So, one of the interesting things from the Covid-19 pandemic is that we’re seeing some movies that wouldn’t have hit streaming nearly as quickly get a streaming release, and one of these films, Onward, was one that I had been planning on seeing, not in…
Like normal, I’m stealing from popular culture for my idea for a game, this time from the Netflix show and comic books, Locke & Key, as well as maybe some from the show The Order.
In Locke & Key, it’s a story about a family who return to their father’s family house and the kids start finding magical keys throughout the house. Right there you have a basis for a game of D&D, so let’s see how I’m going to suggest turning it into one.
To start off with, you are likely not going to have kids nor, in a heavily fantasy setting, do I think that you’ll want to have a particular house or single location where all these keys are stored. Instead, you have Ashiri, a famous wizard from thousands of years ago, who legend has it, created many magical items and drove the fields of magic forward. No one knows what she created, but there are a lot of people who would love to get a hand on her work. Unfortunately there are a lot of con artists out there as well who claim to sell her items.
The game would start around discovering some sort of clue to the location of one of these items. Or the location, maybe, of one of the places that she worked, something where a lower level party is going to be able to do a dungeon crawl through it. Come up with a reason, such as the manuscript with it on having just been found as to why people haven’t gone there to loot it before. And don’t just give the players the information make them buy it, somehow, they can decide if they want to owe a favor later, agree to give away 75% of what they find, or something like that.
Give them a dungeon crawl but when they make it to the place, they find a locked door, not magically locked, from the outside, but something that a rogue would be able to pick, a wizard magic open, or a barbarian bash open. Let them get inside, and then that’s when you start having fun, you close the door behind them, even if the fighter or barbarian bashed through it, the door reconstructs and it’s magical, so immune to all damage, can’t be picked, and while the wizard can cast magic on it, if they have identify, they’ll know that it needs a particular magical item to open it, but what that item is, who knows.
Then give them a dungeon crawl, and hide a couple of keys in there. Don’t make them easy to find, but with two keys in there, and again, if they have identify, they’ll know they are magical and match up with the door. But only one of them should allow them out. The other one should do something else. I like the idea of the mirror prison from Locke & Key, where a player character might end up getting trapped. And maybe even have them find a third key that they think will work on the door but is more like the head key from Locke & Key where it goes into the back of someone’s neck.
I wouldn’t really put a ton of monsters in this dungeons, maybe some skeletons or something undead that Ashiri could have used as guards, but this place is meant to have been sealed up for a long time. Instead give them challenges and puzzles. Maybe there is a trap in a hallway that they can see because there’s a dead skeletal person in armor who has been cut in two. Well, they know there’s a trap there, and with a perception check they can see where blades or something that had cut them in two and also spot some pressure plates or something on the far end of the room that stops it. So give them things to do that focus on the characters abilities.
Once they get through this and have dealt with all the traps and they’ve headed back, I don’t know that you need to double cross them, but maybe have it that the person who got them to do this was blackmailed by someone else to send someone into get this, because the last person they sent in had failed, can even be the dead guy cut in half, so you could start tipping off the players. Or if the players get greedy, have someone come after them and start chasing them down. But while doing this, start hinting that the keys work anywhere, and have given them a clue to more of Ashiri’s locations.
Eventually, I think the campaign ends with them finding a near immortal version of Ashiri who has been twists and corrupted by some sort of magic. There can be some lesser bosses along the way, those who just want the keys for their own nefarious purposes. But make Ashiri someone who isn’t hiding away in one of her former places but is living publicly somehow. That’d make the players questions some of the things, or maybe Ashiri has been cursed to never enter her former places because she was going to bring on the end of the world. But go with an epic climax like that where whom the players thought someone was, it wasn’t the case.
I think that there’d be good buy-in pretty often from groups of players for this, and there’s a lot of room to play with it as the DM. You can create keys that do anything, which is the great part, and you can borrow from Locke & Key. The Head Key, from Locke & Key would work great if someone has gone insane and they have to go and rescue themselves from their own head or something like that or go into someone else’s head to try and pry out some information that they don’t remember. The Echo key to bring back a twisted echo of someone, especially if it’s a fallen player character would be amazing twist on things.
So would you play in a game like this or run one? What sort of character would you want to play?
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I’ve been toying around for a little while the idea that I might start doing some more top 10 lists. We might still do some video ones in the future, but finding the time with a toddler is tricky. So I wanted to do, from what I’ve played, go through my top games in a given mechanic or style.
This first list is going to be Deck Building Games, now on BGG, they combine pool and bag building games as well, but I’m only going to do deck building. However, it is going to include deck construction games as well. Because you are technically constructing the deck, it is just prior to the game, but it is also a large part of the game. I will call out those games. In deck building, you are constructing the deck to do something in the game, it might be getting victory points, it might be for buying more cards, fighting or many other things. Let’s see what my list looks like.
10 – The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
It’s a long title and an interesting game, a deck construction game, you start out with an archetype and some character cards. But you can play against type, so maybe Gimli as a leader and Aragorn as a tank, and between scenarios you can spend experience to level up the deck and get better cards. How you use the cards is interesting, most of the time you are looking for successes on cards, but you can also use cards for a more permanent ability, but the better the ability, more likely it’s to have successes on it, which means you want it in the deck for your challenges so that you can pass them. It’s a good mechanic because it makes so many decisions tough. Plus, there’s a campaign for it, and an app driven story, this is weaker than Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition for that, but the app helps so much, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s definitely a game to check out.
9 – Dragonfire
I haven’t played this game as much as I’d like though I have played both Dragonfire and Shadowrun: Crossfire, which are both built off of the same system. I’m going with Dragonfire because that’s the one that I own. The game offers interesting scenarios and challenges for the players to defeat, and you start out with your class which means that you are a little bit better at something than others. You get to purchase cards to improve your deck, but at the same time, you’re trying to deal with monsters and avoid becoming exhausted or taken out. It’s a tough game that I don’t feel like I fully have a grasp on the strategy for it yet, but I like the deck building aspect and I think that it does some interesting things with leveling up your characters. Definitely a fun time to play, and while I like the Shadowrun RPG theme better than the D&D RPG theme, I think that both are fun, so either works, just depends if you want fantasy or cyberpunk.
8 – Magic: The Gathering
MtG was a game that I loved and I’d play all the time for a while, but unfortunately I don’t have a group anymore for it. But I still love it for the deck construction aspect of it. You could build all sorts of crazy decks, and I think, almost as much as playing it, I loved finding an odd card that didn’t have an obvious way for it to work, but I would figure out a way to create a deck around it. Sometimes they were cool decks, and sometimes they failed horribly, but it was always fun to experiment. And then we got into commander which adds a challenge of only having a single copy of a card in the deck and a 100 yard deck, so there was always something new to try and build. I miss playing it as often sometimes, but it’s a classic and extremely popular game for a reason. It’s also addictive to open packs once you get into it.
7 – Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
This is just a fun game as you get to play through the books, getting further in your education and improving your deck. You get to sling spells, get friends to help you and try and defeat everyone. The game starts out pretty simple, and I like that, because it can continue to add in mechanics and rules and cards for each book that you go to, which makes it more thematic. It does get longer the further in you go because, while you are theoretically getting better cards the longer it goes, in the later chapters, you’re dealing with the villains from the first books as well as the ones from the later books so that number always increases. But Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is just a good deck building game and a good theme that will draw people in.
6 – Ascension
This is the most generic deck building game on the list. In it, you have a basic starting deck, you get to buy more cards that allow you to buy more cards or fight monsters that show up. You can combo things together with card draw and constructs, and that’s probably the only unique bit is that you have constructs that you can play out and they stay out while heroes go into the discard at the end of the turn. So you can vary your strategy by either going construct heavy or maybe hero and attack heavy or buy heavy. Each of them gives you a chance to win because you get points for killing monsters, but you can also get points for getting cards and some constructs are worth a lot of points. This is my preferred introduction to deck building.
5 – Clank! In! Space!
Some games take themselves seriously, but Clank! In! Space! is not one of those games. You’re an adventurer/thief, stumbling around Lord Eradikus’s spaceship, trying not to make too much clank so that you don’t get tracked down and knocked out. The cards are all references to other sci-fi things, and it just works really well. It’s a deck builder where you have a few different types of cards that can combo together to create some epic turns, if it shuffles out right, plus it’s push your luck with deck building as well, because you can go further into the spaceship to get a better treasure, but it’ll take you longer to get out and Lord Eradikus might get you before that happens. But if he doesn’t, you’ll be in a much better spot to win. The game is light fun with good replayability.
4 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal
Aeon’s End: War Eternal is such an interesting deck building game that gives you a chance to not have to worry about the randomness of your deck. When you buy cards, they go into the discard, when you spend your cards on a turn, they go to the discard, but cards that you spend on a turn, you can sort those. That’s not a big deal if you’re shuffling the deck, but you’re not, when you run out of cards, you just flip your deck, so it gives you the ability to potentially set-up hands. Add in the game play, which has an interesting spell casting mechanic where you need to prep them, tough monsters to fight, and a town to defend, the game gives you so much replayability just out of the base box and then there is more in expansions and other editions. It’s just a nice twist on deck building that works really well for my style of play, plus it’s cooperative.
3 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Another deck contrusction game on the list, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a great experience creating your character so that they can investigate, attack, or deal with whatever might come up better for a given story. And then you get to take them through a campaign, so it’s not just a one off game, so between games you get to improve your deck so that you’re more prepared for the next part of the story. And characters, depending on their skills will be able to use certain types of cards better or will need help on some skills, so will need more of those cards in their decks, you can really tailor your investigator how you want.
2 – Marvel Champions
It was hard to know where to slot this one in, it’s deck construction, so you build your deck before the game, but it is so much fun. I’ve been writing about it a bunch recently, and it just works for me, all it’s missing is a campaign, which we’re getting. In it, you play as a superhero who is taking on the likes of Rhino, Ultron, or Green Goblin. What makes this work and be an interesting deck construction game is the different archetypes. So you could play someone like Spider-Man with defensive cards in his deck to keep him standing longer without having to flip back to the Peter Parker side, or you could be aggressive hoping to end the game faster. It gives you so many options when you’re constructing your deck. It just feels like taking your superhero up against a villain who has some grand or small scheme.
1 – Xenoshyft: Onslaught
Why is this my favorite, it’s actually fairly low rank on BGG, but the game is just a ton of fun, and I think it does some interesting things for a deck builder. You are never short money, which is nice, but when you buy cards and you are creating your defenses to stop an alien bug attack on your mining base, you can help other people as well. So you build up your defenses, but you can also help build up others, so even if someone has a bad card draw, you’ll be able to help them, or vice-a-versa. It’s just an interesting thing that makes the game feel even more cooperative in it’s nature and not something that you can do in many other deck building games. Plus, you’re blasting alien bug monsters, and I’m always down for that.
I’ve left a few games off of here that do have deck construction or deck building in them because I think that, while it’s important for those games, t here are other things that are also as big a part. Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon is one of them, but that one is a story driven survival game with deck construction being part of how you level up. The same goes for Gloomhaven, you can improve your hand of cards versus a deck there, but you can improve your modifier deck as you level up. I wanted to go with games where the deck construction is a huge part of the game. I think with the exception of Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, though you are using the deck for everything, you do need to really focus on the deck building part of the game.
There are a couple of notable deck building games that aren’t on the list. First, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, I just find that game to be okay. I think that there’s so much in the game now that it can be hard to keep track of everything and you can pretty easily end up with a less than ideal combo of heroes that don’t synergize as well as they could. If that happens, you just get stomped, and I feel like that is pretty common for that game. Dominion also didn’t make my list, and while I know that some of these games, if not all, wouldn’t have existed without Dominion, it doesn’t make Dominion a good game. It’s a pure deck building game, I’ll give it that, but it’s not thematic and it’s not nice to look at, and because it has a static market, someone who has played it more or played with a certain combo is going to be at an advantage because they know what to build immediately, and there’s always an optimal strategy. I like games that make me adjust as I go and stretch me that way, and I don’t think Dominion does that.
What are some of your favorite deck building games? Are there any, based off of what I like, that you think I should check out?
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I’ve written a lot in the past about homebrewing your own world, how you can create the world that you need for your D&D game. But that can be a lot of work, so Dungeons and Dragons has already gone ahead and created a bunch of different worlds for you. For some really good content to listen to about those worlds, check out the Total Party Thrill podcast and their Campaign Setting Episodes. They take a good deep dive into the various campaign settings and other random ones as well that aren’t from Dungeons and Dragons. I’m going to be writing up a similar series of articles, but only focused on the games that you can play in the various settings. Today’s article is going to be about what all the different D&D settings are, and there are a number of them, in fact, there are enough that I’m just going to focus on the main few that people have really loved throughout the years.
This is a high fantasy setting where you’re going to see all the content (almost) from Wizards of the Coast coming out in. It’s your typical fantasy setting where Dwarves act like Dwarves and Elves act like Elves. This setting can be seen as a little bit vanilla in how standard it is, but it also makes it an amazing jumping off point for new players because it has a level of familiarity to it. The main cities in the Forgotten Realms are going to be Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate.
Eberron is a very different setting than your typical fantasy setting. Magic is basically used as technology in this world. And it isn’t just a world where you have your standard races that you can play, there are shifters, changlings, and monstrous races that you can play as well. What also makes this setting unique is that the setting and call the adventures are set after this great war has ended when a country wiped off the map do to some cataclysm, but it’s never stated what it is, so it leaves it open for players and DM’s to decide for their campaign. The setting is very pulp and noir in it’s feel.
Another different sort of setting where it’s less your standard fantasy setting and more focused on a Victorian Gothic setting. It is also going to be focused on a lower level of magic. The land is ruled by a vampire, Strahd, that is basically locked into the cursed land and most adventures set in Ravenloft are going to be about finding out Strahd’s history and then dealing with him. In 5th Edition the Curse of Strahd adventure pulls players from the Forgotten Realms and sticks them into this setting that is different than the world that they know and they are stuck there until they can defeat Strahd, if they ever leave.
One of the first, if not the first D&D setting, Dragonlance is going to be another epic fantasy setting. The world is greatly influenced by the deities and a lot of the stories revolve around the good deities fighting the evil deities or the return of dragons after centuries of absence. It’s going to be much more in the standard version of fantasy and another good jumping off world that you could use to introduce Dungeons and Dragons.
As compared to the epic fantasy settings, Grey Hawk is more of a sword and sorcery setting. It is going to be darker and more dangerous for your characters. Magic is going to be less common than some settings. Grey Hawk is more of a world that is on it’s way out and the adventures that you might be more about keeping the world going versus bringing the world into a new great place which some Epic Fantasy stories can focus on more so.
Now, if you want something completely different. Spelljammer is kind of a setting, but it can hit up most settings as you have magically powered space ships. This is going to be a game where you want to hop between a lot of worlds, have grand space exploration sort of adventures, versus a more traditional traveling adventure like Lord of the Rings. It really isn’t something that they’d call it’s own setting anymore, but it’s something that you could easily focus on to move between the worlds in your own campaign.
This used to be a great world, but now, magic has defiled and the land and use of magic can make it even worse. And there is a god-like Sorcerer King who is ruling and can you stay out of their wrath or will they crush you and your party as you try to survive the harsh lands. Dark Sun is going to be a lower magic game that is much more focused on the survival throughout the lands and avoiding the halflings who are jungle cannibals. There are some new races that you can play in this setting as well and one of the biggest types of magic is psionics.
If you want to play that extremely epic nation level game, Birthright is going to be the setting of you. In Birthright every player is going to be connected to a nation and have some sort of royal blood. These campaigns are going to be more about that nation ruling, epic wars, versus that smaller adventuring party. Birthright is a setting you’re going to have to come up with or tweak combat for to make it done at a bigger scale.
This setting wraps several planes of existence into a single setting. It also takes it out of the normal medieval fantasy setting and puts it into a more Victorian and pseudo-steam punk world. There is a city of Sigil which is the home base for the players and is generally where you are going to be sending them out to the other planes to have their adventures and then returning back to Sigil to resupply, recover, and get new adventures.
Now, that’s just the start of Dungeons and Dragons settings. There are new ones being created as well as old ones that might come back. Most of these settings don’t have official books for fifth edition, but if you find older world setting books, you’d be able to turn them into something that you can use in 5e.
Do you have a favorite setting or is there a setting that you’ve really wanted to play in?
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