Roleplaying In A

Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

A Remembrance

In General on May 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

Earth from Space
Image by The WHAM Agency via Flickr

Passed on by a friend of mine.

Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet
Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

[ — the harsh bright soil of Luna —
— Saturn’s rainbow rings —
— the frozen night of Titan — ]

We’ve tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.

The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.
And the lights below us fade.

Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet —

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Robert A. Heinlein, may he rest in peace. He will never be forgotton.

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My Laptop and Tabletop Gaming

In Props on April 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

Back in March, I asked for help with mapping and one of the responses was MapTools, “an online, multiuser, networked, graphical, interactive, programmable virtual tabletop”. Kristian on The Dice of Life pointed out how useful this software was even for local tabletop use.

I then spent 12-15 hours learning to use it and this week, had great success with it. I was on an RPG Circus episode with some comments about it as well.

In that episode, and other places, I’ve heard some logical objections to using software mapping during games and I wanted to address some of those objections today.


The first, and probably the hardest hurdle for anyone thinking about using something like this is the expense of the equipment. I don’t recommend anyone go out and pay thousands of dollars for 6-7 laptops to use at a gaming table. This sort of thing is going to work best in homes with an HDMI-capable  laptop and an HDTV.

I think networking a bunch of laptops would be both a headache and just outright not worth it. With an HDTV, which many of us already own, you can pay about 30$ for a wireless mouse and an HDMI cable and have a set-up that works much like a tabletop battlemat or something similar.

As you can see in the picture on the left, this let’s you use the television as a map substitute and minimizes the distractions that laptops can cause with players, since the GM is only person using one.

The players then use a wireless mouse that gets passed around as needed to move tokens around on the display and an HDTV is generally large enough that the entire party can see it.


There’s no getting around this one – learning to use software like this takes time and you definitely should invest enough of it that you know what you’re doing before you ever introduce it into the game. My prep for this campaign took a full two months from conception to character creation and a week of that was learning to use the program for mapping.

Take a few hours at a time to teach yourself this software. Some types are going to be easier than others and if the one you’ve picked starts taking too long to learn, do not be shy about switching to something else. Maptools took me 12-15 hours altogether and the time was the best investment I put into it.

When we did start using it, it was easy to show the players how. Read the rest of this entry »

Session 2: Using Technology

In General, Props on April 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

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We got a late start because people weren’t quite finished with character creation. After about 45 minutes, I told them to finish up during the game, we needed to get started. Otherwise, the real theme was introducing and using the new technology of mapping on the tv.

1. I started the game off with combat. I don’t do much railroading but the first game of a brand new campaign does need a little set-up. To that end, I just outright told them they’d been hired and were on the job when they were suddenly jumped by gangers.

After this, they can do what they want, even ditching this job. It beats having them just sit around in a bar waiting. They went with the set-up and didn’t even discuss ditching the job.

2. I’d spent 12-15 hours making sure I knew the tech so it was pretty easy to teach. I kept things simple, not using many options available in the software, so things were easy to learn and remember. I think I’d want at least one more combat before I add anything at all.

3. Combat was slower than I’d have liked. I rolled initiative for each enemy individually and that was a mistake. Next time, I’m just going back to grouping them. It speeds things up quite a bit.

4. My players outright LOVED the mapping software and I was asked for the web address so they can check it out on their own during the week.

5. The group decided to go to once a week games, instead of bi-weekly. No one present was really happy with skipping a week although I did warn them I would sometimes call games due to lack of time to prep. They were fine with that and our next game is next week.

6. If you’re considering using technology to enhance your games, pay attention here – I’m going to post more on the subject this week. But if I have one tip you need now, it’s this: LEARN THE SOFTWARE.

Things are ever so much easier if you know what you’re doing.

7. One character, Raven, is establishing his personality very fast. The first NPC he saw, he started schmoozing with about drug deals. This is going to be a guy to watch out for.

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Style Over Substance

In General on April 12, 2010 at 10:17 am

I was reading a post at RPG in Progress about Cyberpunk this morning and in the comments, Thaumiel Nerub reminded us of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules.

1) Style over substance
2) Attitude is everything
3) Always take it to the edge
4) Break the rules

It suddenly gelled for me why I dislike games with tactical rules so much – the style, the fast-paced, seat-of-your-pants, am-I-gonna-die-now feel that I find in more abstract systems is nearly impossible to duplicate in more tactical systems like 3.5 or Pathfinder. I suspect 4E (assuming there were a modern version of 4E available) would be worse yet.

I’ve played d20 Modern and Future and found them lacking and lackluster for a Cyberpunk game.

They lost the attitude.

I haven’t tried the newer versions such as True20 or Shadowrun 4th Edition. No one in my area is interested in playing those games and I haven’t the resources to buy books that half my players will outright reject. I understand there are efforts underway to revive d20 Modern but unless they rethink the approach the game takes to the genre, these efforts are doomed to failure.

d20 Modern itself really misses the point. There are 6 basic classes and all are named for the stats they’re based on – Strong Hero, Tough Hero, Smart Hero, etc. Bleh! The whole book is just as generic with no real inspiration. These authors just ported a system without really thinking about the games that would be played with it.

Rules #1 of the Cyberpunk genre really is “Style Over Substance”. Flavor and attitude are almost more important than mechanics and a good setting can almost completely over-shadow a bad system.

That’s not entirely true, no but I’d rather have good flavor than a good system. Good flavor, attitude, will inspire me to explore the system and fix the broken bits where a good system with no style has left me cold and uninterested.

A good example of this in action is Eberron. That setting is everything d20 needed to really show off the fantasy side of what those mechanics were capable of.

I hope the new efforts at reviving the d20 system for modern settings takes this to heart and doesn’t just serve us the same plain mashed potatoes for dinner that we’ve had for 8 years now. Do an Emeril, guys.

Kick it up a notch!

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Gamemastering Preferences

In General on April 9, 2010 at 5:35 am

Role Playing Gamers at the Burg-Con in Berlin
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this article at Spirits of Eden so I decided to jump the bandwagon. I don’t think anyone is going to accuse me of being the cancer killing RPGs though. I added a bit of a rating system though. If the left hand choice is 1 and the right hand choice is 10, I pick a number somewhere on the line.

1 Comprehensive Rules vs Minimal Rules 10

7. When comparing games like 4E Dungeons and Dragons to systems like d6 Fantasy and Cyberpunk 2020, I much prefer the latter but I do want rules of some sort. I prefer a game with fast, abstract combat rules that can be expanded when needed.

1 High Power Fantasy vs Low Power Fantasy 10

9. Low power, in any game, at least at the beginning of the campaign. This gives me room to develop the setting and reward the players without having things fly out of control too quickly. I also really enjoy the grit of what my friends and I call “dirt-farming” games, both as a GM and a player. I want rewards to be earned through the campaign, not just handed out because you hit 7th level that game.

1 Narrative Mechanics vs Simulation Mechanics 10

9. Simulation. My preference is for modern games and our group knows enough about firearms to make this a huge issue. Narrative mechanics are fine for fantasy but suspension of disbelief and campaign immersion gets a huge boost from keeping combat as realistic as possible. That said, I did make sure to include the words, “as possible”. We still want to be able to actually play the game and truly simulationist combat would take forever.

1 Strategic Chargen vs Simple Chargen 10

6. A lot really depends on the system. As a player, I hate making characters in almost any game, regardless. As a GM, I don’t want character creation to take 3 days. I’m going to go very slightly on the side of simple.

1 Tactical Encounter vs Strategic Adventure 10

8. Definitely strategic adventure. If tactics were my thing, I’d play Warhammer 40k more than I do. It’s a direction the hobby seems to like that leaves me out in the cold. Read the rest of this entry »

NPC Reaction Rating

In NPCs, Rules on April 6, 2010 at 8:17 am

San Diego Comic-Con 2009 - NON PLAYER CHARACTER

Image by Howie Muzika via Flickr

This is an easy to use, easy to track system to determine how the players and their allies, or enemies, interact over time.

The real reason to determine NPC reactions to a character is to see how likely that NPC is to help or hinder them. A common method is to just roll some dice, modify is by a skill or statistic the character has, and determine the NPC’s reaction for that game.

Terrific idea for a one-shot appearance but if you have recurring allies and enemies that aren’t central to your plot you need something more.

To track NPC reactions over time, rate them +100% to -100%. When an ally first enters the game, give them a rating of +50%; a new enemy, -50%.

This rating is how likely the non-player character is to act for or against the player. In this case, that ally has a 50% chance of acting in the character’s favor or doing nothing at all. Then each interaction can affect that score.

For example, Wokold hires the party to retrieve an item. The 2 most obvious outcomes are that the party succeeds or the party fails. I determine how important this item is to Wokold then when they’ve finished the adventure, modify his rating accordingly. In this case, I’ve decided he doesn’t really care about the item so the outcome will affect Wokold by +/- 1d6 percent. Read the rest of this entry »

Krazy Konveniences

In Equipment on April 5, 2010 at 8:00 am

One of the sites I just love for inspiration is Worth 1000. This is a place for graphic artists of all skill levels to come compete and hone skillz. Sometimes I’ll post here with something I’ve been inspired with.

Three months ago, a contest ran called Krazy Konveniences. This looks good for a modern game with a less realistic bent or maybe something farther in the future, like Traveller. My favorite idea is this one:

I think that if I did that, it would be a recycling station that used credit cards. Stick the trash in and swipe your card.Viola! Money! For a grittier future, make ita body parts recycling center.

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How to Gamemaster With a Laptop

In General on April 4, 2010 at 8:00 am

IBM ThinkPad R51
Image via Wikipedia

Now that we’ve got a party, it’s time to prep for the game and since I plan to use my laptop during this, my next step is to make sure I’m using it well and it’s actually beneficial to my game.

Of late, I’ve read a great many thing about how annoyed some people are with how much technology has invaded the gaming table. It makes sense that if I want to avoid this, I make sure I know what I’m doing well before the gaming session.

To that end, I found and bookmarked “How to Gamemaster With a Laptop” from It has some excellent advice and I’m going through it step by step. Steps 1-6 are all about making sure you’ve collected all the data you’re going to need during the game so it’s easy to find.

The author suggests getting together several programs but I’m going to put it all in Microsoft OneNote, which I’m lucky to have. If you don’t or can’t afford it, which is likely, Evernote is a very popular alternative. This gives me almost all my data in one easy-to-find place.

This way, since I’ll also have a mapping program open as well as a random table program, I’m not switching back and forth between programs all night, looking for the information I need. Instead, I’ll be using just 3.

Steps 7-11 are about enhancing the adventure. Some of these steps are going to work well for me, #8 is already trashed in my mind. I won’t be editing sound files.

At the end, there are several good tips for people who haven’t done this before. The most essential is make back-ups.

It’s an excellent read for anyone considering the use of a laptop, or any computer, at the gaming table and I think even those who have experience with them could benefit from scanning the article.

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March Madness

In General on April 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

Map to the Semantic Web
Image by jurvetson via Flickr

The top 3 posts for March here were:

Mapping For Beginners

Kill The Stupid People

Map: Gas Station Parking Lot

It’s been requested that I have a more instructional post on how I do mapping and I’m thinking about how to go about that. In the meantime, I promise more maps.

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Session 1: Character Creation

In General, Props on April 2, 2010 at 4:18 am

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I ran our first session, which was all about campaign introduction and character creation, in a quasi-seminar format. It was an astounding success and everyone really loved how it worked out.

1. I removed a lot of the furniture from my living room and set up 2 tables, with chairs, in a kind of boardroom set up.

2. I gave away swag! I probably spent $20+ on this but it was well worth it. Swag included dice, pencils, scratch paper, nametags, an NPC business card and a cd that included genre-specific images, music and pdf’s.

3. I included a folder with my pamphlet, a lot of information on the campaign and character creation as well as a player questionnaire and GM evaluation sheets.

4. I hooked up my laptop to our HDTV and created a Power Point presentation that covered the high points as well as a lot of general creation information such as statistics, special abilities and related information. I also included new rules in this. Read the rest of this entry »