Despite being a game author with my own system to enjoy, I still love Dungeons & Dragons. It was the first RPG I ever encountered, and I own a copy of almost every edition ever released. I enjoy every edition, too, from the simple 0E/Basic all the way through to the tactically-minded 4E. I’m really excited for the new fifth edition. Read more
Asherth. A frozen rock on the fringe of Imperial space. And, as it happened, a world of sudden importance to the Salamanders.
The loss of a sacred Land Raider in a battle only weeks prior stung deeply. Imperial Guard corrupted by Chaos had extinguished its fire forever, and the Salamanders of Third Company keenly felt its loss. To replace it, they needed a new source of ferranite, a mineral integral to Land Raider construction.
Third Company found such a source in Asherth. Read more
This game took place on Thursday, May 29th at the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center in Roseville, MN. It was a 1500 point battle between my Third Company Salamanders Space Marines and Eric’s Chaos Imperial Guard.
So, after several months of not maintaining a proper blog, I’ve decided to resurrect Dicejockey. I abandoned the old Blogger format, and have now gone with a roll-your-own WordPress install.
My first real post will come this weekend. It’s going to be a story born of a Warhammer 40,000 game I played last night.
Villains are the mainstay of any good adventure. With very few exceptions, there is always some form of evil mind plotting dark things in the background. Whether this is a mindless mob of creatures that just happens to be devouring the locals, or a masterfully devious court magician manipulating a king to sinister ends, you can’t get away from the guys.
This blog post aims to assist you in building memorable villains that are more than just numbers on a sheet of paper. If you’re a player and not a game master, the character building advice in here might help you too, but this is specifically geared towards the folks weaving the story behind the encounters.
The Nature of a Villain
While it’s fairly obvious that a villain exists to ruin the lives of good people, a truly memorable villain has much more than that going on. He has his own motives and desires. He may be acting in accordance with his own morals, or he might not care at all.
Most frequently, a villain’s goals shouldn’t be an end, but a way to reach some other starting point. The kobold king isn’t sending raiding parties out to nearby villages because he feels like it; he’s weakening the nearby human presence so his people can expand outward from their all-too-small cave system.
The depth of a villain’s forward thinking depends on how intelligent you want him to be. Don’t restrict a villain’s planning just because he’s a minor NPC in your adventure. Players will inevitably do something you don’t expect, and if they just happen to latch onto your minor villain, you’ll then have a direction to take that in.
Journey of the Hero
The player characters will only grow stronger as a result of having a characterful villain as their foil. You can consider your adventure a success when not only does it give your PCs the magical loot of awesomeness they’ve been waiting for, but it also encourages them to reconsider their characters’ actions and motives.
A player character that’s just starting out usually has weak stats, basic equipment, and almost zero personality. She might have a single personality quirk or cliché that her player jots down to guide her role-playing, but rarely will players take the time to build a full story for their characters. After all, that’s what they’re hoping you will do.
As the PC encounters and interacts with your adventure’s many challenges, locations, and characters, she will grow in both power and personality. If her player is into role-playing, this will happen sooner rather than later, and with more depth. She will need a good villain, though, to balance that development against.
Creating a villain should start with looking at what you want to achieve with the adventure and with the campaign at large. An adventure isn’t a set narrative that you can just write and expect to stay the way you wrote it. The players will do things you don’t expect and interact with the environment in ways that force you to adapt the adventure to fit their actions. As such, your villain should support your goal with the adventure, rather than just play to the script.
Jot down a few notes about your adventure’s premise. Is it a classic battle of good versus evil? Is it a day in the life of an adventurer? Is it an exploration of the unknown? Think about your favorite movies or books that fit the theme you’re going for. What twists in those stories really got your blood pumping?
Potential for Loss
Think about what would really hurt the player characters. I don’t mean in terms of hit points lost or character sheets thrown away – I mean tragedies that specifically target each PC’s hopes, dreams, and beliefs. Whether the players are into role-playing or not only determines whether you have more or less fodder for this; it’s still possible to make a tactical gamer sit back in his chair with a thud when his character loses something dear to him. It usually just changes the context.
Build something of that potential loss into each villain of the adventure. You don’t need to include every player character in every adventure, but you shouldn’t focus on only one player character either. Also, choose a handful of NPCs and target their potential for loss also. It helps build a living world when you include characters other than the players’ in your adventures.
Potential for Gain
|Saruman was originally a hero, but gave in to temptation.|
Now think about what the villain can offer the player characters. Temptation plays on base emotions; use it. For tactical gamers, this could be a particular piece of loot that they want desperately. For role-players, it might be a bit of information about a relative they’ve been searching for. For every player, write down at least one thing that the villain might have the ability to provide.
As with the potential for loss, also make sure that some of your NPCs stand to gain something by working with the villain. Even if that incorruptible priest of all that is good can’t possibly be turned to the dark side, the players might not know that, and that creates tension. Tension is what every great story (and adventure) is built on.
Villains are Story Generators
Other than trying to provoke emotional tension from players through the potential for loss or gain, a good villain should also act as a way to move the story along. The best stories, whether they’re explosion-ridden Hollywood blockbusters or 1500-page literary masterpieces, are about the heroes changing in some way over the course of the story. Villains are almost always the catalyst for that change.
If your players are craving action, send a wave of minor baddies against them. Let them know that the villain made this happen, whether directly or indirectly. Weave a spider’s web with your villain at the center. Even if he is not of the evil genius persuasion, he’s still fully capable of planning ahead.
Summary / TL;DR Version
Keep your villains close to your players’ hearts. Tension is a great story device, so use it. Tempt the PCs. Hurt the PCs. Make a list of the villain’s goals and aspirations.
And, above all else, remember: villains are not just stat blocks, they’re people too.
|Ingenium exorcism for priests: it should have been in first edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
This post presents a prototype profession mechanic we’re working on for Ingenium 2nd Edition. We’re looking at giving each profession its own Profession Talent to add a little more variety to the game.
The Priest profession from first edition was pretty…. plain, and there was nothing priestly about her, other than role-playing ques. So with this new mechanic, she gets a Talent that reinforces her role as a messenger of the gods.
Starting Talent Pool: Mystic
Attributes: +1 Magical Aptitude
Hit Points: 1d8
Advancement: Healing Arts
Starting Gold: 1d4 x 5
Priests are those divine focal points who channel their gods’ will into physical manifestations. Their magic is not based on arcane rules and laws; rather, they are blessed as Chosen and receive gifts of power for as long as they serve their gods.
The flavor text stands in Second Edition, but there are a number of changes. Here’s the new Priest block:
Starting Talent Pool: White Magic
Attribute Bonus: +1 Magical Aptitude
Hit Die: d6
The Priest has the divine gift and knowledge to pull a demon out of a possession victim. She makes a Willpower roll against the demon’s Challenge Level, and if the total is higher, the demon vacates the possessed body as a cloud of roiling black smoke. The victim then returns to his original stats, and if this causes any damage he has sustained to exceed his normal maximum Hit Points, he dies instantly. If his Willpower was at least half of the demon’s, he remembers everything he did while possessed. A failed exorcism increases the Challenge Level of the target demon by 1.
About Profession Talents
Every profession gets a unique Talent with this mechanic, and one that scales with the character’s power. She will never out-level her profession Talent.
Also, by adding “Profession Talents,” we add another option for expansion down the road.
Side note! These “Related articles” at the end of every post? I choose those. They’re not automatically inserted. Hopefully they present some interesting reading related to the topic at hand.
|My last level on my last free toon. Now, should I resubscribe?|
Today is the last day of March and the last day I’ll be writing about the MMORPG Rift as it applies to tabletop RPGs. If you’ve missed any of these posts, you might want to check them out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
This post is a retrospective and has little to do with tabletop RPGs. If you’re just looking for new ways to experience your favorite RPG, come back next week – I’ve got something very interesting planned!
Generally, it takes me about one month to get bored of an MMORPG. I’ll steep myself in the lore, powerlevel up to about 75-90% of endgame, get involved in crafting, and then… burn out. The novelty factor wears off, and I stop playing.
Most of the time, it’s not a conscious decision to stop playing. I’ll just go a day without playing the game, since I find something else I want to do more that one day. Then two days go by. Then three. Before I realize it, it’s been over a week since I last logged in, and I have no intention of going back.
A rare handful of MMORPGs keep my interest for longer than that. The list so far has been Star Wars: Galaxies and World of Warcraft. Now, I’m adding Rift to the list.
I originally reinstalled the game because it was going to be free and I’d heard good things about Dimensions. So, I did, and started this blog series to tie the game to tabletop gaming. It just clicked. The novelty factor has worn off, and I’m still playing. That bodes well for its longevity, and I’m going to resubscribe.
The Dimensions are awesome. The fishing is weirdly addictive. And playing an MMO with a great and friendly community is refreshing.
If you’re interested in trying it out, jump on the Faeblight server and look me up. I’ll be playing either my Eth cleric Amun or my Kelari mage Sidious.
|Some of Rift’s unique currencies|
In Rift, there are five ways to acquire new armor and weapons. You can take it from the corpses of monsters you kill. You can run through dungeons, collecting new pieces from the tougher monsters and bosses. You can run from rift to rift, defeating the planar invaders and getting new gear from the rift rewards. You can craft it or purchase it from other players who craft gear. You can also use special currencies earned through various means to purchase new gear from special NPC merchants.
In existing tabletop RPGs, there are really only three ways to get gear – buying it from merchants, looting bodies, and finding it lying around in dungeons.
Many MMORPG loot mechanics won’t work in a tabletop RPG because the gear just appears in the player’s inventory when certain conditions are met. In a tabletop game, gear rarely just appears. I’ve touched on crafting in tabletop RPGs before, so this time around I’ll focus on special currencies.
Rift’s Currency for Planar Invasions
In games like Rift and World of Warcraft, you receive units of these currencies for achieving feats of excellence. For example, in Rift, you earn “planarite” and “sourcestone” for defeating planar invaders. Sourcestone is much rarer than planarite, each unit of its most common version being worth 50 planarite. It’s only awarded for helping defeat special rift events like full invasions.
While there’s only one version of planarite, there are multiple types of sourcestone, each being dropped by progressively more difficult planar invaders. In order to get the higher sourcestones, you must defeat higher-level invaders.
All of these can be traded in for impressive, rare gear. The best items cost a combination of sourcestone and planarite.
|Note the combination of special currencies.|
How to Deal with Special Currencies in Tabletop Games
In tabletop RPGs, by comparison, you’re looking at a single currency – gold, credits, silver, whatever. In some games there are multiple types of currency but only one “track.” For example, in Dungeons & Dragons, you have copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum, but they’re all just higher denominations of each other. This currency is accepted everywhere from all merchants.
To make sense, a unique currency needs to be widespread in use and creation, and to make sense in a setting, the powers-that-be need to allow that currency to exist alongside the official currency of the realm. That last part is historically difficult to come by, but in fictional worlds, we can gloss over that fact.
|Do you need a guy like this
in your campaign?
The best reason to include a currency like this is to gate powerful gear behind difficult tasks. It also provides a way to uniquely theme gear and work in factional alliances and reputation.
You could make up a large order dedicated to service to a particular god, for example. Instead of just being all priests or all paladins, this order could include a variety of skilled craftsmen who produce special gear. The craftsmen may only part with the gear in exchange for a special currency that only the order uses. Higher-ranking members of this order may be giving the PCs quests, and in gratitude for their help, rewards them with some of the order’s currency.
This also offers role-playing opportunities, oddly enough. Possession of particular currencies could trigger interesting reactions from NPCs. Maybe they’re associated with the producer of the currency. Maybe they’re afraid of the producer. Maybe it’s more complicated than that.
If it makes sense for your setting, try adding a special currency and unique rewards for that currency to your next adventure. It just might take your campaign in a very interesting direction.
|I’m level 18. It’s level 18. And yet, somehow, we’re on vastly different levels.|
In most MMORPGs, there is what is called the Class Trinity. It refers to the three different roles that characters fall into. They are Damage (or DPS), Tank, and Healer. In some games, and in Rift particularly, it’s possible for characters to mix and match parts of this Trinity.
It’s been ages since I played a game seriously enough to get a good handle on what each class is capable of, and in Rift, where you can essentially build your own class, it’s even more difficult. However, one thing is certainly obvious – some builds are more potent than others.
In tabletop RPGs, classes are even more rigidly defined than in MMOs. In Dungeons & Dragons, a fighter is a Tank class, a wizard is a Damage (or, less often, Control) class, and so on. There is no variation. That’s why there are so many new classes put out for games like that – because each class allows for very little customization, new classes need to be created to deal with personal preferences.
Rift’s cleric class allows for players to play all three roles simultaneously if they wish. The character in the screenshot above, Amun, is a cleric with a penchant both for Damage and for Tanking. At level 20, he finally acquired a self-healing ability, but he still has no heal-other ability. That, though, is by choice rather than by forced role.
Moreover, with the build swap ability, I can have a second build that has completely different options. Other MMORPGs do this too, but tabletop RPGs never do. I have yet to hear of a single tabletop game that makes use of ability set switching. Wizards in Dungeons & Dragons can memorize different sets of spells every day, but that’s the closest they get.
So, why then do we not have build switching in tabletop games? Food for thought.
|For beginners, you can choose to use a pre-selected set of souls and abilities, or you can build your own.|
This article is the first in a series where I take a look at an existing MMORPG and see how its defining features could be ported to a tabletop game. In Rift’s case, today it’s ability trees.
Rift makes use of a unique system where you choose a character class at creation – either warrior, mage, cleric, or rogue – and from there, build your character by picking three “souls” and getting abilities from each. For example, the character I’m playing now is a cleric, and has the Inquisitor soul as one of his choices. The Inquisitor soul is particularly offense-minded, and offers a number of abilities that are hard-hitting.
These abilities are organized into trees that require points to unlock and improve. You get points as you level up, and you will never have enough points to max out every ability in all three souls. It’s on you to choose the abilities that will suit your playstyle the best.
This system works really well for Rift, and can work just as well for a tabletop RPG. The idea of having ability trees is nothing new. Having three “slots” to put class-specific ability trees into, however, is fairly novel. No tabletop RPG that I know of has this exact system. Usually, you either have one ability tree for your class, or no classes at all and multiple massive ability trees.
Silver Gryphon Games‘ Ingenium follows something similar to Rift, in that you choose a class and have one ability tree to work with initially. Later on, just as in Rift, you get to pick a second ability tree that is related loosely to your first. That’s as far as the similarity goes, however.
While in Rift it’s possible to change what souls you have, it comes at a cost, and the lore side of this process is only briefly touched on. The idea is that your character is an Ascended – a powerful being that has been resurrected with multiple souls in your body. In the case of the Defiant, this was a technological achievement. In the case of the Guardians, it was the work of the gods. The Defiant and the Guardians are the two factions that a player character can belong to, and have no effect on what classes you can choose from.
In a tabletop RPG, playing a character that has multiple souls would present some interesting role-playing opportunities. Would you have the motivations of all of them at once? How about their experiences? Would those souls be individually aware, or would they just add something to the melting pot that is your combined soul?
Rift presents a number of interesting concepts that could be translated very well to a tabletop RPG. If you’re game, check it out – it’s free to play for the first twenty levels.