February 28, 2011

Prideful Games

I own a lot of RPG games, a lot. However, there are a few that I am proud I have. Usually it’s because they are rare and hard to find. Sometimes it’s because they are good games that no one, expect apparently me, has heard of. Which games/books am I talking about? Glad you asked…

Deities and Demi-gods (1st printing)
Ah yes, the one with the Cthulhu and Melnibonéan sections. I still have the edition that includes these before they were taken out.

OK, this is less about the game, which by-the-way has the best rule system of any RPG out there. The dice! I loved the dice that came with the game. I ended up buying two sets of the game, one for me and one for my players and ended up with two of the dice! I know its just nostalgia but I at the time thought they were so funky and cool looking. I also think they have a natural propensity for rolling nat’ 20s, but that could just be me. However, they are now rare dice. There may be copies out there, but they are not TORG dice!

Lords of Creation
This was a little known RPG put out by Avalon Hill in 1983. There were 3 supplements made for it and I have the complete set, not easy to find now. It is a far out setting that just captured my imagination at the time. Stats for Richard Burton the explorer! How can you go wrong with that? Did I mention it was written by the Tom Moldvay?

Flashing Blades
Released in 1984, this is one of the many games put out by FGU. Not only do I like the genre (Three Musketeers) but the adventures written for the game were top notch and really captured the setting. I managed to get the core rules and all the supplements.

Year of the Phoenix
Also by FGU, this game was released in 1986. I’ve never actually read the rules, but I did manage to snag a copy of the game a few weeks ago in its original shrink-wrap. The game is rare enough, but to find one in this condition is almost impossible now.

Sure I have a bunch of other books I am proud of, such as all the ICE Middle Earth books, all the FASA Doctor Who books, the original Red Box rules, some ancient Judges Guild books, any of the books with my name in it, etc. But for some reason the books above are those that have the most meaning to me. What book do you have sitting up on your shelf that makes you proud that you managed to snag it?

February 25, 2011

DM Screen – Not Just For the DM

The DM screen is perceived as the property of the DM, but there is no reason why the players couldn’t and shouldn’t use a copy of the DM screen for the game they are playing. I do not mean they should hide all their character information and die rolls behind the screen; that is the sole province of the DM. However, there is a lot of good information on the inside of the DM screen for everyone, even the players. Information in one easy to read location.

Let’s take a look at the 4E DM screen. I’ll be looking at the one that came out when the game was released, not the one released this past week.

February 22, 2011

Fortune Cards = Awesomeness

The new Fortune Cards are exactly what I have been looking for. I’ll be honest and state that I will not be using them as written; i.e. players will not be allowed to form their own decks and use them each turn, at least not in the “official” way. My player’s characters are powerful enough and don’t need a tailor-made play aid to bump them up further. While the cards are not all that powerful if the players are able to purchase their own and build their own decks it will provide them with an edge. The Fortune Cards will be the province of me, the DM, to be handed out as rewards and incentives.

February 18, 2011

Everyone is a Role-Player

I have this running theory that everyone, even those who do not play RPG games or perhaps even scoff at the notion of RPG games is a role-player. I don’t mean someone who plays sex games where ‘I’m the wounded soldier and you’re the nurse’. I also don’t mean a person who pretends to be something they are not to gain an advantage over someone else, like the “lawyer” at the dance club hitting on women.

No, I mean people who pretend to be someone else for the entertainment of other people. Sure, they may not be rolling dice or have a book that details what their character can and can not do, but almost everyone on the planet (or at least the people I have run into) do some form of role-playing that could be construed as playing in an RPG. Almost a form of ad-lib role-playing, similar to ad-lib comedy.

Here are some examples I have run into:

-Vic at work has taken to saying some cryptic message to me as he leaves work for the day. They are all “spy” comments, like he is a secret agent leaving on assignment. Things like “If someone calls for me, tell them ‘the weasel has climbed the mountain’” or “If the President calls tell him ‘I’ll be on the jet shortly and I’m on the way’”. The other day he had a package delivered to him at work, a bird feeder that sends a shock to non-birds, such as the squirrels that were raiding his old feeder. He went into a mad scientist voice and starting talking about how the squirrels would soon be suffering.

-Gerry at work used to be a radio announcer and he will do these silly voices at various times of the day, especially if he is on the phone. Cartoon characters are his favorite. But he readily slips into his radio announcer voice at multiple times a day.

-Beth is a friend who does roller-derby. She and her teammates all pick names for themselves and add personalities to them. She herself is Irate Pirate and she carries off the pirate motif. All the other girls do something similar.

-Scott at work was talking politics and went into some voices to better illustrate his points, going from a pompous voice to a hick voice.

-Matt and I at work have been playing whereby we are both evil masterminds out to out-evil each other. We talk about how our minions have laid traps for the other (only to fail), about how his legitimate sick-day out was in fact caused by the poison I introduced into his drink the day before, etc.

These are all people who do not play role-playing games, and yet they do much of the same things we all see at a gaming table. I will admit that perhaps my willingness to play along may be a factor in other people doing some role-play. My willingness to be silly and role-play affords them some comfort and safety so that they feel comfortable being silly and role-playing as well. However, role-playing is what they are doing.

Look around you and you will see people role-playing even if they don’t know they are doing it. Just because they are not using dice does not mean they are not role-playing. Have you seen similar things?

February 15, 2011

Listen Up!

Mike Mearls wrote an excellent article over at the WotC site. Go read it.
Essentially, it is about how the past of D&D affects the present and future of D&D. It is about how we are all playing the same game, despite what edition it is. About how D&D sets us apart from the “norm” and thus binds us together.
Some will say this is nothing but spin on his part to gloss over the fact WotC failed D&D with 4E. I say he makes some excellent and valid points. He also talks about who “owns” D&D and what its legacy means for us now.
Seriously, if you haven’t read the article yet, go.

Here are some highlights that I took away from the article. I’m sure other people will take away their own impressions.

“D&D is what we make of it, and by "we" I mean the DMs, the players, the readers, the bloggers—everyone who has picked up a d20 and ventured into a dungeon.”
“…it’s easy to mistake what Wizards of the Coast publishes as the core essence of D&D.”
“…the game is what you, the community of D&D fans and players, make it.”
“When we look to the past, we learn that there are far more things that tie us together than tear us apart”

Naming on Steroids

GM Oracle pointed out a nice site that gave some English village and place names, but it could be used for so much more. The site actually gives terms (such as ‘aber’), its meaning (mouth of a river), its position in a word (prefix) and examples of the term in use in an English place name (Aberdeen). Altogether this is an excellent resource for naming places while you are world-building. Doing something like this adds a wonderful under-layer of meaning. If you stick to the conventions as they are listed, the names of your locations will have an internal consistency that will bleed out into the minds of your players. This level of uniformity will give your world a healthy dose of realism and thus make it come alive for your players.

The intent of GM Oracle’s article was to highlight a good resource for snagging place names on the fly (or even for world building though it wasn’t explicitly mentioned) and it will do that for you. However, I think we can take it one step further. Let’s say you are designing the UnderDark and need names. You can apply these English templates onto Drow names.

A website (linked here) has an excellent list of Drow names, basically taking common English words and giving their Drow equivalent. We can then take those Drow versions and set them into the English templates as seen from the English Place Names site.
Here are some examples of what I am talking about…

According to the website cited the Drow word for water is niar. We can take the easy way and name an underground lake as Niardeen, simply replacing aber in Aberdeen. If the majority of waterways all start with Niar- then on some level the players will automatically known Niar means the location they are heading to has something to do with water.

Or we can combine a prefix and suffix for something else. If the location is an underground lake we can combine Niar (water) and Har’ol (cavern) for Niarhar’ol. Perhaps the lake runs red from minerals found in the water. For this Niarvlos would be an appropriate name (vlos is Drow for blood). Instead of just naming it Red River, Niarvlos sounds so much cooler and appropriate for the setting the characters/players find themselves in.
We can do much the same with dwarven. Here is a website that gives some dwarven versions of some common words. Using this, mouth of the river becomes Maawnaal. Blood River becomes Barathnaal.

There are numerous languages that could be used. Here are a few links…
Elf - http://rayvenwing.netfirms.com/eng2elf.htm
Orc - http://www.angelfire.com/ia/orcishnations/englishorcish.html
Gnome - http://www.whymedia.ca/dungeonsanddragons/resources/languages/gnomish.html
Various (Abyssal, Celestial, Draconic, Drow, Dwarf, Elf, Fey, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Infernal, Lizardspeak, Orc, Reptilian) - http://www.tilansia.com/langconvert.php

Another trick is to use a real world language but one that the players are not familiar with. Swahili is probably a language no one at your table knows. There does exist an English to Swahili translator online for it.

If you are consistent with the naming conventions the players will soon catch on and your world will become more real. Eventually you can start slipping in clues and expect the players to catch them. If the name of a ruin is Barathzahar (dwarven for blood building) the players may pick up on it being a dwarven ruin, which they may find odd if there are no stories of dwarves in the area. In addition, using simple substitution will make naming locations much easier.

February 14, 2011

Common Knowledge is Not

Common. The wizards of your world might know that the Pale Tower is the source of all necrotic energy on the world, but the player who is running a wizard does not; not until you find a way to communicate this information to him. The typical campaign is full of information that could be considered common knowledge; things every person knows. The problem arises when a player, who does not know the information, is playing a character that does know the information.

Think about the real world, there are a lot of things we consider common that really are uncommon from the frame of mind of someone who is not from our world. You can access the internet, you can turn on a computer, you know the United States is made up of smaller states, you know the capitol of your state, you know the uses of a gun, you know traffic laws. These are all things you just know, most people can’t even remember when they learned the information; the information is now a part of them.

The standard way to handle the conflict is to include Knowledge type skills in the game system. When something comes up the DM asks for a Knowledge roll to see if your character “remembers” the information. However, should players really be rolling to “remember” common knowledge? A real-world analogy is, should you make a modern day character roll to “remember” that a red sign means stop? It is silly to do so and so would rolling to “remember” a bit of common knowledge that a character would know. Instead, a DM should simply state the character knows the info and move the game along.

The best option is to find a way to get information to a player before the knowledge is needed in game. This way the player actually knows what the character knows. There are a few methods of doing this.

Some GMs hand the players information sheets. These contain all the needed relevant information. The only problem with this is, most campaign worlds are expansive. The amount of information can be overwhelming in its volume. You can end up giving the players sheet after sheet until they have an encyclopedia’s amount of material. There is also the problem of whether or not the players actually read it and remember it. However, there are some players who eat this kind of stuff up.
A sub-method of this is to create a binder with all the information and give the players access to it. This is a paper version of the next concept.

Another method is to create an online wiki of your campaign world. There are a number of places online that allow you to do this fairly easily. Instead of handing players sheets of information, you can direct them to the appropriate website where they can look over the information at their leisure. This also lets you to add to the wiki as needed, allowing you to prioritize the information you give out during the campaign.

A third option, and one not often utilized, is to read the long forms of text to the players. At first glance this seems like a horrible idea. However, there are ways to make it work and work to good effect. Create an information sheet as you normally would and then at the beginning of the game session have the players read it out loud to the rest of the group. Divide the information up and allow each player to read a portion. If you do this before each game session the players will soon have a lot of the more common knowledge that their characters have. They will also retain it better than simply reading it, since this method includes an auditory and active component.

You can also combine a couple of these methods for further exposure. In the end the goal is to catch the players up with the knowledge their characters already know. Do you have any other tricks/methods for integrating character and player knowledge?

February 11, 2011

4E Errata

D&D has always had errata. Things come up and make their ways into a print book that were not meant to be there. However, there is a fundamental and significant difference between 4E errata and previous editions.

Errata from previous editions dealt with typos, inadvertent mistakes. These could be something innocuous, such as a note directing the reader to the wrong page number. There could be some bad numbers or math in an example. The error could also be something as disruptive as a spell doing 11d6 damage instead of 1d6 damage because the typist hit the number 1 twice. These are all examples of typos.

February 8, 2011

Demonic Traits

In my current campaign, The Children, the characters are all half demon/half human offspring of a demon invasion. One of the things I did was have demonic powers manifest with the characters as they grew older. This was done so I could include visual signs that the characters were different, partly so later I could add the theme of alienation. Here are the traits for each type of demonic trait (each character has a unique trait).

The traits are currently in 3 stages. There is a basic form, given to the characters soon after they hit puberty, a power they discovered they can use soon thereafter, and another power they gained access to once they reached the Heroic tier. I will add another iteration of the trait when they get to the Paragon tier. Of note, the Blood Point mentioned in the power’s description is a mechanic I added. It is a measure of their demonic side taking over control of their bodies. I outlined this in another article which can be found here. The power listing includes the character’s name that has the power; I am too lazy to create a new “clean” version for posting here.

These traits can be used if one of your characters has been given a curse or are themselves manifesting a genetic trait; perhaps some ancestor dabbled with demonic forces. You could also use the concepts found here to make up something similar for your own campaign.


February 7, 2011

RPGs and Innovation

Mobunited had a nice, thought-provoking post titled, 'Why do RPGs Suck". It asked the question of why there is no new innovation or ground-breaking new games coming out. It talks about how designers are failing the RPG community by just churning out the same-old. While I do not agree with all the points given, a number of thoughts have run through my head since then.

First among those thoughts is that it has become more difficult to come out with something new. Second is that innovation is out there if we can just look past biases.

February 4, 2011

Be a Selfish Player!

I tend to write a lot on this blog about DMing and very rarely about the player. That has much to do with the fact I usually end up being the DM, and even when I am playing I tend to look at the evening’s gaming from the mindset of a DM (to my shame). However, a statement made recently several months ago on another blog got me thinking about the player.

“making your fellow gamers feel impotent is not a good way to keep your gaming circle healthy!”

Whether you know it or not, you want other players at the table. I could say its all about human contact and interaction, but really that is all a bit too subtle. I could say it’s all about joys of a shared experience. I could say it’s all about how having other players changes the dynamics of a gaming session and keeps it vibrant. I could say it’s all about simple human decency. I could say all these things (and they would true) but instead I am going to show you why it’s in your best interests to have and keep other players at the table.

In reality having other players there is a selfish act. For a second imagine if the game was just you and the GM. What would it be like? You would certainly be the center of attention…or would you? Being the center of attention requires there be someone else there for you to take attention from. If you are the only person at the table you are not the center of attention, you are the default attention target. You are not the center of attention because you are cool or did something cool; it’s because you are the only choice. By default you are also the dumbest, geekiest, pasteeatingest, slowest, doesntunderstandtherulesest, dimmest player at the table.

So how do you make sure you are known by all the good adjectives without being any of the bad adjectives (the quick ones can see where this is going)? By keeping other players around you. Other people can make YOU look better. You need them.

Not only do other players make you look better, but when your character does something cool you want to share it. The more players that are around the more people that can bask in your glory. Playing to an empty room really doesn’t cut it for the glory; you can do that without playing in a RPG game. You want an audience and the easiest audience to get in a role-playing game is other players.

So how do you keep the other players at the table so they can make you look good? Take a look at the quote at the beginning of this article. The basic gist of it is that other people want to feel like they are contributing and being cool at the gaming table. Sometimes you will have to let the other players have the limelight for awhile. You and I both know they can never compare to you, but they should at least be under the illusion they can. The best way to do this is to let them shine at times, let them have a say in what goes on during the game, let their decisions have meaning, let them do something cool, acknowledge them when they do something cool.

Do these things on a regular basis and you will be part of a strong gaming group, one that lets only makes you look better!

February 1, 2011

Types of Dungeon Design

There are different types of designs that have been used in the past for dungeons. I don’t mean the layout, but rather how it flows and how the characters can affect the dungeon. This is all separate from plot design and pacing, which has its own distinct methods. I have come up with 3 distinct types, which I am going to call Linear, Set Piece and Living.