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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Signs and Portents of the Best DM's

I get asked all the time, "Hey Goblin_Stomper, "how can I be a better DM?"

That's not true, no one ever asks me that.

It's my personal opinion that most DM's think they do a fine job, most probably do, and some are great.  Most I think are fine, that is, good enough that players come back to play another game, and that's really the best review a DM can get.

After all this time, I think I can distill most of the behaviors of a really good (perhaps great) DM down to just a few, but if you asked me what the most important one is, that's easy.  There is one trademark of a DM who will keep you coming back to the table.  The sign of a DM able to keep your mind entrenched in the mind of the character you've created, and allow the world around you to melt quickly away, leaving you and your character completely immersed in hours of play that feel like mere moments.

The best DM's believe, with complete authority and utter certainty  without wavering once, that their world and the game are as real as the screen on which you read this sentence.

That's it.  That's all there is to it.

This Guy Believes.  He really does.

Oh sure, there's the importance of being familiar enough with your ruleset to suffer no fools or lawyers.  It's a given that you understand the basic elements of storytelling so deeply that your game follows both a predictable, yet surprising pattern to keep the players engaged but not bored.

It's your belief in you world, however, that I perceive as the lynch-pin to your success as a DM, even if you lack some or even all of those other factors.  Sure, you can't 100% fake that other stuff.  You will need it, but first, believe.

You see if you don't think that your gods exist, that your sorcerer can cast a glamour of never-before-seen magnitude, and that your monster is an engine of raw, destructive power as it defends it's well earned treasure hoard...who will?

You, the DM, need to live in your world first, and most deeply.  If you don't do this, the task of casting the spell of suspension of disbelief at your table will fizzle from the fingers that weave it and the mouth that casts it.  There are a few helpful hints for this, but mostly, you just gotta believe.  I will list a few important things here, but these are just guideposts. 

1. Write a brief outline of your world. Include your gods, rules for magic, important localities as well as unique locations important to where you'd like to begin your game/story.  Design a framework for your mind to dilly-dally, play, jaunt.

2. Create your first Inn.  Maybe it seems crazy to go from the macro to micro, but here you can develop a few personalities, a few names, a few drinks...get a sense of how your world 'feels' to you, and hone it until you know the inn and its occupants like they're family.

3. Create your own PC for the world.  If you were playing in your world, what sort of character appeals to you.

3a.  Give that PC a backstory.

Now...there will be some amount of time between the birth of your game/world and your first game, so now you gotta split off a small piece of your day-to-day brain, and place it in that world (or place that world in it).  Sometimes you should try to actively daydream a bit in the world.  Other times let that part of your mind fly solo.  Don't lose your job over this.  Don't forget to study for exams.  Just give it a bit attention now and again, to reflect on it, fine tune it, and keep it flourishing.

Maybe keep a notepad.  I like a tiny, ruled Rhodia and a fine gel pen, but anything you can keep on you will work fine.

That's my advice, mostly short and pretty sweet.

Now go play.  Believe.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Pace of the Game

I think alot about time.  In a world, and at an age, where I seem to have less of it in every way I consider it more and more.  Much of what I had is now gone, left behind me like an invisible path of memories and experiences that mixes and mingles and certainly crosses the paths of many others.  In a world that is so very focused on the now, on the future, and on speed I know that I prefer things slowed down.  I would not stop the steady, heavy march of time even if I could, but I do my best to remove myself when I can from its speedy yoke.

Roleplaying is an activity that by its very nature requires us to sit down, think, talk together, and slow down.  It is a game that should not be played in short bursts, like so much Snake on the toilet.  Instead, we organize relatively long periods of time to it.  There is preparation on the part of the DM, time where one of the group must focus attention on the plot and action, and consider carefully the party and the story.  It is is his or her own fate the DM considers, wrapped up in the lives and behavior of the NPCS, the Monsters, the antagonists, and even the dungeon itself however or in whatever form that place/space manifests itself.

Then we meet and sit.  There are unwritten customs in our groups, some common to all and others much more specific, but most somewhat ritualistic.  How many of us first share our food and drink?  Which of us places our dice just so at our place at the table and rolls them a few times, trying to eek out some insight as to their behavior?  While we wait for others to arrive don't we all discuss our lives, our weeks, our work, our families, and then ultimately...the game, our characters, the previous session?  We take our time.  Patience is a given.  We wait for all, or as a group decide to forge ahead.  Yes, we have some time, but not all the time.

As the game begins, and the story and its events unfold before the players and their characters, the individual and the group must act and react but there is time to consider, even in the most heated of battles.  The combat can feel quick, but there is that feeling of the slowing of time, even if such a thing isn't truly possible.  It is this perceived manipulation of time that I crave, the feeling that things are taking forever until finally I look at my watch or a clock and see that hours have flown by as we, as I, was immersed in the play.

If you've been reading my blog recently, you'll know that I've come heavily under the influence of photography.  It is a hobby that requires time to master the technical skill required to take a photo, time to find a location in which to shoot, time to set up and frame the picture, time and patience to wait for something to happen within that frame, and finally time to process and review the photograph.  It is a practice indelibly enmeshed with time so much so that the finished photograph is, in reality, the art of capturing a moment of time.

The younger players who read this may not yet feel the pressure of time.  I know that when I was happily getting lost in adventures over the course of a weekend with friends, I paid time no mind.  Food was more important, and sleep only came when we were all at the point of exhaustion.  There is no reason to consider these games as lost or stolen time.  Legends were made, empires were built and then crumbled, and a good time was had by all as the seconds, minutes, hours, and yes even days were eaten, moment by moment, by the game we love.

These days I am luck to be able to spare three of four hours to devote to my gaming group.  It is a chunk of time happily set aside so that there can be legends, and heroes, and empires rising and falling.

Whatever your game, regardless of age, take note that you have chosen to slow down time.  You have chosen to break from the pack, those clamoring for more, now, faster and instead have chosen to chill, relax, breathe, think, create, play...pretend.

...and remember that these are the moments that make us human.  Time is a finite resource for each person, the thief whom even the guildmaster can not swindle.  Time is like the stories we tell and the game we play, without beginning or end.  The magic of time is best felt when we share it with others.

Go Play.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Learning How to Play Tabletop RPG's

I've been playing and DMing RPG's since 1980 or so.  Anyone who grew up playing in that era, regardless of the game or hybrid mix of systems they played, learned how to do so in one of only two ways.  The first, and most common way was to play.  Simple.  You knew some folks who played and asked them if you could join.  Then someone (the DM most likely) would show you how to roll up a PC and you joined in the fun.  Total ignorance and confusion quickly turned to understanding. It was usually a whole bunch of fun as you watched what the other folks around you were doing, and when it came to your turn, you followed suit.

Then your PC died.

It's cool, cause you just rolled another, better guy and started again.  Easy Peasy.

The only other way to learn to play/DM was to read the manuals.  This method was sketchy at best, but I guess the lone individual, first of his kind to emerge, must have had no other choice.  He would then find some willing friend to bite at the hook and become his first player.  Together they would muddle their way through and play, maybe mostly wrong, but that really didn't matter.  Point is, they played.  They had some fun.  Eventually they connected with a few other guys who had done the same thing, they hammered out what each group was likely doing wrong and right, and a consensus formed they would play at the next level.  Such was the evolution of D&D where I'm from, and it's probably not too dissimilar from your experience, again assuming you are of a certain age.

I bring this up because we don't live in 1980 anymore, and we are not the diaspora as that time before the internet forced us to be.  These days, and with the help of our advanced communication systems, we are able not only to quickly locate others of our kind and come together at the local Coffebucks to decide if we'd like to play D&D together, but those of us still stuck in remote areas where people are few and comrades far fewer can still learn to play.  Websites, Forums, and best of all Videos can quickly bring us up to speed on how the game is played.

Of course, there is no 'right' way to play.  The internet has also allowed us to debate endlessly over methods of play, styles of play, and the minutiae of the rules that we use to play.  While this may seem confusing to the uninitiated, anyone with an iota of sense and their own copy of the ruleset they desire to use can filter out the needed information from the noise and nonsense of gamer flub-dubbery.

Me?  I'm at a high level of expertise.  I am a great player, I am an awesome DM, and I am a superb flinger of flub-dubbery.  I could teach anyone to play, were I to choose to do so.  Thankfully many such people are running websites,  hosting forums, and best of all creating videos from how-to to actual gameplay.  I don't watch them, but I appreciate their value to folks new to the hobby who have no local, experienced source to turn to.  There's Matt, who has a bunch of videos I've never watched but he seems smart and intense and passionate, so you can watch his stuff.  Then there's Critical Role with Matt (different Matt.  Lot's of Matts in RPGs) if you'd like to watch people play the game in real time.  If you prefer reading to watching, just google 'How to Play D&D' and then tumble down the rabbit hole.  This last method is a good one if you have alot of time, a case of Jolt, and a multi-monitor setup for all the tabs you're about to open.

I am not a great photographer.  Probably i'm not even very good.

This is what started me down this rambling path of thought today.  I exist alone here in my cave with my cameras.  I was barely able to take a decent picture with my phone, which as we all know even toddlers can achieve with little or no instruction.

The internet has quickly allowed me to access the technical knowledge I need to use my gear.  Beyond basic usage, I was able to review the recent history of photography, the types of photography, the reasons to operate the camera in a certain way given a particular environment or subject, and watch people in real-time taking photos with the gear I owned in all types of situations and places of interest.

I may not be a good photographer yet, but now I can use my camera.  The personalities I follow online who teach photography have been great, and I've learned a great deal about the art and technology of taking good photographs.  In essence, I've learned how to play, and now the only way to advance my skills is to go out and take photos.

What I'm getting at, I think, is that it's great to use the internet to learn how to do something, but in the end you've got to get out there and do it!  Go play!  Find a game store with a weekly game, join a group using the Meetups app, use craigslist or reddit to find an IRL or online game to play.  Put the internet to good use!

Go Play.  Have fun.  Make memories.

My Friend Dean, Jamming with his Reggae Band Jah People

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The RPG as a Collectible : A Misspent Youth

These days it's not uncommon, certainly if you hang out on Twitter, Facebook, or G+, to see folks posting proudly their shelves crammed full of RPG's new and old.  It's nice to share, or in some cases show off a long curated and well maintained collection of gaming books, supplements, maps, dice, miniatures and such.  Back in the 1980's I would buy anything and everything related to the hobby.  Most of the TSR library was at my disposal.  I really enjoy looking at these shelf shots, especially when I recognize a rare book (or edition of a book) I once had.

Yup.  I said had.

I can't share a shelfie, the fun nickname given to a glamour shot of one's own shelf(ves) full of gaming goodness, because back in the early 1990's I decided to relocate from my then home in Houston, TX. to my now (and original) home town of Philadelphia PA.  I was taking myself, my dad, my clothes, and a few carefully selected items in a small Ford LTD the approx 1700 miles to live once again in the land of my birth.  My rather extensive RPG collection, I had decided, would not be making the trip with me.

I needed cash to finance my trip and help me get a start once I arrived, and so I boxed up my collection of D&D, AD&D, Palladium, WFRP, and a multitude of other books and I sold the lot.  I added a few dollars (what now would seem like a crime given ebay pricing for these same items) to my bank and took off to my new life.  When it was over, I didn't feel unburdened, I felt sad and a little bit ashamed that I had sold my collection both cheaply and without too much forethought.  There were loads of books, gaming as well as fiction and non-fiction, that got packed into boxes and sold off.  Other things got the chop as well, but nothing stung so quickly or deeply as the sale of those books, specifically my RPG's.  The early 90's was a bit of a dead-zone for tabletop role-playing.  Those of you experiencing and enjoying its renaissance now may not have any connection to that time, but folks who have slogged through, guys (and maybe some gals) of a certain age will most assuredly remember them.  With my move imminent, and my future in the hobby uncertain, I made the rash and in retrospect incorrect decision to take the quick cash.  So much for hindsight.

Now here I am, some 20-odd years later, staring at the shelf that could have just as easily been my own.

It makes feelings happen.  Initially I get excited to see a familiar face, the 1e PHB or a well creased Unearthed Arcana.  Rather quickly, however, those emotions turn quickly to loss, sadness, an absence deep in the pit of my stomach (soul) that I am missing a piece of my life that I should be able to turn to, an old friend not dead, but long ago having moved on to some other life of which I am no longer a part.

Can I fix the situation?  Of course.  Just like most folks I have access to ebay, and if I wanted my spare income to to go rebuilding my old gaming library I could certainly allocate those funds.  Many people have done, or are currently doing this.  Like many folks currently in a state of 'adulting', I have other priorities, and many new interests as well, so my money does not go to rebuilding that bookshelf.  I must content myself by living vicariously through others, and the ever-growing image archives 

Do I have access to these magical tomes of my youth?  Sure.  The internet also facilitates that.  Grabbing the occasional pdf from the darker side of the interweb is simple enough.  Is it the same, owning a pdf of the 1e PHB?  Nope, not by a long shot.  Sure the information is there, but it is soulless.  Empty.  Devoid of any feeling.  Like most things we (humans) collect, simply having what amounts to a 'picture' of a thing is not the same as owning/holding that very same thing, even if what that image conveys is in large part the same as the thing itself.

These days much of my free, non-gaming time is spent with my camera(s).  I love shooting candids of folks in the streets, and of particular interest to me is outdoor markets, garage sales, and flea markets.  That's not, I suspect, a coincidence.  I'm always on the lookout for two things...Old cameras/lenses, and RPG material.  Ebay has made locating old gaming materials and old camera gear a real challenge, but it's part of what makes spending my time perusing and capturing moments at these places so enjoyable.

Thanks to all of those collectors, new and old, who are sharing their pride & joy images with the rest of us.  No matter my own feelings about it, it's nice to see so many others having and enjoying their collections with all of us in the RPG community.

I haven't moved on from gaming.  Not hardly.

Much of my RPG time is spent on using Fantasy Grounds 2, so the need for books in my hand during online play isn't all that important.  For those rare times when I get to play F2F, I rely on the kindness of my companions, which has never failed and I'm sure never will.  (I got dice, no worries there.  A man should have his own dice...I guess you could share, but that's kinda weird)

In the meantime, if you happen to have a second set of any of those 1e, first or second printing tomes...I'd be happy to make a space on my shelf for them.  You can rest assured they would be both cared for and cherished, and hopefully used at the table.

Game On Guys!

Friday, September 1, 2017

How Harvey Could Not Split the Party

I guess that it should come to no ones surprise that as the hurricane named Harvey loomed ever closer to the Texas coastline, and as my family who live in/around Houston began to prepare for the potential onslaught that may come by stockpiling water, dry goods, and all of the fixin's for french toast, that in the back of my mind my little lizard brain all full of lessons hard won and learned during countless years and endless sessions began to whisper one quiet, recurring thought.

Don't split the party.

My father moved us to Houston in the summer of 1986.  Like many folks before him, he was lured to Houston by a job.  He was, and to my mind still is, a furrier.  Neiman-Marcus had need of his skills, and in a business dying off as a middle-class luxury he followed the money and took us all with him.  I was 16, my sister 14 and my brother was 5 when we left Philadelphia and headed south into the unknown.

They are all still there, my family.  In the mid-90's I moved back home, to Philly, but that is another story.  Suffice it to say that it was me, initially, who split the party.

My siblings are grown now, and they all have their own families, their own jobs, lives, and homes around the Houston area.  My folks settled finally in Richmond, TX., a small suburb-town a few miles southwest of the Houston metroplex (an atrocious yet appropriate word) near the Brazos River.  My sister lives a mile or so from them, my brother in a northern suburb about 45 minutes away.  They split the party as well, but my move was the greatest in terms of physical distance.  We are a close family, as families these days go. We have our moments, but we are a true party.

My father, ever the Fighter/Cleric, a combat medic in Vietnam before wife and kids and furrier were ever born.  My mother a cleric as well, though not clinging so tightly to her faith as to her family.  My sister, like my father, a Fighter.  Not the sharpest sword in the sheath but tenacious, and when confronted, outright deadly.  Her Con and Str are high.  She can dual wield, and her reaction time gives her many pluses to init.  My brother the quiet Cavalier.  No specialist, but a bright and shining generalist, ever ready to help with a hand.  Loyal and trustworthy, a better friend likely none have ever had.

Me?  Always the Magic-user/Thief...but maybe you already knew that.

Together we had managed to overcome many foes, monsters, traps, dungeons...rarely gold at the end of any adventure, but always the company.  Always the family.

As I watched from the couch last weekend, the rain and wind battering first Corpus, and then moving up the coastline until at last the full-force of this horrible weather event struck at the heart of Houston, I had never before felt so helpless.  My parents, sibling, and my surviving grandparents were all huddled in their homes, often sheltering in place as tornado warnings began to appear.  My sister sending regular updates from her house as her family sat in the bathroom near the tub.  The news on the TV getting worse and worse, and the real issue, that each of my comrades was stuck in place.  As I sat glued to the TV, I reached for my Dagger and my Wand, but neither would be of any use from where I sat, 1000 plus miles from the hurricane.

The party had been split.

Enough drama.  You know what happened.  Either you are/were there and you're dealing with the aftermath or you watched TV and saw the images of folks needing rescue by boat or by helicopter, looked on as the city prepared shelters for the newly homeless.

My family, all of them, were incredibly lucky.  While those around them lost hearth and home, the wisdom of my father kept them all safe.  He had always made one rule about buying or renting a home in Houston.  My dad knew that we were close to sea level, and near the coast, and he insisted that my siblings live on the highest ground they could find.  Often not good at listening, his kids knew this time he was right, and so my brother and sister purchased homes on hills in a land were there were few.

They were lucky, but it was a close call.  Water was inches from each of their doors.  Many neighbors, even on adjacent streets quickly became flood victims.  I feel awful for everyone affected by this terrible storm.  It was never far from my thoughts that I should be there with them, that if I was nearby I would have somehow been able to help if something terrible had come for them.  It was never clearer to me that the D&D party is nothing more than the fictional representation of a family.  The not-so-real trials and tribulations, the adventures we share at the gaming table are all metaphor for the real world, and if we are lucky then the comrades who sit at the gaming table with us, these folks are our family members.

Even with distance between them, my father had managed not to split the party.

To those of you affected by this storm, I say Don't Split the Party! Cling tightly to those who you care for and who care for you, and together help those around you.  Be generous with what you have, care for your neighbors (your extended party, as so many of my parents' neighbors were with them) and even with strangers in need.  This is not, nor shall it ever be, a country divided by color, creed, or politics...and no storm, no matter how large or devastating, will sunder what we as a nation have wrought.

For the folks like me, with friends and family caught up in the aftermath of Harvey, I understand how you feel and know that you have not abandoned your party.  They know that you would be there to help if you were able.  Your comrades know that you are now, and ever will be, a member of the party.

Stay strong Houston.  You've got this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Checking in After I Checked Out!

Made in Spain, not in China...for a change

Well kiddies, it's been a rough couple of months.  No, no one died.  I didn't lose my job.  Really, nothing truly awful has happened.  So what has kept me from writing and posting here on the blog, or Twitter or Facebook, or in general engaging with folks I like about games I love?

I'm the sort of guy who needs to focus on the immediate challenge, which for me has been my journey (once again) to lose alot of unhealthy, unnecessary weight.  When I've walked this path in the past it has always been a very consuming process, but that hyper-focused practice has always resulted in success.  As of today, I'm happy to report that two months of eating less, eating better, and attempting to move more often and with a sense of purpose has resulted in approximately a 25 lb. loss.

It's a good start.

While I haven't checked out of life (or gaming) completely in order to do what needs doin', it was the break from distraction that helped me get to this point.

My blogging and gaming have slowed for more reasons than just my need to eat and exercise for my weight loss.  It's been an awfully busy time with my son (12) leaving elementary school and transitioning into middle school life, summer vacation times being scheduled, busy work time (a pawnbrokers life has cycles, and summer is a busy time for us with regard to folks selling products in order to fund summer events...we think of it as our inventory restocking phase), and a host of other random, pop-up events that usually put the kibosh on time I would normally be playing D&D, C&C, WFRP, Labyrinth Lord and the host of other games I enjoy.

Not gaming left a big gap, and early on in April I realized I needed to do something to keep my mind stimulated and also supplement my time moving about, walking, hiking, I picked up my much neglected Nikon D5000 (as well as my even older canon Rebel XT) and started going to the park to take some pictures.  It got me moving with a purpose, and pretty soon I realized that the equipment I had bought to document family life, my son as a baby, and the occasional family outing held alot more interest for me.

My hobby time is limited, and much of it has always been focused on RPG's, books (many of them about RPG's lol), and food & cooking but suddenly I found myself engaging with the world in a very different way.  Many folks have taken photography as a class in high school or as a college course, and thus have some knowledge of how cameras work, how to take a proper photo, and what makes a good photo.  Not having any real world, practical experience with either of my cameras I simply walked a mile or two when time allowed, happily snapping pictures of anything I saw that I thought was interesting, and then I would go home and look at alot of pictures of trees, or cars, or the creek at Pennypack Park.  It was all very mundane, shot on auto, and really...really boring.

Until I took this picture.


The bird took off from a low branch and I instinctively pulled the camera up to my face and without even thinking just started snapping away.

Now, there's nothing really special about this picture.  You can go to to Google images or Flickr or one of a million websites and see hundreds, nay thousands of similar pictures often far better, closer, with greater detail.  I, however, had never taken a picture that made me feel like I had accomplished anything that might be interesting enough to show anyone else.  Sure, my family likes to share pictures of each other, our kids, the usual crap that only has meaning to the individual or small group, but this photo really got me thinking about how I had really checked out of life in so many ways.

I had checked out of being healthy by eating in an out of control manner, and really becoming very sedentary.

I had checked out of engaging with people by limiting my gaming time exclusively to online play via Fantasy Grounds and Roll20.

I had checked out of society at large by living routinely, a cycle of work and sleep and filling the time in between with nothing new or interesting or stimulating.

I had checked out of learning anything new.

After seeing this photo, I knew I wanted to check back in.

I'm not going to drone on (or perhaps I already have) about photography.  I'm a total noob, but youtube vids, blogs, and a few books have started what I hope will continue to be an ongoing learning process that keeps me engaged and active.

If you want to keep up with the photo's I take, just check out here or maybe here or if you like birds, trees, and stuff like that then go here.

I'm on Instagram too and for that you can follow me here.

Maybe none of this photo crap means anything to just want the crochety old pawnbroking gamer guy stuff to start flowing again.  That wacky dude who wrote Adventure most Fowl or A Baker's Denizen needs to start posting again!

Cool out.  I will.

I need a few more months to focus my personal energy on losing more weight and exercising (for those interested, I went from 258# to now 231# primarily using CICO/calorie management which works really well for me.  I'm on Myfitnesspal as Taoistpunk so feel free to friend me there if you're so inclined!).  It's also important to me to spend alot of my 'hobby/free' time learning to take better pictures.  Leaning new things is important for me, as I know it's probably important to you, but I do miss sharing here on the blog and engaging more on Twitter and Facebook.  Hopefully you will see me more frequently now that I'm feeling a bit better about things.

I'm planning on going to PAX Unplugged, since it will be right here in my hometown come the fall.  If you're going to that con, lemme  know so we can connect!  I also plan to be at GaryCon next year, camera in one hand, dice in the other!

For now...this is the Goblin Stomper...

Checking back IN!

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!