Sunday, 29 October 2017

Halloween Inspired Creatures & Traits

Happy almost Halloween everyone! I don't typically do special holiday themed posts but thought I'd make an exception this time. With my love of undead themed campaigns, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that I try to run a horror/undead inspired one-shot around Halloween. As such, I have a bit of material that I can share that should fit in nicely with Halloween inspired tabletop RPG sessions. Hopefully someone gets some use of these. They are intended for use with D&D 5e, though I hope it will help regardless. Also feel free to change the names I used. In fact you probably want to. I often let my players name the new creatures they come across.

Crawling Half

Crawling claws, you heard of them? Well, there are other forms of crawling undead too. Most of them smell.

Crawling Half
Medium Undead, Chaotic Evil

Armor Class 8
Hit points 6 (1d6 + 3)
Speed 15 ft. (Or half the creature's normal zombie speed)

Ability Score
Strength 13
Dexterity 6
Constitution 16
Intelligence 3
Wisdom 6
Charisma 5

Challenge 1/8 (25XP)

Swipe. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 1d6 + 1 (4)

The creature makes grappling checks with disadvantage and creatures trying to shove the Crawling Half have advantage.

Variant 1: The Crawling Half has the zombie's Undead Fortitude feature.

Variant 2: The first time a zombie hits 0 hit points and succeeds on its constitution saving throw, it is instead cut in half. The top half becomes a crawling half with 1 hit point and the Zombies Undead Fortitude feature. Recommended for casual implementation only/when large damage is done but the zombie still makes its save.

The above assumes a human. For more general use, cut the speed of the creature in half, add disadvantage for grappling and advantage for creatures trying to shove the crawling half.

Shadow Touched

Shades and shadows are but one possible result of touching shadow realms and/or playing with magic. Living creatures can be touched as well. From manipulating shadows to becoming one with them, the potential results are many and varied. What they have in common is that they are terrifying to be sure.

Some can move like shadows, or like sand. They cannot be caught as they move past you in this way. Just try keeping your eyes on them. It's impossible. It seems like one moment they are there and the next they are beside you. Some can even turn your own shadow against you.

Shadow Walk 

The creature can use its bonus action to move from one area of dim or darker light to another. The areas cannot be further apart than the normal speed of the creature.

Variant 1: You must spend 5 speed for every square between the two shadows. This variant does not cost a bonus action.

Shadow Glide

The creature does not provoke opportunity attacks as it moves.

Variant 1: Opportunity attacks against the creature have disadvantage.

Shadow Slip 

The creature can spend 10 ft. of movement to escape a grapple.

Variant: Change the amount of movement however you wish. It may depend on the type of creature.

Variant 1: Instead of costing movement, it costs a bonus action.

Shadow Influence – Grab

As an action the creature forces a target within line of sight to be grappled by its own shadow. It uses the target's Strength(Athletics) for the check.

Variant 1: Pick a DC based on the creatures control of shadows. Use this as the Strength(Athletics) for the grapple check.

Monster Ideas (Less Serious)

Head Thrower
Use the zombie stats and description with the following modification(s):
  • The zombie caries its own head.
  • The zombie will make a range 20/40 ft. attack by throwing its own head at a target at the first opportunity. Hit: 1d6 piercing damage and roll a grapple check. On a success, the target takes 1d6 piercing damage at the end of the turn.
  • Once its head is thrown, the zombie can only see what its head can see. If in doubt, roll 1d4 and use it like a compass (1 – N, 2 – E, 3 – S, 4 – W).
  • If the zombie can't see anything through its eyes, it tries it's best to regain its head. Add the blinded condition until something comes into view. The zombie will probably have a general idea of where its head is and try to fumble towards it. It may have trouble telling friend from foe, walk off cliffs, or have similar confusion while fumbling in this manner.

Though dumb, they are smart enough to realize they see through the eyes in their head. I've seen these things peek over hedges by grabbing their head by the hair and lifting it as high as they could. The crafty wizard can use these guys in very interesting ways as well. A friend of mine would order one to throw its head around a corner and then use the zombies reaction as an alarm. If you wish to imitate this, I'd suggest making sure you don't stand in front of the zombie before giving the order.

Vampire Cultist
For whatever reason, vampires are popular. Every now and then you run across a humanoid who pretends to be a vampire or does its best to live like a vampire in hopes that it will somehow inspire the “blessing” of vampirism. No action is too far to become a vampire for these people.

Old Work

I'll also link to my previous Shadow Hand creature. Hopefully someone out there finds it useful.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Betrayal at Baldur's Gate Review

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Board game for 3-6 players.

  • Thematic gameplay that leads to fun situations. There are some very entertaining cards and there's quite a bit of fun to be had watching people fail at the events depicted. It very much helps to get into the situation and enjoy the story that results.
  • Many new themed haunts, including some co-op ones.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons theme is given some serious attention. The haunts and tiles have changed quite significantly, character abilities reflect the original game quite a bit, and the cards reference D&D items. They could have gone a bit farther away from the original in pursuit of D&D themes, but I think it's not a bad job.
  • 6 pre-painted minis, game tiles (though not really usable for D&D), and tokens.
  • Rules seemed to be tighter than the original game. I'd still recommend a reread of the rules before play.

Could Go Either Way:
  • It's a Betrayal game. While there are changes, it is still very much the same system and if you didn't like the original there probably isn't enough difference for you to like this one.
  • While many of the cards do have art (much more than the Adventure System games), there are still many cards that are just descriptions.
  • The layout of the street level can get quite confused due to the combination of street and building tiles over the course of play. It makes for some interesting gameplay due to variety but often doesn't lead to the most sensible results.
  • Just like it's parent game, it's quite luck based. If you are in for an hour or an hour and a half of luck based fun, that's a plus. If you prefer more strategy and less luck, this might not be your thing. It's very much about being in fun and funny situations as a result of the game.
  • Having the D&D name on it, you'd probably want as many thing possible that you could recycle for use in your campaigns. Given how many miniatures, maps and dice I've stolen from board games over the years, it's probably fair to say that part of me always looks for what I can recycle. This game doesn't have quite as much some of the other D&D games, such as the Adventure System or, depending on what you are looking for, Dungeon Command. If you are looking for just a board game, this won't matter. If you were looking for parts, it will.*
  • The chips/markers used to mark your stats aren't very good. They will cause damage to your character cards. You can kind of get away with not fully pushing them on, but that will obviously make it far easier to knock them off.
  • Why doesn't everything fit back into the box properly? You'd think I was doing car repairs or something. I tend to prefer to organize my tokens so I can easily get them when needed, but when I was done the minis didn't fit. It works out for me since I often steal minis for my D&D games from wherever I can find them, but it would have been nice if it all fit perfectly back into its box.*

* Denotes nitpicking.
Betrayal At Baldur's Gate Box
The Betrayal at Baldur's Gate box.


I haven't done all that many board game reviews. Looking back on it, have I even done one before? Regardless, given how wide I cast my net with “unplugged gaming”, it should come as no surprise that here I am. With the current timing, why not Betrayal at Baldur's Gate? It seems to be my kind of game. And so here we are. It's worth noting that I quite enjoyed playing Betrayal at House on the Hill. It was one of those games that someone would bring to a get together and we'd have fun playing. Of course, it had a way of coming up more often around Halloween. Oh look at the date. So naturally, when I heard of this release I was a bit worried and also a bit excited. It would be easy to just slightly reskin the game. At the same time, making it too different wouldn't make it Betrayal anymore. It's a tough balance to strike and where that balance is can be very player dependent. Of course, it's a different situation if you don't have the previous game. Luckily things worked out well and it's been great playing it over the month of October. I've gone through 14 haunts at the time of writing this and now feel I can comment on the game. As always, I'm happy to hear what other people think. 

It's Betrayal

It's without a doubt a betrayal game. The layout itself has changed, from the floors of a haunted house to the streets/buildings and catacombs of Baldur's Gate, but it is recognizably Betrayal. There are other changes as well, such as the items being related to D&D, the events also being recognizable to D&D players, and the inclusion of co-op hauntings (though in those situations “haunting” is a bit of an odd term). You shouldn't expect something massively different, though it is different in flavour and I would say more refined.

The Game Itself

Players, playing adventurers exploring the streets of Baldur's Gate, lay down tiles to build up the area they are exploring. As they do, based on the cards they draw for exploring areas, players collect items, find omens, and run into events that help form their story. At a certain point (players roll a dice for every omen card they draw and if they roll high enough the second phase begins) the game changes. A player is outed as being a traitor who is out to do something evil at the expense of everyone else. If you played Betrayal at House on the Hill before, this should sound very familiar, though the rules for starting a haunt have changed. Where things differ greatly is that it isn't always going to be a player trying to go after everyone else. There are quite a few haunts where everyone will be co-operating to accomplish something together, or where the traitor isn't instantly known. In my opinion it's nice to break up the flow in this way and the elements of the game come together well.

One thing to know about these games is that luck is a big factor. It's not like you have no choices at all. You can heavily hamstring yourself if you wanted. However, the nature of the game is that rolling dice, and drawing cards are a big part of the game and contribute to randomness. In my opinion it is one of those games where you need to lose yourself in the game and enjoy the story that is coming about over the course of play. Sometimes that story will be the heroes making an easy time of the villain. Sometimes it will basically be a slasher movie as the betrayer knocks out the other players one by one. It's just the nature of the game. The first game we played involved the wizard becoming the hero of the game by starting to flood the area in the first round of the haunt, which heavily skewed things towards the players. This advantage diminished later as the players got pretty bad rolls. A few other times one side or the other started like a tank and just kept rolling. Still, fun was had. If what I described sounds like fun to you, you'd probably enjoy the game.

Each of the 12 characters in Betrayal at Baldur's Gate has a unique ability (2 character choices per miniature). This is a nice option to have, even if some of them may end up being situational. It's one of those things where having a new option to consider goes a long way and helps distinguish characters. At the same time Magic items and omens still make up a good chunk of the differences between characters, especially later in the game.

When laying out tiles during exploration, the game is divided into two levels. There is the street level, made up of building and street tiles, and the catacombs made up of catacomb tiles. The simplicity of only having two levels is nice and the variation thanks to having two kinds of tiles on the main floor is welcome, but this can result in kind of odd layouts on the main floor. This is a result of the random nature of drawing the two different kinds of cards. The game explains this away as Baldur's Gate being an older city and not very well planned, but it does end up being not as neat as Betrayal at House on the Hill.

The tone is quite different in Betrayal at Baldur's Gate compared to Betrayal at House on the Hill. Of course you'd expect this with the switch in themes, but I think it would have an effect on your preference. The original game rules work very well thematically for exploring a haunted house and if that's the kind of story you'd prefer to experience, it's hard to beat. Betrayal at Baldur's Gate has it's own feeling that can be appreciated as well. Sometimes it strays closer towards horror like the original. Other times its more in the style of an adventure. However, for this kind of game where a big part of the enjoyment comes from the shared story created over the course of the game, theme and feeling play a big role. It's a hard thing to explain and talk about and I'd also be curious what other people felt in this regard. There's something to be appreciated in both versions. I personally liked the variety in Betrayal at Baldur's Gate but it could also be the novelty talking.

Betrayal At Baldur's Gate Pieces

The Game Pieces

The core of the game are the cards (omens, items, and encounters) as well as the tiles that make up the streets, buildings and catacombs of Baldur's Gate. The tiles have quite nice art and does a good job of illustrating the areas that we find ourselves in. The cards have less art, though some of them do have some that is made from black outlines. It's nice to see some though, compared to the Adventure System games which had none.

There are quite a few tokens in this one as well. Quite a few of them have images depicting what they are. However, not all of them do. This makes the ones that lack the depiction stand out all the more. It's a bit disappointing, but luckily many of the tokens, especially the monster ones, do have art. The obstruction, quest, and blast tokens aren't as lucky. Given how the obstruction tokens are used in different ways depending on the haunt, I can see why it turned out this way but it would have been more impressive with more art. There are also 8 dice and miniatures. 

The Art and Build Quality

The art for the characters in particular is quite stylized. Much of the rest of it is too, such as the monster tokens. They are black ink on a coloured background, and look pretty good. The character cards were particularly cartoony compared to my preference (those of you who've looked at my previous reviews will know what I prefer), though they aren't bad. The item cards have art, but the rest do not. The tiles used for the rooms are well illustrated and serve their purpose. Overall, I'd say that more art could have been included but it completely isn't artless either. What art is there is pretty good. For my tastes the room tiles are the real standouts as well as the minis.

The miniatures are painted fine and have a good amount of texture to them. The wizard is probably my favourite, and you can bet will make an appearance in one of my D&D games at some point. As you'd expect, it's not to the same level as you'd expect from a hobby painter but they look fine. Areas are painted but they aren't perfect and there won't be enough shading for the super picky among us. Still, it's not bad and it's always nice to see pre-painted miniatures. The problem with the miniatures is the bent weapons. The dwarf, orc, and halfling were fine but the rest weren't so lucky. Due to the soft plastic I'm not really concerned of those components breaking. However, the wizard staff in particular is very bent. It would have been nice if it wasn't the case out of the box, though there are ways to straighten out such things.

The card used is fine. If you played the earlier game, you know what to expect. The problem that exists here is with the clips that attach to the character cards. A good few of them were too tight for me and marked the cards. Be aware.

The rulebooks are softcover as you'd expect. They are held together with a string which makes me a bit concerned about how well they'll last in the really long run, but it's what we were all probably expecting. You typically don't find hard cover rulebooks in board games. However, a PDF version of at least the basic rules would have been nice as a backup just in case. Something tells me doing so for the Betrayer's Tomb and Survivor's Tomb would be a harder sell. Please do let me know if they are around and I just missed them.

Reuse in D&D

In a pinch, the tokens with art can be reused in D&D if needed. Kobolds, beholders, goblins: all are easily reused. However, there isn't enough for a campaign here and you'd probably be better off getting your parts elsewhere. If you'd be getting the game anyway because Betrayal + D&D sounds like your kind of thing, it makes a welcome addition. However, you probably won't be buying the board game simply to reuse the pieces. The room tiles are too small unless you just wanted to map out the general area for theatre of mind use, but it wouldn't be that much easier than getting some dungeon tiles to map out the area. You'd also get the bonus of miniature combat out of using dungeon tiles instead. How much you liked the art would also play a role in your choice for this particular purpose. I wish there'd be more that could be easily reused, but there is still quite a bit that could be. The miniatures, of course, are easily reused.


The suggested US price is $50. This seems to be the same as the suggest price for the original Betrayal game, though depending on when you search you may be able to find it for cheaper.

What I felt was Missing

I wish there were some rules copies online, kind of like what they did for the Adventure system games. Hopefully they'll do it in the future, but right now they don't. It's one of those things I really appreciate since board game rulebooks can get damaged quite easily.


It's a Betrayal game. If you didn't like Betrayal at House on the Hill then I don't think that this game is different enough for your tastes. However, if you did like it then you will probably like Betrayal at Baldur's Gate. To me it seems to be more refined than the original and the additional haunts, including co-operative haunts, are much appreciated. The D&D theme is incorporated quite well, and the humorous elements are a nice hidden treat. The main design criticism you can throw at it is that it may be too similar to Betrayal at House on the Hill, though it the game is far from a name change. The thematic difference will also play a role in your preference for one over the other (horror vs fantasy with a twist). If you liked the original game, the new haunts, and theme may be enough justification on their own, though I'd recommend taking a few minutes to do a quick search to make sure. I lacked a copy of Betrayal at House on the Hill so I'm happy to have one of the games. It's also seen quite a bit of play time so far this month, so it looks to be well received among my gaming groups.

Other Stuff
  • Want to see some of the game before deciding? There is this official discussion about the game that also goes over some gameplay, though I have to warn you ahead of time that it's about an hour long.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Dungeon Master: Outside Our Comfort Zone

There are many kinds of campaigns you can run and many ways to describe a campaign. However, people tend to have certain ideas, themes, or enemies they prefer to use. One of my earlier posts said the same thing, and I know I'm guilty of it. Undead are just so much fun. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding to break out of our comfort zones and do something new. It can be difficult, that's for sure, but the benefits are often worth it.


This kind of thing can be a bit risky. The hope is that by going outside your comfort zone, you can get game experiences you otherwise wouldn't have. Such a thing can be particularly important when you hit a wall or start getting bored with running games. However, I find it works best if you really want to go after that new experience. It can be very hard to do things you've never done before and having the resolve and desire to do so goes a long way. It makes it seem less intimidating. Doing it in a responsible manner is very important as a Dungeon Master as well. Both sides of the table should be having fun.

Big Bad

One of the most effective ways to get outside my comfort zone for a campaign is to play around with the mastermind behind the events opposing the players. Typically, this kind of character influences the campaign in incredibly large ways based on who they are even if it's taking place in the same campaign location. What kind of henchmen do they have? Where are they? What's their plan? How do they like to achieve their goals? How do they act when they have the upper hand compared to being bested? All of these details stem from the adversary of the campaign and can go a long way to inspiring something you might not have thought of otherwise. It's also one of those things where we often have a favourite type and need to fight the urge to repeat the same kind of villain.


On the other hand we can start with a setting first. Particular settings can inspire and lend themselves particular kinds of villains. What that particular kind is can vary based on the Dungeon Master, but in general I've found it works very well. Even looking at published adventures, I tend to be drawn to different kinds of encounters and ideas when running a Ravenloft campaign compared to a Planescape campaign. It generally doesn't come from general appearance, though sometimes the appearance can go a long way to help come up with the rest. A village in a prairie region inspires very different ideas than being in hell itself. However, in these cases the appearance aids coming up with ideas and rules for the world. It's those rules and ideas that tend to have the biggest effect on me. It's not uncommon for the rules I come up with to influence the physical characteristics.

There are many different rules we can think of and not all will apply to every setting. However, some general ones come up fairly often. Can the players escape? In Ravenloft, the rules of the world typically try to trap them there with the horrors. How and to where can players travel? Cities? Dimensions? Other planets? By spaceship or by portal? The other major one that often comes up is on how magic is treated. Are spell-casters generally accepted and are magic items common? A bad guy afraid of death and going to any lengths for a potion of longevity makes far more sense in a low magic world than in a world where you can buy one on any corner for a silver. And of course, such a choice can result in certain themes and situations to arise that otherwise you wouldn't have thought of. A potion of clairvoyance can also sometimes be used as the motivation as well, particularly if the bad guy wants to find something.


It's very easy to have every campaign in the same kind of level of danger. Either resurrection magic is plentiful, it's rare, or it's somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what the preference is, I've found that Dungeon Masters typically stick to one. This can be fine. It tends to be the level of danger we are good at. However, playing with this element of a campaign can result in big changes to the feeling of the campaign. It can also influence the previous 2 elements if it's core enough. An occasional harder combat encounter is one thing. No healing magic at all is another. Playing with this idea can lead to some interesting situations. A deadlier game lends itself far better to horror type games. A less deadly one can be more easily played for laughs, since players will need to optimize their actions and characters nearly as much.


Tone is a hard one to talk about. Still, the general impression you want for your campaign can help give inspiration for the previous things we mention. If you want a darker campaign with an emphasis on dark humour, your ideas will be different. Approaching the campaign with that mindset tends to lead me with different ideas. On the other hand, if I want a more light hearted campaign, it leads me to others. Some ideas can be played in both ways. A colony of mind flayers or a creature that takes over a person (from my experience this tends to be some form of ghost or an intellect devourer, though a doppleganger can also be used in similar ways) can be incorporated in both types of games. The horror aspect is fairly obvious but the totally obvious strange guy with the party that the players always dismiss due to increasingly silly reasoning is an idea I've seen used before for comedic effect as well. One thing I want to note here is that sometimes being aware of the tone you want to go after can make a big difference subconsciously and actively. 

Personally, I find that the first step is often the hardest. Get the ball rolling and things get easier. Good luck to you all. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Dungeon Master: Trust

There are many important pieces to being a good Dungeon Master. The ideal Dungeon Master is able to think on their feet, come up with interesting situations that inspire player actions, create sprawling dungeons that don't get boring, and a million other things. Trust is perhaps one of the less noticeable elements, but nevertheless is an extremely important thing for a Dungeon Master to have. However, it's also a nebulous thing that greatly depends on the players, and scenario. And it's that topic that I hope to explore today.

What Is Trust In Tabletop Games?

I think the best place to start is to go over what trust means in tabletop games. In regards to the Dungeon Master, trust means that the players feel that you are both against them and for them. Things could go badly for the players due to pure luck, a bad decision, or for some other reason. Even so, the players expect that they have a real chance to succeed (whether actually win or able to escape), and feel the Dungeon Master isn't playing favourites. For some groups it also means that if things go off the rails because things turned out to be more difficult than expect, the Dungeon Master will bring things back on track. For others, it's that the Dungeon Master will let things fall where they fall. Regardless, there is a sense of consistency and players know abstractly what to expect.

The Social Contract

Entering into a tabletop role-playing game is also entering into a social contract. The specifics can vary from group to group but there tend to be some common basics. The Dungeon Master should be “fair”, whatever that means in the given context. One campaign may be more or less deadly than other but the idea is that there should still be multiple ways out of a situation. They won't be thrown into unwinnable situations and all die just because the Dungeon Master felt like it. It could be that the players expect to die a lot in the game. It's set up to be deadly. However, since it's part of the social contract they aren't blindsided and know at a very abstract level what to expect. That's not to say things can't change, and I've seen quite a few times where they do. One such example is with a new group of players. Often times I've seen Dungeon Masters hold back with them as they get used to the rules. After they get the hang of things, the training wheels come off.

Doesn't Mean No Danger

There tends to be a second competing condition as well. Players expect to be challenged in some way. It could be through combat, through puzzles, through interesting role-play scenarios, or whatever else. Having the trust of your players doesn't mean you can't kill player characters off or challenge them with difficult encounters. However, it means that they will expect you to do so in a fair way and understand that it is a possibility.

How To Get It?

It's a steady thing that gets built up over time. It's also one of the reasons I find playing with the same group tends to go smoother. You have that built trust ready to go, even for a new campaign. It also important to know that it doesn't mean you need to be right every time. Making a mistake and correcting things in a satisfactory fashion will help as well. When doing so, however, I want to make a clear distinction that the players shouldn't always be happy. Depending on your players, some may push for what is beneficial instead of what might be fair. There are still compromises to be made.

Breaking It

Even if it may be for dramatic effect, I would be very wary of trying to break the trust of your players. This is not to say that a character can't betray the players. However, they shouldn't feel that the Dungeon Master betrayed them. Part of this is making promises. I've seen before where a Dungeon Master might make promises to individual players that they can't keep. Don't do this, especially where items are concerned. A list of items they want isn't a guarantee that they will get them. Instead, it's the start of a compromise and the players should understand that too.