at least one PC. Given the Menace of the adventure and the average party level, the Threat Level of the adventure can be calculated.

Threat level is where the system really shines as it harnesses the NPC creation system. In FC, NPCs are build by spending XP on abilities, the sum of which is the "bounty" for overcoming that NPC. In addition to named qualities and special attacks, each NPC's Attack, Defense, Competency, Resistance etc are rated from 1 to 10. A typical NPC encountered has between 3 and 5 in each of these categories.

Given a Threat level, there is a lookup-table which converts the rating into an actual numerical bonuses used in die rolls. The system involves so many tables that the recommended way to build NPCs and then get their TL stats is to use an online tool.

There are also presented guidelines regarding the total XP involved in an easy, medium, difficult, etc. encounter. This means that an NPC can be either "easy" or "hard" regardless of the TL. Which is awesome if you don't want to keep inventing new, more difficult NPCs, something which can get logically pulled into oblivion by level based RPG systems.

An ancillary worry to this debate is what to do about killing PCs? My rule of thumb is that if character creation is complicated, character death is rare. This is true of FC, but it provides a neat alternative to solving the issue of killing PCs in non-dramatic fashions. But that is for another post.

While the 5th edition D&D approach is no where near the same as FC, I want to draw attention to something parallels. 5e touts a bounded accuracy system and a series of canonical DC values (10, 15, 20) as its solution to the tension between status quo and tailored. This system attempts to smooth over the differences between PCs and the threats they face. In practice, I've found it works well and my players enjoy it. My encounters can be difficult, but if the players are smart they can figure a way out. It also means that single hits are less likely to destroy individuals, allowing for the possibility of retreat. Something my players actually did recently!

My normal encounter design approach works very well in 5e.

Here are some other blogs participating in the forum.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Preparing the Purple Coast

My current 5th edition D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms and inspired by Narcosa has reached its third season and it is going really well. After two sessions that were partially devoted to character creation, we finally had a full session. Picking up where the group previously left off: leaving Beregost, heading south to Nashkell.

My strategy for making this campaign function is split into three general encounter types: road, town, location. Here is a brief review of these three forms and some notes on the "templates" I've adopted for each.

I've made up a random table of possible road encounters with descriptions of people along with their associated hooks. It has been a fun idea generating tool and I've continued to appreciate a "useful at the table" random table. After I've used up my current encounter list, I'll post it here. Don't want any of my players seeing what remains in-store for them.

For the main two towns, Beregost and Nashkell, I've written up a few key business names, people/homes, hooks for previous and new encounter types, and a few notes about how the Adventure League factions might be involved with local politics/current events.

I've implemented location based encounters as approximately single page, both sides. These notes include anything from maps, NPCs, descriptions, monsters w/ page numbers, random tables, and other necessary information. I also name all adventures with a (randomly generated) pulp title.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

New 5e game! "Purple Mists on the Sword Coast"

Last week marked the second session of my new 5th edition D&D game. I'm GMing for 5 players. The game is set in the Forgotten Realms along the Sword Coast. The setup for the game is that the players are travelling south along the Coast Way and are delivering mining supplies to Nashkell for the Iron Throne. At the same time, the characters are hearing rumors about strange goings on along the Coast Way. Strange things about lightning storms, purple/grey fog rolling off the coast, and rivers turning to ooze.

Just a few of the books I keep on hand mid-game.

I'm ripping off everything this game. Baldur's Gate and Narcosa are my primary inspirations. I've even give the player's Volo's Map of the Sword Coast that game with the video game. After buying it off of Volo himself! I've also sprinkled all the factions from the Adventure's League/Lost Mines of Phandelvar into the game. Before the characters had even met, I also gave them all a unique rumor about the strange goings on along the Sword Coast. Something like a name and location, or something about possible adventure. These are all secret, even from me. The final two finishing touches are the 2e Sword Coast map on the wall and the GM screen from Murder in Baldur's Gate

I'm trying to use a lot of my own advice in this game. I'm giving them maps. I've written out a few random encounter tables to spice things up between landmarks. I'm using the Sword Coast map as a template for a pointcrawl style encounter map. I've prepared a few adventures, one has a traditional map but includes a puzzle and the other uses a pointcrawl structure to represent an underground network. I'm throwing everything at them and I feel surprisingly prepared.

My setup behind the screen. Mini TWGS with 5e inserts.

The five characters are a very cool mix of races, classes, and backgrounds. I'm very excited to see them explore and experience the Weird Coast.
  • Jilany, fighter (towards eldritch knight), human, folk hero, NG, naive like Kimmy Schmidt.
  • Oliver, monk (towards ninja), tiefling, urchin, pet mouse named "Mighty," LG/N.
  • Verna, bard, halfling, charlatan, always looking for a new con, CG.
  • Sister Temperance, cleric of Thalos, tiefling, acolyte, chaotic.
  • Stuffworthington the Fourth, "Stuffy" for short, paladin, dragonborn, noble born, CG. Megan says he is based on Stuffy from Doc McStuffins.
  • MaKlodar, warlock (archfey), half-elf, actor, fucked up crazy CE.