31 May 2011

Big List of RPG Plots

Sometimes I'm not sure where to go with an idea. It's usually when the idea's at its most nebulous state, where it really could go just about anywhere, at any time, and fit a lot of different ideas. It needs to be nailed down and solidified so it can go in one direction.
When I've got a stubborn idea like that, I like to go to the Big List of RPG Plots and pick one or two and make them work. It's really great. Just reading a couple of them with some ideas in your head gives you a lot of room to make it work on an adventuring level, without giving you anything that might spoil that creativity burning away in the back of your brain.

Just as a quick example, I'll pick two at random: Blackmail and Delver's Delight. 

Just off the top of my head, you could have an adventure where the PCs are blackmailed into exploring something dangerous for the guy. Maybe the Lord Governor of a planet will grant them clemency if they recover a holy icon from a neighboring planet, deep in the underbelly of a hive-world where dangerous theives have secreted it. Maybe it's the other way around, and they were exploring a barren planet and uncover something that was never meant to be found, or disturb something that shouldn't have been disturbed, and they're discovered red-handed. Now the law is using them for their own ends (since they recognize talent when they see it, even if it is criminal), and the PCs have got to figure out how to get out from under their thumbs.

You could go deeper- with the first example, maybe they find out halfway through the mission that they're not the only ones seeking this thing, and they uncover a conspiracy where all of them have been gathered up on trumped-up charges and there's multiple teams of seekers, all kept separate and watched very closely, but there can only be success for one group- meaning that they're both recovering their lost posessions and eliminating several troublemakers in the process. Or maybe it turns out that the thieves aren't the bad guys after all- the object belongs to them and the PCs are left with an unsavory choice- either they steal the artifact from its rightful owners and bring it back to their blackmailers, or they help the good guys and now they're wanted by the Lord Governor and are being pursued by a man who commands an entire planet's worth of overt and subtle force? 

Before I go way too far, this is exactly why I like the site. It's a great creative aide, and if you're ever caught in a bit of a rut or find yourself re-writing the same adventure three times, it's just the thing to break you out of the habit.

27 May 2011

Happy Birthday, Saruman!

In case you didn't know (I didn't until five minutes ago), today is Christopher Lee's birthday. I know he probably won't read this, but I'd like to wish him a very happy birthday.

By the way, you should watch the Satanic Rites of Dracula, if you haven't. Best vampire ever.

26 May 2011

Samurai Jack

I've been watching Genndy Tartakovski's awesome cartoon series Samurai Jack and every time I watch it, I want so badly to make a role-playing game supplement thing out of it, it isn't funny.

I'll probably resist the urge, however, and be content just to watch a really cool show. I can still remember the first time I watched it, and how cool I thought it all was- this was back in 2001, I was at my grandparents' house watching some TV because my cousins hadn't gotten here to hang out yet and so it was pretty much just me. I think my brother was still sleeping.

I never watch TV unless I'm really bored- it just doesn't jive with the way I work. I'm too twitchy, you know? Moving too constantly around for that sort of thing. Staring at a box for half an hour plus and letting videos and explosions and dialogue seep into my brain passively just isn't something I'm good at. I'd much rather read or write or doodle or play video games or plot or something. Anything, almost, rather than watch TV. The only way I can watch movies is if it's either really, really good or if the person I'm with lets me talk through the entire thing.

Anyways, it's a great TV show. You can watch it online, for free, through animefreak.tv, if you're so inclined, or you could always go out and buy a boxed set or something. I dunno. If you've never watched it, you should give it a shot. You just might like it.

24 May 2011

One Two Fiver

Sometimes your brain just won't function. You're thinking about sandwiches, and fire, and cell phones, and deployments and video games. It's getting in the way of your writing. You sit down to do something, but you can't think of anything past the ever-flooding surface thoughts and nothing seems to come out right. You get frustrated.

Try out this: http://onetwofiver.com/write/. It's billed as a writer's warmup, and I can't think of a single better way to start any given blog post. If you ever need a good place to write a quick, disposable warmup to start your brain juices flowing, give One Two Fiver a shot. It really helps!

22 May 2011

Travelling: The Adventure

One of the things that's really easy to forget about the ancient world is the insular nature of it. Not that certain people didn't travel across the world, of course (that was the big draw of joining the military or being a merchant, after all- you got to see more of the world than you could before), but people really didn't travel much further than where they were born. You were born, you grew up... and then you died in roughly the same spot.

Travel was dangerous and bizarre, and often extremely frightening. There were stories of dangerous monsters and horrible forests and the all-too mundane bandits. But there was something else at play, too.

After all, there are people who in these modern days have never left their home state except maybe for vacation. Being surrounded by Navy personnel, you meet a lot of people who will easily tell you that they're from [STATE X] and had never been outside of it, for any reason, ever. (For some reason Texans and Southerners are particularly proud of this fact. Rednecks, huh?) They just have never felt the need to leave, and so they didn't.

I think a good bit about the medieval mind could be learned from people like that. Not to sound condesending, naturally, but really. The ancient man could leave only at great peril and expense, so often did not, regardless of their own personal desires. The modern man can travel across the world at extreme safety (airplane travel being one of the safest modes of travel in the history of mankind), and at relatively minor cost. As I speak, I sit in a place at least a thousand miles from my home (which is the 6th place I've lived for any moderate length of time, but let's not go there), and it doesn't cost more than 100$ round trip.

The point is that most people simply don't like travelling. They're comfortable in their tiny worlds, content with having a place in a smaller ecosystem. To an ancient man, his village might be his entire world and he'll never have a real chance to change it. They're too busy trying to make a living. Even if he could leave, it's hard getting used to new places and new people, having to learn new landmarks and new idioms and currencies and economies and everything. To some people, it's not worth it even if it is feasible.

It's early, please forgive the unclear thoughts. I've got to go- I'll finish this thought later.

21 May 2011

The End of the World

You'd be surprised how long it took to Google an image
that wasn't either a meteor or that stupid REM song.

So today's supposed to be the end of the world. Yeah, hey, whatever. Like I told my buddy, I'm already doing pretty much what I'd like to be doing. It can end if it likes to. I'd rather it didn't, but very few people consult me when it comes to the end of the world.

This reminds me: One of my favorite personalities in any given game is the doomsday prophet. There's always something fun about including the absolutely mad and loud and angry in one's fantasy world. Nothing says, "Welcome to Grensvale!" like a bearded, be-ragged man screaming about the end of the word and trying to grab on to the player characters. Very few people are comfortable with it, and lots of shoving and ignoring happens.

Where I used to walk around at in Atlanta, there was this fat, bearded guy with a sandwich board sign that, no shit, said that we were all going to hell, and he'd stand on the street corner and bellow it at us. I can only imagine he was retired, because that's no way to make a living. What, you're gonna get some tips for standing on a street corner and insulting us as we walk by? Good luck with that, fat sunglasses guy.

I get more mileage out of it with Warhammer, naturally, but it sees a good bit of play in any game where the players are running around in an "urban" environment place. As gloomy as it sounds, doomsday cults are a lot of fun- you get to fight people who are devoted and fanatical and have some sort of dark plot who are trying to end the world via [DEITY X], usually through some sort of violence or murder. They're obviously assholes, so it's ok to kill them, and you get to sort of save the world, even though most of the shit they believe is either made up or stupid. "You mean to tell me that Golb-Halskoon spoke to your leader, yeah, the guy in the red mask, sure... Anyways, he told him to kill the mayor and sacrifice a hundred babies? Looks like it's time for Caledfwlch to get its slice on."

Also apparently it's only the rapture that's supposed to be taking place today. Guess I'll get comfy and try to enjoy the world now that 75% of the world's population of douchebags isn't going to be on my roads, or eating my hamburgers or whatever. We'll only have the world to ourselves till October, but hey, better than nothing.

19 May 2011

Goin' to Chicago

I'm hoping no levees break while I'm there...
In a couple of hours, I'm going to sit my ass down on a plane and fly to Chicago to see my girlfriend (finally) graduate from Navy boot camp. It should be a pretty good time, once I get past the 4 hour flight (with layovers, naturally). I haven't been there since my own stint in boot camp, and it should be cool to see the place from the other side.

You don't get a very good view of a boot camp graduation when you're in it, you know. And especially not when you're dog-tired from actually being in boot camp and you didn't get to sleep nearly enough because the day before you'd been up for nearly 48 hours due to Battle Stations and graduation practice and the fact that, again, you're still in boot camp.

But yeah, I'm totally excited. My brother woke me up in pursuit of cat foot at about 4, and I'm just not tired anymore. Four hours of sleep is enough for anybody, right? ;)

18 May 2011

Evoking a Mood: The Question

I'd like to hear some tips on what you guys use to evoke certain moods and feelings in a campaign. As I've alluded to in the previous post, I have a hard time with it, and it affects my ability to sit down and codify a setting to use in the future, something I'd like to try my hand at fairly soon. Maybe it's just not something that's my style, but it's something I'd like to try all the same. It doesn't happen in my creative writing, but story writing and the more clinical setting writing aren't the same thing. The worst modules I can think of tried to tell a story instead of letting the story happen naturally by the excitement and interaction of their players. The worst video games are the same way, if you're curious as to my stance on the matter. (I'll take Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress' total lack of story over Metal Gear Solid 4 or any given japanese RPG's endless masturbatory dialogue and cut scenes any day.)


Recommendations of things that are easy to get ahold of are fine, as are free things. I love reading new things. Things that work for you are even better though, if you're feeling revealing enough. Criticism of anything I've written (if you can stand to read it) is absolutely golden.

Evoking a Mood: The Digression

Let me start with a question: How does one evoke a setting? 

Let me backtrack now. My personal style of gaming is that of freeform wackiness and fun, generally inspired by the fact that A) I'm a nut and B) When I started playing, I didn't have access to the rest of the game. I had one book (The "E" from BECMI) and myself and my brother, our collective imaginations, and a lot of spare time. Nobody had taught me to play, nobody said, "this is what adventures look like." So as a result, my adventures had a lot of stuff I'd cribbed from Magic: The Gathering and TV Shows and video games that I'd played as well as everything else I could think of. It was a game for me and my brother to play, and fun was the most important part. It's still like that, if you're wondering- I'm not above changing entire settings to make them more fun if people seem like they're not enjoying it, or adding something that I'd like to the mix, or whatever- it's kind of how I roll. It makes internal sense, but it's hard to explain.

If it makes a good metaphor, it's exactly like jamming. I take the ideas the players put out and put my spin on them, and they take where I'm going with it and they might go one way, or go another, and then I take that and off we go, totally improvising tomb raidings and castle invasions and interrogation scenes and plundering, all from our collective, free-flowing brainstorming. It's literally the only way I know how to play. 

And yet one reads about people who meticulously detail settings and worlds and empires and people just enough that there's a robust and interesting world with secrets and betrayals and hidden feints within feints and yet open enough that their players are still able to affect the world and have an impact on it. I'm thinking of the inestimable Mr. Raggi, as an example, or various pre-published settings that people swear by (Greyhawk and Blackmoor as two notable examples). 

It's bizarre, and I have no idea how they do it. The concept of a fully pre-formed world before your players sit down is so bizarre. It's one thing to have some ideas hastily written down to be future "hooks" and "leads" for your players or to write down a couple of names or have a vague idea about some part of the setting (I'm gonna have a pseudo-greek nation and a pseudo-arabic nation and a nation of half-giants, just as an example from the semi-attached setting of SKELETON PUNCHER, but that's about as far as it's probably going to get until I get somebody to play it...) I can only suppose that it's a result of recording what players do and hear and like in the setting that gets made into canon, the same way that 5 year long campaigns seem super detailed and extravagant, except that the complexity and cast of characters didn't spring out of nowhere, but were invented bit by bit over five years. 

It's a thought anyways. 

It's Not That I'm Up Early

It's that I haven't gone to bed yet.

There's something both magical and appealing about being awake when nobody else in the world is (except for my buddy who's been playing League of Legends on my computer [with my blessing, mind you] for the past like six hours). The sun's going to rise soon, and I'll probably go out into the uncommonly bitter cold and look at it, and then shuffle back inside. Seriously, it's like 50 out there, when summer's supposed to be starting. This time last year, I'll be damned if it wasn't 80 degrees all day long, and humid to boot. 

I don't really mind, I suppose, it could always be worse.

In related news, I'm still working on SKELETON PUNCHER. I know I've started and stopped more games than I've finished over the couple of years, but every time I do so, I learn something. Everything you produce, you learn from. Writing AA taught me how to make a layout that isn't cancer on the eyes (even if the content isn't so great), writing modules taught me how to keep to a theme, and writing games teaches me exactly what I do and do not like about any contemporary game that exists today. Maybe someday there'll be a list, and maybe not. 

Why this text is centered is a mystery for the ages.

Why nothing of consequence has been posted here in ages is a mystery for right now.

17 May 2011

Organizing your RPG: Rob Lang's Helpful Primer

This is as much for you as for me.

Rob Lang is a cool guy. His blog is always good reading, the 1KM1KT site is full of interesting reading, and, the reason I'm making this post, his guide on organizing your free RPG is beautiful, handy, hilarious, and extremely useful. I'm working on the basic skeleton of a free game (called, tentatively, SKELETON PUNCHER, and yes, the Caps Lock is part of the name) and it's been an immense help. I'm sure you've heard of it, and I'm sure you've used it before, but this link is half for me and half for anybody that hasn't seen this before.

It's an awesome link. If you haven't looked it yet, look at it now. It's awesome.

EDIT: In my own bone-headedness brought on by a severe lack of caffeine, I neglected to include the actual link. It's there now.

House of Leaves

Since my last post was, essentially, a post about a cool horror thing you could totally look at, it only makes sense to continue this brand new tradition of mine to post about this book I've been absorbed in for the past three days: House of Leaves.

My own screwy words could hardly do it justice, and neither does Wikipedia's page (seeing as how it's an encyclopedia and not a literary critic), but here's an excerpt from its TVTropes page, paraphrased from a passage in the book:
Wait, no, that's still not right. Okay, you're interested in what House of Leaves is about, right? Well, this book is about that point directly behind your head. Don't look.Ω Don't take your eyes off this page, off the safe glow of the monitor, the comforting shapes of the letters making up this sentence. This is safe. What's behind you isn't. Keep reading these words. If you stop to look behind you, I can't guarantee you'll come out of this ordeal alive, much less sane. Pretty soon you might find yourself doubting what is real and what isn't. Pretty soon you might start to havethe nightmares. One day you'll wake up to find yourself an emaciated wreck who can't trust space and time anymore. Whether something is real or not doesn't matter here; the consequences are the same. What you need to realize is that this is not for you.

You can find some introductory readings online, I'm certain, and if you're interested in a complex, experimental, interlayered book that's sort of but not really about a Necronomicon-styled book written about a Blair-Witch-esque movie produced about a house with certain unorthodox geometries populated by a somewhat unhappy family, give it a google search. It's seriously the best book I've read in a long time. Google it. Look at the TV Tropes page and the Wikipedia page. It's brilliant.

13 May 2011

Promptly Starting Late

Whenever I game, it's impossible for me to start on time. Everybody's usually here roughly on time, everybody's sitting around the table with their characters made, dice ready, superfluous sheets of paper ready, something to drink, and everybody looks at me (or, alternately, nobody at all is paying attention to me.)

My next step: Hey guys, we're taking 5.

I always need an extra five minutes where I'm not helping somebody with rules or drawing out dungeon levels or whatever to refresh my brain juices and let the world sink in. It lets me introspect on how I'm feeling and any cool ideas I want to make sure to use today. It lets me get a gauge of my players, how they're feeling, the general mood of the group, and how to make that work. Nothing's worse than running a silly game when your group is feeling serious, or a serious game when your group can't stop making penis jokes.

And then when we're done stuffing our faces or watching TV or using the bathroom, everybody sits down and all eyes are on me. (Eventually.)

It's my own pre-game ritual, if such a thing exists. We can't all gather up and say "hey man how's it going" and eat food and all of that and then start as soon of us are all sitting down. There has to be that break in between, because otherwise there's seriously no way I'm going to DM.

No idea why that is, but that's just the way it has to be. It might be the only thing in the world I'm anal-retentive about- luckily, it's something that nobody really minds and besides, I am the DM 99% of the time. What's the matter with having a harmless quirk, anyways?

07 May 2011

Gamebook Art?

Continuing my recent trend of only posting on things when somebody else raises the subject, this Grognardia post asks about art in game books. I'm going to assume that he's not talking about "game books" like my beloved Fabled Lands game books, because he explicitly mentions Traveller, which is certainly not a "game book" but is rather a book detailing how to play a game. Being nitpicky is fun, sometimes.

I know I'm supposed to post on the thread but nothing bothers me more than having to read 70+ opinions to finally get to post mine or else risk looking like a jackass because three different people posted the same thing already, man, can you please read the comment directly above yours? We already finished talking about it. GOD, YOU ARE SO DUMB.

I'm overreacting, of course, and meandering with my thoughts as a labyrinth. What I mean to talk about is art in gaming materials. Personally, I think a little bit of art can really help set the scene, especially when it comes to detailing things that you don't see every day or providing a bit of brain fuel. In games with particularly good art, it can be inspirational to leaf through the pages and just see what's going on (I currently have a copy of Aberrant by my computer right now, to be leafed through when I get the inclination and, most typically, when I'm waiting for something to happen in a video game.)

The line is drawn, for me, at 4th edition D&D. There's a two-page splash at the beginning of every chapter, then there's art on each of the races, each of the classes, each of the monsters, everywhere. It's not awful, but it makes the book feel, I dunno, childish. Like I'm not reading a book for grown-ups somehow, like there has to be a picture of a Dwarf or I'll go, "But wait, what the fuck is a dwarf? Do they mean midgets? I hear they like to be called little people but that always seemed demeaning to me, that can't be right. Seriously, what the fuck is a Dwarf? Do they have beards and get really drunk a lot and use axes and hammers and wear heavy armor and are they basically Gimli except with the serial numbers filed off?" I mean, cmon.

Not every thing you describe has to have a picture, and if they do, can we please get something serious? I'm not talking "pseudo-badass serious" like the infamous 4e Orcus (no longer pictured on the right, sorry, but you know what I'm talking about) that gets so much criticism around these parts. I'm talking about a picture that you could look at that doesn't scream immaturity. I'm talking about a picture that you could find in any book on the times, like maybe a picture of a guy in moderately realistic armor, with a regular-sized weapon, fighting something that looks odd but believable. Like a chupacabra, or a griffon, or a manticore, or a dragon. Things that are obviously supernatural but not "supernatural badass." Something that you can show people that aren't even into the hobby and not look silly.

Normal art for normal people.
I guess that's what bothers me about a lot of art- it's embarrassing. I'd love to be one of those guys who doesn't care what anybody thinks about his hobby, but it's not happening. I should be able to look at role-playing game books in a store and not feel goofy because there's some sparkling princess on the cover. It doesn't have to be all grimdark like the Warhammer series can be- mostly because it knows to take itself a little less seriously than that. There's an enormous amount of very subtle, very black humor inherent in the setting, and the art can reflect that with a smirk here and a little goofy bit there. That's the sort of stuff I like. The stuff that makes us look like hey, we know this hobby can be a little silly. We're people. We're not all those creepy, sweaty, trenchcoat-wearing, neck-bearded, overly enthusiastic nerds that you see nasally arguing about the specifics of some game world that nobody else cares about. We have girlfriends and careers and talk about normal dude stuff. See, you got us all wrong. The stereotypes are all wrong. Look at these books. Look at that guy. Pretty cool, right? You can play that guy, and do some stuff with buddies.

I guess this is an extremely meandering post, and it kind of lost its way (I got distracted and then I drank too much coffee and then I came back and the caffeine is mostly out of my system), and I apologize for that.

The point is: Not having art is preferable to pastel-hued super high fantasy goofy art. We need art that can be taken seriously, and that means sometimes poking fun at ourself and not drawing everything as dramatic as possible. There needs to be normal in the games or nothing is awesome.

05 May 2011


This is not at all RPG-related.

I have been drawn into the most bizarre youtube series ever, called Marble Hornets. I don't know how to describe it, other than that it's not very creepy until you're alone in your room, trying to sleep, and trying not to freak out that a faceless, silent thing is watching you through your windows, or is in your room standing over you.

Start from the introduction. It takes a few entries to get really creepy, but when it does, it'll lurk in the back of your head every time you're alone.

Scary stuff.

03 May 2011

Armor Class Info

Hey baby, you goin' my way?
Spurred by my reading of this post (and none of the comments, thank you very much), I have to say that I fall in that heathen camp that tells the players what Armor Class they're trying to hit. I'm enough of a heathen that I even tell the players how much health something has, and even (gasp!) how much health it has left!

My rationale? I don't care enough not to tell them. They'll figure it out on their own (at least, as far as the armor class), and they could always tell how much health the thing they're beating up has based on how hurt it seems to be (it's limping on the ground, its thousands of tentacles dragging on the stone floor beneath it/it roars in defiance of the wound you've inflicted on its underside and rears up for another attack/the blood gushes from its struck eye like a fountain of gore, and it lashes around in fresh rage/whatever), and I'm not interested in secrets, really.

I haven't found it impacts their enjoyment in the least. In fact, it even let me heighten the mystery when I do pull the certain forwards, and say, "you don't know how much health it has." Why not? I hit it, right? I can tell how much I hurt it, right? Is it healing itself? Does it not feel pain? Is it a "boss fight?" Is he not what he seems? What's the matter with it?

Plus, did I mention that I was lazy like that? Any chance I get to fob off the mental math to the players and spare my puny intellect the horrors of having to... to... crunch numbers on the fly (!) is a change I'll take any day. Half of the time I'll generate random treasure hoardes in front of my players, and let them roll the dice for it. I won't tell them what it's for until after they're done, but they get to roll the dice and be part of the random-generation fun. (They:"Alright, sweet, I got a 20! That's some awesome treasure, right?" Me: "No, that was the wandering monster table. 20 goblins burst from the door to your north, bristling with spears and swords and looking directly at you...")

Your mileage may vary, but being open about everything is just my style.

01 May 2011

To Sell or Not To Sell: Is that the Question?

This is a roundabout sort of thing, but bear with me.

Trollsmyth's post Capitalism, bitches! is itself a link to the author of the blog Hack & Slash, who has stated recently that he's giving up free publishing because he doesn't get enough appreciation for it. And that his documents have been downloaded thousands of times and the only license he uses is that if you use it for anything, he'd like it if you let him know so he can get paid in warm fuzzies instead of cash money.

It's one that leaves me with mixed feelings, to be totally honest.

Personally, I'd like to be able to get away with charging money for what I produce. But I'm in a rough spot. I'm not terribly experienced (decades of life compared to decades of experience is the sort of deficit I'm talking about- when a 20-something guy and a 50-something guy have both been DMing since they were 13, there's just a teensy bit of difference in the meaning), I don't have art, and, well, I don't want to charge any money. The stage I'm at with my products, I'm happier trying what works and doing what I can. Think of it as my portfolio, if you like. These things that get produced are experiments in design and in content. I'd always wondered if I could make my own Player's Guide, so I did. I'd always wondered what it would be like to make my own adventure, so I did. (My long-coming second module Dark Skies Above Us, will probably never be finished since I formatted my computer and seriously didn't think about it until right now).

But on the other hand, what sort of need for attention is this? If the entire reason I was publishing things was to get attention from other people, I'd quit right now. It's probably hard to imagine, but shit- ideas won't stop coming. Some days I'm like a fire hose of stuff, constantly thinking about barbarians and theives and wizards and dragons and monsters and stuff and wouldn't it be cool if instead of having wizards, we had shamans and all their magic was spirit-y and they could totally shapeshift and by the way this game is sort of polynesian and the fighters are all wearing loincloths and using boomerangs and long knives and yeah, I know that the boomerang is austrialian, but it's a cool image, right? And so the adventuring party is in this deep cave and there are these lizardmen and they're all like "the deep one comes to swallow you all whole!" and the party doesn't care until the cave starts filling up with water and what the hell do they do?

Seriously, a fire hose.

So on one side, I'm sorry that he's been embittered to charge money for his products, or has lost the joy of flinging one's ideas into the careless void because ideas are meant to be spread. On the other hand, I'm glad that he's gonna make a little bit of money on the side for his efforts- there's no reason not to get paid for one's time, and I hope without the slightest trace of irony that he becomes extremely successful. Or at least can pay the bills with it.

Best of luck!

EDITED: Goodness, I didn't even give this post a title. How sloppy. ;)

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...