So you’re in a good, solid, predictable gaming group (everyone has their work schedules sorted out, kids dealt with, significant others involved or pacified) and you’re looking for something to add a little spark to the normal Saturday night get together. You’ve done the one-shot sort of thing, you’ve done the guest DM, you may even have done the time skip/speculative “what-if” spinoff where your characters get A Thing That Lets Them Mess With The Space-Time Continuum.
Alternatively, you have a new group that is almost gelled - the tiefling and the paladin have reached an armed détente, the dwarf has ceased trying to beat the druid at a drinking contest, the Lunar has carved out his niche and the Solars are adapting to their presence, the Crime Lord and the Jedi have achieved a carefully curated blind spot regarding each other - but something is missing.
There are two truths to every single group of tabletop gamers, regardless of composition: people like to eat, and people like to experience things through their characters. I have had spectacular success with something most people have not considered IRL - have your characters get together for a meal.
“Your party stops at a nearby tavern for a meal and discussion of next steps.”
“Barbarian lights a fire. Rabbits are cooked. Food is eaten. Rocks fall. Everyone dies.”
Screw that noise. You can do better. Even if it’s as simple as applying meat to bread and drinking adult beverages (or other beverages, I don’t judge...unless you drink the new Mountain Dew Pitch Black - that osik* be nasty, yo.)
There are literally dozens of cookbooks for appropriate thematic menus. Within easy reach of me as I write this article, I have both the Official and Unofficial Game of Thrones cookbooks, two Hobbit-themed cookbooks, a gem called “From Norfolk Knobs to Fidget Pie: Foods from the Heart of England and East Anglia”, and a Kindle copy of Apicius’ “Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome”. You can do this.
Step 1) Get Player Buy In
This is either the easiest part (Dude, that sounds amazing! What can I bring?) or the hardest part, involving side-eyes and professions of culinary ineptitude.
For the first response, thank them for their enthusiasm and tell them you will let them know as soon as you have the rest of the group on board.
For the second response, my favorite riposte involves asking if they are capable of following directions, such as: Go to store. Acquire butter, French bread, and Fromage d’Affinois, treating it like a quest from an NPC. (Disclaimer: Author will do borderline-immoral things for double- or triple-creme French cheeses. Be told.)
Step 2) Assess Menu Options (Be Realistic!)
First of all, ask all players who are going to be present about food allergies and hardline “will not eat” foods. To keep this from going into an endless rabbit hole of preferences, ask precisely those questions: what foods are you allergic to? What will you absolutely not eat?
In my current group, we have a mild avocado allergy and a will-not-eat of identifiable internal organs other than natural-casing sausage. Another group might have a celiac sufferer, or lactose intolerance, or a religious prohibition from eating certain foods.
This is not the time for your players to lay out every single quirk they have about food, but a time to strike items off a potential menu. Be clear about that; you want to make sure you aren’t going to poison anyone, and you will accommodate reasonable restrictions, but you’re not a personal chef. Even if you are a personal chef, this is something you are doing for pleasure, not for payment. Keep it reasonable.
In the vein of reasonableness, keep budget in mind. If you all are a bunch of ballin’ Amazon execs who can drop $500 at Whole Foods on exotic oysters and real Kobe beef, go nuts (and invite me to your game, please! I’ll bring dessert!). If you are a bunch of average peeps who might have an extra $20 in the budget to contribute, plan accordingly.
Step 3) With Information In Hand, Design Your Menu
Straight up D&D/Pathfinder/European-derived high fantasy games are probably the easiest to design a menu for, but you can let your imagination go nuts. There’s a wealth of information out there, from SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) authentic Middle Ages recipes (this is why I both know what verjus is, and how to use it) to the aforementioned Game of Thrones or Hobbit cookbooks. My Exalted dinner party menu would be a mishmash of Asian cuisines (the Dynasts), standard Northern European fare (where my Solar is from), and Middle Eastern dishes (where my husband’s Solar and best friend’s Solar are from). The one time I did a Vampire: the Masquerade dinner party, I had characters bring dishes from the parts of the world where they lived their mortal lives.
This is where you get to let your creativity go a little bit off the leash, but have a backup plan, and a backup for the backup. Yes, the local pizza place on speed dial is a backup, as is UberEats or what-have-you.
Step 4) Set the Stage
Your menu is set, you’ve gone to the trouble of clearing off your game table (because you won’t need a dungeon map and minis this time, unless a) something goes REALLY wrong, or b) you’re that kind of a sadistic DM, in which case, props to you, sir or madam.) Pick some appropriate (and in this case, while candles may be awesome and atmospheric, they may not be the safest choice) lighting options, a good soundtrack, and literally set the table. I have heard of some DM’s providing clear plastic placemats to discreetly tuck away player’s character sheets, and I think that’s a fantastic idea. You may wish to allow some extra space between place settings for the rolling of dice, or you may choose to proceed with “soft” roleplay only; i.e. no challenges allowed or required.
A tavern meal would consist of serving dishes, individual plates, and drinking vessels, with appropriate cutlery and napkins - because although you might be playing a barbarian, no one wants to see you sit there with beef juice halfway up your cheeks.
If you want to do a full Dynast meal, Exalted-style, you would need everything from serving pieces, full plate service, chopsticks and silverware, finger bowls, multiple glasses, and room for tea or coffee as well. Also, please send pictures.
A roadside stop or a meal after a day of battle might be as simple as gathering people together around your grill (or facsimile thereof) and having everyone discuss events from their character’s POV. This is especially fun in spring and summer and early fall, but I do not recommend it for the winter unless you live somewhere exceedingly temperate.
Keep in mind that while your characters may have table service (meaning servers/waiters/retainers) you will most likely not, unless you’re those Amazon execs. This is a game of make-believe, after all, so some things can be left to the imagination - and the DM still needs to be running the show, not running around filling wine/beer glasses.
Step 5) Do The Thing!
Night before game: If at all possible and reasonable, set your table as much as you can. I have Feline Overlords who consider it their bound duty to get cat hair all over ALL THE THINGS, so in order to avoid mouthfuls of fluff, I personally would not set out the plates the night before. Make sure any pre-shopping can be done. Double check with your players who is bringing what. Answer any questions that may arise.
Game day dawns. Your preparation (and backups!) is complete. This is the time for you, as the DM, to sketch out your plan of attack. Do you want assigned seating, to heighten or minimize drama? Who, in character, is hosting, if anyone? Do you want to send a little tease out to your group, using your preferred form of mass communication, to make sure everyone arrives on the same page? Do it.
Step 6) Enjoy, followed by Relaxation
In an ideal resolution, the players will walk in with the right mindset, and as soon as plates hit the table and derrieres hit chairs, the roleplay begins. This is the ideal place for character-driven plot or personal character advancement. I have had successful parties where I didn’t have to do anything other than play the odd NPC or answer questions about remembered events.
In a slightly more realistic resolution, the roleplay will kick in after the food has been shared out and people relax a bit.
One thing to bear in mind, especially if beer/cider/wine/liquor is in play, know when to call it off. If people are getting stupid drunk, the game ends, then and there. I’m not trying to throw cold water on a red-hot game, but if people reach the “laugh-at-a-paper-bag” stage, there’s no point to continuing. Make sure everyone has a place to sleep it off or an alternative way home (taxi, Uber, significant other, roommate, etc) and call it a night.
On the other hand, if it REALLY gets going and you have a self-moderating group, there’s no reason you can’t continue the next morning. I’ve had a couple of extremely memorable overnight gaming sessions that ended up with breakfast the next day. Your mileage will, of course, vary.
After you have reclaimed your table and your household, take a moment to relax, take a deep breath, and look at what you have done. Have a glass of something tasty, help yourself to some delicious leftovers.
The in-character dinner does not need to be an expensive undertaking. Sandwiches, chips, drinks, maybe a salad for the look of the thing - that’s all that is really needed. You can go whole hog (literally) or something as simple as bread and cheese. Adapt the plans to your group’s capabilities and finances as well as to the theme and setting of the campaign.
This should go without saying, but as this is the Internet, I will say it anyway: don’t for a second shame someone who might be between jobs or paychecks and can’t contribute. I’ve had times where yes, that $3 bag of chips makes a finite and significant impact on my budget for the week, and I’ve had times where I can drop $100 and not feel it. If a player wants to contribute, let them bring what they can, and if they can’t contribute, let them know that they are still welcome at the table.
In closing, this can be a fun change of pace for a game and allow some really good intra-character bonding and development of individual plot lines, as well as time to relax with your friends around the gaming table. Good food, good friends, good times!
Yours in service,
PS: #letDavehavethething .
*Osik is the Mandalorian word for excrement. There, you learned something new today.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee that holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
I am a huge fan of the Fate Core roleplaying system. I came at the game from a theoretical perspective; I was looking for a game that fit a list of criteria for what I liked in a role-playing game, and it seemed to fit. Now, the group I play with is just wrapping up a year-long campaign (with myself as the gamemaster) base on Ed Turner’s ‘Aether Sea’ setting, and I found that the system really does deliver on its promise. The mechanics are light enough that you can play a whole session without opening a book, but substantial enough to put meat on the bones of the game world. There is also a ton of content developed for the system: worlds, extras, and characters, much of it free for the taking.
In this article, I want to share and review a few of the tools that I found useful when playing Fate. I take no credit for the things I didn’t make - just linking to information that I found already available on the interwebs. I hope you enjoy!
1) Fate SRD
The System Reference Document of any role-playing game system is a must-have for gamemasters. For the uninitiated, it is usually the text of the core rulebook uploaded to the internet in a searchable, hyperlinked form. Super useful. Amazing Rando Design has done this for the Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition rulebooks, as well as some additional material.
2) Fantasy Creatures Site
Inkwell Ideas, Inc. has developed a website resource for the Fate Core system. It features a long list of fantasy creatures, many of which will seem familiar to long-time role-players: roper, kobold, tarrasque, etc. (it’s missing the Beholder, though. I was disappointed! Trademark issue, maybe?). The list has everything you could want in order to play a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder-style campaign. One weakness: the creatures are all designed to be Main NPCs or powerful supporting NPCs, so don’t set your group up against a full raiding party of orcs from this list. That being said, it’s quite a simple matter to have one to four big baddies surrounded by a horde of nameless NPCs. Fantastic (+6) resource!
3) Character Generator
Reddit is a vast, desolate landscape you shouldn’t even try to enter without a cleric who can prepare ‘Create Water’ daily; but out there you will often find gems. On a FATErpg forum, green_circles randomly (and quite generously) uploaded a spreadsheet random character generator, for which I am eternally grateful. Enter something in an empty cell on the sheet and press enter, and the sheet randomly generates all the aspects and skills for a random main or supporting NPC, as well as a list of situation aspects for everything from guards to terrain, and physical, mental, and social advantages. I never used the characters as they were randomly generated, but it was a great brainstorming tool, and all of my important NPCs had at least a couple of aspects generated by this spreadsheet.
4) Opposition Sheet
This one is a Landru original. One thing I had trouble with as a gamemaster is the amount of player agency that Fate offers. Not only can players go a completely different way than you expected, (every gamemaster’s plans work until the players show up) players also have the agency to solve problems in multiple different ways, using a variety of skill in non-linear ways to create advantages and circumvent created encounters. Eventually, I more or less gave up planning. I created a ‘difficulty level’ spreadsheet to help me to improvise. This meant that no matter what direction the players took the narrative, I knew more or less the difficulty I should pit them against to create the appropriate dramatic tension. I incorporated the core rulebook’s guidelines for passive and active opposition; the scale on the right hand side corresponds to the scale used on the Fantasy Creatures site; and on the left I included some situations where each level would be appropriate. The file is uploaded below. You’re welcome!
5) Snarf World
This is the bonus track for people who have kept reading up to this point. One of the wonderful and hilarious accidental products of our game was the creation of snarfs. Snarfs are an alien species of indeterminate anatomy that the sentient races have begun to use for entertainment. They are raced against each other, with bets being placed on who will win, who will lose, who will place, who will eat their jockey, and whether or not the race will even finish. It is a fun side-quest that can turn into the entire focus of a game if you let it. At the bottom of this article, I have included a text file of the rules for running your very own snarf race. The point of this is to create an absurd fictional narrative in the style of a race sportscast. Have fun!
There were several other resources that I created and/or modified for use in the Aether Sea setting (now also linked so you can grab a copy from DriveThru RPG), and I plan to share those in an upcoming article. I hope these resources help you to take your game to the next level!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Ever wanted to have more items at your fingertips to reward your players, or to kit out your bad guys? Or perhaps you and your players have already scoured the items in the core rulebooks over the last few years, and everyone knows what most of the items do. Well fear not - here are nine magic items to inject into your loot piles or to equip to your villains.
When using any magic item in your game, it can be a great idea to ensure that you have a player in your party that can use it to great effect. This holds true especially for weapons - there's no point throwing awesome weapons into your game for them to be tossed to the side because the players are interested in other weapons or play styles. Also take note of little quirks, like temporary resistance to a certain type of damage, or other niche abilities. If you give players an item with a cool niche ability, but its situation never really has time to shine, it can be disappointing for players.
1) Eternal Chestplate (Cursed)
Your armour class becomes 25. This item's effects overrule any other modifications to armour class (For example, Dexterity bonuses, Feats, Cover, etc)
When you put on this armour, you feel it lock in place so efficiently that it feels like the armour's steel has melded with your bone structure. Removing this armour would inflict great damage to you, and you will be unable to wear this armour again in the future if you remove it.
To attempt to remove the Eternal Chestplate, the wearer must pass a DC:15 Strength test. On a failure, they are unable to remove it, and must wait at least another hour before their next attempt. If they succeed, they take 6d6 piercing damage, and the chestplate is removed, but they can never wear the item again.
Whenever you are targeted by an attack (hit or miss), your armour class is reduced by 1. (This can potentially cause your Armour Class to plummet well below standard figures, to a minimum of AC1)
DM Notes: The Eternal Chestplate is a great cursed item. It's a case of "too good to be true," and the players will be highly suspicious of the immense power of this piece. Note that it is medium armour, so Wizards, Warlocks, etc, will most likely not be able to cast spells while they wear it. Once the character puts the armour on, they become aware of the removal clause (you can tell them the damage that it will deal, and explain that they won't be able to wear it again). However keep the hidden ability secret until the next combat encounter, and then the fun begins!
I'd seriously recommend giving this to players that are at least level 6, as the amount of damage this thing will do when removed is high enough to kill low-level characters. When including it in your campaign, either have an enemy boss wear it (after which they can pry the armour off of his bone structure) or even perhaps find it on a corpse of a creature.
Longsword +1 (though, this could be modified to be any Melee weapon)
This weapon is a +1 magic item; the wielder has a +1 on to-hit rolls and damage rolls with this weapon. The damage this weapon deals is treated as magical damage for the purpose of overcoming resistances and immunities. In addition, any goblin creatures that are adjacent to the character that wields this weapon have an Armour Class value of 10. This overrides cover, dexterity, and any non-magical armour. It will not affect goblins who have magical armour, or a magic item that protects them from magic (e.g. a talisman).
DM Notes: Goblinbane is a cool tweak to a magic item that I threw into a one-shot dungeon which had numerous goblin servants. It's not super game-breaking, as goblins have low armour to begin with, and with their minuscule amount of hit points they usually aren't expected to survive anyway.
I'd recommend giving this to players that are at least level 3. Giving a magical weapon with a +1 property to a level 1 or 2 party can cause some imbalances in the challenge ratings for low-levels. I'd also include this if your campaign has a decent amount of goblins (say 1 or 2 goblin fights/dungeons every level or two of the characters). When including it in your campaign, it could perhaps be locked deep in a goblin vault so that it cannot be used, or perhaps a rival gnoll tribe (or other enemy of the PCs and the goblins) has this weapon and uses it against goblins themselves, whereby the PCs can kill the wielder and inherit their weapon.
3) Shard of the Archangel (Cursed)
Trinket (A shard of Obsidian that is always warm to touch)
While you wield this shard in your hands, your spell save DC is increased by 2. Furthermore, whenever you cast an evocation spell of level 1 or higher, deal 2d6 fire damage to a random creature that is within 10 feet of you. (Note that this can potentially hit allies)
The DC for your death saving throws is equal to your spell save DC.
DM Notes: While it is technically a cursed item, it definitely has the potential for using the abilities as a bit of a tradeoff. Your players would have to watch their positioning to try and mitigate any friendly fire, but at the end of the day, 2d6 isnt going to kill anyone who’s at a reasonable level. The player would have to be careful if they fall unconscious though, those death saving throws are nasty!
4) Bluespark Talisman
While wearing the Bluespark Talisman, whenever you deal an instance of Lightning damage, you deal an extra 1d4 Lightning damage. Once per day, you can use your reaction to gain resistance to lightning damage until the start of your next turn.
DM Notes: The Bluespark Talisman is a simple magic charm that you could give to a lightning-focused Wizard or Sorcerer, or even a tempest Cleric. It gives them a little buff to a bunch of their damage spells, while also giving them a cool new way to use a reaction.
5) Dawn, Avenger Longsword
(Longsword) 1d8 Radiant Damage (Versatile 1d10)
Dawn is an avenger weapon, wielded by divine heroes and used to turn God's will into reality. While wielding Dawn, you may cast the light cantrip as a bonus action. Dawn also has a holy charge, which refreshes an hour after the previous holy charge was used. The wielder can use the holy charge to use their Channel Divinity ability, or can use it to cast Smite (2d6 extra radiant damage) or Cure Wounds (Heal 1d8) as level 1 spells.
DM Notes: Dawn is a Longsword that deals Radiant damage instead of slashing damage. It can only be mastered by a Cleric or paladin usually, but if a "worthy" person wields it then it may also function for them.
6) Totem of Stability
(Totem, hand item)
Usable only by Druids, Clerics of the Nature domain, or Wizards of the Transmutation school.
While the Totem of Stability is wielded in one hand, the wielder has a +10 bonus on all spell concentration checks.
DM Notes: This totem is a great little utility item for spell casting-heavy Druids, or other similar spell builds. Note that Druids cannot use the totem while in wild-shape form. As an alternate build, you could make an orb of stability (for Wizards/Sorcerers) or a staff of stability (Clerics, Wizards, Warlocks) or something else, which has the same effect. This is particularly useful as an item if you have a player who is always frustrated by having his concentration spells disrupted.
7) Grimoire of the Black Mace
Requires Pact of the Tome Warlock
This item can replace your tome that you use with your pact ability. In addition to the usual benefits, you also have the ability to cast the following spells once per long rest:
DM Notes: This Grimoire is a powerful magic item, for use by PCs at a level of 5 or higher. It really helps out with one of the Warlock's problems, which is their inability to cast a variety of spells in combat. With only two spell slots until level 11, this Grimoire could really come in handy. Perhaps your warlock would have them have to battle an enemy Warlock who is using this tome in battle to get the item in the first place!
8) Negative Dagger of energy
(Dagger, but could also be any sword weapon)
When this weapon successfully hits a target, the blade gets a charge. The next time this weapon hits an opponent, it deals an extra 1d8 force damage, and the target must pass a DC 10 Con save, or suffer 1 point of exhaustion (Undead and Constructs are unaffected by this ability). The weapon can only store 1 charge at a time, and charges vanish after 1 minute.
DM Notes: The Negative Dagger of Energy is a weapon for an assassin, or perhaps a martial hero like a fighter or ranger. It's probably balanced to be suitable for characters between level 4-8.
9) Shield of Iron Will
When you have this shield equipped, it cannot be removed while you are alive without your consent. You have a +2 bonus to saving throws against fear effects, and against sleep, charm, or hold spells. You also have a +2 bonus on any saves against effects that push, knock prone, or stun.
DM Notes: This is a pretty niche item, but it has a few cool mechanics behind it. A lot of shield bearer PCs have a susceptibility to status effects and mind spells, due to their heavy focus into armour class. This item gives them some added protection against spells and other effects that mere armour class cannot provide. It would definitely help too if there was an enemy type that was really annoying them with sleep, charm or hold effects, or perhaps abilities that push, knock them prone or stun them, but that part is optional.
In summary, you want magic items to be invaluable to your players. Make them so cool that the players will shudder at the thought of parting with them, instead of simply cashing them in and selling them at the first chance they get. Don’t be afraid of giving them strong items, but make them work for it, for example, make them pry that new sword out of the grasp of the bandit leader they just killed. And also keep in mind that you may have to adjust the difficulty of encounters as the players get more and more powerful. Finally, don't give your players an item that has a bonus in certain situations if those situations never come up - because that can make the item seem worthless.
Now get out there and unleash the power of magic items!
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
It's been awhile since our last communication. Word of your success against the vampire nest in Berkenheidt has reached us here in Carinford-Halldon. I'm glad the information I provided for you was able to prove useful.
My old companion Kelly has just sent me an interesting treatise, written by his apprentice Rigi. The girl has become fascinated with the nature of familiars in the Lands of the Mists, and while her work is a trifle basic, I thought the information might be of some use to you.
Spellcasters of various stripes have often found the assistance of a familiar, an animal imbued with a small fraction of the mage's soul, to be invaluable assets in their craft. While able to enhance spellcasting potential, heighten mental acuity, or impart other, more bizarre powers, these companions are also often just as useful for their natural abilities. Such boons come with a price, however: the portion of the soul that empowers a familiar is never drawn from the better aspects of one's psyche. Inevitably, the creature, while fanatically loyal to its master, continually exhorts them to greater heights of evil; constantly counseling them to give in to the darker side of their nature.
What follows are a selection of the most popular familiars found within the Dread Realms, and an analysis of the abilities they impart.
1) Lamordian Opossum
Few creatures are as vile as the Lamordian opossum, sometimes known as the bog opossum or the Musarde river rat. Their pale fur ends in yellowish tips, making their fur the color of tobacco stained cotton. Their long, toothy snouts are capable of opening wide to emit a malicious hiss, and their lashing, naked tails complete the odious package. A few of them are, instead, a smoky black in color. While the pelts of these 'ink opossums' are valuable, the eerie red eyes that accompany such coloration discourage most trappers from pursuing them.
As familiars: The Lamordian opossum encourages the worst aspects of their master's avarice. They urge their masters to take whatever they wish, and to take more than what they need. These familiars are at their cleverest when they are planning a way for themselves or their masters to take something which does not belong to them.
Benefit: Opossums are marsupials. When not actively raising kits, they stuff the pouches on their bellies with all manner of bric-a-brac they have stolen whenever they have gone unnoticed. Any spellcaster with an opossum familiar always counts as having a spell component pouch.
2) Mordentish Sentinel Hound
The Mordentish passion for dog breeding seems to surpass their interest in virtually everything except ghost stories. Although these animals seem broadly similar to outsiders, the Mordentish can tell individual breeds apart at a great distance. Among these breeds, the sentinel hound is of particular interest to the spellcaster. Their distinctive short height and elongated frame, with their long, sleek black coat makes them recognizable even to non-Mordentish. However, it is their spectral silence that makes the breed truly remarkable; every true-bred example of the species is totally mute.
As familiars: Sentinel hounds are used for watching herds or guarding camps throughout the night, and as such are hyper-vigilant to the point of paranoia. When bonded with a spellcaster, they are fond of pointing out suspicious behavior or nefarious possibilities, often where none exist. Unfortunately, they are disconcertingly correct many times, leading their masters to ever increasing heights of suspicion. When danger is revealed, the sentinel hound exhorts its master to attack without hesitation or mercy.
Benefit: Spellcasters with a sentinel hound as a familiar may always roll for initiative, even if they are surprised, although they can still be caught flat-footed.
Found throughout Sri Raji and in some parts of Hazlan, the bird-of-fortune has gained favor as a companion pet for fashionable nobles throughout the Core. It's lustrous plumage drapes down extravagantly. Its brilliant bronze and gold coloration would be enough to make it truly impressive. However, when the bird-of-fortune raises and fans its peacock-like tail, with the white, bronze, and gold display studded with prismatic whorls of color, even the most jaded stop to admire its beauty.
As familiars: Birds-of-fortune are imbued with their master's arrogance. They remind their master constantly how marvelous the two of them are, and never allow the master to be taken in by thoughts of doubt or failure. For those lacking in confidence this can be a boon, but for those susceptible to hubris, a bird-of-fortune can turn their master into the most grandiose braggart imaginable.
Benefit: When calculating caster level for dispel or spell removal effects, a mage with a bird-of-fortune familiar counts his caster level as four levels higher for his spells with a range of 'self.'
4) Invidia Swine
Neither swine nor actually from Invidia, this rodent is about the size of a large rat. It has a much shorter snout, no apparent tail, and such an abundance of fur that they appear to be rounded fuzzy globs with tiny feet. They form the basis of the food chain in parts of Verbrek and Valachan, where they are occasionally raised in hutches by peasants to supplement their diet, as Invidia swine breed rapidly.
As familiars: Content to hide in a pouch, backpack, or pocket, Invidia swine are quick to point out danger to their masters. They also encourage their masters to new heights of amorous action, insightfully pointing out those who display even the subtlest hints of romantic desire. For the shy and reserved, this can provide a great benefit, but more than one repugnant Lothario in the Core boasts an Invidia swine as a familiar. Hazlik has sent one of these creatures to Dominic d'Honaire as a pet; the latter seems ignorant of the subtle message.
Benefit: The mage bonded to an Invidia swine is adept at hiding. When receiving an AC bonus from cover, they increase the bonus by +1.
5) Strahd Slug
The Strahd slug is the name given to the black leech, common wherever damp conditions can be found across the Core and beyond. The name was made common by naturalists loyal to Azalin and has since become the standard appellation everywhere but Barovia. These tiny animals latch on to their victim’s (or master's) flesh and feed on very small amounts of blood. When engorged, they can be one to two inches long, and can show vivid stripes of blue, green, or red coloration.
As familiars: Strahd slugs encourage their masters to do as little as possible. They advise their mages to delegate responsibility and manipulate others to lighten their own workload. Masters with leech familiars either gain a needed calming balance on their personality, or else become lazy and wheedling. The necessities of the slug's diet often means their masters are pale of complexion.
Benefit: The constant effect of a leech cleansing one's blood grants a master with such a familiar a +4 bonus on Fortitude saves against poison and disease (magical or otherwise).
6) Sickle-Beaked Goshawk
A lesser hawk species that thrives in the fields of Falkovnia, the sickle-beaked goshawk is renowned for its viciousness when threatened. It is particularly noteworthy for its habit of attacking other predators to steal their kills. Even much larger animals can be driven away when faced with the long lacerations of the bird's razor sharp beak. With its red belly and tawny back and wings, the goshawk is most frequently seen as the familiar of the rare Falkovnian magic practitioner.
As familiars: Fitting to the land the bird calls home, the goshawk is a proponent of conquest. They encourage their master's to conquer others, whether for power, spells, or prestige. They are always plotting how best to increase their master's standing, and mages with such a familiar are some of the most ambitious in the Demiplane of Dread.
Benefit: Mages with a goshawk familiar have a +2 to their initiative rolls.
7) Harp Goat
The harp goat of Kartakass takes it's name from the mane of long, fine black hair that shoots up from the animal's spine. These goats, which grow no larger than housecats, are common pets in the mountainous land of Kartakass. Loyal companions, they are renowned for their humorous qualities; in addition to being easily trained to bleat for comedic effect, they eat nearly anything and are almost always hungry. Despite this, they can go long stretches without food, and are every bit as sure footed as their larger kin. The harp goat is a natural choice as a familiar for Kartakan wizards, particularly because it arouses no suspicion.
As familiars: Harp goats are gluttonous creatures, and that is a trait they attempt to pass on to their masters. What is good in moderation is better in excess, they say, and should their masters be stopped from indulging, either through external conflict or just their own moderation, the goat is always prepared to offer strategy or justification to fulfill whatever hunger needs satiation, whether that be food, drug, or a desire for power.
Benefit: Harp goats grant their master a +4 to Fortitude saves to resist dehydration and starvation.
Are the benefits of keeping such a familiar worth the temptation they provide? The truth, the Lady Gwen tells me, is that the temptations the familiar brings forth were already present within the mage. The familiar merely gives them voice. Whether one has a familiar or not, the darkness within us is always like unto a beast; if it is not allowed to feed, then it will eventually turn inwards to consume us entirely.
Safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
Now, if you are like me, and I doubt you are, you play a lot of games with your co-workers during the work day. I work for an educational technology start-up, and we were encouraged when I first started to find fun ways to build team cohesion and get our minds away from our work for short stints during the day. These have led to some creative decisions from some teams, who mostly focus on Pictionary, quiz games, and trivia questions to break-up their days. My team plays quite a bit, usually 2-3 games a day, of Exploding Kittens. Over the last few months, I’ve also been exploring the possibility of playing a short form RPG with my team during the work day.
I’ve come up with 3 games that I think would work perfectly for this.
Quinn and Joel did a great review of Dread on the podcast, and I recommend checking that out if you get the chance. Dread uses a Jenga set to simulate the impending horror of what is going to occur to your characters. Character sheets are pretty simple, and game-play is not really designed for long-term RPG stories. So, with some work, it should be possible to create a short scenario that occurs within a half-hour block. That would be perfect for my team, as we generally take a 30-minute break to play games.
2) Dungeons and Dragons 5th Ed
Particularly with pre-generated characters, the newest edition of the world’s greatest role-playing game would make an easy to use short form role-playing session. Wizards of the Coast has put out a great series of pre-generated characters from lvl 1 – 10 which you can print for free from their website. I recommend grabbing enough characters for your team members to have 2 choices, and jump in head first. Create a really short scene, and ask the players how they would react. Keep this as simple as possible, using dice rolls as rarely as you can get away with. Having a dice roller app is helpful here, as carting around dice at work may not be a grand idea. That being said, having one die that you pass around the table isn’t a terrible decision for this short form. Basically, you are running a very short scene, and you’ll need to be able to keep the pacing quick to make this work.
Fate, using the FUDGE system created by Steffan O’Sullivan, is a great game to jump in feet first with a group of co-workers. Particularly if you use the FATE Accelerated rules on the FATE SRD. FATE’s simple to use system will let you jump right into a story. FATE uses a simple die mechanic, and rules light elements to get you right into the action. When running work games, focus on small scenarios that allow your co-workers to get a feel for what you’d do in an RPG. Give them either-or choices, and let them roll through and see what they come up with for solutions to the challenges you present them.
Running an RPG at work probably sounds like a strange idea to some. You might not be open about your RPG habit, or you might get yelled at by your boss. If, like me, you work in a space that encourages out of the box ways to break up the monotony of the day, you might be able to pull this off. You could also do this during a lunch break or after work. These are all great, easy to learn games that will let you jump into the action quickly, which is 90% of the battle.
With 18 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
At times, even the most creative minds require a jump start or spark to begin formulating their next project. We all seek different forms of inspiration, and in different ways, but I wanted to share some of my favorite sources of inspiration to help those kindred souls who might be struggling to begin creating.
Even if you’re planning on creating something purely visual, audio influence can help shape or inspire your product. With role-playing, the right music lends emotion to a dry scene or spurs your pen to describe more powerfully an important sequence. I recommend Radiohead’s Videotape (the “Live from the Basement” version if possible) for anything dealing with mortality. For action sequences, works from Two Steps from Hell provide an epic edge not easily found elsewhere. Need to give your game a near future feel, a la Cyberpunk? The soundtrack from Deus Ex: Human Revolution will fuel your mecha-noir fantasies.
Sticking to the same genre can help you keep the mood right for whatever you’re creating, but I like to mix things up as often as possible. If you’re developing a sci-fi thriller, watch a good Western or Wuxia film. Be prepared to take notes (mental or otherwise) about similarities and differences between them. Flex your creative muscles and ask, “what if this tale had a different theme, or a more interesting adversary?” After you digest the plots and create your fusion, continue to make tweaks to make the new work all your own. Soon, you’ll have something that takes hints from successful predecessors, but otherwise belongs entirely to you. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterpiece that I recommend to anyone wanting to blend action and drama, regardless of the end genre or setting you’re creating.
Though many of us find reading to be too time consuming, especially when preparing our own creative works, I believe that it is essential to return to the roots of creation when seeking inspiration. Reading about current events, history, or philosophy can provide you with endless thematic material that will not only inspire you to create, but also impassion you. Classic fiction provides a jumping-off point for any project, and will give you an understanding of similar works that came before. Blend stories together and give them a modern perspective to create something fresh and intriguing. For role-playing games, these sources can provide us with inspiration for settings, characters, and complex themes.
When creating the setting for a Cyberpunk game that I ran a few years ago, I used the very wonderful artbook from the video game Remember Me. The images of integrated technology, darkened streets, and expertly designed characters. Even single pieces can assist us in creating our works. See something in a Jackson Pollock? Perhaps even Pollock’s unique process can inspire you in your creation. Especially for those working in the horror genre, art can truly inspire. In fact, an entire published campaign of Call of Cthulhu (the Tatters of the King) focuses on artists, and displays their works as representations of their worsening madness. I recommend highly the exploration of modern and classic pieces to anyone, especially the visually oriented among us.
Naturally, these are only my suggestions. How do you get inspired, be it for creating role-playing game material or home movies or your next blog entry? Drop me a line and let me know! Perhaps your suggestions will inspire me, too.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact .
Image from Ukessay
Mention Tolkien to a fantasy fan and they’ll have several things spring to mind instantly, two of which will be The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. There’s no two ways about it, Professor Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe remains, to this day, one of the most influential, far-reaching, and sometimes end-all-be-all fantasy settings that has arguably been the catalyst of the genre’s expanse over the years, as well as that of the high-flying novels and shows we’re getting today.
But with those two aforementioned and instantly recognizable pillars of Tolkien’s work comes a sad aspect: the fact that there’s so much more to it! From the Silmarillion to Unfinished Tales and the myriad other materials seeping out of the Lord of the Rings and the times that came before it, there’s comparatively little of it known to the audience at large, and even less being explored in video and/or role-playing game fashion.
Thus, I’ve chosen The One Ring for this Role-Playing Gems Chapter, a Tolkien-esque game published by Cubicle 7 and designed by Francesco Nepitello, and one that’s been around for quite a few years but doesn’t seem to garner as much attention as other systems or settings out there today.
The reasons for me bringing this to the fore? Read on, find out what this is all about, keep it safe, but by no means secret!
1. A story between stories.
The most fancy-tickling, eye-catching thing about TOR is its contribution to the timeline. All of the adventures therein take place 5 years after the events of The Hobbit, in a time of uncertainty that fans of the saga will know little about. More to the point, it’s always easier to craft your own legend within a more permissive environment than have to weave in and out of major occurrences during the main or prequel timeline.
And if you throw the movies into that it just gets confusing…
Get ready to be thrust into a time of unrest, where Smaug has been vanquished and the echoes of the Battle of the Five Armies have died down, but the far-reaching consequences of those events still linger around Wilderland, the area bordered by the Misty Mountains, Erebor, and Rohan.
Play multiple races of the times, like Men of the North, Dunlendings, Woodland Elves, Horse Lords, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, with dozens of archetypes for each race offering a host of possibilities for even the most nitpicky of players to revel in.
Carve your own name into the “Tolkienverse” and discover a different facet of it, not entirely removed from the big names of the past and future, but one where those are little more than guides who point you in the direction of your next adventure…
2. Ease of use
Many systems out there pride themselves in coming up with zounds of dice rolls depending upon tables, charts, and FAQs in order to - as realistically as possible - determine the outcome of a social encounter, a battle, or simply a trek through the forest. TOR deals away with all the unnecessary stuffiness of it all, using a neat Xd6+1d12 pool to resolve all of its rolls, where the X is the level a character has in any given skill. And of course there’s the ever-present critical hit/miss mechanism in there, with a rather thematic twist I’ll let you find out on your own as you get deeper into the various published campaigns…
Social interactions are a breeze and combat flows by swiftly, yet without hit points, but rather a wounded/not wounded mechanism that not only makes sense, but deals away with the constant math behind taking 25 damage with 5 ongoing damage and a ¼ chance of taking 3 more each turn. There’s also a very conceptual battle tactic option affixed there, where heroes can take an attacking stance or a more reserved, ranged one, depending on the various circumstances that may arise. This, coupled with the endurance mechanism that comes into play in both battles as well as travels makes for more of the role-playing and less of the roll-playing-and-bumbling-through-the-rules-ness that can mar an explosive encounter by halting it right at its peak.
3. The Fellowship Phase
There’s always something new and exciting you’re looking for in a new system, and TOR did exactly what was needed with the above game phase. The core of the game action is divided into 2 main aspects: Adventuring and Fellowship. While the first one deals in the travels (which are also masterfully done), encounters, battles, and events that the heroes may come across en-route to their destination, it’s the Fellowship Phase where the system truly shines.
It’s here that the heroes can rest, recuperate, take on new challenges, share a mug of the Green Dragon’s finest ale, or simply lounge around the fire debating what their next course of action will be. This is a very on-point portrayal of the passage of both short as well as long periods of time, bringing to the fore the sometimes pivotal, campsite-like pauses in Tolkien’s narrative, where the heroes assess their situation, talk about future endeavours or past ones, light up their pipes, wake up some long-dormant foe or simply indulge in that oh-so-important second breakfast.
4. Content upon content
The folks at Cubicle 7 have outdone themselves by coming out with not only beautifully-illustrated books (with even John Howe penning some of his finest work yet), but ones that are chock-full of content intended to enrich the fairly decent offering that the Core Book comes with. Havens like Laketown, Erebor, Thranduil’s Halls, and Rivendell are counterbalanced by the creepy crawlies that the heroes might come across in Mirkwood, with an entire book devoted to the ancient forest alone.
Couple that with The Horse Lords of Rohan, Ruins of the North, and the new Riddermark book that’s just been announced, and you’re faced with a plethora of options, many of which haven’t made it mainstream-wise as prominently as they deserve (trust me, you’ll be convinced of that latter statement in no time flat), coupled with their respective location maps and adventure hooks galore, and even a stand-alone card game that doubles as event-catalyst for the game itself.
Let’s see the players reach the edge of the map and pose that oh-so-snarky “but what lies beyond?” question now!
All in all, this game hits all the right notes with me, firing on all of the role-playing pistons I’m looking for in an experience such as this, and I hope you can find some of that within it if you choose to pick it up thanks to this short overview.
Then again, if you’re already playing, we look forward to hearing your take on it, as well as sharing a tall tale around the fire as to your exploits within it - on either side of the gaming table.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be going on an adventure!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook.
“Now wait just a minute,” Mitchifer steps around the bar and holds up a hand. “Do you know where she’s taking you?”
The leather-clad woman fixes the innkeeper with her single good eye, and her smile tightens. “I thought this place had a strict policy of neutrality.”
“It is, er, it does, but—“
“This Inn has portals that lead to realms of fire, endless oceans, ice that will freeze a mortal solid within seconds. Do you warn people against going to such places?” She waves her cigarette around languidly in its long holder to punctuate her speech.
“Heavens that shatter sanity, bottomless abysses of immortal rage, hells that flay the soul into an ashen shell—your doorways lead to all of these places, yet you extend a warning against them following me to a rather ordinary city, to perform a rather ordin--. ”
“They need to know!” Mitchifer fumes, his wizened white beard twitching with each syllable, until he recalls his professionalism, turns stiffly away from Kazandra, and looks you in the eye.
“You need to know…there’s no coming back. To the inn, maybe…if you’re lucky. But follow her through THAT door…and even if you make it back here, all the others may be closed forever. That place doesn’t let people out. It takes countless people in every year, but the ones who get out in a century, I may not need both hands to count.”
The Land of Mists is infamous for pulling in hapless adventurers to play with, but sometimes the Mists themselves become too well known. Players familiar with the setting may start to get suspicious any time an ordinary fog rolls in, and if someone actually casts Fog Cloud they might throw dice at the DM. If you feel the Mists are too hackneyed to roll out the fog, consider one of these alternate beginnings to your Weekend in Hell:
1) (Un)Natural Phenomenon
If your PC’s are alert for fog, consider other natural phenomenon with an unnatural presence to it. Snowstorms work well in the winter, or in cold regions. A desert might have a sandstorm, heat haze, or a full mirage. But of course, all of these are just different ways to lose their bearings, so don’t rule out the possibility that they might just get lost in the woods.
2) All Aboard!
If your natural phenomenon is a storm at sea, you may want more than a little spinning compass action to evoke the Bermuda Triangle. Consider the Ship of Horror,* a cursed Mistway into Ravenloft in the form of a ship. Ships of any kind deserve special mention, though, because crew provide lots of redshirt opportunities, with some left over for more nuanced storylines. Nor is spacefaring immune to strange detours--the Spelljammer supplements specifically said the crystal sphere for the Demiplane of Dread was an unknown color, floating somewhere out in the phlogiston…
3) Stable Portal
People forget that the Black Box listed stable portals into the Demiplane, at least one in each of the popular settings of the time. Word might reach the PC’s of a misty doorway that no one has ever returned from, and even the greatest sages and diviners cannot see what is on the other side. If someone or something of exceptional value went through that doorway, the PC’s might be called upon to venture through after it.
4) Reading a Book
“Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists”** travels the multiverse outside the demiplane, appearing as a “Van Richten’s Guide” to whatever someone happens to be hunting. It’s just an ordinary book that gives excellent advice, but when someone questions its origins out loud, the reader and anyone within earshot is marked for the Mists. Solving the mystery of its accursed origins within the demiplane might allow someone to return home.
5) The Lonesome Road
The Headless Horseman’s endless road domain can extend into other worlds, making for an exciting introduction to Ravenloft when he selects the PC’s to attack. If defeat look imminent, consider allowing the PC’s to escape the Horseman by leaving the road. Normally this is not allowed, but since the goal is to get them into Ravenloft, it makes sense that they might escape the Lonesome Road only to arrive in another domain.
6) The World Serpent Inn***
This planar nexus-turned-saloon lends itself to scavenger hunt adventures throughout the multiverse. Doors throughout this structure lead to all the known prime, inner, and outer planes, and the ever inscrutable, always affable Mitchifer (servant of the even more mysterious Owner of the Inn) somehow maintains a strict neutrality that allows devas and devils to dine in relative peace. Of course, the DM will have to decide how the rules for such easy interplanar travel reconcile with the Dark Powers’ rules about leaving the demiplane.
7) Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Under most rules for lucid dreaming, it is possible for any dreamer to visit other dreamscapes, and even wander into the ethereal. Should an outlander dreamer wander into Ravenloft, that character might be condemned to return every night, even though their body remains in their home plane. Such a character might pursue adventures in two worlds until they find a way to reunite.
8) Sucked in With the DL
If you have a game villain whose story is drenched in pathos, why not have them become the demiplane’s newest Darklord? The PC’s might get sucked in when they fail to stop an Act of Ultimate Darkness--the atrocity that draws the attention of the Dark Powers and makes him a darklord. This gives them a second chance to stop the bad guy, but also a change of pace as they discover how the laws of magic and nature work differently. If the players enjoy it, they may consider staying in Ravenloft, but if not, defeating their old nemesis for good will win their freedom from the Mists in the tradition of the original Weekend in Hell adventures.
*The Ship of Horror was first introduced in the 2E module of the same name. It was updated for use post-Conjunction in the Nocturnal Sea Gazetteer, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
**Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists is detailed in the Book of Secrets, a netbook hosted by the Kargatane.
***The World Serpent Inn was first introduced in 1E Tales of the Outer Planes, and updated in various supplements. A free download is available from Wizards of the Coast.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
Image from Skyrim, which may or may not be a Dread Realm.
I’m a “Rules Lawyer,” or at least, I’m accused of it enough that I’m willing to entertain the idea that I am one. It’s something of a derogatory term, possessing the connotation that a Rules Lawyer is getting in the way of everybody else’s fun, or arguing the rules so they can “win” the game. I’m not going to deny that these are Rules Lawyer behaviors. (Nor will I deny that I do them, at least not without the caveat that I can justify my Rules Lawyering.)
Rules Lawyer is a subject term, though. It can easily mean different things depending on who you ask about it, so let me establish what I’m referring to when I say it: a Rules Lawyer is somebody who has a particularly strong affinity for knowing and following the rules of a game, sometimes to a fault.
I’ve had the term thrown at me numerous times as an insult, but that isn’t to say I don’t have my redeeming qualities. So with all that said, allow me to use myself as a case study for why Rules Lawyer doesn’t have to be an ugly term.
1) Helping New Players
This is the most obvious helpful usage of an expansive knowledge of the rules, especially for a game that has relatively complex character creation. A relatively common such situation I’ve found myself in was in games of World of Darkness.
One of the trade-offs that the World of Darkness games typically have is that despite simpler dice mechanics, character creation is a little more complicated, since one is afforded a lot more freedom in designing their character.
Until some of the gaming groups I’ve been in got the hang of character creation, even when I wasn’t GMing the game, I was often leading everybody in the game through character creation. It wasn’t particularly feasible to have everybody make their characters outside of game, since we only had two copies of the rulebooks available for 7 of us.
So, with my book turned to the quick-reference for character creation, I took everybody through it step by step. Which is also kind of a way I was able to...
2) Help New GMs
In the example above, I was also helping the GM, who wasn’t quite as familiar with the game as I was. This isn’t to say that interjecting with the corrections of the rules whenever the GM is wrong is helpful, though -- discretion is the better part of valour, as they say.
The key here is if the GM seems unfamiliar with the rules of the game. In the above mentioned group, we were playing what was at the time known as “New World of Darkness,” before the God Machine Chronicle Update happened and turned that IP into confusing mess of who owns what and what works with what.
One of the players then decided they wanted to run a game of Vampire the Masquerade, when he had previously only ever (and very scarcely) ran games of Dungeons and Dragons. Admittedly, I wasn’t very familiar with the table top version of Masquerade, but I do take to learning rules quickly.
I once again did my usual schtick of guiding char-gen for everybody, but during the actual run of the game, I kept quiet about how the rules actually worked until he requested to know something specific. (Notably, combat rolls, since those are a multi-step mess with a lot of variables in the “Old World of Darkness”)
After all, one interpretation of Rule 0 is “The GM has the final say.”
3) Keep Record For Experimental Projects
Let’s say you’ve got a new sub-system for your favorite game you’re homebrewing, or some other such similar scenario. However, you’re not much for writing and organizing things, and all the ideas you have for this are stored in your head, and not on paper.
If you’re genre savvy, you probably already know where I’m going with this: enter the Rules Lawyer. The role of the Rules Lawyer here is that they can keep track of your rules, ideally by writing or typing them down as new ones are introduced.
I’m not much for homebrew games, however, I was still involved in a similar situation. A friend of mine got their hands on a copy of a game from Japan called Detatoko Saga, which was released in 2016. Naturally, there’s no English translation of the game available at the time, but said friend did know how to read Japanese.
Knowing we’ll inevitably need to refer to these later, everybody involved in the game wrote down the skills they needed. I took things a step further, and wrote down EVERY rule and process the GM mentioned.
This actually wound up coming in handy as we played, with the GM (who was translating the game) occasionally referring to my notes.
Based on the examples I’ve presented from myself, a reasonable assumption here is that what could make the difference between how a Rules Lawyer is perceived is often the context of when they want to bring up doing things by the rules.
After all, regardless of what game you’re playing, knowing how to make a character for it is important; and sometimes, a GM has trouble finding that one rule or subsystem, and a helpful interjection may be necessary.
Remember though, just because somebody hurls that name, Rules Lawyer, at you does not mean it’s suddenly a compliment because you know of the good you can do. After all, a passion for the rules of a game, much like any tool or skill, can be used for good or ill.
Aaron der Schaedel is a rules lawyer that applies to gaming one of the old maxims of visual artist’s: learn the rules before you go breaking them. Given the amount of games he has learned to GM and still wishes to learn, it is sound gaming advice.
At some point in almost every gamer’s career, we get tired of being the good guy. The helpless villagers start to look less like citizens in need of aid and more like easy marks, we realize it’s easier to burn a town down instead of, searching for the bad guys, and the princess in the tower.... Well, let’s not mention that. But most systems aren’t designed with evil in mind, and keeping a group of evil PCs together is akin to herding cats. That’s where Book of Exalted Darkness comes in. Mike Myler was kind enough to sit down and talk about his book, which is aimed at providing a world where evil will thrive, mechanics to help players find the darkness in their hearts, and tools for GMs to keep their parties focused on being the horrible people they actually are.
(Editor’s Note, interview has been edited for length.)
1) The Book of Exalted Darkness introduces Sanctity and Sin attributes into 5E, which reflects on a PC’s holiness or vile intent, but what struck me is how a character loses points, namely being witnessed taking an action of the opposite nature. Why was is the perception of others so important to the loss of Sanctity and Sin, but not to gaining it?
First of all thanks for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness!
Sanctity and Sin are thematic attributes—that is to say they are mechanical expressions of themes inherent to the game. All of my 5E campaign settings use thematic attributes as a way to reinforce how the game is fundamentally different than a regular D&D 5E game. For example, Hypercorps 2099 5e uses Luck and Reputation (to quicken the futuristic cyberpunk game’s pace), Mists of Akuma has Dignity and Haitoku (how honored you’re thought to be and “fall from virtue” that ends with transformation by the mists), and 2099 Wasteland has Irradiated (which is self-explanatory).
In Book of Exalted Darkness there are two new thematic attributes each serving two purposes. Sanctity defines how easy it is for a wicked soul to seem uncorrupted and Sin is a measure of that actual corruption, but both are largely involved with inaequa, wherein your answer lies. Again I have to divert a bit to explain something important: the actual campaign setting itself is not evil, mostly it’s just the adventurers. Everything (and everyone) else is holy decopunk—think Rocketeer or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow—so there are blimps, radios, telephones, trolleys, jetpacks, and what have you. The trick here is that all of that technology is fueled by inaequa, a substance that radiates energy elongating the lives of good creatures. The PCs (and other evil adventurers like them, as well as some mad scientists) are flawed souls that can take this fundamentally unjust technology and trick it to make it work for them or pervert it to overcharge and explode or produce other nasty effects.
Mostly it’s a matter of game intent—the book is built around the idea that a group playing in the world is out to wreck it. Throughout a campaign the PCs work with mad scientists lurking beneath the earths and seas, dismantling the 9 Spheres of Askis (inaequa being one of them) and restoring balance, or much more likely, imbalance in a different direction than before. By encouraging the party to secretly act in evil or good ways, it navigates gameplay towards subterfuge, reinforcing the pulp feel that decopunk brings with it.
2) What drove you to make inequality, which manifests itself as inaequa, the powersource of technology which prolongs the lives of good creatures, into the game?
We actually (we being myself, Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza, and Michael McCarthy) started writing this a year ago and it just didn’t hook. All of the other settings we’ve made all feel super distinct and are conceptually as tight as a drum, but the original pitch for Book of Exalted Darkness—a medieval world where angels had won the day, instilling a world of goodness for evil adventurers to fight against—just wasn’t clicking.
While checking on the status of the Book of Exalted Darkness pitch (which in its original form was not sent to Legendary Games but another publisher) I ran into an article about how the world needs more decopunk—and I emphatically agreed.
They decided to pass on it (which was a good call for everyone!) and since I had control of it again I started figuring out how to merge those two ideas together, then—like all my best and worst ideas—very late one evening I had an errant thought: “what if humans develop a gene that transforms electromagnetic energy in a practical way, like increased synapse firing or…” and off I went for a twenty minutes. The idea got tossed into my subconscious for a while and then a few days later it hit me: that could be the crux for the campaign setting! I ran to the computer and started a flurry of messages to my team and they were like “that’s it, we got it”. After a few more days all that germinated into inaequa and then the gold and blood encrusted grimoire of good and evil that is Book of Exalted Darkness. We actually had some other things planned for the start of the summer and ended up swapping the schedule around after figuring out inaequa because it really is something worth thinking about; it doesn’t do harm, it only unfairly grants gifts, a boon to one’s life, something more valuable than any gem or relic! I know I wouldn’t be cool with inaequa (even if it did work for me; anything that discourages free will is bad in my book) but it’s definitely a worthwhile conundrum and most importantly, it gives the party a reason to unify together and some justification for being truly despicable villains: for JUSTICE!
3) What challenges have you had bringing extra technology into 5th Edition? How have you tweaked character classes traditionally associated with medieval fantasy to integrate them into your decopunk setting?
Oooh, excellent question! Hypercorps 2099 5e is superhero cyberpunk, Mists of Akuma is eastern fantasy noir steampunk, and 2099 Wasteland is apocalyptic sci-fi, so this is going to be my fourth campaign setting where technology plays a significant role. In the past we relied on class archetypes, but starting with the most recent book we decided that technology was playing an important enough role that it needed to get entirely new class options so 2099 Wasteland has doctors, mechanics, and scrappers, all of which are available in that book’s PDF preview. We also created a customized weapon-building system but those rules don’t really have a place in Book of Exalted Darkness—we’ll be pulling the vehicle rules from 2099 Wasteland but otherwise every piece of technology is getting its own entry on how it functions (and in the case of inaequa-powered devices, the rules for how it works for a good/neutral/evil creature).
As far as technological archetypes go in Book of Exalted Darkness however, there are none yet. If backers or playtesters say, “Hey Mike! I want to ________”, I will make a draft of rules for it and toss it around with the design team, then probably include it. This book we’re shooting to make 180 pages but most of the time we end up stretching resources to the brink and producing 50% or more past what the initial budget planned on. But hey! We’re making the best books we can!
I’ve been mentioning mad scientists and those are where I’ve been putting my technological emphasis on, creating the equivalent of a warlock for the scrapper from 2099 Wasteland (which is built mostly like a wizard but with technology). Mad scientists only use their spell slots to cast offensive things through their Scientific Weapon, relying on Scientific Devices (like a warlock’s eldritch invocations) to access other magic. For their archetypes there’s an Evil Engineer (who specializes in surviving within society), Fleshworkers (chirurgeons that perform surgeries that grant a variety of benefits or things like lobotomies), Tricksters (want bombs and explosions?), and Unholy Technologists (if you’re looking to trick and manipulate inaequa, this is the way to go). There’ll be a free Mad Scientist Playtest PDF coming out before the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter ends on June 17th so keep an eye out! :D
4) What’s been the most twisted thing you or your PCs have done so far in playtesting?
Oof, that’s a hard one. There are four things that stand out for me:
5) One of the biggest challenges in running an evil campaign is keeping the party focused on a unified goal. How does Book of Exalted Darkness help GMs and PCs stay unified?
Well the whole world is quite positively arrayed against them and they have a shared enemy (albeit an uncaring global effect as opposed to entity) but those are pretty vague. Part of the Book of Exalted Darkness is going to be devoted to fleshing out as many GM tools as we can provide for keeping a cadre of villains from backstabbing one another but there’s a trinity at the core of them all—fate, thematic mechanics, and circumstance.
Fate is pretty obvious: make the party need one another through plot, tie them to one another by connections in their backgrounds, or have some very vital story reason for the group to work together. Thematic mechanics are a little more vague—these would be things like an in-game pact that has out-of-game consequences on character sheets—but there’s also Sin. Killing one or two companions might not be so bad, but going about murdering too many (unprovoked allies) will rack up your Sin. Then there’s circumstance or tertiary benefits. Having a trusted ally you know is competent means access to a network of contacts you don’t have yourself, it’s easier to survive against a state government when you have allies, different compatriots have their own unique talents (like that mad scientist you all know and are kind of afraid of but have to rely on for technological help anyway), and so on. Near the end game it’ll be very important that at least one party member be able to act as the “face” when their villainy becomes truly infamous or they’ve transformed into vilespawn, otherwise the party will be up to commando-esque raids on the workings of Askis’ most powerful defenders with little ability to manipulate the exploitable bureaucracy surrounding them.
Thanks again for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness! As of this writing we’re still in the first week and 67% funded, so we’re pretty excited about reaching the funding goal and unlocking a few stretch goals (hint: we’re looking to convert outside of 5E!) Check out the project page, download the 2 free PDFs, and consider pledging to my (6th, sure to overdeliver again) Kickstarter! :D
Check out the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
For nearly a year, I have been GMing a playthrough of the Mummy’s Mask adventure path for my Twitch channel PlayingBoardGames. This was my first time as a GM for an adventure that would last more than two or three sessions. It was a daunting challenge but I was very excited to learn in a trial by fire scenario. Overall, the experience has been positive and incredibly fun. I have a lot more to learn, but these are four things I’ve learned running Pathfinder for my Twitch Channel.
1) No Player Treats Battle Maps The Same
After a few sessions I noticed a distinct divide in how my players perceived combat. Some of my players needed to know every distinct detail about where they were and where the enemies were. It made sense to me, combat in Pathfinder requires a lot of math and spatial awareness. Knowing the exact distance and how to possibly use the environment to your advantage is crucial in successful combat. However, I had some players who absolutely loathed having to look at a map and measure out their movement.
These players were my more ‘cinematic’ players. They were the kind of players who cared less about being exactly 40 feet away from the Orc and cared more about charging up to the Orc, weapons raised with a screeching battlecry. They understood the requirements for proper distance and space between enemies, but they wanted to create the entire situation in their head. Their mind made it more cinematic and, for them, incredibly more fun than a little battle map could.
To balance my players I had to come up with a way to suit both parties AND also showcase combat well for Twitch. In the end leaning towards a more cinematic approach works best. Our combat is all verbally based with myself being the only one with the battlemap. Our players who like knowing the exact distances and space still always ask, but now I am able to share that information with them on the fly.
2) The Heart of Pathfinder Lies in Your Players
I would not be anywhere without my party. They push me to give them the best story-driven experience I possibly can whenever we get together to stream. I’ve heard a lot of stories and jokes about harsh DMs that enjoy putting their PCs through the death gauntlet, the party coming out with less limbs or lives than before. To me, that negates a lot of what I find to be the most entertaining and fun role-play experiences.
Pathfinder, especially with the way we stream it on Twitch, reminds me a lot of people getting around a campfire together to tell a good story. The players act as the heroes (or villains) that hook the audience with their decisions. I’m sitting behind them building props, making costumes, and thinking of interesting roadblocks to throw at them. My job is to keep both the audience and party in suspense while also giving my players a challenge and making sure they’re following the rules. No story is fun when suddenly the main character dies for no reason. Likewise, the story isn’t good when the main characters can suddenly do whatever they want.
The push and shove and balance between the PCs and the GM is a beautiful one. We are not enemies. The greatest thing I can do to get my players engaged is to not be a jerk to them, but is instead to provide stakes and plotlines that get their character involved-- to get them role-playing.
3) Let Your PCs Impact the World
This sounds like an obvious one, but the importance of it didn’t hit me until I did it on a much smaller scale. This isn’t about your PCs having an impact on the main story, but having them influence and change smaller details.
This is best explained by an example: our PCs were called in to help decide something by the city’s generals regarding an undead invasion. Inside the war room all of the uptight officials were standing over a map of the city muttering in silence. One PC proclaims: “This room is missing a man standing with a sword over his head screaming his lungs out.” All the generals met him with disdain, insult, and confusion and the player shrugged it off. The next time the players decided to attend the war planning they barged in the following day. As they entered they found (with a successful Perception Check) that a man standing in the back quickly lowered a sword and stopped screaming when he saw players enter.
The PCs all LOVED this. I cannot stress enough about how much of an impact this little joke of a moment had on the players. It makes the world feel malleable on a smaller scale and reminds them that there is more to do than just ‘save the world’. It gives them a reason to interact with every character and circumstance they can, because nothing is absolutely set in stone. Of course the example I gave was on the sillier side, but our stream is quite purposely comedic. This brings me to the last lesson I’ve learned.
4) Pull the Rug Out From Under Your Players
On our channel our primary format is comedy. We like laughing and we like making people laugh. Due to this, our Pathfinder sessions have a lot of comedy in them. The NPCs are ridiculous, our PCs tell a lot of jokes, and most things are taken with a lighter twist. However I found that it was very important to put my players into situations where in a blink of an eye they weren’t laughing anymore.
The story has been unraveling over our sessions and I’ve been taking characters’ backstories and weaving them in the plot. I found ways to put in little story notes that would push the buttons on these backstories and exploit the emotions of the PCs. When you add in a moment of absolute seriousness after a moment where everything was happy the players can really get sucked into the story and realize that there is an actual stake that they are fighting for.
This works the opposite way too. It’s why Shakespeare’s tragedies had comedic scenes or moments within them to lighten the mood. It’s a little breather and change of pace that the audience, or in the case of Pathfinder, your players, really need. Shifts in pacing, storytelling, mood, and tension are incredibly important. Nothing that follows a straight line is interesting. Surprise your players and make them constantly feel like another twist can happen at any moment. This gives them a reason to continue playing and pushes them even further in their characters. And really, to me, this is what Pathfinder is all about: mutual storytelling with rules and dice.
When streamed on Twitch roleplaying games take on a unique presentation. It’s less of a game and more of a show. We don’t necessarily play Pathfinder as much as we perform Pathfinder. That doesn’t mean these four points won’t help GMs who play games in the private of their own home. Adding a living and breathing world is the heart of good roleplay, it takes it beyond a game and into a story. Turn your campaign into a story your players will want to share around a campfire.
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Character deaths are (typically) a constant threat in any gaming platform. From table-top to video games death happens. For some of us, this happens more often than others and in the infinite expanse of table-top role-playing games, this can be VERY odd and brutal. However, some people’s tables get more, frisky, than others. Mine happens to be very odd. Most of my characters are at ends with my friend’s characters. Some of it's me, some of it's him. But when a simple magic jest leads to imprisonment and several failed suicide attempts, things could be considered “out of hand.” Well, here are some of the most insane deaths that have happened at my table.
1) Riding a Barbarian into Battle
If you know much about me, I have a tendency to play dexterity based characters. Stealth is pretty much a prerequisite. Once upon a time, with one of my first characters, we were dealing with something WAY above our pay grade. Taking down a lich. We were level 7-ish. There were three of us. You can see this was essentially a setup for a TPK, however, careful planning followed by some solid rolls made my character Garrett Snowfeather our only casualty. I was our rogue/archer. We had a barbarian (known as Ethan the Cad(long story) and last, but not least, our gnomish wizard Lindon.
You see, our assault on his fortress was fueled not only by our barbarian’s rage but by a Growth and Haste spell. Both placed on our friend, Cad. When my old boy Garrett came along, riding a superfast twelve foot, muscle bound badass with a greataxe seemed like a decent idea, at the time. However, one explosive arrow that didn’t go off and a sudden stop that sent me flying towards my previous target caused a wall to collapse both on me, and the lich. So, I got all the experience from killing the lich, which was squandered by my corpse.
(Note to reader: While riding a companion is always a solid attack plan, make sure communication between the mount and the rider is perfect.)
2) Suicide… Kinda?
Ah yes, the Deck of Many Things. A dangerous weapon in the hands of an angry murderhobo.
An even more dangerous weapon in the hands of a character who is both Chaotic Neutral and has an honor complex at the same time. In short, I was a bard, my friend, a dex based fighter, and we had a monk as well. I playfully antagonized (hold person spell) our fighter while he was killing unconscious pirates. The player swore revenge. The character was just pissy. Later we divvied up the pirate booty and our fighter got pricked with a poison needle that started to kill him.
In his last moments before unconsciousness, he drew a card. And got an item. (To this day I still don't know what it was he got.) I saved his life (which would make one assume I was off the hook.) We get to town and we all do our own thing.
We make a stop at the magic shop and all do a little bit of this and that. We go to the bar to do a little money making before setting off again. As I perform during the evening, I feel more groggy than usual. It gets worse and worse before I collapse and find myself unable to move. He approaches me to see if I’m ok before he draws a dagger in order to kill me and regain his honor. Fortunately for me I nabbed a cloak of stars (or starlight I can’t remember the item) and slip into the astral plane.
The player (now very angry) draws as many cards as he could. Resulting in an alignment shift, another magic item and some experience, a loss of experience, and a keep. However, the sheriff and his men dragged him away. As he left, he drank the rest of the poison he slipped into my drink. Which only paralyzed him ,as it did me. After I could move again, I pressed charges and had him sentenced to death. Not before he killed himself in jail (he failed to do so 7 times before finally succeeding.) The DM was not impressed with our fighters “cooperative skills.”
Another adventure with Ethan the Cad. Our friendly barbarian was on watch one evening when he heard rustling in the bushes. Of course, being the headstrong manly man he was, he rushed forward without awakening me or Lindon. Being a rather speedy fellow he quickly caught up to one of the culprits. A goblin. He continued to chase and kill them for quite a while. Before finally, the inevitable happened. He walked into a trap.
Ten feet in the air. Enough so he can't move or gain any footing. But still low enough for goblins with spears to poke at him. He managed to kill one of them, which was impressive in his state, but in a matter of rounds, he was kind of screwed. An hour later, we follow the goblin corpses to his corpse. Luckily enough at the time, we had a cleric with us who was a high enough level to bring him back. But this was quite the learning experience for Ethan the Cad.
4) I Touch it Again
This one didn’t happen to me personally, but it’s far too juicy to omit. This was actually a campaign my father played in. While searching through a lich’s tower (they were more qualified than poor Garrett,) they came across a glowing sword on one of the walls. One of the players (who we will call S because he gets angry about this to this day) touches the sword. Which sends him flying back after an electrical boom hit him for a tenth of his health. One would assume that S would have learned his lesson. But, this was far from over.
“I touch it again,” He exclaimed robustly. S seemed to think that the sword had expended all its energy blasting him across the room for it had stopped glowing. So he touched the sword again and received a similar treatment. This time however, he was certain it was all out and in another act of sheer stupidity, touched the sword a third time. This time, his hit points were reduced permanently and the tip of his finger had turned black. As time went on, this blackness spread and not even a greater restoration spell would do much. One morning the party found him missing. As it turned out, the sword turned him into a beast, hairy, strong and out of it's mind. They didn't have much of a choice.
5) The Arrow
Now, I’m not saying experimenting with magic items is a good idea. But it kind of isn't a bad one if mass destruction is your goal. This was a bit on “home rules.” We had expanded the explosion radius on bags of holding and when portable holes popped, the created a vortex. Well, one day Peren Ravenclaw, the great arcane archer, decided to craft a weapon so wholly powerful it broke medieval martial law. Inside of a large arrow head, he set things up to shove the portable hole inside the bag of holding and then pierce them both through each other. Shooting this out of a bow seemed like the best way to stay at a safe distance. One day, it was used on a battalion of orcs. Who were swiftly demolished. Not only was it tearing them apart and sending some of them to the astral plane, it was sucking the rest in.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is how he dies. But no, I actually escaped the vortex alive. However the aftermath is what killed poor Peren. Eventually the crater that was created filled with water. The area was so “radioactive” with magical energy, I knew the water had to have magical potential. But alas, a small crack in a flask and a small hole in a glove ended up turning his skin hard as stone, making him strong as an ox and tough as nails. But, A: Magic no longer worked on or around him and B:He was ugly as all hell. As such he went to a mage’s guild to see what they could do, and came to the conclusion that nothing short of a wish spell would put him back to how he was. “Turning back to how I used to be permanently,” probably wasn’t the best word choice on my part. Because Peren now technically never existed nor ever will exist in that world again.
We’ve all had some pretty crazy moments stemming from stupidity, spite, luck inexperience and the likes. But, really, who can say they kamikazed a litch? I’m itching to hear some of the stuff that’s happened to others though, please put it everywhere.
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
“Hello from the other siiiiiiiiiiide”; except not really, because it’s been a year and this manuscript is taking forever to write, but I felt that a community update was necessary. It’s me, your favorite researchin’ bird! I have not fallen off the face of the earth, I just really underestimated the amount of tomfoolery that a federal hiring freeze was going to cause and how much support our exchange students were going to need this year. A refresher: last summer, your girl decided to do a study on the experiences of 200+ lady table-top gamers and you can read the logic for it here.
Purpose of the study (now I can talk about it without worrying about biasing my sample!):
A) Establish “traditional” demographics (so age, race, sexual orientation, etc.) along with game-specific ones (how long have you played, player vs GM vs both, what was your first game, etc.)
B) Establish whether or not mentoring relationships exist within the community and whether or not they served as moderators for levels of coping skills and social skills (two things that would serve as “real life skills” within a connected learning context)
C) Look at the levels of sexism women in the community have faced from other players and GMs, opinions on how important community was to them, where they’d like to see the community go in the future, whether or not they felt their gender had influenced their experiences as a gamer, along with asking why they were comfortable/uncomfortable with their current/most recent gaming group.
**Disclaimers: my work PC is currently in the shop so I don’t have access to SPSS/my data so numbers in this article are my best estimates/are probably a bit off, sorry. This research was conducted only with US residents so results might not apply to other countries.
1) Everybody’s Queer Up In Here And Other Fun Stats Trends
Much like my study on the cosplay community, there were a surprising number of queer and trans women in this study (read: higher than the 5% and 1% in “general population” samples but lower than the levels in the cosplay sample)! This is super cool because there’s something about niche hobbyist communities that seems to be drawing these typically marginalized folks. Research in the cosplay community has indicated that being LGBTQ is more socially acceptable within that community and “being someone else” may help them to solidify their identity as an LGBTQ individual.
The same seemed to hold true for female-identifying folks in the TTRPG sample. However, the opposite was the case when it came to race and ethnicity; well over two-thirds of the sample were White/Caucasian. Part of the reason games in general (not just TTRPGs) have issues with finding diverse audiences is due to a lack of representation/stereotyped representation of ethnic and racial minorities, something that was echoed in the qualitative responses from that population. A sizeable chunk of participants had been gaming for 40+ years (read: women have been gaming since the beginning). Most people in the sample had completed at least some college and most identified as players-only.
2) Dang, Sexism & Harassment Suck And Are Totally A Thing™
A small part of my soul dies every time I have to do really repetitive data analysis tasks (read: coding 200+ qualitative responses for 6-7 questions). A pretty sizeable chunk of it died when coding responses to the questions about sexism experienced within the last year and some of the other open-ended questions. I used a validated scale to measure this and tacked a qualitative item to the end of it asking about other instances of sexism participants may have experienced at the hands of other players or GMs.
I had purposefully excluded two items looking at sexual violence because I’d applied for expedited review with my institution’s review board. However, the number of people reporting those things on the qualitative section of this measure and others was disturbing. While the levels of sexism experienced within the last year were relatively low in this sample (yaaaaay!), that may have been due to the fact that many of these women had experienced lots more sexism in their early years of gaming (booooooo!), and had taken steps to avoid those experiences in the future; which leads me to my next point.
3) Lady Gamers Are Resilient As Heck
Typically, when people experience lots of aversive events related to doing a thing, they stop doing that thing. Lady gamers say, “To heck with that,” and keep gaming despite (and oftentimes to spite) the people that would like them to remove themselves from the hobby or to just “shut up and deal” with poor treatment because “that’s what it means to be a gamer.” To cope with negative experiences, lady gamers in my study employed a number of strategies to keep themselves safe: gaming only with close friends, not gaming at conventions/game stores, only playing online, not engaging with the community as a whole either online or in person, only playing with other women, and there were a few people who were thinking of leaving the hobby entirely because “things never change,” which is a damn shame.
It’s also upsetting to me that lady gamers need to jump through so many hoops and often choose not to engage in the larger TTRPG community as a self-preservation measure; this means they’re losing out on one of (in my opinion) the best parts about the hobby. These tactics might also explain why people are so quick to say that women don’t game; they’re just not vocal about participation and their opinions because those things often lead to harassment and violence.
4) If You Wanna Grow The Hobby, You Gotta…
Get with my friends! And be inclusive! My eyeballs are gonna bleed if I have to code “less gatekeeping” or “more inclusivity” one more heckin’ time. The end of qualitative coding is in sight but these were by far the most common themes from the “where would you like to see the community go in the future” question and the open-ended response related to current/most recent group comfort. Honestly these things apply to hobbies beyond just TTRPGs; people are reluctant to change and share their thing with other people because then it won’t be “their” thing anymore.
This is especially true if it looks like their thing is becoming mainstream, because being ostracized for being a participant in the thing, is a part of their identity. It’s true that with new people and varied perspectives involved, your thing will, indeed, change, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s different, sure, and it might take some getting used to, but in the end, variety’s the spice of life and there’s going to be more people who enjoy the same thing as you do. Remind me again why we’re still pulling this gatekeeping business?
There’s a lot more to the study than this but I felt like these were some of the big takeaways from it. Fingers crossed, the whole shebang will be coming to an academic journal behind an exorbitant paywall sometime soon. If you want more info on methods or results, I’m happy to talk shop!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress all under the same convenient handle.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games