DnDtober the 1st: Goblins

Ah, goblins! The canon-fodder staple of many a D&D campaign. For most of gaming’s history, goblins have been little more than low-level XP sacks for beginning characters. I feel that goblins didn’t really come into their own until Paizo re-skinned them into the psychotic, fire-loving menaces they are in the Pathfinder RPG. So wonderful is that re-imagining, when I came back to playing D&D it was hard for me not to keep playing them in the same way.

But I needed a way to bulk up the number of fey creatures in my campaign. Goblins have historically been considered part of the faerie-realm, whether as a stoic race of crafters akin to D&D’s dwarves or as vicious creatures of the dark fey. As the foot-soldiers of the stronger fey races in my campaign I can use goblins in a number of ways the players might not expect. Low-level mooks, sure. But they can also appear as arcane artisans, skilled smiths, monstrous spell-casters, sneaky assassins, or vicious warriors. A lot of their effectiveness, at least to start, is going to come from playing against type. Imagine your players’ surprise when what they assume to be stupid, low-level fodder actually turn out to be competent and effective warriors. Hilarity ensues.

To heighten the fey aspects of my goblins, I give them low-powered arcane abilities. Randomly assigning each goblin a single cantrip is a good way of reinforcing their connection to faerie and making them more interesting in combat without making them too powerful. I also give my goblin leaders and chieftains slightly higher-powered magical abilities, like first- or second-level spells. In fact, that is how goblins determine who will be in charge; only a handful of goblins gain increased magical powers, and that allows them to take charge over their weaker kin.

But whatever your campaign, try to make goblins fit in with some aspect of your world instead of using them as generic grunts. Playing against your players’ expectations with monsters they’ve previously encountered is a great way of immersing them in your campaign. And it just makes the game more fun overall.

How do you use goblins in your campaign? Let me know in the comments.

Campaign Creation: Here Lie Monsters!

In the previous Campaign Creation posts we established the basics of the campaign’s starting point and the NPCs surrounding the party. Today I want to look at monsters the party is likely to encounter, for at least the first few levels and beyond.

The Ruin is the remains of a vast, ancient city. Little is known about the original occupants except something either caused them to abandon the city, or killed them in such a way that it left the city intact enough to crumble over time. I’m deliberately keeping this part vague in order to fill in details later on, based at least partly on player speculation. Often players brainstorm great ideas when they are discussing possible adventure directions, and a good GM will leave room to take advantage of that.

But the characters can’t fight vague speculation, they need monsters! For my purposes there will be two main encounter areas, the ruins above ground and a series of ancient caverns deep under The Ruin. Connecting the two areas are all the cellar, crypt and basement areas of The Ruin’s buildings; these will serve as a transitional region between the surface and the depths. Today’s post will focus on The Surface.

The Surface

One of the cornerstone monster races of the Pathfinder setting is goblins. I love the direction Paizo took them, transforming them from disposable cannon fodder to the psychotic, fire-obsessed maniacs I’ve come to love. So The Ruins are going to feature a tribe of goblins, infesting crumbled buildings across the city. But to add some conflict to the situation and keep the players on their toes, I want another humanoid tribe, forever in conflict with the goblins. Kobolds would be an obvious choice, but I want something the players might not be as familiar with.

Every time I picture The Ruin, I imagine it surrounded by jungle and cloaked in vines and mosses. Given that, it makes sense to me to add something reptilian or amphibious to the mix. Because of an idea I already have for subterranean foes I’m going to avoid the obvious lizard folk. Instead, I’m going to go with a little used race, the frog-like grippli. I imagine them occupying washed-out, swampy areas on the edges of the city, coming into conflict with the goblins as the grippli push into the city scavenging for treasure, and the goblins push outwards in search of food. Each tribe believes they were the original builders of the city, and will once again rise to take their rightful place as rulers over all. Whether this is true isn’t important, but it adds an interesting dimension to the conflict between the two groups. The presence of two small-sized humanoid tribes also allows for numerous trap encounters, as each tribe uses cunning to their advantage against the other, as well as the “big-folk” constantly encroaching on “their” city.

With these two main groups in place, we can easily fill in some other monster types. Now that we’ve added elements of swampy and jungle terrain, we can easily create encounters with appropriate jungle animals: apes, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and all the larger and dire versions of said creatures. A jungle setting, especially if the jungle encroaches on The Ruin, also allows for the use of all the dangerous plant creatures that rarely see time at the table: tendriculos, hangman trees, and a variety of oozes and fungal creatures. Travelling through the jungle, or overgrown sections of The Ruins, should be fraught with potential danger. Using these plant and animal creatures will allow me to drop in a challenge when I think the party least expects it, while immersing them in the setting.

I don’t think the setting would be complete without undead, especially an ancient, dead city. The obvious place to centre undead encounters would be the city’s temple district, though of course the players might not realize that without a bit of digging (sometime literally) and research. Of course undead can be encountered anywhere in The Ruins; zombies can shamble anywhere, ghouls can range widely for food, and other types of undead might inhabit the ruins of private homes and family crypts. The undead will also serve as transitional encounters between the Surface and the Depths, as they can be found in underground crypts ranging all over The Ruins.

That gives me enough to start building encounters and generate the initial adventures. Next time we’ll look at the evils lurking deep (and not so deep) beneath The Ruins, waiting to strike against the surface.

Are there any monsters I haven’t mentioned you think would fit the setting so far? Drop your ideas in the comments!

Free RPG Day Reviews, Part 2

In Part 1 of my Free RPG Day Reviews, I looked at my three favourite small press offerings.  Today I want to look at what the big publishers brought to the table. If you are sitting comfortably, and even if you’re not, we’ll begin.

Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG Quickstart/Shadows of a Black Sun – (Shadows of a Black Sun is an adventure set in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG. Edge of the Empire, as the name suggests, focuses on characters and role-playing on the outskirts: the thieves, the scoundrels, the down-but-not-quite-out. And the FRPGD adventure backs that up by throwing the supplied pre-gens (not a Jedi or Sith in sight) against the scum and villainy of the Star Wars universe. To my mind it’s an approach long overdue, and I can’t wait to see other adventures in the same gritty style.

But what intrigued me the most were the mechanics presented in the Quickstart rules.  For ease of play you will need to buy the special dice especially for the game, though there is a chart for converting from regular polyhedral rolls to the new symbols if strange new dice don’t do it for you.  Whatever dice you use, every important action is resolved as a challenge rolled using the player’s pool of dice against the game master’s.  Certain things cancel each other out and the end result tells you not only success, but degree of success and whether there are consequences regardless of success. At first glance it seemed complicated, but after I tried a few practice rolls it became pretty intuitive.

You did your job, Shadows of a Black Sun: I’m picking up this game.

We Be Goblins Too!We Be Goblins Too! is the sequel to Paizo’s amazingly popular We Be Goblins! adventure module from FRPGD 2010, and all the feedback around the web says this one will be just as popular. Written for the Pathfinder RPG, the adventure focuses on the literal trials and self-inflicted tribulations of the four goblin characters supplied with the adventure. Having lost their tribe to filthy adventurers, the four buff goblins (level 3, practically heroic for goblins) seek to join a new tribe. And a new tribe wants them, but wants one of them to be chief as well. Hilarity ensues!

Honestly, there is nothing not to love about this adventure. Another chance to play the barely lovable, fire-flinging sociopaths of the Pathfinder universe? Yes, please! Loads of fun for gamers new and old, and a great way to get new players into the game (though maybe start with We Be Goblins! to get the full goblin experience). Seriously, you’re playing goblins, so knowing the rules is secondary; goblins are as ignorant of how things work as new players often are, so it’s a perfect fit for newbies. And I can’t say this enough, you get to play goblins! Goblins!

Okay, I sort of tricked you. There were three in my last post, you had every right to expect three in this post. But I wanted to talk for a moment about a big publisher I was disappointed wasn’t there this year: Wizard’s of the Coast.

Given how hard at work they must be on D&D Next, one could maybe understand why they’d want to take a year off from FRPGD. Except that WotC scheduled their World Wide D&D Game Day for June 15. Why yes, that is the same date as Free RPG Day. So not only did they decline to take part in an established and successful community-building event, but they pulled the super douche move of running a competing event on the same day. I have no idea how popular an event it was elsewhere, but to the best of my knowledge no local stores ran a WWD&DD event at all so I’m unsure what this was meant to accomplish.

I don’t want to turn this into WotC bashing. I’m excited about D&D Next and some of the stuff I’ve seen in the open playtest. But I do think this was a missed opportunity on their part, and a serious misstep with the gaming community. I’m not privy to the details of their production schedule, but they could have pushed their thing back a week. Heck, running an event the week after a successful FRPGD could have brought them more players. Instead they chose to fracture the gaming community with pointless competition. I’d understand if they were launching a new game that day, but D&D Next isn’t even going to be available for Gen Con this year. So why the pointless big brother bully tactics?

Okay, that’s enough from me. If you have a favourite FRPGD find or any thoughts on my post, leave them in the comments below. And if you hit up World Wide D&D Game Day, tell me about it, I’d be interested to hear how it was for you. Next time, dice talk!