December 31, 2010

Dark Sun: Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The product we’re looking at today is the Campaign Setting Expanded and Revised, published in 1995. It is a boxed set that includes 4 softcover books; The Age of Heroes (rules for characters) which runs for 96 pages, The Wanderer’s Chronicle (setting information) which runs 128 pages, The Way of the Psionicist (a new psionic system) which runs 32 pages, and Mystery of the Ancients (an adventure) which runs 32 pages. Included are 3 maps and a Dungeon Master’s Screen.

This is a redoing of the Dark Sun setting, attempting to incorporate all the changes that had occurred within the setting and the 2E rule set since the time of the initial Dark Sun release in 1991.

I will be taking a look at this material in a different manner. Yesterday’s article took a look at the original boxed set, so rather than repeat much of the same stuff I did for that write-up (and to avoid a simple cut and paste), I will be looking to see what this product provides that is different between the original boxed set and the 4E campaign book. I will assume much of the issues the last article pointed out are still valid until I see otherwise.

December 30, 2010

Dark Sun: Campaign Setting

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The product we’re looking at today is the Campaign Setting Boxed Set, published in 1991. It is a boxed set that includes 2 softcover books; the Rules Book which runs for 96 pages and The Wanderer’s Journal which runs 96 pages. In addition, there are two spiral books comprising an introductory adventure; the Dungeon Master’s Book and the Player Aid Cards. Included are two foldout maps.
This is the set that started it all, the core release for the Dark Sun campaign setting.

December 29, 2010

Dark Sun: The Will and the Way

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is The Will and the Way published in 1994. It is 96 pages long with 8 chapters and 3 appendixes. Its goal is to try and cover psionics in Dark Sun.
I will say it now, psionics has changed considerably between 2E and 4E. All of the mechanical aspects in the book are of no use in a 4E campaign.

December 28, 2010

Dark Sun: Mind Lords of the Last Sea

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Mind Lords of the Last Sea (DSS3) published in 1996. It is a boxed set consisting of a 96 page Book (detailing a new region), a 32 page adventure (called Into the Lands of the Last Sea) and a large fold-out map.

December 27, 2010

Dark Sun: Freedom

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is the adventure, Freedom (DS1) published in 1991. It is in a folder which holds 2 spiral bound books, the Dungeon Master’s Book and the Player’s Book. On the folder itself there is a list of the monsters that appear in the adventure with their combat stats. This was the first publication for the Dark Sun line after the release of the campaign setting material.
I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

December 24, 2010

Dark Sun: Elves of Athas

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Elves of Athas (DSS3) published in 1993. It is 96 pages and has 5 chapters.

December 23, 2010

Dark Sun: Forest Maker

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is the adventure Forest Maker, published in 1994. While it came in the folder it was not in the spiral book format. Instead, it is made up of three books, the Dungeon Master Book (with 48 pages), the Player’s Book (with 16 pages) and a Story Booklet (with 16 pages). The folder itself provides a map of the wilderness with encounter locations marked as well as some 2E stats for various NPCs.

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December 22, 2010

Dark Sun: Monstrous Compendium Terrors of the Desert

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Monstrous Compendium Dark Sun Appendix (Terrors of the Desert) published in 1992. It consisted of 96 loose-leaf pages. 2E provided the buyers of their Monster Manual with a 3-ring binder and monsters were printed on pages with hole punches. This allowed the purchaser to insert his monsters into the binder as he wanted, and also allowed for the pages to be removed for a variety of reasons, such as wanting the data sheet for the monster at hand for a night’s adventure.

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December 21, 2010

Dark Sun: City by the Silt Sea

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is City by the Silt Sea published in 1994. It is a boxed set consisting of a 96 page Campaign Book, a 64 page Adventure Book, a 32 page Monster Supplement book, 6 reference sheets and a large fold-out map.
The set covers the ruined city of Giustenal, its surrounding locations, as well as the undead sorcerer-king Dregoth and his plans.

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December 20, 2010

Strange Questions of the Day

We all know Wil Wheaton plays rpg games. He also played a villain named Cha0s two different times on the TV show Leverage. Margaret Weis Productions just released the new rpg game based on the TV show Leverage. So the Strange Questions of the Day are...

Would Will Wheaton be cheating by having GM information if he was playing a game of Leverage and they ran into Cha0s?

Would Will Wheaton run the NPC or would the GM?

Dark Sun: Slave Tribes

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Slave Tribes (DSR1), published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. It is made up of 3 chapters and an appendix. This was the first non-adventure accessory for the Dark Sun line; the adventure DS1: Freedom came out before this supplement.

This supplement is written in a different manner than other books in the line. This book is primarily written from the point of view (and thus in-character) of a former slave.

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December 17, 2010

Dark Sun: Dragon Kings

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Dragon Kings published in 1992. It is hardcover and runs 160 pages. The book is not divided into chapters, but instead has 8 sections (very much like chapters), 3 appendixes and some new monsters at the end.
I would like to note that I have already written about the Foreword for the book (that article can be found at http://bigballofnofun.blogspot.com/2010/11/foreword-of-awesome.html). Usually I would not cover in detail a foreword, but I liked that one so much I had to write about it.

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December 16, 2010

Dark Sun: Veiled Alliance

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Veiled Alliance published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 4 chapters.

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December 15, 2010

Dark Sun: Valley of Dust and Fire

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Valley of Dust and Fire published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 5 chapters, with some new monsters and an appendix. Also included is a large fold-out map. The sourcebook provided some new areas to the 2E Dark Sun setting and detailed the domain of the Dragon.

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December 14, 2010

Dark Sun: Thri-Kreen of Athas

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Thri-Kreen of Athas published in 1995. It is softcover and runs 128 pages. The book is divided into 7 chapters, with an appendix. Also included is a large fold-out poster. As the title suggests, this supplement covers the race of the Thri-Kreen.

Introduction
Unlike other Introductions, which give nothing but a “here’s what’s in the book”, this one actually has some content in it. There is a short history of Athas as it pertains to the kreen. It also mentions here how there are different types of kreen, of which thri-kreen is the most well known among the non-kreen. The Introduction ends with large glossary of kreen terms.

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December 13, 2010

Dark Sun: Psionic Artifacts of Athas

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Psionic Artifacts of Athas published in 1996. It is softcover and runs 128 pages. The book is divided into 4 chapters, with an appendix. It has the distinction of being the last 2E book released for the Dark Sun line.
I will note now that while the title indicates the book is about psionic artifacts, in fact, it covers non-psionic artifacts as well and also non-artifact magic items. Despite these discrepancies, the items are definitely Athas in origin and feel.

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December 10, 2010

Dark Sun: The Complete Gladiator’s Handbook

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.
The sourcebook we’re looking at today is The Complete Gladiator’s Handbook (CGR2) published in 1993. It is softcover and runs 128 pages. The book is divided into 6 chapters, with an appendix.

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December 9, 2010

Dark Sun: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.
The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (DSS2) published in 1993. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 8 chapters, with an appendix. This supplement covers the cleric class and priestly magic in general.

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December 8, 2010

Dark Sun: Black Spine

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is one of the DSM series of adventures. These consisted of 4 adventure book sets including Black Flames (DSM1, 1993), Merchant House of Amketch (DSM2, 1993), Marauders of Nibenay (DSM3, 1993) and Black Spine (1994). They came in a variety of formats. As I will comment more on later, while the adventures are billed as being part of a series, there is little to nothing to tie them together.

I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

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December 7, 2010

Dark Sun: Marauders of Nibenay

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is one of the DSM series of adventures. These consisted of 4 adventure book sets including Black Flames (DSM1, 1993), Merchant House of Amketch (DSM2, 1993), Marauders of Nibenay (DSM3, 1993) and Black Spine (1994). They came in a variety of formats. As I will comment more on later, while the adventures are billed as being part of a series, there is little to nothing to tie them together.

I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

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December 6, 2010

Dark Sun: Merchant House of Amketch

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is one of the DSM series of adventures. These consisted of 4 adventure book sets including Black Flames (DSM1, 1993), Merchant House of Amketch (DSM2, 1993), Marauders of Nibenay (DSM3, 1993) and Black Spine (1994). They came in a variety of formats. As I will comment more on later, while the adventures are billed as being part of a series, there is little to nothing to tie them together.
I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

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December 3, 2010

Dark Sun: Black Flames

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is one of the DSM series of adventures. These consisted of 4 adventure book sets including Black Flames (DSM1, 1993), Merchant House of Amketch (DSM2, 1993), Marauders of Nibenay (DSM3, 1993) and Black Spine (1994). They came in a variety of formats. As I will comment more on later, while the adventures are billed as being part of a series, there is little to nothing to tie them together.

I’ll mention here at the beginning that these adventures were written for the 2E system. Therefore the stats included in the modules are of no value beyond the level of an NPC for comparison’s sake. This article is more about how difficult it would be to adapt the module to the 4E rules and if there is anything radically divergent from the 4E setting.

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December 2, 2010

Dark Sun: Defilers and Preservers

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas, published in 1996. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. The book is divided into 5 chapters. This supplement was written after the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Expanded and Revised edition was released and thus uses the updated timeline of Dark Sun.

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December 1, 2010

Dark Sun: Dune Traders

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The accessory we’re looking at today is Dune Trader (DSR2), published in 1992. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. It has no chapters, but is instead divided up into 10 sections.

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November 30, 2010

Dark Sun: The Ivory Triangle

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The accessory we’re looking at today is The Ivory Triangle, published in 1993. It is a boxed set that includes 3 softcover books; two run for 32 pages and one runs 96 pages. Included are two foldout maps and 6 reference sheets. In addition, there is a short story booklet running 16 pages.
As expected it covers the Ivory Triangle region of Dark Sun. The large book is entitled The Ivory Triangle and covers the same region as in the 4E version of the rules. The first of the smaller books is The City-State of Gulg and the second is The City-State of Nibenay and they each cover their respective cities.

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November 29, 2010

Dark Sun: City-State of Tyr

Recently WotC rereleased the Dark Sun setting for 4E. This article is part of a series that examines a release from 2E Dark Sun and sees how and if it can be integrated with the new 4E version of the world setting.

The sourcebook we’re looking at today is the City-State of Tyr (DSS1), published in 1993. It is softcover and runs 96 pages. Included is a foldout map. As well as the Introduction there are 8 chapters and an appendix of maps.

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November 26, 2010

4E and Party Unity

Does 4E promote party unity more so than other systems? Is party harmony baked into the rule set? 4E makes a strong case for party unity. This starts right at the beginning of the rule book where it notes that the characters are heroes. It describes the actions of the characters as being heroic, helping those in need. However, other rule sets have done this as well. What does 4E do differently that could warrant a claim that the game system promotes unity more than other games?

A couple of minor points are in their more blatant attempts to highlight the heroic. Look at the newest character building books offered for the Essentials line. Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, soon to be followed by Heroes of Sword and Spell and Heroes of Shadow. These are character building books with the term Hero unashamedly on the cover. They are not being called Lone Wolf of Sword and Spell.

Under Alignment, they clearly state that Good and Lawful Good are the choices for a character and that the other alignments are discouraged. This is further reinforced when we get to the Gods section. All the good and neutral gods are given extensive write-ups, but the evil gods are given only the barest line on a list. Better descriptions of the evil gods are given in the GM’s books, but that is the purview of the GM and outside what the players should be choosing. It's almost like saying evil characters are the domain of the GM.

The above are some of the obvious means of trying to get players to create classes that will work together, but what are some of the more subtle means? The roles and party creation highly recommends forming a party as a group. There are specific functions within a group that need to be covered if a group is going to do well. You need a leader and defender and strikers. You can do without one of those but the game encounters become all that much harder to accomplish. By spreading out the roles required it means a party needs to work together more.

One of the chief contributors to party disharmony is the lone wolf mentality. This is when a player builds a character that can do everything themselves, or at least is built so strongly that they can overpower any obstacle. Such characters don’t need the other PCs and thus it is easy to break away from the party. It either marginalizes the other characters, bringing out bad feelings, or to properly “test” the character’s effectiveness the lone wolf will find opportunities to bring conflict into the party dynamics.

4E and its powers are built to complement the other party members. Abilities either make other party members more effective or allow your character to become stronger. Either by giving or taking advantage of these extra perks provided by the other party members, a party becomes co-dependent on each other. There is incentive to work together.

4E has managed to design a system where a character can do damage (a key cornerstone of feeling effective) and still provide perks for the rest of the party at the same time. It is no longer about making a choice between helping yourself or helping the party, you can now do both. The way powers are set up and used, it diminishes the mentality of the lone wolf and promotes party unity.

When players use their characters to help each other, even if it’s only to better themselves, it brings a group together. A form of bonding takes place. Knowing your daily only hit because you gained a +1 to hit from the other player almost makes you feel in their debt. But with 4E this feeling of aid and debt is spread completely around the party. Even if you don’t want to work with the other members of the party you have to.

One final push for party unity comes in the power descriptions themselves. If a character were to step outside the party and feels the need to attack a member of the party (usually because of the ubiquitous ‘respect’ issue) the powers almost force the character and player over a line they do not want to cross. Most powers are explicit in what they can target; they specifically mention whether it will affect an ally or enemy. If a character were to use a power against a party member he would have to declare that member as an enemy in order for the attack to work. While it is true a good DM will allow such attacks to be used without such a formal announcement, there is an unconscious line of enemy/ally that would be crossed if such a power were to be used on a party member, a line most players do not want to cross. Most inter-party attacks are usually one hits meant to show power or how dangerous they are, but with the addition of the enemy descriptor it alters the approach of such an attack and its fallout.

What do you think? Is the 4E system designed to promote party unity beyond normal systems?

November 19, 2010

Unfailure

We’ve all been at a table where someone else, or ourselves, runs into the worst run of bad luck. We roll and roll and never seem to make the needed number to get a success. This can quickly turn a good night into a crappy night of frustration.

I know that a good DM can turn bad die rolls into a fun and exciting adventure. I know that die rolls eventually even out and the player will start to roll better. I know that sometimes what is perceived as a bad night of die rolling is nothing but perception and not the reality of it. I know that some people need to lighten up and not take a game so seriously.

However, I also know that games are meant to bring people up out a bad mood and not put them there. Its not so much that rolling poorly is bad for the character and group, but rather, sometimes it feels like the world (real and fantasy) is out to get you.

For this, I’ve created the Unfailure Rule. In effect, this allows a person who is genuinely having a bad night of die rolling get at least one success that evening. Here’s how it works:

-Put a bunch of markers (poker chips, glass beads, marbles, pennies) on the table.
-Whenever, a player fails his second roll in a row he takes one of the markers.
-From then on, if he fails a roll he takes another marker. If he succeeds on a roll he puts all the markers back.
-If a player has 3 markers, he can turn in all his markers to automatically succeed on the next roll he makes. The success is minimal, the player gets the exact result he needs to succeed.

I think you’ll be surprised by how rarely a person gets the free success. In addition, so will your players. One side benefit of this system is that there is a way to show exactly how bad a person is rolling. Often a player will roll badly twice in a row (usually on what they perceive to be an important roll) and to them the whole night is one of bad die rolls. With this system they can realize that maybe they are not rolling as bad as they initially thought.
It’s also funny watching players hope they fail again so they can then use their free success on some high-powered ability.

Is this overpowered? Does it give too much of an advantage to the players? Think about it. In order for a player to get the free success he would have had to first fail 4 times in a row. That’s 4 actions that did nothing to help the party or the character and did nothing to hurt your NPCs.

However, I would not use this system if the rule set already includes a way to get automatic successes on die rolls. Some systems have their own set of markers included that allow for a die roll to be bumped up to a success. Just bear in mind that rerolling a die roll does not in fact accomplish what this system does; rerolling a die does not guarantee success, it only provides another avenue for failing a roll.

November 16, 2010

HP Totals

One thing that comes up during our 4E fights is, how damaged is the other party member? The way I handle it is a two-prong answer. A character is allowed to freely know abstracts. By taking a quick glance at a person (no die roll required) they can tell if that person is unwounded (is at full hp), wounded (has lost some hp but is not bloodied), bloodied or down (at 0 or less hp). If a player wants to know more specifically how many hit points a person has left, I allow them to spend a standard action to make a Healing roll and if they make the roll (usually an easy TN) they know exactly the hit point total the other character is at.

I realize hit points are an abstraction themselves, but to allow for a more precise determination of the relative health of a character (without resorting to hp numbers) would require me to set up multitudes of descriptors; lightly wounded, heavy wounds, kirk-scratch, grazed, etc. I find it much simpler to allow hit point totals to show the relative health of a character. This can be translated as such; the character is down 10hp which is 15% of his hp, so I could describe this in character as “I am feeling about 15% of normal” but to keep it easy I just allow the characters to say “I am down 10hp”.

Note that I use this quick determination of relative health during combat when things are moving fast and furious. Outside of combat they can freely state their hit point totals.

How do you handle the question of characters/players knowing the hp total of another character?

November 12, 2010

Foreword of Awesome

This foreword from 1992, found in the Dragon Kings supplement, is full of awesome. Normal forewords are fairly bland, giving a brief description of what the book is about and some thank yous. This one is full of wonderful insights into how a book is produced and gaming styles in general. I’ve seen blog articles with less than a quarter of the gaming insight this foreword has.

I’m gonna quote it in its entirety and add some of my own comments as we go along. Keep in mind it is the foreword to Dragon Kings, a Dark Sun supplement put out less than a year after the Dark Sun was released. It was the 6th rpg book for the Dark Sun line. It was also written for the 2E rule set. In addition, the author, Timothy B Brown, was one of the principle designers on the Dark Sun setting so he had some inner knowledge of the Dark Sun setting and its development.

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November 5, 2010

PCs as Companions

The concept of Companions for 4E is something that was presented in the DMG2. This is when a party has an additional character in their party, one that is not run fulltime by a player. In effect, this is an NPC run by the players. The core concept is, “DM built, Player run”. There are a number of reasons to include a companion in a party:
  • Supplement a party if they are missing a key class (such as no leader type for healing).
  • Cool factor (A recent Dungeon adventure allowed for a wyrmling to become a pet).
  • Allow an NPC to be something other than be a lump (for when in-story an NPC joins the party for a short period of time).
There is one more way in include a companion and that is as a companion version of a PC. This can be used on a night where the player can not make it and you still want the character to participate that night (perhaps because that character fills a specific need within the party). Using a companion version of a PC allows another player to run that PC in a much easier and smoother manner than if he tries to run the character off a standard character sheet.

 
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November 2, 2010

The Evil Campaign

More than Dice had an article dealing with how and when to run an evil campaign. He made some good points and in the end he recommended making sure your group is ready and mature enough to play with evil characters. I myself have long had in mind running an evil campaign, specifically one wherein the characters are drow trying to get ahead in drow society. To this end I have spent a fair amount of time thinking of ways to allow for an evil campaign without it degenerating into party backstabbing and general jerkness.
Here are a few ideas.

Give Them a Common Goal 
A common goal can bring a group together and give them incentive to work together instead of working at cross-purposes. You want to make sure they have to work together to accomplish the goal. By, in effect, forcing them to work together they will come together and bond on the in-character level. Players bring their own goals into a campaign during their character generation, but by providing one for them it gives them another reason to stay together. You want to replace their own selfish goals with one that requires a group to accomplish.

One of the biggest downfalls of an evil campaign is the selfishness that can develop. A shared goal will eliminate some of this. Even a selfish player can find reasons to work with the other members of the group if they feel it will bring them closer to their goal, or in this case, the goal you provided for them.

In order to make this work the goal is one that the group can share in. If “there can only be one” to accomplish the goal you are in fact providing reasons for the party to backstab each other. Perhaps the end result requires a certain number of participants.

Example: The recovery and use of the ancient artifacts, the Five Dark Stars. These artifacts require each to be wielded by one individual and those five individuals must use them in concert. By themselves they are useless, but together they provide immense power.
Example: The party’s goal is to take over the drow city. In order to make this work, they will need to each take a certain area of expertise. One to deal with things on the diplomatic front, one to run a spy network, one to deal with magical threats, one to subvert the religious factions and one to run the military.

Avoid Splitting the Party
It’s an old adage to never split the party, but it is perhaps even more relevant in an evil campaign. I am not talking about having the characters split up between different physical locations, but rather in their goals. If you, as the GM, insert individual goals into the campaign, especially ones that cause the party to work against each other then you only have yourself to blame when the campaign ends due to backstabbing. Keep the party working together and all toward the same goals.

Likewise, do not insert adventures “that test the party’s loyalty to each other”. They will fail, or at the very least one will fail the test and that can be enough to end a campaign. This means, do not have a shadowy figure offer great rewards to betray the party.

Provide a Common Enemy
Players who participate in an evil campaign will want to have their characters do bad things. That is the major draw to such a campaign. If you do not provide NPCs for them to do bad things to, they will find someone and that someone is usually someone in the party. Give the players someone to be evil to; focus their badness into an area you want it to go and away from the party.

Give Them a Common Background
During character generation give do not let the players make their own backgrounds. Give them one that ties the group together. They could all be from the same family or organization. They could have had a mentor that brought them together. In fact, their mentor or organization could be a radical thinker who believes in a unified front and has ingrained these thoughts into the characters as they were growing up. The point is to make them already part of an organization that values group unity.

Make it Awesome
By this I mean, make the concept of working together appear like it’s the cool thing to do. Make working in a group a unique and unusual thing. Make it seem like it’s an advantage that the world does not prescribe to. Show how being a unified group gives the players an edge over their enemy or simply the world around them. For my drow campaign, I would highlight that the other drow are loners who never work with others unless they are only using them for a limited time. I would mention, and show, that the drow can never gain the upper hand completely because of the fact they always act alone.

Resolve Disputes
Provide a way to resolve conflicts in game. If the party is part of a larger organization, make a system wherein they can take out their aggressions against each other in a non-lethal manner. Perhaps the organization has a formalized system of non-lethal combat if there is a dispute between its members. Players tend to run evil characters that will brook no stain on their honor or reputation. With a full group all doing this it will inevitably lead to conflict. Providing a non-lethal and readily understood method of resolving these conflicts will allow all the characters to “save face”.

Involve the Players
Ask the players for reasons why their party will be able to work together. This does two things. One is it will each player a rational why they don’t go solo or backstab the other arty members at the fist opportunity. Second, it brings them into the big picture. By letting them decide how and why their character is able to work within the group they are more invested in making sure that is the outcome. If a player is having problems coming up with some ideas, I have a few below. If each PC takes one you can create a web of ties between them.

  • His life was once saved by one of the characters.
  • Working with one of the characters pays off a debt he owes someone else.
  • The character has a mystical bond with another of the characters (perhaps the same birthmark or he feels non-debilitating pain when the other is injured).
  • Sibling (though this only really works if the setting provides strong ties between family members).
  • A prophecy/omen/fortune-telling/godly voice has told the character that one day the other character will save his life. The reverse of this is that the voice told him that if the other character dies he will die soon thereafter.
  • An item/ability that the other character has and is only usable by him gives you more power.

Using some or all of these ideas can help keep an evil campaign going strong. Do you have any other ideas that can instill party loyalty in an evil campaign?

October 28, 2010

Living Dungeon-Part Two

Orc Lair

As written, this dungeon is designed for a party of level 8. In total, there are 11 rooms to explore and 7 potential encounters. The map was taken from the WotC website; their old map-a-week pages; Scepter Dungeon (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mw/20020725a).

This small complex was initially built by followers of Ioun who focused on his messages of peace and thoughtful coexistence. They carved a place for themselves from a rocky hill with the intent to separate themselves and explore the ways of peace. They called themselves the Perfect Mind. They felt peace with the world was the first thing a person had to do before they could begin to understand the world, its mysteries, or gain perfection of mind. Unfortunately, others did not agree with their thoughts and within 10 years they were overrun by a group of gnolls. Since that time the place has alternately been the lair of various monsters or abandoned. Recently, a band of orcs (the Pigsnouts) wrested the lair from an aging troll and have made it their home.

[More]

October 27, 2010

Living Dungeon-Part One

This is not a new idea, but it is a new idea for 4E. I’ve been rereading some older modules for a future article and one thing I’ve noticed is what some call the “living dungeon”. This is the notion that when a dungeon is the lair or home of something it should be non-static. It is not a place of numbered rooms waiting for the PCs to kick in the door and kill whatever is listed as being there. This article is about how to write a non-linear, non-static adventure for 4E and includes some new concepts and structures to allow for this.

A tribe of goblins doesn’t sit waiting in a room for the adventurers to come by. They are out raiding the countryside (which is often the catalyst for the players being there in the first place). They are sleeping in the barracks. They are eating what the hunters caught and the cook warmed up in the kitchen. They are on guard patrol, protecting their lair from foul adventurers. They are in the back closet playing a game of dice and hoping they don’t get caught.

[More]

October 20, 2010

100 For Me


100. Recently I put up my 100th post. It’s been a little over a year since I started this blog and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. To celebrate this blog (and because posts that are only self-congratulations can be annoying), here are 5 links to some of my favorite posts that may have been missed over the year.

Dynastic Campaign Pt1 and Pt2. This is an article about a twist on the old style of campaigns. I plan on running such a campaign once my current games end.

Players are Builders. This article deals with my thoughts on player motivations and how to use them to make a better game.

Twist It. This takes a look at stereotypes within the RPG genre and how to use them with a fresh eye.

Birthright Encounters; Pt1 Pt2 Pt3 Pt4. These are series of adventure ideas from the viewpoint of a leader of men. There are a lot of good ideas here.

Immersion. I am always trying to push the envelope of immersion, or the ability for a DM to bring the player into experiencing what is happening to the character. Here are some ideas and examples of some stuff I've used in the past.


And now for the obligatory look back…

I’ve tripled my followers! OK, going from zero to three isn’t really tripling (since 0 x 3 = 0), but the thought is there and I am pleased someone actually thinks enough of my scribbles to be forced to acknowledge their presence. Don’t worry, once I have taken over the blogosphere and all other blogs are bowing at my feet, I will remember you three!

I’m still trying to “find my voice”. I think I’ve gotten better at my style, but I still have soooo much to learn.

I was super pleased to have one of my articles be accepted and published in the Review: Open Game Table – The Anthology of RPG Blogs Vol.2

And now to let loose some of my pet peeves…
Things I’ve Seen in Other Blogs That Annoy Me
-Don’t apologize for not posting on a regular basis. I will see your blog and its posts when you next post. Go ahead and take a week or two off.
-Post something I can use in a game. The majority of blogs I see post opinions. Sometimes it seems like people are holding back their good content, saving it for some future (and often never to be seen) publication for which they hope to get paid. I’ll admit I do the same, but I do try and throw some of my “publishable” ideas into the blog mix.
-A single paragraph which is nothing but a link to another blog is not a blog post. Don’t try to pass it off as content. At the very least, try and analyze the other blog post; something more than a “dis iz a gud post ”.
-Don’t disguise your product as something else. If your blog is trying to sell one of your products, let us know that. Putting up an article about the proper use of NPCs is fine, but then ending with “and the best place to see such examples is in my new module” makes it all come across as nothing but a con job. Start the article hawking your product and then if you want to write an article about proper use of NPCs go ahead and cite examples from your module. Just don’t let me think I’m reading a useful gamemastering article only to realize I am reading nothing but a long advertisement.

For the upcoming year I’ll try and continue what I’m doing…only better. I’m still trying for at least one post per week, though two is preferred. However, I don’t believe in crap posts so I’d rather “miss” a scheduled post than put up something I don’t like.
I have a number of articles or series of articles partially done; now to finish them.

October 12, 2010

Catch Phrases for NPCs

Catch phrases have long been advocated as a means to add some role-play to a player’s character. I remember in our Gamma World game we had a war cry of “Where’s Our Cow!” which we developed as we rescued the town’s cow from some muskrat raiders. It gave us an identity and set us apart from the “ordinary” people.

However, I believe there are special benefits when catch phrases are used by the NPCs of your campaign. It can make a specific NPC become more memorable and distinctive. It can also enhance a campaign setting by being a reminder of what makes that setting unique. For instance, the Dark Sun setting has no gods. The closest things to a god are the sorcerer-kings. Having an NPC make the declaration “Oh my kings!” instead of “Oh my god!” serves to remind the players they are not on Earth or even another “typical” world setting.

Here are some examples for the Dark Sun setting…

Belgoi’s Bells! = Hell’s bells
Water for the eyes = A sight for sore eyes
All that glitters is not iron = All that glitters is not gold
The Dragon comes = All good things come to an end  
Better the King you know = Better the Devil you know, than the Devil you don’t  
Elves will be elves = Boys will be boys  
Even a slave eats = Every dog has his day  
Let a mage cast = Give a man rope enough and he will hang himself
Haste spills water = Haste makes waste  
Become a templar = If you can't beat em, join em  
It takes a gladiator to kill a gladiator = It takes a thief to catch a thief  
Elf goods = Let the buyer beware  
Defilers don’t start that way = The road to hell is paved with good intentions
There's always more sand in the desert = There's always more fish in the sea
A templar in slave’s clothing = A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Pay the Dragon's levy = Give the Devil his due

October 8, 2010

Too Much D&D


I know there are similar articles floating around that take a humorous look at our obssession with D&D. Here is mine.
 
How to tell if you've been playing too much D&D

  • You calculate how money you would have saved when buying that CD if you had made a Haggling roll.
  • You can’t watch a sporting event without calculating weapon damages for the sports equipment (Football 1d6 Range 30/60; Hockey Stick 2d8 Two-handed).
  • You’re at a meeting and you start assigning AC and HP to the other people there. If the meeting is really long you start assigning ability stats, usually beginning with Charisma.
  • You have a unique rating system for new restaurants in your area.
            5 Gold Inn
            1 Gold Inn
            Conjured Food
            Trail Rations
            Worse than Trail Rations

  • You refer to John Mayer as a Bard.
  • You know the prices of things by their gp value; milk, eggs, shoes, etc.
  • You give and expect 5’ of personal space and you are constantly calculating reach for nearby people.
  • If the floor is tiled, you find yourself stepping inside each tile and spending movement rates.
  • At least once a day, you note a time when a 10’ pole would have come in handy.
  • A promotion at work is considered ‘leveling up’.
  • Whenever you carry something, you make a note as to whether you are Lightly or Heavily Encumbered.
  • You still think Conan O'Brien should have used his two-handed sword when he was fired and replaced by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.

Things you say that indicate you’ve been playing too much D&D

  • “Made that saving throw” after getting out of having to stay late at work.
  • “Nat 20” after seeing you got an ‘A’ on a test.
  • “Won that initiative roll” while darting in front of another car when making a lane change.
  • “Made my Strength check” after lifting something heavy.
  • “Need a Cure Light” after getting a paper cut.
  • “Need a Cure Serious” after cutting your finger on some broken glass.
  • “It’s called a dump stat for a reason” after saying the wrong thing to your in-laws.
  • "Failed my Perception check" when you didn't hear something someone said to you.
  • “I wonder how many hit points that was” after seeing a hard hit in football.
  • “I usually go with the orcs” when your co-workers are discussing their fantasy football league.

October 5, 2010

Downtime Before the Game


We often talk about how to avoid downtime during a game session, but we don’t really talk about downtime before the game starts. By this I mean the time when some of your players show up, but the group inevitably ends up waiting for that last player. You know he’s on his way, but you know he’s also running late. Whatever the reason, maybe he has a lot further to drive or he gets out of work/class later than the rest of your players, you will have time before the game actually starts and you have players sitting around. 

Unfortunately, you can’t start the game until he shows up. Perhaps you are in the middle of an encounter and his character is needed. Perhaps the group has reached a point where they need to make a major decision, as a group. There can be a number of reasons why you can not start the game until the last person arrives.
The normal response is to sit and talk, get all the socializing out of the way before the game begins. This is not a bad idea, but if you tend to be cramped for playtime (with my group we schedule 3 hours of playtime so any time taken away from that diminishes the game) looking for ways to utilize this downtime can only help.

There are a number of things you can try to do. The key is to try and do things that are relevant on some level with the game you will be running that night. Also, whatever you do has to be flexible enough to allow for those who do show up without alienating those who do not.
Here are some ideas I’ve used in the past...

Back when I was running 2E Dark Sun we used the Complete Gladiators Handbook to set up and run a gladiator style mini-campaign. Basically each player bought and sold gladiators, keeping up with the expenses thus accrued. They would then enter their chosen gladiator into the arena and their fortunes would rise or fall according to how well their gladiators did. The fights were fast enough that we could run one or two fights before the person we were waiting for showed up.

Flashbacks are also something that can be done. Pick one or two of the characters from those that are waiting. Write up a quick scene that doesn’t even have to involve a combat. These scenes should focus on something in their past, but doesn’t have to be something that has to do with the adventure being run that night for the entire group. For example, if a couple of the characters share a history you could revisit such a time, perhaps as youngsters they skipped school and almost got caught. Did they run and hide, or did they let themselves get caught? These sorts of flashbacks can be used to further develop characters. 

Another thing you can do, which can tie into what you have planned for your evening’s adventure, is have the players run NPCs that work for the villain of the night. These can be NPCs that the players might be facing that night, further into your campaign or NPCs they may never meet. For example, I had one of my players had to leave the campaign I was running because she went back to night school and couldn’t make my game anymore. We never did a closure scene wherein she left the party. One day she was there and the next she wasn’t and the rest of the party didn’t seem to notice. I decided to play off that and had her kidnapped by the major bad guy of the plot. He then had memory of her erased. So one night, I had the players quickly generate some evil characters. She had escaped from the major bad guys control and the major bad guy gave these newly created NPCs the task to recapture her. It didn’t take long, but it gave those who shown up early for the game something to do and it tied neatly into the overall campaign. In addition, the players are now looking forward to meeting this group of NPCs. As a side note, they enjoyed playing evil characters and exploring a class they hadn’t had a chance to play yet, but had piqued their interest in the past.
Similar to this is the concept of running something that is happening elsewhere in your game world. Is there a war going on between two nearby kingdoms? Run a little war game session while you wait. It doesn't even have to be relevant to the plot or adventure. If nothing else, it adds background to your campaign world and the players will find it cool when their characters start hearing how the war is faring.

Another idea is to run a quick dream sequence. This would be about something related to the ongoing plot and should present the characters involved with some choices. Perhaps they could see what the world would be like if the big bad guy succeeded in his evil plans. Or perhaps they can see what life is like now for the child they rescued four game sessions ago. Because it is a dream, you can go a little farther with your ideas.

So, if the time you have on game night is limited and precious to you and your players, don’t waste the time you do have while waiting for that late-comer. Run your game before the game starts.

October 1, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing

When I run a game I like to have the players identify with their characters. I want the characters to be more than numbers on a character sheet. I want them to play their characters as if they are real people reacting to situations beyond the normal.

I like to do slow buildups of anxiety and tension. I use a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of “showing how the monster works” by having the bad guys use their abilities and powers on someone other than the player characters. I do this to show my players the threat they are facing, to add some fear. I have been trying to make the players feel isolated within the campaign world to add to the feeling of overwhelming odds and to get them to bond together better.

However, I may have done my job too well. At last night’s game we started with the knowledge that one of the character’s mothers (she may have been an adoptive mother) is going to be burned at the stake at noon the next day. I prepared for a sneak mission into the keep where she is being held; I was happy I was finally able to use my MageKnight castle walls. I prepared for a daring midday rescue as she was being moved from the keep to the city square. I was not prepared for the characters decision to let her die and walk, no run, in fear from the city, but that is what they did.

Did I instill too much fear and anxiety into the players? Have I turned them into fearful store clerks? They have had some debate amongst themselves about whether or not they should find a hiding spot in some far away corner of the world and stay there. Only the fear of being discovered has put that idea to the side, since they feel they are being hunted until the end of their days.

I guess I have to retool and show them they can buck the odds and prevail as heroes. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too good at what you are trying to do.

September 29, 2010

Is 4E More “Fair”?

Recently there was some drama over on another blog, wherein the issue of fairness was a factor. One player felt the GM was not running a fair game and that the other players were suffering for it. Basically, one player was given perks, abilities and advanced gear over the other players. Reading all this, it got me to thinking…is it harder to be unfair with the 4E system?

4E has very rigid rules for character generation, treasure allocation and how powers are gained. Everything is balanced against a core baseline that causes everything to be balanced with each other (with maybe the odd minor bump here and there). The system even includes for a way to alter a player’s decisions about their character’s abilities (with the ability to swap out powers and feats when a character reaches a new level); essentially providing a means to “break” and modify the system. By having this system in place there is an unspoken restriction to arbitrary character changes; it comes across as “we the game designers and the rule set have provided you with a way to ignore and break the rules, stay within those boundaries and you’ll be fine, otherwise you are doing it wrong”.
In addition, the use of the Character Builder changes the playing field. While it is not required to play it is extremely helpful and useful when running a campaign. After awhile, it starts to act as a crutch, making things so easy that without it things become difficult. However, the Character Builder does not allow for custom additions. If a DM adds or allows for something outside the bounds of the Builder it either puts up a message stating the character is “not legal” or outright doesn’t allow for the addition. In this way, this is another method by which the game is kept “fair”.
The only way to have an “unfair” advantage is to go outside the bounds of the rules.

Earlier editions were a lot more open, or at least it seems that way to me. Treasure was random and a bunch of lucky die rolls could see a low level character running around with an artifact (when artifacts were these super-powerful things meant for high end games) far beyond their level. I remember that DMs tended to do as they wished when it came to giving out gear and abilities; it was easy and almost expected for a DM to go outside the bounds of the rules. Some would even say there were no real bounds to the rules.
In addition, as a game’s life cycle lengthened there would be more added to the system that caused balance issues. Races, classes and treasure would be added that were clearly unbalanced. I remember once being in a group where one was a vampire and the other a githyanki with all of that race’s abilities. Needless to say, my normal human druid, with horrible stat rolls, was clearly and constantly outmatched by them.

Is this perception of rigidity of the rules only a perception thing? Do we, for some unknown reason, simply expect people to adhere to the rule system of 4E? Is going outside the rules in earlier editions accepted and expected? Is 4E more of a “fair” game system by virtue of this perceived rigidity of the rules?

Or does “fairness” always fall back to the GM of the game? Does a GM’s ability to ignore rules and inject his own biases mean there is no system that can be “fair” all the time?


September 27, 2010

Quick Tip- Cheap Miniatures

Here's a way I've stretched my miniature dollars while still getting some cool looking figures. In most toy sections they have bags of critters. These tend to be rather cheap, even cheaper if you can find a good set in the Dollar Stores. They have a variety of different animal sets.
Here is a picture of one of the packages which cost me about $4. This one was of creepy crawlers and has 16 pieces. It has a wide assortment of critters in it, which could be used as large spiders, stirges, giant beetles, giant scorpions, ankhegs, giant centipedes, giant worms and other types of insects. For scale, I have included another picture on a D&D battlemap with a miniature of a minotaur for size comparison (you can click the picture for a bigger and better view).

September 24, 2010

Iconic Races

There are races that are closely defined with certain settings. When a person sees them on the cover of a RPG book they immediately think of the setting or system. This is a good thing for the publisher since it makes the potential consumer think of the setting and the memories inherent with them. There is a familiar comfortability with this. It can be a selling point all on its own.

There has been a lot of talk about integrating races into other settings. For all that, I still think certain races will forever remain tied to certain settings. For me the following races bring to mind a specific settings when I see them on a book…

Warforged- Eberron
Troll with cyberwear- Shadowrun
Drow- Forgotten Realms
Mul- Dark Sun
Vampire- Ravenloft

Are iconic races needed to help bolster a game setting? I don’t think a new race is needed to push a setting but I think it certainly helps. Would Birthright (a setting I absolutely love) or Al-Qadim have been bigger if they had their own iconic races? Will the Shadar-Kai become an iconic race (a race I believe deserves it)?

What races did I miss that immediately remind you of a setting or system?


September 21, 2010

Gamma World and the Serious


With all the talk lately about the new Gamma World rule set there was some discussion on the topic over at http://www.dragonavenue.com We were discussing the game in general and I had mentioned how my wife was running two campaigns recently in Gamma World (using the old 3rd Edition rules-not d20). He then asked me “How did you run a serious game?  I am totally intrigued by post apocalyptic settings in novels and movies but this system just seems to cater to mutations and the “silly”. What was your wife’s campaign arc?”

Well, here it is. This is fairly long, but includes an overview of the campaign (which some people might like to steal some ideas from) and then a brief discussion on how and why it is possible to run a “serious” Gamma World game.

[More]

September 17, 2010

The Real-Time Campaign


Imagine, if you will, a RPG campaign world set in our time, in our world. The adventure tonight is one based off of something that happened within the past week, in fact, since the last time the group met to play…something that happened in the real world.

As an example, a few days ago (in the real-world) there was a massive and destructive explosion and fire in California that destroyed over 50 homes. Soon thereafter officials came out and explained how it was a gas main that caused the explosion. Other news reports picked it up and propagated the report while adding their own articles, such as how dangerous gas mains are around the country.
This real-life incident would make an excellent adventure background. Perhaps the explosion was not a gas main, but instead the result of a new type of explosive, one with incredible destructive force in the size of a pen. The device may have been set off prematurely or to cover-up the laboratory where it was designed. The players may have heard of the new explosive and have been assigned to investigate the explosion. They would need to find out who built the new explosive, secure a sample of it and then find out who is conducting the cover-up.

A campaign could be designed based off of this concept of utilizing real-world incidents and weaved into an ongoing set of adventures. Each week’s adventure would be based off of something that happened since the last game session. This would make for a dynamic and ever-changing campaign, with a feel of the “now”. There would be a unique sense of high energy. No longer would a player feel like they are in a mythical world (though in fact they still are), but rather interacting with the real world but in a fantastic milieu.

The players would need some sort of catalyst for having them investigate weekly incidents. Perhaps they work for a branch of the government, such as specialized branch of the FBI or some other secret organization. Perhaps there is a diabolical organization bent on taking over the world and most, but not all, such incidents are related to them and their plans. A GM could take it even further and rule that the incident was the work of Fey creatures who are secretly trying to disrupt our world so they can return to claim it as their own.
Adventures would have to be fairly short so they could be completed in one night of game-play. Carrying over a recent incident for several weeks will diminish the feeling of immediacy. Starting fresh would also allow for the “new” each session.

A couple of problems present themselves to me as I write this.
The first and foremost is prep. This style of new weekly adventures requires the GM to do a lot of prep work and do it frequently. Each week she would have to scour news articles and incidents to see how it can best fit into her campaign design. After that she would have to write the actual adventure. All this would require a fair amount of time, time with a definite deadline. I believe it would be more pressure filled than normal adventure prep.
Another issue is the overall concept of mixing real-world with a make-believe world. Is the integration of RPG fantasy and the real-world an uneven fit? Going back to my example about the explosion in California. At least 3 people died from the explosion. Is including their deaths trivializing their lives and deaths? Should real life tragedy and a game mix? Is it best to leave the real world out of our make-believe worlds?

If a GM and gaming group can get over these hurdles, such a campaign style would make for a dynamic and engaging game. You can’t get much more “real” than including stuff from the real world as its happening. Allowing the player characters to interact with the current news adds something extra to a game.

September 15, 2010

4E Disadvantages


Disadvantages have been a staple of RPGs for a bunch of years now. They are used to add a little extra history to the character. They are used to give something for the character to overcome; after all, adversity is the stuff of which heroes are made of. They are also used to min/max a character to make him more powerful in one aspect; often to the chagrin of the DM.

Thus far 4E D&D has not incorporated Disadvantages into their game system. However, it would be easy to do so. 4E already has a system of Advantages (the opposite of Disadvantages) and these are Feats. Feats are used to add a slight and unique advantage to a character. I am making a broad and general statement, but Feats are about on par with Advantages in other systems. They are not character or class defining, and the power gained, while something more than simple flavor, are not disruptive to the balance of the game.

Disadvantages are normally chosen at character generation. Taking a Disadvantage allows the character to take another Heroic Feat. I would recommend only allowing 1 Disadvantage for each character. Individual GMs can play with allowing more if that is to their liking.

Here are a few ideas, but doubtless there are a lot more.

Bad Luck: Bad luck follows the character around. A 1 or 2 on a die roll is an automatic failure.

Dependent: The character has someone that relies upon them. This could be a relative (child/sibling/parent), loved one or anyone that the character has a responsibility toward. This dependant person does not have to require a significant amount of time on the character’s part (after all the character is an adventurer and not a baby-sitter), but if the dependant is ever in danger the character should respond. Once the dependant is in danger, if the character is not actively working toward resolving the danger, he suffers a -2 to all his die rolls.

Easily Winded: You suffer from shortness of breath. You need 15 minutes for a complete Short Rest instead of 5 minutes.

Enemy: The character has gained a recurring enemy. This enemy is actively trying to harm the character. At certain points (as deemed appropriate by the GM) the character will be attacked by the enemy or his henchmen.

Frail: You are not as tough as others. Lose 2 from your Healing Surge value.

Hard Knocks: The character has a hard time catching a break. He requires 1 more milestone before receiving an Action Point.

Illiterate: The character can never read or write any languages.

Inept: The character is really bad at something he should be good at. The character suffers -5 to one of the skills available to him from his class choices.

Poverty: The character is incapable of keeping money on him. This could be from a gambling habit, a large debt he is paying off or the need to send his money to support someone else. After money has been divided amongst the party, the character loses half of his share.

Slow: This could be from a birth defect or an old injury, but the character loses 1 from his Speed.

Slow Learner: You’ve practiced it and practiced it but it’s still really hard for you to do. Choose an Encounter power and it is now considered a Daily ability. You can change which Encounter power is affected when you gain a level and choose to relearn.

Susceptible: You have an Achilles heel, a weakness enemies could exploit if they knew about it. Choose one of the following conditions: Blinded, Dazed, Unconscious, Slowed, or Restrained. You suffer a -5 penalty when attempting a save vs. the chosen condition. 

Unskilled: The character is just bad at something. The character suffers a -10 to one selected skill. The reasons behind this could be widely varied depending on the skill selected; for example, a penalty in Diplomacy could be from something like bad breath.

Weakness: The character suffers a -2 to Fortitude, Willpower or Reflex Defense. The cause of this penalty is dependent on the Defense chosen. A loss of Fortitude could be from a physical ailment, such as asthma; Willpower could be a brain injury; Reflex could be from an old injury or just simple clumsiness.





September 9, 2010

The Holy Table

Similar to a holy temple, where certain actions are not tolerated, what “holy tenets” are prescribed for your gaming table? What will you not allow at your table? I don’t mean the simple things like food or texting, but rather the major things as they pertain to etiquette and social interaction. This includes things that might cause problems outside the gaming table, but that you ignore or disallow at the table.

Recently, one of my players has been having some problems with his homelife. Even though he is the only one of the two who plays at my table (she bailed to go back to night school) I am friends with both of them. Various rumors and stories began to trickle out about their situation. At the same time he ran into car problems and missed a few weeks of gaming. Then I suddenly hear that he wasn’t sure if he would be welcome to play again at the table due to his homelife problems.

This problem can occur in any type of relationship; girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife. Do you allow their problems outside the table to come into the game? I have a rule that what happens outside the table stays outside the table. If it doesn’t affect the game then I don’t care. In fact, I don’t want to hear about it during a game. You can choose sides outside of the table but at the table it is to be forgotten and ignored. In addition, I do not want it to affect the game at all; i.e. if you bring something outside the game into the game, such as hard feelings for another person at the table, it is against my “holy tenets”.

I have always felt that my gaming table is “holy ground” wherein I don’t care what happens outside of the table. My campaign and game is outside the bounds of other situations and problems.

Another example is World of Warcraft. I and a lot of my friends play in the same guild, for which I am the guild leader. My D&D players, except for one, also play WoW. I have a rule that WoW issues are not brought up at the game table. Two of my players are horrible WoW players. They put in the time, but lack the skills to push content. It irks me and many of the WoW guild members. However, I would never bring up their WoW shortcomings at the role-playing table. It again breaks my “holy table” rule.

How sacrosanct is your game table? What things will you not allow to be brought up at the table?

September 1, 2010

The Practice Fight

One thing I’ve done and seen done is the practice fight. This is an in-character fight that is meant to showcase the combat rules of a game system without the threat of death for the characters. Every game system does something a little different with their combat system and simply explaining them is not enough to truly understand how they work. The best idea is to provide the players with a sample fight. However, the best version of a sample fight is one that can be done in-character by the player’s characters. Within the last month I’ve had two instances of a “practice” fight.

The first was in my 4E sandbox game. 3 of the 5 players have not played 4E yet. They each had a set of rule books but I decided to include a practice fight session. The player characters all belong to the same adventuring party that has been tasked to explore a new land. On the way over they met another adventuring party with much the same task. One of the first things they did after landing on the new continent was to hold a mock battle between the two parties.
[I ruled all damage was a form of subdual damage that would go away after an extended rest, except critical hits. Critical hits did real damage.]

It was an excellent opportunity to let the players do a combat without their characters being in any real danger. The players were able to try out their encounter and daily powers and get used to the way movement worked. It helped set the groundwork for later combats. This way the next “real” combat would be more about utilizing their powers and abilities to the best advantage and less about simply knowing what they are.

The second instance was in the Gamma World game my wife is running. She has moved the campaign into space (since we already saved the world) and was introducing a subset of space combat rules. After spending in-character time learning our space combat assignments (each of us has a specific task on the ship during ship to ship combat) we were tasked to complete a combat simulation before we could “graduate”. We ran a mock combat utilizing ship movement and gunnery. It helped us to understand these new rules; rules she had completely house ruled, so there is not way we could have read up on them ahead of time. Now when we encounter a “real” space combat we won’t be wondering what we are capable of doing.

I highly recommend practice fights when you are using a new game system. You don’t want the players to lose their first “real” fight because they didn’t know the rules. Sometimes a practice fight could be nothing more than a combat wherein the characters out match their opponents. Yes, the fight would not be a challenge, but in this case, it’s more about learning the system rules than challenging the player characters. You can always bring the next fight up to the “normal” level of challenge.

Have you ever run a practice fight? What methods did you use to set it up on an in-character level?

August 24, 2010

Signs of Involvement

Players give off signs when they are involved in an ongoing adventure. There is body language and other outright actions that can reveal how much a player is paying attention and absorbed in the action. Knowing what these are can help a GM figure out what is working and what is not working. The GM can then learn from this and adjust the way he runs a game the next time.

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August 17, 2010

NPCs and NPCs

When designing NPCs we often focus on how they relate to the player characters or themselves. One thing overlooked, but just as important for bringing to life an NPC, is how they interact with other NPCs.

The most common NPC interaction is with the player characters, usually requiring a response from the PCs. A villain wants to belittle or harm the characters. Some NPCs provide information. Some are catalysts for starting an adventure and point the characters in the right direction. This is all about how the NPC directly interacts with the PCs.

The second most common NPC interaction is with themselves. These are self actions (or quirks) an NPC will take that do not directly require the PCs (or anyone) to respond to the action. An NPC might hum when he gets nervous. He might have yellow hair. He might have a lisp. She might be a dwarf who walks around on stilts.

Having an NPC interact with another NPC is an excellent way to show the personality of an NPC. However, as a quick note, I am not advocating having NPCs engage in long discussions with other NPCs; that is counter to putting the players forward in a game and should be avoided at all costs. Instead, there are ways to quickly show how an NPC interacts with other NPCs without taking the spotlight away from the player characters, sometimes without even involving the other NPCs.

I have a few examples…

One obvious example is the villain. He can be seen to do things to other NPCs, both as a way to show how powerful he is and also to show how evil he is. A villain fireballing an NPC’s home is one form of this type of NPC to NPC interaction. Cutting down an NPC minion who has failed him is an easy way to show how callous he is. Monsters who have defaced a holy temple show their disdain for that deity and the things that deity represents.

Hirelings and NPC companions are often given a variety of quirks. Most are just to add color, but by having their quirks include other NPCs it makes them more “real”. Having a torchbearer constantly talking about his wife and 14 children (“that gelatinous cube reminds me of when Callie, that would be my third daughter, had a cold and coughed up this huge slimy green mess”) makes him seem like a real person. It’s a way for the NPC to interact with other NPCs (bringing up stories about them) without the other NPCs actually being there.

A patron or king can also show his inner self by how he acts to other NPCS. A king who is kind and solicitous with the player characters and then treats his own servants with haughty derision will be showing his true colors. This is a good way to foreshadow a betrayal. Likewise, a king that treats his servants with respect will be seen as a good force in the world and the players will be more willing to accept any task he has to offer; the players will bring their own likes and dislikes to the table and you can take advantage of that.

When defining an NPC there are 3 aspects that should be included; basically 3 lines of text to describe the NPC.

  • How the NPC interacts with the PCs.

  • How the NPC acts by himself.

  • How the NPC interacts with other NPCs.
Example: Joolan the Wise. Joolan is patient with the players even when they ask stupid questions. Joolan is vain about his hair and combs the few remaining strands over to hide his bald pate. Joolan flinches when his wife enters the room and is overly attentive to her perceived needs.

Having NPCs interact with other NPCs is a way to breathe life into not only that NPC, but also your world as a whole. Every time one of your NPCs becomes more “real” the world becomes more “real” as well.

August 16, 2010

Quick Tip- Announcing Target Numbers

One thing I've done to slightly speed up combat in 4E is to announce at the start of a fight what the lowest and highest Defense numbers the enemy has. Example: Orc Warrior has AC15, Fort17, Reflex13, Will12 and Orc Mage has AC11, Fort13, Reflex13, Will14. I would announce that the enemy has defenses between 11 and 17.  This way the players know what rolls automatically miss or hit. If a number falls within the range I then ask what their target Defense was and then relay whether they hit or missed.

This method means when players roll a really high number, such as 25 against the enemies above, they don't have to wait for me to let them know they hit. Conversely rolling really low means they can move on, without having to check with me. However, there is still a sense of mystery when rolling as the players still do not know exact numbers and if they roll within the range, they can still hit or miss depending on which Defense they are trying to hit.