Archive for November, 2011

NaGa DeMon – Fog of War – Massive Battle System

November 30, 2011 Comments off

NaGa DeMon (National Game Design Month) is coming to a close. Deep in our underground gaming labs, the dwarves, gnomes, and pirates here at Skyland have been slaving away on our submission. Skyland Games presents: Fog of War!

Fog of War is a mini game that stands on its own, but has been used in our RPG campaigns as a massive battle resolution system. In our recently completed dwarven clan campaign, we marshaled an army of fellow dwarves against a huge undead horde invading from Thay. It is very customizable and could be adapted for use in just about any campaign. Our PCs acted as Generals, conferring a bonus based on our class to the unit we commanded. To play Fog of War requires at least two players, but is generally geared towards a Players vs. GM setup. Download the PDF and let us know what you think!

Click Above to download Fog of War!

Epic! – Not Meek or Casual… EPIC

November 29, 2011 Comments off

Courtesy of WotC - Legacy of Io

A fascinating discussion was started over at critical hits over the holiday weekend. Mike Shea, who literally wrote the book on epic play, laments that scaling challenging encounters is much more difficult at the epic tier than it is in heroic. Having just completed another awesome session of my Scales of War campaign, I can understand the concern, but feel it should be looked at in a different light.

Consider the hours and dedication it takes to get a character from level 1 to level 30. Players even entering the epic tier are not going to be casual or new players. If you have the dedication to play at the epic level, its because kobolds, goblins, and orcs have lost their appeal. In our last session of scales of war campaign, we fought a living typhoon elemental that had the seals of three gods on its chest, in the middle of an ocean floor, while the ocean was held back by the typhoon. In the incredible battle that ensued we used party synergies and effective tactics to whittle down the more than 1400 HP beast, smash him open, grab the Arrow of Fate – an artifact that is a piece of Io, the dragon super-god that split into Bahamut and Tiamat at the dawn of time, just before the walls of the sea came crashing down around us. EPIC!

Will battles take longer at level 25 than at level 5? Almost without exception; but that is as it should be. Will it take more prep-time, flexibility, and skills from the DM? Naturally. An epic game needs an epic DM. I recently DMed a low-epic level module that was not properly scaled for our party. The PCs were walking all over every challenge. Some of it was good luck, a lot of it was character optimization, but in the end I feel it falls to the DM to bump up those stats, recharge that encounter power, and add an extra damage die or two. If you’re not up for the challenge for your weekly game, and feel like you have dedicated all the prep time you possibly can, have an awesome time in heroic. In my other group we limited both the dwarven clan, and we plan on limiting the pirates to level 10. Its fun, and not overly-taxing. There may come a time when you as a player, or as a DM want something more. At that point you can join me and my epic-brethren in the Astral Sea. Look for us on the most dangerous planes, in the deadliest locations. We’ll be the ones challenging the gods for rule over all creation!

Categories: 4e, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , ,

Heraldry – History and Hooks

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Courtesy of

Disclaimer: This post is heavily influenced by me just finishing the book Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately, it is one of my all time favorites.

A coat of arms can provide depth to a back story and compelling story hooks, even if your character isn’t a knight in shining armor. In fact, Heraldry has been used to enhance D&D since the early days of Greyhawk.

In Game of Thrones, each of the noble houses has a crest with an animal, colors, and words, which act as a sort of motto for the house. For instance House Stark has a grey dire wolf on a white background. Their words are Winter is Coming. House Baratheon has a black stag on a field of yellow, with the words Ours is the Fury. House Lannister, a golden lion on red, with the words Hear me Roar. All of these are used to great effect on the battlefield as units are easy to recognize by their colors and symbols. Also at court, a knight or sworn sword could be identified by the colors he was wearing, or the crest on his helm or shield. Adding these details to your character can do a lot to breathe life into a collection of stats.

In the Greyhawk Boxed Set, Gary Gygax used coats of arms not only for regions, cities, or noble houses, but also for nomads, bandits, and even some tribes of monsters! When a foe has a symbol, and a little bit of history, a DM can strike fear into his party once they spot a banner or flag of a group of enemies.

From the Greyhawk Boxed Set

In our recently completed dwarven campaign, our clan had a symbol, colors, and some backstory to what the different objects in our crest meant. Our new pirate campaign may require us to create a flag with special meaning to our particular pirate crew, but symbols don’t have to be adopted by the entire party. For instance, a rogue could have a tattoo of the thieves guild he belonged to, or the wizard could have some symbol on his spellbook from a particular school of magic. Clerics usually have holy symbols associated with their faith, but they could have a special symbol for their particular sect. Fighters could have a variety of symbols, even if they aren’t a highborn knight. A barbarian could have a symbol of his tribe, a sellsword could have a symbol of his guild of mercenaries. The possibilities are endless.

Inkwell Ideas hosts a Java program that can help you create your own unique crest. Any particularly awesome stories of how heraldry is used in your games? Let us know in the comments below!

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , ,

Captain Frydae the Black — And NaGa DeMon!

November 25, 2011 Comments off

Braving the lines and crowds shopping today would likely be more perilous than any encounter I could dream up. If you, like me, won’t be battling through throngs of savings-mad consumers, maybe you’d like to take on the dread pirate Captain Frydae the Black, and his shadowy crew. It’s a lot safer than Wal-mart, and a lot more fun!

We’re putting on our finishing touches for our submission to National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon). Have any of you played/made NaGa DeMon creations this month? Let us know in the comments below.

Categories: Uncategorized

When Thanksgiving Dinner Attacks!

November 23, 2011 Comments off

Turkey Golem!

Continuing our series of holiday-themed DnD 4e content (two makes a series, right?), Skyland Games presents: When Thanksgiving Dinner Attacks!

Originally this encounter appeared as the adventurers arrived at a dwarven turkey farm being ransacked goblins. Two goblins appeared in the doorway of the farmhouse, fighting over a horn-o-plenty.  One goblin pushed the other away and grabbed the horn.  He blew on the horn mightily, accidentally causing the farm’s defenses to spring to life. Gas began seeping from several nozzles attached to the farm buildings, a giant pumpkin came to life in the garden and started grabbing hysterical goblins, scarlet colored oozes flowed from various nooks and crannies about the farm and a turkey golem burst forth from a tool shed.

Skyland Games will be taking tomorrow off to defeat their own turkey golem. Look for our Christmas Carol adventure coming out in time for the holidays. We’ve got an interesting twist on the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Thanks for visiting and happy thanksgiving!


D&D Fonts – Old School Look, New Text

November 22, 2011 4 comments

I love writing new adventures using fonts that make them look like the books I grew up reading. After a little research, I found some free fonts that some of you might enjoy if you write you adventures for RPGs in a word processor. You can also make the next handout for your group look hand-written and flavorful, without learning calligraphy.

One of the classic TSR fonts used in countless books from the 80s is Souvenir. Look familiar? Just typing notes in this font has a Pavlovian effect on me; evoking classic images and adventures from books I remember reading growing up. With this font and a two-column format, maybe some art borrowed for home use, and you’ve got an awesome professional looking adventure you can hang on to, and be proud of.

Another technique I’ve used is finding fonts of elven or dwarven runes. I even used dwarven runes in a puzzle involving a dwarven tomb. You can also use the Tolkien elven runes found on the ring of power! One of my favorites is Hobbiton Brushhand. Another great font for “hand-written” notes to hand out to the party is elven common speak.

Many DMs just write notes in a spiral notebook or just open up Word and start typing away, and theres nothing wrong with that. Maybe next time you sit down to dream up an adventure for your group, try using some evocative fonts and see if it inspires you. Any awesome fantasy themed fonts I missed? Other TSR or memorable fonts from other gamebooks? Let us know in the comments below.

Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,

Using video games as inspiration or research – naval weapons

November 21, 2011 Comments off

The guys at Skyland Games do not live in an analog bubble. We play video games, just like a huge percentage of the gaming population. Some people feel like 4e plays like a video game already, and some think that’s awesome. We love games of all types, we just generally choose to blog about RPGs and Board Games. That being said, the two do not have to live completely separate compartments in our brains. Many of you won’t be reading this article for a few weeks, because your every spare minute is dedicated to Skyrim. Having seen the immersive awesomeness therein, I completely understand. See you in a few months. That being said, you can mine Skyrim and other games for character concepts or adventure seeds.

In my particular case, I just started playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! over the weekend. This dovetails nicely with our newly launched pirates campaign, and has provided a wealth of ideas and adventure seeds. The main plot of Sid Meier’s Pirates! is that your family has been unjustly held against their will. As the young scion of your family, you manage to elude capture and must seek out your family and become the most renowned pirate in the Caribbean!  The game itself is set during the golden age of pirates in the 17th century. This is generally much later than most fantasy RPGs are played in terms of available technology, but with a few house rules, just about anything can be used.

There was some debate as to whether our ship in our pirates campaign had cannons and whether gunpowder weapons would be used at all. As it turns out, in the first session our ship went through a portal that tore it in half, ship-wrecking the party and what remains of the crew on an island. Kind of a moot point for now. That being said, who knows where that portal took us, and what technology is available where ever our party ended up? If we do end up using cannons and gunpowder, Pirates! has some interesting special weapons that could be used in ship to ship combat.

First up, Chain-shot. Chain-shot is a naval weapon used to damage particularly masts and sails to slow an enemy ship down. Two smaller than average cannon balls linked with a section of chain are loaded in to a single cannon. When fired the chain spreads out and can do massive damage to rigging, sails, and masts. In the video game, its used to disable ships so that they can be easily boarded. Usually once all the masts have been taken down, the ship surrenders, leaving the precious cargo intact.

courtesy of Florida Center for Instructional Technology

Secondly, Grapeshot. Grapeshot is an anti-personnel load that essentially turns a cannon into a giant shotgun. This weapon is formed with a small canvas bag filled with smaller, maybe musket-sized balls. Grapeshot doesn’t to much to sink a ship, but puts a hurt on the crew, most of whom would be above decks during a battle.

Look for these special weapons to be stat-ed out for 4e once we get our naval battle system up and running.

Categories: 4e, DnD, Pirates, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,

RPG Webcomics 2 – Eclectic Boogaloo

November 18, 2011 1 comment

One of our first posts ever was to share the love of/for some awesome RPG webcomics. There are other hugely awesome comics out there that touch on RPGs occasionally, but I’d like to focus on comics that make it there main subject matter. First up, NamelessPCs from wexogo. Apparently they work so we don’t have to, which is considerate, even though I still don’t know how to xogo, or what xogo means. Anyway, they’ve got a pretty awesome blog that helps GMs suck less, which I’m sure we call all agree is important to excellent gaming. Sadly, the update schedule from these guys is a little erratic, but generally they put up a new comic every week or two. A lot of weeks its worth the wait. To go along with the maiden voyage of our recent pirate campaign (which went swimmingly, somewhat literally), I submit the following example.

courtesy of wexogo

Next up, Guilded Age. This comic features a pretty extensive cast, and full-page layouts that look a lot like traditional print comics. Its been going for over two years now and has a really rich style and palette. Check it out if you like your RPG webcomics heavy on the action.

courtesy of guilded age

Finally, a classic, Dork Tower. Like so many John Kovalic fans, my first introduction to his minimalist, but hilarious style was the Steve Jackson game Munchkin. This particular strip was brought to my attention by Sea of Stars and has a lot to do with how far D&D and RPGs in general have gained more acceptance over the years. The strips were printed 15 years apart. How’s that for a back catalogue!

courtesy of Dork Tower

I hope you found a new favorite here, or maybe reminded to keep up with comics you haven’t visited in a while. Thanks for reading, and support RPG webcomics!

Categories: Uncategorized

Fourthcore Alphabet – Brutally Delicious

November 17, 2011 1 comment

The Fourthcore Alphabet softcover from Save versus Death arrived at my door today. At first I was concerned because its been raining here in the mountains of North Carolina, and the packaging from Lulu did not look exactly water-tight. Much to my delight, the book was shrink-wrapped to another piece of cardboard inside the box (save vs. water damage… SAVED!).

This book is very similar to one of my favorites released by Goodman Games, The Dungeon Alphabet. Both are full of inspiring ideas for dungeon/encounter design, on handy tables that you can use to randomize the dungeon you’re creating or just read down them for the perfect idea. The Fourthcore Alphabet is decidedly darker and more deadly, which makes sense if you’re familiar with the aesthetics behind fourthcore. To put it succintly for the uninitiated, fourthcore challenges the assertion that 4e characters are nigh impossible to kill. While it generally follows 4e rules, you’ll find a fourthcore encounter or dungeon to be a lot more deadly and macabre.

I’ve been a big fan of the fourthcore genre since I first heard about it from Brian Patterson of D20Monkey, back in February of this year. His review of Revenge of the Iron Lich really made me think of 4e in a whole new light. Once I read RotIL, I was hungry for more. I don’t think its a coincidence that Brian was asked to do the art for the Fourthcore Alphabet.

Lets get to the good stuff. The book weighs in at 65 pages, 8.5″x11″, full-color cover and back, black and white inside, and it is full to the brim with deadly inspirations. Awesome titles like H is for Hellscapes and V is for Violence provide instant inspiration for Dungeon Master Writer’s Block. Several of the pages actually reference other pages in the book. For instance, on I is for Idols, if you roll a 6, “Piles of trapped (49) coins and magic items surround this idol.” This prompts the Dungeon Master to turn to page 49 and roll up whatever deadly traps await under the treasure around the idol. Awesome! Some of the tables have 20 entries so can be randomized on a 1d20, some have 39 entries and can be randomized by rolling 2d20 and adding the result! Sersa could have easily stopped at 20 for each, and I would have felt I got a good value, but with a lot of the tables being 2d20, or having multiple columns or variables to describe a single feature, the possibilities are nearly endless.

O is for Overlords! courtesy of SVD press

Now the not so great stuff. One of the big selling points for me on this book was that I knew Brian Patterson was working on the artwork. At first I thought it was just the cover, which is decidedly awesome. It turns out he did little sketches for each page. (Sorry for the crappy scan.) Which is cool, but not overly inspiring. I was looking for more sweeping art or at least a full page black and white or two. Maybe that was out of the budget for this project, and by supporting this one, future books may have expanded art budgets. One benefit of launching this project as kickstarter instead of a publish-on-demand service like lulu is that you can raise some money to pay for lots of awesome artwork. As I flip thru the pages of Goodman’s alphabet, I’m greeted by two page spreads of dungeoneers encountering the obstacles being described. In fourthcore, I get a sketch up in the corner. Cool, but not hugely inspiring.

O is for Oozes - courtesy of Goodman Games

Overall, its a solid buy. Especially if your 4e players have become a little to comfortable in their healing surges, and wimpy 5 ongoing damage. This book has it where it counts most, dark and deadly inspiration. I can’t wait to see what Sersa Victory comes up with next!

Character concepts – Archetypical or Unique

November 16, 2011 1 comment

courtesy of

The pirates campaign launches this evening! Anchors away! Avast ye mateys, and all that. Most of the party is coming to the table with character concepts in mind (if not character sheets!) which got me thinking; In this new campaign we are starting as members of a pirate crew, each there for our own reasons. I chose pretty much the D&D archetype of archetypes, the elven ranger. Who am I, Legolas? I know, but here is the thing – I *like* elven rangers. I was a boy scout growing up, I always liked woodcraft and archery, and can identify with knowing where I am in the woods and wanting to enjoy and defend nature. Statistically in D&D 4e, it makes *sense* to play as an elf because of their love of the natural world, and the handy bonuses to Dexterity, Wisdom, (optionally Intelligence) and skill bonuses to Nature and Perception. It just feels right. Experienced gamers may roll their eyes and say, “Oh, and I suppose you have a gruff dwarf in the party who doesn’t like boats?”

No. That would be silly for a pirate campaign.

As far as I can tell so far, my character is the only true archetype among us. The rest of the party are unique combinations that will bring a lot of flavor to the campaign. We’ve got a drow artificer, who fancies himself a “doctor” that has engineered clockwork spiders. He seems very keen on the study of anatomy, if only to enhance his own creations. Next, a Gnoll Monk who serves as the ship’s cook. Apparently his cooking is terrible, but who’s going to critique a 7′ Gnoll surrounded by deadly cooking implements? We will probably have a Dragonborn Warlord who maintains the heavy weapons on the ship; ballistae and such. Finally we have a water Genasi Ensnaring Swordmage with longsword fashioned from coral. We may end up with a wizard before the night’s end, but so far, the elf is looking like the normal kid in the bunch.

courtesy of fistfull of coppers

While my character may start like a fairly typical archetype that many who are familiar with D&D would readily recognize, who knows what will happen to him throughout the campaign? He could acquire a beast companion who becomes a life-long friend, or a nasty scar from a future nemesis. Its important to remember that characters evolve as we play them, and my elven ranger would be a lot different from anyone else’s if for nothing but the different experiences and companions that this elf is going to have. To me, character creation should be about what you want to play. If you want something that sets your guy apart from the crowd from day one, D&D certainly provides the opportunity to create someone truly original. Want something more familiar you can slip in to, like an old sweatshirt, worn, but comfortable? All your favorite archetypes are possible too. Which do you like when it comes to creating a new character for a campaign? Tried and true, or something off the wall?

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,