JP On Gaming

Friday, August 28, 2009

Starting to Write: The Four Questions

You want to write something but are staring at an empty page... You have ideas but aren’t quite sure how to get them to the page. Things collides in your head all at once and you see everything you want to put into you adventure pile up until you find yourself staring at a ridiculous amount of work... How do *I* go from one thing to the next? Don’t tackle everything at once. There are four basic things you need to know and from there you can write pretty much anything. Who are the PCs, who are their opponents, how to start and how to end...

Many of the methods presented below apply best to one-shot adventures but can be used for regular campaigns as well.

Characters first

This method consists of thinking about the characters first and a situation second. Here you have an idea of the cast of characters before you have a clear idea of what you want them to do. This method usually dictates the antagonist.

Let’s take the following premise: "What if Wolverine, Spider-man and Captain America...?" A good opponent for such superheroes would be a villain of global reach: Magneto, the Red Skull or Doctor Doom. Since they are combat-capable heroes, the villain must have minions galore and means of drawing them together. The next questions are: "What is Dr Doom doing and why? Why are those heroes together?"

When writing RPGA adventures, this method is harder to work in, but it can be done. What if the PCs are taken prisoner, or are drafted into the army? While those methods are frowned upon in LFR, I still think they are valid methods, but should be used sparingly. If the PCs are captured at the start of every adventure... Let's not go there.

Opponents First

This method is very similar to the Characters First method but this time you start with a villain in mind. From the villain are chosen the heroes/PCs. What the villain is doing can be changed or tweak, but not who he is.

Let’s use "the Romulans are planning something with an outpost." From there we could have the PCs be members of Star Fleet, Klingon operatives acting in Federation Space, or the outpost residents. "How can the PCs stop the Romulans? How do they know something is wrong?"

Introduction first

This method consists of thinking about an initial situation and going from there. Developing the situation often leads to getting an idea about who the PCs should be.

Let use "The PCs wake up in a van. The van is crashed into a tree and useless, and the floor is covered with bullets." How did the PCs end up here? Why are they here? Where are they? Where do those bullets come from? Who were they firing at? What is going on?

Conclusion first

This time, you come up with a great ending and work from there. I find that this method usually involves thinking about who the villain is at the same time. However until the other entry, what the villain is doing is most important.

The important thing is to keep the ending somewhat open. You can think of a good way to start the scene, but where it goes should be open.

Let use "In the abyss, Baphomet has gathered all the elements to ascend to godhood." The important element here is a confrontation with a being who is trying to ascend to godhood. How can he be stopped? Can a PC "steal his thunder"? Are there others who want to steal Baphomet’s thunder?

The Flip

This "method" is a twist on the others, it is usually not the first thing you think about but something you come to do with any idea. You are thinking about an idea and not finding satisfaction with what to do with it. The Flip involves taking an idea and turning it around. Sometimes ideas begin to flow when doing this.

Let’s use "the Romulans are planning something with an outpost" (from the "Opponent First"). Instead of having the Romulans be the villains, the PCs are now the Romulans! They have all kinds of resources not available to Federation or the Klingons and are willing to use different tricks.

In another example: The PCs must DEFEND a dungeon from a band of tough opponents. Putting the PCs on the receiving end of such an adventure gives a unique flavor to the adventure.

The "M Night Shyamalan"

This is the double-flip, the Flip of the Flip. So you came up with your idea, flipped it and came up with a few things, but you want to really make it into something different. So you flip it again... Like MNS’s movies, this is recursive, so you can keep flipping the idea over and over.

WARNING! Like MNS’s stuff after a while there is no need to flip and flip and flip... It begins to make less and less sense.

Using the Romulan idea, what if the PCs have to take over the outpost, but some of them are Federation/Klingon spies who must try to sabotage the mission. Other PCs might be Tal Shiar agents who also seek to see the Captain fail. Thus all the PCs secretly seek to make the mission fail for their own reasons...


By working the four questions you should now have some elements of your adventure in place and questions to lead you through the writing. The goal of the "Four Questions" is really to get you going and thinking about what you want to write.

If something you have in an adventure makes less sense or changes as you write as you write it, take it out and into a new document! Though it does not fit the current adventure, it might very well be used later in another adventure OR form the basis of something else. It not lost unless you decide it is...


Guild Wars 2 Trailer… FINALLY!

I make no secret of it that I am a Guild Wars fan for a number of reasons… But namely because once I pay for a game, the concept of paying a monthly fee is not something I want to do. Guild Wars costs a bit more to purchase (at least it did when I bought the game in March of ’08) but then you can play as much or as little as you want. My usage has waxed and waned over time, but I still enjoy playing the game to gain more titles or complete some of the hardest quests using my characters (I placed screen shots of them on the Guild Wars Wonderpage.

Guild Wars is a quest-oriented game, so you don’t spend hours fishing or doing similar time-wasting in-game activities just to raise some bizarre stat or skill. So you do quest or farm creatures in short… the fun things.

I know I drew the ire of some people by saying that, but when it’s true… it’s true! I even make jokes about how I “played 4e all evening”. The 4e-MMORPG comparison is not a new thing. I have often compared Guild Wars to a D&D 4e “beta” since 4e runs remarkably similarly to GW… The names of the powers are remarkably similar and the classes are very similar too.

Guild Wars 2 has been announced and talked about for a long time but finally, we see something other than partial rumors or stories of GW2 being pushed back some more…

So there you go… without further ado, the Guild Wars 2 Trailer.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Gameday Organization Roadblocks…

I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by the current rate of registration for the Our Realms game day. In less than 24h of opening registrations, tables are beginning to fill up for what I think will be a unique event in LFR history.
When I came up with the idea, just under a month ago, a number of things went through my mind as potential road blocks. Gamer’s Haven opening hours, the number of DMs who had a MyRealms adventure to run (and those willing to run them in a public setting), the interest of the player base, if anyone would be willing to ride down from Denver, the food situation and a number of other small things.

In short, the potential issues/ roadblocks were pretty big. So I spoke to my friend Lenny “Mr 4e” and he encouraged me to give it a go. So I used the two main local yahoogroups ( and to gage interest. Within 24h, four other guys had stepped forward with a MyRealms and were willing to run it publicly. Within a week, I had 6 DMs (including myself) ready to go...

Then I requested a site at the ever-great Warhorn.Org ( for the game day and began looking to find a schedule that would work. With 6 DMs, I had versatility in setting up my games. I had 3 slots and 4 tables. This would give each DM 1 free slot (so they could play something) or if demand overflowed, we could offer up to two extra tables. Having options is great as an organizer…

Next, I spoke to Rob at the Haven to obtain an extra hour to play. I must say, that Rob & Troy are top-notch guys who go the extra mile so many times. Rob agreed to give us one extra hour (they will open 1h earlier) to run the event.

So this leaves me with some of the questions… Player base interest & Denver riders. Looking at the list right now, the interest is there, I have no doubt. There should be a few car riding down from Denver so that issue is also moot.

This leaves me with one issue… food! There are a few restaurants within walking distance but the schedule is REAL tight for the day… So I’m looking at a few things. Maybe bring in a Grill and fire up some burgers & brats. Maybe order in some pizza for everyone. Maybe call some other fast food place that caters and get everything in one go. I’ll admit I’d hate to have to cut short adventures too much.

So here I am with most of the roadblocks hurdled and behind me with a dilemma and more food for thought (yes, the pun is intended)…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Game system for this historical thing

Before I go into any more details about this topic, you have to know that any game system can support any adventure or campaign you can imagine. The caveat is that you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the game system, and usually try to stick closer to the original goal of the rule set.

In this article, I’ll go over the three options I mentioned previously (insert Link). This post is not a critique of the game systems involved, but it might include partial rants...

Since the game is set in the medieval world, I will narrow my thinking to a number of game systems that use medieval fantasy as their base (no Star Wars or Robotech). I also want the game to be somewhat realistic (no D&D 4e). As an added constraint, I will narrow my thought to systems I enjoy.

I came up with the following game systems: Ars Magica, Basic RPG (which includes Call of Cthulhu Dark Ages), Gurps, D&D 3.5, Wizards and Warlocks, and the World of Darkness.

Ars Magica

The game everyone heard about but never played for any period of time... While AM is set in or around the right time period.
Pros The Grog system allows for a true troupe-style of playing where the PCs could play a large group of pilgrims and their leaders (the Companions).
Cons Ars Magica is an obscure game... Known to all, but REALLY known to few. Removing magic, takes away a lot from the game. The downside is that Companions must shift as focus which might be difficult in the middle of the action.

Basic RPG

I won’t hide that Basic (or BRP) is my system of choice for most home-grown ideas. It is rules-light and very fast-paced. With its emphasis on realistic combat, BRP is a ready-made for this type of thing. For a less gritty campaign, certain special rules must be put in place.
Pros fast-paced, simple rule set focused on what you try to do. It does have rules for allegiance and virtues (from Pendragon). Cons oddly enough, many people associate Basic = Call of Cthulhu and shy away from this great product. Also, the game can be very deadly.


Now I’m not the biggest fan of the Gurps system. In fact... I don't like it. I feel it is outdated and overly heavy for my own tastes. Still, Gurps has provided a LOT of quality
Pros There are supplements for it! Okay. Not for the Crusades themselves, but you can use Arabian Nights, Middle Ages, Russia, Viking and even Fantasy (which is set around the time of the Crusades). So you have plenty of sourcebooks to allow your PCs to travel around. Cons I personally do not like the Gurps system. I find it cumbersome. However others could have different views about it.

D&D 3.5

3.5 could be used, but a severe limiting of classes has to be done: fighters, rogues, barbarians are all immediately at home here, but
Pros The combat system is detailed and covers a lot of options for the PCs. One of D&D’s best selling points is its notoriety. Every roleplayer knows about D&D. Cons The game is really balanced to have magic woven into the system. Removing magic does take away a lot of the fun of the game

Wizards and Warlocks

I’ll admit I never played this one, but I have played a few games of Mutants & Mastermind and found the game very fun and fast paced.
Pros Very much like D&D, but faster-paced Cons W&W is designed for Conan-style, fantasy super-hero games.

World of Darkness

Strip away all the vampires, the mages and the werewolves and you are left with a quality game system whose main strength is that it manages to offer quantify elements most other RPGs leave as intangible through the Background. The Dark Ages line has a number of ready-made
Pros The social system is well-detailed and easy to resolve. The Backgrounds allow the PCs to "know" if they are rich, noble or have friends at the start of the adventure. Cons Some elements of combat are clunky when not dealing with supernaturals.


Any of the systems above could work and support the campaign with some minor changes or house rules but my intent was to keep the rules as close to standard as possible.

A historical campaign is not the elusive Holy Grail or the horrible class book horror many think about when they hear or think "history".

Thursday, August 20, 2009


This article is a response to Andrew Nuxoll's post on facebook that simply read. "I miss LG." I have nothing against Andrew, quite the opposite. His comment got me thinking about how much I liked that campaign. Ever since its demise at the end of 2008, I have been looking for other campaigns I liked as much and though I really enjoy campaigns like Living Arcanis and I am about to embark on the Pathfinder Society adventure, neither of those campaigns fill the void of LG...

So I started thinking about what I liked so much about it and came up with the following ideas.

  • A local presence, someone you can contact who you might meet. Sending an email to someone halfway around the world or at a central location who doesn't reply half the time is NOT a good idea to stimulate interest.
  • Have a storyline where your character can be involved from the start. While players will have diverging ideas about storylines, some will like, some will hate. One thing about storyline is that a player must be allowed to play his character for a number of adventures in a similar location.
  • Do not level too fast. This may surprise people, but I think levelling up too fast is a bad idea for long-term continued play.
  • Do not level too slowly. In reverse, if your character is stuck at the same place, the game grows stable and boring.
  • Always feel you have an impact at least at the premiere of an event or during unique (or interactives). When an adventure has been in play for a year or two, playing it then may not provide that. This translates to unique events like the Gencon Specials.
  • Each Character has a unique path, this means that if I have two characters evolving in the same world, both should have different experiences, one should be able to say "I did the DragonSlayer Saga" and the other "I am involved in the Dark Mines Storyline". This allows for characters to evolve and become different.

    I think LG succeeded in those areas better than other campaigns.



  • Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Ending a module in the Moonshaes

    This article is a sequel to Starting a module in the Moonshaes

    Similar to starting an adventure, I like having an actual encounter to conclude of our modules. Like the intro, it allows me to expand on some themes and have many, clear and detailed section each with its own header. Yes, I’m a sucker for headers and easy to find information…

    If the end of an adventure is simple and does not require much, there may not be a need for this encounter. If that is the case, then the conclusion can be tucked under the last encounter, like most other regions do. However, being a fan of good and more detailed ending, I find that to be a bit short. Many DMs seem to throw the ending at the players with a “you get paid and get the F**K out”. Because a number of Moonshae adventures take the PCs on different paths depending on decisions they made during in the game, copying the conclusion in a number of places makes the text clunky, hard to follow and, from an editing point of view, nearly impossible to update when you have to run through three or four encounters.

    So, the Conclusion "encounter" exists for all those reasons. All the ending boxed texts and Epilog (if any) are kept in one place, all the rewards summary are held in one place and any last-minute instruction to the DM are given here... I STRONGLY encourage any DM running a Moonshae adventure to read those entries to prevent issues later on.

    One of the reason I am so intent on having those section and making sure the DM follows them comes from one event in the LG days where only human or half-elf PCs could receive a wedding invitation into a noble family for their good deeds. All other races could not receive such a reward. I was surprised when this gnome player came to me and said "Wow I never thought I’d marry a human noble!" I hated having to tell him that he was NOT a noble and that he would have to cross off the reward. The player was annoyed at me and at his DM. Had the DM not give him that award, the player would not have been so annoyed.

    Finally, adding a "conclusion encounter" is a good way to easily arrange information for the DM and advance some points of storytelling. But like any boxed text, keep it short, simple and to the point. By that time, most players are packing and begging for rewards and other goodies. Sad thing that good prose is often lost amongst paperwork and minute details (like player rewards).

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Writing Con Games (One-Shots)

    When I say con games, I mean an adventure that is a one-shot, pay-to-play event. Usually an author/DM gets a following of people who attend the con to play his events if his stuff is of good quality. During this article, the terms GM/DM and authors are interchangeable.

    When in 2000, I was involved in the Helios Games Convention in Paris, I approached the event apprehensively. I had attended a single con before. That was the first con where I was involved in some of the game planning/ play-testing.

    The adventure was for Vampire set in Paris using the setting published in the short-lived Chaotic magazine. The Author was my buddy D-S (Petit-Bibi) who had created a pretty interesting adventure where Werewolves, Anarchs and politics all joined together in a tight mesh. As the play-test turned out, we ended in a deadlock. The Prince of Paris played the part of a weakling yet he was extremely powerful. The Players knew this, the DM knew this and in the end some player could not separate their own knowledge from their PCs’.

    I remember arguing with the player who kept saying "have the prince do it, he’s powerful enough". It got to the point where D-S asked the gang for a way to "fix his adventure" thus I started editing things...

    Over the course of the next few years, I wrote, co-wrote and edited a number of adventures that eventually landed me into the RPGA.

    In this article I wish share a little wisdom about what I learned writing adventures for those one-shot con games.

    You are not writing a Campaign

    This one I cannot stress enough. Too many times the Gm puts together a game to recruit players for his own campaign. While a con is a great place to recruit players, there is nothing I hate more than "if you want to know more play in my home game". Do that to me and you are forever marked with the "never again" label. I also will make sure everyone knows not to attend your events.

    Tie loose ends

    The game needs to stand alone. Once the adventure is over answer truthfully any question the players may have about the adventure.

    If you want to write a sequel at a later con, that’s fine. But your adventure needs to be independent and not rely on people having played a previous adventure.

    PCs are central to the action

    This one is mentioned over and over, yet it often seems to be the one that is most overlooked. GMs write adventures to showcase NPCs or monsters and the PCs are incidental in the whole thing. Whether the PCs are there or not, the events unfold the same way.

    The PCs need to feel that their actions have consequences and that they matter in the grand scheme of things and the decision you force upon them influence the world in some way. There is nothing worse than to sit down and watch a movie unfold.

    TPKs are usually no fun

    TPK= Total Party Kill, no survivors

    In a home game dying sucks.

    In a con game, unless you are playing a game like Call of Cthulhu or Slasher Movie, dying is no fun. I generally prefer to avoid this situation.

    Dying with a purpose is fine. "I jump into Mount Doom to destroy the Ring!" is a great end. "We got jumped by random Goblins in the forest" is not.

    Keep an open mind

    You have carefully thought about your story.

    You placed interesting monsters.

    You created a pantheon of NPCs and locales.

    You have planned every step the PCs can make.

    Then the Players sit at the table and come up with something out of left field. Now you force the PCs to follow the one path you thought of.

    Bad. Bad. Bad.

    Game play over game rules

    Here I mean that keeping the story and action going is more important that a dice roll. Here I mean that keeping the story and action going is more important that a dice roll. If you need the PCs to succeed at something, do not ask for dice rolls. Make them succeed and get them to the fun part...


    In a one-shot setting, finishing a story is something I like. It brings closure and a sense of accomplishment. If need be, trim down the adventure.

    Friday, August 14, 2009

    Putting it together: The Historical Campaign

    Enough theory, let’s try to put together a mini-campaign. My goal here is to run a short campaign set in the Holy Lands at the start of the Crusades (say 1100AD). At the start of the campaign, I want to set the basic tone. The King of Jerusalem, Godfrey de Bouillon was crowned last year, is 42 years of age and is currently mounting an army to attack Damascus (he will die on his way back from the expedition).

    Looking at the background, I could see King Godfrey, known to be a very pious man, calls upon a group of servants to perform some task for him. Say… Find a lost scroll believed to have been written by St Stephen, the first bishop of Jerusalem.

    So the main elements for my campaign are: The Crusades, The Saracens, and Other Crusaders. Let’s see how we can use those.

    Option #1: Good Christians vs. Evil Muslims

    A common stereotype is the fact that people in the middle-ages were “stuck” in their life stations, a serf was a serf forever and a knight lived in luxury all his life. In my campaign, I will showcase that the Crusades served as a springboard into nobility for many courageous or resourceful individuals.

    I plan on portraying the Saracens as evil, devious and twisted individuals who seek to kill every Christian they encounter. In contrast, the Christians crusaders will be depicted as highly devout and humble believers in Christ. Those depictions are *FAR* from realistic, but they should serve the campaign well by creating an “us versus them” conflict.

    There you go, I have a theme, a basic idea and immediate conflicts for the PCs to navigate. I also have a basic concept for the players to create characters by.

    Option #2: Shades of Grey

    As another option, using the same premise (King Godfrey sends the PCs to find the scroll of St Stephen), I could decide to display the Saracens and Christians as “the two faces of a coin” where both sides are gripped by zealotry and a number of people manage to find common ground and accommodate each other.

    One of the theme I would like to explore would be the impact such a text would have upon the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Some will want to make it disappear, other want to use it to promote warmongering and yet others will try to doubt the PCs and their claims about the text.

    Here the PCs could be pretty much anyone. They could be Saracen or Frankish peasants, warriors, merchants or pilgrims. This type of “shades of grey” campaign does allow for greater versatility. Like all shades of grey campaigns, be careful that the PCs’ motivation for staying together is greater than the dissention. More on that in a later article…

    Option #3: Inner Politics

    Instead of breaking the stereotype of the serfs being stuck as serfs, I wanted to have the PCs involved in the Byzantine politics (yes, the pun is intended) of the Crusader states. On the one hand, the Pope and the West, the Byzantine emperor (Alexios Komnenos) and the Crusader States themselves. Show that all those influences’ common goal, the taking of Jerusalem, had been accomplished and they now squabbled together.

    Here, the Saracens would serve as a looming threat ready to pounce at any signs of weakness, but the day-to-day enemies are over-ambitious Crusaders.

    Noble PCs, such as knights and ladies would serve the story better.


    There you go… using the simple goal of finding a lost book I came up with 3 options on how to build the campaign. All three campaigns are based in a deep historical feel but showcase different things and themes. By working with those themes, you can expand the campaign more and more.

    Why I could even see someone start with option 1 where the PCs try to find the scroll then shift to option 2 once they have it and finally shift to option 3 to conclude. The possibilities are endless. Since my goal was a short mini-campaign, however I would stick to just one option. Sticking to one theme allows exploring the theme better. In a sequel mini-campaign, different theme can be touched. It makes each such campaign have its own flair. If you read my many postings about adventure writing, you know by now that I am definitely into those “begin-middle-end” campaigns and again I will advocate this here.

    I’m sure by now you are thinking. “That’s all good but what rule system should I use!?” A good question indeed, but something I’ll expand upon next time!

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Thoughts on historical campaigns...

    It’s no surprise to most people who know me (even from afar) that I am a “gamer-historian” and that history has a great appeal to me both as a game setting and as a source of inspiration to write or run RPG adventures but also to paint and play historical war games.

    I’ve trimmed down my library of game books significantly over the years to “limit” myself to those sourcebooks I either find essential, inspirational or things I can’t throw out. Too many moves have led me to become very choosy in what I kept and what I was giving up… Thus, I have every Call of Cthulhu books I purchased (except a few modern, non-Delta Green ones whom I dislike), along with Gurps sourcebooks (I never seriously played Gurps, but I own like 15 supplements), 40k Codices, the old D&D Green-cover historical books, my main D&D 3.5 stuff and the Rolemaster historical. There are a few “one-off” games I kept like Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Werewolf: Dark Ages, Warhammer FRP, and some D&D adventure with some personal significance (Egg of the Phoenix) or war gaming rule sets. As you can see, pretty much everything in there has a historical feel to it (or is historic because they’re so old).

    I go through my stuff on a regular basis, rotating them and reading small bits and pieces, trying to come up with new ideas. Some of books are falling apart from over-reading like Gurps Swashbuckler, Gurps Japan and Rolemaster’s At Rapier’s Point.

    How do you go from the book, the research and all the trivia to the game table without turning the game into a history lesson very few of your players want to hear? Well, to be honest, it’s not easy. I turned many great ideas into games that were less than satisfying. There is nothing worse than to prepare a great adventure and a story that excites you turn into a big farce.

    Yup, it happened to me many times, I should’ve read the signs and acted upon it.

    What has experience taught me?

  • Feel is more important that Fact. It’s a game and if you want to recreate history perfectly, write a novel!
  • Stereotype you want to change should be clearly mentioned. If one of the main themes or ideas you want to break in your campaign goes against an established stereotype.
  • Stereotypes are your friends. If you wish to redefine the roles of everyone throughout the campaign, run a fantasy campaign. Use stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas found in movies, popular culture (everyone from Eastern Europe speaks like Bella Lugosi) and TV.
  • Encourage research through fun. Players who enjoy a campaign and know it is set in a historical campaign, might go look up a few things.
  • Know your stuff. This is the one that is most difficult. Know your stuff means that you should have a decent idea of who the main NPC are. If set in France, it’s important to know who the king and his immediate family is (the Dauphin, the Queen). This one is important because it helps to reinforce the historical aspect. “The Game is set during the reign of Philippe the First of France”. Philippe’s reign was marked by the rise of Normandy (William the Conqueror was Philippe’s vassal as Duke of Normandy). Philippe’s reign is also marked by scandals and a growing royal administration.
  • Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Bland characters & Disruptive Players

    In RPGA events one thing I often find lacking is intra-party role-play. Just having fun with with the others... You know when you used to play in the old days and everyone would suspect the rogue/thief and the paladin would give out long tirades to party members" Well those elements.

    I think with the replay rule of Living Forgotten Realms people spend less time making their characters unique in favor of play time. So to play, bland, tasteless and un-memorable characters seem to be the norm. So many players can tell you *EVERYTHING* you need to know about their character by saying "I play a dwarf fighter with a +1 lightning axe." That simple phrase sums up the blandness and vanilla-flavored PCs I’ve adventured with. The NPCs are the ones with the flavor and the background. Though interesting, I like to play with memorable characters, memorable characters can turn a boring adventure into something special, into an adventure you remember for a long time. I remember the Gnome-with-Yellow-Boots or Arny the Tumbling Dwarf. Characters with a flavor to them that made any adventure something special"

    There is little I like more in LFR than people sitting at my table and going. "OH NO! Not your murderous tiefling chick! Man you’ll have to watch yourself!" I like that. Why? Because the character made an impression and how I play will change. In LG, I had Sir Azrel the Demonslayer a dedicated paladin, then Mousset the lying, cheating, lecherous, thieving devoted of Olidammara, then Tiernan the sorcerer who became more and more draconic with each level as he followed the commands of Gana, the evil wizard in his head" Those characters were very different. Adventuring with Tiernan or Mousset was a different proposition"

    I was talking on-line to a friend (hi Otavio!) and explaining to him about my character (in this case, Gurbaz the Magnificient the unique orc warlord I play in Living Forgotten Realms. Gurbaz’s story is that he is stunty for an orc and he keeps eating to "bulk up". Gurbaz has potent flaws: he lacks empathy (Insight) and has no Perception skill to speak of. Those two flaws I decided to play up to make the character unique.

    So Gurbaz eats like a pig and keeps taking other people’s food without their consent and is always looking for more food. Gurbaz generally negotiates a meal as part of any reward (usually a sandwich, ‘cuz you kan bring da san’witch in the fields"). I like playing him because he brings some minor role-playing element to the table. Gurbaz is a fully effective character in what he is supposed to do: fight and lead people into fights. During fights, Gurbaz spends wasted actions bellowing his strength, with a "GURBAZ SMASH!!!"

    My friend’s response to my comments about Gurbaz’s was "So you’re a disruptive player then!" Which, I must admit caught me off-guard. I never considered myself disruptive (though I have been disruptive on occasion, this was not one of those occasions).

    "Am I disruptive?" I asked myself since having that conversation. I do not believe that my action were disruptive. Most of the things I did helped the group. So, this led me to question myself about what a disruptive player was. I quickly eliminated came up with a few categories of disruptive players. I must say that I have found myself in most of those categories at one time or another (except the cheat).

    I have tried to find a way to "fix" disruptive player. In some cases "not play with that person" or "kick his ass out the door" would be valid solutions. I prefer to avoid those solutions. Though far from an optimist, I think everyone should be given a chance to become a better player, thus enhancing the game.

    1. The A-hole plays with and for himself only. The a-hole only wants the party admire him because of his greatness and people to cajole him and give him praise. He is, after all, the most powerful and the one who could beat up Conan, Superman, Spiderman and the Tarrasque in one round, this is not to say that he is *necessarily* a munchkin. The a-hole relishes in the fact that he is more powerful than the rest of the adventure and the other PCs and lords it over them. You often find the a-hole playing down with a significantly overpowered character. To fix him, give him a good dose of reality: kick his ass and make sure the others see it and laugh at him.
    2. The Airhead comes to play, sits, rolls dice then leaves without ever knowing exactly what he did. The next day he has vague idea that he did something. The airhead does not pay attention to the story and must constantly be reminded about what is going on. "Dude, we’re still fighting the Uber-mega-dragon-of-death!" "It’s your turn again!" To fix him find something to keep him focused in the game.
    3. The Cheat survives because his dice rolls are often fudged, bonus added a few times, dice are added in creative ways. The cheat is one of the sneakiest of the lot. He does not disrupt (unless he happens to fall into one of the other categories AS WELL, often the a-hole). However, once discovered the cheat is one of the most disruptive because after that, everyone at the table begins to monitor him closely, leading to deals. The cheat can be found anywhere there is a game table. He is the guy who calls ‘7’ when asked to roll 1d6! To fix him, catch him in the act and do not let him forget about it!
    4. The Cheat-apparent is a player whose behavior often leads others to think he is a cheat. They often have strange dice-rolling or adding habits, character sheet no one can read or make any sense of, or uber-small or otherwise unreadable dice. Like his parent the cheat, the cheat-apparent cause intense monitoring from the rest of the table and can be found everywhere. The cheat-apparent has a bad reputation due to his action, but is usually legitimate. To fix him well he is more complex because he is not actually doing anything wrong!
    5. The Comic attends games to provide a captive audience his top material. While a few jokes and laughs are part of a healthy and fun game, the comic goes beyond that. I mean he is there giving a set where everything is a joke and every monster the occasion for more jaw dropping humor at the drop of a hat. To fix him don’t laugh. It’s (sometimes) hard, but don’t. He’ll tire of bringing his a-game to an audience who does not seek his humor. Pairs of comics or a comic/perv duo are nearly impossible to break. Make sure they are not seated next to each other"
    6. The Fanboy (aka the anal settingmonger) is someone who knows every details, facets and aspect of the game setting and disrupts the game be criticizing non-stop everything that happen. "This is not possible because in 1365, the castle was destroyed, so the King couldn’t have gone there in 1367!" You often find the fanboy engaged is complex discussion about points of setting that don’t matter, like the color of Elminster’s robes or the shades of the drapes in Tenser’s home. They are usually well-educated and linked to their internet connection where they can debate any point with anyone in the world at any time, and be 100% right 100% of the time. To fix him play something he doesn’t know by heart! (Though he soon will).
    7. The Idiot was told many times what his character needed to do, what the rules are, what the situation is, he persists in doing stupid thing which annoys everyone at the table. For example the 4e fighter throwing daggers, instead of walking forward and beating up on people is a good example. The guy who plays the most complicated class in the book and has no clue what to do with that character (often wizards or similar types of spellcasters). To fix him Patience, patience, patience. Try to offer pointers and idea without overwhelming him (and recommend simpler characters).
    8. The Kid is still young and wants to show off how cool he is or plays as he would Zelda" Though many adults equate the kid with the idiot, there is a big difference between the two. The kid could evolve! To fix him be patient, the kid might grow and become a good player. Kids also learn by example and acting a certain way while playing should (hopefully) rub off on them.
    9. The Lone Talker sits at the table and talks. Talks. Talks. And talks. Does not matter to whom, does not matter what happens in the game, he has something to say: whether to himself, his character sheet, his character, the player next to him or the DM. Lone talkers are often found when adventures require thinking or concentration to complete, or adventures with a lot of stories. They also usually triumph over their arch-nemesis: boxed text by talking without cease. To fix him tell him to shut up. Frequently.
    10. The Naysayer fights tooth, nails and sword against any type of adventure hook or plot. "I don’t care for the king’s daughter", "I always have to do those adventure pro-bono" or *does the fish hook in his cheek*. Throughout the adventure, that player will remind everyone how much he does not care about the adventure and how his character would be better not to take part in this adventure. The naysayer is particularly active in heavily story-driven adventures where the PCs must or are asked to care about people. To fix him tell him to run an adventure (and he rarely will).
    11. The Overwhelming Table-Lord *BAD JP* *Bad!* Okay" this is, I believe the one I would be guilty of most often. The overwhelming table-lord tries to dominate everything, plot strategies for everyone and shoots down ideas from other players. Unlike the a-hole, the overwhelming table-lord usually tries to do what’s best for everyone, not just himself. Combat-intensive and investigation-intensive adventure seem to bring the overwhelming table-lord out, the "guy-who-brought-his-girlfriend-to-the-con" also often acts as a table-lord. To fix him tell him that it’s another player’s turn.
    12. The Perv is a close relative of the Comic. The big difference between the two is that the Perv’s material is all X-rated and usually pretty" well" "down there". Pervs are almost exclusively males and can put a dirty twist on anything that happens in a game. To fix him is difficult. A perv’s mind has many pathways that all leads into his (or someone else’s) pants. Being mature and not laughing at the bewildering array of ideas produced by a perv. Pairs of pervs or a comic/perv duo are nearly impossible to break. Make sure they are not seated next to each other"

    So there you are" a classification of the most common types of disruptive gamers" I know I have strong tendencies towards the "Overwhelming Table-Lord" and the "Perv". I generally tone my Perv-dom down, depending on the audience. Then again, when you have French blood, everything is dirty" Hummmm" French blood"

    I make no apologies for those comments. If you recognize yourself as a bland-character-player or a disruptive player, then own up and give your PCs some flavor without disrupting games! If your character’s only interesting feature is what you found in a catalog ("I have the ‘Smell my Feet’ Power"), do something about it so that people remember who your character is. If you read the above categories and went: "Holy Smokes! That’s me!" Fix yourself.

    In the end, it’s up to each player at the table to ensure *everyone* has a good time (yes the DM must have a good time too). If you are told that you are disruptive or think you are, you probably are disrupting the game. Act upon that and make sure to enhance the game instead for everyone.

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    A Good Practice: Unused Monsters

    I keep a file of “Unused Monsters”. This file is composed of monsters of all levels (as of right now 1 through 19) that have not been leveled up or down. There are a few that were templated then dropped from an adventure, but mostly right-out-of-the-book monsters appear therein.

    By keep this file of already-made monsters, I hope to one day have a large file and make it available as a resource to my authors. Until then I’ll just keep the monsters handy and turn them over one at a time.

    I have been doing that since the days of LG when many of the monsters would keep returning between interactives or adventures... My dreaded kobolds-of-doom were the first ones to be added to those files.

    In LFR, monsters common to the Moonshae Isles like wererats can be found within. But there are also a few things I thought of using in the past but never got to, or adventure drifted towards other directions later.

    MyRealms adventures are very easy to build (and build up) with such a file. Simply copy-paste the stat block in the adventure file and VOILA! You have a quick encounter.


    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Going to get some milk and returning with a car...

    The other day (Monday I believe), I began to put down idea for a second installment of my MyRealms mini-quest called “Blades for the Moonshae” (whose working title is “Blades of Aniolaran”). With the announcement of the “Our Realms” gameday, I have been thinking about adventures and writing a lot. So there I was putting down ideas and thoughts.

  • Who is the villain here?
  • What are the PCs doing now?
  • What are the NPCs doing now?
  • What could be a cool encounter?
  • What new monster can I spring upon the PCs?
  • What level is this one?

    All this went through my head. As I started to put down some ideas together, the whole thing began to form into a whole… And it stared at me… I needed a trilogy! ARGH! No way would I be able to finish everything in two adventures.

    Part 1, Blades for the Moonshaes, brings the PCs into the story. Part 2 is rather investigative and sets up a finale I had hoped would be done in part 2. Part 3 will be the climax.

    I have to say that I am not a fan or trilogies, other than Star Wars… Why? Because I find they often have too much filler. However in this case, the series really grows and sets up the next installment. I like stories that start and end (see my adventure writing series) way more over an endless series of loose end adventures. I will edit myself and make SURE the third installment closes off the current series. Should inspiration hit me with more ideas, a new series will be born…

    The story is based upon Moonshavian fanboy knowledge I’ve been collecting since I learned that I would be writing for the Isles. Something I would REALLY have liked to see in LFR modules but that seem to be rejected by HQ.

    Now, before you go “OMG! He’s ranting again!” (And if you read this blog on a regular basis, you would), let me stop you. This stipulation, I can understand and support. What HQ does not want are fanboy’s wet dreams adventures where a casual gamer goes “Why should I care about the color of this chick Midnight’s panties? She lived over a century ago! This makes no sense!” The stipulation allow for adventures to be somewhat simpler (since the author/editor does not have to populate the adventures with pages upon pages of background to make sure the DM or the players did not have to listen to endless droning about why such and such NPC is cooler or about the story of such-and-such NPC when in the adventure, just getting a “magic sword” would be sufficient.

    I believe I have a way to make the fanboy pill pass easily to casual gamers because of my philosophy of “if it’s not in the module, you need it”, which links up well with HQ’s vision of things. So while this requires more work on my part to integrate, my natural laziness means I cut out unneeded parts.

    There… A narrowly-avoided rant… That was close… And rare!

    So where was I? Oh yeah! The Blades for Aniolara… So right now the big kicker in that adventure is a Skill Challenge I really want to see how it plays in-game… I think the MyRealms adventures are a great way to test out a special format or different style of encounter… For Blades of Aniolaran I am making the adventure run-able at both low and high tier (leveling up monsters & skill check DCs), allowing me greater freedom in running the adventure for players.

    Wow… So there it is… I started writing about my series, then trilogies and series, moved to a near-rant and ended lauding the MyRealms adventures…

    As promised I went to get some milk and returned with a car...

  • Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Our Realms Gameday Colorado Springs Oct 3rd...

    Taking a quick break from thinking about adventure writing today to post about a local LFR event I'll be running.

    Mark your calendars folks. Saturday October 3rd is the day of the first-ever "Our Realms" gameday. This gameday is unique because all of the adventures offered will be MY Realms adventure. Written and DM'd by the authors themselves. This is as good as it gets.


    Our Realms will be run at the at Gamers' Haven in Colorado Springs.

    Whose adventure?

    At this time, we have 4 DMs from the Springs and Denver who have stepped forward to run their own creations. I am waiting details from 2 more DMs. Strangely enough, most of the adventures are set in the Moonshae Isles.

    What levels?

    More of the adventures currently planned are for level 1-4, with at least one 4-7.

    Where do I sign up?

    The warhorn site has been set up and will be used for registrations. (They are not open yet as I need to finalize the schedule)

    Bonus Games

    On Sunday Oct 4th, Gamers' Haven & Lenny hosts a regular Gameday with more MYRE and BALD1-2 so more play opportunity.


    Contact me directly.


    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Writing Good Adventure Writing, Part 5

    1. How is this adventure different than other?
      When thinking about your adventure and its setting, think of what sets it apart from other adventures. Here you want to find out whether your adventure is simply a re-write of an already existing one or something new. If your main plot, main villain, main plot hook and main plot twist is taken from another adventure, you may want to rethink your adventure. A good adventure is not simply a re-write of another one.
      However, this might be what you want to do if you are adapting an adventure from another...
    2. Play-test it!
      Play-test your adventure! Run them yourself or have someone run them for you while you discreetly watch and take notes. I will not go into the theory of finding a good play-test group at this time. Try to play-test with players from a wide variety of backgrounds, playing styles and interests. This will insure feedback that is as varied as possible. Take in that feedback and use it to make your adventure better.
      I know many authors cannot stand any criticism about their work, but it WILL happen. If you do not get that criticism now, be prepared to see your adventure slammed and burned on yahoogroups, web forums and at local and distant events. Better to have people you know and trust criticize your work than total strangers. Gamers as a whole tend to LOVE or HATE things.
      Once the play-test is done, sit down and evaluate the major points of the game.

      1. Were there points where the change was due to a lucky dice rolled? Like rolling a critical perception check at a bad moment, a long series of good or bad rolls?
      2. Was it just a lucky build or item used at the right time? If so, then make sure you ask yourself: how common is it that this situation returns. If a common detect evil spell ruined your whole plot, you may want to look for alternatives or extra plot twists (undetectable alignment, ring of mind shielding, etc.)
      3. Did the players guess your style? Some players who regularly play with a DM or author will guess how the adventure flows.
        I will take for example Chris Chesher, a rather plentiful Living Greyhawk author. Before every adventure I would say. "Okay... this is what will happen: we will be hired to do a mundane task and then we will be presented with a side-quest or side-trek that has nothing to do with why we came and that is where the adventure will happen." I do not believe I've been wrong a single time since I came up with this theory. I got Chris's style pretty good. Now that said, Chris wrote some good and some bad adventures, but his formula remained.

      Another thing I like to go over in more details are the interaction scenes where the players interact with a particularly important NPC. Were there questions the players asked that I have not covered in the text? Frequent question I have a bad habit of forgetting: How much will it pay us? and How long do we have to complete the mission? After play-test I rush to add those information in, always better to cover more questions than too few.
    3. Players can be kept in the dark, but the DM must know where he is going at all times
      There is nothing worse than a confused DM. DM confusion usually leads to a lowered enjoyment of the game and players who start goofing off or laughing at a DM's "load time". That players be confused (at least some time during the adventure) is fine. A DM can be Like a captain in a storm, the DM must always know exactly where he needs to take his ship. Players can EASILY know when their DM is lost or confused.


    Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Pathfinder RPG sold out already!

    Now I'm not normally one who likes to re-post news from other sources but this one, I must say very pleasantly surprised me. I used to think that has Paizo come out with Pathfinder at last year's Gencon, 4e would be a distant memory. However, with the year in-between, I think that both should be able to coexist in the market. The D&D community will clearly be split between those two products.

    Rob, my provider of goodies (, has my copy on order, and I can only hope that the book finds itself into my library before November...

    Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook Sold Out!

    All Preordered Copies Now in Distribution Channel, New Print Run to Arrive in Early November

    Ten days before the launch of their much-anticipated Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, Paizo Publishing today announced that the first print run of the book has sold out, with all preordered copies on their way to stores for an August 13 release. With preorders more than five times greater than for any previous product in Paizo's seven-year history, orders for the Core Rulebook continue to mount even as the company speeds to produce another print run. has retained enough copies to handle all subscriptions and pre-orders. Customers who have not already placed a pre-order with or their game or book retailer are encouraged to seek out a copy immediately following the book's retail release, as supplies are expected to run out well before the arrival of a second print run in early November.

    "We thought we had printed enough to last us at least until the end of this year, but skyrocketing demand from our customers and distributors has us reprinting already," Lisa Stevens, CEO of Paizo said. "We have a healthy amount heading to Gen Con, but we think even those will go fast, so don't delay in picking up your copy!"

    The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook is the first release in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game line of hardcover tabletop RPG rulebooks. Clocking in at a whopping 576 pages and at a weight of more than four pounds, this $49.99 rulebook is the newest incarnation of the 3.5 version of the world's best-selling roleplaying game. Playtested by more than 50,000 players over the last year, the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook is the most hotly anticipated tabletop RPG release of 2009. A massive electronic download file ($9.99) will remain available at

    "The phenomenal support of the constantly growing community of Pathfinder RPG players has been a staggering sight to behold," said Paizo Publisher Erik Mona. "To sell out a hugely ambitious print run before the release date just goes to show what an immense audience this game will enjoy in the years to come."

    The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook can be found wherever gaming products are sold or can be purchased directly from Paizo Publishing via

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Writing Good Adventure Writing, Part 4

    In this installment, let's go over those things to think about when you are actually writing.

    1. Write with the players playing the game in mind
      This one will get a lot of people go "Well, DUHHH". But it is a lot more insidious that it might appear at first glance. Writing for the players means that whenever you design scenes or encounters, think of what do the players have to do. If all they have to do is listen to an endless tirade by some NPC, then that's wrong. What RPGAers often call "failed save against boxed text". In every scene, encounter and adventure section, the PCs must have something to do.
      Players don't *HAVE* to do something, but they can if they want to and the DM is not completely lost about what he should do next.
      One thing we started doing in LG was to have two section/encounter "Before leaving town" and "Word on the Street". Those two sections were (usually) completely optional to the main adventure, but they definitly added flavor and could sometimes give the players a small edge. Usually arranged in mini-encounters, the DM would gain a lot of insight over what was going on in and around the area where the adventure was taking place..

    2. Write with the DM running the game in mind
      All right... This one is definitely a pet peeve of mine. When you DM an adventure, there is nothing worse than to have to look around a thousand places for information you remember seeing somewhere in the adventure. This is why I always try to write "with the running DM in mind".
      Why? When preparing an adventure, you read it over, digest the content and imagine a few scenes in your mind so that you can render them to the players later.
      Then the players sit around the table.
      Now the DM has to think about a million things: the motivation of the NPCs, their reaction to the PCs, the trap that's coming, how to set up the next encounter, sequencing of scenes, potential side-story between on of the PCs and an NPC, etc. Many details are forgotten in the heat of the moment.
      "Writing for the DM running" means that all the information should be easy to find and as concise as possible. Use of headers, bullet points, shorter paragraphs and clearly-defined sections does help. A lot. That way the DM can simply run the game and not have to search through mountains of text for vital or important information.

    3. Boxed text should be kept in its box!
      Boxed text... the bane of many adventure… Although usually integral to the story, many authors used boxed text to create novels. This is something I personally struggled with a lot, especially in adventures where there is a lot of story. Adventures such as The Ekbirrian Job and The Bull and the Swan where a lot of story and storyline development happened, are particularly difficult not to wrap in boxed text to ensure that every player gets the main plot points. To do that, break down the story into smaller parts so that you don't have to put everything together at once...
      I've played in some adventures where the DM reads a page of boxed text ending with. "Finally, you see the castle up ahead." After the PCs respond "We go to the castle", the DM starts again with another 5 paragraph of boxed text... THE PAIN!

    4. Boxed text on the outside only!
      Boxed text should be "on the outside". By this I mean that boxed text can be more extensive at the start and end of the adventure, when you do not expect or wish PCs to interact with what is happening. The PCs are soaking wet, so they headed for the inn for food and drink is something that makes sense but that they decided to side with the outlaw rebel lord of Sherwood forest is not.
      Still avoid the pitfalls of assuming what the PCs feel, think or react. It is acceptable to assume that if they are in full court, with the king and all his knights surrounding them that they will behave themselves. But not that they assume the king is cool or that his daughter is interested in them. This creates all kind of strange possibility with female characters.
      By keeping boxed text to the start and end, the adventure itself usually feels more dynamic to the players because the DM is often more spontaneous. I know when I have boxed text I often find myself reading it and breaking the "game flow" because I want to be sure I do not miss anything important.
      "Oh yeah, I forgot, there is a big sword pulsating with evil in the center of the room!" is something I once did (OOPS). Not my proudest DMing moment...