“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” -Stephen King, On Writing
Horror gaming can be tough to DM. Not all players are created equal. Some can be much harder to put a scare into than others, either through personal experience or through a difficulty in connecting with the game world deeply enough to truly be scared. Fortunately, there are several different types of fear, which increase in their scope and universal effectiveness as they decrease in severity. Once you’re familiar with what the different types are, and know which kind you’re going for with your encounters, you can exert a greater degree of control over your group's emotions.
When you successfully terrify a player, you scare them in a way that has a long-term, lasting effect. This is possibly the hardest form of fear to inflict on a player, and may not be possible to do purposely. Terrifying someone depends on a lesser form of fear touching a nerve and creating an association that’s hard to shake. When you successfully terrify a player or character you’ll see a shift in their behavior that will last for months, if not years. After a particularly gruesome encounter with a Kyuss worm nearly a decade ago, I over-react to zombies in D&D, usually refusing to engage them in melee. Especially if the group is underpowered or the cleric is down. The truth is that this is the grand slam of player reactions. The catch? You can’t force it to happen. All you can do is apply the other types of fear correctly and hope for the magical connection to cause the niggling sense of dread that just won’t leave.
The little brother of terror, horror is the best form of fear most DMs can achieve purposely. Horror is deep, resonant fear that broadly affects behavior for a short time. It’s caused by your players forming a meaningful connection with the fearful encounter. In the first campaign I ran for my wife, I found myself stymied by the fact that she was very blasé about most in-game threats. Once I started threatening her animal companions and made it clear through one tragic encounter that her magic couldn’t fix all the wrongs, she began responding much more honestly to their peril. That encounter successfully horrified her. The best way to arrange a horrifying encounter is to know how your players think and feel. Once you can know their motives and predict their actions, you can create a much greater amount of emotional resonance with your scenes. Crafting situations which are fearful in a way that connects with your players on a personal level becomes easier. Be careful using actual phobias or mental traumas as leverage against a player, however. Such things are usually best left to close relationships where the other party is comfortable being manipulated in such a manner.
Anxiety is a fear of what is to come, rather than a fear of what has already happened. Anxiety is next to impossible to create, but there’s a trick: players create anxiety themselves. All you have to do is feed those sparks, and you can turn their reasonable concerns into a nail-biting, ulcer-burning inferno of anticipation. If your players are smuggling illegal items through a kingdom and one player mentions that they don’t want to get caught, you can seize the opportunity to create anxiety. Maybe you can show a few beggars, pleading with their stumps, and then mention that hand removal is the common punishment for smuggling. You could have them pass a merchant being scourged in the town square for avoiding trade duties. Maybe a border guard eyeballs the party suspiciously and starts walking nonchalantly in the same direction that the party is. These add gradual fuel to the fire, increasing the initial fear. It spreads to other players as well, who begin to wonder if the first person was onto something after all…
Fright is the jump scare. It’s not a fear of something that has happened or will (even potentially) happen, it’s a fear of something that is a clear and present danger. Frightening players is quite easy, it’s just a matter of presenting a threat of uncertain magnitude. Frightened players don’t know if they can defeat this monster and aren’t sure if they should engage in combat or flee. The razor’s edge between fight and flight is where fright lives. Unfortunately, fright is also usually short lived; it lasts only moments on screen, and no more than a round or two in game. Like a drug, fright also loses its potency with repeated exposure. The more you resort to it, the more players will begin to expect it, and the less uncertain they will be.
Paranoia is very close to anxiety. At its root, it is the fear that something is not what it appears to be. The good news for the DM is that paranoia is the easiest form of fear to inflict on players, and can have an impressive duration. Even players who are inured to most kinds of fear through experience or lack of immersion can be made to engage in paranoia. Gamers are by nature a perceptive and suspicious lot, which is the basic recipe for paranoid fits. Simple set them up and wait for the avalanche to start. For instance, check your text messages, then ask everyone to give you a written copy of their inventory. After an innocuous conversation with an NPC, ask everyone what their Will saves are. Pass a secret note to a player that says, ‘Read this note without speaking, then look at me, shake your head, and say “Not now.”’ Call a player outside for a separate scene. It takes very little to make players think that the world around them can’t be trusted. It takes a little more work to make them suspect that one of their own can’t be trusted, but this kind of paranoia is the most biting, since it undermines the bedrock of stability their entire little world is formed upon: the sanctity of the party.
We don’t usually think of being grossed out as a form of fear, but it is. Even if you find yourself with the most jaded of players whose personal experiences have left them numb to the ravages of most forms of spine-tingling scares, you can still hit them with a situation gross enough to make them wrinkle their nose in disgust. NPC allies who are particularly revolting are a good start. Persistent slobbering speech patterns, deep hacking coughs, or harsh growling voices can all cause a player to recoil. Your objects of fear can be more visceral, too; when using these tangible sorts of scares, really hammer the descriptive points to drive the sensations home. The stench of rotten meat from a carcass that the PC just can’t get off of their hand no matter what they do, the slippery entrails that stretch and flop every which way as the character tries to move them, or the tingling itch as scores of insects climb through their hair and clothing can all be enough to make even the most hardened adventurer push away from the table to pull themselves together.
The types of fear are like tools in a safecracker’s kit; sometimes you can’t use the picks and you’ll need to go to the drill. When the delicate tools don’t work, the broader types of fear are still available as a fallback. Of course, in the same way that veteran safecrackers know that sometimes you just have to resort to the dynamite. Savvy DMs always have a stinking, oozing monster in the wings, just waiting to wrap its clammy fingers around a PC’s throat.
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.
At times, even the most creative minds require a jump start or spark to begin formulating their next project. We all seek different forms of inspiration, and in different ways, but I wanted to share some of my favorite sources of inspiration to help those kindred souls who might be struggling to begin creating.
Even if you’re planning on creating something purely visual, audio influence can help shape or inspire your product. With role-playing, the right music lends emotion to a dry scene or spurs your pen to describe more powerfully an important sequence. I recommend Radiohead’s Videotape (the “Live from the Basement” version if possible) for anything dealing with mortality. For action sequences, works from Two Steps from Hell provide an epic edge not easily found elsewhere. Need to give your game a near future feel, a la Cyberpunk? The soundtrack from Deus Ex: Human Revolution will fuel your mecha-noir fantasies.
Sticking to the same genre can help you keep the mood right for whatever you’re creating, but I like to mix things up as often as possible. If you’re developing a sci-fi thriller, watch a good Western or Wuxia film. Be prepared to take notes (mental or otherwise) about similarities and differences between them. Flex your creative muscles and ask, “what if this tale had a different theme, or a more interesting adversary?” After you digest the plots and create your fusion, continue to make tweaks to make the new work all your own. Soon, you’ll have something that takes hints from successful predecessors, but otherwise belongs entirely to you. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterpiece that I recommend to anyone wanting to blend action and drama, regardless of the end genre or setting you’re creating.
Though many of us find reading to be too time consuming, especially when preparing our own creative works, I believe that it is essential to return to the roots of creation when seeking inspiration. Reading about current events, history, or philosophy can provide you with endless thematic material that will not only inspire you to create, but also impassion you. Classic fiction provides a jumping-off point for any project, and will give you an understanding of similar works that came before. Blend stories together and give them a modern perspective to create something fresh and intriguing. For role-playing games, these sources can provide us with inspiration for settings, characters, and complex themes.
When creating the setting for a Cyberpunk game that I ran a few years ago, I used the very wonderful artbook from the video game Remember Me. The images of integrated technology, darkened streets, and expertly designed characters. Even single pieces can assist us in creating our works. See something in a Jackson Pollock? Perhaps even Pollock’s unique process can inspire you in your creation. Especially for those working in the horror genre, art can truly inspire. In fact, an entire published campaign of Call of Cthulhu (the Tatters of the King) focuses on artists, and displays their works as representations of their worsening madness. I recommend highly the exploration of modern and classic pieces to anyone, especially the visually oriented among us.
Naturally, these are only my suggestions. How do you get inspired, be it for creating role-playing game material or home movies or your next blog entry? Drop me a line and let me know! Perhaps your suggestions will inspire me, too.
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 out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact .
I’m a “Rules Lawyer,” or at least, I’m accused of it enough that I’m willing to entertain the idea that I am one. It’s something of a derogatory term, possessing the connotation that a Rules Lawyer is getting in the way of everybody else’s fun, or arguing the rules so they can “win” the game. I’m not going to deny that these are Rules Lawyer behaviors. (Nor will I deny that I do them, at least not without the caveat that I can justify my Rules Lawyering.)
Rules Lawyer is a subject term, though. It can easily mean different things depending on who you ask about it, so let me establish what I’m referring to when I say it: a Rules Lawyer is somebody who has a particularly strong affinity for knowing and following the rules of a game, sometimes to a fault.
I’ve had the term thrown at me numerous times as an insult, but that isn’t to say I don’t have my redeeming qualities. So with all that said, allow me to use myself as a case study for why Rules Lawyer doesn’t have to be an ugly term.
1) Helping New Players
This is the most obvious helpful usage of an expansive knowledge of the rules, especially for a game that has relatively complex character creation. A relatively common such situation I’ve found myself in was in games of World of Darkness.
One of the trade-offs that the World of Darkness games typically have is that despite simpler dice mechanics, character creation is a little more complicated, since one is afforded a lot more freedom in designing their character.
Until some of the gaming groups I’ve been in got the hang of character creation, even when I wasn’t GMing the game, I was often leading everybody in the game through character creation. It wasn’t particularly feasible to have everybody make their characters outside of game, since we only had two copies of the rulebooks available for 7 of us.
So, with my book turned to the quick-reference for character creation, I took everybody through it step by step. Which is also kind of a way I was able to...
2) Help New GMs
In the example above, I was also helping the GM, who wasn’t quite as familiar with the game as I was. This isn’t to say that interjecting with the corrections of the rules whenever the GM is wrong is helpful, though -- discretion is the better part of valour, as they say.
The key here is if the GM seems unfamiliar with the rules of the game. In the above mentioned group, we were playing what was at the time known as “New World of Darkness,” before the God Machine Chronicle Update happened and turned that IP into confusing mess of who owns what and what works with what.
One of the players then decided they wanted to run a game of Vampire the Masquerade, when he had previously only ever (and very scarcely) ran games of Dungeons and Dragons. Admittedly, I wasn’t very familiar with the table top version of Masquerade, but I do take to learning rules quickly.
I once again did my usual schtick of guiding char-gen for everybody, but during the actual run of the game, I kept quiet about how the rules actually worked until he requested to know something specific. (Notably, combat rolls, since those are a multi-step mess with a lot of variables in the “Old World of Darkness”)
After all, one interpretation of Rule 0 is “The GM has the final say.”
3) Keep Record For Experimental Projects
Let’s say you’ve got a new sub-system for your favorite game you’re homebrewing, or some other such similar scenario. However, you’re not much for writing and organizing things, and all the ideas you have for this are stored in your head, and not on paper.
If you’re genre savvy, you probably already know where I’m going with this: enter the Rules Lawyer. The role of the Rules Lawyer here is that they can keep track of your rules, ideally by writing or typing them down as new ones are introduced.
I’m not much for homebrew games, however, I was still involved in a similar situation. A friend of mine got their hands on a copy of a game from Japan called Detatoko Saga, which was released in 2016. Naturally, there’s no English translation of the game available at the time, but said friend did know how to read Japanese.
Knowing we’ll inevitably need to refer to these later, everybody involved in the game wrote down the skills they needed. I took things a step further, and wrote down EVERY rule and process the GM mentioned.
This actually wound up coming in handy as we played, with the GM (who was translating the game) occasionally referring to my notes.
Based on the examples I’ve presented from myself, a reasonable assumption here is that what could make the difference between how a Rules Lawyer is perceived is often the context of when they want to bring up doing things by the rules.
After all, regardless of what game you’re playing, knowing how to make a character for it is important; and sometimes, a GM has trouble finding that one rule or subsystem, and a helpful interjection may be necessary.
Remember though, just because somebody hurls that name, Rules Lawyer, at you does not mean it’s suddenly a compliment because you know of the good you can do. After all, a passion for the rules of a game, much like any tool or skill, can be used for good or ill.
Aaron der Schaedel is a rules lawyer that applies to gaming one of the old maxims of visual artist’s: learn the rules before you go breaking them. Given the amount of games he has learned to GM and still wishes to learn, it is sound gaming advice.
Character deaths are (typically) a constant threat in any gaming platform. From table-top to video games death happens. For some of us, this happens more often than others and in the infinite expanse of table-top role-playing games, this can be VERY odd and brutal. However, some people’s tables get more, frisky, than others. Mine happens to be very odd. Most of my characters are at ends with my friend’s characters. Some of it's me, some of it's him. But when a simple magic jest leads to imprisonment and several failed suicide attempts, things could be considered “out of hand.” Well, here are some of the most insane deaths that have happened at my table.
1) Riding a Barbarian into Battle
If you know much about me, I have a tendency to play dexterity based characters. Stealth is pretty much a prerequisite. Once upon a time, with one of my first characters, we were dealing with something WAY above our pay grade. Taking down a lich. We were level 7-ish. There were three of us. You can see this was essentially a setup for a TPK, however, careful planning followed by some solid rolls made my character Garrett Snowfeather our only casualty. I was our rogue/archer. We had a barbarian (known as Ethan the Cad(long story) and last, but not least, our gnomish wizard Lindon.
You see, our assault on his fortress was fueled not only by our barbarian’s rage but by a Growth and Haste spell. Both placed on our friend, Cad. When my old boy Garrett came along, riding a superfast twelve foot, muscle bound badass with a greataxe seemed like a decent idea, at the time. However, one explosive arrow that didn’t go off and a sudden stop that sent me flying towards my previous target caused a wall to collapse both on me, and the lich. So, I got all the experience from killing the lich, which was squandered by my corpse.
(Note to reader: While riding a companion is always a solid attack plan, make sure communication between the mount and the rider is perfect.)
2) Suicide… Kinda?
Ah yes, the Deck of Many Things. A dangerous weapon in the hands of an angry murderhobo.
An even more dangerous weapon in the hands of a character who is both Chaotic Neutral and has an honor complex at the same time. In short, I was a bard, my friend, a dex based fighter, and we had a monk as well. I playfully antagonized (hold person spell) our fighter while he was killing unconscious pirates. The player swore revenge. The character was just pissy. Later we divvied up the pirate booty and our fighter got pricked with a poison needle that started to kill him.
In his last moments before unconsciousness, he drew a card. And got an item. (To this day I still don't know what it was he got.) I saved his life (which would make one assume I was off the hook.) We get to town and we all do our own thing.
We make a stop at the magic shop and all do a little bit of this and that. We go to the bar to do a little money making before setting off again. As I perform during the evening, I feel more groggy than usual. It gets worse and worse before I collapse and find myself unable to move. He approaches me to see if I’m ok before he draws a dagger in order to kill me and regain his honor. Fortunately for me I nabbed a cloak of stars (or starlight I can’t remember the item) and slip into the astral plane.
The player (now very angry) draws as many cards as he could. Resulting in an alignment shift, another magic item and some experience, a loss of experience, and a keep. However, the sheriff and his men dragged him away. As he left, he drank the rest of the poison he slipped into my drink. Which only paralyzed him ,as it did me. After I could move again, I pressed charges and had him sentenced to death. Not before he killed himself in jail (he failed to do so 7 times before finally succeeding.) The DM was not impressed with our fighters “cooperative skills.”
Another adventure with Ethan the Cad. Our friendly barbarian was on watch one evening when he heard rustling in the bushes. Of course, being the headstrong manly man he was, he rushed forward without awakening me or Lindon. Being a rather speedy fellow he quickly caught up to one of the culprits. A goblin. He continued to chase and kill them for quite a while. Before finally, the inevitable happened. He walked into a trap.
Ten feet in the air. Enough so he can't move or gain any footing. But still low enough for goblins with spears to poke at him. He managed to kill one of them, which was impressive in his state, but in a matter of rounds, he was kind of screwed. An hour later, we follow the goblin corpses to his corpse. Luckily enough at the time, we had a cleric with us who was a high enough level to bring him back. But this was quite the learning experience for Ethan the Cad.
4) I Touch it Again
This one didn’t happen to me personally, but it’s far too juicy to omit. This was actually a campaign my father played in. While searching through a lich’s tower (they were more qualified than poor Garrett,) they came across a glowing sword on one of the walls. One of the players (who we will call S because he gets angry about this to this day) touches the sword. Which sends him flying back after an electrical boom hit him for a tenth of his health. One would assume that S would have learned his lesson. But, this was far from over.
“I touch it again,” He exclaimed robustly. S seemed to think that the sword had expended all its energy blasting him across the room for it had stopped glowing. So he touched the sword again and received a similar treatment. This time however, he was certain it was all out and in another act of sheer stupidity, touched the sword a third time. This time, his hit points were reduced permanently and the tip of his finger had turned black. As time went on, this blackness spread and not even a greater restoration spell would do much. One morning the party found him missing. As it turned out, the sword turned him into a beast, hairy, strong and out of it's mind. They didn't have much of a choice.
5) The Arrow
Now, I’m not saying experimenting with magic items is a good idea. But it kind of isn't a bad one if mass destruction is your goal. This was a bit on “home rules.” We had expanded the explosion radius on bags of holding and when portable holes popped, the created a vortex. Well, one day Peren Ravenclaw, the great arcane archer, decided to craft a weapon so wholly powerful it broke medieval martial law. Inside of a large arrow head, he set things up to shove the portable hole inside the bag of holding and then pierce them both through each other. Shooting this out of a bow seemed like the best way to stay at a safe distance. One day, it was used on a battalion of orcs. Who were swiftly demolished. Not only was it tearing them apart and sending some of them to the astral plane, it was sucking the rest in.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is how he dies. But no, I actually escaped the vortex alive. However the aftermath is what killed poor Peren. Eventually the crater that was created filled with water. The area was so “radioactive” with magical energy, I knew the water had to have magical potential. But alas, a small crack in a flask and a small hole in a glove ended up turning his skin hard as stone, making him strong as an ox and tough as nails. But, A: Magic no longer worked on or around him and B:He was ugly as all hell. As such he went to a mage’s guild to see what they could do, and came to the conclusion that nothing short of a wish spell would put him back to how he was. “Turning back to how I used to be permanently,” probably wasn’t the best word choice on my part. Because Peren now technically never existed nor ever will exist in that world again.
We’ve all had some pretty crazy moments stemming from stupidity, spite, luck inexperience and the likes. But, really, who can say they kamikazed a litch? I’m itching to hear some of the stuff that’s happened to others though, please put it everywhere.
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.
When I started my foray into the world of pen, paper, and imagination, I was in High School, and could have never predicted that playing tabletop games as a hobby (and later a passion) would outlast my varied collection of other interests. There are skills that I have honed over the last ten or so years that have helped me study in school, work more efficiently at jobs, and resolve minor conflicts among friends.
1. Conflict Resolution - D&D has taught me that there’s always more than one way to solve an encounter. Whether it’s a Dragon protecting its Horde, a room full of traps about to obliterate the PC’s, a band of Orcs demanding ransom for a Princess, or the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) on an altar, about to sacrifice a poor soul in order to summon a Devil. Sure, you can hack, slash, or shoot your way through all of those scenarios, but a craft Rogue can sneak ahead and determine the largest threats, a Bard can woo or convert an aggressive creature into a possible ally through Charm and wit, and the Cleric/Paladin/Monk can pray/meditate upon what the future holds to determine the best course of action. Every Player, every Class has its strengths and strategies. Away from the table, the ability to see friends for their potential strengths, and their attributes, can help to quell minor qualms, and know the best course of action. I’ve learned how to “size up” a potential situation or encounter, and it has paid out in spades.
2. Creative Writing Skills - My favorite part of the character creation process for a new game is crafting the individual, the person who will fit into this new world and new adventure. Beyond the character sheet, I’ll write a backstory for my character, giving them a home, a family, a history, and a reason for the DM, the party, and myself to invest in the well-being of this new addition to the team. I’ve created some odd characters, pushing my creative boundaries, generating against type characters, and learning how my brain operates when taking on a new role, and how to successfully adapt at the table.
3. Meta Knowledge = Confidentiality - Having worked in a few jobs where confidentiality is of utmost importance (Human Resources paperwork, following FERPA laws for students, etc), I’ve had an easier time learning where the line between meta and table knowledge meet. While I may be privy to something that the DM (my boss) has told me, other players (co-workers) haven’t come across that story point (fact) yet, and it’s up to the DM to divulge it at the right time and place. Gamifying work as a whole makes the entire day go by faster, and makes tasks less tedious - just another step on the questline.
4. Alignment Axis: A lesson in Philosophy - Inevitably, when you have more than one human in a room, you will have more than one viewpoint and philosophy. Learning how to step into another person’s shoes and seeing through their eyes benefits… everything. I’m having a hard time thinking of a situation where you wouldn’t want to understand both sides of a conversation, argument, or debate. Political, religious, spiritual, ethical, scientific… all of these topics benefit from a moment of passivity, observation, and understanding. I view it as a sort of challenge when the debaters in question all have the in-game capability to kill one another, because this challenges the players on their and their character’s convictions; how long can a direct conflict to a character’s worldview last before being quashed? Is there a resolution beyond violence? Also, it certainly helps to generate great inter-character conversations, like a zealous Paladin talking to a whimsical Druid and a cynical Rogue. These kinds of discussions can spur a new type of party growth, beyond XP and encounters. Not only is there party growth, but you also can find a new appreciation for your friends around the table and their viewpoints on the world.
5. A Comfortable Space to Practice Confidence - By the nature of the hobby, tabletop games bring friends and like-minded people together into a safe environment to try new techniques of conflict resolution and immersion into a new role. Beyond the confines of the rulebook and character sheet, there is a world of freedom to be found in a comfortable setting. My public speaking skills have benefited from my hours around the table; I have a friend who does voice acting, and uses new characters as a test bed for accents, pitch changes, and vocal range. Beyond the practice for improvisational humor and reactions, as well as the grounds for many an inside joke for future storytelling, I can think of no better place to freely express oneself and speak openly and confidently without reproach.
Tabletop games, and D&D in particular, have taught me more about myself than I could have learned from any other hobby. Further, this ‘hobby’ has become a lifestyle, and has helped to challenge, change, and mold my analytical skills, problem solving, and communication with the world at large. Also, I can be a cat person.
Angela Daurio is a DM and player of D&D 5e, is eagerly looking forward to Pugmire, and enjoys board games on a weekly basis. She resides in New Jersey, where she and her fiance are currently playing in two campaigns, and plotting the return of their own campaigns.
That’s usually the juicy bit of a story, right? Withheld information between characters or from the reader, it’s what makes a story worth reading. Since there’s an innumerable amount of similarities between role-playing games and literature, this concept translates well to the table. The GM’s role is based on revealing withheld information to the players, we surely don’t need to address that. However, I believe that players should have their own secrets too. Not from the GM, because then how are they supposed to incorporate it into the story? Secrets between players can help change inter-character relationships when they’re revealed. Sometimes they can be negative, but that’s the GM’s job to be the judge of what secrets will fly and what ones won’t.
We’re always looking for ways to create drama in our games and secrets are a cheap trick to turn it up to eleven. What makes putting them in a game difficult is that we depend on our players to come up with them. Here are some reasons to encourage your players to do that.
1) Solidifies Character Background
Character background is instrumental to games where player agency takes the stage. When your players have well thought out backgrounds for their characters, it helps to bring the setting and its people to life. This creates investment in the game, interest to propel your players ever forward in search of the end of their quest. A player character secret could be a very good window into the character’s life before the formation of the party. A dark secret could create some tension in the party upon its reveal. A story about a fall from nobility could change the way the party views that character. For good or ill, revealing a secret about a character’s past can truly shake things up and change the light in which that character is seen.
2) Could Create an Unforeseen Connection
Playing off the background idea, the secret could help create a connection with a GMPC. Creating an GMPC with a role in a character’s shrouded past is a fun way to foreshadow their background in the story. It keeps that specific player engaged in what is happening as well as the others, it’s human nature to be curious, is it not? If the secret pertains more to the present, a GMPC that knows something about it (with or without previous relation) would be forced to deal with the party. Using this stuff as tethers to tie the character together makes revealing the larger story fun and interesting.
3) GM Inspiration
The lifelong search to find what the hell to make your campaign about. Having a loose outline is usually the way I go, just to let the characters fill in the rest. This forces me to take a reactionary role in writing the meat of the story. On the flip side, if a player character has a secret, then you content to tie into your original outline. Maybe this secret makes the character a part of something greater, maybe it puts them in imminent danger, or maybe it even is the reason for the whole misadventure that keeps the story moving. It’s easy for a player character secret to become an invaluable resource. So, take out the auger and drill into the head of your players… figuratively, that is. It’d be illegal, immoral, and terrible otherwise.
4) Creates Campaign Length
A secret that gives you inspiration is rather directly giving you content to work with. Most GMs can come up with a lengthy campaign on their own without so much as a drop of sweat. Using the things your players develop is a great way to create campaign length with a robust and engaging story. If you milk a player character secret for everything it’s got, you can reveal tiny bits of information as the campaign progresses. Slowly. Very slowly. It’s not always true, but generally, a long campaign is an in-depth campaign. In-depth campaigns get remembered, and memorable games are a sign of a good GM. Unless, of course, the players only remember it because it sucked. In that case, head back to the drawing board and give it another good and honest go.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how relevant player input can be when designing a campaign. Encouraging your players to go crazy with their characters during session zero could help a GM keep the boat afloat and create years and years of wonderful gaming. Foreshadowing, reveal, and wrap-up make our gaming world go ‘round. Properly using player character secrets is a quick and easy way to make this process fun for everyone.
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.
Dungeons and Dragons is the most iconic RPG, it’s the most often played game according to data published by Roll20, and it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of people willing to run it.
Though if you dare to stray beyond D&D, you’re likely to find that there’s not many people wanting to run other games, either because being a player seems more entertaining, or they’d prefer to be a player in a game before running it.
I’m basically saying that knowing how to run games besides D&D is a fairly valuable skill in the table-top gaming community. So, with that in mind, I have prepared this little list of advice that will make learning how to run a new game much easier.
1) You Don’t Need To Know Everything
The bad news when you’re trying to learn a new game is this: most games have rulebooks that are several hundred pages long. The good news, though, is that most likely you don’t need to know everything.
Usually, just having a passing familiarity with the setting is all you need to run a new game, since there’s always some manner of mundane characters, creatures, and places for the initial few scenes. Keeping the setting mundane at the start will give you (and the players!) time to adjust while everybody is getting the rules down.
Let’s use Exalted 3rd edition as an example. The first few chapters of this book is setting information. While this may be interesting stuff, it’s not entirely necessary to run the game. Knowing the difference between an Abyssal, a Solar, and a Dragon-Blooded might help later on when you’re setting up antagonists.
What’s MORE important, though, is knowing how characters mechanically interact with one another.
2) Learn The Basic Conflict Resolution
The beauty of modern games is that they usually have one or two specific rules that are the core of everything else in the game. For Dungeons and Dragons, it’s roll of a d20 added to your modifiers. For Exalted, you form your dicepool based on your relevant attributes and abilities, roll all the dice, and count up successes for each that are 7, 8, 9, or 10, with 10 counting as two.
This god-send of game design makes everything MUCH easier, since instead of poring over the rulebook in the middle of play to find one particular sub-system for something, you can just make something up for the time being so you can move the game along.
Going back once again to Exalted, which has a fairly robust set of social mechanics, let’s say you skipped learning those since you know your players are more interested in combat encounters. However, one of them unexpected gets the idea to try to scare off some bandits harassing the local villagers instead of immediately coming to blows.
Well, since we already know the dicepools are formed with an Attribute and an Ability, we can have the player roll for his Charisma + Presence, and improvise something based on how many successes come up.
Which brings us to the next important set of information...
3) Learn Character Creation
You can’t really do much in an RPG without having a character, and if you’re the GM, it definitely pays to know what all characters can do out of the starting gate. So for that reason, character creation is another vital thing to learn when getting into a new game.
Often times, learning character creation is a good springboard into other parts of the game, and gives you hints for what other things you can expect to find through the rest of the book.
In Exalted, character creation follows the steps of picking attributes, then abilities, both of which are somewhat self-explanatory. Picking Charms comes next, which based on the name alone doesn’t say much. A quick look at the table of contents, though, reveals an ENTIRE CHAPTER dedicated to this facet of the game!
At around 200 or so pages, Charms make up about a third of the book! There’s no way we can memorize all this, so we’ll just have to accept that we’ll be referring to this section quite a bit.
Which means you should...
4) Familiarize Yourself With The Book’s Layout
I said earlier that you don’t need to know everything. I’d now like to introduce an important caveat to that statement: you don’t need to know everything IMMEDIATELY. To that end, you should at least know how to find it.
Know what sort of chapters are in the rulebook, or at least if there’s a table of contents and an index. Indices have helped me find numerous rules I’ve otherwise ignored since most of my players initially never needed to use them. And tables of contents were a great help in .pdfs that I couldn’t as easily flip through.
I don’t know what the sub-systems for leading armies and sailing ships are in Exalted, but I know what chapter they’d be in, and I know that particular chapter’s page is listed in the table of contents. And should I refer to it enough times, I’ll likely end up memorizing what page that chapter starts on.
5) Just Do It!
It’s good to read and research and generally be prepared, but the most practical way to crystalize something in your memory is to apply that knowledge.
Waiting until you feel prepared enough before running a new game usually leads to what I like to refer to as “preparation paralysis.” You want to wait till you’re prepared, but as you prepare, you find more things to need to be prepared for, and thus the cycle continues on.
But with the above steps, knowing the layout of the book, knowing what a basic character has, and knowing the basics of the game’s conflict management, you’re plenty prepared.
Get a scenario together, and make it happen.
You got this.
Aaron der Schaedel is a Game Master of many different games that hides out somewhere around The Rocky Top and The Dark and Bloody Ground. He also has a YouTube channel he’s named after himself, where he explains the ins and outs of various different games, just in case you need some more specific advice.
PICTURE CREDIT: From the Exalted 3rd edition Core Book, pulled from this site: http://mraaktagon.com/yes-but-you-didnt-the-failed-redesign-of-stunts-in-exalted-3rd-edition
I don’t know about you, Internet, but I view the moments before I sit down to a new game campaign or setting with an equal mix of trepidation, excitement, hopefulness, and dread. Is this going to be like the game where I spent most afternoons wishing I was home doing my laundry, or is this going to be like the game where I spent all week obsessing about what was going to happen next?
I walked into my first game completely blind - I didn’t know anything about it except that I had bought a bag’s worth of shiny new dice and I sort of understood what the words on my character sheet meant. I got *really* lucky - my first DM took it relatively easy on me for the first couple of sessions, just enough to set the hook. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
Due to logistics, when I first sat down with one of my two current DMs, I had literally no idea of what was going on. I didn’t know the system (except that it was d10 based, a system that had given me problems in the past), I didn’t know the world, and I only knew two of the other players. I was in a strange place, with a strange sheet in front of me, exhausted from an early-morning job. I took it on faith from the two players I did know that “you’ll love this game, it’s all about narrative and description, you’ll be great at it.”
I was miserable. The other players had met with the DM previously, and they had sketched out a rough idea of what they wanted to do and how the campaign was going to work, setting- and theme-wise. Because of my chaotic evil schedule at the time, I was showing up blind, again. I hadn’t had a chance to give input on the game design, and when I was asked what I wanted to avoid in the campaign, I was so lost that I just named some pet peeves and let it ride.
That game lasted...ten sessions, I think? Maybe more, it was kind of a haze. My character worked beautifully on paper but was a complete dead fish in play, because I had built her for what I thought the campaign was going to be like, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadly, the wrongness didn’t come into evidence until after the three-game-change window, so I tried to tough it out. I shouldn’t have.
I come to you now to share the hard-won knowledge that I have acquired over the years. These expectations are a general framework that I expect from my fellow players, to try to enhance the game for all parties concerned. Comments and commentary are, of course, welcome.
1) Engagement With The Plot (at best) Or Polite Attention (at worst):
We are all busy adults with full schedules who have carved out time and energy to play this game. I expect you to either be playing or paying attention to the gameplay. Some of the funniest and fun moments I have had around the table were MST3King/Rifftraxing the play going on in front of me. Checking something in the book (when it’s not your turn, please) is okay, or a brief dip into the madness of the Internet is fine, but when you do your trick, then look at the rest of us and say “nudge me when I need to roll dice” is rude at best and disheartening at worst. I invest my time and energy to play with people; I expect the same in return. This is crucial in a game like Exalted, where player input has a marked impact on the game in the form of voting for stunt bonuses and the like. If you aren’t here to play, or at least socialize while playing, why are you here?
2) Commitment to Session Times
Life happens. Job schedules are nuts (me), kids happen (DM and fellow player), loved ones fall ill or need more attention because of life events (another player), and sometimes your vehicle decides to commit fiery suicide because it’s just sick of life (another player). We all understand this, and we’re sympathetic.
If you mysteriously have a headache every Sunday afternoon, or you “aren’t feeling it today” two hours before game time several weeks in a row, please consider if you actually want to keep playing, and if you don’t, then stop. Stop wasting our time. Stop wasting our goodwill. We will still want to hang out with you, but if you keep screwing up our plans at the last minute, that might change too. Your time is valuable, our time is valuable, our DM’s time is valuable. Respect us enough to say “This isn’t working right now, guys, catch me next time?”
Corollary - BE ON TIME, FOR THE LOVE OF SPICE. Gamer Standard Time is a phrase that needs to die in the pits of a thousand hells. If game starts at 1, be there at 1 (or even better, 12:45), not 2:30. If you’re running late, call/text/IM/tweet/Skype, do something to let us know so we’re not all sitting around staring at our dice like sad pandas looking at an empty food bowl.
3) Familiarity with Setting/Rules
I can hear you now - “But you said you went in blind to your last game!” Yes, I did say that - and I said it made me miserable. Do I think you can’t sit down and learn a new system or world? Not at all! That said, make sure your fellow players know that you are new to the system and will be asking lots of questions. Most players will be perfectly okay with this, and I guarantee that the neophyte will be overwhelmed with advice and suggestions. Please see my previous article on How Not To Be That Gamer and apply the truths within liberally, as needed.
If you are the neophyte in this position, commit to learning the bare bones at that first session, and study up as the days go on. You’ll get it faster than you think.
4) Be A Plot Mover, Not A Plot Dragon
If you’re in this hobby to roll dice without context, may I not-so-humbly suggest you learn how to play craps instead? We’re here to roll dice and play roles, not just chuck plastic blobs around to meet arbitrary numbers in a vacuum. Personal plots are fun, but it’s hard on your DM and unfair to other players unless they are involved with them too.
The third option is to be a plot donkey - ask your DM (not at the table or immediately pre- or post-game, please) if there’s something she or he wants to get moving, and volunteer to be the one who turns down the path less traveled or asks “hey guys, what IS in that box?”
Chase plot, even if turns out to be a flaming bunny. Share the plot goodies you find (psst, this means you can share the blame too!). That’s why we’re here, to play.
5) Establish if Your Group is Cooperative or Antagonistic
This is a pre-game thing, ideally when you are in a conceptual stage discussing what you all want out of your communal gaming experience. A group of antagonists won’t work well, but factions within the party can be great fun if you all can manage to keep a clear delineation between IC and OOC.
If you have decided to play as a cooperative group, you should strive to maintain that, unless there’s a story-related reason to change it. With the understanding that most plans don’t survive their first brush with trouble, and most groups don’t survive their first divvying-up of that sweet sweet loot-y goodness, do TRY to adhere to what you agreed to at the planning phase. Speaking of…
6) Proper Planning Prevents...well, You Know The Rest
I don’t mean that you should be doing comparative cost-benefit analysis of spell lists (oh please, for the love of heaven, don’t waste precious gaming time doing that) but plan out the general shape of your campaign, or at least the first season, with ALL the players present as well as the DM. Want a city-building game, or something more Indiana-Jonesy? Monster of the week or a tightly woven plot? Lay out what you want.
Just as importantly, lay out what you don’t want. I mentioned that I built a character that worked beautifully on paper and in concept, but the game was 150% wrong for her, because I didn’t know the group had decided on a city-building concept instead of a go-out-and-explore game. My group, bless their collective hearts, didn’t want to tell me that my concept didn’t flow with the plan for the game, so I struggled through months of boring and frankly infuriating game sessions before that game mercifully died with a whimper.
Be honest, but don’t be a dick. Most people are willing to adjust their concepts slightly to fit the group vision. That being said, it is far easier to tweak a concept before dots hit the page.
7) No Prima Donnas, or Variations Thereof
I’m looking at you, people who think that because you are gracing the table with your presence, you get plot bennies. I’m also looking at the ladies and gentlemen who try to get what we refer to as the “banging the DM” bonus - I hope that is fairly self-explanatory. It’s unfair and childish at best, and creepy/repulsive at worst. There’s almost nothing worse than seeing one player get shot down for a concept, and the person of the DM’s affection getting the nod for no apparent reason.
Disclosure: My husband is currently one of my DMs, and far from getting a banging-the-DM bonus, he is ten times harder on me than the other players because he says he knows what I am capable of and won’t let me get lazy. I both love and hate him for this.
You need other people to play the game. Don’t alienate them. Share the spotlight. Point out and appreciate really awesome things your fellow players do. And don’t forget to cheer on your DM for bringing his or her A-game to the table and making the game as amazing as they can. I love the idea of giving props and nods at the end of the game, ending the session on a high note. It keeps people motivated to do more, to be further in character, to take risks to get rewards, knowing that if their characters die, they won’t go gently into that good night.
I know what some of you are asking right now - if planning is so important, why did you leave it until the last point in your list?
Because, believe it or not, it is not the most important part of a successful game. Player mindset and expectations are. All the good planning in the world withers away in front of a bad or dysfunctional group. Get together the right people and even the most slapdash game will be memorable.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this piece - setting expectations for DMs - coming soon to an Internet-capable device of your choice. Until then, I remain,
Your Most Obedient Servant,
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Fantasy role-playing, or any genre where spirits and deities are involved, gives us an exciting insight into an important element of human culture. Religion as separate from daily life is quite unique to modern times. In days past, certainly there were impious and blasphemous persons. In general though, people would follow the religious customs of their land and culture. In some places, it was genuinely believed that religious observations played a central role in deciding battles and averting natural disasters. The gods’ favor could earn a bountiful harvest and their wrath could mean famine. To play a character who lives in such a world and culture I list below four different ways to approach religion. It doesn’t matter that your character is not a miracle worker or a knight of the church, in a religious society almost everyone will incorporate religion into their life in one way or another. Here are my suggestions.
1) The Pious Layman
One does not need to be a member of the clergy to be devoted to one’s deity. Consider taking time to burn offerings to invoke good favor, or maybe offer gold to request peace for the souls of your ancestors? In a polytheistic setting the idea of converting people to your faith is likely totally foreign. But you serve your god well and try to live out the customs of your people as best as you can, with conviction and probably even pride.
I love this. Superstition, in a world of quarreling gods, spirits, and arcane powers is storytelling gold. It’s so very natural and human to revert to superstition. Real belief with little understanding is a breeding ground for superstition. And in a world where you don’t have science to answer the why behind the seasons and weather, earthquakes and invaders, and just about anything beyond human control, an easy answer to grasp is “spirits made it happen”. Your people may have superstitions or maybe your character invents their own. Consider interpreting anything strange as an omen.
3)The Lip Server
There are many reasons to go through the motion of religion even when your heart's not in it. Maybe to you religion is more about culture and identity. Consider a few basic rituals that connect you with your roots. Something more like a societal pledge then a deeply religious prayer. This character probably has little use for religious contemplation but when it comes to the ceremonies of their people it’s best to go through the motions.
4) The Powermonger
In any culture where religion is at the centre of life you will find people looking to become that centre of life. It’s become a Hollywood stereotype that middle ages bishops were greedy, power hungry manipulators. But many were in fact the princes and rulers of vast lands, they were politicians, not just churchmen. But consider as well the druids, shaman, and witch doctors of tribal societies. They demand great respect and held high positions of power in their societies. To play a powermonger one does not need to be evil, but consider what you might demand of those around you; loyalty, obedience,and perhaps a bent knee. The spirits and deities of fantasy realms are powerful and terrifying things, those who wield such power become themselves powerful and terrifying.
A great questions to always keep in mind could be something along the lines of: How would I act if I actually believed my character’s religion was real? This, and the expectation that other people in this world also all believe this religion is real. For me the biggest challenge in fantasy role-playing is adopting the polytheistic mindset that many fantasy realm settings have. As our own North American culture has roots in monotheistic Christianity it can be easier for us to draw inspiration from what we already may know, all four of these suggested character types fit well inside this framework. Developing our characters and worlds by taking queues from history and really dwelling on the divine connections our characters strive for can really bring our games to life.
Anthony is lifelong dreamer and hobbyist who approaches role-playing as one part storyteller and one part rules lawyer. Role-playing interests include world building, back stories, character accents and voices, and trying to keep his inner simulationist in check.
Thank you for your timely intervention on behalf of the people of Dowen-upon-Waite. Without your assistance, I doubt that there would have been anyone in the village remaining. None that could be called human, at any rate.
I do wonder how such a cancer began. It's a shame that we weren't able to learn more. Amongst many philosophers, the subject of evil is an oft-discussed (or argued) one, but more often than not the kinds of malevolent secrets which you uncovered have their roots in something far more innocuous. Something benevolent, even useful, which carries so small a price as to be nearly negligible. These objects often set the stage for the gradual descent to a point where the once-noble aspirant finds himself waist deep in atrocities he would never have considered before embarking on his path of damnation.
Having felt the malignant caress of the Dark Powers myself, I have made a careful study of the things that can lead to such darkness. Since you were inquisitive enough to contact me regarding the genesis of the most recent problem, I thought I would share a few of my own private notes with you in the hopes that you might see how these sorts of tumors begin to grow.
1) Wine of Ages
My compatriots and I recovered this particular item from a tomb we cleansed of undead in the mountains of Lamordia. To the eye, it is merely a mundane bottle of green glass, with a name imprinted upon the bottom: Herzhen Yards. There is no such vineyard that we were ever able to uncover, although the tomb appeared to be of Outlander origin, and its plundered contents appeared to come from a range of different cultures. This unassuming little malignance was stolen from me by a Rajian thief, and I have not seen either since.
The bottle is empty, save for an ashen grey haze that can be poured forth from the neck as though it were a true liquid. This vapor, which carries the odor of gently rotting loam, is harmless to the living. If poured into the mouth of the deceased, it grants the corpse the ability to converse with the living, albeit in a limited fashion.
Please note that although this ability seems mundane, it is an abomination. It encourages a callous disregard for the dead, driving the user to treat corpses as mere investigative tools, and leads its wielder to see nothing wrong with compelling the spirit (or a semblance thereof) back to the realm of the living for mere convenience.
The Wine of Ages allows its bearer to converse with a humanoid or monstrous humanoid corpse up to three times per day. Each corpse may be conversed with only once, but the condition of the body is irrelevant--it can still speak even if rot or injury would normally make it incapable. The effect lasts for up to one minute per HD of the dead body. The spirit is much less committed than they were in life (shift alignment one step towards N), but can still make a saving throw (Will DC 17, Wis DC 15) in order to lie freely. Using the Wine of Ages is cause for a 3% Dark Powers check.
2) Oubliette Dust
This nasty little alchemical concoction is a creation of the Kargatane, I believe. I was unfortunate enough to discover it while attempting to apprehend several spies that had infiltrated Drifthome. One of the thieves, when confronted, threw a black powder in my face. I was immediately reminded of the last time I had smelt such a powder: when I was the 'guest' of the Kargat, tortured repeatedly for several weeks. So horrific were the memories, I was unable to prevent the thieves from fleeing.
As my daughter was good enough to remind me later, after I had recovered, I have never been tortured by the Kargat. The memories induced by the dust are merely lies. Still, their effects linger, and I often find myself waking in the middle from dreams of Darkonian dungeons.
Those who sell the Oubliette Dust market it as a 'stunning powder,' and indeed it does exactly that. However, the memories it 'awakens' are so horrific and they stay with the victim for weeks, even months, after the fact.
Oubliette Powder can be thrown in a cloud at any victim within 5 feet. If the victim fails their save (Fort DC 17, Con DC 15) they are unable to act for 2d6 rounds. If they are attacked this effect breaks immediately. The terror on the victims' faces is self-evident; using the powder is cause for a 1% Dark Powers check. This rises to 3% if the user knows the full extent of the trauma they are inflicting on their enemy.
3) Granny Lady Bracelet
Last year, a cult of witches was uncovered in the Mordentish countryside. Although a great deal of their magical prowess was merely smoke and mirrors, they did possess a number of unnatural abilities that Tasha and I were forced to contend with. Most infuriatingly, their leader seemed to be able to anticipate our arrival, and it was only through the utmost diligence that we were able to confront her.
One of her magical talismans was what the Souragne practitioners refer to as a gris-gris. A small, twisted length of sinew and hair, strung with a variety of horrific trophies, including finger bones, teeth, and dried flesh, and is typically worn around the wrist.
Tasha wore the talisman for several weeks, and reported that it gave her brief glimpses into the future, but after reading through the granny lady's journal, I became convinced that inheriting the device from her own mentor is what began the corruption of the witch that had plagued us, and I convinced Tasha to put the device aside for her own good. Currently, the foul thing resides in a locked trunk in my safe room.
Anyone wearing the Granny Lady Bracelet may roll 2d20 at the beginning of the day. During the course of the day, they may replace any d20 roll (theirs or anyone within line of sight) with one of the Bracelet's rolls. This does not stack with the ability of a Divination specialist, instead they receive one extra d20 for their Portent ability. Using the Granny Lady Bracelet is sufficient cause for a 1% Dark Powers check every week it is owned.
4) Breathstealer Arrow
I encountered this device on an assassin from Tepest.The Inquisitor I worked with to apprehend the fiend claimed this weapon was a gift to the killer, in recompense for selling his services to the fae. Although I am normally loathe to heed their dogmatic fanaticism, in this case there may be a seed of truth to it.
In truth, the magical component is a stone arrowhead, which can be affixed to any mundane bolt or arrow. Once it hits its target, it breaks loose and begins twisting its way towards the target's lungs, causing the poor soul to choke and gasp as their air is magically expelled from their body. If it isn't cut out swiftly (a supremely difficult task, I can attest, since the infernal thing avoids all attempts at capture) it will eventually kill its victim, even if the original user is dead.
Inquisitor Cormec took the cursed thing with him after we apprehended the murderer, although I spared the assassin the cruelty of a Tepestani imprisonment and execution. I sat in judgment over him myself, and I'm sure he found the noose far less painful than whatever Cormec had in store for him.
A target hit with a Breathstealer Arrow cannot breathe. (This means they cannot speak, cast spells, or activate command words.) Beginning in the round they are hit, the victim suffers the normal effects of suffocation (treat the victim as if they had already held their breath the maximum length of time). It can be removed with a Heal check (DC 20), causing 1d4 damage for every round it was embedded. Using such an arrow is an act of torture, invoking a 4% Dark Powers check when used against a monster or evil NPC, 7% if used against a stranger or neutral NPC, and an automatic failure if used against a good NPC or friend. The arrowhead can be recovered after the target's death, and can be removed by the firer with no check.
5) Witchbane Codex
When several Halan witches in and around my area were found murdered, I at first suspected the presence of a rogue Tepestani inquisitor. Although there was a man involved who used such a title, he was an Outlander. After his capture (or defiant last stand, in truth), this slim volume was discovered on his person.
It appears to be written in Tepestani, although it contains far more arcane knowledge than the Inquisition would be comfortable committing to paper. Inside, there is detailed information on common practices, rites, beliefs, and identifying traits of witches and infernal cults. After reading it, I found myself revolted by the unnatural lore contained within. Although Tasha has asked to read it, I have sent the book to my friend Kelly, as he has proven more than capable of resisting the temptations of such arcana.
Reading the Witchbane Codex (which takes six hours) immediately costs the reader a point of Wisdom (which can never be recovered) but imbues them with an additional point of Intelligence. While the book is in their possession, they may consult it to gain a +2 on any appropriate skill check (such as Arcana, Religion, Knowledge: Arcana, or Knowledge: Religion). Even lightly reading the book instantly causes the user to make a Sanity check, if those rules are being used, and also causes the loss of Innocence. Completing the book is cause for a 2% Dark Powers check. The user should also be assessed for a 1% Dark Powers check for every month they have the book in their possession. Willingly giving it to another person to read is cause for a 5% Dark Powers check, 10% if they are unaware of the nature of the book, and is an automatic failure if they are an Innocent.
As you can see, the road to Hell can indeed be paved with the most innocuous of cobbles. The wise adventurer would do well to resist such temptations. Too often, what appears to merely offer power or expediency comes at the cost of our very soul. Should you find such a wicked item among your travels, do not hesitate to contact me if you wish assistance in confining or destroying it. Your actions have spoken volumes for your righteousness, and I consider myself
Joram Mournesworth, Lord Mayor of Drifthome
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Jonas undressed for bed as normal that evening when something caught his eye. He had his share of tattoos like any old sailor, but never one on his inner thigh! He wanted to chalk it up to last week's drunken blackout...but it was at least a year old! It was a single word, written in Draconic. He read it aloud without thinking, then felt an icy chill slide up his spine as he tried to remember, when had he ever learned Draconic? He had only a moment to wonder about that before a disembodied voice cut through the silence of his bedroom.
"Keep it together, old man--just go look in Mina's bank."
His heart hammering into his throat, he cast his eyes around, called for the speaker to show themselves, but he remained alone. Seizing the lamp, he crept into the kitchen, cursing himself a fool for fearing the darkness of his own house. When Mina was alive, she kept her own private stash of coin in a hanging planter out the back window, said she was "growing money." He pulled down the oilskin bag he had not seen in eleven years, which now contained not a handful of coins, but a small book. By the flickering light of his lamp, Jonas opened it to see his own handwriting, in more Draconic, that language he could not recall learning: "If you don’t remember writing this, your memory has been altered...."
Memento Mori was one of those ideas that outgrew its original inspiration and just kept growing. It didn't take me long after inventing the basic origins of this secret society to realize that people who held the mind as inviolate would take up arms against any darklord, demon, creature or caster who could read or control thoughts. But even better than a wide variety of targets, Memento Mori were great game fodder because many were zealots who saw mind control as tantamount to murder, reading thoughts a form of rape. This pushed them to extreme risks, forced even the poorest of them to pursue clever defenses against imagined attacks out of sheer single mindedness.
Filling your thoughts with an annoying song can give a mind-reader an earful, but forcefully thinking of a song makes simultaneous actions difficult (-4 to all verbal skill checks, treat as if concentrating on a spell). If you want to get anything else done, the truly desperate might deliberately allow a song to get stuck in their head, in whatever part of the brain keeps such “earworms” repeating ad nauseum. After repeated exposure to a song on and off over several days, failing a single Will save results in an earworm (because it’s already involuntary, this save can’t be deliberately failed). When someone with an earworm is subjected to mind reading, they make a second Will save using the Perform check of the original artist, to see if the song appears in the surface thoughts. The results of the two saves are independent, so that the mind reader might hear the song, the surface thoughts, both mixed together, or neither.
When asked for personal details to confirm their identity, a doppelganger normally reads the correct answer in surface thoughts. Instead, corner the suspect with a copy of their own journal, and read aloud to the end of a recent page. Assuming they are not too nervous about the crossbow at their throat, the original author should be able to recall what they wrote next, while a doppelganger won’t find the words in any of the surrounding minds. Once the suspect has given an answer, turn the page, read aloud, and do what must be done….
Journals are also very convenient if something has removed or altered your memories, but taking full advantage requires building the habit of writing long before your mind is wiped, and the means of reminding yourself if something removes your memory of the journal itself. It takes dedication to commit to a detailed daily journal, but anyone up against something that alters memories had better build this habit fast.
One of the tried-and-true low-tech resources is to take advantage of natural wonders, whether it’s inquisitors using wichtingourds or dreamwalkers using dreamweavers. Memento Mori found one of their best resources in herbalism, cultivating the churchsteeple plant for its root. The plant’s powers were first catalogued by Van Richten in Dragon Magazine #273, (“Wicked Garden”), where one of the suggested game effects is that the fresh root duplicates the effect of a protection from evil spell. This is only a minor bonus in combat, but it also suspends all manner of possession and mind control for the duration of the spell.
In addition to using the root to protect themselves and their allies, it’s also a favorite of “string cutter” cells in Dementlieu--Memento Mori anarchists who specialize in fighting against the great puppeteers. Fresh churchsteeple root added to bouquets and boutonnieres at a formal social gathering could result in some amount of discomfiture for those suddenly thrust into freedom, and a lot of valuable information for those who note their reactions.
Frequent mind readers remain suspicious of anyone who appears resistant to their talents--or worse, immune. That’s why members of Memento Mori disguise each other’s thoughts using a variation of the hypnosis skill. Under hypnosis, the subject is instructed to think of a particular topic in the using an extended allegory. This works especially well when Memento Mori cell meetings are disguised as book clubs, gardening guilds, private tea parties or other innocuous gatherings. The subject knows the truth and could speak freely if they choose to, but their surface thoughts would only refer to these topics in these allegorical terms.
Unlike an earworm, hypnosis only provides a backup saving throw when the subject fails their main save. Success means that even though the subject’s thoughts can be read, the chosen topic is disguised. Failing by less than 5 means the disguised thoughts are inconsistent or paradoxical (i.e. “The sewing circle ladies said crocheting works on vampires”). Failing by 5 or more means the mind-reader knows the actual content of the surface thoughts. The second save also applies to interrogation under other forms of mind control, with failure meaning the subject can only speak about the topic in allegorical terms.
5- Lead Headgear...and More:
If you need any further proof of the fanaticism of Memento Mori, ask yourself: what kind of person would risk losing their mind to lead poisoning, just to prevent someone else from having a peek inside it? When facing mind-reading foes in melee combat, members of Memento Mori frequently wear headgear coated with layers of lead enamel*. This is an excellent defense against mental intrusion, but every four hours wearing one provokes a save against lead poisoning, as the enamel breaks down in contact with sweat and the lead is absorbed by the skin. For a truly nuclear option, an alchemical solution of chemically neutralized “chelated” lead* turns the bloodstream into the ultimate barrier against mental intrusion, but any error in the alchemy check results in a toxic dose of lead that can do significant brain damage.
While I personally based Memento Mori in Blaustein with origins in Bluebeard’s memory-altering decrees, the idea of a cult or secret society that sees the mind as inviolate can translate into any game that has such powers. If your PC's are fighting a vampire with a captivating gaze, a ghost with a penchant for possession, an alien shapeshifter who can read thoughts, or a mad supervillain who manipulates minds, they might find some interesting allies at the the crossroads of fanaticism and resourcefulness. But of course, you'll have to break out the Diplomacy and get to know them the old fashioned way, because if you try any other kind of Charm, you may wind up added to their long list of enemies....
* Rules for leaded barrel helms, helmets and potions are given in the Van Richten Society Notes on the Doppelganger, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
We have all experienced tough dealings with our tablemates. It happens. Bashing of heads, glory hogs, rules lawyers, that one person that might as well let Siri play their character because she’s the only one doing anything at that corner of the table. Though they may seem troubling, they are just annoyances. You and your group will live.
I am talking about truly troublesome players (TPs). The ones that make you feel like a thermal detonator has been stapled to your genitals. You only think it hurts now, but you know it’ll be so much worse once it blows. The DM Doctor is in with three ways to deal with a troublesome player and (maybe) save your friendships.
I know. You’ve done this already. Right?
You have given TP several warnings, countless ‘last times’, group meetings. Everything (including an abrupt, table-flip-accompanied end to your last campaign). What more is there to talk about?
Just one thing: Their decision.
Put the ball in their court and let them decide. Do they wish to contribute to the group’s quest for fun? Or are they just in it from themselves? Let them know that if they stay, there are no more warnings. No more ‘last times’. They will be TOLD, not asked, to leave and never return. This applies even if they are the GM and/or host. You do not need them, but apparently, they need you. Don’t be afraid to let them know it.
#2- Ghost ‘Em
It should go without saying, ALWAYS start with the talk. Always. Whether they leave by choice or voted off the island later, you may find TP still haunts you worse than your last ex.
No matter how difficult of a task, your next option will be to ghost them. Ignore them. Never tell them when, where, or what you will be playing. If they manage to show up anyways, ask them to leave. If there is just no physical way to escape them, switch to an entirely different type of game, or try playing your campaign as a play-by-post for the time being. Make TP think the group is dead. If you need a safe, online-gaming space, ask around on your favorite gaming forums (or ask me).
#3- Light the Fuse and Burn it Up
Despite everything you try, the inevitable will happen. You will feel the ‘joy’ of that fist-sized explosive take away all that you hold sacred. There is no turning back.
Decades of friendships are irrevocably lost. A complete and utter gaming Armageddon. What now?
Like a great forest fire clearing thousands of square miles of century-old proud giants, the only thing you can do is let it burn and then wait for the ashes to settle. Move on to other things. It is going to hurt. It is going to suck. However, when the time is right, nature will take its course and life will return to that barren wasteland. Much like the mighty phoenix, you will rise from the ashes and soar to new adventuring heights.
Things will never be the same, but time will bring you greater things.
So, wait… How does this save my friendships?
It doesn’t. The only thing that is going to save your friendships is YOU. It will not be easy, but only you can save them. You will have to be sincere, and above all, be the ‘you’ that always connects with your friends. You all have a special connection. Remember it. Treasure it.
Those are the Doctor’s Orders. Please remember, games are about having fun. Social games are about having fun with those you cherish.
Donald Robinson With more than twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, Donald posts tips and free role-playing game resources on his blog: www.thedmdr.blogspot.com. You can follow him on twitter, facebook, and google+.
Rangers are one of the iconic fantasy archetypes, and they have been ever since we first noticed Strider sitting in the corner of the pub smoking his pipe. Though rangers get a variety of abilities, the one we always think of is favored enemy. And why wouldn't we? While the rest of the group is struggling against the undead minions of a necromancer, or the heavily armed orc warriors conducting local raids, the ranger is cutting through them like a scythe through chaff. And why not? A favored enemy bonus can often be what makes the difference between a challenging fight, and one that gets put down so hard it leaves a crater.
One thing we do too often, though, is turn our rangers into vengeance-driven murder machines. Because, while it's true that killing off a character's family simplifies their back story, provides motivation, and explains why they're so good at fighting a certain type of creature, not every ranger needs to be guided by revenge. Instead you might find your favored enemy bonuses come from...
Experience changes everything. Whenever you started doing a job, even if you were fully trained and qualified, there was a learning curve you had to deal with. Of course, if you survived, chances are you got really good at it. So, if your job has been, “fighting undead” for the last few years, it makes sense that you know how best to take them on. You know the tools to use, what signs to look for, and what sorts of strategies they use. You don't need any particular malice toward these creatures... they're just the opponents you cut your teeth on.
Not every ranger has gone toe-to-toe with his favored enemy in pitched battles for years on end. In fact, some rangers may rarely, if ever, actually see their favored enemies. They know what to do because they've researched, they've trained, and they've studied. A dragon hunter may never have fought a great wyrm, but he knows the signs to look for when that day comes. The environments they live in, the colors of their scales, and where to put an arrow or a spear to have the most devastating effect.
Sometimes a character is just naturally good at something. Maybe he knows just the right ingredients to put together for a salad, or he can always sniff out the best location to make camp. For some rangers, fighting a favored enemy might just be in their blood. An ability to see a creature, watch it move, and to intuit the best way to counter its strengths might just come naturally to you. Time and experience will only put an edge on these abilities.
#4: Insider Knowledge
No one knows how to fight a certain creature type like other members of that creature type. Human rangers whose primary prey has been other humans, for example, know what they're up against. The same is true for half-orcs who've had to best their orc brethren, or elves who've had to pit themselves against other elves. There is no strangeness in a prey you know as intimately as yourself, and when the ability to surprise is taken away, it becomes a battle of skill and preparation.
Some rangers are experts on the best methods to fight certain types of creatures not because they hate them, but because they admire them. The power of magical beasts, the grace of a construct, or the sheer, alien beauty of aberrations can breed an obsession in someone intrigued by these things. While fear is something a ranger might experience in the moment, there's also respect, and a strange kind of intimacy between them and their favored enemies. Though these creatures might need to be fought and killed, there's a kind of nobility in the struggle for someone who has devoted their life to understanding these adversaries.
For more great gaming articles, check out Neal F. Litherland's blog Improved Initiative!
I recently introduced a girlfriend of mine to Pathfinder for the very first time. Not only was it her first time with Pathfinder, but also her very first pen-and-paper RPG. So far, she’s enjoying it, but the question of how to get more ladies involved in the gaming world is one that is frequently bubbling beneath the frothy surface of our subculture.
I have DM’ed in the past, but I decided to approach this more from the perspective of a female player who wants to get her friends involved in the madness. Guys have frequently asked “how can I get my girlfriend/wife involved in role-playing?” and gamer girls frequently discuss this between ourselves, so I polled a few of my crew and came up with the following points.
So a girl has expressed an interest in joining your group, or one of your crew has said that his ladyfriend/sister/roommate/platonic life partner has asked what precisely the hell it IS you do around a table at a friend’s place for ten hours on a Saturday night. Here’s what you can do to increase the chances that everyone involved will have a good time.
0- Point Zero:
Make sure we know we are welcome and not just tolerated. We understand that with Gamergate and all the negativity that swirls around the Internet between the various gender factions, it can be a bit intimidating for a guy to invite a girl to a game, especially if he knows she’s likely to be the only one present at the table. When in doubt, let us know that a seat has our name on it, and let us take it from there.
1- Point One:
Curate (in a non-hipster way) your gaming crew. A handy definition of curate: to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.
Take a good hard look at your players and think if they would be good for a new player or a new-to-the-group player. Do you have a bunch of hardcore lore-junkie grognards that are roughly as crunchy as a bowl of aquarium gravel and take great joy in nitpicking the rules to death and second-guessing the DM? Probably not the best group for a new player - and honestly, why do YOU play with people like that? Carrying on...
Do you play with a group of stereotypes? Be honest here. Are they the basement-dwelling, Doritos-dusted neckbearded types who have the social awareness of a potato? Again, probably not the best group for a new player. That being said, our friends are our friends. It might be a good solid gaming group, but not the best fit for someone just getting into this facet of the hobby.
Let’s say that you have some relatively well adjusted* gamers around your table, the type who indulge in hygiene and jobs and don’t break out in stammers and sweats when girls are around. Ideally, one or more of them will be in a relationship of some kind that involves a romantic component, so they are used to communication and compromise. This is a good place for a completely new player to come in - and even better if the one who invited the new player is actually excited about having her join.
*Well adjusted = medium-to-high-functioning in the mundane aspects of day to day life. Can likely be trusted not to do to the wink wink nudge nudge type of inappropriate behavior until they understand where the lines are with the new player. Also not likely to see a new female face at the table and immediately assume that she is interested in an out-of-character entanglement - or an in-character one for that matter.
Explain to your crew that you are going to be having a new player join the table, and give them the chance to possibly bow out for that session if they like. It goes without saying that it is rarely a good idea to introduce a complete neophyte to a well-oiled and functioning party past the first few games of a campaign, so perhaps you can add the new player at a natural break point or offer to invite her when you begin a new campaign. (Author’s note: You can also take the road traveled by my husband, which is: New player? Let me cram another game into my weekly schedule! I do not endorse this path, but perhaps you have learned how to practice chronomancy OR are in possession of a Time-Turner. If so, please contact me privately.)
You, as a DM, and your players, as members of the community of gamers, owe it to new players and to the continuation of our shared hobby to give them a fair and welcoming chance to dip their toes in the ocean of tabletop gaming. New gamers are the lifeblood of the industry.
2- Point Two:
Pick your setting carefully. For a first-time gamer, Pathfinder or D&D, with its hoary tomes trailing back into the Gygaxian caverns of yore, might be a touch intimidating. When in doubt, offer something with a good, well-known canon to draw from. My very first RPG was Star Wars - I didn’t even know that polyhedral dice existed, but I, like most kids of the late 70s/early 80s, knew about Darth Vader and the farmboy from Tattooine.
When I introduced my friend to Pathfinder, she looked a little lost until she was able to identify and work among the classic literary high-fantasy tropes that are inherent to the system. After she found her reference point, she jumped in with both feet. This leads me into point three.
3- Point Three:
Ask your new (and old!) players a TON of questions. What experience does she have? She may have never played Pathfinder, but she might have LARPed before, or played World of Warcraft or EVE or Skyrim, or she might write Harry Potter fanfic. Don’t make it seem like a job interview (because THOSE are fun) but explain that you are trying to figure out what her experience is, because you don’t want to waste her time with stuff she’s already familiar with. That shows respect for her time and her opinion, which will score you good-person points.
Disclaimer: Most of my female friends are also my writer friends, which means we can spot tropes from a mile away. Sometimes this is irritating, but it also allows our DMs to use that knowledge both to our benefit and to his own nefarious ends. Your mileage will, of course, vary.
Ask your players if there are any types of content they want to avoid. I’m not a huge fan of militaristic campaigns; some people don’t like Lovecraftian horror in their high fantasy, others might be perfectly fine with blood on the ceilings and torture by the hour, but can’t handle settings involving slavery or overtly sexual themes (think succubi/incubi or interrogation via seduction or the Book of Erotic Fantasy for D&D 3.5.)
4- Point Four:
Don’t make assumptions. Some of my girlfriends are just as crunchy as the grognards, and that’s okay. I remember a friend of mine recently posting on Facebook that her half-elf barbarian just did 109 damage in one turn, to which one of her friends replied that her tiefling just gored a dwarf’s eyes out with her horns when he tried to put her in a headlock. One of the more experienced lady gamers I know loves to tell the story of back in the Dark Ages when she started to play, she would shock guys by sitting down at the table, opening her dice bag, and asking them what their THAC0 was.
We might not have played the game, or might not have played that particular edition, but don’t assume we are completely uninformed unless we tell you we are. Ladies, it’s not a sign of weakness to admit you don’t know something, or to ask players to explain an unfamiliar acronym. It’s how you learn, after all. Guys: Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons is not a good role model. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Protip: Let the DM do the explaining, and only contribute as necessary. Otherwise, button your yaps.
Oh, and because it needs saying: We don’t all want to play healers or druids. There, I said it. This is 2017, for the love of spice. We are all well beyond the stage of “hey we need a healer, get your girlfriend to play one”. If you need a healer, go get yourself right with your god(s), Father Cleric.
5- Point Five:
Create a welcoming environment to play in. I’m not saying you need to go out and invest in doilies and tea cozies, but at least make the room presentable enough that you wouldn’t mind your sister or daughter seeing it. Alternatively, have your meet-and-greet/initial session at your local game store - everyone should be okay there. Bonus tip: if you ARE playing at your home, take ten minutes before the group arrives and tidy up a little bit. Nothing Martha Stewart, but rinsing stray hairs out of the sink and putting away your dirty socks will do wonders in making a good impression.
The comfortable environment extends to the table as well. Asking a player (of any gender) what their character looks like is perfectly okay; extended discussion about what bra size the female characters wear is not. In all fairness, I have busted my female players about this as well when they get a little too...enthusiastic...about what the barbarian has under his kilt.
5.5- Point Five and a Half:
Do NOT fall into the trap of female player = female character = oh look romantic/sexual plot point. Don't shoehorn that plot in just because you think we want it. Chances are, we don’t, especially with complete or near-complete strangers. It may evolve over time, but it might not. Let it happen organically or after discussion out-of-character.
6- Point Six:
Be an adult. Treat people decently, regardless of gender. Remember, we are all representatives of our shared hobby and one bad experience will travel the winds much further than a fantastic one. We ladies don’t need to be treated with kid gloves - we need to be treated like valued members of the community. Call out bad behavior wherever you see it. Ask if there are misunderstandings, and strive to fix them. Do a post-mortem with each player and a separate one with the group - see if there are any areas of concern or room for improvement or anything that was really amazing that people want to see more. Understand that it will likely take several sessions for a group to really gel and learn to trust each other, and ask your players to give each other a chance.
Ladies, gentlemen, and smizmars, the people you play with are human (presumably) and they WILL make mistakes, misspeak, or occasionally say inappropriate things out of ignorance. Don't ascribe malice to something that can be written off as ignorance or human error. If something bothers you, say something - but keep in mind that the best resolution should, as a rule, allow all parties to keep playing. If you as a lady gamer don't want to be treated like a fine crystal vial full of nitroglycerin, show your tolerance and willingness to make friends to the guys inviting you to the table. Guys, treat us like people, because we are people. Normal people...or as normal as gamers get.
In the end, it's all just a game. Let us hope the Lady*
is on our side.
In loving memory of Sir Terry Pratchett, taken from us two years ago and twenty years too soon,
* "The Lady", also known as; "She-who-shall-not-be-named, The 'Million-to-One' Chance (and all of the other chances as well) The One who will desert you when you need Her the most - and sometimes She might not..." is none other than the Anthropomorphic personification of Luck, as well as the single most powerful goddess on the Discworld, all for the simple reason that (although She has no worshippers and the only temple ever erected to Her was destroyed purely by chance) everybody hopes and prays that She exists and that She'll smile on them. Her suitors can be distinguished by their distinctive repetitive prayer; "please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please."
Greetings again, traveller!
It's been too long since we've had occasion to meet face-to-face. Mordent has become very tense of late--I have the feeling that Lord Godefroy is plotting something particularly savage. You'll recall Lord Godefroy: the premier restless dead within the realm, a master manipulator of events both near and far, and a particularly vile combination of elitist and sadist.
If you weren't aware, Godefroy appears to be the principal resident, or 'Darklord' if you prefer, within Mordent. It is his history and character which shape the realm, a realm which answers to him in almost every way, while at the same time defying his ultimate ends. Godefroy is, at the end of the day, a bitter old man incapable of finding anyone worthy of taking on his legacy. Now the country is filled with commoners and peasantfolk, the noble families long passed away. No peasant, no matter how wise or judicious, will ever be good enough for Godefroy, of course. While the surviving Weathermays would be the natural choice, they are all avid monster hunters, and would give Godefroy the fight of his unlife if they became aware of his machinations. It would seem at first blush that he has little option beyond them.
However, not all of the noble families are as extinct as it might appear. A few survivors escaped either the destruction of their kin, or the realm. As Jules Weathermay grows increasingly older, and Godefroy's options diminish, there must eventually come a time when rulership of Mordent passes to someone. Godefroy will undoubtedly choose the least repugnant option from his limited selection and endeavor to manipulate them into governance. To that end, I thought it might be beneficial to discuss what options have presented themselves so far.
It is strange that Vilhelm von Aubrecker never considered looking for illegitimate children issued by his son, Rudolph. The boy's carousing was legendary before his disappearance, and where one finds a lust-driven noble boy, one usually finds bastard children just around the corner. Fortunately, it only took a small amount of digging to unearth Stefan Clairemont: the son of a merchant noblewoman from Dementlieu (known for a rather egregious wild streak in her youth, and known to have attended several social events with the younger von Aubrecker during their teens). His parentage is not something which is often brought up, but which is painfully obvious: if he were ever to meet the boy, Vilhelm would recognize him as his grandson at once.
It might come to pass that the best option for Godefroy is to infuse his realm with noble blood from another land. Although many nearby realms have 'noble' families scarcely worthy of the name, the von Aubreckers are distinguished enough that Godefroy can respect them, and an expatriate scion is even better, since he is certainly free of any familial influence. Stefan Clairemont is nice enough to converse with, if a bit dull and unimaginative, with no great ambitions beyond marrying well, investing his family fortunes with the help of sound financial counsel, and enjoying local art. He would make a wonderful tool for Godefroy to manipulate.
Dread Possibility: Clairemont has only recently come under the sway of his older brother Rudolph. Although Godefroy is aware of Dominic's struggle with another mental manipulator, the old specter isn't as familiar with the Brain's handiwork, and wouldn't recognize the signs of it in Clairemont. This might give the Brain an alternate outlet to attempt to manipulate, and either a new place to call home, or a source of additional reinforcements for his battles with d'Honaire.
Aimee Mainrouge is a wealthy aristocrat from Dementlieu. She comes from money, and has never wanted for anything save for entertainment. Fortunately gifted with an athletic physique and a natural grace, Aimee has found great success at fencing. She frequently chooses to fight duels on behalf of other young women in Dementlieuse society, with her striking good looks belying her skill with a blade. Unfortunately, Aimee has no true altruism behind her actions, she merely enjoys the violence as well as the praise that comes with being a 'hero.'
Recently, when her father passed away, Aimee discovered a trunk amidst his possessions containing a number of family heirlooms. Among them are several artifacts, including a signet ring and a docket of lineage showing that her ancestry can be traced to the Halloways of Mordent. She has been considering a return to 'her homeland.' If her family history were discovered by Godefroy, she would make an interesting candidate. Her gender is not what he would prefer, but any noble is better than no noble as far as the old man is concerned.
Dread Possibility: Aimee Mainrouge is a victim of a long-forgotten con. She is not a Halloway at all, just the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of an enterprising fence with a surplus of stolen art and a gift for forgery. His claim to distant nobility enabled him to establish himself as a wealthy merchant, and he maintained the tools of his deception should he ever need them. Sometime within the past 200 years, the truth was lost to the family. Although Aimee is the only living member of the Mainrouge line, Godefroy may very well decide that a counterfeit Halloway is an acceptable temporary substitute for a real noble to rule Mordent.
Just north along the coast from Mordentshire sits the small coastal town of Drifthome. The mayor of this village is an outlander by the name of Joram Fallstar, a retired adventurer who has only recently discovered the truth about his ancestry. After many battles with the evils of the Mists, Joram came to wed a witch. Along with his adopted child, they retired to the village which he had come to call home. During his last adventure, he discovered with the aid of an artifact known as the Tome of the Compact that his parents had fled the Mists centuries before through means unknown, changing their name from Mournesworth to Fallstar to escape persecution in a strange land.
Joram believes strongly in law and order, and would accept rulership of Mordent if forced, but would prefer not to. He knows full well the extent of Godefroy's power, and wishes nothing to do with the ancient spirit.
Dread Possibility: Godefroy knows the truth about Joram's wife: she is not entirely human, but is instead a merwoman whom exchanged a portion of her soul to stay on land with her love. Joram himself might be acceptable to Godefroy, but accepting the Mournesworth would mean giving legitimacy to his children, one of whom would eventually inherit the regency of the land. Since Joram's eldest child is an adopted Falkovnian, while his younger, natural born child is equally repulsive in Godefroy's eyes: the boy isn't even fully human, his mother's foul sea-creature blood tainting him beyond Godefroy's ability to stomach.
Of all the families, the Blackburn-Bruces are the one family that absolutely survived their 'destruction.' Numerous heirs have cropped up over the years, only to be usually connected with some diabolic sorcery. While I scarcely would have believed such a thing, I was with Joram when he discovered the Tome of the Compact, a book which appears as gibberish to anyone not descended from one of the noble families of Mordent. To my amazement, I could read it as well! My father-in-law, a historian of rural folklore and a font of lost information, believes strongly that my sister and I descended from one of the scions of the Blackburn-Bruce. Although this information has been whispered about since then, I've been fortunate that the citizens of Carrinford-Halldon continue to accept me as mayor, my family's dark legacy not sufficient to sway them against me.
I've no interest in becoming Godefroy's catspaw, of course! Both myself and Gwendolyn are ever-vigilant against incursions from the restless dead, lest the old man come for me or one of my children.
Dread Possibility: Before she was Lady Drakeson, Gwendolyn was known as Gwendolyn Timothy, a surname whose significance is not lost on Godefroy. The old man has no interest in allowing Nathan Timothy's daughter or extended family a foothold within his realm. Even if he were able to look past the lycanthropy that runs in the family--and which Gwen has infected her husband with--he cannot overlook the family's loyalty to their patriarch, and especially cannot overlook Frankie Drakeson's coarse and vulgar nature, closer in demeanor to the citizens of Verbrek than the the men of power in Mordent.
Whatever Wilfred's got up his ectoplasmic sleeve, it's going to be unpleasant for someone. Whichever one of these unlucky sods he targets is going to be in for the fight of their lives. Once Godefroy sets his sights on something, it's almost impossible to shake him off. Even if you want nothing to do with the coming fight, I would be remiss if I didn't insist on hosting you here in Carinford-Halldon again. If you can stay a few weeks or even days, that would be delightful, but even if you can only spare us a single night, we'd love to have you for dinner.
Safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Accents were the first way I learned to differentiate my NPCs. My Scottish barkeep was a hit! Unfortunately all my barkeeps were Scottish for a very long time. So were all my Dwarves. Stereotypical accent reliance be gone! Here are five vocal and speech dynamics to build character and differentiate NPCs, even those who share the same cultural upbringing. Use these tips to not only shake up your voice options, but to communicate the world view and personalities of your characters.
1. Word Choice / Sentence Structure
World view differences have a huge bearing on word choices. What does it say about a character who always uses words like "interpersonal conflict", instead of a words like "argument", or "row?"
How lengthy are their sentences or thoughts? Try on "Given the absence of any evidence to the contrary, and that there are no other persons with plausible motives, I expect you'll find it reasonable for me to bring you in for questioning," or "You're the only suspect. You'd best come quietly." How a character speaks is related to how a character thinks. They might be curt, direct, and to the point. They might view a character as beneath them, and use long sentences, multiple clauses, and big words to accentuate differences in education or perceived intelligence.
2. Pitch & Melody
Where does the character’s speaking voice sit in pitch, compared to yours? Simply picking higher or lower pitched voices can start to differentiate a character, and is a quick and dirty way to offer clues about gender and age. We can deepen the understanding of a character by imagining what range of pitches they use in their average speaking voice. Do they have a Clint Eastwood monotone, or a a Maria von Trapp sing song vast speaking range? This can tell us a lot about what a character thinks about the world, and how safe they are to express themselves emotionally. Guarded characters will guard their pitch range.
Do they have a repetitive melody in their voice? They may have an upward inflection at the end of most sentences. If they sound like every time they make a statement, it comes across as a question, we are communicating something about their confidence. In my family, all of the older generation have a very peculiar rainbow pattern to their speech. Every sentences starts in mid range, arcs into a higher pitch, then finishes down on a low note. Once I first heard it I couldn't unhear how regularly they all do it. One can really get a sense of those old farm kids’ earthiness when hearing them chat about the weather and hockey with the same 5 note melody to every statement.
A character skilled in rhetoric may use many more variations in melody and pitch as they alternate between threatening, cajoling, and flattering your characters.
The pacing of someone's speech is a huge clue to their personality. Do they feel they have the time and attention of their audience to reveal their thoughts over time? Do they feel no one is really listening so they spit everything out without breath to make sure they are heard before they are interrupted? Very rapid speech could indicate a busy person with no time for anything but action, or nervousness. Slow speech could indicate someone perfectly comfortable in their environment who feels entirely unthreatened, or someone who has difficulty coming up with the right words. Try varying the tempo of speech to reveal different traits.
4. Silences And Filler Words
Do you have that friend who when asked a question, makes no immediate vocal response, and you can’t tell if they are thinking about a response, haven’t heard you, or are ignoring you? A character who is comfortable letting silences hang is very different than one who fills gaps immediately with “umms,” “uuhs,” and “well…” What sort of filler words might your NPCs use when they don’t have the exact turn of phrase they are looking for? Is their speech littered with “like,” or do they finish every list with “ and stuff like that?”
5. Aperture or Mouth Tension
Try speaking a few lines (or reading part of this article aloud) two times. The first time, keep your teeth firmly together. The second time, imagine having a pencil oriented vertical inside your mouth wedging your jaws as open as possible, and speak while keeping this openness as much as you can. There are two things I am hoping you’ll notice. First, the voices sound different. The quality of your vowels will be greatly affected by the openness of your mouth. Second, it feels different emotionally to speak these two different ways. The tension of keeping your teeth together produces a tension in character, a grittiness. The looseness of the open aperture recommends itself to a more open minded, or curious type of character, or one well versed in the flexibility of mind required to be a master manipulator.
Let’s imagine two brothers. One brother is a golden boy: gets great grades and is optimistic about the world. The other is in his shadow, constantly fighting for attention.
We’ll make the first brother’s voice have an easy pacing, and a relaxed melodic tune. He uses lengthy composite sentences (to show off his facility with language), and usually ends on a firm and confident low/middle note, a tonic.
The second brother’s voice is spoken with a tight mouth, pitched higher but with less modulation in tone. He speaks louder than is appropriate for the context, in simple short sentences, but with lots of thoughts in a row. He speaks quickly without taking breaths: "and this, and this, and this..." He usually has to be interrupted instead of finishing thoughts on his own. He inflects upwards at the end of sentences as if statements are actually questions.
Here you have two totally different characters, with very different voices, but with the very same heritage and the very same accent.
Darren has a background in theatre performance, and if he’s not exactly aiming for the Tony’s anymore, he’s delighted to strut the boards as often as possible at the gaming table. He makes his home in Edmonton, Alberta with his encouraging wife and their tiny thunder Goddess. Find him on twitter @dsteelegm
I have to admit that I was never really drawn to the Paladin class in D&D. AD&D 2e was the second game I ever role-played in (the first being Marvel) and after a quick glance at the options I was pretty married to the bard. When I flipped through the Player’s Handbook, the idea of needing 17 charisma to play such a character was a bit too much for a newbie like me. The Paladin seemed like the pompous version of the fighter class. Which I was also not a big fan of at the time.
Where I actually gained insight into the Paladin class was in a completely different game system. Palladium created a Cyber Knight and along with the cool name, it came with the Code of Chivalry. That document defined my character, it fleshed her out and gave her purpose. With D&D I was still learning and so delving into which god to serve and creating my own code or practice wasn’t even on my radar.
So I propose you should use the Code of Chivalry for a jumping off point for your next paladin.
Let’s look at the code:
The Code of Chivalry from Palladium Rifts Coalition Wars Cyber Knights published Dec 2000
1. To Live
"Live one's life so that it is worthy of respect and honor.
Live for freedom, justice, and all that is good.”
Amended D&D Style: To live to bring honor to my deity
Each deity and world of religion brings its own essence to your game play. The pantheons are both diverse and thorough (and there is a quick glance feature on pages 293-299 of the Player's Handbook) from fantasy worlds to European gods from cultures like the Greeks and the Nordic peoples. Discover your choices to enhance these codes for your particular character.
If your campaign has Egyptian deities as the pantheon of choice then you might choose to worship and serve Hathor, goddess of love, music, and motherhood.
So you could include things like:
Live one’s life in devotion to those who bring forth life through childbearing.
Live to share music with the world to help spread the message of Hathor.
If you are rooted in the Greyhawk world, you may be a paladin of Ehlonna, goddess of woodlands.
Your codes under this category may be:
Live as though you may not upset the balance of nature.
Live and treat all life as equals.
Living for your deity is important to include in your personal code.
2. Fair Play
"Never attack an unarmed foe.
Never use a Psi-Sword on an opponent not equal to the attack.
Never charge an unhorsed opponent.
Never attack from behind.
Amended D&D Style: Sportsmanship
These may seem like innocuous ideals for Sportsmanship but -speaking from experience- when these rules are played out and they essentially take ambush off the table, it changes your game completely.
When playing D&D paladins I would use some of these, and add amendments. Perhaps a dwarven paladin of Moradin, the dwarf god of creation, will never attack an unarmed dwarf from behind, but other races may be subject to their tactics. Or maybe your code would read: Never cheat those who follow the true way of Heironeous. Give these coded ideas life based on your deity, your race, or even your disposition towards other races. Your interpretations of the code can also add flavour.
"Exhibit self control.
Show respect to authority.
Obey the laws if they do not supersede the rights of life.
Protect the innocent.
Amended D&D Style: Oath of _______
In 5th edition, there are 3 Oaths that can be taken once your paladin reaches level 3. Each is unique and comes with different benefits to your character. These oaths have several tenets of devotion that are very similar to the code you are creating. You should look through these tenets to cement your ideal paladin. Even before the 3rd level, your paladin should be striving to meet some of these requirements to flesh them out and give them a direction.
To aid you in your code creation, the oaths are:
Oath of Devotion: this encompasses your stereotypical knight in shining armour who tend to be idealist and paragons of virtue
Oath of the Ancients: these paladins adhere to a long-standing ideal of light (rather than its counter darkness), life is of particular importance to these folks
Oath of Vengeance: are those concerned with justice and punishing those who have done wrong and set things right.
But the tenets laid out in each of the oath sections in the Player’s Handbook (pg 85-88) have verbatim some of the thing you need to include in your Character Code Creation (CCC: new acronym FTW.) Go forth, read, and inwardly digest.
"Exhibit courage in word and deed.
Defend the weak and innocent.
Fight for an ideal, like freedom.
Fight with honor.
Avenge the wronged.
Never abandon a friend, ally, or noble cause.”
Amended D&D Style: Valor
I wouldn’t change much, if anything, in this section. These are the courageous things that you read about in fiction and history. These are what make a paladin larger than life, better than you, and a formidable opponent.
"Always keep one's word of honor.
Always maintain one's principles.
Never betray a confidence or comrade.
Respect life. Honor all life.
Respect all views of life.”
Amended D&D Style: Honor
Honor is still an important factor, and I would suggest some thinking on what is honorable for your character. The deity worship, the world they live in, and what situations drew them to the class will all determine what honor is for them.
Some questions to get you thinking about honor CCC (character code creation) are:
Is your world at war? If so, with who?
Has your character been through life-changing tragedy? Did this change them?
How did they find their faith? Why that deity?
Who were their role models?
Who has betrayed them?
I know that this CCC (Character Code Creation) may look daunting before you start playing, but this will make for a more fleshed out paladin. There is something wholly terrible about those paladins that are just played as religious-type fighters. Let’s let these behemoths of virtue stand tall on their own. Put in the work ahead of time and you won’t be disappointed.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
It's a standard trope of gaming that adventurers are hired by a wide variety of people in need to solve problems for them, but sometimes it's nice to have a standing relationship with a particular patron.
This might be an individual, a corporation, a church, or some other entity that is the standard go-to when the party needs cash, information, training, social connection, perhaps even a purpose for adventuring. If you want your PC's to develop a long-lasting relationship with a patron, here are three factors to consider:
1. The Cash:
When it comes to money, the rate at which it comes in is usually more important than the amount in reserve. For example, repentant miser Ezekiel Barckarl has a huge pile of coins he is eager to invest in a good cause, but the money may not flow back in fast enough for him to keep up with PC’s ongoing expenses. It may be a little better for old-fashioned aristocrats like Jules Weathermay and James Martigan*, but most landed nobility have investments tied up in entitlements and entailments, such that money flows in consistently, but not in large sums, and they are not eager to touch their reserves. For higher levels, consider more active rulers like the Reniers, or merchants like Hadron Marquit, the Carlyle Trading Company** or the Boritsi Trading Company, for whom the amount of money coming in every day exceeds the living expenses of any PC by several orders of magnitude. Churches and some secret societies fall into this category as well--the Syndicate of Enlightened Citizens is a group of old-money nobles with mercantile interests, playing such a long game they might theoretically finance anything.
2. The Cause:
Obviously the quickest way to a PC's heart is through their coin purse, but the heart of the patron must be in the right place too. The critical element is whether they share enemies with the PC’s--a witchfinder society like the Brotherhood of Broken Blades might lose interest if the PC’s branch out into fighting werewolves. In your prospective patrons, include evil forces whose immediate goals appear benevolent: PC’s may become pawns of the Living Brain vs. Dominic, Malken vs. Bolshnik, even Inquisition vs. Fey. Eventually they will discover that their patron is as bad or worse than their enemy, but conflicts of interest make for good role-playing. Nor are such dangers exclusive to evil patrons--almost any good patron has skeletons in their closet, whether it’s Orinda Nahle’s vendetta against Gundar or Sasha Hiregaard’s family madness.
3. The Clout:
Political legitimacy, introductions to important people, expert training, obscure secrets--clout is the stuff that can’t be bought easily, or at all. Magic is perhaps the most common kind of clout; the churches of Ezra, Hala and the Lawgiver make for good sponsors because of their healing magic. The best sponsors tend to have something unique that keeps PC’s coming back, such as Randall Marks’ arcane trivia or Philippe Delapont’s*** secrets of the dead. Although it’s one of the best features of a good sponsor, clout has limits; Falkfuhrer Calons Weir might be inclined to trade secrets with PC’s, but they risk dinner with Drakov if they say the wrong thing. Despite not being money, political or social clout may help meet financial needs: Lady Lara Vistin might provide a letter that entitles the bearer to room, board, and reasonable supplies (anything under 1gp) from any Nova Vaasans along the Volgis River. Finally, there are even a few patrons who might offer PC’s clout without cash, such as Cecil the Master Cat.
So consider these three C’s when looking over your prospects for party patrons. Obviously not all patrons will excel in all three, but a little consideration for what they have and what they lack will prepare you for when the party looks for someone to pay the bills.
*James Martigan and Orinda Nahle can be found in Andrew Cermak’s article “Lights in the Fog,” in the Book of Secrets, a netbook hosted by the Kargatane.
**The Carlyle Trading Company can be found in the Van Richten Society Notes on Dopplegangers, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
***Philippe Delapont can be found in the Undead Sea Scrolls 2003, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement.
There’s a certain charm to the newest edition. It’s almost intangible. Although I find all of it very enjoyable, in a couple instances, it could be considered… lacking. Don’t get me wrong, it's just as easy to pour your heart and soul into a character as it’s always been. I just feel like there a few holes to fill. This is probably just my way of coping with the fact I can't take exotic weapon proficiencies and make everything strange for the party. Here are a few things I feel could be spiced up a bit.
Who doesn’t like having an extra layer of steel between you and the creatures trying to kill you? No one. That's who. No one and that jerk at the table whose chaotic neutral to be genuinely evil without the official label. D&D 5e seems to be a little lacking in the shield department, this time around. Especially considering how useful they were in historical combat, and the plethora of styles and materials that have been used throughout history.
Things like bucklers and tower shields would be great to see implemented. For example: bucklers could increase AC by a lower amount, say +1, but could have some sort of striking feature where you could make an attack with it for minimal damage. Tower shields could give +3 to AC but have a disadvantage if you’re carrying it without a certain strength, as well as the ability to plant it in the ground for cover. Hell, even them being made of wood or other metals could have an effect on the player. Sure this is something you could work out with your DM, but isn’t it nice to have the source material give actual stats and features for these types of things?
I’m not saying maneuvers are boring (although more of them would be beautiful). Quite the opposite. I think MORE classes should have maneuvers as an option. For those of you who are unsure of what maneuvers are, they are located on page 74 of the PHB, as part of the battlemaster subclass for fighters. Other than that, they never show up! They add a dynamic to the game that’s so intriguing and interesting. It just feels a little underdeveloped. I know there's a feat for extra maneuvers, but not everyone does feats and it's a rather miniscule amount of maneuvers instead of having a subclass built around them.
Combat based rogues would benefit greatly from maneuvers. Sadly, there’s no subclass for the resident sneaky badass who fights as good as he steals. The monk falls victim to this too! The monk's martial arts feel like they could have been explored more. Maneuvers could have made the monk feel more, uh… “Whachaaaa,” if you catch my meaning. Long story short, maneuvers are glorious, why can’t they be everywhere? Paint the walls with maneuvers, even if it would make combat longer.
3- Subclasses (In certain instances)
Yes yes, take my silly concerns and shove them up my (Upper management has reduced Jarod’s non-existent pay due to subject matter complaints in this sentence) because unearthed arcana already offers a billion and a half extra subclasses. If you ask me a few classes could use a little more variety in the base books. Such as sorcerers. They only have two subclasses and one might argue only one of those subclasses is worth playing, but that’s a subject for another day. This seems like a comparably low amount to the Cleric and Wizard’s cornucopia of subclasses. Other classes that suffer from this include the Ranger, Barbarian and Druid (the woodland people are getting the short end of the stick here) along with a few other classes.
My major point here was supposed to be how race specific subclasses could come into play if you are using a class that compliments the race nicely. High Elf wizard subclass that lets you memorize extra spells or get extra spell slots. Mountain Dwarf fighters that can enter a battle frenzy-like thing where they get an extra attack per round for 5 rounds. Lightfoot Halfling rogues that get massive bonuses to their stealth rolls but have to sacrifice something… what? I can’t be charming and creative constantly.
I don't mean to deFEAT (Editor's note: We take no responsibility for injuries due to extreme eye-rolling. -VP Quinn) the purpose of the unearthed arcana pages but I feel like it should’ve been released in the core books. Just more. I want more, damnit. Sorry. Reigning it back in, a few extra feats would bring a joyous tear to my eye. Something to give more unarmed attack bonuses like the Tavern Brawler feat. Maybe play around with the martial arts feature with the monks. Make tool proficiencies more interesting by playing around with that tinker ability for the Rock Gnome.
In reality, it might be a little overwhelming to drop so many feats into the core books, so it's understandable. We all have limits and deadlines. I’m not harping on this too badly I hope. I mean, compared to the other points in this article, even I feel like this is a little ham-fisted. Which could actually be an awesome name for another feat dealing with unarmed attacks.
As stated earlier, I miss exotic weapons. Sure, they’re a little unrealistic but someone out there is probably flying around on a carpet with a magic blade you named “Kitten-slasher.” So you can get off my back about me missing a massive double-ended axe. From what I’ve seen in the community, I’m not the only one who misses having the massive array of weapons and gizmos attached to them in their armories. They were the backbone of some of my more interesting characters. You will be missed Rhagar. RIP.
Exotic weapon proficiencies aren't the only way to spice up this category. Direct your attention to something actual blacksmiths always have to consider: Material. It may make things a little more tedious in shopping scenarios but the differences between an iron, steel or mithril blade were astounding. Although, mithril is not a real metal. If it were, it would probably break science. I like to think that Wizards of the Coast encourages us to play with the materials of our weapons. Things like adamantine and silver are things you can make weapons and armour out of, after all. Wouldn’t you like to take a little extra time to draw up a sword? With a special crossguard, a niftier handle and a certain blade shape? I feel like it would make the whole roleplaying experience just a little better. I happen to feel passionately about this point in particular because it’s freaking awesome to pounce on someone with a double-ended sword-spear.
“How dare you question how the gods have had mortal man exist since the dawn of time,” I hear you typing in the comment section, “Curse your blasphemy! Curse your children! Curse your dice” Now that everyone’s done being mad at me (for now), you should hear me out. The alignment system D&D has been used since the very first system (with the odd awkward stage I like to call D&D’s puberty period where everyone tried a new name on and joined Tumblr) but perhaps, after it being so long since things have started, we could try to mix things up? I know it’s hard to find fault in Gygax’s masterful creation that is the alignment system we know and love. Perhaps we shouldn’t look for faults as much as we should imperfections.
True Neutral back in the day went all Isaac Newton on your ass. Essentially for every good action you have to commit an evil one, or at least you tried to live in an exact balance between good and evil as well as law and chaos. For a casual player, or even an experienced player, this sounds like a fresh hell in either definition. An example straight up given in the books, from what I can remember, was that a druid saving a village from gnolls might switch sides halfway through the fight to prevent the gnolls from being completely wiped out. Something like that could get you killed by your party if they don’t want to put up with that crap. If you consider that druids in AD&D were required to be neutral, you could see where restrictions and requirements could be a pain to any party. While it may be pointless to look back and say, “Things were bad,” especially in an article where I’m talking about 5e not older editions, I felt it was important to include to make the point for 5e.
I feel like there’s no “selfish” alignment. I know, I know; chaotic neutral or neutral is the way to go, or even dip into the evils. However, with each “chaotic” or “lawful,” you place yourself into a more limited spectrum. You restrict your choices. You can’t kill the man who killed your father because as lawful good, you’re supposed to think deep down there's hope. You can’t save your own mother because there's nothing in it for you, you chaotic evil bastard. I know these are extreme and unlikely with an average DM but if there's even a chance that your alignment would prevent you from doing what is human (or elven or dwarven or…) for you then maybe we should consider expanding our options a little.. What comes naturally to the person you have carefully crafted and developed is what should be considered. Not some super-strict ancient system. Isn’t it worth considering that alignments could be changed? I just feel like describing who you’d want to be would be quicker. Chaotic Evil doesn’t always mean “Jerkish Dipwad.” Lawful Good doesn’t always mean “Stick Firmly Planted in Butt.”
Maybe I’m just rambling crazily. After all I haven’t seen the sun in 72 hours after locking myself in the basement again.
But things are as they are. I mean 5e is still really good. The extra material Wizards of the Coast has released has been good, great even, which, after 4e, is refreshing. Just remember, the Shardmind will always be there. Watching. Waiting for someone to open that book and say “I should adapt this.” Then, each and every individual circle of hell will unravel to make way for Psionics once again in this once-safe world.
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.
There is a reason people love playing role-playing games - we get to be the heroes in the story! The woman who saves the kingdom, the man who finds the answers he is looking for, the dragon who eats that nasty little Duke that has been polluting the river and killing the fish - these people make a difference in the game world the way most of us are incapable of in the real world.
That being said, infallible heroes are not good characters *coughSupermancough*. In the writing world, there’s a nasty term for them: Mary Sue’s/Marty Stu’s. In addition, characters that are mere accretions of statistics are not memorable characters either - usually quite the opposite.
“Hey, remember that human paladin with like +5 to his STR and -2 to his WIS?” doesn’t sound as appealing as “Remember that meathead priest-in-a-can who tried to solve a sphinx’s riddle by punching it in the snoot?”
In a similar vein to my previous article about good villains, I now present a short list of characteristics crucial to well-built and memorable heroic characters.
Coherent of and to Concept - Is This Feasible?
I don’t mean can he/she/it speak, I mean that the concept itself needs to stick together, and it needs to function well in the setting - or it needs to be so clean and so slick that it can fit into a not-quite-right setting fairly seamlessly.
In a “modern” setting, you can certainly allow for magic users, but an undead lich who literally looks like an animated rotting corpse isn’t really coherent to the concept of a game in a modern setting. An undead lich who can rock some Armani, though... that’s doable. Just like a mad chemist concept (like Walter White) can easily be turned into a mad alchemist in a fantasy setting. Protip: oil of vitriol is the ancient name for sulfuric acid.
Don’t try to put a Jedi on Arrakis - it doesn’t end well. A Sith in Vegas, though? That could be a lot of fun.
Capability - Can You Pull It Off?
This point is something that a GM/DM needs to consider when approving a concept: can the character requesting the concept pull it off, or is she going to fall back to reciting blank numbers when put in a position that challenges her character? When a player is designing a tough character, they need to keep their own capabilities in mind.
The worlds of Exalted and Iron Kingdoms RPGs specifically encourage “stunting,” or being very descriptive when describing a character’s actions, and I don’t know a single DM worth their caffeine who doesn’t enjoy enthusiastic players. A good “stunt” can add extra dice to a tough roll and increases the incentive for players to think more about their characters rather than just statistics on a page.
Nothing hamstrings a game more than someone leading up to something truly epic, and them saying “I rolled a 19” without explaining what in the nine hells they actually did - and I don’t mean that they rolled their subterfuge plus “use the force” stats. It is the responsibility of everyone at the table, both players and the DM, to encourage reticent players to try to level up their roleplay experience by contributing to the tapestry of descriptive narrative. People will surprise you, given the opportunity, and those surprises are what memories are made of.
Compelling - Do You Live, Or Do You Exist?
Do you care about your character? Why should I care about your character? Make me want to know what they are doing. Maybe your character saves my character’s life, or buys her a meal, or otherwise interacts in a way that brings them to life - and this doesn’t always have to be in a positive light!
I once played in a Star Wars game where another character was such a uniformly unpleasant creature that the entire group banded together to deal with him. It took a bunch of scruffy mercs and united us in our hatred for one nasty little furball that didn’t respect physics or privacy. It made the character compelling. We showed up every week wondering how he was going to mess with our plans.
This is the little snot. Kushibah Sith Alchemist. We LOVED to hate him. I don’t remember his actual name, but we called him Darth Foamy. Ask me about the hamster ball sometime.
Caring - The Ultimate Motive Force
Does your character care about anything? Does she lose her mind when animals are mistreated? Does he fly off the handle if he sees injustice? Can she stand seeing people impugn her deity of choice? What is his reaction to seeing party members in peril?
If your character doesn’t care about anything, they are incomplete. Why did they join the party if all they are going to do is sit around and say “nah, pass” to everything? Even if their motive behind joining is to “get out of this podunk town before my brain leaks out of my ears,” that’s still caring about something.
It is okay, and even encouraged, for what they care about to evolve over the course of the story. Maybe our teenage rogue who was dying of boredom decides that that dwarven blacksmith is a pretty chill chick, and he’d like to get to know her better because she can drink anyone under the table and still split a bullseye with her axes. Or the paladin realizes that the druid might be a heretic under her order’s rules, but damn it, he’s *her* heretic and she will protect him, because he’s proven to her that not all heretics are immediately and inherently damned.
Caring about something...anything...is the most important facet of a character, and determines what they can bring to a campaign. That caring can be the nexus of so much growth - it is impossible to overstate the importance of your character giving a damn about something.
And now for the tough part: the P.
Plausible - Does Your Character Make Sense?
I know, I know, I’m the one forever beating the drum of story-over-mechanics, but follow with me here.
Say someone chooses a race for a Star Wars Saga Edition game (for the sake of example: a Wookiee), and that race has a large and deep body of details and lore about the cultures of those beings.
Now let’s say that a player decides they want to play a Wookiee, but they want to play a Force-sensitive one. Leaving edition and canon wars out of this, there’s nowhere in Saga Edition that says there cannot be Force-sensitive Wookiees, but in the canon of the universe there is no record of them being Sith or Jedi. That’s okay, there’s Force Adepts in the book, and it’s made for situations like this. DM approves the Force-sensitive Wookiee, and there’s little to no fuss.
But then the Force-sensitive Wookiee decides that he also wants to wear power armor (something completely against the Wookiee lore) and takes levels in Soldier to be able to wear it. There’s nothing in the book that says they can’t do this - because game designers, out of an abundance of enthusiasm, are loath to say “no” to something unless there’s a damn good reason - but it really doesn’t make sense.
So now our power-armor-wearing Force Adept Wookiee decides that he wants to take a further departure from reason, and adds a lightsaber to his arsenal including a special type of lightsaber crystal that is only mentioned in one place that adds splash damage, and has the lightsaber mastercrafted to where it can be used two-handed as a great weapon. Again, all technically possible, but entirely not plausible.
The DM approves this because the player invokes the logical argument that “there’s nowhere that says I can’t do this.” This kind of build skews the entire game, as the other players scramble to maintain the power curve; narrative and story get lost in the internal arms race.
On the other extreme, let’s say someone is playing a human soldier. He has absolutely average stats, absolutely average skills, and absolutely average pretty much everything, even after several game sessions and XP expenditures. This is approaching implausible from the other end of the spectrum, although again, entirely within the realm of possibility. Everyone has something that they are good at, even if only marginally better than average.
A completely out-of-whack character like the Wookiee is bad for the game, but an entirely average character is bad for the player, because they have no direction to progress. I recommend that each time a player comes up with a “wouldn’t it be cool if…” idea, they run it past their DM and the other players. A DM shouldn’t be pressured to approve something that is technically possible if it doesn’t fit with their story - but they should always be open to ideas.
You can always ask the Universe anything. Sometimes the answer is no. Everyone has something that they are good at, and you don’t get to have ALL the things just for the asking.
Come to think of it, that’s a solid lesson that all of us - gamers and not - could stand to
remember from time to time.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
With the rise of geek-chic comes a new responsibility for us hipster role players; you know, those of us who were slaying dragons before slaying dragons was cool. That responsibility is to introduce people who have never tried gaming to a new and fantastic hobby. Over the years I’ve found that finding interested parties has become more and more easy, as long as you're willing to talk openly about it, but as any fisherman knows, you can reel as many fish in as you want, if they don’t stay in the boat, they don’t count. If you want to keep a gamer initiate coming back for more, their first exposure to a game session is pivotal and done right can turn them into a lifetime gamer who will inevitably recruit even more players. So here are a few lessons I have learned the hard way to help you set up a memorable and engaging first session.
1 Set Expectations
Make sure that they know exactly what they are getting into. Particularly, if they’re thinking about joining your regular group. Most first sessions are about testing the water but it can be frustrating for someone to test the water, find out they like to swim, and then learn that the pool is only open on days when they have other obligations. I like to set the tone by being upfront with the following items: timing and length of sessions, regularity, punctuality, estimated effort between games (leveling characters, etc.), snacks and meals, things to bring (pencils and such), group dynamics, and the learning curve.
2 Find out what interests them
I find it useful to take some time before a game starts to get to know the initiate. What I’m looking for is what interests them in a role-playing game. The problem here is that they usually don’t know, having never played before. I often find myself asking them questions like:
By using their answers to mould your first session, you will not only play to their interests, but also to their strengths. Someone who's read and re-read the LoTR books has a level of comfort talking about orcs and elves and the traditional fantasy story arc. By putting them in a familiar setting with a familiar pace and story line, they will be more engaged and entertained.
3 Set a Comfortable Atmosphere
So, I had just moved to a new city and was having trouble finding gamers. I took the bold step of posting on Meetup, searching for 5e D&D players looking for a DM. It didn’t take long before I had three interested people and was arranging for us all to meet IRL. What I failed to consider was the concept of a “safe space”. It wasn’t until the 3rd session that the only woman in the group admitted to me that during the first session she had asked her boyfriend to wait outside until she texted him, and that’s when I realized how uncomfortable it must have been for some strange man to lead her down into his basement with two other strange men. Don’t do what I did; consider that the atmosphere is just as important, if not more, than the contents of the first session. If you're comfortable with it, you could even consider hosting your first session in a neutral/public space; many game stores offer space.
4 Use a small Group
It can be intimidating to be introduced to a group of grognards; joining any new group of strangers is scary and you want to minimize the pressure and stress. If the initiate knows other members of your gaming group, great, use them. If not, then handpick a small group, one or two of your regulars for a short introductory session. When you make your selection you're looking for those who are the most team oriented, patient, and welcoming. Skill in the game and the ability to rules lawyer shouldn’t even be on the radar. In fact, choosing your most inexperienced players can be helpful, as long as one of them can act as peer-coach, because their inexperience will even the playing field and set the initiate at ease. Further, newer players often have an infectious excitement about the game.
5 Go Slow and be Flexible
Plan out your one-shot quest to have a slow pace. The new player is bound to have lots of questions and role-playing games are already packed with ambiguity. I like to start with something pretty linear with easy options for role-playing. The trick for this is to remain flexible. I don’t write out first sessions, but keep a rough sketch in my head and prepare a number of NPCs, skill challenges, traps, and monsters while giving lots of opportunity for the players to go where they want and do what they want. Most of the time an initiate will follow the predictable course, but a few will surprise you and instead of storming the keep to rescue the princess, they will recruit a band of mercenaries to do it for them. One other quick note, most new players can be pretty nervous about “conversational” role-playing, they don’t know what they can and should say so be sure to avoid uncomfortable silences with all eyes on the initiate and allow them an “out” (i.e., skill checks).
6 Rule Book Schmool Book.
I have never given a Player’s Handbook to a new player and told them to read it. In fact, I have never made it a requirement to read a rule book in any of my campaigns. I find that, except for a very small demographic, the rulebooks scare most people and for those people experiential learning is much easier and more exciting. If they ask, I will certainly lend them my copy; but I will never put a player in a position where they are forced to buy a book. Gaming needs to be accessible to everyone.
Bryan lives off the land in the frozen tundra of Edmonton, AB Canada; by “frozen tundra” I mean he works in a comfortable office and plays D&D in his living room on weekends. By “lives off the land” I mean he shops at Superstore and occasionally at the local Dutch Deli in between trips to his favorite Pho restaurant.
With a title like that, I have to spill the beans. I’m only 22 years old, which apparently make me pretty young in the gaming community. This fact makes me proud to be a part of the hobby’s growth and development but makes me the butt-end of many jokes. Considering my upbringing, it just kind of rolls off, my family was awful like that. Two out of my three groups are with “older” gamers. To most people my age, it seems rather weird that I game with people ten or twenty years older than me. The way I see it; people are people and if you can look past that, there’s a lot to gain, learn and enjoy. More than most would think, there’s plenty of good stuff you can get from gamers outside of your age bracket.
Most obvious of all, gamers who have been in the hobby for a while have a good grip on what’s going on. The internet is spattered with GM advice, player advice, homebrew rules/settings etc. etc. What’s great about being involved with a game group of folks older than you: they did all that before the internet existed. This means that everything they’re hashing out has been honed by many nights spent in a terrible setting run in a terrible way that ultimately lead to a polished mindset of game design and development. Moreover, things tend to be less stereotypical with experienced gamers. People who have been around the block more than a few times tend to be bored with the slaughtering of kobolds for their gold and tend to think outside the box. For me, it often delivers a more intriguing, deep and unique story that makes you think and question the world.
Perhaps stating it that way makes it seem a little more dramatic than it actually is, but the gaming experience does tend to be more rich. Experience doesn’t only shine in a well thought out world, though. Techniques for foreshadowing, table management, characterization, plot building and every other aspect of the game simply tends to be better. If the other players are of the same ilk, I find that things also can run very smoothly. It’s really taught me how to be a good contributor on both sides of the screen.
2). Rigid schedules
My Saturday group struggles to get together regularly as opposed to my Tuesday one. This could be for a multitude of reasons, but the one that’s most obvious to me is the difference in personal lives. The Tuesday crew is my elderly group (not really, oh, are they going to love reading that!) and tends to meet far more regularly. That group also has a lot more people, which likely has a huge amount of relevance. However, upon pondering the subject, it makes sense. People with families and full time jobs tend to have a lot more predictable lives in regards to scheduling.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s easier to set aside one day for something a week when every other day is spoken for already by a family or job. Maybe being younger and having a lot more free time makes people prone to doing other stuff or getting distracted. Who knows? The point stands. On the other hand, those with kids can be absent for a long time due to extracurricular activities. I would assume that’s why my Tuesday group has seven players with a minimum of four to play a game.
But wait… I have a predictable schedule and a full time career. What does that make me?
3). No longer embarrassed
Role-playing games are a bunch of people sitting around a table playing pretend. It sounds foolish in that light, but honestly, what would you call it? When I describe it to people outside of the hobby I call it “collective storytelling,” but that’s just because I don’t want to sound strange. Hundreds of times over, I’ve brought somebody into this hobby and they can’t get into the game because they’re embarrassed about playing pretend. To be fair, it does take some time getting used to, but it can get a little frustrating, too. Playing with the Grognards is amazing because nobody cares. Everybody just says/does whatever they think would be relevant for the character, without a care in the world.
It’s such a liberating feeling to be sitting around a table with that kind of atmosphere. When everybody has that level of investment in what they’re doing, it helps make the game immersive and rich with imagery. Even better, when things are less serious, the comedic element is all that more potent.
4). Amazing stories
Our hobby is almost infamous for creating memorable moments. Even if you’re new to gaming, there’s bound to be some sort of memorable story for you to talk about in the future. As with most things, more time invested means more conversation points. Playing with Grognards really accentuates that fact. My favorite role-playing story actually comes from my Tuesday group in the Eberron campaign setting. It pretty much hashed out the way that the classic Gazeebo story does, but instead we faced a stone elephant statue. The main difference was, instead of actually dying, they had to fight it and be shamed into running away.
Don’t you love it when inanimate objects turn into monsters? But anyhow, before the game, sometimes the group gets wrapped into a reminiscing session about epic moments in previous games. It’s a total blast to listen to, kind of like listening to a war veteran talk about their experiences. Okay, that comparison might be a bit of a stretch, but the sense of wonder and amazement can be similar.
On the short hand, for you tl;dr type people; go find yourself a group outside of your age bracket. It’ll probably be the best thing you ever do and help improve your understanding of role playing.
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
Be honest, role-playing used to be this thing that “other people” did. It was okay for “those people,” but you wouldn’t be caught wasting time on nerdy make-believe games. Then a friend asked you, “Hey what are you doing Saturday?” Now you’re trying to juggle your career and family while desperately hunting for your next chance to wield a greataxe, stick-n-shock pistol, or grimoire to face whatever the gamemaster throws at you.
What happened to you, man?
The rewards built into role-playing games are (for many) what make role-playing fun. They give a sense of accomplishment or closure, and make games more satisfying. It’s worth it to consider how to provide rewards, because correctly managing them is the key to making your role-playing sessions enjoyable.
There’s a wealth of great articles about role-playing games which discuss different role-playing personalities. Many of them are based on Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, by Robin D. Laws, and others (including these one, two, and three from the HLG archives) play around with applying psychological theories to gaming. While these articles talk about motivations behind these personalities, little time is spent talking about the rewards role-playing games actually give players to keep them coming back like Candy Crush junkies.
Here are five things that I’ve noticed people want from role-playing games. This is not an exhaustive list, and if you can think of any other rewards built into game mechanics, please mention them in the comments!
1. Levelling Up/Character Advancement
I can’t wait to get to level 12!! With another feat and the ability score increase I’ll be shooting so many arrows into so many knees that they’ll start offering arrow-to-the-knee insurance along with accidental death and dismemberment.
Some games have specific rules governing how a particular character class advances, while others leave the assignment of character points to the individual player. However it’s done, this classic feature of role-playing games has something for everyone. The power-gamer gets to do more damage. The specialist gets a cool new trick or ability. A new spell learned can either mean more damage, a new trick, or both. In class-based systems, there usually an aspect of world-building, where characters can uncover different aspects of a race/species, or class as they gain experience. Any game worth its salt must have a means for character advancement if they want to foster a sense of accomplishment.
2. Gear and Money
Aanoor spread the coins on the table. The merchant’s eyes bulged.
“I want the sword. Please,” Aanoor asked quietly.
The merchant hesitated, about to ask something, but closed his mouth. He turned and reached for the masterfully-wrought sword and scabbard mounted behind the counter.
“This sword has been waiting a long time for the right person,” the merchant said,
“I’m glad it finally found you.”
Gear lists are often criticized as rules-heavy or interfering with role-playing. However, for many players, the thrill of locating and obtaining gear makes the game. For some, locating an artifact or ancient tome can be an important part of worldbuilding. Big guns and axes are fun for everyone, not just the power gamer. Gadgets and tools can enhance a character’s capabilities, and new spells (yes, I mentioned them already) are often things that need to be tracked down and learned. Don’t underestimate the attraction of equipment lists for your strategists and gear-heads.
Graft stood, his head bowed, for what seemed like an eternity. The dragon finally spoke in his mind.
<You have done well.>
“Thank you, Ghostwalker.”
<I grant you part of the history of what you seek. Sit on the divan.>
Graft sat. The dragon paused, then looked directly into Graft’s soul.
<Tell me,> he asked. <What do you know about Dunkelzahn's Will?>
For some players, especially storytellers and actors, nothing is better than the thrill of piecing together the fabric of the larger world that serves as a background to the characters’ story. This can mean unravelling the plot behind international intrigue or influencing world-shattering events. It can mean co-creating new realms that have not yet been defined. It can also be as simple as discovering what force is behind certain strange happenings. Regardless, developing a sense of mystery about the fictional world builds another reward that characters are able to uncover and enjoy.
4. Problem Solving
Everything worked like a charm.
The explosives detonated just as the column was fully in the ravine. Surgical strikes from the commandos eliminated the officers, while the infantry concentrated fire on the gun turret of the tank, immobilizing, if not completely destroying, it. Lazlo and his team secured the armoured van and the area around it, while the rest of the group accepted the surrender of the remaining hopelessly disorganized troops. Mission accomplished.
It all took about six seconds.
Another overlooked hook for gamers is the emergence of problems to be solved. Good tacticians can make short work of combat encounters far beyond the group’s skill level. Social intrigue and mysteries provide opportunities for a character’s non-combat skills to shine. Finally, good old-fashioned puzzles and riddles provide challenge and foster a sense of fairy-tale fantasy. A game of Munchkin-like door-kicking and monster-slaying is fun for a while, but if there aren’t any non-linear problems to solve, the players will likely get bored.
5. Resolving Story Arcs
“Where you gonna go, Doc?”
Silas clicked his suitcase shut. “Out east. I’ll see if Sherry will take me back. I’m getting out of this life, for sure. I think I’ve redeemed myself.”
He thought of the prisoners they’d released, and the PR mess they’d made for Biomart by leaking information to the media. It felt good.
Silas turned, said goodbye to his old friend, then left without looking back.
Story is kind of a big deal. As I mentioned in a previous article, there are some role-playing and storytelling pitfalls to avoid - but in the end, role-playing games are really about telling a story with a group of friends. Most games approach this differently, from leaving story entirely in the player's’ hands, to creating defined story arcs through published modules and campaigns. What is most important (and most satisfying), though, is when the characters have the opportunity to resolve player defined plot points. The feeling of closure when your Inigo Montoya finally kills the six-fingered man is something that can’t be traded for gold.
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!
Links to other articles, in the order they appear in the text (just in case they don’t transfer to the blog).
Well, I’ve done it: I’ve made it through 2016. Hoofta, am I glad that’s over with. With a new year comes a world full of new possibilities and promise. To motivate myself to achieve all that bright, glowy potential, I’ve got to make some New Year’s resolutions to get the year started off right. While I have many things I need to achieve in real life (e.g. getting in shape, spending more time with family, etc.), they are way too hard right now, so I’m going to focus instead on how I can improve my fictional life (I’ll get to my actual New Year’s resolutions later). I’ve created a list of things I’d like to accomplish to improve myself as a role-player in 2017 and they are as follows:
1. Create a Character in a Class I’ve Never Played Before-
I’m not a decades-long veteran of RPGs, so I have yet to play all the classes, even in my most frequented gaming systems (i.e. DnD, at least on tabletop. I’ve played all the classes many times over during my time in Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights). If given the opportunity to start a DnD campaign this year, a distinct possibility, I will be creating either a barbarian, bard, or monk. If my group ends up playing in a different system, I’ll have to make sure I’ve never played the character class I end up making (though that would be the cheap way of achieving this resolution, like resolving to go to the gym every week but just stopping to raid the vending machine).
2. GM My First Campaign-
I have yet to be the master of my own campaign. I’ve always used the excuse of being too new to table-top gaming, but I’ve been role-playing for almost five years now, so that excuse is wearing thin. The truth is that such a task is daunting for one who has never sat behind the screen. I will conquer that fear this year and run my own game. Now, on to planning and making sure the experience isn’t crap for my players (there’s a few handy references for new GMs here on High Level Games I will be checking out, that’s for sure).
3. Play a Campaign in a Novel System-
I have only played in about half a dozen different tabletop RPG systems since starting to role-play (Marvel, D&D 3.5, Rifts, Shadowrun, DnD 5e, and 13th Age, to be precise). This year I resolve to play in a campaign set in a new rules system (note: this will not happen at the same time as my second resolution). There’s talk of Star Wars 3rd Edition for the next campaign with my group, which would definitely fulfill this resolution, but I’m hoping for something a little less familiar, perhaps Numenera or Baker Street: Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes. We’ll see what the year brings, and what I can afford.
4. Lose a Character in a Memorable Way-
Death isn’t something I usually include on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, but 2016 wasn’t exactly the greatest of years, so I’ll make an exception. This year I resolve to kill off one of my characters in a manner so epic, it will be sung about by the bards for ages to come. Maybe I can combine this with my first resolution and make a bard to sing my own praises. I’ve had many characters die in my time, but none of them have been that truly awe-inspiring, self-sacrificial, heroic demonstration of badass-ery that is really memorable. 2017’s going to be my year (to die), I can just feel it.
5. Play a Character Who Pushes me Outside of My Comfort Zone-
This one will be the biggest challenge for me. This year I resolve to create a character who has a personality, flaw, proclivity, addiction, etc. which forces me to embody an individual with whom I would otherwise have little or no exposure. Being a sheltered, middle class, shy, white American male, my comfort zone isn’t exactly the most expansive of regions, so finding something that falls outside of it shouldn’t prove too challenging. Perhaps I’ll create someone who is the life of the party, a social butterfly. Maybe someone struggling with addiction and depression. Possibly a cold-hearted and abusive womanizer. Whoever this character turns out to be, I want them to challenge me to see the world from a different perspective.
Well, there you have it folks, my list of goals for 2017. I’ve no clue how I’m going to accomplish all these things, but I’ll give it the old college try. I think it just means I’ve got to role-play more. Maybe I’ll add that to my list of real life New Year’s resolutions…
- Jake is High Level Games most handsome contributor and has probably given up on at least half of his real life New Year’s resolutions by now (they were dumb anyways).
During the last Leveling Up Podcast I talked about some of the surveys I use for my games. I send these surveys to my players using Survey Monkey. Now, I play with all of my players in person, and you might wonder why I use surveys instead of just asking them in person. I do this for two reasons. The first is that I like to give my players a chance to think about answers to some questions. Asking at the table may get a quick response, but it might not be a very considered response and that may not be how they actually feel about something in the long-run. The second is my issue, I don’t always remember the details of my player’s sheets or elements of their character. I remember bits and pieces, but sometimes they have things that I forget about that are drastically important, but don’t come up in play frequently.
I use these surveys to check-in with my players too. If a session was rough, deep, or really awesome I want to hear about it. The table feedback is great, but using these tools helps me to be holistic. A player might think of something awesome to include in the game while they are sitting at work and want to pop that information into the survey. What follows are two survey examples I’ve used recently.
Q1: Where is your character from?
Q2: How does your character dress?
Q3: What goals does your character have that you would like me to take into account?
Q4: Are there aspects of Vampire that you would like to have addressed in our game? (example, descent into the Beast, feeding on other Vampires, Golconda)
Q5: How much combat do you want?
Q6: Is there anything you absolutely do not want to deal with in game?
Q1: Character Name
Q2: Where was your character born?
Q3: What Flaws do they have?
Q4: What are some of your character's goals?
Q5: What goals do you have as a player?
Q6: The World of Darkness can be dark, are there any elements you'd like to avoid in our game?
Q7: What is your highest level skill and why?
These surveys act as a second and third order way of communicating with my players. I want to run the games they want to play. I also want to run games that I find interesting. So these surveys act as another layer of making sure we are both having our interests met by the game. I also do regular conversation check-ins with my people, but those have their limits in social environments if people were to become uncomfortable with answering any of the various questions I have for them. That’s not common, but it has happened before and this is another way of avoiding those situations for the social conflict averse person. You can also check-out a much more in-depth survey here, which I found to be a great resource.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.