JP On Gaming

Monday, April 30, 2012

Pathfinder Society Fundraiser report

This past Saturday, Enchanted Grounds (EG) offered (almost) all of their table space to hold a massive, all-day, five-table PFS extravaganza! I'm am continually amazed at the kindness and heart of the gaming community. Today, I'm posting a HUGE shout-out to "my" own Rocky Mountain Pathfinders.

A few weeks back, I heard that three of our outstanding numbers: Josh Burke, Sean Clark, and Jason Reynolds were going to participate in a 150 mile bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation on June 30-July 1. Riding from Westminster, CO to Fort Collins, CO (and back). Something which I have to say is an impressive feat.

Jason and Sean offered to run PFS games to help with their fundraising activities. At first, I thought of running my regular event in the Colorado Springs, take donations and add what we gathered into a big pot. Sounded like a plan. As the event drew closer, I found myself wondering if it wouldn't be a better idea to make one HUGE event instead. I talked to Jeff (EG's owner) about merging the event, and so we did.

I took the decision of bringing my peeps from Colorado Springs up to Highlands Ranch (south Denver) for the day. Road trips with a bunch of gamers have always been something I enjoy: from the trips (such as the mini trip to Amiens, to the road trips for LG), to the "bitching at things" conversations, to sports, I have to say that I really, really have a good time. This was no exception.

I got to play "From Shore to Sea", another GREAT module by Brandon Hodge, who I have to say is HANDS DOWN, my favorite author for Pathfinder Modules... Sean was my GM. I'm a big fan of Sean's laid-back easy style.

Now for the real goodies. I MUST give a HUGE shout-out to my overlords at Paizo. They provided a myriad of products as giveaways: (doing this from memory) Core Book, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Magic, the Inner Sea Guide, and the FULL Second Darkness Adventure path. Jeff at Enchanted Grounds went above and beyond, offering a free mini to everyone, gift certificates (which Todd and I shared as we bought a raffle ticket together) and a D&D dragon set! I added a small contribution to the pot: I offered to paint 3 custom minis for winners, to help and support the event.

I now owe a paint job to: Martin Blake, John Foye, and Matt McConnell. I have to get to work.

The total amount raised for the day reach 509$!

I think all of us were -pleasantly- surprised. In all, a great day, only black cloud was the lady serving lunch who took forever to take orders, bring food, bring check and take our money... But that's nothing to do with EG or the game day itself.

I have to thank everyone who donated; Jeff for the prize support and offering the table space; Bill and Jacke who served as our MCs; the GMs who offered their time and skill to make the day successful; Paizo for the awesome books; and the players who gave generously to the cause.

As a player, I have a special thanks for Sean and the table of crazis we had. Good times.

Now it's not to late to donate to Sean and Jason's fundraising. efforts, you may do so directly on the MS Society's pages Sean's fundraising site and Jason's fundraising site.

Thanks again to everyone involved!

I'm proud to be the Venture-Captain for Colorado, especially when I get to report awesome news like this. Thanks RMPathfinders... You ROCK!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Organized Play People: Talking to the Admins about GMs

When I started this whole thinking process few weeks ago, I had an idea and I wanted to see whether my master plan could be applied to all products. However, as the conversation evolved and more input was added to it, what I came to realize was that with the variety of organized play campaigns out there, nearly every play style was catered to and the variety of systems and campaign goals was pretty wide.

Now, different campaigns mean different strokes for different folks, and the can only benefit the community in the end. By making a comparative presentation, it is my hope that you, my readers, can find and promote locally the OP campaign that you prefer. We talked about Organized Play in a manner that was system-less, focusing on game play and what GMs were allowed, not allowed and methods of empowering them to allow them to shine.

This conversation took place between the following people appearing in alphabetical order. Many of whom you will recognize from previous chats on this blog, and a few new faces. They are all known faces and names in the field of Organized Play campaigns.

Teos Abadia (Ashes of Athas) Interview

Jay Babcock (Living Divine) Interview Part 2

Kitty Curtis (Legends of Arcanis) Interview Part 2

Cory Mills (Legend of the Five Rings) Interview Part 2

Steven "Bull" Ratkovich (Shadowrun Missions)

Pieter Sleijpen (Living Forgotten Realms) Interview (with Dave Kay, former campaign admin)

James Stepanek (Serial Pulp) Interview

When I started this whole thinking process about two weeks ago, I had an idea and I wanted to see whether my masterplan could be applied to all products. However, As the conversation evolved and more input was added to it, what I came to realize was that with the variety of organized play campaigns out there, nearly every play style was catered to and the variety of systems and campaign goals was pretty wide.

Now, different campaigns mean different strokes for different folks, and the can only benefit the community in the end. By making a comparative presentation, it is my hope that you, my readers, can find and promote locally the OP campaign that you prefer. We talked about Organized Play in a manner that was system-less, focusing on game play and what GMs were allowed, not allowed and methods of empowering them to allow them to shine.

This conversation took place between the following people appearing in alphabetical order. Many of whom you will recognize from previous chats on this blog, and a few new faces. They are all known faces and names in the field of Organized Play campaigns.


Although in different ways, everyone agreed that the goal of this is to provide a fun experience for everyone involved. The how varies, but that is the obvious end goal. Talking with these guys really bring out their passion and really makes for a dynamic conversation to say the least.

Everyone strives to make their campaign unique and successful. This is where I see a lot of variety and really opens makes it so that we - the players - get to pick and choose campaigns we like best.

One thing that came up multiple times was the "GM who ignores whatever is written" and run his own version, completely ignoring the adventure. This subject was heavily debated without a solution that really satisfied everyone. Although this happens in every campaign, I believe that this is the minority, that most GMs do a good job or running and keeps changes to a minimum and keep closely to the written script.

The Two Parts

Two elements really popped that I think we should separate that in their own word, every campaign administrator separated.

First, the Fluff, or the story itself has almost everyone agreeing that all major story points should be kept unchanged, or altered as little as possible. These points, in campaigns that focus heavily on a bigger story (I'm thinking of Living Divine and Arcanis), can really hurt the campaign (and the player's involvement) if the PCs fail to learn or experience a critical event.

Second, the Crunch, the crunch or system-specific numbers (things like hit points, armor, number of monsters) see more versatility and GM freedom. Some campaigns prefer to keep it simple: run as is; others give GMs near total freedom while a third group provide the GM with guidelines on how to adjust (either in the adventure or in their campaign documentation).

But don't take my word for it. Here is what THEY had to say about it.

Steven "Bull" Ratkovich

The general position is: "In the Gamemaster we trust". We have to put our faith in our GMs to do what is best for the adventure and for the players sitting down at the table. And if that means changing things up to handle whatever the players bring to teh table, so be it. At the end of the day we want to provide a challenge to the players, but we also want them to have fun. And if it's not fun, then we (both the Gamemaster and the Missions development team) have failed.

Our guidelines are simple.

1. GMs should hit all the major plot points in the adventure, even if they go "off book" a bit. Seasonal Missions are designed to be complete adventures by themselves, but they serve as part of a larger storyarc as well. So we encourage GMs to play out all the major events, so that players don't miss out on anything.

2. Players get a Debriefing Log at the end of each adventure that the Gamemaster should sign. on this Log the GM should note anything major that happens "off book", so that later GMs can see it and incorporate it (or at least know that the GM really DID let them steal an attack helicopter).

Teos Abadia

We ask DMs to stick to the adventure's plot and to not rewrite the adventure (don't put in new encounters, don't change the monsters, etc.) but you can play with how many monsters you use, etc. In AOA the text of the adventures really allows for whatever is fun - that's the real goal. If it isn't pleasing your table, don't do it. We expect home play DMs, for example, to often hack up the adventure and do different things, and that's ok. We see pretty wide improvisation at cons, which is cool. Because in AOA rewards are specifically tied to the adventures and chapters (you level every chapter, you only earn what is specifically granted) anything else they do is just for fun.

With Ashes of Athas we took DME a bit further (than LFR) by more formally writing it into the player and DM guidance documents, plus making it clear in each encounter that the DM can make alterations for fun. We do this by first stating the intended challenge level of the encounter, then suggesting various things DMs can do, including several suggestions to scale the difficulty. It becomes really clear that it is up to the DM to create fun play. We're very happy with how it has gone and continually increase this aspect. We have recently had adventures where there is mapless combat and the DM is encouraged to play around with the particulars, for example. So yes, our DME policy has absolutely been something that influences our design and that of our authors.

Kitty Curtis

Arcanis has judge empowerment and common sense. Stat-wise, do whatever is going to be the most fun for the players. If the players are going to completely wipe out an encounter which is clearly supposed to be a challenge, and the group really enjoys combat, the judge should ramp it up. If it was supposed to be a routine encounter, but due to mustering they are having a hard time with it, the judge should bring it down. This is stated explicitly in the core rulebook, the Bestiary, and our Campaign Guide.

Plot is where we are sticklers, especially in our core story line. The core story line has a *lot* of foreshadowing, but some of it is pretty subtle, so a judge who hasn't read the entire story arc isn't necessarily able to tell what can be swapped out.

Jay Babcock

Living Divine is particularly niche, and all of our content is heavily vetted to make it uniform with where we want to be. When a player sits down at one of our tables, they have a reasonable expectation of what they are getting. I find it makes our crowd of 'customers' smaller, but happier overall.

A judge at any given table doesn't know all of our intentions, our symbolism, the history and content of every scenario. It's just not possible. If they start improvising a whole new scenario, they're likely to break some of that. To this end, our Gamemaster Guide lays out what we expect: If it's in the scenario, play it as is. However, there are section of the scenario that are left intentionally skeletal (for instance, you're at point A... get to point B, then point C). Those are for you to improvise. Just don't mention mimes and clowns, or energy drinks, as their appearance is tied tightly into our symbolism.

One of the big things with LD is color. Color *never* appears in an LD scenario, unless it is meaningful, and only in the context of living immortals. If the text mentions two NPCs having a staredown, one dressed in all white and the other in all black, there is special significance there. Now, traditionally, that would be a good guy and a bad guy squaring off... but, in our world, white signifies control, and black the unknown... so, that's more likely the current ruler being challenged by an unfamiliar opponent.

Now, if a judge starts adlibbing, and adds in all sorts of color references, that breaks down. It implies meaning that isn't supposed to be there.

Combats: the biggest problem is again, a lack of knowledge about our intent. A judge may see a combat against a squad of stormtroopers as life-threatening, and may softball it, so the PCs don't risk death. But what if the point of that combat was to convince them to run when they later run into a larger group of them?

Pieter Sleijpen

For me, the biggest argument not to meddle too much with actual fights is that sometimes players like to brag a bit/feel rewarded for their choices (especially when they are niche choices) and modifying fights on the fly to get the proper challenge does invalidate the choice of players somewhat. Hence I pay close attention to why something is making something particular easy or hard and how much influence players have over those factors. It is one thing to keep things as is when the players lack burst attacks with a home group that always play together, but another when you are running that same adventure during a convention for a last minute table where two people joined so that 3 people with a ticket can actually play. Making such judgment calls at a convention is hard though, and in that regards, I seldom make them since chances are that indeed the designers/developers did a good job at their intended challenge level ;) Still, each time I hear a DM tell he dazed the same PC over and over because he kept rolling that 5 or 6 on the recharge dice and that PC was known to be the most effective to the monsters I cringe.

Now that I gave my personal opinion. The official opinion for LFR is not too different, but there are rules in regards to what can and cannot be changed (you can find those on-line btw). You can add/remove existing monsters, you can definitely play around with tactics. You cannot redesign monsters, or add new monsters (whether as an addition or replacement).

It should be noted that even though GMs abusing DME are relatively rare, it is apparently common and extreme enough for two major organized campaigns (LFR and Pathfinder) to change their rules and take a stricter stance. In LFR the reason was definitely that a few people did some very extreme things at large public conventions that forced us to change the rules.

Cory Mills

I know that basically every GM runs their adventures/modules/encounters/everything differently from every other GM, and while the official modules for the campaign are written fairly specifically in terms of mechanics and interaction, I honestly think that it only matters in the context of the campaign as a whole. Essentially, if a GM completely changes an NPC in a module to fit their table better (or because they have a creative idea, or they don’t get the intention of the NPC, or for whatever reason), it only really matters in as much as that NPC may appear in future modules. It is highly recommended that the GMs make clear to the players after the module any changes that they made, so that the players understand what the rest of the campaign is dealing with, but I don’t think it’s possible to police every single table. And, as much as I would love to, I cannot run every single table personally, so it is absolutely imperative that I trust the GMs to run the mods for their groups.

Ultimately, if the players have fun, the game is a success.

James Stepanek

Serial Pulp, being rather small has some luxuries that other campaigns don’t have. Our pool of GMs is selected by me, and I know them well. They are all very good, and are capable of dealing with things on the fly. Also the fact that it is a focused RP campaign, with a general sentiment that killing PCs is highly discouraged sets a different tone. All of this means I trust my GMs to ramp things up if necessary but still keep it in line. The modules are generally written with this assumption in mind. Combats are generally written in such a way as to be adapted to party size and composition. Encounters do not have hard scripting.

Given how people build characters (often almost completely combat ineffective), it’s necessary to grant that kind of flexibility to the GMs to adapt on the spot. Were the campaign to be a lot larger, and with a pool of GMs that I would not all know, I can’t imagine it would work. In some ways it’s pretty hard on GMs, but we’re lucky enough to have the people to pull it off. I think part of that luxury comes from how Doyce set the tone when he started the campaign, and as long as someone is familiar with the campaign, they will likely be capable of running it and keeping that tone (given as certain level of GM quality).

A conclusion?

When I started this I thought that we could wrap something up, all agree on something, but the more the conversation went on, the less I believed this could happen. That what works for one campaign may not work for all of them. There is not even big vs small cohesion, D&D vs. Non-D&D settings.

And thinking back on it, that's a good thing!

It means that when you play one campaign, you submit in to a certain paradigm that may or may not apply in another. It gives options. It gives variety. It makes it so new ideas always come into the pool. Organized play campaigns are not one-size-fits all, they are tailored to the personality, likes and goals of their administrators - and their players. While you may or not like something about one campaign, you may find something else to your taste. For example I've been bitching about Arcanis' D12 initiative on which I am starting to come around (but don't tell the PCI people). Similarly I'd like to see Pathfinder Society have a more involved storyline, like Arcanis. But at the same time, it makes me miss those elements and bring me back to them when I play other things.

And that really gives our hobby - and its organized play culture in particular - a unique vitality, a dynamism that is unique in its uniqueness.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion, let's keep the lines of communication open. I found the discussion extremely interesting.

I am very grateful that everyone in these campaign works so hard to bring ME a lot of options to play and participate.

You really didn't think I was that altruistic, did you?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Kickstarter to Free RPG Day: Undying Legacy Of the First Ones

Our first Kickstarter, Undying Legacy of the First Ones to go to the printers before the end of the week! It's been quite a trip...

First came the idea, whereas LPJ and I talked about the idea: I had been pressuring him to get something for Free RPG day, a yearly event that I really like. It give us visibility into places and with people we never got to meet. Get the name of the brand out there, get people to play in our setting.

Second was the design of the Kickstarter project. I cannot claim much credit for it, that was really LPJ's baby. I did say "don't put your ugly mug on the video, let the art speaks for itself. It looks better than you." He grumbled, but agreed. I served as a springboard for ideas, provided a "I plan to have 2-4 NPCs, a number of locations names, and a few things you can " and criticized the rewards.

Third, and the most worrisome, came the Kickstarter... Why worrisome? Because it's always nerve-wracking to wait on funding... It's like waiting on a loan application. Yeah... when you are sitting in the bankers' office, squirming and sweating hoping you'll hear "yes". Followed by elation when you see that the project gets funded. Excitement!

Fourth came actually getting down to business. Writing and development! This is an exciting time... Sitting down, gathering the ideas and thinking what you want to do. There is a lot of things to think about: the adventure must be playable by people who never heard of NeoExodus and provide enough information for a GM to make the world feel alive; the adventure must present some of the coolest elements of the setting; the adventure must provide the number of NPCs and locations for the funder to name; and most of all, the adventure must be exciting and fun to play. A lot to shoulder, but exciting times.

Then comes play-testing, editing, formatting and review, which is where we are right now. I need to give it a good read-through before LPJ sends it to the printers... I away this with trepidation... It'll be a fun adventure I cannot wait to run!

I have heard of a couple of places where NeoExodus will be played and run for Free RPG Day and that is very exciting! If you plan to run the adventure in your local community or if you know of a place where "Undying Legacy" will be run, please let me know I'll post the information here to help promote the event.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

NeoExodus: on the Paizo Store Blog!

It's always great to see when some of the people in the industry that we admire give us some love and recognition. Today, I am just over-excited to see that NeoExodus made the Paizo Store Blog!

I know this breaks my own limitation of "one post a day", but big news like this can't wait...

If you do not yet have your copy of NeoExodus, I have some for sale (if you are in the Denver/ Colorado Springs area), or you can get your copy directly through Paizo!

Click on the following link to head directly to Paizo's blog.

Thanks Paizo!


First Loves: Convention

It was the year 2000, I was young (25 years old), I was single, I was living in Paris and I had never been to a con. I had heard stories of the D&D tournament where the rogue backstabbed everyone and "won". I had heard stories about fights breaking out over the game. In short, I heard of the horror, but never actually attended one.

So that weekend in April of 2000, I decided to bite the bullet, take a few friends with me and attend a convention. A few friends (Stéphane and Marie) were from the city of Amiens, heard of an event there are sold it to me. The event, called "Voyage au Centre de l'Imaginaire" (Voyage to the center of imagination). I let myself be convinced and on that Saturday morning, four of us (Marie, Stéphane and David (aka Déesse, Bibi)), met at the Gare du Nord and our expedition begin for real.

We were a bit early so we ate, did some shopping and then headed to the site.

To my (happy) surprise, it was set in an old chateau. Only a few games were running (we arrived mid-slot), so I stood and watched a 15mm Napoleonic battle using the "De Bonaparte a Napoleon" (a DBX-variant). This was the first time that I met a number of fellow wargamers all gathered together in one place. I was hypnotized and just looked at them play for a long time.

Finally, time came for my own games to start. I played a very awesome Delta Green scenario, a great adventure taken right out of the X-File. I have since run the adventure a number of times, to my own enjoyment. Through the night, I played some Legend of the Five Rings, again a good time. Sunday, I played in a 40k tournament, my first one ever and I placed in the middle of the pack (bad dice suck). But I managed to snag me a tank for my efforts! Good times!

So... How did that con forever affected my views of other events?

First, it had six hour game slots. Yes, you heard right: SIX HOURS. Those were AWESOME. I know this is not the norm in most English-speaking areas (as I was to learn when I moved to Ireland). In that time, I felt like I could play a full campaign and make it meaningful.

Second, it had round-the-clock gaming (though most people retired from 4-8am), as I roamed the grounds and froze my rear end.

Second-A, sleep during cons. That one I spent years not listening to my own advice, but sleep is good. Sleep is your friend.

Third, midnight madness games are great! Unlike organized play where you should ideally remember stuff, one-shots at midnight are very funny... as long as the GM can stay awake. My midnight GM at VCI was awake.

As an aside of interest, while I was researching for this post (remembering), I managed to find a post-con report where they specifically mention me! Woohoo! Check out the post Yes, its only in French (for which I cannot apologize).

To this day, VCI ranks as one of the best event I ever attended. Sure there were others, but you never forget your first love.

Mine was in Amiens...


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Organized Play People: Asking the Players!

JP changes something in the adventureThere has been a lot of talk these past few weeks about GMs changing adventures willynelly. This goes from minor cases: making bigger rooms, adding extra hit points, changing better spells, adding more of the same monsters; to the weird and wacky: changing dragon size/color, changing the setting of a final fight or completely re-skinning an adventure.

I never made it a secret that I tweak and change adventures all the time. Yes, I do.

How can I find a solution that could be applied to all adventures, to all campaigns, to all systems and still be valid? Something that would protect the campaign leaders from backlash, mark unreasonable GMs as such and allow players a chance to experience the adventure in a positive manner without worry that they are playing something completely off-track?

Rather than giving only my own opinion on the subject, I thought I'd reach out to the community for your stories and opinions on the subject. Of course, I have a conclusion in mind, but I would like to pick the brain of the community first. So I have a short questionnaire for you. Feel free to post in the comment of email me directly with your answers.

    Do you have a horror story of a GM who changed an adventure and thing went from bad to worse? (explain)

    One that made a bad adventure into a great one? (explain)

    How far is "too far" when a GM takes and modifies an adventure? (better or worse)

    What elements do you think a GM CANNOT change and must run as written? (if anything)

    What elements do you think a GM can freely change without changing the adventure itself? (I know it sound contradictory)

Looking forward to reading your thoughts...


Monday, April 2, 2012

Origin of Man Funded: Some Time left to go!

Origin of Man got fully funded with 28 days to go! Its such an excited time! This is great news and it gives you a chance to join in and add some additional goodies to the pot!

Yes, you can force me to do stuff for you!

Great news on a Monday morning!


Sunday, April 1, 2012

JP at Spring Break: What I've been doing

In case some of you didn't know I spent spring break taking the family to see my own family, in Phoenix Arizona. There, we enjoyed a number of things: we saw a baseball game (the Rockies got creamed); I played a round of gold with my father (I can now drive); I took the kids to the pool; had a romantic dinner with SWMBO (that's She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed); and spent some time writing and relaxing.

Relaxing you said? I found this delightful relaxation tape I thought I'd share.

I knew you'd enjoy...