Upping the Ante: Candace Thomas and Designing Big Bads

Earlier this month, Blizzard senior game designer Candace Thomas commented on how they create the boss monsters we love to team up on:

No one likes an easy boss. We want to feel challenged, and, ultimately, accomplished when we win. In video games this can mean a successful mashing of the buttons or pulling out that special item at just the right time, but good boss design extends to tabletop roleplaying games, too.

The Classic TPK

AD&D on extra hard is a staple at many gaming conventions, and gamers who started playing with their dads or cool uncles may remember the DM doing everything in their power to murder their party in as stylish a way as possible. Struggling to impress an older relative you look up to as a child is very different from the motivation most adults have for playing.

Winning means different things to different players, and part of the beauty of tabletop roleplaying games over video games is that you can tailor challenges to your players. Their love of loot may have gotten them into this, or their love of loot may be sated after conquering the dragon guarding its horde. No matter their motivation, destroying them completely is not fun for anyone, as you’ll quickly see when your players meta game against you.

Stem the CritFails

Major combat sequences still need to be a challenge, but look for ways of tripping up your players beyond impossible dice odds. Did the rogue rush forward without taking all of their surroundings into account? Did the bard fail their charisma check, but fail to notice?

Once they’ve had a few setbacks, let them win. Leave it to the “odds” if you must, no one has to know if you fudged the roll so they only pass out until being stabilized in the next round, and didn’t visit the land of the dead. That being said, if the Paladin’s greatword makes short work of the fleshy boss, maybe they’ll be defeated only to rise again, the puppet of a far more powerful, and perhaps less corporeal monster.

What are your favorite ways to help your players win while still maintaining your edge as a DM?

Please also submit your article, review, and essay ideas to us!

Submissions are Open!

Who We Publish

PanopLit is seeking nonbinary, bigendered, femme, queer, and women writers with experience playing tabletop roleplaying games. If you fit within the LGBTQA+ spectrum, or have a unique viewpoint on RPG culture or games, we want to hear from you!

What We Publish

Our vision for PanopLit is one that includes tabletop gamers who are often excluded from larger conversations about RPGs and tabletop history. We want current resources to make your games easier, more fun, and more diverse, and we want your stories, critiques, and suggestions to make tabletop culture more inclusive.

Reviews, Tips, and Lists

PanopLit publishes short articles (300-500 words) in list or heading format. These should be focused on current resources, innovative tips, and items of interest for Game Masters and Players.

Essays

A long term goal for PanopLit is preserving stories from gamers who may not have been recorded in previous RPG histories. We want critiques and essays on your experiences as a gamer and mechanics in games. The minimum word count for essays in 500 words.

If you have been gaming for longer than 10 years, please contact us for an interview.

How to Submit

Email info@panoplit.org with “Submission:” before the title of your article or essay in the subject line.

In the body of your email include your pronouns (and/or how you identify), any social media or website links you would like included if you are published, and a one sentence bio about yourself. Attach your article to the email in .rtf or .doc format.

Press Release and Promotional Articles

We will publish press releases and promotional articles you write about your game, artwork, or other RPG related content that you create and sell, but will not pay a writer’s fee for this content. A link to this type of content will also be put out on the PanopLit Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.

Payment

PanopLit pays $20 for lists of RPG resources, reviews, and articles that range from 300-500 words. Essays or critiques over 500 words that are chosen to be published will receive $30. This can be paid out via Paypal or check.

Advertise with Us!

Advertising opportunities are available in the form of ads on the website, featured articles, and posts on the PanopLit social media network. Email info@panoplit.org to tell us about your project and get rates.

Targeting the RPG Community on Facebook

I promoted two posts on Facebook  to the gaming community with different gender ID targets and received vastly different results. Now, this was far from a perfect experiment, but it provided some insight that others promoting their projects through the platform may find useful. Whether creating RPG resources, or talking about something completely outside gaming, Facebook is one of the most important sites to get the word out and build your community.

Both posts featured a call to action. The first was for the November Survey, and the second for the December. I kept the age range between 25-65+, but changed the “interests” on each one. The important data point for me was the gender option.

On Facebook there are only two genders available when targeting posts. This is extremely short sighted. While it might be nice to not be advertised to as a gender outside the binary, it limits the ability of communities to reach their desired audiences completely.

For the November Survey (N), I chose to advertise to “men and women.” The December Survey (D) was only advertised to “women.” Both had a budget of $30.00 and ran for 7 days.

N was seen by 2,782 people, and provided 237 engagements (or actions on the part of the viewers). While a seemingly high number for an unknown organization, less than 9% of those who saw the N interacted with it. Only 8 clicked on the link and I only received 1 redirect from FB that resulted in a survey result. Rounding up, that translates to 0.04% of viewers performing the action requested.

D was seen by 628 people, making the reach 78% less than N by limiting the number to one gender on Facebook. However, the engagement shot up to over 19%, with almost 2% of the total people who saw the promotion choosing to share it. This is compared to 0.4% who shared N. That being said, N had 10 total shares, while D had 12.

There are still more factors to take into account: Both were run during holiday weeks (Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s Eve), but preliminary data provides more focus for my questions. While Facebook does not seem to be the best tool to promote PanopLit‘s surveys or resources due to its extreme targeting restrictions, I wonder what other experiments can be run to narrow in on the gaming community’s make up on the website.

Are less women identified as RPG gamers on Facebook? Generally speaking, most sources agree that women make up the majority of FB users. Do these results indicate they are less engaged, or more likely to interact once targeted?

While I don’t think my small budget of $60 over 2 months and limited resources can solve these questions, it is certainly something to chew on. What kind of engagement have you seen while using Facebook?

Brief January Survey

As we get ready to accept submissions, this month’s RPG survey will be brief in both length and time featured. Please answer the 4 questions for this month on what kind of content you want to read about!

Please share this link on social media and in your groups to help us create the best resources: https://josephine69.typeform.com/to/FN8Kmr

New Things Coming for PanopLit

In an effort to elevate as many voices in the RPG community as possible, PanopLit will begin accepting submissions (paid!) for short form essays (around 500 words), lists, and reviews. I will also be accepting write ups by creators of their adventures, games, or other RPG-centered products.

As part of this effort, the website will be undergoing a face lift. Please bear with us while we redesign and get ready to accept submissions! Submissions will open February 1st, and remain open unless we are overrun with articles.

PanopLit is currently paid out of pocket, so advertising options and donation pages will appear soon, as well, to support our content creators.

Looking forward to reading your work soon!

More Generous Map Generators

The internet is full of free resources for RPGs, but one of the most basic needs are diverse maps. While graph paper and geometric hallways might fit your needs for an immediate dungeon the adventurers have stumbled upon, some moments need more specific, and maybe more randomized settings to interact with.

We shared some mapmaking resources before. Here are additional resources that are more involved than simply hitting a “generate” button, but still have randomization built in for customized, interactive cartography.

  • For basic combat terrain, check out the hazard generator on Chaotic Shiny. There are plenty of other generators for stats and randomized attributes available on the site as well. This generator will not provide visuals, just attributes.
  • For diverse map visuals that are built up grid-style from a database, check out Dave’s Mapper. You can pick the map style and required elements, plus cool options like side view mapping for deep delving.
  • Pencil and paper are generally the most tactile DMs get with their mapmaking, but Last Gasp ups the ante by providing dice-produced cities divided into burroughs. Their relationships and types are determined by the numbers on the dice and where they physically land.

Can’t wait to see what maps you roll out this year!

(Visual is from Dave’s Mapper.)

The Raw Percentages: November Results

We had 41 respondents to last month’s survey. Below are the results to each individual question:

How We Identify

Respondents were asked to identify their gender from the below options. This question is the only that caused the most adjustment in the collection

51% Female

24% Male

7% Gender Fluid

7% Gender Non Conforming

10% responded “My Gender is Not Listed”. This led to the creation of an “other” category with a write-in portion for the December Survey.

Who We Play With and How We Meet Them

44% of respondents are not sure if they play with people who identify as they do.

32% of respondents do not play with people who identify as they do.

24% of respondents play with people who identify as they do.

The vast majority of gamers who responded meet people to play with through their friend group. This option was clicked by 90%. A little under a quarter of respondents met other players through an online community of gamers, at 24%. Social media (17%), in-person events organized by a business or organization (15%), and “other” options (12%) were all comparably used by respondents to meet other gamers.

This being said, many respondents want to meet other gamers through an RPG game night at a local business (56%) or a meetup for a local gamers hosted by an organization (49%). Social media is also of interest to the gamers that responded, at 44%. 41% are interested in meeting others through an online community of gamers, and 29% through a convention. 5% selected “Other”.

For December, the survey focuses on online communities and how they support our gaming interests.

Get Your Game out There!

Interested in releasing your game, but unsure where to start? Step one (after creating a prototype of the game) should be to get your friends together and have them give it a shot.

Done with kind feedback from those who most love you? Send your design to a more critical eye by requesting play testers either through a local gaming group, a listing like r/TabletopDesign’s playtesters‘ page, or the big try: a convention.

Here are some other resources!

Weekly Reading

This week I had the great pleasure of listening to some key podcasts, so this week’s reading takes the for of weekly listening.

Avonelle Wing discussed inclusive conventions and how to create them on Greatway Games. The casters also discussed “community” and terminologies that create strong networks, rather than exclusionary groups. It’s an important conversation for anyone looking to keep their gaming open and diverse.

Also of interest, Dungeon’s & Donations is currently running with raffles and live D&D for charity. Check it out on Twitch!

December Survey is Now Live!

We’ve wrapped up the month of November, meaning it’s time to build a new RPG dataset. That data analysis will be released later in December. This month is all about online communities surrounding roleplaying games. We’ll be collecting data on current experiences and releasing information on how to make them better.

Please take a couple of minutes to answer these 6 questions on your experience with online roleplay gaming communities.

Here’s a link to the survey to share with your groups: https://josephine69.typeform.com/to/IQ7Oei