Emerald Spire/Extra Life Update


4A-7uuL6ek1iJEjSSYLUMGTE5DruF6OZu_TNdGAkW1oAs I mentioned, I’m GMing The Emerald Spire for Extra Life this year. In preparing for the big day, I’ve had to make some changes to how the dungeon delve will work. If I were running this at home, for instance, the normal flow of events would go something like:

  • party hears about dungeon
  • party heads to dungeon
  • party explores dungeon for a bit
  • party returns back to town as supplies/hit points dwindle
  • repeat as necessary.

Because I’m trying to cram as much game play into the day as possible, I’m trying to eliminate everything except for the “party explores dungeon” part of the cycle. But resupplying is critical; the group needs to get access to new magic, magic items, spells, and equipment if they’re to remain competitive with the denizens of the Spire dungeons. Of course, I can’t just have a travelling magic-shop appear at random throughout this super-dangerous dungeon complex, that would be a little ridiculous.

So the solution I came up with solves a few of my issues. About 500 years ago, the local ruling goblin tribe used the Emerald Spire as a unique form of execution; troublemakers were dropped in the dungeon to survive or not as best they could. That goblin empire was destroyed, but “good” ideas never die. Fast forward to now, where the nearby Fort Inevitable, home of an order of Hellknights working to keep order in the area, have revived the practice of exile to the Spire (duration dependent on the crime). For them it has the potential to solve two problems: if troublemakers don’t survive, they get their desired execution. If they do survive, they can provide valuable intelligence about the Spire’s interior and occupants. With the added incentive of being allowed to keep any mundane treasures they find (anything not an artifact, basically), most exiles opt to explore rather than cower in a corner.

With varying success, of course. Which leads to the solution to my resupply issue; the place is going to littered with previous failed explorers. Depending on the level, that could mean bodies lying all over the place, or it could just mean the occupants have a bigger store of supplies than usual, as they loot the bodies of unfortunate prisoners. Either way, the players should be able to get the supplies they need without feeling too much of a pinch. And of course the good stuff is farther down, since only the truly skilled (and well-equipped) would get down to the lower levels before meeting an untimely end.

All in all, it looks like we’ll have an hilariously fun day of dungeon-delving action. I’m looking forward to the shenanigans and the inevitable rising character body count.

There is still time to sign-up to play; I have a few seats left, so if you are here in Edmonton and want to get involved, please fill out the form and join us. And if you want to support the game but aren’t able to join us on the day, please donate. Every bit helps, and it all goes to support the Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Extra Life is Almost Here!


4A-7uuL6ek1iJEjSSYLUMGTE5DruF6OZu_TNdGAkW1oOnce again I’m taking part in Extra Life, a fundraiser by gamers to raise money and awareness for children’s hospitals all over the world. Last year I did a mix of tabletop and computer gaming. This year, however, I’m going full tabletop, baby! For the full 24 hours I’m going to GM the Emerald Spire Super Dungeon, a 14-level behemoth put out by Paizo. I’m really excited to give this a whirl, and I can’t wait to see what shenanigans my table gets up to.

Because this is a special event, I’ve made some special rules just for the day. We’re using pre-gens to cut down on non-playing time. Levelling will happen “MMO style”, with characters levelling as soon as they reach the right XP amount (we’ll be using the Fast track). Players will have just 10 minutes to level their character, and then we move on. If a character dies, that player must make an additional donation to Extra Life to bring the character back and keep playing.

And characters are going to die. Oh, yes. But I don’t want to waste in-game time with the party trying to find ways to being a character back to life. So for this event, the Emerald Spire itself will bring characters back to life, interfering with the natural order of things for its own twisted purposes. But just because it brings you back, doesn’t mean it brings you back…right. I’m creating a list of Emerald Spire Resurrection Effects, which should provide hours of entertainment. Well, for me, anyway, and that’s the important thing.

So if you’re in Edmonton and want to play, you can sign-up here. And if you aren’t in Edmonton, or are but can’t make it on Saturday, you can still support our brave adventurers and Extra Life by donating. Every bit helps and is appreciated.

Real Life Mysteries for Your Game


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Halloween! Spooky mysteries and terrors abound, and it’s the perfect time of year to add a bit of mystery to your campaign. If you’re stuck for inspiration, trust in real-life to provide you with the puzzles you seek.

The Voynich Manuscript

Named after the Polish book seller who purchased it in 1912, Wilfrid Voynich,  the Voynich Manuscript is the very definition of a mystery. The manuscript is hand-written in an as-yet-deciphered language or code, with no punctuation. It features illustrations throughout, though the pictures are as ambiguous as the text, featuring unidentifiable herbal drawings and undecipherable astrological markings. Carbon dating of the vellum places the 240 pages as originating in the 15th century, but it’s unsure whether the book was written then or later on older vellum. There is a common theory it was written in Northern Italy, but there is no confirmation of this. Code breakers and cryptographers from WWI onward have tried and failed to decode the manuscript. It’s theorized the entire book was supposed to be some sort of Medieval herbal or pharmacopoeia, but by and for whom, no one knows. Unlike other similar documents from that time period, it isn’t clear to what plants the manuscript refers; attempts to match them with other known plants from the time period have proven inconclusive at best.

The Roanoke Colony

In 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh dispatched Jon White and another ship of colonists to settle in the Chesapeake Bay region, but also to check in on the Roanoke Island colony in Virginia. White’s scouting became a new attempt to recolonize the island at the behest of fleet commander Simon Fernandez. However, relations with the local Croatan tribe remained sour thanks to previous conflict, and later that year White sailed back for England to beg for additional colonists and supplies. Leaving behind his newly born granddaughter and 115 colonists, White expected to return in support of the foundling colony. When he returned, however, the colony and its inhabitants were gone; houses dismantled, and the word “Croatan” carved into a tree. Theories abound as to why the colony disappeared, from Spanish or Native slaughter, to integration with the local tribes for survival, to the colony moving while White was in England and meeting misfortune in its new location. While there is new archeological evidence to support one or another of these theories, there is still no conclusive word on the fate of “The Lost Colony”.

The Mary Celeste

Originally launched as the Amazon in 1861, the later re-named Mary Celeste was an American brigantine which carried goods across the ocean uneventfully until 1872. On December 4 of that year, the Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia discovered her under partial sail near the Azores Islands, with no one on board and her life boat missing. A search of the ship turned up many strange details: the last log entry was ten days earlier, with no mention of disaster or misfortune; the cargo and crew belongings were undisturbed; and while the ship was dishevelled, she was still well-provisioned and seaworthy. None of those listed as being aboard her were ever heard from or seen again. At the salvage hearings in Gibralter, theories such as mutiny, piracy, and foul play by the Dei Gratia’s crew were all put forward, but with no evidence to support any of them, were dropped. More recent theories include seaquakes, water spouts, attacks by giant squid, and the always popular paranormal intervention. That last is often espoused because of the maritime superstition surrounding the renaming of a ship.


And there you have it, three real-life, never solved mysteries to use in your tabletop campaign. Maybe your party comes across an abandoned vessel while taking ship from one location to the next (and how much cooler would that be with airships?). Or maybe your group answers the call of a town in trouble, only to discover upon arriving that the town in its entirety is missing. And strange manuscripts are bread and butter for confounding your players, and make a great opportunity to flex your artistic muscles and create a fantastic table prop.

What real-life mysteries inspire your table? Leave a comment below!

IntrigueCon is Coming!


bannerIf you’re a role-player here in Edmonton, you really need to get on-board with IntrigueCon, running October 16-18. For those that have attended in years past, you’ll notice they’ve expanded to a third full day, running all day Sunday as well. With weekend passes at just $20 if you pre-register, that works out to less than a dollar an hour for a weekend’s worth of role-playing entertainment. You just can’t beat that price, and you’ll be supporting a great local gaming con.

The best thing about gaming cons is the chance to step outside your normal gaming patterns, and try a game you’ve never played before. IntrigueCon is perfect for that; a quick glance at the schedule and I can see games like Mouseguard, Fiasco, Edge of Darkness, Hong Kong Action Theatre!, Deadlands Reloaded, Werewolf: The ForsakenPashkovskaya Nocturne, and Star Trek, as well as fantasy standards Pathfinder RPG and D&D 5th Ed. There’s plenty of gaming goodness running all weekend, so you owe it to yourself to grab a seat at a new game.

Need more reasons? If you’ve been looking for a gaming group to join, cons are a great way to meet new gamers and make those connections. Whether you’re a player looking for a table, or a GM looking for players, cons are a way to meet new gaming nerds. And I’ve said it before in other places, but local cons are very much a “use it or lose it” resource. If they aren’t supported they go away, and it becomes harder to get another one started; folks see how the previous one failed and are less likely to get behind the next venture. In short, local cons can’t be taken for granted, and even if you can only make it out for a day you should try and support the cons as best you can.

Support comes in many forms of course. Cons always need volunteers, whether as a GM or general help around the event.  If you’ve been looking for a chance to try GMing at a con (and you should, it’s awesome), IntrigueCon is a great way to get your feet wet. And if you aren’t ready for that quite yet, cons always need help taking tickets, cleaning up, setting up tables, organizing…lots to do, and many hands make light work.

I’m running some Kobolds Ate My Baby! on Friday night, and then some Pathfinder Society games all day Saturday. If you want to get involved in either (or anything else), head over to IntrigueCon’s site and pre-register, then sign up for your games. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Ten Maguffins for your Games


cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgMaguffin is a term for a motivating element in a story used solely to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won’t pop up again later, it won’t provide resolution. Really, it won’t do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. The classic example is, of course, the Maltese Falcon from the movie of the same name. We never learn much about the object; in fact, the characters never even see it until near the end of the movie. But without it that story wouldn’t have happened.

Maguffins have a place at the gaming table, and can serve to keep your players pleasantly (at least for you) occupied or distracted. You don’t have to get too heavy-handed when introducing a maguffin into your game. In fact, the more you let the players tell you what they want from it, the better. Maguffins work best when they feed off of the wants and desires of the players and their characters.

That said, here’s a list of potential maguffins. I’ve tried to keep them general enough to fit most campaigns, and they’re (with one exception) system neutral. Feel free to use them as you wish, and change details to suit your own campaign.

  1. A matched pair of knucklebones, carved for use as dice. Instead of numbers, each die has six different and unintelligible symbols, one to a side. When rolled, the dice emit a faint hum and a flash of light. No other effect is apparent.
  2. Small clear-quartz statue of an imp. Starting at dawn, the statue slowly becomes both warmer to the touch, and more red. At dusk the statue is almost too hot to touch, as well as a deep ruby red. As the night passes, the effect reverses, leaving the statue clear and cool by dawn.
  3. A battered silver cup with the name “Fleance” expertly etched on the side. Found alongside other treasure, it obviously occupied pride of place (on a pillow on a pedestal, for instance). If checked, it does radiate a very faint magical aura, not much stronger than the weakest of spells.
  4. A small pink object, about the size of a matchbox, with a USB port on one side. If plugged in to a computer or other electronic device, the object gets slightly warmer. Whatever device it is plugged into immediately turns off. When turned back on, it’s found the device works better and/or more efficiently than it did before.
  5. A regular looking Zippo lighter. When used, the flame colour is occasionally blue, red, green, purple, or a combination of one or more of those colours. And though this isn’t immediately apparent, the lighter never needs refilling or new flint.
  6. A pretty talking doll, complete with frilly dress and pull string. The GM is free to make up phrases for it to say, but at least one should be, “Hello, [insert character name], will you play with me?”
  7. A large jar of pickled flumphs. If a character chooses to ingest one, the GM is free to determine what effect, if any, this will have. Beyond a bad tummy ache, of course.
  8. A small brass hand bell. When rung, it never emits the same tone twice in a row, sounding anywhere between “tinny and tinkly” up to “booming cathedral”.
  9. A plain key with no markings. Though not immediately noticeable, the key changes shape and design every day, though it is always without visible writing. The GM can decide what the chances of it fitting a particular door on a particular day might be, but it should be extremely unlikely.
  10. By all appearances, a plain white chicken egg. It is slightly warm to the touch as if freshly laid. It is also, by any means the players can devise, unbreakable.

Have maguffins of your own? Share them in the comments below.

Kickstarter News


I have recently dabbled in the realms of Kickstarter, and so far have yet to be disappointed. One of the things I’m currently backing, and really excited about, is the Into the Ninth World by Monte Cook Games. I’m backing at the Lover of All Books level, which means that I’m getting the following for my pledge:


I’m not imagining things, right? That’s a lot. If you’re a fan of Numenera, you should jump on-board this train before it leaves the station. If you’ve thought about checking the game out, there are a number of add-ons (like the Numenera sourcebook) to make this a logical jumping-on point.

Me? I’m going to wait for the Kickstarter to end and see how long “giddy with anticipation” will carry me.

Getting Back in the GM’s Chair


cropped-chibi-brent.jpgTonight my Thursday Knights convene after our annual summer hiatus. We’re diving back in to the Jade Regent Adventure Path, just a smidge of the way into the first book. It can be tough coming back to your regular game after some time away, so I thought I’d share three tips to make the transition from unsightly mob of civilians to crack team of tabletop pros easier.

1) Manage Your Expectations – The first session back, you aren’t going to get as much of the story done as you would during a regular session. Hopefully you’re friends as well as gamers, so there will be more than the usual bit of socializing and catching up, since you’ve all been apart for so long. Go with the flow on this. Gaming is a social event, after all, and you want your group to enjoy their time together. Don’t ruin the fun by cracking down too hard on first-session kibitzing. But…

2) Start as You Mean to Go On – …do start getting the group back in the table habits and house rules you’ve used. After a break some of those habits will have been lost, so be gentle. But if you had specific ways of doing things (working out initiative, how each player’s round works, and so on) or house rules you were following, make sure you draw your player’s attention back to those things. And of course, if you had habits or house rules that weren’t working for you, now is the perfect time to let them fall by the wayside.

3) Hang That Sucker! – If it is at all possible, end the session on a cliffhanger. Your first session back after a break, you want to get your players excited about coming back for session two. And three, and four…you get the idea. So I trick I’ve used is to end the first session on a cliffhanger. It’s great if that can be a big story moment for the players, because that will really grab their attention. But I have, when a good story point wasn’t in sight, just stopped the game with, “Okay [insert character name], the [insert suitably horrific creature] swings at you with its [flaming tentacle/acid-spewing greatclub/halfling corpse]…and that’s where we’ll end it for tonight.” At the very least, you have one player extremely interested in what’s happening next week.

What tips do you have for getting the band back together? Share them in the comments below!