A Defense of the Humble Sling

At present the enemy shoot and sling beyond our range, so that our Cretan archers are no match for them; our hand-throwers cannot reach as far; and when we pursue, it is not possible to push the pursuit to any great distance from the main body, and within the short distance no foot-soldier, however fleet […]

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SHAPESHIFTERS: Farron, King of Baubles

Shapeshifters is a new series on nonplayer characters. These NPCs aren’t literal shapeshifters. Instead, they fall into the “shapeshifter” archetype described by scholars of myth like Joseph Campbell. We’re talking about the Professor Snapes and Walder Freys of the world. Shapeshifters are characters motives are hard to make out, who might side with the good guys in […]

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The party has arrived at a massive stone arch, through which only darkness can be viewed. A single fire rune appears on the keystone of the arch. Hemlock (Rogue): Before we step through the arch, I check for traps. GM: Roll an Investigation check. Hemlock rolls a natural 1. The party groans. GM: You are […]

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The Uses of Uncertainty

“Acid,” Robijeign announced, eyeing wisps of smoke rising from the tip of his blade. His three companions, still mounted, exchanged glances.  “Ankhegs, perhaps?” Imevere wondered. She lowered her hood to improve her view of the scene. Where fields met woodline, something had recently erupted through the earth. A depression of churned earth and smoking, dimpled rocks interrupted what […]

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Fracture Your God

You can jazz up the diversity of clerics in your world without adding pages and pages of gods — if you allow for multiple (even conflicting!) belief systems about the deities you already have. Deities in fantasy RPGs are often sketched out in rigid, one-note ways. Imagine for a moment the typical campaign-next-door. Its storm god Thorzeus is Chaotic Good, his […]

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The Myth of Meta-Gaming

With each new edition of a role-playing game, the hobby gains new players, and that’s a good thing. But each new crop breathes new life into old arguments.  Since 5th edition, I’ve been seeing, in particular, a resurgence in comments about the evils of meta-gaming, often from game masters who say they won’t tolerate it, […]

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Breakthroughs & Setbacks: How and Why We Should Bring Back Skill Challenges. Kind of.

Some skill checks answer simple, immediate, yes/no questions. Do I see that goblin hiding in the bushes? A 15 — why, yes, I do. A simple yes/no die roll is appropriate and satisfying for those situations. But a single check doesn’t always feel right for other situations, particularly those involving ongoing, progressive challenges in which […]

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Raicho the Recusant

An Experiment with Narrative Because character is best revealed through narrative, I thought I’d present most of this installment of Dice Unloaded in story form. It’s an experiment. Raicho the Recusant—fourth and most controversial in my ongoing series on reskinned clerics—is a divine mercenary, fiercely independent and beholden to no single god. Instead, temples hire him, […]

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Ruin Logic

What should I put in my ruin? a GM asks on Facebook. The question is smarter than it might appear. If you are aiming for an immersive, coherent world and an exciting adventure, it can be tough to stock a ruin properly. Throw stuff in randomly and you might find yourself on the defensive or retconning […]

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Gaining an Edge in the Great Bazaar, Part 3: Avoiding Trouble

Note: The text below continues from a previous article and its sequel. This installment constitutes Part III in the sequence. Avoiding Trouble There are four dangers adventurers should worry about while shopping for unusual equipment in a city: drawing the attention of thieves, drawing the attention of authorities, drawing the attention of those inclined to manipulate them into serving […]

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Reopening the Tavern Scene

If you flip through enough GM guidance, you see repeated disdain for one fantasy-gaming trope in particular: the tavern opening. You know the one: You’re all sitting in a bar full of tough mercenaries, enjoying your ale, when a stranger in a cowled robe approaches you. “Mighty adventurers! The people I represent are in dire need […]

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