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Creator of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide Returns… on Kickstarter!

The Triumphant Return of Douglas Niles

Douglas NilesDouglas Niles, a legendary name for those who hail from the days of AD&D and TSR. A man whose legacy spans from the very first Forgotten Realms novels to the creation of the Dragonlance world, Doug is a New York Times Best-Seller and his work has been read and utilized by countless roleplayers. Doug is also well known for creating the groundbreaking Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide (TSR, 1986) with legends Gary Gygax and David C. Sutherland III, a book which detailed exploration of the subterranean world, a realm which was previously only hinted at and briefly explored in a few select modules. The Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide finally gave DMs the ability to craft their own adventures and full campaigns in the Underdark.

Dungeoneer's Survival Guide

Now, 35 years after the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide was published by TSR, Douglas Niles returns, alongside Thilo Graf (Endzeitgeist) and Stephen Yeardley, to bring you the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking.

The Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking is designed for use with D&D 5e but has enough information about the strange and alien underground world to be of use for anyone looking for a good survival guide to enhance their adventures into the depths of the earth.

In the section below is the inside scoop, the back of book text, from the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking, for your esteemed edification. The Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking Kickstarter goes live on March 3rd, 2021 and you don’t want to miss being a part of this legendary occasion to pay homage to one of the greats with an exciting “sequel” to the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, lavishly crafted for both D&D players & DMs.

 

Survivalist's Guide to Spelunking

Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking for D&D 5e
Kickstarter launches March 3rd, 2021!

The Definitive Guide to Underworld Survival!

Douglas Niles with Dungeoneer's Survival GuideThe legendary dwarven delver Dugmore Dumple is back from retirement! Following on from his seminal guide for dungeoneers, Dugmore now takes you through crystalline caverns, fungal jungles and the maze-like passages of his home beneath the surface, even skirting the upper regions of Hel itself.

Survival in the Underworld is no mean feat, but this massive tome contains all you need to exist and endure, nay, prosper in and profit from the lightless realms below. Dugmore’s sage advice, carefully balanced by seasoned traveler and guide Fin Starling, provides all the tools you require to enhance your experience while exploring the fabled caverns and tunnels below the surface.

Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking contains an array of modular tools and rules to customize your game, including:

  • Survivalist's Guide to SpelunkingA comprehensive taxonomy of cave types
  • Expanded climbing tools and rules
  • Advice for designing, mapping, and running 3D-environments
  • Modular rules for momentum and chases
  • Rules for mining minerals and exotic ores
  • Streamlined rules for tracking supplies
  • Foraging and hunting rules
  • Detailed segmented spellcasting and combat maneuvers
  • Rules to make tactical combat puzzles
  • Highly modular hazard generators
  • Comprehensive notes on light and darkness
  • A breath-engine for exploration of flooded caverns or spore-choked jungles
  • Rules for hypothermia, hyperthermia, and more exotic afflictions like Shroomitis
  • The lethal hazards of elemental border regions
  • A glimpse at the Lightless Abyss and the upper regions of Hel

Plus, all the tables and tools you need to run an underground exploration game.

Register to be notified when this Kickstarter launches.

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Two Thorns in the Grand Lion’s Paw

AAW-SonicCicada-colors01Creature design can be a tough road to walk and even the most seasoned, stalwart player can lose their nerve when their nefarious monster brings them low.

This isn’t a sign that either one of you is necessarily doing anything wrong; as far as I’m concerned, it means that you’re about to crest the wave of serious immersion. Drama is high and there is a real, palpable danger to the PCs and if they aren’t preparing their things to go home, you’ve done it and you’re riding the wave.

How do you stay on the board? Weaknesses: one generalized and (to get unique) one rare.

 

My favorite example of this is from the Paizo core rules – take a look at the Jabberwock—specifically, DR 15/Vorpal and cold vulnerability.
That’s pretty specific and you know what? That’s great. A dedicated party of high-level adventurers would still be able to drop this creature, whether properly equipped for the task or not. The latter will prove to be a real challenge, but the former won’t be a pushover.

 

If you’re making any monsters yourself (and you should be – always throw a curve ball at your players) take a note from the Jabberwock.pyro

This creature brings into focus one of the principal elements in monster design. It’s clearly in the realm of high-level encounters, and it shows without having to read the slew of offensive abilities at its disposal. Following the progression of the Pathfinder Monster Creation Rules, its hit points, AC and saves fit the bill and are on average what they ought to be, so why the weaknesses?

 

The answer is a simple one: high-level encounters mean high-level abilities and powers.

A formidable, high-level combat-proficient PC (barbarians, fighters, paladins, rangers and rogues) will unleash a considerable amount of damage each round from weapons, chipping away at that stack of hit points with a fair amount of success (at that point, the frequency of critical hits rises quite a bit). Without a truly effective form of damage reduction—take a seat, adamantine—the Jabberwock will fall far sooner than any GM is going to be happy about. If a potent spellcaster is around, this wonderful “dragon” would be biting the dust if it wasn’t loaded with resistances.

 

The specificity of the vorpal enchantment means that the PCs are unlikely to have more than one or perhaps two weapons capable of completely ignoring it’s physical buffer, and the resistances (at double the value of the DR) do the same for magical attacks—any lower level spells, like fireball, are going to be practically ignored unless they produce a cold effect.

 

Gremlin final cropMonsters like the Jabberwock are unique examples of truly creative design work. This one creature can easily occupy a huge number of opponents, withstand the attacks of fell foes, while still possessing an attainable Achilles’ heel to reward the smart, prepared adventurer.

 

If you’re making a mid- or high-level monster, make sure to learn the lesson of the Jabberwock – prepare for the worst (buffer) and hope for the best (selective and generalized weakness).

[Hey, did you know I have a twitter account? The myths are true. -MM]

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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A Simple 5-Step Approach for Complex Characters

A couple of weeks ago we got quite a response to an article (10 Ways to Run a Better Tabletop Game) and several folks responded with how they implement in-depth character creation—thank you! One of these approaches is so simple that its originator, John Hughes, broke it into a simple sketch. His thoughts on that area of game design are below. Enjoy! 

Image_Portfolio_104_Fantasy Jason Walton 60It’s never easy coming up with a character concept—knowing your character’s goals, hopes, quirks and foibles. Too often we ignore the intangible qualities of our imagined hero and focus on the mechanics of the numbers and abilities instead. During a World of Darkness campaign, a dear friend (but lackluster roleplayer) came up to me one day, proclaiming proudly, “I’ve got a new character concept for a vampire: Dominate plus Telepathy.”

That’s not a concept—that’s two powers strung together—and while that might be the extreme of mistaking mechanics for personality, I believe that all of us occasionally make this trade-off. Whether the setting is a casual pick-up game or a convention event, when faced with a different group at the table and a new piece of paper in hand, the temptation as the player to develop only a cursory profile can be overwhelming. Additionally, other players might enjoy the game for the sake of the combat and don’t want to divert time and effort into fleshing out their creation.

Over time, I’ve developed simple steps that, regardless of playing style, encourages quick but meaningful examination of a hero that more fully invests players in their creations.

 

Step 1: Five AdjectivesA PC in 5 parts
The first step is to come up with five adjectives to describe your character; the idea is not to just develop a string of five words from the same category: e.g. physical traits like strong, swift, lithe, nimble and sure-footed. Without variety, five adjectives are no better than one. Instead pick one word from each of the following five categories to give a character instant depth:

Past     This should describe something about how the character arrived at today.

  • Where did they come from?
  • How did training or other major events change and shape them?
  • What was their family situation (or lack thereof) and how did it affect their adolescence?

Future     You have one word describing the hero’s formative experience, now imagine the more aspirational facets of this individual.

  • How do they want to be remembered
  • What word best describes what this character hopes to do?
  • What mark do they want to leave or what role would they like to fulfill?

Image_Portfolio_1.27_Fantasy Romans-Robots 01Self     Bringing the time vista back to the present, now we’ll look inward.

  • What word best describes the character in behavior, philosophy, or appearance?
  • Is this a way the hero presents themselves as a facade, or does this represent a true personality facet?

 

Others     Look around the hero and empathize with how they must feel about the world.

  • What word best describes what your character think about others? (The definition of others could be other tribes, races, traditional enemies, close allies, nations, classes, alignments, religions.)
  • How does your character treat them?
  • What does the hero expect outsiders to think upon meeting?

Stuff     How an individual deals with other people can be completely different from how they deal with objects.

  • What word best describes the character’s relation to goods, services and social bearing?
  • Do they show an interest in tangible objects like weapons or wealth?
  • Does the character prefer intangibles like fame or power?

Gary Dupuis - Kargrin-CRemember, the quality of adjectives count! Why be “happy” when you can be cheerful, joyful, enthusiastic or even maniacal? This step is a great opportunity to break out those words you only memorized for the SAT; you may never use “nonagenarian” in a sentence, but it could be the perfect word for your wizard, who might also be decrepit or wizened (assuming your wizard is a human—for an elven wizard, “nonagenarian” is the equivalent to immature or untried.)

Don’t be afraid to try unconventional words for your concept! Many people can see a cleric as devout, but what if hanging around the temple all the time instead has made the disciple ingratiating or even sycophantic? Words with greater context or specific meaning will produce a more concrete vision of the character from this exercise.

Step 2: Draw Your Character
When describing the five areas above, I’ll draw little pictures to help visualize what I mean—I also draw in an effort to overcome any resistance or fear of this next step. This part of the exercise tends to draw heavily on the class, armor, or weapon of a character, so in some ways the illustration serves only to reinforce the role of those mechanics. Nonetheless, by encouraging the players to draw the character, the image triggers other areas of the brain, giving visual context to both the adjectives and the mechanics. The drawing doesn’t have to be great or even good, but encourage the player to try—the rewards are immediate and the practice makes the next time easier.

Note: I can’t claim to have devised this step entirely on my own—I came across a version of this idea in On The Edge by Jonathan Tweet and have been using it for two decades.

Elve_ThiefI discourage names from movies or books when players flesh out the last part of the character. An original name reinforces ownership of the hero—names like Bob or Fred can disrupt the fantasy mood—so put some effort into a plausibly authentic name.

Hopefully this quick, easy exercise will help make characters more interesting for both you and your companions during your next adventure!

 

Submitted by Jonathan Hughes [who also submitted these pictures as examples]
[Edited by Mike Myler]

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!