Thursday, June 27, 2013

Previously on Violent Media

Here are a few highlights from the 30+ and growing articles I've posted up here. It's like an 80's sitcom clip show but with RPG articles! Well, hopefully it's better than that...

"Rolling With Ones" - Good Advice for any GM (of course YMMV).

"Sex and Sexuality and Dungeons and Dragons" - My views on sexual issues and roleplaying games.

"Why Bother?" - Why I'm doing all this.

"Useful Symbols" - A helpful tool for making NPCs. As an added bonus, to use this table for really on-the-fly, okay-to-be-one-dimensional NPCs, just drop a sing die and see where that takes you.

"Rock and Role Over There" - An article of which I am quite proud. It was written for Gnomestew. If you like it say something in the comments there. I don't care that it's months old.

I like feedback and get too little of it. Which is weird because this is the internet. Typically there's no shortage of feedback (the problem tends to run in the other direction). So if you happen to have something to say on any of my articles, no matter how old, go ahead and comment. It will be read and appreciated.

'Til next time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Actions Speak Louder...

I tend to move around alot as a GM (and as a player).

When I do get up off my fat ass and start acting things out, I can sense my players engagement rise. I don't just tell them how the vicious but slow fire zombies are shambling to attack; I shamble on over and show them. If the PCs are being interviewed by a bored official, I stand in front of the players, slouching, and read off a series of form questions in a nasally, annoyed voice. I might even record their responses on my clipboard. Getting up and showing rather than telling is a simple thing to do (and seems pretty obvious) but it's rarely used.

I get why; it can be a pretty awkward thing to do at first. Being a bear or a troll or a debutant can feel a little silly just using words. Acting like a monster or wealthy teenage girl can feel downright embarrassing.

Pick your battles. Choose the NPCs and situations that you feel you know the best and get out of your seat, move around a bit. Before long it'll feel like the most natural thing in the world. Your players will dial right in as soon as you stand up, and I bet you'll feel more engaged as well.

As always, YMMV.

(In the last two sessions that a good friend of mine ran, I noticed the difference getting up and about can make even as a player. In the first session I got up and moved around pantomiming what my character was doing. The next session, not so much. There was a palpable difference in how much more I enjoyed the first session with all things else being essentially equal.)

Whatever it may be, big fight or a social encounter, physical movement can punch up a scene. Don't forget that hopping around can net the GM more fun, too. Plus, it's better for your back anyway.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mass x Velocity

Walt over at Gnomestew brought up an excellent point. (Go ahead. Do read his article, please.) 

Momentum is of eminent import to a campaign. It's that collaborative energy and excitement that a good campaign just exudes. Momentum feels easy to build when it's happening, is incredibly easy to lose, and seemingly impossible to bring back when it's gone. 

I've got a few thoughts on how momentum is made, kept, lost.

To Build It
  1. Your Enthusiasm is Paramount - Enthusiasm is infectious. If you're excited about the game, it'll be much easier to get your players excited.
  2. Listen to Your Players and Incorporate Their Ideas - People care more about things in they feel they've helped shape. When your players have an idea, try not to shut it down. Even if it doesn't really fit in the setting at all, work with them until it does. You're going to have to be willing to bend a bit to do this. Flexibility is a key characteristic of a good GM. 
  3. Be Upfront - If there's gonna be a big twist or a some central conspiracy, let everybody know up front. Don't spoil the secret by any means. Just let everyone know that, "hey, there's a big twist in this one at some point...", or "this is gonna be like X-files, but weirder...". Let dramatic irony work for you. 

To Lose It
  1. Don't Play - Large breaks between sessions sap the momentum out of a campaign. Life of course makes this inevitable on occasion.
  2. Play Past Everyone's Bedtime - Life often pushes Roleplaying into the late evenings. Stretching a game into the wee hours of the morning can leave everyone at the table tired and disconnected. Do it too often, and it can wreck the fabric of a game. The biological need to sleep will almost always win out against enthusiasm once you reach a certain age.
  3. Turning to Greener Pastures - Losing your own excitement for a game because something new comes along is an all too common problem.

To Get It Back
  1. Remind Everyone How Awesome the Game Is - If there is going to be a break between sessions, send out a few texts or emails about the game. These can be simple, lighthearted  anecdotes ("Remember when Arcaneous cast grease at the brothel house to get out his bill? Hilarious!"); heavy discussions of character growth (How would you feel about your character suffering another personal tragedy? Think it might push her a bit more to the Darkside?); or anything inbetween. Just keep the game in the player's (and your) mind.
  2. Remind Yourself Why You Wanted to Run This - The grass may always be greener on the other side, but something made you want to run this campaign in the first place. Remind yourself why. Has the game shifted? Maybe you can get a little closer to what you originally had in mind. Maybe you can get it a little closer to what you're jonesing for now.
  3. Talk It Out - A frank discussion with your players concerning the state of the campaign can do wonders.
Those are just a few thoughts I came up with this afternoon. There's plenty more things both large and small you can do to build, keep, or lose momentum.

How have you handled these issues in your games?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dads & Dungeons & Dragons

I was raised by my grandparents. Most of my values I learned from them, or I should have. I'm of a nature that I will not learn the meaning of flames until I've been burned. Nevertheless, I had a prime example of what it means to be a man, in the form of my grandfather. He is a thoroughly pragmatic fellow, not in any amoral sense, but rather he faces reality head-on under its terms. Life would have been much easier for me had I learned to do so much earlier. Happy Father's Day, grandpa.

Why would I mention this in an RPG blog?

Oh so many player characters are orphans. They ain't never had no moms nor dads since they can remember. They raised themselves:
a) on the mean streets.
b) in the deep wilds .
c) somewhere even more unlikely.

It's understandable that this happens so often because:
a) it's lazier.
b) being orphaned is a common trope.
c) people are subconsciously channeling the Hero's Journey.
d) everybody secretly (or openly) wants to be Wolverine.
e) All of the above.

The reality is that almost everyone is raised by someone. Ain't got no dad? You've still probably got one or a dozen role models for masculinity anyway. Ain't got no nobody? Really were raised on the streets? Well that older kid down the block and his plucky little youth gang probably served the same role as family.

If you've got a clear picture of who raised your character, you've got a deeper insight into who your character is, what makes him/her tick. It's something you should probably consider for any character you're going to inhabit for a while. Unless you're gonna be the Honey Badger. He don't give a shit.

Happy Father's Day, e'ry body.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blog Carnival: Favorite NPC(s)

This Month's RPGBA Blog Carnival is hosted by Arcane Game Lore.

RPG Blog Carnival LogoThe topic for this one is dead simple, Your Favorite NPC; however, since I am who I am, my article's just slightly more complicated. I'm gonna show you not one but two mephits. Both of whom were very one dimensional NPCs. Next I'll mull things over some more. Only then will I get around to presenting my favorite NPC of all time.

Why? Because I wanted to publically reminisce about all three, obviously.

Setting the way-back machine to the late 90s. Engage. 

Two One-Note Mephits:
Mephits, to my mind, were the very quintessence of Planescape. The obnoxious, little runts of element and vice simply dripped with plot potential (amongst other things). 

Splorch - The Ooze Mephit that nobody liked. 

Splorch was an ooze mephit, the saddest (and smelliest) of the sad-sacks. He was ignored and reviled in equal measure. This fact left him oddly privy to a lot of otherwise private information as he wandered the Market Ward begging for jink. His life goal was to gather enough coin to pay a wizard to polymorph him into, well, anything else. 

Splorch had information that would've made the PC's lives much easier; he would have sold it for a pair of green pennies; and he was fun to play, too. The PC's (of course) ignored him almost entirely. "Pike off, you smelly little bastard," were about the kindest words and the longest sentence they ever spoke to him. Of course, if some little thing left a cesspool smelling stain while tugging on my tunic and begging for coin, I'd probably hate him too.

Myrkek - The Lightning Mephit Xaositect Rioteer.

Myrkek had a knack for causing trouble. He could almost intuitively sense when a tense situation was ready to explode. Then, he'd simply zap in and set off the powder keg. Often he'd kick it all off with a belch of electricity or simply tip over the wrong drink at the wrong table at exactly the wrong time. Many groups of PCs got caught in his riots. Many tried to catch him, but things that move at the speed of electricity don't get caught.

He eventually got a lot more screen time when he became the familiar of a deranged half-elven Bard. Their powers combined yielding fires and fist fights and revolutions, oh my!

Lesson Learned: Player Characters will tolerate chaos but not smelliness. 

Playing Favorites: 

It took me a few days to sort this one out. I came fairly close to choosing the professor from a dimension-spanning real-world to steampunk to cyberpunk game I ran a few years ago. It was a dark, gritty sort of an affair and the kind, OCD (all things must be ordered smallest to largest, left to right) fellow was a favorite of myself and my players. Then I remembered the silent tiefling with the one gold tooth.* (Click Here for 2e Tieflings in 3e/D20 terms, you young, green-blooded berk!)

Fang -  The stoic and mute doorman for Sigil's great dive-bar/dance-hall, the Tiefling's Delight. He never spoke a word for dozens of campaigns. He ejected cambions, pit-fiends, planetars, genies, and humans alike and with equal ease. The Delight was a place ONLY for tieflings and their invited guests. Without the invite, no matter who or what you might be, you did not get into the delight. It wasn't a place for you.

Fang stood at nearly six and half feet of hulking bruiser (20th level Fighter with 18/99 strength), covered in deep-brown crocodilian scales and black scars. He stuck to his enormous fists unless things truly tilted out of control; out came his giant, two-handed sword of the planes. He was a quiet fixture in the background of many, many campaigns.

The first time he spoke, the players nearly jumped out of their skin.

He spent his youth in the Blood Wars, hip deep in the horrors held therein. He eventually got the idea that his people needed a true home. The tieflings, outcasts and outsiders trapped between worlds in a way that makes 1/2 elven angst seem silly, needed a homeland. He attempted to carve such a nation out of many, many places in the lower plains with both his sword and his silver tongue. Failing to hold the land, he grew stronger with each temporary victory.

Finally, a consortium of lower-planar beings banded together and banished him to Sigil. The fools cursed with immortality and the inability to speak until his dream of a tiefling homeland became a reality.

It took him a thousand years, a lot of gunpowder, and even more blood but he eventually got that self-governed homeland for his kindred (500+ yrs past the events of the Faction War). Under his leadership the tiefers managed to carve out a hunk of the Lower and Ladies Wards all for themselves. He died with a smile curled across his one gold fang, the very day the first mayor of Shadow Town was elected.

Good Old Fang, always there with simple shake of the head or a bone-crushing punch.

So in conclusion, I really liked Planescape.

What about you, huh? What is/are your favorite NPC/s?

*Inspired by the They Might Be Giants song "I've Got a Fang".

General Note: A couple of the ideas and some few of the words used in this article are the property of TSR/Wizards of the Coast. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Strangest Thing

What is the single strangest thing you've ever GMed?

It could be some harebrained scheme your players hatched; it could be an off-the-cuff event you had to improvise as the players gleefully charged off the beaten path; or it could be something fully planned. Something that is quite firmly your own fault. My craziest GMing moment falls firmly under the latter category.

You see, more experienced, grognard-type players had told me tales of The Deck of Many Things . I had this image in my mind of a deck of cards that caused craziest magical shit on the planet to unfold. It sounded great in the hands of the right (or the exactly wrong) sort of character.

Then, I looked the damn thing up in the 2nd Ed. DMG: In short it was total, unimaginative weaksauce.

I came up with my own Deck of Many Things. A powerful, if mischievous, artifact crafted by some primordial, chaos-worshipping, mentally-unbalanced wizard.  It was to be an ever-present agent of disorder. The cards didn't go off until they touched the ground and went off where they touched the ground. It was best to be very far away when the cards did their thing. Once the last card was drawn, the deck would randomly teleport to a new location. Sowing weirdness wherever it went.

The cards did truly odd things. Explosions shuddered into existence spraying floral shrapnel. Zombies sprang from the earth and played patty-cake. Shit turned colors, permanently. Hair grew six feet in an instant (really inconvenient most times, really dangerous in combat). Gaping ravines opened up and belched. Stupid, random, chaotic, crazy, rarely-useful things happened. To make matters worse, it was owned by a gleefully insane half-elven bard who tossed the damn cards around like they were going out of style.

It was, I believe, the second card thrown; a chimp in a wedding dress materialised where the card touched the earth. As the characters looked onward in shock (and the players stared at me, slack-jawed), the chimp hiked up his dress and proceeded to masturbate furiously.  A few moments later, it ejaculated color spray, a 20th level ejacu-casting of color spray, all over the PCs. Only one PC remained conscious, to face a gang of still charging trolls, all on her lonesome. I've never heard more bewildered laughing while character's lives hung in the balance.

Well, that's my story. What's yours?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Gratuitous Self Aggrandizement & Some of My Other Interests

When we first start playing RPGs, often our early characters could be more properly termed, caricatures. They are usually quite broad and very static creatures, larger-than-life cardboard cutouts. There's nothing really wrong with characters like that; though, they are inherently limited. In my experience, these flat stereotypes can be very fun, for a time, but soon grow boring or grow into more complex personalities. The surly, impudent dwarf learns hard lessons, teaching him patience and how to keep a civil tongue. The carefree, singing elf learns of loss and suffering; he becomes the sword-singing avenger of the downtrodden. The stoic but kind paladin sees so much wickedness and pain that his mercy dwindles to righteous anger. Even the most stereotypical stock-characters can grow into something more.

As a group, Stereotypes are ephemeral, they evolve, mutate, and generate through time. The stunning irony is that stereotypes as entities are dynamic whereas individually they tend espouse static qualities. (Archetypes are the ones that don't really change.) What then is the stereotype of those in our hobby, the rpg nerds/ enthusiasts/ gamers/ etc.?*

I tend to see them as two basic forms. On one hand, there's the neck-bearded, socially-retarded, overweight, basement-dwelling buffoon. On the other, there's the pencil-necked, superhero-underoos, intelligent-come-ineffectual wimp. (Interesting that necks come into this twice.) Not a particularly pretty picture.

I'd like to do a bit to shift this paradigm. If you've read much of this blog, you've likely noted that I'm a nerd of epic proportions (and am way too into this shit). But that isn't all I am.

I've been working in home décor retail for a while now. I've professionally designed floral arrangements (artificial and formerly-living), done some interior design, and have sold very fancy cookware. I've also thrown a redneck across a pool table, busted noses with my skull, and killed animals for food. I'm well read in literature & philosophy. I love the works of Botticelli, A. C. Swinburne, William Blake, Robert Heinlein, Vermeer, and Ayn Rand. I'm also quite fond of Devo, Richard Hell, the Misfits, They Might Be Giants, and Rush. I'm a pretty damn good cook, and I very occasionally write a fairly good poem.

I've even got some evidence for the last two claims:

© 2012 Edward Lockhart
Tomato and Tarragon Swai Fish
2 Swai Fillets
White Pepper
Black Pepper
Sea Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Small Can of Diced or Crushed Tomatoes
Tablespoon of Tomato Paste
Dash of Sea Salt
Dash of White Pepper
Two Dashes of Ground Marjoram
Dash or two of Garlic Powder
Dash or two Onion Powder
Like a tablespoon maybe of Tarragon
Teaspoonish of Basil
Tablespoon of Capers
Parsley and/or Dried Chives
One Slice of Baby Swiss or Crumbled Chevre (Goat) Cheese
Preheat Oven to 350°. Coat baking sheet with a thin layer of Olive Oil. Lay out the thawed Swai Fillets top down. Salt and Black Pepper the Bottoms. Flip. Salt and White Pepper the Tops. Sprinkle a generous amount of Paprika on top. If using Swiss, break it into thumb-print sized pieces and layer on top of fillets with a centimeter or two of space between the pieces.

Thoroughly Mix Garlic, Sea Salt, White Pepper, Marjoram, Onion, Tarragon, Basil, Capers, and Tomato Paste into Canned Tomatoes. Layer over Fillets. Bake 20-25 minutes (depending on size and thickness of fillets). If using Chevre, bake 18-20 minutes and sprinkle Chevre on top. Then switch to broiler and broil for 3-4 minutes. Remove and garnish generously with Parsley and/or Chives. Let stand a couple of minutes then EAT!

So yes, in short I am an actual person rather than a caricature. I'd like to try to shift people's expectations of gamers & nerds in general. What are you into beyond the typical nerd? Sound off about it in the comments. Sound off about it via social media, too, if you're into all that jazz. #beyondgeek

Who knows, maybe we can get this idea off the ground...

*I strongly dislike the label geek. The performative and derisive nature of it's etymology combined with its unpleasant sound sours me to the word. Though, it does rhyme with chic so I suppose it was inevitable. I much prefer nerd. YMMV.