Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

So I finished off The First Law series. An interesting trilogy with hardly a hero to be found. Interesting characters aplenty mind you with lots of shads of gray and lots of things to thing about but heroes? If that's what your looking for, wrong series.

So what did I bring out of the old brain after reading it?

"I'm here to make a challenge!" he bellowed, and the sound of it echoed back from the damp, dark walls and died a slow death in the misty air. pg. 324

"No, what we need for this task is a small man, but with great big fruits on him. No doubt we do, and the moon knows it. A man with a talent for creeping about, sharp-eyed and sure-footed. We need someone with a quick hand and a quick mind." pg. 328

Finding things that the characters excel at and giving them opportunities to use those abilities is a big part of what being the game master is all about. Killing players is a relatively easy deal. Its easy to overwhelm them if you desire ot to cast them down from the mountain. However, to give them an opportunity to shine, one in which they may or may not make it out alive depending on how well the dice roll? That's another opportunity in and of itself.

What do the players do that only they can do? Are they specilaists? Are they generalist? Are there things that only they know? Only they can do?

"The name was like a knife in the ear. No name could've been less expected, or less welcome.

"No chance it's some different Glustrod than the one came close to destroying half the world?" pg. 330

When building up enemies for the players to fight, think of them as 'named' men. Build them up before hand. Provide clues to their abilities. Leave witnessess, both living and dead, to testify to their power. Many gamers know the power of Orcus and Demongorgon among others and its hard to recreate this type of fear for someone that the Game Master has invented whole cloth, but when done properly and the players learn to respect those entities that the GM has added to his campaign? It's a wonderful thing.

"You look surprised. Not as surprised as I was, when instead of taking me in your arms you threw me down from the roof, eh my love? And why? So that you could keep your secrets? So that you could seem noble?" pg. 421

History is written by the winners. This is a something easy to verify in many fields. Pick up a paper and review the contents therin. Compare it to what you personally know about the subject. Often times, the reality of a situation and the published word, the history of a thing, may not necessarily be the same. You see, in this series, Bayaz, the First among the Magi, continuously points out that it was Tolomei's father, The Maker, who hurled her from the tower in his thirst for vengance as opposed to what actually happened.

These revelations can be great devices to move a campaign forward, but at the same time, should be taken with care. Too many reversals and flips of history will leave a party essentially uninterested in anything they learn as everything is subject to being turned into something else. Why research a thing and seek to uncover its secrets if its only going to turn out to be the opposite of what you, the GM, the characters eyes and ears, are in essence, lying to them?

To All Things an ending...

No, unfortunatley for the readers, the blog is not ending. Rather, I speak of the ending of the First Law series. Here's the thing. No everyone is going to like every ending. I devoured the books rather quickly. I made several notes of the characters, names, and some of the more interesting ideas I found.

But I thought the ending was piss poor. I thought it left the whole thing way up in the air and if there isn't another series contuining directly from where this one goes, as opposed to the other book in the same setting, it's a damn shame.

But you know what? That's the way it rolls sometimes. If you have six players in the campaign and five of them had a great time, are you going to change your whole campaign and Game Mastering style to please the one player who may have other issues that prevented him from enjoying the game?

I'm not saying ignore that player. I'm not saying tell her to leave the game. But after you speak with her and see if there's anything you might be able to add to the campaign, the pacing, the encounters and the treasures, if there's nothing there and they don't like it but aren't causing any problems with the rest of the crew? Why make an issue out if it? We can't control everyone's reactions to our game style.

The First Law contains all sorts of interesting characters and events and interweaves them well enough that a Game Master could pick up quite a few hints about running multiple sets of characters in different parts of the world while providing them reasons to all intertwine at different points.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Old Ruins = Old Enemies

"How did they get here?" Logen was shouting at Bayaz.

"I can only guess," grunted the Magus, wincing and breathing hard. "After the Maker's death we hunted them. We drove them into the dark corners of the world."

"There are few corners darker than this one." pg. 374-pg 375

"Not quite so empty as we thought eh?" pg. 410

It's a classic cliche that the old ruins of the world are inhabited by the things that are not allowed to dwell where man does. After all, why would those monsters be anywhere else? Is the balor going to take up residence in the elf town? If the great wurm going to act as a city guardsman?

More importantly though, these are places out of the way. These are places where evil can grow unchecked until it spills unto the rest of the world.

These are places where the foolish and adventuresome go and if they disappear, well, who knows better anyway?

Remember the old places of the world and the old powers and old treasures and even older horrors that might wait for the ambitious but remember to have it tie into current campaign events in some way.

In 4e for example, these lost ruins could be the former cities of the older primal beings whose followers were hunted out of the civilized lands. In the dark parts of the universe, those magi and angels and forces of light may have banished those dark and cruel entities to further realms. In the old 3.5 timeline, there was an invasion that took care of the current entities of the Abyss, the demons before the tanari. This was some good fiction taht the author put to use in his Green Ronin book of a similiar nature.

Things older than demons, things of an older nature than the Abyss. Things with darker ways and darker paths.

The world is vast and ancient and the adventurers that do not respect it will fall to it.

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Book Two, Before They Are Hanged, continues the character driven wide campaign arc started in the first book. What I forgot to mention with the first book, is each book opens with a quote and that quote is only a partial quote for the cover title.

In this instance, "We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged." by Heinrich Heine.

Quotes are a useful tool for setting the mood and the GM could do worse than to start each session with a quote based on what she expects the game to be like. In some instances, the game may be heavily focused on exploration or dungeon crawling and in others, it may be highly based on the characters themselves where the GM weaves the tale from the characters' backgrounds and events in the campaign.

Such a campaign as the latter is almost impossible to determine the events that will play out because the players are in an open campaign and can do anything, but if the GM has been keeping notes on what the players are doing and what has gone on in the past, she shouldn't have too hard a time.

The quote on the other hand, may introduce an NPC, a magic item, a place, a piece of forgotten history or something along those lines. In these instances, the actions of the players aren't as necessary in the framing of the quote.

In terms of game mechanics, one part struck out to me. In 4e, there are those, including myself, who sometimes look at the martial power source and ponder it's use of daily and encounter powers. Unlike magic or psionics or primal, martial would seem to be... well, free of such limitations. But what if there is an 'origin' story to such things? The players, in many editions and default assumptions, are not 'normal'. They are heroes.

So when reading page 105 of the sci-fi edition, "The devil-blood grew thin, and died out. It is rare indeed now, when our world and the world below have drifted so far apart, to see those gifts made flesh. We truly are privileged to witness it."

..."No more than a faction. But in her, there is a trace of the Other Side."

This is almost an origin story. In the super hero genre, it's a common thing for many heroes to have a common point of origin and to owe their powers or abilities to one particular event. In a role playing game, due to the power levels involved in some game systems, especially as the levels increase, why not borrow what works and provide some origin points? Martial powers are an expression of that common origin and don't rely on outside incluences, but still owe their origin to that common event.  King of how like the Golem and Doctor Strange are both mystic in nature but approach the whole genre vastly different than each other.

Just a passing idea mind you and one that could be eaisly swipped to explain how players are able to do things that most of the others in the setting can only gasp at.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Those Silly Nobles...

Below is a quote taken from The Blade Itself from the Science Fiction Club edition.

"I don't need men with good blood. I need men who can plan, and organise, give orders and follow them. There will be no room in my army for those who cannot do as they are told, I don't care how noble they are."

"This war was a bad thing, a terrible thing, no doubt. He felt himself grinning. A terrible thing. But it just might be the making of him." (p. 255-256)

Many of the most famous fantasy settings for gaming, like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, are psuedo Middle Ages with various factions that have somewhere on them, a structure where the laws and money are held by the nobles and those of noble blood and where the merchant class is either just starting to appear or is kind of just ignored on the side.

In the Berserk series, Griffith's ambition is to have his own kingdom despite coming from nothing. It causes trouble with those of the kingdom and leads to some interesting scenarios.

I mention the plight of West from the Blade Itself and Griffith from Berserk because this is a reptition of theme. That change against an established government is not an easy thing and that despite the outside threats and enemies, that those who are seen as being responsible or part of the change, become enemies of the established heirarchy no matter how much that current government may need them.

Game Masters can use corruption, incompetence, intolerance and other themes to showcase how different the members of an up and coming group of adventurers are different even among their own people. Sure, there may be those who want their alliance and those who have missions for them, but what do those people actually think of the characters. Have the characters almost enter a chamber room where their patron is having a meeting with another noble house and is talking about how useful it is to have such wonderful lap dogs. Have the players have to battle a group of inquisitors who are after their cleric for supposed heresy. The potential for inner conflict with one's king, country, and religion, are not just limited to fighting the obvious evil ones.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Joe is another one of those 'modern' authors who I've wanted to get around to reading for a while. Since I first heard of him, he's published the remaining books in the first series and started a second series. Time flies I tell you. You never know when you'll be able to get around to things.

The Blade Itself has a series of characters who don't have feet made of clay. Rather, the clay stops at oh, say the neck. This can be solid reading for those who don't like their heroes to be perfect or for them to be prestine but in a role playing game, it has to work with the party.

For example, one of the characters, Glokta, is an inquisitor who used to be a great warrior until his capture and years of torture that broke his body down. The character suffers limitations on movement, eating, and other areas. In a game like Hero or GURPS where those limitations might come in as a reward somewhere else, it might be useful. In a level based game where such issues are not rewarded? Not so much. It's one of the primary reasons why D&D doesn't have a critical hit system that targets limbs.

Now if the GM and the player want to have the character role play out some issues, like talking about a limp or walking slow without it actually effecting the game mechanics, that works in many situations. Most often the other players will roll with it and perhaps even throw in their own jibs when the character has to put the run on. "No problem running from the dragon eh?" In other instances, it may not work and in those instances, you need to know why the player wants to run such a character in the first place. If it's just a role playing challenge, then there is no need to 'reward' them for it. If they want something in exchange, then it's not for the right reason.

But that wasn't why I wanted to post about the book. Rather,..

"This is better," said Logen. It was a simple, solid-looking sword, in a scabbard of weathered brown leathers. "Oh yes indeed. Much, much better. That blade is the work of Kanedias, the Master Maker himself."..."Consider it a gift. My thanks for your good manners. (pg. 151-152)

The idea of a character getting a powerful weapon as a gift is often frowned upon in many games. After all, if they didn't earn it, what good is it? But if you look at some famous examples, like King Arthur, pulling the sword from the stone didn't exactly require the squire to go and do battle.

Peter Morwood wrote a series, The Book of Years, that started off with the Horselord. The main character there is given a gift of a fine sword whose blade has to be continuously refitted to new hilts as the old ones wear away, the Widowmaker.

If you don't like the idea of powerful weapons and items just happening to be in a monsters lair, go the opposite route. Have these items become gifts to those that the ones already in power wish to befriend. Have them become gifts that are 'fated' to be used by the character. After all, owning a nifty magical weapon and mastering it are not quite one and the same as the Sword Bearer by Glen Cook finds out.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Genre Mixing

The Lowever Depths is an episode of  Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot that could easily fit into a horror genre. Monsters from the deep sea rise from the depths to invade an isolated headquarters and begin replacing people. Could be the Thing or Aliens the way it works out.

The set up works fairly standard to most horror operations including elements of isolation, surprise, and confrontation with the unknown.

But with the Big Guy comes in, it gets all big guns in the face! Of course the guns don't always work as expected and the Big Guy has to use some brain power in addition to his normal bravado but it's a good example of mixing up two different genres.

This is often done in official settings as well. For example, Dungeons and Dragons has its take on Victorian/Gothic horror in Ravenloft and the OGL brought us such gems as steam tech and fantasy in Iron kingdoms.

I don't know if there is a secret to running this type of game, of mixing the genres when you're playing a regular game. If you can add it to the regular campaign without overriding the regular campaign, its probably best to minimize those types of adventurers.

On the other hand, if you're whole campaign is based on those premesis, much like say Delta Green, then everything is good to go.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder: One of the four beasts saying: "Come and see." And I saw. And behold, a white horse.

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names. An' he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won't be treated all the same. There'll be a golden ladder reaching down. When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter's ground. When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin'. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin', voices cryin'. Some are born an' some are dyin'. It's Alpha's and Omega's Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. The virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home. The wise men will bow down before the throne. And at his feet they'll cast their golden crown. When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still. Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still. Listen to the words long written down, When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin'. Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettle drum. Voices callin', voices cryin'. Some are born an' some are dyin'. It's Alpha's and Omega's Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. The virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In measured hundredweight and penny pound. When the man comes around.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

Now if there aren't some epic themes and meanings going on in those lyrics there you ain't paying attention. "One hundred million angel singing." along with "multidues are marching to the big kettle drum" These are the end times, the failure of civilization, the showing of the just and unjust. Perhaps in such a time as this only martial powers work. The field of arcane, divine, primal and psionic fail.

Arcane: The world has changed fundamentally. Perhaps whe nthe comet Wormwood strikes the world when that angel blows its horn, the weave that allowed essance to flow is gone. The world has become magic dead. Only existing magic items function but for how long?

Divine: The gods can no longer directly interfer. Perhaps some few saints and apostles carry messages but for the common man? It's like watching TV with the mute button on.

Psionic: The Far Realm's influence (one tied directly into psionics in 4e) is so free form now that to use psionics is to risk attracking the attention of those things on the far side who wait eagerly for those foolish enough to do so so that they may rip open those bodies from the other side (I believe this is how rogue psykers work in Warhammer 40k)

Primal: The time for those spirits and elemental energies of nature is now quiet. Barbarians no longer burst spontaneously into flame as they hurl magma at their enemies and instead are now rough warriors while druids enter the druid sleep in hopes that their ways and orders will pass onto the new world.

Inspiration can strike anywhere and at any time. Have those pens ready to write!

For The Love Of Mike

One of the things that popped up several times during my viewing of Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, was the Big Guy's vocabulary including his catch phrase, "For The Love of Mike." A Catch phrase can be a useful role playing tool for both players and game masters. They are common in the super hero media for example and range from "Up up and away" to "It's clobbering time." These battle cries or exclamations can have many different origin points.

Naming the maneuvers. While it may seem silly, how many times did authors in the past drag out the process by which Iron Fist summoned up his attack, "Like a thing unto iron!". Very common in the martial arts world and the supers media. Also somewhat common among wizards and other spellcasters back in the day now that I think about it in campaigns I played in.

Activating the Magic Items: One of the first advnetures in 3e had a sword whose frost properties only activated when the user chanted the name. It was a handy trick to give to a player who normally didn't do much talking. He showed up, rolled his dice, but didn't speak much. Giving him the sword didn't turn him into a talking machine gun or anything but it did help bring him out a little and could work well for using implements or items that have a daily use.

Religious Excalamations: In a fantasy setting it'd probably be very popular for a warrior whose taken by surprise to shout out "By Tempus" or something along those lines.

Famous Events: "By the Fallen Spires!" or something specific to your campaign. This has the added benefit of fleshing out your campaign setting a little if the players know what the specific incident referenced actually is.

Battle cries can be a quick way for players to identify NPC's or to make their own character's stand out at the game table. Don't understimate the utility without first trying it out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot

On ye old Hulu, under the animation section, I found an old favorite, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot.

It makes a nice change of pace in many ways and it showcases some interesting rationals for some role playing options as well as mechanic options in a game.

In terms of role playing characters, the naive character makes a good source. In many instances, this character may have innate abilities that make him the equal of his more experienced comrades, but his experience with life is at a low point. It can be challenging for an old hand to play a naive character but it can also be fun.

These types of characters should approach everything with a fresh eye and with an air of optimism that may contrast with the rest of the party members.

The second type of character, is the character with a secret. In this case, the Big Guy is supposed to be an A.I. but is instead an exo-skeleton for a human pilot. This lends the character not an air of secrecy but a secret identity. This is old hat in games like Mutants and Masterminds and Champions but not quite so common in the sword swinging field although Zorro does come to mind as well as the old Scarlet Pimpernel.

The trick to pulling this off is as the quote from one of the episodes, "It's time like this that I wish the Big Guy's sSecret wasn't such a secret." If there is no effort or repercussions from failing to keep the secret then the secret is worthless. If the player has to work every minute of ever session to keep the secret, then the GM is trying to hard.

In terms of game mechanics, Big Guy and Rusty is a solid example of M.D.C. in action. For those who don't play Rifts or any of the high end games, that would be Mega Damage Capacity. In Big Guy and Rusty, the bad guys are always shrugging off the attacks of the normals of the setting and it isn't until Big Guy and Rusty come into the scene that we see anything getting done.

Now that might just be my love of big damage talking but on the other hand, it's a quick way of showcasing how the characters are not part of the normal setting and stand far apart from it.

Sukiyaki Western Django Part 2!

One of the things I wanted to talk about in Sukiyaki Western Django was the last fight. It's a huge fight involving multiple factions and even people you wouldn't think would become involved do so with a huge cost to the town and all of the people that the viewer has been introduced to.

But it's also a long fight.

With the gunslingers, there are several moments when they are forced to seek shelter and reload and gather new weapons.

How would that work in a game like 4e?

In 4e, this could be done as a series of combat encounters and skill checks. The combat encounters should be fairly simple. The GM would allow several groups of enemies access to the players untill they are overcome or the players retreat. The GM can allow the players the ability to retreat earlier by introducing a skill check.

In this last big fight, the leader of the red gang is running around with a chain machine gun and a heavy suit of armor that protects him from non-specifically aimed shots. If the players want to move out, they can make a skill check to avoid the chain gun and allow the chain gun fool to shoot into the other enemies.

Now that may seem like a cop out, but it's actually something used with some frequency. For example, in the Dungeon Siege 2 game, when fighting the big bad, there is actually no way to damage him outside of activating an ancient technology that does damage to him. Would that be attacking the big bad or a skill check? Probably skill check.

The other problem becomes the mapping. The GM should have several generic maps set up of the battlefield ahead of time and be ready to run those maps over and over and provide variety by changing the positions of the maps by reversing them or holding them upside down. The only exceptions to this should be specific monuments or other unique locations in the town.

A long running battle can be exhausting to run and can take a lot of time but with 4e, the characters innate ability to recover their abilities, outside of their dailies, makes it more worth looking into than in previous editions where most characters with special abilities like spells, are not going to benefit from a fifteen minute rest.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sukiyaki Western Django

Sukiyaki Western Django is another example of taking an existing story or plot and reinventing it for a new audience. In this case, the film has homages to Shakespeare's old War of the Roses, the western Django, and most obviously in its man with no name theme, Yojimbo, which itself has a more direct homage in Last Man Standing.

For those who've never seen Yojimbo or Last Man Standing, the premesis is that a stranger comes to town with a skill set in high demand. The stranger tries to play off both sides until things blow up in his face and the big battle occurs.

Sometimes that happens very quickly, such as in this movie. Others, like in the original Yojimbo take time to expose the double delaing that the stranger is doing.

In a role playing game, if one powerful character could tip the balance of power between different factions, imagine how a gorup of them could do so? In some instances, the players might become their own faction, forcing the other two to gang up against the players.  In other instances, the players may try to steer clear of all offers of alliance by either side only to wind up being attacked by each side in turn as they cannot have such a powerful force in the town.

A set up of this nature tends to work best in smaller locals. Its hard to picture a city like Waterdeep being under two gangs thumbs as opposed to a small town in the dales or in the far north.

Outside of its retelling of a classic stories roots though, the movie has several other things going for it.

Style. While this can be something difficult for players to appreciate through a verbal medium as the Dungeon Master must explain everything as, it can help to set the stage. Many if not all of the character here, have very distinct and visual apperances despite the 'gang colors' that each faction wears.

Individuality: Many of the characters, in addition to their unique apperance, also have many quirks. The leader of the 'white' gang is like a titan among mortals weeping that he has no worlds left to overcome. His skill is so great, that in the end, the duel between the man with no name and the leader of the white garbed clan isn't gun against gun, but rather, gun against sword in a battle similiar to the ending of Cowboy Bebop. The leader of the red gang on the other hand, comes across as slightly crazy and opportunistic using dirty tricks left and right to try and win the war.

Hidden Characters: In some ways, the fact that one of the characters here is an old gun fighter isn't that big of a surprise. The specific character is referenced and there is some flash back. In a small group, this adding of legends and then introducing the player as someone already there under a different life, should work well. In some cases, the other players may be there to pick up the player and take them out of retirement for one big adventure.

If you're looking for a highly stylistic movie that pays homage to several genres with a great visual mash up between Western and Samurai sensibilities, Sukiyaki Western Django is the way to go.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ghostwalker by Erik Scott de Bie

Ghostwalker is a fantasy take on one of the old classics; the wronged man out for revenge.

The comic the Crow lead to a movie, novels, more comics, and a whole host of other media tie ins. A dead man whose been wronged comes back for revenge.

Sound familiar? How about in a western like Hang 'Em High?

The wronged man is a strong theme. Everyone wants to take some revenge when they feel wronged. If anyone has cut you off in traffic, ignored a traffic signal, cut in front of you at the store or other mundane matters, you might have a quick revenge fantasy but it goes out the window quickly. These minor things aren't worth the trouble they'd bring about.

But in a fantasy setting? One in which the character you're playing is wronged in a massive way up to an including death? Yeah, things can get messy.

The real trick in such a character though, is he has to work with the group. Ghost Rider, a Marvel Comic character is known as the Spirit of Vengance and he is generally a solo worker. The character in this novel, Walker, is usually a solo styled fighter. In a group focused activity like role playing, or most role playing games default assumptions, you might have to broaden the scope of the wrongs done to the character so that it includes the other party members or is something that all of the characters are in agreement on. It could be a personalized reason why the character adventurers in the first place.

When wathcing movies or televsion and the plots seem familiar, don't be surprised. Rather, think of how you can use it in your own campaign. After all, the trappings may be different, but if the action and the reactions from the players are those of enjoyement and go get 'em, the everything is working.

Final Gate by Rich Baker

The Final Gate by Rich Baker is the third and final volume of the Last Mythal.

1. High Level artifacts in play? Check. The stakes in the game go beyond Myth Drannor itself as there is a nexus or master series of portals that a demon lord is trying to gain control of in order to massively expand his influence.

2. Sacrifices? Check. Not all of the characters have made it through all three books alive and most of them have not made it out unscarred or unchanged.

3. Epic Villains? It seems that each of the Monster Manuals for 4th edition picked a big bad to lead the cover and I'm assuming as a big boss for the final encounter.  Here we have much the same with an exiled demon lord branded by the High Elf pantheon leader himself coming to blows with many of the characters here in one way or another.

4. Trying it all together? The book relies on an artifact introduced in the first book and does a nice job of trying up various lose ends brought about by various factions and their actions in earlier books.

Final Gate makes the enemies foes that we want to see get their just deserts. They attack on a personal level and insure that the battle is not just one of good versus evil or right versus wrong but rather an event where there is a bit of payback desired.

It brings together events and characters from previous books in a way that flows organically and allows the reader to follow along on even some of the larger expeditions taken without losing the reader. Overcomplicating a plot can be the death of a good adventure. When its broken down into bite sized chunks, even if those chunks are quite large in and of themselves, as long as its defined, the party should be able to grasp it.

Its epic in scope. While the elves making a so called Return to the mainland is huge, the Nexus beyond that is an even bigger potential threat to everyone's way of life. The stakes have been raised in each book going from what might be the end of a Paragon campaign all the way through an Epic one.

Rich Baker does a great job of bringing numerous elements that at first appear to have nothing to do with one another, and indeed until this series was written, may never had had anything to do with one another, and shows the reader that the wider the setting, the larger the net and the greater the potential payoff.

Farthest Reaches by Rich Baker

For some campaigns, the source material may be almost limitless. There may be fiction lines, comic lines, numerous gaming source books, various editions to wade through and other material that only a true devotee would want to see acknowledged like terrible movies or nostalgic carton television shows.

The Forgotten Realms hits many of those points and in The Last Mythal Book II, Rich Baker takes us to a few spots that are out and about in search of lost lore and lost history.

In your own campaign, do you have places that you always mean to add to the campaign but never get around to it? Do you have numerous locations that you'd like to have set pieces in but time is against you?

Work against those standards by building the events and the important characters that will be interacting with the party. There is no need to detail the whole of Thay if the party is going to perform a quick jail break after gathering some first hand information from a few contacts and well wishers.

Have the party explore the Ruins underneath the Shades in Anauroch and snub their noses at the shadow lords.

Have the party search out sunk ships off lost islands in the Sea of Fallen Stars with appropriate guides and captains and enemies of those allies coming after them.

The size of the campaign, both in terms of years and in terms of sheer scope, can sometimes seem overwhelming.

Break it down into tasks that need to be accomplished and reminders that the players don't necessarily have to see all of the setting, meet all of the Non-Player Characters and fight all of the unique monsters of each region to have them stick out in their mind.

In addition to taking his characters all over the Realms in this novel, Rich also show cases one of the problems with dealing with high level magic and power. The consquences of power can often bring about a physical change in a character. In this case, the High Mage earns himself the essence of an immortal eledarin. I know the naming can be confusing for those just getting started with 4e, but in brief, to cast high magic, the caster must have some type of immortal life force augmenting his own. For his foes, their choice was simple; demon essence.

By taking on the essence of the eladrin, the High Mage avoids the obvious pit trap and earns the power he seeks but at the same time, the essence of the immortal is not that of the high elves and it causes the character to undergo some physical changes.

Physical changes are often seen as a price of power. After all, doesn't everyone know Railisitn by his Time Glass Eyes? Is Elric not known for his black blade in addition to his albinoism? Such features are popular and a quick way to showcase the unique nature of the character.

When writing up such side effects, unless there is some actual game advance to them, the GM should not beat the players over the head with numerous penalties and bonuses. The thing is to make the player feel that his character is special and to have the cast of the setting treat them that way. If as a GM you must do this with game mechanics, you might be going about it the wrong way to begin with because at that point, it becomes another tool for players to attempt to min-max.

Use the campaign to the fullest or just use the parts you want but never worry about how you're going to do it. Just do it one piece at a time like the old Johnny Cash song.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Make Up Of the Epic Party

Last time I mentioned that some games might be better off starting at a higher level.

But what types of characters can make up such a party?

Long Lived Races or Races that Reincarnate: Depending on what edition of the game you are running, the rules for aging on the dwarves and elves allow a very long life span. In the various books that make up the Last Mythal, the elves within are often over five hundred years of age.

Heroes from the past: One of the things that surprised me about the series is that one of the main characters is an elf hero from the original battle of Myth Drannor. Resurrection actually used in a gaming novel! Other possibilities include a hero trapped in ice or in status or in a different state of being such as a stone statue. In some instances, the hero may sleep away the ages such as the original Druid in the Shanarra series.

Legacy Heroes: This series boasts a couple of different types. First, we have an apprentice of one of the original character's friends showing up. Next we have a former student of the same character show up. the Druids of the Shanarra series work well here as well since when one falls, another often crops up to take his place.

Children: Similair to legacy heroes, but with a direct tie or link to the heroes that may have walked the land previously.

Experienced adventurers: If you look at Rand from the Wheel of Time at the start of the series and Rand at the latter books, it is a comparission of completely different power levels. This is true in books like Raymond Feist's Magician series as well as a host of others where the character initially starts off small but gains vast power. Running the campaign when the character is at this vast power level is by far the more challenging aspect of the game.

When making it epic, don't forget to bring a little something extra to the character creation process as well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Forsaken House by Rich Baker

So now that the end of the second quarter and the month of June is behind me, I can stop working 60+ hours a week and read a book. The Forgotten Realms line often has what I call 'popcorn' books that are quick to read and often entertaining. Since I usually run a FR game, I also take a few odd ends and notes here and there.

Rich Baker's book has many a good idea for inspriation in gaming. The scopes of this series are epic and high involving the return of many of the elves to the mainland of the Forgotten Realms campaign. Almost an anti-retreat as it were.

The first thing I'd note, is that the main character is tossing spells like prismatic spray and disintegrate about as main spells and not as some last minute hoarded magic. With that in mind, if you haven't run a game in a while and have a definitive campaign arc, start your next game off at the cust of epic level. Use those often unusued books and get some milage out of them. The old basic sets even had rules for immortals.

The second thing is that there is a huge swathe of history in the Forgotten Realms. Does it make sense all the time? Probably not. But much like say, the Green Lantern series from DC comics, it does allow the GM to literally pull things from out of the backside and say, "Yeah, it's been here all along its just that you didn't know it." and often when such events happen, it's because a higher power was supposed to be keeping track of things. In this case, it's the demonfay, a group of elves that have given in to the temptation of demon alliances.

The third thing, is hit them at home. In the Goodman Game adventure, Dragora's Dungeon, the players start the adventure off under assault at their own home. In this book, as the main character enjoys the scenic beauty of his home, it comes under assault. Few things will get a body as motivated as possible as getting an attack in their own house.

Note this can be grossly abused though and shouldn't be taken out all that often. If you punish the players by continuously assaulting them in their own house, even if they make real efforts to safe guard their home, this might be seen in some circles as 'dick DMing'. The point isn't to punish the players but to get the game moving with some action.

Fourth thing, the magic items! Here we have a series of gems that have a wide range of uses. In 4e, this wouldn't necessarily be possible and indeed, in many editions, weapons and magic items often have powers that just run outside the game. As long as the GM is controlling when access to those abilities is possible, it shouldn't be a campaign breaker. Sure, the item can do Y, but it only does it when the GM wants. Now on the other hand, if the players come to rely on that ability, then the GM is either allowing that ability to manifest too often, building that ability into his campaign to be used too often, or the players are trying to abuse the in-house system the GM has set up.

Fith thing, epic scope. The elves returning to the mainland is an epic thing. Are there similiar efforts in your own campaign that could be made by the players? Can they restore one of the fallen empires? Can they bring forth a new age? Can they create a demi-plane where the dragonborn's ancient empire lives again?

Sixth thing, keep the variety up. While the main thrust of the book deals with the elves and their corrupted cousins, there are other elements afoot. For example, demons and devils and mercenary outer planar fiends. Past those though, the adventurers still encounter a few random beasts on the road. Past that even, the enemey armies they face often have vile mercenary races working with them that fall into the standard forces of evil; orcs, ogres, trolls. By allowing a center enemy to take stage, the GM shouldn't forget all of the other wonders that the system has within it.

Indeed, in a game like 4e that doesn't necessarily rely on the players fighting one big bad at a time as was often the case in the previous editions, it almost encourages the GM to come up with reasons why a wide vareity of forces such as this would be gathered together. Strong leadership, bribes, alliances and outright enslavement of the others is as good a cause as any in this case.

Seven thing, end clean but leave plenty of room for further adventurers. I've read a few books that end on a cliffhanger. I hate that. I much rather prefer an ending where the book is finished, the reader knows that there are other elements that will be coming down the line, and other conflicts that will be taken up and the reader has more to look forward to then "how the hell is the main character getting out of this."

Rich Baker is a solid writer and his books have many ideas perfect for stealing for that high level campaign you've always wanted to try out.