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Friday Faves: 2014-08-08

August 8th, 2014

Today is a big day for me. It’s the 26th anniversary of the day that I almost died in a car wreck. It took three doctors a total of five hours to reattach my arm and repair other damage done to my body. Had I not been trained in wilderness first aid and survival, I’d not be here today. Only the tourniquet I made from my shirt and compress bandage from the remains of the shirt kept me from bleeding out in mere moments. I’m thankful for the doctors’ efforts to put me back together as best they could. I’m grateful to God for sparing my life in those moments.

Of course, we’re not here for me to pontificate about the gruesome and near-mortal wounds I received on the early morning hours of 1988 (yep, 8-8-88). We’re here to check out some great RPG links! Here they are:

Stormy Weather – making unpleasant conditions player-palatable

This is great timing for me! My next session in my monthly game will involve the party crossing a lake that is usually calm. Of course, I’m going to be a Big Meanie and throw a storm at them to challenge them as they cross the lake. I think it’ll be a good challenge, and Mike’s post has given me ideas on how to make the challenge fun as well!

What to do with captured PCs

If you game long enough, someone’s character is going to fall victim to the Bad Guys in a manner that means something other than death. The big questions are what are the Bad Guys going to do to the character, and what is the rest of the group going to do to save the character before the Bad Guys execute their plans? Peter dives into these topics and does a great job at covering them. Go check it out!

At The Mountains Of Madness…

If these images don’t evoke a sense of the wondrous supernatural in you… well… I’m not sure what’s wrong with you. :) Go check out these pics!

‘I Can Do That’ – Everyman Skills For Pulp

It’s rare for me to tell a player, “No. Your character can’t do that with a skill.” The few times it comes into play is when it’s an unknown language, something magical (and the character has no magical training or ability), or if it’s a straight up “do you know that?” kind of question. Even on the last point, if a player can make a strong enough point that they have a related knowledge skill, then I’ll allow it, but at a higher difficulty or increased penalty to the roll, depending on the system. When it comes to physical action, though, I’ll allow pretty much any reasonable extrapolation of how the rules around a skill are written. My system is pretty darn close to Mike’s, so I’ll let you check out what he has to say in more depth.

[Friday Map] Leeb’s Fortress

This is, hands down, the best side-view-to-top-down-view relationship map I’ve ever seen. I get a great visual of the fortress that I could crop out and show to my players, but I also get the overland/bridge tactical map as well as the layouts of the fortress itself and the caves below. You’re a genius, Dyson!

Rumors are Bite-Sized Backstory

The best piece of advice from this article is, “The best rumors are actionable.” There are several more gems in there as well, but I’ll let you go digging for them by reading the full article. Peter’s really changed how I’ll approach spreading rumors to my players.

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Friday Faves: 2014-08-01

August 1st, 2014

What an amazing week in the RPG Blogosphere! I’ve barely been able to keep up with all of the fantastic posts that have popped this week! I hope your week has been as good as mine has.

Now, on with the links!

On the drawing of maps

Want to know some of the tricks that the fabulous Dyson Logos uses to create his maps? Look no further than this link.

Fair or Foul? Playing Fast and Loose during Con Events

Fair, so long as the GM is fair and consistent. I actually like this idea because the point of a con game is first to have fun and secondly to have an experience you normally wouldn’t have with your regular gaming group. Time is limited (usually 4 hours) with zero chance of “We’ll pick this up next week.” Cracking a rulebook steals precious minutes from the game play experience. In the few con games I’ve run, if I space out on a rule (it happens), I’ll ask the table if they know of the rule. If the players are equally stymied, I’ll throw out a judgement and ask them if they think it’s fair. Usually they do because my off the top of my head ruling is generally very close to the published rules.

Adventure Creation Hacks: Two Methods

I’ve used this method in the past. What’s the method? Well, you’ll just have to click the link. I gotta say that it works very well for minimal prep. These days, I use Scrivener on my laptop instead of note cards. The way Scrivener (which is meant for writing, not necessarily note taking, but it works great) breaks out folders, files, and uses a hierarchical organization system works well with my brain. I can throw a folder of similar ideas full of files and fill in notes in each file to lay out what I’d like to have happen at certain points. It’s awesome! However, if you’re going more low tech (nothing wrong with that), then Chatty’s approach of note cards will work. Even if you think you have the “perfect” system for yourself (and you just might) still check out the link since he has some great ideas as to what to put into the notes.

A tabula rasa – focusing the mind before writing

I love this post because it closely echoes what I do when I sit down to write. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing. It could be a short story, part of a novel, RPG materials, poetry, whatever. I first have to clear my mind and “get the junk out” before I can dive into my prose. The first thing I do is make sure I have some good music going to drown out the outside world. What’s “good” music? Depends on your tastes, but I lean toward heavy metal and industrial. It just works for me, but might not for you. Once my tunes are going, I open up a file that I have name “Brain Bleach” and just type for 3-5 minutes about random things that pop into my head. Sometimes new story ideas hit me while doing this. Most of the time it turns out to be worthless drivel, but that’s okay. I’d rather bleach that out now than have it fall into my prose. Once my writing engine is warmed up after this exercise, I open up the file I intend to work on and get to work. A trick I learned (I think from Stephen King, though I’ve seen it credited to others, including Hemmingway) a LONG time ago is to stop in the middle of a sentence. This post explains the theory quite well. Now that you’ve seen my methods, hit Mike’s link to see what he has to say about it. His advice might very well work for you better than mine.

It’s Not Always What’s Behind The Door That’s Important…

If you can’t come up with a story about this door (or what’s beyond) then something’s wrong with you. It doesn’t matter the style, genre, execution, or theme of story. There’s something wonderful there! Perhaps what is behind the door really isn’t all that important as compared to the door. Run with it. Have fun!

[Tuesday Map] The Stony Recesses & Tower of Verrul

I love maps that include water hazards and multiple, intertwining layers. Guess what Dyson did here? Both! Go check it out!

The Indefinite

A figure stands at the end of a darkened hallway. It appears to be a great post by Roger on the vagaries of poor description and dropping hints as to what things look like when you don’t want to just come out and say it. This is a vital post for anyone writing description in RPGs or describing things on the fly. Good stuff here.

A Return To Prep-Lite

Another post about prepping, but this time it’s about how to prep for a campaign, not just a session. Of course, the advice here can be used at any level, but I’m reading this as “campaign prep” more than “session prep”. That’s just my take. Phil drills down deep into his methods, so you could probably learn quite a bit from him if you’re stretched thin on time.

[Friday Map] Howling Orc Bridge

I’m usually not a fan of “side view” maps because they’re hard to read, hard to implement on the battle grid, and just make for headaches for everyone involved. However, there are some (like this one) that are just immensely wonderful works of art. The Howling Orc Bridge here is packed full of story, action, and possibilities. It’s a great one!

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New Kickstarter I’ve Backed

July 29th, 2014

I know I’ve dropped my usual “Watching Wednesday” column because I found that I was spending too much money backing Kickstarter campaigns as I found so many cool things out there to take part in. Instead, I’ll just make a post here when I find something that I’ve backed, which is fairly rare because of financial restraints.

The campaign I just finished backing is Fate Tokens: Metal tokens for Fate™ games.

These coins look fantastic! The stretch goals look awesome!

They were looking for $5,000 AUD, and have crushed that goal with a current standing of $15,749 and 22 days to go.

I backed them at the $58 AUD level because I want enough of these coins to go around the table without anyone using a glass bead or pennies or a gummy bear or whatever. I’m hoping they nail the $20,000 AUD stretch goal because having a couple of Fate dice bags would rock. I could use one for the coins and one for the dice I got from another Kickstarter early last year.

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Friday Fives: 2014-07-26

July 26th, 2014

This week was the first week at the new Day Job. Training, corporate structure learning, finding where I fit into the puzzle, learning how technology I already know is being applied, digging through source code, getting assigned a few bugs to fix, meet & greets, and all sorts of the “new hire” stuff that goes on.

My brain is tired and full. I normally check my RSS feeds 2-3 times a day. I think I checked them once this week until just a few hours ago. I finally dug out of my RSS hole, and found some great posts to talk about.

However, I’m almost out of time before I have to run out of the house to move some storage unit stuff around for my Volunteer Job. That means you’re just getting links this week.

I’m hoping next week is less chaotic and leaves me with more brain juice at the end of each day.

[Friday Map] Conroy’s Confusing Caves
PASSING FAMILIARITY
The Best Hobby In The World…
Male, Female, and Everything In-between
House Rules – For Pulp (and other RPGs)
A Wiz Dice Review (With Pics)
[Maps for Heroes] Islands of Scarendyr

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Friday Faves: 2014-07-18

July 18th, 2014

Even though I’m off work this week, I’m slam-packed busy with other stuff to wrap up and get taken care of before the new Day Job starts. I’m pretty sure the comments will be short this week.

Welp, I screwed up again this week and forgot to click the “Schedule” button so this is coming out late again. You would think that as a web-development software engineer, I’d know how to use web sites. Not so much, it seems. :(

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 3 – The Big Picture (Genre and Style)

Mike continues his Theme/Concept series by talking about Genre and Style this week. I wish every writer would read at least the genre section. I had one lady at a critique session earlier this week swear up and down that her genre was “friendship.” I kept telling that was her theme, and that you’re not going to find a “friendship” section in the bookstore. I eventually gave up and let her continue on with her misconceived notions.

ONE GAME TO RULE THEM ALL?

Michael has it square on that there is no perfect game that will unify all of role playing. It’s just not gonna happen. He delves deeper into the topic, so check out what he has to say.

[Maps for Heroes] The Holy Shrine of the Family Logrotha

This is a sweet map in three different styles. Lots of ideas and concepts can flow from this, so go check it out!

In Loving Memory of a Name

Tolkien had a fantastic way with words, and especially with naming things. This post dives into that idea, and gives food for thought for your own naming systems.

Who Are You? – An original character naming approach

This is a quirky (and fun!) way to name people in a society. I like this idea quite a bit, and I wonder what other systems out there might work to cover other cultures, societies, and areas of a world?

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Friday Faves: 2014-07-11

July 11th, 2014

I finished off my last day at the current Day Job today. The new Day Job starts on the 21st. This means I’ve been pulled in a million different directions while finishing projects, handing off projects, and doing brain dumps on the rest of my engineers that I’m leaving behind. This means the comments this week are probably going to be a little more sparse than normal.

Additional Random Starting Items

I’ve done this for my Cyberpunk 2020 games (though with appropriate tech items), but never with a fantasy-styled game. This is really cool. I also take it a step further and have the player tell me a brief backstory as to why their character has this random thing in their possession. It’s a cool backstory thing and can make something with little-to-no monetary value be priceless to the character.

Judging the Pacing

This is a great article by Angela that puts together coherent and wonderful thoughts about the pacing of a session or campaign. It’s a worthwhile read for a GM at any level or experience.

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 2 – Concepts

I linked to Mike’s article on themes last week. This week he tackles concepts, and he does a great job at drilling down into the details. Concepts are awesome and they get even more powerful when they link together. I remember a campaign I was running with a theme and each adventure’s or encounter’s concept supported that theme. Then I screwed up. I had a purchased adventure that was weird and cool and wonderfully written and the perfect level for the PCs at the moment. I ran the module “as is” and didn’t link it into the rest of the theme. Oops. It took three sessions in our weekly game to get in and out of the module. The last two sessions, the players were asking each other (but not me) what this has to do with the overarching campaign. I’m glad they didn’t ask me because I didn’t have a good answer. The moral of the story is to not do this. Had I modified the backstory or even a few key NPCs to tie them into the rest of the campaign, it would have worked well. As it stands, those three weeks were a flop and nothing more than a way for the PCs to gain XP and treasure.

Troy’s Crock Pot: Draw a card, any card

I’ve used Magic cards for improv writing prompts in the past and it worked well. However, I’ve never tried to snag them and use them for encounters. That’s a brilliant idea and I happen to have a plethora (3,509 at last count) Magic, The Gathering cards to draw from. Yep. I gotta put this idea to use.

The Flunkie Equation – quick and easy Hors d’Combat

Mike dives into how to make flunkies in the system of your choice and how to not spend too much time on them since they’ll (hopefully) be dispatched from combat really fast by the PCs. My methods are very close to what Mike has outlined here, so I won’t comment too much further.

Expose Yourself To Many Game Mechanics

Yep. Couldn’t agree more. What am I agreeing with? Well, go check out the article and find out for yourself.

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Friday Faves: 2014-07-04

July 4th, 2014

Happy Birthday to the United States of America! Be safe with your fireworks, folks. Colorado (where I live) has seen two devastating fires in the past two years. We don’t need a third year in a row. It’s not a hat trick or a trifecta that anyone wants to accomplish.

On with the links!

Touchstones Of Unification Pt 1 – Themes

Earlier this year, I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. One of the sessions I sat in on was Chuck Wendig‘s fantastic teachings about theme and how they can affect a story. Of course, Chuck’s session focused on fiction writing, while the article Mike wrote is about role playing games. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the venn diagram between running an RPG and writing a novel has a great deal of overlap. Of course, the non-overlapping parts must be considered or else you’ll have a crappy role playing experience, or a horrible book. Anyway, if you weren’t one of the 50 (or so) people in the room with Chuck, click over to Mike’s article about theme (to be continued in other parts as well), and check out what he has to say. He covers the ramifications and impacts of choosing a theme for a game quite well. There’s plenty to chew on there. Also, if you’re a writer and a gamer, you really want to read this one. It’ll change your life in both of those areas.

Revised Open Doors in D&D-based games

I love Peter’s modifications here for changing how opening doors happens with regards to D&D. This is a smooth method, and makes the character’s strength bonus worthwhile. Think about it: The strongest (non-magical, non-enhanced) human is going to have an 18 strength. This is a +4 bonus. Roll a d20 and add 4? Come on. In this case, the die roll (or luck of the roll) is more important than the character itself. Dropping the variance range to a d6 (or a d8, maybe?) and adding in the strength bonus is a huge thing. Great idea here!

D&D / OSR: Two-Hit Minion Variant

Marty has a great idea to take the D&D 4e “one hit wonder” minions and bump them up to take two hits before they die. This makes me happy. In my brief D&D 4e days, I’d see many people focus area affect spells on what they thought were minions via metagaming to wipe them out. By making them take two hits… That reduces the metagaming aspect of things, and makes the players that do metagame think twice about using two fireballs (or whatever) against minions instead of just the single spell or charge from a magic item. It’s a small adjustment, but it goes a long way.

Fantasy Landmark Generator/Table

I love these kinds of charts. You can get some pretty wacky results, but there are always those results that spark your imagination and lead to greater things. Something randomly rolled from a table like this might end up being the cornerstone of your setting, location, session, or maybe even a campaign.

AnyDice.com

Many thanks to Delta for linking to AnyDice.com (follow the link above to find the true link to anydice). I must have spent three hours yesterday playing with different functions, dice combinations, and such just to play with the graphs. If you’re a gamer and/or math geek (I happen to be both) then you’ll find hours of entertainment there.

Writing The Game: Using RPGs to Create Fiction

At every writing conference I’ve been to, this question comes up when an author reveals that they are also a role player. The resounding answer to “Can I turn my RPG session into a novel?” is always “Don’t do it! Run away!” Why? Well, Mike covers this quite well. It is possible to take some of the basic concepts/ideas/thoughts/themes/etc. from a campaign and warp it into a narrative story, but there are many pitfalls in the way. The main reason I’ve heard (and that I agree with) is that RPGs are a cooperative, interactive storytelling venture. There are many “you had to be there” moments that don’t translate well into the written word. Novels are a narrative storytelling venture. The reader can’t change the words on the page. They don’t really interact with the book like a player would a game. Readers react to what is there. Players can change what is there. Mike delves deeper into the topic, so go check out his article!

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Friday Faves: 2014-06-27

June 27th, 2014

I’ll be off and camping for a day or two with the family as this post goes live. If I’ve clicked the right buttons and selected the right information, you’ll be seeing this on Friday.

Enjoy!

Sunday Chin Scratcher: How Do You Feel About GMPCs?

I’ve done this before just to give the gaming group a slot to fill. I wasn’t comfortable with the situation even though it lasted for almost the entire campaign. I finally got tired of it, and found a halfway-decent excuse to drop the GMPC off in a town and have him go on his own personal quest. If it’s a technical necessity for the game, then I posit that you’re playing the wrong game or style or campaign or storyline. There are better solutions, but it is a solution in it’s own way.

Vampire’s Creep and other stories: Working With Places

In my novels, I’ve always treated locations as characters. They get their own profiles, styles, attitudes, and sometimes their own affects on the world around them. This brings my world to life and it shows. I’ve been complimented by many people on the world building that I do in my novels. I’ve taught a few classes on world building and my techniques. They mirror Mike’s post very well, and I highly recommend anyone that creates in words (as opposed to clay or paint or music or other media) that they study Mike’s post at Campaign Mastery. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing game material, fiction, creating a campaign world, or some mix of those. You’ll come away with some valuable tips on how to create living, almost breathing, locations for your creative endeavor.

Improv Toolkit

I love improv. Some of my favorite campaigns I’ve run in the past were fully improvisational on my part as the GM. I’m part of a monthly improv writing group where we all bring prompts of some sort and write for 5, 10, or 15 minutes on the prompts we receive. Then we read our work out loud to the others in the group and see how the quick work bounces off of others. Phil has put together a killer improv toolkit that can be used for writing or gaming. It’s a great set of tools. I have most of them, but there are a few that I’m missing, and now I know what to ask for my upcoming birthday!

[Friday Map] The Sunken Maw

Another great map by Dyson! This doubled-up map gives you the side view and the top-down view of the area. As Dyson says, the entrance is a bit rough to use, but it still looks like a blast!

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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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