REVIEW:5e Adventure Path Curse of Strahd

*Hey guys! Melvin here. Please remember that there is still time to head over to the Acadecon 2016 Kickstarter to get your badge to meet me, and plenty of even cooler people, in Ohio this November! Can’t make the trip? Grab four friends and pick up a virtual game run by myself or one of the other special GMs available!*

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Curse of Strahd is the newest Adventure Path out from Wizards of the Coast, this time in partnership with the original minds behind the iconic vampire lord, Tracy & Laura Hickman. Essentially an updated, and certainly expanded, version of the I6 adventure “Ravenloft”, Curse of Strahd hits the nostalgia levels on all points. If you have a place in your heart for this compelling story of love, despair, and jealousy (mixed with truly unnerving supernatural mystery) you’ll certainly enjoy the update. So if you’ve never had the chance to experience I6, or maybe you have and feel compelled to run the game this book is for you! Those content to merely play the game? I can’t see a compelling reason you’d ever pick up this book beyond enjoying a well crafted product for Dungeon Masters.

If you’ve never had a chance to delve into the world of Ravenloft, or have never met its ultimate baddie Strahd von Zarovich, your players’ characters will be introduced to a cursed realm. The terrified populace of Barovia cowers under Strahd and the dark monstrosities that roam nightly to keep all in check. The adventurers will find themselves ensnared by whatever curses the place, and even more horrifying they will discover that the vampire lord himself takes pleasure in their vain attempts. He knows they are there, he fears them not, and he delights in orchestrating their demise. Their only hope is to take heed of the warnings issued by a mysterious fortune teller, and hopefully discover the means to put Strahd down.

Village of Barovia

Curse of Strahd is gorgeously laid out, has fantastic artwork, and really expands on the original module without taking anything away. I feel like a Dungeon Master would have some real fun running this game for their table. They’ll find the book easy to navigate and will likely find some perverse joy at throwing the supernatural threats within at the player characters. I simply love the eerie feeling to the adventure. I feel the best part of this book is the attention to detail reserved to mapping the adventure. Strahd’s castle is a crazy 45 pages worth of content! I’d also like to point out that many of the encounters within could easily be remapped for use outside of this adventure path. The organization of the book can’t be lauded enough (I think this is roughly the third time I’ve mentioned this fact).

Taroka Deck

Your players will need certain details (location of a powerful weapon, symbols of power, etc.) before they can finally attack the dreaded lord of the realm and that is where fortune telling and a chance meeting with Madam Eva and her Taroka Deck.  The work done to bring the Taroka Deck into the game is great. It randomizes every delve into Curse of Strahd, thus ensuring this Adventure Path actually has what few Pre-Written adventure do, a replay value. I’ve had a chance to see the actual Taroka Deck put out by Wizards of the Coast and it would be an excellent companion purchase with Curse of Strahd. The deck adds something special to the game, and comes with rules for its own card game. Don’t despair though, a standard deck of cards will suffice.

My only complaint is what I alluded to in my introduction. There’s nothing in this book for players beyond one background (Haunted One), a new pack (Monster Hunter’s Pack), and some new “Gothic” trinkets. The Haunted One background is a very well crafted and fits the scene well but man is that a thin offering for a book tied to the Ravenloft Campaign setting. There are a vast quantity of races, classes, and other character options out there to bring to 5e but this book has none of it. My only hope is that we get something Ravenloft specific down the line to explain the absence here.

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If you’re a Dumgeon Master looking to bring some Gothic horror to your 5e D&D table, this is most certainly the place to go. I highly suggest picking it up. Another quality entry into 5e’s Adventure Path line.

Curse of Strahd
Retail: US $49.95 CAN $63.95

BONUS REVIEW: THE SONG OF ARACOS

Song of Aracos

From Ember Design Studios LLC. author Lucas Curell, The Song of Aracos is considered to be a companion piece to Curse of Strahd that takes a paragraph from the introduction in CoS, written by Tracy Hickman, to heart…

“Strahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it – he travels as he desires to any place in his realm or his castle, and (from his perspective) the more often he encounters the characters, the better. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter…”

— Curse of Strahd pg 10

The adventure is a ghost story, written for five characters of 6th-level and centers on a child’s struggle to reunite with her mother. After an introductory piece of fiction, that perfectly fits the Ravenloft flair I love, the adventure starts right out of the gate with some action with an encounter that makes pulling the players into the story-line easy for the DM. From there the players are led down the rabbit hole of helping not only another man recently trapped in Strahd’s realm but a spirit in need of respite. The trouble is, Strahd is well aware of the character’s movements and of those who seek their aid, and he is not one to lay dormant as the playthings in his interest make their moves.

Curell weaves elements of the main Adventure Path into his adventure with deftness, you’ll never feel that your playing through something not of WotC’s make. He even includes the randomization of the Taroka Deck. The setting, and NPCs involved all fit perfectly with Strahd just as terrifying as ever. Adding in a win and lose circumstance for the players matches up well with the way such things are handled within the actual Adventure Path. I especially like the potential rewards that players can obtain from doing well.

In my opinion this is a must have for anyone planning to run Curse of Strahd for their table, though it can be used as a stand alone adventure. Honestly, it’s a perfect example of what a great idea it was for Wizards of the Coast to open up their content for talented creators through the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Head on over and pick it up!

The Song of Aracos is available via the Dungeon Master’s Guild\Drive Thru RPG for $4.95

-Melvs

 

 

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AcadeCon 2016: Leveling Up!

2016 flyer

Kickstarter Link

More than a year ago I found myself lucky enough to have been introduced to Michael and Caleb over at The RPG Academy and, by happenstance, join them on a few recorded actual plays, namely featuring projects introducing themselves to the world via Kickstarter. At the time The RPG Academy was doing pretty well for itself as a Podcast, but it was also pretty apparent that these two guys wanted to do more. Honestly, as someone who barely keeps up with Melvin Smif’s Geekery and my games stewardship work I have a hard time fathoming the work put into “just” a podcast, let alone tacking more on top of that. They had the hunger though, that much was easily visible.

In late 2014 I made a promise that I’d attend their 2015 AcadeCon convention. It sounded great to me, even if it was set to simply be held in one of their basements. I mean, Ohio was only about 4-5 hours away and I wanted to meet these guys face to face. Then… the rest of 2015 happened. Suddenly I’m an early member of The RPG Academy Network, and soon following I find they have bigger and better plans for AcadeCon than I could guess. A date is set, a venue (beyond the basement) is chosen, a Kickstarter is set up, and AcadeCon 2015: Into the Wilds is suddenly upon me roughly a year after I started even speaking with these two guys who I now considered fast friends.

Acadecon

AcadeCon 2015 was wonderful, a perfectly secluded gaming retreat that the new AcadeCon attendees of this year and future years will always kick themselves for missing out on. Truly it will be the “I was there when” place for AcadeCon. I adored the Hueston Lodge and wish I could get a few more years there but, as I’ve come to find with Michael and Caleb, the bar needs to be raised. This year things are growing, not too fast but we are certainly going to see a bigger, better convention. I for one am more than excited for the growth.

They don’t have it yet though, that’s where you all come into play. You see, for a convention to be successful you certainly need the things they already have lined up, merchants, a crazy fine list of special guests, a dedicated staff, a great venue, etc. They just need one last thing…you. The last puzzle piece to making AcadeCon 2016 as fantastic as possible is to rustle up some actual attendees!

The Kickstarter can do the best job of detailing everything you need to know about the convention on a macro level, like its truly inspirational abundance of special guests (I know I mentioned this before but it is really staggering all the cool folks they have lined up), but I want to mention a few things Melvin Smif’s Geekery specific you can enjoy.

  • The number one thing is that I’ll be there in the flesh if you’ve every wanted to meet me…or use me as a gateway to meeting someone else I know :P. To add to this I’m going to run something or many things depending on how things shake out. Hell, this year I’m bringing my Warmachine faction so if you’d like to whoop up on some elves come fight my RoS!
  • I’ll be running a contest connected to AcadeCon again, though I haven’t decided what that will entail just yet. So keep your eyes on the blog! Attendance of the Con won’t be necessary of course but it’d be awesome to hand you the prize(s) in person!
  • I’m one of the folks you can choose to run a virtual game for you and some friends. You can see it on the KS page but essentially for $100 (up to 5 people) I’ll run at LEAST a one shot adventure online for you all. If you buy my services we’ll chat about what we want to play, I’m open to just about any system, and set a date! I’m willing to travel a bit for this too mind you, if you live close enough I’ll show up in person.

This year is going to be awesome, I just know it. Can’t wait to see you there!

-Melvs

 

Unboxing & Review: FAITH The Sci-Fi RPG

The Book

Last night I finally got around to completing my Unboxing of this unique RPG. I’ll jump right to the meat of it, here’s the link.

 

 

Now, this was a great chance for you to see some of the excellent craftsmanship that went into this game (and a little plug for AcadeCon of course). I make no secret in the video that I feel this product is of the up-most quality. However! Doing a blind Unboxing like that has its pitfalls, I couldn’t recall how to play the dang game… and it showed. A smarter Kevin would have gone back to his original review that came out during the Kickstarter run of FAITH, and done a little refreshing. That guy wasn’t around last night, he wanted to try his hand at the Unboxing and chose to dive right in. Well, for those who want to know a little more about the actual game, you’re in luck. The Kevin of today is feeling a bit more polished. Let’s review this thing shall we?

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Flip the gameboard over and the other side is in Spanish, nice touch!

The punch-outs mentioned in the video (which I’ve just now taken a break and gleefully punched all of them out, flipping love punch outs!) are all for the players. Four boards of punch-outs contain this game’s version of a character sheet, only here it is a game board. Almost all of these pieces you can punch out have homes on this character game board. Utilize them to change stats with adjustable numbers, add or remove upgrade tokens, or when starting any game use the various character portraits to choose a look. Highly customize-able and useful for streamlining various aspects of the game.

Another item I got a mite wrong last night was a side comment where I mentioned that the cards in the player decks might be something that works alongside your typical dice mechanics. This was wrong, there are no dice mechanics, only cards are used. The cool thing about this is it will allow players to manage their own luck in a way. They have a hand of cards to choose from, if they really want to succeed they likely can. That’s not to say they might not also take chances with lower valued cards, or even get a bad draw. There is still an element of chance, the players just have a bit more control. One of the only things I have a quibble with in this aspect is that there isn’t a GM’s deck of cards as well in order to get a bit of the same fun. I know why things like this are done, it streamlines the GM process, but I like it when I get to roll dice, or in this case deal cards. Some will very much appreciate the way the GM gets to run things though. We do get the NPC deck, that is a really cool toy, so maybe I should just be happy and shut it eh?

You’ve seen all these physical items already though, I spent 19 minutes showing them to you (despite a bit of terrible lag… man I’m kinda bad at this). I want to chat a bit about the world of FAITH. Very much the Sci-Fi game it claims to be, FAITH takes place in a setting rich with multiple planets, sentient species (many playable races), and gods. Travel through space is done via a group of wormholes known as the Labyrinth. This connective travel network is alarmingly well put together, allowing for many theories to suggest intelligent design. A myriad of planets make up the habitable worlds that the six species you can play as live, work together, war together. The gods of FAITH are ever-present and have little to do with faith as we know it (despite the title of this game). They are attached to a believer via personality rather than choice and the gods expect you to follow their commandments. You are still left a choice however, you just might run into a very real consequence for disobedience. Some really interesting role-play opportunities there.

If I had to compare FAITH to anything in its “feel” I’d go with the Mass Effect series or maybe even Destiny. Fully Sci-Fi with a hint of supernatural flair to it. The game is it’s own deal though, a ton of newness surrounds FAITH. Both the mechanics and the fluff turn some typical RPG tropes on their ear. I fully suggest you give it a chance. I know I’m going to get around to running a game someday, let me know if you’ve been able to or if you have any more questions about it below!

Want to learn more about FAITH The Sci-Fi RPG? Check their site!

Want to buy it? Here’s the Webstore.

-Melvs

 

Out of the Abyss: Adventures Three & Four

ADVENTURE’S THREE & FOUR

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SYNOPSIS:

The brave adventurers crawl through the darkness barely keeping ahead of their pursuers while battling the denizens of the Underdark’s nooks and crannies.

PREPARATION:

Monster tokens… HO BOY was this the chapter for Monster Tokens. These two adventures took place using the details laid out in Chapter 2 of Out of the Abyss so I went crazy and made Monster Tokens for anything they could potentially run into during their long trek through the Underdark facing random encounters.

Another item of prep was rolling randomly on the tables provided in Chapter 2 to set up the myriad of random places\creatures\events that cropped up. I accepted the fact that there was the potential for deviation here but for the most part things fell into line.

OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:

MAPS: I created a variety of maps for potential encounters. I also printed out a map for The Lost Tomb location since that was something I rolled randomly and they found.

  • Lost Tomb – Pulled from the book.
  • Camping Encounter 01 – A nice big map purple circles are giant Mushrooms
  • Camping Encounter 02 – A small map near a pool of fresh water
  • Random Encounter 01 – Never got to use this one but I like it a lot. Ground glows eerily light green. The square block is an old alter of sorts
  • Random Encounter 02 – Used this for the Rocktopus encounter. The craggy semicircles represent a valley they had to go through
  • Dark Lake Encounter 01 – Characters would have been in a boat for this one. Circles are pillars under the water

THE GAME:

THE PLAYERS:

Solaris – Half-Elven Bard.

Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric, Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall

Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian, Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall

Ander – Half-Elven Paladin, Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture. Wielder of Dawnbringer

Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer, Has sworn revenge on Ilvara for her role in the deaths of Tosy & Turvy

NOTABLE NPCS:

COHORTS

BUPPIDO – Derro. Surprisingly affable.
PRINCE DERENDIL – Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.
ELDETH FELDRUN – Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.
JIMJAR – Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there’s nothing to gamble.
SARITH KZEKARIT – A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.
SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED – A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.
STOOL aka (“TimTum”) – A childlike Mychonid Sprout. Bonded from day one to Rurick
DAWNBRINGER – Sentient Longsword, was locked away for ages. Fears the dark, wishes only to be brought out and to shine a light against it’s enemies. She has now bonded to Ander.

ENEMIES

The Pursuit Party:

ILVARA MIZZRYM – Drow Priestess of Lloth. Recently imprisoned the PCs and their Cohorts with intention to turn them into slaves. Now she hunts them all across the Underdaaarrrrrk! (“I’ll get you!”).
ASHA VANDREE – Junior Preistess of Lloth.
SHOOR VANDREE – Drow Elite, current lover to Ilvara.
JORLAN DUSKRYN – Drow Elite, spurned lover to Ilvara. Assited in the PC’s escape to spite Ilvara.

OTHERS

Runnar Haftholder – Dwarven Scout, had just left the city of Sloobludop. Was convinced to return with the PC’s and NPC Cohorts in tow.

ADVENTURES THREE & FOUR:

Battlebards Cue: “Dark Elf Temple” by Mike Bridge

I combined these two adventures because they represent the long, 8 day, crawl through the Underdark the players had to accomplish as they proceeded to their next destination of Sloobludop, city of the Kuo-Toa (Look… I know Gary Gygax created the Kuo-Toa, but I’m not certain if he is the one to blame for their F$%*ing names. If he is… man is he lucky I have so much more to thank him for…).

Right from the start they realize that they are going to have to rely on someone very unreliable to guide them… the Drow, Sarith Kzekarit. He was the only one who truly knew his way to Dark Lake where Sloobludop lay. Shuushar could assist if they got near Dark Lake but he had no clue how to get there. The fact that their Drow captors quickly revealed that they were in pursuit ensured that the matter was quickly put to rest and they pushed on.

Funny thing about the depths of Fearun, you can never tell when it’s day or night. However, the heroes had to rest at some point. Beaten and bedraggled they prayed for a full rest. They were not so lucky. Only a matter of hours later they were beset by an Orcan..Orcian…ORCISH raiding party. The fight was fortunately brief but they were really starting to feel their wounds. They opted to move out rather than attempt to rest again, fearing the pursuing Drow. They opted for a normal speed of travel. They could have moved faster, with penalties to perception checks, or slower, to improve stealth and foraging, they were pretty good on supplies from when they luckily found their gear though.

Trudging through the next day they were relieved to encounter no beasts and to get a full rest beneath the protective domes of some giant shrooms. Three more days passed like this with only one brief encounter with some forward scouts from their pursuers and a cave-in that they barely survived. Sarith had a rare moment of pleasant chatter when he mentioned that the cave-in would at least slow down Ilvara and company.

Joy at that was short lived however when they happened upon the lair of a Rocktopus! It really wanted to have a few adventurers for dinner. Turns out things went the other way for the beastie.

On the sixth night all were awoken by a ruckus as they discovered a crazed Sarith treating Shuushar to a frenzied beating. They pulled the slavering drow off the poor wretched Kou-toa and restrained him. While most of the group tended to Shuushar Solaris worked up the nerve to delve into the deranged Drow’s mind. Casting Detect Thoughts he was immediately beset by waves of terror and madness that permeated every inch of his surface thoughts. Probing deeper, because Sarith had little willpower to resist anything at this point, Solaris began to feel the Drow’s connection to some great entity. An obsession to find & serve her. He could go no further though, the madness was too much.

Day seven of their trudge brought about something strange. They began to feel almost a whisper in their minds. Soon it began to take form. They discover they are hearing a mental communication. A feminine voice echoes in their mind claiming to be lost and in need of rescue. Fearful of the dark. The group was almost split in its decision of whether or not to follow the vague impressions being given to them of where to follow. Eventually they decided to trust that someone truly did need their aid and they followed. They happened upon an ornate door.

The players left the NPCs behind for this one, asking Derindel to keep a close eye on Sarith, thought the Drow had been silent for most the day. They entered the structure beyond the door. Upon entering they discovered a diorama depicting the fact that this was the tomb of a long dead sorcerer, Brysis Khaem. They continued searching, often being urged on by the mysterious voice. They found what appeared to be the room of the main Sarcophagi. It turned out to be a ruse however, as a curse burst forth while a Magic Mouth uttered a dire threat. Rurick found himself disadvantaged on Attack Rolls and Saving Throws as a result of failing the saving throw. They fought a group of Spectres in a room filled with small coffins, Rurick laboring under the effects of the curse.

After fighting the Spectres Rurick was done, simply raging at his misfortune. He wanted to leave. However, another of the adventurers spotted some rollers affixed to one of the smaller tombs and they pushed it aside revealing a final room in the tomb. Within it was the true resting place of Brysis Khaem, but the sorcerer had arisen once more in the dark form of a Wraith! A battle ensued, throughout the fight the voice continued to cry out that it was “Right here, come grab me! Please! I can help!”. 

It wasn’t until after the fight that the players discovered the source of the pleas for help. A long sword, finely crafted and apparently sentient. Her name was Dawnbringer. She immediately felt a kinship to the party’s Paladin, Ander. They were soon bonded.

Upon leaving the tomb, and discovering to their relief nothing amiss had occurred while they delved, they moved on. Near the end of their long day they discovered the lapping shore of Dark Lake. It’s size was immense, they knew of no way to cross it. However they did notice a small flicker of flame coming from a nearby cave. They decided to brave it.

Within the cave was a Dwarven scout by the name of Runnar Haftholder. Runnar had actually just come from Sloobudop, and had no desire to return. He quickly changed his mind however when told of the impending Drow slaver group heading this way. Grumbling about the crazy Kuo-toa he finally agreed to take the group on the boat he had “acquired” from the fish people.

They slept, knowing the next day they might at last be in some form of civilization, despite Runnar’s harsh words for Shuushar’s people.

POST GAME THOUGHTS:

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:

I fully believe I could have made the Underdark more interesting. I spent a lot of time prepping physical props for these games and less on just how I was going to package the oddity of the place to the group. I did better on their second night of Underdark crawlin’, especially with the Lost Tomb, but I could sense they were just ready to get to civilization. Though, Sloobludop was a terrible place anyway, so they weren’t all that excited to get there (more on that in the next write-up as I realize I’ve tipped my hand at being late to write these up).

In the Lost Tomb I forgot that the place was infested with an essence known to inhabit portions of the Underdark known as faerzress. This chaotic magic causes magic to react weirldy and can spawn rolls on the Wild Magic Surge table from the PHB. Really bummed I missed my chance at wielding that tool.

THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE ABOUT OotA: Chapter Two

  • LIKES:
    • Chapter 2’s Random Generation tables and details are legit. They take care to have encounters based on the denizens of the deep and some interesting locales. Often times both.
    • Chapter 2 doesn’t only craft the encounters for the trip to Sloobludop (though that will almost always be the direction the characters will first head), it covers any trek through the Underdark, and some of these treks are a Month or more long in game time!
    • Random encounters aren’t always bad, plenty of desirable things can happen as well.
    • Careful attention was paid to include some BIG encounters as well, my players found the Lost Tomb and
  • DISLIKES:
    • There is a strong chance your players might tire of trudging through the Underdark and from the look of things, this is going to happen a lot. It is becoming apparent that it may take a lot of time for the players to be doing ANYTHING beyond struggling around and getting mixed up in things they probably don’t care about.
      • The trick I need to work on is figuring out how to get them more invested in things beyond survival alone.

Well, that’s it for these two adventures! Join me soon for Adventure 5! If you have any questions or wish for some embellishment on something I mentioned hit me up in the comments. Or on Twitter @SharnDM.

-Melvs

City of Brass

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**SUBSCRIBE to City of Brass now! Use the coupon code ACADECON16 for 10% off!**

Move over Obsidian Portal! Just into the slow lane though, because you’re still cool, don’t completely get off the road or anything. City of Brass is just a touch cooler is all. Damn… now I’m worried I hurt Obsidian Portal’s feelings… ah, what can you do?

FireLogo_1200City of Brass is a web based application from Ember Design Studios LLC. dedicated to bringing the tools you need to the table electronically in order to run, or play, your game as efficiently as possible. Especially if you want to free up some table space by avoiding reams of paper. Those that run the game and those that play can use their City of Brass avatars to become members of their own affiliation, set in a world of their own creation (hosted on the site) if they like, to have everything they need in easy reach to get around the table and play. Early into my exploration for this review I knew some solid craft went into this product. I think you’ll not be disappointed.

ResidentOne of the first things you’ll do when signing onto City of Brass will be to create an avatar, or Resident as they are called, to represent yourself within the City. This is a fluff touch that you can be as creative with as you like, or simply use as a name to work with for your future affiliations with other Residents. True to form I went as far as to craft a descriptor for “Melvin Smif” as a “Bearded Wordsmith” and even a backstory of sorts for his place in the metropolis. I like this as it already goes to making me feel like I’m affiliated with all the other users of the site. Considering group collaboration is presented as a hallmark of CoB, anything that makes you feel more associated with the group as a whole is great.

Once you’ve crafted your avatar where you go next is up to you. Though, you might find yourself checking out the forum, known as the Symposium. There you’ll chat about potential game ideas with others, read news about updates to site, hit up the FAQs or Support areas, or just gab in the general area. Your typical forum but with a layout I find easy to use. It’s an excellent resource to get a grasp on some of the current goings on of the site and tips for handling the other features. It’s also a great place to gain some affiliates.

The meat of the site lies with the ability to craft your own page to house everything you’d need for your game table, all housed under the Campaign Manager. Many of the users on the site have gone to great lengths to feature their own home-brew worlds & games but you could certainly carve out details of an established campaign setting that are relevant to your group’s adventuring. There are a number of micro sites within the larger whole used to craft everything located in your Campaign Manager. These three Builder platforms are on the site under the Toolkit drop-down and are known as the Entity Builder, the World Builder, and the Story Builder.

The Entity Builder is where you build player characters (if you’re simply playing the game), npcs, and monsters. This isn’t a pure character generator, although many choices are auto-populated, this is a place where you will need to ensure certain modifiers are entered in the correct spots based on race and class. I found it a bit fiddly but was able to work my way through. Thankfully the site provides some great tutorials in the form of YouTube videos for any of the areas you might be struggling with. The end result is a solid character sheet, npc, or monster you can incorporate into a game. Currently anything you upload is available to you alone and to others you provide the url to, stock images and characters are currently in the realm of the admins, but there are steps being taken to add a “Community Content” portion to the site.

World Builder

The World Builder would be the next logical step for a GM, players tend to stick with just making a character. Here you can go into some great depth with world-craft. You can add a bevy of items here. Under the Atlas Entry you can add pictures of maps you’ve crafted and add explanations of the world they represent. Through Inhabitant you can help other explore the unique NPCs or various races that make up your populace. The choices are many, and varied. Religions & Deities, articles of Lore, various Planes of existence, etc. There are many worlds out there already that are open to public viewing, labeled as Districts in the City, and I’ve seen some really detailed worlds out there. Of course your world can be divided into public items and secret ones. There are just somethings your players don’t need to see yet.

Lastly we have the Story Builder. Once again I checked out the YouTube tutorial available on the site for this builder, though by now I’m getting the hang of everything pretty well as there’s a lot of similarities between the building engines (this is well executed). Through the Story Builder you can really craft a great adventure. Most of what you’ll do is add written content but you can pull in any stock pictures, creatures, and npcs that you might need from the website as a whole or from your own pool. Another nice feature is the Handouts portion that allows the players to see only the items placed there, blocking the rest of the adventure but allowing for them to know what they need.

After using all the builders to craft the various worlds, adventures, and entities populating the two you move things over to the Campaign Manager. Here you mash it all together into a fine working Campaign machine. You can showcase adventure logs, player characters, the world you’re operating in, etc. All the parts leading to a nicely crafted whole.

Before I scoot out, one thing I’d love to see are some character generators that are a bit better at filling in the details for you (for those systems where it’s legal to craft a character generator of course). I have to imagine things like that are in constant evolution though, and to be honest many of these systems have generators all over the net so you aren’t missing much.

I really enjoyed checking out City of Brass and I hope my words have peaked your interest. Though, if you want to know more it’s best you check it out yourself. There’s a free 30 day trial, so you can log in and tinker around. If you like what you see, sign on for another month, at only $3.00 a month, or at a discounted rate of $24.00 for an entire year.  Here’s the awesome news though. Readers of my blog are getting some love from the the ruling class within the City of Brass.

I hope you head on over and try it out, I know I’ve enjoyed my time in the City of Brass. I hope you will too. Also, look me up and add me as an Affiliate! Also, if you have any further questions you could always reach out to the creators on Twitter, on Facebook, Youtube, or check out their FAQs.

-Melvs

Out of the Abyss: Adventure One

OUT_OF_THE_ABYSS Main Picture

Detracting from my typical style, I have decided to run a premade 5th Edition D&D setting for my players. For this I decided to choose the most alien concept possible for them, the newest addition to Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) line of super adventures, Out of the Abyss. For those unfamiliar, OotA is a setting placed almost exclusively within the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms. A world beneath the surface filled with treachery and danger, wildly strange to anyone who calls the topside of Forgotten Realms home. I found myself excited by the prospect of running something so tied to this strange land and was really glad the guys agreed to give it a go. Once I discovered the sandbox feel this Campaign Setting provided I was doubly glad to use it. So without further ado, I’ll begin my first post-game write-up!

ADVENTURE ONE

SYNOPSIS:

Velkynelve, an outpost high above a cavern floor. Home to the dreaded drow, their quaggoth servants, & giant spider pets.

Velkynelve, an outpost high above a cavern floor. Home to the dreaded drow, their quaggoth servants, & giant spider pets…and our PCs prison!

The players begin this Campaign in some pretty dire straits. They have been captured and imprisoned by a group of Drow located at an Outpost far away from any civilization, even the Underdark kind. They are not alone either, there are ten fellow prisoners NPCs trapped with them. Many of these NPCs are denizens of the Underdark but that doesn’t save anyone from the slaver’s binds. The PCs and their NPC companions must attempt to work together if they are to escape before they are carted off to the Drow city of Menzoberranzan where chances are even slimmer for escape.

PREPARATION:

Man there’s a lot of prep leading into this adventure. There are TEN potentially friendly NPCs to juggle. For me that was a lot of time spent getting a rough idea of what to sound like when roleplaying these individuals and ensuring I was familiar enough with their stats to use them in any potential combats or skill based encounters. Fortunately I found a resource a Reddit user posted that gives a great three page spread of these NPCs where you have their stats laid bare for use.

NPC1: BUPPIDO - Male Derro. Surprisingly affable.

NPC1: BUPPIDO – Male Derro. Surprisingly affable.

NPC 2: Prince Derendil - Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.

NPC 2: Prince Derendil – Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.

NPC 3: ELDETH FELDRUN - Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.

NPC 3: ELDETH FELDRUN – Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.

NPC 4: JIMJAR - Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there's nothing to gamble.

NPC 4: JIMJAR – Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there’s nothing to gamble.

NPC 5: RONT - A bully of an Orc. Tries to intimidate others but falls under the same pressure easily.

NPC 5: RONT – A bully of an Orc. Tries to intimidate others but falls under the same pressure easily.

NPC 6: SARITH KZEKARIT - A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.

NPC 6: SARITH KZEKARIT – A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.

NPC 7: SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED - A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.

NPC 7: SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED – A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.

NPC 8: STOOL (aka "TimTum") - A childlike Mychonid Sprout.

NPC 8: STOOL (aka “TimTum”) – A childlike Mychonid Sprout.

NPCs 9 & 10: TOPSY & TURVY - Two quiet Deep Gnomes, share very little and keep to themselves.

NPCs 9 & 10: TOPSY & TURVY – Two quiet Deep Gnomes, share very little and keep to themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really feel like the burden was placed squarely on the DMs of the world to produce the stats for these NPCs. This is something that should have had at least a page of info on in the book. The OotA guide does a great job of providing background info on all these characters, why not their stats as well? Especially because it is heavily insinuated that these characters might be around for some time.

OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:

  • Created my own set of Monster/NPC tokens to print off and use as Minis
  • Made a spreadsheet, that will continue to grow, detailing what Monsters/NPCs might appear per chapter and where to find the stats for them in the Monster Manual or in the back of OotA.
  • Scanned the stats for all the potential monsters so I could print them off separately instead of trying to flip back and forth in the MM &/or OotA in Combat (Hey WotC… SELL US SOME DAMN .PDF VERSIONS OF YOUR CORE BOOKS ALREADY!)
  • Decided which events I wanted to occur to facilitate a potential escape
    • The book details a number of options the players might go with and even provides the DM with some “nudge” options that I liked.
  • Ran through what I’d downloaded from my Battlebards material to set the mood music and even some sound effects
    • I chose the Musical Score “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas as my ambiance music as I enjoyed not only the subtle darkness of the piece but the fact that the water effects played nicely with the fact there is a waterfall present at this outpost.
  • Rolled randomly to determine where the drow would be storing the player’s stolen gear. I decided pre-game that they would have to stumble upon it, I was not going to ensure they would get it back as many expect in a prisoner situation. They would have to get lucky, or clear the place out.

THE GAME:

THE PLAYERS:

Sadly I’ve not received any fully fleshed out backstories from the guys yet but they might fill in those details a bit later. I do have a few bits to share though.

  • Solaris – Half-Elven Bard
  • Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric
    • Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall
  • Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian
    • Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall
  • Ander – Half-Elven Paladin
    • Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture
  • Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer

ADVENTURE ONE:

Battlebards

Battlebards Cue: “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas

The guys were informed right away that they were imprisoned by the Drow (my buddy was betting on Duergar and was sorely disappointed). Learning they were not alone they spent a little time getting to know some of the other prisoners. Corbin found himself approaching the reserved Deep Gnome twins Topsy and Turvy. He found their behaviors and mannerisms strange, but they’d been in here the longest (decided by random roll) so who was he to judge. From them he learned just how much the cards were stacked against escape as they detailed a large squad of Drow, Drow elites, and Quaggoth that stood in the way of escape. Rurick, immediately establishing his boisterous attitude to this particular setback, found himself befriending the Mychonid named Stool. Rurick nicknamed the little guy “Timtum” before finally hugging the fungal humanoid allowing some “rapport spores” to enter his brain via his ears and suddenly the two could talk. Though the connection was a psychic one Rurick continued to speak his end of the conversation aloud, which simply made him look mad to the others.

Ilvara - Drow Priestess of Lloth

Ilvara – Drow Priestess of Lloth

 

Time passed and the guards decided to bring a few of the prisoners out to the “yard” to do some demeaning labor. Rurick, Solaris, and Stool were chosen to go but Ander somehow convinced the guards he should go in Stool’s place. The labor was essentially moving large rocks to the side of the cliff and dropping them over. This served no other purpose than further discouraging escape as it showed the players that the only escape from this outpost was down past enormous webs guarded by giant spiders. Rurick attempted to hit a spider with a rock but failed. Solaris sang a little and actually did so well the guards enjoyed it. Meanwhile, Ander had decided he’d already had enough. Sensing an opportunity he succeeded in thieving a short sword right out of the hilt of a distracted guard and began some combat.

Things went better for the three than was to be expected. Ander immediately killed the drow he had stolen his weapon from with a blast of divine might that sent its body flailing over the cliff. As the drow flew a number of drow poisoned bolts fell upon the ground and Ander scooped them up. Rurick squared off against two drow and built up a furious rage, punching one square in the face. Solaris proved the most helpful however as he fully charmed one of the quaggoths standing nearby and sending it into the fray on behalf of the players.

Quaggoth

In the four rounds of combat before reinforcements showed up the players and their quaggoth recruit killed two drow, two quaggoth, and almost downed a drow elite. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough. During this time one of the prisoners, Jimjar the deep gnome, attempted to do some wagering with Hunar about the survival of the three combatants. Hunar was not amused. Soon, Ilvara Mizzrym, the Drow Priestess of Lloth in charge of the outpost, herself came with Tentacle Rod in hand. With her were ten more drow, hand crossbows pointed at the players. Solaris surrendered, Anders struck down the staggered quaggoth in front of him and set a defiant pose, Rurick simply didn’t cease his fighting. All three of the tentacles struck home, dropping Solaris and Ander. Rurick remained standing though and said simply “You’d better kill me!”  With that, ten drow bolts were launched that eventually dropped him, miraculously not killing him.

Ilvara drug the unconscious three to her chambers for a few days of torture, making a show of it to the other prisoners. The next two days did not go well for the three upstarts.

For the next two days the rest of the prisoners remained submissive to their captors, who were doubly cruel after losing a few of their own to the fray. Corbin started paying attention to the guard rotations and noticed that one of the guards was a drow wearing the garb of an elite, a heavily scarred individual known as Jorlen. He was the only elite who ever had to pull guard duty and by the looks of him he did not care for the assignment, quickly dismissing the other drow who were supposed to run the detail with him. Corbin decided to attempt to speak with the dark elf.

Jorlen was not very receptive at first but Corbin proved most diplomatic and persuasive so Jorlen eventually opened up. Corbin was able to discern that Jorlen was deeply unhappy with the way things were currently. He was once the right-hand elf and lover of Ilvara but that changed after an accident robbed him of the full use of his right arm and his features. These days she flaunts her new relationship with a younger drow elite named Shoor. Shoor takes full advantage of his position as the new head of the regular drow and the elites. It is he who placed Jorlen on guard duty. Corbin attempts to leverage the dark elf’s disdain into something of use but the drow merely continues to mock the captives.

Jorlen does let slip one bit of advice though. Ilvara intends to make an example of one or more of the prisoners after she tires of torturing the three who started the fight. He cautions Corbin to not “stand out” in the near future. True to his word when Ilvara brings the victims of her scourge back the very next day she declares one of the lot will be fed to the spiders. She chooses Topsy, one of the deep gnome twins, seemingly at random. Corbin attempts to persuade her to take him instead but she laughs off his noble gesture. When the guards grab for Topsy her brother Turvy attempts to stop them resulting in his being drug away as well. The rest of the prisoners overhear their plaintive cries as they are thrown to the spiders. Corbin vows revenge for the poor deep gnomes.

A few days later some items of interest arise. Corbin continues to foster a relationship of sorts with Jorlen, who appears to tolerate it with a measure of tedium. Stool convinces Rurick to get the others to accept the Rapport Spores so they can speak in secret via the telepathy it allows. The group begins to get desperate as it is well known the envoy from Menzoberranzan approaches. Their chance comes soon though from an unlikely source. Jorlen shows up for his shift in a rage of a mood. He also shows up with the character’s daily meal, a chore he was apparently given this day by Shoor. Feeding the prisoners is apparently quite the slight because he pulls Corbin aside and declares his intentions to leave their cell door unlocked so their escape attempt can be an embarrassment for Ilvara and Shoor. It is apparent he holds no real love for Corbin or the others though as he laughs off Corbin’s gratitude stating that he doesn’t believe they will actually make it very far, and they’ll receive no further help from him.

The group of prisoners agree with one another that it’s worth the risk of torture to attempt an escape when Jorlen leaves the cell unlocked, even if it might be a trap. Over their time as captives they had collected a few items the could use as potential weapons (an iron bar and a drow poison dart) but they knew that stealth would likely assist more. As Jorlen leaves he casually drops a dagger at the cell door and begins his walk. The captives discover the cell door unlocked, true to Jorlen’s word, and then witness him flippantly tossing a drow over the ledge to the spiders. It seems Jorlen’s temper was in rare form. The players and their NPC fellows slipped out into the quiet camp.

They headed to the right, as this was the direction of the waterfall they normally cleaned their chamber pots in. They had noticed the path continued past the waterfall but had never ventured that far. As they went beyond their regular route they came upon a cave where a few quaggoth slept, the smell giving away that the cave represented the quaggoths’ lair. Ahead of them was a small building hanging off the ledge, overlooking the gorge below. Corbin and Ander snuck ahead and peered inside. A pair of drow were holding casual conversation, apparently they eagerly awaited the arrival of the relief group from Menzoberranzan. The two drow would never see that group however as Ander and Corbin made sure the two fell to bottom of the cavern below, they never saw the attack coming. Ander was even able to lift a short sword off one of the drow before killing him.

Corbin exited the building and looked down. He could see that a pool from the waterfall lay below them, but was unable to tell its depth. He took a chance and sent some dancing lights towards the water below. He was just making note of the fact it was too grimy on top to determine its depth when a shrill screech was emitted from below. The dancing lights had disturbed the rest of a foul creature, identified by Hunar, as a Vrock. A chain reaction then tool place. The Vrock awakened all in the outpost and they began to defend themselves, but the Vrock was more concerned with another, bug-like, creature that began attacking it. It was chaos.

Jimjar mentioned above the din that he had seen a lift when he was brought in, but it was on the other side of the outpost. The group decided to utilize the chaos of the creatures fighting to try and push through. They ducked through one of the stalactites, taking out the distracted drow inside, and hoofed it towards the lift. They decided against seeking out Ilvara, and her junior priestess Asha, and ran past the shrine to Lloth. They spied the lift in the distance but there were a lot of drow and quaggoth between they and it so they ducked into another stalactite. Inside they defeated a drow elitie warrior while a few of the others held back the drow who were trying to get in the room. In a group of chests the PC’s discovered their looted gear. It was at this point we all called it a night.

POST GAME THOUGHTS:

Overall the first adventure was a lot of fun and had us all playing later than we typically would. My pre-game prep was solid and there were only a few takeaways I feel i could have considered better ahead of time.

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:

  • I could have done a better job coming up with scenarios for the NPCs to instigate conversations with the players. By nature a number of players aren’t the type to instigate that sort of thing.
  • I wish I would have encouraged everyone to take Undercommon as a language, even if it meant coming up with reasons why they would. It will certainly be interesting to see where this goes with needing multiple language to convey things however. I may end up liking the difficulty.
  • I did all of the battles without laying out a battle grid and while I like how fast narrative battling ends up making things move I can tell the guys were a bit put off by it. They like their minis and the strategies that a grid based combat allows for.

THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE SO FAR ABOUT OOTA:

  • LIKES:
    • The start off point is solid and different. Throws the players directly into survival mode.
    • A few solid ideas were given for potential escape points. The Jorlen concept is great and I love that even though the players may never know the full reason he’d be willing to release them they ensure the DM knows exactly why.
    • I really like the next part, Chapter 2, but I can’t really go into great detail about that.
  • DISLIKES:
    • The Players had very little chance of getting out of prison without a DM push for them. My group noticed Jorlen and pursued getting him on their side but not a lot of groups would think to do that.
    • The NPCs should come with stats. All it would have taken was one extra page in Appendix C.
    • Would have been nice to detail some daily routines in the Outpost.
    • Wizards of the Coast needs to give us the ability to purchase .pdfs of their Monster Manual at least. Having to choose to flip back and forth between two books for monster stats is terrible and I know for a fact their core books are already available for illegal download anyway so I really don’t grasp their fears in this arena (Barely a commentary on OotA and more of an “overall” complaint I know but… c’mon Wizards).

So far Out of the Abyss is great stuff. I can’t wait to see where this leads and the guys seem to really be digging it. Let’s see if they survive eh? Please feel free to comment below!

-Melvs

RPG Academy Network Panel

rpg-academy-banner-long RPG Gamer Dad logo SASGEEK LOGO tribality-e1440169002946 sharkbone-e1440436120771 gamerplane-e1440436134110 eldritchfire-e1440169052749 City of Brass LOGO Smaller Twitter Avatar Talking Tabletop

A few Fridays ago a number of the excellent folks within the RPG Academy Network got together to do our first ever YouTube panel. Titled “The RPG Academy Network: A GM Summit” the panel was dedicated to the minds within our Network discussing, and oft times debating, their different methods for being a Game Master. Through pre-prepped questions and some excellent audience involvement they were able to give some great advice. If you haven’t seen it (or heard it in my case), and have two hours to kill, I’m embedding the link right here:

Sadly, as you may have noticed, I was unable to attend the GM Summit so you didn’t get any of my right\wrong opinions on some of the questions. Well, I copied down the questions as I went along so I can answer them right here. Hopefully I can offer up some advice just as useful as my peers!

What is my favorite system and why?

Savage Worlds Logo

Things began with this nice little warm up question, one I find very difficult to narrow down. Should I focus on pure nostalgia and go with Dungeons and Dragons? It has been the staple system in my core group and certainly the game I’ve played the most. However, I think if I really had to choose a system to dedicate the rest of my gaming on I’d go with Savage Worlds. I’ve spoken on it many time in this blog so if you’re a committed reader, you know I love it. It’s just the best little generic system money can buy, and it slips oh so perfectly into damn near any genre.

What are some tips on handling feedback from your players?

I think most of the group hit the nail on the head with this one by mentioning that if you are honestly looking for feedback you need to be ready to receive it. This doesn’t mean you need to sit there while someone lambastes your game but you should certainly take the time to consider if their critiques might actually hold some constructive value. In the past I’ve been very easy going with how I sought critiques and I get them but they are almost always positive in nature, I may need to be a bit more formal with my requests if I plan to get any true feedback.

How do you set expectations for your games?

I rarely run something that is limiting to my group. I choose a system and let them pick from all available options. The only time this will change is if whatever group I’m planning to run a game for collectively with me decide we want to run something very specific. For example I ran a one shot game where the players were all Bullywugs trying to protect their swamplands from humans. Obviously my players would need to know going in that they are restricted to that race. I can’t really point to a time where I sprung a long list of expectations on anyone. To me deciding the next game is highly collaborative.

For a first time GM how much should be planned/not planned. Thoughts on houseruling?

I am a terrible person to ask about planning anything. From day one my games have been highly improvisational, and I plan very little beyond a core concept of the first adventure. I will usually have an idea where that first game will go, and usually have a group of enemies set aside, but I am blessed with being very quick on my feet in game and few can even tell I’m flying completely off the cuff. True story, one night my entire set of notes for the upcoming adventure were the words “Giant Vultures seem cool”.

This approach is not for everyone, and certainly not a beginner, unless you have a solid knowledge of the game world you are playing around in. I’m hardly perfect either last year I had the players fight against a werewolf as a random encounter in my Eberron Campaign only to recall midfight that the Church of the Silver Flame had long ago eradicated lycanthropes (and all other –thropes for that matter). Most of the time I do a pretty good job though!

With this approach I usually take copious notes during my games and utilize the direction the players are driving the story to set up for the next adventure so I can avoid any plot holes by omitting some info (or an NPC’s name) the next time around. The best use for this method, if you’ve a solid grasp of it, is to use it during one offs. You don’t need to worry about plot holes there!

As far as “houseruling” I would avoid actively houseruling prior to starting the game. Meaning during PC creation and the like. During the game though, don’t be afraid to break a minor rule here and there to do what makes sense to the group if you can’t immediately recall how to do something. Just make a note of the confusion and come back to it during a break or something. Lengthy rule searching can bog things down and your table might even adapt the new style of doing things after all.

Improv Game, scenes from a hat.

88665-fiasco

I wish I’d been on the panel for this question. As mentioned above I love improv, I have a lot of experience with the theatrical improv scene on up to the collegiate level and honestly RPGs are a way I specifically scratch the itch I have to act and play an improv game. I think the creation of a game using a “Scenes from a Hat” method could be fun but it would really depend on the system and if the players are also game.

There are games that essentially do this anyway, Fiasco specifically comes to mind. You could easily draw a scene at random there and then the rest is practically random generation anyway. If you’re hell-bent on doing this with D&D recall that there are a lot of random generation tables in the DMG this time around.

What keeps a game from falling apart?

I’ve GM’d a lot, and I’d call myself a strong GM. This does not keep every game I run from falling apart though. Sometimes it just happens and you need to be prepared for it. It happened far less when I was a teenager and a college student naturally because a big part of the problem these days can simply be attributed to having to adult. You will never be able to fully stop this from happening and really you shouldn’t try. I feel people need to be honest with themselves whether they have time to game, and it is a commitment. If you feel shaky about the group just do short stories or one shots.

Beyond the unavoidable pitfalls of life keeping the player’s interest in your game mostly boils down to player investment. If even on player isn’t invested they have the capability to bring exciting moments to a dead stop and even sour the rest of the players’ excitement levels for the game. The next question seems like a good place to expound on this!

In a long Campaign how do you keep things fresh?

So how do you keep things fresh, for everyone, all the time? Well… you likely won’t but you can sure as Hell try! I really attempt to work a player’s background into the game early on and make their character’s choices from that background and in game going forward matter. It usually does the trick for some of the more story loving types, and it’s why I usually suggest at least a bit of a background (and love seeing the 3 pager backgrounds!).

There are players who are just there for the boardgame aspect of the game though and it is important to shake things up mechanically from time to time. If you run the same combat over and over (doesn’t matter if it’s against different monsters) you won’t grab these folks’ attention. Mix it up, be sure to have a fight that really showcases a certain PC’s style sometimes. You’ll catch their eye!

How do you deal with being thrown for a loop by the players?

I think you can likely surmise my method for this. It’s hard to be thrown for a loop when you go into a game expecting the players to do a lot of driving the story for you. I run into the opposite issue sometimes with newer groups that expect me to drive things exclusively so that’s something I personally need to be aware of.

Where do you start writing a campaign?

So my style doesn’t allow for pages upon pages of prepped material going into a campaign but I have gone into a new game with a minimalistic view of the story I’d like to tell. I might conceive of a big bad for example that I want to be the final showdown and then let the game organically include them. I sometimes make a bit of a plot point graph where I want certain events to occur and, as stated above, let the game pull me to them (or sometimes change them completely). I just don’t spend a lot of time on prep unless it’s an encounter, a trap, a skill challenge I want to add in, or maybe even an NPC. Even then I sometimes don’t know when those items will show up until it just feels right.

What’s one extra piece of advice for new GMs?

Take notes during the game, especially when something appears out of nowhere. Some players are really interested in continuity so if you called a last second crafted innkeeper Mac last session and described how he spit polished a glass with only 9 fingers gripping the rag you don’t want to accidently forget these facts. Some will certainly call you on it.

Most of all, have fun with it and be ready to be a bit self-deprecating. When I admitted my error with the werewolf my players started calling my campaign setting “SmEberron” (Smith’s Eberron) claiming, in a tongue and cheek manner, that I wildly detract from the setting all the time. I got a good laugh out of it as well.

Essentially Tabletop RPG’s are ultimately games. They can be very personal games and hold some powerful sway in our lives if you’re one of the die-hard fans, but if at any point you aren’t enjoying yourself, the majority of the time, take a step back and analyze why that might be. Things should be fun. As the flagship folks of The RPG Academy Network say “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right”.

You know what, I say one more thing. Bring folks into the fold, be open to new players. The impetus to grow our gaming community lies with us for the most part. So if you’ve a gift for sharing this awesome hobby of ours, do so please!

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I can honestly say it has been a very rewarding experience for me!

Take care folks, have a blast, and feel free to hit me up with any other questions you may have!

Hope to see some of you at AcadeCon!!!

-Melvs

s

Playbook! The Immersive Gaming App

Title

A new app is in town from some old friends of ours. Trapdoor Technologies now brings you Playbook, a fee app available on iOS systems. Playbook represents a platform for Tabletop Gamers to generate characters, purchase adventures, and eventually forge their own worlds all within their linked iOS devices. In its current iteration we see a fully developed character generator and burgeoning bookshelf of, for purchase, adventures compatible with the system. Though still in Beta this is a free app that has some incredible potential for any Tabletop player utilizing the free rules from the Pathfinder Reference Document.

7 integrated modules.

7 integrated modules.

As mentioned above, Playbook comes to us from Trapdoor Technologies. The name may sound familiar, certainly so if you were ever excited for the Dungeonscape App that was being developed for D&D 5e. Trapdoor Technologies was the company behind what seemed to finally be a step in the right direction for Wizards of the Coast in the technological field. We were going to get an app that would finally garner us access to the books we buy in pdf form and it was being handled by a team of dedicated folks who loved gaming and had a knack for community involvement. Wizards botched things by dropping the project with no real reason stated. This blogger knows that it likely harkened back to their distaste for any kind of official pdf being out there and probably had a lot to do with how open Trapdoor Technologies was (is).

GM - Parties

This isn’t a bash on WotC article though, when it comes to their staying current in the technology realm that is way too easy a target. I’m here to talk about why you should check the app out. First of all, it’s a free character generator for games like Pathfinder and other OGL games. It’s smooth, and produces great content. If you and your friends all have the app you can create characters and the GM can run the game through their own iPad. Your GM may even use an adventure or two that you can purchase from the app, currently the only thing that associates cost so far as I have seen.

Library

One of the more endearing aspects of the Trapdoor Technologies team has always been it’s “Open Door Policy” when it comes to fostering community relationships withing our hobby. I see this playing a huge role in the fact that they have already worked with community members to create adventures based on the Pathfinder Ruleset that are currently for purchase in the store associated with the product. It appears that content creators can craft a solid adventure and then sell it through the app for others to play. To me this is an exciting prospect, I may even try to write something myself. Currently you have to approach them about it but there may come a time where this is a bit more automated. I also want to mention that they have also forged a partnership with Ed Greenwood to support the rule-set for his upcoming Roleplaying game Hellmaw!

Character

The app is currently in beta, but it works great for what it does now. If I’m to complain about anything it’s how difficult it can be to find in the Apple Store, hopefully as popularity grows that changes. In the future you will see additional content like the oft mentioned Forge where you will use the interface to create your own adventures, linking within your docs to maps, NPCs, enemies, tables, etc. I have also heard of work being done to bring the app to Android and even web based operating systems, which greatly interests me. After borrowing an iPad for a span of time I can safely say they’ve interested me and I can’t wait to see where it develops. Growth with this product has some incredible potential.

Adventures - Enemies

-Melvs

P.S. If you wish to approach the Playbook staff regarding publishing one of your adventures (or for really anything else) a good place to start would be their Twitter handle: @__Playbook__ Careful, that handle contains two underscores before and two after the name Playbook.

The Idea Factory – by Contributor Temujin

Contribution piece today, courtesy of a Twitter compadre Temujin aka @temmogen . He crafts a nice little step by step below for writing your own adventure!  Thanks for the contribution sah’! -Melvs

Many GMs will find themselves either wanting to at least write an adventure once, or maybe you have been coming up with your own material all along. Now for the first time, you’re starting to find it more difficult to come up with new ideas for games. I won’t be giving you the ideas, more along the lines of trying to teach you to how to develop a process to generate ideas.

Start with a word. I tend to look for words that sound exotic to me. Google the word, and go to last page of the search results. Start scanning the links, occasionally you’ll run across a link to a story or article that will spark an idea if you’re open to it. Try translating the word into a different language. I’ve found the names for magic items by doing that. Maybe you picked an object. Try thinking of putting that object to use for a purpose totally different from its normal use. Imagine the object in someplace you don’t have ready access to, now think of how you would get it. Follow the line of thinking all the way to the logical end. Now break down each of the steps along that line. You might be able to get a few adventure seeds from the breakdown of events.

I can’t stress this next thing enough. READ, read everything that interests you, and some things that don’t. The more information you take in, the more your brain has to work with. Going along with reading is writing. Write down everything. Every fragment of an idea, every scrap of paper you save for later is an idea waiting for the right place to come along. This may sound a bit farfetched, however you will begin to create a reservoir of small ideas that you can eventually tie together into a coherent whole.

When I was younger, I used to watch foreign language movies muted, and make up my own dialog. Now this usually doesn’t generate ideas by itself, but sometimes you’ll be able to discern a plot or plot device you can use. And you get to have a bit of a laugh in the process.

This leads me to let you know that plagiarism in pursuit of a game plot is ok. It’s a time honored technique among GMs to steal ideas. We’ve all done it. As long as you don’t try and get money from a stolen idea, who cares?

Here’s one I use a lot. Watch a movie. Now, as you watch there will be points in the movie where you think to yourself “I wouldn’t do that, I’d do ________.” Now sit back and think what would happen in the movie if what you would do actually happened. You’re bound to come across a few ideas you can use.

Biggest thing of all: Imagination is a muscle. If you don’t exercise it once in a while, it atrophies. Let your mind wander once in a while. It’s almost like meditation. Most of us don’t have time to just sit and brainstorm. But there are plenty of opportunities to think. While you’re driving, during a bus ride, when you’re getting a haircut.

It doesn’t matter what game you think of, always think Game.

Happy gaming! Ω

-Temujin

Melvin Smif’s Geekery 2015 Contest Winners

Roughly a month ago I celebrated my birthday, and the successful funding of AcadCon, with a contest. I tasked folks with an adventure write-off seeking two concepts, one for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition and one for Savage Worlds (originally just the Deadlands setting, and then later any Savage Worlds setting).  After numerous submissions and two weeks to review them all I’ve chosen the winners! A big congratulations Garrett Weinstein and Aaron Tudyk.

Garrett  is the proud new owner of a copy of the Savage Worlds Explorer Edition, signed and personalized by Shane Hensley. Garrett brings us a Deadlands adventure that caught my attention namely with its initial hook, see if it catches yours – “A woman stumbles into town, half-dead from thirst and exhaustion, and shackled to a pine coffin that she’s dragging behind her. She has a rather fresh-looking bloody scar on her forehead that has been bleeding into her left eye, and an empty holster at her waist. Her gun-belt is also empty of bullets.”  Tell me that doesn’t grab your attention, make you want to saddle up, and save the day?

Aaron’s entry was by far the most involved. While it doesn’t lay out any of the adventure itself but it did come with an incredibly detailed backstory leading up to the beginning where the players would first encounter the issue at hand. Starting with the common trope of a small village besieged by an unknown threat the concept makes for a great adventure that will flip some expectations on their ear.

Now I can’t go into great detail because I plan to run at least one of these at AcadeCon, both if I have time. After that, with the authors’ permission, I’ll be sure to post both to the site with my full write-ups on each. Hopefully my changes won’t rankle too much ;).

You can find Garrett at his site Ninjas Riding Dinosaurs and Aaron on Twitter @Skydut. Me you can find here of course or on Twitter @SharnDM

-Melvs