Conflict is the essence of drama, or so they say. After all, there isn’t much plot to be had if there’s nothing going wrong and everybody is in perfect agreement with one another. With that in mind, the easiest way to add conflict is to utter these three words:
“Roll for initiative.”
This method can be a cop-out, but if the GM was intending for this outcome to occur in the first place, is there really anything wrong with that? After all, if you’re playing a game where a character’s defining feature is, “How do I make things dead?” you may as well opt for the violent conflict from time to time.
With that in mind: today, I am going to give you some pointers on how to effectively design combat scenarios, regardless of what game you’re playing!
1) Start Small
Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
What this meant was that if you know what your army and the enemy army could do, you would know how a particular fight would play out. However, this scenario is an ideal one; you won’t always know what what both sides in a conflict are capable of.
In RPGs, these circumstances could be that you’ve never GMed the game you’re designing a combat encounter for. Your lack of experience with the system means you may not comprehend how the combat mechanics will work. You may not know how they’ll react when their characters are in a kill or be killed situation.
The most practical way to get this information is to observe, and the best way to observe is of course to start small: use a few fairly weak or cowardly enemies to suss out how vicious the players can be. Once you get the picture, you can always scale things up later on if you decide to pose a challenge to the players.
2) Know The Terrain
If you’ve got a hex or grid map: break it out. If you don’t have one, plain paper or even your imagination will do. Draw up where the fight takes place, and for the love of Pelor, don’t make it a 25ft by 25ft square, featureless room.
A few details and features in the battleground can make for a more interesting or even challenging fight; one that might allow for characters to try things besides hitting enemies with their strongest weapon or spells.
Take for example a fight on a terraced mountainside, kind of like the ruins of Machu Picchu. In a game of D&D 5e, spells like Jump or Thunderwave become more valuable for aiding your own movement or disrupting others, respectively. Although, the booming of Thunderwave could also cause a landslide in such a locale as well!
3) Making The Most Of Using More
Bigger numbers usually make for a bigger threat. This is true not only in enemy stat blocks, but also when counting how many enemies there are. An otherwise harmless enemy could be made tougher depending on how many of their allies are present, as well as who those allies are.
I’ll give two examples here:
D&D 3.5 (and perhaps, by extension, Pathfinder) is somewhat notorious for the levels of optimization its players will put into it. Some of these players are able to get armor classes as high as 40 by level eight. However, AC is only one method of avoiding harmful effects; a high AC won’t protect against a fireball sweeping through an area.
Thus, in D&D 3.5, having weaker enemies in a group that can use a variety of attacks would be an effective way to make a battle more challenging. In the case of using templates on creatures, picking one that grants a somewhat less accurate attack that goes against a different target number could achieve a similar effect.
For my next example: D&D 5e introduced the concept of Bounded Accuracy. I’m not much for discussing theories, but the long and short of it is that Armor Class is harder to raise than Attack bonuses, meaning that one of the most heavily armored characters (Full Plate and Shield for 20 AC) can still feasibly, if unreliably, be wounded by even the least competent character.
Consider the Goblin with its +4 to attack. This means that against our 20 AC character, he has roughly a 20% chance to hit and deal damage to him. A character isn’t likely to have the 1,5000 gold necessary for a Full Plate well into their career, so one goblin getting a lucky shot isn’t going to do much.
Several of these Goblins, perhaps using ranged weaponry from a several different angles, would be considerably more dangerous.
4) Spread Out The Big Clumps
Just because more can be better, doesn’t mean you need to throw more out all at once. In fact, that can actually be a terrible idea: nobody in their right mind would think that in D&D 5e, throwing 30 goblins at once at a level 7 party is a good idea. There is a way to make that work, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
“At once” is the operative phrase here. You can throw 30 goblins at the party over time, sending them in waves of five or so throughout an adventure is somewhat more reasonable, and can used to various effects. It can be done to interrupt player characters sitting around an area too long humming and hawing around something insignificant.
On the other hand, if you have characters that are prone to stopping to rest all the time, this reserve of goblins could be used to interrupt their rest. Though, in the interest of being fair, I’d give it a certain probability of it happening. To make it seem less like you’re being a vindictive GM, have the players roll to determine if their rest is interrupted.
5) Till Death Do Us Part (NOT!)
There’s a very weird phenomenon I’ve noticed in tabletop RPGs. Enemies and player characters alike will often fight to the death. This probably happens because of the suspension of disbelief that happens when people are playing games.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that there are many examples in the real world of creatures and people that flee when things get too dangerous. So, this can be used for a convenient way to end a combat that’s otherwise taking longer that you would have wanted.
For example, in Shadowrun, it’s unlikely that a Lonestar officer will be willing to fight to the death if they’re outnumbered or outgunned. They’re basically the rent-a-cops of the 6th world: overworked and underpaid. Shoot an extra hole or two into them, and if they aren’t dead, they’ll probably turn tail and run.
Most wild creatures based on real world critters in literally any game are likely to behave like this as well: wound them, they realize they’re in for more than they can handle and run. For more fantastic beasts, that’s entirely your call, Gamemaster.
So there you have it, five things I usually keep in mind when designing combat encounters. The cool thing about considering these ideas is that some of these can be mixed and matched. Remember that practice makes perfect; add everything in a little bit at a time, and you’ll eventually wind up with players whose eyes light up upon hearing those words:
“Roll for Initiative.”
According to legend, Aaron der Schaedel, was born on Gary Gygax Day. This unfortunately didn’t grant him any super special powers.. Instead, it was years of experience and practice are what made him the GM he is today, and he’s only a terrible player to help his fellow GMs get the practice they need.
Picture Reference: http://wallup.net/fantasy-battle-artwork/
Secret societies are one of cornerstones of the Ravenloft Setting, but they tend to fall into background roles of either cannon fodder for the villain, or temporary resources for the heroes. Having played many games with secret societies and made three of my own (Memento Mori, Kara’s Daughters and the soon-to-be-released Ward Zero), here are some tips for getting the most out of them:
1) Information Is The Highest Form Of Currency
Some “underdog” secret societies like the Shadow Insurrection, L’Ordures, and Sons of Gundar make obvious allies for anyone fighting the same foe, but things can get too cozy; these are secret societies, after all. To keep the mystique in a long running alliance, remember that equipment and even spellcasting is cheap, but secrets, once shared, are spent forever. Outsiders should have to submit to lengthy vetting and use excellent diplomacy to pry a single critical secret from groups like the Duskpeace Outcasts. Offering money tends to backfire, because it suggests the one offering does not know how valuable information is, or how dangerous.
2) Splitting The Party
Even if one PC is a member, the rest of the party should not be insiders by default. Some heroic groups (i.e. the Society of Huntsmen, the Lamplighters, the Circle) don’t limit fraternization with outsiders, but a member of the Brotherhood of Broken Blades draws suspicion if their party includes arcane spellcasters. Many others are somewhere in between: a member might lead the party on one adventure on behalf of the society, share a little “need to know” info on the next, and offer nothing of value on another. Variety is the key; a member of the Green Hand or The Woodcutter's Axe need not confront the group’s enemies around every corner.
3) The More, The Merrier
Any of the “underdog” groups might welcome all classes, such that an entire party could join. Likewise, any party might join the Order of the Guardians and just report on any evil artifacts they find. More options become available with restricted character creation: a Carnival-based campaign with a party of Troupers, a “special investigations” team for La Serrure et Clé composed of calibans, or an all-elf strike team for the Children of Wrath are all possibilities. In all these cases, the restriction is on race, so the party might include members of any class. Class restrictions are more difficult; if The Noble Brotherhood of Assassins needs serious muscle for a particular job, or the Knights of the Ashen Bough need a spellcaster to erase Drakov brands, they would probably contract with an outsider ally rather than recruit someone.
Even if a PC doesn’t seek membership, someone might feel they earned it. Groups like the Fraternity of Shadows or Kargatane make offers one can’t refuse based on their own sense of worthiness. The Échansons, Ildi'Thaan, Vilushka, or Witches of Hala might choose someone based on their bloodline. In cases like the Stalkers, Ata Bestaal, or even Keepers of the Black Feather, membership includes lycanthropy, such that a character might be “accidentally recruited” during a fight. In all these cases, the PC is not really an outsider, but their loyalty is in question. Even otherwise good groups may take drastic measures if someone with too much knowledge of their inner working turns them down.
5) Membership Has Its Privileges
Members of most non-evil groups should be glad they joined most of the time. Physical tokens of membership frequently include masterwork items suitable for enchanting, if not minor magical items. Support societies like Société de Legerdemain, L’Académie des Sciences, and the Veiled Palm shouldn’t require more than dues (including discounted prices for supplies), reporting anything of interest, and keeping group secrets. If social obligations aren’t part of your game, this can also apply to “underdog” or “heroic” societies. If assigned to do more, the majority of the work should be within the PC’s comfort zone and rewarded fairly. Plots that pit group loyalty against friends, family or conscience should only come after the PC has built a strong identity as part of the society.
6) That Wasn’t In The Brochure!
Many secret societies have hierarchies, and some evil ones can appear harmless or even heroic to those at the lowest levels. A PC might spend decades in La Confrérie des Rêveurs* before finally discovering who (or what) they’ve been “feeding.” Insurrectionists in Mortigny might revere the long-dead martyr Simon Audaire long before being formally introduced to him in the, er, “flesh.” Many more groups are not stated as having such a layered structure, but could easily develop one, such as the Scions of Purity, Syndicate of Enlightened Citizens, League of Nine, and The Scions of Yakov Dilisnya. Allow PC’s to benefit from such associations as much as possible before learning the Awful Truth. Such “malign paradigm shifts” are among the most devastating horror checks, and are among the penultimate thrills of playing in a horror setting.
7) Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor
Finally, while truly evil cults may only fit as antagonists, you can still get more mileage from the Dark Delvers or Cult of the Straw God by emphasizing their insidious ideology. Long after the party has destroyed Mother Fury, have them discover a Howling Clan revival among the frustrated poor of some distant town. An old ally suffering nightmares of the Dead Man’s Campaign might be groomed for membership in the Lustmorde, or a treasure-seeking rival enthralled by writings about the Seven Scarabs. This could make for a truly epic struggle to destroy not just a dangerous cult, but a dangerous idea. Such challenges have been covered previously for destroying Sinkholes of Evil (RLDMG), and for fighting bogeymen (DTDL).
Whether allies, mentors, rivals or enemies, the people who make up these groups have committed themselves to keep secrets from their fellowmen. It’s a grave choice that players may be faced with, to join them in bearing that burden of secrecy, or to drag the truth into the light of day to kill it. Either option can pose a challenge for PC’s of any level, and raise the kind of complex moral questions that keep players coming back to Ravenloft.
*La Confrérie des Rêveurs was described in an article of the same name in Quoth the Raven issue #6, a Ravenloft 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.
Pic Reference: http://www.theendofhistory.net/most_recent/history-terrorism-secret-societies/
For those not in the know (my way of saying “constantly trying to keep up with tabletop gaming news”), you may not be aware of this recently released title from the folks at Modiphius. I’m here to help with that. Tales from the Loop is a tabletop RPG in which players take on the roles of the Kids and solve cool mysteries in the “80’s that never was.” Let’s take a closer look, shall we? Here are five facets of Tales that intrigued me.
1) Simple System
The game system keeps things easy to learn and play. In fact, if you’ve played Mutant: Year Zero, then you’re already halfway done. If not, you’ll still have a fairly easy time learning the basics. Dice pools consist of naught but d6s and are compiled by adding attribute + skill and grabbing that many six-siders. Each six you roll is a success, and you typically only need one to pass a check. Clearly designed to be played and enjoyed by kids and adults alike, Kids (the player characters) are incapable of dying, but instead suffer Conditions when coming up against Trouble. This aspect specifically assists with keeping the mystery-solving moving along and makes it extremely playable at conventions or as short campaigns.
2) Wondrous Setting
Perhaps the most enticing thing about this game is its setting and the origin thereof. While many games are based on existing films, book series, or even video games, Tales is the first I’ve encountered that was based on an artist’s series of work. Simon Stålenhag’s paintings of a strange Swedish suburb in the 80s created, in large part, the world of the Loop. Here, bipedal robots dwell alongside Cretaceous creatures beneath three massive towers that glow in the darkness. Sounds like a place worth exploring to me!
3) Strange Themes
While the game is centered around solving mysteries in the above-described landscape, a la Stranger Things or the Goonies, the game also delves into the mundane Trouble that your Kids could be facing. Multiple gameplay examples explore themes of parental strife and even divorce, illicit affairs between teachers and parents, and other such drama. This serves to provide a contrast against the mystery at hand and its threat or strangeness. Sure, your parents won’t stop shouting at each other about who’s cheating on who, but the town is being threatened by a strange man in grey who’s face is a mess of static. This makes the bizarre occurrences and mysteries even more special and interesting.
4) For Kids Of All Ages
While it helps to have a GM who knows a thing or two about adult life, the game can be played by anyone 10+. The Kids themselves are allowed to be 10-15 years of age, not a day younger or older. When you hit 16, your character must retire from mystery solving, since you need to start preparing to be an adult and the strange no longer seems as important. The concepts of gameplay are fun and functional, all while still being digestible by a younger crowd. This is not to say that you couldn’t gather your adult buddies together and relive the days of your youth. In fact, the game provides specific advice on how to get back into that mindset. Whatever the age range of your game group, this title game delivers investigation and roleplay experiences that will delight and surprise.
5) Odd Deficiencies
No game is perfect, and so it is with Tales. The system provides enough for a short campaign, but probably wouldn’t hold up terribly well in longer form play. There’s not enough character growth on offer. Characters increase skills with experience and increase stats when they increase in age. Younger characters are luckier (and so receive more luck points needed for dice rerolls), but this stat diminishes as they age. There aren’t any talents, abilities, or unique systems on offer. Since robots and dinosaurs are part of the setting, I’d like to see them provide a supplement for pets and constructs. Building bots or taming dinos in this setting could be an absolute blast, and having a set of rules for doing so would help GMs and players get the most out of such an experience.
All in all, Tales from the Loop proves itself a great addition to any GMs arsenal, while leaving some room for improvement in a largely untapped genre. I recommend checking it out at your local game shop or exploring a preview at Drivethrurpg. If you like the setting and the concept, give it a whirl and let me know what you think!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer (and definitely a Kid at heart) 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
Image reference: https://www.modiphius.net/products/tales-from-the-loop-rpg-rulebook
What happens when you transplant your fantasy adventuring into the a modern setting? You get Modern Adventures of course! We sat down with Ray Machuga from Higher Grounds Gaming to talk about their new Pathfinder supplement entitled, quite appropriately, Modern Adventures to see what they are bringing to the table.
1) What sets Modern Adventures apart from other d20 systems set in the present?
A. The sheer amount of lore that has gone into developing the setting sets us leagues apart. Fluff and lore are some of my favorite things to develop in a game, as I feel that it really is the bread and butter of any given game. The Modern Adventures setting gives a place for magic, monsters and other races in the history of Earth. The classes and races have been properly worked out, as well. Each class and race is thoroughly designed and play-tested. Finally, the levels of technology have increased dramatically since d20 Modern was published. All in all, if you placed the games side-by-side, they would barely resemble each other.
2) Modern Adventures sets up a new spell system for Pathfinder and moves away from the spell-per-day that we all are familiar with. Can you tell us what we can look forward too?
A. Absolutely! Spell casting is something that I am very pleased with. Basically, if you break it down, once your Mage knows a spell, he or she can basically cast it at any time. There is a bit more emphasis placed on learning the spells, as well. As a balance, your character can choose exactly how strong or powerful their spell would be. If your character overpowers a spell, which basically means going over a power level based on your spell casting ability modifier, he or she stands a chance of suffering damage. Typically that damage is nonlethal, but there is a small chance (rolling a 1 on a d20) of it being real, lethal damage. To expand a bit on the magical lore, the world is animistic for the awakened spell casters and they are capable of summoning spirits and binding them to service to empower spells or even your endeavors whether they be stealthing through an occupied building, firing a gun or swinging an axe. All in all, I've tried to make magic a bit more gritty, powerful and dangerous. I wanted to make it feel like magic, again.
3) You’re also adding some new races and classes. What are they like?
A. This is another aspect of life in the modern world that I've had a lot of fun with. Fertility treatments and advancements in genetics being what they are, I've added a race that seems to be very popular with play testers - Half-Gnomes. They are crafty, gnome/human hybrids. There is also a Half-Bloods supplement being released that you can grab in the rewards section of the Kickstarter. Half-Bloods will explore more "half-breeds" such as what happens when an elf and a troll breed, or a dwarf and a halfling, etc. The combinations are endless. Within the core book itself, aside from the half-gnomes, I've added the Acaroi which are a small, insect-like race of humanoids that are fascinated by humanity in a very alien manner, even though civilized races tend to despise and abhor them. The ratkin are another great race I've added, which are small rat-like humanoids that are quick and curious by nature. There are a few more, but I'm keeping them a surprise for the backers of the Kickstarter.
4) What role does religion play in your setting? Has it become more secular like the real world, or does divine magic still exist?
A. Religion plays just as much of a role in the game's setting as it does in the real world - with one exception. The gods are known to be real. Divine magic exists, but not exactly in the same sense as you'd find in Pathfinder. The gods do not typically bestow any special powers, and are basically absentee. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, as this idea will be explored in an adventure path later on, but I will say that the gods are preoccupied with very important matters of their own.The gods do not typically bestow powers to individuals as they do with their Clerics in Pathfinder. Instead, clergy is a profession that opens up mystical knowledge and abilities through ritual and theological practice. Healing spells instead become something that all spell casters are capable of accessing. In the end, as far as religion, my aim has been to recreate what occurs in the real world.
5) What was your inspiration for tying together fantasy and the modern world in the way that you did?
A. It was a long time coming. I've played Dungeons and Dragons since Revised edition, and Pathfinder was a natural follow-up to that. I've also explored games like White Wolf's World of Darkness, Call Of Cthulhu and Shadowrun. Having become familiar with mirror-Earth style games, I wondered why there weren't any urban fantasy games that really stuck to the true fantasy side of things in the modern world. That was really when I started working on Modern Adventures. I wanted to play the game, and I did. Players i ran it for loved it. I started getting ideas for it in my every day [sic] life. Soon, I started working on it professionally until it became what it is today. It was really a natural progression.
Modern Adventures is on Kickstarter now.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/highergrounds/modern-adventures-tabletop-rpg
After the defeat of Smaug the Terrible and the Battle of Five Armies, there were quite a few years before the events of The Lord of the Rings took place. Cubicle 7 constructed a team to help creative folk fill in the gap between the iconic works with The One Ring roleplaying game. It sports its own unique rules system to help you and your fellowship traverse the vast expanses of Middle Earth in search of fame and fortune. As a gigantic fan of Tolkien's work, the idea of such a thing gripped my heart like a vice. A previous article had outlined the Fellowship Phase of the game, easily one of the most interesting mechanics I've seen, but that only just scratches the surface. Although I've only played this game in a play-by-post setting, reading through the core rules has instilled excitement and wonder into the core of my very being. Here are some interesting mechanics aside from the aforementioned Fellowship Phase.
1) Shadow Weakness/Points
"...the days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into Shadow."
-Theodin, King of Rohan
A very large theme in Tolkien's work is the juxtaposition of light and shadow. This was expertly injected into The One Ring through a mechanic; every character has what's called a Shadow Weakness. During character creation, your Calling (traditionally called a class in other RPG systems) determines what weakness your character may succumb to throughout the course of your adventures. From Dragon Sickness to a Curse of Vengeance, things can get interesting when you aren't careful whilst traversing the perils of the land. This mechanic goes hand-in-hand with the Hope mechanic. Each character has a set of Hope Points that can be spent to invoke Attribute Bonuses or Cultural Virtues, stats that are unique to each character, to give them an edge over the current situation. When your Hope value meets, or is below, your Shadow Point pool, your character experiences a bout of madness that is unique to your specific Shadow Weakness.
These fits have lasting effects on the character’s behavior to reflect the taint of The Shadow on their personality. With each fit comes a new trait that the Lore Master (the GM) can make rear its ugly head at a dramatic moment. Typically, adventurers are given Shadow Points when they perform a misdeed (knowingly lying, making threats, etc), witness a distressing event, experience something disturbing, enter what's called a Blighted Area, or come in contact with Tainted Treasure. Some of these require what's called a Corruption Test, a type of skill check, to fend off The Shadow. A failure results in the accumulation of a certain amount of Shadow Points as the LM sees fit. This adds a mechanical aspect to roleplaying and mirrors perfectly the dangers of Middle Earth and the dark lord Sauron, whose evil touches all.
Beyond that, it gives players a bit of resource management in conjunction with a small amount of help roleplaying. On the flip side, it presents LMs with an interesting conflict to present to PCs other than combat, which most D20 systems get so easily wrapped up in.
2) The Eye Of Sauron, Gandalf Rune, And Tengwar Rune
"You know of what I speak, Gandalf - A great Eye... lidless... wreathed in flame."
-Saruman the Wise
For those that don't know, TOR is a d12 based system. For every task, a 12 sided die (the so-called Feat Die) is rolled with a number of d6s (Success Dice), depending on skill, are added to it. Depending on what a hero character is trying to do, they may even get no Success Dice. For the Feat Die, the 11th side has an Eye of Sauron symbol, where the 12th has a Gandalf Rune. These symbolize your critical success and failures, though they're given different names. On the sixth side of the Success Die, there is a Tengwar Rune, which signifies a critical success as well. When paired together, these dice can represent an interesting outcome. Where an Eye of Sauron counts as rolling a zero, the Gandalf Rune counts as a success, regardless of the target number (TN) of the task.
The game differs from most others in that degree of success is sometimes very crucial to the outcome of a task. Degree of success is interpreted from the result of the Success Dice. A result on that die other than the six (Tengwar Rune) is added to what the result of the Feat Die, aiding the hero character's attempt to meet the TN of the task. When the Tengwar Rune is rolled, however, it changes the nature of the success if there is one. Three degrees of success can be obtained: Narrow Success, Great Success, and Extraordinary Success. Despite its name, a Narrow Success simply means that the character has succeeded in their task but there is an absence of the Tengwar Rune in the results of the Success Dice, should there be any rolled. Great Success is when one rune is rolled and Extraordinary Success occurs when two or more are rolled. These results add the opportunity for the player or LM to add interesting details to reflect how the degree of success affects the situation for the better. Extraordinary Successes are the things that bards and poets sing about for generations to come and allow for the greatest amount of flourish and flexibility.
When using weapons, however, the Gandalf Rune and Eye of Sauron are most critical. Many weapons require a Gandalf Rune to reach what's called their Edge value. This delivers a piercing blow, one that bypasses any armor to inflict a Wound, should the target fail its Protection roll that it must make as consequence. Interestingly enough, this dice mechanic generally works backwards for the LM controlling adversaries.
3) Fellowship Focus
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
-Bilbo Baggins of The Shire
Once your adventuring party is formed, every hero character has what's called a Fellowship Focus. This mechanic is used to represent the unique bonds between characters. Each player chooses a hero character with whom their character has that bond, but it doesn't have to be mutual. Using the pregenerated characters as an example; Beli of the Lonely Mountain's Fellowship Focus could be Trotter of The Shire, but Trotter's focus could be Lifstan son of Leiknir. Furthermore, hero characters can share a Fellowship Focus, if it fits the story. Usually, there's no specific reason that heroes can't share a focus, but as we know, every table is different.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of mechanics that aid in roleplaying, and this is no exception. It encourages players to make their hero characters work together and protect one another, as doing so provides a great mechanical benefit. As previously mentioned, Hope is a crucial resource of the game. When your hero character's Fellowship Focus is Wounded, you gain a Shadow Point at the end of the session. On the contrary, you gain a point of Hope at the end of the session if nothing expressly bad happens to them, story or otherwise. Worst case scenario, a hero's Fellowship Focus is killed, which leads to the accumulation of three Shadow Points. In the heat of the moment, this mechanic can show its face when a hero character spends a Hope point to aid their Fellowship Focus (by invoking an Attribute Bonus or the like) and the task is successful, they immediately regain that spent point.
I love this because it very much reflects the relationships that characters can have with one another in a tangible way. For players who enjoy the roleplay aspect of games, this sort of behavior comes naturally. For those who enjoy the more mechanical aspects of games, this helps the two different styles of pay mingle in harmony at the table. Simply fantastic.
In our hobby, people become stuck on certain game systems. With Cubicle 7's recent venture into 5e D&D with Adventures in Middle Earth, many people have started to revisit the wonderful world that Tolkien has created. Hopefully, this article will inspire to those who enjoy the lore of such to venture into the unique mechanics presented by The One Ring.
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.
Suggested image reference: http://cubicle7.co.uk/our-games/the-one-ring/
Cryptids have fascinated not only me, but the world for thousands of years. The thought of creatures staying just outside of our sight through chance or intention is mystifying and intriguing. In the real world, myths of Bigfoot are not only a huge money maker, but something that real scientists have looked into. Now, the idea of mythical beings of frightening ability that stalk in the small hours of the night sounds like it would be right up a game master’s alley. Of course, cryptids have been around on the tips of people's tongues for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. Which spawned many myths and legends throughout history that are recognizable today, such as the kraken. Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting cryptids that would fit amazingly into a number of campaigns.
1) The Nunda
Described as “the size of a donkey,” the Nunda is a massive cat that is said to stalk Tanzania. It's said to be stronger than a lion, capable of killing a man with one fell swoop of its massive paws. According to statements made by witnesses of this terrifying beast, it's fur is often dark grey or black, and it is only seen at night. Unlike other big cats, the Nunda is supposedly rather aggressive, attacking not just individuals, but entire Tanzanian tribes by itself.
This particular cryptid would fit excellently into a forest or jungle themed adventure; being incredibly stealthy, and terrifyingly aggressive, the Nunda could be the rangers proverbial Moby Dick at the lower levels. In order to stat this badass, I would start with a lion (for reference, I’m using the 5e Monster Manual) and increase its strength to 19, its dexterity to 16, and its constitution to 16. I would also make its intelligence five and its wisdom 14, then increase its bite attack to 2d8+4 and its claw attack to 2d6+4. I would also give it proficiency with intimidation and some extra hit points. Fun fact: the Nunda has had fur samples attributed to it, and might be considered a real animal. Also, now that you’ve probably already decided it's pronounced “none-da,” I will inform you it's pronounced “Noon-duh.”
2) The Ahool
The Ahool is a giant bat with a monkey or gorilla face that supposedly hunts its prey in Indonesia. With a wingspan of 3.7 meters (or twelve feet) the Ahool is over twice the size of the world's known largest bat. They’re supposed to be omnivores and will stalk their prey like most bats do. There is no solid evidence of its existence (like most cryptids). But lets face it: looking at a massive bat with a chimp-like face that wants to do anything remotely close to attacking you is pretty damn terrifying.
Much like the Nunda, the Ahool would work well in a jungle or forest setting. I would assume that its type would be monstrosity as opposed to beast. Instead of having them be the major focus of a part of your adventure, I would just add them in as a part of the flora and fauna of the world. This would make a really cool companion or familiar for someone in the group and would add so much “spice” to the situation. When statting, I would start with a giant bat. Decrease its size to medium and make its hit point max 12. Keep most of the stats but change its intelligence and charisma to four. Increase the base speed to 20 to account for it's more monkey like legs and its fly speed should be about 50 mostly in part to the fact that it's pretty heavy because of its monkey-like attributes.
3) The Loch Ness Monster
Is it really a conversation about cryptids until someone brings up Nessie? For those of you who don’t already know about this legendary creature, the Loch Ness Monster is a huge aquatic animal living in Loch Ness of Scotland. It supposedly has a long snake like neck with a rather blob-ish body and four massive fins at it's side. No accurate description of its size has been given, but the general term “large” has been dubbed. However her shape is often disputed. Most consider her how I described her above, but there are others who claim that she is far more serpentine, like a massive snake without the fins that would propel itself through the power of violent spasms. (Haha very funny I know, but actually underwater snakes are super hilarious to watch.)
A common theory with Nessie is that she is actually a plesiosaurus, leftover from the Cretaceous Period. As such it seems reasonable to start with that stat block. For the most part, I wouldn’t change much, perhaps make its armour class 15, make its dex 16, the intelligence 5 and its size should be huge instead of large. I would also increase swim speed to 60. In case you haven’t figured it out from my use of the words “aquatic” and “loch,” Nessie is a cryptid best suited for an oceanic or aquatic themed adventure. If you want to add some mystery to the reveal of everyone's favourite sea monster, you could use the name of a different, however similar cryptid found in Canada: the Ogopogo. Arguably much more fun to say.
4) The Jersey Devil
In New Jersey, U.S.A, there is a myth about a bipedal creature with a goat's head, bat wings, hooves for feet, and a forked tail that kills local children. It was supposedly spawned from the unholy acts of a witch and the devil himself. This little guy is said to be incredibly fast and has a terrifying screech that chills the blood of even the bravest of souls.
The JD would work superbly in an urban or horror setting. Now, to give it stats, I would start with a harpy. Change its type to fiend, increase its base speed to 60 and its fly speed to 80. Its dexterity should be 20, intelligence eight and its charisma a resounding 3. Give it the stealth skill and the intimidate skill. Change the claws attack to do 1d6 and exchange the club attack for a kick that does 1d6 as well. Instead of luring song, give it a frightful presence ability that activates on a screech similar to an adult dragons. It might feel like overkill, but this is a baby stealing devil that needs to scare off parents long enough to steal babies. It's what makes it unique. Give it the infernal language instead of common.
5) The Snallygaster
Besides having the most “what the hell” name on this list (that you still pronounced more easily than Nunda), the Snallygaster is also probably one of the most terrifying. The Snallygaster is a dragon-like beast that is said to roam the hills around Maryland, specifically the Washington D.C. area. It sports a metallic beak that is lined with razor sharp teeth. Its skin is scaled with feathered wings and a singular eye in the middle of its head. In the tales, the Snallygaster feasts on the blood of its victims. However, in order to accumulate victims, it snatches them up with tentacles that it can retract from its mouth or chest (depending on the story).
Now, while this one may seem rather foreign, he’s not really much stranger than a humanoid tentacle monster that eats brains and reports to a hive mind, now is he? Our Snallygaster needs some stats though, so let's start with what he's compared to: a dragon. A young red dragon to be specific. First things first, let's drop that breath weapon and replace it with tentacles. The spell Evard's Black Tentacles is a good base for it. Obviously if the Snallygaster wants to use its bite attack, it must first retract the tentacles. As such, if a creature is still being grappled by the Snallygaster when it retracts its tentacles, the creature must make one final saving throw to attempt to escape, or be swallowed by the Snallygaster. While in there a creature takes 2d6 acid damage per round and if the Snallygaster takes more than 25 hit points of damage from a creature inside of it, it vomits it up. The Snallygaster can only swallow one creature at a time. I’d also remove the blindsight and the common language.
Truly there is a good reason that cryptids have held the attention of the world for so long. They’re a massive mystery and rather terrifying to the less curious of us. But in a world of gods and monsters, these will fit right in. Of course, with names like Snallygaster and Ahool, they may get bullied a little.
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Pic Reference: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3239479/scientists-to-test-water-of-loch-ness-for-dna-to-find-out-once-and-for-all-if-nessie-is-real/
The world is not in a good place right now.
With all the pressures of the geopolitical/sociopolitical spheres, it can be really hard to find motivation to do things that can be seen as selfish or pointless - after all, we should all be doing what we can to improve the situation we are in. I’m not discounting that in the slightest. Do what you can, as you can, how you can, when you can, for as long as you can, until the situation improves.
If you’re reading this article, you are a player of games, someone who cares about the worlds we create around our tables and on our character sheets. People are going to be asking you how you can worry about your games when the world is beginning to take on a charming wicker-theme shape with a hint of picnic about it, and the temperature is rising dramatically.
In the words of Freddie Mercury, the show must go on.
We have talked a lot, as a community, about not shaming people - be it fat-shaming, gender-shaming, genre-shaming, class-shaming, what have you - and this is a time where we have to make sure we aren’t applying those same thoughts towards ourselves and our hobbies.
Here are four reasons why you should recognize your gaming time and keep it holy:
1) Doing Something We Love Can Help Deal With Stress
I’m no psychiatrist (far from it), but even I can tell that I relax more when I have something enjoyable to look forward to, a small oasis of sanity (or at least a reasonable amount of madness) in the midst of my daily stresses. I know when I sit down at the table with my dice and my tea and my character sheet, for at least the next few hours, the world will make sense.
This is a powerful thing and needs to be approached as such. You are allowed to carve out time for yourself and your hobbies, to recharge and detox from the world as a whole. As long as you aren’t neglecting things that are necessary for a continued comfortable existence (work, relationships, feeding yourself/your pets/your spawn, etc.), you are allowed to take time for yourself, and you need to protect that time and space.
For those of us who have flown commercially, there’s that bit during the safety briefing when they tell you take care of yourself before attending to those who may need your help. This is good advice in more than one way, because if you have worn yourself to the bone, there’s nothing left to give to those who DO need your help.
2) Routine Helps To Maintain A Balance
In Making Money, one of Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novels, the main character Moist von Lipwig says something along the lines of “When you don’t know what to do, brush your hair and shine your shoes.” Doing something small and routine helps ground you in a period of stress. “Okay, I have to get through X ordeal, then it’s time for game.”
Do you have a pre-game or post-game ritual? Maybe you always stop at the same coffee shop, or buy yourself the same once-a-week treat for game day. Do you listen to a particular song to get yourself into the headspace for a LARP game? Wear a certain perfume or cologne for your LARP character? Don’t stop doing that now.
In times of stress, I have known it to be helpful to be able to look at my LARP kit and check off the items I will need. Just seeing that I have everything laid out (or know far enough in advance to replace something that is missing) gives me a calming moment because things are as they should be.
3) Assuming Direct Control
We can’t control what a group of madmen do in the next state, nation, or continent. Hell, some of us can’t even control what goes on in our own minds. In a game world, we have so much more control than we do in this supposed “real life.” We can make mistakes and correct the consequences without any actual danger to ourselves or our situations. We can deal with crazed leaders, religious zealots, bullies, and existential threats - and live to tell the tale. We can create places where things MAKE SENSE.
If you fail in your attempt? Respawn, revive, resurrect, or reroll. Repeat as necessary.
4) Challenge Yourself To Deepen Your Own Personal Immersion
Stay off your phone during game. Really pay attention to what’s going on, and try to get deeper into your character’s head and thought processes. Attempt to distance/disconnect yourself from the modern world during the few sacred hours of gaming time. Ask your DM if they need you to play an NPC or two - anything to keep your mind on the game and not on the news.
Seize control of this part of your life. Acknowledge that there are stressors away from the gaming table, and keep those stressors away from there as much as you can. Talk to your group and your DM, make sure you are on the same page with the desire for escapism and themes that you want to avoid. Most people, when they walk into Creation or Azeroth or Golarion or the Galaxy Far Far Away, are more than happy to leave their day to day problems behind. Chances are, they are experiencing the same stress that you are (or their own variant thereof). Communicate what you need from your DM and your fellow players, and listen to their needs as well.
Most of us don’t play games to practice cost-benefit analysis - we play games to escape to worlds where we can be powerful archdruids or death knights or sorcerers or Dawn-caste warriors, capable of doing superhuman things and changing things that we need to see changed in the world. The purpose of every roleplaying game (that isn’t cooked up by some well-meaning but completely uninformed human resources hack) is to play a role - to be someone other than ourselves. Embrace that for what it is, and go be someone else.
As I have before, I will leave you with the words of the late Sir Terry, which I find particularly apt for this topic:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. 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.
Picture Reference: https://8tracks.com/explore/apocalypse
A puppeteer captivates his audience in the town square. The heroes, returning from their latest dungeon, spot the growing crowd and approach with interest. The audience is mostly children and a few citizens taking a moment to see what the fuss is about. It’s easy to get a good view. Hanging from one of the strings is a demon, horned and wings licked in crimson. Hanging opposite of the demon is someone holding a sword. The fighter immediately recognizes the puppet. It looks exactly like him. The puppeteer speaks of a great prophecy; of a demon, locked away, approaching escape. Only our hero can stop him.
This is an NPC that one of my DM’s made in a campaign I took part in. It was this puppeteer, who introduced himself as Alvar, that showed me the potential for an NPC in a Pathfinder, or really any, campaign. Beyond just an innkeeper with an eyepatch, or a noble with a stuck up attitude, Alvar was a living breathing character with a purpose. With this article I want to show you 4 ways to make a memorable NPC, all thanks to inspiration I gained from this puppeteer.
1) Connect Them To Your Player Characters
Alvar was connected directly to one of our players, the aforementioned hero that was crucial to keeping the demon locked away. This connection establishes a bond and creates a reason for players to interact with an NPC more. How do they know this? What else do they know? The bond doesn’t need to be as grandiose as providing a backstory to characters or as an omenspeaker, but any sort of connection immediately makes players feel exactly that: connected.
Another approach is to make the players feel responsible for this character. A young squire who finds the heroes to be inspiring hopes to learn from them so he follows them out of town to the cave they are going to explore. The party can’t exactly leave him alone in the cave, he’ll be ripped apart, so they’ll need to keep him safe while they seek out their objective. This can be especially strong if you target a Good character in town with this specific squire, idolizing them and setting up for the moment where the character feels responsible for their safety.
2) Have NPCs Praise Or Condemn Aspects Of Your Characters
Characters make mistakes. There are times when players can make decisions in the moments that skirt the alignment of their character. NPCs that either push them away or pull them towards the other side can be compelling talking points to a character. Alvar would constantly tell our fighter that he believed in him and they he could do better in making this world a good place. The fighter was caught between two alignments and Alvar was there urging our fighter to make the right call, but the fighter was still lost in knowing which was which.
This method can create tension. Tension is good because it inspires dialogue between characters and can make them more involved in the story. Having an NPC show up and point out the divide in players’ morals can provide intriguing role playing potential for a party. Of course, this is by no means an excuse to become vindictive and outright insult a player for their decisions. Instead if someone merely asks the character ‘why?’ it has potential to open up a whole new avenue of character exploration.
3) Find The Drive Behind A Character And Have An NPC Amplify It
The fighter always imagined himself as the hero. Maybe that’s why he was so intrigued by the puppet performance and became interested in Alvar so quickly. There was this idea that he was something more: he sought out some sort of prophecy and Alvar delivered. There was heroic blood in his family’s lineage, and the fighter was the key to reopening what was locked away.
Some players may find that to be a bit too convenient, but Alvar is a particularly specific example of what an NPC can do. Each player gives a purpose to their character, something that drives them to make the decisions they make. A method of taking your game to the next level is incorporating these themes into your story, feeding back into the players what they crave. You can twist it and turn it on their head, but dangling a carrot on a stick, so to speak, will push the characters forward.
Most villains in a campaign will do this to the players, but there is no reason you cannot take advantage and have other NPCs do this. Especially if you can balance the idea of similar traits between your villain, your player, and their NPC. The villain and the hero both crave power, each must stop the other to get it, the NPC wants to see the hero gain this power, but which side will their methods align with? This gets to the final, most poignant point of Alvar’s story.
4) Have Your NPCs Be Wrong
This may sound obvious, but what exactly does it mean to be wrong? An NPC can give wrong directions to a dungeon, but is that something they can be remembered for? A strong NPC will provide an emotional connection to the players, and with the above methods you can achieve the framework to create a memorable bond. However the most important point of an NPC is that they are not omniscient. NPCs should not know the way everything flows and they can be just as guilty as anyone of being wrong.
Alvar was a victim of his own prophecy. He didn’t know the full explanation behind what he was preaching to the party’s fighter. He spoke of the fighter being the key to locking the demon away, when in reality the demon could never be free until the fighter approached the cage. Our fighter broke, realizing that he wasn’t the hero that was meant to save the world: he was the villain destined to free the beast who would end it. Alvar himself also broke from this and met the tragic end of dying knowing that he was wrong.
There is nothing interesting about an NPC that the players can never outsmart. A villain who is always one step ahead is boring so why should someone helping out the players have knowledge they shouldn’t have? Treating an NPC like a mortal who is just as in the dark as the players are, with their own opinions whether they be right or wrong, allows the players to relate to them. It forms a bond or a rivalry, providing players with a push and pull that inspires digging deep into their character.
Alvar’s end may have been hopeless, but our fighter did not follow the same path. He fought against his prophecy and returned to his own path. He would defeat this demon. He let the beast out, so he was going to be the one to kill it. Alvar never saw this, but Alvar was never supposed to see it. Multiple storylines are happening at a time during a campaign: the main story, the player character’s stories, and the NPC’s stories. Alvar’s story was about an old man who dreamt of a golden era of his youth, locked behind memories and prophecy. He always hoped that he would find his hero, unfortunately all he was left with was betrayal-- from no one but himself.
The greatest part of all this is that Alvar wasn’t even involved in my character’s storyline from this campaign, but it’s undeniable the effect that he had on me. My side of the story was full of its own characters, twists, and revelations that I’ll be using as an inspiration for a future article. I hope this has helped plant some seeds to create an NPC that will push your players. They want it.
Have you played or experienced any NPCs that were memorable for you? Who were they? Let me know in the comments or on my twitter!
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Picture Referece: https://www.bit-tech.net/reviews/gaming/pc/top-10-computer-game-npcs/1/
The OSRIC RPG, short for Old School Reference and Index Compilation, is a fantasy role-playing game system. OSRIC is what is known in the Old School or OSR (Old School Renaissance) movement, as a retro-clone, in that it is a faithful, as much as legally possible, recreation of the First Edition of the world’s most famous role-playing game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s recently been a topic on social media, and unfortunately not in a good way, because of a kerfuffle regarding some negative comments by one individual, not formally associated in any way with the authors or creators of OSRIC, regarding the laudable and evolved decision by Wizards of the Coast, current creators of Dungeons & Dragons, to foster and encourage inclusion and diversity in the game. It is an ideal that we should all embrace, and one which, as a four decade long player, I heartily support. Our game should reflect the wonderful depth and variety of humanity, and I am happy that the time has come where people of previously underrepresented groups can now see themselves in the game.
In the aftermath of the unfortunate social media incident, a lot of folks were hurt, angry and upset, justifiably so, but in their confusion some began to condemn OSRIC for the comments of a lone individual with no official standing. They began to confuse that one person’s comment with what the game stood for. Some began to wrongly think OSRIC supported and was based on an intolerant or non-inclusive ideology. All of these things are inaccurate.
It was all very unfortunate because OSRIC is a great system. Full disclosure here, I am a GM and author of OSRIC content, so I am a big supporter of the system. On the other hand, it also means, I know of which I speak! The owners of this site reached out to me after the kerfuffle, for my sort of “expert opinion” on OSRIC, as they liked my work and felt people were getting the wrong idea about the game; I was asked if I’d like to explain what OSRIC is, what it isn’t, and why you all should like it. Frankly, there’s no reason not to, and with this list I am going to show you 8 reasons why you should check out the OSRIC RPG!
8) OSRIC was one of the earliest and most successful retro-clones.
For this reason, there is a lot of content for this particular game system. Looking at current content, the last time I checked DrivethruRPG.com (a mainstay of mainstream and indie RPG content, such as my own) there were nearly 400 OSRIC titles currently for sale. Lulu.com has nearly 280 OSRIC titles for sale. In addition, looking at legacy content, there are thousands of BECMI (which stands for Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal rules, i.e. “Basic” D&D), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (aka AD&D or 1E), and AD&D 2nd Edition (aka 2E) publications to choose from which are compatible with OSRIC (Although separate from 1E, the BECMI and 2E rules are compatible enough to make their materials useable). So if you are looking for a game that has a lot of support, with tons of compatible legacy content and continually developed new content, OSRIC is a great system to choose.
7) Did I mention it’s free?
That’s right folks, OSRIC itself is completely free! In fact go and download it right now, here’s a link. But wait, there’s more! Not only is the game system free, but so is its version of a “Monster Manual”, which you can download via this link. But wait, it’s version of the “Player’s Handbook” is also free as well; download the OSRIC Player’s Guide directly from its author via this link. Now go back to the aforementioned DrivethruRPG and Lulu and search for “OSRIC” and you’ll find a tonne (because one of the creators is British) of free content alongside the paid content discussed above. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wizards of the Coast and their content, and as a content creator myself I strongly encourage you to support creators active in your gaming interests! However, if you’re like me, you have a lot of gaming interests, and isn’t it kind of nice to have a game you can check out and play for free? Heck yeah!
6) OSRIC is accessible.
It made me sad when people mistakenly thought OSRIC was somehow mean or cruel or anti-anyone, because one of my favourite things about OSRIC is that it is very accessible in a democratic way. As I mentioned above, the basic game is free. Go online and use a dice roller and download some free minis and you are ready to play! You can teach people to role-play via OSRIC for free. This is incredibly inspiring and democratizing! When I was a poor kid growing up, Dungeons & Dragons changed my life by offering a wonderful outlet into a dream land of magic, like Middle Earth and Narnia, but I actually got to go there and not just read about it! The books were expensive back then as well, but my friends and I scraped together the money, over a long time, and we eventually bought a set of books to share. We took turns reading them, grudgingly turning them over when our week was up. Before we got books it was really embarrassing when the rich kids would tease you about not being able to afford the hobby, as bullying kids are wont to do throughout time. It makes me weep tears of joy to know that poor kids and adults today have access to a completely free retro-clone of the game I grew up loving, and there is no more fretting or worrying about how to pay for it.
5) OSRIC is community driven.
Since the creation of the OSRIC game system and its companion manuals it would seem the gracious founders and designers Matt Finch and Stuart Marshall (our OSRIC version of Gygax and Arneson) essentially stepped back and let the world have at their creation. What that means is that the content being put out is coming primarily from the community of players and it has fostered, in my opinion, a renaissance of imaginative fantasy art and writing. I myself am an OSRIC creator, because I can be: it was just that easy. I had always wanted to send a dungeon off to TSR’s “Dungeon Magazine”, or an article to its “Dragon Magazine”, as a youth, but I was always afraid it wouldn’t be good enough or people would tease me for being a geek (those darn bullies again!). There was an editorial board and a big fancy company deciding who and what got published (or so I assumed) and it was very intimidating. Flash forward a few decades and the internet and self-publishing have reshaped our society. I found OSRIC, I was inspired to write, and I did it. There are tonnes (lol) of people like me doing this (and so can you!) and it is a great community to be a part of!
4) OSRIC is kinda British.
OK this is a quirky reason, I know, but bear with me. If you love Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and cut your teeth on that style of high fantasy, chances are you might be just a wee bit of an Anglophile. If you are, then why not play a game where the programme running in the head of one of the creators, Stuart Marshall (editor in chief), was a British view of RPGs? I feel a little twinge of glee deciding what my favourite colour of cloak might be, and I can take a fortnight deciding what armour to purchase or calculating my saving throw against petrifaction! A silly reason perhaps, but it made me immeasurably happy to write, in one of my modules, of a sword composed completely of ice: “However, extended exposure to extreme heat (38°C) may damage or destroy it.”
3) OSRIC is fairly easy to learn.
I don’t want to stir up even more controversy (i.e. Edition wars!), so just hear me out. Being a fairly stripped down, retro-clone of a forty year old game means there are not endless pages to read before you start playing. For example, an average race description in OSRIC is about half a column long. The average character class description is about one and a half pages long. The entirety of the equipment list takes up two and two thirds pages. The average monster description is maybe half a column. Part of this may be because most of the OSR folks are coming to OSRIC with a very good understanding of how to play RPGs and possibly a lifetime of rules floating around in their heads. However, if you are a new player, the rules light approach means there is not a huge amount to learn and memorize and you can fairly quickly get down to learning how to role-play. Which is the focus of all good games, in my opinion. While the rules can actually get quite complex and detailed, as anyone who has played 1E knows, OSRIC “feels” light and can be played as simple or complex as you want it to be. I have taught several people to play RPGs, who were previously scared of the “stacks of books”, by using OSRIC. As the adage says, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stu! -- remember I said OSRIC is not mean!)
2) OSRIC is flexible.
The upside to what I consider to be a “rules light” approach is that the game is very flexible and open to what you want it to be. As an example, in my very first module (“The Corrupt Temple”) I had a section where players might fall into the water and drown. So I looked in my trusty OSRIC manual for drowning rules and found…nothing. So I made up my own rules for this situation based on researching past rules and present rules and then threw in what sounded logical and reasonable to me. There are many unanswered questions in OSRIC, as in life, and I like that about it. It makes me more inventive, creative and it challenges me!
1) OSRIC is for all of us!
The last and final reason to try OSRIC is because it is for all of us, not just grognards! It is a great opportunity to see what gaming was like in the past and to get to know the roots of modern Dungeons & Dragons, an activity that seems increasingly popular with the release of Wizards of the Coast’s “Tales from The Yawning Portal”, for example. I read a great quote about OSRIC once, which stuck with me because it exactly summed it up: “OSRIC is a love letter to First Edition.” Those of us who played the game when it first came out were entranced, as are those of you who are just discovering the game now, and to us 1E is just our happy place for that reason, and likely always will be. It’s not a criticism of 5E or the progress of gaming or of our society since the 1970’s. It’s just what makes some us feel the old “buzz” of gaming excitement, and that brings us lots of happiness.
Now before I close, I feel like I should also deal with the elephant in the room: grognards. It seems the term grognard has taken on a very pejorative meaning lately, and that is a shame. For I am here to tell you that not all grognards are the angry grumbling complainers or potentially racist, homophobic, transphobic, able-centric, and mean trolls that online slang dictionaries or some blogs or social media posts would have you believe.
I have met and known a lot of folks over the years that have played a long time, for decades, and they all have one thing in common with newer players: a love of the game. Our love of the game is what binds us all together. Grognards are just folks who have a wealth of experience in a hobby we all love, who for the most part may enjoy playing the games of their youth (we tend to grow nostalgic as we get older), and who still have a lot to offer to the RPG community. Are there jerks and wing-nuts in the grognard and Old School community? Certainly, as there are in every walk of life, but I believe they are the exception and not the rule. I think many of us are kind, gentle, understanding souls who are happy to share a table with anyone who is like-minded and wants to enjoy some communal role-playing fun! So if you encounter us in the wild trying to play 5E, as we stumble on unfamiliar ability checks or look bemused as you try to explain spell slots…again, please try and be patient! Or if we invite you to try out our OSRIC game, take us up on it to see what it’s like!
Most importantly,though,I hope your take-away from this article is that OSRIC and its practitioners are no different than the modern game and its players; it’s simply another way to play one of the most exciting and inventive hobbies ever created!
Louis “sirlou” Kahn is an avid OSRIC and Dungeons & Dragons game master, role-player, and author. When he's not creating fantasy role-playing content through Starry Knight Press, he’s spreading love & unity with The English Beat!
http://starryknightpress.com || http://englishbeat.net/
1) Start thinking like your character
For me, this is the hardest advice to follow. You have to let your thoughts disappear. Your character is the one thinking, put yourself in their shoes. Prevent outside sources from influencing your decisions. Think about who you are and where you come from. Think about the experiences your character has dealt with. By letting your thoughts go away you become your character, you start thinking and acting as them. Do not let meta-gaming limit you. You know one thing, but your character doesn’t, so why would your character do something they have zero clue about? It can be hard to start thinking how your character thinks and it will take some practice but you will get there.
2) Character voices
Character voices fuel a lot of social anxiety, and that makes it awkward, and it’s why players stray away from them. My advice is to realize that you are playing make-believe with other individuals playing make-believe, don't feel awkward or weird, because in the end you're all playing a game of imagination. A character voice isn't for everyone, but it can help break the barrier of getting into character. It doesn't have to be a different accent or pitch, it can also be vocabulary and mannerisms. Practice your voice whenever you're alone or have someone listen to you and ask their opinion. I personally practice my character voices in the shower or on my way to work.
3) Five Senses (Partly on the dm)
Imagine being in your character's shoes for a moment. What are their surroundings, what sounds do they hear, what do they taste, touch, or even smell? The five senses allows us to understand what is happening to and around our characters, humans use all our senses in memory. This is mostly up to the GM to do as he is the descriptor in the game but it is also partly on you to understand what they are portraying. Close your eyes and imagine everything the GM is saying. This is about immersion, it helps to ground you in the world. In a roundabout way it will help you get into character, by getting into the scene.
4) Tell your GM the story you want to tell
What do you want out of your character? A love story or a story of revenge, maybe even a mystery? You and your GM are telling a story together, letting the GM know what you want out of them game will help you both craft a better story. As the player, you have more control than you think.. Sit down with your GM and tell them what you want to do with your character and how you might do such a thing. Knowing what you want to do already allows you to understand who your character is, allowing you to get one step closer to being in-character.
5) Let empathy destroy you
Empathy is a super power we humans have and it allows us to understand the feelings that others have. In game your character is dealing with certain situations that may make them feel a certain way and understanding the emotions behind that will get you into character. Sometimes empathy will destroy you completely, when you're attached to characters and one of them dies, sometimes you just can't help but cry. Let these emotions take over, feel the moment. This will also allow you to understand how others are feeling in the same situation. Let Empathy win.
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Image Credit: http://www.inspirefirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/24.jpg
This is the second of a series of articles where I share some of the detailed characters, places, and things created during my recent campaign. The campaign used Evil Hat’s Fate system, and took place in Edward Turner’s “The Aether Sea” world. We decided as a group to use Fate Core rather than Fate Accelerated Edition, so the things presented here will work better with Fate Core. You can also listen to the adventure on our website and podcast feed.
The game items presented here were spun out of an adventure prompt at the end of the Aether Sea book, which I will quote later. First, I’ll describe the setting of the adventure. My group and I had a lot of fun bantering and sharing details of what this kind of place might be like. Here is what we came up with:
1) The Annular Necrocracy
A moderate distance from Tun, the Annular Necrocracy is in fact a group of sectors united not so much by their political ideals - similar as they may be - as by the basis of their economic system. The lich kings of the Necrocracy animate corpses to do most menial tasks, thereby freeing up the time and labour of the living for other pursuits. It works very well… if you can get over the smell. In keeping with the sector aspect, however, nobody really knows where all the bodies come from. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Sector Aspect: Far away in the deep, dark aether.
There are several sectors within the Annular Necrocracy. There is a division of labour; each sector has a kind of specialization that sets it apart from the others. They all share a couple things in common, however: a relatively small living population, and ubiquitous undead performing menial tasks. There are two that appeared in our adventure:
Noble is like the banking district of the Necrocracy. It is often where deals are brokered, though not necessarily where cargo is to be shipped. It features a single grandiose (but sparsely populated) city, and a number of outlying settlements that support it. Most business takes place in the city. If you use the Snarf racing rules, there is a stadium here!
Sector Aspect: Fancy brickwork and the smell of formaldehyde
Noble has two moons. One of them serves as a remote refuelling station for merchant ships passing through to other sectors. The whole place is ‘automated’ using corpses; it’s not much use to try and deceive them if you don’t actually have money. There is one living soul that manages the moon base. Poor guy.
High Concept: Master of an isolated moon base
Trouble: I can’t believe I’m stuck here
Grange Sector – Wheat barons, plantations, and vast crop fields. This is the agricultural sector of the Necrocracy, providing food and cotton for the living and for trade. The Makepeace plantation is on this planet (see below). Evelyn Grange (male) is the Seneschal to Lord Makepeace. He is the great-nephew of King Grange, the ruler of the planet. His life and that of the King have been magically extended, but they are not undead. Lord Makepeace and Lord Grange both hope to join the ranks of the Necrocracy’s ‘ascended’ lich oligarchy someday; the sooner the better.
Sector Aspect: Ruled by an aspiring lich king.
Planetary Aspect: A land like Dixie...
4) Makepeace Disaster
The drama of this adventure plays out on the backdrop of the Annular Necrocracy described above. The adventure centres on the character of Vanessa Makepeace and her necromantic communications equipment; I added quite a bit to her character, and we squeezed a lot of play out of this scenario.
Here is the text of the adventure, taken from The Aether Sea:
“ Contact: Countess Vanessa of House Makepeace, a Royal of low bearing.
Cargo: Several bound specters, part of some necromantic communications
Destination: The Annular Necrocracy, a short distance away, to be delivered
directly to Lord Makepeace’s estate.
Complication: The binding on the specters is weak. They’ll unbind and
start haunting the ship in transit. “ (The Aether Sea, page 44. Emphasis mine)
The player characters can meet Vanessa in any place, but her destination will always be the Grange sector in the Annular Necrocracy. She will offer a fair price to board the ship with some cargo, and will respond to reasonable attempts at bargaining. The equipment? A steampunk high-powered transistor radio that happens to be animated by bound spirits. She will also board with a small retinue of three zombies that serve as porters and bodyguards.
5) Vanessa Makepeace
A slender, beautiful woman of dark features. She is well-dressed in comfortable travelling clothes. As if by long habit, as soon as a deal is reached she will immediately begin trying to create advantages on the player characters’ trouble aspects, or other social aspects.
High Concept: Secretive Royal of Low Bearing
Trouble: Obsessed with Necronomics
Unconventional genius for using necromancy on the living
Voice like silk
+5 Rapport, +4 Magic, +3 Contacts, Empathy,
+2 Deceive, Burglary, Will, +1 Investigate, Notice, Stealth, Resources
2 Physical Stress, 3 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Focuses on Necromacy in Alteration. Use Magic to attack, create advantages, and overcome obstacles when Necromancy can be applied.
Soul Reaver. Use magic in place of Provoke to cause mental stress.
Shadow-weaver. +2 to create advantages using Deceive.
Zombie Bodyguards (3)
High Concept: Eat anything that attacks Lady Makepeace
2 Physical Stress
One mild consequence slot
6) Ghost & Spectres
Ghost: As soon as the crew takes the job, a host haunts the crew of the ship. She will only approach characters who are alone, and provoke the daylights out of them, self-compelling to avoid being able to transmit her message. I used the Ghost stats from this fantastic Fate Fantasy Creatures website, so I won’t copy them here. Save the link, though, because you’ll need it once more for...
Spectres: Once the ship is inconveniently far from its point of origin, something (I used an asteroid field) causes the communications equipment to malfunction. I used the character card on p. 43 of Aether Sea for the spectres. If your players decide to try and free the spectres from their chains (which, yes, my group did - I still don’t know why), then the spectres so freed take on the Spectre stats from the Fantasy Creatures site.
7) The Morganis Orb (a.k.a. The Soul Bubble)
This is a facinating artifact that evolved organically as our group progressed through the adventure.
To rebind the spectres, Countess Makepeace will propose a ritual to rebind them. This is not actually necessary – the ritual she wants to perform is actually just her taking the opportunity to test a theory that she can power an old Homeworld artifact by usurping the life force of the living. Players may use Lore, Magic, or Empathy to oppose her Deceive (feel free to use Fate points to win this one). Anyone who participates in the ritual gets the aspect Drained essence. This is permanent until they can deactivate the Homeworld relic – which the Countess will not do willingly. After the ritual, the Countess will go about re-binding the spectres.
The Countess knows that the Orb is an artifact from the Homeworld; she does not know what it does. To let your players shine, here are some overcome difficulties they can use Contacts, Magic, or Lore to gain more information:
Fair (+2) The name rings a bell...
Great (+4) They know the name of the artifact, and can invent one rumour about it
Superb (+5) Tell them why the Orb is a problem for the crew
Fantastic (+6) Give them a comprehensive history, and let them add details, because damn.
If characters want to do something with the Orb, it is a:
Good (+3) Challenge to steal
Epic (+7) Challenge to offload or sell it without any trouble. As you can see, this is kind of a big deal.
The Morganis Orb
High Concept: Indestructible Ancient Artifact
Trouble: Powered by the life force of sentient beings.
Aspect: Necromancy power source.
Soul Sucking - A correctly performed ritual can be used to steal aspects from player characters and replace them with the aspect Drained essence. If a character has all five aspects removed, they go into a coma until the Orb is deactivated, or they die.
Undead Army - The equivalent of 5 lives (25 aspects of living beings) will power the Orb fully. When fully powered, the Orb can animate and preserve an army of zombies.
The Orb is currently animated by the soul of Erica Makepeace, Countess Vanessa’s cousin. Erica is the ghost that is haunting the characters. She and Vanessa performed the ritual together, during which she died and her soul became bound to the Orb. If she manages to communicate with any of them, she will alert them to the nature of the Orb (providing an advantage aspect with free invocations), and ask to be freed from it.
This little episode provided us with weeks of interesting play time. I hope that you can have fun with it, too. Please leave a comment if you decide to use any of these ideas, and let me know how it goes!
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!
GenCon, one of the oldest, and largest collection of gaming geeks in the world. This year was the 50th anniversary, and the event was amazing! This was also my first time attending, but I do plan on returning again soon! Here are my 5 best moments from the convention.
I got the chance to meet Sean, Quinn, Jessica, and a few others who do not yet write for High Level Games at GenCon. On Friday night, we made time to play a game of Dread. Dread is a fantastic game, and the Jenga tower makes for an exciting mechanic. The game we played was space horror; we were a recovery crew, salvaging a large colony ship. Quinn tells me this story is in the main Dread book so I won’t spoil things, but the plot was pretty darn heavy, which was amazing. We were playing in the hotel room, lights dim, window open so we could see the stars. Music, sound effects, and atmospheric sounds were playing over speakers. In particular, the sound of our re-breathers reverberated through the room. I played the Captain, and it was a struggle. This game gave me shivers, and it came close to actually scaring me. I was honestly disturbed at the end. This is my top moment at GenCon. Thank you Quinn for doing what you do.
2) Liz Danforth and Tunnels and Trolls
I was at GenCon on a press pass. Most of that press was audio recordings, but I picked up a few other cool things and talked to a few other people I didn’t record. Talking to Liz was one of the highlights for me. I’d stopped by the Flying Buffalo games booth for a short interview and playtest of the new video game and app for Tunnels and Trolls (excellent, full review coming in a few days). I had hoped to talk to Liz then, as well, but she was super busy and I wanted to make sure she got a chance to sell her work. Later on I swung back by, introduced myself, and we talked niceties for a little bit. I then asked her a really tough question about the games industry. She asked me to sit down, and we talked for another 30 minutes about the industry as she’s seen it over her time. This was amazing. She was fantastic, and I really enjoyed talking with her. Check out the links above to learn more about her career.
3) Running Vampire 5th Edition Alpha Playtests
The Wrecking Crew invited me to run games for them at GenCon 50. Moreover, they invited me to run playtests of the 5th Edition Alpha rules that White Wolf developed for Vampire the Masquerade. I wrote a review of that on my personal blog. I ran five sessions, each four hours long. That was, to say the least, a shit ton of storytelling. I have never run so many games in such a short amount of time. I ran two sessions on Friday, though I’d originally been scheduled to run three. Every session went really well and my players were very happy leaving the table. All of my survey comments were really positive and I am thankful that all of my players were really engaged in every session I ran.
4) The Museum
For the 50th anniversary of GenCon, there was a museum created to show off items of historical value to RPG aficionados. My highlight was seeing the first draft of Ars Magica. There were also copies of the first versions of Chainmail, a first edition of Diplomacy, and a series of other excellent games that have come out over the years. VP Quinn was particularly excited to see a copy of the first Red Box D&D set he’d started playing all those years ago. It was really amazing to see all of this history in one place, and to see the progression of game design and development. We’ve come a long way folks.
5) The Friends
Meeting and gaming with other members of High Level Games in person was amazing. I’ve likely spent hundreds of hours talking to Quinn since we started working with one another, but GenCon was the first chance we had to meet in person. Which was awesome! You never know when you build friendships over the internet if they will stay strong in person, but I would say we are clearly a good team for a reason. Meeting some of the other staff writers and their friends was great too. On top of that, I met up with The Wrecking Crew demo team. All of them are great, and I recommend you check out their games if you get the chance. They attend a lot of conventions.
This was an amazing convention folks. I hope to see you at GenCon 51!
Photo is me, on the Dized Throne: Dized is currently running an Indigogo! Check it out!
With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, 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 D&D 5th Edition campaign and preparing a Changing Breeds game. 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 the right situation, enemy spellcasters can be extremely dangerous. They have access to powerful spells and abilities that can inflict grievous damage or disruption to the player characters. Some of these are BBEGs, but many are simple "encounter bosses", typically found in the final of that evil cultist shrine, or what have you.
Note that for the purposes of this article I am referring to the traditional spell casting enemies, like wizards, sorcerers, shamans, warlocks, priests, etc. An ancient green dragon, while technically a spellcaster, is not something that I would suggest beefing up due to the fact that they are very tanky and require quite a feat to overpower in combat.
The problem with these fantastic specimens is that they generally have some piss-poor defensive stats. They usually have a low hit point pool, a pretty low armour class, and usually some susceptibility to saving throw failures as well. When coupled with the fact that players see these encounter leaders with the word "BOSS" tattooed on their chest, their defensive statistics don't hold up too well when the party inevitably focuses their fire and throws their resources at taking these down as soon as possible.
Since this, let's call it, "natural selection" of players targeting anything that looks like it can do cool stuff (or dangerous stuff), is a thing, we may as well try to look at ways to utilise these enemies better. The best solution isn't just to stat-pad the wizard with more HP and a higher armour class. He'll start to feel just like a bugbear again and we're back to boring old square one; hence why I use the term "utilise" as opposed to "make them stronger".
So let's have a think about some ways that a spellcaster can utilise their power more effectively in combat.
Wizards (and most other spellcasters) are likely to have high wisdom, intelligence, or both. Yes, this is included in their spell bonuses, but remember that their thought processes would also be influenced by this too - they aren’t idiots! So we need to factor this in when thinking about ways they can utilise themselves more in combat. We need to remember that squishy spellcasters are usually very aware that they are a) squishy and b) a spellcaster. They wouldn't just charge into the fray.
To start, let's look at the biggest downfalls that these spellcasters have. Let's look at some reasons why they aren't as challenging as they perhaps might otherwise be:
1) They get focused on with big spells/nukes and martial heroes’ attacks;
2) They are often the juicy target for any of those "disruptive" spells the PC casters have such as Silence, Blindness, Confusion, Charm, etc.;
3) Their armour class and hit points are usually low, for their challenge rating; and
4) They don't function as effectively when adjacent to the hostile PCs.
I have a few potential solutions to this:
1) Don’t start combat with the caster in danger
Don't start the caster in the room when the fight breaks out. Have him enter part-way through instead. Let's say the PCs kick down the door of the wizard's quarters. What happens? Maybe his well-trained mimic treasure chest attacks! Perhaps the two suits of armour against the wall come alive and attack. Then have the wizard enter from an adjacent room on the following round, or even a few rounds later.
Alternatively, when the party attacks the wizard's guards in the great hall, the wizard hears the commotion (or an alarm spell is triggered) in the main chamber, and he enters with his golems and joins the fight mid-way while the players are already occupied.
The first advantage to this is that the wizard avoids the snowball of death that is the opening round of a D&D combat; where the players use their strongest abilities and try to burst down any immediate threats as quickly as possible. If the wizard walks in on a later round, it throws a spanner in the works by creating a tactical challenge for the players! Also, if the wizard has a round or two before they enter combat, they can cast those juicy defensive spells before they even step into the danger zone. Spells like Mirror Image, Mage Armour, Armour of Agathys, Blur, etc. are great.
2) Cast Invisibility/Blink
Have the wizard in the area, but have them unseen (due to Invisibility) or in another plane (with Blink). Until the wizard attacks, or is revealed, Invisibility will shield them from a lot of unwanted aggression from the PCs. Blink is a good disruptive defensive spell, as it will give the caster some rounds without any danger from the players.
3) Illusion Shenanigans
I've done this a few times and it's worked out pretty well. Just try not to be too mean with it, and don't overuse it.
There are a few ways to use illusion shenanigans. Firstly, to obscure the wizard from view (have a bookcase or some other Line of Sight blocker in between the party and the wizard's.) If the illusion goes, the wizard is revealed! Alternatively, disguise the wizard so that he looks like a commoner, a prisoner, or perhaps a grunt in the combat. Thirdly, you can disguise one of the other enemies to LOOK like the wizard with an illusion spell.
In one of my campaigns, the illusionist wizard was in a large chamber with a bunch of his golems. The paladin of the party, who hated him, ran forward and used misty step to be right next to the wizard, and then attacked. It was then he realised that the wizard's image was only an illusion, cloaking the real enemy - the wizard's champion battle golem! The paladin was alone, right next to it! You could also use illusions as 1hp minions to try and coax out spells from the players. Use this approach in moderation, as it can backfire in nasty ways, i.e. players running amok in revenge.
4) Run two wizards
You can't focus fire two things at once! Another option is to consider running two, slightly weaker wizards as opposed to just one. (Or 3 wizards, or 4, 10, 20, etc.) Sure, one might get focused down and annihilated, but the other will still be up! Or your party might panic and half-kill both of them, leaving them both free to wreak havoc on their next turn!
5) The Old Switcheroo
The party kicks down the door to see an evil warlock in robes completing his ritual. He is surrounded by 4 demonic brutes, and he glares at you and gestures with his finger, pointing for his demons to attack the intruders. The players think "Oh crap, we gotta kill that warlock first so that the encounter is easier." But what they don't know, is that the warlock is just Joe Bloggs from Villagehills down the road, who turned a dark path and read the wrong page from the black tome. He has AC10, no spells, and one hit die. The real threat of this combat are the demonic brutes, but I can bet money that some useful spells might be wasted on this commoner - spells which really would have been more helpful if used on the demons. Again, don't overuse it, but dab it in your world here and there for a bit of fun.
6) Use The Battlefield To Their Advantage
Design encounters that really suit wizards. Throw in a lot of inhibiting terrain that slows movement or forces the players to take a long route to get to the wizard. Having a ravine or crevasse in-between the wizard and the party is an easy way of doing this. You could also accommodate this with a trap (like swinging axes) that stands between the players and the wizard's (But you should think of offering a long way around the trap for players who don't want to tangle with it). Also, of course, remember to station the wizard's allies as a barrier between the wizard and the PCs.
There are two types of DMs in the world. Those who increase difficulty by giving their spellcasters more hit points and a higher armour class, or those who use more strategic or creative measures to increase the challenge. Harder doesn’t necessarily mean more hit points. Use the above to really let those players know how crazy powerful spellcasters can be!
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
Image Credit: http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/uncle-grandpa/images/2/27/Transparent_Evil_Wizard.png/revision/latest?cb=20140515001325
I know that if you are reading this article that you already have an affinity for tabletop roleplaying games. I don’t need to convince you that they are great to play. But somehow there are large numbers of non-active roleplayers I have met. I could make up a statistic now and say 50% of regular roleplayers don’t game anymore. Isn’t that horrible?
There are many good reasons why people take a hiatus from roleplaying. Tales have been told of groups that have fallen apart, moving away from your group, family commitments getting in the way, life being unbearably busy, or in my case I had a small bundle of energy burst into my world. My hiatus (luckily) only lasted a couple years, but making time to roleplay again was one of my best decisions.
I know one will sound a little “wonky” (thank you for the influx of odd vocabulary, daughter), but bear with me. I know a common reason that you stop roleplaying is due to the commitments in your everyday life. But I have found that when you schedule in a regular game on a weekly or biweekly occurance, your schedule makes it seem like you have more time. Having a schedule in your job works the same way. Less time is spent thinking about what you do next and you just do it.
Scheduling a game makes sure I have put in my time for fun and for me first. When in a regular roleplaying group, I see people more often. I know meeting with friends outside the group often means checking multiple schedules (yours, mine, spouses, children), checking on a child’s sickness, neglecting other things I had hoped to do (I’m looking at you laundry), and a myriad of things, which means I rarely see them. But my roleplaying friends become closer and the rest of my life is far easier to manage with good scheduling.
I probably don’t need to write much about this (considering my audience), but I will note a few things. As I get older and delve more into my professional life, I am bombarded with things I do for the sake of my career that are fulfilling or help me get ahead. Many of these things are not fun. In fact, fun things often get set aside for the ‘adulting’ choices. Making time for fun is important and I think all of you know that. Embrace it.
3) Stress Relief
Stress is not a dirty word in my household. It is an ever present reality. It is not all bad since it spurs us on to work hard and accomplish a great number of things that we would not do otherwise. But you do need to offset stress.
Roleplaying is the greatest offset I have found. It is creative and based on conquering goals and solving problems together. It causes me to look for solutions instead of focusing on problems. It has me analyse my character’s strengths and weaknesses not as personality flaws, but as simply realities I need to work with. With my stats laid out I am able to ask the barbarian Mayron for help in an area without fear of looking weak (unless that’s what I am going for story-wise of course). If all stressors in my life worked this way, my stress would be lessened greatly.
Roleplaying is more than just a stress-reliever. A story envelops you as you roleplay. My daydreaming in elementary school was recorded on every report card. I needed the time to escape and ponder fantastical stories in my mind. These stories were often the same ones with minor adjustments thrown in for a different flavour. The group narrative in roleplaying is an enhancement to my daydreams beyond what I could ever comprehend. We collectively put away our regular lives to create a vivid new world with new people experiencing new things. This is precious.
5) Mental Health
Time to throw down my personal flaws for all to see. I am human being who struggles with depression and has to greater or lesser extents my entire life. My default when hitting depression is to hide away, see no one, make no plans, and slowly fall deeper and deeper as the lying depression brain convinces me that no one wants to hang out anyway.
Having a regular game not only gives you a foothold in with people and interaction, but also forms a community of individuals who look out for you when you try to skip out on too many games. The act of people pursuing you for fun is in direct opposition to the lying depression brain. Even when playing and my depression is at its worst, when the other players or GM commend me on something small within the game, it chips away at the wall I was busy building. I firmly believe that roleplaying is a positive place for those who struggle with mental health concerns.
Ideas are not finite. However, sometimes when I am working on something solitary I am unable to grasp more ideas. When working with a group of people, ideas are built on, grown, fly out of nowhere, and abundant; this changes all the possibilities. Very rarely have I ever hit a brick wall when roleplaying (both figuratively and literally). When creating backstories or building new connections we are shown that roleplaying is an intensely creative hobby. You are honestly creating new ideas constantly.
7) Sexy-times Abilities
Okay this one was from a friend (collaboration). She claims that roleplaying enhances sexy-times ability. I didn’t ask details. I think she may have been thinking about a different kind of roleplay.
8) Problem Solving
We touched on this one briefly already. Being focused on finding a solution rather than just seeing a problem and quitting is a huge reason why you should play regularly. Using this skill over and over again in a game (where the risks to you are lower) is a good muscle to stretch and build. There are hundreds and hundreds of articles, research essays, and professional development courses that tell us how important problem solving skills are for the work force, academics, relationship building, and any other facet in your life.
In roleplaying you have a natural way to help this skill develop. There are general steps you need to do to problem solve. They say you should examine/identify/define/name the problem in detail. Grogar says that the farms outside of town have been plundered over and over again by some scoundrels. Your group knows the problem and probably discusses it. They will then move on to managing the problem. Your adventure group will automatically look for more information, investigate, and talk to those involved so they know more. Once the party knows more, they will looks at their options to solve the problem, they will brainstorm, weigh pros and cons, and look at the possible impacts of each solution. They will decide on the course of action and implement their plan. Whether that plan works or not will be a discussion in character involving high-fives or other discussion as you reflect on the results. These are the steps we try to teach others to take. Here they are done for practice, done collaboratively, and done for lower stakes. People pay good money to learn these skills and you do it in a game!
Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, ambivert, or extrovert with introvert tendencies (and so on), community is important. Finding a place to belong and contribute is an important part of life. Sometimes we can find communities elsewhere, but not everyone works in a place or is connected to a place outside their home.
Communities in roleplaying can be a place of non judgement, safety, and security. Roleplaying can be a place where you can *be* anyone. You can explore different facets of your personality or try out terrible dwarven voices. Putting yourself out there can make you feel vulnerable. I have yet to be judged for trying something out with a character even if I later realized that it quickly needed to be dropped. This “permission to fail” is an important part of my life, when I struggle to make all the “right” decisions outside of the game. Roleplaying communities have this built in.
So as you roleplayers on hiatus read through, I hope you can find a group to join, resurrect your old group, start your own group, or some combination of those three. The internet has made our world a bit smaller and it is easier to find each other. Take time to spend time on you. You are worth it.
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 and coaches debate. She gets a little emotional sometimes when she writes. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa ...on second/third thought… I am terrible at twitter. Please send help! She also thinks you should support the writers here that are more clever and can figure out twitter.
PIcture Reference: https://www.amazon.com/PacMan-Video-Game-Wall-Clock/dp/B01M290P3Z?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B01M290P3Z&pd_rd_r=F0G4HSBDG7P4FPQ179JP&pd_rd_w=cdoVH&pd_rd_wg=Iypp8&psc=1
I know that Lord Mayor Drakeson has invited you to Carinford-Halldon, ostensibly to congratulate you on rooting out and killing the werewolf Edmond Timothy. Have you had occasion to meet Mayor Drakeson's wife? Gwendolyn Drakeson is a perfect hostess, of course, and the two of them are quite in love. It would seem that her grandfather Nathan Timothy found a smart match for her indeed…
The werewolf (here and throughout I use the term werewolf, but each of these points could refer to most all lycanthropes, and some non-lycanthrope shapeshifters as well) is one of the oldest archetypes in horror literature. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King boils all monsters down to three basic molds, one of which is the werewolf: the monster that walks among us. Throughout history, mythology, and fiction, there are several common threads that run through the best werewolf stories. Hopefully, looking at some of these a little more closely may give you some insight (or inspiration) for using werewolves in your own games.
1) The Beast
Truly, from his origins as a pauper in the western core, Frankie Drakeson has overcome a great deal of personal tragedy, from being orphaned before he could walk, to the brutal violence he and his sister suffered at the hands of a Dementlieuse smuggler. Such setbacks would have destroyed a lesser man, but Mayor Drakeson shows no signs of being weighed down by his past.
The werewolf isn’t just a person who turns into a wolf. Not everyone who gets bitten becomes infected. In werewolf stories, the hidden monstrosity of the werewolf represents the savagery that can lurk within anyone. This can vary from a rage-fueled impulse to mindless destruction, all the way up to a predatory need to hunt and kill one’s own kind. In Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, the werewolf curse isn’t just a supernatural disease; it represents the very real, deep issues these characters struggle with, including spousal abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a host of other problems. In the best werewolf stories, the monster isn’t just the random victim of circumstance: the curse echoes some darkness that already exists within them, and the wolf is just an excuse to let it out.
2) The Unnatural
A word of advice if you plan to accept his invitation: Carinford-Halldon is extremely unusual for Mordentish villages in that it has no dogs. The residents seem unsure about the cause, and while some blame the wild boars and others vaguely recall a mysterious canine illness, bringing a hound remains a risky proposition.
The ‘wolf’ in werewolf has very little to do with wolves beyond a passing resemblance. The best werewolves have virtually nothing to do with natural wolves. Most werewolves are shunned by natural beasts. It’s fitting that many werewolf groups operate along the alpha-beta-omega pack structure, since this hierarchy is a fiction of humankind. It appears only in wolves in captivity, so it's apropos that it is used by beings that are of both wolf and man, but wholly neither. In the few cases where monstrous werewolves exert control over real wolves, they control the animals not through a connection of kinship but through supernatural domination, much like a vampire. The werewolf who has a deep connection to nature is a figure of primal spirituality, not a monster, and loses some of its impact in a horror setting.
3) The Hidden
I envy you: Mayor Drakeson is a delightful dinner companion! The servants and commonfolk in his village will no doubt seek to regale you with numerous tales of the monsters he's vanquished and the lengths he's gone to in order to protect his friends and family. There's probably no one in the entire town that doesn't feel like they personally owe their lives to him.
The greatest danger of the werewolf isn’t their teeth or even their curse; it’s that they could be anyone. If the players can readily identify the werewolf suspect, then you might not be getting the most mileage out of the werewolf archetype. The werewolf is at its best when people don’t even realize that’s what they’re dealing with. In a D&D game of course, this is nearly impossible. Fortunately, once someone has been exposed to the werewolf archetype it leaves an indelible fear in the back of their mind; fear of the evil their friends and allies might be concealing. (It is this exact fear that games like Are You a Werewolf? exploit to create humor.) As the adventure continues and tension begins to mount, player suspicion will grow to become paranoia, and the damage that a party can do when it is gripped by fear can be greater than the mayhem caused by the werewolf itself. The most malevolent werewolves, the ones who know (or suspect) their true nature, are adept at exploiting this, diverting attention from themselves so adroitly that their friends and allies will even take up arms against renowned heroes rather than believe their loved one could be hiding such a dark secret.
4) The Puppet
I do hope you come at the right time of year, however. During autumn, when the last desperate traders of the season are hurrying across the lands, both predator and brigand make travel to the town dangerous. Why, the mayor and his family are so busy keeping the roads safe they can scarcely be found at all!
Although transforming beneath the full moon is the most common trigger, almost all werewolves are afflicted by their curse in some kind of scheduled timeframe, both in fiction and mythology. Ancient werewolf stories tell of men who transform every evening when the sun goes down, those who were cursed to walk as a wolf seven days out of the year, those who transformed beneath the new moon, and an assortment of other schedules. In all these cases, the underlying root is the same: the werewolf is affected by unseen forces that do not have such a pull over the rest of us. These forces compel the werewolf to do their evil deeds, in the same way that Dexter’s Dark Passenger compels him to his own butchery. History is rife with serial killers compelled to follow a schedule to their murders, and it is this example that informs the werewolf legend’s need for a timeframe. Altering the schedule for a werewolf antagonist can be a good way to throw the PCs for a loop while still maintaining this core aspect of the werewolf archetype.
Shortly after arranging to marry Nathan Timothy's granddaughter Gwen, Frankie began a family of his own. His six children have grown into fine young men and women, and from captain of the guard to magistrate, they all serve the town as loyally as their parents do.
Human storytellers have known for centuries that abuse and trauma can form a vicious feedback loop. The werewolf legend reflects that in multiple ways. On the one hand, there are the werewolves who were delivered into this curse: regular people, possibly even good people (albeit ones with repressed horrors or well controlled dark urges) who were affected by traumas larger than they could cope with. There are also the hereditary werewolves, whose curse was handed down from parent to child. These werewolves reflect the unfortunate tendency for the unwary (or uncaring) to inflict their own trauma on their children. Such families work hard to maintain a semblance of normalcy, keeping their family as hidden from their community as possible. Some werewolves who become aware of their nature can delight in spreading their disease to others (Voldemort’s flunky Fenrir Greyback is a good example of this) in the same way that some human predators take a perverse glee in bringing others around to their warped point of view.
6) The Corruption
Mayor Drakeson has done a wonderful job getting rid of the boars around Carinford-Halldon: those swine cause so many problems! Why, shortly after he settled there, the native boars caused so much damage with their rooting that they wiped out entire copses of trees. To this day you can't find a cedar tree within miles of the town.
Whether they entered their state willingly, as punishment for their crimes, were infected by another werewolf, or had their curse passed on by their parents, all werewolves share a foulness within them. This inner bestiality is why the werewolf is vulnerable to silver, as silver is a symbol of purity. Other possibilities exist, of course. Ravenloft werewolves are famous for their varied chemical and material ‘allergies.' However, all of these items share something in common: they’re all either symbols of purity or agents of purification. (The film Ginger Snaps explores this idea.) This is an important link for the archetype. Werewolves’ banes aren’t just random weaknesses, they’re a tangible reminder that the afflicted is a monster, and its pain stems from the fact that its wickedness is so strong as to cause a physical reaction when exposed to such purity.
7) The Victim
Since Frankie quit hunting monsters and settled down with his family, he's done his best to stay busy. Notably, he's done a marvelous job sponsoring and training monster hunters. He's shown a particular interest in training those adventurers who would travel through Kartakas or Verbrek, as though he has a specific grudge against the abominations of those lands.
Most werewolves were a person, once. Like Larry Talbot, they might have even been a good person. The most impactful werewolf stories are the ones where the protagonists discover that the werewolf is someone they care about. Almost as meaningful, and a little less expected, is when the werewolf turns out to be someone they don't know terribly well, but they just like. In lighter stories, the quest to find a cure can be the focus of an adventure. However, in horror adventuring, especially the Victorian horror of Ravenloft, the werewolf curse is an echo of the mental darkness it is serves as an allegory for: it cannot be cured. It can be suppressed, for a time, but there is no force that can contain it forever. Eventually, the monster within will break loose and hurt someone. The person the werewolf once was might be horrified by what they've become, but they find themselves unable to end their own existence; the monster is part of their own will to survive, and it is stronger than they are. Such unfortunate souls cannot understand why they continue to allow themselves to commit the atrocities they perform while transformed, and with every passing cycle they become increasingly unsure of whether they began as a good person with a horrific curse, or if the monster was their true self all along and their human life just a convenient disguise.
My, how I ramble on! The truth is, you've done quite a bit of good in the world, and I'm certain Mayor Drakeson's patronage is no small part of that. You deserve his recognition, to be sure. Carinford-Halldon is a lovely place: a tight knit community with an intense amount of loyalty to one another, both commoner and noble alike. Spend a day with the Mayor and his family, and you'll find their hospitality beyond compare. Spend any more time than that with them, and you're bound to have a howling good time...
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 Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Image reference: https://www.blackgate.com/2011/10/21/game-review-innistrad-from-magic-the-gathering/
For as long as there’ve been creative works, there will always be more creative works that are either inspired by or that pay homage to works before them, and the original Final Fantasy video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System is one such example of this.
Many of the game mechanics and creatures used in the original Final Fantasy were borrowed from Dungeons and Dragons, such as magic users only being able to use so many spells of certain levels per day, or even some of the monsters, such as sahuagin and mind flayers.
When Final Fantasy gained popularity in the 1990’s (which persists even to this day!), many people began working together to bring Final Fantasy back to its tabletop roots, with the largest of these endeavors being a long running project known as the Final Fantasy RPG project.
Today, I will show you all an abridged history of fan made Final Fantasy tabletop RPGs.
1) FInal Fantasy Tactics Miniatures Game
This is perhaps the oldest of the games showcased today; it’s a tabletop skirmish game based on the Final Fantasy Tactics video game for the Playstation. Though when I say “based on,” what I really mean is that it’s a direct copy of the rules of the game.
As in, its creator literally just wrote down the mechanics of the video game as the rules for this tabletop game (which, admittedly is no mean feat).
Unfortunately, this very fact also makes the game nearly unplayable, since many of the calculations are so redundant that it’d numb the average human mind after two rounds of combat where something actually happens.
This game also had some creative license taken with the classes available. There are a few additional classes that weren’t originally included in the Final Fantasy Tactics video game. They instead came from the real time strategy game Age of Empires.
It’s not by any means good, or even playable, but the Final Fantasy Tactics Miniatures Games is still noteworthy as an artifact from the Web 1.0 era. This game was made at a time when personal publishing tools were much less robust, and for all its flaws, it somehow managed to survive into this modern era of the internet.
2) Final Fantasy d20
Final Fantasy d20 originally started as a conversion of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 meant to sport character classes and races from the Final Fantasy franchise, but has recently been updated to use the Pathfinder rules.
The fact that it uses Pathfinder makes it seem, at first blush, like one of the more accessible games, but it actually points out what I believe is something of a misconception about games with “d20” affixed at the end of the title: they’re not all the same, and knowing one won’t necessarily make you a master of all the others.
All the races and classes from Pathfinder have been gutted to make room for Final Fantasy’s equally robust selection; so the similarities between Final Fantasy d20 and Pathfinder mostly end at the core mechanics of the game.
Even still, Final Fantasy d20 does a good job bringing Final Fantasy to the d20 ruleset. It has many of the staples of Final Fantasy, such as Limit Breaks (the super powered attacks character can make after taking enough damage), along with familiar ideas from most d20 fantasy games, such as the capacity for multiclassing and prestige classes.
Most importantly though, Final Fantasy d20 has an active community to this day, and is still being updated, with some of the most recent additions as of this writing being a Samurai class (as they’re depicted in Final Fantasy, of course) and the inclusion of an official character sheet!
3) Final Fantasy d6
Final Fantasy d6 is a spin-off of the Second Edition of the Final Fantasy RPG Project. It was created as a splinter project when the 3rd Edition was announced, but showed no signs of being released.
So fans of the fan made game took it upon themselves to make their own version of the game that simplified the rules some.
As the name implies, a bulk of the game’s mechanics are based around the humble six sided dice, but lowering the size of the dice and numbers used (the game this was based off used d100) is as far as the game goes regarding simplification.
Final Fantasy d6 has quite a few detailed subsystems, such as different weapons all having their own idiosyncrasies besides just doing more damage than the others. As an example: wands and staves allow spells to activate faster; spears and whips get critical hits more often.
What I think really makes this game shine is that there’s a great deal of customization available. The game offers detailed item creation rules, but still sports a wide range of gear available à la carte for players who just want to pick items from a list.
It’s not a tremendously simple game as it’s initially described, but it’s otherwise exactly what it says on the tin: a Final Fantasy game that uses d6s.
4) SeeD: A Final Fantasy Inspired Tabletop RPG
Continuing along the path of games based on the products of the Final Fantasy RPG Project, SeeD is a remake of the project’s 3rd edition, which was notorious for being so complex and convoluted that it was practically unplayable without some kind of machine assistance.
SeeD, instead of seeing this as a problem, embraces this idea. It makes use of many double and triple digit numbers, and includes multi-step formulae as a part of actions. Additionally, SeeD is also a modular system, with many distinctly different subsystems to accomplish the same tasks, such as non-combat skills and character classes.
In order to combat the cumbersome nature of having a large and varied rules set, SeeD has its rules distributed as a wiki. Hyperlinks are used to direct the reader to other relevant sections, such as to the skill list section from the various different skill system pages.
Also listed on this wiki is an archive of tools designed specifically for running SeeD.
This game is incredibly detailed, especially for a home-brewed variety, and is a culmination of years of effort from many different people, and even has a second edition which seeks to divorce itself from its Final Fantasy roots.
According to the update logs of the wiki, they both seem to still be maintained and updated!
5) Final Fantasy RPG 4th Edition
The fourth direct product of the Final Fantasy RPG project goes in a different direction from all its predecessors and their spinoffs by being an overall simplification of the game, with considerably less customization.
The forward of the game is also very straightforward with what its creators intended with two particular design choices standing out: that the game should be modular, to accommodate works from others; and that the game should in fact be two games with mostly divided rules, a game about non-combat exploration and another about tactical combat.
These are goals that the FFRPG 4th Edition succeeds in. How a character decides to dispatch enemies has very little bearing on what a character is able to do outside the heat of combat, and in fact, there is an optional set of rules meant to remove (or at least minimize) the role of combat in this game, leaving character class as little more than a narrative detail.
What’s most impressive about the Final Fantasy RPG 4th edition is that everything it builds off from was the collective works of other fans of the Final Fantasy franchise, who built their own tabletop game from scratch as an homage to the video game series.
The legacy of more than 20 years this game was built on gives it a unique set of mechanics, even if the options and selections seem sparse by comparison to it’s older editions.
So there you have it, some of the most outstanding works (for good or ill) of people who sought to bring Final Fantasy back to the tabletop after it adopted its own distinct form. Even if you’re not a fan of Final Fantasy, these are still good things to look into if you’re interested in creating your own sort of tabletop game.
And if you are a fan of Final Fantasy, then much like the video games themselves, you have a wide variety to choose from, each with their own unique aspects to offer.
Aaron der Schaedel is a fan of both tabletop and video game RPGs that set out to research this oddly expansive yet niche topic in honor of Final Fantasy’s 30th anniversary. He also wants you to know that a Google search using the names as they’re presented here will lead you to the rulebooks of the games if you’re curious to read them yourself.
Link to this article's picture page: https://www.gameskinny.com/5a8v1/personal-picks-favorite-and-top-tier-jobs-in-final-fantasy-series
We sat down the the staff at BrigadeCon, to see what their convention is about, and why you should attend this year! (Some slight editing occurred for clarity.)
1) First off, what is BrigadeCon and why is it important?
What is BrigadeCon?
BrigadeCon is a 100% free Online Roleplaying Game Convention and Benefit in which the online tabletop and virtual roleplaying gaming community the RPG Brigade hosts live gaming events, interviews, gaming panels, and art demos in order to raise funds for the Child's Play Charity. Sponsors that support BrigadeCon (and its mission) donate digital books, physical books, dice, playmats, minis, and much more for the raffle held the day of BrigadeCon. Simply signing up as an attendee and providing a valid postal mailing address qualifies anyone for these Sponsor prizes.
Why is BrigadeCon important?
BrigadeCon attempts to accomplish various important purposes.
2) Why did you make the jump from a community to hosting your own convention?
I think at some point all communities grow to a capacity in which they want to work and do some good for the community that they love. Four years ago when Michael Barker called for the creation of BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade exploded with excitement. We all wanted to do our part to make BrigadeCon something fun and exciting to be a part of. Now, four years later, I look back on that excitement, and I still feel it. I think the entire RPG Brigade does too. It's a very special day for us all to re-converge as a community and have fun together while supporting a great cause like Child's Play.
3) Could you tell us more about Child’s Play and why you decided to partner with them?
The Child's Play Charity is "a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of hospitalized children" by raising funds to purchase video games, toys, books, and other fun stuff for them while in recovery. During the preparation for the first BrigadeCon, we didn't have to look far to find a wonderful cause to support. The Child's Play Charity already had a strong presence in the gaming community and it was (and remains) meaningful to many in the RPG Brigade who were previously, or still are, hospitalized children that survived both the pain and boredom.
So we partnered with Child's Play and never looked back.
4) How can attendees donate to Child’s Play?
In the months leading up to BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade (and those that find interest in BrigadeCon) can donate to the Child's Play Charity using two methods.
5) What is the format of BrigadeCon and where can players, GMs and others sign up for events?
As of the date of this interview, Event Hosting Requests are being accepted by those who want to host Live Gaming Events, Interviews, Gaming Panels, and Art Demos. The form to register is here: http://www.brigadecon.org/eventrequest/ .
On October 15th, 2017 a new page will be revealed on BrigadeCon.org showing all of the events that are open.Simply review all of the events you would like to participate in, then buy the ticket (it is 100% free) and you will be able to correspond with you GM/Host from there.
BrigadeCon supports YoutTube Live and Twitch Live Streams
6) Finally, what was your favorite moment from the previous BrigadeCons?
Personally, there are so many, but one stands out to me right now. During BrigadeCon 2014 GM Chugosh ran a one-shot of Slipstream for three players. It was really a neat game. Everyone thought it was over .... but a young Russian player, Vlad, was trying really hard to tell the guys that he wanted to finish off the session with a song "Taking Home." He finally got a word in. Then, "something magical" happened, as is the case with all Bards. The players were lost in the song and so was the whole convention. It was beautiful. Everyone was texting each other, "THERE IS A BARD IN GM CHUGOSH'S GAME SINGING!" All of the volunteers that stayed up for 24 hours just watched it together in silence. It was a special moment.
Here is the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr2M8hTBktk
Once again, thank you,
Thank you and High Level Games for supporting BrigadeCon!
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Many years ago, I ran an ongoing campaign where all the PC’s were members of a secret society, some of them high ranking enough to be in charge of expansion into new territories. This meant they developed a keen sense for new bases of operations from which a new cell might put down roots and expand into the community. A good base can be a great feature of a campaign, and a few simple tips can lead you in the right direction.
1) Talk About Your Fixer-Upper….
It’s a popular trope to reward the PC’s with ownership of someplace that they have cleansed of ghosts or other monstrous inhabitants. Not only does this make the acquisition an adventure, it also makes good economic sense. Real estate of any kind is normally outside of a PC’s price range, but the reputation and disrepair may keep the price low even after they drive the baddies out. Between that and the gratitude of the owners, the PC’s may get it for almost free. To flip this trope on its head, start with a PC getting a title or deed super-cheap, only to find out that they have to deal with a horrible curse or other baggage that comes along with it. Rather than find another sucker to pawn it off to, they can free themselves of their imminent doom by confronting the problem head on, as adventurers.
2) So Hard To Get Good Help These Days
A base of operations should include some responsibility, if only for maintenance and cleaning. If the base requires special skills to maintain, a PC with the appropriate skills should be assumed to be doing some of this in their downtime. When my PC’s defeated a house possessed by a mechanical golem, the grateful owner agreed to let them live there in exchange for restoration and repairs by an engineer PC. Spellcasters may be able to defray a lot of these costs using magic, but the party should also consider staff. It’s not uncommon for people to come around looking for simple work cooking and cleaning up. Staff are a great source of background info, connection with the community, and the occasional adventure hook, but be careful using too many secret pasts, betrayals or infiltration plots. It’s one thing to keep PC’s on their toes, and another to frustrate players because their new base feels like nothing but a liability.
3) Battle Stations!
While the adventure doesn’t always come to them, a good base should be defensible in an emergency, and some effort in fortifying it will go a long way. Vampire hunter Rudolph Van Richten surrounded his nondescript herbalist’s shop with flower boxes growing garlic and wolvesbane, and the elegant glass windows were salvaged from a church and featured holy symbols. These kinds of precautions add character to a base even if they don’t see much use, and allows the base to grow in power along with the PC’s. This is especially true if the base’s activities center around a character’s career, whether a church for a cleric, hunting lodge for a ranger, etc. If a particular party member has the Leadership feat, they can set some of their followers to guarding and maintaining it while they are away, with the expectation that many of these folks are learning the ropes in the fight against evil.
4) Location, Location, Location
After the PC’s defended a forgotten sanctuary against a siege led by the former caretaker, I thought for sure they would select it as another base for their secret society’s expansion. It was hallowed ground for two PC’s, one with the Leadership feat, with unseen servants and magical defenses at their beck and call, but none of this was quite enough to compensate for the fact that it was just too remote for their society’s purposes. A good base needs to be accessible as well as defensible. It ought to be close to civilization, or at least to sources of supplies, services, and information, even if it’s just local gossip at a watering hole. Of course, it should also be accessible to places they will be adventuring, without being too vulnerable. Unless their adventures are largely urban, consider a location on the edge of civilization: a ranger’s fort on the frontier, a training dojo on a mountainside just outside of town, or lonely tower on the edge of a village are all great concepts.
Whatever you choose for your base, the most important things are what you bring to it yourself. Make it unique, make it yours, and it will be a memorable character your group will reminisce about for years to come.
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.
While everyone’s first campaign has to come to an end at some point, it’s never exactly an enjoyable experience. You’ll always miss that character (or perhaps come to regret them depending on how “cringy” your first character was.) But with time comes experience. In a more literal sense, I’d like to think I’m at least a level 15 role-player at this point in my life. Often though, things can slip into a sort of loop. Where you’re kind of playing the same five characters over and over and over again. Well, I’ve always been one to “break the chains” if you would, when it comes to making the suggestions for the next campaign at my table. Quite a few of them have been shot down. I like to blame it on the fact that the DM is a grognard, but in all honesty I’m kind of a wild card, proposing rather eccentric campaign basis (not suitable for 5e in some cases which is the edition we’re using most commonly.) Well, occasionally, I’m not shot down at the speed of light and we get some rather interesting stories. Here are a few of my most interesting ideas. (For the sake of this article making sense when I use the phrase *descriptor* campaign I’m saying it in reference to most, if not all of the characters being *descriptor* as opposed to literally everyone in the campaign world. Although I’m sure a world where everyone is Chaotic Neutral is probably the closest you’ll get to a real world simulator.)
1) All Evil Campaign
I mean, haven’t we all had a ploy for world domination at some point or another? I know I’ve wanted a little mayhem and chaos in my life every now and again. Truly, I think this is one of the most versatile of the idea’s I proposed because some of my other ones can “fit” into it. For example, a lycanthrope campaign could also fall into this category. But the beauty of this is the key three different evil alignments. If you don’t want to worry about the characters backstabbing the ever-living hell out of each other constantly (which would easily be defendable as just playing the character) you could request the group be Lawful Evil and collectively follow a similar “code of honor” so they can’t backstab their allies. Or, put a curse on the fools for their evil acts so if they harm each other they burst into flames or something similar.
Of course, having a campaign where everyone is at eachothers throats (playfully and for the sake of roleplaying for god's sake or someone will get stabbed in the throat with a pencil) could be just as enjoyable in the long or short- run. Then there’s the antagonists to the group to talk about. They could be old, previously played groups, who are WAY out of the evil group’s weight class. Meaning they’d have to really think in order to overcome (or perhaps slow down) their quarry. And of course, once these characters are fully developed and all powerful, they could serve as villains in later campaigns.
2) Demi-God Campaign (Overpowered Campaign)
It's a damn blast to be a badass. Normally, players work hard at becoming a badass. Starting off as essentially some numpty who picked up a sword or spell book and eventually becoming one of the most revered and powerful people in the world. However, sometimes it’s nice to be born into power. Born into the right to control certain things and express a higher form of power than the rest of the common-folk like you or me. A group of them could be very powerful indeed. And such a situation would require a lot of planning on the DM’s part. But as with any special campaign, there’s a lot of room to maneuver with if you are concerned about everyones power and being equal. I think the best place to start for this campaign, would be to discuss just how powerful a demigod is. Weather or not we’ve got Percy Jackson over here, with relatively human capabilities with a few added bonuses or if we’re talking about a group full of the equivalents of Hercules punching through the heads of dragons is a very key question. Each has their own merits.
If one was to make a less overpowered demi-god, (let's assume for the sake of argument Percy Jackson level demigod, in his case Percy is relatively human when not in contact with water and the likes.) The individual's character could have their special abilities in only extraordinarily specific conditions. Balancing out the game and making their powers generally more of a plot device. The son of the God of War however would most likely enter their element whenever in combat and something similar could be said the daughter of the God of Magic. Honestly though, if you’re thinking about making your players have to deal with very situational powers for their characters, why even bother making them demi-gods? If you were to go for a more powerful perspective, the son of the God of Tricksters could be able to turn invisible and teleport (short distances) on a whim, making him very formidable in combat, but almost useless against an enemy with blindsense or truesight (which as a demi-god enemies with these typically rare traits could become more common.) The daughter of the Goddess of Hell might be an ace at necromancy and fire spells, but have difficulty mastering more subtle spells such as abjurations and illusions. There’s a lot of things to consider going into this campaign, but the sheer uniqueness of the characters possible might even merit their own roleplaying system.
(A couple footnotes: One: A personal thing our group did was give each character an epic boon early on. Two: Very important thing to discuss is the relationship between the character and their parent.)
3) Monster Campaign
With Volo’s guide giving access to quick stats for (so-called) monstrous races such as orcs and the Yuan-Ti, this particular selection is probably very common. Of course. that’s not to say that this wasn’t possible in other situations and before Volo’s guide. Just that it makes this feel more natural. Being the begrudging heros of a group of people who shun and outcast you can be an odd situation indeed. At least for the protagonists. Making camping outside of cities more common and bandit attacks far more amusing. This opens the party up to having to solve social issues and overcome racism from town to town. (Of course when most orcs are Chaotic Evil isn’t a little justified?) While that might get tedious, it’s a surefire way to encourage non-combat based experience gaining. Also, you could phase it out as their renown in a region grows. Not to mention the fact that depending on the monstrous race chosen, they could have a plot device built in with a clan or group of allies that comes in occasionally. Even the odd group of adventurers could come in wanting to kill the monsters after a report from a particularly aggressive commoner.
Of course the issue here is balance. Monsters were meant to be the antagonists to the protagonists here and what's an antagonist whose on the same power level as the hero? For example, a Yuan-Ti character, with base immunities and resistances to common ailments as well as bonus to their casting would very quickly become a potent force in the group. An orc would be a great fighter. Probably better than any of the base races could be. A similar story for Bugbears and their superior reach. Mix that with a polearm, and they’ve got a 15 foot reach. At least if you ask Volo’s Guide. You can always homebrew that jazz or make some excuse though, so by all means, get cracking.
4) All *Race* Campaign
Every race has stereotypes to fit and to break. With a group filled with all elves for example, you’ve got your classic magic, arrow shooting xenophobe with a strong dislike for those oafish dwarves and just a small dislike for all the other races. Then you’ve got the drunken heavy armor plated fighter with a greatsword and a bit of a lust for money. A group of dwarves have the one guy who sneaks around with his leather armour and pair of daggers and keeps his beard short as to avoid tripping on it while he’s low to the ground. Then there's the greedy, alcohol fueled warrior with his beard decorated with beads and metal, an axe and a shield at his side, whose a blacksmith in his downtime. Another thing to consider as a group with primarily one race in it, is if some if the characters even speak common. Assuming they grew up primarily among their race isn’t unreasonable and learning a new language isn’t exactly number one on everyone's to do list.
However, for all it’s worth, having just one race in a group kinda makes it lean towards a certain class typically. With a primarily gnomish group for example, it’d be extraordinarily easy to have an extra magic lenient group. In that case a fighter might not be on the crew, and anyone who’s played a few campaigns will tell you how important a tank is. Anyone who’s played ANYTHING will tell you how important a tank is (WOW players I’m looking at you to confirm.) Perhaps gnomes are a little bit of an unideal example with the size thing going for them. But my point is made nonetheless. My only big no no for this would be don’t do an all human campaign, although if they’re in foreign lands for example, it might work.
5) Exploration Campaign
Do me a favour, and listen to the original Legend of Zelda theme or the opening to Dragon Quest 8 while reading this, because no matter how hard the editorial team and I try we can't get the text to forcibly transmit a song into your mind. Though we did lose a couple interns trying. By the way, if you see Brian... I mean, Graynor the Bonebreaker, running the streets naked using a dead chicken to fend off the hallucinations, contact us. We’ll send an extraction team. And to the families of our beloved interns; Sorry ‘bout that one.
But, now that you're listening to some appropriately adventurous music, I’ll make a point. Exploring the unexplored, the unmapped and the unknown is just as dangerous (if not more so) than delving into ancient dwarven ruins or destroying a crypt of undead. No maps means that it’s far easier for the DM to make up on the fly. Since it’s not known what lives out there, you can break out some of the more eccentric creatures from the Monster Manual (or better yet, Volo’s guide) for our more knowledgeable players. Hell, even make the less common races more prominent in these other lands. The Tabaxi could populate a more tropical setting for example. This is by far the most adaptable one on this list, seeing as a lot of adventures are location based, this allows for a more diverse locale. Letting the campaign run free and unhindered. More difficult to plan, but way easier for heat of the moment situations where your friend is like “lets play some D&D” and everyone else agrees. This lets the player lead the story a lot more, and personally I adore that.
Although this idea is not without it's flaws. For example, having a ranger is practically a necessity. So is the survival skill. Otherwise this will be a lot less “exploration” and a lot more “we’re lost in another hellish unknown land, whose idea was it for us to explore goddamnit?” And to be perfectly honest, the ranger seems like one of the most underwhelming classes this edition. If anyone is active in the community or the books, they’ll most likely have heard bad things. Don’t be surprised if you get some resistance when you mention that there has to be a ranger, but you can probably get them to do it if you give the ranger a powerful magic item to use in combat and as a plot device for you. Or you know, use a different edition. Just not fourth.
Surprise, surprise, there’s a lot of possibilities in an table-top game like D&D. Lots of places to go, people to see, universes to play in, monsters to kill. The homebrew scene is just getting bigger and better as well. Unearthed arcana opens up new playstyles and worlds. This is just a small list of things I came up with (and obviously these are all soooooo original) that may or may not have had some memorability behind them. The ones that stood out in the back of my mind. And honestly, anything that is out of the ordinary there is really doing something right (or wrong depending on how you look at it)
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
How often have you been in a situation where you desperately want to play a game, but part or most of your normal crew either can’t make it or isn’t interested? You look longingly at the pretty, pretty books or PDFs, much like a hungry dog looks at a butcher’s window, pausing occasionally to wipe the dribble from your chin and indulge in another futile attempt to juggle schedules and interest levels.
*Cue Darth Sidious voice* There is...another way…
I’m going to say right now, it’s not for everyone. It’s tough, tougher than you would expect, and it can be a LOT of work for limited return on investment.
It can also be a hell of a lot of fun for a change of pace.
You, yes you, person or other sentient life form (hello, octopuses, this is the Internet, you were probably better off staying in the ocean), can indeed run a complex and intense game for as few as two people other than yourself.
Unlike Darth Sidious, however, I’ll give you some pitfalls up front, rather than self-indulgent cryptomysticism accompanied by Mon Calamari ballet.
1) You’re going to spend A LOT of time talking to yourself.
If you aren’t familiar with running a full cast of NPCs in your head, you’re going to need quite a bit of practice. I attempt to keep my NPCs separate by means of distinct accents and personalities, as well as trying to avoid names that sound too similar or that could be easily confused.
2) Many NPCs! Handle it!
You have two players that want to play Zenith and Night caste. That’s great, but can leave them a little...underpowered...in the combat area. You might want a Dawn to tank and a Twilight to build cool stuff. You might have a pair of rogues who can’t be allowed out unsupervised. There may even be a pair of wandering mendicants who are so holy (and so naive) that they think that those nice people who offered to show them a short cut may actually be showing them a quicker path to the abbey, rather than a short cut across the carotid and jugular.
Bar none, the best piece of advice I can offer you is take copious notes, even if you aren’t planning to fully-sheet your NPCs. I keep a pack of notecards in a plastic bag in my purse with a pen I don’t care if I lose, and I’ve gotten NPC and plot ideas at the damnedest places and times.
3) Plot? What plot? Oh look, bunny!
Don’t get me wrong, this is a quagmire in any game, and we’ve all heard stories of DMs who sulk when their beautifully sculpted and scripted plot goes up in smoke ten minutes into an encounter because of lucky rolls or lack of player interest. I may or may not be guilty of this sin myself.
It gets a little harder and a lot more personal when you can’t even get two lousy PCs on the right trail. *insert grumbling about cool dungeoneering plot in a dragon’s tomb getting derailed by another NPC* Ahem. As I was saying…It’s a lot more personal when two people ignore you, as opposed to an entire group ignoring you. Sheep mentality and all. It’s part of the suck of running for two or three people. Especially if the players outvote the NPCs and by extension, the DM.
4) When you run out of material, it shows.
You don’t have the bigger intraparty dynamics to fall back on, and there’s not likely to be a huge schism within the party that you can lob grenades into when you run out of ideas in the tail end of a long session. It does require a bit more preparation and a greater need to be able to think on your feet.
Lest you think it is nothing but heartache and misery, a vale of tears populated by crumpled sheets, critical fumbles, and Cheez-It crumbs (sorry, that’s my side table, carry on), there are some definite upsides to running for a small group as well.
1) Impromptu role play can happen literally anywhere, any time.
My group has busted out into furious in-character arguments, inside jokes, and general shenanigans everywhere from our local coffee hangout, who have blessedly become immune to our shared idiocy..er..idiosyncrasy, to restaurants, to walking through local parks and large community events. All it takes is a DM and players who have a decent grasp of their characters’ voices, personalities, and capabilities. You can settle quick rolls with rock-paper-scissors, or just bid ability pools, a la old school Vampire: the Masquerade LARPs.
We have also broken out in near-hysterical laughter at the sight of cabbages. Such are the things of which memories are made.
2) Unparalleled character development opportunities abound.
When you don’t have to balance a grumpy barbarian, a neurotic rogue, and a monk trying to get a warlock interested in chakra rebalancing, you can actually listen to the characters, instead of just the numbers. Long time readers of this space may realize there’s a little bit of a theme developing here.
When you can literally have two PCs spend half an hour brainstorming how to break into a safe room, or have real political discussions a la Game of Thrones, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. You set them up and they knock it out of the park, and all you have to do is sit back and watch the fireworks. I intentionally plan for some down time in each session, just to allow for in-character conversation. It’s amazing the things my players have given me to work with.
3) Games this small are almost infinitely customizable.
Don’t like a particular rule book? Don’t use it. Want to add arbitrary rules or things that you have only heard about? Go for it! In a game this intimate, there’s simply no place for the power struggle of rules lawyer versus DM. On the same hand, if you try something and it doesn’t work, you simply stop game, have a brief discussion, adjust your course, and move ever onwards. You might discover something really awesome. It can also be a great place to test homebrew mechanics before scaling them up to a larger party.
With apologies to certain scriptures, wherever two or three are gathered in the name of gaming and a good time, there will good times be. Like any kind of group relationship, communication is key. Have reasonable expectations, and you may just be happily surprised.
I will end this missive, as I so often do, with the words of the late and much-lamented Terry Pratchett: Stories are not, on the whole, interested in swineherds who remain swineherds and poor and humble shoemakers whose destiny is to die slightly poorer and much humbler.
Go make something, and make it unforgettable - even if it is only unforgettable by those lucky few who were there.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. 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.
My love for the Fate system is well known, and indeed, widely documented. Somewhere in the British Museum, there’s a Babylonian clay tablet in cuneiform that I’m sure says, ‘Rui is really into Fate. It’s a thing.’ Why? I like strangeness. I like strange characters. I like strange situations, and mostly, I like a system that ALLOWS me to do both. I have a couple of favourite RPGs, but I keep coming back to Fate. I’m not going to go massively into the mechanics of the system (although I’m giving a quick run-through), I’m merely going to present the six ways you can use Fate for the genre you love.
1) Naming those Skills
This is the easiest and more straightforward way to tune Fate for use in your game. Change the name of the skill. Or, indeed, what it covers. So if you’re running a fantasy game, Archery sounds like a good thing to have. But will archery cover bows AND crossbows, or do you need Archery (Crossbows)? Also, will this cover ALL small-and-maybe-sharp/pointy-objects-propelled-at-speed, or would throwing a well-aimed stone fall under, say, Throwing? The system suggests not going insane on the number of skills, but with a big, well-balanced party, I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t go deep into the rabbit hole.
2) Freestyling it
A simple idea, that sounds positively barking insane. ‘Allow the players to come up with their own skills’. What usually happens is that you’ll find that most players describe skills that make sense (melee, ranged, lore, streetwise), but one needs to be careful that everyone is on the same page, otherwise, some people might be describing skills, some professions, etc. Also, be careful no one gets as a skill like ‘Omnipotence’. All joking aside, the same skill might sound different on every sheet, but the players will know their own character and they will better fit the narrative.
3) Weaving the Character Aspects
No part of Fate is more characteristic of the system than Aspects. Simple small sentences that describe your character, and if invoked (using both a pool of points and an elaborate narrative accepted by the GM), will give you a bonus to your dice rolls. This is where you can weave your characters into the meta-narrative. Use them to describe places, NPC’s, you name it. ‘Can hold her ale’ is fine, but ‘Once drunk all the ale at the Orc and Dagger’ will not only say she can hold her ale, but also that there’s an inn called the Orc and Dagger. Is the landlord an orc? Is the landlord a sentient magical dagger? I don’t know, but the players might!
4) No skills. Wait, what?
This is possibly one of the most powerful suggested hacks I’ve come across. No skills, just aspects. So this is how it works, you get a name and a role, what you’re actually there to do. Then you get a number of motivations (goals, desires), abilities (skills, talents) and gifts (contacts, gear, magic). ANY of these that you can persuade the GM are relevant at that moment in the narrative gives you a +1 bonus. Boom. Done.
5) Using Thing-based aspects
And here is where a lot of more traditional RPG players will go ‘Whaa?’. Everything in Fate can have Aspects. Every. Little. Thing. And all of these can be invoked (see above) during the narrative, by anyone. Say you’re running a Fate Ravencroft game. I’d say a pretty good Environmental Aspect would be ‘Gothic, Dark, and Misty As All Heck.’ So a character might invoke it to hide in a gloomy forest that just happened to be right over there, and the GM might invoke it to give a penalty to ranged attacks (cos it’s dark and misty, you see where I’m going). This becomes a consistent back and forth storytelling exercise, which builds, deepens, and intensifies immersion.
6) Cool Stunts
Stunts help tell your character apart from others. If you had 10 characters, all with the same skills, they would play totally differently, because of stunts. Stunts allow for bonuses if certain conditions are achieved. Say, you’re an elf, and your Stunt is ‘What do your Elven eyes show you?’ which will give +1 to perception, if you’re perching on a high, unobstructed place. Once again, with little effort, these can be fine-tuned to your particular setting. (And allow you to steal a much abused Tolkien reference)
I came across Fate when it was suggested to me, when I wanted to play the most ridiculous character ever devised. Gell (Gell A’Tinn) is a sentient Gelatinous Cube, that consumed too many wizards and became self-aware. I couldn’t find a system that allowed me to play it, so I looked around, and lo, Fate popped up. I ran him No-Skills, and it worked beautifully. One of its abilities was ‘Made of Jelly’. So that was where my shape-shifting bonuses came from!
Have you used Fate (or another agnostic rule system) to fine tune a background? Let us know!
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
The character sheet is a maze of information. Sections of it are winding paths of boxes and lines that ultimately lead to a dead-end. Even the most experienced character builders will miss something and get lost sometimes. Missing bonuses, ranks, and ability increases will cause characters to fall behind in combat. Pathfinder can be pretty unforgiving and optimal character building is the secret to getting the most advantage you can in combat. Here are 5 things you may have missed that will help make your character the best character they can be.
1) Ability Score Improvements
When you first build your character you get a bonus to ability scores depending on your race. For example, humans get a +2 racial bonus to one of their stats. This allows you to turnover your class’ most useful skill to a higher modifier. A 16 versus an 18 unlocks a plethora of new potential for your character. This allows you to take advantage of their primary stat.
There are a few other ability score improvements that you can take advantage of as your character levels. This is extra important if your GM is asking you to roll a character higher than the 1st level. At levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 you get to increase one of your character’s ability scores. This can turn a 15 into a 16, which immediately adds to the potential of that stat. Losing out on these ability score improvements will lead to characters falling behind.
2) Everyone Gets Extra Feats
As a non-fighter, it feels a little disappointing when the fighter gets a bunch of extra feats and you’re sitting around with one. Sure, you can cast light and a few other neat cantrips, but the fighter can do a bunch of cool things in combat while you act as a glass cannon that is a bit too much glass and a bit too little cannon. Worry not! A few extra feats are coming your way that a lot of players may forget about.
Starting at the third level and every second level thereafter you get to add a new feat to your character. Missing out on these feats will seriously put your character behind. There are a lot of feats that can further amplify a character to take advantage of their specializations. Don’t forget about these!
3) Favoured Class Bonus
A small little detail that can really add up over time is the Favoured Class Bonuses. These are little bonuses that you can take each level instead of gaining an additional skill rank or hit point. When you build a character you choose their favoured class, then depending on your character’s race they are granted a class bonus as an option whenever you level up.
It may not seem like much when you initially glance at it, but if you level up a character ten times in their favoured class you potentially lose out on that ability ten-fold. Each class has their own different favoured class bonuses, so when you’re looking at building a character check all those out and see if any can influence your game plan.
4) Class Skill Bonuses
This is an aspect of character building that I personally didn’t learn for a long time. I always thought that the class skills your class starts with are just examples of things your character can do. Instead, class skills are something that every character should take advantage of.
When you place at least one rank in any of your class skills you get an automatic +3 bonus to that skill. For example, if diplomacy was a class skill, placing one rank in it automatically makes the bonus +4 for all diplomacy rolls. This is an incredibly strong bonus that helps characters really feel the strengths of their class. It also allows a convenient use of extra ranks to pad out your character.
5) Bonus Spells
As a spellcaster you have a limited number of spells. You gain extra spells each level, but did you know you also can gain extra spells depending on the ability score of your casting stat? There’s a handy table that is hidden within all of the resources of Pathfinder that lists bonus spells available to spellcasters.
An ability score of 16-17 grants one additional spell per day in the level 1, 2 and 3 spell slots. These extra spells allow spellcasters to have more free use of their spells and give them more wiggle room on the battlefield. These numbers get especially strong if the casting stat is in the 20s. Losing out on these spells will put your character in a bad place on the battlefield as you’ll have to weigh out your decisions against the remaining resources you have. The bonus spells make that decision a little less stressful.
Now you’ll be able to look at your character sheet in confidence and know that you dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. Your character is stronger, more diverse, and working at maximum efficiency. This will allow you to spend more time building the roleplaying side of the character, and that’s where the real fun begins.
Is there anything else you’ve recently discovered or always missed about making your character? Let me know in the comments. Pathfinder is a big beast and I’m confident there are still things I’ve yet to learn.
Image belongs to Paizo
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Fantasy RPGs are filled with every style of warrior you can think of. From shining knights upon powerful chargers, to quick-bladed swashbucklers, there's something for everyone. Ax-wielding dwarves? Greatclub-swinging berserkers? Archers? Gunslingers? Yes to that, and so much more.
Of all the styles of combat to be found in an RPG, though, unarmed combat is one that has consistently proven difficult. Not just because of the need for heavier hitting at higher levels, but also because we tend to associate our unarmed fighters with Eastern martial arts. While there's nothing wrong with a Shaolin style monk, or a karate trained killer, it feels like a song and dance we've all done a few too many times. So the next time you're thinking about bringing an unarmed fighter to the table, use one of these fighting styles as inspiration.
Often called one of the first modern mixed martial arts, bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, a British train engineer who traveled the world in the 1800s, learning as many different fighting styles as he could. He combined the teachings of saber fighting, savate (French foot fighting), wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and even Irish stick fighting. It caused a craze that rang in the 20th century, but it's still practiced and taught today.
More on bartitsu.
One of the most brutal events of the ancient Greek Olympics, pankration combined all the most grueling parts of boxing and wrestling into a single, bare-knuckled brawl. Fighters could launch whatever strikes they wanted, though they did not wrap their hands, and the only outlawed moves were biting, as well as gouging of the eyes, nose, and mouth with the fingernails. Anything else, though, was fair game. It took all kinds, and it was possible for someone to walk into one match, and then never participate again.
More on pankration.
3) Pencak Silat
A fighting style from Indonesia, pencak silat is a full body, full contact martial art that turns the body into a weapon, and makes use of every weapon in the arsenal. While the fighting style does include weapons like the kerambit, the kris, and the toya (among others), it is not a martial art to be taken lightly. Especially if someone who has mastered it has set themselves the task of wading through an army of skeletons, orcs, or other classic fantasy antagonists.
More on pencak silat.
4) Rough And Tumble
One from the southern lands of the USA, “rough-and-tumble” is a less a true martial art than it is an exercise in the craft of flesh mangling. Also called gouging, for the prodigious use of that kind of attack, rough-and-tumble groin strikes, biting, tearing, or any other forms of attack. It was possible to win a match, and still come away half blind, unable to bear children. Truly it was a fighting style that took no prisoners, and did not mess about.
More on rough and tumble.
Based on techniques developed in West Africa as far back as the height of ancient Egypt, dambe is one part savage to one part showmanship. Fighters wrap their strong hand in thick cord until it becomes a hammer, and their lead leg in chain for both offense and defense. Many fighters also smoked marijuana beforehand, which is still true in places where Dambe fighting goes on today. The results can be crowd pleasing, but they're also bone crunching.
More on dambe.
For more great gaming insight, check out Neal F. Litherland's blog Improved Initiative!
Image is from the movie Snatch, which is a classic. Go watch it! *Editor’s Note
Do you find your climactic encounters and/or boss encounters are lacking a little something? Maybe they are pretty easy to beat or very straightforward and simple? Or, perhaps, they just don't feel as "epic" as you'd like?
I can definitely understand the struggle with making a climactic encounter difficult enough without being overwhelming to run as the DM. Sure, you could throw in MORE enemies, but that just gives you more minions for which you have to track damage, take turns, etc, and in the end I find that my X minions are destroyed in the fireball whether there's 5, or 10.
So let's look at other ways to add to an encounter to increase a sense of epicness. What if the dungeon was caving in/collapsing, and in about 5 minutes the whole place is going to be rubble?! What if the goblin shaman who's running the keep is on the other side of a long bridge, which is protected by some dubious-sized SWINGING AXES?
Something that I'd like to see change is the big thick line we draw between monster encounters and skill challenges, puzzles, and traps. So many DMs knowingly, or unknowingly, draw this thick heavy line that separates one half of the game from the other. And what do you end up with? Well, you get two halves of decent mechanics. I guarantee you can get better results if you combine the two, provided you do it well. I'm not talking the "take a roll of duct tape" kind of join, more of a "mixing blue and yellow play dough together to make GREEN". Get something different out of your encounters. It'll make them more fun to run, and your players will find it more fun to play.
So, the million dollar question: how do I add traps and hazards to an encounter to make it better?
Notice the emphasis on "make it better". Don't just slap one trap or hazard in each combat-encounter room and clock out. You want to add something to the encounter, but you're looking for improvement. If you mix every colour of paint together you lose colour entirely. Look at what you have and ensure that your trap or hazard is a worthy inclusion in these situations.
Things to ensure
1) Make sure the hazard or trap suits the environment and enemies they are with
Flame-pit traps are awkwardly out of place in an ice-dragons lair. An ogre's cave would feel weird if there were repeater-crossbow traps around the place. A dwarven stronghold that has been well maintained would probably not be riddled with "crumbling wall" hazards. Try to make sure that traps and hazards aren't too jarring when you include them.
2) Make sure the trap isn't counterproductive
This also goes with the first one in a way, make sure that the trap isn't a massive inconvenience for the monsters too. A room of poisonous gas would be as dangerous to goblins as it would to the PCs (if not MORE dangerous!). Instead, imagine a poisonous gas room in an undead dungeon, or a yuan-ti lair.
For best effect, put in traps that only inconvenience the PCs, and not the other monsters which they would be fighting. A "closing wall" trap is unbelievably nasty when you are fighting wraiths which can freely move in and out of the room. Spiky pit traps are extremely dangerous when you are fighting a floating beholder in his throne room. While fighting 3ft kobolds, the room may be littered with pressure plates that activate dart-firing traps from the walls.... But these traps are built 5 feet off the ground, so that the kobolds are immune to the danger!
3) Make sure the trap is meaningful (and not just shrugged at, easily avoided, etc etc)
What good is putting a fancy "blades scything out of the walls" trap if the party can just walk up the middle for the whole encounter? Is there really any point in putting a giant pit trap on the left side of the room if the fighting is going to take place on the right? Don't throw in traps and hazards for the sake of... throwing in traps and hazards. Make sure that the traps play SOME role in your encounter, by either influencing the PC's decision to take longer routes to the enemies, or by changing how and where the combat is going on.
4) Give the characters a reason to interact with the trap or hazard
I really cannot stress this point enough. If you want your trap to be a "here's an obstacle!" Then the players will essentially treat it as if it was just that, an obstacle. They will go around it/find another way. In which case, you should've just used a stone wall and saved yourself the prep time of choosing and injecting the trap/hazard in this encounter.
Traps and Hazards should have the option of risk vs. reward. Sure, there is a short, narrow bridge over water, but swimming across the distance (or attempting to jump over) is always another option. If you want to spice things up a bit, used poisoned water, or acid, or lava.
Traps have a trigger, and traps should have a way to disable/mitigate. Some traps can also be used by the players to affect the enemy! Lever-activated traps (like stairs-to-ramp traps, toppling bridges, even potentially pit traps or kissing maiden traps) can be a fun way for characters to enact revenge on the monsters with a taste of their own medicine.
Also, with regards to disabling/disarming traps, that's what rogues are good for! Many think of rogues as the kill-stealing dagger dynamos who hide out of harm's way until it's time to deal a bunch of damage to an enemy...followed by them hiding again after their attack. NO. They are also great at disarming traps (Artificers and Bards are also decent at this). Perhaps the rogue has to sneak/dash past the trap and then hastily disable it while the ranger/wizard provides covering fire. Once the trap is disabled, the fighters can now charge through the corridor of death, safely, and help the rogue survive against the enemy minions.
5) Make sure the trap is not impossible to overcome
There is no point putting in a trap that auto-kills. A trap that blocks a path and has no way through (without obvious death) and no way to disable, again, functions as a stone wall. Note that when I say auto-kills, I mean in the context of "there's no way of going through this corridor without dying." Perhaps an extremely deadly trap would "auto-kill" a player, if successful, but there has to be a way for the party to get past the trap. It's the same as pitting the PCs in a combat against a foe that's impossible to beat. Where's the fun in that?
Example Scenario, Eberk the Terrible
The Party have slogged through Eberk's wizard tower for hours, and have finally reached the top level. Here is the climax of the area - the final battle of the player characters vs Eberk the Terrible. But, he is not alone.
· Sprite (Eberk's familiar)
· Two Shield Guardians
Traps and Hazards
· Wall of Force - Two levers in the room must both be pulled down in order to disable the wall (pulling both levers back up again will re-cast the wall too)
· Electric-warded floor, two 10ft by 10ft areas, one near each lever. If someone stands on it, they take 8d6 Lightning damage (DC:15 con save halves damage). This trap counts can be mitigated with "dispel magic" as if it was a level 3 spell.
· Swinging Axes Trap - One other lever in the room can be pulled down to activate a dozen, giant, SWINGING AXES to come into the room. After 6 seconds, the lever returns to the upwards position, ready for another pull. A player in the path of a swinging axe must make a DC15 Dex save or take 6d6 slashing damage and be knocked prone.
Eberk sets up in the middle of the room against the far wall. The swinging axe trap lever is behind him. He is surrounded by the wall of force. Outside the wall is his familiar, and his shield guardians, as well as the two levers that activate or deactivate the wall.
In combat, Eberk will cast spells from his familiar's position while staying in the safety of the wall of force. If a PC teleports inside the wall of force, Eberk will attempt to banish them. If the wall goes down (from the two levers being pulled), Eberk will pull the "Swinging Axe" lever behind him, and then cast blink so that he leaves the area while the swinging axes scythe through the room.
This just one example of some ways that you can include traps and hazards in your combat encounters to make them feel a bit more epic. They are traps that are interactive, have a purpose to exist, and provide alternate strategy options for the players to overcome their enemies here.
Here is a quickfire list of my favourite traps or hazards to get your ideas spurring
My quickfire list of favourite traps
· Pit Trap
· Kissing Maiden
· Closing wall trap
· Bucket-over-the-door trap
· Bear/Hunting trap
· Lava/water flowing into the room trap
· Darts from the wall trap
· SWINGING AXES
· Scythe-blade wall trap
· Falling Portcullis trap
My quickfire list of favourite hazards
· Poisonous Cloud in area
· Cloudkill in area
· Lava or Acid Pit
· Campfire/ Open Fireplace
· Open Graves
· Crumbling Walls
· Caving-in Roof
· Spiked Palisades
· Cauldron of Acid or Lava
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
A few eons ago I wrote an article speculating about D&D Beyond. And very recently (yesterday depending on when this article gets posted) Curse and Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) revealed their release date and pricing for everything. I mean, prices are everyone's least favourite part of anything. But I digress; with all of this happening all so suddenly, there’s a lot to talk about. Talk about those prices, talk about that microtrans-- I mean versatility of content model, talk about the community and how it will develop throughout these changing times. D&D Beyond will either go down in the history books as “nailing it” or as an abysmal failure.
1) The Site Itself
God is this site ever sexy. It's got that sleek “5e” feel that I know I’ve fallen in love with along with a lot of the community. Everything from the fonts to the color to the mood just feels… right. Like it was meant to be this way. Not to mention since the last article, most of the lagging issues have been cleaned right up (it is still technically in beta after all) as a matter of fact most of all the issues have been removed. The community is quick to stomp that out and let the dev’s know. It looks great and it manages to be user friendly too.
The site’s community is not only friendly but it’s useful. Any questions you have regarding intricacies, obscure rules and even ideas can be reaped with a smile. People are out creating art maps etc. and it's all out in the open. As with everything else on the site, it's quick, it's concise, and most importantly you can change font for your comments and posts. Just a personal thing about that: I absolutely love being able to change my font for posts and comments; it creates the illusion of personality.
2) Home Of Homebrew
Since the community is so big (and because this was something the devs wanted in the whole time) you could expect that people are creating stuff like nobody's business. Spells, monsters, magic items, you name it. Most of them are even good. Clever, even. And unlike other things (which are limited in their use until you subscribe or pay too much for but that's for later) you can make an unlimited number of homebrew things and publish them to the site, or keep them private. You can even draft and get feedback on the ones that you publish to the site.
Honestly, it’s super diverse and it’s still growing very quickly. There's something like 53 pages in the magic item area alone. It’s all super interesting stuff you can add to your loot, enemies, etc. to spice up that campaign nice and quickly. The best bit is that it’s all well balanced for the most part. There's really not more to say on this matter.
3) Character Creator
Now, while they have limited classes to having just one subclass, it is important to note that they do have the races from elemental evil such as the Gensai, Aarakocra and Goliaths. For the most part this is everything you could ask for in a character creator. The first time, it walks you through very slowly with a long tutorial. As you move from subject to subject, it brings up a very verbose page explaining everything, which would be helpful to first timers and the otherwise “green,” however it’s relatively useless to someone who's played the average video game, and it becomes bothersome quickly because I’ve made three characters and the site insisted on giving me the tutorial all three times. There’s probably a way to get rid of it, but I’m just a fool in a man's body so that probably won’t be going away in my foreseeable future.
The creator is comprehensible and as said before very attractive visually. It’s even got a couple of prompts on things I hadn’t thought about keeping tabs on before, such as allies, enemies, organizations and the likes. It’s even got a nice little area to write down your backstory so it’s nice and visible. Oh, and that “limited” thing I took a shot at last article turned out to be “Limited Use” abilities. So they’ve got a thing keeping tabs on that too. However like most digital goods, this product has its flaws.
1) Limited Use
You’ve got six “character slots.” Have fun. Planning on keeping a character around for “myths and legends?” Wrong. You need the space. I know I typically only have three or four campaigns going at any given moment and I’m just on the high end to my understanding. However that’s not the only thing on this site that’s limited. As mentioned before every class only has one subclass attached to it at the moment, and it’s unlikely that will change considering the respective model that they’re planning on implementing.
However to play a little devil's advocate in the “bad” section, the site appears to be mostly open to the beta testers in the meantime. Although one thing I have noticed is that despite the site showing D&D Beyond being present as an app on phones and tablets, there hasn’t been an app version released even as a test. We’ll have to simply wait until the full release to see how well their app version works.
The primary concern of most players and DMs will be whether or not the price is right for this particular toolset. Luckily, the character creator and most of the database will be available to all without the need for a subscription, so long as you don’t mind looking at ads (or have taken other “steps” to circumvent this issue). If you want full access to the toolset, including homebrew monsters and an ad-free experience, you will need to select one of two tiers. The first is touted as being for players and costs 2.99 USD per month. This tier gives you access to shared homebrew content and unlimited character creation slots. The next is advertised as a DM tier. This 5.99/month subscription, along with the benefits of the previous tier, provides the DM with the ability to share their unlocked digital content with their player groups so that not all need to go through the costly process of unlocking (read: purchasing) every splatbook. While gone are the days, it seems, of simply passing a book back and forth between friends at a table, at least there exists an option that allows for a digital book pass, so long as that pass is purchased each month. I can’t say I’m jazzed about this practice, but at least the functionality exists.
Finally, the site will allow you to purchase digital versions of each book available, and at a marginal discount over the physical copies, much like one would expect at sites like DriveThruRPG. What’s truly unfortunate, in my mind, is that there does not appear to be any loyalty rewards for continued membership. At the very least, you should be able to earn points each month that you hold a subscription to help pay for books that you wouldn’t otherwise purchase. Let’s face it: our hobby can get expensive if we want to support those that keep putting good work into making it better. A few loyalty discounts here or there would not only help those who want the digital books and the subscription afford both, but in the end, incentivise those of us who wouldn’t otherwise shell out for either product.
When all's said and done, this site is really something special. We criticise it only because we love our hobby and want every product to be the best it can be. Having a site that allows you to create and store monsters, spells, characters, and campaigns in a user-friendly fashion is a real boon to players in our digital age, and the fact that it is (mostly) free to use is also pretty awesome. We tried coming up with a third negative point to make about the site for symmetry’s sake, but just weren’t able to do so. It’s that cool. Whether the bells and whistles that come extra are worth it will be a choice each DM and player will make, of course. Nevertheless, D&D Beyond proves to be a bold step into the digital sphere of online roleplaying. We’ll be waiting with bated breath for the launch date (August 15th) and will report again when that time comes. ‘Til then, check out the Beta and let us know what you think: https://www.dndbeyond.com/
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
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 . Jarod wrote the majority of this article, David stepped in to help finish it and edit it.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.