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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Real 8: Worldbuilding

The party of wayward, extra dimensionally displaced wanderers survived their first frigid nights in a strange land. Jacob knew how to make an igloo and after the party argued for a solid 30 minutes about whether 25 degrees fahrenheit was too cold to reasonably move around in (it is) they worked together to make that igloo.

The next morning Keane discovered a knight in chainmail armor and a full helmet standing in the frozen clearing, investigating the body of the dead, tattooed man in a robe. The party had him outnumbered but none of us had any weapons. An unsharp training rapier, a basket of crocheting supplies, a few aluminum shields, and some sticks of rattan. Nothing that could actually threaten a person.

The Knight, Tavon Elgas, revealed that he was an investigator of magical persons that were operating outside the scope of the law. That the wizard in this clearing was a Recreant, a runaway wizard that was breaking the law. He had tried to create a portal to another realm and the spell hadn’t worked. The other bodies were the other investigators sent with Tavon.

He was a kind, cautious man investigating people that could sunder and alter reality, manipulate energy at an atomic level, and control minds if they wanted to. He faced down danger on a daily basis. But confronted with 9 strangers in a frozen clearing he still acted calmly and cautiously and waited for us to move first.

Intimidating as hell.

The world of Real 8, the tabletop gaming system I’m working to finish and publish, is a brainchild of my favorite stories, genres, and tropes. An entire planet with cultures from every continent interacting with a unique religion and a series of magic systems that are familiar but unique.

Demon hunters wear leather long-coats and use alchemy to alter themselves to fight dark beings. Wizards are overly powerful, terrifying to behold, and capable of apocalyptic catastrophes. Knights are noble and held in high esteem, not feared. Empires seek the best for their people. The Gods are real but aren’t really Gods. Swashbucklers and duelists are beholden to no one and feared for their boldness. An entire faction of knights trains and exists to hunt down magic users that threaten the world.

When I sat down to create the world of Real 8 I thought about my favorite stories and I took the parts of them that I liked to mold them for my own purposes. No idea survived the transfer perfectly because no idea borrowed ever should.
  • The politics of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, where noble houses and knights vie for power in a feudal system, but where the players of that game aren’t cruel and vicious. They play the game to make things better for people and keep things secure.
  • The Mage/Templar conflict from Dragon Age, where magic users are oppressed by vicious magical knights, but in my world the mages are so powerful that very few people feel bad about locking them up. I tried to take a realistic approach to how people would react to walking atomic bombs that could turn people into blood batteries or puppet soldiers and I realized that was very scary. If you’ve ever read the Lies of Locke Lamora you understand why I don’t particularly like wizards when thinking about them realistically.
  • The Sympathetic Magic of Patrick Rothfuss’ and his approach to mechanical magic systems, where the magic has rules like science that the magic must follow, but I don’t want to plagiarize so I had to change it slightly so that someone can only affect things that are actively affecting themselves. Lame, right? But I’m no thief. Well … I’m not a bad thief.

I wanted to create a realistic fantasy world, where actions have consequences and heroes are the people that survive. The common people are terrified of magic but feel safe with their knightly protectors exactly because they keep the people safe from the magic they fear. Gives the knights a vested interest in making sure people fear magic, doesn’t it?

Fantasy worlds are built on magic. Magic is prominent and important and separates the fantasy world from the regular world. Without magic it’s just an alternate world. Nothing wrong with that but it takes away a storyteller’s ability to use magic to create the conflicts they want to examine. It takes away a bit of the wonder everyone feels when they first see the Pyramids of Egypt or a skyscraper or one of those sinkholes that goes on forever into the Earth.

I wanted to reexamine the concept of Gods and Devils and give them a realistic spin. This world was created by all-powerful beings? They aren’t all powerful they’re just more powerful. Beings on a higher plane than the beings we are. Godly, sure. God with a small “g” maybe. But they’re not omniscient. They’re not all powerful. They aren’t everywhere at once at all times. At the end of the day the gods of Real 8 really don’t care about the sentient beings they birthed into existence. They wanted to see what they could do and so they made something to watch.

As for the Devils, I took an approach that isn’t unique but I personally love. Kevin Smith, famed director of Clerks, made a movie examining Catholic religion called Dogma. In the film, a demon named Asrael, explains that Hell used to be a place where people simply couldn’t feel God’s love and that was punishment enough. But when humans started going there, bringing their fear and self-loathing, they perverted the place into the nightmare realm of fire and torture that people tend to be afraid of. I love the idea of humans being the cause of their own suffering because we all kind of are.
So when the humans of Real 8 first got their hands on magic they got greedy. They reached too far for too much power and became the Devils of the world. And the Gods of Real 8 took pity on their poor creations and locked those Devils away. People can still contact those Devils and they still mess with the world. Why, you ask? Why would I create Gods that take pity on people but still let them ruin their lives? Because free will, ladies and gentlemen.

Allow me to summarize some ideas I learned about world building:
  • Magic needs to mean something in the world: The people of your world should have opinions about the magic and the monsters and the wonders that exist in this world. Are they afraid of it? In awe of it? Can they buy it? Can anyone learn it? These are all important questions when you want to make a Fantasy world feel real and not two dimensional. It’s easy to hand wave around magic, saying magic can do what it wants and everyone just has to accept that. Those games are fun but they won’t ever feel as satisfying as a game where the magic matters.
  • The Gods need to mean something in the world: The interaction between sentient beings and the gods they worship is a big deal. Wars are fought over belief. If a god of death exists in your world do people worship them? Do they kill people for them? If a god of light and good exists why do any people not worship them? Are all your gods dead? What killed them? Do different races have different pantheons? Why? Are those gods ever fighting? Do gods have wars? Do the gods care? So many questions! I should do a set of generator charts based on these questions alone, to help flesh out how to approach religion in gaming if you have never done so. I’m gonna do that later. Thanks blog!
  • Where does evil come from? Evil leads to conflict. Either the party is evil and they are killing and stealing or they are good and they’re keeping the evil people from killing and stealing. Are people evil just because they are? Are people evil because a God of Evil corrupts people? Are people evil because magic corrupts them? Why are people evil? Why do people turn to evil deeds? This could be a simple question or a remarkably complex one but it’s a question worth answering.

Next week I’ll go more in depth on what we called the “Bioforge” system for Real 8. In other words, I’m gonna tell you all a bunch of stories about how 9 nerds in their twenties realized exactly how out of shape and uncoordinated we all were.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Patreon Account

Great news! If you have ever wondered what to do with that extra $10 you aren’t spending each month on mozzarella sticks or lottery tickets, Rules and Riddles has a Patreon Account now!

Rules and Riddles on Patreon!

What?! That’s right! You, humble reader, can begin directly assisting the writers of this blog continue to pay for their addictive Miniature and Board Game buying habits.

In return you will start receiving access to more and more of my personal dungeon master materials, including but not limited to:

  • Random generators and charts
  • Campaign settings
  • Adventures
  • NPC Bios
  • Dance tips?

Rules and Riddles will remain a free and public service and the Patreon account will mostly be a place for me to post some of the more refined materials generated by yours truly and our two lovely guest authors!

Consider lending us a hand but know, from the bottom of my heart, that simply being here and enjoying the work I create is enough. But I’m also poor and would much rather make cool Tabletop Gaming stuff than other work.

Imagine your favorite Sarah McLachlan song and think about the poor D&D writer you could help for pennies a day :)

A Hive of Scum and Villainy

The Mon Calamari gambler in a red and gold spiral patterned cloak that would put Lando Calrissian to shame spoke in a slurred accent reminiscent of Sean Connery speaking through a particularly thick milkshake he had just enjoyed. “A wager? Fer my cloak?”

The Twi’lek ambassador responded in a slow, Christopher Walken drawl that William Shatner would have envied for its pausing. “A... wager. A … game … of cards … just … you … and me.”

“The game ish on, my boy. Shabacc.”

“Mind… who you call boy… fish man.”

I’m paraphrasing and editing dialogue and inventing witty repartee but I swear to any gods that might be listening this exchange happened between a Twi’lek Christopher Walken and a Mon Calamari Sean Connery in the middle of a space station cantina that the party would go on to destroy the next in-game day.

He lost the game of sabacc (space-poker-blackjack, look it up) and had to buy the incredible cloak for somewhere around 500 credits (space money, look it up). The cloak offered no benefits. I did not provide artwork to explain what the cloak looked like. When I described it as having a “spiral pattern” my player probably pictured a different spiral than I did. But he had to have that cloak and he had to try and win it by gambling with a particularly rowdy Mon Calamari (sentient space appetizer, look it up). The pattern I imagined was the same as the purple and white hood that Tali’zorah wears in Mass Effect (overall disappointing sci-fi game trilogy, you’ve heard of it don’t play this game).

But my friend had the time of his life gambling for a fake cloak that provided no benefit from a character they probably would never see again. His character’s motivation was to acquire a flashy object that he could picture his character wearing. That’s the kind of motivation that is my absolute jam.

Let me tell you another quick story before I get to my point (because I love telling stories, look it up).

Sarven Sylmaris, an often mentioned character that has appeared in my longest running D&D campaign, has some of the most interesting character development for what was supposed to be a one-shot character. He began as a katana and blowgun wielding duelist who just wanted to challenge people to fights. When he ran across a drow pirate named Ark Kyness that made him mildly upset he realized that these weapons were not for him and he needed to embrace a more swashbuckling lifestyle. So he killed Ark, stole his purple pirate coat, and got a rapier. When the party went up against a dread pirate illithid named Captain Pryde his player wanted nothing more than to take the Davy Jones wannabe’s tattered black pirate coat and his enormous captain’s hat. So he did. By the end of the campaign Sarven had the following strange conditions:

  • He wielded a sentient cutlass that constantly told him to kill his friends.
  • He welcomed a benevolent friendly loud and hilarious Elder God into his mind.
  • He merged with a female dragonborn, gaining the breath attack, tail, and left arm of a dragonborn while also having to constantly deal with her mind merged with his.
  • Lost his other hand and replaced it with a gauntlet fueled by blood magic.
  • Willingly allowed himself to be sacrificed through ritual blade murder so that a portal to the Shadowfell could be established, which then led to the Raven Queen herself returning him as an undead Dread Pirate to forever haunt the seas of the Shadowfell. Sarven admitted after this happened that even though he could never have seen it coming, it was what he always wanted.

Sarven is one of my favorite characters. My friend’s charismatic Twi’lek is one of my favorite characters.

I love characters that are in love with their own weirdness. Characters that don’t apologize for wanting what they want when they want it. Sarven wanted cool things so he got them. He wanted an Elder God in his brain so he invited him in. He wanted to let the Shadowfell rejoin the Material Plane so he made it happen.

Characters that know what they are about, that know what they want, that fight and strive to get it are ten thousand times more interesting (in my humble incredible opinion) than characters that hem and haw and hee and other three letter H words.

That doesn’t mean every character needs to be that way and that doesn’t mean characters that aren’t that way are invalid. Every character type is worthy and worth our time and admiration.

But characters, player generated or DM run, that don’t apologize for going after the things they want are interesting. They’re tantalizing. They’re fantastical! It’s very different from the mundane world where everyone is hyper cautious about pursuing their favorite things. But in a Tabletop game the draconic blood sorceress that wants to be Queen and will do anything and everything to get there is amazing! In real life she would be such a bitch difficult coworker. The Half-orc fighter that fishes with gnomes would not be a fun workout buddy but in a Tabletop game he’s hilarious!

Alright Dungeon Masters, this article has gotten a little bit away from me but I can reel it back in and give you my advice.

  1. Help your players make characters with goals: Having goals is sooooo important. A paladin is not interesting if they aren’t being a paragon of their god and doing good things. They would just be a preachy dick to people. That’s not fun that’s boring. But a paladin that prefers mercy over death, sparing the lives of kobolds and goblins in favor of offering them a second chance, has flavor to it. That paladin makes me ask questions. That paladin lets me, the DM, set up future encounters where those kobolds might come back as grateful allies. Or those goblins could come back and mess everything up because they’re goblins and sparing them was a bad idea. But it gives me options, damn it!
  2. Help your players make characters with flavor: Preferably something spicy with lots of garlic. I might be describing chicken wings … gimme a sec. Personal flavor! Got it. My bad. A monk that wears plain brown robes with a bald head and sandals is played out. A monk covered in tattoos, each one a reminder of a way she has failed in the past, wearing the blood red robe of her former master who died at the hands of an aarakocra so now she collects bird feathers and adorns herself in them to give her strength and refuses to fail again is way more interesting and kind of a cool idea wow give me a sec that’s a badass NPC. Character’s that have aesthetics and preferences and desires are more fleshed out. More real. More interesting. Help your player’s find what kind of boots their character wants to wear. Make sure the treasure is interesting enough to support that kind of boot preference.
  3. Help your players make characters with flaws: The swashbuckler with perfect hair, a tight doublet, and exceptional sword skills is cool for like … 12 seconds. That’s 2 rounds of combat before they are boring. Gotta step your game up. The swashbuckler that manages to do cool things but no one believes them and no one tells stories about them? Now you’ve got something interesting. Fears, insecurities, tragic backstories, murdered siblings, lost loves, revenge storylines. Ugh! They’re all so good and useful but often get ignored because goblins are outside town again and they’ve got to be stopped. But a pirate-adventurer turned slaver turned adventurer again turned mage-hunter with mother and intimacy issues and an obsession with gold that really gets in the way of her dating life is much more interesting than “mysterious assassin.” At least in my opinion. I like drama.
  4. Help your players make characters that are larger than life: As you will learn, fair reader, as my series on the trials and tribulations of Real 8’s creation, regular people are boring. We don’t seek out adventure nearly as much as we should. We like safe jobs behind desks where we can collect silver but won’t get murdered by demons. Tabletop Gaming characters ARE NOT THAT WAY. Characters want adventure. They want excitement. They are the opposite of Jedi in that way. Characters should hear about a dragon down the road and think of the ten ways they could deal with. Befriend it? Bribe it? Kill it? Lure it elsewhere? Marry it? I don’t know! Think outside the box it’s 2017!
  5. Help your players dig deep into the characters they create: Race, class, background. These three building blocks help create the statistics for a player. But they don’t tell us what excites them. They don’t tell us what makes them take up the sword or the scroll or the staff or the bow. Real people aren’t the way they are because of insignificant details and those details aren’t insignificant to us. The people that love wearing sweaters have reasons. The people that think cloaks should be modern fashion wear have reasons. The people that watch football have reasons. If your character wants to go to taverns to gamble away their loot then make sure you know WHY. If your character wants to sell their boyfriend into Elder God slavery to save some treasure then make sure you know WHY. If your character supports the crime boss that enslaves people, rather than the perfectly reasonable drug enforcement agent that follows the rules then make sure you know WHY. It’s our job as Dungeon Masters and Game Masters and whatever to help players make sure they know why their characters do the things they do.

Characters are the most important part of Tabletop Gaming. Far more important than either the Dungeons or the Dragons. Or the Pathfinding … or Shadowrunmen … I don’t know. They’re important! Help your players find their characters.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Games of Skill and Chance I: Hobbits

If you are reading this, you love playing games.  Or are just a bad Googler and yet really committed to reading every link you click on.

So you love playing games—do you love making them?  Every new game I play, I think up ways to twist the rules, make them better, make them different, and make them awesome.  I see dice and I want to make them sing; I see cards and I want to make them dance; I see a table at Ikea and I want to make sure it fits the Lord of the Rings Risk board with the Gondor and Mordor expansion and still have space for everyone to arrange their armies in meticulous phalanxes.

I think of new games all the time.  I cannot help it.  Most of them never get polished and finished, and they die under the table of the classics.  But some of them ... some of them turn out awesome.


My brother (you might have heard of farmane already) and I invented this game so long ago I cannot even remember when.  We were bored in the basement of our grandparents’ house some years after the trilogy came out, lamenting the fact that we could never find our copy of Crossbows and Catapults, and all we had were dice.  A lot of dice.  A ludicrously ridiculous number of dice.  Think about the number of different Monopoly, Risk, and Yahtzee games you owned as a kid but lost the dice to—we took your dice and put them in a big bag.  We played Poker Dice, but then we got bored, and we wanted something new.

So we each rolled four dice.  Then we put them in order from greatest to least, one for each hobbit: Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin (no dice for you, Fatty Bolger).  Then you just add up all your dice, and whoever has the highest total wins, right?  No, that would be far too easy.  Easy games are for losers.

Frodo’s die counts double, because of the ring.  (By the way: why is it so hard to say die?  Even when I only have one, I just really want to say dice.  Screw you, weird singulars.)  In fact, to win you have to win the Frodo die.  But what about Sam?  He got the ring that one time.  Alright, fine, you can still win if you win the Sam die, but only if you tie the Frodo die—if your Frodo loses, you cannot win at all.  The game is a draw and you have to roll again.

So there it is.  Simple enough, right?  Wait, you say, you forgot about Merry and Pippin, they should get some special rules too.  Alright, alright, calm down.  Since they are essentially indistinguishable, if you roll doubles you have to make those two dice the Merry and Pippin dice, even if the doubles are higher than your other dice.  Plus you can add 1 to your total sum for them being awesome.

What if you roll three of a kind, you say?  Sam gets the odd dice out, since he is the real hero of the story.  Two pairs?  Make Frodo and Sam the bigger pair, of course.  That sounds like a sensible set of rules.  It is still a game of pure chance, but at least now you have to figure out which dice is which.  Not to mention the indignity of rolling sixes for the dynamic duo and not being able to win because your Frodo got stabbed by a Nazg├╗l or something.

Wait.  This game could still get a little more messed up.  They are hobbits, right?  Small, pointy-eared, furry-footed, good at hiding?  You know what the best roll in the game should be, right?  Four of a kind.  Four ones (and by the way, when you roll it, you have to shout “Hobbits” as loud as you can, even if you are somewhere you should be really quiet—hey, you decided to play the game).  The lower your four of a kind, the better.  Except four sixes, which is automatically the worst roll in the game.  Because hobbits.

And there you have it.  No really, I have nothing else to add.  The game is quick, and you can play literally hundreds of times in one sitting, especially as the frustration of multiple draws starts to stack up.  You can bet on each round if you want, and maybe have a Sabacc pot that the first person to get a natural Hobbits wins, or just play for fun.  In fact, a great place to play would be when you have to line up ridiculously early for movie tickets and your only other option is ranking all the movies you have seen from greatest to least, and you already did that when you went to see the Star Wars prequels and look how that turned out.  Thanks a lot, George.  Maybe if you had played some damn Hobbits we would not be stuck with Gungans.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Real 8: Beginnings

The party appeared suddenly, after a blinding flash of light. Where once they stood on a grassy field in a desert city, now the hodgepodge collection of friends in bright garb stood in an icy landscape of frozen streams and snowy trees. They were not prepared for a cold this harsh. Nor were they prepared for a fire scorched body and blackened skeletons smoking in the clearing near them.

Sam and Keane and Elizabeth wanted to investigate. Jacob and Scott and Billy all wanted to get a shelter going. Ashley and Annika wanted to make sure there was fresh water. Will wanted to keep watch. None of these people had any idea what had happened or where they were.

On the fallen body they discovered a strange diary written in an unknown language. The corpse was coated in tattoos tracing lines from finger and toe-tips all the way to his hairline. Must be some kind of wizard or sorcerer.

But just that morning these 9 people had woken up in normal apartments, gotten ready for a reenactment event, and knew nothing about magic or wizards or smoking corpses in cold snow.

Roleplaying games are an interesting diversion and escape device. Mundane life can be very ... boring. I don't get to wake up and put on a cool cape and a badass sword unless I want weird questions to be asked while I'm buying baguettes and goat cheese at Safeway. I'm not saying I don't want those questions asked but I'm unlikely to run into brigands or dragons in the Safeway Bakery section. So the sword seems unnecessary and, depending on the time of year, the cape might seem like overdressing. You know the old saying, never wear your cape after Memorial Day.

My friends and I are also what doctors and psychological professionals would call "skilled in the most noble art of procrastination and relaxation." Normal folks would call us pretty lazy. No shame in that. We certainly enjoy crashing on couches and playing board games more than we like jogging. But two years ago we thought their might be a fun way to turn health into a game and mix it with our favorite shared hobby: Tabletop Gaming.

Plenty of people have done this sort of thing before. We are not pioneers in the art of wanting to put ourselves into a unique roleplaying game with magic and swordfighting and dragons. We all became friends because we like Historical Recreation.

We ran into a problem pretty quickly though. While my friend Keane is definitely the most fit out of all of us he isn't the best fighter. While my friend Sam has the most forceful personality she isn't the most skilled in diplomacy. While Ashley is arguably very smart she has the willpower of a starving raccoon in a Chinese Buffet. Normal ability scores and skill systems wouldn't work.

Jacob has more knowledge about explosives than a person who doesn't work in an engineering field should but he struggles to remember people's names. Scott has training in three martial arts, falconry and zoo science, and various weapons but he has the appearance and physical durability of your average coconut popsicle. Will is the most skilled swordfighter but the least physically fit.

So what do we do? It's always good questions with you people. Love it.

We invent a new tabletop gaming system with new rules, new approaches to the overlap of ability and skill, new magic systems, and a way to codify the differences in all of our unique mental and physical approaches. In case you were wondering, yes, we are most assuredly crazy and have too much free time.

I'll be posting more and more about this system as time goes on but I want to give you some barebones info as we move on. This system is my pet project that I hope to one day make available for people.

1. Dice are rolled where ability overlaps with skill: After playing Fantasy Flight's Star Wars RPG series I fell in love with the idea of forming pools of dice that are rolled rather than just rolling 1 d20 to check for something. I like rolling dice. So I adapted their system to utilize regular dice instead of the custom, unique dice that they created. In my system you can have a ton of natural ability but if you don't have any trained skill to overlap it you are missing out. Every time your ability overlaps with your skill you get to upgrade your dice to higher levels. In a later post I will explain this system in depth but for now I'll put it simply: The more skilled and naturally able you are, the better you will be than anyone that only focuses on one field.

2. Magic should be dangerous and different than simple combat: I don't want players to say "I cast fireball!" My response then has to be "Okay roll to see if you hit and then let me compare to resistances and saving throws alright now roll 8d8 for damage and the damage is done let's move on to Archibald's turn where he's going to make 3 sword attacks and ..." It's fun but it's been done before. I wanted magic to be big, bad, dangerous, rare, and tied directly into the culture of the world. Electricity, gunpowder, the internet, and readily available painkillers have affected the culture of our world so magic, alchemy, shapeshifters, and devils should have an affect on the culture of any world I generate.

3. The game should feel realistic but also fantastical: Once upon a time people did get suited up in armor and swing swords at each other with the intent to kill. Once upon a time people did have to travel on foot from city to city. Once upon a time the wilderness was dangerous and deadly. But we didn't used to have sorcerers that could reattach limbs. We didn't have groups of wandering samurai hunting dangerous mutated monsters. We didn't have alchemically altered demon hunters stalking the streets at night to keep our dreams safe. Those three things sound pretty cool, right? But the first three are fun to think about too. I wanted a game that could accurately portray a world, breathing and functional, with the same kinds of rules as ours that also had to interact with magic and fantasty in a fun and interesting way.

4. Players should be able to put their own selves in the world as characters and be able to have fun: The problem with being an average person in Dungeons and Dragons is that all your ability scores are 10 and you're going to be killed by the first goblin tribe you ever meet. But the average person doesn't only have 10's for all of their abilities and the range of people are average is very large. Keane is the strongest one in the group, with Billy coming in close second, and he is considerably stronger than Ashley, the weakest of the group. That having been said, the difference between their Strength scores should be much greater than the difference between a 9 and a 10 even though they both technically fit into the average for Dungeons and Dragons. So if we wanted a system we could actually have fun with it had to be one that could incorporate the range of human ability but also have the capacity for alchemy and magic to alter physical beings. Also it had to allow for dragons to fit within the rules. I'm not making a fantasy world and not allowing dragons to exist. That goes against my religion.

That's all I can think of for now. Every Wednesday is going to be a post about Real 8 where I explain a little bit more. For now I will leave you with the origin of its name. Real 8 Table is the full name of the game. Sounds a bit like Relate-able when you say it out loud. You play it at a Table. It's meant to be a Realistic game. D8's are the primary dice rolled. Farmane out!!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Miniatures: How I Spent all of my Money on Plastic


That topic title was suggestive content. You're all welcome.

The fourth Kickstarter for Bones Miniatures is currently up, enticing the nerd in all of us to reach deep into our wallets and fork over large sums of paper to acquire molded, shaped plastic in the form of orcs, dragons, lizards, knights, and more dragons.

I couldn't be happier. I was lucky (unlucky?) enough to get in on the third Bones Kickstarter, netting me a box of miniatures that I will most assuredly NEVER get to use all of. I have more kobolds than any reasonable dragon could ever want as a minion hoard. Enough dwarves to repopulate Moria (LotR nerds in the back say "Mellon!").

In the end I have zero regrets. Why? Three years later and you guys still ask such excellent questions. Gold stars for the entire class!

Why don't I regret buying miniatures for Tabletop Gaming? Miniatures help all the players at the table.

Not every person is a creative mastermind, capable of fathoming a complex universe in their mind or even the outfit a wizard might wear. Some players have never played fantasy or science fiction and they need something to help them convert their mental picture into one everyone at the table can share.

Some people need to see a battlefield to understand what is happening. Some people weren't paying attention four seconds ago when you describe the archway of red marble that bisects the room over a nest of crackling black dragon eggs. They need to see it. And that's okay! Some learners are visual! Some learners need descriptions! If my master's degree in education is worth anything, it is helping me be a better dungeon master for my players.

Will you always have perfect miniatures for the dreams of your players? Hell no. To this day I have never been able to provide an adequate Dragonborn miniature for a player who pictured a green dragonborn using a chainwhip while wearing a dashing swashbuckler hat. That miniature doesn't exist. It should. If there were a noble and worship-worthy god that miniature would have been the first one made. But we live in the real world and that world is a green dragonborn swashbuckler free world that needs help.

Last October I ran a game utilizing a local gamestore's Dwarven Forge terrain and my own. I painted and provided 3 gigantic Kaiju style minis (a Tarrasque, a Dragon, and a Cthulu). Players ran from building to build, watching Kaiju's fight in a grand courtyard while throwing monsters left and right, breaking open buildings that they could loot and harass. I could have done the whole thing on paper or dry-erase board but then pieces wouldn't have flown everywhere. A blue dragon head on a wall wouldn't have started talking to hallucinating characters. The Warforge bank wouldn't have had its back wall blown open by the Tarrasque throwing the Cthulu into it. I just wrote that sentence and it made my heart race!

Is it time for a bullet point list? It's been so long. I'm getting misty, here.

1. Use anything you can when you first start playing: My first game of Dungeons and Dragons was run for my brother and my cousins. We had a Stratego Board and the game pieces from Lord of the Rings Monopoly. That was our gaming grid. Those were our minis. Seeing Gimli stand in for a human fighter was fun. Galadriel's flowing white gown worked well for the party's armor-clad cleric. But we had miniatures and my players could see the battlefield and they had fun. We used what we had to help visualize. Here are some helpful examples of things you can use if you're new or unable to buy stuff:
 - Chess or checkers pieces
 - Coins
 - Extra dice
 - Salt-water taffy (you can actually shape it! It's pretty sweet)
 - Colored glass beads from Michaels
 - Frozen tears from former players
 - M&M's (will result in TPK when players eat their own M&Ms)
I regularly used to haul around a set of wooden chess and checkers pieces because it gives you minions (checkers) and unique pieces for each players (chess).

2. Go on a shopping trip with your players: Take your players on an outing to your local gamestore (always support your local gamestore). Look at the racks of plastic Bones miniatures and help your players find ones that suit their character. Host a painting night or ask your gamestore owner if he knows someone that can help. Give your players ownership over their characters because it will make them happy and more interested in what happens. When they are passionate about their player, they'll start being passionate about your game.

3. Invest in monster minis: Goblins, orcs, kobolds, snakes, spiders, dragons, etc. Having minis to represent the enemy feels amazing!!! When your group actually gets to see the ugly mug of a kobold when they move into range it's easier to picture the far more badass version in their brains. Every little piece of description and visceral detail and visual stand-in makes it easier for our complicated brains to see the blood fly out of that little kobold's face as a hammer smashes it in. And for players that don't want to see that, they can see it in chibi, miniature form on the table in front of them and avoid the nightmares.

4. Use miniatures to help you plan: Do you have a lot of orc miniatures you haven't used yet? Use them. Sea monsters? Great, now you have reason to design a Legend of Zelda style water temple and populate it with Merpeople and horrible fish ghosts! Dragons? Airship dragon army battle! I have new Frankenstein style monsters which means there's going to be an upcoming game where my players have to fight their way into a mad scientist's lab, fighting twisted chimeras and sewn together undead along the way. Why? Because I can!

Miniatures are great. I have no regrets. Spend money. Capitalism HO!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Triumphant Return

Ladies and Gentlemen! Madams and Monsieurs! Dukes and Ducessas!

After 3 years of dicking around I have found enough incentive and personal motivation to bore you to death with a witty and amazing continuation of the Dungeon Master blog you forgot you loved!

What what!

But seriously, folks, I apologize for the lengthy absence. Working as a middle school teacher, swordfighting, running 2-3 games, and sewing clothing takes a toll on a person.

That does mean that I have 3 years of new topics and insight to share with you wonderful people. Let me hit you with some pregame highlights of what to expect in the coming months:

1. In an effort to promote fitness my friends and I tried to play a Fantasy Tabletop RPG where we were ourselves. This meant that I had to create my own Tabletop system to accommodate the complexity of actual living people. Expect many posts about this game.

2. I played some new systems ranging from horror games (Dread, Ten Candles, The End of the World) to Savage Worlds: Deadlands to Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I have many thoughts on different RPG systems and will be sharing them with you.

3. I ran many interesting games, have numerous interesting games planned, and am running a new game.

Today I want to focus on the topic I left off with last time: improvisation.

Running Tabletop RPG's is a time consuming process. To properly run a game a DM has to hold the entire cosmos of a world, universe, or multiverse in their head while making sure their players have fun robbing space mobsters or breaking into a library temple to the God of Knowledge.

Most DM's either generate their worlds on paper/computer and have a very clear and in-depth understanding of their world or they rely on pre-generated modules to help them creatively and give them a blueprint to follow so that their own ideas can built on the work of others.

Both of these are great! I've generated numerous, complex worlds that focus on cool themes and settings that I love exploring. A post-apocalyptic desert world of skyscraper mines and mechanical magic. A Dragon Age/Game of Thrones style high fantasy of knights and sorcerers at each others' throats. A Magicpunk Wild West world of gunslingers, sky pirates, and witches. I love my worlds. My players love my worlds.

I've also run published modules. I've purchased every single official 5th Edition D&D book so far and intend to purchase any that they keep  cranking out. I ran Hoard of the Dragon Queen for a random group at my local game store. I got to play in a Curse of Strahd game that my co-writer, Baby DM, ran for a small group of friends. I want to run the Out of the Abyss Underdark campaign that Wizards put out. The Temple of Elemental Evil sounds like so much fun.

One of my favorite games I have run, though, is one I am dipping my toes back into. Chris Perkins inspired me to be a writing DM with his Dungeon Master's Experience column and through his works I was exposed to the world of Iomandra. His waterworld of dragon empires and unending islands was inspiring to me. I ran a version of his world for a group of brand new players. I ran the game with next to zero planning.

It was a hoot. We played for a few months before I had to relocate for work but those months taught me exactly how much fun improvising could be. Here are the lessons I learned:

1. Random charts are incredible - I recently picked up a book full of randomization charts. Items, NPC details, scars, tattoos, magic items, strange potions. Anything and everything. I generated a few charts. One of my players decided to create entire d100 charts just for books.
Random charts make the job of an improvising DM easy. You don't have to plan treasure ahead of time. Just plan to give them treasure based on the chart. You don't have to plan a city ahead of time. The charts in the Dungeon Master's guide helped me to generate a city built around 7 unique temples to the 7 gods that city saw as the most important. I randomly rolled that. I randomly rolled the 7 gods. My players wanted to explore each of those 7 temples. We did that. It ruled.

2. The players get to control more of the world and the story - I ask my players for information at the start of every single game because I want them to own the world they play in. Important NPCs that connect to them, locations they want to visit, factions they think are interesting, secrets, fears, dreams, etc. The players get to contribute to the intricacy of the world by creating parts of it that are important to their characters. I as a Dungeon Master get to see exactly what they think is important. That way, when it comes time to make something up on the spot, I know what each player is looking forward to seeing. When they finally get to face off with their Bounty Hunter nemesis they created they'll be much happier than if I have to keep throwing NPCs at them that they might not care about.

3. The players remember the world for you - I let the players contribute to the descriptions of locations and NPCs. They get to help design the culture of the world. They get to own the world. It becomes a collaborative storytelling experience, one that I enjoy far more than if I were trying to enforce a strict and rigid world I had generated in my mind. My players think elves should use cube money instead of coins? They do now. My players think orcs greet one another by fist bumping? They do now. My players think necromancers are like frat boys? They do now.

You could call these headcanons but they become true statements and memories and ideas about our shared experience. I may be running the game but the game doesn't belong to me. It belongs to every person that sits down at the table and enjoys rolling dice.

Glad to be back, everybody.