On Eyrie Delivered!

Why would you wanna fight this guy?
Did you hear about that blogger that talks hot shit about how things should be done?

Well, if he wrote something, you sure could  find out if he's full of crap or not.

But who wants to read a .pdf? No one!

Thankfully this Eyrie of the Dread Eye module is now out, right this second, for ACKS, for 5th edition, and even in Print!

This doesn't look super fun at all!
There's only nine reviews and the are all five star reviews! That can't be right! It can't really be five stars?!

But why would you want to pick up an adventure for mid to high level characters that provides a challenge for them without nullifying their abilities? Why would your group want to fight ancient, minimally verbal, yet terrifying monster bears? Who wants to fight a hill giant clan wearing human leathers?

Who wants to explore an ancient city or deal with ancient giant statues? You see the maps for these things? Would would want to explore these places?

Who's idea was it to make this thing only five dollars! And if you buy print, you get the .pdf free? What kinda cheap outfit does that?

If you don't buy it, how can you give an honest review, instead of reviews like this?
A fantastic adventure, it's full of comfortingly familiar bits and pieces but executed in clever and interesting ways that I love. 
Clearly that dude is some sort of planted agent! What about this nonsense?
I'm definitely in favor of this kind of adventure overall, but it's a little more "gonzo" than some of the previous releases from Autarch, and should be appreciated as a sort of surreal nightmare of Lovecraftian weirdness that stands in contrast to the more mundane orcs and goblins that the default ACKS setting implies
Surreal nightmare of Lovecraftian weirdness? That gets five stars?
It really is the little conveniences that make this adventure a pleasure to read. The author does a masterful job succinctly and conveniently presenting just enough information to get a location right, for immediate presentation to my players without having to translate anything in my head. 
What kind of DM wants to run a game with a resource like that?
 A most excellent tribute to the classic I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Deadly environmental hazards, multiple rival factions to ally with or oppose, weird monsters galore, all done in classic . . . style.
Why would you want this adventure cluttering up the place? It's not like you need a great module full of terrific ideas, beautiful maps and swell encounters to steal, borrow, use or have fun with in your game. It's not like it isn't super popular hitting silver just days after its release.

You probably don't want to be in on all the fun anyway.

Eyrie of the Dread Eye, An adventure for 4-6 characters of 6th to 8th level, for the basic style, super well designed Adventure Conqueror King system; or rewritten for 5e, with care to match the style and expectations of that system.

You gotta see for yourself, right?
As might be inferred from the inspiration, this is a product that should appeal to anyone who loves classic-era TSR modules.-Eyrie Review

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Ancestral history, Quantum or Otherwise.

I hardly think I need continue. This perhaps will be the last.

What am I talking about?

Let's start with this.

Reddit is a cesspool. Let me be clear.

I like this one subreddit, it's called legaladvice. You aren't allowed to post ignorant shit. There was a post, 300 comments, 16 approved.

5% of comments contained true information, that's pertinent. This actually means  284 people were engaged enough with the topic to post inaccurate, illegal, and ignorant comments—even though they know that posts are deleted if they aren't factual. . . . or legal. Right? It's in the name!

They have to think their comments are correct or they possess a vested interest in yelling into the void. That's what's in reddit—the popular opinion. It is literally an eidolon, a manifest spectre of mediocrity and blind devotion to the whims of the masses, facts or nuance be damned. 

So, guess what I found on reddit the other day?
What's your hot take on "the Quantum Ogre" technique?
Alright you bungling loudly croaking magpies, let's do this.

Am I doing this? Let's find out!

The post contents:
Do you employ it [Ed:the Quantum Ogre] in your games as a DM? Do you enjoy or dislike it's use as a player?

Already my blood pressure is going up.

What we have here is an ignorant misunderstanding. A quantum ogre is a magician's switch—a tool used to make someone feel they have a choice, when they do not. See here.

Let's be crystal clear. Both are completely fine in a roleplaying game. You can decide things, and/or you can let players decide things.

I cannot find any utility for deciding something, but pretending to give players a choice. It's a game, literally founded upon socratic debate! The whole point is choices matter—it's not a video game, due to tactical infinity, you can have choices actually matter. But—I digress. Let me begin the shit-talking.

The Present

There is no shit talking. (Well, there's gonna be a little shit-talking)

The top comment is this:

The argument against QOs is that it's bad to take away choice from the players. I would argue that it's only bad to take away informed choice. If the players gather information on ogres, look for tracks, etc. and come to the conclusion that the ogre must be down the left path, the ogre has to stay where I planned. However, if they just select the left path at random, I don't feel like changing the ogre's position takes anything away from them

That's what's on reddit. The popular opinion. That's u/ParsleyForJehovah, who I don't know, and who knows. He understands the issue.

Here's a rocking socking shocker. There's no juice left in the onion. There's minuta, history, new content and setting and a ton of games—but the path is set. People know about the style of play. Even Matthew Mercer killed a player character on the hit show Critical Role. If there was ever a time or place where illusionism or narrative priorities were going to attempt to reinfect the game of Dungeons and Dragons, it would have been then. The understanding of the old ways is documented and passed on. We have held the wall and the light has won the day! Victory lies upon the long shadowed ages of pastoral paradise anew! Rise! Rise! Rise!

My sword and shield lie fallow. And though I will pick them up here, it is only to demonstrate how we fought for the world we live in. An old knight, returning for one last theater, his focus no longer on his enemy, but on the creation of his own realm.

Some hot takes 

It's clear that Shrek had the cultural impact that Avatar lacked. 

They note that schrodinger is a more accurate (but much less catchy) name.

Gus L. from the redacted Dungeon of Signs still posts on Reddit, and here's an example of the hivemind, he's downvoted out of visibility. 
If you need and[sic]  ogre encounter there should be one path - own it, and best to have a way this works in the setting. Spending time tricking players into specific set piece encounters is a bad way to spend play time.
His text is correct, but people read it unwilling to debate a point, who just don't like when their fragile feelings are hurt. Even though Gus and I are a bit like oil and water, his opinions are well reasoned, and he's a great player and gamemaster. 

It's hard to convince a room full of narcissists talking out loud to each other that they have anything to learn. 

Gus's points are excellent, and bring this little gem into the light from Pseudo boss:

At the same time, when I feel that the players are giving up their agency to rely on dice or chance instead, it's no longer my story, nor the player's story, but the dice's story. In my mind, this is a game failure: a game state with a very high potential to result in an unpleasant experience for everyone. Quantum ogres are a way to rectify game failures when they occur.
Do you see the confusion?

"When I feel the players are giving up their agency to rely on dice," That's the agency! They made the choice! Based on their understanding of the odds! The unpleasant experience mentioned is the consequence of choice.

Out of curiosity, if I decided that an important piece of evidence was in the same manor that the rogue was casing, would you consider that railroading or a quantum ogre?
What does this sentence mean? What I'm told is "I don't understand the differences and distinction between the various terminology discussed," but look at how certain! "this game is a failure if consequences come from actions!"

This person isn't evil, malicious, or ignorant. 35,000 times in 5 years people have said, "Yeah, I push up arrow!" That's 7,000 a year, or around 20 times a day, everyday, for half a decade. His other comments indicate a fascination with numbers, symmetry, that he's been committed to a mental institution, and has strong liberal opinions, which he is happy to share, along with his science background.

It's back to bad things happening in the game must be bad because it's not fun to lose—but it's more fun for the game to be meaningful, which is really the whole point of the classic tabletop fantasy gaming. The game as written is fun, meaningful, and chock full of emergent play.

He says as much himself:
There have been instances where an encounter that I place turns out to be way too hard, or maybe just the dice completely screwed the sorcerer over. Once it's clear that the mood of the table is souring, I feel that player satisfaction is more valuable than game integrity.
And there you have it.

I think maybe Gus and I rub each other the wrong way because we are so alike in a lot of ways, at least evidenced by how well he argues the Quantum Ogre.

It's percolated into the modern consensus. Even when disagreeing and calling me a dick (yes, really) they are agreeing. Note this comment from Author X. 

My lukewarm take is that I don't run any games that require me to plan the contents of every room in every building, or keep track of which corridors the players are moving down. Therefore, it doesn't matter which room a particular encounter is in, unless the players are trying to avoid encounters, in which case their success or failure determines whether or not they run into an ogre, not the left-hand-rule.

No. No reason to get worked up. But you see, right?

Aqua intestines says:
The quantum ogre is only acceptable if the game was full of meaningless choices anyway. Meaningless choices are universally boring. Thus one should avoid the QO, because it is a symptom of meaningless choices.
Yeah, brother. You know it.

Who is that guy? I don't know. But he understands a quantum ogre.

I think that means we made it to the future. I can tell because some dude is named AQUAINTESTINES. That's a future name. No historical 14th century Aquaintestines, of the seven seas.

There are a lot of responses by people who are just completely ignorant of what a Quantum Ogre is. They are so confident about it, while not understanding it at all, that—well, see for yourself:
The world doesn't revolve around the PCs, and they are not the most important people in the world, just in their story. Quantum ogres are a good way to simulate that kind of agency, and one I prefer over random encounters, because there's still planning in quantum encounters. Certain details are left open to get filled in, but the plan exists, versus random encounters where it's literally just, well, random. The encounter doesn't matter except as a tool for the GM to extract resources from the PCs to weaken them for a future, actually interesting encounter.
There's a lot of people who went, "Yeah, this is good!" Who can tell why? Maybe to confirm they don't understand what these words mean?

Guys. Guys. . . .Guys. Words mean things!

I'm pretty sure (although not certain) that he's simply talking about designing a random encounter table, instead of one filled with random monsters. He's clearly confused "Quantum ogres. . . simulate that agency". Clearly not!

Encounters designed in response to player choice and action do give agency; how he came to the conclusion that designing thematic encounters instead of a less specific and more random table is a quantum ogre? His comments show that he thinks the Super Mario Brothers movie is "A delight to watch" and is a "social justice duskblade" on the GamerGhazi subreddit.

Boy am I glad he posted this confused screed about something he doesn't understand! Isn't the internet wonderful?

There's some real. . . intensity in that thread. There are lots of people who are certain their factually incorrect take is correct, and assert that aggressively and without compunction. To wit:
Confident guy who's wrong: I disagree. The point of Quantum Ogres is that they're unavoidable once planned so that you don't waste time prepping content you don't need; it's a tool for managing limited planning resources. I only plan encounters for the next session, so last session when the decision was made there wasn't an ogre yet, so no need to involve Quantum Ogres.
Rational dude: If your sessions end with a player choice and begin with the repercussions from the last session’s choice, there’s no quantum ogre. 
Confident guy who's wrong: Not what I said. I said that the decision was made last session, not that it was at the end of last session, nor did I say that the ogre encounter happened at the start of the next session.
A lot of people point out that I sound angry about the quantum ogre. Some of that is because I am aggressive and excitable and have terrible emotional regulation skills! Most of that is because people are mouse shit in the pepper. Damn my eyes!
[the Quantum Ogre] can preserve the illusion of agency enough to prevent things from blowing up while still ensuring that the story continues. Which situation would you prefer: that the players don’t have pure agency but the story always plays out in a satisfying manner, or that the players do have pure agency but the story will sometimes collapse? The answer to that will be a bit different for every gaming group (and likely for every gamer).
Look at how pride telegraphs a fall! How confident his wisdom, in preventing any real risk and failure. How knowledgeable he is to know from the holy spirit who rides his soul with the power of god ABOVE, that the STORY will play out in a manner SATISFYING, as he has SEEN the glory and the power, HALLELUJAH.

I mean, what? You want proof? You're reading my blog and not his.

I laughed at Mr. Didz, who's like:

As I understand the definition of 'Quantum Ogre' (and I had to look it up to be honest) then yes I do use it, but mainly because WFRP as a system is based around a number of published adventures that basically require the party to face a series of increasingly challenging, but logically connected encounters.
First, what righteous dude! He looked up what something meant. And yeah, if you're running those, man, CHOO-FK&N-CHOO. Get on board. You are not kidding brother. Good luck with that Albatross.

Cptnfiskedritt says "Quantum Ogre is bad, and I dissagree![sic]" -
"The problem is railroading where an ogre is avoided consciously by the players, but then presented to them anyway. This hurts a game if done a lot."

You think?

I mean, I am taking crazy pills. They are supposed to keep me from going crazy. But I'm PRETTY SURE that guy say he hates a thing, and then immediately argues for exactly the thing he disagrees with.

You think that guy votes?

You like this article, and want to see more, more often? Easy way to do that is to join us on Patreon, before it's too late and come be part of a great community and use your agency to make the world a place that matches your vision!

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The Design Demon and the Amazing Technicolor Enviornment

"Don’t prep plots, prep situations." - The Alexandrian a decade past.

This is part IV in the Design Demon series, part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here. The Design Demon series is about how to philosophically approach the design of the game. The players drive play, but the play they encounter should be deliberately designed. Let's continue:

Your space is flat. Not only literally, it's dull, dull, DULL.
I'm weary of it for you.

You can design a room as an encounter, and that's. . . fine. It's ok. Lots of people do that, and you shouldn't feel bad if you do that. I mean you have to start somewhere. Sure. The bottom is as good a place as any.

Repetition ad infinitum of I attack, I attack, I attack—the fights been joined and then all the players  do is attack. That isn't happening in my game, and it's not because I'm some crazy savant that can magically conjure enough words to make combat seem more exciting.

I make combat exciting with deliberate design. Will what I do work for you? Let's find out!

Finding out!

The map displays where the encounter happens, and yet the map is not the environment. You must think on this.

Why is your map flat? Do you desire a flat space, or is it because paper is flat? Your will is stronger than the shape of the paper. Seize your will, and put it to the task of designing the space.

We design space ready for action—not space with an encounter. The encounter may be prepared ahead of time. The particulars of encounters engaged is left to fate. Bodies do not stand, arms steepled over sacrifices, checking their watch impatiently for the players.  How the players draw near this dynamic situation within the space determines the specifics of the encounter—the players choices determine the outcome.

The space contains features which drive emergent play.

The emergent play is organic and complex, because it arises due to the unforeseen interactions between the environmental components. We play to find out what happens. Every outcome the players can connect to their choices is a sense of ownership, every outcome out of their control or dictated to them removes that ownership and engagement.

Dynamic Spaces

Verticality: You are disgustingly reliant on flat spaces. Place a platform, stairway, depression, archway, pit, bannister, half-size barrier, arched ceilings, or multiple vertical platforms every twenty to thirty feet in rooms and chambers, and every fifty to sixty feet in corridors.

Liquids: Including one liquid per small environment or two for larger environments, such as a temples main floor or other large adventure space.

Water is most common. Other liquids include oil, acid, sludge, ectoplasm, magma/lava, jelly/slime, sand(ish), rivers of souls, elemental energy, et. al. Approximately every fifty feet there should be a basin, pool, river, waterfall, standing liquid, dripping liquid, spraying gouts of liquid or liquid spout.

Barriers: Liberally distribute, mobile or not. Mobile barriers include tables, boxes, barrels, wooden dividers, shelves and benches. Solid barriers provide cover from light missile fire and disrupt the line of effect magic needs to function. Transparent barriers provide a bonus versus missile fire, and protect from straightforward melee attacks as well as preventing line of effect from functioning.

Barriers may also be knocked over, either offensively or defensively.

Terrain abnormalities: Difficult terrain is the beginning. Notice it simply doubles movement. This use of terrain shapes mobility on the field and is the most direct method.

Another common terrain is grease—save to avoid going prone, or move in a straight line and exit on the other side of the grease. It's also flammable. Ice is as grease, non-flammable, with falling ice making the terrain difficult.

Fog eliminates visibility, changing the fight. Ground mist obscures anything knocked or on the floor.  Severe enough mist provides obscurities short characters. Vegetation is difficult terrain for most creatures that provides both partial physical and visual cover. Fighting in partial vegetation against creatures that are not affected by it increases the difficulty of the encounter.

Consider your setting. Salt may affect spirits or elves in unique ways. You have tactical infinity—do not include everything. (q.v. vectors) Think about what you are designing. Design towards your theme. Terrain can include dead magic zones, ley lines, unstable ground, wind channels, conveyor belts et. al. Terrain itself may be invisible, from magic pathways in the air,wind mazes or force walls on the ground.

Do not limit yourself to these, consider well the following.

The terrain should be consistent. It should have a known effect non-diegetically explained beforehand. Terrain should always be open information the players have. This does not mean that there can't be hidden information. This just means the players have an understanding of how the hidden information works, like fog, obscurement, or the invisibility spell. As long as the players understand the terrain, situations may exist where different people in the conflict can be in or out of phase or time of reality, different people are in control of different bodies, or doppelgangers run amuck as long as it's consistent and presented ahead of time to the players.

Do not use terrain that requires a successful check to act. This creates a terrible experience. Players randomly losing turns sounds way better than the way it mechanically works out at the table. Being able to act is core to the economy of gameplay, and restricting that randomly makes for a terrible experience, not an exciting one. No one wants to check to see if they can play.

Consider the themes, common monsters, setting, and player abilities when designing terrain for your group. Consider archetypes when designing terrain.

One final note, be sure to describe the mechanical effects clearly. Allow access to the what. Consider the following. Explain the 'why' and it embodies exposition, exasperating players. If why is discovered from player desire, engaging play is the result. There should a rational presentation of even a metaphysical space, i.e. even if the shape is a tesseract and modrons portal in from one place to another, players should understand the mechanical underpinnings of the mechanics.

The upper reaches: What hangs from above? Consider ropes, chains, catwalks, stones/stalactites, lanterns, burning coals, clothing, vegetables, tools, hooks, bodies, meat, curtains, beads, et. al. Do not forget cave fishers, giant ticks, piercers, and other 'monster hazards'.

Periodic state changes: These should be environmental effects that occur in a predictable fashion. A pillar that shoots any substance on intermittent rounds, sections of terrain subject to falling debris, pits that open or close, walls that move, obstructions that sequentially block sections of the battlefield, ancient sorceries, wards, and leys, energy that arcs, reverse gravity fields, unstable terrain that pushes anyone on it in a changing direction, rotating poles that fling chains about, lava coming up through grates, bolts that fire in certain changing arcs each round.  fountains of acid that spray at regular intervals, giant pendulum blades, and magical beams that make things grow or shrink, et. al.

Objects: Every room should have one to three objects within it that can be used by the players. Consider sacks of potatoes, shovels, chairs, torches, metal buckets, et. al. Chambers should contain one to three objects attached to the walls; spears, shields, monster heads, plaques, paintings, curtains, tapestries, plants, ceramic figures, shadow-boxes, et. al.

Secondary Goals: Once your players begin to fear your encounters less, upon reaching superhero levels, goals beyond winning the combat should be combined in the spaces. Keeping in mind the suggested vector limit below. Secondary goals include innocents to be saved, prisoners to be freed, people hanging saved from being dropped into something, destroying an item, preventing an item from being destroyed, activating a mechanism, stopping a disaster, et. al.


These features can drastically affect the outcome of the game. This is intentional, and is why the players must know the meaning of the environment, in the same way you understand it, so they can leverage it. It is this player skill that makes high lethality combat enjoyable and manageable. Not through large hit point pools, but instead through dynamic control and utilization of the fictional space within the game.

Keep in mind that adding platforms and putting mages and archers on them is synergistically more powerful than either feature alone. This collection of features and expansion of goals is key to how middle to high level characters are challenged.

No more than nine vectors should be used simultaneously, no less than 5, and seven is ideal. More and some players will lose the thread. Less and the game is straightforward and less interesting. Vectors include any factor relevant to the encounter. When resolved, explicitly removing the vector from the situation, new factors should be introduced organically.

If you don't know the difference between a room and a chamber, do a favor and download my free Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design guide from drivethrurpg. Over 100,000 downloads. Way over. Check it out.

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A Guide to the Ultimate Grim Dawn Expansion

We live in a golden age of games.

There's so many and so much, that it's overwhelming. There's more content than there are hours in a human lifetime to consume it. It is a massive ecosystem dominated by toxic and exploitive baron-companies.

A lot of very smart people I know decided that playing video games takes too much. Games can unbalance a life pretty quickly. World of Warcraft is related to the concept of a poop sock.

Maybe twice a year I mess around with a new game for a few dozen hours? That type of entertainment is like a movie. I talk about it with my friends, it's an interesting and fun diversion.

But I use video games for other things. I'm very productive. I'm appropriately medicated. Puzzles and mindless tasks help me both think and cope.

Let me repeat that. A portion of my ability to cope with life is in doing tasks that are focused around self care. Given free reign to do whatever I want, I spend between 30-90 minutes daily engaged in activities to help myself stay centered.

Sometimes this is meditation, sometimes it's a walk. It's always grinding the coffee beans by hand. But frequently it's software that has the same effect. So even though I only 'play' a couple of games a year, I have others as activities I've integrated into my life. Some people have some aspect of their social lives tied up in video games, not just over the Internet. I know a group of employees in town that plays Clash of Clans as a group on their phones.

The current name for that phenomenon is "live services" or "lifestyle games". It's a terrible name, and coming to terms with that in gaming was one of the things that helped me find balance. Games and what they do to the mind are powerful mojo, and like all things that put us in touch with the source, have to be treated with respect.

Grim Dawn Ultimate Mode
Grim Dawn is one of my current games.That playtime you are looking at is from when they first released the first act, till now, the release of their final expansion. It's relaxing.

Grim Dawn is a game I know well. Believe me, I know what to do, I know all the numbers straight thru, and how to make myself more survivable too. I'm not the best player, that has nothing to do with luck, and mindlessly slaying mobs for 20 minutes cycles up my mind, enough end the game and solve whatever problem I might have.

Crate added a feature to start the game from Ultimate mode, not requiring you to play through the first two cycles. This feature is astoundingly misunderstood.

See, it's not uncommon for action role playing looting video games to require you to play through multiple times, increasing the difficulty each time. Normally, you just play the game. You start on normal or veteran, then after you complete the game, you replay the whole game on elite. If you can beat elite, you can play the game one more time on ultimate difficulty, with the best drops and the most danger! But after hour 400+, the way I played the game changed.

I've seen so many people who ask, How do I start the game on Ultimate?

You just don't. It's not a balanced play experience. It's not designed to take a first level character though the game. If you want to play the game, start on normal. This new feature was designed specifically with players like me in mind.



Before the expansion released, here was my procedure: I'd start the game, and run to the early loot corpses. There's several corpses in the first area that grant you a green weapon of exceptional utility. You can grab an axe, a gun, or a two handed blade. I grab which-ever-one goes with the build I'm going to try out.

Then I enter the Crucible. The Crucible is an paid expansion that allows you to fight hordes of monsters in waves in exchange for treasure given equal to a high score. It also gives tributes when you can use to toggle bonus zones for advantages in Crucible or turn in tributes to get devotion points. I'm running the Crucible specifically to gather tributes to exchange for devotion points.

I run one set of ten waves. This gets me to level 7-9. I then grab the treasure, and take my mostly green equipment back for another 30 waves of the crucible. I do this three times to accumulate the 15 tributes to Unlock the first 5 devotion points in the crucible.

Why? Devotion points (normally gathered by activating shrines in play) allow you to modify your build using both unique abilities and to shore up weaknesses and focus strengths. Look at this star chart! The cost of these increases in the crucible the more you have.

This entire process takes around 10 minutes, tops. Once that happens, I then load up the main game, and speed-run the game to ultimate. I have to complete the hidden path witch quest (for the extra skill point) and the two quests that give bonus attribute points. I also grab all the shines that are directly in the way, brining my devotion point total up to around 35-40.

Running through veteran and elite takes between five and six hours. I use a movement ability and movement speed gear to make a beeline through the game. You can even skip the whole first act by repairing the bridge (although I usually kill the warden and complete act I in the base difficulty to pick up all the devotion points from shines).

In order for this to work, I usually have complete gear sets for level 20 (Explorer's, providing a nice boost to movement speed), level 40 (the Perdition set, bloodcallers set, or other early-mid game sets) ready for them to go. I use experience potions, from maximum reputation vendors. That allows me to kill the boss on elite in about 5 hours, puts me somewhere between level 45-55, and ready for ultimate.

Then I can finally play the game. Ultimate has the best drop rates, and more content than I need to hit level 100 before I can even finish all the content. It is where the actual game begins.

The whole point of the expansion allowing players to enter Ultimate was to eliminate the time spent needing to speed-run the first two difficulties. 

If you try to start Ultimate as a straight level 1 character, you will be using a butter knife against enemies that will cause you to explode like a microwave shoved into a grape. Preparing a character for ultimate requires the following:

  • You have to access the Forgotten Gods content on the difficulty level you want to skip. This can be done by speaking to the new character that appears in Devil's Crossing at the end of act I. My death knight was at the end of Ultimate, deep into the Ashes of Malmouth content, and I found him inside Malmouth, so it's likely you'll be able to access Forgotten Gods from any of the major towns.
  • When you access the content, there's a guy with a bag that looks like a normal vendor. On his consumables page, he sells the tokens. They run in the range of 200k.
  • On a new character, use the token. The elite token unlocks elite and gives a skill point. The ultimate token unlocks elite and ultimate and gives two skill points. You also gain the appropriate amount of attribute points.
If you do that, and then follow the procedure above to boost a character to where they need to survive ultimate, it'll be fine. 

It was a change that helps me with the way I play the game. It's why I still play this, and quit Hearthstone. It's because they play it too. They aren't looking to maximize profits. They are just looking to flourish while providing something worthwhile. 

Have a good weekend. Take time for yourself.

I don't have anything to do with Crate, the company that makes Grim Dawn, other than I think they made a very fun game. Ymmv. Support me on Patreon.

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On Hexploration, a closer look

It's been out for a while, I figured I'd talk about what's inside.

This is an screen resolution example of a hex from the Hexplore series.

My games are about the players exploring. What are they exploring? Well, you're looking at it. This is the environment that contains the adventure sites.

This whole idea was about this small bit of text from the Dungeon Master's Guide.
You give him a map of the hex where the location is and of the six surrounding hexes. The player character and his henchmen and various retainers must now go to the construction site, explore and map it, and have construction commence.”- 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax © 1979
The abandoned fort
That's how it went. The players left the dungeon, and Gygax abstracted out the hex exploration. But the thought of an overworld, that you explore for juicy pockets of treasure? Man, it's that feeling I love. So, I've been trying to do it with hexes like these. Part of reaching some new place is the novelty right? People love novelty.

So when they reach the fort, you can show them something like the illustration to the left.

This method of doing and using these hexes is exciting.

My eventual plan is to do a cluster of 7 hexes, of each terrain type. I think it's novel, and works really well with the method of play that's becoming increasingly common, online. Patrons get access to high definition copies of the images to be used in online play (as well as free copies of the work itself). But if you're not a Patron, you could still pick up a copy and take your group through a series of dungeons like these:

Join our great group on Patreon, get some of my stuff and discord benefits. There's actually a lot of benefits to joining the community. Patrons get first shot at online games I run, lots of people in the community are these fantastic artists, it's really a little bit like an art and gaming collective out there, so come join us on patreon and hop on the discord with your new roles. Or you can pick up the borderlands .pdfs for just a few dollars!

Every one of the pages in the .pdf is filled with art rich content like shown. Characters are detailed, situations and treasure are listed, mechanical specifics are left to the Dungeon Master to fill in, based on his or her chosen game.

Hack & Slash 
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On How to Make 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons more Old School

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Moving parts of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons are designed for heroic fantasy gaming. Mid-level characters are mighty heroes, slayers of dragons, and ready to take on any danger. Their resilience makes them brave, dangerous and deadly threats, with the resources to overcome any obstacle.

Usually these are planned adventure arcs. Here's a bad guy. Here's his evil forces. Here's a variety of deadly environments, ripe for heroic activity.

I don't have bad guys. I don't have expectations about what will happen when the game starts. I'm here to play a game to find out what happens. The core cycle of play for 5th edition doesn't match that style.

What changes do I make to my game so that I can play 5th edition in the classic style?

5th Edition to Classic/OSR style play

  • Give 1/100th the experience for killing monsters. Give 1 experience per gold piece value of treasure collected.
This shifts the focus of play. Fights are dangerous and they only cost, they don't reward. It puts the focus back on outhinking your opponent to get the riches, without exposing yourself to the risk of a fight. Because your players aren't expecting to get experience by killing things, you're free to populate your world with liches, dragons, and other deadly creatures, because there's no unspoken expectation that players should fight creatures to advance. 

I also recommend against using the milestone system, because this either presumes an outcome or distances player skill from advancement. They should advance comparable with their skill at securing treasure and power, commensurate with the risks they take. They should not advance simply by reaching numerical thresholds.

However, granting experience for surviving your first in-game month, witnessing a death, locating a new feature, exploring a new area, or other tasks that create a sense of adventure or exploration is encouraged, as long as these rewards are delineated ahead of the game and accessible to the players.

In general, keep rewards low, and look to advance one level every 3-5 adventures till reaching level 3, and then distribute treasure so that levels take between 4-6 adventures (weeks) to level. Obviously taking a lot of people along and being cautious will slow this rate. Taking risks and braving danger can shorten this. 

This results in treasure hordes that maintain their value, even if they don't increase in size very much. It makes finding a piece of jewelry or a few hundred coins a rich find. If the treasure grow at a slow rate, it should compensate for the rapid advancement assumed by fifth edition play.  See my Hack & Slash blog compendium II for an in depth look at treasure valuation and type.

  • Change long rests to take a week and short rests to take 8 hours

In the 1st edition game I'm currently in, even with a Cleric, Druid, and Paladin healing through bed rest is relevant. Changing a long rest to a week and short rests to overnight makes play more threatening and decisions more meaningful. Characters are forced to spread their resources in a manner more like an older-style game. 

This seriously adjusts the class balance.  Melee classes and classes that don't rely on refreshing abilities (rogues, rangers, champions) are significantly more effective. 

Cantrips are fine. Firebolt is fine. In earlier editions there was silliness with jarts. Wizards with crossbows abound. Allowing wizards to attack in combat is ok. Shooting flame wasn't common in classic style games, so purists will disagree. Better a bolt of fire than some weird-o flinging jarts into combat. (A jart is a weaponized dart—taking traits from a javelin. Javelin-dart: jart.)

  •  Eliminate Death Saves

They don't exist. You die when you reach 0 hit points. That takes it back to Original Dungeons and Dragons or Basic/Expert. There, your game is ridiculously deadly. 

No classic style game that I'm a part of is actually that deadly. In my game, I use a critical hit table after opponents drop to zero hit points. Any hit taken at 0 hit points causes a serious long term wound or death. Another option, made popular by 1st edition, is any hit that drops you from a positive hit point total to a negative hit point total more than twice your level kills you instantly, otherwise you are bleeding out to -10/-Constitution total/-2xlevel. Take your pick.

  • Give Inspiration Strictly for Creative Play
Classic style play is not about people talking to each other in character, necessarily. It's about the players facing challenges. The games are based around challenging the player, not their character sheet. So inspiration isn't about remembering to display your background accurately—classic gaming assumes background is what happened in play. What happened before the adventure is of minimal importance. Does the Dungeon Master talk in-character for all the monsters? Yeah. Can the characters if they want? Yeah. Is it the focus of play? no.

  • Recalibrate Encumbrance & Light
Classic style games focus more on basic resource management. 

Make the light spell 1st level. Make Continual Flame 3rd level. Make Produce Flame consume a 1st level spell slot if used 6 times. 
Remove Darkvision from Elves, Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and Tieflings. This leaves Dwarves and Gnomes as the only races that can see in the dark.

You can carry a number of significant items equal to your Strength. A significant item would be a suit of light or medium armor, a weapon, a bundle 5 of torches, a potion, a vial of oil, a lantern, 200 coins, etc. A suit of heavy armor or a bulky item takes 2 slots. If you have more than 1/2 your slots filled, you are encumbered per the variant rules in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook on page 176. If you are wearing a suit of armor that grants disadvantage on Stealth (Dex) checks, you are encumbered. If you have more than 3/4 of your slots filled, you are heavily encumbered. Let common sense carry the day.
  • Consider the Ability Check Proficiency  variant rule on page 263 of the 5th edition Dungeons Masters Guide
It's really difficult to get players away from the idea of skill checks. Removing skills from the game is an optional way to move the je ne sais quoi of the game towards a more old school play style. This is certainly the option I would use with new players, to reduce choices required at player character creation. 
  • Remove individual initiative checks and always consider morale
Old school play is fast. Reasons you might have a dozen combats in the course of a session are two fold. Players generally take their actions in groups without worrying too much about which character goes first. Popular options include vegas style, where each side rolls a single die, and high roll goes first, or over/under, where for the first round some players move before the monster, and then the players and monsters alternate turns.

The second fold is there's no morale in the versions of Dungeons & Dragons that give the majority of experience from killing monsters. Institute morale to avoid combat slog. You can wholesale steal whatever system you find most useful, but a 2d6 roll against a target based on bravery is fine. If the die roll beats the numbers, the monster flee. Triggers for this roll are losing guys, or having a leader cut down (often providing little mini-missions in combat). Example targets are 11 for fanatic, 9 for brave, 7 for average, 5 for poor.
The Bell Curve is important to morale, because it makes enemy behavior predictable enough for the players to take advantage of it. It is possible to convert the appropriate % chances to a D20, but it appears arbitrary, (Why is this one 11+ and the next one 16+ on a d20?). But 2d6 for 9/7/5 (good/normal/bad) is straightforward and predictable. 

  • Finally, understand that unlike low level games that cap at the lord stage, 5th edition allows characters to consider growing in power far beyond the first 9 levels, making them powerful in a similar way that demigods are powerful.
Consider a limitation of level inflation, either by capping advancement and allowing players to purchase features like E6 or E8 systems, or by increasing the experience points required to advance beyond level 5 by some arbitrary value.


It seems like it is a great deal of work to do, and yet, it is not! It's just a few house rules that speed up play. The advantages are manifold. You have easier access to classic style adventures like Eyrie of the Dread Eye, Isle of Dread, and Keep on the Borderlands, now that the gameplay assumptions match what's happening at the table. You have compatibility with the system that's most frequently played. 

You get to keep playing the exploratory, extemporaneous, player-driven, long term games you love.

Watch your players minds begin to turn, as they engage with the game by trying to figure out ways to turn it to their advantage. 

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