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Developer's Log

Operation Hex Crawl

Things that are,

things that were,

and some things that may never be.

Survival and Exploration

It occurs to me, as I get older, that I came into RPG gaming at a very specific time. I cut my teeth on 2nd ed AD&D. Things had moved away from the original editions to something with more customization and rules for every situation. The amount of books released during 2E was staggering, and I’m not sad about it. The game had yet to move to it’s more streamlined present, and one could expect to either make a lot of calls on the fly or flip a lot of pages.

In those very first games I played, I learned how to play by watching. The DM set a stage, and then the players showed me what was possible. More importantly, they showed me what was expected. The flow of the game made sense because I got to see other people do it. This is something that isn’t really written into the rules – at least not anymore. I never much thought about the importance of it until reading about Game Structure  on The Alexandrian. The series of articles really turned my thinking on its head. 

I had a lot of takeaways from it, but one of the biggest, and most pertinent to my current discussion, is that if you give players a tool, they will use it. Let’s examine what that means.

Give a player a tool and they’ll use it. 

If you are making an RPG and give players a strength skill, strength is suddenly important. If you give them a perception skill, suddenly perception is something they’ll use. If you give them a fishing skill, guess what they’ll do when they get to a river? Probably something horrible at first, but eventually, they’re going to want to fish. You can almost think of each tool like this as a mini game. Do you want to lift heavy things? Do you want to know if you see something? Want to fish? Play the appropriate mini game using the appropriate skill and see what happens!

Consequently, this is one of the things I really liked about 2E: Non weapon proficiencies! (Yes, I know they technically started in 1E.) The list of these is incredible. In 5E, you have the catch all survival skill. In 2E, you have Survival, Tracking, Set Snares, Mountain-fricken-eering… It’s intense. You needed to use a proficiency slot to read and write, otherwise you were illiterate – and I fricken loved it.

For me, it was less about what you couldn’t do and more about what you could. If you have the charioteering non-weapon proficiency, chances are you’re going to want to drive a chariot. Yes, land based vehicles covers that currently, but is it as evocative? Do you see yourself racing a chariot through the city streets using it? What about Reading Lips? Perception would be the default today, but you know someone with Reading Lips is going to want to use it in all kinds of situations. 

Game Phases.. in the Dark

Let’s shift focus away from D&D for a moment and look at Blades in the Dark. This game does a lot of cool things, and I find it among my top RPGs at the moment. It does fast and dirty stories like no one’s business and flows really smoothly once you get into it. System aside, I really dig the gritty, thief ridden, pseudo-victorian, ghost world thing it has going on.  Seriously, it’s a great game. 

One of the things that really amazed me, however, was how they laid out the game structure early on. The game is played in distinct phases. There’s Free play, which encompases a lot of what we think of as standard RPG. Players can request scenes they want to have, they gather info, figure out what their next score will be, etc. This isn’t where too much of the action happens; that comes soon enough though… 

Post Free Play, you make an engagement roll. Long story short, this tells you where you’re going to start off in the adventure. It sets up the score phase, which comes next. The score phase starts off when your characters are already in the thick of things. The planning is over. Game play starts at the first obstacle and proceeds from there. A good engagement roll means things start off well for you: you’re sneaking past the guards, the target is already drunk and you try to guide them from the bar. A bad engagement roll means you’re already fighting those guards and the target has two big bodyguards around them.

Genius, really. 

After the score phase, which is the meat of the game, comes Downtime. This is the part that really amazed me. Downtime is a record keeping phase. While there can be some roleplaying in there, it involves a bunch of rolling on charts and doing upkeep. The world moves around you. Things just happen. As part of downtime, your character might get picked up by the police and roughed up. The crew can pay them off or suffer the consequences. This doesn’t happen through roleplaying; it’s just part of the game! It happens, it affects future scores, you deal with it and move on. 

Then there is all the record keeping. You can advance your crew’s stats at this point. You mark down how much you “heal”, take care of your vices, and move money around. Like… it’s an actual record keeping phase. It takes all the paperwork and makes a dedicated time for it. This makes it feel less like a chore, as it’s all tidy and gamified in some cool ways. You get downtime actions that you don’t play through. They just get you cool stuff (or get rid of less cool stuff for you).

Again… Genius. 

One last piece of this puzzle: Hexes

I’ve been enthralled by the idea of Hex Crawls ever since I read about Ben Robbin’s West Marches Campaign. The idea that you could write a story that wasn’t linear or chronological, but instead was locational, really excited me. The emphasis of the game became about exploration into the unknown. What was this land before you got here? Who are its inhabitants? What’s in that tower? This really played into my ideas about enticing the players with knowledge instead of xp or magic items. Like, that’s why we read books, right? No one rewards us with gold pieces after finishing a novel. We read it to find out what happens. We can also play to find out what is around us.

The Pot

Let me stir this whole stew together now. After having a discussion with Jezsika Le Vye (who is an absolutely outstanding fantasy artist – go and fall deep into her work!) and talking about what RPG content would look like on cards, I decided to create a Hex Crawl card deck. Each card would be a different hex. Think about it: in reality, it’s an adventure module, just with the locations randomized and presented in card deck form. The DM doesn’t have to read forward on anything; they just have to focus on the singular scenario on the card in front of them. They learn the adventure as the PCs do. It gets to be the survival hex crawl campaign of my dreams, but all in small digestible pieces. 

You may have noticed that Crumbling Keep has a thing for small digestible pieces

But here’s the thing: 5E doesn’t have the game structure to support this, at least not in the way I want it to. This was going to need to be more about making a card deck; it’s going to have to provide rules and structure for how to play this way. How many hexes can we go through? What happens during camp? How do I fish? (You think I’m kidding about fishing? I am so incredibly serious.)

The goal is to have that old school hexcrawl feel, but with the 5E sensibilities. I want it to flow. I don’t want it to feel like doing taxes, and it doesn’t have to. Blades in the Dark taught me how to get around that. There can be phases – I can’t wait to tell you about the “camp” phase! This Hex Crawl business is going to be awesome, and I’m so excited about it!

This is the first of the Devlogs related to it. They’ll be more coming out as I flesh out more ideas surrounding it. Inventory management, food, hunting, what do rations look like, traveling… there’s a lot on this plate right now, and it looks like a real pretty feast. 

Thoughts? Questions? Drop a comment. Let’s chat. I’m open to inspiration, so if you know systems and games which do this well, lemme know. 

See you in the undiscovered country side.

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Tinder Box Adventure: What’s Mine is Mine

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Looks like one of the PCs lost something!

Tinder Box adventures are adventures that tie the players into them from the start. By having players answer questions about the scenario, they’re creating a part of the game world and will feel invested from the get go. They have to get back what was stolen from them after all…

Who do you know that needs to see this? Use the buttons to easily share it and let the Tinder Box start a fire.

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Tinder Box NPC: Caelen Menarise

The sister of the queen, Caelen Menarise hasn’t taken well to the courtly life. She seeks a different kind of excitement than that.

Caelen Menarise is a Tinder Box NPC. To introduce her into play, just read the enclosed quote. After doing so, ask which PC she was talking to and let the players decide. Whoever it was gets to answer the rest of the questions.


A Traveler's Guide 0

A Traveler’s Guide to Samsarras: The Ankhor’s Dive Inn

History

Perched upon a rocky outcropping over the sea, Ankhor’s Dive is a  haven for the less than reputable visitors to Dane Caelen. This lively tavern and wayside inn draws an eclectic mix of dwarven sailors, human nomads, and elves doing business best not done inside the city proper. It is located on the outskirts of the city, along the northern coast. A torched lined path draws patrons in and, with luck, helps them find their way out again after imbibing fine imported dwarven spirits.

Continue reading “A Traveler’s Guide to Samsarras: The Ankhor’s Dive Inn”
Crumbling UpKeep 3

Making It Up As You Go.

There comes a time in every game where the DM is no longer really in control. The fighter is drunk and bullying your favorite NPC at the bar, the wizard is using prestidigitation to clean filthy peasants for copper pieces, and the bard is trying to seduce… well, someone or something. It doesn’t matter.

Continue reading “Making It Up As You Go.”
A Traveler's Guide 0

A Traveler’s Guide to Samsarras: Queen Dicelle

Caelen Dicelle is rather young for an elf. She had barely passed her 100th birthday when she became queen of the Sylvan empire, as she was the eldest heir of her aged father.Currently, she is 121 years old and without suitor or heir of her own.

Continue reading “A Traveler’s Guide to Samsarras: Queen Dicelle”
Crumbling UpKeep 0

Abuse is Not a Game

It’s been quite a week in the RPG world. An abuser was outed unequivocally as an abuser that has often tried to silence others in the community. I don’t know that I have much to say that hasn’t already been said in ways much better than I could, so I’ll say this.

Support gaming companies run by women and POC. Here are two great options.

Continue reading “Abuse is Not a Game”
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Deep Dark Wood: A Tiny Hex Crawl PRINT

THIS IS FOR THE PRINT VERSION OF THE ZINE.

“Be he boar or be he man, he has a single knife. And if you come upon his mind, he’ll end your too short life.”

There was a time that your ancestors knew the forest was to be feared. It was deep and dark. No sun touched the heart of these woods and those that went in were often not seen again. The beasts that ranged there were strange and if any religion was practiced within, it was old, odd, and evil. At least, that’s what the peasants would say, banded together in their small towns for safety or the illusion there of.

This is a tiny hex crawl. There are seven locations you can add into any game you’re running with a narrative that runs throughout. Throw them into the center of the forest in your game world, run it as a simple one shot. or use it for inspiration. Marginally, it is designed for 5E, but the mechanics are light. It’d be easy to tear out the warm bleeding heart of it and use whatever fantasy game system you love most.

 

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Deep Dark Wood: A Tiny Hex Crawl PDF

“Be he boar or be he man, he has a single knife. And if you come upon his mind, he’ll end your too short life.”

There was a time that your ancestors knew the forest was to be feared. It was deep and dark. No sun touched the heart of these woods and those that went in were often not seen again. The beasts that ranged there were strange and if any religion was practiced within, it was old, odd, and evil. At least, that’s what the peasants would say, banded together in their small towns for safety or the illusion there of.

This is a tiny hex crawl. There are seven locations you can add into any game you’re running with a narrative that runs throughout. Throw them into the center of the forest in your game world, run it as a simple one shot. or use it for inspiration. Marginally, it is designed for 5E, but the mechanics are light. It’d be easy to tear out the warm bleeding heart of it and use whatever fantasy game system you love most.

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College of Mockery PDF

The College of Mockery contains everything you need to build a quick-witted, trash talking bard. Inside you will find the College of Mockery bard subclass which is perfect for those who really want to add some insult to their foes’ injuries. You will also get 3 original backgrounds and 4 feats all designed to bring out the best in the subclass. Straight up shit talk your opponents to death with this unique college. I’m not saying it’s the most tactical bard subclass… but I’m not not saying that either.

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Marching Order – DEMO PDF

Listen Up, we thought you might want to play the game before you buy it. So, we scrounged up the drunkest of the available rogues for ye!

What, thought you’d get the fancy knight waxing poetic in the corner? You’ll have to shell out some coin for him to go delving, ha ha!

Good luck; you’ll need it!

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Glossy Magic Mug

Add a pleasant twist to your morning routine with this glossy magic mug. It appears black when cold, but reveals a vibrant print when exposed to hot liquids. That makes this mug a wonderful gift for your family or friends.

• Ceramic
• Dimensions: 3.54″ (8.9 cm) in height, 3.35″ (8.5 cm) in diameter
• Black glossy finish when cold
• Reveals the print when exposed to hot liquids
• NOT dishwasher or microwave safe
• Blank product sourced from China

Note that in some cases the coating might not be 100% opaque and the outline of your design might peek through a little.

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Enamel Mug

Every happy camper needs a unique camper mug. It’s lightweight, durable and multifunctional. Use it for your favorite beverage or a hot meal, and attach it to your bag for easy access on a hike.

• Material: Enamel
• Dimensions: height 3.14″ (8 cm), diameter 3.25″(8.25 cm)
• White coating with a silver rim
• Hand-wash only
• Blank product sourced from China

Attention! Don’t heat liquids or food directly in the mug—it can damage the coating.

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Bubble-free stickers

These stickers are printed on durable, high opacity adhesive vinyl which makes them perfect for regular use, as well as for covering other stickers or paint. The high-quality vinyl ensures there are no bubbles when applying the stickers.

• High opacity film that’s impossible to see through
• Fast and easy bubble-free application
• Durable vinyl, perfect for indoor use
• 95µ density

Don’t forget to clean the surface before applying the sticker.

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3/4 sleeve raglan shirt

A stylish spin on the classic baseball raglan. The combed cotton blend makes it super soft, comfortable, and lightweight.

• All solid colors are 100% ring-spun cotton
• Heather Grey color is 90% cotton, 10% polyester
• Heather Denim color is 50% cotton, 50% polyester
• Fabric weight: 4.5 oz/yd² (152.6 g/m²)
• Fine knit jersey
• 30 singles
• ¾ sleeves
• Contrast raglan sleeve
• Reactive-dyed for longer-lasting color
• Prewashed to minimize shrinkage
• Tear away label
• Blank product sourced from Mexico

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Short-Sleeve Unisex T-Shirt

This t-shirt is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. It feels soft and lightweight, with the right amount of stretch. It’s comfortable and flattering for both men and women.

• 100% combed and ring-spun cotton (Heather colors contain polyester)
• Ash color is 99% combed and ring-spun cotton, 1% polyester
• Heather colors are 52% combed and ring-spun cotton, 48% polyester
• Athletic and Black Heather are 90% combed and ring-spun cotton, 10% polyester
• Heather Prism colors are 99% combed and ring-spun cotton, 1% polyester
• Fabric weight: 4.2 oz (142 g/m2)
• Pre-shrunk fabric
• Shoulder-to-shoulder taping
• Side-seamed

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Women’s Flowy Racerback Tank

This racerback tank is soft with a loose, flowy fit. The shirring on the back also adds some feminine detail.

• 65% polyester, 35% viscose
• Fabric weight: 3.7 oz/yd² (125.4 g/m²)
• 30 singles
• Relaxed, drapey fit
• Side-seamed construction
• A-line silhouette
• Merrowed bottom hem
• Shirring at racerback seam
• Blank product sourced from Nicaragua, Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala, or the US

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Unisex zip hoodie

For when you get chilly on a summer evening by the lake, or simply need something comfy to throw on, this lightweight unisex zip hoodie with a modern fit, hood, front zip, and a kangaroo pocket is the way to go.

• 50% polyester, 25% airlume combed ring-spun cotton, 25% rayon
• Fabric weight 5.6 oz/yd² (189.9 g/m²)
• Unisex fit (men may want to order a size up for a looser fit)
• Side-seamed construction
• Hooded
• Kangaroo pocket
• Blank product sourced from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, or the US

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Short-Sleeve Unisex T-Shirt

This t-shirt is everything you’ve dreamed of and more, the wizard on the third floor cast a spell to ensure it feels soft and lightweight, with the right amount of stretch. It’s comfortable and flattering for everyone!

• Athletic and Black Heather are 90% combed and ring-spun cotton, 10% polyester
• Heather Prism colors are 99% combed and ring-spun cotton, 1% polyester
• Fabric weight: 4.2 oz (142 g/m2)
• Pre-shrunk fabric
• Shoulder-to-shoulder taping
• Side-seamed

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Marching Order RPG PRINT- PREORDER

Marching Order is a solo or cooperative dungeon crawling zine of greedy Rogues pilfering everything they can from monsters and each other. Inspired by Tabletop games such as Four Against the Darkness, Call of Cthulhu’s Alone Against the Dark series, and video games such as Darkest Dungeons, it harkens back to the days where dungeon corridors were too narrow to fit more than one character at a time. The party had to establish their marching order- who went first, who was behind them, all the way back until you knew who was in the rear. You need a good pair of meat shields for your wizard sandwich, if you know what I mean.

 

In Marching Order, your character might only be able to attack a creature right in front of them, or perhaps they’re an archer and can only hit creatures 6 spaces away. Maybe they’re a doctor and pass adjacent allies strange pills. Then again, maybe they’re the thief and they’re more concerned with cutting purse strings than cutting open bellies. Hey, no one goes into a dungeon for their health, right?

Hire your Rogues, buy their equipment, and figure out your marching order. You’ll go through dungeon delves in a choose-your-own-adventure fashion, mapping the area as you go. There will be traps, magic, monsters, and weird holes in the wall you can reach into if you’re feeling frisky. If you make it back to Rotbottom alive, you can pay for training to learn new skills and level up your character. You can even buy new, more powerful Rogues. Save some coin though – you might need a life coach to get rid of a few of their bad habits. The snake oil salesmen in Rotbottom would be happy to help, for the right price of course.

 

The rules are simple to learn even if you’ve had a pint or two. On each Rogue’s turn, you get one action: use an item, move to a different space in the marching order, try to escape, or perform one of your character-specific actions. Doctors can try to patch up their friends, alchemists ingest strange chemicals, and archers can release hails of arrows. These abilities require a cooldown die to track when you can use them next. The more powerful the ability, the longer the cooldown.

 

Which brings us to the end of a Rogue’s turn: the Bullshit Phase. Into every Rogue’s life, much bullshit must fall. Every character has a quality and a flaw. Roll high and that quality activates. Good for you. Roll low, and… well, it’s been nice knowing you. The bullshit die adds an element of chaos that can help or hinder. Maybe your Rogue will see an opening and take another attack. Then again, maybe they’re just too hungover for this shit.

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Tenarlian: The Dying of the Light (PDF)

The longest night is here again! The dwarves of the Long Winter Vale are keeping their fires burning bright to drive back the darkness. They pass around plates of bread and drink spirits reserved for this night. Come the dawn, they’ll celebrate the coming of the new year. Unfortunately, in the midst of their celebration, the lights begin to go out…

In Tenarlian: The Dying of the Light, you attempt to survive in an adventure where torches are more powerful than magic. Evil things have come to the valley. Can you escape the encroaching darkness in this survival horror holiday adventure for 5E?


 

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Tenarlian: The Longest Night (PDF)

The winter solstice on Samsarras is when the demons are closest. The elves are silent, hoping to escape the notice of the dark ones until the sun returns in the morning.

This heavy metal Christmas adventure is the perfect one shot this holiday season.

  • 6 pregenerated 9th level characters with backstories and their own secrets.
  • A grim dark adventure through Elgolor manor, where the house’s dying matron has attracted the notice of dark things.
  • Two beautiful maps of the three story manor, one for the DM and one for the players.

Carnage, darkness, and madness runs rampant in this holiday one shot adventure for 5th edition.