#RPGaDay 2016 Day 3!

Whoah, day 3 already. I think this is the most diligent I’ve ever been about #RPGaDay, though to be honest the trend only started a few years ago. Here we go into Day 3!


3) Character moment you are proudest of?

This is a tough one for me, as I have been behind the screen for most of my 25+ years of roleplaying games. The times I’ve been a player tend to be one shots or relatively short campaigns, so my gut instinct is to share a moment from someone else’s character. But I see that as a topic for a future #RPGaDay post, so I’m going to have to dig into the ol’ memory banks here.

The moment I think I’m most proud of comes in a game of Pathfinder at GenCon 2013. I had decided I was going to join in the organized play to get my gaming fix, and I had already invested (heavily, I might add) into the Pathfinder rule set, so I thought this was a good plan. I made my character, and it’s a character concept I’ve had for many, many years – a burly, tough, charming but unwise human fighter with a big ass sword named Drake Mandrake, aka Drake the Slayer.

I don’t recall a lot of the specifics of the session itself, but I recall the table had members from a variety of Pathfinder Society factions, including myself. We were in a pirate’s cove trying to rescue someone (the son of someone, maybe), and we had just confronted the main villain who had a knife to the son’s throat. My character’s mission was to bring the villain to justice, and while I had a strong sense of good and right I truly felt the villain was bluffing with his threats against the target’s life.

I made a move to take the villain down based on my character’s motivations and beliefs, and it turns out the villain was NOT bluffing. He killed the target before I could get to him (I believe I threw my sword at him, Rutger Hauer-style, and it failed quite miserably), and one of the other players was a member of a faction that had a special mission to ensure the target was retrieved alive. In my defense, I did not know this (nobody else did either, he was the only member of that faction at the table) and the player was playing everything very close to his chest, but he got very upset at this.

Ultimately, if I had known, I think I would have done things differently, but for the moment and the information at my disposal – and with the acquiescent silence of the rest of the party – I took a bold action that as a player I knew had a fairly low chance of actually succeeding. But it’s totally something big and rash that Drake Mandrake would do. I’m not proud of the reaction I provoked in the other player AT ALL, and again if I had known I would not have taken such a risky action (or would have amended it to be something a bit more succeedable), but I took the bull by the horns and tried something grand.

And that’s what stories are made out of, aren’t they? Win, lose, or draw, you remember the big moments, and for me I remember the big failures even more. That’s probably why this moment sticks out for me.

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 2!

The #RPGaDay 2016 train rolls out of the station, ready to bear all on its journey to the end of August! Woo hoo!


2) Best game session since August 2015?

This is a tough one. I’ve had a lot of great sessions at conventions, including Gamehole Con in Madison and GaryCon in Lake Geneva, but I think my best single game session was with my home group. I’ve got a (semi)regular Friday night game going, and we’ve had an influx of new people lately so I thought it would be a fun idea to run them through my WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series for D&D 5th Edition.

The players were a mix of veterans and newbies, and I decided to set the campaign in Mystara. Why Mystara? Why not? There’s a wealth of information available regarding the Known World, specifically a lot of really cool maps, and I could if I wanted drop in some of the BECMI modules I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve also never played in it so this was good opportunity to adapt the WK modules to the setting.

We actually recently wrapped up the series, but I think the highlight session for me was actually a TPK (!) that was salvaged into a rescue mission. The players had gone through WK0 Night of the Mad Kobold and by SHEER LUCK stopped the kobold bomber without much destruction. They then proceeded to the town of Ormkirk to rescue kidnapped townsfolk (starting WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen) and they bravely set out into the Talon Hills to find the menaces. A few random encounters with feral weasel swarms and bandits gave them some problems, but eventually they came to the cave marked on their map.

Kobolds, when played smartly, can be deadly opponents, and my players were not expecting the beating they took when they came into the cave. The wild dogs and pit traps kept the party pinned down from the outset while the kobold warriors used their slings to plink away at their hit points. The pitched battle in the cave took a turn when the group’s lupin wizard cast fog cloud, perhaps a bit later in the combat than was helpful, and everyone’s visibility dropped. The wild dogs managed to take the wizard down, dropping the cloud, and even the armored dwarf cleric went down under the hail of sling bullets.

The lupin ranger and human rogue decided to beat a hasty retreat, though the ranger was taken out on the way out by a lucky attack. The human rogue escaped, stumbling out of the cave and pursued by kobold warriors, though she managed to get away under cover of night in the Talon Hills. Meanwhile, the kobolds took the unconscious players hostage, where they were subsequently tortured by the tribe’s alchemist – who happened to be the father of the kobold bomber from WK0! Oh what delicious torture he wrought with the aid of his pet black bear!

The next session the players rolled up new characters (except for the human rogue) and they mounted an attack on the cave again, using sound tactics this time, and managed to route the kobolds in the cave and rescue their old characters. But I remember more clearly the “TPK” (I didn’t kill the PCs, that’s no fun!) as failure in the face of adversity always sticks out in my mind rather than outright success!


#RPGaDay 2016 Day 1!

Welcome to August 2016! That means it’s time for #RPGaDay 2016, which is a day by day blow of personal RPG milestones and stories. This is the first year that I’ll actually be posting, and hopefully regularly, regarding the relevant topics. So let’s dive in, shall we?


1) Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to roll?

This is an easy one. Real dice, all the way! I got my first set of dice in the Introduction to AD&D boxed set (2nd edition, the set that included the CD that was supposed to be synced up to the modules). It came with an orange d20, a yellow d12, two white d10s, a blue d8, a red d6, and a green d4 – and I still have that original set. My orange d20 rolls incredibly well when I GM and rolls incredibly bad when I’m the player, so sometimes I actually choose NOT to use it when I run a game. Especially if I’m feeling bad for my players’ own luck! I should really get around to naming it …

Keep following for more #RPGaDay trivia from Cut to the Chase Games!

WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold Released!

Just a quick update to let everyone know that WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold has been released! This is the final adventure in WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series funded by the Kickstarter, and (sadly) is quite late. Many factors contributed to this, but I want to thank Aaron Ostman for stepping up and knocking the cover out of the park!


Get it for D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, DCC RPG, or Savage Worlds from DriveThruRPG for $4.99!

GaryCon VIII Retrospective

GaryCon VIII was held over the past weekend in Lake Geneva, WI, and it marks my fourth year in attendance. And I’ve got to say, this was the best GaryCon yet, with a new venue that sprawled out with plenty of space, friendly and accommodating staff, and a lineup of games I was incredibly excited to run and play.

GaryCon is a special con for me. It was at GaryCon VI that I ran WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen in 2014 for the first time publicly, using the then playtest rules for “D&D Next.” I had a great table of players and a fantastic time, taking what I learned for playing it with total strangers at a con and returning to the document to clean it up. At GaryCon VII I was anticipating launching the Kickstarter campaign later in the year and wanted to kick the tires on both the D&D 5th Edition version and the Swords & Wizardry versions, so I ran the full trilogy twice, once for each system. It was a total blast! Kobolds were mowed down in waves by the players, but I still managed to get two TPKs out of the six sessions. Without sound tactics kobolds are dangerous foes!

This year, since I have been converting Tower of Skulls to the various game systems with anticipation of releasing it very very soon, I decided I would run that for as many players as I could. The tower is a fun dungeon crawl, with combats and puzzles galore, spread out across four levels (the top two levels are reserved for special encounters). I set up my events in 2-hour blocks, two for each day, with each day focusing on a different level of the tower. Thursday was level 1, Friday was level 2, and Saturday was level 3 (I’ve learned in my years of running games at cons to *never* run a game on Sunday for out of state conventions!).

I am notoriously bad about taking pictures, but luckily I had a player who took a lot of them (Thanks Paul!). I’ll post them up here soon, as I also created an actual “Tower of Skulls” for display. I meant it as an eye-catcher and it did a great job.

The trick with Tower of Skulls is resource management. The encounters are not meant to be deadly on their own, but as you climb higher escaping the tower becomes difficult along with resting and recovering spells. Running it in short 2 hour blocks was a great move and it worked fantastically, but I decided to be lenient and let each group start fully refreshed and ready to tackle the tower. Ideally this would have only been the case with Level 1 – the players running through Levels 2 and 3 would find that they are low on spells, hit points, hit dice, and items.

Overall, though, I think all the players had fun puzzling through the puzzles and fighting the monsters, which I tried to make interesting and engaging individually rather than just combat for combat’s sake. The maps I had printed out for miniature use, which also helped – every room has something going on which is difficult to convey without visual aids. I encourage GMs to do the same as it is not resource intensive – you could even print out each room as a separate piece, which I think I will do going forward.

I played in a handful of games, including a Call of Cthulhu game where I lost 10 (!) sanity points walking up to a cursed Scottish lighthouse and a D&D 5th Edition game run by Mike Mearls, and had a blast at it all. I met some really cool people and made some cool connections as well, so we’ll see what comes out of that (hush hush). I picked up the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardry too, along with an OSR WhiteBox variant for swords & plants called Warriors of the Red Planet. We’ll see how that plays later!

GaryCon VIII was a fantastic time, and I’m already looking ahead to what I can do to grab peoples’ attentions at Gamehole Con in November and GaryCon IX next year. I’ve got some ideas …

Mutant Future – Random Race & Background Tables

A friend of mine is starting up a Mutant Future RPG campaign that I’ll be playing in, and it got me really looking into the rules for the first time. I’ve been a fan of post-apocalyptic settings for quite a while but somehow, Gamma World and its ilk have escaped my gaze – with the exception of the edition based on 4th Edition D&D, which was gonzo fun! I think cranking up the craziness on a post-apocalyptic setting makes it more memorable and much more fun, and I can see a lot of the possibilities in Mutant Future (available from Goblinoid Games).

If you weren’t aware, Mutant Future is based on the Labyrinth Lord game, which is itself based on the D&D Basic rules from the 1981 Moldvay red boxed set. As with the Gamma World game, it skips classes entirely and focuses on the races, and like the old boxed sets of gaming yore there’s a lot of interpretation that needs to be done to codify the presented information. One of the things I really liked in the Gamma World game was the random aspect – you didn’t get to choose much, you were just stuck with whatever crazy combination you rolled. Mutant Future has this as well with the random mutations, but I wanted to take it a step further and randomize the race.

I put together a quick table that breaks down the races presented in Mutant Future (Android, Mutant Animal, Mutant Human, Mutant Plant, and Pure Human) into a random selection. I further broke down the “sub races” within each into another random table, and took a stab at identifying a common mutation associated with the 19 mutant animals I put on the list. Is it exhaustive? Of course not, it’s just a fun random table.

I also put in a random background generator, culling from a few post-apocalyptic sources to give the character a bit of a focus. It’s up the Mutant Lord whether a character’s background has any bearing on checks made during the game but it’s at least fun to give a random character a random hook to hang the quirks on.

Here’s the two page PDF. Download and play around with it! And I’ll see you in the wastes …

Random Mutant Future Tables

WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye RELEASED!

Hot on the heels of WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen, the second adventure in the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS trilogy has been released onto the world. WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye begins with the characters laboring under a curse, a result of their encounter with the Kobold Queen in the previous scenario (or some other factor if you plan on using the module without WK1). The investigation into the curse brings the characters to a library in a dark forest which has also come under the effects of the kobold eye. From there the ruins of a gnomish city and its undead-haunted mausoleum await the characters.

Check it out on DriveThruRPG at the below links and let us know what you think!

5th Edition
Swords & Wizardry
Savage Worlds

A Bit of History on WK1

With WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen out in the wild, I wanted to look back a bit at the history of this module, as it goes back quite a ways for me. I’ve been writing my homebrew adventures as “module” documents for almost as long as I’ve been playing roleplaying games (over 20 years now!). I still have a lot of my old docs and I cringe every time I go through them – the writing and layout are quite atrocious, though nuggets of good ideas can be gleaned through the unrefined, unwanted, bloated prose. I like to think I’ve been getting better through the years!

For as long as I’ve been playing D&D I’ve been reading Dragon Magazine, and the editorial was always one of my favorite things to devour. It offered a glimpse into the life of a professional publishing materials for a game I loved – sometimes poignant, sometimes poetic, sometimes inspiring, but always interesting. I don’t recall the issue, but one of the editorials in Dragon Magazine written *I think* by Dave Gross referred to a game being run with people in the TSR offices. They were fighting kobolds, and one player couldn’t make it during a climactic session. The next day, the players who were there left a note on the absent player’s desk that said simply: “Love Slave of the Kobold Queen.”

I couldn’t stop laughing, and the idea simply cemented itself in my imagination. A villainous Kobold Queen capturing men to turn them into love slaves? I loved the idea and kept in the back of my brain for later use. When HackMaster 4th Edition came out I picked up all the books and loved the gonzo feel to it, and especially since it was rooted in 2nd Edition’s rules the game felt familiar and fun. I wanted to play, but honestly I felt that the modules they were putting out were too “jokey.” They were all parodies/homages to the classics, starting with Little Keep on the Borderland and moving on to Smackdown the Slavers and Against the Giants.

I decided to try my hand at putting together a professional module on my own for HackMaster 4th Edition. I thought immediately about enemies to use, and settled on kobolds pretty quickly. Low level? Yup. Interesting encounters? Double yup. Main villain? Why, the Kobold Queen herself of course! After some thinking the idea for Caves of the Kobold Queen was born and I sketched out a plot involving captured men and a desperate mayor.

I ran that module for HackMaster 4th Edition roughly in 2004 (2005? 2006?) or so and it lasted only a single session. We didn’t even get to the kobolds – I rolled on the random encounter table twice, with the first result being giant fleas (easily defeated) and the second result being flesh-eating weasels. It was the weasels that killed the party, and though I had a lot of fun we moved on to other games.

But the idea for the module persisted, and so I worked on it off-again-on-again for several years. Something about the adventure didn’t feel right to me with D&D 3rd Edition – it needed a simpler rule set to really call up the feel of those old modules, which is what I was going for. I decided I was going to publish it myself, but before I did anything I needed to finish writing it and the rest of the modules in the series (I love trilogies, and settled on Curse of the Kobold Eye and Revenge of the Over-Kobold as the follow-up modules in the series). It took me longer than I wanted, but I got them all written by the end of 2012.

Originally I wanted to try them with HackMaster 5th Edition, and I playtested them with my group using that system. It was fun, but I like the idea of hordes of kobolds, something HM5E doesn’t do very well (the initiative system is really cool and intuitive but can be a NIGHTMARE for a GM to handle with more than a handful of opponents). We did it, and it resulted in some really fun times, but ultimately it didn’t have the right “feel” for me.

The playtest for D&D Next had me intrigued, though, and once those rules came along enough I decided to convert it over to that. That felt right, and I ran games of it at GaryCon VI (2014) using the D&D Next playtest rules. It was fun, it was quick, and it was memorable, everything I wanted. I eagerly awaited the release of the full ruleset and (hopefully!) a corresponding 3rd party license to publish stuff.

D&D 5th Edition was released in summer 2014 to much applause, and I convert the modules over to it, along with Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry (as my go-to retro clone), and Savage Worlds. GaryCon VII (2015) sees me running the full trilogy of modules for both 5th Edition and Swords & Wizardry while my personal playtests work through Pathfinder and Savage Worlds. I waited for the third party license and prepared the Kickstarter.

A third party license didn’t appear, however, but the OGL covers most of the material, so I took a gamble and launched the Kickstarter in August 2015. We succeeded (overly!) to get the Wrath of the Kobolds trilogy released along with a special Tower of Skulls module (I’ll talk about the history of that one when we get closer to release). I wanted to get WK1 up sooner but getting the list of backers to thank took longer than anticipated. Interesting enough, I should have WK2 released in the next two weeks or so as the art assets for that one are in and looking fantastic. WK3 is definitely going to be a December release.

For me personally, I think all of the modules work the best using the 5th Edition rules, followed closely by Swords & Wizard (or your favorite flavor of retro-clone, such as OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord). Pathfinder is fine and it works, but I find myself moving away from the crunch of that system. Savage Worlds is always great, and if you’re looking to just throw down on some quick fun that’s a good one to get on with.

WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen RELEASED!

It took more time than I would have liked, but the PDF version of WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen for 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, and Savage Worlds is finally up and for sale at DriveThruRPG! Tim Wilsie knocked me over with the cover art, the interior pieces by Tim and Aaron Ostman get the imagination running, and Glynn Seal’s fantastic maps really invoke the spirit of what I wanted to portray. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and this is only the beginning!

Get your copies from DriveThruRPG with the below links – $6.00 each!

5th Edition
Swords & Wizardry
Savage Worlds

Let’s Tweak the 5E Ranger

I really enjoy the new Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (5E). I think it strikes a really nice balance between crunchy rules for the players to latch onto and enough guidelines and fluff to allow the DM to control and alter the story without the session feeling like an extended board game. I like the fact that the designers are playtesting more before they release things, and that really shows in the classes. Each class feels balanced against each other but in ways that allows each to shine with something that no one else can do.

Except the ranger. The ranger feels like a throwback to the oldest edition of the class where it was a Frankenstein-like amalgamation of other classes. The ranger in 5E doesn’t do anything noteworthy that some of the other classes can’t accomplish with their existing abilities. It has a few cool abilities that really add to the flavor, but the other classes have that as well – and then some.

Mike Mearls stated a short while ago that they feel the ranger may have missed the mark with some players and that they were going to be looking at revising it in the future. Likely this means we’ll see some variation of it in an upcoming Unearthed Arcana article, but I’m pretty impatient. I wanted to see if I could put together a revised ranger that met my goals for the class while trying to keep the design aesthetics of 5E. So I tweaked it, pretty extensively actually as you will see.

My goals with tweaking the ranger came from the following thoughts.

  • The Hunter archetype has abilities that ALL rangers should have. The Beast Master archetype is neat, but when compared to the Hunter it falls waaaay short.
  • Spellcasting should be an OPTION for the ranger, not the default class. And I feel having a separate spell list is redundant – the Venn diagram between ranger and druid spells overlaps so much as to make a separate list moot.
  • Rangers should be mobile and focus on surgical strikes against foes. The exact details of this should be left to the individual ranger.

Looking at the existing ranger, I made the following major changes to the new one.

  • I removed spellcasting as the default option and replaced its abilities with Wilderness Boons. These are spell-like abilities that can be used outside of combat once per long rest to duplicate the utility aspects of the ranger’s spell list.
  • I gave them a unique ability called Mark, which scales in level in a similar fashion to sneak attack, that otherwise functions just like the hunter’s mark spell.
  • I moved the Hunter archetype abilities into a category called Tactical Tricks that the ranger can select at various levels. These are things that ALL rangers should have the option of doing, which includes some defensive and offensive abilities that are more situational.
  • I developed three archetypes – the Beast Master, the Stalker, and the Wild Guardian. The Beast Master functions very similarly to the existing Beast Master archetype, with some noteworthy differences (commanding your beast to attack is a bonus action, for example, and at 15th level your beast becomes bigger and better). The Stalker gets some of the more stealthy abilities of the original ranger class, and the Wild Guardian is essentially a druidic version of the fighter’s Eldritch Knight with some terrain-based abilities.
  • I beefed up the 20th level ability to make it more of a “wow” feature, like the rest of the classes.

Take a look at the PDF and let me know what you think. I’ll be playtesting this with my own home group as well to see how it balances out.