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Brent Newhall
21st Century Renaissance Man
21st Century Renaissance Man

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I struggle with this dilemma.

I love what I call "catchphrase-based" role-playing, where a character is (at least partially) described as a set of axiomatic descriptive phrases, archetypes, or adjectives. Han Solo might be described with "Smuggling Rogue," "Never Tell Me the Odds," and "Fastest Ship in the Galaxy." These catchphrases are then used in play for dice, bonuses on rolls, or what-have-you.

I run into a lot of people who seriously dislike that kind of system, because it's too ripe for abuse. A player can create a character with a "Jack of All Trades" catchphrase and just use it for everything.

I can "solve" this by limiting players to a certain set of catchphrases. But then we're basically back in the territory of traditional skills, just with different names.

Edited to add: It can also be "solved" by limiting the number of times a player can use a catchphrase, but that feels too gamist and goes against this approach's spirit. Han Solo should be able to get into full-on "Never Tell Me the Odds" mode and use that constantly in certain scenes. That's part of the point of a catchphrase, to identify something that the character does a lot.

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Perhaps an inspiration for your next game. The road goes ever, ever on.

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Need to photograph some minis?
For those that strive for smooth and consistent light when taking a photo of a small object, this is for you

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Time for Faction Friday, and a faction that can be used as friend or foe.

A wealthy halfling, Harran Mialorn, has been cowed by a young dragon named Mezvorax into kidnapping people to be the dragon's slaves. He and his followers (also slaves of the dragon) live in a bat-filled mansion. Each follower wears an amulet that keeps them dominated by Mezvorax. About a quarter of those kidnapped become working members of the slaver ring, while the rest are delivered to the dragon.

The amulet gives each member of the slaver ring the ability to cast a psychic blast cantrip (range 50 feet, attack +4, 6 (1d8+2) damage).

As a friendly faction, Harran's unusually strong will occasionally pushes back Mezvorax's mental control, and he's horrified at the situation he's in. In one of his more lucid periods, he hires the PCs to infiltrate the group and kill the dragon. He's procured amulets that look similar to those that dominate the group, and gives them to the PCs. If the PCs do kill the dragon, Harran becomes a grateful benefactor to the group, providing them with money and items as needed, as well as access to the city's higher society.

As a foe faction, Mezvorax completely dominates Harran, as well as the other members of the group. The city Watch hires the PCs because the slavers made a mistake: a group of three street girls they snatched a few days ago included the daughter of a noble family who was "slumming." The Watch has received several reports of strange goings-on around Harran's manor, so they suspect he's responsible (he's been acting strangely, he's become very reclusive in recent months, odd people are seen coming and going, etc.).

If your players are of an investigative bent, feel free to build this into a complete mystery, with clues, witnesses, and such that the PCs can follow up on before approaching the manor directly.

Click through for a three-room map of the mansion and secret caves beneath.

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Let’s say your players need to retrieve a heavily guarded item in a fantasy RPG scenario. How should you go about running that?

First thing: establish the location. You’ll need a detailed map of the place where the item is kept; find a map online or create it yourself. Place the item deep within that location.

Then, populate the location with traps. The item itself may have spells on it, or the room may have spells, or you may have mundane mechanical traps around the room (pressure plates that trigger poison darts, pit traps, etc.).

Finally, add guards. Make sure the item is guarded by intelligent enemies.

Let the PCs learn about all this, then let the PCs plan.

Note: You may need to limit their planning. I’ve used a kitchen timer, set to 30 minutes, and told the playersthat something bad will happen if they don’t commit to a plan before the timer goes off. The “something bad” depends on what’s going on in your plot; perhaps the PCs are discovered, or another enemy makes its move, or the item in question is moved, or security is beefed up.

Then, when the heist goes off, ensure that enemies react intelligently. The guards should be alert. They should call for help. They shouldn’t just stand there and attack the PCs until death; they should retreat for backup if possible. The guards should also have their own options for locking down the location and otherwise preventing the PCs from getting away.

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Resharing to comment: The final sentence contains both a false equivalence and a labelling error.

The fact RPG scenarios do not reveal more depth with multiple re-readings, and thus do not share one trait with great literature, does not mean that they have no literary traits.

The complaint in the main body is leveled against RPG scenarios, but the conclusion levels it against RPGs.

I have absolutely understood more about an RPG system and appreciated its finer depths upon re-reading it. Examples include Dread, Houses of the Blooded, Burning Wheel, and Ryuutama.
Trying out the polling functionality on Imzy with a poll and conversation thread about this quote from Pat Harrigan. Check it out:

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The Abandoned Temple of Arazhuul is a large dungeon complex that was taken over by several forces. As the PCs delve deeper, they will find themselves in several very different environments.

Arazhuul is a goddess of order and civilized pleasure, and the symmetrical design of underground complex exemplified this aspect of the goddess.

A few years ago, a group of goblinoids discovered the upper entrance and established the upper level as their lair. Originally a set of waiting rooms for visitors to the temple, the goblinoids converted the rooms for their own purposes. The small room closest to the entrance contains supplies--crates and barrels from recent raids--while they use the large room as their sleeping quarters. They converted the rest of the floor into a maze into which they can lure intruders and attack them at range from around corners.

The stairs in the northwest corner lead down to what were once storage rooms, but are now the lair of a giant spider who crawls in and out through a crack in the ceiling. The goblinoids avoid this area.

The stairs in the southeast corner lead down to what was once a large, shared sleeping chamber for guests of the temple. The goblinoids keep any slaves and valuables (the latter locked securely in a large, trapped chest) here.

The middle level remains more or less as it was in the temple's heyday, primarily because of the animated constructs that guard it. The stairwells leading down to this level used to contain wooden stairs, but these were destroyed at some point, so the goblinoids do not descend to this area. Any creature who enters the stairwells activate gargoyles (placed randomly to begin with), which move at a speed of 15 feet per round inexorably towards the party. If the party splits, the gargoyles split up, as well.

The rooms in this middle level used to be the temple's storehouse. Now, its rooms contain a few basic traps--pits, poison needles, etc.--and a few old treasures in the form of statuettes and goblets. The danger in this level is getting trapped by the gargoyles, which can both take and dish out large amounts of punishment.

The lowest level, reached by the huge staircase in the center of the complex, was discovered by a group of mind flayers some time ago. The temple's treasures are of no interest to them, but this level serves as a convenient outpost while traveling through their vast network of tunnels beneath the earth. They have rebuilt this level into a confusing maze of slick, wet passages leading to two rooms. The small room in the northwest (only accessible through a secret door) contains a small stash of half a dozen brains in a small vat, which are tended by several grimlocks. The large chamber in the northeast corner serves as the mind flayers' outpost; when the PCs arrive, the only inhabitant is one mind flayer and its pet intellect devourer. If a mind flayer is too powerful for your party, have it be in the middle of extracting the brain of a victim when the PCs arrive, giving them a round or two while the mind flayer is catatonic in its euphoria.

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Want to figure out the dangers near your civilized base, particularly for a West Marches style game? How about defining them with your players?

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Interesting. Promises to be a complete online reference for D&D 5E -- spell list, monster list, character builder, etc. Right now it contains spells, monsters, items, and a rule compendium.

I've created an account, and it works well so far.
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