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I made a little hex conquest minigame. Imperium!

Mon, 12/20/2021 - 15:07

So I could have been finishing up the hex crawling app, I could have been fixing Dungeon Robber to work without flash, but instead I became obsessed with an idea that came to me in a dream: writing a land-conquest AI for hexer, my hex-crawl mapping web app, in order to turn it into a strategy web game called Imperium. The mechanics are pretty much as I dreamed them. Pretty solid for a dream actually: on your turn you claim a swath of contiguous same-type hexes, or build a fortifications to solidify hold on a conquered area. (My dream actually had a cool idea I haven’t implemented – yet: around halfway through the game, you unlock the ability to choose a specialization, like forester or mountaineer, which gives you a 2nd action on your turn. You can only use it to conquer areas of the specialized type. Maybe in the 2nd edition.)

The game is a tad imperialist – see if you can spot it! It’s subtle but it’s there But it’s really fun. I was playing it obsessively for a few days.

There is a lot of luck in the map layout – you can get a random map that gives you a big advantage or disadvantage – but to win the campaign mode (claim and hold 4 provinces on different random maps) takes a bit of strategy considering how simple the rules are. Imperium is now one of my top timewasters. Play it!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

You can buy the Random Dungeon poster again!

Thu, 12/02/2021 - 15:35

Now that the feverish work of writing the Monstrous Menagerie is done, I finally set up a new printer for the Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster. You can now get it on Etsy (in time for Christmas I THINK). Here’s the store!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Hexer, my hex crawler map tool

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 17:34

Over Thanksgiving I ran a hex crawl D&D game. I needed a map, so I decided to write pen-and-paper tables for generating wilderness hexes. It should be suitable for a pick-up game, so you can explore hexes one by one without having to prep a whole map beforehand – but you have to end up with a map that tells a story: big forests, jagged mountain ranges, rolling plains, and seas instead of a hexy mishmash.

I decided that it would be quicker to write a javascript map to instantly iterate over different ideas rather than roll lots of dice and scribble on lots of pieces of hex paper.

Of course, the project got away from me, and I ended up with a full hex crawling tool with hand-drawn graphics, settlements and roads, monsters and dungeons, autosave and save features, a map editing mode, and a note-taking feature so you can detail your world.

Use Hexer!

I’ve had fun generating lots of little wildernesses (or not so little! With 6-mile hexes, it’s about the area of Wales), and I’ve run two game sessions so far. We’ve leveled up from 3 to 5, battled lots of A5E monsters, and found a little village as a base of operations for future expeditions. Eventually I’ll convert this back from a web app into a set of D&D rules.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

late backers can now order LevelUp5e books!

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 16:40

Just a quick note, if you missed the kickstarter and want to get LevelUp5e books (including the Monstrous Menagerie!) you can sign up now!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Level Up Advanced 5E preview: the sea serpent, an encounter for any level

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 13:34

I want to tell you about one of my absolute favorite monsters I put into the Monstrous Menagerie, which is available for two more days as part of the Level Up 5E kickstarter. (Go back it!)

That monster is… the sea serpent.

Kind of a weird favorite monster, right? It’s kind of a fringe D&D monster. As far as I know, it hasn’t appeared in a Monster Manual (unless the first edition giant sea snake counts?). It was mentioned as a homebrew possibility in OD&D, and it’s been in a few adventures and supplements and adventures across the editions, including Fizban’s, but it’s never been a core monster. It’s always puzzled me that the sea serpent, arguably the most well-known oceangoing monster in popular culture, has had so little D&D traction.

This won’t do at all. The sea serpent is an iconic and instantly recognizable threat. Furthermore, ocean encounters are sparse enough in D&D. I’m running a high-level nautical campaign and need all the monster variety I can get beyond dragon turtles and marids. I want every sea captain to be just as wary of sea serpents as they are of storms and sea hags.

Before we start talking about design, we should think about the question: why IS there no core sea serpent in D&D? Is there a design pitfall I’m not seeing?

Well, one problem is that sea serpents aren’t adventurer scale. They threaten ships. In the fantasy sea serpent battles I remember best – Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and even Gary Gygax’s Gord the Rogue series – the serpent is trying to destroy the ship, ignoring the crew for the most part. Any monster that can smash a ship to flinders is just the wrong size to fight PCs, right?

Ehh, maybe. But the 5e kraken and tarrasque beg to differ. In D&D, no monster is too big to fight.

In fact, I see sea monsters’ size and tactics an as an opportunity to make them unique among monsters: they can be useful opponents at any level. While most monsters are threats to characters, sea serpents are primarily threats to ships. Since ship statistics don’t change much between character level 1 and 20, that means that serpents are perennial threats. After all, even first-level characters take ship rides. And in D&D, a shipwreck is the beginning of an an adventure, not its end.

Our usage of sea serpents will change over the course of the PCs’ career:

At low levels, sea serpents are a force of nature, like a storm at sea, that threatens shipwreck on the coast of the Isle of Dread. Low-level characters don’t own ships, and they’re too weak to get the sea serpents’ attenion, so all that’s imperiled is the characters’ mission. Still, even the weakest character can point a ballista or score a critical hit that saves the ship!

At medium levels, sea serpents are still primarily a threat to the PCs’ ship, not to the PCs. It’s a chance for a “safe” battle where the stakes are a setback (shipwreck or ship damage) rather than character death. However, since mid-level characters might own their own ship, these stakes can still feel meaningful. And at this level, victory is possible: while the heroes might not be able to kill the monster singlehandedly, they should have a good chance of driving it off with the help of the crew.

At high levels, the sea serpent is just another monster to be killed, like the dragon turtle or kraken. High-level characters can deal enough damage to get the sea serpent’s attention, so it’s likely to be a battle between the sea serpent and the characters, with the ship an afterthought.

I think this could be a good model for ship-bound combat in general, from the high seas to astral piracy to space and beyond: the monster is tailored to fight the ship at low levels, but its attention can be claimed by the characters at high levels.

Now let’s stat out the beast!

First of all, let’s look at ships in 5e D&D: the strength of a typical ship will determine how much damage a sea serpent needs to do. Ship hit points range from 300 (sailing ship) to 500 hit points (warship). If a sea serpent deals 50 damage to a sailing ship each round, that would mean that the PCs have 6 turns to drive the serpent away in order to save their ship. If they can’t do it by then, it ain’t happening.

Here’s what I imagine a sea serpent doing in a turn:

  • Most importantly, it makes a constricting attack. The serpent wraps up the target in one of its coils and squeezes it. The target is grappled (if it’s a creature) or stopped from sailing (if it’s a ship). This attack is primarily used against ships, not characters.
  • As a reaction, the serpent bites a creature or object that angers it by dealing more than 15 hit points of damage. That means it ignores crewmembers and low-level characters. High-level characters, though, and ballistas (which deal an average of 16 damage), draw its wrath.
  • I’m also going to add a tail attack as a second reaction: a second character or ballista that angers the sea serpent might get crushed or swept right overboard.

    surviving an attack

    I want to add a bit of detail to the sea serpent that most monsters don’t have. The serpent is a high-CR beast which can be used against low-level characters. I want to make sure that those low-level adventurers have a way of interacting with it.

    Here’s my idea: If a serpent is hit by a critical hit, it uncoils from around its prey and at least seriously considers retreating.

    Low-level characters might not be able to kill a sea monster, but anyone can score a lucky critical hit. Whether that critical hit is from a fighter’s sword against a scaly coil, or a ballista bolt aimed by the NPC captain, such a moment would be a high-drama event, sure to elicit cheers from the crew – and players.

    If a sea serpent is bloodied (reduced to half its hit points), it decides that a ship isn’t worth the trouble and it leaves. That’s a victory for low- and mid-level characters! High-level (or foolish) parties that attack a fleeing sea serpent can cause it to go into a frenzy, thrashing around and becoming even more dangerous. This is a design pattern that I also used for the tarrasque. It allows a single monster to offer two win conditions: survival and total victory.

    Now that we’ve talked that through, here’s what the final monster looks like.

    If you’d like to get this monster and about 600 more, plus a comprehensive update on 5e, go back Level Up 5e! You’ve only got two days left. (Morrus delivers quick, so you’ll have the PDF version that day.

  • Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Level Up: wizards and dragons

    Tue, 11/02/2021 - 12:51

    Over on the Level Up site, I’ve written previews of some of the most complex and high-level monsters in the Monstrous Menagerie: spellcasters (including the lich!) and dragons.

    From Spellcasting Monsters in Level Up:

    One of our goals with the Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Monstrous Menagerie was to make enemy spellcasters less of a pain to run. With an updated stat block format, we’ve made it possible to run a complex battle without looking up spells in another book or online resource–-all while working as expected with existing spells and features like counterspell and antimagic field.

    From Dragons in Level Up:

    The Level Up: Advanced 5e Monstrous Menagerie has dragons–-lots of dragons. With 85 pages of true dragons (about 90 stat blocks and variants) and 15 more pages of dragon turtles, sea serpents, and so on, we have a full source book’s worth of draconic friends and foes.

    Along with the usual chromatic and metallic dragons, we have gem dragons (sapphire, amethyst, and emerald dragons) and a new category of dragons, essence dragons (earth, river, and shadow dragons).

    Check out these two blog posts for lots of details and stat blocks! And then head to the Level Up kickstarter, where there are 3 days left. (I really want to get to $750,000, which is the level where I write a jabberwock as a stretch goal!)

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs