Monday, January 31, 2011

Heroic Moments Create Great Memories

If there's one thing the OSR community, and RPG gamers in general, love to do, it's reminisce about their characters' most heroic efforts.  My friends and I do it as well.  We often speak about some of our greatest moments in DnD with such vigor and enthusiasm that if a listener didn't know any better, they would think we were actually there ourselves, swinging an axe taking down a goblin horde, or locked in a battle of wills with a beholder in his lair.  My friends and I have made many such memories over the years, as most gamers do.  Last night, we made another one.  One that will be told around many campfires for years to come on those chilly autumn nights.

First allow me to set this up a bit.  I promise there won't be too much exposition, but I feel some is necessary to get the full effect of the scenario.  This particular heroic effort occurred in our play by post game.  A 2nd edition AD&D game set in Forgotten Realms.  The party was originally sent out on a mission to find a group of bandits attacking traveling merchants on the High Road between Neverwinter and Waterdeep.  They soon discovered, through a series of incidents and encounters, that these weren't just bandit raids, but rather part of a large, elaborate plot involving the Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan, bitter enemies of Neverwinter, and the Eldreth Veluuthra, an ancient elven organization bent on  the elimination of all humans and half-elves from Toril.

So, the main "villain" in this particular adventure has been a 3rd level elf fighter.  He's not exceptionally well armed, being only 3rd level, of course, but he's been able to outwit and remain a step ahead of the party for essentially the entire adventure up until last night.  The party had managed to track him down to a small village south of the Neverwinter Wood where after much difficulty they finally managed to capture him.  He was to be executed per the law in the village for his crimes (considering the party contains a few lawful good types.)

Well, the elf had concocted an escape scheme with several of the "chaotic" members of the party.  The plan being that he would give them all sorts of information that would guide them to the bigger picture of this whole nasty plot to take down Neverwinter, if they simply released him under the guise of an escape.  The party agreed, however, also consorted behind his back to double cross and kill him after gaining the information they needed.

The elf played on the emotions of one particular character in this group, a thief, who was supposed to be in on the plan to double cross him.  Instead, the thief decided he would actually try to help the elf escape with his life, essentially double crossing his own friends in the process, but in such a way as to make it seem the elf actually did escape.

So, the plan was set into motion.  The ranger stood guard outside the stable where the elf was being held captive, the thief would question the elf in the stable (and subsequently release him), and the fighter/mage would stand outside awaiting the elf to flee where he would pop him with a few arrows.

So, the thief obtained the information from the elf, and cut his bonds.  He then cut his own arm with his dagger, gave the dagger to the elf, and released two horses, slapping them on the rear, causing them to bolt out of the stable.  The elf then ran to the back of the stable and hid in a stack of hay amidst the confusion.  The ranger had to duck out of the way to avoid being trampled while the fighter/mage watched on in disbelief from his vantage point outside.  The thief ran out holding his arm saying the elf had donned his magical cloak, which rendered him invisible (a lie), and was headed to the inn to take out one of his rescued prisoners who was now recuperating.

The fighter/mage fired a few arrows at the horses to ensure the elf wasn't riding on one of their backs while being "invisible."  He then went with the thief to the inn.  The ranger, played by my friend Ron, who also happens to be one of the best DM's I've ever had the privilege to play under through the years, watched the thief and the fighter/mage run into the inn.  He then used his tracking to find a set of tracks leading to the back of the barn.  And so our heroic moment begins.

The ranger, whose name is Bazhur, closed the stable doors, but did not lock them.  He then drew his weapons and stood in the center of the stable and issued a challenge to the still hidden elf.  This is what he wrote:

Bazhur smiles to himself, closing the doors to the stables (if there are any) and drawing his blade and axe.

"Did you know, elf, that in my land even the condemned are shown hospitality? The flesh may commit sins, yes, sadiiq. But the soul will one day return to the world; perhaps even into the body of a loved one, ally, or friend. Because of this, one must show generosity, even to one's enemies. It is why I gave you water, even though my blades were ever more thirsty for your blood."

He stands near the center of the stables.

"You have but to slay me to gain your freedom. I will not call out for the others, elf. If you slay me, you may easily don my cloak and escape unseen from this town. These men will not be able to track you without my aid. Slay your last human this day, and know freedom once more."

After a few moments the elf stepped out of the back of the stables, and approached Bazhur.  The ranger even retrieved the elf's sword, a magical long sword, and gave it to his opponent.  We had some out of character discussion and Ron knew he was greatly outmatched in this combat.  The elf was of a higher level with a magical blade, and was an incredibly cunning warrior.

Despite the fact that he knew as a player he was out matched for a one-on-one combat with no assistance, he stood his ground, because that's what heroes do.  The next few moments will live on in gaming infamy for our group forever.  I had already decided the elf's actions would be to simply use his tumbling ability, making him practically impossible to hit for Bazhur, leap over the ranger, and exit out of the unlocked stable door and flee.

We rolled initiative and Bazhur won the round.  He took his first swing.  20.  Critical hit dealing double damage.  In the first strike of the game, Bazhur hit him for 12 damage (of which the elf only had 17 hit points).  The elf, crippled by the critical hit, was unable to tumble effectively, and because he had chosen to tumble (giving up combat for the round), Bazhur could roll the rest of his attacks.  19.  He dealt 5 damage with his shortsword and the battle was over.  The elf fell to the ground, not having inflicted a single wound to his opponent.

Bazhur then approached the dying elf and asked him where he wanted to be taken to be buried. In his dying breath, the elf muttered "Evermeet," and Bazhur vowed to ensure he would have the proper funeral of an elven warrior.

We were both in shock at how the dice rolls went and sat in amazement at the pure epicness of the encounter.  The elf, who had plagued the party for months of playing time, was taken down in one of the greatest combats I've ever rolled as a DM.  Once the rest of the party figured out what happened, they were in utter disbelief as well. 

Heroic moments create great memories.  Ron put his 1st level ranger against a cunning and more experienced foe in one brilliant display of heroism, and overcame the odds.  That's what true gamers do.  Sometimes you lose, but when you win, it creates memories that can last a lifetime.  In my opinion, this is what makes old school gaming so great.  Or maybe I'm taking a game a little too seriously?   Nahh.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

World Map: The Land of Numendyr

I'm in the process of writing a novel, or at least attempting it anyway, and in an effort to save myself hours of rewriting later, I felt it best to start out doing some world building first.  Of course, that involved designing a map of the world in which my tale will be set.  I'm currently working out the histories of the world, in a broad sense, to lead up to the point in which my novel will begin.

This is a map of the land of Numendyr, and yes, I suppose the design is very "Tolkieny," but I tried to be as original as possible in the names and places of the realms.  The style of the map is the only thing closely resembling the Tolkien high-fantasy mold.  There are no elves, dwarves, or hobbits in these lands, and magic is virtually dead.  Instead I have three human realms, the oldest organized kingdom of Coranthya, the free holds of Erderan, and a young, but growing empire called Anderos.  All three regions have been at war, and at peace, with one another at various times in their history.

I used Photoshop to create the map itself, and designed the brushes used to create the mountains, hills, and forests using sketches scanned in from my sketchbook, which gives it a very hand-drawn feel, I think.  The whole process took me a couple of weeks, working here or there.  I probably spent a total of about 10 hours on it altogether.

Click for high resolution view

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The Land of Numendyr by Rob Chandler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

Download: Crypts of Aezoul Vhezian Level 1

Well, I've managed to key the first level and clean the map up a bit. I've put it all in a handy 5 page PDF for you to download for free and use.

Crypts of Aezoul Vhezian - Level 1 PDF

Here's a low-res version of the finished map.  A special thanks to Dyson Logos and Risus Monkey for inspiring me with their awesome dungeon mapping skills.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I Love the Forgotten Realms Setting

Yes, I'm sure most of you are cringing at reading the post title.  Let me be clear about something; I am a fan of the Forgotten Realms setting up to, and only shortly after, the 1993 boxed set was released.  I am not a fan of the current 4e incarnation since I'm hardly familiar with it, or the 4e system for that matter, at all.  That said, I know that within the particular hard core circles of the OSR community, the Forgotten Realms setting is maligned as it signified a step away from the niche Gygaxian hobby, and a move towards commercialism and mass-market appeal.  Perhaps I was just a young, impreshionable teenager, and hence a prime example of how their "mass market appeal" worked.  I'd like to think it was more than that though, and after having read through my old 1993 boxed setting again, I'm pretty sure it was.

The great thing about the Realms back then was the rich and varied detail in the setting.  It was very much a high fantasy setting full of magic and wonder populated by varying countries, NPC's, and creatures galore.  Within the sourcebooks, there was just enough detail about each region to give a DM an idea on how to incorporate those areas into his/her game.  The maps were all fantastic and wonderfully rendered with plenty of space in certain areas for the DM to incorporate elements of his own creation into the Realms seamlessly. 

I understand there were a great many products released for the Realms, and a great many of them were crap.  TSR, and later WotC, was able to use the Realms as a platform for their product because of the mass appeal of a lot of their novels.  As a result, many of the books and supplements were absolute garbage.  I know because I threw away many a dollar on their shrinkwrapped splatbooks and modules, only to open them and discover the content within practically useless.  Still yet, overall the Forgotten Realms of that era was the most rich high fantasy setting out there.  If there was a sourcebook I didn't like, I simply didn't incorporate its contents into my game.

It's sort of funny in hindsight, because I was never a huge Ed Greenwood fan.  I never could get into his novels, and felt he focused way too much time doting on Elminster's awesomeness in his writings on the Realms; something that made me throw up a little each time I saw an instance of it.  Then again, I was a Drizzt fanboy as well, which is something else that will likely make many readers from the old school cringe.  Sorry, I thought he was a great character and I like RA Salvatore's books.

I understand the frustation of many from the old guard who see 2nd edition, and the removal of Gygax from the game, as the start of the long road that has led to the demise of the hobby as they once new it.  Just because I am a fan of 2e and the Realms doesn't mean that I'm unsympathetic or ignorant to this notion.  Gary was Dungeons and Dragons, we can all agree with that.  With that said, however, I can still say I loved the Forgotten Realms and the setting will always have a place near and dear to me.  Well, the 1993 edition will anyway. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Quick and Easy AD&D 2e Character Generator

So, the big March 12th camping trip is approaching, and I was telling my friends about how I was going to whip up some pre-generated characters so if one of their characters bites the bullet, they can pick another one and we can just keep on rolling. One of my friends pointed me in the direction of this particular website which has a great AD&D 2e character generator which uses scripts to quickly roll up the various methods of stats and assign them, choose race and class, etc. It calculates all the bonuses for you and everything. I've never made a character so fast in my life. In fact, I made 7 of them tonight for the game. I highly recommend it for whipping out some quick back-up characters or to speed up character generation at your own table. The site itself is old, and hasn't been maintained in a while, but the generator still works like a charm.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crypts of Aezoul Vhezian Level 1

As I mentioned earlier today, I am preparing to run my friends through an old school mega-dungeon crawl in March at our semi-annual camping trip. The dungeon is an ancient crypt buried beneath a ruined tower (originally I was going to go with a city, but have since changed my mind). The crypts hold the tombs of Aezoul Vhezian, a legendary warrior from long ago, as well as his family members and banner men. The crypts themselves will run a few levels with various monsters, traps, tricks, etc. and will eventually lead into underdark caverns far below the surface. The first level of the dungeon will be the smallest. Last night I drew a very quick sketch of that level and scanned it in to share. Now, I've got to key it and prepare some random encounters. I'm really looking forward to diving into this.

Considering this is the first dungeon I've drawn in about a decade, I didn't think it turned out too bad.

The First Semi-Annual Great Dungeon Crawl

If you've been reading my blog, you know that I've had a blast with my old gaming buddies running AD&D via play-by-post.  We've had an incredible time with it, but as I said, nothing beats the table top.  Twice a year my friends and I gather together for a camping trip at a nice lakeside spot in our hometown.  Not everyone can always make it, but most of us end up going.  We usually go in March and October.  It's a night spent with the drink flowing, great company, and a lot of reminiscing.  The thought occurred to me recently; this year for our trip we should break out the old dice, and have a good old-fashioned, table top dungeon romp.  The idea is, we all create the characters before the trip, first level of course, and then we play a session with those characters.  Every subsequent camping trip, we run those same characters, if they live.  If they don't, the player rolls up a new one and we press on.  No complex and twisting plots, no intrigue, just good old fashioned dungeon crawling.  There will be a minor story there, just to make the dungeon make sense, but that's about it.  I'm talking a mega-dungeon here, of course, with lots of levels and paths, various entrances and exits, etc; a very Jaquayed dungeon.

I was excited to finally get a moment to work on the first level of the dungeon last night.  I'm still trying to tweak the story, but essentially the first couple of levels will be part of an ancient tomb that was perhaps once underneath a now ruined, and forgotten city.  Of course, as they delve deeper they'll discover passages leading to the underdark, and more dangerous creatures.  I still need to key the dungeon encounters, lay out the traps, and build a wandering monster table, but I was very happy to get this first part finished.  I plan on posting up the first level tonight once I have a chance to scan it in.  I haven't built my own dungeon in nearly a decade, so it's been great to break out the graph paper and pencil once again.  This camping trip should be one for the ages.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Foray into Play-by-Post Gaming

Let me preface this entry by noting that there is no better way to play D&D, Labyrinth Lord, S&W, or any other RPG for that matter, than with pencil and paper, dice, and a table.  In my own opinion, this is the key to playing and enjoying those games the way they were intended.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, my D&D group hasn't changed much since the mid-90's.  I'm not one that's going to go to a game shop and post a bulletin looking for a game, or visit and try to start a gaming group with people I don't know.  Maybe it's because I'm getting old and have a harder time making new friends, but It just seems strange to me to do these things.  Oddly enough, my current group, all lifelong friends, met up in this same fashion 15+ years ago; at a game shop in our hometown.

Back to my point.  Over the years we've played, with various members of the group here or there, but rarely with everyone able to play at once.  Most of us are fairly spread out and live far from each other, so organizing games to play on a regular basis at the table is not an option for us.  One evening early last year, I had an idea to play D&D on a forum via a play-by-post method.  I was hesitant and skeptical of it working, as anyone would be.  I emailed all of my friends and asked them what they thought of it, and they were all eager to jump on and give it a go.  I must say,although we've had to take a few breaks along the way due to unexpected life events, we've had as much fun as we've had in years and years playing.

Here's how I made it work.  Well, this is the simple abbreviated version of it, anyway.  I didn't want to invest a lot of money into this starting out, because let's face it, the mere notion that it might work was a crapshoot.  So, I headed over to and created a free forum.  The great thing about ProBoards forums, aside from being free, is they are very easy to customize.  The first question that immediately arose, of course, was dice rolling.  How were we going to handle dice rolling in a play by post game?  Fortunately, I was able to find a great script which allows us to roll randomly generated dice in our posts.  Any dice with any number of sides.  The script, for those inclined, can be found on the ProBoards Support Forum.  With the dice roller installed, we were ready to begin.

We had decided to use 2e rules for AD&D prior to the start of the game, primarily because it is the edition we are all most familiar with.  Only a couple of us ever ventured into the "forbidden zone" of 3e, 3.5, or 4e.  So, I individually communicated via email and forum posts on the board and we created the characters.  From there, I began to populate the board with various forums in order to make the game work and flow smoothly.  I tried to look at things in the perspective of a DM at a table, rather than on a computer. 

I created one board I titled simply "The Adventure."  Within the board was the main storyline threads of each part of the adventure.  I organized these into "chapters" with each chapter having its own thread.  This was the equivalent of the entire group together at the table calling out actions, movements, etc.  I created a simple color code system for the posts.  Green=OOC chatter, Red=actions, Blue=character speaking, and normal text=descriptions.  This really helped keep the game separated from any OOC speak and really made things a lot easier, especially during combat.

My players are sneaky bastards.  I say that with a great deal of affection, but it's the truth.  They like to do their own thing.  At the table this is done in the ever popular method of "passing the DM a note."  So, in order to facilitate this on the forum, I created each player his own personal password protected board.  I assigned each player a password which only he and I knew.  This allowed each of us to communicate one-on-one information without everyone seeing it.  Also, it allowed me to keep track of players' XP and their character sheets, items, spells, etc.

At this point, I had the basics down, and we were ready to start.  I began with a fairly simple adventure to stop a band of brigands robbing people on the roadway.  That evolved into a more complex storyline, which the characters are still pursuing.  Combat was the one area we were particularly curious about in the play-by-post method.  As we didn't have a table with miniatures, or tokens to give us an idea, instead I created very simple maps of the area in MS Paint.  The players were marked by various colored numbers on the maps along with the enemies annotated in different colored X's.  This gave the players a visualization of the combat, just as the miniatures do at the table.  This map was of course ever changing and I would have to update it several times during the combat, but due to its simple design in Paint, this was easy and quick.

To streamline combat, I would ask each character what his actions were for the round and they would post them.  After they all posted, I rolled initiative for both the party and the enemies using the dice roller in the post.  If they were tied, then we went to speed factors, dex adjustments, casting times, etc. to determine initiatives.  This was only in the cases of ties, however.  If the enemy won initiative, I would take their actions and then it would be the players' turns.  I had them roll to hit in their posts as well as the damage with adjustments using the dice roller in the same post.  If they hit, the damage was applied.  If not, the damage was null.  This really helped speed things up because we weren't waiting on separate posts for damage.  It might sound confusing to read on the surface, but it works surprisingly well.

The game so far has been a huge hit, as I said.  We're having more fun gaming than we've had in many years.  Partly because we're not waiting to meet twice a month and can actually "play" on a daily basis, but also because it's been the only time in 15+ years that we've all been able to get the same group together in one place to play.  In fact, a couple of my players have branched off and created their own private forums running their own games.  We found a way to make the play-by-post method work.  No, it can never replace the joy of sitting around the table together, but it has been a great substitute.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Let's All Play in the Sandbox

When it comes to D&D people have their own opinions and ideas on what exactly constitutes "sandbox" play. Most in the OSR community cringe at the notion of "story-centric gaming." I agree with the fact that a story-centric game isn't really about the players, but more about the DM telling a story using the PC's, who are essentially never more than "along for the ride."

That said, we can all pretty much agree on the basic concept of a "sandbox" style game as one in which the players are placed into a world, of which it is the DM's responsibility to populate with interesting places and people, and allowed the free reign to go and come to various places within the world as they see fit. The players are not necessarily driven by some over-arching epic storyline, but rather by their own choices, and how the consequences of those choices effect the world around them.

In my current campaign, using 2e rules and set in the Forgotten Realms, I'm running a sandbox style game in which the PC's can come and go as they please. My role as the DM is to present them with the environment, and the places, NPCs, and creatures to populate that environment. From there, they make their own choices. The consequences of those choices have an impact on the world, but only to an extent.

Rather than railroad them into a storyline I have prepared, I present to them things which are happening around them, and allow them to make the choices on what they want to do and where they want to go. The PCs are not the center of the universe in this game. They are merely people populating a world. Will some of their actions have large consequences on the world around them? Probably at some point, yes, but at the same time, they very well could never have any significant impact on the world around them.

The biggest challenge a DM faces running a sandbox style game, in my opinion, is in preparation. I have found that, when running a sandbox game, the DM should never be under prepared, nor should he/she spend hours preparing for one particular "site" for his players to explore, because, after all, players in a sandbox game are highly unpredictable and prone to go and do things the DM would never have prepared for. Yes, this means in some cases, you're just winging it.

The best way to handle this, I've found, is to know your world. Know your setting. Know the NPCs in your world and their motives. Give your players various adventure hooks to follow, and prepare as best you can for their choices. Just as important as the choices they do make, are the choices they don't make. If there is some secret assassination attempt in the works between one noble family and another in a city, for example, and your players choose not to pursue that hook, allow the results of this assassination to continue to play out. After all, the people of your world have their own goals, and they aren't going to sit back and wait for the PCs to foil their plans.

Keep things as loose as possible. You won't always be prepared for everything, and there's no sense trying. That's the fun and beauty of DnD, or any RPG for that matter. At the same time, give your players some kind of incentive to pursue a goal or hook. Breathe life into the world around them, and they will likely react.

It's a delicate balancing act, because despite the fact that you might be running a "sandbox" style game, there is still a "story" or series of "stories" going on in the background in the world around them. But rather than one, epic spanning story in which the PC's are the hub, the "story" is simply the acts and events of the world around them, and how the PCs fit into their world. In the sandbox game, the end is not predetermined.

Here are some tips I've found that help me DM the sandbox game.

1. Prepare a handful of adventure hooks and leads for your PCs, and write down some preliminary background info for each. When they determine which to pursue, if any, expand upon the preliminary background. Let the players give you enough time to prepare, as best you can, for the lead they wish to pursue.

2. Do not game balance. The ruins outside the city are not simply going to be full of orcs or goblins just because your party is all 2nd level. If you know there to be greater basilisks roaming through the ruins, and your PCs decide to go investigate, then by goodness let them encounter the basilisks. Remember, your job as the DM is to populate an exciting world, not to formulate every challenge so they are capable of victory at every turn. PC's should know this going in if they're playing a sandbox game. Let them know that sometimes it's okay to run away.

3. Allow for consequences for the leads or hooks the party decides not to follow. In the earlier example, I mentioned the assassination attempt. If they choose not to pursue it, allow the assassination to take place, and thus the consequences of their non-actions to unfold.

4. Do not plan on too large a scale. Yes, your world lives and breathes, but keep things simple at first. Let the immediate world around your PCs unfold as it will. After all, there are plenty of hooks and plot devices that can be used in an immediate area. You may have a general idea of things that are happening 1,000 miles away in your world, but focus more on what's happening directly around your PCs. After all, this is what they will see most. If they opt to travel 1,000 miles away, then focus on the events and people of those lands. Yes, you can have a plot in the background of a nation 1,000 miles away preparing for war on the kingdoms your PCs occupy, but keep things included in that plot local to where your PCs are.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Designing the City Campaign: Part 2

In part one of this series, I discussed some basics on creating and designing the city based campaign.  I mentioned some of the key ideas you might want to think about when developing the city for your campaign.  Now, there is something to be said about pre-made supplements, maps, and the like.  These can be great tools for establishing a city based campaign, but this series is geared more towards the home brew system, and building it all from the ground up.  Continuing on, we'll use an example of a city I've developed using some of the brainstorming processes I outlined in part one.  At this point, the city is still only a very rough idea, but in the end, the result should be a fantastic and entertaining center to begin your campaign.

So, by doing some simple brainstorming I've concluded the following facts about my city:


1. Large sized wooden and stone walled city (pop. 75,000) with a vareity of friendly human races, but primarily made up of humans and halflings, with a few half-elves and even fewer elves and dwarves.
2. The city is situated on the coast line of a sea.
3. The ruler of the city is a former adventurer.  He acts as merely a figurehead.  The true power in the city rests with his council, a group composed of wealthy and influential citizens, or nobles, within the city.  All of them answer to the king of the land.
4. The city's economy revolves around its trading vessels and ports which provide repairs to traveling ships and rest for travelers, shipment warehouses for merchant companies to ship various goods from across the region abroad, and a strong fishing trade.
5. The city itself is divided up into 4 districts each separated by wooden walls and gate entrances: The docks (situated along the docks and harbors of the city), the market district (the hub of business in the city and situated in its center), the upper district (home of the city's wealthy citizens, the ruler, and his council), and the south district (most of the poor peasants occupy this area.  Wood and stone houses are squeezed tightly together along winding rutted streets.  Also, home to the city's crime element)
6. The law as it applies to adventurers: Adventurers wishing to conduct their operations within the city must register with the city hall.  Weapons are not allowed at all within the upper district, and must remain sheathed within the other districts (althouth this is rarely enforced in the south district).  Adventurers calling the city home are forced to pay a tribute to the city of 5% of their earnings.

Alright, so now that I have some very basic ideas written down, I can start developing things further.  I will start with creating a few places of interest within the city.  Note, these will be brief descriptions as examples, but the more detailed your descriptions of these key places are, the better.

Magrem's Marvels and Delights

This two-story stone structure is located within the market district of the city of Crestfall.  The wooden sign out front shows an image of a wizard riding the back of a griffin.  The shop itself lies on the first floor.  It is dark and dusty, with items and books scattered about haphazardly and in seemingly no order at all.  Old Magrem sits behind the counter at the rear of the shop, usually hunched over a tome.  His shop serves many mages, and within he has many volumes on mythical creatures and spellcraft, various recipes for potions, magical scrolls, and spell components.  Despite the dank and cluttered appearance, Magrem's Marvels and Delights is one of the most popular shops for sorcerers in the land.  Magrem himself is a retired adventurer of older years.  He lives on the second floor above his shop.  It is rumored that he has a vast assortment of magical items in his personal possession and he keeps his apartment heavily warded.  Some say he has a transdimensional door which allows him to travel to various places in the land although these destinations are known only to Magrem himself.

The Harpy's Haven Inn

Located in the Docks District, the Harpy's Haven Inn serves many travelers and merchants entering the harbors of Crestfall.  The large, two story wooden structure is dimly lit and usually smoke filled.  The common room holds a large fireplace in its back corner.  Patrons enjoy a fine assortment of fish and other creatures of the sea prepared in various sauces with a fine assortment of ales and wines to choose from.  The inn is owned by one Esmelra Ravenpeake.  She is a tall, brunette beauty of middle years.  In addition to the fine meals, patrons are also offered the services of the inns many prostitutes at a fairly reasonable price. Because of the crowd it usually draws, the inn is usually guarded by four large human bouncers.  They are watchful of the patrons and protective of the prostitutes within.  Any abuse is not tolerated and those causing disturbances are quickly thrown out.  It is rumored that Esmelra is actually leader of the secretive thieve's guild although the city council has never been able to prove it.  Some say that behind the stones of her fireplace there is a secret entrance to a hidden area in the inn's basement said to be the meeting place of the ranking members of the guild.

These are two examples of important places within the city.  Once you start developing these locales, you'll find they provide nearly endless possibilities for adventure hooks.  In the next part, I'll focus on some of the more notable NPC's of my city and their influence within.  In the future I'll discuss the guilds and organizations, creating a map for the city, and fleshing out adventure hooks to get a campaign started.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Modules vs. Home Brew

Beedo, over at Dreams in the Lich House (a great blog by the way), posted an interesting defense of module use and how it sort of works to establish a sense of unity in the RPG community, particularly the OSR niche.  He points to his recent foray into the Death Frost Doom module as an example.  In a campaign journal post summarizing his play through the module, he received comments from numerous people, talking about their own experiences with it.  He makes a good point, especially when discussing how gamers can spark up a conversation about running through their old favorites from way back.  His contention being that it gives the community a shared set of experiences in telling their own "war stories" about slogging through these modules and trying to survive. 
I personally have only ever played through, and DM'd, a few modules.  When I first started gaming some 15+ years ago, we started with 1e.  I recall DMing Shrine of the Kua Toa with my best friend as part of an underdark campaign I was running with him.  I took liberty with some of the story, and tried to make it fit in with my overall campaign, incorporating aspects and NPC's that weren't in the module itself.  I think most DM's do this with modules, and they are always suited for it because of how they can be used in just about any campaign.  Safe to say that although Shrine isn't the greatest module out there, we still had a great time with it.
These old modules have a particular appeal to old school gamers because of how brutally dangerous many of them were.  Modern gamers look at a character's death as a tragedy beyond measure.  Old school gamers understand that merely surviving a few dungeon crawls was a feat unto itself, and one to be proud of.  To have the same character, and run him/her through module after module, and survive, was something to be proud of indeed (if the DM ran the module correctly and didn't cater to the player.) 
While modules can provide fun challenges for players, I've always leaned more towards the home brew campaign.  In fact, I haven't used or ran a module in over a decade.  That is not to say there is anything wrong with it.  I just love to use D&D as a creative outlet and design my own adventures.  And I'm not saying that DMs that use modules aren't creative.  Far from it.  I think anyone who entertains this hobby has a big creative streak.  For me, designing a home brew campaign gives me a chance to get the players more personally involved in their characters and the game itself.  By designing my own adventures, I can fit the pieces of the overall campaign better.  But rather than focus on "telling a story" I focus on building the living and breathing world around the players.  There are things happening all over the land, and how they interact with these events ultimately dictates how certain things happen in the world around them.   This gives me the liberty to run a sandbox style game by giving the players the choice to interact with different facets of the world. 
Still yet, just because you run a home brew campaign, doesn't mean you can't throw in a module every now and again.  Sometimes one has to be wary of the consequences however.  For example, in Beedo's run through Death Frost Doom, the players made a deal with a vampire and unleashed an undead horde onto the land.  Safe to say that this will have a very significant effect on the future of their world.  On occasion, modules can have this type of impact on your campaign, and thus there is the danger of running some of them in a home brew game, especially if that wasn't really what you had planned in terms of the world you've created for these characters to explore.  Beedo, of course, was fully aware of the consequences of the module he was running although the outcome may have been a bit unexpected.
In sum, I must say I agree with Beedo's assessment particularly in how these newer modules built around old school gaming like Death Frost Doom give the OSR a chance to grow through shared experiences.  And there is no reason why these modules can't be incorporated easily into a home brew game.
So, has most of your experience as a player or DM been through modules or home brew campaigns?  Which do you prefer?  What are some of your favorite modules? 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Designing the City Campaign: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will explore how to go about developing a city or urban based campaign for D&D, however most of this information could apply to OD&D, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, or various other old school, and even new school games.  This series will focus on designing the city campaign from the ground up; that is, designing the city itself and populating it with NPCs, locales, and making it all come to life.

So, before we move any further, let's define what a city campaign is exactly.  The city campaign is one in which the majority of the players' adventures take place in, or around, a particular city, or cities.  Before determining if you're going to run a city campaign, meet with your players and discuss the idea with them.  The city campaign isn't for everyone, and the last thing you want is a player upset because he feels "restricted" to adventuring within a city's walls.  If the players know beforehand, they can create their characters in a fashion more suitable for adventuring in an urban environment.

Before you set down to design your city, you must first determine what kind of city it will be.  Will it be a large metropolis (pop. of 100,000 or more), a large city (pop. of around 50,000-90,000), or a smaller city (pop. of around 10,000-40,000)?  What kind of races inhabit the city?  Where will it be located?  Perhaps at the foothill of a mountain or on the shore of a large river?  Maybe it will be a port city or one that rests on the border of a kingdom?  City placement is important, especially in building your world.  Cities tend to develop where it makes the most sense; either along a large trade route, on the coast, etc.  Think about where the city is located, and what impact it has on the world overall outside the city gates.

How is your city's government structured?  I personally recommend the independent city-state, but there are a variety of options here.  Perhaps the city is part of a larger kingdom ruled by a malevolent tyrant.  Maybe it's run by a cabal of mages or priests, or a merchant's guild.  This is an important aspect of designing your city because it offers the possibility of creating great adventure hooks for the PCs down the road.  Think about the ruling structure and how that will relate to the characters involved in the campaign.

All cities thrive on trade.  Trade is the key to civilization in the fantasy setting.  What types of goods and/or services does your city provide?  Is your city located near the base of a mountain?  Perhaps your city's primary trade is equipment crafted from ore taken from the mines outside the city?  Perhaps your city is an even greater hub for the neighboring cities around it.  Maybe merchants flock to the city's gates to sell wares from all across the lands in your vast city markets.  Maybe your city is home to the only known sorcery academy in the region and is the center of your economy.  Once you've sorted through some of these things, the picture of your city should start coming into place.  You'll be surprised at how the creative juices start flowing when you jot down just a few ideas on paper.

Most fantasy cities are divided up into different sections.  These wards and burroughs serve as a way to divide the city's lower, middle, and upper class members.  If your city is along a coast, you'll want to establish a dock ward and think of the various ways to describe it.  Maybe the dock ward is the hub of your city's industry and thus patrolled regularly by the city watch, or maybe it's a harbor for fugitives, pirates, and other villains.  Merchant or business districts are also important, as this is where most of the city's industry will take place.  These districts should contain various specialty shops which can't be found anywhere else.  This is a city, after all.  Be creative in how you divide up your city and how you determine the comings and goings within.

At this point, you'll want to consider some basic laws particular to your city.  For example, will adventurers be required to peace string their weapons upon entering?  Will they be required to register and pay taxes within the city as "adventurers?" What is the punishment for a bar room brawl?  How is your city policed?  Are the constables or city watch corrupt?  

These are some basic ideas to get you started on fleshing out a quality city campaign.  In the next few posts in this series, I'll detail how I go about filling these cities with interesting places and people, designing maps of the city, and creating some adventure hooks that your players can sink their teeth into.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Original Short Story: A Bond of Ill-Fate

For your free viewing and reading pleasure I present my latest short story; a sword and sorcery tale called "A Bond of Ill-Fate".  Comments and criticisms are welcome.  I hope you have as much fun reading as I did writing.

Read it online: A Bond of Ill-Fate

Creative Commons License
A Bond of Ill-Fate by Rob Chandler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

World Building: A Work in Progress Part 1

Note, that this series of posts won't necessarily involve creating a world for the purposes of gaming.  Rather, this will focus on my own personal steps in developing the world for my novel and various short stories.  The world, while possible to be used for gaming, is not designed with the traditional races of elves, dwarves, halflings, and the like.  There is a strong emphasis on the medieval structure as a background of the world as in most fantasy settings, but these archetypes do not exist in my world.

Before really delving into my novel writing, and in an effort to save countless hours in rewriting, I decided it best to first establish my own world in which these stories take place.  Before doing so, I had to ask myself a few questions.  How would magic be used in this world?  What kind of races and beings occupy its forests and hollows?  How is religion used?  What kinds of governments are in place?  What does the world look like?

These were all very important questions to be sure, but where to actually start?  It can be overwhelming creating your own world, after all.  For me, it began with a map.  I pulled out a piece of paper and started drawing the map beginning with the outline of the land mass.  After this, I penciled in the mountains, forests, and streams.  Next, I populated the area with cities and villages, not naming them at this point, just placing dots on the map in places where it would make sense to have a city; along the coast, beside a river, etc.  Then I penciled in roads to connect them all.  It's amazing how inspiration can strike, when using this method.  As I was drawing the cities and connecting the roads it began to dawn on me exactly how I would answer the other questions which had been posed.

I divided this particular map I drew into three distinct lands.  From there I focused on what type of governments would be in place in each.  Would they be feudal in nature, or a series of connected city-states with their own independent governments?  As I completed the map, I then began naming the cities.  In some instances the names were based on the regions the cities and structures lay in.  I then began naming the land features.  Within only a few hours I had, at the very least, something to begin working with.

The map itself, is merely a framework.  It's a skeleton of a larger project being the world itself.  The map is simply the beginning not the end.  I believe by the time I'm finished establishing the histories and background of my world, I will probably have drawn and re-drawn this map several times. 

I'm not planning on posting the map right now simply because its little more than a sketch at this point.  When the world building is complete, I will create a high quality finalized map, or at least attempt to, and post it here on the blog.  I'm also intending to use the Obsidian Portal site to serve as a wiki for my world since it has the tools in place to serve such a purpose, despite the fact it might not be intended for it.

I'm sure quite a few of you readers of mine, being avid gamers and dungeon masters, have crafted your own worlds be it for role playing games, or for your own projects.  How have you gone about it?  What are some techniques you used and what worked easiest for you?  Did you also begin with a map first, or did you carefully craft out the histories of your world before putting pencil to paper to sketch out the realms?

In my next post in this series, I'll discuss outlining out the basic history, developing a calendar, and rules for the use of magic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Becoming the Enemy

If you've played DnD for a long time, or any other fantasy rpg for that matter, you've likely dreamed of, and even experienced, the glory that is completing an adventure as a hero in a campaign.  Whether it involves slaying a dragon that has been plaguing the innocent villagers, defeating an evil arch-mage, or fighting back an undead horde, we've all been there in some capacity and the formula is often the same; GM creates scenario with puzzles, traps, and enemies, which players have to solve, and, if successful, they are rewarded.  As this process continues in the campaign, the heroes become even more notable, the enemies become greater, the traps harder, and the rewards become tremedous. 
Recently, my thoughts have turned to going down a different path with a campaign; the evil adventuring party.  It's an idea I've always wanted to toy around with and one that intrigues me.  A party consisting of an evil necromancer, an assassin who specializes in poisons, an evil priest who practices dark rituals, a fighter who would just as soon kill a man and take his riches as look at him.  The great thing about the game of DnD is that you can, essentially, play whichever character type you want (or the DM will allow anyway.)  Sure, I know many out there have played evil adventuring parties in their time or at least had an evil character sprinkled in a campaign just for fun, but in all my years playing, I've never ran a game or been part of a game that included an entirely evil adventuring group.  

Surely this type of group creates a challenge for a DM as players of evil alignments are wont to betray each other, steal from other party members, use them to their own advantage, etc.  Still, I find the idea of centering a campaign around evil characters fascinating.  Rather than stopping the brigands, they become the brigands.  They become the evil slavers running a black market trade out of a port city.  They become the assassin group hired to murder a local lord or king.  So what do you think?  Have you ever been in an all evil adventuring group?  How was your experience?  What are some of the things the DM did to focus on an all evil group? 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Low-Level Magic Items

I noticed an interesting post over at Beyond the Black Gate regarding magic items for 1st level characters.  I thought it was a cool concept and decided to throw in some of my own. 
Mage: Ring of the Diviner
This ring is a simple gold band with a small clear stone.  It's given to lower level novice mages, and allows the wearer to use the following spells once per day: Identify, Read Magic, and Comprehand Languages
Ranger: Cloak of Passing
This hooded woodland cloak is made of sturdy wool and allows the wearer to move through woodlands as if a Pass Without Trace spell has been cast.  The effect can be used once per day for up to 3 hours.
Bard: Lute of Harmony
This finely crafted wooden lute has elven runes etched into its neck.  When used by a Bard it provides a +1 to attack and saving throws to all party members within a 100 foot radius for as long as the instrument is played.
Druid: Staff of Entanglement
This staff is simple in appearance.  Made of fine ash wood it looks like a simple walking stick.  Once per day the Druid can cast an Entangle spell.  If the effect is used in a woodland area (i.e. a forest) the recipient receives a -2 to his/her saving throw.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The DnD Fortune Card Debacle

I had resolved myself to avoid blogging about the recent news of the inclusion of "fortune cards" into the current version of Dungeons and Dragons.  For starters, I'm a bit apathetic to any current product created by WotC.  The company, now a subsidiary of Hasbro, took the reigns of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, but it is DnD only in name.  It ceased being the game we all loved many years ago. 
My initial reaction upon hearing about these fortune cards was the same as many of my old school contemporaries; I turned my nose up to the idea.  I had the "how dare they" knee jerk reaction initially, but then I came to realize, as I said above, the game they produced stopped being DnD ten years ago.  They've already spit, soiled, and desecrated the game anyway, so while the news of adding "collectible" cards in an effort to cash-in on the name of DnD was appalling, it wasn't unexpected.

I can't say I fault Hasbro or WotC for this move.  They aren't in the business to make old codgers like me happy.   They're in the business of making money and frankly, they need something to keep a revenue stream coming in.  Table top gaming as we once knew it, has been dying a slow, painful death for many years now thanks to things like World of Warcraft and the like.  So, while I hate the idea of commercializing my beloved game of Dungeons and Dragons to turn a buck, I can't be angry at them from a business perspective.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the use of fortune cards in DnD is how it can impact the game itself.  Years ago, I jumped on the Magic: The Gathering bandwagon.  Revised Edition had just hit the streets and the game was still relatively underground at the time.  Within a year it blew out of control.  People were buying them left and right, purchasing rare cards, and building super decks and the driving force behind the game suddenly stopped being player skill and, instead morphed into player income.  The more money you had, the better cards you could buy, thus the better decks you had and the better shot of winning.  It wasn't a game of skill and became even less a game of chance.  If you had the bucks to drop on the game, you could win and win a lot.  I see this taking the RPG down the same dreadful path. 

We like to emphasize "player skill" when we talk about our beloved hobby.  It doesn't matter how badass your miniature is, or how cool looking your dice are, if you're not skilled as a player, you won't last long in the game.  It's always been the one thing that really sets our game apart from others.  Fortune cards remove this to an extent.  Because of the "collectible" nature of them, suddenly he who has the money to lay down for ultra-rare power-ups suddenly replaces his skill in the game, with said power-ups.  Player skill becomes secondary to playing a trump card in the game to get a re-roll or a staggering bonus.  It also changes the way players react or deal with certain situations.  If they know they've got the handy power-up to let them re-roll they'll take chances they may not have otherwise taken based on their skill as a player.

The one saving grace about these fortune cards is the fact that they're optional, which means, hopefully wise DM's will see how ridiculous they are, and restrict their use in their home campaigns.  If that happens universally, then people will stop buying the fortune cards, and they'll disappear from the shelves never to see the light of day.  In this new generation of gaming, however, I don't have much confidence in that happening.

But as I said, WotC can go on and do whatever the hell they want to with the game they call Dungeons and Dragons.  I'll cling to my old dusty books and worn dice, because the game I grew up loving is the same game I play today.  Keep your fortune cards.  I'll take the skill of a good player any day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dungeon Crawl: Atarin's Delve

Courtesy of Dyson at A Character for Every Game

 Courtesy of Dyson over at A Character for Every Game, comes a fantastic dungeon he's created called Atarin's Delve.  Great to add to a megadungeon or to use as a stand alone adventure.  It's full of monsters and treasure galore and is wonderfully constructed to give your players a great dungeon crawling experience.  He's inspired me to start building my own dungeons again.  Go check him out.

Pulp Fiction Friday: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

In this week's focus on the great pulp fiction era, I switch gears away from sword and sorcery and into the realm of horror.  Certainly most are familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, primarily his stories of the Cthulhu mythos.  Lovecraft has become a legendary figure among the geek crowd and gaming circles over the past twenty years or so, and with good reason.  His style of writing is reminiscent of the days of classic literature.  His ability to construct a sentence in such a way that it springs the experience of terror right off the page and into the reader's mind makes him a notable contributor to American letters.

"The Colour out of Space" was written and published in Amazing Stories magazine in 1927.  Lovecraft would go on to regard it as one of his favorite stories.  While the story has no mention of Cthulhu, or any of the other entities associated with the mythos, it still possesses all the elements of cosmic terror and alien horror.

The story is told through the perspective of an unnamed surveyor.  He has come to the small New England hamlet just outside the town of Arkham to survey the area for a reservoir development.  While walking through the hills and forests of the area, he gets the sense that the area is haunted.  Eventually he stumbles upon a large spot of gray ashen earth adjacent to the remains of an old house and a well.  Curious about what happened to cause such a thing, he begins questioning the people of Arkham, who speak little about those "strange days."

Eventually our narrator finds a man named Ammi Pierce, the only remaining settler in the area.  Ammi recounts the tale of a fallen meteorite on the farmland that is now called the "blasted heath" and how it affected and slowly destroyed Nahum Gardner and his family.

The story, while a bit slow to develop, builds up to a fantastic and terrorizing conclusion.  What I liked most about this tale was the way Lovecraft handled the monster, if you can call it any such thing.  Rather than describe the alien as humanoid, he continuously asserts how indescribable and incomprehensible the thing actually is.  It is apparently devoid of any actual physical appearance that can be described to the human eye.  Rather, it takes form in the shape of a vast array of colors of which are not in our own earthly spectrum of understanding. 

Lovecraft is a true master of the genre of horror and this tale is easily my favorite of his that I've read.  The full text is available for free, along with a lot of his other works, at  So, download and dig in for a classic story sure to send chills down your spine and get the wheels of your mind turning.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

From the Vault: Forgotten Realms Cloak and Dagger

Prior to the arrival of 3e, in the middle of 2000, Wizards of the Coast released one of it's last AD&D 2nd edition supplements to the Forgotten Realms.  It was a sourcebook for DM's called Cloak and Dagger.  Now, most people will tell you, myself included, that in the peak of 2nd edition, TSR, and subsequently Wizards of the Coast, released a plethora of splatbooks and awful sourcebooks for a variety of their campaign settings.  The market was saturated and bloated, and knowing this, it was often difficult to differentiate the good from the bad.

I recall approaching Cloak and Dagger with natural skepticism at the time.  After seeing so many awful products hit the shelves, my patience to sort through them all was thin.  Still, the description of the book intrigued me so I picked it up.  I'm glad I did, as it has served as the single most valuable Forgotten Realms tool for me outside of the primary box set over the years.

Cloak and Dagger gives insight into the many secret organizations in the Realms, some of which had not been explored in great detail prior to the book's release.  It lists the various secret groups within the Realms, their goals and motivations, areas of operation, tactics and methods, and their histories.  It also has detailed descriptions of the organziations' leaders as well as their motives and goals.

What impressed me the most about the supplement was the sheer volume of information within its pages.  Truly there is enough to keep a DM busy for years.  It should be noted that this supplement works best for those DMs and players who like to add a little intrigue and espionage into their games.  For the typical dungeon crawling DM and  game group, this tome will be of little use to you.

So, if you're looking to add a little spice to your DnD game in the form of some political intrigue and shadowy cabals, I highly recommend picking up Cloak and Dagger.  Copies can be found on Amazon for as little as $13-$15.  Whether you run the Realms or not, you'll find the information within to be one of the last great 2nd edition resources.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Character Stats: You Couldn't Have Rolled That

Rolling ability scores in DnD can be a painfully tedious endeavor.  If you don't watch every player roll his/her ability scores, you're likely to face at least one person in the group who has somehow miraculously rolled three 18's, two 17's, and a 16.  This is especially true of younger players or rookie players.  I try to stress one important fact to my players before we ever begin an adventure; your skill as player, not your ability scores, will determine your success in this campaign.  Ability scores are just numbers on a piece of paper.  So, why do some players get so hung up on having high stats?  I think part of it lies in the fact that, until they've played the character in an adventure, the stats are the only method by which they can visually measure up their character.  The stats, in essence, replace the imagination when envisioning the character in their mind.

There are many methods outlined in the Player's Handbook on generating ability scores and I won't go over them.  Some purist DM's will say, "the only method you should use is rolling 3d6 six times and writing the numbers down."  That's all well and good, but as a DM, I like to give my players at least some choice in who and what their characters will be.  I use a simple point method in character creation.  Each player has 72 "points" to divide as they see fit among the six ability scores.  The results are usually pretty good.  Sure, someone can have an 18, but when you have to split up those other 5 abilities with only 54 points, it becomes more of a challenge.  I find that this method allows the players to have the versatility to be able to play the class they want, say a Ranger, while still having some semblance of balance in relation to their ability scores.

The key factor, in my opinion, is getting the players to realize that ability scores do not make the character who he/she is or will become.  The play of that character will eventually determine his or her destiny.  Ability scores, like everything else in the game, are merely tools to be utilized when necessary.

So, what are your thoughts on rolling ability scores?  Do you as a DM give the player any liberty in determining their characters' stats or do you believe in letting the roll of the dice determine such factors?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can HBO's Game of Thrones Live up to the Hype?

I recall cracking open A Game of Thrones for the first time so many years ago.  I'd heard a lot of great things about the series and, in need of something new to read, I picked up the paperback at my local bookstore.  That book, and the sequels that followed, kept me up on many a night as I journeyed the lands of the Seven Kingdoms with Ned, Jon, Robb, Tyrion, and the rest of the colorful characters that make up George R.R. Martin's fantastic world.  Not since first reading Lord of the Rings had I felt such excitement in epic fantasy.  I suppose I enjoy the series for the same reasons as thousands of other readers.  The epic scale of the world, the gritty realism, and remarkable characters are just a few of those reasons.  This series, to me, epitomizes everything that is great about this genre of fiction.  The only complaint I've ever had is naturally the same one every reader shares--the long delay between each book in the series.  So, when I first heard that HBO would be making this into a series, I was ecstatic.

In April of 2011, HBO will launch A Game of Thrones upon a mainstream television audience.  Expectations from the fan base are incredibly high at this point and based upon what I've seen through various video clips and behind the scenes interviews, it seems the producers of this show have a very good grasp on the themes behind the story.  I always tend to approach these things with typical fanboy skepticism, yet at the same time, I try to be realistic as well.  No, some of the characters and events won't be just like we imagined in the novels.  There will be, for better or worse, some creative liberties taken with the show in regards to how it correlates with the book.  I understand this as I would hope any fan would.  I won't be pausing every scene on my DVR and analyzing whether they got each particular house insignia correct or not.

In my opinion, the success of this show will lie in how well the characters are portrayed.  These characters aren't driven by black and white, or good and evil.  Instead they have their own motives and ambitions for their own reasons.  What has always intrigued me about the story is how you might perceive a person as a villain, only to have that perception flipped on its head later on.  If they can capture this, along with the visual representation of the Seven Kingdoms, I think the show will stand as a ground breaking piece of entertainment.

What do you think?  Will the show live up to the hype or will it be a failed experiment in the genre of fantasy?

Here's an inside look on the show with some comments by Mr. Martin himself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Peek Into the Northlands and Beyond

Just about every gamer has heard of Obsidian Portal by now I'm sure, and if not well, I have to ask: what rock have you been hiding under?  I cannot begin to say enough about how valuable this site has been for me and my gaming group over the past few months.

My friends and I have been playing DnD off and on together for years now.  Of course, when we were growing up, we played weekly and sometimes more often than that, but as the years went on, and we all sort of went our separate ways, it became difficult to gather more than once or twice a year.  Thankfully the internet came to the rescue.  We decided to try a play by post method on our own private forum early last year and it has been very successful for us.  Along the way, however, we've had to take a few periodic breaks, so game play has not moved as quickly as we would have liked.  That's where Obsidian Portal comes in.

Shortly after we started playing on the forum, I stumbled upon Obsidian Portal and immediately signed up.  After watching a few tutorials and checking out some other campaigns to get a feel for the tool, I decided it would be perfect for me as the DM to organize the adventure.  My memory is terrible unfortunately, but as we played on the forum, I would update the campaign on Obsidian Portal.  As we've taken several breaks along the way, it has proven itself as one of the most valuable DM tools I've ever seen in my years gaming.  Without this site, I would have forgotten much of what occurred along the way after our many breaks in the game.  Sure I could have slogged through hundreds of posts on the forum to get caught back up, but the idea of that is frankly overwhelming. 

Now, with Obsidian Portal, we can take a break for two months, come back, and not miss a beat.  I've even found a way to get the players involved in the process as well.  To replace the table top sessions of role play, I encourage them to post their own entries to the adventure log on the site.  The results have been fantastic so far and really has helped get the players more involved in the campaign and their characters.

Also, Obsidian Portal can be used in a variety of different ways, but the trick is learning how to utilize the tools on the site.  There is a bit of a learning curve, but by investing a couple of hours into really learning how to use the tool, you can save yourself from major headaches down the road.  There are many fine examples of the tool out there, but if you'd like to see how we've used it thus far, head on over and take a look at my campaign.

Gaming: Old School or New School?

I've been playing various forms of RPG's and games off and on since the mid 1990's.  The game I'm probably most familiar with, or at least most experienced with, is Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, particularly 2nd edition.  Lately I've been reading a lot about what's being called the Old School Revival (or OSR for short).  In having done some research into the movement, I've discovered there really is no true definition of what constitutes an "old school gamer."  Instead there are a myriad of theories on what separates "old school gaming" (D&D 0e, AD&D 1e, some 2e) from what's considered "new school gaming" (3e, 3.5, and 4e AD&D).

The best description on the differences between the two schools of thought can be found via Matthew Finch's free pamphlet, "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming."  Mr. Finch is the creator of the 0e "clone" of DnD called Swords and Wizardry.  In his Quick Primer, he presents four situations, which he calls "zen moments" 

The first of these "zen moments" he calls "rulings, not rules."  In this scenario, the old school GM/Gamer dialogue centers around the gamer using his own wits as a player to perform an action rather than the "new school" method which is to say, declare an action and simply roll for it based on the character's abilities according to the rules.  In the old school approach, the game is more dynamic and involving rather than a situation bound upon dice rolls and chance.

The second zen moment is a bit redundant, but notes that in old school gaming, player skill is more important than character skill.  That is to say, in an old school game, the player must use his own wits to figure out a scenario.  There are none, or at least very few, "checks" to determine if something is successful.  The player announces what he wants to do and the GM makes the decision on this action.  The player's skill comes into play above the numerical abilities of a character from a rule book.

The third zen moment is the realization in old school gaming that the character will never become super human, but rather will become heroic.  He compares the notion of the character eventually building up through play to become Batman rather than Superman.  In other words, the player character is still a mortal.  The only thing that separates him at a high level from what he was at a low level is the things he's been able to accumulate and the experience he's gained through the years.

The final zen moment he describes is the act of forgoing game balance.  That is to say, there is no such thing as game balance in the old school gamer's world.  There is nothing which states that a character may only encounter those foes and traps which he is able to defeat.  There will be situations in which sometimes you come upon a situation in an old school game that you're not skilled enough to complete.  There's nothing in an old school game stating that your character won't encounter a high level mage, beholder, or even a dragon at a lower level.

There is more to Mr. Finch's assessment of what constitutes old school gaming, of course.  Essential at the heart of the distinction is the player using his own skills to deduce the GM's intentions rather than relying on dice rolls, rules, and ability scores.  These are tools to be used, but not relied upon for every situation. 

I've tried to look at the arguments for what constitutes "old school" and "new school" gaming to see just where me and my friends fit in.  We've all been playing D&D off and on together, as I said, for nearly 20 years.  I think it's safe to say we are somewhat of a hybrid of the two.  Old school games in general simply relied on dungeon running, gaining treasure, and creating heroic memories through the use of well thought out and well played scenarios and encounters.  The new school approach relies on the accumulation of power, vast campaign settings from a corporate entity (WoTC), and dice rolls to determine success.

In my near 20 years of playing D&D, I've spent sufficient time as both DM and player.  When I was first introduced to the game, it was by a purist old school gamer of 1e.  He didn't spend a lot of time on character development and the like.  He was a hack and slasher and a dungeon crawler, but as a DM his adventures were always exciting.  As I started getting more and more into 2e and the products TSR produced such as the Forgotten Realms sourcebooks and settings, I became more interested in making characters with heroic personalities.

These days in the current game I run, a 2e game based in the Realms, the game goes much in the direction of a hybrid between old and new school.  Yes, we use character ability rolls and checks.  That's what they are there for, however each situation is approached with caution and care.  For example, you won't find any of our players running up to a door and simply saying "I look for traps *dice roll*.  I got a 20.  Are there any traps?"  Rather each encounter is thought out and discussed in as much detail as possible and, when necessary, the dice roll is made to ensure success. 

Also, as a DM I encourage my players to take an active role in determining how their stories will turn out.  Most old school DMs would scoff at that notion citing that the DM should always have control over the game.  I always ask my players to create some sort of background for their characters for me to work on as a DM.  I then can incorporate these particulars in the adventures that play out.  It adds a bit of extra depth to the sessions and also helps them discover who their characters are and what drives them.  Is this a new school approach to gaming?  Probably so, but it works for us and we enjoy it.

It's difficult to draw any pure distinction between old school and new school gaming other than the fact that most old school advocates do not approve of or participate in the play of 3e, 3.5, or 4e D&D and to a lesser extent, 2e.  Or perhaps they do participate, but don't feel the same magic they felt when playing prior versions of the game as they did in their youth when there wasn't a rule to determine how each and every thing would work in the game.  Most gamers probably want to associate themselves with the old school because it gives them a sense of credibility among their peers.  A way to say, "I've been there and done that."  Bottom line is, everyone who played earlier editions of the game, has their own viewpoints on what constitutes "old school gaming."  We as gamers should not be bound to these terms in a negative connotation.