To all of my friends in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving! To everyone in the rest of the world, I hope you’re having a fantastic Thursday! DriveThruRPG has launched their annual holiday sale, starting now and running through Monday. Select titles I’ve written and published under the Dancing Lights Press banner are 20% to 40% off! Now matter where you’re celebrating this year, how you’re observing the holiday, or even if you’re not doing anything special at all this weekend, I hope that you’re all safe and healthy and able to get in some great tabletop roleplaying.
(If something’s showing on the sale page but the price isn’t discounted, click though to the product page itself.)
I’m not going to cut-and-paste sales copy in here. That’s not why you read this page. You can click the link at the bottom of the post and read that, and then hopefully buy a copy.
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Steve Jobs, who stole it from painter Pablo Picasso, who swiped it from composer Igor Stravinsky, who outright ripped it off from poet T.S. Eliot
I Wrote a Thing: Hippogryph Codex
The Hippogryph Codex is a tabletop roleplaying system. I am pretentious enough that I refuse to call them games. These things aren’t about winners and losers and competition. Other people have different opinions on this, and I cheerfully encourage them to go write their own blogs and publish their own books. I am not so pretentious as to throw around phrases like “collaborative storytelling experience” with a straight face, even if that is a far more accurate assessment of what tabletop roleplaying is: making up stories with your friends, with a little bit of structure to help you along.
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn.”
T.S. Elliot, “Philip Massinger”, biographical essay in The Sacred Wood (1920)
Anyway, this one takes all of the familiar tropes of Dungeons & Dragons and throws them into a blender with a popular story-focused, character-centric roleplaying system called Fate. Instead of several giant, expensive hardcover books, it’s one slim 96-page volume. It was designed to be played, and cannot be used as a doorstop or murder weapon.
The strength of my thing is that while it has lists of character abilities to choose from, you can make up your own stuff too. Creating new things, from classes to spells to magic items to monsters, is quick and easy. Here endeth the selling points. I wrote a thing. The Hippogryph Codex. Buy a copy. Tell your friends.
There are approximately 92,955,807 monster books in the tabletop roleplaying ecosystem. That’s one for every mile between the Earth and the sun. Spacing them apart like that is the only way to make it feel like there’s not a glut. A lot of other books offer up advice on how to crunch numbers for the system of your choice to create new monsters. The last thing I wanted to do was write another monster book. So I didn’t.
“The best monsters are our anxieties given form. They make sense on the level of a dream – or a nightmare.”
Building Monsters is actually about creating villains. I didn’t title it “Building Villains” because there’s a reason why so many monster books exist: they tend to sell well. You’ve got to lean into that recognition factory. It’s not a book about crunching numbers. The aim is to help you develop monsters as characters, with backgrounds, motivations, and objectives. There’s nothing scarier than a villain with a plan. We don’t need more advice on how to create mindless killing machines; that’s sort of the default position.
As with all of the books in the Building series, it’s system-agnostic. That means it wasn’t written specifically for Dungeons & Dragons, or any other tabletop roleplaying system. You can use it with anything. Take what already exists in your favorite thing, and make the monsters more interesting by giving them personalities and goals. Pretty simple concept, but I explain how to do it in a fair amount of detail.
A book so nice I wrote it twice. No, not really. There are just so many archetypal stories that I could only fit so many into the first book. The second volume offers up ten more possibilities for people to play around with.
People that aren’t familiar with tabletop roleplaying often think there’s no story involved. There are people within the hobby that think that, too. They’re entitled to play any way they please, as long as they’re having fun. For myself, and many other people, the characters and the story are the best part.
It actually startled me to learn that people thought there was really only one type of tabletop roleplaying story. Not so much a story, perhaps, as a flimsy excuse to explain why these disparate characters are working together. A premise that sets up why they’ve headed off to the place in order to kill monsters and take their stuff.
Adventure Generator 2 isn’t for people who’ve used up all of the stories in the first volume. I don’t think that’s possible. It’s for people who have ideas, but didn’t find a story archetype in the first book that fit. This is about giving you more options. You can truly tell any sort of story in tabletop roleplaying, regardless of the system or genre. It’s not all the Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell. Romance, mystery, coming or age, all of that is possible. And you can still kill orcs and steal the magic sword, if you want to.
One of the reasons I reject the premise that tabletop roleplaying is a game is because so much of its value lies in the power of story. The reason I think TTR is important is that it helps people learn how to tell stories. I’m not saying that the hobby teaches that, per say. It’s such an integral part of the activity, though, that people have to figure it out.
Think about it. We joke about people that want to tell you about their paladin. But they’re excited to share their character’s story with you. Those tales not only involve the cool things that their personal protagonist did, but the context of why they did it. I.e., the plot.
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”
If you have the time, I highly recommend watching the interview with McKee above. I know that he’s talking about storytelling in the context of marketing. He really gets to the heart of why the ability to tell stories is an important life skill. It’s the cornerstone of culture, and connection with other people.
I Wrote a Thing: Adventure Generator
Adventure Generator is a book designed to help people outline TTR adventure stories. You can randomly roll elements like locations, monster types, and plots, or pick them from lists. The bulk of the book contains explanations of the plot types, including how to structure the beginning, middle, and end of each kind of story. As with all of the books in the Building series it’s system-agnostic, meaning it can be used with Dungeons & Dragons or any other system. While it’s geared toward fantasy, with a few tweaks you can make the plots work with any genre. The best stories are, after all, universal.