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How Do You Handle Technology In Fantasy Games?

Here in America the past few weeks fireworks have been going off every night. If you live in heavily populated areas you probably haven't been getting a whole lot of sleep as the blasts go off into the middle of the night. Last night while trying to fall asleep between the firework blasts I was thinking about explosives and gun powder in my Dungeons and Dragons games.

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I don't usually have gun powder in my games but why not? Is it too game breaking? Is it too powerful? I don't really think so but again why don't I have it in my games? This is something I am going to start having in my games only it will be extremely expensive to buy. Anything that can do as much damage as a gun or explosive should be expensive. In turn it really shouldn't be practical to use.

Gun powder should also be very rare. Whether it is a concoction only some know how to make or if it is a natural resource it should be hard to come by. If it wasn't hard to come by technology will advance really quickly with things like vehicles, or other things that come with combustion.

It's going to be hard to find any guns or know of people who know how to adequately design explosives. It would take a lot of trial and error to figure it out. Just experimenting would lead to deaths and disfigurement. Could make some interesting NPCs in your campaign though. The richest man in town could be missing his arm or hand and be a little wacky. You would have to be a little quirky to risk your life like this right?

These are all just thoughts for my own home brew campaign. If my players want to try and seek this stuff out they can. It isn't too powerful because guys can summon lightning bolts and fire out of their finger tips without consequence. It could add to some fun. Imagine Kobolds or Goblins evening the odds by hurling explosives at players. They could deal better damage and for some extra entertainment you can even have them blow themselves up to show how dangerous it can all be.

So don't be afraid to add some technology into your games. It could add some fun or even give you some interesting encounters when you are struggling to come up with a good idea for that session.


Last Minute Prepping

Here it is Wednesday and I am supposed to run a game on Friday night. This post will be my thought process and my prep notes for Fridays session because I haven't prepped it yet. I have some ideas for what I would like to do though.

Step 1: Where did we leave off?

The players had just walked into the base of the Cult of the Dragon and witnessed a negotiation between the Necromancer (Leader of the Black Hand Army) and some Half-Dragons leading the Cult of the Dragon. The players found out that these two factions are 2 pillars of the 8 Pillars of Death. Once the players found this out they left by way of the Valley of Endless Caves. They fought a Manticore in one cave and two Owl Bears in another. They then camped as the Cult of the Dragon marched through the valley. The players seemed interested in exploring more caves though instead of chasing after the Cult of the Dragon.

Step 2: Where might the players go?

I think there are three strong options here. They may follow the Cult of the Dragon or as they began to talk about go to the Dwarven City to warn them and possibly get reinforcements. They might continue to explore the Valley of Endless Caves.

Step 3: Random encounters for each of the choices.

If the players stick around the caves I have some potential Orc raids as random encounters. If the players follow the cult I have some random wildlife encounters of either spiders, or wolves attacking. If they go up to the Dwarven City they will be ambushed by bandits.

Step 4: Prepping the different scenarios.

Scenario 1 - Exploring the Valley of Endless Caves

So for this I am going to keep it simple. I have some cave modules that I can plug in as any of the caves I want. I will use some of those to reduce the amount of prep needed here. I can also just pick monsters I would like to use and craft caves on the spot to reflect how those monsters may live adding in interesting terrain that can be used for or against the players. Stalagmites that could fall at random. Blood bugs (Stirges) are a favorite to use too.

The players will be expecting some interesting treasure by doing these so maybe I will throw them a bone. So far most treasure has been martial character heavy. So time to throw in some things for our magic users. Possible items Pearl of Power, Deck of Illusions, Wizards Staff, Magical Necklace (increases spell DCs), Bracers of Defense (Our Wizard and Sorcerer don't wear armor and everyone else is heavy armor wearing).

Scenario 2 - Following the Cult of the Dragon

If they follow the Cult of the Dragon they will lose the trail. Being a day behind will make it tough especially when the storm begins. The players will enter a swampy area with dark storm clouds constantly hovering overhead. The road they are on will have rune symbols that get brighter as they walk along it. If the players look off to the sides of the road in the distance they will see bright lights. Those are Will-O-Wisps and they won't approach the road due to the warding on the road but if the players go out and attack they will enclose on the players. Players would be smart to avoid them at all costs. Eventually traveling on the road the Wisps will disappear and the rune symbols will fade. The players will enter a really bad swamp though with Bullywugs which the players have fought before, but these ones worship the 3 Hags of the swamp.

Scenario 3 - Going to the Dwarven City

Doing this will lead to what I envision being a fun encounter with a Red Dragon. Yes, a Red Dragon! When the players arrive the gates will be opened and as they walk in the guards will freak out when they see the Large Red Dragon flying in about to douse them with flames. The players will join in to defend the city for a bit and eventually the Dragon will flee. During the battle or after the players will notice that a lot of the Dwarves Armor and Weapons look to be made of the highest quality imaginable. A DC15 check will uncover that it was forged with Dragons Fire. The players can investigate and hear rumors of a Red Dragon being held hostage deep under the city.

Those are the 3 things I have so far. There is still a lot of improv left but the ideas are down in writing now. There is still some flavor to add before the game on Friday but now I have a clear idea of what MIGHT happen. Would love to hear your feedback. Not bad for just writing this up in about 45 minutes.

So if you have any ideas to add to this or fun ways to make this even better feel free to toss me some of your ideas.

RPG Prep Road Block

I have been trying to prep for my Saturday home game of Dungeons and Dragons for awhile. I've had ideas but felt stumped which is a frequent problem in this campaign for some reason. Been analyzing why it seems so difficult for me and I can't quite put my finder on it. A lot of sessions I have had to improv because I couldn't come up with anything ahead of time I felt would be good. So tonight in a chat on G+ Hangouts that was posted by Chepe in the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group I asked people for feedback. Some of the potential reasons for my road block that were suggested were as follows...

  1. Maybe I haven't made my story personal enough to the characters.
  2. Maybe I give too much info at times.
  3. Maybe I should focus on the little things more.
  4. Maybe I should invest more into individual NPC's and let those interactions drive where the players take the story.

So I began to think about if my story has been personal enough for the characters. It clearly isn't. The story of the campaign is about a Long Forgotten God who has his body parts scattered around. There are rumors that he can be brought back to life. The players also know he may have suffered split personality disorder which also explains him being a Cleric and a Wizard. The players have stated it doesn't make sense that they would want to bring him back to life yet they have retrieved some of the body parts. There is a personal side quest I tried to get the players involved in but they didn't seem very interested in that either. Maybe this campaign is lacking that personal touch and I need to give them that.

If I am going to add some personal inspiration to the game there are many ways I can do this. Bring character family members into the mix. Get some background info from the players about their characters. Ask their characters in game why they adventure and what their characters life goals are.

Is it possible I info dump at times? Sure this is possible but I think the real problem with this is I can be quite vague or general about it. If I am going to info dump I should give them more info right? Give them the bits that will make it fun or interesting. Not just the info outright. Maybe make it a plot hook to go retrieve something.

I've played some great games that focused on the little things and I don't do this much in this game on purpose. Sometimes going on a quest to clear an area of bandits or goblins is just what the party needs. This can be a fun session and give some ok loot. It might not advance a story but it can lead to some fun interactions with an NPC as you build up a relationship between PCs and NPCs.

There is a great website by Johnn Four called Roleplaying Tips. You can go to the site and subscribe to his newsletter. Some of the things he recommends is always introducing a new NPC or two in a session as well as a plot hook or two a session. When he talks about the NPCs all NPCs should have a secret, and a descriptive trait. These NPCs should provide plot hooks for future games or the current one. NPCs can be the lifeblood of a campaign so focusing on them is a great way to get players invested in the story.

Some campaigns write themselves and prep is easy. Others for some reason or another seem more difficult. This group is awesome and I love my players. They are great people that I always look forward to getting together with so I want to provide the best experience possible for them. I want to thank Philip Posey of Maps & Dragons, Mike the Piper, and "Lumi Jo" Joseph Becker for helping me come up with some interesting ideas for my game Saturday.

Have you experienced RPG Prep Road Block? How did you overcome it? Where do you usually get caught up in prep? If you found this helpful be sure to leave a comment and share it with your RPG friends.

Inspiration From Easter

***This is not a post about religion. ***

The story of Jesus is that he was sentenced to death on the cross and then rose from the dead 3 days later. This was to signify the forgiveness of our sins. Thinking about this has made me wonder how this could be used in an RPG today.

While thinking about this I was considering how I would implement this into an NPC for a fantasy RPG. They would need to be a polarizing figure with many very dedicated friends/followers. Maybe they are a Cleric or Priest but they could really be any class as long as they have many people who believe in their cause. 

A huge Government or Faction would need to oppose this cause. At first it shouldn't be much of an issue but as the NPC gains influence it should become more and more of a problem. Eventually this will need to blow up. The NPC will need to be caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death. 

Make the imprisonment or death sentence a huge event. This will get the importance of this NPC across in your game. His followers could try to help him escape but maybe this NPC refuses and thinks it is his destiny to carry this out.

After death he could ascend to being a diety in your campaign. Maybe he just comes back from the dead by resurrection spell which depending on your games could be a common occurrence. If it is common though this may not be as impactful as you would want. Personally I like the idea of this person becoming a diety.

Obviously you could change the story at any point however you want. The character could be battling for freeing slaves, or equal rights for a certain race for example. Maybe he wasn't sentenced to death and was murdered instead by an assassin. This story could be modified to be a really fun background story over a large campaign.

I would love to hear how you have used holidays or stories from the bible for inspiration in your Tabletop RPGs. Feel free to leave a comment in the comments below.

How Do Video Games, and Movies Inspire Your Tabletop RPGs?

Lately my wife and I watched season 4 of Game of Thrones, and I have been playing Dragon Age. I beat Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age II, and am currently playing through Dragon Age Inquisition which has had me thinking a lot about my Tabletop RPGs. I told my gaming groups I was taking the month of March off from running any games due to my wife and I expecting our son on March 17th. Taking time off from running RPGs has given me time to play video games a little more than normal.

For me watching a Game of Thrones makes me want to give my players the type of emotional immersed feel that the show has made me feel. I have loved and hated characters only to find my opinion changing within a few episodes. That show is great! The different factions also inspire me to put some more though into my home brew world as well. A Kingdom that is allied with Dragons, Giants and Barbarians aligned, a fire Sorcerer aligned with a Lord. Then the political jockeying for position. So many ideas I have been looking to pick from this show and place in my world.

While I was playing through the Dragon Age series not only am I always thinking about adventures I could use from the game at my table. I also think about what I can cherry pick from the main themes to place into my home brew world. Mages vs Templars, Grey Wardens vs the Blight, and the Qunari in Kirkwall. The Qunari for me almost seem the most intriguing at the moment. The thought of creating a complete rip off of them for my world seems like such a fun idea. Taking the Qun and revamping it in a way that I could enjoy it more would be the way to go though. I think it would be simple enough to take the Dragonborn race, and swap out the breath weapon with a horn attack maybe? Placing them in a Desert would work I think.

The things I will be stealing from these things and other movies like Lord of the Rings, or the Hobbit I will not just pick it and place it exactly as it is in the movies, books, or tv shows. I will make it my own because I don't want my players to feel like they are in those worlds interacting with those characters. I want my players to think my world is amazing. If they notice a thing or two that is fine. Ultimately though I want them to feel like this is all fairly fresh ideas and themes.

Some of my favorite things to steal are magic items, and locations. When I steal a location I take inspiration from something I thought looked amazing. Then I change it up some. When I switch most things up I feel like I do a good enough job that nobody notices where I got my inspiration from so that is a plus.

Don't be afraid to steal things for your table from movies, shows, video games, or even other tabletop rpgs. It can help you with your prep, and make the games more enjoyable for you in the process. I always encourage new game masters to steal from as much as they can. When I am getting ideas from these different sources it rejuvenates me for my tabletop games.

Do You Use A DM Screen For Dungeons and Dragons?

Last night at Dungeons and Dragons Encounters I had a player bring the new Fifth Edition DM Screen which I was able to use. That thing is absolutely beautiful! Feels very durable and I felt as though it had some very useful information on it. Too many times a DM Screen is packed with information you will never use or beyond the 1st or 2nd time you won't ever use again. I loved the low profile of it allowing me to see over the screen.

Recently in video responses on YouTube many people have discussed their own thoughts on using DM Screens or not. I am surprised at how many people choose not to use any. For me I find them useful because I like to have all my miniatures hidden behind the screen especially the bigger encounters.

Having the screen also allows me to keep my notes and maps hidden from the players. Players eyes will wander down and look in a lot of cases which can ruin some surprises. One of the greatest things about this hobby is the randomness and surprises of the game. Isn't that why we use dice?

Speaking of dice I have seen a lot of people mention rolling in the open. When you roll dice in the open there is no denying that the players around the table begin to meta game. They will start figuring out the to hit bonus of the monster and things like that. I sometimes roll in the open and have noticed this happens all of the time. When I run D&D Encounters the players there seem to do it a lot more than my other groups. While that is fine I can't imagine as a player it would be fun knowing these things.

Speaking of the 5e screen the things I would have liked to see on it would be XP for Leveling. The CR/XP by offense and defense of monsters from the DMG. Also quick rules on how to make an encounter with modifiers based on # of enemies and such. This would have helped with being able to run the game on the fly but it is still a very good screen.

The highlights of the screen for me are the conditions because those will be used pretty frequently. I like the name generator, NPC generators, and random things on the far right section of the screen like random events.

If you run games primarily online there is no need to use a screen but if you run games in person I highly recommend it for the reasons above. I will be picking up my own 5e screen very soon because it is really well done I think. Even though I feel they could have added more to really make it great this screen is one I could see myself using for other games even. The system neutral things are the main reason for that.

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House Rules for Dungeons and Dragons

Lately with the release of the new Dungeon Master's Guide it seems like the talk of house rules has come up a lot more. Personally I do try to run my games by the book but some games are more fun with some minor changes here and there. For instance Lloyd of the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook began asking about initiative the other day. This has started a whole conversation about this and how other games handle it. 5e even has some variant rules for it in the DMG.

Some things I have thought about house ruling personally are critical hits and critical fails. We have talked about creating our own tables for our games to help with this in future games. If I do this you better believe I will have them up for download here on the website too. What sort of things would be on this? Well I would probably have things like max damage is dealt on a critical hit. Other things might be disadvantage for that enemy in the next round. Obviously this is using 5e's system too. Then critical fails could be things like slipping and hurting self. Could also break your weapon on a critical fail.

Some other common things to house rule are things like downtime activities. Personally I will always allow my players to learn more skills if that is how they choose to spend their downtime. I am also only going to allow multi-classing based on backstories before a game, and downtime studies.

I try to make it possible for my players to make the concept they want. If I have to bend some rules for that then so be it sometimes. If I feel like the concept is just for power gaming reasons and them taking advantage of how flexible I am though I will not allow it. Sometimes I just won't allow things based on principle alone.

There are a lot of things that can be house ruled to make a game more fun. So with this blog post I would love to hear more about your thoughts on house rules. Leave a comment below please.

When Did Gaming Become About The System?

Recently had a discussion with a guy who was citing the "rules as written" or RAW as people refer to it these days. Now luckily this kid isn't one of my players at my table but he was showing signs of a stage 3 rules lawyer. This got me thinking when did the power leave the hands of a dungeon master and become all about what is written in a book? Why can't people function if something isn't spelled out clearly in the book for them?

I have a tendency to point rules out for people running games if they seem to be unsure of something. It has got a group calling me a rules lawyer before but I am ultimately ok with whatever the person running the game says. I do have an issue when players at the table cite the incorrect ruling as how a book is written but I think they knew that. It was clearly a joke because now they have me running our campaign of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. So what is it about people that they feel it is ok to argue with a person running the game?

Then I was speaking to my friend sr2joker about this mentality and it made me think when did players begin doing this? Is it a new concept? I've heard people blame 3.0/3.5 for putting so many rules into the game that are clearly spelled out. Is that when people became so tied to the books and what they say? Please let me know your thoughts on this?

Almost every day I see people consulting forums with questions that could easily be ruled on in game and also that are clearly written in the books. Then everyone fights over who is going to answer the question to show who is the all knowing. I have offered to help people on forums and quickly had those people jump all over it and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about unless I cited all page numbers that say it. That happened today and then finally someone cited a specific thing because my mentioning of the book saying it is up to the DM for other things not mentioned. I even ran the debate by other people and they all thought that even though the book didn't spell things out specifically that it should be up to the DM.

Sorry that this blog post sort of became me complaining but I do truly want these questions answered because I don't understand the mentality. There are a lot of great things in the gaming community but this isn't good for it. We are lucky to have amazing people in the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook because nobody acts like this from my experience. Hope we can continue to spread the joy that actual gaming does. Seems like the more people talk about games and don't play them the more drama takes place.

Thanks,