Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trying to Ponder while In The Ruins by Kate Elliott

I finally picked up In The Ruins, Volume Six of Crown of Stars. Some of the Paizo Planet Stories books I've read would require three such volumes to make up one of Kate Elliott's lumbering tome. It's not that it's not a solid story but that the cast of characters is so vast that there are some characters who barely get any face time here.

So reminder to myself number one: Don't let any one player hog the spotlight. This doesn't mean that I'm going to force role playing opportunities down player's throats if they're coming to the game to role some dice and socialize, but try to make sure those players all get what they want out of the game.

Next, it's long. So long that I didn't mind reading some odd four or five other books between book five and book six of Crown of Stars.

So reminder to myself number two: If I'm not 'feeling' a particular adventure, move on. Sooner or latter it's going to wind up effecting the players as I do something that's just stupid in order to end the session and move on. If the game's not working for the players and the Game Master, things can get ugly real quick.

Anyway, while I read the book all the way through, I found after the first few hundred pages that I didn't have a lot to bookmark. That may be because a good deal of this series themes I've covered before or just that nothing struck me too much.

So below some quotes and some gaming thoughts in another installment of Appendix N. All page quotes taken from the Fantasy Daw paperback verson.

"Lava streams out of the earth" (p.17)

Pretty clear right? A huge cataclysm comes to the land and among the hurricanes, tital waves, earthquakes, blackening out of the sun and other issues comes along lava. This is something that we have historical data on as the lost city of Pompeii can attest to.

"If the thread that bound the Ashioi land to Earth is severed, then is the aertherical realm closed to us?" (p. 47)

In some game settings and even some sysems, magic is a force that is all around and can be used by those who know how to maniuplate it. In Rolemaster for example, it woudl be essence. What happens if a natural disaster destroys the ties to essence? In the Forgotten Realms, right after the initial Time of Troubles, there were many regions of both Wild Magic and Magic Dead Zones. While the problems of the natural order can be terrifying, those in a fantasy setting should also move to the logical next step; magical disasters. In some settings with a vast history of magical manipulation, these diasters may be the explanations as to why those old empires failed. For example, the Forgotten Realms used to have cities that floated powered by magic. Not a good thing when magic fails and those cities come crashing down eh?

"We have our wits, child. Let us pray they are weapons enough." (p.129)

Many games, especially the most popular one, Dungeons and Dragons, are combat oriented. When possible, the game master should look for ways to challenge the players that may not involve their characters strongest abilities.

I'm not saying make monsters that have immunity to the characters strongest attacks nor overwhelm them with simple force. Make the players think in ways that can showcase the characters they have as actual characters instead of just a collection of abilities. In some game systems, like GURPS or Hero, this can be done a little easier as characters will have disadvantages that the Game Master can use to bring those bits of character background or personality into the fray.

For game systems where no such limitations are implied, the Game Master should work with the actual history of what has gone on in the campaign before and take notes of what the players have done and see if they stick with that as 'character' or if they just do what is convientent for themselves.

"I could have gone." he said angrily, hoarsely, but his voice always sounded like that." (p. 168)

In terms of making characters unique, making them stand out, the game master has a limited number of options to invoke. One of the easiest is giving each character a distinctive voice. This way when the game master uses it, the characters know right away who they're dealing with. Voice work can be tricky and the Game Master might benefit from writing down a few of the NPC's favorite lines and practicing them. Giving each character a distinctive voice can be over kill though and if the DM is merely aping bad accents it's probably best just to stick with slogans that the characters use as opposed to how they say it.

When Looking For Group, remember the motivation

Sometimes a lot if said in Dungeon Master Guides and similiar sources of advice in trying to get the Game Master into the thoughts of the player.

In the comic, Looking For Group, the particular issue puts some of the character's expectations at finding a lost city right out front. If you have a player like Richard in that last panel, if the player is enjoying himself and not causing any issues for the rest of the party either in character or among the players, run with it. Not everyone is there to delve into the depths of their characters background. Some are there to kill things and take their stuff.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ginger Star by Leigh Brackett

The Ginger Star is another book I've plucked from the Paizo Planet Stories line. It's part of my 'back to basics' in terms of trying to catch up on the older books I've missed. Material which may or may not have had an influence on the progression of role playing games, but which should have been known in those early eras.

Leigh Brackett's main character here, Eric John Stark, is a man of a setting that's somewhat space opera. Technology exists in many fashions including planet to planet travel, but it's more of a background element as Start often solves things not with lasers or ship to ship combat, but through his own barbaric nature.

For those who haven't had a chance to read any of the Eric John Stark books, unlike today's mammoth beasts, they're fairly easy to digest and they have the benefit of already being 'done' as opposed to some other mega series which are impressive in scope and depth but never seem to end.

Anyway, below are some thoughts I had that I'll try to keep in mind when I'm running my Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition game. Page quote numbers come straight from the Paizo edition.

"He was, as the old phrase had it, a wolf's-head- a totally masterless man in a society where reveryone respectable belonged to something. He bestowed his allegiance only where he chose, usually for pay. He was mercenary by trade, and there were enough little wars going on both in and out of the Union, enough remote peoples calling on him for the use of his talents, so that he was able to make a reasonable living doing what he did best. Fighting." (p.16)

In terms of character motivation, sometimes it's a natural talent that brings the character to their chosen profession. It's not a matter of being raised proper, it's not a thing for pondering why, it's a life style determined by the character's raw ability and how best they use it. It's a popular theme and one of Marvel Comic's most popular characters, Wolverine, has his own line, "I'm the best there is at what I do." If the characters are struggling for motivation, having them take pride in their own physical prowess isn't a bad thing.

He let the city flow around him, absorbing it through all the senses, including one that civilized men have largely lost." (p.21)

Try to engage the players on multiple levels with the setting: How does the road they walk on feel? What does it look like? What scent is carried on the air? What background noises are standard and which don't belong? Is there a sense of wrongness in the air? By bringing all of a character's senses into play, it makes it potentially easier for a player to get into character. The setting is more real the more they can relate to it.

"He is the Dark Man of the prophecy." (p. 27)

When looking at oracles and divination, the more vague they are from the Game Master's point of view, the more wiggle room the players and Game Master have in what actually happens next. Some prophecies may be so open to interpetation that it applies to everyone. In the comic Nexus, there is a sequence when Nexus and his good friend are teamed with the insane Badger, a martial artists of questionable sanity, and the three come to a village where they are hailed as saviors, or at least better then the three that came before and Nexus and his allies are smart enough to head out even as the next three of prophecy come along.

"Start sprang like a wild beast for Gelmar and bore him into the sea." (p.28)

Expect the unexpected from the players. If the characters are on a mountain and driven to the edge over a sea, don't be surprised if they jump into it and try to take some of the enemy with them.

At the same time, if the Game Master can think of things that the players can use in the environment to augment any encounters, all the better. Building different elements into an encounter that may or may not be used can be aggrevating in terms of work lost by the Game Master, but it can all be worth it when the players take advantage of it.

"You took him into the sea. Don't you know that it is forbidden, absolutely forbidden on pain of death, to lay hands upon or interfere with a Wandsman in any way?"

"I was already under pain of death, and it seemed to me that in any case, Gelmar needed a lesson in manners." (p. 37)

When you push the players, the players push back. The game master must keep note of any potential campaign elements that can derail the game if the players push too hard against those elements and more importantly, why the players wouldn't push in that direction if the game master is herding them in that manner.

If the game master has a nobel and his loyal followers meet the party on the road and has it in his mind that the party will take the absuse of the noble because after all, the character is a noble, the game master may be in for a rude awakening.

When such potential issues come up though, the game master should work with what the players have actually done and why they've done it and incorporate that into future game sessions not only in how they've effected the world, but in building future encounters that don't encourage the behavior that the Game Master may have issue with.

"Killing is a solemn matter," Mordach said, "and salutary. It ought not to be wasted." (p.56)

In terms of taking the players alive, depending on who the players are fighting, their deaths and more importantly, the manner of those deaths, may be more useful in keeping the campaign going then in merely killing them out of hand. For example, in the campaign I'm currently running, the players are on a section entitled, "The Well of Demons". There are numerous gnolls practicing dark arts here and that provides a great opportunity to allow any defeated players to be captured and taken for future sacrifice, allowing the other players a chance to rescue the player or the downed players to showcase some of his skills. The end doesn't necessarily have to be the end if there is a good reason for it not to be.

"One is born on a world. It may not be perfect, but it's the world one knows, the only world. One adjusts, one survives. Then suddenly it appears that there is no need to struggle because one has a choice of many worlds. It's confusing. It shakes the whole foundations of life. Why do we need it?"

"It isn't a question of whether or not you need it," said Stark. "It's there. You can use it or not, as you please." (p.100)

In most fantasy games, there are other worlds beyond that the players live on. In some cases, the players may actually come from those other worlds. What do normal people think of these old worlds? Do they close themselves off form it? Do they try to ally themselves with it? In 4th edition, right from character creation, there is evidence of multiple worlds with tielflings having pacts with ancient and dark powers and eladrin coming from a fey home. Do people seek to recreate those pacts that made the original tielflings? Do they seek to exploit the eladrin's home land? What trade opportunities are there? What long term ramifications for such vast span to the world?

"We live all our lives in a state of siege. Anyone, anything, may come. Sotmetimes the great snow-dragons, with the frost white on their wings and their hungry teeth showing. Sometimes a band of Outdwellers who run demented across the world and take whatever they can lay claws on. And there are creatures who wait, hidden just out of sight, smelling the warm food that walks and hoping they can snatch it." (p.124)

Keep the players on their toes. Let them know that it's not merely a matter of a kobold cave or a wild bear or a single dragon. The world is filled with danger and anything that the players are unaware of is merely that, their own foolishness in thinking that things are normal and safe. There is an air of caution in a setting where anything can happen. The brave and the bold may take powerful stakes in such a setting by fighting through these terrors.

It also allows the Game Master to lay down the footwork of future encounters. Just because the player's haven't encountered the snow-dragons doesn't mean the snow dragons don't exist. Just that the players havent' encountered them.

"In the time of the Great Wandering we were the free plunderers who fed on the roof-dwellers."

Stark thought that probably she meant that quite literally." (p.135)

Foreign cultures do things differently. They think differently. Their whole morale compass may be so alien to the players that they seem monstrous. Keeping the differences of those the player's don't know in mind and showcasing those differences can send some strange thoughts into the character's thinking when they see the foreigners do the same things that the characters do in terms of how they relate to their friends and allies.

The Ginger Star showcases an alien world that would fit into most D&D games with some of the humanoid monsters being the result of ancient genetic engineering that the modern survivors couldn't replicate. It has the old masters, things of such power that they cannot be replicated in today's standards, but in this case, it's from a technological mastery. Readers looking for a quick read could will be in for a surprising ride.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Don't Forget the Lyrics

The music group Slipknot has some interesting visuals to go with some of their lyrics.

For example, take the song Snuff.

Bury all your secrets in my skin, Come away with innocence, and leave me with my sins, The air around me still feels like a cage, And love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again...

Burying secrets in skin can be done a few ways. Tattoos are the most obvious one can think of but depending on the genre and the setting...

For example, in Marvel Comics, one of their iconic 'good' characters, the Silver Surfer has such a pure soul that Mephisto is always seeking it. Imagine the Surfer's surprise when he discovers that instead of being so pure that Galactus has actually hidden those horrific things that he has done from himself so that he, for all intents and purposes, is clean and pure.

This is a fairly common theme when dealing with memory loss. The killer becomes the saint. The real question is once the killer knows its true nature, where does it go from there.

Another line...

So if you love me, Let me go, And run away before I know, My heart is just to dark to care, I can't destroy what isn't there,

One of the most reknown tragic fantasy heroes of modern fiction is probably Elric of Melniboné who even when is not trying to live up to his ancestors evil, inflicts horrific casualties among his friends due to his cursed items and his failure to pull free from his bloodlines. In the D&D 4e game, there is an epic class that follows this thinking. That the character, through no direct fault of his own perhaps, still brings doom and death to those closest to him.

And another round of lyrics...

I only wish you wern't my friend. Then I could hurt you in the end.I never claimed to be a saint...

In the anime Gun Grave, Brandon Heat is betrayed by his best friend and is hunting him down through the series. At the end though, he and his best friend fight together against all odds. Showcasing a level of friendship that allows friends to make such huge mistakes and still maintain the friendship is difficult but can be a milestone of a campaign.

Betryal takes many forms. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the heat of combat. One of the greatest traitors to the cause comes right from the Knights of the Round Table where Lancelot's affair with King Arthur's wife causes the whole kingdom to fail.

Gaming inspiration can be where you find it. Always keep an open mind not only as to what the actual medium you're listening to, watching, drawing, etc... is actively trying to do, but how that can be twisted and turned along with the other bits in your own mind and experiences to enhance your own game.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Fiction and Good Gaming

After finishing off the two books in one by Leigh Brackett, I've moved onto the Ginger Star, the first in a trilogy of tales about Eric John Stark. I'm one of those weird people who usually reads the introduction and as this one is by Ben Bova, an author who I'm familiar with thanks to his work in the Orion series, I was glad to.

He makes some arguements about what makes good fiction and I think that they speak strongly as to not only what makes good fiction, but what makes good gaming.

"Part of the answer lies in the word "adventure." Part of it comes from the fact that such stories deal with the frontier, that vast unknown region where almost anything can happen. Another part of the answer can be found in the strong, brave, tough heroes and heroines that exist on those frontiers: Achilles and Hector, Long John Silver, John Carter, or The Giner Star's Eric John Stark.

But the real secret is this: Readers want to live those stories. Readers want to be the hero, fight the fights, triumph over the enemy.

This is the fundamental secret of exciting fiction: give us a hero whom we want to be, and pit him against the most powerful enemies imaginable.

"Good stories are based on the struggle between right and wrong. In every good story, a strong person must face a moral choice between right and wrong."

This to me speaks volumes. It's not true for every group. I've known groups that were more than content to sit in the decaying halls of a dying city and playing the rogues so murderous that they could turn on each other at the drop of a hat but the games I've most enjoyed being in and running were those where the characters were heroes.

For each gaming group, there are many decesions ranging from what game system to play to what type of character to play. The above statements may not hold true for your group but if nothing else, they may give you something to think about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ancient Magics in the Secret of Sinharat

Once again a thanks to the folks at Paizo and their Planet Stories line for bringing back some of the older material that I've never read. Page references will be using the Paizo edition that also includes People of the Talisman.
"There are those who doubt me, I say! Those who scoffed when I said that I possessed the ancient secret of the Ramas of long ago-- the secret by which one man's mind may be transferred into another's body." (p. 30)
The implications of this type of technology are vast and far reaching. In this story, the idea and lore are used to gather an army but that's just the naked value of it as opposed to some of the potential of it.
For example, others in the novel have indeed used the ancient secret to live for hundreds if not thousands of years.
How could that be useful in a campaign though?
Imagine the players are hunting down demons, undead, or other long lived foes. Through their live, they've developed a cadre of methods to handle these menances. Would it be the right thing to do to pass on their knowledge and lore hoping that future generations would use it correctly, or would they themselves take over the youth and insure that the fight continued on more equal terms?
Imagine that the players capture a vile slave lord. What if the players decide to use this secret of changing minds to send one of their own into the slaver's own stronghold and perhaps even bring the other players along as favored slaves?
"There is trouble coming, greater trouble than Kynon knows." (p.41)
Even as the characters are in the heart of one adventure, it's never too early to start the seeds of another adventure. Even as the players are hunting down the last of a kobold tribe, it's never to late to have the players discover a map to another lair, to discover the kobolds have allies that they sell slaves to, that the kobolds are this far south because they've been pushed out of their homelands. Always keep multiple options open to the characters so that they always have options and are aware of the challenges on the horizon.
"But one place is as bad an another when the storm wind blows, and the only thing to do is to keep moving. You're a dead dog if you stop - dead and buried." (p. 54)
In this case, the character speaking is talking of a massive sand storm. And during this storm, others take their opportunity to have a go at vengance. The sandstorm after all, does throw up a lot of cover for certain actions to be taken.
But in and of itself, it's important for another reason. It's another reminder of the power of the forces of nature. There is no armor class that can be hit. There are no non-magical swords that can cut the wind.
There are opportunities for using the mundane and making them as awesome as the most fantastic fantasy elements.
"Sinharat, the Ever-living... Yet it had died." (p. 69)
In the current edition of D&D, 4e, the core concept is points of light. Here, empires are things of the past. Allow the players to trod in the bones of those ancient empires and to gather things strange and new to the world that have been lost. In the Forgotten Realms, there are many ruins of ancients times and these make great 'living' dungeon delves that happen to occur on the surface and provide numerous options. Always make sure to try and bring ou the historical weight of the ruins, the mammoth feel of time pressing down on the ancient empires and how so much has been lost.
"This was the old city of the Ramas, and its name still has power. The people of the Drylands don't like to enter it. When the hordes gather here, you will see. They will campa outside." (p. 69)
Another elment to consider in these ancient ruins, is why are they still ruins? Is it tradition? Is it in memory of the old city? Is it haunted? Is it's location lost to time and only the unlucky and foolish wind up finding it?
"Shrill, idstant voices as of the desert pipes, raging from the cavern cornices of buildings far across the city.... The massive coral pedestal on which the city stood was indeed a vast honeycomb of tiny air-passages, and the wind forcing up through them could create this eery effect." (p. 79)
When looking at some of the reasons why such ruins may be abandonded, try to insure that when ever there is an element of the supernatural, that it may not actually be supernatural, that it may be some local phenomena.
"Whoever of the two killed the other, must himself die by Kynon's decree." (p. 96)
When the players are masters of their power and in full control of their abilities and are working like a team, there is often little that can be done if the Game Master is running encounters in a 'fair' manner that will provide danger that makes the characters think of tactics that don't involve their powers. In this example, both individuals have been threatened with death if they attack one another and one of them has been drugged so that his mind is no better than an animal. The other realizes this and now has some difficult decesions in front of him that may not necessarily be solved by strength alone.
The Secret of Sinharat provides the Game Master with a quick read, a fast tour of an ancient ruin, some survivors of an ancient race and the promise of potential immortality. What more do you need for a campaign seed?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A last look at Robert E. Howard's Almuric

Almuric is a rather short book by today's standards of mega multi-volume epics but it gets it done in one while leaving the setting open enough that further adventurers could have been written in the vein. Like a good campaign ending at that.
But now for some specifics and what I thought of in regards to role playing as I read this tome. Page references are from the Paizo edition.
"On the remnants of flesh were the marks of fangs, and some of the bones had been broken, apparently to get the marrow." (p.83)
The characters are not the only inhabitants of the world. They should see signs of other live on the setting all around them. On the road there should be shrines and way markers with richer countries having way stations and havens for travellers. In dungeons there should be evidence that the things that live there, unless undead or animated objects, are eating and doing their business. Make the players realize that they are moving through a world and not a passive setting.
"By Thak, it is he! Do you not remember me, Tharn Swordswinger, whose life you saved in the Hills?" (p.133)
4th edition, perhaps more so than any other edition, does not have a huge implicit love for the good factors of the game. Unaligned, not neutral or chaotic neutral or some other hinged alignment, is fairly sellf expalanatory. However, this should't necessarily be license for the players to run wild.
When they do deeds for no reward, when they help those who can't at the time help themselves, insure that these strangers mark the players as potential allies and possibly even potential friends. Have the players hear of those they've helped. Have the players develop a reputation. In a typical fantasy setting, it'll take time for players to have a reputation that goes far and wide, but make sure it's one they've earned. If played with a little heart, they'll have allies and friends in many corners of the setting as well as the enemies they've earned by helping those who could not help themselves.
"Runners were sent to the cities, to give word of what went forward. Southward we marched, four thousand men of Koth, five thousand of Khor. We moved in separate columns, for I deemed it wise to keep the tribes apart until the sigh of their oppressors should again drown tribal feelings." (p.139)
The old saying is the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I've seen this used in various pieces from the animated series Robotech with threat of alien attack to the same plot in the Watchmen graphic novel. If you have an enemy but at least know that enemy, it's better to ally with that enemy against the unknown enemy who overpowers all of you individually. In some ways it's even a good motivation to keep a party together. The members are not friendly towards one another but because of the recent changes in the campaign, they've been thrown together and have to make the best of it least they all fall.
Almuric is a quick moving book and Game Masters who want to learn from Robert E. Howard need to keep their own campaigns moving foward.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Robert E. Howard's Almuric

One of the things I love about Paizo's Planet Stories line is that it brings back a lot of material that is often hard to find in today's modern shelves of the latest fads. One of those books is Almuric, Robert E. Howard's take on the whole Planetary Romance inspired by a certain hero who went to Mars...

Below will be some quotes with some ideas of how they'd fit into one of my games and how I try to keep some things in mind when I'm gaming. Page numbers come from the 1st printing Paizo edition. Spoilers may follow so beware!

"It was chance led him there, the blind instinct of the hunted thing to find a den wherein to turn at bay." (p.15)

Often, when one door closes, another opens. If the party finds themselves overmatched, the Game Master must have a plan outside of the party runs for their lives. In some instances, whole campaigns can be built in this fashion. For example, back in the day, Orcus or Necromancer Games mentioned how he'd like to start an "Iron Tower" adventure path with the characters battling gnolls in treacherous terrain that plunges both character and monster into new venues.

Having an out that is a lead in for future adventurers provides the Game Master an opportunity that he may not need, but always has ready.

"Boss Blaine could not understand that he was dealing with a man to whom his power and wealth meant nothing." (p. 17)

This one's a little close in page numbers to the previous one and also hits on a theme I've mentioned before.

Players tend to run their characters unlike how people of those times would act. They're not real living breathing characters save to the most dedicated role player and the players are often willing to take chances with a character that any normal person would find insane. The Game Master needs to be careful that when dealing plot lines and making NPCs that none of them so motivate the players to action, that the action the players take is straight out murder that thrusts the entire party into a situation that requires either a whole new group of characters of a quick change of setting.

"The tangible and material can never be as grisly as the unknown, however perilous." (p. 22)

One of the great things about H. P. Lovecraft's work is the whole theme of the unknown. That there are things man isn't meant to know. That man is at his best, ignorant of the lowly position he has in the universe.

One of the great things about older Ravenloft material is how it would remind the Game Master to use description and details but not labels. Speak of an ogre's massive height and powerful frame, the low gleam of intelligence in it's eyes, the size of it's mammoth fists and the cruel edges to it's teeth, but do not actually call it an ogre. Players love to label things because they gain an accuracy of the enemy's strength.

By providing description without naming something though, while the Game Master is giving the players something solid and tangible to face, they still have the potential fear of the unknown. 3rd edition and 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons take this a long way too. Not only could an ogre be an ogre, it could be an ogre with some type of template or an ogre that is no mere soldier, but an elite brute.

"I made out only a dim gigantic shape, which somehow seemed infinitely longer than it was broad- out of natural proportions, somehow. It passed away up the vallye, and with its going, it was as if the night audibly expelled a gusty sight of relief." (pg. 32-33)

In addition to describing things that are tangible threats, the Game Master should be sure to include those that are simply beyond the ability of the characters at the moment. In the Stephen King novel and movie the Mist, there is a scene where the group witnessess a massive creature whose size makes the term behemoth seem too little. Showcase the awe of the setting, showcase the scope of the campaign. Allow players to note the hights and the lows even when they are not directly interferring with them.

Robert E. Howard wrote with an energy that was almost tangible to the reader. Make the players your readers and entrance them with description, but make sure that description not only leads to action, but leads to opportunity.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Meeting At Corvallis or A Little of This and A Little of That

One problem with reading a series of books by the same author is that sometimes the author is so intent on getting his message across that he's going to pound it into your eyes again and again. This seems particularly true of S. M. Stirling as he continues to hammer home the difference between those who were adults at the time of the Change and those that were children or weren't alive at that time.

This can be something that you may need to bring to your own game if there has been a huge campaign change and the characters are playing in a time line that goes beyond merely entering into dungeons and spending the loot at the local town. What differences did the change make to the campaign? In Dungeons and Dragons, with edition changes, the Forgotten Realms took a hammer to the head in both the 2nd and 4th edition turnovers. The very setting changed in order to accomidate the rule changes.

If you're going to be going for such changes, contrasting how things are done now as opposed to how they were rumored to be done is always something to keep at the back of your mind. In some cases though, it's part of the lure of fantasy settings in the first place. In most generic fantasy campaigns, magic used to be more powerful. Warriors used to be the sons and daughters of demi-gods if not outright gods themselves. Everything was better and anyone who has a hint of talent in the new setting must have some deep relationship to those passed ancients.

As far as A Meeting At Corvallis, below I'll be pointing out some specific quotes and how they may get your own brain juices working. All quotes are to the paperback version so spoilers will be found below.

Ever have non-player characters that you'd like to have the players encounter more than once? It can be tricky. Most abilities that characters have are geared to do one thing and that's kill the opposition. In many games, it's actually harder to take an enemy alive with a penalty to 'pull' your attack or to only do subdual damage.

This doesn't count what happens if the players don't kill the enemy but do take them prisoner. Now they have to worry about the prisoner trying to make an escape and being a general pain all around. Probably better to just kill them right?

What if you can make it worth the player's time though?

"We'll turn him over when his steward sends us five years' yield, " the Lady of the Dunedain replied curtly. "In cash of equivalents in cloth, horses, tools, and provisions of types and quantities to be agreed. We won't release him until the ransom is paid in full." (p.154)

Having the NPC tell the players outright when they're about to deliver that final blow that he's worth something alive is a quick way of possibly adding the character to the campaign latter on.

Other options would be to have the character know someone who knows something that the players need to know. The character himself is useless save for that one bit of knowledge.

Another option is that the character, due to race or class or training or heritage, has the ability to do something that none of the other players can and they need to keep him alive.

Note though that this can be good for a few chuckles if the players are smarter than the Game Master. For example, in the Dark Blade comic, there is a wizard who puts a map on his own skin thinking that will keep him alive. The dark elf cuts the skin off the wizard and kills him. If you've seen Minority Report, you'll note that some security is tied to other body parts.

If using this technique, make sure that it's a live heritage that's needed and not merely a body part unless the NPC is with a group of paladins or other nobel characters or you want to see how bloody the party is willing to get.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Warring With Words

First off, beware the spoilers. I'll be starting with a little broader base than a direct quote to set the tone so that the quote make sense.

In S. M. Stirling's The Protector's War, the second book of the Change, there are numerous organizations. Some of them friendly towards one another and others that take various minor actions of war against one each other.

Two of the allied groups, the Bearkillers and the Clan Mackenzieare bound together not only by a common enemy, the Protector, but by Rudi, the child of Mike and Juniper, the leaders of each group. The child came about through a chance meeting before Mike would marry his queen.

In a down time setting, a magnificent horse is brought forth. The beast is everything a warrior would want save one thing. It's soiled. It's not fit for riding people. It's a mankiller.

"I could ride her! Like an ealge on the wind!"

"Kid, if you can convince your mother to buy that horse, go ahead!" he called again, his voice warm and friendly. "I'll go halves on the price for a cold of hers, if Juney can magic her into not being crazy-mean."

Signe Havel's voice was coolly neutral as she called: "I'll pay the man's price myself and give her to you if you can ride her, Rudi!"

Signe is essentially trying to get Rudi to kill himself through the boy's own lack of knowledge.

I've seen this happen in the game and it's usually not among the characters but rather the players. It's when one player users superior knowledge of how the game works to screw another player's character over and usually for a small benefit. Usually to get another character to take a cursed item for a chuckle or to set off a trap so that they don't have to endure it.

This behavior might not be fatal to a gaming group but what impression does it leave on the guy who isn't sure about the rules? Instead of encouraging the new player or trying to show the best of gaming, it showcases the worst attributes and it doesn't do it in any sense that is 'illegal' or against the rules, but nontheless, is wrong. Hazing is something you usually think of when you hear about frat houses or sports and should be left far and away from a group of people trying to entertain themselves through the use of a gaming system where people are taking on imaginary roles.

But in the game itself, ah, there's potential.

If the Game Master showcases the enemy to be brash, bold, and prone to acting before thinking, then players should be using not only sword arms and other combat based skills to take the action to them, but also using other abilities so that their enemies are taking risks that they don't necessarily have to take.

The same is also true for the game master. If the players are supremely sure of themselves and their abilities, there are fewer things more enjoyable then giving them the "okay" signal and having them have to work through the results of their potential folly.

Roleplaying games should stretch to move beyond combat not because combat is bad, but because combat should not be the only resource of the players or the game master.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A group effort

In 4th edtion, characters can't do it all by themselves. They have a buikt in need for each other. Is that realalistic or organic... lets look at a piece of fiction that han nothing to do with dungeons and dragons or old stle dark age fantasy. In the Protectors War, S. M. Stirling's second book of the Change, on page 62, it notes, "rangers or no they cant come back across the valley alone."

This is a reference to two characters whose skills are tried and tested and are at some of the highest levels of competenece.

And they still cannot go alone.

Travel is dangerous. Now mind you, if you don't encounter anything, if you're on well paved roads with numerous patrols and guards, then sure, everything is fine.

But 4e defaults to a points of light setting where travelling is not encouraged, or at least not encouraged to go by yourself.

This is all the more reason why characters should be joining into mercenary units or adventuring parties. It's not a full organic bit as there is still not a lot of trust inherent in joining others you may not know, or may not know well, but the motivation to travel and journey not by yourself, should be strong in such a setting.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gaming The News

The news is a never ending fountain of information that can be distilled to gaming in many ways.

For example, currently the news about Rio being the home of the 2016 Olympics is making all of the rounds. In your campaign, is there anything similiar to it? Are there games where the players can particiapte? Are there politics that the players can work at to negotiate where the sporting event is to be held?

In Raymond Feist's series, one around the time of the Talon of the Silver Hawk or so, one of the main characters is trained to be a part of society and in his training, he undergoes swordfighting with the best of them and wins the award. Such an award carries with it not only fame, but a target on the character's head. Now all of the young pups who want to prove how skilled they are will seek out the character either for trianing or to test their mettle against.

Also in the news are various horror stories on natural events like mudslides, earthquakes, flooding, and the world's reaction to those events. I've mentioned before that natural events can be massive in scope and effects can be far ranging but what happens if the players themselves aren't in any of these areas when it happens? What if instead they hear about it? What do they then do?

In a modern campaign, especially one where the players are in a super hero campaign, they may wish to lend their aid immediately but then have to deal with red tape. For example, what if the game master uses a cave in on a mine in China with trapper miners? Do the players have the authority to go to China and pit their powers to work or do they have to go through red tape and wait as people die?

Such an event can also be a good time to introduce new characters to a campaign. For example, say the plaeyrs are going to help but when they get there, they discover that one of the reasons China didn't want their help wasn't because it wouldn't have been useful, but rather because they have their own super heroes and no longer need wait on others to do the job for them.

In several cases, such characters are often carbon copies and are granted their power through something like power armor such as the Red Rockets from DC comics that originally appeared in the good old Green Lantern series when the Russians were 'bad'.

But what about personal problems? Take late night talk show host David Letterman. What if an event like this happens with one of the rulers in a campaign setting? What if the king all of the players have served for so long and so loyaly, has habits that some of the players aren't fond of? What happens if the game is a little darker and while the players may not care about the lusts of their ruler, this ruler, instead of making a public announcement, takes the players aside and informs them that someone is trying to hold the king's past indiscrecions against him and he would like the players to take care of the problem?

What of kidnap victims? In a fantasy game that includes the fey, there are many options that don't necessarily have to include the horrifics of an actual kidnapping. Perhaps when the eladrin kidnapped some lass, they did it because they were protecting her but now those hunting her have discovered the eladrin's home and while they would love to fight for her, they are not strong enough so hey, can you player characters take over this guardianship duty and by the way, her royal family is probably enormously pissed that she was kidnapped in the first place and is probably coming for you even now.

The news is vast and broad enough to provide thousands of campaign seeds if the game master is willing to tailor the news to his own campaign.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dies the Fire by S. M. Stirling

S. M. Stirling's Dies the Fire is a novel where certain chemical reactions stop working and this pits the world back into a dark time. I read it because my mother and I don't share a lot of reading material so I thought it'd be fun. I know she's read the Stand and Swanswong so thought she'd enjoy these books. She's already read the first three and I'm way behind here.
In addition though, I thought, "Hell, it's not almost a thousand pages like Kate's books were." Lastly, I was in the mood for something a little different. While many of the main characters note that a lot of the themes and living styles of the old ways are coming back, they are still 'modern' people and know a lot more than their ancestors ever did. Something by an author I'd never read before on a series that looked interested and well supported? Sign me up.
Below I'll be taking a couple of direct quotes out of the paperback version so if you'd like to avoid spoilers, beware below.
"Well, what was it, then?" her mother said.
"I don't have fucking one clue about what it was," Dennis said. "But I've got this horrible feeling about what whatever-it-was did." (p.17)
To me, one of the worst things about the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the Forgotten Realms was, is that they took several massive events and put them in the past and spelled out how they all happened. Sometimes in novels, other times directly in the campaign guide. This doesn't leave a lot of mystery.
When something big happens, the players may have no clue as to what it all means. However, they'll quickly learn what it will mean to them in the future. For example, if you're running a campaign that uses various forms of magic, such as arcane, divine, psionic, what happens if one of those power types stops working?
If you're running a more modern campaign, such as Champions or Mutants and Masterminds, what happens if you follow the ideas in Dies the Fire? Instead of individuals running around trying to rework their own little worlds, you could have super heroes in a post apocalypse setting. Some of those heroes own abilities and powers may be vastly effected. For example, in a setting where high technology shuts down, what happens to characters like Iron Man and the Punisher? No more guns for mister skull face.
"These weren't bad peoplpe; probably none of them had so much as hit anyone since junior high. But they were desperate." (p.85)
One of the nice things about Dungeons and Dragons is that an orc is evil. Now sure, we could all hunt down and find examples of those noble orcs who aren't but for the most part, the black knight is evil, the goblins are evil, and all of those evil things are around to be killed.
But what happens when the enemy isn't so clearly evil? What happens if the enemy is your brother or sister? What happens if it's your fellow country men and they are merely reacting to disaster themselves? How do you handle the outcome?
"It's Yersinia pestis. The Plague. The Black Death. Those camps were filthy and swarming with rats, and plague's a speceis-jumper endemic among ground squirrels here in the West." (p. 337)
I've mentioned this a few times before, but finding things other than monsters to challenge the players can provide a lot of opportunity to grow the campaign in manners the stretch pass a dungeon crawl. Indeed, most dungeons are often depicted as damp and dirty anyway. What better place to pick up diesease? In 4th edition, if you want to challenge the players in this manner, there's a supplement for it.
"I never thought there would be any child but Eilir, she thought. But it seems You had other ideas..." (p.362)
When one of the characters discover that she's pregnant by, well, not a 'random' encounter, but by a short encounter, it leads to a life long complication. Characters in many fantasy games are often seen about the taverns seducing the wenches. If the campaign is a long plotted out one, what are the effects on such a character's reputation as a sire of many bastards? Does he take them in? Does he train them? Deny them?
On the female side of the table, I'd be very careful about making any female player's character pregnant. First off, it potentially takes the character out of an active adventuring life. Second off, it may be something that the female character is very uncomfortable with. In such cases, it never hurts to ask.
If done properly and the players are all for it, it can be something that creates family lines in the game. Some fantasy games, like Green Ronin's A Game of Thrones, are based off of novels where these details are very important.
"We didn't plan it that way, not at first, but it turned out that about all we've done since the Change is fight, train to fight, and work on our gear." (p. 492).
If that's not an explanation of what happens in games with defined goals like level advancement, I'm not sure what would. Game Masters who hate such games, should probably stay away from them. Whle they can be worked on and turned into other types of games with careful game mastery and with a group of willing players, why not find a game that suits the style of the game you want to play better? If it's all about killing things and levelling up, and that's what the players are there for, give it to them or get out of the way.