It is the easy to get lost in a crowd. With the amount of RPG’s coming out (dare I say daily), every now and again, a gem is produced, only to be immediately swallowed by the avalanche. The following are my opinions on a number of rule systems I’ve came across over the last year or so. Some might be much older (or really well know to all but myself), again, it’s only recently that I came across them, and (no offense meant) they feel like they aren’t as popular as some. Without further ado, here they are.
1) 7th Sea
Aaaarrrrrrr, ya scurvy dogs! It be pirates! 7th Sea, presents a fantasy world heavily influenced by the golden age of piracy. Think Pirates of the Caribbean and also every other pirate movie and/or book ever made. The setting surprised me, in the best possible way. The the world given to us is a series of jagged coastlines and islands. Most of these areas belong to different political units, and work very differently from each other. It’s easy to see that this map is a parody of our own world. It shouldn’t be surprising that someone in the 17th-18th centuries with a Scottish cultural upbringing, would be a different person/sailor/pirate than someone with a Mediterranean early life. Also there are fencing fighting styles, it’s really very cool. The dice system is great, involving a pool of D10’s, adding numbers up to 10, and something called ‘raises’ that allow you to do exceptional things.
2) Belly of the Beast
This rule system is pretty straight forward, dice-wise, and the setting is amazing. Centuries ago, a huge asteroid slammed into this planet. Massive crater, some destruction. Decades later, something hatches from the site of the impact. According to the description, it looked like an Arrakis Sandworm, just much, MUCH bigger. After many years eating everything that wasn’t nailed down, (and most things that were), the Beast has grown to the size of a mountain range, hundreds, if not thousands of miles long, and as wide as a country. Effectively, you play a medieval fantasy setting INSIDE THE GUTS OF A CONTINENT SIZED WORM. Oh yes, things, survived being swelled hole, and the digestion process looks like it takes millennia. Imagine. Humans being born and dying without seeing the sky, only knowing the country-sized chambers of the Beast’s digestive tract. Action centers around the physical and political dealings of humans with very little resources (so mostly scavengers and mercs), and there’s a sense of heaviness to the scenario, which I love. Dice are a pool of D6’s, rolling to a Target Number.
3) The End Of The World
On the surface, these Fantasy Flight books are simple post-apocalyptic settings, Nothing exciting about that, surely. What makes it different are the characters. If you, Jane Smit, play the game, your character is Jane Smith. As in, YOU are your character and vice versa. Character creation is a collaborative effort, so your character is, to the best of your efforts, YOU. The idea; the world ends (there’s 4 different books, Zombies, Aliens, Robots and Wrath of the Gods), and you are caught in the middle. Your equipment is whatever you usually have about your person. Mobile phone, lighters? That sort of thing. Dice system, you roll D6 for positives and D6 for negatives, and remove matching ones.
4) Atomic Robo
I like to call Atomic Robo what would happen if steampunk was wound forward to the present. A 21st century, where the past 150 years were dedicated to science. The titular Robo was built by Nikola Tesla in the 1930s. He’s a joke-spewing, nuclear-powered robot, who we follow throughout his career with the US military, then a series of scientific institutions. Robo (to his friends) is a sort of metal scientist Indiana Jones. He travels the world looking for alien artifacts and fighting evil geniuses. In this universe, science reigns supreme, so evil scientists pop up like mushrooms. A fun and engaging background, using the FATE rules.
5) Star Wars D6
This is older than old. The D6 system is, well, old, but I do feel it should get a second look. You roll a number of D6s and you see if you reach a target number. That’s it. It makes the whole game run fast and smooth and I do love it to bits. Also there’s an oldness to the background (I’ve said ‘old’ a lot, bear with me). The corebook, I found, is almost incomprehensibly written, when it comes to character creation, for example. But there’s something amazing about a book about Star Wars that was written 2 years after Jedi. Before the Expanded Universe. Before the Phantom Menace. The good bit is that this is a rule system that is still in common usage, so there is A LOT of fan made content out there, including fantastic, easy to understand versions of the above mentioned corebook.
What less known rule systems have you come across?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Pugmire is out for backers of their PDF, and I have to tell you, the game is amazing. I wrote a review of it over on Keep On the Heathlands, and I think you should check it out. Monarchies of Mau, a companion setting book for Pugmire is currently in Kickstarter. Backing the kickstarter gives you a chance to play using the Early Access rules! I recommend backing it. Also, we had a quick discussion with Eddy Webb and Richard Thomas about the inclusive elements of the Pugmire and Mau world. If Pugmire is any indication, Monarchies of Mau will be equally amazing. For those that don’t know, and would like a little background here are some basic details. Pugmire is a game using a version of D&D 5th Edition rules, set in a world of uplifted/anthropomorphic animals. Humanity has disappeared, and our presence is only felt in the remains of our once great society. It’s a great mesh of fantasy and far-futurism, with Man’s best friends as the heroes of this new world. Here are 5 Story Hooks to help you get started!
1) The Stray Cat
Recently, a Cat has been hanging around the tavern your friends frequent. He appears thin, uncomfortable, yet very bright. Traveling through the market today, you overheard a pair of Cats provide a description of him to a shopkeep. The pair are dressed in well-worn traveling gear, and they have the look of bounty hunters about them. The thick manacles and rope hooked on their belts gives it away. You have a choice now, do you help them? Do you try and find the Stray yourself? Are you going to help him? Do you ask the bounty hunters questions to try and decide what to do? Regardless, you have a decision to make.
2) Dogs and Cats Living Together??!
On your last walk you were handed a pamphlet. On the front was a picture of a Cat and a Dog chatting together amiably. The top line reads, “Yes, we can get along,” and continues, ”Join us at the Revival of Man tomorrow night at 7.” Initially you smile to yourself, thinking it is a great thing that Cats and Dogs have put the past behind them. However, something about the pamphlet causes you to worry. In the back of your mind you feel a strange, uncomfortable tug to attend the event. You sense magic is influencing your decision. You shake off the effect, and you realize something dangerous is imminent. Thankfully you have a few friends who you know can help you check out this meeting.
3) Oh, Rats!
The pier is no place for a Cat, you think to yourself mournfully. Before you is a well crafted ship, its plastic hull protecting the vessel from the acidic water of the river. Rats are climbing up and down the lines, they are professionals. You are too, but not the type of professional that is comfortable around boats usually. However, you know that something is making it’s way into Pugmire, and then the Monarchies from this port. The bodies you’ve been finding have markings of Labo Tor on them, and sample analysis has shown an acidic quality that could only be from boats such as these. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a Rat watching you, and he grins as you look directly at him.
4) King of the Castle
You’ve been invited to Pugmire by King Puckington Pug. This has caused some concern, because you are no official ambassador of House Rex. Instead, you’ve been lucky to find the things you’ve found. You have made some plastic, and won a name for yourself. The King has invited you, and your associates, to visit the Castle. Rumor has it he has a proposition, or a favor to ask. What he doesn’t know, and you don’t really want to explain, is how you’ve gotten so lucky. It's not bad, per se, but you don’t think the King will call you a Good Cat if he finds out.
5) Schemes Within Schemes
As a Good Dog, you’ve been hired by the Royal Pioneers to assist with the excavation of a ruin to the far east of the Monarchies. What the Pioneers don’t know, is that you have also been hired by some shadowy Cats to help them with another task. The excavation has been moving on schedule, and you’ve been able to squirrel away some of the things your Cat patrons have asked you to set aside. Something, or someone, is watching you though. The hair on the back of your neck makes you think it is a servant of The Unseen. You are sure of it. You have a good crew, but not all of them are in the know. Will you bring them into your conspiracy to save them? Or, will you try and hide the truth until you must reveal what you’ve been doing?
Please enjoy these story starter ideas. Most of them hinge on a single character, but they can easily be altered to fit the backstory of a small group. If you have your own, I encourage you to share them on our Pugmire Group.
With 18 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 LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Read Part 1 Here
Anyone who has read my blog, The Heavy Metal GM, knows that I don’t try to hide that 13th Age is my go-to game. It stimulated my imagination like nothing else had before, and for that reason, I’m hooked. I played for maybe a year before I decided to take a dive into GMing the system. Learning how different it is behind the screen has been a trip, but it’s honestly only deepened my love for the game. Here’s the other six reasons to get into this game, from my side of the screen.
8) Monsters Are Simple (For The Most Part)
Other game systems in the TTRPG genre tend to follow this dice mechanic; roll to determine hit/miss, roll damage. 13th Age doesn’t do that; you roll to hit and monsters have a set amount of damage that they do, some with a few nasty effects added on. This helps speed up the process of laying down the hurt on your players, and I definitely prefer it to rolling damage. That’s just scratching the surface, as this sort of style makes encounter building easy too. You don’t have to consider the “if factor” of your monsters rolling near max damage every time. That pesky d20 could wipe out a party if it’s hot, but better one die than several.
I feel I need to address a valid comment that someone made on the previous post. To paraphrase, the individual had stated that the structures of some effects were a pain to keep track of. Some monsters get abilities that trigger on the Escalation Die, natural rolls (even, odd, natural x+, etc.), player hit points, and the like. It can be tough to remember, and if you’re referencing monsters from different books, laying that out in a manageable manner can a challenge. Here’s what I do: I remember what I can, disregard about what I can’t. Back tracking because you forgot an ability slows everything down. I keep my books open to the page I need, stack them on top of one another, and reference as needed throughout a combat. If you have the means, you could print the pages you need from the pdf if you have it. Maybe if I’m lucky, I can pitch the idea to make monster cards to Pelgrane (pfffft, in my dreams). To remember effects, conditions and ongoing damage, we use soda bottle rings of all different colors to throw onto a miniature. I hope this helps!
9) Halfway Finished
Playing a setting like Eberron (which love) requires someone to reference thousands of years of history, geographical locations, people, and many other things. The Dragon Empire, the stock setting for 13th Age, has a half-finished history. You old-school gamers e may be shocked and appalled at this idea, but it actually comes in handy. It means that every time you play in someone’s 13th Age game, the settings may be similar to one another but it is never the same. Details and rumors will vary from table to table, and man, does this keep the game fresh.
I absolutely adore having the wiggle room to inject my own twisted (I mean fun) ideas into my campaign. This is a very Tolkien-esque philosophy to world building. There’s so many gaps to fill that it captivates the imagination. You can’t be wrong if most of the “facts” are actually rumors, am I right?
10) Familiar But Fresh
I’ll say this about 13th Age until I’m blue in the face. Being an F20 game, it feels familiar and mimics games like D&D. It makes the transition from one game to another pretty close to seamless. This comes as no surprise, considering Rob Heinsoo is one of the designers. In my opinion, this is a very strong point to jump into this game. You basically don’t even have to learn a new rules system, it’s a painfully simplified version of D&D with some narrative fiddly bits. Said bits may even be easy to grasp, if your style is role-play heavy anyhow. All it does is take your style and apply a couple of simple yet effective mechanics to it.
From the GM standpoint, you have even less rules to learn because the only new thing you directly interact with is the aforementioned Icon Relationship rules. Backgrounds function like skills, the only difference is the negotiation. That only requires you to be a little gracious towards your players’ creativity, something we need more of in this hobby. Players have been doing the One Unique Thing idea since the dawn of role-playing. Rob and Jonathan made the concept mandatory, that’s all.
11) Story Flexibility
The fact that you could start by hunting a pack of orcs and end up in the Archmage’s flying citadel in the same night is a total win for me. All the published adventures hinge on how the player characters are tied to the world through their Icon Relationships. You could play an adventure 15 times over and it won’t ever be the same twice. The other narrative mechanics presented make every session one of a kind, where the details will almost never be the same unless you simply choose to do so. It’s truly a beautiful thing that I’ve grown to love as a GM.
It makes running the same adventure more than once at a convention just as exciting and new as the first time. The experience only gets smoother the more times you do it while maintaining a level of freshness. Even if you’re running your own adventures, that Icon Relationship thing can make it take some unexpected turns. Things can also get exceedingly deep if you have someone in your group that’s a big-time role-player. Chances are, their one unique thing could be a focal point for an entire campaign. Bouncing ideas off of each other as to how to develop it and how their comrades fit into the equation as things go on is an interesting way to experience a narrative. The more players you have like this, the more twists and turns the story takes, giving it a life of its own. Letting the story take its own direction is a blast, this game does it exceedingly well.
12) Heroic Heroes Doing Heroic Things
13th Age is a game of heroes. A first level player character is still a seasoned adventurer, not a farmer that decided to pick up a sword instead of a pitchfork. Though, that could very well be your character’s story, the idea of the game is to not be starting at that transition. Instead, you’re plopped down somewhere in the middle and are supposed to continue that growth that your background hints at. At first level, orcs and kobolds are still scary but you’re not going to get completely destroyed by them. I’ve thrown packs of gnolls at second level characters and they didn’t bat an eye. The combat was riveting, dangerous and interesting but I didn’t once feel that it was too much for them to handle. They felt powerful, they felt important, they felt heroic. Being a badass in the 13th Age is a surprisingly easy thing to do, and it feels good!
As you move through the tiers of play, things do get more difficult but the math increases in such a way that it instills confidence in your abilities as a player. Having double digit math at low levels does have its drawbacks, however. At tenth level, things do get a little silly, but the game doesn’t fall apart in the same way that other games seem to at the epic/paragon tier of play. If your tenth level fighter uses a two-handed great sword, they’re rolling 10d10 damage on a single swing of that bugger. A huge red dragon has 1200 hit points, but that stuff hurts! Thanks to things like the Escalation Die and some of the more frightening baddies, it doesn’t get too bogged down. Combat still runs smooth and fast while feeling like some good ol’ high flying, adventurous fun.
13) Strong Organized Play
Every time I read one of the Tales of the 13th Age adventures, I’m a giddy goat. The organized play structure that these guys developed is very episodic and theatric. It’s all free, and the adventures are done incredibly well by ASH LAW. He has a penchant for all things whacky and weird, making each adventure a truly epic experience. All the adventures can be loosely tied together, but they throw you all over the Dragon Empire, giving you a chance to see how the Icons interact with one another.
The season one Halloween adventure, The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle is great. What was beautiful about that piece in particular, is that it has the potential to be whimsical like Hocus Pocus or it can be a truly terrifying horror story. It’s so easy to change the tone of the adventures, which makes them versatile. Some people like silly adventures, others don’t, and there’s no change in the story substance to run it either way. To put the mechanical frosting on the narrative cake, all the combat encounters come with tables telling you exactly how many of each enemy use depending on headcount. No challenge rating calculations, no guessing, just plug and play.
If this post in tandem with the first one doesn’t make you want to take this game out for a test drive, I don’t believe that anything will. Both tantalizing art, and the beautifully simplistic nature make this game a heavy contender in the world of table-top. I truly hope that you’ll grab your dungeon delving gear and plunge headlong into the fantastical world of the Dragon Empire.
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.
Alchemical items are an old standby in most Pathfinder games, but they're quickly left by the wayside once characters gain enough experience to gain iterative attacks, and to get their hands on magical items. However, while we're all familiar with alchemist fire and tanglefoot bags, there are some weirder items on the list: stuff that you never knew you needed, but which you're going to be looking for by the time you reach the last entry.
1) Spider Sac
This handy little item, found in the Advanced Race Guide, is useful for all sorts of adventures. When fired at an enemy as a touch attack with a 10-foot reach, a spider sac acts like a lasso. This entangles enemies and makes it impossible for them to get away if they don't break it. It can also be used as a kind of alchemical rope, letting you climb up sheer surfaces... or perhaps swing your way out of a fall if that's more your bag.
If you load a spider sac into a spring-loaded wrist sheath, then you've got the start of a Spider-Man character build on your hands. Or at least a nasty surprise for the next boss you face.
2) Troll Styptic
Adventurers run into all kinds of pain on their journeys. From spiked pits and goblin raiders, to undead claws and vicious footpads, it seems everyone is out for your blood. If you need a non-magical solution to bind your wounds, especially if it's a life-or-death situation, troll styptic is something you need in your utility belt. This compound, found in Seekers of Secrets, gives a subject “fast healing 2” for 2d4 rounds. It's a painful process, though, which is why the subject has to make a DC 15 Fortitude save to avoid being sickened the whole time the styptic is doing its job.
3) Bachelor Snuff
A favorite among characters with high charisma and low standards, bachelor snuff was featured in Adventurer's Armory. A golden powder that smells vaguely of soot, a pinch of it renders a man infertile for a brief period of time. Of course, regular users will stand out due to their gilded teeth and gold-stained nails. Though whether that makes you more or less attractive probably depends on the partner.
Technically a drug, this substance can be found in a variety of lists.
4) Clear Ear
Another alumni of Adventurer's Armory, Clear Ear can be a thorn in a DM's side if used regularly. Because there are no negative impacts from continually using this item, players will try and abuse it. It's a thick goo you pour into your ear, and two hours after the application it takes effect. For 6 hours, you gain a +2 alchemical bonus on Perception and Knowledge checks, but you take a -2 penalty on all Charisma-based checks. Ideal for a team of safe crackers, dungeon delvers, or just a strike team trying to sneak up on the enemy.
Created by yours truly for Bastards of Golarion, silvertongue is a double-edged sword. This sweet, quicksilver elixir grants users a 1d2 alchemical bonus on their Charisma score for 1 hour, and provides a +2 alchemical bonus on saves against mind-affecting effects for 1d4 hours. However, it deals 1d4 Constitution damage, and it comes with a DC 16 Fortitude save against moderate addiction.
Just remember, sometimes it's that one hold-out item that gets you out of a jam. Always come prepared for the worst the dungeon can throw at you.
For more great gaming insight, check out Neal F. Litherland's gaming blog Improved Initiative!
Recurring villains are fun inclusions to any Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Villains represent the anti-hero, the antagonist, the players’ nemesis who are always out to ruin the other's day. They are the Joker to your party of Batmen. They are the Loki to your army of Thors. Are you seeing a trend here? In D&D there are often four or five superheroes, and only one villain.
Can you imagine what would happen if a team of five Batmen took on the Joker? Can you even envisage how quickly five Thors could take down Loki in a combat encounter? Dungeons and Dragons sure has some dangerous and diabolical villains, but they are often horribly outnumbered by the heroic characters. Naturally, it's not uncommon for a villain to be absolutely destroyed in a head-on encounter with the players. Unless you stat-pad them to the moon and back... But where's the fun in that?
Let's make villains a challenging threat for the players without only buffing their stats, but first let's start with a quick look at some of the problems that typical recurring villains in RPGs can have:
1) The villains are often easy to overpower in a head-on encounter against the entire party.
2) Often the villains will die in the same encounter where they first meet the party. Sometimes, the villains will survive the first meeting with the party (no combat) but will die in the first combat that they face the party.
3) DMs often have all these hopes and dreams about what the villain will do in the campaign over a long time period; if the players take him out of the fray early, then it throws a huge spanner in the works.
4) Villains who are built to survive that first combat encounter, are often made far too powerful for the players to defeat. More on this later.
5) Villains who spend most the campaign hidden behind curtains and sheltered to avoid interaction and encounters with the characters are often not renown enough to the characters for the players to truly hate them, or even remember them.
This isn't a very good setup for having dramatic, recurring villains. We are missing some huge key points that comics, movies, TV shows, games, etc. use to make those recurring villains successful antagonists.
As a dungeon master, you should instill in your players the understanding that a mission failure doesn't mean "you lose at D&D." Losing to a villain should be a chip on your shoulder that drives your character to be better next time. However, this isn't really something that can be said just once at the table and have the players understand and follow those values.
Most D&D players have played hack-and-slash games or other open world RPG video games like Skyrim, Baldur's Gate, Diablo, and Torchlight. In those kind of games, winning combat is usually the only option. I mean, retreat is sometimes an option in some games but things like surrendering, getting mugged, or getting imprisoned aren't as present in those games. Many players have similar preconceptions about D&D as they do about video games, and that is where this kind of thinking derives from.
Anyway, I could write a whole article about "losing a fight doesn't mean you lose the game", but this is the villain article. In summary: If your players are aware that there are other alternatives to "winning" and "death", you will find a lot of the recurring villain plots are able to work much more often and to greater effect.
These are some solutions that I have found to make villains more effective at terrorising the world, being hated by your players, and still staying alive long enough to make a difference. Per the theme of these entries, we will not be stat-padding the villains either.
1) Have the Players on the Clock
If the players are on a time limit, standing toe-to-toe with the villain is not the primary goal of the encounter. Maybe they have to stop a portal from opening, interrupt a ritual, steal an artifact before the dungeon collapses, or perhaps there are hostages in the next room about to be executed. If the players focus on killing the villain, they may very well fail their main objective. This will hurt their reputation in town, especially if it was townsfolk that were the executed hostages. Mechanically, they’ll also be missing out on mission XP and other boons.
Sometimes it's not even the villain themself that must be stopped, but their scheme that’s already in place. The Joker might waltz right up to Batman and tell him that he has 15 minutes to save innocent people or they will die. Usually the Joker does this in a way where the Batman can do it in about 14 minutes, so that it's a tight and exciting finish for the sociopath to enjoy. If Batman simply spent a minute or two beating the Joker to death, he would likely miss out on saving those innocent people.
2) Include Non-Combat Encounters
If you haven't used a vignette in your campaign, I’d definitely recommend look at researching what they are and how they can be used effectively in RPGs. I use them a fair bit now, usually once every three to five sessions, and with good success.
Other good encounters that are non-combat with a villain might be at a public event like the king's feast or a jousting tournament. This stuff really works well if you're doing a political intrigue kind of campaign as opposed to a door kicking one, but it works either way. Basically you will need ways for your players to interact with the villain knowing who he is without combat being an option. If you can do this, the villain gets more screen time, and the players harbour more hatred!
3) Give the Players a Reason to Keep the Villain Alive
This could be something as simple as moral codes/quandaries, to something like a direct order from the mage guild to bring back the rogue wizard alive! What if this wizard was the only person who could stop another BBEG? Perhaps only this villain knows how to stop the apocalypse that's already begun.
There are also many of other factors that you can pull into play here too. The moral code, for example: Batman doesn't kill gratuitously as it's against his moral code. This also has the amazing side effect of permanently recurring villains. Sure, they can get thrown in a prison or locked in an asylum, but one day they will come out to play again. Usually the circumstances of this escape are very cool and dramatic too! These unique story moments can really make players enjoy a recurring villain, as they think “Ahhh no, he’s at it again!”. Be sure not to overuse this though; if every villain the party spares from execution escapes, and returns to evil again in the future, the PCs will likely revert to murderhobo mode.
Note that in the essence of steps we can take to prolong a villain's lifespan, this is one of the softer ones. It's more something to include as a guideline and always to have as an option for the players. Maybe they'll overlook this in their rage. Don't give the villain plot armour just because he's needed later. Let the players know this, and then have them make their own actions from there.
4) Mix it up with some variety!
If all of your villains are recurring, your players will be pulling their hair out, and feeling like they never really accomplish or complete anything. While it's great that the Batman always beats the joker but never rids of him for good, it can get frustrating for your players if they can never actually finish off a villain. It's more about closure as opposed to anything else.
I put this in the list because if you have a mix of recurring and non-recurring villains, the recurring ones are more likely to be left alive. My rule of thumb for my villain variety is that I split my villains into roughly 3 even piles.
Pile 1 - Recurring Villains: The ones this article focuses on
Pile 2 - Big notable villains: Powerful or renowned villains who your players have heard of/known/met but are probably only meant to have one encounter with them.
Pile 3 - Episodic Villains: Villains who are introduced and dealt with in the same session, or in the subsequent session. A good example of this guy is the players travel to a new town, which is being manipulated by some sort of gang lead by an episodic villain. This gives the characters a mini break from the end of the world storyline and let's them help out the little folk to get a small task started and finished in one night. Feels good!
5) A Supernatural Means of Recurring
Very cliche, but also very effective. However, make sure that you do not overuse this. It's fine to have multiple villains with this trait, but make sure that they don't all coexist in the same story arc, as it's incredibly frustrating for players. Easy versions of this include using undead creatures as villains or using a living villain who turns undead upon his demise. You could even have recurring villains that are all just clones of a single great wizard, or twin wizards who give off the illusion that it's just the same guy who's back again.
Make sure that there's a way for the PCs to stop this villain from coming back; even if this path involves going to a dungeon or area they wouldn't otherwise go to (hello, nonlinear plot hook!), and even if this path is half a dozen sessions away. Obvious examples are destroying a lich's phylactery, driving a stake through a vampire in his own coffin, etc.
You could even get more creative, for example:
Kruul the Eternal is a demon who keeps coming back again and again to torment the party. In order to get rid of him forever, the party must do the following:
Recurring villains are one of the pillars that lay the foundation for a truly memorable campaign. Just follow these tips above, and you can ensure that these villains are etched into your player's memories for a long time to come!
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
Whether you call them a Dungeon Master, a Game Master, a Storyteller, or a G.O.D. (Game Operations Director), they are the crust that holds together the cheese of players and the toppings of settings and mechanics in the great pizza of the gaming world. (FYI: nat 1’s are the hidden anchovies.)
Welcome to the second portion of my Setting Expectation series. I’ve thrown a lot of words for players out there, but given that numbers do not a character make, neither does a bunch of players a game make. Just as is it perfectly fine and indeed necessary for DM’s to set high but reasonable expectations for their players, the players need to ask questions and set expectations for their potential DMs to make sure everyone gets the flavors they are looking for. No one wants to sit down at the table expecting a feast of rarest jewel-like sushi and ending up being served unrecognizable blobs of mysterious deep-fried “meat” that wouldn’t be out of place at a traveling sideshow.
To that end, before I come up with more awkward food-related metaphors, THE LIST!
1) Your style is as inclusive as your group wants/needs
Before I continue further, a moment of explanation: in this context, I am not speaking of demographic inclusivity (because you should have that already, n’est pas?) but of content.
Do you, as a player, look forward to crunchy gaming? If so, make that expectation clear (and feel free to check out my essay on mathematics-focused gaming, available through our Patreon). Are you looking for original content, or someone to guide you through preprogrammed modules? Know what you are wanting, and ask for it. Not every DM is right for every gaming group - and that is perfectly okay. I have found it better to wait for the right fit of group and DM than try to trim the edges of a square peg to fit a round hole. That being said, if you’re extra thirsty for a game, perhaps you can be a bit more flexible. Your mileage will, of course, vary.
2) You can manage party dynamics and balance
Be firm but fair. While a group of five bards might be highly entertaining, or a group of four Dawn Castes capable of flipping the Blessed Isle upside down and shaking it ‘til all the jade falls out, or what have you, that’s not a balanced group.
If two players want to play similar concepts, a good DM should have some methods of conflict resolution in their pockets. Be it high dice, rock-paper scissors, pistols at dawn...if the DM can’t manage a simple discussion between players with conflicting desires, perhaps the players should reconsider their suitability.
As a corollary to that, if you have a diva/spotlight hog in your group, a capable DM should have some good ways to rein them in and make sure that all players get a chance to shine.
3) Remember, we are giving you our time. Don’t waste it
As someone who has literally planned her work schedule around her game nights, this point cannot be stressed highly enough for my liking. If a game group trusts the DM to give them a solid few hours of entertainment, and the majority of players end up sitting around thinking that they could be doing other things (laundry, homework, knitting scarves for pangolins, etc.), that DM needs to indulge in some serious introspection. This is a two-way street- if players aren’t enjoying themselves, they have a duty and a responsibility not only to speak up, but to offer constructive, actionable criticism and suggestions for improvement.
This is especially true if you have a group of busy adults who have other commitments they must honor. It often takes active sacrifice to carve out an afternoon or evening to dedicate to gaming, not to mention the occasional financial investment for character sheets, dice, pizza, travel expenses, and things of that ilk. Our time is our gift to you. Use it wisely, and admit that there may come a time that you can’t. Ideally, before burnout sets in, have a succession plan in place.
4) Nudge, thrust, or force - keep the group focused (within reason)
First and foremost, most gaming groups are comprised of friends who may only see each other during this weekly/biweekly/monthly session. There is a 100% chance your players will get sidetracked, especially if there is a long and involved role-play that doesn’t include everyone at the table, or at the beginning of the session. A good DM will recognize this and have some tactics in mind to bring the game to order.
Inevitably, there will be nights when the game just doesn’t come together, when everyone is hellbent on heading off in different directions and the plot thread has not only been lost, but devoured by rabid ferrets. This is the time for a good DM to show their finesse and creativity in bringing everyone back to the central focus of the game at that moment.
Few things are as ominous as the rattle of dice behind the DM screen, followed by “Roll initiative” or “Roll join battle.” These have proven to be highly effective at capturing a group’s attention. (In our group, it’s usually met by a chorus of “oh, hells,” followed by a mad scramble for dice while the DM cackles in sadistic glee.)
5) Are you (potential DM) adaptable?
If the aforementioned rabid ferrets have caught the players’ attention, does the DM have a history of being able to roll with the punches, or do they get sulky and angry when their finely wrought tapestry of intrigue and imagery gets tossed aside?
Some of the most fun and memorable games I have participated in involved players going entirely off the rails and the DM running with it. In my own DMing experience, I have learned the hard way to not plan game sessions beyond snacks and bullet points (with the occasional sheeted out NPC for flavor). I prefer to lay out a panoply of ideas and see where my players are drawn. Sometimes I get what I want, sometimes my work goes right out the window. The important thing is that my players and I enjoy ourselves.
If your DM (or you as a DM) is so set on getting their way at all costs, perhaps they need to take a step back and rediscover the joy in the game. It’s a role-playing game, not people reading from a script.
6) Know when to lose - and how to make it feel real
There are days when my dice roll super hot and my players’ dice would be at home in Vladivostok in January. Those are the days of the accidental TPKs, the sort of games that leave a bad taste in people’s mouths because they never had a chance.
In LARP, there’s a concept known as “fair escape.” If your party is going up against impossible odds, do you want your DM to give you a warning, or do you want to go in blind? This is something you will need to arrive at a consensus on. I prefer a warning, but others have faith in their dice.
There may be times when, through no fault of their own, the players just can’t seem to make any headway. There’s a finesse to creatively manipulating rolls and stat blocks to at least give players a chance to run away - remember, the NPCs and enemies should be just as vulnerable to nat-1s as the players. This can be harder to manage if you are playing without a DM screen, but gaming etiquette says that players shouldn’t be actively watching the DM roll. This is a controversial subject, but I fully believe that a good DM should know both when to lose and how to make it believable.
7) Have a plan for toxicity, and be ready to use it
This is a tough one to suss out ahead of time, because toxicity can take so many forms - whether it’s someone who is a congenital time-waster, the perennial diva who won’t take correction, the one person who can bring a scene to a grinding halt by responding “I roll a 14” when the role-play comes around to them.
Most players are amenable to coaching or correction, and some groups can learn to work around unfortunate habits such as being late or being unprepared. Many players, given the opportunity, will jump at the chance to help their fellow gamers improve their gaming skills and etiquette - especially if they are friends outside of the game. Personality quirks are hard to balance, but a little understanding and patience usually provides excellent results.
No one, and I mean no one, likes to have to have the uncomfortable conversation of asking someone to leave the table. Dislike for personal confrontation aside, asking a player to leave can unbalance the party, or break it altogether. Sometimes this can be fixed by having an NPC take that player’s place, but that increases the DM’s workload exponentially.
Be aware of the DM’s own toxicity - sometimes players can spot burnout before the DM will admit that there is a problem. Good players will support their DM as much as the DM supports them. Happy players + happy DM = happy gaming.
This list is not intended to be all-inclusive - there will always be other considerations, such as does your perspective DM run the system you like? What is their philosophy on the balance of mathematics and role-play? Is the book the literal facts or a rough guide? - but good starting points to consider when joining or creating a new game.
This whole thing boils down to a few questions - is this DM the right one for you and your group, or can they possibly grow into the right one? Are both parties willing to invest time and effort into making the gaming experience an enjoyable one?
If the answer is yes, you’ll probably be in for a good time. If not, you’re going to have a tougher situation. I hope for your sake that it’s the kind of pressure that creates diamonds from coal, and not black holes from brilliant stars. As always, comments and commentary are welcome.
May the Unconquered Sun shine upon you,
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee that holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
If you're a fan of Ravenloft, then chances are you're a pretty big horror fan, particularly Victorian, cosmic, or survival horror. Chances are also pretty good that you're cisgendered, heterosexual, white, male, and of Protestant descent (or at least more of those than not).
Now, there's nothing wrong with any of that. Something to consider as a DM, however, is the subjective nature of horror. Any veteran DM for a horror game like Ravenloft, Deadlands, or V:tM knows that what scares one person is just ho-hum to another. Our experiences color our perceptions when it comes to the visceral reactions that horror depends on. It's rare for a DM to be able to affect everyone at the table equally, but we do our best to try and make sure everyone has stories that resonate with them.
Sometimes, the stories we write may not just resonate differently with someone, they might mean something different entirely. This is a phenomenon that's common in literature and film, where two opposing interpretations of the exact same artistic offering will emerge, often diametrically opposed. So it's no surprise that a game performance, where people are much more personally involved and affected, can be just as susceptible to this kind of thing.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a couple of campaign tools and tropes that you might be using, or considering using, and how they could be seen differently by your audience.
The ball is in full swing. The elite rub shoulders and make deals with one another, grateful that the local lord is using his newest marriage as an excuse for such a lavish gathering. As the ancient clock begins to chime the hour, he arrives. From the moment he enters the room, all eyes are upon him, for his is a visage that could never blend in: statuesque features carved from ebony standing resplendent amid the pale faces of his subjects. There is no doubt as to who the lord of this land is.
What you do: Make an NPC stand out from the crowd by making them a different color than their peers.
Why you do it: A simple, stark, physical difference is the easiest way to make a character distinct. This draws PC attention to them just from their very description. For a villainous NPC, this can be an indicator that they 'don't belong' in the society they're found in, or can be a clue to an origin in a different nation or culture. This can lead the PCs down an avenue of investigation to the villain's hidden past. For an allied NPC, this can mark them out as someone who is different from the crowd (usually because they are helpful when the rest of the populace is not).
How other people might see it: POC players might see this differently than you. If all the people of a specific race or color are presented as evil (for example: if the only black man in the kingdom is also the vampire lord that's been plaguing the countryside), it can appear as if you're presenting this specific race or subgroup as the problem. In the case of allied NPCs, it can appear as if you're presenting this particular race or subgroup as nothing more than a mysterious fairy-godmother figure.
How to fix it: If you need to make your villain or NPC stand out, particularly if you want to show that they aren't a part of the culture they're found in, give them a distinctive behavior or mannerism instead. A peculiar manner of speech or abnormal behavior pattern can be just as effective a clue, and since it's a touch more subtle, it can have the added benefit of making players feel clever for catching it. If they're an ally, you don't need such an obvious physical distinction to get your PCs to notice them. Their willingness to provide aid will provide all the initial emphasis you need.
The archmage closed his eyes. Though his voice was soft and delicate, he stumbled over not a single line of the incantation. His smooth, manicured hands traced the arcane sigils flawlessly. For ninety-eight nights he had made the same invocation. One more would make the ritual complete. They would pay for what they'd done to him, the burly mocking huntsmen and their simpering ladies: they would pay dearly...
What you do: Give an antagonistic NPC characteristics typically associated with the LGBTQ+ community.
Why you do it: If your PCs occupy traditional gender roles, you might do this to reinforce the notion that they are heroes, by contrasting them with an enemy that defies social norms (or the social norms that your PCs uphold, at any rate). For male NPCs, you might give them more effeminate traits to show them as more cultured or refined than their peers (or the PCs), maybe hinting at a greater social/mental strength as opposed to a physical danger. For female NPCs, you may be ascribing them masculine traits in order to portray them as tough.
How other people might see it: Unfortunately, giving feminine traits to male villains in order to make the male lead more manly by comparison is a time-honored Hollywood tradition. Oftentimes in the fantasy or action-adventure genres we only see these types of behaviors when they're used as traits for a villainous foil in this manner. So it's easy to see how some in the LGBTQ+ community might see this as taking traits typically associated with their community and using them to indicate corruption or malevolence. It's even double-hurtful when these same traits are used to indicate to the audience that the characters are supposed to be the object of ridicule and scorn. (The 'sissy-boy' archetype we see in Disney's Prince John, or the overly combative female co-worker from Boondocks Saints, for example.) Even in instances where these traits are being used to show a strength (by showing a character is more reliant on brains than brawn, for example, like we see with Disney's Jafar or with Timothy Olyphant's character in A Good Day to Die Hard) it can leave an unpleasant reminder of the past, and the nagging sensation that these traits are being used to portray the villain as somehow 'lesser.'
How to fix it: If you're trying to emphasize the player character's strength and virtue, you don't need to tie that to traditional gender roles. Non-traditional--or even openly LGBT--characters in positions of respect and authority in your game world (NPCs the PCs are intended to look up to) can do a great deal to show that non-traditional gender traits aren't being used to show weakness, corruption, or displacement, and that they aren't targets for derision.
The emir gazed through half-lidded eyes at the adventurers. His bulk could barely be contained by his throne, which groaned as he shifted his weight. His pudgy fingers, festooned with chunky gold rings, steepled beneath his several chins as he scowled in consideration. The dancing girls waving fans gently over their lord dared not look at the captured heroes. They had seen similar mercenaries captured in their lord's keep before, and knew there was only two outcomes: death, or torturous death.
What you do: Use a bodily imperfection as an indicator of a character flaw, such as an obese character who is lazy or gluttonous.
Why you do it: By taking a trait that society often finds disagreeable and associating it with a negative character trait, you hope to reinforce the negative trait. In other words, you're showing an inner corruption so intense that it manifests outwardly.
How other people might see it: It can be very easy for someone who has one of these physical traits (or who has a loved one who does) to see your link between the character trait and the physical trait as general rather than causal (not 'this character is obese because he is greedy and lazy,' but 'people are fat because they are greedy and lazy).
How to fix it: In the long-term, highly-involved setting of a tabletop RPG campaign, this kind of shortcut isn't something you really need. You have more than enough time and room to show the depths of a character's corruption without having to use their physicality to make the point. If you do want to have a character whose physical appearance also dovetails with a typically-associated character flaw, then consider adding friendly or allied NPCs with the same appearance. That way you show that you (and the society in your game world) don't consider these physical traits to be indicative of moral or ethical corruption.
4) Sexual Violence
Morena pulled her sword from its sheath as the bandits circled around her. The road was little traveled these days, and the thieves in the forest were growing desperate. When she stood and turned, their eyes lit up. One of them licked his lips, and with a nauseating turn Morena realized that she was facing a far worse fate than mere robbery.
What you do: Use the concept of sexual violence as an escalating factor, showing the depravity of a villain or the dire stakes of a threatening situation.
Why you do it: You're not a complete monster! You recognize that sexual violence is perhaps the ultimate form of violation, so if you have a villain willing to commit such an action, you're indicating the unequivocal evil in their hearts. Although you recognize (of course) that only the most sociopathic, misogynistic gamemaster would actually force a female PC into a situation where she was the victim of sexual violence, you also think that the threat of sexual assault makes a situation more dangerous, or even that the threat is logical in certain circumstances (a lone female cleric being captured by a pirate gang, for example).
How other people might see it: The CDC estimates 1 in 5 women (and 1 in 71 men) are victims of rape. The odds are almost certain that you have gamed with (or currently game with) sexual violence survivors. In-game depictions of sexual violence can easily aggravate trauma issues. Even if that isn't the case, portrayals of sexual assault being used in a game to hang a lantern on the morality of a fictional character could very well strike some of your players as trivializing something that is all too real for them.
How to fix it: Authors wiser and more eloquent than me have opined that it's bizarre that we're more willing to accept a fantasy world where lizards fly and breathe fire, or where magical fog can transport people through time and space, than we are to accept a world where sexual violence just doesn't occur. There are other ways to show that a character is evil other than to show that they've raped someone.
As far as using the threat of sexual violence goes: Probably best avoided in most groups. Your players, hopefully, already know you'd never follow through with having a PC actually being the victim of sexual violence (after all, you're not the kind of depraved, slavering shitheel that would do such a thing, right?) so the threat doesn't hold water. Further, it's unnecessary. If you've got a female PC being threatened by male enemies, you don't need to add the threat of sexual violence; it's almost a certainty that in her mind, that threat's already there. The only thing you do by making it explicit is show that the thought was in your mind too, making you look insensitive at best, or like a creep at worst.
If you have a group of close-knit, trusted friends, this might be a topic you can explore more thoroughly. The tabletop RPG campaign can even be a healthy outlet for discussing sexual assault. However, that kind of in-depth exploration of such a sensitive topic is probably not something to spring on new acquaintances or casual friends.
The thief crept down the tunnel, the rest of the adventuring party behind him. The lone member of the party with infravision, it was up to him to lead the heroes to ambush the hag. They moved carefully, cautious of the shifting carpet of bones beneath their feet. he druid, feeling the delicate remains beneath her feet, had commented on how many animals had died to satiate the fiend's bloodlust. Only the thief knew the truth: the bones were tiny and delicate, no larger than a bird's, but they were all unmistakably human.
What you do: Use violence against children to up the stakes in an adventure, or to signal the ultimate evil. Alternatively, use possessed/fiendish children as the enemy themselves.
Why you do it: Virtually no character, no matter how jaded, is willing to allow children to be the victims of a monster's depraved whims. Even many villainous characters will rise to the defense of a kid.
If you're using a child as the villain, then you may be trying to spring a surprise on the players, giving them a villain hiding in a guise even veteran adventurers might not suspect.This can lead to a very different kind of encounter, if the child is brainwashed or possessed, where the players can't kill the villain but instead have to find some way to free the child. Alternately, a fiendish villain merely impersonating a child can make PCs have to make very difficult choices if they want to defeat the villain permanently--killing a child, even a demon disguised as one, is no small thing.
How other people might see it: It's possible someone might think of this as trivializing violence against children. Many of the friends I spoke to while thinking about this said that after having children, their perception of children (and children in imperiled or victim roles) in media, including RPGs, changed after having children of their own. Stories of lost or endangered children affected them more than it had before. This isn't limited to parents, either; I've seen similar feelings voiced by gamers in professions that require them to bond closely with children (such as preschool teachers). Since it's often difficult for a player to say "Hey, this story makes me uncomfortable, can we do something else?" it can lead to players feeling like they are stuck in a situation that isn't comfortable but that they can't fix. (Good players are loathe to ask a GM to discard all the work they put into an adventure, after all.) I've even seen a player walk away from a game because of this issue.
How to fix it: This is a situation where tact is the best medicine. Violence against children (especially if the story requires it from the PCs) is a serious topic, and should probably be best handled in a serious fashion. As long as you don't exceed your players’ comfort levels, you should be good to include children in your game as long as you aren't being cavalier about harm coming to them.
Chances are, you're a nice person. You became a GM because you want to help tell a good story with your friends. Only you are going to know if something is right for your game. The better you know your players, the better you're going to know what you can do, and what might be misinterpreted.
That's not to say that you can never incorporate any of the story aspects we discussed, and it certainly isn't to say the way these topics could be interpreted is how they will be interpreted. It never hurts to try to gain a different perspective, though. People come to gaming from all different walks of life and a variety of backgrounds. Trying to be aware of how a story aspect could be perceived differently is never going to be a bad idea.
Even if you examine what you're doing and ultimately make no changes, the extra attention to detail will make itself known in other aspects of your game.Your players will definitely take notice, and anything that enhances their enjoyment is a step in the right direction, right?
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.
Image: Dungeon Master by Alexandre Salles (Deviant Art)
As I brought up in a previous article, to play around with the mechanics is to create the rules by which the game world is governed. Role-playing games are an attempt to simulate reality, but not actually the reality we live in. (What is there to simulate? Double-stuff Oreos already exist!!)
Role-playing games simulate the logic of the fictional worlds we see in books, movies, TV shows, and other media.
One rule that applies in many of these fictional worlds is that when things get really tough, characters have a resource that they can tap so that they can succeed at their task. It may be called luck, fate, edge, hutzpah, moxie, karma, the goodwill of the audience, the matrix of leadership, or any variety of things; the character applies this resource at just the right time so that everyone can live happily ever after… if that’s your genre. There are a variety of ways that this is simulated in role-playing games. The great John Kim wrote an article to give a quick history of the origins of these mechanics. They are called something different in almost every game that uses them, but for simplicity’s sake I will be calling them luck resources.
Luck resources vary between games, but generally they allow players somewhat greater agency by allowing them to reroll, modify dice rolls, and add or change story details. Some luck resources can only be used by the players, some by both the players and the gamemaster. They may sometimes be used before making a roll, afterward, or both. In spite of all these differences, however, I’ve identified the best luck resources as 1) simple to use, 2) providing effective agency (in quantity and quality), and 3) balanced so that they don’t break the game. Let’s start with the ugly:
1) Bad Karma: Marvel Superheroes (Ugly)
I hate to beat on TSR’s Marvel Superheroes so much, because I’ve spent many a happy session playing Beast and any number of homebrewed superheroes; but the luck resource used in this game is broken. It is called Karma: characters earn Karma by doing good deeds, saving the day, and otherwise behaving heroically. Karma can then be spent on character advancement or to succeed on rolls. Spending Karma to succeed is where this becomes a luck resource. The difficulty, however is that you need to use the same resource pool for both advancement and luck. The mechanic is simple to use, but it fails to allow effective agency. I agree with John Kim in his above mentioned article; this mechanic generally leads players to either hoard their Karma to make their characters stronger, or to spend it all the time and leave their character weak. This creates a disparity between characters and bad feeling around the table about Karma spending, making for an ugly mechanic.
2) The Hand of Fate: Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition (Good)
Can I write an article without talking about Fate? I admit my bias, this is my favourite game.That being said, this luck resource leaves just enough to be desired. It is based on Fate Points, which are integral to the game. Players begin each session with a certain number of Fate Points (usually 3), and they earn extra points when bad things inevitably happen to their character. Fate Points can be used to modify rolls before or after they are made, to re-roll, or to create story details, but with a catch; they can only be used to invoke different story elements, called aspects. Without going into great detail, what that means is that your character design will flavour the way ‘luck’ works in gameplay, which adds great storytelling value.The limitation I mentioned is in the value assigned by the mechanic. According to the basic rules (there are variations), a Fate Point is worth +2, no matter how perfectly or poorly it applies in a given situation. This makes the mechanic very simple to use, but at the cost of the quality of player agency.
3) The Bleeding Edge: Shadowrun (Hella Fun!)
Say what you want about Shadowrun; in an entirely-subjective-not-measurable way, this is my favourite luck resource. Shadowrun uses a dice pool mechanic to resolve tests. Edge, a kind of luck mechanic, is treated like a character attribute - that means players can choose whether or not they want to have it during character creation. Very early on, I realized what it was and pretty much always bought it up as high as functionally possible. In a single session, you could call on Edge a number of times equal to your Edge attribute. You could call on it before or after your roll, with different effects. After the roll, you could re-roll or roll a few extra dice. If you use it before the roll, however, it would allow you to add a number of dice equal to your Edge score to your pool. Also, if invoked before the roll, sixes got re-rolled in a sweet exploding dice mechanic. All that just to say that five times a session, I was shaking a mitt-full of dice that meant the odds were most definitely in my favour!
4) Where Have All the Heroes Gone: Mutants & Masterminds (Bad)
Now, to clarify, Hero Points is not actually a bad mechanic. It’s quite good. It does everything that you want a good luck resource to do. In writing this article, I just noticed that there’s only one luck resource I marked as bad, so I’m going to pick on the one flaw in this one. In Mutants and Masterminds, players get Hero Points that allow them to re-roll, modify a roll, and add or change story details, much like Fate. Players receive them for doing heroic things, like Marvel Superheroes, or for accepting complications built into your character concept, again like Fate. What’s the drawback? The problem is that even if you’ve earned points, the amount you have resets to just one at the beginning of every session. This weakens an otherwise powerful mechanic by limiting the quantity of times players can take agency. Just make a house rule to fix this one - it shouldn’t break the game.
5) A Muse of Fire: Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition (Good)
So simple, and so fun, the Inspiration mechanic from D&D 5E is the first luck resource for the WoC franchise that applies to all characters regardless of race or class. It is somewhat different from the others mentioned above. Instead of allowing players to reroll or modify a roll, it permits the player to invoke the ‘Advantage’ mechanic. This increases the odds of success (including critical success) by allowing the player to roll a second 20-sided die and choose the highest result. Like the Shadowrun mechanic, this improves the odds while still allowing for titanic failure when the dice gods demand it. Players may only have one point of inspiration at a time, which is somewhat limited… but borrowing the Advantage mechanic and allowing the resource to only affect dice rolls keeps the balance and just adds a layer of fun to the classic game.
There are many other luck resources that I’ve heard of and read about: Savage Worlds’ ‘Bennies,’ Open d6 ‘Fate Points’ (not to be confused with Fate ‘Fate Points’ - stay with me), and many others. I’ve written about the ones that I’ve actually played; but from what I’ve read, the luck resources covered above represent most of them in functionality. All of them are intended to give a larger-than-life movie feeling to your game, and will hopefully help you to take your games to the next level!!
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!
Tags: Dungeons and Dragons, d20, Marvel Superheroes, Fate Core, Fate Accelerated Edition, Shadowrun, Game Design
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.
What’s that shadow creeping around the corner? What could possibly make that otherworldly sound? Didn’t that thing’s face look exactly like mine? When doubt begins to fester in the minds of your players, you know you’re doing your job as a Keeper of Arcane Lore. This is no easy feat, so here follow four tried and true techniques to cause dread within your players at the game table.
1) Terrors Unknown
Call of Cthulhu, and games like it, work best when players don’t know what they’re up against. Humans naturally fear what they don’t understand, and the easiest way to utilize this fact is to keep your players guessing. Describe things vaguely, or better yet, keep them obscured. This serves also to drive the players forward, as we all have a natural inclination towards mysteries and the solving thereof. Release information in small spurts to string players along, but always keep the shroud over the monstrosity causing the mayhem.
2) Sounds Unearthly
If you can, provide a foreboding soundtrack to your game. Luckily, in this great age of technology, even our phones are capable of hosting and playing spooky music. For the more enterprising among you, captured or downloaded sound effects can play a big part in creating moments of dread. Employed at the right moment, a good atmospheric track coupled with faint creaking can send shivers down the stoutest of spines. Message me for recommendations on sound effect sites and other useful resources!
3) Vistas Unreal
Visual aids can do wonders, as long as they aren’t too revealing. Handouts with faux-bloodstains and hastily scrawled script describing, in vain, horrors beyond comprehension can truly unnerve players. For those with a little extra time on their hands (or who are preparing to showcase at a convention), I recommend the “diary” handout. Purchase an inexpensive journal and fill as much of it as you can with believable entries, up until the last pages. Then, go certifiably nuts and introduce your players to your insidious creativity.
4) Characters Uncanny
Call of Cthulhu isn’t always terrifying. There are moments of laughter, drama, and intrigue too. Let your players get into character before you lean into the creepiness. Let them laugh and joke and settle into a place of comfort. Only when they seem convinced that nothing could harm or disturb them should you strike. Slowly start distorting their sense of reality. Introduce facts that couldn’t possibly be true. Let them look in the mirror and see something they don’t recognize, even if it looks just like their true face, only… wrong, somehow.
Whatever spooky strategy you choose to affect upon the battlefield of your players’ minds, make sure you have fun preparing it. See what works and ask for feedback from the table. Now, go and bring terror to those that call you ‘Keeper!’
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Rifts is a deeply developed world in which to play. It has an involved, rich backstory that spans centuries into Earth’s future. It is a setting torn apart by war, bursting with all manner of magic and dimensions, and enduring a slow rebuilding process (and all the complications that rebuilding entails.)
As a story and backdrop, it has no equal. It is flush with everything that could draw you in: rich fantasy, post-apocalyptic world, great enemies (Coalition), technology, and magic. You name it, you can find it in Rifts. Can’t find it in Rifts? There is a system to convert any other Palladium worlds to bring them into Rifts. (Editor’s Note, and if you don’t like Rifts, there is now a Savage Worlds version of Rifts as well. Options upon options!)
As a role-playing system… we may have some issues. Here is what I found when I created my first character for Rifts.
1) Rich and Full O.C.C.s (Occupational Character Classes)
Jump into any Rifts O.C.C. and you will be drawn in and fall in love. My first was the Cyber-Knight O.C.C, which influenced me forevermore. Each O.C.C. (and there is a metric shit-ton of them) begins with the classes beginnings, truths, myths, and stories of the class which make an excellent read and draws in those story-telling role-players. In the Rifts Ultimate Edition, they break these into groupings of Men at Arms, Adventurers and Scholars, Practitioners of Magic, Psychic, Racial Character Class, and Coalition Soldiers O.C.C. There is very little that they hadn’t thought of when making these classes. They have probably thought of your ideal character and written an expanded piece on who they are and where they came from and then added that into a book. Their library is huge. The Ultimate Edition boasts nearly 400 pages of information to get you started, which leads to a problem.
2) A Behemoth Corebook
With Rifts being a deep simulationist style role-playing game, you always need to know more. You are referring the the books far more than you probably want to during a game. This would be taxing even in ideal circumstances, but it is not nearly as simple as knowing a couple key parts of the book. With Rifts, comes a notoriously poorly laid out format. The table of contents at the beginning of the book is immediately followed by a “quick” mini-index. Together these are 4 full pages long. For example, you roll into any type of combat, there is usually a lull because (without completely house-gaming the entire thing) there is a specific rule for everything that happens within combat.
3) Making a Character
Most games I’ve played in have been able to get the characters created, have some session zero where you talk about world and goals, crack ridiculous jokes about the last time you played, and leaf through a rule book so you have some understanding of what is going on for the next 4 hours. If this sounds like a great time, it is. Sometimes the slog through character creation within Rifts makes you daydream of easier days. These characters can take multiple sessions or messages during your off time to players ready to go. (And if you die during a session, there is not a quick “in” to get back to the action.) It starts innocuously enough with eight simple attributes like intelligence and physical strength. But after that, you can explore what happens if your stats aren’t average…. For the next five and a half pages.
Rifts then launches you into different types of damage, hit points, S.D.C. and M.D.C. The two former being what humans would be able to take and the latter being what a tank could take, to try and simplify a multi-page rule explanation. Then you determine if you have any psionics, pick your O.C.C. (and everything that entails), alignment, and skills (O.C.C. skills, O.C.C. Related skills, and Secondary Skills.) It’s a process. It’s a long process. It’s a long process that does not end after the initial creation, because eventually you will level up.
4) Combat Explanations
I love options when role-playing, but when there are so many combat situations with percentage dice attached and at least a paragraph to explain how it works… I get frustrated.
For example, if you took the skill, Weapon Proficiency Targeting, it means you are good with thrown weapons. When I look that up, I am told in the first paragraph about bonuses to hit at different levels and about the different ways you could lose your bonuses. Then I can look at the chart for the thirteen thrown weapons, their distances, and damages, which is pretty normal.
If I want to throw something not on that list, then there is the throwing awkward things rules in the paragraph below. Or look at heavy things in the next three paragraphs. Oh, but a called shot looks great because I want to aim the knife at the enemy's hand where he has a gun…. But then that might be disarming (which I can do) but I will have to look up the rules for that in hand to hand combat.
That is only a taste of what you can do, because there are legitimately rules and damage for everything. If you want to strike some surly guy in the bar with your fist these are your different hand strikes: Backhand (average), Backhand (martial arts), Body Flip, Punch, Martial Arts Punch, Elbow/forearm strike, and Power Punch. The section on Combat Terms and Moves is over 5 pages long and it only includes hand to hand fighting. It doesn’t include the power armour, vehicles, guns, missiles, psychic combat, piloting, or anything including your Mega-Damage.
None of this should suggest that I don’t have fun when playing Rifts. My first character was memorable and honourable (often to the detriment of my group) and I had a wonderful time playing her. I guess my suggestion would be; when playing Palladium Rifts, everyone should have a core rule book. It cuts down on the time spent waiting for a book so you know what you can do. That alone doesn’t solve the problems I have with this system, but I am sure other people have realized this as well. I look forward to trying out the great setting with perhaps a better ruleset; I am looking at you Savage Worlds Rifts.
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
Image credit: http://static1.paizo.com/image/product/catalog/PAL/PALPR801_360.jpeg
The World of Darkness books are filled with great NPC ideas. Sometimes though, you want just the shard of a concept to help build your own. Here is a list of concepts for you to flesh out. Some are serious, some are ridiculous. Run with what works for you.
1) Clinton Perry: Ragabash Red Talon
Clinton was born in the National Zoo. He was freed by a pack of Bone Gnawers. His deed name is “Breaks All the Shit.” Clinton wants to travel far away from home. Something is calling to him.
2) Jung-Ho Park: Ventrue 13th Gen
Madame Park was embraced during the Korean War by a Ventrue who had attached himself to the US military operation. Park is frustrated by her lack of blood power (generation).
3) Miles Morales: Ananasi Hatar
Miles is from Queens. He ate his parents during his change and now struggles with a reduced emotional connection to that act of horror. He pretends to be a superhero to assuage his dwindling conscience.
4) Professor Jazz: Troll
Prof. Jazz is a blues man by nature, and a jazz drummer because it pays the bills. He gets his glamour from watching people watching his videos on their phones.
5) Keshia Jackson: Salubri Antitribu
Keshia was embraced less than a year ago, but she's made the most out of that time. She is encouraging the Salubri to drop the anti label and declare themselves the 3rd Sabbat pillar Clan. Both the clan, and the Panders are listening.
6) Mary Tandy Moore: Unknown
Mary finds themself caught dealing with drug dealers and college professors fighting over a plot of land which holds value to each side. They want nothing to do with it, but they can't stop being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are looking for help from multiple sources.
7) Joaquin Scheder: Sidhe
Joaquin is way out of his element. He doesn't understand why he can see the world the way it is. A dragon is stalking him, and he doesn't know if it is friend or foe.
8) Casper: Haunter
Casper was killed as a child. He really wants to play with the other children, but they run when he shows up. He is particularly fond of Little Mike.
9) Lupus: Black Fury Gangrel Abomination
She doesn't remember who or what she is. She knows she needs blood, and she cries when she sees the moon. A pack of Sabbat and a pack of Werewolves are stalking her.
10) Charles Maddox: Arcanum Scholar:
Maddox is a strange character. He's been a member of the Arcanum for 10 years, and he claims he's onto a major breakthrough related to the Disparate Alliance. Whatever that is…
So there you are 10 basic character sketches that can get you started. What would you like to add?
With 18 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 LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Image Source: John van Fleet
I am both a fan of table-top games and Japanese pop-culture. The first instance where I got really absorbed into the table-top fandom was, oddly enough, at an anime convention. I was enamored with all the new games I previously never knew existed, but one thing DID irk me about that scenario: even though we were at a convention celebrating Japanese pop-culture, none of the games I saw were of Japanese origin!
After that, I dedicated myself to reconciling this discrepancy, and have learned about a great deal of Japanese table-top games. With all that said, allow me to share with you some of the RPGs from Japan I’ve learned about -- specifically, those that have been officially published in English!
Let’s get the weird one out of the way first. MAID is exactly what its name implies: a game about maids in service of their master, creepy connotations optional. In truth, this is a game that’s more about random change and crazy coincidences.
MAID is played primarily through random charts and d6s. At character creation, everything from characters stats, why they’re in the master’s employ, and several other strange quirks (such as being a robot, a demon, or a cross dresser) and even the color of their outfit is determined entirely at random.
This is also an odd instance of an RPG that was designed to be competitive. Whenever a character completes a task set forth by the master, they gain Favor. Favor can be used to raise stats, or cause a random event to occur, though whoever has the most unused Favor at the end of the session is declared winner.
As stated earlier, this game is weird, even when you overlook some of the suggestive themes. On the bright side, even in Japan this game is unusual.
4) Double Cross
Double Cross is a game set in an alternate universe version of our modern world, where a phenomenon known as the “Renegade Virus” has infected nearly everyone. While it normally remains dormant in its host, the 1 in 5 people who are active hosts have tremendous powers.
Some use these powers to their own nefarious ends, and others to foil the plans of those who would do evil with these powers. Unfortunately, all who rely on these powers eventually go mad.
Mechanically, Double Cross is a d10 dicepool game, and the meat of character customization is in deciding how the Renegade Virus manifests in your character. You gain up to three “Syndromes” which determine what powers are available to you, as well as how much you can develop those powers.
What truly makes this game unique is the game’s “Encroachment Rate” system, a representation of how much the Renegade Virus has taken over a character. This rises not only every time a character uses a power, but also whenever they so much as appear in a scene!
Encroachment Rate is lowered at the end of every session, though, based on how many other characters a PC has connections to. This gives the game a unique dynamic where players have to make their entrances into a scene count, either by contributing to the party’s end goal, or by meaningfully interacting with NPCs.
3) Golden Sky Stories
Golden Sky Stories is part of a Japanese style of game referred to as “Honobono,” a word that can translate to “Heartwarming.” The premise of Golden Sky Stories is that the players are “Henge,” shapeshifting animal spirits, in a rural town on the Japanese countryside, helping the villagers with their problems. (Or perhaps cause mischief for them!)
Characters in this game have different powers based on what sort of animal they are, as well as what weaknesses they take for their animal type, such as Fox’s not being able to resist the temptation of fried tofu. This, in addition to the universal ability of all henge to take on human form in addition to their animal one.
Resorting to violence is actively punished in Golden Sky Stories; any time a character does so, it causes all other characters to fear them, severing any sort of connections they have. This is not a good thing, since connections to other characters is how a character gains the energy necessary to use their powers and temporarily raise their stats
Another interesting thing to note about this game is that it doesn’t use dice. This game instead relies on temporarily raising stats to overcome challenges, in either the form of the GM setting a target number, or a bidding war between two characters.
The end result is that despite their wild differences, Golden Sky Stories creates a similar sort of motivation as Double Cross: if you don’t interact with the world, you will accomplish nothing.
Ryuutama is yet another Honobono game, affectionately described by its translators as “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail,” though I personally like to describe it as a complete inversion of Dungeons and Dragons: instead of being a game of Wizards and Warriors searching for treasure by slaying monsters, it’s about Merchants and Minstrels seeing the world.
Travel is a major theme in Ryuutama; the player characters are a party of villagers that, as I’ve said earlier, that are traveling the world. Most of this game’s mechanics revolve around traveling; primarily being sure you have enough food and water to survive the journey, as well as getting the right gear to make the trip easier.
The player characters, after gearing up and setting out on their journey, as followed by a dragon-human hybrid known as a Ryuujin who records the exploits of these travellers. This character is specifically meant to be a character of the GM, complete with special abilities of their own.
And for any players who are accustomed to their RPGs being fight simulators, unlike Golden Sky Stories, Ryuutama DOES include a combat sub-system.
1) Tenra Bansho Zero
Even when compared to other Japanese games, Tenra Bansho Zero is simply an all around unique game. In the creator’s words, it’s a “Hyper-Asian” setting; it’s set in a world known as Tenra, an alternate universe version of Warring States Period Japan where magic is real, and technology continued to progress to the point where giant robots and cyborgs were reality.
The wild ride doesn’t stop there, though. Not only do you have ninjas, cyborgs, sorcerer summoners, and warrior monks all fighting on the same battlefields as giant robots and cyborgs, but when creating your character, it’s entirely possible to mix several of these different archetypes. And while wacky character archetypes is great fun, what truly makes Tenra Bansho Zero a magnificent game is it’s Karma system.
The short version of how it works is this: when you make your character, you decide on what’s important to them and write them down as “Fates.” Over the course of play, if you’re acting out these Fates, or just generally being entertaining, anybody else at the table can award you an “Aiki Chit.”
These chits can either be used immediately for special bonuses, or they can be saved for a “Fate Roll” later on. If you save them for a Fate Roll, you can gain Kiai, which like Aiki Chits can be used for temporary bonuses or to raise your character’s abilities. Using Kiai, though, causes your character to gain Karma.
Karma is not good, having over 108 Karma makes your character unplayable as they turn into an obsessive monster known as an Asura. Karma can be removed by either removing or changing your character's Fates at designated times during the game.
Even more succinctly, Tenra Bansho Zero is a game where you CAN have the biggest and toughest character in the game, but it doesn’t mean too much if you’re not willing to do anything interesting with that power.
Japan has a pretty unique take on the table-top RPG genre, as evidenced by what I’ve shown here. It’s a much more theatrical affair, that doesn’t just ask for players to roleplay entertainingly, but sometimes DEMANDS it.
The world of Japanese table-top games is a big one, and while I’ve only scratched the surface here, this is still as good of a place as any to start. And if one of these game’s piqued your curiosity, but you’re a little anxious about teaching yourself a new game, I’ve got you covered for that, too.
Aaron der Schaedel isn’t by any means the most knowledgeable on Japan’s table-top gaming culture. He’s just very vocal about what he does know, which is still a lot. Rumor has it he even does live presentations about these sorts of things at conventions!
Our intrepid reporter Philip reached out to Lee Moyer to discuss some of his amazing RPG art. Please check it out the interview, and then check out Lee’s site: www.leemoyer.ninja
1) When did you realize that you could make a living with your art?
When I was a boy of 8, I had favorite artists - John R. Neill, Arthur Rackham, NC Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, MC Escher, et al. And it was probably around that time that I realized two things:
1. That not every child spoke rhapsodically about their favorite artists or could explain why they admired them. In fact kids didn't care about such things at all. And...
2. That the artists I so respected had all been professionals who were paid for their excellent work.
From these 2 points, it seemed pretty clear that I or anyone else might be paid to follow suit - providing that we paid proper attention and practiced our craft diligently.
2) How do you approach working on a new property you are not familiar with, and how much input does the designer/publisher have?
Everything depends upon the project.
In some cases, I will literally be given a one word descriptor and told to do as I like - the Art Director trusting my grasp of the genre and necessary underpinnings. In others, there will be very complex story/design "Bibles" and councils of in-house brand specialists will ride herd over anything I do. In most cases, I will do all the research I can - often going far beyond the extent expected (I was a docent at the Smithsonian' s Natural History Museum for a decade, and I well know that proper research can make an enormous difference).
3) What has been your favorite property to work on?
I love our game/media culture so much that even writing about the favorite property I'd worked on in any given year would be challenging enough! As a lifelong HP Lovecraft fan, my board game The Doom the Came To Atlantic City obviously comes to mind. But so do my online games Sanctum and Star Chamber. And my dear friend Keith Baker's card game Gloom. And my role playing game 13th Age. But do these completely overshadow Age of Empires? D&D? Star Wars? Star Trek? Shadowrun?
4) If you could Frankenstein together three other artists who work on RPGs, who would you choose, and what would you take from them?
I'd have to include the delightful Todd Lockwood, if only to see his startled face. ;)
Todd draws like a dream and paints wonderfully. I have collaborated with him twice and been pleased and surprised with the results.
I think that Dave Trampier's work in that long-ago Monster Manual is the stuff of magic. His design sense, his grasp of pattern and silhouette - whether the menace of an Intellect Devourer (imagine trying to make a brain on legs that scary!), or the elegance of that Rakshasa - just breathtaking stuff.
While I adore Errol Otis' phenomenal Lovecraftian visions, I couldn't dare mixing him with Todd and Dave, lest the whole thing curdle. Instead, I'll pick the remarkable Adam Rex. Adam's time in gaming was comparatively short, but his imagination and humor (as seen in The True Meaning of Smekday and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich) are as fine as his grasp of color and form.
I hope my answer was up the the mania of the question.
5) What projects are you working on now, or do you have coming out shortly?
I'd love to tell you in detail, but because of the way the industry works, I'm afraid I cannot. Maybe check back with me in a couple months?
That is all for now. Please take a look at Lee’s site and hire him to do some amazing art for you in the future. http://www.leemoyer.com/
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Imagine that feeling you get when your GM pulls out a couple dozen miniatures and a few trees, lays them on the table along with your characters. Now the fight can begin! I’m a great advocate for imagination-first, but sometimes you just gotta get your hands on some plastic/pewter/lead(if you have no small children around)!
And the reverse works as well!
When wargaming I find myself thinking, “Wow, I wish once this is over we could loot the corpses, share the wealth, jump into the characters’ stories, and of course deal with the geopolitical consequences and morality of bringing war to an innocent and unsuspecting swathe of land!” Well, mostly the looting and wealth sharing to be honest.
With all the thematic games brimming with character we’ve been regaled with over the past few years, this transition has to happen! That being said, here are (in no particular order) the top 5 miniature games that badly need a Role-Playing Game made for their respective universes.
From the depths of the brilliant British minds of Steve Blease and Rob Alderman we are graced with Hysterical Games’ world where our favourite fantasy races are clenched in an armed conflict for bragging rights and territorial domination. This is a universe which draws heavily upon WWI and WWII, but without all of the baggage those entail, Panzerfäuste joyfully brings traditional fantasy races to a timeline where they have seldom been seen before.
The miniatures (dwarves, orcs, gnomes, troglodytes, et. al.) representing the factions duking it out for supremacy are astounding. Amazing terrain is available, and with characters like Corporal Entwickler and his Night-Vision Frog, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more interesting environment to live out your war-stories. I, for one, look forward to leading my Orc Highlander unit in a toe-to-toe battle with the Dwarven Alpenjager. Will we finally decide who gets control over the Gnomish pumpkin patch while they’re off training their snail calvary.
And if that hasn’t convinced you; they have Panzerbears. Giant. Armored. Turreted. Bears.
2) The Drowned Earth
Jumping into a dystopian far future, we’re met with a vibrant, plant-overgrown, giant-lizard-ruled world in which groups of intrepid adventurers lay it all on the line. These adventuring crews are in search of ancient artifacts that they will trade for fame, glory, and most importantly, the means to survive. This game includes: humanoid lizards, dvergs, Berengii (gorillas), humans, and more being developed in collaboration with the backers of the Kickstarter campaign.
Imagine a dverg holding a piece of tech in their hand, “You’ll never catch me now, haha!”, swinging off a vine down four stories, next to the ruined husk of a former glorious building. Proper main villain material right there!
The background which James Baldwin has designed for the continent of Ulaya (which means there are more continents to follow), the cinematic feel of the game, and the fan fiction available thus far only serve to reinforce the idea that TDE is a Role-Playing Game that hasn’t had its Players’ Handbook published yet.
And did we tell you it’s still on Kickstarter?
Frostgrave is a campaign skirmish game centered on evolving the two main characters in a player’s warband, i.e. the wizard and the apprentice. With a wide range of magic schools to choose from, all with varying play styles, it’s a shoe-in for Role-Playing conversion.
A rag-tag group of mercenaries led by a wizard and their protégé taking on the perils of a ruined town, long since destroyed, and which is now littered with treasure, magic, ghouls, monsters? And dealing with rival warbands? This stuff basically writes itself…
Published by Osprey Games, and based on the geek standard of utmost geekiness called a d20, several setting books already out, the Frostgrave RPG already (arguably) has available sourcebooks, and one could easily use the current content to run a campaign in Felstad.
4) Blood & Plunder
I could leave this description at “The Golden Age of Piracy” and people would flock to the opportunity to take on real-life pirates like Rivero de Pardal or Henry Morgan. All that, while making their way up the scurvy sea-dog ranks as pirates, members of the Spanish Militia, Buccaneers, or Natives with which the aforementioned had constant run-ins along their trade/plunder routes.
Firelock Games’ realistic, gritty, yet flamboyant universe stands head and shoulders above most. The game goes against the Hollywood grain of ghost ships and legends, and promotes real-life boarding, weapons, and personalities. Complete with sloops, frigates, rigging and sails, cannons, and everything else meant to put them together at almost a diorama-level scale of detail, Blood & Plunder has to be the most vivid rendition of 1700-1800s pirating life we’ve come into contact with in recent memory.
And boy, would we like to come into contact with the RPG next… Time to walk the plank and take the plunge on this one, Firelock!
Maybe come the Dutch faction Kickstarter campaign this June?
5) Burrows and Badgers
Oathsworn Miniatures blossomed onto the miniature scene with a successful Kickstarter a few years back and haven’t stopped since. Dwarves, humans, and everything in between, it’s when they hit anthropomorphic animal territory that they struck true gold. Unique without a doubt, Burrows & Badgers is what you would want to play if you’ve always dreamed a fantasy life of adventure for your Mouse Scribe, Wildcat Hustler, or Marmot Mercenary. And yes, the minis look just as amazing as those titles sound.
Taking a page out of Mouseguard, and subsequently rewriting the whole book, Burrows & Badgers offers us a tiny glance into critter-wars territory, a minute world of giant personalities, a compact setting with a grand soul behind it. I’ll stop just short of having to use ‘bijou’ to describe it all.
The RPG resulting from this could also be a great entry point for children in Role-Playing, especially since every last one of those minis looks so fluffily adorable!
Even my missus admits to grabbing a Mouse Maiden complete with basket of secret, deadly items to use against her foes, and cheese. Gotta stash the cheese.
As you can probably tell, I’m a sucker for uniqueness, twists on old formulas, and daring to be different. I feel like these are some of the most zesty examples you can find on the market today, short of buying a real-life tomato.
Do you know of any other miniature games out there that you feel would do well as an RPG setting? We’re more than happy for you to join us in delving deeper down this rabbit hole!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he’s got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He’s been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he’s ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He’s been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook
Since before the first Monster Manual, dragons were designed to be the ubiquitous challenge of D&D. They were in the name, after all. So it was only natural that Ravenloft, a setting where dragons were scarce and the iconic critter was the bloodsucking vampire, introduced vampire subspecies and age categories. Vampires were the new dragons: iconic foes with sufficient variety so that the DM could scale them to be a challenge for a party of any level. Subsequent editions added vampire spawn and templates for the same reason.
But Ravenloft is also about foes with backstory, which doesn't always match up with traditional scaling methods. Suppose you want your 3rd level party to fight a vampire, but Joe Peasant (as a spawn) doesn't fit the bill? What if your PC pick a fight against a known vampire that would normally be too powerful for them? What if a later story demands a reasonable excuse for how they ran afoul of a centuries-old nosferatu and lived to tell the tale?
When dealing with an imbalance of power, it pays to know your classics, and this concept has been written about for centuries. "The Art of War" states that when waging war against a more powerful foe, it is critical that you control the time and the place of the fight, and wait for the right moment. Sun Tsu may not have been a gamer, but when it comes to vampires, it turns out he was especially accurate: vampires have special weaknesses when it comes to timing and placement. If your PC's are below the level where they might survive a standard toe-to-toe, consider giving them one of these forms of good luck.
1) Let Sleeping Vamps Lie
As Jander Sunstar said to Strahd Von Zarovich, "One peasant with a planting stick is more than a match for you during the day." It's a classic trope of vampire hunts for the PC's to explore the crypt while the sun shines, facing traps and tricks and guardians only to find the creature's resting place as the sun is setting. It's no crime against narrative to allow low-level PC's to face fewer traps and guardians and actually get there in time to stake the monster in the coffin. Or you might reverse the idea, letting them stumble into the creature's path just after midnight when it is active, and let them figure out ways to stall and hide and evade until they run out of options...and are rescued by the rising sun.
2) Burning Daylight
Of course, the other think about daylight is, well, the light. Apart from nosferatu, who merely lose their supernatural powers, sunlight destroys vampires more effectively than anything, and they know it. Even a first level party stands a decent chance of surviving if the creature has been forced to take shelter in the shadow of a tall tree or tower at noonday. Forced to forgo sleep to keep moving, only a narrow band of shadow between it and oblivion as the day marches on, it could tear to pieces anyone who comes too close, but a low-level party that avoids eye contact might engage in a prolonged battle of wits that gives new meaning to "burning daylight."
3) Location, Location, Location
While some vampires may tolerate the sunlight for a brief time to escape the PC's, hardly any can ignore the restriction on entering residences uninvited. According to Van Richten's Guide to vampires, only those who normally reside in a place can issue a proper invitation. To give a first level group a strategic advantage against a vampire, let them encounter it seeking entrance to a place where they are guests. Not knowing who is a resident, the creature dominates a PC or NPC guest for an invitation, but still cannot enter. The rest of the party figures out there is something unusual going on as the dominated PC tries to secure an invitation from an actual resident, with the vampire pacing on the doorstep in frustration. The party will get a good challenge out of fighting the dominated character (and perhaps some summoned animals) before the creature moves on to easier pickings.
4) Death Takes a Holiday
Restricted as they are by their requirements for blood and sleep, vampires are not prone to travel. Those who undertake a long journey must bring their coffins with them, and those without loyal quislings to haul them in a wagon frequently find themselves stowed in the hold of a boat. This is not in itself a violation of the prohibition against crossing running water...but the creature cannot leave the boat except to set foot on land. This is easily compounded by the above restrictions on sleep, sunlight and invitations: passenger staterooms are not separate residences, but crew quarters are. If passengers are few, a vampire might be forced to choose between gaining a new invitation every night so it can shallow feed, or risk arousing suspicion by feeding from the same people twice. Count Dracula himself was forced to depopulate the entire crew of a ship one by one to make the journey to England. If only one of those crew had knowledge of vampires, and could explain to the others how to hold them off, that ocean voyage might have ended much differently.
So that’s four ways your low-level PC’s might gain the upper hand against a vampire, but then what? If the creature escapes, it will surely have a long memory of its defeat, and it will never allow itself to be caught in such circumstances again. If the PC’s managed to destroy it for good, it may have had a mate, sire or spawn that would likewise hold a grudge. Allow the PC’s their moment to lick their wounds and pat themselves on the back, but they had better not count on luck next time. Luck is a fickle ally, and you never know when the forces that tipped the scales for you might side with the monsters instead.
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.
Image is from Ravenloft 3.5 and is titled Races of Ravenloft
So, you want to start a podcast? Or some other media by which you hope to broadcast your gaming session to the world? It seems simple, and on one hand, it is: put a microphone on the table, record everyone playing, and bam, instant content. However, if you want to produce something that anyone other than those sitting around the table would actually want to listen to (such as HLG’s Aether Sea or Black Squadron), it takes a lot more finesse. Below are three factors to consider when deciding whether to create or play in a broadcasted game.
We over here at High Level Games are a vile bunch, veritably bursting with all manner of intellectual putrescence. However, the content we produce is still closely monitored and edited to avoid giving off certain kinds of offensive messages (e.g. discrimination). While this is well and good, it forces you to be mindful of everything you say. It’s not that offensive speech necessarily gushes forth whenever we open our mouths, but we need to avoid creating situations where things can be misinterpreted. Certain words might become taboo, certain phrases or situations avoided. Thanks to the wonders of post-production editing, it’s not the end of the world should someone inadvertently promote racial genocide, but it is more work for whoever’s doing the editing. Having to censor your words and actions in game takes more forethought and planning than a regular game session and can take away some of the fun (at least until you get used to it).
Let’s say you have no ethical or moral standards whatsoever and impose no censorship on your broadcasted session. You still need to entertain your listeners and that requires a certain style of play that might be different from that which you may be accustomed. The world and gameplay need to come alive by the words of the players. This requires vivid descriptions of all environment, people, actions, weapons, or anything else which exists in the game. It requires you to put the scene into the mind’s eye of your listeners and speak life into it, accessing your theatrical sides to put on the show. That’s not to say you must do funny voices or exotic accents, but they certainly help. You don’t have to be witty or come up with hilarious quips, but they certainly help. You know that hilarious inside joke you have with your friends? No one else is going to get it, so it gets nixed. Some of us are naturally more gifted artists (not me) than others (definitely me) and it can be a struggle to produce a story to which anyone would actually want to listen. Even something as simple as reading out the number that you rolled doesn’t come naturally to us as tabletop gamers. It can make the gaming session seem more like work than play, at least until you get used to it.
3. Technical proficiency
This is a small detail, easily overlooked when thinking about creating something like a podcast. This sort of endeavor requires that there be a certain level of technical expertise in the group. Firstly, there is knowledge of audio hardware and software. If you are all playing together in one location, just one person needs to have a nice mic and be good at getting everything set up; however, if you are playing online, everyone needs to have a good mic setup and know how to set up the audio settings properly. Recording software is becoming increasingly user-friendly as time goes on, but you will need to understand how to properly utilize the software (and don’t forget to save the audio recordings). Secondly, at least one person needs to have knowledge of the post-production editing software and process (as this is not me, I can not speak any further to this, other than that it is by far the most crucial step in this whole process). Lastly, someone needs to know to put the content online and, more importantly, distribute and promote it. As this is also not me; see VP Quinn (the marketing genius behind HLG) if you want to know more about how he works his magic.
Playing a role-playing game with the intention of broadcasting it to the world can be very enjoyable. It is akin to performing on stage: your performance becomes something meant for others rather than yourself. It requires a different mindset than a normal gaming session but can be more rewarding. I mean, how awesome is the prospect of entertaining not just you and your friends, but the world?
Jake is High Level Games most devilishly handsome correspondent and plays the devilishly handsome Squall Santail in HLG’s Star Wars Black Squadron Actual Play.
At this point, I’m certain most of you have heard at least something about D&D Beyond. For those of you who don’t know, Wizards of the Coast, has teamed up with Curse Inc to make an official D&D companion app. Yes yes, you no longer have to sift through dozens of bug-ridden, shoddily made, festering crap mounds that call themselves “buddies” to your adventures. (Note: I too program! I know the struggles, don’t rag on me. I couldn’t do any better) Although, there are a few diamonds in the rough; one I’d like to point out is Squire 5e on the Google Play Store. The creator, who will remain nameless because he’s not a personal friend, has done a great job on making a free and easy to use character manager. Sorry to all you Apple patrons though, because all my hunting there has lead to mostly dead ends. Back on topic; people have been using apps and such to help with gaming for a long time now. It’s taken a long time for WotC to respond to this too. Hopefully, with all this prep-time they have something to show for it.
(View the article they wrote and watch the promo here)
1) A Community
This is one of the things that was a little more obscure in not only the promo, but even the release. Forums and private messages are a thing, you can interact with other users. From my experience it’s really difficult to find a community for us table-top gamers. I mean there's Amino… but… Amino. If you’ve delved into Amino you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, don’t. Roll 20 has something going for them, but it’s not really prominent. Actually now that I think about it, the way the community works is very similar to Roll 20’s, however, Beyond kind of advertises theirs more.
As per the usual, there’s all the variety you’d expect from all the gaming community in one place. You’ve got art, strategies, ideas and all other kinds of things that really punctuate the expansiveness of our beautiful band of nerds. There’s grognards and a few people who are a little green, as it were. After going through those forums, it was almost eye opening as to how expansive our community is.
Money! It's a crime, among other things. During my exploration of this topic, I noticed the word “cost” popping up more and more. Adam Bradford, the product lead for Curse, said a few things in a Reddit post (that I can’t link because I have the mental capacity of a cat (no offense to the Tabaxi)) that I’d like to quote here: “At launch, players will be able to access SRD content and build and view a small number of characters with a free D&D Beyond account. We don’t have exact pricing nailed down, but you will also be able to buy official digital D&D content… with flexible purchase options.” So translation: Get ready to pay for digital forms of the books and stuff you probably already have.
If that has deterred you, then you’re probably going to slam your head against a wall when I say that they also plan to have a monthly subscription. Whew! I heard that slam through both space and time, and boy, was it loud. I assume most the readers are in unanimous agreement that this is a bad idea. Bad is an understatement, it’s an abysmal idea. To my understanding this was the main reason the last app crashed and burned worse than my last date. *Warning rant ahead. Jarod’s nonexistent pay has yet again been reduced.*
Come on, WotC, does anyone there have even a lick of sense? This is already one of the most expensive hobbies to have and now you’re just tossing on costs to have access to basic content for an app that should’ve been made years ago. They’re breaking this up into “class specific” purchases. From the same Reddit post, “If you only play fighters for example, you’ll be able to just pick up the stuff you need to track swinging that giant two-handed sword.” Then he went on to say it wasn’t a microtransaction model. Really? Certainly feels like a microtransaction model. Certainly looks like a microtransaction model. I’m sure my wallet will agree once I have to punch in my debit or credit info as I willingly watch them rob me. Willingly. Watch. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s for easy and flexible content. Bradford even said it was for flexibility. However, we’ve been burned before, and this has the potential to not just burn us but to completely incinerate us. Why not just include some sort of product code in the book that you buy? That would make things easy. One purchase for both mediums. Don’t even get me started on that absurd subscription.
3) Character Sheets
To make things a little lighter, let’s talk about something they’ve made abundantly clear: Character sheets. They haven’t released phase 2 of the beta at the time of me writing this, but if I have the misfortune of having this posted on the day that’s released please A). Forgive me and B). Cast my corpse into the Abyss because that would drive me insane. Keeping track of characters is often not only a hassle but a danger. Many of my characters have died to a cool glass of coke as I am both clumsy and careless. Maybe that’s just me, but I know characters who have died to wind, cats, coffee, cigarettes and even in one case to a rather upset wife with a paper shredder. Obviously, computers, laptops, and other electronic devices aren’t fit to fit in a paper shredder. Even if they were, the cloud would come to the rescue.
All I can pray for is smooth, comfortable and stylish interface. I don’t really have to justify my bare minimum expectations for some aesthetics do I? Practicality would be nice too, but seeing their pricing model pretty much shows they didn’t have practicality in mind here. *sigh* I’ll reign in the anger. From looking at the teaser a bit closer, we can see that there will be several tabs for each respective character. Abilities,Skills, Attacks, Spells and one more that only said “Limited.” Perhaps for limited use items such as potions or scrolls. Maybe there will be limited edition content you have to freaking pay for. Deep breaths, in… and out...
4) Smooth, Sexy, Sleek, And Sweet DMing
If there’s one thing that Beyond nails, it’s what it was meant to nail; being an effective, quick tool for DMing. The quick access to and use of the SRD info is beautiful, swift and useful. Not to mention, it has that 5e feel that I’ve personally come to know and love. Really, everything on there is just instant, at the fingertips. Little to no paging through the books and forcing yourself to memorize page numbers. No more accidentally ripping your page in the $50 book and then wanting to join a cult to Orcus and start sacrificing the innocent to gather the necessary unholy power to make it good as new.
Honestly, D&D Beyond has so much potential it’s astonishing. The open beta is simple but elegant. However, this other knowledge taints that wonderful world where I don’t need to dump more money into this *Censored* hobby. But, I’m not going to yell at WotC anymore;I’m simply going to beg them to not repeat the same mistakes over and over again for all eternity.
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.
You thought this was gonna be something else, didn’t you? While I may, or may not, write a piece on handling suicide in your media (tl;dr version: don’t consult psychologists on how to handle it and then proceed to do the exact opposite of what they say won’t be harmful) eventually, today is not that day. Today, I have the first half of 13 reasons why 13th Age is the coolest game from a player’s perspective. The other half will be from the GM’s side of things by the Heavy Metal GM because ya girl bird has never GM’d a thing in her life.
1) BSing Your Backgrounds
13th Age was my first ever TTRPG, but I’ve spent a few nights playing 1st and 3.5th editions of D&D. The thing that stuck out to me most as a difference between them was the lack of flexibility in other games. If my friend has a limb ripped off by an errant owlbear and they’re taking 20 ongoing you-just-had-your-arm-forcibly-removed-from-you damage, I can at least try to tie a tourniquet around their arm to staunch some of that until we can get them to a qualified healer, even if I don’t have a background specifically in healing. In D&D, my party member bleeds out because I didn’t take the first-aid skill and “press down on a wound” is just soooooo far out of my range of capability as an adventuring person. If you can sell it to the GM and the dice are on your side, you can do anything. Or at least try and have some hilarious stories to tell about crit fails. Backgrounds in this game are a little more loosey-goosey than others, the freedom of which is quite refreshing; and as long as you can sell why your background might apply to the GM, you can add it for a bonus to skill checks. “Former court jester for the Emperor” might help you with anything from diplomacy checks to feats of acrobatics; the possibilities are endless until the GM decides to rein you in. ;)
2) Cool Combats, Even for Clerics!
My other big beef with older versions of D&D (I have yet to play 5E) was that as a cleric, I got to do absolutely nothing interesting in combat. My friends would get the snot beat out of them, I would say “I heal stuff” and then my turn was over. In 13th Age, you get three types of actions; standard, move, and quick, and you can downgrade one type for more of the other. Healing spells are usually a quick action, which means your shank-happy girl gets to give life and take it away in the same turn. >:D The other nice thing about this is that if you’ve split the party (bad idea, do not recommend), you can downgrade your standard action to get two move actions and put a meat shield between your squishies and whatever eldritch horror they’ve irked in one turn, rather than having to revive them after they take that 50 points of tentacle damage.
3) GET SOME CLASS!
The class system in 13th Age is really diverse, and even within classes, it’s possible to come up with completely different builds. We had two clerics in my Tuesday group and we couldn’t have been more different functionally, and we never felt like we were stepping on each other’s toes. Side-note: HIGHLY recommend playing a bard; they’re a lot of fun and I feel like are the best example of being able to build vastly different characters within the same class. Bonus: you can take a spell called “vicious mockery” which basically means sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never --- oh dear, I’m dead.
4) Make Your Own Gods
13th Age allows players to come up with their own set of gods and there aren’t set rules as to how a follower of so-and-so needs to behave, something that, you guessed it, rankled me as a player in 3.5; which, to be fair, may have just been the GM at the time. Gods also aren’t explicit movers and shakers within the 13th Age universe, although GMs can certainly choose to make this the case. Instead of having gods meddling with the affairs with mortals, 13th Age encourages the use of the icon system, my next point.
5) The Icon System
The Icons are 13 power-players in the world of 13th Age and are (mostly) mortal. They’re people who can be killed, but it’s not recommended for players to attempt to do so before 10th level. Each player takes relationship points with different icons and rolls a d6 for each at the beginning of the session. 5’s and 6’s will allow a player to do a thing they are normally not capable of, if they can sell why their relationship/affinity for an icon would allow them to do the thing. As an example: if I’m out of heal spells and my friend is dying from that vicious owlbear attack and I want to re-attach their arm, I can spend a 5 or a 6 with the Priestess to do so because she’s a pillar of strength and healing, and that has inspired me to find an extra reserve of magic. Fives come at a cost determined by the GM, so for this example I might be draining my own HP to complete this ritual, whereas sixes are just straight up boons without major consequences.
6) Finding an OUT
OUT, in this case, stands for “one unique thing.” Pelgrane Press forces you to come up with a fun, non-combat related quirk for your character. Sometimes they’re silly, other times they’re central to your character’s development/arc in the plot. They can range from ,“I have a mouse companion that swaps out all of my gear to something equivalent when I’m not looking” to “I am destined to kill the Orc Lord” to “I am an animated suit of armor with the previous (deceased) user still inside it” to “I know when I will die, but not how.” Whether your character shares their OUT with the rest of the party makes for interesting player dynamics.
7) Magic Items!
You can make your own with the help of the GM! HOW COOL IS THAT?! The standard ones in the core rulebook are pretty sweet, with each type of item granting a standard bonus (e.g. armor gives a +1 to AC and PD) and then typically a funsy on top of that (e.g. being able to see around corners). The Book of Loot contains magic items that are tied to specific Icons (e.g. a ring that will transport you to The Elf Queen’s chambers each night when you go to sleep) which have some really fun story implications. Another fun element from Pelgrane is that if your number of magic items exceeds your current level, you begin to exhibit the “quirk” denoted under each entry for a specific magic item, such as “exhibits a strong taste for rare meat” or “remembers poetry from obscure 11th Age authors” – offering players a unique roleplaying opportunity and a nice ice-breaker for those new to the role-playing scene.
After three years of playing this system and little else (Gumshoe & Star Wars being the exceptions), I’m not tired of it, and having something that remains entertaining and accessible for newbies and old hats alike is pretty awesome in my book. With that, I’ll turn it over to the Heavy Metal GM (in a few weeks), who will tell you why 13th Age is the bee’s (metal) knees from the GM’s perspective.
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Cospix, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress, all under the same convenient handle.
Magic is real. It can create, destroy, animate. It can reward or punish. It emanates from everything, the living, the dead. It comes from humans, animals, and other… things. It can allow you to shoot lightning or cause you to crave blood. It can create an impenetrable shield, or condemn you to an eternity of servitude.
It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer if it were set in the mean streets of Chicago. Werewolves, vampires, half-breeds, fey, wizards… you name it, we have it.
Welcome to the world of Harry Dresden: occult specialist, occasional consultant to the Chicago Police Department, and wizard for hire.
The character was created by Jim Butcher in his Dresden Files series. So far he’s appeared in 14 novels, a couple of other adaptations, and on a one-season series on TV (not brilliant, but still fun to watch; it’s out on DVD). How good are the books? In one, Harry, surrounded by enemies on all sides, goes into the Chicago Museum of Natural History, puts a necromantic spell on their T-Rex skeleton, and rides it into battle. I am 100% not joking.
If you like what you’ve read so far, it won’t surprise you to find that Dresden has also been almost seamlessly adapted to an RPG, using Fate rules.
Here are the 6 reasons why I love this game. Please be aware, this is a really dense rule system/background, so I’m just introducing it, and am not going to be extensive in my descriptions. If I left something out, it was probably on purpose, but please let me know!
1) The Book
The core book isn’t small (or cheap) but it’s very well written. The clarity of instructions, the art, the ordering of chapters/instructions, the formatting... every part of it was really well thought out. Firstly, you don’t need to know anything about the Dresdenverse. All you need to know is ‘The setting is a city, it’s today, and magic is real,’ and the ball gets rolling. The annotations in the book made by Harry (the core book is written like a fictional diary-type book) are really funny, and link with some of the novels, but they are totally circumstantial.
2) The Setting
Harry Dresden’s Chicago is your usual occult/magic metropolis. Behind the normal veil of daylight and normalcy lies an underbelly of nightmares. Demons, paranormal creatures, wizards, spirits, ghosts, all are very real and all have their own agendas. When those agendas collide, well, then you have a problem, and normal humans usually pay the price. Magic, creatures, belief, humans, are all in a whirlpool of actions and reactions. If you’re really, REALLY into the setting, there is another book, a twin to the core book, that just covers the setting in exact detail. Both books aren’t small, but they dovetail nicely into one another.
3) The City
The first thing that intrigued me about this game was The City creation. The game actively invites you to base your Dresdenverse game in another city, as most players wouldn’t know one Chicago road from another. Ideas and Fate aspects are suggested to make up an imaginary city (which I did), or to simply drop your magic and your vampires into your local big city/town. Look around, next time you’re driving around. Wouldn’t THAT house be haunted? And that big glass tower in the city center? Wouldn’t the Vampire Court meet in some board room inside? At the end of the City chapter, starting a trend that continues throughout the book, it has ‘on the fly’ city creation rules. The book, in an unusual gleam of self-recognition, appreciates the fact that it is, itself, MASSIVE. It is, believe it or not, 400 pages long. So at every step, it says to the player ‘I know you don’t have the patience for this, you might not even know the Dresdenverse, so here’s what you do to get this rolling.’
4) Character Creation
The choices are many, which makes this a particularly flexible setting. Werewolves, a couple of different types of Vampire, vampire-infected-but-not-turned-yet, wizard, normal human, person of faith (more of that in a bit), and Fey, are all options for player characters. Fate Aspects are suggested, but as usual, it’s left pretty open to the players. ‘On the fly’ rules are again introduced (see point 3), and a fantastic chapter with pre-made templates is also introduced. With a minimum knowledge of Fate and an hour of reading and note-taking, character creation can take under 20 minutes. Things move away from Fate with Trappings. Trapping are a subdivision of skills, as in, each skill has a number of trappings. The Might skill, for example, has as Trappings Breaking Things, Exerting Force, Lifting Things, and Wrestling. All will be under the skills’ Mod, so why do it, you ask? Some skills are subtly different depending on the situation, hence the extra level of complexity. Personally, I’ve played it without this extra level, and it didn’t break the game.
And here is where this system, at least for me, jumps off the page, pats me on the head, and runs off giggling. Now I’m not going to go too deep into the rules, but they are pretty much the best ones out there (my opinion) for magic in Fate. Magic takes effort, so it can damage you as you cast it (balancing nicely effort and effect), and super/magic powers follow a standard point system, whereupon you pay (sometimes dearly) for your enhancements. Some of these will again be counterbalanced by negative effects. Also, you can simply be a ‘normal’ human (with extra goodies, so you’re not made of tissue when compared with the supernatural things), or a human of faith. Faith is massive in the Dresdenverse. If you believe in something just enough, and if you have the power, maybe your belief is actually real…?
If you want a contemporary magic-rich system with a fantastic background and simple rules, this is some of the best stuff out there. The book is as thick as my grandmother’s bean soup, but it allows itself to be just quickly leafed through, if you just want the essentials and to start play quickly.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
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.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games