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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Assassin's Tools: Poison

Enough with the Pontificating already.  It's time for something a bit more useful!  Even if you don't allow the Assassin Class in your game (why you wouldn't beats me, but hey, to each his/her own), these poisons might still be useful assets in your campaign.  Perhaps the king has been poisoned, and since it's such a rare item your party can use it as a clue to locate the foul perpetrator of the evil deed!  Maybe you stumble across a vial of one of these wicked wonders and the party decides to sell or trade it for big loot!

My hope, however, is that the dark and shady skulker of the party acquires one or more of these potent potables and then plies the dark trade it took him/her so long to master.  Climb a wall, sneak through the window, acquire the target...and end it.

Much like the drugs I enjoy creating, poisons offer their own unique style of fun.

Click on me to View or Download

Also of note, I created the primary document in Gdocs as I usually do, but then found this sweet little online tool to build the PDF.  I use inDesign at home, but this was a nice tool available to me at work.  I haven't pushed it to its limits, but you may find it useful in situations where you don't have access to all of your tools.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

DM Burnout: It's a Thing

They’re coming again.  Those needy, greedy people are coming over again to sit around my table, and they are going to want to have fun.  They know I have it.  Those people sat here last weekend, and the weekend before that and for twenty-five weekends in a row and they took all the fun I had.  They took the monsters, and the gold, and the good times at the inn, and the twisted plots and the bag of holding and the magic sword.  I gave and I gave, I enjoyed giving it.  I liked it.  At first I wanted it, and then I needed it, and now?

They took it all, and now I have nothing left to give.

When I started playing D&D in 1981, I was lost.  My friend gave me the Holmes Basic book and a week to read through it before our game.  He had gotten it as a birthday gift and need someone to play with.  He would be the DM.  Neither of us had a clue what we were doing, but I can tell you one very important thing about the entire affair.  I’m pretty sure we both had the most fun ever, in either of our 12 year old lives.

We played all the time, me as the player character and my buddy as the DM.  Weekend after weekend, after school, and sometime before school I rolled against him, and he pitted monsters, puzzles, and evil bad guys against me (I had many PCs.  They died alot).  We didn’t know anyone else who played.  After a few months of playing like this we involved another friend of ours, and the first words out of my buddy’s mouth were ‘Great, now I get to play!’  He looked at me and said, ‘You can be the DM, right?’

There are probably a good dozen or so wacky stories to be told about my bumbling my way through those first few games, but germane to this discussion is simply this...after six months of being the GM, I was ready to pass the torch.  I hungered for the easy life of a player.  All I needed was my character sheet, my dice, and my this time we had added some books to the DM pile.  A Monster Manual, the blue Expert rulebook, and soon thereafter the DMG.  It was a burden I was ready to pass on for the freedom of the simpler life of a player.

Over the years I have reprised both roles as player or DM many times, and I very much enjoy both.  There have been times, however, where I have been on ‘extended duty’ as the DM.  As time rolls on, I’ve noticed a deficit in the DM community.  Players abound, but folks willing and able to run a game are few and far between.  The end result for me is usually the same.  I stop playing.  I take a sabbatical, divest myself of players, and wait to find a new place to play.  Here’s the interesting thing...I do it as much for myself as for the players in my game.  I would rather end a game than have people walk away from the table thinking ,”well that was a shitty game.”

DM Burnout.  That’s what I call it.  It’s when the DM has been running, planning, plotting, and mapping out the game for so long that he simply runs out of gas, in this case, the desire to be the DM.  He needs a break.  Players rarely pay attention to this syndrome, perhaps because they don’t know the symptoms, and partially because the symptoms my differ from one DM to the next.

Here is what happens to me if I start suffering from it:

  1. I will cancel a game on somewhat short notice
  2. Failure to plan out any encounters will lead to moments of game slow-down so I can put an encounter together
  3. Rolls will begin to become meaningless as I simply ‘decide’ what happens
  4. Books remain closed, unreferenced

These are just a few of the more obvious things that will happen to me if I begin feeling DM burnout.  There are probably other, less obvious things I do but these are the ones I try and stay on the lookout for.

We don’t talk about this much, but I’m not sure why.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t a horrible, debilitating or terminal illness we’re discussing.  It would be nice though if someone (a player) could see it happening and intervene.  “Hey man, let me drive for a few games.  Take a break.  Let’s do a few one-offs.”  As a DM, maybe throw it out there, “Hey guys, I’m feeling a bit of DM Burnout...anyone wanna run something for a few months?”

Look, I get it.  I know that you may play in a group where no want wants to DM.  You’re their ‘guy’.  You’ve always been their ‘guy’ and there’s no chance of there being another ‘guy’ at that table.  It’s ok to take a break.  Just lay it on the table, see what shakes out.  

What have your experiences been with DM Burnout?  Do you have any symptoms that your players should be aware of?  Why aren’t there more DMs to pick up the slack when one of us needs a break?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Things I Hate About Playing the Game

In this season of joy and peace and love it’s easy to get all warm and fuzzy about how much we love playing RPG’s.  We love the system, or the dice, or the dice bags.  We enjoy spending time with our friends, drinking and eating and laughing and having a good time.  Yeah, I like those things, but aren’t there things that get under your skin too?

What about those niggling little pesky things?  What get’s yer goat?  What things, if any, make you angry about the game, or the system, or heck...even people you play with?

Some things that bother me are just plain silly.  For instance, when my ‘good dice’ roll poorly.  Why?  What have I done to displease the Dice Gods?  But I think I have some more serious complaints too.

For example, I don’t like feeling lost in the dungeon, so I work to map it if I can.  It helps if the GM is good at describing things, and I don’t even mind if he peeps my map and tells me to make adjustments.  I try to do that as a GM as well, if someone is mapping it out.  It’s alot of work to be that guy, fun stuff, but work.  If a GM is a poor ‘describer’ or doesn’t care that I’m mapping for the party, and isn’t helpful when I need that, I get a bit miffed.  It’s for his benefit too, if as I map I make note of that strange hallway we passed by...especially if that hallway leads to his Big Bad Evil Guy or a trap he was dying to spring on us.  So a GM who doesn’t support me when I’m mapping out his dungeon as we play...he bothers me.

I also really get bugged when no one in the party seems to want to speak up at the table.  Not be the ‘boss of everybody’, but someone really needs to take the reins and gather everyone’s thoughts on some particular matter and then guide the whole thing along.  It doesn’t need to be the same player every time, but when an entire group of people (re: adults) at a table (Real or Virtual) is saying nothing and making no decisions...I get twisted in knots.  Sometime I’m that guy, (the ‘caller’, for you OSR guys) but I don’t need or want to be ‘that guy’ all of the time.

What else?
I don’t love a Monty Haul style GM.  
It bugs me if the game is constantly derailed by nonsense chit-chat.  

Oh!  I don’t like when players bring un-sharable snacks.  Bring stuff for everyone!  We are grown-ups people.  Share your food. And if you are hosting the game, you should make some food and drink available. Even Chips and something to drink is fine, but inviting folks over and not offering some level of refreshment is rude...but that's just my opinion.

I would really like to hear what thing other folks don’t like...your nit-picks, your pet peeves.  Maybe you have a story you’d like to share with the group?  Drop a comment.  I’m sure we’d like to hear about your gaming table issues.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Session 0.5 : Getting New Players in the Groove

Ever been running a game and a friend, or friend of a friend, suddenly becomes interested. “You play Dungeons & Dragons?”  

“Well,” you reply, “I do.  Actually I run the game.  I’m what they call the Dungeon Master, or the DM.  I play all of the parts that the group of people I run the game for don’t, like the people they meet and interact with, or the monsters.”

“You know,” she says, “I’ve always wanted to play.  I keep seeing things on the internet about it and I always pass those giant books at the bookstore, but I never had the chance to play.  Any possibility I can get in on a game?”

“Sure.  Always room at the table for one more...any chance we can get together a bit before the session to create your character?  It can take a bit of time, and I’d like to have an opportunity to talk about the game too, so you have some information before game time.”

Welcome to Session 0.5!

It doesn’t matter if your friend is a long-time gamer, or is just starting out in the hobby, getting someone integrated into an existing roleplaying game campaign can be a struggle.  It’s even more confounding when the player or DM is new to the hobby.  One thing about playing a tabletop RPG, it takes a time investment to do it right.

It’s easiest when both parties are experienced with the game.  Now your goal is simply to integrate the character into the campaign, which comes with it’s own set of hurdles, but these are much lower and easier to navigate than with a person who has no idea how to play, what to play, or how to play it.

In this ‘best case’ or ‘total noob’ scenario I follow a few simple rules to smooth it all over.

  1. Make sure the new player has access to the rules, at a bare minimum the Player’s Handbook (or equivalent) from whatever game system you will be playing.  I tend to play OSR Retroclones, and many times there are free, no-art versions such as this one for Labyrinth Lord along with several other free-of-charge items like character sheets.  Ensure that the new player is at least passingly familiar with the terms and rules by asking them to casually read through at least the first few chapters, which will usually cover the basics of play.
  2. Spend some time discussing your game world.  Whether you utilize a pre-existing campaign environment like the Forgotten Realms, or a world of your own creation, try and cover the basic mechanics and social structure of that world so they start to feel like they are part of the story(s) that you will weave there together.
  3. Try and discuss the ‘tone’ of play, and the other folks at the game table.  If all of you already know each other than this is a no-brainer, but if this person has never met the other folks you play with it will help tremendously if they have some idea of the social structure of the table.  Can I curse?  What foods are appropriate to bring?  Try to give the new player a heads up.   People like knowing what they are walking into.
  4. Take your time with character creation.  This is really the time where the new player in your game will connect with the basic rules and possibly start to become invested in the roleplaying aspect of the game.  For experienced players, this is where they get a vibe for how the actual session will play out, and they can ask all of the pertinent questions about the game world, character background, house rules, etc.

Now, remember in the beginning when I mentioned that the game was already ‘in progress’.  That means that some story has already happened, and the characters have probably levelled a few times.  You now have a couple of things to decide.

  • At what Level are you going to start this new player?  Will they be a brand new, shiny Level 1 character, or are you going to have them keep pace at the same level as the other PC’s? I lean towards a happy medium, usually starting a new character at one or two levels LOWER than the rest of the party.  This gap usually closes quickly, gives the new player a sense of accomplishment much quicker, and doesn’t make the other players feel as though they’ve worked harder than the new guy.
  • What equipment does this character start the game with?  How about money?  Again, I try to find a happy medium.  A character above level 1 has probably had some moderate success as an adventurer, so I give them everything a starting character would have plus a few upgrades.  Maybe a better suit of armor for a Fighter or a slightly better weapon for a Thief, or an unusual spell for a Magic-user.  Maybe a small magic item, a +1 weapon or a few Potions of Healing, something to enhance the new characters survivability.  
  • Sometimes if time allows, I use this Session 0.5 to do a short bit of 1-1 roleplaying.  Perhaps I even will play out a simple combat.  This gives the experienced player an opportunity to stretch his ‘legs’ in my game world, and it gives the super-fresh new player an idea of what to expect, and playing a simple combat helps with the learning curve with regard to mechanics and rules.  Other players are usually very kind when it comes to helping a new player through their first combat, but bringing someone new to the table who already knows how to ‘roll to hit’ and deduct some HP when attacked, who knows what spells might be useful in combat or who knows to look for traps in the right circumstance can make all the difference in quick and friendly adoption by other players.

Create a  First Meeting between characters with some tension, but that immediately has the existing party and the new player working as a team.  Most commonly I have them meet at during a combat scenario, giving them no time to linger but immediately throwing them into action that requires a team effort.  A successful combat will quickly bring people/characters together.  Other useful scenarios I have used include the party being thrown into a dungeon along with the new player, or all of them being swept up magically and falling into the grasp of a powerful wizard who requires their services.  There are endless scenarios, but I lean towards those moments of great stress and common ground...these seem to really help integrate the party quickly.  The tendency is often to have everyone meet at a local inn, but this low-pressure environment can lead to slow and awkward integration, IMHO.

For those playing in online games, as I so often do, a session 0.5 is a must.  It’s usually easier to arrange, since schedules are only subject to when both folks are home and free.  Online play often has the added burden of learning how to use the interface of the game application, such as Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.  Unfamiliarity with the online interface can slow down the gameplay even more, so this is a great time to help narrow that gap as well.

However you integrate new players to your game, keep doing it!  Allowing new folks, and existing players, to join your game is how we grow as a hobby.  Sure, not every game is for everyone, and sometimes you just don’t jibe at the table (or online).  That’s fine, but as long as you’re up-front about the game you play, the people you play with, and the play environment a new person is going to be encountering, you’ve done your job.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I'm No Hero

Therin and his crew came upon the town suddenly, shocked by the stillness and the silence of the small community even though the sun had only reached its midpoint.  The streets were empty.  There were no vendors hawking wares, no children underfoot, and hardly a puff of smoke from any of the rooftops.  It was wrong.

“Pardon me masters,” came the tiny voice behind the road-worn group.  “It’s dangerous to be out now, perhaps seek solace at the inn over yonder?”

They turned to find a ragged creature of a man, thin and gaunt and hunched over, one hand shading his eyes from the bright sunlight.

“You’ve not been to Festoon before, I can tell.  Yer not afraid of being hunted, and it’ll get you killed and ate, swords or no.  They come raiding during the day, the lizard-men, and they take any they find.  High noon is a dangerous time around here.  You’d best take refuge at the inn, I’ll show you the way.”

Therin’s head tilted a bit.  “Who are these lizard-men you speak of?”

“Dwellers in the old temple, the one shaped like the head of a dragon.  The old tales speak of them, the keepers of the beast.  Long time between waking and slumber for them, but you’ve arrived during a time when they are awake, and hungry.  They come to feed themselves, and the beast, and to add gold and other finery to their hoard.”  

Therin looked at the rest of his crew.  They were half scared to death, but it was the other half he was concerned with, the half that mattered.  They had heard there was gold, and that was reason enough to follow this man.  Perhaps others at the inn had information.  Maybe Therin and his boys could help these folks, and help themselves as the gold.

The small figure shrugged.  “Fools.  That place is accursed and wretched.  Best you move on, or take refuge with us.”  He jerked suddenly and looked around nervously, hunching even further.  “Did you hear that?  They’ll be coming soon.  A crew of em from the south, from the edge of the forest.  Follow me and live.  I will take you to the inn.”

I’m no hero.  It’s true in just about every roleplaying game I’ve ever played, even the ones where I played a superhero.  It’s just not my thing.  Saving the town, defeating the evil overlord, battling the horrible monster threatening the locals are all things I’ve done, but if helping those around me was the outcome, it was merely coincidental.

I’m an Adventurer.  That’s what my characters are, anyway.  They seek gold and glory, fame and fortune.  Hero-pay sucks!  You can’t buy new gear with ‘thank yous’.  You can’t learn new spells with congratulations.  I'm an Old Grognard, and back when I was commin' up, we learned to play as Adventurers. That's why I love the OSR...for me, it's mostly about the loot!

I wasn’t introduced to D&D (back in 1981) as a game of heroes vs. villains.  It seems to me that I hear alot of chatter on the interwebs about playing ‘Heroes’  and even that characters are like ‘SuperHeroes’ because they have amazing powers.  Huh?  A level 1 fighter is a superhero?  Ok...maybe a level 10 fighter is a very capable warrior, a dangerous opponent and highly proficient with the tools of his trade, but I don’t think he’s Superman.

Look, I’m not saying you are playing the game incorrectly.  How you want to play the game is your business, and from what I can tell, business is good.  You’ll have to excuse me if I’m busy looting dead bodies and stealing this monsters pile of gold and gems after I snuck up behind him and slid my long knife into his heart (yeah I rolled a nat 20).  What?  I stopped the creature from eating more children from the village up the road?  That’s fine I guess, but it’s not why I’m here, and I’m not going back to town with the head of the beast so I can have a party...unless the head is worth a shit-load of it???

Roleplaying fills a number of needs for people.  For me, a part of why I enjoy the game is that it allows me to act, and act out, in ways that aren’t appropriate in regular, normal, everyday-world ways.  We don’t all go shoot up local drug dealers who happen to have a pile of cash in the basement because it would solve some problems in our lives.  Would I be a hero if I did?  If I rid the neighborhood of the big, bad drug dealer who turned a nice, quiet city block into a gangland of drugs and danger would I be a hero?  Maybe.  But that’s not going to happen because I’m a regular guy, with a regular life, and I enjoy my health and well-being.  My daily needs are met, I have the resources I need to live in moderate comfort, and risking my life in crazy situations is not who I am or what I do.  In the example above, Therin has made it his work.  His JOB.  He finds out where the loot is, and if some bad things are keeping it for themselves, he kills them and takes it for himself (making sure to give the boys a solid and reasonable share)

I remember playing in my first game.  Once I overcame my general nervousness and got comfortable playing, we were in a few combat situations.  I loved swinging my ‘sword’ and killing those orcs in Keep on the Borderlands, and when we finally beat the chieftain and took his treasure, I was elated.  I wasn’t getting all deep and existential about it.  I mean, what had I done?  I killed a bunch of ‘bad orcs’ and I took their loot, right?  Nothing wrong with that.  Did it help anyone , real or NPC?  No clue.   I didn’t care. My character's pockets were flush, I had a new weapon and fresh armor, and I was ready to kill my next bunch of ‘bad guys’ and take their stuff too!

Am I a bad person for not wanting to play differently?  Maybe I should treat each character as a ‘helper’, a guy who seeks out NPCs with problems they can’t fix themselves, and I should help them.  I should try and free slaves when I encounter them in a strange, make-believe city  in a magical far-away land. I might try and fight for the weak or the oppressed.  Perhaps righting wrongs is what D&D is all about, and I missed the point entirely.  Is that possible?


Check out my new uber-selfish OSR class below...and click to download

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Friday, December 16, 2016

The Untimely Death of the PC

Character death isn’t a topic we discuss frequently, but maybe we should.  Oftentimes we hear about the extreme end of it...the TPK’s (Total Party Kill), but PC’s can and do die during the normal course of play, and depending on the type of game you’re running, it can have more impact than you may think.

I’m an OSR enthusiast, so many of the games I run or play use older rulesets, or clones thereof.  Recently I had been running a Labyrinth Lord campaign, and players were asked to roll up 1 primary character, as well as a backup PC in case the first one was dispatched in some untimely event.  It happened fast.  Within the first few sessions many of the players had to pull out their backup sheet, and without hesitation started on a backup for that PC.  OSR rulesets can be brutal, but exciting, and it gives a whole new meaning to levelling when you know that death had been waiting around every corner you turned to get there.

Some rulesets are even more harsh.  For instance DCC (Dungeon Crawl Classics) has what is known as the 0-level funnel, where players are asked to have a handful of characters available, and then play them all simultaneously in a low level adventure that leaves only a handful standing.  It’s completely random and alot of fun, and since characters are simple to roll up, not much time has been invested in the PC or his/her backstory, so the blender simply pushed the cream of the crop (or luckiest) to the top.  A fun way to play, and deadly.

Newer rulesets have a somewhat long and detailed character creation process, and this investment of time and creativity on the part of the player can create an immediate bond with the character.  This is great, and it promotes some awesome roleplaying opportunities, but it also means that if your Level 1 Ranger, that guy you spent hours building and then spent even more time investing in a well thought-out background and lifepath for suddenly gets smashed by an ogre for so much damage he couldn’t possibly survive, you take it personally.  It feels like a punch to the gut.

The same thing applies to characters in any game that have obtained what you think is some sort of tenure.  These are the PC’s at level 5 or 7 or higher who have been with you for many adventures.  You fought dragons, demons, giants...but somehow he caught a bad throw of the dice, and the hit, plus the poison, plus the fire damage just all added up to so much damage so quickly that there was no coming back.  No one wants to be the player on the receiving end of the fistfull of dice that ended a long-term relationship that, at times, felt all too real.

So how should the GM handle the death of a PC?  There are options, and you’ve got to follow your gut on this one.  My personal feeling is this...without the real, possible potential for a character to die, finally and completely, the game has no risk or sense of danger.  It is this very thing that motivates players to act, or not act, and breathes a feeling of adventure into the game.  Anyone who plays in any game I run knows that I have rules for death, and I follow them.

 Some GM’s are the opposite.  These are the guys who will simply not kill the character at all, for any reason.  There always seems to be some Deus ex Machina that executes a last-minute save.  Players who know or sense that this is the way the GM is playing may take advantage of such behavior, or not, but they can always breathe easy knowing that the GM will not kill off the PC, and that can change the nature, style, or tone of the game.

There are middle-grounders.  These are the GM’s who will let you die, but make resurrection a very real and available option.  In every village, town, and city there is a cleric willing to raise the dead, usually for a price.  I’ll admit that I have used this tactic more than once, knowing that the finality of loss was possibly too much to bear. In such instances, I resort to charging the other PC’s an exorbitant fee in order to bring the dead back to life, so that the pain is felt by the group and it’s usually a group decision whether or not to revive the deceased character.

How you manage the death of a PC may depend greatly upon the game/ruleset you play.  OSR style games have a particular vibe I love, and the constant fear of PC death is definitely one of the aspects I enjoy most, probably because it makes the flip side of that coin (characters that succeed and thrive) so much more enjoyable.  5e has a somewhat deeper approach to character creation (notice I don’t say ‘builds’, I’m not a fan of that term), and while I have played in games where character death was possible, it seemed unlikely given that game’s approach to death saves and such.  It’s not impossible for a character to die in a 5e game, but their odds of survival seem far better than in some other games.

Whatever your approach is to character death as a GM, I feel like there should be some guidelines.

  1. Always let the players know how PC death works in your game.  Surprises, in this instance, are not a good thing.
  2. Fudging is a real thing, and can be used by the GM to save the PC, but overuse may lead to a feeling of invulnerability on the part of the players, and have overall negative consequences for gameplay
  3. Make character death, especially at higher levels, a true ‘moment’ in your gaming experience.  Bring some fireworks to bear, and let the player revel in his moment.

There are endless house-ruling options for Character Death.  I use a pretty basic one:

If a character falls 10 points below zero + his/her CON modifier, they must make a death save (essentially a CON save + bonus).  A successful save means the character is unconscious and is in the process of dying and has 3 rounds to be healed (via cleric, magic item, or potion) before expiring.  A failed saving throw is instant death.  

It’s simple, easy to understand, and I think gives the character an opportunity to escape death’s cold grip.  I like that it has the element of randomness (the save) as well as the drama of the big finish.

A player may become very upset at losing a character, especially one they’ve been playing for a long time.  If that person needs time/space to breathe I give it to them, but I won’t stop a game in mid-play.  It is, after all, just a game.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Return of the Stomper!

Happy Holidays fellow roleplayers!  It is I, once again, back from a rather long hiatus to bring you all the news that's unfit to print in any respectable media.  I know I've been off the radar for a few months.  It's been a busy time.  Changes at home and a uptick in the work schedule and suddenly I found myself totally neglecting my blog.  Sure, you may have caught a rare sighting of me on G+, or if you follow my twitter handle @Goblin_Stomper you will have seen me tweet, but I knew that it was this blog post you've really been waiting for.

Or not.

But no matter.  I'm back, and that's the important thing.  The plan is to keep posting, and now that things have settled a bit, I feel confident that it's a promise I can keep (until the next great upheaval).

This post will be something of a two-fer.  I've got a bit of a sore-spot I want to rant a bit about, but right after that, I'm gonna drop a fresh magic item on you, so that you won't feel as though you've completely wasted your time with me today.

I recently joined a small, but interesting, group of folks on #Slack.  They have a new webpage here  The concept of the group is a good one, with a focus on helping newer DM's with the process of learning how to operate, as well as giving older DM's an opportunity to hash out ideas and concepts.  Seems like a good idea, right?  I mean, back when I was was learning the game, the DM's (myself included) simply stumbled and bumbled our way through those chapters in the books, eventually discovering that we either had a knack for it, and enjoyed the process of creation and storytelling, or maybe that we weren't cut out to be that guy and instead became die-hard players.  Nothing wrong with either path, or walking along both.  My time on the channel has been short but fun and enlightening.  It's always good to connect more closely with fellow DM's than via a wide net app like twitter or G+ where the conversations are short and to the point, not usually giving way to a deeper discussion.

Yesterday I had a very interesting and enlightening discussion with a member of the group.  While we don't disclose much personal info on the channel, I would guess from the context of the conversation that the person was young, female, and possibly a member of the LGBTQ community...but these are all suppositions, and honestly don't matter all that much with regard to how I conversed or what I said.  Some of those things may, however, have had an impact on one aspect of the discussion, and it's one that's been stuck in my craw all night...that person might be pleased or displeased with this info...not sure ;)

They mentioned that the DM was responsible for the table, all of it, in game and out.  That the DM was completely in charge and should care how everyone felt, control what was (and was not) acceptable language or behavior, and should be creating as safe and inclusive a gaming environment as possible.  Another member of the group suggested that perhaps this individual was referring to more public gaming, such as at cons, or in a public space like a school, but the person quickly made sure that we understood that he/she meant everywhere.

I took issue with that, and here are the reasons why...

1) It's my game, I'm running it, and I should have the right to decide who I do and don't want to play with (as should anyone)

2) I cannot control the behavior of others, the thoughts of others, or the attitudes of other people.  If a person, a player, doesn't mesh well with the game or other players AND/OR is disrupting the game (and the rest of us aren't having fun), I reserve the right to terminate that relationship (assuming I am both GM and HOST of the game...obviously not my house, not my rules, but that's another issue altogether)

3) No one, no individual or body, should have the right to impose upon me their idea of how a game should be played, how the people at that game should interact on a social level, or what that game represents (assuming it represents anything at all).  I can play any game, any way I like as long as everyone at the table agrees to the same.

4) Just don't tell me what I have to do or how I have to run my game.  If you don't pay me, you have no say.  You probably wouldn't want me to tell you what you should do, would you?  You want the freedom to feel happy and relaxed and run or play your game in a way or in a place that you enjoy, right?

5) Because you BELIEVE something is right does not make it so.  Because you FEEL a certain way does not mean I feel the same way, or that I even have the ability to empathize with you.  I'd like to think I can in most situations, but sometimes life has a way of putting you solidly on the other side of the fence, and there's just no way for you to see over or past it.  That's a drag, but it's my truth.

How was I enlightened?  I guess I hadn't realized that there were folks out who thought that DM's were 100% responsible for what happens at the table.  That if someone had their feelings hurt, or didn't have a good time, that I was totally responsible for that.  It was my fault.  I am to blame.  It's alot of guilt and alot of responsibility.  I'm not sure how many folks think this way, but based on the #Slack conversation there are folks at the extreme end of the view, and many more in the middle.

I'd like to think that I give everyone a fair shake when I run a game.  I've had bad players as a DM, I've had bad DM's as a player, and I've probably been someone else's 'bad' on both counts.  It's fine.  I don't have to play with everyone and they don't have to play with me.  If a woman plays with me and my group, and she doesn't want to hear a particular word she doesn't like because it upsets her...tough shit.  Seriously.  Anyone is welcome to play with me, and I make it clear that I play a grown up, sometimes harsh, sometime provocative game.  I debrief any new or potential player before they play with me and my group.  Do I adjust play style or behavior for very particular or possibly public situations?  Of course.  But my private games are just that, private.  So if a word or phrase bothers you, no matter what that means, you shouldn't play with me in a private game session.  I don't WANT to upset you or hurt your feelings.  You've been warned.  It's a social gathering of friends, and I want everyone to feel open and safe when it comes to their right to free speech, regardless of what you say.  BOOM!  yup...I totally said that.

In the end we didn't agree, the other #slack member and I.  In the end we simply nodded at each other and walked away.  I'd like to say I respect the other persons opinion, but that would be a lie.  I think they have the right to their opinion, but their opinion kinda stinks.  If I were a betting man I'd say the other party felt the same, but we both acted like adults and agreed to disagree.  I guess, in the end, this may be the most important long as it remains so.

That's it.  That's the rant.  People will now tell me how I have to be nice to everyone and make sure I only say the words poeple are ok with and not say the words people don't like...go ahead.  The comments are open.  Hit me up on twitter or G+.  Feel free to give me an's cool.  If you do it in a nice way, we too will be able to nod and walk away peacefully, disagreeing but having been heard (I hope).

Oh..wait...I promised you a magic item...


The Pendant of Pedant!

Jyles, the lord of Guiollane was a simple man, a warrior of great renown but a fellow of average intelligence and not much charisma.  Knowing that he would someday be forced to take his fathers place and rule his small kingdom caused him no end of consternation.  He simply wanted to sit with his friends around a small table, eat until full, drink until drunk, listen to the minstrels play and enjoy the small pleasures in life.  Instead, he knew that what lay before him was a life filled with one boring party with the social elite after another.  Oh, it was easy enough to excuse himself while his father held the reigns of power, but the old fellow was sick now, and soon Jyles would be forced to step into those shoes and hobnob with educated, well read men and women who would make him feel the fool.

His father, realizing the plight of his son, called him to his bed on a day near his last.

"I too was like you my boy.  I had no eye for the books, only the sword, and my cups, and of course your mother.  She was a good woman son, and she knew that a life among the wealthy and educated would be the end of me, so she called upon a wizard of Elbion, that black cesspool of a city to the north filled with Mages and Sages, Poets and Playwrights, and their debauched hangers-on...she knew that it was magic I needed to endure my rule.

It was this necklace of gold and silver and precious diamond, the one I always wear on occasions where court was in session and those who would see themselves as my betters swarmed around me and looked to take advantage of our kind and simple nature. It gave me the courage to walk among them, to speak as they did, and to match wits with the best of them.  It is yours now.  Take it from around my weary neck and place it upon your own.  This is no gift, my son, but a burden.  I am sorry that I must now pass it on to you, but I know that you will need it if you will make your way here, and at the court of the Sapphire Throne where sits the High King.  Good luck my son, and rule well"

Properties of the Pendant of Pedant

This magical necklace will imbue the wearer with a quick wit and any knowledge required to take part in any conversation.  While it does not boost intelligence or charisma, it creates an aura which surrounds the wearer in a cloak of understanding and believability.  The wearer will never be thought a fool while wearing the Pendant of Pedant, though he may seem a bit ostentatious.

+5 to all diplomacy checks or any check where the wearer is engaging in conversation above/beyond the wearers normal understanding.

Friday, October 14, 2016

We All Have Our Own Appendix N

The famous, or perhaps infamous, Appendix N.  The list of recommended reading list created by the godfather of gaming, E. Gary Gygax.  It's a living list, a group of books and authors that grows and changes with each new generation that discovers it.

When I started playing D&D back in 1981/82 I was already deeply mired in my own fantasy reading list that had started years earlier in elementary school.  Reading had always been important to me, and writing as well, and once I had a grasp of the basics in 1st grade I began losing myself deeply in the books that were available.

Books from early grade school had a huge impact on the direction my reading-life would take.  Early on the classics were a staple, books like Encyclopedia Brown, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, and The Furious Flycycle were some of the titles that had an early impact on my taste in books.

I'm skipping over all of the very early reading, the Little Golden books filled with Sesame Street characters like my all time favorite, The Monster at the End of this Book (which I won't spoil, but the monster at the end was one of the best!), but i'm not discounting that these books may have had an impact as's hard to say.

It was in middle school (6th-8th grades) where I feel my most important development as a reader began, and of course this coincided with my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons.  The strange young adult fiction of the 1970'd still permeated the library, where most of my reading material originated.  I remember a few particularly unique reads, including a book entitled Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, a book that had a powerful impact on me.

It was during these years that I discovered many of the staples of fantasy including The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Prydain, and a Wrinkle in Time along with others.  I remember riding my bike to Encore Books to buy my copies of David Eddings Belgariad, a series of books that had tremendous impact on me as a reader and now as a player.  His characters were so rich and real to me that they shaped how I played many of my early characters (especially my thieves, thank you Silk!).

By the time I found myself in high school I was voracious as a reader.  My room was littered with books, bookshelves stuffed with row after row of fantasy novels.  It was during this time that I both looked back and moved forward, reading Moorcock, Zelazny, Donaldson, the more advanced Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Steven Brust, Terry Brooks, R.E Howard, Lovecraft...the 1980's were a great time to be a Fantasy book geek.  The 1970's had produced psychedelic, twisted tales of fantasy and the 1980's were rich with books that 'grounded' fantasy a much of it a feel not unlike what my weekend D&D sessions were beginning to feel like.  Sure, it was all make-believe, but sword-swinging and spell-slinging as a character was more like Brust and less like Moorcock.  High Fantasy was great to read, but tough to reproduce with the AD&D books we were now using at the table.

It was early in High School when I acquired my DMG (the 1979 1st ed version), and found Appendix N.   How odd it was missing so much (or so I thought) and I had long since moved beyond most of it.  Still, it turned me on to Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, who I hadn't yet stumbled into.  It was wonderful to touch on the books in the list that had such a huge impact on the game material (the Vancian magic that permeates D&D is directly derived from the Dying Earth series, and who can forget all of the great entries in Deities & Demigods including Leibers!).

Kids entering the RPG scene now have 2+ decades of literature on top of my own experience, much of it aimed at a YA audience.  I didn't have the advantage of YA lit, it was either for kids, or for adults, and we just crossed over from one place to the other...anything landing squarely in the middle had no real affiliation.  Fantasy and Science fiction lit wasn't popular in the mainstream either, but today it lives in all of our media.  What's bigger than Harry Potter or Percy Jackson?!

Everyone's  Appendix N is different and unique.  It would shock me to find a player of D&D or other RPG's, young or old, who didn't also share of love of reading.  Lot's of folks love to discuss and grow the appendix, here is a fresh look at the new one which lists many additions since the original.  I love that books that take place in the D&D multiverse appear as well!  How better to experience play outside the game than to read a well-written novel BASED on that very same place!

It's a living document, my own personal Appendix N.   I hope your is too!  Happy reading...