Deceiving & Tempting Your Players Weaknesses Episode.059

Though he had weak lungs, he puffed slowly on the long pipe held between his fingers, enjoying the taste for a moment then smoothly releasing it out of his mouth into the chilly night air.  He peered over the stone ledge he sat on, looking down the drop off down the cliff.  The heat of the signal tower warmed his bones but made his eyelids heavier by the hour.  There were a few nighthawks gliding around on the updrafts over the gorge but the sky was otherwise empty.  He took a step off the ledge to the tower side and froze in his tracks.  His eyes were following a nighthawk that was moving a bit oddly as if the air streams were shifting.  He raised the spyglass to his eye and nearly dropped it over the cliff side edge.  That was no nighthawk.  It was a dragon, and its movements led him to believe it was severely injured.  Whatever was the case, the fort needed to be prepared.

I enjoy giving misconceptions to my players.  It’s really an art form to conceive an idea to someone without the realization of another subject.  I can tell the players they see two glowing red eyes in the darkness to make them think of something evil is staring back at them, hopefully causing them to attack without really knowing what it is.  Depending on how spooked they are or how overly cautious I made them will decide if they bite or not.  Just a harmless cow will have red glowing eyes when a light source reflects them in the darkness.

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Generally I prefer not to flat out lie to my players because I want them to trust me.  I don’t throw them a loop too often, les they begin calling me out for crying wolf every time.  The moments have to be right, so when is the moment right?  For the most part, you don’t want to pick a moment when it’s irrelevant to the story or situation.  I use the “cow in the night” trick at conventions just for laughs, but I would probably not use that in a campaign at home.  This is because it’s more comical than I would want, and the result is light enough it may leave a lasting impression in their minds to the next time I try to trick them.

And I use “trick” loosely and hesitantly in here.  We as GMs should never truly be malicious.  GMs have a reputation of being devious and sometimes sinister through joking, but our goal is to set the stage for an amazing story the players can live in and be a part of creating.  Sometimes there is a bit of misdirecting involved, but we should never flat out lie or deliberately cause the players to run their characters into a doomed situation.  Let them fall into their own traps.  Let them cause their own problems through their actions.  Be the Effect of their Cause only.

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I give hints and teasers to the players which might cause them to waste time or get into trouble.  I give them little pieces of candy to see if they bite.  It’s not deception unless you railroad them down the path.  Not everything in the world is what it seems, of course, so that glint of light they see down the dark alley most likely isn’t going to turn out to be a good thing to investigate.  Yet the greedy character may not be able to resist and wind up ambushed by a street gang.  The politician gives the players two options, but hints at one more heavily than the other to be his preference.  The shopkeeper treats them well and offers them discounted price after talking about cheap labor in order to lure them away from the child slaves he has in the basement.  The wounded lizard man thanks them for healing him and offers knowledge to a hidden burial mound containing riches only to collapse the entrance and wait for them to die.

These misconceptions come to me on the fly.  I seldom come up with pre-determined events or encounters that might lead them astray.  My notes are focused for the main event of what I am hoping to lay out to the players in full.  But knowing that very few games I run will ever run its true course unless I shamelessly railroad them along, I want to ad lib the temptations when I see an opportunity.  Sometimes players are not in the mood to bite on bait, and that cannot dishearten GMs.  Know there are other moments juicier than that in the future.  Make note of the situation, however, because it’s a part of the players you just learned about.  That type of temptation wasn’t strong enough to convince them to go a certain way.  It was not interesting enough.

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And, of course, misdirecting players doesn’t have to feel malicious in a sense of tempting them down another path.  Providing optional awareness for them gives players a sense of freedom and avoids the dreaded railroading feeling that no player enjoys.  Sometimes when a party bites on a tempting side path, the idea turns out to be more exciting than the initial idea you had for them.  Don’t be afraid to go with the backup plan even if it wasn’t in the cards.  Sometimes RPGs turn out that way, and most of them really should.  When you break away from your notes, at least for a while, you exercise your imagination more, practice on your off-the-cuff creativity, and generate a dynamic, fresh idea that will give you, the GM, a surge when the game may be beginning to feel drab and monotonous.

Alternatively, you can use these diversions and distractions for parties that are becoming too arrogant for their own good.  It can knock them down a few pegs and make them more humble in the world you created.  Know their weakness.  If your party is obsessed with XP, give them a sweet opportunity to acquire what looks like a huge amount.  Does the party love money?  Use a destroyed wagon that has a semi-covered chest that’s busted open revealing coins.  Throw in some illusions or false coins staged to lure in careless adventurers, and just about anything can be waiting for them.

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This may not seem much different than using some temptation to subtly but definitely railroad a group from a path they wanted that conflicted with where you want them to go.  This is not the case.  Deception and Diversion are not the same as deliberate funneling.  The idea is to give them opportunities to bite down hard on a trap or misadventure to give them a challenge and bring a sense of danger to your world, not to forcibly shove them where you want them to go.  Just like in real life, we are constantly tempted and lured by distractions nonstop.  We could go to work, but it’s sure a nice day out for a round of golf.  We could go home, but the bar has $1.00 longnecks.  We could go to our wedding Saturday, but Roy is catching fish down at the lake left and right.  Learn your players’ weaknesses.  Pay attention to them when their eyes light up at something you say and make note of it.  Then just patiently wait for the right opportunity to throw that Trump Card at them and enjoy the show.  Be ready for anything, be flexible when it happens, and you will have a great encounter.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Our Perception of Reality Affects Our Gaming Episode.058

“What’s that?” you ask as the blip on your tracker comes to life.  You look to your left through the thick jungle brush and squint as if that will allow you to see more clearly.  All that’s in view are smooth bark trees, hanging vines, and some of the deadliest insects on this planet.  Gesturing to the others of the expedition to wait, you pull out the cold scanner and run a track in an arc.  Although faint, there is something about 200 paces off the animal trail you’ve been following for hours.  By now the expedition lead has made her way back to you requesting what’s the hold up.  After a minute of explaining the data you’ve found, she sighs and nods over in the direction of your detection, giving you the go-ahead to take two others and catch up as soon as you can with the rest as they continue on to Mesa Giarde.  With trepidation you call out for Richard and Boz to follow behind as you step through the jungle to discover what lies just out of sight.

I’ve recently gotten heavily involved in more science fiction settings since Monte Cook’s Numenera and Green Ronin’s Titansgrave have come out.  One reason is because I have a wider range of development to discover.  What I mean by that is in a traditional fantasy setting, even if something the players stumble on is 1000s of years old, it still has to look primitive or else you risk bringing them out of the medieval setting immersion.  Structures must be built using stone, wood, or mud because steel beams would not fit the setting or any years prior to it.  Although one could make their setting a true “dark ages” by creating a world that has become primitive after all knowledge of technology was lost, similar to Numenera, but even that eliminates the true fantasy feeling because sooner or later someone is going to discover ancient tech.

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Those who are educated enough in history often automatically relate to any setting we play in to our own conception of history.  In other words, if we are playing a fantasy setting, we generally will feel we are in Western Europe around 1100 A. D.  Our minds lock in that the Industrial revolution hasn’t occurred yet even if that has nothing to do with the setting’s future.  Our imagination may be strong to come up with amazing wonders, but when it boils down to it, we have to associate everything in our mind to perceptions of reality.  Even when we think of the most outrageously fantastical thing, we are drawing in things we already know and have seen to create the image.

For example, try to imagine a color that doesn’t exist in the color spectrum.  You can’t.  Why not?  We have imagination, don’t we?  It’s because until we witness or experience something that we can associate with it, it is impossible for us to truly create something that has absolutely no connection to anything we have seen already.

Returning back to the subject at hand of science fiction settings, we have a wider spectrum of ideas to create our world’s reality.  The farther we are in the future, the more history we have in the past.  If an expedition comes across an old castle in ruins, even though you’re in a science fiction setting, players will accept that discovery easier because we associate our own history of the Middle Ages being at some point in the past.  Otherwise, we might hesitate and pull ourselves back out of the immersion we have of the setting.

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One of my favorite discoveries to throw at players is an abandoned structure.  I tend to feel that abandoned structures in a fantasy setting have become legendary and well known with a story behind it.  Sometimes you may come across an abandoned house or the like in the middle of nowhere, but I definitely feel a difference in atmosphere between stumbling upon an abandoned building in a fantasy/medieval setting and one in a science fiction setting.  I usually have to add atmosphere outside the building in a fantasy setting such as thick fog or darkness to make it eerie.  An abandoned structure in a science fiction setting is ominous any time of day because generally something went terribly wrong to those who used to dwell inside.  The same thing happening in a mansion in broad daylight doesn’t quite have the same sense of dread as you enter it.  Again, it may associate with our perception of what to expect from a fantasy setting.  Dungeons may remove that as you can enter one during the middle of the day and have a sense of dread as the light grows dark rapidly once inside.

Let me give you an example.  In the movie Pitch Black, a group of crash victims on a deserted planet stumble upon a house with a broken shuttle outside.  The sun is out, it’s a bright, hot day as they explore the facility.  Clues are strung about the building as they slowly find new pieces to the puzzle of why this place is now empty and what happened to the previous residents.  There is no ominous atmosphere like darkness or fog here.  It’s the reason of the abandonment that makes it feel eerie and foreboding.  It’s an extremely creepy feeling that builds up during the scene.  And yet, there isn’t really anything that is scary or creepy to be scene.  It’s what’s lacking that makes the skin crawl.

Structures from a setting of the future generally don’t involve dungeons although they could.  Usually we expect inhabitants or former inhabitants with a level of intelligence that allowed them to create the place.  When their presence is removed, then mystery follows on why that occurred.  If you remove expectations from any situation, you create mystery for your players.  Something else now inhabits the facility, something deadly harmed the inhabitants, a threat forced them out, or they simply grew too large for the facility and relocated.  Whatever the case, you’re given plenty of room to cause intrigue and fear among the players.  A sense of wonder can follow as they slowly discover the truth behind the place.  This is especially true when their expectations are thrown out the window.  An abandoned structure gives them a quick list in their minds of what possibly happened before they even step foot inside.  Once they begin exploring, however, their jaws can drop open if you give them some twists in the discovery.  Perhaps the building really is to cover the entrance for an underground military base.  The building could have been constructed to hold something imprisoned that confuses the players whether it needs to be imprisoned or freed.  It could be an interstellar staircase to an orbiting satellite or even a passing object that is only accessible every 134 years.

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It’s really on how you perceive things.  If you can remove metagame thoughts associating them with our perception of reality, we are able to accept the abnormal and unusual easier.  Roman era with hover cars, for example, would make most players raise an eyebrow and think “…okay” instead of accepting that that is how this particular setting is laid out and embrace it.  Remember that when you’re playing any game, your character is not you.  Something may seem strange to you, the player, but your character is in a world that is as typical to him/her as you are to your world.  How strange would it be to an alien who does not have to sleep to witness millions of people laying down and going into some catatonic state for several hours, becoming unresponsive?

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Making the Worthless Character Worthwhile Episode.057

He snuffed out the half-burnt cigarette he found on the ground and breathed out the dark, black fumes through his nose.  His eyes sparkled red in the dark as they took in the surroundings like the noon day sun.  He knew he was being hunted by something just beyond his sharp vision, but he welcomed the company after being thick in the bush for weeks.  His fingers picked up a few pinches of dirt and placed them on the tip of his tongue.  It was a Rodarian Hellcat by the taste and smell.  The slightest hint of a smirk crossed his lips before slipping his long knives out and twirled them a bit in anticipation.  Leaping up to the lowest branch of the tree he stood by, he coiled his tail around it and hung himself down, ready for the ambush.

Wait, wait.  Before you throw that character in the trash or hit the delete key, just wait a second.  Are you wanting to start again because your stats don’t match the class you wanted or are you thinking the numbers don’t add up high enough to make it a power-rich character for your insecure needs?  We play roleplaying games to take part in a journey with characters hopefully not like us.  Yet sometimes we get caught up in the moment and illusion, dreaming of characters a bit too far ahead of our own intellectual grasp.  Sure that character has the strength of 50 men and can lift a boulder and toss it at enemies, which can be fun for a while, but will it be fun in the long run after hurling the 500th boulder?

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So why do we shy away from characters we initially make that we feel are inferior?  “Because they are!”

…but are they really?  What if you were planning on playing a barbarian, but your stats (let’s assume it’s some kind of a traditional roleplaying game) come out: Strength 8, Dexterity 9, Constitution 7, Intelligence 12, Wisdom 10, Charisma 10.  That’s a throw-away character right there, right?  We have negative modifiers for crying out loud!  Well playing these kind of games takes creativity and imagination, so let’s use both and come up with a way of making this would be throw-away interesting enough to at least play through a few levels.


earl_by_thomasbrissot-d7ix3otNAME:  Jasper Creme

OCCUPATION: Barbarian

RACE: Half-Orc

STRENGTHS: Combat Manuevers, Jonty Tunes, A Joke In Every Corner, Holding His Breath, A Strong Tail, Near Perfect Night Vision, Random Combustion, Impersonations, Improvisational Weaponry, Woodworking, Bird Calls, Aristocratic Sociable

WEAKNESSES: Underestimating His Own Strength, Drinking, Acting, Stealth, Swimming, Dancing, Talking to Women, Remembering Short Term, Names, Shooting His Mouth Off

BACKGROUND:  Jasper never was truly cut out to be a barbarian.  Born and raised among the aristocratic community of Hollow Creek Estates, he was set to inherit his family’s fortune safely buried underground in the family vault.  He was shown sophistication, education, and a philosophy on life, but his mind was in the clouds from childhood.  There was a never ending nag inside of him to be more aggressive, beyond business negotiations and networking.  He wanted the life outside of the city where his ambitions ran free and his energy unleashed.  He craved to wield a weapon and swing it at something.

He was an average looking half-orc, having magically altered his appearance through his family funds, and his wealth of high society gave him the confidence he needed to take on life in the wild and be a survivor.  Secretly he would pay for druid gypsies passing by to show him whatever they would to make sure he lived well in the woods and along the prairies.  If the carnival came to town, he’d watch and take notes of the acrobats in their amazing maneuvers.  He became close friends with the city’s highest officers that granted him access with the secretive and mysterious Lox Nine, the king’s elite guards.

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But all of these lessons were only half learned by the young man because his focus was lacking and his eagerness to be gone from the city and on his own was too great.  That’s really how he learned anything: halfway.  His rich cultural knowledge in sophistication, his hobbies and skills, even his education was halfway complete.  However, he took with what he had and made the best of it.  Along the way he acquired interesting traits, skills, and behaviors.

Part of his blood was tainted with a demon or devil, he knows not which.  The resistance was so strong that the magic used to alter his orcish features did nothing for his tail or his red, night-glowing eyes.  Naturally he has hid these two features fairly easily by means of trick glasses that bend light in a way to change his red eyes to a bluish hue while he wraps his tail around his waist under his clothing.  When he is outside of the bureaucratic lifestyle, he enjoys swinging his tail freely around and using it to suspend himself from trees and ambush wild game.

One feature he acquired from his ancestral bloodline is something he is unable to truly hide.  Completely at random and beyond his control, he sets objects on fire.  He need not touch anything but merely look at any one thing.  So far his ability has never occurred while looking at a living person which leads him to believe only inanimate objects are possible targets, though he isn’t sure.  Fortunately for him, it happens once in a great while and is separated from his actions enough not to draw suspicion.

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His lighter side of life comes with a variety of uniqueness that makes for fun social moments.  Being a lover of nature and all things outdoors, he learned to mimic bird calls by the dozens.  His representation is so accurate he easily fools both birds and potential predators through his calls.  It flows over with people as well with his wonderful talent of impersonation.  If he listens to anyone speak for a few only a few seconds, he is capable of sounding perfectly like that individual whether it’s male or female.  The dialect is identical as long as it’s a language he understands.  He knows hundreds of songs to be sung in almost any occasion from taverns to churches and can recite without fail a different joke every day.

But when you boil down to it, he isn’t cut out to be a barbarian.  His arms are a bit weak, he finds himself stumbling on his own feet from time to time, and his ability to wield massive weapons with skill does not exist.  His memory fails him on occasion, especially with names which he can never remember, and his sophistication at talking eloquently only works among those not of the fairer sex to which he might be attracted to.  Just as an adolescent asking a girl to dance, he stutters and mumbles his way through, often saying the wrong thing or causing an awkward moment that ends with the girl running quickly away.  He’s never been with a woman before, and he has no concept of how to be in a relationship if one were to occur for him.

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When it comes to combat, however, he does tend to use his brain better than a typical barbarian.  He isn’t stupid by any means, and his clever side can make an ugly situation pleasant.  He doesn’t know how to wield massive two-handed swords, but he knows the general movement of swinging a club or blade.  His imagination kicks in and works overtime as he surveys the environment and quickly can identify an item that can be used as a weapon.  The downside is that he sometimes will calculate a bit too high and select an item just a bit too heavy for him.  He’ll be able to swing it for a few attempts, but his accuracy will be dismal and his fatigue sets in quickly.


Will this character be any fun to play during combat?  It could be if the DM worked with me a bit.  I would want to try and compensate for the lack of strength Jasper had by implementing a house rule of either special abilities or minor bonuses from creativity of the chosen item.  For example, if I were to take a leaf rake and jam a trowel into the teeth to form a makeshift scythe or polearm, I’d get a +1 non-magical damage from the length of the pole giving me better leverage of motion.  If I tied a can I jammed nails out of the sides to a whip, I’d get a 1D4 points of extra damage whenever I successfully tripped an opponent.

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Beyond combat, the character is never worthless because it is what you make of it.  As shown above, I took a character that clearly was not a barbarian and gave him reasons for being a mediocre barbarian.  I don’t shy away from going away from the norm.  Just because your character is a Wizard doesn’t mean he has to be wearing a robe and have frail arms.  If we made stereotypical characters, there wouldn’t be many choices really.  Making that normal character abnormal is where the creative ideas become more interesting.

You can even play it up as an exercise if you consider yourself a veteran.  The next time you roll up a character you are about to toss in the trash, approach it differently and see if you can’t come up with an interesting twist that makes it more interesting to play.  Work with the DM because usually with so many disadvantages and low numbers, a good DM will allow some special abilities or interesting perks that spice the throw-away up a notch.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Pre-Ordering Games, Consoles, & Books Episode.056

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I’ve never really been a fan of pre-ordering things.  I feel that if you’re going to produce a product make sure you have enough for the demand, but I realize that companies don’t want to waste money by making more product than the consumer’s demand.  Pre-ordering can give them an idea of what kind of demand it is, but those are just for initial sales by people who are aware of the product’s soon-to-be existence.  Theoretically there should always be more people who will buy a product after the initial pre-order phase is complete.

Video games are by far the worst practice of pre-ordering.  I have never in my life seen a video game that sells completely out of stock the first week it is released.  There are always copies available at some store whether it’s at your local brick-&-mortar store or online at Amazon.  One way or another, you can always buy a copy of the video game you want.  Perhaps companies give you incentives to pre-order such as in-game items or extra content.  Generally these pale in comparison and quite often are released as “new content” at a later date such as a Game of the Year Edition.

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Pre-ordering things that could have bugs such as video games or other electronics is really a large gamble.  This is especially true for video game consoles.  Electronics have such a huge volume of executions that it is quite easy to have errors or bugs that pop up.  Companies may run their product through Quality Check, but the product only has so much of a window before the higher-up execs demand the product to be put on the market to start making a profit.  This can lead to rushed products that aren’t quite ready for the consumer.  This is when you find bugs.  Yet when you pre-order, you are giving those execs even more evidence to rush the product out the door: if they have $1,000,000 worth of pre-orders, they won’t see a dime of that until the product ships.  This will cause them to become greedy and encourage their company to continue to rush their product before it’s ready.  When you pre-order, you are essentially acknowledging that you are okay with an incomplete game.  So when you put that game in the console for the first time and it doesn’t boot up right or crashes during the middle, you simply have no room to complain.  It’s actually closer to being more your fault than the company’s.  Granted the company who made a poor quality product should not have released it, but if enough consumers are willing to pay full price for an incomplete product, naturally companies are going to release it.  Some companies value quality over quantity, but the bottom line is that every company exists to make money.  If their reputation is not tarnished from shipping broken games, they will continue to do so.  Generally they will not have a damaged reputation because they can always go back to the financial reports and publicly announce their sales.

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A minor graphic bug

Now the one thing within this blog’s genre categories that pre-ordering might be beneficial are role playing games.  Although it still goes hand-in-hand with the concept of video games in which you should print more than the masses because you are hoping that eventually they will all be bought (or the majority).  Printing books does cost more than producing a physical copy of a game.  That’s a fact.  There isn’t much involved in burning the contents to a disc and printing a label on the top then putting it in a case and shipping it.  This is even truer with PC games that are almost entirely digitally produced now (few hard copies are put on shelves anymore).  So for that thought, pre-ordering (especially for PC games) makes even less sense because there is essentially zero overhead cost on releasing the game.

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Most expensive pre-order ever – This car along with a PS3 and GRID 2 – £125,000

With hard copy books it is another story, however.  Companies prefer not to produce too many copies to where they have a shelf full of books that were never purchased.  If they have to decide, they will most likely want to error on the side of caution and produce fewer than the demand.  Books are done in “print runs” where they will have a certain number of books produced.  Small publishing companies may only have 500 copies whereas larger companies may have 1000s or 10’s of thousands.  When these are all bought, the company then has to either order more copies to be printed or do it themselves if they have the means.  This, however, takes usually more than a month to do, sometimes 8-10 weeks depending on the lead time the printers are looking at.  Some roleplaying game companies have an agreement with a printing company to dish out their books, but that printing company doesn’t just sit around and wait for their order.  They have other companies requesting their service such as schools for textbooks and yearbooks.

Pre-ordering books does tend to make for a better decision if the number of copies is in question.  Basically the rule is the smaller the company, the more reason to pre-order.  Now again, it’s essentially to just make sure you don’t have to wait 6-8 more weeks more for the 2nd printing.  If a company runs out of copies, they are going to print more until they consider the product expired and deem it out of print.  This only occurs when sales have dropped below a percentage per month, which means you have already bought your copy.  Larger companies, Wizards of the Coast for example, produce so many copies that you end up finding the books in odd locations like Wal-Mart.  Pre-ordering really is pointless at that point because the availability will be considerable.

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Now having said all that, companies have a bad habit of not producing enough copies on the first print run and blaming it on the consumers.  This is a give-and-take issue because the pre-orders would help them make a better assessment on the number of issues to produce, but generally when a company runs out of copies quickly, as in the first week or two, that’s really a horrible mistake on their part.  This happens way too often too, and the consumer usually gets the same famous line from all of them: “We were completely overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm from fans that we ran out of stock!”  This is one of the worst business moves you can make because it does 2 things.  First, your company stops making money for 6-8+ weeks while you wait for the next batch not only to be printed BUT to be shipped to stores.  Second, you hack off the consumers who were unlucky and didn’t receive a copy and are forced to wait while those who did get a copy are enjoying it.  When a game is released, that is going to be the “hottest” point in sales.  Usually.  Granted there are exceptions where a product doesn’t get noticed by the general consumer for several months (or years…I’m looking at you Game of Thrones).  When you run out of product while there is still a huge demand for it, you run the risk of sales going cold while you wait for the next printing.  Consumers are fickle and have short attention spans.  Our interest burns bright but burns out quickly.  New things come along that clouds are memories of the past.

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So when you are about to jump on a band wagon or you become excited for something that is soon to be released, take a moment to reflect the situation and ask yourself if it’s worth it or necessary.  Are you frustrated with video games having bugs in them when you buy it?  Are you annoyed when you go to your local gaming store and find your game out of stock?  Are you looking at your sales from the last product and realize the demand is great for this new release?  Try to refrain from being too hasty and make smarter purchasing decisions and stop encouraging poor business choices.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Character Creation Corner: Cyprus Beezlbub, Thief, Episode.055

He dusted the gunk off his jacket as he made his first few steps out of the prison gates.  His time inside had been quick and easy off a stupid mistake he soon wouldn’t forget.  His eyes catch sight of a human leaning against a post in front of the town’s tavern.  He looked to be in his mid-30s and well-seasoned as a blade master from the decorative weapons strapped to his body.  “I didn’t believe what I heard when they told me you were one of the best.  It doesn’t look that way to me coming from the Jasper Pen,” says the human as he points with a toothpick to the prison behind.  “I bet you could use a drink,” he continues as he begins walking inside the tavern.  “I could use a good thief,” as he disappears into the darkness of the front door.

For the most part, it’s unnecessary to say those who play RPGs enjoy creating their characters.  But each person invests different amounts of time into preparation.  Perhaps they are more interested in combat and focus on starting weapons and armor and less about skills or special abilities.  Maybe they spend countless hours handpicking spells to be ready for any situation but doesn’t really care whether he is an educated spell slinger or a hedge wizard.  There are players who want nothing more than to fight and gain power to fight more.  They won’t necessarily care much about developing their character beyond that.  However, no matter what avenue you travel down with your character, if it is going to be played for a length of time, it is important to have enough invested into the character itself to keep the interest strong.  You may be playing the character for months or years, so when you get to a point where the character is a veteran in the world you play in, it’s important to want to play the character because it carries interest to you in the long run.   With that being said, here’s a rogue I am thinking of as I write this.


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NAME:  Cyprus Beezlbub

OCCUPATION: Thief

RACE: Half-Elf

STRENGTHS:  Second-story access, windows and door locks, non-magical traps, mechanical traps, lying, reading people, appraising, fast-talking

WEAKNESSES: Non-mechanical traps, greed, biting off more than he can chew, big risks, high rewards, short-term memory, sweets, duels, comebacks, pollen

BACKGROUND: Cyprus was cursed at birth.  His father was a cynical tyrant who governed a very small tract of land to which he was ruthless.  His pact with a devil to grant him a son, in hopes of raising him to rule with an iron fist like he, led to Cyprus having a portion of devil in his blood.  His true father was the devil who made the pact, forcing himself onto Cyprus’ mother.  Since then, the devil has shown up periodically to keep an eye on his son, giving him guidance as he grows though it often leads him to getting caught by authorities.  Occasionally he will give Cyprus good advice to keep leading him along, and on those high notes he often lives quite lavishly.

But Cyprus has lived a dark life filled with espionage, theft, arson, and murder.  He is quick to talk himself out of a situation, but he often finds himself stumbling or choosing poorly that has led him to 39 arrests and 15 death sentences.  The latter has been avoided from his escape each time, which his skills are fortunately strong enough to allow him to do so, but his time is now short.  Multiple bounties are on his head, and his next arrest will be an immediate death without trial.  As a result, he has refocused his efforts on his skills of staying alive and keeping unnoticed, hiding in the shadows, and honing his skills in disguise to avoid confrontations.

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Most recently he has learned of a retired master thief named Klov Wulfenheisen, who decided to choose the isolating life at a monastery.  He was never caught in his long and prosperous career, but his reputation as the greatest thief to ever live runs from coast to coast.  Although he lives as a monk in peaceful solitude contemplating life’s intricacies, he does offer services of education for an extremely steep price.  For one year of total obedient service to him, he will take someone as his student and prepare him on the secrets of his success.  So far he has only trained 3 people as he rejects almost everyone who requests his help.  No one knows really what gives him reason to turn away so many potential slaves as he would have acquired a great number of obedient servants by now.

Cyprus needs help getting there as the journey is long and too dangerous for just him.  Although he is quick, nimble, and deceptive, there are times when combat is inevitable.  So he cautiously shops for a group of people who will not be tempted to turn him in to claim the reward money that is on his head.  This has proven to be extremely difficult as greed trumps loyalty in this world.

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Another goal he would like to achieve in life is to get rid of his real father.  His so-called foster father was killed years ago, the land seized by another, more powerful kingdom.  Cyprus has moments of solitude where the interest of his devil father, Nygoz, grows bored of his son’s life and retreats to the darker parts of Hell.  But Cyprus blames all of his bad luck and poor decisions on Nygoz, heavily influenced by the devil’s blood that flows within his veins.  He searches in hopes of finding someone either powerful enough or wise enough to shed light on the means to rid him of his curse.

He carries with him a few things.  A crowbar, some chalk, a hand mirror, 50 feet of twine, a trowel, three hollow needles, several jars of mild toxins, and a few lock picks.  The rest of his arsenal varies from time to time.  Sometimes he carries a stiletto dagger.  Other times he wields a mace or short bow until his arrows break.

When it comes to traps, his skills fluctuate in level.  He shines brightest when he tackles any form of mechanical trap such as a spring-loaded dart or gas trap.  However, more natural traps such as pitfalls and ceiling failures give him considerable trouble as he cannot spot them quick enough.  He has never had a sixth sense for them, and he often finds himself at the bottom of a pit or under a pile of rocks, leaving him with broken bones and cut appendages.

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His social skills have been stellar for years as he has to fool the most suspicious individuals.  Masking new faces, adjusting his pitch and tone of his voice, and giving new personalities with each city he travels, his very life depends on the ability to fool others into believing he is not Cyprus Beezlbub.  When this fails, he is forced to eliminate the chance of that knowledge spreading.  Although it is not pleasant nor has it occurred frequently, he has had to terminate the lives of innocents who learned of his identity and posed as a threat.  Generally speaking most innocent people who might discover his true name won’t care and soon forget they even met him.

He has trouble passing up a challenge, especially if it is a duel or a fight.  This always leads to the best chance for him to be arrested by authorities, which forces him to pull all of his tricks to escape before they arrive.  Most likely the fights are started by others as he keeps to himself.  Despite having a sharp wit and quick tongue, when it comes to comebacks from insults, he has never mastered the art.  In fact, it always causes those who hear it burst into laughter from the hilarity.


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That gets me started with a solid character.  Cyprus has an unusually dark past with his real father, two long-term goals to become a master thief and eliminate his annoying father, and he has an assortment of behaviors to play off for roleplaying such as allergies and a sweet tooth.  He adds tension and excitement not just to his character but to any group he is a part of because of all the warrants and bounties on his head.  It will give plenty of obstacles for the group to overcome even by doing mundane things such as entering town to sleep for the night.  Once he succeeds in his mastery as a thief, the character will be forfeited for a year while he pays his services.  In that time, I’ll have to choose another character to fill in, perhaps an NPC that has been following the group, or perhaps Cyprus’ father, Nygoz, as I develop the situation with him, revealing to the party why this devil is particularly interested in keeping track of his son….

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Adventure: Trouble in a Pirate Town Episode.054

You’ll find it here, no doubt, but you’ll always pay more than what you are willing to get it.  The misfits of Dead Rock are there to gain whatever you are willing to give them.  They know you’re at a disadvantage being so far from Longsea Port.   But today you are luckier as the pirate residents have much more troubles on their hand and forget the usual high prices offered for their wares and services.  A thick fog has settled down through the buildings overlooking the rocky bay for weeks, bringing with it a danger from within that has steadily taken the lives of many people.  No trails, no sign of where they go can be found.  And even the heartiest people have lost a little of their nerve earlier this week when several chime bells went missing from the Chapel of the Mistress, which is a key warning system both for approaching ships as well as attacks from the nearby woods.  Trouble continues to stir from within as tremors have brought concern of an upcoming landslide that would send the cliff community into the icy waters below.  It would seem the years of sinful life for the residents of Dead Rock have caught up to them.

Note: This article was heavily inspired by Creighton Broadhurst’s blog.  His article talks about the cliff village of Coldwater, which is a part of his Duchy of Ashlar mini-campaign.  A full arrangement of blogs regarding the setting can be found here.

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BACKGROUND: Anymore these days, I only get a chance to run an RPG during the one or two conventions I attend each year or during the holidays when I visit my family.  At most, I’ll run perhaps 6 games.  I spend more time on each one than I normally would because of the lack of games I run.  The Fourth of July holiday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I have been toying around with a one-shot adventure for my two uncles when I see them.  I came across a blog by Creighton a few days ago, and one of the village settings he had created struck me as a great anchor point for an adventure.  Of course, I enjoy adding more of my own flair to existing work unless I’m just hard pressed to run something right now.

INTRODUCTION: Dead Rock is a pirate village that overlooks the Long Sea.  It’s the last port you pass before venturing across the huge bay and reach Longsea Port.  It’s not an ideal location because of the rocky terrain surrounding the area, much of which is a hundred or so feet above sea level, but it is ideal for defensive purposes.  The defenses were given an upgrade after pirates overtook the town 5 years ago with a few ship cannons.  The only two means of accessing the village from the ocean waters is either by using one of the cranes used for lowering cargo or newly built ships or by a steep and slippery staircase that was carved into the cliff’s face decades ago.  The latter is only accessible during low tide, however.

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Because of the high cliff, Dead Rock has essentially become 2 towns.  Beside the original village that is perched at the top, a large cave big enough for a large warship to enter was created at the base.  Two rows of buildings of shops and homes line the wall of the cave with a dock following along.  Several smaller ships can dock inside if they wish to have some protection from the elements outside or if the main dock outside is full.  An unwritten law for Dead Rock is that the biggest ship gets priority on location.  This may result in disgruntled sailors having to stop unloading or loading their cargo in order to relocate their ship outside of the cave to give way for a mightier vessel.  Although this has led to a few fights and one battle, for the most part the law is honored among everyone.

The town is mostly inhabited by pirates, ex-pirates, or retired pirates.  This leads to a more sinful lifestyle in Dead Rock where alcohol, gambling, and trickery can run rampant.  One sanctuary stands as the Chapel of the Mistress, dedicated to Serat, the goddess of the sea.  Instead of a lighthouse, which is found in Longsea Port, the village uses special chiming bells from the chapel to guide ships inward.  These enchanting bells are capable of piercing even the loudest storms and crashing waves.  They can also be used in times of danger by an invading fleet, a raiding party, or beasts from the nearby forest.  Recently, several of these bells have gone missing.  No real investigation has begun as authority in the town is in name only, a burgomaster named Pietyr Klovsky, although he will tell anyone who asks that he believes it was a local resident causing mischief.

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In reality, the missing bells are connected to a potentially catastrophic situation.  A coven of mind flayers has reached the forest that outskirt Dead Rock.  They were attracted to the seductive humming of a slumbering creature below the rock, Cthulhu.  No resident above in Dead Rock knows of the sleeping cosmic creature for it has been dormant for thousands of millennia.  Although it may be a feeble attempt, the mind flayers are hoping to awaken the creature and bring forth several generations of chaos and turmoil in the world.  Because of their hyper sensitive psychic powers, the sound of the bells and their magically echoing reverberation had been giving them painful mental aches and breaking their concentration on their ritual.  They were able to remove most of the bells before having to retreat into the woods, which dampened the sound enough to tolerate though they plan on returning for the rest soon.

Meanwhile, a mysterious fog has settled around the upper cliff, enveloping the town in an extremely thick fog, giving visibility to only a few feet at a time.  It has remained for weeks, and rope has been used to attach buildings together in order for people to not get lost as they go about their daily lives.  However, the mind flayers have taken advantage of the fog to feed upon the citizens.  The missing people have baffled everyone as there are no signs of the whereabouts of the victims anywhere.

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GETTING THE PLAYERS INVOLVED:  The players are members or passengers on a ship that must dock in Dead Rock for emergency repairs.  While enroute to Longsea Port, their vessel was attacked by a kraken, which the crew was visibly disturbed as the creature is unheard of in these shallow waters.  It was sent away by the bravery of the ship’s crew, but the captain feels his vessel is incapable of taking on the treacherous waters of the bay.  The players’ ship is a larger galleon, so they are able to dock within the Devil’s Cove, the name given to Dead Rock’s cave.  The captain gives warning that shore leave is granted but all will be left behind if not back the morning of the third day.

When the players make it to the top via one of the cranes (water is in high tide so the stairs are inaccessible), they will begin to experience the foreboding of the village.  To them, it is clear the place is cursed and forsaken by the gods.  A religious crier will be heard somewhere in the fog of the sinful lives that have caught up to Dead Rock and how the gods have forsaken the land because of it.  They will bump into many people as they use the rope to get to various places.  Signs dangle from rope intersections guiding patrons to the tavern, the chapel, the burgomaster, or other key points.  They will learn of the town’s turmoil in the tavern or if they decide to enter a store.

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KEY EVENTS & ENCOUNTERS:  Initially the bells will be the most likely problem to be solved as the disappearances of people has no leads or clues.  They are able to investigate the bells and find some clues.  First, the cords that held the bells have a strange residue on them almost like an ooze that is warm to the touch.  There is a faint trace of an acrid smell that leads out of the bell tower at the top and onto the roof where a piece of strange fabric is snagged on a roof tile.  The fabric shimmers in a light source with the hint of purple.  The chapel is beside the forest line as well.

Searching the forest, they will come across a pit of snakes that are on top of the bodies from the village that the mind flayers killed.  The coven of mind flayers have built a large one-room cave at the base of the pit where they are practicing their ritual.  The players will be able to make out a light at the bottom, but they will have to find a way to get past the snaked as they are venomous.

Once they kill the mind flayers, they will discover the ritual and even have the instructions written in a language they somewhat can understand if they wish to turn sinister.  However, the slumbering Cthulhu is slowly awaking by itself.  The ritual would only bring it sooner.  The tremors are gradually increasing due to the long process.  There is a seemingly impenetrable door at the base of the stair leading down the cliff that is exposed during low-tide at night.

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The door may be opened several ways.  The mind flayers have a diagram and chalk that can be drawn onto the door then perform the awakening ritual.  The players will have an hour to search beyond the door if they wish to put the beast back to slumbering for a thousand years.  The Chapel of the Mistress has a back room filled with musical sheets that are fed into the machine that plays the bells.  One of the sheets is entitled “Asperio Opus.”  It is found in a glass display that has been locked for generations.  Those with the proper ancient language knowledge or a linguistic skill will know asperio means “open” which, when played, will cause the doors to breach open.  The doors will never open by force.

Once open, the stairs lead deep under the ocean, the ceiling of the tunnel leaking wickedly from the pressure of water above.  The tunnel leads eventually to a ledge overlooking a a colossal chamber that is even deeper.  Like a statue, perfectly motionless, stands a creature of worldly size, far beyond any creature known on the planet.  It softly is breathing through gills behind a series of tentacles that make up its mouth.  Close observation will notice the eyelids are ever so slowly opening, slower than a minute hand, but enough to see motion.

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SOLUTIONS:  The players’ goals are to stop the mind flayers from killing the villagers, return the bells to the chapel, and make sure Cthulhu does not awaken.  The latter can be done several ways.  In a discarded building in Dead Rock, forgotten tomes from the original village before the pirates pillaged the place can be found.  These books, mostly charred and unreadable, contain the history of the village as the inhabitants were well aware of Cthulhu sleeping below them (after they had settled for decades).  The chapel was once devoted to Nor, a devoted god of protection, who kept the creature from awakening.  If the threat of Cthulhu awakening grew too much, another method the villagers once did was sing a lullaby as a collective group (i.e. everyone had to participate).  The lullaby sounds more like a gothic chant ceremony.  Finally, if all else failed, as a last resort, they could flood the tunnels by opening the doors and allowing the high tide ocean to pour in.  The doors would not be able to remain open for long because the exposure of the environment would cause the creature to stir.  The flood would only last for a century or so as the chamber slowly drains water further down into the planet’s crust.

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REWARDS: If the mind flayers are eliminated, the bodies returned for proper burial along with the missing bells, the pirates of Dead Rock sing songs of the players each night for a year and provide them with a vessel of their own.  If they put Cthulhu back to sleep and stopping the tremors as well, they are also granted access into the Vault down below in the cave where a small group of wealthy retired pirates store their career earnings, individually isolated between the families in locked chambers within.

EDIT: A few ideas that came to me after re-reading the article.  The forest would be a good opportunity for a random encounter to increase the amount of combat in the adventure.  Adding a skirmish fight with some pirates in Dead Rock would also add to the encounters.  Perhaps in the forest, a jaguar could ambush them on their way to the pit.

Also, while they are searching through the musical scrolls in the chapel, to allow the players to connect the scroll to opening the door at the bottom of the stairs, the scroll case it is in should have an image of the cliff with the stairs on it leading to a door at the bottom, but have it draw in high tide, showing the door completely underwater.  This should give them an understanding of what it might do.  Otherwise, they play the song and nothing noticeable will occur while in the chapel.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Campaign Concept: A World of Hope Lost Episode.053

Just a thin mist greets you as you pierce through the old worn town sign, its name long since eroded away.  Crickets and frogs harmonize with cicadas as the crisp but eerie sounds echo off the dark and silent buildings on either side.  Though these sounds fill your ear, the lack of the usual sounds you would expect from a village drowns them out.  This is a town that has been touched by a curse.  Be wary of your footsteps and be vigilant for you are not alone in this seemingly abandoned community.  It is clear the Touch has reached here despite its isolation and remote location closing in on the country’s border.  It would seem the entire country has lost the battle.  You grip the handles of your Warhammer and mace, knowing the things that now dwell here will soon grow bold and come for a closer look of your flesh.

One campaign I particularly enjoy running is those of hopelessness and loss.  I find it more challenging for players and rich for story.  Instead of having champions of some deity or king as the players’ character, instead I set out for creating a low-magic (or low-fantasy) setting where the players are at a disadvantage beyond having a lack of skills and power.  These characters must struggle while they find their name in the world while facing impossible odds.  There is always some form of challenge in every campaign (assuming the GM has an idea), but when you are pitted against the entire world rather than whatever encounter the GM throws at you, then suddenly you approach the campaign with an appreciation and respect.  There are not as many “I burst through the door” moments.  There is a level of cautiousness that allows players to reconsider and form a better strategy before moving forward.

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My idea is not original, but is a concept I have had on paper for a while.  The characters are in a declining world – one where the Age they are in is drawing to a close.  For years, a sickness or curse has befallen the land, causing some kind of change in behavior, looks, abilities, etc. in everyone who succumbs to it.  The plague and zombies are often turned to when campaigns think of widespread epidemics, but I think my campaign would be a different effect.  Chris Perkins, senior producer for Wizards of the Coast (co-creator of 3rd edition), through the unique feature that everyone in his world had Wild Magic that allowed everyone to cast at least 1 spell which would amplify on certain days.  While this would not cause despair in a country, I like the idea whatever the case may be changes on certain days or time periods.  A harvest moon, lunar eclipse, etc., could be frequent enough in the world that it will matter.  The world has become extremely dangerous because of this phenomenon, making monsters even deadlier and mundane people dangerous enough.  Mutations would be a possibility as long as their minds have become animalistic so they act on instinct and anger and have no chance of being talked out of a fight.  This will put the players on guard more and lessen the frequency to parlay with enemies, but there will be moments for that as well.

The premise is the cause is brought about by either one man or a collection of people who are working to gain favor for a brand new god who appeared.  This god has granted a list of progressively more powerful abilities and spells the more the collection of people can convert the world into these creatures or entities the deity is demanding.  There’s a percentage that increases as the players discover new areas have been affected.  This grants the collection more abilities to do on the country that changes the very physics of the world such as sunlight hours, weather, gravity, and time.  These events will occur throughout the campaign to give change and challenge to the players.

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They’ll find towns filled with converted people, mostly seeming abandoned.  Actual untouched people are now below ground.  Somehow the dwarves are more resilient to the Touch, as it is now called, than any other race.  They were aware of the collection of people behind this phenomenon and allowed those unaffected to come into their underground kingdoms.  These areas became sealed vaults to the outside world, completely self-sufficient unless breached.  This concept is directly from the Fallout video game franchise.  I like the idea of the last remaining few to be hiding and the players will have to find certain ones who are key in stopping the Collection.  Some vaults are breached and have been ransacked, though players can venture in to scavenge and find potentially hard to find magical items left behind depending on what creature breached the vault.  The creatures may use the vault as their home now though they have no use for the items left within.

The Touch can’t be lycanthropy or a zombification.  Those are used so much.  However, both have the characteristics I want in the phenomenon: a lack of a conscience mind and some metamorphosis.  Fingers and teeth become elongated or they become ethereal or corporeal.  Perhaps they adapt a black tissue that covers part of their body and causes them to act violently or angrily like Venom’s symbiotic suit.  It wouldn’t be the entire body, pieces of it and different parts of the body.  Perhaps the legs are covered, causing the person to move incredibly fast almost like teleporting that makes him hard to hit.  One arm could be coated which makes the fingers extremely long and sharp.  Their head partially covered over one eye or the mouth brings their teeth longer or their eye to glow red and can see better in pitch black.

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Some could be completely coated, and these have been granted a more powerful set of abilities, perhaps even some semi-intelligence.  The idea of the blackness would be that it is linked to a living creature that is far below the surface.  It’s ironically well protected in the Dwarven kingdoms because it is considered an avatar of their god.  This avatar is actually one of the Collection’s members, having been granted the ability to mimic almost demi-god like powers to fool the dwarves.  This would allow the Collection to send assassins and specially trained creatures and people after the vaults to gain access through trickery.

So the goal of the group would be first to explore the world a bit to understand nearly the entire world is lost to the Touch.  Danger is everywhere now with creatures and people affected.  That would be the first story arc.  The few remaining are hidden in vaults scattered across the land, giving the players things to seek out.  They will encounter random assassins and things working for the Collection, having a rival group especially that tries thwarting them.  Once they discover the dwarves and vaults, they will need to discover the false avatar god tied in with the Collection though they have speculation rather than facts.  This would be the second story arc.  So they must discover somehow that there is a handful of people who possess the ability collectively or the knowledge of locating and destroying the Collection.  The players must locate each one in the vaults (one perhaps not being in a vault, just isolated), and bring them together in a final showdown.

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This is more ramblings of brainstorming, but it’s essentially how I work on brainstorming for a campaign.  I am not scared to steal ideas right from other sources because I’m not selling it for profit.  The familiarity sometimes is laughed at when the players identify a “rip off” segment, but that familiarity allows them to relate to it better and imagine it with a clearer picture.

Having said all that, this is nothing more than ideas that I happen to be interested in.  It’s not fleshed out, there aren’t any villains created, the world itself is not imagined, the cities have yet to be built, etc.  A one or two page idea is one thing, fleshing it out where it’s ready to be run is another.  It’s best to break your campaign into story arcs, that is, little chapters.  Take the first one and focus JUST on that.  Don’t worry about creating the dwarf vaults or fleshing out what avatar the dwarves worship because the players aren’t even going to discover that for a while.  Worry about creating some countryside villages filled with weird strange monsters or people.  For the climax, a particularly large or powerful creature that’s demise would ease a bit of the danger in the area.  Then create a little snippet of information where it leads to them seeking out the dwarves and the vaults (perhaps finding a small nook of a vault with dwarven architecture).  A campaign is made in bite sizes just like you run it in bite sizes.  Otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed and bogged down with too much work and the players will have little focus.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Bringing Back Balance To Your Game Episode.052

“How much?” he asks as he holds the jeweled pendant in his hands in front of the drooling merchant, anxious for a big sell today.  “For you, I will part with such a rare item for three quarters of a hundred thousand.”  The man looks up with an emotionless expression on his face. “Fine,” he replies and places a heavy chest on the counter with a thud and a deafened jingle from within.  The merchant wets his lips at the sight, never having seen so much money at one time…and all for him.  He looks up to thank the buyer, offering his hand, but his shop is completely empty.  The little bell above his door never once rang when he left.  “How did he move so quickly?” thought the merchant, and then shrugged his shoulders as he eyed the chest and worked at the latch to open the container.  Outside moments later, bystanders heard a shriek of horror and pain from within the shop.  By the time someone investigated, they found nothing more than a pool of liquid beside the opened chest, a burning sizzle rising from within the container that had a spring-loaded acid trap, now spent.  The only one who knew of the mysterious man’s existence was now dead, but the world would know of him very soon.

One thing that always baffled me are players who find enjoyment for long periods of time playing characters who are clearly overpowered for the game in rpgs.  While it is very satisfying and rewarding when you work hard to build a character from very little to a very powerful character, the latter half should still be as challenging, just on another spectrum.  Challenges, obstacles, or bumps in the road make up any storyline and create interest.  If you were to take out those setbacks or achievements that need to be accomplished, then you are living essentially a “slice of life” story where it is merely a segment of one’s life in everyday living that just happens to have little to no difficulties.  We may live ordinary lives every day, but they are still filled with challenges both great and small.  We can think that life would be so much better if we lived in a utopia where there was no work and all play, it would lose its value and enjoyment.  If we don’t mix things up, we lose interest.  Those living in paradise eventually get used to living day to day there and it loses the charm.

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So what brings on the charm of being so powerful in an rpg you find little to no challenge in each session?  It may be fun to enjoy dominating an encounter, rolling extremely high numbers (ridiculously high, in fact), but just how far can the enjoyment of that go?  Sooner or later, repetition is going to sink in, and you will find yourself going through the motions rather than the joy.  The excited rolls of big numbers will eventually become “why bother rolling?”  As a GM, it becomes more difficult to find challenges for players who prefer to become more powerful than they know what to do with.  Generally the two areas of power a character can get are money and equipment.  The former brings the latter unless you accidentally give them the opportunity to acquire the equipment.  I find that if you are able to limit the amount of gold and reward what they get as they progress, you will be able to control their power.  This is much easier said than done.  In fact, there are charts in most guides for GMs explaining how much reward you should give a group depending on their level (not just fantasy rpgs but in general).  It’s so easy to just dump a large amount of gold at the players.  When they get powerful enough to hunt dragons, for example, or attack corporate companies that have Swiss bank accounts, that’s when you need to be on you’re A Game.  But let’s say you made a mistake and allowed the party to either have too much gear or money too soon.  How do you bring it back to a level playing field without you having to tell them point blank you need to remove some things from the game?  Here are a few suggestions to get your brain storming started:

  • Curse Items – This is for fantasy settings when things like magical gear are available. It won’t be as critical in modern day or future settings.  However, in a setting where they are present, cursed items can really help bring characters back on a level playing field although it is only a temporary fix.  If they acquired their gear by money, they probably still have a ton left.  However, keep in mind that curse items that cause your gear to go mundane is extremely powerful and should be in a logical area.  It can also cause your players to up and quit the game (had one do that in a fit of rage).

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  • Give them opportunity to buy cool things that are essentially worthless. Strongholds are the best that come to mind.  These can produce gold, but not as quickly or as much as the wealth they have on hand.  Building structures takes lots of workers, tons of material, and constant protection until it can properly defend itself.  Once built, then it takes time for people to move in and be taxed.  Tax them too high and a GM can choose they begin leaving.  Let them build their own traveling vessel like a ship.  Just because the price “in the book” says a value doesn’t mean that is how much it is.  YOU are in charge of your world.  It’s your baby.  Different parts of the real world have varied prices depending on inflation.  Pure economics will dictate and allow you to choose the values of things.

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  • The countries they are in can hold a ton of options on reducing gold or valuables. It can be a highly taxed environment that does an outstanding job of keeping an eye on everyone through scrying means.  There could be a form of IRS that is a collection of wizards working for the king who use their powers to spy on every single person in the kingdom and makes notes of who pays and who doesn’t, then sends a powerful group of assassins or adventurers after them to collect or soften up.
    • The country could be very anti-magic to the point the entire country (or a large part of it) is domed with an anti-magic field, rendering their weapons mundane. Instead of the entire area being a neutral area, you could introduce anti-magical weapons.  These pieces of equipment could be enchanted with a means to negate the enchantment of the weapons the party uses.  Armor could essentially work as damage reductions, negating the magical bonus the weapons have, and their anti-magical weapons could cut through their enchanted armor.
    • Not every country uses monies to buy and sell things. Bartering could be an option, and when they have to come up with something valuable enough to acquire that very expensive magical item, it may be a challenge.  Often bartering doesn’t have a price or value.  It is based on what the two need.  The man with the weapon may have a need for a cow, but they are in the desert where cows are extremely hard to find.  The country may be against the country where they acquired the gold and refuse to accept or exchange it, calling the coins “tainted.”

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  • Another possibility is for actual theft. This is a bit tougher to pull off because just about any gaming party is by nature extremely paranoid because they know whatever they are capable of doing other people are just as aware and capable.  But not everyone is at the same level of skill as the party is.  Just because they are around the 4th level (or whatever equivalent in the system) doesn’t mean everyone in the world is the same.  Much more prevalent in a more realistic, living campaign world where the party can and will encounter all kinds of danger, they can often be reminded that the world is a dangerous place.  Just because they are overly cautious doesn’t mean they are completely safe.  As a GM, you can compare the situation to hackers in modern day where no company can guarantee their systems are safe.  No matter how careful the party is in keeping an eye out, if someone wants your stuff bad enough, they are going to take it.  This can lead to having a reoccurring villain or villains who continue to thwart the party as they try to catch them.
  • Finally, always keep track of encumbrance when they acquire too much gold.  Carrying 150,000 gold pieces takes up A LOT of space!  If they then choose to put it in a bank, it’s not like modern times where we can wire money from bank to bank.  Where it is held is where your money can be accessed.  Then you have the threat of it being stolen.  They could put the money in a dungeon they have cleared, but then it’s a cleared, unprotected dungeon.  Putting the gold all on a wagon is fine, but think about that for a second: a wagon filled with gold jingling anywhere is bound to attract constant attention.  They definitely can’t carry it all on their bodies without being highly unencumbered, too.

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It is tempting to reward your players too quickly and by too much.  This is especially the case after the party accomplishes a very difficult task, and you feel that they should get a considerable award for their achievement.  Be very careful with awarding treasure and rewards on the fly!  I can’t stress this enough.  If you know something is coming up, prepare yourself beforehand by making a list of things they will acquire if they complete a task.  However, if you are suddenly working on-the-fly, making things up off the cuff because the players are going a different direction than you had planned, there is nothing wrong with you making a note to the players the reward will be given later.  Yes they may be belly-aching because they want to know now, but leave it as a cliffhanger if you want.  “After vanquishing the beholder and gaining access to its secret chamber, you open the door to see….” And make them wait until next session.  It will make them anxious to come back to find out, and it will give you enough time to clearly think of a fair and balanced reward for them.

Take your time, think things through, and proceed with caution and wisdom instead of being zealous or careless.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

the-classic-fighter

Mastering as Game Master: Tips & Tricks Episode.051

Anytime I am at a convention or around seasoned GMs, I love to pick their brains.  I love talking about past games we have run and anecdotes, but really the parts I eat up most are the times GMs talk about a technique they did or a trick they pulled off without the players knowing that led to an amazing story conclusion.  Even newcomers just getting into the GMing world often have clever ideas that people who have been running rpgs for 20-30 years never thought about.  Like with any professional field, talking in groups with like-minded individuals will almost always yield improved productivity either through creative ingenuity or higher efficiency ratings.  These adjustments can add light years to your game.  Your experience as well as your players may very well improve and revitalize that campaign that is waning rapidly on excitement.

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There aren’t enough seminars at conventions involving GM training.  It’s not that GMing is all that difficult with some practice, but there are things we don’t think about or realize and fail to utilize in our game.  Various tips, tricks, and techniques can spice your game up significantly.  There is a tremendous amount of information on improving your game online that can help anyone sharpen their skills.  If anything, it’ll stimulate the imagination and bring about new inspiration.

When you are running a campaign, it is important to make note of the insignificant things from time to time in your world.  Next time you are out in public, take a mental note of your surroundings.  Maybe an emergency vehicle is rushing to aid someone or a broken down vehicle alongside the road.  Someone’s flying a kite or riding a bicycle or painting in a park or riding in a hot air balloon.  These are things we generally ignore (perhaps not the hot air balloon), but they make up our realistic world.  If we were to remove those mundane things, we would immediately become aware of our surroundings and the odd obscurity of it all.  We don’t stop and listen to birds, but we take note if the birds suddenly stop singing.  Much like our world, it’s vast enough that a million things are happening at the same time, most of which does not pertain to you.  Someone is going to the store, someone’s going bowling, or someone’s working on their car in their garage.  Someone is visiting their nephew on his birthday.  They would not really fit or be needed in a typical campaign, but they carry the same premise understanding for what you can implement.  For example, in a gritty, sci-fi campaign, an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring flies by.  The players overhear a news report on a broadcast system – an isolated radio in an abandoned station, a department store, a passing vehicle, a town crier – of something significant and interesting happening elsewhere.  It can be a natural disaster, a huge political change, a large scale war, an epidemic, an alien sighting, the dead rising, etc.  These do not need to have any ties whatsoever with the campaign.  I’ve had players feel the rumbling of thunder on the ground approaching from behind that is caused by an enormous army on the march down the road they are traveling down.  One officer lets them know frost giants are on the move against a famous capital city far to the north, and they are on their way to reinforce the city.  The party could try to join or follow the army, but it wouldn’t be the end of their campaign if they didn’t if they were on their way elsewhere.

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Don’t feel you have to go by the book on encounters.  If questing in rpgs were real, you would not experience a progressively more difficult group of monsters.  Just like if you go camping up in North America or the deep parts of Syberia, you’re going to encounter deadly animals from the very start and not harmless bunnies.  You don’t have to kill the characters.  There’s no need to throw adult black dragons at players just starting their campaign.  However, monsters can come in, wear down and toy with the PCs then abandon them when they realize they are uninteresting due to their weakness.  Think of it as a toy that a dog or cat plays with and grows bored once it realizes the ball does nothing but roll when they push it around.  It doesn’t fight back or chase them (and in the case of the party, the damage is insignificant to the monster).  This also helps you as a GM wear down players who seem to always be dominating combat.  Make them spend a few spells or lose a little health before the fight you really were planning to throw them at.

Before you begin a campaign, establish a “social contract” with your players.  This was an outstanding idea from Chris Perkins, senior producer for Wizards of the Coast.  Essentially it is an agreement between you and your players on a list of certain things that everyone has to abide by throughout the game.  This can be anything from “no threatening or attacks between PCs,” or “accepting and dealing with bad situations that happen to your PC without belly aching.”  It lays down the foundation of understanding of how you are going to run the game and what the players expect up front.  I enjoy putting PCs in bad situations; I especially love having them arrested and making them find a daring way to escape.  Without knowing prior to the campaign beginning that this can happen, players may get aggravated, frustrated, or irrational in thought towards the GM when something happens to their precious PC.  These will essentially be house rules, and I would recommend a clause that more rules can be added if the group finds a problem that needs a remedy in the rules or gameplay.

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Many times, experienced players can role play without meta gaming even though they know the truth.  I picked up a hint from the GM when he slipped about something behind the door, but I know my character is reckless and careless.  Even though I played the character accurately to his background and personality, as a player I knew I was walking into a trap.  Yes, I’m okay with playing it right, but the surprise of my character getting pummeled by falling rocks in the corridor was lost.  This is where you as a GM can hide things that the players are “suppose” to know according to many mainstream rpg rules.  For example, don’t have players roll for checks on whether they are in danger or about to be if they proceed.  If the player is looking for traps, then roll for them privately.  Otherwise on a success they know there aren’t any traps, but on a failure they also might fail to find any traps.  If you roll poorly for them and tell them they do not find any traps, they will properly trigger the trap as their characters did not spot it in time.  Without this hidden method, they have to avoid meta-gaming, but they still will have their own, story-line surprise ruined.  This goes for any situation that does not involve an objective occurrence, only subjective.  Your character believes he is moving silently because he can’t hear himself, but a guard has incredibly better hearing and is listening to each step unbeknownst to the character.  Let the player find this out when he turns the corner and runs into a waiting guard.  If you have problems with your players meta gaming (i.e. players who aren’t wise enough to play the game truly), this can reduce that problem.

Instead of always rolling dice for situations, give the players activities to interact with.  Daring escapes from a burning building by having each player solve a maze on a piece of paper at the gaming table.  Time it and hand out incremental damage depending on how many seconds after the target time each player takes.  Trying to get through an interesting situation that usually deals with a simple roll of the dice and consulting a chart can be substituted out with a simple but challenging toy puzzle bought at the store.  It will stimulate their minds in a different way, break up the monotony of the game, and give them something to fiddle with for a bit.

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If you’re lucky enough to get to a convention, or if you find some GMs at your local gaming store, keep your ears and eyes open for people talking about rpgs and running games.  Those are your GMs who you can pick their brains or just listen in on their stories and such.  Ask them about any interesting techniques they may have, situational problems you have face, or general ideas on handling a campaign.  Don’t worry or feel self-conscious of asking a stupid question ever when it comes to a fellow gamer.  The industry has always been a niche and we cherish and value fellow RP gamers when we meet them.  And among those fellows, good GMs are extremely hard to come by.  I can’t stress that enough as I often find people tackling GM duties at conventions and admitting it was their very first game ever to GM.  So pick their brains, ask the questions you need to ask, and make mental notes of any tips and advice they may have because generally it’ll help your game out tremendously.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Planning Custom Spaceships Episode.050

The holographic display panel lowered into view before the lady.  Mr. Thorton, in his brand new three-piece, smiled cheekily at her while gestured dramatically to the graphic of a starship in front of them.  “This is but a baseline model, Ms Gwendolyn, but each feature is at your fingertips to move onto or away from the initial package, customizing the ship to your specifications.”  She knew she was on a tight budget and time schedule on getting off the rock, but she was investing too much to pass up a well-built ship.  With somewhat constraint, she dragged the essential upgrades she knew she couldn’t live without like an extended fission-powered life support system.  Her fingers danced over the quad barrel ionic cannon remembering for a moment what was hunting her down but restrained herself from the big expense to have more creds for the reinforced outer hull.  She had her starship, she had a name for it already, but she now had nothing else as her eyes crossed over the final cred total.  This was going to be a very tight trip.

Not everyone likes to construct and build things from scratch.  Some people who were heavy into 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were extremely specific and dedicated on constructing their stronghold or wizard’s tower perfectly, micromanaging the entire operation down to the architectural drawings on graph paper.  It can offer a nice side diversion from the regular routine of playing a game.  There aren’t many rpg’s out there that offer any kind of construction in that method, but those that are, give way to a whole new level of gameplay.  One of my favorites is the ship construction phase during a game of Traveller.

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I’ve talked about Traveller in another blog – feel free to revert to that for a better explanation of the system.  However, constructing a spaceship was by far the highlight of the game for me besides perhaps character creation.  The design could be so involved that it could handle actual science and physics for calculations both on movement and capacity.  There were graphs and charts involving mathematics for various trajectories, orbiting, and propulsion that much of that was often disregarded by most players.

My forte was the actual design layout of the ship, and this goes for any rpg that offers science fiction and space travel.  Even if you opt not to include space combat, it is a great piece to add to the campaign like a well visited tavern.  But how do you go about building one?  What goes in it?  What can fit inside your chosen ship?

With any starship, there is going to be a budget of some kind.  Even if your characters have millions laying around and having to shoot credits out of a cannon as you travel just to save on weight, you still have a capacity.  The best and easiest way is to pick out 3 starships that have a range of cost and the square footage varies considerably.  Next we’ll narrow down the components and compartments we absolutely must have.  Then it’s a matter of seeing if all the jigsaw puzzles fit in one of the three ships.  And if a few parts can’t go in to the ship you absolutely need, then decide the least needed component that you can live without until it all fits.  Here is an extensive list of pieces to consider when building your custom starship.

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ESSENTIALS

Life Support & Environmental Systems – This may be self-explanatory, but there are quite a number of different kinds of both.  Temperature, humidty, air flow (with correct mixture for breathing), and pressure are all sources for life support.  Does it have a regeneration device that recycles carbon dioxide or does it use cheaper tanks instead?  Is the temperature regulated with coils or burning fuel?

Hull – The outer shell of the ship that protects the equipment and inhabitants safe from small meteors, light ship firefight, minor collision, or just keeping the environments intact inside the ship.  Some prefer the comfort of having an inner hull for extra protection while others wish to install a heat shield similar to the American space shuttle to avoid burning the rest of the ship up during reentry of a planet.  And just because most sci fi movies have ships that are painted a single or two-tone color doesn’t mean yours can’t have a wild design.

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Bridge – This is where the ship is controlled.  Whether it is in the form of a cockpit for smaller vessels or a large room for capital-size ships, it needs to have the main controls for the entire ship.  From engineering to comms to opening bay doors, in an emergency situation, this is where the basic functions of a spaceship need to be controlled.  Some ships won’t have an exterior view for added protection since the outer hull can serve as a shield around the bridge.  Viewing them is usually diverted to a display panel or screen.  The smaller the vessel, the more important it is for vision to be immediate and in real-time, so direct exterior views are to be considered.

Engines – Depending on your campaign, you may have hyper drives, thrusters, jets, repulsive engines, or even propellers.  Many might feel engines need to be as far away from the living quarters of the ship as possible for safety reasons, but this is not the case.  If you are opting for a ship that runs on something that can potentially kill the crew if something goes wrong, and something does go wrong, the ship is doomed regardless of whether it is 50 meters or 1500 meters away.  Engines with enough power to move a ship through space at a rapid enough speed to not make living years a factor will have explosions and blast radii far exceeding the length of just about any ship.  However, for those minor occurrences where separation or isolation is all that is called for, bulkheads are mandatory, which are heavy metal doors that seal shut when closed to protect the rest of the ship.

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ADDED OPTIONS

With the four basic necessities picked out, the fun really begins.  There are dozens of things that can be added to add luxury, protection, and illumination potential on your long voyage.  It can get expensive quickly when picking out what you really can’t live without.

Entering/Exit Hatchways – This is mostly determined by the size of the ship.  If the ship can land on a planet’s surface, then usually a hatch or ramp way is sufficient.  For vessels that are orbital-only, it needs to have a form of transportation to and from a planet’s surface.  Shuttles are available, but they range in occupancy capacity so keep that in mind.  Most do not have much defense or offensive capabilities but can be installed if need be.  Teleporters are also an option depending on the technology level of your campaign.  You’ll also want to have escape pods installed for emergency evacuations.  These can be in plain sight or hidden in case the ship is confiscated.

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Gravity – Does the ship come with a generator, does it spin to create gravity, does it have some kind of device or artifact that creates it naturally, or does the ship come without gravity and everyone wears magnetic boots?

  • Airlocks
  • Head – bathroom, lavatory
  • Galley – kitchen
    • Pantry – small kitchen for officers only
  • Mess Hall or Deck – a place for the crew to eat
  • Sick Bay – for the medical offers and staff personnel to work
  • Berthing – sleeping quarters for the crew
  • Officers’ cabin – the captain will have a special room with better amenities and private head
  • Brig – a holding center for hostiles
  • Cargo holds – depending on what you’re transporting, usually measured by the ton
  • Engineering – where the engines are located but also any monitoring or manual controls
  • Observatory – can either be a recreational center, star gazing room, or for scientific viewing
  • Science lab – this laboratory can be either generalized or have specialized compartments within
    • Chemistry
    • Biology/Botany
    • Physics
    • Xenology
    • Geology
    • Astronomy
  • Flight bay – If the ship is large enough for a shuttle or fighter ships, this will hold them safely
  • Smugglers Den – a secret compartment that is used to hold contraband or sensitive material
  • Holodeck – used from Star Trek, it can be used for recreational or educational purposes
  • Rec Center – can be used for the crew’s health, providing a gym, swimming (with gravity), etc.

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This is just a tip of the iceberg on what can be included into a spaceship.  Your ship can be more modular, having the capability of swapping pods in and out relatively quickly.  Pods can hold just about anything and be fully customizable and held in storage from liquid-induced healing tanks similar to bacta-tanks in Star Wars to turrets to small holding chambers.

Find the budget and narrow down all of the desirables to the “must haves” then start piecing them together in the ship you want.  With any luck, things will fall right into place like a glove.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

viper