Published on 5/31/2011 Written by 14 comments

Why I'm Afraid of Game Masters

In my 19-odd years playing RPGs, about 90-95% of that time has been as a DM/GM. For me, getting to run a character is a treat because the world on the opposite side of the screen is so strange and mysterious. In fact, I find the relationship between the two roles so strange that I don't know how more games don't break down into fistfights.

As a GM, I often joke about killing player characters and how I'm going to screw them over and make their lives miserable. But it's just that - a joke. I don't remember the last time I actually killed a player character, let alone achieved the feather in my cap of a TPK (Probably because I've been playing a lot of 4E. It's much harder to kill characters in 4E), so I never imagined they would take my threats seriously. But you know what? Actually running a character is scary shit.

A buddy of mine recently started a Battlestar Galactica game. He's only GMed a few times, so he's pretty excited and so far he's doing a good job. But I have to admit, I'm constantly terrified for my character's life. I don't know if it's because I'm just not used to playing, so I haven't quite balanced my risk/gain ratios. Maybe it's because he's just doing well at making us feel threatened, and playing up that there's danger around every corner. Maybe I'm just a big pussy. I mean, c'mon, I've only been playing this character for a couple of weeks. It's not like I'm that attached to him. Yet I'm honestly worried he's going to get blown away any second, and probably in some lame way, like screwing up a landing in the hangar bay or choking to death on a chicken bone.

I said choke ON a chicken... nevermind, it was a terrible joke anyway.

Do all players live like this? In constant fear that their character is going to die? I really don't want to start taking anti-anxiety meds over a friggin' game...

I think my fears stem from an early adventure going way back to high school. I had only been playing for a few years, and mostly Game Mastering. My friends and I got together with a real old-school gamer who offered to run a game of 1st Edition D&D for us. When I say old-school, I mean really old-school: he actually played with Gygax at conventions in the seventies, and actually play-tested the original Palladium Fantasy RPG with Kevin Siembieda. Now HE was a killer GM (the old guy, not Siembieda; Siembieda is just a bad game designer), but I was lucky to pick up on his murderous tendencies right away, and I did everything I could to stay alive. Other players were dropping around me left and right, killed by save-or-die poisons, ripped to shreds by owlbears, eaten by a dragon. One guy went through 3 or 4 characters in one night. I played a fighter, but I spent most of the adventure hiding in the back and letting everyone else set off the fucktarded, over-the-top traps. Even worse, the DM knew how to play it up to make us even more afraid: he kept track of our hit points, and wouldn't tell us how many we had left. He just said, "you're hurt," or "you're really hurt," and we had to guess whether or not we could survive another punch to the face from a mummy.

(I think that's the best example of the difference between new- and old-school gaming I've ever found. In 4E, I've seen guys spend hours calculating probabilities and the best combination of weapons, powers and feats to achieve just the right balance of numbers. In 1E, the numbers didn't matter. You just tried to stay the fuck out the way and hope the DM didn't kill you arbitrarily. I'm not saying one is better than the other, they're just incredibly different.)

The other difference is that "new school" gamers won't get this joke.

So you have to appreciate that this scarring experience has stuck with me, and I kinda assume that every Game Master since is equally heartless. I know that's not true - like I said, I am in all fairness probably too easy on my players, and I'm sure there are other GMs who are the same. I want to tell a good story and for the players to have fun. I try to make the adventure just challenging enough so that the players have to work a bit for their victory - I'm not aiming to punish them by killing them for failure.

Though that's probably the aim of most GMs, I still feel completely different on the other side of the screen. You put work into most characters, whether it's hours of writing a back story or months of playing or even just a few minutes of generating some random stats. You grow some attachment to it, you want to see it grow and evolve. It's just like a GM designing a campaign - they want to see a payoff, and have players enjoy their creation instead of derailing it in the first session by murdering the king and burning down his castle.

We really should be able to work together. Ultimately we all want the same thing (except for those odd kooks who really do get off by killing player characters), so maybe with a bit of communication and practice I can stop having nightmares about my character being face-raped by cylons (the metal kind, not the fleshy ones).

This scene just took on a whole new connotation:
"Now, are you going to cooperate, or do I have to invite my big metal friend back in here?"

Hopefully the rest of you have long ago come to terms with your characters' mortality, but if you have thoughts from either a player's or Gm's point of view, feel free to leave them below.

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Published on 5/24/2011 Written by 8 comments

ROBOTECH on Netflix (and Memories of the RPG)

I wrote awhile back that I believed Star Wars by West End Games was the best RPG ever. While I really do believe that, it's not necessarily my favourite game. My favourite game (well one of my favourites) is actually one of the worst-made games ever, because it uses the Palladium rules system.

Of course, I'm talking about ROBOTECH, which to my pleasant surprise is now available on Netflix! Though all 85 episodes are listed on the program, only the original Macross story arc is currently available to view (at least here in Canada). That's okay, it is the best part anyway, though I haven't seen the other parts in a long time and wouldn't mind checking them out again.

I have loved ROBOTECH since I was 5 years old. I may like it even more than Star Wars. The original series, even though it had cheesy dialogue and was poorly edited, is still a brilliant example of sci-fi storytelling, and its way of showing how the characters develop and grow over time is, in my less-than-humble opinion, unparalleled. Characters get married, have children, evolve, die. It was almost more than my 5-year old brain could handle! Going from crap like Care Bears and He-Man to ROBOTECH is like a recreational marijuana smoker giving crack and heroin a spin.

Plus, it has ass-kicking giant transforming robots.

Now, take all that mind-numbing goodness and turn it into a role-playing game. When my teenage self, now well-versed in D&D and similar games, discovered that this guy named Kevin Siembieda had turned my cherished childhood experience into an RPG, my life suddenly took on new meaning.

The main reason the current generation is doomed? When I was a kid, we had ROBOTECH. Today's kids have Michael Bay's Transformers. Art and civilization are truly dead.

Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, playing ROBOTECH actually led to some of my best campaign storylines and some amazingly mature role-playing for 16-year olds. One campaign in particular stands out, revolving around the Moon brothers (I apologize to anyone else who played in this campaign who may be reading this, but I don't remember the other characters).

The oldest brother, Raphael, was studying to be a scientist when the war against the aliens broke out and he was forced to join the military. Half-way through our campaign he decided he had enough of fighting and left active combat to help the R&D department. Imagine! Willingly turning down combat in an RPG!

It's just wrong. Kinda like this.

The middle brother, Donatello, was a bit of a loser and not much of a pilot. He kept getting shot down, and was ashamed that he kept surviving when so many others were dying. He got his girlfriend pregnant, asked her to marry him, but before the wedding she was killed in a surprise alien attack. Donatello completely lost it and fell into depression, developing a drinking problem, and (as I remember), actively tried to get himself killed in battle.

The youngest, Leonardo, was a hot-shot punk kid who was a brilliant pilot and a troublemaker. He was always making life difficult for his commanding officer, Major Richard Assman (pronounced "Oz-man"). He actually had an affair with the Major's estranged wife, and became a father-figure to their son, who the Major ignored as he concentrated on his career.

Now remember: These were 15- and 16-year old boys playing this game. Normally we were doing shit like playing Super Nintendo and "borrowing" street signs. That we could actually put aside our childish behaviour to come up with that kind of storytelling makes a great argument why role-playing games are not a waste of time. When done well and with maturity, RPGs can spur incredible creativity and imagination. Can you believe that none of us could get a date?

The fun and the epic-ness of the it all made up for the terrible, terrible rules. I will write an entire post some day about the Palladium rule-set (why the hell was everyone a body-building boxing gymnast?), but I won't let that soil the love I'm currently feeling for good ol' ROBOTECH. If you don't have Netflix, go sign up for a free trial, so you can watch an episode or two.

Now I'm feeling all nostalgic. Anyone wanna get together for a game of ROBOTECH?

I bet this kid is game.

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Published on 5/17/2011 Written by 10 comments

How to Write A Bad Climax to Your Adventure

I've written a few RPG adventures in my day. I don't claim to be good at it, but if nothing else I've learned what doesn't work. Sometimes, I would probably have been better off just writing the damn thing based on the lyrics of random songs, since it can't be much worse than some of the shit I'm about to share with you.

From my experience, here are five things that just do not work to end your adventure:

1 - Too many threats/villains/monsters

I don't mean like fighting against a hoard of zombies. Fighting a hoard of zombies is cool. What sucks is fighting the boss, his two bodyguards, his pet hellhound, his wizard adviser, his ninja daughter and a half-dozen thugs. This complaint is directed primarily at D&D 4E: Just because the XP Pool says this encounter should work, doesn't mean that it will. Adding more baddies does not make an encounter more epic, it just makes it longer. There are already so many special abilities, effects, auras, etc. for a DM to track, adding more templates just slows everything down to a crawl. If the players are nodding off, reading comic books, or checking their email, you are doing something wrong.

Looking over your screen and seeing this is the GM's worst nightmare.

2 - Too much flavour text

Flavour text is great if used properly. It provides clues and information, and sets the scene. Even at the end of the adventure, a little summary and recap of the heroes' successes and a description of the villain writhing in agony is a great boost to the players' ego. Unfortunately, some writers/DMs use this as an excuse to read you bits of their unpublished (read: rejected) novels.

To be honest, I tend to be too light on flavour text, but I've seen this done so poorly I had to add it to the list. In one of my first Living Forgotten Realms modules, we defeated the final encounter and the DM began reading the "aftermath" text. I expected a short summary to bring everything all together. But he kept reading. And reading. And reading. The flavour text was three frickin' pages long! It was pure masturbatory bullshit, and the DM just sat there and grimly read it while the players stared at him with eyes glazed over (or in my case, packing my bag and heading for the door).

Flavour text is like a boombox. Know your limits, and respect the power.

Otherwise everyone might end up wearing fingerless gloves.

3 - Make the players watch while someone else does something cool

The heroes have spent weeks or months of game time protecting the magical princess who can save the world. She's the only one who can cast the spell to defeat the dark lord. Finally, after months of listening to the little diva whine, the heroes fight their way through the Big Bad's fortress, slay the guardians, evade the traps, and put the villain on the ropes. Then they sit back while the princess does her thing. She probably has a conversation with the bad guy, blaming him for killing her father, and kicking her dog, or whatever, which is basically the GM just having a conversation with himself. All this while the players just watch and twiddle their thumbs.

At best, this turns into Too Much Flavour Text (see above). At worse, you're making the players sit back while cool stuff happens without them. Sure, it makes sense in a fantasy novel, but at the game table is just doesn't fly. The players have worked long and hard for this payoff. Let them stab the fucker in the throat.

(I mean the bad guy, not the princess. Though some people might stab the princess, too.)

I will admit, I have been seriously guilty of this one , especially when I first started game mastering. It's falling into the trap of writing a story, and the players are just along for the ride. The players should be pushing the story, and you're just there to describe what happens when they do something stupid.

4 - Rush the ending

We've all been there. You're playing and you're getting close to the climax, and suddenly you realize that you're running overtime. Should you stop and pick up where you left off next week? Or plow through and go late?

Rushing the climax always leads to disappointment.

Most people choose the second answer, which 99% of the time is wrong. While some people live for gaming, other people have lives outside of gaming, and if they were supposed to be finished by four o'clock, then that's probably because they had somewhere else to be. By pushing through, you not only make that person late and piss them off (unless they simply get up and leave, which is awkward for everyone at the table), but you're hurting the experience for everyone involved. If you're rushing, you're going to forget things, going to skim over important parts (gotta fit that flavour text in!) and ruin what should be the best part of your game: the ending. Your players deserve a kick-ass finish to their story. Take your time and savor it, let the heroes get their licks in and feel like heroes. Saying, "Um, okay, he's dead, um, and he runs away... ah you miss... no... you know what? You hit, he's dead, too. The princess comes out and says thank you for saving her. Oh, by the way can I get a ride?" is so not cool.

Unless you have a really good reason to, and everyone is in complete agreement, I strongly believe that it's better to end your session on the brink of the final encounter/battle/whatever, and pick it up next time. If you play your cards right your players will be left salivating for the final installment (anyone check out the new Harry Potter trailers?) and you can take your time clearing up loose ends when you meet again.

5 - Not actually ending the adventure

I recently ended a story-arc in my D&D campaign where my players rescued a baby from a crazy singing elf in a maze full of goblins in an other-worldly dream realm (sound familiar?) This was going to be the end of a long-running campaign as we were moving on to try a new game. The PCs returned home, and replaced the baby quietly in his cradle, and I wanted to end it peacefully like that. My players would have none of it. They insisted they wanted more, that they wanted to put the baby into the hands of his parents, that they wanted some recognition for their success, etc. So, I resorted to my original "ending," (from when I thought the campaign was going to continue), and told them about how while they were gone, the child's grandfather declared war on the neighbouring orc and goblin nations, thinking they were behind the kidnapping (they weren't), and that the child's parents and several of the PCs allies had gone off on a quest into the heart of the orc lands to try and rescue the kid. So now the PCs were going to have rescue them, too.

Except they weren't, because I already told them we were starting new campaign with a new game the next week. It didn't go over well.

Fuck you, Toad.

Give your players an ending. Leaving a loose end or a potential hook for another day is okay, but for god's sake give them some sort of closure. Let them marry the princess, or have the peasants cheer them on a procession through town, give them a mound of gold, anything. They invested a lot into this game, just like you did, and deserve some kind of payoff.

We can all learn from our mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others. Please share anything that hasn't worked for you, from any part of your adventure. Maybe if we all put our heads together we can craft one perfect, ideal adventure module. Or, at the very least, write a few dozen that are a little bit less sucky.

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Published on 5/12/2011 Written by 6 comments

Learning from the Enemy

I've heard it said that the MMO is the single greatest threat to pen-and-paper roleplaying. In all frankness, I find this a little hard to believe, having played a fair number of online RPGs, but then I'm no industry analyst and you can't deny the sway that 12+ Million (Capital M!) gamers and their monthly revenue have over even the big leaguers like Wizards of the Coast and Paizo.

So I guess it isn't entirely unreasonable to call MMOs an "enemy" of traditional RPGs, but then it wouldn't be entirely accurate either. After all, MMOs and traditional roleplaying games are clearly two separate beasts. If you don't believe that, try playing both in one day. There's little comparison mechanically, socially, and, for me at least, they each fulfill a different gaming need.

But, is there anything we can take away from MMOs and bring to our own table? I think there are at least two key things that we can incorporate more into pen-and-paper gaming.

Instant Gratification.

This ought to sum it up nicely.

The old MMOs, Everquest, Ultima Online, didn't quite understand this one. They made leveling a slow grind and provided less loot per encounter. Essentially, they played a lot more like traditional RPGs, only without the gamemaster dictating events.

However, as time went on, ways to increase the player base were sought. And the most successful found that immediate rewards would keep players interested. No more spending hours and hours just to make it to level 2, no more trudging along with the same dull set of armor for 20+ levels. Now the early game in most MMOs looks more like the classic Diablo in terms of loot and speed.

There! That should be enough goodies for level 2.

It's easy to see why people can grow so addicted to an MMO. Things go fast; it's a barrage of reward, reward, reward, until you reach the higher levels. Even death means little more than a temporary setback now.

And it's clear that some pen-and-paper publishers have taken note. I'm lookin' at you, 4e! And yet they've completely missed the point. Instead of giving in and having players level up faster and gain new "powers", or a shiny new blade that can do +18 damage to Giants, what pen-and-paper RPGs need to do is find out how they can reward players in ways that only a traditional roleplaying game can!

Have NPCs have meaningful interactions with the players, give them a plot of land that actually means something in the context of the game, change the environment based on their actions, allow them to alter the course of this fictional world's history. Instead of fake material gains, give them fake personal ones!

That actually sounded a lot better in my head....


Accessible as in one FREAKIN' RED BUTTON!

This has been discussed to death, but damn it, we're going there again. Let's just admit it, once and for all. Pen-and-paper roleplaying games are not accessible to new players.

I don't mean to say that a 1e gamer couldn't understand 4e. I mean someone who has never had any experience with roleplaying would flounder if you handed them a rulebook and said "Good luck!" Whereas I could plop my grandmother in front of one of the big name MMOs and, after a little trial and error, she would be ganking mobs left and right.

Simple tutorials, clean interface, and a gradual slide into the game all help to provide an experience that anyone, regardless of their roleplaying background, could get immersed in. When was the last time you could say the same about a pen-and-paper game?

Sure, most roleplaying games aren't too hard, but you try telling that to someone who has just seen one of the massive rulebooks! More than a hundred pages?! To them, it will seem more like a technical manual than a game.

WotC tried to remedy this by including a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style guide in the recent Red Box release, but after testing it with several non-roleplaying fellows (admittedly not the greatest scientific endeavor of all time, but cut me some slack), I've come to the conclusion that it just won't beat having someone to be more hands on in helping new players understand the rules.

But is there any way pen-and-paper RPGs can successfully emulate the ease of entrance that most MMOs provide? I'm not sure about this one. Most attempts to gradually explain the mechanics just don't work, and trying to ease a newcomer in with an experienced group is asking for trouble.

I suppose the best thing would be to restructure rulebooks in a less traditional and more accessible manner. A newbie's first reaction is to try and read through the entire book and most rulebooks aren't designed like that. It's information overload if you try, with +2s and -4s all over the place. And nothing turns off potential gamers like too much math. The fatal flaw here is that by doing so you might make the rulebook harder to use for the experienced gamers.

Most rulebooks have only a handful of play examples and leave the rest up to the reader's imagination. More play examples would take up valuable space, but might help enthuse newcomers to stick around and actually try a game.

In the end, this remains the second biggest hurdle to cross if pen-and-paper gaming wants to even try to attract a larger audience. The largest is, of course, the belief that we are all that guy.

So, what do you say? Is there anything else we should think about taking from the MMOs or have I got this completely ass-backwards?

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Published on 5/10/2011 Written by 21 comments

The 5 Most Despicable Things Ever Done by Player Characters

Player characters in RPGs are generally supposed to be heroes. Many games and game masters insist their players only choose "good" alignments to enforce this assumption. However, despite everyone's best intentions, whether through accident, greed or sheer boredom, players and their characters often end up doing horrible, horrible things. I mean, in D&D alone, the "heroes" make their living by robbing graves, murdering intelligent creatures and stealing their life's savings. And that's when they're on their best behaviour.

I'm not here to preach about the morality in gaming (that's a post for another day). Today I just want to share some despicable, shouldn't-be-funny-but-they-kinda-are stories about nasty shit I've seen players pull off in the name of a "game." Without further ado...

The 5 Most Despicable Things Ever Done by Player Characters

5. In a post-apocalyptic zombie game (Dead Reign), the players were being hounded by an evil army colonel who was doing experiments on the zombies. The players defeated him, wounding him in the process, and one of them took him hostage. She stripped him naked, forced him to help her to right a jeep that had been turned over during the battle (so she could use it to escape) and then while his back was still turned SHE SHOT HIM IN THE BACK OF THE HEAD. I was speechless. The player ranted that it was the correct thing to do to make sure the bad guy didn't do the same thing to her when her back was turned (and she had a point, I probably would have pulled that), but that's what BAD GUYS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.

Why is it when faced with the threat of a zombie hoard, the survivors always shoot each other?

4. In an old D&D game, the party was captured by an enemy army. Some how it came about that the bad guys offered the captured PCs a chance to join their side. The goody-goody paladin refused of course, but the ranger took them up on their offer. The bad guys said that in order to prove his loyalty, the ranger had to kill the paladin. The paladin, hoping to pull of some sort of trick, knelt down and offered his neck to his companion.

PALADIN: "Do what you must."

RANGER: "Are you sure?"

PALADIN: (Winks, nods)

DM: "Okay, what do you do?"

RANGER: "I cut his fucking head off."

I ruled that since the paladin was unarmed, exposed and basically giving him a free shot, the ranger scored an automatic double-damage critical hit and killed him on the spot. Maybe that was a bit of a jerky thing for me to do, but hey, he asked for it. I think the paladin's player actually went in the bathroom and cried after that.

So many of my campaigns end this way. I don't know why.

3. Same two players from the above example, but in a Star Wars campaign. The ranger was a smuggler this time, and the paladin was a bounty hunter. They group had only recently banded together and was fleeing some stormtroopers, and the smuggler got back to the ship first. He locked the bounty hunter out.

BOUNTY HUNTER: "Let me in!"

SMUGGLER: "I barely know you! How do I know I can trust you?"

BOUNTY HUNTER: "How can I prove you can trust me?"

SMUGGLER: "Put your head on my gun." (Referring to the turbolaser turret on the underside of his spaceship)

Faced with a charging squadron of stormtroopers, the bounty hunter had no choice but to comply.

GM: "Okay, what do you do?"

SMUGGLER: "I pull the fucking trigger."

The bounty hunter complained about not getting a defence roll, but c'mon. He really should have learned his lesson with the Paladin.

2. Rifts. One of my most hated games, but I had to include this one because I was the despicable player in this example and I wanted to be fair. I got to be a player in Rifts because I hated it too much to GM, so if my group wanted to play, someone else had to run it. Didn't mean I had to like it or play nicely. As we traveled through the world I picked up hopeless children and orphans and dragged them along behind us, feeding them and keeping them alive. Eventually, when I had about fifty and we found a big enough pit, I threw all of them into it with knives and clubs and told them to fight their way out. The lone survivor came out traumatized and psychologically scarred. I sold him for a fortune to a slaver as an arena gladiator because he was a proven bad-ass mother fucker.

1. D&D again, this time with a male player who was running a female elf thief. He ran the character for a long time, and she was pretty kick-ass. She was a master cat burglar, head of the thieves' guild, feared by everyone. On one adventure she was hit with some sort of acid/fire trap that horribly disfigured her. The player was horrified. "I can't play her if she's ugly!" he wailed. I joked that maybe if she bathed in the blood of virgins, she could cast a spell to restore the character's looks.

So he did. He murdered seven innocent young women so that his character wouldn't be ugly. Should I have let him? You be the judge.

This is why male players shouldn't play female characters.

Another fun fact? The guy running the female elf thief was the same guy who spent the whole Call of Cthulhu adventure going on a date.

There you have it. Five stories about the terrible things players do in games. Maybe they were right about D&D in the 80s, when they said it turned kids into murderous Satan worshipers.

Does anyone else have an awesome/horrifying stories about the terrible, terrible things they've done or seen done in an RPG? Don't worry, this is a safe place. No one will judge you here.

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Published on 5/07/2011 Written by 4 comments

Three of Swords

I will preface this Saturday Sorcery by saying that I am of the old school mindset when it comes to magic weapons. I feel a magic weapon should be reasonably unique, reasonably powerful, and possibly dangerous to the wielder. They should be strange, wondrous, and have some kind of backstory.

I dislike the sort of throwaway magic items that proliferate in D&D these days. It turns a powerful arcane force into a trinket to be sold when not in use. There is little to no personal attachment to a specific weapon or set of armor, no lofty ideal of contributing to the legend crafted by a enscorcelled blade, no sign that these supposedly powerful artifacts are anything other than flashy glitz you might find in a local department store.

In here, somewhere, are seven +1 swords, eight Wands of Levitation, and a dozen Boots of Fleetness.

So when I create magic items, I try to imbue them with a sense of purpose and history, perhaps even a seed for a plot or two. What follows are three different magic swords for use with any edition of D&D or, really, any fantasy game in general. I have used these in both 1e and 3e without needing any major conversion other than saving throws. I tried to write them in a similar vein as the older editions, including such information as XP Value and GP Value, though I don't recall ever using the former in a single one of my games.

I also make no promises of originality. I haven't read every tome on magic items there is, and some of these designs might be very derivative, especially with all the beautiful custom items out there on the Internet.

Sword of Knowledge
XP Value: 1,000 GP Value: 1,250 Rarity: Uncommon (20% chance in any given dungeon/location)
Description: The Sword of Knowledge is a short sword of fairly unremarkable appearance and behavior, acting exactly as an ordinary short sword with one significant departure. Several were made, though the whereabouts of few are known.

Originally crafted by the sorcerer Manetibane three hundred years ago, its original purpose was to help provide him not only with protection but also a boosted repertoire of intelligence. When equipped, either in hand or in its scabbard, the sword bestows upon the wielder the ability to understand any single fact or information, no matter how complicated or out of their normal field of expertise. It works once per day and may only provide insight into things that it would be possible for the wielder to know, either through research or magical study (e.g. 'What is that large, red, scaly lizard'?). It is impossible to use it to learn things of a nebulous nature (e.g. 'Can we trust Baron Rafis'?).

Arich of Tsradil's Blade
XP Value: 3,500 GP Value: 20,000 Rarity: One-of-a-kind
Description: This broadsword appears normal to casual inspection, and even to a spell such as Detect Magic it will appear plain and un-enchanted. This is because it is not magically imbued.

Instead, it is occupied by the soul of a once-great fighter who wandered the realms in years past. He devoted his existence to the preservation of the empire he followed until the day he and his mistresses were slain by a vicious tribe of beasts from the foothills. His rage knew no limits and it is said that finally the gods cast him from his eternal reward, to remain trapped in an object of the violence he wished to use against those who had killed him.

When used by a fighter-type, this weapon provides a +4 to-hit bonus and a damage bonus of +1 in addition to whatever bonuses the wielder may already have.

However, due to the nature of this living blade, whenever it is replaced in its scabbard or otherwise removed from the wielder's hand, a Saving Throw against Spells must be made. If failed, there is a 25% chance that the wielder will lose his memory from a time stretching back 1d6 years. The memory loss will be permanent and may only be restored via a Wish spell or divine intervention.

The Bonded Blades
XP Value: 2,000 GP Value: 10,950 Rarity: Very Uncommon (10% chance in any given dungeon/location)
Description: These rapiers, clearly marked with runes of thorns and with an aura strongly visible with a spell such as Detect Magic, are from the long-dead empire of Sarish. Each blade is marked with a broken pattern of runes and symbols, matched by an identical rapier. When used singly, each rapier will act like a perfectly ordinary sword.

However, when two individuals are each equipped with matching rapiers, they will be bonded, in the ancient Sarish tradition. Each will be able to feel the mood of the other and communicate non-verbally across a distance of a quarter-mile. When in combat together, the swords will bestow increased combat awareness, warranting a bonus of +2 to-hit. In addition, once per day each bonded individual may cast a modified Cure Light Wounds (1d6, no bonus) on each other.

If one of the bonded individuals should perish, the other must make a Saving Throw against Death or suffer 1d3 points of Constitution damage.

The only way to break a Sarishan bond is through a Remove Curse or Wish spell, and doing so requires that the other bonded individual be freed of their bond within the next 24-hours or suffer the same consequences as if the other had died.
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Published on 5/03/2011 Written by 10 comments

How I Put Crazy In My Game (Sanity Levels for d6 Horror)

Friday night I ran my players through our first "D6 Horror" game. To my surprise, they all survived, though they came out with some physical scars and with their grasp of sanity somewhat shaken (I imagine it's how people feel after a night out with Ke$ha).

For D6 Horror, I used the D6 Adventure rules as a base, with one major change: I added a Sanity-level score, in addition to the Wound-level score. Yes, this idea was "borrowed" from Call of Cthulhu, but I only did it out of love. It's flattery, really.
Cthulhu is so happy and friendly, it's hard not to love him.

Sanity levels work much like Wound levels. For Wounds, when you take physical damage, you roll your Strength/Physique score to resist it. Depending on how many points of damage remain after the resistance roll, you suffer increasing levels of Wound damage. For Sanity, I've given each creature or horrifying experience a "Horror" level, rated approximately 2D to 4D. The character experiencing the horror rolls their Willpower against the Horror roll, and takes Sanity damage based on how many points the Horror beats their Willpower.


Shaken - You are startled with fear and cannot act. You lose all your actions for the next round. After that, you may operate normally, but you always have that horrible reminder somewhere in the back of your head of the terrible things you saw, like that time you walked in on your parents making love on the kitchen table. Only worse.

Disturbed - Something you have seen has affected you deeply. It will probably give you nightmares in the future. Whenever you encounter a stressful situation, you must make a Moderate Willpower roll or suffer -1D on a random attribute and all associated skills for the remainder of the scene.

Oddly enough, the guys from the band "Disturbed" are relatively sane-looking, as far as metal heads go. Except for that guy who doesn't seem to know in what direction he's supposed to be looking.

Unhinged - You have seen things that humans are not meant to know. You have nightmares every night, and know you will never be the same again. Whenever you encounter a stressful situation, you must make a Difficult Willpower roll or suffer -1D on two separate random attributes all associated skills for the remainder of the scene.

Deranged - You have trouble distinguishing reality from your own twisted imagination. You have nightmares constantly, even when you're awake, and it's a constant struggle for you to operate normally. You take a permanent -1D penalty to all attributes and skills. Whenever you encounter a stressful situation, you must make a Very Difficult Willpower roll or suffer -2D on two separate random attributes, in addition to the previous -1D penalty.

Psychotic - The damage to your psyche is massive. Surely no human being could have survived what you have experienced, and so you question whether you are even still human. You experience overwhelming, often violent breaks from reality. You continue to suffer from the -1D penalty (as per Deranged, above), and when faced with a stressful situation you must make a Very Difficult Willpower roll or lose control of your character for the scene. Whether you flee, strike out mindlessly or curl up in a ball and sob is entirely at the whim of your Game Master.

The best part of a GM's job is making players cry.

Vegetative - At this point, you character might as well be dead. You permanently lose control of your character as he or she is either forcibly committed to an institution or disappears into the darkness, never to be heard from again. This is considered a victory for the eternal powers of madness that lurk just beyond the veil of reality.


The rules above state that you take penalties to random attributes when you lose Sanity. I haven't decided yet whether that attribute is decided once, or if it's randomly chosen each time the character fails the Willpower roll. Having the same effect each time is probably more realistic (as the character develops a specific psychosis or neurosis), but choosing randomly has the potential to be even more unsettling and, in short, crazy.

The following are descriptive examples of penalties to your attributes :
*Note that I changed the name of some of the attributes, but what they represent should be obvious.

Aptitude - Severe anxiety prevents the character from performing basic skills. The character feels tense most of the time, and during situations of major stress they feel completely out of sync, have difficulty concentrating, and possibly develop irrational phobias.

On the plus side, this may result in you getting 8 seasons of a cheesy crime show on the USA Network.

Awareness - The character hears, sees or otherwise senses things that are not there. These hallucinations prevent the character from noticing obvious things, causes them to misinterpret information provided to them, and makes it very difficult to communicate with others as they infer intention and motivations that are not really there.

Coordination - Autonomic reaction. The character's hands shake uncontrollably when under stress, threatened of feeling angry, making it very difficult to perform fine motor skills or feats of agility.

Intellect - The character suffers selective traumatic amnesia, suddenly forgetting random things for no apparent reason. They also have difficulty concentrating and performing deductive reasoning.

Physique - The severe psychological trauma induces physiological trauma. The character suffers from migraines, intense muscle pain, nausea and other physically debilitating symptoms.

Psyche - The character's mind is so frail that they are more susceptible to further trauma, and will fall more quickly and completely under stressful situations. This may also lead to specific disorders and phobias, at the GM's discretion.


Though I haven't completely decided yet, I think I want it to be very difficult to restore sanity. Some options I'm considering:

Psychoanalysis (an Intellect skill) performed by another character on the suffering individual for an extended period of time (3 months or more) may allow the character a roll to heal one Sanity level.

This guy is going to become your best friend. He's like the Cleric of D6 Horror.

Meditation (a Psyche skill) can be used to in certain circumstances to remove Sanity damage.

Drugs or Alcohol may temporarily remove one level of Sanity damage, but the character must make an Endurance check or suffer the physical effects of the intoxication (and risks chance of addiction).

Any feedback? With only one session, we haven't had a lot of time to really play with the Sanity rules (except that I do maintain that murdering another human being in cold blood should impose a Sanity hit), so any suggestions are welcome.

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