Monday, August 31, 2020

Devil Fish Freighter - Background Information and Crew Notes

Yet, another ship, this time based on the 1977 Traveller rule set. This is a 400 ton freighter. The Devil Fish is a converted warship. As a warship, it was horrible. It was meant for planetary bombardment, but it lacked the fuel pods shown on this refit. It had just enough fuel for 2 jumps and 2 hours of operations. You could end up trapped in a system you just bombarded. None of these ships saw combat, thankfully. 

This freighter version is outfitted with larger fuel tanks which is slightly more practical. The two long beams are where the missiles used to be. In the refit, these long tubes were simply sealed up. The crew calls them "Industrial Accident Site, Port and Starboard", because they lack the funds to put anything in there. It's a long open chamber, completely devoid of any safety features. There is a brass sign with the names of 5 crew members who have been killed and a longer list of names of people merely injured. 

While creating the files for this ship, I made a typo that made me think of an interesting crew feature.

The current crew likes to gamble and won big at the table. It turns out the other gambler didn't actually have all of the funds to support his bet. In lieu of cash, he had a guy who could get the crew name plates for the ship, matching leather jackets and jumpsuits plus some extra patches, complete with names and logos for the ship.

Unfortunately, the crew thought he was faking an accent but he wasn't. Instead of logos with a manta ray logo and the name "The Devil Fish" they got a green devil's head and the word "Devilish". 

Since the ship is registered as "The Devil Fish", mistakes have been made in the crew's favor. Such as escaping security and not paying for goods loaded on board. The name plates are visible only when the airlocks are closed. They objected at first, but once they realized what was happening, the merely hate these details with a passion. It doesn't stop them from using them to run hustles and scams.  

It's such a strange detail, it sounds like it could actually happen. 

Edited - to add the Military variant, with no tanks. 

#RPGADAY2020 31. Experience


Well, this year's RPGADAY was quite the experience. I got to revisit the forest where my kids and I camped and hiked. I now understand the connection between my love of roller coasters and D&D, and finally wrote down my table rules for magic weapons, in three parts. (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) 

It's been great. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 30. Portal


My first blog was a Myst fan site. Nothing says portal more than Myst. Except for maybe the game ah... Portal, which I have never played. 

Anyway, I was fascinated by MYST, both the games and the books. I bought all the hard covers and read them to my kids. 

One day, my son Paul got into some trouble online. He must have been seven or eight at the time. He jumped on my online account and ordered himself copies of all three Myst novels in softback. We were short on cash, as always and this was kind of a headache. 

At first, I thought it was a computer glitch because they were the same titles I had already ordered in hardcover. While my wife and I talked it over, he happily chimed in that he ordered them on my account. I told him we was welcome to have or read my copies any time he wanted and he didn't need to order new ones. 

He said, "Dad, they're linking books," and held up up soft covers next to the full sized novels. 

My wife was baffled by this statement, so I had to show her this video from the game.  

I can't say she understood, but she at least understood our son was reading. And from that year forward, we struggled to find him enough books to read. He was consuming books almost weekly. Myst was his portal into fantasy and reading. 

When I was a child, I felt the same way when I saw the D&D cartoon. Yet another portal. 

I love both D&D and roller coasters and never made the connection until this prompt. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 29. Ride


I play a mash up of BX and AD&D. Both systems introduced the idea of skills, but other than a vague mention, did not elaborate. In BX and AD&D there was the idea that characters sometimes came from a different background and would have some of the abilities a professional, skilled laborer. Exactly how that worked was unclear. AD&D did have a list of professional hirelings, but didn't give any statistics. Unearthed Arcana brought in a fleshed out version of weapon proficiency and mastery, but didn't spell that out. 

In order to correct that for my campaigns, I wrote a book called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners" which provides over 50 different professional "classes" you can use with characters. 

Obviously, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what characters can and can't do. However, I never meant to create or even utilize campaign specific skills. For example, ride or swim. 

A campaign takes place with in a particular setting and that setting needs to have some default skills. Like ride. All characters know how to do it, just like swimming. Skills should be an enhancement, not a detriment. An ability to do more, not less. Now, if my setting was in space, perhaps characters would not know how to swim or ride ride a horse. That makes sense, but then again, I wouldn't expose the party to a horse ride by a lake because they're astronauts.

But if they are crew of the Firefly, obviously they know how to ride a horse through water while wearing a space suit. Skills like ride should always be an enhancement, something creative and interesting that makes the session "different", while not posing a barrier to play. 

I think where this gets gummed up is when a skill is presented as a "get out of puzzle" event. Yes, skills solve problems but shouldn't ever provide a dice roll to get out of a particular situation. That is "gotcha gaming" and I dislike that style of play. (Click here to listen to my rant against Tomb of Horrors, the ultimate gotcha gaming experience.) 

World building is hard, sometimes you have to give the players a free ride, as dictated by the setting. It only makes sense. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 27. Favour


I love mystery and exploration. It appears in all of my games, no matter the genre. It probably goes back to being a kid and raiding my parent's LP collection. 

I would pour over records and try to guess if it was Mom's or Dad's. If it was show tunes or sound tracks or classic, it was my Dad's. If it was Iron Butterfly or Jefferson Airplane, it was Mom's. 

But one record threw me for a loop. "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" by the Moody Blues. Was it Mom's or Dad's? Why did with have two copies?

It didn't trouble me too much as my parents let me listen to it over and over again. They had a lot of great music which rubbed off on me. 

The song, Procession was a clue, but one I could not decipher until 2001, 30 years after it was released. In August, 2001, my wife and I got married and finally moved into together. Anyway, we moved into a tiny apartment and didn't really didn't step foot outside until January of 2002. 

9-11 happened. I was working non-stop at Mattel, Kitty worked nights at the hospital. A December snow storm shut us up for weeks.  

Dec 2001. This picture was taken from our upstairs apartment. It doesn't look too bad
but the weight of the snow collapsed the porch roof and metal awings trapping us inside. 

My wife and I really got to know each other on a couple of different levels. One of those was through music. 

We both love music and our combined CD collection was over 1,000 discs. There was only one duplicate: Pink Floyd's "The Division Bell". 

This answered the question of who owned "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour". Both Mom and Dad. That was their duplicate CD, in vinyl form. 

While this is supposed to a post about games, I find there is an incredible parallel between "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" and "The Division Bell". A lot of the same ideas run through both of them. Communication, destruction, feedback, discourse, discovery, creation, sharing. 

I've never played both albums back to back, but each favours these ideals. And they mirror my main themes and goals of game play. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 26. Strange


I love the unexpected, so strange is hard coded into to my game play. 

I like to introduce mini-games and new concepts into my campaigns. I have missile fire procedures which are stolen right from Car Wars. I have a system of rules to set up weaponless chases, a la Indiana Jones. And silver is always magical

Do you have any strange things going on in your games? Let me know in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 25. Lever


Not sure where to go with lever, except to give a session update. My kids are playing B2 = Keep on the Borderlands with me. All three of my kids are of the age where they make adult choices for themselves.

This tendency is playing out in the game. They took down the ogre in area E, moved into his cave and started playing house. Other than fix up the cave and spy on the other residents, they didn't want to do anything else.  

The characters are aware of the orcs and kobolds, but haven't discovered that there are two orc lairs. They know about the goblins, but don't know where they are coming from. They can hear their voices from the east and sometimes see them out and about but don't know their cave is connected to the goblin's home. 

Time for a lever. 

I had the orcs from area B attack the goblins. The goblins were overwhelmed and ran to the secret door yelling: " BREE-YARK!" The party was surprised when the door opened and bag of gold was thrown at them. After a moment or two, the party found how to open the secret door and unloaded a bunch of arrows into the orc's backs. The orcs charged them, but the party hid using the secret door and water barrel. When the orcs ran down the long hall, the party hit them again. 

The party retreated back through the secret door, leaving the goblins mystified. They have no idea the party is there and believe the ogre got his hands on a bow. 

The orcs lost 8 of 12 attackers and are thinking of pack it in and joining the second orc group. The characters were able to track them back to Area B and are thinking of attacking them. However, they are a little nervous with the goblins so close at hand. 

That was a nice lever for inaction. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Simple Things - Printing

I love books, but the oldest and the newest stuff is hard to get in print. Invariably, I wander DriveThruRPG ordering stuff left and right. It never ends. Once I read through something, it goes in one two places: into a hard copy or stays in my "Library of (Digital) RPG Titles" on my Kindle. 

Qualitatively, they are different places. One I expect to read again, while the other is something I might want to read by candlelight after the Nuclear Apocalypse. 

Anyway, reading preferences aside, printing books yourself is really dependent on your printer. I have an HP all in one inkjet printer. It's good for most things, most of the time.

In the picture on the left, look how sharp the text is. It's really nice. Perfectly acceptable for reading by nuclear candlelight. Inkjet are very good on plain paper for text. You can see a little blow through because I printed two sided, but it's still very legible. 

What inkjets are not good at are large, color images on plain paper. Things could not be worse. And since I print a lot of my own stuff on plain paper, the result is less than satisfactory. 

Here is a photo of Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games by Timothy S. Brannan. I just love the covers of his books and this one is my favorite. 

And with inkjet on plain paper, it just sucks. Can you say mud? How did it go so wrong? 

It's the paper. 

Check out this next image. It's the same printer and settings, except I used photo paper.  

I'm very happy with this one, the colors are much brighter in real life, but I didn't want to alter the image with different settings to accentuate the colors. Where I went wrong is selecting my favorite cover rather than one that would highlight how good good can be. 

Take a look at this next image from Mr. Brannan's The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition

That 100 times better. We have blues and reds, and stuff in between. I can totally see the how this is different than how it appears on screen, but even using my cheap inkjet printer, the photo paper gives it far more color than plain paper. It's far more satisfying. 

Ah, the simple things. 

#RPGADAY2020 24. Humour

Or #Humor

I love laughing at the game table. However, I try not to force levity on the players. Often, I set up scenarios that are very funny, but almost always require the players to do something to cause it. 

For example, I am a big fan of the antagonist party. Done right, it creates drama and intrigue. Done wrong, it's just like high school.

In one campaign, I had two parties hostile to the party and the players manipulated them into a brawl in a bathhouse. It was hysterical. 

Sometimes, the players themselves are just comedians. As a DM, I gave a druid a magic charm to communicate with animals. The party's thief stole it and started talking to every animal they encountered. That was pretty funny, but then I gave him a talking donkey, so everyone could both sides of the conversation. The thief decided to play it as if he was oblivious to the fact that everyone could understand it. While this seems like a copy of Shrek, years before Shrek was a thing, the thief player behaved more Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy, with the donkey providing lots of bad ideas which would be warped into something more zany. 

Good times. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 23. Edge.


I'm a huge fan of coming up with outrageous scenarios for my players and their characters, but I always try to think of three game changers that the characters could use for a significant edge over their enemy. 

It's kind of laughable, because I'm batting exactly zero when it comes to predicting how the players react and what they will use to get an edge. 

The benefit of thinking about how the main antagonist's plan could fall apart is not putting things on a platter for the players, but being able to react appropriately when it happens. Because he or she isn't the hero and the default winner, the party is. 

In the Avengers film, they nailed Thanos's reactions. He told the heroes that their knees would be weak when they failed. Sure enough, Tony went down when he lost. When Thanos failed, he too sat down, weak-kneed. 

That's good for a movie with an necessary ending, but the party's adventures don't always end with the defeat of the bad guy. Very often my Big Bads are made completely irrelevant by the characters and the mechanism of how that works is often tied to whatever edge they had in the conflict. 

In one campaign, I had the party endlessly antagonized by a ghostly voice that whispered, "Silver is your enemy." The paladin made a very good leap of logic and asked if the voice sounded like their antagonist. I totally mean it to be the voice of their enemy, but the paladin pointed out that those words were only said after whatever ominous threat was given. In his mind, it sounded like a retort. I had meant it to be a tag line, but could those words be spoken by someone other than their enemy? 

Well, after hearing a rather well reasoned argument from the paladin, I decided that it could be someone else speaking. So who's voice was it and what was it talking about? The paladin surmised that his god didn't like his minion threatened, so his god was issuing a threat to their tormentor. 

"Silver is your enemy," did actually refer to many traits the paladin used to define himself. A silver decked horse, a silver sword, a silver symbol. Since their antagonist was extraplanular, silver was an effective defense. 

Originally, I had meant for this extraplanular enemy to have an immunity to silver, at the cost of having a weakness to iron making the party's obvious strengths a weakness. But, once I had the player's input, I dropped that idea. It was going to be a straight up slugfest between the party wielding silver and demonic forces harassing them. 

The demon was supposed to punch through into this dimension, but I flipped that around. The characters would be going to the demon's dimension AND they would possess all of the nasty, dangerous attributes of a demon on the prime material plane while there, with the Silvered Paladin acting as a locus of the power.

The party used that edge to the fullest, dishing out horrific damage on the forces of evil. But then they lost the fight and were dispelled back to the Prime Material Plane, forbidden from entering that dark realm for 999 years. They were startled to be back home, whole and healthy while the demon was horribly weakened and unable to strike at them directly. 

That turned the whole adventure into a detective story, where the party had to figure out who the demon was using to continue it's attack. They managed to neutralize the demon at the cost of all of their levels. I had thought they were going to find away to pursue him home or lure him out, but instead they picked a different edge and tactic. They used their knowledge of the campaign settings as an edge to speed run experience to get back to level. 

That was super fun. 

House Rules - Swords and Life Stealers - "Well, Mike. I calculated the odds and I went ahead and did it anyway..." (Part 3)

To the left is one of my favorite colognes, called Perversion. My other favorite is called Villain. However, at the game table, I hate being called either one of those words. 

I used to be afraid to use level or life draining creatures on my parties, but I got over it with a couple of house rules. By the way, you should probably pick up a copy of Ravenloft if you like sucking the life out of your players.  

The first house rule was on silvered weapons being an equivalent to magic weapons. That goes along ways when fighting the undead horde. Players still go through that whole "I'd be a fool to walk in there..." but at least they know they'll have an effective weapon. However, sometimes that isn't enough to get them to bite. 

I have a trick to life stealing that I unload on players. Life draining creatures live between worlds, their grip on this one is temporary. If the party kills the life draining creature, they get their levels back the next day, no saving throw. This is different than 3.5+ version of saving for recovery, which happens because it's the next day.  

This one is give and take, and I love it. Imagine the look on the player's face when they expect that they're going to get those levels back and end up with this discussion:

"No, you don't."
"Oh, crap. That thing is still alive!"

That one is as stressful as fun. It can really crank up the intensity of the game because now the players have to race back to the monster's lair to kill it before it can heal up. If the creature heals back to 100%, the loss of levels is permanent. Usually, the players have the means to heal themselves up as best they can, but the time limit stops them from padding the party with extras and alts. 

In the case of characters being turned into a life stealer themselves, it gives a brief window where the effect can be broken. Healing back up to full health is necessary immediately afterwards, so while it's fun, it's also a nightmare for the player(s). They get special powers for bit, but at a cost with a threat of death. 

This idea of having a life draining creature exist between two realms also creates the expectation that anything that travels the planes is a life stealer. Devils, demons, etc. all have this power in my campaigns. Usually it's in lieu of a different attack and I use it for drama. The basic criteria in my campaign is that the plane crosser must be immortal. Life stealing githyanki would be way too much, but it does explain their fancy swords. They probably encounter this problem all the time. 

Another quirk of this system is disruption. If a player strikes the life stealer with a weapon or spell that is 100% effective, that creature cannot drain in that round. It is also weakened to the point that non-magical weapons can affect it for the rest of the round. Silver arrows are life savers in this scenario, as are spells. Tick-tick-tick, the clock is running! Make those initiative rolls or beat feet. This makes those Lost Boys style combats incredibly likely and reasonable, which is also very fun. Just make sure you have a good map for the players so they can run in and out of trouble easily. 

I have not used the gimmick from Lord of the Rings where a character is immune due to some sort of basic definition, like being a woman or a hobbit. I'd like to, but that would cause a gender-race race. As funny as that is, the gag would be all used up by the ridiculousness. Play the character you love, not the character with the most mechanical advantages.

(I have a ridiculous gender crossing story here, and let me tell you, it was far less fun to be a participant than documentarian. It was painful because everyone's assumptions made for hard feelings.)  

Since the players are generally aware that if they kill the life stealer they could get their levels back, they go at it like the heroes they are. That is a lot of fun because they walk off extremely battered, but the next day, everything resets.

A lot of this is would not be possible or practical if not for one other thing that I do at the table. I don't always hand out experience at the end of the session. If I did, there would be a problem with ending a session after draining event. The characters would accumulate experience after the drain, then lose it if they get their levels back. That wouldn't be any fun and creates book keeping nightmares. 

I hand out experience at points where there are long pauses in the action, rather than at some real life time measurement. If they characters are waiting out a snow storm, training or researching, they get their experience dump at the same time. It puts the players on an "off topic task" at the table in lieu of boredom. I can tell stories as they do paperwork. 

It also removes the whole concept of "just 10 points way from the next level" occurring via a break from the game where the player is inclined to cheat. I avoid this by throwing out a mini-event for that player or players so they don't feel like they needed to cheat. I'm not inclined to give away the milk for free, but if I can play out a special one off event, I will because that is enjoyable. 

Click here for part one and click here for part two of this series. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

House Rules - Making Swords Magical (Part 2)

Magic swords and other weapons are special in my campaigns. In my last post on magic swords, I wrote about allowing silver weapons to count as magical weapons and limitations I place on true magic swords. 

One of the side effects of allowing silver weapons to count as magically, they can be used to create "character feature permanence". There are a couple of ways of doing this, if the player wants his character to be "that axe wielding fighter". To be that, they always need an axe. Do I force them to be on the look out for magical axes in the future, or do I allow the axe to progress with them?

Seeking a specific weapon is how Fritz Leiber did it with the Gray Mouser. Scalpel and Cat's Paw were merely names that the Mouser tagged various weapons with. They changed, but not really, through out his adventures. Mechanically, they did the same task as the prior weapon, but were in some way better. Or not, Leiber wasn't really clear if the Mouser was breaking or losing normal weapons, or replacing with better.

While I like this methodology, it places an onus on me as the DM to provide special things. I don't like that because it creates the impression that I am screwing a character by the omission of certain items or it seems like I am singling a character out for special rewards. In some cases, the big prize will not be desirable to the party, it's a McGuffin for something else. I can't make someone's prize sword the McGuffin because by definition, the McGuffin exists for a purpose other than what it appears to be. I could, but that's just mean. 

Since I let players use silver or silvered weapons in place of magic weapons, I have a special formula for the pricing of such things. Basically, the character needs to pay the base price of the weapon plus the volume or weight of the silver necessary to make such an item. 

"Volume? Why volume?" Good question. If the weights of items are in gold coins and the price is in the same unit, I get a nice formula for silvered weapons, which are merely plated with silver. A dagger costs 2 gps, and weighs 10 coins, so the price for a silvered dagger is 2 gps, 10 silver pieces. That is one merely covered in silver. 

If the player wants a dagger made entirely out of silver, volume changes to weight. The character pays the base price of the weapon, plus the weight in silver of the manufactured weapon. So, a silver long sword costs 15 gps plus the weight of silver put into it. It weighs the same as 60 gold pieces, so the player must provide 60 gold pieces of silver, or 1200 silver coins. 

This gives me a nice formula for improvement of weapons constructed out of silver. An item can be reforged into a higher bonus weapon by repeating the process, with the only exception being plated weapons. Improving a plated weapon results in a magical copy, leaving a memento of where one has been. 

You might want to hold on to that, in case you drop your nice sword. Just saying. 

Improving a wholly silver alloy weapon merely has a cost and a time to produce. To go from a wholly silver weapon to +1, the cost is the base price of 15 gps plus the cost of the silver needed, which is again 1200 silver coins in the case of the longsword. The extra silver doesn't end up in the weapon, it is simply materials needed for the special task. It's basically a silver drain, which creates interesting scenarios if the characters can't get their hands on silver for some reason. Like they tried to do this with a suit of armor in a small town. This process is costly, but relatively easy to do if players are selling off treasure.

By creating a standardized way of improving weapons, I create item permanency for the players and a tool for magic users to make magic weapon. This is also a coin dump to explain why experience is equal to gold. It has many features.  

(Oh, my wiley players. I will mention that I do use encumbrance for carried items and I have had players request a new weight for their for wholly silver weapons. On paper, gold is almost twice the weight of silver. Since this would be an alloy, I say the weight of the silver weapon is only 80% of a regular one for the purposes of encumbrance. I never let this reduce the cost to make a silver weapon.) 

Anyway, what do you think? 

Click here to go back to part one and click here for part three of this series. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

House Rule - The Magic of Magic Swords (Part 1)

Magic swords are special in my campaigns. In the various rule sets +1 swords are denoted as special, but aren't the first magic weapon the characters get their hands on. These special weapons and tools are found right in the equipment lists. 

Silver daggers, holy water and symbols, wolvesbane and garlic are all magical weapons. So why can't a player purchase a magic sword right from the get-go? 

Because it's annoying and unbalancing for players to get a bonus right of the gate. In my campaigns, I have a system in place to limit the use of magical weapons.

Being a history buff, magical equipment in my campaigns mirrors the idea of Cursus Honorum from ancient Rome. Sulla was an exiled Roman who managed to set himself up as dictator for life. Since his ultimate plan was to step down from power, he set up the Cursus Honorum to prevent other people from making the power grab he did. Basically, he set up a system of term limits, age and rank requirements for every level government. If one wanted to be a Concul, one need to be 42 years of age and must have held the rank of praetor. Every rank on the Curus Honorum had criteria for eligibility. 

Although not intended by Sulla, the Cursus Honorum created a concept of superiority. This came about when people coming up for office were elected to that office in their very first year of eligibility. This was referred to as "in your year". A praetor who was elected in his year put on the airs of being superior by virtue of nailing his election to office the first time he was eligible. He was better than a praetor who was elected later in life. 

Anyway, back to magic swords. In pretty much all versions of D&D actually have this concept baked in. On the to hit tables, characters are sorted by levels and their relative combat effectiveness. Fighters beat clerics who are better than the lowly magic user.The tables prefer actual skill (level) over a magical weapons. Each bracket improves the to hit roll by two. So a 3rd level fighter with a +1 sword is not better than a 4th level fighter with a non-magic sword. The only negative for a higher level fighter with a non-magic sword is the ability to hit magical creatures. 

In an effort to get around this in my campaigns, I count silver weapons as magical, whether or not they impart a bonus or not. In this way, a high level character can hit magical monsters with silver, rather than a magic one. I have to do less adjustments on my monsters and encounters, because I can just follow the to hit table to determine how hard the event will be. 

An additional house rule is, one must have "ranks" necessary to hold a plussed weapon. Anyone can hold silver, but characters must be within a specific band to hold a weapon with a bonus and of a higher band to use it. Sort of like, "in your year". 

Silver  1-3 levels
+1       4-6 levels
+2       7-9 levels
+3      10-12 levels
+4      13-15 levels
+5      16+ levels

I like this schedule as a first level fighter could be given an heirloom +1 sword but can't use it. They don't need to search for a great weapon, they have it. 

At levels 1-3, they can merely carry it. At level 4, they can use it. The sword will refuse to be drawn for low level characters. If the character somehow figures out a way to draw it, it operates in reverse in the hands of the unworthy. It imparts a minus. This simulates a battle of wills between the magic of the sword and the would-be wielder. In the case of an heirloom, the character is fighting the spirit of the former owner(s) for control. It still counts as magical, even if the magic is a detriment to the player. 

This method also creates a game logic to specific tools. Characters, especially fighters, have a mechanical way to assess weapons which is linked to the settings. 

(I have all kinds of wiley player who find ways to get swords out of containers. I'm ready for them.)

Please let me know what you think of the classic +1 sword in the comments below. 

Click here for part two and click here for part three of this series. 

#RPGADAY2020 21-22. Push and Rare

#Push and #Rare

As mentioned in my last couple of posts, I like to push my player's buttons. Not for a rise, but for rare and unique gameplay. 

Yesterday, I posted on Investigate. Basically, the thing that every DM and player needs to do in a new setting. But it never stops. There is always the question of "what makes this tick". Once you have it, you usually end up with the answer to what is rare and what is not, which also answers the question of what pushes boundaries in a game. 

As the DM, usually I'm the one setting boundaries. But in some cases, the players do. Personally, I'm afraid of insects so I made a campaign where the main antagonists were insect like creatures. That set my players on edge. 

Too much. I was able to describe these creatures in such an eerie fashion, the players, by word and action refused to go up against them. I could have pushed, but being uncomfortable with insects myself, I did not. I created a new storyline and we ran with that. 

Ironically, the players hired a new band of heroes to go handle the insect creatures while they explored other avenues. I found that hysterical and of course made those heroes the alternate heroes, that received a more credit than the party. Oh, the burn... and the joy when the party finally found their groove and knocked them low by bringing them back into the action as hirelings and henchmen. 

It's rare that I have to scrap everything, but it happens. 

Speaking of rare, if the party comes up with an idea that makes sense, I will often push it to the limits. Not to steal the party's thunder, but to highlight how rare such a turn of events is. 

In one campaign, the heroes found a series of stone horses. If the characters touched them, they fused with the horse and could control it like a living creature for a price. These stone horses allowed them to travel very quickly and safely. They, of course, got into trouble goading a near by kingdom into attacking their hometown. 

Again, the urge to push came back, as did the urge to use something very rare. I had been hinting that these stone horses were not unique, not all that rare, as their hometown had a collection of wolf statues. The players utterly failed to noticed this until the final moment where the town walls were breached and the citizens were corralled into the temple and cemetery, where hundreds of these wolf statues existed. 

I have lots of figurines and decided to wow the party by stepping out of the theater of the mind and arraying hundreds of opponents on the table. Once they discovered the purpose of the wolf statues, they went wild with glee. And this explained why this one town existed outside of any kingdom, a very rare set of circumstances, indeed. 

That was a rare moment at the table, I don't think I could pull it off again. And I don't think I will try, so that it remains one of those rare push moments that worked. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

#RPGADAY 20. Investigate


The idea of investigation is hard coded into all of my RPG play. People do things for reasons, good or bad. When I have a bunch of people sit at the table, I don't have any idea of what they mean to do. I have to investigate. 

Coffee or Pop? Pop or Soda? Lots of role play or lots of dice? I have no idea at the first meeting. Once I start to feel out the players, investigate them, I then know. 

For this reason, I tend to put a lot of features into my world building. I offer some details but not all. The players, if they are so inclined, can investigate any or all or none of them. 

If I present an evil cleric at the head of an undead army, it is on the players to figure out the best course of action. If they are all hack and slash, investigation is limited to what weapons work best on undead. On the other hand, I have already thought of a goal and reason for this tactic used by cleric. It is equality valid for the players to figure that out, too. 

Role play is investigation, of both the real and imagined. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Video Test Post

 I had one job with this video... make upside up. 

I missed and had to go monkey with youtube's code. Annoying. 

#RPGADAY2020 19. (The Dark) Tower


Tower is easy. 

The Dark Tower, by Milton Bradley. My dad came home with this game and it became a fixture at the dinner table. We'd eat and the game would come out. No one fought over the pieces, because the Tower was the goal of every player.

My Mom, Dad, and sister all played this every chance we got. I wish we had pictures because those were good times. I did a retrospective post on it, since I don't have an actual game to review. 

Game play was easy and it left a great impression on me. While it isn't an RPG, it reminds me of Barbarian Prince by Dwarfstar Games. 

The mechanics were easy. Move a piece on the board and the electronic tower responded. Each turn cost food, some ratio of food to solders. You fought brigands from time to time, got lost or walked into a plague. If you collected up the 3 keys, you could mount an assault on the Tower itself. 

There were some special events, fight a dragon, find a Pegasus, or a magic sword. The sword automatically defeated the dragon, but you lost the sword. A Pegasus would allow you to hop across a single kingdom. Checking in at home gave you more soldiers. 

You could hire a beast, a scout or a healer to offset some bad events. Records were kept with simple cards and a sort of pegboard tally sheet. It was so simple. 

One of the standout features was the artwork. It was weird and cool at the same time. Each image appeared on the side of the tower, lit by an small light bulb. Recently, I was able to figure out that it was done by Bob Popper. There is even a brief interview with him over at In that interview, he imagined the characters or teams going on endless quests. His unique style did that wonderfully. 

I can still hear the win condition music from the game, which is of course linked to the images. 

Tower... the timeless setting. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 18. Meet


Ok, meet, in respect to RPGs. Usually, "Meet" is all about how the party gets to know about each other. There are some classic tropes for meeting: 

"They all met at the tavern." 
"You're all locked in adjacent cells." 
"The lord has called upon you for secret mission." 
"The offer seems intriguing, so you make your way to the table." 

As good as all of those are, that isn't what actually happens. I'm my mind, we do not need to meet the characters. The characters need to meet themselves and show what part they have in the party.

When you meet someone in real life, by virtue of your senses and expectations, you go in with information about someone else. Whether you are right or wrong helps you formulate an opinion and hopefully, a relationship if only limited or transactional. In the theater of the mind, none of that exists (unless a player is an artist and has a picture of their character). 

At the RPG table the party isn't meeting each other so much as themselves. Wherever or how ever they meet, you, the DM need to be a good host and allow the players time to interact. I know it seems like a great time to throw them into the action, but just a few minutes of engaging each other helps the players get to know not only the other characters, but themselves. 

I've had players show up with five page thesis statements on their character. I don't care what you dreamed up over a period of weeks and many drinks. I want to know what you'll do now, with the resources given. "The Templar Knight of our Lady of Death" is not going play real well will singin' dwarves and a boozy cleric. 

As you can imagine from my prior posts, I can't resist hitting the big red reset button. Usually, right from the get go. My intent isn't to disrupt the player's idealization of their characters, it's to stop them from imposing their ideas on each other and whatever story I have dreamed up. 

I do have some stock buttons to push for the players if they start going to far into themselves, vs how they are going in be in the party. A fight from the get go is usually too murderous or too contrived, so I avoid it. 

The whole idea of their first day in a new town, at a bar they should have never seen is loaded with jolts and tricks to make the players describe how their character will function in the party. Nothing makes someone explain themselves more than a deviation from expectation. Think about the following scenarios and what they would do for your character development: 

  • The innkeeper brings you your key and states: "No one has been in your room, as you instructed." (When did I do that?)  
  • A messenger show up with a sword or holy symbol with your name on it, except you can't draw the weapon or touch the symbol. 
  • A cleric bursts in and says, "We didn't bury enough of you to resurrect. Why did you come back?" (Not, "how?", but "why?") 
  • If all of that seems like too much, a death threat from a seemingly overpowered team of competitors might do. 
When you meet, the point isn't to tell other people about your character, it's about showing how your character will act in the group. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 17. Comfort

I feel pretty comfortable running ahead a day. The 17th prompt is #Comfort. 

For me, comfort is drawing. 

The paper is a kid's drawing pad and the pen is from Walmart. I'm going without my glasses, while holding a phone. I wish I had started filming at the beginning. Not optimal, but whatever is? Gaming and play is never optimal until you look back on it. 

The idea came and simple tools made it flow freely from brain to paper with no constraint. It's not perfect, but I like it.  

Finished? No. Completed, yes. 

#RPGADAY 16. Dramatic.



In game play, what can you do build a dramatic scene? If you're my dad, you do the above. 

Not everyone has those resources. What if you are doing purely theater of the mind? What can give your players a sense of tension and drama? 

Here are some of my favorites when playing D&D.

1. Use Morale. Morale is an often ignored mechanic. It usually means someone runs away from danger, not in to danger. But by basic definition, it means someone is confident or not. Perhaps over confident. 

Make your monsters and villains act accordingly. High morale causes cockiness. Let some of your antagonists miscalculate the situation. They start of with no weapons, then pull out the big guns as the players take away some of that spirit. 

Mechanically, as the villains lose hope, you could start putting minuses on their attack rolls before they actually break and run for it.  

2. Force the players to use a caller. A caller is there to help the DM run through a routine set of tasks. By forcing the players to use a caller, it creates the expectation of routines. Everything has a place and an order. As the DM establishes order and the caller implements it, taking it away leaves the players on the edge of their seats. Bypassing the caller by saying, "Ok, Ted. What will you do?" is jarring. It also needs to be reserved for truly dramatic effects.  

The inclination of the DM to impose this sort of chaos is usually a negative thing, but it doesn't have to be. Indiana Jones vs. the Swordsman is a classic example of having the character's routine actions changed in a positive way. Laughter is an expression of intense happiness, just like sweating is to fear. Whatever you do, taking away the established routine of a caller can really elevate people. 

In all cases, it's better to remove a social convention such as the caller than it is change a game mechanic to pump up the drama. 

3. Failure isn't death. There's the old line, "A fate worse than death". Nothing jolts the players so much as moving the goal post. Suddenly, it's not about life and death, but something more upsetting. 

A good example of this is the characters are fighting on the rooftops of a town. The danger of falling or dying is ever present. Imagine how they will react if they realize the reason they are up there is a rouse to get them away from gates as the enemy pours in? What if their long time friend is dragged into a wagon on the street below? That changes the dynamic. Instead of win or die, the situation is about escape or die or pursue or lose a friend. 

4. Abuse the button. The first 3 items throw the players into an elevated state, physical responses are not in tune with reality. No one at the table is ever in danger of being eaten by an orc, but if you get the player in the spirit of things, they will be sweating about an unreal situation. And you can use that to really lay on the dramatic. 

With TV shows and to a lesser extent movies, the biggest dramatic moment is the cliffhanger. Now, if you tried this with a run of the mill combat session the players would be confused. However, you can fake it. When the party sets of for the big brawl, you slam your book closed and announce: 

"Well, this is as good a place to stop as any..." 

This is the exact the same trick the grandfather pulls on Fred Savage in the Princess Bride. And you should play it as such. "Ok, I guess we can play this out. If you don't mind." Don't actually force an ending on the players. But if you abuse that button and it works, you know you've got the party's attention.  

These techniques of abusing the button can be for good or ill. 

If the party is trying to do something quietly, start whispering until the proper wham moment arrives. Then make it a literal wham. You don't need to shout, you can simply go back to a normal voice. 

In an outdoor game session, I pretended to be distracted by the cicadas' buzz. It goes up and down, and starts and stops suddenly. I kept it up all session, forcing the player's awareness of the noise. When cicadas naturally stopped, I leaned forward and said, "All of the forest's sounds stop." Their eyes got really big.  

This is a very strong technique. It needs to be used with care, because if you put the players on the edge of their seats, kicking them too often isn't a good idea. Nor should these moments always lean to the negative. As much as you can shock a group, you're main effort should be engaging the group. 

#RPGADAY2020 15. Frame


I wish New Blogger wasn't so glitchy with positioning pictures alongside text.  Anyway, today is frame and I only have 12 minutes to write this, otherwise it will be tomorrow and that is dramatic. 

Frame, is the border of something. In RPG's the frame is the divider between you, you players and the rules and what happens in the game. If the frame says "fantasy", you get hobbits and dragons and other stuff. If your frame says "sci-fi", it's all bullets, gees and no aliens. 

Wait... no. Yes, that is the wrong definition of "sci-fi", but it is one of many frames. 

In my campaign, the players exist in a damaged world. For the most part, magic has over taken technology, but technology still exists. To a degree, anyway. I have marines and elves living in the same place, thanks to the frame I have developed. It really doesn't matter that I play a mashup BX and AD&D, it can simulate fire arms and technology. 

I find it interesting that as a DM, your frame is portable. My friend Doug had all of us living in Naria for a time. Mark, had a shadow-world campaign, very similar to I.C.E. rules on Middle Earth. What made all of this interesting is, the three of us shared DM duties and our players assumed that our collective campaign was the same place. Mark and Doug disagreed, but I said, "yes, it is." 

The non-DM-ing players took the logical next step. My game allowed for styles that encompassed other two DM's style of play, which made it a transitional frame between Mark and Doug's worlds. They believed in all of us like these were real places and things. 

It was pretty obvious that I enjoyed Mark and Doug's world as much as my own. The way that they personally framed their stories made me not care that I wasn't participating in a world of my choosing. 

Framing is a powerful tool. Better yet, if you can make a DM want to be a player in your framed world, that's an amazing skill. 

So, if you made a DM want to play in your world or there was DM that made you want to play in theirs, you've had some amazing table mates. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 14. Banner


The word banner makes me think of one thing. My wife, Kitty. Er... Meant to say "two things. My wife, Kitty. And Farscape". 

Kitty does not do science fiction. Aside from the first three Star Wars films and The Fifth Element, she hates all science fiction. On the eve of our 19th anniversary, I am thankful that all movie theaters are closed and we have exhausted all mutually enjoyed movies on four different streaming services. There will be zero awkward moments where I stomp into a theater because I wanted to see something cool and my wife made me see something not cool. 

Wait, the prompt was "banner". 

Right. How does banner play into this? And more importantly, what about Farscape? 

Back in 1996, Jennifer and I started dating. She didn't have her "Kitty" nickname yet. Just a few months in, I suggested we see The Fifth Element. She went along for the ride, but as the credits rolled she said, "Aside from Star Wars... and this movie, I hate science fiction." At the start of relationships, I guess you just roll with a lot of crap. 

By the end of 1998, we had seen dozens of movies together. Virtually all of them were not science fiction. I guess a man has got to grow, eh? 

In late '98 or early '99 tragedy struck. One of the trailer was a commercial for Farscape and I said, "That is so cool..." 

My not-yet-wife said, "Ick." She was horribly disappointed to find out it was TV show. Every Friday night on Sci-Fi channel. Kitty would powernap during Farscape before we went out the bars. One evening, she woke up in the middle of the show and said, "This isn't as good as the ones with The Walkers." 

Shocked, I said, "I thought you slept through all of Space Above and Beyond." 

"I wish," was her response. 

Fast forward one wedding and three children later. Kitty and I stopped going to movies. We were as broke as broke could be. Out family budget for entertainment was parks, drives and buying a paperback book that I would read to everyone at bedtime. We barely had cable and the internet was still dial up because we couldn't afford better. 

One day, I picked out The Last Unicorn book at Barnes and Nobles. It was $2.99 on closeout. However, I also spotted a copy of Farscape the Roleplaying Game, also on closeout. At $5.99, it was way over our budget. 

Kitty asked what happened to the show. I said it had been canceled. She nodded and said, "You should get that game". I nodded and we walked out with our closeout copy of The Last Unicorn. 

Any sort of misgivings or bad feeling I had were wiped away when I read the first lines of the book and I could see that my wife and kids were entranced, 

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did
not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow..." 

(Click here for the Almost Ugly, Unicorn Princess Story to see how much of an impact this book made.)

Ok. The scene has been set. The Banner, right? 

Kitty, like her namesake, may disapprove of something, but she never forgets. That Christmas, she bought me the DVD set of Farscape and it came with a copy of The Last Unicorn.  

"Did they ever get that show back on the air?" I explained that they did not. 

"Will there be a movie?" she asked. 

I said that the show went off the air so long ago, that a movie was unlikely. I was very careful not to mention The Peacekeeper War, which was not a part of the boxed set. That would be ungrateful. 

My wife said, "Gee, that's weird. There was that huge campaign on MySpace..." 

"Do you mean Facebook?" I asked, "no one really used MySpace anymore." 

"Oh, no. It was just a little while ago... On MySpace." 

Intrigued, I dug around for my MySpace password. Then I had to dig around for the email address that I used to register so long ago. After about an hour with tech support resurrecting my old email account I reset my password and logged in. 

I'm sorry to say, this has got to be theater of the mind. If you can remember how gaudy MySpace used to be, imagine how it would look if your wife spent weeks, no months, adding animated BANNERS to your page, all of which read: 

"Bring back Farscape!" 

Sometimes, you don't know why someone likes, wants, or believes in something. But you have to wave their banner. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

#RPGADAY2020 13. Rest


Easy prompt. 

There is always a need to rest but not always an opportunity to rest. Everyone needs a break sometimes. 

I have this great post about how I let myself and my players get tired at the table. I'll let you read that. Or I'll suggest that you take a break and read that novel you picked up last year or if you are like me, the three zillion free downloads from DriveThruRPG. 

Me? I'm going to take the day off and reread BSOLO -  The Ghost of Lion Castle. Maybe, I'll map it out like I did Star Smuggler. 

Session Report - Keep on the Borderlands, Strange Game Play

We played outside, until the wind flipped the table and scatter our dice and sheets. 

That's ok. This second session was a building session and since I cleared up the character sheets, I can put names to stats, so to speak. 

Lauren is a human ranger, second level. 
Aleric is a half elven fighter-cleric-magic user. He is the only 1st level character. 
Vandohl or Vandal (spelled two different ways) is the dwarven cleric. 
Belaphon is an elven magic user. 
Solvo is the hobbit thief and the only character injured in the last session. He has 1 hit point left.
Helvani is a human paladin. 

There is an odd PLAYER dynamic happening, I have three players controlling two players each. Ranger is matched to thief, the cleric with the paladin, and C-F-MU with MU. Two people can heal the thief, but no one has offered and it hasn't been asked for. Not sure why. 

So, let's rewind to review session one. The characters got chased off by the kobolds after entering area A. They now know there is a pit trap and at least 8 kobold guards. They knocked two kobolds down to zero hp, but their friends dragged them into their lair. They will heal up. 

Instead of participating with all of the archery, the thief (Solvo) ran into the Ogre's lair. He was struck for 6 points of damage and played dead. The Ogre ran at the party but was driven off by missile fire and spells. When he returned to his lair, Solvo killed him with backstab in the dark. The party dragged the body to their original camp and laid him out like a sleeping camper. In the image below, the red circle is the abandoned campsite, which has the ogre's body and a fire.  

At the start of session 2, the players have posted guards at the entrance to their cave E. They are watching for monsters. They noticed movement above the tree over cave A, marked in orange. These things are too big to be kobolds. They noticed the kobolds seem to appear out the tree, apparently they sneak up there from the entrance. The yellow line is another set of creatures, they are bigger than kobolds but smaller than humans. 

In the morning the party hacked down some branches to sweep out the litter in the cave and promptly discover the treasure. The thief immediately noticed some of the gold pieces are lead. The team formulates a plan. 

Lauren, Belaphon and Helvani will return to the Keep with their found gold pieces and the party's remaining funds for more supplies. 

The according to the map, the keep is about fifty 100 yard squares away. The module says characters can cover 3 squares or 300 yards an hour. I've never bought that one. It's about 3 miles away, they have a map and a ranger. The Keep is 1 to 2 hour away from the Caves, if no mistakes are made. 

While the party is divided, Solvo, Vandal and Aleric discover the magic arrows, the potion and the scroll while cleaning. They debate over the purpose of the gold plated lead coins and count everything else. They take turns cutting firewood with the only hatchet they have.

They have three interesting sightings through out the day. Vandal heard goblin voices from the east. Instead of spotting actual goblins, he spied a mountain lion. Later in the day, Solvo notices three smaller orcs foraging for firewood. They seem to be children and the party retreats deeper into the cave.  

After dinner, the rest of the party returns. They pause at their old camp and notice that an animal has eaten part of the ogre. Mountain Lions. Ick. From there, they make a crazy slow-panicked dash to their new home, with many odd things. 

Back at the Keep, the players were determined to find several dogs. They found two full sized mastiff like dogs and a collie puppy. The mastiffs were used to tow two small wagons. These wagons are children's toys and were lashed to the dogs with two 10 foot poles each. In the wagons were a barrel of water and a large wooden chest packed full of iron rations plus a few implements like shovels, axes and brooms. Each PC was carrying 50' of rope, three wine skins and three waterskins. They have quivers of arrows and slings and an extra pair of bows lashed to their backs. They are dying from the weight. 

They also have 3 books, ink and pens which the ranger bought to write down spells. This sparked a heated conversation with the mage who knew they weren't the right materials. Before leaving, there was a second fight about bankrolling the remaining gold. The weight made the choice easy, but tempers were short.  

It took an hour to get to the keep at a jog, 3 hours to find the dogs and less than an hour to buy all of the rest of the stuff. The return trip was a 4 hour circus, because the dogs aren't draft animals and the alternative was the players leading a dog while pulling a wagon, which left the third PC to keep track of the puppy and items that were dropped. 

The characters all settled in their new hobbit hole. Half the party ate and sacked out immediately. Solvo, Vandal and Alaric straighten up a bit and drew straws for guard duty. Belaphon grumpily pitched in when not pretending to sleep. He spent some time talking about the merits of magic over prayer while examining the found scroll, which is clerical in nature. 

Three times in the night, the guard sighted orcs by the tree and heard both kobolds and goblins. Solvo could swear he heard goblins right in their cave, but could find nothing. 

The players didn't seem interested in experience points, so I didn't award any this time. I have to tabulate the pool, but I think they earned a total 600 from the treasure alone and probably an equal amount as role play and clear thinking awards. By the way, Solvo is up one hit point from natural healing. I'll allow it this time, but he needs magic or rest. 

If you like the character sheets from the image above, you can download them from DriveThruRPG. There are 2 styles, both with 7 stats for AD&D and Unearthed Arcana.  

Character Sheet for AD&D
Character Sheet
Character Sheet for AD&D

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

#RPGADAY 12. Message


What to do with this one? 

Have you utterly sent the wrong message to the players? Have your players misinterpreted a message and decided to play another game? 

As a DM, this is frustrating because usually a message, especially a written message is supposed to be super clear, totally unambiguous. 

My last campaign died of COVID-19. We have no particular plans to start up again. But it was suffering from a horribly ambiguous statement I made. I gave the characters a note which said they were to receive 5,000 pounds silver. I actually wrote it down for them. 

This one was special, I cribbed it from history. I pieced together details from a couple of manuscript and books on the death of William the Conqueror. The oldest son, Richard received all of Normandy and the William Rufus, the middle son received the Throne of England, 

"...while Henry received five thousand pounds in silver, which he hastened to secure, having it carefully weighed out to make certain that none of his appanage was denied him." 
~~Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Peterborough MS)

So Henry ran off to count his money. These documents have a biting edge that amused me and I thought that it would amuse the players to see something like this. 

It did. 

Except for one little thing. As I pieced together several documents to get the flavor right, but forgot the actual message because this often occurs in these historical writings. You have to piece together several to get a good read on the actual message of the author. Clearly, they are taking pot shots at their leadership. They also have pretty low opinions of them, because these families are clearly fighting with each other. 

William the Conqueror left these funds to Henry so he could purchase his own lands... but only left Henry enough silver to purchase about 1500 acres or 2.3 miles. So, Richard got Normandy, William Rufus got all of England and Henry got some silver, which is nothing when compared to what his brother's got. Talk about sending a message! 

Unfortunately, just like the Chronicle above I forgot to name the purpose of the silver, leaving the party with a ridiculous sum on paper. They were to buy or rent a ship with it. Worse, the way I phrased it, the players never actually got their hands on the physical silver, just a letter from the Emperor promising the silver to whoever was reading it. So, the party could show the letter saying they were to have access to 5,000 pounds silver worth of goods and then nothing... For relatively small purchases, no one would take this letter from the party. The party wrote out an IOU from the Emperor's treasury, which is hysterical when you think about it .

And boy, did they use it to the fullest. 

The message of this post is, don't forget the message.