Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Don't Hate the Flayer, Hate the Game: Playstyle Preferences

Preferences: everybody has them, and it's okay to talk about them as long as you aren't asserting them as objective truths or the One True Way to play D&D.

These are some of mine.

There are two playstyles I really don't enjoy. The first is what I call Old School Avoidance, where the goal is to avoid or bypass as many encounters as possible. I play in people's games because I want to interact with the weird stuff they've dredged out of their imaginations; avoiding monsters, strange objects, and potentially dangerous locations makes it feel like the point of the game is to play the game as little as possible, and that's the opposite of fun for me. This goes double if your game has a mechanic where you can roll to bypass an encounter; that feels like pressing X to skip the game play to get to the next cut scene.

The second is one I call Small Business Owners, where some of the players want to take over a business, run an inn, or just sit around in a castle they've taken over instead of adventuring. Again, this feels like a playstyle that wants to avoid interacting with any of the imaginative stuff in the game in favor of safety and mundane middle-class life. I can understand getting attached to your character or wanting to play out their self-interest, but I also think games are more fun if you drive your character like a stolen car. If you ain't come to dance, why'd you put your shoes on? If you try to play this way in one of my games I will inevitably sink your barge.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The People's Covenant

The immigrants and exiles who settled in Umberwell inevitably brought their gods with them. Some deities fell by the wayside, and are now only remembered by obscure sects and dying cults. Other gods thrived in Umberwell's rich tapestry of cultural exchange. Over the generations, a patchwork pantheon emerged; six goddesses of various races, lands, and systems of belief were blended together into a polytheistic, syncretic faith known as the People's Covenant. Over time, the goddesses of the People’s Covenant have come to represent the aspects of life in Umberwell that its citizens find important.

The places of worship devoted to the People's Covenant may focus their reverence on a single goddess, a grouping of goddesses within the Covenant, or the entirety of the pantheon. The various temples of the Covenant do not necessarily agree on the proper way to worship the deities they hold in common. Rites, liturgy, and ceremonies vary wildly from church to church. It is not unusual to see the goddesses of the Covenant depicted in a multitude of forms and as a myriad of races—time has worn away much of their traditional cultural meaning and specificity.

Although the People's Covenant is the most popular faith in Umberwell, the religious atmosphere in Umberwell is inclusive and permissive. Only religions that espouse murder or practice objectionable rites are forbidden by the city's Ministry of Altars. The clergy of less prominent deities maintain shrines and temples throughout the city. There are also dissenters in Umberwell who choose to place their faith in fiends, archfey, Great Old Ones, and other powerful extraplanar beings instead of in divine forces.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How Thief's Stealth System Almost Didn't Work

Pretty interesting little video about how a crucial aspect of Thief's gameplay almost didn't come to fruition--and a pretty good argument for sticking with iterative design. The solution to their gameplay problem--adding more mechanical clarity for the player--is also a solid take-away worth thinking about.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Niu Bo Wei, the Hobgoblin Opium King

The forthcoming book Under the Demon Sun: The Warlords of Cinderheim details the Cinderheim Reaches, a large desert on the wild continent of Hygaea. An unrelenting sun beats down on the arid dunes of Cinderheim, making it the hottest place in the world during the brutal summer months. Despite being a largely barren wasteland, the desert has become a dangerous refuge for outcasts, barbarians, the desperate, and the depraved.

The population of Cinderheim centers around seven oases within the desert that provide potable water and stable agricultural production. Each oasis is under the control of a warlord and their band of warriors. Life under the aegis of a desert warlord sometimes approaches serfdom for the people of Cinderheim, but each warlord provides protection and a degree of security. All seven oases boast permanent encampments that create a microcosm of civilization within the desert wastes—life within the fortified walls of an oasis encampment is the safest bet for the people who live within the Cinderheim Reaches.

This is one of the seven warlords, as selected for this preview by the good people of Google+:


The Prince of Pleasure
Niu Bo Wei is a sybarite and hedonist; he does not care for the responsibilities that leading the Thanorek encampment imposes on him, but he does enjoy the pleasures that his position allows. Niu Bo Wei maintains power mostly through his intense charisma and charming decadence—he sees his encampment as the indispensable desert bagnio where all are welcome and where all appetites are satisfied.

  • Appearance. Hobgoblin, dusty rose skin, flashing blue eyes, dresses in loose silk robes and slippers. 
  • Abilities. Intoxicant alchemy, persuasion. 
  • Traits. Pleasure-seeking, makes other feel at catered to. 
  • Ideal. Make Thanorek a place where peace is brokered between the other encampments. 
  • Bond. Cares for his children more than most expect. 
  • Flaw. Chafes under imposed obligations and duties. 
  • Warband. Thanorek’s ragtag band of goblinoid raiders is bolstered by companies of dragonborn mercenaries. 


  • The Night Wives. Niu Bo Wei is polygamously married to a harem of women—each of whom is a skilled assassin. Niu Bo Wei’s Night Wives eliminate his rivals. 
  • Daiyu. Daiyu is Niu Bo Wei’s favored child from among his many progeny. What few know is that the teenage girl is actually a weretiger. 
  • The Tenebriate Guard. The Tenebriate Guard are the elite hobgoblin war-chiefs who lead Thanorek’s warbands. Most are loyal to Niu Bo Wei, but if his leadership were to be opposed the challenge would most likely come from within the Tenebriate Guard. 

THANOREK Thanorek is the least powerful encampment in terms of its ability to wage war, but it provides a useful outlet for the Cinderheim Reaches—it is widely regarded as a place of pleasure and excess where successful raiders can purchase all manner of intoxicants and carnal experiences.
  • Population. The majority of Thanorek’s population is comprised of goblins, bugbears, and hobgoblins. 
  • Aesthetic. Round yurts and pleasure domes pigmented in garish, eye-searing colors. 
  • Supplies. Opium, spices, beans. 


  • The Dancer’s Quarter. The euphemistically styled Dancer’s Quarter is where the pleasure palaces of Thanorek are located. The Dancer’s Quarter is home to numerous taverns, brothels, opium dens, and “dancing halls.” 
  • The Brazier. The Brazier is a fire pit made of rune-etched iron in which an efreeti is bound by magic. The goblins of Thanorek worship the “Flame Lord” as a god, but the efreeti wishes to be freed. 
  • The intoxicant fields. The encampment’s poppy fields along the sheltered mountain slopes are closely guarded; the drug trade is the major component of Thanorek’s economy. 


  • Support Niu Bo Wei against one of the Tenebriate chiefs who wishes to seize power. 
  • Break the enchantment of the Brazier that holds the Flame Lord captive on the mortal plane. 
  • Protect a caravan load of intoxicants from Thanorek to another encampment in the Cinderheim Reaches. 
  • Retrieve a wealthy patron’s wayward child from the depths of the Dancer’s Quarter’s depravity.

Here's what the entries for Niu Bo Wei and Thanorek will look like in the print version of Under the Demon Sun: