Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Repost: The Architect DM

One of my favorite blog series, the Architect DM, has a new post railing against the old-school style of "designless" dungeon design. Its like this guy is in my MIND!

Hack & Slash

I always find it much easier to read for pleasure while on vacation than during my day-to-day life. Even during otherwise unscheduled times, like before bed or on weekends, letting myself relax enough to slip into a story often proves too challenging to sustain for more than 30 minutes or maybe an hour. On vacation, however, my outside distractions and stressors melt away and I can get. reading. done.

This past weekend, while staying at our friends’ vacation house, I finally managed to finish re-reading R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy. Finishing the series proved to be more of a chore than I expected, mainly because this reading made me realize, Salvatore is a complete hack! His main characters have the depth of a kiddie-pool, being painted in broad strokes of arch-stereo-types. He attempts to add internal conflict, but it always comes across as superficial and one-sided.

Take Drizzt -Arguably the most famous literary character ever derived from a D&D universe. He
is a dark elf with a heart of gold. He fled his subterranean homeland when he realized his race’s moustache-twirling evil ways did not sit well with him. Drizzt’s inner-monologue constantly touches upon character dilemmas derived from his pariah status. He is an outcase on the surface where people can’t see past the color of his skin, as well as in his homeland because of the content of his heart. The trouble is, every time such a dilemma arises, Drizzt’s ultimate decision is immediately apparent to the reader. He will do the “right” thing. Period. Without fail. This is not helped by the fact that everyone around him proves infinitely reasonable, or very easily swayed. While traveling on a ship, the magic mask he is wearing is cut off, revealing his dark elf heritage. The sailors initial reactions of outrage and racist indignation quickly evaporate when one of them mentions that he helped defend the ship against pirates. No lingering resentment or mistrust. Just a complete change of heart among the ENTIRE CREW quicker than you can say, “A very special episode of Blossom.” Similar obvious fluctuations happen throughout the series with folks that Drizzt meets.

Salvatore’s dialogue and behavioral descriptions are similarly hackneyed. During a chase scene through a bath-house in a desert city, a grumbly-pumbly dwarven fighter slips into one of the baths. When his hulking barbarian companion lifts him dripping from the bath with his arms-crossed over his chest and a grumpy scowl on his face, the reader can’t help but add the laugh-track and sad trombone “wah-WAH” Nevermind that the guy they are chasing is getting away!

Finally, there are the naming conventions... oh, the names! “Dendybar, the evil wizard is one consonant and one vowel shift from “Candybar” Similarly, the super-intelligent ultimate-evil artifact from the first book is a crystalline entity known as Crenshinibon... I’d hate to meet the rest of the evil food court. There is even a dwarven General introduced in the epilogue to the series... his name? “Dagnabbit”... fer realz. Now, I’ve had my share of struggles with naming conventions, but seriously... stop thinking about food, or at least open a baby book or something!

That being said, after all tha raging, his books definitely have redeeming value. As a GM, I found myself inspired to jot down plot devices, character ideas and other game-related notes that were sparked by my readings. The man comes up with some great scenes! From a dragon’s lair where the beast is ultimately defeated by spearing it with a giant icicle knocked from the ceiling, to his description of the dwarf, Bruenor forging a magic warhammer, to the chaotic plane of Tartarus (Tartar Sauce?) which is nothing more than bridges of smoke, with no sky or ground. If you fall, you will eventually end up at your original spot. In a lot of ways, his books feel like the latest Hollywood hunk or starlet. There so pretty, just so long as they don’t open their mouths or try to act. Unfortunately, Salvatore’s usefulness as a source of inspiration only adds to my conflicted feelings about his books. I have the next series on my shelf. Should I attempt to read it? Does the inspiration offset the eye-rolling?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Into the Feywild

The lovely GF and I are off to a cabin in the woods to celebrate our third anniversary! We'll be back on Wednesday.

In the mean time, who would you kill, who would you marry and who would you screw?



The Tarrasque

Now with Sprinkles! sickness and in health, stunned or shaken,
blessed or cursed with lycanthropy?
Any tabletop RPG system is really intended to serve as a framework for the game. Rulebooks and the like provide a play-tested foundation on which a GM and his/her players can build their interactive story. However, regardless of the chosen framework, each individual game’s true nature is determined by what the GM and the players bring to it. Often, it is the extra touches added above and beyond the core rules that help push a game into the realm of awesome. They are the icing on the dungeon cake.

In my own gaming experience, I have had the good fortune to roll with GM’s (roll... get it!?) who are not afraid to add custom elements of awesome to their games. Now, a list of examples! Yay!!!

Last year, I had the opportunity to play a session of Adventure! in a group run by a friend of mine. This particular group had developed a system by which the players could influence the course of a scene. The Adventure rules include a system for “will and inspiration”, which this group had combined into “willspiration” which acts similar to action points in D&D 4E. Essentially, each player is allotted a certain number of points (in this case represented by poker chips). They can spend these points to influence the outcome of a scene in which they are involved, bending the very reality of the game world to their wishes. Well, this particular group added an additional element, called “shadow willspiration” by which any player could influence a scene in which they were not involved. They could throw a metaphorical or literal banana peel under the feet of their fellow adventurers, or nudge circumstances in their favor.

The 4E game I just began playing with GM Tendrilsfor20 includes a system of cards, dealt out to the players at the beginning of each session. The cards each describe a situation that can alter an in-game scenario. For example, one card reads “You spot a tactically advantageous piece of terrain. Describe what you see. Final decision is up to the GM.” Another card says “The cavalry arrives. A group of 5 npcs of your level shows up to lend assistance” During my first session, nobody got the opportunity to use a card, but the concept is intriguing and I long to witness the conversion of potential to kinetic awesome.

For my own game, (that’s right, toot toot goes my horn!) I have added the rule of awesome. In order to encourage my players to think outside the rules, I have developed a system by which they can make a single dice roll to determine the outcome of complex feats of daring-do. The roll is modified by any relevant character skill the player utilizes, how well they describe what they are attempting and how awesome I think the whole situation is. So, when the group’s monk wanted to charge across the deck of an airship, vault off the cargo crane and land on the back of an escaping wyvern rider, damn straght I let him try! When he rolled a 96 out of 100, the results were EPIC!

Then, there is this guy. I’ll let you read the interview for details, but it sounds like his idea for “open in the event of” envelopes adds a wonderful layer of mystery to a game session. You never know what secrets your fellow PCs might be hiding!

Anyway, custom rules and game mechanics like these are some of my favorite elements in role-playing games. My biggest challenge is learning to add them in moderation so as not to overwhelm my players with added flavor.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Spoke too Soon

oooh! shiny!
Looks like I may have jumped the gun on last week's post about the Hero Machine character portrait maker. They went live with a schmancy new UI yesterday that looks really slick! I encourage those of you who can to check it out. Alas... I must work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Little Embarrassments

My job requires me to write... a lot. And when I write, I often like to listen to music. Good music can help me focus and increase my productivity. This is especially true recently, as I am working right next to an active construction site, with the clanging and the grinding and the pounding!The presence of headphones clamped to the sides of my melon also serves as a signal to others that I am in "The Zone".

Well, recently I have taken to listening to Pandora while at work, and because instrumental music tends to be the best music to play while writing, I have set my station to base it's selection on a variety of epic movie soundtracks. Now, in my gaming life, I am currently building a series of soundtracks to help generate a certain atmosphere at the gaming table. In an effort to kill two vicious extraplanar birds with one stone of banishment, I have started jotting down the names and artists of interesting songs that come up on my Pandora queue. I have a little piece of scrap paper tucked under my keyboard and when something I like comes on, I take five seconds to jot down the title, artist and general feel of the song (e.g. gloomy, magical, desert). The process doesn't disrupt my writing or really take any time at all... Still, it's a little weird for the workplace, so I keep the list tucked under my keyboard all private like.

Then, this morning, I came in and saw my list pulled out from my keyboard, naked for all the world to see! Did I slide it out while getting ready to leave last night? Did the cleaning staff actually come through and clean? Or -horror!- did one of my coworkers, or worse, my boss need something from my desk and accidentally stumble upon my personal notes?

Suffice it to say, I'm a bit mortified this morning. I know I didn't do anything wrong. Building this list did not distract from my usual work. I don't even know if anyone actually saw it! But still, there is something about unexpected collisions between at-work and at-home personalities that can leave a guy red in the face.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My foray into 4E

Dungeons and Dragons has been around since 1974 and in over 35 years of history has been through a lot of changes. In the common nerdvacular (like vernacular but all mixed up) the major benchmarks in D&D's evolution are referred to as "editions" or "e" for the super-hip and lazy. I first dabbled in D&D during high school when 2E was all the rage. -I will now type THAC0 a whole bunch per the understood rules for discussing anything involving 2nd Edition D&D. While on my way to meet my friend, THAC0 for a lovely lunch of THAC0 with THAC0 before seeing the fine film, THAC0 presents THAC0 in THAC0, the THAC0 Story, I stopped off to pick up a six-pack of THAC0.- but I digress.

When I got back into tabletop RPGs during the mid-Oughts, 3.5 was all the rage, but was soon replaced by 4th Edition. -cue wardrums- Well, the transition to 4E set off a nerdwar of unbridled proportions. Storytellers insist that edition transitions always result in horrendous, Cheeto-fueled strife, but this was the first of such conflicts to which I bore witness firsthand.

Those who really love their 3rd Edition and its half sibling 3.5 railed against the new 4th Edition for killing roleplay by being too combat focused, for being little more than a video game on paper but waayyy slower, and for being a corporate-driven decision by a business wanting to make money. (GASP!)

Those who dove whole-hog into 4th Edition praise it as being streamlined, more balanced, more tactical, easier to run as a GM and easier to pick up as a new player. They also rail against 3.5 for being too complicated, unbalanced and old.

To which both sides added that those who subscribe to the other system are both cads and, in fact, bounders.

Anyway, since I re-entered the gaming world with 3.5E, I decided to stick with it when I started running my own game. I greatly enjoy the system, and now that I have found the book-buying loophole that is Half-Price Books, I have been able to build my library while paying used book prices, not out-of-print book prices for all my 3.5 Edition manuals. As such, I have had no desire to switch to 4th.

I love 3.5 and my players love 3.5. However, unlike many lurking in the anonymous mysts of the internet, I do not undergo a horrific lycanthropic transformation at the mention of 4E, which causes me to wake up naked in a field, covered in blood with a torn scrap of t-shirt reading "Move Minor Standard" clutched in my aching hand.

I subscribe to the old saw, "It takes all kinds" and in an effort to reach across the Edition aisle, I made my first foray into 4E gaming this past weekend. I enjoyed my time. I will play again in two weeks. However, my mental jury is still out on which system, if any, I find superior.

Here are my first impressions of 4E:
  • It does feel more streamlined and focused on "hero stuff" gone are uncool skills like "profession basketweaver" or "craft pottery". While this probably works for 95% of players, sometimes you want to play someone who is a really good cook (I have a player in my game who is doing exactly that!)
  • The method for composing stats gives your character higher numbers, but I have to assume this doesn't really affect the challenge of the game since any monster stats will be derived the same way, thus negating any advantage... but this one goes to 11.
  • Bonuses derived from leveling up have switched to a static increase, rather than changes rolled with dice (hit points) or selected from a pool of points (skills).
  • In an effort to balance the game, all character types have been given a selection of powers. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. Yes, I think some of the powers my character can use sound really cool. But at the same time, many of them seem to boil down to "deal x amount of damage and move the target y number of squares." Gone are the vast majority of special abilities that could be useful both in and out of combat. I have to admit, it does feel a little video-gamey. An intriguing video game, but still.
  • Likewise, the equipment list is simultaneously more open and more restrictive. More open in that my character uses a magic "implement" to drive his powers. What does this implement look like? Whatever I want it to! A staff, an orb, a rune-covered burrito, everything has the same effect... the same effect. This is both refreshing, in that the player can describe their character's weapon or implement however he/she wants, but also disheartening in that it doesn't affect how the game actually plays out. The trade-offs between weapon damage, potential for critical strikes and number of strikes, which were previously determined by selecting a weapon and shield, two handed weapon or two weapons, seem to have vanished entirely. Similarly, I was told that, as a druid character, I wore hide armor. No choice. That's just how it is. Oh, and apparently all magic necklaces do the same thing in 4E... but they can look like whatever you want!

    I think this will be one of those things that bugs me about the new system. One of my favorite aspects of 3.5 is playing with gear loadouts. Carefully crafting a character's kit to attain just the right balance of lethality, impregnability and agility -not always for the maximum advantage, but more to make a sword and shield swinging fighter feel different from one who swings a halberd from horseback. Its feels like the difference between custom-tuning a race car and picking a model and color from off the lot.
Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that I have only actually played for about 3 hours at this point. These are all first impressions. The jury is still out on how I feel about 4E or whether I think it is superior or inferior to 3.5. One thing I can say for certain... it is different.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Oh, nerdgasm!

    I've seen it before, but I just can't help myself! This is my Christmas wish for next year... forget World Peace.

    "No, I did not see you playing with your dolls again, sir!"

    I did it. I finally sold out. I went and bought brand-name dungeon tiles -for tiling my dungeons. I had been so good up until this point, going with indie-brands like Fat Dragon, hand-crafting my floor tiles from printouts glued to foamcore, and my overlays glued to discarded pizza boxes (how stereotypically nerdy is that!?) I had an addiction. I piled my closet with discarded pizza, cereal and beer boxes to use as backing for my bootleg tiles with which I could lay down cardstock complexes to draw my players into the game and quell questions like, "wait... where's the balcony again?"

    My players loved the added richness. I loved designing and laying out little sets... and it seemed so cheap! Just $2 for many of the Fat Dragon tile sets. Cheaper when they were bundled for charities like Gamers Help Haiti. But the indie sets had hidden costs. Time lost, rooms littered with discarded strips of Cheerios box, and the toner. Aye, there's the rub; toner, as one of the most expensive substances on earth, adds an enormous hidden cost to the papercraft hobby. So, when I realized that I could purchase not one, but two master sets of industry-standard tiles from Amazon for $27 with free shipping, my heart was turned.

    The new tiles don't warp with humidity. They don't delaminate. They're even shiny! Shiny! I'm afraid I've taken the first step on a dark path that may have dire consequences for our bathroom floor.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    "I spent 1/2 an hour shading your upper lip"

    I love drawing pictures, and throughout my drawing-pictures life, I have been inspired by comic books, anime, fantasy novels and really any other genre that involves people holding swords. Naturally, one of the elements of tabletop RPGs that I enjoy the most is dreaming up, playing and visualizing fantastic characters. While it can be great fun to dream up guilds upon guilds of calamitous intent, one of the big challenges of being the GM is that I am in charge of conceiving and birthing (Zeus-Athena-style) every character the players will meet in the course of the game... and darn it! my uteran brain gets wore out! I want to draw every character I come up with, but I just don't have the time!

    That's why I love the Hero Machine. Simply put, the Hero Machine is a virtual paper-doll tool that allows the user to assemble and color portraits of characters with a slant towards the action/fantasy/super-hero genres. The tool allows busy GMs like myself to churn out detailed, full-color renderings of characters with a fraction of the effort required to draw them by hand. Hero Machine is also fantastic for people who might doubt their drawing ability, but who really want to show their friends what their halfling barbarian, Dave, looks like in their mind. My players and I have all used the site to great effect crafting character portraits for our game.

    I call him, "Cuddles

    The most recent version of the Hero Machine (v3.0) is still in the alpha test phase, but has already far surpassed its immediate predecessor. Version 3 allows the user to rotate, resize, reposition and add multiple copies of each element. It is also the first version that allows the user to save an image, rather than just the source code. That being said, the tool is still in Alpha test, and so is a bit buggy. The known bug I most frequently run afoul of is a quirky little minx that will reposition your image in the upper-left corner upon export if you had the audacity to make use of the "hands" menu -what can I say? I like my characters to have hands.

    Anyway, the Hero Machine is both a useful gaming tool and an entertaining time-sucker. I highly recommend that you check it out.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Puzzles, You're Doing it Wrong

    Every GM occasionally designs an encounter that falls flat. This was the case for me last week. Last Friday, I posted about an encounter with a T-Rex that I worked into my Night at the Elven Museum adventure. Well, while the encouter with Rex was entertaining for my players, the lead up to it was not so much.

    In a nutshell, I committed the GM sin of violating the fundamental rule that the PCs' actions should matter. Here's what happened. The group was tasked with opening a stasis field in the museum's hall of animals in order to retrieve a tuft of fur. The control panel for the many stasis chambers around the hall was placed along one wall of the chamber, and consisted of an array of crystals. Some crystals glowed, some did not, and some flickered sporadically. Unfortunately, the labels on the controls had worn off in the 10,000 years the panel had been sitting unused. To the average player, this set up clearly says, "LOGIC PUZZLE! I need to determine which crystal opens the correct chamber so that I can get the fur, but not release the T-Rex or other nasty creatures in the other chambers."

    By good player logic (Successful Choice = desired item. Failed Choice = monster fight)

    Well, the problem was, I had made a bad design decision for what I thought was a good reason. I REALLY thought the T-Rex fight would be novel and entertaining, and when it came down to it, it was. HOWEVER, in trying to ensure that combat would happen, I built a twist into the aging control panel. Simply put, removing any crystal would cause the panel to overload and blow all the other crystals across the room, opening all the cages.

    By this poor GM logic (Successful Choice = control panel overloads, all animals released. Failed Choice = control panel overloads, all animals released) This is poor design because the players' choices no longer effect the outcome!

    I just wanted that T-Rex fight so bad that I would do anything to make it happen! I ignored the fact that, for my players, the possibility of releasing killer dinosaurs made for just as exciting an encounter as actually releasing them -if not moreso.

    I think another aspect of the problem was that I created something that looked like a logic puzzle, but that was intended to function more like a trap. I thought the logic was too simple to be a puzzle, that they'd solve it too quickly, I needed to add the challenge of combat. In my mind, I saw the party's rogue approach the control panel to check for traps, notice that it appears to be malfunctioning, and warn the group that the device was unstable and to expect the unexpected. This violated the old GM adage that no planned encounter ever survives its exposure to the PCs... and it still divorced the players' actions from the consequences of what could have been a very satisfying puzzle encounter.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Munchkin Axe Cop!

    Have you seen the photos!?

    Night at the Ancient Elven Museum

    As I mentioned in a previous post I think it is fascinating to see peoples' real-world interests, jobs, hobbies reflected in the fantasy realms they create. Well, I went and crafted an entire adventure inspired by my own career path -in museums.

    The Concept:
    My PCs (Player Characters) have traveled to a research center and repository of knowledge (read: museum) built by a reclusive sect of ancient elves.

    The Backstory:
    10,000 years previous
    A group of ancient elves who believed that a great apocalypse would soon befall the elven nations, headed for the hills and started squirreling away anything they thought was awesome or valuable, while simultaneously searching for a solution that could either prevent the apocalypse or simply allow them to not be there when it happened. They set up a structure built into a hillside (like Petra) for the purpose of storing their accumulated knowledge (like Alexandria or the caves at Qumran).

    Sure enough, an apocalypse of sorts comes along in the form of an Orcish invasion (of course!) Well, the Elven lands were left a barren waste and the location of the museum was lost to legend. Fortunately, the elves who lived there managed to enact plan C before the snarling, teeth-gnashy wave hit, which was to flee for parts as yet unknown.

    500 years previous
    A Human king, wishing to prove his worth to an Elven princess (of course!), crusaded in search of the legendary museum, and found it... with a snarly horde of orcs right on his tail. The two armies fought and generally make a mess of the place. The orcs were driven back, and the few survivors of the king's army made their way home having stolen an important item from the museum and reportedly having left another important item behind.

    100 years previous
    A dragon shows up. Finds nobody is using the museum and decides to take up residence, gradually accumulating a bunch of luddite lizard-people as followers.

    How it has Played Out (so far):
    The PCs have rediscovered the ancient museum in their search for the item the human king left behind. In their explorations thus far, they have met the dragon, who promptly stole most of their stuff before magically locking them out of his room. They then decided to team up with a spectral librarian who has been tasked with looking after the museum for eternity and who is, therefore, irked at the dragon and his lizardy minions making a bigger mess of the place than it already is.

    A hungry Lego T-rex about to get its nom on!
    Well, the PCs have been sent to collect ingredients for making a set of magic paints that will allow them to bypass the dragon's locks by jumping through paintings Harry Potter-style. Last night, they recovered the first ingredient from the Hall of Animals -a bit of fur for the bristles of the paintbrush. Unfortunately, as they were attempting to turn off the magic barrier to a particular animal's stasis field/cage, the control panel malfunctioned and turned off ALL the cages releasing a T-rex and four deinonychus that hadn't eaten in 10,000 years -because how can you have a museum adventure without a dinosaur fight!?

    Anyway, they managed to coax the dinos out of the museum without doing them harm and have now set about recovering the two other ingredients. One from the alchemical laboratories on the lower level and one from the orrery in the planar observatory.

    The Point:
    I am really enjoying my little foray into job-inspired D&D. Also, this is exactly what it is like to work in a museum.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    The Sound of Music

    I have an incredible affinity for epic movie soundtracks. My personal music collection is dominated by film scores that cause my blood to stir and my heart to race. Good music evokes a very strong emotional reaction from me and not just from instrumental soundtracks. There are songs that invariably cause me to mist up when I hear them, even if I'm expecting it, others that make me want to drive entirely too fast, and still others that make me want to punch things with big, sharp teeth in their toothy faces!
    So, naturally, when I started running a tabletop RPG, I decided to experiment with adding a soundtrack. I have incorporated music into my game with varying degrees of success over the past two years, and in doing so have identified a couple of challenges:
    1. Movie soundtracks can be problematic for my group. My players are all huge movie buffs and so, almost any soundtrack has the potential to send an otherwise dramatic moment spiraling off track into the trackless wastes of Quote'along.
    2. Movie soundtracks can be problematic in general. Each track in a movie's soundtrack tends to play like an audio-scene, complete with an arc over the course of 3-7 minutes. They can go from mystical to ominous. Tense and building to openly violent, which is great for the real-time pace of a film. Tabletop RPGs, however, play out fairly slowly with each person's turn taking about a minute; it can take a 10 minutes just to let everyone get in a sword hit. This slow pace means that tracks with a single tone throughout work much more effectively.
    3. The slow pace of game play also means that it takes a lot of time and therefore a lot of music to get through a scene. It is very common for combat to take an hour or more in game... That's a lot of battle music, so it is best to build a substantial play list.
    4. The temptation to get too detailed with my play list categories has threatened to overwhelm the immersive potential of the music. Maintaining broad categories like Battle, Exploring or Spooky is preferable to "The Tangled Fens when being chased by ghouls at dusk"
    Anyway, having identified these challenges through many trials and errors, I believe I have developed a system that works well for my particular group. It all began when one of my fellow Portaliers brought the musical group, Two Steps from Hell to my attention. Here was an extensive source of monster-killing music that I could compile into a You Tube playlist which could easily be run during my game.

    I began small by selecting a theme song for my game, which I play at the beginning of each session as we are wrapping up our dinner and getting ready to start the game. I admit that the adoption of a theme song was partially intended as a psychological experiment... which seems to be working. My players have developed a bit of a Pavlovian response to the music, like the credits of a favorite TV show, some rush to wrap up their current conversation thread before the song ends, while others immediately start to quiet down and get into game mode.

    From the theme song, I began selecting music to punctuate other key moments and noting sound cues in my game notes.

    The sporadic musical cues are now building towards a set of defined play lists with broad titles that can underscore the course of the game. I am currently in a disorganized collecting phase with my music... the boundaries are still hazy and the categories over-specific. Soon, however I hope to distill and combine my play lists into larger categories with broad applicability so that my game nights can have a continuous musical score, which hopefully will draw everyone deeper into the moment.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    A Dance With Dragons

    It's official, George R.R. Martin, one of the fantasy genre's best and most infuriating authors will FINALLY release the fifth book in his dark fantasy series, a Song of Ice and Fire on July 11, 2011! After five long years, the wait is over, A Dance with Dragons will hit the shelves! Though the lack of buzz about this being the final book suggests that we will probably all be waiting another decade for more.

    I recall finishing his first novel, A Game of Thrones and wanting to hurl it across the room because the second book wasn't out and I wanted fictional vengeance!

    Seriously, George, why can't you be like that nice young boy, Patrick Rothfuss who limits his series to trilogies about a single protagonist and who releases his books less than two years apart!?

    Charlie Sheen is an Undead Wizard

    I love basing the personalities of my NPCs (Non-Player Characters) and BBEGs (Big Bad End Guys) on characters from movies, books, TV or from actual people in the news. Its a lot easier when drafting an NPC to write down: "Yosemite Sam", or "Samuel L. Jackson" or "Sam Kinnison" (or any other Sam) as a prompt for how to play that character in game than it is to write out a full description of his/her/its mannerisms.

    In the wake of the now internetfamous Charlie Sheen interviews, I started thinking about which crazy celebrities would fit well as the personalities for different D&D monsters. I feel like celebrities spend so much time building up a public persona that they end up adopting archetypal characteristics like those found in stories. Then, when they break down or go off the deep end, they often seem to behave like some sort of dastardly arch-villain. They have a motivation, which they believe to be perfectly reasonable, but which appears frightening, crazy or deranged to the rest of us. After all, the most believable villains are those who think they are heroes.

    So, with my new crackpot theory in hand, I took to the interwebs and launched a discussion on the boards over at Obsidian Portal. 

    Here are some of the ideas I came up with:
    • Charlie Sheen – I think his burned out voice and raving about giving people magic and having tiger blood in his veins would be ideal for a Lich (undead wizard).
    • Oprah – She seems like she would be good as some sort of dragon, acting magnanimous but in a way that adds to her prestige and ultimately benefits her own horde.
    • Sean Penn – An ogre druid who was once in a torrid love affair with a nymph. He loves the planet, but always scowls and if you piss him off, he’ll smash your face.
    • Tom Cruise – Dragon with a captive princess. He is a major player in a bizarre cult and will ruthlessly quash anyone who interferes with their business or reveals their secrets.
    And here are some of the ideas others added to the pot.

    From Portalier, Libranchylde:
    • Lindsy Lohan - a halfling klepto with a drug problem. She even has the Kender spoon of “Cooking”, given to her by her Uncle Smackslinger.

    From Portalier, Poutine_Paladin
    • Paris Hilton - A succubus & wealthy heiress to a huge fortune/kingdom who thinks/acts as if her fame is due to some actual talent/skill, but in's only that the commoners want to bed her.
    • Miley Cyrus - The unfortunate result of a bard who was in good with the public for a few months many years back mating with one of the fairy folk. She now uses her fey music to lure children into the woods to their doom. Adults, however are immune to her musical pull.
    • Avril Lavigne - A doppleganger/shapeshifter that takes on whatever persona will achieve her goals according to the whims of the general populous.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Meticulously Mercurial

    This post is brought to you by two statements of fact:
    1. Successfully running and maintaining a tabletop RPG game requires a great deal of meticulousness and organizational ability
    2. As a relatively new DM (I have only really run one campaign for two years) I am still searching for my own game management style.

    Now, pour these two facts into a cocktail shaker, mix thoroughly and you will wind up with a set of campaign notes that is patchwork at best and a pile of nonsense at worst.

    During the two years I have been running my game (that's right, suckit Risk!) I have organized my notes in binders, notebooks, in Excel, Word, directly written out on maps, in Google Docs, One Note, Evernote aand Obsidian Portal... and that doesn't even touch on the various character creation software I have experimented with.

    The whole situation leaves me feeling like a confused and angsty tween, searching in vain for stability in my organizational partner, only to be distracted by the next pretty thing that comes along. The new system walks by on the way to its locker, and suddenly, I can't help but notice everything that is wrong with my current "thing". It's text is too small. It doesn't "do" tables or pictures. It will only let me change it in "editing mode" O.M.G. we are so breaking up! 

    And so, I dump the old and get to know the new shiny... only to then realize that the new shiny comes with its own baggage.

    I mention this, because last night I had a wonderful brainstorming session with a buddy of mine who writes on the blog Minor Actions and he introduced me to an older, classic organizational system: The Notebook... aaand, I once again find myself in the thrall of something new and different.

    I feel compelled to list out the qualities of Notebook that make it better than my current One Note on the laptop:
    • Flexibility - A notebook will let me put in pictures, tables or whatever else I want. I can even print and tape in my digital printouts, scribble in the margins, keep statistics that I don't want to change in pen while variable stuff can be in pencil!
    • Unassuming - A notebook will take up far less space at the game table, and wont break if I accidentally drop it.
    • No power trips - A notebook doesn't need power. My current digital solutions immediately shut down if they are not plugged in -stupid laptop battery!
    • Portable - My laptop weighs a ton! I could much more easily bring a notebook to bed, work or wherever I want... It's always a challenge to get Laptop to leave the house.
    • More open - It is far easier to look at a whole page on a notebook than on a computer, regardless of the program you are working with.
    Okay... now, in an effort to be more realistic about things, I feel compelled to list things I expect not to like about Notebook.
    • Time consuming - It takes longer for me to write things out by hand, much less neatly, than it does to type them.
    • Easier to lose - one of the problems with being unassuming is that it is easy to disappear in a crowd or pile of clutter.
    • Unforgiving - Its much more difficult to reorganize notes once they are in a notebook than it is in a computer program. If I go with a spiral bound notebook, I cant pull pages out and put them in a new place... but then again, that means there is less chance they will get lost... right?
    Sigh... so, do I give my old note-taking system the boot, or stick with what I know?

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