Here’s the chant: randomised beholders; defiling and preserving magic; and Nentir Vale

Each week I post a roundup of content about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly 5th edition Dungeon & Dragons. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players or dungeon masters:

For players:

  • ‘Why You don’t Need a Backstory’Cup of D20s – this article suggests that rather than writing backstories for new player characters, we should let their stories emerge and develop through play

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on the themes of our games:

  • ‘Existential D&D’Cup of D20s – this post looks at connections between roleplaying and existentialist philosophy

My recent content:

How it all goes together

One of the things I said I wanted to do this year was to write regularly – and that has taken different forms throughout the year, but I’ve found it has been really worthwhile. Being a personal blog, the content here has changed over the course of the year. (I’ve also done some private writing for my study, as part of a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church in Australia, and as part of a pilgrimage to Lake Mungo.) On this blog recently I’ve almost only been talking about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, but earlier in the year I was also posting a lot more religious-mythological Bible content, stuff I’d been observing in my neighbourhood, opinion pieces about the proposed homeless ban in Melbourne, stuff about migrant-settler-colonial identity in Australia…

Sometimes people tell me I’m doing an awful lot of different things, but in my mind all of those stuff comes back to one thing, and that’s critical engagement with stories. As my collaborator Matt Valler has been saying,

‘Every city is full of hidden stories that quietly enforce the rules we live by. Labyrinth uncovers those stories so that together we can rewrite the rules.’

We need to be able to engage with stories in a critical way because they can shape our society for better or for worse. (And it’s often a lot more complex than just good stories and bad stories!)

Anyway, that has been my focus, and I hope that gives an idea about what holds my year together!

Religious-mythological story
This year it’s been really helpful having regular contracts with the Victorian Council of Christian Education, illustrating resources written by my friend Beth Barnett. (I also did a little bit or writing for the season of Lent early in the year.) What I like is that VCCE are really in favour of critical reflection on the Bible, not just in academic institutions and not just for adults but for the whole church. Personally it’s also been helpful just having regular stuff to work on so that I can improve my skills and reinforce a regular practise of drawing – which makes it easier to pick up other religious-mythological work with groups like Scripture Union Victoria, Gembrook Retreat, Baptist Union of Victoria, Surrender and Melbourne Welsh Church.

Story through gaming
The discipline has also meant I’ve been able to start expanding into doing tabletop roleplaying illustration through Owlman Press (I’ll be playtesting our new game Phantasmagoria next week) and Encounter Roleplay (my new Dungeons & Dragons adventure King Dawutti’s Legacy is now available to our Patreon supporters). I find there’s often also cross-pollination between the two, because a story from the Abrahamic mythologies might provide a structure or a setting for an adventure, or the elements of a parable might provide an idea for a monster. In the new year I’m excited about some new gaming projects that I’m currently working on thanks to connections with the #DnD community on Twitter.

What interests me most is how our games often draw on stories that are already part of our society, but invite us to engage with the creatively. I think there are also opportunities to experiment in how we cooperate with others or engage in conflict at the table. It’s been great getting back into a regular rhythm of hosting games (and getting to occassionally play!) with a fairly diverse group of players.

While I’m talking about gaming, I also need to mention that I’ve appreciated being able to continue working with Evan at Rival Sky. I don’t play most of the games we sell (I do play Star Wars: Imperial Assault a little bit) but it’s really helpful having something to do that’s regular, dependable and practical. (You might be surprised how therapeutic the physicality of packing parcels can be!)

Story in the real, physical world
I think physicality is really important. I don’t think our engagement with story can stay in the realm of reflecting on Biblical mythology or participating in narrative through games. I think it has to have an impact on our actual world. With Labyrinth we’ve been inviting people to do this kind of critical reflection on stories in the city streets, as we have done in Melbourne for a long time. It’s been great being able to see this practise continuing in Melbourne as Urban Seed (where I learned this practise) has been gradually winding up, and seeing experiments happening in London, Dallas and Washington DC. Reflection on the stories needs to lead to response, and for some of us that has meant engaging with the government and wider community about the homelessness ban that was proposed by the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

What we do in our home is also being informed by reflecting on our story. Our household, the Indigenous Hospitality House (named in honor of the hospitality we’ve so often received from Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples) is a response to the story of our colonial history and the to the question ‘What does it mean to live on stolen land?’ In recent years we’ve been trying different ways of inviting other people to reflect on and respond to that story and question, because we think it’s something our whole society needs to grapple with. Early in the year we released a book as a way of sharing some of our learnings and inviting others into reflection. Mehrin and I got to take some time out to participate in the Yingadi pilgirmage to Lake Mungo with Vicki Clark, a Mutthi Mutthi woman who helped set up IHH at the beginning. As we finished up this year we have a few people leaving our household, but the three of us who’ve been living there for a while feel encouraged to have others joining us – especially since a few years ago we weren’t sure where we’d find enough people to keep operating!

In 2018
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this year I participated in a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church. My sense throughout this period has been that what I need to be doing is spending time near the boundaries of the church and out in the wider world, where people are engaging with and responding to the stories of our world. (I think that fits within the scope of the Uniting Church’s understanding of what a deacon does.) I expect I’ll be continuing these practises and seeing where they lead.

Here’s the Chant: Hogwarts RPG, gith and Dark Sun

Each week I normally post a roundup of content related to tabletop roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Githyanki and Githzerai’D&D Beyond – this video (there’s also a transcript) looks at the backstory of the two gith races and their relationship with the mind flayers and Tiamat. (I wonder if this might give us some ideas of how the gith will be used in future storylines?) Here are some githzerai I’ve drawn for Planescape adventures I’ve run this year:
  • ‘The Dark Sun of Athas’Bell of Lost Souls – here’s an overview of D&D‘s Dark Sun setting. The article suggests that the conflicts built into this world helped to draw players in.
  • ‘The Harry Potter Tabletop RPG Guide’Google Drive – here are some revised rules for running 5th edition D&D adventures set in the world of Harry Potter, including a comprehensive list of spells

For players:

  • ‘The Dark Sun Mystic’ThinkDM – here is some speculation about what we might be able to expect from the new mystic class option when it is officially released. (I also covered this topic at Encounter Roleplay a little while ago.)
  • ‘Determining Ability Scores’The Kind GM – this post looks at the pros and cons of a number of different ways of generating ability scores in D&D. (Make sure when you’re determining scores that you know what the agreed options are for your group!)

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

A merry Kranglemas to all

Tonight at Games Laboratory we ran a Christmas themed adventure. We started with the same premise: a village of drow artificers in the frozen north, about to celebrate Kranglemas – the longest night of the year. The patron of this sacred day is Krangle, who delivers radioactive crystals to bad children and toys to good children. The crystals turn children into aberrations and the toys are actually automatons who kidnap the good children to work in Krangle’s mines. A half-orc called Grinchen is trying to thwart Krangle’s plans by stealing the presents before they are opened.

Running this adventure was a lot of fun. My table spent some time carolling, and eventually ended up drinking and singing in the street with some rowdy drow.

One of the most memorable player characters was a halfling warlock whose patron was always reminding her of how small she was. The halfling had developed a very obvious insecurity about her height. When she opened her gift from Krangle it turned out to be one of the radioactive, green crystals and it turned her into a gibbering mouther. She was very pleased, because this meant she was now the largest party member.

Later on, when they were trying to find Krangle’s mine, they found a magical stone door, which the mouther decided to eat her way through. I decided that eating a magical door should have some kind of magical effect, to I had her roll on the wild magic surge table. The result was that if she was killed in the next minute she would be reincarnated. So when the centaurs who were sheltering behind the door trampled the gibbering mouther, she was reincarnated as a dwarf. She felt short again, so she asked the centaurs to trample her again, and she reincarnated as a dragonborn.

Here’s the Chant: racial stereotypes, Christmas cantrips and the origins of saving throws

Each week I put together a wrap-up of tabletop roleplaying game content (mostly related to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s wrap up:

For digital RPG players:

  • ‘Sword Coast Legends Last Chance Sale’Sword Coast Legends – I really enjoyed playing this game when it was released, and I think it failed because of runaway expectations from fans. (To be fair on the fans, these expectations were stoked by the developers in no small way!) Sword Coast Legends is heavily discounted at the moment, and will not be available after the end if the year, although the servers will keep running.

For players and dungeon masters:

For players:

For dungeon masters:

  • X Marks the Spot – Wizards of the Coast have released a short D&D adventure set on the plane of Ixalan (from Magic: the Gathering)

For anyone wanting to learn about RPG history:

My recent content:

Bargaining with hags

On Thursday nights I’ve been running Out of the Abyss with my Dungeons & Dragons group. Tonight a number of players weren’t able to make it, so I decided to run a little side adventure for the three players who were available, rather than advancing the main plot too much. Only one of the players is an evil character, but I was basically able to get get them all to make deals with a sea hag, Auntie Pong. It was a lot of fun trying to trick the players. One of the players was suggesting that the hag should be giving them cursed items, but my hunch was that she’d be more likely to give them things that she’d find amusing (like the cloak of displacement that looks like a frog onesie) or information that wouldn’t actually be very useful. But who knows, maybe the ‘croak of displacement’ will turn out to be cursed?

Combat in Limbo – beware the chaos beasts!

Today I was involved in running a Dungeons & Dragons event at Games Laboratory in Melbourne CBD. Our previous event was a cooperative evnt, so this time we ran a tournament intead. Competitors formed teams of three, with each player creating a fourth-level character. We had four rounds of three-on-three combat, in arenas designed by the dungeon masters. After the fourth round, the top four teams fought it out in an arena based on the Alchemist’s Refuge (Games Lab’s bar) complete with shelves full of random potions.

I decided that my arena would be on the plane of Limbo, which consists mainly of elemental chaos. There are a whole lot of rules in 2nd Edition D&D about the environmental conditions in Limbo. The 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide also has some suggestions. I wanted to keep the rules simple so that we could get into combat quickly, so I only used some of the rules from the 5E DMG.

Elemental chaos

If a character entered the elemental chaos or started their turn in the elemental chaos, they would take 1d6 damage. I would roll 1d10 to determine the kind of damage:

  1. Acid
  2. Cold
  3. Fire
  4. Force
  5. Lightning
  6. Piercing
  7. Poison
  8. Radiant
  9. Slashing
  10. Thunder

Stabilising terrain

I decided that each player could use their bonus action on their turn to try to stabilise some of the elemental chaos, so that they might have some safe terrain. In order to suceed, they would have to make an Intelligence check, with the difficulty class depending on the size of the area they were trying to stabilise. To stabilise an area that was 5 feet by 5 feet it would be DC 5, to stabilise 10 feet by 10 feet it would be DC 10, et cetera. If they rolled a natural 20 for the Intelligence check I would let them choose the kind of terrain that was created. Otherwise I would roll 1d6 to decide what kind of terrain was created:

  1. Open terrain – this was just flat terrain, probably grassy.
  2. Watery terrain – this was difficult terrain, covered by waist-deep water
  3. Boggy terrain – this was difficult terrain, covered by stagnant, waist-deep water, providing half cover, but also producing toxic gases. If a character entered boggy terrain or began their turn in boggy terrain, they had to make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure they too 1d6 poison damage.
  4. Rocky terrain – this was higher ground. If a player was standing on rocky terrain, they could have advantage on attack rolls against characters in another kind of terrain. Rocky terrain also provided full cover for characters on either side of it.
  5. Leafy terrain – this was terrain covered by trees, providing half cover
  6. If I rolled a 6 I would let the player decide the kind of terrain

Players could choose to stabilise terrain anywhere on the table. They could choose also use the same mechanic to try and transform already-stabilised terrain.

To represent stabilised terrain, I cut up about 50 basic land cards from Magic: The Gathering. (I also stuck coloured stickers on them, to make them easy to identify.)

Chaos Beasts

I also adapted a monster from 2nd Edition D&D to use in my arena: the chaos beast. Chaos beasts don’t do a lot of damage, but the real danger they pose is caused by corporreal instability. Contact with a chaos beast can cause a player’s character to destabilise, losing a lot of their abilities and eventually becoming a chaos beast. A lot of the players freaked out when that started happening!

To represent the chaos beasts I used eldrazi miniatures from the Magic: The Gathering board game, Arena of the Planeswalkers, but I also prepared a few weird-looking paper minis in case player characters were transformed, as chaos beasts can take all kinds of weird forms:

Here’s the Chant: darkling player race, narrative preparation and a massively multiplayer tabletop RPG

For players and dungeon masters: 

For players:

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who is interested in reflecting more deeply on the themes of the games we play:

Some of my recent content:

  • on the weekend I was dungeon mastering with D&D Adventurers League at PAX AUS. (Merric has written about the event here.) I haven’t written about the event yet, but here are some monster illustrations I used in one of the adventures I ran: 

Here’s the Chant: scaring your players

Each week I post a roundup of roleplaying game content, mostly for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. This week I’m posting from PAX Aus, and following a horror theme, since Tuesday will be Hallowe’en.

For everyone:

On Ravenloft and vampires:

For dungeon masters:

Here are a couple of zombie illustrations I’ve made to us at PAX Aus this weekend:

Here’s the Chant: problems with Chult, Eberron aasimar and trial by ordeal

Each week I put together a roundup of content related to roleplyaing games (mostly 5th edition D&D). I’ve just recently started publishing these on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Dungeons & Dragons Stumbles With Its Revision Of The Game’s Major Black Culture’ Kotaku – this article looks at the problems with how black characters and cultures have been portrayed in D&D in the past. Cecilia D’Anastasio says that in Tomb of Annihilation there are some improvements but many of the same mistakes.
  • ‘Knife Theory’ reddit/DND – this thread shares a way of writing a player character’s backstory, which offers the dungeon master lots of options for raising the stakes of the story for each player character
  • ‘Dragonmarks: Aasimar’ Keith Baker – in this post Keith Baker looks at how the aasimar player race could fit into his Eberron setting

For players:

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on the themes:

My recent content:

  • ‘Thoughts After Running In Volo’s Wake’ – last week I finished running In Volo’s Wake with my regular D&D group. Here are my thoughts on how I think this simple adventure can be deepened, and also some observations on how I could improve my DMing if I was to run it again.
  • ‘Zygmunt Bauman, Social Division and Flesh Golems’
  • I’ve just started running Out of the Abyss with my weekly group. These are some character illustrations I made for the non-player characters who the party found themselves imprisoned with: