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Orc Campaign Companion for 5e

We very colloquially call it “The Orc Campaign.” I mention this from time to time – the most successful (and longest running) campaign I’ve ever DMed. It began as a one-shot to while away some summer boredom, and snowballed into my first stumbling attempt at a campaign that featured realm management and emphasized open (smallish) scale warfare and societal management. It wound up being the cornerstone achievement of my college-years gaming career.

Recently, one of my players from said campaign was kibitzing around Reddit (a worthwhile habit that I just never fell into) and noticed a request for information about running a similar kind of game. He asked if I had anything on hand I could send along to aid this DM. So I looked at my notes.

Grahhh!

Three separate editions and at least two hiatuses left my “Campaign Bible” a somewhat invoherent disarray. There was no way I could post that monstrosity on the internet. It was incomplete, unreadable to anyone but me (how do people write books for dead authors using their notes? Those must be a jumble of half-thoughts and suggested ideas! It’s madness!)

But if I could take the time to re-write it all…this time with an audience in mind instead of simply being a repository for my hastily assembled session notes – If I could re-write the campaign companion with advice on running the game and thoughts on how it should work behind the scene…then I might be on to something.

So I’ve decided to ever so slowly but surely start compiling an “Orc Campaign Companion” for use with 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. I’ll be posting the bits and pieces (or whole chapters!) that I finish as articles here for comments and suggestions, to eventually bust out a more convenient and palatable PDF version. Potentially with new art and ideally some better formatting (yes, yes, I know, and iPad is not a replacement for a computer and doing PDF design in the Pages app makes me some kind of slack-jawed troglodyte). But between work, theatre, and running an active campaign it will be a slow process. Please bear with me – I think I uncovered some cool stuff in the seven some years of running this game on-and-off.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Announcements, Editorial, Uncategorized

 

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Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”

       

     I’m frequently making references to Theater Ninjas, the Cleveland-based theatre company I’m a member of. The brief snatches about my theatre life are usually in context of how I’m dividing myself between many time consuming passions and putting poor Save Vs. Weekend on the back-burner. But in this case, Ninja action applies directly to the gaming world!

      The Ninjas actually use games an awful lot in our rehearsal process; both for scripted and self-written original pieces. This year we decided to expand upon the group’s interest in games, and invite the audience in to join us.

     Enter our new, free, monthly get-together: GameNight. The focus of GameNight is to introduce fans, collaborators, supporters, new comers, gamers, the curious, their friends, and anyone else to try out some games that focus on story and player creativity. In almost all cases that means some kind of role-playing game. My interest in table-top role-playing grew out of my love of improv and began with traditional titles like my beloved D&D. But recently (and in part because of GameNight) I’ve also branched out into some newer, extremely innovative titles that focus more closely on character and open-ended story-telling. More often than not our selections are (gasp!) totally GMless!

     I wanted to share a bit about the games we’ve been playing, and how GameNight can be relevant to D&D players of any edition. There are a lot of facets to what makes a good D&D campaign, and that ultimately comes down to which interests all the players at the table overlap on. But no matter what, story and character are going to play a role: and the more care you put into these elements the more your game will benefit. “Care” in this case does not mean hours of writing or railroading the PCs. It means establishing some simple links between and objectives for characters to inspire players to build the plot and dramatic action themselves. GameNight’s offerings are great at that, and I think each of these indie games has a place in supplementing the regular play (or campaign world prep) of a D&D game.

     We started GameNight off with Jason Morningstar’s FIASCO, a game where players create everyday people with burning ambitions and faltering impulse control. FIASCO’s rules build relationships between player characters into the action, – and even folks new to the RPG world take to it easily. A single game of FIASCO can be a good building block for exploring your D&D campaign’s characters, or even figuring out how the party got together before the classic “you are sitting in a  tavern when” moment (A suggestion Jason even mentions in the rules for FIASCO). In particular, Wizards of the Coast vet Logan Bonner has written a fantastic FIASCO playset that pairs well with experienced D&D players.

     Most recently GameNight took a crack at Ben Robbins’ Microscope. In this game, the players work together to write the epic history of a world by taking turns to create sweeping periods of history, crucial events, and the moment-by-moment role-played scenes that changed the fate of the world. Using Microscope as prep for your D&D game is a good way to bring the players into the world building stage. It can also be a means to sidestep forcing your players to write a 5-page essay explaining their character background (protip: maybe ONE of your players will EVER do this). You can build 1,000 year spans time, or focus in on a few pivotal minutes. Being non-linear, you can hop back and forth down the timeline, zooming in as you wish. Each player has complete, neigh unquestionable authority on their turn, but builds on the ideas of everyone else at the table. It’s your chance to invest the players (and their characters) in the world and its backstory, making them more likely to closely follow the plot and react strongly to the villains, allies, and institutions they run into along the way.

     Opening a D&D campaign with one of these (or any of the countless other) “story-games” can reap major rewards in player investment and attention, and does a lot of the dirty work for you. Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun, and can help burn off any fatigue incurred from playing the same game for a long stretch of time by allowing you to try something new, while still contributing to the host campaign.

     I personally advocate for FIASCO and Microscope. Each of the Theater Ninjas’ GameNight events has been a major success. I love to hear the players chatting about that month’s game, the stories they built together, and how they might do things next time as they pack up at the end of a session.

     If you’re a gamer in Cleveland Ohio, I highly encourage you to check out the next GameNight event (details at the Theater Ninjas website). I think it’s a foray into a different way to play the kind of games we already love, and gives you ammo and ideas for your own home campaigns. You’ll find some pleasant surprises. But then again, I am a little biased.

      

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Announcements, Story Challenge

 

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D&D Next: 7th Ability Score?

-1d6 Chastity Damage!!

-1d6 Chastity Damage!!

I neglected to mention an amusing anecdote in my last post a noteworthy incident in my last D&D Next playtest session:

One of my players (we’ll call her by her character’s name, “Joan of Orc”) had re-joined us after missing a session or so. This marked the second time she had ever played any tabletop game, and a few months had elapsed since the last session she participated in: thus she was naturally a bit rusty on the rules.

We reviewed the ability score abbreviations, which she mostly remembered: “STR is Strength” and so on. She stumbled at CON a bit, but was fine until we got to CHA..

“CHA; that’s my, uh, Chastity Score.

Without missing a beat, my improve training kicked in: “Yeah, yours is a 13, so you’ve probably gotten to third base, but never gone ‘all the way.'”

She took our teasing in stride. It was funnier for me, knowing that the original Unearthed Arcana made provisions for an optional “Comeliness” attribute.

So, in the interest of furthering the gamer’s tradition of over-designing nitpicky details; I’m proposing a 7th ability score: Chastity (CHS). Below are brief descriptions of how your CHS score translates into the game world, and an example of a monster that typically has the corresponding CHS stat.

WARNING: Because the subject of sex (or lack thereof) is directly addressed in the Chastity stat, sexy things may be mentioned. Gird yourself.

20 – You are as unblemished as mortally possible, with nary an impure thought [Deva, Caryatid Column]
19 – Rarely, an errant compulsion to nudge someone affectionately comes over you [Unicorn, Celestial Badger]
17 – You are a habitual hand-holder, sometimes applying a scandalous wink [Githyanki, Mimic]
16 – When innebriated, you have revealed a startling amount of your ankle to trusted friends [Dryad, The Tarrasque]
15 – When sober, you have revealed a startling amount of your ankle to complete strangers [Mummy, Lillend]
14 – You have occasioned to pleasure yourself and often indulge in lascivious daydreams [Warforged, Owlbear]
13 – Though you have never made it all the way, you do frequently service yourself [Gelatinous Cube, Kraken, Thri-kreen]
12 – You have lost your V-card, but have not consistently/ever given it out again [Galeb-Duhr, Hippogriff]
11 – Missionary only, please [Kobold, Beholder]
10 – You have normal, monogamous intercourse with consistent willing partner(s) [Lawful aligned core PC races]
9 – You are a bit freaky-deaky [Hobgoblin, Ogre]
8 – How many partners have you had? Can a man count the stars! [Doppelgänger, Goblin]
7 – It’s more than ok if it’s in a 3-way [Nymph, Centaur]
6 – You like to choke, and be choked [Orc, Choker, Roper]
5 – Have whips/chains, will travel [Gnoll, Lizardfolk]
4 – Anything with a hole [Hill Giant, Mindflayer]
3 – 50 Shades was not enough, so you developed a 51st shade of gray [Balor, Drow]
2 – Necrophilia isn’t enough…the corpses have to be re-animated for you to get your jollies! [Lich, Carrion Crawler]
1 – You’ll do ANYTHING [Succubus, Green Ooze, Catoblepas]
0 – You are a comatose, immobile, sex-puppet, there to bone and be boned [Any skeleton, Zombie, Flesh Golem]

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Announcements

 

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D&D Next Runs DCC’s “Doom of the Savage Kings”

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Brace yourself for another D&D Next (5th Edition?) playtest report! This time I wanted to take a stab at something a little different: seeing how effectively Next’s simple mechanics could mesh with an adventure intended for another D&D game system.

I have dabbled a bit with “Dungeon Crawl Classics,” and it’s a cool game with a lot of interesting quirks, but is ultimately a little too old school for my liking, and the character development/options are a bit too bland for what I’m looking for in a game. Where it shines is in its ease of use and simple rules. Given that both DCC and D&D Next operate off of a mechanic close to the core of the D20 System, I figured it would be easy enough to run DCC adventures with the playtest packets instead of their native rules.

To fill a time gap in a playtest game, I quickly cobbled together the end dungeon of Harley Stroh’s “Doom of the Savage Kings” (an adventure inspired by Beowulf, and full of vikings and mead halls – right up my alley!) The session went pretty well, and given that the PCs were all first level, I really didn’t even need to swap out the existing DCC stats for playtest monsters in most cases (given that they were attacking with a +2-4 dealing 1dSomething +2-3 Damage either way). I think the experiment spoke well of both systems, but I wanted to take another crack at it: this time running the whole module and with time to prepare in advance.

So I pitched it to my newest set of players (all folks involved in one way or another with theatre) that I had been running a playtest game with and they were interested. It took a little work to bump the adventure up to be a suitable challenge for 4th level PCs but that mostly involved substituting a monster or two. Given that most of the module’s human opponents need not be overcome with combat I didn’t feel a need to accommodate their stats to higher level PCs.

So with all that boring setup out of the way; the results:

The Rogue’s “Assassinate” – Brutal!
Twice now, a major opponent in a combat was laid low by one crack shot from our archer rogue, using the “assassinate” talent. The damage totals are already high (potentially double max damage), but add on top of that martial damage dice and you have a TON of killing output. This talent is exciting to have as a player, but definitely needs to be tweaked.

Bosses are Wimps
This may not be fair, as numerous factors are influencing the threat level and longevity of “boss” monster (my generous giving of magic items being perhaps chief among them), but given my experience I’d ultimately like there to be some assistance in the rules for this. This need not be a call-to-action to restore my beloved “solo” creatures from 4th edition, quite the contrary, I think leaving meta descriptions for monsters behind is a good thing. But right now it’s difficult to gauge what kind of monsters will result in epic struggles with your players, while not putting them in an unfair scenario. There’s been some discussion of introducing ideas like the old templates, and that’s something I could certainly get behind.

Skill Dice
This concept is growing on me a bit, though I’m still not completely sold. It accomplishes a meta goal that advantage also covers – allowing you to seamlessly add those bonuses that sometimes het forgotten in the number crunch at the table. The variability also negates some situations where it is nigh on impossible for a relatively competent character to fail – injecting a bit more tension into the game. And besides – rolling dice is fun; why else would you be involved in this hobby in the first place?

Spell Descriptions Foster Creativity
I think the write-ups for spells are spot on. Providing flavor text to describe the effect, followed by the clearly delineated crunch has let my new-to-the-game players feel like they can experiment with a spell, while still providing them With the knowledge they need to “roll the dice right.” I’ve always believed that the crunchy bits of a spell’s entry were the default way of using it, and that the player was both encouraged and challenged to try using its effects in a creative way (Wall of Force as a slide by which the players escaped down into a chasm is a simple favorite example.) However there’s a fine line between creative application and game exploitation, so having a very clear entry for the spell effect helps keep things on track.

Martial Matters
I’ve seen WotC address this directly, but right now the “martial” classes need a bit of tweaking to bring them into balance with each other and help the fighter become something more than just “the guy with all the maneuvers he can’t always use.”

As far as running Next with DCC, I would highly recommend it. As a retro-clone, DCC is known for its brutality, a style of play that I think Next is perfectly capable of accommodating, or disregarding with very little modification (I’d try using the Check and Save DCs outlined in the DM Guidelines document rather than relying on those printed in the adventure for the later option.)

Given my frustrations with “bossification” in D&D Next, the nature of the Hound of Hirot in this adventure helped me to keep up the excitement, and give the players ample opportunities to face down the adventure’s nemesis while still letting them taste the sweet nectars of victory.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Announcements

 

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A Quick Thought on Dwarves

It should be canon across all settings that the language of Dwarves (Dwarven or Dwarfish, your pick) features seven different words for “drunk” – all with varying degrees of descriptive granularity.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2013 in Announcements

 

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D&D Next (5th Edition) Playtest – December

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This playtest session found us running “The Astral Conqueror of Sargodell Deeps” which you can find on the “Full Adventures” page

So I recently had the opportunity to delve into the newest edition of the playtest with (mostly) the same group of players that I had last time I did some serious testing. Again, I wrote up a short, one-off adventure in advance and ran them through It (By now, advancing their modified characters up to Level 3). Here are a few impressions that I had by the end of the night.

Monsters – Wonky?: I walked away from the last iteration thinking that monsters needed a little tweaking. This time through, however, I was happy to find them working effectively. Even lower level monsters, with scant Hit Points, were occasionally able to survive a blow from higher level PCs (Meaning that they weren’t all “minions” across the board). This was nice because it kept the gameplay fast without making creatures too easy to take down. I had ended up using a Hill Giant as the model for the final encounter and he ended up going down quite easily, so creatures that are intended to taking longer to bring down may yet require some tweaking.

Martial Dice and Maneuvers: These continue to shine. The new maneuvers added are easy to use, logically intuitive, and tactically valuable. I think this aspect of the game is very strong and I’m excited to see where it goes from here (especially in context to the Ranger and Paladin)

Skill Dice: This was one of the bigger changes in this iteration of the rules. I came at it with a bit of skepticism (silly, considering my love of the now defunct Alternity, and the fact that game thrived on a similar mechanic – But that was also an entirely different system, and the modifier dice were part of it’s charm.)

It seemed that having more dice to roll would slow things down (even if it added to the tension and made things more fun for those who love rolling dice). I’d like to try this out from the other side of the table before really coming down on how I feel about it, but my players (all newer to the game) were none too fond. It made skill checks more complicated, and added a level of confusion where there was normally just a static bonus to consider.

For my money, I lament the loss of the players choice to invest a greater bonus into a particular skill. I feel the previous iteration was going int he right direction on this (allowing a player to increase his character’s static bonus to a skill, but topping out relatively quickly to prevent skill creep). I’m still open minded to the skill dice, but will explain it very carefully in the future, and if it goes away, I can’t say that I’ll be terribly heartbroken.

Hard to think in terms of “Attributes First”: This may be my gamer conditioning infecting my players, but I found we consulted our skills very often when considering what to do. This isn’t bad at all – a core function of classes in D&D is to give each player a role to fill – a time to shine – something that they need to step forward and try. But I worry that I was undermining some of the open creativity that was encouraged in emphasizing the attributes. It’s a useful thing to keep in mind, and interesting that my DM conditioning may have accounted for this reliance on the skill list. Old habits die hard.

I didn’t get too much in direct feedback from the players since we had to pack it in quickly and head home, lest we all be caught in a tiny blizzard – but I’ll put out some feelers to them and see what further insights they have, updating this post appropriately.

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Laying out the dungeon in advance

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Announcements

 

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Your Mission – Submissions!

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While I am dedicated to this little neck of the blog woods, I’m also well aware of my schedule. This year has thrown a lot to do in my lap already, and that means (sadly) less and less time to plug away at the old blog here. Even when I’m posting content used in one of my games it requires a good bit of polish, and thus, more time.

So I decided to do what I always do when I need help and am not sure where to start: I ask the internet. Starting today I’m accepting (and in fact, beseeching you for!) submissions to “Save Vs Weekend.”

My goal is to share interesting (primarily) 4th Edition D&D encounters with the masses, using this blog as a platform; all the while giving credit where credit is due. Naturally I might run submissions through a bit of editing and quality control (fixing grammatical errors, or adding new and more bizarre ones!) but always authors will be credited, their specifications on presentation preserved as best as possible, and any pages or projects they are working on will be thoroughly linked to. This is an invitation to share work and inspire projects. In a perfect world I could pay upstart artists and designers so that they could spread their creative wings and get something in return.
Sadly, it is not a perfect world.

Submission Guidelines
For the sake of making editing easier, and to have a consistent feel for each post, I’m requesting that submissions stick as closely as possible to a particular format. I myself am not terribly consistent in formatting, a problem I seek to alleviate in this year’s post. If you are at a loss, take a look at some of my other posts and keep to a similar system of organization:

____________________________________________

List the number of players and the average PC level ideal for this adventure

Introduction [This section is optional]
In a paragraph or two, sum up your goals, challenges, or inspiration for this encounter.

Encounter Background [This section is optional]
Any relevant world information needed to make the scenario make sense. All fluff, no rules.

Setup
In this section, give all the relevant background and a brief synopsis of the encounter. When is a good time for the DM to use this encounter? How should it fit into a campaign? Who are the major players and what are their goals? What happens if the PCs succeed or fail? All these kinds of questions and their answers are game for this section.

Special Rules or Circumstances [This section is optional]
Does your encounter include some peculiar magical device? Damaged but functional siege weapons? A unique monster ability? A strange terrain feature? Any additional rules or stat information the DM needs should be divided into as many titled sections as needed here. The specifics of the special rules will dictate some formatting (for example, a list of results for a random table or a bulleted list of possible NPCs).

Optional Headings [This section is optional]
If your encounter requires a few special paragraphs to explain unusual circumstances, place them here under a unique, bolded heading.

Plot Text [This section is optional]
Write down any “boxed text” you deem necessary for introducing the encounter in-world to the players.

Map [Optional]
A copy of the map used for the encounter area. Skill Challenges or more open ended encounters may not require this.

Features of the Area [Necessary if there is a map, otherwise optional]
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules

Monsters
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)

Tactics

Describe the antagonist’s tactics and perhaps any relevant rules (or page references to uncommonly used rules link mounted or underwater combat) if applicable. Do the combatants act differently when bloodied? Will they surrender if hard pressed? Do they flee? Call for reinforcements? Wade into combat unthinkingly or slink around tactically? Work as a team or single out their foes? Describe their use of any unusual terrain features here as well.

Possible Rewards
Mark down any magic items, gold, art items, and bonus experience the players should or might acquire. I usually don’t list out the total experience value for all monsters (as that is easily accessible in their stat blocks) but doing so is very helpful.
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So have at! Hopefully you’ll be compelled to submit something and ideally I’ll get it posted within days of receiving it. If I have time, I might even be able to have Jenn whip up a corresponding illustration. “Best laid plans…” and all notwithstanding.

I can be reached by E-mail at: Ryanlucas45@gmail.com or leave a comment with your contact information and perhaps a brief summary of your encounter.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Announcements

 

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