Showing posts with label Tabletop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tabletop. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

It's Time for Shadow of the Krampus -- A Holiday Themed Shadow of the Demon Lord Adventure

Two years ago I posted this little adventure for those of you who want to add a little of the Season into your gaming.

I am a big fan of running seasonal adventures for my regular gaming group. Though my group hasn't played as regularly this year as they have in the past, I was inspired by Robert J. Schwalb's dark fantasy roleplaying game Shadow of the Demon Lord to write an adventure for this season. For the past few years, I've written and reshared adventures featuring Cthulhu Claus (based on my wife Jody Lindke's illustrations for an old Kickstarter) or the V'sori (evil aliens in the Necessary Evil setting for Savage Worlds), but this year I decided to feature Krampus -- that most devilish of Santa's helpers. While Krampus might be a bit played out for some, having gained mainstream notoriety, I'm still a big fan of the character and I have the pleasure of knowing an artist who has been participating in Krampuslaufen long before it was trendy to do so and Bill Rude's Krampus costume is amazing as is the fact that he can get even small children to pose with his horrifying costume.

Bill Rude is a talented artist and you can look at a variety of his projects over at his 7 Hells: The Retro Art of Bill Rude website.

Illustration Copyright Jody Lindke 2016

In this mini-adventure, the PCs are passing through the town of Nesbitt-Hill during one of their other adventures. You can use the map below to represent the portion of the foothills of the Iron Peaks immediately south of the Zauberspitz with Nesbitt-Hill being the northern-most community on the map and Tower number 3 representing the once great Beacon Fortress.

Shadow of the Krampus is a Novice (though not a "just now Novice") adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord with a post-Christmas theme. 

The town of Nesbitt-Hill is a vital stop for wanderers and miners who brave the dangers of the Iron Peaks in search of adventure or riches. For years the town has been a peaceful refuge, seemingly immune from the spread of the Demon Lord's Shadow. For even as the Shadow has spread, the town of Nesbitt-Hill remains a spark of light an happiness in an otherwise dark and desperate world.

But that changed last night. Historically, the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration when the townsfolk of Nesbitt-Hill memorialize the the Solstice King and his champion Krampus. For it is this duo who has protected the town since the Battle of Zauberspitz where the Solstice King and Krampus defeated a horde of the Demon Lord's servants, or at least that is what the stories say. The stories also say that Krampus steals children who misbehave and returns them at the Spring Equinox after the darkness has been purged from the children's souls. If it is true that Krampus takes children and eventually brings them back, why is it that Krampus has taken no children for twenty years? Why does Mistress Oetzel swear she saw Krampus take adults this Winter Solstice? And why were these adults among the most generous citizens of Nesbitt-Hill? Has Krampus returned, but as a servant of the Demon Lord? Or is something else afoot?

With the exception of the map depicting the area of the Iron Peaks I refer to as the Gronwald, an area that lies in the shadow of the Zauberspitz, all of the maps were drawn by Dyson Logos and were taken from his Commercial Maps webpage. According to the page, Dyson has released these images under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If I have used any images that are not covered by this license, I will be happy to remove them.

The cover image of "Shadow of the Krampus?" was illustrated by Bill Rude, who was kind enough to give me permission to use it. Please visit his website and consider purchasing some of his art.

The other image is the "survival map" from Robert J Schwalb's playing aids page for Shadow of the Demon Lord. I am using it with the intention of it being fair use, but if Mr. Schwalb deems my use inappropriate I will be happy to remove it. This adventure requires the use of the Shadow of the Demon Lord rule book since all monster statistics, with the exception of Krampus, are located within the pages of that "vile" tome. Krampus was designed using rules from the Of Monstrous Mien supplement. It is highly recommended that you also own Hunger in the Void and Terrible Beauty to add details around the edges of this adventure.

The cartoon illustrations in the module are the work of my talented wife Jody Lindke. I included "rpg humor" cartoons because they remind me of the cartoons in the old AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Role Playing Adventures in the "Alien Bones" Universe Part 1 (Tiny Frontiers Edition)

The Alien Bones graphic novel by Doc Wyatt and Chris Grine, released on October 2, 2019 and published by 1First Publishing, is a fun tale of "dim dark" adventure that introduces readers to a universe filled with alien dinosaurs, space pirates, intergalactic navies, and an existential threat called "The End." The universe is a wonderful mashup of Warhammer 40k, Doctor Who, Indiana Jones, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Lost in Space, Scooby Doo, Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, and a host of other inspirations. All of this makes it a perfect inspiration for role playing game sessions.

The first volume, and let's hope it's the first of many, focuses on the character of Liam Mycroft. Young Liam is the 10 year old son of a Xeno-paleontologist who has accompanied his father on a variety of digs where his father studies the bones of "alien dinosaurs." During one of these digs, Liam's father disappears without a trace, leaving young Liam alone. It is here that Liam's adventure begins. Joined by his friends Dianna Varlou and Rosa Ortega, as well as his trusty robot bodyguard Standard-5 ("Stan"), Liam embarks on a quest to find his father and in doing so discovers the secret of an existential threat that could destroy all life in the universe.

I interviewed Doc Wyatt on my Geekerati Media podcast and he has given me permission to generate role playing game statistics for several of the characters.

While I am tempted to describe the universe in detail, I am instead recommending that you purchase the book on Amazon (or at your friendly local comic book store) and providing gaming statistics for the main cast, as well as the statistics for one of the threats the young protagonists face.  (I'm also tempted to do stats for Warhammer Adventures: Attack of the Necron, a similarly dim dark story with delightful young protagonists).

Today, I'll be providing statistics for the excellent and simple Tiny Frontiers role playing game. Tiny Frontiers is a perfect system for novice and experienced gamers, making it a perfect fit for the first set of statistics for your gaming pleasure. In later posts, I'll provide statistics for the Savage Worlds, Star Frontiers, and Aliens & Asteroids role playing systems. I might even provide stats for The Expanse and Warhammer 40k role playing games, as both have elements that work well in the Alien Bones universe, but those systems are slightly more complex and Alien Bones was written for ages 4 to 444 and I wanted to have systems that younger gamers could jump right into.

Without further ado, here are the main characters of Alien Bones with statistics for Tiny Frontiers.

Liam Mycroft

Liam Mycroft is a 10 year old who is already on his way to becoming a Xenopaleontologist. His has great expertise regarding dinosaurs on all planets as well as knowledge of the ecosystems that produce these wonderful creatures.

Dianna Varlou

Dianna Varlou is Liam's best friend and steadfast companion. She is visiting Liam when his father disappears. She is the daughter of a respected Thermodynamicist, but her areas of expertise seem to lean more toward robotics and weapon design. She's kind of the team's MacGyver. When the team is faced with a new threat, she is the one who is able to weaponize Portal Crystals.


Rosa Ortega

Rosa Ortega is the class clown in Liam and Dianna's Holoclassroom on the Scholastic Network. While she doesn't seem to take things very seriously, she is a skilled computer hacker. She has an extraordinary amount of courage, which she clearly inherited from her parents who are both Generals in a Space Fleet stationed at Charon Base on the edge of explored space. Rosa has two sets of statistics. The first represents her as she is portrayed in the first half of Alien Bones, when she participates in the adventure only because she hacked a holoprojector. The second represents her as she is on a regular basis.

Standard-5 ("Stan")

Standard-5 is Liam's robot bodyguard or "Minder-bot/Nanny." Stan has many advanced skills that help him to protect Liam from a variety of dangers. Stan often seems over-protective of Liam, but can be convinced to allow Liam to take necessary risks. This can happen due to the use of an "Adventure Button" that Liam and Dianna installed*, or due to necessity.

The End

There are two main antagonists in Alien Bones. The first is the space pirate Captain Scarbones, but the long term threat is something known as "The End." It would be a bit of a spoiler to reveal exactly what The End is/are, but they are a foe on the scale of Tyrannids/Necrons in Warhammer 40k or the Sathar in Star Frontiers. They seek the destruction of all life and an end to the universe. Below are statistics for one of their drones. If you want to see what they look like, you need to buy Alien Bones. Chris Grines did a masterful job of illustrating an existential threat in a way that conveys the horror of the threat to adults while still being extremely kid-friendly.

I really enjoyed reading Alien Bones, and will be reviewing it later this week or early next week, and think it is a rich setting that I hope the author and artist will continue to explore.

Friday, October 04, 2019


The folks over at Wargames Illustrated have produced an unboxing video for the upcoming Osprey Wargame Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter. We are very excited about this miniatures skirmish game. It's based on Martin Wallace's excellent Wildlands game engine which will likely make it a great introduction to the table top wargaming hobby.

Wildlands features beautifully sculpted miniatures that have a coat of wash on them to bring out the sculpting details enough that non-hobbyists can play the game straight out of the box. Using wash instead of pre-painting provides enough detail to make the game look beautiful while allowing experienced hobbyists to paint the figures to their own tastes.

If you'd like to get a glimpse of how the Wildlands system works, the fine people at Watch It Played have done an excellent tutorial on the rules.

We'll definitely be reviewing it when it's released.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Why I Love "Step-Die" Systems Like Savage Worlds and Cortex+

In the last episode of Geekerati (Episode 164) Award Winning game designer Greg Gorden discussed a number of the game systems he's worked on in the past and some of the mechanical innovations he's come up with. Two of his major contributions discussed in the episode were "Exploding Die Rolls" and Die-Step game mechanics.

These mechanics have had wide reaching impact in game design across table top role playing game design and are worth discussing in some detail. As interesting and wide reaching as the influence of exploding dice has been, an innovation that's been around since the first edition of Ken St. Andre's masterpiece Tunnels & Trolls, this blog post will focus on the second innovation, die-step game mechanics, and why they are one of the best mechanical foundations for a role playing game.

There are several common base mechanics for arbitrating the success or failures of character actions in modern role playing games. Some of the most common include Difficulty Number/Target Number (or what Classic Traveller called a "Basic Throw"), Percent Chance (as exemplified in Runequest), Success Threshold (which can use narrative dice like Genesys, die pools like Vampire) or a "you, me, or we" Shared Decision Mechanic like Apocalypse World, Inspectres, and many other indie role playing games.

Many of these systems use a "Fixed Die" mechanic as a part of their resolution. For example, all rolls in D&D's Difficulty Number system are resolved using a twenty-sided die, Traveller and Apocalypse World use a roll of two six-sided dice, Vampire uses a pool of ten-sided dice, and Runequest uses percentile dice. The die type doesn't change to reflect the skill of the character or the challenges faced by the character in a fixed die system, only the modifier applied to the roll or the number of dice rolled changes.

Die-Step games take a different approach. Instead of using a single die type for the determination of success or failure of an action, they use various die types that move up or down to reflect the skill/natural talent of the character. For example, a character's Strength might be reflected as a die value ranging from d4 to d12 with a character of d4 Strength being weak and a character with a d12 Strength being very strong.

According to Rick Priestley, in his book Tabletop Wargames, one of the first wargames to use a Die-Step system was StarGrunt by Jon M. Tuffley. StarGrunt was first published in 1990 by Ground Zero Games and it's second edition is available in pdf for free at the link above. StarGrunt is a science fiction miniatures skirmish game that is inspired by fiction like Gordon Dickson's Dorsai, David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, the Alien films, and role playing games like 2300 AD. The rules are relatively easy to learn and one of the reasons this is the case is the fact that Tuffley decided to represent the effectiveness of individual troopers with something he called a "Basic Die." In StarGrunt, each given trooper is rated as either Green, Regular, or Veteran. The rating of each individual trooper is determined at the beginning of play with Green troopers using a d6, Regulars using a d8, and Veterans using a d10 to determine how successful they are at a given task. StarGrunt uses a Target Number system, but does use a Step-Die modifier mechanic called "Basic Die Plus and Basic Die Minus"  where the dice used by the troop levels is moved up or down one die type (from d6 to d4 or from d10 to d12) under some circumstances and modified by a additive/subtractive number in other cases (+1 or -1 to the roll).

Image Source Non-Playable Characters Blog
The first role playing game I can think of that used a Die-Step system is FASA's Earthdawn First Edition published in 1993, with game mechanics designed by Greg Gorden and others. As stated in the Geekerati Media interview, Gorden was inspired to use a Die-Step system when his boss asked him to design a Fantasy role playing game that had its own system, but that still used all of the polyhedral dice Dungeons and Dragons players were used to using. You can see how Earthdawn knew it was introducing a new concept in the Die-Step system to players of games like D&D and Runequest due to the way they first present the mechanic. In Earthdawn, players attributes are rated by a standard value and then given their die based effectiveness rating (yes, Earthdawn used the Papyrus font). Given that one of the character generation methods in Earthdawn, the random roll method, has players roll 4d6 and drop the lowest value, it is clear that the intended audience was D&D players and the authors were giving these players a point of reference for how good a "d8" in an attribute was. Looking at the chart below, we can see that a character with average Intelligence in D&D would have a d8 rating in Earthdawn.

As mentioned above, Earthdawn is a Target Number system and the rulebook provides guidelines for Game Masters to use when setting difficulty numbers. Looking at an "ordinary" person, we can see that a task of "Average" difficulty requires a roll of between 3-5 to achieve any degree of success. Let's assume a Difficulty Number of 4+ for a task and we can see that a person with a d6 will have about a 50% chance to get an "ordinary" success and a person with a d8 has about a 62.5% chance of getting a degree of success. For those wondering, the use of the term ordinary success is intentional as Earthdawn has Degrees of Success as well and the use of "about" is because the dice are open ended which doesn't affect this particular Difficulty Number but would higher values.

While Earthdawn is truly innovative, it is also illustrative of a weakness in Die-Step systems that will be touched upon later. You can see a hint at this weakness at Step Numbers 8 and 9 on the Step/Action Dice chart above.

Another revolutionary role playing game that utilizes a Die-Step mechanic is Shane Lacy Hensley's masterpiece Deadlands Classic. The first edition was published in 1996, three years after Earthdawn, but the underlying mechanics were designed by Shane Hensley with some additions like Fate Chips from Greg Gorden. Episode 164 of Geekerati erroneously credits Gorden with the use of a Step-Die mechanic in this game. That was all Hensley's idea and demonstrates how great designers can come up with parallel mechanics, though Hensley had done previous work on Earthdawn so that might have fueled the creative fire a little. Deadlands uses a combination of Die Pool and Die-Step mechanics as character attributes and skills are rated by both the quality and number of dice. Thus a person might have a Smarts of 4d4 or of 2d10. The person with the 4d4 rating will roll more dice, but the one rolling 2d10 is more intelligent. Like Earthdawn, die rolls in Deadlands are exploding or "open-ended," but unlike Earthdawn players select only the highest value from their pool rather than adding them together. This innovation leverages the strengths and intuitive nature of Die-Step systems without adding the limitation hinted at above.

One of the primary strengths of Die-Step systems is that they are easy to understand and are intuitive in representing each character's potential. If a game has a baseline difficulty of 4 for most tasks, it is easy to figure out how likely a character is to be able to accomplish a task merely by looking at the kind of die rolled. As mentioned above, a character with a d6 would have a 50% chance of success and a character with a d8 would have a 62.5% chance.

Another advantage, at least from a simulation perspective, is how modifiers affect Die-Step systems differently than standard fixed die systems. In D&D, for example, a +1/-1 modifier adjusts the level of success by a character by +/- 5%. Some might argue, okay I am arguing, that this isn't a good simulation of effects. A person who is a highly skilled sniper would be affected by crosswind and distance, but would not necessarily be AS affected by them as someone less skilled. In a fixed die system, the modifiers are static too. In a Die-Step system, the modifiers are fluid. Some might argue that this makes it more difficult to balance, but I would argue that you should balance for the ordinary and allow the dial to move with greater success.

Let's take the d6 vs. d8 above as an example and assume that these are the characters' ratings in their "Shoot" skill and that the base target number for successfully hitting something is 4+. Okay, this wasn't an exactly random choice. Let's assume that firing at long range adds  -1 modifier to the roll. In the case of the lesser trained d6 shooter, this is a penalty of 16.67%. In the case of the d8 person, it's "only" a penalty of 12.5%. Thus the skill of the characters is coded into the level the modifier affects the character with characters of higher skill suffering lower effects from modifiers. What I like about this is that it means that the probability of success by higher level characters is less random, even when accounting for obstacles and modifiers. And this is done in an elegant way that is embedded in the system.

If you don't agree with the benefits of a sliding system in die step systems, let me introduce you to rigid modifiers in a multiple die Target Number system like Champions. Because these systems use additive die pools, in the case of Champions rolling 3d6 and adding them together, results are along a bell-curve. This means that each point of modification has a different effect on the probability of the outcome based on the distribution curve of the die combination. Which brings me to the flaw in the Earthdawn system. Because Gorden wanted Earthdawn to be able to represent an tremendous range of Attributes, the actual Step/Action Dice table has attribute values going to 100, you quickly end up rolling pools of dice in order to achieve the ability to roll higher outcomes. For example, looking on the chart above you can see that there comes a point where a player rolls a 2d6 and adds them to get a value. This is considered "better" than rolling a d12. In the sense that it is impossible to roll a value of 1, this is better. However a quick glance at the table below illustrates the problem quite clearly.

A character rolling 2d6 has a significantly lower chance of a bad roll, but also has a significantly lower chance of a good roll. The results become even more extreme if the individual dice are exploding as they are in Earthdawn.

This is why I prefer the solution offered by Savage Worlds or Dungeon Crawl Classics which attempt to correct the distribution problem by either adding static modifiers after a person has achieved d12 or manufacturing dice that fill the void between d12 and d20. While the use of Die-Step systems may constrain the power curve more than some other systems, these games are well balanced and use the mechanic to very good effect. Savage Worlds, for example, has done an excellent job of adapting a Die-Step system to super heroes as have the Sentinel Comics role playing game and all the super hero games that used the Cortex+ system.

There are many games and game systems in the table top role playing game hobby. Dungeons & Dragons is a great place to start, but you should check them all out and see what you like.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Names are the Hardest Part of DM-ing

Coming up with effective names is a challenge for any narrative medium, and this is no less true when it comes to running entertaining role playing game campaigns. Names can make or break a game session. Unlike other media, the challenge in role playing games doesn't solely stem from a need for verisimilitude. Not every game requires realistic names, and some games are better with silly names. It all depends upon the group you are with.

The real challenge comes in coming up with names on the spot that are both serviceable and memorable. You can create as many write ups for NPCs as you want in your game master prep time, but I can guarantee you that your players will often ignore the NPCs you've given deep backstories in favor of interrogating "random street urchin 6" or "Kobold number 5" for hours of entertaining game time. Entertaining game time...if you get the name right. Otherwise, the session might spiral into metagaming or groans. You have to both know what kinds of names fit with your group's temperament, and be quick on your feet. No one wants to wait 5 minutes while you look through Gygax's Book of Names or as you hit generate on a random name generator until you get the right name.

I'm not saying that I'm a master at this particular skill, but I do have one piece of advice for game masters both novice and experienced. Feel free to include your players in the name creation process. Don't feel that you have to do this work alone. If your players want to interrogate "random street urchin 6," as them to come up with a couple of names. These names won't always be great, but they will usually fit with your group's desires and are frequently memorable.

I am currently running a campaign entitled "Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy" that takes place within the D&D Known World setting's (aka Mystara's) Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The fact that I am calling it the Grand Duchy will give grognards some hint as to the timeline I've set the campaign in. The Known World setting is a wonderful mashup of various cultures that might not seem to fit on the surface, but which work as a sandbox for freeform gaming. Sure, there's a society with peak Roman Empire governance placed between a proxy for the Eastern Empire and a Feudal society inspired by medieval Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and a dash of the Holy Roman Empire. To the north is a country based on Naples, to the far north are the Germanic and Viking states. To the south is fantasy Hawaiistralia Reality TV island. It's a chaotic place, but if you buy in it can be wonderful. My players' characters haven't discovered it yet, but the "reason" why the countries are so chaotic in makeup in "my Mystara" is because one of the Immortals is preserving the dying cultures of our Earth and placing them on Mystara's surface, must as he places Mystara's dying cultures in it's Hollow World.

Anyway, one of the freedoms that a world like this provides is that almost any name is fair game, and here is a list of the names we use in my game with their alignment, race, and class. Some are canon names from the sourcebooks, but others are just ours.

Duke Stephen Karameikos (LG, Human, Fighter (Cavalier)) -- Ruler of Karameikos and the founder of the "Duke's Tinkers" who are Karameiko's secret police, the organization the player characters work for.

Duchess Olivia Karameikos (NG, Human, Thief (Mastermind)) -- Stephen's wife and the actual Chief of the Duke's Tinkers, she is known only as "The Weaver" to all but the most trusted Tinkers.

Kraeyg Lyste (NG, ??, Thief(??)) -- The publicly known head of the Tinkers about whom very little is actually known. They appear to have the ability to change shape and are careful to cover their tracks. They keep detailed documentation of all members, and potential members, of the Tinkers and rival organizations.

Festival Master Quarch (N, Human, ??) -- He runs the King's Festival in the northern town of Stallanford. Stallanford has no mayor, so Quarch is the nearest thing.

Alaric (CG(E), Human, Cleric) -- A priest of the Church of Traladara who has forsaken his oaths to serve The Iron Ring and who has become a priest of Orcus. (Deceased?)

Dinae (LE, Bugbear, Ranger) -- Dinae was once a tracker and wrangler for the Iron Ring who captured slaves for the organization and answered to Alaric. He has recently been turned into an asset in the service of the player characters.

Sharaen Vlatovski (N, Human, ??) -- A human woman who was married to a Kobold named (xxx) who had been forced into service to the Iron Ring by Alaric. She infiltrated Alaric's hideout by allowing herself to be captured, she was about to assassinate one of Alaric's lieutenants and free her husband when the PCs arrived. The PCs know that she is married to the kobold, but are unaware of her skill set. When the PCs return to Specularum, she will find Kraeyg and enter into service in the Tinkers.

Bukie Bimblebritches (N, Halfling, ??) -- He and his brother Howie own the Inn, Stables, and Gambling Hall in Stallanford. They are quite wealthy.

Felix Fentsworthy (N, Human, Thief(???)) -- He is the local fence in Stallanford and the head of its "band" of thieves. After all, you can't call 6 people a guild.

As you can see from the list above, my players can be a little punny, but not too punny.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Star Eagles Highlights Flexibility of Ganesha Games "Song of" Miniatures Rules

Ganesha Games recently launched a Kickstarter project for their upcoming space fighter miniatures combat game Star Eagles, and it looks like a winner. The game is designed by Damon Richardson and aims to be a quick to play and deep simulation of desperate starship dogfights in the deeps of space between the forces of ConStar and the S'Sekai. Watching the how to play video Damon put out to promote the project, one thing stand out very quickly. Like many Ganesha produced miniatures games, Star Eagles uses the very flexible Song of Blades and Heroes fantasy skirmish rules as its foundation.  Song designer Andrea Sfiligoi has already demonstrated the flexibility of the Song system in a variety of genres in his work for Osprey Publishing, but this is the first time that framework has been used for spacecraft battle simulation.

One of the key innovations of the Song system is how it simulates who has the "initiative" in combat situations. Damon's video highlights this innovation in the how to video, but it deserves highlighting that the system forces players to choose between being aggressive which may cause them to lose the initiative before they desire or to play more cautiously which may result in them not achieving as much as they'd like during their turns. It's a great way to reflect how certain strategic choices can affect later tactical decisions. This isn't to say that Damon's game is a reprint of Song, like most games that use that system as a foundation there are significant differences, rather this is mentioned to praise Damon for selecting a system that better emulates the chaos of a dogfight than a standard igo-ugo system would.

There are a couple of additional things worth mentioning with regard to Star Eagles. The first is that this is a project that demonstrates how exciting the times we live in with regard to gaming really are. While Kickstarter is used by bigger companies to mitigate risk by combining market research and capital for projects, and in my opinion this happens to often, this is a case where it is being used as it should be. This is a small company creating a product that could not otherwise be produced at the high level of quality they are planning, and by small I mean REALLY small since most game companies are small in any comparison with the corporate world. Addition to being  a small company, this is an international endeavor where the designer and the publisher are on different continents working together to create a product to be sold around the world. Damon Richardson, who was a fine Forgotten Realms DM in his youth, lives in Reno, NV while Andrea Sfiligoi of Ganesha Games is located in Italy. This is something I would not have imagined possible as a child, but is something that happens with relative frequency in the modern gaming market. Exciting times indeed.

Check out the Kickstarter and back it if the theme interests you.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Mystrael Shawk -- An Effect Based Lightning Wizard for D&D

Last week, I discussed how useful it can be to approach D&D magic from an effects based or special effect design philosophy as both a player and a DM. Using this approach allows for gamers to add a little of narrative magic without the need to have a deep understanding of the mechanical balance underlying the game system required to make new spells from whole cloth. This is an approach used by the Champions role playing game and by Pinnacle Entertainment Group's Savage Worlds rpg. The Savage Worlds rule book describes this approach in the following way:

"But just because these powers work the same from setting to setting doesn’t mean they have to look the same, have the same names (to the characters in that world), or even have the exact same effects—that’s where Trappings come in. 

For the most part, Trappings should be merely cosmetic. But sometimes it makes sense for there to be additional effects. A heat ray should have a chance of catching combustible objects on fire, for example, and an electric blast should do slightly more damage to targets in full metal armor."
Coming at magic from a special effects approach can be intimidating and you might not trust me that it can be done without creating a lot of work for players and DMs, but I'm going to attempt to show you how it does just the opposite. It allows for the creation of a lot of imaginative and narrative effects without the need for creating new mechanics. To aid in this process, I will be posting a series of D&D 5e Wizards based on Power Themes and who use effects based spells.

Image Source Anna Steinbauer
Mystrael Shawk 
Human Lightning Wizard (Soldier) 
Level 5

Str 8 (-1)   Dex 14 (+2)  Con 14 (+2)  
Int 16 (+3)  Wis 10 (+0)  Cha 12 (+1)

HP (5d6+10) 32           AC 12 or 15 (dex; Crackling Aura + dex)
Init +2      Speed 30      Proficiency Bonus +3

Attacks: Dagger +5 (1d4 piercing), Dagger (ranged) +5 1d4 piercing, Spells +6 
Senses: Investigation 16, Perception 10
Saves: Intelligence +6, Wisdom +3
Skills: Arcana +6, Athletics +2, Intimidation +4, Investigation +6, Sleight of Hand +5 
Feats: Keen Mind
Human Traits: Bonus Skill (Sleight of Hand), Bonus Feat (War Caster)
Wizard Traits: Spellcasting, Arcane Recovery, Arcane Tradition (Abjuration), Lighting Ward (13 HP)
Spell Casting Ability (Known: 3, 6, 6, 4; Slots: 4, 4, 3, 2; DC 14)

Cantrips:Lightning Ball (Acid Splash), Crackling Illumination (Light), Shocking Grasp


1 -  Arc of Lightning (Burning Hands), Crackling Aura  (Mage Armor), Electric Shield (Shield), Synaptic Shock (Sleep), Static Tickle (Tasha's Hideous Laughter), Plasma Arc (Magic Missile)
2 - Lightning Cloud (Cloud of Daggers), Immobilizing Shock (Hold Person), Electrify Weapon (Magic Weapon), Mystral's Lightning Arrow (Melf's Acid Arrow), Clinging Field (Spider Climb), Electrical Flash (Blindness/Darkness)
3 - Electrical Animation (Animate Dead), Sphere of Lightning (Fireball), Ride the Lightning (Fly), Lightning Bolt

As you can see, merely by renaming some of the spells the descriptive effect in play of certain spells is altered without changing their effects. Take Crackling Illumination as an example here. When it comes to game effects, it doesn't matter whether light is produced by illusory fire, real fire, crackling electricity, or radiant illumination. All that matters is that the spell produces the effect of light. Similarly for Mage Armor, since we aren't categorizing any kind of damage, the appearance of Mage Armor doesn't affect game play.

It isn't until we get to spells like Lightning Ball (Acid Splash) that one's "but that's a typed damage and it matters" alarm should flash a warning that there might be some mechanical differences of consequence. One could merely hand wave such concerns and point out, as Michael Shea at Sly Flourish often does that Dungeons and Dragons isn't designed to be a balanced game and that imbalance is a part of what we like. I won't do such hand waving here, though that is a perfectly "D&D" thing to do. Instead, let's take a look under the hood of Acid Splash.

Range: 60 feet
Damage: Save or Take 1d6 Acid Damage
# Creatures affected: 1 or 2 within 5 feet.

The reskinned Lightning Ball only changes one aspect of the spell, the damage type. In fact, since the spell already can damage up to 2 creatures in close proximity the spell's mechanics fit nicely with the reskin. The question here becomes, "Does the spell significantly improve if it becomes lightning based?" There are after all different creatures who are resistant/immune to different damage types and affecting a disproportionate number might affect game balance. This criticism only holds so much weight since the Elemental Adept feat allows casters to ignore type resistance (though not immunity). So...what are the differences between Acid and Lightning regarding number of creatures affected?

Creatures Resistant to Acid in Monster Manual: 17
Creatures Immune to Acid in Monster Manual: 15
Number of Creatures Vulnerable to Acid: 0

Creatures Resistant to Lightning in Monster Manual: 34
Creatures Immune to Lightning in Monster Manual: 19
Number of Creatures Vulnerable to Lightning: 0

Here we can see that by choosing a Lightning damage type, the spell has become more limited with regard to the number of creatures it can damage. Given the negligent effects of changing the damage type, we can quickly see that this won't change game balance.

Similarly, describing Sleep as an effect that results from a quick electrical burst or Spider Climb as a static field that surrounds the hands and feet of the caster does nothing other than add a narrative touch to play. The same is true for describing Animate Dead as electrical impulses arching through corpses to control their movements.

There are some damage types that are clearly better or worse than average when it comes to this kind of analysis. Very few creatures are resistant to Radiant damage and 98 monsters are immune to poison, for example, and you would have to decide whether or not to do the "it doesn't really matter" hand wave or ban those as reskinnable trappings in your games. One thing to consider for spells like Sleep is that you might have the creature's resistance apply to the hit points rolled against the spell. That significantly reduces the power of that particular spell against certain foes, but it adds the illusion of unpredictability to your magic and makes magic more magical.

My next character will be a cold themed Wizard.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Using a Special Effects Approach to Spell Casting in D&D Games

There are too many spells in Dungeons & Dragons and it reduces the sense of wonder in the game. Magic systems are one of the most difficult design challenges that face prospective game designers, players, and game masters. Magic in fiction, and in our imagination, often defies quantification. In fact, one might argue that what makes magic magical is that it is mysterious and that by quantifying it, you diminish its impact. I am sympathetic to this view, but I actually think that having the rules present purely mechanical effects and letting players add special effects is the best way to handle this problem.

The solution that D&D often uses is what Jeff Grubb calls the "Very Large Spellbook" approach in the Kobold Guide to Magic. This works by flooding the zone with so many spells that no one really knows what every spell does and thus leaves a sense of wonder as new things are discovered. The problem with this approach is that you can end up with five different spells that turn a target's bones into liquid. This isn't bad when the mechanical effects of each spell is different, but can be a problem when many of them have pretty much the same effects with minor changes in the amount of damage done. If the spells have different mechanical effects, it allows for themed mages. If it only fiddles around the edges of damage, it isn't very interesting. Jeff Grubb's discussion of how standardizing bones into liquid spells reduced the wonder of the game, while reducing the number of times spells need to be looked up in the rules because no one knows how a specific spell works.

One solution often under utilized in D&D circles is the approach used by Champions.

Whether or not you play the game, the Champions role playing game by Hero Games is one of the best role playing games ever designed and is one that every Game Master should read for advice on how to best run a game in any system. My first experience with the game was the Revised Edition, also known as the 2nd Edition, of the game, and I spent hours upon hours making characters for the system. Okay, I spent hours and hours making my version of the X-Men for the system only to have friends who were more experienced with the system tell me how I had done everything wrong, but that's beside the point.

The thing that most struck me about the game, and that still amazes me, is how the game took what is often called an effects based approach to gaming. What is typically meant by this description is that the rules don't worry about what powers and abilities look like, rather we are only concerned with their in game effects. While this is a central concept to how the character creation system works in Champions, it was an idea that took a few editions to fully articulate. The first edition of the game, published in 1981, only mentions the concept in passing in the Energy Blast power and on page 29 where it describes how to model a character who can change shape using Multipower with three slots that each represent a different special effect. The second edition expands on this idea more clearly and states on page 47, "Powers in Champions have been explained thoroughly in game terms, but the special effects have been left may be lightning, fire, cold, sonics, radiation...The special effects of your Power can contain minor advantages and disadvantages..." By the 3rd edition of the game, the designers have moved discussion of special effects to a position at the beginning of the Powers chapter, rather than following it. On page 20 it states, "When choosing powers in Champions always start with the effect and work back to the cause." The stress here is that the mechanics are important for the adjudication of success or failure in the game, but that what something looks like in the minds of the players during the game doesn't need to be categorized in the rules.

This special effects, or effects based, approach was relatively freeform in the first three editions of Champions and is what enabled players to simulate an infinite number of effects with only limited mechanics. For this reason, I prefer to call this earlier approach to effects based design the special effects approach. This distinguishes it from the more granular effect based approach of later editions of Champions and give primacy to only quantifying what absolutely must be represented mechanically and leaving the rest to improvisation. Later editions of Champions, beginning with 4th edition which is my favorite edition, began a process of quantifying too many effects for my tastes. Given my preference for improvisation, I prefer to avoid over quantification of phenomenon. Your mileage may vary on that account, but that will have little bearing on this discussion as it continues.

So when might a special effects approach help a D&D game?

Let me look to one of my favorite online shows to explain.

An example of a situation that could have benefited from a special effects approach occurs in Episode 8 Part 1 of Saving Throw Show's series "The Lost Brigade" when Havana Mahoney attempts to have her Druid Theronna Wolfmancer cast the spell Summon Swarm upon some creatures she and her allies were combating. This event happens at around minute 41:37 in the episode (also embedded above). The Dungeon Master, Mason McDaniel, initially encourages a special effects approach when Havana asks what the spell looks like and Mason gives a few possibilities while leaving the final depiction up to her as to whether the rats she wants to summon burrow out of the earth or are vomited from her mouth. Either one of these options is narratively interesting and visually exciting. It's a good moment of game play, but this quickly gets sidetracked as the group attempts to find the spell in the rules. This leads to a few minutes of discussion which pull both the players and the audience out of the game. Eventually, it is discovered that the spell Havana wanted to cast is a Pathfinder spell. She asks if she can use it anyway, but after some discussion this is rejected and Havana sighs and casts Call Lightning. It's the first time in my life that I think I've ever seen a Druid essentially say, "yawn...I guess I'll just use the old standby Call Lightning. YAWN again. KABLAM! DRUID TAC-NUKE! Wish I could have done something interesting."

And you know what? I agree with that assessment. I really wish that Havana had been allowed to cast her 2nd level Summon Swarm spell, but how do you do that?

The first thing that you can do is to let the player use the Pathfinder spell. For a second level spell, which was the case in the episode, this wouldn't particularly damage the game as OP-finder doesn't spiral out of D&D maths until higher levels. In this case, the player would have summoned a swarm of rats that attacked the monsters as listed in the Rat Swarm entry. This isn't a bad solution, and it would have rewarded the player for an inspired narrative choice, but it isn't a special effects based approach and the search of various wiki/books delayed game play. Notice, I am not discussing that Havana's presentation of how big the swarm would be and how much damage it does wasn't accurate to the Pathfinder rules. That was merely a product of the websearch and getting her phone trapped by wiki-spam.

The second approach, the special effects approach, is to ask what special effect the player wants and what mechanics fit the expressed mechanical limits. Havana wanted to use a 2nd Level Druid spell that summoned a swarm of rats that bites foes. So the mechanical emulation is area effect damage appropriate for second level. The first spell that jumped into my head was Spike Growth.

"But," you say, "Spike Growth is a spell that transforms the ground into spiky thorn covered terrain."

Does it? Not from a special effects/effect based approach.

From this approach, the spell covers a 20 foot radius of terrain with ___________ which makes the ground difficult to walk on and which cases a creature to take 2d4 piercing damage for every 5 feet they travel. This transformation is camouflaged as to not be obvious until the victims move into it and take damage.

So here are the effects:
20 foot radius
Difficult Terrain
Moving within or into causes 2d4 piercing for every 5 ft moved.

Havana wanted a swarm of rats to attack the foes. This pretty much does that. All you have to do is say that Theronna Wolfmancer has summoned the rats and that the creatures will soon feel those effects. Imagine the shocked looks on the creature's faces as rats rose from the earth to devour them.

That's not all this spell could represent. It could represent an area of earth where magma has been brought close to the surface, ice spikes, the thorns in the book, a miasma in the air that chokes those who move through it. None of those effects change the mechanics of the spell, which are what define the level of the spell, but each of those feels different in play due to the role playing aspect of the game. It is key to note that the damage is piercing for creatures who have those kinds of resistances.

Personally, I like the idea of Spike Growth being a near invisible miasma of toxic spores which pierce the lungs. The again, whose to say that Call Lightning couldn't just be Lightning Rats rising up from the earth to bite opponents with their Lightning powers or even just the summoning of a Pikachu?

What are some other spells that you would/could reskin for different effects?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Savage Things (Part 2): The Heroic Teens of Stranger Things

This is the second post in a series of posts presenting the people and places portrayed in the Netflix Original Series Stranger Things. You can find more information about the series, characters, and places in Part One. This entry focuses on what I call "Team Nancy." These are the teenage characters who are central to the story and who are centered around their relationship to Nancy Wheeler.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

The Heroic Teens (Team Nancy)

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is Joyce Byers' oldest son and the brother of Will Byers. He has a quiet and introverted personality that has led him to be considered an outsider by his classmates at Hawkins High School. Jonathan is developing talent as a photographer and hopes to someday attend NYU to study cinematography and become a film maker. His character is similar in personality to John Bender in The Breakfast Club or Michael Fitzsimmons in Peggy Sue Got Married. Jonathan loves his family, but is worried that Will's disappearance has caused his mother to have another psychiatric episode.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6,
Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Photography) d6, Notice d6, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Survival d4, Swimming d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 5;
: 0
Hindrances: Curious, Doubting Thomas, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Brave
Gear: Car, Camera, .38 Pistol, Bear Trap, 5 Gallons of Gasoline, Lighter

Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) is a young woman caught between two social worlds. She is Mike Wheeler's older sister and used to have a very close relationship to her "D&D geek" brother, but that changed when she started dating Steve Harrington who hangs with a more popular crowd. Nancy's conflict extends to more than her family though. In her desire to "fit in" with Steve and his friends, Nancy has recently begun to rebel against her family and her own instincts. Her friend Barbara sees this conflict and tries to point it out to Nancy, but Nancy doesn't quite see how much Steve genuinely cares for Nancy. Nancy Wheeler's character is a combination of Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d4, Investigation d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Toughness: 4; Academics: 1
Hindrances: Loyal, Overprotective Parents, Small
Edges: Attractive, Brave, Test Taker

Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry) – Steve is Nancy’s boyfriend and is at a point in his life where he is going to have to choose what kind of man he will become. He comes from a relatively wealthy family and is one of the cooler kids in school. His character is a combination of Blane in Pretty in Pink and Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves. His story arc through the first season of Stranger Things parallels that of Djordjevic in that he could be a good guy, and when push comes to shove comes back to being one, but he’s so caught up in being “cool” that his instincts lead him to initially make bad choices. In the end though, he will do whatever he can to keep Nancy safe.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Driving d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Investigation d4, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Shooting d4, Streetwise d4, Swimming d6, Taunt d8
Charisma: 2; Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6;
Hindrances: Arrogant, Party Animal, Stubborn
Edges: Attractive, Fast Healer, Nerves of Steel
Gear: $500
Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser) -- Barbara has been Nancy Wheeler's best friend since Elementary School. She doesn't quite understand what Nancy sees in Steve Harrington, but knows deep down that she and Nancy will always be friends. Barbara is an excellent student, but she is viewed as a bit of an outsider because of her lack of "fashion sense" and her focus on school work. Barbara knows what's important in life and it's succeeding in school so you can get out of Hawkins and being loyal to those who deserve your loyalty and Nancy Wheeler deserves her loyalty.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Climbing d4, Driving d6, Investigation d4, Knowledge (Biology) d6, Knowledge (Chemistry) d6, Knowledge (History) d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Survival d4, Swimming d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 2
Hindrances: Bad Eyes (Minor), Bad Luck, Outsider
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Test Taker
Gear: Car

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Savage Things (Part 1): Savage Worlds Adventures in the World of Stranger Things

Stranger Things is a Netflix Original Series that was released on the streaming network on July 15, 2016. The show focuses on mysterious events which occur in the fictional city of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983 that are related to experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory. The Laboratory receives its funding through the U.S. Department of Energy and is run by Dr. Martin Brenner who uses the Laboratory to engage in experiments similar to those of the CIA's Stargate Project.

Many have described the series as a love-song to the 80s due not only to the fact that the show takes place in 1983, but also due to the number of references to 80s pop culture the show contains and the number of homages to 80s pop culture which served to influence the show. These influences include the horror of Stephen King, Sam Raimi, and John Carpenter, alternative music from the early 80s, Dungeons & Dragons, and the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. For example, the music during the opening credit sequence references score composed by John Carpenter and the opening shot of Episode 8 is a direct reference to the Imperial Base on Endor in Return of the Jedi.  A complete list of Easter Eggs and influences is beyond the scope of this blog post, but much has been written about the show at The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere.

Given the supernatural elements of the show, and the fact that it falls into the Spielberg tradition of Tween/Teen Adventures, Stranger Things makes for the perfect setting for a role playing game campaign. To this end, I've put together some basic background material and statistics for important Player Characters/Non-Player Characters for you to use at your own gaming tables. The statistics in this initial blog post are for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying game using the core rulebook and the East Texas University setting book. The Savage Worlds system is particularly good at emulating the kinds of "kids using luck to survive dangerous situations" stories within the Tweenventure genre and the East Texas University setting of Pinebox, TX provides a nice analog for Hawkins, IN.  Future updates will include statistics for BubbleGumshoe, Hero Kids, and other popular role playing games.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

Hawkins, Indiana (Population 4,936) – Hawkins, Indiana is a fictional city created as a setting for tales in the Stranger Things-verse. The show uses the city of Jackson, Georgia as a proxy for Hawkins and thus all estimations of population and city services are done using real world data for Jackson. 

Hawkins PD – Hawkins law enforcement is overseen by the Chief of Police Jim Hopper manages the City Jail and a staff of 17. This staff includes 13 sworn police officers and 4 communications officers. The Hawkins City Jail has 16 beds for use in housing inmates and provides service 24-hours a day.

Hawkins Library – The Hawkins Library is the central library for the County and thus has a large selection of books and access to all major newspapers dating from 1910 are available on microfiche. In addition to its extensive collection of normal books, the Hawkins Library is also home to a private collection of books about mysterious incidents and the occult (this information is not included in the show, but was added due to The Monster using the Library as a nest in the Upside-Down). The library hours are as follows:

Monday – Thursday: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Hawkins Middle School -- As one of the larger cities in the county, Hawkins Middle School (Home of the Tigers) serves as the home of the County School District's Middle and High Schools. These schools serve students from the neighboring cities. Hawkins Middle School has a population of 1,000 students in grades 7 and 8. It has an advanced science program for a school in the 1980s. This is as much due to the enthusiasm of Mr. Clarke as it is to grants and donations from Hawkins National Laboratory. The school district has an annual science competition and Will Byers' D&D group have won their grade level almost every year.

Hawkins High School -- Like the Middle School, Hawkins High School provides services for county residents who do not live in Hawkins proper. Unlike the Middle School, which only serves neighboring communities, the High School serves the entire County. This give Hawkins High School a population of 4,000 students. The High School receives support from the Hawkins National Laboratory and has a history of academic focus over athletics. The Football team typically has a .500 season and the same is true for the Baseball team. The school has a competitive Softball team and both men's a women's basketball have a history of success that exceed expectations from such a small county.

Hawkins National Laboratory -- The Hawkins National Laboratory was built in 1979 as part of a Department of Energy program seeking to research new forms of energy production. A good deal of the research at the Laboratory deals with the creation of more efficient solar energy cells. Given the variations in weather, Hawkins makes an ideal location for study of a solar panel that can operate productively in less sunny climates. Unknown to the public is that the majority of the Hawkins National Laboratory's funding comes from the CIA's Stargate Project. This project investigates whether humans are capable of manifesting psychic and psychokinetic powers. To advance their efforts they recruited Dr. Martin Brenner whose earlier research on the use of LSD and sensory deprivation at the University of Indiana led to early insights into psychic phenomenon. While the CIA initially selected the Stargate title for the project as a means of obfuscating the actual research going on, recent events at the Laboratory have led to the creation of a Portal between our dimension and a Shadow Dimension which parallels our own.

The Upside Down/Vale of Shadows – A dark reflection or echo of the material plane, a place of decay and death. It is a plane out of phase and filled with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it and it is governed by necrotic and shadow magic. The Upside-Down appears to be a dark and cold version of our world with necrotic growths and no living creatures other than The Monster and possibly its offspring.

There are only two ways to pass into the Upside-Down. The first is through the semi-permanent portal created by Elle/Eleven. This portal is on a lower level of Hawkins National Laboratory and has begun to warp the world around it. Inside the Laboratory these effects can be seen in necrotic outgrowths, a lower temperature, and constant light snowfall. In an area of around 2 miles in diameter around the Laboratory, the effects can be detected through instability in the electromagnetic field. When you are within the diameter, compasses no longer point North. They point to the Portal instead. The other means of passing into the Upside-Down is to use a temporary portal created by The Monster. These portals are created by The Monster as it enters and exits our world, but quickly close due to the amount of energy needed to produce them. They can last as long as 5 minutes. Of course, using them without The Monster noticing is no small feat.

The creators of the show have a 30 page bible dedicated to the Upside-Down, hinting at future adventures in upcoming seasons.

Negative Environmental Effects
Poisonous Atmosphere: anyone non-native caught in the Upside-Down must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.
Cold: Unless wearing warm clothing, a person must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.

Cast of Characters 

The Kids 

Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) – Will Byers' is close friends with Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. When the group is playing Dungeons & Dragons, Will tends to play the character Will the Wise and when given the choice between taking risks and playing it safe, he will often choose to cast Fireball instead of Protection spells. He is a good kid, but his current home life is very unstable. His mother Joyce is viewed as unstable by the town and Will is viewed as the easiest kid to bully at Hawkins Middle School.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Notice d6, Stealth d6, Survival d6, Shooting d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Luck

Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) – Mike Wheeler is 12 years old and is one of the "point of view" characters in Stranger Things. He is the Dungeon Master for the D&D gang and frequently runs 10 hour sessions on the weekends which end with a climactic battle against a powerful villain. In the first episode, his adventure includes a stressful encounter with Demogorgon. Little did he know that this adventure would shape the perceptions of his friends as they encountered The Monster from the Upside-Down. He is the son of Karen Wheeler and brother to Nancy Wheeler. He was once very close to his sister emotionally, but her recent relationship with Steve and his obsession with D&D have come in the way of their friendship. He is a good student with developing observational skills.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d4, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Overprotective Parents, Young
Edges: Alertness, Brave, Multitasker
Gear: Binoculars, Walkie Talkie, Bicycle, Compass, RPG supplies
Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) is one of Mike Wheeler's oldest friends and a part of the D&D group. He is not native to Hawkins and likely moved here from California (he wears a T-Shirt advertising the Castroville Artichoke Festival).  While all the kids in the D&D group are smart, scientific, and tech savvy, Dustin truly excels in these areas. His permanent teeth have not come in yet due to cleidocranial dysplasia.While Mike is the group's Dungeon Master, and the "hub" around which the group is centered, Dustin is the group's "leader." When push comes to shove, it is Dustin who gets the other kids to reconcile and who is able to rally the troops when the going gets tough. He is skeptical of certain kinds of authority and tends to view the challenges the gang faces through the lens of Star Wars and D&D.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d4, Persuasion d6, Repair d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Quirk, Young
Edges: Command, Connections (Mr. Clarke), Multitasker
Gear: Bicycle, Compass, Walkie Talkie, Head Set

Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) Lucas is Mike's oldest friend and a key member of the D&D crew. He is smart and adventurous, but he often lacks patience and is not quick to trust anyone. He distrusts Eleven/Elle and wants to take action as quickly as possible to rescue Will. He is a man of action and not waiting.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d8, Investigation d6, Notice d4, Shooting d6, Stealth d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 8; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Fleet-Footed
Gear: Binoculars (Typical 10×25 binoculars), Bicycle, Walkie Talkie, Compass, Wrist Rocket (d8 2/4/6). 
Eleven/Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) was kidnapped by Dr. Martin Brenner when she was born. Eleven's mother was one of Dr. Brenner's subjects in his experiments at the University of Indiana. While the show hints that she is the 11th child/subject Dr. Brenner has worked with, no other subjects are shown in the series. When Eleven runs away, she befriends a local diner owner named Benny and eventually encounters Mike Wheeler. Even though Eleven is quiet and largely clueless to the mundane world around her, she and Mike become very close friends. Eleven has abilities beyond her "experience" level and is an extremely powerful young woman. She hopes to find a way to rescue Will Byers and free herself from the influence of Dr. Brenner.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d4, Notice d6, Psionics d12, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Loyal
Edges: Arcane Background (Psionics), Brave, Danger Sense
Powers: Bolt, boost/lower trait, entangle, mind reading, telekinesis; Power Points: 10
Quirk: Loves Eggo Waffles.

To Be Continued...
Later in the week, there will be posts discussing the Teens, Parents, Supporting Cast, and Antagonists of Stranger Things.