Many Happy Returns

Life can be funny sometimes. In this case, not a ha-ha funny; more of a “didn’t expect to be here” funny. I have a new, permanent, full-time job in a field I love (I know, boo-hoo-hoo, right?), which has required me to put just about everything else on the back-burner as I get settled in and figure out my new work/life balance. Now that I’ve figured that out, mostly, I’ve started adding back the other things I enjoy. Like this blog.

So I’m happy to finally return and I hope you’ll be happy with it as well. I have a plethora of gaming articles, campaign advice, and game reviews (something new for the site) coming. Starting today, actually…

Several months ago my friend Scott celebrated his birthday. He and I game together a lot. I mean a lot a lot. So I knew I wanted to get him something game-related, but I didn’t want to just buy him another sourcebook or boardgame. I’ve been warming to the idea of making things for my friends these days; it’s more personal and I know I love getting something a friend has made for me.

Since I am Scott’s GM in at least one game, I hit upon the idea of giving him player coupons which he could redeem during the course of the campaign. A few gave innocuous enough advantages and bonuses, but most gave some pretty amazing benefits (both for himself and other players), balanced by some pretty nasty penalties.

Below is the text for the 12 coupon set. I printed them out on nice card-stock, with a graphic design behind the text, but if you decide to use the idea you are free to present them however you like. You’ll also notice that the text is pretty Pathfinder/d20 specific. That’s because we primarily play Pathfinder together, but the coupons could be modified easily enough to fit any system.

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1. Thanks, Community College! – Make a check in a skill in which you have not trained, as if you were trained in it at your current level. Apply any bonuses from items, abilities, etc. Put a check mark in the top right corner. Once the coupon has three check marks it’s expired.

2. As You Give, So Shall You Receive – Give another character a magic item or items, with no recompense. At some future date the GM will give you a magic item of equal or greater value. Asking the GM when this will happen nullifies the coupon. When you receive your item, the coupon expires.

3. Ultimate Sacrifice – When another character has died, present the GM with this coupon and say, “I wish to make the ultimate sacrifice.” The dead character is restored to life. However, at the GM’s discretion, something which your character desperately loves/wants will be taken away. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life…

4. Laughter is the Best Medicine – If you make the GM laugh at the gaming table, receive one of the following: cure light wounds (1d8+5), lesser restoration, remove curse, cure blindness/deafness, channel positive energy (30’ diam. burst centred on you, 5d6), stabilize, restoration. When you use an ability cross it off; it cannot be used again. Coupon expires when each ability is crossed off.

5. Sometimes You’re the Statue, Sometimes You’re the Pigeon – For one session, you may add any bonus you like to your d20 rolls, even going so far as to ask the GM what you need to succeed on the roll. This cannot be used to generate critical threats but can be used to confirm them. However, in your next session the GM will apply matching negative modifiers to your d20 rolls, in order. The coupon expires after this session.

6. Big Bad-a-Boom! – Apply any three meta-magic feats to the spell you are casting without changing its caster level. At some future time, a spell you cast will go catastrophically astray, likely when it is most useful/amusing to the GM.

7. One Shot, One Kill – You may, in place of your normal attacks, make a single attack as a coupe de grace against a creature your are fighting. The creature does not have to be helpless. However, this earns you infamy as a foe of that creature’s kind. Any future creature of that type you encounter begins with an attitude of hostile (once they know who you are) and automatically confirms critical threats against you.

8. Nobody’s Good at Everything – At character creation, pick one racial or class ability. You are twice as good at it (darkvision/low-light vision range is doubled, you get a +4 instead of a +2 to an ability, etc). However, some other skill suffered; choose another race or class ability and reduce its bonus by half.

9. Bleed for the Cause – You can spend hit points to gain bonuses to your rolls, on a 1-to-1 basis. However, these hit points cannot be healed by any means until your character has dropped into negative hit points for any reason. Once your character falls into negative hit points the coupon expires.

10. There’s No Place Like Home! – Present this coupon to the GM when an encounter is going horribly wrong. You and your party are instantly teleported a safe distance away from the encounter, to a location determined by the GM. Of course, it may not be safe where you end up, just safer…

11. Charity is Its Own Reward – Write the name of another character on the coupon, and hand it to the GM. He will ensure that character gets something he/she really wants. He may even throw in a little something for you…

12. You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me – Spare the life of any one intelligent living creature you are trying to kill. That creature now considers you a friend, and becomes a companion NPC under the control of the GM. Becoming your friend does not necessarily change the creature’s basic nature; the goblin who likes you, for instance, is still an amoral psychopath. But who knows, you might be a good influence.

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There you are! Feel free to use them or let them inspire coupons of your own.

Trail Rations: Healthy Dips

Replacing junk food at the gaming table with healthy, home-cooked options is a big part of my group’s attempt to game healthier. But let’s face it, sometimes you want chips and nothing else will do. When that craving strikes you can still make your chips a little healthier by making the dips and salsa yourself. Heck, if you have the time you can even make the chips yourself.

Below I have three recipes for healthier snack alternatives you can make at home. Two of them don’t even require cooking! And if you know how to turn on your oven the third will be a snap.

Basic Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups seeded, chopped tomatoes (6-7 medium tomatoes)
  • Leaves from one bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped*
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ a lime

*You can leave out the cilantro if you aren’t a fan; substitute parsley instead.

Directions: Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor. If you want a cooler salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before chopping. If you want a hotter salsa, add more jalapeno to taste.

Simple Garlic and Chive Yogurt Dip**

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions: In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, minced garlic clove, chopped chives, salt, pepper, dried dill, and lemon juice. Mix well and chill for at least an hour; overnight for the best flavor.

**Feel free to experiment with flavors for this dip; you can substitute other herb/spice combinations for other flavors quite easily.

Homemade Baked Potato Chips

Ingredients:

  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush 2 large baking sheets lightly with oil. Use a mandoline or hand held slicing machine to cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices in 1 flat layer on the baking sheets. Brush the slices lightly with oil and bake until golden throughout, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often since they brown at different rates. Transfer to paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper while hot.

For a little extra crunch, add the sliced potatoes to a pot of boiling water for about 5-7 minutes, then brush with oil and put in the oven.

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And that’s it! Three recipes to sate your group’s junk-food lust while keeping it healthier than store-bought. These basic recipes have plenty of room for experimentation, so you can play around with flavours to suit your table. Try sprinkling your chips with garlic powder, for instance, or substitute capers and black pepper for the garlic and chives in the yogurt dip. Have fun with it, and let me know in the comments what combinations you come up with.

Extra Life 2014

Facebook-cover-AlbertaOnce again I am taking part in Extra Life, raising funds for the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Alberta with Team #Knifeshoes. If you’d like to make a donation, please do so through my secure donation page. I’m really excited to be taking part again this year, and with your donations I’m hoping I’ll beat last year’s total.

With the expansion of Extra Life in to the table-top realm, I’ll be heading up Team #Kinifeshoes’ board and role-playing game special teams. I’ll start the day at a local gaming convention, InrigueCon, running a table of Kobolds Ate My Baby! Then a quick run over to Team #Knifeshoes HQ (a friend’s house) to set-up in their game room for the rest of the 24 hours. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to take D&D 5th out for a spin, and run through the basic box material. Assuming that doesn’t last us the entire rest of the time, we’ll intersperse with board games to cleanse the palette.

I look forward to a whole lot of fun being had (tired, tired fun), all in a great cause. Please make a donation if you can (you can donate from anywhere, by the way; it will credit you according to your country’s donation laws) of any amount. Every $5 helps, and adds up to get us closer to our goal. And if you live in Edmonton, contact me if you want to play in the D&D 5th at least part of the day. I’ll let you know what time we’ll start and where Team #Knifeshoes HQ is located. My only stipulation (if you aren’t already on Team #Knifeshoes) is that you make a donation to me. It is a fundraiser, after all.

Campaign Creation: What’s Dead Can Never Die…

Looking back through the logs, and it has been a while since I did one of these. So let’s start with a quick recap of what I’ve done so far:

Let’s have some fun, and figure out my first layer Big Bad Guy. ‘First layer’, you ask? I like to start with a nasty antagonist the party can grow into, sort of a ‘Starter Big Bad’. Depending on the system you use, this would be a villain who remains a challenge until about low-mid level.   Since I’m designing this primarily for Pathfinder, I want a villain that threatens into level 6-8. At that point, of course, the next layer of BBG will be revealed and the new threat will bring with it new, tougher adventures.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’d really like the villain to be undead. Intelligent undead, in my opinion, are some of the nastiest things in gaming canon. And with the exception of vampires and the occasional lich, horribly under-utilized in most of the games I’ve played. Plus a vampire or lich would be a bit too powerful for our party to deal with off the jump.

Looking down the list of intelligent undead (and taking note of useful non-intelligent undead for later), I’m torn between a ghoul or a wight. In either case I’ll be adding character levels to the creature, making it unique and powerful enough to be a threat. Both have the ability to create versions of itself, and there are enough low-level humanoids in the area for a steady supply of ‘instant minions’.  But I think the wight wins in that respect; while its created wights are weaker, they are at least under its control. The ghoul has no control over its creations, making them less-than-ideal minions and competition for food.

Wight it is! The party will definitely still run into ghouls at some point, and I haven’t ruled out a ghoul second-in-command for my wight. A steady flow of bodies from your master and all the mayhem you can create? What ghoul wouldn’t take that job? Having both a wight and ghoul present opens up encounters with both goblin and grippli mini-wights and ghouls, which could be fun.

Now to level up my wight, so he can be a proper BBG. I mentioned earlier that many of the undead would be centred in the Ruin’s Temple District. So it makes sense that my wight be tied to that area. It might be fun to give it some cleric levels, but looking through the Advanced Player’s Guide, I think I like the oracle better. Mechanically, oracle works better with a wight’s CHA of 15 (as opposed to a WIS of only 13). And I’m already seeing a backstory where the wight was once a cleric of Norgorber, and in undeath retained some vestige of its former power in the form of oracle abilities. It could be trying to regain its earlier abilities, sending minions out into the Ruin to discover and retrieve ancient texts and tomes toward that end.

Yes, loving this idea already. Okay, the CR of a wight is 3, and I want it to be a credible threat to a level 6-8 group. So I’m going to give it 7 levels of oracle, which will make it roughly a CR 9 creature. A lot can change between now and when the characters encounter it, but this gives me a place to start. Doubling down on undeath I’m giving it the Bones mystery, and tentatively I’m going to assign the revelations death’s touch, armor of bones, and soul siphon. Those will make it less squishy if the party makes it passed the wall of minions I envision the wight maintaining. And I like the potential look of panic on a player’s face as the wight inflicts negative levels on their character from a distance.

I’ll flesh out the details later, since the character won’t confront our BBG directly for a while. When I do put it all together, I’ll post a link to a PDF so you can make use of it for your own game. For now we’ll leave it alone, brooding in its ruined temple lair, waiting for its witless minions to bring it another scrap of text or ancient artefact. Soon, soon…

What do you think of my initial BBG? Have any suggestions or ideas? Drop them in the comments below.

This Blog is not a Gatekeeper

If you’re a gamer and have spent any amount of time on-line in the last few weeks you’re likely familiar with at least the basics of Gamergate. If you’re not, I’m not going to take space here explaining it. Others have done a better job than I could, and a few moments with your search engine de jour will find you that information. If you are unfamiliar with the recent goings on I think it’s a search you should make. I don’t think I’m understating things to say that how we, as the gaming community, deal with the issues surrounding inclusiveness in gaming, will decide whether our hobby grows or not.

Let me state a few points of my position on this whole thing, for clarity. I am not neutral on the subject of inclusiveness. I want my hobby to grow and I’m willing to fight for that growth. I am not going to give both sides of the inclusiveness argument equal weight because one side (wanting inclusiveness) is right and the other (anyone against it) is flat fucking wrong. If you don’t think the only pre-requisite for being a gamer is the desire to, and playing of, games, you are 100% on the wrong side of the issue. As far as I’m concerned, the only discussion worth having about inclusiveness in gaming is, how do we ensure the maximum number of gamers see themselves in a meaningful way in the games being produced?

Some may argue my view is unbalanced, because I’m not giving equal time to both sides. I don’t care. I see no point in giving equal weight to ignorance. Some might say I’m jumping on the bandwagon with all the other Gamergate posts, trying to ride the wave of the latest click-bait issue. Tough. At this point, and in light of recent events, what little voice I have must be raised. Silent support helps no one. If that gets me branded a White Knight or a Social Justice Warrior (two titles which sound bad-ass, so I’m not sure why the MRA trolls think those terms are pejorative), fan-freaking-tastic. I’ll slap those titles on my next set of business cards.

It’s worth noting, I haven’t always had these beliefs. To my shame, I have set myself up as a gatekeeper in the past. I have been exclusive, with all the ignorance that goes along with that. What changed? There is a saying I heard years back; if you look around the gaming table and can’t spot the asshole, it’s probably you. So I grew up. I decided that, whatever else I did in my hobby, I’d work to not be the asshole at the table. I’m not always successful, but these days I succeed way more than I fail and I keep the line trending up. Realizing it wasn’t my place to decide who’s at the table with me was a big part of that.

So if you continue to read my blog, you’ll have to accept that all are welcome here. Everything I write will have that vein of inclusiveness running through it, because it is important to me. If you don’t like that, feel free to save us a both some wasted time and go. I’m sure you can find a gaming blog with a tone more to your liking. Sadly.

That’s it. Short, not-so-sweet, and to the point. Feel free to add your comments below, and I promise we’ll be back to game posts tomorrow.

RPGaDay #28: Most Memorable Encounter

I was stumped on this one, until I decided to broaden my interpretation.

In 2010 I attended Gen Con for the first time in over a decade. I travelled down from Edmonton with a group of friends, and since it was my first time back in a while, chose to get the VIG, or ‘Very Important Gamer’, weekend pass. If you manage to snag one, I recommend trying it out at least once, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

One of the benefits of the pass is early admission to any of the big name panels; they jump us to the front of the line, and we sit in the front rows set aside for us. My friends and I were going in to see Wil Wheaton speak and read excerpts from his latest book (no, he’s not the MME in this case, though meeting him later would certainly qualify). As we were shown to our second-row seats (the very front row was reserved for industry and convention staff/volunteers), who should be sitting in front of us but Peter Adkison. Yep, Wizards of the Coast founding, Magic: The Gathering creating, Gen Con owning Peter Adkison.

A bit of back story. I was managing a gaming store during the period of TSR’s floundering and D&D’s near-death experience. I have a fine appreciation for what WotC buying TSR meant for the hobby at a retail level, because at that time we were staring down the barrel of a hobby without D&D. That was not a bullet most game stores could have survived, never mind the broader hobby in general. And beyond that, my favourite game of all time would go away (I hadn’t met Pathfinder yet). It was a bleak time.

Back to Gen Con. It meant a lot to me to meet the guy who unbleaked my hobby, and I really wanted to tell him that. Typical Canadian, though, I decided not to bother him and just bask in the proximity. Minutes after we sat down, of course, Mr. Adkison turns around in his chair and says, “Hey guys, enjoying Gen Con so far?” Buh.

Somewhere in the conversation which followed I managed to thank him for saving D&D from extinction, and went so far as to get him to sign my Gen Con badge. He was a very sweet, casual man, and a pleasure to talk with.

Now, that would have been cool enough. But over the next few days we kept running in to him at panels, and every time he would make a point to say hello, ask us how our con was going, and chat with us about…stuff. Most surreal moment: Peter Adkison talking to me about a character he’s playing in his home campaign. It was just such a perfect gamer nerd moment, and it’s one of many reasons I love this hobby.

RPGaDay #28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.

Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.

What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.

What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!

RPGaDay #27: Game You’d Like to See a New/Improved Edition Of

Not so much a game as a setting, I’d love to see World of Greyhawk get another fair shake as a campaign setting. Wizards of the Coast briefly and half-heartedly promoted it as a campaign world when it launched 3rd Edition. But it was quickly shunted aside for the more popular setting, Forgotten Realms.

Which is a shame, because Greyhawk was a world with a lot going on. It had a rich history, great epic villains, and a world rife with wrongs for adventurers to right. All the classic AD&D modules are set there. It’s where we get the creators of our favourite spells: Bigby, Tenser, Melf, Rary, Otto, Drawmij, Mordenkainen. Adding to the nostalgia factor, it was Gary Gygax’s home campaign. For that alone it deserves much better treatment than it’s received in recent years. Sadly, it seems stuck in limbo; WotC won’t do anything with it, but won’t let anyone else touch it either.

But maybe someday I’ll dust off my Greyhawk characters, and ride to adventure at the behest of the Circle of Eight. Or is that against the Circle of Eight? Whatever, either will be fine.

RPGaDay #26: Favourite Character Sheet

While there are plenty of really good pre-printed character sheets out there, my tendency has always been to write mine out very neatly in some form of notebook. Usually this takes up the first 2-4 pages; the rest I then use for campaign notes, maps, sketches, and so on. I tend to play fantasy RPGs like Pathfinder, and I like the idea of my character keeping a journal of some kind. As much as possible I try to make journal entries as I think my character would, which makes it potentially fun and sometimes not very useful for remembering things later. For instance, I once played a barbarian character (Stonk) who, after growing up on the ‘cuisine’ of his one small tribe, was suddenly exposed to the varied foods of the world as he traveled with his party. So while other party members were taking detailed notes on our mission, Stonk’s journal read like a foodie’s notebook (“The King talked; served a passable red wine, but loved the mussel-stuffed game hens. Stonk must get recipe.”)  And of course I carefully tracked treasure. Stonk liked food, but he liked treasure more.

As a side note to this, my friend Morgan once gifted me with what I now consider the ideal character notebook. It was a 9-1/2”x 7-1/2” Moleskine notebook with graph paper pages, ruled at 5 squares per inch. Gorgeous quality, and the graph paper meant I could keep my maps nice and tidy. I’ve found others since, but thank-you, Morgan, for giving me that first one.

What’s your favourite character sheet? Drop it in the comments below!

RPGaDay 25: Favourite RPG No One Else Wants to Play

Oddly enough, I can’t get anyone to play Fairy Meat with me (technically it’s a miniatures game, but it can be played in campaign mode and has character sheets, so I’m broadening the definition). Given the sense of humor shared by my particular group of friends, I’d think a game involving cannibalistic fairies would be right in their wheelhouse. But anytime I’ve suggested it, the response is lukewarm at best. I might have to drag it along to a convention one day, just to find players.

For actual RPGs, finding a group to get together once isn’t hard. I have a plethora of friends who will show up if I announce I want to try a new RPG. It’s continuing the game that becomes the hard part. Whether it’s scheduling, waning lack of interest, or a vast shadowy conspiracy aimed at keeping me from happiness, we never seem to manage to keep a campaign going. My regular Thursday night group is actually only semi-regular; we aim to play every Thursday, with the understanding that life might limit that to once or twice in the month. But we persevere, because it is the most consistent game I belong to right now.

Musings of a Gaming Nerd

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