Published on 3/31/2011 Written by 2 comments

Megadungeons: Why Bother?

Today, I will briefly continue my ruminations on Megadungeons, specifically three of the distinct advantages I've found they have.

#1: A smaller, more localized area.

A Megadungeon rarely, if ever, requires that the heroes travel far afield, and this makes it more easy to GM, as you won't need to consider every single faction, nation, and locale when you build your game. Even when using a purchased campaign setting, you'll find it can be a lot of work to enjoyably maintain all the various towns, cities, and NPCs you'll need, if you want to create a deep and compelling game.

With a Megadungeon campaign, you can focus on one or two principalities, developing greater detail for the NPCs, and even having an easier time of managing a more living world. Even when using the dungeon itself as a living world, with numerous factions and groups, it is a contained world, subject to easier laws than the round (or flat, your choice) world your characters inhabit.

It's hard to remember what that grizzled old blacksmith from the city six sessions ago might be doing now, but when the NPCs are from a more limited pool, you can do so much more to help create their backstories and their individual lives.

#2: A greater variety of location types in one area.

I hear you scoffing in the background! You're saying, doesn't this contradict point #1? How is a dungeon anything other than damp stone and smelly goblins?

The answer is ridiculously simple: Creativity.

No dungeon needs to be a dull collection of stone and dirt. With a little thought into plot, you can create a different theme for every level of your Megadungeon! Think for a minute, what about a cavern with a lush underground forest, and a tribe of peaceful Morlocks unaware of the surface world? Sounds like level 4 to me.

And it's not so hard as you would think to form logical reasons for these locations being in a dungeon, and by featuring different locales in one place, it saves on the tedious traveling segments where either the PCs spend a week or two at sea only to arrive safely, or are attacked and must endure yet another distraction in their pursuit of the main storyline.

#3: Easier to pick up and play for new members, and easier to put down for weeks if need be.

This is important if you have a revolving door policy to your gaming group. Can't make it one week? No problem, it should be easy enough to pick up after your character finishes sleeping off his hangover/cleaning out the inn's cellar/washing his hair. A few minutes to explain what new events have occurred in the plotline and no need to try and finagle a fancy way to have this absent character magically materialize with the other PCs when they are ready for their next adventure.

And on the other side of the coin, if you have to take a break from game-mastering for a while, a Megadungeon campaign is far easier to pick up again, even a month or two down the road.

So there you go. Three things to consider the next time you plan to start a campaign, and three reasons I feel a Megadungeon is worth considering. Next week I'll talk about something else, but I'll continue to pepper in these little Megadungeons thoughts, rants, raves, as I continually develop it.

Oh, and here's the first level of my current Megadungeon. It is currently unkeyed (working out two different versions of that) and ugly as sin, but hey, a blank dungeon map might be useful, so go wild with it. I'm using a rough 5-foot estimation for each grid square, but I've rarely cared much about fidelity in determining distances. Just click to see a higher-res version.

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Published on 3/29/2011 Written by 11 comments

Wrestlemania the RPG

I wish it existed.

With Wrestlemania this weekend, my thoughts as always turn to the exciting world of the squared circle, and how to turn that wonderful spectacle into a decent game.

There have been wrestling board games, some pretty cool video games, and even a couple of RPGs. I actually really like The Squared Circle, and it barely missed being on my List of Favourite Games I've Never Played (Never played because my current gaming groups aren't much into pro wrestling). I also tried a live-action wrestling "RPG" while I was in university. Once. I fortunately made it through unscathed, but one guy sprained his ankle and another got a nasty cut on his back when I threw him into some lockers (It was a hardcore match, obviously). We didn't try it again after that.

Memorial University of Newfoundland Hardcore Championship of the World, 1999

But something we DID play a lot in university, and that worked brilliantly, was a special style of RPG called Fantasy Wrestling. Fantasy Wrestling started out as play-by-mail back in the early 1980's and actually exists to this day. There are still ads for play-by-mail games in magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated. However, when the world started to go digital in the 1990s, Fantasy Wrestling jumped online as well. Suddenly you could get your fix of pretending to be sweaty men in tight shiny underpants that much faster. When the popularity of pro wrestling rose just before the turn of the millennium thanks to the Monday Night Wars, the popularity of Online Fantasy Wrestling, or "E-Feds" (Electronic Federations) exploded as well.

Oddly enough, I started my Fantasy fed not online, but as a simple pen-and-paper game I ran out of my dorm room. I had guys create their wrestlers using a simple character sheet, then ran the matches once or twice a week and posted the results on my door. A month or so later when I discovered the magic of E-feds (coincidentally around the time my residence got high-speed internet), I moved my imaginary wrestling promotion online and took it to the next level.
The World Wrestling Federation changed its name to "WWE" to avoid being associated with those goddamn bloodthirsty pandas.

My online fantasy wrestling federation was also my first taste of meeting people online. While most of my players were local, I had a few from other parts of Canada and the US. I had arrived in the globally-connected world, and it was all thanks to wrestling. And gaming. The guy from Montreal was pretty cool (he ran his own e-fed, too). There was a guy from Virginia who was a big frakkin' tool, though.

The part that made E-feds a role-playing game was that the players would write their own promos and interviews and post them on a message board. They would talk trash to their opponents, and their opponents could respond, all in anticipation of their upcoming match. It was great fun, and I saw some impressive writing come out of those posts. Some guys would write compelling short stories about their wrestler's lives. Then, once or twice a week, when the talk was smacked, I would write up the actual matches, and the winners would be revealed.

Pictured: How Vince McMahon determines the outcome of matches in the WWE.

How to determine the winners was a bit difficult, and various "promoters" did it differently. Some would use a program to determine them randomly. A rare few would have a booking "committee" to vote on the winner. Me? I picked whoever I thought wrote the best promos, and created the finish of the match based on that and what I thought would be the most interesting outcome. It was incredibly biased, but I got few complaints, because I worked my ass off to write exciting matches, and the loser always knew he had a chance to come back and win the next week.

My E-fed lasted one strong year and another six months with dwindling returns (as I became busier and had less time to update), which was pretty good for an E-fed back then. I still love wrestling, and I still remember many of the characters from that game vividly. My most memorable matches from that time period were not Steve Austin vs The Rock or Hulk Hogan vs Sting. I will always remember stuff like Downtown Mayhem and Straight Jacket Sou vs. "The Fallen Angel" Gabriel and Satan's Cabana Boy in a Wal-Mart Hardcore Brawl (that match was actually really friggin' awesome). I would love to try my hand at running another e-fed, but it's not going to happen while I'm running a PBEM D&D game. (And I don't think I'm going to be able to convince my players to give up their swords and magic wands for spandex and sparkly capes). Maybe one day.

The people who understand all the references in this picture understand why it is the greatest picture in the world.

Anyone else have experience in e-feds, or any other RPG-style wrestling game? Or just want to argue about who's going to win HHH vs. Undertaker on Sunday night? (C'mon, Deadman!) Talk some trash in the comments section, and we'll see if we can't get a little slobberknocker going.

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Published on 3/26/2011 Written by 0 comments

Saturday Sorcery - Ancient (15 year-old!) Magic

You've heard me gripe about clerics before. While I still maintain that playing them sucks, there was actually a time many years ago when I strongly encouraged people to play priests in my campaign. No, I wasn't trying to screw my players, hear me out. I was deep into my Fred Saberhagen phase, and the background of my campaign borrowed (*cough* stole *cough*) heavily from his Sword of Power series. One aspect that I lifted was a pantheon of "gods" that meddled openly in the affairs of mortals. I figured that since the gods were so prominent, their priests should be, too. I developed a variety of priestly traditions, each with their own unique beliefs, spells, rituals, weapons and powers. My players seemed to really enjoy this, because at one point I think I had as many as four different priests in the party, each worshiping a different god. Not only that, but they actually started creating their own spells, based on the unique powers of their deity.

Today I present 2 spells created by a priest of the Romi (Gypsy) Goddess of Luck. These were originally created for 2nd Edition D&D, but could easily be adapted to other settings. The original concepts were originated by my friend André D (who coincidentally I reconnected with recently through PBEM). Any wonkiness in power level or balance is entirely my fault - he came up with the ideas, I tried to fit them into the context of the rules.

Here's what 16-year-old game designers come up with:

¤ Gypsy Good Luck Charm ¤
Sphere: Protection, Numbers
Level: 3
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Until discharged
Casting Time: 2d4 rounds
Area of Effect: One item
Saving Throw: None

This spell enables a small charm to be enchanted with a “probability manipulator.” This allows the character possessing the charm to re-roll a single die roll that they make, at any time, then the magic in the charm is used up. The character must keep the more beneficial roll. The charm can only be activated if the character holding it knows or believes that it can bring good luck.

The reverse of this spell is bad luck charm. When the priest is creating the bad luck charm, he must state at what time the magic will take effect (eg. during an attack roll, a saving throw, a Dexterity check, etc.). The next time that the character possessing the charm makes the pre-designated roll, he or she must immediately re-roll, and choose the lower of the two as their result. The bad luck charm is not concerned with who is holding it when the roll is made. Whenever the designated roll is required, no matter who possesses it at the time, the magic will take effect.

The creation of a charm, good or bad, requires the priest to temporarily lose 2 hit points. These hit points cannot be restored until such time as the magic in the charm is discharged. The priest may hold the charm at any time and willingly dispel the magic.

The material component is any high-quality bauble (though not necessarily of great value), which must be in some way marked with the symbol of the priest’s deity.

¤ Magic Mushroom ¤
(Alteration, Enchantment/Charm)
Sphere: Charm
Level: 3
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Special
Casting Time: 4 rounds
Area of Effect: One mushroom
Saving Throw: Special

The priest can use this spell to magically enchant an ordinary mushroom to give it extraordinary properties.

Once enchanted, anyone who sees the mushroom must successfully save vs. spell or believe that the mushroom is something that it is not. The affected character will believe it to be something that the victim perceives to be delicious, such as a cake, or a steak, and will be compelled to eat it. Once the magic mushroom is consumed, the victim must make another saving throw. If the second save is failed, two things will occur:

One, the character will think that he/she is a pig. They will fall down on all fours, squeal, and roll around in dirt if possible.

Two, the character will become ravishingly hungry. They will immediately begin rooting through their pack for rations. Once the rations are finished, the character will attempt to steal any other food nearby. They will not attack, even in an attempt to acquire more food, but they will defend themselves if attacked. If this curse should somehow take effect in the middle of a battle, the character will wait until the battle is over before it looks for food. This effect lasts for one round per level of the caster.

The mushroom, before being consumed, will hold its enchantment for 1 hour plus 1 turn per level of the caster, after which point it disintegrates. Only the caster, and creatures with more than 6 levels or HD and/or 17 points of Intelligence is immune to the effects of a magic mushroom. Anyone else must save any time they see the mushroom.

The material component of this spell, in addition to the mushroom, is the priest’s holy symbol and a platinum coin. The coin is consumed in the casting.

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Published on 3/25/2011 Written by 0 comments

Links of DOOM - 03/25/11

John is off doing "important" things, so it falls to me to remind you about all the cool gaming stuff going on this week.

There's a great article at RPG Musings by the Opportunist discussing why starting at Level 1 may be rough for some players, but it's important to character development.

I'm sure many of you reading Rule of the Dice are well versed in Old School Gaming, but I know some of you may not be. Here's a handy overview from The Dump Stat. It also references Matthew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, which should be required reading for all gamers, new or old, so at least you know what the fuss is about.

Speaking of which, I don't care if you're old- or new-school, getting paid to write D&D is awesome. Kudos to this guy.

This is just a cool trailer for a new Dungeons & Dragons video game.

Much like in movies, you can never have too much sex in your role-playing games.

Anyone writing or thinking about writing adventures or modules? There's a few good tips here.

Apparently the single most efficient way to reach level 30 in 4th Edition D&D is to throw yourself into the same pit trap 10,000 times. No, really. Greywulf did the math.

And while this doesn't directly relate to gaming, go check out SHOUTcast Demonic, a kick-ass online radio station that plays a great mix of metal, industrial and electronica. I met the owner of the station playing D&D, so it sorta counts.

Have a happy weekend of gaming! I'm going to go try Living Forgotten Realms again. My last character blew chunks (stupid gnome bard). Hopefully I can come up with something better this time.

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Published on 3/24/2011 Written by 4 comments

The Megadungeon...

The Megadungeon. A dungeon so vast and epic, players were expected to spend their entire lives plumbing its murky depths. A dungeon that might easily top 20 or 30 levels of sheer madness.

Feared by some, adored by others, and quickly becoming a relic of an older age of gaming. Now, sprawling epics that take the players from land to land, environment to environment, are more popular with both players and publishers. And who can blame them? Did the Fellowship of the Ring spend their lives exploring one damp, lonely old dungeon? No. Did Conan drop into the same fetid pit time after time, seeking to delve ever deeper? No. Heck, even Lara Croft, the world's most famous tomb raider, sought new locales after a hard day's plundering!

So why would gamers want to spend their entire campaign in some Kafka-esque hell that never really ends?

And yet, when done well, a Megadungeon (yes, I like to capitalize it to show off its awesomeness) can be extremely entertaining. Of course, I am clearly biased, as I love a good dungeon crawl. But before you discount the idea of a Megadungeon as mere ramblings from a lunatic who does not know the meaning of fun you should know that two of the biggest myths of the Megadungeon are easily debunked.

#1: The offer limited roleplaying.

#2: They are combat-oriented.

True, at first glance, it would seem a Megadungeon offers exceptionally limited opportunities for roleplaying, and it would also suggest a combat-oriented atmosphere, but neither assumption needs to be correct.

Firstly, the idea that roleplaying options would be limited is a fallacy, though one based in seemingly irrefutable fact. If you're trapped in a dungeon there is very little time for character growth or socializing.

But if the dungeon is used as a recurring location which the PCs are drawn to, then it stands to reason that there needs to be a location for rest and recuperation. And that is where the town or city comes in.

Designing a detailed town/city is the best chance for roleplaying a Megadungeon group has, and it should be used frequently, often before a delve and after a delve. By creating a cast of characters for your players to interact with, you give plenty of chances for roleplaying, so long as you follow up on subplots hinted in conversation and through player interest.

It helps to tie these subplots into the dungeon, but is hardly required. After all, one can go on a romp elsewhere, so long as the return to the primary location is assured. And allowing additional adventures while the party rests keeps the dungeon from becoming too much like a 'day job'.

As for a Megadungeon campaign being combat-oriented. Well...that is partly true. There will be a fair amount of combat. But only a poor GM would give the players no options. Negotionation, stealth, general cleverness, and an escape route should always be options. To enclose your players in a fight to the death will only serve to frustrate them and you. Reward creative solutions to the enemy problem, so that every delve doesn't turn into a hack-and-slash.

All of this has been on my mind lately, as I am in the process of preparing a Megadungeon to run in either 1e or 4e D&D. I'd hoped to have the first level ready to show off today, but it's not quite done. It'll definitely be here next week, along with more thoughts on Megadungeons, as I explore reasons you ought to consider a Megadungeon, even if at first glance it's not for you.


Have any of you played in/run a Megadungeon campaign before? If so, did you enjoy it? If not, why?

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Published on 3/22/2011 Written by 8 comments

My Favourite Games (That I Have Never Played)

I've read a lot of RPGs in almost 20 years of gaming. No one can possibly play every game out there (unless you don't have a job, but even then there probably isn't enough hours in the day). I've bought, been given, or found free PDFs online for many games that I have read but never played. Many of them are forgettable, and most have been lost or given away over the years (I used to move A LOT, ask Jsalvatori) but sometimes I hold onto a game even if I've never played it. Perhaps I still mean to play it someday, or maybe it just has some really good art or background material, but for whatever reason I've kept it, and it still has a special place on my bookshelf even though space there is at a premium.

Let's take a few down and have a look at them, shall we? Here are my Top 4 Favourite Games (That I Have Never Played):

1. ACES & EIGHTS (Kenzer & Co)
If Star Wars d20 is D&D in space, then this is old-school D&D in the Wild West. Somehow, I have inherited a genetic disposition toward westerns from my father. (Have you seen the new True Grit? Awesome.) It has a sweet gunfighting system that uses a deck of standard playing cards to determine where your shot goes wide if you miss (you still roll a d20 on your attack roll). It has a deep character generation system and an immersive, well-researched setting. All that, and the rulebook itself is absolutely gorgeous.

2. HACKMASTER (Kenzer & Co)
It's 1st Edition D&D with attitude. How can you not love a game that has an entire chapter on proper dice-rolling etiquette, and 15-different variations of the fireball spell? Wizards of the Coast licensed the original D&D to Kenzer to create a game based on the RPG played by the characters in Knights of the Dinner Table, with the condition that they make it funny and a sort of parody (at least that's the story I heard). In case you're not familiar with the Knights of the Dinner Table, funny is not a problem. In what other game could a blind, mute, deaf and quadruple amputee gnome be a viable player character?

3. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Margaret Weiss Games)
I know John doesn't share my taste, but I loved the new BSG TV show because it's a cross between two of the biggest influences on my formative years: Wing Commander and ROBOTECH. I love the combination of sci-fi space combat with paranoia and political intrigue. If I do ever play, I am going to make one of the player characters a Cylon, no doubt in my mind. And I'm not going to tell tell any of the players (including the Cylon) which of them it is. The system seems simple and story based, which is also something different that I would like to try.

That's pretty fun... wait a minute! I know that neighbourhood! Toronto is being invaded by Cylons! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!

4. WHEEL OF TIME (Wizards of the Coast)
I admit I'm not a big fan of Robert Jordan's work, and the RPG is really just a d20 variation, but it has perhaps the coolest magic system I've ever seen. While using the standard D&D magic level system as a base, it has a plethora of schools and sub-schools of magic, in which each caster has certain preferences and talents. Each spell can be cast at different levels, and casters can even attempt to cast a spell higher than their standard level, with great difficulty and at high personal risk. There's also options for using feats to modify spells, spell "rarity" to determine how difficult they are to learn, and rules for group casting and using physical and material foci to make casting those "over-level" spells easier and less dangerous.

(Or: Games I Have Only Played Once)

A GAME OF THRONES d20 (Guardians of Order)
Another beautiful book, though sadly riddled with typos and errors (I think Guardians of Order went out of business in the middle of publishing this). I love George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and the IDEA of an RPG based on it is a great one, but actually playing the game is quite difficult. Look at the novels upon which it's based: the main characters spend most of their time hundreds of miles apart, and are so different and lop-sided that it would make playing a game in the style of the book virtually impossible. Imagine a party made up of a king, an 8-year old boy in another city, a illegitimate soldier living in the frozen north, and a deposed princess in exile ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT. It makes for great fiction, but slightly awkward gaming.

An important storyline from the book that may be difficult to role-play: a 13-year old girl is sold as a concubine to a burly, swarthy, horse-loving nomad. Yeah. Awkward.

Yup, believe it or not, I've only played this game once. I borrowed a friend's copy to run a one-shot adventure, at the end of which two characters were dead and two more were insane. The fifth character spent the whole adventure going on a date. I've used elements from it for other games (and I am planning on stealing from it shamelessly to create a d6 Horror game), but perhaps my single favourite element was the skill system. You HAD to USE your skills in order for them to improve. Simple but brilliant. None of this automatically increasing when you level-up bullshit.

Has anyone out there played any of these games, and can vouch for their awesomeness? How about anyone else with games sitting on their shelf that they love but have never played? Perhaps it's time to take them down and out for a spin. Or at least tell us about them. Maybe you can find someone to play it with you.

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Published on 3/15/2011 Written by 15 comments

Tactics vs. Role-Playing

There are two parts to RPGs: The "Role-playing" part and the "Game-playing" part. "Role-playing" involves developing a character, improvising, telling a story and making a fool of yourself in front of your friends. "Game-playing" involves
rules, dice, strategies, tactics and arguing for hours over whether or not you can somersault over a pit of lava without an "acrobatics" skill on your character sheet. Most RPGs, like most gaming groups, lean toward one side or the other, but some of the best games find a nice balance between the two.

My question is this: What happens when the two sides contradict each other?

D&D 4E is a game firmly on the rules side. It revolves heavily around tactics and combat. It expects that characters (and players) to act in a certain way, and rewards certain strategies and actions. Sometimes you just HAVE to play the game in a prescribed way to defeat certain challenges. Now, many hardcore "role-players" balk at this like a horse being urged to swim through a lake of mechanized crocodiles, but others players (The "game-players") revel in the chance to use the rules to solve the puzzle. It's like a math problem, and some people like doing math problems.
I bet Pythagoras would have frakkin' ROCKED at D&D.

There's nothing wrong with role-playing in 4E (or any game). It should be encouraged, and even WotC have made half-hearted attempts to push it on people. But what happens when the role you're playing flies completely in the face of how you've been taught to play the game?

I have a perfect example. In my current PBEM game, my players were recently slogging through an old dwarf fortress overrun by orcs. I knew they would be heavily outnumbered and up against some tough opponents, so I gave them each a dwarf minion to control in addition to their characters. The minions weren't particularly powerful, but I figured they could use them to set up flanking opportunities and to draw out the enemies' attacks to help the players live longer. So what did the players do? They put the minions BEHIND them so they wouldn't get hurt! They risked their own lives to protect the meat shields. Maybe it was my fault for giving the minions names and personalities, but to give up a tactical advantage for a role-playing one (they told the dwarves they were going to "teach them the ropes" of adventuring) takes a lot of balls.

I would have tossed that dwarf at the orcs and run away without looking back.

Next, they couldn't decide on a marching order. While the rules encourage the defender (tank) to go in first to draw enemy fire with their high AC and hit points, when the paladin suggested this the strikers would have none of it. The ranger wanted to go first because his background said that he distrusted following the orders of others and he wanted to rely on no one but himself. The eladrin warlock believed that all non-elf/eladrin races were inferior and thus he should be on the front line leading the charge because he was the best and could do the most damage.

The most telling exchange:

Paladin: Okay, everyone stay close to me and concentrate your fire on the orc chieftain! He does the most damage so we have to take him down quickly, then we can move on to the next enemy.

Ranger: I'm going to charge bodyguard #1.

Warlock: I'm going to attack bodyguard #2.

Cleric: I'm going to attack anyone who comes near my dwarf minion, and make sure he doesn't get hurt.

(I apologize to my players because I may be exaggerating their motivations a little bit for emphasis, but really, this was pretty much the exact conversation from our game.)

Every encounter was much harder than it should have been because they couldn't agree on tactics and everyone ended up taking more damage than they should. Miraculously no one has gotten killed yet but it's only a matter of time if we keep going like this.

Please understand: I don't believe they're playing "wrong." Not at all. I am impressed with the conviction they put into playing their characters the way they think they should be played. Sure it may be frustrating sometimes (personally, I think it's hilarious) but I hope they are enjoying themselves.

The rules of any RPG should be treated roughly like the rules of Calvinball.

So what about everyone else? Which side of the game-playing/role-playing line do you fall on? And have you had any problems where the two sides come into conflict?

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Published on 3/10/2011 Written by 3 comments

Some Quick Tools

Bear with me. I don't normally try to do a whole post of links, but today I'm already running a little late.

For the past four days all of my off time has been spent shoveling out snow amid wind, occasional rain, and general discomfort. No, don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into a whining rant against Mother Nature and her sick sense of humor. No, this is going to be a short topic on some of the tools one can use to help speed up your RPG planning when life starts getting hectic.

I've got to run this weekend's game for my group and, thanks to my schedule, haven't had much time to plan out any kind of plot advancement after they completed the last major plotline. I can, of course, just wing it, but that could be trouble if I don't mentally prepare myself. I could also just run a one-shot, but that's not my usual purview.

So what do I do? I take to the Internet and use some (or all) of these handy free tools to make my job just a little easier. I expect you'll already know about some of them, or maybe all of them, but if not, perhaps you'll find some use out of them as well.

Inkwell Ideas Hexographer.

Possibly the single best hex mapping tool out there today, Hexographer is extremely easy to use, runs on Java so I can use it on my Windows PC, my Linux PC, and even a good number of mobile devices, and it has two flavors: Free and paid. The free version is great and runs smoothly, but requires an Internet connection, won't let you expand a saved map, and doesn't allow for the use of custom icons.

The paid version costs $22.95 and adds in some additional functionality (including expanding existing maps, adding custom map items, add notes to hexes, and child maps).

This literally only took me five minutes to create. Imagine what someone with talent could manage!

Inkwell Ideas Random City Generator V2. (Note: Link leads to V1 of the tool. Click the link on that page to try V2)

One of the older and well liked RPG tools was a little freeware city generator called (so cleverly) RPG City Map Generator. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated since the advent of Windows XP and won't run properly in Linux. Fortunately, Inkwell Ideas comes through again, with the second edition of their wonderful Java city generator.

The original version was good, but this version, though lacking in the graphics department, is more customizable and more likely to provide an output you can work with. So long as you don't need a street-by-street editor, it works brilliantly at creating a basic layout.

Dave's Mapper.

Another mapping tool, and possibly my favorite, this genius little tool takes a ginormous number of geomorphs from different artists around the web (including the awesome geomorphs of Risus Monkey and Dyson Logos), and using them to create random dungeon maps.

I fell in love with this tool for my B/X campaign months ago when it first premiered, and now it works better than ever, allowing you to swap out individual tiles, move them from one location to another, even cap off the dungeon with special tiles for that sealed in feeling.

Seventh Sanctum.

There are about a million different random name, place, or plot generators out there. So why bother including this popular site? Well because it features a random generator for just about any situation. From names to plot points to sudden twists, this site has a generator to help even the most frazzled mind.

Some favorites include: The Lovecraftian Name Generator (for those Elder Gods without vowels), Tavern Names (why must all adventurers seeks out those damned taverns?!), The Adventure Site Generator (we all want to have fun sounding places to loot, don't we?).


None of these free tools will supply you with a full adventure, but they can all help to urge your own creativity on when you've had a bit of a brain-freeze.

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Published on 3/08/2011 Written by 9 comments

3 Reasons Why PBEM Sucks

Last week I wrote about why playing RPGs via email is awesome. To recap - it's convenient, it's fun and it lets you do things you can't do in person. Sadly, however, like most good things in this world, PBEM (Play-By-E-Mail) also comes with its drawbacks.

So, as a follow-up to last week, please enjoy my 3 reasons why you should think twice before PBEM:

1. It takes a long time
In tabletop roleplaying, the DM describes the scene and the players respond immediately, and then the DM describes how they fail at their pathetic attempts at heroism. In PBEM, the DM describes the scene, sends it out, and then everyone waits. One guy is always sitting at his keyboard and replies 30 seconds later. Another guy (or girl) checks his email when he gets home after work and sends his response a few hours later. Yet another guy reads the message and then his S.O. calls and tells him he forgot about dinner at his/her mother's place and he had better get his ass over there or he's not getting any loving for the rest of his life, and then when he comes home he finds out that his dog ate the Mars bar he left on the desk when he ran out of the door and now he has to rush the dog to vet... and you see where this is going? I don't, because I forgot my point.

Yes, officer, I know I shouldn't be texting while driving, but you see my ranger just totally beheaded this goblin, so I was like trying to quip "Hey, it's okay, don't lose your head!" Get it? You're not going to write me a ticket, are you?

Oh right. Life happens. People forget to check/reply to email, and the game drags on. If you're an impatient person who prefers more immediate reward to your behavious, PBEM may not be for you.

2. It's a fuckload more work
This is probably my fault because of the way I run the game, but I find DMing a PBEM game takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. Not only do you have to write the adventure/scenario, but you have to describe, and write down, the results of the players actions (especially combat). When we play, I have my players describe the actions they want to attempt, but then have to determine whether or not they succeed, and then have to describe exactly what happens. It can easily take me 700-800 words to write out a single ROUND of combat. It's a good writing exercise, I suppose, but it eats up a lot of my time so I wish I could find a way to push some of that work back to the players.

Wait, how many hit points did that goblin have left? Nevermind, where is the paladin? Is he still having sex with that princess? Did she make her T.T.C. check?

It's even worse then the group splits up. As I said last week, being able to split the party and give them information without the others knowing is a great story-telling tool. However, it also means you're now suddenly running three games. And if the players in those three games play at different speeds, forget trying to get them back together. While one group can scale a mountain, fight off a band of orcs and acquire a ton of background info in a day's worth of emails, another group can take a week to play out a simple exchange at the tavern. Great role-playing opportunity, great way to annoy the other players while they wait for you to catch up.

3. It loses some of the spontaneity and social fun of real game
Playing RPGs is not an exercise in accounting or a mathematical problem to be solved. Yes, I realize some people play it like that, and more power to you, but at its heart role-playing is a social activity, a shared storytelling experience, and a chance for people to hang out, eat junk food and have fun. A game loses most of that luster when it's filtered through the heartless, faceless, frigid nether regions of the internet. It's hard to describe - playing by e-mail is still fun, and it has it's advantages, but it's just missing... something.

This. It's missing this.

I guess it's the like the difference between cybersex and the real thing. Sure, one is safer, has that buffering layer of cyper-spacial anonymity wrapped around it, and is available twenty-four seven from the comfort of your home, office or (thanks to iPhone) public transit, but sometimes nothing beats the hot, sweaty, hairy excitement of personal interaction. And yes, that example applies to both gaming and sex.

So has anyone else reading this every done it? PBEM, I mean? Are there any drawbacks I missed? Any suggestions on how to get around the problems I've described?

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Published on 3/05/2011 Written by 16 comments

Saturday Sorcery - A Couple of Questions

For this weeks Saturday Sorcery I would like to ask  our readers a couple of questions. I am always curious to hear how other people treat pivotal things like magic in their campaigns.

Here are the questions...

What is the standard magic level in your campaign, and how is magic viewed?

For me I like to keep the magic relatively sparse in my campaign. There aren't a lot of wizards in my worlds, and magic scares the shit out of most sensible people. The wizards that do exist are a very secretive bunch that have unknown agenda's and esoteric interests that few beyond their ilk understand, or care to understand. They're a lot like Freemasons, if Freemasons weren't actually lame, and really did the stuff that conspiracy theorists think they do.

What is the frequency and power level of magic items in your campaign?

In my campaign world the magic items are rare, but usually powerful. Most magic items were created for specific purposes, like; A magic sword made to kill the troll king of the direwoods, or something like that. They are very powerful for their chosen purpose but not so much for anything else. There aren't really any +1 swords just lying around, magic items are special and have a history and reason for being created.

What are your thoughts?

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Published on 3/04/2011 Written by 5 comments

Awesome Pic of the Week

This weeks picture is a cut above the regular awesome, and is a Batman fighting a shark with a lightsaber kind of awesome...

There is possibly no higher awesome than that. The only way things could be more awesome would be if, like, all the cast from Star Wars was playing in a metal band or something....

Holy shit.

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Published on 3/03/2011 Written by 2 comments

Review: Mutant Future

Mutant Future review.

Mutant Future is a post-apocolyptic game by the makers of the D&D retro-clone Labyrinth Lord. Unlike Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future is not a direct clone of an existing game, though it shares more than a little DNA with the sci-fi classic Gamma World.

It creates a world where technology is gone, civilization turned into a violent, desolate wasteland of swords and mutants. The game lacks a detailed setting, but the implications are clear and easy to adapt to your own, more detailed setting.

The character classes are the first thing I noticed. They are a melding of the old and the new. The standard D&D statistics apply, though slightly altered in their purpose to fit the new setting (no more Dragon Breath save), and the creation is random roll. From there, you select a class, including Mutated Human, three different kinds of Androids, Mutated Plant, and Pure Human. Each has unique abilities and, honestly, you can play a mutated plant! A deadly daffodil! That makes the whole game worth it to me, but read on if you are still skeptical.

There's a huge list of random mutations, some beneficial, some...less so. But all are interesting and all make for varied and entertaining characters. Some examples include dual-heads (shades of Zaphod Beeblebrox?), classic mutations like teleportation, and some less common ones like the ability to throw grenade-like fruit as a Mutant Plant. See, mocking the daffodil was a mistake!

There's also a great list of technological items, though with the caveat that they should be used sparingly and with vague descriptions. And c'mon, the fun of finding a thermite grenade and not understanding its purpose can lead to all kind of joyous surprises down the road for any gaming group.

There's even a large bestiary included with plenty of familiar and original beasties. All of the enemies have great stat blocks and even some excellent artwork.

The entire game feels like a D&D mod on steroids, and that's a very good thing. It's immediately familiar to an old-school gamer, with its saving throws and descending AC, but features plenty of nice additions from modern gaming, like larger HP totals for starting characters and unified leveling tables. These additions help to simplify the game and make the entire thing more friendly for the first timer as well as the old grognard. Combat is less deadly at early levels than its D&D counterpart, though they are no less exciting.

Of course, Mutant Future has flaws, although none are too glaring. Firstly, there is, clearly, the potential for a nearly unplayable character to be created if too many bad mutations are rolled. There are also some seemingly unncessary Android types, though that's more of a minor waste than a real flaw.

There are also some segments from the rules that could have used a little more reworking from the original Labyrith Lord base to add flavor. And on the subject of flavor, the setting information is really quite minor and would benefit from some growth and addition. If a more detailed campaign setting were available I believe this complaint would be null, but as it stands it's very open-ended and requires some lengthy prep on the part of the novice GM.

The game plays smoothly, and is adaptable for many different styles of game, much like its parent system. PCs could easily explore ruins of old earth in a dungeon crawl, or they could spend countless sessions going from town to town in the wasteland, or even getting involved in the local political scene in the shattered remnants of the future.

Also included is a handy conversion guide if you want to play Labyrinth Lord with some Mutant Future options or vice versa. It's another nice touch in an overall package that is a loving ode to classic roleplaying games.

Pros: Rule-lite; delightful mutations; well-laid out rulebook; good melding of old and new.

: No real background setting; potentially unbalanced in terms of character creation;

Mutant Future is available in free PDF form from Goblinoid Games (without the art) and is also available for purchase from Lulu.

160 pages, Goblinoid Games, 2010.
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Published on 3/01/2011 Written by 14 comments

4 Reasons to Use Google RPG

I often find myself without a regular local play group. For various reasons - distance, work and family commitments, apparently I'm a big douchebag so I can't make new friends - it's simply not possible to get a bunch of people together on a steady basis to play role-playing games. In absence of a local play group, I usually resort to PBEM - Play-By-E-Mail - which is certainly not the same as playing "live" but it works in a pinch.

For those of you unfamiliar with this high-tech yet archaic system, Joe Nelson mentioned it in a post a few weeks ago, but while he looked at online role-playing in general, I'm going to focus on PBEM. The idea behind it is that the DM (me) sends out the scenario or encounter via e-mail and the other players reply with what their character wants to do. The DM in turn replies to their character's actions and the story keeps going until suddenly you're role-playing! The reference to Google in the title refers to how that particular conglomerate's selection of tools (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites) combine to form a very handy toolbox for this sort of thing. (Yeah, I know there are websites dedicated to RPGs specifically, but I really do find the Google stuff easier to use)

Of course, playing like this has its own particular pros and cons you would never find gaming around a table. Today's topic of conversation is the advantages of playing in this manner. Here are my top 4 reasons to play RPGs by E-mail:

1. Play anywhere, with anyone, without worrying about schedules
That was ultimately the point of starting this in the first place.

2. I can jam a lot more background and story into it if I want to
When you're playing around a table and the DM goes off on tangents weaving his or her narrative or explaining background info or whatever schlock DMs think they can get away with, it's very easy for you (the players) to grow bored. You ignore them, start playing Atari (people still do that, right?) or scribble little flowers and/or bleeding skulls in the margins of your character sheet.

Player: You have 600 pages of background material for your players?!
DM: No, that's just the one for monks and clerics.

When you're playing via email, the DM can jam as much flavour and fluff as they want in there and the folks that want to read it can do so and everyone else can suck it. They can easily ignore it without being a distraction to those who do want to read it and thus immerse themselves in the vivid, living world the DM has painstakingly created. It's win-win for everyone.

3. Options for storytelling you can't get in table top
In any cool story, be it book, movie, stage show, video game or cave drawing, the heroes always split up. Sometimes you just have to do it that way for the story to work. Luke went off to find Yoda. Rand al'Thor goes off to do whatever bullshit it is Rand al'Thor does (do those books still come out?) The Fellowship actually only lasted for the second half of the first book, and that's the basis of our whole frickin' hobby. Yet in table-top RPGs, the number one rule is: Never split the party. Most people assume this rule is so that players don't spread their strength too thin and get wiped out by more powerful monsters.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: The real reason you never split the party? Because it's way too much fucking work for the DM.

How can you convincingly play a group that's split up, working at different (possibly opposing) goals, without each group knowing what the other is doing? This is perhaps a whole article for another time, but in short: you write notes, you move some players to another room, and you generally jump through hoops to awkwardly do something that doesn't really work anyway.

In PBEM? You just change the addresses in the "To" box. You can send some of the characters off on a side quest, give out secret information to only one player, or describe seedy sexual encounters without embarrassing the rest of the group (see last week's post). It's a simple way to open up so many new story-telling options you can't do on a table-top.

This guy totally has the wrong idea about digital role-playing.

4. It helps shy players be creative
I didn't think of this when I started, but I've discovered that the faceless medium of the Internet allows people who would be uncomfortable playing a racist metro-sexual borderline homosexual eladrin warlock in front of people a chance to play said character (and love it!) in text only. It's the same reason people play WoW and Second Life - you can be whoever you want to be without everyone else seeing the "real" you sitting in your underwear at your keyboard. Even if you know the other players, the distance created by the fiber optic wires between you still generates a weird sort of anonymity.

The huge advantage to PBEM over WoW (in my humble opinion) is that instead of just grinding the same stupid levels over and over again while listening to the inane chatter of pubescent illiterate punks calling you a noob, you actually have to be creative. You have to describe your character and their actions, and speak with their voice in character. It's a great exercise for your imaginative writing skills.

So those are some of the positive aspects of PBEM. I'm going a little long, so I'll save the negative aspects for next week (sadly yes, there are a few). In the meantime, if anyone has experiences with PBEM they would like to share (hopefully positive ones), I would love to hear them.

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