Spinning ideas in my mind #DnD #RPG

I have an unplanned hiatus in my gaming. My Deadlands game took what is now a 2 session break. The boys D&D game is on indefinite leave. And my Pathfinder is about to resume after the normal 4 weeks but it feels like longer because we had 2 sessions close to each other. That has left my mind free to ponder ideas. That is when I am at my most dangerous.

I pondered the idea of getting James and me into a new table top game. With the new rule set for Warmachine, I looked at that. That is a very well developed world. With its own RPG. I have always liked the miniatures, and from what I have seen it looks like a good game. I even checked out one of the fiction books from the setting from the library, to get a better idea of the feel of the world. And decided that it was not for me. I have never been much into the Steampunk genre in general, and doing further research I determined that this game and world setting rely very strongly on that genre.

Then Wizards came out with their latest Plane Shift setting. This time in the Magic the Gathering Plane of Innistrad. I confess to not knowing a lot about that setting so I went ahead and downloaded the free file. And after reading through it I realized that it is very much in the Gothic world setting. I think that is a cool setting. And I am intrigued by the idea of running a D&D game in that kind of setting. Even cooler is how much this setting relies on the ideas of a Church and machinations within that. Plus it leaves the traditional fantasy tropes of Elves, Dwarfs etc. behind. Sadly, the boys are simply not nearly sophisticated enough to run a game like this. Which is okay, I can leave this one in my back pocket in case I ever get to run a D&D game for more mature players.

The thing about the reboot of the boys campaign is that I am determined to avoid any long term arcs for now. Keep it a simple monster of the week kind of journey through the wilderness. Which limits my planning for now beyond the next adventure.

That all leaves me a little creatively frustrated at the moment. I am pondering setting up a Roll20 game. One of the boys wants to run a game on that setup, and I will have to see how it goes before I look deeper at it. I am conflicted by the idea of role playing online. As an introvert, I embrace the idea of not leaving home. But as the parent of 3 kids, I find the idea of trying to carve out physical space and time to role play from home difficult at best.

I will figure it all out, it is summer, with everyone taking vacations etc. I at least have confirmation that I will be playing Pathfinder on Sunday so I have a fix on the near horizon.


When did everyone’s Charisma get so high? #DnD #RPG

I had a good time watching Critical Role last night. And I noticed something for the first time. It has to do with something I have noticed in how the boys created their characters. If you had to pick one thing that I have noticed as an old ‘veteran’ of D&D, an ‘Old School Gamer’ it is that today’s characters all have much higher Charisma scores.

It goes to the concept of the ‘Dump Stat’. You have your six stats as a character. When you create your character, not every number you have to select from when rolling is going to be great. Or if you are using a point system you end up wanting to reduce one stat so you can have a higher number somewhere else. That is the nature of the game, really most RPG’s work that way.

One of the changes I am seeing in coming back to RPG’s in general and D&D specifically (including Pathfinder) is that the systems have evolved to the point where you no longer have people following the idea of a Dump Stat. And the systems even go out of their way to punish people for being willing to take a low score somewhere.

The place I notice this trend the most is with the Charisma score. Back in the old days the only people who cared about having decent Charisma scores were those who took classes where it mattered (Paladins, Bards) or if they were playing a certain character stereotype (teenage and college age males playing really good looking female characters with loose morals.)

When I was coming up with my character for my Pathfinder game I followed this old practice and dropped my character’s Charisma score. Then I was in for a rude shock when I began playing and realized how much lower my score was from the other characters. Even more so when I began to discover how much Charisma now mattered in the game.

One of the things about Critical Role is they will splash the character stat sheets on the screen as they play and I began to see that they all had good Charisma scores. No one used that as a dump score. Not even the barbarian goliath (he used Intelligence as his dump stat.)

One of the things I have seen when I work with the boys is I will take the time to re-type their character sheets after they create them. This helps me understand what the boys have. Make sure nothing is getting missed or added wrong. And none of the boys ever dumps Charisma.

This is a whole different way of playing for me. Admittedly I have some suffered from self-esteem issues most of my life so maybe that colored things. But I was not the only player who would willingly take low Charisma scores. I am not judging it, I understand how things got like this. And it is good for the games for the most part. But it is still a shock for me and one of the harder adjustments I have to make. It is a little thing, but it is still an adjustment.

The players guide to role playing #DND #RPG #Pathfinder

Last week I read two articles that gave me the urge to write this. Because I do think that the question of how to play is almost as dramatically unexplored in game books as the directions about how to run a game. I’m not going to say that I am the greatest role player in the game. But I have been at it long enough that I think I can help people get better at it. In other words, I think I am capable of being the players response to the AngryGM.

By way of introduction, I will talk briefly about those two articles from last week. And my thoughts on them. Then as the week progresses I will dig deeper into these and other topics. Because I think that this is worthy topic for continued discussion.

The first article was on Geek & Sundry. And it was short enough that I can quote most of it. It lays out some very good rules for being a good role player. I liked it enough to send the link to the boys to read. Here are the simple rules for role playing:

Be a good person.Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

Make friends with your gaming buddies.

Make your DM’s life easier.

Learn the rules.

Build characters that play well with others.

I think those are self-explanatory. These are the things you need to learn before joining a game. And be prepared to follow when you play. I am working to instill these in the boys heads, but it is not always easy when working with 13 through 16 year old boys (especially Wheaton’s Law.) Then there are in game rules:

Find the fun.

Don’t build dice towers.

Help speed up the game

Stay invested.

Know how you want to act.

These are really almost, if not more, important as the first set of rules. And I fight this battle every time I run or play. It is not just the teenagers who build dice towers, or have to ask “what is going on?” I have seen (and regularly do see) adults, veteran gamers fall victim to this problem. This is a joint problem if anyone is zoning out it is their issue, and also the fault of the person who is acting and the GM who is setting the scene. For role playing to work everyone needs to be involved, at least listening in.

And now to deal with Angry. He wrote the first of what he says will be a multiple part series on how to improvise in D&D. The thing is, like most of his advice, he was talking about what a GM should do. And his advice is sound. I agree that as a GM you cannot just make it all up on the fly.

But I think that his advice can apply to the players too on some level. Before you try to come up with too creative a solution to a problem, you should be prepared to handle the consequences. Angry mentions a group charming a group of Goblins instead of fighting and killing them as a situation that would force the GM to improvise. That is true, but, as a player, you also would need to be ready to deal with the results of that choice. Let’s say you successfully charm those goblins, now what do you do with them?  If the players expect the GM to always say yes to their ideas and attempts to do oddball things they need to be prepared for the consequences. And that is where being involved and invested in the game comes up. Let’s say you are the barbarian fighter with a grudge against goblins. And you are not really paying attention until it is your turn to roll some dice and crush your enemies. The GM says it is your turn, you just say that you’re going to crush that goblin in front of you, without realizing that the goblins have all been charmed into being your friends. You just blew that.

So if you are going to improvise as a player, be sure everyone in the party is on board with what you are doing, and that you are prepared for the consequences. I’m not saying don’t be creative, or meet every problem with sword and fire. But if you try something creative be cognizant of not just the consequences of failure but also of success. Like all great improvisational acting, it pays to be aware of why you are doing this, and what it means.

These are really interesting subjects and I plan to discuss them up in more long form posts so I can develop my ideas better. So look to this space for just that.


Watching the World burn #RPG #Deadlands

Luciano heard them coming down the hallway. His questioners, jailers, those who would see him locked away forever. They swore that this was the last time, never again would he be allowed out, no chance to see the sun. And for sure never be allowed to work with his precious materials.

Somehow he knew that this time would be just like the others. Another site would be found. Another foe who needed a convenient accident. Some area of a city needing to be cleaned out. They always came asking for his special talents. Especially in these days of chaos and fear. With so few managing to do what he did as well as he did.

Who else could have taken down a 5 story hotel in the middle of the day with so little damage to the surrounding area? Who else could bore a hole through a granite mountain is such a short time? Who else could create those fine bullets that ripped through the automatons of Deseret? 

The greatest minds were always surrounded by those who questioned their methods. But would be celebrated for the results. 

They had seemed especially upset this last time. He had explained that he was never told to avoid casualties. They had just asked him to clear out the shanty town, and make it look natural and accidental. Perhaps the firestorm that he created had been a little too intense this time. Or a little too thorough. But they should have told him to leave a way out, to have left a way in for the futile attempts to douse the fire. It really was not his fault that he had done what was asked. That shanty town was completely empty now, and no one would want to move back in anytime soon, not with the area still full of smoking holes.

He wondered who would come to him this time. He swore that he would be contrite, accept their deals, show true sadness for those useless, er poor people. And yes, of course, this time, he would show more consideration for witnesses, er innocent bystanders.

Continue reading “Watching the World burn #RPG #Deadlands”

Where does it all come from? #RPG #DnD

The Angry GM published a fascinating article today about inspiration. He made a good point in it about how the real key to inspiration for creatives is keeping your mind open, and not constantly analyzing content and trying to find flaws. Which is crucial to me. People are often amazed when I tell them I like certain things, like the Star Wars prequels. And I think that one of the reasons I like so many of these things is because of that idea of keeping an open mind, and just enjoying the show.

The other point that is not mentioned in the article is allowing a lot of input. I read fantasy fiction, science fantasy. Lately, I have even been picking up and reading some comic books if I can get them in a consolidated form. This week I put some of the official 5E published adventures on hold at the library, just to read through them, not because I intend to run them. Yesterday I was reading through the spell lists section of the Players Handbook, just to get some ideas, and be sure I understood them.

I watch a lot of TV shows. I have my comic book hero TV shows: Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Carter, Agents of Shield, Supergirl. I have other TV shows like Vikings, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, that I watch out of interest and also for creative ideas. All of these give me ideas in one form or another while also providing entertainment.

One thing that Angry did not mention was his video games. He is not shy in his writing about admitting that he mines his favorite video games for ideas, plot structure, adventure design. If I played video games I would be all over that, but I am just late to game there. But he plays them with the same approach, keeping an open mind.

I know that I have gone on before about my many sources of inspiration. And this seems like I am just repeating that. Which I am, but with the goal of pointing out that I embrace all of this input without analyzing it too deeply because I know that it is all input. Input that I can then turn around and turn into inspiration for my games.

The only negative to all of this is that I often get side tracked. I read something, or watch something, and think that would be a cool thing to introduce. And it really does not fit at all. Like watching Pirates of the Caribean the other day, thinking how cool it would be to run a sea encounter. And then realizing that there is no ocean anywhere close to where I have the campaign. I do have to watch that. Try writing out my ideas first, see if they fit into the overall campaign before I actually insert them.

As an aside, I am trying out new tools for keeping track of all this. I have some iCloud Notes, which clutters up that tool that we use around the home. I was keeping docs in Google Docs, but did not like the iOS interface for that. I have been using Pages recently, which is good for long form writing. But not so good if I just want to jot down an idea. Because with all of this inspiration, and ideas running around my head, it would be smart to have some place to keep those ideas. So I am going back to using Evernote for a time, just because it might work better for this sort of thing. We will see.

An awakening threat #DnD #RPG #Fiction

The Knight strode confidently into the vale, but slowed his steps as he sensed something different in the air. The hidden valley felt very different today. The wards felt stronger, and the air itself felt thicker and sicker.  He slowed as one of the guardians blocked his path.

‘You have been summoned El Verde Muerto, to the presence of our Majesty. He commands your presence in his glade.’

‘He is awake? Why was I not given warning in my summons, I assumed I was to report to the Seneschal again.’

‘He just recently awoke, things have happened, powers have arisen, his senses awoke him.’

‘Then I had best make haste, if you would stop blocking my path.’

‘Of course Ser Knight, make your report, and I am certain I will see you soon.’

The knight moved on, deeper into the valley and the woods. No wonder the air smelled differently, and the wards were stronger. If his majesty had awoken, and sensed danger he would be making certain his lair was protected.

He eventually came to a place where a tall, foreboding and sick looking hedge blocked the way, except for a small archway. It’s height was designed so that all who entered would be bowing when they came into his Majesty’s presence.

‘Ah my Knight comes in answer to our summons. Please enter and take your place.’ The deep rumble almost made the ground shake, and the pool that surrounded his majesty smoked and let off even more acrid fumes.

‘I am at your command your majesty, as always at your service,’ And the Knight knelt before the presence of an enormous green dragon, the true green death, Mokrija.

‘Of course you are,’ the dragon chuckled, a ghastly sound. ‘I have been awoken by the use of many different magics in my land. Not only have the southern invaders begun to explore here, but other forces are at work. I have sensed an ancient magic at work in the plains to the west, awakening forces that have long been gone from this land. Deep in the caverns below us a portal has been opened, inviting dreadful forces of Chaos.’

‘But surely none of these forces threatens your might oh Great One?’

‘If I were to challenge them now on my own they would tremble before my might and perish of course.  But to challenge them I would have to make my presence known, and that would invite more adventurers from the south, possibly even armies come to take my land from me. And all of this would encourage some of my brethren to turn their eyes upon my land. Do you see the problem?’

‘Of course Great Lord, what would you have me do?’

‘For now monitor what is happening out on the plains. Send some of the Kobolds into the caverns to investigate this portal. I would encourage these forces to come into conflict with each other and weaken each other before I make my presence known. Send agents out on the plains, perhaps locate the lobos and urge them to attack whatever settlements they can find.’

‘Your wish is my command Great One’

Continue reading “An awakening threat #DnD #RPG #Fiction”

Lessons I am learning, and need to keep in mind #DnD #RPG #Pathfinder

There’s an old saying: easier to ask forgiveness than permission. And I think there should be a corollary for role playing. And it is one I plan to put into practice this weekend, future games I run, and most importantly, next time I play in Denver. That lesson is:

The GM can only tell you no if you ask

This is a big deal in my opinion, because it has an effect on how everyone plays the game. Now you can look at that phrase as being negative, as saying that asking if you can do something is going to result in a negative answer, so just go with the flow. And I will be honest, that’s how I played for years. And it is not illegal or wrong to play this way.

For example, on Sunday, my character is the group archer. And is built for speed and finesse, kind of like a Legolas type of character. But on Sunday when the combat began here is the general summary of my actions:

Round 1: I shoot at one of the crocodiles while standing behind the priest of Thor who is enlarged. No movement, just shoot the biggest thing I can see.

Round 2: Seeing that our main healer on the other side of the line was in danger of being flanked, I swap bow for shield and scimitar and run to attack the skeleton champion.

Rounds 3-8: I stand in the line and fight skeleton champions and undead Dire crocodiles.

That was it, no movement, no attempts to gain any advantages by moving. Granted, we were next to a river, on a raised road, in sunlight, so there were not a lot of places to hide and snipe from. But here is a list of things I could have tried:

We had time to set up an ambush, so I could have placed myself in the swamp, in hiding, and shot from there. 

These were slow creatures, so there was no question that I would have been able to stay ahead of them (my move was double theirs.) So I could easily have shot, then moved, shot again, and then maybe hide.

We realized halfway through the battle that I could have accessed and used the undead destroying mace that our priest carries (but never uses.)

I essentially wasted a good chunk of my skills and Feats in this battle. And this is not the first time I have done this. And you know why I do this? It is because the way our GM sets up battles, and the way the other players act, I fall into an old fashioned way of playing. And I expect the GM and other players to tell me no, don’t do that, so I never ask or try. But the reality is that I could very easily have gotten away with some of these things, been more helpful to the party, and without pushing the rules envelope.

Now part of that also has to do with the old joke among players, never split up the party, the GM can do more damage that way. Having my character move out alone is dangerous, and a recipe for getting him killed, and also slows down game play.

But I need to get out of that mind set. And remind myself that the GM can only say no if I ask. I need to do more as part of the battle plan, take advantage of my skills. He can only ask me to make a roll, or at worst say no.

And as a GM I need to take the same advice. Instead of just saying: “okay, roll to attack”, instead “What do you want to do? Okay, for that you need to make this roll”. Obviously if they ask to do the impossible I can say no, but it might be more interesting to give them the chance first.


Preserving and extending life #DnD #RPG

‘To the east you must go. The spirits have come to me, and said that there is a place, recently uncovered ruins. And within those ruins you will find a way to another of our precious creches.’

Those were the words spoken by the ancient Shaman Xcratl, spiritual leader to the 5 tribes of the Lagarto. and so a group of Lagarto went, led by the Shaman Iztrola. He led a small group of Lagarto, and 4 Cierto Lagarto, as he was not certain of the Shamans words. But he led his people east, nearly to the foot of the Dragonwall mountains.

When they crested a small hill they saw a group of human soldiers arrayed at the base of a cliff. And lo, in the cliffside there were ruins, clearly ancient beyond reckoning, and constructed by the Ancestors. This time the Shaman was correct. But what were these humans doing here? Were these more of those odd southrons? And worse, were they desecrating the ancient places?

Iztrola arrayed his force and approached the ruins carefully. Waiting until they were in easy speaking range. He spoke to the Cierto Lagarto in the language of the Lagarto, told them to watch for trickery.

Rising from the ground, he spoke.

‘What are you doing in this place? Do you desecrate our ancient grounds? Leave now and your sins may be forgiven.’

The soldiers immediately snapped to attention, springing into a tight combat formation. One of them shouted words in a strange accent. And more of the soldiers came down from the cliff. It was now clear that these were not southron soldiers, they spoke differently, and wore very different armor and weapons.

One of those who came down, not a soldier based on his dress, uttered arcane words, and motioned to another one. That one, a tall, well built human in nicer armor stepped forward.

‘I am Centurion Gaius, of the Empire of the Sun, we are on our way south to investigate reports of more settlers there. We came upon these ruins, and managed to root out some gnolls and a basilisk. We know nothing of these grounds being sacred, but know that this land is claimed by the Empire.’

‘We know nothing of this Empire, nor do we recognize any claims on our ancient grounds. You say you are on the way south, it is best for you if you continue south and leave this place.’

‘I cannot leave this place in the hands of some monstrous filth, clear off beasts.’ With that the leader turned and assumed a position in the line with the rest of his soldiers.

Iztrola could not believe the effrontery of these upstart humans, they were worse than the southrons he had had dealings with. At least those did not call names, and acknowledged the truth of ancient claims. He turned and gestured, and the Lagarto began their attack.

It was a short, and brutal, fight. The humans, seeing that they were heavily outnumbered, and shocked by the strength of the Cierto Lagarto, executed a well done retreat and moved south. Iztrola chose to not let his people chase. Instead, once the area was cleared, ordered them to consolidate and fortify the area.

He climbed up into the ruins, and following the whispers of spirits he could hear only faintly, began to explore, seeking the creche. He ordered his assistant to send word back to Xcratl that yes, there were ruins, but it would be in the best interests of the people for them to send more troops to the area as he did not know if these strange soldiers would return.

Continue reading “Preserving and extending life #DnD #RPG”

Establishing a goal: chaos #DnD #RPG

A lot of the blogs I read, especially the ones that profess to give advice about GMing, talk about having a goal for the campaign. That it is important to have an end goal for the party, some overall purpose. Which I admit is a little odd for me. I can really only think of one game like that in my career as a player, where I was trying to track down and defeat one big bad guy. For the most part the games I have been a part of, or run, have just been open ended explorations.

And maybe that’s why a number of them fizzled out rather than ending triumphantly. It does make sense to have a an overall plan, and some kind of end game to it all. A goal or end point where you as the GM and the players can say ‘there, we did it, we rescued X, killed Y, saved Z and we can move on.’ That is a real, worth while goal when creating a game, and agreeing to run a game. And that is probably why some people like buying written modules, because these adventures do have an end game.

And in listening to some of these podcasts I have been thinking about what direction I would like my game to go in. Where do I want it to end? And the more I think about the clearer it is to me that I do not want it to just remain an open ended tale of a group of characters murder hoboing their way across the land.

I do know that this week I am going to start challenging the boys to think about what their characters do. Not just the missions they undertake, but what are they doing in their down time. Do they have hobbies? Something they do at the camp fire at night? When they get back to town and wait for a new mission. And that will help feed into the campaign goals.

Here is what I do know, this campaign has been about exploration. About being on a frontier, and learning what exists out there in the unknown. And what they find, and how they interact with it, will have consequences.

And longer term, these consequences will lead to chaos. Because I have created a number of threats, or potential threats, that the group has encountered already or will encounter. And those are not static threats. They are active behind the scenes. And eventually chaos will erupt around the party, and they will have to cope with that. Because about the time everything begins to boil they will have reached the point where they are Heroes, people that the civic leaders and people look to for answers. And how they deal with that will determine how things wrap up.

That’s my goal: chaos, and figuring out how to cope with that chaos. Will they fix things? Or will they make things worse? Will they sort it all out before it gets too late?

Thinking about choices a character makes #DnD #Pathfinder #RPG

Viper slumped to the ground with the rest of his comrades. The Heroes of Clermont were exhausted. The fight they had just completed had been a long, brutal, taxing event, using up virtually all of their resources.

It had seemed a feasible encounter at first. They were traveling up a river, and saw coming down the river an undead host. An undead host consisting of gargantuan undead crocodiles serving as vessels for Skeletal Champions and Priests, with some assorted other Skeletons warriors. The plan was solid, channel the creatures into an inferno of fire, then wait in a line for the combat to come to them. 

What none of them were prepared for was the sheer size of the creatures, combined with their undead abilities, to make them nearly impossible to destroy. Or the ferocity of Champions, wielding dual, magically sharpened, blades with amazing speed and precision.

The fires of Qualiki, combined with the powers of Iomadae issued from Marisol, the holy sword used by Elly, kept the pressure off for much of the battle. Thorvald and Viper were able to do what they could to hang on in the face of this onslaught, but only just barely. As Thorvald was forced to call upon the protection of Thor multiple times to keep the enemy off of the party. And the healing of Mickey kept the group standing in spite of horrific damage. 

Eventually all of the champions and priests were destroyed, and it then became a matter of time to smash the remaining crocodiles into pieces.

Viper now sat and pondered the marvelous mace that belonged to Mickey, and had previously been wielded by Braveheart. While lacking the grace and speed of his scimitar, it had certainly been far more effective against these creatures. While he had always taken his cues from the snake in his choices he began to wonder if maybe this was a case when other choices might be more suited to the foe. 

Continue reading “Thinking about choices a character makes #DnD #Pathfinder #RPG”