Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Brent Newhall
21st Century Renaissance Man
21st Century Renaissance Man

Brent's posts

Post has attachment
Did you know there’s a 10-minute animated Far Side cartoon special?

(Technically 2 5-minute shorts combined.)

Post has attachment
Want a garden, but have a tough time keeping up with it? Why not put a robot to work in your garden?

Post has attachment
How do you house-rule death?

The one aspect of RPGs that I’ve seen most house-ruled are death rules.

For example, in the last few editions of Dungeons & Dragons, a character that drops to 0 HP or less makes death saving throws unless stabilized or healed, and if the character fails three rolls, they die. A lot of groups nerf that.

My group house rules as follows: If you fail three death saving rolls, you fall completely unconscious–attempts to stabilize or heal you fail outright–but you do wake up after combat ends. If the entire party is knocked unconscious, they all die.

This is a big change from our previous campaign, where player-character death was flat out impossible.

Now, I play with a group of players who care deeply about developing their characters over time, so losing one a few sessions in–or even many sessions in–isn’t fun for them. They find the plot twist of PC death less interesting than a PC changing an opinion or an aspect of their personality.

On the other hand, de-fanged death drains combat of its emotional power. PCs can throw themselves at crazy enemies, because failure lacks serious consequence. It just means your character misses a few minutes of events, which the other characters will describe anyway.

Some groups play with immediate death: if your PC drops to 0 health, the PC immediately dies.

I’ve heard of groups where dropping to 0 health triggers the possibility of death: the player decides, in that moment, whether this is the right time for the PC to die. It causes a conscious, thoughtful decision by the player.

And, of course, there are games where PC death is common and expected, as in Dread, or ones where it’s practically impossible, as in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I’m talking about a more standard, long-running RPG.

I don’t have a good answer for this. Would my players ultimately have a better/more powerful/more impactful/more emotional time if they did fear for their characters’ death? Are any of those goals more important than the others?

Post has attachment
Monster Monday: Great Owl

Sure, sure, there’s a giant owl in the Monster Manual. But all it does is swoop and attack with claws. Let’s make something scary, like the Great Owl from The Secret of NIMH.

To me, the scary thing about a giant owl would be its silence and its rending beak. You don’t hear the owl coming up to you, and if you get into its beak, it’ll rip your arm off.

So, let’s turn the Great Owl into a grab-and-attack creature, and give it the ability to approach silently from the air. It’ll be on a group of adventurers before they know it.

But what’s the extra challenge of a Great Owl fight, and what’s reward? Owls tend to nest in forests, so let’s say that Great Owls generally nest in dense parts of forests where movement is limited. Let’s further say that Great Owl feathers and eggs are extremely valuable.

And now we have our Great Owl. Click through for a D&D 5E stat block.

Post has shared content
...Huh. Atari is teasing an "Atari Box," coming soon.
Remember a couple of weeks ago in the new Blade Runner trailer people were all like -- what's Atari doing in there? Are we supposed to believe they're big in the future?

Looks like they have something big planned after all...

#atari #ataribox #videogames #don'tcallitacomeback

Post has attachment
Faction Friday: The Weretiger Merchants

Normally solitary creatures, weretigers do occasionally mate and form families, though they normally scatter once the litter grows to maturity.

Jax and Thessia Ironsky are different. Very much in love with each other, unusually fertile, and free from the territoriality so common in their race, they built a large family of over a dozen weretigers (some of them now grandchildren). Needing some stability to raise her litters, they established themselves as spice merchants.

This has not gone without trouble. Several of their children chafe under the burden of running the business, since most of them hunt in the wilderness for rare roots and tree bark. Several have threatened to take a large chunk of the Ironsky’s considerable savings and run off to start their own lives. None have yet followed through, perhaps recognizing Jax and Thessia’s shrewd business acumen.

Meanwhile, although the Ironsky family has managed to keep their true nature secret from the rest of the world, which believes they are simply an extended family of human spice merchants, their true natures occasionally slip. The younger members of the family prefer to hunt in animal and even hybrid form, and rumors of lycanthropes running through the wilderness spread daily.

As a friendly faction, Jax and Thessia are simply trying to make their way in the world and keep their family together. Either Jax or Thessia approach the PCs about the rumors spreading, and ask the PCs to scare Ari, one of the younger Ironskies who often hunts in his hybrid form. They want the PCs to attack him and beat him to unconsciousness, then tie him up and bring him back to the family manor house. Consider adding a complication in the form of a city patrol who are extremely suspicious of a group of adventurers carrying an unconscious, tied-up member of a well-known merchant family into the city.

As a foe faction, the Ironskies are vicious predators who use their merchant prowess as a convenient cover for murder. Twice a year they capture a humanoid, release it deep into the woods, and hunt it for sport. The city watch task the PCs with investigating these vanished humanoids, who trace it to the family. The PCs must confront the family in their home, and Ironsky Manor turns into a death trap. Worse, the PCs will never catch the entire family home at once, so at least some members will escape to become recurring villains.

Post has attachment
I've started reviewing my favorite entries in this year's 200 Word RPG contest!

Joseph Le May‘s Kataware Doki ( is a 2-player LARP heavily inspired by a Japanese anime film, Makoto Shinkai’s amazingly successful Your Name.

The game just directly tells you to play out the central conceit, of two characters switching bodies. There are no mechanics in the game, just things you’re supposed to do at different times. (That’s okay; RPGs can do that.) You play the game over the course of four body swaps.

Interestingly, in the first three swaps, each player simply describes the other character’s life. Players cannot interact with the characters in the other person’s life; just ask and answer questions. This part of the game would feel stronger with some kind of time limit, I feel, like 5 minutes per player per swap.

During the fourth body swap, you play a particular piece of music, and this time you must look directly in each other’s eyes, and you may physically touch each other. During this phase, you must tell each other something “both true and beautiful” about the other person’s life.

I love this, because as the players ask and answer questions throughout the game, they’ll be looking for something true and beautiful about the other player’s life. That’s the core beauty of this game: The players must pay attention to each others’ lives.

Post has attachment
Where is the Story Load in your game mechanic?

You roll dice to find out what happens, right?

OK, how do you determine the parameters for “what happens?”

When you roll dice in a tabletop RPG, you’re generally comparing the roll to one of three things:

1. A target difficulty number that varies according to either the rules or the GM’s decision during play (as in D&D, where the DM decides that a particular trap requires a Dexterity roll of 12 to disarm, or you roll against a monster’s Armor Class of 15).
2. A static number defined by the rules (as in Apocalypse World, where 6 or less is always a miss, 7-9 is a weak hit, and 10+ is a strong hit)
3. A character statistic (as in GURPS, where you roll 3d6 and if you roll less than your character’s most relevant attribute, you succeed)

Each of these has different, subtle effects on play.

If you roll against a target difficulty number, someone has to think about all of the situation’s parameters ahead of the roll. This not only informs the roll; it can lead players to define the situation too rigidly. If you decide on everything that goes into the roll, you can then imagine what both success and failure will look like.

Rolling against a static number or a character statistics alleviates this problem. While you do have to decide on the modifiers that may apply, you don’t have to define the problem in as much detail. This frees you to make the roll and then interpret its results.

In other words, using a target difficulty number tends to pre-determine the outcome: You end up defining what success and failure will look like, because you have to take those into account when choosing the difficult number. Using a static number or character attribute simplifies the roll, which lets you think about what success or failure look like after you know whether you succeed or fail.

The latter approach feels to me like a more elegant way to weave story into dice rolling.

Post has attachment
I own a fair amount of “standard” dungeon terrain, the kind with 1″ squares and walls appropriately sized for standard D&D minis.

I break it out most days, and players “ooh” and “ahh,” and then after a little while, something happens:

They start to forget where things are.

I deploy terrain precisely so that players won’t forget where things are. What’s happening? I studied my players’ actions with all the focus of a biologist, and then I noticed something:

A mini in the middle of a hallway, with walls just on either side of the mini, is only visible if you’re standing up.

Inevitably, a player will sit down. And then he or she can only see about a quarter of the lovely dungeon I’ve spent lots of time and money on.

How to solve that? With True Tiles.

These are 3D printable files, so you can print them yourselves, or have them printed and shipped to you with services like 3D Hubs and Shapeways. Not only are they nicely designed, they have two key features:

1) They keep each wall short, only about 1/4″ tall. That means you can sit down and still see the entire map, while preserving the topography of the dungeon.

This also means you can place dungeon features literally on top of the walls: doors and hazards sit atop of the walls, held in place with tabs on either side of the walls. This also makes it easy to re-arrange the position of doors, windows, and other features while you’re laying out the dungeon.

2) All squares, even those next to a wall, are large enough to fit a 1″ mini, while each square is, well, square (2.5″ wide). So all your tiles will fit next to each other–no more “I’d like to put this here but that wall juts out enough to create a dead space”–and you can always fit a mini on each square. Very cool.

Now, granted, most of the files are in downloadable packs that cost USD $9 each. However, you get quite a few tiles in each pack, and the designer’s provided a free sample set of basic tiles for you to download and print.

I’ve been using these for some time and they work very well. My players like them, too.

(And in case you’re wondering: I wasn’t paid for this. I just like them.)

Post has shared content
Need a ruler for your tabletop campaign? Here are 200 short descriptors, along with 100 deaths, 100 starts to wars, and 100 other events.
I ... what? ... Geez. This is so GREAT. Hundreds of entries that you can randomly roll up to describe your ruler. Here's my rolls for today:

67. At the age of fifteen he took a mistress, but his mother forced him to cast her aside.
92. In their efforts to force him into an abdication he had been arrested once again, subjected to further repeated beatings, starved for a fortnight, and incarcerated.
11. Physically, he was magnificent. Once a superb horseman and athlete, he still remained an impressive figure.
53. His subjects, in short, were well rid of him; and his death came not a moment too soon.
Wait while more posts are being loaded