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Crumbling UpKeep: A Different Take on Hit Points

Some one rolls dice, you get hit, you lose hit points. You run out of hit points, you’re dead. That is how D&D works.

What are hit points, though? Most people view it as a relative measure of health.  You get stabbed, your health decreases. You get stabbed again, the process repeats itself. Eventually, you just run out of health.

What I’m proposing here isn’t a new concept. I know I got the idea from reading about it somewhere else many years ago. If I could remember where, I’d give it some credit. It was an idea that really stuck with me, though. Hit points actually represents a number of things: health, how tired you are, the strength of your sword arm… hit points ultimately show how close you are to death, but not necessarily health. Continue reading “Crumbling UpKeep: A Different Take on Hit Points”

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Crumbling UpKeep: Describe Your Combat

“I rolled a 17. Does that hit?”

“Yeah. Roll for damage.”

“Okay, that’s… 8 points of piercing and 6 points of radiant damage.”

“Okay, next player…”

Sound familiar? Combat starts and the game suddenly becomes just a long drown out battle of dice rolling, especially when all your flashy powers are used up. It feels sterile and players can quickly become bored if they’re just waiting to roll above a certain number. How can you keep combat fresh and keep the players engaged?

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Crumbling UpKeep: Tips I learned from wrestling.

By now, we’ve started season two of Tales from the Tower on Twitch. We’re playing World Wide Wrestling, a game about being a professional wrestler. We’ve had a blast getting together costumes and creating the back stories for this little world. I’ve personally spent a lot of time on YouTube watching old matches and promos for research. While it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve also learned some things.

Wrestling has some great villains.

Continue reading “Crumbling UpKeep: Tips I learned from wrestling.”

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Crumbling UpKeep: In Defense of Alignment

I just want to start off by saying that there are very few wrong ways to play an RPG. If you and your players are having fun and everyone is comfortable, you are doing it right. From hack and slash dungeon delvers to in depth method acting role players, its all valid. Its a game. Have fun.

That said, I’ve often seen people talk smack on alignment. They find it limiting and hindering to their role playing. If their character wants to save a town and then kidnap its children all in the same day, than by Rerox’s beard, they should be able to do it. Who in this life can really just be summed up by two words?

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Crumbling UpKeep: Who Put This Dungeon Here?

Many people see the dungeon as the corner stone of any good D&D game. It’s right in the name, for Rerox’s sake. Heroes go down into unknowable depths to kill things and get loot. The farther down you go, the more powerful the baddies. It’s a reoccurring trope. It’s also something I moved away from for a long time.

The game has evolved greatly over the years, largely in terms of play styles. D&D became less about about “kick in the door” and more about the story. As a game created by a bunch of war gamers, this was quite the transition. This was not Dungeons and Dragons original vision. There was a column Gary Gygax wrote for Dragon magazine that advised against becoming too much of an actor, as it would take away from the game portion of role playing games. I can’t find it for the life of me, but it was fascinating. If anyone has an issue number, drop me an e-mail.

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Crumbling UpKeep: The Game of Making Maps

This is the third in the series of articles about GMless games. This week’s game is pretty special and unlike anything else I’ve had the pleasure of playing. As you go, everyone works together to tell stories. They are stories of community and the triumphs and difficulties of belonging to one. Often times, it’s not tidy or conclusive, just like real communities and discussions. You don’t know much about it when you start. All you really have to count on is that you have one quiet year.

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Crumbling UpKeep: Skip the GM

Its not all together unheard of, but I’m one of those rare RPG players who prefers GMing to being a player character. I love world building, I love sculpting back story, and I love coming up with narrative on the fly. While I don’t mind playing a PC, being a GM is really what draws me to the game. It feels good to put my creativity into overdrive.

That said, sometimes I don’t have the energy or I want a different experience. There are a variety of games out there that allow you to skip having a GM all together. From games where everyone gets to play a character to games where you get to solo play, there is a great variety out there to delve into. Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about some of my favorites. First off, let’s start with a Fiasco.

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CrumblingUpKeep: Gold Pieces are Boring

Dungeons and Dragons has this wonderful abstraction of currency that helps to simplify the game and move things along. There are ten copper pieces in a silver piece, ten silver pieces in a gold piece, and 10 gold in a platinum. There is electrum as well, but let’s not talk about that.  No one speaks about electrum.

Gold pieces are kind of the base. Everything else is measured off of that. Think of it like the dollar. Coins are percentages of the dollar, while other bills are multiples of it. Continue reading “CrumblingUpKeep: Gold Pieces are Boring”

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Crumbling UpKeep: Every Story is a Mystery

Something threatens the characters or the world around them. They kill it. They get gold, experience points, and items.

Something threatens the characters or the world around them. They kill it harder with their new found abilities and magic. They get gold, experience points, and items.

Something threatens the characters or the world around them. They super kill it because they are super high level. They get gold, experience points, and items. They yawn.

Congratulations. You’ve become predictable. Continue reading “Crumbling UpKeep: Every Story is a Mystery”

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Crumbling UpKeep: Running a sandbox campaign, Part 2- Prep is for suckers.

In last week’s post, we talked about a good system for prepping your fantasy sandbox campaign. This week, we’re talking about a good system to avoid any prep what so ever.

Mutant Year Zero

While not as easy to port over to other games, Mutant: Year Zero has some great systems focusing on sandbox style play. Set on a post apocalyptic Earth, MYZ is all about exploration. You play a group of mutants who, until recently, have never had much reason to travel far from the safety of home, referred to as the Ark. Now, you are presented with a blank map. It’s your job to see what is out there and find things to ensure the survival of your colony.

Continue reading “Crumbling UpKeep: Running a sandbox campaign, Part 2- Prep is for suckers.”

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Crumbling UpKeep: Running a Sandbox Campaign

There are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to running a sandbox campaign. It’s main drawing point is complete player freedom. The GM drops the players off in the big wide world and lets them have at it. There is no quest to derail, no story to ruin. If the players want to suddenly leave town and travel across the continent, cool. That’s what a sandbox is for.

There are some drawbacks to this style of play, however. First, it becomes more difficult to implement a continuous story arc. For players who like their games to feel more like a novel, this can lead to dissatisfaction and analysis paralysis due to all the options. If your character can do anything, how do you make the choice to follow a single course of action?

Another downside of the sandbox is prep. If the players can go anywhere at any time, that is a lot to prepare. There isn’t really an end in sight. Depending on how precise you want to be, you could detail every NPC in every inn, court, and alley. Anyone who’s spent time world building knows this curse.  No matter how much world you’ve made, there is still more out there.

There are a few RPG systems that specialize in sandbox play. Even if their flavor doesn’t match what you’re looking for; they’re full of ideas to pilfer and bring over to the RPG of your choice. The two I’ve had the most experience with are Autarch’s Adventurer Conquerer King and Modiphius’s Mutant: Year Zero. Both approach the concept in very different but imaginative ways.

This week, we’ll be looking at Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACKs).

Adventurer Conqueror King

Adventurer Conqueror King System

Adventurer Conqueror King exists because of D&D 3.0 OGL license. That makes it really easy to port over to your D&D 5E game, or any other edition for that matter. The parts that are important aren’t too edition dependent. ACKs boasts a consistent internal economy based off of actual history to some extent. This means the money you pay for a sword vs the money you pay someone to wield it makes sense. The core book is worth it for this alone.

ACKs also has a rather specific attitude about the scope of your fantasy game. Adventurer, Conqueror, King refers to the three tiers of a character’s career. At first, the character is an adventurer, penniless and striving to make a name for themselves. Their exploits are small and relegated to clearing out the occasional dungeon. Next up is the conqueror, who is starting to perhaps own land themselves and must administer to it. Maybe they are a merchant starting grand expeditions or a cleric raising a temple to their god. They are a somebody and others follow them. 

Finally, there is King. This is a scope for which D&D really doesn’t have the dynamics. ACKs lets you know what the taxes from your province look like. They have rules on how to expand your influence, build strongholds, and raise armies. It’s no longer about one on one combat with a bug bear. It’s about your kingdom and the evils outside its border striving to get in.

What really makes it kick, however, is Chapter 10: Secrets. This chapter in particular contains a wealth of information that isn’t necessarily system specific. The very first part of it is constructing the campaign setting, which immediately deals with one of the most important parts of sandbox play: mapping.

ACKs suggests using hex graph paper, with two sheets to represent two different scales. One represents 6 mile hexes for the players current area, while the other is 24 mile hexes for the campaign setting. This will give you an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean region, which is enough area to have a lifetime of adventures. They don’t offer too much in the way of advice about land features, but there are plenty of resources for that. What they do provide is more valuable than that, however: demographics.

ACKs provides various realms, from Baronies to Empires, complete with population and sizes. It will also let you know how many Baronies are in a March and how many Marches are in a County. A lot of this information is useful for things covered earlier in the book, such as ruling a province. Knowing what sort of province it is that you rule will let you know how much area it covers, as well as its population.

Acks then has you throw in some metropolitan areas, trade routes, and dungeons. They have systems for all of this, of course.  Then, after everything else, it runs you through creating the starting city. Here you’ll make the guilds and figure out what other NPCs are in town, all based on the size of the settlement. ACKs even limits item availability by size of a metropolitan area’s market. It really takes everything into account.

It’s definitely a great how-to guide to creating a sandbox for the players to run around in. On top of that, the book contains everything you need for them to utilize that sandbox and let the characters become more than just adventurers. It goes by a philosophy that, the farther you stray from home, the more dangerous the world becomes. It’s a built in control that keeps the players close by the areas you have fleshed out the most and lets them gradually stray further and further. That way you have time to nail down the details of far away lands.

Adventurer Conqueror King- Domains at War

ACKS Domains at War: The Complete Set

This supplement for the game tackles a really big question: What happens when the scale of the battle grows to the size of kingdoms? Domains at War has that answer. Divided into two parts, it has a wargaming system based on your favorite fantasy game stats. There have been other products in the past that have attempted this. Where it really shines, however, is information on the campaign. It covers rules on raising an army, hiring mercenaries, training new soldiers, as well as what it takes to supply them on the road. Cutting off an enemy’s supply line suddenly becomes a very viable option.

This book really hits a beautiful sweet spot between war game and RPG. In the type of sandbox that ACKs imagines, this is near indispensable as the characters gain levels. Eventually, they’ll have to defend their kingdom… or raise an army to take another.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King- Lairs and Encounters

Lairs & Encounters

Yet another great tool in your sandbox. When it comes to exploring a region, ACKs doesn’t want you to have it all mapped out. Instead, it treats many of the locations in the same way it treats random encounters. There might be a monster lair in the hex you just entered, but it lets the dice decide.

Lairs and Encounters gives you just that: lairs and encounters. If you need a quick point of interest, or the dice decide there is a lair in the area you’re in, this book has it prepared for you. That is a lot off of your plate when it comes to preparation. It also gives some neat systems on searching for lairs. A six mile hex is a lot of area to cover when you’re looking for a single burrow.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King- Dwimmermount

Dwimmermount (ACKS version)

Last but not least, perhaps you want a sandbox style game but don’t want to plan it all out. Dwimmermount is that game and then some.

At its heart, Dwimmermount is a mega dungeon. It contains thirteen massive levels, with each one being more dangerous than the last. It is a plethora of magic items, traps, and monsters. It contains more than just the dungeon crawl, however.

Dwimmermount also has a gazetteer of the lands surrounding the dungeon, making use of the ACKs rules for domains. This provides the potential for a much broader scope of game than just the dungeon when combined with the core rules and domains at war. It also spends some time detailing the character’s starting town, which is intended to serve as their home base. This is old school sandbox at its best.

ACKs is a great tool for sandbox style play, if you like a nice thick system. It is chunky. The upside is that is has rule sets for dealing with so many things that could conceivably happen in your game world. If you don’t mind some bookkeeping and enjoy mechanics, this is a great game for you. This is doubly true of an old school feel if you find an old school feel appealing, as ACKs oozes with it.

Next week, we’ll talk about Mutant: Year Zero, which in many ways is the opposite of Adventurer Conqueror King. It’ll provide you with a system for sandbox play that is very much “make it up as you go.” If you are interested, click on any of the book images to purchase the PDFs. Enjoy your sandbox!

Buy the Books Here!

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Adventurer Conqueror King SystemACKS Domains at War: The Complete SetLairs & EncountersDwimmermount (ACKS version)

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Crumbling UpKeep: The First Time GM

Sending your PC into hordes of rampaging monsters: easily done without a second thought.

Wielding Magic that has the potential to tear worlds apart: Sure, what is the worst that could happen?

Stepping behind the screen and GMing a session: Terror has never been so real.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen over and over again: a player wants to become gm, but they don’t know where to start. Either that, or they are so intimidated by the prospect that they stay away from it indefinitely. The idea seems staggering. So much power! So much responsibility!

Continue reading “Crumbling UpKeep: The First Time GM”