Blogs


More Like This: The Hidden Halls of Hazakor

I recently backed the Kickstarter campaign, The Hidden Halls of Hazakor, and had the opportunity to interview the designer behind the adventure. I'm enjoying the previews thus far and wanted to share with all of you. At the moment, the campaign has 5 days to go and is almost 95% funded.

What is The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

This is a starter adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, covering a lot of the same “beginner Dungeon Master” ground as most starter adventures do. But it’s also written specifically with a focus on young beginner Dungeon Masters (an age-12-and-up kind of thing), with the intent of helping those young DMs not got overwhelmed by the experience of running their first games.

Why did you pick 5e D&D?

I went with D&D partly because it’s my go-to game for both work and play. But also partly because as a ruleset, I think 5e has a pretty solid foundation of being welcoming to new players. I love a lot of other games as much as I love 5e, but as part of the idea of doing an adventure to help get young DMs and young players into the game, one wants those DMs and players to then be able to easily keep going with the game. I find that fifth edition has a pretty optimal sense of being self-contained and approachable, and I think that makes it a good fit for younger players.

Why concentrate on writing an adventure for young DMs?

When I first wrote the adventure that has since morphed into “Hidden Halls of Hazakor,” I did it for the RPG club I was running at my daughters’ middle school a few years back. So at the time, it was a reaction to seeing kids in the club trying their hand at running games for the first time. I saw a lot of the same sorts of problems, and the same sorts of questions coming up — but I also saw pretty much every kid dealing with the same general anxiety about how running a game should feel, and how to keep the other players entertained, and what to do if things went off the rails. I remembered how those were all the same uncertainties I experienced when I ran my first D&D games, so I put the initial version of the adventure together quickly as a response to that. I wanted something that would be easy for a first-time DM to get a handle on, and that could incorporate advice for dealing with the broad range of issues that the young DMs in the club were dealing with.

What are some of the areas you want to concentrate on for new DMs?

In a general sense, I wanted to front-load an adventure with as much of the information and tips that come from the experience of running games as I could. So much of being a good DM comes down to the experience of having run games. It’s very much a learn-by-doing scenario on many levels. And that’s daunting enough when you’re a teenager (as I was when I first started gaming) or even as an adult. But when you’re a kid of a certain age, it can be downright scary to suddenly find yourself in a position when you’re responsible for making sure four other people are having fun for three hours a week. And judging from my own experience, at least, that fear can get downright existential when you’re a kid coming from that feeling-like-an-outsider/not-really-that-confident mindset that draws a lot of us into gaming in the first place.

So “Hazakor” first and foremost tries to provide an adventure framework that’s relatively straightforward — a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Then as that adventure unfolds and things happen, the book explains to the young DM “Here’s how to think about what’s happening.” Talking about different ways to improvise comes up a lot, both in the performance sense of playing NPCs and the more esoteric sense of dealing with the players doing things that are unexpected. Because for a lot of DMs (first-time or otherwise), that remains the hardest thing to get a handle on. And that sense of how to deal with things changing in mid-game extends into a lot of the specific advice any DM can get or give, from thinking about how the environment can alter the conditions of combat, to how to deal with players intentionally trying to wreck the fun for other people, to how to deal with characters dying.

Halls of Hazakor SketchesHalls of Hazakor Sketches

I love the artwork you've released so far for the game, but I may have noticed a theme with it. Want to talk about your philosophy behind the art?

Thank you, and you’re in good company. There’s been a ton of positive feedback about the project so far, and pretty much everyone who’s commented leads off by talking about how much they love Jackie Musto’s illustrations. The underlying idea for the art was first and foremost to provide the main entry point to making running a game feel accessible for a young DM, and to make the adventure feel as welcoming as possible. There’s a fair bit of humor in the adventure, and I approached Jackie initially on the basis of knowing that her style would really suit that tone. I wanted the characters to look young because I wanted young DMs and players to be able to feel a sense of connection to them. And I wanted them to represent a balanced mix of genders and a broad range of ethnicities and cultures because that’s what I want to see in the fantasy I play and read. And though I certainly expected that Jackie would be on board with that, I couldn’t have predicted how amazingly her art would bring all those different parameters to life.

I’m extremely privileged, both in a general socio-cultural sense and in the more specific sense of being a person who gets to work in tabletop games and in fantasy fiction for a living. And I’m finding that the older I get, the less patience I have with fantasy that refuses to break out of the faux-European-Medieval tropes that have driven the genre for way too long. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of amazing non-Eurocentric fantasy out there, because that clearly isn’t the case. But I think that fantasy in general, and gaming in particular, has a real “fallback position” problem, wherein our first instinct as readers, as players, and as creators is to think about fantasy in terms of the fantasy we already know. And there’s an undeniable bit of a white-male feedback loop in the fantasy that many of us already know, and I’d really like to see that broken.

Where can people find out more about The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

The Kickstarter campaign page has pretty much all the info on the project, its background, and the questions people have been asking about it. And for anybody who wants any more information, I’m on Facebook and Twitter pretty much anytime.

Game Journaling: Towns

One of the things I'm looking forward to with the gaming journal is the ability to plan my campaign anywhere and anytime, something that is particularly important with a little one. A key part of planning for me has to do with locations, particularly towns.

Here's an example spread for town planning. For the town map, I printed Dyson Logo's New Cresthill map onto a shipping label (Avery 8168) and placed it into my gaming journal. I then figured out a few key elements to be filled out at a future date (when I have some time) and an area for an index. I also colored in the map with some colored pencils.

Example TownExample Town

Some notes for future iterations:

  • I tried both watercolors and alcohol markers on a duplicate of the map but neither worked great. The paper soaks up the wakly to move watercolors around and it seemed to be really thirsty when it came to alcohol markers and it was often causing them to run dry for a moment with any extended coloring.
  • If I want the effect of alcohol markers, I think I would print these on marker paper, color them in, and then use an adhesive such as the Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner.
  • Adding a lot of maps will cause the journal to get wider in that area. I might try to change up where I put the maps so the top of journal doesn't get wider than the bottom or put two maps on one page and use the facing page for the notes.
  • Putting maps in the journal without any information would be a great way to seed future brainstorming sessions.

Some sources for maps:

Game Journaling: Character Sheets for D&D 5e and BubbleGumshoe

In my last post, I talked about the basics of bullet journals and the utility of the concept when it comes to gaming. I even showed examples of how to layout helper charts for running a BubbleGumshoe game. This time, let's explore how we can use any dot grid journal for keeping character sheets.

Just a quick reminder, I use the Rhodia Webnotebook. Each journal manufacturer may have different page measurements as well as placement and spacing on the page.

D&D 5e

One challenge I want to set for myself soon is to make a bunch of characters. I want to make a portfolio of these, so keeping them in a gaming journal makes a ton of sense. If I didn't have a separate journal for gaming, I'd be tempted to keep them in my primary bullet journal because I would have it handy whenever I wanted (no more "where did I put that sheet?" as I look at a pile of at least dozens of sheets).

For the first one, especially since it's meant to be an example, I largely just reworked the character sheet presented in the back of the player's handbook.

D&D Character Sheet StatsD&D Character Sheet Stats
D&D Character Sheet Character InfoD&D Character Sheet Character Info
D&D Character Sheet SpellcastingD&D Character Sheet Spellcasting

Supplies Used:

  • Watercolors (Van Gogh student set)
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens (.005, .01, .02, .05)
  • Copic Multiliner in Cool Gray
  • White Gelly Pen
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen
  • Prismacolor Color Pencils
  • Scotch Washi Tape
  • Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner

One key is that the washi tape on the right hand side can make it super easy to find your character sheet in the future and gives you an additional opportunity to customize for your character.

Of course, this is just the basic character sheet. One of the benefits of the dot journal is that you can customize however you wish. For instance, I might rework this to do the spell casting sheet as the second page if I had a spell caster. I also would come up with trackers for various character classes, such as anything that is limited to a certain number of times between rests or tracking consumables.

After I shared my work in progress, my friend, Chelsea Kerr, rushed to create a version of her own. Here's her version.
D&D Character Sheet by ChelseaD&D Character Sheet by Chelsea

You can find Chelsea online on Twitter @chelseachan.

BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet

After I made the D&D character sheet, I had a cute (to me at least) idea for how to do a BubbleGumshoe character sheet. I thought about some of the items that a high schooler might have in their backpack. (I couldn't find a plain old ballpoint pen in my bag of tricks, but it would have been a great addition).

BubbleGumshoe Character SheetBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet
BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet SecretsBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet Secrets

Supplies Used:

  • Highlighters
  • Small colored notepaper
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens
  • Sharpie Art pens (from the set of 12)

Where to get inspiration

If you're looking for more inspiration on how to draw your character sheet, here are some great resources:

If you create your own, feel free to share them with me via Twitter, Instagram, or via the contact form on this site.

Note:
Character art:
D&D: "Half-Elf Paladin" © 2012 Brian Patterson, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ http://www.prismaticart.com/collection/half-elf-paladin
BubbleGumshoe: From example character sheet available on Evil Hat's website. https://www.evilhat.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sleuth-Amanda-Ba...

Game Journaling: BubbleGumshoe

In an earlier post, I talked about the ways in which I was incorporating gaming elements into my bullet journal. In this post, I'd like to start looking at ways to integrating journaling into your gaming. This first post will show an obvious use case, putting some of the charts recommended by the game BubbleGumshoe into a journal (whether it's your normal bullet journal or a separate gaming journal).

The Journal

First, a bit about bullet journals. The system was created by Ryder Carroll. The predominant format for the journals are dot-pages, which are like the grid pages typically used by gamers for drawing maps, but only the intersections are visible, not the lines. I use the Rhodia black webnotebook (Amazon Affiliate Link) but Leuchtturm1917 and Moleskine are two other popular brands. A nice thing I like about the dot grid is that it makes it easy to do layout without being too distracting.

In addition to the choice of journal, a key element of the bullet journal system is numbering all of the pages and creating an index. Here for each topic, you list the pages the topic appears on. This helps you not only quickly find the information in your journal but also is incredibly agile. Did you create an NPC a month ago and realize you don't have enough room to add notes related to the NPC's appearance in last night's session? Create a new page and just add the page number to the index.

BubbleGumshoe

BubbleGumshoe is an RPG that adapts the Gumshoe ruleset to the genre of teenagers solving mysteries. Think Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Veronica Mars, and the like. The book presents a few charts to help the GM run the game and they seemed obvious elements to add to a gaming journal.

Sleuth Ability Matrix

BubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability MatrixBubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability Matrix
Knowing which sleuths have which skills can be important for the GM to keep the game going since sleuths who show up to the scene with a clue and have the correct investigative ability get the clue without rolling or spending. Additionally, an ability matrix can be useful for the group to understand if they have enough abilities covered and that the spotlight can be divided between all sleuths.

For this chart, I used Sakura Pigma Micron pens including a brush pen (for the black colored in areas). The white text was done with a white gel pen and the light coloring for rows was done with Prismacolor color pencils.

Supporting Cast Checklist

BubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast ChecklistBubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast Checklist
Another example is the supporting cast checklist which is intended to help the Game Master ensure that they are spreading around the spotlight when it comes to NPCs in the game. Here I did this as one page, but it is a bit space constrained given that choice. It would be easy to convert it to a multi-page spread and give more area for notes.

For this chart, I again used the Sakura Pigma Micron pens and Prismacolor color pencils.

These are just two examples of how a journal could be used for the game and there are many other elements to incorporate.

D&D Rules for Pregnancy: Why the hate?

Yeah, it’s been awhile since my first post. Right after I finished it, little dude started to get his 12 month molars in and boy are they a doozy. After a number of low sleep nights and then Gen Con, we’re here. Last time we talked about what motivations folks might have for roleplaying pregnancy in RPGs, now I’d like to talk a bit why the thought makes some of us want to run away as fast as possible.


The birth of Saint Edmund, he is being nursed by a midwife w Wellcome V0014976

One of the big reasons, society (at least society in the US), isn’t always great in regards to pregnancy. We have the worst maternal death rate of the “developed world.” We lack all manner of assistance for new parents, including dismal parental leave policies and child care assistance (for instance, I pay more than my rent for day care). We have a weird fetishization of fetuses, to the point where it often feels like the pregnant person is no longer a person but rather just a womb. While it’s changing in some circles, there’s a huge amount of pressure to not talk about pregnancy loss, especially miscarriages or abortions, and many folks who are having infertility issues suffer in silence. We still don’t have great terminology for talking about pregnancy in a world where we acknowledge the existence of people who are trans, non-binary, agender, and the like, not to mention same-sex households. And this is just the beginning of the issues that can come up.

So, when one introduces pregnancy into a D&D game, they are walking into a minefield and not only does the game not offer any tools to help address this issue, the way D&D works can exacerbate issues. Why? Because D&D grew out of war gaming, and both are attempts to simulate/model a world, applying the average to the individual. Thus, what we often get then when folks attempt to bring pregnancy into a D&D game is a bunch of random roll tables (some of which may be based on how actual human pregnancy works on average, but many are instead based on pure fiction, superstition, and the outdated views of human reproduction), stereotypes, and something that acts as salt in the wounds (at best) if not causing hurt and trauma while often not even addressing the motivations of folks at the table who want to have pregnancy in their games.

So, what’s a person to do?

First and foremost, if you know that the topic is likely to come up in the game, talk to your players, preferably individually and in an empathetic manner, about how they feel about it. If your group tends to veer towards riskier topics, perhaps set up a system (such as the X card) where people can say that they are uncomfortable in a manner that feels safe to them and everyone agrees to accept). If you think it might come up in a con(vention) game, use something like the X card from the start. Find out what boundaries folks have, e.g. pregnancy is fine but can we not deal with miscarriage, etc. If these sorts of conversations seem unnecessary to you, consider if you are the right kind of GM for this type of content.

If there’s consent for the topic (enthusiastic consent would be great here), then consider how your and/or the table’s plan for simulating pregnancy might come across to folks. Is one of your players or their significant others someone who has been (or is) pregnant and is tired of everyone analyzing everything they eat to the point where they can’t even get a small coffee without getting epic side eye? (Yes, moderate amounts of caffeine are now considered ok again for many pregnant folks.) Are they or someone they know tired of morning sickness jokes or of how we treat pregnancy as a disability? Have you considered that many pregnant folks are quite active well into their pregnancy and that the guidelines for activity level are tied to how active they were before pregnancy (complications notwithstanding)?

Also, please run what you plan to do past more than you significant other. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve resisted doing anything more than glare when I shared how I felt about something and had to hear about how their significant other was totally ok with what I just objected to so I should be ok with it too. The fact that some are ok with something doesn’t override someone else’s objection, especially when that something is happening to the character of the person objecting.

In addition, remember that the averages of a bunch of discrete measurements (existence of morning sickness, appearance of the linea nigra, etc) taken together is not the same as the average pregnancy and every pregnancy is unique. I think this is probably one of the hardest things for everyone involved in pregnancy (including doctors), because we tend to publicize and judge ourselves and other people’s pregnancies based on averages. The number of questions where someone is obviously stressed because they have not developed a particular symptom of pregnancy or met an average milestone is so heartbreaking. And it’s one of the largest issues I have with attempting to portray pregnancy in D&D because it often can’t help but reinforce it.

Along those lines, try to be conscious of how your rules for pregnancy in D&D might reinforce other things that you may not expect. For instance, fifth edition did a great job in making explicit that there are many variations of characters, especially in regards to gender and sexuality. Are your rules heteronormative? How do they handle trans characters? Do you only ever mention intercourse as a means for conception? How do you refer to the pregnant person? The partner? Do your rules potentially force players to out their trans characters?

There’s a lot to unpack here and often not a lot of good examples for discussion because sadly, it’s often at the cutting edge of where we’re trying to go as a society. For instance, I have listened to a fair number of trans people discuss how poor medicine is at properly treating them. Everything from getting misgendered when needing gynecological services to not getting proper medical care due to assumptions, not to mention the issues with attempting to keep up a sex versus a gender classification system, where trans men are told that they have female bodies and vice versa. Many now believe that trans men have male bodies regardless of their plumbing just as trans women have female bodies (not to mention intersex, non-binary, and agender) and any medical attention that should be based on the existence of certain organs should be specific to that organ and not tied up in notions of an artificial sex/gender binary.

If I could do a tl;dr of this article, it would be this. If you want to have pregnancy in your D&D game, then try to be kind and listen to one another.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

Resources for FAQs

Search

Syndicate

Syndicate content