This episode is full of good feedback on previous topics. It proves BS’ers are smarter than BS.


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Random Encounter

Call in by Old School DM

PATRON Dirtilus writes in to address DM Cojo’s dilemma

Hey BS

 Kids and games: I have 3 boys and they have been playing in person tabletop games (D&D 5e) for a bit now. All of them handled the pandemic differently. 

My oldest (High School graduate now)) was in a short lived IRL group  and now is in a regular weekly Roll20 game. Gaming for him has been easier because he really enjoys the on-line format. 

My second son (now a Sophomore) has been running a 5e group for over a year before things changed. After a few weeks at home he tried running a Discord game. It didn’t go as expected, too many distractions. Some of them still had a good time on Xbox or PC with each other, but not all of them can get on-line like that. IRL after an hour of BS with each other, they collect phones to help with the distractions. Even with that sometimes they will only play for a half hour or so before “squirrel” shows up. They all seem to have a good time just hanging out. For them it’s more about socializing with each other. 

My youngest (Middle School) had a biweekly group come over where they would hang out for an hour or so and then I would run a game for them for the next 2 hours or so. None of them were interested in playing online. They all enjoy the game for different reasons and as long as they are enjoying it I am good with that. 

I am running a weekly game with the family, which keeps us all at the table together for one night a week anyways. In that game I asked if they want to keep track of arrows or rations. They all agreed “NO”. I let them know that that’s not a problem but if something happens like the get stuck in a dungeon that I would let them know when they needed to start worrying. And guess what…. When I run a Call of Cthulhu game, I always encourage the investigators to use luck. I like it when their luck gets low and then someone asks if they remember the name or if they have an item and then I ask for a luck roll. 

As far as equipment goes, I like to use the does it makes sense approach. For example, I do backpack and generally know what you bring with you. So if the player says I go through the bag and pull out a tent stake. Sure it takes a bit but you have it. I also know when you are crossing a stream or river you unclip your bag. Wait, was that a failed Dex roll? There goes just about everything you had out in the middle of the woods. I don’t know about scuba diving, but if a player says they have that thing that divers do and it makes sense then they have it. I can always take it away later.

Helping my son look into Roll20 brought up a question. What do you think of pay to play games? There seems to be a lot of them listed on Roll20 in looking for games.

 Dan aka Dirtilus or now maybe DIRT 1

PATRON Jared Rascher comments on All About the Resources

I still think the best explanation, at least early on, for Skill Challenges wasn’t in any of the 4th edition D&D books, it was in the Star Wars Saga d20 book Galaxy of Intrigue. The 1st-20th level range meant that math was a little less strained than the 1st-30th range for D&D, and it had lots of optional rules for different types of skill challenges, like complications on a failure, timed challenges, exceptional successes, and catastrophic failures. I used it a few times when I was running my Saga game and they worked well.

There are so many forgotten bits in D&D 5e, not to mention things you think are there but aren’t. There aren’t surprise rounds, there are no spell research rules, but there are rules for mapping and group skill challenges.

For example, if someone in the group is mapping, you can’t get lost if you backtrack your way out of an area you have visited. That’s in the core rules. The player character just needs to be assigned to map, and that character can’t use passive perception while they are doing so.

Group skill challenges are right in the ability checks section. If the DM thinks you could do something as a group, everyone makes the check, and if 50% or more makes the check, its a success. Great for making a good impression on someone or compensating for your plate armored paladin when sneaking past a bandit camp. Ghosts of Saltmarsh also introduces more granular results for group challenges, with Total Success/Success/Failure/Total Failure as results.

When it comes to tracking resources, I think it can work, but I do think you need some rules to add to the stakes when using those rules for meaningful tension. For example, I really think there should have been more long term exploration rules introduced in Tomb of Annihilation for things like provisions going bad, etc. WOTC had an Unearthed Arcana for exploration, but the example they gave was very specific to exploring a constrained area, and I would have rather seen it used for a more expansive general terrain.

I think there have been some games that have done a great job of looking at what exploration looks like, and designing rules based on that, like Forbidden Lands (which I have only spend a little time looking at, but it’s built to include exploration checks and attrition) or The One Ring as well as the snap on version of The One Ring rules for 5e found in Adventures in Middle Earth. That said, those are universal fixes, they are meant to evoke a very specific feeling. For example, Adventures in Middle-earth’s Journey rules don’t feel quite right for traveling in settled regions of the Sword Coast in Faerun, or the super harsh conditions of Athas, for example.

I’m a big fan of just having casters invest X amount of gold in material components, that they can declare for a spell as they cast it, so it still costs them gold, but is more flexible long term. I am even okay with declaring what YOUR version of material components for that spell is. If you attempt to sell back your spell components, you only get 50% of the cost, because not everyone wants your bits and bobs of broken, powdered stuff for anything else when you sell it back to someone.

Matt V. comments on All About the Resources

Hello Gentlemen.

Good episode, though I think you missed a few points:

First, I often hear people subscribe to is resource management at low level that fades away. I think there’s a lot of validity to this point, though its not something I do personally. Managing a few rations and resources has some serious cost at levels 1 – 3. Maybe even 4. After that not so much. Obviously different games may have different ranges. It’s easy to transition the game away from there if that’s your goal.

Second, resource management really works best IMO, baked into the system. Having ran Dark Sun games, even without create food and water spells, around level 5-6, resource management really hit the point where they aren’t really an issue. At least that’s always been my issue, and I’ve ran more than my fair share of DS. Even when I ran fallout, it wasn’t baked into the system to make resource management a big deal after the early part of the game. Of course, as GM, I COULD have made it work, but it really would’ve just been a dick move and made the game less fun for everyone, including myself, IMO.

My personal general rule is it’s not a part of the game, unless its baked in mechanically. In which case it’s always part of the game. I don’t think its a fun aspect in a heroic fantasy type game. However, in the right games, its fantastic. Not only is it fun to balance resources for survival, it creates a very real tension, meta and in game.

That being said, there are three games that I can think of off hand that really get resource management right: Red Market, Mutant Year Zero and Torchbearer (the former two of which are excellent games while the later I don’t personally care for overall).

MYZ & Torchbearer are pretty similar in how they handle resources. You have inventory slots versus encumbrance. Do you drop that 4 food to carry that artifact home?

In red market your gear has upkeep cost instead, encumbrance isn’t necessarily tracked. However, upkeep is a REAL cost. And you only have a couple refreshes in game, if any.

All three games resources have a strong meta-property. For instance, food in MYZ is used to recover health, while in red market it is needed to push speed or strength checks.

It’s a very interesting thing, where the Meta game plays well into the in game play to create a real tension. While I could see some GMs or players scoffing at such an idea, I highly recommend you check it out first to see how beautifully they interact together. The meta aspect increases the in game tension, in much the same way the doom mechanic from Conan does.

My players in MYZ are pretty far, and have created a real functioning society. Food is pretty cheap now and they have a steady supply of water, at their base. However, they are still pushing resources on almost every expedition. Do I bring my flamethrower that takes 2 slots, even though 1 or 2 other players are bringing them? Those swarms sure are brutal, but I only have 8 slots total…. Do I eat this rot-food which decays me?

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the subject.

On Conan, or 2d20 in general, its a genius system mechanically, although they don’t have a setting I’m in love with. I do however agree with Gabe, it’s super cutting edge on many levels. Modiphius (who did 2d20) also did MYZ, which is one of the most brilliant systems I’ve ever played. Highly recommend you check them out. And its cool, because MYZ and 2d20 are two totally different systems mechanically, yet both are cutting edge, IMO. I put their systems up there with Genesys on breakthrough mechanics. Lots of fun and just great games, pretty close to the gold standard of game design.

See you guys next time. Thanks.

PATRON Harrigan writes in

Last week I wrote in on weapon damage — the whole light / medium / heavy weapon categorization thing, modified by class ability and the like.

Brett asked where that came from, and I mentioned The Black Hack and Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells in the Twitch chat. Just a couple of additional details here:

The Black Hack basically assigns a damage die to a class. Conjurers deal d4 damage in combat, clerics and thieves d6, warriors d8, that kind of thing. (That’s for the first edition. The second edition changes things up a little.)

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells builds on The Black Hack in a number of ways, and it changes up how weapon damage is handled. This is the system I described last week — light weapons deal d4, medium deal d6. heavy deal d8. Warriors step up the damage die for any weapon in their hands; thieves… well, it looks like I made that part up. I thought thieves dealt more damage with light weapons, but that’s not in the rules. Evidently I pulled it out of my, er… hat. Hey, it’s OSR. House rules rule.

T13here are other things you can do with this simple model as well — if you’re not proficient in a weapon, roll with Disadvantage and step down its damage die. If you’re a weapon master in one specific weapon type, roll with Advantage and step up its damage die.

Since I’ve got your ear, about your last episode on Resources…

Loved it, and you’re both spot-on. Basically, only track ammo, food, torches and whatnot if resource management is important for the game, and if it’s fun for everyone. It’s awesome for hex crawls, games about exploration, commandos operating behind enemies lines, establishing an outpost in a wilderness, adventures which are about replacing resources — all the stuff you talked about.

Just two bits to add:

Bit 1: Check out Forbidden Lands — it’s all about exploration and resource management. A deadly demon mist covered the land for generations, making travel between settlements impossible… now it’s lifted, and the brave are striking out, reconnecting, exploration ruins, etc. 

Bit 2: Have you guys seen the “usage die,” popularized in The Black Hack? It’s a mechanic that specifically models dwindling resources, without having to count them. Arrows, rations, torches, oil, those delicious ham sandwiches, that excellent Elven wine — whatever is important enough to track, assign it a die. After using that resource in a scene, roll that die. If a 1-2 comes up the die shrinks to the next size down. If you’re throwing a d4, a 1-2 means you’re totally out of the resource. So d10 shrinks to d8, d8 shrinks to d6, d6 shrinks to d4. It’s a nice way to track things in a non-fiddly way. Check it out — it’s in use now across a bunch of different games, including the aforementioned Forbidden Lands.


Edwin Nagy writes in about passive stealth checks Mr Schorb proposed

Greetings B & S,

A couple thoughts on passive skills in 5e (in response to Random Encounters about skills piling from Applying Pressure I).

Thought the first: One of the things I like about 5e is it has a lot of subtle systems either stated or hinted at.  One of them is the passive skill piece.  Not only does it have passive Perception, but it talks about how you could interpret passive Athletics or passive Nature.  Which brings me to my more important point.

You use passive skills all the time, whether you realize it or not.  When you decide that the desk is visible, you are (passively, most likely) using passive Perception.  You have decided that a reasonable adventurer would see the desk quickly enough that there is nothing interesting to be gained by rolling dice to see if they find or how long it takes to find it.  I think the place where our passive GMing skill breaks down is in the grey area.  I think of a DC of 12-14 as something difficult and therefore worth rolling for.  In a party of 5 or 6 PCs, it is very likely that somebody has an appropriate skill at a level high enough that that PC could overcome that obstacle without rolling.  I often forget that one of the goals of 5e is to portray the PCs as awesome.  Things that I think would be challenging are things they can do routinely.  That’s why their passive skills are so high.  You, Brett, should not berate yourself for not using passive skills, because you do.  You have even used passive Aggression—this is when you decide that the PCs mop up the last three kobolds without rolling dice.  Their combat skills are high enough that there is nothing interesting to be gained from rolling dice, so the combat is over.

Back to point number one.  The part I struggle with on the passive skills is why do published adventures bother including obstacles with such low DCs.  Well, it’s because sometimes the PCs are distracted, under pressure, in challenging circs.  Now they have disadvantage and their passive skills are at –5.  This time, the PC walks into the desk.  There’s a little more in there too, and I think it’s one place where the rules back up the type of play that I think you enjoy. 



PATRON David F. Balog writes in 

Greetings BSers!

First, I wish to congratulate you on approaching three hundred episodes! This is an amazing milestone, and you should be as proud of yourselves as all of your listeners are.

 A few comments on the last few episodes:

I was intrigued enough by the Mothership episode to download a copy for the recommended $7, and I am pleased by what I have seen in a short perusal. It reminds me of old classic sci-fi movies such as “Angry Red Planet” and “Journey to the Seventh Planet”, as well as the better episodes of “Lost In Space”. I know that it is more centered on the “Aliens” franchise, but there is a lot of promise there.

I have dealt with skill piling as has practically every other GM out there. When I see the situation rearing its ugly head, I quickly go around the table asking each player what actions they are taking before any dice are picked up. As a player, I will defer to a specialist character and trust their roll. If they fail, I just assume that there is no information or nothing to be found. If my skills are equivalent, I will either aid or make my own roll at the same time, at the GM’s discretion.

Keeping up the pressure on the players has led to some of the best gaming sessions that I have run. I have set them up in a three-way battle where all sides are opposed to each other, followed by a shoot-and-run escape from a shadow construct. They caught their breath on the way home only to find their home district under siege, and ran a street-to-street battle to stop the carnage while trying to save the citizens. The pressure forced them to conserve their resources and think on their feet, as they never knew what to expect next.

It is always a pleasure to listen to your thoughtful analysis on various topics in gaming, and you often remind me to do things that I have gotten lazy about. For example, I will try to focus more on the narrative before picking up dice, and then let the fates determine the outcome.

Thank you for your time and effort that you put into each episode! You both manage to make each week entertaining and educational (even for grognards like me!), and I look forward to the next 300! 

David F. Balog

BigScaryPrawn comments on skill piling

I think that calling for a roll is really only best done when failing will lead to something cool. If everyone wants to pick the lock, as GM, you look them dead in the eye and say, “No. Because that would be lame. Take an ‘L’ and roll for initiative because all of a sudden there is a zombie T-Rex bounding down that corridor.”

Basically, a party will pile on a skill check unless the GM says no. You can say there is a rule in the book that mitigates that, but rest assured, players will try to slime into a second roll. You need to look them in the eye, oh, I already did that bit. Basically, the GM just needs to put their foot down. But, that means you can’t just let a failed roll lie, you have to make the failure memorable. That’s why I like T-Rexes.

Conversely, if you know that the group is prone to skill piling, just add a bunch to the difficulty. If they get persnickity about a DC 30 ladder climbing check, just remind them that you are also not a fan of extra super double advantage on rolls, and they should also roll initiative because there is a T-Rex sauntering across the promenade.

Also, I may not be a very good GM.

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The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.