Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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 'have a gang' improvement), they had been chased out of Parcher's old hold by Dremmer. They decided to head off to the 100 Acre Dump to regroup and plan, and that's where the sixth session began.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"A Red Rumspringa" - Antagonist Relations Actual Play Podcast 8 - GM Commentary

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Comments are in roughly chronological order as I listen to the podcast for the umpteenth time...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Golden Puddle of Tollgate Square - Leaving Room for Icons in 13th Age

While I ran the Strangling Sea to start my 13th Age campaign, for the second full session, I ran a homebrew adventure. Previously the party had determined that there were three NPCs who might know a secret worth trading to an Ettercap temple in exchange for information about a 2nd Age Sage who studied the Stone Thief. Those three NPCs were

  • Elizabeth Clawchoke, Lich Baroness residing in Drakkenhall
  • Malaggar Lyme, Dark Elf emissary to the Emperor, currently visiting the court of Drakkenhall.
  • Corgak the Bruiser, Half-Orc thief and thug who killed an agent of the Prince of Shadows and stole a magical key.

After some discussion the PCs choose Corgak, and so headed off to Drakkenhall to locate him.
Now, as GM, I had a few objectives, which were:

  • Leave room to adapt the adventure based on Icon Rolls.
  • Provide a few social interaction encounters.
  • Introduce Tollgate Square as a place, with a distinctive feel, locations and NPCs.
  • Steal shamelessly from Voltron.

So how did I attempt all that? Why is Manneken Pis the image header? Keep reading to find out... (Minor Voltron Legendary Defenders Season 2 spoilers at the end of the post)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Is he telling the TRUTH?" Against Insight/Sense Motive

Man, I am terrible at compiling lists of GM Resolutions, I left off my renewed effort at NPC voices and came to realize today that I also left off my Insight/Detect Lie resolution. To whit, I am done allowing Insight/Sense motive checks to tell when an NPC is lying...

Now, this has been a pet peeve of mine for quite a while, but this year I'm putting my foot down and no longer allow players to declare "Is [NPC] telling the truth? I'm rolling Insight". But, but Zack! You cry, the D&D 5e Player's Manual allows it... and, sure I guess you could read it like that... here it is... the description of the Insight skill (which replaced earlier editions equally terrible "Sense Motive")...
Insight. Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. Doing so involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.
It's right there "true intentions of a creature... searching out a lie..." to which I say, hooey... HOOEY! Continue reading or skip right to the TL;DR

Friday, February 17, 2017

13th Age - The Strangling Sea Review and Recap

(Find it at... Pelgrane Press  / Drivethru RPG / Amazon)

I choose The Strangling Sea to kick off my new Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, not just because it was a published 1st level adventure that I could run without much prep but because it is an excellent adventure and tailored towards GMs who are new to running 13th Age. While I am not new to running 13th Age, it was still nice to have the extra advice in the adventure to guide me as I gear up to running an ongoing campaign that I hope will cover 1st through 8th levels.

Major spoilers for The Strangling Sea adventure follow, obviously. I'll do the review first and the recap of my players second, so that readers who just want a review of the adventure don't have to stick around for the hi-jinx of my players.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Thought of the Day: NPC Voices

I didn't include it in my list of 2017 Gaming Resolutions, but I've been trying to do more NPC voices for all my games. So, even though I have players who accuse me of killing NPCs off just because I forgot the voice, I keep trying.

Voices and accents don't come naturally to me. I attempted a Space Australian accent for one of my Numenera NPCs but it quickly drifted into something else (though it was a great excuse to watch this delightful clip again and again...) Lately, I've been trying to give NPCs a quick description of their voice or vocal tics and jotting it down in my notes so I can use that to remind myself of how they should sound when I return to that NPC; here are some recent examples of how I've been describing NPC voices.

So I've been trying to decide how to voice a kitten NPC for my 13th Age game, as I want it to live up to the "Talkative" trait that the player picked for the Ranger Pet talent. Long story short, the PC, Felix Mittens, used to be a catperson until he was cursed by a witch to become fully human while his twin brother, Boots, became fully kitten. I've been wracking my brains trying to come up with how Boots should talk, since he'll be an ongoing NPC constantly with the party... I think I'm going to come up with some stock phrases I can use for when certain events happen, like maybe Boots doesn't like orcs or comments when someone fumbles... 

But then I was watching some Venture Bros today and I realize I'm tempted to have Boots speak exactly like Augustus Saint Cloud does when he's pretending that Henrietta Pussycat is speaking to him in the episode Maybe No Go. My delight at saying "Eat the pennies, Quizboy" means that I have a decent Augustus Saint Cloud impression (probably the only VB character I can do reliably) and I like the idea of starting and ending each sentence with "mew mew" to just drive home that Boots the kitten is talking... Others might think it's too creepy, but I'm starting to think it's just creepy enough...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Viking Funeral On Shifty Pond - Antagonist Relations Actual Play Podcast 8

Wait, a Seven of Diamonds but this is the eighth actual play podcast? You'll have to listen to find out...

Once again we descended into the lair of the Ginger Giant and recorded the continuing adventures of the Stonestrike sisters, Ochen and Harry Froggy Hoppington. I put in a shameless plug for my recent "Powered by the Apocalypse Style Looks for Fantasy RPG PCs" article, the PCs give Moth his Viking Funeral send-off on shifty pond. Plus whirl-wind romance, death, betrayal, ventriloquism forgiveness and the return of Thomasina, onion witch extraordinaire. All that and more in Viking Funeral On Shifty Pond - Antagonist Relations Actual Play Podcast 8.

Powered by the Apocalypse Style Looks for Fantasy RPG PCs

One of the little things from many (but unfortunately not all) Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games that I think makes character creation really shine is the "Look" options. I've actually borrowed this for non-PbtA one shots, like when I ran my Planescape "Soup" one-shot (sample PCs here). While most PbtA playbooks (class write-ups) have only three or four look "slots" with four options each, I wanted to build off that to make a table of look options that could be easily used for non-PbtA fantasy RPG games, either for players wanting to come up with character appearance descriptions or for GMs who want to provide look options for PCs for one-shot games, like I do. The list is mostly based off the look options found in the Dungeon World SRD.

Obviously not every "slot" needs to be filled, if there's not an appropriate Skin/Other option for a character then don't worry about picking one (or providing options). Likewise, while I really enjoy the Voice options, those are probably ones that will often be skipped by players who intend to roleplay their character's voice or who don't want to always be trying to speak in a "booming voice"

Two examples of how to use this chart. First, imagine a player building Matilda Boomhammer, Dwarf cleric of a Thunder God. Flummoxed at how they should describe their PCs appearance they consult the table and pick some things that fit their conception of the PC, ending up with...

  • Smoldering Eyes
  • Battered Helmet
  • Sweet Face
  • Battleworn Armor
  • Sturdy Body
  • Braided Beard
  • Calm Voice
Or perhaps a GM is creating characters for an one-shot game and while they are picking stats and powers, they want to leave choices for the players to make to encrourage what might be an otherwise disposable PC to feel like it belongs to that player. One of the PC options is a human wizard, so the GM provides these for the look options...
  • Cold eyes, Crazy Eyes, Knowing Eyes, Searing Eyes
  • Messy Hair, Pointed Hat, Strange Hair, Tattooed Scalp
  • Bony Face, Cruel Face, Plain Face, Striking Face
  • Dark Clothes, Flowing Robes, Strange Robes, Worn Robes
  • Emaciated Body, Pudgy Body, Knobby Body, Wiry Body
  • Nervous Hands, Ritual Scars, Unusual Jewelry, Waxen Skin
Then when a player chooses the human wizard, they don't have to come up with a look from scratch and their choices will get to add some personality to the PC they portray for the one shot, as a human wizard with "cold eyes, a tattooed scalp, a cruel face, dark clothes, an emaciated body and waxen skin" feels very different from a human wizard with "knowing eyes, a pointed hat, flowing robes, a knobby body and nervous hands".

Click here for a printer friendly PDF.

It goes without saying that these are just a starting point and meant as inspiration, if you're using them and find yourself drawn to a description that isn't on the list, you should go for it instead of limiting yourself.

Options with an *Asterisk were put in to help support more unusual races like Tieflings, Minotaurs and Dragonborn

Eyes Hair/Head Face Clothes/Garb Build Skin/Other Voice
Cold Eyes Bald Aristocratic Face Animal Skins Built Body Battle Scarred Skin Booming Voice
Crazy Eyes Battered Helm Blunt Face Battleworn Armor Bulky Body Braided Beard Brittle Voice
Dead Eyes Braided Hair Bony Face Camouflaged Garb Compact Body Calloused Skin Calm Voice
Eager Eyes Carved Horns* Boyish Face Cape Creepy Body Flexible Hands Crackling Voice
Fiery Eyes Cropped Hair Broken Face Ceremonial Garb Emaciated Body Flowing Beard Deep Voice
Glowing Eyes Dreadlocks Cruel Face Common Clothes Fit Body Many Piercings Flat Voice
Hard Eyes Fancy Hair Dull Face Dark Clothes Flabby Body Masked Face Grating Voice
Haunted Eyes Flowing Hair Expressive Face Fancy Clothes Graceful Body Nervous Hands Gravelly Voice
Haunting Eyes Furry Hood Flushed Face Finery Knobby Body Pale Skin Guttural Voice
Joyous Eyes Hooded Head Girlish Face Flowing Robes Lithe Body Perfect Skin Heartwarming Voice
Kind Eyes Messy Hair Gorgeous Face Habit Long Shanks Precise Hands Hoarse Voice
Knowing Eyes Mohawk Haggard Face Mismatched Armor Mighty Thews Quick Hands Lilting Voice
Laughing Eyes Plumed Helmet Handsome Face Polished Armor Pudgy Body Ritual Scars Loud Voice
Sad Eyes Pointed Hat Kind Face Poor Clothes Rangy Body Sausage Fingers Low Voice
Searing Eyes Pristine Horns* Lively Face Practical Leathers Ravaged Body Scaly Skin* Monotonous Voice
Sharp Eyes Scarred Horns* Mournful Face Ragged Clothes Scrawny Body Scarred Hands Penetrating Voice
Shifty Eyes Shaggy Hair Plain Face Scavenger’s Outfit Sharp Body Soft Skin Reedy Voice
Shrouded Eyes Shorn Hair Plump Moist Face Scraps Stocky Body Strange Brands Rich Voice
Smoldering Eyes Strange Hair Rugged Face Silk Clothes Sturdy Body Strange Tattoos Roaring Voice
Tormented Eyes Styled Hair Smooth Face Strange Robes Supple Body Tanned Skin Soft Voice
Warm Eyes Stylish Cap Stern Face Stylish Robes Thin Body Unmarred By Decoration Soothing Voice
Watchful Eyes Tattooed Scalp Striking Face Traveling Clothes Tiny Body Unusual Jewelry Stentorian Voice
Weary Eyes Tonsure Strong Face Weather Inappropriate Clothes Well-Fed Body Waxen Skin Stern Voice
Wild Eyes Top Knot Sweet Face Weathered Hides Wild Body Weathered Skin Sultry Voice
Wise Eyes Wild Hair Weathered Face Worn Robes Wiry Body Wrinkled Skin Whispering Voice

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"I don't need any of these things, but I'm taking them." - Antagonist Relations Actual Play Podcast 7 - GM Commentary

You know the drill, go listen to the podcast for episode 7 first... Plus you'll get to peep the maps for this session.

It's been a while, but we're finally about to play episode 8 this week, so it's time to post my commentary for Meat is Meat as I prep. A Red and Pleasant Land is abbreviated as aR&PL below. Also, spoilers for the podcast, though I'll hide any spoilers for the players about upcoming sessions.

Comments are in roughly chronological order as I listen to the podcast for the umpteenth time...

A close up of the map of the dungeon, showing the starting point...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Chamber-pot of Leadership / Sack of Squashed Toad - Two Sessions of Shadow of the Demon Vorn

A chamber-pot, but not the Chamber-Pot of Leadership...

So as I've mentioned elsewhere I've mashed up Vornheim with the Shadow of the Demon Lord rules to run a home-brew game that I'm using as a pick up campaign. Now, with my many other campaigns I've been doing big PC introductions and trying to do detailed write ups, but I'm not going to do that with Shadow of the Demon Vorn. But since I'm trying to keep SotDV as a semi-serious method for generating amusing gaming anecdotes and indulging in wackiness and horror that is out of place for most of my other games (aside from a Red and Pleasant Land, obviously). While I heavily improvise for Iron Edda and Apocalypse World, I also have some over-arching plots (or at least Fronts) that need to be built towards, but with SotDV I'm running fully episodic one-offs, though I imagine after a few sessions I'll have some re-occurring NPCs, but I've got no plans to have unified plots, instead I'll continue using it to indulge the GM instincts and ideas that won't fit in my other games.

So, without further ado, a few highlights from the first game and then some scattered thoughts and notes.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Eyes of the Stone Thief - Campaign planning, 13th Age PC Creation Resources & PC Introduction

Got my Sunday group together last Sunday for a rare 5th Sunday Session (we usually play only on the 1st and 3rd Sundays) and did character creation for my 13th Age Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign. Since I intend to run this from 1st level all the way up through 8th level, I plan on writing about this campaign quite a bit. While we did the first part of an intro adventure, the Strangling Sea, after character creation, I'm going to wait to write that up until after we've finished it. But this seems like a good time to go over the bit of campaign planning and introduce the PCs (though I will update this if/when additional PCs are created).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Iron Edda - Jokilaakso Saga pt. 1

After the holdfast creation, we did a short session to kick off my Iron Edda - War of Metal and Bone campaign. You can go back and read the holdfast creation notes and PC introductions here.

Iron Edda - Holdfast Creation, PC Introductions

So, way back on January 11th, I met with my Wednesday group and we had our first session of Iron Edda: World of Metal and Bone. A big part of the first session was Holdfast creation, a bit of collaborative world building where the players had to decide on important matters, or as the book puts it...
The holdfast will be the center of your campaign. Adventures may take you far across the world, but you will always return here, where songs will be sung of your journeys.
Creating your holdfast is a collaborative process. To begin, put a blank piece of paper in the middle of the table. This will be your map of the holdfast and its surrounding area, populated with issues that will drive the campaign.
So each player took a turn, rolling to determine a random category and issue, then they answered the question(s) raised (or at least answered some, re-reading what my group came up with and I see some places where I didn't push hard enough) and drew something on the map to represent the issue. Here's the map we ended up with and the results are below, with the PC introductions below that. I'll post my summary and commentary for the first session elsewhere.

Holdfast creation map with PC runestones.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Pitchfork Sad" - A review of Shadow of the Demon Lord

Shadow of the Demon Lord! I remember vaguely seeing kickstarter announcements and then stumbled back across it this summer after it was out in print and decided to give it a look. And man, am I glad I did.

The brief pitch of why I enjoy Shadow of the Demon Lord is this... simple, familiar but distinct d20 rules, with interesting races (hereafter referred to as Ancestries, as SotDL does), flexible class options (called Paths by SotDL), compelling monsters, a deadly and dangerous world to explore and a very distinct feel that pervades the system and setting that makes it feel very distinct from D&D. The splatter-gore meets crazed whimsy and dark mystery of the setting gels much better than I was expecting, walking a fine line sometimes between silliness and horror, as evidenced by the goblin warlock art below...

Anyway, if a darker game that allows for some wackiness and lots of random tables for character creation is what you like stuffed into your roleplaying sausages, then read the full review below for a taste of what goes into the meat grinder. (I was going to go with "is your jam" but I figured sausage making was a much more apt metaphor for SotDL, being both a bit sillier/juvenile and also a bit more grisly.)

Also, new table of random Human Skin Tones below! Or click here to skip to that...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We're Really Not in Parcher's Anymore... (Apocalyptic Dispatches from Parcher's Pt. 4)

A photo posted by Zack Schwartz (@thatwordyguy) on

Look what came! Not in time to run our fifth session of Apocalypse World, but still, it's a gorgeous book, though after running Apocalypse World off of print outs and tablets for the last two years it'll be an adjustment to run from a book, but a good adjustment.

Oh god. I really do apologize for this post, it's... it's not going to be a great recap. About an hour into the session I said out loud, to the players "Shit, I'm not taking any fucking notes, I am a shit GM" and then before I write the session up on Monday while it was still more or less fresh in my head, my wife and I got the stomach flu, probably from Gimli, the apoca-baby (whose arrival heralded the end of the first Apocalypse World game I ran for this group). So yeah, I'm trying to put this all together on like five words of notes a week after the fact through a haze of several days of fever dreams. I can make no claim that my recollection is actually what happened... Apologies.

So what maybe happened last time? Let's maybe find out!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year, New Games (and Old too...) - State of the Blog III Part Two

Well... I did not expect my first post for the 2017 New Year State of the Blog to devolve into a 4,000 word screed... Apologies to all who suffered through that...

A photo posted by Zack Schwartz (@thatwordyguy) on

So... I ran 11 different games in 2016, got to play in 4, but what are my plans for 2017?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Year, New Games (and Old too...) - State of the Blog III Part One

Hello there gorgeous...

With the turn of the new year, it seems appropriate that I do another State of the Blog post, though this one will probably be even longer and more rambling than previous installments... So, hold onto your dicebags, 'cause here we go!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Big Trouble on Little Rimpoche - New Year's RPG

So, as is our tradition, Thomas and I ran a Holi-New Year's RPG game. Previously we've called it New Year's D&D, though it hasn't always fallen on New Year's. Last year, of course, we attempted to each run the same dungeon of Dortherdoreft, and the year before we each ran a D&D 5e Planescape one-shot and I belief that my (in)famous all-"hobbit" ghoul-battle adventure was also a New Year's D&D game of the distant past... So, because we foolishly try to escalate our nonsense each year, this year we decided we would attempt to run a table-top game with us as tandem GMs.

Obligatory Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant pic.

The thought was that we would run a 10-12 player game where we ran it simultaneously, each handling 5-6 players. We discussed (re)using and expanding a Vampire the Dark Ages one shot that Thomas had written and run that was loosely based on or a sequel of sorts to my online influence heavy Toulouse game of yore, but I pushed for Fading Suns instead, thinking that VtDA will be the game I run for my Apocalypse World group once that campaign reaches its inevitable and fiery conclusion. After considering our options, we chose a planet/plot seed from the Weird Places supplement. Spoilers for the Rimpoche section of Weird Places follow...

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...