News You Can Use ...
Newsletters you can use to expand your TTRPG skills and joy!
If you’re reading this newsletter dispatch in February of 2023, you likely arrived here via one of two pathways:
You’re someone I know in my personal/professional role as “Andrew Braithwaite,” and you subscribed to read my clever jokes (or simply because you’re a kind and supportive friend which THANK YOU)
You’re someone I’ve met in my TTRPG gaming role as “Ambush Rakshasa,” and you subscribed to read my analysis of Pathfinder Second Edition’s magus class (love me some Laughing Shadow hybrid study)
Then there’s the rare and delightful instance when these two audiences overlap. Here’s a Venn diagram to clarify what I’m talking about:
Now, if you’re in the camp that legit enjoys my Pathfinder content, you might be curious whether there are other writers out there offering fun advice specific to Pathfinder Second Edition. And the answer is: yes, but they’re mostly making videos on YouTube, or shouting into the void on Twitter, or occasionally blogging on their own legacy web portals (shoutout to Owen K.C. Stephens who is terrific at this).
But in terms of writers beaming Pathfinder knowledge directly into your email inbox: I don’t know of many others, at least here on Substack where I choose to publish.
Still, Pathfinder is not the only TTRPG in town for someone like me with a thirst for adventure! For instance, I received an email last Thursday (the week before Valentine’s Day) from a sender named “Adventure Snack” with the following subject line:
“Meet Local Cyclops in Your Area — Keep an eye out for love!”
Seasonally themed Cyclopian dating puns? Welcome to Click City, population: me.
On the topic of Click City, please earn yourself a Hero Point by clicking that heart button up top. I have no idea what it accomplishes, besides making me feel good!
Yes, I subscribe to Geoffrey Golden’s Adventure Snack Substack newsletter: “A game series I email to subscribers. Play quests for free, twice a month, and turn your inbox into an adventure!” And yes, it’s as fun as he makes it sound.
Clicking my way through Geoffrey’s latest “Choose Your Own Adventure”–style mission, I swiped left on such eligible cyclops singles as Robustus, Timidus, Acerbus, and Lubricus before landing a date with Formosus, age 21:
“Giant women like to have GIANT fun! I like glistening treasure and silks soft to the touch.”
Which other Substack RPG newsletters do I subscribe to for that sweet, sweet tabletop gaming fix? I recently discovered the platform’s Recommendations engine, so with this in mind, here are five of my favorites:
Play.Fearless by Mad Jay, which is probably the closest in tone to my own newsletter: real-world insights from a game designer and avid player who wants to help his readers love roleplaying games. Bonus: Mad Jay wrote sections of the most amazing/gorgeous PF2 sourcebook “Lost Omens: Mwangi Expanse.”
Win Conditions by Sean McCoy, creator of the Mothership RPG and publisher of Tuesday Knight Games: an inside-baseball look at the world of indie game design, from Kickstarter campaigns to marketing and distributing books. Bonus: Sean created #Dungeon23 aka the NaNoWriMo of megadungeon design.
The Indie RPG Newsletter by Thomas Manuel, an Indian playwright and game designer who curates a roundup of tabletop news that ships to subscribers every Sunday with links to stories about industry news, game reviews, and RPG theory. Bonus: Thomas writes with a poet’s grace that’s easy on the eyeballs.
Thaumavoria by Dave Thaumavore, who reviews indie and third-party games on YouTube for his 20k subscribers AND writes up interviews with some of the industry’s most relevant creators for his newsletter. Bonus: if you like rants against D&D 5e aka a “bloated high-power kitchen sink fantasy game,” Dave’s your huckleberry.
The Glatisant by Ben Milton, aka the Questing Beast on YouTube, who plies his trade in the sub-sub-culture of OSR games aka old-school RPGs and is always on the ball with updates on the best online sales in all of gaming. Bonus: Ben is the creator of “Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Adventure Game” which WHOA.
Beyond those big five (which, if you happen to subscribe to via my Recommendations portal, will help THEIR readers discover MY newsletter so PLEASE & THANK YOU), here’s a bonus “wild card” list of my other favorite tabletop-related Substack reads:
The Casual Gamer’s View, by Bill Long and Ethan Birch
Game & Word, by Jay Rooney
Misadventure Adventure, by Michael and Michelle
RPG Design Theories, by Monte Cook
Sable GM’s Game Mastering Advice, by Sable GM
Split/Party, by Lucrécia Ludovico Alves
Armanda, the Lone Somm, by Armanda
50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed
That ought to be enough tabletop newsletter goodness to keep you reading for a while. Still, I know you’re desperately wondering: how did my date with Formosus the cyclops turn out? Well …
Cyclops don't believe in long courtships. Or any courtships, really. They prefer to cut to the chase. They have human adventurers to kill.
"If you choose me as your life mate, we will have an incredible time. I want to travel the island with you, put cucumbers on our eyeballs, and collect all the treasures I desire. If you're someone who enjoys killing adventurers for treasure, I think we have a future," she reasons.
[I decided to accept Formosus’s proposal]
Eventually, your cave becomes so full of treasure, you cannot live or sleep in the cave. When adventurers write epic poems about steering clear of the island, the source of treasure dries up. Formosus breaks up with you after three years, because "the spark is gone." Her rebound relationship is with the village jeweler, which makes sense when you think about it.
Kudos for beaming such whimsy into my inbox, Geoffrey. I’m proud to call myself a pupil of your craft.
(See what I did there? Hahaha … yeah, I’ll show myself out.)
Thanks for reading Ambush Tactics! If you’ve found your way here by some miracle but aren’t yet subscribed (always free), I can totally use my Reaction to Aid you:
THE MINI AND THE DICE
That handsome mohawked nagaji with the vicious polearm and the mandolin strapped to his back is Dag, my skald PC from the PF1 “Strange Aeons” adventure path. The good folks at Hero Forge custom printed him in 30mm steel in 2017. Back then, I had time in my schedule to paint minis, so he’s held up remarkably well.
Those green Cthulian beauties by my favorite Polish dice outfit Q Workshop glow in the dark! I rolled them all through that Lovecraftian campaign — notice the crit numbers (ie. a 20 on the d20) are signified by an Elder Sign glyph, which Lovecraft described in his 1936 story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth” as a symbol used to ward against the Deep Ones. Didn’t help poor Dag to avoid becoming permanently insane.
Here are my campaign notebooks from that adventure, just to give you an idea of the sort of mental state Dag (and I) were existing in, way back then:
TODAY I LEARNED
During the most recent PFS session I ran, my players crushed my BBSM (big badass scary monster) in a single round. Just crushed it. No crits or anything, but the bard went first and inspired courage (for a party-wide bonus to hit and damage) before landing a telekinetic projectile. Then the cleric hit with her fire ray focus spell. Then the fighter smacked it with his bo staff. Then the magus landed a shocking grasp spellstrike that took the monster to exactly 0 hp.
All work and no slay makes Ambush a dull GM.
Ah, but: I learned afterwards that I’d shortchanged myself. I did not do the math! Which, if you reside in the half of the Venn diagram that knows me personally, should be a big red flag:
“Hold on just a second. Andrew LOVES math! What gives?!”
Well, for a while now I’ve been running PFS scenarios for a party of Level 1 adventurers. Fresh off the hero farm! But not long ago, the bard gained enough XP to reach Level 2. And, heading into our latest mission, the magus hit Level 2 as well.
Awwwww our sweet little adventuring party is growing more powerful. Unfortunately, I (stupidly) forgot to adapt my side of the screen accordingly. You see, our scenario was written for a party of adventurers spanning Levels 1-4. All the combat encounters were designed to be faced by the lowest-possible-strength party.
What happens when your party grows more powerful than the baseline? You apply the Challenge Points system and adjust the encounters accordingly:
Mmmmmmm yeah look at that sweet sweet math. TLDR: my four-PC party of 2x Level 1 and 2x Level 2 heroes was now worth 10 Challenge Points, and so the scenario I was running instructs me to:
(10–11 Challenge Points): Increase the elite crocodile’s Hit Points by 10
Which means my crocodile wasn’t supposed to die in one round! It should have had a chance to fight on with 10 hp remaining.
So, what’s the remedy here? Should I build a time machine, go back to last Tuesday, apply the correct monster scaling, and make my friends really EARN IT?
No. But I promise that I won’t make the same mistake again in tonight’s session. You’ve been warned, slightly more powerful heroes.
SCREENSHOT PRESENTED WITHOUT CONTEXT
Now that’s an ambush! And so, as I say at the conclusion of every Pathfinder module I run: this has been Ambush Tactics. I’ve been your Game Master. I hope you had a fun time.