Friday, July 30, 2010

Dungeon Tiles

Having used some home-made dungeon tiles in my last session and finding them to be quite fun and useful, I've altered my custom set more for general use. The tiles are gridded with roomy 1 1/4" squares which translates to about 5 feet in game scale and can be use with most any fantasy game edition. A great free alternative to map out entire dungeon adventures or just close combat areas. There are 4 sets to download all around 3MB each.

Just print these pages out on a nice card-stock, get yourself a paper-cutter and start slicing.

These files are all greyscale to help save on printing costs.

I'll be putting out another set with some colored items such as pools and trapdoors and things like that at a later date.

Set One: 20X20 Rooms
Set Two: 30X30 Rooms
Set Three: Corridors
Set Four: Stairs & Rooms

A brief note on Dungeon Tiles

I first bought a set of dungeon tiles back around 1980 or '81. I liked the concept but for whatever reason they never quite worked for me. Maybe the scale was off or, most likely, I didn't get enough tile variations to be useful. To be honest, I would have rather spent my meager allowance on minis, modules or new games. So the Tiles were put away and lost for all time.

As we've played our current campaign, I've experimented, off and on, with using minis to find a good balance of keeping the game in everyones head yet keeping combat clean, quick and organized. I felt the tiles helped with that in our last session.

Now, I could have gone the route of the Hirst Products because they are pretty awesome (check out Jame M's table image) but again, it's additional time and money which both are in short supply right now. So it's the inexpensive route for me.

Alas, I ramble on…so if you like, download these dungeon tiles and have fun!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Session XVIII: Harrowood

After looting the lair of the Beast-men within Harrowood, Wolfheir, Gnarly (along with his Mushroom-men), Tibag, Skwanky and Nadrak the Adept of Mithra discovered a path leading away from the lair. As they decided to follow the path, Geedleesmote, Slick Vinny and Adara headed back to camp to meet up with the rest of the party later.

Following the trail, it was soon discovered that it led to a source of water; the River Blackmoore. Not knowing where the ruined temple may be, Wolfheir believed that following the river may lead them to another path and then perhaps the temple itself. After all, the current occupants would need a source for water as well.

They decided to head north-west along the River Blackmoore. Travelling through the morning they eventually discovered a recently used path leading off into Harrowood. Following the path deeper into the woods, they soon came upon a gruesome site. Impaled upon pikes on either side of the path were rotting heads of the Beast-men!

Thinking there may be booby-traps ahead, Gnarly moved off the path and into the brush ahead of the party. Sure enough, he soon discovered a pundge trap in the middle of the trail.

Avoiding the trap, the party continued down the trail. Eventually the trees thinned out and revealed an ancient gray stone structure. Thinking that this may be the temple that they sought, they entered. Within the first chamber they discovered a stone statue of a once beautiful woman, now desecrated and defiled. Unlocking one of two doors within the chamber, Tibag led the party down a corridor where they found a circular room with a similar stone statue, again defiled.

Continuing around a corner they discovered a large open chamber. Within the chamber was a raised stone platform. Upon the platform was a heavy wood base onto of which was a cast copper skull. It seems they may me nearer than they thought!

While the others explore the room, Skwanky continued down the corridor and found another large open chamber. Peering in he sees a short, stiffly moving wooden figure walking towards him. Always out to make a new friend, the Halfling stepped into the chamber greeting this new fellow as the others caught up to him. The wooden figure raised his fists and brought them down onto the Halfling shattering bone and knocking the little adventurer to the floor mortally wounded and unconscious!

Tibag, along with some of Gnarly's mushrooms charged into the room defending their little companion. As Wolfheir ran up the corridor to aid the others, he fell into a pit trap. As the Viking began to climb out, Tibag swung at the little wooden automaton but missed and sliced his companion mushroom in half! The little wooden Golem then turned his attention to the master thief and began to pummel the half-elf, half-dwarf. With the help of Gnarly, Tibag and the Druid dispatch the creature. Nadrak used his first healing potion on the near-dead halfling and brought him back from the brink.

Regrouping once again, the party continued forward and found another circular room. This time, however, there was a statue of a woman cast in copper, unmolested. A brief examination turned up nothing of interest.

Throughout their exploration of the temple halls, the party was trying to match their map to the one found within the Beast-men's lair but to no avail. They felt that the next room that they discovered was a potential match. Opposite a short flight of stairs down, the chamber was empty save for a polished stone alter. While Gnarly and his mushrooms examined the stairs, the others entered into the chamber led by one of the larger mushrooms. Suddenly, the floor beneath them gave way and they tumbled into the darkness below!

Gnarly and Nadrak caught sight of their companions disappearing below ground. Not wanting to be separated from the rest of their party, they decided to face the same fate so they charged into the room. Sure enough, the floor opened and they too are dropped below into the darkness….

With the floor swinging back into position with a woosh! the party found themselves in complete darkness. Quickly trying to spark a torch they hear a rush of footsteps coming towards them. With a torch lit, they found themselves in a rough chamber with a passage running out. Coming from this passage were the grunts of pig-faced orcs!

Gnarly sent forth his wounded giant Mushroom-man to delay the orcs while Wolfheir poured oil along the entrance. The Orcs made quick work of the Mushroom-man and began to rush into the chamber to attack their prisoners. Wolf ignites the oil burning one of the orcs to death. As the other orcs wait for the fire to die down, the dead Mushroom-man had sprouted spores which quickly grew into little Mushroom-men. These caught the Orcs by surprise. The trapped orcs fought with the mushrooms and as the fire died down the party finished off the remaining orcs and the last tiny Mushroom-man who would not fall under their control.

Exploring the tunnels beneath the main level of the temple, the party discovered the orc's quarters and their vile debauchery. That didn't stop them from looting the orc's treasures, naturally!

More explorations brought them to a flight of stairs leading up. This led to a secret door and to a passage back within the temple proper. An open chamber revealed to the party a similar pedestal this time with an iron skull.

Traveling up the passage, they saw a dim warm light coming from another chamber. It was decided that Tibag would sneak up to see what's what. Lo', kneeling before a candle lit alter were six dark priests, one of whom heard Tibag sneak up. That priest stepped up to the doorway and peered around the corner. He didn't notice the hidden thief but spied the torchlight from the thief's companions. Sounding the alarm, he and his companions rushed into the hall and charged the explorers. Two of them, however, triped over the hidden Tibag.

A fierce battle ensued with the party standing victorious in the end and with Tibag having slain priests two himself!

Friday, July 23, 2010

More About Minis

I like the concept of Miniatures… in 'theory'.

There is really something alluring about a nicely painted mini on the table during a session.

That said, there is great personal preference if minis add or detract to classic game play. I think it depends on where each player is coming from. The key is to find a balance that all players can appreciate.

When my brother and I first started out with FRPGs with the Holmes blue book we definitely took, how shall I say, a unique path to the game. Over time Minis fell from favor in my book. A big reason for that was time and money involved putting together a collection.

So present day, in our current Swords & Wizardry based campaign, I have experimented off and on with minis. To be honest, most sessions ran perfectly fine without them. Even many of the combat encounters flowed pretty well. As our table grew (we're now up to 7 players) and we have NPCs, a five Mushroom-man army and an array of monsters charging the party, as DM I'm finding it easier to keep track of things with some type of representation on the table.

I've experimented with just the player minis and odds and ends on the table to represent the monster (usually dice). And that's fine but if you go to that point, then why not have something more accurate represent the monsters? We're back to talking about minis once again and as I mentioned above, as cool as they are, there's time and money involved putting it together. What if you roll that encounter that you don't have a mini for? Back to the dice?

So looking for a way to incorporate a type of mini back into play I tried adding paper minis to the table. I've been thinking about paper minis for a while and there some good resources out there, One Monk for example. They're cheap and easy to make. Problem is, they're made of paper and most likely won't last more than a couple of sessions.

Now having our party represented at the table as well as the monsters made the ever more complicated combat kinda fun and easier to manage on my end. For the last session I also created some Dungeon Tiles for the Temple Adventure which I think worked out pretty well too.

My mistake came from constantly using the tiles and minis during that session to move the players through the dungeon, even for just exploring. Again, I think some players liked that and some didn't like it as much. So again, a nice balance needs to be presented.

That balance appears to me to not rely on minis during the general exploration of the environment and then use them for the more complicated combats. Some of the smaller combats won't even need them I'm anticipating. I think that would keep the game more in peoples heads and less on the table.

Now, back to the minis themselves. As I mentioned, the paper minis, though quite adequate, most likely won't stand up to the test of time. One solution I am kind of keen on at the moment I found over at Drance's Once More Unto The Breach blog. The concept of using washer tokens as representation on the table seems to be an inexpensive yet practical solution. His additional link to Newbie DM finalized the concept for me.

So that will be my next new path for PC table representation. I'll keep you posted on that progress. I have some ideas in addition to that that I'll peruse as well. Maybe this isn't 'old school' enough for some but it's practical and economical. Don't get me wrong, I love minis, and if I see something I like for a good deal I'll pick it up but the general time involved to do the mini justice is really not at my disposal at this time.

As a side-note on the dungeon tiles, I'll be putting a general dungeon tile booklet together for download sometime next week.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

5 Great Things To Come Out Of The OSR / IEP3GCwC / Or Whatever You Want To Call It

Yeah, I use the label OSR, The Old-School Renaissance, and that's Renaissance as in 'a rebirth or revival'. Regardless of what you label it or refuse to label it, things have happened and are happening on a larger scale (some may argue that) in an independent way in recent years that has not happened since the birth of this hobby.

So lets take a look at some of the things that have come out of this 'Renaissance' shall we:

1. The Retro-clones, Simulacra and All Their Bastard Children.
Sure, people have always been playing the earlier versions of many of these games and there ain't a thing wrong with that. But what we have here is accessibility. I still have my Holmes, Moldvay, 1st ed AD&D books but not everyone else does. Free, pay, either way, anyone can pick up/download these rules. And who can't argue that some of these rules really needed to be rewritten and revised and not tossed out leaving room for a new more complicated set of rules. All these new rules and variations that have come out refined and enhanced the original game, not to discredit what has come before but to honor it. Sure some call it just house-rules but so what? After all isn't everything a house rule? Holmes seemed to have put quite a bit of his house-rules into his blue book. So without having to mention the incredibly long list of creative efforts (Swords & Wizardry, Labryinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, OSRIC, Microlite, LOTFP and countless others rule, modules, supplements, etc.) just take a gander over here for just a brief glance at just the tip of the iceberg.

2. Blog Explosion.
It probably started with the Dragonsfoot forums or perhaps the passing of one of the great wizards himself, but wherever started it, the explosion of blogs related to classic style RPGs have created a fantastic resource of shared ideas. Good blogs, bad blogs, they're all out there. I know I've been inspired and 'borrowed' a'plenty from all of these interweb authors. I would have loved to have all this available when I was 10 and just starting out with the game.

3. One Page Dungeons.
Admit it, flipping through modules can, at times, be a pain. Yeah, I'm sure many of us have compressed dungeon making into a single page before but here we have a nice format put together by some thoughtful and inspired PnP gamers. You can cram a whole lot of adventure in that single page format and it has become my go-to process to whip out a new adventure for my players. One Page Dungeon Templates. Lets not forget the One Page Wilderness template either.

4. The Return of the Megadungeon.
Pure dungeon crawl joy. Nothing says Dungeons & Dragons more than an endless labyrinth of dark tunnels, cave, chambers, pits, traps and wonder leading a party deeper beneath the surface of the earth. From Stonehell to the Castle of the Mad Arch-mage to many others the wild and wacky worlds of wonder of the Megadungeon has resurfaced again to entice many'a adventurer to their fortune or doom.

5. Magazines and Fanzine.
Knockspell, Fight On!, Encounter, OD&Dities and Nod just to name a few. Nuff Said!

Regardless of what is happening and whether people see it differently or not, something has indeed created an excitement about the 'classic' game, something to bring in old players and new alike. Something to get us all delving once again.

Let's admit that TSR as we once knew and loved it is dead. For many of us it died at many different periods of it's history but it has indeed passed. Like all of you, I have fond memories of that brand, logo, creators etc. but lets face it, Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro has really done a shitty job carrying the torch.

Well, they did give us the OGL.

p.s. I'm not saying this is a movement or club or anything. Just play any game you want and have fun!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dungeon Art

Cloud Giant and his ogre magi vs a (doomed?) party. Illustration for the upcoming issue of Knockspell #5.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Destined Fate Of The Blog Spammer

d1gd21g231g21s said...


I know you all know this infamous spam poster here on my blog, your blog, hell everyone's blog. Every new post, there he is adding his two cents! Spammers are the goblins of the internet... no wait, goblins are fun. Spammers are the carrion crawlers of the internet - bottom feeders. There is a special place in the Virtual Nine Levels Of Hell for this spammer and all others.

Your destiny my friend...your destiny....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Read Languages, Riddles In The Dark And Other Resources

Want to give your Magic-using player a reason to use the Read Languages spell? How 'bout that third level thief being able to read that scroll? Well here are some great Ficitional Alphabets to write those riddles, clues and maps for your players. Alphabets from Atlantis, Tekumel, Tolkien, Star Trek and many more. Good Times!

And speaking of thieves and riddles in the dark here's a nice little link with some general Thieves Guild features & resources for DMs. It seems to be 3E based but there's plenty there to mine for your games from traps and tricks to riddles and more.

So I'll leave you all with this memorable little riddle of the Sphinx:

Round she is, yet flat as a board
Altar of the Lupine Lords.

Jewel on black velvet, pearl in the sea
Unchanged but e'er changing, eternally.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Race: Atlantean

Anyone who has been keeping track and downloaded my Campaign Player's Handbook (houserules for my Swords & Wizardry campaign) will remember that there were a couple of holes yet to be filled; namely the Atlantean and Stygian race descriptions.

Mike (MilkManX and one of my players) had some ideas for these races so we sat down and worked out the Atlantian and the Stygian (with obvious nods to REH) the later of which is still being worked on a bit, mostly how spellcasting is handled by the race. I'll post that one as well as we finalize the details.

Race: Atlantean
Atlanteans are a very ancient race decedent from a pre-cataclysmic age. Their numbers are few as their race dwindles though they have retained their high culture through the ages. They are quick to anger and can be quite barbaric in their savagery and have a strong distrust of magic and the supernatural.

Class: Only Fighter, Thief or in some instances Druid (see below)
Prime Attribute: Depends on Class
Hit Dice: Fighter D8+1, Thief D6+1, Druid D6
Armor/Shield Permitted: Per class but cannot wear Plate Mail as a Fighter
Weapons Permitted: Any per class
Alignment: Neutral or Chaotic (preferred)

Attribute Adjustments
Atlanteans gain a +1 to Strength and a+1 to Dexterity and a -1 to Intelligence and -1 to Charisma.

Save Bonus
Atlanteans gain a +1 against to save against cast spells of a sorcerous nature.

Class Restrictions
Atlanteans can be either Fighters or Thieves. On occasion (25% chance for PC class) they may be a Druid which this race calls a Shaman. They do not gain any experience bonus for any class.

Class Bonus
Atlanteans are skilled in stealth and tracking. Atlantean fighters can Hide In Shadows and Move Silently as per the Thief class two levels below their current level. An Atlantean Thief gains a +1 to both Move Silently and Hide In Shadows but a -1 to pick locks and disarm traps. They can track as per the Ranger class with a -2 on the die roll (D20)


Like Rangers, Atlanteans reduce their chance of being surprised by half.

Limited Wealth
Atlanteans may only own what they can carry with them, spending the rest on wine and women.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Session XVII: Out Into The Wilderness

Returning to the Cloven Hoof tavern, our party attempted to recover from their earlier altercation with The Brotherhood of the Black Hand, with Gnarly being quite bloody and Vinny's pride damaged more than anything.

Again they ran into Onyx the old blind wizard who was once the occupant of the ruined tower outside of town. Onyx learns from Vinny and Geedle that Zenopus is now a vampire.

"Indeed, she has mastered the dark arts more than I imagined!" says the old man who then offers his help if the party can recover the Eye of Zenopus, an all seeing stone that can help in returning the old man's site.

But the party has other concerns at the moment. Fearful of reprisal from the Brotherhood, most of the party followed Gnarly outside of the city and into the woods to conceal themselves - all except Wolfheir who stayed at the Cloven Hoof with one of his many chosen 'ladies of the night'.

Out in the woods, after the first watch, Adara had her first dream….
In it, she was standing in a blackened and burnt plain. Thousands of bloodied bodies are strewn about, the remains of a fierce battle. Adara walked among the smoldering and bloodied bodies and there was a sense of great evil and oppression. In the distance she noticed a line of rocky hills. Suddenly she saw, floating above, an image of a face covered in a black iron helm. The eyes glowed a fierce red. The mouth opened and she was engulfed in darkness...
The Exploits of Wolfheir the Barbarian
In the early moments before dawn, a pleasantly restful however alert Wolfheir lying with his woman heard the heavy boots of armored men outside his door. As a naked Wolf leaped up out of bed, the three city guardsmen entered the room with swords drawn and ask the Viking to come with them. Wolf, not trusting a sword pointed at his face grabed a chair and tossed it through the window. As the Viking makes a run for it the guards closed in trying to subdue Wolf. Wolf beat off his attackers and leaped through the second story window, grabbed onto the roof and pulled himself up. Hearing other shouts of city guards from the street below Wolf looks down and saw one of his attackers looking up through the window and alerting his soldiers in arms.

Realizing he has left his Axe, gear and all his armor behind, Wolf decided to flip back into the window to retrieve his items. Naked, the Viking again grabbed the edge of the roof and swung back through the window knocking the guard back into the other two. Picking up the guards sword he fought his way through the remaining two. The two other guards, however, again tried to subdue the wild Viking and disarm him. With both arms restrained, Wolf brought the two heads of the guards together and tossed them out the window.

Hearing more heavy footsteps coming up the stairs outside his room, Wolf quickly gathered his possessions, tossed them up to the roof and again climbed out the window flipping himself up to the rooftop. Wolfheir climbed down the other side into the stables meeting Jack the stable boy. The Viking tosses some gold coins at the boy, mounts a white horse and leaps the gate. The naked Wolfheir bare-backs it through the early morning cobbled streets of Caladan and out through the south gate and up the road towards the woods and his companions.

On the road ahead he saw a contingent of mounted guardsmen heading towards the forest. Wolf steered his horse into the woods and donned his armor…

In the early hours of morning, Tibag heard the approach of heavy footsteps in the woods coming from the road. Alerting his companions they draw their weapons and prepare their defenses, Gnarly's mushroom men included. Out of the woods come a large number of Caladan City Guard. The guards ask them to come with them for audience with Lord Osric. Slick Vinny casts a spell and enchants the guard leader who reveals that the party is not in any danger from the guards and only were asked to escort the party back to the Merchant Guild. The guards departed without incident.

Meeting with Lord Osric the party found that Osric is concerned for their safety after their altercation with the Brotherhood of the Black Hand. Osric doesn't want any more blood shed in his city and doesn't want to cause a stir with the Brotherhood. He asked the party to leave town at once for their own protection as the Brotherhood will surely be out for revenge. Osric said that he is risking his own life by helping the adventurers as the Brotherhood is a very 'influential' organization and that this would be in payment for the rescue of his daughter those many months ago.

Vinny and Gedleesmote bargain with the Lord who offers them a weeks worth of rations. They also ask him to give word to Father Halford of the Temple of Mithra to get in touch with them in the woods outside of town for they will use this as an opportunity to quest for the Crimson Skull of Yam-Gregak.

The party is escorted outside of Caladan and they regroup in the woods planning their next move and awaiting Halford. The Priests of Mithra arrive and healing the party give them the requested healing potions for their quest. One of the priests, Nardrak, joins the party to aid them in the recovery of the Crimson Skull. They spend another night in the woods.

Adara had her second dream….
Again Adara was standing on a plain. There was a line of rocky hills in the distance. Around her a fierce battle was taking place. The screams of the dying filled her ears and the stench of death was all around. She looked down as blood washed over her bare feet. Looking up she saw a fierce warrior, armored in black astride a black horse with hooves aflame. The armored figure turned towards her, it's eyes aglow with a fierce red and in it's hand a bloody mace. Suddenly, everything around her faded into a grey mist except the red eyes which were now upon the center of a black metal disk around which was red flame. The flaming disk with the red eyes flew towards her with a horrid scream…..
In the morning the party began their journey to Harrowood. Traveling around the outskirts of Caladan they headed north along the Great Coast Road and turned off into the hills northwest of town. It was in the hill where they made their camp for the night, the sound of the River Blackmoor in the distance and the edge of Harrowood before them.

On Geedlee's watch, he saw beyond the river a fiery red glow. Dragons perhaps or Fumark the Foul? The dwarf was not sure as the glow died away.

This night Adara had her third dream….

Adara was standing in complete darkness. She felt a great sense of loneliness. In the far distance she saw a slight red glow. As the Ranger approached she saw that was walking through a great stone hall with a number of cave like openings on either side. The red glow was coming from a pair of evil eyes. They were in the center of a black iron shield with blades along the edge that appeared as flame. The shield was atop a stand on a small alter. There was a robed man with his back towards Adara She reached out to touch him. He suddenly turned around. He had no eyes! He screamed and his screams echoed into the caves. Adara felt impedding doom coming from the caves. Darkness enveloped her and death was all around. Suddenly a golden light burst through the darkness and there stood a beautiful woman warrior with golden flowing hair. Darkness dissolved away and Adara had a feeling of peace and strength. The woman bent towards the Ranger and whispered in her ear one word…"Seek."

In the morning there was some debate about whether to seek out the source of the flames or continue on towards the ruined temple and the Crimson Skull. The Crimson Skull won out and the party entered Harrowood. Exploring the woods they were unable to locate the ruined temple. They set up camp that evening in the woods, setting up a defensive perimeter of punji sticks.

Late into the night Gedleesmote heard the footfalls of a group of humanoid beasts that surround the camp. Alerting his companions they prepared to defend themselves. A lit torched tossed into the woods reveals a pack of wild primitive Beast-men that rush to attack. Alas, the battle is short as the most of the Beast-men are taken out with ranged weapons, Mushroom-men and their own awkwardness.

In the morning Adara and Tibag followed the trail of the Beast-men which lead to their lair. Inside Tibag finds some treasures and.... a map!

DM Comments:
Wolfheir's wild brawl in his tavern room was a highpoint in the session. That was all the player Mike. He just decided to do some of this wild swinging in and out of the window and it worked. No rolls were fudged in this process. Mike made every roll. When he had to roll high, he did when he had to roll low he did. We're not using skills so most of the rolls were based on Dexterity or Strength and I think maybe a save or two. And one point he actually rolled a 20 when needing a high number and the next roll needed low and rolled a 1. Mike's rolls were on fire and it made for a very exciting time. I use the wrestling and hand-to-hand rules from Basic Fantasy RPG.

DM dice rolls, however, sucked. The NPCs were tripping over each other, monsters falling into the fire pit (beastmen), wilderness encounters just not happening. Oh well, that's the randomness of the game.

I wrote Adara's dreams during the week and planned to give them to her each game night. The dreams were meant to be somewhat cryptic for the players to figure out but will have meaning in upcoming sessions having to do with Adara's request of the gods to aid her in overcoming a nasty night of binging.

Usually when I start a session I come up with a general starting event based on the previous sessions to move the 'story' forward. The story, of course, is just a connection of the character's past events. In this case, with the player's antagonistic behavior with the hornet's nest which is the Brotherhood of the Black Hand, repercussions were going to be felt. Up until game time I hadn't decided whether the party would be attacked by the Black Hand or Lord Osric would get them out of town. The player's actions decided it for me and I went with Osric hearing about the violence in the West End and aiding the PCs as repayment for rescuing his daughter. Of course, the Black Hand is not going to soon forget either of these events, thus more plot points with which to play with. There was some talk among the players of just going after the Brotherhood but, sensibly, they decided to take Osric's advice.

Which brings me to Plot Points. You'll notice in my recent session recaps I've been linking back to the beginnings of plot points that come up during the session. Some points were created by me to add additional hooks for the players to grab on to. Other were created by the players themselves based on their actions. It seems like there's quite a bit going on and there is. But use these back references to illustrate the fact the actions have reactions in the game world and reinforce that with the players. I think they're just starting to feel the weight of their actions within the world. That's a good thing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Backstab With +4 To Hit

D&D is not only about fighting monsters, sometimes you end up fighting your fellow race of baddies. No magic, no claws - claws - bite, no big bad boss, just shield, sword and axe with some fellow revelers that you somehow wronged in the tavern the night before. I hope this guys go more than one hit die!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

DM As Participant At The Table: Improvisation

As fun as it is running a session as a DM/GM there is one major difference than that of a player; players have no idea what is around the next corner, what might happen next or who they might run into. Each moment of the game is a potential surprise and therefore creates an expectant excitement (hopefully) for each player around the table. The DM on the other-hand, has knowledge of most every aspect of dungeon, city, wilderness, etc. which means there is less chance for surprise or expectant excitement. The DM's surprises and excitement come from the players themselves.

A DM always participates in the game, the question to ask is if his/her participation is more in preparation for the session or is his/her participation more at the table itself. The DM as a more reactionary referee managing preplanned events at the table can be an comfortable trap to fall into thus becoming a more passive participant at the table. But the real fun and participation begins when the DM has no idea (just like the players) what may happen next.

It's a challenge for a DM, especially beginners, to not have a tight guide or plan for the session not that there's anything wrong with that either. One doesn't want to give their players a dull game or be looking up rules or descriptions so there is, indeed, some preparation required. And it is a bit of a safety net to have a more controlled environment with which to manipulate the players and session. And that's enough of a challenge for any DM's especially beginning DM's to run with.

But there comes a time when the training wheels come off and, as a DM, you jump into the deep-end, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly with plenty of apprehension and fear. It is inevitable that your players will turn down that passage they were not meant to turn down, decide to explore that guild-house instead of the dungeon that you slaved over during the past week, or just trek off into the wilderness.

Instead of saying 'um, you can't go there', I suggest that you just let them go there. Take that plunge into the Deep End!

Those are the times when your players take you as DM into unexpected territory, unplanned events, unmapped locations. As stressful, scary and uncontrolled as that may sound, that is when the DM becomes full participant in the game. Acting and reacting with the players at the table who are also on their toes acting and reacting to the situations you throw at them. You are actively in the moment coming up with the maps, encounters, and events and treasures to toss at your players. You, as DM, become just as surprised at what might happen next as do the players. You become a full participant in the game. And that is what the game (at least classic, rules-lite versions of the game) was designed for.

Some of our best and most memorable sessions for many of the players and for me as DM were the ones where they took me in an unexpected direction. In a sandbox style campaign I do have to have some things prepared, but things are more prepared as potentialities then solid concrete events. These potentialities need to be flexible enough to change on a dime if they are even used at all. And believe me, if you open up the game to your players, they will bust that thing wide open. My players have opened up so many plot-points that the running joke is that their party seems to have ADD as they can never seem to finish something they started. It's not their fault as players or mine as DM. It's just the way the game rolled. Just the way the dice rolled. Just the way fate rolled. And in a sense, it's more true to the chaos of life and herein lies the beauty; The Chaos of the Game.

My game prep has become less and less as the sessions have become more and more fun. It helps to have great players, which I'm so lucky to have and a good collection of resources to fall back on.

So for you DMs out there apprehensive at taking that step off into the deep end. Close your eyes and take that plunge. The worst that can happen is that you get a little water up your nose. The best? One hell of a good time!

Some hints and suggestions when the unexpected happens:

1. Listen to your players. Often times they will mention their expectations of what might be beyond that next door or around that next corner or what they might want to accomplish. Why disappoint them? Let your players do the work for you.

2. Random charts. A must have. Make them yourself or better yet download some from the interwebs or copy some from magazines such as Fight On! or Knockspell. Many of the D&D blogs have posted custom charts for everything from general encounters to what might happened if your PCs carouse too much after an adventure. Many of these random results create events that almost write themselves and can lead to situations that can end up lasting sessions or be picked up on at a later date! Pick and choose the ones that you think may be useful to you. Sometimes the weirder the better. Remember that every action by the players should have a reaction in the game world. Collect these charts and tables into a binder for quick reference at the table.
Check out these links for some great charts:
Age Of Fable
Old School Encounter Reference
Random Chart Madness with Jeff Rients
City Encounters
3. Get comfortable with winging things if you have to. Your players have no idea what you have prepared and what you make up on the spot. It will all appear seamless to them. Trust in that. Use table talk to your advantage and use that time to write some notes, draw some quick maps or create an encounter.

4. If you screw up a rule or don't have the stats in front of you, just use your best judgment and make it up. Sometimes a mistake behind the screen can leave the players with a mystery that may keep them wondering and guessing. Remember, listen to what they are saying it could spark a new idea for you.

5. Names! Coming up with NPC names on the fly can be a challenge for some DMs. It's one of my huge weaknesses, in fact it's become a joke at the table. Create a list yourself when you have the time and have a few names ready to go and attached to your screen (if you use one). There's a great fantasy name generator app if you have an iPod. I prefer not to use electronics at the table but any tool that helps you with this process is an asset.

If any other readers have suggestions, methods, ideas please feel free to post them here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Random Generation Online Goodness

I ran across this random dungeon generator possibly through another blog but the name now escapes me. It's not only a dungeon generator but world generator, name generator, magic items, encounters, ship names just all kinds of stuff randomly created. A great source for some quick inspiration.

Check out donjon; RPG Tools

Friday, July 2, 2010

First Friday: Captain Future

Today's First Friday brings us Captain Future: Wizard of Science from the early 1940's.

Reared by his guardians — a living Brain, Grag the robot and Otho the android — after his parents are murdered, Curtis Newton assumed the name Captain Future to battle the evil foes who would threaten the security of the Solar System, circa 2015.

2015! Just three short years after the coming 'End of the Mayan calendar' 2012! Wow, the future has never seemed so close!

And as a special July Friday bonus Frank Frazetta's interpretation of Captain Future and his posse.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Campaign Players Handbook

When I started my Swords & Wizardry campaign last year, I had gathered together some house-rules, random charts and altered the general S&W core rules to create the fantasy game that I wanted to run.

Nothing ground-breaking there, as most every GM does a little bit of tweaking to make the game flow the way they want to.

I thought S&W had the most open ended foundation with which to start this process. I threw in some elements from classic Holmes, Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord, Knockspell and Fight On! and things I've read from so many of the great blogs and forums. The great thing about the OSR movement (is it still being called that?) is that there is so much of this stuff available to pick and choose from.

Like I've said before, I'm not one to world and rule-build from scratch. That's not where my strengths lie in gaming. I've used a process of 'found art' to create my campaign world. Of course, I started with a map 'cause I do enjoy that part of the process (really who doesn't?). I ended up using descriptions of a Holmes campaign world that Doc over at the OD&D Discussion forums put together altering it for my needs (thanks Doc!). I used this just as a background to give the 'world' some depth and it's much better than what I could have created. From there I focused on one small portion of the land, adding details, cities and towns and, of course, treasure filled dungeons, in a very broad-stroke of course. I add to it as needed as my players, in this sandbox world, branch-out every so slowly.

I wanted things to be more tough and pulpy for the characters but plenty of fantasy has crept into the sessions as well. One of the players, Mike (a huge REH fan) said that there was a good balance between pulp and fantasy in our campaign. Well, I'll take that as a success.

So I had all these little rules, maps, descriptions etc. floating around, and I put it all together into a booklet for my players - a Players Handbook of the campaign so to speak. It's been a great resource for the players and for me to keep track of what been added or removed in our 'rules'. We've updated the booklet already with rule tweaks and additions. I say 'we' because I feel that the players should have some say in the rules of the campaign. I mean, they are 'writing' a good portion of their adventures.

So here is the most current version of the Players Handbook / House Rules of our campaign. As you will see its still (and always will be) a work in progress and there are still some TBD sections such as the race descriptions for Stygians and Atlanteans (I'm still figuring those out so if anyone has any ideas or can point me in the direction of a good source…)

Download Swords & Wizardry House Rules Player's Handbook