Thursday, July 30, 2009

20 Random Container Contents

Who doesn't love random lists of weirdness? Stuffing chests full of gold and gems is a snore. Another +2 sword of the non-committal fighter, the shop in town has thirteen of those. A potion of egg balancing, that's only fun for so long. So here are 20 (I was going to do 100, but I got sleepy) random items to toss into containers.

01 - A dozen ivory figurines of animals. They are non-magical, but the monkey figurine looks suspicious.

02 - Ash and two black candles. The candles feel like normal candles, but when burned they produce ash. The ash is used to mark a person so that the candle burner will know where the marked person is.

03 - A wand of that shoots out a yellow sticky goo. The smell is horrible and attracts beasts.

04 - A pair of cotton trousers with several patches sewn onto the right pant leg.

05 - The sound of several people whispering that fades after a few seconds after the container is open.

06 - Red leaf smoking tobacco. Causes hallucinations.

07 - A ten foot long parchment detailing an adventuring party's failed attempt to find the entrance into Tomb of Horrors.

08 - A totem of an orc with colorful wings. If shown to an orc, the player has a chance of having a conversation.

09 - One card from the Deck of Many Things. It depicts a pack of wolves coming out of the forest at night. The player has now become the prey of some beast.

10 - A wooden tankard with four handles. An instrument for an old drinking challenge. Two to four people sit at table and drink from the tankard using the handle facing them. One handle will produce a poison where the other three produce mead. The poisoned player is rendered unconscious for the night. The poison handle changes after each round.

11 - Blond and brown wiglets. When worn by females it increases their attractiveness.

12 - Herbal components to create a healing potion.

13 - A kyrss style dagger with no hilt. A magical rune is engraved on the blade. Its magic can only be used when the blade is joined with the missing hilt with the same rune.

14 - The Zombie Survival Guide. Any player who reads this book does +2 damage to zombies.

15 - An ogre's fist. It looks to have been sliced off clean. It will attempt to choke a player. The fist maintains its strength.

16 - Four scarred horseshoes. An old ranger trick to make tracking riders easier.

17 - A small cask half filled with red wine. The wine is cursed to make the imbiber's thirst unquenchable.

18 - Two pieces of wood nailed together. If the nails are removed a small recess is revealed in one of the boards. Within the recess is small egg, it coloring makes it almost indistinguishable from the wood. It is a forest dragon egg.

19 - Freshly minted small gold bars stamped with insignia of a king thought dead.

20 - Pieces of fur and twigs make up a nest. Woven into the nest is a silver thread with loops at each end. It is a bowstring and if strung on a longbow it provides +1 to damage and cannot be broken. If the bow it already magical it will add an additional +1.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Guild of Thieves

I've been working on my C&C adventure and starting to edit Rob's product he is planning to publish soon. Keep an eye out for the announcement at Bat in the Attic. Here is an example of a thieves guild I developed for a section of my campaign. Enjoy.

The Knights of the Coin (KotC) is a mockery of the trend where noble families would name themselves after a virtue or some symbol that represented their family such as Knights of Mercy, Paladins of Valor and Warriors for Freedom. Noctum, founder of KotC, was amused by the nobility's hypocrisy and decided the thieves' guild would join in the fun.

The Initiate
The first tier of KotC is the initiate. An initiate must be sponsored by a third tier member, a Burglar or Cutthroat. The initiate must give their money and valuables to the guild before they begin. For a year they must survive on the streets without buying or trading. A sponsor may offer relief at times, but for the first year an initiate is to fend for himself. If an initiate is caught buying or trading they forfeit all their valuables and must start their year again if they still want to be a member.

Within this year the sponsor will have the initiate tested in several ways. One will include the person being arrested and questioned about his superior or possible plans. The initiate may be left to be tortured to see how far their loyalty goes. Depending on the sponsor the year can be brutal. Other tests will include the a friend's betrayal and choosing the guild over family.

Upon the completion of the year on the streets an initiate is give a dagger with a copper coin embedded in the hilt and is now considered a...

The Rogue
The second tier of the KotC is the Rouge. The main responsibilities of a Rouge is performing manual labor, provide distractions, acting as soldiers,and watching the initiates. Rouges usually spend two to ten years at this tier depending on the influence of their sponsor and the talent of the Rouge. The death or disgrace of one's sponsor can trap a member at this tier for many years.

When a Rogue is elevated into the third tier of the guild they must decide which path he will follow, a Burglar or Cutthroat. A Rouge is given a curved dagger if he chooses the path of a Burglar or a kryss dagger if he chooses the path of the Cutthroat. Both daggers have a silver coin embedded in the hilt.

The Burglar
A Burglar specializes in theft, gathering information, organizing merchants to sell their stolen goods and to recruit initiates.

The Cutthroat
A Cutthroat specializes in infiltration, intimidation, deception and assassination. There are fewer Cutthroats due to the extreme training and high fatality rate, but they are well paid and feared by all including other members of KotC.

The Masters
There are six Masters at any one time. This is a lifetime office. Only death or disgrace can end a Master's reign. When s Master's reign ends the other Masters choose the replacement.

Masters decide the direction of the guild, policies, punishment and membership. They make arrangements with merchants, nobles and other guilds or as they call it, the practice of night politics. They do not usually get involved in day-to-day operations, but can if they wish. Masters are not subject to the same punishments as other members. Only a vote from the other Masters can sanction any punishment. This is a rarity unless the confidence of the guild is at stake.

Each Master wears one of the Daggers of Noctum as a symbol of their office. These daggers have magical abilities and can be identified by the ancient gold coin embedded in each of the hilts.

Verdelay of the Silent Knives

Verdelay was one of the most feared Cutthroats for over two decades. He completed more contracts than any other member in the history of the KotC. He is an expert of languages, disguise, acting and making his targets feel at ease.

Verdelay has been a Master for seven years and was responsible for the death of his predecessor, Aramon. Aramon was providing information of membership to a rival. The other Masters secretly gave Verdelay the position as long as he disposed of Aramon. It took two days to penetrate the Aramon's defenses. The next day he arrived covered in blood with Aramon's dagger at his side and wearing blood stained Aramon wore when he was murdered. He'd hung Aramon's mangled body over the gate letting the others know traitors within the guild will not be tolerated.

Verdelay is a good natured man who is often the voice of reason when the other Masters get into arguments. Often listening more than talking. He enjoys the simple things in life especially his pair of hunting dogs which do very little hunting. He is not a man of extreme passions, but rather one of calculated control. When he complete contracts he felt no exciting it was just a job.

He has no favorites in the guild. He makes sure the needs of the Cutthroats are not neglected because they have a smaller membership.

The other Masters fear Verdelay and he knows this. He understands the delicate balance between fear and respect. He is not motivated by money or power, but the health and prosperity of the members of the KotC.

Verdelay prefers the peaceful quiet of the graveyard to hold meetings with his henchmen. Within the catacombs of Lord Malendor's crypt Verdelay and his most trusted men meet to discuss the month's business.

Verdelay has possession of Noctum's favorite dagger, Obscurity. This small dagger allows the user to walk through a crowded street without anyone noticing. People will move out of the way without thinking. Only an act of violence against a person (i.e. punch, slap, kick, stab or slash) will bring notice upon the wielder. Because of this power the wielder has complete surprise for the first attack.

I give only one of the six masters. If you're interested in the other five and more details about the Knights of the Coin let me know. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Adventure Design

Lately I've been absorbing Castles & Crusades, learning the rules and its subtleties. One of the best ways for me to learn a system is to make characters. I'll create a couple characters for each class then go through a few mock combats. I am lousy at figuring out the initial rules of games so I often ask Rob or Dwayne for clarification. This time around it hasn't been too difficult of a learning process, mainly because C&C is so closely related to 1st edition AD&D. Gaining confidence in my knowledge of the system I thought it would be great to write an adventure.

For the past two, maybe three, weekends I have been dedicating a large chunk of time creating an adventure module for C&C. The premise of the module is it would be the first in a series of short adventures. Each adventure could be completed in a single gaming session. The players would start out as 1st level goobers and by the end of the series should be 5th level or somewhere in that area. The centerpiece of the adventures would be the Village of Aberton, a place where the players can rest, heal and get support from the villagers. Plus, it provides a place for character development and the exploration of the storylines within the village.

I think I have a good background and situation developed for the first adventure. I have interesting characters with histories that color the village. Rob is helping me with maps. It's a good thing to be friends with one of the best cartographers around. But, the one thing Rob, Dwayne and I have absolutely no talent in what so ever is drawing. So art will be minimal to non-existent.

I hope to have it completed before the end of the month. When it's done I'll post it on Gothridge Manor and possibly on RPG Now for a free download. If the response is good then I'll produce the series further and possibly start selling it in which case I could buy a few pictures.

On another note, our gaming night is tomorrow. Rob and I continue on in Dwayne's apocalyptic campaign. Should you have any interest in our game Rob of Bat in the Attic is twittering the session. We start tomorrow at 6:30pm EST, which means we really start between 7pm and 7:30pm.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Today's Youth in Gaming

There's been rattling in the blogosphere about the kids of today and the future of RPGs. I've worked extensively with school-ages children over the past 12 years. In that time I've worked with over 100 children and families so I have some insight on how they think and why. Even with my experience I will never claim to be an expert because I never stopped learning from them. So not once will I say, "Because I'm me and I say so".

There are so many ways to approach this subject. I've heard the arguments that kids of today don't like to read. Of course there are those who don't, but there are many who still read and read a lot. The children who read today are better read than the kids I knew when I was young. Most gravitate to the biggies like Harry Potter, Twilight and whatever else is out there. But they are reading. And in my opinion the biggest and widest range of reading material out there getting the kids attention is the manga books. I know very little about them, but I know both girls and boys liked them and the trend is obvious these days. Go to a Barnes or Borders, the manga books selection is growing and in the prime traffic area.

Again there has been a lot of talk about the future or lack of future of RPG and the apparent success or the failure of RPGs making money. I tend to be more laid back on these subjects know that the ones who are smart and willing to evolve will survive the rest will fade into the mist of nostalgia. I see a good portion of the RPG community fading into that mist especially us old farts. I stand on the edge of the mist happily. The kids of today are not going to like what we liked. Games that evolve to capture the kid's attention will capture their money. I am not a lover of 4th edition D&D, but I think they were brave enough to take this step. They are appealing to the mass of WoW gamers and all the other MMORPGs look a likes. But WotC failed again to have the foresight to get their shit together and have that web based tabletop up and running. Personally, I don't understand how a company with that many resources continually screws the pooch.

The point is, we can continue to make the same old games and throw different descriptions on hit points, armor class, make up fancy names for equipment and monsters, but it's the same game. It's a game fewer younger people are interested in. When my generation of gamers started we were all on the same level. Everyone was figuring out this wonderful new game. We were all on the same mission. D&D was pretty much the only system so there were no arguments about editions or which system to play. It was simple. We just wanted to play.

Today there are thousands of forums and thousands of blogs dedicated to every minute detail. Can you imagine being an 11 year old kid walking into this massive world of conflicting ideas of systems, rules and editions spattered across the web? It's so much easier o fire up the XBox 360 and go hunt down your friends in Call of Duty 4 or go on a raid in WoW.

But do I think the gaming industry is dying? No. Can money be made in the gaming industry? Sure. Can you make a living from the gaming industry? A select few possibly. Do I think the kids of today will join RPGs? Absolutely. They just aren't concentrated in one area like they used to be.

Now go call your friends and get a game going. It's the weekend. Game on!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Doom? Oh, the Drama.

I agree with Rob at Bat in the Attic that if a quality and innovative product is created then it will sell. A profit can be made. What I am having a problem with is all the prognostication about industry booms 'once in a generation'. There's not enough information to make such a comment. Gaming has been around a little over thirty years, that's not even two generations. Yet I hear this comment over and over again. I think we need to get a real perspective of how long this hobby has existed. The once every generation seems a bit dramatic to me.

The problem and the asset for RPGs is the majority of the players are capable of producing their own campaigns and supplements. This is self-evident with all the people who blog who are putting out their own independent projects.

And I am guilty of this as much as anyone, but it seems so many of us are looking to the past of the industry instead of the future. We can only milk the past for so long. I'm a huge fan of the Old School Resistance, but I am also looking for that new project out there that's going to excite me. Something I've never seen and not something I get because it reminds me of days gone by.

Will it take 20 more years for the gaming industry to see another 'boom'? I doubt it. The boom will take as long as it takes for someone to create it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Player's Loss

In a previous entry I wrote about the death of a character and how it needed to be integrated into the game. This entry will focus on the loss of something important to the PC such as abilities, items or allies. It's sometimes easier for a player to give up the life of his character than to surrender his favorite weapon or tome of knowledge. This is a situation where the item defines the character instead of the other way around.

In every good movie or novel the hero suffers losses. It's critical to the hero's journey.

Here is an example from my own vault of gaming past:
Rob was GMing a 3rd edition GURPS fantasy campaign in City-State. My mage character assassinated a baron who rebelled against City-State. When I tried to escape, the Lars, the ancestral spirits of this noble house captured me. The easy outcome would have been with the Lars killing me, but Rob came up with something very cool. The Lars reached into my body and tore out my magery and left me without the ability to cast spells. Rob took much pleasure in my surprise. It was pretty cool.

So now I had a mage character with no ability to cast spells. I could have committed suicide by town guard, called Rob horrible names, or stormed out of the game never to return, but I am a sucker for such turns in my character's development. I bought some minimal skills in basic combat to help me survive then started my quest to recover my magery. During my quest I discovered different types of magic, including a more powerful source of magic. My character learned how to use this new magic and eventually recovered his old magic abilities as well.

When my character returned to City-State he had a respectable skill in combat, his old magic back and a new more powerful source of magic at his disposal. Because of this critical loss my character discovered other sources of strength and power. When I returned to City-State he shook the foundations of a very powerful guild and the city itself. This was all secondary compared to the fun I had on my journey to get to this point. The journey was the most important.

It worked because I had an excellent DM and Rob trusted me not to take my loss of magery as a personal attack. It made me go outside my characters strengths and discover his magery did not define him. It was just a part of him.

GMs should challenge their players and in doing so the players will suffer losses. It will test the trust between player and GM, but if the players accept the losses it will make the victories sweeter and more memorable. It allows the GM to be more dramatic and more playful with the character's story arc.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Best Book Ends Ever

I was at Borders Books minding my own business, drinking a way too expensive drink as I browsed books I had no intention of reading when I came upon these beauties.

I liked them so much I bought two pairs and I'm thinking about buying a third. If you like them check out a Borders near you. Avoid the gaming section, its embarassing, but indulge in an expensive drink.

Sid here savors a Carmel Javanilla Shake with a shot of expresso after shattering the faith of a cleric earlier in the day.

Vicious enjoys a Mocha Cappuccino after making a paladin cry like a baby.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

PC Deaths

It happens. PCs die. It should happen fairly regular since they constantly place themselves in danger by battling monsters and horrific undead creatures or delving into dungeons dark and dangerous. Deaths will occur, but how should the GM handle it? How should the players handle the death of a character?

I've read suggestions that a GM should fudge his dice rolls when the players are having a run of bad luck. Don't do this. It's a lazy solution. You shall be flogged with Slim Jims (the big ones) if you do this. It's easy to be heroic when all the rolls are going your way. Only when the players are desperate, on the edge of defeat and yet manage to overcome the situation, is the term heroic, appropriate.

Here's a not so quick example:
Situation: The party enters a room and a portcullis falls into place blocking the exit. A group of orcs are behind another portcullis. The party is getting their ass handed to them as the orcs riddle them with arrows. The fighters can't engage, the mages are having trouble getting a spell off, and the thief and ranger are not doing enough damage to kill a dust bunny.

1. The players can try to lift either portcullis.
2. The fighters make a shield wall and wait until the orcs exhaust their arrow supply.
3. The GM can have one of the orcs raise the portcullis because he believes the fight is already won and wants to finish them off. Some may argue that this would be another way of fudging die rolls but I would argue the GM is not solving the problem by fixing the dice rolls, but providing the players a chance to overcome the problem.
4. Should the players be reduced to unconscious heaps of flesh, the GM could have them captured. Warning, have a very good reason why the orcs should not just slit their throats and strip them naked. The orcs can make extra cash by selling them into slavery, maybe they need a sacrifice to their dragon boss, or possibly use the players as entertainment.
5. If the party is overwhelmed by the orcs then let it happen, otherwise there is no danger in battle. These deaths will give the dungeon a sense of personal history among the players. A death of a favorite character is great fodder for future adventures and in a way that character can live on through the continuance of the campaign, becoming a part of the mythology.

In the end the GM must make the players feel like they had a chance. There must be a possibility of death when players explore these places or you do them a disservice. If players know the GM will pull their ass out of the fire then, for me, you might as well go play Candy Land.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Worst Player I Ever GMed

Zack on RPG Blog II wrote about his worst DM ever and it read like a horror story. My worst DM was one who had a PC graveyard folder. If you went through his dungeon(s) and died he wanted your character sheet. These days it's no big deal to give up a copy of your PC, but back then we had no copies. This DM was proud of how thick his PC graveyard was and would thumb through it and brag how he'd killed them. First time I encountered him we played and I had a half-orc assassin character I liked a lot. I believe he was 5th level. This GM slaughtered the entire party within fifteen minutes of game play by rolling a random encounter of ten crazed titans. He expect each of us to hand over our characters and told him no. This was a one shot deal this character was involved in another campaign. He told me I could no longer play that character. It was his. It was dead. I left with my character sheet as did the others. I'm not sure what happened to him, but I am sure he is still thumbing through his PC graveyard folder.

Now onto the worst player I ever had. Now this will be in two parts because it changed. The first worst characters I ever had were actually Rob and Dwayne. They couldn't get along well enough to complete a single session without wanting to or killing one another. It was one of the main reasons I stopped DMing for a long time. It's hard to DM when your players just want to disembowel one another. But I am happy to report that is long past.

The worst player I had was always trying to find new ways to cheat. The only reason I dealt with him was he was part of a new group Rob and I started to play with. All the other guys in the group were a lot of fun to game with. I shall name this player Butthead, but Butthead was always cheating. We were playing a GURPS campaign so it is a point based system. Everyone started out with 100 point characters. I believe after a couple of game sessions the players were 110 characters, but magically Butthead's character was nearing the 200 point total. After I checked his sheet he defended it saying I had given him the points, like he was trying to pull some Jedi mind trick. I told him to go pound salt and redo his character to the 110 point level.

During game play he would roll the dice and cover them with his hand so no one could see the result but him. So I had to take a box off a Trivial Pursuit game and said all dice rolls needed to made within or it would not count. He said it wasn't fair. He said he wasn't cheating. He said I was doing it just because of him. I told him yeah I am now shut up and roll. In the box.

I was not fond of him game play either. He was playing a holy warrior, paladin type, but every time a monster or NPC would go down he would be the first to start pilfering through the pockets even if a battle was still going on. He let two of his party die so he could get to an NPC's pockets first. Since he was not a true paladin he did not lose any powers, but when he went to the church he proclaimed to be a part of the healing spells would not work on him. Through the priests I explained he had angered the god with his actions. Butthead thought I was being completely unfair. That I was picking on him and wanted his character dead. When I told him his actions had consequences to roleplay it. If you want to be the bad boy of the church please indulge or if he wanted to storm out in anger and join an opposite aligned church and show them then please do. But he was more interested in arguing.

During the one of the final sessions he continued to cheat with his character by slipping in more points and equipping them with magic items he never had access to. Even through all his cheating and pouting he met his character met an appropriate death by the hands of the lowly city guard. He did not return to play with us again. He said we cheated. The rest of his group stayed on and we had a lot of good adventures together. So if nothing else, Butthead managed to introduce me to another group of gamers I would not have known.