April 28, 2010

Quick Hit- Game Locations

Most of us have played a game in the typical locations; a kitchen table, living room, basement, dorm lounge, convention hall, gaming store. Every once in awhile we tend to break out of the normal and do something different. This may be for a change of pace or because the location is conducive to the particular game that day.

Not too long ago I was running Legend of the Five Rings, an oriental setting. To change it up one day, we decided to all head to a local sushi restaurant. We took a back table and proceeded to play there for the next 4 hours. It was wonderfully immersive.

Once in high school (oh, so long ago) we had a senior skip day. Despite only being a junior, that day I took the bus to school and jumped into the car of one of the seniors. We headed down to the local state park, meeting a few others there and proceeded to play D&D for the next 6 hours on a picnic table. Being outdoors for that long was again immersive.

What places have you played an RPG game at that fell outside of the norm? Why did you pick that location?

April 23, 2010

Sleeper- 4E Monster

When mighty empires have the will and resources to create their own monsters of war, what they create can break the laws of decency and common sense. One such empire, now lost in the sands of time, did just that. They sought to fuse the cunning and ingenuity of a man with the relentless force of a golem. They gathered their smartest artificers and ordered them to augment their finest soldiers with the magic and metal of a construct.

In one respect they created what they sought, a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. The only problem was they lost self-will and with that self-will they lost the thing that made them creative in combat. They needed to be controlled at all times. They could follow easy instructions but any deviation from a command was beyond them. They required constant control, which on the battlefield is difficult at best. Their enemies soon learned to ignore the constructs and focus their attacks on their handlers, who were alot easier to kill. The constructs lost their effectiveness and many were mothballed.
Many years passed since they were first created but several of them still exist. When first rediscovered they were given the label "The Sleepers" for lack of a better name. Smart thinkers have found ways to control them and, while they require constant commands to be effective, they are a force to be reckoned with again.

No one knows how many Sleepers still exist hidden away in lost archives, but to find one and learn how to control one gives a person great power. Woe betide the person who finds a Sleeper still following a previous command, such as "protect this area from all intruders", as they will find themselves in a battle they may not be able to win.


April 20, 2010

Racial Ancestry

Most races tend to breed amongst themselves. It is a part of tradition and provides a certain familiarity and comfort level. Occasionally love breaks the boundaries of race. The offspring of these unions often carry the traits of both their parents. These qualities can be handed down from generation to generation. Sometimes the traits are dormant and sometimes they manifest in force, giving the select progeny abilities beyond their dominant race.
Selection of one of the following racial feats indicates there was a member of the race in your past lineage. Perhaps this personage is well known to your family or perhaps its involvement has been covered up. Either way, you have reaped the boon its blood has added to your family line.


April 16, 2010

Quick Hit-Reuse It

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen on various sites is to reuse your encounter locations. After the characters have cleared out an old tower/keep/dungeon/corporate building/villain hideout it is a good idea to have someone reclaim the setting. Usually this is a new set of monsters that happen to come across an open pre-made lair. Even more rarely the group of characters will take over the area as a new base. But there is a third option.

There is no reason why a non-monster group could not take over the location. A faction friendly with the players could jsut as easily take over the area. Players will see a new guard tower and boast of how they cleared the tower of goblins. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and that their actions can affect and change the world.

One more reason is so you can reverse the location on the players. One of the more fun adventures I ran was in Shadowrun. One of the first adventures the players went on was to raid a research facility for some information locked inside an internal computer. The party did just fine and accomplished their goal. Many months and adventures later the party was hired by the same research facility to protect it from a group of shadowrunners. I was using the same location again, but this time with the roles of the party reversed. The location was familiar to the players which made them feel like they had an edge; made them feel that they had gained something from their previous adventure beyond just nuyen.

You can do something similar within almost any genre setting. Perhaps the party cleared a tower and its underground lair of goblins months ago. Now it is location of the King’s Guard. In the future the characters are asked by the King to help protect the tower from a necromancer and his zombie army that is heading right for the tower. The players can use their prior knowledge of the towers defenses to bolster it up properly and prepare for any devious tricks the necromancer might try.

So, reuse your locations, but try to keep it entertaining and original.

April 13, 2010


RPGs are about exploration; the learning and experience of new things. It is what keeps a game exciting and new. Present your players with something new and they will pay attention. It keeps them engaged in the adventure of the night and in the overall campaign.

Herein I present four important areas for players to explore within a game; the dungeon, the game system, world culture and the players themselves. I also provide a few ideas of how a DM can keep each of these fresh for the players.


April 9, 2010

4E Monster- Swarm of Bees

Swarm of Bees

I am converting a Pathfinder module to 4E and this monster was in a couple of encounters. With no easy comparison monster I threw this version together. Rather than do a full writeup with Lore and such (it is only a bunch of bees after all), I simply present the stat block.

April 6, 2010

The Rest of the Turn

At the core of every mainstream RPG game is the combat/conflict turn; an organized system for allowing characters to resolve their actions. One of the major problems, however, has been that when it’s not your turn there is nothing to do. Over the years various systems have addressed the issue with varying measures of success. 4E has gone a long way to maintaining a player’s interest in the combat round when it is not their turn, but there is still a lot a good DM can do, regardless of the game system being used.

In the early days, a combat turn consisted of the player taking his turn alone. To oversimplify it, monsters paired off against their opponents and the two bashed at each other until one went down. The only choice to be made was which monster to attack and which one to attack after the current one went down. Sometimes you had to reassess your target (if one monster was deemed more threatening during the course of the battle you might switch targets) but by-and-large once a decision was reached very little changed it. And honestly, after several fights in a row, why should they pay attention when it’s not their turn. There is little to no payoff for paying attention.


April 2, 2010

Music for the DM

We have all experimented with music during our games. It can help set the mood; anything from classical music for a ballroom scene to techno for a vampire gathering. Sometimes we use it to give the players a hint of what’s to come. I had one GM play Hell by the Squirrel Nut Zippers as we progressed through Hell during our adventure. Did I mention he had it looped so the song repeated itself over…and over…and over. Just listening to the song now gives me shivers.

One thing often overlooked is music for the DM. There can be songs that can put a DM into the proper frame of mind for adventure prep. For me, I started playing rpg games in the early 80’s and after school I would often map out a dungeon or setting while the music played on the radio. A lot of the songs from that time now bring me back to those days and I find it easier to work on the next week’s adventure. I have 8 CDs full of songs from that era and when I really want to sit down and get some work done, I’ll pop one of them in as I start.

What songs get you in the mood to write up an encounter? Does different music work for different genres? What other things inspire your adventure design?