Bloody Rose shows how to Rock & Roll some Dungeons & Dragons

Bloody Rose coverI recently read Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames, a brilliant fantasy book about a band of misfits who travel around the land killing monsters. It’s exciting and it’s funny (I laughed for whole minutes at one point that I can’t tell you about without spoiling it), and the characters are badass and flawed and relatable. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in modern high fantasy literature. For reasons I’ll explain in this blog post, I’m also convinced that it should be added to the next version of D&D’s recommended reading (the 5th edition Appendix E version of which I have previously reviewed on this blog).

Now, I’m pretty sure that Bloody Rose is neither an official Dungeons & Dragons tie-in novel nor set in a D&D campaign world, but it clearly draws on D&D for inspiration. It’s got the standard ingredients: the aforementioned groups of monster slayers; non-human sentient races; magic weapons; a vaguely medieval setting with a map; a stark divide between human civilisation and monstrous wildlands; cataclysmic threats; heroics; bards to sing the tales. It’s even got some monsters straight out of the Monster Manual, including D&D-originals like owlbears, mariliths, and hyena-faced gnolls.

But the thing I’m most fascinated by in Bloody Rose is the spin that it puts on the heroic fantasy genre: what if adventuring parties were like rock & roll bands? It must have been done before, right? Does anyone know where and how? Regardless, I’ve never seen it before, so this is the story that made me wonder how to incorporate that idea back into D&D.

If you want to play a D&D campaign in which the adventuring parties were rock & roll bands, how would that work?

Continue reading


Dream Questing as open table play: it’s been done, right?

I’m going to pitch a campaign idea, and I want people to tell me 1) whether they’ve ever done anything like this before, and 2) how it went. Ok? Here goes:

Heroes adventure through a fantasy world (the usual: fighting evil, slaying monsters, rescuing imprisoned royalty, saving the common folk, overthrowing tyrants, wielding powerful weapons and magic, exploring the wondrous lands around them, making a name for themselves, etc.). But they aren’t firmly tethered to this fantasy world, because in fact they are from the mundane world, without monsters or magic or heroes or wonder. In their home world they are normal people, unimportant, but sometimes when they sleep they appear in the fantasy world and become heroes. And when they wake, they vanish from that fantasy world until their next visit.

Continue reading

Alignment: Pondering Good and Evil (in RPGs)

I’m in a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign at the moment, and the players recently had an ethical debate about something that happened a couple of sessions ago. This debate wasn’t about Alignment but, when talking ethics in D&D, Alignment is impossible to avoid.

The concept of Alignment elicits some very powerful emotions among roleplayers. I am not immune to this. I have strong feelings about Good and Evil in particular, but my headcanon is largely incompatible with the way that Alignment is used in D&D itself.

D&D Alignment does double duty as a reflection of your personal morality as your position in a great eternal conflict between cosmic forces of unimaginable power. It has accomplished this serviceably well for decades, but I think that this splitting of focus can sometimes confuse gamemakers and players.

However, if we narrow down Alignment’s focus to just character morality, removing any link to a heavenly absolute Good or infernal absolute Evil, then it can become a lot more nuanced. What if individuals didn’t have a fixed Alignment, but one that varied according to how much they cared about other people? Would this make it more useful as a tool for analysing characters in other games, or more generally?

To examine this, let’s have a look at Sir Brad Starlight (pictured) and some other characters from the series Wander Over Yonder, then talk about another way we could think about Alignment.

Continue reading

Fate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Part 4: Unleashing the other strangeness (long-running campaigns)

Ninja Turtles (Mirage vol 4) by channandeller (Ryan Wilton)
This fanart by Ryan Wilton shows how the TMNT look in volume 4 of the comic (by original creater Peter Laird). Front row, left to right: Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo. Back: Raphael.

This is my fourth and final blog post about adapting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) to the roleplaying game Fate. I’ve previously discussed systems (part 1), player characters (part 2), and written a one-shot adventure (part 3).

Now I want to talk about how I’d run longer TMNT campaigns.

As I mentioned last time, the shorter your campaign, the tighter and less fantastical your TMNT game should be. For a one-shot, I focused on a simple rescue tale with a single villain. But the TMNT franchise is a vast kitchen sink world (with, for example, ninjas, mutants, mad science, aliens, robots, magic, time travel, ancient civilisations, ghosts, Lovecraftian monsters, parallel dimensions, and superheroes), so in this post I’m going to explain just how bonkers I’d want to get if my players and I were committed to a significant number of sessions.

For one thing, they’re not teenagers any more…

Continue reading

10 things I learned running Dungeon World (part 2)

Ziggurat by malachi78 from DeviantArt

2015 was a pretty good year for my roleplaying, all told. It’s the year I started this blog. It’s also the year I started attending a monthly RPG Book and Brunch Club, which introduced me to games like Breaking the Ice, Sorcerer, and Swords Without Master (plus games I never reviewed, like Microscope). I’ve run and played a variety of games, both one-offs and campaigns.

And, of course, it’s the year I started and finished running my campaign of Dungeon World, which I started reviewing in my previous blog post.

Continue reading

10 things I learned running Dungeon World (part 1)

Skeleton mariachi band. DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by RM73 at deviantart

Last night I ran the finale session of my Dungeon World campaign, and boy did it end on a high note. The first half of the session was relatively sedate and character-focused, and the second half was an all-out battle against a monstrous dragon.

There were three player characters at the end of the campaign:

  • Clovis the Giant, later Clovis the Dragon-hearted, a halfling barbarian from the great desert to the north-west who longs to kill the Great Horned Dragon that wiped out his people.
  • Rurgosh, a bald dwarven cleric of the god Fade, who presides over rocks and forgotten things. Rurgosh secretly longs for fame and glory, despite the precepts of their god.
  • Enrico, elven bard of Lothlorenza, who is composing the Ballad of Clovis the Giant upon his father’s mandolin as they travel.

(There had originally been a human wizard named Morgan, but he left before they became famous.)

These characters, with their hirelings and a local town of (skeleton) civilians, came together in the final session to defeat the Great Horned Dragon. ‘Twas truly a tale for the ages.

The campaign started in January, so it ran for almost exactly a year. In that time, I’ve learned (or been reminded of) a few tricks not just for Dungeon World, but other roleplaying games too. Here are the top 10 things I learned from the game.

Continue reading

Here’s the Kicker: Character creation and plot hooks

Sorcerer_CoverLast weekend I had my first experience of the game Sorcerer by Ron Edwards. Sorcerer was originally self-published in 1996, and it was at the vanguard of the indie RPG movement. I’m not going to discuss the game extensively, but there was one thing in particular that got me thinking.

I want to talk about Kickers.

A Kicker is an unexpected event that shakes up a player character’s life. It forces the player character to react, but does not dictate how they should react. It is the set-up for the player character’s opening conflict during play.

Kickers in Sorcerer

As defined above, Kickers are not new and not revolutionary. They are basically just plot hooks. Most long-running campaigns start with something similar, usually at the start of the first session of play, to get the players invested and the characters moving. Even the standard D&D trope of being commanded by the local ruler to sort out those bandits chop chop almost meets the definition (except for not dictating how the players should react).

But what Sorcerer did that was new and was revolutionary was this: it put the Kicker into the hands of the player.

Continue reading