UPDATE: Point 4 was changed at the author's request to clarify his meaning after receiving many questions. This version was updates as of May 3, 2017.
Pathfinder has a lot of rules. We might think we know those rules pretty well, but it often pays to crack the book to actually look at them from time to time. While you might remember how to calculate your to-hit bonus, or that you get bonus spells based on a high casting stat, there are a lot of other rules you might remember incorrectly, and to your detriment.
Rule #1: The Heal Skill Can, In Fact, Restore Hit Points
Most of us don't bother investing points into the Heal skill. Sure you can use it to stop a party member from bleeding out, or to figure out what sort of wound killed a man you find in a dungeon, but what else can you do with the skill?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
According to page 98 and 99 of the Core Rulebook, you can make Heal checks to treat deadly wounds. If you have a healer's kit, and expend 2 of the uses in it, you can make a check against a DC 20. Success means the character heals a number of points equal to their level. If you beat the DC by 5, they also heal a number of hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier. You can only do this for wounds acquired in the past 24 hours, and never more than once per day.
This is in addition to treating disease, poison, and long-term care. So, in the future, it might be worth investing a few points.
Rule #2: The Difference Between Being Flat-Footed, and The Surprise Round
Being ambushed is something that happens with a fair bit of frequency in Pathfinder, but when combat starts and only some people are aware of it, you get a surprise round according to page 178 of the Core Rulebook. Everyone who is aware combat is happening (the ambushers, and sometimes everyone in the other group who makes a high enough Perception check) gets to act in the surprise round. You get a single standard or move action, as well as free actions, and after that comes the first round of regular combat. This can be particularly nasty for characters like diviners, who always act in the surprise round, giving them one more action over everyone else because of their ability to glimpse into the future.
This is different from, but connected to, being caught flat-footed. According to page 567 of the Core Rulebook, a flat-footed character is one who has not yet acted in combat. They do not gain their dexterity modifier to their armor class nor can they make attacks of opportunity. It also makes you vulnerable to sneak attack. However, any character with Uncanny Dodge cannot be caught flat-footed, which makes barbarians, rogues, and others quite tricksy to ambush.
Rule #3: Acrobatics Can Make Fighting Defensively More Beneficial
Fighting on the defensive is a rule we don't usually invoke, but according to page 184 of the Core Rulebook you can choose to fight defensively. You take a -4 penalty on your attacks, but gain a +2 dodge bonus to your AC. However, as pointed out on page 90 of the same book, if you have 3 or more ranks in Acrobatics, you gain a +3 dodge bonus to your AC instead. If you take the total defense action, which normally grants you a +4 dodge bonus to your AC, you will instead gain a +6 dodge bonus to your AC.
Rule #4: Vital Strike is a Standard Action
The Vital Strike feat, which starts on page 136 of the Core Rulebook, are the bread and butter of many great weapon-wielding builds. In short, you take the attack action to make a single attack. If you hit, you roll your weapon damage dice as if you had hit twice (three times with Improved Vital Strike, four times with Greater Vital Strike, etc.). So if you are a level 7 barbarian, and you use your standard action to attack with your greatsword, you would roll 4d6 instead of 2d6 for your weapon damage.
That seems pretty straightforward, but it's important to remember that this feat can only be used with the attack action (which is the kind you use when you take a move action to reach the target, and then a standard action to attack). You cannot weave it into other special actions. You cannot, for example, use the charge action and Vital Strike at the end of it, because a charge is its a unique full-round action. You cannot use Spring Attack and Vital Strike on your target. Nor does Vital Strike have anything to do with the target's anatomy, despite the name. It is not related in any way to whether a creature is susceptible to critical hits, or if it has an alien anatomy. All you're doing is hitting it really hard, but we'd already named a different feat, Power Attack.
Rule #5: Sneak Attack Applies to Anything That Isn't Immune to Precision Damage
In the old days of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, sneak attack had big blind spots. You couldn't use it on constructs, undead, plants, and dozens of other creature types. Unfortunately, a lot of players (and DMs) choose to use the rules they remember, rather than checking Pathfinder's update. Because unless a creature is specifically stated as immune to precision damage, such as oozes, incorporeal creatures (unless you have a ghost touch weapon), and elementals, you can still apply your sneak attack damage under the right circumstances.
So be sure your DM knows this rule, and always ask before you don't roll your bonus dice.
For more overlooked and misremembered rules, check out Playing By The Book: Some Pathfinder Rules Players Keep Forgetting over on Neal F. Litherland's blog Improved Initiative.
Dungeons and Dragons is the most iconic RPG, it’s the most often played game according to data published by Roll20, and it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of people willing to run it.
Though if you dare to stray beyond D&D, you’re likely to find that there’s not many people wanting to run other games, either because being a player seems more entertaining, or they’d prefer to be a player in a game before running it.
I’m basically saying that knowing how to run games besides D&D is a fairly valuable skill in the table-top gaming community. So, with that in mind, I have prepared this little list of advice that will make learning how to run a new game much easier.
1) You Don’t Need To Know Everything
The bad news when you’re trying to learn a new game is this: most games have rulebooks that are several hundred pages long. The good news, though, is that most likely you don’t need to know everything.
Usually, just having a passing familiarity with the setting is all you need to run a new game, since there’s always some manner of mundane characters, creatures, and places for the initial few scenes. Keeping the setting mundane at the start will give you (and the players!) time to adjust while everybody is getting the rules down.
Let’s use Exalted 3rd edition as an example. The first few chapters of this book is setting information. While this may be interesting stuff, it’s not entirely necessary to run the game. Knowing the difference between an Abyssal, a Solar, and a Dragon-Blooded might help later on when you’re setting up antagonists.
What’s MORE important, though, is knowing how characters mechanically interact with one another.
2) Learn The Basic Conflict Resolution
The beauty of modern games is that they usually have one or two specific rules that are the core of everything else in the game. For Dungeons and Dragons, it’s roll of a d20 added to your modifiers. For Exalted, you form your dicepool based on your relevant attributes and abilities, roll all the dice, and count up successes for each that are 7, 8, 9, or 10, with 10 counting as two.
This god-send of game design makes everything MUCH easier, since instead of poring over the rulebook in the middle of play to find one particular sub-system for something, you can just make something up for the time being so you can move the game along.
Going back once again to Exalted, which has a fairly robust set of social mechanics, let’s say you skipped learning those since you know your players are more interested in combat encounters. However, one of them unexpected gets the idea to try to scare off some bandits harassing the local villagers instead of immediately coming to blows.
Well, since we already know the dicepools are formed with an Attribute and an Ability, we can have the player roll for his Charisma + Presence, and improvise something based on how many successes come up.
Which brings us to the next important set of information...
3) Learn Character Creation
You can’t really do much in an RPG without having a character, and if you’re the GM, it definitely pays to know what all characters can do out of the starting gate. So for that reason, character creation is another vital thing to learn when getting into a new game.
Often times, learning character creation is a good springboard into other parts of the game, and gives you hints for what other things you can expect to find through the rest of the book.
In Exalted, character creation follows the steps of picking attributes, then abilities, both of which are somewhat self-explanatory. Picking Charms comes next, which based on the name alone doesn’t say much. A quick look at the table of contents, though, reveals an ENTIRE CHAPTER dedicated to this facet of the game!
At around 200 or so pages, Charms make up about a third of the book! There’s no way we can memorize all this, so we’ll just have to accept that we’ll be referring to this section quite a bit.
Which means you should...
4) Familiarize Yourself With The Book’s Layout
I said earlier that you don’t need to know everything. I’d now like to introduce an important caveat to that statement: you don’t need to know everything IMMEDIATELY. To that end, you should at least know how to find it.
Know what sort of chapters are in the rulebook, or at least if there’s a table of contents and an index. Indices have helped me find numerous rules I’ve otherwise ignored since most of my players initially never needed to use them. And tables of contents were a great help in .pdfs that I couldn’t as easily flip through.
I don’t know what the sub-systems for leading armies and sailing ships are in Exalted, but I know what chapter they’d be in, and I know that particular chapter’s page is listed in the table of contents. And should I refer to it enough times, I’ll likely end up memorizing what page that chapter starts on.
5) Just Do It!
It’s good to read and research and generally be prepared, but the most practical way to crystalize something in your memory is to apply that knowledge.
Waiting until you feel prepared enough before running a new game usually leads to what I like to refer to as “preparation paralysis.” You want to wait till you’re prepared, but as you prepare, you find more things to need to be prepared for, and thus the cycle continues on.
But with the above steps, knowing the layout of the book, knowing what a basic character has, and knowing the basics of the game’s conflict management, you’re plenty prepared.
Get a scenario together, and make it happen.
You got this.
Aaron der Schaedel is a Game Master of many different games that hides out somewhere around The Rocky Top and The Dark and Bloody Ground. He also has a YouTube channel he’s named after himself, where he explains the ins and outs of various different games, just in case you need some more specific advice.
PICTURE CREDIT: From the Exalted 3rd edition Core Book, pulled from this site: http://mraaktagon.com/yes-but-you-didnt-the-failed-redesign-of-stunts-in-exalted-3rd-edition
I don’t know about you, Internet, but I view the moments before I sit down to a new game campaign or setting with an equal mix of trepidation, excitement, hopefulness, and dread. Is this going to be like the game where I spent most afternoons wishing I was home doing my laundry, or is this going to be like the game where I spent all week obsessing about what was going to happen next?
I walked into my first game completely blind - I didn’t know anything about it except that I had bought a bag’s worth of shiny new dice and I sort of understood what the words on my character sheet meant. I got *really* lucky - my first DM took it relatively easy on me for the first couple of sessions, just enough to set the hook. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
Due to logistics, when I first sat down with one of my two current DMs, I had literally no idea of what was going on. I didn’t know the system (except that it was d10 based, a system that had given me problems in the past), I didn’t know the world, and I only knew two of the other players. I was in a strange place, with a strange sheet in front of me, exhausted from an early-morning job. I took it on faith from the two players I did know that “you’ll love this game, it’s all about narrative and description, you’ll be great at it.”
I was miserable. The other players had met with the DM previously, and they had sketched out a rough idea of what they wanted to do and how the campaign was going to work, setting- and theme-wise. Because of my chaotic evil schedule at the time, I was showing up blind, again. I hadn’t had a chance to give input on the game design, and when I was asked what I wanted to avoid in the campaign, I was so lost that I just named some pet peeves and let it ride.
That game lasted...ten sessions, I think? Maybe more, it was kind of a haze. My character worked beautifully on paper but was a complete dead fish in play, because I had built her for what I thought the campaign was going to be like, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadly, the wrongness didn’t come into evidence until after the three-game-change window, so I tried to tough it out. I shouldn’t have.
I come to you now to share the hard-won knowledge that I have acquired over the years. These expectations are a general framework that I expect from my fellow players, to try to enhance the game for all parties concerned. Comments and commentary are, of course, welcome.
1) Engagement With The Plot (at best) Or Polite Attention (at worst):
We are all busy adults with full schedules who have carved out time and energy to play this game. I expect you to either be playing or paying attention to the gameplay. Some of the funniest and fun moments I have had around the table were MST3King/Rifftraxing the play going on in front of me. Checking something in the book (when it’s not your turn, please) is okay, or a brief dip into the madness of the Internet is fine, but when you do your trick, then look at the rest of us and say “nudge me when I need to roll dice” is rude at best and disheartening at worst. I invest my time and energy to play with people; I expect the same in return. This is crucial in a game like Exalted, where player input has a marked impact on the game in the form of voting for stunt bonuses and the like. If you aren’t here to play, or at least socialize while playing, why are you here?
2) Commitment to Session Times
Life happens. Job schedules are nuts (me), kids happen (DM and fellow player), loved ones fall ill or need more attention because of life events (another player), and sometimes your vehicle decides to commit fiery suicide because it’s just sick of life (another player). We all understand this, and we’re sympathetic.
If you mysteriously have a headache every Sunday afternoon, or you “aren’t feeling it today” two hours before game time several weeks in a row, please consider if you actually want to keep playing, and if you don’t, then stop. Stop wasting our time. Stop wasting our goodwill. We will still want to hang out with you, but if you keep screwing up our plans at the last minute, that might change too. Your time is valuable, our time is valuable, our DM’s time is valuable. Respect us enough to say “This isn’t working right now, guys, catch me next time?”
Corollary - BE ON TIME, FOR THE LOVE OF SPICE. Gamer Standard Time is a phrase that needs to die in the pits of a thousand hells. If game starts at 1, be there at 1 (or even better, 12:45), not 2:30. If you’re running late, call/text/IM/tweet/Skype, do something to let us know so we’re not all sitting around staring at our dice like sad pandas looking at an empty food bowl.
3) Familiarity with Setting/Rules
I can hear you now - “But you said you went in blind to your last game!” Yes, I did say that - and I said it made me miserable. Do I think you can’t sit down and learn a new system or world? Not at all! That said, make sure your fellow players know that you are new to the system and will be asking lots of questions. Most players will be perfectly okay with this, and I guarantee that the neophyte will be overwhelmed with advice and suggestions. Please see my previous article on How Not To Be That Gamer and apply the truths within liberally, as needed.
If you are the neophyte in this position, commit to learning the bare bones at that first session, and study up as the days go on. You’ll get it faster than you think.
4) Be A Plot Mover, Not A Plot Dragon
If you’re in this hobby to roll dice without context, may I not-so-humbly suggest you learn how to play craps instead? We’re here to roll dice and play roles, not just chuck plastic blobs around to meet arbitrary numbers in a vacuum. Personal plots are fun, but it’s hard on your DM and unfair to other players unless they are involved with them too.
The third option is to be a plot donkey - ask your DM (not at the table or immediately pre- or post-game, please) if there’s something she or he wants to get moving, and volunteer to be the one who turns down the path less traveled or asks “hey guys, what IS in that box?”
Chase plot, even if turns out to be a flaming bunny. Share the plot goodies you find (psst, this means you can share the blame too!). That’s why we’re here, to play.
5) Establish if Your Group is Cooperative or Antagonistic
This is a pre-game thing, ideally when you are in a conceptual stage discussing what you all want out of your communal gaming experience. A group of antagonists won’t work well, but factions within the party can be great fun if you all can manage to keep a clear delineation between IC and OOC.
If you have decided to play as a cooperative group, you should strive to maintain that, unless there’s a story-related reason to change it. With the understanding that most plans don’t survive their first brush with trouble, and most groups don’t survive their first divvying-up of that sweet sweet loot-y goodness, do TRY to adhere to what you agreed to at the planning phase. Speaking of…
6) Proper Planning Prevents...well, You Know The Rest
I don’t mean that you should be doing comparative cost-benefit analysis of spell lists (oh please, for the love of heaven, don’t waste precious gaming time doing that) but plan out the general shape of your campaign, or at least the first season, with ALL the players present as well as the DM. Want a city-building game, or something more Indiana-Jonesy? Monster of the week or a tightly woven plot? Lay out what you want.
Just as importantly, lay out what you don’t want. I mentioned that I built a character that worked beautifully on paper and in concept, but the game was 150% wrong for her, because I didn’t know the group had decided on a city-building concept instead of a go-out-and-explore game. My group, bless their collective hearts, didn’t want to tell me that my concept didn’t flow with the plan for the game, so I struggled through months of boring and frankly infuriating game sessions before that game mercifully died with a whimper.
Be honest, but don’t be a dick. Most people are willing to adjust their concepts slightly to fit the group vision. That being said, it is far easier to tweak a concept before dots hit the page.
7) No Prima Donnas, or Variations Thereof
I’m looking at you, people who think that because you are gracing the table with your presence, you get plot bennies. I’m also looking at the ladies and gentlemen who try to get what we refer to as the “banging the DM” bonus - I hope that is fairly self-explanatory. It’s unfair and childish at best, and creepy/repulsive at worst. There’s almost nothing worse than seeing one player get shot down for a concept, and the person of the DM’s affection getting the nod for no apparent reason.
Disclosure: My husband is currently one of my DMs, and far from getting a banging-the-DM bonus, he is ten times harder on me than the other players because he says he knows what I am capable of and won’t let me get lazy. I both love and hate him for this.
You need other people to play the game. Don’t alienate them. Share the spotlight. Point out and appreciate really awesome things your fellow players do. And don’t forget to cheer on your DM for bringing his or her A-game to the table and making the game as amazing as they can. I love the idea of giving props and nods at the end of the game, ending the session on a high note. It keeps people motivated to do more, to be further in character, to take risks to get rewards, knowing that if their characters die, they won’t go gently into that good night.
I know what some of you are asking right now - if planning is so important, why did you leave it until the last point in your list?
Because, believe it or not, it is not the most important part of a successful game. Player mindset and expectations are. All the good planning in the world withers away in front of a bad or dysfunctional group. Get together the right people and even the most slapdash game will be memorable.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this piece - setting expectations for DMs - coming soon to an Internet-capable device of your choice. Until then, I remain,
Your Most Obedient Servant,
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Fantasy role-playing, or any genre where spirits and deities are involved, gives us an exciting insight into an important element of human culture. Religion as separate from daily life is quite unique to modern times. In days past, certainly there were impious and blasphemous persons. In general though, people would follow the religious customs of their land and culture. In some places, it was genuinely believed that religious observations played a central role in deciding battles and averting natural disasters. The gods’ favor could earn a bountiful harvest and their wrath could mean famine. To play a character who lives in such a world and culture I list below four different ways to approach religion. It doesn’t matter that your character is not a miracle worker or a knight of the church, in a religious society almost everyone will incorporate religion into their life in one way or another. Here are my suggestions.
1) The Pious Layman
One does not need to be a member of the clergy to be devoted to one’s deity. Consider taking time to burn offerings to invoke good favor, or maybe offer gold to request peace for the souls of your ancestors? In a polytheistic setting the idea of converting people to your faith is likely totally foreign. But you serve your god well and try to live out the customs of your people as best as you can, with conviction and probably even pride.
I love this. Superstition, in a world of quarreling gods, spirits, and arcane powers is storytelling gold. It’s so very natural and human to revert to superstition. Real belief with little understanding is a breeding ground for superstition. And in a world where you don’t have science to answer the why behind the seasons and weather, earthquakes and invaders, and just about anything beyond human control, an easy answer to grasp is “spirits made it happen”. Your people may have superstitions or maybe your character invents their own. Consider interpreting anything strange as an omen.
3)The Lip Server
There are many reasons to go through the motion of religion even when your heart's not in it. Maybe to you religion is more about culture and identity. Consider a few basic rituals that connect you with your roots. Something more like a societal pledge then a deeply religious prayer. This character probably has little use for religious contemplation but when it comes to the ceremonies of their people it’s best to go through the motions.
4) The Powermonger
In any culture where religion is at the centre of life you will find people looking to become that centre of life. It’s become a Hollywood stereotype that middle ages bishops were greedy, power hungry manipulators. But many were in fact the princes and rulers of vast lands, they were politicians, not just churchmen. But consider as well the druids, shaman, and witch doctors of tribal societies. They demand great respect and held high positions of power in their societies. To play a powermonger one does not need to be evil, but consider what you might demand of those around you; loyalty, obedience,and perhaps a bent knee. The spirits and deities of fantasy realms are powerful and terrifying things, those who wield such power become themselves powerful and terrifying.
A great questions to always keep in mind could be something along the lines of: How would I act if I actually believed my character’s religion was real? This, and the expectation that other people in this world also all believe this religion is real. For me the biggest challenge in fantasy role-playing is adopting the polytheistic mindset that many fantasy realm settings have. As our own North American culture has roots in monotheistic Christianity it can be easier for us to draw inspiration from what we already may know, all four of these suggested character types fit well inside this framework. Developing our characters and worlds by taking queues from history and really dwelling on the divine connections our characters strive for can really bring our games to life.
Anthony is lifelong dreamer and hobbyist who approaches role-playing as one part storyteller and one part rules lawyer. Role-playing interests include world building, back stories, character accents and voices, and trying to keep his inner simulationist in check.
Role-playing games are the best thing since sliced ogre for you, your kids, and your grandma... but there is one particular happiness that can be gained from them that is not for everyone. Only the select few, those of us with refined palates, the nerds among nerds who would appreciate the emphatically overdrawn syntax of this sentence ever learn to enjoy it. It is enjoyed by such brilliant minds as the Matt from Herding Dice, John Kim, and other masters of mechanics. This is the joy of the hacking the rules themselves.
To play around with the mechanics is to create the rules by which the game world is governed; it is a creative process in some ways more fundamental than playing a role. The core of all role-playing games is that they simulate a reality in which people can enjoy playing characters. Game designers have found many different ways to simulate the limitations of reality while allowing characters to have autonomy, each game striking a balance between a sense of realism with a sense of fun. Each design has a different flavour; there are so many games out there now that you can truly order them to taste.
There are many mechanics that form a game. This article’s focus is on dice mechanics, what makes them good, exciting, clunky, or weird. Dice mechanics are good when they 1) create tension (there’s a variety of possible outcomes), 2) are somewhat realistic, and 3) are simple. If you have any favourite dice mechanics, please let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for interesting game systems.
1) Meat and Potatoes: d20 mechanics (Bad to Good!)
Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and the d20 Open Game License are the staple of many a role-player’s diet. d20 mechanics have their high and low points. There are an exciting twenty possible outcomes for each roll, which usually include one opportunity for wild success or critical failure. These mechanics break down in the realism department because each outcome has an equal chance of happening. The rules change the probability of success by incorporating modifiers and changing target numbers, but no matter how weak or powerful your character, there’s still a 5% chance that you’ll either critically hit that dragon or fall flat on your face jumping over a log. These eventualities often seem out of place and ridiculous. Regarding simplicity, recent incarnations have improved considerably, most of them paring it down to just a 20-sided die, avoiding the need for excessive polyhedrons. The 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons also introduced the idea of advantage and disadvantage, which improves the believability of the outcomes by giving players a pool of two 20-sided dice to choose from.
2) All Had The Graph Of Power! Marvel Superheroes (Bad to Ugly!)
One dice mechanic that has always intrigued me is the one designed for TSR’s Marvel Superheroes. It features very simple resolution: every action is resolved by a percentile dice roll combined with consulting a chart. It accounts for the huge disparity of power in the Marvel Universe by having each character roll under the assigned level of their power for different effects. As interesting as it is, however, the reality it creates is a broken one where failure is frequent. This means Colossus may have difficulty pinning a starving serf to the ground, and Aunt May can knock Spider-Man out cold. There are some mechanics that work to mitigate this kind of thing, but they aren’t powerful enough to avoid frequent absurd power upsets. Wild successes and failures are defined by the chart. Oddly, if you put together the chance of a wild success or a critical failure, depending on the action you’re taking, it is frequently more likely to knock it out of the park or to fail epically than it is just to succeed. Again, this undermines the sense of realism in the game.
3) One Roll To Rule Them All: Fate Core & Fate Accelerated Edition (Best!)
Featuring a robust mechanic based on the earlier FUDGE system, the Fate systems are two of my favourites. Players simply resolve all actions using a small pool of four FUDGE/Fate dice, which are 6-sided dice that supply outcomes between -4 and +4. There are fewer outcomes possible with this type of roll, but the outcomes follow a curve. The curve makes wild success and failures possible, but more rare, lending a sense of realism. There are also other mechanics that enable characters to succeed where they otherwise may not, and scale mechanics that allow this single dice roll to resolve conflicts on any scale. In combination, this creates a dice mechanic that simulates realistic outcomes, while providing the creative freedom of a truly universal system and enough tension to make victory sweet.
4) Welcome To The Desert Of The Real: Shadowrun (Good to Ugly!)
There will always be a soft spot in my cold gamemaster heart for this game, though I don’t play it much anymore. In principle, the resolution mechanic is fairly simple; a combination of skills and gear provide characters a pool of 6-sided dice they use to resolve opposed, unopposed, and extended actions. The bigger the dice pool, the greater a character’s chances of success or wild success. Dice pools by nature allow somewhat more realistic outcomes, and the core mechanic is really quite simple. There are so many additional rules, however, that gameplay tends to bog down in the simulation. Almost every piece of gear, skill, and action has a specific rule that is perfectly logical and lends to a sense of realism for the game. But, frequently, the complexity takes players out of the game too much for them to enjoy the sense of immersion that so rich a game world deserves. Also, rolling upwards of twenty dice is both super fun and more than a bit ridiculous.
5) ...And Four Stunt Points! Fantasy AGE (Good!)
This dice mechanic is a hybrid of early d20 mechanics and the Fate system. It uses a small pool of three 6-sided dice to resolve actions with a single type of roll. Outcomes range from 3 to 18, again making them feel realistic. An object of study for Matt from Herding Dice, it also features some super entertaining tricks. When players roll doubles, they gain a certain number of points with which to buy stunts – which are cool things their character can do. This means that wild successes are not limited to high rolls (though high rolls help). While it does not cover the same scope as Fate, it is nevertheless a very enjoyable resolution mechanic.
These are only some of the highs and lows that players may encounter using different dice mechanics. Of course, this article doesn’t consider all the different mechanics that exist, and doesn’t even touch other forms of resolution. If you’re still reading, you’re probably of the ilk that will stay tuned for the forthcoming article about alternative resolution mechanics. See you there!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
When we are wronged, do we not seek vengeance? When our loved ones are ill, do we not seek a cure? When the world turns against us, do we not seek justice? These are all motivations that push characters (and likewise, players) forward in their personal quests. Fostering personal motivation is a key part of being an interactive GM, and it can be as simple as dropping in a story beat at the right time. What’s more, motivating PCs keeps your players coming back to your table for more. Here are a few examples of easy and intriguing motivations to keep your story moving and your players’ butts in their seats.
1 - Revenge
A little tropey to be sure, vengeance nevertheless proves to be a useful motivator in many good tales. Certainly, the axiom “an eye for an eye” has lost meaning slowly over the centuries, but it still presents a concrete and relatable driving force. What do we do when we fall in battle to a superior foe? Stand up, brush ourselves off, seek a cleric or medbay, and set out to find the one who felled us. When dealing with player-versus-player combat, though, be sure to avoid grudges that leave the table-top and creep into real life. Players should leave the table and get back to being friends (or friendly acquaintances), not continue the cycle of vengeance beyond the lives of the involved characters.
2 - Aid
Most player characters in role-playing games are decent enough individuals. When they see suffering, they don’t often stand idly by, especially when given the opportunity and power to help. This is not to say that GMs should dangle helpless, wounded puppies in front of their players’ characters every other session, but the drive to do something good for someone else cannot be ignored either. When the players seem somewhat listless, or when they get too confident, allow an as-yet-unexplained event to harm or imperil someone they care about. If they fail to save them, then see point number one! Just make certain that the danger or harm doesn’t feel random or disconnected from the narrative.
3 - Justice
When the world is out of whack, the desire to set things right eventually sinks in. While some characters will act apathetic to the larger concerns of the world, it is unlikely that they will refuse a worthy and worthwhile cause. This type of motivation is best to foster towards the end of your narrative, as it often involves wide, sweeping changes to your setting or forces that threaten the world or a large portion of its denizens. Build up to this one, and seed your narrative with hints that something dastardly is brewing and that the player characters’ influence will be needed. Let them consternate one another and contemplate the ramifications of their involvement. Most groups won’t need more than a small push to rise to the occasion.
4 - Greed
When all else fails, appeal to your players’ need for further power or intriguing items. Entire campaigns have been built off the straining back of avarice. Entice players with shimmering items of incomprehensible worth. Whisper tales of nigh unreachable fonts of absolute power. String them along by their noses until they reach the veritable cave of wonders. Then, as would we all, you should bring down the hammer and make them earn their new attainment.
There are others, of course, and I encourage you to let me know which you prefer when building your campaigns (or when you hit a slow spot during a session). Whatever your motivation, keep on gaming!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Why am I comparing these two particular editions?
I have had limited interaction with D&D from 3rd through 4th editions. But AD&D 2nd was my jam and 5th is a new friend.
Less simple story: (TL;DR)
I had a hiatus from regular gaming when my daughter was first born until she reached the age of 7. As a full-time student and then worker, my hours with her were interrupted often and were few and far between, and so I decided to spend more quality time with her. During those years, I missed a few things in the cultural gaming sphere. One of the behemoths I played regularly BC (Before Child) was the much-moduled AD&D 2nd Edition. I was quite familiar with most of the classes and some of the races that I could work with. My grognard husband was slow to tune into the 3rd edition (though was happier with 3.5 when it showed up in 2003) and so I had limited experience with either.
My jump back into gaming post-child was GMing a 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons starter module for a group of largely brand-new gamers. It was my first and last foray into 4th. We parted on friendly terms.
But now I am back in routine with a weekly game, as last year I was won over by the changes in 5th, but none-so-much as the improvement on the Ranger class.
1) Requirements Schmirements
Honestly, I still have a love of the ability requirements that made 2nd edition character classes very focused on being good at certain things. But having minimums in Strength and Dexterity (13) and Constitution and Wisdom (14) could result in different table-rules being enacted.
Not only can the requirements be tough to get, but it limits the broad range of abilities that this character could have. Maybe there is a Ranger who has always been great from afar, flinging arrows without enemies knowing what is coming. Do they also have to be strong, hardy, and wise as well? I would argue that it is not necessary.
2) More Balanced
The Ranger in 2nd Edition seems to have been a favoured class of Min/Maxers from near and far. I played in more than one group where I have seen that personality coupled with that class. The Ranger’s ability at first level to double their attacks with two handed weapon style with no penalty and a +4 for attack rolls on favoured enemies made a ton of people that really just wanted to be a Fighter choose the Ranger class instead. In order for a Fighter to even have the chance to come close to matching that, they needed to look in extra books for fighting styles and choose ambidexterity as a trait so they could wield those two weapons. And favoured enemy for the fighter? Not a chance. The only thing they could do is get really mad at some orcs. Those who wanted to game the system as much as they could had it in spades with the Ranger in 2nd.
In 5th, they seemed to have figured out how to make the all classes both varied and less gameable. They rightly brought in new abilities and choices near the beginning of the levels for each class that presents not only the ability to do cool shit, but the opportunity for fleshing out characters. In 5th ed. at 2nd level, the Ranger can choose their favoured fighting style (and yes, two handed is still an option) that works with their back story, their world, and their physical prowess. Looking at archery, defence, dueling, two weapon fighting, or close-quarter shooter, there is a great variety of style without being too dominant over other classes or overly detailed and cumbersome (I am looking at you Palladium Fantasy RPG.)
3) More Logical Progression
Along with the choice early on for fighting style in 5th edition, there are also the beginnings of other Ranger benefits that are acquired early on. Favoured terrain provides bonuses for everything you do in that area, including helping out your group as they traverse the woods/prairies/mountains/candyland with you. For 5th, your favoured enemy is not just how angry you get at them or how well you can hit them (thanks 2nd.). Now you know much more about that enemy such as their customs, how to track them, and even an ability to speak to them in one of their own languages. This is so much more beneficial than the “Hulk rage” approach earlier in D&D.
They also introduce Ranger spells immediately into the character class. Rangers innately have this ability to use magic in a way that makes sense for their environment. They also have their own compendium of Ranger Spells to choose from instead of glomming onto selected Priest spells like they do in 2nd. In the earlier incarnation of spell casting, for some reason the Ranger hits 8th level and knows some priest spells. In the Player’s Handbook, there is no explanation for this effect. (Though with the multitude of books written for AD&D 2nd, I am sure it has to be explained somewhere.) It seems disjointed and out of nowhere. And this is not the only ability that seemingly comes from left field. At 10th level, there are 2d6 followers of no particular race or species that start to show up. I won’t get into the theory behind this one, but I do think a more consistent progression makes more sense when playing a character.
Archetypes may be my favourite part of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. As each class reaches 3rd level, they are confronted with a choice in path for their character to take. With a Ranger they receive a choice between the Hunter Archetype or the Beast Master Archetype.
Your Hunter knows the reality of their situation well. They are able to best defend and attack those who would threaten civilization. They are well aware of the wilderness, but they are not a wild animal. Their attacks are meant to strike blows specifically at their enemies.
If you choose Beast Master, you are the bridge between the wild and the civilized. You are able to have a beast companion to help you keep your two worlds from completely colliding with disastrous effects. This animal companion will not only follow you, but will fight alongside you.
Either pick at 3rd level further defines your role in the campaign, which is what I love.
In the end, the 2nd edition Ranger just wasn’t built as clearly as 5th. But without the work done early on in Dungeons and Dragons, we wouldn’t have what we do today. Bravo, D&D, you have kept us coming back for more.
For a general overview of how the editions rolled out see this wikipedia page.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
Thank you for your timely intervention on behalf of the people of Dowen-upon-Waite. Without your assistance, I doubt that there would have been anyone in the village remaining. None that could be called human, at any rate.
I do wonder how such a cancer began. It's a shame that we weren't able to learn more. Amongst many philosophers, the subject of evil is an oft-discussed (or argued) one, but more often than not the kinds of malevolent secrets which you uncovered have their roots in something far more innocuous. Something benevolent, even useful, which carries so small a price as to be nearly negligible. These objects often set the stage for the gradual descent to a point where the once-noble aspirant finds himself waist deep in atrocities he would never have considered before embarking on his path of damnation.
Having felt the malignant caress of the Dark Powers myself, I have made a careful study of the things that can lead to such darkness. Since you were inquisitive enough to contact me regarding the genesis of the most recent problem, I thought I would share a few of my own private notes with you in the hopes that you might see how these sorts of tumors begin to grow.
1) Wine of Ages
My compatriots and I recovered this particular item from a tomb we cleansed of undead in the mountains of Lamordia. To the eye, it is merely a mundane bottle of green glass, with a name imprinted upon the bottom: Herzhen Yards. There is no such vineyard that we were ever able to uncover, although the tomb appeared to be of Outlander origin, and its plundered contents appeared to come from a range of different cultures. This unassuming little malignance was stolen from me by a Rajian thief, and I have not seen either since.
The bottle is empty, save for an ashen grey haze that can be poured forth from the neck as though it were a true liquid. This vapor, which carries the odor of gently rotting loam, is harmless to the living. If poured into the mouth of the deceased, it grants the corpse the ability to converse with the living, albeit in a limited fashion.
Please note that although this ability seems mundane, it is an abomination. It encourages a callous disregard for the dead, driving the user to treat corpses as mere investigative tools, and leads its wielder to see nothing wrong with compelling the spirit (or a semblance thereof) back to the realm of the living for mere convenience.
The Wine of Ages allows its bearer to converse with a humanoid or monstrous humanoid corpse up to three times per day. Each corpse may be conversed with only once, but the condition of the body is irrelevant--it can still speak even if rot or injury would normally make it incapable. The effect lasts for up to one minute per HD of the dead body. The spirit is much less committed than they were in life (shift alignment one step towards N), but can still make a saving throw (Will DC 17, Wis DC 15) in order to lie freely. Using the Wine of Ages is cause for a 3% Dark Powers check.
2) Oubliette Dust
This nasty little alchemical concoction is a creation of the Kargatane, I believe. I was unfortunate enough to discover it while attempting to apprehend several spies that had infiltrated Drifthome. One of the thieves, when confronted, threw a black powder in my face. I was immediately reminded of the last time I had smelt such a powder: when I was the 'guest' of the Kargat, tortured repeatedly for several weeks. So horrific were the memories, I was unable to prevent the thieves from fleeing.
As my daughter was good enough to remind me later, after I had recovered, I have never been tortured by the Kargat. The memories induced by the dust are merely lies. Still, their effects linger, and I often find myself waking in the middle from dreams of Darkonian dungeons.
Those who sell the Oubliette Dust market it as a 'stunning powder,' and indeed it does exactly that. However, the memories it 'awakens' are so horrific and they stay with the victim for weeks, even months, after the fact.
Oubliette Powder can be thrown in a cloud at any victim within 5 feet. If the victim fails their save (Fort DC 17, Con DC 15) they are unable to act for 2d6 rounds. If they are attacked this effect breaks immediately. The terror on the victims' faces is self-evident; using the powder is cause for a 1% Dark Powers check. This rises to 3% if the user knows the full extent of the trauma they are inflicting on their enemy.
3) Granny Lady Bracelet
Last year, a cult of witches was uncovered in the Mordentish countryside. Although a great deal of their magical prowess was merely smoke and mirrors, they did possess a number of unnatural abilities that Tasha and I were forced to contend with. Most infuriatingly, their leader seemed to be able to anticipate our arrival, and it was only through the utmost diligence that we were able to confront her.
One of her magical talismans was what the Souragne practitioners refer to as a gris-gris. A small, twisted length of sinew and hair, strung with a variety of horrific trophies, including finger bones, teeth, and dried flesh, and is typically worn around the wrist.
Tasha wore the talisman for several weeks, and reported that it gave her brief glimpses into the future, but after reading through the granny lady's journal, I became convinced that inheriting the device from her own mentor is what began the corruption of the witch that had plagued us, and I convinced Tasha to put the device aside for her own good. Currently, the foul thing resides in a locked trunk in my safe room.
Anyone wearing the Granny Lady Bracelet may roll 2d20 at the beginning of the day. During the course of the day, they may replace any d20 roll (theirs or anyone within line of sight) with one of the Bracelet's rolls. This does not stack with the ability of a Divination specialist, instead they receive one extra d20 for their Portent ability. Using the Granny Lady Bracelet is sufficient cause for a 1% Dark Powers check every week it is owned.
4) Breathstealer Arrow
I encountered this device on an assassin from Tepest.The Inquisitor I worked with to apprehend the fiend claimed this weapon was a gift to the killer, in recompense for selling his services to the fae. Although I am normally loathe to heed their dogmatic fanaticism, in this case there may be a seed of truth to it.
In truth, the magical component is a stone arrowhead, which can be affixed to any mundane bolt or arrow. Once it hits its target, it breaks loose and begins twisting its way towards the target's lungs, causing the poor soul to choke and gasp as their air is magically expelled from their body. If it isn't cut out swiftly (a supremely difficult task, I can attest, since the infernal thing avoids all attempts at capture) it will eventually kill its victim, even if the original user is dead.
Inquisitor Cormec took the cursed thing with him after we apprehended the murderer, although I spared the assassin the cruelty of a Tepestani imprisonment and execution. I sat in judgment over him myself, and I'm sure he found the noose far less painful than whatever Cormec had in store for him.
A target hit with a Breathstealer Arrow cannot breathe. (This means they cannot speak, cast spells, or activate command words.) Beginning in the round they are hit, the victim suffers the normal effects of suffocation (treat the victim as if they had already held their breath the maximum length of time). It can be removed with a Heal check (DC 20), causing 1d4 damage for every round it was embedded. Using such an arrow is an act of torture, invoking a 4% Dark Powers check when used against a monster or evil NPC, 7% if used against a stranger or neutral NPC, and an automatic failure if used against a good NPC or friend. The arrowhead can be recovered after the target's death, and can be removed by the firer with no check.
5) Witchbane Codex
When several Halan witches in and around my area were found murdered, I at first suspected the presence of a rogue Tepestani inquisitor. Although there was a man involved who used such a title, he was an Outlander. After his capture (or defiant last stand, in truth), this slim volume was discovered on his person.
It appears to be written in Tepestani, although it contains far more arcane knowledge than the Inquisition would be comfortable committing to paper. Inside, there is detailed information on common practices, rites, beliefs, and identifying traits of witches and infernal cults. After reading it, I found myself revolted by the unnatural lore contained within. Although Tasha has asked to read it, I have sent the book to my friend Kelly, as he has proven more than capable of resisting the temptations of such arcana.
Reading the Witchbane Codex (which takes six hours) immediately costs the reader a point of Wisdom (which can never be recovered) but imbues them with an additional point of Intelligence. While the book is in their possession, they may consult it to gain a +2 on any appropriate skill check (such as Arcana, Religion, Knowledge: Arcana, or Knowledge: Religion). Even lightly reading the book instantly causes the user to make a Sanity check, if those rules are being used, and also causes the loss of Innocence. Completing the book is cause for a 2% Dark Powers check. The user should also be assessed for a 1% Dark Powers check for every month they have the book in their possession. Willingly giving it to another person to read is cause for a 5% Dark Powers check, 10% if they are unaware of the nature of the book, and is an automatic failure if they are an Innocent.
As you can see, the road to Hell can indeed be paved with the most innocuous of cobbles. The wise adventurer would do well to resist such temptations. Too often, what appears to merely offer power or expediency comes at the cost of our very soul. Should you find such a wicked item among your travels, do not hesitate to contact me if you wish assistance in confining or destroying it. Your actions have spoken volumes for your righteousness, and I consider myself
Joram Mournesworth, Lord Mayor of Drifthome
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
A few months back, I reviewed Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition for my website, Keep on the Heathlands. One of the most fascinating elements of this original edition of VtM, at least to me, was the concept of The Rebirth. What was this? Why did it exist and moreover, why was it removed in Revised and Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition? Will we see it again in 5th edition when it is released from White Wolf’s crypt? In 1st Edition and 2nd Edition Vampire, The Rebirth was this idea that it was possible to somehow escape the Curse of Caine. Or more succinctly, to become human again. Such an idea is anathema to almost everything I thought I knew about White Wolf’s flagship game, and I’ve never heard of any group using the plotline in their games. The idea of becoming human once more was the bailiwick of high level rare disciplines of the most rare of bloodlines. That being said, I think The Rebirth deserves a place at the Blood Feast.
1) The Rebirth is Human
Vampire: The Masquerade is a game about humanity. I don’t mean Humanity, the statistic on your character sheet. I mean people. VtM and vampires in the World of Darkness need humans. They must live among them to feed and survive. Imagine being a person living among pigs. Now, imagine being the type of person who randomly kills, eats, and or tortures pigs when the mood strikes you. You don’t hide it, you do it in front of the other pigs. You think those pigs are going to like you, or trust you? Not likely. Now imagine being a Vampire, you used to be like the humans around you. You are told that being humane is the most important thing, that doing so prevents you from becoming a beast. Yet, you must feed. You hunger. Without the blood of your fellow man you will die; even animal blood only sustains weakly, and not at all for elder Vampires. The Rebirth is a way for you to rejoin those you feed upon. The Rebirth is a hope, ever so infinitesimal, that you can cease being a monster.
2) The Rebirth is Horrific
Sit down for this. Or not; whatever, I’m not your father. The Rebirth is personal horror at its best. I’m your Storyteller, you are playing in a small group of recently embraced Kindred. I offer you a story tidbit: you can become human again. You just have to kill your Sire. I don’t tell you how. I drop this information in a small fragment of the Book of Nod. An elder confirms, “Yes, in the old country I heard of such a thing happening. Surely you don’t want that, as such a thing steals from you all the benefits of immortality.” Now you plot, you plan, you create an entire masterpiece detailing how you are going to kill your Sire and be Reborn! Oh, did I forget to mention how you had to do it? Did I forget to mention that you need to do it within a month after being embraced? Did I forget… oh sorry… you failed your Willpower roll. You think diablerized your Sire seems like a fantastic way to ENSURE they are dead. The sun begins to set on your hope to be Reborn.
3) The Rebirth is Hope
I know, I know, the WoD is darkness on darkness with no hope or light. I think that is reductive. The darkness is only terrifying when there is light for you to retreat to. Despair is only poignant when hope still exists. Those that lose hope don’t care about Rebirth. They care about Blood, and they care about their unlife continuing for another year, or decade, or 1000 years. To have the hope Rebirth is to have the hope that one can escape the Beast, escape the hunger for blood and feel again. The emotions of humanity are stripped away from a newly embraced Vampire. Love, friendship, and empathy are things that are only memories for the Kindred. The Rebirth offers a small potential to return to true emotions once more. That is hope; that hope is something that should be cherished and cared for. Only then should it be dashed and destroyed on the altar of the Cathedral of Flesh.
Use the Rebirth in your games. It is an underused idea in Vampire and it offers all kinds of wonderful plot hooks. Let us Rebirth this torpid story idea and bring it into the new era. What harm can it do?
With 18 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
In late March Goodman Games launched their Kickstarter to bring the legendary Lankhmar setting to their OSR game, Dungeon Crawl Classics. I asked Goodman Games' Michael Curtis a few questions about fantasy's past and DCC’s future.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!
My pleasure, Philip!
1) Lankhmar has been around for a long time and has had many different iterations. How do you strike a balance between handling the legacy of the city and creating something new?
It’s certainly a challenge. The Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories have been around for almost 80 years, and RPG companies have been interpreting those tales since 1976. Suffice to say, a lot of people have their own personal notions of Lankhmar and Nehwon. I don’t think it’s possible to appease everyone, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t try with DCC Lankhmar.
I began by rereading the stories, first in the order they were published and then in the chronological order they were later arranged in, all the while taking copious notes. I nearly filled up two composition notebook with all my jottings, notations, and references! I then cross-referenced and highlighted this information to create a firm “canonical guide” to Lankhmar, Nehwon, and the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
This became the bedrock we needed to build upon, the facts that we had to take into account as we adapted Lankhmar to DCC RPG. Whenever possible, we strove to never overwrite or contradict these essential truths—which is something that even Leiber himself did from time to time! Instead, we looked for the holes in the narrative, the little details that Leiber might have mentioned but never fleshed out and used those as springboard to create new material.
Maintaining the tone of Lankhmar was extremely important to us as during the design phase. If we could find a way to tweak an existing DCC rule to make it feel like something that replicated life in a Lankhmar story, we did so. If we had to create a new NPC or monster, we looked back at who or what had already shown in the stories and used them as guidelines. Keeping that balance between the literary canon and the new RPG-related material for DCC Lankhmar was tough at times, but I believe we’ve done the best job of adapting Leiber’s stories to tabletop role-playing to date. DCC RPG was designed from the ground up to replicate the sword & sorcery pulp tales of authors like Howard, Lovecraft, Leiber, etc., so Lankhmar is in the game’s very DNA. We didn’t have to tweak the rules much to make them fit Leiber’s stories!
2) Speaking of the new, what can DCC fans expect from the new setting?
DCC Lankhmar introduces some exciting new rules like how to handle healing in a DCC RPG game without clerical magic, a new mechanism called the patron die that allows non-spellcasters to appeal for aid from supernatural entities, and, the one I’m most excited about, the Fleeting Luck mechanic.
DCC RPG players know how important the Luck ability is in the game. It can be spent to influence rolls and plays a part in determining if you die when knocked to zero hit points. With DCC Lankhmar, we have a new system that pumps up the Luck economy of the game. Players will find it easier to earn Luck for their characters by rolling well, creative role-playing, or just engaging in actions and activities that feel properly “Nehwonian.” This increased amount of Luck allows them to pull off more daring (or foolhardy) activities, better replicating the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. But there’s a catch.
As the name implies, Fleeting Luck can disappear at almost any moment, so the PCs are encouraged to spend it quickly. This leads to bigger risks, which results in more Luck, and so the cycle perpetuates itself. It’s a terrific new system and I expect it to quickly make the jump over to more traditional DCC RPG games.
DCC Lankhmar also has loads of new monsters, spells, patrons, and other goodies to challenge and reward adventurers in Nehwon or to be borrowed for games set on other worlds. Whether you intend to base your campaign in Lankhmar or anywhere else, you’ll find the DCC Lankhmar a valuable addition to your gaming collection and judge’s tool box.
3) Lankhmar and Nehwon have been hugely influential on gaming and fantasy. How did they influence DCC?
Leiber’s stories are about what I call “blue collar heroes.” Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser aren’t high fantasy protagonists engaging in derring-do because of lofty ideals, self-sacrifice, or strict codes of honor. They are out to preserve their own skins and fatten their purses—things any DCC RPG character is likely to identify with. The mantra of DCC RPG is “You’re no hero,” and that reflects a lot of the grittiness of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.
To a lesser extent, I think the characters of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face helped influence the concept of magical corruption in DCC RPG. The origins of the Twain’s mentors are never fully explained in the stories, but one of the possible causes of their odd physical traits is hinted as being the magic they practice. Physical mutation and malformation because of sorcery isn’t solely something from Leiber’s work, but I believe it’s one of the more visible examples of that phenomenon in sword & sorcery fiction.
4) DCC is known for being particularly brutal to player characters. How much worse is Lankhmar going to treat them?
That depends a lot on the judge! Going back to my earlier answer about the difficulty of pleasing everyone’s personal interpretations of Lankhmar, we provide a lot of rules options in the boxed set that allow judges and players to customize their gaming experience on Nehwon. Non-magical healing has a few different rule options judges can employ to make their games gritty and grim (in playtesting, some PCs became decrepit with injuries by the time they reached 3rd level) or more forgiving without mollycoddling the characters. PCs in a bleak, street-hardened DCC Lankhmar game are going to end up battered and bruised if not outright dead. It’s up to the individual gaming groups to decide how tough they want life on the streets of Lankhmar to be!
5) The Kickstarter is the first in a line of products set in Lankhmar. What’s next for the setting and Goodman Games?
We’ve got a great bunch of stretch goals we’re still working on as part of the Kickstarter. No less than six adventures have been plotted out and we’ve got a cadre of great designers like Steven Bean, Daniel J. Bishop, Bob Brinkman, Tim Callahan, Terry Olson, Harley Stroh, and myself set to tackle them. There’s also a cloth map of Lankhmar in the works, a supplement for developing Random NPCs for the players to encounter, and a book detailing a dozen location in Lankhmar the characters might visit during their adventures.
If all goes extremely well, I’m going to visit the Fritz Leiber Papers collection down in Texas and spend a week going through his original manuscripts, story notes, correspondence, and more, looking for inspiration to write a seventh adventure. That’s the closest we can come to co-creating a DCC Lankhmar module with Leiber, himself, now that he’s no longer with us.
Beyond those planned releases, Joseph Goodman and I have hashed out a multi-year schedule of DCC Lankhmar supplements designed to span the face of Nehwon and bring it and its inhabitants to DCC RPG tables everywhere. I’d love to do a Quarmall supplement covering the subterranean city and the political rivalries there, detail the intriguing city of Ool Hrusp, scale Stardock and explore the Cold Waste, set sail on the Inner and Outer Seas and fight Mingol pirates, and visit Rime Isle. There’s no shortage of material to build upon in Leiber’s stories.
I’d be remiss not to mention that DCC Lankhmar is just the first licensed property being adapted to DCC RPG. Goodman Games is also developing a supplemental line based on the Dying Earth stories of Jack Vance. Designer Jobe Bittman has been working on that for the past year, and I understand it’s coming together nicely. There may also be some other intriguing things in the works regarding the famed Appendix N that inspired DCC RPG, but you’ll have to wait for a formal announcement on those!
Check out the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Kickstarter ending the last week of April.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Total Party Kills (which are literally what the name says, i.e. the death of the entire adventuring party) are a radical move that the GM may perform on a group of adventurers, and as such either finish off a campaign, create a hook for a new one, end the player’s misery, or maybe all of the above combined.
It’s seldom done, at least by me, because of the sentimental implications that it brings about – anybody who’s roleplayed a character for more than a couple sessions already gets attached to them; imagine if not only that character but everybody else who’s helped them become what they are suddenly… ceased to be.
Even when it is performed, it can sometimes fall flat, being seen as just a whim of the GM, or the flicking of a switch just because the situation allowed for it. Sometimes it just happens because no matter how much the GM tries to keep the PCs alive, they keep trying to walk over molten lava wearing nothing but “enchanted” bunny slippers they got from the crazed hermit preaching self-preservation.
That being said, a TPK can be done in a way that makes sense, and even if it draws the ire of the group, can be explained to them in such a way that it suddenly becomes clear this was the end-all point everything was aiming towards – they were just too busy finding out what happens when you stick a goblin and a rabid monkey inside a Bag of Holding to notice.
Without further ado, here are a few ways you can TPK and still have your ass good and covered. At least until the polyhedrons start flying towards it at unimaginable speeds.
1. It’s the Apocalypse as we know it!
This one’s clear-cut and easy to pull off in campaigns that either start off as or end up being dark, dreary, hopeless affairs in which the heroes struggle to make ends meet and generally seem to be fighting an uphill battle that never ceases to let off. If every other rumour the PCs hear and every other hermit they come across speaks of nothing but doom, destruction, the reckoning, and they still don’t get that this is a one-way ticket to the next plane of existence… Well, that’s just on them.
This is not to say that any Apocalyptic campaign should end with a TPK, hell, not knowing what the fate of the PCs was, hinting at a TPK, and suddenly discovering they’re still alive in a future campaign is even more of a fun feat to pull.
Plus, they’ll feel extra bad for pulling all that voodoo on you when you first uttered those much-maligned words.
2. You’ve brought it upon yourselves…
Sometimes, just sometimes, players need to be reined in.
There comes a moment in a role-player’s life when they realise that they’re playing at make-believe, and that they’re getting out of increasingly difficult situations with little to no effect on the general outlook of things.
Now that may be your fault as a GM, maybe you’re too lenient. It could just be lucky dice rolls, I’ve had that happen with intra-party conflicts. It could be that all the stars in all the parallel universes align so that little to no harm can befall a character even when they’ve just accidentally beheaded the King’s favourite daughter.
Turns out she was adopted, a sleeper agent, and he had a fetish for chicken. But that’s another story for another setting. One that I’m now keen on exploring…
When everything else fails, you’ve still got the players’ former deeds to go by. Lies, deceit, theft, murder, impersonating a dog… All of these separately can be, and have been dealt with.
But maybe as their fame travels far and wide, their heroic actions are accompanied by disgruntled voices that blame them, despise them, and are even actively seeking revenge on them for various reasons. If you’re running an evil campaign, that’s just the norm, really.
Sit back and enjoy the looks on their faces when that one peasant they stole a horse from to hunt down some bandits has formed a posse, taught himself how to handle a bow, started actively hunting them, and went from village to village, town to town, dungeon to dungeon, in the wake of their exploits, gaining more support until finally being backed by a neighbouring kingdom in serving their heads up on a platter.
3. With great power come great screw ups.
A further twist on the previous entry can also be done at a late point in the characters’ careers as ass-kickers, bubblegum-chewers, and name-takers.
This works especially well with high-power magic-hokey-wielding dudes and dudettes, but may be applied to most cases provided the right creative lever is pulled.
The heroes may go beyond just pissing people off. Think along the lines of getting a ritual wrong, using a relic for extended periods of time without regard for the consequences, traveling to different dimensions and changing stuff around willy-nilly. Especially nilly.
All of these seemingly contained and dealt with items can also ramp up over time, and if the ramping up is done right – by the GM – the heroes may go from the 4 Paragons of Justice to the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the span of just a few sessions.
You can twist this even further by giving the players a choice of either offing themselves for the good of the land at large, or standing by their choices and taking on the combined might of the 175 Realms they’ve managed to upend with their “simple food conjuring spells” that they repeatedly rolled poorly on, and as such turned into “essence of blight charms” without even realising.
Or you know, whatever floats your maniacal-laugh-inducing barge.
So there you have it, a short primer on how TPKs can be brought about organically, make sense, and have the players learn something other than “you’re not supposed to bet on being able to take that dragon on with just a kendo stick, and a pack of razors while blindfolded after having drunk a dozen bottles of vodka, no matter how much of an actual troll you are.”
Plenty more variants, twists, and turns on the above can be done, but the main thing to garner from this is that no matter how bad the urge to just knock those characters’ teeth in via giant-rock-falling-from-sky-ness, there’s always a more sinister, devious, harsh, yet entirely fact-backed way to pull it off.
Which is exactly what I’m doing in my current campaign. Just don’t tell ‘em I said so.
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook - https://goo.gl/4be3Bj
Jonas undressed for bed as normal that evening when something caught his eye. He had his share of tattoos like any old sailor, but never one on his inner thigh! He wanted to chalk it up to last week's drunken blackout...but it was at least a year old! It was a single word, written in Draconic. He read it aloud without thinking, then felt an icy chill slide up his spine as he tried to remember, when had he ever learned Draconic? He had only a moment to wonder about that before a disembodied voice cut through the silence of his bedroom.
"Keep it together, old man--just go look in Mina's bank."
His heart hammering into his throat, he cast his eyes around, called for the speaker to show themselves, but he remained alone. Seizing the lamp, he crept into the kitchen, cursing himself a fool for fearing the darkness of his own house. When Mina was alive, she kept her own private stash of coin in a hanging planter out the back window, said she was "growing money." He pulled down the oilskin bag he had not seen in eleven years, which now contained not a handful of coins, but a small book. By the flickering light of his lamp, Jonas opened it to see his own handwriting, in more Draconic, that language he could not recall learning: "If you don’t remember writing this, your memory has been altered...."
Memento Mori was one of those ideas that outgrew its original inspiration and just kept growing. It didn't take me long after inventing the basic origins of this secret society to realize that people who held the mind as inviolate would take up arms against any darklord, demon, creature or caster who could read or control thoughts. But even better than a wide variety of targets, Memento Mori were great game fodder because many were zealots who saw mind control as tantamount to murder, reading thoughts a form of rape. This pushed them to extreme risks, forced even the poorest of them to pursue clever defenses against imagined attacks out of sheer single mindedness.
Filling your thoughts with an annoying song can give a mind-reader an earful, but forcefully thinking of a song makes simultaneous actions difficult (-4 to all verbal skill checks, treat as if concentrating on a spell). If you want to get anything else done, the truly desperate might deliberately allow a song to get stuck in their head, in whatever part of the brain keeps such “earworms” repeating ad nauseum. After repeated exposure to a song on and off over several days, failing a single Will save results in an earworm (because it’s already involuntary, this save can’t be deliberately failed). When someone with an earworm is subjected to mind reading, they make a second Will save using the Perform check of the original artist, to see if the song appears in the surface thoughts. The results of the two saves are independent, so that the mind reader might hear the song, the surface thoughts, both mixed together, or neither.
When asked for personal details to confirm their identity, a doppelganger normally reads the correct answer in surface thoughts. Instead, corner the suspect with a copy of their own journal, and read aloud to the end of a recent page. Assuming they are not too nervous about the crossbow at their throat, the original author should be able to recall what they wrote next, while a doppelganger won’t find the words in any of the surrounding minds. Once the suspect has given an answer, turn the page, read aloud, and do what must be done….
Journals are also very convenient if something has removed or altered your memories, but taking full advantage requires building the habit of writing long before your mind is wiped, and the means of reminding yourself if something removes your memory of the journal itself. It takes dedication to commit to a detailed daily journal, but anyone up against something that alters memories had better build this habit fast.
One of the tried-and-true low-tech resources is to take advantage of natural wonders, whether it’s inquisitors using wichtingourds or dreamwalkers using dreamweavers. Memento Mori found one of their best resources in herbalism, cultivating the churchsteeple plant for its root. The plant’s powers were first catalogued by Van Richten in Dragon Magazine #273, (“Wicked Garden”), where one of the suggested game effects is that the fresh root duplicates the effect of a protection from evil spell. This is only a minor bonus in combat, but it also suspends all manner of possession and mind control for the duration of the spell.
In addition to using the root to protect themselves and their allies, it’s also a favorite of “string cutter” cells in Dementlieu--Memento Mori anarchists who specialize in fighting against the great puppeteers. Fresh churchsteeple root added to bouquets and boutonnieres at a formal social gathering could result in some amount of discomfiture for those suddenly thrust into freedom, and a lot of valuable information for those who note their reactions.
Frequent mind readers remain suspicious of anyone who appears resistant to their talents--or worse, immune. That’s why members of Memento Mori disguise each other’s thoughts using a variation of the hypnosis skill. Under hypnosis, the subject is instructed to think of a particular topic in the using an extended allegory. This works especially well when Memento Mori cell meetings are disguised as book clubs, gardening guilds, private tea parties or other innocuous gatherings. The subject knows the truth and could speak freely if they choose to, but their surface thoughts would only refer to these topics in these allegorical terms.
Unlike an earworm, hypnosis only provides a backup saving throw when the subject fails their main save. Success means that even though the subject’s thoughts can be read, the chosen topic is disguised. Failing by less than 5 means the disguised thoughts are inconsistent or paradoxical (i.e. “The sewing circle ladies said crocheting works on vampires”). Failing by 5 or more means the mind-reader knows the actual content of the surface thoughts. The second save also applies to interrogation under other forms of mind control, with failure meaning the subject can only speak about the topic in allegorical terms.
5- Lead Headgear...and More:
If you need any further proof of the fanaticism of Memento Mori, ask yourself: what kind of person would risk losing their mind to lead poisoning, just to prevent someone else from having a peek inside it? When facing mind-reading foes in melee combat, members of Memento Mori frequently wear headgear coated with layers of lead enamel*. This is an excellent defense against mental intrusion, but every four hours wearing one provokes a save against lead poisoning, as the enamel breaks down in contact with sweat and the lead is absorbed by the skin. For a truly nuclear option, an alchemical solution of chemically neutralized “chelated” lead* turns the bloodstream into the ultimate barrier against mental intrusion, but any error in the alchemy check results in a toxic dose of lead that can do significant brain damage.
While I personally based Memento Mori in Blaustein with origins in Bluebeard’s memory-altering decrees, the idea of a cult or secret society that sees the mind as inviolate can translate into any game that has such powers. If your PC's are fighting a vampire with a captivating gaze, a ghost with a penchant for possession, an alien shapeshifter who can read thoughts, or a mad supervillain who manipulates minds, they might find some interesting allies at the the crossroads of fanaticism and resourcefulness. But of course, you'll have to break out the Diplomacy and get to know them the old fashioned way, because if you try any other kind of Charm, you may wind up added to their long list of enemies....
* Rules for leaded barrel helms, helmets and potions are given in the Van Richten Society Notes on the Doppelganger, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
Missing a gaming session: we’ve all done it at some point. Something came up, plans got shifted, work ran long, blah blah blah. The reasons are as varied as the day is long. However, we all know that there are only three morally acceptable reasons for missing a gaming session: an illness that is both highly contagious and debilitating (if the illness has only one of those traits, it isn’t acceptable), a death in the player’s family (or of the player him or herself), or the attendance of a CON. Therefore, if a player misses a session for any reason other than the three listed above, they need to be punished. We at High Level Games have compiled the most common excuses given for players’ absences and have provided you with the suitable response.
1. The excuse: work/school (e.g. ran late/was rescheduled/business trip)
The punishment: the player is forced to spend the entirety of the following session with his or her character pursuing a skill or trade- the duller, the better (e.g. professional whittler, understudy of an opera singer). Make them role-play as much as possible and roll frequently throughout to determine their success. Make sure to shame them for prioritizing fiscal or professional responsibility over your fantasy fun.
2. The excuse: not feeling well (i.e. a sickness not meeting the above criteria)
The punishment: their character is afflicted with a magical ailment with the same symptoms they were experiencing and assign stat penalties. For added joy, make these permanent for their character. We’ll see who misses again because of the sniffles when every time it happens, their character gets a permanent -1 to all stats (and increasingly worse sniffles).
3. The excuse: attending a different social function
The punishment: the player loses all levels in their current character class and gains that many levels in bard. If they’re such a social butterfly, then their character will become one too. Apply this punishment even in game systems which don’t include the bard class. How rude of them to have a social life outside those sitting at this table!
4. The excuse: spending time with a significant other
The punishment: their character is spayed or neutered if they roll a natural 1 during their first combat next session. If they avoid that, they must attend a mandatory abstinence class given by the clerics of Pelor, God of Light (or other deity according to your game). If they survive THAT, their character will then submit to an STD health checkup by Grognar the handsy troll. If they endure that, then you can let them off the hook. I mean, love is a beautiful thing.
5. The excuse: car trouble/lack of transportation
The punishment: kill their character’s horse. If they don’t have a horse, give them a horse and then kill it. That’ll teach them to have things out of their control malfunction.
6. The excuse: life’s just super busy right now
The punishment: their character loses all levels in their current character class and gains that many levels in wizard. Then, ban them from using a computer to look up spell descriptions and assign them spells from all applicable supplemental rulebooks. And they thought their life was busy before…
7. The excuse: too tired/overslept
The punishment: their character will be the target of any subsequent sleep spells cast during the course of the campaign. Also, on an unrelated note, all enemies, down to the humblest bandit or kobold, gain the power to cast the sleep spell as a racial power once per day.
8. The excuse: took Exlax instead of Immodium
The punishment: don’t worry about it.
So there you have it, the rational responses to your common excuses. The next time someone skips out on a session, don’t get mad, get even. *Editor’s Note, it pains me to even add this, but I am. The sarcasm is strong with this article. Please consider that before you explode.
- Jake is the Texas correspondent for High Level Games. The last time a player missed a session in his campaign, the offender returned to find his character chained and ball-gagged to the side of the ship.
It’s convention season! Woo! I know GenCon isn’t until August, but it’s never too early to start preparing, especially with this convention, as it requires a bit more planning than usual even for old hats like me. GenCon has a lot of unique systems and traits -- some of which leave me scratching my head and others that make me wish they were the norm across more conventions. Without further ado, let’s hop on into it!
1. Dat Hotel Lotto, yo
Badges go fast! You need to make an account before you can buy a badge. Pay attention to when that portal and the housing portal go live. If you’re going with friends (and you should) have them buy badges separately. GenCon buys out EVERY hotel in the Indy area before the convention, so you won’t be able to circumvent their hotel block before the housing portal goes live. This portal is based on a lottery system and assigns you a time slot to access the hotel booking. In order to maximize your chances of not having to pay exorbitant costs set by the hotels after the portal drops (GenCon also secures you cheap con rates for otherwise very pricey hotels), have each friend make a separate account, and you each will get a different housing portal time. Choose whoever gets the earliest one, and use their guide to make a shortlist of hotels you’d be willing to stay at.
2. Ticketed Events?! Say What Now?!
Unlike other conventions, GenCon also uses a ticketing system for panels, games, and other events. Larger cons typically do tickets for concerts and large events, but GenCon is unique in that each event is ticketed. You order these in advance of the convention and they’ll be sent to you in the mail with your badge. You can also purchase the tickets at the convention. You can either buy tickets for specific events (usually around $0-20), or buy “generic” tickets, worth $2.00 a piece. As events fill, everyone with a ticket for that specific event will be let in first, and then everyone with generic tickets will be let in after. In order to save yourself some cash, I’d recommend buying generic tickets (you can also purchase them at the con) for less popular events or ones with fewer seats (such as a panel on women in gaming), and specific tickets for more popular ones (Star Wars tabletop tourney or Cosplay Burlesque [psst: go see Cosplay Burlesque if you’re of age, it’s really great and there are a LOT of puns]) to ensure that you get your bum in a seat at that event.
3. It’s Really Big.
I know what you’re thinking “Ya don’t say, bird” – but seriously, this convention is huge. Like 60,000 people. It’s also REALLY HECKIN’ HOT. Last year they didn’t turn on the A/C until Saturday and even with it cranking, it’s still really warm because of all the bodies. Plan your outfits/cosplays accordingly. Hydration is also really important, and thankfully our merciful overlords provide water at strategic points throughout the con (read: bring a refillable water bottle, you’ll thank me later when you don’t have to pay $5.00 for Poland Springs in the food court). This many people in one place also means herd mentality and “walk around aimlessly” logic applies, so it can take you a bit to get from one side of the con to the other, especially when you’re short on time. All hail lawmaker Murphy. That being said, please walk with a purpose or at least stick to the sides of the halls if you’re meandering. I have kobolds to shank and you’re making me late!
4. Used to being treated like the scum of the earth by normies?! Fear no more!
Honestly the biggest culture shock of attending GenCon for me was the warm welcome from the city of Indianapolis. I’ve been attending conventions for 11 years, and the non-attendees, or “normies,” are usually pretty peeved about the presence of a large faction of nerds descending upon their city. More specifically, businesses seem to be particularly irked, which has always struck me as odd given how much money we funnel into their economy. Previously, my standard of a “nice” reception was people not being outwardly hostile – but GenCon really raised the bar for me. Local restaurants have GenCon specials, the craft breweries create special beers, and even some of the hotel staff dressed up in Star Trek uniforms for the weekend! It was really shocking to have such a warm welcome and it was nice to not feel on the defensive all weekend. Whether that’s the case for cons in the Midwest in general or if it’s exclusive to GenCon, it’s a pleasant change of pace.
This is not an exhaustive guide by any stretch of the imagination but my corporate higher ups like things to be short and sweet around these parts. While there’s probably a bunch of other things I’m missing, I hope you find this helpful! And if there’s anything else you want to know, hit me up here or on any of my social media platforms; I love giving advice!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
We have all experienced tough dealings with our tablemates. It happens. Bashing of heads, glory hogs, rules lawyers, that one person that might as well let Siri play their character because she’s the only one doing anything at that corner of the table. Though they may seem troubling, they are just annoyances. You and your group will live.
I am talking about truly troublesome players (TPs). The ones that make you feel like a thermal detonator has been stapled to your genitals. You only think it hurts now, but you know it’ll be so much worse once it blows. The DM Doctor is in with three ways to deal with a troublesome player and (maybe) save your friendships.
I know. You’ve done this already. Right?
You have given TP several warnings, countless ‘last times’, group meetings. Everything (including an abrupt, table-flip-accompanied end to your last campaign). What more is there to talk about?
Just one thing: Their decision.
Put the ball in their court and let them decide. Do they wish to contribute to the group’s quest for fun? Or are they just in it from themselves? Let them know that if they stay, there are no more warnings. No more ‘last times’. They will be TOLD, not asked, to leave and never return. This applies even if they are the GM and/or host. You do not need them, but apparently, they need you. Don’t be afraid to let them know it.
#2- Ghost ‘Em
It should go without saying, ALWAYS start with the talk. Always. Whether they leave by choice or voted off the island later, you may find TP still haunts you worse than your last ex.
No matter how difficult of a task, your next option will be to ghost them. Ignore them. Never tell them when, where, or what you will be playing. If they manage to show up anyways, ask them to leave. If there is just no physical way to escape them, switch to an entirely different type of game, or try playing your campaign as a play-by-post for the time being. Make TP think the group is dead. If you need a safe, online-gaming space, ask around on your favorite gaming forums (or ask me).
#3- Light the Fuse and Burn it Up
Despite everything you try, the inevitable will happen. You will feel the ‘joy’ of that fist-sized explosive take away all that you hold sacred. There is no turning back.
Decades of friendships are irrevocably lost. A complete and utter gaming Armageddon. What now?
Like a great forest fire clearing thousands of square miles of century-old proud giants, the only thing you can do is let it burn and then wait for the ashes to settle. Move on to other things. It is going to hurt. It is going to suck. However, when the time is right, nature will take its course and life will return to that barren wasteland. Much like the mighty phoenix, you will rise from the ashes and soar to new adventuring heights.
Things will never be the same, but time will bring you greater things.
So, wait… How does this save my friendships?
It doesn’t. The only thing that is going to save your friendships is YOU. It will not be easy, but only you can save them. You will have to be sincere, and above all, be the ‘you’ that always connects with your friends. You all have a special connection. Remember it. Treasure it.
Those are the Doctor’s Orders. Please remember, games are about having fun. Social games are about having fun with those you cherish.
Donald Robinson With more than twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, Donald posts tips and free role-playing game resources on his blog: www.thedmdr.blogspot.com. You can follow him on twitter, facebook, and google+.
Before the rage of the internet rises up to cut the tongue out of my face; I use miniatures, I use them regularly too. I definitely have a soft spot for them because, let’s face it, they’re the bee’s knees. With that out of the way, I’ve also played quite a few games without them. There’s no doubt that playing without miniatures feels different. Of course, this advice is not applicable for all games, some tabletop role-playing games rely on mapping and miniature use. I would not recommend trying those games without that, it would be difficult. Whether that’s a good thing or not is for you to decide, but let me try to convince you to give it a shot.
C’mon, don’t look at me like that. You knew that this would be the first point in this list! A good miniature is beautifully sculpted, and, if you’re lazy like me and search them out, well painted. If you’re a game master, this becomes even more expensive because all the baddies are usually massive and immensely detailed. Based off rootless, random speculation of my perceived state of the hobby, it seems like unpainted miniatures are still immensely popular. That furthers the expense, because you need paints, brushes, some bits of terrain, glue, and whatever else you need to create your miniature the way you’d like. For those of you that don’t buy the unpainted plastic or metal miniatures, that means you rely on one of two things: random booster packs or buying singles either online or, if you’re lucky, in your friendly local game store. This easily becomes more expensive long term than buying the unpainted ones and putting in some time and effort. Buying random boosters, you hope you get what you want inside.
More often than not, you get some cool ones and some, ahem, not so cool ones, shall we say? This is the marketing loop, because you buy another pack in the series. Then you get a duplicate, some more less cool ones and then maybe one that you didn’t have before. At around fifteen bucks a pop (depending on where you live, I’d imagine), this gets expensive quick. From that, you surmise that the intelligent thing to do is to hunt down singles. Disappointment slaps you in the face like your mother that you just scared because you got into the chemical cabinet. The prices are inflated, and if you’re buying online, you must wait for your precious miniature to show up. Not to mention, the shipping cost drives you to buy more than what you originally wanted to justify an extra six (or twelve, if you’re bratty like me and enjoy overnight) dollars to have this little plastic warlock show up at your door. Even thinking about this point makes me want to apologize to my bank account.
2). Encourages Imagination
In theory: If you don’t use visual stimuli to paint the picture, the mind will do so itself. Imagination is a large part of what makes our hobby beautiful and that should be cherished. Admittedly, this is the most cheesy and sentimental of the points. From my experience, using miniatures encourages players to narrate their actions as, “I move from here to here, stab this guy for *rolls dice* fifteen damage and use my quick action to cast heal.” That’s not a very interesting way to narrate what happens. Undoubtedly, you have players that absolutely jump at every opportunity to explain what their character is doing, regardless of what’s on the table. There’s nothing wrong with either play style, but sometimes not having miniatures can coax that other player out into the theatre of the mind. Having a scene described to you and having to imagine it yourself gets those creative juices flowing. There is a bit of a problem with playing this way, for sure, especially with a game that uses a distance by feet system; imagining positions can get confusing as hell. See? Sometimes I just like to play devil’s advocate. I usually don’t use miniatures at convention games I run because it’s annoying to lug around. Playing a simplistic game like 13th Age makes not using them easy. If you’re running Pathfinder? Well, you and your players are in for a hell of a ride that I probably wouldn’t be interested in.
These little people and creatures are sometimes extremely fragile. Since we already established that you spend a lot of money and/or time on these pieces of art, you certainly don’t want your precious children getting broken, bent or damaged. For the people using the metal stuff, you also don’t want your paint to get chipped because, damn, was that a time investment. This is where I feel bad, because you see people that love their miniatures so much that they have trunks upon trunks of stuff they wheel around at conventions. I shiver at the thought. Usually for the more fragile miniature types, you have some sort of plastic trunk with foam cutouts for your hoard to be organized and protected. It’s bulky, it’s heavy, and it sucks. But, for the love the hobby, some people will carry that burden to the end of the earth.
For the pre-painted plastic ones, it’s a little easier. I personally use the Very Useful Box brand of storage containers. It allows me to categorize the miniatures by type before I just cram them all together. Somebody else I know simply uses a tacklebox, the kind with just a tray on top and this big open chasm underneath. Nowadays, these miniatures are pretty good at not being broken, and most companies have a program where you can exchange them if they are. This doesn’t change the fact that it takes up a lot of space. What could be worse than either of these two methods? Display each and every one of your miniatures on a shelf in your home. All six hundred of them, in fact. It’d look fantastic but, jeez, that’d be a nightmare to dust…
Of course, all of these points are incredibly opinionated, but I hope you can draw something useful from it. Despite my sensibility, I’m a sucker for miniatures because they’re just so pretty and look fantastic on the table. In conclusion; know your group, know your budget, and have fun whichever way you decide to game. Until next time…
Stay Metal \m/
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.