The sun is high in the sky, the weather is warm, and the great outdoors beckon. It’s that time of the year again when getting together and rolling damage becomes a bit of a problem for some. I know with the group that I play with, we all have commitments that keep us from the odd session, but summer is a particularly challenging season to meet up and continue on that dark and gritty adventure in lands most treacherous. Schedules never match up, family holidays drag us away from the table, and it always seems we’re a couple of players short. No worries, this is not a problem; it’s a blessing in disguise. Now is a great time to step back and gain some perspective, right? Or… you could turn around, double down, and bring the hurt to a summer campaign. Hell yeah and here’s 3 reason why.
1) The fight doesn’t stop just because you’re a man down
I know it’s frustrating when Jack is heading off to the mountains for 3 weeks, leaving the group to stew in anticipation over what exactly the intentions of the beholder were, but screw Jack. We don’t need Jack to have fun (we do however, need Jack to keep going though as he is the only healer). So let’s hit that ‘pause’ button and regroup. There are always enough people around to play, so let’s play, and planning a short interim summer campaign with fewer players is a great solution to cleave through those summer blues. There are a number of systems out there that cater to smaller groups and it’s fairly easy to pick up a one-shot module that would last a couple of months. Even if you’re without DM there’s always games like FIASCO, White Books, or Goblin Quest. Even if you’re down to a single player Tunnels and Trolls has solo adventures and there’s always Choose Your Own Adventure books on Amazon.
2) You’re in your safe place and it’s starting to smell
Not too long ago I took a long hard look at where I was as a player and what I was playing, and it was not a pretty picture. I’m not bashing D&D but it quickly became apparent that my playing experience with other platforms was embarrassingly limited. The humiliation of this circumstance was only exacerbated when I started looking at the wealth of content available to gamers at this point in time. Getting out of my comfort zone doesn’t mean I have to give up my old favorites but a summer hiatus does provide an opportunity to get out there and try new things. From Savage Worlds to Godbound, now is the time to branch out from your norm. Try a new rule system, try a new genre, and try a new character! Challenge yourself.
3) Absence makes the heart grow fonder
You’ll never know what you have until it’s gone. Yeah, Jack is a bit of a mouth breather and there is no way that you can smite that beholder but after a couple of months the lack of Jack’s hypnotic but comforting wheezing becomes palpable, and that beholder’s gaze is significantly less terrifying. A summer campaign is like a summer romance it’s temporary and fun. It allows you to get in some play time but it also allows you to gain some perspective on what you really want to be committing to. Who knows, maybe things will be so great you won’t go back to the old game but I doubt that. If anything it might give the group better ideas for future games and systems that they perhaps would never have thought of, or maybe a chance to learn a new rule system in advance. My point being that temporarily playing a different game provides the players a chance to come up with new ideas about themselves and where they are in the main campaign.
So there you have it, summer is a great time to step away from what you’re usually playing and expand your horizons. The game never has to end; it just gets a bit of a summer holiday too. Enjoy your summer whether you’re at the table or in front of the campfire and remember that if you’re in a pinch there’s always roll20.net.
About Ryan: So I try to read about 50 comics a week, depending on my ability to pay the power bill. I try to read as much new and independent works as my tried and trusted favorites, and I’ve been doing this for years. Thus, I can roughly say that I am pretty decent at comicology, however I hold no formal degree. Luckily, degrees are no substitute for common sense and that’s how I got this gig.
Ever since the dawn of role-playing games, when Gygax himself first walked the untrodden grounds of mystical tabletop storytelling, magic has played a key role in this wonderful hobby. How many spells have been slung, creatures conjured, fireballs flung, and missiles magicked over the many years, and in how many ways? I’m certain I couldn’t list them all, but I’m happy to bring to you the most incredible and interesting five sorcerous systems.
1 . Dungeons and Dragons
We must, of course, pay our respects to the progenitor of prestidigitation. D&D, throughout its many iterations, has presented the player with a simple and effective means to cast spells. A wizard receives a certain number of spells each day, and must recover this knowledge by resting and studying the spells again. Within the cannon of most official D&D settings, this mechanic exists because casting spells actually removes the knowledge of the spell from the casters mind and memory, and they must again learn it before they can use it once more. While newer editions don’t touch on this little tidbit (and divine casters ignore it entirely), the mechanic makes for an easy way to introduce players to the role of a spellcaster; a method that also allows for a mage’s book of spells to grow in power and complexity as the player learns new strategies. Thank you again, Gary!
2 . Call of Cthulhu
This entry may surprise some of our readers. Magic? In a horror game? Many may think that it is simply a tool for the Keeper to throw at poor, squishy investigators in order to watch their skin bubble and slough off (yes, that’s indeed spell in CoC). However, veterans of this madness-inducing game will know that over a long campaign, especially curious players may find themselves nose-deep in any number of ancient tomes, plumbing the secrets of the old gods to use against their adversaries. We Keepers are well aware that even just a little power will corrupt a player quickly. What’s more, each time they cast their spell, they expend precious sanity points as the true nature of the universe unravels their feeble human conceptions of space and time. Soon, they will acquire so much knowledge and power that the Keeper will watch that last bit of sanity drain, and the game gives birth to yet another cultist. This “price of power” mechanic is absolutely wonderful to behold for players and GMs alike, and really sets Call of Cthulhu apart from other magical titles on our list.
3 . Ars Magica
Here’s a title I’ve been dying to try. The magic system is based heavily on Hermetic Magic, following the Technique/Form (verb and noun) combinations that gave voice to their power. The wizard in question uses the Technique of their choice, be it Muto (“I transform”), Perdo (“I destroy”), or others, along with the Form they wish to affect (such as Corpus for the human body). There are five Techniques and ten forms to specialize in, making a mage’s skill vary from spell to spell. Each wizard is also bound by Greater and Lesser Limits which stop them from altering someone’s soul or unmaking the universe. The system also allows and encourages players to gain experience from just reading, something of which many wizened wizards would approve. If anyone has experience running this game and would like to share said experience, please contact me on my website listed below!
4 . Mage: The Awakening
Of the two Mage titles by White Wolf, I decided to go with the one I know better. The Awakening is one of the most incredibly written core books and settings I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and thus makes for some truly poetic gaming. The magic system, while complex, has a very simple rule. If you possess the required knowledge and power, you can achieve anything. Mages “Awaken” to one of five towers which bestows upon them immediate knowledge of two distinct Arcana. The mage may learn other arcana from other towers, but the aforementioned two will be their favorites. As they learn more about these Arcana, they can accomplish greater deeds within the Arcanum’s purview. For instance, if a mage has only one dot (or rank) in the Death Arcanum, they can perceive death supernaturally, sensing ghosts where others would see nothing. If they graduate to the second rank, they can now interact with these dead things in a supernatural way. At rank four, the mage can raise the dead and imbue them with special powers, or destroy ghosts just by looking at them. When they become masters at the fifth rank, they can accomplish almost anything they can think of, so long as it pertains to Death. While the book does outline “suggestion” spells for each Arcanum, the player is encouraged to improvise their own spells. Yet each mage must use caution. If a spell is cast in broad daylight with many witnesses who have not yet awakened as mages, they invite Paradox, a destabilizing force that punishes the mage for rocking the boat. Some of the finest and most incredible magical workings have come from this amazing title. If you can’t already tell, I highly recommend it!
5 . Anima: Beyond Fantasy
Whereas Mage: The Awakening allows players the freedom of true magic, Anima gives players the crunchy, powerful spells they are likely to witness in movies and video games. If a player chooses a spellcaster, they select their Path and Sub-Path of magic which gives them access to their spells. As they learn more of their Paths, they gain access to greater mystical workings. Each spell costs Zeon, the setting’s version of mana, which must be accumulated over time. Thus, a player can become the mage standing on a hilltop and looking down at a city as she pulls power into her hands, weaving a terrible fate for the denizens below who dared to cross her. More martially inclined characters can serve as the mage’s bodyguards while she accumulates her Zeon. She can even boost her spells for greater power, should her energy reserves and arcane knowledge allow for it. Finally, and most importantly, the game has a built in system for spell clashes. Two mages hurl volleys of power at one another until two blasts of energy smash into one another. Only the strongest, most focused mage will survive that epic duel.
It could be argued that magic has been and remains one of the key tenets of the role-playing hobby, at least when it comes time to start up the next fantasy campaign. I would wholeheartedly agree, and I encourage each of you to check out the titles I’ve detailed above and share your favorite magic systems with me.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, check him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com
Greetings once again!
Of all the fates that can befall a traveler, perhaps none are more terrifying than transpossession. Many a wizened scholar is aware of the influence of the so-called "Dark Powers," the mythical insidious forces that sometimes take a secret sinner into their arms, rewarding the hidden crimes while simultaneously punishing them in turn.
Transpossession is a different sort of corruption entirely. The experienced explorer is no stranger to demonic fiends; from somewhere beyond the Mists, the most depraved conjurers and diabolists are able to summon infernal beings bent on the corruption and destruction of mankind. What is not as well known is that these same entities are capable, on rare occasions, of reaching through the Mists of their own accord.
When a soul of sufficient dark potential piques their interest, these abyssal beings begin whispering in their subject's mind in subtle ways; over time, as the subject heeds the creature's advice and sinks ever deeper into damnation (a fact they often overlook in light of the perverse gifts their 'benefactor' bestows on them) the voice grows more overt and insistent. Eventually, the victim succumbs completely to the invader, who takes their place within our world and casts their host's soul into the hell from whence the interloper came.
Through long study, I've managed to identify five of these fell entities that are particularly insidious to deal with, and the methods they might use to ply their victim's weaknesses.
Typically associated with women (the much rarer male variant is called an incubus), the succubus is one of the most common demonic presences encountered. They play on their victims' senses of insecurity; seduction is the bread and butter of these creatures after all, and instructing their hosts in these arts is often all they need to gain a toehold in the life of their target. Once such powers of manipulation are in their hands, the sinner can be tempted towards ever crueler uses of their newfound power.
The most likely targets for such creatures are those who live within the shadow of the desirable and glamorous, and who consider themselves drab or uninteresting by comparison. Alternately, the mortal may be someone who views their life as dull and tedious, and is susceptible to the idea that clandestine trysts and sensual manipulation carry a dark, desirable romance.
Loathsome and vile in the extreme, the uridezu is a rat demon, who delights in spreading pestilence throughout mortal realms. Most commonly found in densely populated urban areas (commonly found in parts of Nova Vaasa, Dementlieu, and especially Falkovnia), these fiends grant insight into diseases and their spread, as well as power over rats and other rodents. In an especially dense metropolis, the ability to control rats can often bring a person sudden wealth, as they find themselves in control over an abundant and renewable food source.
Victims of the attentions of an uridezu are often destitute or plague-ridden. Their circumstances are so pathetic that their are willing to take any assistance, even from an infernal source, if it means elevation from their tribulation.
Emaciated, jackal-headed fiends in their true form, these fiends are scavengers in nature as well. Law and lore are their stock in trade, and the more forbidden the knowledge, the better. Often, they don't even need to tempt their intended hosts with any abyssal powers--the dark knowledge they bring is frequently more than enough to tempt their victims onto the path of damnation. Should their vast breadth of lore prove ineffective, they are also masters of the arcane, and more than willing to tutor a foolish mortal if it will bring them one step forward to taking the mortal's place.
Obsessed scholars may seem like the most likely target for an arcanoloth, and while such individuals are indeed in danger of this fiend's attention, a far sweeter target is the sage who is in over their head, who has pursued or boasted of mastery they have not achieved (or are incapable of achieving). The devil can then offer the target a way out (to the luckless mortal's eye, the only way out), allowing them to save face and advance their career, while giving the demon the footing they need.
Even in the diabolic realms, there must be order. Osyluths serve as some form of fiendish constabulary, and while they rarely initiate transpossession, they are noteworthy because of the vast damage they can do on those rare occasions. They offer their victims a keen insight into the human psyche, an ability to predict what others will think and do, and a suite of magical abilities which ideally augment lone lawmen.
Targets of an osyluth's attention are invariably some form of police (very rarely, they are lawfully minded vigilantes adrift in a large lawless population) who are overwhelmed with the chaos and evil they must face on a daily basis. The osyluth's assistance is accepted because unlike other fiends, in the beginning they actually are doing good. Inevitably, however, the osyluth convinces the target towards more merciless interpretations of the law and their mandate to enforce it, until the damned is no better than the scum he sought to curtail.
Of all the fiends in all the hells in all of existence, there is none I fear more than the jovoc. If there is anything that the jovoc embodies, it is spite: the vinegar of the blood that causes a man to live for nothing but pure malicious bitterness, willing to sacrifice themselves if it means harming those who have crossed them. To targets who feel powerless against those who have wronged them the jovoc offers the means, motivation, and expertise to seek an endless, unbalanced revenge. Those deep within the jovoc's thrall even gain the jovoc's most dangerous ability: the power to inflict any damage done to them on everyone in their vicinity.
Those susceptible to the jovoc are the downtrodden people who recognize their low lot in life but are unable to recognize their own fault in it. Instead, they seek to blame everyone around and above them; anyone who is happier, wealthier, or more powerful than them becomes the enemy no matter how little they've done to the victim. They seethe with resentment towards their fellow man, but are impotent to do anything about their feelings. Until they hear the first whisper, of course.
To conclude: transpossession remains a remarkable rare occurrence, a fact for which we can all be thankful. However, should you suspect such a phenomenon, I highly recommend you consult your copy of Van Richten's Guide to Fiends before engaging such a powerful enemy. Hopefully this missive will give you at least an inkling of how to identify the most likely (or dangerous) culprits in such a scenario.
Wishing you all the best,
Frankie "Farshot" Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
Animalus Companicum Awesomia: 7 Unusual But Excellent Animal Companions For RPGs
Are you tired of your dull and boring animal companion? Sick of having the same wolf, raven, snake, or lizard as every other druid/ranger? Then fear not, my friends, for I am here to put some chutzpah in your companion, some pizzazz in your pet pal, some awesome in your animal. Below is compiled the list of the greatest and most underused animals just waiting to accompany you on your adventures and fight alongside you. Don’t believe me? Then read on!
1. Tufted deer (Elaphodus cephalophus).
Who said that predators are the only ones who should be feared? This little guy’s bite is most definitely worse than his bark. What could be better than the look in your enemies’ eyes as they are savagely mauled by this fanged herbivore? If the effort of finding this species is too onerous, you could always infect a normal deer with vampirism, as it should have the same effect.
2. Naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber).
Fur is overrated, at least according to the naked mole rat. Not only will this companion make its human feel beautiful and charismatic by comparison, the fact that it is the only mammal that is a thermoconformer (the body temperature changes according to the ambient temperature) rather than a thermoregulator (the body temperature is maintained at a set temperature) could come in handy when you need an interesting fact to break the ice at parties.
3. Giant coconut crab (Birgus latro).
A real beaut, this one. With a leg span of about one meter across, this disgusting creature is sure to horrify and freak out your enemies. They don’t need to know that it eats mostly fleshy fruits. As you can imagine, it is a handy beast to have around when having a party, as it can easily open up those coconuts in which you and your party members can mix your Mai Tai’s and other fruity beverages. Also, it makes large quantities of delicious chowder in a pinch.
4. Sloth (Bradypus variegatus).
While the more battle-centric heroes might be turned off by this animal’s slow and placid demeanor, it has a few qualities every adventurer will find appealing. It only urinates and defecates once a week, which certainly makes picking up after it easier. It will also be a total chick magnet, as women find these creatures somehow irresistible. Comes in two-toed and three-toed varieties, for your convenience.
5. Geoduck clam (Panopea generosa).
Pronounced ‘gooey-duck’, these giant clams are the largest burrowing clams in the world, which will come in handy should you need to dig for anything underwater. They can grow over one meter in length and can live to be over 140 years old, which will allow you to pass your animal companion down to your children and your children’s children as a sort of living family heirloom. If you’re lucky enough to get a female geoduck, she can produce five billion eggs over the course of her lifetime. Imagine having five billion of these guys aiding you in battle! Finally, their look is so distinctive and unlike any other animals or body parts.
6. Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus).
You may not think these tubes with mouths (scary, ridiculously nasty mouths) would be good for anything, but you’d be wrong. Dead wrong, if the lampreys had anything to say about it. They can grow almost a meter and a quarter in length and weigh up to five pounds. They attach to their victims using their suction-cup mouths and dig into the flesh using their rasping teeth and tongue. They also prevent their victim’s blood from clotting, typically resulting in the eventual death of whatever they’ve attacked. For best results, walk up to your enemies and stick your lamprey animal companion right onto their face. Reapply as needed.
7. Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis).
These primates might look like they are most of the way through transforming into a lich, but there is nothing undead about them! Fantastic climbers and naturally nocturnal, this would be the perfect companion for accompanying you on your nighttime endeavors. Its fingers, meant for pulling bugs out of crevices, could just as easily be trained to extract gold from the purses of the unsuspecting. Their nipples are in their groins though, so there is that.
As you can see, the animal world is ripe with companion possibilities that shouldn’t be limited to the basic and boring creatures you’ll find in the rulebooks. Spice things up for your druids and rangers! Make the GM do all the extra work of research and rule creation; they’ll thank you for it in the end.
- Jake is a scientist by training, role-player by choice, and idiot by birth. He lives in Texas and loves all animal companions, even the boring ones.
As you may know, 13th Age is well praised for its focus on quality story arc and the player characters as fully realized characters. This is a refreshing hike away from the crunchy mechanics of other systems. This concept is embedded into the actual play of the game through three mechanics that really make this game stand out on the narrative level.
1. The One Unique Thing –
The One Unique thing is something that most RPG players have been doing themselves since the dawn of the genre and now it’s been put in a rule book. This mechanic is designed to make your player character stand out from every other NPC and PC alike, but without giving you a mechanical benefit. Essentially, you make up a trait that hints at a backstory or perhaps a future story that may take place in the campaign you are playing. The title of the mechanic says it all, it’s one thing that sets you apart from everybody else. Just so you don’t forget it, there’s even a little spot on the character sheet to type it in!
Here are some examples:
i. My Forgeborn Sorcerer is actually an animated suit of armor… with the corpse of the wearer still inside.
ii. Everybody things my Twygzog Druid has dandruff but the reality is he’s infecting the world with spores!
iii. The armor of the Dwarf Paladin is a family heirloom that changes color from blue to red depending on the situation.
iv. I am destined to kill the Orc Lord.
v. The Human Fighter carries a six-foot-long sword, although he’s only five foot seven.
Being sick of assigning skills and being held to a rigid structure of proficiencies and what have you, this mechanic is probably the most refreshing. Your Backgrounds replace skills completely. Instead of having things like athletics, knowledge:____, bluff and anything else you can think of, you get to make up your own backgrounds that may or may not encompass many of these concepts. With 8 points to spend, and no more than 5 points in one background, this makes your character not only more effective, but also more fun to think about. The points you assign to a Background are the number of points you add to the skill roll that you make in addition to the base stat modifier plus your character’s level. There’s a kicker: When you want to add a background to a certain skill check, you have to explain to your GM why it’s relevant to the situation. From there, you may or may not get help from previous knowledge! Backgrounds are significantly more fun than skills because it helps you flesh out your character as play continues, building a forward and backward story simultaneously. It also gives your character ties to specific places and things before the story even starts.
i.Wanted Arcane Trickster of Horizon
ii.Imperial Dragon Rider’s daughter
iii.Drakkenhall Shock Trooper
iv.Self-Taught Koru Behemoth Whisperer
v.Memories of Valor
3.Icon Relationships -
This is probably the most complex story mechanic of the three, as it is more dependent on the GM rather than the player. As a level 1 character, you have three points to spend on relationships between yourself and the 13 Icons. That relationship can be negative, conflicted, or positive. Each point you assign represents one six-sided die, which you roll at the beginning of the session to dictate how the appropriate Icon may affect that session. There are only two numbers that count: a 5 or a 6. A rolled 5 represents something happening in the story that works in your favor but has a drawback, a 6 represents something good without drawback. Usually, these are used to create some pretty epic moments and turning points in the story. They can be seen in one of two ways; your relationship points can be seen as player agency over the story or GM fuel for making up interesting ideas on the spot. From my experience, it tends to flip flop back and forth as play proceeds. Sometimes a player will think of a use for a 5, while I have to come up with a drawback, or maybe I ask the player if they want to use their 6 to make some action or effect interesting. Now, of course, the most important part of your Icon Relationship is the story that’s tied to it. It’s important to think about why your character has a positive relationship with the Archmage, but a negative relationship with the Dragon Emperor. More often than not, the Icon Relationship mechanic mingles extremely well with both of the aforementioned story mechanics.
Happy gaming and Stay Metal \m/
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
‘It’s a rule system, Jim, but not as you know it!’
After I started playing RPG’s and for something like 7 months, I only played D&D, and it was amazing. I love it, good old D20s, they are predictable, trustworthy and there are loads of resources out there.
Until one day, in between adventures, one of our older players brought in a dusty, old rulebook. It was something called ‘Traveller’. And it was very clear, even to us noobs, that it was Firefly in a bottle. Smugglers and traders, in a huge human empire? FTL (Faster Than Light) travel and Space Stations? Yes please!
The doors of perception had been blown asunder, and since then, I started to play (and often run games in) other rule systems, belonging to other games. And these the 8 that I’ve recently come across, each great in its own right.
1. D&D –
The juggernaut. Fantasy-based, although some of my friends have adapted it to contemporary environments. A D20 system, you roll, add your skill bonus, and see if your roll is high enough to succeed at whatever it is you set out to do. Character creation is straightforward, and can be as shallow or as detailed as you desire. The standard.
2. Traveller –
A sci-fi background, as old as D&D. Smugglers, traders and military in the distant future. As the original rules came out in the 70s, it still has a very gritty, low-tech feel to it (hence the usual comparison with the iconic series Firefly).
Character creation is fantastic, you start at 18 years, and you carry on trying to get jobs and/or studying, improving your skills as you go along (including simply being a space wanderer), and stop at whatever age you want. Famously, in previous editions, you could DIE during character creation (as in, for example, your character died during basic military training), and had to start again. You roll 2D6, add your skills, and see if you exceed 8 for a success. Space opera at its best, there are websites collating the tens of thousands of star systems of the galaxy, and most are fan made.
3. Through the Breach / Malifaux –
Through the Breach is the RPG sister game to the miniature game Malifaux. The background is perfection (steampunk, with horror and magic components). The titular Breach is a portal open to an empty city (Malifaux) in another world. There, and with the discovery of soulgems, Victorian tech met the atomic age, or close to it, as well as magic. Late 19 century intrigue with magic and a frontier feel...All of this said, the game rules are different enough from more common RPG’s that it does have quite a sharp learning curve, even if I found Character Creation positively engaging. I think that at the end, I didn’t have the time to dedicate myself to the game as it clearly and absolutely deserved. I used some of the background in other games and moved on. If you like any of the genres I mentioned, it is really worth a look.
4. Call of Cthulhu –
Another one of the Old Ones (get it?). CoC is deep, engaging, horrific and damn fun. Character Creation is trivial, and it uses a D100 skill and play set. Your skills are now percentages, and it works like this: If you have a 60% on Ancient Hieroglyphs, you roll the D100, and if you get any number between 1-60, you did it…..And now that you can read that inscription, you know your insignificance towards the Things From Beyond Space With Way Too Many Tentacles/Eyes, so you’re probably insane. You don’t WIN CoC, you SURVIVE CoC temporarily. The game isn’t even geared against you, it’s like the game doesn’t acknowledge your existence at times. You’re humans trying to mess about with things older than time. You’re not going to win, but it is amazing to try.
5. The Laundry -
And the day came when I said the words “Wow, playing CoC set in the present with modern gear would be cool!’ and someone set down a copy of The Laundry rulebook in front of me. The Laundry is almost an extension of CoC and follows pretty much all of its rules, with only a few exceptions (most of the skills have been updated, as well as gear).
Now CoC is horrendous. Delta Green, detailing a shadowy US organization that deals with Cthulhu-like entities, is very X-Files... And then there is The Laundry. Based on the books by Charles Stross, The Laundry is the English Civil service answer to Lovecraftian obscenities (During WWII, the HQ of the organisation was above a laundry, and the name stuck). Sure, they might be able to stop those Deep Ones, but only after submitting Form 34RG-T56-B. In triplicate. By tomorrow morning. Also, the key to magic is using mathematics to get energy from other dimensions, so you perform spells with PC’s, mobile phones and tablets. The nickname for said phones? The Necronomiphone. Perfection.
I simply LOVED the silliness and pluckiness of an organization where you fight a losing battle against Old Ones, and also have to explain where your paperclips went. One of your skills is Bureaucracy, another is Status. The latter will dictate how far up in the organization you are, and how much gear you can requisition. On my first Laundry adventure, I included shapeshifting tentacled sheep. BECAUSE I COULD! :)
6. Savage Worlds –
A gem of a rule system. The first I came across, that was designed to be agnostic, fitting in with any and all backgrounds. Character creation is great fun, your skills now have dice associated with them (say, Melee is a D6 and Shooting is a D8). When you want to do something, your GM gives you target numbers that you need to equal or exceed. Obviously, the better the skill, the higher the die, and the more likely it is you’ll succeed.Not the key issue about SW is that it is totally and completely adaptable and transferable. Every single creature and/or character has the same type of stats. All of them. So you can pick and mix, and play.... whatever. There is no reason why you can’t play a dragon, or a mountain of goo, or a giant Mech or anything else in between. There are loads of sourcebooks, and the system is easy enough to adapt to any environment.
7. Cypher –
Cypher is a fairly new system that I think has loads and loads of potential. Character creation is intuitive, but a little bit more time consuming than usual. That said, it has A LOT more possibilities than your run-of-the-mill system, and the characters, from the gates, are much more rich, as you picking small bits of your background come with character creation. It’s the play that I find fascinating; Cypher has distilled EVERYTHING you could conceivably do into one D20 roll, of varying difficulties. If say, you want to punch a door, and it is a solid door, the GM might want you to roll a 20. Then say you’re really epic at melee, that lowers your difficulty by one level (which translates to 3 points on the die). Then you have brass knuckles, one level less, 3 points less… So you now only have to roll a 14. Difficult still, but by no means impossible. Also, you use points from a pool to lower difficulty in the way I just described even further, and that pool doubles as your Health. So if you do a lot of effort, you get weaker. Fair, methinks. The simplicity of the one-roll-for-everything is very attractive, and as mentioned before, this is a rule system that can be adapted with some ease.
8. Fate –
Fate is my current passion. As easy to play as Cypher, with Character Creation as easy as Savage Worlds, this is a rule system that is designed to be hacked and adapted. They say so on the core book, make your own skills, make your own rules. In a nutshell, you roll 4 Fudge Die, that can show +, - or 0. You can then get a roll of -4 (terrible beyond belief) to 0 (meh….), to +4 (Epic). Then you get a tree of skills, some at +4 or 5, and others all the way to +1. These will add to your rolls, and make them higher. The adaptability of it is staggering, the prices of the corebooks are modest, and once the character sheets are changed, you really do feel like you own your game.
These are the ones I’ve tried so far. What have been your experiences with different rule systems?
Rui is still an ex-scientist and teacher. He is currently working on a FATE adventure in a cyberpunk city (New Hades, a city he originally designed around Savage Worlds, www.welcometonewhades.blogspot.com), and a Cypher adventure in space. With superpowers. Updates will be forthcoming. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
4 Ways To Become A Worse Gamer
I’m sick of all those positive energy pissing contests and helpful advice regurgitation-fests that get candied on every screen, page and billboard, trying to improve the way we look, sound, perform, or seem. Those washboard-abs, white teeth, unicorn shit ads make the rest of us look bad, and for those with a conscience, I hear that they feel pretty broke up about it too. That’s why I’ve decided to do the gaming world a favor. I’ve compiled a list of 4 ways that anyone can become a worse gamer. You’ll be happy to note that this list is, well, shorter than most, and if nothing else, I promise it’ll be far easier to achieve than those ubiquitous positive, self-help listicles.
1. Be fashionably late
Nothing gets under the skin of punctual people like being that gal (or guy) who stumbles into your dimly lit, antediluvian, geek cave 15-20 minutes after the bones have started to roll. Sure, your sun-shy sidekicks will understand the odd bout of tardiness- I mean traffic and life happens. But if you want to be a worse gamer, make a habit out of being slothful. A few side effects to note with this approach are that your amigos may start to make some pointed passive aggressive remarks at your expense. Further, you’d be surprised at how quickly “out of game” habits affect “in game” shenanigans. As the min-maxer saw goes: “character-knowledge and player-knowledge are meant to be blended”.
What do you mean the party voted while I was gone for Percival the Unwilling to distract the landshark?
2. Ask for experience points constantly
This is a great one for interrupting the flow of a gaming session. Sure, you could wait until the end of the gaming session to ask, but if you want to be a worse gamer, ask for (and assume you should get) experience points just about every time you do something in-character. You can make casual comments about how many bandits you intimidated off the road, how well you thought you role played getting beds for the night, or wonder aloud how many XP should come from swatting all the damned mosquitos in the swamp. Gamers at the table are suspending their disbelief to play a fantasy game together for a few hours, and bringing up self-serving mechanics helps bring everyone crashing back to the real world, and become aware (again) of the classical conditioning your DM is constantly subjecting you all to.
Ring, ring goes the bell…who’s hungry?
3. Focus on electronics instead of the game
Playing the latest web-based game, or updating your status on your phone or tablet reminds everyone else at the table just how little you care about their characters and the story (outside of your narcissistic contributions, of course) and how paradoxically shallow, yet full (of self-importance) you can be. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about the odd text message, phone call or any other electronic event that can happen in the time it takes for clearing the latest barrage of last night’s enchiladas out of the ol’ system. Life happens, and my girl/boyfriends/wives/ husbands/bosses/clan members can get pissy if you leave them hanging, waiting on your answer. However, in order to be a worse gamer, you need to practice a sustained, 10-minutes-or-longer-screen-stare-of-no-real-life-application with the odd glance up to make eye contact with the DM and state what your character does. You’ll know you’re doing it right when people start to make comments such as: “are you’re even playing with us?” or “can you put that away?” (Actually, this could be a great way to get back at the tardy boy/ girl in #2) One thing to mention with this little chestnut though- if you want to go next level, you simply justify your continued digital obsession as though your need for constant and instant gratification isn’t the problem. This ensures a special kind of self-enforced isolation that not only ostracizes you from the group, but also entertains you while doing so!
Being a hermit isn’t all that hard once you reach level 7
4. Make it all about you
That’s the reason we role-play, right? We develop an artificial character to respond to fantastical situations, do heroic deeds, save the day, and all the rest. If you want to be a worse gamer, you need to assume that the character you developed is more complex, layered, interesting, inherently powerful, and useful for developing the plot than anyone else’s. Even if they are those things, to truly be the worst, you need to share that message with the world. Sing it from the mountaintops! Talk over others as though their attempts at role-playing are “cute”. Feel free to tell the table how much better your character is than theirs, and (if they don’t kill him in his sleep), they just may start to forget to care and nod blankly. Keep this up long enough, and pretty soon you can start your own player/DM solo campaign. Good luck!
Fortunately for me, my characters are always the most layered, interesting and powerful! Right guys? ….Guys?
So there you have it, good reader. Follow the above advice and you will be on your way to devolving into a worse gamer. I can’t guarantee it will make you popular, or even that you’ll be invited back to gaming sessions, but I can guarantee that others will find your new habits annoying.
Until next time, keep up the temper tantrums.
Dustinopolis is actually a fairly nice villain. He enjoys walks on sharp-rocked beaches, eating rare and disgusting things, and traveling the world on a budget. You shouldn’t follow him on twitter (@devourcheese) as his posts really aren’t that interesting, and following him will only serve to inflate his ego.
Somedays it is tough to find things that really speak to me that I want to write about. Many of those times, I find someone online has already written about the same topic and it is already great and succinct. It’s like some other author and I were simpatico that day. So I will pass on those ideas and my mind will wander to other things.
But I never tire of asking others about what they think about role-playing. So this time, I interviewed my 9-year old daughter. She has a bit of experience herself with some Hero Kids role-playing action, but she has also grown up around games, many games.
I am just going to ask you some questions and you are going to have to answer me, okay?
Like, what kind of questions?
Mmmm, questions that you should know the answer to, okay?
1. How long have you known about role-playing?
Ummm… forever… because you and daddy.
2. If you were going to describe role-playing to someone, what would you say it was like?
It’s like a game of combat and there is acting too. But not physical acting, just with your voice. It’s an adventure and usually it’s in the past with magic and stuff.
3. What is the most important thing for someone to do when role-playing?
Act in character. Definitely, having things for combat in character would be good. I think acting in character is the best thing you have to do.
4. What is your favourite thing about role-playing?
Definitely, I like acting in character. I like acting and like how I use magic in my games because it goes with my character.
5. What is your least favourite thing about role-playing?
My first game as so boring because all it was, was just combat… and there was one that was just basically acting and exploring. So I liked the most recent one, which was a mix of both.
6. Who do you think should role-play? (I was looking for a general everyone should role-play… but it didn’t happen.)
Umm, I think Olivia or Emily would be good at acting in character. We have games where we make up characters and play.
7. If you could invent any type of role-playing game, what type of role-playing would it be?
Well it would definitely be in modern times, but with magic. There would also be magical creatures. Like taking the magic from the old times and putting it in the modern times. I think that would be a good mix. And you could get rid of all the pollution. You could just make a spell and get rid of pollution. It wouldn’t be all dirty and polluted. You could make the garbage disappear. Could make all the plastic turn into candy because all the plastic on Earth is still on Earth because it doesn’t decompose. So you could eat the plastic that was turned into candy. And it would be yummy too!
8. Is there anything else that you would like to add about role-playing?
I wanted to do it for a long time, so when daddy found Hero Kids… now I have my own little role-playing group with me, daddy, Sammy’s dad, and Sammy.
BONUS: Why did you always want to role-play?
Because, I like combat and that’s why I like superhero shows and I also really like acting so I want to be an actress. One thing I want to be when I grow up is an actress. I like the acting and combat; I like both, so yeah.
I urge you to pose these questions to your own kids. Post the answers in the comments below!
Vanessa is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. You can read about how her love of acting led her to become a better role-player here.
Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) is probably the highest level of geek level gaming. That being said, when I first got into LARP (1998), Cos-play wasn’t really a thing that was considered cool. So, dressing up and smacking people with swords was pretty much the highest level of gaming geekdom one could achieve. However, there was, and still is, a higher level of geekery to be had if one is willing to brave such heights. I’m talking about Parlor LARP… I’m talking about Parlor LARP in the World of Darkness to be specific. Parlor LARPs have a mixed reputation, and WOD LARP in particular seems to be well-known more for Goths (or faux-Goths) and badly fitted clothes. That being said, I’ve had some of the best role-play experiences in my life in WOD LARP and I think it is awesome and I hope you gain an appreciation for it from this list. (This post is brought to you as I finish my second LARP character after a 10 year hiatus, and I’m super excited)
1: The World of Darkness Rocks –
The WOD, is one of my favorite game settings. It is a dark reflection of our world, one where monsters really do lurk in the shadows. This creates some interesting dynamics, groups can use their real-world location knowledge to integrate their characters more fully into the world. With WOD LARP, you can also use real-world locations for your games, and if you are adventurous enough even go to those places in character with your troupe. One game I remember with a lot of fondness, we decided to take our small group on a trip through the city of Portland, Maine. We met in the shadow of a Unitarian Universalist church yard, and role-played a discussion our pack of Sabbat (inhuman vampires that have a lot of pent-up aggression) were having. In real-life, we were interrupted by a random person that noticed us hanging out in the church-yard. He joined us, briefly, and we never broke character.
2: You don’t need to learn how to swing a sword –
One of the coolest parts of Boffer or Combat LARPS is that you get the chance to really swing swords at people, even if those swords happen to be foam. That being said, Parlor LARP tends to shy away from such displays of physical prowess. For those of us that are naturally clumsy… making a character actually good in combat in a game like Realms… well… never went over very well for me. The awesome part of Parlor LARP is that a lot of the action stays in the imagination, well placed props and movement help to tell the story, and even the most uncoordinated person can still play a great combat character. That being said, most Parlor LARP is about the story and not so much about the combat, so there are great incentives to avoid fighting with one another, at least physically.
3: The story is the thing –
Role-playing games, when done right, are a great mix of rules and systems that allow our imaginations to fly into the aether. In Parlor LARP, the story is the center of the game. Drama, epic drama often, is the backdrop for the imagination to run wild. Stories in Parlor LARPS are often political, individual driven, and they touch on deep human themes. I’ve seen great costumes and set-pieces lift uninteresting rooms into the World of Darkness creating a deep suspension of disbelief. Inter-personal drama is what fuels the game, and it can become very powerful, very quickly. Often, after a great session, Storytellers will decompress and discuss out-of-character some of the impact of the story from the night. This is something I recommend Storytellers do in table-top as well, but it is especially important in LARP, because the physicality makes the drama all that much closer to the heart.
I know some folks are reading this list thinking, “Yeah, but you can’t touch anyone in a World of Darkness LARP!” That might be true, the rules do suggest limited touching of one another. That being said, with active consent and good communication role-play can occur that includes well-structured and respectful touch. Also, don’t assume an iron-clad no touching rule eliminates the fun of the game. Hardly, the awesome thing is that good players that take their characterization seriously and work hard to suspend disbelief can make you forget that touching isn’t allowed and you still feel the effects of the story hitting you in your brain and heart. If you are in the United States, I sincerely suggest you look up Underground Theatre, if you are interested in Vampire the Masquerade LARPs. They are the organization I’m spending the most time in right now, and I love their games. I’m also a member of One World by Night, and they have a lot of games using the older MET rules around the world.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook, is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment, and is an advocate for inclusive gaming spaces. He's also a father and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I lied to you, but now you’re here. In all my experience with gaming I’ve never seen romance come across as anything but uncomfortable for everyone at the table. Sex, while it happens, is not so much 50 Shades of Grey but more akin to a caveman version, let’s call it 50 Minutes of Giggles. I’m not saying that’s a problem; sex should be something we can laugh and joke about. Sex is a part of life, and should be presented as such in fantasy life, as well. What I’m trying to say, is sex in gaming has no dignity; it doesn’t even get a chance. In most of the campaigns I play, our time is spent focused primarily on survival. There’s not a lot of romance in the room, we’re there to smite evil and wreak havoc. It’s a time when several people I know; somewhat secure in our respective sexualities and gender identities get together and bang out an epic adventure without the judgment of our respective partners. Still, sex, love, and romance keep coming up, whether it’s part of the official module content or even if we’re free ranging. It might be that gamers are such intrinsically sexual creatures to the point that we can’t keep our armor on (in-game), even if we try. So why don’t we take in-game sex by the shoulders and lay a big wet one on its lips? Well to be honest, I think we repress for fairly good reasons.
1) Truth and Realism, aka, I’ve only seen you with your clothes on
In terms of realism we’re lagging, and not only in the sex department. While most of my characters have feasted well at a many a table, not many have ever been seated upon the porcelain throne. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I really don’t want to hear about Dustinopolis’s understanding of how dwarven hemorrhoids must feel like. Likewise, when VP Quinn’s paladin finally takes the throne and weds the blessed princess I don’t what to hear about how he thinks lovin’ should be done. I’ve got my own ‘game’ and I’m pretty sure it’s somewhat abnormal, but it’s still mine. Last thing you want to know is that the person seated beside you watches way too much Animal Planet.
2) Best Friends with Benefits, aka, This might get touchy
In this day and age I really hope we’ve come to the safest place as a community that sexuality and gender don’t play into problems around the table. I say this only about myself: it is really hard to get hot and inspired to role-play sex with my friends, because I think of them as my friends. Don’t get me wrong, these are good-looking people, but they helped me move a couple of times and we usually just kill imaginary baddies on Sunday afternoon for fun. It’s just hard for me to relate to them that way. I’m not saying it’s not a possibility for some people though. The only 2 ways I can see this working are if a person played in various groups without ever getting to know anyone, or if 2 people just genuinely fell in love (which must happen right?).
3) But my bed is so comfy, aka, The kitchen table can’t support our weight
Maybe we’re saving our energies for the real deal? It’s hard to pretend to enjoy a burger when you’re hungry for the real thing. The tabletop is great for adventuring but might lack the physical, social, and emotional support to truly fulfill our carnal natures. If you’re playing in a group that gratifies your yearnings, I applaud you, but I can literally come up with 10 better ways that marry the words ‘sex’ and ‘role-playing’ off the top of my head, and involve actual sex.
It’s hard to roll your true prowess in the sack. I know you’re rolling natural 20’s behind closed doors but does that transfer over to your gaming? Does it have to? We’ve all had laughs and knowing smiles whenever we are thrust into love’s haphazard ways at the table. Such a thing comes with the territory, but I dare you, the next time the person beside you rolls some persuasion with a giggle, to shuffle your chair a little closer, stare lustily into their eyes, and put your best game on.*
About Ryan: So I try to read about 50 comics a week, depending on my ability to pay the power bill. I try to read as much new and independent works as my tried and trusted favorites, and I’ve been doing this for years. Thus, I can roughly say that I am pretty decent at comicology, however I hold no formal degree. Luckily, degrees are no substitute for common sense and that’s how I got this gig.
*Blog Editor’s Note: make sure they consent to this sort of role-play, and if they tell you to stop out of character, make sure you do. In general, when dealing with topics like this that might be sensitive to some players, follow Wheaton’s Law, and discuss issues of concern as soon as they happen.
We all want to make our games more immersive and enjoyable.
Every GM, DM, ST, or Keeper of Arcane Lore strives to bring you the best tabletop experience they can, mainly due to the idea that when the players are having more fun, the person running the game is too. Sometimes, a game doesn’t really need any real physical aspect to it (apart from our beloved polyhedral buddies and their character sheet counterparts). Other times, a setting will cry out for something more, something tangible to help players connect to the experience. That’s where the handout really shines. Yet, how would one best implement such an immersion-enhancing supplement? Take heart, for I’ll divulge five different handouts and props that you can easily and enjoyably incorporate into your next big game world.
1 . Newspaper Clippings
Certain games, especially those set in our world, will allow players to affect change that will be reported by media outlets. Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, Victoriana, and many others present opportunities for players to make the news in a bunch of different ways. Imagine your players’ collective surprise as you show up to the next session, folder in tow, and pull out a custom-made newspaper clipping, complete with accurate game dates and a detailed (if a bit exaggerated) account of their most recent caper. Most word processors will help you accomplish this task, and many will enjoy creating their article from scratch. This will require the creative game master to locate the best font and background, but many a GM will report that this experience is half the fun. With regard to font, I recommend Old English Text MT for the newspaper name, and good old Verdana for the body.
For those of us on a tighter schedule, there are websites that will do most of the work for you, producing a premium PDF for your perusal and printing preference. Just make sure to alter the dates on those suckers before you click that printer icon. We all know one player that will pick the piece apart before you have a chance to explain your oversight!
2 . Journals and Notebooks
In games in which investigation is the focus, or when an absent NPC needs a bit of fleshing out, the players can stumble upon a short journal or notepad with important or interesting tidbits. Moleskins, leather journals, or more interesting blank books of bound paper typically don’t cost overmuch, and can usually be purchased at your local bookstore. I was lucky enough to find a small leafy notebook decorated with forest finery, perfect for a dead druid’s spellbook. One of my players is still researching the diagrams that I scrawled in there, even though its initial plot significance has waned.
This option I recommend only to those who have the time to really flesh the journal out. Presenting a book with only a page or two of content really doesn’t feel authentic. You can fill out the rest of the journal with meaningless scribbles, then find a meaning for them later, or “magically” have text appear in place of the scratches in between sessions. The opportunities here are limitless.
3 . Poker Chips and Craft Gems
Fate points, Bennies, Essence, Mana. Nearly every game has some secondary resource that players use and regain frequently. While you can always keep track of these helpful points with a tally on your character sheet, I’ve always found it fun and easy to prepare a stack of markers that I hand out to the players. If you have something that comes in different flavors, such as Exalted’s peripheral and personal Essence, you can use two different colors of chip or gem. Both items should be available at your local dollar store or craft supply shop.
Having something tangible and visible in front of your players should help them keep track of their special resources more easily, and will give real weight to these special consumables. Keep a stack handy for your next game, and you’re sure to surprise and delight.
4 . Costumes
If you’re already LARPing, you probably know what I’m going to say. Dressing up as your character isn’t for everyone, but it is probably the most effective way to contribute the game’s immersion. For tabletop games, it probably isn’t practical to have everyone dress up every week. It may also be counter to your group’s style. However, encouraging cosplay during particularly important or intense sessions can be a great way to make a premier or finale shine!
Costuming can be as expensive or intricate as you like. Sometimes, you already have all the components to an effective costume just laying around. One of my favorite characters, Stanley the Ventrue Vampire, simply required that I wear the same old sport coat and tie every other week, no purchase necessary. Another, a professor in a Call of Cthulhu campaign, just needed some tweed and an old corncob pipe I kept from my college years. Fantasy and Sci-Fi can be a bit harder to cosplay for, but with a little imagination and a trip to your local party store, you’re sure to find what you need to help really sell the immersion factor.
5 . Individual Experience Notes
Every character’s perspective is unique, and their perception should flavor their experience. When everyone sits around the same table, it can be difficult to provide information to certain players while keeping it secret from others. One of my favorite ways to implement this focused information distribution remains the artistic and inspired ‘dream note’ handout. Just before the gang shows up for your session, boot up your word processor and write out a really weird dream description. Have fun with it. Play with the background and the font. Try to create one for each character, and keep them similar but with different details. This practice can help build mystery, and also puts the ball in the players’ court. Do they share their dream with the others? Do they act on this strange new information?
Obviously, each game will require different styles of ‘experience notes,’ and so you should be ready to write up hallucinations, radio messages, signed and sealed letters, and other such paper material, and present them only to the player who needs the info. Don’t go overboard though; you don’t want to cheapen the experience. If you feel like you want to add some variety, record a few messages and play with the audio a bit, then play the sound file during game. I personally recommend Audacity for any sound recording. You just can’t beat professional quality at zero cost!
Whichever method you use to spice up your games with a little real world influence, the most important thing to include is effort. The care and time you put into your handouts will sell the illusion and draw your players ever closer to a state of complete immersion in your game world. Remember to have fun making them, and remember to share your ideas with me on my site (located below). Looking forward to hearing about your best sessions with props and handouts!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or you just want to chat about gaming and writing, check him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com .
13th Age is a d20 based role playing game put out by a UK based company, Pelgrane Press. A few famous names from other RPGs, such as Rob Heinsoo and Johnathan Tweet, put a lot of their great homebrew rules from other systems and created this Frankenstein’s monster of a role playing game. Hopefully whoever is GMing your 13th Age game has some experience with the system, because a well-practiced GM can make this role playing game loads of fun and a nice way to break the mold of other d20 systems. Here are some things that new players to the system should know before jumping into the system.
1). It’s familiar but new
13th Age is very similar to most other d20 based role playing games. You have armor class, you roll saves, you have bonuses to hit and do damage using other types of dice. It makes it really easy to slip into the system coming from a similar game like Pathfinder RPG or Dungeons and Dragons. What makes it interesting beyond this are mechanics built into the game such as Backgrounds and Icon relationships. Backgrounds are a mechanic that replace skills, essentially letting you title your own skills how you will and distribute points among them for bonuses to various tasks. What makes this so drastically different from the skills system, however, is that a background is applied to a skill check by you, the player, selling the GM some story about why this particular background helps in the given situation. It’s pretty much a way to help you build two stories at once; what you are currently doing and what you have done in the past. Plus, BSing is just plain fun! The Icon Relationship mechanic ties your character to the world of the Dragon Empire, the standard setting for the game. Icons are political figures that shape the world around you, and relationships with them are used to create interesting plot twists, for good or for ill.
2). It’s very rules light
Not having to assign skill points is a gigantic boon in and of itself for character building. What makes it even better, though, is that there are many rules in the game that are optional. And all rules that aren’t spelled out are simply implied. For instance, the 13th Age core rules don’t explain what you need in order to break into a house. Frankly, they don’t outline it at all, they leave it up to the GM to make the proper call as to what a player needs to roll. Equipment was also a big cumbersome beast to deal with in games like Pathfinder. No more feats or proficiencies for armor or weapons, the two fall into simply categories: Small, Light/Simple, Heavy/Martial. That’s really it. Your character class dictates how well you can use each type of item, and what’s even better is that the system never completely bars you from using something in your class. A mere -2 attack penalty does the trick to highlight that your particular class is doing something weird. As for combat and such, it’s very similar to other d20 games. The difference here is that there’s no stat saves (reflex, will etc.). Instead you have stats, that function much like your armor class, called Physical Defense and Mental Defense. The calculations are equally as simple and make for speeding up the fighting process.
3). It’s okay to make things up!
The Dragon Empire does very much have an established lore. This seems like a contradictory statement but hear me out. In the core rule book, there are many nuggets of knowledge scattered throughout the tome referencing history and events. The kicker is this: Most of the history is presented as rumors. Masterfully created in the spirit of Tolkien-esque writing, this leaves a lot of wiggle room for players and GMs to fill in the blanks. The background mechanic really fits well into the spirit of this idea and allows the players and GM to bounce ideas off of one another to create a more focused image of what the previous ages, or earlier in the current age, had looked like. All of the lore presented in the 13th Age rule book is essentially there to serve as inspiration for creating something amazing.
4). It’s okay to be daring
13th Age is the most unbalanced balanced system there is. The game is designed to make players feel heroic, feel epic, feel accomplished. Disclaimer on this one: don’t get the impression that it’s impossible for you to die. That simply isn’t true. However, if your GM is in the spirit of the system, the math that this game employs allows for some pretty whacky things to happen. To offset this sort of player-centric tilt, skill checks do get harder as you progress through the tiers of player (adventurer, champion and epic). This point also ties into how rules light the system is. Since there’s no written rules for most actions, it encourages your GM to get into the mindset of creating rulings on the spot. There’s no correct way, per se, to jump up on the chandelier and swing from it to kick your adversary in the nose, but man, would that be awesome! Sure, if you fail, you go flying into the wall and probably take some damage. But hey! At least it looked cool and you have seven recoveries left to make up for it.
5). It’s designed for player/GM cooperation
The system overall is designed for the players and the GM to build the story together. Some of you may be shocked and appalled, simply because some other less fortunate games have fallen victim to GMs running the story with a tyrannical fist. Not here, son! As with any system, it is possible for a group to slink back into this dark space of gaming. With 13th Age, the story telling mechanics really help the players cooperate with the GM in creating both an interesting and balanced situation. It keeps everything in check as long as everybody is paying attention to what’s on the page. More often than not, I do find myself enforcing my story in a way that is almost toxic and my players keep me in check by invoking the story telling rules. Bad habits die hard and this is the way to kick them! Go out there, and jump into the 13th Age!
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
From Valachan to Barovia, few creatures embody the worst horrors of the Core like the vampire. Vampires and their minions are enemies that adventurers should expect to encounter from the very beginning of their careers up until the very end. There are many magical spells and enchanted items that adventurers might covet to deal with the ravenous undead, but not everyone is lucky enough to own a Sun Blade, a Holy Avenger, or an Oathbow. Woe betide the hero who finds himself both magic- and cash-poor just as the latest sinister plot has been unraveled, revealing at its center a vampire mastermind! If you don't want to serve yourself up willingly to the princes of the undead world, then consider the following items that every vampire hunter should keep in his arsenal.
1. Mirror- Most vampires do not cast a reflection into a mirror, a trait common across many vampiric strains. At 5gp, a steel mirror is a handy life insurance policy. It can be used to identify a vampire in a crowd, to pick out which member of a pack of animals is really their vampire master, or to verify that the hero who just rejoined the party isn't the vampire in disguise. Furthermore, some strains of vampire (like the dwarven vampires) find the very presence of a mirror to be abhorrent, and can be repelled by such objects. In a pinch, a mirror can even be used as a weapon: to redirect deadly sunlight onto a vampire who believes himself safe behind or beneath cover.
2. Holy Symbols- Another 5gp investment, the holy symbol is anathema to almost all vampires, regardless of subtype. While most strains require the symbol be presented with conviction, a few are repelled by its mere presence, meaning spare holy symbols can be concealed within packs or beneath a sleeper's clothing as a crude trap for nosy bloodsuckers. An especially cash-strapped hero might find the clergy of a deity of life, sunlight, or healing willing to part with a holy symbol free of charge if the adventurer confides that she is intending to hunt vampires in the immediate future.
3. Garlic- Alliums like garlic grow so well in many areas that their price is almost negligible. While not proof against every strain of vampire, enough types are vulnerable to the herb that its presence is almost mandatory in a good monster-hunting kit. While the traditional method of deployment is a garland worn about the neck or hung across an entry point into a building, the nature of garlic as a foodstuff lends itself to numerous other uses. Heavily garlic-laden food can be used as a method to sniff out bloodsuckers attempting to masquerade as human, and may even ferret out loyal servants, many of whom seek to emulate their vampiric masters in order to be recognized as peers and transformed. (Players looking to stretch the usefulness of garlic to the limits might emulate the heroes of Barb and JC Hendee's Noble Dead series, who have been known to boil large batches of garlic infused water and douse themselves in the pungent concoction before a fight!)
4. Aromatics- In the same vein as garlic, a number of other strong smelling options make good vampire hunting tools. Certain vampires are repelled by rosemary or myrrh, aromatics which share with garlic an association with purity. The desperate vampire hunter might try any such herb in the hope of finding a similar connection. Other possibilities with occult associations to protection or purity include sage, holy incense, yucca, heather, lilies, gardenia, aconite (also useful to assassins, as it is a potent poison in its own right), white roses, curry, lemons, raspberry leaves, acacia, heather, daisies, and bloodroot. Even if such substances fail to achieve a supernatural deterrent, many of them are incredibly foul by virtue of their taste and smell alone, and might easily send a vampire in search of a more palatable meal. Furthermore, many of these come in the form of seeds or granules, which can be scattered to confound undead with a counting compulsion (a common mental illness amongst vampires).
5. Burglar's tools- The number of adventurers who have slain a vampire only to allow it to escape in mist form and return to exact revenge later quite probably outnumber all existing vampires put together. One of a vampire's most insidious traits is its ability to affect a vaporous escape; if the heroes lack the ability to expose the gaseous villain to the sunlight or running water which will kill him even in mist form, his return (and their demise) is almost a certainty, as the vampire will be able to seep through cracks, keyholes, and tunnels that heroes may not be able to follow through. A good lockpick, backed by a muscle man with a hammer and crowbar, can level the odds quite a bit, hopefully finding the fiend's coffin before his regeneration is complete. A good burglar's pack will only set a hero back around 16 gp, which is more than a fair price to pay to only have to finish a fight once.
6. Fire- Fire is one of the most effective vampire hunting tools, and the best part about it is that it's completely free. (If the party is lucky enough to count a half-vistani among their number, starting a fire is not only free--its a free action!) When confronting a vampire in its lair, anyone with a free hand should have a torch. Glass oil lanterns are also a viable option, since both can be turned to use as a weapon in a pinch. Some vampires are foolish enough to make their lairs in buildings constructed of wood, or filled with flammable riches like tapestries and paintings. If a situation becomes truly dire, setting fire to such a lair may be a useful last resort.
7. Holy Water- Although expensive at 25 gp per vial, holy water is a useful tool, and every vampire hunter should try to pack at least a small amount. Although an effective (if costly!) weapon, to a frugal vampire hunter holy water is far more valuable as a tool of detection or deterrence. If soaked into clothing or armor, holy water can damage undead that attempt to grapple a target for a meal. A small amount flicked from the fingers (or slipped into a meal or beverage) can be used to detect hidden vampires or their most corrupted of servants. Adventurers such as Gorm 'Greyskin' Swayne even advocate consuming holy water on a regular basis, considering their argyria (the discoloration of the skin to a grey or blue-grey color as the result of ingestion of silver) to be a small price to pay for the resistance they claim to enjoy from undead depredation.
8. Bait- The typical vampire is a monster possessed of both free will and a genius intellect. However, starvation or desperation can drive a normally cool headed bloodsucker to a famished rage. Not all vampires operate at a higher mental level, either. Vrykolakas and ustrels are little more than blood seeking animals. When encountering such creatures, it might be useful to have a distraction on hand. Fortunately, prey animals (never use predators for this purpose--many vampires can dominate and control predator species) are cheap and readily available in most lands. Rabbits, guinea pigs, swine, goats, sheep, or even cows are available from prices ranging from 1-10 gp. These creatures can be injured and released to draw a blood crazed vampire away from the party and buy the heroes some precious time to regroup. The same tactics can also be used against the predators that so many vampires employ as animal servants. Although the vampire can regain control with ease, doing so will waste precious seconds that the adventurers can capitalize on.
9. Van Richten's Guide to Vampires- Just because you think you're facing a vampire doesn't mean you're prepared. Is it a nosferatu, or one of the more rare cerebrospinal vampires? Perhaps it's an elf who has become a vampire, or maybe it's an elven vampire (two radically different monsters, with different weaknesses and powers). Could it be a vrykolaka, a chiang-shi, or ustrel instead? Perhaps it isn't a true vampire at all, and you've misread the signs of a vampyre, vorlog, or dhamphir? Fortunately, someone vastly more experienced than you at hunting the undead has already written a guidebook to identifying and destroying these fiends, and even more fortunately, these books are available for purchase! In all seriousness, there's no excusable reason for an enlightened adventurer to soldier into the darkness without first having perused the pages of Van Richten's informative guidebooks. Purchase a copy today, and be living proof that forewarned truly is forearmed.
To conclude: hunting vampires is a dangerous game. A vampire is likely stronger, smarter, and faster than you. With the wisdom of the ages and the unholy powers of the night at their disposal, only the truly arrogant would attack a vampire without fear. Hunters with a scrap of common sense (and thus, the ones likely to live to a ripe old age!) are the ones who seek to eke out every minuscule advantage over their opponents that they can. While all of these tools are circumstantial at best, the heroes who pack tools they might need go to the tavern when the adventure's over; heroes who don't pack tools they might not need go to the undertaker.
Wishing you all the best,
Frankie "Farshot" Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
Creating a character in any RPG is no simple task. Multiple layers of thought go into the assignments of attributes, class, skills, abilities, inventory, personality, and name. Much time is spent recording all of this information and formatting the backstory. When so much time and effort go into character creation, the results should ideally be a unique and interesting character with which the player can explore the game world. Sadly, this is not always the case: characters produced are often bland and uninteresting. It’s difficult to substitute a few minutes or hours of character preparation for the in-game years of backstory which the character would have lived and which would shape them into a unique individual. Sometimes characters just fall into overplayed stereotypes (tough guy fighter, shifty rogue, bookish wizard, etc.); other times, they might just lack pizzazz, some uniqueness to separate them from the rest of the world. The following ideas can help to give any character a unique and memorable flair, whether you are creating a fresh character or incorporating them into a stale one.
1. Emphasize an unusual attribute:
Character classes typically come with recommended attributes, i.e. strength for warriors, intelligence for wizards, intuition for hackers, etc. Having those attributes as high as you can get them is great and all but every other character with your same class will also have similar attributes. Instead, when creating your character, assign attribute points into a stat which has little or no direct effect on your character’s power level, an incredibly strong wizard or a wise rogue, perhaps. When you are playing your character, involve your unique attribute into the game whenever possible. Have your strong wizard challenge the local fighter’s guild to an arm wrestling contest, attempt to mentor everyone in the group with the wise rogue (while robbing them blind), or attempt to woo the duchess with your rough but charming barbarian. Basically, just take the opportunity to act in ways that other characters with the same class are unable. It will make your character stand out from the crowd.
2. Develop a signature move:
Instead of differentiating your character using some unique attribute, you can also define your character by having them use a signature move during the game. This could be a particular skill or ability that they use in most situations (i.e. shield-bash guy). It could be wielding a certain weapon or performing a certain attack during battle. It could just be using catchphrases to whenever your character accomplishes something (‘and boom goes the fireball’). The trick with having a signature move or phrase is walking the fine line between the defining move and the annoying move. Overdoing it might irritate your fellow players, which isn’t the kind of interest I assume you were attempting to generate with your character. The less powerful the signature move, the more interesting and challenging it becomes to incorporate it into your character. If you want your wizard to be known for his mastery and use of minor telekinesis, for example, you will need to create situations that it can be used to good effect. By taking the opportunity to act repeatedly in ways that other characters with the same class do not, it will make your character unique(ly irritating).
3. Associate with an NPC:
Integrate one or more NPCs into how you play your character. Bring your half-wit brother along with you when you go on a quest, buy an entourage (if you can afford it) and have them follow your party and set up your accommodations, or take in an orphan from off the streets and train them to become your apprentice; the possibilities here are virtually endless. It is easy to use these NPC associates to add character depth and development when you include them in your decision-making. I’ve played in several campaigns where NPC’s associated with the party are just as important (if not more so) than any of the player characters, especially when everyone is interacting with them. As with the above points, the more detrimental the NPC is to your character’s power level, the more interesting your character will be (i.e. a detrimental NPC may be a weak younger sibling for whom you are responsible for caring and protecting). Make sure to clear it with the GM before adding too much, however, as it falls on them to bring these people to life.
4. Keep a dark secret:
When creating your character, build into their backstory a secret which in part defines them and tell no one but the DM. As you are playing, slowly begin to reveal details about your history or act oddly according to whatever is your secret. Perhaps your character is possessed by a demon struggling to control him or her. Maybe they are wanted for several murders in another city (and are actually guilty of committing them). Or how about they made a deal with a spirit for power in exchange for service. These secrets can be as dark or deep as you’d like them, though the darker and more debilitating the better for character development. Such histories provide a launching point for how to play out your characters personality and can create narratives of their own within the larger story. This sort of thing isn’t easy to incorporate and will probably require an experienced player or actor to accomplish. However, a unique history certainly makes for a very memorable character.
Hopefully you don’t find your characters lacking personality or fading from memory as much as I do. As I am neither an actor nor a role-player with decades of experience under my belt, some of my early characters were about as dull and bland as they come (I can’t even remember their names anymore). I’ve picked up these tricks from watching the interesting characters around mine; I hope they might give you a few ideas. Happy gaming!
Having been named after Logan Sackett, Louis L’Amour’s goodhearted outlaw, I suppose my love of the Western genre is something akin to destiny, or rolling Natural 20 for coincidence. There is something about the imagery of the Old West that just gets to me; the lone gunslinger staring down more hombres malo than anyone could rightly draw down, the search for buried Spanish Gold amidst a hail of Apache arrows, and the redeemed outlaw fighting for what’s right in a small border town….I’m getting chills just thinking about it. One problem here, these are all pretty cliché, aren’t they? We’ve already seen these movies, read these books or maybe heard that particular Lone Ranger radio show. The Western genre is ripe for adventures in the realm of Table Top RPG, but your stories and characters don’t have to be the same song and dance that we’ve all seen. Below are a fist full of ideas (sorry, I couldn’t help it) to kill those pesky clichés in your Western Campaign.
In traditional Westerns, the woman is often an 1800’s damsel in distress. How many times have you rescued a princess from a dragon in your fantasy world? Hopefully very few, because that’s pretty boring. Same goes for rescuing the widowed rancher’s wife or the hooker with a heart of gold. In the same vein, more modern Westerns have chosen to portray women in a much stronger light, making them gunslingers, revenge bent widows and even outlaws. All of these things are fine and dandy, but with over use, they too begin to border on the cliché. Just looking through history there are a number of women that could make for interesting character types while still remaining historically accurate if you so choose. Take for example Kate Warne, the first woman Pinkerton Agent. For those of you not in the know, the Pinkertons were basically the first major detective agency, eventually sneaking into the realm of a private army. Now baring in mind that the 1800’s were not particularly socially forward about women, Kate faced some interesting challenges in the world of antique espionage. Kate was assigned to weed out secessionist plots in the Confederacy by posing as a Southern Belle. This eventually led her to stopping the first assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln.
Using a female undercover agent allows for a character to navigate different avenues of Old West society because during that time there were some places where a woman was more welcome than a man. Maybe she is undercover as a prostitute trying to infiltrate an outlaw gang, maybe her posse is unaware of who she really is, perhaps she is working against her posse. Of course being undercover isn’t her only option. Maybe she walks the dusty streets side by side with other detectives, Bowler hat and all. How is she treated by those who don’t know how bad ass she is? How is she treated by her coworkers? Her posse? Other women? A lot of these social issues can apply to any female character, but there is something about being a two-sided, charisma rogue in the old west that just begs to be a character. If you are using Savage Worlds as a system like I do, there a number of Hindrances and Edges that can help you flesh out your spystress’ (just made that up) background.
#2 Health Issues
Now I totally understand that we play RPGs to be awesome. At least that’s my regular group and I am sure they aren’t the only ones. So naturally, when I suggest that you should look into playing a character with health issues I don’t need to roll anything to hear your scoffing. But lets think about this for a moment….Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven is aged and frail, Doc Holiday had chronic Tuberculosis, John Wayne’s character in El Dorado had a bullet lodged in his back. In a time of rather brutal surgery and poor sanitation procedures, it’s natural that many people in the Old West suffered from illness or physical hindrances. Many of the people that moved out west after the Civil War had actually fought in the Civil War. Most did not come out unscathed. Amputations of hands and feet were common, as were whole legs. Bullets could not always be removed from the body and a lot of bones couldn’t be set right. Having characters that reflect their hardships can make for some really fun role-playing opportunities and new approaches to combat scenarios. Perhaps you’re ex-soldier has a bum leg. He can’t move as fast, lowering both his agility score and increasing his need to use makeshift cover or stealth.
On another note, disease can play an interesting part in a character as well. Perhaps your character is well aware that he is dying of TB or Syphillis. How does that effect his psyche? Is he more reckless? Is he prone to bouts of depression or perhaps he ignores the symptoms, believing himself bulletproof in more ways than one. The same style of health issue could be played out with Alcoholism or Opium Addiction, both a regular ailment during the 1800’s. Savage Worlds has a hindrance called Addiction that requires the character to partake in their specific vice every so often or suffer the consequences of withdrawal. This could turn ugly if they were say….to be left for dead in the middle of the desert. These kinds of issues would also give the opportunity to work in some Sanity Mechanics as well, which might be fun and different depending on the Campaign. While talking about the environment, starvation, dehydration and hypothermia could fall under this jurisdiction as well. I’m going to leave you off with one example of an actual Old West BAMF that went down in the history books despite his own hindrance. John Wesley Powell was an explorer and Civil War veteran who explored the Colorado River system in 1869 all with one missing arm. That’s rafting, climbing, fighting bandits, and all that adventurey stuff that we love to do in our games….all with ONE ARM.
#3 Time Frame
Mr. Powell brings me to my next point, the time frame. We traditionally think of the Western period as this small frame of time History just after the Civil War. Usually somewhere in the 1880’s. While that is the era most famous, due to the like of Wyatt Earp, tales of Bandits, shootouts and Stage Coach robberies, it is really only the tip of the proverbial ice burg. Depending on the type of campaign you want and the story you’d like to tell, different years within the Western Period can shed some new light on how your table sees the traditional Western. The period of Westward Expansion in the United States encompasses the mid-1700’s all the way to the beginning of the 1900’s. This leaves all kind of room for different kinds of characters and adventures. You could do an exploration based campaign a kin to Lewis and Clarke’s expedition of discovery, you could have characters embroiled in the Mexican -American War or the Mexican Civil War making for a more military oriented campaign. One of my favorites, a la Red Dead Redemption, is exploring the dynamics of a rapidly changing frontier at the turn of the century. A time when a collectivist government sought to tame the individualist ideologies of the West.
One of the best parts of changing the time period is the difference in technology. A Western doesn’t NEED six shooter and Winchesters per se. Muskets and Sabres can be an interesting change of place, requiring different tactics in battle. But also, with the 1900’s we have the advent of new technologies like semi-automatic handguns and the first real mounted machine guns, trains, cars, motorcycles (watch Big Jake and the Wild Bunch to see what I mean). This could pit all sorts of Western archetypes against a more “modern” but equally ruthless enemy, the United States Government. The changing technology begs for different casts of characters as well. Early in the Western period we have Scholarly explorers, frontier soldiers, scouts, mountain men and a much larger Native American presence. Later we might see aging gunfighters, men who grew up with stories of wild adventure but now face the reality of a dying way of life, Native Americans are now on reservations and politicians strike shady deals for land grants and water rights. The point of all this is to remember that the Western in not just John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, ghost towns and outlaws. There is room for nearly every story you would want to tell or whatever character you might want to be.
#4 Native Americans
Native Americans are an integral part of the popular vision of the Old West. Unfortunately, the most often find themselves as targets at the end of iron sight. While it is true that Native Americans were often at odds with the European settlers, that was not always the case. Nor is it the case that they were basically uncivilized barbarians. Every nation had very complex social structures, architecture, and farming practices. Many were nomadic and relied on horses brought from the Spanish as their cultures were redefined. They were NOT the “noble savages” that they are now portrayed as. As a historian and teacher, I realize that it can be controversial to talk about the “negative” things that Native Americans did, but the fact of the matter is they are people too. Prone to the same emotions and actions as everyone else and driven by both survival and their cultural imperatives.
Don’t shy away from creating a Native American character. The group's dynamics and role play opportunities are vast. Not all Native Americans used bows, not all rode a horse, some were friendly to the European colonists, and others were bitter enemies. One of my favorite Westerns is called Hombre and stars Paul Newman. I don’t want to spoil it if you are going to watch it, but it is a great movie about a Native American Gunfighter. The trope of the “Half-breed” is also as cliché as it is often racist, especially when they are portrayed as walking the line between “civilization” and “wilderness" as stereotypical dichotomies. The main point here is that Native Americans can and should be portrayed but they do require a bit more research and conscious avoidance of stereotype in order to avoid those clichés we are talking about. It is important to remember that Native Americans are not a homogeneous people. Do yourself, your role playing, and your group a favor and research your character. What nation are they? What happened to the band? Are they reservation bound? How do they feel about the U.S. Government? You take this stuff into account and I can guarantee you will get so many Bennies for role-play, it’ll be ridiculous.
I know what you’re thinking: “Setting? But it has to be in the West, doesn’t it?” that answer is no, of course. Especially with the advent of Firefly (rest its soul), obviously Sci-fi Westerns are extremely viable. Same goes for Fantasy Westerns as seen in Joe Abercrombie’s fiction. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. The Western era spawned a whole slew of characters ripe for play, and not all of them stuck around the cactus and canyons. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rode down to South America. Think of the interesting adventures one could have as an outlaw in the border towns of the Amazon Jungle. Another good is example is the Middle East. There were a number of Civil War Vets and Gunfighters that hopped aboard a ship and ended in in the deserts of central Asia. One of my favorite short story characters, Francis Xavier Gordon aka El Borak (written by the creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard) was a Texas gunfighter turned Desert Nomad and had a bunch of adventures with his Muslim companions. The character was based on actual men that did the same thing. This was also a time where trans-oceanic shipping was still a big thing. Perhaps your gunfighters take jobs as protection against smugglers in the East Indies, or fight pirates of the coast of Africa.
While the setting of the traditional Western takes place in obvious locales, what really makes it a Western is the theme. Humanity against the Wilderness, the Wilderness against Civilization; you keeps these things in mind and really you can make a western just about anywhere. The themes adapt nicely to fit other genres, like fantasy and sci-fi, but there is so much room for the use of the historic time period itself. You don’t have to limit yourself to the likes of New Mexico and Arizona, you don’t have to be a cattle rustler, lawman or even ride a horse. Do a bit a research, find a place and time that intrigues you and run wild. The true spirit of the West will be conveyed in character actions, set pieces, role playing and storytelling, not just the picturesque landscape. So strap on your Colt, mount your horse and ride off into the sunset….or don’t. Because that’s really cliché.
Logan is an archaeologist and a teacher….yes….like Indiana Jones….But he’s not afraid of snakes and doesn’t use a whip...he uses a lasso. Being an adventurer by heart, it’s only natural he found his way to Table-Top Gaming. Whether swinging a Barbarian’s axe, drawing down on a yellow-bellied outlaw, or fighting Nazi scum, adventure is always on the menu.
I was reading an article the other day. It was a listicle about teaching. I am a teacher (middle school FTW) and I am swamped right now, so I wanted to know what advice was being pushed by a colleague. I was also willing to read it because I knew I had enough time to read through it between marking exams. As I read it, I was struck by the fact that these “things to know” also fit with GMing a role-playing game. So I stole borrowed the title and the list (Thank you Janelle Cox) to create this list for GMs.
1. It Takes Commitment.
Putting together an adventure takes time, even with the all-in-one adventures. Think: homework for adults. Maps, back stories, NPCs, and encounters don’t magically happen on their own. Can you just ‘wing it’? Maybe, but likely it won’t work long term. A good adventure has a solid backbone, which takes time. Not only that, but you cannot play your adventure without the GM. Whether your group meets weekly or monthly, you need to be there. You are setting up before everyone and usually there after everyone leaves. GMing is a labour of love time.
2. Role-players Can be Difficult.
You would think that something like this goes without saying, but people are complex. Dealing with people out-of-character and in-character are people management nightmares. My advice is to keep out the drama. If there are issues, deal with them. Don’t let them fester. Being proactive, saves so many headaches.
3. You Probably Won’t Get to Play in the Game You Want.
You will create the game that you would love to play in. The unfortunate thing is that you will have fanciful ideas and grandiose plans full of whimsy and they will leave you excited for ‘the show.’ Your players will probably mess this up. They will take another path, they will miss the cues, and you will be saddened for what could have been. There is a certain longing that you could be in it with them and show them the way it should and could be. That game may never happen for you.
4. If You Don’t Have Patience Before Becoming a GM, You Will Need it.
I would put that this is a necessary skill for anyone working with a multitude of people over a long period of time. Be patient with yourself and with your group. Google how to be patient.
5. Technology is Here to Stay.
Whether this is a noted candy crush distraction from the game, awesome quick look up of rules, electronic character sheets, online role-playing platforms, Facebook groups, twitter, or High Level games blogs, the places that players can frequent during a game are massive. Set some realistic ground rules that your group can agree upon. Cutting it all out could be a bit harsh, but a free-for-all could leave your group staring at phones and missing your great and grandiose story that you created for them.
6. You Must Earn Respect.
Even as a new GM, people are looking to you to create something awesome. They want a memorable experience that they can tell tales about for years. Also, they can be a little harsh in their expectations. They may be silently judging you. My advice is to get their feedback often and use it. Let them know that you are no people-pleaser, but that you want this to be an enjoyable experience for all.
7. You Need to Always be Prepared.
Have all your materials, you books, your maps, your NPCs, and your plan ready. This doesn’t mean everything is completely detailed, but the story should not be put on hold because of the storyteller. If there is a 10 minute delay because of your lack of preparation, things will go awry.
8. Be Prepared to Spend Your Own Money.
Role-playing can get expensive if you want all the bells and whistles. I am cheap so I make due with what I have (core rule books that I steal from my partner-in-crime/husband). But extra books, custom miniatures, 3-d maps, and many other things can add to experience, but those costs can add up quickly. You can really set the mood with a few props or other additions to the pencil-paper world of role-playing. I guess I should heed my own advice on this one and spend some money.
9. Time Management is Essential for Survival.
I would posit that the biggest killer of campaigns is time. Either, not regularly meeting and so the story fades away from people’s memories, or the little time-wasters within the game. Things that unnecessarily slow play will diminish your story. People don’t forgive or forget a slow story. Find a way to bring up the pace. Find interesting ways to break up monotony (if the monotony is necessary.)
10. The Internet will Be Your New Best Friend.
Don’t go at it alone. It is not heroic; it is bad strategy. This is a great era for role-playing. There are so many games and experienced GMs and groups and threads and blogs to peruse. Suck in all the good information and spit out the bones. Then, write about your experience so others can benefit. Sharing is caring, people, sharing is caring.
This is where Vanessa writes. Who is Vanessa? Well, she 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 math and art. 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 sometimes bothers her friends to help with her blog articles and other times it all comes from her head… scary. . She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
Recently I was forced to take a month long absence from both this blog and from role playing. It made me think about the things that I missed the most about playing and the things that I liked the best about it too. Here is a quick list of those things:
1.The ability to enter into any world you want.
I like to think of myself as a very imaginative person. I like to daydream, to put myself into a world and play out a little scenario, battle, or story. In fact when I was little the best times I would have would be when I was by myself and playing out a story all by myself, pretending to be one of the characters. I guess role playing is just a way to continue doing that as an adult. With other people. And not get all the weird looks as I do it. Well, I guess I sometimes get the weird looks.
And the thing I love about role playing is that you can enter into any world that you want. Want a world of medieval knights, wizards, goblins, and orcs, then a game like Dungeons & Dragons is perfect. Want to go into a sci-fi, post apocalyptic world, a game like Rifts is great for that. If you'd love to do Star Wars or Star Trek, they've got games for those too! Or maybe you'd love to be a superhero, then check out Marvel. The options are really limitless, the world, as it were, is your oyster. And I love that.
2.You can be whatever character you would like.
Oh, the infinite possibilities. More choice than Mass Effect, Star Wars KOTOR, or Skyrim could ever possibly hope to give you. You can be the guy you've always wanted to be, the action hero that you wish you were, but were never blessed in the muscle or bravery department. Or the nerd that we all know you really wish to be but are stick in the jock crowd. (Course, if you're playing role playing games, you're kinda almost in that nerd category aren't ya?)
And, let's be honest, who doesn't love working on that character sheet for the first time and watching the bones of that character take shape? All the possibilities for what this person will be like, how the stats will influence their personality, the things that this guy or gal will be able accomplish, and the mischief they're going to cause. For me, it's one of my favourite parts of role playing. It makes those imaginative, day dreamy juices flowing for me.
3.The chance for wonderful epicness.
Who doesn't love coming home to your family, your wife, or husband, and saying that today, you killed a whole squad of orcs with one spell? Or that you hit an Orc so hard with your sword that half of him landed ten feet over there and the other half ten feet over there (I've done that, it was awesome!). Or tell about how just made that critical role that opened the chest that let you kill the chief villain and actually conclude the campaign you've been playing for over a year (Saw that happen too, it was pretty intense).
The fact that you get to be a participant in that, that you get to actually do it, albeit through the medium of dice, paper, words, and a little imagination, makes it so much better than anything a movie or a video game could do. We all have those moments that we remember, that stick in our minds as something so stellar, we'll likely never forget them, and they'll always pull us back to the table-top. Cause we always want to witness the next one, what will someone do next? Who's going to pull off that long shot role and save everyone's bacon? What is my character going to be able to do this time, or next time?
Yeah, this is really the thing that brings you back to the table, isn't it? It is for me. We all need that chance to let our hair down, to hang out with the "guys" (even if they're not all guys) and just be ourselves, and have fun. You push each other to play better, but you also joke around. You talk about the stress of the day and at some points can actually say what you always wanted to say to that person who ticked you off today, and then go back into the game and let it all go. You get to have a drink, eat junk food, and go galavanting on a valiant quest, or hunt some undead, or plunder the next village, all the while making friendships that last. I've gotten to reconnect with my old group from years ago, and I came back as if I never left. Indeed, it's those friends that really keep us at the table, rolling those dice, and enjoying that group dynamic that can brighten up your day, week, or month.
Tim lives in Southern Ontario, father of two young girls, and husband to a great lady, that did marry him despite the fact the he told her that he role played, likes Star Trek, Star Wars, made a lightsaber prop, and went as a Jedi for Halloween, in university. Tim has Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Sociology and a Master of Divinity, which is only worth letting him serve as a pastor in the Lutheran church.
What do I mean by an inclusive gaming space? An inclusive gaming space is one where your players feel comfortable being there, engaging in the game, and having fun. This doesn’t mean the characters your players are playing always have to be happy. Hell, if we are playing mature higher level deep role-playing games we know that sometimes our characters misery helps to drive a good story. A good story should not harm or hurt your players though and creating an atmosphere of inclusion at your table means finding ways to embrace diversity and be sensitive to the needs of your players. In the end, it comes down to this: know your players and be respectful to them as human beings. If a joke or a storyline goes too far, stop it, apologize, and debrief as soon as possible. This line will be in different places for different players and we’ll discuss some ways to keep on top of this below.
Set ground rules and follow them:
Rules are essential to gaming, right? Every great rules lawyer can fight for hours over obscure rules in the books. Well, setting table rules is no different. These rules should be focused on player actions, words, and feelings, not character actions, words, or feelings. What are some examples of good ground rules? No sex jokes, no out of character comments on race or racism, talk about out of character conflicts as soon as they start, to help work through them, if something occurs in-character that you are uncomfortable with tell everyone (or just the GM) and the scene should end immediately. These rules should be discussed by the players and the storyteller before the game starts. They should be agreed on and added to if needed as well. A good storyteller checks-in with his players constantly to see what their characters are doing and how action is impacting them, a great and inclusive storyteller does the same with the players themselves.
Be Respectful of Everyone’s Background and Identity:
Even when you are running a game at a convention or another public forum, you should try and have some understanding of who your players are. Take the time to ask questions, even 2-3 every session about the lives of your players. You aren’t doing this to interrogate them, but to be welcoming and helpful. If you know a player has had a bad week at work, give them a chance to work through some frustrations. If you know a player has experienced something traumatic in their background, be sensitive to stories that might remind them of that trauma and make their experience unpleasant. Again, I’m not saying you need to avoid difficult subjects in your game if that is what works for you and your players. I’m saying know them, be sensitive to them and make sure that the game you are running is the game that they want to play. This can include those that might not be playing, but hanging out around the table as well. You want to make your table a location to encourage the suspension of disbelief and to invigorate the imagination, being disrespectful has the opposite effect to that goal.
Make Your Characters and NPC’s Real:
I don’t mean 3D print a model for all of your NPC’s… though if you are inclined in that direction I don’t see anything wrong with it. No, I’m saying make your characters real people; make them multi-dimensional with faults and goals and different identities. If you have an antagonist that is a woman, do not make her a stereotype. If you have an NPC that is trans, make them real, give them hopes and dreams and avoid the obvious jokes you think you might evoke at the table. The more you make your characters real, the more you respect the diversity at your table in every way. If you want to delve into issues of racism, sexism, and prejudice of all kinds in your game and your players are interested in doing so as well, do it, but do it with the goal of humanizing all creatures/people/monsters in the game.
Making your gaming table inclusive should not be a chore; it should be something that comes naturally to us. If we can empathize and imagine being magical beings and science fiction heroes, we should be able to imagine how it might be to be treated poorly for our identity in real life. Taking the time to respect and know your players and run the game that they love to play will drive more and more people into this hobby. If you have other suggestions on how to make your gaming table inclusive, please feel free to share them in the comments.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook, is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment, and is an advocate for inclusive gaming spaces. He's also a father and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
4 Ways To Challenge High Level PCs with Low Level Enemies or #makekoboldsgreatagain
At some point, provided they survive, every adventuring group reaches a point where they feel invincible. They’ve successfully battled many battles, quested many quests, and leveled many levels. This is about the time where they could walk into any normal town and wreck the place, as there wouldn’t be anyone capable of stopping them. Common enemies and villains, kobolds from Dungeons and Dragons for example, have long since ceased to be a threat to them, thus to challenge them, beings of increasingly greater size and power are thrown at them. Fighting dragons and giants is great and all, but what if we could challenge the players once again with the same kobolds as they faced at level one? Players are often faced with wave after wave of such enemies; however, this is often designed less to actually challenge the players as it is to provide them situations in which to feel incredibly powerful. When a GM uses weaker enemies, it is difficult to generate the right amount of challenge for their players; have enough so that victory is not guaranteed but not too much so they are murdered for sure. There are several ways that GMs can accomplish this using weaker enemies without resorting to overwhelming the players with wave after wave of pathetic enemies.
1. Interact with the environment-
The world around the heroes will always be more dangerous than they. Storms, avalanches, floods, and fires, just to name a few, are more powerful than any heroes could ever be (arguable, I know, but I would still argue in favor of the natural forces on account of their enormous scope). Lower level enemies utilizing such forces can indeed become a threat to any doughty adventuring band. Having the ability to set a dry forest alight around the heroes or calling down an avalanche to consume them forces the players to respect an enemy which, on its own, merits relatively little thought. However, such encounters require more forethought and planning from the GM, as you want to avoid creating situations where a party wipe is guaranteed. Unless your players deserved it, then by all means, murder away.
2. Devise a crafty leader-
A kobold may not be a threat on its own, but under the guidance of a shrewd chieftain it can be a force with which to be reckoned. Notice I didn’t say a mighty or a strong leader, I’m not talking about having the leader just be one of those bigger and more powerful enemies which are so commonly used to challenge the players, the boss fight at the end of the waves of kobolds. A rather more interesting challenge is an enemy leader who can devise clever plans to counter the heroes’ actions. Whether it be by anticipating the groups’ plans, laying devious traps (boobie trap all the things!!), or proving too elusive and cunning to track down, a good leader can be a real thorn in adventurers’ sides. This can generate a lot of enmity toward the leader and build tension in the story. I would also suggest keeping the leader’s stats low just like the rest of their race. Ending the group’s encounter with a boss fight just makes it seem as if they were battling another powerful enemy, justifying the challenge in ‘earning’ the boss fight. By having the party easily fight and kill a hated enemy leader once getting to them, which highlights the fact that they were challenged by just a basic kobold (or other weak enemy). After all, they deserve to be humbled, do they not?
3. Break out the horde-
I know I said that we should avoid the endless hordes of enemies, but the horde I’m talking about here is not meant to be thrown at the players until dead. Rather, a horde of baddies is a tool which the GM can use to add tension or guide players through the story. Endless waves can force players to look for alternate solutions to otherwise simple problems. They don’t even need to threaten the players with death; simply preventing players from being able to travel freely in a certain direction can force players to think outside the box. The horde can also indirectly force the players into action. A horde of kobolds may be no match for a group of powerful adventurers but they can threaten peaceful villagers or friends of the group, forcing the players to deviate from their plans in order to save their friends. Hordes also add flair to any boss battles which may be planned. Fighting a powerful baddie is one thing, but fighting a powerful baddie who is simultaneously using minions to harass the party feels significantly more difficult, even if the minions don’t actually do much. So, in short, use hordes of enemies not to directly challenge the players but to augment existing challenges or indirectly force the players into action.
4. Defend a strongpoint-
A kobold may not be much of a threat, but put him in a castle and give him a catapult and you’ve got a fun way to kill your players. Weak enemies can pose a significant threat when holding advantageous ground. Whether it be an armed and armoured strongpoint, mountain pass with just one approach, or even just the high ground, you can augment the miniscule challenge presented but weak enemies with a significant challenge presented by the location. Create kill zones for ranged weapons, traps that utilize the specific ground being fought upon (i.e. the Indiana Jones rolling boulder), escape routes, hideaways, insurmountable barriers, or boobie trap all the things. The wilder and more dangerous to the players, the better it is.
I hope you’ll think about having kobolds as the baddies in your next higher level D&D campaign. These tips are best used in combination, with the ideal situation being a clever leader, utilizing a horde of enemies and his environment to assault the players from his or her fortified stronghold. I’d love to see more campaigns where the later enemies aren’t beings of vast power and wealth but are instead just the basic little baddies we’ve been fighting all along. #makekoboldsgreatagain.
It’s an enduring image: the knight in shining armour, the ironclad hero. Many of us grew up with stories of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and other stories like El Cid, the hero of the Reconquista, or even Ivanhoe the crusader. All of them honourable warriors, clad in armour, they fight in the name of good. For king and country, or for fair lady’s hand (and presumably her father’s rich inheritance), some of them even kill dragons. But all of them have one thing in common… they’re ridiculously difficult to kill.
Armour is a power fantasy. If you’re playing a hero and you’re clad in full plate, you feel invincible. When I was playing Dungeons and Dragons, I was fond of the paladin class and couldn’t wait to be rich enough to afford plate. I felt invulnerable in it.
…until the mook with the dagger rolled a 20 and shanked me through the plate and I was bleeding out on the floor. Roll a death save, Sir Gareth.
You see, if it’s true that lovers of history – and by that I mean those who actively read and study it – can’t enjoy historical dramas, it’s also true that those with some understanding of historical combat can’t enjoy role-playing games as much. The more you know, the harder it is to let some things slide. For instance, when a fighter with a longsword goes up against a knight in plate and skewers him with it, you can’t help but raise an eyebrow.
Eventually, after D&D I got into World of Darkness, especially Vampire: The Masquerade and later, Vampire: Dark Ages (set in the Middle Ages, just to mess with you). I’m talking here about the 20th anniversary edition of WoD, for which the Dark Ages book just came out. And while it isn’t exactly perfect, it does work a lot better when it comes to combat and especially armour.
Here’s 3 reasons why:
1. Armour soaks damage, does not make you invulnerable or harder to hit.
If anything, you’re easier to hit because you weigh a ton. But more on that later.
Some role-playing games go with HP (hit points) to indicate general vitality and toughness of a character. In some, like D&D, the more you level up, the more HP you get, making your mortal character about as hard to kill as a rhinoceros… wearing full plate… inside a Panzer. In a bunker. You get the idea. Even at mid-levels, characters have so many hit points, it often leads to hilarious situations like this:
“The dragon breathes fire on you and deals 50 damage.”
“Yeah, I’m still standing.”
In WoD, you’re squishy. With varying degrees of toughness depending on whether you’re a vampire (tough), a werewolf (bloody tough) or a mage (as tough as wet paper). You’ve got 7 levels of damage that you can take and depending on how much of it you take in the chin or what kind, it has different effects. Bashing damage from fists or non-lethal weapons won’t take you down as fast as lethal damage and aggravated damage is what a werewolf calls a silver bullet in the gluteus maximus. “Eee, I’m so aggravated.”
If you take one level of damage, you’re bruised. More angry than anything. Two levels and you’re hurt, -1 penalty to your dice rolls. That means you roll one die less, and when you typically have a pool of 6-8 dice, with 10 or more being pretty high for a starting character, a one die penalty can be tough. At six levels of damage you’re crippled: -5 which usually makes a weak character useless. If all seven hit-boxes are full with lethal damage you’re either incapacitated (if you’re a vampire or a werewolf) or if you’re just plain human you’re playing the harp and joined the choir eternal.
Armour stops that from happening by giving you dice to add to your “soak” value. When someone whacks you with a weapon, you don’t just take it like a chum, you soak the damage with your stamina and add to that your armour. So a character with 4 Stamina (fairly decent but not extraordinary) and chainmail would have 8 total dice worth of soaking. Given that a character with a Strength rating of 4 and a longsword would roll 7 dice of damage, all else being equal, you’re going to do fairly well in that chainmail. The chap with 3 Strength and a dagger had better roll like Apollo on attack, otherwise he can forget it.
With average rolls a character in armour can withstand a lot of punishment. But a few (or several) well-placed hits might still do you in, eventually, because…
2. Armour makes you easier to hit.
It makes sense. You weigh a ton. While you might parry with your sword or shield, you are easier to hit if you’re a great, big lumbering hulk of metal. To reflect this, armour in World of Darkness incurs a Dexterity penalty (and helmets give you a Perception penalty). Which is only common sense, for the reasons stated above.
In case you’re not familiar with the system, when someone comes at you with a weapon, you have two options for defence: you can dodge, in which case you roll a combined dice pool of your Dexterity plus your Athletics (so a fairly decent character would have 8 dice to roll, while Nadia Comaneci rolls 10 dice, with a perfect 10 on each of those decahedrons), or you can parry with your weapon or shield and roll Dexterity plus melee. So with the Dex penalty from your armour, you’re actually easier to hit. But say you roll poorly and they hit you, you’ve got another 8 dice to soak the pitiful damage they’re doing.
Now you feel like a bloody tank!
If any of you have practiced a kind of martial art that involves weapons and armour (shout out to all my HEMA and Kendo brothers and sisters), you’ll find this very refreshing.
Which brings me to my final point…
3. Defence is a skill, not a number
Unlike D&D’s abstract “Armour Class” or the nightmare that was THAC0, it’s your skill with a weapon that makes you harder to hit, not your armour. Combat in World of Darkness is a contested roll between the opponents. The attacker rolls their dice pool to try and hit you: dexterity plus melee, if they’re using a weapon. So an average mook with Dex 3 and a skill of 3 rolls six dice to try and hit you. Then you as the target and intended shish-kebab roll your defence to try and either parry or get out of the way. If you’re any good, you’re rolling upwards of 8 dice again (and this is without all the supernatural bonuses). And even if that hits you with their longsword and meagre strength, you’re in armour. So you take it, scoff at them and with a hearty laugh, shout from underneath your helmet:
“Come at me, bro!” (at which point the GM docks you XP for breaking character).
This is significant because you feel less like a Panzer with a sword gaffer-taped to it, and more like a trained fighter who’s spent ten thousand hours in heat, cold, rain and snow, weapon and shield in hand, practicing at the art of combat. You’re not a statistic to hit, you are a trained combatant with experience and discipline. In the end this makes combat a more enjoyable experience and when the stakes are high and your skill is what wins you the day, it makes the player feel rewarded for making a good character and playing it well.
Fantasy role-playing requires you to suspend your disbelief in order to accommodate for vampires, werewolves, or dragons and gelatinous cubes. But it certainly doesn’t have to sacrifice realism for entertainment.
Something of a modern day caveman, Anderson fell down the rabbit hole of role-playing games 12 years ago and has refused to emerge ever since. Starting with D&D, hisworld changed one evening when by candle light he and a few of his friends plunged into the World of Darkness. That was the last time he saw daylight. When not stalking the night or practicing the way of the sword, Anderson studies cultural anthropology and writes short stories (and promises himself that he'll publish that novel). You can find more of his work on his blog, The Caveman Blues (which he swears he'll update more regularly)
Let’s face it: we’ve seen it all.
Fantasy to sci-fi, steampunk to dieselpunk (to pioneerpunk more recently), shades of the same old races, tropes and conflicts, whether it’s as vintage as Tolkien or as trendy as GRRM, role-playing games have been giving us the opportunity of escaping our reality and taking refuge in galaxies far far away, parallel universes and alternative realities.
And some (if not most of those) are really great, and we love them… But….
Our own reality can give us such a variety of role-playing opportunities that it dwarfs any fictional universe created by any company for any given game… Alright, that’s a hyperbole, maybe not galaxy-wide Battletech universes, but you get the point.
Here are 5 reasons why you would want to role-play within the confines of our planet’s history:
I. A wealth of choices
If evolution has taught us one thing, it’s that this planet (and the human species too after a point) has gone through so many phases it would take you a good long while to get a story arc done and dusted within each of them.
Whether you’re into prehistory and you’d like to see what (literally) first world problems were like back then, or wanting to bear the banners of your liege into the battles of the Dark Ages, there’s bound to be a choice for every taste and preference.
Granted, not many systems have tackled these periods for sources - which is why we’re writing this in the first place - but couple the internet (which I’m told holds a fair amount of knowledge) with a generic system like FATE or Cortex Plus and you’ve got yourself an early Egyptian pyramid-building campaign! Call it Tetriskhamun.
II. It’s easy to relate to
Sometimes it can be hard for people to really get into character when the foes they’re facing are overflowing with teeth, scales, speaking the Elder Tongue and spewing poisonous mucus out of their nasal cavities… I need to keep that in mind for my next reptilian campaign…
Some people have a tendency to love the hell out of real-life movies and books because of the ability to make an easy connection with the periods and characters they portray – I’m told these people are called “my wife” among others, and have this preference because they feel like they may end up facing some of the issues these pieces deal with. If they’re to be believed...
Realising that you’re immersed in an exact moment of times passed (or present), and that you know that these were real people, dealing with real problems and facing real consequences (for real!) can greatly benefit not only atmosphere and relevance, but the ability to identify with someone who may well have been your (Alexander the) great-great-great-great-great-great… great-great-peepaw.
III. Educational value
I know, I know, learning is boring, but think about your childhood for a bit if you will… We all liked playing, right? And we all had all these games and toys that taught us certain things without us even realising it.
Part of that was that we didn’t know any better, but also the fact that we were playing while learning (learn to play and play to learn… or some other witty quip).
The same thing can be gained from a historical role-playing campaign.
I’m usually overburdened with a vivid imagination and have come to realise that, were I to be taught about ancient times via some form of role-playing or another, not only would I have more easily remembered all the dates and names my teachers were throwing at me, but I would probably keep fond memories of the badass times we had planning Caesar’s assassination…
IV. Total badassdom!
Sure, you may have killed a dragon while impregnating a dozen wenches and distilling an essence of awesome that cured hunger in the land of Fantasilvania or something, that’s badass, but are you “Mad Jack” Churchill badass?
You know, the guy who landed on a beach in Norway playing his bagpipes under enemy fire, then threw a grenade and lunged into battle with his trusty bow-and-longsword. Also the one British soldier to get a bow-and-arrow kill in WWII. No, seriously, he got medals and everything – a real-life hero… And a basket case. Imagine being able to go back to those times and "March of the Cameron Men" your way alongside Mad Jack and his lot – find yourself a GM worth their salt and you’ll be able to even smell the enemy’s fear. Or their tears. Their tears for fear.
Hear them shout. Shout and let it all out...
History is filled with countless examples of heroism and balls-to-the wall insanity without which the world we know today might have been an entirely different place altogether. Which brings us to…
V. The “what if?” aspect
Ah yes, That niggling question at the back of our heads… What if Columbus hadn’t “discovered” America? What if we hadn’t made it to the Moon? What if Vlad the Impaler hadn’t had a blood-sucking reputation? Could that have prevented the Twilight movies? I doubt it, but I digress…
No one said anything about adhering to history 100%.
As many (if not most or all) of you will know, a GM seldom reaches the conclusion of a fully-planned-out campaign by the avenues they laid out prior to the campaign’s start. Any seasoned party will definitely – if unintentionally – try to derail any plans and make the story their own.
That’s the beauty of this history aspect: send the players back in time, have them go to Linz in the early 1900s and choose whether or not to save a small child from being crushed to death by some freak accident or other. A child named Adolf for example…
The possibilities here are endless, and the players could opt to help history run its course or aid in turning it on its head in such a way that even Darwin wouldn’t know where it all started.
I hope your appetite has been whetted by this shortlist of pros when it comes to playing historical figures, I know where (and when) I’m throwing my players next…
“A rift through time and space opens as you fell the beast… You are all pulled within it, your senses exploding with sight and sound, your bodies strained to their utter limits as you traverse the vortex… Now. Do your characters speak any French perchance?”
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 roleplaying 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 roleplaying aneurysm... thus far.
"What Do You Mean There's A Cube Of Jelly Following Us?" 10 Things I Learned As A Noob to Table-Top RPGs
It's with more than a little pride that I call myself a nerd. Even so, up until a little over 16 months ago, I had never tried a role-playing game. The reasons why are many and diverse: lack of time, laziness, lack of a group, ignorance of the expectations, and many others.
And then, a little over a year ago, a chance conversation informed me that there was a D&D group that had just started on a RPG/Board Game shop that I usually go to. So, I took the plunge. One cold January evening, I showed up. I knew a couple of the people already, albeit not very well, but I decided to have a go. And like Biff Tannen taking the Grey's Sports Almanac back to 1955 in Back to the Future II, it was one of those moments where timelines diverge. I’ve been going to games ever since, and its been amazing.
So, since then, I had time to think, so here are 10 things I learned as a noob RPG player:
1. It's like random theatre.
At its core, an RPG is a play, ran by one person - the Game Master. The play is designed to be pretty flexible, and the players (the actors) chose what they want to do, and announce when they do so. To mimic life's unpredictability, you roll dice. A high roll is usually good and means you did whatever you wanted to do. Bar much padding and complexity, this is pretty much it. Don't think you need to be the next Shakespearian actor, though, you can do as little or as much performance as you want.
2. D&D is a colossus.
Although there are as many games and rule systems as you can't even imagine, Wizards of the Coast's D&D is the standard. It's everywhere, it's easy to play, and it's continuously updated. I daresay that a lot, if not most, of playing groups groups will cut their teeth on D&D. The amount of resources is staggering, some of them fan-made and free online. I'll speak at some point about my personal favourite rule system(s), but as an introduction, D&D works splendidly.
3. It's (almost) free.
Well, kinda. It all depends on what you want to do with it. A total amateur or noob will easily get away with just the costs of a printed out piece of paper (the Character Sheet), a pencil, and some funny looking dice. If you want to simply show up and play, your costs are going to be minimal. It is recommended later on, if you wish to expand your involvement, to perhaps buy a few of the core (or rule) books. Again, this is recommended, and by no means a steadfast rule. Sure, some of these books might not be cheap, but again, it will all depend on how deep into the rabbit hole you want to take your participation.
4. The blasted polyhedra.
The dice. They are perhaps the most iconic aspect of RPG. Not content with the 'normal' cube-looking ones, most RPG games use a selection of dice. The reasons behind it are simple: if you roll a cubic die, you have 1 chance in 6 of any number coming out. One in six is a pretty high probability, if you're using that roll to see if you succeed on something amazing (like, say, punch a hole in a stone wall). So in come the bigger die. The 'D' stands for dice, and the number is the number of faces that die has. A normal game will use any and all of D4, D6, D8, D20, D12, D20 and D100. Most shops will sell cheap packs, with one of each. Get ready to hate your die, they will very rarely roll what you want/need.
5. Great people.
The people I've met RPG'ing come from all possible walks of life, and are, to a person, really great. It is a medium that thrives on being helpful and welcoming and it shows. Now I'm not pretending that my experience is universal, but I'll say that there are many many more good apples in RPG than rotten ones. Like any other field of human endeavour, to be perfectly honest. Go to your local shop/group, I can almost assure you that you'll be greeted warmly.
6. 'Listen! What was that??'
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, said once "There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." This is because your imagination is a billion times worse than real life could ever be. I've been scared out of my wits in RPG games, wondering what could possibly be making that horrible sound, drooling that green ichor in that manner, and oh boy, I still haven't healed from the last fight, and my wizard has the same armour as a piece of tissue. A good game CAN make you jump. A good monster WILL make you scared. Yeah, I hear you say, but I can also be scared in a computer game, when the final boss jumps out at me. Perhaps, but that boss will never be as unpredictable (see dice above) as a programmed entity with a tightly programmed behaviour range.
Hand in hand with the horror, paradoxically, comes the humour. Some aspects of RPG are designed to be funny, others, mostly by accident, simply ARE funny. From magic weapons with stupid powers, to monsters that make no sense, physical or otherwise, to spells that, frankly, didn't even make sense 30 years ago when they were written. Even before you come up with silly NPC's, some of the monsters out there will make you bend over double laughing...before they kill you. My favourite silly monster? The Gelatinous Cube*, a 10x10x10 foot cube of transparent jelly, that sits motionless in dungeons until some adventurer literally walks into them, whereupon it starts digesting the poor soul. From the outside, it's a silly thing, but when your character is inside one, and keeps failing the rolls to free themselves, and the damage from the digestion is pilling up.... Then it's less fun.
As mentioned above, a lot of RPG is about performing, and this leads neatly into escapism. There is nothing better to clear you head as a couple of hours of playing someone else, and having a lot of fun in the process. The amount of paperwork on your desk pales in comparison with the responsibility to rescue that caravan from raiders!
9. Stamp your mark.
One of the best things in this field is to make it your own, with really simple things. Make your character your own, make it unique, make him or her or it someone that people remember. Recently I've been playing a small goblin, whose weapon of choice is a huge steampunk rifle. Now that could have been it, but I've NAMED the rifle. Now, I simply say, 'I prepare Grim Belcher.' It's small thing, you don't need to think too much about it, and it makes the game your own.
If you add all of the above, you're left with a sense of community. A bunch of people all investing in the same virtual world. Like a computer game, or a play, but infinitely more complex and much more than the sum of its parts.
So if you've ever wondered 'Should I find an RPG group?', the answer is a most emphatical yes!
You won't be disappointed.
Rui is a scientist and teacher, but he's only been RPG'ing for a bit over a year. What he did with the rest of his life is not documented. When he has some free time, he can be found planning games as the GM, usually involving much paper, props, some maps and assorted core books. He likes pizza, the colour blue, cats and sci-fi. The reports that he wants to play a blue pizza-eating cat in a sci-fi RPG, are unsubstantiated.
*I love me some jellies and oozes. Come on! - VP Quinn
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games