I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hexcrawl x Pointcrawl - when to use them

I've been through this a couple of times but I think it is worth a quick summary. 

I'm not going through definitions here. Let's just say that a hexcrawl means exploring a territory that is divided by hexes, with no clear paths, and a pointcrawl means exploring a territory through preexisting paths and points of interest. 

This is a typical hexcrawl map (source). Notice the lack of clear paths. We might have to count hexes to know the fastest way from k2 to k6, and we don't know if there is a road; this indicates that important details are missing form the map.

This is a typical pointcrawl map (source). You cannot make your own path; to get from Gettysburg to Grafton you must pass through Harper's Ferry.

You can have both at once (source):

Notice that some regions (upper right) have no clear paths. it's up to the travelers to choose their own way. For other places, there is usually no reason to avoid the roads; but we still have to calculate how long each road takes.

When to use each?

Well, I'm convinced that pointcrawls are more useful and hexcrawls are only good for an specific (but very popular) type of campaign: one in which the PCs go exploring the unknown wilderness beyond civilization.

Pointcrawls, on the other hand, are useful if you're dealing with roads, cities, caravans, or even when going though the wilderness with a guide; if the guide knows a place, it knows a good path to this place. A dungeon, with rooms and corridors, resembles a pointcrawl.

One thing about pointcrawls is that you should focus on paths, instead of only points of interest. How does the Old Road look like, and what kind of creatures use it, how long does it take to travel it? Etc. 

This kind of information is also important for any hexcrawl that uses roads or trails; why count hexes every time you go through a road instead of having these numbers beforehand?

And this forces you to think about the journey itself (or "expeditions"), which is good. You can estimate the duration of your travels. You can keep "STRICT TIME LIMITS" in a meaningful way.

As I've said before, Curse of Strahd should be a pointcrawl. Tomb of Annihilation would be a mix of both; the PCs rely on guides, so the paths should be previously known until they go out on their own. Descent into Avernus could be either; the abstract territory of Avernus shifts and changes.

The problem with pointcrawls, of course, is that you usually have fewer tools when you go "off the road" or get lost. However, this is not hard to calculate, and if you use the same way more than once you can add a new path to your map. The paths that already exist are used often even before you arrive; making new ones could be part of the adventure.

What about urban adventures? Well, most of the times they are neither. We are not dealing with wilderness, obviously, but streets are not exactly roads either; the path you take from point A to point B is often unimportant in most of our city dealings (barring ambushes, etc.). Maybe city adventures must be construed as a web of events or NPCs instead of places, but that's the subject for another post. If the city is in complete chaos or ruin, an hexcrawl might be a better fit, provided "zones" of the city are more important than specific streets.

Recommended reading:

http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2012/01/crawling-without-hexes-pointcrawl.html - start here. this is the post that started it all AFAICT.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale DTRPG sale

DTRPG is making a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale.

It includes more than 12.000 titles... but don't worry, I'm here to help! Here are some of my favorites. They'll have special deals Friday and Monday.

Cyber Monday - best discounts

There are six special discounts for cyber Monday. They all look very cool, although I haven't played any. Mörk Borg looks amazing; as far as I know, the systems is ORS-ish and cool, although I haven't found anything that particularly attracts my interest other than the art and layout. Might get it anyway. Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Dissident Whispers, Wolves of God, Kamigakari: God Hunters, and Savage Worlds Adventure Edition are also 60% to 70% off.

Classic D&D

Some of my favorite classics are on sale, so I'll repeat what I've said before...

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia (Basic) is my favorite "all in one" book in the history of D&D. If I could only choose one book to run a campaign, it would probably be this one.

The Monstrous Manual (2e) is my favorite D&D monster book. Maybe because of the art, or nostalgia, or the amount of lore and relatively small stat-blocks.

The Dungeon Master's Guide (1e) is one of the best ever written. It has a few oddities, but it is amazing to see how much of 5e (and all editions) were already in here. Even the appendixes can generate lots of ideas... the bit on demons inspired my Teratogenicon.

The D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic) is the best D&D book for its size (about 64 pages). It contains multitudes despite being so small. It is the book that inspired Dark Fantasy Basic.

Planescape is another classic setting that you can get in PDF or print. Unfortunately, I haven't found Dark Sun or Ravenloft stuff in this sale...


Most stuff I've found in this sale is from Goodman Games. In addition to the amazing Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC RPG), I really like The Dungeon Alphabet and The Monster Alphabet - they are near system-less and full of awesome stuff. I STILL haven't read How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck but it is also on sale.

Worlds Without Number is probably the hottest "new" (released in April) OSR title on sale. I have only read the free version briefly, but seems very good overall, and I've appreciated many other titles form the same author.

Several Old School Essentials titles are also on sale.

D&D 5e and compatible

Also, I'll recommend the Kobold Press stuff... WITH ONE BIG CAVEAT: there is also a huge Black Friday sale over Humble Bundle where you can get all this stuff a lot cheaper. But if you want a book or two (or maybe you have some DTRPG credit like me), check Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts (both for 5th Edition). I have both and they are amazing.

BTW, the Dungeon Masters Guild is having a Black Friday sale too. You can find loads of 5e stuff there. One I can recommend is the Tomb of Annihilation Companion; you can find similar stuff for ALL official campaigns and they are often very useful.

Other things

The curious and recently released Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds Core Rules is also on sale... Now, I'm not a big fan of EITHER game, but this strange combination feels like the perfect amount of crunch for me. Might have to check it out.

My stuff!

My books are not included in this sale, for some reason. Anyway, I've just made a 50% discount for my OSR adventure The Wretched Hive; it will cost only 1.99 until Cyber Monday at least. 

100 Undead was already on sale (also 1.99), and I'll keep it till Monday too. I just noticed a recent positive review! Yay!

Teratogenicon is still at a special price if you buy print+PDF (if you already have the PDF, you probably received a discount coupon for the print version when it was made availiable).

These are all Affiliate links - by using them, you're helping to support this blog!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Teratogenicon - print version now available!

TERATOGENICON - our most impressive book so far - is a collection of tables and essays on how to create your own monsters.

It contains one chapter for each of the fourteen most famous monster types (aberrations, beasts, celestials, constructs, and so on). Each chapter examines specific habits, appearance, goals, traits, powers, origins, and many other topics. In addition, the appendixes will help you to create stats (for both old school and contemporary games), to roleplay monsters, and to include all monster types into a coherent whole, among other things.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Rick Troula (of The Displaced fame). Take a look at the previews to see for yourself!

After analyzing all the POD (print on demand) options, we've chosen to make the book available in softcover, in two versions: Premium Color Book and Standard Color. 

Both look awesome in print! The premium version looks sharper, brighter, with vivid shades of gray (see below). The paper feels glossier. The standard color is darker - both art and text - but the quality and resolution are mostly maintained.

We've decided to reject the B&W version, as the price difference is too small to justify a (slightly) lower quality (and some text/art visible through the back of the pages) for such a beautiful book. We've also decided that the book is too thin for hardcover, which would also make it more expensive. In both cases, if you have a different opinion, let us know!

As promised, we've sent previous costumers a discount coupon today. If you haven't bought the PDF before, you can buy both the PDF and the print version at the same time at a discounted price (we will keep this price for a week, at least). As always, you can buy bundles of our digital products for a great price. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Inverse Ravenloft

I've been reading Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I know I'm late to the party, but I'm probably writing a review soon. If you want the TLDR: it is better than I thought. The art is not great (everything lookss a bit grey and computer-generated for my tastes), but the writing is above-average for WotC.


I got me thinking about an old idea I've read somewhere about "Inverse Ravenloft". 

Ravenloft is located in the Shadowfell, the depressing plane of shadow, nightmares, etc. It's inverse is the Feywild, the brightly-colored home of the fairy, dreams, and fairy-tale logic. Ravenloft is repetitive, predictable, still, while the Feywild is the opposite. 

Both are dangerous in their own ways. It wouldn't be much fun otherwise. 

I haven't read The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, and I'm not sure I'm going to, but it seems to have a structure that is somewhat similar to Curse of Strahd. 

In any case... what would an direct inversion of Curse of Strahd? Can we do this and still make it dangerous, scary and fun? 

Let's try. 

Vallaki. The village of Vallaki is ruled by a tyrant that wants to force everyone to look happy. Its reflection might be a place ruled by a "benevolent" ruler that needs everyone to be sad and depressed to make sure it can cheer them up. "Natural" happiness will cause suspicion. How could they be happy if not for the tyrant's interference?

Krezk. In Krezk, there is an abbey that houses the deformed, but mostly helpless and marginalized, "mongrelfolk". Its reflection is a place ruled by the sick and deformed. Ordinary people are institutionalized (and maybe eventually modified) for their own good. Instead of the isolation of the original Krezk, its mirror-Krezk welcomes strangers, as long as they are willing to conform. The original Abbot is an insane angel in disguise; its reflection is a subtle, scheming devil.

Village of Barovia. The original village of Barovia lies in the shadow of Castle Ravenloft. Everyone is afraid of being kidnapped by vampires at night. Its reflection suffers under the light of Castle Fey-something. They look at the castle and hope every day to be kidnapped and raised among the beautiful fairies, through endless parties, banquets, and no responsibility, forever.

Castle Ravenloft. Castle Fey-something is a beautiful place; maybe a stranger version of Castle Neuschwanstein. Instead of a nightmarish place full of undead, it is a dreamy place full of beauty, dance, and apparently harmless play. People want to get in but are rarely invited. Everything is always changing, even the truth, maybe even the past. Every time you open a new door, it might take you to a different place. Come to think of it, that's what I wanted Castle Ravenloft to be in the first place.

Argynvostholt. Originally a castle ruled by undead enemies of Strahd, now the last bastion of ugly, smelly, stubborn humans who insist on keeping their independence and their rudimentary ways. Probably located underground.

The Amber Temple. The evil temple is replaced by a warm summer grove. The Dark Powers are replaced by Powers of Light. They will offer you various gifts, and only ask good things in return. For example, you might never tell another lie again (and especially not badmouth the queen - that is a lie regardless of any other considerations), never harm an innocent (and all fey are innocent, even when they're trying to kill you), never show dissatisfaction with your beautiful surroundings, etc.

Lord Strahd. The Fey-queen is not a tyrant like Strahd; most of her subjects follow her willingly, and since she only wants the greater good, her minions are happy to imprison the recalcitrant for re-education, or even slay them if they can't appreciate the Queen's beauty. Someone has to rule the place, after all; left to their own devices, the humans might harm themselves or others. 

She is not admired for her immense power; instead, she is seem as a frail, delicate thing, who succeeded against all odds, and reluctantly accepts power to protect her subjects. If you doubt her best intentions, she might even shed a tear. She doesn't need an iron fist; she will strangle you with a silk rope, sincerely hoping you would just thank her for ridding the world of your miserable existence.