The following is an excerpt found in the journal of the former Count Moneybags Von Moretax. It was found in the Corporate Dungeon ruins behind the headquarters and was restored by the High Level Games historians. These are believed to be his final words.
Ah the noble’s life. Sipping expensive mead atop your throne made of ivory crafted by a peasant is truly the only way to live once you’ve done it for twenty minutes. But alas. Here I am. Imprisoned for claiming that the king’s head was too round when all that expensive mead finally got to me. So here, in the dungeon I will recount some of the ways my other nobles have fallen from grace. Believe me, some of them are rather quaint.
Yes, the most time honoured tradition of the nobility. Perhaps because it kills two birds with one stone, in that it removes another noble from power and if you’re clever enough and it hides some atrocity you’ve recently committed. There are of course many hurdles to consider: noble seals from other houses, daggers owned by other people, paying off servants and then promptly killing them as well, and a plethora of other minor issues to consider. Perhaps you have a right hand man you place too much trust in, and some plucky adventuring group could weasel information out of him. You may want to kill him. Not to mention such things may leave a paper trail. Perhaps a private investigator gets ahold of your bookkeeper? Hm? Said bookkeeper, not knowing the situation, shows her your costs and paychecks and sees thousands of gold being sent to shut people up. Can’t have that. Guess you should burn down the accountant’s house. I would tell you more, but I can’t tell you everyone's secrets, now can I?
Not that I would ever partake in something so low. But you know who would? That Duke Silverbrand. I’ll bet if the royal guard searched his bedroom after eight tonight, they would find some damning evidence proving that he framed a certain Prince for a murder he committed.
2) Trash Talk
Yes, this is the reason my execution is scheduled tomorrow. If there’s one thing you should know about those of noble blood, it’s that their egos are as fragile as a two hundred year old man's bones. This is particularly true of royals. Your kings and queens, princes and princesses… they just can’t take a joke. Another simple fact is, many nobles can’t stand their king. So it really is just a matter of tricking them into saying what they want to in front of the right crowd. Instead of telling you how to do this (it’s quite simple really, liquor and a group of people is really all you need). I will now quote some things that got people executed and/or banished.
“King Richard? You mean that man with the exceptionally pointy head?” - Viscount Talksmacker of Trashington.
“I’m telling you, the King put some sort of curse on the Queen. No way a man with such a small number of brain cells gets a woman with such - agh! My arm!” - Baron Badguy of Vill-any, spoken in front of the king, who had just come back from a sparring match with live steel.
“Prince Keith is the human equivalent of a book with no pages.” - A man whose name was stricken from the records.
“Is the King around? No? So we’re talking smack then lads?” - Duchess Exe of Cution.
“King Richard is so round and discoloured I wouldn’t blame you for mistaking him for a boar testicle.” - Count Moneybags Von Moretax
In short, it doesn’t take a lot to get a man killed in most noble courts.
3) Sleep With Someone's Spouse
Now this may not get your nobility revoked officially (unless it’s with the queen) but there’s a very good chance you will be the laughingstock of the public and the newest target for some noble who knows where to find a hitman. In other news, water is wet. The typical noble won’t just have you killed for this, but most likely tortured or mutilated in some uncomfortable way. However the fact that a certain noble will forever be known to time as “The Cuckold” is sometimes worth the pain. This is typically not something that ends up as public knowledge, however you can guarantee that your reputation is ruined in court.
P.S. Seeing as I'm about to die tomorrow... sorry Martin.
4) Don’t Tow The Line
This is by far the least fun way to die. In every noble court, there are unspoken rules. Don’t get caught committing your crimes, and if you do, make sure your back is nice and ready, because it’s about to get stabbed multiple times. Don’t insult people in any blunt way, or you’ll become a pariah. Most importantly, don’t break the norm. Norms change from court to court. But I promise you, if you’re treating the public with respect (not lying to them, lowering taxes, trying to give them anything for free or god forbid actually listening to them when it comes to government policies), you’ll be in a grave faster than you can count to two.
I remember one poor man. Oh the poor soul! He said in public court that he thought we should get rid of the toll to cross the bridge into the city. Not only was the movement shot down unanimously, within the week, but the man's home was burnt down, his farms were salted and his body was found in the sewers with twenty six stab wounds.
In short, it’s very easy to be removed from a court in a number of increasingly uncomfortable ways. Don’t do bad things. Don’t do good things. I highly suggest that if you don’t want to be disgraced, you just enjoy the money and agree with the local consensus.
I imagine that these are my final thoughts. As such, I would like the last thing I ever write to be to my family. Tell my wife I loved her, but not as much as my tax money. Tell my son he can do anything he wants, but not as much as my tax money, and lastly, tell my daughter to marry up.
This was the last thing found ever written by Count Moneybags Von Moretax. Our scholars are finding more of his older works, however, and day by day, the man who was Count Moneybags Von Moretax is painted further as a kind, loving and just ruler, who was put to death by unjust laws.
Jarod Lalonde is a young roleplayer and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.com/tah223/nobles-highborn-and-officials/
As much as we would like to pretend, we of the Dungeon Master ranks are not quite as omnipotent as our *cough* imposing stature may lead others to believe. The truth of the matter is, anyone who has ever had players in a game knows that the best laid plans are quickly and at times violently crumpled into a ball of spent paper and frustration once dice start rolling.
This can make Prophecy, one of the most classic fantasy and sci-fi tropes of all time, into one of the single most frustrating and difficult to successfully navigate. Many a good-intentioned DM has fallen prey to the pitfalls of trying to control fate only to realize that while their all-powerful sages and gods-on-high may be able to see the future, the dice render it invisible to the humble eyes of the DM.
Wait! Don’t toss your blind prophet into the wastebasket just yet!
The Prophecy trope can add depth and story to your campaign and give your players a real sense of value and importance, if you take the time to craft your prophecies correctly. Here are a few hard-learned bits of advice for sailing the murky waters of destiny.
1) Avoid Specific Numbers
I know, you want to add that bit of gravity to your campaign, where low and behold, the ancient prophecy of doom calls for 4-6 warriors to arise from the ashes to stop the tide of darkness. And oh! What a coincidence! That number matches exactly that of your party. While this can add a sense of destiny to the campaign, it is a fast path to Headache-ville. Players come and go. Real life pulls the party away from the table, and suddenly your prophecy is not quite so prophetic. Not to mention PC death. Nothing takes the wind out of your Sails of DestinyTM faster than the “chosen one” biting it from some punk Kobold on a lucky dice streak.
Instead, try to keep numbers out of the game, or if numbers are a must, keep them vague. Simply saying “A band of warriors” is just as effective and creates a more open-ended experience. Juggling the “sacred number” is most likely going to lead to weak fixes or heavy railroading. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if you seek to keep the teeth-clenching to a minimum, leave your options open.
2) Keep To Omens You Can Control
If you are going to rely on the actions of your players to play out your Prophecy, your campaign will most likely end up less King Arthur and more Monty Python. While I love me some chaos, most of us are not looking to conclude our epic campaigns in the same vein as the end of Holy Grail.
Omens can be a powerful tool for setting mood, tension, and foreshadowing the dire events that can really raise a campaign to the next level. The trick is to stick to events that you can control. Your players may be able to slay a hundred orcs, but can they stop a storm of blood? Can they keep a town of villagers from pulling a Rapture and vanishing off to domain of their god of choice? You can let the players actions go in the direction of their choice but using mysterious happenings and natural disasters allows you the power to keep your story moving forward, while still giving your players the freedom of choice they deserve.
3) Imagery, Metaphor, And Symbolism
Let’s face it, if you really could predict the future, would you be filling out character sheets or lottery tickets? Okay fine, first the lottery tickets, then the character sheets. We cannot predict the future without wielding the Club of MetagamingTM. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set the stage. Classic literary devices to the rescue! Using imagery, metaphor, and symbolism allows you to present clues and hooks for your players without establishing a set series of events. Using images, especially in dream sequences or prophetic works of art, allow your character to see hints and omens that perhaps you didn’t even plan for. If when “the blue tides flood the fields of steel” is implied as symbolic, then your omen could be anything from a field of soldiers controlled by the blue-blooded aristocrats to just a flooded swimming pool. If you can leave the omens locked in imagery, you can sit back and simply be alert for the omens to present themselves in the roleplay. If you are lucky, it will be with the players actions that these omens come to fruition.
4) Hindsight Is A Natural 20/20
There is no rule that says players have to know the prophecy beforehand. Many a classic story arc has involved the daring heroes chasing down the relics of the past, with each riddle or scrapped of ruined parchment offering just a hint of the events that will befall the world. Keeping the pieces of the prophecy one step ahead of the players allows the Storyteller to fill in the gaps after the fact, so instead of the Storyteller jamming events down the players throats, they can simply fill in the prophecy with the actions the players have already taken. While you have a thin line to walk between a chilling sense of doom and an angry mob of players who feel as if they can do nothing right, this allows approach keeps your hands off from players actions and away from the pains of keeping your campaign motivation alive. One way to circumnavigate the “nothing we do matters” anguish is to let a few of the prophecies they find actually be wrong. This will help throw them a curveball to keep the game interesting, and also help the players feel as if they are making a difference.
5) It Was All A Lie?!
Perhaps one of my favorite ways to handle prophecy is to have it all turn out to be false. Ancient texts can be manufactured. Dreams can be faked. Revelations can actually just be the rantings of a madman. The influence of religious or prophetic dogma can be an incredible tool of mass manipulation, and your villains can wield it like a rogue abusing his backstab stab with a ballista, because nothing keeps the peasants in-line like the threat of God’s angry wrath! Or maybe the prophecy was just a means to give hope to the hopeless? The Matrix teaches us many lessons about being a “the ONE,” and by turning prophecy on its head, we are presented with bold new avenues of storytelling and adventure to explore.
6) When All Else Fails…
Let the prophecy be thwarted. Nothing will make your players high-five across the table in a chorus of “Woots!” more than giving Fate itself the ol’ one-finger salute. What you as the storyteller must realize is that this does not mean the story ends. Your players have thwarted fate. They have thrown the cosmic wheel into a tailspin, as what should have happened has not. There is a wealth of potential here that could be exploited for an even greater story, making your prophecy just the prelude to a grander adventure. Maybe by stopping the prophecy, a new world cannot be reborn. Maybe chaos begins to unravel all of reality. Or maybe the contradiction of the gods’ will undoes the powers that be, leaving the world without a divine hand of guidance? All of these are excellent story-fodder, so don’t throw your game in the trash just because your original idea didn’t follow your script.
Above all though, listen to the pulse of your game. By being organic with your approach to prophecy, and letting your players guide you instead of you guiding them, you might be amazed at what you can create.
Michael Lee Bross a contributing editor for D10Again.com and an avid lifetime gamer. He been a game master, player, world-builder, and designer for nearly 30 years. He is also a graduate of the MFA in Poetry program at Drew University, and is an active writer of both poetry and speculative fiction. His work has been published in such periodicals as Lifeboat, Mobius Poetry Magazine, and Let’s talk Philadelphia. His poetry chapbook, “Meditations on an Empty Stomach” also won the 2015 Arts by the People Chapbook Award. Michael currently teaches English at the University of Scranton and East Stroudsburg University.
Picture Reference: https://shamanicstudies.co.uk/courses/divination/
Alright, nerds. Let’s talk about math. I realize this is a subject that isn’t exactly en vogue in some TRPG circles, sometimes met with “Story is more important!” or the ever popular “I’m bad at math!” Respectively, my responses to both are “It’s not a dichotomy” and “If you play D&D, you might be better at it than you realize.”
So with that said, let’s explore some of the fields and applications of mathematics as they appear in Dungeons and Dragons!
This is the simplest form of mathematics, and it covers the manipulation of numbers. Adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division are all different functions of arithmetic. Taking damage is subtracting the results of a damage die from your remaining HP. Taking half damage for a saving throw against a red dragon’s breath weapon is adding up all the damage dice rolled, and dividing that total by two.
It’s the simple stuff, and besides ascribing the name to this field of mathematics, there’s not much else of interest here. Let’s move on!
A man once told me that Algebra is a pointless complication of arithmetic, because math is supposed to be about numbers, not letters. That fool was a highschool dropout, though, and was often willfully ignorant of just about everything: the point of algebra included. The letters involved in this form of math are its defining characteristic, since they represent unknown numbers or ranges of values.
If you’ve ever wanted to figure out about how much HP a particular monster has without peeking at the Monster Manual (or other such catalogs), you likely employed algebra without realizing it. The tried and true method of counting up how much damage a creature takes before dying to ascertain its max HP is an application of Algebra, since we’re trying to figure out what MaxHP is equal to or less than.
A further application of Algebra would be using the information of how much HP a monster has to develop a strategy for fighting it, since a creature is dead if MaxHP =< Y with Y being how much damage a creature has taken. If a know a goblin has roughly 7 HP, we can practically guarantee a fireball spell will eliminate a single goblin since it does 8d6 damage (yielding a minimum of 8 damage, assuming a failed saving throw from the goblin).
“But wait, isn’t Fireball an Area of Effect Spell? Using it on a goblin is a waste!” This is true, which brings us to our next mathematical discipline!
Algebra is the foundation of several other mathematical disciplines, such as Geometry, which is mathematics as it applies to points, lines, and planes (in short, the math of shapes). To continue our Fireball and Goblin example, discovering the maximum amount of goblins one could slay with a single fireball spell would be a problem for Geometry. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition describes fireball as a 20 foot radius sphere, centered on a single point.
D&D 5e briefly describes some of the Geometric terms it uses, but doesn’t go in as much detail as earlier editions, and how to draw out these diagrams on a grid square has lead to some lengthy discussions on how to chart these phenomena. If you read that discussion, you’ll notice that even when presented with Pathfinder’s rules regarding the geometry of spell effects, there are still numerous other viable methods that get defined!
In short, from a design perspective, it suddenly makes sense why 5th edition avoids including these lengthy sections in the books! Speaking of design, there’s one final discipline of math that any game designer worth their salt should have an understanding of.
Calculus! This is a discipline that gets a bad rap, as it’s often used synonymously with the phrase “any sort of math I’m too lazy to learn” when discussing rules-heavy games. As I mentioned earlier, though, a basic understanding of calculus is vital to game design, if not for your own games, then definitely if you’re designing new content for an already existing game.
If arithmetic is manipulating numbers, algebra is using formulae to determine unknown numbers, and geometry an application of algebra, then calculus is the next step: devising formulae to express given phenomena. Meaning if you’ve ever come up with a mathematical way to remember the numbers on a chart in D&D and it’s been accurate, you’ve used a form of calculus before.
Take for example, figuring out ability score modifiers. There’s a chart for this on page 13 of the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook (or on Roll20). You’ll notice, that the bonus for an ability score increases by 1 for every 2 that the ability score is increased by. We also know that 10-11 has an ability score modifier of 0. Observing this pattern, we can devise a formula to describe the relationship between ability score and modifiers!
(x/2) - 5 = y
In the above formula, x is the ability score, and y is the modifier. In order for this formula to work out, however, you have to round down no matter what the remaining decimal places are after you’ve divided. The computational explanation for this is that x and y for this formula are integers, and when dividing integers you discard remainders.
In other words, calculus is about noticing patterns and finding ways to define these patterns mathematically. Game design benefits from this because if we know this formula, we not only don’t need to remember the chart, but we can also find out what information would be listed on the chart!
To take this just another step further; let’s look at Proficiency Bonus and how it relates to character level. We notice that it starts at 2, and raises by 1 every 4 Character Levels. Thus, we can give it this formula:
(x/4) + 2 = y
Here, x is Character Level, y is Proficiency Bonus, and both x and y are integers (meaning we don’t deal with remainders when dividing). These are simple examples of where calculus could be applied in Dungeons and Dragons. However, if you understand the principle of noticing the patterns of how the classes are designed, you can extrapolate where they’d go further if they could go beyond level 20!
Math is just as much as part of tabletop gaming as storytelling is, and as long as we’re using numerical representations for a character’s capabilities, it always will be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. This aspect of tabletop games can even serve as an effective way to practice some mathematical concepts.
After all, you may not need Geometry in your day to day life, but if you need to know if your Elven Ranger’s Longbow can hit that dragon as it’s flying away, you’ll be glad you know how to use the Pythagorean Theorem!
If Aaron der Schaedel could find a way to use mathematics as a way to compensate for general social ineptitude, he’d find some contrived way to write an article about that, too. Until that day comes though, he’ll just stick to using TRPGs as an excuse to talk about mathematics. You can tell him to stop being a turbonerd via Twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: http://www.belloflostsouls.net/2018/09/dd-combat-by-the-numbers-dungeons-and-datamining.html
When I first started out, my first contact with RPGs was when I tried to read and run the adventure found in the D&D 5e starter box and failed miserably after the first encounter. So, when I finally sat down to play a game run by someone else, I quickly realised how underprepared I was, with binders full of printouts, handouts, notes and God knows what else at his disposal I quickly adjusted my perspective. The next time I took a stab at being GM for the same adventure I came more prepared, I soon realised that my group was not that interested in D&D and it fell apart rather quickly. I did learn that preparation is vital when running a game for others, so whether you’re a brand spanking new GM or a seasoned veteran hopefully you can find something useful in this list.
1) Notepad & Pen
This may be fairly obvious but it is the cornerstone of running a game, besides the rules and any supplements, so that you can quickly jot down anything that comes up or you need readily available, such as the names of the PCs, the alignment if you are playing D&D or aspects of the PCs if you are playing FATE.
2) Extra Dice
Perhaps another fairly obvious one but having extra dice can really speed things along, from that one member of your group who always forgets their dice, to that overpowered character that needs 6d12s to roll for his very circumstantial damage. Extra dice can never go wrong, unless you have way too many then it’s just silly. So carrying an extra couple of sets of whatever dice you are using for your game should become a habit, just in case they are needed, and if not at least you can choose your favourite set.
3) Index Cards
Torn bits of paper work for this one as well but to really show off, have index cards to write secret messages for just one player or to display some information that everyone needs readily available such as the number of turns before the tunnel collapses. In FATE, any scene or environment aspects can be written on cards for easy reference. Index cards can be used for a variety of different needs so I always have a pack in my gear just waiting to go.
4) Portable Whiteboard Or Chalkboard
This is probably the most optional piece of kit for me as you either use it or you don’t. I use mine in some games to communicate layouts, zones, small maps, aspect lists and anything I might need to remember about the PCs and their abilities, which is also useful for the other players to see. For me this can easily be replaced by a reusable battle mat and the index cards but I enjoy having the A3 whiteboard to doodle on if my players just can’t get their heads round what i’m describing.
5) Counters & Tokens
Having a ready supply of counters or tokens has many advantages: knowing who has Bardic Inspiration to use, as FATE points, to indicate status effects. I even used little counters that I wrote on to indicate how many and of what level spells my D&D players had, so when they used one of their first level spells they would give me the counter and would regain it after the appropriate rest. This worked well but I wasn’t that great at the D&D magic system, having just read the manual and jumped right into playing with other people who didn’t have any clue about the magic system either… it did not end well.
6) Good Friends
Good friends are key to helping one become a good GM. A good friend gives positive criticism, not just pointing out flaws, but helping you work on trouble spots by offering ways to improve upon the running of the game. A good friend will add to your experience instead of draining your will to run a game, and will aid in the game creation by giving you hints as to what they expect from the game and the group.
This is the most expensive piece of kit, but one of the most useful. Anything from character sheets to handouts, rules to campaigns... I’ve printed it all. If you don't own one ask your group if anyone does and ask to use it from time to time. Offer them ink for their trouble! Whatever the case, make use of this item. I recently used mine to print the entire rulebook for D100 Dungeon. If you don't have access to a printer then check out your local library. They usually have one they let the public use for a small fee per page.
Whether or not you take any of these things to your game just make sure that you have fun and focus on the positives, don't get disheartened by problems you run into or players you wish you hadn’t invited. Learn from your mistakes and move forward with your skills, and keep in mind that not everything is good for every game. Find out what your players want from a game and tailor your equipment toward achieving that goal.
Ross Reid is a keen roleplayer and GM who enjoys all things FATE and lots of things that aren't, In October he ran a game spread over three days totaling 24 hours for a children's hospital charity.
This is a slightly updated version of the article that appears in my Nuggets #1 zine.
I've been creating a new world seven hexagonal spaces at a time. Here is the beginning of that; an area for your player character to explore around a small village. It is written system agnostic and is easily adapted to any edition of old school role playing games. The village, Victoria's Tower, was built around and is named after a the wizard's tower at its center. There was an accident and the sun is frozen at dusk for 20 more days (totalling a month). The village and its surrounding hexes are stuck out of time. Anyone can travel back and forth, but no time passes naturally until the end of the month. Spells and other magical effects work normally.
1) Plains And Village
A mage, Victoria, lives in a tower and a village has evolved up around it. Victoria built here because of the magic contained in the burial mounds from a long dead civilization. The village provides reagents from the sea in exchange for protection from the wizard. Victoria has frozen herself and cannot fix this. Her tower is protected with glyphs of warding and arcane locks. There are about 20 small crates filled with enchanted fish (see 12) here waiting for Victoria to open her door.
2) Plains And Farms
Mostly farms and the location of the ancient burial mounds, these plains feed the village. There is an underground tunnel connecting the mounds to Victoria’s tower. If the twelve mounds are explored, four are connected to the tower and found emptied, four more are silent, and the last four are haunted by undead. One contains a flail, Beast Render, that smells of patchouli and deals +2 damage to beasts.
3) Plains And Lakeshore
A body of water where fishermen catch gillies and stuff them into enchanted scarecrows on the shore. After four days the fish are removed and delivered to the wizard. There is also an island where reagents and medicinal herbs are grown. Barren mothers (unknowingly cause by Victoria’s experimentation with ancient magics) come here with their husbands to tend the area while the men fish.
4) South Tower Hills
A well traveled road has signs of a fight and two dead worgs killed by a piercing weapon. There is a woman nursing her wounds under a small rocky overhang away from the road. Lune, an elven warrior, is armed with 2 short swords. She stands her ground if threatened, but seeks to be left alone. She is bringing the remains of two humans to add to the scarecrows in area 3. Once a month the scarecrows need to be refilled with fresh kills. Only Lune and Victoria know of this dark deed. Lune will not let players know about this unless her life depends on it. She will say that the remains she carries are from her family and she is making a pilgrimage to the lake to bury them at sea.
5) Moonlit Hills
These tree barren hills hide a duchess, Lady Em Winter-Borough, waiting under the moonlight for a clandestine meeting with one of the clerics, she is dying and has a book of secrets to trade for a cure. The players will not recognize Lady Em, as she is from a kingdom far away. She claims to be Dass Whitehall, a noble from a nearby kingdom and is waiting for her slower coach, with her luggage, to catch up. Her coach is hidden here and can be found if players search the hex. If the players search within the coach they can find a diary and a contract that reveals Lady Em’s true identity and the fact that she is dying. Her family made a pact with a devil that has cursed her with disease. She is looking to find a cure or a loophole in the contract.
6) Ogre Hills
An ogre, Rockgrinder, make his home here in an out of the way cave that players can find if they search this hex well. He hides if seen and has promised a raven (actually Victoria) to keep the town safe. Rockgrinder has a ring that lets him talk to animals and uses them for information. In addition to hunting predators, the raven leads him to food, but has been absent for over a week.
7) Plains Of Dissonance
The wizard’s apprentice stays with a group of traveling men. These are clerics of an uncaring god and they seek to destroy the wizard because she is tampering with ancient magics. The clerics have no names. The apprentice can locate all the wards in the wizard’s tower and is being charmed by the clerics to give them the information. The apprentice has not entered the tower in eleven days for fear of accidentally setting the wards off.
Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains a blog, both of which can be found at www.slackernerds.com.
Picture Reference: Provided by the author
As I’ve discussed before in my halloween special and fantastical micro-setting posts, I believe that what sets tabletop RPGs apart from other mediums is the absolute freedom to create. Some find this a burden and choose to stick by the book or by well established cliches, and others even look down upon those who would deign to use their imagination. Admittedly nobody likes the “snowflake / edgelord” half-angel / half-demon prince whose very existence places them at the center of the world. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! There are plenty of ways to take the cliches and give them a twist, or take the “chosen one” character concepts and turn them on their head. Here are five ways to make interesting characters.
1) Add One Unique Feature
Everyone has one idea in them! So, you’re an elf wizard, but you have a distinctive nervous habit; you tap your fingertips to your nose like the performer Sting or Dr. Cox from Scrubs. You’re the tough half-orc fighter but in your free time you develop con-langs. You’re the halfling bard who ends every verse with “can you dig it!?”. Nervous habits, catch phrases, hobbies, predilections, family heirlooms, or odd trinkets worth little in gold but containing sentimental value are all little things you can do to bring some depth to your character. Just one unique feature can lead to an explosion of character developments!
2) Play Against Type
People think they know what a fighter, wizard, paladin, etc., are supposed to be, but what if they were different? In fact, what if they were opposite? Why can’t a fighter be intelligent and introspective? In many games, this is discouraged, because a fighter would need to put points into their “dump stat,” typically intelligence, in order to perform well on skills which benefit from the intelligence attribute. However, even in such a system, there are outside-the-box ways to make an intelligent fighter that isn’t poorly optimized. This intelligent fighter comes from a small, under-educated village, but his mom was once a scholar in a major kingdom. Although the rest of his village discouraged his learning and even bullied and taunted him, he is nonetheless well-read, introspective, and eloquent. However, he has anxiety and general emotional issues around his education, and when taken to task, his anxiety often gets the better of him (see tip 4). In this way, while on his character sheet he has low intelligence and this will still affect his rolls, in terms of his character, he can be roleplayed as an intelligent and introspective person. Going back to our Sting-like elf wizard, as opposed to the bookish dork, this wizard is a charming magician / rock-star, although he’s also callous and tends to turn people off who get to know him (justifying his low charisma). And what about the lawful stupid paladin? How about our paladin sees the corruption in his church. He believes in the general morals but not the exact letter and idiosyncrasies of the law. He’s the rogue cop of paladins.
3) Play Against Genre Conventions (the exception that proves the rule)
So this one is a bit trickier, and may require that the GM and the rest of the party approve of it in order for it to work. In a typical fantasy setting, often times people resort to the “fellowship” story: A group of strangers or loosely associated individuals with varying backgrounds who come together to go on some quest. Whether this is your campaign or not, there are ways to inject different kinds of genre archetypes into the fold. Perhaps your character wears a masked costume and fashions themselves as a vigilante or superhero, as much Batman or Zorro as Robin Hood. Or maybe your character is an agent of the kingdom, a pulp superspy, or instead is a gritty hardboiled noir detective wrapped up in a plot beyond their imagining. Maybe your eldritch knight gets their strength and magical powers from an alien or extraplanar symbiote, fantasy Venom-style. Again, it’s important to make sure that this concept will work within the world and story that the GM is trying to tell, but this can be a fun way to utilize pre-existing archetypes while also seeming fresh and unique, and can potentially spice up the whole setting.
4) Give yourself a Hindrance (and be true to it)
So I want to be very careful with this one. Hindrances should not be treated as an oddity, or a joke, or used flippantly. Do a little research, learn the logistics of the hindrance, and think about how it can add to the character without being the character. Especially if portraying mental illness, which is often stigmatized, please be respectful. This can be a fighter with a missing hand, a wizard with dyslexia, a bard with performance anxiety, etc. Unlike systems where disadvantages can be gamed to get more abilities and then ignored, in this case, the point is that the hindrance does affect the character and must be addressed. That’s not to say it needs to affect their character sheet. Perhaps the one-handed fighter has trained his whole life this way and is as capable as anyone else, but there is a story around how he lost the hand, or it’s a sensitive topic that enemies or other NPCs can use to provoke him.
5) Turn an unpopular concept on its head
I know I railed on the half-angel / half-demon “edgelord / snowflake” character above, but actually I’m as much railing against the people whose only concept of a unique character is something like this, than the concept itself. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with this half-breed, but let’s make it actually interesting! Maybe the end result of our half-angel / half-demon is something in the middle, something purely mundane. Everyone is out there looking for some exotic messianic figure, when in fact she’s really more of a Joan Smith the human-iest human. Maybe, rather than being some beautiful angel/succubus-like creature, she’s actually an awkward, twisted, Lovecraftian creature, like a cross between the Chaos God Nurgle of Warhammer 40K and the chimeric cherubs from Kabbalah or the Book of Ezekiel. Perhaps you’re chaotic evil in a party of good, but rather than being a third-tier Joker, you have some incentive to work with the party, and maybe their goodness rubs off on you after a while. Rather than being the petty, rogue rogue (pun intended) who pickpockets the party and stabs everyone, you mastermind heists, leveraging the abilities of the full party like Ocean’s 11 or Leverage (see tip 3).
Whether you stick closely to the traditional fantasy archetypes, or want to play the “exotic” half-angel / half-demon, there are all sorts of ways to put a little spice or twist into it, to make the character, the world, or the campaign more interesting. Regardless of what system you’re playing or what’s on the character sheet, there is usually wiggle room, little nooks and crannies where you can get creative. Even just one unique feature can breathe life into a character. Good luck with your new character concepts, I look forward to hearing your stories!
Max Cantor is a graduate student and data analyst, whose love of all things science fiction, fantasy, and weird has inspired him to build worlds. He writes a blog called Weird & Wonderful Worlds and hopes people will use or be inspired by his ideas!
Picture Reference: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2016/10/19/19/08/medieval-1753740_960_720.jpg
It’s always great to see a new publisher on the scene, adding to our ever-expanding list of games we need to play. It’s even better to see one putting out a game that jumps in front of (more than) a few games already on said list. New Agenda Publishing, with their first game Orun, is exactly that. Inspired by West African culture and with a wonderfully diverse production team, Orun funded on Kickstarter in less than 12 hours and looks to be a delight to play. New Agenda’s Misha Bushyager sat down and answered a few questions about the game and Kickstarter for us.
What is Orun and why should gamers support it?
In Orun, you play an envoy of the ascendant Oluru, called a Djali or Luminary. Not quite ascendant themselves, the Luminaries travel to different worlds as advisers, troubleshooters, and peacekeepers in the post-apotheosis galaxy. They explore lost star systems and ultimately help enlighten worlds and their people, waking the galaxy from its disordered indolence. It's a balance between more narrative games and crunchy games, with a system and worlds that allow for many stories to be told.
Orun is heavily inspired by West African culture. Does this extend to the various species and pieces of technology players will encounter in the universe?
Yes! We used principles and values from West Africa, especially the Yoruban culture when we were making design choices.
The Horizon system is intriguing. Could you give an example of what a Legendary roll might look like at the table?
Let's say you were trying to find out what bargaining chip would work best for a tricky negotiation. With a Legendary roll, you might know not only what button to push, but how to sweeten the pot for both sides so they'll both agree to it.
Why did you decide to go with a square book?
Four was an important number to us, so square just seemed to make sense. You'll find multiple of 4 all throughout the game.
This is New Agenda Publishing’s first Kickstarter. How have you prepared yourselves for the challenge, and how are those preparations paying off?
It's our first Kickstarter as a team but individually we have multiple Kickstarters under our belts. We waited until the book was mostly written to do the launch to minimize the time to fulfillment. We got our ducks in a row and quotes and artists lined up so we could hit the ground running once it was over. We've been working on this game for nearly a year now and we wouldn't be sharing it if we didn't feel like it was in a state that we could easily finish and fulfill it.
Check out Orun on Kickstarter here, and New Agenda Publishing’s Patreon here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: http://newagendapublishing.com/
It isn’t often that my old internet memories come back to haunt me, but when they do, they come back with a vengeance. Today we’re doing an interview with Blaede, Nicolas Nayaert about their project, Seeds of Wars. This is an exciting supplement for me as I am familiar with Blaede from the old Birthright Forums, which are still up and talking about fan created supplements for one of my favorite settings. My GM, Jeremy (aka Osprey), was seriously invested in the development of materials for the 3.0 and 3.5 version of Birthright we played, and it is still one of my top three RPG experiences all these years later.
1) So, Blaede, to start, can you tell us about your inspiration for this project and why you developed it?
Hey Josh, as you might have guessed, my inspiration comes from the AD&D Birthright campaign setting. My Birthright campaign lasted for over 20 years and gave me my fondest RPG memories. In 2014, I developed an application to help our game master manage the campaign. You know how difficult it was to keep track of everything in Birthright. My initial idea was to create a web application for Birthright but we couldn't manage to get the licence so I decided to create a whole new setting. The game stopped being published in 1998. In my opinion, there is no other real realm management system on the market. I am trying to bring one back.
2) What else have you (or your team) written for that we can check out?
When I decided to create a new campaign setting, not being a writer myself and not being an English native speaker, I knew from the start that I had to hire people to do the job. I started contacting the authors I enjoyed reading and/or that had a good reputation. During my search, I noticed Gen Con was about to take place in Indianapolis and I had a quick look at their Author Guest List for 2018. There I came across Erik's short resume and it seemed to me he was the perfect fit. He had already created an epic fantasy setting (the World of Ruin), had published novels in the storied Forgotten Realms, and was the lead creative consultant for Red Aegis, a big Kickstarter success from 2014. You can find his bibliography on erikscottdebie.com
3) If there was one thing that you would want everyone to know about this product, what would it be?
Seeds of Wars is not a standalone game. You'll need another RPG system for character creation, combat & magic rules... but that's a good thing! It means you can use the game system you love to build your character and level up. SOW will provide a new fantasy setting and extensive rules to manage your realm. It's a bit like building up your character but instead you will be improving your assets. Whenever you feel like stretching your legs, pack up your bag, call your friends and go on adventure. You then switch to your traditional RPG system and spend some time fighting monsters, exploring dungeons, you know, that sort of things. Once you're filled up with emotions, you can come back to your headquarters, store the spoils of your expedition in your treasure room and go back to business!
4) Why Realm Management? What does that offer the TTRPG space that doesn’t already exist?
To my knowledge, there is no other TTRPG on the market with the same level of macro management. You are managing a realm (not necessarily a kingdom, it can be magic schools, places of faith, trade guilds, cultural centers) and you really have to think on a much larger scale than in your traditional RPG. It offers a mix between diplomacy, economy, mass army battles and traditional adventuring.
5) Tell us about your setting.
Thousands of years ago, the people known as the Vareene waged a brutal war against a galactic infestation known only as the Congregation. These humanoid aliens buried their last hope–a powerful artifact called the Catalyst–on the distant, primitive planet of Ceres, where the Congregation would never think to look for it. Cut off from their homeworld, the small enclave waited for the war to run its course, when they would return. The Vareene died out, leaving the small outpost on Ceres as their last legacy. The survivors integrated with the native peoples of the planet, giving rise to powerful bloodlines linked to the ancient technology of the Vareene, which eventually became known as magic. Over centuries and then millennia, the Vareene ceased to be as a distinct culture, and in time their origins and purpose became the stuff of myth and legend.
6) How can I use this for my games? Imagine I’m writing a Savage Worlds setting book that might have Ruler level play options. Can I use this for that? What about Birthright, or Pathfinder, or one of the existing settings that has realm level play?
I mentioned you can use Seeds of Wars with any traditional RPG system. It means you can create your character and level up using the game system you like. Now, you CAN use our management rules with your own setting but it will require a lot of work from the GM to divide his map into kingdoms, the kingdoms into counties, enter all the realms date, all that is provided in our setting. It will be easier if we manage to unlock the web application stretch goal as you will be able to upload your map, draw the borders and fill in the data in a user friendly way. If you want to keep playing your Birthright campaign, the only added value would be the web application. Pathfinder is more focused on micro management and keeping your character busy between 2 adventures (which is fine, it's just a different approach).
7) If you had a vision of where this could go in the future, what would that be?
We would love to keep publishing supplements for the game. The setting’s mythic story is a cyclical one: in every age, Ceres faces a rising doom. In the fantasy era, those with the genetic power of the Vareene discover buried secrets of their interstellar past and must overcome scouts from a small band of Congregation. Centuries later in the “modern” age, our heroes face an impending invasion by unlocking the power that lies dormant within the planet and also reverse engineering the technology of the scouting unit. And finally, after Ceres has won its first battle against the Congregation, the heirs of the world must take to the stars to confront their destined foes. On the digital side, there are also endless possibilities of improvements and new functionalities.
8) What, if anything, can community members do to support this project?
I think what we need the most is visibility. We believe we have an interesting and original product and we have very talented people in the team. The difficulty for a project like this, with a first time publisher like me, is to attract people's attention. Especially people who are not familiar with Birthright and other macro management systems. If your readers would like to help us, they would definitely do so by spreading the word and sharing our posts on forums and social media. And if they really want to support us, of course they can pledge on our Kickstarter page. We are halfway there but it get more and more difficult to keep the momentum going.
9) Is any of this OGL or similar? Can folks work with you to use your framework for new products?
Right now, we are focusing on getting the Kickstarter funded and hopefully unlock the web application. We want to offer the best product possible, hence we will write the corebook and develop the app with the teams of professionals we assembled. Beyond that, I am open to all collaborations, discussions, exchanges, suggestions for improvements, both for the management rules and for the application. It will be subscription based, which means we have to keep the players satisfied. The best way to do that is to listen to what they have to say and try to go in the direction they want to go.
CHECK OUT THE SEEDS OF WARS KICKSTARTER HERE
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games and he organized the first HLG Con. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
I think most DMs have been there: the desire to run a D&D session with as little preparation as possible. Maybe you've heard of the awesome, “meta-breaking” module everyone is talking about, but don't know where to find it. Perhaps you're looking for the 2e dungeon you loved to run and its 5e conversion. These five resources are great databases for your dungeon-finding needs.
1) DMs Guild
The DM’s Guild is the most popular place to find officially published 5e and classic dungeons and modules, as well as support thousands of independent authors bringing their gifts and fresh ideas to the games.
From horror to holiday, children's adventures and more, you can find a premade adventure to fit any campaign, group, or situation. The ratings, reviews, and medal system ensure that it's easy to find the highest quality content for your needs. If you've never heard of this site, check it out at www.dmsguild.com.
2) Drivethrough RPG
Drivethrough RPG (www.drivethroughrpg.com) is the place to go for off-brand, vintage, and independently published RPG content. You’re less likely to find things for free on this site, but can buy new and classic adventures from Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and Warhammer to less well-known titles like Witcher RPG, Cyberpunk, and Gamma World.
The site is run by One Bookshelf, the same company that runs the DM’s Guild, so can bundle it and check out through either site.
3) Adventure Look Up
The Adventure Lookup (www.adventurelookup.com) is a crowdsourced database (spearheaded by Matt Colville) on which players can search for new and classic adventure modules using a variety of descriptive tags. For example, when I type “goblins” in the search bar and select “Wizards of the Coast”, “5th Edition”, and “Dungeon” for my environment, it returns a total of 7 adventures.
Clicking on any of them shows the site from which I can download them (all www.dmsguild.com in this case), the character levels they’re made for, and even if they can be soloable. While you can’t actually buy anything on the site, it’s a great hub for compiled adventures from all different sources.
4) Goodman Games
Goodman Games (www.goodmangames.com) is a high-quality producer and distributor of classic and converted modules and rule sets from both well-known and obscure TTRPGs. They’re not free, but they are guaranteed to be professionally made, and sometimes they are the only place to get 5e conversions of old adventure modules. They also sell dice, accessories, and copies of old RPG magazines that are now out of print.
5) Kobold Press
Kobold Press (koboldpress.com) is arguably the most well known third party publisher of TTRPG material. Their website functions much the same as Goodman Games, except they have much more independently produced material. They have their own magazine which they sell, and guides for designing your own content as well.
Ryan Langr is a DM, player, and content creator of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. His passions include epic plot twists, creating exceptionally scary creatures, and finding ways to bring his player’s characters to the brink of death. He also plays Pathfinder/3.5. In his real life, he is a stay at home dad, husband, and blogger of many other interests.
Picture Reference: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/news/dungeon-masters-guild-now-open
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games