Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ever Rare Weekday Game!

A few of us got together tonight to finish up what was left of Saturday's game. I can't spoil it for other players who weren't there, but we can say the results were... interesting.

And as promised here are a few pics of a recent project. It isn't complete, I have a small squad of miniatures intended for it and a bit more touch up to do, but it should give you an idea.

Early shots

After priming and base coating.

After a dark wash.

After some details and snow.

Like i said, it isn't quite finished. I've knocked some of the snow off so it isn't so chunky and messed with a few other details. Sorry for the poor picture quality, I took them at my table and was too lazy to get the light or tripod.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Update

Been busy, working extra hours at work but I'll get a free day off so I can't complain. 

Saturday's game went okay. It was an old adventure out of a back issue of dungeon magazine. It went a bit slow for everyone's tastes but running a module instead of home brewing is always a gamble. We didn't have quite enough time to finish it so we plan on getting together sometime this week.

Regardless of the speed, everyone had a good time. Here's a panoramic photo taken by Jim!

Until next time, happy gaming!

PS, I'm almost finished a small painting project I've been working on, complete with WIP photos. Hopefully it will be finished tomorrow!

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Prefer to Mine Blended, not Stirred

A quick update tonight, I have decided to run Saturday's out of an oooold issue of Dungeon magazine. I have quite a collection and every once in a while I like to put them to good use.

Plus I like looking at the pictures.

I also had the opportunity to play the card game I picked up last weekend, Kittens in a Blender. The game is fun, fast paced and most importantly for the time sensitive such as myself, short! With quick hands, the game can be played in about twenty minutes. I don't like to break simple games like this down too much, so lets just say it's a blast!

 A few of the game cards.

Sadly, one of the two publishers listed for the game has closed it's doors and our local hobby shop guru made sure to order a few extra cases because he's worried it will go out of production.

Really what I'm saying is: If you enjoy fast paced cutesy card games you may want to pick up a set before it's too late.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WARNING: This post may be long and boring!

I got another email from Chessex today, they said they were going to send a replacement mat my way! Awesome! After reading my past few blogs I do have to admit that I feel bad for writing about the topic in the first place. I love their products, in fact my whole gaming group does. Our former bard (now monk) buys at least one set of dice every time we go to our local shop and insists on bringing every set of dice he owns to every game.

It's a LOT of dice.

Yes Tom, I'm talking about you!

Anyway, my point here is that I hope I didn't sound harsh about their products. In fact, after years of buying their stuff, this is the only issue I've ever had and they resolved it as quickly as possible. I'm extraordinarily pleased and will continue to shop with them for a long time to come.

That's enough of me feeling guilty, now onto the game stuff.

I've been getting a bit backed up with gaming stuff over the past month. We're still working on finishing up the first two modules of our old west campaign, I'm spending too much time painting miniatures and I've wasted two complete evenings playing Skyrim in the past week.

In campaign news, Pathfinder Group 1 has been split into two separate parties, meaning the monthly game has changed to a twice a month game. It's more work on my part, but it's something that is already helping the characters develop and grow. I anticipate the split to last for about four months real-time. This also gives us the opportunity to let new players join the game as guest NPC's. There is currently a considerably long line of folks interested in trying out the game and since or normal party of six will be reduced to two separate games of three PCs, there's plenty of room for guests. Jeez, that's a lot of numbers!

Pathfinder Groups 2 and 3 who alternate monthly will be merging into a single group. I have yet to decide if it will got to a monthly game or remain bi-monthly. Group 2 is the old west style campaign and Group 3 was the goblin PC campaign. While I liked the idea of running a goblin focused game, we just couldn't get into the vibe of it.

Paranoia is currently on hold and that frustrates me to no end as I really want to play it. Also, if anyone knows of any good miniatures that would fit the Paranoia world, especially for red troubleshooters and zany robots, please let me know. I'm having a hard time finding any that feel right.

I also purchased Megadungeon! by Sean Robson of the blog Tales from the Flaming Faggot a few weeks ago when it was on sale. I want... no... I NEED to play it sometime this or next week. The game looks awesome, I just haven't had the time. I'm a big fan of randomly generated dungeons and I like the style of the PDF, especially the cover art. Additionally, I have yet to try my hand at Kittens in a Blender. It's a card game that's been suggested to me numerous times that I purchased last Saturday. It can supposedly be played in twenty minutes so I'm thinking of taking it into work.

And finally, my wife has expressed an interest in playing a more dungeon-crawly less role play oriented game. She seems to be leaning towards AD&D first edition. I'm more than willing to run it, we just need to amass the rulebooks for it. I regularly read a few OSR blogs but to be honest I don't know much about the OSR scene. I realize that there are other rule sets out there that emulate old school D&D, but I think I'd rather pick up a set of old books and try it that way. Any input would be greatly appreciated as I'm a total fish out of water.

I think that sums everything up! I'm planning my next "formal" post to be on Role Playing Games and real life. I want to discuss my point of view when it comes to the typical labels that are slapped on table top gamers and what I think we can do as a community to change it.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wonder Woman and Customer Service

My wife presented me with an early birthday gift today!

Very early - my birthday isn't until April 7th!

She managed to score me a Dragon Lords Spectral Dragon from Grenadier Miniatures mint in box with all of the original paperwork! I can not describe the levels of awesome contained inside that box. I have yet to photograph it so in the meantime check it out over at the Lost Minis Wiki by clicking here! I believe it's from 1985.

In other news, Chessex emailed me back concerning my issues with the battle mat I purchased. They were very prompt in replying and told me I could send it in for an exchange! I made sure to send along a few photo's so they could see the issues I was having. Good customer service is a rare thing these days so getting such a fast and positive response was a great treat.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Funky Old Books!

My better half and myself went out to a comic convention on Sunday at the Ramada Inn near the Philadelphia International Airport. While not huge comic book fans, you never know what you'll find at conventions so we decided to give it a shot.

And it paid off! We got a bundle of old AD&D comics and two old Monster Manuals for twenty five bucks! Not too shabby!

Also, inspired by EvilDm's comment, I've begun cataloging and photographing my painted miniatures. I hope to create a flickr photo stream and link it to the site.

Unitil next time, happy gaming!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fun Games and Funky Battle Mats!

Well our Saturday game was amazing! While traveling west toward the Shattered Forest the group came across a small village overcome by plague. Being newly sworn to uphold the ways of his deity, Blanklee convinced his party to stop and help the poor souls of Gransad.

Lowering themselves into the town well and navigating a series of tunnels they eventually found the source of the problem - a zombie had become stuck in the stream, contaminating the water! The zombie was stuck by a rudimentary trap set into the side of tunnel. Curious to find the trapmaker or source of the undead, the players pushed on.

The party eventually discovered an underground network of tunnels and caves which served as a troglodyte lair! Further investigation revealed the troglodytes to be housing a filthy pox covered witch. The witch had been providing the trogs with spell casting services in exchange for a safe place to conduct her foul necromantic experiments.

In a bit of a blunder, the PCs managed to attract the attention of the majority of the caverns' inhabitants, fighting off a veritable horde of troglodytes, their leader and the witch in a single massive combat. For a brief time the cleric of the party -Karl- looked like a goner but was saved when Gertrude pulled him out of combat and a lost cohort managed to find his way back to the group and cast a few clutch healing spells.

The game was a prime opportunity for the use of "the rule of awesome" Which I've discussed before and is covered on this post  on Dungeon Fantastic. In this case, when the situation was looking bleak and the PCs were struggling to survive, one of the players offhandedly said "Man, I wish Alvi was here." Alvi being an NPC who they left back at town. Applying the rule of awesome, I gave the players a 50/50 chance for Alvi to have become bored and gone in search of the party. They succeeded and during a pivotal point in the battle Alvi appeared to save the day! The table cheered!

In the long run the PCs managed to slay the witch and her allies, save the town and gain some loot. Fun was had by all!

The only bummer of the night was a new toy we had purchased for the game. Our entire group are huge fans of Chessex products and we use them all the time. When I got to Jim's house to play we all realized that I had forgotten to bring the wet-erase battle mat. Since combat is a pivotal part of our game and we love using miniatures, we decided to run out and buy a new one that we can leave at Jim's house, this way I don't need to lug my mats back and forth between game sessions at his house and my own.

We ran out to our favorite game store (Showcase Comics - we go to the Granite Run locale) and quickly grabbed the mat as well as a copy of Kittens in a Blender. When we returned home I discovered that the mat wasn't a typical 1" square grid, but 1.5"! We weren't worried about the size but what did bother us was that the it almost refused to be written on!

Every line came up splotchy, like the mat was wet. Unfortunately it was dry as a bone! I didn't want to call it quits on the mat and thought it might be the markers, so I took the markers home and tried them on my other mats and they worked fine! I gotta say, I was a little disappointed but I don't like to judge things too early. Maybe it needs a good soap and water wipe or maybe it's just a dud. I made it a point to send an email to the fine folks at Chessex today, asking if there is anything I can do to remedy the situation and I'm eager to get a response.

Friday, March 16, 2012


So it's been a busy week and we have an exciting game coming up tomorrow. Blanklee, our resident fighter is venturing off on a quest to save his immortal soul. Having conspired with demons, Blanklee eventually decided to go back on his deal with the outsiders and appeal to the church. He was incarcerated by The Holy Order of the Inquisition and eventually released into the custody of his friend, the cleric Karl.

By Writ of Sentencing, Blanklee must atone for his crimes through Geas/Quest (as in the spell). It is his burden to transport the Portable Portal of Antesulac across the Shattered Wastes to The Sunderforge, where the evil artifact can be safely disposed off.

His close friends Karl the cleric and Gertrude the rogue are traveling along, in the hopes of helping him regain his humanity and pick up a few treasures along the way.

In more exciting news, Ben (who plays Luci the gnome alchemist), is at the hospital right now where his fiance' is giving birth to their first child! Way to go Ben and Min! (apologies if I spelled that wrong!)

That's it for now, happy gaming! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Painting Tonight

I decided to sit down tonight and paint my way through some of the miniatures I have lying around. Tonight I went ahead and painted a whole mess of slave figures that I acquired almost ten years ago!

I couldn't fit them all in the photo, but you get the idea...

I can't really claim ownership of these figures, they belong to my good friend Noah. He gave them to me so I could paint them, but shortly after receiving them I moved from my apartment and they sort of "disappeared." As you can see though, I found them and gave them a more respectable shade than primer black. It's nothing spectacular, but I'm glad to have painted my way through such a huge chunk of my unpainted stock. Since they were all the same molds, I decided to change a few poses and added some of my micro dice to a few figs as props. I would love to see how they would turn out if I really dedicated time to each figure, but reality dictates that kind of commitment to be unreasonable.

The figures themselves are "slaves" from the game Rumble in Antarctica. The game was a strategy tabletop game featuring the band GWAR. Right out of highschool, I was obsessed with GWAR and still listen to their music today. (Click HERE for thier site!) Here's a brief excerpt from their history...

Eons ago, there existed an elite group of chaos warriors who ravaged the galaxy with a boundless hatred of all things alive. They were called the Scumdogs of the Universe, and they grew in might and fury, the greatest weapon in the arsenal of their cosmic Master.

But they became too powerful, and too defiant, and for their cosmic crimes were banished to the most insignificant planet in the universe…the seething mudball known as Earth.

I wish I could find the miniatures of the band members themselves. The sculpts were excellent. Noah had actually given me a set of them to paint as well, but I fear those are lost in time. I would like to build a diorama or small set to show them off.

Speaking of dioramas, here's one I created not too long ago. It's strange, I don't play wargames but I love to make terrain for them. I kind of settled in a middle ground by making small scale dioramas to display painted miniatures. Enjoy!

  Made to display a necromancer figure. The sign reads, "Cursed be this place."

As always - good night and good gaming!

An Elongated Reply Part:3

Without further ado, lets move on to the final chapter in the series, Part:3!

Wait, I wasn't supposed to fight that?: An innovative PC can and will find any reason to kill anything no matter what. As a GM, alignment is your greatest tool in the ongoing battle of "killing everything in sight; even if it is an important part of the story." Throw them some curve balls now and again. Have a major enemy of the party be good, but motivated by some more sinister villain. Perhaps they come across a creature who is indeed evil, but hasn't actually done anything wrong. Say a local farmer kills a gnoll simply "because it was a gnoll" and that creature's pup comes seeking justice. Do the players slay the creature for doing what is right, just because its race is evil?

Secondly, add consequences to players actions. Monsters have friends just like adventurers do, and in the case of humanoids, the law can always come into play. "You can't put me in jail, he has an evil alignment, the module says so!" won't do much to sway an in-game judge who likes to keep her numbers up.

Metagaming: Every player metagames. Hell, simply knowing about hit points is technically metagaming. A moderate amount of it is okay but lets get something straight: Excessive metagaming is cheating. This includes looking at GM notes, memorizing monster stats for rules jockeying, or using real life knowledge in the fantasy world. Sure, your character knows some things that you may know, but not everything. If you see the GM's plans, you suck it up and keep it to yourself. RPGs are not board games, video games or sports. They do not have scores or winners and if you only "play to win," you are just going to ruin the game for yourself and everyone else. RPGs are about sitting back and enjoying the story that unfolds, not skipping the cut scene to unlock the next achievement. Stop worrying about numbers and start thinking about the game. Who cares if you've fought beholders a dozen times across five different characters? Immerse yourself in it every time! Allow yourself (or your character at least!) to be afraid, pretend like you've never even heard of them before. It's okay! I promise, if you don't tell anyone we play make believe, I won't tell anyone either.

I try to tell players who have a hard time with immersion to try this little trick: Stop saying "I", because you aren't doing anything. "You" aren't picking the lock, Gertrude the thief is. If you want to make your character do more, but have a hard time committing, take yourself out of the equation. Talk to your GM about possibly approaching the game this way...

DM: The hulking orc grapples Reginald, pinning his arms to his sides - the creatures thick stinking drool dripping onto Reggie's visor.
Player: Reginald shakes off the nasty slobber and pushes back with all his might!

That about does it except for one thing, a reminder: RPGs are games of high excitement and drama. Your GMs act as a conduit between you and the fantasy world. They want you to have fun. No GM sits around waiting for the players to arrive thinking "How will I send them home angry tonight?" If you don't agree with something or you get angry just calm down and write a note of it. Discuss it with him/her after the game, maybe even a day or two later. The wonderful thing about role playing games is that they are fantasy and anything can be changed.

Until next time, good gaming and good day!    

An Elongated Reply Part:2

Continuing on from part one, let's jump right into it!

I Can Do Anything I Want!: Besides being a popular rant by young children, this is also a common gripe made by many RPGamers and as I said before, I agree with it. Allow me to take it a bit more in depth here...

A more accurate answer would be: NO! You can not do anything you want, but you are welcome to TRY anything you like! Do you want to swing from the balcony on a curtain? Deceive the Baroness with your charm and wit? How about throw the dead guard dog through the burning doorway and surprise the guards on the other side? Roll the dice and give it a try! RPG worlds are full of possibility but one of those possibilities is failure. 

There is one other dirty secret that sometimes leads GMs to a "no" response and I think many players fail to see it on occasion; the GM wants everyone to have fun and succeed! As a long time Game Master, I absolutely hate seeing players fail or die, but it is my duty to kill them (in fun and exciting ways no doubt!). Without the risk there would be no reward and gamers should be allowed to make foolhardy decisions. However, if that foolhardy decision would hurt the party, hurt the game or lead to unnecessary detriment I would at the very least say "Hey, maybe you'd want to reconsider what your doing before you do it." I've seen too many players make willingly stupid actions simply because they've lost interest in a character or been angry at the game and I will never sacrifice the fun of the group because one PC wants to do something unreasonable.

Thief: I search for traps!
DM: While scanning the hallway you spot a dubious area of floor.
Thief: I carefully attempt to disarm it. (rolls dice)
DM: Well, you did not disarm it, but at least it didn't go off. Do you want to try again?
Fighter: Pfft! This is boring. I try to disarm the trap.
Thief: But you've never disarmed a trap in your life!
DM: You don't even have the skill trained, your character would have no idea what he's doing!
Fighter: I'm an adventurer, I can do what I want and I disarm the trap! (rolls dice)
DM: Your inexperience leads to failure. You set off the trap and the hall fills with geysers of flame. Everyone suffers 6d6 damage. (rolls dice)
Wizard: Dude, I'm dead!
Thief: Why didn't you let me do it?
Fighter: Whatever, I still have more than half health, lets go.
Not too heroic huh?

I hope I clarified that without seeming too draconian. Let's move on to...

Nerfing: Nerfing is when the person (or people) in charge take an existing game rule or mechanic and make it weaker in an attempt to balance the game. It can effect either the players, the environment or both depending on the circumstances. While many are diehard believers in RAW (Rules as Written), we should understand that even after countless revisions, mistakes will be made. For clarity, lets look at two instances of nerfing in my own games.

The first is the altering of a spell. I've discussed this occasion before but we can go into more detail here. Back when we played D&D3.5e I approached the group wizard concerning the spell knock and how I believed it to be excessively powerful. The player was not pleased, insisting that I was just trying to nerf his guy and that I "had it out for him." Which was entirely untrue. In reality the spell is absolute in power and completely unreasonable in the game world. First, lets look at the spell, then we will follow it up with some "what if's?" for example.

Level: Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Target: One door, box, or chest with an area of up to 10 sq. ft./level
Duration: Instantaneous; see text
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
The knock spell opens stuck, barred, locked, held, or arcane locked doors. It opens secret doors, as well as locked or trick-opening boxes or chests. It also loosens welds, shackles, or chains (provided they serve to hold closures shut). If used to open a arcane locked door, the spell does not remove the arcane lock but simply suspends its functioning for 10 minutes. In all other cases, the door does not relock itself or become stuck again on its own. Knock does not raise barred gates or similar impediments (such as a portcullis), nor does it affect ropes, vines, and the like. The effect is limited by the area. Each spell can undo as many as two means of preventing egress.

While the spell seems fairly straightforward at first glance, lets look closer. According to the RAW, there is very little an enterprising dungeoncrafter or locksmith could do to prevent entry from even the lowliest of casters! Each cast opens up to two locks and even if they are magical, it is a guaranteed success! Lets move on to the "what if?" portion of this issue.

What if you were a common man who inherited a moderate amount of treasure from a wealthy uncle. You used some of the income to buy land, build a home and hire some guards. Your vault, hidden in the basement must be secured, right? In a world where knock exists as described above, what would you do? You could have the vault sealed off and buy an amulet that allows only you to travel there, but that is far too expensive for this meager fortune. You could hire the worlds finest locksmith to create an elaborate and perfect masterwork lock, but even that would be no match for the mighty knock. Sadly, the most common sense thing to do would be to create a hallway leading to your vault and line the hallway not with expensive traps - but with doors! Creating dozens of doors with a plethora of mundane locks would be the most cost efficient and wizard proof way to protect your treasure. Unfortunately, it is also the stupidest sounding means to solve the problem.

The real solution? Nerf the spell! It's made so much sense that the spell has indeed been changed for later editions as well as in other rules systems!    

Work with me here, we're almost done. My next example involves nerfing on the fly.

In this case it was a Christmas game. I ran an extra special game for my normal group but our cleric was unfortunately unable to make it. Not wanting him to miss out on the seasonal fun, I wrote him an independent quest based loosely on "A Christmas Carol." Karl (the cleric) valiantly fought his way through the various scenarios and made his way to the attic of a haunted estate where he confronted the evil spirit that was tormenting the residents...

The enemy was too hard and it was my fault.

I failed to take into account that his character wouldn't get the opportunity to rest and that he would use up nearly all of his resources getting to the final battle. He went in against a fully charged creature already badly injured and bloody, but not wanting to go out of character, Karl fought on! It wouldn't be fair to Kevin (Karl's player) if he was killed off because of my poor judgment so I did something I almost never do - I made the monster weaker. Another regular player was there at the time and realized it, giving me a disapproving glance. I have never regretted my decision to nerf that monster and would take a hundred disapproving glances just to see the look on Kevin's face as he sent it back to the afterlife on his own. 

I think I've wasted enough time for one evening. Look out tomorrow (today?) for the conclusion, Part:3!   

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Elongated Reply, Part:1

I don't normally do this, but as I was typing a reply to Infamous' most recent post over at Cobblestone Chaos I realized that it was turning into a wall of text. Rather than waste his entire comment roll, I'd like to open it up and elaborate here. Be sure to head over and check out his post. if you'd like a little more clarity on what I'm writing.

Before I begin, I would also like to make it abundantly clear that even though I don't agree with everything Infamous says, he has every right to say it and I respect him as a gamer. My intentions here at Warbear are to encourage conversation, not initiate flame wars and trolling.

 I wore my helmet just in case...

I consider myself falling somewhere in the middle when it comes to balancing rules with story telling. I would love the freedom to let anything happen but there's no getting around it: the game needs rules. The player characters have various strengths, weaknesses and abilities; and they take great risks to achieve their goals - no matter how mundane or grandiose. The rules provide a framework to let these things happen; hopefully in a fluid and organic way. In most games the rules are there to tell you what you can and cannot do. In RPGs you can do anything, the rules are there to tell you how to do it.

Example: In baseball a player can only hit the ball with an inspected and approved baseball bat - the rules dictate that the player cannot use anything else. In an RPG you can hit anything you want with anything you like! The rules are there to determine how difficult it is for you to do so. That's a big difference!  

Unfortunately, terms like game and rules produces the unfortunate side effect of misrepresenting the genre. I feel that many folks out there interpret RPG as "role playing game" instead of "role playing game" - if you get my meaning. There is more to RPGs than rolling dice and adding damage, it's the thrill of the story, the glory of victory and the agony of defeat. There's a reason why players' light up when a GM says, "You fell the foul beast in a single mighty swing, a fine red mist hangs in the air where it once stood." It offers a visual reward far superior to "You hit it, it's dead now." Regardless of your intentions, every session of an RPG is telling a tale - with the GM and Players as the authors. Many of the players in my group still tell stories of their amazing deeds from ten or twelve years ago. No one remembers the dice rolls - everyone remembers the outcomes...
Adam: Let me get this straight, it's a hospital bed right?
Me (DM): It sure is.
Adam: Does it have a metal frame then?
Me (DM): (knowing it wasn't written in my notes) Of course it does!
Adam: Ok guys, lets break the legs off this thing.
Ed: Alright, we help him take the legs off.
Noah: How much time do we have? Someone check the front doors!
Me (DM): The barrier you built is holding, but not for long. It shakes violently as the orcs bash at the doors. You've managed to get the legs off.
Adam: We push the bed-sled to the top of the staircase, pointed right at the front doors.
Ed: I try to attach the dead orcs swords to the front with sovereign glue!
Noah: I do the same on the sides with all of their shields!
Me (DM): This door isn't holding much longer guys! They'll be in soon!
Adam: I get on the bed, weapons drawn and ready to shove off!
Ed/Noah: Me too!
Noah: We've built our own juggernaut!
Adam: No, its a BEDdernaut!
Me (DM): The barrier crumbles! The orcs rush in the door!
Adam: I shove the beddernaut down the stairs toward the orcs!
Ed: YOU ORCS BEDDERNAUT (better not) F*** WITH US!
Me (DM): [Begins rolling dice]
From a game circa 2000...

On to more specific facets of role play! I agree that many of these can be bothersome but can sometimes be necessary for a successful game.

Railroading: I get this one, I really do. And I agree! The world is a wide open place where the possibilities are endless and the GM should never stop the players from doing whatever they want. For me, this comes down to an issue of expectations and respect. Every GM is different and they all work in different ways. While some are excellent at creating on the fly, some work much better from paper. I am one of the latter. I put a lot of effort into my games and the group I game with knows it. While I certainly am creative enough to go off the cuff should they decide to go elsewhere, they also understand that pursuing the "objective of the session" will lead to more colorful and fleshed out locations as well as treasure and rewards more suited to them specifically and not randomly generated. I respect the players rights to "do whatever they want" but they also respect the time and effort I put into the creation. To take it a step further, lets elaborate with a fictional example.

 Let's say the players just swore an oath to the King; an oath to seek out and slay the evil red dragon who has been terrorizing his lands. In exchange he has promised them vast tracts of land and gifted them with a weapon of great value: The Shimmerblade. While passing through a town on their way to the dragon's lair they hear rumors of a nearby crypt containing the remains of Nelthar the Great, a master wizard and wielder of a great magical staff. The GM has placed this information here in the hopes of leading to a future adventure but the PCs decide to go now. The Game Master is forced to run an off the cuff adventure and shelf whatever he had written for that evening. The player's journey is diverted for a few days while they seek out and conquer the crypt. They retrieve the item, perhaps they even argue that they only did it to "bolster their strength against the dragon."

Unfortunately, the world doesn't stop because they decided to side quest. While they were gone the dragon continued unchallenged. They return to find the town burnt to a cinder and all nearby settlements evacuated. The King has received word that the party had decided to go elsewhere and is furious, not to mention the alignment ramifications of abandoning your oath and disregarding human lives.

What I am getting at is that GMs should never force their players to stick to a script, but if you play in a group that uses pre-written adventures (especially if your GM writes them him/herself!) you should at least be willing to try them. Players and GMs should be working together to make the game fun for everyone, not just one side of the the screen.

Keep in mind this topic applies almost exclusively to experienced GMs. I think it is important for new or inexperienced GMs to start with linear style (railroad) games. It gives them the opportunity to work on descriptive abilities and to learn the rules in a comfortable, predictable setting. You sit a would-be airline pilot in front of a computer screen long before you put them in control of a functional aircraft, ya know?

!NOTE! This post has gone far longer than I anticipated, so I have decided to break it into multiple parts. In Part:2 we will discuss rule limitations and nerfing as well as player knowledge and meta gaming. Stay tuned!   

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learning New Things

So I am in the process of teaching myself the ways of Adobe InDesign. My better half insists that it is the best way to to create a game module and so far I am inclined to agree. While I have been tapping away at text boxes and lining up columns, she has been taking my ideas and sketches and turning them into downright awesome illustrations!

I don't want to spoil the final product, so instead enjoy a rough draft I threw together at lunch. He is the main villain of the adventure: Bort Blacklungs.

Until next time, good night and good gaming.

Monday, March 5, 2012


So I was working on a project when I accidentally hit the bottom that links to My firefox window was smaller than normal and it made the website look all crazy. I never thought to ask this, but does anyone have issues when looking at the site?

DM Strangelove or: When I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Game.

I won't beat around the bush and I don't say this lightly, but the fact of the matter is: I am a good Game Master. I would probably say 'great,' but I am terrified that it will come back to haunt me one day. For the past few weeks I've been thinking about the topic of GMing and what the major differences are between 'good' GMs and 'bad' ones. I also found myself asking, "Who am I to make that kind of judgement anyway?" I finally figured it out while sorting through our old campaign material. I can make that kind of judgement because for a long time...

[I was a bad Game Master.]

There it is -I said it- and it's true. You see, the hardest thing to admit (for me at least) is that you are no good at something you love. Fortunately for myself, it took only a bit of tweaking and a new point of view to turn it around. Before I go more in depth, here is what I found while digging through our old campaign stuff. It's a notebook that belonged to my good friend Matt, who played as our party ranger circa late 2009. For clarity, we were playing D&D3.5

Censored for young or objectionable viewers

Notice the writing between 9:53 and 10:11. It may seem obscure at the moment, but one thing is clear: He was NOT having fun. Allow me to explain...

This ended up being the last adventure of a doomed campaign. The party had invaded a fortress belonging to the evil Lord Mycoth in an attempt to reach an ancient temple hidden below. Mycoth himself was recently made aware of it's existence when his horde of prisoner/slave laborers accidentally uncovered it. The players were in search of a time-lost gauntlet hidden within the temple. This gauntlet allows it's wearer to use a cursed but incredibly powerful magical key with no ill effects. The key was forged with a single purpose - It opened a magical seal which imprisoned a severed piece of a chaos deity.

The adventure got off to a good start, but quickly slowed as the players began to argue with each other and pursue their own goals instead of the group's. At one point the game almost came to a halt when the players tried to cram all of their characters, as well as summoned creatures, two raised zombie minions and familiars onto one small mechanical lift that descended into a pit of unknown depth. The players with minions were frustrated that they might have to give them up, and the other PCs were impatient after ten minutes of listening to their comrades hair-brained schemes for transportation. Ironically, I intentionally made the elevator small to prevent them from taking along too many unnecessary acquisitions. Later, the PCs would butt heads again as some wanted to explore a series of abandoned rooms and others wanted to skip ahead and confront enemies. These events were the "BS BS BS" alluded to in the note.

 The Behipster is always watching...

The players eventually split up mid-dungeon and those who went in search of danger crashed headlong into it. They got in way over their heads and came barreling back to the area where the rest of the party was investigating, leading a horde of enemies right into the laps of their unprepared allies. They barely survived and the mood was foul for the remainder of the adventure. Frustration and infighting led to more problems as they encountered a helpful NPC and a few still-bitter players attempted to rob him blind while he was under the stunning effect of a Mind Blast. The story critical NPC abandoned the party and the campaign path was destroyed.

A few days after the adventure came to an end, I tried having a side discussion with one of the PCs concerning the unbalanced nature of some of his spells. To date, I still firmly believe that many spells in D&D 3.5 were horribly broken. We got into a heated discussion about the knock spell and whether it was too powerful. Frustrated that he was unwilling to budge on the topic and angered by his accusations that I was just trying to "nerf his guy", I wiped my hands of the whole game and called it quits. The infighting, the slow games, the rule jockeying and the overall negative vibe was enough to end it all for me. I felt like the time and effort I kept putting in was wasted.

This was the best thing that could have ever happened to me as a GM. I went home and licked my wounds for a while. After a few weeks I picked up a pen and started over. I began to create a world, starting with races and history. I made deities, forged items and sundered kingdoms. I forgot the rules and let my creativity take over. It was wonderful!

I eventually went back to the rules once I was satisfied that I had enough content and ideas to start a new game. I read them again and again, fixing anything that I thought was broken. I did research online to find the opinions of other GMs and used a dose of my own common sense to write a series of house rules. I also became a fan of Rule 0 - not to hurt the players, but to speed up game play and make it fun for everyone.

After a rework of the rules I delved deeper into game theory and the "art" of Game Mastering. I read official sites, blogs and forums; adopting the tricks and styles that appealed to me. I learned to better utilize floor plans, to think in non-linear ways, to talk in voices (yes, even lady voices) and to pace adventures so that players of all styles and classes can find something to enjoy. I learned that game momentum is just as important as the story and that I shouldn't get upset if the players skip four pages of my carefully scribed module. I should take it as an opportunity to get creative instead.

Time went on and I eventually approached a few of the old players and asked them if they wanted to try out a new campaign. Now I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure they started rolling new characters before I even finished asking the question! The few games we played went well and we eventually switched to an entirely new rule set, moving from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder.

Since then things have only improved. Word of the game spread and soon there was enough interest to start a second six-PC party, then a third! Players have expressed interest in trying out other games and different genres. Hell, I started a blog! My problems used to be infighting and slow games, now they are finding the time to play and keeping everything organized. Thankfully, the players I GM for are as dedicated and zealous as myself and help keep everything running smoothly.

I hope to use this post as a jumping point for a series on the art of Game Mastering. You never know, maybe I'll end up helping out another struggling GM and not even know it!

Until next time, good night and good gaming!       

Thrift Store Score!

Most folks out here in the real world know that my wife and I are fanatical when it comes to vintage. We love vinyl records, old books, 'modern' furniture and a whole variety of stuff. We enjoy mixing old and new products in our home to give it a funky and unique feel.

Tonight we went thrift-hunting at one of our favorite stores. A store that my good friend and fellow RPG'er Jim introduced us to and which I refuse to tell anyone else about. Mostly because I don't want them getting any of the good stuff. It's terrible, I know.

But I digress, let's move on to the meat of the story! While browsing the store we managed to pick up more than our fair share of great stuff including a few RPG and fantasy related items!

The contraband!

We purchased two NES games, still boxed with instructions. The first is The Adventure of Link and the second game is Crystalis. I own a few NES consoles and consider myself a retro gaming fan. I definitely plan on setting some time aside to play Crystalis, as I've played Link more than enough times.

Next up we found a short stack of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Dragonlance comic books. While I am not a huge comic book fan there are a few series I enjoy. I'll most likely give them a few reads and then my wife and I will use them in our top secret art project.

Finally, we picked up a well-used copy of the book Gnomes by Wil Huygen. This fascinating Dutch book tells all about the secret lives of the diminutive humanoids. The art is amazing and the storytelling top-notch. Not a bad haul at all!

-On a personal note, really good thrift/second hand stores are becoming harder to come by. Nowadays it seems people are more likely to throw their stuff away rather than host a yard sale or donate it to a charity like Goodwill or The Salvation Army. We live in a world where everything is disposable and people toss out perfectly good stuff for a slightly upgraded model. There's too much plastic in the world - donate your unwanted junk and buy used! 

Until next time, good night and good gaming!   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Endure elements? I thought it was INDOOR elements!

Well the game night has ended and everyone has gone home. All in all, it was a wild success. The party defended a dusty desert town from marauders, tracked them to their villainous hideout and defeated their leader - all while rescuing a local cleric in the process! I can honestly say that I am proud of this module and the work I put into it.

My favorite quality of the module was in it's balance of power. In the early portion of the adventure the players face off against dimwitted creatures like goblins, dogs and desert bandits. The PCs plowed through their enemies with little trouble. The buildup of confidence early on led to near fatal mistakes toward the end of the adventure, as the enemies increased in difficulty and intelligence. The over confident PCs fell victim to ambushes and dirty tactics as the goblins and dogs were replaced with gnolls, hobgoblins and the Orc Boss: Bort Blacklungs.

Of course my wife ducks out of the picture! At least you can see the sock she's knitting for me on the left!

Through some quick thinking and lucky rolls (my big bad orc rolled four fours in a row on his attack rolls!) the party managed to get through with a few near-death situations but no casualties. Barkis, the dwarf cleric was downed in two shots of the big orc's axes, a mere three hit points from the grave when Ragnar stepped in to defend his fallen ally. The lizardman alchemist took hit after hit to protect the fading clergyman until their mousefolk paladin Sorren positioned himself next to Bort and struck the killing blow.

My favorite event of the night occurred after the bandit leader was slain. The party decided that they could not leave without checking the one room they didn't open. You know... the room that was barred shut with a clear warning message painted upon the door. The very room even the bandit leader refused to enter... That's the room they wanted to check. Well, everyone but the wizard Mort. He thought it was a dumb idea and stayed behind.

While they weren't struggling, the PCs were definitely injured by the skeletal champion in the room. His ability to channel negative energy hit all of them at once, and his damage resistance to all but bludgeoning weapons did not help the party of sword and rapier wielding melee artists. After a few rounds of combat, Mort decided to leave the dungeon entirely. While passing the room he casually cast disrupt undead, scoring the killing blow with almost no effort, leaving the battered party speechless.

While the bulk of the module's content is finished, I still want to add a bit of flavor. My wife is currently making illustrations and I have a few tweaks to make. For example I discovered that this sentence looks fine on paper...

The saloon's patrons are rambunctious but mostly harmless local miners.

The PCs interpreted it a bit differently and hilarity ensued... 
The saloon's patrons are rambunctious but mostly harmless local minors.

Well, I still didn't get to touch on a certain topic I've been wanting to, I hope to get it out by tomorrow if I find the time.

Good Gaming and Goodnight!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

It's so late!

Ugh, it's 5am on Saturday and I JUST finished up today's adventure. It probably would have been finished earlier but I went to this art collaboration event called "Philly Works" yesterday with my better half instead of working on the game.

I'm not complaining mind you, we had veggie-sausages, sauerkraut, beer and giant pretzels. Plus the place was some ultra-cool bar in Northern Liberties. It's not really my scene but it's nice to change things up every once in a while. (really, I'm looking for an opposite version of the phrase "slumming it")

Anyway, I'm off to bed. I need to be up in time for people to show up at noon. I had a big post planned for today but it looks like I may have to put it off for late tonight or tomorrow.