Dragons. Powerful, intimidating, taste great with a side of fries and some Sriracha. At some point in every player's life, such a beast will eventually be felled. After all the loot has been divvied up that leaves one loose end up for grabs: The corpse. Now, of course, you could just toss yourself into some dragon scale armor and sell the rest to a few hungry wizards, but where’s the creativity in that?
1- Flamin’ Snack Bar
Dragons are HUGE (gargantuan depending on the age), and obviously, have a lot of meat on their bones. Take into account that their flesh is bound to have unknown magical qualities, and you’ve got a recipe for both disaster and some KFD (Kentucky Fried Dragon). Although, why stop there? Turn the meat into strips and throw on some lettuce and onions and voilà dragon Mac. However, this does make the term “secret sauce” a bit more… secretive for the health inspectors sake.
Cooking is something that everyone can enjoy after all! Maybe not the dragon at this point, however, that doesn’t stop the Rogue from making everyone a nice juicy steak. Except the Druid. But with a dragon, and they’re being so many types, there are endless possibilities for different food styles! Sushi? Dragon turtle. Omelets? Find dragons right after spring time. Something that might poison you? Wyvern tail on a stick. The possibilities are endless!
2- Imposing Effigy
That supernatural intimidation doesn’t just apply to a living breathing beast. If you’ve got a dead dragon keeping an eye on your doorstep, people tend to be wary of both your mental state and your capabilities. Should you happen to have some sort of tinkering capability, maybe you make a massive angry robotic watchdog. Oh, those gnomes. Note: Unless you have some sort of preservation spell, things may get messy.
While your Barbarian cherishes the fight, it’ll be a nice break to give them a little art project on the side, y’know, in between their brutal eviscerations. Additionally, the casters get to take a break from being the parent for a while and can have some adult conversation (bragging) with others about how they were the ones who made the final blow.
3-Dragon's Blood- Potent Poison or Enchanting Enhancer?
Hey, you killed a dragon. That's not something that exactly occurs every day. Through the ages, this may have happened a few dozen times, and that means the qualities of their parts are - for the most part - undiscovered. For the up and coming Wizard, the chance to experiment with such parts is something of a dream come true. Bonus points if you didn’t just buff the Fighter through the roof and send him into the lair.
Perhaps enchanting isn’t your forté, maybe you like to drop in unexpectedly and steal things, or burst through doors and kill everyone in your way. Well, don’t think you can’t benefit, your scrawny smart friend will have some powerful toxins to drench your blade in the hinder your enemies in the long run. Or the short, depending on how well he rolls for alchemy.
Steel-like scales. Hardened hide. Terrifying talons. All such things are so thick and impenetrable that it makes each individual dragon almost like a living castle. But once it’s dead all of those stone-hard materials usually go to waste. However, every good adventurer needs an imposing home. One near-indestructible fort for hoards, training and drinking. Well, take all these parts, find a REALLY good carpenter and send him to work. You’ll have that fire-proof drawbridge and more.
Low on cash? Low on time? Well, maybe you should clean out the insides and just like that, you’ve got a home for your favorite Ranger. They like to rough it right? On the bright side, they don’t have to worry about burning anything down while they’re in this camp.
5-Fabulous Furnishings and Fashion
Back to the first thing I criticized for being a cliché but with a twist- Why not furniture? Not everyone needs heavy armor, but you won’t find a single living creature that doesn’t appreciate a comfortable chair. If a dragonbone dining table doesn’t catch your fancy, perhaps a red-tinted fire-retardant suit? A tantalizing turquoise dress? Perhaps ornate jewelry with a dragon scale in place of a jewel?
Your guests will be pleasantly surprised, or maybe mortified, when you tell them that black leather couch they’ve sat upon for the last hour and a half, was actually in a swamp terrorizing the nearby countryside just a few months ago. Even one’s spouse will appreciate that new sapphire-like gemstone sitting on their hand, but they’ll never quite guess how you got a gem with such a elliptical shape, or a band made of solid platinum.
Where dragons are a versatile species the applications of their corpses have an equally large amount of flexibility. Not to mention you’ll always be the cool kids in town with all your new dragon gear.
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 Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
I am not the most organised of people, but paradoxically, I love to plan things. I have lists of lists, and this boils over into my GM'ing. I have maps, neighbourhoods, countries, continents, all drawn up in my head. I recently had to come to terms with the fact that I was possibly doing too much. I was working like mad, and my games were, arguably, not better. I had to take a *deep* breath... and let go.
These are the 5 ways I (at least try to) do it
1) Let The Players Do the Walking:
If you have a chatty group, you'll never need more than a few bullet points for your adventure. Ask them. As in, ask them everything. What does this building look like? What can you see? For example, your clue is a shard of glass. Does it actually matter WHERE in the room it is (assuming the position isn't a key aspect of the clue). Let the players describe the room, and then add the detail. Ultimately, you'll have 3 to 6 people doing your work for you. Boom. *drops mike*
2) Let Them Populate the World:
There are few things more funny than giving one of the players a piece of paper with this written on it: 'You're the landlord's wife. You know where the previous party of adventurers went (The Western Kingdoms), but you're playing hard to get' and see his/her face. It's on. They're now the NPC. Or maybe, they're the contact that another player called. Give the players some scrap of info to advance the plot and watch the performance. Their voice will be terrible, the accents even worse, but by Jove, you'll have the best time ever.
3) Let Them Tell You What They Find:
Ok, thin ice here. Of course I don't mean let them find the treasure of their choice, but will it make a big difference if they find the cloak they want, or the seller they want, or whatever? Further, if your game is more narrative based, this is the moment where a precious pearl of the story might fall on your lap. Maybe the small detail one of the players adds is the plot hook for the next scene... or the next full adventure.
4) Leave Blanks:
It's ok. It's ok not to plan it all, it pains me to say. Players will be happy with a general idea of their Universe, and will be happy to fill it up themselves. Be it places, countries, backstories (of course), let the players give you details. Maybe you want to use something like Microscope, and your world-building is cooperative from the gates? Let them help you.
5) Their Ideas:
It is common knowledge that if you have to work for information yourself, it will be stored much more efficiently (i.e. you’ll remember it better) than if you were simply told it. This has something to do with how your brain processes information and how it all cross links. I see this every day of the week in lessons with young people. It is the same with players. If they have to help with creating the NPC, if it’s on them to come up with the cursed idol of doomed death, if it’s on them to come up with the country of Bobland, (capital: Bobopolis), these are the games they will remember for a generation.
Let go of your game. Use the other half a dozen brains around the table. Don’t drop it on them, of course, but make it a collaborative effort. You’ll have a tenth of the work, and everyone will enjoy themselves even more.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GM’ing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
My first DM at my first game ever handed me a character sheet and told me to fill out every part of it save for one line: Alignment. He said, “after a few sessions I’ll tell you what your alignment is.” At the time it seemed odd, as I had read the rule book which told me I could pick an alignment, and I actually felt as if creativity was being taken away from me. Looking back on it, I was wrong; if anything I was being set free from from the bonds of proscriptive alignment and free to explore a personality until it became clear who this character actually was. I also think it accomplished a secondary task. It kept me from developing early career alignment disorder. Without experience to fall back on I very well could have (and later did) end up playing a character who suffered from an alignment disorder.
What is an alignment disorder?
Well I’m glad someone asked (he says as he writes his own question). To explain what I mean let me use a reasonably simple definition of real world personality disorder: “a deeply ingrained and maladaptive pattern of behavior of a specified kind... causing long-term difficulties in personal relationships or in functioning in society.”
Have you seen this before? In game I mean. A character so defined by their maladaptive behaviour that you start to question the intelligence of the person playing them? It’s possible that the player is really just wanting to play a screw-up. But maybe they too are suffering, suffering from an undiagnosed alignment disorder. Below I list four alignment disorders common to the Lawful vs Chaotic, Good vs Evil system found in many games and popularized by Dungeons and Dragons.
1. Rigid Alignment Disorder: The Lawful Idiot
Lawful is a great alignment. I would hope most real people fall into this category to some degree. The disorder in this alignment extreme can most easily be seen via the rigidity of the codes that the character will hold themselves and others to. Think of movies where a central part of the plot involves an otherwise okay person who is either an antagonist to some degree or a failed hero. The story ends with the character forced to see the flaw in their rigid system. Judge Dredd learns that good is as important as codes and becomes a better officer for it, while Inspector Javert (Les Misérables) decided his own death is the only way to avoid the implications of a superior moral code. To a smaller degree we see Professor McGonagall sometimes helping and sometimes hindering Harry Potter and friends depending on what side of the rules they fall on, never mind that they’re trying to defeat the Dark Lord. Rigid uncompromising characters can be great, that is until their behaviour starts to hinder the party and their legalistic code becomes more a burden than the other characters are willing to bear.
2. Reckless Alignment Disorder - The Chaotic Dunce
There is so much interesting character to explore in a person unwilling to be bound by the system and committed to being free of the rules. Then there is the character who wishes only to do what they want, when they want, and to hell with the consequences. Problems start when a chaotic alignment goes from “I will not be forced to follow your ways” to “I shall do whatever I please.” A mildly-chaotic character will normally adjust well to a lawful environment (when in Rome do as the Romans do). Han Solo entered the story as law breaking scoundrel but joined the rebel alliance and became a general. Still Chaotic at heart he was able (for a time) to work within the authority structure of an organized and disciplined military. Meanwhile Tony Montana’s (Scarface) increasing erratic behavior and unwillingness to curb his urges eventually lead him to murder a good friend, destroy his family, and ultimately create so many enemies while pushing away all friends that his empire comes crashing down. It wasn’t evil that brought down Tony Montana, but rather his unchecked chaotic nature (well, and snorting a mountains of cocaine; that didn’t help either).
3. Evil Alignment Disorder - The Ruthless Imbecile
Evil does not start with true cold hearted wickedness. Rather the lesser evils manifest in the form of selfishness. Always caring about yourself more than others and lacking in charity or mercy begin one down the evil alignment path. The transition from greedy to diabolical though happens when you move from not caring much about others to wishing only ill on those around you. Role-playing tables have plenty of space for evil characters; a selfish, greedy, and rude person who can play well with others and can contribute to furthering shared goals can be a very manageable and playable character. Let’s compare George Costanza (Seinfeld) with Emperor Commodus (Gladiator). George is a lustful, selfish, arrogant fellow who leaves a path of angry ex-girlfriends and co-workers in his wake. Commodus is a lustful, selfish, arrogant fellow who murders those who have what he wants and causes those closest to him to live in terror of of his arrogance, selfishness, and lust. George is a bastard but also a reasonably functional character. Commodus is wicked and demonstrates the downfalls of unchecked ruthlessness.
4. True Neutral - The Balancing Buffoon.
A Neutral alignment allows tons of room to explore a fascinating and interesting personality, partly because it can seem so inhuman (or at least immature) to be so unaligned, but also because it allows one a chance to defy the conventional black or white lines of the alignment system. However, the concept of True Neutral as an ideal, that is, being actively against evil and goodness, law and freedom, it -can- be possible. An old Dungeons and Dragons source book makes reference to the True Neutral Druid who would help save a village from monsters only to switch sides in the fight to keep the monsters from being eradicated entirely by the village. Striving for balance in all things is all well and good until you strive to balance the lives of innocents with the deaths of innocents. As a note, True Neutral was abandoned as a concept in the 3rd edition in favour of an undecided or uncommitted character. I guess the idea of True Neutral was so difficult to play that the very idea of it qualifies by my definition as an Alignment Disorder.
Overall my conclusion here is that alignments are more likely to be become disorderly when they are taken to inflexible extremes. Certainly a skilled role-player can make a functional character out of any predetermined alignment description. Extremity itself is not a problem. Indeed when it comes to alignment (as with many things) it’s only a problem if it’s a problem.
Anthony is lifelong dreamer and hobbyist who approaches role-playing as one part storyteller and one part rules lawyer. Role-playing interests include world building, back stories, character accents and voices, and trying to keep his inner simulationist in check.
The best role-playing experiences come from being able to interact with a living story world.
I usually keep my fandom deep in a closet; sometimes, though, no amount of subject-changing and excuses to leave the room can prevent the pastime from making into a conversation. When that happens, I always tend to explain the hobby this way: it’s like being able to create a world and then live in it with other people. Here are the three best ways that this has happened for me:
1. Sarge: Players get to affect the game world! (or: Player Agency)
“You lousy Mercs work for whoever pays most. Why should I believe you?” The general spat on the floor. “Forget you. We have a city to defend.”
“Sir, with all due respect... it's true. They’re telling the truth,” said Sarge, tentatively. “I’ll vouch for these folks. That creature was the worst thing I've ever seen, and it said something even worse was waiting on the other side of that rift…”
The general stared his most trusted field commander. Sarge’s gaze remained level.
“All right,” the general answered quietly. “I'll take your word for it, Sarge.”
Sarge was created by accident. I was over at a friend’s house, drinking beer while watching a bunch of dudes play something called Rifts. I didn’t really understanding what was going on. My buddy had been pushing this game like it was the latest opioid, though, and he asked if I wanted to come over and watch a session. So, there I was.
Two armies were facing each other across a field. The conflict had been escalating over several sessions, and it was about to come to a head. The players, a group of special ops mercenaries working for one side, had been sent to investigate a disturbance in one of their army’s holdings. My friend, the GM, gave me a group of non-player character soldiers that were sent to help them.
As our Merc group was investigating, a creature that looked like the love child of a centaur and an Elder God came out of a cave, shrieking bloody murder (pretty typical of Rifts). As chance would have it, most of the player characters froze in fear at the site of this monstrosity. One soldier in my group, however (we called him Sarge), was able to keep his head round after round. Because of this, he was able to rally the others to defeat the monster. As the monster died, it shrieked maniacally that something worse was going to use the psychic energy released in the upcoming battle to access the world through a magical rift. We had to stop the battle!
The leader that had hired the player characters refused to believe them. In the above scene, my accidental character was instrumental in preventing an event of apocalyptic proportions - and that did it for me. I signed up to join the campaign the same day.
What was the secret behind making this a good role playing experience? It wasn't having a powerful character. It wasn't just because I had rolled well (though, let’s be honest, that’s always a part of it). It certainly wasn't because of the clunky combat resolution mechanics by Kevin Siembada. I decided to jump aboard the role-playing train in part because there was a compelling story and a rich world. But more importantly, I was able, through my character, to make a difference in that richly detailed game world.
2. Klug: Players get to expand the game world! (or: Collaborative Creative Process)
Gruumsh, Gruumsh! Beat the drum,
Do not stop ‘til story’s done!
Klug is a classic Dungeons and Dragons example of how a player character should have a hand in establishing the game world. He was a half-orc Barbarian, and the only orc character in the campaign. We had written him out of the story when I left the campaign a few years previously by having him take leadership of a conquered orcish village. Chaotic-Good Klug, having developed a half-baked belief system he borrowed from his Paladin friend, was going to convert the orcish population to the Paladin’s god. Hilarity ensued.
For the grand finale, however, Klug was being brought back into the story. We leveled him up and randomly rolled a magical item for him to carry: a horn that summoned some spirits to fight on his behalf. To meet the narrative requirements of bringing his character back into the story, the GM expected me to develop a plausible explanation for his absence and subsequent return with a sweet magic item... one that also respected the constraints of an already well-established game world.
What emerged from all of this I called the Gruumsh. Gruumsh, in Dungeons and Dragons canon, is the name of the Chaotic-Evil god of the orcs. I decided, however, that in our world it was rather a call to war so hallowed that the orcs revered it as one might revere a god. The GM and I decided that the horn in fact summoned the spirits of previous orc chieftains of various stripes and allegiances. The only common factor between them was that they had each called a Gruumsh. To rewrite my character into the story, I composed a hymn detailing the Gruumsh history: an epic tale spanning thousands of years. My character was now the chosen leader, called to lead the Gruumsh against a force that sought to destroy the world. To determine whether or not he was eligible to lead the Gruumsh, Klug had to endure a literal trial by fire. The spirits of the past leaders of the Gruumsh were summoned and held council among themselves, eventually deciding that, yes, the Gruumsh was really on.
This was a great role-playing experience for a couple of reasons. To get your nerd on and create a rich and storied history for the game world is one of the reasons many role-playing enthusiasts pick up the dice. Role-playing, however, is a collaborative process; just like a sports team or a business, if your group is not able to work together you aren't likely to succeed in your goal. The temptation for many Game Masters is to write the world and expect the players to go along with it. If you're going to do that, though, you should probably go write a novel instead. Players should have a hand in expanding the game world through their characters.
3. The Doc: Players get to live through their stories! (or: Living Narrative)
The explosion rocked the alley. The Doc covered his face as bits of hot metal and flesh peppered his body. Looking up, he saw his vehicle had become a ball of flame.
There was his car. There was a body inside. Someone had died, and everyone would probably think it was him.
The Doc stood up, and brushed the grimy dirt from his front as best he could.
“Now what the hell are you supposed to do?” he grumbled at himself.
The fire snapped and roared. The Doc turned and started jogging away from the scene of his own demise.
The Doc was not an accident at all. By this time, I had been role-playing for several years and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I had also made a fair number of mistakes and had my fair share of disappointments. I remember once carefully scripting the events that I wanted one of my characters to live, neglecting to consider that the other people playing the game might want different things than I did. Needless to say, that was an unmitigated disaster. I was disappointed, the other players were frustrated, and the fun quota of that campaign was diminished. Chalk it up to inexperience.
With the Doc, however, it was different. We were playing Shadowrun - a cyberpunk world with elves and orks. In making the Doc I kept it simple: I decided on a big question that I wanted to answer. In his back story, I created a situation (the tail end of which I typed above): the Doc had a shady past of collaborating with organleggers, people in the Shadowrun setting who would illegally harvest organs from unwilling donors. He had gotten away from that life, and he wanted to redeem himself. The question was this: Could he redeem himself and stop the bad stuff from happening?
This led to the best campaign I have ever enjoyed. There was enough motivation built into the question that I always had direction as a player. I was engaged with the character and game world for the whole time. On the other hand, I didn't expect my fellow players to do exactly what I wanted them to do either, and there was just enough uncertainty that if my character died or was written out of the story, the question would still be answered. In the end, the Doc was indeed able to redeem himself by taking down the organleggers. When we finished that campaign, I fondly remember the Doc walking off into the sunset, setting out to rebuild his life.
The urge to create is deeply rooted in human nature. It is most satisfying when the things you create are shared with a group that appreciates it. Role-playing, when it is well done, offers players the opportunity to create and inhabit a shared world. The most successful shared worlds form nothing less than a piece of interactive art.
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Like many amongst us, for some reason, I usually find myself behind the GM screen.
While I do play and enjoy playing, there is something about taking on that role that just always appealed to me and I have always found that there is something that draws me to that role again and again. That being said, I recently started thinking about the dearth of GMs in our hobby. I mean, by the very nature of most games players will outnumber GMs. And we have to face the reality that for the majority of the people in our hobby, that role is unappealing.
The reasons are as varied as the people who play, but they often boil down to workload, intimidations, lack of confidence in ideas, and what I think is the biggest problem: we don’t have a great way of teaching the next generation of gamers how to GM/Judge/Storytell/DM/Keeper.
Recently, I had a conversation with a few members of an online game that I was running and I challenged my players to GM our next game. I promised to help teach them how to run a game and to share the burden as much as I can, and do whatever I could do to help them in their first time GMing. This got me to thinking of all of the methods that I had seen to plan and run campaigns. Here are some of them:
1. Reactive Method
This method is deceptively complex. At least, it is complex if you want to do it well. This method essentially assumes an active world that the game takes place in. Into that world comes your players and their characters with all of their flaws and worldviews and goals. The work of the GM then is to create a rich enough world that ensures that the players begin interacting with it and just react in the way that - in the GM’s estimation - the people and forces in that world would react. This allows the campaign to essentially write itself with the players and their characters as the prime movers.
There are some complications with this method, especially in that it is actually far more complex than it at first seems. First, it requires a group that is full of active personalities with players who are going to take the initiative and act. Further, it requires a world that contains enough hooks for players to want to act on them, and it requires some complexity in that world for any longer-termed campaign or the players are going to start to thrash about looking for something to do. Thus, the level of world building can either be high or the requirements of the level of play can be high. If either of those pieces do not exist at least by themselves but hopefully together, then the whole thing comes crashing down. Of course, the flipside is simply that if the players are consistently good self-starters and the world is built in depth enough with enough hooks, this campaign can be fabulous and incredibly rewarding.
2. Implications Method
The implication method requires some thought, but not a tonne of pre-planning, which is its strength. Essentially, what you are doing with this method is having characters created, starting with a place of any kind, and working out from there. This is very much the “start small” approach to building a campaign. So, how does it work?
Start with a place. In our example we will start with an inn. That’s all. Right off of the bat we have implications. We know that there needs to be customers. There needs to be suppliers for the things that they are selling. It suggests a culture that congregates at an inn. With this, you have some decisions. Is the local population predominantly human? Let’s say yes. Is the innkeeper human? Let’s say no. That implies something. If the human population has say, a dwarven innkeeper, then that could imply that there is a community of dwarves nearby. It may even imply that either the innkeeper is estranged from that community or not. If so, then why? If not, then why? And so on. With this method one could start with a town, a village, a castle, a spaceport, or whatever. It just required the GM to be nimble and think through things pragmatically.
3. Guidepost Method
This method operates under a principle of storyline guideposts. Basically, a few of these can be decided in advance and the storyline then loosely moves to these guideposts. An example might be that the first three guideposts are that an item is stolen while the group is at a local festival, a political enemy causes them trouble that they can’t murderhobo their way out of, and an important NPC is killed mysteriously. A way that could be fleshed out could be that the PCs come together for the Festival of the Sun, a midsummer festival that is held in the town of Edmundstown every year wherein the Shard of the Steward of the Sun is revealed to be adored by the public after a few days of feasting. During this festival that the PCs are attending, the item is stolen and the PCs are enjoined to help find it before the festival is ruined. Following that portion, the second bit could be that the local High Priest of the Sun Temple comes to believe that the players were somehow the cause of the festival almost coming to ruination, and while he doesn’t have proof, he starts to spread rumours amongst the upper hierarchy of the church and the aristocracy that they are not to be trusted. Finally, a local nobleman who has been publicly defending the PCs is mysteriously murdered. Obviously, there is a lot going on that can be built on and played through.
The guideposts thus planned can start to build a larger ongoing campaign and it helps plant cinematic seeds and foreshadowing when the moment feels right rather than having to railroad the group into what you have planned.
For example, with the above guideposts, we know that in the third guidepost an NPC needs to be murdered. So we know that the GM needs to introduce that NPC and, if they want to maximize the emotional impact, do everything in their power to make them care about that NPC. Further, it would also help if, knowing that they are going to meet and have an interaction with someone they won’t like in the second guidepost, maybe have that person introduced as well off of the top. Perhaps that person is a beloved leader and the matriarch of the festival, who then later blames the group for the missing item, for example. Maybe it is someone who starts out as a possible ally only to turn on them. In the end, as many guideposts as you want can be written and then strung together as time goes on, or discarded as necessary.
4. Emotion Method
This is possibly the most esoteric method. With this method, you imagine certain emotional or evocative scenes and then identify the emotional core of that scene. Once that is done, you just try to reimagine that scene into the story and do everything in your power to evoke that feeling. Movies are a great piece of inspiration for this kind of storytelling. An example might be to look at a movie scene like the D-Day portion of Saving Private Ryan. The core emotion is fear or possibly a certain kind of desperation. Doing this in a modern or futuristic setting might be easier, and in a fantasy setting, one could play out a scene in which the players were part of a larger force storming a hostile beach.
Using the fantasy example, the players could be recruited as storm troops or advanced skirmishers tasked with being part of the first wave ashore with a few objectives, like fight your way up the beach, capture a small and well defended fort on the first hill, and finally do it all quick enough to secure and defend a bridge before it can be destroyed. Pepper this non-stop combat with friendly NPCs dying all around and danger around every corner. You could place random fireball or lightning bolt related artillery strikes all the way through. In this scenario you want to do everything you can to create a sense of dread, a sense of mortality, a mimicry of what those soldiers must have gone through. With this method, this one scene could be the source of many sessions by itself. The recruiting, possibly even smaller quests as “training” or espionage, role-playing through the evening before, preparing for the possibility of death, even getting the invasion called off for weather to build tension. Then the combat itself and perhaps even the follow-up from that part. This whole “chapter” of the campaign therefore becomes crafted around this apex, rising in drama to its climax and then cresting off to the aftermath and epilogue. Then onto the next scene.
5. Background Method
It’s best to apply this method with a lot of prep work between GM and players. It implies that the players have created characters with some kind of flesh on them at a “session zero.” It helps a lot of the players create characters with some hooks and goals that they want to explore. And if they have established relationships with each other, more the better. These backgrounds that are created for the characters should be done without any input in regards to setting or world, and it is in these backgrounds that the entire campaign is created.
Of course, that means that the building of these characters and their stories is best done with the input and guidance of the GM throughout. I often use text messages and phone conversations as the players pitch ideas, and I then take pieces that jump out and help them expand it. Then, at session zero everyone explains their backgrounds in turn and the GM then asks leading questions that are designed to give shape and force to their stories. Examples might be, “when you were young a childhood friend drowned, why didn’t you help her?” Or, gesturing to another player, “you owe your fellow PC Link Starchild something of great value, and that creates a lot of guilt in you, what was it and why do you owe it?” This process then creates the world and maps the campaign.
6. Procedural Method
I am a massive Lovecraft fan, and recently I grabbed the Quickstart Rules for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. My group then played the little adventure that came with and in short, had a blast. It led me to start to snoop around the interwebz and found a wealth of short adventures going back to the first edition. As I read the summaries of these short gems I thought of some of my favourite shows, like Supernatural or X-Files. In those shows there were short plots that lasted a single episode, like a “monster of the week” kind of thing, or a few episodes, with a long term goal that lasted over the course of each season or longer. With this method of campaign, one simply comes up with a metanarrative that links the characters to a long term goal, say, a global conspiracy of some type (Trust No One) and then having the smaller, seemingly unrelated (except by theme) plots woven in. That way, the players go from fairly clearly defined adventure to adventure while uncovering pieces over a long period of time.
7. Bonus Frankensteinian Method!
In my own life and amongst some of the better GMs that I know these methods exists in a hodge-podge or mish-mashed form. That is, we use a combination of methods to achieve something for our campaigns as we move through. Let’s say you start with the Procedural Method, but build out the metaplot and the theme of it using the Background Method, all the while mixing in the Implication Method as you do some worldbuilding. Frankly, my group often runs campaigns wherein we play 2-3 sessions a month for years at a time, so I often switch back and forth depending on what I am hoping to achieve in the next portion of the campaign.
I know that these methods aren’t the only ones, they are just the dribs and drabs that I have pieced together over my decades of gaming. I know that you likely have more interesting ones; let me know in the comments below.
-VP Quinn was birthed of darkness and pain and fire. The prophecy has foretold his coming wherein all shall behold and despair. It is coming, it has come. Also, he hosts the High Level Games Podcast, Co-Hosts the Leveling Up Podcast, and is consistently shamed on The Inept Gamer. And he tells people what to do around here.
There are a variety of races to choose from when you start making a character in 5th edition, but the Halfling seems to be underutilized (in my opinion). Their diminutive size can be easily overlooked (see what I did there), but you should not discount them. Here are some reasons to have your next character be a Halfling.
1. They are Genuine
They are what they seem, and they seem awesome and agreeable. In a campaign with new relationships, mistrust and hesitancy will be a natural occurrence. But, incorporating a character where others know where they stand is a great asset. Through their nature you are able to have a sounding board for other characters in the campaign. Perhaps they will even have some charismatic bent to unite the group, but even if they don’t, everyone can have an ally.
2. They Like You; They Really Like You
Even when the other player characters can easily be annoyed by the little ones with them, a Halfling still likes THEM. “Look over there at that surly, sarcastic Dwarf! Oh! Him! I love how he speaks clearly what is on his mind and is he ever funny!” But this loving nature doesn’t just stay with people. They love everything. Food, company, adventure, home-life, new experiences, and everything else you can name all top the list of favourites. They are the epitome of eyes full of wonder. You will see your new area and new situations with fresh perspective.
3. They are Underestimated
Though not the biggest and most imposing races, they have skills that can be useful in a campaign. Due to the fact that they are underestimated, they can be an unknown foe when facing off against ruffians you may encounter. Keeping people off guard is never a bad strategy.
4. Lucky, Little Things
I am so glad that 5th has incorporated the lucky trait into halfling life. Somehow, they make less epic blunders than anyone else. Epic rolls of 1, can be the difference between some total-party-wipes and the thwarting of many monsters. This can be a game-changer. This along with their extra dextrous small size, means that you can often send the Halfling into situations where others just cannot go.
5. Lightfoot or Stout
5th gives you the ability to slightly alter some stats depending on your sub-race. Want to be slightly sneakier and charismatic, then the Lightfoot should fit your ideal. More interested in a hearty character, then the tougher Stout option is for you.
Add on a class, and your new shiny Halfling is ready to take for a spin. Try it out, you may fall in love.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
Well, that season is upon us again, and now you’re debating between a scarf or sweater for those special ones you love. Ask yourself: why settle for mediocrity? Again and again we find ourselves in Bath & Body Works or Ms. Naughty’s Nighties looking for that special gift (under $20.00) to bring to the office gift exchange. If this holiday is going to mean what it really means, then invest some cash to bring some true joy to the season. Let’s stick our love under the tree or at very least drop some hints for others as to what we want. And what do we want? Well, it’s what we always want: game.
1) THE DICE TO END ALL DICE
The fine folks over at Artisan Dice have pretty much come up with every kind of quality dice you could ever want. From carbon fiber to brass to elk bone, Artisan Dice lets you design your own set and then have a trained craftsman manufacture them to your specs. I’m pretty dead inside but even I was impressed that they manufacture “specialty” from both amber and aged Jack Daniels Oak whisky barrels. Prices ranged from around $30 to over $500. Find them geared up for your Christmas needs at www.artisandice.com and check out the history they have compiled on the worlds oldest D20 under Ptolemaic D20. AMAZING.
2) MORE ABOUT DICE
So now that you have those ever so sweet brilliantly gleaming dice, what are you going to do with them when you’re not playing? Pencil case? Felt bag? Don’t be absurd, those dice deserve better than that, these dice are fancy dice, these dice are family. So treat them like your ever beloved great aunt and stick em’ in Peruvian Walnut dice vault. Wyrmwood Quality Gaming Supplies makes an amazing assortment of boxes and vaults from a variety of common and rare woods to meet any budget, and if you have something unique in mind probably could bang it out for you in their custom workshop. See their online catalog at wyrmwoodgaming.com. Kick Ass Gaming gear is also a purveyor of fine wood product to serve your dice holding needs. Ranging from Dragon sheathes that hold your dice, a figurine and a pencil to their beautifully hand crafted and intricate Dice towers, where you drop the dice down through the tower and your roll appears on the felt lined draw bridge.
3) ENOUGH ABOUT THE DICE
In a world of 3D printers the gamer is king. Hero Forge caters to the king in the form of customizable miniatures for any character you are currently playing. Hero Forge offers convenience and quality to gamers out there who want to hold a part of their imagination in their hands. Figurines are manufactured to match the commonly used 30mm scale and once designed by you (all the way down to the expression on the figurines face), they send it to your front door. Haters don’t hate, just go to their website at www.heroforge.com and do a character design trial before you order. Their eye for detail is apparent.
4) IT WON’T FIT IN YOUR STOCKING LIKE DICE BUT IT’S PRETTY AWESOME
What I’m about to say doesn’t really fit with the giving theme of the holiday season but it’s what has to happen. So go out and buy D&D’s The Storm King’s Thunder to give to someone and then just keep it and play it with your friends. It’s awesome, it came out in September, it’s 256 pages of adventuring, investigating and giant killing, and it’s 5e so it’ll be better than you can even believe. If you already own it then actually go buy it for someone you know in another group as a Christmasy thing. If you want to give it to your cousin Eddie then I would say you should at least buy him the D&D starter set first… and then the Player's Handbook… maybe the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Anyway, buy some 5e for someone you love this Christmas, namely yourself.
All of this stuff is available online so get in line with the holiday spirit and start spending. Well that’s my season wish list. Whoa, I mean gift list. I hope my wife reads this. Happy holidays.
Have you heard of Exalted? It’s a game that was created by White Wolf. Ostensibly the First Edition was a prequel to the World of Darkness. There were some basic similarities to the World of Darkness and the meta-plot that was created to explain that world’s origins. However, the world of Exalted was slowly separated from the World of Darkness over its 3 editions. The reasons for this are multi-faceted. For one, the world of Exalted is High Fantasy, not of the D&D style, but of the Anime and Manga style. If you are interested, check out Exalted 3rd edition, it’s only been out a few months, and the core book is HUGE, providing you a ton of tools to run games in the Second Age of Man.
1) War Rules:
There are at least 100 things I’d like to start this article with, but this is something slightly odd for an RPG. I know of only a few games that have detailed rules for running army size battles. One is Birthright, one of my favorite settings for Dungeons and Dragons. The other, is Exalted. The army rules for Exalted are detailed, allowing heroes to take on Dynasty Warrior style combat or allowing players to become great general themselves.
2) Solars, Dragon-Blooded, Lunars, Oh My:
There are multiple types of Exalted. Exalted is the general term for the various super powered beings in the game. The core rules give you the tools to play Solars, the previous lords of Creation who are starting to be reincarnated. The Dragon-Blooded are the default Exalted that support the government of Creation, the Scarlet Empire. Lunars are shape-changers who are touched by the Wyld from having lived on the edges of Creation. Oh, also, the Fair-Folk or Rakshas are Wyld beings that are doing their best to destroy Creation itself, to drag everything back into the proto-beginnings of the world. The core rules focus on the Solar Exalted, but with 3 editions there are rules that allow you to play any of the various Exalted, including the Abyssals, Sidereals, and the Autochtonians/Alchemical Exalted.
Creation is a world that is at least twice the size of our world and it exists on a flat plane. There is no globe to travel upon, if you go too far toward one of the poles of Creation you’ll face only the ever encroaching Wyld. That being said, Creation has everything. Do you want to run high-seas adventures that remind you of Legend of Zelda: Windwaker? You can do that. Do you want to play a game set in the great freezing north? Done. How about a high-powered social dynamic game in the heart of an imperial court? Yep. Creation has at least a dozen major locations detailed in the books, but the best thing is that there is so much space that you can create your own empires, kingdoms, or even small towns with ease.
4) Charms, Charms, and Charming Charms:
Charms are the power system for Exalted. Solars have a series of over-the-top Charms that allow them to take cinematic martial arts to the next level. All the various Exalted have Charms that reflect their powers. They also have cool anime style names, like: Trance of Unhesitating Speed, Mist on Water Attack, or Friendship with Animals Approach. Now, you don’t have to scream these out at the top of your lungs like some anime characters do… but why wouldn’t you? Charms have changed from edition to edition, but the rules provided allow you to create your own, or edit older charms to fit the newer editions.
So, if you are thinking about running your next fantasy campaign, think about using Exalted. The game is exciting, action orientated, and flexible. The combat system is deep and immersive, and though it can look daunting at first, it is a straight-forward system. Also, if you are ever planning on running a game that allows you to command an army, to rule a country, or to have the opportunity to conquer Creation you should look at Exalted.
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.
I’ve been Dungeon Master of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5 and 5e) for my friends for the last 8 years, with the same 2 or 3 players in nearly every iteration of our world. They enjoy building new characters, creating new narratives, and sometimes it can be difficult to keep pace with them and the fresh features, without allowing the staples of the game going stale. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve found really help to add a little spice to the game, without over-encumbering the rule set.
1. Old Monsters, New Skins
Sometimes it just takes a little polish to give an old monster or enemy some new shine. I am personally a big fan of taking the Stat Block from the Monster Manual for a creature and presenting it in a different fashion. This way, you can create a richer environment, and can explore using story elements present in the Monster Manual. For example, recently I used the Stat Block of a Shambling Mound, and presented it as a descendant of the Gulthias Tree, an ancient Tree tainted by Vampire Blood that can spawn Needle and Vine Blights. This enriched the environment of the encounter, and tied together two monsters that aren’t normally associated with one another.
2. Add Class Levels to the Bosses
This can be a bit more of a balancing act on the DM’s part, making sure you don’t create an OverPowered Boss that’ll slaughter the party in 3 rounds or less. (Not that I’ve ever done that or anything…) However, I do advocate for using a low-level monster, like a Centaur, and giving them some class levels so their weapons/spells/abilities are more varied, and help keep the party on their toes.
3. Create Encounters with Unlikely Allies
The Monster Manual can generally give an idea for what monsters may be found together, as well as the environments that they inhabit. But what’s stopping you from creating an unlikely match-up? Maybe there’s a Stone Giant, who has fallen from grace, and recruits vermin to serve him. Maybe there’s a band of Orcs, who have been converted by the local Cult to Ol-Hyrda, the Elemental Princess of Water. Maybe some merrows have been enraptured by a sea hag for the next sea adventure. Creating these dynamic mash-ups can give the encounter itself depth, and can also push you as DM to justify their mash-up, creating a story hook or new adventure path along the way.
4. Let Monsters be the Side Dish, not Main Course
Sometimes players can become bored, or learn to expect your patterns, so it’s always good to keep them on their toes and change the focus of an encounter. Maybe there’s a puzzle that needs solving within a certain time, and the monsters are only there as a distraction. You can use the time constraint of the round or turn of combat to increase the tension, and build better team cohesion by working together to solve the encounter.
5. Think in All 3 Dimensions
In my formative years as a DM, I had a player whose character could fly. Oh, he was also a caster. So was his raven familiar. Never before had I cursed the existence of the Z-axis for calculating spell ranges. However, despite my mild mathematical madness, I began to see the playmat in a whole new light (or angle?) that allowed me to explore creatures that could fly, traps mounted on walls or ceilings, and other vertical ventures. Adding these structures into a normally grid-locked campaign can still prove quite effective. Maybe there’s one monster on a bridge, or a ladder to climb to another section. Giving yourself the freedom of that 3rd dimension can help immerse the players into the experience, as well as challenge you to create encounters and bring your game to the next level.
6. The Room Itself Can Be an Enemy
The room is flooding! There's a boulder coming right for us! Traps, impasses, and other ways to stall the progress of a party can be so much more than diversions or ways to halt progress in a particular path. Vines on the floor or walls, smoke from a nearby fire filling the room, or poison gas from a trapdoor can be encounters to overcome instead of just an obstruction. I would suggest this one with a touch of caution, however, as we all play games to have fun and occasionally escape reality. Depending on your group of players, you can sometimes be met with resentment for the real-world implications of spells, traps, and obstructions. Also, if you use this tactic, do your best to be consistent, and have future encounters or traps react or function in the same manner.
Whenever it’s time to settle down for a new story, or create the next chapter, don’t be afraid to tap into the resources available to you. Some small tweaks or new kernels of an idea can help spawn really incredible stories. Whether it’s watching a YouTube series, reading some really great articles, or asking local and online friends for their input, creating a dynamic story will keep your players coming back to the table eager for the next session.
Angela Daurio is a New Jerseyan, who is fond of puns, cats, and Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. She loves to cook, bake, theory-craft, and has two viziers who she constantly taps for new ideas and out-of-game rule checking. Thank you, Art and Rob.
It’s no secret that players get attached to their characters in a big way. Moreover, players love when their characters get their moment, or several moments, in the sun. The feeling of giving the inspiring speech or slaying the monster can be intoxicating and, therefore, quite addictive. However, it’s important to remember that all players feel this way, at least occasionally. The act of sharing the table is a mark of a great table-top gamer, and what follows is a list of four aspects that can help you (or someone you know) become a better team player.
1 . Listen
The most basic principles of teamwork which we must remember is one we learned as children. We should listen for certain tonal cues and keep an ear out for indications that one of our table mates is looking for an opening. If they start formulating a plan, go with it. Even if it isn’t the best idea in the world, you’re bound to make that player feel more accomplished by letting them take the lead. If another player seems anxious, take that cue and rope them into your next plan. Try teaming up with shy gamers to get them out of their comfort zone (as comfortably as possible, of course). Oh, and listen to your GMs, too. When they speak up, they most likely have something important or interesting to say.
2 . Share the Spotlight
If you find yourself at the helm of an adventure more often than not, you may want to take a step back and let others take the wheel for a while. Not every campaign needs a de facto leader. In fact, most modules aren’t written with a head honcho in mind. Cooperation between individuals and the sharing of leadership responsibilities makes for a well-oiled team. When another player’s character seems more suited for a job, let them take care of it. You can help, of course, but sometimes it’s best just to let another player accomplish the thing they’re good at without any assistance. In combat, coordinate your efforts as best you can. Let the big guy run up and take a few licks while the sneaky character gets into position for a surprise attack. Such cooperation will build your group’s combat efficiency and make for some awesome and memorable sessions.
3 . Take the Bullet
A character’s life is fleeting, and this fact is even more true in certain games such as Call of Cthulhu. While everyone should wish for and work towards their character’s continued existence, sometimes, somebody has to bite the dust. Sacrificing your character’s life for another’s is not only good team play, it’s a chance for your character to have a powerful dramatic moment as well. This piece of advice is most effective when dealing with another player’s first or favorite character. Show them that you value their character just as much as they do. This simple act will have new players coming back for more and veterans thanking you for weeks to come. And even though it’s cliché, everyone likes a good bodyguard-style sacrifice.
4 . Distinguish Player and Character
When in the heat of a dramatic moment, it’s often difficult to differentiate between the person you’re staring at in the real world and the fictional character inhabiting the shared creative space that is the gaming table. Tensions can run high and emotions hot, but never forget that each player is an actor. Anger you feel towards your buddy sitting next to you is probably being misdirected, instead intended for his or her character. The failure to make this distinction proves to be the great enemy of any good table-top team. As long as everyone remembers who they’re talking to (that is to say, the character and not the player), not even hot-blooded player-versus-player combat can threaten friendships. Don’t forget to share a post-game chat with your in-game enemy to make sure that tensions cool down.
These aspects of good teamwork help us to tell the great stories we want to experience. Some of my favorite gaming memories come from moments of pure synergy, and others by watching my friends accomplish awesome feats while I was there to support them. What are some of the keys to great teamwork that you’ve experienced? Let me know, and keep up the great teamwork!
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 and share your favorite moments, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact .
The Last Wish - 3 Reasons Why Sapkowski's Witcher Is The Greatest Fantasy Setting You've Never Role-Played in
Dragons, dungeons, dungeons deep, caverns old, barbaric lands, distant galaxies, technology-dependant ages, and even a mix of all the aforementioned – you've probably rolled dice while within at least one of these.
And while each and every universe I've just listed has quite a few things going for it, I'm willing to climb the highest mountain carrying the world's largest megaphone, and yell at the top of my lungs that none of the above will ever come close to the blistering wit, thundering charisma, and unerring relevance that The Witcher seems to so easily combine into the greatest fantasy setting I've never had the pleasure of role-playing in.
Factually, I could just say that the only reason I haven't done so is that we've only had one Polish Witcher RPG come out over the years... But we're also here to debate why Redania, Kaedwen, and Mahakam will forever stand head and shoulders above Westeros, The Forgotten Realms, and even Middle Earth.
High praise? You're goddamn right!
Most of you might know of The Witcher setting from the RPG games that have come out for PCs and consoles over the past 9 years – the end of that sentence just made me feel old. But the underlying universe these are based on has been around for well over 30 years, spanning 8 books, and a host of short stories, comics, a failed TV series, standalone adventures, as well as an overarching narrative that put true grit into fantasy way before ol' GRRM regaled us in his neverending saga.
Dealing with issues like racism and blurring the lines between good and evil, and doing so mostly through the eyes of Geralt, a professional monster slayer whose job description encompasses way more than is readily apparent, here's a more in-depth look at that setting, mainly 3 reasons why a pen-and-paper RPG set within its confines would set the role-playing world ablaze.
1. Parental Guidance Advised
The first and foremost aspect of Andrej Sapkowski's work is its unapologetically mature take on not only fantasy, but life in general. It does so by distilling every major conflict alive in the world as a whole to the point of view of a singular character – Geralt. A professional monster hunter, one of the last of a dying breed, The White Wolf faces a host of hurdles, page in and page out.
The reason these hurdles are so efficient in striking a chord with audiences, drawing them in more so than empire vs empire confrontations or quests to destroy ancient baubles, is that most of them are relevant variants of issues very much alive today. These are issues that most of us may have faced or will face at one point or another: the fear of becoming obsolete, reticence in cutting a straight line between right and wrong, a desire of protecting your loved ones, providing and caring for them while also preparing them for what they may face in future days...
All of these and more are shared with the reader in a straightforward manner, no curtains, ifs, or buts – dangers hang like a specter over every choice or action, basic needs or urges are presented in no sheepish manner, greater conflicts surrounding the main character and his closest companions simmer down to a personal level, where the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. All of these situations most of us will at some point face, if in a less magically-imbued and bloody murdering style.
The most astounding thing that results from the Polish writings is that humans, and humanity in general, turn out to be the greatest monsters alive, and that sometimes beasts or foul creatures that should by all intents and purposes fall into the "bad guy" category end up having more valid reasons for their actions than the humans ever will. This, of course, is more than relevant to today's society if you know what to glean from it.
While the setting is grim with a sense of urgency and dread dogging the characters' every footstep, Geralt being thrust in the midst of a larger conflict that but brews at the start of the series then ends up going full boil by the third book, you will not be left wanting for humour. Geralt's few-harsh-yet-fair-words attitude towards things he disdains or looks down upon coupled with his sarcasm and razor-sharp wit could be an acquired taste for some, but will work wonders for all those who appreciate British humour.
Think less dead parrot sketch and more Black Knight. Performed by a blind, savvy grave digger. Under a full moon. In a cemetery beset by ghouls.
From its titular sly, dry, mutant-of-many-trades character, to its flambuoyant minstrel by the name of Dandelion – and yes, he IS that delicate but balances it out with quite the sharp tongue – to the myriad sorceresses of untold beauty and malice, its majestic kings and queens, vile bandits or heroic rebels, down to the rabble in the streets, be it beggars, whores or children going about their daily mud-puddle-bash, every last character the book puts forth is memorable in some way, no matter how small.
Not only that, but Sapkowski also manages to bring every last bit of scenery to life, complementing and enhancing the characters' actions immensely. Although he is an action-oriented writer first and foremost, with the books generally skewing away from neverending expositions and quickly going into juicy dialogue or a good fight, you are never left wanting for context.
And the dialogues – and even monologues – The Witcher series has to offer are some of the best I've come across in a long time. Blending reality and common knowledge into in-setting legendry and hearsay – turning Snow White into a highway bandit with a pack of dwarves at her back – are the norm for these books, and the possibilities for improvisation here are endless.
You are never left frowning at the direness of it all for too long before either a rugged character throws a one-liner into the mix, gives a bare-bones analogy to a complex issue that was never intented to be stripped to such a degree, or sees a djinn off by using an old saying learned from some nuns that turns out to have powers way beyond what its user initially thought…
The world of The Witcher, the Continent as it is called, oozes personality and charm wherever you look. And even places you don't!
If it wasn't already crystal-clear from the previous point, The Witcher has a bunch of stuff going on at the same time. The great war between Nilfgaard and basically every last one of the other 9 provinces means that a host of peoples and races are either gathered under the same tattered banner or fighting each other to the death. Either way, the readers are in for a treat.
You've got the Scoia'tel rebels, mostly nonhumans – elves and dwarves – fighting for their freedom against the ever-encroaching human peoples that look down upon them, their take on the nonhumans ranging from mild disconfort to outright revulsion and disgust.
The armies of Nilfgaard strike fear in the heart of all they come across on their huge, caparisoned steeds, with their winged coifs and shiny black armour, bringing death and destruction to all who would dare stand in the path of the desires of Emperor Emhyr var Emreis.
Northern alliances are feeble and always teetering on the edge of disaster, generally being spread too thin to face the oncoming deluge of Nilfgaard while also dealing with the Scoia'tel patrols and lightning attacks on supply caravans and small villages.
Dwarves as a whole usually go about their business – trading, delivering, playing rowdy card games, and generally not giving much of a toss for the conflict as a whole, wanting nothing more than to see the day and the job through with the next paycheck on their mind.
The sorcerers and their female counterparts meanwhile scheme and fight amongst themselves for power, knowledge, and even revenge, greatly destabilising an already frail climate that can rise to such heights as to put the entire Continent at risk.
In the midst of all this, you've got the lone White Wolf, trying to make ends meet, traveling from town to town, from dryad haven to dwarven caravan, from outpost to capital city, looking for work, offering his services for either gold, services, or information, employing silver and steel alongside magic and mutagenic potions to aid him in whatever quest the day begs.
And this is but a cursory view on events that are much greater than a listicle like this could ever encompass.
You've also got magical beings also trying to go about their daily lives, with humans wanting them gone on account of not managing to wrap their head around supernatural feats…
Intra-faction feuds that force even the most passive onlooker to pick a side…
Sad end-of-days stories for elves that have lived on the continent long before humans ever made their way to it, now in the twilight of their years, waiting for that last charge into battle to offer them a glorious death...
Don't get me wrong, there's also a bunch of swear words you can learn from these books, but the general feel of it cries out of something unique and far more important than any tongue-in-cheek or rowdy remark any of its characters might throw off-handedly, something that few sagas like this ever deal with – there's no dry-cut way of looking at life. There's little to no "right" choice to be made ever, under any circumstance. And anything you do now may end up having great repercussions for either you or others in ways you couldn't possibly have predicted at first.
The title of the series might as well have been "Monkey Wrench – How everything goes to crap no matter how hard you try to see things safely through. And also of raising children."
Such a setting begs with every fiber of its fictional being to be set free upon the role-playing world, allowing the input of thousands of GMs and players alike to not only stand in awe at everything it has to offer, but also enrich the already grand expanse of land that Sapkowski started putting together over 30 years ago.
A must read, a must play, a must roll!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook - https://goo.gl/4be3Bj
With a title like “The Heavy Metal GM,” it’s no secret what kind of music I listen to and what kind of games I like. There’s this certain harmony that exists between these two things and I feel a lot of people aren’t aware. Metal and RPG’s are brothers, whether that’s at the forefront or not. For all of the non-metalheads that may be reading this and thinking, it’s just a bunch of noise, how does that stand up to real art, hold on to your seat because you’re in for a ride.
1). Both Groups Are Marginalized
“Marginalized” is a term that’s thrown around a lot nowadays, especially with the serious social issues that it seems like we people in the good ol’ US are facing. No, I’m not here to address that but there are some serious parallels. The stereotype for the typical role-player is a 30-something guy that lives in his mom’s basement; we know that. Stereotypes for metalheads include people who are self-loathing, lazy, jobless, angry, or maybe even homicidal depending on who you talk to. See the similarities? People of both groups are seen as rather worthless, when in reality we’re just normal people who like something a little different.
From what I’ve experienced, this makes it easier for me to relate to people from either group. It’s almost one big cool kids’ club. Getting on the train and seeing somebody with a Gorgoroth t-shirt gets the same reaction as seeing somebody carrying around an armful of RPG books. In passing, you should give them a compliment. It honestly makes the world that much of a better place. Encouraging people to engage with strangers, even if for a brief moment, creates this huge sense of family among the communities. As someone involved in both... man, what a feeling. From what I can tell, there is actually a lot of overlap too. With the “extreme” side of the spectrum of metal, not so much. Most role-players that I know are at least somewhat fond of bands like Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. etc. In other words, more of the classic stuff. Perhaps that’s due to less exposure to the more nitty-gritty, or maybe people are less outspoken about it since being a role-player is already considered rather strange. Whatever the reason, it seems like we have one gigantic community between two seemingly unrelated things. The best part? We’re freaks together!
2). We’re Both Storytellers
Entirely, the point of role-playing is to tell a story with a group of friends. This isn’t the point of metal by any stretch of the imagination, but there are many bands that make this the sole purpose of their lyrical content. Bands specifically like Amon Amarth and Iron Maiden have entire concepts behind albums with very fantasy-like artwork. Not to plug stuff, but Amon Amarth’s new album Jomsviking is literally a Norse epic with their own twist to it. Fantasy, amazing drum work, skillful guitar playing... what else is there to desire?
To be more broad, if you look a little closer, even bands that have a more political agenda or what have you tend to have some pretty amazing artwork. It implies that there’s a story to be told, that the creativeness of the band/artists have this sort of symbiosis to create what they have. That same symbiosis is one of the most apparent things in role-playing. The GM and the players have to work together to build this work of art. Granted, the point is that role-playing is more internally sourced than externally like music, but even now people stream their games on services like Twitch. It’s honestly becoming a performance, much like metal, where the story is a means to engage your passionate fans.
3). Passionate to the Core
Probably the sole thing I’m proudest of as a metalhead and a role-player is that even as people who are ostracized by society, we can all agree on one thing: we’re passionate about what we do. Most role-players are all but devoted to a specific system, rules set or campaign setting. Even with that, we don’t knock on other role-players that are just as crazy about something else. Not seriously, anyhow. Believe, it or not, the metal community possesses an exact duplicate of that mentality. Whether it’s black metal, post hardcore, death metal, thrash, or speed metal, we all agree that as metalheads we are one.
That idea of passion doesn’t end there, there’s still another parallel. To paint with a broad brush, role players are content creators too. Whether it’s simply making things work for your home game, shouting into the void of the internet (like I do), or running a podcast, we all create something for someone. Some of us aspire to be game designers, some of us are just content living in our own little sphere of creativity. Metal? Yep, you guessed it, the same ordeal. Very rarely do I meet a metalhead that doesn’t have at least a 16th of an inch of their fingernail into playing an instrument, whether that be their vocals or something more hands on (heh, get it?) like a guitar. There’s varying degrees of seriousness, just like in gaming. Some people just sit around at home and mess with it, others go out and form bands to potentially make it a source of income.
Well, there you have it folks. We aren’t so different after all, huh? For the people who still think metal sucks by the end of this, I challenge you to pick up a guitar and play a Lamb of God song. Just kidding, it’s okay to not like the same stuff as everyone else, that’s why there’s people like us! For someone who hasn’t delved into the deeper side of metal, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Some great bands are: Korpiklaani (warning: not in English), Ensiferum, Amon Amarth, Behemoth, Satyricon, August Burns Red, Mayhem, Moonsorrow, Norma Jean, Oh Sleeper, Walls of Jericho Ektomorf, The Devil Wears Prada, and many many more. Starting with maybe three or four of these bands will help broaden your scopes, considering that there’s a multitude of different metal styles above. For this one, it’s a bit obligatory…
STAY METAL \m/
Sean is a BMW technician by day, the Heavy Metal GM by night, and loves everything about 13th Age. If the game interests you and you want to learn more, check out his 13th Age blog here.
I just returned from a day at the Texas Renaissance festival, during which I watched Shakespearean improv, ate several legs of turkey, saw all the lords and ladies in their finest attire (while I was wearing my Dragon Age II T-shirt, like a boss), and capped the day off by watching brave knights joust and duel to the death in a combat so obviously choreographed it almost took the fun out of it. Almost. Anything’s fun after enough mead and meat. I actually had to miss my weekly gaming session just to make it out for the festival’s closing weekend. Thus, between mouthfuls of shaved ice (classic 17th century fare) I was thinking about my campaign. My group commonly plays in a home-brew world similar to that of Forgotten Realms, minus a bit of the magic. Small side note: home-brew worlds have always been an interest of mine; having the artistic freedom to create something as grand and fantastic as an entire world is such a huge and fascinating undertaking. Anyways, I began to think of how awesome the Renaissance would be as the basis of a home-brew campaign. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1. Technological Blending:
The Renaissance features a wonderful mix of medieval and modern (for the time) weaponry coexisting in a way unique in history. The rise of firearms clashed with traditional sword, pike, and armor, and no clear victor arose for several hundred years. Game mechanics-wise, it would allow for great character diversity in fighting styles and equipment choices, and provide some particularly interesting combos when infused with magic (everyone beware the wizard and his enchanted cannon). The Renaissance also saw science advance in leaps and bounds, with the development of the scientific method and the ascension of many great thinkers and inventors. The schematics of Da Vinci can be the basis for many period-appropriate machines and wonders; combined with magic, of course Da Vinci’s helicopter flew!
2. Political and Social Upheaval:
There are plenty of interesting events which can be literarily plundered for questlines (black death: disease spread by rats or evil scheme of the dread sorcerer?). The political backdrop of the rise of the lower classes against the aristocracy and the increasing conflict between science and religion are just begging to be featured in a campaign. Corrupt religious leaders, discovery of the new world, and witch hunts (which would be made all the better if people were hunting for actual witches) are but a few of the interesting events which a campaign could incorporate. Creating a realistic and immersive world would be made much simpler with such a rich historical palette from which to paint.
3. Magnificent and Infamous Characters:
The time period was also home to fascinating historical figures which can be used to create the great heroes and villains of the campaign. Leonardo Da Vinci would do well as the basis for either an ally (see Assassin’s Creed II) or villain in a roleplaying tale. And who wouldn’t want to do quests for someone like Ivan the Terrible? Many of the prominent figures of the time are great artists or musicians, whose personal lives can be best summed up as salacious (see Pope Alexander VI for reference). NPCs who have a true depth of character and tangibility are hard to create out of thin air; basing them off historical figures can really make their creation easier.
The Renaissance would make a great setting for a roleplaying campaign. And why shouldn’t it? Technological, political, cultural, and social upheavals abound, wrapped up with intrigue and fancy clothes. In what other time period would it be appropriate to be attacked by both sword- and musket-wielding peasants flying in unstable wooden flying machines (thanks Da Vinci) spouting nonsense about humanism and reliance upon observation and inductive reasoning? My home-brew creation is still a work in progress but you’ve found these ideas interesting. Cheers!
- Jake is a lover of turkey legs, jousting, and bawdy old time comedy. Translation: he’ll be returning to the Renaissance Festival again next year, eager for more.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games