Dungeon Born: I Am Beginning To Suspect The Economics Of This Book Were Not Thought Through

Chapter 13-Dale

Dale is super tired and goes straight to sleep after the dungeon raid. He is then woken up by a guy tossing a bucket of water over his head.

“Good morning sunshine!” A grinning menace, Hans was the group member who had been wielding daggers the day before. He loomed above Dale, holding an empty bucket.

So on top of a bunch of characters not being named at all, some of them are picking up names a full chapter after they’re introduced. Really does feel like the author is just naming people as he goes, not bothering with characters who aren’t important, slapping names onto people who turn out to be more important than anticipated, and not bothering to edit their newly given names into the chapters where they previously appeared.

Hans and Dale talk about the benefits of being in the guild. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, except that we do confirm that a drastically extended lifespan is one of the benefits of a working chi spiral. Dale is shocked to hear this. It is not clear why an ability this useful and this easy to teach isn’t common knowledge. There is both large demand and large supply, but instead of being a huge market that turns a massive profit off of charging everyone and their dog, it’s instead a rare technique apparently not for sale. I’m guessing this is pilfered from xanxia. You wouldn’t expect the really awesome chi techniques to be taught for money. Real life monastic training is regarded with reverence so it usually makes sense for chi wizards with superpowers to have the same perspective on teaching the techniques. Indeed, I’d expect most people who want to buy chi cultivation techniques would be inherently unable to learn them.

These adventurer guys, though? They’re mercenaries, and the techniques they’re teaching are pretty much just basic meditation. Why aren’t they teaching chi cultivation for profit?

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XCOM Alien Design

I’ve mentioned in a previous article that XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s basic mechanics are, with a few exceptions, easily transferable to the tabletop and would be a significant improvement over D&D mechanics for just about any edition you care to name. Today I’m going to talk about something else tabletop RPGs can learn from XCOM, although this time it’s going to be less of something where you can copy and paste the existing XCOM material in with only minimal changes and more something where a general design philosophy should be learned from, even though the specific implementation cannot reasonably be copied. Today, I’m going to talk about NPCs.

In XC:EU there is a steadily escalating stock of enemy aliens, with new aliens introduced each month. XCOM also gets new funding each month depending on performance so far, and research into alien technology to be replicated and construction of new facilities also takes time (and money, the accumulation of which takes time), so there is a constant arms race between XCOM and the aliens. Here we already see how the direct analogue to D&D breaks down. You could set up a specific campaign whose premise was an XCOM style arms race where the party is under pressure to level or gear up in response to escalating monster threat (I might actually do that sometime), but that’s a specific campaign premise, not something you can generalize to all of D&D.

That said, the way in which aliens become steadily more deadly as time goes on does map to NPCs getting stronger as level goes up. Rather than an arms race where players must level their characters fast enough to keep up with the NPCs, in most D&D games either the NPCs automatically level to match the players or else their levels are static and the players are expected to seek out encounters appropriate to their level.

What can and should be learned from XC:EU’s enemy design is the way the game changes as the power level goes up. As an example, let’s look at a series of three enemies, all from the base game, the sectoid, the muton, and the sectopod. These three enemies are your main bruiser enemy at tiers one, two, and three of the game respectively. You fight sectoids at the very beginning with regular body armor and mundane assault rifles, you fight mutons with carapace armor and laser rifles, and you fight sectopods with titan armor and plasma rifles. Or maybe you fall behind the gear curve and get murdered horribly. What’s important is that, although the sectoid has three health, the muton has eight, and the sectopod has a staggering twenty-five, that is not the beginning and the end of the differences between them.

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Dungeon Born: End of the Tutorial

Chapter 12

<People are on the stairs, Dani. Get ready for an incursion! This is gonna be awe-soome.> I nearly sang, enthusiasm dancing in my mental voice.

Hey, Dani, remember how an adventuring party stomped in here and completely wrecked my shit? Well it’s happening again, but this time, I have rabbits!

It’s entirely unclear what kind of party we’ve got entering the dungeon this time. Seems like we’re probably looking at Fighter-y fellows just on the grounds that only those types of guys appear to have arrived right now, but numbers are unstated and it’s not clear how many of them are properly geared up and how many are using hand-me-down chain or leather armor or whatever.

Taking direct control of the largest [rabbit], I launched my new body at the back of someone’s knee. A direct hit in the tender pressure point, and the man fell. The attacks on the other humans had varying degrees of success, with a few landing decent hits against legs, some bouncing off armor, and one even being knocked away by a shield that moved when the guy wasn’t even looking!

So, yeah, they’re not Monty Python style killer rabbits, they don’t have any special powers or anything. Cal is seriously just taking totally ordinary rabbits and using them to try and bludgeon his opponents. And he seems super stoked that this is gonna be super effective. His thorn-spitting, fang-mawed mushrooms are way more threatening, and to the extent that the rabbits are helpful at all, it’s that they might keep a target busy while a thorn ‘shroom lines up a shot.

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Video GM’s Guide: Combat Encounters

Today in the video GM’s guide, we discuss combat encounters, and the actual video part of the video creeps towards being relevant. Not particularly close, mind you, but closer than it was before.

In Iron Fang Invasion, the party scouts out the Hollow Hills in a string of random encounters that Paizo apparently thinks are thrilling. In fairness to them, these encounters might serve a pacing purpose for parties who didn’t turn the cheat codes on and make all encounters trivial.

Dungeon Born: Foreshadowing of Five Armies

Chapter 10

Having taken a couple of days to spend nearly all my free time replaying XCOM in its entirety, I’m pretty sure I’m quite finished half-assing my projects, so let’s dive into Dungeon Born with a proper, full-length post.

It had taken a few weeks of hard travel, but the group of mostly C-ranked adventurers had finally reached a city large enough to have a Guild office, an Elven embassy, and a church with a B-ranked priest.

Okay, so we’re following these guys again. Have we seen the last of Dale? Because he didn’t seem like he was done yet, narrative-wise. He ended his introductory chapter all full of ambition, and so far all he’s done with it is write a letter and show these other guys to the dungeon entrance. I like the idea of having Dale as the consistent face of Cal’s opposition, staying the same while the adventuring parties are usually or always new characters after the last ones die or flee. Since the whole point of a dungeon heart story is that you’re seeing it from the dungeon’s perspective instead of the adventurers’, you might expect that this makes the adventurers the antagonists, and it’d be cool if it turned out that no, the dungeon side equivalent to an adventurer is actually a minion, and it’s the quest givers who are the dungeon’s true antagonist.

Maybe we’ll hop back to Dale and get that dynamic going at some point.

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Turn-Based Squad Combat: XCOM Did It Right

New editions for D&D and things that wish they were D&D continue to come out at a steady pace. 5e is a few years old, and new Pathfinder is gearing up for a second edition. One thing that frequently gets changed between editions is some tinkering with the combat system. Hit charts gave way to THAC0 gave way to BAB, saves went from five to three to six, HP is constantly inflating, and so on.

And it’s weird to me that none of the more recent edition changes have drawn any inspiration from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, because those guys nailed it. Obviously you can’t just do a wholesale conversion because there’s a lot of guns and cover and so on in XC:EU, but the basics are really strong.

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Reminder About Comments

I say “reminder” but really I’m reposting this because I am, for the first time ever, getting comments from more than one guy on my blog posts. Earlier I was mostly just leaving notices in case someone showed up, but now the tiniest inklings of an actual discussion are beginning to form. It’s cool. It also means those earlier notices are buried under like two hundred unrelated blog posts. So here’s what’s up with comments.

Real comments are still outnumbered about 2:1 by spam comments, which is why people who are posting for the first time need to have their comments approved. It’s not an Orwellian regime of only letting goodthink through, I seriously just check to see if a comment is spam and approve it if it’s not. You should be able to post automatically after you’ve had a single comment approved.

Dungeon Born: That Rabbit’s Not Dynamite

Chapter 9

I was particularly nervous that another group would come in soon, due to every living thing in my dungeon except me, Dani, and the Silverwood tree being dead and reduced to ash when the jerks, I mean- the scouting group, had come through.

This is not an unreasonable fear, but injecting the narrative with a “joke” like this is even worse than leaving them in dialogue. With dialogue, you can pull the trick where other characters present roll their eyes, so if the joke lands, then great, the audience is laughing and probably doesn’t care that other characters in the book didn’t like it, and if the joke flops, then at least the joke was supposed to be a dud, which means the audience’s eye rolls are directed towards a character in the story, not the story itself. It might even help improve their immersion into the story by making the other characters, the ones who are also rolling their eyes, more relatable.

Sticking it in the narrative, on the other hand, means that when the joke is bad, I roll my eyes at the story.

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Dungeon Born: Late Explanations

EDIT: I forgot to add this to the queue when it was finished editing and didn’t notice that it didn’t publish until late in the evening. Well, I accidentally published a post 12 hours early a few weeks ago, so I figure if I schedule this one for 12 hours late that’s a wash. Also, the title of “late explanations” was actually picked out before this happened. Maybe I should avoid putting the word “late” in future blog post titles to avoid the curse going forward.

Chapter 8

Once again we begin with Cal’s abbreviated perspective on the raid.

I should never have made it so easy to get down. I just really had a thing for the spiral staircase ever since Dani had suggested it.

I am kind of surprised to see the story admitting this is a bad idea. On a similar subject, it’s kind of surprising to have the story let Cal be completely overwhelmed by this crack team of veteran adventurers, even if the delivery was very much underwhelming. This story isn’t without good ideas, although they are unfortunately very often crippled by the execution. For example:

<Dani… I think they are going to kill me.> I uttered slowly when the strange looking man talked about my bloodmoss.

“It’ll be ok Cal; can you tell what rank they are?” Dani replied soothingly.

<No, I just visualize an ‘X’ when I try to analyze them. I can’t analyze their gear either… What is going on?> I demanded, voice low and scared. I liked to understand things.

“The gear makes sense; their aura would protect it unless it got too far away from them. Oh! I never told you about auras! You see, when an aura is present you can’t affect things in the same way.[“]

You can tell from the bracketed close-quote that this isn’t even the end of the lecture. Much like the Cleric shrieking out a calm analysis of the situation, Cal is very likely going to die here and Dani’s all “oh, hey, now’s a great time for a lecture.” Think maybe Dani is acting like this party is a non-threat to try and calm Cal down? Think again:

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I Get The Weirdest Search Terms Sometimes

I should probably be figuring out how to flesh Guinevere out for another Merlin post, but I’m kind of tired and I’ve been wanting to do a post on this subject for a while: I have some of the weirdest search results sometimes. I expect this is common amongst anyone whose blog manages to achieve even the tiny amount of success I’ve managed, but the fact that it’s normal makes it weirder.

For example:

are there any official books about trielta hills

How did this person find my blog? It’s not a completely weird question to ask. The Trielta Hills are a location in Faerun, their thing is that they’re uniquely devoid of any lost wizard towers, ancient burial mounds, or lost kingdoms, which is supposed to be a “ha ha, we’ve got so many adventure locations that normalcy is weird!” but if you can’t find any location within 100 miles of where you’re sitting right now that wouldn’t make a great D&D adventure site then you live in a uniquely desolate area. It is indeed super weird that the Trielta Hills apparently have no notable history whatsoever.

Griping about dumb worldbuilding aside, though, how many pages of Google results did this guy scroll through to reach my blog? Must’ve been on like page twelve or something. Did I even mention the Trielta Hills in my Sphere of Influence posts?

“princess peach” “different plot”

When I wrote my weird Mario ramblings in 2017, I thought it was barely reaching the level of “better than nothing,” but apparently it’s actually bringing some amount of traffic in? I hope this guy found what he was looking for. My interpretation of the Mario canon is definitely a different plot.

5e op necromancer

Was this guy looking for an explanation of why Necromancers are OP? Or was he just looking for how to build an OP necromancer? The latter one isn’t exactly hard. You just prepare Animate Dead into every slot you can and call it a day. Sure, we can quibble a little bit over how often you should prepare Animate Objects instead, but really, do we care exactly how much we’re breaking the game after we’ve already broken it?

what awaken on line affinity are you

Dark. You are dark affinity, because everyone is dark affinity. Jason got there by killing two NPCs for power, and I guarantee you’ve done that at least once.

ffx11 love chaos

This guy was probably trying to type in FFXII and just failed super hard at it, but I like to imagine that this is actually a secret code used to communicate to Google that he is ready to join their chaos cult.


Apparently at least one person has reached this blog by Googling its exact url.

vampirer blog white wolf

It’s not weird that someone searching for a blog about White Wolf wound up running into my Beast: the Primordial article. It’s also not weird that they made a minor spelling error. It is kind of weird that I got three different views from the exact same misspelling.


This is the single most popular known search result leading people to this blog (which still makes it a minute amount of total traffic – almost all search results are unknown). The exact url of one of my articles. It’s a good article and all, but why do people enter this one into a search engine instead of the address bar by mistake so often?


Forget page twelve, this guy must’ve been on like page two hundred before my blog came up in a Google search for a term that refers to a massive online marketplace, a massive rain forest, and a famous tribe of warrior women with an association with the hero of a recently popular super hero movie.