1 Nov

Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Charity Bundle

UPDATED 11/16/12: Thank you to everyone who purchased this product bundle, to all of the contributing publishers, and DriveThruRPG.com. This  bundle earned $15,827.00 for the Red Cross! Well done all!

Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Charity Bundle

The gaming community can always be counted on to react quickly to current events. Just look at the outpouring of… let’s call it, “emotion” at the revelation of the Darth Vader/Mickey Mouse merger. And that’s just responding to how we feel about imaginary catastrophes. When it comes to the “real world,” we immediately involve ourselves in a response and it is usually a great deal more positive. The folks at Roleplayers Chronicle, along with a number of publishers, have put together the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief Charity Bundle and I’m happy to be a contributor to their efforts.

Continue reading

29 Oct

Weather in Your Roleplaying Game

Uruk-hai in the Rain
“Really? Not one of you brought an umbrella?”

In my roleplaying game campaigns, the weather is often an afterthought. That is, of course, if it isn’t the focus of the matter at hand. I usually don’t give consideration to the weather in my Dungeons & Dragons game until someone asks about it. In non-fantasy games, like Shadowrun, it’s almost entirely window dressing. Regardless of what roleplaying game I’m running, I’m trying to be more conscious of it now. And I think, in part, it’s because of my recent experiences with the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. Continue reading

26 Oct

The Eternal Rest: A Creepy Fantasy RPG Supplement

RPGs or Twix?
“I’m just saying, maybe you shouldn’t eat all of the things.”

With Halloween just around the corner, everyone is clambering to add something dark, haunted, or zombie-filled to their usual game night. Of course, everyone is usually intent on the bags of candy that the DM tossed into the center of the table, and it isn’t because they want to dig their way down to the battlemat. By the time combat starts, the sugar crash has decimated the party. Often, it’s better just to have an atmospheric roleplaying session while people play terrifying sounds from their phones and discuss their favorite horror films. So why not pick up an inexpensive supplement to set the stage, and the hooks, for the following week’s adventure when that 3-pound bag of Twix is finally gone? Continue reading

21 Sep

Review: Frank Mentzer’s Lich Dungeon Level 1

Frank Mentzer's Lich DungeonThe OSR movement has been quietly swelling, to the point where it’s less and less quiet, really. OSR, or Old School Roleplaying (or Revival, or Renaissance, depending on who you ask) delves into the earliest dungeons and their straightforward philosophy of slay the monsters, pillage the loot, abide by the rules only as necessary, but have as much absurd fun as possible. For those who picked up and cast their dice in the 70’s, there’s nothing new about this mindset. But gamers who believe in the bipartisan Pathfinder versus 4E split as the foundation of gaming might be surprised by what they find in the origin story of “their” game and Frank Mentzer’s role. Continue reading

6 Sep

Dungeon Master Tips – BYOB Means Bring Your Own Background

Neon Bar SignThe Dungeon Master usually has a lot on his or her plate. I know that I usually have maps to make, dungeons to stock, NPCs to name, and plots to devise. And, when it comes to the “big maps” such as the world, or even a prominently featured city, I often hand wave the details until they are immediately necessary.

For example, I never keep a list of the exact businesses that are present in a given settlement. I just determine if what a player is looking for is available if they ask. Plainly, it saves a lot of time because then I didn’t fully develop the cobbler’s shop and give him a cool back story only to discover that nobody in the party was not in need of footwear repair. That’s time I could have spent on a location they were more likely to visit. Continue reading

5 Jul

Vote of Confidence

I’ve discussed a character’s right to survive in a previous entry. But what about the right to succeed? Generally, the two go hand in hand for most players. It tends to turn many Dungeons & Dragons’ groups into suicide squads with orders to succeed or die trying. In many of my groups, retreat was a rarely-considered option. A fellow DM, on the other hand, mentioned that his players frequently fell back, to regroup and reconsider, whenever the going got tough.

Come on 20!
Sometimes you don’t get to win. But, who knows? He might roll a natural twenty.

Players can fail at something without dying, though. An escaped mastermind or a ritual that was not stopped in time becomes an obvious springboard for the next adventure. And those things can carry consequences that demonstrate that the characters’ actions play a role in shaping the world. But this doesn’t take player morale into consideration. Note, that’s player morale, not character morale. The actual players around the table can wear down under failure.

Needless to say, this depends a great deal on the players in question and what their expectations are. It is vital in determining those expectations to understand the question: What is a hero? (I’m assuming the campaign is based around the “good guys,” and I’ll save the evil campaign discussion for a later date.) The answers from around the table, including the DM’s answer, points the way to keeping player morale up.

For some players, the hero is the character who proceeds despite adversity. He faces every challenge down, win or lose, and it is that willingness that makes him a hero. The outcome of each showdown does not define him. Getting outsmarted by the villain or retreating from a horde of foes does not nullify the character’s hero status. Instead, getting up and dusting himself off reinforces that status.

For other players, the hero is the character who succeeds despite adversity. It’s a subtle distinction, but a crucial one. She is defined by victory. If she loses to the villain, her hero status is negated. Conflict needs to be regulated with her inevitable victory in mind.

Protagonist Fail.
Wait, there’s a 3rd kind of “hero.” Succeeding despite stagnation.

Just as vital as the answer to the question “What is a hero?” is the honesty in that answer. And experience sometimes proves it out better than the vocalized answer. I think most players claim to want to proceed despite adversity. They want to believe that when they are on the ropes they can bounce back. Their player morale is still affected by losses, particularly back-to-back losses, but they press ahead to bolster their heroic status and seek to turn the tide.

Despite the claim of wanting to proceed despite adversity, some players need to succeed despite adversity. An accumulation of failures undermines their heroic nature and just being against the ropes is demoralizing. Where conflict is fun for the previous type of player, fun rests in victory here.

As in all things at the D&D table, the solution rests in the balance point between the DM and the players. Much like polling the players for the level of lethality sought from the game, it’s important to gauge the resilience (or fragility) of the table’s morale. Answers to the “What is a hero?” question are key, but should also be taken with a grain of salt. And it may not be consistent among the players. Just like adjudicating the rules, the DM needs to adjudicate the levels of success.

Obviously, major quests succeed or fail based on the actions of the party overall. But sowing success in the form of easier to defeat monsters at times or simple to unravel schemes on the part of the villains go a long way to bolster flagging morale along the way. Is this “grading on a curve?” I used to think so, but there’s really no point in handing out F’s if the primary goal of the table, fun, isn’t being met. Over the years, my DM style has slowly shifted, and it continues to shift based on my own experiences and those of other DMs, either through play or conversation.

More and more, I find myself adjusting elements on the fly by gauging the players’ reactions as they occur. So long as I apply those adjustments consistently, I feel the role of the DM as arbitrator remains intact. The only place that the illusion of a threat becomes genuinely visible, in the hands of a capable DM, is behind the screen. And if studying the various schools of magic has taught anything, it’s that illusions can prove just as challenging as the dangers they depict.

29 Jun

Kickstart the Weekend: Pens, Swords, and Anvils

So it’s been nearly a month since I told you how you should spend your money. Well, other than buying my stuff, anyhow. Here’s a diverse selection of interesting and noteworthy projects in the works. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s also Sangria Friday.

Artwork from the AD&D Rogue’s Gallery

AD&D Rogues Gallery
This was, hands down, the thief from my old AD&D group!

I was talking to someone after my appearance at the York Emporium about some of the “lost treasures” of the early days of D&D. Several artists have set out to recreate some of the artwork from those days (apparently, there was a “purge” conducted at certain corporate offices when space was at a premium). Jeff Dee is tackling the old Rogue’s Gallery and those images tweak my sense of nostalgia just a little. Now’s your chance to get some signed copies of those iconic images.


I’m all for games where my angry physical exertion creates a game effect! Don’t get me wrong, my first love is still the steady trigger pull on a perfectly executed rifle shot in a solid FPS. But there are times when my rage must be given form and motion. Hopefully Clang will make that a reality. Plus, I like Neal Stephenson. And the video made me laugh.

Tabletop Forge

Tabletop ForgeYup, they hit some stretch goals already so they don’t need your support. But you still might want to get in on this action. I have to say I’m pretty impressed with it, and that has a lot to do with the fact that they aren’t trying to do too much. Instead, it’s giving me the tools to create what I need without shoving me into a box with predefined actions. It’s lean and functional, and I actually like that it’s a part of Google+. (If you think Google+ is stupid, please keep thinking that. I want it to stay as nice as it is…)