Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hunter's Haven

Just a little writing practice this week, folks. Sit back and enjoy!


Not two miles South of town, you find a lodge alone in the wilderness. The sign above the door claims it to be the Hunter's Haven. A fitting title evidenced by the gentleman dressing this morning's kill. Two older travelers occupy the front steps, smoking their pipes and sharing impossible stories of days long past. 

Within, you find more of the same; rough types spinning yarns of one-ups-manship and partaking of the house's best ale. The interior decor screams proudly the profession of the clientele. Walls are adorned with animal skulls and pelts of every color. Chairs and tables fashioned from bone sit beneath a chandelier composed entirely of antlers. Racks of bows and spears are placed evenly around the walls. Above the hearth hangs a truly massive skull of unknown origin. A blackened bow of impressive size rests reverentially across it's horns.

The proprietor, "Dodgy" Hollins, wipes the bar with a rag before pouring you a tankard of sweet smelling ale. His smile is warm and friendly despite the trio of scars running from his ear to his lips.

"Welcome, friend. Can I get you a room or are you here to hunt the beast too?"


Hmmm? What have we here? Would this work for an intro? There's plenty to hint at story hooks. The place has some character to it. Too long, do you think? Does it have the right details? Does it need more? Less? What would you do differently if you were presenting this to your PCs?

Stay Classy?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Day Older

Well... another year, actually. Today I turn 30. The fun part is that I've met gamers who have been gaming as long as I've been alive. As I celebrate my third decade of existence, I've decided to take a few moments to relate the subject to tabletop RPGs, as I tend to do. I think this is as good an opportunity as any to explore characters and age.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Can I Borrow a Cup of City?

To this day, I have never once gone to a neighbor to ask for a cup of sugar. Between my love of tea and baking my own sweets, it'll probably never happen. To add to that, I've never been fond of borrowing anything from a neighbor. Too many questions about when it'll be returned... On the other hand I have no major compunctions against borrowing ideas. At least while conforming to copyright laws. Since we're here to discuss tabletop RPGs, this would primarily involve taking things from various other influences to add to my own little campaign world. In the case of this specific blog post, I'm going to borrow a city from an outside resource to use in a campaign, and I feel it would be good to discuss the reasons for doing so. Hopefully in the name of spurring thought through other people's heads.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pumpkin Season

October is here and every year I make a point of celebrating. It's a pretty big month for me. Lots of birthdays in the family, my own included, as well as the whole Halloween thing. While I haven't gone Trick or Treating in ages, I do still kind of enjoy the particular flavor of this holiday. So much so in fact that my own version of celebrating October includes a month long marathon of horror movies to keep the spirit intact (no pun intended). 

For those in the tabletop RPG hobby, I highly recommend letting this season flow into your gaming for at least a session or two. If you're in a campaign, maybe let it dip into a one-off session for some Halloween fun. If you're not in a campaign, then it's the perfect excuse for a one-shot! Really quick-like, here's a handful of ideas to get you started.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dead By Dawn

One of the most important points in any undertaking can simply be summed up as having the right man for the job. Or woman, but let's not argue semantics. With this past weekend dead and gone, I continue forward with the memories of two really good games. Oddly enough, both occurred in the same night for once. We started out with a Pacific Rim themed Mekton game. Mostly just a thinly veiled brawl, we settled in for a whopping three mass combats of Jaegers versus Kaijus. Wall to wall cinematic action. Not yet settled for the evening, we carried on into my first exposure to All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Another momentous event happened as a direct result: my first character death! And a TPK! (that's a Total Party Kill for the uninitiated)

This probably had less of an effect on me than it should by pure luck: it was a one-shot character rather than something I had run for months on end. I had heard of AFMBE so I kind of expected it. The best part of it all was that all deaths occurring that evening happened in what could be stated to be the best mode possible. Follow along with me while I explain my point of view.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Sometimes in life we come across personal challenges or goals that may seem ludicrous in the eyes of others. We all have our own mountains to climb or our white whales to hunt, and after all who apart from ourselves can see any difference between our victories and our defeats? Stumbling blocks come in all forms, whether from outside foes or simple physiology. While standing on big rocks and learning to love the taste of cinnamon can be fine and dandy for most, I have something else in mind.

I have, this past weekend, enjoyed yet another movie penned by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. While I won't say that it's the best of their movies, I will say that 'The World's End' is an extremely enjoyable film. In it, a group of high school friends reunite in an effort to tackle one of the last great challenges of their youth, the Golden Mile. The goal of which is to drink a pint of beer in each of twelve pubs in their old hometown of Newton Haven. As with most incidents involving large quantities of alcohol, hilarity ensues. While I'll not go further into the film, I will say my inner GM was taking notes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One-Shot at History: Post-Mortem

This past Saturday, my one-shot went off and was, when it comes down to brass tacks, successful. The group had a good time. I introduced some players to one of my favorite systems. Dice were rolled. Mooks were mashed. All-in-all, yes. I'd call that a success. As I often do after a game session, I've spent plenty of time fretting and analyzing what went down and what worked in order to make the next one just that much better. There's a couple of points that kind of stick out in my mind, if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Critical Thinking

Problem-solving is a basic intellectual skill. When presented with a goal and a set of obstacles, creative methods of problem-solving are sometimes required where simple methodology fails. By reputation, gamers in general exhibit a certain degree of creative thought bordering on ludicrous in regards to hypothetical scenarios. At least this is what I've come to believe and expect. I've heard tales of players going to outrageous lengths to surmount various stumbling blocks to mixed degrees of success. Examples range from launching arrows at pavilion-like structures before ascertaining breed or disposition to conquering dungeons by simply digging around them to constructing Rube Goldburg inspired contraptions in ad hoc attempts to open unlocked doors without touching them. 

The critical thinking involved in these kinds of exploits (the successful ones at least) is one skill I feel I could and should develop further. Tabletop games often present opportunities to do so in a fun and creative environment, so what better way to practice than to pull a heist? That's right. I'm talking Shadowrun.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One-Shot at History

As I type this, I find myself in the midst of preparations for a one-shot: a single session game to entertain our group of miscreants for a single evening while our current GM conjures up the next branch of our main campaign. I'll be running a pre-written scenario and I had to ask the question of whether or not the PCs would be built by the players or pre-made by myself. For the most part, the players will get to make their own barring one or two people new to the system I'm using. This leads me to yet another question: If I'm going to make a character for another player, do I need to hand him a background for that character? Or more importantly, if the scenario is pre-written and it's only one session, does the background material really matter?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

GenCon 2013

Just got home from Gen Con, Indy: The Best Four Days in Gaming. Probably one of the biggest gatherings of gamers in the world. This was my third trip to this magnificent convention and, despite some tragedy, I really enjoyed myself. If you haven't yet had the opportunity, it's a tremendous place to experience an awful lot of things and the city itself is very welcoming for this particular event. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Drop Dead Simple

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 
― Leonardo da Vinci

I have within the last twenty four hours acquired and played Vanillaware's latest endeavor, Dragon's Crown. It's a side-scrolling beat-em-up very much inspired by Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons arcade games: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. At about five hours into it, I can say I'm having a blast! It's even got me thinking of campaigns and my next turn at GMing again.

The premise is rather simple. A group of adventurers goes from dungeon to dungeon in search of the mythical Dragon's Crown, aka: the McGuffin. Sounds like a basic campaign to me. The details of the plot and all related events are a thinly woven excuse to get you from scene to scene. Still sounds like a campaign to me. Go from dungeon to dungeon, killing things and taking their stuff. Alright, it's an extremely basic campaign. That can still be fun, right? Let's analyze it a bit.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Make It Stronger

Recently, my Saturday group ended up in a rather interesting scenario: our GM humored me in designing an encounter for him to run. I gave him the bare-bones concept and some points of interest and he filled in the blanks and turned it into a really good session. Being an artist who is his own worst critic, I've already started looking at how I could have improved it. I'm not saying that our GM did a bad job. In fact he did incredibly well. On the other hand, I'm more looking at how he or I might improve our skills for the next time.

I can't emphasize this enough here, this is not for bragging rights or to belittle anything. This is entirely for analytical purposes. I want to turn a good scenario into a great scenario, not to reduce what was done. In picking this thing apart, you might find something you may use for your own game.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Question

Saturday's campaign, using the HERO System, our GM asked a very interesting question: How do I make it scary when you can hit everything?

Let's add some context. We have the latest chapter of an ongoing campaign with a major horror theme attached to it. Basically, anime-themed supernatural cops versus eldritch abominations. Admittedly, I went a little overboard conceptually, and made a character that was a tad on the broken side in combat. It's ridiculously hard for her to miss a shot. I've been doing my best to try to balance things out, going so far as to create opportunities for the GM to mess with her and not using everything she has at her disposal. Barring that little oversight, though, it is a good question to ask. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Feeling Adventurous?

You know what time it is. Come on and grab your friends! One of the things that drew me to tabletop gaming was the idea of building a character and having them go on wild and crazy adventures. In order to do that, I guess it might be a good idea to figure out what and adventure really is. That may seem like a duh-thing at the outset, but keep in mind that not everyone's idea of a good time is the same. To emphasize the point, when I was a kid I thought that running around the back yard with an old broom handle, 'slaying' dragonflies and defending a pillow fort was an adventure. Not that I wouldn't do that now (or haven't), but my definition of adventure has expanded over time.

Back then, adventure was a thing of going on quests, slaying dragons and rescuing distressed (distressing?) damsels. It still is in some regards, but sometimes it also includes car chases. Sometimes it's purely political and dialogue driven. Other times it's purely about retrieving fat lutes from Windex-drinking mages, or silver monkey statues from hidden temples. So what really goes into adventure? I don't know, but I'm about to speculate. Or regulate? I don't know that one either...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's In A Name?

Sunday's Fantasy Craft game has reached it's first mile marker, and concluded it's first arc. Our group has decided to take a break so the GM can pen up the next one, and so we move on to a bout of Shadowrun. I'm probably the least savvy in sci-fi, and my experience with Shadowrun 4e is minimal at best. Needless to say, coming up with a character concept is going to take me a bit longer than usual. As I begin to pour over options and story ideas, one element that sticks in my mind is a very important one. One that many people, myself included, often have trouble with. The name. 

Considering that this is Shadowrun, we're also talking about an alias. A nom de geurre to protect the actual identity of the criminal I happen to be designing. As much trouble as some people have coming up with a decent name, this particular case calls for two. As much as this is going to cause me no end to headaches, I do consider this an opportunity. As much as a rose by any other name stills smells like flowery plant matter, names do have power. The idea is to tap into that power.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Art Imitating Life: Party Time!

Last weekend, I had the honor and privilege of being one of the groomsmen in my cousin's wedding. What a grand event it was, too! Plenty of new faces to get acquainted with. Myriad handshakes. Great food. Good booze. Loud music. A general party atmosphere, and at the end of it all I have a much larger family! 

I also got a little behind the scenes view of the planning and pitfalls leading up to the event. Coordination. Timing. Scheduling. Human error. It all played out like a train wreck all the way up until 'go' time. While I was meandering about the location for this joyous event, the nerd in me decided to do what I do best; take an innocuous event and turn it into an exercise in absurdity. To all you GMs out there, I started thinking about how I could turn this into event at a game table.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It Starts Here...

Last Sunday, our campaign wrapped up it's first arc. Syrinx, my gorgon martial artist, still has a petrified hand. And it's starting to creep up her arm. The bastard responsible is now dead, several times over. Our client is now safe and sound, and ready to pay up. Things are as well as can be, all things considered. Now our GM is ready to put this campaign on hiatus long enough for him to write up the next leg of our journey. 

In case you haven't guessed it by now, our Sunday group operates on a round robin kind of system. Each of us takes turns running a short story arc and then hands control over to someone else. This allows us to try out different genres or different game systems. It'll likely be a while before I end up running again, but the idea of a new beginning to a campaign does get my gears turning on how I would handle the situation. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Them's Fightin' Words

Just so we're clear, I'm a guy who likes movies. I'm a guy who likes movies for guys who like movies. Comedy. Drama. Suspense. Horror. Good stories with good cinematography. And action. I was born in the 80's, which was the age of the cheesy action flick. Everything from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Stalone to Norris to Van Damme. The Expendables and it's sequel were a real treat for me. I've watched action scenes in cinema evolve over time and I have a certain appreciation for their art.

Now that I'm involved in tabletop gaming and RPGs, I love having the means of choreographing combat rounds into each other. One of the most important aspects of this, and one that is occasionally overlooked, is the environment in which a fight scene takes place. Sure, sometimes you might want an open fight in a large open arena, but that does limit things from a tactical and cinematic standpoint. What I present to you, dear reader, is a list of ten places for a fight scene! In no particular order, I might add. Just the first ten to come to mind.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Little R & R

So the latest campaign for my Saturday group is a combination of Silent Moebius, BladeRunner, and Lovecraftian Horror. The PCs are all high powered super cops facing down horrors from beyond mortal understanding. The first two sessions involved putting down a spell slinging corpse, being attacked by flayed sacks of human skin, braving bent and warped reality, facing a minor eldritch abomination and that was all on their first day on the job.

This immediately begs the question of 'What next?' for the players. Did we begin researching the next case? Maybe start looking for other nasties to go kill? What about ticketing a shoggoth for jaywalking? I'll tell you what we did next. We did what any self respecting group of PCs would do.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Last Sunday: My lovely (if bitchy) gorgon martial artist Syrinx, gets the surprise of a lifetime. In the process of curing a client of a major petrification curse, the client's brother is also brought back to life. He has a simple request at this point: join me or die. Being the die-hard mercs we are, we're sticking with the client who has yet to pay us the other half for a job we only recently completed. Initiatives are rolled and battle begins. Syrinx, being a gorgon, is used to other people turning to stone and understandably has an aversion to the shoe going on the other foot. Lo and behold, upon 'borrowing' this prick's sword, Syrinx's hand rapidly becomes a marble fixture. 

From a mechanical standpoint, she had been built to get close to an enemy, take their weapon and hand it back pointy-end first. Add one enemy with a cursed blade, and Boom! Hoisted by my own petard. Well played, sir. Well played. I have now experienced my first cursed item. Time to ponder the implications...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Villainous Intent

If we look at the basic struggle of Good versus Evil, every Dudley Do-Right will inevitably face his Snidely Whiplash, usually tying Nell Fenwick to the railroad tracks before twirling his mustache. Now at the game table, that would hopefully be your players (a stretch of the imagination from Dudley I'm sure...) preparing to stop the Evil Lich/Vampire/Wizard/Tyrant from feeding the Distressed Damsel/King/Loved One/MacGuffin to the Volcano/Dragon/Vermicious Knid/Sloar. Granted not every plot will feature a villain, or otherwise distinguished antagonist, but those that do may remind us of an old saying: A Hero is only as good as his Villain. 

So what goes into a villain? Every DMG will have some advice on this, but I still want to explore this idea. Perhaps maybe construct a thought process for this, or at least ask a bunch of questions that I don't intend to answer. (note: I'm going to keep using the word villain even if/when the term antagonist is a bit more appropriate. It'll be the more likely case when talking RPGs, so I'll just go with it.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Recommended reading for sure.
This will probably be a short post as I've been a bit preoccupied the last few days. Over the course of the last week, I've been doing some musings on the nature of horror and comedy and how they work. Nothing major or comprehensive, but light food for thought. This is also raw musing and I can't say it'll read well. You've been warned.

One other point. If you are looking for good tips on running horror, read anything by Kenneth Hite on the subject. Nightmares of Mine is particularly good.

We have two elements here that possess numerous commonalities, and seemingly are anathema to one another at the same time. The presence of one does not necessarily preclude the other, but the combination of the two may not be preferable. Should the two be combined, a careful hand is needed. Tricky to pull off, but plausible.

In order to make use of these elements in storytelling and gaming, there are several key parts that they share.
 As Mr. Hite points out in his book, hysteria is a common component: a loss of self control triggered by an emotional response. Fear in one case, laughter in the other. It could easily be said that this state of hysteria is the intended goal, but that is a case by case kind of thing. 
Setup is also important. For comedy this would lead into a 'punchline'. In the case of horror, this would be the buildup of atmosphere. The idea being that the mind of the audience is being lead to a necessary point in the psychological process, such as a false sense of expectation, or being set on edge. 
Timing is also crucial for both to achieve maximum effect, most often through the element of surprise. It's the moment between the setup and the point of impact. 
The unexpected causes the audience to have to readjust suddenly to that which they were unprepared for, thus upsetting mental balance and inducing hysteria. Catching the audience off-guard is more than just trying to startle them, though. It's using the setup to create a blindspot of sorts in the targets mind. Misdirection is incredibly useful.

Combining the two has some interesting effects. Either has a decidedly sobering effect when following the other. Humor is often a coping mechanism for traumas such as terror or anxiety. Likewise, people tend to stop laughing when suddenly faced with something terrifying. 
The darker side of comedy is black humor and gallows humor. Humor that utilizes bleak and solemn subject matter, often employing a sense of cynicism. Not everyone finds these kinds of things funny, but plenty of people like to indulge from time to time. This type of humor can also be used to further enhance a horrific scenario if timed well. Horrific things done with a sense of irony or a villain making inappropriate jokes might be some examples. In combining horror and comedy, care must be taken to ensure the desired tone is not compromised, nor is the audience turned off by the ordeal.

There it is folks, raw and unpolished. Merely food for thought. Eat well, and stay classy!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Away From The Table

The session has ended for the evening, and everyone is wrapping up to go home. It'll be another week or more until the next one and that's it for the game for this week, right? Not necessarily. Some of us like to keep things in mind for a tad longer and may go out of our way to do something extra. Something special. If you're like myself, you may want to go the extra mile and bring just a tad more depth to what's already been done, now that you've been left to your own devices.

So how does one go about this? What would you do and why would you bother? Excellent question. I'm glad I asked it. Time to explore the notion of going above and beyond.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Idea Mill: Vend-o-Matic!

You shall not plush!
Sometimes in the course of running a game, we want something else to add to it just for fun. Not for mechanical benefit but something just to make players interact with things instead of killing them. In most books and equipment guide there are tables and tables of things with little or no mechanical components that theoretically can be used for some purpose or another. Some things are just there to add flavor or color. This week I want to propose something like that. Something made entirely for the purpose of giving players something to roleplay with.

Let's say, for sake of hypotheticals, that instead of killing things to take their stuff, there were a way to pay something to take it's stuff. In normal circumstances that'd just be a shop. What if for instance you wanted something a touch more...  random? Normally you wouldn't find a shop in dungeons or wastelands and what you see is what you get. Instead, why not throw in something a touch more modern just for the sake of fun (or WTF factor)? Like a vending machine? Let's see if I can conjure up something, shall we? Gentlemen! I give to you... The Vend-o-Matic!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Unexpected Development part 3: With a Vengeance!

As was expected, what followed during this weekend's game really drove home what was started the previous session. I feel it only right to report in my findings and cap off this particular triptych of posts with the culmination of the theories therein. I'm going to try to be somewhat oblique about certain details mostly because this may have been, nay, is the squickiest moment of my gaming career thus far. I'm sure what happened would have some people leave the table in a hurry, but keep in mind two things: 1) my choices in the game inadvertently asked for this and 2) it really was a lot of fun!

In any case, Syrinx is definitely swearing off of calamari and actively avoiding things that wriggle. It's been that kind of a weekend.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unexpected Development part 2: Electric Boogaloo

In light of this post by my friend Ross, I've decided to follow up on last week's post. As both gaming groups I'm in become a bit more consistent, I'd like to start incorporating examples and stories in my blog here, so I feel this may be a good point to start. Last week, I detailed some impromptu character development on the part of my martial artist, Syrinx. This week, I want to break down a few points of the character somewhat in-line with Mr. Watson's post. (Seriously Ross, if you don't have a doctorate, get one so I can call you Dr Watson already.) A lot of his points coincide with my own methodology so we'll break this down by those. 

Anyhoo, after the jump I'll dig into this B.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Unexpected Development

Anybody who knows me knows that I love to make characters. I like to create them, and craft personalities for them. I like to sit and ponder how they would react in any number of situations. I like to plot how they would develop over the course of a story. Role-playing games are a terrific vehicle for me to do this in. For one, I don't have to worry about the story at large because the GM is there to do just that. They provide things and circumstances to react to. And for another thing, the effects of the dice (those marvelous little devils) can be a great cause for good and/or evil by providing a little bit of the unexpected. A few twists of fate as it were.

I am starting to develop the firm suspicion that dice are sentient beings and happen to be gifted with a sense of irony, humor and a certain degree of genre savvyness. In general I know people have their own theories regarding temperamental dice, voodoo hexed knucklebones, minor RNG dieties, pookas, gremlins, and even physics and crit quotas. Mine just like good drama. And making a general fool out of my characters, but mostly drama. Today, I ramble on about character development influenced by dice, or Better Roleplaying Through Roll-playing. (sorry. I had to.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

System Check: Dungeons and Dragons: 4th Edition

Once again, I'm going to take a look at a system that I have had the chance to play with. This week, that system will be Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. For connoisseurs of gaming, D&D might be considered  required gaming if only for the pedigree and history involved. (I know some would argue this with their dying breath, but in the world of marketing name recognition means a ton.) Of all the editions, however, most will agree that 4e seems to be the bastard child of the bunch. At least until D&D Next comes out, and then we'll see where the Edition Wars go from there. My experience with 4th isn't as thorough as I'd like it to be, given that I've only had a few one-shots in it as opposed to a full-on campaign, so make of this what you will. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Freaking EPIC

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word 'Adventure' I inevitably start to think of the term 'Epic'. An Epic Adventure. The term by definition means heroic, majestic or impressively great, which in my mind encompasses the very nature of a tabletop campaign. By the end of this thing, we should on some level have an epic poem, assuming someone took the time to write it all down. Not that I'm suggesting that any D&D game is some literary masterpiece, but it's the idea that what you've done in-game is something worthy of note in-game.

To this extent, how do we define 'Epic' in game terms, and how do we achieve that from a gameplay perspective? This is something that I've set as one of my goals from the DM side of the table: make the thing feel Epic. After all  it's easy to say what the PCs do is epic, but how does one get the feeling of Epicness? Feel free to follow along as I try to tackle this idea.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DM For Life

There are a lot of people out there talking about a lot of things. People who cast their thoughts and opinions out for all the world to see, and maybe, just maybe, someone will listen. Many of us just hope that our words may reach and inspire so much as a single person. Then, and only then, can we know that it was worth it. On the subject of gaming, there are a few people whose thoughts and opinions really do continue to inspire me. Most of them are close friends, but there are a few industry professionals whose works I do follow. One of my current favorites has been Chris Perkins.

For those who don't know, Christopher Perkins is the Senior Producer for Dungeons and Dragons. He has been writing a column on the D&D homesite since February 2011 entitled The Dungeon Master Experience. He's put it on indefinite hiatus as of last Thursday. I can say right now, I'm gonna miss his posts.

Back before I even knew who the heck this guy was, I ran across a video on YouTube wherein he ran a one-shot for some of the writers for Robot Chicken. I remember hearing in the DM's commentary that "if someone who's never DMed before comes away from these video casts thinking 'that doesn't look hard at all. I want to try running a game.' then I have accomplished something." I'll be the first one to admit that, yes I did think that, and yes I did run a game. Thumbs up to you, sir. Now, many moons later, I find myself re-reading his articles, and being further inspired. Inspired to put more work into my game, and to better craft my campaign worlds. 

Personally I think people like this are important to the hobby. There are too few ready to take up the challenge of running for others, and even fewer ready, willing and able to teach those who came after. Not many of us have someone who'll show us the ropes, and most of us end up thrust upon the mercy of our players. It's an easy job, but a complex one that is more an art than a science, and the benefits of experience are paramount. Every little bit of insight is worth it's weight in gold, and much like currency, it's worth more in circulation than out.

It strikes me that if we want more people to play and more people to DM, there are a few things we can do. Help. Encourage. Inspire. Teach. For you Forever DMs out there, teach someone else how. Show them how things work, and help them through the process. Encourage them to not give up. Failures are going to happen, and that's totally okay. Put some care into your craft and it'll show through, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. The easier it seems, the easier it becomes, and attitude is infectious.

I'm going to keep this one short and end it here, but first some food for thought. Who has inspired you as a DM? What advice would you give to a new gamer looking to DM? And how can you make this look easy to someone totally fresh off the turnip cart?

Until the next encounter, Stay classy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Getting The Reference

Everybody has their own interests. Sports fans. Motor heads. Geeks. Nerds. Bird watchers. Cinephiles. Gamers. Connoisseurs for every thing that there is to take an interest in. One thing that, in my opinion, separates  the 'nerds' from the rest is reference humor. A kind of secret handshake in it's own respects. A few well placed words to let others know that 'Hey, I saw that movie too!' and 'we have a lot in common, you and I'. Of course nerds are not the only ones to do this, but we seem to have a regular habit of it, and have even turned it into an art-form. Show of hands: how many GMs out there have put a reference into a game they ran? Probably most of you. I know my group does. A lot. And I've made some observations I feel I should share. Indulge me if you will. You may find something useful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Highlight Reel

So we're in the middle of town square, right. And our holy man decides he's gonna bless the fountain. The whole fountain. Make it one big bowl of holy water. Then, get this, the walking tower of bandages uses it's mummy wrappings to drag the vampire lord into the drink and watch him melt. Wait, wait, I've got another one. So the train is about to explode. right. Too much pressure in the boiler. So what's a cowboy to do? Obviously making a pressure release valve via careful application of ballistics is the right idea. Then boom, train stops. Extra bennie later and the Scottish guy only almost died. In case you are wondering, yes, both events occurred in campaigns I took part in. I just wanted to demonstrate one of my favorite facets of this hobby: The Highlight Reel. This particular form of gaming lends itself exceptionally well to generating stories and anecdotes, many of which would never happen in real life. I'm sure every gamer and his brother has a nifty story about some long and nearly forgotten game he was apart of. And that is the key part. Long after the main events of a game are long since forgotten, something you or someone in the group did was worth remembering. Maybe it was over the top, or truly epic or just really funny, it doesn't matter because it stands out from the rest. I live for these moments, sometimes. 

Here's a simple philosophy regarding methodology: If you can't do something smart, at least do it right. And if you can't do something effective, at least make it memorable. If you at least make it into the highlights, not much else matters. It's a funny thing. I've found that once you commit to this chain of thought, failure doesn't seem like so much of an obstacle, and in rare cases can be a desirable outcome. Or maybe, despite all logic and common sense, you manage to prevail. You may end up looking more badass in the eyes of your peers. Regardless of the outcome, one day you may end up retelling the story, or posting the quotes on a message board, or writing the entire fiasco as a light novella. The important part is that it was awesome and worth telling. Remember, the only difference between genius and insanity is success.

This leads me back to a point mentioned in an earlier post: gaming is a group activity. GMs have total narrative control, so when they bring up stuff they did, it can seem like empty boasting. Players on the other hand usually only worry about the awesome stuff they did. So I ask you... Nay, I challenge you: What awesome things did everyone else in your group do? What was the most memorable thing your GM threw at you? GMs! What kind of stuff did your players do that make you proud to run for them? How awesome are the people you game with? Who made the Highlight Reel?

Until next time: Walk tall. Be proud. Stay classy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

System Check: HERO 6e

 As I gain more experience with various systems, I figure it's only fair to take a look at them and share my thoughts on how I see them. I'm not a professional reviewer and this only my opinion, so feel free to agree or disagree with me as you will. While it's not the first system I had the opportunity to try out, HERO system's 6th Edition is the one I've had the most exposure to, having participated in two short campaigns and having GMed a third. For those unaware, HERO system is a point-buy system using only D6s (six-sided dice) and all abilities are built right from scratch. This allows for total and complete customization of characters, abilities, worlds, everything. That's right. EVERYTHING. In fact, one of the first things they'll tell you on the forums is that if you ask how to build something and don't get about twelve different answers, wait a little bit longer. This thing is versatile. I mean we're talking about a system where you can build caped crusaders of justice who rely on wits and fancy gadgets, steam-powered hulks of arcane design  and even sentient toasters with abandonment issues. So let's dig into this thing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Driving Force

Let me run an idea by you. A rag-tag group of misfits goes on a journey trying to bring to light a massive government cover-up while being pursued by a deadly covert-op assassin. The characters spend much of this time throwing witty banter and one-liners at one another even while dodging bullets and marauders or otherwise making fools of themselves and those that stand against them. Sound like your gaming group? Sound like a good campaign? How about a good movie? 

What I just described was, at bare-bones, Serenity, a 2005 movie written and directed by Joss Whedon. I'm going to say right now, I'm not the biggest fan of his work, but this movie is a good example of what I'm going to discuss today: Driving Force. (Incidentally, an RPG based on the franchise does exist, but I have yet to try it.) 

When I say driving force, I'm referring to a principle of storytelling describing the impetus of the story as a whole. This basically breaks down into two categories: Character driven and Plot (Narrative) driven. In a character driven story, the mind tends to ponder the question "What are the characters going to do next?". Conversely, in a plot driven story we wonder "What's going to happen next?". The core difference is which drives which: the plot driving the characters or the characters driving the plot?

The next question is: What does this have to do with RPGs and why is this movie a good example? Bear with me, I think this may be a long post. And for those who haven't seen the movie, there may be spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Know Your Role

... because knowing is half the battle.

In my last post, I made mention of 'roles' at the table. In most groups, every person will usually have that one job or niche that they fill and do well. In the original edition of D&D, there were 3 classes: Fighter, Mage and Cleric. A hard to kill warrior-type, a high-damage cannon, and a mender of wounds. People who play MMOs will be familiar with the idea put into terms like tank, dps and heals. The 'Holy Trinity' as it is sometimes called. This is an age-old paradigm that has been retained, retrained, and remained since...  well.. D&D first started. Teamwork. Teamwork necessitated and facilitated by the core mechanics of the game itself. 

Over the years, as more classes have been added and other genres tapped, methods of teamwork evolved. Cross-role classes emerged. Wild new roles appeared. Some systems didn't have class-defined roles, and were super-effective. In the end though, group based activities work best with a cohesive team-dynamic. Once more I state the obvious, so let's explore ideas surrounding this thing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Class or No Class

One of the earliest questions asked when a group is planning their next campaign is occasionally "which system?". Usually this is asked right after someone utters the line of "Well, I guess I could run something next." and draws the attention of every gamer within earshot. When pitching an idea, this can be a make-or-break moment with a group of people with strong preferences. For instance, I know some gamers who are strongly against anything d20 based. Some visibly cringe at the mention of the words White Wolf. Some of us are averse to any system where character creation requires a tax expert. Today, however, I'm gonna babble on about point-buy and class-based systems.

It's All About the Idea

Character concept. The vast bulk of gamers, by nature or nurture, are creative individuals. Crafting a character is the first place this ability asserts itself. Some of us are comfortable rolling up some random stats and running with it, while others have a need to have every facet of a character meticulously planned out. Wherever you sit on this topic, choice of system can either help or hinder your concept.

Let's start with class-based systems. Every class you see in D&D or some other system is usually based off of some archetype which provides a firm base to work off of. Tons of options provide lots of parts to kludge together for a mechanical skeleton and all you need to do is provide context and personality and you're ready to go. This works for some, but not all. In D&D 4e, I can make a character in less than 5 mins out of what's available. If I want something that's not part of the designer's idea kit, though, I'm kinda boned.

Looking into Pathfinder, some of the class options actually take away other options I might have actually wanted also. I do have to wonder what the mentality was when, for example, when it was decided a ranger can take feats for dual wielding or improving his archery, but not both? What if I want to spread myself a bit thinner in exchange for wider options in a fight?

On the other hand, Fantasy Craft is probably the most concept-friendly level-based system I've seen, so far. Very few options actually restrict other options and any path you choose feels like a viable rout to go. I'll probably dig into this system sometime in the future for a full review.

Now onto Point-buy. Conceptualization is a bit more free in these types of systems. It's easier to build actual people rather than caricatures. In fact, some GMs remove point caps altogether and let players build their concepts to the letter. This takes a good bit of trust to do, but it's been known to happen. But, yeah, if you want to have a fighter who can pickpocket like a pro or a hacker who moonlights as a mage, point-buy systems can probably accommodate a bit easier. In fact, you can even un-specialize. Put points into everything a little at a time and it's easy to be a jack of all trades. On the downside, this can even lead to homogenization, which leads me to my next point.

Five Man Band

Some systems, by virtue of mechanical or narrative design, require characters to fulfill certain roles within the team dynamic. I like this in the narrative sense, as in Shadowrun needing mercs of differing skills to pull off a 'job', or in a more practical, tactical sense, when people just work together organically. When the game demands this because of base mechanical reasons I feel it's just bad design. Case in point, most MMORPGs.  But whatever the reason, everyone has a spot to fill. (I'll dig into this more next week.)

In class-based systems, this is usually already instilled in the class' design. Fighters fight, mages cast magic, thieves sneak, courtiers use diplomacy. Every class has a strength and something to do via their very nature. But what about classless systems? It's very possible, and I've seen it happen, where everyone makes a concept that's only marginally different than the one next to him. There may also be instances where you've unspecialized enough that there isn't much you are good at. Except maybe beerpong. Yes, some systems allow you to put points into custom skills, so beerpong is a valid use of points. Silly but possible. Not saying these things will happen, but  it's come up more than once. How exciting is it when your players can build anything but they choose instead to make a bunch of nearly identical goons who hit things with sticks? Or the skill-monkey who has ranks in everything, but only one or two and couldn't make a skill roll if the plot depended on it? Some sort of external character discussion or niche-protection policy is almost necessary to avoid this.

Come to think about it, if my gm made excellent use of someone's beerpong skills, I'd be quite impressed.


The eternal quest for the golden duckets: XP! Advancement is the biggest area that determines if I'm willing to run a system for more than a one-shot. If the advancement sucks, I'm gonna bypass it anyway I can, usually by only running a single session, or not advancing at all if it's only a few sessions.

An awful lot of Point-buy systems I've encountered average 2 to 3 xp per session. This happens no matter what you accomplished. Kill an army: 3xp. Research a megacorp: 3 xp. Eat a bag of chips: 3xp. If you do something rather strenuous, they recommend giving a little extra, but it's not much. The good thing is that you spend points as you get them, so you get a steady stream of increased ability. It's like a never ending stream of cupcakes. They're small, but you get them no matter what, and they're always delicious. On the downside, I have to wonder if this encourages people to show up but nothing else. When you level up just as much from pulling an exciting heist as you would from picking up hookers at the local dive, why bother? I thought the point of xp was encouragement to go DO STUFF.

Class-based systems tend to keep advancement slower, and usually have a level cap. The recommended amount of xp is regulated in such a way as to cause a level-up to happen in regular intervals. D&D 4e sets it about every 10 encounters or so, while Fantasy Craft goes about 1000 xp per adventure with levels arriving
over increasingly longer intervals. Once level-up has been achieved, though, it's like Christmas! Stats go up, abilities are acquired, and skills get better all in one go. You get an awful lot and won't have to worry about it  again until you level up next time.

If Point-buy gives you cupcakes every day, Class-based gives you a whole cake but only on your birthday. Everyone is gonna have their own preference, but for me the steady but small advance seems to lose some of it's majesty while the occasional 'Ding' feels a bit more earned even if it is only once in a while.


Personal preference is always going to reign supreme, and there really is no one 'best' way of doing things, overall. However, there is always the right tool for the right job. While some people like to stick to a single system and master it, I like having options. These are only a few points that might be considered when making such a choice. And what about you? Have you ever had a character idea that just couldn't be done using the tools available in your favorite system? How loud do you cheer when you reach the next level? And when is the last time you made a character that was an ace with a ping pong ball and some booze?

See ya next time, and stay classy!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In the Before Time...

Howdy again! 

If you're looking at this blog at all, I feel it safe to assume that you know what a tabletop RPG is, who Gary Gygax was, and have at the very least heard of Dungeons and Dragons. If not, here's the short version. Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game penned by Gary Gygax a good long time before I was born. The premise is simple: Players take on the role of adventurers delving their way through a dungeon or castle or sub terrestrial operational theater or some variant thereof. The intended goal is usually, but not entirely limited to, killing things and taking their stuff. One may even encounter and try to kill (usually unsuccessfully) a dragon.

At this point, I'm sure you're saying to yourself that this seems fairly obvious. Self-evident even. Here's the catch: While this seems to be the original intention, things have evolved massively over the years. While this game and many others that came afterward assume this to be the main method of play, it's only a small fraction of what people do in their own homes. Again for veterans, there is a point I'm building to, I think. After four years of playing, I've finally had the chance to actually have a character trudge through a dungeon. Strangely enough, not in D&D.  Now if only I could find me a dragon to off.

So what does all this mean? What's the point? What is this lunatic getting on about? Simple. Over the years, the mentalities of those embroiled in this hobby have evolved. The questions now would be how, why, and what does this  mean for other rookies like me? After talking to those who've been there, I've taken some time to speculate.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It Begins...

Alrighty, ladies and gentlemen, I finally did it. I started a blog.

For those interested, I'll be using this thing to ramble and rant about my current obsession- tabletop gaming. I know, I know, there's a ton of these out there already, but unlike most of these, I don't have decades of experience to back me up. In fact I've only been a part of the hobby for about 4 years as of this post. That may sound like a lot, but some of the people I game with have been doing this for decades.

That puts me in an odd position: the perspective of one just getting into the game surrounded by others with more years of gaming experience than I have years of existence. To that end, I've been able to reflect on the differences between those with old school sensibilities versus newer, more modern design ideals. Lucky for me, I fell in with a crowd with vastly different ideas on what makes a great game. Some of whom have actual work experience in the field, behind the scenes so-to-speak.

With this blog, I intend to mostly wax philosophical about my observations as I build my gaming 'career' and maybe churn up some ideas that may be useful to other gamers in some respects. I imagine a good number of things I bring up may be treading old ground for those more experienced than I, but that's all part and partial to the whole 'experience' thing. 


So, who am I? Mostly a nobody. My name is Matt Steen, age 29, small nerd at large. I like movies, video games, and as per my topic of choice for this blog, tabletop rpgs. I also like drawing, music and nearly any other type of storytelling medium. Especially cartoons. I'm not a college professor. I'm not a journalist. I'm not a game designer. I'm just some dude who thinks too much.

The Setup

I think some ground rules and expectations should be apropos. 

* Food for Thought- This is mainly going to be stream of thought here. Opinion is probably going to be flavor of the day, so take what is said here with a grain of salt.
* No Soapboxing- If I go into religion or politics, it's going to be in fictional universes. There's enough of that type of thing elsewhere, if you're looking for the real stuff.
* No Hate- Even if I use the word or the emotion seems implied, if I get critical about a topic it's that I want to improve something, not just nerdrage on it.
* But Wait, There's More!- I will occasionally branch out topically, but I don't intend to stray too far, and will mostly loop it back into the topic at hand. Like I said previously, I like storytelling.

That should be good for now. Until next time, stay classy!