Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. – My Take, Episode.068

After a considerable hiatus, I have returned to continue writing as I am inspired.

His decision was critical as his companions faced certain doom.  The black dragon reared its huge head in preparation of unleashing its fiery acidic breath blasting down upon the unprotected heroes.  Meanwhile the infamous necormancer, Pyrex, grinned maniacally from high above as he neared completion of his resurrection spell that would bring back the fallen the heroes had just slain.  The decision was critical or his companions were surely dead, but he couldn’t decide who to focus on…..so he brought out two pipes and played them in unison for he was the Grand Master Bard.

I am among those who resented the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast published in 2008.  Although I adored playing MMO video games such as World of Warcraft at the time, the 4th edition books felt too close to those when I wanted to play more of a traditional role playing game that reminded me of the older editions.  Perhaps I am an old man who doesn’t like change, but the game play mechanics simply did not fit my style and preference.  So I was hesitant on even giving 5th edition a try when it was released in 2014.  In took me a year before I sat down with a group to experience it for the first time.  I will say this – I am very impressed with the effort and result that Wizards of the Coast put forth in the books.  Very impressed.

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For one, there doesn’t seem to be as much necessary crunch as before.  While I would say that 3rd and 3.5 editions were built to be more of a strategic role playing game, utilizing the innovated battle maps and miniatures, 5th edition feels more akin to the 1st and 2nd editions.  These were less of a visual game play and more of the mind.  While maps were still used back then (and even pewter miniatures were frequently sold), the maps were mostly drawn on-the-fly by the players as they ventured through dungeons.  There were few times when a top-down view of the immediate surroundings was drawn and miniatures were placed strategically on the battle field.

Fifth edition allows for battle maps to be used if desired for those who enjoy or need a better visualization on how the fights are laid out.  It caters in this regard to the 3rd edition lovers.  It isn’t necessary, however, to use them, and in fact many times I have gone through entire fights without them.

Another feature that I really like is the advantage/disadvantage system.  This is a simple but very effective way for a Dungeon Master to make a challenge difficult without having to do much math on adding modifiers to a roll.  On either account, you roll 2 D20s rather than one, but depending on whether you have advantage or disadvantage, you take the best or worst roll of the two.  There are still options to add the thousands of modifiers to a roll if desired, which was very common in 3rd edition, but if you wish to just give your players a little edge or challenge to their roll without having to over think it, this feature gives a quick result.  And that makes a good point in that streamline and pace, which I have talked about numerous times on how important they are, can be maintained with this feature.  Dungeon Masters need not look at a chart on their screen in front of them and hunt for the right situation modifier that will probably wind up being +1, +2, or +3 to their rolls.

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Short and long rests are a wonderful addition to the rules.  All too often the typical “rest” that a party faced in the past would result in an 8-hour stoppage of adventuring.  This would be mostly for the magic-users to regain their spells after blowing them all.  I always felt that it bogged play down and hindered magic-users a bit too much.  I would often find myself being very hesitant on casting a spell at an enemy because it was “early in the day” and I didn’t want to use up my 4 spells so soon.  Instead, we now have a short rest, typically 30 or so minutes of downtime for the characters before continuing on.  One of the classes fairly new to the list of Dungeons & Dragons game is the Warlock, which benefits greatly from this feature.  Although they are severely limited to the number of spells they can cast per day, they are given the ability to regain all of their spent spell slots after just a short rest.  This allows them to cast theoretically as many spells or more as a wizard or sorcerer if the party takes necessary short rests throughout the day.  Warlocks could then regain the spell slots right before a fight and concocting a plan of attack with whatever spells he knew.  Wizards would have been stuck with whatever they studied the night before and face possible expended spells used earlier that day.

Cantrip spells have become more useful.  Spells like Eldritch Blast now unleash considerable damage for magic-users who don’t want to spend any of their hard hitting spells but wish to contribute during common encounter fights.  There are even “bonus spells” that allow magic-users to cast more than one spell during a turn, giving them more options.

One of the most annoying rules that 3rd edition introduced was Attack of Opportunity or AOO.  This came into play when a character or opponent would pass by close enough to a target who could attack them.  There were ridiculous options and feats to this that really made players have to talk out the results on whether or not the situation even called for an AOO.  In 5th edition, AOO is only granted when an engaged combatant leaves their opponent’s melee area.  As long as they stay within that zone, they can move about as freely as they wish.  Just having to pay attention to characters leaving combat zones is much easier.

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And then there is the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I have only gotten to work a bit through.  However, what I have seen so far is even more impressive.  There is a good portion of the book dedicated to people who want to become a Dungeon Master, which is to be expected in a book like this.  I have been asked many times by people wanting to know how to step into the Dungeon Master’s chair, and this book is a great start.  It works on NPCs, which honestly is an unnecessary task of creating and working with since many times they are here-and-gone in an encounter.  Creating monsters and spells is another area that Dungeon Masters like to produce, and both are thoroughly explained in the book.  Monsters are more modular, in my opinion, being able to swap abilities among other monsters for unique experiences.  If one monster has a sting ability but you want that ability on another monster, it can be done and the calculations of its improved difficulty is a snap to follow.

There’s a section to make random dungeons on-the-fly by dice rolling.  This is almost exactly what can be found in the 1st edition.  It provides all kinds of listings that can be rolled and sought out, allowing you to not have to really give a lot of thought into whether a turn in the corridor is a good idea here or if a 10×20 foot room is needed and with what to fill it with.  If anything the book is inspirational for Dungeon Masters with a lack of experience or a lack of ideas.

In the end, we all have our own preferences when it comes to what we enjoy playing.  You may not even like the fantasy genre and focus just on RIFTS, Shadowrun, or Traveller.  You may just focus on the Weird West of Deadlands.  You may only wish to play Paizo’s Pathfinder because you still have a sore attitude towards Wizards of the Coast for releasing a “3.5” edition only 3 years after releasing their 3rd edition (even though Pathfinder plays much like 3.5 and you paid $50-60 on a book after refusing to buy the 3.5 books, thus ironically doing the very thing you said you wouldn’t do).

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Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most flexible systems I have ever played.  Wizards of the Coast allowed for gamers to voice their opinions on what they wanted in a rule book, and the publishing company actually listened and made the book for them.  The result is satisfying (and if it didn’t become successful, it was the gamers’ fault because it was their creation essentially).  You can play it like 1st edition with charts and exclusively with the mind or you can crunch it up with modifiers and battle maps like 3rd edition.

I encourage those still with hesitation from 4th edition to find yourself playing the game in the future.  Empty your mind and biased feelings of any previous editions you didn’t enjoy and focus on the features this new set of rule books has to offer.  You may be surprised and have a new system to spend your money on and clutter up your already cluttered bookshelf.

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

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Origins – Part 7 Episode.067

Chris Perkins’ campaign bible he developed for his world really was a novel idea.  Each section brings life to the world and provided wonderful information for both players and GMs alike.  One of my personal favorite sections is about origins for both race and class.  This is a nice breakdown of the most likely location any particular race may be found.  It further discusses a bit about the actual classes and mentions anything unusual about them that goes beyond the normal rulebooks.  Just like in real life, occupations vary depending on where you are.  A physician in Manhanttan, New York, is going to work and behave differently than a physician out in the bush in Africa.  They have the same education and training, but they have to operate differently because of their different environments.  Having this knowledge for the players is wonderful as it provides more meaning to their decisions when they are choosing their characters.  Perhaps one race is revered among all races while another is not allowed into any city.  One class may be praised as a prestigious occupation such as Clerics more than anything else because of the world they live in much like how doctors are usually appreciated more than other jobs from the lives they save.

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This section is where you can customize your game even more than the world.  Generally you have already selected the rulebook you are going to use to play your campaign.  Nearly all RPG books will have a list of provided races and classes and various stats.  By providing this section of origins, you are taking those rules and making them your own.  You are scooping the normal out and sculpting the uniqueness back in.  Have fun with it, either go crazy or go subtle on your decision.  Try to have a consistency throughout.  If one race is over the top, have a good reason if the other races are fairly by the book typical.  If you make one or two races dramatically unique, you may wind up having an entire party of the same race.  It is also a good idea to make 1 race ordinary in case there is a player who wishes to keep things simple, especially if you have new players.

Here is my list of races and classes, where they are from generally, and how they are tied uniquely to the world.

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RACE ORIGINS

Due to the Chambers being built, nearly all races originate from within now.  That being said, not all races live safely underground and still survive on the surface of Zantra.  Here are some typical points of origin for the different races.  Many of these are based upon Pre-Touch years.

Dwarf, Hill: You grew up outside of the “True” Dwarven Kingdoms as the Mountain Dwarves call it.  Instead of chiseling your fortress out of rock, you built it out of stone.  You’re still an expert in engineering but from a different angle of construction.  Your home could be in the foothills of Valashra, the mountain range that separates much of Zatra from the frozen tundra of the Northern Lands.  Alternatively, you could reside in the warm, temperate marshes of Keldia where you honed your spear fishing skills through practicing the Illouvy, an ancient ability of holding ones breath for hours.

Dwarf, Mountain:  As a member of the “True” Dwarven Kingdom, your blood is linked directly to Doka, the First Dwarf.  You come from one of the three Dwarven Kingdoms:  Gungrak, Solitude, or Balakork.  Each offers a different philosophy and way of living.  Gungrak is built upon ancient lore and discovering forgotten knowledge.  Solitude is more devout and focused on religion and philosophy while Balakork breathes war and fearlessness into the souls of the dwarves who live within its borders.  If Balakork is chosen, you have the option to follow God or Vagnarock while the other two are forced to follow Vagnarock or face possible ridicule of your sacrilege.

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Elf, Sky: You come from the heavens and the clouds.  Your people are the only humanoid race to have discovered the art of flight and levitation.  Among your cities, the crown was K’leshima, a hovering city surrounding a mighty citadel that softly floated with the breeze.  You possess the secret and sacred knowledge of flight and how to achieve it for yourself or for most objects of adequate size.  Your race is the only one who has survived the Touch as your world is high above the tainted lands.  However, sustainability is critical in that all Sky Elf cities must be fully self-sufficient.  They are highly xenophobic and show extreme hostility to anything that ventures within sight of their lands, even mundane birds passing too close.  You either are able to bite your tongue towards other races, or you are among the extreme few who wish to find a cure to the Touch and free your people from their self-imprisonment.

Elf, Earth: You grew up in the largest race variant of the elves.  Your people covered the most of Zatra, reaching from corner to corner and adapting better than any race in the world.  Your keen wit and quick adaptability has led your people to prosperity no matter where you settle.  Although you are not truly nomadic, it is not uncommon for a clan or community to relocate for an improved life.  This can be because of a natural disaster or as simple as a message from cousins encouraging of greener pastures.  Earth elves tend to wed within their clan and not venture out.  This is especially true with other races as they tend to remain pure blooded.  Those who choose to produce half-breed offspring are automatically exiled from the community although it is without malice.

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Half-Elf:  You are almost one-of-a-kind in Zatra.  The sky elves have become xenophobic while the Earth elves practice pure-blood weddings.  You were created because someone willingly or forcefully left their people, usually the latter.  You are forbidden to enter any of the floating cities of the sky elves, and you must obtain sponsorship from either an earth elf or someone with good standing of them.  If you are caught in the former, you will be tried and put to death if convicted by dropping you to the surface below.  Many half-elves either fall into great debt with wizards seeking permanent disguises while others simply wear hoods and keep clean shaven.  You live a life as a second class citizen nearly everywhere, but you have the benefits of both elves and humans.

Half-Orc: You make up 1 of exactly 32 others of your kind.  Centuries ago when wars were fought among kingdoms and orcish tribes, your half-breed race variant was more common through spoils of war.  However, since the Touch, your kind has quickly begun vanishing into extinction.  Because of the imminent doom of your race, the world has openly accepted the remaining few as honorary citizens of all civilized communities.  You receive free room and board at any inn and 50% discounts on non-precious items.  When there were 100 of you left, a ceremony was held, and each of you commemorated the event by receiving tattoos that read “The Last Hundred” followed by a ranking number associated by age.  If you are a half-orc, you determine the number, which will reflect how people honor and treat you.  Those with lower numbers are the oldest of the half-orcs, usually in their elder years.

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Halfling:  You were born to live near the water.  You are an expert at handling small boats such as canoes and rafts, and you have advanced knowledge in navigation and the use of instruments to find your way across any body of water.  You are gifted in the Illouvy, the ability to hold your breath for hours.  This gives you the unique ability to fix ships and boats without the need to dock if the repair is exterior and under the water’s surface.  It is rare that you come from a region that is not beside some body of water.  Hollow Dens are found along them where you live partially underground though your resilience to fear allows you to venture to the surface frequently to garden surface-growing vegetables like lettuce.

Humans: You once were the dominant race in Zatra and aspired to greatness.  Although dwarves and elves constructed cities more elaborately ornate than you, humans were the innovators of the world.  The short life that you live puts a sense of urgency if your choices each day, pushing you to improve upon yourself and reach goals seemingly unobtainable.  You are welcomed among any race, even some orcish tribes.  Most commonly hailing from central, warmer regions of Zatra, a split of your kind migrated to the Northern Lands passed Valashra and is seldom seen.  The harsh, bitter winters there have become extremely dangerous since the change in weather and daylight hours shifted.  As a result, if you come from the Northern Lands, you wear long, full beards, thick manes of hair that reach down your back, and hair covered chests.  You also possess uncanny vision in near white out conditions.

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CLASS ORIGINS

Barbarians: A commonality among humans of the Northern Lands, Barbarians are found throughout Zatra.  These thick-skinned survivalists are among the few who have survived through the Touch by gauging their battles with the Touch carefully and moving when too many threaten their home.  Barbarians are almost all nomadic except one village in the deepest parts of Zatra’s jungles around the central regions.  These people live in harmony with nature and wildlife and are expert hunters and exotic animal trainers.  Magic is not shunned by their people, and every tribe has a witch doctor or shaman that aids them when necessary.

Clerics:  There is but one true god that looks over Zatra, but not everyone believes God is the only deity.  Every Cleric has been given a vision of the truth about deities, the existence of God and Koz, the Five Powers and what they mean, and that other gods reign over other worlds.  This knowledge is highly forbidden beyond clerical practices, and any pious individual who speaks the Truth to any non-Cleric will immediately be stripped of all powers and marked as a heretic.  Those exposed to the Truth and believe it are incapable of handling this awareness and die from an overwhelming pressure.  Despite this, clerics are all that exist for expanding the word of God.  Their powers, however, have diminished in the last 50 years as no prayers have been answered by God and no holy presence has been felt by followers.  Some have believed that the new presence, Koz, has somehow vanquished God, and this weighs heavier on Clerics to assure that God remains despite the loss of presence.

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Druids: The Druids are the more disciplined, even-tempered cousins of the barbarians.  Frequently they are former shamans and witch doctors who sought isolation from their people, setting out among the land to find a deeper connection with nature.  They do not follow God though they believe He exists.  Instead their philosophers of the world, spreading more questions than answers and finding peace among the outdoors.  Their knowledge in practical medicine through herbs and roots are often welcomed greatly among communities throughout.  They have a cumulative mission in life after the Touch formed to eradicate the disease.

Fighters: These disciplined warriors are almost all from either soldiers and militia or knights and cavaliers depending on their background.  The former comes from poorer families while the latter are almost entirely nobles unless one is lucky enough to become a squire during open combat events.  Fighters have a natural born desire to hunt, defend, and, if necessary, to kill.  Therefore they are challenged to keep busy if they reside in one of the Chambers or Hollow Dens.  They are explorers and will be the first to travel through newly discovered tunnels if a Chamber wall collapses or damaged.  These are also the first to volunteer to leave the Chamber and set out on the surface if requested by one of the three kings, but they must be fortunate enough to be living in one of the 3 Chambers that the king resides.

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Monks:  Monks are among the rarest classes in Zatra.  There are imitation monasteries, but only one true monastery produces Monks properly.  It is located deep in Valashra, the mountain range that runs along the northern portion.  All Monks are recruited by a messenger being sent out among the world to locate the chosen one.  Mentors know exactly who this is when they send out the messenger, who is then guided by the magic ki that is tethered to the mentor chosen to train the recruit upon their arrival.  Through their Third Eye, an ancient ability passed down by centuries, which allows them to look upon and follow naturally gifted beings that qualify to train at the monastery.  Due to the isolation and challenge to reach the monastery, along with the incredible special powers that help fight off the Touch, monks still roam the world.

As a true testament to their devotion of ki, all Monks are blinded when their training is complete.  They often will wear an eye patch over one eye, a blindfold, an ornate mask, or they will tattoo their face when they leave the monastery.  Their vision at that point comes entirely from the Third Eye.  With this ability, they see the world without diminishing light – that is they see no darkness and their vision is limited only by the strength of their eye sight, which weakens as they age.

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Paladins:  The path of the Paladin has become a confused and lonely road since God’s presence has vanished.  They are tested more than any religious figure in Zatra, forced to continue their practice and worshipping without any of God’s powers that separate them from Knights.  When the Touch first was discovered, before the world realized its potential threat, Paladins were the very first to respond.  They pledged their lives to saving those Touched and those threatened to be Touched.  There are not many Paladins left in the world as many have turned and lost their faith, many of whom have gone mad.  These ex-paladins now roam aimlessly and often fight with anger in their heart and bloodlust.  Those who remained true to God through this testament find their way in the world by journeying from community to community offering their service until they feel it is safe to venture on.  Because of the growing threat, some of them remain indefinitely as the area continues to be in constant danger from the Touch.

Rangers:  Few people are more respected than the Ranger in Zatra.  Their discipline of wilderness has protected the five kingdoms over the centuries as well as educated those communities or groups wishing to relocate to a safer region.  Rangers bring with them knowledge of survival and have spent the last 100 years passing that knowledge onto as many citizens as possible in anticipation of the Touch dominating the world.  It was the Order of the Rangers that helped organize tens of thousands of people who wished for sanctuary in the Chambers, guiding and protecting them to their destination.  They worked directly with the dwarves in establishing a self-sufficient environment in order for the people to be sealed safely within.  Currently there are no Rangers living in any of the Chambers or Hollow Dens as they are all Hunters of the Touch.  Fearless and savage at times, these lethal men and women search endlessly for those who have been Touched to vanquish them properly from the world and release them from their torment.

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Rogues: A Rogue’s business has changed greatly in recent years.  Since nearly all of the cities of Zatra have been abandoned, there is little for them to seek out there in terms of coin and jewels.  Some Rogues chose to retreat into the Chambers, hoping to acquire incredible wealth from the nobles, but money has lost all value inside as everyone works to produce necessary things in order to live.  They quickly become bored and join in the cause.  Those remaining outside the Chambers now have a new value in life, however.  While there may not be riches to be sought after, important tomes and artifacts that might lead to a cure of the Touch are hidden throughout the world, many of which are well guarded by members of Nub Sumat or monsters.  Sneaking past to acquire any item is a tremendous asset for adventuring parties as survivability in Zatra relies on the least amount of encounters with the Touch as possible.

Wizards:  Wizards are viewed as the blasphemers of the world as their powers are not of God’s Will.  They hold within their Order a mysterious method of channeling into beams of pure energy that flow throughout Zatra, intersecting at points known as Hubs where they are the most powerful.  The energy itself is the fuel for all life, set there by God over a thousand years ago to self-nurture the world as He observed.  By tapping into the flows, which are called Leeways, they are essentially stealing life from the world, which reduces the flow and damages life in some form.  This may result in something small such as butterflies migrating too far north and dying of the cold or something catastrophically powerful as the formation of a fissure.  In light of Koz, however, Wizards have gained some light in God’s Eye prior to His vanishing in that Wizards are strongly against Koz’s destructive methods and use their powers to counter in whatever means necessary.  It is believed that Wizards will be among those who are capable of eliminating the Touch and even discovering a means to sever his ties from this world.  Currently there is an enclave of Wizards who are maintaining a protective shield over an entire city far to the south that keeps the Touch from entering.

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As you can see, each class and race has its own uniqueness beyond what’s in the book.  They adhere to the world closer, giving them a feeling of belonging.  Not only does it make for a good read for the players to immerse themselves in your world better, it provides them plenty of information to help them answer “Why should they play X character?”  It should not be about the stats; it should be because the race or class has an exciting interest to the player so they wish to continue on into the high levels.

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

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Famous NPCs – Part 5 Episode.065

Up to this point in your campaign bible, you should have a general concept of your world on a macro level, on a large scale.  We have been generally getting more and more specific, a micro level, as we progress.  This is one of two methods you can use to tackle world building.  Some people enjoy looking at the world on a smaller level first, fleshing out a region where the players are going to begin their careers and then build outward as they travel.  While this is perfectly fine if it suits your preference, there are a few things that are lacking by doing so.  One of which is important figures and places that are not directly conflicting with the players at that time but are affecting the world as the players journey through it.  These are famous nobles, politicians, monarchs, wanted criminals, famous bards, and the like.

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A very strong method of bringing more life into your world is to have things occurring elsewhere during their campaign.  I often will provide news and events to the players as we go along, usually in between sessions or prior to just starting one.  This can be anything from an illness in royal family, a major heist that took place in a far off city, an assault on a castle, a war that broke out, or tension that is building between the wood elves and the nearby orc tribes.  It’s important to make notes of these events and not just make them up and forget about them later.  Your players may very well remember them without you and bring the event up some time later when they reach that area.  Don’t underestimate the memory of your players.

For now, I started with the most well-known figures in my world of Zatra, those running the Dwarven Kingdoms.  Since the world has fallen to a horrible curse called the Touch, the dwarves have shown to be the most resilient against it and, therefore, the best place to be protected.  The dwarves in general are governed by a supreme king with two other kings reigning over two of the three kingdoms.  Essentially one rules all of them while maintaining a governing body over a third of the dwarves.  With this, the three kings are vastly critical in the world for two reasons.  First, they hold the knowledge on how to leave the sealed Chambers through the secret passage back to the surface.  Second, they are the only governing body among the dwarves who can grant permission to send messages between the Chambers via a message spell.  One of the options for the players is to have their character come from one of the Chambers.  Since this is the case, they will ultimately have to talk face-to-face with one of the kings, depending on which Chamber they choose.  So it is important to have the knowledge of who the three kings are.

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Important Figures

The following figures play prominent supporting roles or significant peripheral roles in the campaign:

His Grand Highness, Superior Chancellor and King Wolvar Thunderharm.  Although three kings in total reign over the three Dwarven Kingdoms, one of these is King Wolvar Thunderharm who holds total authority over all dwarves.  His words become law, and his governing is overruled by no one.  Few know how old Thunderharm is, but he states claim that he was among the first dwarves on Zatra to wield and strike with a hammer.  If this is the case, he has received special treatment or aid by non-magical or magical means to give him longevity in life as the oldest officially recorded dwarf was 387.  These days, Wolvar Thunderharm spends his waking hours either entertaining his 8xGreat-Grandchildren or locked away in his private library as he pours over volumes of lore that was written around the time believed to be when Koz first became a reality.  Wolvar Thunderharm reigns over the First Dwarven Kingdom of Gungrak.

Her High Holiness, Grand Pontiff and King Syldi Tarndark.  She is one of the three kings that reign over the Dwarven Kingdoms and carries the highest rank within the Holy Order of the dwarven religion, Vagnarock.  Vagnarock is considered sacrilege among all other races in Zatra for they worship an imaginary god.  Syldi Tarndark leads the order and proceeds over laws that are dictated by religion such as time of worship, Sabbath days, official scripture interpretations, and so on.  Her masculine title as king is an official ruling that was added to the Law after equality rights were decided among the dwarves.  The Law can never be changed, but interpretation can be changed by amendments.  In this case, the Law clearly states “Only a king may reside over a Dwarven Kingdom.”  By giving the same title to a female dwarf, the Law is not betrayed.  Syldi Tarndark reigns over the Second Dwarven Kingdom of Solitude.

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His Royal Highness, Battle Warlord and King Krog Dragongrind.  Battle scarred and showing little emotion, Dragongrind has little fear.  His list of battles is legendary, taking days to recite completely.  Beyond military skills in tactics and warfare, Krog is capable of wielding any weapon placed in his hand.  He has Grand Master titles on over 200 melee and ranged weapons.  From a personal level, he does not follow Vagnarock as he believes it is a false god.  His title gives him the freedom to follow his own faith, but most dwarves criticize him behind his back.  There is a very few number of followers of God within the Dwarven Kingdoms, and almost all of them converted to the faith after Krog took reign over his kingdom.  Of those few, all of them reside in his domain.  He will take any opportunity that is given to him to passionately warn that following a false god like Vagnarock will lead to retribution and believes Koz’s existence was the direct result of too many followers against God.  Krog Dragongrind reigns over the Third Dwarven Kingdom of Balakork.

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This list progressively gets bigger and bigger as you come up with more noteworthy figures.  Once the campaign begins, it still will be necessary to continue expanding it to keep track of everyone.  As the campaign gets longer and longer, the list of NPCs will grow substantially long.  Having a nice database of who’s who will help keep the memory of them fresh in your mind.

As I like to keep these blogs around a 2 page length, I will put the important places section on the next blog as my material for it covers 3 pages by itself.  Breaking it down and explaining the section, its importance and recommendations will only add to the already lengthy bit, so stay tuned for Part 6 where I’ll include that section.

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

Creating an RPG Campaign Bible: Your World – Part 3 Episode.064

What makes your world unique?  It was probably the initial idea that came to your mind when you first thought of starting a campaign based on a home-brewed world.  World builders, as some GMs enjoy being referred as, seldom wish to create something static and typical.  The world must be rich and dynamic, full of wonder and mystery that few have ever heard about before.  Secrets await the players as they begin exploring every corner, discovering new innovations that wow and draw them in deeper.

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Your world does not need to have one large unique aspect to it.  Consider instead the idea of having multiple smaller, “mini-features” that set it apart.  One particular part of the world may have high energy levels of magic that grant anyone in the area to suddenly possess spell-like abilities.   Another region could be riddled with random portals that suddenly appear that either sends your party to another part of the world or even to another dimension.

Try to keep in mind how your idea or ideas are going to truly affect the players both on a short term and long term basis.  There seems to be always one player who is capable of finding loopholes in everything, so be prepared to face a curveball from them at some point that might take advantage of your idea.

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I have seen some GMs run test games with his players using pre-gen characters similar to a convention.  These games are one or two sessions long tops, but they are based on specific circumstances within your world.  If you are worried that someone may take advantage of a region that grants wild magic, run one-session game involving the players randomly crossing over the boundary and see how they react.

In my continuing work of the campaign bible of Zatra, I included a more GM-friendly than Player-friendly section on my overarching twist of my world and what somewhat sets it apart.  Granted, we are all truly inspired by previous experiences to which our original content has reflections of the past, but we make it our own and enjoy it.  In the world of Zatra, it was created and observed by a single god, but a second chaotic god came into existence and wishes to rival him.

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World Altering Events & The Five Powers


The Five Powers is a generalized term used to describe the omnipotent power that God possesses.  In a literal sense, the Five Powers are an unknown force of god-builders.  The god is capable to do everything, know everything, and see everything.  It represents the ultimate sheer control that God contains.  Through these powers, the god can handle their world as they see fit.  Zatra’s God grants life and death and allows the living to determine their own fate and course of action.

However, from time to time, the Five Powers creates multiple deities for a single world.  They are commonly polar opposites in order to form balance, but on rare occasions these deities clash.  One of such phenomenon occurred in Zatra in its year of 920.

About 150 years ago, Koz reached a level of power and influence in the world that he was able to manipulate the very existence of all things throughout.  His powers, however, could only be filtered through the use of mortal pawns and avatars though he would be able to harness the powers himself once he acquired the fifth one.  Through the use of mind manipulation and brainwashing, Koz was able to convince his followers to do exactly as he commanded in using these powers.  His motivations (other than transforming all living beings into victims of the Touch) are unknown.  The potential of Koz acquiring the Five Powers is a tremendous threat as four of them have already been developed and utilized.

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The first power he acquired was in 1051 and allowed him to change the planet’s rotation speed, thereby causing extended periods of darkness.  Although incapable of stopping the world altogether, his powers could create daylight to appear for only a few hours before slowing the motion for darkness to last for days.  When nightfall occurs, the intensity increases to a pinnacle of nearly total darkness with visibility only a few feet away, even with a magical light source.  Some creatures were further granted the ability to see great distances during this period, including members of Nub Sumat.

As the Touch and the awareness of another god’s presence spread, his powers grew in number.  The Touch had a direct link to that power, and either more joined the cause of Nub Sumat or they fell to the Touch.  Soon Koz gained another powerful ability which was to alter weather patterns.  He allowed Nub Sumat to unleash a fury of torrential storms from hurricanes to massive tornadoes and earthquakes that devastated the lands and destroyed many of the cities.  Floods washed farmlands and building debris away, leaving ruins in their wake.  In some portions of the world, blizzards would last for days during the long periods of nightfall, leaving dozens of feet of snow, tunneled out by creatures and travelers still living above ground.

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His third power came in 1154, just 100 years after his first power acquisition.  This proved to be more lethal due to the lack of evidence of its existence.  Throughout the world, pockets would form at random that either contained a low amount of gravity or lacked it entirely.  The latter was particularly hazardous from those without proper magic as victims entering the pocket would rise up to a point in the atmosphere incapable of sustaining life.  Those who managed to manipulate their ascension to move out of the pocket before that point would retain gravity but usually fall to their deaths unless they had a means to slow their descent.  Telltale signs are difficult to spot from an area of a complete lack of grass to holes where young trees were uprooted to floating objects in midair.  Some of the more potentially dangerous anti-gravity pockets have been marked by past travelers as a warning beacon, but these signs are soon destroyed by members of Nub Sumat.

Some forty years after Koz acquired the 4th Power, the snowball effect of the world falling into darkness from the Touch’s spread allowed him to begin minor manipulations of time itself.  These brief spurts could cause time to reverse several seconds, speed forward a couple of hours, or momentarily stop.  These occurrences would not be worldwide but sized similarly to the areas of his gravity manipulation areas.  These moments are completely random and can happen at advantageous and disadvantageous times.  For example, moments after someone falls into a sinkhole, time shifts backwards, bringing them from falling.  Memory and awareness of the time shift seems to remain with the victim, too.

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With the final Power utilized with Koz, he will reach the level to rival God.  All Powers will be capable by Koz directly, and he will progress into the next existence as a deity, which is the omnipotent being that which is God.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Perception of Reality Affects Our Gaming Episode.058

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Worthless Character Worthwhile Episode.057

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

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

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

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


earl_by_thomasbrissot-d7ix3otNAME:  Jasper Creme

OCCUPATION: Barbarian

RACE: Half-Orc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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