I’d like for you to think back on your first time ever roleplaying. For most of us, this experience was one met with equal parts excitement and nervousness, and I am no stranger to having new players pop in an out of my games. I see this all the time. Players walk through the threshold, arms heavy laden with books and dice and paper, but as soon as they sit at the table, something shifts. When play begins, they are expected to know how to transport themselves into a fictitious world full of unfamiliarities. Strangely enough, however, actually playing the game is something that most green players have a pretty decent handle on. It is the unwritten rules that catch them. You will notice that across tables, games, and engines, there are some terms of agreement and etiquette that are simply understood by the seasoned players. By their very nature, these unwritten (sometimes even unspoken) rules have to picked up along the way as one progresses through their roleplaying career, but that is just not good enough now-a-days. So, whether you are a DM wanting gameplay to go a bit smoother with your newbies or you are a fresh player yourself feeling like you just are quite getting it, here are the 10 Commandments for Players.
1) Thy DM Is God
Sometimes referred to as “rule 0,” understanding that your Dungeon Master has the final say on virtually everything is the first step towards becoming a good player. If you have never DMed before, I will be the first to tell you that it is a lot of work. However hard you think it is, multiply that times ten. Dungeon Masters are not only facilitators for gameplay, but also the storyteller, mediator, and godhand. It is crucial to remember that your host is wearing a lot of hats in their best attempt to give you a couple hours of fun and diversion. Their job is hard; don’t make it any harder than it has to be. That is not to say that you always have to agree with your Dungeon Master, but qualms need to be brought up in a respectful, constructive way. Saying something like, “Well that’s not what the rules say,” is not a valid argument. Dungeon Masters are, just as their name implies, masters. They are skilled artists, no matter how new. Often times, Dungeon Masters will bend or even break rules to help facilitate new mechanics or ideas, essentially creating their own variation on the engine they are working with. They have a lot of power, and yes, they have to treat it with caution. But mid-game is no time to start vocalizing your distaste for your god. DMs are omnipotent, and it would behoove you to come to terms with that.
2) Thou Shalt Respect The Table
Now here is something close to my heart. The metaphor of the table is an intriguing one. Think about it: tables represent gathering, discussion, sharing, cooperation, and unity. When you come to the table, you should be coming with the purpose of sharing in mind. Sharing ideas, sharing a collective story, sharing parts of you that you express through your character are all things that crop up at the table. The table is, in this way, a kind of sanctuary. Roleplayers play this particular breed of game for the transcendent experiences that so often accompany them. For the length of your session, you have the privilege to zip out of the world of the mundane to slay beasties, sit on mountains of treasure, and be as extraordinary as your imagination will allow. The table is the foundation for all of this. When you sit down in this sanctuary, the time of real life is put on pause. The stressors of life suddenly have no more consequence. That rent that you are worried about paying is not in your Dungeon Master’s world. Whether they realize it or not, when players arrive to the table, they are often looking for something inside themselves. Their unconscious brain builds a simulation that it can toy with and experiment on things that it normally wouldn’t have access to. I’ve seen players learn some pretty deep things about themselves through role playing games. I have even taken some life lessons away myself. I will never forget a moment in one of my campaigns when one of the beloved NPCs, Hugo, was about to fake his death in order to protect the PCs. Obviously, the players had no idea what was about to happen, but Hugo went about saying his goodbye’s without tipping his hand. Moments before he steps out into an arena to do the deed, something hits me. A lump in my throat. The players look at me kind of confused. I knew that I was literally about to hurt these people in a real way. I had to give them something. Hugo takes one step into the dusty arena, turns around, and says, “No matter what happens, I’m so glad we had this adventure.” They knew then that something was up for sure. That day, there were real tears at the table from everyone, myself included. Tears from them, because they didn’t give the farewells that they would have, if they had known. Tears from me, because I had just broke the hearts of my friends. Moments like that are why I respect the table. Respect the table, and it will always give back.
3) Thou Shalt Not Be Distracted
Get off your cellphones. Can I move on now, Josh? What? That’s not good enough?
Hey folks, get off your cellphones, dammit! Unless you are doing something that pertains to the game at hand, how about we stop everything else. Once things are ready to go for your game night, that is not the time to make a call, make dinner, talk to the dog, dress a child, engage in coitus (... I shouldn’t even have to say that one), and basically anything else that pulls your attention away from the awesome game before you. Here is a little test to tell if you’re engaging in distracting behavior, and it comes to you completely free. Ahem. Did you say any permutation of the question, “What did you say?” If so, you were being distracted. That is not okay, friend. As mentioned previously, your Dungeon Master works tirelessly to make an engaging game for you to play; don’t let a text from your boyfriend disrespect that. This rule is high on the list of commandments, because it can be a real game changer. The minute one person decides to buckle down and cut out distractions, gameplay remarkably starts moving much smoother. Distractions are like a virus. One person gets the “pet the cat” strain, and it quickly becomes an infection. Sooner or later, the person seated next to them catches the “watch them pet the cat” strain. Oh no! The whole table is infected with Feline Distractyitus! If one person would have had a bit of self control and said, “Hey, why don’t we keep the cat off the table?” this whole plague could have been avoided. Everyone at the table is responsible for minimizing distractions during play, not just the DM. Do your part in keeping people engaged; your Dungeon Master will appreciate it. Who knows, maybe you will get that +2 flaming battle axe you have always wanted as a reward.
4) Thou Shalt Honor Thy Commitments
Never, ever, under any circumstances put your friends in the position of asking you to stop coming to game night due to repeated tardiness or absence. I cannot stress this enough. There is no greater awkwardness then having to dismiss a player, because often, the reason for their absence would be a legitimate one under other circumstances. It is vital to remember that when you don’t arrive on time, especially if you gave no heads up, you inconvenience everyone at the table. I once had to ask a couple players to discontinue their characters due to repeat offenses like this. We had a scheduled date and time every single week, and this schedule was clearly communicated to everyone. Strangely enough, these players always managed to double book and plan something for that date and time. A lot of the time, that time was spent with their family members. I totally get this. I even tell my players to remember that Pathfinder (our game of choice) is just a game and should never get in the way of important, real life happenings. Funerals, holidays, unexpected emergencies, vacation, getting called into work, etc. are all legitimate reasons to not be at my table. Wanting to swim with your other friends, playing golf with your dad, having brunch, and what not are absolutely not legitimate events to plan over your scheduled roleplay time. This goes doubly if you did not even have the decency to give everyone some notice. It might just be a game, but if you made a commitment, you made a commitment. Honor that. You are an adult and should be more than adept at honoring your word, and if you are not an adult, this is a good exercise in following through with an agreement. If you have other things that you would rather be doing, please for the love of the nine, just excuse yourself from the campaign. Do not be so selfish as to assume that everyone else is okay with skipping a session for you again, because I can tell you this: they might be now, but they won’t always be.
5) Thou Shalt Do Thy Homework
I won’t harp on this one too much, but it is important nonetheless. As a player, you have a handful of things that need to be in order before each session. Most of the time, this will just mean arriving punctually with your dice, papers, and what-have-you, but other times, your list may bit a bit larger. On days where you are to be leveled up, make sure you are squared away before play begins. If you have spells that need to be prepared, at the very least give them some thought and have a general idea of the arcane wonders you would like to sling. Everyone else at the table has their own homework to do; don’t wait until people are ready to play to whip out your core rule book. Here is a million dollar idea. Someone needs to make a dunce hat with the words “Hold on a second” written on it. If you feel like your DM would want to put that hat on you, adjust how you prep. Most of the time, level up takes ten minutes tops if you have done it before, and there are tons of online resources to give you hand if you feel like getting creative. The more time you give yourself to do your homework, the more room you give yourself to come up with cool ideas for your character. Think of your homework as an investment that you are putting into the game. Almost always, the people who do their homework and don’t rush to finish it minutes before the game are more satisfied with their characters abilities and quirks. Homework forces you think about your character and how they are constructed. Don’t cheat yourself out of that.
6) Thou Shalt Not Fudge
Fudging is the quiet, often unseen, bending or breaking of a rule in your favor. Dungeon Masters have quite a bit license to fudge as long as it is well meant. Honestly as a DM, sometimes fudging is just more convenient. It is less work to just tell your players to roll 2d10 when they get hit by a spike trap than to calculate the damage of every single spike and the force that they hit the player with. Fudging is also tactically useful when trying to tell a cohesive narrative. This privilege is not afforded to players though. In the Dungeon Mastering community, we have a word for players who like to fudge. Cheaters. If you roll a three but you really wanted a five, you do not have the license to quickly pick up your dice and turn it to show that you rolled a five. I have had several players that do this. They roll, wait for it to stop, but as soon as it stop, they quickly snatch it up to “look at it” then tell me what the result was. This fudging technique is easy to spot, but there are some more complex fudges that DMs and players miss. Falsifying character sheet information is one of the main offenders. Often times, your DM will not scrutinize your sheet for errors very often. You are expected to have enough integrity to operate within the designated rules of your station as a player. Games are rules. When you break the rules, you break the game.
7) Thou Shalt Encourage Thy Neighbor
If you were to have me write this list a year ago, this commandment probably wouldn’t have been here. I like this one a lot though, and it warms my heart to see my players follow it. I hope I can speak for all hosts out there when I say that watching players help one another to complete a task, check rules, give helpful suggestions for play style, and generally encourage good roleplay are some of the most rewarding times in all of gaming. Even if you are brand spanking new at roleplaying, you will never be in the wrong if you encourage a fellow player to join you in battle or help you solve a mystery. Telling players they did a good job. Giving high fives. Cheering when your neighbor rolls well. All of these things not only bolster commandment number 2 but also build an atmosphere where that kind of behavior is not only accepted but encouraged. Parties that encourage one another always wind up having more fun than the parties that don’t. If a player at the table seems like they are down or confused, give them a hand. Some of the greatest adventures I have ever had the privilege to master have been the result of a couple players scheming with one another. If you feel like your table is getting toxic or even awkward, throw out a thanks or a good job. You will be surprised at how far that will go.
8) Thou Shalt Ask Questions
Never be okay with not understanding. If you aren’t quite understanding a rule or something that your host is telling you, say something! Most players and Dungeon Masters don’t assume that you have memorized every page of the rule book. It is okay to not understand! This is especially important in situations where your Dungeon Master has homebrewed something. I, myself, am a pretty avid world builder. I am presently working on a whole new dictionary in my conlang, Driggan. I make up mythologies of heroes and villains. Different countries will have different customs and modes of doing things. Economy changes based on the kingdom and currency. I can hardly keep it all straight in my head, and I am the one making it up! I will be the first to admit that. I love when my players ask questions, especially if it is pertinent to their characters’ motivations. Once, I played with a tengu rogue character who loved stealing bones. Buried bones, burnt bones, bones still being used inside a creature, any bones would do! I loved when that player would look at me ask things like, “How structural does that dog appear to be?” or, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does that lady look like she is using her skeleton?” Asking questions like these or questions about rule clarification are only ever going to help you! Often times I will throw my players extra bones (hah… puns) by asking prying questions in this way. I want to encourage players to look through the eyes of their characters. One person might see a spooky animated skeleton trying to kill them, while another person may see it as the newest item in their collection. Ask questions, as it will give you a better understanding of the world around you and of how the game works in a mechanical way.
9) Thou Shalt Share
This goes back to commandment 2 in a way, but it is worth mentioning. Share your ideas. Share your plans. Share items. Share the spotlight. Share feelings. Everyone’s voice is equal at the table. If your character has a cool plan to thwart the machinations of the BBEG, don’t keep it to yourself just because you are afraid the others might not like it. Share your character’s thoughts, and don’t wait for your DM to ask for them. If your character walks into a room full of jewels, you have every right to gush and explain how awestruck they are! Sharing brings richness to the party like nothing else can. When you share with a player or NPC, imagine it as a little knot tying them to you. By the end of the campaign, that little knot should have turned into a massive net ready to catch any narrative salmon your DM throws at you. Also, don’t be afraid to share personal feeling with a NPC. This one sounds a little odd, but when players start divulging their character's motivations and convictions to an NPC something special happens. That NPC slowly rises in the ranks of priority in a DM’s mind. This is irresistible to a good DM, because so often they are crafting monsters and NPCs that want to kill you. It is a great change of pace to have a pocket full of fake fantasy friends that each interact with you in their special way. I am seeing that evolution happen in my present campaign between a kitsune character and a fantasy cyborg NPC. For one reason or another, she has grown really attached to that mechanized, dwarven misfit, and there is a real comradery developing. Do I know where it will lead? Nope. Am I thrilled to see where it will lead? Yep!
10) Thou Shalt Die With Grace
Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief said it best, “A small fact: You are going to die.” At some moment in time, your character will more than likely be hacked, mangled, chopped, screwed, broken, beaten, battered, mushed, mashed, flattened, filleted, scrambled, blended, sliced, crunched, crushed, or all of the above. Start every session knowing that fact. The most exciting parts about roleplaying games is the extraordinary ability for the players and their respective characters to cheat death. Characters leap from great heights. They plunge into hordes of baddies. They weather a flurry of blows with only a rusty sword in hand. Against all odds, they come out of these scuffles with little more than a few bumps and a big ego. Sometimes. Sometimes they die, though. Sometimes they die tragically and with a bang. Other times they die so ingloriously that it could make an onion cry. No matter how it goes down, know that death is the most vital mechanic to making most roleplaying games work. Believe it or not, the fear of death is a pretty good motivation. It can be discouraging or unsatisfying, and maybe you won’t want to make a new character for a while. That is just fine, friend. Mourn the loss of your character, but don’t let that be the end. There are more adventures to go on. There are more beasts to slay and plans to foil. If the death of your character is particularly difficult for you to cope with, ask you DM if your character can say some last words or do something iconic to them. I’ll put a link to it, but as a DM one of the hardest goodbyes to a PC ended with a flick of a coin. Allowing him that small gesture literally altered the world forever. It was tough to let him go, but death means something. It too deserves its place at the table.
Being a player is rough, especially when you are getting into a game full of seasoned adventures. With luck, you can implement these commandments into your play style to help for years to come. I am by no means the authority on how to play every roleplaying game, but I can say that I know the difference between a good table and a bad one. You will find that dissonance at the table or awkwardness often comes from the infraction of one of these commandments, but simple tweeks in attitude and perspective can have any group back on the fast track to kicking evil’s butt! In the end, the most important commandment of all is to have fun in a way that everyone else can have fun. These games mean so much to so many people in so many different ways, and finding a simple foundation like these ten commandments can be the first step to participating in something truly wonderful. Amen.
Andrew Pendragon is a veteran roleplayer, Dungeon Master, and story teller. His work can be seen featured on outlets like the Chilling Tales for Dark Nights podcast and the Youtube channel BlackEyedBlonde, but he takes the most pride in his High Level Games affiliate podcast The Dragon’s Horde where he, alongside his co host, answers listener submitted roleplay questions and weaves them into a false-actual-play adventure!
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/468233692479236713/
The tabletop RPG industry is growing. As a result, people from all walks of life have come together at the table. While this is certainly a great thing, especially if a Game Master is intentionally inclusive, but this can also result in miscommunication and awkward storytelling. Personally, I find that there's nothing worse as a Game Master than unwittingly making a player uncomfortable at the table and not knowing until much later.
Enter the X-Card, a concept developed by John Stavropoulos. Plain and simple, the X-Card is an index card with a large X on it. If a player is ever uncomfortable, they can tap the card or hold it up. The Game Master will then continue on, or back up a bit and re-write what just happened in the story. No one is to ask for an explanation as to why the player was made uncomfortable by this particular story development. Everyone just accepts it, and moves on. Afterwards, the Game Master and player can talk it over, so that the Game Master can better understand how to guide the games for everyone's benefit in the future.
You may have a group of gamers already established, and naturally know where the line is for them. If that's the case, the X-Card may not be for you. But if you have had issues in the past, with players being hurt or upset over the content in your game, then here are five good reasons you should take a look at this handy tool.
1) It Says “I Care”
Utilizing the X-Card at your table lets the players know immediately that you care about their feelings. This is more important in an environment where you don't know the individuals very well. If you have a new player or two that are friends of your current players but who you don't know personally, the X-Card can help set up a safe environment quickly. It can help players see that you are attentive to their personal needs.
2) It Makes Players More Comfortable
I have heard other players state how much more comfortable they were at the game table when they discovered that the X-Card was being used. They realized that if they had an issue, they could say so quickly and without trouble. Having relaxed players will help keep everyone having a good time.
3) It Puts The GM In A Good Mindset
With the X-Card in play, the Game Master can feel free to tell their story and trust the players to utilize it when they need to. I am certainly not suggesting that the Game Master should just say and do whatever they want, waiting for players to tell them otherwise. Instead, the Game Master can rest easy knowing that there is a device in place should the situation arise.
4) It’s In The Creative Commons
If you're like me, and you prefer to do things the legal way when it comes to purchasing and exchanging RPG material, fear not. The X-Card document is in the Creative Commons and may be shared freely. As a matter of fact, you can even incorporate it into an RPG of your own design as a mechanic if you so desire. You simply have to attribute the original author and share the work under the same license. This flexibility makes the X-Card easy to modify and use as you see fit, and you can also exchange the document with your gaming group with ease.
5) It's Great For Convention Games
If you're running a game at a convention, you're likely to run into all sorts of people. You'll be gaming with total strangers, which can make for some potentially uncomfortable encounters. While I would recommend staying away from touchy subjects at a convention table, it's still wise to utilize the this tool. This will avoid any miscommunication that could easily happen at a table with a group of gamers you've hardly met.
For many of us, gaming is about escapism; taking a moment to explore a world that never was and slay the proverbial dragon. Making sure that these moments together are safe and even empowering can be difficult to achieve. No tool works for every situation, but the X-Card certainly is helpful.
Nathan Carmen is the founder and head writer of the Indie RPG company, Tricky Troll Games. Nathan loves building worlds and improving his craft when he’s not busy parenting. Reach Nathan at email@example.com or check out the TTG website at https://nathanccarmen.wixsite.com/trickytrollgames
Picture Reference: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SB0jsx34bWHZWbnNIVVuMjhDkrdFGo1_hSC2BWPlI3A/edit#
Interested in the weaponless techniques martial artists use? Given you are the Game Master, knowing key martial arts moves can greatly expand your storytelling through reliable details. There are several basic moves that any fighter can make great use of to turn the tide of the fight in their favor. Let's lay them all out.
1) Punches/Hand Strikes
Knife Hand: Commonly known as the "karate chop", this is done by striking with the pinky side of an open hand. The palm is either up or down. It targets the neck, kneecap, wrist, etc. Devastating for an opponent, but keeps the attacker's hand safe from injury.
Palm: The entire hand can be either open or have the fingertips folded. You thrust out to hit with the bottom of your palm. Good target areas include the nose and jaw. It isn't too damaging, but it throws an opponent off balance.
Hammerfist: Use the "padded" bottom of your clenched fist and swing as though you're wielding a hammer. It's highly effective against the back of the skull, the nose, wrist, etc.
Straight Punch: Also known as a "cross,” the straight punch packs a good deal of power. It's thrown using the rear hand, and it can be used to target numerous areas from the head to the torso. This move is fast and can render an opponent dazed and gravely injured.
2) Elbow Strikes
Downward Strike: With this, your elbow is brought up as high as possible, then brought down in again and again, in rapid succession. It's a dangerous technique as it mainly targets the skull and the back.
Rear Strike: Best used when an opponent is coming from behind, your elbow is thrown backwards, targeting the ribs, head, etc.
Front Strike: A common move that has you swinging your elbow forward. It's best used to immobilize an opponent while grappling.
Front Kick: One of the most basic moves of them all, you'll typically strike an opponent with the ball of the foot. It's useful to get an opponent to back off as it targets the groin, knees, abdomen, and more.
Roundhouse Kick: As common as the front kick, the roundhouse move is fast, allows for incredible range, and packs great power. You'll swing your leg sideways in a circular motion, attacking numerous areas from the head to the knees.
Straight Knee: This involves thrusting the knee forward and up. Generally, this move targets the head, thighs, hips, etc. The speed behind the move helps give it greater power to unbalance an opponent, which allows you to control the fight.
Flying Knee: When your opponent is injured and you're going in for the kill, use this move. You rush forward to land a swift, potent knee to the head. The momentum can knock anyone out.
Air Choke: This move has you compress the trachea (windpipe) to cut off oxygen to the lungs. It takes a good amount of strength to successfully pull this move off. Also, it takes some time (2-3 minutes) for an opponent to pass out.
Blood Choke: When done right, an opponent can lose consciousness within seconds. You press on the carotid arteries, restricting blood flow to the brain. It's doesn't require too much strength to accomplish this.
The moves laid out above are all seen as basic, yet integral parts of martial arts. Any true warrior will have these mastered and ready to use the next time they face off against any foe. Game Masters, equipped with key features and mechanics of basic martial arts, enrich the game and lend credence to fights in any TTRPG.
Jason Maine is the founder of FullContactWay, a blog dedicated to provide best martial arts advice and information. Jason helps his readers with martial arts training by sharing personal tips and thorough research. Check out fullcontactway.com to get more about Jason’s work. You can find him on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
Picture Reference: https://tobiasmastgrave.wordpress.com/tag/martial-arts/
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“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” -Carl Sagan
RPGs all boil down to a simple formula: the GM presents a conflict, and the players work to resolve it. When Walter Bradford Cannon described the fight-or-flight response, he was describing two of the three basic strategies not just of survival, but of conflict resolution. (Survival is, of course, the ultimate form of ongoing conflict resolution.) About twelve or thirteen years ago, when I was sitting down to think seriously about how to run and play my games better, I found it helpful to examine these basic survival strategies, and how they relate to RPG interactions.
1) Fight (Or Opposition)
“He pulls a knife, you pull a gun, he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” -Jim Malone (The Untouchables)
The most basic form of conflict resolution PCs are familiar with, Opposition is meeting the conflict with force (physical, magical, mental, political, etc) and overcoming it. Even groups that pride themselves on how far they’ve evolved from their knuckledragging murderhobo ancestors still tend to solve the lion’s share of their problems with this way. Using Charm Person to talk your way into the duke’s palace is a form of Opposition. Likewise, the Ventrue Primogen who uses his political favors to have his rival cast out into the wilderness has used Opposition; he’s just using political machinery rather than his fists.
Players expect their enemies to attempt to defeat them with force. It’s rare that a foe can use Opposition as a survival strategy and get the drop on PCs. Still, sometimes having a bigger stick is enough. Giants have used this particular strategy for years. If you want an enemy to be able to compete with players while still using this form of conflict resolution, you may want to think about changing the avenue of Opposition they use. Goblins charging the adventurers with pickaxes flying isn’t anything new. Goblins pooling their wealth to bribe the local magistrate into passing laws to hamstring adventuring groups (such as taxing dungeon crawlers heavily, or outlawing spellcasting, or banning certain adventurer-friendly religions) is definitely an avenue the players won’t be expecting.
2) Flight (Or Avoidance)
“No problem is too big to run away from.” -Charles Schulz
PCs are extremely loathe to use this survival strategy once a fight has started. Retreat is often seen as cowardice, and thus anathema to a hero. If there are innocent parties (or valued assets) at risk, this tendency can be magnified. Avoidance isn’t just retreat though: it’s also avoiding fights in the first place. Against monsters of animal intelligence, kind-hearted groups can occasionally be found using this strategy to avoid having to kill ‘natural’ creatures. If resources are being tightly controlled (say, in a dungeon where sleep or rest won’t be an option, or behind enemy lines) then players can display a shocking level of deviousness when it comes to solving problems with Avoidance. Many a GM has a tale of woe in their history involving flight spells, rings of invisibility, or cunning washerwoman disguises being used to circumvent hours of diabolical preparation.
A bad guy who used Avoidance as their preferred strategy can end up being the most frustrating enemy to deal with. PCs build their combat routines and capabilities with the underlying assumption that the monsters are going to try to fight them. How infuriating is it then, when the villain teleports away, or has alarms set up so they can scarper off before the heroes have worked through the first half of their lair? Dr. Claw and Carmen Sandiego, of children’s cartoon fame, are great example of villains of this type: they always skip out just ahead of the heroes’ arrival, leaving their pursuers frustratingly empty-handed. All of the most rewarding victories in my gaming career have been over villains of this type: after so many encounters where thwarting their plans came with the bitter aftertaste of their escape, their final defeat was so sweet that each would be a high I would ride for years.
3) Surrender (Or Capitulation)
“You are my only friend, O’Connell.” -Benny (The Mummy)
This is my absolute favorite strategy. Don’t negotiate, don’t argue, don’t run: just throw down your weapons and surrender. Abject, total, humiliating surrender is the one outcome that almost no one thinks about. For PCs up against a villain that’s about to wipe them out, total and complete capitulation is forcing your DM to play Russian Roulette with her campaign: either it works, or you’re all starting from scratch. If the Hail Mary play is all you have, it can take you surprisingly far.
For a GM, the Capitulation can be even sweeter. Players who can navigate complex puzzles and organize intense tactical plans in combat can find themselves dumbfounded by an unconditional surrender. I’ve seen players spend nearly an hour arguing over what to do with a surrendered enemy. In most games, there’s no clear cut ‘right’ answer. After all, very few characters are going to be in a situation to have the legal authority to try and execute someone on the spot (and very few groups will be morally sanguine with doing so). If they don’t give in to the impulse towards cold-blooded murder, what are their other options? Dragging the enemy back to town means protecting them from wandering monsters, expending vital resources feeding and protecting them, and to what end? In many cases, there aren’t authorities to turn such villains over to. Even if there are, there is the question of whether the prisoner will receive a fair trial (or worse, if turning them over to the authorities guarantees them getting off scot free). If you’re looking for a way to put your players in a no-win situation, or at least a situation some of them are guaranteed to be unsatisfied with the outcome of, a Capitulation can be the most rewarding method of achieving this.
Who wants to live forever?
“I…I will survive.” -Gloria Gaynor
It may seem a little elementary, but understanding the basic fundamentals of conflict resolution can help us as players find innovative solutions to encounters. As GMs, it can help us come up with unique and memorable encounters, which translate directly to a unique and memorable game.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: https://ironshod.deviantart.com/art/Run-Away-32743482
Something I've learned about myself is that creating backstory is my favorite part of character creation. You get to choose their life experience and place it in the world. Backstories are vital to characters in all creative writing. For example; If you look closely, movie script writers will always have a backstory written for the character even if that character isn’t in the movie. It gives the actors (or in this case our players) the ability to understand who the character is and how to play them. So, let's talk backstory, shall we?
1) Backstory Inspires Your GM
As a player you are vital to the world building process. The world is literally being built for you and around you. A player should put the same amount of work into a character that the GM puts into a world. And though backstory is only a small piece of the symbiosis, it allows the GM and player to easily collaborate. We know how invested our world builders get; railroading is a growing pain of gaming. I know for me it helps me think outside of the box. One of my players placed a city in his backstory and now it’s a major place in my setting.
You’ll get them thinking about your character, you’ll get them thinking about how to shape their world.
2) Creating In-Character Bonds
Creating our backstories allows for the party to connect and grow as characters. It brings a depth to the table allowing players to have an ultimate understanding of why they act the way they do. A group that has a rich array of roots also encourages roleplay when players want to learn about each other’s characters. The unique dialogue that arises from this creates a strong, in-character bond.
In the longest campaign I have ever been a part of, I played a character that went through a drastic morality shift. I had suffered a loss in game because of my backstory, my character was emotionally defeated, but my party did everything they could to pick him up. It was an empowering moment for this character because he became less selfish. He never saw these people as friends until this moment. They were only tools, but because of a small background detail, our relationship had changed.
3) Practice Becoming A Better Player
Character backstory is an easy problem with a complicated solution. The first two points work in tandem with this concept to make you a better player. Putting time into your backstory is a big investment, but has a pay off well worthwhile.
Compare your game to a spider’s web that you weave with your GM and other players. Plucking a strand in the web you created can cause an interesting vibration. Messing around with structures will only increase your understanding of how these games can work, which can lead to more fun. Isn’t fun the point of our hobby?
I believe the backstory of a character is the most important part to a game. Paying attention to how you build your character’s backstory allows you to create characters that can do great things. I will leave you with a warning though: everyone in the hobby has different levels of investment. Follow the golden rule; know who you’re playing with.
How important is backstory to you?
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Image Source: The Hollywood Reporter
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2018 is upon us. With the new year comes the tradition of self-betterment. Sure, the majority of resolutions aren’t followed through. Most people don’t even make resolutions anymore. Instead we sit behind the cynical idea, “Why should I only make goals at the start of the year when I could make goals year round?” You’re not fooling anyone, you’re not making goals at all. You’re just saying that to be cool. (And it’s working, I think you’re cool.)
Today I want to propose some resolutions that are more fun. They’re related to this wonderful hobby, after all. Here are 4 resolutions for your roleplaying hobby. I’m sure there are readers who do all these things every year, but these are all new to me and I’m excited to make them goals for my 2018 in the wonderful world of tabletop rpgs.
1) Play A Class You’ve Never Played Before
In both Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons I’ve been quite consistent with my class choice. I started with a fighter back when I was in grade 7 and I stuck with that class for a long time. The class was simple and its strategy was sound: “that is big man, me hit big man with sharp stick.” Eventually I branched out and tried something new, a ranger, and let me tell you… it wasn’t nearly as impressive a change as I initially thought it would be. My ranger was ultimately a fighter with a bow and certain enemies they specifically don’t like: “that is green man, me shoot green man with sharp stick.”
I’m guilty of this even last year when I started a campaign as a cleric, got eaten by some sort of swamp monster, and resurrected as a barbarian. It’s in my blood, I want to hit evil big monsters with sharp sticks. However in 2018 I want to play a class that never even picks up a weapon. “What’s a sword? All I know is my magic spell book.” My knowledge of Pathfinder has grown exponentially since I’ve started DMing it and now I can’t believe I went so long only playing one class. There are a lot of interesting and cool classes out there to try out, so if you’re like me, make your 2018 about trying something completely new.
2) Play A System You’ve Never Played Before
It seems this article is about me admitting to a bunch of my tabletop hidden shames. The only roleplaying systems I’ve played have been Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and Fiasco. (One of these is not like the other…) I started playing with 3rd Edition DnD and then that transferred over to Pathfinder when 4th Edition came out. Since then it’s just been the go-to game for my friend group. We knew the rules, we enjoyed the game, and we didn’t really find the need to try other systems.
Now that my knowledge of the roleplaying world has grown I realized that I’ve been playing the wrong game for what I like to get out of my tabletop experience. I’m not really a dice chucker, I like getting into a character and interacting with the imagined world around me. Thanks to people from this blog and other people I’ve met, I’ve discovered a lot of awesome systems I can’t wait to play.
On my agenda for 2018: Viewscream, a Skype based survival horror rpg, End of the World, a game where you play yourself trying to escape the end of the world, Worldwide Wrestling, that one is pretty self explanatory, and Ten Candles, a horror system a friend of mine is running that I’m purposely keeping myself in the dark for. Any others I should check out? Let me know in the comments.
3) Incorporate Physical Props Into Your Game
Recently I’ve been feeling that our games of Pathfinder need to feel a bit more tactile. Picking up dice and throwing them down on the table is nice, but it doesn’t really help fully immerse a player into the game. Props can go a long way in making players get themselves into the game in ways they never would before. It requires a little bit more work from the GM, but it’s worth it for the experience it provides yourself and the players.
If you’ve never made a prop for one of your games before the first place to start is with simple letters or scrolls the players receive. Imagine the look on their faces when the innkeeper says a letter arrived for them and you pull an actual letter out for them to read. They’ll each want to take turns reading and it makes the experience more believable for the players. It may not seem like much, but for the moments they’re reading the letter it’ll take them away from the table and actually put them in the world in which they’re roleplaying.
For me, the prop I’m going to be starting my 2018 with is actual healing potions. We always have people question the effects of healing potions in Pathfinder. My plan to fix this while also immersing my players is buying a bunch of small jars and putting the required amount of d8s inside and labelling it with the matching healing potion. I’m excited to see their reaction when I pull one of those out at the table.
4) Run A Campaign Outside Your Comfort Zone
I have only recently started running sessions of Pathfinder, starting with the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path. That book provides the adventure, but as I’ve gotten later into the campaign I’ve felt more comfortable going off book and providing my own story and twists to the adventure. It’s with this that I get to my true tabletop resolution of 2018. I want to run a campaign outside of my comfort zone.
Running a dungeon is where most DMs start. I was one of those DMs. A dungeon is straightforward encounter and the namesake of the game. However my love of the game came from all the roleplaying encounters that I was put in outside of the dungeon. One of my first loved campaigns involved me and another playing being in charge of a small city. We had to deal with negotiations with neighboring cities, balancing the city economy, and making sure the citizens were happy. It may sound dull, but it was an awesome roleplaying experience.
Dungeons are comfortable to me. Political intrigue is not. My goal for 2018 is running a campaign based entirely on political intrigue inside of a nation’s courts. If you’re a DM and you’ve been visiting certain themes in your campaigns, why not try something completely new? Try something outside of your comfort zone and maybe you’ll discover talents you never knew you had.
Now if anyone asks you what your resolution for 2018 is you can respond with any of these. They may give you a few bizarre looks, but in the end a resolution is just for yourself. A goal inside of your hobby is still a goal, so why not use a tradition as a reason to play even more of what you love playing? I know that’s my plan for this next year.
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Artwork Courtesy of JEShields, whose work can be found at https://www.patreon.com/jestockart
Before I go into this, I want to say that I am in no way shape or form a professional in mental health or counselor. I am just a person who battles depression. I also want to say I am okay, in case someone were to worry about my well-being. This article is very personal and took a lot of courage for me to talk about. This is for those who are afraid to to talk about it.
The numbness felt like a bottomless pit that would pull me in deeper every time I climbed a few feet. I got to the point of pure despair and the only way out seemed to be the permanent solution. Then my father and uncle introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. After a few sessions, I realized how much this game allowed me to get breathing room. It helped me to start climbing out of the pit. Let me share a few reasons why roleplaying in general has saved my life and helped me battle my ultimate evil.
Once a week, my friends and I get together to play 13th age. I also play another game every other week with the Heavy Metal GM. It is a guaranteed day out of the week for me not to be alone. When I am at the table with friends, they distract me from the pit. They make me smile, laugh, and allow me to feel human. Genuine emotions come out of me when I am with them. I feel alive when I am with friends. As dungeon master of my Tuesday game, nothing makes me happier than seeing them have a good time. I am really thankful for the support they give me, for the fact they that can dedicate four hours to hang out. Thanks guys, if you're reading this.
For me, being alone just doesn't help. Being surrounded by people who care has made a huge difference in my life, my friends really make life worth living.
2) A Break From Reality
Sometimes taking a break from the real world can be helpful. Being a character from a different world is a nice way to escape my own thoughts.
Part of my depression is that I have become an expert in separating myself. What I mean by this is that I have a better understanding of my own emotions and separating myself from them is easier for me. In turn it has helped me get into character, allowing me to understand the thoughts, motives and emotions of the character. I get to be this amazing hero that mostly everyone adores. Most of the characters I play are parts of me put into a different situation than my real one. The character I currently play is Crysx Silverleaf, who has an identity problem. He is struggling to find who he is and who he’s meant to be. I often suffer from the same feeling, and playing it out in game helps me find new ways to approach different situations, process emotions and how to comfort myself within.
Crysx is also terrified of the dark and what lurks within it. He’s scared of the darkness because of his own problems he had growing up; treating the darkness like a villain he had to overcome. It’s like this overwhelming thing I can't put my fingers around and beat with just my hands. The form the darkness takes is the villain. This is like an imagined version of my depression for me. It's a nice break from reality when I can be someone who can actually fight the villain. I really got to thinking about this when the villain knew I was afraid of him so he dominated my mind, making me fight my friends. Depression can do a lot of things to an individual, sometimes it can take you over before you can do anything to prevent it.
It’s beyond enjoyable for me to be somewhere away from my real problems. I’m not sure if it's the artistic side of me, but I can embed myself in my character's shoes so easily. Maybe it's my subconscious telling that escaping reality for a bit is how to keep mental stability in check.
3) Looking Forward
I don't tend to look forward to things. Letting myself down, which happens more than I would like to admit, really drags me down into the pit. I have these aspirations that are seemingly impossible to achieve. This hobby gives me a sense of purpose. Instead of being nagged by the wonder and worry of what I am doing with my life, I get to write these articles and produce a podcast. It’s not the only thing that helps me get through the week, but it has had a large positive impact on my life. I’ve met good people, formed stronger bonds with friends, and found a more positive outlook in life.
I also want to dedicate this section to HLG, for giving me an opportunity to talk about all the cool things I like with other people. I look forward to writing these articles because of the community, excitement I feel when I get one like or a comment on my posts. It makes me happy.
It has been extremely nice to finally have something to look forward to, even when I am pretty deep in the pit. I keep pushing myself because this is a hobby that makes me happy and I don't want to lose hold of it.
Just to stress it: I am not a mental health expert in anyway. I want people to know, who are suffering, that it's ok to reach out and talk to someone. This community has some of the nicest and most honest people I have ever talked to. It takes a lot of courage to talk about your weaknesses; don't let it beat you. You're the hero of the story, so get out there and kick some ass.
With lots of love, stay nerdy.
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Picture Reference: http://www.artofmtg.com/art/healing-hands/
Trying out a roleplaying game for the first time is one of the most daunting tasks in the tabletop gaming world. Even if there were no rules attached to the game new players would be in over their head. These are five pieces of information that are beneficial to share with new players when they sit down at the table for the first time.
1) You Are Going To Make Mistakes
And you know what? That’s okay. Your first few sessions shouldn’t be about playing perfectly. I’d argue that roleplaying games aren’t about playing perfectly, however there is a lot of pressure for a new player because they’ll be sitting around a table with a bunch of players who look like pros in comparisons.
If there’s dice you might not know which is which. The DM might ask you to do something and you won’t have any idea what they are talking about. You might try and use a spell or an ability completely wrong and everyone will look at you (after an awkward pause) and say, “that’s not how that works.” Any of those things in the moment might seem like horrible missteps that ruin the mood of the table but they are not. They are necessary to learning the game.
2) Don’t Worry Too Much About The Roleplaying
Getting into your character and immersing yourself completely into the world is one of the best parts of a roleplaying game. However when you’re just starting out the rules are daunting enough. Trying to balance staying in character while also attempting to understand all the complex terms can be quite mentally demanding. Instead use your first few sessions to get a feel for how the game works and where you fit into it.
Roleplaying is one of the hardest parts of getting comfortable with any RPG. It takes a lot of time to learn how to separate yourself from the game mechanics. It is an important part of the game, but it should be one of the last pieces you focus on when you’re just starting out.
3) There’s A Lot Of Rules, But It’s Not Your Job To Know Them
Unless you’re learning a game for the first time as a DM (which is a whole other article), there are a lot of rules that you don’t need to know. You’ll want to learn how certain mechanics-- like combat-- work, but even then you don’t need to know the rules from top to bottom. Don’t be surprised if you ask how certain aspects work and the players tell you to watch a few rounds and then join in when you feel comfortable.
Roleplaying games seem quite rigid in their structure, but in reality they all flow freely. Players will get comfortable around the table with one another and it becomes more about storytelling than it does about being a mechanically strict game.
Of course none of this means rules can be explicitly broken; where’s the fun in that?
4) Don’t Be Afraid To Try
As you start to get more comfortable in the game you’re playing, ideas will pop into your head for what you want your character to do. They may seem ridiculous, they may seem out of place, and they may seem completely different from how you’ve been playing so far. Now matter how it feels, if the inspiration is there you should follow through with that inspiration.
There’s a turning point for any player. It’s when they realize they love the game or they don’t. It usually hinges on the moment where they get that desire to do something to actually impact the game. You should impact the game, that’s your job as a player in a roleplaying game. Following through with these impulses will open doors for you, completely entering your character and immersing yourself in the game.
However with that said...
5) Don’t Do Things Just Because You Can
The magic of a roleplaying game is that nearly anything can happen. If a city guard is talking down to you and you don’t like it, you can uppercut him off a bridge. As in life, your in-character actions have consequences. Sure, you uppercutted a guard off a bridge: now you are wanted by the city military and you need to go into hiding. As this was happening another player had a very important meeting with a high profile merchant, but because they were seen with you they are also on the wanted list. The entire party now needs to go into hiding, closing off the entire city and its resources.
A good DM can roll with chaos, but it doesn’t mean that you need to go causing it just because you can. Roleplaying is very much a group activity and there’s nothing that ruins the mood more than one player testing the limits and seeing how far they can go without breaking the game. Be considerate of other players and even ask them, out of character and out of game, if this is a line that is too ridiculous to follow.
There’s a lot to learn when you first dive into a roleplaying game. These five pieces of advice can be helpful for any new player who wants to know what they should and shouldn’t focus on for their first few games. With a supportive DM and a supportive group of players, almost anyone can find a fit at a roleplaying table. It just takes a lot of trial and error and the understanding that mistakes happen and it’s impossible to do everything right. Focus on having fun and understanding your character, the rules will follow.
Any other tips you share with new players at your table? Let me know in the comments or tweet at me directly on Twitter!
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Picture Reference: http://www.nerdsourced.com/get-friends-play-dd/
When you get to the heart of roleplaying, it’s all about the characters. Whether they are the stars of the show as Player Characters or supporting actors run by the Game Master, rich and believable characters are the key to the roleplaying experience. It is their story that draws you in, excites your mind, and makes you care about the fictional world you’re playing in.
Savage Worlds provides an excellent framework to build characters but it is the elements beyond the stats and edge lists that really tell you who this person is. I put the following guidelines to good use when I created twenty original characters in four common genres (haunted west, modern horror, historical fantasy, and space opera) in Savage Characters, Volume 1 (available on DriveThruRPG.com).
1) Make An Impression
Form a short scene in your mind as though you were watching a movie. This is the first time the audience will meet your character so think of how it might go. What characteristics are immediately noticeable: their hulking strength, head-turning beauty, easy smile, distracting talk, or haunted look? Do they shy away from contact or wade easily into the crowd? Do they move with the regal bearing brought on by years of tutoring and the right bloodlines, with the agile awareness of a veteran soldier, or with awkward stumbles as they adjust their spectacles? Is their speech flowery and intellectual or crude and street level? Does their accent betray their origins? Are they extroverted, wanting to join a celebration or more reticent, preferring to watch from out of the way?
You can set the scene wherever people could logically meet your character for the first time. A tavern or bar is pretty good for this but you could also meet them where their job or role normally takes them: the halls of a noble’s court, the traveler’s roads, sanctuary of their temple, or a craftsman’s stall. Picture them in a situation where they are expected to act rather than be passive so you can get a better feel for them. Leverage this preparation when you introduce your character to your fellow players or when meeting an NPC for the first time.
2) Develop Connections
Very few people live in isolation from the rest of society. In fact, it is often by our relationships with others that we discover ourselves and exhibit who we are for good or ill. No matter where a campaign might begin the characters have history up to that point. They have family, have friends and enemies, and live and work with dozens of others. While they begin to grapple with the Call to Adventure*, whose counsel would they seek? What favors would they call in? Who might make their life harder at the wrong moment?
These connections give the player more to work with both in deciding her character’s actions/reactions and in knowing what resources they can leverage beyond what is on their personal equipment list. All sorts of information can be gathered to better face the challenges ahead. Obligations and commitments, with their connections, will try to hold our hero back, letting them naturally Refuse the Call* or be bold and strike out for adventure.
3) Get Hooked
In Savage Characters, Volume 1, I created five different adventure hooks for each of the twenty characters so they could be easily used either as NPCs or as player characters. Each hook was aligned with a rank in the character’s development to show a progression of challenges. Some hooks tied together into logical sequences, almost like a micro-Plot Point for the character. Some hooks gave options to tie some of the characters together either as allies or antagonists.
Hooks present the ingredients for a conflict but don’t demand a specific solution. The motivations and objectives of other characters should be clear as well as what might happen if the player character does nothing. Would their own goals become harder or be put in jeopardy? Would their allies or innocents be hurt? Would evil claim some triumph large or small? Give the character a clear reason to act and let the player devise just what those actions will be.
If you're creating a player character, help your Game Master out. Try to think of adventurous situations your character might seek out or face. What threats, opportunities, or challenges would motivate your character to act? Would they pursue a treasure map, rumors of a village under attack, or a path to lost wonders? Providing hooks to your GM will make the game more enjoyable for everyone?
There are many ways to develop characters for RPGs. I think these three can provide easy hints for inspiration at the table-side, which is where we all need it most. We suffer plenty of l'espirit de l'escalier in our daily lives so everything that can help you play the character you want in the moment is worth time during character creation.
* See Joseph Campbell’s The Man with a Thousand Faces for an examination of the stages of heroic tales from around the world.
Jim founded Dragonlaird Gaming Studios in 2005 as a channel for his original tabletop RPG work. He’s an accomplished freelance writer with Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine (as a columnist) from Kenzerco, Margaret Weis Productions (Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Cortex), and many others. He published Savage Characters Volume 1 a couple years ago and has plans to release a series of Savage Adventures soon. You can find his website at www.dragonlairdgaming.com.
Picture Reference: Artwork provided by author
We’re all individuals, right? Well, if there’s anything that modern society has taught me, it's that nine times out of ten these “individuals” can be grouped together pretty easily. The tenth time has it's own group. After a while, our characters can fall prey to being our other characters. I know I had a streak where every last one of my characters was an elf, with a bow, who was dead set on starting a business and making literal metric tons of money. Now that I think about it, my most recent character is a half-elf with a magic item problem, who’s dead set on making tons of money. I don’t have a problem… right?
1) Edge Lord
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; “My parents were killed by *insert creature or powerful being* so I was forced to live on the streets (or raised by bad people); this scarred me. This showed me the dark side of life. It’s also where I learned *insert essential skill to future* and where I perfected it. I now must gain the necessary power to defeat *insert creature or powerful being* but my socialization issues makes it hard for me to function in day to day life.” Typically they also wear a lot of black and dual wield.
For all the ragging I drop on edge lords, occasionally it’s fun to play a really serious character with an intense backstory and a certain badass feel to them. I remember my first edge lord was actually a Lord. Ruled over a little town. Daddy issues. Played with fires. Legitimately broke the law in his own town just to pardon himself, and as such break more rules simply because breaking rules in the town his dad used to own was his way of trying to get over the daddy issues. Not exactly fun for the group. But when used properly edge lords are a cool addition to any party. (Pop culture equivalents include Batman, The Punisher, and 90% of anime characters.)
2) Essentially Deadpool
“I roll to seduce the door.” But doors don’t feel attraction. “So? I cast animate object and seduce the door.” If you cast animate object you can just tell the door to open. “But I’ve been meaning to get laid again since that treant.” You get it. You’ve had to deal with this exact situation before. I am 100% sure, that this has happened word for word several times in the time it has taken you to read this sentence. They have an obsession. Their backstory is complete *Censored*. And they get you into more situations than they end up being an asset to the group. Often time’s you (and the GM) consider killing them off. But they do end up making some pretty good gaming stories.
But every time a gnoll is forced into slavery, a fourth wall is broken, or a merchant is killed for their clothes you die a little on the inside. Of course, sometimes it’s fun to do the same thing. I mean, I’ve captured goblins to experiment on. One got really smart and actually ended up chilling with my character for a long time before he was true polymorphed into a human and could live a normal life. Honestly, Deadpool is the goddamned best. Comedic relief is a requirement for any group. Hell, even the Avengers keep Hawkeye around. (Pop culture equivalents include Deadpool and another 5% of anime characters.)
3) Money Maker
Often also the ‘face’ of a group, the Money Maker is hellbent on making money. As the name would imply. Even if their own mother was being held at gunpoint, they’d still make her take them out for lunch afterward. Since they’re often the face, all the money passes through their hands before it gets to yours, and once it’s in yours… it seems a little less than it should be. But they never seem to have money until it’s essential. Whose turn is it to pay at the inn? Yeah, yeah. Next time. But when they need to bargain for their life with an angry dragon turtle, they seem to have very deep pockets…
Money is an important plot tool often times. After all, for the most part, adventurers don’t work for free, and while I may be critical of them, I often find myself saying the words “How much will ya pay for me?” whenever the prospect of me helping others comes forward. And really, who doesn’t love bathing in piles of money? It’s good for the skin. (Pop culture equivalents include Mr.Krabs and Scrooge McDuck.)
4) Backstory McGee
While it’s nice to have a character who’s involved in and a part of the world they exist in, there is too much of a good thing. You know the guy who brought two and a half books of backstory and personality traits, to the table and expects the GM to be fluent in his character in ten minutes? The character has more friends than he has skills and he always seems to “know a guy.” Which has it's utilities but when the he’s sitting there telling the group about his cousin Rick who lost his arm in a tragic fishing accident for the fifth time, it can get bothersome, to say the least.
Perhaps though, too much backstory is better than not enough. And I mean, when someone else is stumped during character creation, they’re usually the first to jump up with unique and original ideas that fit well with what was already crafted. And since the character is so intricately intertwined with the world, it can allow for some very interesting plot points with old friends and enemies, who actually have value to the game. (Pop culture equivalents include anything or anyone that has touched Tolkien.)
5) Conan The Bad-ass-barian
This is the character who was conveniently trained from birth to be an absolute killing machine. Not only was every single stat point meticulously placed in order to get the perfect balance of bonuses, but they are literally the best at everything. Smithing? Done it. Killing? Great at it. Essentially made of numbers with little to no soul or role-playing opportunities? You're damn right. They trade, crunch numbers and plan vigorously to make sure they have the right stats and magic items they need to obliterate any obstacle in their path. Perhaps making their character be able to move 1,120 feet in a turn (*cough* *cough* shameless self-plug *cough* *cough*) or punching straight through some dude’s chest and turning it into a blood eagle.
But in more moderate doses, power gamers are more optimisers, which is ideal. Focusing in on the things your character does well and honing them to a sharp perfection is a perfectly understandable goal, especially for more self-concerned or self-betterment based characters. Even being valuable to the group by helping less experienced players get a handle on the mechanics and the little tricks hidden in the games. (Pop culture equivalents include Superman and the protagonist of any Elder Scrolls game.)
6) The #&*$@!
This guy is literally the worst. They’re like a mixture of everyone else's’ worst traits, stupid backstory that's too long while they crack terrible jokes, takes their anger out on every NPC and PC they meet, describing far too much of everything done while they search unendingly for money and power. So insufferably cocky and self-centered that it just makes you want to… wait… is that a mirror? Oh you’ve got to be kidding me-- I’m not that bad! Ok sure, I can be a little bit troublesome. But aren’t we all sometimes? Steve! Just last week you killed a king for the food he was offering you! And Jeff? We both know you have a sketchbook at home and it’s filled with backstory for Scarnac.
Look, in moderation I’m ok. In moderation I’m like the best of both worlds. And really, isn’t that what we all should strive for as a community? Trying to be the best for everyone else who’s just trying to enjoy the same beautiful hobby as the rest of us? Despite my flaws, I like to think I bring just as much good to the table as anyone else. Can't you say the same? Or you can just complain about how I got the last magic item Jeff… that works too.
Really though, while I made a joke about grouping people up at the beginning of this I do think there’s a bunch more groups to be found in our little syndicate. Please feel free to drop them below in the comments because I am itching to see what other trends everyone else notices “round’ these parts.”
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s 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/hyaphire/role-playing/
The world is not in a good place right now.
With all the pressures of the geopolitical/sociopolitical spheres, it can be really hard to find motivation to do things that can be seen as selfish or pointless - after all, we should all be doing what we can to improve the situation we are in. I’m not discounting that in the slightest. Do what you can, as you can, how you can, when you can, for as long as you can, until the situation improves.
If you’re reading this article, you are a player of games, someone who cares about the worlds we create around our tables and on our character sheets. People are going to be asking you how you can worry about your games when the world is beginning to take on a charming wicker-theme shape with a hint of picnic about it, and the temperature is rising dramatically.
In the words of Freddie Mercury, the show must go on.
We have talked a lot, as a community, about not shaming people - be it fat-shaming, gender-shaming, genre-shaming, class-shaming, what have you - and this is a time where we have to make sure we aren’t applying those same thoughts towards ourselves and our hobbies.
Here are four reasons why you should recognize your gaming time and keep it holy:
1) Doing Something We Love Can Help Deal With Stress
I’m no psychiatrist (far from it), but even I can tell that I relax more when I have something enjoyable to look forward to, a small oasis of sanity (or at least a reasonable amount of madness) in the midst of my daily stresses. I know when I sit down at the table with my dice and my tea and my character sheet, for at least the next few hours, the world will make sense.
This is a powerful thing and needs to be approached as such. You are allowed to carve out time for yourself and your hobbies, to recharge and detox from the world as a whole. As long as you aren’t neglecting things that are necessary for a continued comfortable existence (work, relationships, feeding yourself/your pets/your spawn, etc.), you are allowed to take time for yourself, and you need to protect that time and space.
For those of us who have flown commercially, there’s that bit during the safety briefing when they tell you take care of yourself before attending to those who may need your help. This is good advice in more than one way, because if you have worn yourself to the bone, there’s nothing left to give to those who DO need your help.
2) Routine Helps To Maintain A Balance
In Making Money, one of Terry Pratchett’s final Discworld novels, the main character Moist von Lipwig says something along the lines of “When you don’t know what to do, brush your hair and shine your shoes.” Doing something small and routine helps ground you in a period of stress. “Okay, I have to get through X ordeal, then it’s time for game.”
Do you have a pre-game or post-game ritual? Maybe you always stop at the same coffee shop, or buy yourself the same once-a-week treat for game day. Do you listen to a particular song to get yourself into the headspace for a LARP game? Wear a certain perfume or cologne for your LARP character? Don’t stop doing that now.
In times of stress, I have known it to be helpful to be able to look at my LARP kit and check off the items I will need. Just seeing that I have everything laid out (or know far enough in advance to replace something that is missing) gives me a calming moment because things are as they should be.
3) Assuming Direct Control
We can’t control what a group of madmen do in the next state, nation, or continent. Hell, some of us can’t even control what goes on in our own minds. In a game world, we have so much more control than we do in this supposed “real life.” We can make mistakes and correct the consequences without any actual danger to ourselves or our situations. We can deal with crazed leaders, religious zealots, bullies, and existential threats - and live to tell the tale. We can create places where things MAKE SENSE.
If you fail in your attempt? Respawn, revive, resurrect, or reroll. Repeat as necessary.
4) Challenge Yourself To Deepen Your Own Personal Immersion
Stay off your phone during game. Really pay attention to what’s going on, and try to get deeper into your character’s head and thought processes. Attempt to distance/disconnect yourself from the modern world during the few sacred hours of gaming time. Ask your DM if they need you to play an NPC or two - anything to keep your mind on the game and not on the news.
Seize control of this part of your life. Acknowledge that there are stressors away from the gaming table, and keep those stressors away from there as much as you can. Talk to your group and your DM, make sure you are on the same page with the desire for escapism and themes that you want to avoid. Most people, when they walk into Creation or Azeroth or Golarion or the Galaxy Far Far Away, are more than happy to leave their day to day problems behind. Chances are, they are experiencing the same stress that you are (or their own variant thereof). Communicate what you need from your DM and your fellow players, and listen to their needs as well.
Most of us don’t play games to practice cost-benefit analysis - we play games to escape to worlds where we can be powerful archdruids or death knights or sorcerers or Dawn-caste warriors, capable of doing superhuman things and changing things that we need to see changed in the world. The purpose of every roleplaying game (that isn’t cooked up by some well-meaning but completely uninformed human resources hack) is to play a role - to be someone other than ourselves. Embrace that for what it is, and go be someone else.
As I have before, I will leave you with the words of the late Sir Terry, which I find particularly apt for this topic:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Picture Reference: https://8tracks.com/explore/apocalypse
1) Start thinking like your character
For me, this is the hardest advice to follow. You have to let your thoughts disappear. Your character is the one thinking, put yourself in their shoes. Prevent outside sources from influencing your decisions. Think about who you are and where you come from. Think about the experiences your character has dealt with. By letting your thoughts go away you become your character, you start thinking and acting as them. Do not let meta-gaming limit you. You know one thing, but your character doesn’t, so why would your character do something they have zero clue about? It can be hard to start thinking how your character thinks and it will take some practice but you will get there.
2) Character voices
Character voices fuel a lot of social anxiety, and that makes it awkward, and it’s why players stray away from them. My advice is to realize that you are playing make-believe with other individuals playing make-believe, don't feel awkward or weird, because in the end you're all playing a game of imagination. A character voice isn't for everyone, but it can help break the barrier of getting into character. It doesn't have to be a different accent or pitch, it can also be vocabulary and mannerisms. Practice your voice whenever you're alone or have someone listen to you and ask their opinion. I personally practice my character voices in the shower or on my way to work.
3) Five Senses (Partly on the dm)
Imagine being in your character's shoes for a moment. What are their surroundings, what sounds do they hear, what do they taste, touch, or even smell? The five senses allows us to understand what is happening to and around our characters, humans use all our senses in memory. This is mostly up to the GM to do as he is the descriptor in the game but it is also partly on you to understand what they are portraying. Close your eyes and imagine everything the GM is saying. This is about immersion, it helps to ground you in the world. In a roundabout way it will help you get into character, by getting into the scene.
4) Tell your GM the story you want to tell
What do you want out of your character? A love story or a story of revenge, maybe even a mystery? You and your GM are telling a story together, letting the GM know what you want out of them game will help you both craft a better story. As the player, you have more control than you think.. Sit down with your GM and tell them what you want to do with your character and how you might do such a thing. Knowing what you want to do already allows you to understand who your character is, allowing you to get one step closer to being in-character.
5) Let empathy destroy you
Empathy is a super power we humans have and it allows us to understand the feelings that others have. In game your character is dealing with certain situations that may make them feel a certain way and understanding the emotions behind that will get you into character. Sometimes empathy will destroy you completely, when you're attached to characters and one of them dies, sometimes you just can't help but cry. Let these emotions take over, feel the moment. This will also allow you to understand how others are feeling in the same situation. Let Empathy win.
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Cofounder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Image Credit: http://www.inspirefirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/24.jpg
Many years ago, I ran an ongoing campaign where all the PC’s were members of a secret society, some of them high ranking enough to be in charge of expansion into new territories. This meant they developed a keen sense for new bases of operations from which a new cell might put down roots and expand into the community. A good base can be a great feature of a campaign, and a few simple tips can lead you in the right direction.
1) Talk About Your Fixer-Upper….
It’s a popular trope to reward the PC’s with ownership of someplace that they have cleansed of ghosts or other monstrous inhabitants. Not only does this make the acquisition an adventure, it also makes good economic sense. Real estate of any kind is normally outside of a PC’s price range, but the reputation and disrepair may keep the price low even after they drive the baddies out. Between that and the gratitude of the owners, the PC’s may get it for almost free. To flip this trope on its head, start with a PC getting a title or deed super-cheap, only to find out that they have to deal with a horrible curse or other baggage that comes along with it. Rather than find another sucker to pawn it off to, they can free themselves of their imminent doom by confronting the problem head on, as adventurers.
2) So Hard To Get Good Help These Days
A base of operations should include some responsibility, if only for maintenance and cleaning. If the base requires special skills to maintain, a PC with the appropriate skills should be assumed to be doing some of this in their downtime. When my PC’s defeated a house possessed by a mechanical golem, the grateful owner agreed to let them live there in exchange for restoration and repairs by an engineer PC. Spellcasters may be able to defray a lot of these costs using magic, but the party should also consider staff. It’s not uncommon for people to come around looking for simple work cooking and cleaning up. Staff are a great source of background info, connection with the community, and the occasional adventure hook, but be careful using too many secret pasts, betrayals or infiltration plots. It’s one thing to keep PC’s on their toes, and another to frustrate players because their new base feels like nothing but a liability.
3) Battle Stations!
While the adventure doesn’t always come to them, a good base should be defensible in an emergency, and some effort in fortifying it will go a long way. Vampire hunter Rudolph Van Richten surrounded his nondescript herbalist’s shop with flower boxes growing garlic and wolvesbane, and the elegant glass windows were salvaged from a church and featured holy symbols. These kinds of precautions add character to a base even if they don’t see much use, and allows the base to grow in power along with the PC’s. This is especially true if the base’s activities center around a character’s career, whether a church for a cleric, hunting lodge for a ranger, etc. If a particular party member has the Leadership feat, they can set some of their followers to guarding and maintaining it while they are away, with the expectation that many of these folks are learning the ropes in the fight against evil.
4) Location, Location, Location
After the PC’s defended a forgotten sanctuary against a siege led by the former caretaker, I thought for sure they would select it as another base for their secret society’s expansion. It was hallowed ground for two PC’s, one with the Leadership feat, with unseen servants and magical defenses at their beck and call, but none of this was quite enough to compensate for the fact that it was just too remote for their society’s purposes. A good base needs to be accessible as well as defensible. It ought to be close to civilization, or at least to sources of supplies, services, and information, even if it’s just local gossip at a watering hole. Of course, it should also be accessible to places they will be adventuring, without being too vulnerable. Unless their adventures are largely urban, consider a location on the edge of civilization: a ranger’s fort on the frontier, a training dojo on a mountainside just outside of town, or lonely tower on the edge of a village are all great concepts.
Whatever you choose for your base, the most important things are what you bring to it yourself. Make it unique, make it yours, and it will be a memorable character your group will reminisce about for years to come.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
The character sheet is a maze of information. Sections of it are winding paths of boxes and lines that ultimately lead to a dead-end. Even the most experienced character builders will miss something and get lost sometimes. Missing bonuses, ranks, and ability increases will cause characters to fall behind in combat. Pathfinder can be pretty unforgiving and optimal character building is the secret to getting the most advantage you can in combat. Here are 5 things you may have missed that will help make your character the best character they can be.
1) Ability Score Improvements
When you first build your character you get a bonus to ability scores depending on your race. For example, humans get a +2 racial bonus to one of their stats. This allows you to turnover your class’ most useful skill to a higher modifier. A 16 versus an 18 unlocks a plethora of new potential for your character. This allows you to take advantage of their primary stat.
There are a few other ability score improvements that you can take advantage of as your character levels. This is extra important if your GM is asking you to roll a character higher than the 1st level. At levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 you get to increase one of your character’s ability scores. This can turn a 15 into a 16, which immediately adds to the potential of that stat. Losing out on these ability score improvements will lead to characters falling behind.
2) Everyone Gets Extra Feats
As a non-fighter, it feels a little disappointing when the fighter gets a bunch of extra feats and you’re sitting around with one. Sure, you can cast light and a few other neat cantrips, but the fighter can do a bunch of cool things in combat while you act as a glass cannon that is a bit too much glass and a bit too little cannon. Worry not! A few extra feats are coming your way that a lot of players may forget about.
Starting at the third level and every second level thereafter you get to add a new feat to your character. Missing out on these feats will seriously put your character behind. There are a lot of feats that can further amplify a character to take advantage of their specializations. Don’t forget about these!
3) Favoured Class Bonus
A small little detail that can really add up over time is the Favoured Class Bonuses. These are little bonuses that you can take each level instead of gaining an additional skill rank or hit point. When you build a character you choose their favoured class, then depending on your character’s race they are granted a class bonus as an option whenever you level up.
It may not seem like much when you initially glance at it, but if you level up a character ten times in their favoured class you potentially lose out on that ability ten-fold. Each class has their own different favoured class bonuses, so when you’re looking at building a character check all those out and see if any can influence your game plan.
4) Class Skill Bonuses
This is an aspect of character building that I personally didn’t learn for a long time. I always thought that the class skills your class starts with are just examples of things your character can do. Instead, class skills are something that every character should take advantage of.
When you place at least one rank in any of your class skills you get an automatic +3 bonus to that skill. For example, if diplomacy was a class skill, placing one rank in it automatically makes the bonus +4 for all diplomacy rolls. This is an incredibly strong bonus that helps characters really feel the strengths of their class. It also allows a convenient use of extra ranks to pad out your character.
5) Bonus Spells
As a spellcaster you have a limited number of spells. You gain extra spells each level, but did you know you also can gain extra spells depending on the ability score of your casting stat? There’s a handy table that is hidden within all of the resources of Pathfinder that lists bonus spells available to spellcasters.
An ability score of 16-17 grants one additional spell per day in the level 1, 2 and 3 spell slots. These extra spells allow spellcasters to have more free use of their spells and give them more wiggle room on the battlefield. These numbers get especially strong if the casting stat is in the 20s. Losing out on these spells will put your character in a bad place on the battlefield as you’ll have to weigh out your decisions against the remaining resources you have. The bonus spells make that decision a little less stressful.
Now you’ll be able to look at your character sheet in confidence and know that you dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. Your character is stronger, more diverse, and working at maximum efficiency. This will allow you to spend more time building the roleplaying side of the character, and that’s where the real fun begins.
Is there anything else you’ve recently discovered or always missed about making your character? Let me know in the comments. Pathfinder is a big beast and I’m confident there are still things I’ve yet to learn.
Image belongs to Paizo
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Fantasy RPGs are filled with every style of warrior you can think of. From shining knights upon powerful chargers, to quick-bladed swashbucklers, there's something for everyone. Ax-wielding dwarves? Greatclub-swinging berserkers? Archers? Gunslingers? Yes to that, and so much more.
Of all the styles of combat to be found in an RPG, though, unarmed combat is one that has consistently proven difficult. Not just because of the need for heavier hitting at higher levels, but also because we tend to associate our unarmed fighters with Eastern martial arts. While there's nothing wrong with a Shaolin style monk, or a karate trained killer, it feels like a song and dance we've all done a few too many times. So the next time you're thinking about bringing an unarmed fighter to the table, use one of these fighting styles as inspiration.
Often called one of the first modern mixed martial arts, bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, a British train engineer who traveled the world in the 1800s, learning as many different fighting styles as he could. He combined the teachings of saber fighting, savate (French foot fighting), wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and even Irish stick fighting. It caused a craze that rang in the 20th century, but it's still practiced and taught today.
More on bartitsu.
One of the most brutal events of the ancient Greek Olympics, pankration combined all the most grueling parts of boxing and wrestling into a single, bare-knuckled brawl. Fighters could launch whatever strikes they wanted, though they did not wrap their hands, and the only outlawed moves were biting, as well as gouging of the eyes, nose, and mouth with the fingernails. Anything else, though, was fair game. It took all kinds, and it was possible for someone to walk into one match, and then never participate again.
More on pankration.
3) Pencak Silat
A fighting style from Indonesia, pencak silat is a full body, full contact martial art that turns the body into a weapon, and makes use of every weapon in the arsenal. While the fighting style does include weapons like the kerambit, the kris, and the toya (among others), it is not a martial art to be taken lightly. Especially if someone who has mastered it has set themselves the task of wading through an army of skeletons, orcs, or other classic fantasy antagonists.
More on pencak silat.
4) Rough And Tumble
One from the southern lands of the USA, “rough-and-tumble” is a less a true martial art than it is an exercise in the craft of flesh mangling. Also called gouging, for the prodigious use of that kind of attack, rough-and-tumble groin strikes, biting, tearing, or any other forms of attack. It was possible to win a match, and still come away half blind, unable to bear children. Truly it was a fighting style that took no prisoners, and did not mess about.
More on rough and tumble.
Based on techniques developed in West Africa as far back as the height of ancient Egypt, dambe is one part savage to one part showmanship. Fighters wrap their strong hand in thick cord until it becomes a hammer, and their lead leg in chain for both offense and defense. Many fighters also smoked marijuana beforehand, which is still true in places where Dambe fighting goes on today. The results can be crowd pleasing, but they're also bone crunching.
More on dambe.
For more great gaming insight, check out Neal F. Litherland's blog Improved Initiative!
Image is from the movie Snatch, which is a classic. Go watch it! *Editor’s Note
“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” -Stephen King, On Writing
Horror gaming can be tough to DM. Not all players are created equal. Some can be much harder to put a scare into than others, either through personal experience or through a difficulty in connecting with the game world deeply enough to truly be scared. Fortunately, there are several different types of fear, which increase in their scope and universal effectiveness as they decrease in severity. Once you’re familiar with what the different types are, and know which kind you’re going for with your encounters, you can exert a greater degree of control over your group's emotions.
When you successfully terrify a player, you scare them in a way that has a long-term, lasting effect. This is possibly the hardest form of fear to inflict on a player, and may not be possible to do purposely. Terrifying someone depends on a lesser form of fear touching a nerve and creating an association that’s hard to shake. When you successfully terrify a player or character you’ll see a shift in their behavior that will last for months, if not years. After a particularly gruesome encounter with a Kyuss worm nearly a decade ago, I over-react to zombies in D&D, usually refusing to engage them in melee. Especially if the group is underpowered or the cleric is down. The truth is that this is the grand slam of player reactions. The catch? You can’t force it to happen. All you can do is apply the other types of fear correctly and hope for the magical connection to cause the niggling sense of dread that just won’t leave.
The little brother of terror, horror is the best form of fear most DMs can achieve purposely. Horror is deep, resonant fear that broadly affects behavior for a short time. It’s caused by your players forming a meaningful connection with the fearful encounter. In the first campaign I ran for my wife, I found myself stymied by the fact that she was very blasé about most in-game threats. Once I started threatening her animal companions and made it clear through one tragic encounter that her magic couldn’t fix all the wrongs, she began responding much more honestly to their peril. That encounter successfully horrified her. The best way to arrange a horrifying encounter is to know how your players think and feel. Once you can know their motives and predict their actions, you can create a much greater amount of emotional resonance with your scenes. Crafting situations which are fearful in a way that connects with your players on a personal level becomes easier. Be careful using actual phobias or mental traumas as leverage against a player, however. Such things are usually best left to close relationships where the other party is comfortable being manipulated in such a manner.
Anxiety is a fear of what is to come, rather than a fear of what has already happened. Anxiety is next to impossible to create, but there’s a trick: players create anxiety themselves. All you have to do is feed those sparks, and you can turn their reasonable concerns into a nail-biting, ulcer-burning inferno of anticipation. If your players are smuggling illegal items through a kingdom and one player mentions that they don’t want to get caught, you can seize the opportunity to create anxiety. Maybe you can show a few beggars, pleading with their stumps, and then mention that hand removal is the common punishment for smuggling. You could have them pass a merchant being scourged in the town square for avoiding trade duties. Maybe a border guard eyeballs the party suspiciously and starts walking nonchalantly in the same direction that the party is. These add gradual fuel to the fire, increasing the initial fear. It spreads to other players as well, who begin to wonder if the first person was onto something after all…
Fright is the jump scare. It’s not a fear of something that has happened or will (even potentially) happen, it’s a fear of something that is a clear and present danger. Frightening players is quite easy, it’s just a matter of presenting a threat of uncertain magnitude. Frightened players don’t know if they can defeat this monster and aren’t sure if they should engage in combat or flee. The razor’s edge between fight and flight is where fright lives. Unfortunately, fright is also usually short lived; it lasts only moments on screen, and no more than a round or two in game. Like a drug, fright also loses its potency with repeated exposure. The more you resort to it, the more players will begin to expect it, and the less uncertain they will be.
Paranoia is very close to anxiety. At its root, it is the fear that something is not what it appears to be. The good news for the DM is that paranoia is the easiest form of fear to inflict on players, and can have an impressive duration. Even players who are inured to most kinds of fear through experience or lack of immersion can be made to engage in paranoia. Gamers are by nature a perceptive and suspicious lot, which is the basic recipe for paranoid fits. Simple set them up and wait for the avalanche to start. For instance, check your text messages, then ask everyone to give you a written copy of their inventory. After an innocuous conversation with an NPC, ask everyone what their Will saves are. Pass a secret note to a player that says, ‘Read this note without speaking, then look at me, shake your head, and say “Not now.”’ Call a player outside for a separate scene. It takes very little to make players think that the world around them can’t be trusted. It takes a little more work to make them suspect that one of their own can’t be trusted, but this kind of paranoia is the most biting, since it undermines the bedrock of stability their entire little world is formed upon: the sanctity of the party.
We don’t usually think of being grossed out as a form of fear, but it is. Even if you find yourself with the most jaded of players whose personal experiences have left them numb to the ravages of most forms of spine-tingling scares, you can still hit them with a situation gross enough to make them wrinkle their nose in disgust. NPC allies who are particularly revolting are a good start. Persistent slobbering speech patterns, deep hacking coughs, or harsh growling voices can all cause a player to recoil. Your objects of fear can be more visceral, too; when using these tangible sorts of scares, really hammer the descriptive points to drive the sensations home. The stench of rotten meat from a carcass that the PC just can’t get off of their hand no matter what they do, the slippery entrails that stretch and flop every which way as the character tries to move them, or the tingling itch as scores of insects climb through their hair and clothing can all be enough to make even the most hardened adventurer push away from the table to pull themselves together.
The types of fear are like tools in a safecracker’s kit; sometimes you can’t use the picks and you’ll need to go to the drill. When the delicate tools don’t work, the broader types of fear are still available as a fallback. Of course, in the same way that veteran safecrackers know that sometimes you just have to resort to the dynamite. Savvy DMs always have a stinking, oozing monster in the wings, just waiting to wrap its clammy fingers around a PC’s throat.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
At times, even the most creative minds require a jump start or spark to begin formulating their next project. We all seek different forms of inspiration, and in different ways, but I wanted to share some of my favorite sources of inspiration to help those kindred souls who might be struggling to begin creating.
Even if you’re planning on creating something purely visual, audio influence can help shape or inspire your product. With role-playing, the right music lends emotion to a dry scene or spurs your pen to describe more powerfully an important sequence. I recommend Radiohead’s Videotape (the “Live from the Basement” version if possible) for anything dealing with mortality. For action sequences, works from Two Steps from Hell provide an epic edge not easily found elsewhere. Need to give your game a near future feel, a la Cyberpunk? The soundtrack from Deus Ex: Human Revolution will fuel your mecha-noir fantasies.
Sticking to the same genre can help you keep the mood right for whatever you’re creating, but I like to mix things up as often as possible. If you’re developing a sci-fi thriller, watch a good Western or Wuxia film. Be prepared to take notes (mental or otherwise) about similarities and differences between them. Flex your creative muscles and ask, “what if this tale had a different theme, or a more interesting adversary?” After you digest the plots and create your fusion, continue to make tweaks to make the new work all your own. Soon, you’ll have something that takes hints from successful predecessors, but otherwise belongs entirely to you. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a masterpiece that I recommend to anyone wanting to blend action and drama, regardless of the end genre or setting you’re creating.
Though many of us find reading to be too time consuming, especially when preparing our own creative works, I believe that it is essential to return to the roots of creation when seeking inspiration. Reading about current events, history, or philosophy can provide you with endless thematic material that will not only inspire you to create, but also impassion you. Classic fiction provides a jumping-off point for any project, and will give you an understanding of similar works that came before. Blend stories together and give them a modern perspective to create something fresh and intriguing. For role-playing games, these sources can provide us with inspiration for settings, characters, and complex themes.
When creating the setting for a Cyberpunk game that I ran a few years ago, I used the very wonderful artbook from the video game Remember Me. The images of integrated technology, darkened streets, and expertly designed characters. Even single pieces can assist us in creating our works. See something in a Jackson Pollock? Perhaps even Pollock’s unique process can inspire you in your creation. Especially for those working in the horror genre, art can truly inspire. In fact, an entire published campaign of Call of Cthulhu (the Tatters of the King) focuses on artists, and displays their works as representations of their worsening madness. I recommend highly the exploration of modern and classic pieces to anyone, especially the visually oriented among us.
Naturally, these are only my suggestions. How do you get inspired, be it for creating role-playing game material or home movies or your next blog entry? Drop me a line and let me know! Perhaps your suggestions will inspire me, too.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him out at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact .
I’m a “Rules Lawyer,” or at least, I’m accused of it enough that I’m willing to entertain the idea that I am one. It’s something of a derogatory term, possessing the connotation that a Rules Lawyer is getting in the way of everybody else’s fun, or arguing the rules so they can “win” the game. I’m not going to deny that these are Rules Lawyer behaviors. (Nor will I deny that I do them, at least not without the caveat that I can justify my Rules Lawyering.)
Rules Lawyer is a subject term, though. It can easily mean different things depending on who you ask about it, so let me establish what I’m referring to when I say it: a Rules Lawyer is somebody who has a particularly strong affinity for knowing and following the rules of a game, sometimes to a fault.
I’ve had the term thrown at me numerous times as an insult, but that isn’t to say I don’t have my redeeming qualities. So with all that said, allow me to use myself as a case study for why Rules Lawyer doesn’t have to be an ugly term.
1) Helping New Players
This is the most obvious helpful usage of an expansive knowledge of the rules, especially for a game that has relatively complex character creation. A relatively common such situation I’ve found myself in was in games of World of Darkness.
One of the trade-offs that the World of Darkness games typically have is that despite simpler dice mechanics, character creation is a little more complicated, since one is afforded a lot more freedom in designing their character.
Until some of the gaming groups I’ve been in got the hang of character creation, even when I wasn’t GMing the game, I was often leading everybody in the game through character creation. It wasn’t particularly feasible to have everybody make their characters outside of game, since we only had two copies of the rulebooks available for 7 of us.
So, with my book turned to the quick-reference for character creation, I took everybody through it step by step. Which is also kind of a way I was able to...
2) Help New GMs
In the example above, I was also helping the GM, who wasn’t quite as familiar with the game as I was. This isn’t to say that interjecting with the corrections of the rules whenever the GM is wrong is helpful, though -- discretion is the better part of valour, as they say.
The key here is if the GM seems unfamiliar with the rules of the game. In the above mentioned group, we were playing what was at the time known as “New World of Darkness,” before the God Machine Chronicle Update happened and turned that IP into confusing mess of who owns what and what works with what.
One of the players then decided they wanted to run a game of Vampire the Masquerade, when he had previously only ever (and very scarcely) ran games of Dungeons and Dragons. Admittedly, I wasn’t very familiar with the table top version of Masquerade, but I do take to learning rules quickly.
I once again did my usual schtick of guiding char-gen for everybody, but during the actual run of the game, I kept quiet about how the rules actually worked until he requested to know something specific. (Notably, combat rolls, since those are a multi-step mess with a lot of variables in the “Old World of Darkness”)
After all, one interpretation of Rule 0 is “The GM has the final say.”
3) Keep Record For Experimental Projects
Let’s say you’ve got a new sub-system for your favorite game you’re homebrewing, or some other such similar scenario. However, you’re not much for writing and organizing things, and all the ideas you have for this are stored in your head, and not on paper.
If you’re genre savvy, you probably already know where I’m going with this: enter the Rules Lawyer. The role of the Rules Lawyer here is that they can keep track of your rules, ideally by writing or typing them down as new ones are introduced.
I’m not much for homebrew games, however, I was still involved in a similar situation. A friend of mine got their hands on a copy of a game from Japan called Detatoko Saga, which was released in 2016. Naturally, there’s no English translation of the game available at the time, but said friend did know how to read Japanese.
Knowing we’ll inevitably need to refer to these later, everybody involved in the game wrote down the skills they needed. I took things a step further, and wrote down EVERY rule and process the GM mentioned.
This actually wound up coming in handy as we played, with the GM (who was translating the game) occasionally referring to my notes.
Based on the examples I’ve presented from myself, a reasonable assumption here is that what could make the difference between how a Rules Lawyer is perceived is often the context of when they want to bring up doing things by the rules.
After all, regardless of what game you’re playing, knowing how to make a character for it is important; and sometimes, a GM has trouble finding that one rule or subsystem, and a helpful interjection may be necessary.
Remember though, just because somebody hurls that name, Rules Lawyer, at you does not mean it’s suddenly a compliment because you know of the good you can do. After all, a passion for the rules of a game, much like any tool or skill, can be used for good or ill.
Aaron der Schaedel is a rules lawyer that applies to gaming one of the old maxims of visual artist’s: learn the rules before you go breaking them. Given the amount of games he has learned to GM and still wishes to learn, it is sound gaming advice.
Character deaths are (typically) a constant threat in any gaming platform. From table-top to video games death happens. For some of us, this happens more often than others and in the infinite expanse of table-top role-playing games, this can be VERY odd and brutal. However, some people’s tables get more, frisky, than others. Mine happens to be very odd. Most of my characters are at ends with my friend’s characters. Some of it's me, some of it's him. But when a simple magic jest leads to imprisonment and several failed suicide attempts, things could be considered “out of hand.” Well, here are some of the most insane deaths that have happened at my table.
1) Riding a Barbarian into Battle
If you know much about me, I have a tendency to play dexterity based characters. Stealth is pretty much a prerequisite. Once upon a time, with one of my first characters, we were dealing with something WAY above our pay grade. Taking down a lich. We were level 7-ish. There were three of us. You can see this was essentially a setup for a TPK, however, careful planning followed by some solid rolls made my character Garrett Snowfeather our only casualty. I was our rogue/archer. We had a barbarian (known as Ethan the Cad(long story) and last, but not least, our gnomish wizard Lindon.
You see, our assault on his fortress was fueled not only by our barbarian’s rage but by a Growth and Haste spell. Both placed on our friend, Cad. When my old boy Garrett came along, riding a superfast twelve foot, muscle bound badass with a greataxe seemed like a decent idea, at the time. However, one explosive arrow that didn’t go off and a sudden stop that sent me flying towards my previous target caused a wall to collapse both on me, and the lich. So, I got all the experience from killing the lich, which was squandered by my corpse.
(Note to reader: While riding a companion is always a solid attack plan, make sure communication between the mount and the rider is perfect.)
2) Suicide… Kinda?
Ah yes, the Deck of Many Things. A dangerous weapon in the hands of an angry murderhobo.
An even more dangerous weapon in the hands of a character who is both Chaotic Neutral and has an honor complex at the same time. In short, I was a bard, my friend, a dex based fighter, and we had a monk as well. I playfully antagonized (hold person spell) our fighter while he was killing unconscious pirates. The player swore revenge. The character was just pissy. Later we divvied up the pirate booty and our fighter got pricked with a poison needle that started to kill him.
In his last moments before unconsciousness, he drew a card. And got an item. (To this day I still don't know what it was he got.) I saved his life (which would make one assume I was off the hook.) We get to town and we all do our own thing.
We make a stop at the magic shop and all do a little bit of this and that. We go to the bar to do a little money making before setting off again. As I perform during the evening, I feel more groggy than usual. It gets worse and worse before I collapse and find myself unable to move. He approaches me to see if I’m ok before he draws a dagger in order to kill me and regain his honor. Fortunately for me I nabbed a cloak of stars (or starlight I can’t remember the item) and slip into the astral plane.
The player (now very angry) draws as many cards as he could. Resulting in an alignment shift, another magic item and some experience, a loss of experience, and a keep. However, the sheriff and his men dragged him away. As he left, he drank the rest of the poison he slipped into my drink. Which only paralyzed him ,as it did me. After I could move again, I pressed charges and had him sentenced to death. Not before he killed himself in jail (he failed to do so 7 times before finally succeeding.) The DM was not impressed with our fighters “cooperative skills.”
Another adventure with Ethan the Cad. Our friendly barbarian was on watch one evening when he heard rustling in the bushes. Of course, being the headstrong manly man he was, he rushed forward without awakening me or Lindon. Being a rather speedy fellow he quickly caught up to one of the culprits. A goblin. He continued to chase and kill them for quite a while. Before finally, the inevitable happened. He walked into a trap.
Ten feet in the air. Enough so he can't move or gain any footing. But still low enough for goblins with spears to poke at him. He managed to kill one of them, which was impressive in his state, but in a matter of rounds, he was kind of screwed. An hour later, we follow the goblin corpses to his corpse. Luckily enough at the time, we had a cleric with us who was a high enough level to bring him back. But this was quite the learning experience for Ethan the Cad.
4) I Touch it Again
This one didn’t happen to me personally, but it’s far too juicy to omit. This was actually a campaign my father played in. While searching through a lich’s tower (they were more qualified than poor Garrett,) they came across a glowing sword on one of the walls. One of the players (who we will call S because he gets angry about this to this day) touches the sword. Which sends him flying back after an electrical boom hit him for a tenth of his health. One would assume that S would have learned his lesson. But, this was far from over.
“I touch it again,” He exclaimed robustly. S seemed to think that the sword had expended all its energy blasting him across the room for it had stopped glowing. So he touched the sword again and received a similar treatment. This time however, he was certain it was all out and in another act of sheer stupidity, touched the sword a third time. This time, his hit points were reduced permanently and the tip of his finger had turned black. As time went on, this blackness spread and not even a greater restoration spell would do much. One morning the party found him missing. As it turned out, the sword turned him into a beast, hairy, strong and out of it's mind. They didn't have much of a choice.
5) The Arrow
Now, I’m not saying experimenting with magic items is a good idea. But it kind of isn't a bad one if mass destruction is your goal. This was a bit on “home rules.” We had expanded the explosion radius on bags of holding and when portable holes popped, the created a vortex. Well, one day Peren Ravenclaw, the great arcane archer, decided to craft a weapon so wholly powerful it broke medieval martial law. Inside of a large arrow head, he set things up to shove the portable hole inside the bag of holding and then pierce them both through each other. Shooting this out of a bow seemed like the best way to stay at a safe distance. One day, it was used on a battalion of orcs. Who were swiftly demolished. Not only was it tearing them apart and sending some of them to the astral plane, it was sucking the rest in.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is how he dies. But no, I actually escaped the vortex alive. However the aftermath is what killed poor Peren. Eventually the crater that was created filled with water. The area was so “radioactive” with magical energy, I knew the water had to have magical potential. But alas, a small crack in a flask and a small hole in a glove ended up turning his skin hard as stone, making him strong as an ox and tough as nails. But, A: Magic no longer worked on or around him and B:He was ugly as all hell. As such he went to a mage’s guild to see what they could do, and came to the conclusion that nothing short of a wish spell would put him back to how he was. “Turning back to how I used to be permanently,” probably wasn’t the best word choice on my part. Because Peren now technically never existed nor ever will exist in that world again.
We’ve all had some pretty crazy moments stemming from stupidity, spite, luck inexperience and the likes. But, really, who can say they kamikazed a litch? I’m itching to hear some of the stuff that’s happened to others though, please put it everywhere.
Jarod Lalonde is a young role-player and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Call of Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
When I started my foray into the world of pen, paper, and imagination, I was in High School, and could have never predicted that playing tabletop games as a hobby (and later a passion) would outlast my varied collection of other interests. There are skills that I have honed over the last ten or so years that have helped me study in school, work more efficiently at jobs, and resolve minor conflicts among friends.
1. Conflict Resolution - D&D has taught me that there’s always more than one way to solve an encounter. Whether it’s a Dragon protecting its Horde, a room full of traps about to obliterate the PC’s, a band of Orcs demanding ransom for a Princess, or the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) on an altar, about to sacrifice a poor soul in order to summon a Devil. Sure, you can hack, slash, or shoot your way through all of those scenarios, but a craft Rogue can sneak ahead and determine the largest threats, a Bard can woo or convert an aggressive creature into a possible ally through Charm and wit, and the Cleric/Paladin/Monk can pray/meditate upon what the future holds to determine the best course of action. Every Player, every Class has its strengths and strategies. Away from the table, the ability to see friends for their potential strengths, and their attributes, can help to quell minor qualms, and know the best course of action. I’ve learned how to “size up” a potential situation or encounter, and it has paid out in spades.
2. Creative Writing Skills - My favorite part of the character creation process for a new game is crafting the individual, the person who will fit into this new world and new adventure. Beyond the character sheet, I’ll write a backstory for my character, giving them a home, a family, a history, and a reason for the DM, the party, and myself to invest in the well-being of this new addition to the team. I’ve created some odd characters, pushing my creative boundaries, generating against type characters, and learning how my brain operates when taking on a new role, and how to successfully adapt at the table.
3. Meta Knowledge = Confidentiality - Having worked in a few jobs where confidentiality is of utmost importance (Human Resources paperwork, following FERPA laws for students, etc), I’ve had an easier time learning where the line between meta and table knowledge meet. While I may be privy to something that the DM (my boss) has told me, other players (co-workers) haven’t come across that story point (fact) yet, and it’s up to the DM to divulge it at the right time and place. Gamifying work as a whole makes the entire day go by faster, and makes tasks less tedious - just another step on the questline.
4. Alignment Axis: A lesson in Philosophy - Inevitably, when you have more than one human in a room, you will have more than one viewpoint and philosophy. Learning how to step into another person’s shoes and seeing through their eyes benefits… everything. I’m having a hard time thinking of a situation where you wouldn’t want to understand both sides of a conversation, argument, or debate. Political, religious, spiritual, ethical, scientific… all of these topics benefit from a moment of passivity, observation, and understanding. I view it as a sort of challenge when the debaters in question all have the in-game capability to kill one another, because this challenges the players on their and their character’s convictions; how long can a direct conflict to a character’s worldview last before being quashed? Is there a resolution beyond violence? Also, it certainly helps to generate great inter-character conversations, like a zealous Paladin talking to a whimsical Druid and a cynical Rogue. These kinds of discussions can spur a new type of party growth, beyond XP and encounters. Not only is there party growth, but you also can find a new appreciation for your friends around the table and their viewpoints on the world.
5. A Comfortable Space to Practice Confidence - By the nature of the hobby, tabletop games bring friends and like-minded people together into a safe environment to try new techniques of conflict resolution and immersion into a new role. Beyond the confines of the rulebook and character sheet, there is a world of freedom to be found in a comfortable setting. My public speaking skills have benefited from my hours around the table; I have a friend who does voice acting, and uses new characters as a test bed for accents, pitch changes, and vocal range. Beyond the practice for improvisational humor and reactions, as well as the grounds for many an inside joke for future storytelling, I can think of no better place to freely express oneself and speak openly and confidently without reproach.
Tabletop games, and D&D in particular, have taught me more about myself than I could have learned from any other hobby. Further, this ‘hobby’ has become a lifestyle, and has helped to challenge, change, and mold my analytical skills, problem solving, and communication with the world at large. Also, I can be a cat person.
Angela Daurio is a DM and player of D&D 5e, is eagerly looking forward to Pugmire, and enjoys board games on a weekly basis. She resides in New Jersey, where she and her fiance are currently playing in two campaigns, and plotting the return of their own campaigns.
That’s usually the juicy bit of a story, right? Withheld information between characters or from the reader, it’s what makes a story worth reading. Since there’s an innumerable amount of similarities between role-playing games and literature, this concept translates well to the table. The GM’s role is based on revealing withheld information to the players, we surely don’t need to address that. However, I believe that players should have their own secrets too. Not from the GM, because then how are they supposed to incorporate it into the story? Secrets between players can help change inter-character relationships when they’re revealed. Sometimes they can be negative, but that’s the GM’s job to be the judge of what secrets will fly and what ones won’t.
We’re always looking for ways to create drama in our games and secrets are a cheap trick to turn it up to eleven. What makes putting them in a game difficult is that we depend on our players to come up with them. Here are some reasons to encourage your players to do that.
1) Solidifies Character Background
Character background is instrumental to games where player agency takes the stage. When your players have well thought out backgrounds for their characters, it helps to bring the setting and its people to life. This creates investment in the game, interest to propel your players ever forward in search of the end of their quest. A player character secret could be a very good window into the character’s life before the formation of the party. A dark secret could create some tension in the party upon its reveal. A story about a fall from nobility could change the way the party views that character. For good or ill, revealing a secret about a character’s past can truly shake things up and change the light in which that character is seen.
2) Could Create an Unforeseen Connection
Playing off the background idea, the secret could help create a connection with a GMPC. Creating an GMPC with a role in a character’s shrouded past is a fun way to foreshadow their background in the story. It keeps that specific player engaged in what is happening as well as the others, it’s human nature to be curious, is it not? If the secret pertains more to the present, a GMPC that knows something about it (with or without previous relation) would be forced to deal with the party. Using this stuff as tethers to tie the character together makes revealing the larger story fun and interesting.
3) GM Inspiration
The lifelong search to find what the hell to make your campaign about. Having a loose outline is usually the way I go, just to let the characters fill in the rest. This forces me to take a reactionary role in writing the meat of the story. On the flip side, if a player character has a secret, then you content to tie into your original outline. Maybe this secret makes the character a part of something greater, maybe it puts them in imminent danger, or maybe it even is the reason for the whole misadventure that keeps the story moving. It’s easy for a player character secret to become an invaluable resource. So, take out the auger and drill into the head of your players… figuratively, that is. It’d be illegal, immoral, and terrible otherwise.
4) Creates Campaign Length
A secret that gives you inspiration is rather directly giving you content to work with. Most GMs can come up with a lengthy campaign on their own without so much as a drop of sweat. Using the things your players develop is a great way to create campaign length with a robust and engaging story. If you milk a player character secret for everything it’s got, you can reveal tiny bits of information as the campaign progresses. Slowly. Very slowly. It’s not always true, but generally, a long campaign is an in-depth campaign. In-depth campaigns get remembered, and memorable games are a sign of a good GM. Unless, of course, the players only remember it because it sucked. In that case, head back to the drawing board and give it another good and honest go.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how relevant player input can be when designing a campaign. Encouraging your players to go crazy with their characters during session zero could help a GM keep the boat afloat and create years and years of wonderful gaming. Foreshadowing, reveal, and wrap-up make our gaming world go ‘round. Properly using player character secrets is a quick and easy way to make this process fun for everyone.
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
Dungeons and Dragons is the most iconic RPG, it’s the most often played game according to data published by Roll20, and it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of people willing to run it.
Though if you dare to stray beyond D&D, you’re likely to find that there’s not many people wanting to run other games, either because being a player seems more entertaining, or they’d prefer to be a player in a game before running it.
I’m basically saying that knowing how to run games besides D&D is a fairly valuable skill in the table-top gaming community. So, with that in mind, I have prepared this little list of advice that will make learning how to run a new game much easier.
1) You Don’t Need To Know Everything
The bad news when you’re trying to learn a new game is this: most games have rulebooks that are several hundred pages long. The good news, though, is that most likely you don’t need to know everything.
Usually, just having a passing familiarity with the setting is all you need to run a new game, since there’s always some manner of mundane characters, creatures, and places for the initial few scenes. Keeping the setting mundane at the start will give you (and the players!) time to adjust while everybody is getting the rules down.
Let’s use Exalted 3rd edition as an example. The first few chapters of this book is setting information. While this may be interesting stuff, it’s not entirely necessary to run the game. Knowing the difference between an Abyssal, a Solar, and a Dragon-Blooded might help later on when you’re setting up antagonists.
What’s MORE important, though, is knowing how characters mechanically interact with one another.
2) Learn The Basic Conflict Resolution
The beauty of modern games is that they usually have one or two specific rules that are the core of everything else in the game. For Dungeons and Dragons, it’s roll of a d20 added to your modifiers. For Exalted, you form your dicepool based on your relevant attributes and abilities, roll all the dice, and count up successes for each that are 7, 8, 9, or 10, with 10 counting as two.
This god-send of game design makes everything MUCH easier, since instead of poring over the rulebook in the middle of play to find one particular sub-system for something, you can just make something up for the time being so you can move the game along.
Going back once again to Exalted, which has a fairly robust set of social mechanics, let’s say you skipped learning those since you know your players are more interested in combat encounters. However, one of them unexpected gets the idea to try to scare off some bandits harassing the local villagers instead of immediately coming to blows.
Well, since we already know the dicepools are formed with an Attribute and an Ability, we can have the player roll for his Charisma + Presence, and improvise something based on how many successes come up.
Which brings us to the next important set of information...
3) Learn Character Creation
You can’t really do much in an RPG without having a character, and if you’re the GM, it definitely pays to know what all characters can do out of the starting gate. So for that reason, character creation is another vital thing to learn when getting into a new game.
Often times, learning character creation is a good springboard into other parts of the game, and gives you hints for what other things you can expect to find through the rest of the book.
In Exalted, character creation follows the steps of picking attributes, then abilities, both of which are somewhat self-explanatory. Picking Charms comes next, which based on the name alone doesn’t say much. A quick look at the table of contents, though, reveals an ENTIRE CHAPTER dedicated to this facet of the game!
At around 200 or so pages, Charms make up about a third of the book! There’s no way we can memorize all this, so we’ll just have to accept that we’ll be referring to this section quite a bit.
Which means you should...
4) Familiarize Yourself With The Book’s Layout
I said earlier that you don’t need to know everything. I’d now like to introduce an important caveat to that statement: you don’t need to know everything IMMEDIATELY. To that end, you should at least know how to find it.
Know what sort of chapters are in the rulebook, or at least if there’s a table of contents and an index. Indices have helped me find numerous rules I’ve otherwise ignored since most of my players initially never needed to use them. And tables of contents were a great help in .pdfs that I couldn’t as easily flip through.
I don’t know what the sub-systems for leading armies and sailing ships are in Exalted, but I know what chapter they’d be in, and I know that particular chapter’s page is listed in the table of contents. And should I refer to it enough times, I’ll likely end up memorizing what page that chapter starts on.
5) Just Do It!
It’s good to read and research and generally be prepared, but the most practical way to crystalize something in your memory is to apply that knowledge.
Waiting until you feel prepared enough before running a new game usually leads to what I like to refer to as “preparation paralysis.” You want to wait till you’re prepared, but as you prepare, you find more things to need to be prepared for, and thus the cycle continues on.
But with the above steps, knowing the layout of the book, knowing what a basic character has, and knowing the basics of the game’s conflict management, you’re plenty prepared.
Get a scenario together, and make it happen.
You got this.
Aaron der Schaedel is a Game Master of many different games that hides out somewhere around The Rocky Top and The Dark and Bloody Ground. He also has a YouTube channel he’s named after himself, where he explains the ins and outs of various different games, just in case you need some more specific advice.
PICTURE CREDIT: From the Exalted 3rd edition Core Book, pulled from this site: http://mraaktagon.com/yes-but-you-didnt-the-failed-redesign-of-stunts-in-exalted-3rd-edition
I don’t know about you, Internet, but I view the moments before I sit down to a new game campaign or setting with an equal mix of trepidation, excitement, hopefulness, and dread. Is this going to be like the game where I spent most afternoons wishing I was home doing my laundry, or is this going to be like the game where I spent all week obsessing about what was going to happen next?
I walked into my first game completely blind - I didn’t know anything about it except that I had bought a bag’s worth of shiny new dice and I sort of understood what the words on my character sheet meant. I got *really* lucky - my first DM took it relatively easy on me for the first couple of sessions, just enough to set the hook. I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
Due to logistics, when I first sat down with one of my two current DMs, I had literally no idea of what was going on. I didn’t know the system (except that it was d10 based, a system that had given me problems in the past), I didn’t know the world, and I only knew two of the other players. I was in a strange place, with a strange sheet in front of me, exhausted from an early-morning job. I took it on faith from the two players I did know that “you’ll love this game, it’s all about narrative and description, you’ll be great at it.”
I was miserable. The other players had met with the DM previously, and they had sketched out a rough idea of what they wanted to do and how the campaign was going to work, setting- and theme-wise. Because of my chaotic evil schedule at the time, I was showing up blind, again. I hadn’t had a chance to give input on the game design, and when I was asked what I wanted to avoid in the campaign, I was so lost that I just named some pet peeves and let it ride.
That game lasted...ten sessions, I think? Maybe more, it was kind of a haze. My character worked beautifully on paper but was a complete dead fish in play, because I had built her for what I thought the campaign was going to be like, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sadly, the wrongness didn’t come into evidence until after the three-game-change window, so I tried to tough it out. I shouldn’t have.
I come to you now to share the hard-won knowledge that I have acquired over the years. These expectations are a general framework that I expect from my fellow players, to try to enhance the game for all parties concerned. Comments and commentary are, of course, welcome.
1) Engagement With The Plot (at best) Or Polite Attention (at worst):
We are all busy adults with full schedules who have carved out time and energy to play this game. I expect you to either be playing or paying attention to the gameplay. Some of the funniest and fun moments I have had around the table were MST3King/Rifftraxing the play going on in front of me. Checking something in the book (when it’s not your turn, please) is okay, or a brief dip into the madness of the Internet is fine, but when you do your trick, then look at the rest of us and say “nudge me when I need to roll dice” is rude at best and disheartening at worst. I invest my time and energy to play with people; I expect the same in return. This is crucial in a game like Exalted, where player input has a marked impact on the game in the form of voting for stunt bonuses and the like. If you aren’t here to play, or at least socialize while playing, why are you here?
2) Commitment to Session Times
Life happens. Job schedules are nuts (me), kids happen (DM and fellow player), loved ones fall ill or need more attention because of life events (another player), and sometimes your vehicle decides to commit fiery suicide because it’s just sick of life (another player). We all understand this, and we’re sympathetic.
If you mysteriously have a headache every Sunday afternoon, or you “aren’t feeling it today” two hours before game time several weeks in a row, please consider if you actually want to keep playing, and if you don’t, then stop. Stop wasting our time. Stop wasting our goodwill. We will still want to hang out with you, but if you keep screwing up our plans at the last minute, that might change too. Your time is valuable, our time is valuable, our DM’s time is valuable. Respect us enough to say “This isn’t working right now, guys, catch me next time?”
Corollary - BE ON TIME, FOR THE LOVE OF SPICE. Gamer Standard Time is a phrase that needs to die in the pits of a thousand hells. If game starts at 1, be there at 1 (or even better, 12:45), not 2:30. If you’re running late, call/text/IM/tweet/Skype, do something to let us know so we’re not all sitting around staring at our dice like sad pandas looking at an empty food bowl.
3) Familiarity with Setting/Rules
I can hear you now - “But you said you went in blind to your last game!” Yes, I did say that - and I said it made me miserable. Do I think you can’t sit down and learn a new system or world? Not at all! That said, make sure your fellow players know that you are new to the system and will be asking lots of questions. Most players will be perfectly okay with this, and I guarantee that the neophyte will be overwhelmed with advice and suggestions. Please see my previous article on How Not To Be That Gamer and apply the truths within liberally, as needed.
If you are the neophyte in this position, commit to learning the bare bones at that first session, and study up as the days go on. You’ll get it faster than you think.
4) Be A Plot Mover, Not A Plot Dragon
If you’re in this hobby to roll dice without context, may I not-so-humbly suggest you learn how to play craps instead? We’re here to roll dice and play roles, not just chuck plastic blobs around to meet arbitrary numbers in a vacuum. Personal plots are fun, but it’s hard on your DM and unfair to other players unless they are involved with them too.
The third option is to be a plot donkey - ask your DM (not at the table or immediately pre- or post-game, please) if there’s something she or he wants to get moving, and volunteer to be the one who turns down the path less traveled or asks “hey guys, what IS in that box?”
Chase plot, even if turns out to be a flaming bunny. Share the plot goodies you find (psst, this means you can share the blame too!). That’s why we’re here, to play.
5) Establish if Your Group is Cooperative or Antagonistic
This is a pre-game thing, ideally when you are in a conceptual stage discussing what you all want out of your communal gaming experience. A group of antagonists won’t work well, but factions within the party can be great fun if you all can manage to keep a clear delineation between IC and OOC.
If you have decided to play as a cooperative group, you should strive to maintain that, unless there’s a story-related reason to change it. With the understanding that most plans don’t survive their first brush with trouble, and most groups don’t survive their first divvying-up of that sweet sweet loot-y goodness, do TRY to adhere to what you agreed to at the planning phase. Speaking of…
6) Proper Planning Prevents...well, You Know The Rest
I don’t mean that you should be doing comparative cost-benefit analysis of spell lists (oh please, for the love of heaven, don’t waste precious gaming time doing that) but plan out the general shape of your campaign, or at least the first season, with ALL the players present as well as the DM. Want a city-building game, or something more Indiana-Jonesy? Monster of the week or a tightly woven plot? Lay out what you want.
Just as importantly, lay out what you don’t want. I mentioned that I built a character that worked beautifully on paper and in concept, but the game was 150% wrong for her, because I didn’t know the group had decided on a city-building concept instead of a go-out-and-explore game. My group, bless their collective hearts, didn’t want to tell me that my concept didn’t flow with the plan for the game, so I struggled through months of boring and frankly infuriating game sessions before that game mercifully died with a whimper.
Be honest, but don’t be a dick. Most people are willing to adjust their concepts slightly to fit the group vision. That being said, it is far easier to tweak a concept before dots hit the page.
7) No Prima Donnas, or Variations Thereof
I’m looking at you, people who think that because you are gracing the table with your presence, you get plot bennies. I’m also looking at the ladies and gentlemen who try to get what we refer to as the “banging the DM” bonus - I hope that is fairly self-explanatory. It’s unfair and childish at best, and creepy/repulsive at worst. There’s almost nothing worse than seeing one player get shot down for a concept, and the person of the DM’s affection getting the nod for no apparent reason.
Disclosure: My husband is currently one of my DMs, and far from getting a banging-the-DM bonus, he is ten times harder on me than the other players because he says he knows what I am capable of and won’t let me get lazy. I both love and hate him for this.
You need other people to play the game. Don’t alienate them. Share the spotlight. Point out and appreciate really awesome things your fellow players do. And don’t forget to cheer on your DM for bringing his or her A-game to the table and making the game as amazing as they can. I love the idea of giving props and nods at the end of the game, ending the session on a high note. It keeps people motivated to do more, to be further in character, to take risks to get rewards, knowing that if their characters die, they won’t go gently into that good night.
I know what some of you are asking right now - if planning is so important, why did you leave it until the last point in your list?
Because, believe it or not, it is not the most important part of a successful game. Player mindset and expectations are. All the good planning in the world withers away in front of a bad or dysfunctional group. Get together the right people and even the most slapdash game will be memorable.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this piece - setting expectations for DMs - coming soon to an Internet-capable device of your choice. Until then, I remain,
Your Most Obedient Servant,
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Fantasy role-playing, or any genre where spirits and deities are involved, gives us an exciting insight into an important element of human culture. Religion as separate from daily life is quite unique to modern times. In days past, certainly there were impious and blasphemous persons. In general though, people would follow the religious customs of their land and culture. In some places, it was genuinely believed that religious observations played a central role in deciding battles and averting natural disasters. The gods’ favor could earn a bountiful harvest and their wrath could mean famine. To play a character who lives in such a world and culture I list below four different ways to approach religion. It doesn’t matter that your character is not a miracle worker or a knight of the church, in a religious society almost everyone will incorporate religion into their life in one way or another. Here are my suggestions.
1) The Pious Layman
One does not need to be a member of the clergy to be devoted to one’s deity. Consider taking time to burn offerings to invoke good favor, or maybe offer gold to request peace for the souls of your ancestors? In a polytheistic setting the idea of converting people to your faith is likely totally foreign. But you serve your god well and try to live out the customs of your people as best as you can, with conviction and probably even pride.
I love this. Superstition, in a world of quarreling gods, spirits, and arcane powers is storytelling gold. It’s so very natural and human to revert to superstition. Real belief with little understanding is a breeding ground for superstition. And in a world where you don’t have science to answer the why behind the seasons and weather, earthquakes and invaders, and just about anything beyond human control, an easy answer to grasp is “spirits made it happen”. Your people may have superstitions or maybe your character invents their own. Consider interpreting anything strange as an omen.
3)The Lip Server
There are many reasons to go through the motion of religion even when your heart's not in it. Maybe to you religion is more about culture and identity. Consider a few basic rituals that connect you with your roots. Something more like a societal pledge then a deeply religious prayer. This character probably has little use for religious contemplation but when it comes to the ceremonies of their people it’s best to go through the motions.
4) The Powermonger
In any culture where religion is at the centre of life you will find people looking to become that centre of life. It’s become a Hollywood stereotype that middle ages bishops were greedy, power hungry manipulators. But many were in fact the princes and rulers of vast lands, they were politicians, not just churchmen. But consider as well the druids, shaman, and witch doctors of tribal societies. They demand great respect and held high positions of power in their societies. To play a powermonger one does not need to be evil, but consider what you might demand of those around you; loyalty, obedience,and perhaps a bent knee. The spirits and deities of fantasy realms are powerful and terrifying things, those who wield such power become themselves powerful and terrifying.
A great questions to always keep in mind could be something along the lines of: How would I act if I actually believed my character’s religion was real? This, and the expectation that other people in this world also all believe this religion is real. For me the biggest challenge in fantasy role-playing is adopting the polytheistic mindset that many fantasy realm settings have. As our own North American culture has roots in monotheistic Christianity it can be easier for us to draw inspiration from what we already may know, all four of these suggested character types fit well inside this framework. Developing our characters and worlds by taking queues from history and really dwelling on the divine connections our characters strive for can really bring our games to life.
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.
Thank you for your timely intervention on behalf of the people of Dowen-upon-Waite. Without your assistance, I doubt that there would have been anyone in the village remaining. None that could be called human, at any rate.
I do wonder how such a cancer began. It's a shame that we weren't able to learn more. Amongst many philosophers, the subject of evil is an oft-discussed (or argued) one, but more often than not the kinds of malevolent secrets which you uncovered have their roots in something far more innocuous. Something benevolent, even useful, which carries so small a price as to be nearly negligible. These objects often set the stage for the gradual descent to a point where the once-noble aspirant finds himself waist deep in atrocities he would never have considered before embarking on his path of damnation.
Having felt the malignant caress of the Dark Powers myself, I have made a careful study of the things that can lead to such darkness. Since you were inquisitive enough to contact me regarding the genesis of the most recent problem, I thought I would share a few of my own private notes with you in the hopes that you might see how these sorts of tumors begin to grow.
1) Wine of Ages
My compatriots and I recovered this particular item from a tomb we cleansed of undead in the mountains of Lamordia. To the eye, it is merely a mundane bottle of green glass, with a name imprinted upon the bottom: Herzhen Yards. There is no such vineyard that we were ever able to uncover, although the tomb appeared to be of Outlander origin, and its plundered contents appeared to come from a range of different cultures. This unassuming little malignance was stolen from me by a Rajian thief, and I have not seen either since.
The bottle is empty, save for an ashen grey haze that can be poured forth from the neck as though it were a true liquid. This vapor, which carries the odor of gently rotting loam, is harmless to the living. If poured into the mouth of the deceased, it grants the corpse the ability to converse with the living, albeit in a limited fashion.
Please note that although this ability seems mundane, it is an abomination. It encourages a callous disregard for the dead, driving the user to treat corpses as mere investigative tools, and leads its wielder to see nothing wrong with compelling the spirit (or a semblance thereof) back to the realm of the living for mere convenience.
The Wine of Ages allows its bearer to converse with a humanoid or monstrous humanoid corpse up to three times per day. Each corpse may be conversed with only once, but the condition of the body is irrelevant--it can still speak even if rot or injury would normally make it incapable. The effect lasts for up to one minute per HD of the dead body. The spirit is much less committed than they were in life (shift alignment one step towards N), but can still make a saving throw (Will DC 17, Wis DC 15) in order to lie freely. Using the Wine of Ages is cause for a 3% Dark Powers check.
2) Oubliette Dust
This nasty little alchemical concoction is a creation of the Kargatane, I believe. I was unfortunate enough to discover it while attempting to apprehend several spies that had infiltrated Drifthome. One of the thieves, when confronted, threw a black powder in my face. I was immediately reminded of the last time I had smelt such a powder: when I was the 'guest' of the Kargat, tortured repeatedly for several weeks. So horrific were the memories, I was unable to prevent the thieves from fleeing.
As my daughter was good enough to remind me later, after I had recovered, I have never been tortured by the Kargat. The memories induced by the dust are merely lies. Still, their effects linger, and I often find myself waking in the middle from dreams of Darkonian dungeons.
Those who sell the Oubliette Dust market it as a 'stunning powder,' and indeed it does exactly that. However, the memories it 'awakens' are so horrific and they stay with the victim for weeks, even months, after the fact.
Oubliette Powder can be thrown in a cloud at any victim within 5 feet. If the victim fails their save (Fort DC 17, Con DC 15) they are unable to act for 2d6 rounds. If they are attacked this effect breaks immediately. The terror on the victims' faces is self-evident; using the powder is cause for a 1% Dark Powers check. This rises to 3% if the user knows the full extent of the trauma they are inflicting on their enemy.
3) Granny Lady Bracelet
Last year, a cult of witches was uncovered in the Mordentish countryside. Although a great deal of their magical prowess was merely smoke and mirrors, they did possess a number of unnatural abilities that Tasha and I were forced to contend with. Most infuriatingly, their leader seemed to be able to anticipate our arrival, and it was only through the utmost diligence that we were able to confront her.
One of her magical talismans was what the Souragne practitioners refer to as a gris-gris. A small, twisted length of sinew and hair, strung with a variety of horrific trophies, including finger bones, teeth, and dried flesh, and is typically worn around the wrist.
Tasha wore the talisman for several weeks, and reported that it gave her brief glimpses into the future, but after reading through the granny lady's journal, I became convinced that inheriting the device from her own mentor is what began the corruption of the witch that had plagued us, and I convinced Tasha to put the device aside for her own good. Currently, the foul thing resides in a locked trunk in my safe room.
Anyone wearing the Granny Lady Bracelet may roll 2d20 at the beginning of the day. During the course of the day, they may replace any d20 roll (theirs or anyone within line of sight) with one of the Bracelet's rolls. This does not stack with the ability of a Divination specialist, instead they receive one extra d20 for their Portent ability. Using the Granny Lady Bracelet is sufficient cause for a 1% Dark Powers check every week it is owned.
4) Breathstealer Arrow
I encountered this device on an assassin from Tepest.The Inquisitor I worked with to apprehend the fiend claimed this weapon was a gift to the killer, in recompense for selling his services to the fae. Although I am normally loathe to heed their dogmatic fanaticism, in this case there may be a seed of truth to it.
In truth, the magical component is a stone arrowhead, which can be affixed to any mundane bolt or arrow. Once it hits its target, it breaks loose and begins twisting its way towards the target's lungs, causing the poor soul to choke and gasp as their air is magically expelled from their body. If it isn't cut out swiftly (a supremely difficult task, I can attest, since the infernal thing avoids all attempts at capture) it will eventually kill its victim, even if the original user is dead.
Inquisitor Cormec took the cursed thing with him after we apprehended the murderer, although I spared the assassin the cruelty of a Tepestani imprisonment and execution. I sat in judgment over him myself, and I'm sure he found the noose far less painful than whatever Cormec had in store for him.
A target hit with a Breathstealer Arrow cannot breathe. (This means they cannot speak, cast spells, or activate command words.) Beginning in the round they are hit, the victim suffers the normal effects of suffocation (treat the victim as if they had already held their breath the maximum length of time). It can be removed with a Heal check (DC 20), causing 1d4 damage for every round it was embedded. Using such an arrow is an act of torture, invoking a 4% Dark Powers check when used against a monster or evil NPC, 7% if used against a stranger or neutral NPC, and an automatic failure if used against a good NPC or friend. The arrowhead can be recovered after the target's death, and can be removed by the firer with no check.
5) Witchbane Codex
When several Halan witches in and around my area were found murdered, I at first suspected the presence of a rogue Tepestani inquisitor. Although there was a man involved who used such a title, he was an Outlander. After his capture (or defiant last stand, in truth), this slim volume was discovered on his person.
It appears to be written in Tepestani, although it contains far more arcane knowledge than the Inquisition would be comfortable committing to paper. Inside, there is detailed information on common practices, rites, beliefs, and identifying traits of witches and infernal cults. After reading it, I found myself revolted by the unnatural lore contained within. Although Tasha has asked to read it, I have sent the book to my friend Kelly, as he has proven more than capable of resisting the temptations of such arcana.
Reading the Witchbane Codex (which takes six hours) immediately costs the reader a point of Wisdom (which can never be recovered) but imbues them with an additional point of Intelligence. While the book is in their possession, they may consult it to gain a +2 on any appropriate skill check (such as Arcana, Religion, Knowledge: Arcana, or Knowledge: Religion). Even lightly reading the book instantly causes the user to make a Sanity check, if those rules are being used, and also causes the loss of Innocence. Completing the book is cause for a 2% Dark Powers check. The user should also be assessed for a 1% Dark Powers check for every month they have the book in their possession. Willingly giving it to another person to read is cause for a 5% Dark Powers check, 10% if they are unaware of the nature of the book, and is an automatic failure if they are an Innocent.
As you can see, the road to Hell can indeed be paved with the most innocuous of cobbles. The wise adventurer would do well to resist such temptations. Too often, what appears to merely offer power or expediency comes at the cost of our very soul. Should you find such a wicked item among your travels, do not hesitate to contact me if you wish assistance in confining or destroying it. Your actions have spoken volumes for your righteousness, and I consider myself
Joram Mournesworth, Lord Mayor of Drifthome
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Keep on the Heathlands. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
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