Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Generating Operation and Mission titles!

I love naming the adventures and campaigns I develop. Sometimes, it is fun to generate an adventure name and then work from there. A great example of one of these generators is for the Astonishing  Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, though it works for all D&D/fantasy type games.

Here is a neat little trick for modern/sci-fi mission titles I was told about through the forums I read; It is the Metal Gear Boss name generator!

Roll d% twice on the following table. The resulting mission is titled "Operation <roll 1> <roll 2>". It works better than you'd expect.

Any other good examples?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Feng Shui fight setup generator


  1. Contemporary.
  2. Past.
  3. Ancient.
  4. Future.
  5. Netherworld
  6. Pop-Up.


  1. Protect NPC(s).
  2. Locate NPC(s).
  3. Plant object.
  4. Retrieve object.
  5. Capture site.
  6. Destroy site.
  7. Assasinate NPC(s).
  8. Capture NPC(s).
  9. Guard site.
  10. Roll twice.

Enemy Faction

  1. Ascended.
  2. Eaters of the Lotus.
  3. Guiding Hand.
  4. Jammers.
  5. New Simian Army.
  6. Four Monarchs. Roll 1d4: 1 = Fire, 2 = Ice, 3 = Thunder, 4 = Darkness.


  1. Temple.
  2. Casino.
  3. Laboratory.
  4. Mansion.
  5. Castle.
  6. Restaurant.
  7. Forest/Jungle.
  8. Nightclub.


  1. Car chase!
  2. Bomb!
  3. Ambush!
  4. Outgunned!
  5. Innocent bystanders!
  6. Helpful NPC!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer games! and a brief update on the Purple Coast!

I've always have had a lot of trouble running games over the summer; either I've just wrapped up a long running campaign and I need a bit of a refractory period before the next one, or all my players have disappeared for the summer and no one is around to game.

I've tried a few things to try and over come the summer lull. It is a great opportunity for a new GM to step up and run the new regular game. A couple summers ago, one of my friends took over for the summer and ran a heavily homebrewed version of the Pokemon Tabletop rules. It was a fantastic game and really kept us all playing through the entire summer.

The other strategy we tried was running alternating one-shots or short, 2 to 4 session games. This was a great opportunity for us to try out strong, tiny game ideas. For example, the same woman who ran the Pokemon game ended up running a short Honor and Intrigue game which introduced a lot of my extended group to the Barbarians of the Lemuria system (a personal favorite). This strategy also let me run Dark Heresy for all these 40k neophytes, which was so much fun I had to blog about it.

This summer, I ended up starting a new weekly campaign which has been absolutely wonderful. The weeks running up to GenCon the players were able to cover a lot of ground, leaving us with a great cliff hanger before we all headed out to GenCon.

This coming Sunday my group is picking up deep within the Cloakwood Forest hunting down the lost Manse of a lost, legendary wizard. And a mine the Iron Throne is interested in...acquiring. While also saving Ankylosaur babies from Allosaur assaults!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Roundtable 6: the sliding scale of difficulty

Another month, another GM Roundtable post.

The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. We endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you'd like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you're a blogger who'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Lex Starwalker:

Many of us probably remember the AD&D days when the DM could roll a black dragon on the random encounter table and end a low-level party's career. The 3rd and 4th editions of the game led some newer players to believe that every encounter should be defeatable and appropriate to their level and capabilities. However, 5th edition has moved away from this structure.

We see this mirrored in other games as well. At one end of the spectrum is the style and belief that the PCs should be able to overcome any challenge that comes their way, that challenges should be "appropriate". On the other end of the spectrum is the style and belief that the world should be realistic, that every fight shouldn't be able to be won, and that one of the requisite skills of the game is knowing when to fight and when to run.

Where do you, as a GM, fall on this spectrum, and why? Should the PCs always be able to win?

I'll preface this by blog entry by saying that these days I tend to favor very difficult combat encounters where the precise number of enemies is randomly generated at the moment the encounter starts. I write a brief skeleton of what NPCs are there, and then I give them each a small range of number occurring (e.g. 2 x (# PCs - 1) or 2d4 - 2). I use the following discussion to detail an observed alternative approach to the standard D&D encounter building paradigm. What follows that is kind of an unfocused discussion about 5e. No real conclusions are drawn.

I've generally heard of encounter design spanning the continuum between two end members: purely status quo versus purely tailored. In this situation, purely status quo refers where all encountered are set in stone or played as written and no amount of adjustment is made based on the abilities/level of the party. In contrast, purely tailored refers to where all encounters are specifically designed to be appropriate/"click with" with the abilities/level of the party.

Something I've always wondered about is figuring out how to do both simultaneously.

In my experience, typical encounter guidelines for modern incarnations of D&D try to find a middle ground by presenting advice to tailoring encounter to a difficulty level for the party. So that you can have a tailored hard encounter or a tailored easy encounter. This approaches, however, do not cause the values (e.g. monster stats) to move along with the players. Instead, you substitute new and more obstacles until you've reached some "threshold" deemed appropriate.

An alternative approach to encounter design is championed by Fantasy Craft. Fantasy Craft presents a formula, or series dials, that can be manipulated to provide a possibly "hard" or "easy" encounter regardless of party level or which NPCs are involved. This is also extended to traps. The approach isn't perfect and tends underestimate PC complexity/abilities around level 8 (common for d20 games), but it provides an incredible template and alternative to the received wisdom that is the D&D DMG.

All Fantasy Craft adventures have a Menance, which is a value between 1 and 5 describing the expected deadliness of the adventure. Menace of 1 is trivially easy while a Menace of 5 is expected to kill at least one PC. Given the Menace of the adventure and the average party level, the Threat Level of the adventure can be calculated.

Threat level is where the system really shines as it harnesses the NPC creation system. In FC, NPCs are build by spending XP on abilities, the sum of which is the "bounty" for overcoming that NPC. In addition to named qualities and special attacks, each NPC's Attack, Defense, Competency, Resistance etc are rated from 1 to 10. A typical NPC encountered has between 3 and 5 in each of these categories.

Given a Threat level, there is a lookup-table which converts the rating into an actual numerical bonuses used in die rolls. The system involves so many tables that the recommended way to build NPCs and then get their TL stats is to use an online tool.

There are also presented guidelines regarding the total XP involved in an easy, medium, difficult, etc. encounter. This means that an NPC can be either "easy" or "hard" regardless of the TL. Which is awesome if you don't want to keep inventing new, more difficult NPCs, something which can get logically pulled into oblivion by level based RPG systems.

An ancillary worry to this debate is what to do about killing PCs? My rule of thumb is that if character creation is complicated, character death is rare. This is true of FC, but it provides a neat alternative to solving the issue of killing PCs in non-dramatic fashions. But that is for another post.

While the 5th edition D&D approach is no where near the same as FC, I want to draw attention to something parallels. 5e touts a bounded accuracy system and a series of canonical DC values (10, 15, 20) as its solution to the tension between status quo and tailored. This system attempts to smooth over the differences between PCs and the threats they face. In practice, I've found it works well and my players enjoy it. My encounters can be difficult, but if the players are smart they can figure a way out. It also means that single hits are less likely to destroy individuals, allowing for the possibility of retreat. Something my players actually did recently!

My normal encounter design approach works very well in 5e.

Here are some other blogs participating in the forum.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Preparing the Purple Coast

My current 5th edition D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms and inspired by Narcosa has reached its third season and it is going really well. After two sessions that were partially devoted to character creation, we finally had a full session. Picking up where the group previously left off: leaving Beregost, heading south to Nashkell.

My strategy for making this campaign function is split into three general encounter types: road, town, location. Here is a brief review of these three forms and some notes on the "templates" I've adopted for each.

I've made up a random table of possible road encounters with descriptions of people along with their associated hooks. It has been a fun idea generating tool and I've continued to appreciate a "useful at the table" random table. After I've used up my current encounter list, I'll post it here. Don't want any of my players seeing what remains in-store for them.

For the main two towns, Beregost and Nashkell, I've written up a few key business names, people/homes, hooks for previous and new encounter types, and a few notes about how the Adventure League factions might be involved with local politics/current events.

I've implemented location based encounters as approximately single page, both sides. These notes include anything from maps, NPCs, descriptions, monsters w/ page numbers, random tables, and other necessary information. I also name all adventures with a (randomly generated) pulp title.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

New 5e game! "Purple Mists on the Sword Coast"

Last week marked the second session of my new 5th edition D&D game. I'm GMing for 5 players. The game is set in the Forgotten Realms along the Sword Coast. The setup for the game is that the players are travelling south along the Coast Way and are delivering mining supplies to Nashkell for the Iron Throne. At the same time, the characters are hearing rumors about strange goings on along the Coast Way. Strange things about lightning storms, purple/grey fog rolling off the coast, and rivers turning to ooze.

Just a few of the books I keep on hand mid-game.

I'm ripping off everything this game. Baldur's Gate and Narcosa are my primary inspirations. I've even give the player's Volo's Map of the Sword Coast that game with the video game. After buying it off of Volo himself! I've also sprinkled all the factions from the Adventure's League/Lost Mines of Phandelvar into the game. Before the characters had even met, I also gave them all a unique rumor about the strange goings on along the Sword Coast. Something like a name and location, or something about possible adventure. These are all secret, even from me. The final two finishing touches are the 2e Sword Coast map on the wall and the GM screen from Murder in Baldur's Gate

I'm trying to use a lot of my own advice in this game. I'm giving them maps. I've written out a few random encounter tables to spice things up between landmarks. I'm using the Sword Coast map as a template for a pointcrawl style encounter map. I've prepared a few adventures, one has a traditional map but includes a puzzle and the other uses a pointcrawl structure to represent an underground network. I'm throwing everything at them and I feel surprisingly prepared.

My setup behind the screen. Mini TWGS with 5e inserts.

The five characters are a very cool mix of races, classes, and backgrounds. I'm very excited to see them explore and experience the Weird Coast.
  • Jilany, fighter (towards eldritch knight), human, folk hero, NG, naive like Kimmy Schmidt.
  • Oliver, monk (towards ninja), tiefling, urchin, pet mouse named "Mighty," LG/N.
  • Verna, bard, halfling, charlatan, always looking for a new con, CG.
  • Sister Temperance, cleric of Thalos, tiefling, acolyte, chaotic.
  • Stuffworthington the Fourth, "Stuffy" for short, paladin, dragonborn, noble born, CG. Megan says he is based on Stuffy from Doc McStuffins.
  • MaKlodar, warlock (archfey), half-elf, actor, fucked up crazy CE.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Roundtable #5: GMing Weakness

Another month, another GM Roundtable post.

The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. We endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you'd like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you're a blogger who'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Marc Plourde:

There are many different skills that come together to make up a GM. The ability to think on the fly, knowledge of the rules, plotting, etc. What skill do you think is your weakest? What have you done to try and improve that skill? What advice do you have to offer others trying to improve that skill set?

I will start off my response to these questions by saying that I've been racking my brain trying to figure out exactly what my GMing skills are in the first place, let alone which ones I'm weak at. GMing is the intersection between improvisation, story telling, description, and referee/arbiter. These categories can then be unpacked into a myriad of subtopics (e.g. improvisation of names and/or dialogue).

I guess my biggest flaw as a GM is that I have a limited range when it comes to campaign, story, or adventure "types." I always tend to run grim campaigns, punctuated by fun, which revolve around players "following" a series of encounters. These tend to be fantasy or action games. I do not/have not run straight horror (e.g. Call of Cthullu), never touched a White Wolf game, and I've never run a "story game." Though I've played in a variety of games, I tend to GM only a narrow range of structure.

The major reason for this style stagnation is that I tend to avoid games or styles that I've never experienced before. This tends to exclude a lot of games from being considered. I think part of this is GMing preference; I've spent a lot of time figuring out my GMing role/duties for principally D&D-like RPGs, so games that really mess with the PC-GM relationship can be hard for me to wrap my head around completely. This leaves me only considering more traditional games like D&D-likes, Feng Shui, Dark Heresy, WFRP, etc.

I've tried to break this habit many times. I own and have read a few "story games," but I tend to worry that I won't be able to capture that games "experience" correctly. Which is a fairly absurd statement to make, as I consider all RPG experiences where everyone had fun are "correct." My standard reason for not playing the game is that "I want to play in a game first and see how someone else runs it." I've found this a lot harder than expected as it tends to be that if you've found a system you want to play, 9 times out of 10 you'll be the one who has to run it.

I should probably consider reading blogs and articles that deal specifically with how to run these types of games. Topics similar to describing the nature of prep, rules specific considerations for spotlight sharing, example GM table notes, and set-up/experience buy-ins. These are my biggest concerns as they represent the basic design constraints inherent in my games.

Maybe this should be my project for the next month+. Pick a more avant garde RPG, read the rules, read some advice articles/blog entries, and run a one-shot. I'm considering Primetime Adventures as I got my Kickstarter copy a few weeks ago, though I'd be open to more suggestions if people have them.

Here are some other blogs participating in the forum.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A second encounter

A while ago the D&D Adventurer's League ran a contest for new writers. I did the excercise but never submitted my encounters. I figured I'd at least share my notes. They might not be that clear, but hopefully they provide a cool look into how I think about encounter design. This encounter is primarily based on experiences I had while on vacation in southern Italy. Here is the second of two.

Viterome's Potions and Poisons

The shop is nestled between the desert dunes on a solid rock platform. A few small wind eroded spires and crags rise from the rock. The shop abuts the crags, partially carved directly into the stone and partially built out of stone bricks and old, weathered wood. Two short flagpoles stand next to the entrance. Small, purple triangular flags hang lifeless from the poles. Two skeleton guards, spears in hand, stand motionless in front of the entrance.

Inside, a very old manticore lounges on a large red daybed with various gold, blue, and other colored pillows. It sits like a cat upon the bed, its bat wings folded, and its scorpion tail wrapped around itself. The stinger sits menacingly next to its massive front paws, gently swaying back and forth. Its multiple sets of razor sharp teeth glint obviously in the candle light. Grey tufts of fur are peppered through its otherwise red mane.

When a potential client walks in, the manticore will lazily open its eyes and introduce itself as Viterome.

The back of the shop, partially covered by an opulent screen, is a small alchemical laboratory and shelves of various potions, oils, unguents, powders, solves, and all other manner of valuable wares. Three skeletons move around, tending to experiments and rearranging goods. These skeletons will also present the various goods offered for sale.

Standing next to the day bed is a skeleton holding a medium sized cage with a few rats inside. At his leisure, Viterome will occationally open the cage, take out a rat, and with a great flourish toss it into the air and catch it in his terrible mouth.

Two other skeletons stand to the left and right of Viterome's day bed, spears in hand, prepared to defend their master.

Negotiation is an important aspect of dealing with Viterome. To average customers, he presents a very standard yet heavily marked up product list. If the customer is able to impress or haggle with Viterome, he will present an additional list of rare and potentially illegal potions, unguents, poisons, and more. Additionally, his reaction to the PCs has major effects on price.

Negotiating with Viterome. Default check is Persuasion (Charisma), but player creativity should not be ignored. - DC 5: price x2, no special list. - DC 10: price x1.5, no special list. - DC 15: price x0, special list (no discount). - DC 20: price x0.5, special list (no discount).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Encounter at la Cattolica

A while ago the D&D Adventurer's League ran a contest for new writers. I did the excercise but never submitted my encounters. I figured I'd at least share my notes. They might not be that clear, but hopefully they provide a cool look into how I think about encounter design. This encounter is primarily based on experiences I had while on vacation in southern Italy. Here is the first of two.

la Cattolica

La Cattolica di Stilo, my major inspiration for this encounter.

A ruined temple is perched on a ridge that looks over a fishing village and the sea. The temple dates from when the sea level was much higher, reaching almost to the temple itself. It is one of several ruins that dot the hills along the coast. The temple is in a traditional cross-in-square design dividing the temple into nine bays. There is one entrance to the temple which faces the road to the west. There is a narrow ground level window on both the north and east sides. Three small windows face to the south, looking towards the fishing village. A dome covers each of the corner bays as well as the central bay. The walls are made of light brown-red bricks with white mortaring and is approximately 30ft per side.

Age and lack of repair has caused the temple is be partially collapsed: one of the bays has completely collapsed with rubble covering the ground and another bay is missing its dome. The four columns at the intersection of the different bays still stand strong. (Note: columns provide 1/2 cover).

Standing on a small raised platform in the middle of the central bay is a bronze statue of a human, approximately 7 feet tall. It is missing one of its arms.

Riace bronzes, my inspiration for the statue.

An overgrown path runs from the temple to a nearby road that cuts through the hills between the fishing village and another village specializing in olives. There is a clumsy spiked pit trap (passive Perception (Wisdom) DC 10) hidden on the path leading to the temple. Visible from a distance (Perception (Wisdom) DC 15) is a thin plume of smoke rising from both next to and from within the temple.

A group of orcs have set up camp in the ruins. Four orcs are sitting around a small camp fire, cleaning their weapons or cooking food. They are only passively keeping watch. While they are not actively looking for a fight, they will attack anything they perceive as a threat while calling for the group in the temple.

Inside the temple are 2 more orcs accompanying an Eye of Gruumsh. The original shrine in the temple has been converted to one of Gruumsh. A captured, unconscious elven noble is held prisoner by the Eye of Gruumsh.

If the temple is searched, a successful Perception (Wisdom) DC 10 reveals the broken arm of the statue in the rubble of the missing bay. It is holding a spear. Reattaching the arm to the statue causes a secret switch in the statue to be activated, causing a series of mechanical grinding noises. Slowly, one of the flag stone moves to the side revealing a secret passageway wide enough to fit a human. To find the secret door without the aid of the statue is a DC 20 Perception (Wisdom) check.

Monday, April 6, 2015

PCs and the killing there of

So recently I started participating in the GM Roundtable of Doom blog ring/discussion. In it, a bunch of blogs all post about the same topic around the same time in order to understand the breadth of experiences people have had and new ideas on how to better run your own games.

The Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. We endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you’d like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you’re a blogger who’d like to participate in the Game Master’s Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Lex Starwalker.

There is a wide spectrum of lethality in RPGs, and there are GMs who fall on every possible point within it. These range from GMs who run campaigns where PCs can never die to the other extreme—GMs who delight in killing PCs. Where do you fall on this spectrum? How lethal are your games and
why? How do you handle PC death if and when it happens?

Over the years, my games have grown a reputation of being deadly, grim, and taking place in be-shitten worlds. And for the most part, I'm inclined to agree with this.

I'll just go back as far as mid-way through undergrad, so about 7 years ago. I was running an episodic Iron Kingdoms game where the players were undergoing a perilous quest to save the world from some existential threat. The catch being that they all had to sacrifice themselves in order to truly imprison the horror for another long period of time. The campaign wasn't deadly but instead created a very dark and grim attitude where death was inevitable. I consider that campaign my first major foray into my current style.

Subsequent campaigns have slowly ratcheted up the deadliness. I remember that I started almost gleefully killing PCs in my RAW tactical minis/rogue-like Fantasy Craft game, Myths and Legends: the story of the Pimps at Sea. It was a really glorious campaign, where player death created the roleplaying tensions mid-combat. The players were heroes fighting against almost impossible odds in order to shape the world to their liking. They raised armies, united the races in a region under a single confederacy, became pirate kings, and invaded and conquered another sovereign state with an army of brass automatons, pirates, and orcs!

One of the many ridiculous battles from Myths and Legends: the story of the Pimps at Sea

Effectively, the true possibility of death made the players always feel like they were earning their victories. This worked particularity well in a system like Fantasy Craft because it is rules heavy with an emphasis on multiple kinds of damage and resistances interacting together with the PC's large set of abilities. I don't really play this style of rules system any more, but I would really enjoy bringing this larger than life experience back to the table. Possibly with Barbarians of Lemuria/Heroes of Hellas.

Another over the top battle up the steps of the enemy capital (Myths and Legends).

Henchmen are my secret for increasing the lethality of the campaign without ever killing the PCs. I like to make up weird and silly henchmen, give them personalities, make them fun for the players to interact with. Then I kill the henchmen. Brutally and mercilessly . And I describe it. This way death is always real and lurking around the corner. No PC may actually need to die, but beings they knew and cared about did and they felt it. One of the best examples recently was in Planeatary Express when I killed the PCs' employer Balial. I was hearing grief about it from my players for weeks! It was awesome.

In terms of dealing with actual character death in a game, I like to make sure there is an "in world" plausible reason for adventures/scoundrels/couriers/etc. to exist. I attribute a lot of the success of my Planeatary Express campaign to that. The PCs had jobs that required that they were adventurers.

Similarity, one of my most lethal campaigns Dungeonship the premise was that the players were all people traveling to a new colony across the sea in order to strike it rich/escape something/see the new land. New adventurers were constantly arriving from the home country and the main town was set up with an Adventurer's Guild and all the basic adventuring needs. This helped with introducing new PCs on the fly. For example, the new character might already be in the dungeon or is new in the tavern 'cause they just arrived off the boat. This also meant that it was really easy to hire henchmen.

Here's a list of other blogs in the GM Round table

Friday, April 3, 2015

Wrapping up campaigns

Planeatary Express recently wrapped up. The campaign lasted approximately one and a half years in real time, however we only met rarely for the last 6 months. The campaign had an episodic delivery service structure, where the players served as employees from the Planeatary Express courier company.

The adventures varied greatly, with the players visiting almost every Outer Plane or its corresponding Gate Town. It was a great voyage that tended to veer towards the silly or over the top, though with some amazingly powerful emotional turns surrounding the owner or Planeatary Express Balial and the mad scientist/murderer Valran. I consider it one of my more successful campaigns.

The last Planescape session. Notice the Acheron poster!

It is always strange to end a campaign. A lot of emotions and desires build up, and as a GM you're trying to deliver the perfect closing experience. It just comes up so rarely because most campaigns tend to die by about the third session.

I've been lucky and been able to successfully begin and end multiple campaign. A simple strategy I've used to get experience accomplishing a complete campaign is designing campaigns with limited life spans. For example, I would only run 10 week campaigns. This was exactly the length of a quarter at my undergrad university.

Because I tend to design episodic campaigns, I initially struggled with figuring out a satisfactory way of providing a satisfactory ending. What tends to end up happening is that I create a negotiation scenario with the PCs. Try and figure out something that bothered them about the world or their previous adventures that they wouldn't mind going deeper in to. Most of the time I can intuit what this is, but some times I have to ask the players to go along with me in order to actually end the campaign. The latter of these has really only happened when the campaigns had to end because I was moving countries.

Do you, reader, have any ideas about how to best end a campaign?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom: Evolution of GMing style

I'm taking a stab at the Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom. I'm not completely in the "circle" yet but my friend Darcy suggested I give it a shot.
The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. Every GM has his or her favorite system, but in these articles we endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.
If you are a blogger, and you'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at and supply the URL of your blog.
This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Scott Robinson, who asks, "How has your gaming and/or GMing changed over time?"

To start off, let's cover my general gaming background. I feel that the games you've played in really impact both what you like to play in and what you like to run. Most of the PCing experiences were one-shots.
Timeline based on first appearance. It isn't the most impressive list, but it is mine. Also included is if I've ever PC'd or GM'd that game.
  • Advanced Fighting Fantasy (PC)
  • BECMI/Red Box (PC/GM)
  • 3.X (PC/GM)
    • Iron Heroes (GM)
    • Iron Kingdoms (GM)
  • Feng Shui (GM)
  • Fantasy Craft (GM)
  • Lif's Children (friend's super "story"-style game; history, secrets, desires, fears, and trust type mechanics) (PC)
  • Dark Heresy (PC/GM)
  • Call of Cthulhu (PC)
  • Rogue Trader (PC)
  • Dark Dungeons (GM)
  • Star Wars Roleplaying 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded (GM)
  • Labyrinth Lord w/ advanced companion (GM)
  • Mountain Witch (PC)
  • Dungeon World (PC)
  • Pokemon Tabletop Roleplaying (PC)
  • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (GM)
    • Planescape
  • Numenera (PC)
  • Honor and Intrigue (PC)
  • Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (GM)
  • Dark Heresy 2nd Edition (PC)
  • The Strange (PC)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess (GM)
Changes: how would I characterize how my GMing style has changed over time? Here are 5 general ways I can tell where I've experienced the most change.
  1. Structure: The way I brainstorm and plan my campaigns has gone through a lot of different phases. Early games were mostly built around a simple map and a missing or totally linear storyline that would be completely destroyed by my high school buddies. Then, I switched to concept campaigns that were really focused on producing a specific experience. This was part of my Fantasy Craft phase which involved rather constrained worlds. The story and roleplaying moments took place in the heat of combat or during the "cut-scenes" between different adventure options. The current phase is geared more towards sandbox-like games. Using a more pointcrawl/abstract approach to maps, I set up a bunch of 1 page adventures that are distributed in space. This way the players have a lot of options, but I'm always prepared while not having to describe every hex.
  2. Rules: From the beginning I've always taken a mixed approach to the rules. Early on, the rules were more an interpretation of what was written down rather than what was actually written down. Over time, the raw rules became more and more important. This culminated with my Fantasy Craft campaigns, which were as RAW as possible with full on 3-D battle mats. After that, I've kept that general attitude though I've shifted to almost only running lighter rules systems which is reflected in my use of OSR systems. This way I actually use the rules, but there are so few rules that I don't have to ignore any of them. It is wonderful.
  3. Tone: With each subsequent campaign, one thing has really started to take root and become the norm. In the beginning, my campaigns were obviously derivative. Slowly, I started trying to branch out. Now, in general, my campaigns are dark in tone but still lighthearted. This means that the world is terrible and beshitten and the PCs aren't going to be able to change that. Instead, they try to improve their personal position while telling a lot of jokes and having fun despite the horror of their surroundings.
  4. System choice: As time has gone on, I've become more into changing systems with every game. This means that there isn't a standard system. I used to play only 3.X/OGL derivatives. This was partially because it was the only books I owned and because it made it very easy to find people to play with (a common story). With more and more time, I've just wanted to try more and more systems. System choice is a really important part of preparing for a new game.
  5. Scene: In the beginning of my GMing tenure I started by planning whole campaigns with multi-adventure arcs. Now, I don't do that anymore. At all. Now, I just write a series of potential scenes or interacting parties. While at the table, I just riff off of these notes to try and get the PCs from scene to scene. I also like to bring a lot of random tables to the table. It makes the while thing more fun for me as the game is still a "game" for me. This also works very well with the pointcrawl/abstract style of sandbox design; each of the points is a written up scene or set of interacting NPCs. Hopefully I'll show some examples of this soon.
What do you all thing?
Here are some other blogs participating in the GM roundtable:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Musings on future campaign ideas

As probably many of you do, I love to contemplate potential future campaign/one-shot set ups. Currently, I'm mulling about four different ideas. Two of which I've already made enough notes to run the first few sessions of. Here are the four different ones with their short elevator pitches.

Blacksand!: My tribute to 80's British RPGs. Drawing on having Advanced Fighting Fantasy being my first experience with RPGs, the game is set in Blacksand, the Pirate City. However, instead of Blacksand being in the AFF world, it is actually in the Wasteland/Boarder Princes/Old World from the Warhammer Fantasy IP. Uses Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition rules set.

Map of Port Blacksand. I've a large, laminated copy.

Purple Mists on the Sword Coast: Another concept/tribute campaign, this time to weird fantasy. This is a hybrid game between "standard D&D" and Narcosa. Set in the Forgotten Realms (Baldur's Gate specifically) using the 5th edition D&D rules. The Forgotten Realms and Narcosa planes are merging and the region is changing dramatically as Narcosan incursions start disrupting everything.

Blood on the Sand under a Dark Sun: Working title. Greek myth infused Dark Sun. Set in the city of Balic and using the Barbarians of Lemuria/Heroes of Hellas rules system. Slave armies, ship-to-ship battles on the silt sea (with maybe a Giant showing up), surviving the desert journeys. Really trying to capture that grim action adventure tone of Dark Sun.

Untitled Project #8: Love letter to the mega-dungeon. PCs were captured by an ancient monstrous dragon trying to steal from its treasure. Instead of eating them immediately, the dragon has stuck them deep within its labyrinth/cave network of secrets, traps, and danger. The players can go free if they can survive long enough to find their way out. No finished thoughts on system yet, but the imagery will draw heavily of Piranesi's Carceri series.

7th of 16 plates

What campaigns have you been planning?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Comments on Shadows over Bogenhafen (Enemy Within pt2)

Continuing with the Enemy Within theme, I am going to discuss part two of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Shadows Over Bogenhafen by Graeme Davis, Jim Bambra, and Phil Gallagher. This adventure takes place entirely within a city.

The adventure starts with an extended opener where the players explore a fair. Eventually, a mutant escapes and runs into the sewers. The PCs are made to chase down the mutant and on the way they run into some unexpected demonic activity. From there, the adventure changes format from fairly linear/forced to an open cityscape. There is a large, labeled map of all the possibly important sites for the adventure.

The adventure details Bogenhafen in much greater detail than the how Altdorf was described in Mistaken Identity. Additionally, I feel the adventure actually takes advantage how well described the city is. The different labeled locations are spread widely about, which helps building city atmosphere while also providing ample opportunity for the many non-location based encounters surrounding the strange Chaos cult.

This turns out to allows for a really fun and interesting structure used in this adventure for keeping the "plot" going. There is a long list of timed or possible encounters to keep the players interested in the actual mystery at hand. I really enjoy this as a way of allowing for non-static location-tied hooks/encounters to be integrated with the easier to run location-based adventures. These essentially fill in the space normally occupied by random combat encounters.

One of the best parts inspiration-wise from this adventure was the total number of labeled map parts. Following a similar execution approach as an earlier Dark Heresy game I ran, this is a great example of how to set up a much more extended investigation game.

This strategy for running an adventure is akin to an adventure video game or well labeled sandbox game. Essentially, the PCs know everywhere they might want to go but they don't necessarily begin with any reason why. This is totally how I'm running the basic structure of my next game. It is very similar, ultimately, to the pointcrawl approach that is best represented by the Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

A final cute touch at the end of the module is the extended section on what to do if the players fail to stop the cults activities and Bogenhafen gets destroyed.

Here's another pretty picture from the module.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My reject LotFP item

Donvel leipertand

This item is a tooth. It is a dull grey human- or bear-like molar covered in fine black indecipherable scroll work. When the scroll work is observed by a hallucinating person it appears to be a mass of ever moving and dilating squiggles that appear to crawl from the tooth onto anything touching it.

To attempt to harness the power of the tooth it must be inserted into the bloody socket of a freshly extracted molar (upper or lower). When first inserted, the user must make a save versus poison (at -2) or suddenly start rotting dramatically as their gums start melting, their facial skin starts drooping slightly, and their tongue begins to putrefy. Once inserted, the tooth cannot be removed until the bearer dies.

Every week with the tooth in place, the bearer must make a save versus poison. On failure, the bearer takes 2d4+1 damage and continue to rots and decays as above with the corrupting influence growing outward from the tooth. On success, half damage and the corruption is less obvious/extensive.

If the bearer has failed 5 saves and is not yet dead, they melt and transforms into a boneless blob of flesh. They loose all class levels, XP, and abilities. The blob is a large lumpy mass the color of the bearers flesh. They loose all features except for a large weeping eye. The blob is able to move around by is all but unable to interact with its environment. The life of the blob is one of pure misery.

If the bearer has succeeded at 5 saves and is not yet dead, they transform into a demon from the outer realms. Their eyes are replaced by obsidian spheres, their hands turn to claws (1d8 natural attack, counts as magic), their skin thickens and hardens (+2 AC), and they grow large horns from their head. Their skin is now a shell surrounding pure void space. They no longer take wounds in the same way, and instead all damage manifests as cracks in their surface.

When the tooth is inserted, the bearer gains a couple powers. First, they can speak in the form of pure darkness which scars and destroys humanoid flesh. All humanoids that can hear the bearer's voice must make a save versus breath weapon. On a failed save, listeners must take 2d4+2 damage as their skin is almost evaporates from their body. On a successful save listeners take half damage.

Second, the bearer can corrupt humanoid flesh via touch. Once per week, when the bearer touches a humanoid the target must make save versus spell or suffer a permanent mutation. Use the following table to randomly generate the mutation or as inspiration.
1d8 Mutation
1 Eyes melt and are replaced with compound insect eyes.
2 Skin begins to sag, turns putrid green, and emits a horrible smell.
3 Left or right hand transforms into a crab claw.
4 Leg becomes tentacle. Can still support weight.
5 Large but weak month's wings grow out of their back.
6 Target losses all their hair. Their head grows a smattering of black scales.
7 Teeth fall out and entire mouth replaced by a flat beak.
8 Hands turn black, develop thick leathery skin with webbed fingers.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Enemy Within (WFRP) module commentary

A few months ago I picked up a copy of the first two chapters in the Enemy Within module series for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition. My copy is the 1988 hardback combining the two adventures that I picked off of Ebay.

While I haven't run either of these adventures, my plan was to provide a few comments and design ideas I realized while reading through them. First, The Enemy Within.
I love the layout of the WFRP 1st modules. The module is broken into
  • GM advice and travel information
  • History
  • Political structure
  • Religion
  • Geography
  • Military
  • Dress/Herbs
  • Adventure
  • Mutants
  • Calendar
All in 56 pages! And it even comes with 6 pre-gen characters and 7 handouts (my favorite).

Cover of the Enemy Within! So gorgeous!

The adventure (PCs are mistaken for someone and tracked by bounty hunter) is rather lackluster as a "main plot". I would much rather use something like this as the "B Plot" that crops up time to time and makes the PCs lives more complicated. A lot of this adventure requires the PCs not being able to catch the bounty hunter or some degree of distraction to make it really work (the PCs aren't supposed to figure out why the bounty hunter is hunting the mistaken identity).

It is, though, a great example of a how to run that kind of sub-plot. I've had a hard time pulling off multiple story lines with different weights simultaneously. What is happening in Planescape right now is that there are essentially two main goals: find the receptacle of modron knowledge and destroy the Ring of Lot-Var, both in the Mines of Marseillan on Acheron. Though the ring will need to be recovered from a different plane first.

The emotional weight of both these plots are approximately equal. This adventure provides an example of how to write a low emotional investment adventure that can act as a great way of annoying the PCs during an important moment. For example, the PCs might be trying to sneak in to some temple when suddenly hired arms attack them for some completely unknown reason. Or the bounty hunter has some kind of trap set up from them in their rooms at the inn when they really need a long rest. This might even be a great way of including some amount of faction or political group intrigue without getting in the way of the main story or thing of interest.

This is something I'm going to try and include in a future game.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Brief forays into the grim darkness of the 41st millenium

Recently, we played two sessions of Dark Heresy 1st edition. One adventure was a mystery scenario, and the other was an investigate scenario. The first adventure only had two players plus me as GM, and the second had 3 plus me as GM.
I've played Dark Heresy a few times back when I lived in Australia 3-4 years ago. It was really nice breaking out the book again. The players loved the incredible amount of art present in the book along with the general feel. Dark Heresy is extremely effective at producing genre feel. All players, for the most part, know what is going on.

Reading a 40k description aloud.

I started both sessions with reading the 3-4 paragraph universe description present in the main book. It is a great bit of fluff/text that with every word the players are brought one more step deeper into the universe. I found doing this really helped with creating the mood. I also spent a lot of time at the beginning of the adventure describing the different locations and travel, though this shifted into more standard descriptions as soon as the actual "adventure" started.
The mystery adventure worked a lot better than the investigation. The former involved a lot of player choice in a small freedom zone while the later felt very linear in player action. I found the success in the mystery adventure came from using a map.
When the players arrived in the section of interest in the Hive, I gave the group a map with all the locations of potential interest labeled. This meant that the players could go anywhere that mattered right away and I could always be prepared. This also meant that the breadcrumbs were inherently non-linear, meaning a clue might not have meant anything until multiple encounters later. And not by design! This is totally something I'm using again.
When I ran a more tactical game, I know I made huge maps so that the players were essentially doing a round by round dungeon crawl, fighting all of it simultaneously. It sped a lot up. It also coincided to when I started just giving the players the "to-hit" values of all enemies, something I've kept doing for 5 years now.
Have you ever just given the adventure map to the players at the start of the active adventuring period?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Random tables and brief comments

My favorite thing to do as a GM is bring out one of the crazy random tables that I've found on the internet or in one of my books to resolve a situation. This is most frequently done for things like damage, insanities, mutations, and similar. However, there is nothing like bringing up a random petty loot or a drug effect table. It tends to be what gets talked about for the longest.

Dark Heresy was my introduction to critical hit tables actually being used in a session. I'd read about them before, but hadn't experienced that yet. The tables sorted by weapon type and body part combined with the exploding damage produced an amazingly destructive but also extremely entertaining experience. Of course, this was really made possible by the Fate points which allowed the players to not get completely screwed over by dying.

I recently got a hold of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st edition GM screen plus 2 booklets, one of which is just critical hits. The earlier, raw-er tables are a real joy to check out. They also provide a nice alternative or supplement to the Dungeon Crawl Classics critical hit tables.

One of the most best blog posts I've read was a short review of a bunch of books of random tables on the Gnome Stew blog. Here is a series of brief commentaries on a bunch books of random tables I've picked up over the years. There is a wide range in quality and of styles in this variety of books.

The Dungeon Dozen: This book and the accompanying blog are great sources of weird inspiration for how to randomly deal with strange situations. While I really enjoy reading these tables, I've not found them very useful at the actual table, making it a very GM's side as opposed to PC side experience.

d30 Sandbox Companion: Great tool for providing set ups or surfaces to riff off of. Big fan. Hard to use at the table.

1e Oriental Adventures: One of the coolest parts of this book is the method for generating a series of yearly and monthly events. Great fodder for a longer running sandbox like game. Impossible to use at the table.

Renegade Crowns: Another book that is impossible to use at the table. However, this book is amazing. It takes on the very odd task of providing series of random tables to completely generate a "working" brutal, grim fantasy sandbox. Complete with monsters, towns, rulers, and ruins this book has it all. Some people were disappointed that it wasn't an adventure, I've found this book unbelievably worth it. Perfect for sandboxes, point crawls, fiefdoms, and the like.

Karak Azgal: Similar to Renegade Crows, this is a "fill in the blank" style adventure. It describes two towns on the surface, a dwarven fortress and a shanty town of adventurers. Underneath is the ruins of an ancient dwarven city. The ruins are infested with all manner of beasties. The book provides almost no maps of the underground and instead provides a series of nested random encounter tables and a series of points of interest. The encounter tables include interacting factions and neutral parties. The points of interest are sources of the wandering monsters or even worse horrors. Amazing tool for a GM wanting to generate a believable series of dungeon levels.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Format change and recent sessions

I've been running and playing in a lot of games recently and the weight of the backlog of all these sessions has made me realize I would prefer a format switch. So, instead of writing mostly play reports I'm going to focus on short recaps of recent games, random tables, hooks, and other RPG related creative ideas I might have. Not just meta-roleplaying like how to best prepare, but also ideas about adventure design and presentation.

Given that, since the last written-up Planescape session there has only been one new Planescape session. It was my take on The Flower Infernal from The Great Modron March by Monte Cook and Colin McComb. Plots are a foot. Valran was finally defeated but the amulet and the modron artifact hidden deep in Acheron await. We're going to have one last session before a possible reboot or major story line shift.

Instead recently, we've been playing a lot of Dark Heresy. Mostly my takes on a few published adventures. The group are pregens and the players are new to Dark Heresy, though one is familiar with the 40k universe.

This weekend there is a good chance I will be running Death Frost Doom by Raggi using a combination of basic Labryinth Lord with Lammentation of the Flame Princess' skill system. Additionally, all the characters will get one unique ability. Characters are second level. I'll be pregen-ing a bunch of characters to choose from.

Otherwise, I've been devoting a fair amount of energy to the D&D Organized Play open call. I've got my two scenes ready, just need to transcribe into the correct format and finish up a random table or two. My goal is to find a middle ground between pure random table encounter generator and prewritten encounter.

I'm also drafting a review piece on useful books of ideas/random generators I've been particularily fond of recently. I can tell you already that I consider Renegade Crowns from the WFRP 2nd edition to be stand out piece considering the ambition and ability to very accurately capture setting tone while only using random tables.