Coming Attractions

What’s Next from Dread Unicorn Games?   Dread Unicorn Logo

You should always be able to see what’s for sale here: https://dreadunicorngames.com/shop-for-games/

  • Right now we are working on The Gods Have Spoken, a 5E supplement full of gods, creatures, factions, magic, and more. If you missed the Kickstarter it should be available for sale soon. https://dreadunicorngames.com/games/the-gods-have-spoken/
  • Our 5E intro adventure that shows off The Gods Have Spoken is The Gray World. This one-shot is the perfect tool to introduce players and GMs to our new content. https://dreadunicorngames.com/games/the-gray-world/
  • Part of The Gods Have Spoken Kickstarter is the Gods and Icons Upgrade Pack for the 13th Age Roleplaying Game. More divine art and creatures that tie in with the gods. As writers roll off of The Gods Have Spoken, some will roll onto the Upgrade Pack.
  • Then we have That’s How the Light Gets in, a Numenera adventure for all tiers. The Sun Below is failing, and it’s up to the players to get it back on line. Which involves visiting more than a few dimensions. https://dreadunicorngames.com/games/thats-how-the-light-gets-in/
  • After that will be an adventure (name TBD) in two versions. One for 5E, and one for 13th This will be the start of a number of linked adventures. One link between these adventures is intrigue. If you can’t win a straight up fight with everyone, you’ll need to win some allies and maybe run a few con games. This will be Kickstarted, so watch for it!

Surprise!

Almost every roleplaying game that supports combat scenes has a rule for surprise. The surprised side gets some disadvantage, usually for the first round. Today I’m talking about when the player characters get surprised by the GM’s characters (NPCs or GMCs depending on your system), not the other way around.

SurpriseWhy bother with surprise? How does it translate into fun at your table?

  • The default kind of fun is a more challenging combat. This is a great way to stress the PCs, and is particularly fun if the players are getting just a little too cocky. How long has it been since the players sweated the outcome of a combat? Standing there with targets on their faces while the opposition gets free shots is sure to get their attention.
  • Surprise can help in world building. Maybe here in drow territory, drow have ambush points set up all over the place. You can tilt the odds of whatever surprise mechanics your system has to make it favor the drow in these encounters. As the players venture deep underground, drow ambushes become part of their world. “We go north, we need to be extra careful for drow surprises.”
  • Surprise can help in shared world building. If the dice dictate the PCs are surprised, you can ask the players “Why are you surprised?” They can come up with all sorts of explanations you would never think of: “I’m so tired. Henrik’s ghost stories didn’t let me sleep last night.”
  • Surprise can help build story. An antagonist might run ahead of the PCs, helping potential adversaries set up ambushes. Maybe it’s because they feel the PCs have cheated them. The GM can leave clues such as “this is the third ambush in a row that has the hallmarks of a Dr. Wild setup. The doctor sure seems to have it in for you.”
  • Avoiding surprise by roleplaying can be rewarding. The players may meet someone who knows about the ambush ahead. If the players make friends, they find out about it. If the players are all murder-hobos, they’ll never learn that information.
  • Avoiding surprise can be a good use of resources. Maybe use of a magic spell can reveal the ambush ahead. In a game like 13th Age, spending an icon boon could have icon send a message about the ambush. In a 5E type of game, a PC that is part of a faction may get the info as a faction favore. In a GUMSHOE game, players can spend their Sense Trouble points. The players can feel very good that they avoided walking into that trap, by spending a resource wisely to avoid it.
  • In some systems, surprising the PCs can end up giving them resources. In Numenera and other Cypher System games, the GM can just declare the party is surprised as part of a group-wide GM Intrusion. Each PC then gets an experience point.

How have you used combat surprises to make your game more fun?

Dragonlanced

My sister Kelli just gave me Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. She got it for $1, and it’s a beat up paperback, and has been sold more than a few times from the looks of it. Anyway, a Dragonlance book, and I haven’t touched Dragonlance for years. Decades. The floodgates of memory open wide…

DragonLance

Back when it was new, I ran the Dragonlance campaign. It was my first story based, rather than encounter based, campaign. I know we made it to DL 8 (Dragons of War), but can’t remember where the campaign fizzled.

I have both fond, and not so fond, memories of the adventures. This has me thinking about story based adventures. And giant campaigns made of linked adventures, or adventure paths. I’ve got some adventure design coming up after The Gods Have Spoken, so what lessons can I learn from my Dragonlance experience?

As a player, I love to feel I’m part of some big epic story. I also want to feel I’m in control, not  a passenger on a railroad.

If you never played the original Dragonlance, it was very much a story. TSR released three novels, and each novel covered four adventure modules worth of epic feats and terrible dangers.

The players started off with pre-gens,  the heroes of the novels: Tanis, Raistlin, and the rest. This took the character creation away from players, but they got to see your character in the classic 1980s rpg art. Caramon the fighter (2nd from the left) was all about the mullet. Business in the front, party in the back.

Dragonlance characters

Look at all that variety. Unless you want to play a humanoid of color, or a woman whose armor covers her actual flesh.

I gave Raistlin the evil mage to a good friend. A good friend who dropped out of the campaign without a word. The story often turned on Raistlin, so that didn’t work so well.

The characters came with serious backstories, including who hooks up with who. Some great family ties, history to live up to, and the cleric who had to rediscover clerical magic which had vanished from the world many years ago.

In many ways this was a serious railroad. Of course my group went off the rails all the time, but as we moved to the next module I would yank them back. Eventually we lost interest. But not before having some great times.

All this nostalgia got me thinking about how to make a compelling story based adventure while preserving player agency.

Rather than focusing on mullets and railroads (plot, gender, and ethnicity), what worked?

  • Roots. These characters had deep backstory. One of the characters, Sturm Brightblade, a knight of Solamnia, got to go to the Tomb of Huma, the founder of his order. A large part of an entire module revolved around the backstory of one character. Sturm’s player loved it, and it was fun for the whole party.
  • Epic plot arc. Dragonlance created the format for all the adventure paths that came afterwards. No longer was a campaign a collection of dungeon crawls with no overarching plot arc. Each session was about winning the War of the Lance. Dragonlance showed us PCs that were anything but murder-hobos.
  • Variety. Dragonlance had dungeon crawls, politics, war, diplomacy, magic that felt magical, mystery, and intrigue. Every module had a different focus, and kept the game fresh.
  • A world. Krynn, the world of Dragonlance, was massive in scope and history.

In some cases, I think we’ve learned some better ways to get achieve some of these effects, but they are great effects.

Anyway, if your sibling gives you a dogeared Dragonlance paperback, go ahead and take the time to dig in. You may find ideas for your own games.

Dragonlance

Getting the Band Together with Meeting Montages

Montages are great for traveling. And for prison breaks. But there are other kinds of montages.

One great use of a montage is to transform all the individual PCs into a group with built in connections. It’s pretty simple, at the start of the first play session, go around the table and have every play help the player next to them. Let’s look at two examples.

Here’s an example from The Tower in the Mist:

Tower in the Mist - 13th Age - Dread Unicorn GamesMeeting Montage

Explain that the players are going to do some group storytelling to create a little shared backstory. Go around the table, letting each player tell of a problem and a solution. Turn to the first player:

“Introduce your character. Tell us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything about your character you’d like to share. Then describe a time you got into terrible trouble, and the player to your left saved you. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

When it’s the next player’s turn, say:

“Tell us how you saved the player to your right. There’s no dice roll, just make stuff up. You can use your one unique thing, backgrounds, race, class, or anything at all. Then introduce yourself, telling us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything else you want to share. Finally, describe the time you got into terrible trouble and the player to your left saved you. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

As the players go around the table, make notes of anything in their stories you might want to incorporate into this or future adventures. When you get to the last player, they will be saved by the first player, thus completing the montage.


5thlogo-transHere’s an example from The Gray World. In this example, the montage is doing double duty: connecting the PCs to each other, and connecting them to Old Man Gray, a central NPC in the adventure.

As soon as the montage ends, you start the first scene of the adventure, one where the people around the PCs all die a terrible death. Players are certain to wonder, could Old Man Gray be connected? Which is what you want.

Meeting Montage

Explain that the players are going to do some group storytelling to create a little shared backstory. Go around the table, letting each player tell of a problem and a solution. Turn to the first player:

“Introduce your character. Tell us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything about your character you’d like to share. Then describe a time Old Man Gray got into terrible trouble and you tried to help him, but nothing worked until the player to your left solved the problem. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

When it’s the next player’s turn, say:

“Tell us how you came to the player to your right’s aid and helped Old Man Gray. There’s no dice roll, just make stuff up. You can use your background, skills, race, class, or anything at all. Then introduce yourself, telling us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything else you want to share. Finally, describe the time Old Man Gray got into terrible trouble again and everything you tried couldn’t help him until the player to your left solved the problem. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

As the players go around the table, make notes of anything in their stories you might want to incorporate into this or future adventures. When you get to the last player, Old Man Gray’s problem will be solved by the first player, thus completing the montage.

Death for Breakfast

After the montage, tell the characters they are having a free breakfast at the Gnome’s Head Inn. Old Man Gray is paying as a reward for all the help the group has given him. Other tables are full of soldiers, hunters, and farmers. The serving girl comes over with a hot skillet.

Read Aloud or Paraphrase:

The serving girl brings down a hot skillet of sizzling sausages that smell like heaven. As you are about to dig in, she turns and says “Not again.”

Everyone else in the inn collapses to the flagstone floor, eyes bugging out and hands twitching. Out of their mouths writhe pallid white vines that sprout pale flowers. Their chests burst open, as more vines erupt out of their bodies. Only you and the serving girl are unaffected.

What do you do?


So, traveling, prison breaks, and meetups. There are more. What other uses do you get out of montages?

Don’t forget to visit our 5E Kickstarter: The Gods Have Spoken.