Saturday, November 13, 2010

Evil PCs 2: Electric Boogaloo

My gaming group has had to put our regular Thursday game on an every-other-week schedule because one of our players has a work conflict. When we sat down and decided what we wanted to run in his absence, there was an almost unanimous vote for a continuation of the evil PCs game. I acquiesced, even allowing them to step out of the confines of Basic D&D into Pathfinder since everyone seems more comfortable working in that ruleset. Characters were made, some just lightly reconceptualized and others completely new and made from scratch. I made it clear to the players that I wanted their evil deeds to be entertaining and meaningful - not just exercises in debauchery.

To that end, I had them each give me a "1x3" - a concept for an ally, an enemy, and a neutral NPC - and then asked them, in private, the most evil thing their characters have done. (This will become important later; I'll explain further in the next blog post.) James, a player and fellow GM, was also invaluable in helping me to conceptualize the base of operations for this campaign: an as-yet-undeveloped part of my world where the sinister grey elves (the Numenil) build huge cities that stretch miles into the planet's crust.

James and Mat are both playing Numenil elves (a NE sorcerer named Vid and a LE assassin named Algalon, respectively), so I wanted them to feel like the capital city of the grey elves, Numethril, really was their home. It still needs a lot of fleshing out, but we at least have starting ideas and a few basic locations nailed down - many of which I was able to use to showcase their NPC concepts.

Our other regular, Evan, has opted to run a CE human antipaladin and disciple of Orcus named Edgar. I also picked up a fourth player, Elliott, from the Try-It-Out session I did the prior week for RTR; his character, Bellius, is a LE tiefling cleric of the archdevil Belial.

Vid and Algalon's motivation for venturing outside of Numethril was easy to accommodate: they were both killers-for-hire working for hit contractors inside the city. Edgar began the tale in a stronghold on a nearby island, attending the court of his master, a skull lord named Osric who commanded him to travel north across the sea to the ice continent of Ondur and seek out the resting place of his old enemy, the moondragon Ostyax. Osric commanded Edgar to kill the dragon if he yet lived and clear the stronghold for Osric's undead troops to establish a beachhead in Ondur. To find a ship that could brave the waters, though, Edgar would need to travel to Numethril and book a charter.

(Elliott was going to show up late but I figured it would be easy to work Bellius into the story whenever he got there. The timing of his arrival was most fortuitous for me, but rather terrible for him - but more on that later.)

In building encounters for this session, I wanted to try some things I hadn't run before, most of which were just at or below their level in terms of difficulty. I knew I'd be using angels, archons, and eladrin heavily in this game, and I wanted to familiarize myself with how they played compared to a demon or devil, so the bulk of my main dungeon was populated by low-level celestials - justice archons and bralani eladrin. I had also picked out a planetar angel to serve as the primary guardian of the moondragon's resting place, but switched it out at the last minute because I was afraid it might be too tough for them (they started at level 10, and the planetar is a CR 16 creature). I also had two mini-encounters I wanted to use leading up to the dungeon: a nasty little gem I picked up from Kobold Quarterly called The Cottage That Moves, and a brutal skirmish with a pack of chaitrakhan, arctic felines with icy protective coatings and a poisonous tail stinger that slows their prey.

To bait them in, I informed Vid and Algalon through their NPC contacts that a 20,000 gp mark had been placed on the head of a human wizard from the south named Radford Andros, who had been spotted inside Numethril a few days prior and was rumored to be heading north to Ondur. (A rival assassin who competes with Algalon has also taken the contract, so Mat's PC is determined to outshine his colleague.) Edgar bluffed his way into the city (which is normally closed to outsiders without an invitation) and chartered passage on the same boat as the other two. Once they made landfall on the Ondurian coastline, a blizzard kicked up, hampering their travel and visibility - but luckily they had all specifically purchased ice cleats and endure elements potions, so they weren't too bad off. A trail of human-sized bootprints in the snow, accompanied by fresh blood, led them to a beautiful little cabin nestled in the snow. Chopped firewood lined the exterior of the house, and inside the smell of roasting boar meat tickled at the bellies of the cold and hungry travelers. A man and his son were at work moving firewood into the cabin; through the windows they could see a woman, a girl, and a much younger boy tending a wood stove and preparing dinner.

Having experienced this group's treatment of innocent bystanders in the last session, I knew the rustic scene would bait them into the house. Sure enough, Vid dropped a dust of twilight spell onto the cottage, sending the family into panic. The villains slaughtered the family to a one (though the little boy rolled a critical hit with his toy wooden sword on Edgar when the antipaladin grabbed him, leaving the evil knight with a nasty scar running from the right corner of his mouth all the way to his ear). Vid and Algalon removed the feet from each body (one of Vid's NPC contacts, the sinister owner of a magic shop in Numethril, needed to fill a large order for a special client and was offering good money for them) while Edgar prepared the corpses for a ritual dedication to Orcus. Algalon worked feverishly to cover up the evidence, and set a bear trap just outside the door as a safeguard - a note found on the father suggested that this was the first of a number of pioneers and more settlers were on their way.

About this time, Elliott showed up. I worked his tiefling cleric, Bellius, into the session by explaining that he had just been officially inducted into the greater circles of the cult of Belial and was being escorted through the Nine Hells to a portal in Cania that would take him to the Ondurian cold wastes. Once he arrived, the representative of his patron charged him with finding a stronghold of angels to the immediate north and destroying them. Bellius examined the stronghold and deduced that the power of the angels within was too great for him to stand alone against them. He had already found the cabin - uninhabited, before the arrival of the murdered settlers - and was returning to it to plan his next move. When he arrived, he saw a dissipating cloud of darkness (the remnants of Vid's spell) rapidly vanishing overhead, and heard the cruel laughter of men inside. Of course, he cast a few protective spells on himself and went in to investigate - walking right into the bear trap at the front door and taking considerable damage.

The PCs hashed out their differences, realized they were more or less on the same side and headed the same way, and decided to join forces. Their perception rolls revealed nothing about the true nature of the house, and they decided to rest soon thereafter.

At midnight, the mimics launched their attack. This was probably the most challenging encounter in the entire session. There's nothing like watching a house and its furniture try to eat a party alive while they're sleeping. Seriously.

They killed the mimics, and would have suffered crushing damage and suffocation from the oversized mimic that made up the cottage had Vid not paralyzed it with a ghoul touch spell, holding the dead mimic in place long enough for them to escape out into the cold and spend the night in their bedrolls being pelted by a blizzard, their only company the stench of the fresh corpses buried nearby. (Bellius suggested pulling a Luke Skywalker and sleeping inside the still-warm remains of the giant mimic; Algalon refused, saying the thing smelled bad enough on the outside.)

The next day, Bellius was able to point them in the direction of the burial cairn, and Algalon and Vid surmised that their quarry might be heading to the same location as their pious friends, so they ventured forth together. Just south of the burial cairn, they were jumped by a pack of five chaitrakhans. This fight took some time, and the ice cats are pretty tough for being CR 4 monsters; I will definitely be using them again. Bellius, not wanting to waste a good resource, animated one of the beasts as a skeleton. It has proved to be a formidable minion.

Inside the cairn complex, the fighting was quick and brutal. The PCs spotted the first trap, a spiked pit guarded by a pair of justice archons, and triggered the second, a summoning circle that brought forth two bralani eladrin. Bellius dimensional anchored one of the bralani during the fight, and Edgar dragged the dying angel outside, sacrificing her to Orcus before they continued onward. A celestial chimera with the head of a lion, ram, and gold dragon guarded the next chamber in the cairn, but it only lasted three rounds of combat.

The right passageway leading deeper into the cairn emanated a large aura of good, and was sealed with a cold iron door covered in inscriptions written in multiple languages. They decided to forgo that direction for the time being, walking into another trap area - a corridor of crumbled archways shrouded in magical darkness and filled with giant spiders. Beyond the spiders was a pool and a large statue placed behind a pile of treasure; the statue was flanked by a pair of tombs. Bellius ordered his skeletal minions into the room (he had animated the eladrin that Edgar sacrificed), disturbing the water mephits in the pool. The undead chaitrakhan quickly dispatched the tiny elementals, and the PCs entered the tomb. When Edgar moved to disturb the treasure pile, the statue sprang into life, and a huge dwarf wearing leather armor and wielding a wicked-looking greatsword attacked them. The tombs burst open, and two deathless warriors (decapitated, oddly enough) rose to aid the dwarf. This fight was disappointingly short; I had used canned stats for the dwarf from Paizo's GameMastery Guide but should have upgraded the armor selection to make him hold against the PCs a little longer.

Self Critique and Analysis

The roleplaying in this session was great. I feel that I did a pretty good job of working in everyone's NPCs except for Elliott's, but I intend to resolve that next time. The characters felt at home, but I want to get them to help me build a city they'll enjoy RPing in. I may have each of them contribute two ideas for locations to include in Numethril so that when they return to the city they'll have plenty of places to go and people to interact with.

I made the encounters in the burial cairn way too easy. I should have picked more difficult traps and monsters to guard the tomb and buffed the guardians up a bit more. The mimics gave the party more trouble than anything else they fought (EL 11, and the chaitrakhans were EL 9, compared to an average EL of 8 in the cairn).

On the other hand, I may have lulled them into a false sense of security that I can exploit later. I was originally worried that the planetar was too tough of an encounter for them, but now I'm not so sure. And there's always the matter of Radford Andros - the wizard is sure to be on the scene somewhere causing trouble. Plus, Ostyax may still be quite alive and well - and very angry that a group of blackguards have dared to slay his heavenly guardians and disturb his promised slumber. There's one more nasty trap they haven't run into yet, too.

This dungeon was intended to be a short one, but I'm now thinking about plugging in another level from a canned module to expand it - restocking it with more appropriately difficult encounters, and forcing them to slug it out a while longer. This gives me more time to build future material and lets them test the limits of their resources. I have an idea of how to grind them down more and humble them a bit... but more on that later.

Share your thoughts, as always. I love hearing other people's ideas on fun encounters to build and interesting plot points to develop.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Self Critique - Sherlock Holmes Fudge Campaign

Had a good game last night with some great roleplayers.  After the game, I asked everyone to jot down what they would like to see more of next time.  The answer came back with a resounding "More Combat!" from every single player.  I do feel bad that there wasn't much action in the last session. 

Here's where I think I went wrong:

1) We spent the first part of the session working on characters.  This was unavoidable.  The pregen characters needed some polishing up, we had a new player and I had modified some of the rules of the game due to previous feedback.

2)  I had gone into the game with the intention of letting the players decide where to take the game (usually a good thing).  The current adventure is pretty complex due to the nature of time travel.  Too many choices on where to go next stalled the game.  I didn't want to strong arm the game by having Sherlock Holmes (NPC) take over.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Workshop Notes: The 3 By 3

Rob Hupf did an excellent workshop Friday night on using the Three By Three (3x3) method for generating characters. The idea is simple: next time you're about to start a game that will run for a few sessions and require a backstock of NPCs, have your players (or random creative people in your life!) imagine a character they would want to play, and then generate a list of nine other characters: three allies, three enemies, and three characters who have no disposition toward the PCs.

One thing I think helps with this method is giving the participants a one-page summary of the setting in which they should envision their characters existing. We were a bit haphazard in our prep - Rob had been kind enough to use my own campaign world, Arinia, as a demo for part of this workshop, and I sent Rob far too much material when I should have just given him the prepared "Arinia In A Nutshell" notes and let him go from there.

One good side effect of not being more prepared, though, was that as I spitfired off the aspects of my campaign world, people latched onto the themes that really spoke to them and they gave excellent character descriptions on the things that caught their attention. (If the results of the workshop are at all representative, a lot of people really like kobolds in fantasy games, both as PCs and as antagonists.) Some of the popular concepts among the participants were things I haven't explored more fully, which tells me that I need to seize the opportunity to do more storytelling with those background elements.

Following are the 3x3s that were generated for Arinia in the workshop.

Robert’s PC: A kobold warrior

Allies:
  • His adopted dwarf brother
  • His friend from his home village, also a kobold

Neutrals:
  • His adopted dwarf parents
  • His home village of kobolds

Enemies:
  • The undead - Shadians killed his birth family
  • His birth family - now a slathering horde of undead kobolds!

My Thoughts: I have never imagined how a kobold raised by dwarves would act; I imagine a warrior more suited to axe and board in heavy armor, which is sort of playing against type... but I like it. This could certainly happen in some of the more cosmopolitan areas of my world. The character’s grudge against the undead coupled with the loss of his family practically screams for a confrontation with the animated remains of his dead relatives, and since other participants in the workshop used a lot of kobolds, this ties in nicely with the other character concepts that were submitted.


Dave’s PC: Rzthigar, a Neutral Evil kobold fertility shaman

Allies:
  • Desperate females of various races seeking to become mothers
  • The Doctor - a colloquial name for a black dragon who grants Rzthigar his powers; his identity is known only to Rzthigar and The Crone
  • A food merchant baron who benefits from the overpopulation Rzthigar fosters

Neutrals:
  • The people of the kobold village where Rzthigar lives
  • Lezonard, the owner of a coffee shop in the village
  • A kobold dragon shaman who does not understand why his powers are waning

Enemies:
  • Brothald, a kobold social theorist who hangs out at Lezonard’s cafe
  • Tringa, a kobold feminist activist who hangs out at Lezonard’s cafe
  • The Crone, Rzthigar’s mother

My Thoughts: Dave’s idea cracked me up. The idea of coffee house hipster kobolds in berets with goatees and horn-rimmed glasses trying to change draconic society fits in well with the satirical flavor of my games, so Brothald and Tringa will very likely make appearances. The Doctor has the potential to be an interesting villain, and I’d have to come up with a sinister reason for why a black dragon wants a population boom among the kobolds in his regions - To raise an army? To ensure he has a food supply? To trade as slaves to another evil mastermind? The possibilities are endless - and perhaps the Doctor’s evil plans have something to do with the other kobold shaman losing his powers...


Eric’s PC: Hadar Tolks, a human inquisitor from Verdagris

Allies:
  • Zadem, Hadar’s fellow inquisitor and current partner
  • Lildia, Hadar’s girlfriend, also an inquisitor
  • A halfling merchant who sells useful gadgets to Hadar and his party

Neutrals:
  • Hadar’s boss, the chief inquisitor
  • “Cabbie” - a driver who always pops up when Hadar needs a ride
  • Dent, an information broker

Enemies:
  • An elven ranger whom Hadar arrested on blasphemy charges
  • A kobold chieftain whose mate was killed during one of Hadar’s raids
  • Badel Sharm, an escaped prisoner who killed Hadar’s last partner

My Thoughts: Eric’s 3x3 is full of interesting stuff. He builds in a source of information and a means of transportation - self-serving character concepts, but he makes them interesting, which makes me not mind giving him access to those things. Of course, my first impulse is to mess with him a little - maybe Cabbie is an infernal construct or other sort of unsavory type that Hadar wouldn’t necessarily want to ride with all the time, since cooperating with a devil could get him in trouble with his superiors. I imagine the elf ranger Hadar arrested for blasphemy was probably a Numenil atheist but I envision him as more of a rival. The prisoner, though, I would make a real danger to Hadar - a psychopath bent on revenge. (I love the name Badel Sharm; it just sounds plain sinister.)


Alok chose to design characters without anchoring them around a PC concept:

Allies:
  • A Numenil elf who specializes in fire magic and ran away from Nume because he fears water and ice
  • An undead Verdagrisian paladin who retained a Lawful Good alignment even in undeath, possibly due to the use of an artifact or ritual, and now fights against the Shadians

Neutrals:
  • An Aornil elf artificer who does maintenance and repairs on the flying cities of Aorn; he now travels the world below in search of technology and magic lost in the ancient forests of Aorn

Enemies:
  • A kobold ranger who worships a gold dragon and is convinced that the PCs are trying to kill everyone and take their belongings

My Thoughts: Some interesting concepts - I especially like the goodhearted undead paladin, who I may place in the ruins of an abandoned Aornil city as a source of information for adventurers. The kobold is an interesting encounter for a good-aligned party; he could be acting without the knowledge of his master, or maybe his biased or misconceived reports to the dragon have convinced the wyrm that the adventurers cannot be trusted and are a threat to the order of his domain.


Steven’s PC: A Numenil elf whose family encountered a Shadian ghost ship on a sea voyage when the PC was still an infant/child; the undead killed his parents and he and his siblings have worked to repel the Shadians ever since

Ally:
  • A halfling beer trader from Longfinger Ale & Lager who runs product to Nume and Ondur; he has seen the effect the Shadians are having on trade routes through the northern seas and helps the PC fight the undead hordes

Neutral:
  • An isolationist Numenil politician who feels the Shadians are a problem for the outsiders to deal with and does not believe the halfling trader’s reports

Enemies:
  • A female kobold lich, a male human necromancer, and a female elf bounty hunter, commanders of the ghost ship’s crew that killed the PC’s parents; they now lead a larger operation in the northern seas

(NOTE: Somehow Steven’s note card got lost during the hustle and shuffle Friday, so these were all I could decipher from my own notes.)

My Thoughts: Another kobold! Perhaps the lich is a sister of Robert’s PC. Steven did a great job capturing the flavor of political strife among the Numenil and the isolationist politics of the arctic elves.


Jenny’s PC: A male human ranger

Allies:
  • A female elf ranger, the PC’s friend and occasional “booty call”
  • A Steward halfling who was the ranger’s fraternity brother at University of Coinway; he is now a merchant trader with Longfinger and has a gambling problem, and so he often pays his debts in beer

Neutrals:
  • A Verdagrisian soldier and conscientious objector to the church regime who went AWOL from service
  • A Saebul bard who is addicted to catnip; when he is desperate for a fix, he twitches, bites his nails, and plays with his tail

Enemies:
  • A Steward ship captain whose ship was wrecked by the PC and his companions; he now dogs their heels trying to reclaim payment for his lost vessel
  • A local shopkeeper who thinks the PC ranger is a liar and a cheat and wants only to fornicate with his beloved daughter
  • A Verdagrisian Inquisitor

My Thoughts: Ooooh, an inquisitor enemy! Perhaps it’s actually Hadar Tolks, Eric’s character, or even Hadar’s boss, which would allow Eric's and Jenny’s PC to work together in-game but still provide a story hook to accentuate their differences in attitude. The angry halfling captain might also be the same halfling who works with Steven’s PC. I also like the concept of the frat brother with the gambling problem; he could be a great recurring annoyance for a party.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Obsidian Portal - Collaborative & Informative

After the great Obsidian Portal workshop that Eric ran the other day, I thought I'd share some basic information for those that did not get to attend.

Benefits of Obsidian Portal over other Wiki Sites:
  • Made by gamers for gamers - Obsidian Portal has features other Wiki's don't, such as character pages that only the assigned players can edit and GM only hiddable content.
  • Social Networking built in - Obsidian Portal is great for finding players and games in your area.  If you are in need of players, simply check off the box "Looking for Players" in  your campaign's setting page.


The main areas of your Obsidian Portal Page:

The Home Page - Use it as eyecandy to draw in visitors.  Include a link to your "Getting Started" wiki page.  You can also link to the RTR Meetup Site to help promote our local gaming community.

Adventure Log - After each session the GM should post a short synopsis of what happened.  Your players can post Character Journals here as well.  The entries are stored cronologically.

Wiki - The heart of your Obsidian Portal page.  Start off with simple information your players need to know right away (How to make a character, House Rules, etc).  You can expand from there and your players will contribute to the knowledgebase as the game progresses as well.  You can even put "GM Only" comments at the bottom of wiki pages to keep additional information for your own use a secret.

Characters - Add PC's and NPC's here.  You can customize the characters with stats, descriptions and a photo.  Players can add and edit their own chararacter (but as the GM, you can edit their characters too).

Forums - Simple forums best used for out of character conversations such as questions on rules, inbetween game session activities, schedule announcements, etc.

Maps - Upload your map graphic and then use google-powered icons to point to everything from where in the world the party is to where the caravan traveling periliously close to the spooky castle is.

Advice:
Start out Small - Don't overwhelm yourself by thinking that you need to put up everything at once and that it must look perfect starting at day one.

If your game has been going on for a long time, don't try to go back and re-create Adventure Aogs for every previous session.  Instead put up a single post "Story So Far" and then keep the Adventure Logs going on from that point forward.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Chained Realms

Last night's Game Creation Workshop focused on creating a new, unique setting. Next session will focus on game mechanics. Here are the basic notes that I took last night:

Theme

Pre-Steam Punk, Alchemists/Da Vinci Tech, Alternate History, Start of the Age of Enlightenment, Low Magic Level

Location

After the destruction of the ancient planet, clusters of asteroids float in Ether-space. Many are chained together to form Feudal-Style City States.


5 Hero Paths

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fun, Fundamental, Functional, Flexible, Fast - The 5 F’s of Preparing Great Adventures

The following is a set of ideas to help any Game Master design fast, fun and functional adventures. Following through with these concepts will give you a flexible and fundamentally sound module.  At the end of this article you will find a list of resources to help you create your own awesome adventures.

Fun

Your players want an interactive world that they can enjoy. If you’re busy railroading your players through a tightly planned adventure with no side path, they will know it. When your players want to wander off and follow up on some red herring, let them go for it. They found that red herring more interesting and you should give your players what they are interested in.

Your players want to go into the sewers and you hadn’t done any work on them yet? You can’t give it to them unless you are able to hold ideas lightly and take cues from your players. Don’t shoot down their ideas, follow through on them. That can be difficult though if your modules aren’t flexible and fast.

Fundamental

Simple means you can customize it later. You can toss in ideas that flutter into your brain or details that fit your campaign. Sticking to the basics for your adventure means that you end up with a small, light weight document. Small means you can throw it in whenever you want because you can play it in a single session.  Sticking to the fundamentals also means that you end up with an adventure that is perfect for one-offs or classic style campaigns.


FunctionalClean design means that you can quickly find the information you need. Don’t clutter up the page with a myriad of details. Make the most important information take center stage by leaving out the unnecessary stuff. You need the basics, the skeleton of the adventure planned out to run a smooth game.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Letting Players Run Evil Characters

(WARNING: This blog post addresses some issues that some people may deem distasteful or disturbing. I want to fully discuss these issues in context and explain my situation, but I don't want anyone to be offended. If you do not deal well with recountings of players running evil characters - and I do mean evil - then skip this blog post.)

It all started as an innocent foray into an old edition of D&D. With our current Pathfinder GM revamping his campaign to suit a smaller group since some of our regulars have gone on hiatus, we'd been filling our Thursday night game time with board games and random activities. I was sick of playing "Betrayal at the House on the Hill" every week, so I proposed to run a low-level adventure from Dungeon #41 adapted to Basic D&D rules. The other players agreed, built characters, and started off into the wilderness.

I never place alignment restrictions on my PCs. I believe that players should run the characters they want to be, and as long as group cohesion isn't a regular problem in play, even evil-aligned characters can play a constructive role as party members. I myself had a blast playing a Neutral Evil warmage in a mostly good group once, primarily because the GM for that game wove a tale that gave my character purpose and reason to cooperate (rather than simply incinerate the softhearted fools where they stood!).

This time, though, our group went overboard. We'd been talking for awhile about running a campaign where we all played evil characters - why not try it in this one-shot game? Tyler, as usual, opted for a milquetoast Neutral-aligned mage. Evan's brash and selfish fighter, James' sadistic elf, and Mat's perennial thief, however, were all Evil. Their characters' penchant for theft and mayhem were evident from the get-go; in fact, that's why they were going into a stinky swamp - they were all on the lam from officials in Carinidad, a large coastal city in my campaign world. The nearby swamp was a well-known place of refuge for criminals and exiles, because of the horrid monsters that populated its marshy streams and fetid bogs.

The scenario I was running, "Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band", depended on a few key party elements - primarily a group of observant PCs who were willing to interact, and even cooperate with, the NPCs. And here were my players, ten minutes into the action, assaulting, robbing and gang-raping a small group of peasants who were carting freshly baked bread to market.

It was going to be a long night.

The band of criminals proceeded into Glitchegumee Swamp, hitting some obligatory ghouls on the way in who nearly made a meal of two of them. I did this mainly to size up the group; they'd bought rather a lot of healing potions on their way out of Carinidad, and I wanted to evaporate a few of them so they wouldn't get too cocky. After that, they encountered the central characters of the adventure: Old Man Katan, an exiled ranger, and a group of intelligent, singing mushrooms who propelled themselves with their tails like snakes. The band of antiheroes chose to parlay, but only as a distraction to allow the thief to slip in unnoticed. Unfortunately, the elf did a poor job of covering up his vicious nature in front of Katan (a Good-aligned NPC). His brazen recounting of the recent cruelties visited on the peasants prompted the elderly ranger to run into his house, grab his crossbow, and start taking potshots at the criminals.

Once the heroes realized that the old man was about as good a shot on his own as they were put together (and the fighter threatened the old man's butterfly collection), they settled down a bit, and Katan fed them a meal and commissioned them to do a day's worth of fishing in the bogs to repay him for the damage done in his home (not to mention some quick blacksmithing work on the fighter's sword, which had been damaged during the caravan robbery). He loaned them his strange shapeshifting canoe (a swamp-dwelling mimic who'd been skimming off the codger's daily catch for years) and sent them on their way.

I kept things simple on my side of the table, picking stuff from the wandering monster table included in the adventure - a giant crocodile the size of a dump truck, moccasins that nearly downed the thief and the mage with poison, a huge carnivorous plant that lured in the lascivious elf with its sweet nectar, and some giant mosquitoes, who were the main adversaries of this scenario. A sentient, childlike bog monster controlled a swarm of giant mosquitoes that was killing off all the native wildlife, which is why game was so scarce in Glitchegumee Swamp.

Ideally, characters playing this scenario should be concerned about the ecology of the swamp and attempt to fix it by convincing the bog monster to stop "playing" with the mosquitoes and help them destroy the bugs' eggs. And surprisingly, my group of black-hearted miscreants did just that. The fighter's selfishness caused him to befriend the bog monster in hopes that the creature would lead him to some battle spoils from a forgotten war that Katan had mentioned during dinner, and he talked the bog monster into helping them drain the bog where the mosquitoes breed - the site where that battle occurred. They not only accomplished all their main goals, but they gained some significant wealth out of it.

My Thursday nighters are a tightly knit group who have played together for a long time and have a good knowledge of each other's personal boundaries and senses of humor. I almost hesitate to post this because I don't want to come across as glorifying evil campaigns. But letting my players play villains for an evening allowed us as a group to cut loose for the night and explore new possibilities. I was particularly impressed that they managed to accomplish the goals of the adventure without cheating their alignments - at no time did they stop being evil (the bickering over the loot in the breeding bog was comedy gold), and they still got things done.

They've expressed a desire to keep this game going, and I'm up for it. I intend to hound them as much as possible with do-gooders and let them rot in that swamp living off what meager possessions and skills they have. And I also get a chance to play some Good-aligned NPCs as antagonists, which will be fun, too. Of course, they still have control over a pretty big bog monster and there's not much more plunder to be had in the swamp (unless they decide to go looking for the will'o'wisp...). It will only be a matter of time before these desperados come up with a new plan for profiteering and mayhem. And it will be my job, as GM, to stop them. Instead of running the monsters in the closet, I'm running the ghost hunters for a change, and I like the storytelling possibilities that this situation offers.

I just hope they don't end up destroying my planet by the time they're tired of it all.

Please share your experiences. How do allowing your players to run villainous characters shape your play experience? Having never done this before with a majority of evil characters in the party, I'm interested in how it's worked out for other readers and contributors.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Great Tool for GMs

For the past few days, I've had the pleasure of using Obsidian Portal, a campaign management site. To be honest, I've been on OP for about a year, using what they offered for free. Nice site, but not enough options for me to keep up the hard work. Always in search of ways to keep my notes orderly, I gave it a try with my "Adventures in the New World Campaign".

It was good for awhile, that is until I went overboard with recapping the games in detail. Then it became a chore. Then I quit using it.

Fast forward one year, I decide on giving it another crack. I pay for six months to release all options and see how it goes. So far, I'm happy with the options I get. More campaigns, a Google powered map system and forums.

Currently, I decided to put Cell 13 on ice for awhile and started moving forward on a Labyrinth Lord/1st AD&D campaign called "Chronicles of a Dead Empire". This campaign has been stewing for decades in my mind, so I decided to let it out of the bag. OP is great for keeping things straight, organized and linked. My players will be able to know what I'm wanting without printing out lengthy books of knowledge. They will be able to contribute and to post their own character's thoughts.

I'm excited.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Slight Change of Plans

At the beginning of this blog,  I thought it would be a private sounding room for the RTR Game Master's SIG. In hindsight, I see that I've given up a great opportunity to introduce new game masters to a resource that is Raleigh Tabletop RPGs. So, again, working on an idea that Melissa had, I listed both her WOD SIG and this one on the RTR home page for all to see, and so all can follow their curiosity.

If you're already an RTR member, please become an author and post what game mastering gems you can. It's a great way of trading information and improving the way all of us host our games.

If you're new to this blog and Raleigh Tabletop RPGs, I urge you to join. Even though access to this blog is now open to everyone, RTR events are reserved exclusively for members. To be a member, simply go to the link above and join up. It's painless, and it just might be the best gaming decision you've made in a while. Membership allows you access to the good stuff that RTR offers.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pirates vs Ninjas - Post Workshop Thoughts

Overview

Creating a game, even a rules light one, can take a lot of time and patience. By following a few of the guidelines that we learned at this latest workshop, I think the process can be smoother, faster, more fun and still provide great results. I'm going to briefly list the positive outcome of our game creation activity that as a group we completed at the end of the workshop.

Step 1: Figure out the setting.

Chris brought a bunch of comics from an artist that had given permission for us to use his world as our setting. This saved us a bunch of brainstorming effort. We went through the short comics to glean information about the setting. Taking notes was very important for this step! Here is what we came up with:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mouse Guard Try It Out! session: A Self Critique

I love playing Mouse Guard as a game master. You get more game play for the time you put into devising scenarios. I only wish I can lead more players in to the promised lands that are the Mouse Territories. In July I decided to do just that, and scheduled out two Try It Out sessions, one at the first of the month, the other near the last to drum up interest in the game. I'm sold on the system - it gives a fresh perspective on the way we GM and look at roleplaying games.

This post is my self critique of the Try It Out session, and what lessons I've pulled from hosting this game.

I've always had the opinion that if you like a system well enough, you should evangelize it as much as you can. Expose more players to a game you feel passionately about, you'll grow your potential player pool. It's hard work that pays off in the long run. Your excitement tends to rub off on those players who like the system. I decided to evangelize and draw players into the Try It Out sessions, hopefully bolstering a house game already running for Mouse Guard.

The Grain Merchant mission was the scenario that I slated to run. It's easy and exciting, and can be cobbled into anything you want it to be. My plans were to run it straight up since everyone was new. But plans do change, and Melissa, my experienced player, wanted back in on the action. I initially planned to design a scenario within the existing house game. But she opted out when the game started to fill quickly, to allow other new players the opportunity to play. With this in mind, I defaulted to the Grain Merchant mission.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Starting out a Campaign

I'm about to put another campaign into the works, and I'm carefully building this one from A to Z. I've done this with a previous on-going campaign, but this will be a series of house games tied together with a thought-out plot and a fresh view on a subject that has been touched on in fiction -- an alternate history. I've gotten a taste for doing these type of backdrops - they appeal to me.

My last thought-out campaign was a GURPS Steampunk-ish game that started in Charleston, SC. This wasn't slated as a house game (quick definition of a house game - episodic games that are tied together, playable in a session with a changing cast of PCs), but rather a regular campaign dependent on players hitting milestones in their own time rather than accomplishing a goal within a session or two. When I started out I carefully considered the rules and even created a small booklet of PC knowledge.

My big problem was that I bogged down on the details, an old bad habit of mine. I also indulged another old bad habit - I tried to make everything I wrote "print-worthy". I worked for a magazine, so I'm pretty good at laying things out. Unfortunately, I've since come to the realization that I cannot GM out of modules, and creating my own module doesn't help my GMing and takes up precious time. My notes do look pretty. The Charleston Campaign currently serves as a laboratory of sorts; honing my GMing style and how I transcribe and store game information.

My first task was to define the game topic itself. The title of the new campaign is Cell 13, and is based on the premise that Germany won WW2. The question I posed is what if Hitler made all the *right* decisions, or even better, if Hitler was deposed of and a more menacing leader took charge. Without giving too much away, I have a workable and exciting premise for a game -- can't go wrong with Nazis in power that need some comeuppance. I also want the game to flow fast and furious, that focuses on roleplaying and some tactical planning. Death is a very real possibility.

The next task was deciding on what game system to use. I like GURPS, but it is not a system conducive to players creating characters quickly, and a system that I can feel good about offing a PC in short order. Instead, I decided to give Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (BRP) a shot. I've played Call of Cthulhu (CoC) numerous times, and really enjoyed how fluid game play was and how easy it was to teach. CoC uses a modified version of BRP, so I picked the latest BRP rules up. If you're creative enough, you can pick and choose your rules or order other Chaosium products and find things you can incorporate. My task was making the Skills list more robust. So I ordered the Berlin '61 monograph (or supplement). I'm even putting my layout skills to good use too by customizing the character sheet.

When I decided on setting, system and supplements, I sat down and looked up advice in making notes. I've read some articles about creating a "Campaign Bible", essentially a compendium of notes on the game. The best article I found was written by Brandan Landgraff in D20 Source. Entitled World Building 101: Campaign Bibles and Scope, this is a great article to help get you focused on the task ahead.This article is part of a World Building 101 series that includes: When are Campaign Documents Needed, Keeping Organized, Campaign Bible Formats, Keeping a Campaign Bible, Sample Campaign Brief and Effective Campaign Briefs. There are other articles in the series that make great reading, but these are pertinent to setting up a campaign.

Lastly, I've  taken a rather "Amish" approach to my note taking -- keeping as much as I can *off* the computer and simply jotting down my notes in a notebook. I found merit for doing this in another article called 8 GM Binder Tips for the Organized Gamemaster on the Roleplaying Tips site. I can dump ideas on to a notebook faster than I can type them in. I also borrow scraps from supplement books and tape them into the appropriate areas in the notebook - kinda like doing a scrapbook.

This is as far as I've gotten with my current project. I've still got to work on the Spaceballs game for the Space Opera event July 24.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Welcome to the Game Master's SIG!

Welcome to the home site of the Game Master's Special Interest Group of the Raleigh Tabletop RPG Meetup. Inspired by Melissa Moritz' efforts on the World of Darkness SIG, I decided to follow her lead in using a blog format for the GM SIG's home site. Access to this blog will be limited to the members of the GM's SIG. UPDATE: If any RTR GM SIG member would like to post blog entries, please tell me and I'll add you as an author. Otherwise, you only have access to the Comments.

Commentary on this blog will be limited to Game Mastering issues - so if you want to post about hiking, politics or anything else that floats your boat, feel free to open up your own blog! :-) I envision this site to be the resource we can all go to for answers to make our Game Mastering a positive experience.

The first and most valuable posts are the after game reports. I encourage all RTR members who join to become authors too. The easiest way to write these posts are to answer questions. What was your experience during the game as a GM? What did you do right? What could you have done better? This is also a sticky type of post, so leave any commentary about the players to the side. This is about your game mastering style, and what you can do to make it better.

The next most important item you can post is any links you find that pertain to good game mastering. Sharing resources makes the site a gold mine to all GM SIG members, and the final sum result is that it promotes great games for all. Share away!

Game news is always important. What are the latest and greatest games, what's happening with game companies - anything to help become more attuned to the direction of the gaming industry is good for all of us.

Pitching questions is also fair game for posts. At times we have complex conundrums or philosophical issues we need to pitch out to the SIG Membership for deeper discussion.

Humor is good too. It's a nice tonic for being the one who makes the world go round. Any game mastering related humor is always welcome. :-)

Lastly, comment on the posts. That's where some real gems of knowledge appear. Have a solution to a problem? Write up what you think should be done. Other gaming news that goes with the post? Write it up. Your views on a session? Add your thoughts. Make this blog valuable by adding your know-how.

Good luck and good gaming!