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Dungeon Situational – The Ruin

Not all ruins are created equal, from fallen towers to crumbling keeps, haunted, twisted, and occupied by whatever monstrous squatters are passing, but they’re all bait for any adventurer fool enough to believe that just because the walls have fallen doesn’t mean the traps stopped working. Ruins are a staple dungeon for and D&D game, but where some are simply old castles long ago abandoned, some have a far deeper history for those willing to dig a little deeper. (more…)


Dungeon Situational – 10 Mounts

There are so many more interesting ways to charge into battle than on the back of a horse… or at least in a fantasy setting there are a lot more choices, gigantic riding lizards are no longer available and we are running out of most of the other interesting large animals (seriously we need to do something, we are running out of cool animals to ride into battle). Horses and dire wolves are the classics and perhaps the most sensible options, but there are other, stranger possibilities.

Here are ten different mounts with stories to go with them, individual mounts with personal tales to tell, factions with hallmark choices of warbeasts, and one magic tree. (more…)


Dungeon Situational – Owlbear Encounters

Hoooo doesn’t love owlbears? They’re fuzzy balls of fluff topped with the best spiky bits from nature, but how to best use them without just dumping them into a random forest encounter? This week’s Dungeon Situational I offer up a few different ways to use these adorable hybrid beasties that may give you some ideas of your own… (more…)


Dungeon Situational – A Faction

A mad month of events is almost over for me, so this should be the last late article for a little while… should be.

Within every nation, powerful factions rise to serve a singular purpose. Military, academic, economic, and philosophical affiliations cause people to draw together, to organise, and to work together in pursuit of a common goal. Where adventurers are concerned, a faction can be a powerful ally, or a dangerous enemy, and the line between the two can be a delicate one, and each step in favour of one can lead powerful individuals away from another. (more…)


Dungeon Situational – Powerful Spell Components

I’m not much of a “Spell Component” guy, at least not material components, but the visual effect of one fusing chemicals in one’s bear hands to create fire or toxin, or vial of consecrated soil that shatters and causes the undead to flee before you, it’s all very stunning, I just find it a nuisance to track.

But to stumble across a rare material or strange artifact that might imbue a spell with power beyond its typical capabilities, even as a singular use consumable treasure, makes for an interesting treasure with unique appeal that might capture the imagination of your favourite spellslinger. (more…)


Dungeon Situational – A Unique Tavern

So I have been playing a lot of D&D lately… I mean a lot of D&D, so it’s time to resurrect my idea-spitting series Dungeon Situational, where I drop a bunch of thoughts on screen in the hope that someone, somewhere can use them, or at least warp them into something useful.

This week I had Murray take a look at the thirty-something strong idea list, and has chosen a unique tavern, it’s occupants, and a short menu. Welcome travellers, to the Stricken Willow. (more…)


Three RP Systems In Two Weeks

I’m on something of a mission to break out of my own habits, and the biggest one by far is Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve been role-playing for eleven and a half years and I’ve branched out into… one other role playing game ever, Pokethulhu. I mean, including Pathfinder I’ve played a total of four different editions, and I’ve played in other people’s games, like Dragon Age, Call of Cthulhu, Battlestar Galactica, and others. But I don’t run enough of a variety.

So what do I do? Give myself a bunch of deadlines and cram like mad! Here’s what I’m up to…

Call of Cthulhu

7th edition.

Moving from a heavy combat system into something that offers a very different kind of threat is a fun shift in terms of writing. As a fan of horror it’s nice to put players in front of a situation they can’t stab to death, so naturally I’ve been composing something where the characters are about as bland as I can muster, a bunch of office workers trapped in an industrial estate in a “situation” (don’t want to give too much away here, GM’s prerogative) that they are completely ill-equipped to handle.

The principle mechanic is the Sanity system and that’s the thing I need the most practice with. My biggest mistake was applying sanity effects without a numeric reflection, lesson learned there and I should know better than to separate mechanics and narrative. The character sheet communicates a great deal about the intent of the game, and the CoC sheet is heavy on the skills… extremely heavy on the skills, but there’s a lot to play with in character creation, you can basically create any scale of investigator, from the slick 30’s high-collared detective to the most mundane office worker.

Sentinels Comics: The Roleplaying Game

Starter pack.

Superheroism has been on the to-do list for a while, and I rather like the roster of characters from Greater Than Games. The card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, is based on a fictional comic book universe featuring some new faces that are oddly familiar, almost as if they were drawing some unapologetic inspiration from elsewhere. It’s all about action and heavily focused on visual story telling, as the intent is to describe your actions in the form of a comic panel. This means I have to get better at my visual descriptions but given that I go heavy on the “theatre of the mind” it shouldn’t be too difficult to shift.

In terms of the mechanics, the character sheets are… if anything too thorough, so for my players it was awkward to pick out exactly how to put together their attacks and techniques, but once that hurdle was overcome it actually proved pretty comprehensive and useful, and has the potential for a lot of scenarios. Currently I’m only playing the preset scenarios which takes me out of my comfort zone, but without the full product in front of me I’m unwilling to start writing. If you’d like the full product the Kickstarter only ended in February, so preorders are still in the works.

Era: The Consortium

My regular group are unaccustomed to d10 systems, and frankly so am I, nor am I all that great at writing science fiction, but this was fun, if anything this was the most fun, especially because it’s one I’ve been studying for a while (including roping in a friend to help me break it down, thanks Chris) to make sure I get it right, but actual practice has been slow in coming. I’ve played systems before where your skills determine the number of dice you roll, first time running one, it’s… interesting not setting the target numbers, there’s a lot less of the “winging it” that I have become accustomed to.

But running sci-fi is good! I never get grenades, or guns, or systems to hack, or vehicles, oh am I going to have fun with vehicles. I’m playing The Consortium over the weekend, but I’ll be spending some time thereafter writing games, putting together some one shots and maybe a campaign or two. Sci fi opens up a few options in terms of social commentary in terms of narrative, offers a new toolkit for action scenes. The Era universe has the backbone for corporate warfare which is all kinds of my thing, but I think I made need to give the aliens a soft intro to my writing, so for now I’m going human-heavy, and bringing in the races of the Consortium over time until I can do them justice. It’s nice to finally get some momentum going, anyone want to play some sci fi?


Dear Dungeon Master – MarySue

“Slightly fatigued with Mary-Sues” of Liverpool writes:

Whenever I start up a game, or try to join an RP online (Star Trek or otherwise), almost every other player seems to want to break the boundaries of class or race to make their character ‘the exception to the rule’. I don’t mean multiclassing (which of course also happens) but more like “Yeah I’m a Vulcan, but this Vulcan has emotions”, or “I’m a high elf who’s actually a dark elf”, or “I’m a paladin, but I’m a pirate bard warmonger. Oh yeah, they deity I’m devoted to is the lawful good pantheon head”. Even stuff like “Oh we’re doing normal D&D? Cool, then I’d like to play a half-orc, half-Aasimar barbarian, and my character path is that I’m the son of a divine being and my powers will slowly develop as time goes on”.

The question is: do you experience this as well? Does it piss you off? Do you find that characters like that are actually interesting?

Also how do you deal with it? Do you kill one of their legs and raise it from the dead? (I know it happens, don’t try and tell me it doesn’t!)

And final question – do you find that characters that are rolled within the worldly norms (Sun elf bladesinger in forgotten realms/good old fashioned Barbarian etc) actually work better and give people more of a chance to be exceptional by playing the story rather than trying to force it at creation stage?

Hello Slightly

The exiled drow rejected by the society he knew and unable to be accepted by the society he chooses to fight for is not an unheard of cliche, it might well be that there was a time when one could hardly move through a game shop without stumbling across a Drizzt Do’Urden or variation thereof, and while the hobby is supposed to be about imagination, and while heroes are supposed to be exceptional examples of their kind… yeah, yeah, there is a definite trend towards “I’m an X but Y” where in the written lore the two variables are – not mutually exclusive, but outlandish and absurd.

Now there’s nothing wrong with playing a quirky character, and there’s nothing wrong with playing an outcast, happy people with cushy lives don’t go out adventuring… unless they do, you have to play the guy who got bored with life and took up the sword and fireballs at some point.

For example, you can be the pirate paladin, hells, I’ve literally just done it, an enforcer of the honour amongst thieves, share your loot, say nothing to the cops, and if you don’t play nice with your other underhanded brethren expect to be smote in your sleep (I can do that, my god said I could). But there is a balance to be struck between quirky and different and wacky and outlandish. Fantasy is supposed to be outlandish, so is sci-fi to an extent, but there is a difference between a Ferengi whose bad at business and decides to join Star Fleet, and a Ferengi who hates greed and money grubbing behaviour and lives like a peasant out of choice, that Ferengi would be stoned to death, like the guy who decided to roll that character. That character would be a pariah, that character should be a pariah, and that’s how the world would treat them, and that player would have to come to terms with that before they sit down or have a miserable time at the table.

Giving your character a place in the world, ties to nations, loyalty to factions, all offer potential for characters to be part of the world, opening avenues of role play and adventure, not to mention having allies may prove essential if a character is a loner and outcast. A character with family is – of course – asking for more trouble than the half-klingon-half-tiefling warlock of Salvatore, but it’s more dramatic and awesome trouble than it is painful and contrived awesome. It is more epic to have to leap to your death to save your estranged brother than it is to have everyone in every town you enter ask what the hell you are.

Hybrid characters are relatively easy to dismiss as a concept, you can play the pure biology card: “the pairing doesn’t work, no offspring can come of the union” or in the case of divinely or fiend-touched bloodlines, one lineage dominates, but if your player can present you with a well-reasoned, well balanced race that fits the world then by all means let it through… but let’s be honest here, it sounds like that’s not the kind of player we’re talking about here.

I for one have been lucky, I only rarely have to deal with such characters and they are usually only in single-game adventures, the kind that you want the obscene and ridiculous concepts so you can squeeze as much ridiculousness out of three hours as possible, however, might I suggest requesting from players that they either:

  • Follow guidelines to character creation, such as making membership to a faction mandatory, like Star Fleet, or a Ravnica guild as examples, or excluding certain races. It may seem harsh at first but given justification you’d be surprised how many players can get behind “the plan”.
  • Have new players pitch two or three character concepts. Clearly you’re dealing with some excessively creative people… maybe too creative… and giving them that brief will let them explore a few ideas, while allowing you to pick a selection that you think will gel together best.
  • Talk to the players once they’ve given their characters, and impress upon them the hard life they face as their chosen character, and ask if they’re willing to face that played out in game.

If, after all of the above, they still can’t play your way, clearly, yours is not the group for them.

 

And for the record, it was both legs, and it was one time! He was fine! He was walking around on them for months of game time with surprisingly little issue. He just spent a lot on replacing leg-wear.


If you have a question… ask it! I might even answer in this ridiculously long and rambling format. I’m not promising to turn this into a series, but when if it happens, it happens, and I’m perfectly fine with it. Other people have made a series of “Dear Dungeon Master” letters, but don’t let that stop you coming to me… this is fun!


Unique Builds: When Playing A Game Becomes Playing The Game

I’m such a sucker for strange, unique builds in video games that I thought it’d be fun to chat about it. If you don’t know what I mean by making a unique build, or even what making a build is, then think of it like this: Each character has a preferential way to be played. A warrior wouldn’t spec in wisdom, in Dungeons & Dragons terms, not normally anyway. So when I get given the opportunity to go a little bit maverick, I really enjoy doing so. From creating completely custom classes, through to mix and matching armour sets to have strange effects, I love unique builds – And here’s why.

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Welcome to Meadsbridge – A D&D Sandbox

Gigantic eagles circle the bay, plucking seagulls clean from the sky, as the gangplank is run out from the Merchant Knave. You push your way past the rushing deckhands down to the complex network of piers and jetties stretching out from below the bluff, that spirals up to the height of the city. As you step down you can hear the hollering of people in the simple armour of guardsmen, calling out in a variety of languages, and in a few moments you find one shouting over the crowd in a language you understand:

“Welcome to Meadsbridge! While within the confines of the city you will abide by the following laws…”

It’s something I’ve considered doing for a while but I’ve never had the recruitment power for it, a world big enough, and so full of adventure that it could support multiple groups. A couple of years ago, before resolving to be a DM for hire, I watched a video about a particular style of gameplay, The West Marches that put better form to the idle thought, and now I have a way of reaching new players.

The Concept

Adventurers are centred in a single area, a point of civilisation on the brink of wilderness, within which lies adventure. There can be dozens of players, all gathered in the city of Meadsbridge, talking, communicating, sharing what they’ve found, recruiting for expeditions in the great green beyond to learn more and more about their surroundings, and follow rumours about some of the plot hooks that I have seeded throughout the small-nation sized space mapped out beyond… my map, they’re not allowed to see it.

Of course you may not want – or be able to share information, some players have already landed themselves far from Meadsbridge in one of the outlying settlements with no easy way to communicate with the larger settlements nearby, and have already got a couple of secrets they’d rather not share with everyone… but they’ll soon learn that without friends, they’ll find themselves in fatal situations with no one to depend upon for help.

The players will need to keep their ears out for rumours and plot hooks, not just from one another, but also the citizens of the cities and settlements, and the wandering caravans beyond. Wandering into the wilds will yield some results, but the true treasures must be sought, rather than stumbled across.

Every hex on the map (built in hexographer if you’re interested) works out to roughly half a day’s travel on foot, about fifteen miles, and for every half-day of travel there is an enormous random encounter table, with changing regional effects, different possibilities depending on the intent of travel, some fixed landmarks that can help with navigation, such as the estuary or certain distant forests, ridges, and settlements. The region is awash with bandits, gnolls, incursions of demons, hidden enclaves of halflings, dwarven mines, hives of serpentflies, nests of manticores and griffons, and the spawning lakes of whales. There are about a dozen side-quests, dungeons, and wandering monsters to pursue with more being added constantly, and amidst all of it a hidden story, scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle between the people who set out from that single point of light and into the darkness.

Which sounds grandiose for a project that is little more than a Facebook community page, but as the first dozen players are starting to scratch the surface, now felt like the time to share the ridiculous scope of the Meadsbrdige wilderness.

Character Creation

For this MMTTRPG I’ve made the process of character creation a guided affair for two reasons:

The first is to try and keep things fair. Players still roll dice to determine their statistics, but those rolls have an inverse effect on your character choices later on. Points are used to buy things like the ability to choose your race and class, or to start with a magic item, or a map, or additional information, and the better your stats, the fewer of those points you receive. A player with bad stats can choose to start at second level rather than first. It makes people whose dice rolls have turned against them feel a little more empowered.

And second is to create something a little more unique and immersive. Four human nations, a twist on the subraces of both halflings and dwarves, a little more personality granted to elves, and four different human nations. Additionally I have traded the classic exotic races (dragonborn, gnomes, half elves, half orcs, and tieflings) with a collection from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, aasimar to reflect that the world is young, and the blood of gods still flows in mortal veins, goliaths and firbolgs, as giants are prolific across the world, and kenku and lizardfolk from far-off lands to lend some mystery to the world at large.

Caduceus Clay and Nila of Critical Role

Once a character is made each player gets a short .pdf with all the information they need to get started, and a hefty chunk of lore that they can dive into for inspiration. Any character options, like their magic items, extra rumours, or anything else they might have chosen gets added to this file. After a few levels of play, players may want to retire their character, because doing so yields more options at character creation, with additional points depending on the successes and deeds of their last character, and the positive behaviours of the player.

The Shropshire Dungeon Master IX

So this is kind of a business diary, because this grand idea of mine (that I stole) currently has thirteen players, of which only seven have played, and four more at the weekend. recruiting isn’t too difficult, as interest is always high, the problem will be finding venues for games as most of the groups will eventually be strangers to one another (to start with) and will want to meet on neutral ground, at least for their first few sessions. Pubs are often busy, and most private spaces require a fee – usually more than my margin, thus negating the point of running games as a living.

As regular readers know – especially if you read my old DMing 101 series – I do not like playing online, it’s fine for some, and has some amazing benefits, but I find it hinders the enjoyment of the game and as my players now pay to be at the table, I want them to have the best experience possible.

I have been working on this project for months and it is so gratifying to roll it out to real players, but I knew there would be pitfalls and problems, and there’s a certain amount of fun to be found in overcoming those problems, but when your players are your customers it’s always better to be on top of the minor issues so that the game is the focus of the experience, not the days spent finding a table at which to play.

This April I will be disappearing a long way north for a week to run a long game of D&D at the Wargaming Nationals that I attended last year, and then shortly thereafter at Insomnia in Birmingham. Additionally in June, I have a table at Comics Salopia and upcoming celebration of Shropshire’s deep connection to the comic book industry, the wealth of local artists and writers, and I will be raising by geeky standard and running games for anyone who comes to see.