Wednesday, August 27, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Getting Organized

You've probably heard a lot about Obsidian Portal or other Wiki systems to keep track of your campaign. You don't need me to tell you about them as nearly every website or forum is filled with helpful people that will discuss them with you. I don't use these sites anymore, and basically it is because I am too lazy. I am too lazy to learn the wiki code, or to lay out my entire campaign setting on a digital website. What's more, when I did use them my players never bothered with accessing it. They weren't up for doing homework and that is what I felt Obsidian Portal was. Every entry was homework.

Then there is Evernote or One Note. To me, these systems were like shoving clippings into a folder. Yes you could get a lot of ideas into one doc but they always seemed slapdash to me. I'm probably not using these right and I'm sure Your Mileage May Vary.

Believe it or not I just use MSWord. I can feel the hisses from here and I haven't even published this post yet. It's like this, I make my campaign as a living pdf/doc. If oyu know how to use headings in Word, it's awesome. Each Heading becomes a bookmark and you can move everything under a heading to a new location by dragging the bookmark. Not only that but when you export the doc to pdf, the headings instantly become bookmarks making searching your campaign doc just as easy as searching pdf books. I keep making whatever changes I need to the Setting Doc, export the PDF, and load it onto my tablet. If I ever need a hard copy, I have a nicely formatted document as if I was publishing. In fact, if the setting is a winner, I may just publish it.

Elevator Pitch

I open each doc with a paragraph that describes the gist of the campaign, the concept, and feel of what I want. I might also site some inspirations in case I find myself getting lost on the original concept.

Rules In Play

On to the nitty-gritty. Rules In Play section lists anything I want to change from the core rules for my world, both in play and in character generation. For instance, one setting I ran for Pathfinder had no half-breeds: Half-elves or Half-Orcs were not permitted as character races. There was also a list of character classes I boycotted for the campaign. All of this info would go in this section. 


I add any available gear into the document, even if it is also in the core book. The First part of this document can double as a primer for my players so having all the setting equipment in one place is handy.


I jot down interesting locations as I come up with them, whether or not I have plans for the pcs to go there. If the Players want to steer the their course away from my plans, I'm ready with a few choice locations of interest for them to explore. I'll give the place a name, list a trope if it fits one, and a few Aspects (ala Fate) so that I can keep the description short.

Example: Obsolam - Robot Graveyard. Where the Obsolete go to finish their run. "Praise Be to the Place We Dare Not Go". "Do not disturb our bones, for we are not yet dead".


Who are the power players and what do they want? Again I just list ideas as they come to me and keep the descriptions short and sweet. I may not use them so I won't waste too much time developing them.  Besides, I find that the best details about these factions come out in play a lot easier than trying to write them in a vacuum.

BTW don't edit yourself. It's better to have a bunch of ideas that you think might be garbage in your doc than a single blank page. You can always revisit the bad ideas and make them better.

Example: Lazarus, Inc. - Seeking immortality at any cost. Walking an unspeakable path. Funded by powerful people. "If I can't take it with me then I just won't go".


If it's a connection, I'll add a couple of sentences describing their personality, what they do, and where the PCs met them. I build out combat NPCs on my NPC Cards and keep them in a little card file until I need them.

Hint: If you don't like printing my fancy pants NPC cards, buy some index cards. I like to get some 5x7 cards and cut them up into 3x5s. It get 3x5s with portrait orientated lines as opposed to landscapes.

Adventure Pitches

Just like Adventure Mondays. I toss in any old idea in one sentence so I can pull it out and run off the cuff whenever I need it.


Invariable the question gets asked on or your local game forum what is the best Tablet for reading PDFs. The answer is get what you can afford or what you want for other pursuits. Newer models are going to have more memory and better draw speeds, but a lot of how well a tablet handles pdfs has to do with the software you use to read them.

As for me, I'm running a Nook Tablet HD, which I picked up for $150 at the time. It's not the best tablet and I mainly use it for web surfing, youtube, and reading my PDFs. It was a nightmare for a while but then Nook went Android and I was able to download EBookDroid. It has the fastest response time I have found when switching pages and its free.

Game On!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 12

Not a bad run, but I'm out of stock. I still haven't figured out what to do with next Monday. Hopefully it'll be something you enjoy.

And now the Final 10!

  • Rumors are that a rival kingdom is preparing to invade. The heroes are hired to find out if it is true.
  • The rare local animal is becoming even rarer. Can the heroes find and stop the poachers?
  • A thief/ murderer is making the local police look foolish. Can the heroes stop the crime wave?
  • Everyone in an isolated village has disappeared without a trace.
  • A Power Player has been poisoned and the heroes must rush to find a cure and possibly uncover the assassin.
  • The heroes are hired to defend a power player that is accused of crimes
  • A noble’s daughter has fallen for an enemy. The heroes are hired to find proof that he is just using her for state secrets.
  • A noblewoman's journal or love letters fall into the wrong hands and the heroes are hired to get them back discreetly.
  • An innocent person's loved one dies as a result of the business practices of a group of Power Players. Who will see that these men answer for their crimes?
  • A group of students dip their hands into crime and play robin hood. Are there efforts really altruistic, and what about the crime syndicates that don't like the competition. Do these kids need protection, or a life lesson about how dangerous their chosen path really is?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Free Stuff Page Update

I've updated the Free Stuff page with links to the Savage Worlds Test Drive Rules as well as some free setting rules provided by Triple Ace Games.

GM Wednesday! - The Jenga Stealth Check

This idea was originally postulated by vini_lessa over on the forums for ramping up player tension in a stealth scene/ stealth game by using a Jenga tower for stealth checks. It's a cool idea with just one minor issue: the character's ability wasn't reflected at all, only the player's.

So I came up with this caveat. Have the players roll for their character as normal. The higher they roll, then the fewer blocks they have to pull. It maintains the tension but adds the characters abilities as a bonus. Also, it means that a bad roll isn't necessarily going to fail and a good roll isn't necessarily going to succeed.

So here is my adaptation for Savage Worlds

Critical Fumble
If the player rolls a one on their skill die and wild die they automatically fail. Put the Jenga Tower away.

The player must pull 4 Jenga blocks from the tower.

The player must pull 2 Jenga blocks from the tower.

Success + Raise
The player doesn't need to pull any blocks.

When everyone knows how many blocks they have to pull, have them each pull one block per turn starting with the person who got the best roll. Go around the table until everyone has pulled their blocks. If the tower falls, they fail the stealth test.

You can adjust the number of blocks to pull based on your own sense of fairness. Just remember that the whole reason we are using the Jenga tower is because we want people to feel the tension of a stealth game. If it is too easy, you might as well not use the tower. The same if stealth is not the focus of your game or adventure.

Of course there are other ways that don't require you own a Jenga set.

Tension comes from postponing the answer. If your players roll their Stealth and know what the target number is, then one look at their die removes tension. Also, if the GM just casually announces "You Succeed/ you Fail" after the die is tension.

I recommend you withhold the target number, even better... roll the characters' Stealth for them in secret (if your players are comfortable with that). The point is they shouldn't know immediately if they have succeeded or not. Let the answer come from your narration.
"You pass into the darkness below the watchful eye of the guard and his lantern. A twig snaps under the boot of Ulric Splatterhorn and the party freezes in place."

Let your players quietly give Ulric the stink eye.

"The guard glances around a bit but returns to his slow cadence, up and down the pier as your party slips into the city under his nose."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 11

Nearly done...

  • A Monster or Group of Monsters has inadvertently taken something that must be returned.
  • A local politician is looking for hired heroes to rescue his kidnapped family member.
  • The heroes are hired to return a wayward child, but what is the child running from?
  • The heroes must guard a caravan through dangerous territory.
  • A town is about to suffer its annual barbarian raid, but this time they intend to fight back. Can the heroes stop this cycle of plunder?
  • A couple forbidden to be together runs off to a dangerous ruin. The heroes are hired by one of the families to bring them back (and maybe get rid of the undesirable love interest).
  • A cult is abducting people to use for sacrifices. Someone should put a stop to this.
  • Someone has stolen a tribe’s lucky totem to destroy the village and take the land. Can the heroes get the totem back?
  • Through sabotage, a secret group is trying to destroy the public’s faith in its government and destabilize the region.
  • A young woman is asking questions about her missing father, which seems to draw a very violent response from a wealthy and powerful local who is bent on keeping her from the truth.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New track with Adventure Mondays

So there are only a couple more Adventure Monday Updates in the cue. I could make more but I am trying to focus on a Sci-Fi game of my own. I have decided to take a new tact. Rather than try to generate an entire Universe for the players, I'm going to let things evolve.

I'll make a handful of stock races or use the ones available in the Sci-Fi Companion and focus on building interesting worlds with an adventure scenario for the world. As these come online, I'll share them on Adventure Mondays. They may become a bi-weekly thing, depending on how much or little detail I think is a good balance. Likely it will be a paragraph that describes the scenario and then stats for the npcs and any important items. I'll leave the nuts and bolts of the scenes to individual GMs to plan.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GM Wednesday! - Uninspired

Confession: I have been fighting GM Block for 5 years now, and it's still going.

I have been getting by with playing in other people's games, running Pathfinder Society adventures on occasion, and trying to start a Pathfinder game (since that's all my gaming group is willing to play). My games last maybe one or two sessions before I find myself bored.

I am Uninspired.

Why? It might be my recent divorce, that time I spent a year and a half on unemployment after being laid off, the fact that my usual gaming group doesn't want to play anything but D20 derivatives, or I'm just completely burned out. I don't know.

Well now I'm moved to a new city, which means I have the option to start a new game group at a new FLGS. I just can't get myself motivated to build a campaign.

I want to run sci-fi. I suppose this is part of the problem. It's such a vast genre that it's difficult to pin down what I really want, as well as what's going to keep me interested. I want Star Wars but not Star Wars. I want space-pulp but I want something that feels more unique than "Here's a galaxy full of aliens and here's your cargo ship. Enjoy." I want an open playground but I also need focus.

(Pardon the verbal diarrhea but this blog is very much a therapy for my soul. This is stream-of-consciousness writing so I'll be asking questions and maybe coming up with answers as well.)

So I've been doing some busy work, hoping to jump-start my creativity. All of which I have posted here for Free Stuff Fridays, but it is still just dancing around the issue of my lack of game.

Here are some of the ideas I have going.
Aliens- yes
FTL - yes
Blasters - yes
Feel - very Star Wars-y minus the Jedi order

Humans are sort of a minority. We arrived in the systems on generation arks. Earth has passed into legend as well as the reasons we left. We are now the gypsies of the sector with no home world and at the mercy of alien empires.

Hmm, the last bit struck a chord.

It's hard (for me) to just build alien races in a vacuum without feeling like I'm just slapping tropes together. But maybe what my setting needs is a bit of class-struggle.

So let's say there are 3-5 Major empirical races. They own the big swathes of the sector and might be involved with a little covert action against each other. Should any of these empires be likable? My gut says no. Each should be oppressive in their own way. I'm feeling that I should lift a theme from Firefly, where the heroes are struggling to maintain their freedom in a universe that demands they choose sides. I think players will like that.

So now we've got the humans, the ultimate symbol of freedom and low-class existence, being homeless gypsies and all. But they can't fly alone, otherwise I would just be playing Firefly. Nope, humans need some pals to fly around with who also long for freedom. Who better than those other, lesser species that have been conquered by the five empires?

Wow! I just got more done creatively in this blog post than I have in 5 years. Not only do I have a setting that isn't just Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off, I have a Theme: Freedom. And now that I have that theme, I know what kind of adventure hooks I can throw at my players. I know that the greatest threat to them is being forced to "toe-the-line".

I now only have to design 5 mega governments rather than one for each innumerable world the heroes land on (which is good because if they travel enough things are going to get repetitive). But I still have room to introduce new alien species as subordinates to their respective empire. And they're societies will be based around their oppressors, but with a little local flavor added to it.

Now I just need a name for this setting. Any suggestions?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 10

Wow, has it been a hundred adventure seeds already? Yup! Don't say I never got you nothin'.

  • A map to a lost artifact falls into the heroes' hands. (An oldie but a goodie).
  • The heroes have been poisoned and must find a cure. The poisoners may use the opportunity to blackmail the heroes.
  • The local ruler is using magic or drugs to enslave the population as a means to maintain order and power.
  • A group is whipping up sentiment against a minority. Can they be stopped before blood is shed?
  • A deceased power player becomes the target of a smear campaign. The locals want to know if it is true, the family wants it stopped.
  • Local law enforcement has offered a hefty bounty for the capture or execution of a criminal.
  • A child or family is lost in the wilderness and is in need of rescue.
  • The heroes are hired to protect an archaeologist at a dig from bandits and other, darker things.
  • A Group of Monsters must be cleared from their territory to make way for expansion.
  • The heroes are hired to return stolen relics or items to the rightful owner.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Still in Transition...

So we are mostly moved in to the new house. Cable and Internet are a big issue right now. Comcast has been treating us like crap out in North Bend and say the won't set us up for another 12 days. Century Link is willing to do better than that and they haven't been rude to us, so screw you Comcast.

My main computer at the house isn't up and running yet. The hold up is a desk. I have nowhere to set it up at the moment. 

I will say that my morning commute is now 45 minutes into Redmond, down a beautiful country highway. I actually enjoy commuting now that I have my scooter. I also feel like a safer driver. 

Yeah I know, the scooter is far more dangerous than riding in a car but that's my point. Inside a car I took my safety for granted. I let my mind wander. I can't afford to do that on my scooter so I am much more aware of other drivers, the ground terrain, what is a safe speed, and there's no way in hell I can text and drive.

BTW, when taking my classes my fellow motorcycle riders felt obligated to point out that a scooter is far more dangerous than a motorcycle.

"That's right baby. I'm a maverick on the edge. I eat danger and crap crisis." And then I would give the student Vespa a couple of revs. Damn I'm cool.

Bueller wanted to ride but he doesn't have a helmet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

GM Wednesday - D-Bags! (I'm Talking About Dice)

The ever popular Crown Royal bag. It's become a trope, a staple of gamers as the dice bag to own. In the beginning it was cool for a kid gamer to have a quality bag made by a liquor company. It said you were dangerous, beyond your years, or that your parents drink too much. Ask around the table and people will tell you that this is the bag to own. 

Bantha Pudu!

You can lead or you can follow. Traditions are made to be broken and you are your own man/ woman, and you know you don't need to spend your life as a cliche. Besides, the ever popular dice bag just isn't all that functional.

  • Even when the drawstrings are closed, there is a gap that a die could pop through. So people fold over the top. The also wind the drawstrings around and around because to tie and untie them is madness. Even so, there's no guarantee it won;t unravel and open in your pack, spilling dice everywhere. So much work for a cliche.
  • A bag is an amorphous blob. Your pack is filled with flat, nicely stacking objects and then your dice get thrown in and eat up more room than they should or prevent other things from stacking nicely. Bleh.

So here are some better options.


Get a pencil bag with a zipper enclosure from the school supplies department or an art store. Your dice won't fall out. It's the 21st Century folks! Use 'dem zippers! Magnetic enclosures might also work unless you have metal dice. It might sound cool to use a magnetic to store your metal dice, but you may find it hard to roll them if they get magnetized.

BTW this is what I currently use for my jumbo dice. It also holds pencils. Who knew?

Altoid Tins!

Yes the amazing Altoid company's tins will actually hold 2 x 7-die sets of standard dice and they are fairly good at staying closed. Plus you now have a nice tidy square for backpack or pocket storage. You can even paint the tin to make it more custom (although you might have to shellac it on at first to get rid of the raised lettering.


I've also used zippered cel phone cases, hard glasses cases, a lot of things. Look around, get creative. Just remember, keep it small. Your dice should be handy, not a burden.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Adventure Mondays! - Part 9

And here we go again...

  • An Unstoppable Monster is coming to destroy everything.
  • The heroes are waylaid by bandits, but the robbers are children. How will the heroes handle this?
  • Animals have started attacking a town every night. They seem to want something inside the old church, but the locals aren't talking.
  • The players receive a map showing the location of a hidden treasure deep into the wilderness, over difficult terrain infested with dangerous animals. Is it real, a ruse, or a terrible trap for greedy looters?
  • Poor laborers beg the players to save them from their cruel overlord, a man who holds a contract for each of them that allows him to legally exploit them for underpaid, dangerous labor.
  • The heroes are hired to rescue a family member taken hostage to blackmail the parents.
  • The heroes are assigned as the escort of a Troublesome Noble.
  • A dangerous creature is plaguing the locals and a bounty has been placed for its hide.
  • Uncover the spy that may be in a travelling theater group.
  • The heroes wake up in a recently deserted town with no memory of the previous three days.