Back in my 2018 Life Update post, I mentioned starting a new Adventurers League1 Tomb of Annihilation campaign. At DragonCon, David and I, with some close friends, spent all Friday playing Dungeons and Dragons. We had a great time and David commented about wanting to play more. We’ve grown up a lot since our last time playing and knowing that Babels had a firm schedule made it easier to try.

The quality of individual modules in Adventurers League can vary, so I opted for pitching a hardcover. I narrowed the choices. Other GMs had run or were running Out of the Abyss and Tales from the Yawning Portal. I love the Elemental Evil stuff but I wanted to save Princes of the Apocalypse for another time. Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat had received mixed reviews.

That whittled the options down to Curse of Strahd, Storm King’s Thunder and the newest adventure, Tomb of Annihilation. Friends had suggested they had strong interests in running the other two in the future. Tomb is the current storyline season and GMs running the current season receive boosted rewards.

My experience with the past few campaigns I have participated in as a GM or a player, I wanted a more frequent game. Life happens and those interruptions can harm a campaign. If the campaign is only meeting once a month, if you miss a session, you could go 10 weeks without playing. Also, managing plot threads and themes is more difficult as the impact of the previous session fades over time. So, I planned to run weekly, with the expectation that any individual would take part in about 75% of the sessions.

Now it was time to see if I could find enough players to give that kind of commitment. Adventurers League limits table size to three to seven players per table. Given that and the attendance policy, I was hoping to find about five players. Amber was in. I was willing to commit hours of time and money to run a campaign, but my best friend, Marc, is in the midst of graduate school. But he is someone who will show up if he commits to it. Once he was on board, I reached out to my brother, David. He works 12 hour shifts, but since we’re starting the game after Babels goes to bed, he was in. I contacted the other friend, Alex, who played at DragonCon with us. And then finally, I contacted one of my former players who hadn’t been able to play since we lived in the same city.

With firm commitments in hand, I bought the module on Roll20 to help reduce the amount of time I’d need to prepare for each session. It was pricey, same cost as the hardcover book, and while reusable, platform locked. But it has saved me tons of time. Plus, if I want to run Tomb of Annihilation again, I can press a few buttons, and I’m ready to go.

We’ve been playing since October, skipping only a handful of weeks for holidays and GM family emergencies. Otherwise, we’ve been able to play and it has been very rewarding. It’s something I look forward to every week. A few hours of Dungeons and Dragons fun with my family and friends.

On a quest to locate and destroy the Soulmonger, a necromantic artifact of unspeakable power, the party continues their foray into the jungles of Chult.


  1. Adventurers League is the organized play campaign for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. 

Life Update

Welcome back to Concreate Chaos, life preparing for and with an infant has been crazy. I started wrapping up my commitments early last year. I was going to devote much of my attention to our new family member.

I said goodbye to my dear furry friend, Rocket. He died of cancer in October 2016 and it had profound effect on me. I found myself unable to write. Whenever I sat down to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, my thoughts drifted to him and the cat sized hole in my heart. I miss him still. It took over a year, but I’ve healed now.

I signed off of podcasting. Culture Conquistadors was a labor of love for many years. Movies remain a favorite passtime of mine. Though these days, they’re seen months after release via streaming or Redbox. Now, my former co-host and dear friend launches his solo venture, Iconography. You should definitely have a listen as he starts into season two.

I left two D&D campaigns. My regular group continued on their journey in Wander-Lost without Chase Starryeyes. Despite my desires, I was never able to return to play her again. In a few sessions, Wander-Lost will wrap up. Operation Phoenix concluded last year before Babels was born. The play time of the campaign doesn’t lend itself to my participation, but even so I haven’t made an effort to rejoin.

I gave up watching sports live. My Saturdays in the fall were often filled with Florida State and Florida football games. There’s a lot of things wrong with football at the collegiate level. I will always love it in some ways, but I won’t dedicate every Saturday for months to it. Instead, I spend my Saturdays with my new family watching Babels grow.

We did manage to make it to DragonCon. Babels was a hit as Salamence and my Brendan cosplay looked sharp. We went to the Marvel photoshoot for the first time in a few years. It was a far better experience this time around. Nova is a much lighter costume for the summer Atlanta heat. But the event ran far smoother also. I spent a day playing D&D with my brother, my best friend, and another good friend. It was an amazing experience. David enjoyed it so much, he asked if we could find a way to play again.

So, I started an Adventurers League legal Tomb of Annihilation campaign. With Babels’s schedule set, we were able to carve out some time to play some Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted this group focused on a regular, exciting experience for my family. I set expectations for schedule and commitments and invited the players. It’s been a resounding success.

Amber started an in-person Adventurers League legal Tales from the Yawning Portal campaign. We play roughly monthly. I wish it were more frequent, but scheduling is difficult. With two new players, it’s always fun watching them discover bits and pieces of the game.

Blog Update

With the last year of my life highlighted and recapped, what does the future hold? My hope is, a lot of reading, gaming, and writing. It’s been fun being back in the DM seat for Tomb of Annihilation. I haven’t ever run a published adventure cover-to-cover. Despite the monthly game, I miss playing D&D more frequently. I want to run a modern day urban game later this year. And for DragonCon, I have a new costume in pre-planning.

I’m hopeful that all this will lead to more writing, here, at Concrete Chaos. I’ve already added a few new pages to my notebooks for the last few years of books, games and films.

Kicking off a new campaign is always fun. New settings, new characters, new adventures. Wander-Lost is no exception. As the Matrix of GMship gets passed around, it’s fascinating what each GM focuses on during campaign introduction, character creation and the first few sessions. Nicole, our GM, started us with a forum thread.

Since the inception of the most recent incarnation of our role-playing group1, we’ve been fans of downtime threads. In the bright spotlight and hustle of a session, it can be easy to lose a grip on the anchors of one’s character. These threads allow us to refocus and explore characteristics that don’t always surface. A player can take time to formulate an appropriate in-character response.

The thread begins under the great oak at the heart of the town, the various volunteers meander in and introduce themselves to the other characters and players. While many discussions were had about mechanics of the characters prior to play, there was very little discussion about the personalities. So this thread is our first impression of the characters. For Chase, I decided to focus on three things, her generally optimistic outlook and her quirk of fiddling with coins, and her mastiff companions, Artemis and Bastion.2

The characters spend time arriving, making introductions and establishing relationship ties. The conversation focuses on their reason for assembling, the magenta storm, and the selection of their first destination. Prior to the thread, Chase has established friendships with Amanodel and Joanna, and met Neill and Dóin. That leaves Cathaoir and Allister as the unfamiliar companions which poses some difficulty as Cathaoir is presented as a grim, survivalist and Allister an eccentric fatalist. Both these personalities will naturally lead to some conflict, which is good for development but I kind of wish Chase had some stronger ties built in to help overcome the inevitable arguments. The characters settle on seeking the knowledge of The Silver Order in Colthyr which will take them north via Dalrun.

Before delving into the session itself, I’ll note that I very much missed having a full character creation session. While we offered up early concepts at the close of Mars 2076, and had some small discussions in Slack, some things are just easier to establish in real-time. We wrote backgrounds and crossover stories but we mostly built our characters in a vacuum. Nobody’s quite sure of what supplies and tools the other characters are bringing with them. Considering the nature of the campaign, a survival and exploration setup, it’s difficult that we didn’t prepare our equipment as a group. That’s partially on the players, we probably should have communicated more, but even when the topic was touched on in Slack and in the thread, few responded with any concrete details. On to the session!

As a campaign of exploration, it’s very important to understand the basic unit of time and what actions can be performed in that unit. Nicole explained that there are several paces: explore, cautious, normal, hustle, sprint. Additionally, we can opt not to move and instead forage, trap, hunt, fish or gather herbs. I believe these cover all the bases, at this point, I can’t think of anything else we’d need to do in the wilderness but that’s the joy of playing, sometimes players come up with something unexpected.

Nicole sets the scene, the group is assembled in the center of town, ready to set out on their mission. It takes a little bit to decide on a course of action but one of the players reminds us that in the thread we decided to set course for Colthyr and Dalrun. One thing I would find helpful is a map. Even if it’s not completely uncovered or filled in, our characters would likely have an idea of the general layout of geography. Chase was born, raised and has spent a good portion of her adult life in Colthyr. But I as a player have no idea where it is in relation to Oakheart and our current location. A visual aid would allow the GM and the players to have a shared reference precluding the need for the players to constantly pester the GM for a reminder of where we are and where we’re headed.

We set forth and spend four hours3 climbing out of the valley and onto the trade route to Dalrun. We come upon the cairns that mark the former edge of the ward that protects Oakheart. Immediately we notice that the road is overgrown and Allister and Amanodel decide to investigate. And here the mechanics of the four hour blocks get muddied. Are we exploring? Are we moving? I think it’s clear the group is willing to spend a few minutes to check out the oddness but the goal is still to reach Colthyr to gather more information. But Allistar and Amanodel wander off without the full group and come upon a giant wasp’s nest. Allister returns the to bulk of the group, but then Amanodel does some more wandering.

Now I definitely believe both these players are playing to their character’s traits, but I found it frustrating. I think I would have been on board if we as a group decided to inspect the site further but it just kind of happened. Amanodel goes nosing around a giant wasp’s nest alone and somehow manages to avoid an encounter. As a GM, I would have, and in the past I have, forced the encounter. It would quickly set the tone that the wilderness is dangerous and all hopes of survival and discovery lie in the groups ability to work together.

Eventually, we regroup and continue on the trade route. At a distance, we sight our first wagon since leaving Oakheart. We spend time investigating the cart, finding metal shrapnel and dried blood leading away from the wagon. We engage in a bit of debate about investigating further, setting up camp or pressing on. Eventually, most of the party agrees to track the ambushers. In a great exchange, Amanodel casts Speak with Animals and she questions a few birds. We deduce we’re dealing with a group of kobolds and locate their lair. We setup our own ambush and lure them out with some Minor Illusion noises.

Nicole has put together an outstanding map for this encounter. Nothing unusual, just a solid map with enough space for movement but no more. The only difficulty is that the lighting setup doesn’t work as intended, so we get a bit of a pass on our lack of darkvision for some of the characters. This encounter was solidly tuned, several standard kobolds with a pair of advanced kobolds. It takes two rounds for us to gain the upperhand. Amanodel’s Moonbeam at the entrance of the den thins the herd before it can even reach the main group. The focus fire of Chase, Dóin, Joanna, Cathaoir and Neill bring the encounter to a close rather quickly. But not before Nicole reminds us that this isn’t a cakewalk. A kobold trapmaster scurries out of the den and launches a grenade at our spellcasters, Allister and Amanodel. Allister fails his Dexterity saving throw and is knocked unconscious at 0 hp. Ama on the other end, not only succeeds on the Dex throw, but manages to hold onto her Moonbeam also. Unfortunately, the trapmaster escaped back into the den. To wrap up the encounter, Neill, an Open Palm Monk, knocks the kobold chief prone. Chase snaps her whip with a sneak attack and steps back. Realizing I’m technically dual wielding the whip and the hand crossbow, I shoot the chief in the face to close the encounter.

Chase was solid in this combat. I made two errors, one for my benefit and one for the GM’s. First, I moved a square too far in one round, allowing me to close the gap a round too quickly. Second, I closed the gap too much. Chase can hit enemies ten feet away because of her whip. I should have had her step back after hitting the chief, so he would provoke opportunity attacks from Cathaoir and Neill if he decided to pursue Chase. With Stefan and Casavel, I really don’t worry about positioning too much. They’re both carrying high armor classes and often want to be the target of the enemy attacks. Chase’s AC is considerably lower, though still on the high end of the party, which means I can take some attacks but I shouldn’t make it so easy on the GM. Also, Chase taking the majority of the attacks from the chief was beneficial for the whole party. Chase probably has the most hit points, but the chief was dishing out poison damage to which Chase has resistance reducing the damage by half (or three quarters if there’s a successful saving throw).

And that’s where we concluded. Overall, this was a good introductory session. We have some group dynamics to smooth out but that is something that can’t really be solved in the first session. The new thread is occurring right after the combat ends, so we’ll get to see how the characters react to their success. I’m looking forward to the next session already.


  1. My testing post is dated 16 October 2014, so now two years! 
  2. My post was up before I had decided to drop the mastiffs from the campaign. 
  3. She termed these four hour blocks watches. I think she grabbed this term from somewhere else but it’s kind of confusing. I’d probably use the term block, but that doesn’t feel like a very good in-game term. 

In the previous post, I introduced the new campaign, Wander-Lost, being run for my regular RPG group. We play bi-weekly and fill the intermediate time with play-by-post and Slack chats.1 This will be only my second campaign as a player in this group and I’m hoping to play a lot better than I did in Mars 2076. So, today, I’ll introduce my new character, Chase Starryeyes.

For me, making a character is a careful balance between mechanics and role-playing. To enjoy a character, I need to be active and engaged in the story and the system. Mechanically, I tend to play either a gish, a rogue, or a mage.2 I really like versatility in mechanics, being able to contribute in multiple phases of the game. As the other players announced their intentions, I started off thinking about playing an Eldritch Knight, filling the melee tank role.

But then inspiration struck. A few years ago while playtesting D&D Next, one of the NPCs I introduced was a Halfling professor named Curiosity Bounceback who kept getting her assistants killed during her expeditions. I seized on the idea of a lucky and prepared Halfling who would always wonder why her traveling companions couldn’t keep up. With the core of a concept and some mechanics I wanted to target, a Battle Master/Swashbuckler build started to form. And then another bolt of inspiration, she would ride a mastiff into battle, use a whip to trip opponents and then fire her hand crossbow into their prone faces.3

With this in mind, the character’s history started to come into focus. She was a young professor at the nearby arcane college. But I needed to pull her into Oakheart and give her a few strong ties to the town. First up, her immediate family was there and they were dog breeders! This would give a good story reason for her mastiff companions, and why there would be a nearly unlimited stock available in case any of them died in the wilderness. Family is a great anchor but she was a successful professor in another city. What made her move to Oakheart?

A discovery in her field! Well, in her field of study but in her family’s fields. They found some sort of artifact and she relocated to study it and search for more. As an explorer, archaeology and history seem appropriate, but I wanted her to be a bit more focused. There’s the blight and the elves! In the Player’s Handbook there’s a small blurb on Halflings and how they view elves.

They’re so beautiful! Their faces, their music, their grace and all. It’s like they stepped out of a wonderful dream. But there’s no telling what’s going on behind their smiling faces— surely more than they ever let on.

So, elves and the blight. Perhaps the Elves know something about the cause? And then the idea of an academic rival formed. Chase would love the Elves, and so her rival would espouse that the Elves not only knew what caused the blight, but that the Elves were the perpetrators. So what did her family find in their fields, a mostly unintelligible text, likely an old journal in Elven. With her background settled, it was time to return to the mechanics of the character.

And this is where the frustration began. A Halfling riding a mastiff into battle is a rather evocative image. But Fifth Edition just doesn’t really support mounted combat. There is a single page of rules and a single feat. Only one class, the Ranger, has actual support for an animal companion. The Paladin has a spell, Find Steed, but the resulting mount isn’t particularly enhanced for combat, though it is at least re-summonable. Both of those options are viable, if not solid. But I’m already playing a Paladin regularly, and two of the other players are playing Rangers covering both types, Beast Master and Hunter.4

Nicole, our lovely DM, and I went back and forth for two weeks trying to find an acceptable compromise. In the end, we failed and I conceded the mastiffs.5 When I envision this character, she is an archaeologist, explorer and professor. The mastiffs were an interesting mechanic and provided additional characterization, but they did not make or break the character. With the mastiffs gone, I ended up moving back to an Eldritch Knight and Swashbuckler build. Like always, I build the class mix out to level 20 despite the very high probability that the campaign or the character won’t make it that high. She’s slated to be an Eldritch Knight 11/Swashbuckler 7, which leaves a couple levels to flex. Going deeper into EK I can get 3rd level spells. Deeper into Swashbuckler nabs a taunt like feature. Or with 13+ in Dex, Con, and Cha, I could flex out to a bunch of different classes. There’s that flexibility and versatility again.

Chase is not the only character going out into the wilderness, the rest of her companions are:

  • Allister (Wild Magic Sorcerer)
  • Amanodel (Circle of the Moon Druid)
  • Cathaoir (Ranger/Rogue)
  • Chastity “Chase” Starryeyes (Fighter/Rogue)
  • Dóin (Beast Conclave UA Ranger)
  • Joanna Wylde (Fey Pact Warlock/Bard)
  • Neill Allen (Open Hand Monk)

Chase is close with Amanodel and Joanna. She’s also met Dóin and Neill. Here’s her full background. I’m excited to see how the characters play together.


  1. Our play-by-post threads are mostly conversational. I think we’ve only had a single thread that involved system mechanics. 
  2. Other than Chase, I’m playing Stefan (Rogue/Paladin) and Casavel (Wizard Bladesinger). 
  3. A Halfling on dog-back is very much inspired by the Eberron Halflings that ride dinosaurs across the Talenta Plains. 
  4. And then Wizards released an updated playtest Ranger which looks much better on the surface. 
  5. One day I’ll play a Halfling on the back of a mastiff. Future DMs beware. 

As we enter the autumn season, my main RPG group has wrapped up another campaign. This summer, our brave astronauts landed on Mars. They battled the elements, advanced technology, antagonistic team members and the unknown to prepare Mars for an inbound ship of colonists. Overall it was a fun campaign that ended with a fantastic session. The story arc was completed with a satisfying ending but also with some lingering questions. I expect we’ll revisit that setting in the future.

For now though, the GM seat has been vacated for one of my long time friends, Nicole. She’s switching us back to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons in an exploration and survival campaign titled, Wander-Lost. Just about two years ago, Nicole was basically new to role-playing.1 Now she’s got about a year of running Adventurers League games at her local game store and online with Out of the Abyss. She’s a high effort DM who pours a lot of time into prep and it shows during play.

In the world of Wander-Lost, a blight spread throughout the world an untold number of years ago. As the blight was spreading, a pious man pleaded with his goddess to intervene and protect his valley. She heard his prayer and offered a powerful ritual to be performed in conjunction with the local druidic circle and the mages of the nearby arcane college. A great oak tree sprouted up and with it a magical barrier that held the blight at bay. Centuries passed and the town of Oakheart grew in this protected valley.

Days prior to the start of the campaign, a magenta storm struck the town on the Summer Solstice and brought the protective barrier down. The druidic council has sent their scouts out but none have returned. Now, the council has called for volunteers to venture forth and find out what happened, why and how does Oakheart recover?

Nicole has presented Wander-Lost as a survival and exploration campaign, a direct contrast to our last two campaigns, run in Fate Core, which were very tight story arcs. She provided a small players guide with information on world history, organizations, religion, rules for character creation and variants rules that are being used to support the exploration and survival aspects. It’s been fun to help her set up the campaign with ideas and comments. I’m very excited to play.

With that said, these past few weeks we’ve been frustrating each other. I admit most of this is my doing. Between my optimization, rules knowledge, stubbornness and GM experience, I can be a very difficult player. Knowing we’re in for a long haul survival setup, I tried to make a character who was well-equipped and well-prepared for many a situations. This included flirtations with pack animals and mounted combat.2 Despite our best efforts to find a compromise where her vision for the campaign was intact and my character concept was unaltered, it just ended up being more frustrating and stressful than necessary. In the end, I decided that the animal companions were not as integral to my character concept and we agreed to drop them for now.3

Despite the frustration during character creation, I’m very excited for this campaign. I haven’t played in a wilderness survival campaign so this will be all new. It is my intent to provide session and thread recaps on a regular basis along with some occasional in-character fiction. In my next post, I’ll introduce my character, Chase Starryeyes, an archaeologist and professor of history of some renown.


  1. Way back in 2007, I ran a couple sessions of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Her first character was a fire sorceress named Kailinae. 
  2. Mounted combat is grossly under-supported in D&D 5e and this caused the greatest source of frustration. 
  3. Sorry again, Nic! 

Finally! Character Creation. It’s taken a while to get here but here we are at last. At the end of the Time and Tide Campaign, we spent a few hours discussing the campaign and then turned it over character generation ideas. So coming into the character creation session they had a general idea of what they wanted to play and what everyone else was thinking about playing.

With lessons learned from Time and Tide, I intended on this being equal in length to a regular session. Also, I prepared a few exercises to increase cohesiveness. First off, we discusses some skill list modifications. These changes were taken from a source I found that seemed to cater to exactly the kind of game I wanted to play. It adds some more science skills and removes notice. We also spent some time on expectations and the differences between D&D and Fate.

With the rules changes out of the way, we delved into the world itself. We changed the start date to September 1941 and I explained some basics about the current state of affairs in the United States. Before the session, some of my players expressed concern over the direction of the story and its drift towards the war. I took some time to assuage those fears and ensure that the focus would be on the mysticism and occult which is what differentiates our game world from the historical one. Also, this was not intended to be a dark campaign, were staying away from The Holocaust and other atrocities. With all that setup, I introduced the setting aspects, Knowledge is the Real and Tempting Power and Always an Imminent Crisis.

We spent the next hour setting up the characters, names, nationalities, high concepts and troubles. There was a lot of back and forth as each player tried to figure out how to express their characters in the new system. I don’t think there are any changes I’d want to make to the process. I feel as my group plays Fate more and more that they will get more comfortable.

For the next phase of character creation, I had them write one paragraph stories. The first story was about an assignment they went on for the Smithsonian. The second and third stories were where they played a key role in helping another one of the characters complete their assignment. Each story took a long time to complete but they turned out fantastic. They provided strong past associations between the characters. Now not every character connected to every other one. But each character had interacted with four of the other team members, which meant only two that they hadn’t. On the fly it took me a while to work out the connection map, so next time I’ll have it prepared ahead of time.

At the end, we wrapped up the session talking about skills, stunts and languages for everyone. They worked on those mostly between the character creation session and the launch of the campaign. The players are really good at writing and role-playing between sessions. But one player started every thread in Time and Tide, so I compelled another player to kick off the thread for this campaign. Speaking of which, we have a title, The Department of Collections.

2016-01-22 - Department of Collections

When we last left off, I came to the conclusion I wanted to run a pulp heroes campaign. Today, I’ll discuss refining that idea and some of the early preparation. I inserted a bit of lag time between when the campaign started and when I started writing these posts. I don’t want to reveal everything before we play. But I do want this series to be timely and relevant.

Settling on the pulp heroes idea, I started to sketch ideas about it at all times. First I wanted a more concrete concept. I honed in on Artifact Collection Agency. Warehouse 13 was one of my favorite shows.1 It took a bit to find it’s groove but promoting Claudia to the main cast helped a lot. Also, who can say no to Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade?

With Indiana Jones rattling in my mind, it felt right to set the campaign against a backdrop of World War 2. I wanted the war to be in progress but without the United States involved. That left a few year span between 1939 and 1941. I planned to set the game in 1940 but we ended up moving the start date to September 1941.

As we inch closer to my wedding in July, my available time to prepare and run a campaign will decrease. With that in mind I want to make sure I wrap up this story before then. I settled on an ending date around late-March/early-April. With no play during December because of holidays, playing fortnightly meant that I’d have about 7-8 sessions. I’d spend the first session setting up the plot and introducing the rules system. It didn’t seem like I’d have enough sessions to do a full three act structure. So I’ve divided the campaign into two books. One that happens in the United States and one that happens in Europe.

One particularly obvious lesson I learned from Time and Tide was about party cohesiveness.2 There should be conflict within the party at times. But there needs to be a strong bond that keeps the party together. A second lesson was making sure I help players unfamiliar with the rules to make good choices by spending time with them before kicking off the game. With those in mind, I scheduled a character creation session for the middle of December.

Given the concept and task, it made sense to make their employment the strong bond. The characters are capable individuals who function as a team and have a good working relationship. There would be an innate trust of each other. I settled on two possible employers, a museum or the military. Initially, I had settled on the museum, the Smithsonian. As we neared character creation, I swung towards the military option. But I left the answer to the players as part of character creation.

So, we have seven characters employed by an organization chasing artifacts with magical powers in World War 2. This was something I wanted to run and a story I wanted to tell with my friends. They agreed. So next time, I’ll talk about the character creation session and the characters that will be starring in this adventure.


  1. At DragonCon 2013, I missed the panel as the line wrapped around the hotel by the time I got there. In 2014, I managed to snag a spot and get to see the main cast. But about halfway through, I got a text informing me that if I hurried down to the basement, I could snag a picture with my best friend and Sir Patrick Stewart. Sorry WH13! 
  2. At some point, I’d like to write a series of articles on the campaign itself. 

Today I’m introducing a new kind of post, a daily link round up. I read dozens of articles and blog posts every day. I’ll be providing links to the most interesting with some commentary.

Design Comparison: Exploration and Journeys by Brandes Stoddard

If any game should have a good system for travel, it should be a game based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s masterpieces. Stoddard reviews D&D 5e’s rules on Exploration and The One Ring’s rules on Journeys. He offers suggestions for how to adapt the Journey rules for Fifth Edition. If I ever ran a more lethal D&D campaign with say the slower recovery options, I would add in the Exhaustion of Travel rules.

Captain Marvel: A Carol Danvers Primer by Charles Paul Hoffman

With the conclusion of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, it’s a great time to re-examine her history. She’s risen from a male-based heroine to a defining feminist figure in Marvel. Hoffman’s primer is a great beginner’s guide to Carol Danvers and includes recommended readings.

SpaceX Successfully Lands Falcon 9 at The Verge

SpaceX landed the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral last night. The ORBCOMM-2 mission lifted 11 satellites into low-Earth orbit. Quite the accomplishment. I look forward to SpaceX attempting the water landing again.

Secret Code Found in Juniper’s Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors at Wired

An internal code audit of ScreenOS, the software running on Juniper Networks’ firewalls, revealed multiple vulnerabilities. Juniper Networks issued a security advisory and updated software for their hardware. Many conclude that state actors are responsible for the malicious code. The security advisory provides enough detail to locate the master password backdoor. This makes it easy to hack any unpatched firewalls.

For me, a big part of being a game master is preparation. And I’m dedicated to constant self-improvement. Seeing that I already spend so much of my time connected to the Internet, it makes sense that I would dedicate a part of that time to locating resources and hopefully learning from them. So, here’s a few of my favorite resources.

The Alexandrian

The Alexandrian has proven invaluable to my most recent campaign (and likely to my next one). His series on Node-Based Scenario Design, Urban Crawls, The Art of Pacing are top notch. Really anything from his Gamemastery 101 is great reading that will make you evaluate how you run games, ways to improve, and encouragement to try new things.

Blog of Holding

Paul’s Blog of Holding is another fantastic independent resource for D&D DMs. He often takes tiny bits of information from the margins of the text and fleshes them out into cohesive thoughts and suggestions. A great example is his post on a campaign setting based on ideas from unpublished TSR settings. Some others are the Bank of Tiamat, 5e Demographics, and 5e hex maps. One of my favorite recent posts is the cuteness rule, which is something had put into use in my Time and Tide campaign.

r/DnDBehindTheScreen

Reddit is a favorite of mine. There’s several good subreddits for GMing but r/DnDBehindTheScreen which is a newcomer to the game has some of the best content. The Ecology of the Monster is my favorite. It makes you think critically about the monsters available and how you should deploy them against characters. But there are many, many posts spanning everything necessary to be a DM. And while most of the content is oriented towards Dungeons & Dragons, the concepts generally presented are good for running any type of game.

Dungeonomics

Not necessarily great for rulings or direct GM advice. But multiplexer tells amazing stories that mesh real historical economics into the high fantasy worlds of D&D. Every time I’ve read one of her pieces, I’ve come away with a deep appreciation for the depth of her research and the craziness of financial instruments. Also, I’ve laughed every time. Murder hobos, Transmuters Bank, Old Man Quest Givers and so much more.1

Preparation

There’s a bunch of other preparation I’m doing to get ready for my Pulp Heroes campaign. I’m going to re-watch the entire Indiana Jones series and take copious amounts of notes. I’ve got a basic plot outline structured but until my players create their characters nothing is final. I expect to do a few re-writes between now and when we open the campaign early next year.


  1. Critical Hits which hosts the column is also a solid back catalog of DM advice. 

Today, I continue my journey towards my next RPG campaign. In my last post, I offered up my reasoning for leaving Dungeons & Dragons aside for a time and moving to Fate Core. A big part of that is wanting to tell stories that aren’t in a high fantasy setting. So now, I’ll expand on my one thought storylines and maybe figure out which one I’ll run.

Burned Spies

Originally, this started out as Cold War spies. As a big James Bond fan, I really like the idea of a spy thriller. However Bond is a solo character. He has supporting characters in M, Q, Felix and Moneypenny, but they don’t get the same camera time Bond does. And shared spotlight is important in role-playing. So this idea morphed from 60’s to the modern day and became a bit more like Mission Impossible or a mashup of RED and Burn Notice. The players are former intelligence agents burned by their former employers. After that it’s up in the air. Did they deserve the burning? What is bringing them back into action?

The prompt is good but I don’t have a good plot idea. I can fall back onto the tropes but I don’t think that’s where I’d like to explore at the moment. For this idea to work, I’d need to look for more inspiration and a plot outline that strikes me as interesting and fun.

Retired Adventurers

This story idea is mostly a vehicle for allowing high level play in Dungeons & Dragons. The players are characters that have long since retired from active adventuring. Their deeds are sung by bards. Their faces are known by even the most remote town. Their wealth was enough to buy large private spaces. They’ve spent the past decade (or more) enjoying the rewards of their service. But the apocalypse is here and it’s here to take everything that they treasure away. Now, the heroes must un-retire, unite the kingdoms and take on one last adventure to save the world.

I like this prompt a lot and it shouldn’t be difficult to design an apocalyptic threat worthy of drawing the characters back into the world. But this story brings me back to Dungeons & Dragons and I’m just not ready to return there yet. But this is an idea I’ll be keeping around.

Star Trek

One of my favorite settings. Space, futuristic society and technology, exploration, and teamwork. It has all the ingredients of a great TV show, which I find a lot of similarities in RPG storytelling. I doubt my ability to do the setting justice. And I’m just not sure my players would be interested. I know a few of them are fans, but enough that the setting would be compelling?

So it’s a setting prompt but not much beyond that. Perhaps waiting for next year’s Star Trek movie and the new TV series will ignite my imagination and help me come up with a plot that is fitting for a Trek-based game.

Star Wars

Another great science-fiction setting. And as Star Wars is more action oriented than Star Trek, probably a bit more fitting for my group. I think this one is a bit easier for me to get into because I don’t have the massive depth of knowledge that I do for Star Trek. I’m a fan but I haven’t consumed every possible piece of content that has been created.

I think it’d go over better with my players and it’s certainly boosted by Episode VII’s release in December. But, I’m currently playing in a Star Wars campaign and don’t think I’d enjoy running one simultaneously. Plus again, no plot ideas yet.

Lovecraftian Horror

While I’m not widely read in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I have very much enjoyed playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror. I think my recent appreciation for the genre has grown from my brief time playing The Secret World and one of the recent D&D campaigns I was in. In addition, the few times I’ve run horror sessions in my D&D campaigns, I’ve found them to be some of my best work.

Fortunately, Lovecraftian Horror can work in any setting really and certainly could be paired with the Urban Fantasy idea below. But I feel like I’d need to spend some time reading up on Lovecraft before fully committing to a campaign like that. Also, I have concerns about Fate and horror, as Fate heroes are considered a cut above.

Superhero Team

My love of superheroes spans decades now. I fondly recall the days of the X-Men and the rise of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. Now we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I haven’t read comicbooks until recently, the action has always captured my imagination. In addition, one of my favorite games, City of Heroes allowed me to be a superhero of my own design. I think I’d like to explore a street or small city scale story set in the MCU, like Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

The biggest strike against superheroes is that part of my group played Mutants & Masterminds with me a couple years ago. But this one is in contention for the top tier and I know a couple of my players would love it. But one of the players who would like it the most is taking a temporary hiatus. Might be best to shelve this one for a later date.

Urban Fantasy

Magic in the modern day. Obviously, The Dresden Files are a prime example but Constantine, Hellboy, and Buffy all present interesting takes. Could easily be combined with Lovecraftian Horror to give it more focus. But other than the setting, I don’t have any particular plot ideas that have stuck with me thus far.

Pulp Heroes

Early 20th Century adventuring. Heroes, villains and dungeons. Indiana Jones being the primary inspiration. It’s close enough to high fantasy that the transition would be hopefully smooth and comfortable. It also has a solid formula for a story that works. Granted it revolves around a Macguffin, but that is very much a in trope for the genre.

It doesn’t need a ton of planning, as the story can flow around travel and adventure centered on recovering the Macguffin. It’s a recently historical time that none of us lived through but everyone knows about. Stories set in this period are very action-oriented which seems like a natural fit for Fate.

Conclusion

After due consideration, I find the Pulp Heroes setting to be the best for my next story. It should provide a comfortable transition for the mechanics as the action will be very much like what you’d expect in Dungeons & Dragons. So, next time I’ll dig in to the resources I’m using and my preparation for this next campaign.