The Rat Hole for May 3 and Announcements

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWell, it’s May. Hard to believe the year is a third gone, but what even is time these days? At the very least I plan to be better of posting here when I write over at The Rat Hole, so you don’t have to go hunting if you want to read my stuff.

This month is all about celebrations and holidays at the RPG Blog Carnival, so I dusted off and updated something I wrote several years back about birthday traditions for your campaign. Slipping a different birthday tradition into your character’s backstory is a great way to create a roleplaying moment in your game. Check it out and see what you think.

And now for a few updates!

ChairMy current desk chair, my faithful writing and editing companion of the past fourteen years, is finally ready for retirement. As you can see from the picture it is quite worn. I don’t mind that; if it were the only issue I would just recover it, fix it up, and carry on. Sadly it also has mechanical issues which make it painful to use for extended periods. So I shined up my Ko-Fi page and am accepting coffees to help pay for a new chair. If you have ever enjoyed what I do, here or over at The Rat Hole, or have enjoyed any of the several projects I have helped edit, and would like to help out, please consider buying me a coffee. I’m currently at 45% of my goal, which is frankly astounding to me. I plan to do something special for all donors once we reach 50% and again when we reach the final goal, as a thank you for their generosity. Don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll sort it out.

Last year I was part of my very first livestream as a player, Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley. We started our second season on Sunday, May 2, and it was a blast! It felt so good to return to this world with this cast under the guidance of Honey (of Honey and Dice). If you would like to catch up, I’ll link here as soon as the YouTube upload is available, or you can catch the VOD and give the channel a follow over on Twitch. We play using Call of Cthulhu rules, minus the sanity mechanic, which makes for an exciting, fast-playing game which is a bit more wholesome than one might expect from CoC. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out, Sundays at 6pm CST.

I have a few other things but I am saving them for a more in-depth post later in the week. Take care and talk to you soon!

Meanwhile at The Rat Hole

As part of September’s RPG Blog Carnival I have an article up over at The Rat Hole, about adding a bit of magic back into magic item creation in your game. Check it out, and I’ll see you a bit later in the week with another article.

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A reminder that if you enjoy my content here or over at The Rat Hole and would like to help support my work, I have a Ko-fi page for quick and easy tipping. Currently I am saving up to upgrade my computer so I can properly livestream TTRPGs for charity, so if that is something you’d like to help me with and you have a few bucks, I’d be grateful for the assist.

RPG Blog Carnival: Making Deities

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is Divine Worldbuilding, which comes at a fortuitous moment as I have had to begin designing a pantheon or two for my home campaign. I really should have given it thought much sooner, as I have two clerics and a paladin split across two groups. When it was just my home game, and I wasn’t looking at publishing the setting, I was fine hand-waiving the details and going with the gods as presented in the 5e PHB. But as I am going to publish this campaign world as a setting book, it seemed appropriate to make some decisions about the deities of my world. Not only is it better to do it now, before the characters get much higher in level, but these details can then inform and even form the basis of future plots.

Today I’m going to outline the first three big questions I ask when creating a pantheon from scratch, so you can see how you might get started. In articles later this month I’ll outline the next steps from there, and we’ll look at one of my finished pantheons, to give you an example of how to flesh out the pantheon for play. Let’s start!

1) Deities of What? – This question encompasses a bunch of more specific questions. In our own history, we can see that deities came into being to help explain aspects of the world we didn’t understand. So the usual starting place would be to look at the elemental forces of your world: fire, lightning, wind, water, and so on. Are there moons in your night sky? There’s probably a deity or deities associated with them. Is there an especially tall mountain, or an always smoldering volcano? Deity. Deities were also associated with common aspects of life which could be affected by unknowable or poorly understood influences. Thus we had deities of the hunt, for instance, because we needed someone to thank/blame when hunting was good/bad. When we later developed agriculture we had a deity for that, for much the same reason. Death deities are probably the most common across pantheons, as death and what happens when we die is probably the great unknowable.

Once you have a list of “primordial” deities, look at your campaign world and figure out where you are in your campaign’s history. If you’re running a campaign set in a rough, pre-history type setting, you might actually be done. But if the societies in your campaign world are more developed, chances are they’ve also expanded the influence and portfolios of their deities. That old deity of fire, for instance, may also be the new deity of the forge. Depending on the flavor of Death deity in your campaign, maybe its portfolio has expanded to include law and judgement in the mortal realm, as well as the hereafter. You may even need to create more modern deities. Early civilizations wouldn’t have needed a Deity of Trade or a Deity of Invention, for instance, but your current culture might.

And one final question, are you going to use a pantheon or not? While there may have once been primordial deities worshipped, perhaps there is now just a single deity encompassing all things to all people. But is it a true monotheism, or do folks also believe in lesser deities which support the main deity? The Catholic faith is a good example of this; while it is considered monotheistic (God), there is the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit), as well as what amounts to a pantheon of Saints, each a patron of some aspect of the world.

2) How do They Look? – This may seem superficial, but it can be an important question to answer because it will determine a lot about the visual aspects of faith in your world. Just think about how much art has been created or influenced by our world’s religions. As before, this question holds many more. Do the deities appear as paragons of the people who worship them? Do they appear gendered or non-gendered? Are they simply anthropomorphisms of the aspect they represent (ie, the Deity of Fire appears as a column of flame to their worshippers, the Moon Deity appears as a bright moon beam striking the ground or altar)? Do they appear at all? Maybe the deities in your campaign world are formless, and there are no direct representations of them.

As part of this, ask yourself if folks are even allowed to show representations of the deities. Maybe images of them are restricted in some way, or even forbidden. Perhaps the opposite is true, and everyone has their own personal idea of what their deity looks like, all equally valid. And does the deity in question have opinions on all this, or does it remain aloof on the question of its appearance?

The answers to these questions will inform aspects of your campaign world like: what do holy symbols look like? How are temples constructed and decorated? How do the clergy (and therefore your clerics, paladins, druids, and sometime warlocks) dress, both for everyday and for adventuring or battle? Can you tell the worshippers of one deity from another, simply by looking at them? Do any of the faiths engage in tattooing, branding, or scarification?

3) Who Worships Them? – The faithful, of course! But who is that? Is the deity species specific, and do they only allow worshippers from that species, or can anyone pay homage? Is the deity gender-specific? Is there a test to join the faithful, some aspect in which a potential worshipper must prove themselves to be a paragon? Or maybe you don’t choose the deity, the deity chooses you, and you can only be one of the “true faithful” if you have received a direct invitation from that deity.

And an even bigger question to answer: are the Deity and the Church on the same page? The Church may have some ideas about who can worship and who is truly faithful, divorced from the Deity in question. If so, what does that look like? Are ceremonies to that deity antagonistic, bordering on blackmail (“Look at this juicy faith we have for you! Give us spells and you can have it!”)? Does the deity sneak around behind the backs of the “True Faithful”, bringing those the Church considers unworthy into the faith? Maybe the situation is so antagonistic, ceremonies look very much like we’d imagine the summoning of a demon would, with the worshipper weaving protections and bindings to force power from the deity.

These three questions, and the little questions buried inside, allow you to piece together a framework for your deities. You can do this for each of the species in your world (and thus have human, dwarf, elf, etc pantheons) or do it once for all. Once you’ve put together this framework you can start adding to it, fleshing out the details for each deity. And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next article.

How do you go about creating the deities for your campaign? Comment below!

December RPG Blog Carnival: Magical Weather

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is courtesy of Dice Monkey, all about weather, something that, as I grew up in the Canadian North and currently live on the Canadian Prairies, I am all too familiar with. I try to include weather in my campaigns whenever appropriate, as it can add mood or texture to an encounter which might otherwise be straightforward or dull. In my current home campaign weather is particularly strange, as a magical cataclysm has altered weather patterns and sometimes causes weather events to have strange effects.

Below is a quick list I use in my campaign for strange weather phenomena (doo-doo-de-doo-doo!) on the fly. I don’t use it every time it rains, snows, and so on; the strange becomes commonplace with too much repetition. And while my strange weather comes about as a result of magical contamination, you might have other reasons for weird weather in your campaign. Perhaps a location, item, or being of great magical power is warping the weather around them. Maybe it’s a side effect of the casting or particularly powerful spells (7th level or higher) or rituals. Whatever the reason, feel free to use this list or make up weird weather of your own.

  • Perfectly normal snow is falling (and accumulating) on an otherwise warm but cloudy day. OR, if it’s winter, the snow falling is any other colour but white.
  • Falling rain or snow is invisible, though it becomes visible as it pools or accumulates.
  • High winds make it difficult to walk in any direction, except the direction the wind is blowing from. All movement is considered difficult unless walking directly into the wind.
  • Perfectly normal rain is falling on an otherwise freezing winter’s day, puddling as normal. OR, if it’s not winter, the rain is a random colour.
  • Rain or snow falls as if under the effect of a feather fall spell, basically in slow motion. Creature in the area can move as normal.
  • Pick one character. The wind talks to that character for 1d6+1 hours over the course of the day. You can decide what sort of personality the wind has. No one else can hear the wind except for that character. Note: the wind goes everywhere, so this might be a fun way to impart campaign information to the player, as long as they don’t assume they’re imagining the whole thing.
  • Perfectly normal rainfall, except it rains straight up for 1d6+1 hours. While all other gravity remains normal, rain will puddle on the underside of anything not protected from the rain. When the effect passes, all accumulated rain will fall normally to the ground.
  • An aurora appears for 1d6+1 hours in the middle of an otherwise normal day.
  • Pick one character. That character notices that the clouds seem to take a form relating to whatever they are thinking about at the time. Experimentation will reveal that they can, in fact, make the clouds take whatever shape they think of. This effect lasts for 1d6+1 hours.
  • If spring/summer, the party wakes to find all their water and other liquids frozen as if left out in the cold. If fall/winter, the party discovers all of their liquids to be very warm, as if left in the sun on a hot day. The liquids return to normal temperature within 1d3 hours.

Do you use strange weather in your game? What sort of effects do you use? Drop a note in the comments!

November RPG Blog Carnival: Worldbuilding

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is all about world building, something I’ve been doing a lot of for my two D&D 5e campaigns. I thought I’d share a little something from the primer I created for my players to help give them a sense of the world.

While I generally kept the mechanics of the various PHB races as written, I changed the backgrounds of almost all the races to better fit the events of my campaign world. I made two big changes right at the start. First, only some of the playable races are native to the campaign world (dragonborn, dwarves, halflings, humans, half-orcs, and tieflings) while the rest derive from the invader races (elves, dark elves, gnomes, half-elves). Second, I try to refer to them as “species” rather than “races”, as I later intend to make a distinction between a character’s species and culture when I flesh out the game world.

So below is my quickie primer on the species of my campaign world. I’ve stuck with the native species for this post, and I’ll talk about the invader species in a later post.

Intelligent Species Native to Cotterell

Dragonborn

Dragonborn are a race created by the Draconic Empires to fight in the Gate Wars. A dragonborn is created in one of two ways. The first involves an arcane process kept secret by the Empire, by which the dragonborn are gestated in an egg and hatch as almost fully-formed adults. This process involves the passing along of racial memories, so the “Eggborn” are able to mature very quickly into adult dragonborn. The second involves the arcane manipulation of an infant or very young child from another race, to change them into a dragonborn. In this case the “Created” must be raised as normal, as it is not possible to transfer racial memories during this process.

While it was not conceived that the race could or would ever breed true, to the surprise of the Draconic Empire that came to pass shortly after the Cataclysm. These naturally born offspring are still hatched from an egg, and racial memories do seemed to be passed along, though the infant must still be raised normally. However, maturity is still reach sooner than with a comparable human infant; puberty is reached by age 5 or 6, and such dragonborn are considered young adults by age 10-12.

Telling them apart from each other ranges in complexity. It is easy to tell a Created from the other two types of dragonborn; unlike the Eggborn and natural born, the Created have no tails. Telling the difference between naturally born and Eggborn can be more difficult, though not impossible. Generally the Eggborn are less socially well-adjusted than their natural born cousins. Racial memories do not include social interaction, so while they are not generally unfriendly, the Eggborn tend to be more socially awkward and bad at picking up on social cues. And of course, any dragonborn child encountered can safely be assumed to be a natural born, as long as it has a tail.

Dwarves

Even before the Gate Wars and the Cataclysm, Dwarves were divided into two distinct groups. Mountain Dwarves avoid contact with other races, remaining in their Great Halls (cities) under the mountains across Cotterell. Even when called to war, they fight in full suits of Dwarven steel armour which utilize full helms which they never remove except in private. Only on the rare occasion that another race is granted audience with a Dwarven ruler, is there the possibility of seeing a Mountain Dwarf’s face. It is uncertain whether this restriction is societal or religious, as no Dwarf will speak of it even if questioned.

Hill Dwarves, on the other hand, maintain contact with other lands through trade and commerce, and make-up what would be considered the diplomatic corps for the Dwarven peoples. They predominantly live in communities built near both Great Halls and other cities, the better to facilitate trade and diplomacy. Except under exceptional circumstances, if you see the smiling face of a dwarf outside of the Great Halls, you look upon a Hill Dwarf.

Halflings

Due to the Faewild Gate opening in the heart of their lands, and the subsequent Cataclysm laying waste to that same territory, halflings are a largely displaced population. Both agrarian and inventive by nature, the halflings were largely responsible for the innovations which allowed cities swollen with refugees and survivors after the Cataclysm to be able to eke out enough food to survive. They were among the first races to begin pushing out from the cities once it was deemed safe, reclaiming useable farmland a few feet at a time, if necessary. Eager to reclaim what was once theirs, halflings were also among the first races to fund and/or lead trade caravans (restoring overland contact between the Survivor Cities) as well as expeditions to explore further into the countryside.

Half-orc

Before the Cataclysm, the Orcish City States were centres of learning and knowledge, home to universities and libraries unparalleled except in the Dragon Empire. While much history has been lost, however, it is still remembered that the Orc City States rode to fight alongside Cotterell in the Gate Wars, and they suffered losses just as great during the Cataclysm. Greater, some might say, as the orcish cities relied heavily on magic and so were severely disrupted during the Cataclysm. They also came under the heaviest post-Cataclysm attacks, being closer to the Faewilde Gate. So complete was the disruption and so overwhelming the attacks, each orcish city chose to flee with as much of their collection of knowledge as they could carry, becoming nomads. Each nomadic group is charged with the protection, preservation, and adding to of the knowledge they carry. They have done so in the centuries since the Cataclysm, with the hope they may one day rebuild their cities and make this knowledge safe again.

So while Orcish ancestry may be considered odd and even undesirable to the rare few, there is no widespread prejudice against half-orcs. It should also be noted, the term “half-orc” is used to describe any person with obvious signs of orcish ancestry, regardless of how far back that ancestry entered the bloodline.

Tieflings

Tieflings are a comparatively young race, as they came about as a direct result of the magical contamination following the Cataclysm. Borrowed from the Fae, the word “tiefling” roughly translates as “spoiled” in the Common tongue. No one is quite sure how it happens, but a small portion of children born among all races come into the world bearing the mark of magical contamination. Some have odd hair or eye colours, while others may sprout horns, grow a tail, or manifest wings. Whatever the outward signs, that person will also manifest strange abilities and magical aptitudes.

As noted above, Tieflings can derive from any of the other species. While there may be mistrust and discrimination on a case by case basis, there is no widespread stigma to being a Tiefling. For many people, the existence of Tieflings is simply a daily reminder that the Elves still have much to answer for.

What do you do for races/species in your campaigns? And don’t forget to check out the other RPG Blog Carnival entries for this topic.

January RPG Blog Carnival Roundup

Whew! Sorry, everyone, January got away from me a bit. Between work getting busy and illness, I looked up and it was February. Nevertheless, we had several contributors to the January Blog Carnival, and I want to thank all the bloggers who took on our theme of “gaming on a budget”. Here’s a little round-up of our contributors:

Rodney has a three-point plan for gaming on the cheap over at Rising Phoenix Games. It’s a cleverly simple plan, and if you follow it you’ll come out the other side with a role-playing game library you’ll actually use. And books you will use are always a better value than books that sit on the shelf unopened.

Loot the Room looked at great RPGs with a low initial cost of entry. And by low, they mean free. Hours of entertainment for free, you say? What sorcery is this?! It is true, though, and they have four suggestions for games you could take home with a few mouse clicks.

Eric’s Gaming Pulse had some ideas on gaming on the cheap. An interesting aspect that Eric touches on that we hadn’t considered is how to budget your time as well as your money.

The Wandering Alchemist had some great ideas on how to stretch your money and make sure you’re getting bang for your gaming buck. I particularly enjoyed the discussion around which systems give you the best value. It should come as no surprise that generic systems are a much better value, allowing you to play a wider variety of campaigns types.

Cirsova jumps into the RPG Blog Carnival pool after a long absence with some Dos and Don’ts for gaming on a budget. The Dos are some excellent advice, and the Don’ts are a handy look at what you could do once you have a bit more in the way of funds.

Last but not least, I share a few ideas for the miserly gamer over at The Rat Hole. If you take nothing else from my article, remember two things: the internet is your friend, and save all the paper.

Thanks again to all the bloggers who took part this month. If you like their stuff please take a moment to drop by their sites and tell them so. And as we are well into February, make sure to check out the February RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Daemons & Deathrays. This month’s theme is “Time Marches On”. Boy, they aren’t kidding.

Tabletop Gaming on a Budget – January 2018 RPG Blog Carnival

Welcome to 2018, fellow gamers! I hope your holidays were spent in the manner which please you most. For me, that meant delicious solitude spent reading, editing, and writing, with breaks for coffee and scrumptious holiday cooking and baking. I also hope you had a chance to play some games, whether in-person or online.

The logo might have tipped you off, but once again Renaissance Gamer is taking part in the RPG Blog Carnival. More than that, though, I’m hosting the January 2018 Carnival! Which is exciting and means I get to choose the topic for the month, as well as posting on the topic, hosting all the links from the other blogs taking part, and writing the wrap-up post at the end.

Money is usually tight following the holidays, and gamers are not exempt from this. You are likely going into January gift-rich and money-poor. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it might mean your tabletop game spending has to take a backseat for a while.

Or does it? January’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is Tabletop Gaming on a Budget: how to get gold piece value gaming supplies and resources for copper piece prices. Useful just after the holidays? Sure. But maybe you’re new to the hobby and want to dip your toe before diving deep into your wallet. Or you want to try some new games without breaking the bank. Have you considered taking the leap into game mastering, but the laundry list of GM supplies is daunting? This month’s RPG Carnival posts will help you play games without spending big dollars.

This is the anchor post for the month, so if you’re taking part in this month’s carnival drop a link to your blog post in the comments below. If you just want the tips, bookmark this page and stop back throughout the month. I’ll also post a wrap-up at the end of the month, bringing it all together. And keep your eye on the blog, I’ll have my own post on the wonders and delights to be found at your local Dollar Store.

D&December Postings, and News!

Between work and getting into the swing of things with my seasonal depression, I’ve been away for a bit. That’s all about to change, as I’m taking part in the D&December Art Prompts (seen left) and I’ll be posting every day this month. As is tradition I discovered this just after the beginning of December, so today is catching up.

But first a few pieces of Renaissance Gamer news. First up, if you just can’t get enough of me here, I’m a new weekly contributor over at The Rat Hole, a gaming news and reviews site newly minted by my buddy Dave Chapman. He’s been at the game reviewing biz for a while, and I am shamelessly riding his coat-tails as he begins this new venture. I’ll be posting an article every Monday on topics relating to the role-playing game hobby, starting with a series on getting into the hobby. And even if you’re a RPG veteran, these articles will discuss ways to make our space welcoming to new gamers. And you should go there anyway to read Dave’s reviews and news, because he’s got some good things to say.

Second piece of news: in January I’ll be hosting the RPG Blog Carnival. Started by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips, the carnival invites one blogger to host each month and provide a topic. Other bloggers then post their own takes on that topic, and comment back on the host site so the links are all in one place. It’s a great way to get myriad perspectives on a subject, as well as being highly entertaining. My January topic, fitting after the holidays have lightened our collective wallets, will be “Roleplaying Games on a Budget”. I know a few things I plan to write and I can’t wait to see what other folks come up with.

But now the main event: D&December!

Day 1: Favourite Race

My favourite race to play in D&D is a plain old vanilla human. I know, I know, all those wonderful races to choose from, I go with the “round ears”. I’ve played other races and enjoyed them. But if I’m going to settle into a character I plan to play a while, I’ll go with human every time. Versatility is certainly one of the reasons, but it isn’t the main one for me. As a player, I want the DM to reveal a world of wonders and terrors, and I want the feeling of exploring that world and discovering those wonders and surviving those terrors. And so I will tend to pick a character which is, well, me. Playing human lets me focus on that experience without also having to juggle the lense of another race. I’m happy to explore that in other games, but for D&D human is how I roll.

Day 2: Favourite Class

I’ve long been a fan of the wizard class, and that hasn’t gone away in D&D 5e. I like the way the school specializations have been handled, and I don’t think there is a “weak” school to choose from, depending on the campaign. My ideal build for my wizard is the “adventuring scholar”; always on the lookout for new spells, spellbooks, scrolls, and other magical gewgaws to enhance his art. The strength of the wizard, for me, comes from the sheer number of spells he can know, and the fact that he can store more situationally useful spells on scrolls while memorizing the more broadly useful ones. For instance, you may not need knock every session, but having it on a scroll gives you an option for when the rogue is all thumbs that day. And once the wizard can lay hands on a Handy Haversack, his scroll game become fierce.

Day 3: Favourite NPC

I wasn’t sure if this meant my favourite type of NPC, or a specific NPC from Dungeons & Dragons. So I’ll touch on both.

My favourite type of NPC is what I call the “web spinner”. This is an NPC which the players, through no fault of their own and possibly without realizing, end up opposing. They work behind a sometimes shifting screen of lieutenants and flunkies, maybe even working as the power behind a fairly Big Baddie to further hide their efforts. I love using them, because done well the big reveal when the party realizes who or what they’ve actually been opposing all along is delicious. Especially if they’ve been interacting with that NPC the entire campaign.

My favourite specific NPC in D&D is Strahd, which should come as no surprise (see above). Strahd is the master manipulator, working behind the scenes to choreograph a monstrous dance, delighting in watching the player struggle to learn the steps. And not because he’s afraid to confront the characters, but because the eventual confrontation will be all the more delightful when they realize to whose tune they’ve been dancing.

The Ordinary Life of the Players: Feeling Happy?

rpgblogcarnivallogocopy[R.G.: The third of my RPG Blog Carnival posts; the first two are here and hereThis is a little less put together than some other posts. I had a number of thoughts on the subject and as disjointed as they seem to me I wanted to get them down. After all, I can always follow up with a more coherent post later, one of the joys of blogging.]

A sample question on the November RPG Blog Carnival asked, “If one of your players has had a bad week, do you consciously twist the game in a direction they will like to get them ‘in the mood’ or permit them to blow off steam – rather than letting it interfere with the game in some more substantial way?” That got me thinking along a number of avenues: mental health, self-care, what purposes RPGs can serve beyond entertainment. So let me commence to ramble and we’ll see where we end up.

My initial reaction is, yes, of course I do. Beyond simple entertainment (and I’m not knocking that, it’s a huge part of why I game), for me there is an important social component to gaming that sometimes get overlooked. When I get together with one of my regular groups I’m also spending time with friends, even if that friendship primarily exists around that table and nowhere else. And I want my friends to be happy, so if I can use the game we’re playing to let them escape their problems for a bit and blow off steam, why wouldn’t I? Don’t we play these games to be heroes? Where’s the harm in sliding the spotlight their way and letting their character shine when the player needs a hero the most?

I briefly considered that con games and other one-off sessions are the exception to worrying about this, but that’s not actually true in my experience. Whether I’m running or playing a game at a convention, I’m usually paying more attention to the mood of the others at the table. There’s a saying about con games that goes something like, “Every table has an asshole. If you can’t spot them, it might be you.” I’ve taken that to heart over the years, and I try to be very pro-active (with varying levels of success) about not being the asshole; more, of trying to be the anti-asshole and protecting the rest of the game from the asshole, once identified. Because this particular group is together for only a short period of time, I tend to work hard to make sure they have the best time possible, doubly so if any of the players show up in a bad mood. The games are why you go to a gaming convention, so if they aren’t fun you’ve pretty much lost out on the reason for being there.

Now this all works great for the players at the table, but it can be difficult as the game master to show yourself some self-care during a session to alleviate a bad day. Sometimes just running the game is enough, but occasionally you might need more than that. Maybe you need your hero moment and that can be difficult to pull off. In many games, for your NPCs to shine the characters (and by extension the players) need to fail. That can be fun every now and then as a dramatic beat to your campaign, but if you make a habit of crushing the characters on a regular basis you’ll soon find you don’t have anyone who’ll play with you.

My solution was to slowly, over time, change what I considered to be “winning” as a GM. The adversarial approach was great through junior high and high school, but as I got older I figured out that if I wanted the players to come back for more than a few sessions I had to stop thinking about beating their characters. Instead, I tied my wins to the player experience. For example, if the party encounters a ghost my win is not tied to the ghost beating the characters, but to making sure the players are scared of character death throughout the encounter. When they do beat the ghost they get to win for surviving and overcoming the obstacle, and I get to win because they felt they were one step from doom the entire time. Tying my win condition to the experience my players have has the benefit of my putting the focus on their entertainment and enjoyment, which I think is where it should reside. This doesn’t mean I don’t take a little pleasure when I manage to take down a character (I’m not made of stone), but it isn’t what drives my campaign design any more.

Rambling over. I hope this was somewhat interesting or helpful. What do you think? Do you adjust your game to help out players who feel down? Do you worry about mental health in your games at all? Let’s chat in the comments.

The Ordinary Life of the PCs: Making Magic Magical

This is my second in a series of articles for the November RPG Blog Carnival; the first can be found here. Enjoy!

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rpgblogcarnivallogocopyIt’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons. A not-so-quick trip back through the archives of my blog give that away. One of the things I love about the game is how streamlined it is, compared to 3.5e and 4e. It’s still a very robust set of rules, but it manages that without a great deal of clutter. One of the benefits of this, I’ve found, is greater latitude for DMs to customize and house rule for their own campaign.

When I first looked at the rules for magic item creation, I was impressed by how simple they were. The rarity of the item determines how much the material to create it will cost, and in turn that determines how long it will take to construct. For instance, if you want to make a Common item, it costs 100gp and will take a single person 4 days to create (half that cost/time if the item is a consumable item like a potion or scroll). There are a few additional rules about spells used and whether multiple crafters are working on an item, but that’s the gist. I like it; it’s enough of a cost in time/money to keep item creation from being something the players will take for granted, while still allowing it to be an option for just about any character with the necessary levels and tool proficiencies.

As much as I like the rules, though, I feel they’re missing something: the magic. As written, the process is very transactional, almost like buying the item with time and money. But think about it: the character is drawing upon one of the key forces in the universe to craft an item which essentially makes magic manifest. Crafting a magic item should be an event. There should be stakes involved, and sometimes a cost beyond just gold and days spent in toil.

So here are a few ideas I have for putting some magic back in item creation, with the rules as written as the base-level process. At the DM’s discretion, these can work to either shorten the amount of time it takes to craft an item, and/or reduce the crafting costs. Or perhaps, if the characters make poor choices, increase the time or gold spent. And there may be other consequences. After all, cursed items have to come from some where, right? For all of these, the more rare the item desired, the more effort should be involved in assembling the right components. For the very rarest items, assembling the elements of a successful crafting could form the basis of an entire series of adventures.

Location, Location, Location – Where is the character carrying out the crafting? Are they carefully illuminating that healing scroll in the divine scriptorium of a cathedral, or scribbling it out in their room at the inn? Are they crafting that ring of fire elemental command at the local jewellers, or did they set up their workshop next to an active lava flow to better connect to the element? If a character is just brewing up a basic potion it might be okay to use the kitchen at the inn for a few days. But the grander the item being crafted, the more impressive the location or environment should be. Encourage the players to let their imaginations to run to the extreme and exotic. And then craft an adventure around getting them there.

Only the Finest Ingredients – It’s assumed that the cost of crafting covers special ingredients. You can’t just scribble out a magical scroll with a ball-point pen, after all. Scrolls need special inks, magical armour needs rare or specially mined ores, and wondrous items need…the sky’s the limit, really. So maybe the character doesn’t have the money on hand to scribe that scroll of fireball. But she does have that vial of fire giant blood she kept for…reasons. Maybe if she mixed that with a bit of rare ink? Again, let the players’ imaginations come up with connections between the odd and rare items they come across in their adventures and items they’d like their characters to create. At some point they might move from using the oddities they’ve found to figuring out where to hunt down the oddities; now the DM has a whole new set of adventures to use.

Collaboration is Key – For many of the items, a character will have to find help in their crafting. While a puissant wizard brimming with arcane skill, they just don’t have the smithing chops to craft the sword the party fighter dreams of wielding. Sure, the local blacksmith might do for the “average” magic sword. But only Angmar Granitethews of the Golden Hammer School of Smiths will do to craft the weapon you need. Of course, these craftspeople didn’t get where they are by taking every commission that walks through their door. Or maybe they did, so why should they put those jobs aside to assist you? You might get their attention with bags of holding full of gold, but maybe riches aren’t what they need. And off the party goes, on a whole new set of adventures to secure the services of Scandibar of the Winding Way, Most Cunning of Arcane Artificers.

What Are You Prepared to Do? – It’s a fairly common trope that wielding the most powerful magic items can come with a cost. Shouldn’t crafting them cost something as well? Need that scroll but can’t afford to spend two days? Maybe you work a 16-hour day but take a level of exhaustion that takes longer to get rid of. That special sword you wanted may just require that you use only it, eschewing all other blades if you want the magic to work for you. Maybe that staff of the magi needs a bit of actual magi as part of the creation and after all, do you really need ten fingers? And when we start talking about sacrifice, the players and the DM will have to decide how far they want to take that. Is an alignment shift worth it to get the item made just right? Maybe, and the story of that decision makes for a great adventure.

The common thread through all of these points is to encourage the players to use their imaginations. Not all players will be into it, or you may decide that common items don’t need this level of detail. But even if you only use it for the most powerful items, working these elements into your magic item creation can help bring a sense of wonder to magic items in your campaign.