Riddles 2: Riddle Harder

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?
These selections, while unquestionably intricate, are somewhat relatable, as they often deal with matters of chance, rather than pure, technical knowledge.
Downright nasty in complexity; feel free to conjure a solution of your own, as applicable in your setting of choice.

GMPC's: A Discussion

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

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.


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-"


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

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: No hurry, I'll wait.



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.

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.

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

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.