Creating an RPG Campaign Bible – Part 1 Episode.062

As a GM, there is nothing quite like that initial feeling you get when you are about to start a campaign with some friends.  You have tons of inspiration that hasn’t been tapped, plenty of ideas, and a feeling of “newness” fills each of you as you begin that first session.  But there is a lot of prep work that is required before you start something like that as a GM.  Although you can begin a campaign on-the-fly during the first session, it’s considerably challenging to devise over-arching plots, side plots, character-plots, cities, dungeons, people, monsters, treasure, weather patterns, geographical landmarks, etc., as you play.  It’s really best (and can be a lot of fun) to build up your world at least a little bit before beginning.


A few years ago, Chris Perkins, one of the big producers with Wizards of the Coast (and all around tremendous DM), uploaded what he called a “Campaign Bible” that was about 12-pages of information for the players to read prior to starting the campaign.  In the document, players could read up on interesting features that people living in his world would know from landmarks to famous people.  Much like we would in real life, we have various knowledge of the same information in the country we live in.  This information allows players to select the best character that suits their interests and fits the world, and it gives background information that they can use as they play the game.  For example, if they know that the king of their realm is known for allowing anyone to seek an audience with him, day or night, they can automatically make that move when they arrive in the city he resides in without being told in-game by the GM.  It allows players to roleplay their character with knowledge, which in turn gives more immersion to the system.

Creating a bible helps the GM as well in many ways.  You are able to lay out some basic, important information in a well-organized document for later use.  You also can get a good feeling if you’re up to the challenge of running a campaign, too.  Usually these bibles should only be 10-15 pages maximum.  Writing that many pages can be quite a challenge for many people, and coming up with that amount of information for your world will show you if you have the motivation to stick with it.  By filling out a document such as this, you are able to answer the important questions that need to be answered from the start.  For example, you need to know about interesting features of your world so the players have places to go without you railroading them.  Important people need to be created for them to interact with.  A sense of realism needs to be made such as what month is it, how is the geography laid out, how desolate is the world, what is the typical weather like for each season in each region?  You need to be able to provide information on races and classes to the players, too.  Give the races more life by having a short history of each, where they are typically found, how they interact with others, and what are some unique things about them.  If you’re going through the trouble of making your own world, it had better be unique in many ways.  Otherwise you might as well use a published campaign setting that is already fleshed out.

Surrach map

Currently I’m preparing a campaign as I venture out and search for a gaming group.  I want to be prepared when I find the people who need a GM to run a campaign for them, so I’m working on the concept now.  This is done by creating a campaign bible of my world.  That way when I do stumble upon them, I don’t have to ask them to wait another month or two while I work on concepts.  I can present the bible document to them to read over and see if it interests them.

I’m going about it a little differently because I don’t have a group yet.  If you already have a group and are interested in running a campaign, you absolutely need to consult with them first.  Sit down with them over pizza and ask them as many questions as you can.  What kind of campaign are they wanting?  Combat?  Roleplaying?  A mixture?  Do they like mystery adventures, or do they like to solve puzzles and riddles?  Are they into political intrigue?  Do they like their characters to be in constant danger or dominate from the start?  How often are they wanting to meet (this will give you an idea of how much time you’ll have to work on between each session)?  Once you have your answers, then it is time to make the campaign bible, listing the important information they need to know upfront while they make their characters and prepare for the first session.


My world is called Zatra, and I begin the bible with an introduction.  At this point, I am writing more information in it than my players will know.  There are facts and knowledge in this that will not be privy to them from the start.  It’s easier to hide that information than have to come up with it in the future.  Over the next few episodes of this blog, I’ll be providing and discussing each section and why it is helpful for the players while giving any possible recommendations or tips on how to improve that section.  For now, here is the introduction of the document that sets the mood and gives the general idea behind what conflicts the world is facing right now (without conflict, a Utopia world would be boring to run a game in).


the world of ZATRA

Zatra is a realm that is at the end of its golden era, on the verge of falling into total darkness.  What was once the pinnacle of mankind in discovery, innovation, and other advancements has become a realm of fear and terror.  For thousands of years, only one omnipotent deity, known only as God, oversaw and took care of the land, nurturing and guiding those in his favor to the world he envisioned, bringing it into a utopia.  Prosperity abounded.  Yet all was not well as a flicker of darkness had become a manifestation in a direct polar opposite of what the world had become.  This manifestation became a second deity, known only to a handful of people.  Numbering in seven, they were drawn to each other with the influence and guidance of this new figure who they named Koz.  However, the new power was weak and needed time, followers, and self-nurturing before it was ever a threat to God.


The world is still divided into a five kingdoms, but there are no true rulers over siding them.  What remains is a broken world that is destined for a film of darkness to overcome the lands.  Few civilized races still reside above ground for fear of being infected by the Touch, a mysterious ooze that removes conscious control while granting physical boons and bestial violence.  Those who have avoided the contamination have fled to the Dwarven Kingdoms far below the surface as the subterranean species find a strong resilience to the Touch.  Dozens of sealed vault-like caverns called the Chambers are built for all civilized races who are unaffected by the Touch.  The kingdoms have been reinforced and sealed from the world, completely self-sufficient.  The three dwarven kings and their two advisors are the only living beings who know of the secret chambers that access the surface and how to navigate through them.


As the group of Koz followers, known as the Nub Sumat, aid in spreading the Touch, Koz grants them more incredible powers that can change the world on large scales.  Time is dwindling for those seeking a peaceful, healthy life as the last remaining outside the Chambers are slowly transformed into the creatures that haunt the world.  Discovering the hidden tunnels that lead to the three Dwarven Kingdoms is inevitable as Koz grows more powerful each day.  But those hiding underground have grown to be xenophobic and shun anyone from the surface suspecting them of contamination.

Next episode will talk about creating a historical timeline for your world.

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

Exploring Gen Con’s Dealer’s Room Episode.061

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see the Exhibitor’s Hall at Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA), it’s an eruption of sights and sounds that beg you to strain your neck in 360 degrees.  Things will catch you out of the corner of your eye, someone will invite you to play a game for free, and vendors will be handing out free trinkets to lure you in.  It is no surprise that 3-5 hours can be spent in what is commonly referred to the Dealer’s Room.  Some people ignore the majority of the booths and go straight to their favorite location, planting themselves at the demonstration tables and play games all day.  You can do that.  Fantasy Flight and Mayfair Games especially offer entire sections of tables where you can sit down with a sales representative and learn the basics of the game before you buy it.  And under no obligation are you held to doing so after you play it.  While it is easier to walk away from the larger booths where dozens of people are milling about, the smaller booths cause a greater sense of guilt for not buying their game after they took the time to show you how it’s played.  You are wise to be comfortable saying no.


I find it hypnotic as a sight of wonder as I make my way through the aisles of merchandise.  I generally do my best to start at either end of the room because it is beyond colossal in size.  Two football fields could fit inside the hall side by side.  The hall is so massive they have to drape giant banners above each aisle signifying what number it is.  There are approximately 25-30 aisles total.  It is very easy to get distracted or disoriented without keeping a good eye above.  And not all of the aisles cut entirely straight through.  Many of the booths are so huge that they cannot fit width-wise between two aisles and cross right over it.  This makes it more of a challenge as you aren’t able to just walk right through these areas since they are assigned for gaming demonstrations that sometimes have long lines.  You must walk to the next aisle over and come around on the other side of the gaming area.  If you’re easily distracted, this simple task will be quite difficult.


The crowds are another factor.  Several things to remember is that this convention handles over 50,000 attendees, many of which are in the Dealer’s Room throughout the day.  One of the biggest complaints with the massive crowds is parents who bring strollers in with them.  I’m sure they are not having any more fun than I am trying to wedge the wheeled contraptions with their children through thickly crowded aisles.  They take up space, and they force the already jammed packed crowds to push their way to one side in order to give room.  While the convention is family oriented, these tight, congested areas really are not suitable for strollers.


Despite what the convention asks, people still stop in the middle of aisles and intersections to either visit, take a picture of someone in costume, or just gawk at something.  It’s perfectly suitable to take a detour from your path over to the side and do those things all you want, but when the aisles are so crowded that you have to literally shuffle your feet no more than 6 inches at a time, it’s horrifically annoying when the whole “train” comes to a stop because people are blocking the way.


But regardless of the few annoyances you’ll see when it comes to any large group, you’re in for an experience that you can’t quite prepare yourself for.  To begin with, the doors open at 10 a.m. each day and close that afternoon at 6 p.m.  They do this Thursday through Sunday, and if you are lucky enough to either slip past the door nazi or have a friend who’s a vendor, you can actually get in Wednesday evening to have a look around though nothing is for sale at that point as vendors are finishing up on setting their merchandise out for the next day.


If you want a specific thing that has a chance of selling out, you need to be prepared to show up well before 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.  By 9:20, you are going to see the start of what will become an enormous buildup of a crowd gathering outside the hall.  By 9:30, most of the hall will be full of people packed in.  The area is so congested that staff volunteers have to force people to make paths through them in order for others to walk.  When 10 a.m. rolls around, the doors open.  At this time, the hall has 3 groups of doors at various intervals along one of the walls.  Each group consists of about 6 double doors.  You have to present your badge in order to get in, which I think slows up the flow of traffic initially, but that is the convention’s way of demanding you pay to spend money like a Costco or Sam’s Club.


It’s really a good idea to take the trip twice for many reasons.  First, you’re going to probably miss something.  Second, vendors will bring out or change merchandise throughout the weekend.  Third, sales will begin really picking up on items by Saturday afternoon and into Sunday.  Fourth, the traffic begins to thin out as the weekend goes and people have spent their money and bought the things they came for.


There’s no doubt that with the entire amount of stuff to look at in the Dealer’s Room, there are things that are going to be overlooked.  So a second look doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re interested in finding something that just interests you but you weren’t expecting to buy.  Discovery is a big word in there as you stumble upon things you never knew existed.


Items get rotated throughout the weekend.  Things are sold out, and other items are brought in.  The smaller vendors will have a more static arrangement of merchandise, but the larger vendors sometimes have a cycling schedule where some new merchandise is brought in later in the weekend to entice customers to return to their booth.


Although a fairly obvious statement, merchandise can be heavy.  The amount of things that even the smaller vendors bring to the show takes up space and is a bare to load back into their van or truck to hall back home.  Many companies, especially the smaller ones with a lot of books, will drop their prices or be willing to make deals once Saturday afternoon rolls around and especially on Sunday.  Feel free to request bundle packages with things and don’t be afraid to haggle a bit.  There are obvious times when vendors aren’t going to mark their merchandise down.  The larger the vendor, I’ve found, the less likely they will come down on an item.  If they are brand new items, it’s tough for them to justify already lowering the cost, but if you offer to buy multiple things and then ask if $5-10 can be knocked off, you may be surprised to get that.


Usually on Saturday there are a tremendous amount of events going on from private parties hosted by some of the vendors to live concerts to huge tournaments.  This takes up a good number of people’s time and generally has an effect on the numbers in the Dealer’s Room.  Sunday is usually the emptiest because a huge group, mostly those traveling, will be back at the hotel packing and taking taxis to the airport or driving home.  You’ll find more success by then as long as the merchandise is still there.  That is always a risk when dealing with any retail store, however.  If there are enough copies on Friday, you should be okay by Sunday.


While I do have numerous opinions about the convention and its growing size previously talked about, there are still benefits and good things about the place, especially the Dealer’s Room.  However, keep in mind this final thought.  Unless there is an item that is being released just at Gen Con and limited supply, chances are you can buy it online for the same price or cheaper.  There are quite a lot of vendors I notice year after year who sell their books for the same price they sell it year round.  Books that were out last year have the same MSRP as this year without giving any deals.  The used items like former editions of Dungeons & Dragons are usually on sale with the option of a better offer given.  But unless you absolutely insist on buying that new copy of Shadowrun that came out last year or the  year before, just buy it on Amazon for much less.

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

Gargantuan Gen Con’s Growth Episode.060

With an almost spontaneous decision, I decided to travel east to Indianapolis and attend Gen Con.  I had been attending the convention since I believe 2005 when it was still fairly new to the city from its original town of Geneva, Wisconsin.  As it has continued to grow steadily over the years in weekend turnstile numbers, it has had to change its destination to Indiana as the convention center in the heart of Indianapolis can hold tens of thousands.

That fact is changing considerably in my opinion, specifically in the last 3-4 years.  I quit going to the full weekend since 2001 due to the convention simply getting too big for its britches.  Last year, the attendance numbers were around 56,000, and I would not be surprised if they went over that figure this year.  Although these steadily increasing figures are great for the convention to keep getting their lease renewed, it has become virtually impossible to attend the convention and be able to follow a reasonably enjoyable path throughout.


This looks fun to be in the middle of

To begin with, over the years, registration has been one of the largest problems the convention has faced.  For those who have not attended, you must first purchase a badge that ranges from 1 day to 4 days.  And you have to purchase your badge before registering for any scheduled events such as roleplaying or board games.  This is all done online now with modern technology, but event registration has become essentially a lottery game.  When it first became available to register online, you were required to manually type in a code that referred to the event you wished to purchase a ticket for.  Keep in mind that some people are the “main person” for their group and have to register for more than one person (perhaps the father is registering his family of 4).  They would have to manually type in the code and select how many tickets they wanted.  Now the system is built very similar to a Fantasy Sports draft day for those who are into that.  You rank the games you want the most at the top of your list, which can be as many events as you wish.  When the event registration goes live, when your turn is up to register for events, the computer system takes your number 1 choice and looks to see if there are seats still available for the number of tickets you wanted.  If not, it goes to your number 2 choice.


Cheap hotels specifically spiked in price for Gen Con

This seems to be the least stressful method as automation was better than panicking for a good 15 minutes as you madly typed in codes for events and tried to get everyone in.  The madness came because event registration starts at a specific time for everyone.  Everyone.  Granted not all of the 56,000 attendees register for events, but I would suspect at least a quarter to one half do.  When the clock strikes the hour it goes “live,” you click to get in the virtual line awaiting to be “called.”  In years past, I remember being anywhere from 1200 to 6000.  While you wait, hundreds if not several thousands are buying their events, which possibly fill up the one you are after.   When it gets to your turn, you may not have a single event in your list that is available still.  And all that waiting was literally for nothing.


The website will lock up for many, many people when they try to register for an event.  Some get lucky and buzz right on through without a problem.  These people think it’s a wonderful system and are delighted how smooth the transaction went.  Their “smooth transaction” is what is bottling up the rest who are trying to get in but can’t because they are sailing on through.  When the site locks up, in the past we would hit Refresh on our browsers over and over in an attempt to “cut in line” or at least get the website to load faster.

While the method to the madness has improved over the years, it simply is impossible to make a truly fair system to accommodate over 50,000 people when there are limited choices available to participate in.  There are thousands of games with anywhere from 3 to 100 or more participants, but despite all that, the games that you may want might be the most popular game.  With the average game having 3-6 people, the odds are loosely about 0.001% chance of acquiring your game if all 56,000 attendees were after the same game, which isn’t the case.  It does decrease the odds significantly in acquiring a seat in a 3-6 player game when you have that many attendees because the odds increase greatly that more than 6 of the 56,000 are wanting the game.

The convention has simply gotten too large for what it offers.  Conventions this large are fine if the events are catered to the overall attendance.  Seminars that are 1500-5000, for example, allow for better chance of getting a seat.  Epic conventions like E3 or SIGGRAPH are capable of handling closer to 100,000 people and above because of the type of events they offer.  Gen Con 1 was initially intended to be a convention that offered roleplaying games.  Today, it is filled with hundreds of other things such as card game tournaments, virtual reality game systems, production shows, auctions, colossal exhibitor halls, miniatures, and much more.  This diversity is really what has increased the numbers over the years.  Although roleplaying games are still a major focus, there are a tremendous number of attendees that do absolutely no participation of those types of games.  Although this is wonderful for business and opportunity for more interests, it has greatly hindered the original concept of the convention.


Lines so long you don’t know what you’re standing in line for

There are games you simply will not get into no matter how hard you try unless you find yourself one of the extremely lucky souls.  It has become too great of a game of chance as you have to win your way to the experience you’re hoping for.  Sure there are attendees who don’t see what the problem is as they go to free seminars, explore the Exhibitor’s Hall, or attend the Killer Breakfast that Tracy Hickman runs each year.  These individuals pale in comparison to the thousands who are there for actual events that require payment.

Payment brings me to another feature that is rather odd.  This is something that Gen Con used to not demand and after a corporation purchased the convention it has become such.  To begin with, if you are a GM, there is no set number of games you need to run in order to acquire a complimentary badge.  Personally this is one of my biggest pet peeves of the entire convention.  Game Masters are literally what make that convention possible.  Without their hard work in preparation (sometimes months before the convention) there would be no roleplaying games, which still holds the majority of events there.  These individuals are almost always rewarded well at conventions where they agree to run a certain number of games to which they receive a free badge to the convention.  It is fair because really a GM is work.  It’s a job that requires a lot of their free time spent in order for a handful of people to sit down and get to play a game for 4-8 hours.


Is this fun to do while your wasting your days at Gen Con?

Instead, Gen Con Corporation has this ridiculous formula where you have to have run a total number of player hours of 96.  Confusing sounding, I know.  Basically that each player you have at your table plays for a certain number of hours, which goes to the 96 total hours you have been a GM.  So if you have 4 players at your table and run a 4 hour game, you now have 16 hours and lack 80 more hours before you get your badge comped.  EIGHTY.  This means that if you were to run what I consider a traditional RPG, that is 5 people in a 4-hour game (20 hours), you would run four, 4-hour games, and still be lacking 16 hours.  Therefore you’d be required to run a FIFTH GAME with four people in it for 4-hours.

The convention is 4 days long, and almost everyone on Sunday uses that day to travel back home.  Really you have 3 full days, and they expect you to run FIVE games of that nature in order to get a complimentary badge, totaling ~20 hours.  From here, calculate about 6-7 hours of sleep, which will of course fluctuate depending on the attendee.  That means that of the ~80 hours of gaming (assuming about ½ day on Sunday, which is stretching it), you have ~60 hours of being awake.  That leaves you with 40 hours of free time to do as you please to see a convention that has various set schedules of events and limited available events….that is 3 ½ days long.


I realize my math is a little approximating as there are plenty of variables and factors that could change the numbers, but a traditional GM set up would be facing about that.  That isn’t rewarding anyone; that is essentially restricting the welcome that they should receive for making the convention what it is today.

Now return back to paying events.  Each roleplaying game costs money for you to play.  This is after you pay anywhere from $45-70 depending on how many days you want to attend the convention.  Most games will cost between $4.00 and $6.00.  This is supposed to go to paying for the GM’s badge.  But of course, doing the math leads to a different total.  A Four-Day badge would be $70 if he or she were to pay for it themselves.  Assuming the GM is a traditionalist who runs 4-hour games with ~5 players, they would have a total of 24 players throughout the five games they have to run.  If we use the $4.00 cost for each person for all of the games the GM runs, the total is $96.00.  This value will fluctuate, but the total number of hours, 96, remains strict.  That means that about $26.00 profit is made per GM.

When it comes down to it, Gen Con should have a responsibility to cater to the GMs because as I said without them the convention would simply not exist.  With 56,000 attending, if everyone purchased a four-day badge, which they don’t, the corporation would receive nearly a $4 million gross each year.  It’s a substantial amount of money that is brought in that oddly enough was not enough in recent years as the company had to be saved from filing Chapter 11.  It’s kind of sad for being the largest convention in the state of Indiana.


Something pretty to look at

 I prefer attending Origins.  It is what Gen Con once was in the days when it existed for roleplaying games of a simpler mind.  Only ~12,000 attend this convention, which gives a substantially higher chance of finding plenty of games you wish because although the number of GM’s may be less of a ratio, the numerous slots for each game are not being fought over by 50,000 to 60,000 people but just over 10,000.  These are the conventions that gamers really thrive at.  It’s less stressful.  It’s more accommodating.  It’s more streamlined and less crowded.  It offers more opportunity.  It shuns away from claustrophobia (try entering the Exhibitor’s Hall of Gen Con just before 10 a.m. Thursday morning Day 1).  And it is not the only one.  Although Origins and Dragon Con are well known within the gaming circuit, they pale in exposure of advertisement to the giant gorilla that is Gen Con.  And they only exist on those who are willing to give the lesser known or lesser popular ones a try.  Gen Con itself may have once been a jewel in Gary Gygax’s eyes and a savory delight to gamers who once roamed the halls of Geneva Convention, but those days are long gone and what is left is a mainstream event that treats those like cattle and brandishes them with lottery tickets and expect them to continue to take the punishment.

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


The dramatic spikes of attendance throughout the years for conventions in the midwest

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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.

Random Ability Scores

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.