Sunday, October 25, 2020

Be The DM, 1

 OK, I've run plenty of games and I've talked with and read the thoughts of many other DM's. One thing is certain; No two DM's are the same.

I have seen those opposed to any kind of storyboarding at all (they call anything that isn't completely player oriented as being railroading) and I have seen those who believe Players really only want to be directed through an adventure ala a train conductor.

Ultimately, there isn't even one way to play.  One for the experience.  The adventure IS the reward.  Another where there is something to win, a goal to reach, an objective to achieve.

People play games for both reasons.  To just relax and have fun as well as to win or compete or overcome a challenge.  Some like to combine the two.  enjoy the ride while achieving something specific.  It doesn't have to be one or the other, although it can be.

The thing is, if you're going to be all one or the other, you need to make sure all the players are in agreement with that.  If some are all about the experience and don't care about "winning" and some are all about winning specifically, it isn't going to be a great game for everyone.

It's not a good idea to be dismissive of either approach.  As a DM, I run games based on the AD&D1e/OSRIC game and rule systems.  This is non-negotiable.  I have no problem with people wanting to play another game system or type, but I won't be the DM.  I don't always have to be the DM.  It's like playing poker for me, the dealer chooses the game they want to deal.  Everyone can take turns being the dealer.  I think that brings more fun and diversity to a group of gamers.

Here's the issue with that when it comes to RPG...  Not everyone wants to take a turn as the dealer.  Not everyone wants to be the DM. Not everyone is a good DM even if they want to do it.  I think it's like public speaking in a way.  It can be very intimidating, even a fearful experience to some people.

So usually only a few people are the DM, and more often than not, it usually ends up being one person in the group with everyone else preferring to be a Player instead. 

So yes, the DM picks the game they are going to run.  the choice the Players get is whether to sit that one out until someone else's turn comes up to run a different game or they take a turn as DM themself.  Part of the fun of being a DM is getting to build something and see it run.  I think of it as kind of like setting up a domino run or even a model railroad and then setting the train on the track or tipping the first domino and see what happens.  There's something very cool in that.

In my experience, most Players want to win a game.  They make up the majority of players.  They want to defeat an great opponent, overcome some great adversity, win lots of points and rewards and somehow come out a "winner".  Whether it's as part of a team effort or individually, they want measurable success.

The recreational roleplayers are enthusiasts.  They want to poke and probe.  To inspect and interact. They see an adventure as the more they get to play at the character and the environment they are thrown into, the more fun and successful it is.  They really don't care about rewards and points and impressive feats and setting records.  They don't want trophies.  They just want to play.  They get bored easily and the more storyboarding there is, the less they like it.

As for me, I want to appeal to both aspects as much as possible because I can see the benefits of both.  I want to try to give as much and get the best of both worlds as much as possible.  That's a tall order.  It's not easy to accomplish and it requires Players who ar flexible on either side.

If there's any Players I dislike DMing for, it's inflexible ones. To me, it defeats the point of RPGs to begin with.  TO me, to have any interest in RPGs is to be flexible minded to begin with.

SO, when I run games, there is some storyboarding.  It helps set the stage.  It gives depth to the characters and places the the Players interact with.  It helps build suspense and even build some emotional investment into the experience.

It makes the roleplaying part of the game more interesting, more to explore with more meaning to it while at the same time, giving Players something to achieve.  It provides purpose and something to "win" at at the same time.

I don't like to make things necessarily exclusive.  Like, there's not just one way to solve a problem or fix something or even to "win".  What I try to do is create opportunities.  Put them out there to be explored and attempted.  If Players take them up, great.  If they don't, other opportunities are just around the corner.

THEN.  And this I think is important.  I keep track of achievements.  I have a "record book" like "Least arrows fired to kill a Balrog" or "Most goblins killed singlehandedly."  This gives Players over a period of time to have bragging rights for favorite characters and have memorable moments.

Players like to have shared experiences.  But if all the experiences are mundane and unmemorable, then what's the point?  This is the essence of the game. The fun of being the DM is creating those moments and having Players enjoy the experiences you provide.

Logitistics in Gaming

Games in general, and I think RPG's in particular, are about escapism.  When we watch a movie or read a book, etc...  We want to follow the "good stuff."  What we don't care about is how many times they used the bathroom, if they had or found toilet paper, brushed their teeth, had toothpaste, etc...

The logistics of life is not only uninteresting, it brings with it the reminder of day to day details we are already stressing out about and want to escape.  It prevents us from fully investing our self into the movie, book, game, etc... 

One thing about games is that we are there to be a hero.  We want to be larger than life. Worrying about if we brought enough candles, paper for mapmaking, etc... is not part of that excitement.

Now, yes, epic moments are defined by the details.  That last minute scramble to find just one more weapon once all the arrows have been shot out.  The rotten luck when the last torch gutters out just before you turn the corner as you head toward that hideous sound.  Those are the moments that build excitement.  They build nervous tension that is thrilling and concerning at the same time.

But, too much of that is counterproductive.  To be honest, the only time those details are even important to include in the activity of the game are when it's about to be important.  Most of those instances are heavily dependent on timing.  I mean, literally, keeping track of time.  Usually the number one most forgotten or mishandled aspect of the game.

So how do I deal with the details during a game?  First, I operate on the assumption that if it isn't specified in the adventure/story guide, it didn't happen.  Then I add that if the Players don't specify an action or detail, it didn't happen.
Third, I allow for certain "general conditions".  Such as, when Players say they are going to "make camp" at a certain point, that automatically assumes things like digging a latrine, setting up whatever sleeping utilities like tents, bed rolls, etc..., if they have them, are being done. I will tell them to check their "Camp status" to have them make sure they have what they have or not then move on.  

It is incumbent upon Players to declare they have done something like collect firewood or set up an altar, etc.. or it didn't happen.  No firewood means no campfire.  Just an automatic given.  I keep an erasable whiteboard with checklists for things like "campfire made".  Then, I include these factors when I roll for random factors like attacks, spells cast, etc...

Of course, I explain all of these things at the onset of a new game.  Basically, it's the equivalent of "If there's no pics, it didn't happen."  If they don't declare it, it didn't happen.  And like so many things, it can and will be used against you, so to speak.   

Again, no one likes to think of details like going to the bathroom or brushing teeth or collecting firewood.  in a game, so much time is spent verbalizing action.  the saying is true, a 5 mile trek takes 5 minutes, a 5 minute battle takes 5 hours.  Logistics details bog all that down and aren't interesting but can potentially be vital.  I just simplify them by grouping them and assuming they did happen as a matter of course, or they didn't happen as they relate to the action.

So, made camp includes a lot of assumed details.  Not declaring to go retrieve bolts or arrows after an action means there aren't any more left to fire beyond what was accounted for during the action.  So if they fired 8 of 10 arrows but after the battle the Player doesn't declare retrieving them, then afterwards, they only have 2 arrows left.

Also, things like going to the bathroom, etc... happen during camp time as assumed.  There's nothing of relevance to activity involved in that unless the adventure refers to it or something like a spell is cast that affects it and further action.

My DM whiteboard lists help keep me apprised of the current status of things and what I can ignore or focus on as I go on.  

Heroes are made when the details come into play.  Ran out of arrows and didn't retrieve them? You either die or you get creative.  What will you do when the details come for you?

Where is Willam Bell?

 Willam Bell is a primary NPC in my city named "New Edinburgh".  The notable Mr. Bell (whom I envision looking like the Actor Tobin Bell, along with his characteristic intensity and brooding.  Willam is a man of self made means and is a somewhat important figure in the city.  His business is to handle maintenance and caretaking of several residential and commercial properties.

However, his reputation is in the handling of rather "special" properties.  Those that tend to be troubled as he likes to refer to them.  These may be haunted or the sites of horrible activities.  They may be hot spots for various and sundry monsters to prefer to collect and antagonize.  However, it is his job to keep these places as problem free as they can be.  In a city like New Edinburgh, that tends to make for a LOT of properties and not an easy job to do.

Mr. Bell notoriously hires out a lot of work to adventurous types in the area.  These are people who tend to be more willing to take on more frightening and even hazardous tasks.  They also have a tendency to not have anyone miss them them if they don't show up again.  Mr. Bell is not totally without morals, but he tends to be very pragmatic about such things.

Notable among the properties he is caretaker for are 4 haunted mansions, 2 insane asylums, 3 former prisons, 18 houses of more than modest means but perhaps not mansions, and one actual old castle that still is in some limited use by the the Count who has made New Edinburgh his official seat.  The Count does not live in the castle, he has a new one for that, but he does conduct business occasionally and some formal ceremonies and services in the old castle which while old, and in the care of Mr. Bell, is not broken down or dilapidated.

The properties in Willam's care are not all always in a negative condition.  In fact, most of them are quite benign if troubled at all. This is in large part to to Willam's efforts to keep them properly.  However, some of them are perpetually "troubled" to some degree.  Mostly due to the nature of their conditions upon coming into his care.  They rather refuse to be entirely tamed.  He tolerates a certain amount of "naughtiness" in these places as a basis that it likely has never been able to be brought into any lesser state of control.

Two of the prisons and one of the asylums are usually actively "naughty" as he refers to them but to a non-lethal degree, usually.  He will not tolerate his employees or visitors being killed wantonly.  The third prison and the second asylum are perpetually kept closed down as he cannot seem to get them actively under control enough to prevent people from being killed in them.  Yet.  He continues to try to tame them as he manages to keep them in running order.

One of the mansions is in the same, latter category of ill repute and has such a reputation as being actively malicious.  It particularly seems to dislike Mr. Bell and actively makes the effort to kill him anytime he is there.  He always manages to stay one step ahead though. A hard man and a hard man to kill is Mr. Willam Bell.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

New Edinburgh

 New Edinburgh is a city that is old and odd.  Not only does it have a unique population that brings all the common races of humans, elves, dwarves, half-orcs, and others together in one teeming place, it is a mecca of old and odd religions, cults, covens, and more.  Every God, Devil and mysterious monster that ever inspired a following has a church, altar, temple, or otherwise designated place of worship and sacrifice.

Being located as it is with the ocean on the East, mountains to the North, swampland to the South and arid desert to the West.  The river runs from the North-East to the South Central and beyond.  It accommodates just about everyone and everything.  Part of what makes it appealing to such a variety of people and creatures. 

 One of the notable characters in New Edinburgh is Willam Bell.  Willam is a small business person who does maintenance and care-taking of many properties.  He is a known element among the adventurous types in the area for having a need to hire "contractors" for many extremely odd jobs having to do with the buildings he takes care of.  Everything from "pest control" of creatures that infest homes to finding interesting and difficult-to-obtain materials he needs are what he hires casual adventurer who may be on a mission but can use some extra income or materials while they are in New Edinburgh.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

A Literary Example For The Geomancer

I posted some time ago of the PC class of Geomancer, a magic user that gets the power for their magic from gems and stones.

Author Larry Correia has a fantasy book series called the "Saga of the Forgotten Warrior."  in the books, a group of evil wizard assasins plague the hero.

Interestingly enough, they get their powers not from communing with nature, praying to gods or studying scrolls.  No, these wizards use bits of a material called "black steel" or from the body parts of creatures they call demons to power their spells which crumble into dust upon completion of the spell.

Replace black steel and demon bits with gems and stones and you have a fascinating representation of the Geomancer.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


As magic swords go, Valentoric was a most unusual weapon.  Not in that it was an intelligent sword, there are a number of those to one degree or another.  No, Valentoric was one of a kind.  It was made specifically for a Ranger long ago and could only be wielded by a very select person who among other things,  must be a Ranger.

Valentoric is extremely judgemental.  Not just anyone will be allowed to hold it let alone use it.  If a potential wielder should pick it up, Valentoric would immediately assess that individual's traits.  If their alignment was Evil, it would cause burns and possess that wielders mind, literally taking control of their body and cause severe damage and even death by causing them to stab and hack themselves viciously.

If the potential wielder was of Good alignment, their Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, and Charisma traits would be judged immediately upon grasping the hilt.  If any of those were found lacking (less than that of the sword's own) that individual would not be able to so much as budge the sword from its place.

The sword, an elegant and intricately designed and decorated longsword, was a composite of 70/30 cold forged steel and silver.  Because of the silver in it, it was a +3 vs lycanthropes.

Valentoric was enchanted with a Protection From Evil spell that warded Evil aligned creatures to stay at least 10 feet away.  It also caused the sword to glow if Evil aligned creatures came within 20 feet.

Lastly, the sword had an extra enchantment that caused it to do +3 vs all Evil aligned creatures and humanoids.  In addition, it has been further enchanted to always stay as sharp as it can possibly be.  

Valentoric can and will augment it's rightful bearers strength and dexterity while drawn and held.  This causes it to be +2 vs any non Evil aligned foe.

While it seems that Valentoric is a very powerful sword, and it is, it is also a very demanding sword.  Valentoric insists that it's bearer always be an honorable person.  If the sword thinks the bearer may have acted dishonorably, it might react by arguing with the bearer and withholding all enchantment until it is persuaded otherwise to refusing to be borne by the offending Ranger and rejecting them entirely.  This development will cause the sword to seek a new bearer to partner with.

The voice an approved bearer will hear in their head, as others cannot experience the mental bond it creates, sounds remarkably like Sean Connery and is a very strong personality.

Over a period of time, bearers will go insane with a 33% likelihood in the first month (roll once a day each of the first 30 days) and if they don't, eventually accept the sword as their most true and best friend and ally.  They may seem insane to others by talking to, even arguing with, what seems to be an inanimate object to those unaware of the situation.

Once they make it successfully beyond the first month, the bond is for life unless the bearer offends the sword with a dishonorable action or upon the death of the Ranger.  In the case of death, the sword will not be wielded by anyone for one year afterward.

Valentoric's trait scores are 16 across the board.  If a potential bearer exceeds that, the sword accepts them as the "leader".  If the bearer is equal, the sword might accept them as bearer but will always treat the bearer as an equal and attempt to take over in situations it believes itself to be superior.

The sword is currently entombed in a chest in a cavern hidden beneath a waterfall guarded by monsters and traps.  There aren't really too many of either because really, the sword itself is its own best defense.  

Valentoric can be likely to choose anyone, from any experience level, race, etc... as its bearer, as long as they meet its basic conditions that the potential bearer be a Ranger and be found worthy to wield it.

The sword has a "Keeper", a Druid, selected to collect the sword upon a bearers death (or rejection) and return it to the cavern beneath the falls.  The Keeper is not so much a guardian as it is the caretaker of the sword when it is without a bearer and its historian. The Keeper has an apprentice that is trained to take over upon their own death.  

There is always one Keeper in the cavern and one apprentice. Neither will fight to defend the sword. They will allow each would be bearer to make the attempt, providing warnings and information as necessary.  Only the Keeper is allowed to hold or carry the sword to clean it and place it back in its resting place but can never wield it as a weapon.

On Devils and Demons In My World

I have a pretty direct approach to handling Devils and Demons when I run 1e/OSRIC games.

Devils are Lawful Evil.   They are all about concentration of power and "the deal".  They want more creatures under their control and consider themselves top tier chess masters.  They LOVE to think they can outsmart or swindle their way into anything. 

They'll use every dirty trick and back stab available to them but because they do put so much stock into playing by rules, they must honor the outcomes whether they like it or not and they almost never like getting bested or outmaneuvered.

Demons are Chaotic Evil.  They couldn't care less about rules.  They are all about fear and intimidation.   They can't help but show off and grandstand if it will scare the shit out of their victims even more.

To beat a devil, especially the higher devils, its about being able to outwit them.  Some would say the only intelligent way to beat a Devil at a game is not to play the game in the first place.  Always a wise decision.  But sometimes, Devils get one playing without one realizing it.  Thats when wit and craftiness are your best and usually only hope.  Except maybe for divine interference.

The main way to beat a demon is to have a stronger will and determination than they do.  They have a relatively low force of will reflected by a low to mid range Charisma score.  PC's with higher Charisma scores and have something to back themselves up in terms of being a credible threat to a demon can banish them

Demons are impatient and get riled up easily.  Devils tend to be aloof and always wearing a poker face.

When, as the DM, I play a Devil or Demon NPC, I think of those traits and try to role play as close as possible to them.  Obviously each Devil or Demon has its own personality that encompasses these traits to greater or lesser degrees.  For example, Asmodeus will be a much different character than Beelzebub.

Also, when it comes to Devils trying to claim someones "soul", I play it that if a Devil wins, its essentially like having a permanent geas on the PC.  Devils are always looking for agents to carry out tasks that may or may not make sense to the PC but falls into some devious plot the Devil has nefariously crafted.   Its all about control and the more pawns they collect, the greater their power.