Sunday, October 31, 2010

One Page Plot: Challenge of the Exiled Lord...

Good Morning:

I've decided that I need to push myself a little creatively, so I've decided to try writing up a One Page Plot in an hour or less, from conception to completion. Below is the result of my Self-Challenge a few hours later, amidst a number of interruptions, based on the results of a set of random chart to determine the basic plot synopsis.

Plot Name: Challenge of the Exiled Lord

Synopsis: The party must protect an one-legged, greedy trader from the actions of a branded, slovenly noble, who is motivated by love.

Adversaries: Exiled from his homeland through the machinations of a romantic rival, Lord Calic bears a prominent brand displaying his status to the world. Broken by the loss of his land and the love of Lady Sandremona, Lord Calic has ceased to care for his general appearance, and wanders listlessly about in pursuit of information that would prove his innocence in the crimes of which he has been accused. Recently, the exiled lord has learned that the one-legged merchant Cheremanthos the Lame was the man who coordinated the actions that framed him. Lord Calic's immediate goal is to capture Chermanthos and interrogate him for information; the lord's ultimate goal is to prove his innocence and reunite with the woman he loves, Lady

Other NPCs: Cheremanthos the Lame is not a nice man. He's a greedy merchant with numerous ties to the local Thieves' Guild. The one-legged man was hired by Calic's romantic rival, Lord Zerin, to frame Lord Calic for treasonous acts against their mutual liege, whose daughter both men desired. Cheremanthos brokered the contract, and has since used the information as blackmail against Lord Zerin to place himself in a prominent position among the local merchants.

Lord Zerin is an ambitious noble of the courts seeking the hand of Lady Sandremona, so that he may become heir to his liege's lands "should something untoward happen to the old man." In order to deal with a romantic rival, he hired the rogue Cheremanthos to broker arrangements to frame Lord Calic for treason. In the years that have passed since, Lord Zerin has come to regret working with Cheremanthos, but is mostly focused on his upcoming nuptials to Lady Sandremona, which will secure his place as the heir to his liege. He has no love for his bride, nor she for him.

Lady Sandremona truly loves Lord Calic, but is ashamed of the treasonous acts attributed to the lord, believing them to be true. A secret missive from Lord Calic recently informed her of his plans to kidnap the one-legged merchant Cheremanthos, prove his innocence and interrupt her wedding to Lord Zerin in order to properly claim her hand. Afraid that Lord Calic will be executed if discovered within the liege's lands, Lady Sandremona secretly seeks champions who will protect Cheremanthos and, should they discover Lord Calic, escort him outside the region for his own safety.

Locales: Scenes for this plot likely involve the crowded streets of the city, as well as the ballroom of the sovereign's palace, where the wedding between Lord Zerin and Lady Sandremona will take place.

Plot Hooks: The PCs could become engaged in the plot in a number of ways:

* Lady Sandremona may hire them to protect Cheremanthos the Lame, in hopes of having them locate and escort Lord Calic safely from her father's lands.
* The party may witness an unkempt man, branded with the mark of exile, attack a peg-legged merchant, who calls out for help from any of the passers-by.
* Lord Zerin, tired of living under the thumb of Cheremanthos the Lame and fearful that the merchant may attempt to interfere with his wedding, hires the party to "deal with the merchant," only to have them arrive at the same time as Lord Calic.

Basic Outline: Some preliminary scenes may involve the party being hired to protect or "take care of" Cheremanthos the Lame. The plot starts when the party meets Cheremanthos, and witnesses Lord Calic's attempt to kidnap the merchant. In the first true scene of the plot, Lord Calic accosts the merchant Cheremanthos the Lame on a side street. The party has the chance to intervene. If the party succeeds in subduing Lord Calic, he will tell his side of the story. If Lord Calic escapes with Cheremanthos, then the party will need to investigate further. If Lord Calic escapes without Cheremanthos, the party will hear Cheremanthos's story about the treasonous acts of Lord Calic, and told of a reward for him, dead or alive.

The plot can develop in a number of ways, depending on which way events go. With or without the PCs' help, Lord Calic will continue to attempt to capture Cheremanthos. On the day of the wedding, he will attempt to interrupt the ceremony and challenge Lord Zerin to a duel. The PCs can either aid him or hinder him in his efforts.

If the PCs capture Lord Calic, they can either escort him from the region or keep him holed up somewhere until after the wedding. He will, of course, try to escape and gather information so he can interrupt the wedding ceremony and try to win the hand of Lady Sandremona. If the PCs side with him upon hearing his side of the story, they can become his accomplices.

If the PCs save Cheremanthos but do not capture Lord Calic, the lame merchant will hire the party to track down the exiled lord and present him to Lord Zerin so that Lord Calic may be killed for returning from exile.

If the PCs fail to save Cheremanthos, they will find the local Thieves' Guild very helpful in trying to track down the merchant, as he has become a valuable ally to the current Guildmaster. They will likely also discover that Cheremanthos has some form of control over the liege's future son-in-law, Lord Zerin.

In all cases, this plot ends after the wedding ceremony is concluded, whether Lord Calic was successful or not in interrupting it.

Complications: Depending on where the party places their allegiance, there are a number of complications that could arise.

* Thieves' Guild: The local Thieves' Guild has a vested interest in seeing Lord Zerin marry Lady Sandremona, and protecting Cheremanthos, due to his influence over Lord Zerin.
* Lord Zerin: As the future son-in-law of the liege, Lord Zerin has a lot of political clout. He wants to see Cheremanthos dealt with, if it can be done safely, and wants no interruptions of the wedding ceremony.
* Lord Calic: Fanatically driven by his devotion to Lady Sandremona, he will stop at nothing to prevent her from becoming Lord Zerin's wife. Unless he is on a full tilt course in pursuit of that goal, he will work against whatever may be hindering him.

Rewards: Depending on who they are working for and who they appease, the party may find themselves earning any of a variety of rewards. If they aid the victor of this bizarre contest for Lady Sandremona's hand, they will likely earn the grudging approval of the liege, as well as the victor. If the party is known to have aided Cheremanthos's goals at his behest or in his name, they will earn the favor of the local Thieves' Guild as well. Lady Sandremona and Lord Calic will be forever in the party's debt should they prove Calic's innocence, allowing him to regain his lost lands, his family's wealth, and the hand of his lady love.

If, however, the party decides to back a losing party to these unusual circumstances, likely they will find themselves without pay and with a sudden need to leave town quickly and not return. Should they hinder the progress of the local Thieves' Guild, they may gain the Thieves' Guild as an enemy for any future efforts attempted within the city.

Please let me know your thoughts on the above. What did you like from the above example? What did you not like? How can I make this better?

With Regards,

Friday, October 29, 2010

Genre Talk: Gaming and Planetary Romance...

Good Evening, All:

I have to admit that my favorite literary genre is Planetary Romance, and sadly, there are very few games that build on that genre. Certainly, Adamant came out with their Mars setting, first under D20 Modern and then re-released under Savage Worlds. Bad Axe Games released Slavelords of Cydonia, the only Planetary Romance campaign I've ever seen under their fantastic Grim Tales rules set. (It'll take you from 1st to 20th level and never let up on the pulse-pounding Sword & Planet excitement.) Last year (or was it early this year?), I picked up Savage Swords of Athanor, another excellent Planetary Romance setting for the Swords & Wizardry game. Iron Lords of Jupiter was an awesome mini-game in the old Polyhedron magazine. I think there were a few other minor efforts, but as a whole, my favorite genre is sorely lacking in gaming love. Let's face it; if I can only name less than five great products for the genre in almost forty years of gaming history, it's a genre that is not very well represented.

Now, there are a few products that are supposed to be released soon that will help fill that void. Warriors of the Red Planet is a Planetary Romance setting using an Old School engine. Chaosium's BRP Interplanetary has been in development for over three years now, but supposedly the author gave the final manuscript to the publisher at the end of June this year. Hollow Earth Expedition is going to release Revelations of Mars, their own contribution to the planetary romance genre, in 2011. I'm definitely looking forward to these releases, and these companies will find an enthusiastic buyer in this Sword & Planet fan.

Are any of the readers of this blog fans of the Planetary Romance genre? If so, please feel free to post a comment in the blogs and share some of your thoughts on roleplaying in this genre.

With Regards,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GM Mentoring: The Three Element Rule of World Design...

Good Evening, All:

In tonight's game, we moved from the end of one adventure to the site where the next one began, covering several days of travel and a stop at Fellgorge, the City of Adventurers and effectively the Las Vegas of the Madlands Campaign. Everything can be had for the right price. Tonight, I also introduced a new player to the group, who had come to fill an empty chair. In covering his introduction to the group, and moving them along into Fellgorge and beyond to the site of the Black Tower of Father Gaelos, I realized how deep a setting I had created already in less than ten sessions of play. The old players were filling in the new guy on the local customs, some of the stories they'd heard, making some connections with this session's events and some events in previous sessions, and all in all, making me feel much more accomplished as a world designer and Game Master than I had felt going into tonight's session.

Sometimes I surprise myself. Without overly trying, I realize that, at least to this group, I've successfully created and presented a consistent world, and will continue to build on it and add depth to it as we move along in future sessions. I have been developing these skills now for over twenty years, and it is good to see them attain this degree of success without significant effort. I feel that I owe this success to the many DMs and GMs I've gamed with, talked to and read about. There are a great many tips and tricks I've picked up over the years, and I'll try to share them as I continue to blog here.

I think one of the easiest ways to create new locations is to choose three major elements that make the area unique in comparison to other regions, and bring those up during play. Three items allows you to focus on a little diversity, yet still hold these elements firmly in play. As the players pick up on those characteristics, they begin to identify individual locations by their flavor. In time, both you and they will start to expound on the foundation you've laid out, but the region will maintain its consistent look and feel as you go along.

For example, the three elements I have focused on for Fellgorge are:
  1. Guilds control everything. Each major occupation thus has at least one organization dedicated to protecting their business. I can explain any rivalries as being between guilds, or perhaps between guilds and those who violate the guild law. Guilds become patrons for adventures, rivals or enemies for character backgrounds, and can serve as fodder for non-combat encounters that build on the flavor of the city.
  2. Fellgorge is a fantasy version of Las Vegas. Lacking only the neon signs, this city of sin offers adventurers many different ways to separate themselves from their coinage while experiencing any of a great number of vices and other forms of entertainment. There's a strong seedy side to Fellgorge, and as adventurers, the party often sees it, even more so than the average bloke.
  3. Fellgorge is a melting pot. When adventurers from all of the lands north of the Sovereign Chasm come to cross via the Sky Ferry into the Madlands and seek their fortune, you'll find characters of a wide range of races and abilities, more than in any other city in the campaign. It's a great place to introduce new characters into the group, and this melting pot offers a wide variety of rumors, employment opportunities and adventure hooks simply by virtue of the wide range of humanoid character types present within the walls of the city.

By focusing on just those three elements, I can create the illusion of depth for my players. With their own internal associations regarding guilds, Las Vegas and melting pot cities, I find that the players often fill in the gaps with self-imposed assumptions. As they communicate those assumptions through their words and choices over the course of the game, I find that I can either take the suggestion and run with it, or offer a clarified perspective for the player, helping in turn to sharpen the picture for both of us. This works very well with my ad hoc gaming style.

So, how do you make new locations come alive? What suggestions do you have to offer your peers and fellow readers? Inquiring minds want to know.

With Regards,

Monday, October 25, 2010

GM Mentoring: New Campaigns Demand New Stories...

Good Evening:

Sometimes, when you want to come up with a new idea for an adventure or a campaign story arc, you find yourself locked into the same story lines you've been repeating for the last few years (or even decades). You look back at those scenarios that have effectively become cliches to your gaming group, and want to relive the cherished memories you created or desire to capture some element of a scenario that eluded you every time you implemented that storyline before. Whatever attracted you to a given storyline held some importance to you, and there's a good chance that it still does, if you can't get it out of your head.

However, let's face it, if you've tried it more than once, or if your first run of a given storyline was an outstanding success, the kind that's talked about months and even years afterward, then your players are likely to be ready for this scenario. Chances are, they will not react as openly to a repeat performance. In order to continue to build on your already solid reputation, you have to step up your game, so to speak. There's nothing like an original idea to help keep things fresh.

So, what do you do when the ideas don't come? You can always check out Eureka, the book of plot summaries by the crew from Gnome Stew. You can also read through old Dragon and Dungeon magazines, or review old D&D modules (or even new D&D modules) looking for adventure ideas that are new to you but still sound like fun to run. You can read some fantasy fiction (or even better, some non-fantasy fiction) and adopt the plot from the book as an adventure or campaign story arc. Watch the news, and translate each news story into a plot. Think about your two favorite television episodes you watched this last week, and see if you can blend elements of the plots of the two episodes together to come up with something that is new and definitely yours. Think about your favorite movie, or at least a movie you know very well, and translate that into a campaign storyline for your party's future adventures. (I think Star Wars: A New Hope would make a great swashbuckling adventure.) Build a random table or two, and see what comes of that.

There are always means to move beyond the cliches that maintain their grip on you. While the suggestions given above offer a number of options for you, don't be afraid to try other things as well. You never know when the next great adventure idea will come to you, nor how you'll end up getting it. If you have any suggestions on other avenues one could pursue, please feel free to post them in the comments below.

With Regards,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Random Chart: Quick Greek Name Generator...

Good Morning, All:

Here's another random chart, this time to allow for quick Greek Name generation. Given that Achea from the World Within setting is based on ancient Greece, I thought it would prove helpful to have a random name generator for characters and NPCs. I'm sure this random chart will have use beyond just the Hollow Earth campaign, as Greek character names are very popular in many settings, particularly for spellcasters.

Using this chart is pretty easy. You simply roll once on the Prefix table and once on the Suffix table, putting the results together to make the character's name. The Prefix and Suffix tables are both d66 tables. Those familiar with this blog already know how to create a d66 roll. For those that aren't, roll two d6s and read them similar to percentile dice. The first d6 represents the tens digit, and the second d6 represents the ones digit. For example, rolling a 2 on the first d6 and a 6 on the second d6 would create a result of 26.

So, by way of demonstration, let's create a random Greek Name. I make two d66 rolls, which are, in this example, 26 followed by 56. That gives us a prefix of "Char" and a suffix of "onius", or the name Charonius. Not bad.

This table was generated by parsing a list of Greek names pulled from various Wikipedia articles on Ancient Greeks, and pairing down the resulting list of prefixes and suffixes by frequency and by flavor to arrive at the 36 best choices for each.

Table: Greek Name Prefix

Table: Greek Name Suffix

With Regards,

Friday, October 22, 2010

The World Within: Armor In An Iron Age...

Good Evening, All:

While looking over possible armor types for an Iron Age setting, I realized that this many of the common armor types for the time period are actually separate pieces that are worn together in different arrangements, depending on your region and training. That may not lend itself well to the usual approach for defining armor, but I think it would be a great opportunity to explore piecemeal armor, a concept introduced in AD&D Second Edition. In essence, each component of armor (torso, arms and legs) adds an AC Bonus to the character's unarmored AC value. Since MyD20 Lite uses Ascending Armor Class, it is actually easier to determine the character's final AC value with piecemeal armor by adding up the bonuses for each component. For those that would use the information with Descending Armor Class, simply determine the final AC by subtracting the total from 10. I've captured the basic available pieces in the table below. Please check it out and tell me what you think.

Table: Available Armor - Iron Age
ArmorAC BonusTypeWeightNotes
Barding, leather+2Light20Covers the torso of a large mount
Bracers, iron+1Light10Covers the arms
Breastplate, iron+4Light20Covers the torso
Greaves, iron+2Light10Covers the legs
Greaves, leather+1Light5Covers the legs
Leather jerkin+2Light10Covers the arms and torso
Padded/quilted jerkin+1Light5Covers the arms and torso
Shield, large+2Light5Cannot hold anything else in shield hand
Shield, small+1Light5Can hold a small object in shield hand
Studded leather jerkin+3Light15Covers the arms and torso

Note: When the combined weight of a character's armor exceeds 30 pounds, the armor is then considered to be Heavy. In addition, when using piecemeal armor, only the highest AC Bonus for a given body location counts towards the character's Armor Class.

With Regards,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

GM Mentoring: The Nine Act Plot Structure as Campaign Design...

Good Evening, All:

I have been toying around with the idea of using the screenwriter's Nine Act Plot Structure as the basis for a campaign story arc. In many cases, each Act could almost be considered an individual adventure, ala the EPIC Adventure System proposed by Marc Miller for Traveller. With that in mind, you can find my initial thoughts on the matter below.

Act Zero covers the background for the entire campaign arc, and as such, should be revealed only in small portions over the course of the campaign. While this wouldn't be a formal adventure in and of itself, it provides the motivation for the other eight Acts, and so should be heavily considered to insure consistency and continuity.

Act One makes for a great starting adventure. This is the module that introduces the characters to the milieu, and helps to establish the mood and flavor for the rest of the campaign. Often, this adventure establishes the status quo before it gets interrupted and things go out of control in the next Act.

Act Two gives our heroes the big hook for the rest of the campaign arc. Here's where the GM introduces the major complication that pushes our adventurers and the setting forward into the main storyline of the campaign. Just as the first adventure set the scene for the players, this Act helps us realize that something's going wrong, and there's a need for adventurers to fix the problem.

Act Three establishes the main villain and their supporting characters. This is the adventure where the party begins to invest themselves in the setting. A good villain gives them that opportunity, and this is the adventure in which the villain is showcased. Obviously, he can't be put in a position of danger here, so it is advised that either the party meets a representative of the villain should combat arise, or that the villain only be present during social scenes where slaying him is not an option. (For example, maybe he's a guest of the King, or is meeting under a flag of truce.)

Act Four provides the party with their first goal. They should believe that this solution will address the problem introduced in Act Two, and thus overcome the villain from Act Three. As the Referee or GM, you should consider either offering the goal piecemeal and letting them put clues together over the course of this adventure to arrive at the solution, or simply presenting the solution to them at the end of the adventure.

Act Five could easily represent one to three adventures, as the party pursues their first goal. Each step toward this goal is harder than the last, and the complications continue to pile up. It should seem like the villain is winning at this point, but not so much so that the players are overly frustrated. You don't want them to quit, but you do want them to feel challenged by the scenarios. At the end of this Act, over the course of the final adventure (or perhaps right at the end of that adventure), the party should discover that they've been pursuing the wrong goal, and this should be the point when the villain looks most likely to succeed in his long-term goal.

Act Six is the adventure that realigns the party's focus on the second goal, the one that will actually resolve the complication for them, save the day and end the tyranny of the main villain. This is where they get that final clue or insight that empowers them to successfully move toward a positive completion of the campaign arc.

Act Seven offers an adventure that should involve heroic sacrifice of some sort or another. Even though this is the correct path, it should not be a walk in the park. The party should deal a significant blow to the main villain here, but they should also have to make a hard decision in order to do so. This gives more emotional weight to their investment and ultimate victory.

Act Eight is the final adventure, where the party wraps up the campaign arc, finishes off the villain, ties up all the loose ends (or at least the big ones, anyway), gets the treasure, saves the world (or at least their small part of it), and potentially wraps up the campaign.

These are my thoughts, anyway. So, what do you think?


Monday, October 18, 2010

MyD20 Lite: Ability Score Increases...

Good Evening, All:

For a while now, I've been considering whether I wanted to add automatic ability score increases to MyD20 Lite in a manner similar to 3E or Fantasy Concepts. It's not "Old School" rules, but I like having that as an option. On the other hand, it is an added complication.

Then an idea hit me: why not leave it up to the player as another choice they can make? I could create new talents that allow players the opportunity to increase a specific ability score instead of gaining another special ability. I don't know how well it would fly, but I figure that I should at least ask about it here and seek the input of my readers. My initial thought was to limit these talents to any class with a prime attribute in that ability score or race with a minimum required score in that particular ability score. As an exception, I can see allowing humans access to all of the improvement talents, because of their adaptability. I can also see opening Charisma improvement up to all races and classes, simply because it isn't a prime attribute for any of the core classes and it doesn't serve as a minimum requirement for any of the core races.

With that in mind, please feel free to read the six new talent write-ups below, and let me know your thoughts on the matter.

Improved Strength: The character gains a +1 to Strength. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level; Warrior, Human or Orc.

Improved Dexterity: The character gains a +1 to Dexterity. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level; Rogue, Halfling or Human.

Improved Constitution: The character gains a +1 to Constitution. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level; Dwarf or Human.

Improved Intelligence: The character gains a +1 to Intelligence. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level; Mage, Elf or Human.

Improved Wisdom: The character gains a +1 to Wisdom. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level, Priest or Human.

Improved Charisma: The character gains a +1 to Charisma. This talent allows characters to obtain ability scores over 18, but characters are still restricted by any maximums due to race. This talent can be selected multiple times. Prerequisite: 4th level; any race or class.

With Regards,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The World Within: Cultures of Mediterranea...

Good Evening, All:

I was thinking of the various cultures that would populate the subcontinent of Mediterranea in the World Within. Given the feeling of antiquity that the Sword & Sorcery genre inspires in general, I'm looking at the Hellenic period as my primary source of inspiration. The cultures that come to mind from that period and in that region of the world as we know it are: the early Roman Republic, the Minoan civilization, Carthage, Macedonia and the Hellenic League (ancient Greece), the Ptolemiac Kingdom (ancient Egypt), a little bit of the Kingdom of Numidia, and the Seleucid Kingdom. From these various sources of inspiration comes the following ideas for cultures for our inner world's subcontinent.

Achean Republic
Controlling the lands north of the Hellenic Mountains, the Achean people are superior military tacticians known for their cavalry tactics. The City-State of Achea serves as the seat of power for this budding human empire. While lacking the powerful navy of the Kenaani League, the Achea Republic has little problem holding their mountainous territory against invaders.

Badari Dynasty
Located to the south of the Hellenic Mountains, the pyramid-building Badari are humans that have settled along the coast and into the interior of western Mediterranea. Known for their architectural accomplishments as well as their mastery of the healing arts, the Badari are also home to mysterious ritualists.

City-State of Heraklos
The bull-headed minotaurs of Heraklos, the large city on the southern shore of Lake Kriti, maintain a strong, insulated society deep in the wilderness of the interior of the subcontinent. Somewhat xenophobic, the minotaurs rarely leave their native lands of their own accord. Many of them are taken by raiders from the Badari Dynasty further to the south for use as slave labor, given their great strength.

Kenaani League
Encompassing numerous city-states along the western shores of Mediterranea, the Kenaani League are known as great maritime traders, travelling extensively up and down the coasts of both the Saharan Sea and the Eurasian Ocean. Many of the city-states that make up the League are predominately human, with a mixture of other races due to the metropolitan nature of Kenaani communities.

Sydonian Hegemony
An offshoot of the Kenaani League, the city-states making up the Sydonian Hegemony control coastal lands on both the northern and southern shores of western Mediterranea, as will as the short isthmus of land connecting Mediterranea to the main continent of Atlantica. Given their proximity to the degenerate descendants of the Atlanteans on the mainland of Atlantica, Sydon and the rest of the Hegemony have taken on the practice of using cavemen as slaves and soldiers in their constant warring against the Achean Republic.

Other People
In addition to the major political entities of Mediterranea, there are a great many tribes, clans and bands of humanoids that dwell in the wilds of the subcontinent. Most groups are comprised of a single race, but there are a great many human, caveman, gorilla-man and minotaur populations in the wilderness. A few tribes, villages and pirate ports offer homes to a heterogeneous mix of races, but these are few and far between, and often comprised of exiles from other tribes or regions.

With Regards,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Operating On Limited Prep Work...

Good Evening, All:

These last few days have been quite hectic at work, so I haven't had a chance to work on very much in the way of gaming material. Sometimes Real Life gets in our way. As a player, that's usually not a big deal. Let's face it; when you are a player, most of the time you just need to bring your dice, your character sheet and a snack or two, and you are good. Gamemasters don't always have that luxury. Of course, there are those legendary GMs we read about that have had the same game world for decades, and have so much stuff prepared that they can run entire campaigns on their notes alone. I am not one of them, much as I would love to be.

Still, there are things you can do as a GM when you don't have time to prepare as much as you'd like. First, it helps if you have a good understanding of what makes for a strong adventure story. For me, that means reading the adventure pulps that I have enjoyed since childhood and watching movies with an eye toward pacing, action and scene development. Reading books on mythology can also provide you with some great ideas for adventures and quests. Believe it or not, fairy tales make for some great adventure ideas, too. You have to disguise your sources, of course, and maybe you might blend two or more stories together, but once you get an idea, run with it.

While you can work on ideas at any time, at any place, there's still a little bit of extra work you need to do. Don't plan on throwing the most awe-inspiring combats on a week like this. Your scenarios shouldn't be twisted or convoluted. Instead, aim for straightforward and methodical. Use simple, pregenerated stats for basic monsters or NPCs when you need mechanics for encounters. Get into your roleplaying and interaction scenes more. Add some world detail, such as a simple parade or perhaps a wedding ceremony. Bits of color can sometimes distract the players into exploring avenues of your world that add depth to their gaming experience. When the players suggest something of interest in their questions or statements to one another, don't be afraid to run with it. Sometimes, it may create a totally new adventure that you hadn't planned, nor would have, but turns out to be one of the best sessions you've had in a while.

Ultimately, the key to success in these situations is: Keep It Simple. That's the thread that hopefully runs through all the advice I've offered above. You can make it appear more than that by running with the situations that the players find interesting, but keep it simple, and you will find that the campaign remains solid until you have the chance to put more time and energy into the game once again. Next week always has the chance of allowing for more creativity and game development.

Good Luck,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Ritualist: Some Pact Gifts of the First Rank...

Good Evening, All:

Below are a few examples of the rituals/pact gifts I'm creating for the Ritualist. Bear in mind that these are effectively spell-like abilities, and can be used every round unless otherwise stated in the description of the ability. Please look them over and let me know what you think.

Acid Spittle
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: 30 ft.; Dur: One attack; ST: None
With this granted ability, you may spit acid once per round at a single target within range. If the attack succeeds, the target suffers 1d4 points of acid damage. Using this ability more than once within the same hour makes you ravenous, as you must eat to replenish your body after being drained through the use of this power.

Dark Blessing
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: Touch; Dur: One minute; ST: None
By calling loudly on the name of your patron, you are given the ability to imbue your target with magical energy that protects it from harm, granting it a +1 bonus on all saving throws for the duration.

Eldritch Charm
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: 30 ft.; Dur: Four hours; ST: Yes
With this granted power, you may select one target within range who may attempt a saving throw to resist this power. If the target fails, then you have charmed your target, and they regard you as a close personal friend and ally. While the target would never act in a suicidal manner, nor follow obviously harmful orders, they will regard you in the best light possible. Threatening or allowing others to threaten your target automatically breaks the charm upon them. Through this power, you are granting your patron limited access to a potential mortal shell in the Physical World.

Mystic Sight
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: Personal; Dur: Twenty minutes; ST: None
This ability grants you the ability to see a magical glow around any enchanted object or creature within range for the duration of the ability. While this power is active, your patron may also look through your eyes into the Physical World.

Spectral Hand
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: 30 ft.; Dur: Concentration; ST: None
With this gift, you can lift and move any one object weighing less than five pounds within range that you point at. When moving the object, it moves at half your normal movement rate, but can never be moved beyond the range of this power. Alternately, you may focus the strength of this ability to push a door, lid or similar hinged portal open or closed, so long as nothing resists the push and the portal itself weighs under 30 pounds. Through the use of this power, you are serving as a conduit for your patron to interact with the Physical World, even if on a superficial level.

Whispering Winds
Rank: 1 (Universal); Rng: 150 ft.; Dur: One hour; ST: None
With this granted ability, the winds carry your whispered words to and from a single creature within range, so long as the wind may move between you and your target. You may carry on a whispered conversation, but this ability does not bestow any special knowledge for overcoming any language barriers that might exist. Through the use of this power, you are serving as a conduit for your patron to interact with the Physical World, even if on a superficial level. You may only carry on one conversation at a time.

With Regards,

Saturday, October 09, 2010

My First Bargain Bin Monsters: A Dozen Dinosaurs...

Good Evening, All:

Tonight, while at the grocery store, I came across a small package of a dozen plastic dinosaur toys. They are a little small, but at $2.74, it wasn't a bad investment. They still work with WOTC minis, and they'll look great on a proper base. All of this is in preparation for future Lost World/Hollow Earth scenarios... well, not really. I just love having dinosaur encounters, and now I've got more "minis" to work with. Chances are that I'll go pick up another package or two in the next few weeks, so that I've got multiples of each type, just in case.

I got the idea from a number of posts on the Carjacked Seraphim blog lately on the use of toys as miniatures. (Specifically, this one on Bargain Bin Monsters, and this follow-up with Two More Bargain Bin Monsters.) I was impressed with the idea, and next time I was at the grocery store, I noticed the twelve pack of dinosaurs. I may have found a new way to increase my monster collection!


Friday, October 08, 2010

The World Within: The Passage of Time...

Good Evening, All:

In a world where the sun never sets and the passage of time is difficult at best to track, if not impossible, tracking such things can be a challenge to the Referee. The concept of the regular and routine passage of days is thrown out the window when it's perpetually noon outside. Nocturnal races exist in cavern systems below the surface, where the eternal darkness of underground creates much the same problem. Obviously, people will eat when they get hungry, drink when they are thirsty and sleep when they are fatigued. In the World Within, a person's endurance determines their own internal clock, and so that becomes how we will likely track time within the game.

In essence, I think that you can look at a day as six blocks of four hours each. In a regular campaign, characters spend approximately two blocks sleeping, two blocks travelling or working hard before having to worry about fatigue, and two blocks on various and sundry tasks, such as cooking, eating and partying at the local inn or tavern if you happen to be in civilization. If hard labor is twice as difficult as sundry tasks, you could effectively say that most people get six blocks worth of light activity time before they begin to feel fatigue. Performing heavy activity counts twice, so that one block of heavy activity counts as two blocks of light activity. I imagine that a particularly high or low Constitution score would affect the number of blocks of light activity a person can perform before feeling the impact of fatigue, but I have yet to iron out that part of the rules. Fatigue is removed by two blocks of time spent sleeping.

People become hungry after sleeping, and after three blocks of light activity. This gives us a meal after waking, a meal in the middle of a day of travel, and a meal at the end of the day. Remembering the Rule of Three for Survival, it takes three days to die of dehydration. After two days of dehydration, characters begin to suffer 1d6 damage every two blocks of activity, until they become hydrated again or until they die from dehydration damage. It takes three weeks to die of starvation. After two weeks of starvation, characters begin to suffer one hitpoint of damage per six blocks of activity, until they become satiated with food or until they die from starvation damage. If a character has suffered either dehydration or starvation damage, they do not regain hitpoints from rest.

This system is simply my first thoughts on the subject. With this, I simply have to track blocks of time, and let hours roll into days without creating an awareness of time passing that is external to the milieu itself. After a while, time becomes what you make of it, and the perception of its passage will be based on a person's activities. I think it will lend itself well to the flavor of the setting. What do you think? Any suggestions?

With Regards,

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Gaming Groups: Away From The Gaming Table...

Good Evening, All:

Back in the day, when I began gaming, my gaming group was fairly large. Not only did we game together, but we hung out and spent time together as friends. We went to the movies. We ate out, or did a huge potluck thing, and spent time hanging out doing things besides gaming. Most of us were involved in a soft-weapon combat society called Amtgard, a kind of padded weapon live-action D&D system. Aside from the weekly battlegames, we went camping at events, feasting in garb, and drumming at revels late into the night. We were there for one another's weddings, our divorces and even the occasional funeral. We were like a household or clan, an order or club, a brotherhood or gang. We were like family, and it was great!

Many years have passed, and now we have fuller lives. We are married, we have kids, we have lives outside the game. We've moved on from our surrogate family. Now, the gamers in my gaming group rarely do anything outside of the regular gaming session. We aren't that close. (Well, a few of them are fortunately old friends from that time period, and I am close to them, but we don't do many of the things we used to.) I imagine it's a product of growing older, of newer responsibilities replacing older ones, of lives that change and thus circumstances that shape our lives. I wouldn't change my life for anything. Still, I miss the old days sometimes, and wonder if it's possible to capture some of that, to redevelop some of it and maintain that sense of community after so much has passed.

With that in mind, I ask my readers: what kind of relationship do you have with the gamers in your group? What kind of things do you do with them away from the gaming table, if anything? What kind of relationship do you think you should have with them?

With Regards,

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Working on MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide...

Good Evening, All:

Today I continued my work on the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide. I added a rewritten synopsis of the 5x5 Method, with proper accreditation, and then included a link to the article for more information. As it turns out, you can't mix other licenses with the OGL, so I can't quote the actual text of the method verbatim or directly. In addition, I updated the monster stat blocks based on James' suggestion earlier about adjusting the damage done by large creatures. Finally, I did some more work on the magic items section, working on the Constant Items lists.

I’m also building a number of lists for different types of Spirit Lords that can provide Pact Gifts to Ritualists. So far, I have four major categories: Elemental, Primordial (for those Elder Gods of the Mythos), Profane and Sacred. I also have a fifth category called Universal, which are gifts open to all Ritualists. If anyone has any additional suggestions, I’m definitely open to them.

More Tomorrow,

Monday, October 04, 2010

The World Within: A Campaign Arc...

Good Afternoon, All:

One of the biggest things I learned from Savage Worlds in terms of campaign organization is the Plot Point Campaign. If you combine that with the concept of the 5x5 Method of campaign generation, you end up with a very good tool for creating and populating a sandbox setting with adventures and a cohesive back story.

In the case of The World Within, I feel drawn to the original source material for inspiration, and have no qualms with stealing plots liberally from both Edgar Rice Burroughs (Pellucidar) and Robert E. Howard (Conan) if it will help me create a great Sword & Sorcery genre campaign. For example, the first book of the Pellucidar series, At The Earth's Core focuses on the story of a human revolt against the tyranny of the Mahars, the telepathic sentient pterodactyls that control a large area on Pellucidar. Rather than assume that the Mahars are in charge, I'm more inclined to use the decadent descendants of Atlanteans, a reptilian humanoid race inspired in part by the Yilane of Harry H. Harrison's West of Eden novel and its sequels. Thus, a campaign arc that very loosely follows the events of the first Pellucidar novel, adjusted for the setting, might look something like this:

  • Death To The Atlanteans
    1. Slave Raid: In which neanderthals, servants of the Atlanteans, raid a human village, capturing the lord's daughter in the process, and the party is engaged in an effort to rescue her.
    2. Into The Arena: In which the party becomes trapped in an Atlantean city, and must find a way to escape before they die as part of the gladiatorial games.
    3. The Temple of Old Atlantis: In which the party discovers the true depravity of Atlantean rites to the Spirit Lords, and learn the key to ending the Atlantean menace in Mediterrenea.
    4. The Grand Theft: In which the party must infiltrate an Atlantean city and steal the alchemical secrets to Atlantean parthenogenesis, thus leaving the race infertile.
    5. Hunted By Atlanteans: In which the Atlanteans give chase to the party as they flee with the alchemical secrets, and the party must contend with their pursuers.

It could probably use a little more spit and polish, and each adventure would have to be further developed, but this could easily become the foundation for a compelling and potentially rewarding campaign arc. The other story lines should be equally developed. Nothing too elaborate, but there should be enough detail that a sense of story emerges over the course of the adventures. So, what do you think?

If there's any interest, I'll try and post a few more campaign arc ideas later on, simply to get them out there for discussion and input.

With Regards,

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Magic in the World Within: Nothing Is Ever Free...

Good Morning, All:

Today, I wanted to briefly go over one of my core concepts for the Pact Gifts of the Ritualist: nothing is free. In essence, every special ability has some kind of sacrifice associated with it. My reasons for doing so are numerous. First, as spirits from the Spirit Realms are entities unto themselves, they are not inclined to give anything away for free. They want something in return. Second, spirits cannot create something out of nothing. They can convert one thing to another of a like nature, but they cannot create something where nothing once existed. Third, they want back into the Physical Realm, and consider opportunities that bring a spirit's influence into the Physical Realm to be adequate compensation for their gifts. When a Ritualist makes such requests, they are providing access to this realm, and thus trading access for power. Fourth, since things cannot be created, having a source of an appropriate material or energy nearby becomes very important, particularly for damaging effects like fire or acid. Thus, we have more cinematic flavor when the Ritualist creates a fireball effect, pulling from a large nearby source of fire to direct it to the target area. Fifth, and perhaps the most important to me, it creates a consistent flavor to the special abilities of the Ritualist that promotes actions of the kind associated with sorcerers from the Swords & Sorcery pulp adventures that serve as one of the sources of inspiration for the World Within.

As an example, let's consider healing for a moment. An example of a first level Pact Gift related to healing one's comrades would be Empathic Healing. For this power, I envision that the Ritualist could invoke the name of the spirit itself, and then transfer hitpoints from a willing donor to the intended target on a one-to-one basis (i.e. for every hitpoint the target heals, the donor loses one hitpoint.) If the Ritualist uses multiple donors, the transfer rate is three-to-two (i.e. for every two hitpoints the target heals, three hitpoints are lost among the multiple donors, divided as the willing donors agree.

Now, Empathic Healing may not sound very great from a player perspective, but it has a lot of flavor, and it lends itself well to the concept of a second level Pact Gift, Vampiric Healing. In the case of Vampiric Healing, the Ritualist may use unwilling donors to drain hitpoints from and transfer to the intended target. Unwilling donors are allowed a saving throw, and if successful, only lose half the desired hitpoints, which results in half the healing effect on the intended target. Now we have an ability that increases the Ritualist's use of captives and slaves as a power source, and promotes this concept for adventuring opportunities through reinforcement via the rules.

The ultimate healing ability, Raise Dead/Resurrection, can then be envisioned as a fifth level Pact Gift that requires the death of one or more intelligent creatures to bring life back to the intended target. The sacrifice must have at least as many hit dice/levels as the target, or at least 150% of the target's hit dice/levels if multiple sacrifices are made. Of course, unwilling donors may attempt a saving throw that, if successful, halves their effective hit dice donation, which in turn might require more sacrifices to accomplish this ritual's goal. Thus, a tenth level Warrior would require the sacrifice of fifteen or more slaves in order to bring this one back from the dead. Non-intelligent creatures may be sacrificed, but they only add one-quarter of their hit dice toward the accumulated total.

As I start to create my list of Pact Gifts or Rituals, I will keep this concept in mind. I hope to see some pretty interesting and flavorful concepts emerge as I continue down this path. As I create them, I'll try to post examples to this blog in hopes of getting some feedback that will help this become a better element for my next campaign.

With Regards,

Friday, October 01, 2010

The October Update...

Good Evening, All:

Here's a quick update on the status of my various projects.

MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide
This month, I've updated the monsters to the stats we worked out here in the blog, and I've been working on the Magic Item system. I haven't gotten any additional feedback from anyone else on the last draft version posted, so I can only assume that the monster stats were the only true sticking point. That's good. I don't see this being done this month, but perhaps by late November or early December.

Stellar Quest
Aside from the updated list of monsters, I've made very little progress on this Sci-Fi game inspired by Swords & Wizardry, exploring a world akin to that found in Star Trek and similar shows. I am going to run two adventures in this system at Owl Con, and I intend to have this one complete within a month of finishing the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide.

The World Within
I've finally come up with a name for the Hollow Earth setting I've been talking about lately. The World Within gives me a unique name to describe the setting, without confusing it with other names similar to that of the genre that has inspired the setting. I still haven't decided whether I'll publish my work on this, but as more and more comments on the post asking if people are interested in a published Hollow Earth setting, I'm starting to lean more and more toward doing so.

I still have a few small products I'm considering, but we'll see how things come together as time and interest allows.

More Later,

Hollow Earth: Should I Develop It For Publication?

Good Morning, All:

I have a quick question for the readers, given my recent fascination with the concept of the Hollow Earth campaign idea. I like this concept enough that I'll likely run it as my next campaign setting, so I know that I'll be doing further development on this as time permits. However, I've noticed that there's been a lot of comments on those posts, and so now I thought I would ask the readers: Should I develop the setting for publication? Is there enough interest to warrant that extra work? If I did this, it would likely be in the first three months of next year before I'd be ready to release such a book, given the other projects that are in line before it. This is your chance to impact my production schedule. Every vote counts.

What are your thoughts?

With Regards,