December 31, 2009

Gleam Shard- 4E Monster

Gleam Shard

Gleam shards are small splinters of the massive crystal found at the blurred edge between the Abyss and the Elemental Chaos. They are 3 feet long crystalline structures and shift coloring every few seconds, hurting the eyes as they do so. They are content to serve, and die for, other beings, as long as they can sow chaos in doing so.

December 28, 2009

RPG Holidays

I do not particularly like articles written about holidays at this time of the year. They are usually about stats provided for Santa Claus or his evil variations. It's all a bit too silly for me. Other than perhaps Narnia, modern day holidays have no place in a fantasy setting.
However, in most rpg settings holidays in general are overlooked.  Very seldom does a setting explain the holidays of the everyday folk within the setting. Sometimes you will have an adventure where a holiday is the backdrop to the adventure, but that is usually the extent of it. Personally I feel adding holidays and festival days to a campaign can make it more alive. If the characters have experienced a specific holiday once, and it comes around again, there is a sense of time passing, of the world moving. Experiencing a holiday also brings out the history of a culture (are they celebrating a revolution they won?) or its people (are they allowing a peasant to rule the kingdom for a day?)

The key is to have a holiday make an appearance more than once. The hard part is designing or including holidays into a campaign. Here are some ideas.

December 18, 2009

4E Challenge Skills

I've been working on some skill challenges lately for some 4E encounters. One thing I found helpful was having a list of all the skills, and their subsets, on one page in front of me. I got to thinking this might be of use for other people so here is my attempt to throw such a thing together.
This is nothing but a basic list. My recommendation is to copy all this into a text document and then split it into two columns. It should all easily fit onto one page then.

December 17, 2009

Prideful Plug

I was originally going to title this post 'Shameless Plug', but despite the fact I have no shame, this post is actually about something I take pride in.

Yesterday Azagar's Book of Rituals went on sale in stores everywhere (or at least in those places that decided to carry them). The book was the result of an open call for 4E rituals from Goodman Games. They were kind enough to include a few of my submissions. I had done some similar work for 3E, but this is my first 4E stuff published in a book. It's always nice to see your work in a print book.

Reviews have been good so far. We'll see what more people have to say now that's its officially out now.

December 15, 2009

The Five Senses

In an earlier post I made mention of immersion and how it can be used to make an adventure seem more real. One of the ways this can be done is by allowing the players to use all five of their senses; Sight, Hearing, Touch, Smell, Taste. The five senses are methods of perception and thus ways to communicate with the players. Anytime you can reach more than one sense something becomes more real and the players become more cognizant of the setting.

The trick is to figure out how to target and utilize all these senses. Hearing is the most commonly used sense at the gaming table and it misleads us into thinking we are including other senses, when in fact we are not. Describing a room in detail can cause a player to create a vision within their mind of the room. This can help visualize the room, but we are still only using the sense of hearing. Same with describing the smell of a monster or the feeling of a wave of fire.
Vivid descriptions of what a character's senses are relaying to the character can help tremendously, and is an excellent start. A player will remember a similar experience and that memory will enhance the encounter, even if it is just a verbal description. However, the other senses can be used if we expand our toolbox of GM methods.

I'm going to look at each sense and give some ideas of how you can get a player to use them. Note that we are again trying to target the players with these techniques, moreso than the characters.

December 10, 2009

Bonebane Skeleton- 4E Monster

Bonebane Skeleton

At first glance a bonebane skeleton looks much the same as a "traditional" skeleton. However, the bonebane has a habit of breaking its bones fairly easily, often to the detriment of the creature it is fighting, as pieces of bone remain stuck into its victim.
Creatures that create the bonebane are usually not adverse to sacrificing the bonebane in order to have it do as much damage as possible before it is destroyed.

December 8, 2009

RPG Wealth, Let's Not Be Vague

I've been hearing alot about the abstraction of wealth in rpg games lately ( About how no one likes to count their character's money down to the copper piece. About how GMs don't want to waste valuable game time letting a character go shopping. About how there are wonderful systems that can be used to abstract wealth issues to speed up play and remove irrelevant (to the adventure) money details (

I say NO to those ideas.

Wealth within an RPG campaign revolves around 3 facets; Acquisistion, Retention, Spending. I will discuss each facet and how the various concepts apply.

December 4, 2009

Birthright Encounters Four

• Over the course of a month mysterious things begin to happen around the regent's castle. A box of chocolates appears on the regent's pillow as he prepares for bed. A single rose is found on the mirror. A fine bottle of wine is found in ice in the wash basin. A box holding a fine dagger is found on the night stand. A fine painting is found hanging on the wall. These are all the actions of a secret admirer, who is also a very skilled and infamous thief, with a crush on the regent.
• An agent a PC regent has used in the past to complete an Intrigue comes back claiming that the target of the former Intrigue has discovered his identity and the person needs to disappear, for which he requires 10,000 gp. The agent is lying and just trying to scam more money from the regent.
• A mysterious agent approaches a PC regent with information that a caravan controlled by a rival regent will be passing near his lands loaded with a large amount of wealth, about 10,000 gp worth. The agent works for another rival of the targeted regent and will admit as much if his identity is discovered. In reality, the agent has already informed the targeted regent that the PC regent will be attacking his caravan. This is all a plot to bring the two regents into direct conflict.
• A Mercenary Cavalry unit, the "Horse's Lament Regiment" offers a PC regent their employ for only 1 GB to hire and 1 GB upkeep. "They are down on their luck." In reality they are working for a rival regent who is placing his own troops within the PC regent's ranks. A few months later the PC regent receives a rumor that the rival regent has been gloating about a secret weapon he will use upon the PC regent.
• A member of a PC regent's court, Hiram Oldsbolt, approaches him with a problem. It seems he is the victim of an intrigue, when he was "indiscreet" with a local woman of ill repute, Josa Redmond, and he is now being blackmailed with the intent to reveal information on troop movements within the kingdom. Because of the delicacy of the situation it is impossible to simply arrest the woman, she has wide ranging connections and people who would ask after her. Hiram states that she will only relent if the regent himself talks to her. In reality Hiram is part of a conspiracy against the regent. If the regent ends up talking to the woman alone she will use a philter of love and cause the regent to commit an "indecent" act. She will then begin to blackmail the regent stating she will reveal what has occurred in public and the regent will be forced to answer questions while under a detect lies spell. Josa works for a rival regent who will use any harm put upon Josa as a way to publicly damage the regent.

December 3, 2009

Birthright Encounters Three

• The level of taxes within a province begins to go up by 1d3 GBs; while loyalty drops by one level. This is because a group of vigilantes have banded together to combat crime. They consist of old, retired adventurers, along with some "everyday" people, like butchers and blacksmiths, who fight crime at every opportunity. The local Guilds soon approach the regent with complaints, perhaps even threatening trade embargoes if something is not done about the lawless actions of the populace. The regent is also in danger of losing a level of Law as the people take the law into their own hands.
• A new wave of burglaries and robberies begins to plague a domain. Immediately, blame is cast upon any local Guilds, but in fact it is the work of a group of experienced freelancers. The local regent must find the truth among the lies of the Guilds and then confront the group, known only as "The Seven".
• Taxes within a province begin to dwindle and then stop all together. If questioned the report is that times are hard and bandits are on the prowl. In fact, the provincial tax collector, Evan Bellain, has been skimming a large portion of the taxes. To make matters even worse, the stealing has been instigated and controlled by the province ruler. The province ruler's plan is to allow the tax collector to take the blame and if his part is revealed he will flee with the money.

December 2, 2009

Birthright Encounters Two

• Two rival Guilds/Temples have taken to the streets in the war to eliminate each other. The streets of one of the regent's cities runs in blood and innocents are being caught in the crossfire. Both sides have taken to hiring mercenaries. The Law holding is decreased by one. By properly investigating, it can be determined the conflict is being instigated by a local coffin maker, who is spreading rumors about both sides.
• Two feuding mercenary bands, the "Crimson Eye", led by Miles Anthur, and the "Long Deaths", led by Keth Anthur, (yes they are brothers) have decided to resolve their differences in a final battle. Unfortunately the site for this final conflict lies within one of the regent's provinces. The "Crimson Eye" has appeared early and has taken up residence within a local town. News reaches the regent of another mercenary band approaching his kingdom. The "Crimson Eye" controls two units and the "Long Deaths" controls three units. The regent must determine what is going on and stop the battle before it wreaks havoc on his province.
• Two bread makers, Red Linsome and Jules Baker, are feuding about which one makes a better bread. They have gathered the other bakers behind them and there is even talk of each side hiring fighters to eliminate the other. Bread production has stopped and the city goes without bread. Loyalty within the province will go down unless the regent can solve the problem, which may involve him being forced to choose which bread is better.

December 1, 2009

Birthright Encounters One

Birthright was a setting I really enjoyed, running two campaigns therein. In Birthright the players are rulers; rulers of small nations, guilds, religions, etc. They controlled the resources of a kingdom and adventures ran at a different scale. I have always felt players particularly enjoy building things (over destroying them) and this setting was all about building.

Every turn (months of game time) there would be random situations that could crop up. While I was running the game I created more random happenings beyond that which the game provided. Here now are the ones I wrote up. There are a lot of them and will need to be spread out over a series of posts. I am leaving in the Birthright references, but will attempt to make a note of what they mean so they can better be used in another setting.
Even if you are not running a Birthright game right now (and who is, since it was a 2E setting) these can be used by a DM as background information for the players on the world he is currently running. And if some day the DM runs a game wherein the players are involved in national politics (such as the Reign game by Greg Stolze) this can help a lot. They can also be used as adventure ideas where, even if your players are not playing at the top end of the political scene, they may become involved in some of these anyway.

November 24, 2009

The Children- Pools of Blood

This week went better than last week.
The characters are still in the Well of Souls. We had ended last game with the characters having just entered a room. I had given a brief description then we called the night. The room consisted of two pools of blood that had to be traversed. The blood is detrimental to non-demons and helpful to demons. In addition there were two statues that produced damage on anything in the room, but not in a blood pool. Of course the object the characters needed was on the other end of the room.

November 19, 2009

Klagen Geist- 4E Monster

Klagen Geist

The klagen geist is a truly pitiable creature. Undead creatures exist for a number of reasons; as a curse, as penance for a sin, to fulfill an unfinished duty, as the servants of a necromancer. When an undead is killed the sprit animating it finally is allowed to move on to wherever its final resting place is, for good or ill. The klagen geist is that extremely rare type of undead, one that should have been released on its way but it can not.
The klagen geist is caught between the spirit world and the mortal one. As such, parts of its body have moved on and others have not. At first glance it looks like floating bits of flesh and bone advancing, but upon closer inspection it is revealed that the body form is simply missing large pieces.

November 17, 2009


As a DM you want your players to be invested in their characters. This means you want them to care what happens to them. One of the best tools to do this is with immersion. Immersion is the blurring of the line between the character and player, but in a good way.  Your players going to school for a week dressed up as their character with the broadsword "in case something happens" is not healthy. Having them forget about the real world for a short bit while they sit around the table is healthy.

Creating immersion takes some work. You also have to be creative; think outside the box. This post will show of the techniques and tricks I've used on my players in the past. Maybe they can give you some ideas for your own campaign.

November 13, 2009


SF Universe

A few years ago I created my opus. It was a detailed Science Fiction Universe. It had 88 systems with multiple planets in them, nearly 300 planets. I used the Dragonstar setting from Fantasy Flight Games. This was a D20 setting wherein dragons, through their superior strengths and intelligence gained control of a star-spanning empire. The usual fantasy tropes were included; magic, elves, etc but it was a science fiction setting with lasers, spaceships and power armor suits. In all is was a very interesting setting.

My creation was to be a sandbox setting, wherein the players could go anywhere they wanted. I had star maps, databases of information and other information overload for the plaeyrs to deal with. I was going to run a Blake's 7 style setting of renegades against the system, but I could never find the right set of players to go along with my plan.
The first attempt to run the game died when one of the plaeyers refused to admit that the enemy had overwhelming force (which I blantantly showed them) and proceeded to get the entire party killed.  The second run died when I tried to use the Shadowrun system within the system and it just didn't work.

However, for your perusal, I am going to scan the printouts of the systems and post them here; one system per week. Keep in mind that the information is geared to a fantasy/sci-fi fusion, but the data can be used in a purely science fiction setting as well. Alot of the notes and descriptions are geared for the Dragonstar setting, but again if all you want are a bunch of systems and planets for background, then this should help you out. In addition, the pages were meant for the players to look at, so the DM notes are missing.

November 12, 2009

Dead Characters

What to do when a character dies?
When I run a campaign I tend to have an overarching plotline in place, one the characters have had since the start. In my current campaign the character all started as pre-level children. From there we covered their childhood from ages 12 to adulthood (16 in my world). Throughout that time I built the foundations of the plot, giving them hints here and there. I presented them with enemies they could hate and a world shaking plan they feel they need to stop. The characters (and by extension the players) have alot invested in the plot.
So, what happens when one of them dies?
What happens to their involvement in the plot?

November 10, 2009

The Children- Well of Demons

Last night was simply awful and the sad part is that it was mostly my fault.
The characters have begun to explore the Well of Demons, part of a published adventure from WotC, Thunderspire Labyrinth. The module is split into 3 parts and I have coopted the second and third parts. Originally they were set underground inside a vast city, but I am taking the two parts and making them two seperate locations, mostly above ground. Clues led the players to learn the location of the Well and since they are half demon themselves they decided to check it out, especially since there are some innocents from a local town about to be sacrificed there.

The Children- Background

This is the first in a series of posts detailing things that happen during the game I am currently running. I am, however, not about doing a story time where everyone is subjected to my prose or where I get to spout about how awesome the campaign is. Instead the posts will deal with rpg elements, how some things worked and how things did not work. It is a practical look at the mechanics of an rpg game in progress.
All too often it is easy to philosophise about rpg gaming, but without object examples, it is nothing but theory. By showing examples, as they had just happened the night before at a real table with real people, it takes rpg philosophy away from the theoretical to the practical.

The current campaign is called The Children. The characters started out as 11 year olds and progressed from there. Unbeknowst to them at the start, they are also the children of demons. This fact is something they have come to suspect by now and is an ongoing theme.

The Rules of the Campaign post I made earlier has the actual email I sent out to my players before the game started. This is the second time I have run this campaign. The first run ended prematurely, but that option is built into the campaign, and the first group "chose" to end it early. Since then my wife has repeatedly ask me if I could run the campaign again. With the release of 4E (the earlier game was run in the Rolemaster system) I finally decided to dust off my notes.

One of the highlights of the campaign is how the characters are coming to terms with the fact they are essentially demons. Major themes to be seen within the campaign are the sense of alienation and contending with a dark, naturally evil side.  The concept of nature vs nuture is prevalent throughout the interactions the characters have had in the past and will continue to have.

The campaign has been running for some time now, but rather than rehash stuff that happened months ago, I will be picking up the ongoings in the current time frame. We play every other week so updates on this will be sporadic and only if something of note happened; ie an interesting topic about rpgs came up in some manner during the evening, but as every game session is a learning experience I should have something from most nights.

November 6, 2009

She'tar- 4E Monster


The she’tar are a race of humanoid insects. They have average intelligence, but to a normal human they often appear slow witted. They seldom talk. They often act without first talking amongst themselves; it seems as if they know what the others are thinking. This is not from some sort of hive mind, but rather because they are trained to know their place in their society from birth. Every action and task is accounted for. For example, the second one into a room always goes to the left and the third one always goes to the right. This level of pre-determined actions can be found in almost everything they do.
When they have a task to accomplish they do so with a resolve that can lead them to their death, as nothing is allowed to stop their attempt to complete their assigned goal.

November 5, 2009

Riddles- Part 3

This is part of a 3-part article dealing with riddles in an rpg adventure. Part 1 deals with incorporating riddles into an adventure whereby the solution is specific to the adventure. Part 2 is more generic, providing riddles for general use as opposed to a specific use. Part 3 talks about finding new riddles and even provides a way to create your own original riddles.

Parts 1 and 2 provided some riddles for you to use at your whim. However, its likely they won't be enough or appropriate for your own campaign. If that's the case how can you get more riddles to use?
The easiest option is to do an online search for Riddles. It will take some time to sort through riddles that worl and those that do not. Just be careful that the riddles chosen will work in your world.
Q) What goes around the world but stays in a corner?
A) A stamp.
While this is a good riddle, most fantasy worlds don't have a postal system. You need to always remember the common ground you have established with your players. They can't be expected to think of that answer since they know your world does not have a postal system and even if they think of the correct answer they will discard it immediately.

November 4, 2009

Riddles- Part 2

This is part of a 3-part article dealing with riddles in an rpg adventure. Part 1 deals with incorporating riddles into an adventure whereby the solution is specific to the adventure. Part 2 is more generic, providing riddles for general use as opposed to a specific use. Part 3 talks about finding new riddles and even provides a way to create your own original riddles.

Here are some general riddles. I have no specific ways to use the answers, but these can still be used during an adventure. The answers may need to spoken aloud to open a door, or reveal something hidden within a room or to unlock a chest.

November 3, 2009

Riddles- Part 1

This is part of a 3-part article dealing with riddles in an rpg adventure. Part 1 deals with incorporating riddles into an adventure whereby the solution is specific to the adventure. Part 2 is more generic, providing riddles for general use as opposed to a specific use. Part 3 talks about finding new riddles and even provides a way to create your own original riddles. 

Riddles have been a part of the fantasy genre for years now; especially RPGs. DMs enjoy confounding the players with a clever riddle. A new GM may be at a loss of how to add a riddle to an encounter, but it is rather easy. Other GMs may not be able to think of a new and interesting riddle (fish and teeth have been taken by Gollum for years now).

Herein I present a couple dozen riddles that can be used. I also give some ideas of how they can be used to make the riddle more fulfilling and interesting beyond the riddle itself.

October 29, 2009


Dungeon Masters Guide 2 by WotC introduced the idea of adding a formalized system for recording Achievements within the game.  As they mentioned, video games have had similar systems in place for some time now and there is no reason not to include them into a tabletop game; in fact there are some very good reasons to do just that.

October 27, 2009

Rules of the Campaign

One thing I highly recommend for someone about to start a new campaign is to write up and send out a Rules of the Campaign. This is not a new idea, but basically it means letting your prospective players know what they can expect in the campaign. This can be exceedingly helpful; if they are expecting a campaign of dungeon crawls and instead get court intrigue, they may be disappointed or even resentful. A prospective player may not be in the mood for the style of campiagn you have planned and its best to determine that at the outset.

October 22, 2009

Upcoming Awesomeness

Like most players, there are a number of games and supplements I am looking forward to.  Will they be awesome or will they stink? I don't know, but the waiting is killing me.  What products are you waiting for?

And now, in no particular order, is the stuff I wish I could travel forward in time for.

October 20, 2009

Puzzles-Make 'Em Do It

As a GM I enjoy adding puzzles to an adventure.  It breaks up a series of combats and allows the people who enjoy the mental aspect a chance to shine.  You really need to know your players however, because some people don't like them at all and your group may be full of those type of people.  Here are some pointers on how to add puzzles to an adventure and some things to avoid at the same time.

October 19, 2009

Some Rituals

Earlier this year Goodman Games held an open call for 4E rituals to be included in their upcoming publication Book of Rituals.  They were kind enough to accept a few of my submissions.  There were a few they did not accept and I now present them to you.   

October 16, 2009

Big Ball of No Fun

This blog is mainly concerned with tabletop RPGs. I have been playing and running RPGs for nearly 30 years. I have 5 bookshelves of gaming material, with cartons of gaming suplements put in storage as well. I've played through the fun times and taken breaks from gaming when it seemed the right thing to do.

Through the years I've come up with alot of ideas about rpg gaming, some about how to make it better and sometimes just crunch.  Some of my ideas fall flat, but at least I remember the failures and can avoid them in the future.  Maybe I can help you do the same.

This blog is about my thoughts and opinions on tabletop RPGs, how to run the games and how to make them better.  Hopefully I'll be able to provide you with things you can use at the table.

So, why is the blog called Big Ball of No Fun?  About 20 years ago, my players thought it would be funny to make a list of my attributes as a DM.  They came up with about 10 lines of positives. Then they came up with two pages of negatives; things like 'doesn't give out enough xp' or 'laughes when we die'.  It was all done in jest, or at least I hope so.  But one of the negatives was 'Big Ball of No Fun'.  It has stuck with me through the years.  For me it means challenging the players even when they want it easy.  Keep them guessing and never make it easy.