Thursday, March 30, 2017

The (not so) scary Death House

I'm currently running a group through the Curse of Strahd, which I recommend btw, and I found one area particularly bored because it is filled with a bunch of empty rooms. Hardly a description at all, just an empty room...BORING!

So yesterday I crowdsourced ideas to make it better.  Below is the result, click the image and it will load a PDF off Google Drive. Thirty ideas or items to freshen up your rooms, and ten ideas on making the room itself memorable. Two pages, a bucket of blood, and hopefully something to put a little spook into your game.

Special thanks to the following people on Google+ who contributed to, or inspired, the lists above:  Michael Curtis, John W. Sheldon, Dan Quilty, Mark Hunt, Benjamin Feehan, Luka Rejec, AJ Fritz, Tim Shorts, John Hattan, Goblins Henchman, steve christensen, V.A., and Chris C.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Winding Road [#500Wordsaday]

#500WordsaDay #writingchallenge #shortfiction
I’ve tried this before and after a month or so I stopped. I have been feeling creative but without an outlet so I pondered if this could be a good time to start up “500 words a day” again. Nothing too hard, should take about eight to ten minutes.

Inspirational photo source:

The day was cold, in a windy-freezing-your-snot kind of way. Luckily I had taken the Subaru. That hippie-mobile that seems to say “I’m cool and can go off-roading and stuff” while still being practical enough for a trip to the grocery store. The car - despite all the commercial proclamation of the thing’s off-road prowess - slid and was difficult to control in the near foot deep snow that pockmarked the high mountain road we traveled.

I checked the rear mirror and eyed my companion. He did not move a beat. Which was good, considering I had killed him an hour ago.

Now, before you get all high-and-mighty with me, start spewing morals and ethics, or even -god forbid - start quoting the Bible, let me explain. I did not plan on becoming a murderer. I fell into the position quite accidentally.

Fifteen years ago I was in the last year of college and still lost as to what I would do with my life. I had been to a party in search of a mate for the evening, an unsuccessful venture I might add, and ended up wandering in a drunken hazy back to my apartment. Having lost both parents the previous decade to an automobile accident I was poor and living in a not so savory part of town. The locals called the area the “Dregs” if that helps explain the condition in which I was living. It was a cold night and I had a stocking cap on and my hood up to fend off the freezing weather.

I had stumbled my way around the dark streets for some time before I wandering into something straight out of a horror movie. On a side street, an alley really, a man was stooped over a body. In his hand he held a knife, dripping with blood. Had I not been intoxicated my senses and mind would have instructed me to run away, likely screaming like a little girl. Instead, and without a thought to my own welfare, I charged the man.

We collapsed in a heap and through some twist of fate I ended up on top with his knife in my hand. I stabbed and thrust I don’t how many times before I realized what I was doing. The man’s chest was red and looked as if an animal had been chewing on it. Blood was everywhere. The lady screamed when she saw what I had done. A moment later and she disappeared down the street, yelling for the police. Not even a thank you.

The next day the newspaper told the story of some deranged madman who had saved her from a potential murderer. The man had been named Timothy Shorts and a serial killer, prowling the streets for over ten months and claiming twelve known victims. The author of the news article painted the ‘savior’ - me - as a vigilante out to do what the police had been unable to do.

That, as they say, was the moment it hit me. By day I am a boring banker, hacking away at a keyboard but at night, at night I become another completely different. Something dangerous to the criminals of my city.

And that is how I ended up with a dead William Arnold in my backseat...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lady Naerwals Tomb (Maze Rats)

This last week I ran a game using the Maze Rats system and I really enjoyed the game. Mechanics disappeared and the game and story just happened. However, it got me thinking.

"What did a Maze Rats adventure look like?"

I did not know, so I set out to make one. Plus, I needed to make a map as I had not in almost two weeks. Here is the result, a quick little adventure that could probably eat up an evening of gaming. Some of the monsters are deadly, and if they are not, just add another one, or worse, double their Health score. That'll make players think twice before running headlong into combat.

Lady Naerwals Tomb (PDF) is available here (most likely till toss up on RPGNow at some point):

Let me know what you think, and especially if you run a game using it. I am curious how well this translates into an easy to run session of Maze Rats.

EDIT -  Sheesh! I just realized I never described what a Salapus was!
Sala(mander) + (octo)pus  It appears with the body of a salamander with the head being a (entire body) octopus, with long tentacles. Drat! I even drew a terrible picture.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Twelve things I wish I had known before running games

A few other bloggers started this (here and here) I changed it up because I have been running games now for about 33 years now and I can barely remember when I was 12.

In no particular order - and I am not sure these are even good, just the first that came to mind - here is my list. I would say this is what I strive towards, as I bet I rarely follow all these ideas but I would like to.

  1. Read all the game systems you can find - you can learn a great many things from reading how others accomplish things.
  2. Do not read other games, this will only lead to more tinkering and you will forever be writing and rewriting house rules or, God forbid, your own gaming heartbreaker. You will spend more time tinkering than playing.
  3. Listen to the players at the table, let them talk among themselves and never, ever forbid it. They will give you tons of ideas to riff off of that never occurred to you and this will only make your game better. Those four or five folks sitting at your table are just as creative as you, plus, hell, four brains are better than one, they will have great and whimsical ideas that will only add to your game.
  4. The game is about problem solving, not combat. Always presents problems for the players to overcome through creative problem solving (not through dice). Especially for younger players this will create a strong pull towards the game. Requiring the player to use their brain instead of dice mechanics to resolve situations and problems is inherently engaging.
  5. Do not be afraid to fudge things behind the screen in the name of making the game better, sometimes killing the party's fighter in an amazing bit of sacrifice-to-save-the-world can be the most amazing and memorable thing ever. Also, that nutty, crazy idea the player had that somehow completely destroys Strahd in one round despite what the die mechanics say can really make an outstanding and memorable scene that players will talk about for years.
  6. Never map out things in details, think in terms of generalities with only a general outline of what you want to happen. Spending too much time planning and then having it derailed (see #6) will exhaust you and make running a game a chore and no longer fun.
  7. Nothing survives contact with the players. Nothing. Be prepared for the unexpected and never be deadset on your idea coming to fruition. 
  8. While OSR character death can be interesting, give players a chance to breath life into a character.  Long-played characters can be amazingly fulfilling and make a player want to come back for more.
  9. Not everything needs to be explained, let some of the mysteries lie. These are powerful tools to use later, come back to them and the connection will breath life into your game.
  10. Treat monsters as NPCs and not cannon fodder. If an interesting thing happens during an encounter, toss in a quick detail - maybe this particular goblin gets a scar across his cheek. Have him come back six sessions later with a large friend, looking for vengeance, when the players least expect it. #MonsterLivesMatter
  11. Treat NPCs as characters, give them a few sentences of background, dreams, wishes, etc. Give them a unique quirk (a twitch, accent, a scar, a favorite drink or food, maybe a particularly unique tobacco they smoke) that will help define the character for the players. Obviously, do not do this for all of them, but the ones you want to showcase, perhaps one or two a session.
  12. Random Tables can be great but use in moderation, they can add fresh life into a vanilla world but they can also induce chaos. Also, making your own random tables - particular to your gaming world - can really be fun and less chaotic.
Bonus thoughts:
  • Describe scenes in generalities and let the players dig for details, this will produce a more interactive game world where the players feel engaging and involved.
  • Read published adventures but never run them as is, read them and make them your own. This will make the world yours and unique to you.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Ziggurat of el-Muqawar

The Ziggurat  of el-Muqawar is a large man-made structure with sides that stretch skyward 100 feet. Long stairs on the north and south side take pilgrims to the top (or at least it did back in the days). Atop the structure is a wide dias with four massive pillars that reach yet another sixty feet upwards. In the middle is a pool of cool holy water meant for pilgrims to cleanse themselves.
Inside the ziggurat is a small burial area with an included false burial chamber, the Everclear Pool of Te'Quiar, the Tree of Neverdeath with it's enchanted sap, and even deeper is the Marinar Yacht and the actual undisturbed burial chamber of el-Muqawar.

- o - 
I've had some people ask why they should back me on Patreon if I share maps here on the blog for free and everyone can access so I thought I should share a few things with you. Probably the biggest reason is that the maps posted to my Patreon page are much higher resolution than you see here on the blog (I shrink them down to fit the blog's width). Here is an example, to see the full effect you will need to click on the image:

On the left is the image I post to the blog at 100%, on the right the image I post to Patreon. Full 300dpi, 3300 × 4200 pixels or 11"x14". It's massive and fit for printing at your local print shop. If you tried to print the smaller image off the website you could but if you blew it up to use with minis or on a VTT it would become pixelated. You could use it but it just would not be as pretty.

The second, I occasionally release additional PDF material, either compilations of maps, or short adventures. My Patreon supporters get these for free while I tend to put them up on RPGNow for a small fee.

Third, well, your patronage keeps me motivated to continue drawing up maps for the RPG world to use in their adventures. I regularly hear from people who have used my maps in their games and it always brings a smile to my face knowing that I helped someone else bring their world to life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How I created a magic book

One of my players discovered a book and I decided to be nice and allow it to offer some magical spells for him. I looked (admittedly briefly) online for a generator, but I could not find one I liked. So in true grognard fashion, I came up with my own way. Rather quickly too. So this might now work exactly for everyone.

Step One - Determine the number of pages

I wanted it to be a short so I rolled a d8 and a d10, getting a 5 and a 9, so 59 pages long. I could have easily made it shorter or longer simply by manipulating the dice rolled. I felt 01 through 80 was a pretty good number for a small tome found by a first through second level party of adventurers.

Step Two - The beginning of the book

No book jumps right into the spells, mages are an egotistical bunch of a-holes, so likely their writing would show signs of this as well. I made a quick decision to roll a d12 for each 'section' of the book, I figure 12 pages of a digest sized book is about right for a spell. So I roll for the first couple of sections (I threw together off the top of my head): Introduction, Author's Biography, and a discourse on Magic Theory. I think I drew on the horrible books in academia to get those, but you could throw in some other things like a dedication, history, maybe a family tree. Grab a book from your book shelf and flip through a couple and see what sort of things authors throw in the front of their books.

For each of these sections I rolled a d12, getting 5 pages of introduction, 3 pages of author biography (apparently this guy did not have much to say about himself), and 11 pages on magical theory. Already wasted 19 pages on crap my player will not care about but will make the book feel more 'real' or whole. Good job GM.

Step Three - Spells and such

Next we need to start getting the spells figured out. Now, one could just roll a d6 and say there are that many spells but that is boring. So I look for a random table I like and find none. I searched maybe ten minutes. Frustrated, I give up on a random table but instead find a list that I might be able to use:

If you are like me, you will see a pattern here. There are seven tables across there if you count the Cantrips. I decided I wanted Cantrips and only up to level 5 spells...boy that sounds like a damn d6 roll (1=Cantrip, 2=1st level, etc). This is perfect! I roll to determine the level, roll on the spell table, then roll my trusty d12 for page count. The first spell I get is Web, a simple spell that takes 11 pages! Hmmm, that seems like a lot of pages, so I dig into that "mages have egos" thing and decide the author rambles along and discusses the origin of the spell. He likes to write I guess.

I continue in this method, determine spell, determine page count, etc. Mentally, I sort of decided that 1 spell level should be about 1 or 2 pages so when the page count gets really high, I add a little flavor in to explain why a simple spell takes up so much space in the book. Doing this will add some depth to the book and make it unique, especially if you can add a little bit of the creator's character in there. If you could even take this a step further and add a few sentence each spell. Maybe the author just loves his Phantom Steed spell and likes to create unicorns that shoot rainbows out it's butt. Maybe he likes to create camels because it reminds him of home. Maybe he has a quick concoction that helps remove the stickiness the Web spell leaves behind. Anyway, use as you like but I guarantee your players will dig any extra effort at thrusting some character into these entries.

I keep an eye on the page count until I get down to 9 pages left and as luck would have it, I roll the d12 again and get the result of the last spell taking 9 pages. Perfect.

Step Four - A silly name

I can't really help you much on this one. I just came up with a silly, ego-ish type name that sounded like some self-important mage might name his book.

My randomly generated magical tome

Here is the tome I created for my player. At some level I like to be more exacting in the spells I throw at my players to find, but then again I also like letting fate to decide what spells they get and then let the players be creative in figuring out ways to surprise me. Makes being the GM more fun. Below is the mysterious mage's tome that my player found.

“Delimar’s Exposition on Mystical Machinations
59 pages total

5 pages of introduction, quite boring and due

3 pages of the author’s biography

11 pages of discussion on magical theory

11 pages, Web spell, a drawn out discussion on the origin of the spell

6 pages, Phantom Steed spell

12 pages, Friends cantrip, another long detailed story of the many uses of of the cantrip

2 pages, Identify spell

9 pages, Earthen Grasp spell