Monday Workload 8/15/2016

Oi, where has this week gone already? I wanted to get this up yesterday but didn’t, so this week’s Monday Workload update is going to be on Tuesday. Time is a relative thing, isn’t it? Here’s a peek behind the curtain at Cut to the Chase Games!

  • BF0 Conversions – The next 0 module is BF0, the lead up for BF1 Tower of Skulls, and I’ve got the module written. Now I need to convert it to the various systems. This one might slip into next week, easily.
  • BF2 Polishing – I’m polishing up the development on BF2 (which will also be KS2 for the Kickstarter crowd). I really like this module, and my playtests have been fantastic so far!
  • TG1 Contracts – It’s worth noting that all the contracts for TG1 Lost Temple of Ibholtheg are out, and I’ve already got the maps back from Glynn. The man is a map-making machine, completely amazing. Cover art, interior art, and editing are all underway. Pretty excited about that.
  • YF0 Development – The next series after MEMORIES OF THE TOAD GOD (TG) is going to be YF, so I’ve been getting YF0 ready. What is it? Well, you’re just going to have to wait and find out!

This weekend my wife and I are going up to Duluth, MN, to see the WORLD’S LARGEST RUBBER DUCK! I know. You’re jealous. I’ll post pictures!

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 16 – Celebrity Game Wish

It’s Tuesday! Wait. That doesn’t deserve an exclamation point. Ah well, so it goes, and thus we wind down on Day 16 for #RPGaDay 2016.

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16) Historical person you’d like in your group? What game?

I’ve got two answers for this one, and I don’t think I’m alone in either one. The first is E. Gary Gygax himself, running or playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons. I think that would be rad beyond words, but also very intimidating. What do you say? What do you do? Do you run a typical dungeon crawl for the Gawdfather of Gaming or do you shake it up a bit? I would probably get incredibly nervous.

My second choice would be a game with the late, great Robin Williams. The man was a gamer too! Not sure if he was into tabletop gaming, but I think a game of something like Paranoia with him would just be a hoot and a half. The man’s improvisational skills make him a natural fit for the Referee, but the question becomes could he keep it together enough to run the game for the enjoyment of everyone? I would hope so.

Not much more to say on this one, but I think when I run Paranoia I’m going to try and channel as much Robin Williams-esque energy as I can muster for the Computer …

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 15 – RPG Inspiration

OK, so I fell off the bandwagon a bit for a few days. It was a strong start to #RPGaDay 2016 for me, but the weekend and it’s nefarious plans of “things going on” distracted me. Plus, I started a new regular day job today, so that took up time. Also, Cut to the Chase Games released TG0 Depths of the Croaking Grotto today for six (!) supported systems – 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, Savage Worlds, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Castles & Crusades. It’s a Pay What You Want title, but it’s seen a lot of downloads, which is pretty cool.

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15) Your best source of inspiration for RPGs?

Hands down, the best inspiration I get comes from movies. I love movies – something about being able to enjoy a cinematic escape for 2 hours has always tickled me, especially in a theater. Movies have a way of stimulating my creative juices, so I look to them to get me pumped for an upcoming game or to get out of a writing run for an adventure I’m working on.

But it’s more than just “movies are fun.” I love the soundtracks, which when used to good effect acts as the de facto GM behind the scenes. I love the sets and the costumes and the clear choices that go into many of them (and the baffling choices that go into others!). I love the writing – movies live and die in the script, because a good actor and good director can only make a bad script into a bad movie.

There are many movies in my personal library that I use for inspiration, depending on the game type. Let’s look at a few specifically for the fantasy genre, yes?

Lord of the Rings
The premiere fantasy movie series, an adaptation of a classic in fantasy literature. There’s a lot here to like, that’s for sure.

Conan the Barbarian
“What is best in life?” The classic sword and sorcery movie of the early 80’s, Arnie’s turn as Howard’s Cimmerian is the prototype for barbarian heroes.

Army of Darkness
Admittedly, this ostensibly third movie in the Evil Dead series does NOT fit in with the first two, but it’s ridiculously fun. The original ending, where Ash sleeps too long, does fit better with the first two movies, but the rest of the movie is too heroic. Stick with the theatrical ending.

Hawk the Slayer
I have Knights of the Dinner Table to thank for turning me on to this fantasy movie! It’s bad, but so enjoyable it’s easy to overlook its faults. Its got one of the best cinematic adventuring parties around!

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God
The first official D&D movie is bad and completely misses the point of D&D. The second one swings almost too far in the opposite direction, but it has a pile of interesting heroes that I find it hard not to like. Avoid the third movie at all costs.

Willow
This is one that I grew up with. It’s terrifying, visceral, magical, crazy, and features Kevin Pollack as a brownie! And Val Kilmer as a wandering swordsman! And fuzzy trolls that turn into a hydra-like monster! And actual uses of the polymorph spell! “I stole de babee!”

Ladyhawke
This one I remember for one scene – Rutger Hauer’s knight character hurls his broadsword across the length of a church and impales the corrupt priest! AWESOME!

Dragonheart
It’s freakin’ Sean Connery as a bronze dragon teaming up with a wandering knight to take down a corrupt lord. What more do you want? I recently picked this one up on Blu-Ray and hope to be watching it very soon. Likely won’t hold up to my memories, but who cares? SEAN CONNERY AS A DRAGON!

Adapting WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS to Popular Settings

The WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series puts a band of low-level characters directly into the path of a kobold warlord bent on recovering his race’s lost glory. The modules are out and available for D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry, Savage Worlds, and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and I hope you’ve got your copies, either digital or physical.

In each module I include a section about adapting the adventure to an existing campaign setting, as I’ve tried to make them as generic as possible in order to fit into as many settings as possible. This is both a blessing and a curse – sure, it would be nice to actually tie the adventure into a setting specifically, but then I’m locked into that setting! I’d rather keep things as generic as possible and provide advice on how and where to stick it in the many published settings available.

Hence this blog post! It’s a long time coming, so I apologize for that, but it’s also a bit of a bear to write. I’m going to look at several of the more popular settings, both classic and currently in print. This includes: Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Mystara, Eberron, Golarion, and Garweeze Wurld. Before diving into each one, let’s take a quick look at the key aspects of the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS setting that need to be adapted into an existing setting.

  • City of Cresthill (gnomish city). Featured in WK0 Night of the Mad Kobold, Cresthill was built as a gnome city because kobolds hate gnomes, and I honestly think gnomes get a bit of the shaft when it comes to published material.
  • Town of Ormkirk. A small isolated community that is featured in both WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen and WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold. Out of the way, relatively small, located along a little-used trade route are the elements I’m looking for here.
  • Talon Hills. These are the hills featured in WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen. Rocky hills where kobolds live, seems pretty straightforward.
  • Liverswood. This is a forest with a gnome librarian in it, but ideally it would be a bit away from civilization. Introduced in WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye but also fits in with WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold.
  • Ruins of Silvergaeral. Featured in WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye this is a gnomish city lost in the mountains.
  • Wild Mountains. A generic mountain range that is featured in both WK2 Curse of the Kobold Eye and WK3 Revenge of the Over-Kobold. Ideally would already have tribes of kobolds living in them.

Those are the big elements in the series that need to have analogs of some kind for the modules to work as best as possible. Let’s look at each setting and see what we can connect!

Forgotten Realms

Ed Greenwood’s brainchild from before D&D was a thing, Faerun has seen a lot of love from the official channels for many years, and for 5th Edition is the default setting for the Wizards of the Coast produced adventure modules. There are a lot of places to choose, but for me I would look at the Sunset Mountains and the Far Hills. (Note: I’m using the map from the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting hardcover book.) I know the Realms underwent a lot of changes in 4E and that a lot of those changes were then reversed for 5E, so ultimately I think this area probably still works. The town of Hluthvar, north of Iriaebor, could stand in for Ormkirk nicely. Honestly, I would use Cresthill as a trade city on the River Chionthar between Iriaebor and Scornubel exactly as is!

Eberron

Published as a new setting for 3rd Edition after an exhaustive public search, Eberron is the work of Keith Baker, and in it he blends sword, sorcery, and steampunk into a wonderful mashup of fantasy pulp. Lightning trains, living spells, intrigue, and more adventure than you can shake a stick at can be found across the continent of Khorvaire, and certainly the machinations of a kobold warlord fit right in with the setting’s sensibilities. I would look to Zilargo as a broad setting, and then choose either the northern or southern end of the Howling Peaks (the northern end sits in Breland with the southern end exists in Zilargo). Zilargo is the kingdom of the gnomes in Khorvaire, so it makes thematic sense to choose that area. Ormkirk can be placed as is in the hills leading to the Howling Peaks easily enough, and the history of the gnomes of Silvergaeral can be worked into House Sivis’ own backstory. Liverswood can be placed in the forest south of Reven as well, and I think you can use Tzanthus for Cresthill without any problems. (Note: I’m using the Eberron Campaign Setting hardcover book for 3rd Edition as my source and map.)

Greyhawk

Ahh, the classic. The stomping grounds of Gary Gygax and the original band of gamers in the Lake Geneva area. For me, it’s always held a special place – many of my own home games have been set on Oerth. For the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series, there are a few good options, but the one I would personally choose would be the region of the Cairn Hills and Abb0r Alz mountains, east of Woollly Bay. The area has long been the haunt of monsters and dangerous sites, so Ormkirk can be placed as is on the eastern edge of the Plain of Greyhawk without missing a beat. Likewise, Cresthill can be placed along the Selintan River south of Greyhawk City, or on one of the tributaries that join from the east. Silvergaeral fits nicely into the Abbor Alz mountains themselves, perhaps tracing routes back to the founding of Urnst on its eastern slopes. (Note: I’m using the Greyhawk regional map from the From the Ashes boxed set for my map with updates and references from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.)

Mystara

The Known World of Mystara came about from the Basic D&D boxed set as a generic setting to place all of the adventures in. Eventually, it was supported with a series of fantastic setting gazetteers (13 of them as I recall) each detailing one of the major nations of the core setting. I myself adapted the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series for own home game, so I have first-hand knowledge here! For my game I placed Cresthill on the Windrush River between Verge and Rifflian in Karameikos, and then established a little-used trade route that went west from Rifflian to Luln, skirting between the Cruth Lowlands to the north and the Radlebb Woods to the south. Ormkirk was placed on this route, so the caves were located in the Cruth Lowlands, and I placed Silvergaeral in the Black Peak Mountains. The Lost Library of Liverswood became the Lost Library of Riverfork to the west, just to the north of Black Eagle Barony. It all worked very well! (Note: I’m using the maps and details from GAZ1: Grandy Duchy of Karameikos for the setting.)

Golarion

The base setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Golarion has enjoyed a great deal of support from Paizo since its release. The Inner Sea Reigon (oops, the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting hardcover book had a map and the map is misspelled!) is rich, vast, and varied, and there are near countless placed to set the WRATH OF THE KOBOLDS series. If it were me, I would look to Varisia, which was not incidentally the region focused on by the first adventure path (Rise of the Runelords). It’s wild enough to have all the elements, so I would look to the Red Mountains (east of Brinewall) as the foundation. You can use Brinewall instead of Cresthill easily enough, or add in Cresthill as a sister trade city on the Steam River, and then place Ormkirk south, east of the Velashu River. The nearby Lurkwood could hold a gnome librarian, and the Red Mountains themselves could hide Silvergaeral. In this case, I would move the Over-Kobold’s Castle Kragtooth to the Stony Mountains just to get some breathing room.

Garweeze Wurld

If you know me or have read my blog for a bit, you should already know that I love Knights of the Dinner Table. I think it is the best RPG-related comic on the market, and perhaps the best RPG-related product (certainly in the top 5!). The Knights play a fictionalized version of D&D called HackMaster, which incidentally was actually released as a wacky licensed version of AD&D 2nd Edition by Kenzer & Company, and then updated to be it’s own game a few years ago. Garweeze Wurld is the official setting of the Knights’ version of HackMaster, and Kenzer & Co released a fantastic PDF product detailing the core setting. I loved it, and I actually wrote WK1 Caves of the Kobold Queen to fit into that setting first. Where did I put it? In the Shadlurian Kingdom, north and east of the Fangaerian City States! Ormkirk was originally the town of Talert, and the Talon Hills were originally the Galon Hills. I would keep it the same place Cresthill south of Talert on one of the small rivers. The Galon Hills would also hold Silvergaeral and the forces of the Over-Kobold, so it becomes less mountains and more rocky hills, but that’s fine! (Note: I used the Wurld of Aldrazar PDF for reference and maps.)

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 11 – Game Affect

Lots of stuff going on, both professionally and personally. I can’t talk about a lot of it, but I can say that the contracts are out to the various freelancers for the next full module from Cut to the Chase Games. Work is also progressing on a few 0 modules, which is exciting. But let’s get on with the #RPGaDay 2016 post for the day!

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11) Which game most affected the way you play?

A surprisingly tricky question couched in a simple form. I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but for the most part I’ve gravitated towards the big ones – D&D in all of its forms and Call of Cthulhu being the big ones. And while I love D&D and owe much of my personal experience and growth to it, I’m going to say the game that has most affected the way I play is the original Deadlands.

Deadlands was my first major deviation from AD&D and it opened my eyes in a lot of ways. I first came upon the game on a high school band trip to Chicago, where we stopped at a huge mall on the city’s western outskirts (truthfully I don’t recall the name of it). The mall had a small game/comic shop, and on its shelves I found a brilliantly hued orange book with a provocative image of an undead gunslinger on the cover. I picked it up, flipped it open, and discovered an introduction by THE MAN himself, Bruce Campbell, inside. I purchased it immediately on these merits.

I remember clearly returning to the hotel and flipping through the book, admiring the artwork while my mind raced with the crazy combination of horror and western (and I still love the epithet “spaghetti western with meat!” the book proposed in the short marshal’s section). This would have been 1999 so the book would have been the revised 2nd edition, though I didn’t know that at the time at all.

Deadlands sat on my shelf for a few years, and I think it was the summer of 2001 (after graduation) that I finally dove into the book and mechanics and started up a game. That first session was a bit rocky, and the original Deadlands rules (now referred to as Deadlands Classic) were a bit fiddly. I don’t recall the scenario itself, but I know it was one out of one of the books I had.

I was tantalized and my players were hooked, but we decided to get a few more people together and try it again. I picked a different scenario to start with out of the “Fire & Brimstone” supplement. I think the scenario was called “The Mission” and took place at a Spanish mission where something had gone horribly wrong. We played one night in a friend’s basement as the posse saddled up to figure out what was going on.

That session was fantastic. I pulled the players to the side and described their visions as they explored the haunted mission, which as I recall had something terrible in a well. The game allowed me to tap into visceral horror images and it backed up that feeling with game mechanics.

Deadlands showed me many things. For one, it was the first game I ran where the rules for the GM (the Marshal) were “allowed” to be simple. Voodoo rites, ancient sorcery, black magic, it all used the same simple rules for the Marshal (whereas for players there were different subsystems for hucksters and the like). The game taught me as a GM the basic principle of KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! This would become an invasive part of all my games going forward.

It also married the setting to the game mechanics, and for my money no game has done it better since or before. A deck of cards was used for initiative, poker chips were used as “fate points,” and colored paper clips kept track of health by body part. Sure, things could get a little fiddly, with a character’s Wind going down with every hit, but truthfully I ended up ignoring a lot of the things that didn’t quite work at my table (Wind I just forgot about most of the time!). The game worked beautifully, and it really kindled in me a love of western movies (and rekindled a love of horror movies too!).

I haven’t played Deadlands Classic in a long time, and the company (Pinnacle Entertainment) released a streamlined version of the game called Savage Worlds in 2006 that I’ve been played a lot of over the the years. And Savage Worlds took a lot of the principles of KISS and applied them to the system as a whole, which works very well, but if I were to head back out on that ol’ dusty trail I think I would go back to the classic rules. Savage Worlds sacrifices a bit too much of the grittiness that I fell in love with for a more pulpy feel, which works very well for a great many settings – but for me, it just fails to capture that Deadlands feeling I fell in love with.

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 10 – Game Surprise

It’s Wednesday, and that means it’s Comic Book Day! Huzzah! I’m incredibly fortunate to have a significant other who enjoys comic books just as much as myself (maybe more!), though our tastes differ. What this means is a pull list that, at one point, included nearly all of the All New Marvel titles. But, I’ll be honest, Marvel is relaunching – AGAIN – this fall under the Marvel NOW label, and some of the titles are getting reboots and some are continuing. It’s enough to put a bad taste in my mouth for the whole thing. DC’s Rebirth series, on the other hand, I’m enjoying, even more than New 52 a few years ago. But I’m trying not to go nuts with adding DC titles to the pull list as well.

Enough about comics, though. On to #RPGaDay 2016 Day 10!

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10) Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

Hands down, the largest in-game surprise for me came from my first big, story-based campaign, which I ran in high school. I was weaned on the Dragonlance novels (Chronicles, specifically) and enthralled with the fact that it was a series of D&D modules before it was a trilogy of novels. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? So I put together a campaign setting, Cosmic Forge, and built a story that honestly hit many of the same story beats as Dragonlance.

It was a great time and my players seemed to be invested in the game as well, which made things all the more enjoyable. This was AD&D 2nd Edition, and mages were not a popular choice for characters – they tended not to live past the first few levels and the options available to them at those entry levels were quite limited. But, one of my players – Jesse Towers – created a mage named Maverist. He was the Raistlin character of the group, though I’m confident Jesse had not read Dragonlance – he had just rolled badly for Constitution in this case!

Maverist was a member of the adventuring party that fought dragon armies, elven ghosts, and horrendous monsters, and through it all he was a … well, he was a bit of a dick. Jesse played him as a self-centered, selfish mage who knew he was destined for greater things, and he viewed the other characters as mere stepping stones on his path to power. He was an interesting, engaging character and helped to create a lot of dramatic moments for the campaign.

But the most surprising in-game moment came pretty late in the campaign. I don’t recall a lot of the specifics, but I had introduced the Hand of Vecna to the party as a major relic. Maverist became obsessed with it, and after they recovered the evil relic he volunteered to lop off his hand and attach the artifact to the stump. As I recall the party needed some information that the Hand of Vecna was supposed to possess so this was met with grudging approval from the rest of the party.

The Hand … changed Maverist. I used it to whisper suggestions to the player representing the baleful will of the powerful artifact, and Jesse took to the suggestions with particular glee. Under the influence of the Hand, Maverist became more and more brazen, and seemed to care less and less about his companions. It all came to a head in a small dungeon the party was exploring (the Lost Shrine of Bundushatur as I recall, an RPGA module released by TSR) where some calamity befell the party. When the smoke cleared, Maverist had failed his saving throw and lay dead.

And that’s when the players, sans Jesse, met to discuss what to do. It was a great roleplaying moment – as the DM I assumed the party was going to raise Maverist from the dead. They had the means, and it was another player’s character. It was assumed on my part, and not just because I had more things I wanted to use Maverist for in the campaign.

But the party decided NOT to raise Maverist, and they came together to tell Jesse about the decision. It stands as the most surprising in-game moment that I can recall, and while Jesse understood I’m pretty sure he was very disappointed. I worked later to bring Maverist back as an NPC villain, and Jesse made up a new character, but I could sense a major shift in the campaign at that point. It was thankfully towards the end, and to this day I remember Maverist and the decision made by a party not to bring him back.

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 9 – Ideal Session

Tuesday comes in like a lamb, but will it go out like a lion? Not likely. It’s only Tuesday. What does IT know? Ahem. It’s time for another thrilling installment in the #RPGaDay series!

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9) Beyond the game, what’s involved in an ideal session?

An ideal session requires one thing summed up by two words – player agency. When the players are engaged and feel like their decisions matter, they become actively involved in the events and stakes of the session. For me, this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does everything just works.

For as long as I’ve been gaming (over 25 years!), I’ve been reading Knights of the Dinner Table. I was first introduced to it through the pages of Dragon Magazine, and a high school friend turned me on to the existence of the comic book. I started with issue #19 (Heroes of the HackLeague), which still ranks as my favorite issue hands down, and I’ve been following religiously ever since. I have now every issue from #10 through #234 (the current issue), it being my largest and most complete comic book collection.

Why do I bring this up? Because I have always been envious of B.A. Felton, the GM for the Knights. He spends hours and hours working on his scenarios and his players constantly “thwart” him. I’m envious because those players – scheming Brian, simple Dave, angry Bob, and even pacifist Sara – are invested in the game and the setting enough to come up with in game reasons to “undermine” B.A.’s game. They know the source material, they know the rules, they know the setting, and they use this information to take control of the game, something that B.A. should be doing willingly but he ends up fighting every turn.

Now, Knights of the Dinner Table is a comic book and these characters are ageless specters of a gaming world that (for me) never existed, but they offer ideas on how I can spur my players into owning their decisions and becoming more invested in the game.

One thing that helps, I think, is to provide maps to the players. World maps, specifically, to give them the same sense of scale and proportion that the GM has. This is one of the reasons why I tend to gravitate towards pre-made campaign settings (my current game is a 5th Edition version of Mystara’s Known World). Providing overview information on the nations, powers, and major communities of the setting is imperative as well. Personally, as both a player and a GM I find walls of historical texts about a fictional game world to be uninspiring – I’d much rather see the punched up versions of the current state of affairs, as it’s A) easier to remember and B) easier to convey. Mystara is good for this as there’s a wealth of information and maps available (Vaults of Pandius is a wonderful site for this kind of information).

Anytime I can help foster player agency, even at my own detriment, I will do so without fail.