I Hate Magic Items

I don’t really, but I just read this really interesting article on Critical Hits all about how too many magical items makes them feel less magical, and advice on making things feel more magical in D&D 4e games. I definitely recommend checking it out!

Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: I don’t like magic items, period. Sure, they are a staple of fantasy literature. And I have a soft spot for certain classes of magical items, like the strange artifact or consumable item that has to be used at just the right time. +1 Swords? Fiery Platemail? Rings of Jumping? Never a fan.

Read the rest at Critical Hits

Literature and Adventure Planning

I recently had a very successful sandbox D&D 4th edition game inspired by Ars Ludi’s West Marches, called Mossmantle, after the town in Eberron’s Eldeen Reaches around which the campaign centred.

One method I used for coming up with adventure ideas was to mine other sources of fiction: be it books, movies, or what-have-you. In particular, I found re-skinned versions of Shakespeare to be particularly helpful. I had an adventure plot where an NPC that the group rescued turned out to be a noblewoman in disguise as her brother (inspired by the Twelfth Night), for which the ruse became quite obvious when her brother came looking for her. The payoff was fantastic, and it brought some very interesting roleplaying opportunities to the forefront that I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of: do they honour the girl’s wishes to eschew nobility and become an adventurer, or do they send her back with her brother to avoid any bad blood from the noble house?

Now I’m on the cusp of starting a new game, and I find myself looking to history and literature to mine for ideas for our next game, and Critical Hits has an article on just such a thing:

Much of gamer culture is shared and it’s not very interesting to rip something off that everyone instantly recognizes and inevitably metagames for. That’s where literature comes in.

I recently read For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Quite frankly, I appreciated for its place in fiction, loved certain aspects, but found it too slow for my own personal tastes. This isn’t a book review though, it’s an example of how to mine good idea from practically anything. So, here goes!

Read the rest over at Critical Hits

Taking a break from DMing makes you a better DM

Pen and Paper Portal posted an article discussing the merits of taking a break from running games, seeing things from the other side of the screen for awhile, and how it relates to sharpening your skills at running games with the change of perspective.

Personally, I’d say even the reverse is true: I think DMing or GMing actually gives players perspective that becomes invaluable in how better to craft an interesting character and become better involved in the narrative.

After a few failed campaigns my girlfriend said she wanted to try her hand at faking 20’s as a DM. Eventually I caved, after much deliberation (and a party where I burnt my DM screen and threw my dice in the air), and said I would be fine passing the torch. I figured, if nothing else, it would give me the time to play I craved so much. She’s been doing a wonderful job, and given me some of the best D&D sessions I’ve played. However, after nearly a year of her campaigns I’ve realized what I was missing, and why my sessions began to suffer.

Read the rest here at Pen and Paper Portal

Collaborative or Individual Character Creation?

Another brilliant article was posted at Gnome Stew about the different methods of character creation for campaigns. Personally, our games lean more toward the one outlined as GM Directed Development, which is better than the madness of letting players just come up with whatever they like without regard for the campaign or the rest of the group, but I’ve always found the idea of collaborative character creation to be a lot more interesting.

In this case the group builds the characters together, having input into every aspect of every character. They review what races and classes people are going to play, and as a group select the optimal mix so that the party has everything represented. They then review skill choices together, to make sure that there is someone in the party who has every critical skill (Joe has lock picking, Brian has healing, Carl has arcana…). The process moves on to make sure that feats/powers/spells are coordinated, and in the most extreme case, that equipment selections are done so that there is no duplication, and that everyone is carrying something for the party.

The concerns of sapping creativity are well-founded, and I personally find the concept is better applied to character stories and backgrounds and how the group interacts over raw statistics and abilities. What do you think?

Read the rest at Gnome Stew

Alternatives to Death

In an article that suggests something that can only be described as so-obvious-I-feel-stupid, the guys at Gnome Stew have written an article about using alternatives to outright death when the dice fall where they may.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is famous for it’s maiming, and I know this from experience. It’s quite a lot of fun to see what sort of horrible disfigurement is going to befall a character. After a game-ending total party kill (TPK) recently in our D&D 4th edition sandbox campaign, this idea strikes me as all the more attractive. It would take some tweaking to apply it to 4th edition in particular due to it’s death save mechanic, and the players would obviously have to agree to the concept, but I think it could add some interesting gritty flavour (if that’s what you’re going for) and extend the life of the campaign in the even that horrible things happen to the group.

Check it out at Gnome Stew.

The Digital Tabletop Gamer’s Toolbox

Dungeon Mastering has an article on tools to make your life easier when running or playing RPGs online. It’s very useful, though I feel it only briefly touches upon some of the tools that are out there. The nod to Skype is definitely one I agree with, as our group uses it for our weekly games (Trail of Cthulhu at the moment).

In particular, the Battlemat section is very thin. Maptool and Gametable are solid mentions that I can definitely agree with, but if you’re willing to spend a few dollars, then I would highly recommend Fantasy Grounds 2, which is what our group uses. It’s a bit more directed at particular systems (D&D 3e, Savage Worlds, BRP Cthulhu), but with a bit of digging, you can find some useful fan-made system plugins. In particular, being so focused, it requires a bit less effort to handle maps (with obfuscation layers to boot!) and miniatures.

In any case, check out the article at Dungeon Mastering.

What Chris Perkins can teach all DMs

Coop, over at Pen and Paper Portal posted an interesting little tidbit about his experience playing with Chris Perkins from Wizards of the Coast:

Never say no. Never, ever. If the players wants to do anything, let them, just make sure they roll. A player wants to hide a bow in his shirt? Let him. If he rolls high, no one will notice. If he rolls low, he’s going to look like a fool. In the past, I haven’t flat-out told players “no” to anything, but I have let them know that their idea wouldn’t work. Chris never did that, and usually not only let us do whatever we wanted, but had it play out in a way that made sense to us.

This is such a truism about DMing or Game Mastering in general that it should be plainly obvious. Still, after running games for over 15 years, I’ve been known to forget this core principle. Perhaps it’s borne of fear of the game leaving your control, or something; but it’s easy to say no to ideas that you might not see the beauty of. Saying “no” is something I’ve consciously tried to steer myself away from over the past few years, and will continue to do into the future. And it’s something I’ve noticed while listening to the Penny Arcade/PvP podcast as well. Chris Perkins is a great DM, and often says yes to all the crazy ideas the group has, and the game is enriched by it.

Check it out at Pen and Paper Portal

Duets #1: The Basics – RPGnet

Over at RPGnet, they have a new entry in a column called Duets that gives advice on running 1-on-1 RPGs (ie: just a player and a GM). Having done this on several occasions in the past, it can definitely be a rewarding experience, though I prefer at least 2 or 3 players, generally.

The obvious advantage to duets is that they are easier to schedule, especially, as most duets involve couples, siblings, roommates, and the like who can game as much as they want with little hassle over scheduling because they live together. I have run a lot of group campaigns over the years, but duets with my wife have allowed us to log an insane amount of time roleplaying over the last 15 years. This is simply because duets give us the chance to roleplay most evenings. Another advantage is that duets are more intense due to their quicker pace, greater immersion, and increased roleplaying. Duets also allow you to more thoroughly explore a theme or story arc as everything is focused on one player and there is no need to compromise the story for the group. Once you get the hang of duets they really are a wonderful experience, and for some players infinitely preferable to groups.

Duets #1: The Basics

Duets #2: Tipping the Scales

Game Design advice from Monte Cook

While we here at the hub haven’t ever really been into Live Action Role Playing (LARP), we definitely recognize good game design advice when we see it! While quite basic, it IS good advice and sometimes a little re-iteration is helpful.

Not that what you add or have in your rule should make it hard to play, but that you provide a good spread of items/details. It’s advantageous to have choices for other ways to experience the game as this helps keep the player coming back. These choices could be created by having different race and class choices (if you really must use classes), the way different skill trees are made up, the various skills, spells, other character abilities, or really any spread of choices that would allow a player to play the game again, but have a different experience through that play.

Read the rest at RPGnet

Handling Split Parties

This is a very cool concept that I’ve admittedly only ever really employed once, and it wasn’t really in regards to inactive players, it was just to handle a very large encounter in a Heavy Gear game. It actually ended up being one of our more memorable sessions, actually, as the players ran their adversaries: a southern (French-speaking) unit that they were battling in a stairway. Things got a bit silly, but even to this day we’ll jokingly shout things like “Jean-Marc! Non!!!”

I’ve never really used ‘Jamming’ for any serious roleplaying encounters that I can recall, but I can see how it could be very useful in keeping things livened up for players who’s characters aren’t present in a scene.

There are a few obvious approaches to resolving this situation. The DM can run scenes with each group of heroes in turn, giving the inactive players an opportunity to fetch a snack or use the lavatory, or the DM could also divide the various PC errands into smaller scenes, switching between groups more frequently so that periods of “down time” are shorter.

A third, and more entertaining, option was briefly outlined in the recently released fourth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, but discussed at length in the second edition,  out-of-print Creative Campaigning supplement, published by TSR Hobbies in 1993. The authors of that supplement called the option “jamming,” and it greatly reduces player inactivity when only some heroes are in the spotlight.

Read the rest of the article at The RPG Athenaeum