Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

TMoD: Reroll – Invested

From plot inconsistencies to rule clarifications, there are a ton of pressure points that have popped up over the course of every campaign I’ve run, but for the most part any obstacle in a TTRPG can be addressed if given enough time. We can take a brief pause to look up a rule for more clarification or we can stop to discuss how a plot point is at odds with some previously established lore, but the one thing we can’t easily address is a player’s level of investment in what’s happening in the game, and that can be a problem.

For the uninitiated, I’ve been running my players through an Eberron campaign that started with their characters living normal lives in the big city, but has evolved into exploring the Mournlands, a zone of wild magic where incomprehensible horrors exist. I tried to make it a point to not just throw bigger and badder enemies at them in an attempt to emphasize how bad this place is, cause that’s not really interesting or apt to what the area is about. Instead, I’ve genuinely tried to put them in challenging positions where they have to really consider their actions and choices, attempting to make situations less binary than they’ve been in the past.

Despite my best efforts however, when I asked them how their characters were holding up in a mental capacity, I was a little disappointed when some of the answers I got boiled down to, “I’m good.” Really? You’re just fine? I’ve been hitting your characters harder than ever, both in terms of battles and narrative content, but you’re good? Sure that’s deflating to find that my story and world-building haven’t done the trick, but maybe your characters are genuinely taking this whole situation in stride. Fine.

But that investment isn’t just limited to a player engaging with the content of the story, it’s also a question of if their character has any additional motivations outside of just, “defeating the bad guy.” We rarely explore all of the little lifestyle stuff that TTRPGs have to offer, nor does anyone really engage in a vice or follow up on personal quests, but that may just be a result of us having limited time from session to session. I get the idea of not wanting to feel like you’re monopolizing the session with some stuff that isn’t intrinsic to the plot, but some of the most interesting and memorable stuff happens in those moments. My players are more or less tethered to one another and act as a hivemind rather than individuals, although to be fair to them, there isn’t a whole lot else to do aside from experience anguish and suffering inside of the Mournlands.

I don’t want to sound overly negative because I do love my group, they just happen play the game a little differently than I was expecting. I think that part of it is the aforementioned short amount of time we have to play, and the other factor is that I don’t like juggling clocks and timers. Because of that, it ultimately allows them to pocket a bunch of quests and tackle them later like in a video game without much consequence, but that’s something I’m working to fix.

I also think it’s an issue of playing too meta. They know that splitting the party is dangerous and tend not to do it, especially considering I’ve used it against them before. I try to pull them apart from time to time, not just to hurt them, but because I want them to have a chance to act like fully realized characters with their own motivations and goals. I also think it makes for a more satisfying experience when you have some sort of emotional attachment to your character, but maybe that’s just me.

But maybe they are attached to their characters and are experiencing all of these things in their own way. This could be a situation where I’m expecting one thing and getting frustrated because I’m not getting the response I want. Regardless of how they react in-game, they keep showing up and keep wanting to play and make progress, so something must be clicking for them.

This all comes form a place of being hyper-critical of myself and I 100% recognize that. I desperately want to make sure that everyone is having fun, and in my mind that equates to them being invested in the story, their characters, the world and everything else that I’m invested in as the GM. But that isn’t how it works and it’s unrealistic to expect them to care as much as I do about this game that I spend way more time thinking about than they do.

To circle all the way back around to the thesis of this article, how do we address player investment when running a campaign? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a clean answer to that. I think, like most elements of TTRPGs, it depends on the people you’re playing with. Simply asking upfront, “what kind of game are you looking to play” might garner some actionable information, but your players might not know what it is they actually want until you’re several sessions into a campaign.

A player might come into a campaign thinking they want tons of role-playing opportunities or that they want to play a character that excels outside of combat, but they might find out that they really just wanna roll some dice and do bigger ouchies to their enemies, which is fine if they communicate that to you.

Like most relationships, communication is so critical to making sure everyone’s needs in a campaign are met. But when they don’t make a distinction one way or another about what they prefer, you’re left in this nebulous zone where you’re just hurling spaghetti at the wall, not even hoping that something sticks, but hoping that they’ll be somewhat interested in one of the piles that’s formed on the ground. A flawless metaphor, for sure.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that I keep trying to decipher what it is my players like so I can do more of that, but I feel like I’m misinterpreting what it is that they want more of and just try any and everything I can think of. The truth probably is that they just like the whole of the experience and are just happy to be playing at all, which is a heartwarming sentiment if true. But if that’s the case, that means they enjoy the fact that I have a small crisis every single time we play, which results in me second guessing myself constantly.

So maybe they just enjoy my suffering.

TMoD: Reroll – Derelict Worlds

I’m about two years into running my Eberron-themed D&D5e campaign which is finally nearing its conclusion, signifying not only the first long-term campaign I’ve ever run actually ending naturally as opposed to flaming out, but also represents the opportunity to start crafting our next adventure, or in my case the next several adventures.

I like crafting new worlds for every campaign that I run, preferably something that compliments and plays more of an active role in the storytelling rather than just operating as a backdrop. With Eberron, I was able to use the existing setting fairly well by having the players cross through into and explore the untamed arcane landscape known colloquially as The Mournlands. This area of the map is nebulous and not very well defined by design, allowing game masters to plug in whatever they like into that area, which I most definitely have.

I’d like to think I’ve been successful in cramming a somewhat compelling story to into the blanks that the book provides, but I’m still playing in someone else’s world and clashing with the rules therein. So I opt to build worlds of my own with histories and rules that I know because I’m making them up as I go along. If I don’t have an explicit answer for something that might come up while playing, I can confidently make something up without worrying too much if I’m contradicting some preestablished lore.

The problem is that I never seem to get too far in the construction of a world before getting distracted and moving onto something else. It’s resulted in at least a half-dozen derelict and malformed worlds that lack any real definition outside of one or two cities and some historical events. Sometimes there’s a map involved and sometimes there are even quests and characters, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten before I try to develop something in a completely different setting.

Most of the time I’m leaping from design to design based on some theme I’d like to play around in or some new mechanics I’ve found. Like when I finally received my copies of Orbital Blues and Death in Space, I was eager to craft a universe filled with planet-hopping adventures and rampant capitalism based oppression but flamed out on that when I realized that making an explorable universe is hard.

There was also the time where I replayed Red Dead Redemption 2 and was deeply inspired to create a wild west themed game, but I couldn’t find a set of mechanics I liked to match it, so that concept died on the vine and gave way to something else that I never finished. I think I also just wanted a game that allowed me to do a bunch of cowboy accents, which was a bigger part of my motivation than you’d think.

Cyber punk, solar punk, Victorian, high and low fantasy, modern day and so on and so forth, I’ve made and abandoned so many worlds and settings in favor of starting fresh with something else, all thanks to my ever wandering eye. I fully intend to finish at least one of these concepts if for no other reason than that I’ll eventually have to when it comes time to start something new, but until then these worlds can stay stagnant in the many, many Google Docs they’re spread across.

The Master of Disaster: Wanderlust – 21

I’ve often heard from other creative-minded folks that one of their biggest problems is actually following through on an idea or a concept. I know I’ve encountered that a whole lot on this very website what with all the “grand plans” that never come to fruition, but instead of examining every aspect of my life that’s been a letdown, I want to look at this problem through the lens of running campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m always thinking of the next grand adventure I can take my players on even if it’s at the expense of what we’re actively doing, and that’s not great.

At the moment, my group is one month into what’s looking to be a two month hiatus from our Eberron campaign that we’ve been playing for what feels like an eternity. At first I considered this to be a boon considering I had been feeling pretty worn out from the constant creative output needed to sustain our weekly play schedule. I thought that this time away would allow me to essentially get the creative juices flowing once more, which they did… just in a different way.

I had a lot of grand plans ranging from content to mechanics that for our Eberron campaign that for the most part were included. I wanted to make sure that the story wasn’t exclusively told by me, which ultimately led to player decisions (and consequences) being the catalyst for most of the storytelling. I managed this by making sure that character creation was a more in-depth process, where I’d learn not only about their characters, but the NPCs that are important to said characters. Having all this lore and backstory come from the players themselves allowed me to craft a story that’s uniquely tailored to them. Sure, Dungeon’s & Dragons is all about reactive storytelling, but that usually takes some time to really be a factor in any campaign. Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that most of what I prepared for took place before the campaign actually started, which led to me having players that were engaged with the world and its events from the jump.

But even though I’d prepped and planned and put all this time and effort into our campaign, over the weeks and months that we’ve been playing, I’ve started to see the pieces of the experience that aren’t coalescing as well I’d have liked it to. From the setting to the lore, I’m seeing all of these things that I could have improved upon if only I had known how they’d eventually turn out, or if I could have seen how much of a pain in the ass a particular plot point or magic item would have been. Sure I can consider this a learning experience whose lessons I can utilize in our next campaign, but instead of waiting for that transition to come naturally, all I can think about is what could be next instead of what I can do right now.

Whether it be a D&D module, some home brewed setting or even an entirely different game altogether, the waterfall of ideas just keeps flowing. I’ve had ideas for classic fantasy bullshit themed games, space themed games, alternate history, wild west, modern day and so on and so forth, all of which I daydream about way more than our current campaign.

Eberron: Rising from the Last War – Wizards of the Coast

I’d consider this to be a pattern of behavior, where I get really excited about a thing and throw myself headfirst into it, only to burn out on it before I can finish. The amount of maps, music, and artwork I’ve made and sourced for this specific campaign is kind of staggering when I try to take stock of it all. From tons and tons of adventures I can plug into the game, to NPCs who might never see the light of day, to entire game systems that will never be played, to just pure story and lore I’ve written that’s just never going to be utilized, I have a lot of things I could do with our campaign but just never seem to have the energy to follow through on.

But I recognized this as a problem a few weeks ago when I found myself prioritizing literally anything else above actually working on the campaign. But now we’re in the middle of a hiatus, and all I want to do is just play D&D again, something I won’t be able to do for another few weeks. In that time I’ve looked into plenty of settings, modules and games that we could utilize for whatever is next, but with so many options and the inability to meet with all of my players to consider them, all I can do right now is really just work on our current campaign.

But just because our current campaign is the only D&D thing I can confidently work on right now doesn’t mean that I haven’t regained some excitement for it. Being away from that world has given a lot of time to reflect on what I can do to revitalize the experience for myself. While I’ve generated some cool new ideas I’m excited to implement, I’ve also had time to reconsider parts of the campaign that I had planned. It feels weird to say that I’ve been cutting content from our adventure, but I think removing those things is going to help the adventure feel more cohesive and understandable. It also means I can focus on the ending of our story and how I’m possibly going to put a neat little bow on this whole experience.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be afraid to take a break from any creative endeavor if you need it. I personally was feeling drained for so long, and just needed time away from the entire concept of rolling dice and adding numbers. Now I feel refreshed and energized, eagerly waiting for the next session to finally come along, but there’s still more waiting and planning to be done before that happens. I should also consider writing down some of these ideas and expanding upon them rather than just having a list with meandering phrases on them like “dragon(s?)” or “A mountain with legs.”

Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance isn’t a very good video game. Some might even go as far as to say that it’s a bad video game, a take that I don’t know that I fully disagree with if we’re being honest, but it does paint the game in an absolute and irredeemable light, which I don’t believe is the case here. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a rough, buggy, clunky game that should have been better, but it misses the mark in so many ways, ranging from combat to its core structure that it will surely require some hefty patches to get it to a recommendable state.

Full transparency here: I was really looking forward to Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, the spiritual successor the two very good Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games from the PS2 era. This modernization is such a different product than its predecessors, that it ultimately feels like a massive injustice to the legacy of those previous titles. Whereas the originals were top-down, action-RPG games that walked the line between the dense RPG mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons proper, and some genuinely fun brawler combat. I’m sure plenty of folks out there would disagree with that statement but as a young man with no interest in the source material at the time, these games were able to keep me invested and engaged in a way that fantasy properties across all forms of media had failed to do. I was hoping that this new Dark Alliance would illicit some of those same feelings, but the D&D DNA on display in Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance seem like little more than set dressing thrown over a pretty bland cooperative action game.

One of the more puzzling aspects of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has to be the lack of a dedicated caster class. It’s kind of buck-wild to me that in a Dungeons & Dragons themed product, the use of magic is relegated to special abilities to be used in conjunction with martial fighting rather than have its own dedicated class. With so many different classes available to choose from in D&D proper, it’s a severe letdown to only be able to pick between two fighters, a ranger and a barbarian, all of which are martial combat focused. There’s an actual reason for this limited selection of classes however, because Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is an adaption of the R.A. Salvatore novel The Crystal Shard which explains why the characters and classes are what they are.

Even if you’re able to look past the limited character options, the game itself does a pretty poor job of capturing the essence of Dungeon’s & Dragons. Not having the ability to create your own character regardless of story justifications, is just a big bummer in my eyes. Not being able to access your inventory mid-game also is a big misstep especially when you look at the original Dark Alliance games where you were always able to equip the stuff you found on the fly. Even weirder is that the loot you pick up inside levels are generic placeholders that get “identified” and usable when you return to the hub area. It reminds me a lot of early Destiny where you had to get the engrams you’d find identified before they turned into real and usable loot.

But Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance actually does attempt to incorporate some more D&D and RPG elements into the experience, by putting a pretty big focus on exploration and puzzle solving while you’re in levels. None of it is particularly hard or interesting, but about half of your time spent within the levels allow for some significant loot and resource hunting, which basically just means breaking everything you can see to reveal hidden paths, mining (smashing) crystal ore (upgrade currency), platforming challenges and what I’m very generously calling “puzzle solving.” These mostly come in the form of timing your movement to avoid spike and fire traps, finding an item to help unlock a door or elevator, or just running in the opposite direction of the horribly unclear objective markers on your map to find treasure chests and optional enemies.

There are also some optional objectives to tackle within levels, all of which seem to involve collecting things, killing bosses, or destroying things. There are also several different difficulty levels to choose from when selecting missions if that’s something you’d like to do, but I don’t know if it does anything aside from just giving enemies bigger health bars or letting them hit you harder.

One of the things I am mildly enjoying in the game is its upgrade system, which is admittedly very overwhelming at first. It’s nothing crazy or revolutionary, but you can essentially upgrade every piece of gear a couple of times by utilizing both the crystal ore you find throughout levels, as well as the gold you pick up along the way. There are 5 or so different rarities of crystals that allow you to upgrade rarer gear. So legendary crystals will allow you to upgrade legendary equipment, whereas common crystals wouldn’t allow for that. You can also transform common crystals into their more rare counterparts by using gold, which helps curb the reliance on random crystal drops.

Aside from upgrading your gear you can also pick from different color options for just about every piece of gear for the paltry price of just 50 gold pieces, which for context is basically nothing. You can upgrade your core stats via attribute points which can be earned through exploring levels, but are primarily earned through leveling up where you can also unlock feats, new moves, and inventory upgrades. Unfortunately, nothing you can unlock is capable of washing away the myriad of gameplay specific issues within Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance can feel like an exercise in futility, because all manner of issues can hamper your experience at any time. One of the more notable issues I noticed was that the enemy AI just doesn’t work. I could stand right outside of an area where enemies are hanging out and just kill them from a distance without them ever reacting to being peppered with arrows. It was ridiculously easy to cheese my way through parts of this game because the enemies never really put up a fight or acknowledged my presence if I stood far enough away from them. I’m sure the game gets hard enough to the point that cheesing it or playing solo won’t be viable, but in the early goings I never felt overwhelmed or outgunned.

Even when I decided to leap into the fray and not just annoy my enemies from afar, I found that the combat was mushy and unresponsive, which led to a lot of moments where I was trying to charge up an attack but the game just straight up ignored my inputs. It was as if I was trying to play faster than the game would allow for, which seemed like a weird additional way of keeping me from spamming attacks considering there’s a stamina meter in the game that still doesn’t fully make sense to me. Some attacks I did would just lower the maximum amount of stamina I could have at any given time, without ever really providing a clear way to fix that issue. You’d think that taking a short rest would remove that cap from the stamina meter, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. In fact, sometimes it will just randomly fix itself without any explanation, which is infinitely more maddening to me.

By default both light and heavy attacks are assigned to the right bumper and trigger respectively both of which are supposed to combo together seamlessly, but the controls are just so muddy and unresponsive that combos happen more by accident than anything else. There are also some special abilities that are on a cool-down, as well as an ultimate move I could activate whenever the ultimate meter finally decided to fill up. Aside from that, the game has fairly standard brawling mechanics that include blocks, parries, launchers and so on.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a painfully buggy experience, of which my favorite bug has to be when I killed something and its lifeless body is launched into the stratosphere, never to be seen again. I hope this is never “fixed,” because there’s nothing to fix in my eyes, so we can just go ahead and hand-wave the issue away by saying that goblins naturally fly away when they die. But not all of the bugs are as funny as that one, because a lot of revolve around performance and online desynchronization issues. It’s never fun to hit an enemy and have them vanish only to appear behind me and pummel me to death, and that happens with alarming regularity when playing online. Online connectivity is a prevalent problem too, because after every chapter in a mission when my group would try to return to the hub world together we’d all be disconnected without fail.

To put it kindly, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is a flawed game that’s in dire need of some patches to not just address bugs, but to smooth out some of the rougher edges of the non-gameplay experience. From connectivity issues and desynchronization issues to loot management, these things need to get sorted out before any sort of community can really develop around the game. I’m hopeful that the bigger issues like bugs and combat functionality will be fixed and adjusted as time goes on, but those little nuisances are the pain points that will eventually kill an online game if unaddressed for too long.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance didn’t turn out the way I had hoped it would but I have to believe that it can only get better from here. Like most games, it’s an infinitely more enjoyable experience with friends, but that isn’t a phenomenon that’s exclusive to Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. In its current state it’s not a good game to play, but it is a great thing to laugh at with your buddies thanks to its shoddy B-movie qualities. I’d love to be able to both enjoy the campy aspects of the game in addition to a great gameplay experience, but it just isn’t there yet.

The Master of Disaster: Tone – 20

When I first started running games my gut instinct was to try and make my sessions all be well rounded, providing drama, comedy, excitement and so on and so forth, all at once. The idea was that one person would have a funny quest for players while another would have a more dour objective for them. That’s how it kind of works in video games, so why wouldn’t it work here? Well it wasn’t that it couldn’t work here, it was more that it sometimes led to a sense of emotional whiplash. The party would go from joking with a bartender while breaking the fourth wall, to talking to a grieving widow who is desperate to uncover the culprit for her partner’s murder. It was tonally inconsistent in a way that was very noticeable. More to the point, it made keeping my players engaged and role-playing, incredibly difficult.

Going from joking about a funny looking cow or whatever, to talking about the vast political corruption in the city might work in the real world because we’re all emotionally broken, but in game I’ve found that tonal consistency is valued more than it is in our world. Now, that isn’t to say that I’m forbidding jokes when we’re having a serious conversation, but the way you address that kind of thing is important.

Everyone in every adventuring party wants to crack a joke that’s going to make everyone at the table erupt into laughter, which is fine, but if they’re talking to that poor widow from the example earlier, that widow is gonna call them out. It isn’t about whether I, the DM am calling them out or not, it’s about if the NPC they’re practicing their standup routine on is willing to put up with their shit. There’s no use in me as the DM breaking the flow of the game to tell my players to get serious about our game where dragons and goblins are kicking it with raptors and dwarves or whatever, cause that would be a fun new take on ludo-narrative dissonance.

I guess my point ultimately is that while you as the DM have the power to do whatever you want, wielding that power and using it is a bit trickier. Aside from lambasting my players as the NPCs they interact with, I’ve found that splitting my sessions into arcs has been really helpful for establishing tones. For instance, we’ve had sessions that were very mission focused and others that were just nebulous, allowing the players to go off and do what they want and suffer the consequences in classic D&D fashion. I treat the tone in our games like a pendulum, where some of them are gonna be goof-fests, while others are going to have the characters make tough choices. Trying to keep the pendulum stuck in one direction for too long will almost certainly lead to a harsh swing in the other direction, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re not sticking with one theme or tone for too long.

Ironically, that very reason was why we all ultimately decided to stop playing through the Rime of the Frostmaiden module that came out late last year. It was so overly drab and depressing, with an insistence on being dour and bleak throughout the vast majority of the adventure. It sucked and was a colossal downer, so we pivoted. Consider that a lesson learned on my end though, because from here on out, I’m making sure that any game I run has both highs and lows without lingering too much on either.

I recognize that this entire concept of a malleable and shifting tone might be something I value more than a lot of other game masters and players, but I’ve found a lot of success in using this mentality. I allow my players to joke and goof till their heart’s content, but I also know that in a few sessions I’m going to hit one of them with a tough choice that’s going to make their character grow. In a long term campaign, I think these situations and encounters are absolutely necessary to keep both the story interesting and your players engaged. While this post is about adjusting the tone to match the content of the session, all of this stuff is, in my opinion, extremely important to another very instrumental part of campaigns, which is allowing the characters to grow.

Every campaign I’ve run starts with at least one person trying to make a joke character, which is fine. But I always tell them that making a joke character and giving them a goofy name is really going to bite them in the ass further down the line. When the king of the land comes to you, hat in hand, and begs your party for help in finding his missing wife, it’s really going to undercut the whole mood of the campaign when he has to say, “I come to seek the aid of the noble knight, Fart Garfunkel. I shall pay a king’s bounty for the retrieval of my missing beloved wife.” Like, that whole scene is going to suck on so many levels. Maybe the first time it happens, it’ll be hilarious. The second, third, hell, maybe even the tenth time it happens it’ll still be a gut-buster. But doing that puts this artificial ceiling on how much your character can grow because they’ll never be taken seriously by anyone in your party, let alone the actual human beings at the table.

Every party, campaign, player, and character are so different, so maybe my advice doesn’t apply to your current situation. But I truly believe through extensive trial and error, that being able to set a tone from session to session is extremely important to allowing the players to experience a great story. While they might not remember the name of the big bad guy or whatever, they’ll remember the ebbs and flow of a campaign that tonally mimics the real life experience. Some days are good, some days are sad, and it’s okay to have your player-characters experience that too. Otherwise, they’re nothing more than a series of stats on a page with a name like Fart Garfunkel.

Blog: TaleSpire’d – 04/21/21

After a few years of getting increasingly obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons along with the entire concept of TTRPGs in general, one thing I’ve always wanted was a comprehensive tool or piece of software that could house my campaign in its entirety. Ideally I wanted a video game styled, easy to use virtual tabletop that could do everything from making maps to just playing a session within it. Most of these programs manage to excel at one thing while fumbling other elements of playing a TTRPG, but that won’t deter me from checking out a new one when it comes along. Enter TaleSpire.

TaleSpire was Kickstarter success that claimed to be “a beautiful way to play pen and paper RPGs online,” according to their campaign page, and from what they showed off it seemed like they weren’t just a bunch of talk. Last week TaleSpire finally entered early access on Steam and I eagerly pounced on it, hoping that this would finally be our new TTRPG platform of choice. However, I was quickly reminded of the fact that TaleSpire is in fact an early access product that still needed a lot of time before it would dethrone the other services we use.

TaleSpire has a ton of potential and I do look forward to seeing it evolve over time, but in its current state, it just feels a little too cumbersome for me to reliably run a game for my friends in. There’s a lot of layers and shortcuts that you kind of need to commit to memory in order to use TaleSpire at anything beyond a snail’s pace, but there’s just so much stuff going on and not a lot of tutorialization to help you navigate it all.

For instance, there are a few different modes you can swap between, from exploration mode, to build mode, cut-scene mode and initiative mode, all of which are pretty self-explanatory, but then there are different GM layers you can toggle on and off along with different triggers that can activate different events or hide certain elements of the map from your players. The tutorials give a broad, single paragraph overview of how these things can work, but they don’t do a great job at explaining how to actually make use of them. For instance, I have no clue how to trigger a cut-scene, but I know that it is possible considering there’s an entire mode literally called “cut-scene mode.”

I think that TaleSpire could really benefit from better tutorials that kind of launch you into scenarios so you can actually see how things work together, or at least give some premade maps for people to disassemble and see what gears are turning to accomplish what. As is, all I can really do is bash my head against it until I figure something out, but that could take a while.

I just feel as if I just don’t have enough information to properly understand how to operate TaleSpire as a whole. I suppose I could go out and look at the inevitable deluge of tutorial videos that people have surely made, but it just seems like a thing that should be explained in the software itself. I’m sure that stuff will be added in during development, so I’m not too worried about it at the moment. I really like what TaleSpire is doing and think it has a solid foundation to build off of, but the usability just isn’t there right now. If I as a DM can’t wrap my head around this software, then I can’t properly teach it to my players which would result in very slow and dragging sessions, which nobody wants.

But from just a, “hey this is fucking cool” standpoint, TaleSpire sure is nifty. Building out scenes is rewarding, albeit a bit clunky in places, but even with the modest amount of items currently available, you can make some really striking tableaus. Everything has this tilt-shifted look to it that really delivers on the promise of a true virtual tabletop. One of the stretch goals that was reached during the Kickstarter campaign was the ability to create your own miniatures inside of TaleSpire, which is a feature I’m very much looking forward to getting to tinker with. It’ll also go a long way in getting me to convince my players to migrate over to this new platform that unlike our current solution, isn’t free.

I also have some lingering questions about housing stats and character sheets just in case TaleSpire ever does become our platform of choice. I don’t know if that stuff will be able to be housed within TaleSpire or not, but it really should be because the biggest issue I have with TaleSpire at the moment isn’t actually the lack of information it gives me, but it’s the viability of this as anything more than a map making tool. I have to ask myself what this $25 product is offering my players and I that our current virtual tabletop isn’t providing us at the low price of free? That’s a big hurdle to have to clear, but hopefully as more people touch TaleSpire and give their feedback these things will change.

TaleSpire does have a ton of other cool little bells and whistles in it right now however, like the ability to fully customize the atmosphere of a map by tweaking the position of the sun, pumping up the fog, or even adjusting the exposure on the entire in the entire scene. There’s also a couple of really cool features they’ve promised would be added, such as the previously mentioned miniature customization and cyberpunk themed objects, but first and foremost I think the priority should be getting users educated so they can utilize what’s actually playable now. If I knew what I was doing in TaleSpire, I’d probably more willing to try and pitch other people on it, but until then I don’t think TaleSpire is going to be our new virtual tabletop. But hey, I look forward to changing my tune as it evolves throughout its early access period.

Blog: St. Drizzt’s Day – 03/17/21

Well it’s Saint Patrick’s Day already, which means it’s time to go out to the pub with the lads and knock back a couple of brews and eat your body weight in bar nachos. Oh wait, it’s a pandemic still, don’t do that. I can’t say I’ve ever really celebrated St. Patrick’s day in any real capacity at any point in my life, and this year doesn’t seem like the best time to start. So instead I’ll just sit here and talk about an upcoming game that has nothing to do with Ireland or even the color green at all. We’re talking about the upcoming cooperative action game, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance looks to be a 4 player cooperative action game in the vein of something like Vermintide 2. The way that Vermintide 2 was structured had you and your friends in this hub world where you could craft new items, level up your character, and check on your challenge progress, before you all embarked on a mission to kill a bunch of rat-folks with knives and gather the precious XP inside their bodies. Mind you, this is all me speculating, but it sure seems like Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is going to handle things in a very similar way.

I’m going off of Polygon.com’s hands on experience with Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, and they specifically call out how the game itself is geared towards co-op play, with difficulties scaling based on how many players are involved. The article mentions the core loop of the game appears to be about replaying levels on harder difficulties, gathering loot, and leveling up each character class according to whichever skill tree you choose to follow. How much variance there will actually be between different skill trees remains to be seen.

Personally, I would’ve liked the ability to just create a character instead of choosing existing ones, because that’s kind of the whole draw of a Dungeon’s & Dragons product in my eyes. To me that just seems kind of antithetical to what the biggest TTRPG is all about, but even if I can’t create my own character I’m sure it’ll be fine. It also makes sense when you consider that the PS2 era Dark Alliance games also only let you play as pre-made characters, so there is some precedent there.

The only real hangup I have with this early showing of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, is that I never really got that into Vermintide 2 or games like it, but I really do enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, so that might be enough to keep me interested. Either way, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is coming out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and the next generation consoles as well on June 22nd for the extremely attractive price of $40.

The Master of Disaster: Alternative Thinking – 19

One of the best things about tabletop role-playing games is just how much versatility a player has in any given situation. Any good GM should be able to accommodate any reasonable request from their players, but the real fun come in when a player completely sideswipes you with some genuine shenanigans. Having to adjust and improvise on-the-fly is an absolute thrill that really tests my abilities to honor the request of the player while adhering to the rules and story. It’s a tough thing to develop, but it’s a necessary skill to have when running a game.

During one of my first ever games I ran, the first thing that a player of mine did was just say they were doing something, which in this case was taking a pouch of gold off of an NPC. My first reaction was to prompt them for a sleight of hand check which seemed pretty reasonable in my mind, but then they clarified and said “no, I’m just taking it.” They made it clear that there was no intent for being sneaky or surreptitious at all, they just literally wanted to take a thing that belonged to another character without any resistance. Knowing what I know now, I shouldn’t have relented and instead made them roll a contested strength check or just tell them that wasn’t going to fly without a check, but when you’re starting out you just want to please everyone and let them run free.

Don’t do that. While it may seem counterintuitive to tell your players they can’t do something, sometimes you need to remind them that TTRPGs, while a great forum for wild improvisation, are by and large very rules-heavy games. It isn’t about just saying “no” to your players, rather you need to refocus their energy so they can work within the guard rails of whatever system you’re playing. Saying “no” repeatedly to a player might result in them just checking out entirely or feeling as if they’re being picked on, so usually I try to encourage my players to try a different tactic or work with them to accomplish whatever ridiculous thing they’re trying to do.

Because I play with my friends, there’s a built in level of respect between all of us. They know that I’m trying to give them as much flexibility as I can without completely throwing out the rule book, and I know that they’re going to respect me when I tell them that there’s going to be a couple of extra steps required in the insane shit they’re trying to pull off. I ultimately want their characters to succeed in whatever they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean I have to make it easy on them and let them dictate what rules are and aren’t enforced.

There are plenty of ways that you can help work with your players to accomplish their goals, but for my money I’ve found that just asking my players if they have any abilities that would aid them in their wild requests is something I’ve found not only reinforces the rules of the game, but makes sure they’re paying attention to their character’s unique abilities. But lets say you wanted to be fun for once in your life and just let the players have a good time, well that’s when luck checks, high dice checks and even some deus ex machina can help you loosen up.

Honestly, that’s kind of the secret. If the players want to do a near impossible thing, let them try it and set the DC at 30 and give them disadvantage if you have to. They’ll probably fail miserably if they actually try which could lead to even more hilarious situations. Or maybe they’ll succeed, which might ruin an encounter, but it’ll be a moment they talk about forever. In my experience, I’ve never been so happy to get fucked over by the dice thanks to a rogue natural 20, because the players eat that shit up.

Allowing your players to try something rather than just shutting them down is something that I truly believe you have to do in order to foster a positive gaming environment. If you don’t let your players have fun, they’ll eventually stop caring and stop playing, but if you let them get away with anything then you’ll probably want to stop playing. Having been on both sides of that divide I can attest to how difficult striking that balance can be, but I assure you that striving for that balance is well worth the effort.

Blog: Please Make This – 03/03/21

They say there’s a product for everything, right? If that’s the case, then where the hell is the asynchronous Dungeons & Dragons game that I’ve been imagining in my head for the past few years? Surely I can’t be expected to go out and develop a video game on my own, so I’ll do the only thing I know how to do decently and write an article complaining about it. So let’s talk about the D&D game that should exist by now, but miraculously doesn’t.

Without any real understanding as to how video games are made or what market trends look like, I feel like there’s a massive gap in the market for a video game to capitalize on the ever expanding tabletop role playing game market that’s desperately looking to be filled. I guess this all stems from my frustration with virtual tabletop (VTT) programs like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful that these services exist, but some of them can be an absolute hassle to use reliably. Sometimes everything works without any issue, but other times you’re plagued with connectivity issues, or some compendium sharing option is acting weirdly because there are 4 ways to enable the same setting but you didn’t choose the right one. Hell, certain VTTs can’t even be bothered to put a fucking pause button on their music players. Add in the player frustration of having character sheets not updating properly, or certain spells just not working within the confines of the VTT itself, and you’ve got a situation where every session feels like a roll of the dice.

What if there was something else that actually worked consistently, was accessible, easily available and didn’t require too much heavy lifting from either GM or player? There are a lot of books, software and services that all claim to cut down on the prep time for a session or streamline the experience in some way, but they don’t necessarily scratch my particular itch. The two main angles of approach for this concept revolve around using phones and tablets for the players and GM respectively, or something involving a console and smartphones to achieve something similar.

I know there are ways to accomplish this right now, but in my mind I just picture my friends gathered around the TV while I flip through maps, distribute art handouts, and engage in combat with them from the comfort and privacy of my tablet without any additional software or hardware. The GM could have an app that streams to a Roku or Chromecast that only displays what the GM wants the players to see while simultaneously giving them a fully feature VTT to use on their tablet or phone. You could even accomplish a similar thing with a console and some smart phones too.

An existing alternative to this currently exists in the form of games that have campaign creator modes in them, but as a GM, I haven’t really found one that worked for me. Also, if a game like Baldur’s Gate III implements this kind of mode at some point in the future, it’s still a $60 buy in from all of my players which seems like a really hard sell especially when the VTT that we use is free for them. The way to combat that would be for a game like Divinity: Original Sin II to offer a free demo download that’s only used for playing custom campaigns that someone who owns the full product is running, but I guess the mentality is that if someone like D&D enough to play a custom campaign created inside of a video game, they probably want to buy the game anyway. That logic makes sense, but as someone who enjoys D&D way more than playing CRPGs, I can say that people like us do exist.

I would love to see a game or piece of software to come out and genuinely offer the D&D experience, not just in terms of the rules but the communal aspect of it. We’ve seen the popularity of D&D and TTRPGs in general explode over the past few years, and I can’t believe that there isn’t a more accessible option for people to get a game going that doesn’t involve one person doing an endless amount of prep. I’m sure there are like 40 different projects on Kickstarter that are trying to make good on this vision in some fashion, so hopefully one of them gets funded and actually does the damn thing. I guess what I really want is an easy way to set up a D&D session without a lot of hassle for people who have a passing interest in TTRPGs in general. Sure I’d love for my dream application to also be the optimal platform for running a long term campaign, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Imagine if once we all get the chance to see people in person and interact with each other again, that I could just have a bunch of people come and sit in front of my TV where they can manage their characters on screen via their cellphone while I throw goblins at them on my iPad. That seems like a no-brainer of an idea to me, but once again, I don’t know what it takes to make a game. But I bet the Jackbox folks could totally make this thing and make it well and now it’s all that I can think about.

Blog: A Little Joy – 01/20/21

Everything is so chaotic right now and it’s insanely difficult to focus on anything outside of the ever growing train wreck that is American politics. Even now as I write this, I fear that by the time this article goes live some horrible bullshit will have happened. I pray that everything goes smoothly and America doesn’t collapse in under its own weight, but literally anything is possible these days. But at some point I can’t keep staring at the wreckage and need to focus on things that make me happy. So here are some of the distractions I engaged in last week that brought me joy.


During my Game of the Year 2020 articles, I mentioned at one point that I wanted to check back in with Baldur’s Gate III and see how it’s evolved since receiving a few patches. Considering I had to restart the game because all previous version save files were no longer compatible, I trudged through the prologue once more and made it back to the first real explorable area. I can’t really say that I’ve noticed many differences in performance or features, but admittedly I’m still very early on and haven’t quite had the chance to really see the majority of content available in the game. They did fix the camera though, which is absolutely huge and was one of bigger issues with Baldur’s Gate III when it launched into early access late last year.

Even though I’m really enjoying playing Baldur’s Gate III, I’m still struggling with the idea of whether or not I want to dedicate too much more time into it. Considering it is an early access title, I can only imagine that save files are going to be in jeopardy a few more times during the course of development, and I don’t know that I want to play through that prologue more than I have to. It’s a decent enough tutorial level but I’ve already played it like 6 times at this point, so I might still wait on that. But in the meantime, I could always dip into Pillars of Eternity or Tyranny to get my CRPG fix.


The rebooted Hitman series of games that started in 2016, have become some of my favorite and most anticipated titles with Hitman 3 being no exception. Technically the game doesn’t launch until the day that you’re reading this, but knowing that I’ll have a Hitman game to distract me from whatever misery may come tomorrow is good enough for me to mention it. I think what I love about the series the most is how it makes you have to improvise and adapt on the fly, dashing all of your well made plans into pieces because some guard walked around a corner for the first time ever and spotted you choking the life out of your target. But that’s why you get a cool gun.

I don’t know if Hitman 3 will be any good, but the early reception on it seems overwhelmingly positive. I’m really looking forward to getting to play this one whenever the download finishes.


I didn’t expect to be this into a superhero themed TV show, but here we are. WandaVision is an insanely cool take on the Avengers characters of the same names, placing them in this incredibly weird and unsettling version of a 50’s/60’s sitcom. It’s like watching an episode of I Dream of Jeannie that occasionally does its best impression of a psychological thriller, which doesn’t sound like a great fit on paper but it totally works. While the first episode left my partner and I both unsure of whether we wanted to stick with the series, the second episode really got its hooks into us. Or maybe it just hooked me and they were being nice. Who can say?

All I know is that WandaVision is so far one of the coolest things that Marvel has done with one of their properties. My only concern is how well it will actually stick the landing. As of now, I have some ideas and theories about what’s happening or where this is all going, but it does feel like one of those stories that could end with a lame twist like saying it was all a dream or something. I don’t think that WandaVision will do that, but you never know. Regardless, we’re gonna keep watching the show.


This one shouldn’t be surprising in any way, but it might be the biggest thing that’s brought me joy over the past few weeks. See, we recently decided to ditch our previous campaign in favor of one that was in a less boring setting. We landed on the Eberron setting, which is basically a magical version of the steampunk aesthetic that’s infinitely less insufferable. One of the biggest motivating factors for the change was the lack of any of the slice of life stuff that people usually engage with when playing a role-playing game. Our last setting didn’t have any real opportunities for the players to do anything outside of killing stuff and drinking ale, which made for a formulaic and uninspired game. I don’t think they minded it as much as I did, but I sensed a bit of fatigue with the module we were using. Also, I was fucking over it.

But that’s not the point. The point is that our campaign is set in a massive city that’s teeming with life and opportunity. We went through extensive character creation sessions where we really defined who their characters are. This was in service of not only creating fully realized characters, but to get my players invested in their avatars and understanding their motivations. Previous characters they made definitely wanted things, but without a setting to support those desires their characters were just walking murder-husks, devoid of any real direction.

I also changed our storytelling format to allow for more downtime and opportunities for their characters to grow through their actions. By using a combination of one-shots and custom campaigns, I’m able to hit them with story threads when they need it, and allow them to fuck around if they’d prefer that. It also allows me to react to their actions better than if I had tried to plan for said actions in advance. Everything about this campaign has been streamlined in a way that has taken a lot off of my plate. While I have a bunch of one-shots that are narratively linked together, an overarching story is something that’s entirely up to them and how they interact with the world. I might write in a bad guy here or a mission there, but I’m waiting for those plot hooks to come up naturally rather than me trying to force my players into it, all of which has made for a much more rewarding and fun Dungeons & Dragons experience for all of us.

So that’s it I guess. Hopefully when you read this, everything is cool and great. I would really prefer if we could just have something uneventful happen here at the finish line and I can go back to talking about video games without having to worry about if the former president is going to try and overthrow the government again. But yeah… good luck America. Good luck everyone, honestly.