I normally write a roundup post on Wednesday, drawing together a whole lot of content about roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). This week got away from me a bit, so here it is on Friday:
For players and DMs:
- ‘The Path of Notes’ Monte Cook Games – this article looks at how the game Invisible Sun has been designed so that players have got to take notes, which will end up becoming a memento of their adventure
Content I’ve published recently:
- ‘Goofy Descends into Hell’ – in the most recent Planescape adventure I played in, we used the Open Legend system instead of D&D
- ‘#Dungeondrawingdudes: Week 3’ – each day this month I’ve been participating in the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenge, so there’s now three weeks worth of my illustrations (like this tiefling street-performer), which you can download use in your home game
- ‘A Cheeky Response to #Dungeondrawingdudes’ – I thought one of the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenges was a bit disrespectful, so I made a cheeky response
- ‘Redcaps and Violence’ – #Dungeondrawingdudes and Nerdarchy got me thinking about redcaps and the tendency of violence to escalate
- ‘Valley of Eternity: The Hunt’ – last week I had my first attempt at running a game of Valley of Eternity, the existentialist penguin roleplaying game
Last Sunday I played using the Open Legend system for the first time. Our dungeonmaster has been keen to run a Planescape adventure about breaking out of the prison-plane of Carceri, but hasn’t been finding that Dungeons & Dragons rules promote roleplay or collaboration as much as she’d like.
Having a look at the rules, what I like is that character creation is very flexible. Rather than offering classes and races for a specific kind of setting, there are a whole lot of basic character attributes that can be used in different ways. You could use the ‘Alternate Form’ feat to make a lycanthropic character or a shapeshifting druid. You could use the ‘Companion’ feat to represent a character’s hired bodyguard or an animal companion or a sibling who tags along for adventures. So it’s very modular, very flexible. Because there’s no detailed flavour tied to the attributes, you can use them for a whole bunch of genres and settings, or for a mashup of genres and settings. That meant we were able to have an adventuring party consisting of a halfling, an orc and an anthropomorphic cartoon dog.
I think the downside of the openness and flexibility is that the game can depend a lot on the ability of the players to get their character across. In our adventure, I was playing a psionic orc and another player was a shady halfling. The third player, when he was told he could play as anything or anyone, said, ‘I’ll be Goofy.’ I think that was actually really helpful because we know who he is and what he’s like, and we get how cartoon slapstick works. He was able to get the character concept across easily by having Goofy walk up imaginary stairs or elongate his arms in order to catch falling adventurers. I think my psionic orc and the sinister halfling were less clear, so it was harder to get into the swing of things.
Back to the positive: another thing that makes Open Legend stand out if the way that dice ‘explode’. If you roll a die, whether it’s a d4 or a d20, maximum rolls are repeated and added. So If you had to roll a d20 and a 1d6 and rolled a 20 and a 3, you’d expect to get a score of 23. But because you rolled a 20 on the d20, you would roll the d20 again and add the result to the 23. If you rolled another 20, it would explode again. The same thing would happen with the d6 if you had rolled a 6 – you’d roll it again and add the result to your score. This means that you can end up with some really high scores and results, and it means the game really lends itself to characters every now and then managing ridiculous, epic achievements.
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If you want to check out Open Legend, the rules are available for free on their website. You can also try out their free, play-to-learn adventure, ‘A Star Once Fallen’ or support their Kickstarter campaign to publish their Amaurea’s Dawn adventure setting.
I’ve been thinking about death in Dungeons & Dragons, partly because of a funeral I went to a little while ago. My understanding is that the person whose funeral we were attending shouldn’t have died. He wasn’t very old. There’s a suspect being tried in relation to the death later in the year. So you would be able to understand, there was a lot of grief.
Reflecting on the funeral got me thinking, How is it that we can sometimes approach death so blithely in a game? Normally what you do is just write up another character sheet and continue the adventure with a new character. If you put a lot of work and time into the character you’d proabbly be annoyed, but that’s it. I wonder if there are any ways that we could remind ourselves of the gravity of death when we play?
These are a few ideas I had:
- We could suggest that surviving adventurers attempt to return the dead to their relatives. This would probably mean having to face the anger and grief of bereaved loved ones.
- We could roleplay a funeral for the deceased character.
- We could have each surviving character make a speech about the deceased.
- We could roleplay a wake after the funeral where the characters speculate about what happens to the souls of the dead.
- We could allow the death of an adventurer to direct the future path of the story, by having the surviving characters drawn into a quest for restribution.
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because of Henri Nouwen’s ideas about the illusion of immortality. He believed that our society often tries to avoid recognising the transience of life. Just like attending a funeral should help us to come to terms with our own mortality (as well as expressing our grief for the dead), roleplaying could give us opportunities to reflect on our own mortality. (Not everyone’s game needs to do that – but the opportunity is there.)
Can you think of any other ways to make death carry weight in the game?
On Saturdays I’m normally posting monster illustrations that I make for Dungeons & Dragons games. Yesterday I thought I’d ask on Twitter what folks thought I should draw:
In the tiebreaker, fey ended up coming out on top, so this post contains some fey creatures I’ve drawn. (Two are from Tales from the Yawning Portal. Two are from Tales Trees Tell, which is probably the next adventure I’ll run.)
In D&D, fey are creatures from a parallel plane of existance (called the Feywild), which mirrors the material world, but in a more extreme and spectatular way. Adventurers from the material plane who travel to the Feywild often find that when they return home inordinate amounts of time have passed. Some find that they are so enchanted by the wondrous surroundings that they never return home.
I think this could lead us to ask a question about gaming and fantasy literature: Is it a form of escapism that enables us to avoid everyday life? Do we become so absorbed fantasy worlds that we allow real life to move on without us?