In Sickness And In Health 'Til Failed Death Saves Do Us Part! A Short Primer On How To Deal With Love In Role-Playing Games
Love is in the air.
Ah, to be young and in love…
Make love, not war!
I love the smell of napalm in the morning...
That 4-letter word is such a big part of everyday life; it’s bound to make its way into our gaming in one form or another.
Whilst the land of playfully cutting NPCs’ heads off via dice rolling is at least somewhat different from our very own 9-to-5 corporate existence, love in gaming bears at least a somewhat significant resemblance to its real life counterpart. Dealing with love in a less stressful environment can even get people to learn a thing or two and deal with love’s treacherous meanders more easily. Hey, look at that! We’re playing AND learning!
As such, here are a few pointers (mostly from a GMing POV) to bear in mind when dealing with the big L in your role-playing sessions.
1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
I could just leave it at this, seeing as it’s such an all-encompassing statement. Everything else I’m about to go through will bounce off of it in some shape or form, but we’re still doing listicles, not one-sticles.
It’s very important to know who the people around you are and what their expectations from the game itself mean when tackling something as important as love. This is why I’ve personally found that the best in-character love stories occur when those role-playing know each other well outside of the game itself, aware of what makes the other guy/gal tick as well as what ticks them off, how and when to push their buttons and where to stop. Now that doesn’t mean you should only do this with people you know, that might mean you’ll never get a role-playing session...
Love as a whole is difficult to even write about and get right, let alone trying to improvise a story on the go – don’t make it even harder by assuming stuff about your players. Take the time to get to know both them (the player) AS WELL AS their characters (one doesn’t necessarily merge with the other), feel around a bit, experiment and only then try to really go all out lovin’ within the campaign. On the other hand, if the players themselves start a love story, don’t discourage it – see where it takes them and why, and try to be the best catalyst for their plans and ideas.
There’s no harm in going all nun-style with a ruler on them when they cross the line, but you need to find out where the line IS first.
2. DON’T BE A D*CK
AKA Wheaton’s law (or otherwise the only commandment Moses ever needed to bring down the mountain in the first place), this one’s pretty wide when it comes down to it (...phrasing?).
Already linked to the first point, there are many facets to what this could mean, but it boils down to you as a GM not hurting, but enriching a love story as it develops/breaks apart. Someone sacrificing themselves for another in the thick of battle, or taking a punishment for their loved one will mean much more than someone’s betrothed dying after having slipped on a banana peel (unless this is Toon, the role-playing game). Anything and everything you do must make sense not only within the story itself, but even when you look at it from the outside. Sure, throwing a monkey wrench into the whole thing is great, if anything a little adversity makes it all the more rewarding in the end, but dropping a piano on someone out of the blue might skew towards poor-taste (unless this IS Toon, the role-playing game).
If you do, however, go off the deep end and get your players themselves pissed at you for something you’ve done, just blame it on the NPCs. You just make them up and set them loose upon the unsuspecting world, right?
It’s like ventriloquism – that puppet’s got a mind of its own, I swear!
3. FREE YOUR MIND!
We live in a day and age when the people around us are as varied as… well… the people around us, really. What this means for you is that some of your players might have a whole other view on who and why someone should/could be in love than you do. Unless you’re pushing 60 or have been living under a rock for the past two decades or so, that’s a good thing!
Seriously, if you draw the line at something like this yet are OK with your PCs murdering innocent bystanders, you need to rethink some stuff. The caveat to this, as to all love stories, really, is for everything to be done in good taste, something that – again – links to the first point of this list. Whilst people tend to explore more in gaming than they would in real life, this should only be done to the extent that they’re not making everybody else uncomfortable.
That being said, I can think of at least 10 ways a bi character would have gotten me out of some damn difficult situations over the past few sessions…
4. REALLY FREE YOUR MIND!
Careening off the previous entry, and taking it to the extreme, we all know role-playing sessions can be over the top. As well they should be. Where else am I going to ride a woolly mammoth into battle, singing “Come all ye deadful” on a giant harp made from the bones of my enemies?
My cloning experiments haven’t gone all that well lately and I’ve yet to amass nearly enough bones for a giant harp!
If you like to push the limits of your imagination (and why wouldn’t you?), role-playing might even be a good place to find new things to spice up the ol’ under-the-sheets action.
While I’ve been blessed with an amazing group that really likes to push the envelope when it comes to stuff like this (Sword-sex, anyone? Don’t ask…), your mileage may vary. But, if your players DO want to go all the way with their love/love-making (well, that sounded like I was 12…), you may end up with some laugh-out-loud moments if a pack of orcs shows up right as the thief and the mage are going at it while reading Contortionist’s’ Weekly…
What this point really wants to hammer home is that you shouldn’t miss out on some good times/great set-pieces (as weird as that sounds) just because something like that wouldn’t happen in real life. Yeah, YOU can’t possibly reach that way, but why shouldn’t Mubandi, Son-of-Snake-Hands be able to?
5. CHARACTERS =/= PLAYERS
As true as it always is, there should be some clear rules/discussions about this kind of thing when dealing with love and relationships within games. Many a friendship might be lost if a love story goes awry for character-related reasons, not to mention broken hearts if people take these things a little too seriously.
Let everyone know that what their characters do is contained within the game itself and that they should not get their feelings mixed with/hurt by something that happens entirely inside their heads. This is true for role-playing in general (I for one know a thing or two about betrayal… I don’t wanna talk about it…), but even more sensitive when two people lose themselves in the characters they’ve created and played for a long time.
The good outcome may yet happen – two players starting a love story inside the game, then seeing it spill into real life and them getting married a few years later, having kids, a dog, a house in the suburbs, teaching their kids how to role-play, and where am I going with this?
It should all be clear to everyone involved. Take the time to talk it over, out of character, make sure they all know where everyone else is. This doesn’t include letting people in on the betrayal about to happen right after the next kiss, though… Good plot-twist tip there, just blame it on mind-control or something, that’ll get everyone off the hook. Just make sure it makes sense, will ya?
As a happily married man (I wasn’t forced to write that - he says, furiously blinking in Morse code), I know that love can give you wings and make you want to run away screaming at times (very rarely, though - Morse, Morse, Morse…). Those ups and downs are worth it in the long run, they add spice and uncertainty and give you something to fight for. When your players’ characters take the time to think things through, see how far they’ve gotten, talk about a future together, even retiring and so on, THAT’S when you know you’ve steered things into the right direction.
Also tell us how you did it, alright?
We DID give you a few pointers after all…
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.
The role of paladins in Ravenloft has always been a precarious one. It's tough to be a champion of light in a land where darkness sets the ground rules. The original books assumed a "Weekend in Hell" model, which assumed all PC's were coming from lands beyond the Mists. While it sounded cool to say that paladins created a kind of "itch" that darklords could sense from miles away and would respond to accordingly, this created a serious issue once Domains of Dread reset the standard so that PC's tended to be native. That book stated that there were no paladins native to Ravenloft, as being such an irritant to the forces of the land made it impossible to realistically grow to adulthood, let alone first level. However, subsequent books have softened on making such a blanket ban, and fan theories on how a paladin might survive growing up have usually revolved around DL's that are too weak to destroy them, or wise enough to see they might be useful.
So which domains have the best ingredients for a paladin to grow and flourish amidst the darkness? It's time for a breakdown:
While Gaz3 shows Godefroy is more involved with the living than we thought, he still leaves most of the domain alone. That, the generic European flavor, and Mordent's status as the home of the LG Sect of the Ezran faith, make this practically the default origin domain for a paladin. This is also, perhaps, the greatest downside: "default" can become generic or boring really quick.
While Bastion Raines' LE sect of the Church of Ezra is actually morally contrary to paladin ideals, it presumably plays host to other followers of Ezra of the LN, TN, and LG variety who are far from their own centers of worship. That, and Azalin's maxim of "Never destroy a useful opponent" might allow for a paladin to grow up among the cosmopolitan Darkonese. The drawback, like that of Mordent, is in the possibility that such a character might be seen as cliched and bland, coming from such a stock fantasy domain.
Dominic d'Honaire's grip on Dementlieu would normally prevent a paladin from flourishing, but Legacy of the Blood gives a solution: have the paladin come from within Dominic's own family, who are immune to his mind control, and whom he is reluctant to slay outright. Like in Darkon, the paladin might be among the few LG adherents of Ezra who worship at the predominantly TN cathedral of St. Mere de la Larmes.
The LN Home Faith might spawn a LG champion only if the "Evil Twins" allowed it, but never underestimate their rivalry. It's possible, however unlikely, that a paladin might grow up protected by their endless desire to frustrate each other's plots. On the other hand, with her endorsement of the church as a tool of the state, Ivana might see fit to actually become a patron of the paladin, protecting him/her from Ivan. Of course, while such patronage might serve survival in the short term, it could pose a serious risk to the paladin's health and spiritual welfare.
Even veteran players may have forgotten the lawful good secret society from Champions of The Mists called the Green Hand. This religious group are devoted to Osiris (LG), and pledged to exterminate undead wherever they find them. A paladin allied with such a group might have a camel as a mount, and wield a scimitar. Ankhtepot's neglect of his domain between would allow such a champion to grow to adulthood while the darklord slumbers fitfully in his tomb.
While many who read about this domain are put off by the weakling darklord, that's exactly what a paladin needs to grow to adulthood. Plus it has the feudal setting the paladins are usually part of, except with a Japanese twist. A paladin from this area might be a samurai trying to retain his noble status while serving a corrupt Lord, or a ronin on the run from his master.
The Divinity of mankind is similar to Ezra, being LN but with schools and subgroups of many alignments, so finding a LG branch isn't that hard. The Apex of Intuition allows for multiclassing with paladin levels, which partly solves the problem by making it easier for paladins to reach adulthood in another class before switching. The Beacon of Goodness sect that arose just before the publication of the Gazetteer claims to have marked a large number of paladins. All of this is consistent with a land where the Lord cannot physically kill anyone himself, and is not fully free to express his feelings about paladins without giving his underlings something else to use against him.
Like Rokushima Taiyoo, Nova Vaasa allows an interesting role-playing opportunity; even if you play a paladin from more noble houses of Nova Vaasa, you still technically give lip service to a corrupt dictator. Likewise, there's the religious twist of having a paladin serve a LG aspect of a LE God. While technically this would not normally work, there is already some traction built for such a beneficial aspect of the Lawgiver in the form of Father Lukas Duremke, who has a form of heresy named after him. While Malken is not as impotent as Shinpi or Godefroy, his alter ego Tristen prevents him from connecting with the land enough to close the borders, and might also serve to prevent him from homing in on a bright soul in the darkness.
Finally, no such list would be complete without mentioning the Shadowborn Cluster, whose history is intertwined with a rich tradition of paladins, one of whom currently serves as the only ex-paladin DL. Perhaps the penultimate "corrupt master" scenario would be to play a lost Shadowborn heir born in Nidala and groomed for paladinhood by Elena Faith-Hold herself. Such a scion would face death at every turn as they risked loving or hating her too much, either of which would register as "evil" to her twisted supernatural senses.
And that's the best of the bunch! Playing a paladin in the Land of Mists is not easy, but it can be very rewarding with the right character, and an origin story is a great first step.
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). This article draws inspiration from J. W. Mangrum's article "Classes of the Damned," in the Kargatane's Book of Sorrows.
There’s been a lot of words bandied about here at High Level Games concerning which Dungeons and Dragons class is the best.
While I respect my colleagues here (and even like a few of them), in this case, they couldn’t be more wrong. The best class is not the bard, that meaningless musician of miniscule magic. Nor is it the cleric, the ambulatory first aid station and religious pamphlet. It isn’t even the sorcerer, that forceful yet fragile freak whose favorite feature is derived from a random number generator. No, the best class in Dungeons and Dragons, oh discerning reader, is the true jack of all trades, the powerful, flexible, and durable ranger. Here’s why:
1. The true generalist-
The ranger can succeed at almost any role in the party with the exception of the damage dealing arcane spell caster. While so many other classes focus so specifically in their combat roles - try having a wizard hold the line or a barbarian healing and buffing the party - the ranger can excel at either a support or frontline role, switching comfortably between the two as needed. Rangers combine the martial prowess and multi-attack of a fighter with sneakiness of a rogue and the divine spellcasting of a cleric. They can deal out significant damage in melee combat or at range, they can be a tank protecting other more delicate party members (compensating for lack of heavy armor with an array of defensive skills), they can provide healing and buffing spells for the party in addition to dealing a modest amount of magical damage (the cleric is obviously better with spellcasting but they lack the ranger’s martial prowess). Let’s see a bard do all that half as well…
2. The specialist-
Even though rangers are capable of filling almost any role in the party, they are also able to focus on filling a specific role, through their selections of fighting style and ranger archetype. The choice of fighting style at second level gives them the ability to increase their efficiency in their chosen style of combat, increasing damage output or survivability as desired. The choice of ranger archetype, hunter or beast master, can be used for both frontline and/or support roles, depending on how the character is built. The hunter has increased attack and defense capabilities that can benefit either ranged or melee combat, focusing on defeating multiple enemies or facing powerful ones. The beast master gains an animal companion, chosen from any animal with a challenge rating of less than ¼, which can enhance their chosen role in and out of combat according to the type of animal chosen.
3. Incredible survivability-
With the same hit die as a fighter (d10) and a variety of defensive skills, ability, and magic, the ranger is the ultimate survivalist. While it lacks the ability of the fighter or paladin to don heavy armor, the ranger has their equivalent in hit points supported by various defensive abilities (e.g. multi-attack defense, defensive fighting style), divine healing, potential animal companion support, and something no other frontline-ready class has: enhanced stealth abilities. The ability to disappear entirely out of a disadvantageous combat situation can be a literal life-saver. Out of combat, rangers are the most capable class (with the possible exception of druids) at surviving in the wilds, with augmented foraging capabilities, the ability to move with stealth at speed, and superior tracking skills.
4. Mix of martial and divine magic-
This description mainly describes two classes in DnD 5e, the cleric and the ranger. While the cleric might be the classic martial spell caster, they are far better at magic then they are at fighting. The ranger has more hit points, increased damage output from class skills, the ability to use more complex weapons, and most importantly, multi-attack. The cleric is best suited to absorbing damage on the frontlines while bringing their magic to bear, both in support of the party and against the foe; once out of spells, the cleric is essentially reduced to a crappy if religious fighter. The ranger, though with fewer and less diverse spells than the cleric, remains a significant fighting force, near equal to dedicated fighters or barbarians once the well of spells has run dry. The main areas in which the spells of the ranger lack relative to that of the cleric is in the area of damaging and healing spells. The lack of damaging spells is more than compensated by their increased damage in combat. Furthermore, even though a ranger cannot provide the sheer number of hit points worth of healing that a cleric can to the part, they can provide ample healing for themselves as well as limited healing to the party, if need be.
5. Skillful, able, and proficiency-ful-
Finally, rangers come with a varied set of skills, proficiencies, and abilities which, while difficult to classify into simple categories, combine to contribute to the ranger’s greatness. Favored enemies and terrain types are limited in their scope but powerful in the right context; as rangers gain multiple favored enemies and terrains as they increase in level, the bonuses are able to be used more and more frequently. Rangers are proficient with all armors but heavy and are proficient in both simple and martial weapons, which is a boon when it comes to gearing up. They are proficient in strength and dexterity saves, which are particularly important in combat as most damaging combat spells (burning hands, fireball, etc.) are cast against the dex save. Lastly, their skill proficiencies are typically practical rather than knowledgeable, and thus will often see more frequent use (for example, perception will needed in more situations than history knowledge; furthermore, failing a history check usually won’t have life-threatening consequences).
As you can see, rangers are the most versatile of all the classes. The argument for it being the best class is purely opinion, of course, but there are few situations in which the addition of a ranger into the party would be ill-suited. Even though the thought is ridiculous, a party consisting entirely of rangers would also be more successful than a party consisting of a single type of any other class. Now there’s an idea for a new campaign…
- Jake is a young(ish) gamer and writer of blogs. His fist character in a tabletop RPG was a Halfling ranger in D&D 3.5 (told you he was young), whose fate he often tries to forget.
WE HAVE REACHED THE FULL NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS, THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR INTEREST!
I blame my dad for a lot of things; some of them are trivial (i.e. stupid, impossible to style hair), and others are a little more integral to my personality (i.e. being stubborn to a fault). The thing I blame him the most for is making sure I turned out to be a huge nerd! I was raised on a healthy diet of Star Wars, Doctor Who, and all things sci-fi and high fantasy. I was hooked on the nerd lifestyle before I knew what it was. My dad is also responsible for me being an unapologetic feminist; he always made sure I knew I could do whatever the hell I wanted to regardless of my gender. He was perfectly content to play tea party with me or to teach me how to fix up old furniture. Even though he doesn’t always get issues facing women, he always makes an effort to understand.
Despite having played D&D in what he often calls a “misspent youth,” my dad never introduced me to the game. It wasn’t until I met my significant other, The Heavy Metal GM, that I was introduced to table-top RPGs. Needless to say, I’ve been playing ever since.
As a senior psychology major at the wonderful institution that is UMass Boston, I was offered the opportunity to do an independent research study for my thesis. I was working in a lab that does a lot of research on mentoring relationships, and a few people in my lab encouraged me to do my thesis on mentoring relationships in the cosplay community (which is my real wheelhouse). It never occurred to me that I could do research on things I cared about outside of my “serious research interests” in psychology. My thesis was a success and will hopefully be published soon, and also opened me up to doing more research on what we call “connected learning communities.” Which leads us to: why bother studying lady table-top gamers?
1. Connected learning communities are those which come together with a shared purpose and interest, are openly networked, peer supported, and academically oriented. The table-top RPG community fits the bill for this description! Although you may raise your eyebrows at “academically oriented,” you learn skills through playing table-top RPGs that translate to real life. By solving puzzles in a dungeon you increase your problem solving skills and bolster creative thinking; by having to interact with some other humans to achieve your party’s goals, you learn teamwork and gain social skills. All of these things have value in the “real world,” but have yet to be studied quantitatively in gamers.
2. Connected learning communities are also fertile ground for mentoring relationships, which is great, because natural mentoring relationships that form outside of organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters based on mutual interests usually last longer and are of higher quality than agency-based relationships. This means the mentees in these relationships get more out of them, so research on how natural mentoring relationships form is really exciting because it can help us form better interventions for agencies and offer resources for natural mentors in the community.
3. Very little research has been done on table-top gamers since the 80’s and the Satanism scare of that period. (Side note: D&D doesn’t make you more prone to Satanism, RPG players aren’t any different than non-players in terms of neuroticism or Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator personality type. They do, however, have more empathy than non-players. Take that, MADD!) Not continuing to do research is just silly, because people still play D&D and communities are ever-changing.
4. Most research on table-top games have focused exclusively on D&D (other RPGs exist!), and have had either negligible samples of women, failed to recruit any, or deliberately excluded them from their samples. This is a pet peeve of mine as a researcher because it’s REALLY short sighted to exclude people who make up, you know, HALF the world’s population. Just sayin’. If lady gamers’ experiences differ from male gamers, that’s important for us to know how and why!
5. With the rise of the trash fire that is GamerGate, women in gaming have experienced a huge amount of backlash both online and in person resulting in doxxing, death threats, rape threats, trolls popping up in social media feeds with their special brand of vitriol… do I need to go on? And while there is some research that’s been done regarding this new gross faction of the gaming community, most of it focuses on competitive video game RPGs. No empirical research to date has been done on whether or not these attitudes exist within the table-top RPG community, although anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that things are just as bad here.
6. Lady gamers are thus a twice marginalized population; mainstream folks don’t appreciate our niche interests and often scorn us for them (although now it seems like it’s cool to be a nerd???), and men in the gaming community who are supposed to appreciate our interests treat us like garbage. No, not all men, but enough creeps exist to make many of us seriously doubt whether or not we want to risk our sanity and safety to stick around in this hobby. Which, from a research standpoint, means that we would miss out on all of the great benefits that the table-top community has. Ouch.
So, I want to study how much sexism lady gamers perceive within this community, and how they cope with it and maintain their interest in the hobby.
I can’t reveal too much about my hypotheses otherwise it’ll bias responses of anyone who decides to take part in my research, but after analysis is complete (and hopefully accepted to a journal somewhere) I’ll give y’all an update!
If you are a lady gamer interested in taking my study please read on:
Hello table top gamers!
My name is Jessica Cunningham and I am a researcher based out of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. I am currently conducting research on women’s experiences within the table top role playing game (RPG) community.
As a member of the table top RPG community, you have the opportunity to participate in a research study about your perspectives as a female gamer. The study consists of an online survey that should last 1 hour. Participants must be at least 18 years of age and identify as female. You can enter to win one of four $25 Amazon gift cards as a thank-you for participating if you are a United States resident. The link to the survey is here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BHKXBJS
None of your responses will be linked to your name or email address. Please contact me if you have any questions via email at email@example.com
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.
About 80 years ago lived an author; a tall, thin American with a strong jaw and thin lips. His name was Howard Philips (H.P.) Lovecraft, and although during his life his tales only made him a very modest income, after his death his works would redefine horror and suspense.
Specially for RPGs, and even beyond the seminal Call of Cthulhu, lets face it, most Monsters From Beyond nowadays have, in some location of their anatomy, tentacles. 50 years ago you had the Balrog: big, demonic, and fiery. Now we have amalgams of flesh, cartilage and tentacles; and possibly eyes.
Now I know that in life HPL was perhaps not the nicest of people, but here I’m merely focusing on his works, and most particularly, why his works are so revered these days and why they keep getting adapted to Board and Role-Playing games.
These games, and there are many, center on investigation and… well… despair. So why do so many people (me included) love the Cthulhu-verse?
Here are my 6 reasons for why most people these days have heard of Cthulhu.
1 – UNDYING.
You can’t kill Lovecraft’s monsters. It would be like throwing pebbles at a mountain. No stakes-through-the-heart, no silver bullets. HPL’s monsters don’t have an off switch. They are, for all intents and purposes, forces of Nature (likely a different one from ours). You can’t stop a tsunami. You can’t stop a tornado. You can run, try and deflect it, evacuate in front of it, but it WILL come. This makes Lovecraftian games different from say, D&D. You can try and shoot it... but I doubt you’ll make any dent in it.
2 – UNKNOWABLE.
To know HPL’s monsters is to invite madness. They are beyond our world, beyond our universe, beyond our understanding. Although some might be worshipped as gods, or god-like, they are no such thing. They are just millions, perhaps billions of years’ worth of evolution distant from us. Arthur C. Clark said, ‘Sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.’ Cthulhu and friends are such, they are so beyond us that if they ordered a latte, it would still come across to us as magic, and the latte would kill us.
3 – UNREACHABLE.
To avoid explaining why we don’t all go mad with Godzilla-sized dragon/octopus/humanoid beings roaming the streets, it turns out that these beings, with a couple of exceptions, do not reside on Earth. Whether they live in other dimensions or the other side of the Universe, there are a number of choices. The bottom line is this: not only can the heroes not reach the baddies (and probably shouldn’t, to begin with), but they will only usually interact with avatars or cultists, making the whole thing much more insidious, as every one of us could be one of them.
4 – UNSTOPPABLE:
These are beings beyond the usual laws of physics. You won’t be able to stop them. In one Laundry game (think contemporary Call of Cthulhu) I played we did stop these horrendous things called Shoggoths, but we used a tactical nuke. Also, for the record, Shoggoths are like 4 levels down in the scale of Lovecraftian power. So... yeah.
5 – UNREACTING:
The ant analogy is used often; you wouldn’t notice squashing a few ants whilst crossing the road. Lovecraftian creatures are like that. They might covet our minds, or our blood, but otherwise, we are like single-cell organisms to them. The works of Man are totally irrelevant to them, and we are ignored as such.
6 – UNSPEAKING:
Would you speak to an amoeba? Would you ask it not to do something? Exactly. We can never be totally sure of these creatures’ purposes, but we can usually infer that they involve mass sacrifices of humans, invasion of our plane of existence, etc. The lack of direct contact, the s-called Silent Enemy, becomes more ominous by several orders of magnitude.
A number (almost all) of Call of Cthulhu’s scenarios have a ‘worse case scenario’ section. As in, what would happen if it all goes belly up. This usually means that something ridiculously powerful, and old, and hungry breaks into our world with understandably bad results.
This is it. For me, this is the key. To continue with my D&D comparison from before, you’re Level 1 and a red dragon just lands in front of you. You’re dead…very, very dead.
However, you can be sneaky, and talk, very fast.
So maybe you’re dead, but you’re going to have a fantastic time trying not to die.
When late into the night you hear chanting, or coalescing smoke in a corner of the room, or an odd shape against the moon....
Pick up a Lovecraftian game and fight to your last breath to keep those tentacle nasties away.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist who, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 18 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. He is currently working on a Cypher system space/superhero adventure and a Fate-based Cyberpunk one (with a dark, secret twist). He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
Another Olympic season saw the world enraptured by the exploits of athletes in over 300 events. Every Olympics seems to have a few new “sports” which causes some tongue wagging about whether it belongs in the Olympics. So I thought, why not role-playing? Some would argue that it’s not a sport. I wonder if these same people argue that golf, baseball, and surfing are sports? Maybe they would, but how about chess and bridge damn near making the cut for the next Olympics? Uhm, actually, chess is already recognized as a sport by the IOC (that link I just posted, 2016). It’s high time that role-playing got its time in the limelight. However, in order to make it an Olympic event, it will have to be broken up into pieces, preferably ones that make good television. To fast track the process, I humbly submit for your consideration: 5 Olympic Events ideally suited to Dungeons and Dragons Gamers. I’ll admit they are not flattering, but they certainly would be entertaining. I know some of us have already been practicing.
1- RULES LAWYERING
Athletes listen to an area or event description read by a DM. Points are awarded for discovering flaws in the description and bonus points for making unnecessarily long justifications for why they are right. These will be timed by atomic clock. Answers must be made in the ‘uhm, actually’ format. Rulebooks are not allowed, so athletes must commit the information to memory and cannot repeat themselves. What separates medal contenders from the rest of the athletes at this event is the ability to provide page numbers to the DM, clearly demonstrating their mastery over the rules.
“Uhm, actually according to the rules [insert idea that stretches limits of credulity here]…”
Athletes participate in a 4-per-table game run by Olympic committee DMs, and their lackeys. Each game runs for 45 minutes. Points are scored for every whine and complaint players have over what happens to their character, or who gets what share of treasure. Bonus points are awarded for flair, creative tantrums, and talking over your competitors. Watch out for sneaky, passive aggressive players who will agree to let their competitors take the easy treasure discovered first, only to make their big push later on when the more illustrious treasure appears. Some of the best are able to railroad almost the entirety of the 45 minutes into a side quest for their character.
“Well, you got the +1 sword from the last room, so I should get the +3 enchanted full plate armor of wishes”
Athletes are placed in weight categories. Points are awarded equally for most food consumed in a 3- hour gaming session, as well as for net weight gained at the end of the session. Of course, this will help make sense of why McDonald’s seems to always be the title sponsor of the Olympics; this would be their marquee event. Players will superficially engage in role-playing, but their real focus here is on eating. This event gets messy, as players crunch and rustle plastic wrappers, chew with their mouth open, and talk to the DM and each other with mouths full of high-calorie treats.
“<Rustle, crunch, slop slop slop, mmmm, belch”
Athletes are asked a series of questions/terms to which they probably know jack-shit. Their job is to act like they know what they are talking about, and convince the judges of the veracity of their claims. It is a round-robin ranking system with gamers going head to head against each other until final rankings are sorted. It’s like balderdash, except nobody actually knows the right answer. Insufferable know-it-alls shine in this event, as do jackasses, and if you know the difference between those two, then you’ve clearly played D&D for a long time.
Athletes of course will be screened due to state-sponsored entitlement
5- TALKING OFF TOPIC
Athletes are randomly assigned to gaming groups who are actually trying to have a legitimate gaming session. The athletes must engage the players at the table, trying to get them off topic, by any means short of physically engaging them. Some strategies include: befriending players and talking about interests unrelated to gaming, getting drunk and blabbering on about how awesome their previous player characters were, or getting your character centrally involved in the plot, only to duck out for a 30-minute bathroom break. Bonus points are awarded when the athlete talks simultaneously with the DM, thereby causing other players to miss important information.
Do you have what it takes to be an Olympian?
Dustinopolis, blah blah blah. Twitter plug (@dustinople). Blah, blah, clever comment, blah.
Magic is one of the most strong key notes that separates the fantasy world from the real world. If you are explaining to someone what role-playing is, the most common tie non-role-players have is bits and pieces pulled from pop culture. In those pop culture nods, there is always a mention of magic of some kind, whether this is a magic item, creature, or player character.
Not only is fantasy known for magic, but it is also game changer in D&D. Magic can be the big event that keeps the player characters safe and can also be a great story hook. This magic power is never more raw and explainable than when it is wielded by the sorcerer class. So here are the reasons you should be playing this class in your next adventure (plus an annoying pet peeve of the class I have.)
1. Wicked Backstory
I am a huge fan of character development within a game. The sorcerer class has to have a backstory to explain their innate magic abilities. Gone is the boring studious wizard, and in is the talent that you were born with. Your family bestowed this gift through your genes (or other means)! Think of it this way, you can still have the classic ‘entire family was killed by orcs’ backstory, but it could be part of a larger piece with those orcs trying to hunt down and end the last of your family line. You don't need the Orc hatred to be based purely on fear, because you are now a special snowflake (awww) and you can remind everyone else of that fact.
2. Spell twisting is twisted
Sorcerers have unique tweak to the average spells of other classes. This metamagic (which you start to use at level 3) can enlarge the distance of your spells, protect your friends from that thunderwave you just crashed, extend the duration of your spells, and many other options. This alone adds an interesting flair to the character that holds this hereditary magic within her hands. How do you use this metamagic you ask? You get to use your sorcery points to create these effects (see #3.)
3. Sorcery Points
These points represent the “wellspring of magic within yourself” (thank you, Player’s Handbook), and it gives your magic user even more adaptability. YOU ARE A MAGIC POWERHOUSE. You need an extra spell slot? You can use your sorcery points for that. You want more sorcery points for your metamagic (see above)? You can give up a spell slot for that. Basically, this makes the sorcerer a customizable dream character. This makes the heavy story role-players happy. “What an interesting twist for your character to put more into the spell to protect the misguided rogue.” This also makes the min-maxers happy. “You mean I can tweak my character consistently to be the most effective at my job? Wicked.”
4. That Magic Runs Wild
The origins of your family magic can be a personal choice, but the Player’s Handbook has two overarching origins for you to play with. Wild Magic is one such origin. With such a rare gift, there is a 5% chance that when you cast a spell that a secondary magic effect (not of your choosing) takes place. I love how this shows the unbridled power of magic that runs through your body. You can seemingly control it… or can you? Choosing this path also gives you the ability to gain advantage in your roll, as you put everything into this one skill or saving throw. You can also get luck on your side by giving disadvantage to your foes as you reach higher levels. Wild.
1 reason you should rethink the sorcerer class…. Draconic ancestry… really?
The other origin of your magic involves being related to dragons or something. Just don’t do it.
Vanessa is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother (and it is her birthday today so she is 30-something plus 1 years old now). She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously… they can’t touch on the plate. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. Every time she writes a new article, she knows that she is outing herself as a role-player to more and more people. That scares her, but she eats fear for breakfast (and toast and coffee.) She sometimes bothers her friends to help with her blog articles which you can see here. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
Some people might be wondering who the Nephandi are. Well, they could be described as the TRUE villains in Mage, but when the game is essentially about differing perceptions of what TRUTH is, that could be used to describe all of the groups in the game. That being said, the Nephandi are Mages that have given up on Ascension. Instead, they have embraced the nihilistic forces of the universe and they are willing and active participants in the process of dragging the universe toward oblivion. So, the question is, why? Well, that is a good question and there are various possible answers. One reasoning could be; they have become completely devoid of hope. They know the world is going to end, that there is no longer a purpose in striving for a better world. Why fight anymore? Here are four ways to use the Nephandi in your game.
1) DON’T MAKE THEM CACKLING DEMONS:
The Nephandi are not all devil-worshipping cultists with demonic investitures looking for an excuse to cackle at the drop of a hat. Most Nephandi are fairly benign in attitude and appearance. Though some pawns of the Nephandi fit the obvious evil description, most of the Nephandi know that the truth is more horrifying. Everything will be destroyed, the Absolute/Abyss/Oblivion is inevitable for all things, they have seen into the darkness and they know the TRUTH. The world is slipping slowly into degradation. Hate, othering, violence, selfishness, all of these are elements of the darkness reaching into the world and breaking it at its core. The Nephandi support the status-quo of the World of Darkness: the breakdown of the hope and joy that encourages human growth. This makes them patient. The average Nephandus is offering help to those without hope, sure, she’s not offering hope, but she is offering a nicer ride along the way to oblivion. Play a Nephandus as an entity focused on the long game, you win many more converts with honey than you do with vinegar.
2) TAKE THE LAYERS INTO ACCOUNT:
There are many ranks of the Nephandi. Mage players usually see the Dregvati, the dregs, basically, the pawns. These pawns can be Awakened or un-Awakened but they all have been led to believe they will gain something from helping the Nephandi. These are Mages, people, and monsters that have willingly sold a piece of their freedom for power. Then there are the Shaytans, adsinistrati, prelati, Gilledians, aswadim, and finally the Dark Masters. (see Mage 20th p. 226.) Let your players see the dregs and assume that EVIL IS DUMB, but, then slowly begin to peel back the layers and let them see that the true dark forces in the universe are smart, so smart that if those layers are being peeled back it is because those powers see an opportunity to tempt the players into supporting their long-term goals.
3) USE THE BARRABI:
The Barrabi are former members of the Traditions and the Technocracy that have been through ‘The Cauls’. What are they? They are mystical places that can invert the Avatar of a Mage. Effectively, these Mage’s become an inversion of their previous selves, a twisted reflection of their Tradition or Convention. Imagine a Void Engineer that has fought most of his life against the aliens seeking to invade Earth. He’s fought long and hard, and he’s lost many soldiers in that fight. He finds himself the last survivor in a bloody battle with xenos, and those creatures tell him, “You have failed General, your people are dead, you’ll be dead as well, but we can offer you something better. We can give life back to your people, we can give you the power to win your battles from now on, we can save the marriage you thought you’d destroyed years ago. We can give you the life you wished you had. All you have to do, is join us.” He’s tired, he’s sick of fighting, these beings are offering him everything he ever really wanted. He takes it. Maybe they give him everything they promised, maybe they ignore their promises, but in the end it doesn’t matter, they’ve found the chip in his armor. Now this Barrabus is in charge of a whole fleet of Engineers, many of whom he is sending to certain death against an enemy he actually serves. The Barrabi are terrifying because they are able to hide among their former peers and they know the best ways to betray them.
4) THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THEIR MAGIC:
There are so-called Qlippothic Spheres; however, from a rules perspective there is no difference between them and the ‘regular’ spheres. Maybe there is no such thing as the Nine Keys to Hell? Instead, this is simply a massive shift in paradigm. They KNOW that the world is slipping into oblivion and they KNOW that the universe will eventually devour everything. So, their magic is more powerful in some ways because they KNOW that Paradox is simply a temporary response against their Will. Even if they are destroyed by Paradox… all that means is they have met the Absolute sooner. That being said, they can cause the same effects as other Mages, they can impact the world in similar ways, they simply fail to recognize that they have the ability to make the world BETTER. If they hear the player characters calling for Joy, and Ascension, and Growth, they laugh. They KNOW such things to be futile in the grand scheme of things and they will show the characters this TRUTH.
There is too much written about the Nephandi that is excellently written. The 10 pages they get in Mage 20th are absolutely amazing. I can’t do them justice in comparison. If you want to dive deeper, read The Book of Madness. If you want to move away from Mage for inspiration, read The Book of the Wyrm, read some of the Wraith books on Specters. There are numerous great books that touch on the topics the Nephandi represent in the World of Darkness. They claim to know the TRUTH of the universe, but the challenge for the players is to show that there is no SINGLE TRUTH. Instead, Mage is about the world living in an ambiguity of Reality. Truth is fluid, reality is simply our expectations gilded upon a quantum world beyond our perceptions. The Nephandi claim Oblivion is on the other side of the curtain. Mages, even Techno-Mages KNOW the opposite to be true. Pure potential awaits us on the other side of the universe we cannot see.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
It’s not really Higher Level Gaming’s focus of interest but if you haven’t heard, there’s a new game out there available at something called an “App store?” called Pokemon Go. It’s based on the original material that Wizards of the Coast brought over from Japan right after it bought the rights for D&D from TSR back in the 90’s. Now I’m not one to read things like the news or Internet blogs but I keep my ear to the street and it seems as though the game is fairly popular, at least from what my wife tells me. At its essence the game is about creatures, big and small, and that I can relate to. Searching for conspiracies, waging war on neighboring kingdoms, and pulling the perfect heist, can all be great threads for game plots but what would an adventure be without a couple of fun and terrifying creature encounters. We all joke about how funny it would be to run into a Beholder at level 2 or a bunch of Kobolds at level 10 because it’s funny, and it’s funny because we know the stats. We’ve seen the pictures and heard the descriptions; we know the challenge because WE have the MONSTER MANUAL! So what are some of the more interesting Poke-indexes out there for tabletop gaming? Here we go.
1) Monsternomicon- for Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press
Privateer Press’ last release of their Monsternomicon was in 2005 with edition 3.5. Containing 80 creatures with gorgeous art, this book provides beauty and depth at the same time. Detailed descriptions, explanations of prestige classes, and updated monster encounter rules inclusive to environments; speak well to the developer’s eye for detail. The creatures are formatted for most D20 campaigns and provide “un-imaginable terrors” for the hardiest of players, and the name is kinda awesome too. Privateer Press also offers a selection of miniatures for some of the creatures.
2) Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary- Atlas Games
With an equally awesome name Atlas designed the Bestiary to be adaptable to most campaigns. However, it holds a little more weigh than the previous entry with 220 creatures and what they describe as “atmospheric descriptions, evocative illustrations, and solid stats”. The wealth of descriptive content is only surpassed by the artwork of Grey Thornberry, Chad Sergesketter, and Brian Figur. As with Privateer Press, Atlas also offers a selection of miniatures for 9 of the creatures within the Bestiary.
3) Monstrous Arcana books-D&D 2.0 by TSR
Gone but not forgotten. Not everyone was a fan of 2nd edition but I mention these books here because the concept was pretty interesting. Three sourcebooks were published, each for a single monstrous creature type; I, Tyrant, The Sea Devils, The Illithiad, and I. Each sourcebook was then provided three corresponding adventures focusing primarily upon that creature type. Each source book was around 96 pages and pretty much contained every absolute detail TSR could imagine, write and illustrate about these 3 creature types. While out of date, they’re still an interesting read totaling 228 pages about 3 very specific creature types.
4) Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the newcomer to the table. With D&D 5th edition came about a newer better Monster Manual, which was as you know created through a playtest of over 170,000 D&D fans. Easy-to-use, descriptive, and quality illustrated, this baby smells nice. If you’re worried about losing your old favorites, don’t. They’re all here; ready to hug you, and squeeze you, and suck the marrow from your bones. With an online resource of the Monster Challenging rating index for DM’s and a price tag of$33.10 you probably already own this book so I don’t have to tell you about it.
Monsters are a cornerstone of role-playing and random encounters with them make the stories of legend. Great monster manuals improve our gaming experiences and take us back to our roots in terms of adventure. They embody our history, our fears, and our desire to overcome. I’m glad that there’s a ton of monsters out there, in every shape and form, even the one in my mirror. It would be a boring game if there were only 150, and I just want to point out that you don’t have to catch them all. Some of them are really dangerous and trying to catch all of these creatures in-game would be time consuming and in-humane.
Sometimes, you want just a little something extra to add to your favorite tabletop RPGs. This usually means putting in a lot of extra time to get that extra something, creating new items, characters, or side quests for your players to enjoy. In today’s busy world, it can be difficult to find the time to do these things yourself. Aren’t we lucky then that so many amazing supplemental books exist for some of our favorite games? Here are just four that can really enhance your experience at the table!
1 . Arcana Exxet, from Anima: Beyond Fantasy
I’ve written already about how much I enjoy the magic system in Anima. Part of my excitement stems from the magical supplement for the game, Arcana Exxet. Within, GMs and players will discover all new sub-paths of arcane might, from war magic to blood magic, or others such as the path of nobility, with which a caster can enhance their social attributes. This would be enough to make a great supplement, but the creators did not stop there. They include more powers to enhance the Summoner class, allowing them to bind little fairy familiars to their souls, or instead call down the power of ancient heroes into themselves and temporarily gain their strengths. Further still, the creators added more Psychic Disciplines for the Mentalist class, allowing them control over chaos, light, electromagnetism, and others. The art within this book is nothing short of gorgeous, and the sections are well laid out and indexed.
2 . Seers of the Throne, from Mage: the Awakening
Every great group of protagonists needs an equally impressive set of villains. To this date, I have found no other better society of antagonists in roleplaying than the Seers of the Throne. Are your mages getting a little too big for their britches? Are they walloping werewolves and ghosts with equal ease? Send in the Seers. A combination of the Illuminati and the Golden Dawn (made famous by Aleister Crowley), this group seeks nothing less than the complete subjugation of the human race, jealously guarding the power of Awakening.
What’s more, most members believe firmly in their cause. Each Seer is taught from their initiation that they were individually chosen by a group of archmage demi-gods called the Exarchs to eventually Ascend and rule the world, and that each other unnecessary Awakening harms not only their chances by forcing them to share power, but also weakens the metaphysical cosmos. Your players will suddenly face an enemy that is more affluent, prepared, and completely without regard for the sanctity of human life. Many even possess a robe that gives them the innate ability to control non-mage humans at will. The book remains one of the line’s largest supplements and goes into extensive detail about this great group of baddies. It’s a must-buy for Mage GMs, in my opinion!
3 . Unleashed, from Iron Kingdoms
Less like a supplement and more like a game unto itself, this standalone expansion for Iron Kingdoms details the “Hordes” side of the world of Immoren. While the core book allowed for players to create characters from the more civilized areas of the world, Unleashed opens up wider and wilder possibilities. Why make a human soldier when you can create a Gatorman shaman? With all new spells, equipment, characters, careers, and settings, this book easily doubles the options available to players and GMs. Take your characters hunting undead through the bayou, or contend with the mighty and malicious Skorne empire in the East.
This supplement is not for the faint of heart, however. It’s possible, and quite likely, that many of your PCs will find themselves eating their enemies in order to fuel their abilities or acting without regard to regular societal niceties. I believe that most will enjoy the change of pace this massive supplement provides. Now get out there and bite somebody.
4 . Dragon-Blooded, from Exalted 2nd Edition
Exalted boasts a huge line of products, though it’s only now seeing the printing of its third edition. Each type of Exalted and each section of the world received its own full book. Many of these supplements helped enhance or alter the way the game is played, or at least provided the Storyteller with new vistas and enemies to present to his or her players. None, in my opinion, does more to change the way one plays the game than the Dragon-Blooded supplement. To go from playing a Solar or Lunar to one of the Exalted of the Elemental Dragons is a jarring experience. As a Dragon-Blooded, you essentially play one of the bad guys from your previous campaign, working to retain your crumbling Empire while the Empress is away. All your life, you’ve been told that the other Exalts are demonic and worthy of nothing more than a swift execution. As such, your world view differs greatly from all other Exalted types. While your raw power proves objectively less than that of your Exalted enemies, the military might that a Dynast of the Empire can bring to bear would cow even the gods themselves.
What’s more, while a game of Exalted would typically work best with 3-5 players, a Dragon-Blooded game can easily become a LARP-worthy affair. Emphasis on political intrigue, plotting, and warring on a large scale allow a GM to plan a massive game for his player base. Never have I seen a supplement so fundamentally change the nature of its base game, and to such incredible and wonderful effect.
There you have it: four amazing books with so much to add to your standard tabletop experiences. I would be remiss in my duties, however, if I did not mention a particular volume that, while not a supplement per se, adds a great deal to any GMs arsenal. Gamemastering by Brian Jamison holds a ton of advice for new and veteran GMs, in addition to a bunch of charts and tables for those of us who love generating random characters, settings, and encounters. The techniques that the author teaches are truly useful for getting the most out of your games and making certain that everyone at the table is having a great time. Big-ups to my bud Marley for getting this particular tome for me.
What are some of your favorite supplements? Let me know. I love hearing from readers and fellow gamers!
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/
Have you ever asked yourself how much surroundings play a part in getting players and GMs alike even more into the games they’re already in love with?
'Course you have, we’ve taught you well after all!
I still remember feeling the urge to whip up a quick game of Suicidal Surgeons Surround You *Copyright* the last time I went to the hospital to have my violent tendencies checked.
They’re working fine, thank you for axing.
Point is, the more you go out of your way in setting up a scene, even so much so that you can only run a game once in a red moon we all know how rare those are, but dammit, no more World of Darkness before the next one!
I know I'll personally wait in starting my horror campaign until I can get all of my friends together at this old, abandoned ranch just over the hill from my grandparents house Creaky metal chains and weird, windy circumstances incoming!
Before my wandering thoughts get the best of me and I fall into daydreaming again, here are a few more places that would definitely spice up a RPG get-together
1 Office Building
Starting with an easier one for most of us corporate UAVs, this ones preferably done after closing hours for the full effect: just a few lights left on, nobody else around, its the perfect spot to start planning that big heist your party’s attempting next.
Obviously, modern times work best for this one, but if your office is located in a 150-year-old former dukes' retreat or something in which case you’re a lucky bastard and you should be ashamed of hating your job, there could be a treasure buried underneath that thing! - you can get away with time lines slightly more on the yore side of things.
You’d easily get away with role-playing evil corporation-level shenanigans in here.
Pay cuts, personnel reductions, unpaid overtime Ugh, just the thought of it sends shivers of joy down to my shriveled, black heart....
2 In the woods. At night.
Got a forest trek planned out for your players next?
Do it. Do it now! For real, though.
Get your camping gear, find yourself a cozy spot, don’t forget your dice, don't burn down the forest, and really get into that rustling leaves and unknown animal noises creeping about just out of sight. That’ll get the blood a-flowin!
The effect might be even greater if one of you is actively afraid of the woods, more so at night, that’s bound to give his character some new and exciting personal curled-up positions to explore. Might even make for personal growth, make them quit their desk job and become a ranger.
The other side of that coin would be them going insane, quitting their desk job and becoming a berserker, but your mileage may vary. Tranquilizer guns might come in handy.
But you didn’t get that from us.
3 Decrepit old dungeon/basement/mezanine-style place.
Yes, yes, we keep coming back to that old trope: the geek squad, cooped up in their basement, Mountain Dews galore and spells galosh or something.
But have you ever been to one of those old, brick-wall, arced-ceiling basements?
My parents place used to have that, old house cca. 1930s or so, the floor was just compacted dirt which really gave it a creepy vibe since it was uneven and the one flickering light we had down there seemed to never light up the entire place and always go out way faster than expected. It really felt way older than it really was, and the fact that the ceiling was high and the room itself was long gave it a bit of an echo that always freaked me out as a kid.
Dank, cold, dark What more could you ask for?
Years later and before the A/C days - Id take refuge in there during hot summer days. Good place to reflect on the frailness of the human condition as well as spectral apparitions left without an explanation to this day.
Just food for thought.
4 WWII-era bunker.
While most of these might be out of reach for our purposes, I think youll find plenty of these in all sorts of places- or so a quick Google search says (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/pictures-memorial-day-world-war-2-atlantic-wall-bunkers/#/6-WW2-Bunkers.ngsversion.1464298202948.jpg) still alive, well, and lacking any Danger or Keep out signs plastered all over them. We don’t condone trespassing or putting your lives in too much peril if you choose to take these as a travel itinerary.
Heck, even a thematic old French cottage/museum could work for this one, just to get you sucked into those days. Cue spy plots, fake IDs, hidden compartments and really bad French and German accents. Although we do do most of those regularly. Especially the accents. Even if they’ve got nothing to do with the situation at hand.
We alrready ave one!
Enough wandering, back to the plot...
Electrical lighting optional, thematic clothing mandatory.
This would go hand-in-hand with some LARP-ing as well now that I think of it. Just remember never to take things too seriously, as is the case with all RPGs.
No matter how loud your GM gets over the sound of gunfire, those Fockers aren’t really bearing in on your position, Jumbo GI, stop begging for a LMG, sit down and roll some dice, for the love of the game!
In the end, and I'll never stop saying this, your sessions are only as good as your GM and their chemistry with the group as a whole, but going all in as per the above may well help with at least the atmosphere side of things.
As always, not in the least an exhaustive list, I eagerly await further ideas to add to this primer.
Maybe we can come up with a High Level Games 100 RPG locations you need to see in a lifetime How high is too high? Special Himalayan Edition, 2nd printing, forewords by Reinhold Messner and the Abominable Snowman.
Alright, I'll stop now
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.
Vampire: The Masquerade is a horror game; even if every game played isn’t about horror, the fact you are playing an undead parasite on the side of humanity is something that is horrific. That being said, the humanity/road/path rules have not always been cut and dry and that makes things a little difficult to use them effectively. In most of the VtM games I’ve played, most storytellers have ignored the rules or used them sparingly. I don’t think any of them disagreed with the concept, but they did get frustrated with remembering the hierarchy of sins and understanding when and how a roll should be made. Some also understood the horror side of the game, but didn’t want every session to be about the brooding horror and so they would sideline these rules to focus on other awesome aspects of the game world.
Here is a short list of things I think help make the rules easy to use.
1) Make your players learn the rules too.
I know that the Storyteller should know the rules, but this is one of the rules that your players will need to spend some time with. Your players should learn what the hierarchy of sins looks like and why it exists. You should take 10 minutes to talk about what the Path Rating each player has really means. If it is high, why and how will that impact their role-playing are great questions for them to consider. Also, discuss the basic purpose of Conscience/Conviction, Self-Control/Instinct, and Courage. Players need to read this section of the book a few times, and don’t be afraid to start a session with a short-refresher training. Encourage your players to ask for appropriate checks. If they are thinking about draining a human because that person made their character angry, encourage the player to roll a Self-Control check to see if they follow-through, particularly if they have a high Humanity rating. If the players start suggesting such rolls for themselves then you are headed in the right direction.
2) Oh, if I go down in Humanity I can kill everything!
Sure. Let your players do this if that is the direction they think their characters would head. Then make them regret it. Remind them of the power of their Beast. Describe scenes to them differently; focus on the primal hunger inside them by making even basic human interactions a game of fight or flight. If they had an activity their character loved doing, find ways to make them realize that activity no longer holds appeal. Try adding Beast Traits, or other physical markers of their separation from humanity. I’m not talking about doing this every time they lose a dot of Humanity, but it is a good thing to add in every now and then to make the transition down into wassail worse for the character.
3) How about I switch to a path/road then?
Again, sure… then remind the character that such a transition takes time, not only time, but a true role-playing dedication to acting inhuman. Paths are alternative worldviews created by Cainites to help them try and reconcile their base natures with the Beast. The Path of Night does not simply allow for a player to act “evil” at will. Adhering to that path requires a dedication to thinking as that character, making choices that would fit a philosophy in line with that Path. For characters on a path or road (depending on which rule-set you are using) that player must spend the time reading about that path. I recommend that player also create a sub-set of rules alongside the hierarchy of sins. This rule-set are parameters of how their character understands the Path/Road and how that affects their behavior.
4) Know when to Roll and when to Role-Play
In my experience, most WoD players know when to role-play their Path/Road/Humanity rating, but very few know when they should be rolling their virtues or rolling their path rating. This is in some-ways a recap of number 1 on this list, but it is focused more on the ST. Know when you should let your players role-play out a loss of humanity or regain it without rolls. If you think a roll is justified to make the decision the player is making stick, do it. This applies to path rating as much as it does to Self-Control. If a player on the Path of the Beast needs to roll Instinct to see if they chase after prey, even if that prey is inside Elysium, ask yourself if a role or a roll is the best way to handle that situation. I’ve personally seen Courage rolled the most, because I think most players and storytellers can get their minds around fear and a roll to see if they are affected by supernatural or ‘natural’ derived fear. Self-Control and Conscience are very similar, find times they are appropriate and story-driven to force rolls, and then encourage effective role-playing of the effects.
It can be awesome to role-play vampires as supernatural heroes, but you are missing something special about Vampire: The Masquerade when you do so. VtM is a horror game for a reason, darkness lurks behind every human action, and the creatures that lurk in that darkness are truly monsters. Don’t make every game depressing, but don’t be afraid to drive home the inhumanity of your characters every now and then.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Evil Will Always Win Because Good Is Dumb: Four Reasons Your Next Campaign Should Be A Villain Campaign
Despite the incredible diversity in game systems and mechanics, most campaigns share one underlying feature: the players are the heroes. That’s not to say that heroes must be ‘good’ characters; an evil character can also be the protagonist in the story (an anti-hero, i.e. Deadpool). However, we as players typically play the good guys, the protagonists, the heroes. To break free of this limitation, try playing your next campaign as a villain campaign: the players all play as characters who are the bad guys in a story. That’s not to say that everyone has to be ‘evil’, either, but rather the campaign is set up in such a way that the players play the role of the antagonist in the story. This is a super fun twist on your typical role-playing game and can be done either as a one-off or in a long term campaign. Here are four reasons why you should embrace your inner villain.
1. Explore new characters-
While there is limitless diversity amongst playable characters in role-playing games, the majority of them typically play the role of hero in the stories they inhabit. Protagonists typically share basic motivations derived from their similar role in the story. Playing as a villain opens up new and diverse characters for the players to explore. There are typically some classes or abilities underutilized by ‘good’ players due to their particular moral bent (i.e. blood magic, sacrifices, torture) that become more appealing when you embrace your villainous nature. Even more than that, there is a whole new world of character motivation and morals to explore. No longer do you need to concern yourself with collateral damage. Honesty can be thrown out the window. Murder and mayhem are now excellent tools for problem solving. The pursuit of power can finally be unfettered by such pesky principles as decency, integrity, and virtue. Long story short, you will likely end up playing a very different character than you’ve played when you were one of the heroes.
2. Inverse questing-
We’ve all been on countless numbers of those stereotypical quests, whose reiterations can be found across all mediums and systems of role-playing games: rescue the important person (often a damsel) from the monster (or other form of distress), save the townies from the baddies, escort the fat rich guy through the dangerous place, kill the boss at the bottom of the dungeon. We become inured to the resulting monotony and just push through these humdrum acts of heroics for the XP, loot, or just for something to do. However, if you are the villain, you are the one who gets to kidnap the princess, destroy the town, ambush the merchant, and hold court from your deadly dungeon. These familiar quests are given new life when you are working from the other side. For example, kidnapping someone is a surprisingly different endeavor than rescuing them. Rescue missions are typically just smash and grabs where you beat all the baddies between you and the target. Kidnappings are stealth missions occurring against overwhelming odds, where getting caught or slowed down means death for the interlopers. Similarly, how many ways can you think of regarding how to destroy a village? Conversely, how many ways can you think of regarding how to save a village? There is infinite creativity in how to bring about destruction, but only one or a few ways to avert it (and those are entirely dependent upon the threat posed). Long story short, you will likely end up playing out very different scenarios even in similar situations faced when you were one of the heroes.
3. Defeat, where is thy sting?-
Normally, when the PCs are defeated in a campaign, it is a moment of disappointment and failure. Who doesn’t have the scarring memories of losing beloved heroes to the forces of evil? However, in a villain campaign, when the players are finally overthrown, it’s actually a happy ending for the world; good has finally triumphed against evil! The point behind a villain campaign is not to beat the bad guy and live happily ever after, as is our wish for our most beloved heroes. It is instead to set the world ablaze and watch it burn as long as you can. Typically, evil does not desire to live happily ever after, that’s not got an evil enough ring to it. When it comes down to it, role-playing games at their core showcase the struggle between good and evil in which we want good to triumph. Long story short, in a villain campaign, all it takes is some player death for the world to right itself.
4. Leave your mark-
This point is particularly for those of you who play in a persistent world. There is no doubt that villains leave an impression upon the world; how much of the world’s politics in the latter half of the 20th century was dictated by the actions of Adolf Hitler? The ramifications of actions done by the player villains can live on in future campaigns. Indeed, even the villains from your campaign can live a second life by starring as the bad guys in subsequent campaigns. A villain campaign doesn’t need to end with the death of the villains; they can be spared for the very same players who gave birth to them to bring about their end. It makes the struggle between good and evil so oft played out in RPGs a more personal one. Being thwarted by a villain whom you created is simultaneously both a frustrating and proud moment. Defeating your villain will often be bittersweet, as the joy of victory will be linked with the sadness of having one of your characters die. Long story short, playing the villains can provide players a new way to leave their mark on the world and generate great stories for subsequent campaigns.
Villain campaigns are always a blast. None of us would see evil triumph over good in this world, but it is undeniably enjoyable to see it happen temporarily when you are the triumphing evil. So if you’re bored of the same old campaigns played year in and year out, why don’t you give being the villain a try? Dark Helmut seems to think it’s a good idea.
- Jake is a closet villain with a love of role-playing games, world history, board games, and fantasy in general.
The character building process of 13th Age is not too terribly different from most other d20 based role playing systems. The most noticeable difference is the emphasis on story and narrative that the rules encourage. Oddly enough, this has a lot of bearing on building your character among other things…
1) You have agency over the setting
The backgrounds system aforementioned encourages you to create a robust backstory for your character. Well, do just that! Don’t be afraid to insert your own truths, or in some cases perceived truths, about the Dragon Empire or any other setting your group is playing in. Of course, the GM has the final say in all that is to be had, but shoot for the moon for your first draft. Don’t try to take into consideration what your GM or other players have in mind, unless you’re running a session zero (which could be an entire post on its own). Bounce ideas back and forth, take the liberty thrust into your hands and shape it into something fantastic. In case of a session zero interference, start big and hone it down to something compliant with what everybody else is thinking. Usually, this is the way that everybody can have the major concepts they want work within the everyone else’s vision, including the GM. Compromise does NOT mean sacrifice and can be used to create something beautiful.
2) Details, details, DETAILS!
What brings your character to life is the implementation of the little things. 13th Age does part of that for you, using the One Unique Thing mechanic; a mechanic that makes every player have one, non-combat related quirk such as a strange mutation or an interesting personality trait. But why stop at one?! The One Unique Thing on the sheet may only be your most noticeable trait, but just like real people, player characters should be complex creatures with many layers strewn about them. For example: When we adapted Ravenloft to 13th Age for the first full campaign we played, I had played a drow rogue. Yes, how typical, I know. The kicker was that his One Unique Thing was that he was a 200-year-old aristocrat... And so happened to be a vampire. Usually a vampire mutation would be tied into some sort of feat structure or sub-class or prestige class, but bugger all that for a second. The detail wasn’t intended to be a play on the vampirism fantasy trope, but to be a well-known person with a dark personal trait. A wolf among sheep, a well-known figure with a hidden personal agenda. So no, he didn’t have super strength or speed, he couldn’t levitate, he actually could see himself in a mirror (which he sometimes hated) but damn, was he still an interesting character! Oh, and the detail? He was obsessed with pocket watches; it was kind of his thing. At the conclusion of things, he ended up being buried alive to live an eternity of boredom because Strahd was malcontent with his performance in the mission, but hey, such is Ravenloft.
3) Image over mechanics
Role playing games are based off of imagination, aren’t they? So why force yourself to do something if it doesn’t work effectively within the mechanics? I can hear all the power gamers shuffling their stacks of notes and clicking their PowerPoint files to explain why I’m wrong. If you’re new and still trying to find your groove, give this shred of advice a listen before that. Mechanics are easy, pure imagery is hard. Building your character to do what you want them to look like can sometimes lead to an ineffective character in combat. So long as your character is the interesting piece you want them to be, it doesn’t matter. Your wizard has a great sword? Well, he’s -2 to hit, but that’s freaking badass! 13th Age in particular is very good at not completely barring you from realizing your visions of characters. You don’t have a long list of proficiency feats, you don’t have racial restrictions, you get to do what you want, when you want. Seize that, and take the day!
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher needed my help to record an instructional video to fellow members of staff. She wanted it to be funny, so her directions were simply "Go all mad scientist-y!" Now me, having spent the better part of a decade in labs, doing "mad scientist" isn’t that much of a stretch. But then something happened. With no script, no real idea of what I was doing, I started to improvise. And I didn’t stop. What followed were the most embarrassing (for me) and gut wrenching hilarious (for everybody else) four minutes of my life.
And then, like a lightning bolt, it hit me. It’s the RPGs. That’s why I’m more fluent with improvisation and silliness.
For years, we all heard and felt the stereotypes, role-players as pale figures, hunched over a table, in a dimly lit room.
The reality could not be more different, and I’d like to share 7 real life improvements RPGs made to my life.
1. Improvisation –
"The door creaks open. A mad goblin jumps out, foaming at the mouth, screaming ‘Pine trees!’ whirling what looks to be a stuffed racoon. What do you do?" A year ago, this question would have floored me. I’ve been blessed with an imagination which is pretty much powered by a Warp Core, but I would have had no idea. Now, I wouldn’t even blink. "I’d jump aside, I’d ask questions about the Goblinoid Stuffed Badger Appreciation Society, (The GSBAS) I’d scream back ‘European Oak!’’ RPG’s force you to engage your brain, and turbo-power it. You’re constantly thinking, imagining, extrapolating, visualising. With all due respect to crosswords, you can’t beat an RPG.
2. Networking –
Very few RPG groups exist in a vacuum. Someone always has the number of someone with a copy of that core rule-book you need. You get to meet new people, you expand your horizons, you laugh with them, and you’re sorry when their character gets injured.
3. Maths –
You might not understand or care an iota about probability, but you turn into a supercomputer when the dice start rolling. You understand that rolling a D12 is better than rolling 2D6, you FEEL the numbers, you add your bonuses in milliseconds and don’t even blink.
4. Creativity –
This links with point one. As a GM, you’re basically starting a universe from scratch. You might be following a scenario book really closely, but at the end of the day, those pesky players will never do what you want. RPG’s force you to be a script writer - always imagining, always creating and being infinitely adaptable.
5. Organisation –
As a player, if you’re not organised and keep losing your Character Sheet and/or your dice, people will not be impressed. If you’re a GM and you’re not organised enough, you are DEFINITELY not going to have a good time. I’ve had to turn the expressions ‘clipboards’ and ‘tick lists’ into art forms. Sure, the worlds won’t end if you forget that prop, but really? After all your effort to make it? Better pack it a few days in advance, huh?
6. Social skills –
Really important and often underestimated. The people around the table come from all over the place in all possible senses. What is acceptable to one might not be to another. I’m not saying you need to walk on eggshells and patrol yourself continuously, just ask the group what their limits are. Further, the most efficient groups are the ones where people think about the needs of the others, be it regarding time, logistics, money, etc.
7. History and General knowledge –
I’ve researched and read into all sorts, when I plan my games. I now know more about medieval armour and swords than I ever imagined I would. It’s not info that will make you richer, or get you a promotion, but if you’re like me, you like just to know things. Last week I found that you can throw a pike like a javelin, but it will be a pretty poor javelin.
So when a youngling comes to you and say "I want to play RPGs!" just think that if he or she finds a nice enough group they’ll enjoy every second of it, and will come out the better for it. With friends, finely honed social skills, and an imagination the size of a small planet.
And we need all of those we can possibly find. Warp Drive isn’t going to invent itself, you know.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 18 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. He is currently working on a Cypher system space/superhero adventure and a Fate-based Cyberpunk one (with a dark, secret twist). He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
First off, a disclaimer: I’m forty-seven years old, and my gaming days began in 1979 when I stole my brother’s Christmas present, the fabled Blue Box D&D set. I was ten years old, and it was true love at first sight. But it was 1979; role playing games were a bizarre foot-note in mainstream culture, and I was stuck in the middle of north Texas. So be warned that, back in my day times, they was a-hard.
But you kids? With all your fancy Interwebz and Tweeters and Snapchatteries, you have it made, and here’s why:
1. Wikipedia and Google
Imagine yourself as a grubby little Cheeto-eating ragamuffin, leafing through your holiest tome, the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. You’re just soaking it all in, Gygax’s obsession with tables and Dave Trampier’s gorgeous art. But then you stumble across something not even your nerdy Honors English class prepared you for: the bec de corbin.
What the hell is a bec de corbin? You live in Texas, Spanish is the only foreign language taught, and you’re only eleven years old. Context clues? None. The original AD&D books had great art, but not much by way of illustration. Gygax knew stuff, and he expected you to damned well know stuff as well. Eventually I ended up on a field trip to the Fort Worth Public Library and carried along a long list of historical D&D terms I could look up in the reference stacks. But even the Encyclopedia Britannica couldn’t tell me what the hell a ‘Lucerne Hammer´ was.
But you lucky kids? Google takes 0.3 seconds to fill a page with photographs of the bec de corbin, links to historical articles about the evolution of pole-arms in general, and websites where you can commission a blacksmith to make you one of your very own. Once you’ve perused all the historical information, you can scroll down to the ten-thousand links for gaming-related uses of the word.
2. Enter Your Card Number and Expiration Date
Little known fact: TSR had a problem with their dice supplier for the old Blue Box set. In lieu of dice, they provided little paper chits you could cut out and, I don’t know, pull out of a Crown Royal bag to simulate rolling dice. Yeah, like that was gonna happen. Personally, I ended up engaged in my first foray into statistics: trying to find all the ways you could make combinations of d6 roughly approximate all the normal polyhedrals. It was dumb, and it sucked, but the nearest store that sold D&D stuff was eighty miles away, and they only sold books and the occasional boxed set of Grenadier minis. No dice for me.
Snail-mail and the personal check were the currencies of the day. I subscribed to The Space Gamer and Dragon magazines, and the pain of finding and buying stuff was real: save up money from chores, give said money to Mom, Mom writes check, I mail check. Then wait. For weeks and weeks. Steve Jackson Games wasn’t bad, since Austin wasn’t that far away, but do you have any idea how long it takes to order something between Mineral Wells, Texas and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? I do.
But you kids? Amazon, Ebay, direct from the publisher. You’ve got options. Even better, you aren’t even bound to physical media, what with your PDF’s and Epubs and what have you. You can see something cool, buy it in a matter of seconds, and be reading within minutes.
Of course, I still prefer dead-tree books. You can’t leave smudgy Cheeto finger-prints on a PDF.
3. Culture and Community
All joking and grumbling aside, this is the one I really envy when I see the newer generation of gamers. It’s no hyperbole when I say that I bled for D&D. Gaming, comic books, computers, all the stuff that fuels the billion dollars of entertainment today? That stuff could get your ass kicked back in 1980, and that’s if you were a guy. I can’t even imagine being a female gamer back then. I’ve talked to women who survived those years as girl-gamers, and their stories make me ashamed that all I took was one good ass-kicking.
But these days? There is some lingering sexism practiced by a thankfully-diminishing number of assholes, but that’s about all that’s left of the Bad Old Days. My kids have been in multiple gaming groups since middle school and never faced any kind of friction for it. I have a niece who can argue the neck-bearded trolls into submission about comics, Tolkien and pretty much any other geeky topic (damn, I’m proud of that kid). I go to conventions and see all kinds of people, crowds of them, all blithely enjoying whatever it is they enjoy.
I know there are still cultural dead-ends like the town I grew up in. But with the advent of the internet, any kid unlucky enough to grow up there can jump online and find people, whole communities who share interests and enthusiasm.
And that is frigging awesome.
I’m going to leave it at that, with that inspiring image of a new generation of gamers, an inclusive, empowered and confident community. Us old-timers like to bitch about you whipper-snappers, but just know this: we are damned proud of you. You’ve got advantages we never had, but you’re using them to make things better, and we just hope you come visit us in the old-folks home to roll some dice occasionally.
But bring real, printed books and real dice. You show up with PDF’s and dice-rolling apps, we might be forced to lecture you. At length.
Jack Benner is the head bottle-washer and sole roustabout at Stick in the Mud Press http://stickinthemudgames.blogspot.com/
There comes a time in every teenager’s life where you have to hide something that you’re doing. You hide embarrassing things from your friends and hide almost everything else from your parents. You probably have grown a large repertoire of ridiculous half-truths and lies since those years to cover up for almost any occasion:
No, I don’t know who that person is!
Oh, I was sure that this the agreed upon time to be home.
I was just at a friend’s place...watching a movie.
This injury? I jumped off a swing.
But the truth is, if you have a consistent habit you want to hide, the lies can get tougher. When you are an adult you likely hide your role-playing habit from most people. People have a skewed view about the hobby (it is so lame) or a biased idea of those who play (the ever-virgin male who lives with his parents.) These stereotypes don’t always allow all people to admit their hobby, for fear of a change in the way people look at them.
When you use the lies from your youth, they get old really fast. Not only do they get old fast, but people start to ask you more detailed questions. Which leads to more detailed lies and more chance for error. Role-playing is generally falls into a routine pattern, so you need to build the lie, before you get too involved in your half-orc warlock’s backstory.
Lie 1: Generic Games Lie
What are you doing tonight?
Beginner lie: Playing games with my friends.
Problem: This lie given consistency always comes with questions. It is too general and cryptic. Also, people who don’t understand role-playing games will also not understand the need to play any type of game over and over again with the same people…. And if they do, they may wonder why they are not invited.
Intermediate lie: I’m playing video games with my oldest friends.
Problem: Though it is good because it is specific and you can explain why your other people may not be invited, it also gives the impression of a Peter Pan Complex. I mean, seriously, will you ever grow up? Playing the same games with the same friends you played with years ago is not an attractive lie.
Professional lie: I’m playing board games with disadvantaged children
Benefits: This lie will explain the regularity of the task. You can also let them know why they couldn’t come along with you; there is an application and criminal records checks and a entirely long process (how tedious). The extra benefit to a lie like this is that you can now invoke a sense of superiority about your weekly game.
Lie 2: Hanging out Lie
What are you doing tonight? Do you want to have dinner and hit a movie?
Beginner lie: No, sorry I can’t. I already have plans with some friends.
Problem: This lie pits one group of friends over the one who is engaging you in the conversation right now. Also, if they hear the same thing again, you are likely to automatically distance yourself from your dinner and movie friend.
Intermediate lie: No sorry, I can’t. I am hanging out with my significant other.
Problem: This one is a pet peeve of mine since it can cause your friends to suggest that your SO is monopolizing all your time. It leads to you throwing your SO under the (metaphorical) bus every time you are role-playing as well as when you are actually spending time with your loved/liked one.
Professional lie: This is my book club meeting night.
Benefits: This an accepted social activity for people who are normal, but is nerdy enough for your friends to not want to join you. You can also pick a specific book you have read to talk about quite easily. The rhythm of The Cat in the Hat is reminiscent of walking along on a journey through the book.
Lie 3: The Routine Lie
What are you doing tonight? We should go to the pub for some drinks.
Beginner lie: Sorry, tonight is my house cleaning night
Problem: Your house better be immaculate always for this lie to work. Also, even if your house is that clean, it is easy for your pub-going friend to be insulted by this. You are literally choosing to clean a toilet over a drink at a bar with them.
Intermediate lie: Oh, tonight's family dinner night, actually.
Problem: This one is more plausible, because family traditions are set in stone. However, it does leave you open to having possible free time after dinner. For a long role-playing session, you probably aren’t going to have time to hit up a pub afterward. This one also only works if you have family in town.
Professional lie: This is the night I work on myself.
Benefits: Now you probably don’t want to work it exactly that way, but it is a personal routine and it is self-care. Maybe the goal is to write a novel. Nobody ever has to see that. It is always a work in progress. Maybe, you are a painter. You don’t paint to display your work, but to improve. Or maybe, you are into fitness. You could easily tell them you are into Crossfit and post about it incessantly on social media and it is believable.
For whatever reason, you need to hide your hobby, happy lying!
Vanessa is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother (not male, virgin, or living with her parents). She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. Every time she writes a new article, she knows that she is outing herself as a role-player to more and more people. That scares her, but she eats fear for breakfast (and toast and coffee.) She sometimes bothers her friends to help with her blog articles which you can see here. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
So I wrote that headline as a way to get you to click the link. Who admits to click-bait? To be honest though, I don't actually have a major issue with either the classic World of Darkness or the newer Chronicles of Darkness. For me, both gaming worlds have awesome things to offer a good storyteller and in some ways, both have their drawbacks.
1) Both have great worlds:
One of the things that I love most about the classic World of Darkness was the meta-plot. The meta-plot was amazing, it was deep, engaging and excited and there's always a sense of impending doom. The problem with the meta-plot in the classic World of Darkness is that there's always a sense of impending doom and after a while you kind of think, isn’t it about time for the end of the world already?
Though I don't think that's the only reason that White Wolf decided that they weren't going to continue the classic World of Darkness it certainly seems to have been a big part of it. They wanted to provide an opportunity to tell a great story without always having to have the apocalypse or the end of the world in some form always on the horizon. Now for a moment let's contrast that with the Chronicles of Darkness. The awesome thing about the Chronicles of Darkness was it created an open world where players and storytellers could experience a sense of personal horror and play vampires and werewolves and all the different groups without feeling like the world was going to end any moment.
That being said, they left things a little too open-ended in the original versions of the book. So what had the possibility of being a really engaging opportunity for storytellers actually ended up turning a lot of folks off. Now what some of us, (including me) didn't realize was they would eventually release books that addressed that concern. I also think they actually created a fantastic story which made things deeper and engaged people. Things like the God-Machine Chronicles and some of the other great supplements provided a lot of cool story options for all the game lines. I'm tempted to pick a bunch up from DriveThruRPG one of these days.
2) Crunchy mechanics:
White Wolf went through a lot of edition adjustment through the years for various reasons. In all of them they would adjust, tweak, and update rules. The 20th anniversary rules are so far some of the best Classic WoD rules I've played. That being said, the rules in the Chronicles of Darkness are great. The mechanics work well, and if they had been supplemented with great story from the beginning I would have probably latched onto them and never left. (Maybe not, I joined the Army not long after the Chronicles came out so I probably would still have been on hiatus.) To me, there is no competition here. The games both have mechanics that work for them, they are similar and the golden rule allows you to use what rules works for you and your game.
3) Mage versus Mage:
I love Mage: The Ascension, there is a reason my first article on this site was Mage related. That game drove me deep into philosophy, and science, and theology, and supported a brain that already loved those things. Mage, even with its dense rules was a game that I would go-to time and time again just to read the books. Mage: The Awakening initially pissed me off. I hated it, I detested that it was NOT Mage. Recently though, I listened to a great podcast by Midnight Express and they mentioned some of the plot that has been created over the years for Awakening and I started to come around. I've been peeking back at the first edition Awakening book and its supplements and I see A LOT of cool story potential. It might not be Ascension, but it IS Mage and you should check it out.
4) Vampire: The Requiem is awesome:
VtR was my favorite of the Chronicles lines from the beginning, but I wasn't playing with a group that liked Vampire so I didn't pick it up. I regret that decision. I love the mechanic of aging that doesn't require generation. I love the use of signature progenitors and the easy way to make and support bloodlines. I like the clan and covenants idea. This creates a lot more drama and potential alliances in and around territory. That being said, it isn't my beloved Vampire: The Masquerade and it never will be. Again, like Mage, that's ok. I love VtM for its religious tones, even if I disagree with them in real life. I love VtM for the impending possibility of Gehenna and the soul-crushing Jyhad. I like the Clans, Tzimisce are one of my favorites, but the Nosferatu and the Brujah get a lot of love from me. They are all excellent. So, are the Daeva and the Mekhet.
Play World of Darkness games and I’ll be interested in talking about them. Enjoy the Chronicles of Darkness or enjoy the Classic WoD. Both are great and I think we should recognize that!
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Ever been tired of doing the right thing all the time? Being heroic and morally fastidious can only get you so far in life and gaming. I don’t know about you but I’m a little sick of always having to save the village or cure the plague, and don’t even get me started on that Robin Hood crap. How many times have you walked into a room in a campaign and just knew you and your buddies could wipe out the king, his body guards, hell his whole kingdom and just keep the loot? Well quit holding back, you’re doing this to yourself, a villains campaign is what you desire deep down inside. I’m not saying you can never go back to being Mr. Goody 2 shoes, hero of the realm, beloved and feared by all who behold you. What I’m saying is that you could be Mr. Marauder, villain of the nation, and just feared by all at the mention of your name. Wouldn’t that be great? Everyone has a bit of a dark side and on the table top is a great place to let it all out. So here are 3 sinister reasons to quash your inner light.
1) YOU ARE A CRIMINAL MASTERMIND.
For years you’ve watch evildoers plot and scheme against you. Now is your time to shine. Whether it is a short-term heist scheme or a drawn out plot of massacre and horror, you’ve got a wealth of experience on the other side to draw your inspiration from and no moral high ground to hold you back. You’re free from the yolk of gallantry or brooding anti-hero. It’ll be a great exercise in doing what you want, when you want. Selflessness only gets you so far, and aren’t you tired of getting one cookie when you could have the whole jar.
2) YOU’RE UNWELL.
Essentially what I mean is that as gamers we’re geared to imagine what the worst thing we could possibly do in any situation could be. In a villains campaign you’re finally free to express you’re inner psychopath. Burn the bank down after you rob it? Why not? Wipe out the kingdom because you don’t like the flag? Sure. We’ve seen villains in-game do terrible and clever things, now’s your turn. Think of it as and exercise in negative creativity. Your dark humor as well as your dark powers will serve you well.
While almost any system can be adapted to a villains campaign, there’s content out there written to meet your sinister needs. Some games were just meant to be played with bad intentions such as; Vampire: The Masquerade, Better Angels, Way of the Wicked for Pathfinder, and Necessary Evil for Savage Worlds. Play your old favorites or take a chance on something tailor-made, the dark lords care not as long as they get their due.
Time is short so get out there and raise hell. It’s time to get paid and get a couple of bonus points for rolling over that old lady crossing the street, and remember “There can be no light without the dark.”
About Ryan: So I try to read about 50 comics a week, depending on my ability to pay the power bill. I try to read as much new and independent works as my tried and trusted favorites, and I’ve been doing this for years. Thus, I can roughly say that I am pretty decent at comicology, however I hold no formal degree. Luckily, degrees are no substitute for common sense and that’s how I got this gig.
After years and years of GMing for (generally) the same group of folks, I’ve come to realize a hard truth. You can get all of the people together some of the time, or some of the people all the time, but you cannot gather all of the people all of the time. As such, I often find myself with some free time and only a couple of free players. Through experience and experiment, I’ve discovered a few games that prove perfect for the “buddy cop” dynamic. Enjoy!
1 . The Call of Cthulhu
While larger groups tend to support more “pulp” filled games, a smaller group seems more conducive to the horror aspect of CoC. It might seem obvious; less players means more terror. Without companions to rescue them, your players will soon find themselves trapped inside the dark basement or eerie attic. These two investigators will have more time in the spotlight, and thus more time to get to know their characters. This makes the loss, trauma, and insanity inherent in a well-executed Call of Cthulhu campaign or one-shot all the more powerful.
2 . Mekton Zeta
The Mecha-Anime game built on the same engine as Cyberpunk (and by the same creators of said game), Mekton is, in this gamer’s opinion, the greatest of its genre. Broad, sweeping narratives can be told in a fantastic setting, with characters that shine just as brightly as the various vistas created by the Referee. At the core of the game resides its Mecha creation system. You can, with the supplements released, create nearly any robotic monstrosity imaginable. What’s more, by narrowing the focus of the game to two chief characters, the Referee facilitates scenarios that showcase the players’ painstakingly designed and built meks, in addition to their inevitably over the top anime archetypes. Just make certain you’re prepared to deliver the awesome action and drama that this game demands!
3 . Mage: the Awakening
Of all the games on this list, Mage benefits the most from a small party size. Each spell cast brings new complication into the world, and a large group of mages make spellcasting that much more difficult to manage. A duo of wizards wields enough power to alter the course of entire cities, and eventually, given time, the cosmos. What’s more, these two mages could progress past their limitations and become Archmages. The game changes drastically at that point, becoming more of a deep and intriguing thought experiment of the highest realm of philosophy. Archmages deal with the nature of the soul and reality. As such, a larger group of Archmages would be almost too difficult for the most seasoned of Storytellers to handle. Have two competing conjurers via for control of the cosmos instead, and watch what incredible feats they will accomplish.
4 . Legend
Legend is a little known fantasy game by Mongoose that uses the same core rules as Runequest 2. The system is based on BRP, which isn’t lauded often for its combat systems. Legend improves greatly on its predecessor in this regard. It is, however, the breadth of options available for character development and advancement that make Legend a great choice for a smaller party. Two seasoned players are more than capable of creating very different characters that can play off one another well. A merchant and his bodyguard; a wizard and her apprentice; two brother-knights; these combinations are easily constructed and handled by both GM and player in Legend. On a tangential note, I love how easy it is to adapt this system to whatever fantasy setting you create. Have an idea for a wonderful new world? Try it in Legend. If it works well enough, the open-source format allows you to publish your setting using Legend’s ruleset. Just make sure you follow all open-source rules!
5 . Exalted
White Wolf and Onyx Path’s high-powered high-fantasy juggernaut of a game, Exalted needs little description amongst hobby veterans. Those who’ve played the game may have run into the same problem that plagued me a few years back. Large groups of super-powered Exalted can be difficult to manage. While it appears that the game calls for a party of five or so, I submit that the game works just as well, if not better, with paired players. Exalted sports a deep, but relatively complex combat system. More people at the table always means combat goes a bit more slowly, and with Exalted this slowdown becomes especially problematic. What’s more, with the 3rd edition changes, Exalted has even more to consider and track during and outside of combat. With two players, your players will be able to hog the spotlight, take more time to craft incredible stunts, and really take advantage of social and physical combat.
If you haven’t already attempted a game with just two players, I highly recommend it. The comradery that builds when each participant has only one friend to rely on is really something special. What other games provide a powerful platform for pairs of players? I’d love to hear what you all think!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, check him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com
Role--playing and alcohol have gone hand in hand for ages. Hopefully grown-up ages…
While any type of drink can be used in various amounts in order to create, enhance, or keep a warm, fuzzy atmosphere going, many people will tell you there are different kinds of drinks for different occasions and even moods.
Let’s face it, you’re not gonna’ pop a bottle of cider to celebrate your graduation, that’s what bubbly’s for!
“So why can’t RPG systems be the same?”
At least that’s what my subconscious came up with while struggling to find inspiration at the bottom of a German beer bottle. So, what’s the answer?
They can, and quite easily so, as you’ll find out following this short foray into roleplaying and alcohol pairings. I’m sure there are more, but I’ll be waiting to hear about them in the comments section.
1. D&D, the aged wine of the role-playing cellar
This one was too easy, really…
Sure, it’s obvious that not all years have aged as well or had the same success as others.
– Here’s lookin’ at you, 4e! –
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more varied selection than what the granddad of them all has to offer.
While retaining a signature bouquet across the years (the d20 + modifiers roll), there are so many hidden nuances and flavours to every “bottle” that only the true connoisseurs would be able to discern them all.
Meanwhile, anyone can just pick a year and have fun with a breezer – just don’t tell purists you’re diluting the essence with house-rules, wars have been fought over less…
I think I’ve seen people literally go for each other’s throats over 3.75 vs Pathfinder… That’s like grapes and slightly darker-coloured grapes, the end-result is still in the same ZIP code, sheesh, now put those katanas down, dammit!
2. Grab a couple brewskies and let FATE decide, eh?
Most aforementioned connoisseurs will say that you shouldn’t have beer after wine because ugh, seriously, what kind of savage are you?
But FATE can seem like a breath of fresh air after D&D.
The general feel of a session rests mainly on the group and the GM, fair enough, but FATE itself feels like the college freshman to D&D’s top hat and cane.
It’s the one thing you know you can count on with your friends, while watching the game, and you know you’ll end up having more than you should because it’s just so damn fun! Easy to pick up, with a setting range as wide as a German Highway - can you tell what country
I’m on holiday in yet? - FATE will have you clinking bottles and laughing about how ugly you all are in no time at all.
Plus, it’s cheap, too!
Now, those of us here at HLG recommend drinking with moderation, but we have had reports of FATE players waking up in Croatia alongside a camel and a two of clubs playing card, lacking a shoe, and any memory for at least three days…
The jury’s still out on how dependable those reports may be, but they’re also out for beers so it could be a while before we get a full report.
3. Cortex Plus – Gin for the win
Peer pressure when you’re the youngest of the group can be bad for your health, but I managed to dodge “getting another round” by having a gin and tonic and just dropping more tonic in my glass while the beers kept on rolling for the other guys. Pretty fun watching the chaos unfold, to be frank, and I could be a part of the fun while still maintaining a fairly composed appearance.
The first time we played Cortex Plus, using the Firefly setting, we went more than 2 hours without even rolling dice.
While that may – again – be attributed to me being very improv-oriented as a GM and the group as a whole loving the hell out of some browncoat action. However, I’ll always credit the system for allowing us to toy around with it, giving just enough overlying elements to guide us through the game, but not hammering us over the head with rules or other pesky details.
Just like gin, you can keep adding tonic to it and do it your own way without people hassling you for not joining in on the fun. Also, just like gin, if you forget to add any more alcohol to it you’ll end up having tonic on the rocks after 2 hours, which is why we made it a goal of actually rolling the dice once in a while…
Improv is fun and all, but we’re here to chuck some gorram polyhedrons for the ‘verse’s sake…
4. One tequila, two tequila, Shadowrun, floor…
As fate would have it – pun sort of intended – I haven’t played a great deal of Shadowrun. I do intend to clear up that mishap at the earliest, though. Tell Ian not to smother me in my sleep, will ya?
I have, however, played enough of it to realize it’s an acquired taste that comes with a few mandatory ingredients in order to make it palatable. Your salt and lemon, if you will.
Shadowrun really packs a punch in all of its multiple incarnations. In order to stomach that punch and prepare for the next one, you need a GM worth their salt – pun wrote itself, I swear – as well as a group of players who know what they’re getting into.
The surges that SHR lashes the players with, those short bursts of tension that arise due to the situation requiring great attention be given to how best your character performs can either leave you smashing your glass to the floor while yelling “another!” or otherwise scrambling to find your knees when you need them the most.
Like, just smashing the glass isn’t enough and you also want to stand up while shouting for another one.
5. West End Games on the D6 rocks…And boy, oh, boy, does this system rock!
For those of you that don’t know, West End Games had a ball in the 80s and 90s doing all things Star Wars – books as well as RPG miniatures – while using their proprietary D6 system. It’s them we should thank for a good chunk of the lore and info up on Wookiepedia or other similar SW-related sites nowadays.
Fast, loose, dry, and taking no prisoners, this exploding, force-die chucking experience felt and feels so sleek and clean it’s almost impossible to find a counterpart. Its barebones-ness is what gives it its appeal and it’s only as forgiving as you are aware of your limitations, otherwise it goes on to trash your face, throw you over the balcony and drop a Bantha worth of dice-chucking hurt on you…
This is the one system I actually felt bad for causing the characters pain and suffering, it’s as much a gentleman’s weapon as it is a dangerous tool in the hands of the unwise…
Now I’m not big on scotch, but I heard that’s more or less how it goes. I promise I’ll go down to the Ger-markt and find out once and for all.
This is by no means, as I’ve said, a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide on which systems feel like which alcoholic beverages, hell, even going into wine types would have us chatting for a fortnight… I wonder which system would be the Zinfandel…
But in any case, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite – I know my throat’s parched at this point – and gave you some drink for thought when it comes to choosing your poison.
I’ll see you guys down at the pub for some ‘role-playing’, shall I?
I’ll be the drunken monk having a chat with the cactus.
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.
The Victorian horror setting of a Ravenloft campaign can be especially hard for a wizard. In the few places where magic is an accepted part of reality, it is often feared and shunned; adventurers of an arcane bent will frequently find the citizenry unwilling to assist them, and may soon find themselves at the business end of a mob of torches and pitchforks. The majority of the demiplane is even worse, however: in the more developed domains magic is scarcely given credence at all. The few superstitious peasants who believe in such nonsense 'know' magic is limited to a few low-key derivations such as petty illusions or divinations. (If an adventurer is so foolish as to brazenly show his power with great walls of flame or the like, he will swiftly find that the civilized folk have not forgotten where they put their torches and pitchforks!)
Fortunately there are more than a few ways for spell-wielding heroes to ply their trade. They just need to adopt a persona other than the robes and pointy hats that most players are accustomed to. Gathered here are a number of archetypes common across many of the domains with a higher cultural level.
Scrivener: Education is the hallmark of the enlightened, and you are more enlightened than most. While just as interested in medicine and natural philosophy as most of your contemporaries, you have also developed a dread fascination with the occult. Death rites of barbaric cultures, ghost stories from the moors, all these are your stock in trade and more. Throughout your research through volumes of quaint and curious lore, you've come across more than one legend which suggests incantations or charms that could protect one against the depredations of the various monsters described in such stories.
Role-playing notes: Humility is your watchword. You probably don't consider yourself an adventurer, and may not even consider yourself a true spellcaster. If your companions can get some benefit from the primitive rituals you've copied down over the years then so much the better, but you have no aspirations to great magical power or prestige. A life of ink stained fingers and musty old parchments will do just fine.
Alienist: Natural science has made great progress, but those unfortunate enough to have caught a glimpse of the shadow world know that concepts like logic and order are artificial constructs: the universe is vast and insane, governed by mad alien forces that humanity cannot hope to comprehend. The only force which can combat these elder beings is another of their ilk. To that end you have made a career of studying the deranged writings of the fools that serve such monsters, looking for any incantations or enchantments which could be used to protect those who are blind to the dangers that lurk beyond their perception.
Role-playing notes: You are walking a razor's edge. You have nothing but disdain for cultists and those who sell their humanity for eldritch power. Conversely, you are more than willing to steal their magics and use them for your own protection, and are acutely aware that many would brand you a cultist for your knowledge. Your studies are slowly eroding your sanity, but every new truth you discover only strengthens your need to protect yourself and the people around you.
Rat Man: Where the people go, so too go the rats. You are an expert at exterminating vermin of all stripes. You scarcely have to harm them; it's almost as if you could summon and dispel them at your whim. You hide in the lowest dregs of society to escape notice, using your ability to summon animals to furnish your own livelihood, as exterminator, butcher, bounty hunter, or assassin as the mood takes you. Knowledgeable adventurers might even mistake you for a druid or ranger (and you feel no need to correct them).
Role-playing notes: You understand the notion of strength in numbers, but your animals are always your closest allies. Your knowledge of which animals can be summoned in your domain is virtually unparalleled. (Should you live in a domain like Barovia or Richemulot, you also have a working knowledge of which animals have a propensity to turn upon unwary summoners...) The wealthy and cultured have always shunned you, so now you shun them in turn.
Stage Magician: Unlike many spellcasters, you make no attempt to hide what you do. In fact, you advertise it openly! By carefully disguising yourself as a mundane performer, you can get away with casting any sort of spell you can justify with the trappings of your trade. Glitterdust, fog cloud (and all the higher level derivatives), a summoned monster or two, even teleportation effects, all can be written off as standard fare for a magic show. You keep a handy supply of smoking powders and harmless chemicals to explain the more flashy effects, but anything you can come up with a prop or 'trick' to explain can be easily digested by those who would refuse to accept the truth.
Role-playing notes: You are a terrible stage magician--you just can't keep the secret of your performances to yourself! You're often happy to share in confidence how your produce your tricks: the alchemical powders and flash papers you use are your camouflage, so letting people see them puts everyone's mind at ease. Your best offense against scrutiny is further flamboyance. The more of a show you put on, the less people will believe you could have any real arcane power.
Astrologer: Although your chosen profession is often mocked by the more educated members of society, many of the middle class consider divining the present and future through the movement of the stars to be a legitimate pursuit. Your own studies show you hidden paths to truths that others might dismiss, legitimizing in your own mind the veracity of your studies.
Role-playing notes: Your stargazing is the most frequent subject of your conversations, and the insight it gives you into the future is reward enough for you. If you only use astrology as a cover for traditional divination magic, you are quick to explain everything away as having been foretold by the stars. If you actually believe what you say, then you may wrestle with an existential crisis, struggling to make a difference in the world even while you receive confirmation after confirmation that your fate is decided by forces beyond your control.
Medium: Even the most steely minded skeptic is taken aback by a 'charlatan' who speaks with the voice of their dead mother, reminding them of things they'd themselves forgotten about long ago. You communicate with the unquiet dead (or claim that you do) in order to receive special insight. With tarokka cards and crystal balls, seances and summoning boards, you divine the future for yourself and your compatriots. 'Spirit guides' accompany you on your adventurers, to penetrate illusions or reveal hidden magical treasures.
Role-playing notes: Whether or not you are sincere, you are very perceptive. A keen insight into the minds of the people you meet is required to gain their trust, and to glean enough details of their personal lives to convince them that you really are speaking on behalf of loved ones from beyond the grave. When attacked by detractors, do not defend yourself: those you have helped will rush to your defense, the comfort you give them being more than enough coin to have earned their loyalty.
Mesmerist: With swinging pendulum and droning voice, you ply the clay of the mind into whatever shape you desire. The more men learn about the mind and its mysteries, the easier it is to convince people that your spells are just tricks of mentalism. Some of those grievously afflicted by emotions or urges beyond their control may even surrender willingly to your care. Whether you honestly help them or turn them into unwilling automatons is entirely up to you.
Role-playing notes: No matter your default manner, you have developed a cultured, calm voice that you can slip into when the need arises to 'hypnotize' someone. You have a laundry list of 'theories' from those who study the brain's workings to explain away the effects you cause on your victims. The nature of your work gives you keen insight into the fragility of the psyche--this may cause you to view those with delicate or damaged minds with either compassion or contempt, depending on your nature.
Druggist: From medicine to poison, you know it all. You know which herbs will induce compliance to subdue a target, the chemicals that will drive off a wild beast, and the tinctures needed to drive a man to violent rage. If you use your powers for personal gain, those who know your reputation may be wary of their food and drink around you, but the truth is that you have a myriad of deployment methods at your disposal from smoking braziers to envenomed darts (or a handful of flung powder, if the situation is desperate enough!) and rarely need to resort to such overt techniques as poisoned meals.
Role-playing notes: You possess (or feign possession of) an enormous breadth of knowledge about herbs, toxins, and chemicals. You are always scrounging a bit of this plant or that fungus (which you may do merely as an affectation, only to discard the item when no one is looking). Even if you do not abuse your powers, the way you employ them necessitates sneakiness, which may bleed over into your behavior in other areas of your life.
Arsonist: You've always been entranced by the flames. Although you've supplemented your impressive abilities with a bit of arcana, you still have a wealth of understanding when it comes to accelerants, flammables, and ignition techniques. Your repertoire of damage dealing spells is second to none, and so long as you can couch your casting as the mere application of mundane chemicals and ingredients, you can throw around as many fireballs as you like.
Role-playing notes: You probably smell faintly of smoke all the time. If you have a familiar, a bat is the most useful, as it gives you an unending supply of material components for fireball spells. You might use the tools you've devoted your life to in order to purify the world of evil and corruption, or you might just pursue destruction for its own sake. Either way, you consider fire to be more of an art form than just a tool of function.
Mad Scientist: Clockwork. Galvanism. Acoustics. Gunpowder. The future is here, and you have weaponized it. You are a true woman of vision. You frame your spells as the function of technological devices you have built, from your exploding crossbow bolts to the voltaic transmitter tucked in your sleeve. Your spellbook is a collection of sketches and blueprints, the arcana hidden within the mad mathematical formulae lining the pages. You push science to the bleeding edge, so much so that the lay person might even mistake it for magic...
Role-playing notes: Whether or not you are a charlatan, you keep abreast of the latest avenues of scientific research. You most likely have pockets filled with bits of wire and clockwork scrap. You have an insatiable desire for magic items, which you justify as a burning need to examine them to discover the method by which they function.
Ghost: While most mages in the Demiplane of Dread seek to hide their arcane essence or explain it away with the mundane you have gone the opposite route, choosing instead to disguise yourself as something far more frightening than a wizard. With disguises both magical and mundane, you perform the role of a vengeful specter, leaving your opponents always guessing as to which of the phantasms you confound them with are ephemera and which are dangerously real. When not occupied in your ghostly visage, you are a mundane member of society, probably a loner in a simple and unassuming profession.
Role-playing notes: When you are yourself you are meek and timid. Above all, you try not to draw attention to yourself. When occupied in your ghostly persona you are a terror to behold, using the fear and irrationality that your appearance creates as both a weapon and a shield. Your ghostly persona may be entirely fictitious, or you may have crafted it after a real person, be it a hero who inspired you, a villain everyone will fear, or a loved one in whose name you seek vengeance for a wrongful death.
Prestidigitator: Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Carefully observe that there is nothing up your sleeve. A flourish of the hand, a muttered snippet of mumbo-jumbo, and where has the lady's ring gone? You'll reveal it in a moment from your breast pocket to shocked applause, but the audience will never suspect that you've palmed the real thing and are only giving the woman a cheap imitation. Rigged games of chance, nimble fingers, and hands that are quicker than the eye were your stock in trade long before you developed magical talents, but now that you can cast illusory figments to distract, conceal, or distort, your sleight of hand has become something wondrous to behold.
Role-playing hints: To all outward appearances, you are still nothing more than a dextrous con artist (or perhaps more respectably, a capable theatrical performer). You are never without a silk handkerchief, a sponge ball, or a convenient disguise kit to justify your spellcasting effects. Since you must practice mundane deception in order to practice arcane deception, you may have trouble telling the truth to your companions, or even to yourself.
Resurrection Man: To impart life to the unliving is the greatest and most noble of pursuits, and you won't hear otherwise. With each advance of medical science, man comes closer to understanding the nature of life, death, and the boundary between. You are a passionate doctor (professionally trained or just an inquisitive amateur) who pushes the limits of modern medicine. You spend your nights elbow deep in necropsies and dissections, trying to find the commonalities of life between men and beasts. There will eventually come a night when chemical and galvanic stimulation will allow you to impart the spark of life to the corpse upon the slab, and after that, who knows? The limits are nonexistent.
Role-playing notes: To have pursued your path as far as you have, you have probably developed an unhealthy obsession. Gallows humor and a propensity for tunnel vision may make it hard for you to interact with the living. Your passion may stem from a desire to restore life to a loved one, or you may seek to create the companion or offspring you've been unable to achieve through conventional means. On a more sinister note, you may be trying to create the perfect subordinate: an underling of preternatural might and undying loyalty to assist in whatever dark purpose your mind might conceive.
Granny Lady: Many spellcasters hide what they do beneath personas that can stand up to intense scrutiny, but you have chosen a disguise which works by encouraging suspicious minds not to examine it at all. By adopting the guise (or actually being born to the role of) a medicine woman from a more primitive and superstitious culture, you disgust and repulse the 'civilized' people of the Core, who would rather pretend you didn't exist at all than investigate your 'abilities.' The inherent cultural prejudice provides you with another layer of insulation, as tales of your magical prowess can be written off as silly 'native superstition.'
Role-playing notes: You might hail from the unforgiving sands of Har'Akir with their scarab pendants and mummified death gods, you might be a mysterious half-Vistani, or perhaps you practice the bloody folk magic from the humid bayous of Souragne. Whatever your origin, you play up the exoticism of your role, even if it's merely an affectation. Casting chicken bones, sacrificing small animals, whatever you need to do to make 'civilized people' dismiss you as an ignorant savage, you'll do. Their disgust is what protects you from the retribution that would fall if they ever found out how much truth there is behind your hocus pocus.
Alchemist: The power to make one thing from another is yours to wield, and is one of the few remaining overtly magical disciplines still practiced in many culturally developed parts of the Core. While considered a fringe science at best, it is at least respectable enough to keep its practitioners from being burned at the stake.
Role-playing notes: Keep your head down and don't rise to the bait when more learned people mock you. Unlike most mages, you can operate openly without fear of reprisal. Just keep your spellbook filled with alchemical symbols and formulae (that may or may not be decoys), and doggedly insist that your spells are merely applications of scientific principle that the ignorant cannot comprehend and the educated refuse to examine.
Fortune's Fool: Why hide at all? Most transmutation effects have no visible effect whatsoever, at least none that can be recorded, measured, or testified to with any kind of reliability. You specialize in spells that are subtle, such as haste, knock, or enhance ability, or spells which can be easily explained as superior athleticism or mere coincidence, like spider climb or gust of wind.
Role-playing notes: Just nod and play dumb. Act just as astonished by your good luck as everyone else. You've found that as long as you continue to insist it was all just happenstance and there's no evidence against you, most people will just accept that they couldn't have seen what they remember.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal.
Character death is a natural part of any RPG experience. Anyone who lost a character is either new to roleplaying or has had overprotective DMs (rest assured that our most esteemed editor here at High Level Games could certainly never be accused of being overly, or even remotely for that matter, protective of his players). When a character dies, the player will rejoin the party mid-story with a new and often similarly powered character. However, these introductions are (at least in my experience) often awkward and contrived affairs. This is sad because, if I learned anything from high school literature, it’s that the introduction of a new character is often an interesting and memorable experience, even when it happens mid-story. For example, we all remember how Frodo and Sam met Merry and Pippin- literally running into each other in Farmer Maggot’s fields (in the movies, not the books). Or how did Luke and Obi-wan end up joining with Han Solo? Where else but in a sleazy bar on Tatooine (Han did in fact shoot first). These introductions not only helped define the new characters but were also memorable: Frodo didn’t look at Merry and Pippin on the way back to the Shire after destroying the One Ring asking ‘how did you guys end up traveling with me again?’ The following are a few tips on how DMs can make the introduction of a new character can actually enhance the group’s playing experience rather than fade into obscurity.
1. Place restrictions on character creation- While the ideal character creation might be for a player to create whatever their heart desires, it can easily lead to a contrived introduction to the group. Of course, any discrepancies can be explained away through backstory, but if you want the introduction of a character to be as seamless as possible, restrict what can be made to ensure it is story-friendly. Most groups (mine as well) already do this. Restrictions should be based on where the party is in the world or story. If they are in a Halfling shire or vampire coven, place a racial restriction on the new character. If the party is deep in the wilderness far flung from civilization, place a class restriction on the new character for classes oft found in the middle of nowhere (i.e. ranger or druid in D&D, wilderness scout or ley line walker for Rifts, etc.). Such restrictions are not particularly onerous or burdensome to the player, though they might be irritated if they had a specific character in mind, and can go a long way in easing the transition of a new character into the group so everyone can get back to adventuring.
2. Make the new character part of the story- How often in reliving the stories of old adventures are character introductions brought up? If it’s anything like my group, the answer is rarely. Introductions are such bland occurrences, just vehicles for the inclusion of a player into the group (be they of a recently deceased character or a new member), that at the end of a campaign we can no longer remember how our unlikely group of adventurers came together in the first place. Character introductions can easily become intrinsic and memorable parts of the story with a little help from the DM. One easy way is to assign the new character some additional knowledge, skills, and/or personal goals related to the group’s current quest. Thus, players would not need to contrive a reason for this new person to be added to the party. Furthermore, the DM could provide the player of the new character foreknowledge of what is going to happen in the main storyline; this will allow the player to make themselves useful to the party and contribute to advancing the story (similarly to Gollum becoming the Hobbits guide through the Emyn Muil and dead marshes). A more manipulative (but fun) way for the DM to introduce a character is to subject the party to certain death only to be rescued by the new player (i.e. Aragorn joining the hobbits at The Prancing Pony and leading them into the wild). With only a little bit of creativity from the DM, character introductions can cease to be the awkward affairs they typically are and happen naturally or even be a focal point in the story.
3. Assume control of an NPC- Rather than turning character introduction into a focal point in the story, having the new player play as an NPC already known by the party removes the inconvenience of introduction altogether. This can be a rather severe limitation on the player but can very much ease the process of character creation, as at least part of the stats, backstory, and personality are already in place, as well as their introduction into the party. These NPCs could really be anyone within the game world, though the more the NPC is known by and related to the group, the better. It could be a local noble who hired the heroes for a job, mercenary who helped the party on a previous quest, or a family member of one of the group. In a world rich with NPCs, players could have so many to choose from that such a limitation is not severe at all. With a little bit of prior planning, NPCs can be brought along with the party specifically to be assumed by the players of now-dead characters. They could be camp followers, guards for your gear, hired mercenaries, or local guides, just to name a few. Nothing is worse than having your character die in the first evening of a weekend-long dungeon crawl and then needing to create a new character while your friends are all having fun; the group then just happens to stumble on to this new character at random and have him or her join the group. Having a few NPCs accompany your party can provide a ready source of player material should the need arise.
4. Use the story to keep the character alive- I don’t advocate this to be used frequently, as without death as a factor in the game, there would be no consequence for rash action nor any emotional payoff for victory. However, there are a few instances where the introduction of a new character would be so inconvenient to the story that finding a way to keep the character alive is in the story’s best interest. This can be done in any number of ways, from the intervention of a god (think Gandalf become White) to a character only seeming dead (think Frodo after his encounter with Shelob). The context in which keeping a character alive might be a good idea could be if the group was in an extremely isolated location in which there wouldn’t be anyone else to join the group or if the loss of a character would bring the story to an abrupt and premature end. I would again suggest that this only be done if there is no other recourse, as improperly or excessively done it only removes the gravity that games go out of their way to create.
There are many ways to deal with character death and introduction. Each group will just have to find what works for them. In a group where the story isn’t as important as the combat, having a seamless character introduction would mean little. However, for story-centric groups (like mine), a contrived introduction can seriously disrupt the gravitas and fluidity of the story. Decide what works best for your group and run with it. I’m going to go watch Lord of the Rings for the millionth time, as apparently it’s on my mind, as evidenced by the many references. Namaarie!
- Jake is a great lover of role-playing games and fantasy in general. He lives in Texas with his wife and Lord of the Rings extended edition set on Blu-ray.
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