Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Goblins, Southern Marches Style

Goblins - These short, large-eyed, yellow skinned little hominids are the most often encountered sapient species (outside of humans) in the Southern Marches Microsetting. 

Purpose - I was looking to make a more “real” feeling version of goblins. Early hominids with boundless energy, a whistle and clicks language, and an animistic tribal culture just seemed like they’d be fun to play.  I also liked the pretty obvious Native Americans vs Colonial parallels. Bonus:They also make for an interesting halfling replacement.

Appearance - Goblins stand typically between 3.5 to 4 feet tall. Both sexes are covered in a thick layer of soft, blonde body-hair; these hairs tend to skirt the line between “hair” and “fur”. Their skin has a faint yellowish cast which tans to a deep, leathery goldenrod in sunlight. The toothy grins of goblins show an extra set of canine teeth. Long hands and feet combine with abundant energy to give goblins a springing, loping gait. 
They communicate in a fully developed language of whistles and clicks, and are incapable of human speech. (Humans are in turn incapable of speaking goblin, though both races can learn the other’s language. [Think Han and Chewie as an example of this]).
Though usually grouped towards the southwestern region of Cronnon, individual goblins can be found anywhere. 

Descriptors - Despite being shorter than most humans, the goblins' leaping movements actually give them a quicker pace. With highly tuned reflexes and senses, goblins are well-suited to surviving in a world that’s much larger than they.

File:Nuremberg chronicles - Strange People - Hairy Lady (XIIv).jpg
Strength - 2-6 /10
Quickness - 6-10 /10
Intelligence - 2-10 /10
Manual Dexterity - 2-10 /10
Rate of Movement - Slightly quicker than most humans.

Ecology - Most goblins in the region come from the Blasgraya (human equivalent of a whip-poor-will like spitting and whistling goblin word) tribes. These tribes have been in the area for only a generation or two longer than the New Hope settlers. The goblins ancestral homeland is said to be somewhere far to the East over the “salted waters.” Most of these tribes lead a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer existence. Some particular tribes are violently xenophobic and territorial, but most offer a strange mix of caution and curiosity.

Goblin dietary needs run slightly more carnivorous than the typical human diet. Fattened human-raised livestock is considered a great delicacy. Wild feasts and revelry are common cultural trait between the settlers and the gobos. (Though alcohol tends to be a bit tougher on goblin physiology. Goblin hangovers are terrible things to behold.)

The goblins had natively developed a complex but technologically neolithic culture before interacting with the New Hope settlers. Now the technological level of some tribes rivals that of the settlers (though metal objects remain a relative rarity).

Other non-Blasgraya Gobblins have been very occasionally encountered. These tribes seem to have widely varying cultures and levels of aggression, but all thus far have been similarly neolithic.

Questions? Comments? Cliches? Post 'em Below.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chicken-Bone Nunchucks and other Mysterious Phrases

When I was a history major, some few of my professors would proudly assert that history was the only profession without jargon. This wasn't precisely true, but came fairly close.* RPGs have a wide and varied lexicon made all the more complex by a lack of standardization. This array of new terms can be a bit bewildering  to new players**, but that's not really the point of this article. (Hah! Wasted your time.)

Every gaming group sort of develops their own language over time. I wanted to share with you a couple of weird phrases that get used frequently in my gaming group: "Chicken-Bone Nunchucks" and "Dropping the Wooden Nickle".

"Chicken-Bone Nunchucks" - 

Meaning: Let's quit dicking around and get back to the game.

Origin: It's a damn weird thing to say. It's meaning makes it that much more strange. It all started with a Kender (of course). Several years ago, my wife was playing a gypsy Kender who'd been busily crafting nunchucks out of twine and roasted chicken bones while everyone else strategized. The game derailed into a bunch joking and general bullshit so I declared something to the effect of, "Lets get back to it; I believe you were making chicken-bone nunchucks..." The legend was born.

"Dropping the Wooden Nickle" -

Meaning: To pull one over on somebody.

Origin: This is a pretty recent addition. A running gag in my buddy's Lamentations of the Flame Princess game was that of wooden nickles. This mysterious currency was ostensibly minted by an obscure orcish tribe, which no one had ever actually seen. Nevertheless, wooden nickles kept cropping up in change from vendors and occasionally in treasure hordes. My character kept track of them. After amassing a few, he began to leave them as tips during an information-gathering spree in a foreign city. He'd give his harried victims the worthless chits with overwhelming ceremony and pomp, leaving a line of confused shop-keeps and bar-tenders in his wake.

How's about you? Any good stories and strange phrases to share?

*The only jargon I can think of concerning history centers upon types of history (Intellectual History, Social History, etc.) and microfilm ("twisting" microfilm, etc.).

** Never assume somebody knows what you mean when you say something like "Basic-Attack-Bonus" or "Dex. Check, e'rybody" before you know for certain. It's always a good idea to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monsters Sans Systems

A Method for Sharing Wondrous Magical Beasts, Bizarre Alien Lifeforms, and Disturbing Magical Constructs without Locking Your Creations Into a Single Game System.

In a lot of ways, monsters are the bread and butter of adventure gaming. The very presence of a monster is essentially a reason to adventure. When I was first getting into gaming, I spent hours pouring over the 2nd Ed. Monstrous Manual. The interesting "ecology" and behavioral notes on the various beasts, humanoids, and demons made them spring to life (even more so than the sometimes lackluster illustrations).

Most of us who run games have tried our hand at monster creation. Many of us have shared them with the world in one form or another. When you post a monster in a specific system's stats, you're limiting the monster to people that know that system. Were you to instead just describe the creature in blocks of purple prose (written by an in-setting sage probably), you eliminate anyone that doesn't want to dredge through it to pick up the useful bits. I think I've found a good middle-ground between utility and flavor without system.

The Sans-System Bestiary Format

Name -
 Name the thing. Even if it's only named for the sake of the Game Master.

Purpose - What is this monster supposed to do for the game? Is it only good as an interesting monster-of-the-week or for something more?

This may seem like an odd inclusion, but I find that it's an important one (and will flavor how the rest of the entry is interpreted). What role does it play in the game? Is it meant to be horrific? Annoying (mooks)? Wear down PC's? Change to nature of the game (think lycanthropy, polymorph, patient zero, etc.)? Why would someone put this creature in his/her game?

Appearance - What he/she/it looks like and where the being can be found.

Pretty obvious really, you've got to paint a word-picture and/or literal picture of the being. And due to pun logic, explain where the creature is mostly likely to be encountered by adventurous or investigative types.

Descriptors - Generalized stats and powers for the "monster".

This is where you get into the nuts and bolts of the beast. At the very least, you'll need to describe the creature's physical strength, quickness, intelligence, and rate of movement in relation to an average human-being. From that very simple base, it should be relatively easy to convert the creature to the end-user's game of choice. You might also consider adding categories such as charm, awareness, magical propensity, and manual dexterity as you see fit.

If you'd prefer to use a numeric scale, I'd recommend going with 1-10: One being a practical invalid; five being average; 10 being the best the human form can manage. Again this should make it very easy to shift from system to system. (I.e. ogre or bear strength could run from 11-13; Goblin strength from 4-6.)

You'll also need to list all the special abilities or powers the creature possesses. Can it breath fire? Fly? Does it have thick, protective scales? Yes. Is it a dragon? Yes. Tell us about it, and be specific. Range may not really matter in some systems, but it's important in a fair number of them. How far can the sweet laser-eyes fire? How big is the quick-hardening blob of goop that the alien spits to trap it's prey? How graceful is the lizard-eagle-monkey chimera in flight?

Ecology - How the thing fits into the world.

This would be where you tell us that this is a magical construct, summoned to guard profane artifacts or what-have-you. It's important to know if, what, and how much a thing eats, whether it's a part of nature or ravages ecosystems. Where does this thing come from? Where might it be going?

A long treatise on how the creature's vorpal G.I. tract functions isn't needed (or typically desired), but some context for the thing's existence is.

Other Notes - Anything else that does quite fit in the above-mentioned categories.

I have Example!

Name - The Rekindled.

Purpose - To horrify and surprise players/characters by bringing an explosive twist to the shambling zombie.

Appearance - These reanimated corpses are covered in burns and blackened flesh. As they open their charred lips to cough up a raspy moan, a tell-tale ruddy glow can be discerned shining from the back of their throats. The Rekindled shamble slowly but inexorably towards the living, seeking to tear them asunder. In cooler weather, the flesh of these ghouls steams like a final breath.

They appear suddenly. All the recently dead within a town or village will awaken to monstrous unlife. Wreaking havoc and bringing death, they reproduce quickly. If not stopped in short order, they can quickly fill the countryside.

Descriptors - These are slow-moving but tireless things. Stronger than most men, the Rekindled are capable tearing someone limb from limb though typically they crudely pummel their victims to death. The flesh of these things is hot enough to leave minor burns with only a moment's touch. Even a glancing blow is extraordinarily painful. When they have finally taken enough damage to be slain or if their hearts or lungs are pierced, the Rekindled explode in a fiery blast affecting all within a five foot radius.

Strength - 9/10
Quickness - 2/10
Intelligence - 2/10 (They magically can sense all living creatures within a dozen yards.)
Rate of Movement - 1/2 That of a normal human.

Ecology - These fell creatures are the creations of wicked deities or baleful nature spirits (bleak sprites born of forest fires and drought). They have no place in the usual order of things, and animals flee from the Rekindled's presence.

The Rekindled are usually tied to a specific talisman, often an ornately-carven, smoke-billowing skull. Once this cursed item is brought into a town, all the recently dead within the town's borders spring to unholy life. When all animal life has been forced from the community, the talisman's area of influence grows by approximately 1 mile a day, up to a 50 mile radius. Only when the talisman is destroyed, will the plague of fiery undeath cease.

Other Notes - Enjoy.

Thoughts? Questions? Dirty Jokes? Post 'em in the comments.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Blog Carnival: Prepping for a Campaign

This month's RPGBA Blog Carnival Hosted
by Evil Machinations
There's oh so very much to be done! There's oh so little time! There's no way to be certain anything you write will see any actual game time! Welcome to Game Mastering.

Campaign Preparation/ Management is such a broad topic that some excellent fellows took the time write a whole damn book on the topic. There's quite a bit out there already so I intend to keep this one pretty simple.


My haphazard advice on the topic, under the guise of a FAQ list. 

1) Where do I even begin? If inspiration hasn't yet struck (or hasn't taken me very far), I like to start with a map. Sketching out a rough map of where thing's will be happening really whets the creative appetite. Whereas, staring wistfully at the blinking cursor in a word processor or gazing forlornly at blank page will do nothing to help your plight; drawing should come pretty easily (even while not necessarily looking pretty). 

Draw a shape. That's the island or continent or county or city or space-station in which your game takes place. Toss in a row of carets (^). Hey look mountains/hills! Draw squiggly lines from the mountains to the edge of your shape. Hey look rivers. Cities really ought to be found near those. How does this city feel about that city? Well, they're at war... Or, draw a geometric shape. Hey look a capital building or a fort or a command station. Draw a straight line to another shape. That other shape is the docking port or bazaar or something... You get the idea. Just start drawing and inspiration will come. (Alternatively you could randomly generate a map.) I find that once I've got the stage set, the rest of the creative pieces sort of fall into place.

Of course not everyone's mind is as spatially motivated as mine. My more general advice would be to do something. Start researching something. Start making yourself a list of NPC names to use for on-the-fly reference. Ask your potential players what sort of game they'd really like to play. Action begats further action.

2) The players are just gonna screw it all up: how do I plan anything? I've written some advice on this topic pretty recently. (Go on, read it.) Start the process by painting with a broad brush. Make a sweeping list of Definite and Maybe events/obstacles that'll be happening across the campaign. You may be inspired to toss in a few It Depends bullets, but try not to focus on those just yet, not until you have a better feel for the characters. Beyond that, I'd just recommend that you not heavily plan more than one session ahead. Plotting a campaign is a very volatile and mercurial process. Expect explosions.

3) I'm an adult; how do I run that super-mega-epic aeons long campaign that ain't nobody got time for? The short answer is that you don't. As adults, free-time is often a scarcity. Peoples' schedules change. When you're responsible for more things, commitments more often clash. Roleplaying (important though it seems) will usually play second, third, or seventh fiddle to the rest of life. That's why I typically shoot for a six to ten session mini-campaign. With everyone's ever-changing availability, you're far more likely to come to a satisfying end with a shorter game. I'll take a really good one-shot over a half finished epic any day.

4) What about [really specific thing]? Google it. Ask a friend. There's a metric shit-ton of RPG advice here on the interwebs. You might try any of the sites from that list of Roleplaying Resources there on the top right of this page.

Well that's all I've got for the nonce. Do feel free to post any questions, reactions, or trollings in the comments below. 'Til next time, may you roll max crits in times of need and bewilder your Game Master at every turn (Don't worry. You will.).

Saturday, August 10, 2013


At a fundamental level, all human understanding boils down to differentiation. Classical Logic can be reduced to the axiom that something cannot be itself and something else at the same time. An apple is not an orange. An apple is neither an orange nor a grape nor a penny nor a cinder block, etc. This apple is not that apple. This is a dolphin because of these characteristics therefore it is not a human being. Thank you sincerely, Aristotle, for all that is Western Civilization.

For this to work well, everyone has to agree on what properties define a category. You can use your senses to immediately understand where one object exists separately from another.* (This orange is not that orange nor that rock nor those leaves nor the breeze nor that orange blossom, etc., ad nauseum.) Yet, there exists such a stunningly large potentia of possible properties which objects hold that there is bound to be some slip in categorization.

So, that then brings me to my particular point, what is the defining line between fantasy and science fiction? Genre is an especially nebulous classification. I'm curious as to how everyone else breaks this down.

My Thoughts:

Magic is at the crux of the issue. Science fiction should fundamentally be centered around scientific discoveries or potentials extrapolated forward. There is no magic in Sci-fi. I define magic as something beyond or outside the natural world. Fantasy has magic**. It seems pretty clear cut, but it isn't.

Take Mr. Lovecraft; are those crazed cultists and grimoire-reading wizards practicing magic or taking advantage of certain extra-dimensional properties of the universe (no different than taking advantage of leverage)? Does that make them technicians and engineers or priests and magi? Is this sci-fi or fantasy? Sci-fantasy***?

The answer varies depending on where you prefer to draw the line(s). I'd have to say Sci-fantasy, simply because Mr. Lovecraft's speculations often had little to no scientific basis and his speculations were quite (purposefully) wild. Though an argument could be made that his stories are perfectly sci-fi in light of quantum mechanics and how little we know of the universe at large.

I once had a setting that at surface was pretty standard fantasy. There were swords and kings and fallen empires, and it certainly wasn't set on earth. Still yet, there was no actual magic. The closest thing to magic was the ability of certain mentally ill individuals to instill extreme emotions in others. This occurred within a range of around 20-30 ft. and required the instiller to be in a trance-like state. I was inspired to create this power based of some interesting studies I'd read concerning the nature of mob-mentality. In my opinion, this setting despite all the fantasy tropes is firmly science fiction.

What're your thoughts on the matter?

* Yes, I am aware of quantum physics invalidating our petty human senses. However, I would argue that through that morass of probability waves, uncertainty principles, and unfed cats, there still exists fundamental differentiation. Even though said differentiation is in constant flux, I expect that all this chaos averages out to this human-level reality we all experience.

** Magic to my mind necessitates dualism.

*** Exploration of scientific technology existing alongside mystical forces: Star Wars, Rifts, Shadowrun, Etc. Technology is often at odds with magic. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Several Things Come Together

Close to the beginning of this year, I participated in +Gnome Stew 's New Year New Game Blog-Carnival/Challenge/Exhortation.

tl;dr I bemoaned the fact that I'd played too few systems and outlined a half-assed plan to fix it...

Well, the half-assed plan is going swimmingly and has managed to connect with something else I've done. I ran my first session of both the Southern Marches microsetting and the Savage Worlds ruleset.

The Southern Marches setting was a success. My players took to it's peculiarities quite well. I followed my own advice and ran a game out of the God's Tree settlement, with the PCs being a part of the workhouse crowd.

They were an odd part of the workhouse crowd, though. A goblin and an apothecary whose combined skills essentially made them surveyors for the region. This meant they didn't get work particularly often. This also meant they were currently on their last crock and soon to be starving and sans shelter. That's an excellent state to be in for adventure.

There they were, drinking too much cider and eating too many apples, when they were made an offer they couldn't refuse. Bad decisions were made. Loot was looted. There was a fair bit of fighting and some running away. Ancient, forgotten gods were awoken. Fun was had by all. Now on to a mini-review of Savage Worlds.

Save Worlds is, at it's core, a pretty simple system, but it does have lots and lots and lots of options. I managed to avoid many of them by simply pregenerating characters for my players to chose from. The actual game manual is well laid out and  easy to use. I could keep most of the basic rules in my skull after a few read-throughs (a huge +).  My wife (who hates making characters and learning new systems) actually enjoyed the system/game. She particularly liked the way that Hindrances were at the forefront of the characters. This guy was there too.

I did, nevertheless, forget how healing worked. When I had to quickly look it up mid-game, the rules I needed were split between two different sections. Irritating but easily remedied via the index.

All in all, I like Savage Worlds. It won't ever be my system of choice, but I do see why so many people adore it. It is fast, furious (though curiously thorough), fun. Now it's on to a few more sessions of Savage Worlds before we try out The Puddle with these same characters. Then, weirdly enough, I feel a game of Hellcats and Hockeysticks coming on...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tools of the Trade

The things I use for my favorite past time.

 I've always found it fascinating to discover how different people go about doing the exact same things. A meal can be something yanked from a paper sack and casually wolfed out of hand while driving to work; it can just as well be something intensely formal with multiple courses, damask tablecloths, too many forks, and a great deal ceremony. There are many, many ways to accomplish the same task. 

In the past year of looking through rpg blogs, it's been interesting to see how other people play these games and what they use to do so. As an added bonus, I've gleaned a number of useful tricks, tools, and insights to make my games better. Hopefully you've found my ramblings equitably worthwhile. 

In that vein, what follows is a simple list of the things I use to run/play rpgs and a look at how/why I use them.

5 x 8 Index Cards - I love my index cards. The 5 x 8 size is perfect for encouraging brevity while still giving me plenty of room to bloviate via pen if the mood strikes. Important NPCs and Locations typically get their own Card. I try to always keep a list of common names appropriate to the setting on a handy card when I run a game. Sans that list I tend to accidentally give NPCs names that all start with the same letter (weird, huh?). I've got a straight through printer so I can print custom character sheets and other things onto index cards as I please.
Index Card Notebook - I've taken to carrying a small notebook composed of several index cards folded and stapled together. It's really been quite invaluable; whenever an idea strikes, I have only to draw the notebook from my back pocket and lock the idea into permanency via ink. This impromptu recording device is actually sturdy enough to withstand the pressures and heat of my ass. Additionally it divides itself into two sections while leaving one both lined and unlined pages. Hende! 
Half-Sized Binder - My half-sized binder binder fits neatly into my gaming file box (see below) and has color coded pockets to organise my many index cards. Plus I stock it with half-sized graph paper that can easily be glued to the back of a Location index card. Yay! Organization! 
(In theory I am quite organized. In reality I'm just a bit sloppier than this list may imply).
Graph Paper Notebook - Whenever I've got a map that's just too big for 1/2 sized graph paper, full sized (8 x11) graph paper comes to the rescue. The much abused tome of dungeons, maps, blank pages, and half-assed session  notes has served me ably for many a year.

Google Docs, One Note, and/or Custom Printouts - I use a fairly random combination of MS One Note and Google Docs to create the bulleted lists from which I actually run my games. These session controllers, for lack of a better term, are essentially lists of things that will happen and things that might happen  in the general arena in which the campaign takes place. I also use some publishing software to create custom player handouts and forms to help me run larger, more complicated fights.
Fancy, Custom, Poorly Repaired Super-Clipboard -
"What's the trouble with clipboards?... " 
"Not Enough Clips!" 
"Well that problem has been solved for the low, low price of DIY..." 
Basically, I took a regular clipboard and glued some plastic clips* onto it: one on the opposite side of the normal clip and two on either side of the bottom. Four places to clip some shit to this board! Two NPC Cards on the front with the session controller held behind them and two Location Cards on the back with world map behind those? Yeah Super-Clipboard can do that! or whatever combination of up to six or so elements is the most useful.
I also promptly broke the clipboard shortly after I made it so there's a fair bit of duck-tape involved too.

*I used some inexpensive little clips designed to hold pictures up on cubicle walls.
Dice Boxes - True to form in the punk-rock, DIY spirit, my wife and I both have customised our dice boxes. Mine is cigar-box sized with a sliding lid. A little india ink, some copper spray paint, and a crude stencil were all it took to make me happy. My wife's far more bad-ass (and glittery) coffin-shaped "bonebox" took a bit more doing. I elected to forgo the felt and wrap my dice in a jacquard-patterned handkerchief (like jewels hidden in a boot).

File Box - Finally, it's a simple explanation. I use a slimline file box with some hanging folders to hold character sheets, handouts, session controllers (as if the GM can control a session), and gaming books (or my kindle) leaving enough room left to cram in all the rest of the crap I mentioned above. 

End of List

I hope that this has been helpful, illuminating, or at least entertaining. 

Until my next esoteric rambling, may you roll max crits in times of need and find not d4s with your feet!