Category Archives: Mundangerous

Iblis Prime: A Homebrew Planet for Rogue Traders and Other Adventurers

The Boiling Brine

The Boiling Brine, an inland sea on the planet Iblis Prime via

For the past 28 sessions, I have been GMing a Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader game for my home group. At the end of our last story arc, the players were rewarded with the rights to a colony on a newly discovered (though presently populated) planet outside of the Imperium of Man.

Rather than give them a data dump of information and plot hooks I created, I made a session out of planet creation. I leveraged the World Generator system from Chapter 1 of the Stars of Inequity supplement, and players took turns rolling skill checks to research or investigate the planet and its system. Based on the success of their skill rolls, I granted them some leeway to choose off of the random tables from Stars of Inequity. If they failed, I chose nastier results.

After randomizing the characteristics of the planet, we set about filling in the details of some major factions of the city, creating a slew of potential allies and adversaries as they set off to make their mark for the Imperium of Man. I’ve included the results of our session as a (mostly) ready-to-play location for your Rogue Trader game, which can be easily adapted for other settings.

Continue reading

Unearthed Arcana: Mass Combat, Simplified

Mass combat, via

Last week’s Unearthed Arcana covered Mass Combat for the second time since the series launched at the beginning of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Behind only the Ranger class, it is the second most-covered subject of the series, meaning D&D’s designers feel there is a gap in players’ expectations and the rules as written.

Frankly, I don’t care much for either entry, as both sets of rules offer too much unnecessary crunch to a game that’s elegant and streamlined. I don’t have any particular gripe with the rules they’ve presented (though they’re more complicated than just using a swarm, for no real benefit), but rather with the fact that any rules are presented at all. Simply put: most RPGs, including D&D, don’t need them. However, this latest Unearthed Arcana does capture the most important element for running exciting mass combats, buried in the very final section: Critical Events. An RPG should focus on the moments where the characters’ actions influence the direction of the story most, and these inflection points–Critical Events, in the parlance of the UA article–should be the point of focus for the rules and the Gamemaster.

To illustrate this thesis, think of the Trojan War. It’s a story that has been retold a thousand times, but can you recall anything about troop formations or the tide of the broad battle at any given point? The Greeks attacked and the Trojans held firm. Alternatively, think of the battle between Hector and Patroclus; Hector famously slew Patroclus, believing he was Achilles for he had donned Achilles’ armor. Achilles, on learning of Patroclus’ demise, entered the battle in earnest and turned the tide in the Greeks’ favor. More to the point, if you were retelling the story at a tabletop, would you rather focus attention on the minute movements and formations of the regular Greeks and Trojans, or on the epic duel that led to the entry of the Greek’s greatest champion and, ultimately, the demise of Troy? To borrow from the silver screen, would you rather focus on the naval battle around the Second Death Star, or the Millennium Falcon’s bombing run into its core?

Continue reading

Character Backstory: Rasputin Goldfingers, the Halfling Gambler

Voodoo Halfling by Eric Belisle

Voodoo Halfling by Eric Belisle

I’m joining a new Dungeons & Dragons 5E campaign at 5th level, playing the Gambler we designed on Episode 61 of Total Party Thrill. Rasputin Goldfingers will begin his playing career as Bard 3/Warlock 2, with the character concept that he’s made a pact with a fiend for mortal power, but must play a single hand of cards for his immortal soul upon his death. Obviously, he intends to ensure he wins that final hand. I wrote the following vignette as his backstory:

“And so, the bargain is struck, the pact completed!” roars the archfiend joyously, as the halfling’s blood dries upon the parchment. “Rasputin Goldfingers, your soul shall be mine. And sooner than you think, I’m sure!”

The halfling grins, his golden eyes glittering with greed. “We shall see, Avarixhal. As I reckon it, I’ve got a good 60 or 70 years to figure out your tell. If I can’t, then I suppose I deserve what fate befalls me, mate.”

A second cackling joins the devil’s raucous laughter.

Continue reading

Everyone is Writing About the Orr Group Industry Report and I Am Too

A lot of people have written about the Orr Group Industry Report by now. They’ve all written basically the same thing, so take your pick of The Iron Tavern, Examiner, TGN, and Geek Native.  They follow the same basic observations, regurgitated from Orr Group’s press release: Dungeons and Dragons is popular, 5th Edition is growing, and now that players know their profile choices matter, more players are making sure their profile is accurate. In fact, I made the same observations on Saturday, and I didn’t even get a copy of the press release (Orr Group, you know where to find me.)

This report is interesting for the things that it is and the things that it is not, so we’re going to discuss it. To start, here it is:

Orr Group 2014 Q4 Industry Report Summary

Orr Group 2014 Q4 Industry Report Summary

Orr Group also published the detailed version of the report with Other Listed Games expanded, but that full infographic is quite large, so I’ll link to it here.

Continue reading

The Most “Interesting” Encounters are Pretty Boring

“Help! My players are bored in combat! How do I make my encounters more interesting?”

DMs ask this question all the time, and the usual answer is always a variation on the same theme: add new things to combat. New monsters (there’s a whole book of ’em!), new skill challenges (the tossing deck of a ship!), new tactical challenges (archers hidden in the trees!) The implication is the same: if your encounter is “You bust down the door and there is a monster in the room. It attacks you!” then it’s boring. If your encounter is “You bust down the door and the room is on fire and a monster attacks you and you step on a pressure plate and the party is sprayed with acid” then it isn’t.

More often than not, these DMs come back later with the same problem:

“Help! I’m doing X, Y, and Z, but my players are still bored in combat!”

It’s not that those wrinkles don’t make for more interesting combat, but that the DM has asked the wrong question. Unless you play D&D as a tactical miniatures game, encounters aren’t “more interesting” because you introduce skill checks or environmental challenges. That’s just a new set of variables and a few more dice rolls that get sorted out quickly and then metagamed in ensuing rounds. You run the risk, if you make the combat unpredictable, that the players feel cheated when they die, because they had no chance to figure out the new variables and metagame them appropriately. The players are left unsatisfied, and the DM doesn’t understand what he needs to do to fix it.

He needs to ask the right question:

“How do I make this combat more important?”

Continue reading

Why Do the Rules Exist?

The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules. -Gary Gygax

That quote from Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax has almost become axiomatic across the hobby, a mantra for the avid homebrewer, house ruler, and just about anyone who’s ever read a wonky rule and thought, “That could be better.” Unfortunately, while The Godfather nailed many things in his career, this quote wasn’t one of them.

Gygax’s point is intuitively pleasing: roleplaying is really just a form of shared storytelling, and no one needs rules to enjoy the less collaborative forms of narration, such as fiction writing. This view overlooks an important contribution of the rules, and perhaps the only one that matters: rules provide a way for the GM to kill players.  Continue reading