Campaign Creation: Messing with FATE

If you tune in regularly to the blog you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking all I play is Pathfinder. I’m the Venture-Captain for Edmonton, Golarion is my current favourite setting, and I am currently GMing three different Pathfinder campaigns. But despite that busy schedule, I do find time to cheat on Pathfinder play other role-playing games.

One of those games is FATE. I’m relatively new to the system, but everything I’ve read I’ve loved. So when my buddy Scott wanted to start a FATE campaign and invited me to play I jumped on-board. As we developed the ideas for the campaign we decided to set it in an alternate version of our own city of Edmonton. As part of that process, Scott asked each of us to come up with two Faces and two Places to populate our world. I thought I’d share what I created.

While the other players chose to create people and places from scratch, I used actual people and places here in my neighbourhood. I like making alternate versions of actual locations and people for games like this, and I did similar things when I ran both Shadowrun and D20 Modern games set in Edmonton. So if you’re local these might seem familiar; if you aren’t, here’s a little taste of my town.

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Faces

Mike Perrino – Mike is the owner/proprietor of Whyte Knight Market. Mike seems to know what anything (or anyone) is worth; as a result he’s become the go-to guy for folks looking to buy and sell the weird, wonderful, and worrisome. You might not like the price he offers (or the price he charges) but Mike will buy and sell anything, from a bulk lot of lightly used 1920’s bed pans to a simian phrenology statue to that weird thing that’s hung on the Market’s wall forever. It’s also common knowledge a good story might help you get a price down or an offer up. Because it’s common knowledge, your story had better be pretty damn good.

Known Aspects: Size You Up with a Glance, Amuse Me

Sam the Hat – A fixture of Whyte Avenue’s bar scene, Sam the Hat is easily spotted by the stack of cheap cowboy hats he wears on his head at any given moment. A friendly Cree man of indeterminate age, Sam appears to make his living selling his hats for a Twonie a pop to drunk bar-flies along the Avenue. Always friendly, always with a joke or a bit of clowning…and always with a stack of hats. Sometimes dozens, sometimes as few as three or four, but never running out. Maybe he has them stashed all along Whyte Avenue. Maybe some unseen partner drops them off to him. Maybe he’s Wesakechak (that’s Whiskey Jack to you).

Known Aspects: Can’t Help But Smile, Fear the Clown

Places

Whyte Knight Market (Whyte Avenue) – Some might call it a curio shop, some might call it a junk store. But if you are looking for something truly weird or eclectic and can’t think of who in the world would sell it, chances are the Market has two of them. You might just be able to find anything on the shelves or hanging on a hook. And sometimes you find things you didn’t even know you needed until you saw them. For a price, of course.

Known Aspects: The Weirder the Better, You Might Just Find You Get What You Need

The Strathcona Hotel (Whyte Avenue) – The Strat, as she is affectionately known to locals, has stood on the corner of Whyte and 103 Street since before there was a Whyte and 103rd Street, or any street, really. They’ve prettied up the outside and slapped a nice historical plaque by the door, but everyone knows the Strat for what it is: a flophouse. If you need a cheap place to hang your hat undisturbed, the Strat has a room for you. In fact the Strat always seems to have a room, regardless of how many folks check in. At least no one will bother you.

Known Aspects: Bigger on the Inside, Can Not Disturb

Any FATE players out there? What Faces and Places have you created? Share in the comments if you are so inclined.

GM Resources: One Page Dungeon Contest

There is such a wealth of Game Master resources on-line, I often find something extremely useful and then lose track of it. The One Page Dungeon contest is one of those resources, and I’m indescribably happy to have found it again.

The contest idea makes it cool enough: design an interesting dungeon (including map) which fits on a single side of a standard sheet of paper. This limitation forces the entrants to strip away any extraneous elements and focus on the essentials of their dungeon design. You might think this would lead to a lot of 1 or 2 room , simple dungeon sites. And luckily you’d be wrong. Every year the contest draws page upon page of amazing and imaginative designs, both in the content of the dungeon and the design of the page layout. Many of the entries, while great encounters, are also stunning to look at; fitting the maximum amount of dungeon on a single page leads to some incredible examples of cunning art and design. If you’d like to challenge yourself as a designer, I highly recommend entering the contest. This year it ends on April 30 and complete rules can be found here.

Now it sounds fun and worth a look. But what makes this a particularly good resource for GMs is the contest has been running since 2009, and all entries in the contest must publish themselves under the Creative Commons license. These two things make this site a veritable toy box for the busy Game Master. There are literally hundreds of excellent dungeon sites available, all of them perfect to print and play. Many of the entries are system neutral, or are at least rules/setting light, so time spent adapting to your game will be minimal. I’ve already grabbed a few to use in one of my current Pathfinder campaigns, and my total time spent working them up was 10 minutes, including print time.

A great contest and a great resource. If you have time I highly recommend just scrolling through the gallery. For me the tour was worth it just to come across a one-page dungeon set inside a certain demon idol familiar to 1st Ed. D&D players. I’ll be running that one soon…

D&D Release Dates Leaked

In a move which is either a “Whoops!” from on-line seller Barnes & Noble or a calculated testing of the waters by the Hasbro marketing team, the release dates and prices have been posted for the first new Dungeons & Dragons products in over a year (sorry, I don’t count reprints and trips back to the well). Looks like some sort of Starter Set will be available on July 15th for $19.99, with the Player’s Handbook following up about a month later for $49.95. No images, or in fact any useful information, are provided beyond book title, release date, and MSRP.

I have some thoughts about the newest Dungeons & Dragons iteration. Many thoughts, in fact, which this news has stirred up. So let me give you a few in no particular order:

* $49.95 for a Player’s Handbook!? In this age of game systems printing all-in-one core books, and even Pathfinder giving us a core book with player/GM info combined, I’m both surprised and dismayed at Wizards for hanging on to this publishing tactic. I get the D&D books have traditionally been broken down this way; I can see my 1st, 2nd, and 3.5ed books sitting comfortably on my shelf. But with all the talk of D&D Next (so glad they seemed to have dumped that moniker, by the way) being a new direction for the game, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to at least follow Pathfinder’s model and combine player and GM books together. Especially for a hefty half a C-note.

And assuming the other two books in the D&D triumvirate are priced the same, that’s a price tag of $150. $170, really, because as the release dates now stand there is no talk of a Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual, so if you want to play right away you’ll need to grab that Starter Kit. A prospect which, based on the quality of the 4e Red Box, underwhelms me. So $170 for the “core set”…Wizards, you are asking me to take a big leap of faith here.

* No confirmation yet, in either this  newly leaked info or in previous mentions from WotC, on whether digital downloads will be available at time of release. Or at all, actually. Again, not something you can really afford to skimp or skip these days. Given how WotC dropped the digital ball when 4e released, silence on this front could be good. But it’s debatable whether it’s worse to promise the moon and fail to deliver, or promise nothing and turn off potential pre-sales. But like many folks anxiously awaiting D&D’s return, I’m hoping they handle their digital offerings right this time.

* I am excited for a new D&D! Yeah, I know I started with a couple of negatives, but I am honestly excited to see new Dungeons & Dragons material on store shelves. D&D started me down the path of table-top gaming, lo those many decades ago. Like many first loves I’m always going to have an attraction to it, even if I’ve moved on in my heart. I want it to do well, I really do. It’s going to take something fairly extraordinary to make it my primary game again; Pathfinder has pretty well taken that spot. And with games like Numenera and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, it may even have a running battle as my second favourite.  But even with my misgivings, I know I’ll pick up the books at Gen Con and I know I’ll at least try to like the new game.

* While I hope it does well, I’m not of the same mind as a lot of folks who put a direct connection between the health of the table-top gaming industry and a new, healthy D&D. Yes, healthy gaming companies are good for the industry as a whole; if the new edition does well, WotC gets stronger, is in a position to employ freelancers, supplemental products can be produced, and so on. But I’d argue two things: 1) The gaming industry, for all intents and purposes, has lived without D&D for close to 2 years at this point. While I wouldn’t argue it’s at its strongest, it certainly isn’t weak. And, 2) When I hear most people talk about the new Age of Prosperity which will follow the newest D&D, they use the d20 release as an example. But much of what strengthened the gaming industry when 3rd/3.5 hit the market was the Open Gaming License (it could also be argued that it later weakened it, but that’s another article). So far there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anything similar coming with this edition, so I don’t think the effect will be as monumental as some hope.

Okay, those are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the new D&D. What do you think? Are you excited, meh, or somewhere in between? Drop a note in comments.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons!

As most gamers know by now, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. I couldn’t possibly sum up everything D&D has meant to me as both a gamer and a person in just one post. So I’m not going to try. All through 2014 I’ll have a series of posts about D&D: my history playing the game, its influence on me, funny and potentially libellous anecdotes. But to start, here is a piece I wrote over five years ago about my introduction to the game which would change my life. Set the TARDIS for 1980 and hold on…

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Bio of a Gaming Geek

Chapter One: The Beginning

October, 1980. A Monday. I remember it was Monday, because at the tender age of ten I found it odd that anyone did anything on a Monday night. It was late fall in Fort McMurray, which meant there was already a foot of snow on the ground and I had started wearing the parka that would be my coat de jour for the next seven months. I was trudging my way to the library, unaware of how much my life is about to be irrevocably altered.

That snowy Monday night in October was my first exposure to a little game called Dungeons & Dragons.

As many life-changing moments do, this one began innocently enough. Some days earlier I was with my mom at the library, picking up my “weekly” supply of books. My mother, for draconian reasons of her own, restricted me to weekly trips to the library. This was for my own good; left to my own devices I would do nothing in my free time but read. The maximum number of books I was permitted to sign out from the library as a juvenile was eight, which taught me two things at an early age: sometimes rules are just dumb, and delayed gratification is not all it is cracked up to be.

So during my weekly oratory against the injustices of public library management, I notice my mother no longer paying attention to me. Curious as to what could possibly be more important than her eldest child’s merest rambling, I look over at the bulletin board she is perusing. While she stands enthralled with some “For Sale” ad or other, a posting catches my eye. It’s the artwork that grabs me, and I recognize it as the cover for a copy of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which I had finished re-reading just last week. Then I start reading the poster. Role-playing game? Wizards and warriors? Storytelling? I have no idea any of that is, but it has the King Arthur stamp of approval. It looks like it could be fun. Plus whatever it is is being run here at the library, by one of the librarians. My Mom will let me go, because it is bound to be educational (everything that happens in a library is, by my Mom’s reckoning, educational). And it gets me amongst my beloved books one more time during the week; even if it sucks, I can go read.

Having hatched my diabolical plan for bibliophile domination, I swiftly put it into action. I oh-so-casually pointed out the notice, and allowed that, as much as it would be a terrible imposition on my time, attending the event might provide some slight diversion. My mother read the notice over, then checked with the librarian to make sure that a ten year old was welcome at the event. Blast! That might be the sticking point, the flaw in my cunningly crafted plan. For reasons beyond my understanding, there were some things that I was not allowed to do because I just hadn’t put in enough time. As far as I was concerned this was just an example of the adult-parental complex trying to keep me from fun.

But fate, often so cruel in a young boy’s life, smiled upon me this day. The librarian explained that kids my age were not only allowed but encouraged to take part. I was so elated by my unwitting accomplice’s aid, I ignored the kid part. Despite my mother’s standard “We’ll see”, I knew I had succeeded. Sweet library action would be mine!

And thus I found myself trudging through the snow towards the library, the keen anticipation of a few illicit hours with my books (yes, mine) driving me onward. I had already dismissed the event itself as nothing of import, and was planning the best use of my time once inside the library. There were a few books in the children’s section I wanted to read first, then on to the sci-fi juveniles. Once I was finished there, I could…All too soon, I was passing through the doors, and into the warm embrace of my “second” home.

Removing the shell of clothing that protected me from Fort McMurray’s Hoth-like environment (I had seen The Empire Strikes Back that summer which led to several winters of imagining Fort Mac as a rebel outpost on Hoth, despite a disappointing lack of tauntauns), I used the moments usually wasted by this chore to survey the terrain. Yes, yes, this would be doable, I could even see some books that weren’t there the last time. But first, I guess I should at least put in an appearance at this thing. That way, under later interrogation by my mother, I wouldn’t have to lie. Not completely, anyway.

I made my way to the activity room, ignoring the siren call of the stacks (soon, my pretties, soon). Running this thing in the activity room was already strike one. Every kid knew that nothing fun happened in there; it was the domain of “educational films” and “reading camps”. My mother enrolled me in one of that last, just once. I had an immediate and violent allergic reaction to anyone forcing me to read something I didn’t want to, which spread quickly to the other kids. It was suggested to my mother that “reading camps might not stimulate Brent’s imagination enough”, and my time as a biblio-Spartacus was at an end.

But as I entered the room, fearing the worst, some of that old familiar dread went away. No film projector for one thing, so that was a good sign. Steve, the librarian that was obviously in charge of things tonight, saw me at the door and directed me to grab a seat at the table. There were about a half-dozen other kids, sharing books and scribbling things down on various sheets of paper. Paper? Pencils? Wait a minute, I’ve been tricked! Where’s the board, the little plastic or wood pieces? This isn’t a game at all, it’s some sort of…it’s homework! Well, to hell with you, Librarian Steve, I’m not going to sit here and do homework like a chump. I began slowly sliding out of my chair, one eye on Steve the Betrayer lest he catch me making a break for the library proper.

Hey, Brent! I didn’t know you were into D&D too.” My current best friend from school, Kevin, grabbed the seat next to me. Kevin and I did pretty much everything together, including a few things that we instinctively knew our mothers never needed to know. I mean, it isn’t dangerous to jump your bike over an old sewer culvert, it’s only dangerous if you fail. (Mothers just don’t understand that)

What’s D&D?” I asked him by way of hello.

Dungeons and Dragons? You know, the game we’re here to play?” Right, I had forgotten about the so-called game in the flush of my fight-flight response. Hmmm…well, I’d never known Kevin to particularly like homework, maybe there was something here I was missing. So I let him take me through some arcane ritual called “character creation”, and endured the flood of mystical mumbo-jumbo he began spouting. Hit points, armour class, THAC0 (“Which some of the kids call THAC-zero, but that’s so lame”), alignment…as Kevin helped me make scribbles on a sheet of paper, I tried valiantly to assimilate this barrage of new terms and strange usages. Great Obi-wan’s Ghost, what kind of game took this kind of preparation? I mean, I trusted Kevin, but this had better pay off or I would seriously consider changing the password on our tree fort. Maybe some time trapped outside while the Empire was attacking would set him straight.

Once we finished that process it was time to play the game, and one thing became clear almost immediately: I would not be changing that password.

Steve starting spinning his intricately woven tapestry of adventure (which I’m sure was something as simple as, “You guys are in a town on the border of a kingdom, and nearby there is a dungeon that needs to be cleared of monsters. Do you go?”) and we were off! I was brave Sir Arthur (the king had to start somewhere, right?), a newly-dubbed knight valiantly defending the world from evil (the fact that we were defending the world from evil by going to evil’s home, kicking in their door and taking their stuff wasn’t a conundrum I would consider until much later). At that moment we were the Good Guys of Much Goodliness, and if defending the world from Most Vile Evilness meant pulling off a series of armed B&Es, then by all the Gods Great and Small that is what we would do. Huzzah!

That was at 7:15 pm. By 7:25 Sir Arthur was dead, victim of foul kobolds and their insidious net trap. I was despondent! What had I done wrong? Now my character was dead, and I probably had to leave or something. So overwhelming was my grief and despair, that I never even considered going into the library to read. How could mere stories, simple words on a page, compare to this? Any schmuck could read a book. I was living it! Except that I wasn’t anymore, my avatar in that world having met a horrible and ignoble end.

Luckily for me, the game and Kevin seemed to have a solution. “Here,” he said, handing me the book. “Just roll up another character. Steve will fit you in when you finish.” Could it be that easy? I flashed through the five stages of grief for poor, fallen Sir Arthur in the time it took me to create Anathriel, Elf Warrior/Mage and Defender of the Woodland Vales, and I was back in the game! Elves were cool; they could fight and cast spells. That was obviously the flaw in my poor, pathetic knight. After all, if the game uses magic, I should too, right? Anathriel was the obvious solution, a character to last the ages! And the ages ended at about 7:43.

The rest of that night passed in a haze of brave adventure, hurried eulogizing, and even more hurried character creation. I left only reluctantly, and then only because Steve turned out the lights (it was an embarrassment to me that, as much as I loved the place, I couldn’t stand to be in a darkened library). I recounted my courageous deeds to my parents while getting ready for bed. Though they hid it well behind the same veneer of tolerant boredom they used when I described every story I read, I could tell that they were suitably impressed by my exploits.

Impressed enough for my mother to allow me to go back, week after week, month after month. The numbers of kids grew, until we were storming the caverns of The Keep on the Borderlands with a veritable army of adventurers, sometimes twenty strong. We were not so much a “merry band” of adventurers, more a merry, angry mob. Looking back, I’m surprised the monsters didn’t just run when they heard us coming. But eventually we cleared out that dungeon, and Steve directed us to other locales in our shared world. It seemed there was an epidemic of small, out-of-the-way towns and villages suffering from dungeon infestation, just waiting for our mob to come along and clear them out.

This pattern continued for a while, as I mastered the nuances of the game. Steve was our Dungeon Master until there were just too many of us to easily handle at one table. Then he deputized some of the more experienced players, and we had several groups of stalwart heroes bravely committing home-invasions and robbing tombs all across the world (which I later discovered was called “Greyhawk”. Gawd, even the name of the world was cool!). Steve ran our club until about the time I entered junior high school, and then moved away. By that time I was playing with my friends at home, and sometimes at school where one of the teachers turned out to be a Dungeon Master as well. And then I discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and that sealed my fate as a geek and ensured I would not feel the touch of a woman until Grade 10. Luckily, it meant I wouldn’t really care about the touch of a woman until then, either.

Looking back on it, I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I had not discovered Dungeons and Dragons. It was such a seminal event in my life, giving rise to so many of the other decisions and interests that filled my adolescence, that I cannot picture the person I would have become without it. I know that, for anyone not hooked into the role-playing game experience, it might seem like I’m overstating the game’s importance. But when I say this game changed my life, it isn’t hyperbole, just simple fact.

Consider my reading habits. I was a voracious reader, it’s true. But I was very prejudiced about what I wanted to read, and the thought of reading just to learn or that learning could be enjoyable was anathema to me. But Dungeons and Dragons changed that; suddenly, there were things I wanted to know more about, even if just to know more about something than one of my peers. That led to me reading books on subjects I would normally have never touched. Over the years that range of reading has grown to include, but is not limited to: history (various periods covering approx. 6000 years of human existence), mythology (slanted towards Western myths, but with a smattering of everyone else), comparative anthropology, linguistic history, music theory and history, history of warfare (various periods, including methods, materials, and tactics), political science, psychology, sociology, macro- and micro-economics, forensics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, logic, game theory, grammar, survey of literature (several periods, several cultures), philosophy, comparative theology, biology, animal behaviour, wilderness survival, agriculture, history of cooking, painting, art history, leatherworking, woodworking…the list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the point. I studied everything on this list because of D&D and the other role-playing games that followed. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on any of these subjects. But barring an individual who has specialized in one of them, I probably know more about them than a high school grad with three years of college could honestly be expected to know.

And then there are the less tangible things that D&D taught me, like developing imagination, storytelling skills, socialization (a thing not usually associated with D&D, but true nonetheless), problem solving, active listening, acting/speaking skills. Of course there are other ways to gain these skills, but what one activity will grant you experience in all of them at once? Add to that the number of people I’ve had the privilege and the misfortune (add diplomacy to the list) to meet through the game over the years, and the gains column starts to look very full indeed.

And if all of that isn’t enough, then suffice it to say that I have derived more simple joy playing this game over the last 27 35 years than I have in a great many other activities so far. Not bad for a chance meeting in a library check-out line, eh?

Now, why don’t you snag that rulebook, and we’ll see about rolling you up a character. See, the nearby town of Ashenford is suffering from an infestation of kobolds, and they need a brave adventurer or three to come clean them out…

Give and Take

As I mentioned in my New Year’s resolution post, I want to branch out and take on some guest blogging in the coming year. Writing for my blog is all well and good, and I obviously love it or I wouldn’t keep doing it. I love writing about any gamerly topic that pops into my head, and I especially like making up words like gamerly. Hey, my blog, I decide what’s proper language, thank-you very much.

But sometimes one can have too much freedom. I discovered during the 30 Days of GMing Challenge that I enjoy writing to task, committing myself to a topic I might not have chosen and seeing what develops. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes challenging, but it was always interesting. And interesting gets me out of bed in the morning.

To keep that alive, I’m making an open offer to anyone with a gaming blog: I’ll write a guest post for you. If you’ve looked around here you have a pretty good idea of my style. You pick the topic and give me a deadline, I’ll deliver a print-ready post. A few stipulations:

1) Deadline must be at least 2 weeks from date of initial request; I need time to fit your post into my schedule.

2) I’m credited for the post, with a link back to my blog.

3) I’ll write on any gaming related topic you’d like, but I’d like to keep the post in the 500-1000 word range. If I think the subject is too broad I reserve the right to narrow the scope or write multiple posts. Which I chose is dependant on my schedule and how you’d like to post.

4) I don’t write attack or smear pieces. I stay positive on my blog and if I’m visiting yours I’m going to bring that with me.

That’s it. If you’re interested in having me as a guest on your blog, please send your inquiry to: brent.jans (at) gmail.com. Please use the subject line “Guest Post” so I can pick it out of the chatter.

At the same time, I’d love to have guests here on Renaissance Gamer. If you’d be interested in writing a guest post for my blog, drop me a line at the same address. I’ll make sure you are credited and linked, and you can write something that interests you or about a topic I provide. Otherwise, the rules from above apply, just in reverse.

Tomorrow we get back to our long-dormant Campaign Creation with a closer look at our main NPCs. Until then, keep playing!

How Things Work: Gamer Edition

There’s plenty of misinformation, myth, and outright cow-dooky floating around about how things worked in Medieval times. How armour worked, which swords were better, how they actually fought, all of these are fodder for at-the-table discussion and, let’s be honest, argument. After all, it isn’t like we all wear and use this stuff any more, so how can we really know how it all worked? Lucky for us, there are folks out there who not only figured out how these things work but uploaded them to the Internet.

I present to you five videos on subjects I’ve had come up at the table before. While they may not put an end to the arguments, at least you’ll go in better informed.

1. How Torches Work – It doesn’t really seem like this would need explaining, but you’d be surprised at how many folks think a torch is just a big flash-light. Here’s a video by Lindy Beige, explaining what a torch actually does for you:

2. What You Can Do in Armour – This one gets argued about discussed a lot, and most people (and games, sadly) are wrong. Here, for instance, is a video of some very spry plate-clad combatants. And before anyone asks, they are wearing steel replicas of actual armour, not aluminium or other prop materials.

3. How Fast Can You Fire a Bow? – Okay, the voice-over for this video is pretty bad, and you are going to hate the name Lars Anderson when it’s done. But it is a pretty impressive display of what is possible when using a bow.

4. Everybody was Sword-and-Shield Fighting! – This one’s a bit long, but a really good overview of fighting with sword and shield, specifically the round shield.

5. Katana Mythology – This one gets a lot of discussion, because the katana has become a near-mythological weapon thanks mostly to the movies. While this specific video is Part 3, it deals with some of the most common myths surrounding this Japanese blade and puts the weapon in context with other weapons. The other parts are good viewing as well.

There you have it! Five videos to quell (or stoke) the flames of argument around the gaming table. Do you have any favourite myth-busting videos you watch? Share them in the comments!

Maps for the Weary Game Master

I love maps for role-playing games, almost as much as I love dice. I can spend hours flipping through old game maps, remembering past sessions or dreaming up new ways to use a particular location. I haven’t knowingly thrown out a gaming map in over twenty years. I keep them all neatly organized in a series of magazine boxes on my game room shelf. Good maps can serve as inspiration for an evening’s encounter if you need something on the fly, or spark an entire campaign if you are casting more broadly.

If you don’t already have a collection of your own maps from which to choose, here are three on-line resources for free table-ready gaming maps. You’ll need to print or project them yourself, of course, but the hard part of creating the maps has been done for you.

1) RPG Map Share – As the name suggests, RPG Map Share allows map creators to upload their maps to be disseminated by the site’s users. Creators mark each map they upload as available for personal use , professional use, or both. There are a wide variety of map types available, ranging in scope from single dwellings/businesses to entire continents and worlds. There is also an active forum where map-makers can exchange tips and ideas, and it may be possible to commission something specific for your mapping needs. It should be noted, after seven years of being a free service the site is contemplating a switch to a subscription model in order to keep the site running. For what the site offers, though, a subscription is well worth your coin; the seven-year backlog of maps alone makes the suggested yearly subscription rate worthwhile.

2) Paratime Designs RPG Freebies – Sometimes you just need stock dungeon maps, and the RPG Freebies on offer from Paratime Designs fit the bill. Nine volumes of dungeon maps and two volumes of cavern maps ensure you’ll have plenty of underground spaces for your party to explore. Even if you don’t need an entire dungeon level you can pick out a smaller section of 3-4 rooms and you’re all set with a smaller encounter. I particularly love the old-school look and feel of these maps. They remind me of the misspent  afternoons of my youth, pouring through geomorphs and thinking of all the ways I was going to smoosh my players (“smoosh” is an old-school and very technical GMing term. No, really.). Check these guys out, and while you’re there check out some of their other, not-as-free material. Well worth the visit.

3) Cartographer’s Guild – I love everything about this site, from the name on down. Be forewarned, it is very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of beautiful maps on this site and I have lost entire afternoons days weekends to this place. Not only is it a great site to find maps, but it is also a great site to learn about creating maps of your own. The forums boast a wide array of talented cartographers, from professionals to talented amateurs. If you want to start on the road to creating your own landscapes, this is the place to come for advice and help. Just be careful of the aforementioned rabbit hole…

Those are three of my go-to map resources. In a future post I’ll talk about resources for creating your own maps, and why mapping yourself can be creative and helpful. If you have any favourite map sites, please share them in the comments.

Campaign Creation: Beginnings and Broad Strokes, Part 2

In the first Campaign Creation post, we laid in a basic foundation for our campaign setting. Today we’ll expand that a little bit, focusing on the people around our characters.

At this stage of the game I’m not looking to build fully detailed non-player characters. In fact, I usually avoid statting out NPCs until I’m forced to do so by the needs of the session. That allows me some flexibility with my NPCs, and the ability to morph them into what I need at any particular moment. While that’s useful, beware turning your NPCs into “swiss army characters”; that is, no single NPC should be the solution to every problem. Once you’ve assigned certain abilities or details to a supporting character, those abilities should be fixed (although they can improve, just like any abilities can over time).

With that in mind, I’m going to drop in some supporting characters that will likely be the characters’ first contacts in the town. Normally I’d let the players tell me which NPCs to develop by seeing who pops up in their character back-stories. But since I’m building without a party in place, I’m going to develop the NPCs I think the characters will need right away. When I actually start the campaign I can still develop extra NPCs based on character history, or modify the ones I’ve already begun.

Last note, I’m going to use the same, “Good, Bad, Ugly” as I did for the campaign location, sketching in one NPC in each category for each of my four imaginary players. At this broad stage of creation it is still a great method for developing the basics of NPC relationships. Also, I think game masters can tend to focus only on NPCs beneficial to the characters, so this method pushes me to think a bit about conflicts that may be present before the characters even leave the village. None of these NPCs are my major villains (maybe), but they come into conflict with one or more of the characters in the course of their day to day.

The Good

Cynria is the mother of one of the characters, and also a member of the town guard. A caravan guard for many years, she married her partner (now deceased) and settled in the village to raise a family. While a supportive parent, she can tend to be over-protective and strict, even severe if she feels the situation warrants. Of late she has requested patrol routes that take her to the very border of the village and The Ruin, though she won’t say why. A good NPC for martial training, and an information contact for rumours and tidings from both the village and merchants.

Beorn, a dwarf, maintains one of the small chapels in the village (we’ll talk about those later), serving as a simple brother of the order. While fearless in the face of violence, no one has ever seen Brother Beorn raise a hand in anger himself. He can be found anywhere in the village, collecting stories from those that have braved The Ruin for a history he is compiling. An obvious NPC contact for any divine oriented characters, and could serve to provide historical information as required.

In addition to the basics carried by any general store, Vidan’s Mercantile carries an eclectic mix of odd items found in The Ruin. An energetic and friendly halfling, Vidan is happy to purchase any truly strange object adventurers bring her. She is even happier to sell these oddities, ascribing them a host of fascinating (and sometimes real) qualities. Brother Beorn and Vidan continually wage a war of words regarding the artefacts Vidan sells, Beorn maintaining they should be made available for study and Vidan agreeing…for a price, of course.

Rahjaq, a long-time ex-patriot from warmer climes, maintains both a local tavern and an apothecary.  While some find it worrisome the two share the same kitchen, there have been no serious mishaps, and most everyone come’s to the tavern to try Rahjaq’s special drink blends. And to see if there will be a repeat of the gaseous form incident.  Cynria seems to have a personal grudge against Rahjaq, and while there is speculation no one knows why. Despite this public antagonism, they have been seen talking together on several occasions, sometimes even amiably.

The Bad

Wenred serves as acolyte to one of the village’s less well attended churches. His tireless proselytizing has become tiresome, and he fails to see that he is part of the reason people worship elsewhere. If one of the characters shares Wenred’s faith, that character is never good enough in Wenred’s opinion. Any time they are together, Wenred will make his disapproval clear. If a character follows another deity, Wenred will insist on debating doctrine in an effort to show why his faith is superior.

Beomond can usually be found in the market, alternately looking for work loading and offloading various caravans or begging for alms. While many look down their nose at him as just another lazy, drunken beggar, the observant note that he never has the smell of liquor about him and never seems intoxicated. Unknown to most everyone, Beomond actually works for an organization intent on securing the best Ruin artefacts for themselves.  His somewhat innocuous presence in the market allows him to gather information on groups set to explore The Ruin (so they can be watched and targeted if necessary), or on caravans carrying artefacts away from the village (so they can be robbed as necessary). He will always be very interested in what the characters are doing, even going so far as to offer to be a bearer during one of their explorations, if his organization deems it necessary.

Too lazy to be an effective guard, but just clever enough to keep his job, Menforth uses his position with the town watch to collect “protection” fees.  These fees, of course, really only protect someone from him, and then only for a short time. Menforth has a knack for ferreting out merchants and adventurers who don’t want their business known, and extorting “reasonable” fees to keep their secrets. His twin knack of only choosing targets too weak or compromised to complain has so far kept him out of trouble, but someday that might fail him and he’ll be caught with his hand too far out.

Anrich can be found in any of the village’s taverns, swapping tall tales for cheap wine. No one believes any of his stories of a life spent adventuring, but none can deny he spins a great story; the drunker he gets, the greater they become. In truth, folks are right not to believe anything Anrich says. The drunken lush persona is just one more mask he has worn pursuing his greatest love: murder. Unknown to any in the village, many of the disappearances attributed to monsters or misfortune are the result of unfortunate meetings with Anrich on the hunt. Someday soon the village might discover his secret, or the special location where he keeps his trophies. But for now he enjoys making the rounds of the taverns and selecting his next target.

The Ugly

For this category, I’m sort of breaking my “no swiss army NPC” rule a little bit. But I’ve already thought ahead to who and what I want in the major villain of the campaign, and so I want an NPC to serve as the major foil to that villain. Because this NPC is going to be a major player, I’m just creating the one, but he/she will come in contact with each party member in a different way. Not martially powerful, this NPC will have to use cunning and guile to oppose the actions of my main villain, and will not be known to my player characters right from the beginning.

Aldmuel has resided in the village since its founding, though he was a local even before that event. One of the original mage-architects of the city (now The Ruin), Aldmuel’s power waned as the city crumbled; while still fairly powerful by mortal standards, his/her power is a fraction of what it once was. Aldmuel has remained, both to discover what laid his beloved city low millennia ago, and to oppose the darkness he has sensed beneath The Ruins. Aldmuel never appears as his/herself, instead adopting any number of guises to suit the situation. The player characters may well encounter Aldmuel early and often in their adventuring career: as the stable boy looking after their mounts, the tavern girl serving their drinks, the wealthy merchant or inquisitive sage commissioning a delve into The Ruin. In what he sees as a war fought in the shadows, Aldmuel will not hesitate to use the characters as he sees fit. Eventually, he may even resort to the truth as a tactic, and reveal him/herself to the party.

Okay, that’s it for NPCs for now. This gives a good mix to start with, and as you can see, developing NPCs leads to fleshing out more bits of the setting. For instance, we now know there is a town guard, a general store, multiple taverns, at least two chapels or shrines, a blackmarket, and at least one criminal organization. Those details will be the first to get fleshed out when we turn our attention back to the setting later. But next time we’re going to turn our focus to The Ruin, and decide what creatures make it a dangerous place to spend time.

It also occurs to me, it’s about time to give this village a name. If you have an idea of what to call our little town perched on the edge of The Ruin, drop it in the comments. I’ll go through and pick the one I like the best, and the name giver may even win a prize, because I’m swell like that.

Trail Rations: Hearty Slow-cooker Slaw Stew

My regular Thursday night group has a long tradition of eating a shared meal before we game. It started when we gamed at our then GM’s house and his lovely wife (also a member of our motley band) would prepare dinner for us. We kept that practice intact until Scott and Sheila moved, then there was a several year gap while we gamed at places that didn’t have kitchens (like the offices at BioWare Games). But now that we’re back gaming in someone’s (my) home, we are bringing back the tradition of sharing a meal before our game.

So I thought I’d share a quick and easy recipe my group enjoys, and one that I love making on busy days because it takes just a few minutes to throw together. Then the slow cooker takes over and does the heavy lifting. If you don’t have a slow-cooker you can do it in a large pot on the stove, just keep the heat low and stir often so it doesn’t char at the bottom.

Slow-cooker Slaw Stew

Ingredients:

1-bag pre-shredded coleslaw cabbage blend (found in the bagged salad area of your grocery store)

1-bag baby spinach (found in same place)

1-bag pre-shredded carrots (found in same place)

3-12 oz. (340 gram) cans of diced tomatoes

2-15 oz. (425 gram) cans of kidney beans

1-15 oz. (425 gram) can of black beans

1 large white or yellow onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or 3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon paprika

salt and pepper to taste

Optional:

One package lean ground beef (or whatever ground meat or stewing meat you prefer)

Preparation: Dice your onion; don’t worry about making the dice particularly small, the slow cooker will reduce the onion quite a bit. Add all the ingredients except the baby spinach to your slow cooker, stirring them together to blend them. Then add the bag of baby spinach, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and start the slow cooker. Don’t worry that the spinach seems overflowing, it will reduce a lot during cooking. I use the 6-hour setting on mine, but you can set it for whatever time works best for you. Optional: if you are adding ground meat, brown the meat in a pan just enough to give it colour, then add to slow-cooker along with other ingredients. One of my guys is vegetarian, so I wait until the slow-cooker is almost done and brown the ground beef in a separate pan for the rest of the guys to add on the side.

Serves five voracious gamers, with seconds, and I usually have enough left for lunch the next day. You can top each bowl with a dollop of sour cream or handful of shredded cheddar cheese if you like.

There you go! Healthy, easy to make, and delicious. And a nice break from the usual fast-food gamer fare. Give it a try at your next session.

What does your group do about meals at game time? Do you have favourite gaming foods or recipes? Let us know in the comments!

 

Campaign Creation: Beginnings and Broad Strokes, Pt. 1

Recent posts in the 30 Days of GMing Challenge got me thinking about campaign construction. Specifically, about how long it’s been since I built a campaign from scratch. I only have so much time in the day, so in recent years I’ve fallen back more and more on the use of pre-written campaign material when I start a new campaign. While I usually (okay, always) tweak it to better suit my players, it isn’t the same as building the campaign from scratch. So I thought it might be interesting to create a campaign setting, much as I would if I were starting with a new group of players. I also thought it would be helpful if I talked through this creation here, so you might pick up ideas on how to build your own campaign from scratch. I’ll post once a week or so on the topic, and go through the steps I use to get a home-built campaign player-ready.

And so it begins…

As I mentioned before, I usually tweak or build the campaign to suit my players and their characters. Since I’m building this campaign without an actual group, I’m going to lay down some base assumptions to get started. If you have a group and are working along with me, feel free to adjust as needed for your own table.

First, this is going to be a fantasy setting. While I enjoy other RPG genres, I have the most fun in a fantasy setting so that’s what I’m going with. Second, I’m working with the Pathfinder RPG in mind, though that will only really start to matter when I begin writing stats. Third, since I don’t have a particular group, I’m going to build with a “standard” group in mind: four characters, fighter, rogue, cleric, mage. I can always adjust the particulars later, for instance if I have a bard as opposed to a wizard I can change some NPCs to better support that class.

With all that in place, lets rough in the village. It doesn’t have to be a village, of course. I could start them off in a city neighbourhood or as part of a nomadic tribe. But if you’re just starting out, a village is a very manageable chunk of world to create. For the first little while my party will find adventure close to home, so it means I can worry about detailing the rest of the world later, and only as needed.

When I need to give a location some flavour, I use what I’ve termed, “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” method. The Good is some sort of tangible benefit the location bestows. The Bad can be some sort of threat to the location, or the location itself contains some sort of danger. The Ugly is one mystery associated with the location, which could turn out good or bad depending on what the party discovers about it. So using that I come up with:

The Good: The village is a minor trading point, as it is built on the fringe of an ancient and long-ruined city. While the actual population of the village is small, during “dig season” the village almost triples in size, attracting a wide array of adventurers and treasure seekers. While not extensive, resources to support adventurers (healers, magic dealers etc) exist.

The Bad: The village must keep a constant watch against the creatures and humanoid tribes (mostly goblins and troglodytes) inhabiting the recesses of the ruins. While this is easy during dig season, with all manner of adventurers and mercenaries present, it is becoming increasingly difficult in quieter times.

The Ugly: The ancient city is a massive ruin, and generations of explorers have yet to map even a fraction of it’s surface, never mind what lies beneath. The architecture is unfamiliar, and many have speculated the city wasn’t built with humans in mind. Occasionally, runes carved into buildings and monuments glow of their own volition, though with no obvious effects for weal or woe.

Just with those broad strokes in place, I have a location that is both supportive and interesting to my adventurers. The village allows me to narrow my scope at the beginning, while placing it on the edge of a vast ruined city gives me room to grow. And the village gives me the opportunity to weave very personal stories into the adventure, with the proximity of the the characters’ friends, enemies, and family. In fact, that’s what we’ll look at in Part 2.

Does this inspire you to start your own campaign world? Have any suggestions for mine? Tell me about either in the comments!