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4/15/2014

Last week I kicked off a list of my favourite RPG campaigns.  It was too long to get them all in on one shot, so here are the rest.  I ranked them numerically but the position on the list is fairly arbitrary - they were all fun and memorable for their own reasons.  Some of the games were technically well put together, some of them were terrible but just fun because of the player interaction.  That's what I love about role-playing games: even when they're kind of awkward and you do it all wrong, you can still have fun with it.  RPGs and sex have a lot in common that way.

So without further ado, here's the bottom (top?) three...

3. Battlestar: Salvation

System: Battlestar Galactica by Margaret Weis Productions
Date: 2011


This is the only campaign on my list that I didn't GM.  That's not a knock against anyone else's skills as a game master - it's just that I very rarely ever play as anything but the GM so I don't exactly have a broad and fertile field to harvest.

I wrote about this campaign once before and how it gave me the sweats.  I loved it because it was tight, exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I don't know if it was as cutting edge as I remember or if I was just not used to being a player anymore, but I had no idea what was going on or what to expect.  You know how some games have those tropes, where you know who is going to be the bad guy, and who is going to swoop in to rescue the heroes at the last moment and all that jazz?  This game had none of that.  The GM kept us guessing, and I think the players kept the GM guessing, too.  We all did things that surprised each other, like one of the other player characters randomly announcing that he was my long-lost brother without telling me or the GM beforehand.  It made no sense whatsoever (especially since my character was a Cylon, but only the GM knew that at the time) but we ran with it and made it work.  It led to some tense drama that culminated in my half-brother going nuts and shooting me (actually at that point I purposely sacrificed my character because I suspected he was a Cylon and I wanted to know for sure).

If I had been the GM for this one, I totally would have changed my mind at this point and said "Nah, sorry, fooled you!  You're human."

Interesting to note that this is the only Play-by-Email game on this list.  Since I've primarily run PBEM games for the past several years and none of them were noteworthy enough to make this list, this tells me a couple of things. First, nothing beats the fun and spontaneity of playing a role-playing game live.  Second, I must be really bad at running PBEM games.

2. Gate and Necromancer

System: ADnD 2nd Edition (though we started to convert to 3E at the end)
Date: 2001


This campaign is special for a few reasons.  First of all, it was the first time I played with a new group (most of whom went on to become very good friends of mine) several years after having left the comfortable womb of high school.  We were all working at the music theatre at Paramount Canada's Wonderland north of Toronto, putting on five half-hour long musical review shows every day throughout the summer.  We had an hour long break between shows, and while we probably should have been cleaning the theatre and repairing gear and changing light bulbs, we instead rushed backstage after every show to play D&D in the costume shop.

It was a glorious time, probably the last time I really felt like a kid (though at 21 I probably should have fucking started growing up).  I mean seriously - we were hanging out all day playing with colorful lights and pyrotechnics in the middle of an amusement park and playing Dungeons & Dragons in our down time (while still on the clock no less).  Who wouldn't feel like a kid in that situation?  And why the hell did I get out of that business???

The game itself was great fun as well.  It was a direct sequel to the game I ran in high-school (see Part 1), though since it featured none of the same players no one actually knew it was a sequel except for me.  But the long-running game from years before provided a wealth of background material I could use for this new game - the PCs kept running into old characters and locations from the original game that felt like they had a developed backstory because for once they actually did.  I didn't just have to make up names and towns on the spot like I do for 90% of my games.  And the best part was that I could re-use some of the traps and tricks from the first game, because this group hadn't experienced them!  (Girdle of Masculinity/Femininity for the win!)

There's actually a terrifying number of these pictures on the Baldur's Gate forums.

I admit my memories of this campaign have been somewhat coloured by the fact that I used it as a basis for a fantasy novel I wrote several years later (and that you all may someday read).  The characters in my book morphed and changed quite a bit between the way they were originally presented and how I eventually used them, so I'm a little hazy over what I actually remember and what I later made up. But some of it I couldn't make up, as much as I wish I had.  The elf rogue that was unceremoniously turned into a woman and was totally fine with it, not even bothering to try to undo the magic.  The ranger that became a werewolf and found out he was the long-lost heir to the throne but ultimately just spent the campaign chasing and trying to save a hot elf chick he only met once just so he could kiss her at the end of the story.  The Rastafarian dwarf named Ruffo. I don't remember anything else about him; that was the entire extent of his character development.

1. Beware the Dark Side

System: Star Wars 2nd Edition by West End Games
Date: c. 1995-96


And this was the legendary campaign that I spoke of in one of my very first posts at Rule of the Dice, when I announced that Star Wars was the best RPG ever.  I still believe that Star Wars is the best game, and that this might have been my favourite campaign.

This one is interesting as it is the only campaign that I plotted out pretty much entirely from start to finish.  I wrote out an entire book detailing adventure-by-adventure and almost encounter-by-encounter how the game would play out as the struggling band of heroes started from nothing and became an epic band of Jedi Masters. I wish I could find that book.  I wrote it in Novell PerfectWorks for Windows 95 (you can still read the press release on their website!) and printed it on my dot matrix printer.  I felt like I was a big-time game designer!

It is very important to point out however that this game was not good because I had planned it out, it was good IN SPITE of it.

In reality the script I had created was way too restrictive and formulaic, and the guys had way too many ideas and ridiculous things they wanted to try for me to try and plot out the whole story arc.  The core group was a 7-foot tall (human) quixotic Jedi named Wookie Nookie (yes, that's how he spelled it), a young Jedi apprentice named Kan Saga, a brash X-wing pilot named Chris Bahn and a bounty hunter who's name escapes me.  They started out as a gang of loser stoners (based loosely on the cast of the film The Stoned Age). They had a ship called the Blue Torpedo and an archaic R1-droid named Snot Rag.  The ship and the droid had a special mystique themselves - they specifically installed a faulty voice chip in the droid so that I had to speak in a dumb robot voice on his behalf (which was actually pretty fun).

Wookie was a favourite character of many because he was a goofy idiot who continually mocked his master (Luke Skywalker) for being a virgin (this was before Luke got married in the Extended Universe novels).  Despite being a colossal fuck-up, he somehow became a Jedi Master himself in the end (and also a collector and connoisseur of fine art, for some reason).  Kan also became a Jedi master, and his ultimate claim to fame was gleefully murdering Chris Bahn when in the final battle Bahn failed a Dark Side roll by ONE POINT and turned.  Bahn didn't even get a chance to actually do anything evil - Kan jumped on him and slaughtered his ass without missing a beat.

Bahn: "Seriously, it's just one Dark Side Point.  I can roll to remove it at the end of the adven-"
Kan: "FUCKYOUGOTOHELLANDDIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!"

In retrospect, Bahn was probably the most interesting character. During character creation Bahn joked that he would destroy 12 Star Destroyers in his career.  The joke eventually grew into a challenge, and over the course of the campaign he took part in destroying exactly 11 of the Imperial behemoths - but then Kan Saga killed him before he took out the 12th one.  He became a Jedi during his adventures as well, but never reached the heights of his illustrious allies as he diversified his skills; not only was he an ace pilot and military commander, he also owned a galaxy-wide shipping corporation and got married and had kids.

Maybe that's why Kan killed him - he was jealous.

There were other memorable characters.  The bounty hunter who was there for pretty much every game but made such epically-poor character advancement choices that his character was totally useless and had to sit on the wayside whenever the other players did cool stuff.  The other X-wing pilot who nicknamed his droid "Cumbucket" (think about it - he would often spend long journeys alone in a spaceship).  The actual wookiee who was put on trial by his people for using his climbing claws against a living being, and then read the entire lyrics to Gowan's "A Criminal Mind" as his defense.  Of course, no one else spoke wookiee, so all they heard was "RROOOWWWWRRR!  RAAAWWWRRRR, ROOOORRROOWWW!!"

Damn that was a fun game.  Anyone up for a session or two of Star Wars?

What was your favourite games/campaigns?

4/11/2014


Sly Flourish's Twitter stream is always sharing great tips and pointers for improving your D&D game. One that hit me in particular a few weeks ago was the following:
This was struck even further home a few days later when Rule of the Dice's own John Williams invited me to join his home game (or maybe I invited myself, I don't remember), and he sent out a nice, concise background primer for new players to his campaign. This immediately made me realize that I'm an idiot.

Why don't I do this? I've been GMing for years, you think I would have picked up this really simple trick by now. Players will get into the game way quicker if they know what's going on. Games based on popular pre-existing properties are easy (ROBOTECH, Star Wars, etc) because the players already have a pretty good idea what to expect. Now that I think about it, the game I felt was my most successful was good in large part because I provided the players with key background points to hook them in before we started.

So long story short, here's the 5 Things You Should Know about my current D&D/Labyrinth Lord campaign. Yeah, we've been playing for months so this is not really helpful for my players at the moment, but it's helpful to me to remind me what we're doing, and it may be useful for any new players that join in (we just added a guy last week). And hey, it might be interesting for you guys, if you're wondering what I'm up to.

1. It's PBEM 

 Most of my games these days are run Play-By-E-Mail. It's the reality of working full time and having a family (and taking classes on the side, and not having any friends close by, etc...). PBEM has it's own variety of merits and flaws, but here's the most important points to remember:

  • It takes time. Because we go back and forth between emails, sometimes you're waiting for other players to reply. A few rounds of combat could take days (though I've found tricks to streamline this over the years). 
  • If you don't respond within 2-3 days, the story goes on without you. This is not to be mean, it's just a necessity to keep the game going at a reasonable pace, especially with 5-6 guys in the group. As long as at least half the party replies within the allocated time, the story moves ahead based on their actions and the decisions. The other characters don't die or disappear, they just play slightly less of a role in the story until their players get back on board. 
  • You get XP for writing and developing your character. In fact MOST of the XP comes from role-playing and moving the story along. I won't penalize you if you're not a big writer; as long as you say your character is doing something, you'll get along fine. 

2. It's a Swash-Buckling Adventure on the High Seas 

I make no qualms about admitting this game is heavily stolen from inspired by KOEI's Unchartered Waters: New Horizons game for the Super Nintendo. The player characters' party own a ship and travel the world, visiting exotic ports, discovering lost treasures, and battling pirates and sea monsters. Not every adventure will take place on the deck of a ship of course (the current story in fact has taken them far away from the sea for far longer than I expected due to the slow progress you sometimes experience in PBEM), but it will always come back to the sailing theme.

We also have a three pirate stereotype minimum. Please choose from the following list or roll randomly: Peg-leg, hook hand, cutlass, pet parrot, beard, eye patch, gold earrings, Jolly Roger hat, penchant for rum, penchant for buggery.

3. There's a Major War Going On 

...but you don't necessarily have anything to do with it. Two of the more influential kingdoms in the world (Stalomark and Tirglas) have erupted into a violent war after years of tension and minor conflict. While all the characters in the main group come from these lands or their neighbours, they are not directly involved in the fighting... at least not yet. Because the crew are sailing around doing their trading and exploring thing, it is inevitable that their travels will eventually cross them into the war-zone, but it will be completely up to the PCs how they play this. Will they choose sides? Will they fight, or try to profit off the war in some way? They have this choice, because...

4. The Players Will Dictate the Direction of the Story 

Usually in my campaigns I set up a big bad or evil that must be overcome, and "gently" steer the players toward it. This time, I've tried to encourage them to set their own goal and motivation. Do they want to seek out and fight against evil? Do they want to focus on trading and mercantile endeavours to make their forture? Do they want to achieve fame and fortune by finding lost civilizations and treasures? I've given a few of the characters particular bits of information to motivate them based on their back stories, their organizations, etc, but it's up to them how they use them and how they can work with (or manipulate) their companions toward their goals. There's several antagonists that have been introduced to oppose them, though I haven't necessarily said they're "evil."  They simply have different goals that are in opposition to the players. This is becoming important, because...

5. The Player Characters May Not Be the Good Guys 

I didn't even realize this at first; one of the players had to point this out to me. Because I didn't set them up with a specific villain, and because I've let them choose the direction of their game, the players have become very mercenary.  Usually there's at least a few of the players who strive to do the right thing, but not in this group.  There's no righteous paladin driving them to do the will of the gods.  Their captain is a one-eyed homicidal elf who tortures captured enemies for the hell of it. The cleric refuses to heal his own party members if they get hurt doing something he considers stupid. Even those who are not psychopaths don't go out of their way to help anyone but their own crew,: they do what they have to do to survive.  They don't fight fair, they gang up on enemies and stab them in the back.  Just this week they were faced with an opponent willing to detonate a bomb in a crowd of innocent people.  Unable to reach the bomber in any other way, the PCs literally hacked their way through the bystanders to reach him in time.  It wasn't a case of "sacrificing a few to save the many."  They were entirely just trying to save themselves.

Seriously.  If my players were the crew of the Enterprise, this movie would have been called "Fuck that pointy-eared bastard, let him rot."

Hmmm... I just realized that I had actually intended to come up with 5 "background" or "story" points for my campaign, and it ended up being far more about the meta-game.  Still important points to consider, but I may have to revisit this with more story-based ideas at a later date (first I have to finish part two of Tuesday's post).

Still, do you get what I'm going for here?  Would you want to play this game? (For those already involved, God I hope so...)

4/08/2014

Lately I've been following the fabulous Power Score blog (thecampaign20xx.blogspot.ca) where Sean has been sharing oodles and oodles of great old role-playing tales.  It's gotten me to reminiscing about some of the best games and campaigns I've been involved in.  Since I know that many of the guys who took part in these games are floating around and reading this blog, I thought it would be fun to share and take a stroll down memory lane.  

If you were not actually involved in these games you may not be so interested unless you're the kind of person who likes to read about other people doing and saying dumb things.  Personally I find it fascinating.  Not only are the stories funny, but I learn about how other people play these wacky games we love which shows me things I should or should not do in my own games.  

Let the following be a cautionary tale for everyone!  

(Note that as I started writing this I realized it was going to be quite a bit longer than I expected, so Part 2 will follow in a few days).

6. Zompocalypse!*

System: Dead Reign by Palladium

Date: 2009

*Not the actual name.  That’s just what one of the players called it so it’s how I remember it.

This is probably the campaign I'm most proud of as a GM.  It wasn't particularly long, just a few months of real time and maybe a half-dozen sessions, but the big success was how well I managed to immerse the players in the game.

Set in the near future after a zombie apocalypse, I started setting the scene even before the game began.  For two weeks before our first session, I sent the players fake news reports detailing a new mystery illness that was sweeping across the world.  The reports grew more and more dire until the outbreak was in full swing and the stories began to detail the fall of civilization.

In the actual sessions I made frequent use of props and conventions I rarely use in games.  In one adventure where the party searched through an old abandoned mansion, they kept finding scraps of paper from a damaged journal.  I actually handed the players each piece as their characters found it, each one strategically torn and weathered and stained with fake blood.  As they collected the pages they were able to piece together what happened to the denizens of house and how to unlock its secrets.

In another session they found some computer files detailing information about the zombies collected by scientists early in the outbreak.  I gave them an actual CD and they had to dig through the files to get the pertinent info they needed to combat the monsters.  One of the players poured over it obsessively, trying to unlock the fake files I had loaded on the disk because she was certain there was something else important there even after I told her there wasn't.

Then there was the scene where the group had to convince a senile old woman to help them (she was leader of another group of survivors, I recall).  One of the players' characters tried to win her over by appealing to her history as an actress and recited a scene from Romeo & Juliet with her.  But I didn't just let him roll his "Performance" roll, oh no, we got down the Complete Works of Shakespeare and recited it right there and then.  Of course, we were in a group of theatre nerds and the player was the ONE person who WASN'T an actor (not to mention I was playing an 80-year old woman playing a young girl), so it wasn't exactly Olivier, but we all got a huge kick out of it.

Zombie-upon-Avon.
Anyway, we had a ton of fun with that game, and I have plenty of more stories (including the infamous moment where one of the players stripped the bad guy naked and forced him to help her before murdering him in cold blood) that I'll save for another day. The best part is that I brought it to a satisfying conclusion with both hope and pathos (one of the characters sacrificed himself to save the others), something that rarely happens in my games.  It was without a doubt the best arc from start to finish I've ever run.

5. Love in a Cockpit: The Moon Brothers Saga**

System: ROBOTECH by Palladium

Date: c. 1996

**Again, not the real name.  I’m terrible at naming campaigns.

I've written about this game before, but I had to mention it again because it still stands out as an impressive feat of storytelling.  We had 15-16 year old guys running characters way more developed and interesting than any RPG character I've seen since.  The three Moon brothers are some of the most memorable PCs I've had the pleasure of running into in any game in any system.  The eldest brother that became a combat medic and refused to fight anymore to protest the war.  The middle brother that developed PTSD from seeing so many of his friends (including his fiancĂ©) die and ultimately became an alcoholic that flew more and more dangerous missions trying to off himself.  The youngest brother that was a womanizing screw-up that rebelled against authority but ultimately became a father figure to his asshole commanding officer's little boy.  This was brilliant stuff, and it was made up on the fly by antisocial teenagers. Incredible.

The only sign the characters were run by immature little twats were their names: Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo.  And no, they weren't named after the artists.

Well, and then there was the fact that the youngest brother kept a very detailed “little black book” of all the girls he had hooked up, including his own ranking system of their attractiveness (which is easy to do since RPG characters already have a numerical attribute assigned to their physical beauty).  

14. 14. 16.

And then there was the constant stream of jokes they made at their commanding officer’s expense.  That one was my fault – I named him Commander Assman (“It’s pronounced ‘Oz-man!’”) based on an old David Letterman joke, but the comedy ended up being straight out of Police Academy (which is either is awesome or terrible, depending on your point of view).  There was also another non-Moon brother player who kept designing and mounting larger and larger prototype guns onto his mecha to the point where the mech could no longer move but if an enemy starship happened to pass in front of him (and he didn’t miss) it could blow anything out of the sky.

So yeah, maybe we were a bit childish at times.  But it was still a damn good time.

Unfortunately this campaign never got a proper conclusion.  We were re-creating the Macross series and got as far as the main Zentraedi assault on the Earth, but then we took a break to play something else and never got back to it.  I actually still remember some of the plans I had to continue the campaign, and man, it was going to be a good one.

Oh, and I can't mention a Palladium game without a dig at Kevin Siembieda, so fuck Kevin Siembieda. (Dead Reign, above is also technically a Siembieda game but I modified it socompletely it’s barely recognizable as such anymore).

4. Swords of Power

System: AD&D 2nd Edition

Date: c. 1996-97


This was my most ambitious campaign, back when I was in high school and thought a D&D campaign was the most important thing in the world.  I cannot tell you how many hours and days were spent creating the backstory and history and maps for this world, as well as the NPCs and religious institutions and deities.  This campaign featured more priests and clerics than any other game I've ever been a part of (probably because I spent so much time on the gods and religions, so there were a lot of interesting options to play).  It also featured some of the largest gaming groups I've ever run - as many as 12 people at one time - which I don't recommend because it was god awful boring.  Just a terrible slog that took forever to get through anything. 

But those nights when we had 5-6 players, oh, those were the best games.  So many memorable characters came out of those games.  William Half-Squirrel, the half-native ranger who loved fishing ("fishing" was his code word for slaughtering the people who killed his mother in the first adventure).  Halen, the Gypsy Prince Elf Cleric/Thief, who had to introduce himself to every... single... NPC... he met by loudly announcing "Greetings!  I am Halen! Prince of the Gypsies!" Literally.  I mean this happened like 6 times every session.  Shaftobo, the "urban" elf wizard so obsessed with killing goblins that he developed a new magic spell with the sole purpose being to fight goblins, and the material component was goblin penises.  Orf Gorfson the Dwarf, whose player eventually introduced his various cousins and uncles including Korf Gorfson the Dwarf, Gorf Orfson the Dwarf, Gorf Gorfson the Dwarf and so on.

Did you know that when you type "dwarf" into Google Image Search, this is the first image you get?  Not a picture of a little person ("midget") in sight. Hey Google, not all dwarves are imaginary, you know.  Kids growing up today are going to think that Peter Dinklage is CGI.

The campaign eventually got bloated and I became too ambitious.  After defeating the Big Bad, the main party was split as some characters died and others were lost.  I decided to try and run a bunch of short adventures featuring some of the original characters along with some new PCs. I wanted the players to swap different characters and try to tell different stories.  It was one of those cases where I thought it was a great idea but no one else had any interest at all, and the campaign fizzled and died because of it.  We never did get a proper ending to that otherwise momentous campaign (we sort of got one much later, which you will see in part two).

Did I mention that I shamelessly stole most the theme/premise and background for this campaign from Fred Saberhagen's Swords of Power series?  Yeah, that's a whole other blog post for another day.


Anyway, that's Part 1.  I'll be back in a few days with Part 2.  In the meantime, please feel free to share some of your favourite games and campaign stories.  Lately I've been on a kick for reading about other people having fun.



4/01/2014


I think I implied it before, but I grew up in a small town of less than 10,000 people in a fairly rural corner of Newfoundland. I say "fairly rural" because while the town was a backwater hick-ville by many standards, in terms of Newfie community size it was a bustling metropolis.

Needless to say, we didn't have an FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store). We didn't even have a bookstore. The closest dedicated gaming/comic store was on the opposite side of the island - I kid you not - almost 800km away. If I had access to Amazon.com and such back in the day I would have been a happy camper, but alas in the early nineties the Internet was nay but a mythological legend in my neck of the woods.

Fun aside: When we first got the internet in my hometown, only teachers had access. I think the school board had a dedicated server or something that they could dial into. Only a limited few could dial in at a time, and they only got a few hours EACH a month. Fortunately my buddy had two parents who were teachers, so he had minutes to burn. Which of course we used for porn that took way too long to download.

There was a shop called Cards, Coins and Collectibles in a another town only an hour away that became the closest thing we had to an FLGS. Of course, this was a solid hour on a narrow highway infested with 1000-pound mobile speed bumps called moose and completely at the mercy of freak blizzards 9 months out of the year. You had to go on an adventure to get books to go on an adventure.

Roll Save vs. Rocks.
Even then it wasn't a great store. It specialized in coins and sports cards (the name was not ironic), though they did keep a (very) small collection of games and comics on one shelf which was more comics than games (this was during the comics boom of the early 90s). Selection was minimal (D&D and Vampire was it, I think, until Rifts got popular).  For a short time the store had an agreement with a video store (look it up, kids) in my town where you could place orders through them and they would get the stuff from CCC. Except CCC had to special order the books, too, so it took FOREVER to get anything this way. I got my first ROBOTECH book this, and I vividly remember going down to the video store every day on my bike to bug the guy and ask if it was in. Every day I got up, so hopeful and excited that it would be there today, and rushed down as soon as they opened only to have my spirits dashed when he said it wasn't in yet. I'm probably the reason they stopped doing the mail order thing. It was probably too hard on the guy to crush a kid like that every day.

Amazingly, the store is still there, though it seems to be under different management. Also amazingly (but not surprisingly) it doesn't have a website, but it does appear to do pretty good eBay business.

The store has moved several times, but it was in this strip mall when I started going there.  It's hard to see but the circle highlights the sign for the Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland - SPAWN - that has had an office in the same building as long as I can remember. I always got a kick that the store where I went to buy my Spawn comics (look it up, kids) had an office called SPAWN right next door.
I wonder if there are kids back home who still rely on them as their primary source of gaming materials. I would assume most of them simply order or even download what they need online, which is great advantage I never would have dreamed of having 20 years ago. Still, I feel a little sad that they won't know that thrill of finally getting the call that your book is in after weeks of anticipation and constant trips down to the video store. So much about this paragraph makes me feel old.

But at least  those kids won't have to risk running into a moose at 100km/h on a remote stretch of highway just to get the new Monstrous Manual.

T'iam (Moose)


Climate/Terrain  Temperate to subarctic
Frequency Uncommon (Common on Highways)
Organization Solitary
Activity Cycle Day
Diet Herbivore
Intelligence Animal (1)
Treasure Nil
Alignment Neutral
No. Appearing 1-2
Armor Class 7
Movement 21
Hit Dice 5
THAC0 15
No. of Attacks 2
Damage/Attack 1-8 / 1-8
Special Attacks Charge
Special Defenses Speed bump
Magic Resistance Nil
Size L (6' to 7' at shoulder)
Morale Unreliable (4)
XP Value 175

The t'iam or moose is the largest species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic ("twig-like") configuration. Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. The most common moose predators are wolves, bears, and humans. Unlike most other deer species, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move surprisingly quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.

Combat: Moose defend themselves with their antlers, usually attacking if approached too closely (6' or less). Against man-sized or larger targets they make 2 antler attacks for 1-8 damage each; against smaller targets they get two trample attacks for the same damage.  If charging from a distance of at least 40', a moose does 3-18 hp of impaling damage.

If braced to receive a charge, moose inflict 6-60 damage on the attacker if the charge hits.  The moose will still suffer damage normally, however.

Habitat/Society:  Moose typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Moose are mostly diurnal. They are generally solitary with the strongest bonds between mother and calf. Although moose rarely gather in groups, there may be several in close proximity during the mating season. Mating occurs in September and October. The males are polygamous and will seek several females to breed with. During this time both sexes will call to each other. Males produce heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away, while females produce wail-like sounds.Males will fight for access to females. They either assess which is larger, with the smaller bull retreating, or they may engage in battles, usually only involving the antlers.

Female moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is plentiful, in May or June. Newborn moose have fur with a reddish hue in contrast to the brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born. The life span of an average moose is about 15–25 years.

Ecology: The moose is a herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit.  Much of a moose's energy is derived from terrestrial vegetation, mainly consisting of forbs and other non-grasses, and fresh shoots from trees such as willow and birch, but as much as half of their diet usually consists of aquatic plant life like lilies and pondweed. Moose have been known to dive underwater to reach plants on lake bottoms, and the complex snout may assist the moose in this type of feeding. Moose are the only deer that are capable of feeding underwater. In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways, to lick salt that is used as a snow and ice melter. A typical moose, weighing 800lbs or more, can eat up to 100lbs of food per day.

Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food. A moose's upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and the lip is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all.

With all due respect to Wikipedia.

3/28/2014

World Wide Wrestling
by Nathan D. Paoletta - ndpdesign.com
I love professional wrestling (which you probably know).  I love role playing games (which I hope you know, since I'm writing this on an RPG blog).  Fun fact you may not know: I hate writing reviews.  When someone puts professional wrestling and role-playing together though, I do have to talk about it somehow.

To be fair, this isn't a true review: the game is currently in "Beta Test," so there will undoubtedly be some changes between now and its final publication.  The rules are available right here, so check it out.  You can also support Nathan's endeavours at Patreon.  But since it's still a work in progress I don't think it's fair to be too critical - not that I can find much wrong with it anyway.  Personally I think this is an awesome game.

World Wide Wrestling is a fairly straight-forward yet surprisingly in-depth simulation of the wacky world of professional wrestling.  It is based on the Apocalypse World engine, which I admit I'm not really familiar with but works very well for a quick and simple mechanic to resolve actions.

At its heart this is actually more of a story-telling game than a competitive one. The premise is that the wrestling in WWW is, like pro-wrestling in real life, predetermined and "choreographed" by the participants.  You work WITH your opponent, not against him, to put off an entertaining match, just like in "real" wrestling.  The game master, called "Creative" here (a term that comes from the "Creative Department" of World Wrestling Entertainment, which you might also call the "booker" or the promoter for the company) sets up the interview segments and the matches, and decides who will win, but the players/wrestlers have to decide exactly what happens during those interviews and matches.  The goal is not to win the match, but to entertain the crowd and impress Creative to ultimately gain popularity with the crowd and advance your character's career.  This is great concept because most games portray professional wrestling as legitimate combat, but I want to experience it the way most Internet-savvy fans do these days: entertained not just by the action in the ring but by the goings-on backstage, both in-character and out.

Your wrestler has 4 basic stats: Look (his appearance and gimmick - very crucial to a wrestler), Work (his ability to make a match look good), Power (his strength and toughness) and Real (ability to work real-world story and emotion into the action).  Each one is equally important in its own way - you can gain fans and become famous in more ways than one.  The immortal Hulk Hogan would have a great Look score and pretty good Power, but an absolutely crappy Work stat, whereas someone like Bret Hart would have a very high Work score, but his Look and Power are middling.

Sadly, today all of both men's stats have gone to shit.  Oh, how our heroes have fallen.

Another important stat is Momentum, a measure of your wrestler's energy over the course of the session (or Episode).  You use Momentum to increase your die rolls to pull off better moves, or to trigger certain special moves taking place. You gain more Momentum by performing certain other moves and having a high Audience score.  Obviously it's good to have a lot of Momentum because it will improve your actions throughout the show, and allow you to have longer and more entertaining matches.

During a match, you could decide you want to mess with your opponent by showboating and flexing your muscles.  This is a perfectly valid move that you can use to gain Heat with your opponent.  (Heat is a measurement of your relationship with your opponent, that can ultimately affect how much the audience gets into your match - the more they think you hate each other, the more they will enjoy the bout.) You would make a "Look" roll, and based on the result you would gain or lose heat.  Or perhaps you try to pull of a complicated and impressive maneuver or series of holds to wow the crowd - you would use a "Work" move with success again gaining the audience's approval. I love how there are different ways to "win" - it's not just about rolling initiative and attack rolls.  You can gain just as much advantage from doing interviews and how you interact with your bosses backstage.

You're ultimately trying to entertain not only the imaginary audience but the other players as well.  Since you're not competing against each other (at least not directly, though everyone is fighting to be the top dog in the company), a lot of the fun comes from watching what kind of creative characters, matches and interviews the other players come up with, much like watching real wrestling (wins and losses don't matter, it's how you get there!).

Obligatory Kenny Omega picture.

A particular mechanic that I love is that whenever a match is taking place, a player who is not involved is given "the microphone" (the rules suggesting using a prop, maybe even a real mic) to act as the announcer and call the play-by-play action.  The microphone itself has Momentum that the announcer can spend to "put over" the participants in the match and improve the action.  I think this is great because not only does it give someone who is not immediately involved something to do, but it adds an extra layer of strategy and gameplay as well as reinforces how important the commentator is to the wrestling match.

Finally, I'm not sure if or how much of this will be included in the final product, but the art-in-progress is fantastic as well. Gregor Hutton provided these cool, simple black & white sketches of wrestlers performing moves that are used throughout the manual that remind me of illustrations from old-school RPGs.  Ramon Villalobos provided beautiful drawings for the character templates which have a much more modern, comic-book type of feel.  Top notch stuff from both guys.

I'm not sure how much this game will appeal to non-wrestling fans, but for the niche market of wrestling-fans/gamers have got to check this out.  There have been a few other wrestling RPGs over the years, but none this slick that so captured the feel of a modern wrestling performance.  Even if you're a casual or a lapsed wrestling fan, give this game a try.  The test rules are still free to download, and if you like them then send a few bucks Nathan's way to keep this project going (or follow him on Google +Nathan Paoletta or Twitter @ndpaoletta.  Definitely pick it up when the final version drops - I know I will.

3/25/2014

This is not a list of people that probably play D&D and I think would run a good game (Dan Harmon, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, The Wachowski Bro- er, Siblings, Chris Hardwick, John Williams).  Nor is this a list of famous people I want to meet under the pretense of playing Dungeons & Dragons just so I can hang out with them (that list would have guys like Hugh Laurie, George Lucas, Trent Reznor, Hayao Miyazaki and Rebel Wilson - which, to be fair, might also be an awesome game).

No, these are not necessarily people I would like to hang out with in normal day-to-day activity or even necessarily want to meet.  These are people I think would honestly be fascinating and fun to play D&D with, because they bring a strange collection of skills, personalities and backgrounds together that would (I hope) coalesce into a melting pot of awesomeness.  Either that, or everyone would be at each other's throats in under fifteen minutes.  Which could also be fun.

(FYI - I went back and forth for a long time about whether I should title this post "6 People With Whom I Want to Play D&D." Still haven't figured that one out.)

#6 - Pope Francis

Who?

Jorge Mario Bergolio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936, the eldest son of an Italian accountant. He loves soccer (his favourite team being the San Lorenzo de Almagro football club), tango dancing and traditional South American music.  Also, he’s the head of the Catholic Church and the Supreme Sovereign of the Vatican City (known for their ridiculously-dressed but ass-kickingly well-trained Swiss Guards).

Bitchin'! I just rolled an 18/00 for Strength!

Why do I want him at my table?

My favourite clerics are the ones who yell awesome, silly, over-the-top dogma while they smite their foes.  “BY THE NAME OF THOR!” or “MEET THEE THY MAKER IN HELL!” or “YOUR RELIGION IS A MOCKERY FOUNDED ON THE RAMBLINGS OF DRUNKEN HIPPIES AND YE SHALL BE JUDGED NOT ONLY FOR THINE SINS BUT FOR THOSE OF YOUR FATHERS AND ALL YOUR HEMP-SMELLING SHAMAN WITCH DOCTORS!” and shit like that.  Usually it’s just goofy stuff made up by guys based on gibberish Friar Tuck said in movies or that they think remember from church when they were a kid.  Now imagine a guy running a cleric who knew every scrap of history, teaching and dogma (both public and private) from the most powerful religious organization in the history of mankind.  Can you imagine the kind of crazy holy mumbo-jumbo he would come up with about how, when or why to fight and/or kill your enemies?  Pope Francis would play the most fascinating and frustrating cleric you can imagine. He would probably want to actually recite all of his cleric’s morning, noon and night prayers, as well as the words to his magic spells (in Latin, of course).   And can you imagine trying to get anything done with him in the party? His stances on the hot-button topics of abortion, homosexuality and so on are well publicized, but where does he stand on goblin genocide?  I can’t wait for the inevitable player arguments over whether or not to kill the prisoners.

Also, I want to see him roll 11 critical hits in a row. You just know Jesus will have his back.

5. Kenny Omega

Who?

Canadian professional wrestler who works primarily for the Dramatic Dream Team promotion out of Japan. A man who walked away from a potential contract with World Wrestling Entertainment and a shot at fame and fortune to wrestle midgets, invisible men, offensive homosexual stereotypes and little girls in a third-rate Japanese wrestling company.  And it was absolutely the right choice.

Redneck American audiences would not have appreciated this guy.

Why do I want him at my table?

Omega is my favourite wrestler, not because he does a sweet tope-con-hilo and a picture-perfect standing Shooting Star press (however he does both beautifully), but because he knows wrestling is ridiculous and he embraces it wholeheartedly.  He's very athletically gifted and highly charismatic, but instead of trying to be a cool, serious wrestler like 99% of guys in the ring, he just goes out there to make a fool of himself.  He wrestles in brutal hardcore matches with tables and dives off of balconies not because he's a sadomasochistic psychopath (like most Japanese wrestlers), but because it's hilarious.  He doesn't pretend anything is real and openly acknowledges to the audience that he's a performaner putting on a show, and does it all with a wink and a smile.

He uses moves from the Street Fighter video games and has had extended, competitive matches with a blow-up sex doll:



Can you imagine the kind of crazy character he would run in D&D?  He would find a way to kill his PC during the character creation process.  He would swear a blood feud against his 10-foot pole for failing to detect a pit trap, and then spend the entire campaign fighting it in epic duels.  I can't even begin to guess what kind of crap he would pull off, and I don't want to.  I would rather be surprised.

4. Michael Winslow

Who?

Comedian and Sound Effects Savant.  If you were a child of the 80s, you know him as Larvell Jones from the Police Academy movies.

You knew shit was getting real when he put the bandana on.

Why do I want him at my table?

Oh, come on.  Who wouldn't want to spend an evening with this guy:



Sure, it would get old after about 6 minutes, but those first six minutes would be the most glorious tenth of an hour ever spent gaming.  Every aspect out of the game would come alive in a blistering soundscape - every soft footfall through the forest, every drop of murky water in the deep dungeons, every sword crashing against steel and every wounded goblin's painful death wail.  You think your mom tells you and your smelly friends to keep it down now?  Wait'll she gets a load of this guy...

3. Christopher Lee

Who?

Count Dracula.  Saruman the White. Sith Lord Tyranus.  Intelligence officer for the British Air Force during World War II. Married a Danish supermodel. Bond villain. Commander and Knight in the Order of the British Empire. Death Metal musician. Willy Wonka's dad.
This is the least cool picture of him I could find.  And it's still better than any picture that will ever be taken of me.

Why do I want him at my table?

Besides the fact that's he's one of the coolest people alive, you have to believe that of everyone on this list, Sir Chris would be most up to a game. A rabid fan of Tolkien and Scandinavian Death Metal, I wouldn't be surprised if he already has a regular Sunday night game.  Probably not though.  He would have cooler things to do, like wrestling polar bears or something.  

Still, he's mostly retired now, so he would have plenty of time to prepare for the session, and you know he would show up with reams of backstory for his character, a custom-made solid-platinum mini painted by some famous European artist, and probably dressed in his wizard costume from LotR to help him get into character (you just know he took that shit home with him after the shoot).  And I don't care in the slightest if he wanted to recite his character's long and convoluted family tree before we sat down to play so that everyone could really understand the depth and gravitas of his gnome illusionist.  I would listen to Christopher Lee recite the goddamn phone book for three hours and love every minute of it.

2. Kevin Siembieda

Who?

Siembieda is an American author, designer, illustrator and publisher of role-playing games (most notably for Palladium Books since 1981).  His notable works include Palladium Fantasy, Heroes Unlimited, The Mechanoid Invasion, ROBOTECH, Rifts and Dead Reign.  He is probably one of the most famous and prolific RPG still alive and working today.

Just reprint pages 45-122 from the last book.  Do I look like I fuckin' care?

Why do I want him at my table?

Because I don’t believe he’s played a goddamn role-playing game in 30 years and want to prove he’s an utter crackpot.

1. Cormac McCarthy

Who?

American novelist, playwright and screenwriter.  Multiple New York Times Bestseller and award winner.  His books have also been turned into Academy-Award-winning films, and despite being 80 years old he can still make women pregnant just by looking at them.

Sorry ladies, the 'Mac don't pay child support.

Why do I want him at my table?

I don't just want him at my table, I want him to DM.  The man can write description and poetry that will make you weep.  Literally.  I've only read two of his books (Blood Meridian and The Road) because I don't think my brain could handle any more. Both of them were like a Crane kick to the nuts. His writing is dark, brutal, and remorseless, yet beautiful at the same time. He's so over-the-top with his description that it goes waaaay past the fine line between poetry and parody, then turns around, rides back and fucks the line to death before carving the brains out of its head and then using the skull as a bedpan. Reading Blood Meridian was like reading Poet Laureate murder-porn artistes trying to top each other again and again with progressively more horrendous atrocities. But I couldn't put it down. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hear him describe the haunting, filthy and disgusting underbelly of a vile goblin warrens, or to witness first hand the majestic, terrifying and mind-melting horror of meeting a dragon face-to-face.

You can keep Peter Jackson's The Hobbit.  I would be content listen to Cormac McCarthy rewrite the flavour text to Keep on the Borderlands.

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” 
-Cormac McCarthy, The Road


That's my top 6.  How about you?  Who would YOU like to game with?


3/23/2014

http://www.fantasticmaps.com/
Map from Fantastic Maps, where the maps are fantastic
Street names are a great way to add a bit of depth to any city setting, but aren't really worth detailing in full - unless you're boring, or obsessive, or both. I happen to be lazy, and find that coming up with names on the spot, is kind of annoying. I've been running a city based campaign for a while now, and after using the name Smith Street for the 100th time, I decided to come up with this handy little random table.

Now I just detail the main streets, and consult the table for the names of any side streets I might need. So far it's worked pretty good, and I figured maybe some other people might get some use out of it.

Here is a link to the pdf you can download.

3/18/2014

Some role-playing games have a lot of rules.  Like, A LOT of rules, and hundreds of source books to add even more rules, and then errata to fix it when the new rules mess up the original rules.  On the other hand some role-playing games are very rules-light, where the only real instruction from the writers and designers is “make it up,” to which I respond: Then why the f*ck am I paying you for this game? Making shit up is your job.

No matter what volume of rules is included within those mysterious, ancient covers, there are a few that should be included in every gaming book ever produced.  And no, it isn’t “HAVE FUN.”

I will freely admit that this post is very much stolen inspired by 5 Crucial Rules of Every Game (Not Found in the Rulebook) by Chris Bucholz at Cracked.com, but I’m taking this in a completely different direction.  The illustrious Mr Bucholz primarily focused on sports (you know, those athleticy-kinda things where they hit balls with sticks and what-not) and classic card and board games, like poker and Monopoly.  He didn't dare touch RPGs, which I will now dive into with unrestrained abandon.

5. Do-Overs

We’ve all been there.  We fought our way through the deepest levels of some mysterious dungeon, through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, fighting our way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that was stolen by a macho rock star.  We know the Big Bad and all the rewards and the climax of the campaign are just beyond that final door, with weeks or months of game time all building toward this exact moment… and then one of the characters fails a saving throw and gets killed by a mold.

First of all, that’s a pretty mean GM that would put a trap like that right there (10 points to you, sir!).  You can rationalize it because it is supposed to be dangerous and difficult to reach that point, except… what do you do now?  You’re suddenly short a character heading into the big encounter the entire campaign has been building towards.  That character was an integral part of the close-knit team that got this far.  That character may have powers or abilities critical to facing the final battle.  Worse, the player who just got shafted now has to sit out the Final Dance, unless they roll-up a new character and throw them into the mix, which is just a terrible idea on so many levels.

Hello, my good fellow. My name is Gam Samgee.  I know your last companion was just killed by that ginormous spider, but I will help you finish your quest carrying that gold ring-thingie up this hill!

So do you do-over?  Does the GM secretly fudge some rolls behind the screen?  Does the game come to a screeching halt?  There could be quite a bit of argument over this situation, so everything would be a hell of a lot easier if Mike Mearls or Kevin Siembieda was so kind to write into the book: “You know what? In this situation, just fuck the rules.  Do it again.”

4. Gambling

In a game with a huge element of chance and dice flying all over the table, there is a terribly disappointing lack of gambling in the average RPG.  I don’t mean “bidding” mechanics, where you wager in-game resources to gain some advantage.  I mean people saying “I bet you five bucks you can’t make this saving throw.”  Imagine how much better D&D would be if your team mates were making wagers on whether or not you make a critical hit?  The life or death of your imaginary character is nothing compared to whether you lose or make an extra $20.  It raises the stakes, and thus the tension and suspense, a hundred fold. Hell, if spectators could bet on the outcome of encounters and adventures (“The party just ran afoul of a pack of owlbears – I bet $10 on the owlbears!”), role-playing games could become a nationally-televised sport. 

If darts, snooker and NASCAR are “sports,” then go to hell, D&D is a sport, too.

If D&D Next doesn't include odds and payout tables for wagering on the amount of damage your magic missile spell inflicts, I’m going to be seriously pissed.

3. Arguing the Rules

Arguments in role-playing games are about as common as Cheetos stains on character sheets and minis with bases sticky from spilled Mountain Dew.  That is to say, they are ever-present.  If you claim that you have ever played a single session of any game where there wasn't a least a minor disagreement or argument over the rules or a GM’s call then you, Sir, are a liar.  RPG instruction manuals should read “Requires dice, pencils, friends and an argumentative personality to play.” 

Every game manual that I've ever read says that in the event of an argument, the game master’s decision will stand, and “further discussion will be made after the game.”  The problem with this half-assed rule is that 1) Ninety-nine percent of the time, the argument is WITH the game master, so telling them they’re always right really doesn't help anything, and 2) It doesn't tell you how to actually resolve the argument.  Having your character die because of a weird interaction of rules is not going to be helped by arguing about it after the game is over.  That shit needs to be dealt with, and you’re going to want satisfaction.

I propose putting rules for arguing about rules right into the game.  There should be rounds and initiative checks to determine which player or DM makes the first argument.  The other players should score each side based on their logic, rules knowledge and vindictiveness.  In the case where all else fails, each side should roll a d20, modified by various factors (owning the house you’re playing in would give you a huge bonus, as would going on snack runs) to determine the ultimate victor.

We ain't savages, people.  There are better ways to solve our differences.

2. Timeouts and Time-Ins

If you’re playing street hockey when an SUV rumbles down the street, you yell “CAR!”, move the net out of the way, and pause play until the speeding metal death machine safely passes.

Sally didn't heed this unwritten rule, and to this day now lives with a VW logo embedded in her forehead.

But what do you do if one of your players needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of an encounter?  Do you tell them to suck it up and hope they don’t soil themselves on your davenport?  Do you make everyone wear a diaper to avoid this situation?  Do you pause the game like civilized adults and wait for them to come back?  Or do you keep playing, and the guy will just have to evacuate his bowels as quickly as possible so his character doesn't die while he’s on the toilet?

What I am saying is that there should be codified rules and etiquette to handle these situations, because everyone has different requirements and limits as to “what’s an acceptable reason to stop the game.”  I once played in a session that ran something like 18-20 hours straight.  Only the DM, myself and one other player made it the whole way through, and by the end of it I was delirious and hallucinating.  The other four players had to take at least one nap each to get them through the night.  One guy fell asleep with his face right on the table.  I think he woke up with a d20 stuck to his cheek. But the game just kept going whether you were upright or passed out on the couch. I don’t know what the DM was on but he did not take a break or a time-out for anything.

1. How Much Wrestling is Too Much Wrestling?

I don’t mean Pro-Wrestling.  You can never have too much pro-wrestling in RPGs.  I am referring of course to physically throwing down with your fellow players or game masters.

This is for those times when rule #3 (see arguing, above), just doesn't cut it.  Sometimes, you just need to smack a guy in the face for being a dick.  Sometimes you need to put him into a rear naked choke.  Dude touched your dice? That’s worth at least a side headlock.

There really needs to be clear, decisive instructions for how to handle this.  Imagine if the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook clearly stated, on page 10: “If another player fumbles a to-hit roll and his character shoots your character in the back with a crossbow, it is perfectly acceptable to punch him in the kidney. Only one (1) single, closed fist blow is permitted.  Additional strikes or attacks to other parts of the body is strictly prohibited unless said fumbled attack results in the death of your character, in which case a swift punch to the throat is also allowed.” You would never have to decide whether it was acceptable or not to punch your friend for being a git!  It was spelled out in black and white, right there in the rules.  Your buddy wouldn't be able to complain about it, either!  Imagine how civilized our gaming sessions would be. 


So what do you think of these rules?  Yay?  Nay?  Any others I missed?  Talk about them below or on Twitter (follow me @CDGallantKing), and pass the questions around to your friends with those handy little “Share” buttons below. Maybe we can start our own little rules argument in cyberspace…