Tuesday, April 2, 2024

A (Hopefully) Unique Complaint About the 5e Ranger

 Jessica, from Accounting*
I haven't talked about 5e much on the blog, even though I ran it for a few years. Still, I have some pretty strong feelings about the game (strong enough that I just run OSE now) and I thought I'd share one of them here because there's a broader point about game design to be taken from it and I haven't seen it discussed elsewhere. If it has been, I apologize in advance.

Most criticisms of the ranger, which is generally agreed to be one of the weaker 5e classes, center on the animal companion feature which I don't
honestly care that much about. The artificiality of companions in 5e bothers me in general so I'm much more likely to take a subclass that doesn't include them. The ranger, regardless of subclass, has a bigger problem: it eliminates the thing that should be it's spotlight.

My two favorite classes to play in D&D are Ranger and Rogue/Thief. Despite running a generally deadly game, as a player I am often overcurious and headstrong enough to put my head in holes it probably shouldn't go. These classes allow me to do that separated from the party so that I'm the most likely to suffer the consequences. They both scout ahead and check for traps.

In 5e, for the rogue this is fairly well done. You make checks, and the rogue is super good at those checks so they're more likely to succeed. You still have to make the check so there is sort of in game "on screen" time that the rogue is doing their thing and they're usually really good at it. Neat!

The ranger, on the other hand, cannot get lost in their favored terrain. This sounds like it'd be real useful, but in effect what it does is remove the spotlight from the player. DMs in my experience rarely describe this as a moment when the ranger's leading the party is super expert and cool. Instead it becomes a thing ignored - no mechanics so we don't need to talk about it. 

The thing the rogue is good at is a thing everyone gets to see because they make the roll and they're better at the roll than everyone else. The thing the ranger is good at nobody sees because it immediately fades into the background. It sucks.

*And honestly my default D&D character.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

More Adventures in Cuccagna!

 No, not from the previous party, but (hopefully) from a brand new one! At the suggestion of one of the Weeknights in Nightwick crew I have decided to run Cuccagna on Start Playing! Here's the pitch:

From out of the past comes a legend - a legend of a mysterious island of wizards called... Cuccagna! The greatest wizard in mortal memory, Prospero the White, created this land of eternal summer, where strange beasts and stranger people roam endless, enchanted gardens. Then, in a fit of madness, he divided himself into many parts and spread them amongst the island - a Prospero for every color! Now you have been invited to explore this strange isle. Delve into the depths of the Lapis Vaults, last refuge of wizard gone mad! Battle the cult of Apollyon, beautiful demon father of snakes! Rob the House of the Gnoles, where no other thief is brave enough to tread! Raid the Palace of the Sea King, where mermaids swim through the very air! Cuccagna is a sandbox campaign inspired by the fiction of Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, and William Shakespeare. Players will take the role of adventurers in a hex crawl and dungeon campaign on a strange island full of wonderous wizards and beasts from medieval legend. The games rules are based on Old School essentials with custom classes for non-humans and rogues. HIGH ADVENTURE IN THE LAND OF PLEASANT LIVING!

So if you're up for it, why don't you join us? 

Stocking Procedure Appendix: Playful Void

A little after I posted my stocking procedure, Idle Cartulary at Playful Void posted hers. I find hers very interesting because it helps with initial ideas about what the rooms are going to be, which I sometimes struggle with. I was also pretty sure that they could be used in tandem and so I've decided to do some very simple (and probably fairly dumb) math to see how that would work out.

My procedure is based on the idea that a dungeon will be 30 rooms. Hers is based on the idea that the smallest area* she'd be stocking is ~6 rooms and the largest is ~12. Makes sense to me. Going down her list I find that my usual 30 room dungeon would have 11 monsters - one more than I usually would have - and probably 10 treasures - the number I would normally have - so the math is about the same.

Therefor one could easily combine our methods by populating her rooms with stuff from the lists you'd make for my method. Neat!

Notably her method also works extremely well for geomorphs or the complexes from the Pettigrew Selections, both of which I've recommended using before as the basis of a megadungeon. 

Shorter than usual from me, but I wanted to see if the two could be combined because I think her method could vastly improve the speed of my stocking.

*There usually being multiple areas a level.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Jennell Jaquays Memorial Campaign

Earlier today I had an idea I might post more on or even run in the future: to honor the legacy of Jennell Jaquays, why not run a campaign using material she wrote as the spine? Jaquays, like probably every creator, had certain tropes she returned to regularly and that means that a wide breadth of material she made is fairly thematically coherent..* I personally have physical copies of The Savage Frontier, Griffin Mountain, The Book of Treasure Maps I, and the d20 version of Caverns of Thracia, so let's use those as our basis.

The Savage Frontier will act as our setting, with hopefully little reference to the rest of the Forgotten Realms and maybe with some f/r for FR gods to change them to Earth ones given Thanatos, Ra, and Set's prominence in some of her work. Esteban Maroto's art also I think mirrors the swords & sorcery vibes of her stuff extremely well.

Book of Treasure Maps is the easiest to integrate into this campaign: just sprinkle the adventures around either as new locations or replacements for existing dungeons mentioned in Savage Frontier. The Tomb of Aethering the Damned could replace the Tombs of Dekon Thar, for example. The Lone Tower/Castle Clearmoon seems sensible to place in some wilderness near enough to access but remote enough not to bedevil Silverymoon, though it could also serve well as the basis for the Dungeon of the Hark.. Arcadia could be the delving of some Netherese guy. That kind of thing.

The encounters/adventures in Griffin mountain can, with some conversion, be added in the same way. Griffin Mountain itself could obviously be placed anywhere as a griffon lair. Gondo Holst's Caravan could be the basis for a Zhent caravan with similar motives. The Troll Tomb could be a troll (or orc) tomb anywhere in the region. The River of the Damned islands similarly could fit in any river far enough way from a settlement - which luckily is fairly easy to find in the Savage Frontier. The same could be done with Water Wyrm Island. If you want you could also make the Uthgardt barbarians be influenced by the Balazarings, especially their fondness for dogs.

The Caverns of Thracia I think I'd want to use for the Karse in the High Forest. The Netherese refugees are the ones who began to worship Death, whether under the name Bhaal or Thanatos is up in the air. The many animal men inside could be holdovers from the ancient Days of Thunder, and perhaps clues to some of the ruins from the Book of Treasure Maps.

For rules I would probably advocate for Swords & Wizardry Complete since that is what her most recent modules were published for and I believe the OD&D on the brink of AD&D vibe of those rules best suits the Treasure Maps and Thracia - the most directly usable of the material above.

Such a campaign would have material to last months if not years, and indeed one could incorporate more of her work (again rather easy to do since she had tropes she liked to return to) or of course incorporate your own. Perhaps Return to Perinthos could serve as the Nameless Dungeon?

*I was originally going to do a post about how I believed she had a kind of ur-setting these tropes came from (likely a part of the Wilderlands she ran early in her career) but further research on the Candlekeep Forums leads me to believe she merely reused these elements. It's not like I don't. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Jennell Jaquays Memorial Game Jam


As most of you probably are aware, Jennell Jaquays passed away Wednesday. She was an absolute titan of both tabletop and computer gaming, and the OSR in particular is basically an exercise in iterating on things she pioneered. My intellectual debt to her is immeasurable.

Violet Ballard has set up a game jam to build a megadungeon in the spirit of Jaquays' excellent Caverns of Thracia. The proceeds from it will go to her family's medical and funeral expenses as well as to Trans Life Line. You should consider contributing and picking up a copy when it's available. I know I will be.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Games to Run Before I Die

Recent events in my life have made me think about things I'd be mad about in Hell if I didn't do them before I die. Some of them include games I want to run. There are also games I'd be ok with playing, but my favorite roll is definitely Referee and even playing in them would largely just make me want to run them. So here are the ones I want to make sure I run before I die:

In the lost days of G+ I waxed poetic about how much I wanted it to be translated into English and when it finally was I put my money where my mouth was. I am apparently even the first non-Spanish speaker to make something for the game. I've still not gotten to run it. My players have wanted me to use it for the World of Nightwick, largely to keep me from switching campaigns and to keep me focused on my baby. This makes a certain sense - there is some overlap in terms of historical material culture and devilry - but a lot of the mystique of the game to me is in the historical setting.

Though that comes with its own perils. I am far more versed in medieval France than Spain and would probably want to run it in the Languedoc, but that is probably a way to procrastinate and make the game impossible for me to run while convincing myself it's going to be easier. This is a common ailment among DMs.

I may be able to overcome this one as I have asked if some of my regular players would be open to playing it on Candlemas, but I'm worried the scenario I have devised is too big for a single session.

Oh hey another medieval historical one. So shocking! Specifically I want to run the Great Pendragon Campaign with it. It might be a good year to start what with Chaosium putting out a new edition, but promotional material says that they're cutting the Uther parts out of the GPC and I'm a bit sad about that.

I just worry my ADHD and "gamer ADD" will mean that any attempt to start this up will be doomed to failure. However I've been running Nightwick for almost 80 sessions now so who knows.

This is likely a lot of people's white whale. It's one of mine.

I doubt it will surprise anyone that I'm a big Clive Barker fan, and Kult seems to be "Clive Barker the RPG." The newer PBTA version is very outside my wheelhouse but I also sort of want to try it because of that. I suppose I might be ok playing in this one, but I also have a scenario idea for it that I think is suitably dark.

Karse is my "Shittye Englande" setting. This one isn't that different from the Dark Country if I'm honest, which is probably why I haven't run it yet. However, I bellyfeel its vibes very strongly and it combines a lot of the things that got me interested in fantasy in the first place. 

Barrows filled with bogeys, lots of fog, turf houses, the king of the faeries. That sort of thing.

There are a few others I thought about including here - Harn, the Enemy Within, Masks of Nyralthotep - but I figured if I ran Aquelarre or Pendragon I probably wouldn't feel bad for never running Harn, WFRP has lost some of its shine for me recently as I've decided the kind of city shenanigans games I like to run with it work perfectly well in D&D, and I'd probably rather play Masks than run it. 

I'll probably revisit this in a few months and see if I still agree with it.

Monday, November 6, 2023

My Stocking Procedure

Dum-tee dum-tum-tum.

I recently posted a variant of this in a discord I frequent and was asked to do a blogpost on it in order to have it in one place. I also mentioned my strict stocking procedure in my recent interview... or at least I think I did. Dysphoria prevents me from listening to that episode. So here that is:

Step 1: I take the map I am going to use (whether drawn by me or someone else) and count the number of rooms - excluding sub-rooms that are marked with letters. 2 gets counted; 4a-4d is all just one room. I take this number and divide it by 3, possibly rounding up or just adding one if I'm feeling frisky that day. This is the number of monster encounters I will spread throughout the dungeon. It's also the number of treasures I will place. To get the number of traps, I divide the new number by 2. Easy peasy.

Step 2: I divide the monster encounters into groups of ten with the following spread:
  • Boss
  • Miniboss
  • Miniboss
  • Grunt
  • Grunt
  • Grunt
  • Mook
  • Mook
  • Mook
  • Mook
Mooks are monsters that are quite weak and usually occur in numbers about double the number of PCs (or more). Grunts are tougher monsters that occur in numbers roughly half of the number of PCs. Minibosses are the toughest monster that might show up on that level, with only one appearing, and Bosses are monsters that would be tough for even two to three levels deeper in the dungeon.

I decide what each of these encounters is going to be so that a level one dungeon might have...
  • Boss: Ogre
  • Miniboss: Grey Ooze
  • Miniboss: Tarantella
  • Grunt: Ghoul
  • Grunt: Orc
  • Grunt: Orc
  • Mook: Goblin
  • Mook: Goblin
  • Mook: Stirge
  • Mook: Skeletons
Note: this list is a little lackluster because I'm trying to do this for a very generic easy to understand example. I normally try to pick (or even make) more interesting monsters than these.

Finally for step 2,* I roll the NA appearing dice for the monsters I picked (with minibosses and bosses always just being 1 or maybe 1d3). So lets say we have...
  • 1 Ogre
  • 1 Grey Ooze
  • 1 Tarentella
  • 2 Ghouls 
  • 4 Orcs
  • 3 Orcs
  • 6 Goblins
  • 8 Goblins
  • 10 Stirges
  • 10 Skeletons
Step 3: If I had any rooms that had those subrooms - 1a - 1c and so on - I instead assign them to a lair of monsters. We have a lot of Goblins in this example so let's say we roll up a goblin lair: 35 goblins, 2 guards, and a goblin king. Dope! They get distributed among those rooms.

Step 4: I then generate a number of treasures equal to the number of monsters on the level. I use Courtney's treasure doc which apparently he sells now because the world is fallen. I got it when it was free though.

I generate the treasures assuming 250 x Dungeon Level or Assumed Level of Adventure for the treasure parcel. If I have a lair from step 3 I instead use the treasure type conversion guide in the doc. I count 19s as well as 20s as magic because that seems more fun to me but your mileage may very, as they say. For half the hoards I roll the size of the hoard without modifiers, but knowing half the hoards will be ungraded I only generate those as 1d3 parcels.

Step 5: I spread the monsters and treasure among various rooms, having half the monsters not have treasure (other than perhaps pocket change I'd roll in session) and having half the treasure be unguarded by monsters.

Step 6: I use the Dismal Depths traps document from Sham's Grog n' Blog - from the prelapsarian OSR - to generate a number of traps equal to half the number of monsters, placing some on their own and placing some in rooms with traps.

Thus ends the stocking procedure. I of course add specials and tricks and dungeon decor, but that stuff is harder to make procedures for. 

If you want to know why I have such a rigid schema, it's because it 1) Quiets the Voices in my head. This is it's primary function but 2) it works. I am at least going to get a solid session (or more likely several) if I follow this procedure.

*Step 2 sure had a lot of steps!