Wednesday, February 27, 2013

GM and Player Appreciation

I was reading this article today and noticed that GM's Day (March 4th) is coming up fast, and it got me thinking about GM appreciation.  The article talks about all the cool things players can do every day to help the GM -- typical things like not arguing with GM calls during the game, participating, helping to keep the game fun, and bringing snacks.  Thinking back over my most recent gaming experiences over the last year or so, I have to share that the groups I GM for have done a pretty darn good job at all these things.  We've all learned the rules together on new things and there is always good discussion and helping around the table.  All the players pretty much get in the game when its their turn.  I think everyone has had some fun.  And the snacks - well, the players shine every week at bringing way too much cool stuff to eat.  (I remember the week we had a crockpot beside the table!)

I've tried to hold up my end of the bargain too.  I have avoided railroading and tried to make the worlds a big sandbox that the players can play in.  I have added new elements to the adventures at the request of the players (like the Thornhold).  I've even pushed myself at adding better props to my games (like the Keep I built and the miniatures I am always trying to match to the creatures in play).  Mostly, I just try to make sure that there is something special for everyone to do and that everyone has a moment to shine.

Looking ahead, I have quite a few things I want to improve and expand on.  We're getting a new group together for Shadowrun and that's going to take place in a custom setting, which is quite a leap for me.  Our big Pathfinder fantasy campaign is headed towards a big climax and end over the next couple of months.  Continuing to take that campaign up a notch is going to be challenging.  Pirates is going to make it into Southern pirate waters soon, and that's going to open up lots of new avenues for exploration and adventure. I'm also trying to start recording all of our adventures (maps, stats, encounters, NPCs, stories) so I can reuse them.  I'm also hoping to finally release my initiative tracker and get my random table manager finished.  Its going to be a busy year.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Prep for Shadowrun

So I've been trying to figure out good prep for Shadowrun.  It turns out that the A-Team 1980's TV show (which is on Netflix) is full of characters and plots relevant to Shadowrun.  You've got a close knit team that does illegal stuff for money.  They have a mix of skill sets -- flying aircraft, driving a ground vehicle, building things.  They even have a Faceman that they call the Faceman.  And all of them, of course, have weapons experience.  Sounds like a primitive Shadowrun to me... just add the Matrix, the meta-races, and magic.  It makes me wonder why there isn't a Shadowrun movie?  Of course, they haven't even gotten around to making Neuromancer into a movie yet.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Little Taste of Shadowrun

Made this today for the Shadowrun setting I'm working on...


The Show Must Go On

I spent around 3 hours on Saturday driving all over checking out possible options for a gaming venue.  I was amazed how many people were really excited that we might want to use their space.  I checked out two library branches and both had meeting rooms available free of charge with free wifi for similar timeslots as two of our planned game times.  We also stopped at a couple of game stores and the story was what I expected -- we have lots of tables open and available any time except Friday.  That doesn't surprise me -- Friday Night Magic is big business and at least they were up front about it.  So I guess finding new places to play was easier than expected.  There is also Roll20.net for doing an online game.  The only snag is that the Friday Night Pathfinder game is going to have to move online or change days.

Of course, the real test is to see how many players will follow the games.  We've lost one person on Friday, but that was somewhat expected, since he hadn't really been in to it lately.  I know other players will have issues to figure out.  Some were pretty attached to our old place.  Some will have to figure out transportation.  The show must go on though.  I feel like finding new players won't be a problem now.  I've seen lots of places where I can put up flyers or post openings online.  A good portion of the players will probably go off to college soon too.

I'm gonna miss our old place.  I considered the store manager a friend and he was good to us.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Change in Venue

I waited a day to post this since I like to let emotions cool first.  This might seem a bit off-topic at first, but I think there needs to be a deeper reflection on the impact that gaming every week has on a person.  Its true that it is just a hobby for most, but it plays an important part in their lives, taking up precious time and being an escape from the stress of daily life.
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I was all ready tonight for a cool new section of the dungeon for our Friday night game.  I packed up my Friday night GM backpack, collected together the specific miniatures I was going to use tonight.  I grabbed up the dungeon adventure that I had worked to prepopulate with stats this week.  I packed in my box of dice and shut down my laptop and packed it in too.  I also grabbed my copy of Elder Evils that was going to play a special role in tonight's encounter, if we got that far.  I was also looking forward to maybe buying a copy of the NPC Codex tonight, if they still had a copy in stock at my friendly local gaming store.

It was going to be a good night for discussion too, since I received my Shadowrun books this week.  I got through reading the Runner's Companion, which was going to be a good topic for discussion during breaks with the guys interested in starting a Shadowrun campaign.  One of the player's was looking for a character that flies, which I think is only the Pixie race.  I think he wanted a flying character with a big gun.  Not sure if pixie was going to fit the bill.  I also looked over the rules for the artificial intelligence race in the Runner's Companion.  I was looking forward to discussing how balanced an AI could really be and how it might / might not fit with the setting.

It's been a long week.  Monday I was sick enough to have to go to the doctor.  We had to knock out birthday shopping this week for one of my daughters.  Work was hectic and stressful.  At least two of the nights I didn't get enough sleep, and it's catching up with me.  I wanted to sneak in a nap before gaming tonight, but after getting cleaned up, I just didn't have enough time.  I felt bad that one of the minis I am bringing tonight I missed a spot on and I didn't get a chance to touch it up.

The weather had been bad all day.  We got snow and ice overnight.  The roads were slick this morning.  The side roads were still slick tonight.  It was going to get worse as the temperature dropped to freezing tonight.  It doesn't help that we have to fight through traffic to the game store.  Sitting at the same stoplight for three greens takes too much patience on a Friday.

We finally get to the game store and the parking lot is pretty full already.  We pack up the stuff and ease our way in across the icy parking lot.  I am really hoping a slip on the ice doesn't get my laptop crushed or my miniatures broken.

Once inside, Friday Night Magic is underway.  My gaming group is there but not at the table.  It looks like there is stuff standing up all around the RPG table like some sortof makeshift partition.  Already I can't hear myself think because of magic players.  One of the players tells me our table is taken up by one of the owner's projects and we have a table at the front of the room.  This is going to be impossible -- I won't be able to hear a thing.  And there is no power, and half my stats are on my laptop.  It looks like they might have an extension cord -- annoying since I bought a power strip to leave at the RPG game table just so I wouldn't have to worry about this.  I try to sit down, but the projector they use for Friday Night Magic pairings and scores is blasting right into my face.  The projector is blasting right towards the table.  I can't see anything.  All the time prepping for this game that I really need, and its all for naught. 6 of us taking our time to drive to the store, spending gas and our Friday night for nothing.

My patience runs out.  Our reserved table has been taken over and now we have no place to play.  I emailed in that we would be in tonight for sure.  "That's it.  We're done."  I grabbed up my stuff and left.  I didn't hardly say a word all the way home.

It reminds me of the time we were playing on a Friday night when a massive turnout appeared for Friday Night Magic.  We were back in the corner at two smaller tables shoved together that made up the RPG area.  The tabletops are covered by a map with multiple miniatures all over the place.  The edges of the map and every other bit of the table is covered in books, character sheets, dice.  there literally isn't a space left open anywhere on the tables.  We're all huddled around the table deep in play.  The owner wanders over frantically and asks "Are you using those tables?".  I was a bit shocked by the question, so much so that I hesitated in responding with a "Yes."  He then wanders over a few minutes later and says, "Don't worry, we found some more space."  I though it was odd that he would seem to ignore the fact that we were quite obviously using the tables and we were there first by reservation.  

Two points make a line, so they say.  I guess it should seem obvious in retrospect -- the RPGers don't really matter.

So I sent out an email notice that our table had been taken over and that I was cancelling all games until I find a new venue.  I got an email from the owner apologizing but reiterating one simple truth:  we're going to lose our table any time he has something he feels is a higher priority.  I guess the agreement for our reservation doesn't mean anything.  We're just filler for dead time.

That last thing I have time for right now is finding another place to game.  Really, though, what I have less time for is showing up to game and finding we've been voted off the island.  Maybe this would be a good time to move all my games to Roll20.net.  I guess I'll see what I can find.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What's Scarier than an Illithid Blackguard on a Beholder Mount?

How about a goblin riding a rust monster?


What do you call a group of apes?

Crayla, hidden behind a tree, watched carefully, as the half-insane bard shook his behind, calling forth a shrewdness of apes to defeat the oncoming hoard of goblin worg-riders.



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Death and Dying

After reading this article, I took some time to think about character death again.  Here are some observations:

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again.  There are two reasons a character should die:  because they did something stupid or because they sacrificed themselves for the greater good.
  • Zirul and Ally died on Friday nights because they made a frontal assault on a keep and were hit by a fireball.  This was an ill-advised course of action, and they should have had defenses against that level of magic.  Verdict:  death by poor planning.
  • Kyte and Durgen died on Monday night in an assault by Frost Giants that were way above their level. They had the option of running below deck to safety, but stood fast and got pounded.  Verdict: death by forgetting they may need to sometimes run away.
  • I had to have my character kill another character in a previous game I played in.  The character in question didn't fit into the campaign and the GM hung the player out to dry, basically bringing his character in as a villain with no redeeming value to the party.  Bringing in this character was stupid, but it wasn't the other player's fault.  Verdict:  death by GM.
  • Death has to be a constant threat.  This is motivation to play your character well.
  • Death is a balancing force.  Take Don the Magnificent on Friday Nights.  Without a constant threat of death, there wouldn't be a balance to Don's unbelievable social skills.
  • Death makes healing and resurrection important.
  • Death is a restoring force.  It sweeps old things and brings in new, which is important to keep any game interesting.
  • Death is still sad.  Good characters and bad characters die.  Losing a constant character, especially one that's been around for a while, affects the GM and players alike.
  • There will be death coming soon in one of my campaigns.  Things are going to get dangerous and someone needs to die to punctuate how serious the situation is.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

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A Note about Real Weapons

LindyBeige over on YouTube has an awesome series of videos talking about real aspects of weapons.  If you want to know how that scimitar really works, take a look.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Playtesting Wisdom

I just read this great article by Dungeon Fantastic on "Has that problem come up in actual play?", which looks at the difference in game design between rules that break in theory versus rules that break in play.  I've designed plenty of games in my time, most of them as a kid who wanted to play D&D but couldn't afford any of the books.  Even comparing my attempts as an adult to my successes as a kid, I can see the very obvious wisdom, that a game is designed best by playing it.

As a kid, this was very odd, because many of my test session were, in fact, me with my box of D6 dice taken out of every board game in the house, rolling merrily away by myself trying to kill the monsters I had created.  As GM and player and game writer, I knew the strengths and weaknesses and I could push and pull at every aspect.  The end product worked, though it wasn't nearly as elegant as systems I've seen since.

As an adult, I've written some RPG system stuff, extensions and rule sets.  When I tried them with other people they fell apart.  They fell apart because I tried to write them as a game designer and then test them.  Games are best written by a player and a GM, merged into one squishy being that only uses game design as a means to an end.  It seems the best advice ever is simple:  PLAY!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Making a Keep

I thought I would share my secret are the keep I recently made.  Here's a picture of it here:



I built this keep out of castle birdhouses I got for $5 at our local Michael's craft store.  Here's the picture of them on the shelf:


The other trick I used was Rustoleum "Stone" spray paint which gave the keep a nice speckled color and texture.  It took two cans, but it was worth it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Saw this over on Google+

From Chris Swiatek over on Google+:


I guess this is why I prefer Pathfinder / 3.5; yet, I still have a place in my heart for older editions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Some Interesting New Classes

I am always on the lookout for new classes.  I am a big fan of both the Spell-less Ranger and the Shaman classes.  Here are a couple more I came across:

Dandy from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque:  "These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking ..."

Alice from Playing D&D with Porn Stars:  "Alices forever find themselves falling into cursed rabbit holes, accidentally killing witches, having their half-brothers stolen by goblin kings, being willed magic rings, finding demons inserted in their chests or having armored knights ride through their homes while they are trying to sleep."

Yeah, both of these sites contain adult content.  Be warned


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shadowrun is Coming

It looks like the gaming group is VERY interested in having a Shadowrun game.  I'm going through my old Shadowrun setting, getting my proverbial ducks in a row.  This is going to be a huge change for me, since Pathfinder in the Faerun setting has been old hat to me.  I can stick a few random generators on my laptop, open up the PRD and generate content on the fly.  Shadowrun is going to take a bit more for me for a while.

It was nice to find Chummer, a character generator for SR4.  That will make a lot of things easier.  I probably need to add some books to my collection, perhaps both book and PDF, since I expect the gaming party will want to look them over at game time, but I'll need quick reference during the game.

What I've read so far seems to indicate that access to several books is required.  I have Arsenal and Core.  Unwired, Augmentation, Street Magic, and Runners Companion also seem critical, though my setting is a low magic setting, which may eliminate the need for street magic.

So, anyway, expect some posts as I try to pull this cyberpunk gaming group together.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Friday Night Pathfinder: Dangers in the Tomb

The party had defeated the two guardians last session and was now standing in a room of alcoves, each a grave.  Three doorways exited the room besides the direction they entered.  To the south, there was a small room with a single large sarcophagus, so covered in dust that Felix could not make out what it was made of. Felix entered, sure that there were no traps (and he would know!).  Unfortunately, 4 wraiths came out of the walls and surrounded him.

Felix turned into a bat and flew away.  The rest of the party prepared for attack.  Corrail fired shots with his bow.  Chum swung wildly at the wraiths who pawed at him.  Elliot, the Cavalier, moved up to attack with his sword.  The bard played loudly  greatly inspiring the party.  Sandra, the summoner, buffed herself with magic spells, in prep for a lengthy battle.  Niva blasted the wraiths with magical lightning.  The monk, downtrodden and drunk after lamenting his answer further ("The torch!" he cries out.) sat in the corner ill (his player was out this week.)  Yuri and the tiger stayed back.

The wraiths moved up quickly to use their touch attacks.  The party avoid their undead powers, except for the Cavalier, who took heavy damaged, wilting away some of his life force (con damage).  Corrail switched to a sword and the battle continued.  The wriaths left Chum and Chum did nothing useful.  The party attacked, lightning flashed, arrows flew, and the wraiths fell.

Searching the sarcophagus, the party found it was made of gold.  There was a glyph carved into it that the rogue was able to disable.  It was a blast glyph, so the party stood clear in case the magic was unleashed.  In the grave was a barbarian of sorts, perhaps Uthgardt, clad in a magical mithral chainmail.  Don found this all odd, as this person should not be here in this very old tomb.  He recorded his findings for posterity.

From there Niva and Elliot started to discuss how much Elliot missed his mount.  Elliot lamented the fact that his horse could not manuever the underground.  Niva offered to bring the horse forth and shrink the two of them to a size fit for a dungeon.  Elliot agreed and Niva started the ritual.  Elliot decided not make it permanent, but instead to try it for a week.

While the ritual was underway, Felix searched the area.  He found a room to the North with 4 statues of knights with swords and a secret door.  To the west, he found a room with many wall-encased graves and two large fountains full of gold coins.  Felix avoided his temptation and moved on to the room with the secret door.

Don went into the room with the fountains full of coins and became trapped when his foot fell into a hole in the floor.  He could not pull himself free (failed strength check).  The party quickly gathered to aid him.  Unfortunately the hole was also a trigger for a trap.  Heavy metal doors slammed into place around them, breaking the large room into small cubicles.  Some of the characters were able to dodge the walls and choose what rooms they landed in.  Poor Elliot was hit by the way and slightly injured.

In the first room was Elliot and his mount, both of one size smaller now.

In the second room was Yuri, Sandra, and Felix.

In the third room was Corrail and Don.

They noticed holes in the ceiling.  One of them noticed that these holes contained spears, heavily weighted, that could fall at any moment.  With only 6 inches between the matrix of spears, it was going to hurt.

Felix tried to grab some of the coins, but was electrocuted.  He tried to talk Sandra into assisting his stealing of coins with her mage hand spell, but she refused.

Corrail chose not to break into the wall grave in fear that the spears would be triggered.

There was a loud, ringing as Elliot charge the wall.

Eventually there was anoth loud thud and ringing and crunching.  Then another and the wall was ripped from Elliot's cublicle.  Unfortunately the wall was holding down the trigger for the spears and when Chum ripped it away, Elliot was hit by a barrage of spears.  Chum continued along the way, ripping out walls, with the occupants dodging spears as best they could.

After the escape was complete, they broke open the graves to find them all empty.  Don, once again, found this odd.

The party moved on, through the room with the four statues, and down a hall.  There a room came into Felix's view that contained two Dark Nagas and some small creatures standing in the shadows that did not move.

The Dark Nagas were happy to see the new potential slaves, calling out to them.

Felix ran back and the party advanced.  Corrail fired with his bow.  Elliot charge them.  Sandra summoned 2 wolverines to attack them.  A blast of lightning got Felix, Corrail, and the wolverines.  Don played his funeral dirge, inspiring the group yet again.  The battle raged to the end of the session until the Nagas went invisible and to be continued next time.




Monday Night Pathfinder: Dead Ship

The Celestial Kyte, having successfully navigated through the Whalebones, took off from the Zelbinion to get back to piracy.  They easily overtook a cargo vessel their first day out, gather more plunder to move aboard the Zelbinion for safe keeping.

The second day out the Celestial Kyte came across a dead ship, burnt sails with a large hole in the main deck and side.  No cannons were visible on the gunnery deck.  No people were visible on the main deck.

Captain Taerl brought the Kyte around slowly into 100 foot range of the dead ship.  From this view, the crew was able to discern that despite being dead, the ship was loaded down with cargo of some sort.  While Kyte readied the boarding party (with all the PCs included), the Druid dove overboard, morphed into his shark form and headed for the dead ship. He was able to circle the ship and asses that there was no damage below the waterline.

The ship was a well-known ship gifted by the Waterdeep leaders to Candlekeep.  Candlekeep used the ship for defense and moving trade goods.  It was a long way off from Candlekeep now, and there was word that Candlekeep had recently been attacked.

The Druid jumped onto deck, and with an awkward flop, landed with a flop and a thud.  Laying on the deck he could hear the squeaking of mice and the running of sand.

The longboats approached, and once within range, Kyte examined the magical auras of the ship.  One magical aura was moving about the gunnery deck, and there were no less than 12 magical auras visible in the hold.  Kyte brought the ships along side and the boarding party climbed up to the main deck.

The party assessed the large hole in the main deck.  It was repairable.  More troubling was the cannon below that looked as if the end of the barrel had been peeled back like a sardine can.

There was still a sound of running sand until the Druid fumbled on deck and drastically broke the silence.

The Druid and Victaerus headed below.  There, on the gunnery deck, was a pile of sand, too large to be an hourglass broken, too large to be a bit of sand tracked by the crew.  Victaerus attempted to poke at the sand with no effect.  She tried tying herself to a rope tied to the mast and jumping into the sand, dramatically, with no effect.  Victaerus is only a 16 year old girl, and she often gets strange ideas about things.

The cannons on the deck were all pulled from their births with their barrels peeled back.  No black powder or cannon balls were to be seen anywhere.

Kyte and the Blackguard also headed below.  The sand shifted into a humanoid shape and attacked Victaerus awkwardly, screaming something about not getting the scrolls.  Kyte fell to the ground asleep.  The party tried to wake Kyte and attack.  The Blackguard walked right over Kyte   waking Kyte  s he stepped on her chest in spiked boots.  The sandy man-figure flew across the deck until he was holding a torch over the entry to the hold.  I will burn them all, all the scrolls, if you do not leave.

The crew had a fearful vision of a hold full of black powder.  They anxiously await the outcome next session.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Which Fantasy Roleplaying Game is the Best?

Reading this article, I felt that the "Best Fantasy Roleplaying Game" discussion was a good overview, but needed a little more.  The author mentions Pathfinder, Dragon Age, Swords and Wizardry, D&D 4th Ed, Tunnels and Trolls, and Runequest 6th ed, and points out that there are many others.   I think he had a good overview of what he included, but here are some salient points I think I would add to the mix:

  • There are kits for getting started with D&D Red Box and Pathfinder Beginner Box.  For getting started in a new RPG, these boxes are a good way to go, including starting with pregen characters and a reduced rule set.  I'm not sure if there are others, but these starter kits are a good way to introduce new players.
  • Savage Worlds is a nice rules-light RPG that can easily be used for fantasy.  When I went looking a light rule set, this one seemed well-supported and very flexible.
  • When we speak of best Fantasy RPGs, you can't leave out Burning Wheel.  Its an award winning take on fantasy RPG that really is different.  It has heavily influenced the way the industry looks at role-playing games.  It seems like an involved ruleset to learn, so it may not be for beginners.
  • The other aspect that I thought was left out was the expense of the RPG materials.  Sure, you can get lots of stuff for Pathfinder and D&D, but what is the minimum you can play with?
    • Savage Worlds can be played reasonably well with a $23 core hardback book (PDF for $9.99).  
    • D&D 4th Ed has a $126 Core Rulebook Set, though a player can probably get away with a $23 player's handbook.
    • Pathfinder comes in a little steeper at $33 for the monster Core Rulebook (576 pages), but the entire core rulebook set (that's 9 books so far) is online for FREE.  In addition, many of the adventure path rules can be found on the Pathfinder SRD also for free.  This is a huge reason why I use Pathfinder, because my gaming group has gotten used to bringing their electronic devices and access all of the rules for free in real-time.  Many other games are going to require the players to buy at least 1 core book.
  • Old versions of D&D are becoming available in PDF.  As pointed out in this article, $20 can go a long way with PDFs in one of these old editions, and there are tons of resources for them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Social Skills, Knowledge, and Wisdom: Role Playing vs Mechanics

I've been thinking about role playing of social interaction and its relationship to the mechanics after watching this video by A Fistful of Dice and this reply from Emergent Play.  Here's the summary of the problem:  mechanics dictate the outcome of a social interaction (intimidate, bluff, diplomacy in Pathfinder), yet these interactions really are better reflected in the role-playing in the game.  Can the player role-play intimidate, diplomacy, and bluff, and how does this relate to the outcome and the mechanic?

I'd like to point out that similarly, there is the problem of knowledge / wisdom skills versus the actual knowledge of the player.  If the character encounters a riddle, can the player figure out of the riddle and give the solution, or can he/she roll in order to have her character figure it out?  Reality Refracted talks a bit about this here.

In the Pathfinder pirates game I GM, we started the adventure using The Wormwood Mutiny.  In the Wormwood Mutiny, the PCs are on a ship where there is a struggle for power.  Ultimately, there is a mutiny, and the attitudes of all the ship's 23 NPCs toward each of the PCs helps determine the sides for the final battle.  Needless to say, the social skills are an important factor.  In this case, we chose (as a group) to allow a player to roll for an outcome and add bonuses for the quality of the role playing.

Revisiting this scenario again, I also recall a recent scenario where someone was attempting to intimidate a captured NPC bandit to gain an advantage and wanted to roll for it.  The roll was good, but the player tried to skip through the role playing.  I stopped them and said that they needed to role play it for the roll to stand, because they needed to flesh out how they intimidated the NPC.  In this case, the player was an avid role player and I knew he would run with it.  For me, the how was important, because it dictated their new relationship and provided the basis for the storyline to continue.

Looking over the various views presented in the two videos and related comments, I think I stand by my approach.  Make the roll for the outcome.  Role playing is used for a bonus and to fill in the details.  The main reason this works in our group is simple -- not all of my players are avid role players.  Some of them are gamers.  They talk about their characters in 3rd person, they worry more about the character sheet than the conversation, and their greatest moments are watching the mechanics play out with their new items, feats, skills, and class features.  This player aspect is as important to our group as role playing.  The roll + bonus mechanic we use strikes a good balance between gaming and role playing.  It allows gamers to game and role players to role play.

The other aspect that I want emphasize is that no matter how good the role playing is, the outcome of the dice can result in failure, just like "real life".  The PC could have a great bluff skill, the player could give a great performance, and the bluff could still fail.  Let me give an example:  my player gives a great speech trying to gain entry to the castle, talking about how his younger sister snuck in, and how he must retrieve her or his father will whip him.  The character could have a good bluff skill.  The dice roll could be a 1 and the bluff could fail.  This simply reflects the fact that the guard he bluffed knows the PC's father and that he has no daughter.  The circumstance surrounding the failure and its realism is up to the GM to create (perhaps with player help), but the failure stands as a stroke of bad luck for a character with a good skill.

The knowledge / wisdom check is a bit tougher one.  As a GM, I always assume that the character knows things that the player doesn't know, and that the player knows things that the character doesn't.  Mixing these two things together in game can be a dangerous game (i.e. metagaming), but in specific cases, it can be fun to let the play knowledge lead the way.

In the case of riddles I let the players work at it a bit to see if they can figure it out, and then offer up the option to roll some sort of knowledge (intelligence) or insight (wisdom) check to get information.  Similarly, in game, when there is information apparent that a character should know, but that the player doesn't seem to catch, I ask the player to give me an insight check (wisdom roll), and provide information based on that.  Players can similarly request these checks based on other skills, like professions.

A good example was in our Monday pirate game.  The druid, after hearing the sound of sand running from below deck, went below for a look.  I described sand on the floor.  I asked for an insight check (straight wisdom roll), and based on the value gave insightful information.  In this case, I made mention that there was no real reason for the sand pile to be here, that it was too much to simply be tracked in, and too much for a broken hour glass.  I also offered information that there were no cannonballs or black powder on deck, which was odd for a gunnery deck.

The other aspect of social mechanics I enforce in play is that one PC cannot force the action of another PC using a mechanic.  For example, there are no intimidate or diplomacy rolls between PCs.  In addition, Dominate Person cannot be cast by one PC on another.  I do, however, allow the beliefs of PCs to interact. For example, one PC can bluff another PC, and as a GM, I enforce the fact that the character believes something based on the bluff.  How they act upon, is still up to the player, thought I try to discourage metagaming.

There is still more in this aspect to discuss, as it goes into the even more gray area of character alignments, but I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What's on my Gaming Room Walls

I saw this post (and later others), and it inspired me to share some of my game room / family room / crafting area artwork.


Mathematica and Spore -- now there's a combination.

Pathfinder and Firefly!


Yup, on the far left, that is the Hero of Canton!





15 Pieces of Dungeon Flair

Here are 15 ideas for flair you can add to a dungeon:


  1. Flumph plus Blind Monster with Good Sense of Smell -- So here's a good use of a flumph, despite what the dungeon bastard may think.  Place some random flumphs around a section of a dungeon, and then deeper into dungeon, place a blind, sleeping monster.  Let the party try to sneak past, and then BAM!  Spray from a Flumph.  The flumph gets eaten first and then the flumph's victim. Nice.
  2. Two Invisibly Connected Pools and a Dire Crocodile -- There's nothing like a good game of cat and mouse between a PC and a dire crocodile.  Put two seemingly ordinary pools in an area (I used fountains) and then an invisible passage deep under the water.  Hide a crocodile in there.  Let him come up for a couple of bites, swim deep, and while the PCs are all looking away, surprise.  There is a crocodile biting your buttocks, sir!
  3. The Trap within a Trap  -- Put in a difficult detect mundane trap, like a pit trap.  Then put an obvious lever.  "Hmmm... this must be how we disable it."  In actuality, pull the lever and yet another trap is sprung.  I prefer dropping weighted spears from hidden holes high above in the ceiling.  They make a nice sound when they hit.
  4. Liars -- I used the standard "one always tells the truth, and one always lies" riddle the other day, and my PCs happened upon the other version in their paranoia: "both of us are liars and will make up interesting lies to see how much trouble we can get you into".  Of course, one of them can claim that one only lies and one only tells the truth, but that, too, can be a lie.  This can go a lot of ways, but a sphere of annihilation could be helpful.
  5. A Dark Cloak -- A dark cloak hangs on the wall.  Oh wait, that is a cloaker.  Yikes!
  6. Lights, Reflections, and All Shades of Gray  -- Take a funhouse hall of mirrors and add a bunch of highly localized light sources   You get all sorts of crazy reflections and shadows.  Now add a some real Shadows (the monster).  Oh, and make sure if a mirror gets broken that something really bad happens -- how about 6d6 electrical damage?
  7. Help, They've Turned Me into a Farm Animal -- This one is great.  Put a caged animal somewhere in the dungeon, more convincingly near some sort of evil mage's realm.  "Help, they'v turned me into a cow? Just get this magic spell from *insert place* and you can turn me back!"  The catch is that the mage didn't turn them into a farm animal, they were a farm animal and the mage made them talk.  Now you have a human barbarian with the party with all the sense of a chicken, cow, pig, or other animal.  It's really great to do just before a careful attack.  And there goes the barbarian running into the room "Leroy Jenkiiiiiiinnnnnssss!"
  8. Wands of Stupid -- This a general category.  Wands of stupid perform hilarious magic actions with little or no applicability the game world tactical scenario.  Examples include the Wand of Nothing, the Wand of Mustache (+1 to Disguise Checks), and the Wand of Skittles (shoots little fruit candies, enough to fill a room if you let it).  The players can have fun with these and they always give a good laugh.  Rarely, they an even be slightly helpful.
  9. Acid Pits -- Fans of "Acquisitions, Incorporated" will appreciate the elegance of an acid pit.  The do a lot of damage (10d6 per round if you fall in) and can cause seemingly mundane skill checks, like climbing across a narrow ledge, to turn into matters of life and death.  And it is always fun to answer the question "Where did they get that much acid from?" with a monster in a later encounter.  "Ohhh... that's where they got the acid from!"
  10. The Campsite from Hell -- Your party has found a wonderful room, with a secure door that can be readily braced.  There is a large hearth and firewood.  There might even be someplace nice to sleep, but once you and your crew goes to sleep, it's all going to change.  Incorporeal beings can come out of the woodwork, and for fun, let's put something big, mean, and nasty right outside the door, like a rhinoceros or an umber hulk.
  11. Teleport Doors -- I hate when the convenience of a predrawn map gives the players too much info about the dungeon.  Instead of trying to draw on the fly, which can be tedious and time-consuming, predraw the map, but make a GM's key that tells where each door teleports to.  Now the players can't use the spatial layout of the map to figure out anything tactical.  Way to go, overused magic doors!
  12. A Slide or Chute -- It doesn't take long for players to become very distrustful of scenarios.  Putting in a slide or a chute really plays off of this, by forcing the players to take a leap of faith.  For giggles, make one of the people that jump in disappear, and reappear elsewhere, perhaps imprisoned or captured by a creature for a late night snack.
  13. Skill Check on the Run -- Normally skill checks aren't very exciting.  Put in a skill check with an encounter.  So rogue, how many rounds does it take you to pick this lock?  Oh by the way, we're being attacked by a bodak, so hurry up, eh?  Hey fighter, can you break down this door before the ceiling crushes us?
  14. A Goat -- Players definitely catch on to subtlety.  Add a goat to the dungeon, a traditional animal of sacrifice.  Watch the suspense and paranoia build!  You an even add detailed descriptions of what the goat does to make it seem more significant.  Also, keep asking as a GM, "so where exactly is the goat?"
  15. A Pop Culture Reference -- If you've ever played the Fallout franchise, you know how cool it is when you find pop culture references, especially geeky one, in the game.  A couple of weeks ago, I had some very tanned almost orange gnomes singing why they were carrying away a passed-out PC.  One of the players shouts out Oompah-Loompas.  The references are even better when they are a play-on-words.  The druid finds a bug and realizes that it a firefly and he says he is seeking serenity.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Roll20.net for Pathfinder

I've been wanting to try out Roll20.net for a while in an actual game, but haven't had the best of opportunities.  Tonight, we had two players out in our Friday night game, and with the bitter cold weather at hand, I decided to host a Roll20 game of Pathfinder.  I emailed out the link after firing up a small campaign I had been playing around in.

Before the game started, I had 3 pages.  The first page was a village with some buildings I had set up earlier. It was that generic sort of pub / inn / shops setup where most adventures start out.  It was a convenient place to get things set up and let the players get used to the controls.  The second page was a bridge over water with a nice spot for an ambush.  The third map was some caves connected to a tomb.

We played the adventure of picking up a quest in town and leaving town.  Leaving town brought the party across the bridge to encounter some dire wolves.  We didn't make it to the caves.

Let me preface this review with this:  my players and I didn't spend a lot of time running through the help and videos.  The help and videos on roll20 are phenomenal and so we probably missed a lot of stuff, maybe even stuff that addresses our complaints.

So here's my take on it, though I'll post more after I have a pow-wow with my gaming group in person.

The Good

  • Chat, rolls, and emotes were easy to learn and intuitive.
  • Adding characters, NPCs, and pulling in maps was quick and easy.
  • I REALLY liked being able to drag and drop maps from my maps folder and quickly align them.
  • The ability for me to switch between NPCs in chat as a GM was awesome.
  • The controls from the tokens seemed intuitive to everyone.
  • My daughter was on a 10" netbook and didn't have trouble with screen size.  I was very impressed.
  • Macros look awesomely powerful, though we mostly didn't take the time to set them up.
The Bad
  • My players spent most of their time playing around getting audio and video chat going.  My recent upgrade to Windows 8 took out my webcam and the new microphone that came today still isn't working right.  I also couldn't find my headphones.  Next time we my try a google hangout or the other audio/video option.
  • One player got video and audio working
  • One player got audio working.
  • One player couldn't seem to get his audio to turn off.
  • One player had to install another browser to get roll20 to work at all
  • The Turn Tracker didn't seem to sync?  Not sure if that is by design.
The Ugly
  • I found it very annoying that I had to add all the player tokens to each page.  My suggestion is to be able to designate a starting position on the map and select and copy to all tokens for the PCs.  (EDIT: You can select the tokens and Copy and Paste them to the new page!  Problem Fixed.)
In summary, this is awesome stuff.  It will only get better.  I will continue to use it when I want to host online games.  I will spend the time to go through the videos and help so I can use it better.

Players from tonight:  Please leave your thoughts below in comments, if you want.