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RPTools

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Several days ago, I bid my regular role playing group, with whom I've had the pleasure of hosting several successful campaigns, a fond farewell, as the majority of them were no longer able to reliably commit to our weekly sessions. Of the various reasons this had transpired, chief among them was the issue of transportation, as a strangely prevalent trend of geographical relocation had taken hold of many families in my area (read: they all moved away). Where others may have seen a definitive end to their familiar group of players, I saw an opportunity to familiarize myself with the various practices and technologies of 'long-distance role playing'. I know not if their resolve to play is as great as mine, or if their commitment to the game will follow them wherever they lead, but I'll do my best to facilitate the process of adapting our around this new obstacle. Even in the event of catastrophic failure, I'll surely be wiser and more informed from the experience.

As previously mentioned, this is a relatively recent challenge I've undertaken; therefore, I unfortunately have little to offer by way of informed, experienced guidance on the matters of long-distance role playing. Be this as it may, I've decided to supplement what little knowledge I have to offer with a brief 'spotlight' on a website with a number of resourceful tools and a dedicated community:


www.rptools.net

The programs offered on this site, though a bit technically daunting for those uninitiated in Java, are well-built, customizable, and well-suited for the specific roles. 'DiceTool' and 'InitiativeTool' aren't anything we haven't seen before, but the other three, particularly 'MapTool', are definitely worth noting. As revealed by my veteran role playing contacts and personally tested in preliminary trials, it serves as an excellent virtual medium for representing the board/field-of-battle/play area/etc.; especially when paired with 'CharacterTool'. For managing out-of-character communications and general connectivity, I've been instructed to survey the ever-popular 'Skype'; a program with which I'm sure many of you are already familiar. For those who aren't, it appears to provide registered users with a means to communicate through both instant messaging and voice chat, a feat accomplished with 'Voice over Internet Protocal' (VoIP) and the technologies pertaining thereof. I won't bore you with the technical details, primarily because I've never previously attempted to utilize its services, but I can say that there appears to be much confidence in the Skype + MapTools combination within the role playing community (the one I frequent, anyway).

Hopefully, this will be just the thing I need to keep us all together.

I thank you for your time and attention.

The Unemployed Geek

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I'm not much of a professional critic, nor am I particularly skilled appraiser of the various aspects of tabletop gaming, but I like to think I can recognize a valuable resource when I see it. When such a discovery is made, I verify its authenticity as best I can, and provide it to you, my dear readers. This reliable process has guided me through every post viewed on this space, and has lead to my first advertisement of a foreign, yet truly exceptional tabletop-(amongst other things) oriented blog:

http://gettingmyheadonstraight.blogspot.com/

The titular proprietor of this blog, as evidenced by his wealth of knowledge that spans 100+ posts (and counting), clearly knows what he's talking about. Whether it's a meditation on video games, comic books, convention activities, or good old tabletop gaming, he's sure to offer a clear, concise, and (usually) impartial overview of the subject material within a post of appropriate length. Quite frankly, I can't say much about his work, for it already speaks volumes for itself. However, I will confess, with a measure of stinging pride, that I'm quite envious of the vastness of his 'geek know-how'; a depth of intelligence concerning the various mediums of fantasy/fiction and the industries relevant to their production (someday, I hope to match this impressive amount of experience, but I'm sure that will come, with time).

This impressive mastery of the 'geek' lore, paired with the consistent quality (and quantity) of his posts, sets the stage for quite a shock when one examines the total count of his followers. This passive tally may not mean much to you, but to me, it shows a disturbing lack of recipients for his insightful advice and wisdom concerning subjects often displayed on my blog. So, if you're seeking to expand your understanding of the world of entertainment outside of tabletop gaming, or if you simply wish to refine certain skills within said niche, I urge you to subscribe to his publications. If it's not too much of a bother, I'm sure a little more exposure for him wouldn't hurt, either.


Thank you, for your time and attention.

How to Run a Horror Game: Part 2

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After a regrettably extended period of delay, I present to you, my patient readers, a medley of creative horror 'scenarios' one may use to punctuate their horror/suspense game of choice (as provided by the usual gang of grizzled GM's).

“Enact a 'sanity' system. whenever the player loses sanity points, hand them a slip of paper with a phrase/command/nonsense on it to represent the voices in the their head.

Make it sound harmless at first:
"Stare suspiciously at the player to your left, then draw a finger across your throat. Deny everything afterward."
"You suddenly have a craving for steak. Rare as possible."
"Everything will be OK. This is not your fault."


As things progress, make them more and more malevolent and creepy:

"Until you cut it out, we will always be able to track you"

"It's weAring his skin. iT's watChing you frOm behind hiS eYes"

"Please wake up. None of this is real. You're just having a nightmare. Please wake up."”


“Give them a stat that doesn't really do anything. Whenever things get tense, have them roll it, then pretend to jot down some notes. Makes 'em paranoid as fuck.”


“The party moves their conversation into a room which they can lock and is private so they can discuss their plan. Suddenly a knock is heard on the door. If the party ignores the knocking, it will continue. If someone asks "Who's there?" There will be no answer. The knocking will only stop once a party member opens the door. The doorway will be empty and so will the accompanying hallway. The party member can then shut and re-lock the door. A short time later, the knocking will come at the door again. Once again, no answer, and when the door is opened,the knocking stops. Shutting the door again, the party member only has to walk away from the door for a moment, before this is another round of knocking. This time when the party member opens the door, there will be a piece of paper laying on the floor at the foot of the door. If the PC reads the paper, it will say:


"Now we are all inside."”


“You may have to use your DM powers to just plain old fuck with the players. I once had a mission that ran through a haunted mine. There were un-killable monsters, sections of tunnel that were never the same twice, I would change details and act as if I never did, I would be purposely ambiguous about my descriptions of things, and I would implement plenty of "false trails;" hinting that something is about to happen but it really doesn't. Another good thing is to just make your players roll for stuff when they're just walking along. You don't even have to tell them what, or they could be rolling for nothing, as long as they believe something bad might happen.”


“Have the PCs in an area with a wall sized mirror and a strong light source. As they're passing through the room, the light flickers. If the party looks at the mirror, they see their shadow instead of their reflection. If they look at their shadows, they instead see their reflections, which smiles calmly and mouths a phrase before the light flickers again and everything returns to normal. If any PCs can read lips, they would understand the message: "Now it's your turn to switch around.””


“A tumbleweed blows across the street. Funny; they're not native to this area. It blows back again the other way. The PCs pass it. It starts to follow them. It has teeth.”


“The barber pole lights up and starts twirling if a male PC passes it. Raw screams can be heard from inside the shop, though there's nobody to be seen. The screams sound as though they are being made through a gashed throat rather than someone's mouth.”


“If the PCs venture into the cinema, a perfectly ordinary movie is playing (something the PCs would be familiar with), but all the characters are dead.”


“The supermarket/grocery shop is offering a special on eyeballs.”

“The PC's stop at an abandoned diner; the name of a missing/deceased PC inexplicably appears on a long-discarded menu.


(Today's Special: John T. Smith

-John Smith Chops
-John Smith Stew

-etc.)”


“Corpses lie in the streets, quite obviously dead (gangrenous, bloated, all that), surrounded by clouds of buzzing flies. Every so often, the corpses swat at the flies, but then lie still again.


“The PC's encounter another "traveler", a man/woman/child with no weapons and absolutely no flaws at all, physical or mental. The person is extremely nice and helpful, and the monsters seem to avoid him or her. Beneath the streetlights, it seems like you can see the person's shadow moving in strange ways out of the corner of your eyes. Its movements don't correlate to those of the person casting it.”


“An orchestra is apparently taking place within one of the buildings, which has flickering lights in the windows. It grows louder as one approaches, but as soon as you enter the building from which the sound emanates, the lights go out and there is the sound of hushed whispers. Investigation finds a conductor's music stand and seats for all the band members, but no one is there. Occasionally a whisper comes out of a darkened corner.”


“Hoarse whispers float up from open manholes. "Save me," they say, accompanied by the sound of grinding rock and splashing sewage.”


“The player walk past a graffiti-covered wall--one prominent piece is a child's drawing of a door. Behind them, they hear the sound of a very rusty hinge squeaking. If they look back, the door is now real, and open.”


“There it is again.

And again.

They didn’t imagine it the first time they heard it. Shuffling footsteps that are intermittently carried on the still air of this unnaturally quiet town. Also, the faint clink of what sounds like chains being dragged.“


“As they walk through the swirling white silence they think they hear a pit-pattering echo to their steps. The soft noise stops each time they hesitate, so that one cannot tell if what they heard was real or just a figment of their apprehension. They feel the cold chill as a drift of the fog caresses their faces. It is then that a soft child’s voice whispers, “Tagged, I’ve got you!”, then a giggle in a high sweet laugh that seems to come from every direction at once.“


“They hear the yowls of a distant cat fight, which is strange because they have yet to see any animal life since coming here.”


“When gazing into a reflection in a pane of glass, a PC sees briefly the face of a dead loved one looking over their shoulder.”


“Pieces of shredded newspaper blow down the street. If a character reads a piece, the text therein at first seems to be describing their personal failings, predicting their doom or revealing some deep personal shame, but on second glance this is just a coincidental sentence/headline to an otherwise unremarkable news story.”


“You and a friend sit in the living room watching a videotape you made of yourselves talking at around 4:30 AM a few nights ago, laughing at your nocturnal antics. As you enjoy the absurdity of your conversation, you notice that the figures on the screen have stopped speaking, and are staring intently. As this continues, you start to speak to your friend, when you're interrupted by your videotape counterpart saying exactly the words that were leaving your mouth in a mocking tone.”


“Billboards or posters advertising the PC's and their various sins and flaws.”


“Several monsters re-enact an important scene from a PC's life, with just enough details (a certain jacket, out of place props) for the PC to recognize the scene, even though all of the dialogue consists of grunts and growls. If the PC's allow the scene to play through to its completion, the monsters revert to normal behavior and attack.”


“A school bus full of child-like monsters, apparently asleep. They can wake up.”



I hope you (and your players) have found that the wait was well worth it.

How to Run a Horror Game: Part 1

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Hosting a truly memorable game of the 'Horror/Suspense' genre is doubtlessly one of the greatest challenges of role playing know-how one can undertake. With a complete dependence on atmosphere and player immersion, the delicate pacing and scare tactics needed to frighten one's participants will separate the good storytellers from the great ones; amateurs need not apply. With this daunting task before us, we turn to our peers for assistance, drawing upon their attempts at inflicting psychological stress. Though I've no intention of running my own fear fest in the near future, I've been able to procure much quality advice concerning this formidable challenge from the usual collective of experienced and competent Hosts/Players with which I'm very fortunate to interactive with on a regular basis.

Without further ado, I shall now present a general 'how-to' on crafting and executing a Horror/Suspense game; initially provided by the brilliant 'Dr. Baron von Evilsatan'.

"How do you create horror?

Atmosphere.

Atmosphere and willing participation.

You cannot scare someone who doesn't want to be scared. You are describing things verbally, and if the player refuses to imagine them, they will never be scared of them.

Atmosphere is how they will imagine them. Use small wrongs to build up tension, larger wrong to accelerate that tension, and when that tension is at its peak, hit them with a horror set-piece. They won't accept either of the latter early on, because they're not in the mood. The small wrongs are there to get them to set their disbelief back just that little bit, and push up the tension slightly higher. That lets you worm in something more wrong, and the process repeats. Never drop a set-piece until they are demonstrating physical signs of discomfort or you'll waste it. The walls, roof, and floor of the giant room you're in all growing faces and starting to sing folkloric music is silly if you aren't in the mood, but if you ARE in the mood, it will fuck you up chronically.

Something critical to your success, or failure, in a horror game will be rules.


Rules provide predictability. Rules provide stability. Rules provide a known quantity to which everything can be reduced. These are all bad things for horror. If you want to make horror that works, you have to be willing to adapt the rules of the game to meet your needs. You need to keep the players tense and on-guard, especially if you intend to use their paranoia against them. Follow the rules, more or less, but make sure you change them. Make large changes to the rules and keep them that way for a while. Make a one-off exception. Change something,then change it back soon after. If possible, use a system the players are not intimately familiar with. If the players lose the sense of predictability known rules provide, it firstly provides tension, and more subtly, forces them to listen to your descriptions as a whole, instead of just hearing the relevant stats and rolls. That in turn makes them more susceptible to horror tactics. Be sparing, though. Make sure every change is backed by, and appears to have been caused by, something operating in the game world. If they draw causality from there they will pay more attention to the game world, and that makes them listen more and imagine. This also ensures that your players will believe that there are rules. While you don't have to let the players know what the rules are, and you should never do so for horror, the players have to believe a set of rules exist or they will instantly have all immersion destroyed as they realize this is purely based on arbitrary whim. They won't see the point in playing if their cause doesn't lead to an effect.


The challenges the players face are the basis of the game. I like to divide the challenges the players will face into four categories here, for ease of description. First, normal threats. These are threats you can beat by fighting, as in a normal game. Normal things for that world. These challenges the players will beat by fighting. If they run, they escape, but the threat remains. If they ignore it, they get hurt. If they play along, well, work it.These should start the game, to establish the rules you're going to change. As the game progresses, these challenges should get more and more difficult to fight, without actually becoming implausible to beat, to maintain tension.


Next are the Unstoppables. These are challenges, threats, or things that the players can't reasonably overcome. They should run from these,as fighting will get them hurt, ignoring will get them hurt worse, and playing along will get them hurt worst of all. These should come up soon.As the game progresses, these become more dangerous, going from likely hurt, to certain hurt with death chance, to certain death with only a notional chance of survival.


Next, comes the phantasmal challenges. These are challenges that aren't, usually the result of twisted perceptions. They come up later in the piece, once the rules have been changing considerably. These threats cannot be fought without being hurt, and cannot be run from because they will just follow. If you play along you'll either get hurt or stay trapped. The only way out is to ignore them. These must come later in the piece, so that the tone of the campaign already fits things undefeatable by normal methods. The effectiveness of such threats is overwhelmingly based on your description. As the game progresses, these should be less and less obvious, and take more effort to discern the 'escape move'.


Finally, there are the ineffable challenges. These are challenges the players cannot beat, run from, or ignore safely. To escape these, the character must play along, or find a mental escape. Think the Creepy kid from movies and games. These are often the part of the Big Threatof a horror campaign. These have to come latest in the piece, because firstly you need something that is threatening enough that the players have to play along, and secondly you need to show them subtly how to do these. As you progress, these challenges should take more complex, vicious, or unwanted actions from players to play along.


At first, keep all the different challenge types distinct. Then, as the players start to figure out the differences, blur the visual lines. Then, blur the actual lines of the rules. Always leave the players in doubt as to what it is they should do here. Not crippling doubt, save for big setpieces,but ensure every time they plan to deal with something there's that niggling concern in their minds that this might not be the way they think it is.


Pacing is next. This will come down to your ability to read players, and set the pace appropriately, but I find that when I run campaigns a fast pace works best. Always keep things moving slightly faster than the players want to. Don't give them time to stop and think. They start analyzing, they start wondering, they start to figure out the rules and your part in playing them. Keep them moving fast, and don't let them quite catch their breath, and the tension will keep up. Vary the pace slightly, to keep it interesting. Generally accelerate things towards the end. I like to keep the denouement of my horror campaigns with things moving so fast the players barely have any idea what's going on, which is extremely effective in building up the tension. Force them to choose fast, and give them the worst result if they don't choose quick. Just make sure you don't push it too far, into the realm of being unfair instead of just tense, or they'll stop playing along.


Also, if you think you can do it well, try to throw in sudden stops near the end. Points at which everything just slows down. If you've turned on the little paranoia in the players' heads, this will drive them insane. Do this very rarely, though, or it gets very obvious and very old.


Be descriptive. Being descriptive is utterly vital in horror. A good descriptive GM can make anything seem scary. A mechanical rote DM will make having Yawgmoth propose to you seem mundane and uninteresting. I can't tell you how to be descriptive, since everyone has their own style, and trying to play to another person's style just doesn't work. What I can do is give you a few tricks.


The first, and most common, way of creating tension is the 'nearly there'. That's where you take something very ordinary, and change just the littlest bit. That exploits the players' familiarity, and can work quite well. Another trick if you can do it well is to exploit that familiarity further and not fill in that missing detail until later, playing it as the characters having overlooked it. If you can do that well, it works wonders, making their acceptance of something comfortable even more disturbing. Something like an ordinary beach, plain sand, plain water, buckets, pails,dead fish every so often, and a little seaweed. All rather ordinary, save that the waves are rushing outwards from the sand. Be subtle here,though. Doing this hamfistedly will just annoy your players, kill the mood, and destroy the tension you so painstakingly built up.


Next comes the opposite, or the things that are just wrong, except for one small detail. Focus more on the one small detail than the wrongs.This is more effective once tension has built up, and the players are more willing to accept the strange.


Then comes the outright wrong, where there are no redeeming or familiarizing features to a thing. This only works once tension has mounted considerably and the players accept these things without thinking. Because these depend on their alien-ness, use them as sparingly as possible. They make good cores for horror set-pieces.


Finally, there's the absolutely normal. Only working once the tension has driven your players paranoid, this is something that appears completely normal because it is. Once you've been encountering the horrific and ineffable for hours at a time, something completely normal represents a drastic shift in the rules. You can, if you're good, achieve more fear from something utterly normal than something ostensibly terrifying.


Critically for all descriptive GMing, be descriptive, not prescriptive. The more alien a thing is, the less direct the information should be. Ideally,you want most of your descriptions to raise far more questions than they answer. Even the most horrific known thing can only be as horrific as it is. The unknown, though, is as horrific as everything it can be.


Description is also where you produce real fear in your players. When something goes wrong in horror, never let it be a strict number, or simple YOU ARE DEAD. When something goes wrong, it should be incredibly unpleasant. If what the players fear about failure is that death means end of game no more rewards, you've failed. If the players fear failure because of what happened to their character the last time they fucked up, you're doing it right. A player doesn't fall to zero HP and die; they have their ribs torn open and feel the edges of their vision fading,as they desperately try to stop the bleeding from everywhere at once. They don't get hit by a shadow damage trap, they're sucked violently into a shadow on the floor, fingers gouging tracks in the wood, and after falling under screams of primal fear and pain can be heard from insidethe walls, before the character inexplicably falls through the roof, bloodied, and with a look of utter terror on their face.


Seeing as we're on description and its role in producing horror, there are some types of horror eminently suited for role playing, and many that are not. Don't use 'BOO' horror. It is purely visual and doesn’t work at all here. Even if it did it is the worst kind of horror and is only used in compensation for the failure of the creator to produce something meaningfully terrifying.


Disturbing horror, as in describing things that just make you feel personally uncomfortable, takes exceptional skill, since it's completely dependent on your ability to read your players. If you can do it and maintain it just below the point at which the player has had enough and just leaves the game, do so. If you can't read the player, don't try. Also, don't do it to any player unless you can do it to all, as it'll make that player feel you're trying to go after him personally.


Fear of consequence works well, since the total control over the character and the tension you're creating work to make players empathize with and become immersed in their characters. This is where the consequences mentioned above become truly upsetting.


Paranoia creation works perfectly here, since you have complete control over information, and the players are inherently using their imaginations. Use it, and use it well.


'WHAT THE SHIT IS THAT' may or may not work. That all comes down to your ability as a descriptive GM. If it does, exploit it mercilessly.


On a side note, the use of motifs can work very well in horror. Try to associate all the worst events in the game with one motif, and put them before it. The tinkly music box is one of them, or a certain NPC's voice, or anything. If you use that motif and the players immediately start to get visibly tense, you're doing it right.


There is also the option of fucking with the players, and turning them on each other, but that is a very individual choice. It may work; it may not, all depending on your group.


If you want to do like I do sometimes and create a setting where the players are almost outright hostile to each other but work together still solely because they need to survive, combine separation and concentration to produce mutual paranoia. Being alone makes them uncomfortable, since they don't have any support and they don't have anything to confirm that what they see is real. Being with someone else makes them uncomfortable, since there is an excellent chance that they aren't who they say they are or even real. Remember to slide a note to one or both or all players every time they meet, even if it's blank. Sometimes, it will say 'you are an angry/sad/violent/helpful hallucination/ghost/disguised enemy' or 'you are his friend, but have become slightly/significantly/murderously hostile/anti-pathic/helpful/lustful for reason XYZ;. It takes work, but making players completely distrust one another without once making an actual PC willingly betray them makes for excellent horror. You want to create that unique-to-horror feeling of immense relief followed by deep suspicion every time you see another living human.


Or, for a less personal feel, do like 'FEAR', and have the other players almost always good, but with the caveat that if you ever meet another person it's because something absolutely horrible is about to happen to both of you. This is my personal favorite, because they instinctively want to stay other players and NPC's to feel safe, but the moment they actually see someone else they try to get away from each other as soon as possible because something nasty will happen. Try to capture that feeling from FEAR where you're screaming at the screen NO YOU FUCKHEAD DON'T MEET UP WITH ME YOU'RE GOING TO GET BRUTALLY FUCKING KILLED.


One trick I like to use in that situation is to have the players roll up multiple characters. Not individually, since that creates a sense of private-ness, but as a group. Hand them ten character sheets and tell them to fill them out as a group. They take one character at a time, and you work the others as you need to in the plot or under their direction if not. This gives you a much greater ability to produce incredibly harsh consequence, without compromising the extent to which players empathize with their characters, and turn up the difficulty considerably to add to the horror without making the game objectively more difficult. It does add an enormous amount of extra administration, though, so be careful with it.


There's more, but at this point I've completely lost track of my mental organization of this stuff. Just remember the basic rules of horror GMing:

The rules system is irrelevant.

The content is unimportant.

Delivery is everything."


Truly inspiring stuff. For my next post, I think I'll expand upon his masterful guidance and provide some bite-sized samples/material for your enjoyment.

The Board Game Geeks

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Tabletop gamers, with their numerous experiences dealing with all sorts of precarious scenarios, diabolical traps, and formidable opponents, often consider themselves above and beyond the paltry offerings of board games. This statement's validity, though existential, may be overestimated, in some cases. The most likely source of this possible exaggeration would be the scope within which one has been exposed to board games in general. For those whom the term exclusively conjures images of the 'Monopoly Man' and 'Trivial Pursuits', I'd like to take the opportunity to broaden your horizons with what I consider to be one of the most respectable and well-categorized collection of board gaming know-how on the internet:

http://boardgamegeek.com/

Even those with previously experience or knowledge of the relatively obscure selections presented upon the site, it's worth noting that a healthy collection of a few quality, engaging board games can complement even the most die-hard tabletop gamer's arsenal. In fact, quite a few of these offerings can provide an experience quite difficult to reproduce without such a specially-designed box of equipment. 'Ultimate Werewolf', for example, can provide entertainment for a large party with a group role playing experience for up to 68 players. The 'Arkham Horror' materials, on the other hand, serve nicely as an introduction to the world of tabletop gaming for the uninitiated. In any case, it's always pleasant to surprise your group and/or break up any possible monotony with a nice, informal board game.

Common Pitfalls of Tabletop Gaming: Apathy

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To better illuminate the purpose of this post's title and content, I'd like to start by elaborating upon my usage of "apathy". It is, within our relevant context, a loss of interest in a specific facet of tabletop gaming (as opposed to disillusionment with the entire convention). Whether that be a specific role (Host/Player), game (WH40K/D&D), genre (Hyper-Realism/High Fantasy), or some combination of the three. The disinterest in these factors, while unique to any given situation, can range from a gradual erosion in general enjoyment, to a sudden, overwhelming abhorrence for all things relating to the offender in question. Such gross reactions, though seldom, can serve as the catalyst for the disbandment of an otherwise stable group; a fate I hope to help circumvent with the possible alternatives/remedies listed below.

Options for the Burned-Out Host

Hosting responsibilities tend to be rather inflexible; that is, once a group has designated one of their own as "The Host/GM/DM/etc.", they tend to retain the position for most of the foreseeable future. While this may be in the best interest for the Players and/or the group as a whole, a few months (or even years!) of this can leave even the best of us jaded and embittered.

Edit: Case in point (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/12/13/)

So, before quitting in a huff, try these first:

-Host Rotation
Ideally, your group would be cycling between each others' places of residence, but even if your abode is the sole locale available for gaming, the duties of running the actual sessions can easily be rotated on a regular basis. To implement this plan, all one needs is a concise, written summary of the overarching plot and the key details/events pertaining thereof. With this blueprint as a guide, each Player can create their own minor details that make up the bulk of play time; instilling a mechanic not entirely unlike the traditional game in which individuals sit around and take turns adding improvisational chapters onto an original story one of them had initially started.

-Schedule Change
Has running the same genre/system/theme for a year or so drained you of your vitality? Perhaps some communication with the Players is in order. If they aren't receptive to the idea of switching games mid-campaign, offer the possibility of adding another day of gaming to your schedule, reserved specifically for a new, fresh style of play (barring the implementation of yet another day of gaming, perhaps a rotation of content within your existing schedule could be negotiated?).

-Skip a Session (or two)
Sometimes nothing beats stepping back and recollecting yourself (tactfully done, of course). The promise of new, freshly inspired content after the lapse in activity will certainly win over even the most staunch objectors.

Options for the Burned-Out Player

-Friend Swap
For the typical purveyor of tabletop war gaming, the prospect of forming and assembling an army is one of great commitment and dedication. Unfortunately, this investment of resources can be quite regretful, if one finds themselves suddenly dissatisfied with their forces. This may be inflicted by a seemingly drastic change in game play rules or a simple matter of stagnation. In any case, your options are admittedly limited, but a trusted friend with similar interests may be open to the idea of temporarily trading figurines; permitting you both a new experience and a deeper understanding of the game in question.

-Concept Change
If you've been consistently stuck as the burly, hard-hitting tank of your gaming group, perhaps it's high time to try your hand the squishy, nimble ranged fighter. If the other Players simply can't do without their veteran damage sponge, an alteration of mere aesthetics or role playing style may do. Instead of the usual dashing, armor-clad paladin that absorbs punishment with a collection of iron and magic, the role of a drunken, uncouth man-mountain of prodigious muscular fortitude could be a refreshing change.

-Skip a Session (or two)
Much like the Host, a properly excused leave of absence can work wonders for one's creatives processes. Just make sure whomever is in charge of your character's actions in the meantime has both of your best interests in mind (or is an impartial party, in the very least).

It's my best hopes that you've found the above material to be informative, concise, and sufficient in preserving the integrity of your group's collective enjoyment. The loss of passion for something that once fascinated yourself and others is truly a terrible thing and I'm happy to do what I can to avert/correct such malady.

Survival Tips for the Horror Gamer

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For those interested in the 'horror/suspense' genre of role-playing games, I can attest, despite my limited experience in the matter, that it can be a very engaging and memorable experience, especially when conducted with a suitable ambiance. That said, it's also worth mentioning that these sessions can be wrought with frustration, as the gritty, visceral combat typically provided by most systems can be quite hazardous to a player character's health. Which is why, in a game like 'Call of Cthulhu'* where the average lifespan of said character is comparable to that of a mayfly, some pointers are needed to stay on top of things. With this in mind, I, with the aid of a number of my tabletop gaming acquaintances, saw it fit to spend a uneventful evening compiling a list of general 'pointers' for lengthening what meager lifespan your Host has seen fit to provide your avatar in this world of fictional terror.

*Given special mention due to the fact that this list had originally been conceived to serve as a general guide to playing said game. Veterans of the Lovecraft mythos will no doubt spy quite a few quality tips born directly from this initial focus.


-Always carry one more magazine than you expect to use.

-Have you just inherited a mansion whose previous owner went mad, died horribly or simply vanished? Never ever sleep in the master bedroom, explore the unmapped caverns beneath the cellar and never try to find the source of that insane piping-sound going on at night. In fact, never ever visit the mansion in question.

-Wimps fondle guns. Real Men fondle Doomsday-devices.

-Conduct investigations while the sun is still above the horizon. The common idea that night is the proper time for sneaking around and committing B&E is even deadlier than The Thousand-Faced Rotting Bubble-Person From Beyond ever could be.

-The abandoned mine never is.

-Always bring a handgun, that way you can make sure that one of your friends will be in no shape to run when your group is chased by outer-dimensional hunting-creatures, thereby giving the horrible being something other than you to munch on. Hopefully.

-If in doubt, empty the magazine.

-Old Nazis never die. Period.

-Reading books is for the colleague you keep locked up in the nice room with soft walls.

-Never become good friends with University professors. They are the living embodiment of trouble. In fact, watch out for people whose job is to read books, specifically old books, or 'tomes', as they like to call them. They always want help after having summoned The Horrible Horror with a Shady Reputation. Helping them will get you dead right quick or, at the very least, insane. Surreal happenings or outer-dimensional summoning may be commonplace in their lives; better not make it commonplace in your life.

-Never let your less-than-sane colleague carry the explosives.

-Never go abroad. If you, for any reason, have to go abroad it better not be as a crew member on an expedition.

-An autopsy-room is not a "safe place".

-Egypt and Antarctica kills off more investigators each year than cancer does.

-Any dark strangers offering you gifts and favors should be avoided like the plague.

-Always bring explosives. Not pansy explosives like grenades, instead bring bundles of TNT. Going to your cousins wedding? Great! Just remember to pack the TNT. TNT is good for some many things, like blowing up blasphemous temples or horrible proto-masses. Failing that, TNT makes great firewood for your final bonfire.

-When contemplating ways to execute your mission: think "Overkill".

-Never join a cult or sect. Enough said.

-Sleep is only a bad substitute for caffeine.

-Curiosity did not kill the cat. Some unspeakable horror did. Not only that, it also turned the cat inside out, had pseudo pods grow from every orifice imaginable, gave it a taste for human blood and made it six times larger than before. Now the cat is coming for you.

-Any offer to let you "Experience the Other Dimensions" should be tactfully declined ... with a shotgun blast.

-Stay well away from mountain cabins. Every mountain cabin comes with an obligatory psychopath. Some cabin-retailers may allow for the psychopath to be exchanged for an Unknown Horror Existing in Far Too Many Dimensions. Beware cabins!

-If you have no social skills: try 'physical interrogation'.

-Try not to live your life in England or New England. In fact, you should probably move to Sweden, a country where Mythos activity seems to be quite non-existent.

-There is no such thing as "too many guns".

-Avoid anything that can be associated with the words 'ancient', 'elder', 'forgotten', etc. I cannot emphasize this enough. Contracting Ebola is far more enjoyable than being torn to pieces over the course of seven years by the Ancient Guardian-Monstrosity.

-Gasoline. Refueling cars is only its secondary use.

-When dealing with beings of incomprehensible power, tread lightly. If you suddenly decompose, burst into flames, explode or suffer otherwise along similar lines you know you have done something wrong.

-On the other hand, if you deal with beings of incomprehensible power you are a right git and deserve nothing less. Steer well clear of Outer Gods, Elder Gods, Old Ones, etc.

-When you enter a government facility and the toilet-doors are marked: 'Men', 'Women' and 'Other' you might want to reconsider your position.

-Always save the last bullet for the moron who got you into this.

-If that moron isn't you, aim for the legs. If you're going to be eaten alive, so are they.

Technical Difficulties

9 comments
Having some trouble typing and submitting comments on the blogs of others for the time being

I'll do what I can to rectify this unusual issue and resume my regular supportive activities as soon as possible.

Edit: I believe I've fixed the problem.

Riddles 2: Riddle Harder

6 comments
It's been a while, and I do so take pleasure in these challenges, so I offer them here, in hopes that you'll enjoy them, too.

1. What happens twice in a week, once in a year, but never in a day?

2. Mary's father has 4 children; the first three are named 'Nana', 'Nene', and 'Nini'. What is the fourth child's name?

3. There is a word in which the first two letters signify a male, the first three a female, the first four a great man, and the whole word a great woman. What is it?

4. A man rides to town on Friday. He stays there for three days. Witnesses say he left town on Friday. How can this be?

5. How is a raven like a writing desk?

6. Who among you is the most disliked by the party?


---


1. The letter 'e'.

2. 'Mary', duh.

3. 'Heroine'

4. The horse is named 'Friday'.

5. They both open with a flap.

6. Not technically a riddle, as it has no 'correct' answer (I hope). Your group's reaction, however, may be quite amusing; it may even elicit some laughs as they reach a consensus. Afterward, just say "If you all agree, then it must be so" and carry on.


Not bad; quite entertaining, in my opinion. But those dealing with a particularly smart/intuitive/experienced player may need more. Something neigh unsolvable, perhaps?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Probability_theory_paradoxes
These selections, while unquestionably intricate, are somewhat relatable, as they often deal with matters of chance, rather than pure, technical knowledge.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unsolved_problems
Downright nasty in complexity; feel free to conjure a solution of your own, as applicable in your setting of choice.

GMPC's: A Discussion

12 comments
Quite recently, I found myself fortunate enough to be blessed with the company and conversation of yet another cadre of experienced Hosts. Of the various questions and concerns I had voiced, they seemed to be the most outspoken concerning our old friend, the game moderator (a.k.a. "Host") player character (GMPC).

"When you don't have enough players, it's perfectly fine to stick a DMPC in there as backup.

Just make sure they're actually backup and don't take attention away from the PCs. A good way to do this is to make a healer or other supportive role."

"I run a GMPC all the time.

I always choose a supporting role in combat, I refuse to be the party leader, and I always play the dice as they roll.

Playing a GMPC well means just being committed to the story and the others' fun, rather than being an arrogant, self-centered little shit."

"GMPCs can be safely handled if they specialize in support, say, a ranger to lead the party through Fuckscary Rapewoods safely, or an old sage who knows the cheatcodes for the bad guy's immortality spell. They also work well when you make the players hate them for being so important and powerful, then have the villain come over and instakill them, in some humiliating manner if possible. It helps to drive the point home.

Other than that, they don't really have a purpose, but as long as they don't compete for the spotlight they are fine."
All in all, I'm quite surprised by their generally constructive views on such characters. My previous estimations of the widespread distaste for this aspect of the game appear to be (thankfully) outdated.

I can honestly say that its good to see things progress and change for the better of the game.

Common Pitfalls of Tabletop Gaming: Railroading

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Of all the common pitfalls I may call into discussion, this one is, by popular opinion, the most difficult to properly address. The reason for this, as continually debated by members of the tabletop community, is because the act of directly or indirectly influencing the players' actions according to a Host's whims ("railroading") is a necessary evil, in certain situations. There are, of course, varying views on the necessity of such a technique, but this controversial storytelling device, unlike other aspects of the game, such as house rules or game moderator-controlled player characters (GMPC's), isn't susceptible to total exclusion. Depending on one's personal definition of said act, it may be possible to state that anyone running a plot-driven scenario engages in some form of 'railroading'.

What is 'Railroading'?

As previously stated, nearly any attempt to 'steer' a player's action towards a destination desired by the Host may be considered to be 'railroading' said player. This is drawn from the image of a rail-based form of transportation: it never strays from the path outlined for it; always diligently moving towards a predetermined destination. As the general arbiter for all things that occur in the fictional universe, such influence is quite the convenience, as it allows one to prepare material for the session that's directly relevant to the PC's actions. Such foresight can also enable impressive feats of storytelling, as complete management of the involved characters ensures that all participants are where they belong, doing whatever task has been asked of them. Unfortunately, many that choose to practice such influence take this already-potent technique to an extreme, leaving a number of dissatisfied players in their wake. This all-too-common lack of moderation, above all else, is what has served to give the term 'railroading' its inherently negative connotation.

Bad Railroading

Absolute power has the tendency to corrupt absolutely, a fact often experienced by those unfortunate enough to have a Host enamored with their own story. In these cases, the campaign's creator/moderator places so much pride and joy in their creation that when the time comes to play, leaving plot progression entirely in the hands of the PC's comes at too much of a risk. Unsure of their group's ability to 'correctly' navigate this magnum opus, they place them on rails, thus limiting their ability to choose their own path, if not prohibiting interaction with the environment altogether. This runaway flight of fancy is often accompanied by the intrusive arrival of a godly GMPC, who, as mentioned in my previous post, only serves at this point to steal the spotlight and progress through the adventure exactly as the Host intended. As such, the Players are left practically helpless, having only been allowed such a minor level of input unheard of since the debut of Final Fantasy XIII.

Example:

Host: (Alright, I'll have them go through the forest, enter the cave, and get ambushed by gnolls) "After an arduous trek through the forest, you approach the base of a large mountain. Your destination is on the other side. From what you can see, a cave runs through the mountain. Actions?"

Player 1: "Hm, that cave looks dangerous. I think we better go over the mountain, guys."

Host: "You can't, it's too windy and you'll fall off."

Player 2: "But I have the finger strength of a rock-climbing Bard..."

Host: "Nope, won't work."

Player 3: "Well, how about around it? It'll take a bit longer, but at least we can set up camp in the woods once more."

Host: "No, there are dragons there."

Player 3: "We can see that through the dense morning fog?"

Host: "No-, I mean, yes. Actually, you hear them. They sound tough. Better go through the cave."

Player 1: "I think I still have that scroll of Greater Telepor-"

Host: "SUDDENLY, A MIGHTY GUST OF WIND AND HAIL ASSAILS YOUR PARTY, TEARING UP YOUR SCROLL AND FORCING YOU TO TAKE REFUGE IN THE DARK CAVE. ALSO, A DRAGON COMES BY AND BLOWS UP THE ENTRANCE, THUS COLLAPSING YOUR ONLY VISIBLE MEANS OF ESCAPE. I HOPE YOU LIKE GNOLLS"


Good Railroading

Most Hosts that employ railroading are quite forceful, often breaking the sense of immersion with some sort of boundary or restrictive ruling (outside of normal rule enforcement, of course); they see an attempt to stray from the path and are abruptly quick to get things on schedule. A truly talent storyteller, on the other hand, rolls with the punches, playing along with whatever random detour the Players may take, until (s)he gets a chance to set things back on track. The key difference here (and this is important), being that no one else ever knew that they had 'left the tracks'. As subtle as a ninja conducting neurosurgery, the plot progresses once more, preserving both the level of immersion and the illusion of choice, both of which, must be constantly maintained to preserve the overall enjoyment of the session.

Host: (Alright, I'll have them go through the forest, enter the cave, and get ambushed by gnolls) "After an arduous trek through the forest, you approach the base of a large mountain. Your destination is on the other side. From what you can see, a cave runs through the mountain. Actions?"

Player 1: "Hm, that cave looks dangerous. I think we better go over the mountain, guys."

Host: "...With your scroll of Greater Teleportation, I assume?"

Player 1: "Ah, I had forgotten I still had that. Thanks for the suggestion."

Host: "No problem" (I've been dying to make you get rid of that scroll, anyway.)

Player 1: *teleports party to top of mountain*

Host: "You're about halfway there, but you have to climb the rest of the way. Start making rolls to proceed."

Player 2: "Since I have the best ability to climb obstacles, I'll tie you guys to my waist and help you along the rest of the way.

Players 1&3: "Ok"

Player 2: *roll* "25", *roll* "29", *roll* "Crap...11"

Host: (Ah, a low result, just what I'm looking for) "Unfortunately for your party, you lose your grip, sending the lot of your tumbling down the steep mountainside.

Player 3: "Can I make a roll to grab onto a ledge, or something?"

Host: "Sure" (Let me just set the difficulty at 8,000 or so...)

Player 3: *roll* "...19?"

Host: Your reflexes have failed you. The force of your plummeting bodies breaks through a worn spot of granite, plunging you and your party into the murky darkness of the mountain's interior. Fortunately, the fall isn't enough to kill you. The Gnolls that inhabit this network of caves, on the other hand, may be quite detrimental to your health."



...And that's how you railroad your players properly.

I hope this advice serves to make your next session/campaign/etc. all the more enjoyable.

The Problem With Miniatures

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Engage in tabletop gaming for nearly any length of time and you're bound to run into an obstacle faced by Players and Hosts alike: the cost of acquiring miniature figurines (minis). These small, often plastic representations of one's character(s) are, at best, a luxury for assisting Player immersion (in the case of D&D and the like), and at worst, absolutely vital for the enjoyment of the game (Warhammer, Heroclix, etc.). With this in mind, it comes as little surprise when companies specializing in such products typically demand outrageous prices from their customers.

Think that to be an overstatement? Perhaps you should take a moment to see for yourself: http://www.games-workshop.com/gws/. No hurry, I'll wait.

---

Done?

Outstanding (Granted, Games Workshop, as a company notorious for price inflation, may not have been the most realistic choice to illustrate this sort of thing, but I feel it makes my point quite nicely.)

Now, in my usual spirit of constructive offerings, I'd like to present some thrifty alternatives you may find useful in your quest to amass a respectable collection of minis.

http://onemonk.com/

These talented artists have been kind enough to design some impressively detailed, high-quality model designs that are available to be printed out, carefully cut from paper, and placed in a stand for subsequent deployment. I'm not 100% familiar with the various stipulations of membership, but I do know that they offer a portion of their creations for free; a gesture that's always appreciated in my book.

http://www.kassoon.com/dnd/#dnd/cheap-minis/

This site takes a distinct 'DIY' spirit to things, as evidenced by their comprehensive guide to designing and executing your very own minis. The expertise doesn't end there however, for among the miscellaneous tabletop offerings sits some quality advice from an obviously experienced host. Some quality reads, if you've a spare moment.

Alas, I've no resources to aid those with an interest in war gaming on a budget (WH40K, etc.), but I know for certain that a particularly diligent purveyor of the internet can, with some investigative work, locate certain methods for molding, painting, and otherwise producing your own miniatures. For those with the drive to undertake such an extensive project, I extend the best of luck and the assurance that the effort is worth the price. For those with personal funds impressive enough to disregard this post in favor of flaunting a battalion of custom-made GW figurines at your local war gaming tourney, I advise you to repeatedly fornicate with yourselves.

Preparing A Campaign

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Seeing as how I'm relatively new to tabletop gaming in general (just over 2 years experience), I often converse with several other, far more experienced Hosts. During my last encounter with said counselors, I received a few notable tips on setting up a campaign, so I thought I'd quote some of their invaluable advice and share them with you all.


"Ask everyone a simple one sentence backstory that involves a profession. Tell everyone where they are in the town or city due to their profession."


"Randomly generate dungeon layout, throw monsters in strategic places, throw other stuff in strategic places. Recurring villain. Fun characters. Takes place outside the city where they all live together in a "Drawn Together" type house. It's entertaining. People enjoy it."


"I have a giant chart of universal plots that I am constantly adding to because I am a giant spaz. Generally when I find a new system, or feel like running an old system, or am bored, I spin the wheel 'o plot. Then I write a brief synopsis of the story thus far, and make a very very very loose plan for where I want the game to go - because no plan EVER survives contact with the players. Background for a world is important, and if you have a well-thought-out background when the players /do/ invariably go off the rails, there is grass for them to land on, so to speak."


"The two great rules of DMing:
- Your plans will ALWAYS breakdown on contact with players. Expect it, be prepared for it, and run with it.
- The point of the game is for EVERYONE to have fun. That means the players AND the DM. If someone isn't having fun, figure out why and whether there is something that can be done about it because if one player isn't having fun, it'll poison the game."


"I think up a list of supporting characters first, without any player backstory as input. Then I gather my players, ask them for some limited backstory (rather than require they make up everything before we start playing). I figure out if the support characters I made up fit the backgrounds they provided, and put those NPCs in as old friends or antagonists or relatives or whatever (after discussing this with the players).

Then I give the NPCs related to the players some conflicts that they need external help with to solve, and the campaign starts with those NPCs somehow coming into contact with the characters and giving them a quest.

Setting is largely irrelevant, so I tend to use pre-existing settings which modifications that fit my campaign."


"Here's a few thoughts.
1. Pick a kind of event that can change the world. Create Monstrous or Magical reason for why this happened or for a resulting problem.
2. Pick a random Monster you like and just have it guarding a treasure at the end of a dungeon. Build the dungeon around things relative to the monster.
3. Dangle the idea of something the characters want right in front of them, then cleverly drop occasional clues and send them all over the place trying to get it.

Really though, have more than one plan for things they can do that effect the plot, and learn your players and their characters. They get less bored when they have more options, and they are more willing to go along with things when life is good."


Hopefully, some of their fragmented wisdom will aid in the daunting task of starting a fresh campaign. I know it'll assist me, when the time comes.

Common Pitfalls of Tabletop Gaming: GMPC's

44 comments

In lieu of a condensed, centralized article addressing the numerous pitfalls one may encounter while engaging in tabletop gaming, I thought I'd launch a sort of 'mini-series', to better elaborate upon each individual topic. Hopefully, this detailed and compartmentalized series of posts will serve to better retain your valuable attention span and increase my blog regularity.


The first installment of this series shall draw attention to a practice commonly employed by Hosts worldwide: the implementation and use of personally-created playable characters (GMPC's). The acronym, clearly inspired by the short-hand for a typical player character (PC), refers to a fully-functional avatar under the direct control of a Host. This differs from the various conjured figures at large (NPC's) in that said creation possesses many of the average adventurer's capabilities. For all intents and purposes, they too, are as talented (if not more so), as the supposed 'stars' of the campaign. This drift from NPC to PC in terms of power and importance is the center of much controversy associated with these figures. For your consideration, I shall present the main opposing sides of this debate as concisely as I can.


Against GMPC's

Horror stories abound, the majority of those who protest the use of GMPC's have, at one point or another, suffered from the traumatic encounters often inflicted by an amateur Host and its character. Said incidents, though varying by nature, often come by way of a 'deus ex machina'; an attention-monopolizing opportunity for the Host's custom-made, super-special character to show just how much better they are than the PC's by bailing them out of a tough situation. Such interventions, when used outside of the rare last-minute twist, are not just a poor method of storytelling, but also the quickest way to alienate and aggravate one's players. To be perpetually saved and placed at the mercy of a vastly superior force controlled by a supposedly impartially benevolent force is a highly disconcerting one, as it forces them into a secondary position of importance; that is, to simply drift through the story until someone stronger shows up to ultimately save the day. Unfortunately, this abuse of Host powers is quite prolific with amateur practitioners of the game, a sad fact that serves to continually strengthen the general enmity towards GMPC's.


For GMPC's

Some are fortunate enough to have relatively pleasant experiences with GMPC's, while others have thoroughly endured an intrusive bout of escapism, but both agree that these characters can, and often are, implemented in a constructive fashion. The key, they argue, is to design a character whose strength compensates for a critical weakness of the party. Said weakness, though I certainly can't speak for all cases, typically comes by way of direct player support, such as a healer, or negotiator. In my experience, few players are eager to play the largely pacifist role of doctor/diplomat/etc., so Hosts are often found conjuring some manner of character to mitigate these flaws. For anyone who's ever stared down the possibility of a total party kill, these individuals serve as a highly-appreciated intervention (and a potential plot device, if they become too attached to said character).


Personally, my stance on this practice is entire contextual. If dealing with a group of novice players, I'll have the foresight to rectify any glaring flaws in their team dynamic with a tasteful GMPC. If Hosting an experienced group on the other hand, I shall leave the foresight entirely up to them, as they really should 'know better' by that point. If their lack of inter-party communication should fail them when team roles are called into question, they'll be all the better for the learning experience.

Why?

51 comments

The following post has not been designed to offer a practical tool, device, website, or any sort of the usual contribution to your tabletop game. I have instead chosen to discuss the nature of the game and several matters pertaining thereof in a philosophical context. If such a thing doesn't interest you, please feel free to disregard the contents of this message.


I won't mind, really.




To severely abridge a somewhat long and convoluted story, my personal motivations for engaging in tabletop activities have been recently brought into a scope of deep introspection. Certain influences within my life had forced me to sincerely prioritize the significance of this time-consuming hobby in relation to other, seemingly more productive expenditures of my free time. With my deep infatuation of constant self-improvement looming overhead, I found myself in need of a truly valid reason to continue in this leisurely pursuit. Failure to do so would turn this once cherished past time into something of a guilty pleasure, as I was certain to give myself much grief over engaging in an activity deemed to be 'wasteful'.


Fortunately, I was able to resolve the matter in a timely fashion; as evidenced by the continuation of this Blog, my enjoyment of tabletop activities remains regular and guilt-free. The matter, as strange as it may sound to some, wasn't about refining social ability or improving my basic arithmetic skills, or any of those other commonly-touted reasons; a revelation that came with much surprise when contrasted by my aforementioned love of self-improvement. It was instead a preservation of a less mature 'self', an infantile part of my being that, no matter how jaded, bitter, or disillusioned the 'adult' me would become, would still take the risk to believe that a form of magic still existed somewhere in the universe. My inner child had spoken in favor of role playing, and I was compelled to listen.


I may have lost some of you just now with the admittance of such unconscious innocence and naivety. You may believe that I'm alone in my willingness to preserve this 'inner child', but I've recently become of the belief that everyone, no matter how old or experienced, keeps a flame burning for that one day when destiny may call on them to embark on a journey greater than they've ever known. As children, we learn of these stories in which some ordinary, everyday protagonist is suddenly stripped of their normal lives and thrust into a foreign role to fulfill some task that only they can accomplish, often in a land entirely alien to them. Other times, these stories may detail a special individual that appears without warning, seemingly out of nowhere, and forever changes one's life for the better (or more interesting, at least). This feeling of escape into an exciting realm of the unknown fascinates us, making those who hear these tales yearn for their own adventure of fantastic proportions.


So we wait, watch, and hope for the signs of our impending journey. We dream thoughts and scribble pictures of our glorious quest to be. Birthday wishes are spent conjuring the catalyst that will change our lives forever, but it never comes. Year by year, we grow weary of awaiting the distressed damsel or the shining knight's call and the magic fades, kicked to the side by the inexorable realities of life. The fantasies of escapism that once occupied our every thought are soon placed on the same dust-covered shelf that holds our forgotten toys and undersized clothes.


Most will call this a natural stage in the process of 'growing up' and for the most part, I agree with this sentiment. It's quite unhealthy and unrealistic to preserve the expectation of someday being rescued from one's mundane life (that requires solely personal intervention, but I digress). The part that troubles me is the loss of child-like escapism; that is, to say, there's absolutely nothing wrong with playing pretend, as long as you have a firm grasp with which to facilitate your return to reality. Growing up is fine and healthy and all that, but there's no reason to lose your youthful sense of wonder and curiosity, even if it's seldom used.


Obviously, this is where things like tabletop/role playing games come into play, thus allowing said imagination a structure in which it can take refuge and flourish. This recreational activity, however, is not available to most, due to a combination of widely varying factors, such as insufficient funds, inadequate company, or just simple ignorance of the game (which you just lost). Such inhibitions, while far from the worst fate that can befall a person, are quite regrettable, as these individuals can miss out on the very escape from their 'normal' lives that had been so greatly anticipated by them so many birthdays ago. I'm not going to say that every session around a cramped table whilst flanked by sweaty neckbeards is going to be magical, but when the day comes that an experienced Host is joined by awesome Players, the resulting events can be quite memorable, if not downright moving.


That rare spark of genius, that one-in-a-million adventure that will forevermore stand out in the Player's mind; that is why I play, and more importantly, why I act as my group's regular Host. Not too long ago, through the charitable actions of several individuals now close to my heart, I was introduced to the wonderful world of tabletop gaming. This discovery bettered me as a social individual, revived my once-forgotten sense of childish escapism, and gave me the tools I needed to honor their contributions to my life by passing on the kindnesses they've shown me to others. Whether it be someone who's only heard of 'D&D' in passing or an experienced vet who designs his own miniatures, I've decided to dedicate my career in tabletop gaming to providing the most well-crafted, immersive experience I can muster.


For my Players, the under privileged, the ignorant, and everyone who's never had the adventures they dreamed of as children, I shall press on.

M&M: The Atomic Think Tank

49 comments
Originally conceived as a post solely concerning the extensive home brew work the website 'Atomic Think Tank' has done over the years, I soon realized the significance of this group's efforts would be largely dulled without having first given some background on the game they so persistently modify: Mutants and Masterminds.

Mutants and Masterminds (M&M) is a modern-era 'superhero simulator' based on the d20 System; a game style most commonly associated with D&D 3.0/3.5. By utilizing a free-form, point-buy character generation system, Players are given relatively free reign to create any sort of superhero (or villain, depending on the campaign) they desire. The information concerning this RPG is already out there in plentiful and detailed supply, so I'm not going to go any further into this background.

Edit: In spite of my previous statement, I'd like to take an additional moment and point out a common pitfall many first-time Hosts of this game encounter: Due to the openly creative nature of the character creation process, it's somewhat commonplace for experienced gamers to slip a 'broken' superhero past you. Though it's admittedly impossible to 'screen' every single concept presented for any unreasonably potent strengths, I've personally found the following hero themes to be most problematic:

1. Duplication/Excessive Minion Control: A character who can duplicate themselves or command a horde of allies to do their bidding will bog down and/or effectively control combat with their abundance of actions per turn.

2. Gravity: It was broken on 'Zatch Bell', and it's pretty cheap in M&M. Crafted well, there's little you can do to stop this hero without making a threat built to specifically counter their abilities.

3. Time: Oh lord, does this guy love to take the spotlight. Done in moderation (see: Dio Brando), this isn't too bad, but when you start seeing potential for rewinding/pausing entire encounters, it's time to suggest another character concept.


With the background of this fine game established, I'd like to draw focus on the initial focus of this post; the works of the group known as the 'Atomic Think Tank'. Now, these guys aren't just amateur aficionados, this prominent online community has been designated as the official board for all things M&M-related. However, what I feel makes them particularly interesting is their extensive work with in-game statistics. Between all their collective years of experience, this group has compiled an impressive database of famous characters (fictional or otherwise) configured for immediate M&M play. Feel like playing as Spider-Man, He-Man, or Optimus Prime in your next session? Wondering who would win in a fight between the Power Rangers and the Akatsuki? Chances are, the information needed for such a match-up is already available.

atomicthinktank.com/viewforum.php?f=14

Enjoy

The Deck of Many Boons

37 comments
It can be rather difficult to instill good gaming habits in others, even more so to reinforce or reward said habits without appearing to favor one Player over another. The imaginative denizens of 'Stuffer Shack' sought to correct this issue with the rather ingenious usage of a standard deck of cards. This "deck of boons" is quite straightforward, each card (2, King, etc.) has a specific, mostly positive in-game effect when deployed during the session at hand. Said benefits range from the practical and mundane (re-rolling an attack), to the intricately powerful (player fiat).

The real value in this system, however, lies in the acquisition of the card itself; a feat typically accomplished by those exhibiting traits that the dealer/Host may find desirable in an Player. Personally, I make it a point to reward any attendees with the habitual punctuality to show up on-time for the scheduled session with a draw from the deck. Though initially met with skepticism, a particularly impressive use of the 'Ace' card involving a blatant in-game reference to the movie 'Matrix' dramatically improved Player punctuality. Your requirements for such compensation, be they in-game or out, may vary.

stuffershack.com/deck-of-many-boons


Edit: I find myself thoroughly enjoying my blog's visual format. Particularly the font/color/size of the post titles; it caused me to read "The Deck of Many Boons" in a big, booming voice in my head. : P

100+ Followers(!)

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Dear Readers, I know this isn't technically a 'real' post, but I felt this milestone deserved a measure of recognition.

First and foremost, I'd like to thank myself (Ha!) for sticking to this blog and consistently providing what I consider to be quality reading material.

Secondly (or tied for first, rather), a large batch of gratitude goes out to my readers/Followers, and the attentive comments they've left over the course of this blog's lifespan. It goes without saying, but without your continual support and interest, I would've abandoned this project long ago (with a special thanks going out to 'Lhosreiff', whom I believe was my very first Follower).

Third, I would like to thank all of the various indirect influences, namely God for taking mercy on my internet connection and allowing me unimpeded (for now) access to said blog.

With all that business done and out of the way, I'd like to end this largely vacuous ritual of self-congratulation on a more constructive note. In order to better adhere to the communal standard of quality you all surely hold to this blog, I would like some feedback from you, the reader. If you all would be so kind as to leave some form of constructive criticism and/or request certain content you'd like to see in this space, I would greatly appreciate the gesture. Granted, I may not be able to comply with all of the requisitions submitted, but I can guarantee that I'll do my very best to abide by your recommendations, if only so that I may reciprocate a fraction of the pleasure that you've all given me.

Hopefully, we'll be doing this again, 100 followers from now.

With Much Gratitude,
-Alpha

The Donjon Generators

25 comments
As you can quite clearly tell, my connection difficulties have been resolved. However, the length of this rectification is unknown to my person, as this sort of thing occasionally has a tendency to come and go. So, I'd like to utilize this unknown span of functional time to provide you with an impressive collection of random content generators. I know, such programs are quite common in the realm of Hosting tools, but I feel this site warrants special attention for their extensive world-building programs and other assorted goodies (most available in varying genres, no less). The design of said website is quite spartan and lacking ornamentation, but one may estimate that this is due to the undoubtedly large amount of resources they devote to provide a wide range of variables to customize during NPC/dungeon/star system/loot/etc. generation.

donjon.bin.sh/world/

Downtime

11 comments
My home internet connection is having some difficulties, so I'm accessing a friend's network to inform you all of this temporary impediment.

Olfactory Aids?

19 comments
In the pursuit of enhanced player immersion, a variety of creative avenues have been explored. From custom play surfaces to the birth of LARP, this gradual escalation of escapism has yielded many imaginative creations that may not otherwise have seen the light of day. With such a collection of inventive energies abound, it's inevitable that certain products are more 'unique' than others.

http://blackphoenixalchemylab.com/rpg.html
This is a line of those products.

For those (hopefully few) who spend their days pondering upon the particular scent of a 'Chaotic Good Orc Cleric', look no further than the various fragrances presented on that page. I'm not exactly sure who their intended market is, but their commitment to the genre is quite impressive, and I wholly respect their method of honoring the game.

How To Roleplay

11 comments
After a lengthy absence, I've returned to offer what I consider to be two of the finest and most concise instructional documents concerning role playing one can locate on the entirety of the internet. Constructed over the span of ten or so pages, the eminent Greg Stolze supplies the reader with a 'crash course' in the art of tabletop gaming etiquette through of a combination of informative text and hypothetical scenarios (no pictures, sorry). Said reader may find one or both of the documents to be of use, as they each address one of the two main roles of roleplaying: player and Host. With this approach, each unique consideration and pitfall of a specific role may be addressed and elaborated upon, giving a full (yet thankfully brief), set of guidelines for each party. In any case, I currently have the player-centered version on my 'required reading list' for those who wish to join a session.

For the Host: gregstolze.com/HowtoRun.zip

For the Player: gregstolze.com/HowtoPlay.zip

More on the Author: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Stolze

The Chart

33 comments
I had been quite content with the original content of this post; having elaborated upon the most grievous of mistakes a Host may commit with their group, when my wandering eye caught happened upon a most intriguing piece of information. So enraptured was I with this crucial document, my initial plans were swiftly abandoned, and I shelved the project in favor of this presentation. But first, some background, for the stage of this chance discovery must be properly set.

As possibly evidenced by my writing, my understanding of the tabletop gaming world in general may be considered somewhat 'shallow'. Though I do have a firm grasp on the crucial, basic guidelines of hosting a successful game, my experience with the variety of systems and themes available leaves much to be desired. This is due largely to my limited financial resources, leaving me quite cautious to branch out and experiment with a style that may possibly be ill-suited to my group, however open-minded they may be. A problem such as this, though daunting, is often remedied with a measure of accurate information. That is, if I knew what to expect from a foreign system, I could work with my players to ensure a successful transfer.

Unfortunately, the existence of a centralized and (most importantly) impartial collection of data on the various game types available for play had continuously eluded me...

...until now.

inkwellideas.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/rpgchart1.gif

Now, I know better than to foolishly rush in and assume this chart to be the ultimate summary of all things related to role play, but I've yet to find a credible source to properly assess this information and/or debunk it. If any of you, my readers, would like to share a personal thought, experience, or suggestion regarding this picture and its contents, please don't hesitate to do just that.

Maze #4

45 comments

Since offering the occasional maze and brain teaser, I've received a handful of queries concerning the exact method one should implement when completing said challenge. The best response I can supply for such a question is to simply leave it at your own personal discretion. Too challenging? Not puzzling enough? Try running through it in a different way; experiment with the various solution that may or may not be present. You may surprise yourself, or more importantly, your players.

Aural Aids: Part 2

22 comments

Given the abundance of 'sample material' I had to offer during my last elaboration on the topic of aural aids, I thought it most effective to give said material its own entry, so that I may divulge the entirety of the content available. The following suggestions, comprised mainly of songs/soundtracks (with a brief entry regarding sound effects), shall be categorized into the three most general campaign settings I could imagine, and presented with as little personal bias on my part as I can muster.

Enjoy


Setting: Past (Medieval Fantasy/Medieval Reality/Prehistoric/etc.)
-Chaos Legion (Soundtrack)
-E.S. Posthumus (Artist)
-Dead Can Dance (Artist)
-Ico (Soundtrack)

Setting: Present (Fantasy/Realism)

-DJ Amuro/Taka (Artist)
-Apocalyptica (Artist)

-Metal Gear: Solid Series (Soundtrack)

-John Williams (Artist)

-Banya (Artist)

-Viewtiful Joe (Soundtrack)


Setting: Future (Space-Faring/Apocalypse Planet/Dystopian Civilization)
-Phantom Dust (Soundtrack)
-Zone of the Enders (Soundtrack)
-Beatdrop (Artist)
-Toonami (Soundtrack)
-Armored Core Series (Soundtrack)

-Daft Punk (Artist)


Setting: Misc. (Selections don't fit a specific period/may be used in multiple settings)
-Zektbach (Artist)
-Adya Classic (Artist)
-The Big O Anime (Soundtrack)
-Yoko Kanno (Artist)

-Two Steps From Hell (Artist)

-Immediate Music (Artist)

-Hans Zimmer (Artist)


Additional Soundtracks
For those in need of additional material, I urge you to look no further than your favorite theme-appropriate form of entertainment. Whether it's a movie (Lord of the Rings), game (Call of Duty Series), or anime (anything by Hiyao Miyazaki really, you can't go wrong as far as music is concerned), chances are, an official soundtrack (OST) is available for your enjoyment and subsequent use in a later session.

If you found a particular time period to be meagerly represented or completely absent from this list, feel free to take the initiative and research the sort of music typical of said time (Big Band, Classic Jazz, Baroque, etc.).


Sound Effects
Due to the highly situational nature of these provisions, I find myself unable to supply an adequate suggestion for you, the reader. However, I can advise you to start your search with 'soundboards'; a collection of different phrases, voices, or other audible effects stored and centralized in one program or page. While they're most notorious for impersonating certain celebrity speech patterns, a search of reasonable depth can yield a variety of offerings at one's disposal.


Singles
Last, but certainly not least, a collection of specific songs that hold a certain amount of sentimentality to myself, which shall be elaborated upon per entry.



During one of my few Horror/Suspense games, I had used the repetitious mid-sections of the song to signify the appearance of a particularly horrendous monster. The volume would be raised or lowered, depending on how close it was to them. Great psychological weapon; the song really did live up to its name.


Used during a Sci-Fi campaign as an intro for an A.I.-gone-wild/cyborg boss battle.


One of the (very) few session-compatible Rap songs in existence.


A running joke, of sorts, in my group. No matter the campaign, whenever the PC's enter a bar/night club-esque environment, this song will always play on infinite repeat until they leave. : P


One of the first songs I've ever used in a session: impending battle + victory theme, all in one package.


Generic church/sacred ground music, at first...


...and when things hit the fan. The look of surprise on the faces of the PC's was priceless as they scrambled for their equipment in what they believed to be a 'safe' area.


...Just making sure you're still paying attention.


Some ballroom music, also doubles as 'peaceful city' music whenever I need to establish a calm, neutral mood.


A little modern music, for when I need to break up the monotony of 'medieval' music. It also worked well when the PC's looked upon a strange, exotic landscape (I skipped the intro vocals for that one).

Update

29 comments
Having reached the minor landmark of 50 followers, I mused upon the appearance of this blog and soon found myself unsatisfied with the default 'black' theme. Honestly, this realization comes partly by way of my peers, and the slight tinge of inadequacy they inflict upon me when I take note of their Html-bending craft. Growing somewhat disillusioned with the complex layouts that had vexed me, I set out in an admittedly half-hearted search for a suitable proxy. After a mercifully brief delve into the world of blog customization, I emerged, somewhat satisfied with a technically-straightforward, minimalist template consisting of darker colors that are easy on my eyes.

As always, criticism is welcomed; as are suggestions. Have an alternate template that you feel would suit this space more adequately? Let me know. It's a matter of your ocular comfort, as well, after all.

Aural Aids

16 comments
This follow-up to my previous post seems like a logical progression on the subject of player immersion, as evidenced not only by the proliferation of music-related blogs, but of course, those seeking to add an extra 'something' to their sessions. In today's case, this 'something' comes by way of music, sound effects, or other audio-related elements one may add to the experience. With the availability and popularity of equipment designed to provide these effects, this option may be the most cost-effective method of immersion one can implement, as the impact of utilizing tools one may already have (mp3 player, home theater system, etc.) can be quite profound. As always, these tips are provided for Player and Host alike, as the enhancement of game quality should be an endeavor undertaken by all able participants.


-Content Suitability

When selecting a particular sound effect, it's important to maintain a level of compatibility with the overall pace of the session. For example, if a an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat, combat-heavy scenario is in mind, it would be prudent to select a similarly dynamic, fast-paced piece. Few things can calm a bloodthirsty spirit faster than a tranquil piece of classical music, or a meditative selection of the 'Chillout' genre. *cough*ImeanyouLhosreiff*cough*

Conversely, I advise you to avoid speed metal and anything of that sort during an upscale period of diplomacy (unless you feel like adding a touch of comedy to a particularly heated debate, of course).

Addendum: If done well (and sparingly), one can accomplish a rather Tarantino-esque flair by pairing a particularly gorey scene with aforementioned tranquil piece of classical music.


-Theme Suitability

While considering pace appropriateness, please don't neglect to adequately pair the regular settings of your session with the theme of your song list. Case in point: one should generally avoid broadcasting a piece by 'Daft Punk' over the siege of a medieval stronghold (again, there are certain exceptions to this rule; such is the case of a dimension-/time-hopping campaign).


-Lyrics

Lyrics in a song choice are often discouraged for their ability to draw attention from away from the action in front of them, or the narration a Host provides. The exception to this guideline would be a selection with a message thoroughly relevant to the situation at hand, though one is still forced to contend with speaking over the music.


-Complexity

As stated in the previous guideline, 'competing' with, or speaking over the music is discouraged, which is an issue that may arise when implementing an overly complex and engaging piece. An example of such is difficult to determine, but if the music you select tempts others to pause play and listen instead of acting with it, reconsideration may be necessary. An aural aid musn't take away from the experience, but it shouldn't add too much, either.


-Sound Effects

These are a bit more difficult to pull off, as they usually require the acquisition of a reliable soundboard, combined with the innate sense of timing necessary to successfully use them without breaking pace. If successful, however, this method can add an unforgettable depth to one's session, especially if running a horror/suspense scenario.


That's all for now, hope these help.

Maze #3

18 comments
Brief, belated post to let everyone know I'm still alive. I enjoyed the discussion of riddles so much, I thought I'd provide two puzzles that build upon the mechanics of the maze previously provided.

Enjoy


Riddles

19 comments
Yep, it's another one of those posts designed to infuriate your players. This time around, I'll make a few observations concerning riddles (obviously); namely, how to use them, when to do so, and how they can be solved.

-How

Riddles, like mazes, can pose a great mental challenge to your players, and have a knack for eating up time. Though they're somewhat easier to circumvent/avoid than mazes (depending on the scenario, of course), this also makes them far easier to place and run than a standard labyrinth. Many of the rules for utilizing mazes are compatible with these puzzles, so I'm not going to linger on this topic.

-When
Much like 'How', the 'When' of riddles is similar to mazes, save for certain considerations that should be taken. Riddles, obviously lacking the mechanical depth of mazes, are difficult to center an entire session or campaign around. Having a singular, inherently non-threatening challenge can be difficult in general to work with, which is what makes the context of this challenge so important. To combat this factor of passivity, the knee-jerk reaction of many Hosts is the placement of a severe punishment for those who fail to complete this challenge (namely death or dismemberment). I, however, feel this to be rather draconian, and a good way to frustrate an uninspired group with endless hours of desperate pondering. Personally, I prefer to have the riddle deny access to an area entirely voluntary and inconsequential to the plot. This optional area can be as rewarding as a shiny, new weapon, or an alternative, safer route to a dangerous objective.

-The Solution

Most people (that I'm familiar with, in any case), tend to strictly accept a valid answer for their riddle of choice, and will yield to no other solution. This method, unfortunately, has the drawback of immediately ceasing game play, especially if the group one is working with are particularly unimaginative. To remedy this issue, it's becoming increasingly common practice to allow a roll or check to "find" the solution, allowing the fictional character to solve it in-game without player intervention. The drawback of this method is its simplicity, which allows even the most complex of questions to be answered with a single lucky roll (in the case of the unimaginative group, wouldn't be a drawback at all, if it preserved the session's momentum). With this issue in mind, the principle of keeping strictly optional areas guarded via riddle is further validated, as failure to access said zone shouldn't have a relevant effect on the overall plot/session structure.


With the discussion out of the way and without further ado, I present a handful of sample riddles to get you started (as always, feel free to modify them any way you see fit):


1. Two doors before you, each guarded by a spirit

One always tells the truth, the other always tells a lie

There's no way to discern between the two, or to tell which one will lie

You also know that one door leads to certain death; the other to your goal

They permit you to ask a single question, directed at one spirit, before you choose a door

What do you ask?


2. A murder was committed and 5 suspects are being questioned

Suspect #1 says Suspect #2 did it
Suspect #2 says Suspect #1 did it
Suspect #3 proclaims their innocence
Suspect #4 says Suspect #5 did it
Suspect #5 says Suspect #4 is lying

If only one of these men told the truth, who spoke truthfully and who is the killer?


3. Two bodies have I, though both joined as one

The more I stand still, I quicker I run

What am I? (My personal favorite)


4. Alfred is the father of 5 children

Half of his children are daughters

How is this possible?