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Lazy RPG Newsletter – 3 March 2024

by Mike on 3 March 2024

A nasty cold knocked me on my ass so instead of a YouTube and Podcast recording of the Lazy RPG Talk Show, I'm going to deliver the same info to you in beloved HTML!

New Maps Features on D&D Beyond

Wizards of the Coast released a video of new D&D Beyond Maps features. They've updated a lot since the last time I played around with it – token naming and re-naming, a spectator view, a drawing tool, and a pointer. I spent some time on Twitch mucking around with the new features and I like it a lot. WOTC is definitely taking a lighter-weight Owlbear Rodeo approach which I appreciate. I'd love to see them let people upload custom tokens and add text-based notes to the map. It's far more functional now than it was a couple of months ago.

For those running WOTC adventures with WOTC character options, it's a great tool.

It's interesting that WOTC / Hasbro chose to hedge their bets by investing in both a lightweight 2d map-based VTT and a heavy-weight expensive 3d VTT. I'll bet the former is more popular than the latter.

Marilith Preview for the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault

Kobold Press released a preview of the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault Marilith and I think it looks awesome. It hits hard, has a simple stat block, and still has interesting crunchy features befitting this high-power demon. I'm eager to see the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault. It's going to be wild to have four different core monster books by this time next year: the 2014 D&D Monster Manual, the 2024 D&D Monster Manual, the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault, and the Level Up Advanced 5e Monstrous Menagerie. We have lots of core monsters to choose from and no limitation on which monsters we decide to use at our tables.

Bob World Builder on GM Regrets

Bob World Builder has an awesome YouTube Video on GM Regrets. I don't think it's useful to fixate on our regrets but we can learn a lot by listening to the regrets of others. I don't have many GM regrets. I'm happy with how things turned out in my TTRPG life. I do regret not playing OD&D in the early 80s with my oldest friend Scott – a friend I've had for almost half a century. I talked to him yesterday about it and we both had a laugh. We both barely remember the time anyways.

Dread Laironomicon

Raging Swan released the Dread Laironomicon, a tome standing side-by-side with the Dread Thingonomicon to fill in the details of one hundred lairs from the Cultists' Hidden Fane to a Roper's Cave. Each lair includes seven lists of ten details to fill in such lairs. This book is an excellent source of inspiration for filling in the details of a location during prep – making such places come alive. If you're a fan of the excellent works of Raging Swan Press, you will not be disappointed. My only complaint is a lack of higher-focus lists of chambers in such lairs but the major and minor features lists largely fill in that need. I received a review copy of the Dread Laironomicon for this spotlight.

Dune on Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle currently offers a 17 book digital package for Modiphius's Dune RPG for $18. Such bundles are a great way to dive into an RPG for a low cost. I don't intend to run it but after awaiting Dune part 2 and re-reading the original Dune books, it's great fun to delve into the artwork and read the lore behind the RPG. If you love Dune and want a taste of the RPG, this is a great deal.

Being Good Stewards of the Hobby

Based on an excellent conversation with Graham Ward on Mastering Dungeons, I was inspired to consider what we can do to be good stewards of the TTRPG hobby. I asked folks across several platforms and got many excellent responses which I'll put together into a longer article. For a quick preview, here are some things I think we can all do to be great stewards of the TTRPG hobby:

Simple Online Combat Tracking with a Text Editor

I've been playing a mix of online and in-person games recently and return to the simple text editor as a great way to track combat when playing online. Using Notepad or whatever text editor you prefer you can track initiative, positioning in theater of the mind combat, damage done to creatures, and more.

Here's a quick example of the text I had for a battle I ran last night:

    23 Chartreuse
    12 Crimson Lotus 71 > Chartreuse 
    12 Blackguard Wight 10 > Voxi
    12 Blackguard Wight 49 > Helm
    7 Voxi
    7 Zaffre In the Back
    6 Helm 
    5 Radon
    3 Eldrox

The above has the characters and creatures in initiative order. The left-hand numbers are their initiative roll. The right-hand numbers are the damage done to the creature. The angle brackets indicate that a monster is adjacent to a particular character. You can type status effects, multiple adjacent characters, or any other notes next to a creature's name to keep track.

Using text editors for combat tracking is fast, easy, cheap, and independent of RPG system or digital tools. I love it.

Page 12 of the Lazy DM's Companion has more tricks for tracking theater of the mind combat in a text editor that differs from the above but both can give you ideas how to easily track combat in a text editor.

Patreon Questions

Every month, Patrons of Sly Flourish can ask any question in a special monthly Q&A. I answer every RPG-related question each Friday morning. Here are some highlights for this week. Please note these questions have been edited for length.

Announcing a Villain's Plans and Progress

From Jason. I was curious how you balance multiple story arcs throughout a campaign. The villain in our campaign, who is progressing his own plans, is coming to a point where some of those plans will come to fruition. I'm struggling with "announcing" those plans when the PC's are in the middle of another story arc. I'm worried that may seem railroad-like if I throw a hook out there that they will feel inclined to investigate and move off of what they are currently on. My goal with the villain's plans was to keep him going in the background, and thus in the PC's consciousness, instead of having everything happen at the very end.

Sometimes we get stuck between revealing interesting information and such information ending up as an adventure hook. It's important to clarify to the players that not all information is actionable. Such information isn't something they can or should feel pressure to do something about right now.

Secrets and clues can help characters learn about the escalation of villainous quests without immediately changing their current direction to chase them down. If characters choose to chase down such a situation, and have the opportunity to do so, perhaps that's the way the story should go. Otherwise, make it clear to players when they receive information about an escalating villainous quest that they can't necessarily do anything about it right now. Tell, don't show.

Published Adventures Don't Require Less Work

From William J. What do you think of the amount of work published adventures expect the DM to do? I'm normally a homebrew campaign kind of guy, but recently picked up a Wotc published adventure (shattered obelisk). The idea being that I was paying a professional writer to do most of the "prep" for me so with very little notice, I could almost just pick the book up and play. However I have been left rather disappointed. Am I being unrealistic with my "pay to prep less" expectation?

It's a misconception that published adventures require less work. That's certainly not the case and, sometimes, they take more work than a homebrewed adventure because you have to internalize a published adventure in a way a homebrew adventure is already internalized. Almost always, they require different kind of work – more of a focus on reading, absorption, and modification instead of thinking things up from scratch.

We shouldn't buy published adventures expecting them to be easier to run. Instead, we should buy them for the depth and quality of material we can't create ourselves. Stories, backgrounds, artwork, maps – these are components of good adventures we simply can't create at the same quality of a published adventure.

I think it actually works better to build homebrew adventures in published settings for the best of both worlds. A published setting gives you a great depth of lore and quality of materials along with the flexibility of building the adventure you want in that world.

Letting Non-Magic Users Use Relics

From Robert. Any house rules for letting non magic users use magic items/relics? If one of my non spell casting PCs picks up a relic, I’d like them to have a solid chance of it actually working (at least the same chance a magic user would have) and the existing rules for say, scrolls, don’t really cut it.

I don't expect a single-use magical relic to be limited to magic users. Relics should be identifiable and usable by anyone who picks them up. That's what makes them fun. Let players know what a relic does and let any character use them.

Adding CR to Published Adventures

From Ryan. I find for me one of the minor speed bumps that prevent me from improvising a monster is if I’m adapting a published module. If it says “4 skeletons”, I have to look up the skeleton stat block to see what the CR is to figure out what I’d replace it with or what the FoF baseline is that I’d swap in for an easier time stat line to run with just some flavour or a single monster power. I think for me the missing piece would be if an adventure said “4 skeletons (CR 1/4)”. Thoughts? Maybe when I first read an adventure I should just mark up all the CRs.

That's a great idea and something I'll consider for future adventures of my own. You can use the "monster stats by CR table" in Forge of Foes to benchmark any monster in any adventure against the "example 5e monsters". The intention of that column is to help you identify a monster's CR by comparing it to those examples. Is it less or more powerful than an elemental? What about a frost giant? Understanding what sorts of monsters have which CRs is a great way to use that table to build monsters you need as you use them.

Introducing Cursed Magic Items Without Removing Player Agency

From Garry. One of the players has just picked up a magic item which while useful, is cursed. If he attunes to it, it will slowly turn him evil and lure him towards the BBEG and his cult of monstrous followers. While this is good, the original text explicitly explains that the previous user (high level cleric) went mad and killed all his followers with everyone turning to wraiths. That player tends to dominate the direction play by force of personality from time to time, but he is usually very fair minded. I'm reluctant to have the whole curse thing in case he runs wild with it to the detriment of the game. Should I just change the properties of the item? Any advice?

Yeah, change the properties. My absolute favorite "cursed" magic items are intelligent items that continually make offers to the characters in exchange for information or power. The best cursed items are those the players know are cursed and still use them anyway.

You're right to be concerned about taking agency away from the player. Don't do it. Instead, let them know the sword is cursed and have it steer them with continual offers, dancing that dangerous line. It's great fun. A smart magic weapon knows how to manipulate its user and the whole thing is much more fun when everyone is in on it. Of course, "pause for a minute" to make sure everyone's still having a good time.

Introducing Rivals Who Aren't Instantly Killed

From R. Scott W. I want to introduce a rival team into the mix since my PCs are so competitive. How do I keep the party from killing off the rivals so that they can have a long term impact on the game?

Let the characters, and the players, know about these rivals without having them get within sword-swinging distance. If you put the rivals and the characters in the same room together, swords and spells may fly. Instead, what if the characters hear about and see the results of these rivals without getting close to them. Maybe they meet them in a bar sometime if you think it isn't going to end up in bloodshed. Eventually things might come to blows but even more fun is when those rivals end up becoming allies instead.

Another Great Week for TTRPGs!

Thank you for digging into this week's tabletop RPG news! Sorry I couldn't do it on a video but hopefully this newsletter gave you the taste you desire. See you next week and keep on rolling those 20s!

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