Chris Perkins and Ed Greenwood at the Forgotten Realms panel

Gamehole Con, Day 1

Friday was eventful. I went to a seminar on world building by Ed Greenwood, and it was fascinating to hear the creator of the Forgotten Realms talk about how to construct a game world and how the Realms evolved. The Realms were first born when he was 6. It made me wonder if I should somehow incorporate my first fantasy world, Flodoria, into Eiridia. It would make an interesting addition. I’ll have to think about how the two would integrate.

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The hotel room at the Sheraton Madison where Gamehole Con is held

Gamehole Con, Day 0

Took off a day early so I could get to Madison, WI at a leisurely pace. I’m sitting in the hotel room writing this. This is my first trip to Madison, and my route took me through an interesting set of neighborhoods. The layout is definitely not as easy to navigate as Minneapolis’s, though it had a cozier quality to it. The roads are narrower and twist and turn more.

I’m fairly certain I saw Ed Greenwood entering the hotel just after me, but by the time I got checked in and looked around for him, he was gone. Ah well, I’ll see him tomorrow.

I plan on blogging every day of the con. We’ll see what adventures are in store.

D&D 5E Starter Set

Getting Ready for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

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

The conclusion of the battle with the Orks in retreat, but Salamanders losses high

Contact Lost on Asherth

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

Create Better Villains for Your Adventure

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.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces is a fantastic guide to setting up an epic story. His writings on the “road of trials” in particular are relevant to creating worthwhile villains for the players.

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.

Brainstorming

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.

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Profession Talents for Ingenium

Pentagram with a circle around it
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.

The priest profession from first edition was presented like this:

Priest

Starting Talent Pool: Mystic
Attributes: +1 Magical Aptitude
Speed: 3
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
Talent: Exorcism

Exorcism

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.

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Being Defiant: Finishing Out Rift's Free Tier

Being Defiant: Finishing Out Rift’s Free Tier

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.

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Being Defiant: Currencies Beyond Gold and Silver

Being Defiant: Currencies Beyond Gold and Silver

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.

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