1/31/2009

Awesome worlds and kick ass campaigns is a weekly post on creating... well, awesome worlds and kick ass campaigns. For my first installment I am going to talk a bit about preparing to create a campaign world. Anyone who has ever been through this process will understand the points that I'm making here, but if you've never embarked on a homebrewing adventure I hope this advice helps.

Four things to consider before you start your kick ass campaign.

1. Pick your genre well because you’re stuck with it.

This might seem obvious, but I know everyone has made the mistake of playing something they weren’t into and the campaign suffered because of it. You can avoid this one by getting together with your players and discussing what kind of game everyone wants to play.

2. Know thy game system.

Once you have your genre decided be sure that the game system fits the genre. D&D is fine for heroic fantasy but it doesn't work well in a gritty real world medieval game, without a lot of modification. I know, I have made the opposite mistake and used a “realistic” game system (Harnmaster) for a heroic campaign… and everyone died. So know thy game system.

3. Good ideas are always better than good intentions.

You might have all the best intentions, and want to create the best campaign ever but without a good idea it isn't happening. I have done this many times. I get my players together, I say we're gonna play a campaign really soon, and then I can't think of a good idea and everything falls flat.

4. Never underestimate your own laziness.

Most campaigns fail to be fully developed not because they’re bad ideas but because the GM got lazy. If you don’t think you can make it all the way down this road its probably best to get on another road, written by someone else. I have entire binders filled with half created worlds that I just got too lazy to finish. Maybe I’ll combine them one day into a super awesome world that is completely perfect… I want a sandwich… maybe I’ll re-watch Firefly tonight… I really like cookies… what was I thinking about. Anyways, you get the picture.

I am pretty sure most seasoned GM’s already know these things, but it never hurts to be reminded. I hope that new GM’s will take these ideas into consideration before they start down the long road towards building a campaign world.

(Because I back dated my last post by accident I would like to say hi to everyone on the RPG Bloggers Network again, thanks for letting me join the fold.)

1/29/2009

How I play the game

I'm very happy to have been accepted into the esteemed company at the RPG Bloggers network. I figured for my first post on the network I would talk about what I love about this hobby, and how I design and play a game. I think this is a nice way to introduce myself to the community and give everyone a little background on my experience with role playing games.

To me, world and campaign building are the meat and potatoes of role playing. I am a homebrewer through and through. I hardly use any published material, as a matter of fact the amount of RPG books that I own can fit neatly on one small shelf. On the other hand the amount of homebrewed material that I have wouldn't fit neatly into a large room. Creating worlds and campaigns is what I do best, and its what I love most about gaming.

I have used many game systems over the years, but I find myself becoming more indifferent to the system with age. I've always found that you can argue the virtues of a game system until the cows come home, but the system isn't worth shit without great adventures, cool campaigns and an awesome world to host them in. You can always change the game system you're playing, but you can't turn off the suck from a terrible campaign. For me play trumps system any day.

I like to build my gaming worlds with as little detail as possible to begin with, usually just a map and jot notes about the overall concept. I like to be able to sum up the entire world in three paragraphs (I've also found three paragraphs to be the maximum mental retention for the average player... I'm being facetious, but only slightly). This allows for evolution during play and gives plenty of freedom for my players to rock out with their characters.

For campaigns I create the meta plot first and just let the players do what they want, working out the details as we go. I have found that allowing my players ambitions in the game to be more important than my own ambitions in the game, always results in an awesome campaign. This doesn't mean that I don't spin a good yarn when we play, it just means that I let them "play" their characters the way they want, and I facilitate their experience in the game world... and sometimes punish their stupidity, which is also quite fun.

My in game play style is what I would call organized improvisation. I prep minimally and leave lots of space for development as we play. I know the world and the campaign, but I don't know where the players will end up over the course of a game session. This might terrify some gamemasters, but I love it. I'm playing the game too, and improvising keeps me on my toes and playing right there with the PC's.

That's how I play the game, what about you?

1/24/2009

Best Wizard Fight Ever

So my girlfriend has really been getting into Harry Potter recently. I am not a big fan of the books but I think my twelve year old self would love them, and J.K Rowlings is a very good writer. So over the course of her reading the books we've been watching the movies together. I did think the movies were boring until I saw Order of the Phoenix, and more precisely, until I saw the best, most kick ass wizard fight ever in order of the phoenix.

Most wizard fights suck. No one thinks Saruman spinning Gandalf around in a circle is cool, its lame, as a matter of fact most magic in movies is lame. But holy shit the wizard fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Order of the Phoenix is kick ass. It has everything that I want in a wizard battle, fireballs, fire serpents, water globes, spells flying that I can't even describe, and Voldemort is one scary ass mofo.

I want the magic in my games to look and feel like that movie scene. Even if you don't like Harry Potter, watch the end of Order of the Phoenix and let this amazing wizard duel blow your mind and inspire you for a game.

Exploring the RPG Bloglands

I was out and about the RPG blogs this week and found these treasures, after killing the monsters guarding them and taking their stuff, of course.

Killer GM or Selfish GM - This post comes from the always awesome Gnome Stew and asks the question: Are you runnig the game you wish you were playing?. Are you?

How much campaign do plan before you start? - This is a post by Johnn Four of role playing tips/Campaign Mastery on gauging your preparedness level when you start a new campaign. Its fun to think about, and insightful if you've never bothered to think about it before.

DM's Toolbox: Patrons - This post comes from John Lewis at RoleplayingPro. It is an excellent article on the use of patrons (very powerful npc's) in a campaign world.

Not the revolution I signed on for - This post comes from Jeff's Gameblog and is about the Old School Renaissance project and the controversy regarding the possiblity of a comittee being formed to judge the "real old school" from the "poser old school". This post won't be of much interest if you're not into old school gaming, but if you are its worth the read.

F.G.F#2: Conan the Barbarian 1982
- This posts comes from Tankards & Broadswords, and because it involves Conan it is awesome. The post also has cool ideas on themes for RPG's lifted from the movie.

Those are my favorites for this week, what about you?

New Campaign = Awesome

I haven't been posting much over the last while because I have been working on a campaign, which I feel is a pretty good excuse. It turns out that I am going to be running two campaigns, a solo campaign and newbies campaign. I've decided to keep the campaigns separate because I know the newbies are going to need some coaching and I don't want it to slow down play for the other player who is experienced. I plan to merge the two campaigns at some point when the newbies learn the ropes.

Now I need some advice. I haven't had a lot of experience coaching new players, most of the people I've played with over the years are experienced gamers. What do you think is the best way to get new players immersed in the game and used to the rules?

1/23/2009

Gamemastering WTF Situations

Every gamemaster has had a WTF situation while playing a game. A WTF situation happens when players do something so absurd, ridiculous or unexpected that you have to sit back and go, "WTF... really you wanna do that... really." Sometimes a WTF situation is funny, sometimes its stupid, sometimes disastrous, but it is always guaranteed to be good story afterward.


I've had several WTF situations while GMing, but one WTF moment always sticks out in my mind.

The players had all just been captured and imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit and were facing possible execution in the morning. They knew they had to escape. They were each locked in single cells, the mage was bound and gaged so spells were out of the question, it was up to the thief and the fighter to come up with ideas. Now I had prepared several possible avenues for their escape, but I never expected in any way the route they, and by they, I mean the thief would go down.

They discussed several ways to escape. It was exciting, they were brainstorming a lot of cool ideas, when suddenly the thief asks "is there a chamber pot in here?". I was somewhat taken aback by the question but thought maybe he had a new idea, so I said "yeah, its in the corner." He said "great, I'm gonna go over and have a big dump right now."

Now I'm used to having my players do weird things with their characters from time to time, but I never expected one of them to have their PC have a big dump in the middle of a tense planning session. At this point all eyes were on the thief, not literally, we're not into that kinda thing, but we were all curious to know what the hell he was thinking. I really didn't know what to say, so I waited.

"Is my character done shitting now?" He said.

Trying to play the part of the impartial gamemaster, I said "sure... I guess that counts... as an action for this round."

"Awesome, is that guard still patroling the cells down here?." He asked.

"He is, but he isn't here right now." I said

"Good", said the player "my character is gonna pick up his dump from the chamber pot and wait for the guard to return."

It was at this point that I asked my player, "So... whatcha doin'?... just curious is all."

"When the guard gets back I'm gonna chuck this shit in his face." He said, quite confidently.

I looked at him, and said "Oh... I see... why?"

With a very serious tone, that suggested a great deal of thought, he said "Because, I figure if someone threw a big shit in my face while I was doin' guard duty, I would bust in his cell and smash that fuckers head. Now you see, when he gets pissed and comes to kick my ass, I can take him down, get the keys, and we're all out of here."

"you do know you're a thief right, and that he's a fully armed and armoured warrior." I said.

"Yeah but if the fighter did it he probably wouldn't go into his cell and kick his ass, he's too strong looking. But me, I look like a weak ass girl."He said.

"If this happens that way, you may very well get killed." I said.

"that's a risk I'm willing to take." He said.

Now faced with some strange rules improvising, like what skill does shit hurling fall under, I tried to figure out what might happen. I could see that there was some logic to what the thief was doing, so I figured I would give him a 25% chance to accurately throw his dump. I then figured that the guard, if hit, would have a 15% chance of freaking out and laying the beats on the thief.

It was dead quiet at the table, when the thief readied his "weapon" for hurling.

"The guard is back, what do you want to do?" I said.

The thief's player looked around the table, paused a second, and said "Its on, I didn't have this dump for nothing."

... and he rolled, and I'll be a son of a balrog he freakin' succeeded.
... and I rolled, and no word of a lie it was 5%, the guard freaked and burst in to kick his ass in his cell.

The combat that followed was brutal, and yes the thief did use the chamber pot as a weapon. After several rounds the thief finally managed to get the upper hand, and after nearly dying himself, finally won the battle. The thief quickly gathered the keys, released the others and they escaped. This was one of the only combats I've witnessed where the players who weren't involved enjoyed it as much as the one involved.

And the moral of the story, when those WTF situations happen in a game, let them. Let them happen, even if they are absurd or ridiculous, because they do make for great stories later.

What are some of the WTF situations you've had while gamemastering?

1/20/2009

Congratulations America





Congratulations America, you have elected yourselves a pretty awesome gamemaster.

1/17/2009

What's your class baby?

I thought it might be funny to take the various schools of RPG thought and assign them a D&D class, and then determine what class (or multi class) I would be. I'm going to use the four standard classes, fighter, thief, cleric and magic user, but with a little imagination I'm sure something could be figured out for other classes as well.

Old School/The Fighter - The old school grumbling Grognard, heavily armoured, hard to kill and always ready for combat. This group is by far the hardiest of the RPG schools having weathered many storms and seen many battles. But even after many campaigns the old soldier keeps on playing... OD&D.

New School/The Thief - The new school of RPG's "borrow" liberally from their predecessors, but like any good thief deny that they did, or were even there, or were even in the city at time that that happened... I don't know a Gary Gygax, never met him, never... OK...I stole your twenty sided, but you can keep THAC0, no one will buy that shit anymore.

The Indie/The Cleric - The Indie's are the preachers of the RPG world. Always pontificating about the superior quality and clarity of vision in their chosen games and the relative lameness of your "mainstream"and "generic" game. The more obscure the game the more fanatical the devotion... thats a lot like a...cult. YOU WILL CONVERT.

The Theorist/The Magic User - The mage uses his powers to deliberately mystify and confuse his opponents much like the theorist uses his post modern take on RPG's to mystify and confuse... well everybody not on the forge.

So after careful thought it turns out I'm a multi classed fighter/thief. I love the old school and still play "outdated" games but I also like some of the improvements in the new school RPG's, and a multi classed fighter/thief is actually my favorite class.

So, what class are you?

1/16/2009

Play me a Solo

So I think my next campaign is going to be a solo campaign. I have GMed one other solo campaign and it was one of the best games I've ever run. I don't lack players, but I do lack players I want to play with. If that makes me an elitist asshole well so be it, I will take one great player over ten mediocre ones any day.

I want an involved and evolving game in a non-linear sandbox setting. I guess this could be done with a group but I'm pretty sure it would much harder to maintain consistency. I already have the world developed (pretty much anyways) and just plan to let my player run wild. I expect a lot of improvisation, which is something I excel at, and I expect my player will riff along with me into some pretty awesome new territory.

I think I am going to use heavily modified AD&D 1e with some world specific races and classes. The magic system is always my Achilles heal because, unlike a lot of older gamers, I hate the Vancian style of magic and D&D's magic system in general. So I am going to have to come up with something I like.

If anyone out there has any ideas for me feel free to comment, I am open to any suggestions.

1/13/2009

Blogs I like and you should too

I am going to be doing a weekly post on blogs I think every role player should read. I am going to try to cover at least six links a week with a small write up about the content of the blog.

For week one Here is a list of several role playing blogs that I read on an almost daily basis.

1. Gnome Stew - This blog is exclusive to gamemastering and has several great posts. If you need some good advice on how to run a game this is the place to go.

2. The RPG Bloggers network - This place is great, there are hundreds of awesome blogs that can be found here. I can spend (waste) an entire day just checking out all the sites available. At some point I will put in an application to join the network when I have a little more material on Rule of the Dice.

3. Musings of the Chatty DM - What can I say, Chatty has a bit of everything. He is one of the most prolific bloggers in the RPG community, if your looking for something RPG related chances are he's wrote about it.

4. Jeff's Gameblog - Old school gaming goodness of all types can be found here. I particularly love this post.

5. Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG - Yet another old school game blog. Lots of awesome insight into old school gaming can be found here, and this post on adventure writing is one of the best I've ever read.

6. Dungeon Mastering - Now that I've put up a couple of old school links I figure I should balance it with some new school stuff. Dungeon Mastering deals pretty much exclusively with the newest versions of D&D. But Yax still has some good general advice for the non D&D crowd like this post on NPC's.

1/12/2009

Awesome Pic of the Week

Here is this weeks pic:


What can I say, who doesn't want a city set high in the mountains in their game. Maybe this is a city that was built as a gift to humans by some dwarves in a previous age. Maybe a group of immortals live here and waste their days in decadence and despair. Or maybe this is a lost city, whose builders have long faded into the obscurity of a forgotten past.

Whatever this place is it looks like a damn good setting for a lot of cool and original ideas. I can already see some type of dragon siege happening here, that would be pretty intense. I can also see airships and all types of winged creatures that are used for transportation.

That's just a few ideas, what do you think?

Well here are my RPG new years resolutions, better late than never:

1. I will work on my blog Rule of the Dice. I have wanted to write this blog for nearly two years and have putting it off again and again. I am going to do my best to write at least one post a day.

2. I will be more active in RPG community. I have been reading RPG blogs and forums for years and have never really bothered to get involved in the online community. So I'm going to do my best to comment on blogs and forums and try to let the community know I exist and that I think that the role playing community rocks.

3. I am going to finally design a game sytem that I want to play. I have been putting this off for a long time and I really want to do it, and with the game system I am going to create a kick ass mofo of a campaign world.

4. Last, but most importantly, I am going to game the hell out of 2009. I have players, I have ideas and I ain't got no more lazy ass excuses not to.

Cheers and good gaming in 2009. May all your campaigns be awesome and the polyhedral dice gods smile on your skill checks.

1/11/2009

What's in a name...

I was reading a post at Greywulf's Lair today about a character that he badly named in a classic D&D game and it got me thinking about names in RPG's. What is a "good" name for a character or a place in a campaign world is a matter of taste and style but I've found that following a few simple guidelines produces much better and more memorable names.

1. Keep it simple - The more complex or strange a name is the less chance the players are going to remember it. If you keep the name simple you can avoid a lot of things like, "GM: Zardarakstinera is a great city state in the eastern isles... Players: I guess we'll go to that Zardar place..."
2. Give the name a context - Relate the name of a place to some relevant event or person and give character names a backstory. By creating names that have a story it is easier to remember and makes the place or person more interesting.
3. Don't use cliche or famous names - This one should be self evident. There is only one Aragorn and sorry Drizz't is and always will be a stupid name.

Now I'm gonna travel to Zardarakstinera and meet up with Voldemort Constantine, talk to you later.

1/10/2009

I am almost always disappointed with the mechanics of an RPG system at some point, but I never bother to do much about it. I’ll make house rules, modify a few things but its really just a band-aid solution. So I’m going to do something about that and create my own damn game system.

You’re probably thinking why do that there are countless games out there just look and find one you like. Well the problem with that is that the big games (D&D, White Wolf etc…) while balanced and play tested are tedious after a while, and the indie games, much like indie rock, are 90% pretentious garbage and 10% brilliance, and in the time it would take to wade through the trash I could just make my own.
I want to capture the spirit of the old school games but not necessarily make an old school game. I am not sure what the exact model for the system will be yet but I will try to steal from the best sources. I am not interested in creating something “original” I am interested in creating something that is fun and easy to play. I have had my fill of the d20 mechanic for now so I think I might move to the mighty d100 and make my game a percentile based system.

I have always liked the simplicity of the percentage. Your character is X% good at sword fighting is a lot easier to explain than you take a d20 add a bunch of modifiers, or minus them and try to beat a difficulty levels. I also want the system to be skill based and have limited powers associated with the classes/professions as they increase in level. This might limit choices to a slight degree but it will increase ease of play and make for more fun and less irritation.

Well thats some basic ideas. I will post my progress as it comes along, and if anyone has advice or wants to help let me know.


1/08/2009

I have been reading a lot about old school gaming recently. Maybe its because the Godfather of Gaming passed away, or maybe us older gamers are longing for the days of our youth and pining over our favorite long faded campaigns. Whatever it is there seems to be a marked upswing in the old school gaming racket. This got me thinking, what does old school gaming mean to me?

My old school gaming was dungeons & dragons, killing orcs and bad storylines that involved killing more orcs. None of the crew that I played with knew what the hell we were doing, but holy shit did we ever love playing. Our games were a hodgepodge of convoluted rules placed in campaign settings that resembled Heavy Metal magazine a lot more than the Forgotten Realms. But it worked somehow, it always worked. It worked not because of the rules or campaign setting, it worked because of the spirit of adventure. We all had a spirit of interdependent creativity, we were in it together and everyone created something. If a rule didn’t make sense we made one that did, if we thought Dragon with lasers might be cool it got added to the campaign and if we needed an adventure someone always stepped up with a cool idea. It was a great time to game even if a few of us got the nasty end of a Pulling panic.

I would compare old school gaming to classic metal, balls out crazy riffs and fucking awesome solos. When its good, its Sabbath or Zeppelin, but if its bad, its Stryper (and for all you music nerds out there who don't like this analogy, I just want you to know I don't care about your opinion... at all.). While I think the new school of role playing is a lot more like Nu metal, its cleaner and the production value is really good, but somethings missing. No amount of rules streamlining, emo character backgrounds or gaming theory makes up for pure unadulterated heroic adventure. If I can't play a fucking hero who does heroic things in a fucking heroic world I don't want to play in your game. If I want realism I'll just go to work.

So to me old school gaming is all about that spirit of adventure. I want to feel like I've been through some awesome shit at the end of a session, whether I'm playing or GMing. I want everyone involved to feel like their characters are the badassingist badass badasses in the badassiverse. If I can accomplish this I've done my job and I can have the good graces of the role playing gods.

I am glad that old school game blogs like Jeff's Gameblog, LoFP RPG, Grognardia and many others that I am too lazy to name right now exist in the vast wastes of the blogosphere. These guys reminded me that old school gaming isn't dead its alive and well, and could well be taking over. Keep up the good gaming and Viva La Revolución.

What does old school gaming mean to you?

1/07/2009

Awesome Pic of the Week

I have always found that looking at good art, or sometimes bad, will inspire some great ideas for GMing in my old dusty brain. I have thousands of pictures that I have collected from the internet for this purpose and whenever I need a bit of inspiration I dive into my pictures folder and soon the beginnings of an idea start.

I am going to do a series and showcase a new awesome picture every week with a few ideas that are inspired from the artwork.

The first piece I am going to showcase comes from the website InterArtCenter.com. I unfortunately don't recall the artists name but search around the site and you'll find who it is. This site is pretty awesome they have quite a few cool pictures that I have pinched for later perusal.

Well without further ado here is this weeks pic:
Photobucket
When I look at this I imagine all sorts of cool shit. To me this would be an abandoned hermitage for an obscure cult of ascetics. They were all killed somehow and now the whole place is filled with undead. But there is rumour of an artifact that the monks guarded and now the PC's have to get it before the undead... but maybe its the cause of the undead blight?

I just imagine crazy fights on rickety bridges and a great combination of dungeon and exterior environments for all sorts of kick ass adventure.

Well that's my take, what do you think?

1/06/2009

I expect my players to create characters that they think are completely awesome, and it is my job as a GM to facilitate the awesome within the context of my campaign. Repeat this many times, let it be your mantra and your players will love you forever.
Everyone wants a unique and cool character to play. Whats the point in playing someone who is mediocre, if we wanted that we would play Administrators & Secretaries not Dungeons & Dragons. Heroic characters doing heroic things in a heroic world filled with heroic adventure is what we all want and it is your job as the GM to deliver it.

Here are four suggestions for players and GM’s to awesome up a player character.
1. Delete unawesome elements - If the game you play has boring, useless, fluffy or irritating character classes or races, get rid of them before you start playing. This way no one will feel either compelled (the super role-player type) or obliged (the “balance the party type”) to play them. Now this is different from group to group, but as the GM you should know what your group likes and dislikes.
2. Add awesome elements without remorse - Make every race and class compelling. As GM Sit back and ask yourself, would I play a ? and have an awesome time. When the answer is yes to every one of them you are done.
3. Back story, back story, back story - Nothing exists in a vacuum. Your players need to create their characters history and what motivates them and why. I know some players hate this (munchkins, power gamers I’m lookin’ at ya) but without a back story a character is just stats. You don’t need to write a novel a paragraph will do and it will make a world of difference for playing. It is your job as GM to create or inform your players of all the interesting elements of the campaign world so they can have a good back story.
4. Make sure the character has character - This is something I will do an entire post on soon, but simply put a character without character is two dimensional and boring. Give your character some unique and interesting traits. Maybe he has an accent, maybe he walks with a limp or carries the picture of a lost loved one. All of these things give him character and set him apart from other characters. Make it unique, we are all sick of loner mages in dark robes that sit in corners.
I’m sure there are plenty of other good ideas out there. How do you awesome up your players characters?
This post was in some part inspired by a post on Jeff’s Gameblog called “How to awesome up your players”, thanks Jeff.