Monday, December 29, 2014

5e Options W(h)ither Modularity - Background Proficiency and Skills

A Mercykiller, but he's missing the Planar Mancatcher...

I had the chance to run a D&D 5E Planescape game yesterday, and I did a few things right and/or a few things turned out well.

  • 5th level seemed to provide each character with a good set of options without overwhelming players with too many choices.
  • I pre-made most of the PCs but took some player input on what options they'd like.
  • I gave a pre-game speech so that the players knew that none of their characters would necessarily know each other but that my conceit for the game was that they'd all be tied to a central NPC and learn to work together on the fly. While there was at one point a pivotal encounter where each of the 6 PCs kinda came up with their own conflicting or complimentary plans, we did avoid any real out and out intra-party fighting.
  • Since part of the plot involved figuring out some mysteries, I gave each PC three contacts, each described by a sentence. This worked out really well because the players could glance at the background sheet I provided and quickly figure out who their PC might know who could assist instead of trying to come up with a way to solve the mystery from scratch without much context.
  • I let Thomas talk me into picking up the Arcane spell cards (and he grabbed the Druid spell pack).  They definitely resulted in less of the players flipping through the books for spells, but I can't quite give them top marks because they don't have any notation on the cards to indicate which spells require Concentration, which is a Big Fucken' Deal for 5E spellcasters.
What was most frustrating was discovering that 5E was less Modular than expected. One of the big things that the designers at Wizards of the Coast were promoting about the new edition was its modularity, where you could easily customize the rule set to fit your group's play style. And the playtest (aka D&DNext) was often pretty modular, as they swapped in and out different rules they were trying out. So having run a bunch of the playtest, having run a fair amount of the "final" or published version of 5E since it came out in July and being enamored with the 13th Age Background rules (see this post or the 13th Age SRD) and because the Dungeon Master's Guide includes a take on this background/skill check variant I thought, "Well, I'll just use 13th Age Backgrounds instead of the 5E Skill list and it'll be super easy."

I gave the player's fair warning, explaining how I thought they would work like this:

For the game I'm going to use 13th Age style backgrounds instead of the D&D 5E skill list.  What this means is instead of having proficiency in a bunch of skills, you'll have a background associated with your race, your class, your faction and two more since you're playing a half-elf.  Then when you want to make a skill check, to apply your proficiency modifier to the roll you just need to explain why your background would give you skill for the check.
For example, my 13th Age character is a Rogue with the background of "Former Lieutenant of a group of Forest Bandits" so when I'm tracking a wounded foe through the forest, instead of rolling a perception skill check like in D&D, my GM has me roll a Wisdom check and then I say that I'm adding my background as a Forest Bandit because it would have given me experience tracking in the woods.  But later when we assemble a group of low-level thugs to help with a raid on an enemy camp, I could also use my "Former Lieutenant of a group of Forest Bandits" background to add to a Charisma check to inspire them.

Hopefully that makes sense? So instead of choosing from a list, you tell me what you want your character to do and I tell you what ability score to roll and then you can tell me which of your backgrounds applies and why and I'll probably allow it because it's easier to apply a broad background than a skill and so if you can briefly say why it would make sense it probably does.

Alas, I was wrong. While the DMG has four paragraphs on "Background Proficiency" what they don't include is any advice on how to truly implement the optional rule. They assume that you're using the backgrounds from the Player's Handbook, which I have separate issues with,  so talking with Thomas, we came to the conclusion that maybe I should give each character a set of four or five backgrounds thusly:
  • A background covering Race/Upbringing, such as "Grew up in a Githzerai colony in Limbo as a Leather worker's child" (so it would cover topics like Limbo or the Githzerai or their enemies, as well as leather working and proficiency with leather working tools).
  • A background covering Class, such as "Apprenticed as a wizard with a Hag in the Grey Waste" (not only covering "Arcana" but also Hags, the Grey Waste, its inhabitants, etc)
  • A background covering the PC's Faction, as I wanted Factions to be emphasized, like "Fated namer and clerk in the Hall of Records"
  • A background covering what the backgrounds in the PHB would cover, that is a general 'background' background, like "Appraised and fenced jewelry in the City of Brass"
Then if a race, class or faction would generally provide extra skill proficiencies, I decided to add a second general 'background' background. It worked out alright in the game, but it really would have been nice to have some additional guidance from the DMG for implementing this and dealing with all the places that Skill Proficiencies are baked into the 'default' character creation rules. Elves, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs all have a skill proficiency component in their racial abilities, and all of the classes do as well, but there's no advice for how to make sure that the background covers these proficiencies.  The way the DMG reads it seems to assume you use just the backgrounds from the Personality and Backgrounds chapter of the PHB which leaves it up to the players and DMs to try and decide how then to incorporate any racial/class skill proficiencies.  And unfortunately I'm noticing a bit of that in the DMG, places where they give an option and describe the way the option would work but they don't give any advice for how to fit that option into the game so that it works well with all the other rules as written.  And that makes D&D 5E much less modular, at least in my opinion, than was previously advertised. 

Full Disclosure: The idea for title of this post is totally stolen from a post of Thomas', plus he did most of the heavy lifting writing up the Planescape/5th Edition conversion rules I used.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

From the Depths of the Lair of the Ginger Giant

A long "lost" podcast recently recovered from the depths of the Ginger Giant's lair.  In it we discuss our plans for co-DMing his Type IV D&D campaign.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Undertake a Perilous Journey - More Dungeon World

Draw Maps, Leave Blanks
I ran Dungeon World last Sunday. It was a last moment game for the most part and almost was Numenera, but I decided to run Dungeon World instead since not all the Numenera players could make it.  I decided to go with a plot stolen straight out of Conan having the players escort a high priest across a treacherous desert to an ancient temple to perform a ritual that would hold a demi-god-like evil sorcerer at bay.  Doing so let me try three things out, DW at higher levels, Hirelings and the "Undertake a Perilous Journey" move.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Murder Hobo's Dilemma… "Are we in the Dungeon yet?" - Dungeon World

(Full disclosure, I'm sure this is more an issue for me, with my wanting more realism in characters and plot than realism in rules.

I've know played in three sessions of Dungeon World and I've been enjoying them but last night I realized that there was something that kept me (yes, I managed to let the group decide I was their leader, must to my chagrin) from leading the group full force ahead into adventure. The premise of the game is a modern day Twin Cities metro, but with magic and dungeons, where Adventuring Companies (emphasis on the company) send adventurers into dungeons but otherwise it's straight forward fantasy version of the present. The GM was explicit that the normal humanoid fantasy races, goblin, orc, kobold, weren't inherently evil, and that is leading to some quandaries. I had gone in expecting a fairly lighthearted game, and tenor of play-wise, it's been fairly lighthearted but the plot has been drifting much grittier.

In the first two session, the party, with the conceit that we were the local "neighborhood watch" went into a dungeon near a graveyard and fought a mixture of goblins and an elf (or two, I don't rightly recall if there was more than one) who were in what the GM described as a teenage party pad (wrecked furniture, oil barrel fire, empty keg) and while the elf was a member of a previous adventuring party to disappear into the dungeon, the goblins were definitely high school kids, ya know, wearing letter jackets and such. Now, there was a lower level of that dungeon with a definitely evil undead creature of some kind, so I think we partly rationalized things as "oh yeah, the evil undead thing was controlling them, so we're not total murder hobos for slaughtering those unarmed teenagers".

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Recent Reading...

As I consider restarting my Shattered Lands campaign and starting a new campaign (possibly Planescape, possibly not) as well as determining if I'm running a second Sunday game, I've been thinking more about how best to capture what the players want and if I could ever get a group to agree to a charter.  These two links are all about that, though the second link is part of a longer series on Dungeon Design that is also excellent.
Mostly right now, my hesitance is that many of my players tend to treat surveys and questions as busy work and I'm not sure that many of the casual players would see a charter as necessary and/or agree to some of what I'd like in a charter, namely that phones are put away for the majority of the game.

Since I'm playing a lot more (currently 13th Age Game, AD&D/OSRIC, Dungeon World and Shadowrun) the 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer is a good reminder of things to focus on.  And since having players roleplay more increases my enjoyment, the 11 Things to Help Your Players be Better Roleplayers will be something I keep in mind and strive for as I start running again.

On the non-article side, I recently read Odyssey, The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management, which gives a good framework for starting and organizing a RPG campaign.  While I'll probably never read it straight through from cover to cover again, I'll probably pull it out and re-read several chapters and use it as reference material as I start building and re-building campaigns.
I've been reading the Drama Systems SRD and I'm really intrigued by the character creation and especially its approach to PC Desires and building relationships fraught with tension. I probably just need to give in and pick up a copy of Hillfolk
For non-RPG stuff, I just finished William Gibson's The Peripheral, which was incredible and I'll definitely need to re-read another time or two as it is wonderfully intricate.  Though first I've got Glen Cook's Instrumentalities of the Night to read.  For comics/graphic novels, Warren Ellis and Jason Howar'ds TREES continues to draw me in, the first volume of Kelly Sue DeConnick's Pretty Deadly hit all the right spots to be a great Weird Western and wishing I'd started reading Fraction's run on Hawkeye earlier as Clint as a "mere" mortal superhero is fantastic and funny ("This looks bad").  And of course, Saga and Sex Criminals both continue to obsess me in their own ways.

And of course, my musical obsessions are meticulously cataloged on my page.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

6am Sunday Morning - Time to game! (13th Age thoughts)

I've now played 13th Age twice through the FUTURISTIC MAGIC OF THE INTERWEBS. Though long discussed between John, Thomas and I, we never managed to get an simultaneous online game going (though we did play my troubled VtDA game and may still play a hopefully less troubled Vampire game that Thomas has been threatening to run for half a year now.) but now we have and it's been a blast. Due to wacky time zone differences we play at what is my 6 or 7am in the morning (Thomas is 10 hours ahead of me and John is 5 additional hours ahead of Thomas...) but it's been well worth the early rise, mostly because Thomas and John are two of my favorite people to game with. So here are my thoughts gathered so far based on two early morning sessions of 13th Age played with Roll20 online.

A Billion Years in the Future... Running Numenera

Decanted, a robot with a human head in it's chest.  Pretty sure my players weren't fans.

I ran Numenera last Friday. Originally, I had planned to end my GM break by running an Unknown Armies horror game, but alas events (a surprise evening in the ER) and poor organization (I did not heavily recruit players for the game and so on Monday the even had 1 confirmed player and 2 maybes and it was only on Friday afternoon itself when potential players told me they wanted to play) prevented that from occurring
Instead I ran a Numenera scenario I had been toying with for a while as it was easier to run on the fly and much less emotionally draining than my Black Friday themed horror show. Still plan on running that, so I'll have to just gather up four or five brave souls who wouldn't mind an evening of harrowing, but what follows here are my thoughts on running Numenera for the first time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What does the Antagonist Want?

First, taste, as illustrated in two music videos.  Do yourself a favor and watch both.  Watch both the whole way through, it's very much worth it and I think they will illuminate much of my thinking on the topic of the blog post.

1. Akron/Family "Silly Bears"

2. Scott Walker/Sunn O))) "Brando"
Both of these are classified under "Experimental Rock" and I enjoy the hell out of them both.  But, there is a huge difference in tone and they illustrate much of how I've been thinking about running RPGs late.

Make sure you've watch both and then continue reading.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What does the Protagonist Want? Because I usually have no idea.

(title of the blog post stolen from the incredibly awesome What Does the Protagonist Want? which is well worth a read)

     Thinking about Numenera character creation, my frustration with D&D 5E backgrounds (and Dungeon World bonds and alignments to a lesser extent) and consider several GM advice books which suggest using sentence pitches for campaign planning and adventure design, I've been thinking about how to apply sentence summaries to more things, like PC motivation.
     Toying around with the idea of running a Numenera one shot sometime in December/January and realized that the Sentence Character creation could be extended ever so slightly to add a character goal or motivation to the current structure.
     As a reminder, Numenera character creation boils down to " I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]." So a former commando turned mercenary who recently discovered that she has a supernatural or technological knack with animals might be "I am a Stealthy Glaive who Controls Beasts". Why not add a want clause, like "Who wants to [motivation/goal]." So then if the former commando woke up as the only survivor of a battle and that's when she had this new connection with animals, perhaps her character summary sentence would be "I am a Stealthy Glaive who Controls Beasts and wants to Discover Why She Has this new Power." Hopefully a compelling character and it certainly gives the GM a few ideas of what the PC can do and what the player would like to do. It also provides an easy reminder to the player for their motivation, ie, their PC should be working to understand or uncover why she has this new affinity with beasts. One advantage of this, is that it forces the player to distill down a few things that they know they are interested in exploring in the game.
Let's try this out with my other PCs, adapting the Numenera character sentence structure to other systems.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Play Report 1: Poor Player Decisions

     I'm 23 days into my GM-hiatus and I've managed to finagle my way into three games. Because I'm a jackass, I'm playing a Dungeoneer, Izotz Sendoa Harkaitz Mael or Ish, in a newly started Dungeon World game set in a fantastic version of the present. Because I'm not good at going with my gut or putting two and two together I'm playing a magic user in an ongoing AD&D/OSRIC campaign that I've joined. And because I didn't do a good job of considering the play style or potential story lines and didn't ask, as a player, what the game was going to be about, I built a Troll for a new Shadowrun campaign that I will be completely scrapping in favor of a character better suited to the game and group. Finally, because the scheduling gods are cruel and fickle bastards whose rituals I no longer have the patience to perform, I had to take a pass on playing 5E D&D for now.

     Overall, as I reflect on the play I've gotten in over the last few weeks I've realized that I've been making (1) Poor Character Choices and (2) Letting my GM burnout prevent me from bringing my experience to the table.

1. Poor Character Choices

     In Dungeon World the poor character choices I've made are minimal and mostly limited to my choice of Dungeoneer, a non-standard class from DW1 - Lair of the Unknown (parenthetically, this looks like an excellent little Dungeon World Module, so maybe I'll have to try it out at some point or at least beg, borrow and steal from it) instead of taking one of the unused playbooks from the basic DW book.  I could have chosen Bard, Cleric, Druid or Paladin (or even Barbarian) but instead I had to be a special little snowflake and choose a non-standard class.  It would have probably been fairer to the other players if I had chosen one of the base classes, but with DW that's probably the least of my sins as a player.

     In the AD&D/OSRIC game, the DM was subtly pushing me towards playing one of the existing henchmen, but there weren't any thieves among them and I had my heart set on a thief.  So, instead I rolled up a character and rolled extremely well and paradoxically not well enough (multiple 15s and nothing under a 10, but no 16s to be an illusionist or paladin).  Because the talk around the table was that there were no PC magic users in the party and there was a PC thief, I ignored my desire to play a thief and built a magic user instead.  I decided to make a former scholar turned magic user named Horatio, but ignored all the context of the party and spend 60% of my starting funds on six daggers so that I could potentially make it through 3 rounds of combat.  I would have been much better suited to plan on avoiding combat at any cost and putting that 120 silver into supplies like extra flasks, bottles and multipurpose adventuring gear that would have fit a scholar background, but alas, I let myself get sucked into the idea that when combat occurred, I would need to be able to defend myself for a round or two.
     Of course, I completely ignored that there were several 4th level PCs in the party and that there were at least 8 henchmen at least two of which were also Magic Users, so Horatio was never in any danger during combat.  In fact, during the three combats in the game, all I had Horatio do was "watch closely" to better understand how the various molds and fungus we were encountering behaved.  Would have been far better to have stuck with my gut and been a thief and had some scouting to undertake and a chance to make an attack or two during combat.  But now that I've committed to the Magic User, what I'll do instead is see if the GM will be kind enough to let me change my many (relatively) expensive daggers for a cheap and useful staff and to retroactively purchase a better set of adventuring equipment that better reflect a scholar exploring the world than a half a dozen daggers.

     Most grievous of my poor choices as a player was the creation of my initial Shadowrun character, Tallow, a troll ex-police officer who was going to refuse to use any weapons aside from his fists.  Seriously, like a fool, I had to have the GM badger me before I even gave Tallow a shotgun.  Most of the poor choices here flowed from not being proactive about asking about what kinds of stories would be told in the game.  Fortunately, the brief, non-canonical sample scenario gave me a feel for how much more procedural and simulationist the GM was planning on run things and quickly dissuaded me from making Tallow my actual PC.  Instead of working with the GM and other players to make a PC that would fit the group and the game, I let myself focus, laser-like, on a character I'd like to play, not bothering to figure out how my character would fit into things.  Because of this, I let myself craft a character who might have an interesting back story and personality, but who will be utterly useless on the runs the game will revolve around.
     Tallow might have been an interesting character for another game, but I don't think he'd last long or have much to do in the Shadowrun game I'm actually playing in.  Better then, for me to go back to the drawing board and craft a character who might actually fit into the party and the story of the game, a character who'd actually be useful on a run.  To that end, I'm thinking I'm going to create a Face, a smooth talker who would actually be able to talk his way out of the situation that Tallow found himself in during the sample session.

2. Poorly Shared Experience

     This wasn't really a problem in the AD&D/OSRIC game, as it's established and has been running for many months, but I for the Dungeon World and Shadowrun games I definitely let my GM burnout prevent me from applying any of my experience as a GM to help shape and start the games up, except, of course, in ways that were probably unwelcome and intrusive.
     How often, on this very blog even, have I wondered how to make more cohesive parties, how to tie player characters together, how to build good group backgrounds?  Did I bother to try and help either my DW or Shadowrun DM shape the groups into cohesive groups? No.  Instead I very selfishly and short-sightedly focused down on my characters, not even trying to build the group around them, more focused on not trying to butt in with suggestions (for whatever stupid reason) than with really assisting with character creation.  Of course, during Dungeon World that didn't prevent me from making a few obnoxious rules-lawyer-y remarks and arguments.
     So, for DW I pushed a little to have the GM explain the premise of the campaign, but did nothing to really help the other characters build their characters and to shape the party as a group, leaving the GM to declare by fiat that we were basically the neighborhood watch because the players didn't come up with any real reasons why we knew each other.
     This seems to be the biggest issue I have with the DW bonds.  They work well to tie PCs together and mechanically to give reasons to resolve intra-party interactions, but as far as initial backgrounds they need a preface statement.
     For example, one of the bonds I used, I stole from the Fighter sheet (did I mention I felt I was a special snowflake during character creation and didn't let the base book restrain me at all?) is: "I worry about the ability of _______________ to survive in the dungeon.".  Ironically, I chose the fighter for the bond, but while the bond explains some of our current relationship, it still doesn't explain our past relationship.  What it needs is a preface like "because I saw <Fighter Name> fall into a pit trap when we went into the haunted woods, I worry about the ability of _______________ to survive in the dungeon."
     Or another, for the Dungeoneer bond"I will show __________ that the underground world can beautiful as it is dangerous." I chose the elf wizard.  But that bond alone doesn't really explain how I know the elf wizard or why I'd feel that way.  Better to add a preface sentence like, "Elf Wizard is like most other Elves who hold that the underground world is to be disdained as ugly and dangerous in favor of the so-called splendor of the above ground world and it's forests.  I will show __________ that the underground world can beautiful as it is dangerous."

3. Goals for Next Sessions  (aka be a less cruddy player)

Dungeon World: 

  • Work to coalese the group, hopefully by declaring someone else the leader and then supporting their decisions and serving as a tactical lietenant and advisor.  
  • Rebuild bonds to add preface statements explaining the bond and better fleshing out the connection.
  • Intrude less with alternate rules interpretations, unless asked.


  • Work with DM to adjust initial equipment purchase and weapon proficiency to better reflect scholar background and non-combat role in party.
  • Take better notes.  If I'm going to play a scholar, I should probably take better notes about the research and discoveries I make.  I glanced at my notes from the first session, and I have a sentence and a half.  Horatio might not care too much about mapping the dungeon, but he probably wants better notes on the endothermic mold they found. 


  • Create a new character that will better fit into the group and expected story as a Face.
  • Build relationships between new character and the other PCs to create a more cohesive group.

For All Games

  • Minimum of time on the phone/ipad/laptop.  Since I plan on demanding this from my players, I better model it now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Few Problems with D&D 5E Backgrounds

As I've read the new 5E Player's Handbook, had players create new PCs, recreate old PCs and use pre-made PCs I've come to realize that I have a few problems with them.  That's not to say that they're not a good addition to the game, just that there are things about them I'd like to tweak.

Here are the shortcomings that I've found so far:

  • They don't tie the party together.  
    • Seriously, this is a big one.  The backgrounds all seem to focus on where the character came from and a little on how the character fits into the world or is motivated to adventure, but they provide very little that ties one character to another in a party.
    • Unlike Dungeon World bonds, there's nothing in any of the backgrounds that clearly indicates how your character would be bound to the other weirdos in your band of thieving murder hobos, I mean, your party.
  • They're not great about providing plot hooks/reasons to adventure.
    • Here is an example of how a player could make a character with the Entertainer background who has no plot hooks/reasons to adventure taken from the background.
      • Personality Trait: "I'll settle for nothing less than perfection." (This one almost screams "I won't last long adventuring" to me).
      • Ideal: "Beauty. When I perform, I make the world better than it was. (Good)." (Might be an admirable Ideal, but it doesn't really give the player any idea why the entertainer might decide to travel far from the crowds of a city or village to battle goblins in a wild forest or skeletons in a dungeon).
      • Bond: "My instrument is my most treasured possession, and it reminds of someone I love." (This one almost, almost could read of a plot hook, but not quite.  As a DM I'd be tempted to steal the instrument and use that as the hook, but the very next bond down in the PHB is that very shtick, so a player who chooses this bond doesn't want that or they would have chosen it.)
      • Flaw: "Despite my best efforts, I am unreliable to my friends." (Honestly this one just reads to me like that character is just going to oversleep in the inn while the rest of the party fights the orcs.)
    • Maybe I'm being a little uncharitable, but really, what I want from the backgrounds is to provide impetus to the player, to give them a few easy sentences to refer back to when they inevitably go "wait, why does my character care about this Lich again?"
    • I think a better implementation would be to have every Ideal provide motivation and every Bond provide a plot hook or at least a jumping off point (ie. the Entertainer's Bond of "I want to be famous, whatever it takes." at least provides a reason why that character would be an adventurer.
  • Finally, my last problem with the backgrounds is that many, many more than I like encourage players to just be annoying, the Personality Traits and Flaws especially.
    • Some examples, all taken from the Sage background.  Keep in mind that there are only 8 Personality Traits and 6 each of the Flaws presented in the book as examples.
    • Personality Traits
      • I... speak...slowly...when me. (Yeah, that's going to go over well with the other PCs and NPCs.)
      • I am horribly, horribly awkward in social situations. (This one isn't as bad as the other two examples, but it doesn't take much imagination to see how it could become annoying if not done well.)
      • I'm convinced that people are always trying to steal my secrets. (Another one, not as egregious as the first example, but with plenty of room for it to be implemented poorly.)
    • Flaws
      • I speak without really thinking through my words, invariably insulting others. (Really not necessary since 2 of the 8 personality traits, a full quarter of the options presented pretty much have the same impact as this flaw...)
      • I overlook obvious solutions in favor of complicated ones. (Probably not too bad, but also a possibly abused 'flaw')
      • I can't keep a secret to save my life, or anyone else's. (This one is actually interesting and could be done well, but I also cringe to imagine it being played as an annoying blabbermouth).
    • And unfortunately the Sage is not an isolated example of backgrounds which have options which easily sink into the "just annoying for the other characters" trap.
But, not wanting to just point out flaws, I plan on taking some time to present additional options for the backgrounds in the PHB that provide additional options that hopefully will provide better motivation and more interesting personality traits and flaws that will at least be more interesting, even if they are still a little annoying.


With the conclusion of my OSR module game last night, which ironically was supposed to be a break between Planescape campaigns, I'm officially done running any RPGs for at least 30 days.
So far it looks like I'll be able to play some Shadowrun 5th Edition, Dungeon World, AD&D/OSRIC and of course, some 5E D&D as well.  And I'm trying to weasel my way into convincing a certain someone to run some 13th Age while they're in the states for the Holidays.

And, without games of my own to run, I am going to try and get back into the habit of blogging here.  I'm going to get to play a few games I've never played before (though I've run a few) and it's been over a year since I played any of the D&D Next playtest rules, so I really haven't had a chance to play D&D 5E either.

Because I am terrible at breaks, I'm already planning the first game I'm going to run a Black Friday themed Horror One-Shot RPG on Black Friday, either using Unknown Armies or NEMESIS (I was leaning UA first, then NEMESIS, but then it looks like NEMESIS dropped a few of the Madness Meter/Passions I wanted to utilize from UA, so I might switch back).  But in my defense, (1) the Blackest Friday will be a different system, setting and genre entirely from what I've been running this last year and (2) once I thought of the premise I was extremely excited, which I haven't really felt about running a game in a while.

Let the Break begin!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Burn Out

It's been building all summer, but these last few weeks have made me realize just how burnt out I've become as a GM.  I've been the only GM for two-three on-going games for the last four years and a sporadic co-GM for the last year, as well as any number of one off games.  At a low estimate I've run almost 40 games this year but I've only played in 7 and I haven't gotten the chance to play a game in any system that I've been running.

Once I would finish running a session and wouldn't be able to stop thinking about why I was excited to run the next game, but since the summer, that hasn't been happening.  It's been seeming like my players have been enjoying the games, at least, all the feedback I've gotten has been positive, but they haven't been the style of games I want to run right now. The breaking point was drunk D&D last month which the players enjoyed being silly and drunken, shouting and having silly names, killing monster after monster, but it just wasn't what I wanted to run and I made the mistake of trying to set up individual goals and plotlines that were quickly drowned in a torrent of inebriation.  I don't begrudge my players their enjoyment of the kill-happy, silly and very casual D&D but right now it's not the style of game I want to run.  Trying to plan for a new Planescape campaign has shown me that I don't even know quite what kind of game I want to run, just that the games I've been running right now aren't really there.

So I'm going to take a break. I'm going to run the final session of my OSR Module break in a few weeks and then I'm going to take a break from running any kind of game until mid-November so that I have a full month off.  I'm going to put my two D&D groups on hiatus until January and put my Fading Suns group on indefinite hiatus. It was a hard decision because I know my players have been enjoying the games, but I haven't and I'm hoping that a break will refresh my delight in running games again.

I am going to try and play, Thomas, my patron saint of gaming, has been encouraging me to find more game groups to find another game I could play in and I plan on giving that a try.  The Ginger Giant is relaunching his groups in 5E and I am looking forward to getting to play 5E for the first time since August of 2013 when it was in the earlier playtest stages.

And if any of my players want to try their hand at a session or two, I have a ton of great modules that I've barely had a chance to skim and would be willing to give any assistance, hints or encouragement I can.  While I'm not running my two ongoing groups until January, after mid-November I may run a few small games to try out different systems, maybe a game of Tremulus, now that I have the rules, or 13th Age or Numenara.  

Hopefully playing will inspire me to write a blog post or two, or maybe I'll write a post here once my break is truly underway and I can try and figure out what I miss about running games.  In any case, I think that a real break from running games will be good for me and will revitalize my love of GM'ing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Long, long overdue podcast post

So, over a month ago I ran a game of Dungeon World that we recorded and cut into three parts and then a month ago the Ginger Giant and I recorded a podcast of thoughts about it.  Then due to a myriad of factors including a vacation, a month of work weeks with 16-20 hours of overtime a week, running three ongoing games and a possibly new mini-campaign using the D&D Starter Set and good, old fashioned laziness, I never wrote a blog post for it.

So here it is!  A month late.

Here are the three parts of the Dungeon World Game:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Here is the one page dungeon I ran: Goblin Gully from Dyson's Dodecahedron 

And here is the podcast where we discuss the Dungeon World Game.

I promise that I'll try and get back into the regular blogging soon.

Friday, July 11, 2014

In The Lair of the Ginger Giant: Double, Double Podcast Trouble

Two, count 'em, TWO podcasts.

In episode Five we talk about the Ginger Giant's time at CONvergence and his time playing Pathfinder and the inspirations he got from attending various panels and how we might apply them to our games.

Episode Six is all about our first impressions of the Fifth Edition D&D Basic Rules PDF (which you can get for free at the WoTC site)

Enjoy or not as you like.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

D&D Apocalypse - Moves from one night

A selection of Dungeon World/Apocalypse World etc moves that I used in D&D tonight as my players fought these three monsters in some abandoned Dwarven mines...

Show signs of an approaching threat.
Separate them.
Capture Someone.
Show a downside to their equipment.
Disgorge something.
Attack in great numbers.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Alignment Woes - Neutral, Unaligned and Mechanical Difficulty

What is this guy?  He's a Rilmani.  Why don't you know about him? Because Rilmani are dumb.

Go read Thomas' thoughts about Alignment in 5th Edition over at The Tower of Infinite Evil first before you read this post because originally this was just going to be a comment on that post before it got really long.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode 4 - Planescape Making You Jelly

(Art of Winfred as a never-nude by the talented Heidi Blunt, former player of Kit Clovertail)

In this Podcast the Ginger Giant and I discuss our various current and future games briefly and then the last 2/3rds or 3/4s of the podcast features two of my Planescape players making Ben jealous that he cannot play in my Planescape game.  Featuring tales of Succubus towers, Halflings fighting to the death on giant platters of mutton grease, magical masterwork hoes and an elderly Bariaur's decline into senility.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Plucking the Stars from Distant Systems - Stealing Rules for Fading Suns Pt. 1 Icons and Bonds

One of the things I’ve learned about myself and GM’ing is I that as much as I enjoy running D&D, I enjoy running D&D more when it’s not the only thing I’m running. Strangely, running a non-D&D game concurrently with a D&D game or two helps keep me from getting bored with my D&D game(s) and strangling them in a bathtub or otherwise abruptly ending them. Earlier this year I ran a three session mini-campaign of Apocalypse World and not only did it change the way I ran D&D by letting me see how another system handles issues in games, but it also provided at outlook for ideas and energies that would not have had a place in either of the two D&D Next campaigns I’m running.

Friday, May 16, 2014

In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode 3 - Rocket Sled to Failure

Long time no podcast... but I finally returned to the lair of the Ginger Giant.

Discussed herein: The depressing end of my Apocalypse World game, things I'm stealing for my Fading Suns game, my online Vampire the Dark Ages influence game and a long tangent on player assumptions leading to wild conclusions.  Oh, we also touch on my blog post about Failure.  Also, other things, but I forget.

Episode Three: Rocket Sled to Failure

We also recorded a second secret podcast that may never see the light of day or the ears of listeners.

PS.  Thomas, who is taking over GM duties on future Online Influence Games, started a new blog: A Game of Influence  If you want to read all about our continuing adventures in attempting to improve influence style games, which I touched on tangentially in my "LARP's Lessons Lost" post, then you'll enjoy his new blog.  I expect to be a regular commentator.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Using Failure as a Narrative Tool instead of a Player Frustration

How often have scenarios like these come up?

Scenario One:
Needing to kill the Goblin Chieftain, but not wanting to fight the entire goblin war camp at once, the party decides to sneak past slumbering goblins to the chieftain’s tent.  The stealthy ranger, sneaky rogue and unarmored wizard all roll well, but the scale mail wear dwarven fighter rolls poorly, eliciting a groan from the other players as now the goblin sentries raise the alarm and the party is stuck fighting the entire war-camp.

Scenario Two:
The party has just defeated a beholder and its cultist allies in a hard-fought battle.  Now catching their breath, they’re able to search the room.  Before the DM can speak, the player of the wizard says “My wizard will look at those arcane carvings in the wall more closely now…shit… I rolled a one; guess my wizard doesn’t know anything, dur dur dur.”

These scenarios and countless others like them, from the mundane, a PC missing on a melee attack to the esoteric knowledge checks.  Failure is an inevitable occurrence in any RPG, but in many D&D games I’ve played in, and yes, many D&D games I’ve run, failure just becomes boring and when it occurs repeatedly in a session due to a player having a run of bad dice luck it can extremely frustrating for a player.

Most versions of the D&D rules set up these checks as binary PASS/FAIL, maybe with a chance of automatic or extraordinary success (natural 20) and automatic or extraordinary failure (natural 1).  This works okay mechanically but in practice it can be boring, and in many cases, frustrating to players who feel like not only is their character not getting to do anything, their character falls out of the narrative of the game largely, as they repeatedly swing and miss during combat or fail perception check after perception check.  It’s a shame because many other games handle failure much better, implementing, explicitly or not, more of a “Fail Forward” approach where the player’s failures at dice rolls (or whatever mechanical randomizer is used) as a chance to continue the narrative as opposed to the way failure often functions in D&D as a narrative top (think of the dull silence that lays in wait between a player sullenly says “I got a 5, I don’t see anything” or “I rolled a 7 on my attack” and the DM picking up the narration).  In particular I’m going to draw on Dungeon World for examples of strategies to draw upon, mostly because I’ve been reading it heavily lately and also because I recently ran Apocalypse World which was the source for the Dungeon World Mechanics, but there are many other games out there that have good “Fail Forward” mechanics that you can draw on.

Now, not every roll needs to be narratively interesting, it’s okay to have the fighter swing at an orc with her axe and miss but it’s much more interesting to have some of the PC failures drive the narrative of the game forward instead of having them feel like a pause for a player, a moment where the player, due to bad dice luck, just doesn’t get to do anything.  Think of an old Final Fantasy style game from the era of NES and SNES, if you played any from that era.  Remember the frustration that would build when you had a streak of bad luck or your party accidentally ventured into an area your characters weren’t high enough level for yet?  The annoyance of watching the clunky animation of your character making an attack and then the pause before the disheartening “MISS” showed on screen and nothing happening and then having to wait for the round to cycle?  That is unfortunately what D&D emulates all too often, so below are some strategies I plan to implement in my games to turn failures from frustrating pauses in the fun for players into narrative tools to drive my games forward.

Monday, April 28, 2014

LARP's Lessons Lost

A Blog Post Wherein I Play the Fool.

I used to run and play in a lot of LARPs, or Live-Action Role Playing games for those of you who have arrived at this blog from some other dimension, and some of those games were shit.  Not "the shit" as in good, though some of them were the shit, but some were terrible shit, as in shitty and terrible games.  And I'm talking about the games I ran as well as the games that I played in.  I have run some shit LARPs in my day.  Many of these games I played in, wrote or ran, I also played in, wrote or ran with Thomas and because we enjoy talking about games nearly as much as we enjoy playing them and because it is often easier to talk about games just the two of us than to find a group, schedule a time and play a game, we talked about the problems that we found with LARPs a lot.

Of course, not having played, run or written a LARP in a few years, I forgot all my LARP gripes and lessons when I started running an online influence game using a mishmash of the original World of Darkness Vampire the Dark Ages or VtDA (actually the confusingly re-named Dark Ages: Vampire which has an less impressive DA:V acronym) and a heavily modified Influence System derived mostly from Mind's Eye Theater (MET) Dark Epics.  Since I've been more focused in the last several years on party-driven tabletop games like D&D or even more story-driven games like Dread and Apocalypse World, I let my years of LARP experience go almost completely untapped, much to the detriment of the game I was running.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode Two: Game Prep

Back in the Lair of the Ginger Giant, Ben and I discuss game prep and crafting encounters.

Listen and download here: In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode Two: Game Prep

Let us know if you have comments, feedback or are interested in being a guest to talk about running or playing in RPGs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Five Type V Lessons for Running Type IV Combat

I had been thinking about writing a post about how running Apocalypse World has inspired me to run all of my games with as little preparation before the game and as much prep done during the game as possible, but that hasn't quite come together in my head.  What I did realize, while thinking about some of it and the D&D Type IV game that I played in last Saturday, is that running Type V D&D aka D&D Next aka 5th Edition has given me some ideas about running combat in Type IV D&D aka 4E aka 4th Edition.

Type V, Fool!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode One: Roll Initative

The inaugural episode of the new podcast I'm doing with Ben of Because In a Blog No One Can Here You Scream.

We discuss:

  • Games we've played, run and want to play in the future.
  • Ben's thoughts on D&D Next after playing in the weekend-long session I ran of White Plume Mountain in celebration of my 30th birthday.
  • The Player Principles I outlined in my recent blog post: Principled Playing
  • And answered some listener questions to "Dear Dungeon Master"

Listen and download here: In the Lair of the Ginger Giant: Antagonist Relations Podcast Episode One: Roll Initiative

Let us know if you have comments, feedback or are interested in being a guest to talk about running or playing in RPGs.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Principled Playing

I got Apocalypse World and Dungeon World through the Bundle of Holding back in November and since then I have been in love with them, especially the advice they provide for GM'ing games. Setting aside the idea of Fronts, which are excellent (see Sly Flourish for a nice concise article about how they could be hacked into D&D) what I'm most excited about working into the games I run are the Principles. Now for both Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, the Principles are there to tell the GM explicitly how to run the game. The game designers are pretty explicit that they think the game's other rules will run best and after running Apocalypse World on Sunday, I think in their original games they do just that. But if you take them out of their original games, they work fantastically as well focused general GM advice. Let's take the Principles of Dungeon World that I'm trying to incorporate, more or less intact, into both of my D&D Next campaigns.


Apparently I was tricked into podcasting... but the joke's on the Ginger Giant because I have schemes now... You can go check it out here: We discuss a recent 4E D&D game as well as the first Apocalypse World game I've had the pleasure of running.

A Bang & then a Whimper - The Final Dispatch from Parcher's

When we left our rag-tag band of PCs and their 50-60 hangers on (in addition to Pinky's gang, Man also decided to take the 'hav...