Ready to make a splash

Jump right in. The water’s fine.

It’s been a busy spring. I’ve been writing game material for my friends over at Gnome Stew and Kobold Press.

Here are the links:

Watercolor and dungeons

Hecate’s Moon Temple is the first of a series of pieces on dungeons to be found in the Midgard Campaign Setting, the dark fantasy roleplaying setting of shadow roads, ghouls and crossroads published by Kobold Press.

Each entry for the KP blog will detail a dungeon location.  Mostly descriptive, these entries are intended to be setting-appropriate locations any game master could drop into their game for the player characters to explore.

One of the fun aspects of the article’s design is in populating the dungeons with creatures and monsters found in Tome of Beasts, a 430-page supplement for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. Tome of Beasts is a treasure in itself, with entries of monsters steeped in European, African and Near East mythology and new creations that range from Lovecraftian horror to the chaotic inhabitants of faerie realms.

Each dungeon is stocked with a specific treasure tied to the lore of the setting.  In this case, the temple is the repository for a powerful, magical dagger kept safe by the priests and priestesses of Hecate in a complex in the shadow of an active volcano.

The best part? Each dungeon is based on a map by Dyson Logos, who has long been providing some of his Patreon-backed creations for commercial use. These pen-and-ink dungeons have an old school feel and are a perfect match for Midgard. I’ve been adding a splash of color to them, making good use of a new set of watercolor paints and then tagging them in accord with the writeup.

Stirring the Crock Pot

Cartography for tabletop rpgs has been on my mind a great deal lately. Two of my three Gnome Stew posts this season have been about maps. Set your compass rose accordingly:

In “We Don’t Need a Mapper,” I acknowledge that adventuring parties of today are unlikely to use the old “caller” and “mapper” system of tracking exploration that was so much a part of D&D play in yesteryear. But, there are a lot of secondary jobs that players can assume. Adding these duties can make the game more fun for everyone  — and take the burden off the GM.

In “Summertime World Building,” I write about an exercise that’s always fun for GMs to do this time of year — world building. But the first order of business is to get a world map. Not everyone’s an artist. So, I’ve included three examples of maps that are available and can be customized for game use.

The last, “NPC Aspirations,” is a suggestion to GMs that when creating nonplayer characters for their game, they worry less about what the NPCs look like and focus, instead, on their motivations, goals and ambitions.



Return to Adventure

My newest release for the DM’s Guild is Springboard Adventures for Princes of the Apocalypse.

It’s a nifty little advice guide: suggestions for Dungeon Masters who want to make the most of a 256-page adventure book even after they’ve run the core of the adventure.

In it, I offer a method that a DM can use to build a toolkit off the unused portions of the adventure. I’ve include a couple of charts that DMs can use to stay organized.

The heart of the guide, and it’s most valuable part, are the more than a dozen new campaign ideas riffing off the core material. Some of these ideas are explored at length and in detail, others are a few sentences long, simple yet intriguing twists.

It’s a 17-page booklet designed to be a source of ideas. For DMs intrigued by the notion of replay, it acts like a sounding board. These are intended to be little flames of inspiration, a pocketful of ideas or approaches the DM can consider using. These approaches can work whether it’s for a new group of players or the same table that went through Princes the first time.

In 2016 I did a similar treatment for the two hardcover adventures in the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. Springboard Adventures for Tyranny of Dragons has done well, earning Silver best-seller status. That was a 14-page guide in which I devoted more explanation to the method and rationale of replay in tabletop rgps.

Replay of adventures has a long tradition.Back in the day, there were so few published adventures, and they were released so infrequently, it made a lot of sense to put them to use again. These days, the list price of D&D adventure books — Princes sold for $49.95, for example — makes them a significant investment. It’s only good sense to try and get as much value as possible out of them, and replay is one path to take.

There is one significant difference between the two adventures in terms of their structure, and that is reflected in the two Springboard guides.

Tyranny of Dragons was a travelogue of the Sword Coast, intended to show the variety of the Forgotten Realms as a setting. So my first Springboard built on that, essentially taking quests that were part of the adventure and finding new locations for them.

Princes is set almost entirely in the Dessarin Valley; in fact, the adventure rarely goes beyond Red Larch and the Sumber Hills, even though many locations are presented in detail.  Many of the campaign ideas in my Springboard encourages greater exploration of the Dessarin Valley. It also suggestions adversaries other than elemental cultists and player character groupings that might have different dynamics or styles of play.


Give away the ending

When I select cover artwork for products I’m selling on the DM’s Guild, I go through a checklist of possibilities.

One of the  things that I keep in mind — but no longer consider as important — is an old adage: “Don’t give away the ending.”

What is the thinking behind that?

Well, adventures get posted along with everything else on the DM’s Guild. There is a line of thinking that players might well see the cover of the adventure and, presumably, get tipped off as to the nature of the climactic battle.

Yes, but …

On the other hand, another part of my brain says: “Use artwork that illustrates the most exciting part of the adventure, which, presumably involves the ending.”  

Besides, even the most evocative artwork can’t tell the whole story. How much of a spoiler can it really be, after all?

Besides, when it comes to selling adventures on the DM’s Guild, your target customer isn’t the players. It’s the dungeon master.

She’ll be the one loading up the digital shopping cart. Before it can be spoilerific to the players, it first has to grab the DM’s interest.

After all, if you want people to see “King Kong,” a movie poster showing Kong swinging from the Empire State Building would do the trick, right?

And honestly, that’s not going to give away the whole ending.  At least not entirely.

Like I said. Be mindful of it. But don’t let it rule your selections. The purpose of a cover is to be evocative, entice others to buy your adventure.

Satisfy that rule, first, and all else will fall in line.