Friday, December 28, 2012

Serious Business, Character Business

The Monarch: " (sighing) Jollyrancher82, never get henchmen.''
Jollyrancher82: "You know, that's not my real name.''
The Monarch: "Well, how was I supposed to know? I used my real name.''
Jollyrancher82: "I just thought, you know... "The Monarch," I thought you were into cosplay...''
The Monarch: "Real name! And I am into costumed business, not costumed play."
 The above quote has very little to do with this post, but it does encapsulate how serious I am about Character Business.  Not business in the sense of Neckties and Profit-Margins, but business in the theatrical sense, that is:
9. An incidental action performed by an actor on the stage to fill a pause between lines or to provide interesting detail.
 14. (Performing Arts / Theatre) Also called stage business Theatre an incidental action, such as lighting a pipe, performed by an actor for dramatic effect (
Character Business is one of the things that can make or break a game for me.  PCs with good character business can rescue a dreary plot and if done well can make a good game great.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Aren't You Reading?: What Does the Protagonist Want?

A new feature for Antagonist Relations, "Why Aren't You Reading?", where I'll blab about some book, blog, comic or some other thing(s) that I think that you (yes, YOU!) should be reading.  First up is Todd Alcott's fantastic What Does the Protagonist Want?

Alcott is a screenwriter who puts up great posts where he dives deep into the screenplays of many movies and other media artifacts, like his great series on episodes of the Venture Bros.  Recently he started an incredibly detailed series diving deep into the Avengers, which as of my writing this post is already at Part 6 and only 30! minutes into the film.  Alcott's screenwriting observations on what works and what doesn't in a script are not only fantastic and interesting reading, they're also easily applicable to GM'ing.  Reading the series on the Avengers, where he discusses how the movie manages to juggle the various ensemble characters without letting the audience become disinterested, has already made me think about how I can juggle the PCs in my ensemble Reign game without the other players getting bored as each gets their moments.

So, what are you waiting for, go read his first post on the Avengers and then dive deep into his very excellent archives.

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 5:...And Through the Woods...

Same caveats as always... go read the summary of Last Rest Episode 5:...And Through the Woods...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bottomless Dungeon Twitter Thing

Long ago I ran a Zombietweet-pocalypse game on Twitter.  It was fun, but a lot of work as I was (not so) secretly playing 3 of the 6 PCs in addition to GMing it. @Ironsolo and I have fond memories of it though, & I've thought about re-running it, but have never felt I could scourge up the needed number of players to make it worthwhile.
So instead @Ironsolo & have started a Bottomless Dungeon Twitter "game".  & I say "game" because it is only a game in the loosest sense.  The premise is that each Twitter account is a different dweller in the Bottomless Dungeon and the fun is in the interactions between the dwellers as players react & respond to other player's in character tweets.  So far we have:
*A cowardly food obsessed goblin.
*A trouble-making sarcastic undead 'geist' trapped in a cycle of destruction at the hands of adventurers & resurrection at the hands of necromancers.
*A dungeon possum selling magical trinkets.
*A by-the-books, humorless beholder middle-manager.
*A non-sentient gelatinous cube.
There are plans for a hilarious "Rave" Troll (possibly with redneck ogre rival?) But the "game" is open to all. Create a character by creating an in-character Twitter account & join by following the other dungeon dwellers.  Tweet as often or as little as you want.  The point of the thing is the more the merrier!
You can see the "game" at my Bottomless Dungeon Twitter list linked to below.  Enjoy & consider joining us.
Bottomless Dungeon Twitter List

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Left Wing of the Day of Judgement

On Friday 11/9 I finally had the pleasure of running my 19th Century Whaling inspired "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement".  This commentary won't do the session justice at all, as it's a little far removed from the game since I've been busy with a new job, but I wanted to get it up anyway.

I had six players, which I think is my ideal DREAD group size, allowing a nice mix of characters to be played without having so many players that not everyone gets to contribute.   Of the characters I wrote up, the ones in BOLD were played.

  • The crew of the Eryine, an American whaling ship captained by the mad Captain Danby, obsessed with hunting down the legendary Kraken...
    • Harpooner - Former Slave 
    • Crewman - Young Sailor with a Secret
    • Cabin "Boy" - Runaway Youth
    • Steward - Immigrant, former Italian Nationalist
    • Third Mate - Haunted Whaler
    • Oarsman - Indebted Yankee Intellectual
  • The Crew and passengers of the Dachshund, a British scientific expedition led by Sir Alastair Finch, a noted British biologist studying the elusive giant squid...
    • British Lady of Standing - Recent Widow
    • British Naturalist - Former Duelist
    • Irish Carpenter - Former Criminal
    • Army Officer - Veteran of the Russian War
    • Hydrographer - Drunken Widower
I managed once again to fool the players with a twist (or several)... First by having very little action on the whaling ship, as a fierce storm and Kraken attack destroyed the ship.  In the midst of the wrack, two of the PCs, the Naturalist and the Carpenter, had their skin indelibly stained by Kraken ink with several tumbles of the Jenga tower...Setting up twist the second, where the PCs found themselves either rescued by American Christian Evangelical missionaries (the cabin "boy", Yankee Oarsman and Hydrographer) or imprisoned by the same missionaries (the stained Naturalist and Carpenter and the Former Slave).  From there things slowed a bit, as the players gradually (or suddenly) deduced the good Christian's were actually also racist cannibals.  Both halves of the players decided to make a break from it at the same time and they came together with a near simultaneous sneak attack, wherein Citizen Ben proved that he could portray quite a bloodthirsty and ruthless 11 year old girl...  They quickly escaped the compound and found a native awaiting them, immediately recognizing the Kraken Ink staining the Naturalist and Carpenter and taking the players to meet the mysterious Captain Lewis who had been exiled from the missionary colony.

The second half kept the momentum up with the players realizing that the volcanic island was beginning to erupt and having to wade through waves of rats (brought by the Europeans, they had killed all the flora and fauna on the island).  The Cabin "Boy" was nearly lost in a wave of rats after yet another tumble of the tower, but the other players risked their own players to snatch her from a rodent death. The group then found themselves on a beach where the natives worshiped a monstrous idol of an unnamed squid god and found Captain Lewis, lacking arms or legs, his skin also stained by Kraken ink, guarding a raft while the worshipers danced in a frenzy around a bonfire.  Captain Lewis told them the Kraken would demand a sacrifice in exchange for their escape from the island, so the Cabin "Boy" attacked him with a machete, slicing open the skin of his face which let tentacles escape and began Captain Lewis' transformation into some a cephalopodic freak.  The PCs commandeered the raft and managed to escape the island as the lava reached the shore, fleeing into the storm at sea.  At sea, the Kraken re-appeared, as tentacles crashed against the waves around them and the Naturalist and Carpenter fought dark urges inside them, brought to the surface by the ink staining their skin.  The Naturalist succumbed and leapt at her fellow boat-mates, but was quickly taken down.  The game ended with the remaining PCs giving the Carpenter the choice of falling to their knives or taking his chance in the ocean and he chose to go overboard.

All in all, it was a blast to run, it felt like I kept the tension and action going strong (for the most part) and it definitely re-invigorated my love of running games.  Unlike my Circus Freaks DREAD scenario, which I still plan to write up and publish (as discussed here).  Afterwards, I gave @ironsolo, who is thinking he wants to write and run his own DREAD game, the character questionnaires and my notes, which were embarrassingly  almost entirely notes on the music I had in my various playlists for the game (Character Creation, Storm, Island, Climax).  For serious, here is the entirety of what I had written up for the "plot" of the game:

  • Acts
    • Storm/Kraken - PCs covered in Kraken ink...
    • Island - Lava flow looks like squid on the mountain, sulfurous cave, stockade that missionaries live in
    • Escape - volcano threatens to erupt, need to find their way to Captain Lewis
Since the plot as I ran it was largely impromptu, even more so than DREAD games I've run in the past, and since the wacky twists are a little ridiculous: it's not a game about being on a ship, it's about being on an island, an island that looks like a squid, with crazy racist Christian Cannibals, and swarms of rats... and also native Cthulhu cultists, I rather doubt it would write up as well as the fairly straight forward Circus game which was just Circus Freaks vs. Monster.

On the plus side, I took a lot of what I did in DREAD and applied it to my last Reign game, which was much more fun to run (and hopefully play) than my last lackluster installment of that game.

Here to take you out is a live version of the SWANS "Eden Prison" which I used the soundtrack to the Kraken Attack/Storm that the Left Wing of the Day of Judgement opened with... (from the amazing live double cd set We Rose from Your Bed With the Sun in Our Head)

Swans, "Eden Prison" (Live At Brooklyn Masonic Temple) from self-titled on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Uwain the Betrayed - Introduction and Goals

So I'm gearing up to re-join Citizen Ben's monthly 4E D&D campaign after taking a short sanity regaining break.  Previously I had been playing Isidore (Sid) Philokales, a crazy Ardent (psychic healer for those not fluent in the more obscure 4E classes) who was devoted to the worship of a stellar entity that he believed would come and cleanse the world in a burning apocalypse.  For various reasons, mostly because he was insane and none of the rest of the party shared his apocalyptic goals, it became clear to me that it was time to turn Sid over to Ben to use an NPC.  After some thought, I decided that I wanted to play a character who could become the moral center of the game (some discussion of the game and its lack of a moral center can be found in my The Face vs The Captain vs Individual Impulsiveness - Party Leaders in RPGs post) and Uwain, a Paladin of the Raven Queen, a former Cindersoul Genasi raised as a Revenant, was born...

"Left Wing of the Day of Judgement" - Character Previews

Here is a preview of the characters to be played in the "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement"

  • The crew of the Eryine, an American whaling ship captained by the mad Captain Danby, obsessed with hunting down the legendary Kraken...
    • Harpooner - Escaped Slave
    • Crewman - Young Sailor with a Secret
    • Cabin Boy - Runaway Youth
    • Steward - Immigrant, former Italian Nationalist
    • Third Mate - Haunted Whaler
    • Oarsman - Indebted Yankee Intellectual
  • The Crew and passengers of the Dachshund, a British scientific expedition led by Sir Alastair Finch, a noted British biologist studying the elusive giant squid...
    • British Lady of Standing - Recent Widow
    • British Naturalist - Former Duelist
    • Irish Carpenter - Former Criminal
    • Army Officer - Veteran of the Russian War
    • Hydrographer - Drunken Widower

And lastly, a little visual preview...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Last Rest Setting: Grit and Inspiration

So in my GM Commentary for Episode Two, I mentioned Digetic thinking and needing to establish a "Grit Level" for my home brew Last Rest setting that I'm running my Reign campaign in, this post is my attempt to help set a "Grit Level" by going over some of my inspiration for the setting and the kind of grittiness I'm taking from those sources...

DREAD Thoughts & "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement" Preview

So, gentle reader, as you may have noticed, I reference DREAD quite a bit on the this blog.  Here it is again, in case you forgot..

Currently unavailable from Amazon, which I have not seen happen in a while and they're still publishing slim scenario books, so hopefully it's just between printings, but it's also available in PDF from DriveThruRPG and when I think to look in my local game shops, I usually have no trouble finding it.

Dread is a game of "diceless horror" where the schtick is that the sole mechanic of the game is a Jenga (or generic tumbling block) tower, which is much more interesting and intense than it might sound.  The players pull a block when they want to take an action where success or failure matter.... So trying starting a car on a bright sunny day, not a pull...  Trying to starting a car whose battery is run down as the ax-wielding maniac is smashing in the back window, now that's (at least) one pull.  When the tower collapses, bad things happen, injury or misfortune early in the game, death.

The other place where Dread shines is in character creation.  Here again is the example I gave in my Character Creation - True Background vs. Limited Future Choices post.
The GM comes up with characters for the scenario, in my last game the players were all circus freaks, and then comes up with questions for each character that the player answers to define the character.  For instance, in my Circus Freak game, one of the un-played characters was the Circus Strongman, below are his questions:

  • What happened to you when you were nine that made you swear to yourself that you'd never be weak?
  • Even though you're the strongest person you know, you hate physical violence, why?
  • What intellectual pursuit of yours would surprise people if they knew about it?
  • Why don't you feel comfortable socializing with the other performers?
  • You don't enjoy being a circus performer, but why don't you leave the circus?
  • What nationality won't you admit to being descended from and why?
  • What happened that made you afraid of being underground?
  • When the going gets tough, how do you respond?
  • The elderly clown Juventas died of a heart attack recently, what shameful thing did he see you do three months ago?

As you can see, in answering the questions, a player gets to determine many of the details, secrets, fears and emotions of a character.
Well, last night, Citizen Ben his first game of Dread, an zombies in a blizzard scenario of his own creation, that I got to enjoy playing in and it reminded me of some tips, tricks and thoughts I had about writing/running a good game of Dread and then a preview of the next Dread game I'm running, a 19th century Whaling/Nautical inspired game, "Left Wing of the Day of Judgement"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Face vs The Captain vs Individual Impulsiveness - Party Leaders in RPGs

I've been thinking about Party Leaders in RPGs a lot lately.  Beyond just what I mentioned in my last GM Commentary, this is something that I've been pondering since the summer. To my mind, there are two broad types of party leaders in RPGs, though they easily overlap in individual characters, which are:
  • The Face - The Face is the social leader of the group.  This is the character who serves most often as group spokesman to NPCs, usually due to the social skills of the PC, the social skills of the player and  often due to in-game character status as well (ie. being a Noble in the system setting).  The Face may not set battle tactics or make any plans outside of social situations, but by virtue of being the character doing important social interactions with NPCs, the Face of a party often leads simply by being the party spokesperson.
  • The Captain - The Captain is the plotter, planner and tactical leader of the group.  Unlike the Face, the leader is not a outside facing social spokesperson for the group, instead the leader is the character who comes up with the battle plans or the infiltration schemes or does the plotting of the group's next moves.
The Face and Captain can often overlap in the same character, but they can also be separate characters, depending on the make up of the party.  The Face is probably the easier to play, since at the simplest it can be decided just by the players looking around and saying "You've got the highest Charisma/best social skills/speak Troll" you talk for us.  But, in my mind the Captain is the more important or influential of the two, since any deals, diplomacy or social shenanigans that the Face makes are easily ignored by the other characters once that social situation has ended, or even during. (That brings to mind a D&D game I ran where after the other characters had just finished averting combat and talking the tribe of lizardmen out of attacking them, the party's wizard decided to just hit the lizardman chief with Acid Arrow and then chaos ensued).  The Captain, on the other hand, if he's actually the group's tactical leader, if he commands the respect of the other characters and the players, can help set the group's course, and therein lies the rub... To play the leader of your RPG group, it's not enough to convince the characters that your character should lead, you have to convince the players as well...

An Excerpt from the Legend of Kamerlane Clovertail, the Doom Bringer (to his enemies)

Without comment, here is a character journal I wrote for a 4E D&D game (run by the estimable Citizen Ben) wherein I played  the an impetuous monk and the middle sibling in a trio of halfing children.  With two other players as my older brother and younger sister, it was a blast even if I only got three or four games out of the PC before the game was unfortunately shuttered.  I recommend that you imagine it as being related to you by an over-caffeinated teenager.

'Twas the after the night when Kamerlane led his compatriots to victory over the wicked goblins, cultists and Bourni in the Battle of the Old Mill. An uneasy calm had come over the town, bolstered by the presence of so mighty a warrior as Kam. From the lovely but cold-eyed Elf Waerir, Kam received a secret parcel, entrusted by a mysterious benefactor to Waerir to give to Kam, surely because of the girlish infatuation Waerir tried and failed to hide for Kam. Inside the parcel, Kam discovered a note of encouragement, recognizing that Kam was the mightiest and most worthy hero of those who had fought at the Battle of the Old Mill. A great and magical circlet which rendered Kam impervious to any harm was enclosed. There was also the finest of delectables to keep Kam strong and a bottle of magically potent Brandyvine Spirits.
As Kam examined his fine new provisions, nearby Tom Folk spoke incredibly loudly to Kam's older brother Billiam. Though Bill was older than Kam, it was obvious to all who observed them together that Kam lead the way, while Bill relied on Kam. Tom gave Bill a crest of authority, knowing that Kam's natural charisma would render a crest of leadership completely unnecessary for the Mighty Kamerlane, while the bland and meek Bill would need all the help he could get to impress anyone the brothers met. Tom also said something about not instigating non-hostile Bourni, something that Bill would later forget, leaving Kam once again to get his big brother out of trouble, but more of that later.
The kindly Mrs Folk told Kittera, Kam's little sister, to run home if things got bad, giving Bill a dirty look for not doing enough to protect his and Kam's youngest sibling. Mrs Folk gave Kam a wink of encouragement, recognizing that he had his hands full keeping all of the group safe and that Bill should pull his weight for once and keep an eye on Kit instead of watching jealously after Kam.
There was an elder who spoke to Johann, Kam's personal cleric, that once Johann was no longer necessary in Kam's service, that the priest should minister to the elder's crazy daughter, who, being crazy (perhaps driven mad by unrequited love for Kam?) ran up to Johann and whispered in his ear how madly in love she was with Kam and then giggled and fled blushing.  Also, there was a quiet former Borni warrior woman who accompanied them, pining all the while for Kam.
They went deep into the dark woods, whose sinister atmosphere depressed the spirits of all, except Kam, whose natural good looks and obvious heroism gave the others the strength to continue, they discovered an abandoned manor which goblins had taken over. Kam quickly climbed a tree, nimble as a monkey, and spotted their enemies. Kam leapt from tree to tree, agilely avoiding the crossbow bolts of his adversaries, while below him, the others cautiously advanced. After Kam had slaughtered their attackers, they found a human and a bugbear chained up, Kam suspected something amiss, but like a fool, Bill did not listen to his wiser, younger, handsomer brother, and the bugbear was able to grab Bill. As the bugbear strangled Bill, whose pleading eyes begged his heroic brother to help, the bugbear used Bill as a shield, but alas for him, the bugbear, Kam was able to nimbly take out the brute. Taking the booty that was rightfully his, Kam discovered a bottle of Wyrmshine. Kam instructed his two Bourni bondsmen, Hans and Pavel, whose lives he had saved to stay at the Manor and guard it for Kam's return. As a token of his generous thanks, Kam even left the two a bottle of rum to enjoy. Kit found a couple of mushrooms, which Kam, wise in the ways of the woods, easily identified, schooling his little sister on which was poisonous and which ones would be medicinal.
The next day the group continued on their way to the Keep that was their destination, and Kam, scouting ahead, alone, bravely, discovered a clearing with a grisly dias surrounded by skinned corpses, on the other side of which was an ancient catacomb that oozed terror to all those not named Kamerlane. While the others quaked with fear, Kam boldly climbed up, pulled out his magical bottle of Brandyvine and lit it, hurling it in at the unsuspecting cultists who lurked within. The explosion jolted Kam's companions out of their fear and they surrounded the skinless undead beast that was the only thing strong enough to survive Kam's mighty attack. While his companions kept the brute distracted, Kam dealt it mighty blows until it died a final death at the end of Kam's spear of destiny. After the thing was killed, Johann said a prayer of thanks to Bahumat for blessing the world with a hero as mighty as Kam.
After the battle of the Creepy Clearing, won almost singlehandedly by the mighty Kam, the group reached the Keep, infested with goblinoids and humans who worshiped the evil god Taurug. Once again leaving his less bold compatriots behind, Kam crept close, unseen and listened to the goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears gathered there in the name of Bane, god of evil war (and also, from Kam's experience, god of those who get their butts kicked by Kamerlane the Doombringer (to his enemies)). Listening and as undetectable as a ghost, Kam learned that the goblinoids served a king named Kornac, who worked with a human named Valanar, the chosen of Taurug, who had brought a mask. Kam discovered that the goblins were building siege engines and learned the location of a swamp to the west where the Taurug demon worshipers gathered. Just as Kam was about to learn every secret of the evil goblins, some of his companions got over bold and clumsily crept up, as Kam's companions crept up, so too did the Borni that Kam had seen the entire time, not wanting to let the others get caught, Kam quietly alerted the unsuspecting Borni to his presence and demanded that they take him and his companions to their village.
A sub chief, Beinir, recognizing Kam's natural greatness and also being shown Bill's crest, brought the group to the chieftan, a mighty one armed man named Haeg, who recognized in Kam the makings of a great warrior and leader. Kam and Haeg spoke candidly, man to man, despite Bill's butting in and causing the Borni to come to anger at the mention of Tom Folk. Even though Bill attempted to usurp Kam's natural place as leader and upset their host and his tribe, Kam was able to win Haeg back, with his obvious greatness and a reminder that the Borni feared Valanar, while Kam feared no man, beast or undead thing. In honor of Kam's battle honors and greatness, Haeg threw a great feast, treating Kam as guest of honor and allowing Kam's companions to stay at the head table as well out of deference to Kam. Kam regaled the Borni with the story of his exploits, which they agreed were worthy, and even found time to woo a winsome young maiden, about whom no more shall be said out of deference to her honor (aside from the fact that she was smoking and could not keep her eyes, hands or tongue off of Kam).
The next day, as the tribe and his companions shook off the effects of the mighty feast and Kam awoke refreshed and eager, as true heroes always do, Haeg brought them out away from the village, where he confessed that he had a problem only Kam could solve. The chief had his men use a clever apparatus, though not as clever as any that Kam could have devised, should he have needed to, to pull a great stone slab off a deep and fetid pit. Haeg told Kam and his lesser companions that the pit was where criminals, betrayers and other unworthies were kept, but that two days ago something sinister had come to the village and gotten into the pit, turning all within to zombies. Kam at once declared that he, and his companions, should they be bold enough to accompany him, would descend into the pit, kill all the zombeis and carry out the head of the thing that did this monstrous deed on the point of Kam's mighty spear.

Next the tale of Kamerlane the Zombie Slayer, deep in the Pit!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 2 - Summit on Adder Crag

Same caveats as the last GM Commentary... go read the summary for Episode Two - Summit on Adder Crag first and this will once again be disjointed--Probably more so than the last since the summary is told from the viewpoint of one of the NPCs rather than from an omniscient point of view following the player characters.

As the second episode, this one had a much different feel.  Probably because it was the second time, possibly because the PCs didn't have a focused mission provided by a third party like they did for the first episode... Possibly because the focus for the episode didn't come together for me until game day itself when I realized that what I could tell everything together with the themes of "Loyalty/Dis-Loyalty" and "Do the Ends Justify the Means" which fit each of the 4 main NPCs I had that the PCs could encounter.  Chatting with my RPG spiritual advisor, Thomas, he reminded me that even if the PCs failed, they could "Fail Forward", which is to say, that even the PCs failures should lead somewhere new. And the final ingredient for the stew was that I listened to The High Confessions "Along Come the Dogs" off their excellent debut album, Turning Lead Into Gold With the High Confessions and that put me in the right mood and cemented, in my mind, the mood I wanted to set.

Onward to the commentary!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 1 Checkpoint Char-Lay

I listen to a lot of DVD commentary tracks, not just for the amusing anecdotes, but more for the directors/creators/writer's commentary on craft.  I recently listened to the commentary on Firefly, looking for inspiration for both Reign and my upcoming Fading Suns game, and thought that the idea of episode commentary would pair well with the Episode summaries I'm doing for my Reign game.  So, since I've posted the first Episode summary over on the Last Rest Blog, what follows here is my first GM commentary.

This might be a bit disjointed, as it's mostly just the thoughts that have been rattling around since I ran the game on Monday.  Also, for any of my players, fear not!  This won't have any really big spoilers.  Also, also,  you should go read my episode summary before you read this as it's written with the assumption that you have done just that.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

GM Confession: XP

One of my least favorite GM chores, aside from player wrangling aka game scheduling, is keeping track of XP.  I can recall many of the sessions of the 3.5 game I co-DM'ed starting out with the players and DM discussing exactly how many XP we each had and trying to keep track of it all as some players would have less due to missing sessions or the DM would have forgotten to announce the earned XP at the end of the last session or the players would forgotten to have written down said XP...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Beginning of My Reign

Monday night saw the first session of my Reign game (which you can follow over at the Last Rest blog).  While all that was accomplished was character and company creation, I feel it was highly successful.  Before Monday, the last character creation session I had overseen was for two 4E D&D characters, which took almost two hours, even utilizing the electronic character generator.  Monday night I was able to guide six players through creating a character each and constructing, together, a company.  And whereas the D&D character creation yielded two playable sheets with very little background, personality or goals, each of the six Reign PCs created on Monday night has a rough background, potential goals and relationships and as the characters were being crafted I could tell that the players were also starting to develop character personalities as well.

The players decided to go with a smuggling outfit disguised as a merchant company working to assist the rebellion against the Witchlord's Ashen Kingdom.  We've got (if my memory serves) a merchant following in the family tradition, a noble kidnapped by mountain folk who rose to become their thane, a master thief who had been imprisoned by the Ashen Kingdom due to a case of mistaken identity, a gypsy turned sailor, a sorcery wielding archer and an Ashen Kingdom army officer who learned strange magics and turned to the rebellion after being imprisoned due to a political imbroglio.  I am certain that my brief description did not do justice to any of those characters and I hope to be posting backgrounds and descriptions of each soon on the Last Rest blog.

With the characters and company created, I've started planning the plot arc, keeping my Goal Posts in sight. I've decided on a starting point, I know two plot high points for the middle and I have an idea of the climax of the campaign.  I have some ideas on the antagonists and allies, from the character backgrounds as I understand them now, and I'll flesh those out and finalize them as I get finished backgrounds from the players.  Most importantly, I have three themes that I want to focus this first season of Reign on:

  • Family/Community
    • The game is going to focus on families, and on communities as the extension of family or as the 'created' family as opposed to the biological family.  Many of the players have a part of their background that involves being a part of a family or being opposed to a particular family and I'm going to play that up as well as introducing other families and communities for the players to impact as their characters make decisions.
  • Do The Ends Justify the Means?
    • I want the game to offer real moral choices to the players. The player's company is a smuggling operation, circumventing the laws, because it is an offshoot of a rebellion that sees those laws as unjust, but how far are they willing to take it?  Through out the game, the players will have to choose how far they are willing to go and will also see NPCs who draw hard limits on what they're willing to do for their believes and who are willing to do anything...
  • Justice/Vengeance
    • This may overlap some with "Do The Ends Justify the Means?" but I decided to make it a theme anyway.  Many of the characters have a person or group (including a family) that they want vengeance on, and I want to use these opportunities to focus on the difference between justice and vengeance.  Will the characters seek justice, where a kind of fairness or proportion might reign, or will they seek a kind of scorched earth vengeance?  They'll also encounter NPCs who also seek justice or vengeance.
These themes might change a bit after contact with my players and their characters, but for now, I think these will be the themes I start shaping the plot around.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Theme and Mood, pt 2: Mood

As I wrote previously in my earlier post about Theme, Mood has always been the easier one for me to convey.  It's always been much easier for me to focus on conveying a Mood, especially for a single session or adventure, than it has for me to focus on reinforcing a Theme over an entire chronicle.

This doesn't mean, though, that as I plan my upcoming campaigns that I want to let Mood out of my sights.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Theme and Mood, pt 1: Theme

So, as I prep for my new Reign chronicle and a possible Fading Suns game, Thomas (of the Tower of Infinite Evil), in his ongoing role as my RPG Spiritual advisor, has admonished me to think about Themes and Moods, and specifically directed my attention to the game-mastering sections of the old World of Darkness books that cover these topics.

Basically, the Theme is the idea or concept that runs throughout the entire chronicle, helping provide a unified feel for what the chronicle is about.  Mood on the other hand, can be a more temporary, thing, with the Mood changing from session to session or episode to episode.  Mood is the underlying feel of the game.   Of the two, I've always been much better with Mood.  This post will focus on Theme and my thoughts on how I'm going to work it into the chronicles I'm planning.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Character Creation - True Background vs. Limited Future Choices

I'm gearing up to run my new Reign campaign and was chatting with Bob, a friend who'll be playing Reign but has otherwise played 4E D&D almost exclusively with  dashes of Mage, Mazes & Minotaurs and Dread thrown in as well.  As we chatted I realized how different character creation in D&D (and similar games) can be from a game like Reign.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Farewell 4E (for now, at least)

For various reasons, I'm taking a break from running and playing D&D 4E.  When it came out, it fixed a lot of the issues that I'd had with 3.5, taking the tactical combat that was already in 3.5 and adding balance and options for each class each turn.  But running and playing it recently has been bogged down by paper shuffling, grinding combats and the over profusion of classes, races and powers that have started to all feel muddied, muddled and way too similar.  I've plotted out two last sessions for my ongoing D&D campaign that will hopefully provide closure for the still open plot lines and I've accepted that it's time for my chaotic evil, touched by the stars, slightly psychopathic Ardent to slip out of the party and become an NPC villain where he'll be more effective.  Mostly it's burnout, 4E has been pretty much the only game I've run or played for the past 4 years since it came out.

But instead of dumping on 4E, I want to remember some of my favorite bits:

  • Goblins shifting after being missed with a melee attack.  The first time I used this in a game, I remember how surprised the players were and it was great to see that goblins/orcs/kobolds could be more than interchangeable low-level monster stat blocks but could have some flavor that played out in the combat.
  • Fighters with interesting combat options.  Clerics who could be more than heal-bombs.  After the constant who will play the Cleric fights of the 3.5 games I ran and played in, it was refreshing to see Clerics (and the other 4E leader classes) be able to heal and do other things in combat.  And having fighters with interesting options was another revelation.  In fact, I can't recall a time when anyone played a straight fighter character in our 3.5 games.
  • My barbarian Amleth.  Previous editions of D&D never provided me with a barbarian class that felt satisfying.  4E changed that.  The Daily Rage mechanic felt like one of the least forced of the daily powers and had the added bonus of being able to sack a daily rage power to make a Rage strike.  An option that was strangely not used for any other classes.  Some of my favorite D&D moments were being able to charge recklessly into the middle of the fight and lay waste with Amleth, letting the mechanics and powers of the class support a character driven goal to lead from the front lines and charge to and fro in the battle.
  • Hobbits.  I ran a fantastic one shot where the players all played inter-related Hobbits and discussed tookweed as they fought off ghouls and then I stole that schtick for a game I played in to have a trio of hobbit siblings who baffled the rest of the part as well as the enemies as we ran about enjoying ourselves in spite of the often dark and terrifying goings on around us.
Now, though, it's time for a change.  I'm already looking forward to my new REIGN campaign, and we'll see if I can convince my current D&D players to try out another game.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Rest Goal Posts

Gearing up to start a new RPG, using the REIGN One Roll Engine rules and a home brew setting and just wanted to get my goals down on virtual paper.  The last few campaigns I've run have been very unfocused, and to some part a little more unsatisfactory because of that.

  • Party Cohesion
    • This is a big one, the last two D&D campaigns I've run have used the "forced together by circumstances" method of party building and while some party dynamics have emerged, they never cohered the way I would have liked.  I'm hoping that limiting the PCs to a single company or at most two companies will help give the PCs a sense of belonging to the same group, not to mention similar goals.
    • But aside from the somewhat forced PC relationships, I also hope to encourage the players to develop personal relationships between their characters right from the character creation process on.  
    • One of the most memorable D&D games I ran was a one-shot where the players decided to all play Hobbits (eschewing the much less cool Halfling designation) and in the course of creating their PCs also came up with relationships and one sentence descriptions... exempli gratia: the do nothing hobbit with a heart of gold, his slightly shut-in wizardly uncle who had an unseen servant to carry him above the filthy ground, a bardic rival who was slightly jealous of the do nothing hobbit, et cetera.
    • The most enjoyable D&D games I played this last year both had relationships, in one I blatantly stole the Hobbit schtick and played the middle brother in a trio of mischievous halfling children. In the other, it was a semi-cooperative game where each PC had relationships to the other PCs that shaped how semi-cooperative they were, with slightly disastrous results as my half-dwarf PC killed his unaware human half-brother perhaps a little too early.
    • Recently I played in another D&D game as a crazy ardent (psychic healer) with a telepathic brother, but since we had vastly different goals and did not share anything other than being brothers, that was much less satisfying and my character couldn't rely on his brother the way my spastic hobbit monk could rely on his siblings.
  • PC Goals
    • Another thing I want to focus on is PC goals.  My last efforts have seen a few PCs have very vague goals (get rid of this magical mark) and most of the PCs lack all but the vaguest goals (stop evil).  I abused my DM powers and let the PCs be led on by hazy party goals that merely led along the plot-point stops.
    • For Reign I want each PC to have a goal or two, even if they are largely the same as the goal of the company they belong to.  I'm hoping that the PC goals will then drive the plot instead of the PCs merely ferreting out the clues that lead them on in the DM driven narrative.
  • An End In Sight.
    • Perhaps my biggest DM sin is that I plot campaigns too big.  My RPG Spiritual Advisor, Thomas, of Tower of Infinite Evil, is constantly warning me against going too big.  In that spirit, and drawing on the meta-flavor text of our Fading Suns as sci-fi television series, I am going to run the REIGN RPG in Seasons.
    • Each Season will be a self-contained plot-arc lasting 3-6 months (8-16 sessions depending on play).  If after the first season the players decide not to continue playing REIGN, then we'll have a single season.  If they decide to continue playing, we'll decide if we keep the same characters for a second Season with a new self-contained plot arc or if we start fresh with new characters.  
    • I'm hoping this avoids the trap that my last two D&D campaigns fell into, where I planned out the EPIC level secrets and conclusion.. Leading to such classics campaign plots as: Three Insane Wizards, all thinking they're the same dead Wizard's Guild Master, tricked into a ritual by a Dark Force that feeds off the world ruined during the last Guild War or the PCs are descendents of a sorcerous family that became gods and somehow the plot would involve the players playing the long dead ancestors of their PCs in a flashback.  Such epic level plots are all well and good, but it would have probably been more satisfying for all involved if the Heroic tier of play had a better defined plot arc instead of being just the tip of the eventual plot iceberg, as it were.
So those are my goal posts for right now, three fairly simple things I want to make sure I do with this game, encourage Party Cohesion, let PC Goals drive the game and keep a reasonable End In Sight.  Now to force myself to stick to them.

Oh, also, you can follow the goings on of the Reign Campaign I'm running at: Last Rest - A Reign RPG Chronicle.  Right now there's just some setting notes, possible plotlines and an example character, but I'm planning to post Episode teasers and summaries and to have players write in character journal entries about the episodes.

Post-Apocalyptic Names

As I'm prepping to run a Godless mini-campaign, I wanted to have a good post-apocalyptic name table to draw from. The Apocalypse World...