Guest Post: The Elven Monk

One of the things I wanted to do for the site this year was get some guest bloggers to contribute, and to do some guest blogging of my own. Jesse C. Cohoon over at Fantasy Roleplaying Planes reached out with a post, and I’m currently working on a post for his site as well. In an earlier article I talked about how I had changed some races to better fit my campaign. So Jesse’s article seemed like a good fit, as an alternate way to look at the Elven people. I hope you enjoy, and take a look over at his site if you have the chance.Brent

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The Elven Monk

Elves are typically presented as aloof, long-lived protectors of the forest, experts in magic, sword, and bow. But this is only one interpretation of what elven culture can be. What would happen if a sect of elves decided to remove themselves from society altogether, abandon their forest homes, seeking instead lives of meditation and quiet contemplation? Elves have a serene quality about them, and due to their longevity if they bend their minds and wills to focus on this, have a wisdom which few can match.

Lands & History

This branch of the Elven people withdrew from the world. They were tired of the constant need to protect the land from invaders. So they found a mountaintop constantly shrouded in blizzards and built a home there, daring anyone to try to take it away from them. They built a community with their temple at the center of it, which they named Yana Halt tel’ Loomi Raumo, translatedto common as “Leap of the storm clouds.” Despite this limiting factor of their location, they seem self-sufficient in getting all they need, having learned how to garden indoors, coaxing vegetables and fruiting plants to grow in what sparse light they have.  They also have a herd of alpacas which they use the meat and wool to weave their simple robes from.

Community

The Elven monks of this community spend their times training their minds and bodies to perfection. Everyone shares in chores alike: men, women, and as they are able to, children. Even though they are a temple, there is a sense of community and commonality for all there. This is not to say they’re not strict about their members adhering to the temple’s standards. If a member violates its rules, they may be asked to leave. For the most part, they do not welcome strangers into their lands with open arms . That is not to say they are inhospitable; if someone stumbles into their temple grounds needing help, they’ll supply them with what is needed: be it food or a guide, and send them on their way.

Appearance

They are typically lithe men and women who wear simple robes of a single color, oftentimes decorated with a sash of a different colored material to note their status or position within the community. When adventuring, this sash also doubles as storage for anything they’re carrying with them. On their feet they wear simple sandals.

Everyone originally from the community is first encountered bald. Newcomers to the temple for training or to join are required to shave their heads.

Personality

This group of Elves are isolationists, preferring not to get involved with the outside world. This is not to say they will not; if the situation arises and someone can convince them that their skills are needed, they will venture out into the world to face and defeat the evil. They’re fearsome foes to those that oppose them. Woe to be the enemy that confronts them in their mountaintop home.

Most of them are soft spoken, and will rarely initiate a conversation, preferring to mind their own business rather than getting involved in outside situations, unless failing to do so would violate their oath.

Weapons & Armor

They don’t typically wear armor, as it interferes with their acrobatic movements, but that’s not to say that they’re defenseless. The monks are trained to use their sash to parry attacks and use it to misdirect attacks from vital areas, sometimes blocking them from hitting completely. They typically carry a long three section staff that has a length of rope coiled onto it. The rope can be uncoiled to reveal a folding grappling hook. This combination is used similarly to the o-kusarigama, and can be used to cross gaps, and trip or entangle foes.

Skills & Powers

Due to their constant exposure to the elements, this branch of Elven monks can ignore the side effects of normal cold weather. If their training is advanced enough, they may be able to shrug off cold damage. They can deliver a chilling Ki attack with their palm strikes. Also, due to their physical training makes them surefooted in all but the most unstable of circumstances. They also are excellent climbers. Unfortunately, due to their social isolation, they aren’t good conversationalists, and despite their serenity, sometimes don’t make a good impression on others.

Adventures

Elven monks from Yana Halt tel’ Loomi Raumo may be found adventuring if they are seeking more advanced training, coming back home from guiding a lost traveler, or after having fought other evils.

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Jesse Cohoon is a blogger who writes about tabletop gaming. His strength comes from being able to pull his experience from fantasy novels, video games, and real world experiences and combine them into one. His blog can be found at fantasyroleplayingplanes.blogspot.com. Contact him if you want him to do a guest article for your site.

From the Campaign: Tome Guardian

Even though I’m not entirely finished with this creature, I thought I’d share something I pulled together for my home D&D campaign. My party is going to be exploring many places which have not been seen for almost five hundred years or more, and this is one of the creatures they may encounter in their journeys. It isn’t finished, of course. Not only have my players not encountered it, and therefore I don’t want to be posting all of its abilities here, but I also envision this as the “base model”, with adjustments and changes depending on the race which created it and the specific site it was created to guard. But this is enough to be going on with, and I’ll adjust it as it comes into contact with the characters.

Feel free to use it in your own campaign if you are so inclined, as is or modified to fit your needs. If you do modify it, maybe share that with me so I can see to what purposes you put it.

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Tome Guardian
Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 18 (natural armor)

Hit Points 55 (5d10 + 25)

Speed 30 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18  (+4) 14  (+2) 20  (+5) 14  (+2) 10  (+0) 1 (-5)

Saving Throws Int +2, Wis +0

Skills Skill +0, Skill +0

Senses Darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 10

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing

Damage Immunities Force, poison, psychic

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Languages Understands Common and Draconic but can’t speak

Challenge
5 (1800 XP)

Force Absorption. Whenever the tome guardian is subjected to force damage, it takes no damage and instead regains a number of hit points equal to the force damage dealt.

Immutable Form. The tome guardian is immune to any spell or effect that would alter its form.

Magic Resistance. The tome guardian has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. The tome guardian’s weapon attacks are magical.

Spellcasting.  Tome Guardian is a 4th-level spellcaster that uses Intelligence as its spellcasting ability (spell save DC 10; +2 bonus with spell attacks). The Tome Guardian has the following spells prepared from the cleric’s and wizard’s spell list:

  • create water
  • prestidigitation

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The tome guardian makes two melee attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Force Wave (Recharge 5 or 6). The tome guardian sends a wave of force energy from its outstretched hand in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw, taking 16 (4d6) force damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

 

REACTIONS
Reaction. 4 (1d8) bludgeoning damage.

Built to guard libraries and other locations storing knowledge or artifacts, tome guardians are able protectors of both the location and the objects within. Imbued with minor abilities which allow them to care for the books and artifacts they guard, tome guardians also act as research assistants, as they are programmed with a catalogue of the items under their care. Tome guardians are unfailingly polite until one seeks to endanger a book or artifact they are charged to protect. They then go on the offensive quickly and decisively.

Things I’ve Learned from Almost Forty Years in the Hobby

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI had occasion to talk with someone I gamed with in my primordial days as a gamer, and it brought home exactly how long I’ve been involved in the tabletop gaming hobby. That train of thought changed cars, and I got to thinking about the things I’ve learned in that time. The list of “rules” below is by no means exhaustive, but it begins to form what could loosely be called my “Gamer Code of Ethics”. I figured I’d share it in the interests of disclosure and because discussion around this can be interesting.

I’ve been in this hobby for almost forty years, and your gate-keeping bullshit is boring and stupid. I put this one first as a courtesy; if the statement offends you, you can now stop reading and go elsewhere with my blessing. No? Still here? Excellent. Seriously, though, at its heart this hobby is about playing. If you think someone should be excluded from play for any reason (other than on an individual basis because of intent to harm) then you are the problem, not whoever you’re trying to keep out of gaming this week. Anyone who wants to play is welcome at my table, period.

I’d rather not play than play in a bad game. This wasn’t always the case. In my mis-spent youth I’d play any game anywhere with any one just to be playing. Now, though, I don’t have time to play bad games. Work and other responsibilities take up a good chunk of my free time. When I play I want to be at a table with other gamers who want to have fun, and don’t need to impede other players’ fun to have it. I just don’t have time to deal with toxic players, and that’s doubly true for toxic Game Masters.

Rules are fine until they get in the way of fun. There are no rule police. The game company already has your money for the whole book, they don’t care how much of it you actually use. So if you encounter a rule which is seriously ruining the fun, change it or ignore it. If your player proposes something amazingly heroic and dangerous and the rules say no, tell the rules to shut up and figure out a way to make it happen. Not once in the entire time I’ve been playing has any gamer reminisced about that one special session where they adhered to all the rules. Not. Once.

You can’t put a green dragon next to room full of goblins. This oddly specific item comes from one of the first adventures I wrote, round about age twelve. And it did indeed feature a room with a bunch of goblins, right next to a room with a green dragon, each leading a blissful life confined to their room waiting for tasty adventurers. So yes, this rule is a little about dungeon ecology, but it’s also about interesting story. Because of course you can put a green dragon next to a room full of goblins, as long as you figure out an interesting reason why the goblins are still there and the dragon hasn’t binge-eaten a goblin tribe. Do it well, and figuring out that situation can end up being as interesting as fighting the dragon.

If you can’t spot the asshole at the table, it might be you. I’ve brought this up before in other articles so I won’t go in to much more detail here. Just look around and make sure you are matching or exceeding the pleasantness of the table.

A hard no is reserved only for players ruining other players’ fun. I’m generally willing to roll with whatever my players want to do, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work. About the only time I say a flat no to something a player wants to do is if it is directly antagonistic to another player or their character. I don’t even try to come up with an in-game work around for it anymore. I flat out tell the player, “No, you don’t get to do that” and why, and encourage them to figure something else out. Seriously, unless there is a strong story reason for your character to go after another character, it doesn’t need to happen. Stop being boring and move on.

Go to cons. Play games you wouldn’t normally play with people you’ve never gamed with. I’ve talked about this a lot so again I won’t go in to detail. But really, this is one of the best parts of the hobby and you should get to a tabletop gaming con at least once a year. You won’t regret it.

If you have to win to have fun, you’ve set the wrong victory condition. Should be self-evident for role-playing games, but this goes for board games as well. Does it feel good to win? Sure. But I don’t invite my friends over to beat them at games, I invite them over to play games. Winning is a nice bonus, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing my friends pull out some epic wins, even when they snatch them from my grasp. My victory condition is fun; as long as I achieve that I’m ahead.

As a GM it is never me vs. the players. Conversely, as a player it is never me vs. the GM, or the other players. Pretty self-explanatory, really. I don’t need to beat my players. As a GM I win if my players have a good time and feel suitably challenged. Similarly, as a player I win if I can work with the other players to overcome whatever the GM has in store for us.

Don’t touch another player’s dice without asking. You may not have any dice-related superstitions, but it is still polite to ask before grabbing dice from another player. See Rule 4.

Your “Lone Wolf” character is boring. Yes, even that one. I blame movies for this, because adventure movies are packed with examples of the loner hero. And why not? As a trope it works great for movies and television. But RPGs are a social game, and I’m sorry, but choosing to play a character who doesn’t want to be around other people is lazy and boring. The first thing I ask the player, when presented with such a character, is why are they now choosing to work with others? Because watching the “solo” character play against type can be interesting. Watching the character sit alone again, and not talk to the rest of the party again, and sneak off on their own again? Not so much.

You can expect another one of these articles at some point, because I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. But this is enough…well, let’s call it wisdom to be friendly…wisdom for one blog entry. Have anything you’ve learned? Drop it in the comments and share with the class.

Local Nerdery to Keep You Warm

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgYes, I know. Winter has come to the Prairies and your first instinct is to hibernate until it goes away. Mine too. But I’ve also learned that getting out and gaming can help speed the winter away. So here are a few local (Edmonton) gaming events happening in the next while, to help drive away the winter blues.

Gamemaster Support Group (Monday, February 13, 6-9pm) – Hub of nerdery and mighty fine comic shop and used-book store, Variant Edition, has begun hosting a Gamemaster Support Group, designed to give local GMs a chance to meet, discuss issues around GMing, and swap ideas and stories. I was very sad to miss the first of these, but I’m planning to make it to the next with proverbial bells on. The focus for this one seems to be GM materials, and they’ve asked the GMs attending to bring along examples of materials they use at the table. So I’m especially excited to see all the cool things my fellow GMs use at the table. Not only is a cool learning experience, but sometimes you need to vent and only your fellow GMs will understand.

Bitz Swap (Saturday, February 18, 9am-5pm) – Alongside the Colder than Carbonite 2017 Infinity Tournament, Bitter North Gaming will host a Bitz Swap. For those not in the know, amongst miniature gamers a bitz swap is a chance to buy and trade miniatures and miniature bitz, for modding your miniatures, building terrain, or just picking up an army you’ve had your eye on super cheap. If you’ve been interested in starting in the hobby, this is also sometimes a good opportunity to get into the hobby less expensively. And if nothing else it’s a chance to ogle some cool miniatures and talk to other tabletop wargamers.

KEFCon – The Gauntlet (February 25-26) – Hosted by The Gamer’s Lodge, The Gauntlet is a 17-hour gaming marathon fundraiser in support of KEFCon. Tickets are $20, and you get a $5 food voucher from The Gamer’s Lodge as part of that. The gaming goodness starts at 9am and runs to 2am, with multiple tables of gaming running the entire time. Plus there’ll be folks on hand to teach the games (I should know, I’m one of them), so it’s a perfect time to try out a game you’ve never played before. You can register for the games ahead of time through Warhorn. Beer, food, and gaming, what more could you want?

So get on out there and while away the winter with some gaming. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

 

Trail Rations: Beef Stew on Trenchers

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgIt’s been a while since I’ve done a Trail Rations post, but as I head in to 2017 I’ve taken it upon myself to cook more meals at home, as opposed to eating out or ordering in. Since game sessions are a huge culprit in my fast-food habit, I’m rededicating myself to cooking at home for game sessions. Because I work during the day, I often use my slow cooker to prepare meals for game night. Whenever possible, I try like to serve something which might evoke the game world for my players. Previous posts (search the Trail Rations tag) have touched on some of those recipes.

One of my favourites for a basic fantasy-feel is slow-cooker beef stew, served on trenchers. What are trenchers? Once upon a time, trenchers were flat bread upon which food was served. Often this food was a stew or something else drippy or runny, which would soak into the trencher. Used trenchers would be given as alms to the poor, or just eaten the next day for breakfast. At some point trenchers stopped being bread and started being a round wooden disk with a raised lip, but its function remained the same: hold a bunch of food. I’m assuming they stopped giving them to the poor or eating them for breakfast at that point, but I’m not the boss of them.

Here’s the beef stew recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 3 potatoes, diced
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  1. Heat a frying pan to medium-high, and add the olive oil. Sear the beef stew meat until it has a nice colour on the outside, but don’t leave in the pan long enough to cook all the way through.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the seared beef to the slow-cooker, and pour the flour mixture over that, stirring to combine.
  3. Add all the other ingredients to the slow cooker and mix to combine. If you have the time, let the slow-cooker run for 10-12 hours. If you don’t, 4-6 hours on the high setting will do the trick.
  4. Serves 6. Serve in bowls, or find some hearty flat-breads at your local bakery or grocery store and serve it on trenchers.

If you are celiac, ditch the flour. And you can make the dish vegetarian but retain some of the same flavour by leaving out the beef, changing the beef broth to vegetable stock, and adding 3 cups chopped mushrooms and 2 tablespoons soy sauce to the mix. It’s a recipe which lends itself to experimentation, so give your ideal stew a try.

 

 

Welcome, 2017!

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgWhile I don’t believe in blaming a discrete measurement of time for any particular ill, it can’t be denied a lot of unfortunate things happened during 2016. As irrational as it makes me, I’m excited to get 2017 underway. I don’t really make personal resolutions, but I’ve been thinking of my gaming resolutions for the coming year and I thought I’d share them with you. Some relate to the blog and other creative endeavors, some to games I run or play, and the rest are sort of a wish-list for the coming year. In no particular order:

  1. Learn and Play 3 New Tabletop Games Every Month – Even though I read many new games last year, I found that I actually played very few of them. So my goal for the coming year is to play three new tabletop games a month. I’m not fussy about the type of game, as long as it’s something I haven’t played before. Of course this is driven by a desire to just play more games. But I’m also hoping this will get me out to more gaming events through the year, whether those are private events run by friends, gaming conventions, and anything in between. I plan to blog those experiences as well, so you’ll be able to see my running tally through the year.
  2. Attend More Gaming Events – A combination of health and personal issues kept me away from many of the gaming events I was invited to over the last year. With my new-found health, one of my goals for 2017 is to attend every local gaming con (attendee or volunteer, depending on availability), and get to as many small events as my schedule will permit. Hopefully this one will contribute to the prior resolution; a number of my invitations were for play-testing developing games, and I look forward to any of those which come my way.
  3. Self-publish – With the writing and design I’ve put in to my new D&D campaign, the urge is with me publish some of the more refined bits. So I’ve got plans in place to get something up on Drive-Thru RPG and/or DM’s Guild in the coming year. Possibly several somethings, but we’ll see how the first one turns out and adapt from there. I’ll still share the occasional item here on the blog, of course.
  4. Be a Better Player – I’ve referenced this saying before, and I can’t remember where I first heard it. But it goes, “If you’re playing a game and you can’t see the asshole at the table, be careful. It might be you.” I hope I’ve never been the asshole at the table (recently anyway, I can only apologize for my teenage self and move on), and certainly no one has called me on it. That might just mean they resolved to suffer in silence, however. So moving forward I’ll game with the conscious intention of not being That Guy.** No one likes playing with That Guy, and I think our hobby would be vastly improved by calling That Guy on their bullshit at every opportunity. This one will apply to all my games, player and game master, role-playing or board.
  5. Collaborate – This one is mostly blog-related, but it could spill out to other aspects of my gaming as well. I enjoy creating content for the blog. I think I’ve worked out a plan which will allow me to get content up on a regular basis, without straining my schedule. As part of that plan I’d like to collaborate with other game bloggers, in whatever form that shakes out to. One blogger has already been in touch, and you’ll see the result of that in January. But I’m open to working with others, whether that’s a blog post exchange, something co-written, or even game material. So if you’re reading this and you might be interested, drop my a line.

Do you have any gaming resolutions? Share them in the comments!

**That Guy is the person at the table who is sucking the fun out of whatever you’re playing. They’re fastidious rules lawyers, or they bitch about how poorly they’re playing (whether they are or not). Or they mock and question what everyone else is doing or playing. Or they’re playing yet another Brooding Lone Wolf character, and get pissy when you won’t warp your RPG game to include them. You get the idea. That Guy takes many forms and can be any one, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or creed. (Because of that last, I find the term That Guy less than perfect, but unitl I come up with a better one I’ll stick with it for now.)

Mapping your World, Part 1: Getting Started

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgAlong with my renewed interest in campaign creation has come an interest in making good maps. My map-making skills are okay, at least when it comes to dungeon mapping. But I’ve always felt my terrain mapping skills were a bit…well, bad, if I’m being honest. Since I’m in the process of creating a new campaign world for my players I want to show them the world I can see clearly in my mind. To do that, I’ve been searching the web for help, and practicing the techniques that appeal to me. If you’ve got an interest in developing your mapping skills, I’ve collected a few of my favourite resources in this post to help get you started. This post centers on mapping by hand, without the computer. Later on I’ll post about getting started with computer-aided mapping, but since I’m currently mapping by hand that’s what I’m touching on.

First I wanted to say something, something I think is important to realize. When you start, your maps are not going to look great. You won’t be happy with them, and that’s fine. Don’t stop. The important thing is to keep drawing maps and keep practicing. The artist Bob Ross had a saying, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.” If you keep going, I promise you’ll get to a point where you’re making maps you’re happy to show your players.

Materials – How you map is going to depend a lot on how you’re using your maps. For reference mapping, you’ll be fine with a pad of graph paper (4 or 5 squares per inch is ideal) and a regular pencil. If the scale isn’t important, or you intend to start with area maps and not dungeon maps, you don’t even need the graph paper. Grab any empty sheet and start drawing. In fact, I often start with a blank sheet of paper even when I’m drawing a dungeon layout, because I find the graph paper can be restrictive during the planning stage.

When you’re happy with what you’re drawing, and you want your maps to look a little tidier so your players can read them, it may be time to use pens. You still draw the initial map using pencil, but then go over the lines with a coloured pen, usually black. I use Pilot™ pens for my map making, in four main colours: black for the line work, green for forests, swamps and the like, blue for water features, and red for location icons and to add highlights to other features. If you want to get fancier with the colour you can pick up a box of coloured pencils and use as many colours as you like. Just be careful of making the map too “muddy” with excessive colour use.

If you are running a game which uses a lot of miniatures, you can pick up flip-chart paper with 1”-squares marked on it from any stationary store, making it perfect for transferring your reference maps to the table. Gaming Paper also makes a variety of papers for the tabletop, in a wide range of colours and sizes. The paper quality is also excellent, so you can make some great reusable maps. As with your reference maps, start with pencil, then work your way to felt markers, either black or in as many colours as you prefer.

Cartographer’s Guild – Honestly, I think this should be the first stop for anyone interested in fantasy and sci-fi maps, for any reason, not just gaming. You’ll get inspired by thousands of examples, and the forums and blogs cover a wide range of topics for all skill levels. You can learn a bunch just by looking at a particular map and trying to copy its style, and you’ll never run out of examples here. Plus, it’s just a beautiful site. I’ve become lost down the rabbit hole of looking through page after page of maps, never regretting a second of it.

WASD20 – Inspiration is great, but when I’m ready to make my own maps I need to see the process happening in front of me. Besides being a great general-purpose gaming channel, WASD20 has an entire series of helpful videos on fantasy mapping, collected in their own playlist. He even breaks the process down by terrain types, and offers different style suggestions for your mapping so you can choose a style which works for your skill level. If you’re like me and need to see it happening to do it yourself, I’d definitely recommend these videos. Need a second opinion? Check out the Questing Beast channel for their take on map making.

Those are some of my favourite resources to get started; what are some of yours? What tips would you share with a new cartographer? Let me know in the comments.

 

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.