JP On Gaming

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Preparing to run PFS

Many newcomers to organized play campaigns envision the preparation of an adventure as that of the old GMs of old, who prepared everything, had map completely drawn, had the perfect minis for everything (which they painted, back in the day), and a super-awesome storyline to go with it.

One of my teachers back in College kept shocking us because he would walk into a class flipping a small chalk in his hand and nothing else. He "taught" computer architecture and informational theory (the quotation marks are to present the implication of teaching... the books were much more useful than listening to his "planned lesson"). For some reason we all had the impression that a teacher had to have a briefcase, a big stack of papers, and a coffee cup. He had nothing of that. He was a lousy teacher, very, very lousy. I checked his rating and he is indeed rated extremely low (1.3 out of 5 is his best score), can’t say I disagree.

Why talk about such a bad teacher in an article about how to prepare to be a good GM? (I consider myself to be a good GM). The man knew his stuff, he couldn’t communicate it to save his life, but he knew his information theory.

0 - You WILL be wrong

Like any married guy will tell you, you will be wrong. It’s okay. Don’t dwell on it. It’s okay to make mistakes, if pointed to a mistake you made, retract, and keep the game going. I have a saying that “nobody cares if nobody dies”. That’s mostly true. If a call you made was wrong and the player shows you, be graceful.

It’s OKAY to be wrong.

It’s NOT OKAY to be defensive or unmovable about it.

It’s NOT OKAY to constantly talk about that judgment call.

1 - Know YOUR stuff

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but start by reading the adventure background and summary. Pathfinder Society and most other OPs do a good job with those. After reading those two sections you know 1- how things got to that point 2- what the PCs are expected to do.

In preparing to run an organized play event, you need to know your stuff. I mean know YOUR stuff. That means understanding what the PCs will be trying to do and rolling with the punches. As a GM, you don’t need to know all of the intricacies of classes you never looked at unless you have to run one.

For example, I still have a rudimentary understanding of the following classes (mostly because I never cared to play one yet): Alchemist, Druid, Magus, and Summoner. I know enough to run them as a GM, but could not come up with one on the fly. If a player shows up with such a character, I can run them through an adventure without difficulty, but the many options... Can’t say I read too much about them. I can always ask the player to show me a rule.

Make sure you know the options your villains have and those are all you need to know. Keep the tactics in mind, but don’t stress about changing them.

2 - Do not memorize everything

Really. You don’t. Understand what's going on. Understanding and memorizing are completely different things. I read it once, pay attention on more complex scenes, and give a cursory glance to the villains's stat block. Don’t think about the stat block. Read the adventure like a novel, without worrying about the game math.

Get a feel for the flow of the adventure, note elements to research ahead of time, rules you need to review.

3 - Don’t waste your time worrying about the PCs

Too many GMs, especially those who do not GM regularly worry about the PCs and what they will do or how they will throw curve balls at them, and try to plan every way to handle what they will do.


Really. Don’t.

You cannot predict who will play, what character they have, how they will react to a situation, how their group dynamic could influence a given scene, how the dice will roll (or not roll) for you or the players. Too many GMs worry things they can’t control that they become lousy at it. YOUR part is to know the adventure. Point A to Point B. The PCs WILL go off-script. That’s actually one of the times for you to shine and make the adventure your own. Don’t panic about it before the game.

4 - Prepare the highest level and scale down

I told you before to spend little time on the stat blocks. After you understand what the goals and story elements of the adventure is, Now is the time to go back and read over the stat blocks. Pay attention to the villains’ feats, tactics, special attacks and abilities.

By preparing for higher levels, scaling down is MUCH easier than on-the-fly researching a villain and all his weird abilities at a higher level than . We all know that higher level baddies have more cooler, shinier toys than lower-level ones. The exact values and numbers don’t matter too much (again understand not memorize). I rarely look at their AC, Saves, normal attacks or hp totals before the game. Those values are easy to find when players are in front of me.

5 - Every opportunity is an opportunity to learn about the game

So now you should have 2 lists of elements to look at. First a list of rules important to the adventure. Second some monster-specific rules (or even monster themselves).

Before the game, look up elements you know the villains are likely to do: sundering, trip attacks, underwater combat and the like. Read the entries all the way to the end.

If you see another spell/ feat/ ability/ glossary element that is vaguely related, read through it. When the players are sitting in front of you is NOT the time to do that. That way you gather the knowledge and over time, you will remember reading about this or that. Your brain’s knowledge centers will be focused on elements found in the adventure.


Giving Love to Rifts, Hate to Palladium?

My previous post on Campaign Fail might’ve come out as a Rifts-bashing. It should not be. I like Rifts for what it is, and still own a number of Rifts supplements to this day. What I was bashing was the stupid way we played the game. It was US. It wasn’t the game. The game only allowed us testosterone-filled teens to vent out all of our frustrations on the world. I mean… Wasting crates of ammo (e-clips) on defenseless civilians and gunning down alien things because we could was a good evening’s distraction.

But it really wasn’t a campaign. It was just a series of Hey dude, check this out! moments. Might be a reason why 4e did not appeal to me… Too reminiscent of that era, I can’t say… That’s worth another post… We could’ve played anything and it would’ve had that level of stupidity. We just happened to have Rifts lying around.

I did enjoy many Rifts and Robotech campaigns over the years. I’m a Robotech guy that played Rifts to change the gear. Get off my planet is pretty much the feeling we shared about the game. My website has a page with a lot of the material my group and I wrote at the time for our Robotech, Rifts, and Macross ][ campaigns. I was never able to find my characters but I had many of them. We played a long into the night and I remember riding my bike home at 3am.

Most of our campaigns focused on us group of low-powered mercenaries trying to make a buck. It was fun. We tried to figure out ways to get our hovertank to handle bigger and better guns (okay I was the operator so I did most of the fixing). We traveled the world of Rifts, mostly Free Quebec (we were mostly Separatist French Canadians).

What’s the problem with Rifts? The power-creep in the first few books was just ridiculous. Just stupid. It’s been out for over twenty years now without any real overhaul. I think the mecha system is fine, but the character system could use some simplification and review. And that’s only Rifts… The Palladium is much older than that.

Palladium, it seems more and more is a game for aging gamers that withdraw into their basement with rulebooks from the 70s. They came out with their "new" Robotech RPG recently… Hoping to see a revamped system for PC skills, I bought “The Shadow Chronicles”, read through it in an evening. I was not impressed. The system is the same. Some classes are tweaked and modified to allow a GM to create characters with varied skillset, but nothing that wasn’t around in Southern Cross or Triax and the NGR. You still have to take the Boxing skill (for the attack). Your attributes matter very little (other than picking your class or if you have a really high score). The campaign/adventure idea section is a random encounter table. The XP system is still a throwback to the early 80s with level requiring different XP totals for each class.

That’s too bad.

I REALLY wanted to like it (and blog about it to the world). But it’s more nostalgia than anything else.

It’s too bad. I’m sure they could get people back in it if they worked on a real Palladium 2nd Edition that WAS a true second edition. Look around, see what’s been happening in the last thirty years and apply it to your game. But I’m not holding my breath.

So I guess that can be considered slinging hate to Palladium Books, but love to Rifts…


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Campaign Fail: Reaching Level 2

In my previous post about my Dragonlance campaign fail, I did not touch on the most important thing: what I learned from the experience. Failing is fine, it gives experience. Thus, I left the experience as “JP level 2”.

How to avoid repeating the fail?

As a player Be open and create a character that will work and be opened to doing strange things. YES, you have your background. YES, you have your own goals. YES, you are more important than the others. But there are other people in the game. They have their own goals, their own story, their own interest, and their own abilities. And that only covers their characters!

THE GM IS IN THE GAME ALSO. Don’t fight him every step of the way when he’s trying to take you someplace. Keep fighting him non-stop and you quickly end up without a GM. All that background, all those goals, all your importance end up being for nothing. Work with your GM to create something.

When you create your character try to figure out ways to integrate with the others. You don’t have to like everyone in your party, but don’t be a dick about (too much). Use your background as a story catalyst to move you forward, not hold back the party. Though once in a while, that’s okay too, creates intra-party discussions and talks. That’s fine. If the party has to convince you to do anything more than once a game session, you are hogging the game.

Bad player.

As a GM You have to create a game where the players are free to evolve on their own. It is acceptable to have a small level of railroading (especially in the early stages of the campaign), but the players must always have the impression that what they are doing is of their own will and desires.



EVER assume or pre-plot a conclusion to an encounter based on player’s motivation or goals. You always end up with bad results. In that Dragonlance campaign, I assumed the PCs would care or at least be interested in the fate of the refugees. They weren’t. Worse, the more I tried to get them to care, the more they fought not to, and it turned into a game for them. See how they could break anything I came up with. That got me even angrier. So I gave up on the campaign. I just gave up. Result: I had no more game.

take the following situation and see if that is a situation you could your group – or some in your group. It’s scary.

What the GM planned : The PCs are walking in a forest when they hear a female voice call for help. The PCs charge through the woods, kill the bandits and rescue the girl. She is a local peasant without any clear tie to the story the PCs are doing now. As she thanks them with a kiss, she waves goodbye and leave.

What Group 1 did : They heard the cries, but since they were on the big quest decided to press on, rationalizing it as “this is a trap”. Then forgot about the girl and the incident altogether.

What Group 2 did : They heard the cries, charged through the forest and beat up the bandits. When she offered to pay them with a kiss, they began to threaten her because "they wasted 12 charges on their wand to save her, so she’d better pony up the 12*15= 180gp or she was gonna be sorry". The next scene sees the PCs walking into the slaver’s office with the poor girl on a pole. The dialog simply reads “She’s yours for 200gp.”

What Group 3 did : They heard the cries, then the super-feminist character throws a fit because of the damsel in distress, begins accusing the male PCs of living out their fantasies and makes so much noise as the party gets into an argument that the bandit gag the girl and leave. When finally the PCs go they find no one. Like group 1, they rationalize that it was a trap and leave.

What Group 4 did : Like group 3, but they find a dead girl. They begin arguing again and putting the blame on each other. Finally they rationalize that the GM is trying to guilt-trip them and leave.

Did that ever happen to you? Could it happen? I’m SURE you know more than a few players that would lead your party into one of the above group.

The final lesson Sometimes a game just isn’t for you and your group. And I’m talking on both sides of the gaming equation. I played some games for long periods that were just goofing-off sessions, trying to see who could fire the most ammo clips into tents or mass-bombing aliens and see their civilians run and cry. Ahhh… that was funny. Brutal, stupid, testosterone-fueled, macho as all hell, but funny. I do not count those old Rifts campaign in my favorite or most intense gaming experiences… It was fun but really all I took away from that campaign is that I had a sick mind, and my friends were even more sick and twisted.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

And now for some motivation...

That's all I can say...


Friday, July 22, 2011

Coming in the next few weeks...

I have been working on a series of interviews with campaign staff for a number of organized play campaign. I plan to release these interviews over the next few weeks. I am excited about the series because as of right now, I have 5 of them lined up. The interviews include people for whom I have great respect for and cover a variety of game systems.

That's the update...


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Widowmaker Scarlet is out!!!

I have been talking about it for a while now. And it’s out.

If the First Ones are the boogeymen that terrorize the people of Exodus, what scares the First Ones? What could scare the First Ones to such a degree that merely mentioning it would cause them to fall dead of fright? If the First Ones are not afraid of death, pain or torture, then what are they afraid of? First Ones fear the loss of their identity, loss of themselves, or loss of their free will.

A single creature has the power and the ability to do precisely that. Such a creature terrorizes the First One so much that her name is never spoken out loud to avoid drawing her attention. The name "Widowmaker Scarlet" is not used by the First Ones. It was given to her by scholars from Exodus because her true name is unknown. Most of the information found in this document was gathered from tattered scrolls and lost books which were created from incomplete and secondhand accounts. Since knowledge about Widowmaker Scarlet is considered heretical by the Sanguine Covenant, most such documents have been destroyed. The Order of Kaga considers Widowmaker Scarlet to be the single most dangerous threat to Exodus today, even if no direct conflict with her has ever been reported.

This supplement includes:

  • All the information to use Widowmaker Scarlet as NPC villain including history, relations and how to use Widowmaker Scarlet in your gaming sessions.
  • Four all new spells: Immediate Possession; Immediate Possession, Greater; Oath of Khayne and Word of Khayne.
  • Statistics, abilities and rules for Widowmaker Scarlet (CR 15, 18 & 20)
  • New magic item: Singiver
  • Initiative and Monster Cards

Get your copy here (Though I would STRONGLY recommend you get the Axis Of Evil Bundle for the full First One Nastiness).


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Campaign Fail: A tale of Dragonlance

This week I had two conversations about the same thing with two completely different people. The question dealt with how players should feel when confronted with a situation. One conversation dealt with the death of a PC. The villain kills (or does something really bad to) a PC and escapes, saddened by their fellow PC’s death, the party recruits a new member and goes after the villain. The other conversation dealt with an author who had written a story and had the PCs evolve through that story. She became frustrated because the PCs kept getting off-track because they would not do what she wanted them to do.

Although both situations have something in common, both expect and assume for the PCs will behave or think a certain way when faced with a situation. That is the BIGGEST mistake you can do.

I can talk… I’ve done this for YEARS. Trying to force a group into what I wanted them to do. I’m guilty. Many times. I’m also guilty of doing it as a player a few times. Take a plot and run through left field at top speed.

Let me take you back to a time when I was a terrible GM and an inexperienced teen wanting to play and run adventures. I’m talking the EARLY 1990s here. I wouldn’t write in those days and what I did write what a flaming bag of… magic missiles. Sure I could improvise or add and modify existing stuff but coming up with some good stuff from scratch… Yeeach. No.

I tried to force plot-hook a party through the Dragonlance series… they thought that leaving the poor people behind them was a great idea because it gave the villains something to munch on while they escaped. In spite of my incessant prodding of Guys, this is HEROIC fantasy. You are supposed to be heroes! and getting Screw the heroism! I need gold to buy my full plate +3 and these refugees have nothing to pay us for our troubles! Then I would ask (aka beg) for them to try and follow the plot, but all they wanted was gold.

So I would come up with different story twists to get their character interested: a peasant promised to tell them where he knew of a secret stash of elven gold (the poor man was beaten by hobgoblins and forced to reveal what he knew before they would heal him). This woman promised them a platinum bracelet when they would reach safety (a few pickpocket rolls later, she had nothing to offer them).

Obviously it did not work as I wanted. I came up with a number of mini encounters designed to try and get the PCs to care for anything. While some did take a liking to some NPCs, overall they only wanted to take their girlfriends and leave. I tried side-quests, massive slaughters of civilians, which they liked because it meant they had to babysit fewer “dead weights”.

I was completely pissed off. Here I had a great story for them to play, a story that would elevate their characters from simple sellsword to the status of heroes (which they asked me to do). And all they could do was to see how bad they could screw the story up. Let the refugees die at the hands of the Dragonlords. Stealing whatever valuable they could find among these poor people. Threaten them to extort money. Try to flee as fast as they could to avoid taking any damage. I would generally call the games shorts because I couldn’t take anymore.

Whatever I would think of, it became their game to destroy whatever plan I have. Seeing me get angry or completely discouraged was the highlight of the game for them.

After a week or two of trying and thinking of what I now think were cleaver idea to get the plot back on-track and the PCs on-board. Mini-side-quests, encounters and adventures to add to the campaign, a lot of fun stuff but still they just wouldn’t take the hint.

You know what I realized since then?

It does not work.

If they don’t want what you offer, then it won’t work.

All you end up with is an angry GM, frustrated players, and a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Sure there might be laughs – frequently as the GMs groans as another one of his ploy fails. The GM feels his preparation time was wasted, the players that they constantly have to be railroaded into doing something their character has no intention of doing.

So what did I really do wrong? What caused that fail?

I tried to tell them how to feel.

I tried to tell them how to think.

Enough for now… More later.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

[Mini-Review] I survived the Tomb of the Iron Medusa

Today, I got to play The Tomb of the Iron Medusa module from Paizo Publishing. Okay I haven't read the adventure yet, but here my initial thoughts (from a player's perspective).

I got to play Naadhira, my oracle of bones. A good choice as she provided a decent healing option behind the cleric of Abadar (Homer) and the Paladin of Pharasma (Corwin). Healing: covered. The rest of our party were Ryan's fighter, Jeff-P's alchemist and Judd's machine gun. I mean zen archer. As usual: limited arcane. Everyone's character did what their class was expected to do. No lame duck, odd or useless build. Good times!

Now without spoiling anything...

This adventure is for 14th level characters. Yes. 14th level. The monsters here are level-appropriate, and bring in the pain. Be ready to dish and take damage. A lot of it! One of the monster nearly inflict 180 points of damage in a single attack on me. Nice. I like merely because of who I was. (I thought I was dead, then we realized that I had something and I LIVED! MUHAHAHA!) Be ready for big fights, big creatures, and a whole lot of damage...

Really, I liked this one. Perhaps more than I expected. The fact that there is a story that teaches interesting facts about Golarion makes it even more valuable in my opinion.

Some have complained about Cult of the Ebon Destroyers that it has only limited story. I think that's just whining. True "Cult" does not give any major reveals about the world, which is what "Tomb" is all about. The plot is succinct, logical and can be followed without much difficulty.

I want to comment Scott Crosson, who went off script since we tried a few odd things and really made the adventure such a delight to play. Plus he tried to screw us, and succeeded to a large extent. Nice.

Okay I'm going to sleep now. More on the adventure later.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Commissions for July 2011

Been a while since I posted here but I've been a busy bee. I have a done a number of paint jobs for my good friend Jeff Kokx of Enchanted Grounds. Jeff wanted to surprise his wife with a couple of nice paint jobs.

The pictures aren't great (the plaid are hard to see), but they should give you a good idea of the minis.

This character is called Luna, gnomish bard in the Pathfinder Society campaign. She is inspired by the purple-haired girl in Kick-Ass. I'll admit I haven't seen the movie, but Google Images gave me the look. I added the Rune of the Open Road on her shield.

This character is called Selah, a Varisian oracle of life in his Kingmaker campaign.

This character is called Nocci, a monk on his Rise of the Runelords campaign. This one has a lot of color layers, mostly subdued but the finish is very nice. The white hair - something I rarely like to do because white hair is hard to nail - turned out very nice... Very layered: light gray, then magic dip, then a series of dry-brushing with various thickness of white. Came out real nice.

Finally, the weasel... Well... It was simple and looks pretty good.

Thanks to Jeff and Heather for the pictures.


Friday, July 8, 2011

What have I been doing: July 2011

With PaizoCon behind us, I was supposed to have a lot of time ahead of me. Time to sit back, relax and watch the fuzz grow on my belly. It was to be a time to relax and a time to take things slow.

What an idiot!

So this summer I have gone on a gaming binge with games every day or at least every other day. Add to that a number of painting commissions. Add NeoExodus material to write or edit. Good times really, but it's been a crazy month. The weird thing is, I am beginning to think that when the kids come back in two weeks, my life will calm down! Very odd.

So what have I been working on this past week?

First off, Minis Commissions, for Jeff K, for Jeff P, for Steven, for John F, in short, a lot of them. Which is good. I do spend a lot of time on that, but it takes me away from the computer (a good thing). I like the result (but still have at least as many to do as I've done up to now...)

Next I finally finished my NHL season on PS2 and my playoffs are going nicely. Okay this has nothing to do with table top gaming, but I spend a lot of time doing that... The Stanley Cup is returning to Montreal (where it should be)! Go! Habs! Go!

NeoExodus writing. I wrote a number of elements, including the Annihilation Sphere background (as well as going over the stat block with Louis). I have completed Widowmaker Scarlet... Now that is an interesting character... First off, in Louis' words we managed to write a whole book without saying what the villain is. I know it sounds crazy but it actually works. Presented is a history, then theories about her origin and power, which range from anything to everything: caster, goddess, undead, intelligent weapon, or demon. Finally three stat blocks (all very different) present one version of Widowmaker Scarlet at CR15/18/20.

Still on the plate is the redo and expansion of many old NeoExodus Modules. While the basic plot for most of these adventures is pretty much intact, they have been given a "NeoExodus Treatment". Where they are no longer generic adventure, they now have a NeoExodus introduction and feature a lot more NeoExodus creatures. I like the result.

These previous mostly unrelated adventures will now begin and expand the story of NeoExodus. What I keep calling the "Mythos" of NeoExodus.

AND on top of that, I have been working on the NeoExodus campaign setting (I've been working on it for quite a few months now actually). But we've been adding and adding material to it as we worked on adventures and other source books. Still what we have right now is a solid 100+ pages book that includes pretty much everything a GM needs to start playing NeoExodus. This includes a detailed history of the world, a gazetteer with information found in each of the regions. Adventure ideas and locations are given for each region. The races of NeoExodus was put into this book with the addition of a new race, the Gevet (think Tiefling but with flavor and a goal in life). About a 100 feats (mostly racial-specific), equipment, new magic items, new tomes, new monsters. A LOT of things can be found in there. I think this will be an awesome product. We (okay Louis) have been looking at getting those printed. That would be awesome!

With Louis' taste and ability in design and formatting and my writing, I really think we'll have a winner here. Looking forward to walking into local game stores and watching NeoExodus product... that would be SWEET!

Add to it that I have attended one of Radio Steam and recorded something for them. I will be writing an episode for them (more details later). I just got final approval and some guidelines about what I should write. How exciting! I have some research to do on some exotic locations and interesting 19th century fellows.

This past Saturday, I took part in one of their recording session. It was great fun and really interesting to see the people whose voices I knew through the podcast. I think I did well and I will be asked to help again. Who knows? My lines were very limited, but that's okay. Maybe in the future I'll have more. I laughed at LOT during the outtakes... a bloopers episode would be very funny!

So... finally I have been doing some work for Pathfinder Society helping to do the Chronicles for the Pathfinder Modules. (Yes, *most* of those you've seen have been done by yours truly, and many that aren't out yet also...). All that until I get a writing commission from them... Yup I'm waiting...

That's the JP report everyone! What I've been doing with my time...


Thursday, July 7, 2011

[Rant] Louis Porter stalks me!

So today I went to YouTube to change my playlist and add some new bands I discovered.

GAH! I can't lie... I wanted to hear "Planet of the Apes: The Musical" and I could not get out the "I hate every ape I see. From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z" lyrics out of my head. So I type Y-O-U-T-U-B-E-DOT-C-O-M. And guess who appears? Stalking me once more? That's right.

Louis Porter Junior.

There is no escape. The man stalks me when I'm eating. He stalks me when I watch Star Trek. He stalks me when I try to play D&D Online. His name keeps popping up when I use In short, he's always there. I tried to avoid him by... going to YouTube or even playing Playstation 2. Now I'll have to play more PS2.

Hey wait! *HE* owes me money! Hummm I guess I should start hiding in the bushes outside his YouTube and check out what he is doing...

JP has left, skulking in the dark corners of the internet...

Friday, July 1, 2011

New York Fishing for Zombies

You may or not know that I have been recently playing in a Zombie Apocalypse GURPS game. Six months after the collapse of civilization, our little band found itself entrenched in the Reading, MA police station with 24 other survivors. Our little band included myself, a native acrobat turned thief. There is "Major Pain" a former special forces freshly returned from Afghanistan. Katy, a reporter and weekend pilot. And Dr Ruth Mallard, forensic officer from Boston PD.

We decided to send a group of scout south to find a better location, including some place we could settle and rebuild civilization. Our adventures included us traveling to the local airport then dodge the zombie horde as we gathered supplies, or flying and talking to people on the radio as we traveled.

Fun times, but tonight, a new idea came to the front.


New York Fishing is when you are stranded on top of a building (in this case a hangar) and throw heavy items tied to a rope for the express purpose of killing the zombies. That way you can slowly lower the number of zombies that besiege you, with only very limited use of resources. I mean what are you going to do all these days while they surround you.

Sure, it's not fast, but it really helps your cardio and muscle training. But most important is that it's just plain fun! We had a lot of fun fishing!