Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Places – Part 6 Episode.066

Next on the list is probably going to be the most fun out of the entire campaign bible: important places and events.  This is where your world will shine the brightest.  You can put literally anything in your world.  Anything!  Don’t let your pop culture knowledge restrict your imagination.  Just because it was in Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean it has to be in your world.  Make orcs civilized instead of barbaric.  Give elves an evil twist to their nature by making them sadistic in sacrificial rituals.  Let the dwarves have industrial technology.  Provide dungeons with spectacular events like the walls, floor and ceiling suddenly breaking apart and floating in a void causing the players to jump along or fall to a lower level.  Bring life to your world by making the decisions you want to do.

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In Zatra, there are already tons of places to explore despite the fact that most people are living underground and sealed in the Chambers.  I want to make each region or location interesting and intriguing to the players by giving a little twist if possible.  The more typical and predictable the region is, the less likely they will want to explore it.


Important Places & Facts

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The Dwarven Chambers.  First designed in 1043 by a Dokaleer architect named Ludvig Shadowholm, Chambers are a complete ecosystem with the purpose of being entirely self-sufficient for living creatures within.  These structures are underground fortresses, chiseled and designed by only master craftsmen dwarves, and sealed off for protection.  The idea was to bring in only those who are not carrying the Touch disease in order to quarantine the healthy and keep the world from being wiped out.  There were originally 30 in total, but rumors have begun spreading that several have been discovered and breached.

Each Chamber has a secret one-way tunnel that leads to an underground cavern that’s connected to the surface.  The knowledge of its whereabouts and the trick to pass through it unscathed is only with the three dwarven kings and their 2 advisors within each of the 3 Dwarven Kingdoms.  These tunnels can only be used once as the last obstacle along the way causes a complete cave in.  Each of the 30 Chambers is governed by a Rystar, or knight, who is responsible for the wellbeing of those residing inside.  Generally communication between Chambers does not occur because of the danger of an outside source intercepting the message and, thus, discovering the location of either.  Only one of the 3 kings can give permission for a message to be sent by means of spells.

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Unhallowed Necropolis.  Formerly called Lut Gotain, it was once the shining jewel of the eastern coast of Zatra in the kingdom of Remes.  Strengthened by the advantageous geography of the land and sea, it remained untouched by enemies for centuries.  It was known to be the wealthiest and most powerful city along the East Coast.  So much so that an enormous vault was built high above the land, suspended by magic and tethered by thick, spell-bound chains.  Anyone passing within dozens of miles can visibly see the floating building waiting for someone to bravely climb the chains or find a means to lower it to the ground.  Lut Gotain was famed for the rich tobacco called mamiya used in meditational fires and smoking pipes.  Another well-known memory of the port city was the high vertical sails of their ships, some having masts over 300 feet tall.  These colossal sails were capable of producing speeds of up to 45 knots on the open sea, which allowed goods to be traded at an astonishing rate.

Sadly the only enemy that ever breached her walls brought her to ruins.  The accepted story is that a lone traveler from the far north brought the Touch unsuspectingly into the city without the guards checking.  Now the city of Unhallowed Necropolis is an extremely deadly location to venture, filled with hundreds of victims who fell to the curse.  It is peculiar, however, in that a rumor is known of a powerful person or creature that took control over the city and found a way to command the Touched to his bidding.  Some believe it is a member of Nub Sumat, but others believe it is another entity unrelated to Koz or his followers.

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Valashra. It stretches from east to west and divides the world into halves by its sheer size and range.  The mountain range Valashra was an unnatural phenomenon, created exceedingly quickly due to a massive explosion below the earth’s surface.  To this day, no one really knows for sure what caused the explosion, but for centuries it is wildly believed that a rare race of gnomes lives somewhere far, far below the surface.  Although some claim to have seen a gnome, most notably the dwarves as they dig forever deeper, there is no documented evidence that they exist.  Scholars believe that if there is a mystical race, they live much farther underground than the deepest the mountain dwarves have ever dug before.

The mountain range has an unusual feature that is found at either end:  a cave entrance.  While the duration has never been fully traveled, it is believed that the tunnel eventually leads from one coastline to the other.  A few tests have been conducted by sending glass bottles into one end and discovering it to exit on the other over a year later.  On one peculiar incident, the bottle was slightly tinted blue and had a piece of parchment containing unknown symbols that have yet to be deciphered.  Copies were made and placed in each of the 30 Chambers as well as several surface cities.  The original copy is on permanent display in Chamber 1 where King Wolvar Thunderharm resides.

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Ming Ki. Very little is known of the monk monastery.  Those unwelcomed attempting to locate it almost always finds their fate sealed before their eyes lay upon the fortress.  It is well hidden among the mountains high above in Valashra for mysterious reasons as no one knows why the monks require such isolated privacy.  Those who leave seem to already have their purpose determined, and none of them ever surrender any information about what went on during their training.  Some people believe the monks go through extremely torturous exercises, fasting for days while being burned or pierced.  The size of the complex is also only rumored.  Many scholars feel the fortress can hold hundreds of inhabitants, but being so high in the mountains, little in terms of vegetation can be grown.  So the mystery continues as to how they provide nourishment.  The only people who journey down from the mountains are the messengers, but they only recruit a new person without acquiring any goods.

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Ulopia.  One of the remaining surface cities in existence, Ulopia is protected by some of the world’s most powerful wizards.  Many of them formed the enclave over a century ago when it was clear the Touch was a global threat.  They were innovative with their spells, fusing and reforming new ones that far exceeded historical expectations.  A dome of energy was created over the entire city, giving off a light pink hue to those observing it from miles away.  The focal point comes from one of the most powerful hubs of multiple Leeways in Zatra, which was a fortunate coincidence to the founding location of Ulopia.  Unfortunately the dome comes at a price.  Within the dome, essentially no energy comes from the Leeways.  This includes all plant life as well as magic.  As a result, farmlands surround the dome.  The engineers of Ulopia designed fascinating structures that allow the fields to be elevated ten feet off the ground to help prevent dangerous creatures from harming the farmers as they work.  Water is drawn up and carried through aqueducts from within the dome to the surrounding countryside.  Still, patrols are on duty all hours of the day outside of the dome on an elevated, circular walkway that follows the circumference.

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K’leshima. Consider yourself lucky if you lay eyes upon the great floating fortress of K’leshima unless you are a sky elf.  This nearly impossibly accessible city slowly floats above the surface of Zatra as the wind blows.  Spiraled in the foundation of the city through solid rock are four massive iron chains tipped with anchors that are lowered to the ground below during troubling winds or storms.  The center point of the city is the citadel known as Malistima (Muh-lee-stemuh), a mighty building of deep historical purpose to the sky elves.    It is here that only the Sacred Nine are permitted to conduct elemental experiments and execute decisions that reflect all people of K’leshima.  Numerous smaller rock formations are tethered to the main portion of the city and hold smaller structures including windmills.  These are powered by the wind as the city travels across the country, fueling the city’s need for advanced technology: electricity.  There is no other race or person besides the sky elves that know how to produce or harness such power.  All believe it to be simply another form of magic as certain spells are capable of creating similar effects but for a brief moment.  Only in K’leshima will you find artificial illumination, and the city is a speechless, breathtaking sight at night as it explodes into a sea of lights that can be seen for hundreds of miles away.  Transportation between the floating islands is conducted either through floating wind- or electric-powered ships or bridges.  Ships ride on magnetic currents from the planet’s core and are capable of traveling up to 150 miles per day without recharging if powered by electricity.  Sailing vessels, on the other hand, are more common but extremely expensive and difficult to acquire.

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Keldia.  Covering a large portion of the southern lands is the bog of Keldia.  Despite the feeling of death and decay throughout, Keldia is home to the hill dwarves and plays a vital role in the ecosystem of Zatra.  The origin of Keldia stems from the hands of the Nub Sumat when Koz granted them the power of weather effects.  But the flooding that created the marsh fields resulted in very soft saturated soil that happens to be ideal conditions for peat moss.  Once cultivated, the peat can be used to produce numerous valuable resources such as luxury sealing wax, growth acceleration chemicals for farming, and the purification of water.  This crop grows for dozens of miles in every direction, giving the residents of the bog a lifetime of work.  The need to purify water came several centuries ago when a contamination directly resulting from a collecting of wizard spells reached a large portion of Zatra.  At the time, powerful Clerics were able to restore the tainted aquifers, but the duration was immensely long.  With the discovery of peat moss being used to purify groundwater, the process takes considerably less time and money.

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Northern Lands. The Northern Lands are not for the weak.  The region is a cold, dark formidable area covered in some areas with over a hundred feet of snow, plagued with white out blizzards that last for weeks, and riddled with extremely dangerous creatures.  Those who reside in the region are among the toughest in the world, capable of withstanding extremely dangerous temperatures and battling the most ferocious beasts.  All of the Northern Lands are covered with some snow or solid ice, and the majority has enough that tunnels are the only means of travel and survival.  These interlocking systems are carved by giant animals or by the humans who call it their home.  It is rumored that the Northern Lands was once home to a thriving civilization not of this world before the humans made the journey over Valashra and claim it for their own.  Any evidence of this ancient people has been buried deeply under the frozen ground.


I’ll cover an interesting section of the campaign bible in Part 7 with character and class origins.  I particularly enjoy this section because it adds a better reason in selecting your race and class during the creation process.  Instead of simply saying “I like playing dwarves and I like playing fighters, so I’m a dwarven fighter,” you can say “I really like the idea of coming from the frozen Northern Lands and being well adapted to survival as well as being a member of one of the barbarian tribes there.  I’ll play a dwarf from there, completely white skin and slightly bluish beard who is covered in tribal tattoos and carries a giant battleax as a fighter.”

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

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Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Races – Part 4 Episode.065

Today we get into the meat and potatoes of the campaign bible by describing and breaking down the details of the races of the world and adding a little flavor with a custom-built calendar.  It’s always important to add even mundane and routine things into your world because what doesn’t stand out tends to be the things that make your world more realistic.  These are things that we take for granted in real life such as days of the week, typical weather patterns and seasons, food diets, superstitions, implied laws and regulations, etc.

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Then there is the detail of the races in your world.  They can be a traditional lot that are familiar to the average gamer or they can be completely foreign.  If you go the route of the latter, make sure there are some familiar features to give them a foundation to build the idea of what they look like in their mind.  If you create creatures and people with such fabricated concepts, it may be difficult for the players to wrap their heads around and paint a visual in their minds without being confused.  Race should be well established for role playing purposes as well.  There is no law stating you have to make dwarves and elves hate each other.  You don’t have to make dwarves and orcs mortal enemies either.  Don’t be afraid to spice things up and change things that might go against the norm because your world doesn’t have to be the norm.  It’s your world.

Although it isn’t entirely necessary, giving percentages of each race that makes up the whole world’s population can help give players a better way to imagine how populated areas look.  If they know that the majority of your world comprises of humans, when they enter a village or city, they will tend to imagine people milling about in the background as humans to make up the entire scene they just painted.

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Another tidbit of information you can provide your players that will also help you in the long run are names.  Some people have a lot of trouble coming up with a name they like.  Other times they give up and just randomly use a name that they later regret picking.  Whatever the case may be, giving a list of first and last names for them to pick can make their creation process easier.  It can be a nice time saver for you down the road when you have to come up with a non-important NPC on the spot and need a name.  The list you make now can be referenced at a later time.  It is also nice to add a little flavor of the race, too, if there is any unusual features about them such as better relation with another race or if the race has a general preference over a sporting event or deity.  You need not write a novel for each race.  A couple of paragraphs are sufficient for giving players a general idea of what that race feels like.  You’re essentially advertising the races to the players as if they were window shopping for the right one.

To begin with, here is the Zatra calendar.  Unique names for months may be tough for people to memorize although it might not be important for them to do so.  For those who really love becoming fully immersed in the world may take the time to learn the names and even the holidays.  Adding this knowledge into conversation while roleplaying will add that much more realism and excitement into the game.  Besides the names, I included some significant features that occur during that time.  I leave these open and in name only initially to draw interest at a later time.

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The Zatra Calendar

Most civilizations in Zatra follow the first calendar that was conceived by the elves after the year 232.  This follows a conformed pattern of 10 months, each month comprising of 5 weeks, and each week containing 5 weekdays (First Day, Moon Day, Midweek, Week Eve, Final Day).

Month                  Seasonal Significance

Mako                    First month of Spring, Star Harvest Begins

Ramo                   Month of the Spring Equinox, Day of Doka

Endispar               First Month of Summer, Fire Festival

Venispar              Month of the Summer Solstice, Giving of Thanks

Luno                    First Month of Fall, Major Harvest Begins

Luktavo                Month of the Autumn Equinox, Lunar Day

Menzo                  First Month of Winter, Day of Solitude

Tykober                Month of the Winter Solstice, Remembrance Day

Nunober               God’s Day celebrated, First Frost Eve

Umbo                    Soul Festival celebrated, Death Reborn Eve


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The Four Main Races of Zatra

The people of Zatra once were dominated by humans (80%), but since the Touch, they have been nearly wiped out to 20%.  Dwarves now are the majority species (60%) while halflings (5%), elves (10%), and other races (5%),(including half-breeds) make up the rest.  Here are notes and common names for each major race:

The Windemeir (Humans)

The few humans that remain are those wise enough to accept the invitation of the dwarves to live underground and avoid the Touch.  Most of the human race was wiped out due to arrogance and pride, ignoring the imposing doom of the Touch’s spread and not wishing to dwell with dwarves underground.  Interestingly enough, nearly all of the Windemeirs (Wĭn-dĕh-mērz) are from one kingdom of Zatra, called Kindred.  These survivors have traditional first and last names with middle names given to those of nobility descent.

Male First Names: Alastair, Ambros, Andrew, Avery, Barnaby, Bartholomew, David, Eward, Geoffrey, Hugh, Humphrey, John, Julian, Milton, Myles, Nathanial, Oliver, Roger, Solomon, Thomas, Timothy, Wyatt, Zachary

Female First names: Agnes, Blanche, Bridget, Clemence, Dolores, Edith, Eleanor, Emma, Ethel, Florence, Isabel, Joyce, Margery, Marion, Mildred, Molly, Princilla, Rose, Ruth, Susanna, Sybil, Ursula, Valorie, Winifred

Surnames: Andrews, Ashenhurst, Barlow, Battle, Beadows, Berkhead, Blackwood, Blake, Bishop, Bloom, Blunt, Bright, Carpenter, Cartwell, Castledon, Collingford, Crane, Crook, Cunley, Dawnthorpe, Downer, Dragonwell, Dunfield, Elkhorn, Everett, Fitzgeoffery, Fitzgerald, Fletcher, Francis, Fray, Gladdish, Goldworth, Gossingham, Grimmer, Hadley, Hale, Hammersfield, Hargreave, Humphrey, Hunter, Hyde, Ives, Jenkins, Jollybad, Keast, King, Kottlegrey, Lestrange, Leventhorpe, Langford, Lloyd, Mansfield, Merriwethre, Mortimre, Motts, Moxley, Narbridge, Northam, Noyes, Olver, Pallcraft, Payne, Penhale, Polkinghorn, Pummel, Quail, Quillmaker, Ratley, Reeve, Ringer, Rosserford, Rowley, Russell, Sawford, Shivington, Silcox, Smythe, Snell, Stargrave, Stokes, Strangeways, Teague, Tellam, Throckmorton, Thurman, Torrington, Trowbridge, Unger, Uxbridge, Vaughan, Vawdrey, Whitaker, White, Winkle, Wyndham, Yates, Ysterman.

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The Dokaleers (Dwarves)

The dwarves are a hardened race with a strangely powerful resilience to the Touch (although not immune).  The Dokaleers (Dōh-kŭh-lērz) make up two of the three Dwarven Kingdoms and are credited for proposing the idea of building the Chambers to protect all untainted by the curse.  Their name comes from the First Dwarf, Doka, who was created by God in the 12 year of Zatra.  All dwarf surnames are their clan names.

Male First Names: Arn, Barin, Dolmen, Fargrik, Fyorn, Gluto, Grulf, Haxan, Holst, Illvar, Jokum, Krog, Krune, Kvalgar, Lofgren, Ludvig, Nylan, Rangvald, Stenger, Svensoren, Tarl, Wolvar, Yospur

Female First Names: Bjerke, Dreylan, Falka, Frau, Frunda, Gorana, Grayka, Halskir, Hammelmar, Helvig, Hjork, Lykke, Nessa, Ryngylrund, Rosenklau, Syldi, Vannim, Yilsi, Yuska, Zelga

Clan Names: Axeberg, Barrelmead, Blucher, Copperstein, Crystalbeard, Dragongrind, Dwerryhouse, Emberstoke, Evergulp, Ferrizalt, Grottmund, Hammermain, Ironshoe, Mithralvein, Osterchasm, Rockmantle, Shadowholm, Tarndark, Thunderharm, Tumblecask, Understrom, Vorne, Zonkenlander

The Waterfolk (Halflings)

Halflings are fairly rare in the world as they were more vulnerable than humans to the Touch.  They prefer to live in the hollow of giant trees and soft mounds near a waterfront where the soil is rich and fertile.  They were the first to invent oceanic navigation instruments and build sea-worthy vessels.  Those that remain created smaller versions of the Chambers that are not buried so deeply underground.  This led to a quicker discovery by members of the Nub Sumat though some Hollow Dens (as they call them) are still hidden.

Male First Names: Badger, Bandit, Banzai, Carrot, Charley, Chipper, Corky, Cricket, Dodger, Early, Heron, Huck, Jay, Jester, Louie, Lucky, Moe, Ozzy, Pennywise, Robber, Seymour, Skip, Skylar, Smedley, Squirt, William

Female First Names:  Blueberry, Celery, Claire, Cookie, Daisy, Minnow, Noodles, Peaches, Peanut, Pepper, Petunia, Punkin, Sadie, Sunny, Wendy, Whitney, Willow, Zoey

Den Names: Daggerthwart, Fatpurse, Featherpluck, Fondslinger, Foolspride, Hallowhill, Hawksprey, Honeygrab, Hydenhill, Littlegrift, Meanderstride, Nevercaught, Noosewary, Poundfoolish, Puddleskiff, Rattlekey, Riverdance, Rockhucker, Roundhill, Shallowpool, Tricker, Trufflestuff, Wanderfoot, Whisperhill, Wylde.

The Shastenza (Elves)

The original civilized race, Shastenzas are the geniuses of the world, creating marvels of inventions and discoveries that no other could conceive.  Many of their strange and wonderful devices can still be found operating endlessly in abandoned ruins or isolated regions.  All but a handful of elves remain in this world.  The race discovered a doorway that brought them to another plane of existence where they live temporarily until a cure for the Touch is created.  The handful of elves that remained is among the brightest of their people with a passion to find a cure.  They now reside underground in the Dwarven Kingdoms.

Male First Names: Aravoth, Arthon, Arvellas, Athelon, Balan, Balhiramar, Balthoron, Canyalas, Diron, Erannon, Eruvarne, Filverion, Firavaryar, Ganalan, Harmenion, Hilneth, Iomar, Larasarne, Lovain, Maingalad, Lenaren, Morisira, Pellavan, Senevast, Tarthagol, Valisain

Female First Names: Alonnen, Althirn, Anvanya, Dagor, Eredaith, Eruanna, Firyan, Gwenmirith, Haradi, Lenaren, Morisira, Myree, Nilde, Nimmeth, rainion, Sennemir, Shalmorgan, Sirva, Torduin, Valaina, Varalia

Home Names: Astramordan, Astravelios, the Circle of Ashes, the Emerald Cradle, the Green March, Kvalagost, Misthaven, Summerdown, Thornhenge, Val Andamar, Val Ressarin, the Weird Glade, Winterbane, Woodcrown

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Next part will break the races down further by listing some important figures and also some important locations that the players should know from the start.

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

Inanimate Objects As Characters Episode.049

Cedric took his feet off the console and stretched his legs moving out of the bridge and down the lonely corridor.  The bird was on her last leg though he hated to admit it.  It bugged him to think after all the travels he had ventured with her, he was going to have to say goodbye.  Tradition typically involved the crew saluting as she was set to be destroyed, but it had been months since he had even a skeleton to run the ship.  He turned the corner and walked into the engine room where her heart was quietly purring still.  Running his hand over the shell reminded him of a few close calls where that old and now obsolete engine saved his life getting out of a jam.  The intercom squawked from the docking bay master informing Cedric deconstruction was ready to begin once he exits the ship.  He sighed heavily with one last look of his old friend and started walking out.  A few steps before he reached the ramp, however, his eyes spotted a flickering light in one of the side wall panels.  It followed no pattern, and he never remembered ever seeing it lit up before.  Curiously he opened the panel up and realized it was coming from the ship’s main analytical system, essentially the ship’s brain.  It was an aftermarket chip he had installed himself to give the ship a sense of intelligence that recorded, calculated, and gave generalized suggestions to various occurrences.  Although his next ship would not be compatible with the chip, he placed it into a small steel locket and hung it around his neck.  The ship may soon be gone, but he knew she was close.

For some players in a role playing game, inanimate objects sometimes are personified by various ways such as unique situations or their level of value in service.  It could be a sword that seems to make you roll very well when you absolutely need that Natural 20 or it could be a space ship that gets you out of a sticky situation when all hope is lost.  Whatever the case may be, something gives life to what would otherwise be a lifeless item.  They tend to become part of you, the family or the party.  A rag doll that was given to the party by a little girl who they saved could become an iconic symbol for the party’s mission, but it could also become the group’s mascot even though it does little more than lay on the ground.

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These things generally acquire the same personality and perspective towards it as a household pet.  We view them as entities that can be expected to respond to situations or at least give us the perception to do so.  A vehicle truly responds only when someone or something interacts with it, yet we often will thank the vehicle for getting us out of trouble.  The actual machine gave us the opportunity to escape from danger, but it was not done from its own power or free will.  This way of thinking comes from our natural thought process of human interaction.  We generally feel that ordinary, non-living things cannot readily achieve the unthinkable.  A rock cannot actually save our lives because it would do nothing unless it was put into use by someone.  It may be in the right place at the right time to block something from hitting us, but the rock itself did not do anything other than happen to be there at that moment.  The latter part of that sentence even put some personality into the rock by implying it had a choice in the matter to be in that spot when, of course, naturally occurring phenomenon such as rock slides from erosion moved the rock into that place.

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And it’s interesting to analyze what it takes for us to begin perceiving objects as living beings.  Compare a castle with a space ship you designed.  The former will protect you from incoming invasions, withstand catapults, keep out wildlife, provide shelter from harsh weather, and give a sense of comfort having something to call home.  Yet if the place is razed, you probably would not be so concerned with the idea of the building “dying” after what it provided for so many years as you would be disheartened to have to come up with the resources and time to rebuild the thing again.  A space ship, on the other hand, does almost exactly what a castle can do in its own environment (protect, shelter, etc.), but we tend to give it a name, take special care in its condition, and feel truly disheartened if the ship were to ever be destroyed.  We see it as a living thing instead of a ship and the castle as just a structure yet they are very similar in purpose.  Even if you were to name the castle, it probably won’t hold a candle to the character the ship will have to you.

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The same goes with a sword.  It literally is a piece of metal that does nothing unless someone picks it up and uses it as a weapon.  It has the same principle purpose as a rock can have if used similarly.  Yet the rock is unappealing to us, ordinary in its own right.  The sword is an extension of our arm, the very tool we need to easily defend and attack someone if need be.  We give it a wild and exotic name.  We begin to rely upon it to get us out of trouble.  Once again, our notion of an object takes on life, and it may be relating closer to things that tend to save our lives and protect us.  Then again, we don’t usually give shields names or think of them as we do for swords.

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In the end, it boils down to our own way of viewing things.  We think squirrels are cute but despise rats though they are both rodents.  A castle has no “character” like a space ship.  The castle is made of cold stone walls, hard iron, and could even be considered “too large” to have personality.  Think of the giant capital ships in Star Wars, and they feel just like a machine.  Yet the Millennium Falcon was practically another character in Star Wars.  Having said that, Luke’s X-Wing took him all over the galaxy and was wrecked into a bog on Dagobah, but we think of it as an X-Wing like the others that Red squadron flew.  So it’s more the experience the item has that gives it the life that we take it to have.

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A volley ball is just another ball to play with, but draw a smiling face on it and suddenly it becomes Wilson, Chuck Noland’s best friend while stranded on a deserted island in Cast Away.  He wouldn’t have done such a thing living back home with his family, but in that situation and experience, the ball is given life.

It’s interesting to see what brings character and life into lifeless things.

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

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Never Surrender! Episode.040

You scan the terrain, looking for an escape route, surveying the damage of your party as they all lie battered, bruised, and beaten by the oncoming force.  The enemy’s scouting report was priceless as they knew precisely where you would be most vulnerable to their attack.  But it is clear they wish not to kill you as all of your companions still lay breathing.  Their captain pushes passed his comrades to the front line and addresses you cordially, commending you and your party for the gallant effort and ferocity in battle.  However, he offers a choice of surrender in assurance no harm upon your capture will come before you.  Although his superiors did not indulge the reasoning for seeking out their capture, he swears of his warrior’s oath that they will receive no pain including proper nutrition.  He looks at you for your response.  And with your eyes narrowing and the grip of your sword tightening, the captain knows your choice is to seal your fate.  He sighs at this, understanding as a warrior your reasoning behind your decision but saddened by it.  The rest of the enemies are signaled to finish the job.

As a GM, and even as a player, there is one thing that I really enjoy experiencing in a session: captured as prisoners.  I seem to be one of the few out there who plays RPGs who enjoys facing adversities and hindrances to my character throughout.  Although I do enjoy finding power eventually through the struggles, I hate being handed gifts of power too easily and often.  One thing that really strips the character down to his core is being held prisoner.  It’s a fascinating concept that basically never occurs in RPGs.  People who play RPGs tend to not understand that although your character can die at any moment, if your character is alive, no matter what happens, the campaign continues.  They often feel that if anything ill happens to their characters, they automatically lose the character and either hand it over to the GM or throw it in the trash.  This is not the case.  Ever.  It should be preached more often by GMs to their players.

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This always leads to the “fight to the death,” mentality that drives me nuts as both GM and player.  If your character triggers a trap that ends the character in a perma-death, you aren’t going to be too happy about it.  You lost that character.  It’s gone forever unless the game offers a resurrection spell of some kind.  Otherwise it’s gone.  If you go up against a giant and you are killed because it dishes an obscene amount of damage on a critical to your head, your character is gone for good.  It’s not coming back.

So why in the world would you deliberately choose your character to be handed over to the GM, permanently, to avoid being captured?  It is ludicrous at best.

Some of the most amazing stories ever told involve prison breaks.  The Count of Monte Cristo immediately comes to mind.  Movies such as The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape and TV shows like Mission Impossible are filled with excitement and suspense.  These are just as exhilarating as any other action moment in a RPG.  For some reason, the majority of players I’ve faced at conventions and at home are against it.

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I’m not completely ignorant in realizing that players feel their freedom of choice and power in the game suddenly becomes limited and in control of the GM.  However, this is but a moment – the moment they are captured.  From that point of actually being captured it immediately shifts back over to the players’ control.  It is entirely up to them to break themselves free.  They are always in power of their actions and abilities to get out of danger, including imprisonment.  Just because you are in a cell, doesn’t mean you can’t get out.  There have been hundreds of prison breaks throughout history, some successful, some not.  So it is not out of the question for characters that are built to be larger than life to be successful at it as well.  A few things need to be taken into consideration, however.

First, players need to be told up front, before the campaign or adventure begins that unless their character is completely permanently dead with no chance of resurrection, the game will not end.  Explain that throwing their characters away foolishly should be reconsidered.  You don’t have to come right out and say “if you guys get in over your head, surrender.”  I would never plan a session where my idea for a story is to overwhelm them to capture them for a prison break.  I would, however, gauge encounters correctly with intelligence where it is necessary.  Humanoids may not want to just randomly kill.  Those with intelligence may not want to know why the party is in this area or why they are trespassing into their home country.  Not every monster is meant to kill, especially those with above a low intelligence.  Curiosity can be more powerful than hostility.

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Approach a possible surrender moment with dialogue.  Don’t expect players to surrender or yield when your villain merely points a sword at them and demands for their surrender for no other reason.  Describe to them the need to capture beyond questioning.  Perhaps it is only for the enemy’s protection to make sure the party isn’t a true threat or their intentions are good.  Use the idea that there is a greater foe in the vicinity, but they must be cautious with the party to make sure they won’t attack, so they are taken prisoner but treated better than a typical prisoner would be.  Sometimes you can use NPCs to convince them to surrender such as when that NPC is captured or threatened to be executed if the party does not surrender.

But when this rare moment occurs, make sure you give them a great experience as prisoners.  Be flexible on their actions, reward them on their choices.  If they are stumped, give them hints of what they could do to get out (a loose stone, a hairpin, a lazy guard).  Make sure they are able to retrieve their gear!  Or, if the gear isn’t particularly amazing such as a longsword +1 (devilish longsword), place replacement items that are slightly better than what they had in various places during their escape.  Reward them with new information that might pertain to one of the character’s story arcs or the overall campaign story.  Give them an ally for future encounters.  Have them stumble upon a secret that the group that captured them are unaware of (underground tribal fortress, abandoned temple, holy relic that is buried in an unmarked grave).  And finally, make it heroic and suspenseful by keeping the pace high.  Once they are out of whatever is holding them imprisoned (cage, magical barrier, etc.), speed up pace by having them constantly chased or followed.  Guards will quickly discover them gone and begin searching.  They might be spotted and chased for a bit until they lose their tail.  Give them a scene where they feel they have to catch their breath for real when the scene ends and they are safely out of harm’s way.

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Generally being captured will never happen as too many players loathe this for some reason.  Perhaps give them homework to watch a few prison break movies such as The Rock, Shawshank Redemption or Escape from Alcatraz to see if it sparks any interest.  If they talk about how clever it was for the escape to happen, then it might be something to consider in a future encounter instead of creating a TPK.

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

Bringing Out the Best Of Your Players Episode.039

When we last left off, Grothbeard had buried his axe into the head of the tavern keeper, suspecting a doppleganger.  However, when the man didn’t revert to its natural form after death, questions arouse on what to do to Grothbeard for his murder.  He was placed in jail with the rest of you compiling a plan to break him out of jail before his execution scheduled tomorrow morning.  The death hour is rapidly approaching as you have spent most of the night scheming.  Grothbeard will have to wait to see if your hours of planning were worth it or if Jim will need to reroll a character.

It is no doubt that we all have different levels of aggression on our own personality and character.  Some of us are outspoken, brandishing whatever is on their mind, sometimes before thinking it through thoroughly.  Others are hesitant to speak their mind, often worried that whatever they say might not be accepted.  We have those who will always agree with someone and follow their lead no matter what.  Despite the theory that after 7 billion people on Earth, we start becoming more alike because the random options are running out, we still have very different behaviors.  This makes for really interesting sessions of roleplaying games.  Traditionally we are set up as a team to accomplish a goal or goals.  We may never have met before yet we naturally fall into an acceptance throughout our game that allows us to work together.  Sometimes these roles clash, especially when you get a table full of aggressive, know-it-alls who want the spotlight on themselves nonstop or when the entire table is full of passive players who are too shy to make any decisions because they affect everyone at the table.

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We as GMs should play to our players’ strengths.  It is considerably tougher to recognize this quickly at conventions when we have but a handful of hours to finish our game, and that generally is left for more experienced GMs who are most observant.  I have played in games where the GM is merely going through the routine, running the game, offering very little option or flexibility based on playstyle, almost ushering us through the 4-hour ride.  When we know our players better, we can use that to our advantage by curving the form of play to better fit their desires.  For example, the shy person who really doesn’t feel comfortable with the spotlight constantly on them shines brighter when the focus casually shifts to them for a short time.  We round out a particular encounter or situation in our game that reflects something that character can really shine on, even if it’s merely something spoken.  If they are a quiet bard (perhaps they are shy poet writers with a talent for playing the flute and not singing), then provide the opportunity for them to pick up and play a strange instrument that only they know how.  Allow them to focus one of their skills or strengths, such as understanding a strange language on the fly, so they can speak up, roll dice, interact with the situation rather than sit back and watch the rest of the group take control.  Be quick to be polite but firm if one of the boastful or outgoing players wishes to do exactly what your quiet player can do.  Bring about the option for the outgoing one to offer assistance, but maintain the focus back on the former player.

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Main characters are definitely memorable.  We often will think of those individuals most in a story, but I guarantee you can think of a few stories where a supporting character has stolen the entire movie or book.  They have their moments, short and burn brightly.  They may not speak up much, but when they do it’s memorable.  One of my friends hardly ever talks unless you speak to them first, but he has the uncanny ability to quote a movie that fits the situation perfectly.  Those are those moment s we tend to think about more easily.

Your campaign need not continuously having the plot-drivers, those who speak up most, work each session.  A good GM will have an over-arcing campaign that will take numerous sessions to unfold, but each session will be a focus on an individual character’s personal campaign.  These need not be one-session fillers.  There are no rules restricting multiple campaigns going on at the same time; each character can have their own campaign.  The bard may be wishing to acquire the One Truth, whatever that is, in order to complete his Fantastic Opus and graduate from his college.  This is something that is a grand-arc, spanning several sessions that doesn’t have to be in succession.  Give the players another chapter in their life, but then leave them wanting more as other characters’ chapters are written in the next few sessions.  It assures the players are all getting their moment to play and hopefully develop their characters into more 3-dimensional entities.

It may help to understand if players wish to be more of a driver of the plot or a support character.  Do they enjoy giving aid to the other players, assisting them in various skills or do they enjoy taking the reins and taking control of the situation?  Do they prefer to wait for the golden opportunity to save the day, or do they like being the savior champion of the group?

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If the player is completely bashful and having difficulty finding their voice, roleplaying games can be a wonderful exercise for them, but it may require some work from the GM.  Usually I will give them small moments where they give only simple suggestions or solutions that allow them to talk but for a few seconds.  Putting them in a spot where they must role play dialogue with some NPC that holds serious water to the campaign is just asking too much at first.  Lead up to it by setting up moments that are simple but still meaningful such as negotiating for a few gold pieces less on their purchase.  Instead of hoping they speak up to haggle, as a GM, have the merchant vaguely recognize the character from news of some past achievement such as freeing a village from an attacking giant.  In character, ask their character if they promise to use the merchandise in future adventures, the merchant will allow the character to give them an offer on the merchandise.  Be flexible when working with bashful or shy individuals on their decisions.  It is a matter of building up their confidence in the game itself, reassuring that their decisions are not necessarily always detrimental to the party’s safety.  Keep an eye on their body language.  Often times they will show signs of having something on their mind, but are either hesitant to speak up or are overshadowed by another person blurting out constantly.  When you pick up these signs, don’t stop play and pointedly address the person.  Instead, try calling for a random roll (it can be completely made up, just don’t tell them it is).  First, this shuts up conversation if there was one of anyone wanting to dominate the situation.  Second, you can then pass the choice over to the bashful player, either having an NPC ask if something’s on their mind in character.  Sometimes our roleplaying side lets us bring out our confidence and inner personality by using it as a “shield.”  We are in-character and not merely talking person to person.  It’s all fake and pretend, so it might become more comfortable for the person.  If all else fails, merely write a note to the player asking what they wish to do, delaying the game enough time by having the rest do some fake rolls (“I was just having everyone roll to see if anything popped up, but it was uneventful.”).

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Understanding your players and catering to their strengths and weaknesses marks the sign of a seasoned GM.  We are here to tell a story, but the stories are not meant to be one-sided intended for observation only.  Interaction and immersion is the point of playing a role playing game.  The stories need to be built for the characters because they were specifically selected by the players.  They are unique compared to the rest of the world as are the unique people driving them.  Find ways to keep everyone involved without being blatant or pointed to avoid embarrassment, awkwardness, or hesitancy from the players.  Offer moments that favor each character to give them their moment to shine in between those who hold the spotlight directly at themselves.

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

Solo RPG Adventures Episode.023

You check your 6 to make sure you lost your tail.  Nothing but shadows follows behind though it’s anyone’s guess if he’s still back there.  Meanwhile, your target continues down the street past two guards before suddenly making a quick side step into an unlit building.  The quick motion appeared suspicious.  Did he notice you were following him?  You skip across the street under the moonlight into the next row of shadows and slip down next to the building.  There’s a candle inside that has just been lit, but the windows are mostly frosted to get a good look.  Deftly you climb up the wall, nearly losing your footing at the moment of carelessness before reaching the roof.  There is a vent that is open, and you peer down to spy on your target as he is talking to someone out of view.  Your grapple lets you drop down into the room, hovering above the two to hear better.  You don’t recognize the other, but it doesn’t matter.  You are here to remove your target.  It will have to be a double kill.

I have seldom had the opportunity to run or play in a solo adventure.  I remember during the 2nd Edition AD&D era there were a series of solo adventures specifically built for the main core classes, most notably for me was for the thief simply called “Thief’s Challenge.”  The series was popular enough to produce a second series for the classes.  Running solo can be a lot of fun on a number of levels.  The player obviously gets more playing time and doesn’t have to wait his turn during combat.  The game is focused on one character, so encounters tend to be more lethal because you have no one to watch your back.  Pick someone who has the ability to heal and you lose the chance to deal out massive combat.  Go the other route and who mends your wounds when you are nearly dead or dying?  It allows for the flow of the game to have less choice in which path to take.  If you’re playing a thief-like character, charging in through the front door as you might do with a group of 4 well balanced players would not be the wisest method.  Solo adventures also open up one class in particular that typically does not play well with others: the assassin.

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 Assassins are really not great team players in most RPGs.  Their special abilities usually deal with quick kills either from more lethal strikes or through the use of poison.  Although it is nice to have a player in the party who can take out an enemy relatively quickly, it becomes a challenge to decide whether to have the assassin go on by himself to try and take out the BBG or have him just kill one or two random henchmen while the rest of the party deals with the villain.  Some core rules give a decent chance for an assassin to kill an enemy in one shot if saving throws are failed.  This gives a better than bad chance that an encounter becomes too easy.  So they tend to not be allowed in games that I run unless I offer a solo adventure.

As a GM, what are some things that you must take into consideration before running a solo game?  First, you need to know the class to be used inside and out.  Unlike a more traditional RPG where you just need to have a good understanding of each class played and let the players know the rest, it is far more important to know everything about the one class.  This is because every situation in the game will revolve around the choices that class has.  The class may not be able to heal or bend bars or cast spells or pick locks or wear heavy armor.  All of these could come up in a situation, and you as a GM should have the scenario revolve around these.  It should not be necessary to mention that a situation such as the need to bend bars should not come up for a thief.  The best kid of adventure, and perhaps your ultimate goal here, is to find a way to utilize every ability for that class.  Their skills go right along with their abilities in that goal as well.  So read languages, use magic device, appraise, and acrobat (I know I’m referring to D&D and Pathfinder, but you get the point), are all things to consider.  You don’t have to come up with situations for every skill they have, just think of unusual ways to present a few of the ones that aren’t used all the time.

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For example, the individual must use disguise to enter an elaborate ball where the duke has arranged to invite numerous distinguished aristocrats, one of whom has recently purchased a lot of forged paintings he wishes to sell.  Appraise will come in handy when the character must quickly identify which of the lot of paintings are fake and which are real.  He must bluff his way past the guard into the vault by mentioning he is a nephew.  The use of escape artist skill will allow him to free himself when he failed his skill check to disable the snare trap in the vault.  And finally his ability to figure out how to use magical devices by holding them in his hand will allow him to use the wand to open the door that is locked on the other side and escape into the night.

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The more challenging solo adventure would be surprisingly a fighter type class because unless they are a specialized class such as a ranger, they might lack in non-combat abilities.  Even if you sit down with someone who wants to be a fighter and just “kill everything,” you two are going to find some challenge keeping things interesting after the 30th combat encounter in a row.  That’s when you watch action movies.

Even movies like Rambo and Predator have a plot and don’t comprise of combat after combat after combat scene.  Rambo offers the element of surprise and stealth.  Predator offers suspense of the unknown.  You can create tension through suspense by having the fighter as the hunted rather than the hunter.  Give a brief encounter with a creature that shows it clearly is more powerful than the fighter, but have the creature retreat during combat for unknown reasons, perhaps to toy with the fighter.  When a creature encounters something that it knows it clearly overpowers it sometimes has a tendency to play with the prey before killing it.

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Another situation for a fighter-only class would be the horror genre.  Fear can break down even the heartiest characters, and a GM can put it to the test.  Even though it is a solo adventure, the character need not be alone.  I often will place weak NPCs in the protection of the party to give them more responsibility and force them to be more cautious in their actions.  They can’t charge into a dragon’s lair if they have an 8 year old orphan girl with them.  Three massive giants coming this way?  You better believe the party will try avoiding the confrontation entirely so the girl is less likely to be harmed by a random thrown boulder.  One other option is to start a solo adventure with the character severely wounded.  Give them but a few hit points and force them to go through an area that is dangerous.  Like having a weak NPC in the group, it causes the player to think twice about being too bold on their decisions and gives more challenge to each encounter.

Solo adventures can be a lot of fun on both sides.  One-on-one moments give GMs and players a lot more experience and challenge as they must approach the game a little differently.  It works for good practice for GMs who have gotten lax in their need to find diversity in their stories, too.  Try the simple exercise of creating 4 short, solo adventures for a fighter, thief, cleric, and wizard class and see what you come up with.

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

Premium 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Books Episode.015

Ever since I began playing Dungeons & Dragons back in 1992, I have enjoyed collecting any form of book or literature for just about any roleplaying game I could find.  Mostly hardbacks so they looked excellent on the shelf, I confess to having numerous rulebooks I have never even opened let alone played a single session.  Collecting books in general has been a hobby of mine for years, but there is something more about going after roleplaying books.  Generally if I ever need inspiration on what to write about in next week’s gaming session, I turn to reading one of those off the shelf.

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If you have noticed them on the shelves of your local gaming store, I encourage any gamer interested in the classic of classics to look at the re-printed premium copies of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons core books.  Shortly after Gary Gygax passed away, his wife began an ongoing journey to raise an incredible amount of money to resurrect a statue of Gary in his honor up in Geneva, Wisconsin.  Among the various methods, she approached Wizards of the Coast to toy with the idea of reprinting the original 1st editions on high quality paper.  Not surprisingly they obliged and even reprinted a few sourcebooks and bundled a couple of module series into their own books.  As a result, gamers are able to leave their original, autographed copies in pristine condition back on the shelf while they proceed to spill Mountain Dew all over the newer versions.

There aren’t many roleplaying books I really prefer to leave on the shelf.  Off the top of my head, I think my Call of Cthulhu sourcebooks would remain on shelf because most of them are out of print and probably won’t see the light of day on reprints anytime soon.  They don’t remain on the shelves forever as I do take them down to browse through from time to time, but in the end, I protect their conditions more than use them.

However, having the “premium” copies of AD&D has allowed me to revitalize the classic and introduce the system to many new players.  The books are not very thick – perhaps 130-180 in length at most.  And the retail cost will feel a bit steep although they sell for considerably less and more affordably on various online retail sites.  Unearthed Arcana was released shortly thereafter along with the core books for 2nd edition and the original edition (pre-1st AD&D) of Dungeons & Dragons.  These offer not only opportunities for new players who are unfamiliar with D&D, but also veterans to bring the books back to the dinner table to play again.

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I personally get frustrated when books go out of print because the thieving scavengers will swoop in and resell the books for considerably more than the original retail value.  They are in it for a profit from something they did nothing to create only making a quick buck by victimizing would be collectors.  Usually reprints of books from 20+ years ago are not economical or financially sound, so companies often look away from the notion of bringing back (or even updating the quality) any former literature.

Ever since 3.5 edition came out for Dungeons & Dragons, I have been disheartened by the company on producing new versions of their system so closely together and ignoring or even discontinuing past books after we invest so much (SO MUCH) money into them.  All too often we find ourselves rebuying books with enough change to justify the means, but in the end realizing that the two versions are similar enough that we were better off not investing again.  Yet if that decision is made, then good luck finding new published material.

With their decision to re-release OD&D, 1st, and 2nd editions to the public in higher quality, longer lasting versions, I have considered re-evaluating WotC again.  As with any business, they are looking for profit at the end of the day, but releasing copies of other versions that technically compete with their current product, is usually unheard of.  The older copies are significantly cheaper, and they are much lighter to chew on than more modern RPGs.  (One may argue that older editions of AD&D contained endless charts to refer to, but those were there for the GM’s benefit when ideas needed to be produced on the fly and the creative juices were running dry).

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The covers are produced the same way Wizards of the Coast produces their most current material.  There is a mixture of glossy and matte finished throughout the covers, and the paper is of much heavier weight than the originals.  Each page feels semi-glossy.  The ink is much bolder and richer (as many of our books are faded from age and a lack of using archival ink).  There’s a better feeling of durability in these productions simply because literature material is better now than it was 30+ years ago.   These will last for quite some time.

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