DIYRPG on Lemmy

Inspired by Marcia B. and Idle Cartulary writing about DIY Elfgames, and people on Mastodon reminiscing about the Google Plus days, I got the idea this morning to try set up a Lemmy instance for just these types of things. Sharing new creations and vague ideas of any kind related to game mechanics, campaigns, and adventures to see what other people think of that and talking about RPG design in general in ways that you can’t really have on Mastodon or Discord.

After some heroic struggles, I did get it set up and here it is: DIYRPG

As you can see, there’s nothing really there it. Just the infrastructure set up. I went into this without having any specific plans on how the whole thing should be structured and if there should be any particular rules to be established in advance. This is all still to be determined and open for future changes, based on what people think of it going forward. Registering an account on DIYRPG should be open to everyone, but being a federated Lemmy instance, you can also access it with any Lemmy account from any other instances. And if you make an account on DIYRPG, you can also use it to access all other instances.

Right now, what is needed is a couple of people to get the thing started. I’ve not yet created specific communities that will sort posts and threads into different categories, as I am looking for people sharing their ideas on how it could be structured. I started a thread on just that topic, which everyone can contribute to here.

Dungeons & Dragonbane

While I love Dragonbane precisely because it’s not Dungeons & Dragons, while still providing mechanics and content to represent similar kinds of fantasy worlds, there are a few things from D&D that I really love and want to carry over into Dragonbane anyway.

Reaction Rolls

I really love the B/X reaction rolls. It’s one of my favorite game mechanics. Any time the PCs encounter creatures or armed people in the wilderness or a ruin, and their disposition hasn’t already been determined by previous events, roll 2d6 to see how they react to seeing the party:

  • 2: They see the PCs as enemies and attack.
  • 3-5: They are hostile and threaten attack if the PCs don’t leave or surrender.
  • 6-8: They are uncertain and observe what the PCs do.
  • 9-11: They don’t want trouble and will avoid confrontation.
  • 12: They are friendly and might offer information or assistance.

PCs approaching a brigand camp might be mistaken for bandits who want to join or expected reinforcements and told to come inside. A troll might be friendly and offer to share his roasted dwarf. Lots of interesting situations that can happen if you don’t start encounters without the expectation that it obviously has to be a fight. And once the players get used to it, it changes how they approach creatures and people who haven’t spotted them yet.

Morale Checks

Plenty of armed and dangerous people might be willing to risk the chance of getting killed and to accept that some of their allies will get killed. But it is extremely rare for people to stay in a fight where their own death is certain and there’s nothing to be gained from it. Most fights should end with the losing side making an effort to escape with their lives.

But when you decide as GM that the enemies will break off the fight at a specific moment in the action, the players might always suspect that you were going easy on them because some PCs would have gotten killed if the enemy had fought on a bit longer. And that creates the expectation that you’ll probably do it again if their PCs are getting in real danger, and causes frustration when their character’s don’t get saved by a fortuitous enemy retreat.

Making a dice roll in the open solves all of that. Make the dice decide when the enemy loses morale and then stick to what the dice said. I like to roll when the first enemy is killed (or looks to have been killed), when the enemy leader is killed, and every time the enemy group is reduced by half.

Roll 2d6 against a morale value between 3 and 11 works for B/X, and I think it should work just as well for Dragonbane.

Random Encounters

Dragonbane already proposes to make a roll for a random encounter once per shift when in the Wilderness. I would also make a roll once per stretch while inside dungeons.


I really like the concept of having the PCs travel to ancient ruins deep in the wilderness with a group of camp followers. Not exactly sure how to implement that yet, but that’s something I want to have in my campaign.

Divine Sites

The BECMI Companion rules introduced the concept of Clan Relics. Powerful mystical objects that allow their keepers to activate a number of divine spells and create a magical ward that keeps away undead and demons. The idea was to let nonhuman settlements have access to the powers of a cleric in a game system where only humans could be of the cleric class. While there is no such thing as a cleric class in Dragonbane, I still really love the idea that there are powerful magical sites associated with particular deities or divine spirits that provide mystical protection for settlements that grow around them, and draw pilgrims who seek the special blessings of the shrine or temple. The priests tending to such a site don’t even have to have spells of their own.

Domain Lords

The Expert Rules imply through their mechanics and recommendations for designing a setting a world in which there is little centralized authority, and the typical social structure that is encountered consists of a lord and his soldiers in a keep providing security for a few small villages in the surrounding area. I always thought that was really cool and evocative, and something that should mesh very well with the tone and presentation of Dragonbane.

Why is it interesting?

Campaign preparation with ADHD can be challenging. Especially when circumstances keep delaying the start of the campaign and you have plenty of time in which you can’t keep your creativity occupied by building and expanding upon what’s happening in the current adventure. Instead, thinking of alternative ideas that you could use becomes a very inviting creative outlet.

When I started working on my “current campaign” (whatever that might actually mean at this point?), I wanted to make it a Classic Dungeon Crawl West Marches sandbox running Old-School Essentials, because that’s a very simple campaign structure to apply. The PCs go to places holding old treasures, overcome the obstacles in the way, carry out the treasures, and gain XP to become more powerful and able to go into more dangerous and fantastical places to search for even greater treasures. It’s very much a game structure. The mechanics of the game provide the incentive for the players that makes engaging with the obstacles attractive. But three months ago, Dragonbane was released and it turned out to be just the kind of game that I had wish existed before I settled on starting an OSE sandbox campaign. And with not being able to get a campaign launched for still two more months at least, exploring how a potential Dragonbane campaign in Kaendor could be set up is just something that I literally have to do.

Among the many differences between Dragonbane and OSE is that Dragonbane does not have the mechanical incentives that OSE does. Characters advance their skills by using them and may gain an additional Heroic Ability whenever the party has completed a significant goal. This does not in any kind suggest or incentivize any kind of objectives for the players to pursue. When anything you could do is as good as anything else, then nothing is inviting to engage with. And at the start of a new campaign, especially when playing in a new setting, the players don’t really know anything about the world and what kinds of activities are even feasible or will lead to interesting and fun outcomes. When starting a new campaign, the players need to have some kind of guidance which goals and activities will be the most likely to lead them to the most interesting and exciting parts of the setting. In a Classic Dungeon Crawl, that suggested starting point is to look for old ruins and search them for treasures because of how the game mechanics work. In a Dragonbane campaign, and many other games, you have tell the players how they can set out to find the most interesting things in the world that you have prepared.

This reasoning led me to my first question to pursue to hopefully lead me to an answer on how to reach an overall concept for a campaign: “Why is any of this interesting?”

Why would players want to play a campaign in the Kaendor setting? What are the elements of the world that are the most interesting to engage, explore, and interact with? Now I can’t read the minds of players I’ve not even pitched the campaign to yet, but instead I can ask “What are the elements of the Kaendor setting that I find the most interesting?” As these will of course be the elements that get by far the most attention and details during its ongoing creation. The things that I find the most attractive in my concept for the world are the old ruins of the various ancient civilizations, the different typed of spirits and demons that lurk beyond the borders of civilization, the mysteries and possibilities of sorcery, and the numerous secret societies and cults.

Playing RPGs, and what makes them so fascinating and unique as a medium, is all about interacting with things. Questioning and negotiating with other people. Poking at things to see what they do. Opening doors to see what’s behind them. Investigating what the enemies are doing and interfering with it. So after having identified those most interesting elements, a logical next question to ask is: “How can the players interact with these things?”

All these elements have in common that they are things that the people currently inhabiting the world really don’t know that much about. They are mysterious and either inherently supernatural in nature or strongly influenced by it. So the very first thing to do on encountering them is to find out more about them. What is it that players could learn and would want to know about these things:

  • What is inside this ruin?
  • What was this ruin originally build for?
  • What is this unknown creature?
  • What is this creature doing here?
  • What does this magic item do?
  • Where does this magic item come from?
  • Who is this secret cult?
  • What is this secret cult trying to do?

And looking at this list, a possibly very interesting and compelling campaign concept already suggests itself. This is a world that very much lends itself to provide a lot of interesting material to engage with for characters who are a combination of demon hunters and archeologists. Which really isn’t that different from the typical Classic Dungeon Crawl PCs. They go into ruins to explore, looking for relics of ancient civilizations, and confront the supernatural horrors from the past.

But the incentive structure is rather different. It’s not so much to personally enrich themselves and gain a life of luxury, but because the PCs believe that it is important to learn the secrets hidden in the wilderness and understand the supernatural forces and entities at work in the world. They can be motivated by being worried about possible threats to the mortal peoples, or a deep personal curiosity about the supernatural unknown. Or, if a player wishes so, by the fact that the powerful NPCs who also share these motivations are willing to pay a lot of money to anyone who can bring them such knowledge.

It has always been bothering me a bit that the generic oldschool treasure hunters are only motivated by getting rich, which doesn’t lend itself to interesting social complications. And the typical adventuring heroes who constantly risk their lives to fight evil for strangers out of a sense of compassion or chivalry don’t very much lend themselves to players being proactive and determining goals for themselves. Such characters are kind of compelled to help every possible person in need they encounter, which doesn’t leave them much choices in setting out their own path. But PCs whose guiding motivation is to learn about the unknown and to determine if something might be a possible threat that could cause great damage in the future seems like a nice middle ground between those two extremes. They are characters who you can simply let become aware of a secretive society existing and it’s something that they might want to investigate. You don’t need to have them see the cultist murdering people or stealing a magic artifact to make it clear that they are an evil that needs to be smited immediately.

It’s an interesting approach to what PCs could be and how a campaign could be structures that I am eager to explore further. Any maybe it will be useful to other people to develop a concept and structure for new campaigns by asking “What about this world is the most interesting?” and “How could the players be interacting with it?”

Short thoughts on condensed Hexmap travel in Sword & Sorcery campaigns

As I outlined in my previous post, I really do like the general idea of hexmap travel through the wilderness, but also think that Sword & Sorcery adventures have their focus on the most exceptional events in the travels of their protagonists and don’t concern themselves with the regular day to day stuff, like the majority stetches of long distance journeys.

Reading up again on Chris Kutalik’s great introduction to Pointcrawls, I’ve been considering that system as an option, but couldn’t quite get myself to fully leave the hexmap behind. I don’t really need it for what I now plan to do with campaign I’m preparing, but it still just feels really right to have one, especially since I want to capture a bit of a retro-feel of how I perceived fantasy RPGs in the late 90s. (I’ve even been playing around with a neocities site as a compendium for world information and play reports.)

One thing that is easily done is to draw a Pointcrawl map on top of a hexmap. After which the hex grid basically becomes purely decorative and serves no more mechanical function. While that would provide the useful additional information as described in the page linked above and simplify things for me as GM, it would still not actually do anything to deal with the question of how to play out long distance travel in Sword & Sorcery campaigns. But it gave me the following idea.

The upper path is an example of regular pointcrawl notation laid over a hexmap grid. Going from the blue site to the read site means going through six hexes between them, costing six time intervals to travel through, and perhaps causing six rolls for random encounters.

The lower path shows the same situation, except that the markers for random encounter checks are placed only within two hexes of the blue and red sites.

The idea here is to only have the players actually play out travel on the solid path sections with random encounter rolls, supply consumption, and whatever else your game of choice might include. The dashed section of the path represents a time skip during which the world still turns and the sun rises and sets, and the PCs might even have some side adventure or another, that isn’t of particular relevance to their main tale. Events that didn’t result in meeting NPCs who make later reappearnces or in any of the PCs being meaningfully affected, and their supply situation will be about the same when they reach the other side.  It’s only when they are getting close to the red site again and the path resumes being solid that the whole procedures of covering one segment of travel are being played out again. It still preserves some of the aspects of hexmap wilderness travel, but can greatly reduce the play time of long distance journeys as I am planning for. Any random encounters with NPCs or monsters will happen relatively close to a site where they can have some kinds of effect or connection to the inhabitants of that site. If the players encounter a group of bandits deep in the wilderness, nobody will care about what happed there in the towns they left or are headed to. But if the encounter happens within one or two travel segments from a town, people there might have had problems with the bandits in the recent past, or might be friends of them. The random encounter in the wilderness could very well be quite important to an adventure that happens at that particular site later.

For longer joureys between towns and famous big dungeons, there can also be squares for minor sites to break up thr long journey between the start and destination into multiple smaller adventures. These can also have their own random encounter check ponts near them.

I think this could be a quite interesting solution to having most of the aspects of hexmap travel and pointcrawls on a map that is at continent scale and doesn’t really try to map and describe its whole area at a 6 or 10-mile scale. You do lose a bit of it, like getting lost deep in the wilderness and running out water in the desert while one PC has to be carried. But in a Sword & Sorcery themed campaign, there probably isn’t even the time to spend much focus on these things, so I think it might be a pretty good trade.

Rewarding Play Reports in Dragonbane

I am once again planning to start a new campaign as a kind of open table sandbox since sandboxes are really the only way to go and setting things up to work with an open table makes scheduling so much easier. No need to keep delaying the next game until there’s finally a day where all players think they are available and don’t have to cancel on short notice. Just play with whatever players happen to be ready to play that day.

But with some players playing irregularly, keeping everyone on track on what’s been happening in the game recently become a challenge, and play reports really seem like the way to go to deal with that issue. I could of course write the play reports myself, but that would be extra GM work and when running a weekly game while I’m working full time I’ll probably have enough game stuff on my hands already. It also would mean that I am giving the players my perspective on what actually happened and what the important moments and developments of the last game were, and I think it would be much more fun to have the players perpetuate their own narratives of what’s going on. Having some of the players write the play reports seems a much better idea.

But of course you have to incentivize the players to do additional homework between games. I once had the idea to give characters +10% XP for the last game if the player writes and shares a play report for a D&D game, though never actually applied it. Dragonbane does not have XP like that but instead has Advancement Marks for every skill that is being used in play. At the end of the game, the player makes an inverse skill check for each of these skills, and if the roll comes out higher than the current skill rank, the skill advances by one rank. Each character also gets one free mark that can be assigned to any skill that didn’t get used during the game, plus additional ones if the characters did certain things that are encouraged by the GM for being appropriate to the genre and style of the campaign.

My idea for an incentive to write play reports is to give the players’ characters one Advancement Mark in either the Awareness, Myths & Legends, or Spot Hidden skills at the end of each game if they shared a report for the previous game. Awareness and Spot Hidden are a bit of a stretch for being improved by characters chronicling their adventures, but this gives the players alternatives if they already got a mark for Myths & Legends for using it during the game. I guess alternatively I could just give them a free mark that they can apply to any skill. But I quite like the idea of treating the players writing the report being something that their characters are doing as part of playing the game.

Untested Character Creation Houserule for Dragonbane

I like to give old D&D shit for apparently throwing random ideas for rules and mechanics at the wall to see what sticks, and then keeping some around for decades even though apparently nearly everyone ignores them. But I do really like the idea of starting character creation with randomly rolled attribute scores and players then having to work out a way to turn that into a character that is fun to play. There are plenty of character types that can make for great additions to a party of adventurers and produce interesting situations in play with their peculiar traits, but which you would never choose to make when creating stats from scratch because it would obviously be an inferior choice.

I don’t usually believe in forcing the players to their enjoyment (strange, this German expression doesn’t seem to exist in the English language), but not letting the players choose their character attribute scores is one thing where I make an exception, if the rules system for the campaign is suited for it. (I wouldn’t do it with D&D 3rd ed.) But there really is the chance to get a character with just crappy attributes, or which is really only suitable for a character type the player just doesn’t care about. Which is why you almost always have some limited degree of customization for the rolled attributes.

In Dragonbane, the rule for creating attribute scores is 4d6 keep best 3 in order for six attributes (the same as D&D, it’s a Fantasy Heartbreaker). Players can then chose to switch any two of the numbers with each other to have a bit of flexibility. Once the attributes are set, they determine the starting rank for all 30 skills. The players then select 6 skills from a list specific to the characters profession as trained skills, and between 2 to 6 of the remaining skills depending on the character’s age. Trained skills have their starting rank doubled.

The Houserule: Players can switch two of their atrributes with each other for free. For each additional score to be moved, the character looses one of the age-based free trained skills.

A player who makes an adult character (6+4 trained skills) and wants to rearrange four of the rolled attribute scores would have only two free trained skills to select after picking the six profession-based trained skills.

This seems like a decent trade to me. With Dragonbane’s skill and advancement system, giving up trained skills in character creation means that you’ll have a somewhat slower start by starting with fewer skill ranks in total, but you’ll have more starting ranks in the main skills for your character concept. And doesn’t close off any future developments for your character. But just one trained skill fewer can easily cost 4 or 5 skill ranks in total, which is not insignificant.

If you really want to play a fighter even though your Strength and Agility both came out really low, you can. But placing a price on it might be an incentive for players to take some time to consider to perhaps create something interesting and fun from the weird attributes they rolled.