I’ve got a player eager to take the helm running a D&D game periodically. I’m super excited to see them flip to the other side of the screen and be a DM. They freely admitted struggling some with thinking up an appropriate way to kick off the game, and the decision to dabble in making up their own world or run something pre-made. They also wanted to know if I had any advice. So I pointed them over to Running the Game, a YouTube series about being a DM.
It’s done by Matthew Colville, a writer that also works in the video game industry. The videos he creates run between 15 to 30 minutes and commonly cover a specific RPG topic. Some address a specific issue most DMs will face at the table or when planning out their session. He also has a series that covers his own game more in detail and the problems he occasionally has when playing.
Now a big caveat with the advice is that what he will regularly state the tidbits he throws out are his opinions and how he likes to run his own games. Your mileage might vary with his advice, and he’ll freely admit his approach might not be for everyone. Another point is that much of the series is about running D&D. I think if you were a GM for other game systems a lot of his advice would still be great but you are going to get some chunks of content not quite applicable to a non-D&D game.
This last point touches on a few episodes. One is related to the Deck of Many things (which dragged some for me), and if not playing D&D or including that magic item in your campaign, much of the video will be not helpful. However you might pick up some interesting tips and ideas handling a similar powerful, legendary magical item in your own game. The concept of using a few props to spice up your game is great and I particularly like the idea of a little sleight of hand to make players think they have full agency (when in reality you are guiding events some).
Another ding with the video series is the speed that Matthew speaks. He talks fast. You might want to slow down the playback speed at little. I think especially if English wasn’t your mother tongue you’d have a hard time keeping up. I enjoy his rapid fire dialog and find it engaging and quippish, but keep in mind he speaks at a fair clip.
But these are quibbles. You’ll find his videos a great resource. I especially like that he also talks about things that fall flat at his table. We tend to just spout off the things that work in our sessions and not dwell on the times when things just didn’t work. I agree with his opinion that sharing stuff that failed can also serve as helpful advice.
In the end you have a fantastic introduction to being a DM. Seriously, for the uninitiated wanting to sit down and try their hand at running a game, this is a great series. The first four are especially solid tutorials for DMing your initial adventure. There really are some golden tips covered in them. It’s such a helpful and entertaining bunch of tutorials. I really can’t recommend it enough to new DMs, and if you’re a bit long in the tooth as a GM, give a few videos a watch. You’ll either be nodding your head in agreement or picking up a few good ideas for your own game.
For a long time I had Expeditions of Amazing Adventure going which was a series of posts on some manner of a location or culture that could serve as a springboard for an adventure. Primarily my inspiration was a picture and I’d whip up some fantasy locale and occasionally throw in some adventure hooks. It was all very general and my original focus was for 4E D&D.
That series of posts grew and eventually I had a ton of posts. So much so I compiled them into their own section. But it sort of lingered in my brain to do something more with it. I rolled around the idea of maybe compiling them together in a campaign setting.
For my 4E game I ended up making my own setting thrown onto a map from Warhammer. Mixing in the points of light setting along with tweaks I made (using the map as fodder for names), I ended up with Terrene. For well over a year, it was home to my players for our 4E campaign.
I stopped playing 4E and drifted over to Savage Worlds, but the thought of revisiting Terrene was still there. So I looked over at my expeditions blog posts and decided to write them up as part of a generic fantasy setting for the world of Terrene. Adding a sparse bit of rules and some twists to the SW Fantasy Companion, I ended up with a pretty open setting with a few key points:
Few new rules and edges – There are a smattering of new things in the setting. I pretty much wanted to keep it a vanilla setting easily sticking with the SWD and Fantasy Companion books. I have a new race, a new humanoid monster type, and sprinkled in a default skill choice for all of the races.
Portal gates – One quick means of getting around would be through portal gates that allowed instantaneous transportation, but at the same time it is unreliable. Maybe players will land at their intended destination, or maybe not. I think this helps facilitate grand adventures. If the players want to take off to the frigid north or steaming jungles, they have the means to do so and not get mired down in spending weeks or months on the road.
However the travel comes at a cost. Maybe you’ll end up where you want and maybe you’ll end up stuck deep underground in the middle of some lost city. I dig that and it can make for some fun adventures. The portal gates open doors for adventure, not close them off.
No one major power – The Empire exists but there are lots of other kingdoms. The Empire is not necessarily a force of good either. Many leaders, nobles, and lords have selfish interests. This allows for players to be heroes in the world, or be able to serve as mercenaries to the highest bidder if they wish.
There is also some room to play off other powers, be in wars, or take part in espionage if players want. Competing regions means there’s some room for players to have some fun working for different kingdoms, or potentially carve out their own fiefdom.
Long history and fallen cultures – The Pomdarians that are somewhat of a mystery. They are this ancient race of lizard folk that had an immense empire and then overnight they disappeared. What happened to them? There was the entire continent of Alondarra that sank to the bottom of the ocean. What became of them? Over thousands of years many races reached epochs and declined, leaving a wake of ruins and treasure to be found. That makes for some interesting stuff to base adventures on.
So you can find Terrene and a basic map in the downloads section. Admittedly a lot of the the location names are awful. I hobbled myself originally sticking with some goofy alliteration for the expedition posts, but they are serviceable (and certain folks will be changing them). However I hope folks find some useful stuff here for their games.
I’ve been fiddling around with my sci-fi Savage Worlds game getting everything together. Something I’ve been a stalwart supporter for over the years is using online tools as information repositories for current games. I tend to game pretty infrequently, just about every other week. So for long campaigns I need a place to keep track of major events that happen. Another plus is I don’t need to saddle my players with scribbling down the name of every major NPC they come across. The important stuff I can put on up the campaign site for reference later.
Additionally we have about 2-3 different settings going on. I sometimes get a little burnt out GMing a particular setting and like to have an occasional one shot game once in a while. It can be a challenge for my players to keep track of the types of worlds they are playing in. Sometimes they need something to jog their memory on who the major movers and shakers are for that campaign. In these cases having an online wiki or blog is great keeping everything together.
For a long while now I have been using Obsidian Portal for a few of my games. It’s a great tool but lately I’ve migrated towards having more simple sites. I’ve found I don’t usually need the complete functionality of a wiki. I can just keep a running page or two of major NPCs or locations. So currently I’ve been leaning towards using blogs instead.
For my Savage Worlds superhero game it’s been a great means to provide a quick reference for major criminal (and neutral) organizations. Also by adding posts and tagging them, my players can filter out a lot of stuff and skim through past posts looking for specific enemies or topics related to the campaign. I haven’t been keeping a running adventure log going for that, but it could be done.
With my sci-fi game I’ve found this especially helpful. Above all other settings I think players sometimes need a little more information on the game universe. Sci-fi encompasses so many styles and themes, it can be difficult to accurately get across to players the levels of technology or how proliferate alien species are. Having a site that they can navigate to get that information is helpful.
Mind you have to be realistic about how deep players will dig through your site. Some may enjoy it but expect many to be willing to skim through about a paragraph at most. So I try to keep things brief if possible, especially for adventure recaps.
One last point though on having a campaign blog or wiki, it’s public. While it’s a way to share your world and ideas with others, it’ll also show how messy your games run including all the lackluster ideas. Just roll with it. Because sometimes you’ll have people mine your stuff for adventure ideas to use in their own games (Hee… or learn about things to avoid if scouring my campaigns). Honestly that alone is a great reason to have your campaign material up on a wiki or blog.
I’ve avoided the siren’s call of Reaper Kickstarter campaigns of past. But the temptation to pick up a slew of minis is just too much. Their current Kickstarter campaign wraps up in less than 3 days. As usual, you get a ton of plastic minis. The bonus for me is that you don’t need to prime them.
I prefer to use tokens for my RPG sessions over using minis. But I am pretty deep into miniature gaming and been taking a gander to some different systems as of late. Pulp Alley looks neat and Frostgrave is certainly on my radar for something to pick up. As a back up, there is always Chain Reaction which is generic enough for a variety of light arms skirmish games. Yet, I’ve heard some cool things about Songs of Blades and Heroes too for fantasy melee. Yeah…. guess I’ll have plenty of games to run with these KS goodies.
So you are sketching out a new campaign and drafting up a list of villains, trying to figure out their motivations and what drives them. Sometimes you will blank out on new ideas or potentially start recycling villains. To get around this consider looking over your character’s backgrounds and see if there is any synergy to incorporate their past with NPC villains you are making up.
For my weird west game I had a few general ideas of the villainous movers and shakers in the alternate 1870’s world I was crafting, including some evil organizations. As a first adventure, I set about the players being asked to deliver a holy artifact after being betrayed by a trail guide. However, I only had the barest of ideas though and needed to solidify a few main villains for the game. Tasked with this I scoured over the backgrounds of my players to get a few ideas for evil NPCs.
I fell in love with the 6th Gun comic and really dug the idea of a relentless group of undead soldiers. One of my players was a former soldier so I prodded him for a few more details. He saw himself from a long line of farmers that bred horses. His family and farm got wrapped up in the Civil War and he found himself fighting for more out of defending his home than for political reasons. At the conclusion of the war as it ground to a stalemate and eventual truce, he lost his family and land when it became territory for the other side. Losing everything he became a despondent snake oil salesman out west, more keen on drinking laudanum than selling his wares.
Getting that background, I asked for more from him. Of course he was a former cavalry officer, so I asked for more details on his commanding officer during the war. The only bit of solid information I requested would be that officer was someone the PC despised and thought sadistic. The result from him was Major Clancy ‘Buck’ Futter. A gross glutton with an enormous gut that nearly buckled any horse he rode. Joking aside with the nickname, this got my mind running with ideas.
I latched onto that key characteristic of a fat glutton and the idea of someone with a ravenous hunger surfaced. I envisioned the unit near the end of the war getting caught up in a siege. Cut off, surrounded by an enemy army with winter set in, Major Clancy Futter ordered the horses to be eaten. Starving still for weeks, some rumors in the fort fell about that wounded soldiers were quietly disappearing. When the enemy finally stormed the fort, the player had escaped believing his commanding officer was killed in the battle. All of this back information the player knew about.
What my player didn’t know was that Major Clancy Futter survived. Aching with hunger and fearful of starving to death, he was enticed into invoking a ritual of dark magic with some of his men following suit. Culminating this foul ritual by eating human flesh, he would transform and be undying. It was successful but he was cursed with the wendigo. Forever alive, he would be driven with a ravenous hunger that could only be sated for a short time by consuming human flesh. His cadre of men around him were also cursed with this affliction.
That villain stuck out for the campaign. One of the first clashes the group was at a church, the group inside surrounded by men on horseback. Unable to enter the hallowed ground they called for the PCs to throw out a holy artifact they wanted. My snake oil salesman player quipped something back. I then described some of the men parting and a gaunt fellow riding slowly forward. Despite its emaciated frame covered with a tattered uniform and cavalry officer hat adorning its head, it still had a grotesque paunch of a gut. The villain called out the PC by name, ‘Cyrus McClintock! That you in there? So you made it out of Fort Bean alive.‘ Trust me, jaws dropped at the table as players realized someone in the group had dealings with this creature before.
A small idea from a player back story cemented into a foundation of being a major villain for the game. It became a driving, relentless evil force, ever pursuing the PCs. Additionally it was taken from a player’s past and was a way of drawing that PC into the world, as they had a shared history with the villain. Instead of me having to fill in the story, that player could step up around the table at that moment describing how they knew the NPC, and its likely intent.
So I encourage looking over your players’ back stories and try to mine it for adventure ideas. People and events of note in their past can easily become the villains for a campaign. Asking details from players on a name, description, and mannerisms all can help give the NPCs a life of their own. Best of all the players become part of the world building process for the campaign and become greater invested in the setting. So don’t try and force yourself to think up everything, allow the players to help carry that creative load.
This popped up on my radar. Spartan Games for a long while has been in the wargame and mini business. They’ve really grown into making some stellar resin miniatures and I’m a fan of Firestorm Armada.
It looks as if they’ve decided to dabble a bit in making terrain. There is a Kickstarter campaign running now to offer miniature terrain sets. What’s pretty clever is that it’s a modular frame system, where different artwork for the walls and floors can be swapped out depending on the genre you are playing. While much of the flooring and walls are card, it appears that parts can be upgraded to acrylic and laser cut MDF.
It looks pretty neat. The sets seem reasonable. However my beef would be with the artwork packs. Seems the lower pledge options are for one style of artwork (reasonable), but if wanting to get another style of walls/flooring, you are going to have to pony up about $30 USD and that’s without shipping.
Regardless, it appears this will be a product that they’ll be eventually pushing out into retail. If it looks like something that would tickle your fancy, the KS campaign likely would be a great way to get some of the sets accumulated.
I have a love-hate relationship with classic initiative in D&D. One plus is at least for the first turn, things are chaotic. You can get a player rolling high and step into the action immediately, and you can have a player instead be a little flat-footed by rolling low. It’s fun. However on the following turns it slips into a set order and the humdrum of a predictable routine for turns becomes the norm. Alternately, it’s a little jarring breaking up the narrative to jump into wargame mode for a combat by telling players to roll for initiative.
Newbie Dm has been pondering this last point some, with thoughts of dropping it completely. I can agree that calling out initiative is like announcing RP needs to jump in the backseat as butt-kicking time is taking over the story steering wheel. I don’t quite have an answer for that. There is a certain disconnect with D&D when it comes to roleplaying and the actual mechanics of combat resolution. You can certainly pepper RP into a melee, but there will still be those mechanisms in the background of rolling to hit and damage, with initiative order lumped into that too.
However, I wouldn’t kick initiative to the curb. I realize it can break up the narrative in some cases, but having a completely open order for combats can also allow players to slip into taking over the action completely. I like the idea of combats being deadly and unpredictable. In that aspect, classic rolling for initiative sort of captures that. The problem I have is it slips into a set order, with no surprises after the first turn.
Look at wargames – The idea of unit activation is something that’s been tackled quite a bit through a variety of means in miniature wargames. A lot of designers try to model friction in command and unit activation, and uncertain turn order helps mimic that some. Taking a look at how other games handle unit activation (or initiative), especially wargames, can offer some good ideas for porting them over to D&D. Mind you, what I’ll talk about here is by no means an exhaustive list for systems used in miniature wargames but they are some common themes.
IGOUGO – This is a common turn order system. A player chooses all the units they wish to activate and resolve their actions, then their opponent does the same. This can be shaken up some requiring command checks to see if a unit can be activated.
I’m not a fan of IGOUGO. Even with command checks, you have a degree of certainty how your turn will play out. This isn’t to say it’s not a popular system though. Warhammer 40K and Flames of War use IGOUGO and are probably some of the biggest systems around for wargames. For D&D, you could just have all the players go, and then all the monsters. It can work but not my cup of tea.
Alternate activation – This is a popular stepping stone between IGOUGO and random activation. Players pick one unit to activate and play out the turn, their opponent then does the same, going back and forth until all the units are activated. For D&D, you can have players and the monsters go back and forth, or break it up with the PCs having 2-3 characters act, then a few creatures. It’s serviceable. The kicker is usually figuring out who which side starts at the top of the turn. Commonly a lot of wargames decide that by rolling a die (sometimes with modifiers to represent better command and/or morale). Deciding by the highest dexterity scores D&D might work for D&D.
Random Activation – For me this has become my favorite system in wargames, as it can provide you with utter, random chaos. Granted D&D has this right off the bat with rolling initiative too, however the order becomes static. I’m a fan of keeping things completely random throughout the entire combat for each turn. There are two ways to handle this. One could be that each player/monster is assigned a specific card and they are randomly drawn from a shuffled deck.
Another more flexible system would be splitting a deck of cards up by color, with one side activating when their color is drawn. This could also be done using dice of two sets of uniform colors. To keep ensure everyone gets a turn, you could make a special deck (or pool of dice) where each individual unit is represented by a card of their respective color. One my favorite games, Bolt Action uses this system with colored dice. It’s easy and flexible enough that you can choose what unit to activate (provided you get lucky enough to draw the right colored die).
Savage Worlds also employs a random initiative system going by numerical/suit order using a standard deck of cards. I love it. It makes each turn hectic as you can’t predict exactly when you’ll act from turn to turn. While you could mimic the same thing in D&D just re-rolling initiative for each turn, mechanically drawing from a deck of cards is easier after a good shuffle.
Point allocation – Another system commonly used in wargames is point allocation. Each side has a limited number of command points which can be spent to activate units. Likely not all units on a side will be activated during a given turn and typically a unit can only be activated once. Even using IGOUGO, this can add an element of friction in command and control. SAGA uses something like this and I find it immensely enjoyable.
If you were trying to embrace a more narrative approach to initiative in D&D, point allocation would be something I’d use. When I’ve run Dungeon World, I used a point allocation system. It worked wonders.
The problem with combats for me in Dungeon World was that they were too open. If you had a player or two that were more proactive around the table, they could hoard the action for the group. I needed to break that up and it was a little rough just putting a hard stop to a player’s turn and pushing others to act instead during combat.
So I gave each player 2 markers. When they did something they threw it into the center. If they had no markers, they had to wait. Once everyone spent their markers, they all took 2 markers and the process would repeat. For modelling simultaneous actions in a short time frame, this worked well.
To embrace the open narrative of Dungeon World, I would allow a player to voluntarily give a marker to another player if they wanted. That way if a PC was on a roll doing some cool stuff, another player could allow them to hog the spotlight a bit longer. It added some structure to combats but was still flexible enough for Dungeon World. Going for a more free-form initiative in D&D, I would do something similar.
Handling high (or low) dexterity – This is something that can put a kink into different initiative systems. Players with high dex usually get an initiative bonus acting before others. I’d whip up a house rule allowing PCs to redraw a card, pull another die, or possibly get an additional activation token. There is nothing wrong with giving high dex players some advantage with determining turn order. Regardless, I’d always adopt a house rule to allow players to go first in the case of ties. It’s just a little nod to the players and encouraging them to be heroes over the monsters.
These are a few ideas you might want to port over to your D&D game. If anything, I encourage folks to play other games. I especially think DMs should experience different games aside from RPGs. You really get exposed to interesting game mechanisms playing other types of games, and may be surprised how many things you can pick up to make your own D&D game better.
Earlier this year marked a big milestone hitting 300 posts. Since then another year has passed by and I looked over my blog stats to get a feel for how 2014 went. When I first started blogging I was really focused on 4E D&D and doing a lot of posts related to running my games. That petered out some as I began to post my other gaming interests, including miniature wargames and board games. So looking over the traffic for 2014, I’ve come to some conclusions…
RPG posts are popular – No surprise here but RPG posts are the ones that get the most traffic. As I’ve waned some on posting RPG-centric posts, a decline in traffic has been noticed too. My wargame posts are likely too much of a gaming niche (and too generic) to garner much interest from folks.
D&D is king – I’m certain another decline with blog traffic is my shift away from D&D. I also realize there’s a draw to hearing about people starting campaigns, and tackling issues of running a game with a new system is narrative that resonates more than rehashing past games. There’s probably more of a drive for information about wanting to learn about playing a new game, rather than reading about systems they are comfortable running. I expect a popular topic for a lot of RPG blogs in 2015 will be stuff on 5E. There’s no getting around that.
Savage Worlds has some bite – I’ve been more focused on running Savage Worlds and the posts and reviews I’ve done for the game get a fair amount of traffic. Seems a couple of blog aggregators for Savage Worlds have also picked me up. Having a review for Broken Earth highlighted over on PEG’s site helped some too. Currently my group is happy with switching genres and going with more episodic campaigns, so SW fits the bill with keeping a uniform generic system for flipping back and forth with different games.
Board game reviews are decent – Despite not having the reach of RPG posts, board game reviews certainly have a draw. I throw my stuff up on Board Game Geek so that certainly doesn’t hurt drumming up traffic. I tend to review games I’ve vetted some before picking up for my collection. As such most of them are games I like. However occasionally I buy something on a whim and at times get a few lackluster games. I also dabbled a bit posting about various kickstarters, but unfortunately I seem to get a flood of requests to promote other campaigns. I’d love to highlight more stuff coming out in the community, but I do this as a hobby and with my limited time it’s hard to commit to promoting different crowd-funding projects.
In summary, I dig 5E and am eager to try it out but right now my gaming group is keen to do other stuff. I made a commitment to trim back my RPG purchases and only buy books I will play. I broke that getting the 5E Starter set but at $20 it’s pretty hard not to bite. I’m holding off getting the hardback books though. Playing 5E just isn’t in the cards for me right now.
Heh, I’m certain I’ll also lose a bunch of followers switching over to WordPress too. However Blogger just wasn’t doing it for me any more and I was having a hard time getting things to work with G+. I still need to check out a lot of my older posts, but for the most part everything seems to be working okay with the transfer. So I’ll just be chugging along here with posts on miniature wargaming and board games, occasionally throwing some RPG stuff into the mix. Unfortunately as I’m all over the place with gaming, it’s hard to capture an audience, especially as folks seem to have a primary interest in RPGs. I just have to accept I’ve slipped into being a tiny blog about gaming. And I’m okay with that.
Say you want a stocking stuffer for your significant nerdy other, or want to give a small gift to a gamer pal. Litko makes quality plastic acrylic game tokens and other miscellaneous game items, offering a great gift for them. A long while back I made no bones about my preference using tokens and markers around the table. Having a tactile marker to represent a condition, bonus, or temporary status is great over just using pen and paper. So I’ve had a long affair of enjoying Litko products for years now. They’ve got wonderful stuff for just about any gamer you’d like to get a gift for.
The wargamer – They offer tons of sets and individual packs for tokens. From command and casualty markers, to range band and blast templates, Litko offers some fantastic tokens and markers.
The board game fan – Litko has branched out and now provides game token sets for popular board games too. Imagine spicing up your Pandemic game with these tokens…
Not to mention some really wonderful X-Wing token and marker sets…
And I’m certain Netrunner players would enjoy having these on the table…
The RPG player – Litko also offers a lot of sets and tokens for RPG games also. You can find lots of tokens to mark temporary conditions….
and complete sets are also available like this one for Savage Worlds.
They offer some more interesting items like paper figure miniature stands…
or markers for indicating which character miniature is holding a torch…
And other bits for gamers – Litko also makes a variety of bases for miniatures and other really clever items like counter dials….
and a variety of portable dice towers which can be taken apart and thrown in a zip lock bag. Perfect for those gaming tourneys.
So I encourage folks to give them a look. Several online retailers also carry their products. And if you aren’t sure about what they’d really like, well just give them a gift certificate instead. Hope folks enjoy the holidays with family and friends (and get some games in too).
Far to the southeast lie the Edgeworld mountains. The furthest range east, south of the gap claimed by the Karagan-Shale dwarven clan is the Gormthal Peaks. This harsh landscape of stone and lava has long been a home to both fire and storm giants alike. For centuries, the giant clans held a loose alliance against the stalwart dwarves that clung to old holds at the base of the mountain range.
However, such a tepid alliance was sundered when the widowed king of the fire giants stole away the storm giant king’s eldest daughter. Such a brazen act, without consul from the father for a blessing (and more importantly, a sizable dowry) was deemed an irreverent insult to the storm giant clans. A great war was taken up that raged on for years. Decades later it still goes on, but no longer are great battles fought. Instead small skirmishes continually break out among their borders, primarily from young giants seeking to make a name fighting their enemy kin.
Such a war among these great beings has taken a severe toll on the landscape. Gormthal Peaks was always dappled with volcanic rock. However now the mountain stone is gouged with deep burning slashes and lava exploding into surrounding soot-choked air. As an answer to the continual gouts of flame and lava, ever rolling dark clouds billow above, arcing lightning and expelling frequent bouts of acrid rain.
What forced the fire giant king to do such a reckless act? None can state with any authority. Some claim that the storm giant princess was claimed without her consent and is still a prisoner within his fiery halls.
Other more bardic tales weave one of forbidden love. The princess knew that her father would never bless their marriage and no dowry would ever satisfy her father’s greed, so she herself spirited away to her lover. So enraged was the storm giant king, that he struck out at the fire giants, claiming he was wronged. Better to fight a war than admit the wounding of his pride, that his very daughter sought true love over family honor.
With war brings opportunities for some. Those willing to make the long trek and face the harsh wilds teeming with vile monsters may find some employ among the giants. Each side is always in dire need of reports of troop movements and activities among the respective war councils. Such efforts of espionage is best done with smaller folk and outsiders. While wary employers, known for wicked deceitfulness, some mercenaries with more neutral philosophies have found work aligning themselves with one giant faction.
Such open employment is looked down on very harshly from the neighboring dwarven clans. However the dwarves have been known to also recruit outsiders to play the part of mercenaries for the giants. Adopting this facade some have done greater acts of subterfuge within the giant holds, most secretly pass information to the Karagan-Shale clan on the activities of their giant enemies. This work is a dangerous game, not only risking the perilous wildlife within the mountains, but also the wrath of the giants if such a betrayal is discovered.