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New Release: Phrases and Names

Building Series

Phrases and Names: Please read this product description carefully. Look at the preview. It’s probably not what you’d expect it to be based on the title.

Can we just take a moment to reflect on what an amazingly pulpy name Trench Johnson is? It sounds as if he should be fighting crime alongside Doc Savage or the Shadow, or getting beaten up in a rain-slick alleyway by Mike Hammer or Sam Spade. I can’t find anything on him other than the fact that he wrote this book, and was apparently an Englishman that lived during the Victorian era. There are no other titles credited to his name. We are free, then, to imagine him to be whatever manner of intrepid adventurer, hardboiled detective, or steampunk occultist we choose. It only adds more joy to the madness that is this hefty volume.

I overlooked this book twice before stopping to examine it. The first time I was looking for character naming resources, which this decidedly isn’t. The second time I was looking for the origin of certain expressions and aphorisms, checking to see if they had long-forgotten racist overtones1. What I found instead was a treasure trove of completely random knowledge, presented in bite-sized entries. For example, here are three consecutive entries from the letter “P”:

Perfectionists. An American sect of religionists who, relying on the gift of the Spirit, dispense with civil laws so far as their own community is concerned.

Peripatetics. The school of philosophy founded by Aristotle, who taught his disciples in the colonnade or covered walk (styled the peripatos, from peripatem, to walk) in the garden of Lyceus at Athens.

Pernambuco. Expresses the Spanish for “the mouth of hell,” so called on account of the violent surf, which is such an impediment to the safe navigation of the mouth of its chief river, the San Francisco.

What inspires a person to put together a book like this? Why could I not put it down once I stopped reading it? Most importantly, why do I suddenly have weird ideas for characters, adventures, and assorted bits and bobs of worldbuilding?

This is the kind of book Phrases and Names is. Drink it in. Draw inspiration from it. I hope you find it as useful and entertaining as I do.

Download your copy now from DriveThruRPG

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New Release: Names and Their Meaning

Building Series

Names and Their Meaning: Please read this product description carefully. Look at the preview. It’s probably not what you’d expect it to be based on the title.

Tabletop roleplaying has instilled in me three things: a love of history, a love of words, and a love of lists. While other people gravitated toward Appendix N, what I loved most about the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide were the tables and appendices filled with all manner of vocabulary that was new to me. Forms of government! Royal and noble titles! A person’s interests, collections, and approach to materialism! That stuff sparked me imagination, and sent me off in search of context for those words. That in turn led to the creation of some interesting player characters and oddly specific bits of worldbuilding.

When I came across Names and Their Meaning: A Book for the Curious by Leopold Wagner, I had that same thrill again. It is not, despite the title, a “baby name” sort of book good for naming characters. Not even close. It is, instead, about how all manner of things got their names. I’ve had no luck learning anything about Wagner himself, but his original book was a chaotic thrill ride. There was no organization or order to things. He moved with reckless abandon from writing about malt liquor to diamonds to naval nicknames. His list of London districts was followed not by other entries on that esteemed city, but his thoughts on battles, then festivals, then textiles.

Still, the book was popular enough that there were at least three editions. What you see before you is drawn from the 3rd edition, published in 1893. I’ve taken the liberty of imposing some semblance of order upon it, creating individual chapters for People, Places, Things, and Events. From there, the sections are presented in alphabetical order. The lists themselves, however, retain Wagner’s original haphazard, almost stream-of-consciousness flow.

One section has notably been removed in its entirety. Wagner’s list of Nations and Their Nicknames, while mildly informative in terms of detailing the origins of the terms, came down to a litany of ethnic and racial slurs. If any other content that is offensive to modern sensibilities is found here, know that it was left in for historical perspective and does not reflect the values of myself or Dancing Lights Press.

Please enjoy this book for what it is. Use the names of things as a source of inspiration for your own worldbuilding efforts. If you’re even a little bit like me, you’ll find little details in the lists that will make you want to add more fiddly bits to your own setting.

Download your copy now from DriveThruRPG
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New Bundles Added at DriveThruRPG

Dancing Lights Press

As with all bundles at DriveThruRPG, you only pay for the title you haven’t previously purchased. It’s a great ay to round out your collection and save money at the same time.

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New Release: Building Adventures

Building Series

Like any other form of fiction, a tabletop roleplaying adventure works best when there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Player characters can pursue a goal without being railroaded into one specific way of achieving it. That same goal prevents characters from wandering aimlessly through an open-ended setting. A balance of styles will respect the players’ creativity and choices, while reducing some of the burden placed on the gamemaster. There’s a satisfying amount of closure, because achieving the goal means that the adventure has come to an end with the characters “winning”.

Building Adventures is about finding that balance. There is a way to create tabletop roleplaying scenarios that don’t require a harried, over-scheduled gamemaster to be ready for every possibility. These can still allowing players to make their own choices, and solve problems in their own way.

Download Your Copy of Building Adventures Now

This book is system-agnostic, meaning is was not written for one specific tabletop roleplaying game. It’s not exclusively for Dungeons & Dragons, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mutants & Masterminds, Shadowrun, Stars Without Number, or any other particular genre, setting or rules set. The examples are generic and high-level, allowing you to adapt and apply them to the system of your choice. It’s recommended that you read through the entire book at least once to get a sense of the contents, the flow of things, and the context for various ideas. You can then go back to individual sections as needed.

For easy reference this book is broken into eight sections:

Introduction – This is where you are now. A brief overview of what this book is about, the concepts that will be discussed, and ways that you can put it to use in building adventures for your favorite tabletop roleplaying game.

Adventure Format – The standard “stat block” for all books in the Building series, this will help you to track elements regardless of the system you’re using. This chapter covers the five components: Name, Description, Purpose, Modifiers, and Story Points.

Preparation – This chapter covers key areas for developing the basic elements necessary to run a tabletop roleplaying adventure. These include high-level information for the stat block: Adventure Description, Clarifying the Purpose, Determining Modifiers, and Blocking Out Story Points.

Act I: Beginnings – This chapter covers developing the elements necessary for the first act of a tabletop roleplaying adventure. The emphasis is on four parts of the stat block: Describing Act I, Establishing the Purpose, Introducing Modifiers, and Opening Story Points.

Act II: Middles – This chapter covers developing the elements necessary for the second act of a tabletop roleplaying adventure. The emphasis is on four parts of the stat block: Describing Act II, Exploring the Purpose, Leveraging Modifiers, and Expanding Story Points.

Act III: Endings – This chapter covers developing the elements necessary for the third act of a tabletop roleplaying adventure. The emphasis is on four parts of the stat block: Describing Act III, Fulfilling the Purpose, Mastering Modifiers, and Concluding Story Points.

Epilogue – This chapter covers addressing what happens after a tabletop roleplaying adventure is over. The emphasis is on four parts of the stat block: Describing the Epilogue, Reviewing the Purpose, Resetting Modifiers, and Tying Up Loose Story Points.

Campaign Elements – An ongoing, interconnected series of tabletop roleplaying adventures is called a campaign. This chapter covers five areas for developing campaign elements: Campaign Preparation, Phase I: Introductions, Phase II: Explorations, Phase III: Conclusions, and Campaign Epilogue.

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The Sandbox and the Railroad

Building Series

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book Building Adventures

We can’t discuss tabletop roleplaying adventure design without acknowledging the power and influence of the sandbox and the railroad.

A sandbox is a scenario that allows player characters to wander freely and explore the world at their leisure. Creating this type of environment is seen by many as the best thing ever in tabletop roleplaying. It allows players do as they please with largely unfettered agency. The key drawback to this style is that it requires a lot of preparation and strong improvisation skills on the part of the gamemaster. Every contingency needs to either be anticipated beforehand or dealt with on the fly. Sandbox play can be fun, but it can also become deeply unsatisfying. If all the player characters do is wander from encounter to encounter with no unifying sense of purpose, the campaign can become boring and repetitive after a while.

A railroad is a scenario where events unfold in strict accordance with the gamemaster’s predetermined plans. Problems only have one solution, and it’s up to the players to figure out what that is. The plot is on metaphorical rails, and can only move in one direction. Railroading is viewed as a cardinal sin toward players. It takes away their agency and doesn’t reward their creativity or input. The main advantage to this style is that it’s significantly easier for gamemasters to prepare, because it limits the number of elements that need to be accounted for. There is also some degree of satisfaction to be gained from finding the correct solutions and reaching the clearly-defined end of the adventure.

The Sandbox and the Railroad

Both of these styles can be viewed as existing on opposite ends of a spectrum. One end seems to sacrifice ease of prep for player agency. The other downplays player agency for ease of prep. It’s possible to find a personal gamemastering style that incorporates the strengths of each while mitigating their relative weaknesses. The right style for you and your group will vary. Finding your collective comfort level along the spectrum between the railroad and the sandbox is important.

Like any other form of fiction, a tabletop roleplaying adventure works best when there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Player characters can pursue a goal without being railroaded into one specific way of achieving it. That same goal prevents characters from wandering aimlessly through an open-ended setting. A balance of styles will respect the players’ creativity and choices, while reducing some of the burden placed on the gamemaster. There’s a satisfying amount of closure. Achieving the goal means that the adventure has come to an end with the characters “winning”.

Building Adventures is about finding that balance. There is a way to create tabletop roleplaying scenarios that don’t require a harried, over-scheduled gamemaster to be ready for every possibility. These can still allowing players to make their own choices, and solve problems in their own way.