Month: March 2017 (Page 1 of 3)

Stay on Target: Keeping Distracted Table-Top Gamers Engaged

If you ever played a table-top role-playing game you understand about distractions. Endless diversions hampering plot, game play and flow. Sometimes you get together and it seems as if you might as well meet at a bar and get it over with. The game master and several players might enjoy a few straying conversations. But often too much conversation not related to game will dampen everyone’s fun. Lighthearted conversations and off topic jokes CAN kill game sessions, ruining the fun for everyone.

I have a few suggestions on how to keep everyone on target and working towards a fun night of gaming.

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The Old Sylph On The Mountain

Artwork by Chris Malidore. Find his excellent work here.
Galt climbed the mountainside, inch by inch, tortured by heat and pain.
With his two daggers, Frostfang and Venomblade, he punched into the rock, one at a time. He tied a rope, twenty paces long to each dagger and threw it eighteen paces. Slowly he climbed the rope, a good white hemp rope made by folks down near the Crystal Lakes, hand over fist to the dagger lodged in the granite stone.
If one was to look at Galt’s progress up the mountainside, all you would see is three sacks, rope, and daggers.
Galt, blessed by his god of Shadows, was given three gifts. The first two gifts were the daggers, enchanted by his god, one made to freeze and the other to poison. His last gift gave him the ability to blend in to his surroundings. Galt looked much like the beige granite mountainside he was climbing. Even Galt’s shadow was blended in so no one would notice. He is the perfect hero for a god who loves death, dances in shadows and plays with snakes.
During the climb he thought about his god’s command: “Go find the old sylph, the one who lives in a cave near the top of Thumbstone Mountain.” Why would he go find a cranky old sylph? The old ones are unusually cunning, full of words and themselves. They smelled like musty old leather that needs to be oiled along with whatever strange weed they were smoking. And the teas, always strange, made of exotic compounds such as claw of harpy and eye of Lashon, with some mint for taste, of course. The older sylphs had desks, inks and parchment made of strange leathers and papers so they could write out whatever claptrap they knew. Gold and secrets, it was their stock and trade.

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Running a Con Game Like a Pro

Are you a Game Master for your RPG group? Good for you! You’re the backbone of the hobby! Are you thinking about running an RPG at a convention? That’s great too, but while GMing for your group of friends is one thing, running for a group of strangers you may never see again is something else entirely.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what I think goes into running a good one-shot RPG session at a a game convention.

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Three Tips for New Game Masters

Darrell Hardy here! A while back, I had the privilege of speaking on a couple panels at the Fort Collins Comic Con. (Unofficial motto: “We’re bigger than you think!”)

The panels were all about running tabletop roleplaying games. Together with Bill Keyes, Sean Patrick Fannon, and Ross Watson, we answered questions from the surprisingly-large crowd about how to get started as a GM, how to keep your players happy, and how to keep a long-term campaign from catching fire, crashing through a line of school children, and plummeting into a pit of giant snakes far below.

We were thrilled at the number of new Game Masters in attendance. As Sean pointed out, the only way the hobby (and the industry) expands is by more people stepping up to the challenge of running RPGs; we can only have as many gaming groups as we have GMs. While the old guard can keep it going, new blood is what makes it grow.

Especially with the new GMs in mind, I’d like to share three recurring bits of advice from the panels:

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The Dice of Creation

Ever since discovering tabletop RPGs in junior high, I’ve been in awe of the amazing powers that dice can have, not only in determining the outcome of the story, but in the actual creation of the story’s world. I’m speaking here largely of random charts and their power to not only inspire, but to create reality on the fly.

In eighth grade, I created a solo dungeon-crawling game consisting of a sheet of graph paper, a fistful of dice, a pencil, and a half-dozen index cards with random charts on them. You enter the dungeon: roll to see if there’s a room or a hallway. If it’s a room, roll for number of exits and roll for contents. Is it is monster? Roll it. A trap? Roll it.

There was a system for combat and damage, of course, but the meat of the game was exploration. Only it wasn’t really exploration, it was creation. The world was created with every roll of the dice.

(During this time, one of my gaming friends made his own exceptionally-random system that perhaps took it a step too far. A classic line that lives to this day is, “You are attacked by a [clatter of dice] snake! It attacks you with its [clatter of dice] hooves!” That sort of old-school gonzo gaming would be a lot of fun today, but I was far too mature for it at the time.)

In college, I ran a year-long campaign of NightLife, which — since the players were running vampires and werewolves and other monsters with an insatiable appetite for disposable NPCs — inspired me to whip up another random table. With ten seconds and a single roll of a handful of dice, I could create a living, breathing person… at least, that person’s general appearance and personality. Before the players turned down that alley, that person didn’t exist — not even as a note on my Game Master’s idea pad. Most of them didn’t survive the encounter (“My, what big teeth you have — oh no!”), but some had such a spark of life that they went on to become allies and recurring NPCs — a spark of life given them, like Frankenstein’s lightning, by the dice.

As I’ve grown older and my gaming time more limited, I find myself using dice to create the world before the game rather than just on the fly. I made a number of charts myself: What’s that magic level? Roll it! The core theology? Roll it! What are the key imports, exports, and trade agreements? Roll, roll, roll!

While I might end up just writing about these worlds rather than actually playing in them, the thrill from eighth grade is still there: I’m creating worlds, people, and stories with nothing more than a pencil, a chart… and a handful of dice.

Get more dice here!

Get Darrell’s awesome Ghost Puncher eBooks here!

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Four Tips for Running RPGs for Kids

I love gaming with my kids. I especially love playing tabletop roleplaying games with them. Over the years, I’ve come up with a handful of tips that keep the game smooth and fun, even if your players are still in grade school. I’m posting them here, both as a public service to gamer parents, and as a reminder to myself: this, future-self, is how you have fun.

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Faking It – The Art of Game Master Improvisation

Game Masters need to be able to adapt quickly. When the players zig when you expect them to zag onto the trail you’ve painstakingly laid out before them, you need to be able to just go with it, rolling their detour into your game story like you’d planned for it all along.

Here are some quick tips for doing just that. (Old pros will probably nod and say to themselves, “Obviously that it how it should be done,” but new GMs will hopefully find some value here.)

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Should PCs Act Responsible in a Fictional World?

When you escape into a game, should you escape all responsibilities as well?

Escapism is a HUGE part of our culture. Everyone wants to soar with the eagles, surf the volcanic moons of Jupiter, or dive deep into the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately our lives turn into moments of waiting in lines, going to work, and paying bills.

Being responsible.

When the gang gets together to “escape it all” on the weekend, be it for a round of Call of Duty or a night of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons (he said 4th edition!!!), do you throw down your sense of being responsible for anything, or anyone?

Heroic adventuring takes gamers into fantastic worlds. When you enter those worlds, another facet of your personality comes out.

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The Future of New Gods of Mankind

Hey Gang,

Earlier this year on my old website I posted about not seeking to do another Kickstarter. I felt like the fan base was not there and I did not want to go through all that trouble for nothing.

Well I am about to go back on that.

Currently I am in talks to get the official license for Savage Worlds. Right now the Kickstarter will depend on if I get official backing.

If New Gods of Mankind becomes an official Savage Worlds product, I will do a proper Kickstarter.

What will change?

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Tommy’s Take on D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Monster books for D&D and D&D-like games are kind of a thing. No real surprise, then, that the second core release for D&D 5e proved to be the Monster Manual.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Retail price is about $50, and the book is smidge over 350 pages. It provides the monsters for your D&D game, though you can check out the free DM Guide to get a selection of monsters, and all the stat blocks you need for Tyranny of Dragons are either in the respective adventure books or the free supplements.
So really, you have a lot to work with, already…but you can download and read those for free. The Monster Manual costs money, so I’m going to talk about that.
The production values are fantastic, as should be expected. I like the art direction for Fifth Edition, for the most part, and several of the art pieces look fantastic and evocative, like the Slaads (I love the Death Slaad), the vampire layer, most of the dragons…special props go to The Death Knight which, if it isn’t Lord Soth, it certainly evokes him, and the Werebear, which spells out the difference between a bear and a werebear by brandishing a battle axe.
There’s not a ton of surprises here for the  D&D faithful: Orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, chromatic and metallic dragons, drow, mind flayers, beholders, nightmares, demons, devils, the various giants…even The Tarrasque. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything I expected to be here that’s missing. A couple of things have been renamed (Titans are not Empyreans, for instance), and some (like Drow and orcs) get multiple statblocks to show off the variances within the race.
Stat blocks are a bit more streamlined in some ways, one of the most notable being that creatures with reams of spell-like abilities have been greatly reduced (this may have happened in 4e, I honestly do not know)…with dragons, demons and devils standing out to me as having reduced (or missing altogether) spellcasting capabilities. Monsters do keep Ability Scores, however, something I approve of greatly.
The bigger and nastier monsters get Legendary actions, which often give them extra attacks after other characters have gone, and some get Lair Actions, which make them even deadlier if you fight them on their own turf (lookin’ at you, dragons). Fight a red dragon in its lair and it may start a spontaneous earthquake, or take on a lich and find that it can summon the spirits of the those that passed in its lair and use them to tear away at a target. Another awesome touch is that creatures with lairs actually impose their will on the surrounding terrain, twisting it to reflect their temperament (like creepy fog that grip the land when a vampire takes a lair, or people within a mile of a copper dragon’s lair becoming prone to fits of giggling).
The monster entries typically provide about three plot seeds/lore tidbits per entry (sometimes more, sometimes less, but that’s probably a fair average), though some (like liches) get more, but the Monster Manual infamously omitted indexes by environment or challenge rating, as well as the guidelines for actually creating monsters (all of which were found in the DMG).
It’s a good book but not strictly necessary, especially if you are running the Tyranny of Dragons pretty much as written, or if you are comfortable looking at the free monsters and extrapolating from there, and while I do enjoy the book, for sheer utility the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual trumps it, in my opinion.

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