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Monday, April 3, 2017

The Fat Gamer's Lament

Today I'm not going to talk about OSR stuff, or gaming in general.  If that's all you want or need from me, feel free to check out now.  I won't be upset or angry with you, cause I know you're here for the RPG stuff and not necessarily odd things about my personal life.

That's your one warning, there will be no others.

I'm fat.

You may not have known this about me, since I don't post alot of pictures of myself or talk about it much.  I'm a middle-aged (47), short, fat guy...5'5" and currently 257#.  I'm probably at my heaviest right now.  It's a train-wreck, and I'm feeling it aggressively.  My weight is affecting almost every area of my life, from work to fun to simply sitting around.  Clothes are uncomfortable to wear.  Sitting for long periods hurts my back.  I'm generally in a foul, if not outright angry mood.

Do you wanna know what the worst part is?

A few years ago I lost nearly 90#.  I was down to about 170# after alot of dieting and exercise, and I felt healthier and younger than I had in a decade.  It wasn't the first time I had lost significant weight.  In my mid 30's I got pretty big, and I lost 70+ pounds then too.  When push comes to shove, I know how to lose the weight and I can be pretty damn successful with it.  The older I get, however, the more daunting the challenge seems to be.  I'm really worried that if I start down the path to a 'healthy me' once again, a short time later I will be the same fat bastard I am right now, again.

I was a skinny kid, super thin.  That's not, BTW, because I didn't like food.  I ate burgers by the fistful, fries by the bunch, pizza slices one in each hand, and PB&J on white bread as a salad before every meal.  Boxes of Ring Dings would come in the house on Sunday and be gone by Monday.  I was unaffected by food in the physical sense, I remained lean and limber.  Most of my time was spent outside, riding my bike from one street to the next. I was the fastest kid on the street.

Sometime in my late-20's, this all ended.  Suddenly I was no longer wearing size 29 waist jeans.  I went from wearing small or medium shirts to large.  It was not a big deal.  I ignored it, assuming it would just go away, but the problem only increased, just like my waistline.  Before I knew what was happening I found myself wearing size 40 pants and XXL t-shirts.

I'm skipping over alot of other details here.  The other parts of my life that were good, or bad, but events and behaviors that ultimately led to my weight gain, or my weight loss.  There were some real tragedies in there, but the worst of them was all of the time and energy spent taking that weight off, only to have it return.  It sucks to meet a goal and then completely screw it up a short time later.

By now you're probably saying to yourself, "Wow, this guys is depressing the shit out of me.  Please stop.  Stop talking, stop whining, and for fuck's sake stop eating!"  I agree.  This has nothing to do with all that fun gaming stuff.  Playing RPG's is not like losing weight at all.

With D&D I have this perfect character, this archetypal fiction I can pretend to be so I don't have to think about, or worry about, real-world stuff.  I can escape into fantasy-land, kill some ogres, grab some gold, party at the tavern, and enjoy life to the fullest.  As the GM I can do you one better.  I control everything and everyone.  In my game, I am god, and nothing is too difficult, too important, or too overwhelming for me to handle.

Playing TTRPG's for me means I don't even have to leave my house, thanks to online VTT's like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20. I can sit at my desk, chips and soda in hand, and keep on playing til the cows come home (which, btw, I don't think they ever do).  It's gotten to the point that no matter what I'm doing, from playing in a game, to writing this blog, to creating an adventure module...moving from my desk isn't integral.

In no way am I saying that D&D made me fat.  That would be ridiculous.  I AM saying that the hobby I love so much hasn't exactly helped me stay thin.  If I'm going to once again start down the path that leads through the Tub-O-Lard Forest, down Less-Blubber road, and finally to Thin Town, then I need to be mindful of how much time i'm sitting here, doing this, as opposed to standing up, walking around, and doing something healthier for me.

I've started adjusting today.  Again.  Once more I've fired up the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, strapped on my Moto360 sport, and packed a healthy lunch that fits my numbers and my macros.  It's not a happy time, nor am I filled with hope for the future.  Knowing what lies ahead doesn't necessarily make it easier.  Having been here three times before, I can honestly say that I'm regretting (again) letting myself go.

Posting this half-rant to the blog is my way of publicly declaring my dedication to the process.  Sure, none of you reading this far will necessarily care any more about what happens to me and my weight problem than before you leaped into this rabbit-hole, but now I've said/done something publicly and I guess on some level I should be held accountable.  Consider yourself appointed.

Food isn't the problem, I am, but really doesn't help.

me on 4/3/17  47yrs 257#

Monday, March 27, 2017

You Got Your WFRP in My D&D

A few days ago I saw a post on facebook from a fellow wondering if anyone had tried mixing Warhammer Fantasy elements into their AD&D 1e game.  Immediately I wanted to grab this fellow by the collar, shake him abruptly and yell, "Yes! Yes!  One Hundred Percent Yes!"

Now, from the post it was difficult to determine if he meant Warhammer Fantasy Battle, or WFRP, the roleplaying game, but really it doesn't matter.  Elements from either system can be used, but obviously it's far easier to translate elements from the fantasy roleplaying system into your existing AD&D or RPG game.

Full disclosure...I've been doing this for many, many years.

Sometime in late 1988 I discovered the 1st edition, hardbound volume of WFRP, and I was immediately hooked on it.  The cover art and inside illustration was unlike anything I had seen to date, and while the game system wasn't perfect (what system is?), the game world was original and well fleshed-out and was indeed a Grim World of Perilous Adventure!  Character life expectancy was short, the game world was littered with danger at every turn, and the forces of chaos were ubiquitous if not obvious.  It was a dangerous place to be an adventurer, and I loved the elements that made it so.

I ran a short campaign with a few friends who were less than enthusiastic about learning a new system, but it was easy enough to sway them.  We all enjoyed playing, but soon enough we were all itching to get back to AD&D, a system where the characters survival rate was much higher and everyone felt like they had a better grip on rules etc.  AD&D was (and for many folks still is) a comfort zone.  I was a bit disappointed to leave The Old World, the game universe of WFRP, and the strange and wonderful images of the forces of chaos stuck with me long after I stopped playing.

Fast forward many (many) years.  While prepping for an new group of online (Fantasy Grounds) friends I decide to go homebrew with my game world.  We were going to play Castles & Crusades, and I wanted to expose the players, all of whom were older, experienced gamers, to something they were not at all expecting.  In order to create a sense of wonder and mystery, of newness in a familiar setting, I began to piece together Thayrun, my own personal Grim World of Perilous Adventure! 

My process started (as many of us do) with a map and a few grid locations, and then moved on to the nature of my newly birthed game world.  Thayrun was going to be a battleground where chaos had long ago been driven out by the opposing forces of law, but now the seeds of evil left on (and beneath) old battlegrounds were going to germinate and bloom...I placed Skaven (the WFRP ratmen) under a few choice locations.  There were sightings of odd-looking creatures at the edge of ancient forests (chaos beastmen), and those who search the night sky have been spreading rumors of green lights on the horizon.

Why the heck not?  Sure, there were goblins, orcs, trolls, kobolds, giant spiders, gelatinous cubes, beholders, mind flayers and all of the other monstrosities that normally inhabit an AD&D game world, but now I had the added influence of WFRP and all of the rich content of that game world to pull from.  It kept my experienced players guessing when it came to both storyline and encounters.  Characters who had never experienced the awful power of warpstone were now going to have to deal with the horrible consequences  of contact with the raw chaos stuff.

Here is what I'm getting at.

Do not, under any circumstances, be afraid to add or remove elements from your game world.  Pilfering ideas, concepts, monsters, items etc. from other games, game supplements, novels, websites (like mine) and any other source you can find is 100% fine.  Sure, you may have to spend a bit of time coming up with stats that make sense, or creating some back-story for why that weird, glowing rock made a character sprout a scorpion tail and eyes in the back of his/her head, but that's no reason not to do it!

Can you decimate your precious game-balance introducing such things into your mostly vanilla Forgotten Realms game setting?  Maybe.  That's a risk you should be willing to take.  You can always adjust back, I mean, you are the DM, right?  That's the beauty of homebrew, and why so many DM's eventually decide to create their own game-world. It's going to be a process of trial and error, but the experience is well worth the time.

Below is my stat block for a basic Skaven Warrior.  It's nothing special, but it certainly isn't what your players will be expecting to run into when they hit those city sewers...

Frequency: rare
No. Appearing: 2-20
Armor Class: 8
Move: 10” (100’')
Hit Dice: 2
% in Lair: 50%
Number of Attacks: 2 Claw/1 Bite or 1 by weapon type
Damage/Attack: 1d4/1d6
Special Attacks: infection (see below)
Special Defenses: none
Magic Resistance: 10%
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: M
Psionic Ability: nil

Skaven Warriors are generally the largest and most ferocious of this wicked and twisted race of chaos-mad creatures.  Most warrens (lairs) contain from 50-100 warriors.  Common Skaven are no more than slaves to the warren leaders, but the warrior caste is comprised of those ratmen who exhibit the physical traits necessary to both protect the warren, as well as take on missions outside the warren as needed.  Though equipped with natural weapons at birth, the warriors prefer to wield the curved, jagged short blade known as a Kitchik. 

Skaven Blight: These chaos ratmen live in cramped warrens, and not unlike their more common cousin (the sewer rat) they are sometimes carriers for disease.  Often in close contact with raw chaos material (warpstone) they can often transmit this disease with a successful claw or bite attack (Save Vs. Poison)

This disease will manifest initial symptoms within 24-48 hours.  These include fever, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and vomiting.  Foods and liquids will be difficult (if not impossible) to keep down.  Fluid loss is rapid, and if the infected is not given treatment at the onset of the disease he will dehydrate and die within 2 weeks.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Indoctrinating the Noob - Books for the Beginner

A short time ago I was asked a rather intriguing and difficult question.  "If you had to pick three books that paint a picture of the Fantasy Genre for someone, which would they be?"  It was asked in the context of gaming/role-playing, and what books might best introduce a potential FRPG gamer with no experience with any facet of fantasy.

If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that my history with gaming really begins with books I loved as a kid.  Early on I fell in love with fantasy fiction, and works like The Chronicles of Prydain and Below the Root were the bridges to more adult fantasy fiction from the earlier books I had been reading in grade school (like The Furious Flycicle by Jan Wahl and my addiction to Encyclopedia Brown books).

 So I get asked this question, and it sounds simple.  The Hobbit is there, right?  OK, what about Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time?  No, definitely not.  Not in the top three.   Amber by Zelazny?  Nope.  Elric by Moorcock?  I don't think so.  What, do you have something against the classics?  Shouldn't a newcomer start at the beginning?

This is hard, because I'm not just introducing someone to fantasy fiction, but I've been asked to pick books that introduce the genre in a way that helps shine a light on what the best of playing D&D might be like.  This is a different animal altogether.  Sure, I'd like to give a noob my entire fantasy library and have them start at Abercrobie and end on Zelazny, but we ain't got time for that!  I've gotta pick a few books that give that 'New Character', 'Dungeon Crawl', 'Level up' kinda feeling.  I want the reader to experience some of the places they might visit, and some of the people (NPC's) they might encounter.

Later on, if they enjoy the reading and the playing, I have a ton of cool books to turn them on to.  For now, we gotta get on with the gettin' on!

So where do I start?  With Gygax of Course, and Gord the Rogue in The Saga of Old City.

It's not the best fantasy novel ever written, not by a lot, but it has all the facets of person, place, and plot that will give the reader a good idea what it means to inhabit the character of, well, a character!  Gord has an interesting background story that is easily digested in the beginning of the book, and moves on to become a near-master thief by the end.  He faces challenges both mundane and monsterous, and if the end goal is to familiarize the reader with aspects of D&D, you could do worse. (In place of this book I might sub The Crystal Shard, if you are a Realms vs. Greyhawk sorta person)

OK, where next?

Well, I want the potential new player to get a feel for the game, really sink themselves into their character, and for this I'd pass them a copy of Joel Rosenberg's book, Guardians of the Flame - The Sleeping Dragon!  Again, I realize that this book was not a tour de force of fantasy fiction, but the plot device of taking the main characters (college students playing a game much like D&D) and transporting them to the fictional world of the game will really help the new gamer understand the fiction they will be playing.  Sure, some might argue that this book will only teach them the bad habit of meta-gaming, but this is an argument for another time.

Gotta pick a third book.  Where is he gonna go with this?  Well, I'm going to stick with my plan here and drop Andre Norton's Quag Keep into the mix.  This book does essentially the same thing as Guardians of the Flame, but we have Andre Norton's voice behind it and it's not at all the same sort of story.  Having played her first RPG with no other than E. Gary Gygax himself, the book was inspired by her game session(s)!  In this short novel, Norton manages to distill some of the best of what it means to be playing a game for the very first time.

I know.  You're probably cringing right now.  What about Conan??  Where the hell is Elric?  Hell, even Kvothe would be better than this crap!  Really?  I think what you want here is easily digestible material that leads almost directly into play.  These books offer fantasy realms directly connected to gaming, and even offer up a glimpse into game mechanics like character sheets and dice rolling.  They are like gaming guides in fantasy fiction format.

These are all books I read AFTER I started playing D&D, and I enjoyed them because they managed to integrate some of the stuff I already loved, but I often wonder how it would have gone down if I had read them BEFORE my first game?  There were no actual-play videocasts or podcasts in 1981.  There was no internet to do a hard target search on Playing D&D.  Books paved the way for how I approached my first game, and every session after that.

If you had to list three books for the new gamer, what would they be?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Most Important Role...

One of the best parts about DMing is that you get to be 'everyone else', that is you get to play the role of everyone that the characters are not.  For some, this is their raison d'ĂȘtre, the thing that draws them to the DM's seat.

I used to primarily enjoy being the 'bad guys', inhabiting the wicked souls of the men and creatures who opposed the efforts of the party.  There was nothing as much fun as that crazy banter between the bad guy and the hero, so filled with venom and cliche. "Now I have you!" or "see how far you've come only to fail..." were phrases that filled my black little heart with glee.

I'm older now (much older), and the bad guy role is one I gladly inhabit as needed, but it is far from the one that I relish.  These days I look forward to the 'oddball npc', that man, woman, or creature who has a small bit to play, a little clue that's needed, or a thing that must be purchased in order to propel the game forward.  These 'people' are often the heart of the game world, and are often left thin and 2-dimensional even though they are unbound by class, race, gender, or motivation.

City/Dungeon, Wilderness, Town/Dungeon, Wilderness, Village/Dungeon...It's a pattern we repeat again and again ad infinitum. What we (DM's) often fail to do is place our players into new, and yes, mundane places.  What fun might be had at the Mill?  What mystery could be unraveled at the monastery?  Who knows what adventures lie in wait at...the farm?!

The Farmer.  Often simply ignored as the players pass by the back forty on their way to an ancient ruin or wizards tower, the common farmer should not be given such short shrift. Things are happening on the farm beyond the corn, chickens, and cattle...or perhaps beneath.  The farmer's place in the more generic fantasy setting is both iconic and highly important, even though he is often ignored as the players and their characters pursue loftier goals.  Most frequently it is from the farm that the young hero escapes, looking past a hum-drum life to a world of fame, fortune, and adventure.

What a waste.

If you've read my module, Adventure Most Fowl, you'll know that I went to great lengths to provide a glimpse into a strange and wonderful world inhabited primarily by farmers and their families.  A party could spend the formative part of their early level-growth in/around the farming village of Kith and never be bored.  This didn't happen by accident...

I may be a native Philadelphian, but I spent a decade living in/around Houston, Texas.  You don't have to drive very far to spot a farm, and once you start seeing them, the horizon will bring you nothing but.  I was lucky enough to make many friends in that city, not a few of which had friends and family who lived or made their living farming.  It was a life so foreign from my experience growing up in the city that I rarely got my fill of my time spent among them, on the farm and in their company.  The closest I ever got to that life as a kid was camping trips with my dad, and if you are, or know, a farmer then you know that's not even close to the same thing.  

The Farm is very often a self-sufficient, solitary lifestyle.  The farmer and his family can go days or weeks without interacting with other folk, and this makes the farm a great setting for strangeness and odd circumstances that would make for more than an interesting adventure.  Placing a farm or two between the city and the dungeon will give the players a chance to 'rest', and it gives the DM fodder for fun and fiendishness. Here are a few examples of things that might make a stop at the farm a 'less than simple' affair:

  1. The Grubner farm, a great place for blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.  The farm also plays host to an ancient oak in the center of it's primary field, a tree that is inhabited by a wicked gnome who is holding the family hostage, forcing them to continue to grow his luscious berries!  With the harvest, the gnome brews a number of wicked potions as well as brandy with a healing touch!  He is in possession of the soul of Magda Gruber, the farmers eldest daughter, which he will destroy if the farmer does not continue his labors.
  2. There's something special about the soil at ol' Reston's farm.  His veggies grow with such rapidity and ferocity that he harvests three times a year!  Some folks think it's that odd rock that sits poking up from his cornfield that has something to do with it...the strange letters on the sides that sometimes glow in the mid-summers moonlight.  It's not.  It's what lives inside the ancient and long forgotten relic of a fertility deity.  It has more power than Reston knows, and it calls out to the players seeking it's release.  Perhaps the party will unlock it's secret...
  3. At the height of the Harvest Moon, the three Karick brothers, breeders of cattle and pig, hold their annual fall festival.  It's a glorious time of food, drink, song, and dance, and the party is most welcome to join in!  They slaughter a cow, a pig, and a goose for the occasion. The wives bake pies and cakes, the kids choose a wheel or two of the Karick Kase cheese, and the men even break out the summer ale that's been brewing beneath the old barn!  Oh, but it's a tasty and wicked brew, and hard to resist (make a Wis save or DRINK!).   If the party isn't careful, they will find themselves drunk beyond their senses and awake with both a hangover, and tied to a stake in the middle of the barn as the farmers prepare them for their wicked ceremony.  What makes a Karick cow so delicious?  Why, human sacrifice of course!
It's not hard to think of the odd things that might happen on a farm in the boonies of your fantasy setting!  It's as easy to drop in your story driven game as a hex-crawl, so don't forget the farm!

While I'm on a farmer-kick, I recently watched Peter and the Farm on Netflix and I was inspired to use a solitary farmer with something of a temper and an alcohol problem as an NPC/Encounter in my game.  It's a really interesting documentary that is worth a watch if you have the time.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Magic is in the Book...

 I started reading Swords and Deviltry again the other day, and once more I travel with Fafhrd and the Mouser across Nehwon to face untold danger, wicked sorcery, and fearsome monsters.  It's a journey I've taken at least a hands-count of times before, and one i'm always happy to start anew.  While the shelves at Barnes & Noble are stocked to the brim, sometimes there's just nothing new under the sun that attracts me and so I spin the wheel and grab an 'old friend' to get me through.

I was heavily invested in reading several years before I started my lifelong love of roleplaying games, D&D of course my first.  By the 4th & 5th grade I had plowed through a ton of the standard youth reads and had even found some slightly more adult content accessible, such as The Hobbit and David Edding's Belgariad.  For those not of that era (late 70's/early 80's), the local library and a few small bookstores were all I had with regard to the content I enjoyed.  Every book was a treasure, every toy a treat.  I'm not mad or jealous that folks have all the content they could desire at their fingertips these days, but I do think it's probably true that in order to really appreciate something, you might first need to understand what it means to not have that thing.

We had 7 channels on the TV.  Just saying. (and props to my pops, who started with just a radio and his imagination!)

By middle school I was devouring the genre, and by high school I had caught up.  I don't know how many books I had by 11th grade, but it far surpassed my meager comic collection.  Books and reading very much defined who I was, and who I would become as a gamer, and as a person.

I'm a reader.  That's just what and who I am.  It's the fantasy novels of the 60's, 70's and 80's that fuel my games as both player and DM, but primarily as DM.  It's hard for me to shake the Dragonlords of Melnibone or the One Ring or that smart-mouthed Jhereg Loiosh from my psyche, nor would I want to do so.  These are the images of my youth, that same places and people that I brought to life with my own adventurers when I discovered that books were not the end of my love affair with fantasy fiction, and that through RPG's I could 'live out' that amazing story that thus far I had only been able to connect to as part of the audience.

Why would a kid play baseball, if not to feel the same way that A-Rod felt when he swung his bat and knocked yet another ball into the stands?  Sure, you can sit in the stands, cheer, eat a hot dog and wish you were that amazing player, or instead you can grab a bat and a ball and do that thing!  Of course, I never swung a sword or cast a spell, but the imagination is an amazing, versatile thing, and D&D is a powerful tool to help transport the player into that realm where combat and spell-weaving are as real as the every-day world (with less bathroom breaks).  For me, it's the books of my youth and those amazing writers who laid the foundation for my own imaginative journeys.

To the players of D&D and other RPG's today, those raised with Xboxes and On-Demand, who may not be readers or think much of books beyond their scholastic experience, I urge you to head to the nearest library or bookstore, or even pop on to and grab something from Appendix N, or maybe some newer fantasy genre fiction you think might appeal to you.

Sure, you can grab the AD&D books or play Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, but the power behind the magic that is OSR games is, was, and always will be the great fiction that forged it.  

My son is 11.  He's not a fan of comics or RPG's.  He loves Black Ops and Terraria, but not so long ago I bought him The Hitchiker's Guide to the Universe and he loved it!  I can't express to you how happy that made me, how full of joy I was to be able to share that geeky 42 with him.  He hasn't wanted to play D&D with me, and that's ok.  The greater gift is the books.  If we end up sharing not one single common hobby or interest in life, I know he loves to read, and that is completely satisfying.

Read More.

Read more with your kids.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Need A Loan? Got a Soul? Lyster can help...

On the outer edge of the Merchant's Quarter, in a unassuming building across from Gadia Fing's Fine Foods cart (known to many in the area as the best place to grab a meat pie and cheddar wedge), there can be found one of only two pawnbrokers in Elbion.

Blafrian Yates, the head of Elbion's City Watch, has stated many times that his master likes to keep the number of pawnbrokers low, in order to lessen the amount of questioning required to solve a crime.

That's not to say that Lyster Platt, or the other pawnbroker in town, is a criminal, but oftentimes the true owner of an item is not so easily identified byt the shop keepers in question.

Lyster Plat : Pawnbroker to the Stars

Is a pawnbroker truly a merchant, or is he a mollusk?  It’s an age old question, but for the purpose of expediency we will consider him a seller of goods and place him squarely at the farthest point from the Merchants Quarter,  just a bit too close to the slums.  Strategically positioned on Needs & Wants lane, the name of Lyster’s shop is simply ‘Pawns’, with the universal symbol for pawn shops everywhere directly below, three golden balls hanging from the arms of a scale.

To describe Lyster Gold as a fat man is like describing a dragon as a large lizard.  Lyster has five chins, but three of them are hiding under the largest two.  That said, he’s very agile for a ‘person of size’, and to see him move amongst the shelves and displays of his overly large pawnshop placing new inventory and keeping the other items nice and tidy seems like a delicate dance.  Dressed in comfortable, loose-fitting leathers and a tunic, Lyster is often found sitting behind the solid oak counter of the pawnshop, which is so high as to put him several feet above his customers.  From this perch, he wheels and deals all day from a position of ‘power’.  It’s an old custom, and it works.  Customers are at a -15% with regard to all dealings in the pawnshop.

What about inventory?  What does this fellow stock in his pawnshop?  It’s a total crapshoot.  On any given day Lyster’s inventory can turn in an instant.  Anything that has value can be bought, sold, or even loaned against.  Frequent items in inventory are musical instruments, jewelry, books, fine dinnerware, some clothes items, armor and weapons...the list is almost inexhaustible.  

If you’ve arrived at Lyster’s door looking for a loan, his rates are very reasonable.  Assess the loan based on the item, and the value of the item over time.  Will the item be just as useful and valuable in 3 months (all loans are 90 days from the date placed)?  The best items for pawn are gems and jewelry, musical instruments, armor and weapons.  These items are easily assessed, and loans are usually 1/5th the assessed value.  The outright sale of these items is 1/3rd of assessed value.  Lyster does the assessing, and he’s very, VERY good at it, so arguing with him is an act in futility.  He’s well aware that no one WANTS to take a loan from a pawnbroker, and he exercises this leverage appropriately.

All items pawned will receive a corresponding chit for redemption, which is transferrable.  A notation will be made in Lyster’s large book of loans, which he will pull from a shelf dedicated to the volume, which is quite old and comprised of materials that are not easily identifiable (a wizard or alchemist might see that the cover is a draconic hide material, and that the pages are all vellum.  The book, pages, ink and pen used to write each loan is enchanted...more on this in a bit.)  Interest on loans is 5% compounded monthly, a very reasonable rate, and an initial loan fee is also tacked on to each loan, due at repayment.

Lyster, like many of Elbion’s residents, is not a native of the city in the mountains.  He’s actually not a human at all, but a gnome.  Wearing his enchanted ring of shape change, he has assumed the form of Lyster in order to blend into the community more easily, and conduct business without drawing attention to himself.  Loans written that are not redeemed recharge the ring, as the fine print clearly states, by taking a small piece of the loan-takers soul.  Those who default on loans will not notice as this chunk of life energy is yanked from them, but others around them may sense that they’ve become somewhat melancholy or listless.  

Lyster also uses these ‘bits’ of soul energy to craft magic items, his true vocation.   Some of the Arcanists of Elbion frequent Lyster’s Pawn Shop, and several know that he traffics in magical items however none of them know anything more.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Getting the Ball Rolling: Starting Points for Your Next Game

We've all been there before, day one, moment one, and more often than not our characters are in the same, boring place.  "Yo
u find yourself in a tavern," or "You've been summoned to the court of..." are common starting points for many, if not most, games.  It doesn't matter if you're playing OSR or 5e, Scifi or Fantasy or Rifts, many DM's just don't know how else to start the game going than with the 'common room' of starting points.

I'm guilty of it as well.  Sometimes it's just the easiest thing to do, but I've also got a few tricks up my sleeve and I thought I'd share them.  These entry-points may not be new(s) to you, but maybe just seeing them again will spark you to drop them into play on your next go 'round.

1) Naked Snaked

"You find yourselves in a dark cell, your clothes and items are gone, and all you have for company are the others around you and the rats."

This is a favorite of mine.  Nothing bonds a new group of people faster than nakedness.  The shared trauma of naked (or loinclothed) captivity causes an almost immediate shared need, and thus a sense of community.  Even races not generally well-disposed to one another will find those ancient biases often fall away in an attempt to gain freedom and find equipment.

My earliest memory of this scenario is actually as a player in a Cyberpunk 2020 game.  Waking up without a shred of clothing or dignity in the back of a derelict van with the other players.  The DM wove a powerful image of helplessness, and seeking clothing, shelter, equipment and finally retribution was a great experience that bonded the characters and the players.

2) En Media Res

"The attacking Giant barrels into the town, swinging what appears to be a tree in all directions.  People scatter and splatter as he approaches the center of town!"

Clearly there is nothing more immediate than a rampaging monster.  As DM's we use them all the time, but rarely do we make it the first sentence out of our mouths.  Creating a general state of chaos, especially with new players or folks who have not played with each other, is again a very easy way to bring the party together.

Sure, they don't know each other's strengths or weaknesses in battle, but they will in short order.  A common foe is regularly used as a plot device to drive players to act in a team-like fashion, but even if your game is sandboxy, this is a fine way to get the group cooperating early on.

It may also me a good way to suss out weak characters, as not everyone survives an unforseen attack...and the death of a comrade, even one just met, can have lasting effects on party cohesiveness.

3) The End IS the Beginning or Leap of Faith!

"You stare into the swirling purple chaos before you.  The wall behind you pushes forward, poison spikes extended.  With few spells, and few hit points left, forward seems your only option...what do you do!

This one takes a bit more prep on the part of the DM, but I've used it, and it's fun.  Prepare a bunch of high level PC sheets ahead of time, and hand them out to players after the players have made their own.  Gather up the initial sheets at the same time.

Now present these high level characters as generally out of resources, and very deep into a dungeon...the swirling pool of colorful chaos is a requirement.  The job of the DM is to get the players to jump into the portal using any and all means.  This part of the adventure is all railroad, and the players may sense this, but it's all just exposition, so as long as everyone jumps in, it's all good.

The players who jump fall into a fresh place...I like to prep an easy cave adventure, but they are then handed their ORIGINAL character sheets and begin play at level 1 (or 0) as the case may be.  The shared stress of the initial experience is once again used as leverage to bring the team/party together.  I've even combined this entry to the game and #2, by having them jump through the portal and then find themselves in new skin, a new environment, and surrounded by goblins, kobolds, or some other opponent in order to keep the action moving!

Again, any players who refused to jump will have died, and so reincarnation (or rejuvenation, play it how you like) will not take place.  Perhaps the team meets that other player in the caves, dungeon, town, etc that they find themselves in after the 'leap of faith'

Maybe you have a new, fun way to get the ball rolling on a new game. I'd love to hear about your DM tricks that help get the action in gear!


#1 : I had some really great response to my post the other day about a share cookbook, but i've only had a few folks send me any recipes.  If you're interested, please shoot me an email or leave a trail of breadcrumbs to your favorite game-time dish!

Thanks to those who already sent me your recipes!  I've started a google docs archive to store everything until we have enough to warrant a good-sized cookbook.  Some tasty treats in there, including Rat on a Stick and A Solemn Guacamole...

#2 My good friend Mike Garcia, who is the unifying force behind Adventure Most Fowl (the first adventure module I wrote for publication) has started a neat little fundraiser for future work TBD.  He wants there to be a bit of seed money to spread around to the creative community, primarily for art and layout work, so he took one of my favorite game-sayings and made a t-shirt out of it.  If you'd like to support his efforts and score a neato t-shirt in the interim, check out his new fundraiser here for Grey Fey!