Campaign Inspiration

I was asked the other day about where to find ideas for tabletop campaigns. The person I was talking to seemed concerned that they weren’t coming up with enough interesting ideas for their campaign setting, a concern shared by most gamemasters, I think. They were also lamenting not having the resources to buy the latest campaign and setting books. Luckily I was able to offer some suggestions for inexpensive, non-game book alternatives, borne out of my own search for inspiration. Since it was fresh in my mind I thought I’d share a few of my go-to sources here.

National Geographic Magazine – Ever since my mother gifted me a subscription to this magazine back in high school (yes, I was the kid who thought this was a cool gift. Still do!) National Geographic Magazine has been a constant source of inspiration to my tabletop campaigns. Gorgeous photos and excellent articles cover a range of topics: ecology, oceanography, archaeology, anthropology, history, and more. Almost every article, map, or photo is an adventure seed or campaign inspiration waiting to happen. I once based an entire orc tribe off an article on the mongols, and a special issue on deep sea fauna inspired a host of monsters for my gaming table. Plus it’s just a fascinating read. Subscription cost is pretty cheap, but if you can’t afford cheap then head to your local library. Chances are they have copies for you to read.

YouTube – I’ve definitely talked about the gaming-related YouTube channels I follow, and those are a great resource. But there are plenty of channels, not directly related to gaming, which can be just as helpful and inspiring. Crash Course, for instance, is a fantastic resource if you want to learn the basics of a topic relatively fast, and can give you some great jumping-off points for campaign inspiration. History Buffs is another great channel, comparing the history we see in movies to actual recorded history. The rather uninspiring name Lindybeige hides a plethora of videos on a truly eclectic range of topics, from steampunk comedy to how a torch actually works. These are just three examples. Type in your subject and you’ll almost always find some sort of video to help you out.

Antique Shops and Flea Markets – Depending on where you are, you may have anywhere from a few to a seeming infestation of antique shops, flea markets, and other types of second-hand shops. Wandering through them can be a great way to inspire yourself, especially if you are looking for odd or clever objects to add to your campaign world. In addition, take a moment to imagine what sort of person would own the objects you come across. Now you’ve got GM character inspiration as well. You may also find a few cool little in-game props and visual aids for your next session. Plus it’s just a cool way to spend a few hours.

Online Libraries – Different from wikis, online libraries collect a variety of texts on an almost unlimited number of topics. Best of all, may of these texts are available free of charge, or for a nominal yearly subscription. While you can certainly just scroll through Wikipedia, I sometimes like to hit up an online library to get the full text of a book, rather than the bare bones a wiki provides. Plus many real-world libraries have sources available online, again either free or for a small fee. These resources can include scans of old and even ancient texts, old maps and charts, and copies of historical documents. Use any or all of these for inspiration or as handouts for your players.

Those are a few of my favourite non-rpg GM resources. What are yours? Comment below and let me know!

The Watchlist: Girls’ Game Shelf

I’m always on the lookout for nerdy things to watch, and one of my favourites are play-through shows. Once upon a time they were few and far between. Now, with how easy it is to record and upload to the Webz, there are a plethora of shows of varying quality from which to choose. This can mean slogging through some shaky-cam and audio poor examples to get to the really good stuff. But it makes it all the sweeter when you find a great show.

Recently I came across Girls’ Game Shelf, a relatively new YouTube series out of Los Angeles (side note: I’ve been coming across a bunch of great gaming shows out of LA recently. They see to have become the nexus point for gaming media). They shot a pilot season of seven episodes out of their own pocket, then ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to have a Season Two (currently two episodes in). Each episode features a particular game and a returning cast of women gamers, who play through the game and give one-on-one impressions of the game and game play. At the end of each episode they decide whether the game will stay on the shelf.

I binged this show in a morning and I’m now impatiently waiting for more. It has a production style which I particularly enjoy; just enough production value (good sound, good camera work, well lit) that it isn’t annoying to watch, but not so heavily produced that it feels like a corporate training video. Each episode has the feel of sitting down to have a friend explain a game to me, with the ensuing game play and commentary adding to my understanding of the game. Episodes are between 10-15 minutes on average, so you aren’t seeing every move step by step. And I think that’s a good thing. While I occasionally like to watch longer board game play throughs (the Tabletop unedited videos are some of my favourites), most of the time I just want a bite-size look at a game, especially a game I’m considering buying.

The two things that I love most about this show each relate to the cast. First, as the title suggests, it’s an all-female cast. Which is great! I love having a break from the “guys with games” monotony of gaming videos. I game a lot with my friends, and currently I’d say the gender split on my circle of gamers is about 70-30 men to women. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that if I want the male perspective on a game I don’t really have to work very hard to get it. I certainly don’t need another game play video hosted by another dude to get that perspective. But a show like Girls’ Game Shelf affords me new and different perspectives on my hobby, and that excites me. Especially when, to the second thing I love, the cast is so obviously enthusiastic about tabletop games. The best gaming videos, to my mind, are when the players are not just enjoying themselves but are visibly excited to be playing. Nothing will kill my desire to watch a video (or my desire to purchase and play a game) faster than a group sitting quietly around the table moving meeples. I want to see the excitement, and this series does a great job of hitting the highlights of the game and showcasing the players’ joy.

And on a completely different note, it is extremely satisfying to watch them fill up the gaming shelf over the course of the series. I’d honestly watch just for that.

So I’m going to keep Girls’ Game Shelf in my regular watch rotation for as long as they keep making episodes. It’s a fun series with a great cast who are obviously having a blast doing what they’re doing. If you’re in the market for a new or different game play series, I can not recommend this enough.

GM Advice on YouTube

I’ve become a huge fan of tabletop content on YouTube and other video services. I’ve certainly extolled the virtues of shows like Critical Role and The DM’s Craft in previous posts, and I’m always on the lookout for new shows in “GM Advice” vein. I’ve got three new ones which I watch regularly, and if you’re a busy GM like me I think you’ll find them a useful addition to your viewing library.

Matthew Colville – I found my way to Matthew’s channel through Matthew Mercer and Critical Role, and I count it as just one more good thing Critical Role has brought to my gaming life. I enjoy Matthew’s videos for a number of reasons: he’s my age(ish), he has a similar attitude and style of GMing to my own, and he has an obvious love for the hobby. That last might seem obvious; why else would he be posting videos on tabletop gaming if he didn’t love it? But a number of channels I’ve come across post a lot of videos which focus on negative aspects of the hobby, or spend a lot of time ranting about everything they see as bad. I’m not opposed to watching videos of criticism, but I don’t want it as a steady diet and I prefer videos which offer some suggestions on building up after they’ve been tearing down. Matthew’s videos focus very much on the things he likes about the hobby, and when he does bring up aspects not to his liking, he doesn’t tend to spend a lot of time on them. He just goes back to the things he likes and builds on that. He has a friendly, no nonsense style which I find not only appealing, but worthy of emulation. He’s just an entertaining speaker as well, bringing a sense of humour to his videos without stumbling in to wackiness. Great for the beginning GM, and perfect to listen to/watch in the background as you do something else.

Web DM – At just a year old, judging by how far the videos go back, Web DM is the youngest of the shows I’ve found. It does not suffer from that youth, however, and the two hosts (Jonathan Pruitt and Jim Davis) have obviously been gaming for a while. The show definitely focuses on D&D and specifically 5E, so if that’s not your game your mileage may vary. But as someone getting back in to D&D after a  4E hiatus, I actually really like that focus. It’s helped me get a quicker handle on the system and various aspects of the new rules. They also spend a lot of time discussing fluffier topics, like how to use giants or angels in your campaign, which I have enjoyed a great deal. Excepting the gameplay videos, the episodes all range between 10-20 minutes long, which is a comfortable length. And the I really love the conversational tone of the videos. It is very much like listening to two of your gaming buddies discuss your hobby, minus the arguments and edition war rants. If you are thinking of getting into D&D 5E, this is definitely a series you want to stick in your playlist. And even if you aren’t as D&D focused, a lot of the episodes will still give you ideas for your game of choice.

A Fistful of Dice – A YouTube channel which I just subscribed to yesterday, actually, but I’ve caught videos from the channel through various other sources for a while. I really enjoy the rough, “vlogging on the go” feel of the episodes, as if he’s just taking a break from his busy day to tell us something important about gaming. The cool thing is, he usually is telling us something important about gaming. The episodes cover a wide range of topics, from Gaming with Kids, to his “Five Ways” vids on various subjects, to episodes on how to start your own YouTube gaming vlog. An affable guy who is obviously enthusiastic about the hobby, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far enough to recommend the channel to others and I look forward to working through the back catalogue. Plus, how could I not love the Sergio Leone reference in the title? And he keeps it going with a series of vids called “For a Few Dice More”. Love it!

How Things Work: Gamer Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 3 Favourite Vlogs for Tabletop Gaming

I’m a huge fan of YouTube and the on-line video revolution. It’s no secret that audio-visual media is moving on-line, and has been for quite a while. The ease with which creators can put their work in front of an audience has meant an explosion in web-based nerd entertainment. Whatever your geeky persuasion, you’ll find hours of entertainment on YouTube.

I’m subscribed to a plethora of tabletop gaming vlogs, covering everything from game reviews to play-through demos to how-to videos about miniature painting, campaign creation and so on. Excepting play-through vlogs, most are only 5-10 minutes long which is a perfect length for me; I can watch one while I wait for breakfast to cook in the morning, another while I eat, and so on. I usually manage to watch three to eight videos a day, in times when I’d just be sitting idle anyway. And now that I have a smart phone this is actually smart, I can watch many of these videos while I’m on the move as well. With proper head-phones, of course, I’m not a jerk.

Here are three of my favourite vlogs, in no particular order:

The DM’s Craft – Though I’ve fallen out of the habit in recent years, I used to love building unique props and location models for my tabletop games. In the last year or so I decided to get back into crafting, and along the way I discovered The DM’s Craft. Whether you are just starting out as a crafter, or have been building things for your tabletop games for years, this video series is a gold-mine of tips, tricks, and ideas to spruce up your game sessions. There are projects for all skill levels, ranging from basic things like simple dungeon tiles to elaborate and unique setting locations. My personal favourite is the video on creating a gelatinous cube; it’s so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. If you want to build cool things to impress your layers, this vlog is for you.

Game Geeks – If you play tabletop RPGs, you know game books can be expensive. It can be hard, without knowing anything about a particular book or game, to plunk down your hard-earned cash in blind faith that the book will be worth it. For years I’ve relied on game review sites to help steer my purchases, and Game Geeks, hosted by Kurt Wiegel, is one of the best. While I watch many review vlogs, Kurt’s is my favourite because he’s a GM just like me. Because I know he runs his own games, I feel I can trust his opinion on the usefulness of a particular book or resource. He reviews a wide range of books and game types, and while he has a self-professed bias towards certain game styles, I’ve never noticed it get in the way of a fair critique of any book. Definitely check it out before your next big RPG purchase.

Epic Level TV – Technically this is a channel, not a series, but it has a lot of tabletop goodness packed inside. The first show you’ll likely recognize from Epic Level TV is Dungeon Bastard, featuring comedic old-school gaming advice from the Dungeon Bastard himself. DB is a character played by Tom Lommel, and if you grew up through the hobby you will recognize someone just like the Dungeon Bastard. But besides this, ELTV offers really entertaining videos for tabletop nerds:  Interpuppetary Nerdgasm, a nerd culture show hosted by felt puppets; their newest series, Force Push, about a group of nerds trying to help their friend develop force powers; as well a run of comedy shorts related to tabletop gaming. My personal favourite is the Rolling High video explaining how attacks of opportunity work. I think gamers of all stripes will get a kick out of something on ELTV, and possibly many somethings.

Those are three of my favourite vlogs. Do you watch vlogs, and if so do you have a favourite? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Humpday Links for January 2

One thing that won’t be going away in 2013 is Humpday Links, because, a) I’m always finding cool/disturbing/cool stuff on the internets I want to share, and b) I’m lazy.  So love ’em or hate ’em, here are your first Humpday Links of the year!

– I need a pair of these (keep it clean, you!) to light up my gaming room.

– Contrary to the stereotypes this video asks the important question, can D&D make you more confident and successful.  I think yes, but you decide.

– Apparently Sony and Universal reaaaally wanted to up their view counts on YouTube, and YouTube had to take away 2 billion fake ones.  Want view counts?  Here’s an idea: post things people want to see.

– Ocean Liner crashed on your beach?  Here’s some ideas on what to do with it.

– For my fellow Whovians: Once again, somebody made something that has me shouting, “Shut up and take my money!” I give you, a model TARDIS that is bigger on the inside.

– Also for the Whovians: If you were smacking a Dalek pinata, what else would you use as a blindfold?  Also, I don’t want to brag (okay, just a little), but I’m the proud owner of that scarf

– It is once again time for Paizo’s RPG Superstar.  This time, the first round is voted on by the public.  See how it’s going and cast your vote!

– Jenny Breedin over at The Devil’s Panties pretty much sums up my attitude to New Year’s Eve.  No I just need the footy pajamas…

– Get ready Tolkien fans, we’re gonna bust this joint up!

– For my Shadowrun gaming chummers, 2013 is officially The Year of Shadowrun!

xkcd demonstrates why I never really make New Year’s resolutions.

– For any of my readers with babies, or who know people that have freshly spawned, Seams Geeky has you covered in the nerdy environmentally-friendly diaper department.

– And finally, ever had a great idea for a nerdy shirt you know would sell? Can’t be arsed to produce it yourself? Teespring has you covered.

That’s it, that’s all!  As usual, feel free to share a link in the comments.  Until next time, happy internetting!