HeroQuest RPG Campaign Issues

Recently, one of the readers of this blog made a comment about using the HeroQuest RPG for a game set in Tomino’s Universal Century setting (from Mobile Suit Gundam). He asked about using HQ2 and how to make certain themes the focus of his game:

“For Tomino’s UC, I want to make combat between mechas important, but definitely not the focus of the game: themes like proto-transhumanism implied by the New Type concept; the social and political tensions between the Colonies and the Earth government; the horror and futility of full-scale war; should be at the forefront.”

Personally, I’m completely unfamiliar with Mobile Suit Gundam, so my answers here are going to be fairly generic. Having said that, I think that will have value from the perspective of adapting whatever setting you are interested in playing within.

I also wanted to talk about this as it definitely got my mind churning in regards to this element of HQ2 campaigns. After all, a narrative game like HeroQuest seems like an ideal set of rules to highlight certain campaign issues and bring them to the forefront—to have them be a direct influence on what happens in the game.

The Purely Narrative Outlook

Of course, most campaigns have some kind of focus, even if it’s just “dungeon-crawling for profit.” From a purely narrative outlook, focusing a campaign on a specific set of issues can be as simple as ensuring that NPCs and adventures have those issues as their core elements.

For example, if I want to have “avoid things man was not meant to know” as a core theme of a modern-day investigative campaign, then I’m going to create adventures that are about people searching for secrets and the inherent dangers in finding those secrets out. NPCs will include occult specialists, rare book dealers, cultists, and so forth. An adventure could be about the search for a missing person, only to discover that they unearthed an ancient ritual and summoned something that was hostile to them, and they are now on the run trying to keep one step ahead of that being while it relentlessly hunts them.

This is fairly easy to do from that purely narrative perspective.

Using the example provided in the original comment, this approach means that the adventures and storylines you provide to the players will be focused on those themes. For example, if you want to highlight “the horror and futility of full-scale war” then you could present the players with adventures where they have to accomplish a goal in the aftermath of a large battle, where they experience that aftermath first-hand. Put them in a situation where they are in a position to help the survivors, but have a mission objective that means they cannot spare the time/resources to do so. Have them make the choice between rescuing survivors and obeying orders, and then offer scenes where the choices the PCs made come back to haunt them.

For the social and political tensions between the Colonies and the Earth government, is there a way to have the PCs travel incognito between those two societies? If so, let them see the stereotypes and insults that each group applies to the other, and also show them that those stereotypes are gross exaggerations and (in many cases) completely false or based on a lack of understanding of the other group’s situation.

The Mechanic-Based Outlook

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have the mechanics reflect the same issues. If done poorly, this can bog down the game with extraneous modifiers or sub-systems that don’t add anything to the play experience. If done well, it adds another layer that reinforces the themes of the game.

Fate Core

The Fate Core RPG, for example, does this with “Campaign Issues.” When setting up a campaign, the group is encouraged to “decide what threats and pressures inherent to the setting will spur the protagonists to action.” These are listed as two issues that become aspects and “will be available to invoke or compel throughout the entirety of the game.”

This is a nice way to reinforce the themes of the game and give it mechanical weight. Using the example above about war, the campaign aspect could be “The horror and futility of full-scale war.” During a mission, when those PCs see the aftermath of a large battle while on a mission, the GM can offer the players a fate point to render aid to the survivors even though that’s outside of their mission parameters.

Further, NPCs can have relevant aspects reflecting their prejudices against the colonies or the Earth government that make it easier or more difficult for the PCs to influence, intimidate, or otherwise interact with them.

HeroQuest 2E doesn’t have aspects, though, and lacks an immediate mechanical “hook” upon which to hang this kind of campaign focus. That doesn’t mean that there are no ways to reflect it in the game with the existing rules, however.

HQ Resistances

The easiest way to do this is to adjust Resistances to reflect the themes of the campaign. Bumping a Resistance by one “level” (e.g. from Moderate to High) when engaging in a contest that directly relates to a campaign theme will definitely reinforce those themes.

For example, if you want to reinforce the tensions between two societies, you could increase the Resistance any time the PCs attempt any kind of social contest with members of the alternate society. Brokering a peace between the two factions is going to be more difficult than normal, and the Resistance should reflect that.

HQ Consequences

Another way to do it to use different methods of determining consequences at the end of contests. For example, if you’re trying to show the horror and futility of full-scale war, whenever the PCs take part in a large battle, you can use the Climactic Scene Consequence Table, which increases the punishment taken by the PCs at the end of a contest. Even if they succeed, they are going to be hurt.

(This works just as well in social interactions when reinforcing the themes tensions between two societies.)

If you really want to the PCs to feel the effects of a battle regardless of the outcome, you can use the Pyrrhic Victory Results Table. In order to make the campaign not come to a screeching halt at the first defeat, however, you may want to treat “Dead” results as “Dying” so that the PCs have a chance to survive long enough to understand the dangers of war.

If you want to be really brutal, you can combine the increase of the Resistance method with the increased consequences of the Climactic Scene or Pyrrhic Victory tables.

But of course I recommend using those methods only when it comes to reinforcing those particular negative themes.

But that’s the stick method. If you’ve got more positive themes that you want to reinforce, then you can do the reverse. A theme of “Friendships are more valuable than gold” can be reflected by a reduction in Resistance when the PCs are acting in the spirit of true friendship, or when they are supported by their friends. You can also lower the consequences from a failed contest when the PCs are acting in the spirit of the campaign themes.

(I know that there is no specific rules for this in HQ2, that provide a reverse version of the Pyrrhic Victory Results Table, for example, but it’s easy to extrapolate or simply bump down the level of consequence from a contest to reflect this.)

Flaws

The final method you can use is Flaws. These reflect very specific elements, though, so they can’t necessarily reflect every campaign theme you might want to incorporate.

But if, for example, you are trying to ensure that the tension between two societies cause difficulties during the campaign, giving every PC a “Prejudice against [society]” Flaw is one way to do it. This way, characters need to overcome their own prejudices in order to accomplish their goals when working with people from that other society. You can even allow the players to spend Hero Points to buy down their Flaws over time to reflect their better understanding of the other society and their changing attitudes toward those people.

Conclusion

HQ2, at first glance, seems to lack specific mechanics for reinforcing campaign themes in the game. However, as with so much in the HeroQuest RPG, the tools are already there—it’s just a matter of applying them to accomplish what you need for your particular game.

I’d love to hear about other people’s efforts with HQ2 and how they adapted the rules to reflect campaign themes or other similar elements to make the game sing for them. Tell us about it here in the comments.

One Adventure per Campaign?

When I first starting playing D&D a million years ago (give or take), an actual campaign was something that just never happened. I was in sixth grade, and started with the Tom Moldvay red box Basic Set (published in 1981). It was the beginning of a lifelong love of roleplaying games.

But back then, those of us who “discovered” this game didn’t actually know anyone who had been playing it for any length of time. It was a brand new type of gaming for us, and we didn’t have any advice from anyone—we had to rely entirely on what was printed in the rulebooks themselves.

So we fell into a pattern: Someone would start a new campaign at first level and the rest of us would create characters. We’d play 2-3 times (always exploring a particular dungeon), and then it would fall apart. A month later, someone else would start a new campaign at first level and the whole thing would start all over again.

Sometimes, a few characters might make it to 2nd level, but even that was rare.

Forward to high school, and I start gaming with an entirely new set of people. By this time, my Basic/Expert game had been replaced with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and published adventure modules were the order of the day.

But it was even rarer for a “campaign” to be established. Instead, someone would purchase a cool-looking adventure (e.g. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), and the rest of us would create characters of a level appropriate for that adventure. We’d play it through (sometimes even making it all the way to the end), and then we’d take a break. And then someone else would run us through a different adventure, usually for a completely different level, which required us to create all-new characters.

Of course, there were some pretty big adventures (or adventure series over multiple modules), such as the famous T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil super-module, or the A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords series. But we never managed to play all the way through any of those really big ones, with the sole exception of I3-5 Desert of Desolation.

In fact, the first real campaign game I ever played that lasted for more than a couple of levels’ worth of play wasn’t with D&D at all—it was a RuneQuest game, taking place on Griffin Island. And the first one I ever ran that lasted a significant amount of time was the first edition of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG.

But, almost inevitably, I returned to D&D and, using the experience I had gained both as a player of RuneQuest and a GM of WFRP, I ran a lengthy D&D campaign (this time AD&D 2E).

Still, my campaigns generally involved a great many individual, unrelated adventures rather than a single campaign-specific thread. Even when I started my WFRP campaign with The Enemy Within series, I ended up departing from it when the players grabbed onto other adventure hooks that I always sprinkled into my games.

It wasn’t until Vampire: The Masquerade came out that I ran a campaign that focused on a single, ongoing plotline that managed to hold the players’ attention and interest throughout the entire game.

When Paizo took over publishing of the Dragon and Dungeon magazines, the Adventure Path for D&D was born. Originally the adventures were published in the pages of the magazine itself. Later on, when those magazines were pulled from Paizo and returned to being in-house publications, Paizo continued to publish adventure paths for D&D, and then for their own 3.5 copycat game, Pathfinder.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, an adventure path is a series of connected adventures with a core plotline that takes characters from 1st (or thereabouts) level and lasts through a complete campaign, ending anywhere from 13th level (e.g. Council of Thieves) to 20th level (e.g. Wrath of the Righteous).

With the current (5th) edition of D&D, Wizards of the Coast has adopted a similar approach to their adventures. Rather than publishing them as a series of 6 or so separate adventures, however, they tend to publish them as a single large adventure in one book (with a couple of exceptions), usually taking characters from 1st to 15th level.

With D&D 5E, campaigns are designed to be played and completed in less than a year. This reflects the reality that many groups find themselves unable to keep a campaign going for longer than that time—external pressures tend to cause the collapse of longer campaigns. So, with this shorter time frame in mind, it makes sense to concentrate on a singular plotline for the campaign.

This relates to my thoughts on the rate of advancement in D&D 5E, as explained in this post from February.

For someone coming from those early AD&D games, however, this is quite a shift in focus. I’m generally pretty happy with the official WotC-published adventures for D&D 5E. I think they’ve managed to produce some fun and interesting adventures—I’m running Out of the Abyss for my adult players, and Princes of the Apocalypse for my younger players—and I have no major complaints.

However, I do miss those older campaigns where the characters were entirely free to explore the world and wander into whatever adventure grabbed their interest. Smaller, self-contained adventures could be really fun, and it allowed a wide variety of experiences within a campaign. One adventure could be a grim and gritty dungeon crawl, followed by an urban investigation adventure, and then a wilderness exploration adventure.

It feels to me that the options were wider.

But, of course, with those wider options you also need longer campaigns, and more time to play them. For some groups, that’s not an issue. For many groups, however, they know they won’t have the time needed to run a long campaign with slow advancement.

Luckily, converting adventures from earlier editions is actually really easy to do in D&D 5E. In fact, in a couple of days I’m going to be introducing roleplaying games to a couple of people who have never tried them before. And I’ve adapted the adventure Mad God’s Key from Dungeon Magazine issue #114 (a D&D 3.5 adventure). I also adapted B2 Keep on the Borderlands as the beginning of my son’s current campaign.

Conclusion

Once again, I’m impressed at how flexible D&D 5E is when it comes to supporting various styles of play. It is very easy to take any of the Paizo Adventure Paths and convert them to D&D 5E. And many of the official WotC adventures, like Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation, are fantastic.

On other hand, by slowing down the pace of advancement, it is very easy to use many smaller adventures to provide a more varied campaign experience, allowing the characters to wander around a world and get into whatever adventures they want.

What’s your campaign preference? One big adventure or many small, unrelated adventures? Tell us about it in the comments.

Developing an Old School Sandbox for 5E – Part 2

Back in May, I posted an article about developing an old school sandbox setting for 5E. In that post, I described my core objectives for this campaign setting and talked about some elements that I would need to consider.

I’m revisiting that idea again this week, where I’ll talk a bit about monsters.

A Few, Some, or All?

There are a lot of monsters available in D&D 5E, especially if you take into account third-party products. And that’s before you get into converting monsters from older editions.

One of the core assumptions in a sandbox setting is that monsters are not placed based on the level of the adventuring party. If a lair of hill giants is located in the foothills of those mountains over there, then a party of 2nd-level characters who go exploring in those foothills could stumble upon monsters that are too powerful to defeat.

On the other hand, a well-planned sandbox should have many different possibilities for adventure, including monsters of all different challenge levels, so that the characters have something to explore no matter what they level they are.

So how do you balance these two factors?

When designing a sandbox, there should be plenty of opportunities for the characters to gather clues about an area before they dive into the local dungeon.

For example, there might be an ancient battlefield that they stumble across. Perhaps a couple of skeletons animate the first time they cross near the killing ground, and they find scattered pieces of rusted weapons or armor of ancient design. So the characters leave and go back to town to do some research (either asking locals about that battlefield, or researching local history). From that, they find out that some great evil villain once tried to invade the land and was slain in a great battle. But the villain used his dying breath to spout a curse that he would return as an undead spirit and slay every living thing upon the island.

So the players know that, somewhere in the vast battlefield, there is an undead spirit of great power that is probably able to animate the dead. If the characters are of low level, they may decide not to explore the battlefield  and instead skirt around the edges on their way somewhere else—meaning that they will encounter skeletons and maybe zombies but nothing more powerful. Then, once they are of a higher level, they may decide the time is right for them to explore the battlefield (discovering that the undead spirit was unable to leave the confines of the battlefield until someone found his corpse).

Environments

I touched on this in my original post, but one easy way to differentiate regions within a sandbox setting is to use the environments listed in the 5E DMG (Arctic, Coastal, Desert, Forest, Grassland, Hill, Mountain, Swamp, Underdark, Underwater, Urban).

However, there is more to creating an interesting sandbox—and ultimately, the placing of encounters—than just tossing monsters of the appropriate type into a bunch of environments. The setting itself should have interesting locations that make use of, but are more than, the existing environments.

For example, a forest is just a forest, unless you give it some character. But what if you have one forest that is full of large trees and an unbroken canopy overhead, where it is always dim light underneath and explorers can hear a great many birds and other animals moving through the branches above their heads. And then you add another forest where most of the trees are dead or dying, and the wind moans as it passes through strange holes in the tree trunks, and there is always the sense of being watched by something (or somethings).

The players will come to recognize those different forests, and will probably start giving them names of their own (especially if you don’t tell them the “official” names until they have a way to find it out).

There are also specific features that you can use to provide specific interesting locations in the setting. For example, you can drop in a large ravine that runs through a set of hills. Perhaps there are a set of caves at the bottom of the ravine, providing great adventuring opportunities.

Putting It Together

Personally, I find that the selection of monsters and the development of interesting locations go hand-in-hand. If I decide that I want to have a bunch of ettercaps and giant spiders in a particular forest, that goes a long way to giving that forest some character. There will be obvious clues for the players (like old webs hanging from the trees), and I’ll make decisions about what animals live in the forest (since the spiders need to have something to eat), which means it needs to be a living ecosystem that will help me flesh it out and describe it.

Choices

So what monsters do I plan to put into my sandbox?

I’m going to start by saying that I won’t rule anything out at the beginning. Because during development I may decide that something that didn’t seem to fit turns out to be the perfect creature as I flesh things out.

I also need to decide if I want to provide some “common” adventuring possibilities. For example, do I want to include kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, gnolls, lizardfolk, and other common humanoids? If so, can I come up with interesting ways to present them so that I don’t have just another typical goblin lair? Can I integrate them with the environment in which I place them in order to ensure that the location is memorable?

And then there are the legendary monsters. Do I want to have a dragon’s lair? Is there a beholder somewhere on the island? Does a lich or vampire reside in some ancient tower? Those are great threats that characters may not encounter or go after until they are high level and the campaign has been going on for some time.

And finally there are all the non-monster locations. What about other towns and villages? Or fortresses? Or lone wizards’ towers? These can be allies or enemies, sources of information or innocents in need of protecting from monsters. They can also present challenges that don’t have to be resolved by a fight.

Randomness

A good sandbox usually includes random encounters, and I plan for this to be no different. Just because there is a goblin lair in a particular forest doesn’t mean they are the only creatures there. Each region should have its own random encounter tables so that characters can have encounters while exploring. Some of these will be with monsters, and some will use other options.

Next Steps

What I’m doing at this point is going through the Monster Manual and other inspirations and selecting some monsters that I feel I definitely want in my sandbox. Then I’m comparing those monsters with my list of interesting environmental locations that I’ve made to see if I can put together some good combinations that will make for memorable regions to explore.

Once I’ve got that list, I’ll place them on my map in appropriate locations, which will help me plan out my terrain a bit more. From that point, I can start developing the areas in between the core locations, figuring out what other monsters might inhabit an area and how they relate to the ones I’ve already placed.

Yes, it’s a fair amount of work, but it’s work that I enjoy and will certainly pay off when I finally run the game.

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Miscellanea

Over the last few weeks, I’ve posted about using the excellent HeroQuest 2E rules to run a game set in the Eclipse Phase setting (post 1, 2, 3).

This week, I’m going to cover some of the various bits that I’ve left out until now. I’m not going to go into too much depth on these, but I’ll cover the major elements that will help you to play the game with HQ2.

Mental Health

Characters in HQ2 don’t have a Lucidity score and don’t receive mental stress points. Instead, any time that they fail a challenge in a conflict that inflicts mental stress points in EP, their “injury” should represent an appropriate mental effect.

For example, characters who are asphyxiated may take mental stress damage in EP if they fail a WIL test. In HQ terms, a character who is asphyxiated must engage in a simple contest against a Resistance determined by the GM, using any appropriate ability that reflects the character’s ability to remain calm in such a stressful situation. In this particular case—being asphyxiated—if the character fails the simple contest, then they cannot take any action and also take an appropriate “injury” based on how badly they failed the contest.

Other situations in EP are simply listed as automatically inflicting mental stress. For example, an async who stays in a pod, symthmorph or infomorph form without psychological assistance automatically takes 1d10/2 mental stress damage each month.

I personally would hesitate to automatically inflict “injuries” on characters without it being the result of a failed contest. You could choose to do that, but then you’re introducing something into HQ2 that isn’t in the core rules and doesn’t—I feel—add anything to the game. Rather, I would give the character at least a fighting chance by letting them engage in a simple contest against an appropriate difficulty. You can use the amount of mental damage listed in EP as a guideline on how high the Resistance should be for any particular contest (i.e. the higher the damage listed, the higher the Resistance selected for the contest).

Psi Abilities

Some players may choose to play characters with Psi Sleights—mental powers that allow the character to do very special things with their mind.

I’m just going to go quickly through some of the key elements in Eclipse Phase and show how they can be reflected in HQ2.

  • Morphs and Psi (core rules, pg. 220): Infomorphs or synthmorphs do not allow the use of Psi powers. When inhabiting a pod morph, the character receives an automatic penalty of -6 to any Psi Sleights.
  • Morph Acclimatization (core rules, pg. 220): As in the EP rules, for 1 day after the character has resleeved, they will suffer the effects of a single minor derangement. In HQ2 terms, the character receives an additional minor flaw that should be described as one of the derangements from the EP core rules (pg. 210).
  • Morph Fever (core rules, pg. 220): For each month the async stays in a pod, synthmorph or infomorph form with psychological assistance by a psychiatrist, software, or muse, the character must roll a conflict against an appropriate Resistance using any ability that is relevant to keeping their mental cool in this situation.
  • Psi Drawbacks (core rules, pg. 220-221): Asyncs automatically gain some additional Flaws when they gain their powers. The first flaw is a Vulnerability to Mental Stress. The second Flaw is one of the options listed under the Mental Disorder negative trait in EP. The third Flaw is Vulnerable to Infection by Insurgent Viruses.

Psi Sleights

Most the rules in EP about the use of Psi Sleights do not apply when using HQ2. In many cases, Psi Sleights work just any other ability, but there a few wrinkles that I will talk about here.

Passive sleights in EP are designed to be activated and then provide a static bonus to other skills. For example, the Ambience Sense sleight provides a +10 modifier to all Investigation, Perception, Scrounging, and Surprise Tests.

In HQ2, these passive sleights would be used entirely as augments on other abilities. You can choose to use automatic augments or roll them, as per your own preference in your games. In this way, passive sleights work similarly to Common Magic on page 110 of the HQ2 core rules.

Active sleights will almost always be used as part of a contest. For example, the Drive Emotion sleight would require the async character to succeed at a contest against an appropriate Resistance representing their struggle to influence a target’s emotional state. Success on the test could be rolled into an augment on a future test to get the target to do something (e.g. a major success to make a target feel fear would result in that target receiving an automatic bump down on abilities used to later resist an intimidation attempt by the character).

Most of the psi sleights listed in the EP rules can be used in HQ2 without issue. For those that present unusual conflicts, use common sense and apply the closest HQ2 solution to achieve a similar result that has a comfortable level of abstraction for you.

Psychosurgery

This is a great example of how the HQ2 contest mechanics can seamlessly replicate an element of EP. In the EP rules, psychosurgery is handled as an opposed test of the Psychosurgery skill against the target’s WIL. If the psychosurgery succeeds and the target fails, the surgery is effective and permanent. If the surgery and the target both succeed, but the surgeon gains a better result (i.e. wins the contest), then the surgery is effective but temporary. And if the target wins the contest, the surgery is ineffective.

Mesh and Hacking

As with everything else, you can use the EP rules for Subversion to provide a framework for how difficult a task might be (i.e. help you determine an appropriate Resistance).

For example, the Subversion examples table on page 259 of the EP core rules shows that there is no modifier to give orders to drones, interact with entoptics, make online purchases using user’s credit, open/close doors, start/stop elevators, move/manipulate cameras, sensors, use device functions. In HQ2, this means that you would use the base (Moderate) Resistance when a character engaged in a contest to achieve one of these effects.

For those effects listed on the table with a -10 modifier, just use a High Resistance (HQ2, page 125, Resistance Class Table). For those effects with a -20 modifier, use a Very High Resistance. And for those effects with a -30 modifier, use a Nearly Impossible Resistance.

Resleeving

In the core EP game, all characters normally suffer some negative effects for the first day when resleeving. The table on page 272 of the EP core rules shows the effects from the Integration Test and the Alienation Test (plus another table with a host of various modifiers that may apply to those tests).

Here’s how I would translate the table to have it reflect how things work in EP.

Integration Test Consequence Table

EP Result EP Effect HQ2 Result HQ2 Effect
Critical Failure Character is unable to acclimate to the new morph— something is just not right. Character suffers a –30 modifier to all physical actions until resleeved. Complete Defeat Character is unable to acclimate to the new morph— something is just not right. Character cannot take any physical actions until resleeved.
Severe Failure (MoF 30+) Character has serious trouble acclimating to the new morph. They suffer a –10 modifier to all actions for 2 days plus 1 day per 10 full points of MoF. Major Defeat Character has serious trouble acclimating to the new morph. They suffer an automatic bump down on all physical abilities for 5 days.
Failure Character has some trouble acclimating to new morph. They suffer a –10 modifier to all physical actions for 2 days plus 1 day per 10 full points of MoF. Minor Defeat Character has some trouble acclimating to new morph. They suffer a –6 penalty to all physical actions for 3 days.
Success Standard acclimation period. The character suffers a –10 modifier to all physical actions for 1 day. Marginal Defeat Standard acclimation period. The character suffers a –3 modifier to all physical actions for 1 day.
Excellent Success (MoS 30+) No ill effects. Character acclimates to new morph in no more than a few minutes. Marginal Success No ill effects. Character acclimates to new morph in no more than a few minutes.
Minor Success
Critical Success Lookin’ good! This morph is an exceptionally good fit for the character. No ill effects; gain 1 Moxie point for use in that game session only. Major Success Lookin’ good! This morph is an exceptionally good fit for the character. The character gains a +3 bonus to all physical actions while in this sleeve.
Complete Success

Note that I’ve moved what in EP is considered a success but still results in a penalty for a day to a Marginal Defeat in HQ2. This keeps the scale on the same level for all elements in HQ2 and ultimately provides the same kinds of results.

Reputation and Social Networks

I touched on this a bit in last week’s post, as far as outlining that a character can have a relationship with one or more of these social networks as shown in an appropriate ability. The Community rules in HQ2 provide a great framework for how a character can gain resources (favors) from their social networks and how it affects their relationship. There is no need to translate every detail of how the social network rules work in EP over to HQ2. Rather, I would just replace the existing EP rules with those that already work well in HQ2 and just use those as is.

Gear

I also touched on the idea last week that I personally prefer the abstract nature of gear in HQ2. But gear in EP is a whole element of the game, and there are those who would prefer to delve into this in more detail.

I’ll be honest, this is something that just doesn’t interest me that much, and so I’m not going to into how to replicate it in HQ2. Depending on how detailed you want the gear subject to get, you can probably avoid adding any new subsystems to the HQ2 rules.

One possibility is to use gear as automatic (or rolled) augments on existing abilities. Another is to give a character a specific ability bonus (HQ2 core rules, page 51) if they have gear that is appropriate to what they are doing. This will give the edge to those who spend time selecting the right gear, but it doesn’t take up a lot of time and the rules remain simple and in alignment with the rest of the HQ2 rules.

Conclusion

And that’s it for my EP to HQ2 conversion. As I was delving into this, I was surprised at how easy it was to convert such a dense and complex game into a very abstract rules system. But I think that I’ve demonstrated that, while there is some work to be done at the beginning going through the key elements of EP and figuring out how the rules of HQ2 can replicate the general feeling (if not the same mechanics), it’s not actually a difficult job for the GM.

Transhumanity’s Fate was a book that took the EP setting and married it to the Fate Core rules. Once the HQ2 SRD is released, I would love to see a version of EP that used the HeroQuest rules. I think it would be a great resource that would showcase HeroQuest to new players who are unfamiliar with this excellent set of rules.

So what’s your take on this? Would you consider playing Eclipse Phase with the HQ2 rules? Was there anything here that was unclear or that you felt was missing? I’d love to keep this discussion going, so please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Part 3

This is part three of a series of posts (1, 2) I’m doing about using the HeroQuest RPG rules to run a game set in the Eclipse Phase setting.

Last week, I talked about character creation and how characters created in HQ2 will have four Keywords: Background, Faction, Focus, and Morph. Of these, the Morph Keyword will change whenever the character switches bodies, but the other three Keywords remain with the character throughout the campaign.

This week, I’m going to talk about the steps of character creation in HQ2, and provide an example of how this might work using the material in the Eclipse Phase books. In these examples, I make extensive use of the core Eclipse Phase rulebook, the Transhuman sourcebook, and the Morph Recognition Guide.

How to Handle Keywords

One question that has come up is how I’m approaching Keywords in this conversion. Are they Packages or Umbrellas?

I actually prefer a mixed approach to Keywords, as some fit more as Packages, and others are more appropriate as Umbrellas.

  • The Background Keyword should be used as a Package. It highlights the experiences that the character had in the past, and provides a description of what the character had learned. However, improving those individual skills that came from past experience should be done separately.
  • The Faction Keyword is also a Package. It encapsulates the key elements of your character’s personality, outlook, and goals. However, each of those elements, while related to one another, do not directly affect a character’s improvement in one or more of those abilities.
  • The Focus Keyword can be used as an Umbrella. As a character gains experience in their chosen profession, they make use of their skills in a related way. Therefore, raising the Keyword improves all related abilities under it, though a character may choose to focus on improving just a few select abilities.
  • The Morph Keyword is definitely an Umbrella. A character can improve the overall Morph, which raises all abilities under it, but can also add new implants or other modifications—which are new breakout abilities.

On a related note, I tend to make raising an Umbrella Keyword more expensive. I generally set the cost at 3 Hero Points, plus 1 Hero Point per breakout ability. Yes, this means that the more breakout abilities you have, the more it costs to raise the Keyword. This forces a decision on the players as to whether they want to keep spending 3 Hero Points to raise just the keyword, or break out a couple of key abilities that they can raise and still save a point. But once the decision is made to break out some abilities, it becomes more and more expensive to raise that initial Keyword as new breakouts get added.

Now, using the List Method of character creation in HQ2, the character receives 10 additional abilities. Some of these abilities may be breakout abilities from his Keywords, while others might be additional, separate abilities.

Character Creation

For the purposes of this merging of setting and system, I’m going to be using the List Method of character generation in HQ2. This does not mean that you cannot use the Prose Method or As-You-Go Method in your own game. I’m just using this method because I find it translates well between EP and HQ2.

As mentioned last week (and above), the character should choose four Keywords: Background, Faction, Focus, and Morph. Note that the Morph selected is the one the character inhabits at the beginning of the game and can be considered the character’s default morph whenever they are not on a mission or have been ego-cast to another location.

In the example I used, the character selected Earth Survivor for the Background Keyword, Reclaimer for the Faction Keyword, and Wrecker for the Focus Keyword.

Because I envision this character as someone who actually survived on Earth, hiding out in the ruins of civilization, he still inhabits his original body. So for the Morph Keyword, I have selected the Flat.

So here are his Keywords, with the descriptions from the Transhuman book to give a sense of what each Keyword represents and encompasses:

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor
Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by reclaimers.

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer
You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker
You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

Keyword (Morph): Flat
Flats are baseline unmodified humans, born with all of the natural defects, hereditary diseases, and other genetic mutations that evolution so lovingly applies.

Additional Abilities

Eclipse Phase has other elements that can be selected during character generation in addition to what I’ve already identified above. For example, in EP you can spend character generation points to gain positive traits (or get character generation points back by selecting negative traits).

The traits in EP can be used as additional abilities. Some examples include:

  • Brave
  • Common Sense
  • Danger Sense
  • Direction Sense
  • Eidetic Memory
  • Fast Learner
  • Hyper Linguist
  • Improved Immune System
  • Math Wiz
  • Pain Tolerance
  • Rapid Healer
  • Situational Awareness
  • Striking Looks

Note that in EP, some of these traits are attached to your Ego (e.g. Common Sense), and some are attached to your Morph (e.g. Rapid Healer). Those that are part of your Ego could be listed as breakout abilities under an appropriate Keyword (any except Morph), or could be listed separately from any Keyword as standalone abilities.

Traits that are called out as Morph Traits in EP should generally be listed as breakout abilities under your Morph Keyword, because when you switch bodies you no longer have access to those abilities until you return to that specific Morph.

Reputation Networks

The interaction of characters with the various reputation networks is a key element of Eclipse Phase. Taking a relationship ability with a network establishes a connection between the character and that particular network only.

A relationship ability can be listed under an appropriate Keyword, or can be listed as a separate, standalone ability. For example, our example character above is a member of the Reclaimers. He could take Reputation Network: EcoWave as a breakout ability under his Reclaimers Keyword. If he decided he also wanted to take Reputation Network: The Eye to represent his ties to Firewall, he’d probably just list that as a standalone ability not tied to any particular Keyword.

Gear

In normal HeroQuest, gear is only listed as an ability when it can be used to solve problems and doesn’t necessarily fall under another one of your abilities—or when you want to have an additional ability for your gear in order to use it for augments.

EP has a lot of gear, and whole bunch of rules around the acquisition, modification, and use of various pieces of gear. HQ2 abstracts all of that a great deal, and this is where some people may find that the HeroQuest rules don’t provide enough “crunch” to grab hold of and use. Personally, I prefer gear to be very abstract—more of a narrative hook than anything else—because I like to focus on the characters themselves, not what they are carrying.

So I recommend sticking with the HQ2 way of dealing with gear. If a character wants to take a piece of gear as an ability, then they are certainly welcome to do so (keeping in mind that it takes up one of their starting abilities).

Flaws

I generally prefer for characters in my games to have at least one flaw, and they may take up to three (as per HeroQuest rules).

The negative Traits listed in EP have some good Flaws:

  • Addiction
  • Bad Luck
  • Blacklisted
  • Combat Paralysis
  • Edited Memories
  • Genetic Defect
  • Implant Rejection
  • Low Pain Tolerance
  • Mental Disorder
  • Mild Allergy
  • Neural Damage
  • Psi Vulnerability
  • Slow Learner
  • Timid
  • Weak Immune System
  • Zero-G Nausea

Obviously, some of these need additional fleshing out when being recorded on the character sheet. For example, if the character selects an Addiction, the Flaw should name the addiction and provide some context (e.g. Severely Addicted to Controlled Painkillers).

Example Continued

So continuing to develop the character I started last week, I’ve got my four Keywords, and now I need to list my ten breakout abilities.

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor

  • Kinetic Weapons
  • Freerunning

Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by reclaimers.

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer

  • Bioconservatist
  • Reputation Network: EcoWave
  • Pilot Groundcraft

You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker

  • Infiltration

You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

Keyword (Morph): Flat

Flats are baseline unmodified humans, born with all of the natural defects, hereditary diseases, and other genetic mutations that evolution so lovingly applies.

Other Abilities:

  • Reputation Network: The Eye
  • Reputation Network: Guanxi
  • Danger Sense
  • Fast Learner

Flaws:

  • Inopportune Mood Swings

Assigning Ability Ratings

Now I assign Ability Ratings to the character’s abilities. I assign a rating of 17 to his Earth Survival Keyword (it’s an important part of who he is), and all other abilities start at 13.

Then I assign 20 points to the ratings, with a maximum of 10 on any single ability.

And finally, his flaw is rated the same as his highest ability.

Keyword (Background): Earth Survivor               17

  • Kinetic Weapons 2M
  • Freerunning 19

Keyword (Faction): Reclaimer                             13

  • Bioconservatist 15
  • Reputation Network: EcoWave 15
  • Pilot Groundcraft 16

Keyword (Focus): Wrecker                                 17

  • Infiltration +3

Keyword (Morph): Flat                                       13

Other Abilities:

  • Reputation Network: The Eye                             13
  • Reputation Network: Guanxi                               13
  • Danger Sense                                                   13
  • Fast Learner                                                      13

Flaws:

  • Inopportune Mood Swings                                 2M

This is a good, starting EP character that I could use in a game right away.

Next Time…

I still intend to put together a handful of sample characters and an appropriate character sheet, and there are a few other topics I want to touch on before I’m done. Hope to see you again next week.

HeroQuest and Eclipse Phase – Characters

Last week, I talked a bit about using the HQ2 rules to run a game in the Eclipse Phase RPG setting. This week, I’m going to explore how to represent EP characters in the HQ2 rules.

Character Creation

The elements of an Eclipse Phase character include the following:

  • Character Concept
  • Background
  • Faction
  • Focus
  • Morph
  • Traits
  • Psi Sleights
  • Money and Gear
  • Reputation
  • Motivations

In the HQ2 version, we’re going to use four Keywords to describe your character:

  • Background: This is who you are on a basic level (or at least who you were before the game begins). It’s how you were born and raised, and defines your initial “place” in the EP setting.
  • Faction: This is how you identify yourself within the setting, and where you fit in the best. It takes over from Background and covers who you are now that game has started.
  • Focus: This represents your occupation(s), hobbies, interests, etc. It describes what you do now with your life when you are not on a mission for Firewall (or whatever).
  • Morph: This is the body you inhabit, along with any special modifications. This keyword is replaced whenever you switch to a different body.

If you wish your character to wield Psi, you will select an additional Keyword [Psi Talent]. I’ll get into also the Psi details in a future post.

A Note on Skills

In Eclipse Phase, the character’s capabilities are defined by specific skills, such as Deception, Free Fall, Infiltration, Research, or Unarmed Combat. In order to make the conversion as direct as possible, I will be using EP skill names as a short-hand for breakout abilities. This does not, however, preclude a player from coming up with a more descriptive and flavorful name for a breakout ability, or adding something not defined here but which is appropriate for an ability in HeroQuest.

Background

Your first choice of Keyword is your background. The best source for these keywords are in the Transhuman book under Background Packages.

For example, you are creating a character and decide that the Earth Survivor background sounds good to you. You note down “Earth Survivor” as your background Keyword, and perhaps record the basic description:

Unlike a small percentage of transhumanity, you did not escape off-world during the Fall, nor were you lucky enough to be killed. You survived for years, eking out an existence in the post-apocalyptic desolation of Earth while hiding from, and even fighting, the machines and twisted transhuman puppets that still lurked there. Only recently was your body rescued by scrappers or reclaimers or your egocast unwisely accepted by a trusting receiver.

Later, when you are defining your 10 additional abilities, you can note down one or more breakout abilities, using the descriptions of the skills listed under Earth Survivor in the Transhuman book as examples of the kinds of things your character learned.

For example, you may choose to note down Freerunning and Scrounging as breakout abilities, and give each one a couple of additional points.

Don’t ignore the suggested Motivations as potential breakout abilities. For example, Earth Survivor has Reclaiming Earth as both a positive and negative motivation for a character. So you could take a breakout ability like “Motivated to fight for humanity’s home” if your character believes humanity should try to reclaim Earth, or “Earth is lost to us” if your character believes humanity should abandon Earth as a ruined memory.

The backgrounds listed in Transhuman include:

  • Colonist: Command Staff
  • Colonist: Flight Staff
  • Colonist: Security Staff
  • Colonist: Science Staff
  • Colonist: Tech Staff
  • Drifter
  • Earth Survivor
  • Fall Evacuee: Enclaver
  • Fall Evacuee: Underclass
  • Hyperelite: Media Personality
  • Hyperelite: Scion
  • Indenture
  • Infolife: Emergent Uplift
  • Infolife: Humanities AGI
  • Infolife: Machine AGI
  • Infolife: Research AGI
  • Isolate: Separatist
  • Isolate: Survivalist
  • Lost: Disturbed Child
  • Lost: Masked Normalcy
  • Original Scum
  • Re-Instantiated: Civilian Casualty
  • Re-Instantiated: Infomorph
  • Re-Instantiated: Military Casualty
  • Street Rat
  • Uplift: Escapee
  • Uplift: Feral
  • Uplift: Standard Specimen

Faction

Your second choice of Keyword is your faction. Again, the Transhuman book has faction packages that provide many great examples of potential breakout abilities.

For example, the same character that you decided was an Earth Survivor is now at the step where you choose your Faction Keyword. You decide that your character wants to reclaim earth, and so you choose Reclaimer as your Faction. The Reclaimer has this description:

You are dedicated to rescuing your species’ homeworld from the ruin engulfing it.

Again, the description of the Reclaimer Faction has example motivations and skills that you can easily repurpose as breakout abilities from your keyword.

The factions listed in Transhuman include:

  • Anarchist
  • Argonaut
  • Barsoomian
  • Belter
  • Bioconservative
  • Brinker
  • Criminal
  • Europan
  • Exhuman
  • Extropian
  • Hypercorp
  • Jovian
  • Lunar
  • Mercurial: Infolife
  • Mercurial: Uplift
  • Nano-Ecologist
  • Orbital
  • Out’ster
  • Precautionist
  • Preservationist
  • Reclaimer
  • Ringer
  • Sapient
  • Scum
  • Sifter
  • Singularity Seeker
  • Skimmer
  • Socialite
  • Solarian
  • Titanian
  • Ultimate
  • Venusian

Focus

Your third Keyword choice represents your skill set and occupation at the beginning of the game.

Continuing the example from the previous section, you decide that the character is focused on ridding Earth of the machines that present such a danger to anyone visiting the surface of the planet. You select Wrecker as your Focus. The Wrecker as this description:

You are optimized for killing machines. You either excelled at fighting TITAN constructs during the Fall or you continue to hunt them down in the aftermath.

The foci listed in Transhuman include:

  • Academic
  • Activist
  • Assassin
  • Bodyguard
  • Bot Jammer
  • Combat Async
  • Con Artist
  • Controller Async
  • Covert Ops
  • Dealer
  • Ego Hunter
  • Enforcer
  • Explorer
  • Face
  • Genehacker
  • Hacker
  • Icon
  • Investigator
  • Journo
  • Medic
  • Pirate
  • Psychosurgeon
  • Savant Async
  • Scanner Async
  • Scavenger
  • Scientist
  • Smart Animal Handler
  • Smuggler
  • Soldier
  • Spy
  • Techie
  • Thief
  • Wrecker

Morph

Finally, you need to select the current body that you inhabit. This is most likely your “default” body, the one you spend most of your time in when you are not on a mission. This body likely stays at your home (wherever that is), and probably has a couple of customization options installed.

When you switch to a new body, you replace your current Morph Keyword with the new one representing the body you now inhabit. If you’re running a campaign where the character switch bodies on a regular basis, you can jot down the Morph Keywords on index cards. That way, the player simply grabs the card for that particular morph and is ready to go. The Morph Keyword on the character sheet is ignored until the character returns to that particular body.

The Morph Recognition Guide is the best book for all information about the various morphs available to characters in the EP setting. Obviously, not all morphs are appropriate for all campaigns, and some morphs may not be available at all to starting characters.

I’m not going to list all the morphs here—there are 104 available in the Morph Recognition Guide. The GM should make a basic list of morphs available to the characters during character creation, and the players should select from that list.

Why So Many Keywords?

A character with four Keywords seems like a lot. However, each Keyword represents a host of abilities, such as skills, contacts, motivations, knowledge, attitudes, and so forth.

Furthermore, EP is a rather dense setting, and character creation can be difficult for those who not already very familiar with all the various elements that make up Eclipse Phase. But if the GM provides a list of Keywords based off the packages in the Transhuman book, including the 1-2 sentence descriptions of each, a new player can quickly create a character by picking one Keyword from each list, and end up with someone who fits perfectly into the EP game.

In fact, the breakout abilities don’t even need to be defined right away (see the “As You Go” method of character generation in the HQ2 core rulebook). This allows the player to start the game with a small number of abilities, and only when they feel that something about their character needs to be defined with more detail will they name a particular breakout ability.

Conclusion

That’s all I’m going to cover this week. Next week, I’ll talk about the other elements of EP characters and how they can be represented in HeroQuest. I’m also working on a HeroQuest/EP character sheet, and I’m planning to create a handful of characters, though I will probably save that for a later post.

See you next week.

HeroQuest RPG and Eclipse Phase

A Major Announcement

As I mentioned last week, a very exciting announcement was recently made on the BRP forums. The rules for the HeroQuest RPG will be released under an open license, which means that anyone will be able to legally publish supplements for the game.

In a previous post, I talked about the lack of genre packs and adventures being the biggest challenge to the game’s popularity. This announcement solves that issue. Chaosium will no longer need to dedicate resources to further supporting the game, as third parties will be able to do so legally and without the endless hassles of license approvals.

I think this is a wonderful announcement, and I cannot wait for Chaosium to release the System Reference Document so that we can see the support from third-party publishers that this great system deserves. Further, it means my own ideas about potential HQ2 products have just gained some solidity. The current license was the major obstacle I had against further work on my ideas, but having the rules under an open license changing things dramatically.

Using HQ2 for Eclipse Phase

I’m a big fan of the Eclipse Phase setting. It is a brilliant creation that grabs me and demands that I play around in it.

Having said that, I’m not the biggest fan of the system. Some people have really hated on the system from the beginning, but I don’t think that’s it’s a bad system at all. I think it’s perfectly serviceable for most campaigns that one might want to run in the Eclipse Phase setting.

However, it’s not the easiest system to learn, there are a lot of moving parts, and some elements of the game—such as switching bodies—are not easily implemented in the middle of play.

The designers of the game understood this complaint and released a Fate Core version of the rules some time ago. It streamlines many elements and, for those who love Fate, it works very well.

But while I like Fate, I’ve come to realize that it’s not my preferences when it comes to lighter, more narrative games. Rather, HeroQuest firmly occupies that spot in my mind. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about a HQ2/Eclipse Phase game recently.

The Elements of Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase is a deep game with many interconnected elements, reflected in the mechanics of the original rules. Each person’s Eclipse Phase campaign will focus on some elements over others, and many will skip certain elements completely.

For me, here are the core elements of Eclipse Phase that I want to play with in most campaigns I run:

  • Bodies are temporary: People will switch from body-to-body as required by whatever job they need to do. Most people will travel by farcasting to their destination and downloading into a body when they arrive. Different jobs or missions will require different physical capabilities, and characters will change to the most appropriate body that’s available.
  • Death: Related to the transient nature of bodies, permanent death is no longer a major issue. Especially for characters in high-risk jobs (e.g. all of them), death is an expected occurrence and backups of the character’s ego is a regular task.
  • Muses: All characters have a dedicated AI inside their head that handles many day-to-day tasks.
  • The Mesh: The Eclipse Phase version of the internet is a lot more than just a network of computers. The ability to meet and even live in VR is a major element of the setting.
  • Habitats and Planetary Settlements: The variety of places in which humanity dwells is important, providing many reasons for travel and a great opportunity to explore and experience new places.
  • Hypercorps: The various corporations and their (often conflicting) agendas provide great opportunities for adventure.
  • Political Blocs: Same as above, except that these are various political factions that rub up against each other and the hypercorps.
  • Social Networks: People the character knows and social groups with which they interact.
  • Reputation: The character’s social capital and how it is reflected among the various social groups that measure and track reputation (e.g. @-rep, c-rep, e-rep, f-rep, etc.).
  • Gear: In core Eclipse Phase, gear is an important element. It represents weapons, armor, electronics, clothing, tools, etc.
  • Implants: Implants include cybernetic, bionic, genetech, and nanoware enhancements to a character’s morph.
  • Psi Powers: Mental abilities that are acquired due to infection by a strange nanovirus released during the Fall.
  • Firewall and Existential Threats: Belonging to an organization that fights against the strange, alien threats to humanity, and all the various ways those threats manifest.

The Mechanical Bits and Pieces

As I said above, the Eclipse Phase system is decent, but can get overcomplicated when representing all the various bits and pieces of the setting to allow the players to interact with those bits and pieces mechanically.

The most common element in Eclipse Phase where this happens is switching bodies. One common issue that comes up in online discussions of EP campaigns involves players acquiring and upgrading a particular body, and then not wanting to farcast to any other location because they can’t take their body with them.

But this is not just a matter of players spending character resources on their bodies and not wanting to lose that benefit. There is a player time cost for interacting with all the rules for upgrading and customizing a body. And switching bodies can be an interruption to the game while players collect the information they need to play in a different body (though the designers have certainly published a number of tools that make it faster and easier to do than it was when the game was newer).

HQ2 has all the tools needed to represent those setting elements within the core rules. It’s usually just a matter of looking at those tools in a particular way.

So What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do a deeper dive into Eclipse Phase and show how HQ2 can be used for EP campaigns. I’ll take a look at the various mechanical elements of EP and demonstrate how to represent them with the HQ2 rules without creating any new subsystems and changing how the rules themselves operate.

I hope you’ll enjoy these articles.

Writing Update – June 2018

There are a few things I want to write about this week regarding my novels and RPG products.

The Traitor and the Thief Novel

Yes, this has taken far longer to publish than any of my previous novels. I’m still hard at work on it, though I ran into a few structural issues that basically meant I stalled out on it completely at one point. I’ve been trying to juggle two separate but related stories and interweave them to make something where the whole is greater than the individual parts, and this has proven more difficult than I originally expected.

Having said that, I realized that I needed to start over from scratch. I took everything that I did before and set it aside, and then focused on the core themes and key characters and spent some time brainstorming ideas about the second and third book in this series. I know where I want to end up, but I even tossed that aside during this process so that I wouldn’t limit myself.

What has come out has been something that I think is stronger, and that I’m more passionate about, than what I was writing previously. Ultimately, this will be a benefit to my readers, though I understand the frustration that delays cause.

All I will say at this point that is that I’m writing again with a drive and a feeling that this is the story that needs to be told. I don’t know how long it will take—it’ll be done when it’s done. But I’m optimistic that things are moving well and I don’t expect any further delays.

Wide Distribution for My Novels

I was enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select for a while, which meant that some of my novels did not have wide availability on platforms other than Amazon. That is no longer the case. In addition to Amazon, all my novels are now available from DriveThruFiction, Kobo, and are in distribution through Smashwords. That means that they will shortly appear in Apple iBooks and on most other ebook selling platforms.

While my experiment with KDP Select did gain me some reads early on, I found that they did not make up for what I was losing by not having wider distribution. Therefore, I don’t plan—at this time—to enroll further books in KDP Select (though of course I reserve the right to change my mind if things change on the Amazon platform or other platforms that currently sell my novels).

Rooms with a View RPG Product

My RPG product Rooms with a View is nearing completion and I’ll be doing the test prints shortly. I think this new version will look fantastic with all the new maps combined with the original wonderful layout done by my wife, Pam.

At this point, I’m going to be releasing a version for D&D 3.5 (which was the original version), and for D&D 5E. In addition, I’m looking into a license for a version that includes stats for another game system—though I cannot announce anything just yet.

HeroQuest RPG

I’m super-happy about the announcement over on the BRP forums that the HeroQuest RPG will be getting the OGL treatment later this year. HQ2 is one of my favorite systems, and I’ve enjoyed looking at ways to use it for various settings, such as:

Needless to say, I’ll be looking closely at the OGL terms and the license requirements. In fact, I have a sword-and-sorcery adventure that I ran at GenCon a number of years ago, and I think others might enjoy playing it.

Obviously, nothing is going to happen with this for a while—at least until the actual license terms and SRD are released. But you can expect I’m going to do something with this once it’s available.

Origin Novella

I’ve still got the novella that I wrote for my son sitting on my hard drive. I’d love to release it, but I have a specific idea of how it should look, and I’m really attached to having it done properly. Unfortunately, it requires a number of pencil sketches for the chapter headers, and I haven’t had the time to source the right artist or start talking about commissioning those pieces. And then there’s the cover art.

This is something that keeps getting pushed back, and I realize that I’ve put it near the end of this update, which reflects, perhaps, where it sits in my priorities. I think that I need to move it up the list and get it out, because I believe that it’ll be a well-received story.

Conclusion

At this point, my priority is completing The Traitor and the Thief, so that those who read The Soldier and the Slave are able to get the next book in the trilogy. In conjunction with that, I want to get Rooms with a View back out, as most of the work on that is already done. That will take up my time when I’m not able to sit down to do actual writing.

Then, I’ll focus on getting Origin moving before I dive into the last book in the Undying Empire: Rebellion trilogy, The Revenant and the Reaper.

Any further RPG products, using the HeroQuest OGL or otherwise, will come after those priorities have been met.

Next week, I’ll return to looking at using HQ2 for other settings, with a dark horror/sci-fi offering.

 

The Low-Level Monster Problem?

For those gamers who are brand new to Dungeons & Dragons, everything feels new. No one yawns when they first encounter a kobold or a goblin. Orcs and hobgoblins are unknown entities and there’s a level of excitement that comes with encountering the unknown.

For example, in the game that I’m running for my son and his friends, I started them off with the classic adventure B2 Keep on the Borderlands. I took the hobgoblin and goblin caves and separated them out into a standalone dungeon, and then set them loose. The players ended up in the hobgoblin cave first, and then worked their way into the goblin area, had a great encounter with the ogre, and are now ready to head into an area of the dungeon that I added on.

What I noticed was that the players had no expectations about anything. My son knew that goblins weren’t “powerful” monsters, but that was about the extent of his experience. So when they attempted to bluff their way past a goblin sentry post (the fighter and the barbarian are half-orc brothers) and one of them blurted out that they had killed the hobgoblin chief already, the now-inevitable fight was still interesting to them.

But many of us have played D&D before. Some of us have played it many, many times before. Starting a new party at first level can still be interesting, but with years of experience, many of the low-level monsters are now, well, boring. It’s hard to be excited at finding a bunch of goblins—even when your current character is first level—when you as a player have slaughtered dozens or hundreds of them in the past.

So what do you do?

Well, things in D&D 5E aren’t as bad as you might think.

Going by all the available monsters in the official publications (and I’m using the excellent D&D Beyond to quickly grab this complete list), and limiting myself to creatures of Challenge Rating 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2, I find almost 170 entries. Looking at the entries, you can group them into a few types:

  • Animals: There are all the usual suspects, such as black bears, constrictor snakes, stirges, and wolves, plus a bunch of swarms (bats, insects, rats, etc.) and giant versions of various animals (centipedes, frogs, lizards, snakes, rats, wasps, spiders, etc.).
  • Humanoids: Aside from the common kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins and orcs, one can find bullywugs, derro, drow, gnolls, grimlocks, kenku, kuo-toa, lizardfolk, sahuagin, troglodytes, and more. Plus, there is the entire list of NPC types (acolytes, bandits, cultists, guards, nobles, scouts, thugs, warriors, etc.).
  • Monsters: This group contains all the unnatural, monstrous, and miscellaneous creatures that spice up an adventure, such as blights, darkmantles, gray oozes, mephits, piercers, rust monsters, shadows, skeletons, worgs, zombies, and more.

This means that, in your very first adventure, your characters can explore (for example) a ruined guard tower and stumble across a drow outpost. The outpost might have a dozen drow scattered about in a few different encounter areas, but these are all regular drow waiting for the arrival of a priestess who will take over once she arrives (though she won’t appear in this adventure). The PCs have a chance to clear out the ruins and discover hints about the drow plans in this region. Throw in a couple of giant spiders, maybe some derro slaves, and you have a great little “dungeon” that doesn’t have a single kobold or goblin anywhere in sight.

Alternately, set your first adventure in a swamp area and throw in some bullywugs, some crocodiles (or giant crocodiles), and maybe a chance to make an alliance with some local lizardfolk against the bullywugs (and fight those same lizardfolk if the characters botch their attempt at diplomacy).

Or you can avoid the evil humanoid races altogether and set the player characters against a bunch of bandits that are raiding the local area. Maybe they’ve been infiltrated by an evil cult that is slowly taking over the bandit group (though the actual cult leader is somewhere else and hasn’t made an appearance yet). You can use NPC bandits, cultists, scouts, thugs, and warriors, which will give your encounters some variation in opponents. Add in some trained mastiffs and maybe a couple of other animal encounters in the forest where the bandits hide out, and you’re all set.

Maybe an acolyte of an evil god has stumbled upon some magic item that lets her animate the dead, and she’s gathering a horde of skeletons and zombies that she will use to lay waste to local villages. Of course, she’s protected by swarms of bats and rats (or maybe a few giant versions of those animals).

Any of these could be an excellent first adventure for a group of characters, and none of them involve a typical goblin-infested dungeon.

Conclusion

Keep on the Borderlands is a classic, but even classics can get old when they are repeated over and over. If you’re playing with gamers who have been through a few—or many—campaigns, that first adventure might need something a little bit more than the old standby. Luckily, there are many options available without needing to build a whole bunch of new monsters yourself.

So how did you start your current campaign? What were the first monsters your characters fought? How did you keep it interesting for those who are old hands at D&D? Tell us about it in the comments.

D&D Adventure Maps through the Years

Cartography in official D&D products have undergone quite a change through the four decades of its publication. Most modern maps are quite different from those published in the early years. Some of that has to do with printing costs/technology, and some has to do with changing styles.

I see RPG maps as falling into two categories: adventures and campaign settings. Campaign setting maps have a different goal than those in adventures. Campaign setting maps need to convey a high-level overview of the setting, provide additional flavor, and provide just enough information for the DM/GM to run a game in that setting. This means that campaign setting maps should be able to be used for when PCs are engaging in overland travel across large areas, and show where major landmarks are located.

Adventure maps, on the other hand, are vital to providing tactical information for the DM/GM in order to run that particular adventure. The scale of the maps tends to be smaller, and a lot more detail is generally required. While campaign setting maps can be more abstract or “artistic” in presentation, adventure maps needs to have game usability as the first consideration. There generally isn’t much room for abstract or overly creative map design if it doesn’t directly help the DM/GM run the game.

The Early Years

When it comes to adventure modules, 1978 was a big year for TSR. In Search of the Unknown was included in the D&D Basic Set. The classic trilogy of D1: Descent into the Depth of the Earth, D2: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, and D3: Vault of the Drow were released. Player characters got to fight giants in the trilogy of G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, G2: Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3: Hall of the Fire King. And the infamous S1: Tomb of Horrors slaughtered countless characters.

So let’s take a look at some of the maps in those early modules. The classic blue ink on white background maps should be familiar to all D&D players from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Here is a very detailed map from In Search of the Unknown:

RPG-B1-In-Search-of-the-Unknown

This is the main area map from Shrine of the Kuo-Toa:

RPG-D2-Shrine-of-the-Kuo-Toa

And this is how the underground passages were mapped:

RPG-D2-Shrine-of-the-Kuo-Toa-Underdark

Here is the main complex in Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (included to show how they did irregular cave areas:

RPG-G2-Glacial-Rift-of-Frost-Giant-Jarl

The End of TSR

During the time of A&D 2E, TSR published a large number of campaign settings and many adventure modules. Some of these were great (Gates of Firestorm Peak) and many were absolutely terrible (Gargoyle, Greyhawk Ruins). So we’re jumping ahead by 15-20 years to look at a couple of changes in adventure maps.

One notable change was the switch from the large blue ink on white background maps that were printed on the inside of the (removable) covers. In the 2E era, many maps were in colour (either as separate maps or in a map book), or were greyscale maps inserted among the text of the adventure.

Here’s the separate map from Gates of Firestorm Peak, circa 1996:

RPG-2E-Gates-of-Firestorm-Peak

This is from the map book in Return to the Tomb of Horrors:

1162 Return to the Tomb of Horrors

 

And here’s an example of a map placed among the adventure module text, from Die, Vecna, Die!, the very last module published by TSR:

RPG-2E-Die-Vecna-Die

Wizards of the Coast

Adventured published for the third edition of D&D used both black and white maps and full-color maps, depending on the adventure.

Here’s one of the first 3E maps, from the excellent The Sunless Citadel:

RPG-3E-The-Sunless-Citadel

Here is a full-color map from the also excellent Red Hand of Doom:

Red Hand of Doom

Maps for fourth-edition adventures were almost always in color, and were placed in the relevant section for each combat encounter.

Here’s an example from H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth:

RPG-4E-Thunderspire-Labyrinth

The Newest Maps

While the full-color maps that WotC introduced during the third edition era are quite pretty, and the maps in the fourth edition adventures look even better, WotC has really outdone themselves with the maps in the fifth edition adventures.

Here are a couple of maps from Tomb of Annihilation:

RPG-5E-Tomb-of-Annihilation-1

RPG-5E-Tomb-of-Annihilation-2

RPG-5E-Tomb-of-Annihilation-3

I think these maps are gorgeous. These maps are no longer just pieces of information, they are also pictures that add flavor to the adventure itself.

Furthermore, if you have purchased content on DnD Beyond, you have access to player’s versions of the maps we well. This means that the beautiful maps are seen not just by the DM. The players can also enjoy the great artwork.

What’s Your Preference?

I’ve focused on official D&D adventures in this post, but there are countless third-party publishers who produce adventures with maps. Some OSR publishers pay homage to the early blue-on-white maps by mirroring that look in their own books. Others play with adventure maps in all kinds of ways (certainly more than I have time to get into in this post).

Everyone has their own preference for how they want adventure maps to look. Some people prefer simple black-and-white line drawings, while others want the full-color painted artwork. Neither is “right” or “wrong”—there are pros and cons to each end of the spectrum, and it’s really about what works best for the individual DM.

Where does your preference sit on that spectrum? What published maps are your favorites (from any publisher or any game)? What examples can you give us of maps that are the epitome of “usable” from a gaming standpoint? Tell us about them in the comments.