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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.

rollable_four_sided_dice

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.

FUNDING UNTIL 19th MAY 2014

Contact :

Leo Atreides leo.atreides@gmail.com

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

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Saturday Seven: 2014-05-10

May 10th, 2014

Last night was my monthly Pathfinder game. Many of the players commented that it was the “best game session yet” in the campaign. That made me extremely happy! We ended on a cliffhanger, so I’m sure the players are eager to get back to the table and continue on. We also had brief talks of making the game happen every three weeks. That means they’re really into it! Yay!

… Now on with the links for this week.

[Playing With X, Part 3] Facemen

Another great post from Jay on a type of player. In this case, he’s talking about Facemen, which are the players that like to do all of the talking for the group. How do you get along with them? You’ll have to check the post!

Should Players be Forewarned of Endings?

I’ve only done this once. I was going to school to become a veterinary technician, and my morning classes went from starting at 9AM (with an hour drive to get to the school) to starting at 6AM. This meant I was going to have to start crawling out of bed somewhere around 4AM to get to school on time. Gaming on the night before until Midnight was no longer an option, and because of scheduling, we couldn’t move the night of the game. I happened to be running the game, and I had about a month notice of the new class schedule. I told my players, “You have four sessions to finish this up. Don’t dick around.” To my pleasure, they jumped on board with the restrictions and we managed to finish about halfway through the fourth session. Outside an external influence like this, I don’t think the GM should announce the nearing end of a campaign. It should just occur naturally. If it doesn’t, then maybe something is wrong with the story structure or the ending.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Flying Unfriendly Skies

I love this post because it addresses an often overlooked portion of gaming. When players get that carpet of flying or befriend (or subdue) a dragon, they suddenly are able to travel great distances without much danger… or can they?

[Tuesday Map] Chuck’s Valley

This is an awesome map of a lakeside town and the surrounding areas. Well done, Dyson!

Why do we save dragons for later?

That’s a great question! If half the title of the game is “Dragons” shouldn’t we see them more often? Perhaps earlier? This is something I’ve often wondered, and I never really had a good answer for until now. Peter has some great inspection of the issue, and offers up some answers and solutions.

By Popular Demand: The Ergonomics Of Dwarves

Holy Mother of all Dwarven Details! This is a fantastic post about biology, structure, size, shape, and make up of Dwarves. Mike also delves deep (pardon the pun) into living quarters, stairs, furniture, work environments, and all sorts of goodies that surround Dwarves and why everything is built this way. If you spotted his last ergonomic post about non-humans, you’ve got to do yourself a favor and check out the one on Dwarves. Thanks for the depth of the article, Mike!

The Event Planner

I’m often the event planner. When there are meetings (either for Day Job, non-profit work, improv writing sessions, gaming day, whatever) it falls to me to get everyone in the same place at the same time. I’m good at it. I’m efficient at it. Taking this extra effort out of my day doesn’t bother me at all because I have gobs of tools at my fingertips for staying organized. Angela shares those tools (and then some) with you in this post.

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Sunday Seven: 2014-05-04

May 4th, 2014

I’ve got some great links for you this week. Check ‘em out!

When No One Knows Anyone

Approaching a con game, especially as a GM, is quite scary. I’ve done this several times, and it’s unsettling to not see anyone you know at the table. Are they friendly? Are they hostile? Are they bored? Did they just spill that perfect latte on their favorite shoes and don’t really want to be here? With a con game, you have limited time (usually 4, sometimes 6, hours) to get things done. This leaves little precious time for getting to know people. However, this is probably one of the most vital things that need to be done. At least perform some perfunctory introductions. Need more information than what I just dumped on you here? Click the link!

Hidden Worlds: The truth is out there

What’s hiding in plain sight? What’s out there that doesn’t want to be known? There are so many great shows (X-Files and Fringe being at the top of my personal list) based on this concept. You can really up the mystery, creep-factor, and intrigue of your games by touching on this theme. Scott’s got a great post along these lines, so check it out.

Ergonomics and the Non-human

Eye opener! Most fantasy settings include human-sized tools, furniture, doors, etc.. Only when someone gets really scaled up (like giants or massive dragons) do the size of portals and height of ceilings come into play. By including subtle differences in how things are built, the depth of the world building can be increased. Mike has many great examples of this, so I’ll let his article speak for itself on the details.

Creating Better Criticals + Art Contest remider

“I roll a 20, so do double damage.” *yawn* We want, need, require that 5% chance of massive success to be something more. There are many great approaches to doing this. The system I currently use is the Paizo created critical hit/miss decks. They include just enough flavor text for me to get creative in descriptions, and there are enough rules included for game effect as well. MythicParty has some great ideas and house rules for how to expand upon that magical roll of a 20.

[Playing With X, Part 1] Powergamers

[Playing With X, Part 1b] Extra Notes on Powergamers

[Playing With X, Part 2] Tacticians

These three links from Jay appear to be the start of a series of articles about identifying the different gamer types and how to properly deal with them and make them happy at the table. While he doesn’t do a deep dive into each gamer type, the information here should be more than ample to help you get along with Powergamers and Tacticians. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the articles in this series.

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Sunday Seven: 2014-04-20

April 20th, 2014

I’ve been eyeball deep in work with regards to a huge writing conference my non-profit puts on every year. The conference is next week through next weekend. Sorry for the lack of comments this week, but I barely have time to put this post together, let alone comment on them like I usually do.

Also, a heads up: No Friday Five next week. I’ll be in-over–my-head busy with the conference from Wednesday morning until mid-day Monday. Everyone have a good one until I surface on the other side of the conference.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Giving players the shaft
It’s Cyberpunk, Jim, But Not As We Know It
The Blind Enforcer: The Reflex Application Of Rules
[Tuesday Map] The Castellan’s Keep
Being An Awesome Game Master Is Not Something You Stumble Into
The Premise Of Falsehoods – Luck Vs Skill in RPGs
A Planned Setback

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Sunday Seven: 2014-04-13

April 13th, 2014

My Friday night game went FANTASTIC. We all had a great time, and much undead slaying was had. My Saturday night game is winding down since the host is moving out of town, so we’re falling back to board/card games until he moves. We played several rounds of Zombie Dice, and several rounds of Chupacabra. Then we broke out Arkham Horror and proceeded to almost defeat Cthuga on several occasions, but the dice and cards just didn’t fall our way. We ended up awaking the Elder One, and that was pretty much the end of the game. We didn’t have the goods to directly defeat him. Ah well. Such is how it goes.

Now that I’ve summarized my gaming week… On with the links!

Inversions Attract: Another Quick NPC Generator

Most “quick and dirty” NPC generators focus on the stats. Sure, those numbers are important, especially if the NPC is there for combat purposes. However, most NPCs are probably there for some sort of social interaction. Unfortunately, most of these NPCs are “blank slates” without much backstory or purpose beyond handing out the next clue or misdirection. I know this is the case when I run the games because I just don’t have the time to backstory (even minimally) most of the NPCs in the game. Mike gives us some techniques for a “quick and dirty” background that’s actually applicable to the game itself. I’ve already printed this blog post and tossed in my GM folder for quick reference and use while doing my prep work. Thanks, Mike!

A Quick Guide to Convention One-Shots

Need a guide to pacing your convention one-shots? It’s really not all that hard. Many people avoid GM’ing (and some playing in) convention games because of the short time frame of the game itself. Most sessions are four hours in length. Some rare ones can stretch to six hours, but those are usually special events. When getting ready to run a one-shot, make sure you keep real life time in mind. This needs to be done at the prep level, not when you sit down behind the screen with a bunch of strangers. Paul has some simple, yet great, advice on how to approach this time constraint in your prep time.

Writing to the limits of longevity

Another great article from Mike! This one expands on the ideas of how to keep ideas, thoughts, niblets of your mind, and your notes around for longevity. I’m a software engineer by trade. I spend quite a bit of mental effort writing “readable code.” Where the software is necessarily convoluted, I always leave a comment or three in the code to make sure people (especially me, six months later) know why I did what I did and how the code works. Having “readable notes” that will spur your memory and ideas is equally vital. I’m not just talking about the legibility of your handwriting, but the coherency of your notes and ideas. Never, ever make the mistake of proclaiming, “This is so important, I’ll never forget it.” When that event or NPC or item pops back up in the campaign five months later… Yeah… You’ll have forgotten the key details. Mike has some great approaches at note taking that will assist you in your mnemonic acrobatics.

[Friday Map] Fedor’s Pass Upper Levels

More maps from Dyson! I haven’t linked to his site for a few weeks, so I wanted to highlight these maps of Fedor’s Pass. It contains lots of wide open spaces that could be used for… well… almost anything! For some reason, I’m seeing high ceilings and giants. That’s just where my mind went. Where did you your mind go when looking at this maps?

Adventure Hooks: Welcome to the Jungle

Sweet! Here’s nine great adventure hooks for a jungle environment for you GMs out there. Ameron does a fantastic job not only giving you some ideas, but leaving it open enough for your imagination to run free and wild with it. These should be easy to incorporate into almost any ongoing game, or they could the inciting incident that gets the ball rolling. Enjoy them!

Some of My Favorite Books of Random Fantasy Tables

This post is very much like an “Appendix N of Random Tables.” If you don’t have the books highlighted in this post, run out and get them (if you can). I looked through Martin’s list of random table books, and I found that I’m missing a few of them. I gotta run out and track them down.

Random Poisons

Need some random effects for poisons of different types? Here are 20 of them from noisms. There are no names, just effects of the poisons. By using this chart and your imagination, you could easily come up with loads of different named poisons to attack your players with.

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