Monthly Archives: July, 2012

Links of the Week: July 30, 2012 Delayed

Yet again, no Links of the Week post.

Between Drive-Thru RPG’s Christmas in July sale (which set me back a fair bit of time… and money) and a particularly stupid move on my part setting back one of my projects (Ijust now got back to where I was the other day… more or less) I haven’t spent a lot of time doing much else.

Still, I now know more about WordPress than I really, really wanted to, and gaining knowledge is good.  Unless it’s related to Cthulhu Mythos.  Or PHP.

It’s hard to tell them apart sometimes.

Links of the Week: July 23, 2012

Very light week this week.  One addition to the Hall of Fame and a few videos.  I really haven’t had time to read blogs this week.

The new aggregator has been open for a couple days now (if you have me circled on google+ you may have seen the link) for a preview, though it’s not quite ready for prime time.  I’m working on that this weekend and will hopefully have more to show shortly.

Hall of Fame

Between are the Doors: Random Adventure Generator by OFTHEHILLPEOPLE

Feeling pressed for adventure ideas?  Fictivite passes on a Random Adventure Generator by OFTHEHILLPEOPLE.  This is an 8-page PDF with a d12 table on each one, providing ways to pick

  • Quest Contact, the person or source of information regarding the adventure;
  • The Adventure, the nature or goal of the adventure;
  • The Location, the primary setting of the adventure;
  • The Macguffin, the item (if any) that is the focus of the adventure;
  • The Innocents, characters or creatures related to the adventure, neither protagonist or antagonist but likely sympathetic;
  • The Antagonists, the primary opposition in the adventure;
  • The Twists and Complications, because if it was straightforward it would hardly be an adventure;
  • The Dramatic Conflict, what isbad about successfully completing the adventure.

The entries in the tables are generally fairly abstract.  For instance, The Location contains:

  1. Bandit Territory
  2. Mansion or Estate
  3. Swamp/Flooded Area
  4. Island
  5. A Fortress
  6. Scalding Desert
  7. An Overgrown Forest
  8. Urban
  9. Mountains/Caves
  10. Jail/Detention Camp
  11. Ocean
  12. Underground

with a brief description of what it means and some of the things to keep in mind while designing the adventure.

This can provide a bare skeleton with lots of room to hang detail from.  Looking the tables over, I think it could do a lot to prod my thinking into paths other than I would likely come up with on my own.  Combine it with some of the other random generators (such as the lot at Seventh Sanctum) for names and some other elements, and you have tools to help do a lot of the high-level design work.

Obviously you don’t need to roll on all tables, and you might want to roll more than once on a table to complicate things.  Perhaps the adventure spans several Locations, or a Location consists of multiple elements (a Fortress in a Desert, a Mansion in the Swamp, a Prison Island).  There might be multiple Antagonists — whether they cooperate with each other or not, they certainly don’t want the protagonists to succeed.

Added to the Hall of Fame under Sources of Inspiration.


Review: Never Unprepared

Never Unprepared cover

Never Unprepared cover

I received my copy of Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep by Phil Veccione on Friday.  I read it over the next couple of evenings (perhaps two hours total).

Conclusion: A very good addition to my bookshelf.

My background is quite similar to Phil’s.  I’ve been gaming going on thirty years, started about the same age, followed what appears to be a similar career path (software development, but where Phil is ‘firmly in middle management’, I don’t have a staff — but I do operations management and program management, so we’ve got some similarities there as well), and I’ve been married nearly twice as long as he has.  Overall, pretty similar.

He articulates much of how I go about game preparation.  If I had found this book twenty years ago, or even ten, it would have saved me figuring a lot of this myself.

Phil does not prescribe specific techniques or practices.  He doesn’t tell you how to go about the various activities.  At all times he is conscious that people work in different ways, using different tools, and would apply different processes to achieve their goals.  I used to have a boss who would describe this as a ‘holistic approach’, where you have guidelines and structure to what you do, but how it is done varies as needed.


RPG Blog Planet Coming Soon

This isn’t the announcement I was hoping to post today, I’ve got some more work to do before I’m ready to open the doors on the RPG blog planet.

Things are coming along, but I am now looking for more data.  Right now I’m pulling from a couple of my own blogs, plus a couple more who said they’d sign up when this goes live (thanks Brendan and Erik!), but I could really use a broader sample.  Twenty feeds would be good, fifty better, a hundred would be crazy great.  I need to see how the various templates and widgets and doodads and thingamies work when I’ve got a broader set of blogs.  Not all feeds are the same, so making sure everything works properly needs a fair bit of varied input.

Yes, I could just grab some feeds and remove them later, but I don’t really like doing that.  For something like this I’d like to see opt in, and it saves me time later.

If you’d like to help out, please leave the name of your blog and/or the RSS feed in a comment below, or send it via the contact form.

As described, the new RPG blog planet will pull the feed and store the articles in their entirety for search and indexing reasons, but will display only excerpts to readers.

RPG Sources: Demons and Rituals

Demons and rituals are both staples of fantasy.  I’d like to see what I can do with them, especially integrating these topics with ideas from the Books and Libraries reworking I am doing.

D&D a much better job here overall, with a great deal more material and application in the rules.  There is a broad range of creature types available, but within the types they are still pretty consistent and the core rules do not include much by way of unique creatures.

I want to expand on this somewhat.  I have a rather larger list of sources to work with, but I’d like to see what else is available.

  • Demons series from Mayfair Games (Role Aids)
  • Archmagic from Mayfair Games
  • Gates of Hell from Dice Freaks
  • Trollman’s Tome
  • Infernum setting from Mongoose Publishing
  • Book of Hell from Mongoose Publishing
  • Book of Immortals from Mongoose Publishing
  • Book of Fiends (and Armies of the Abyss and Legions of Hell) from Green Ronin
  • Advanced Bestiary from Green Ronin
  • Dragonlords of Melnibone from Chaosium
  • Book of Vile Darkness from Wizards of the Coast
  • Unearthed Arcana from Wizards of the Coast
  • Encyclopedia of Demons & Devils from Fast Forward Entertainment
  • Book of Templates from Silverthone Games

Are there any other books or RPG sources that focus much on demons or rituals?  They don’t need to be D&D-specific, and small-press materials and blog posts and the like are all valid for what I’m looking for.

RPG Sources: Books and Libraries

Tomes, grimoires, dusty libraries, all have been used in any number of stories.  They have varying importance in role playing games, from terribly (and terrifyingly) important in Call of Cthulhu to being MacGuffins in certain adventure scenarios to being where you can exchange gold for questions answered.

I have noticed that D&D doesn’t do all of these very well.  The MacGuffin part certainly, since anything can be a MacGuffin.  The sage has long been a way to bleed PCs of mone get useful information to players, if they think to ask.

As far as books being actually interesting or useful in their own right, beyond carrying spells there is little to recommend them.  This disappoints me.

I’d like to see if something better can be done.  I’m collecting research material to use for ideas that can give written materials greater focus and narrative value.  So far I have the following list of sources:

  • Ink & Quill from Bastion Press
  • Tomes & Libraries from Mongoose Publishing
  • Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium
  • Call of Cthulhu d20 from Wizards of the Coast
  • Darkness & Dread from Fantasy Flight (I’m not certain if there’s anything here)
  • Archmagic from Mayfair Games (Role Aids product, has a section on grimoires)

Are there any other books or RPG sources that focus much on written materials?  They don’t need to be D&D-specific, and small-press materials and blog posts and the like are all valid for what I’m looking for.

ACK or Die! Session 8, Not Exactly Planned

Hi Pop,

We were raiding a mine captured by orcs last time I wrote.   Things went well overall, for us.

The guys searched the room we just killed some orcs in, while Goraj and I waited out in the hall.  Good thing we did, we saw a troop of orcs coming toward us in patrol.  It would’ve been bad if we’d been surprised, but Goraj and I just tore into ’em.

You said orcs were pretty tough, but apart from a few bigger ones these mostly weren’t so hard… maybe this sword is better than I thought.  Within seconds we killed four and the other two surrendered.  The other guys came out of the room they were searching, drawn by the noise, and found us standing over the two survivors.  Vesper went to question them, and wanted to intimidate them a little first.

“We only need one of you who talks, so…”


Nobody remembered to take the crossbow away from the goblin.  Nailed one of the orcs square in the face.  “Reload please?”

I know you don’t trust goblins, Pop.  I’m starting to like this one, and I think he realizes that even if he survives shooting one of us, nobody will reload his favorite toy.  It’s not that I trust him, exactly, so much as I think he doesn’t want to ruin a good thing for himself.

“… okay, now we need this one a little more than we did.”

They trussed him up and dragged him into the room we were just in, then questioned him.  Then gagged him and threw him into a handy mine cart in case we needed him later, and Curio decided to give him something to think about and poured some really harsh moonshine that we’d found on him.  This is important later.

Remember that magic catseye gem we found?  Vesper rolled it down the hallway and learned that the rooms off the hall had about a dozen orcs of various sizes, and the room on the end had some more that were watching two humans fighting for their entertainment.

The guys started talking about how to go room to room trying to be sneaky and stealthy and hoping we could isolate them, when I pointed out that the orcs were pretty easy to kill, and if we got themall out at once we could just get this over with.  Curio and Vesper still had some spells left, so if it went worse than I expected they could use spells to help out without wasting so much magic.

I got ready to start shouting insults down the hallway to call the orcs out.  I remember you saying their word for themselves means ‘hard skin’ or something, so I was going to start with something about soft-skinned cowards who didn’t have mothers because they each had two fathers who took turns being ‘mommy’… when someone mentioned that if we set the other orc on fire he could probably make even more noise, so they wheeled him out in the cart, told him what was coming and cut his gag off.

That’s when I realized — orc in a cart, orc going to be on fire…and the cart was on rails that went all down the hallway.  I got Goraj to give me a hand, and after they set the orc on fire we pushed the cart and ran it down the hallway.

I think we got everyone’s attention.  We fought our way back and in the end all the orcs were dead.  And the two pit fighters, it seems one was standing on the tracks when the burning cart full of screaming flaming orc ran him over, the other died fighting for his freedom against the other orcs in the room.

Pretty effective for a plan we made up as we went.  You always did say a good warrior is always ready to take advantage of his surroundings and use what’s available to be more effective.

After that we went down a ladder into the mine proper.  Killed some orcs who were training, killed some overseers who were making miners work and helped the miners escaped, killed some more orcs working in a kitchen of some kind… though I don’t want to think about what they were cooking.

It turns out the orcs were all led by an ogre.  We got to where the ogre was and he was surrounded by orcs.  Vesper cast a spell on them and they all fell asleep, then we killed the ogre.  He hit me a little, I hit him a lot, that sort of thing, until he was dead.  The goblin went kind of nuts for a little while, I don’t speak goblin but he sounded really excited and angry while he killed the sleeping orcs.

Rescued some more miners, then looted the place to the stone.  Hangrist wants the sword the ogre was using, I think I might be spending some time with him on sword work.

We went in to rescue some miners, but the other rewards were pretty good.  A fair amount of coin, some gems, a magic greatsword, and some pieces of… some kind of magic rock stuff.

Anyway, we’re off to the castle.  Say hi to the rest of the family for me.


Links of the Week: July 12, 2012

I postponed the last two Links of the Week posts because I have been busy working on another project and really have had time to do much blog post reading.  When I go blog reading I do it in blocks of time measuring in hours.  I have not had the time in large enough blocks recently to do that.

However, I have come to realize that Google+ is full of awesome stuff.  The links below have been mostly (almost entirely, actually) drawn from links thrown to me by people in my circles over the last two or three weeks.

Because I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, the list of links is getting stupidly big.  Not only do I have a lot of links, I want to say (or show) so much about them.  I’m deviating even farther from my normal routine and posting this Thursday night, because if I wait until Monday it’ll just be worse.

There will probably be no Links of the Week on Monday, but I hope to have another announcement.

Hall of Fame

22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar

22 rules for storytelling, according to Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats.

When I design a scenario, I’m not trying to plot a story.  However, the resolution of the scenario should result in a story.

Many of the rules here can be applied to good result.  For instance.

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

When designing a scenario I don’t necessarily know where it’s going to end.  I try to weave my scenarios together to some extent, so sometimes my players just ‘pass through’ a scenario.  However, there are elements of scenarios that can be considered important enough to be treated much as ‘endings’, and a really good thing about them is that if the party fails, that still resolves the scenario and they got to experience ‘the best part’.  Make it big, and make it exciting.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Well… I’ll note the first thing that comes to mind, but I don’t get attached to it because I’m reasonably certain something will come up soon that will be better.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

As above, not all apply directly as written, but even when they don’t you can decide to not follow them.

Added to the Hall of Fame under Writing Guidelines and Tools.

Creative Commons Licensed Cartography

I would like to thank Alex Schroeder for mentioning Paratime Design in a thread on Google+.

Alex’s link was to some Creative Commons Licensed Cartography.  This page has links to galleries with dozens of maps in various styles and subjects.

I had never heard of them before, but I’ll be taking a closer look sometime soon.

Paratime Design Logo

Paratime Design Logo

Added to the Hall of Fame under Cartography and Maps.

Charles Ryan: The Medieval Kingdom

Charles Ryan wrote a very approachable piece on the population and structure of the Medieval Kingdom, for some assumed value of ‘medieval kingdom’ that seems to be common among gamers.  He describes population density, settlement density and distribution, and feudal structure.

Including mentioning that “feudal structure” is a bit of a mess and nowhere near as simple as many people seem to think.  I remember talking about this with Joseph Browning at GenCon 2003 (Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe had just come out) and it was somewhat enlightening.

Did you know that it would be entirely possible for the King of England to be required to provide troops to fight himself?

See, if Henry has land (probably managed by a seneschal) in France while he rules in England, and France declares war on England, then when Louis sends out the call for troops it will bubble down until Henry’s seneschal gathers the men required by the feudal agreement and sends them to Louis, who puts them in a boat to England to try to defeat Henry.

Thus le baron Henri could be required to provide troops to fight King Henry of England.  Who needs subtle machinations and cunning plans to confuse things?

There is more information on the subject available elsewhere for the morbidly curious, but this post is a straightforward and approachable treatment that will probably be sufficient for verisimilitude for most people.

Added to the Hall of Fame under Setting Design.


Links of the Week: July 9, 2012 Delayed

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m putting off Links of the Week for another week.

My time has been spent mostly reading and experimenting with WordPress themes.  I’m getting close, but it’ll be a couple more days I think… but this week, I am not going to the office, so I should have a fair bit of time to work on it.

Links of the Week: July 2, 2012 Delayed

Most likely skipped altogether.  Instead of my usual activities, I’ve been spending my time this week on something else I talked about some time ago.

Hopefully later this week I’ll be able to go public and see how much of my initial features list I’ve actually managed to hit.