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Friday Faves: 2014-06-20

June 20th, 2014

I messed up last week, and forgot to click the “Schedule” button after my last “Save Draft” click. This meant that the post didn’t go out as planned on Friday, but on Sunday when I realized my error. I’ll try to keep that from happening again as I have my posts for Friday already put together ahead of time.

Now, on with the links!

But We Don’t Want to Learn a New System!

I’ve been fortunate in that many of my groups have been eager to learn and play new systems. This scratches my itch for trying new systems, styles, games, and such. Yeah. It can lead to confusion, some burn out, exhaustion with learning new systems, and the like, but I prefer changing things up as an opportunity to learn. I have had some push-back from players in that they want to stick to what’s comfortable. I get that. Sometimes, I want to work with my players on a great story concept, so I don’t want to spend the effort on a new system. This is where I fall back to what I know and love.

Writing Rumors

Peter’s got a great post over at Dungeon Fantastic on his approach at writing rumors and keep track of things. I love the fact that he doesn’t decide the truth or falsehood of a rumor at the time that he writes it, but decides upon that facet of things later. This is brilliant, as I’ll often get hung up on “Is this true?” or “How true is this?” and it’ll start guiding (or forcing) my hand at other rumors that I’m putting together.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Troy makes a great point that I’ve always missed in my tavern creations. I’ll come up with a cool name to tell my players, and a “star rating” that I don’t tell my players and call it good. My “star rating” is a system I’ve come up with from an Old School Dragon Magazine article that very quickly lets me know what is and is not on the menu. Anyway, I rarely think about the people in the tavern unless they are explicitly there for plot elements. Of course, that’s the furthest from the truth of the matter. There are the regulars, the one-timers, the trouble-makers, the wallflowers, the drunkards, the gamblers, the bar staff, the wait staff, and so on. Depending on the size of the tavern, there could be anywhere from six to sixty people present. Of course, detailing sixty people would be painful, but throwing in descriptions for the more noticeable folks will really add a ton of flavor to the setting.

[Tuesday Map] Dolem’s Spire

Holy cow! Now this is a city map! When you click through to Dyson’s blog, make sure to click the map to enlarge it, and then zoom in on it (if using Firefox or Chrome) to check out the intricate details. I love city maps like this one. Great job!

Creating Partial NPCs To Speed Game Prep

Many new GMs will usually fall into the trap of thinking that every NPC needs to be as detailed as the PCs around the table. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. If you are currently doing it, stop now. PCs are the main characters of the story. They live in the spotlight, and this spotlight can reveal minor details about the character. This means those minor details need to be created. NPCs, on the other hand, tend to live in the edges of the spotlight, if not in the shadows themselves. This means those minor details and really in-depth backgrounds will never be seen. Why create them? BUT! There are details that will come out during play. It’s hard to predict with 100% accuracy what those details will be, but if you have a few of them handy, life will be better for you, and the game will run more smoothly. Mike’s got some great tips on how to approach this (both for combat and roleplay situations). Please make sure you read to the end where he has two examples of how things are put together. In one case he put together 54 flunkies and 1 boss in less than 6 minutes. In his role play example, he put together 152 usable NPCs in less than 30 minutes. That’s quite impressive, and using his approaches, you can do it too!

[Friday Map] Serzen’s Seven Stairs

Dragon-mouthed entrance! An apparent worship room at the far end? Six more sets of stairs that lead to who knows where? A tree (alive? dead? undead?) in the center! Holy cow! So many possibilities here. I had another map in mind for an upcoming series of encounters, but I think I’m going to scrap using that other map and go with this one! Thanks, Dyson!

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Free RPG Day 2014

June 19th, 2014

I’m well aware that this upcoming Saturday is Free RPG Day. I’m also well aware that I have to work this Saturday (which is odd for me), so I probably won’t even have a chance to hit a game store at all, let alone in time to pick up any free goodies.

Ah well. Such is life. Last year’s Free RPG Day was a pretty heavy bust for me, and trying to do the day justice and review all of the material is something that my life has made unfeasible at this point.

I’d love to get my hands on one of the d6 that they put out, but I just don’t see that happening.

Everyone go out and enjoy the day and get some free goodies. Most importantly: While you’re at the store snagging some swag, make sure to do some shopping and buy something that catches your eye!

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My Comments Runneth Over

June 19th, 2014

Mike over at Campaign Mastery is having some issues with his comment system on his web site. I tried to post a rather lengthy response to his Table Runneth Over post, and we realized that his comment system is broken. While he’s working on getting that issue resolved, I emailed him my comments, just so he could see my more in-depth feedback. While Mike’s working on restoring full operation to his site, he put my comments up as a post of its own over at his site. You can check out what I had to say over on his site.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to put my comments up on the his site, and we all wish him the best of luck at conquering the evil technology goblins that have infested Campaign Mastery’s comment system.

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Friday Faves: 2014-06-13

June 13th, 2014

We’re continuing with the experiment of compiling the post with links as the week goes on instead of doing it all at once. Last week worked well, so we’re going to see how things go this week before I call it a success. Mike from Campaign Mastery also suggested that I rename the column from “Friday Five” to “Friday Faves” since I sometimes have four, six, or sometimes even seven links to share. I thought that was a good idea, so I’ve made that change as well.

Now on with the links!

Size Is Important…

This is a great size comparison visual aid for folks that want to know what various swords’ lengths are in comparison to other swords. It’s a great find for role players, game designers, and writers of fantasy.

Why Should I be Interested? Treat Your Game Like Selling A Product

John makes a good point here. You can’t just slap together an idea and expect your players to “buy in” because they are your friends or RPG table mates. They may not be spending their hard-earned cash, but they are spending their time to invest in your game. You have to draw them in and keep them happy with the product… er… game you’re selling to them. Keep this in mind. They can always earn more money, but once time is spent on an effort, it’s gone forever. Help your RPG group invest their time wisely.

Ask The GMs: My table runneth over (too many players)

The largest group I was ever part of as a player was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen players. Yep. Fifteen of us all staring at the game master and expecting a quality game. Somehow Joe pulled it off! I remember having a blast at the table even though there was considerable downtime during combats and between encounters. I didn’t mind because I was sitting in a room of great role players, and I was still honing my RPG skills. I learned quite a bit. Would I repeat the experience? Despite the fond memories of the campaign, I don’t think I would do it again. As far as GM’ing goes, the largest group I ever ran for was about ten characters, but we only managed to get 6-8 of the players at the table with any consistency. I’d do that again in a heartbeat, but I’d probably pick a “rules light” system (Fate? Savage Worlds?) to run the game in. I love running games for large groups, but they need to be mature people. (Maturity is not a reflection of age, but willingness to participate and pay attention when the spotlight is on someone else.) There are just so many crazy dynamics that come from a large group that you don’t get from 2-4 players. Granted, the 2-4 PC range does offer a more intimate feel to the game, which is just as great.

Story vs Mechanics

Callin over at Big Ball of No Fun brings up a great point in his post. His chief complaint is that sometimes a player will use in-game mechanics to back choices for their characters because the number crunching comes out in their favor. This destroys the flow and style of most stories. Callin asks if there is a “fix” for this problem. The only one I have is a little heavy-handed, but here goes…. Invoke “Rule Zero“. While Urban Dictionary makes it sound like Rule Zero is a bad thing, it can be used to good effect to maintain a story. If someone states that they are jumping off that 100 foot cliff because they know the math is in their favor to survive (if not having guaranteed survival), the the GM can easily Rule Zero the results and declare the character dead unless they make an amazing single die roll. A Fortitude Save of 30, or a System Shock check at half their normal percentage, or something equally dangerous. Give the player a chance to pull it off, but make it one of those very slim chances. The players will quickly learn that Rule Zero is a key part of the game, and if they get stupid with their numbers, the GM can also do the same to their detriment.

The Other Side of the Screen: GM’s Should Play More

I agree! I know I’ve said before that I think every player should GM at least one short series, if not a whole campaign. It gives them the flavor and perspective of what it’s like behind the screen. On the flip side, we all-to-often forget that GMs need a break from Playing God. Everyone, at their very heart, is a player. Yes, there are some folks that GM much more than play, but even those GMs would like a chance to focus on one character with personal goals rather than try to herd the cats. It’s also a great battery recharger to take some time and just play a game for a while instead of being responsible for running it.

3 Feet In Someone Else’s Shoes: Getting in character quickly

This is along the lines of walking a mile in another person’s shoes to learn their life and perspectives. Mike makes a great point that GMs rarely have time to travel that far in an NPC’s shoes, so this leads to NPCs coming off as one-dimensional, flat, fake, caricatures of reality, and so many other bad things that we don’t want the “flesh and bones” of our world to be. There are solutions to this problem, and it really doesn’t take all that much time. When I started reading this article, my reaction was along the lines of, “Phsaw! Yeah. Right. Like I have time to travel a mere three feet in my NPCs shoes to learn them better.” Turns out that gut reaction was wrong. Mike drops a ton of great tips and tricks for getting deeper into your NPCs’ heads. Take a look at them. Pick and choose a few. Experiment with them. Use the ones that work for you. Thanks for the article, Mike!

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Friday Four: 2014-06-06

June 6th, 2014

Based on some advice from Mike Bourke of Campaign Mastery I’m trying something new this week. Instead of bookmarking items for later comments and compiling the entire Friday Five post in one fell swoop (which always seems to fall on Sunday these days), I’m going to stick the links and comments into the post as I find the articles I want to highlight. This will allow me to give more immediate and “gut feel” feedback on the articles. Fortunately, WordPress has a “schedule” feature, so I can schedule this post for near the end of Friday.

Let’s see how this experiment works out….

Now, on with the links!

Last minute update: I only found four articles this week that really caught my eye. Lots of talk about D&D 5/Next/Whatever this week, and I have no interest in that. This diluted the pool of possible posts quite a bit. Please, keep talking about the next flavor of D&D. I find it interesting, but not quite interesting enough to link off to.

Domino Theory: The Perils and Practicalities

One of the reasons I link to Campaign Mastery so many times, is that Mike’s thought process and mine are very similar. However, he seems to have more time, energy, and coherence of thought than I do for putting ideas down. This post is no different. I’ve done a “domino theory” game (actually, campaign) in the past. I set up several “lead dominoes” for the PCs to knock over. If they only tipped one of them, fine. If they hit two, three, or more of them, that was great. I think they ended up running with four different plot threads running in the background. Well, it wasn’t always in the background. When it was convenient for me (or inconvenient for the party) a chain of events would rear its ugly head and cause trouble. That was when the PCs could take action to stop the next domino in the chain from falling, or perhaps have them fall faster. Either way, it was a great deal of fun, but did require quite a bit of prep work as not all dominoes fall at the same rate. A good time table was needed for each chain to keep things in perspective with cross-links between the tables to ensure that if chain A interacted with chain C, then things would work out properly. Mike’s got some great examples and ideas on how to keep everything straight, so go check it out!

Moderating Instant Advancement

Walt has an excellent post on how to bring in a character of higher levels or power advancement in an ongoing campaign. There are issues with this. Things like targeted power/feat/skill/ability choices instead of organic growth of the character when they level up naturally. Things like choosing (again) targeted items that support the character in a precise manner instead of having them adapt to what they would randomly find while adventuring. There’s also the case of “I’m retiring my 5th level fighter. Can I replace him with a 5th level wizard?” Some GMs are okay with this approach. Others are not. Walt delves into the details of how to handle all of these situations in his post over at Gnome Stew.

Your D&D Is Dead!

Ahh…. Edition wars. The only time I war over editions is when my group and I are choosing what to play next, and it’s rarely a war. Just because D&D Next/5/WhateverTheyAreCallingItThisWeek is coming out soon, that does not mean the WotC police are going to kick in your door and confiscate all of your previous editions. The upcoming version of a game does not automatically invalidate what you already own. So long as you’re willing to play the version of (A)D&D of your choice, it’s not dead. Let me repeat that. Your. Favorite. Version. Of. D&D. Is. Not. Dead.

Stealing From Games (And A Game About Stealing)

Dave over at Critical Hits has a really good article about “stealing” from other ideas to incorporate them into your own. He wholeheartedly endorses this approach. I do to. I’m going to use my fiction writing as an example. I once asked the great Connie Willis at Mile-Hi Con about how to advise people to not to worry about this aspect of writing. I’ve never been shy about snagging an idea, making it my own (that’s key), and running with it. However, some of my old critique partners would stop writing something if they realized it was similar to something else. Connie told me that all good stories boil down to “Man In Conflict.” I couldn’t agree more. Since this idea has been done thousands of times, how do you make something unique? Well, most people tend to forget that they are unique. By putting their personal stamp on something, it’ll be unique… just like them. Just avoid a straight copy/paste from some SRD for a description of an ability/spell/feat/skill/etc.. You see, that’s copyright violation. Just don’t cross that line, and you’ll be fine.

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Links from Last Week

June 2nd, 2014

I started my usual Monday morning clean out of the bookmarks I made last week and realized that there are some really good articles/maps/advice in those links. I still want to share them with the world, so here they are:

Stream Of Consciousness: Image-based narrative

While hanging out and talking with an FBI profiler over beers one night, he dropped a tid-bit of information on me that I loved. When a person is talking to a sketch artist, the witness will often start with small details that really jump out at them, and then move on to the larger details unless prompted to provide the details in a different manner. This means that scars, tattoos, abnormalities in the skin, etc. will be vital details to the witness. Mike’s on target here as well in that if you use Google Image search (or something similar), and describe what you see, then chances are that you’ll drop a description in the “correct order” for the players and answer any questions they may have before they get a chance to ask them. Mike, as always, does a great job of explaining things better than I do, so follow the link to his site and check out his approach.

Questions for Reflective GM’s

Asking yourself questions about a work or approach before throwing it front of players is very helpful. Asking some of the same questions after the game session/campaign are over with are also useful. Want to know what those questions are? Follow-through with the link.

Megadungeon Practices

I’ve designed a few megadungeons in the past. I haven’t really touched one in a long time, but if I were to jump into creating another one, I’d definitely use John’s approach as he’s detailed it on his blog. Go check it out!

Prodigious Performances Provided In Due Course

Ever since feats were introduced into D&D 3.0, there have been balance problems with them. Since 3.0 was released under the OGL, third party publishers could make their own feats as well. This exacerbated the balance issue. With so many feats (probably over 5,000 published by now) there’s no way to know every rule behind every feat. Worse still, is that a player might find two feats that mesh so well that game balance becomes even more at risk. GMs just don’t have the time to read all of the feats that might apply to the 4-8 players sitting around the table. I like Mike’s approach here on his review and approval process for bringing new feats into the game. Well done, Mike!

Fellini’s Pool

Sweet map with a cool “crumpled paper” effect on it! Need I say more?

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No Friday Five This Week

June 1st, 2014

The breaking news today of Jay Lake passing away has taken the wind out of my sails. I knew it was coming. I knew he was in palliative care. I knew life saving measures had ceased, and that he was being made as comfortable as possible in his final moments. However, the fact of his loss has left me wanting to do not much today.

No. I didn’t know Jay… or I should say that Jay didn’t know me. I knew him through his writing and the stories other people have told about his kindness, his generosity of time and energy, his inner happiness he shared with everyone, and how frank he was with everyone and his battle against cancer.

Jay will be missed, but he will live on through his written word. He was taken from us at a much-to-young 49 years of age. I can only hope to continue to enjoy his company through the words he left behind.

Because I’m going to wallow in sorrow and grief for a while, there’ll be no links for this week. Sorry to everyone that expects that of me. I just don’t have it in me to follow-through this week. I still have them bookmarked, so I may post them in the next few days just so I don’t do a disservice to those wonderful blogs that deserve highlights each week.

These two words seemed to be the battle cry of Jay’s fans around the Internet, so I’ll leave you with these two simple, powerful words:

Fuck Cancer

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Sunday Six: 2014-05-25

May 25th, 2014

Another belated Friday Five. I’m seriously thinking about dropping this to a permanent move to Sundays. It seems that between Day Job, Contract Job, Volunteer Job, Writing, and Family, I just can’t squeeze the time in until Sundays….

Anyone else have thoughts about a permanent move to Sunday?

Here’s the six links I gathered this week!

Three Wilderness Thoughts

Noisms has some great thoughts on mucking about in the great open wild. The title and bullet list on the blog state three, but if you look closely enough, there are probably closer to a dozen distinct ideas that can be gleaned from the post.

Growing Plot Seeds Into Mighty Oaks

Many a game campaign starts with a seed. Probably most (if not all) of them, but premature ending of a campaign can be caused by not planting the right seed. Lack of new seeds or growing the seeds into sprouts or mighty oaks without proper roots can easily kill a campaign. Basically, you need to think through the full implications of your ideas before you spring them on the players. I once had a GM complain that we were missing his clues. Turns out that we did catch his clues, but none of them really mattered to the players (individually or as a group). I guess this means he tossed out the wrong seeds and expected a different crop to grow. How do you avoid this conundrum? Mike has loads of great, practical advice on how to approach planting the proper seeds that will grow into mighty oaks.

How do you know when a campaign is over?

For me, the death knell of a campaign is the question, “When this campaign is over, what are we going to play next?” This means the players are more interested in the “new and shiny” rather than what is on the plate in front of them. There are many signs of a campaign coming to an unnatural close. When I say “unnatural,” I mean that the storyline isn’t completed, but the players are ready to stop creating that story. Check out the post and the comments. There’s some great information in there.

Organizations – Going Against The Grain

John has a good article about taking a “typical” organizational structure in your game world and twisting it up a bit to add more flair, flavor, and realism. There’s loads of examples (usually because of word count constraints) of guilds, nations, religious orders, and other groups being painted with broad strokes. When you run into those, think about what kind of internal strife you can throw into the mix to change things up.

[Tuesday Map] The ruins under Axehead Mound

This is a sweet map from Dyson that is packed full of opportunities to fill out with interesting encounters. I love his maps that he produces like this. It allows for a great deal of creative juice to be pumped into the rooms and hallways he has so expertly drawn.

Tick Tock – The Countdown Mechanic

I’ve rarely done this because I don’t need to count down toward impending doom very often. However, when I’ve pulled this trick from the bag, it’s worked very well. The countdown mechanic is a very strong spice, so use it sparingly. If you’re interested in how it’s done, check out the post by Phil.

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Much Belated Friday Five: 2014-05-19

May 19th, 2014

Usually, if Monday hits and I have not posted a Friday Five yet, I scrap it for the week. I can’t do that this time around because I collected so many great links! I have seven of them for you this go around.

I know I usually do some commentary, but I’m actually at the Day Job at the moment. This gives me just enough time to get the links posted and going before my next meeting.

Here ya go!

[Playing With X, Part 4] Jokers
How I Roll, or, What Is the Point of Stats in D&D?
Dragging It Out for Drama
The Pattern Of Raindrops: A chessboard plotting technique
Earth World
Pick Your Jaws Up Off The Floor…You’ve Been Blindsided!
How Strict Are You With Alignment?

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Watching Wednesday: Rollable Four Sided Dice

May 14th, 2014

Leo reached out to me over the weekend and asked me to post his press release about his Kickstarter. I took a look at it, and loved the face that these look like d4s that you can actually pick up without straining a finger! Great design and idea! Read on for more information.


For the frustrated tabletop gamer a 4 sided dice that looks as good as it rolls. No more awkward throws and caltrop injuries. This d4 has the numbers clearly printed on the top for easy and quick rollout determination. The rollable 4 sided dice is a great alternative for poly dice and its good looks will compliment every dice collection.

The original design was to meet the play-out rules for a board game, d4 dice have a different game logic play-out compared to d6. For example in a game where players throw d6 to move they would have a play move max of 12, that can make the game tree too unpredictable and makes it hard for the player to plan and make their play. A pair of d4s reduce the maximum move per turn to 8 so the movement is not too complicated. The rate of doubles is 1:4 as opposed to 1:6 which also introduces new design options.

This cool dice is now funding on Kickstarter and as of 1st May has reach 73% of its funding requirement. There is an entire rainbow of colors to choose from right now and more stretch out goals will add more color and design options.


Contact :

Leo Atreides

Atreldes Ltd, 115 Whippingham Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 3PF, United Kingdom

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