Amplifying the Blogosphere (v2021-06-20)

Alternatives, Balance, and Jargon

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Alternatives to Dungeon World

Dungeon World helped popularize Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games, by capitalizing on players’ familiarity with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) . Enough so that it is sometimes used as a reference point by gamers who ask, “Can you recommend a game like Dungeon World but…?” Here are some common answers:

If you’d like to play a…

Thanks to the Dungeon World Discord community for the many suggestions over the years. Check out the Apocalypse World site for even more suggestions.

It’s been a long while since I last played or Dungeon World; From it and Apocalypse World (AW), I learned a lot about the game facilitator’s moves. I wrote and to help capture and cement those moves.

Since those days, I’ve looked to Soft Horizon for additional thoughts and tools for running games. All of those lessons learned are transferrable to other games.

But that above list looks to be pure gold. The PbtA focus on the fiction is an excellent tool for easing players into role-playing games, and having more games that help do that is a good thing.

GLOG Class Attempt: Garden Hermit

A: Part of the Scenery

If you are in any sort of manicured nature such as a public park, noble’s estate, or garden, you can choose to blend in and become part of the scenery. While blended in, no one will notice or pay much heed to you so long as you spend your time doing Garden Hermit Things. These include studying/picking plants, reading old-timey philosophical texts, pretending to be an ornamental statue, etc.

B: Dispense Wisdom

You’ve played the part of the wise hermit long enough that it occasionally does some good. Make an opposed Wisdom roll to drag someone into dialogue about any topic. On a success, you trap them in engrossing or tedious debate for up to 1 hour. At the end of that hour your combination of platitudes and elenctic interrogation leads them to form their own good advice, giving them +1 to their next roll related to the topic of the debate.

The class abilities of the GLOG Class Attempt: Garden Hermit intrigued me. And I started thinking about the type of game in which they’d shine. A tour through Fanciful and Fabricated England comes to mind. But also a romp through the Looking Glass. Or in parts of Warhammer Fantasy Setting’s Empire.

In Campaign: Burning Warhammer, I can see Captain James van Shaw working with a Garden Hermit to help craft a scheme. Or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser 🔍 being confounded by the Garden Hermit. They strike me as a fantastic encounter to include when the players are in an absolute hurry.

Fighting Talk, Part One – Know Their Enemies

Particularly in one-shots, building battles is a bit of an art. Most crunchy games include some guidance on balancing encounters (and those that don’t should), but I’ve found some general principles that will improve almost any fighting encounter that you have.

Personally, I’ve given up on balancing encounters. However, that doesn’t mean I ignore what other people are writing about balancing encounters. Because, fundamentally, encounters are about meeting expectations and perhaps tweaking them.

In some styles of play, those expectations are along the lines of All encounters will be balanced to our group’s capabilities. That is valid, and those encounters can produce fantastic tactical and narrative experiences. In Tomb of Annihilation 🔍, I crafted a few encounters to balance them with the group. They took considerable time, but in the moment, I enjoyed it. These encounters were two very memorable sessions.

In other styles of play, those expectations are not around balance, but instead I expect to have clues related to the danger of this encounter. These are the cases where the players find a burned out wagon, toppled mature trees, and numerous corpses scattered in the area; the corpses in their ruined armor clutch broken swords. On inspection, the players recognize the armor of a heroic and powerful paladin.

Later, they come upon the wizard’s tower, the one rumored to house a powerful wizard. It too lies in ruin.

The expectation is a mighty dragon. And that foreshadowing lets the players know: this encounter will be dangerous.

As players research and reconoiter, they can begin to “balance” the encounter for their skills and abilities. And this leads to the memorable encounters. It’s a bit like the anticipation of opening presents; the waiting adds to the excitement.

The work the players put into preparing for the encounter as well as the fallout of success. That is to say, who fills the void when the heroes slay the dragon?

For me, balancing an encounter focuses energy on the tactical events of a campaign. And while that preparation can be interesting, it’s a small aspect of the joy I find in facilitating campaign play.

Genre Police: Towards a shared language

Recently I was talking to some friends of mine and mentioned that I was going to be writing about a West Marches style game. Elijah - Tiefling Bard by BlackSpotDesign

One friend said that they didn’t know what that was.

A second friend got very excited and began explaining what the West Marches was – all wrong. They basically just described a large group of players that had bad attendance schedules.

Navigating jargon and assumptions is critical in any group effort. When pitching a game, if you’re using game jargon, provide a glossary. Help others understand what you mean.