Image credit: WallpaperUp
Reflecting on how far we’ve come together on this site got me thinking about how far I’ve come as a person. It seems like not that long ago, I was 3,000 miles away from home, making it on my own for the very first time. That kind of experience is this avalanche of emotions. You feel fear, doubt, solitude; yet you also feel freedom, like you have the ability to start anew. The opportunity to reinvent the person you are, the person you’re becoming, is right at your fingertips when you leave home like that. Some parts of you come, while some parts stay home. The one thing I knew was coming with me to Arizona was this new thing, at the time, that we know as gaming.
We won’t go too much into the experience, as it doesn’t have much to do with the goal of this post. However, if the curiosity pokes you, reach on out and I can tell you about it. With all the mushy, personal experience stuff out of the way, what is it like to find a gaming group after you move? In short, it’s quite an interesting experience, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think; at least it was for me. We all live in a time where connecting with people is easier than it ever has been before, and using that to your full advantage is the key to gaming wherever you go. My gaming time in the valley was all thanks to a site called Meetup. Many people have heard of it, probably even looked a tiny bit, but never taken the dive into it. It’s easy to see why: you don’t know what to expect, there could be a grandiose number of people on the page but you have no actual gauge of what it will be like, and to make it all worse, you’re in a different place where you may not necessarily know what people are like there.
Intimidating, surely, but sometimes you just have to take that random venture out in to the world to get the good stuff. Phoenix revealed some rather interesting people to me, not all of them that I went through effort to keep in contact with. Not because there were bad people, or ones I didn’t like, but just because sometimes people aren’t designed to be best buds. To turn that on its head, there are a couple of friends that I keep in contact with from my Meetup adventures, and had some very memorable games during my stay. It was really strange to go to a random bar in the desert to play D&D, but it makes for a hell of a story! For gamers in a new city, I do recommend surfing on Meetup to help find some people that can eventually make up your regular home group, but know there is a multitude of other platforms. ENWorld has a forum, Facebook has thousands of groups and pages. Tap your resources, and you’ll probably find out that you can make yourself right at home wherever you go.
Based off this real life example, this uncomfortable leap of faith that we have to make to assimilate to a new environment, what can we learn? To apply it to a gaming context: when you introduce player characters to a new area, do some stage setting first. If you give the characters some ties to the area they’re moving to, it does a few things. Firstly, it adds a sense of depth. Character backgrounds, player agency to shape the past and future, we talk about it all the time. It’s just another little thing you can to do enhance these pillars of roleplay. More importantly than the personal ties, the characters need a resource to tap. In most fantasy settings, this is located in the common room of some tavern. Tropes are comfortable, safe, and can capture a really nice feeling, but shaking it up creates the memorable plots.
Just like in our own world, there are ways to learn about places before someone travels there. Granted, it’s far easier to use a Google search bar than a library full of books that may or may not have been written for such useful purposes, but it’s something to consider. Some of you are probably thinking that this is an incredibly boring way to solve this issue, and I wholeheartedly agree. We have to acknowledge it’s there, though, because everybody has a different play style. The way I handle this in my group is that I deliver information after a brief assessment of what the character might know based off their age and overall background experience. Collaboration between a player and the GM comes up constantly in things I put out, and this fits that model for me too. The player will come up with a justification as to why their character would know something about the subject, the GM assesses the plausibility of it being truth and adjusts the DC of the roll.
This sounds really basic, but knowing exactly what we’re doing when we do it is key to tuning it to perfection. You can stretch out this interaction with multiple questions that increase the richness of the answer. Recently, when revealing information about Drakkenhall to my wizardly player, I didn’t simply ask him if he would know anything about the city from his studies. I asked him exactly what type of things he studied, what seemingly unrelated subjects were necessary to support the theory of those things. It helps me paint a broader picture of human understanding, not just belittling this poor character’s entire life experience to one roll for a small piece of info. The player learned a great deal about its policing procedures, political structure, known figures of authority, along with a few other quirks the city has. The way we came to this, though, was by mapping the past experience of the character, giving the knowledge a lot more realistic depth.
Now that my really long winded explanation of my thoughts on the subject are over, we can sum it up with a couple of simple rules. When you’re introducing a new part of your setting to the characters, try to think of:
New places with the same characters are exciting. They allow the players to apply previous knowledge their character has gained, just like they would in real life, without all of the stakes and baggage that normally comes with it. Try to make that experience genuine, fun, and intriguing. What else would you sprinkle into the mix to keep the newness of a location from grinding your campaign to a halt?
Stay Metal \m/
Image: My hilarious mug and a reader-made, 3D printed, “Heavy Metal GM” D20. Jeff, this is the most amazing thing someone I barely know has ever done for me, thank you so much!
Up early on a Sunday, that’s the kind of guy I am. Anyway, hello! Thank you for coming to visit my humble abode! I debated calling this post the “State of the Blog Address,” but I think that’d be taking myself too seriously. Though, let’s be real, it wouldn’t have changed the informality of the content you’re about to read. As February 16th falls on a Friday (and is still some ways away), no time like the present to whip this one up! This one’s for you.
Surfing through all of my accounts this morning, Facebook had prompted me to write my story, how all this gaming madness came about. I wrote it, you can see it here, and it left me thinking a little. I started this thing two years ago! Already! That reality came like a slap in the face. Feeling like I haven’t done much, I’m a little disappointed in myself, but a closer look changes that feeling. For two years, I have been putting, what I like to call, “word soup” into the world; and by some divine stroke (probably not), people listen to me. As of the time this is being written, this page has seen 154 blog posts (this being the 155th, I’m weird about patterns of fives and round numbers), over 10,000 visitors, and an amount of experiences whose number and quality cannot even be measured. Because of this site, I’ve been employed for writing, experienced my first conventions (Gen Con 49 and 50, PAX East 2017), became a writer/editor for another website, met some beyond fantastic people, and have been recognized by some of the people I admire most in the industry.
That sounds like I’ve done a lot, though I’d disagree, but everything is owed to those who have supported me. And I don’t mean monetarily, the money that has been brought in by running this thing totals somewhere around like $200 since the start. That’s covered the one year, and the current one, of having my own web domain. It’s not a mound of loot I’ve produced over here, but I don’t need a mound. Never in my life have I been so proud of a little pile of stuff, this pile I liked to call my corner of the internet. People who read my content, people who reach out to talk to me about my posts, people who help me refine my posts by giving me input: you’ve built this site! All I did was provide the content to interact with. Time and time again, I’m humbled by the outright kindness and openness of this community. Of course, there are plenty of people who do the opposite, but every plank has its ugly side. Those interactions don’t matter to me as much, as they only rarely add something to my life.
In the coming years, I truly and honestly hope that this community will continue to be as awesome as it has been. From time to time I disappear, don’t post for a while on here or any of my social media, but know that it’s always on my mind. Fixing cars is no easy gig, and I’m in the actual process of switching into the office side of BMW service. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will open up oodles of mental energy for me, as the physical wear won’t be so abrasive. Let’s make 2018 a kickass year for gaming. Together.
If you have the time and inspiration, I would love for you to comment, Tweet, or send me a Facebook Message about the first time you read this blog, first time you met me, the first time you played a TTRPG, whatever the hell you want. I just want to hear from you, so I can thank you for all the beauty you’ve helped me bring into my life.
Stay Metal \m/
Before we delve into what the hell I’ll be yapping about abstractly for the rest of the page*, we need to understand what an allegory is. They’re scarily similar to metaphors, especially with the misuse of the word in the modern world. I read a good article that talks about it, though it’s a bit of a slog for someone not used to thinking in this frame. This is the necessary preliminary work that only the individual can do for themselves to make their work successful. Tap as many resources of thought as you can, but come to your own conclusion that’s built on a foundation of facts and reason. If you don’t want to do the work, don’t make your game an allegory. Just have fun, know that’s okay and what games are ultimately designed for. For the record, this one is more about social structure in relation to frame of mind than gaming itself. Shall we?
Using games to confront real things in a controlled and welcoming environment is a pretty good idea, but what are the challenges to this? There’s a myriad of boons and busts to this, but each subject that can be addressed has a different set of them. This makes navigating the waters of a campaign as an allegory quite difficult. Besides the creative hurtles, like choosing what you’d like to explore and how exactly to deeply convey it, you should first look at your group dynamic.
Every group is different, it doesn’t take someone with an extensive back log of experience to acknowledge and understand that fact. However, know that one, singular truth is only a tiny part of the larger one. How is your group different? In what ways do they work together or against each other? These questions are just as important at the table as they are outside of it, and serve as a basis to the final answer as to whether or not your game can be an allegory. When you decide to make your game an allegory, it’s no longer just about the game. To give you some guidance on what to do with that thought: this type of game brings things from outside inward for dissection and reflection. Therefore, you open the gateways for serious, potentially emotional conversation. It sounds good, and it can be, but it can easily blow up in your face if you have players that you don’t deeply know away from the game table. Not only do you have to be a GM in this situation, but you need to be a colleague, and an open minded one at that.
The goal of this art is to make the players turn inward about something on the exterior. If you, or anyone in your group for that matter, can’t walk up to an allegory with a mind to contemplate the entire picture and potentially have a civil discussion about it, then your game should not be an allegory.
Simple as that. When I say that finite statement is “simple,” I don’t mean that the situation itself isn’t complex, but the parameters that allow you to move forward can be boiled down to make them seem that way. When one questions that statement, they can travel down into the infinite depth of the very question itself. Calling it simple gives you a feeling of gratification, an understanding of some degree of depth to where generalization can be useful; but it’s important to be aware of the fact that it’s anything but simple in reality. When you understand a situation fully, it becomes easy to call it simple, but when explaining it to other people, one must be thorough. The end game of your campaign is to reflect, within yourselves, about the situations presented.
I called this article, “weighing reason,” for… well, at the risk of sounding more repetitive than I already do, a reason. People have their own ways of pursuing truth through reason, which in this sense means thinking rather than a cause, though it’s abundantly clear that some methods are better than others. In order to keep peace among a group of people, you need to be aware of other people’s way of reasoning, an individual’s way of reasoning, before you present a question. What does that mean? We know that people don’t like to be challenged. One could ask the question, “Why is the sky blue?” The question is simple, direct, and neutral. You could ask that same question in a different way. Do you know why the sky is blue? See the difference? The former is a neutral inquiry, whereas the second question designated a specific target. That makes it my lack of knowledge against knowledge that I assume you have. It seems silly, as the question is the same, but take tone of voice into consideration. The way you ask that question is in many cases infinitely more important than the words themselves, or at least on an interpersonal level. Pair that awareness with an actually challenging question and it opens the flood gate of deductive reasoning. It seems trivial to be bringing all this up, but zooming in to understand individual parts of the dynamic is what helps you manipulate the damn contraption to work. Unfortunately for us gamers, people are the most complicated contraptions that we have a need to manipulate in the context of RPGs.
In the case of an allegorical RPG campaign, that manipulation is taking the form of making someone pose a question to themselves. This should be done through events in the story, character interactions, the layout of the environment itself, fictional political strife, etc. It’s a hard thing to achieve, and you can fail. Look at what parts of the situation could lead to failure and try to find a way to manipulate that as well. Starting to sound kind of creepy and personally intrusive, isn’t it? Now, I bestow upon you the thought to save yourself from this benign manipulation changing into a way for you to insert your own opinions; which may or may not be objectively wrong due to a lack of understanding of the parts, I might add.
A GM has the power to sneakily interject things that they believe into the experiences of others. It’s their responsibility and duty to not wield that belief like a weapon, but to hand it off like a good book. That way the individual can come to their own conclusion about the stance based on the information within to better themselves and, hopefully, the world around them.
This all seemingly has nothing to do with gaming. However, when we consider the impact of the questions that can rise out of the resolutions within a fictional calamity, we see that there’s more than what’s on the surface. Taking all of what I just proposed and putting it under the most powerful microscope you can find is, by far, the most important part making your allegorical campaign succeed. Is this all? Of course not, I’d be a complete fool to think so. Human beings learn best when presented with information paired with the ability to dismantle it into small parts, helping us make a better judgement of the whole. Virtuous behavior is equally as important, as having more than your own experience it build off makes for a strong foundation. Just remember not to take everything everyone says as truth without question.
* Here’s the disclaimer: I have no formal education in philosophy, social science, political science, or psychology. Or anything, really, besides automotive technology and whatever I retained from my horrendous journey through the American public school system. Everything you have just read is a product of my own deductive reasoning and personal experience, and very well may be wrong. *
I’d like everyone who reads this post to comment with an honest question about this piece. Not because I want to prove you wrong, not because I have some insatiable thirst for argument, but because I want to be better both as a game master and an individual. Hopefully, you’re with me and you do too. I expect to be met with a founded, fact and experience based challenge. The only way to become better is to make mistakes! Learning how to talk about views you disagree with, without letting your emotion override reason, is the most important skill that is the most uncommon. Hone it like the blade you’re going to go kill that troll that represents ignorance with.
Thank you so much for reading and Stay Metal \m/
In 2016, I received probably one of the coolest gifts I could imagine from the benevolent Fancy Duckie. The Adventure Case from Dogmight Games is essentially a wooden box to carry all manner of things for your TTRPGs. I previously did a review of this product, and in short, I absolutely loved it despite a few nit picks. For anyone who didn’t read the review or is visiting this post not knowing what to expect out of these products, the adventure case has an insane amount of customization with some really quality craftsmanship to back it up. You pay for it, but you get what you pay for, without question. Also, Dogmight has a kickass policy when it comes to taking care of their customers in the unlikely event of any defects or shipping issues. It’s been a little over a year of having this bad boy, and having been used every game night, so I figured it was time to revisit the scenario. Not much has changed in the scheme of it all, but there are a couple things I’d very much like to point out.
Overall, the metal pieces on the case have held up exceedingly well. A couple of the surfaces have some wear on them but nothing major. At a closer look, it almost seems like the polish is just being worn off from rubbing around in my backpack. An easy fix, if this is the case. Just run to the store, buy some polishing compound and get to work. Personally, I like the lack of flawlessness. It gives the whole box a bit of character!
The chape pieces on the corners are holding up nicely while protecting the wood. Pictured above is the only one that is giving me an issue, showing some signs of either dirt or a small amount of corrosion (too early to tell, methinks). Dogmight uses aluminum or brass for their metal decals on the lid of the box, I would imagine that all the metal fittings follow suit. This is good because both metals are pretty dependable and easy to take care of. However, I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure if the brass is actually brass or aluminum with a plating. They don’t really specify, and when considering the properties of the two metals, it doesn’t really make much of a difference for this application.
Pointing this stuff out feels really nit picky, as it doesn’t detract from the functionality of the case itself. The piece in the worst shape is probably the inside buckle. My best guess as to why is that damage likely occurs when opening the case, laying the top lid flat on the table, and opening the doors only to plop the faces down on the table while I transfer my dice from the top compartment to the lower. I could just open the doors with the lid upright, and let everything flood out into the lower part of the case. I’m not the chaotic type to let hell come pouring out of a storage container, but if you care enough about keeping this pretty, not a bad idea. I usually keep a lot of stuff in there. Both the hinges and the buckles squeak, but that’s nothing a little WD-40 can’t fix.
This is where the real problem kicked in for me. For those who don’t know, I live in New England. We have a saying up here: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” It holds true, this part of the country seems to be in a constant flux of weather for whatever reason. To further paint a picture, it tends to be very humid up here in the summer months. My adventure case definitely showed me that it didn’t like all that extra water in the air.
It’s rather hard to see, but the wood on the door, closest to the top of the lid, has some wear on it. There’s definitely no surprise here. Wood absorbs moisture from the air and swells, I deal with it in regards to my guitars all the time. What had happened here, though, is it swelled so much that the corner was contacting the upper part of the lid and wore the wood down a little. Thankfully, the case was never difficult to open or close, but you could definitely feel that contact only on the one door. Since it didn’t sacrifice the functionality of the case, and it didn’t damage the case in a significant way, this is expected and quite minor. Now that it’s winter, it’s not contacting any longer and has served as a comical quirk of the case more than anything.
In full confidence, I can say that this thing took a year of some not so nice treatment and help up just fine. I fully expect that it’ll last me for a long time, and If I’m being 100% honest, this thing is my favorite piece of RPG equipment I own. It’s so practical and functional that when you pair it when the overall beauty of the thing, how could you go wrong? Just like in the review, I wholeheartedly recommend picking up one of these if you have the dough to burn. If you don’t Dogmight has a range of similar products to fit your needs and wants. Thanks for reading and as always…
Stay Metal! \m/
Especially when it’s that metal on kickass wooden boxes.
image credit: David “Happy-Mutt” Paget on DeviantArt
The third and final part of this adventure is at the bottom! Just to spice things up, we have a new “Files” page that has the complete version of this both with and without commentary. Just to build on what that page will be for in the future, really quick: It’ll be where I put adventures and other writings in PDF format for you guys to download, use at the table, use as a coaster, whatever! Just know that anything that has been put in there is personal work, work that I do not receive any payment (other than emotional payment) to do. That fact considered, they won’t have that much visual appeal. Even if they’re not pretty, I hope that the growing of said page will be useful, entertaining, and ever-growing.
This adventure could likely be taken and plopped down into another campaign after tweaking some details. Messing around with stakes that the Icons may or may not have in the situation could make things even better, and the mini-dungeon doesn’t even have to end where I ended it.
If you expand upon this adventure at your home table, add or subtract certain things to the content I’ve presented, nothing would please me more than you writing a long email about it to me. The different ways GMs present/process situations are what make this hobby so rich!
Stay Metal \m/
Image credit: Forgotten Realms Wikia
Breaking the entire document up by session, here is part 2 of my Trial of the Iron Bear; an adventure that I created for my ongoing 13th Age campaign. In addition, I updated the part 1 comments, as there were a couple of issues with typos and things having been left out and so forth. These parts of the adventure were written after the players had experienced the Pit of Riches. Parts of it were written beforehand, but tweaked to fit what had come of the situation. The comments will highlight which part is subject to that.
Most of what’s within this piece is the buildup to the final encounter of the dungeon, a face-off with the campaign’s main villain, Ossen. The players didn’t know what was waiting for them, but they handled this dungeon very efficiently despite being ignorant of the stakes. Without further adieu, I bring you part two!
Stay Metal! \m/
Image Source: Eric Belisle
Hey folks! At the bottom of the article is a PDF, a piece of my reference notes for my Saturday 13th Age game. At the time of this adventure, the party was comprised of six 7th level characters, with an incremental or two I believe. My players are pretty tough, so if some of this seems like overkill, that’d be why. This whole thing took a while complete because I had a data loss recently that made me want to cry.
This adventure was rather short, spanning three sessions. It’s heavily tailored to the last four years of story that these characters have gone through (though I make little mention of them by name in this one), but I think seeing the notes I bring to the table every time could be useful. All of my campaign notes are written like this, though the order in which I write things may seem jumbled. Just writing the ideas down helps me remember most of the details; for me, the format itself is less important than the content. This definitely isn’t laid out in a way that’d be too useful to someone other than me. The final piece of advice I have to offer when reading this part (or others) is to read the format change post for the Ald Sotha campaign. It’ll make a lot of the names at least somewhat familiar and bring this adventure into context.
Whether or not you care about my campaign as a whole is irrelevant, as I think almost anybody can pull something interesting from the file. Feel free to pick this stuff apart! Feedback, debate about game theory, and questions are more than welcome. Download the file below:
It was a bit of a busy weekend. There wasn’t enough time in the day and I was mourning the fact that I hadn’t been able to release campaign notes for my Ald Sotha game like I had so arrogantly promised. Wednesday, being a day off of work for me, was the perfect day to play catch-up and crank a bunch of stuff out.
Only to find that my USB drive had wiped itself. The USB drive with all of my Ald Sotha files on it, even the stuff from the beginning. Lesson learned: BACK UP FILES! I’m really kicking myself for this one today. So where does this leave me and how do I recover from it? Well, thankfully a lot of the stuff that happened early on in the campaign is basically resolved. We’re mostly running this game on what we remember and what’s relevant to current events anyhow. It’s a tragic loss of the history and stuff we’ve been through, but it overall doesn’t affect the game. Or at least I don’t think it will, it hasn’t yet. More than anything, the files stuck around for a nostalgia factor, with only the most recent files (which I had printed off for easy reference at the table) were of actual use to me. All in all, not so bad after all.
What is the real tragedy here, though, is that now I have to load all my RPG books back onto it… Meh, a mild inconvenience. The USB drive itself was able to be salvaged, though I’ll only store things on it with a suspicious stare. Looking ahead, I will still post up the Trial of the Iron Bear campaign notes, though it may take a bit since I have the added task of transcribing it before adding my commentary. We shall persevere in the face of this technological tragedy!
Stay Metal \m/
Image: Legion of Urguan from Lord of the Craft. I had adopted this as the crest of Ald Sotha, years before I started this blog!
Hey everyone! So I’ve been thinking about this Ald Sotha camapaign a lot during the unintentional break my home group got stuck in. Rethinking how I’ve been showing this campaign to the outside world (sessions reproduced in a novel format), I decided it was time for a change. It’d be way more helpful if I showed people how I prep for the legs of my adventures. In order for that document to make sense, however, I need to catch you guys up on the situation.
The group had helped Mia and the farm peoples. The lead Ealdorman, Ermeon, didn’t exactly get along with Crysx. Their opposing religious views did get in the way of a clean negotiation. They eventually had his permission to put a plan in motion to catch the culprits. It turns out a tribe of half-orcs had been murdering the farm folk for supposedly desecrating sacred land. The tribesmen made a pilgrimage to the area every two hundred years. This year being New Port’s 200th birthday, the half-orcs were shocked to find that humans had settled in the plains outside of the city. The farm folk had adopted the barrow that they were burying their dead in, The group had seen half orc skeletons on the inside of it when going to resurrect Mia’s father, which was the big hint drop for them. To catch the murderers, they laid a trap; the half orcs attacking a farmhouse that the group was secretly prepared to defend. By the end of it, the captain of the half-orcs killed one of the other Ealdormen, quickly surrendering afterwards.
Long story short, Gurturr the half-orc captain justified his actions with his people’s plight. The party had mercy on him and handed him over to the New Port authorities so that they could do what they will with him. The case went to trial by combat, one in which Crysx interfered by casting the Aasimar ability, Halo, on Gurturr when he was losing. Gurturr knew, and was very upset. Lisbeth, the bleeding heart that she is, had resurrected the poor sword of justice that had been needlessly slain, telling him to disappear and live out his life in peace. He was thoroughly confused, as resurrection magic has been literally invented in my version of the Dragon Empire by Lisbeth. It’s a bit taboo too, to keep it interesting.
The quest after that whole shabang involved finding out a previous foe was still kicking, and an ally of Ossen to boot. Lucius Bornholdt (a drow vampire) was appealing to his vampiric ally in New Port, Nathaniel, for help. Turns out Lucius, Ossen, and Nathaniel are just small pieces of the Lich King’s plan to reclaim his empire, though Ossen has a different plan for himself and the king of undead. The group discovered this plan by befriending Nathaniel, against all odds. Nathaniel had also helped orchestrate the final downfall of Lucius Bornholdt, as he doesn’t like the Lich King’s plan. All Nathaniel wants is to live a normal live amongst humans, as he’s made himself very wealthy under their economy. After being forced to have a hand in the murder his long time friend Lucius, he gladly spilled the beans. Howver, he made it clear that if questioned by the Lich King or any of his advisers, the group would be sold right out. Nathaniel fears the Lich King, mainly due to his iron grip on necromancy. Being a vampire makes him susceptible to the Lich King’s will. Ossen’s attack on Ald Sotha had been a hasty decision, as he decided to find the Shroud of Ahzidahl, a cloak that makes the wearer completely immune to magic, along with the Deck of Many Things. Rumor has it that there’s a card in there that makes the drawer of the card ascend into godhood. If that’s true, it makes the pair a very dangerous duo, allowing the wearer of the shroud to draw cards and be unaffected until the card that’s sought is found.
Remembering that Blaine, a character who had left the party, has the Deck of Many Things was a very unfortunate situation to deal with. Thynexius had told them earlier that Blaine was most likely in Drakkenhall, so the group had decided they were going to go there. Though, a stop at a town actually near Ald Sotha itself, called Marblejar, was planned. A companion in the Axefall guild, Rin Lakehilt, lived there and came with them to New Port when Marblejar and Ald Sotha fell. His family forge was fueled by a phoenix feather, and he wanted the group to get it back. It would immensely help the production of arms and armor, as it maintains a very high and steady temperature for the forge. The group agreed, since they had to pass Cape Thunder anyhow. However, this meant a hike through the mountains that run along the coast to get to the town. Any other route would take them too close to Ald Sotha, making them susceptible to Ossen’s treachery.
Whilst hiking, they got caught up in a conflict between some tribal dwarves and stone giants that live in the area. The group got stuck in a trap that the dwarves had set for one of the giants. They didn’t fight, as they were severely outnumbered, and were at their mercy. Upon being lead back to their dwellings, the party discovered the tribe was under the influence of a bone naga name Shakaask. Worse still, the bone naga was turned into such from a regular naga by Ossen. It had apparently been bribed with physical immortality, as nagas tend to eventually wither into nothing but magical energy as their bodies age. The naga decided it was in the mood to have fun rather than follow Ossen’s orders. It demanded that the party attempt its trial, or be killed. If they succeeded the trial, they were free to go. Cliche, I know, but it worked! It was a pretty fun reveal, they were upset to find out that this random encounter actually had some bearing on their situation.
So next Sunday, I will be releasing the original document of that trial. I called it the Trial of the Iron Bear because they dwarves worship this big, iron statue of a dwarve that’s wearing a bear’s skin. Within the text, I’ll be adding my own commentary on the thing in Blue Text. Sadly, a lot gets lost in the translation of this game, simply because there are things that happen at the table that are long winded and uninteresting to explain. If this seems like a good idea to you, let me know! If you’d rather me keep going in the fashion that they were originally wrote in, do the same. I really want to cater to my audience on this one, as this campaign is probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever played through in my entire life. But don’t forget…
Stay Metal! \m/
Nay sayers will tell you that Satyricon finally went over the deep end with their self-titled album. While it was a far cry from the “black n’ roll” style of Now, Diabolical and Age of Nero, I found it to be an artistic masterpiece. It’s an atmospheric album that showed Satyricon could be thoughtful in ways we may not have expected. The album, Satyricon had me excited for this new adventure, and Deep calleth upon Deep just simply couldn’t come fast enough.
I wasn’t disappointed, just left slightly confused.
The opening track to the album, Midnight Serpent proved to be vastly different from the opening of Satyricon. It comes out strong, reminding you who Satyricon really is. The lyrics are carefully crafted and placed, making this track a powerhouse. Weighing in at 6:21, it seems like it would run out of steam, but it doesn’t fail to satisfy. However, the middle of this album takes a really drastic turn from that signature sound we came to know and love from this band. The track Blood Cracks Open the Ground has an amazing feeling to it… for the first two minutes or so. There’s this giant interlude that leaves much to be desired. It’s almost like they didn’t know what to do with the rest of the track. The tone just fizzles out and gets really choppy for a moment before jumping into this weird, scale-like riff. Around the three minute mark is when it starts to make sense again but it had quickly become jumbled that I had a hard time enjoying the finish. Well, the first time, at the very least.
Two tracks I had a very difficult time getting into were The Ghost of Rome and Dissonant. They feel like they don’t fit with the rest of the album. Before the vocals start with both songs, they sound straight up like Black Sabbath. The song that bears the namesake of the album has the same atmosphere, but I like the riff they chose for that over the other two. Stranger still is the use of the saxophone in the beginning of Dissonant. It’s like this freestyle, jazzy bit that hides in the background but is too noisy to miss. After a couple listen throughs, I was able to appreciate the vision that went into the two songs, yet there’s still just something missing from them. I would have preferred two tracks that are more of the same from Satyricon, because they just leave you scratching your head.
While a couple of the tracks have some amazingly concrete bits to them (To Your Brethren in the Dark and Deep calleth upon Deep), there are some shifts in key, scale, and tempo that make you question why they were put there. It’s almost as if this album can’t decide if it wants to sound like Black Sabbath, a love letter to some of the older stuff, or just a refreshing reboot to the band’s sound. There are many familiar aspects to it in overall tone, like the opening riff in Black Wings and Withering Gloom which reminds me of Mother North, but I find myself being whipped around by the nearly conflicting sounds that are littered throughout. The lyrical content follows a similar artistic view as the self-titled album, which I very much enjoyed. In all honesty: at first, I didn’t like this album. I’m still not sure if I really do, but there are, without question, pieces of it that’ll keep me coming back.
More than anything, it’s a brain exercise. It’s almost like Satyricon wants to deliver a message that clashes with some of the tones used. In an interview, Sigurd “Satyr” Wongraven said that he wasn’t sure if this would be the last Satyricon album or not. That said, he wanted the album to be special. He goes on to talk about how the album art was chosen and so on. Listening to Satyr talk about this album, you can tell it’s something important to him. If one thing is clear between this album, the self titled, and what has been said in that interview, it seems as though Satyricon will continue to experiment (if they continue at all) with sound and paint a more existential picture with their work. At the end of the day, I think I do like this album as a whole, though not all of the individual parts. It’s at least worth a listen, if nothing else.
Stay Metal \m/
Image source: Bugbear Surprise by Akeiron (Deviant Art)
The GM of any game is often painted like this evil mastermind that has control over a character’s entire life. Whether they’re cruel, merciful, destructive, or kooky, GMs have this sort of divine air about them in regards to the gaming community. It’s true, not everybody can take on the job. It demands your attention, your precious time, your creativity. As laborious as it can be, it’s awesome; let’s just get that right out of the way.
However, one thing that I feel players often forget is that the GM is usually just as surprised about what happens on the player end of the game as you are about theirs. I always talk about my main campaign, how it’s been my pride and joy for the past four years and the like. Pulling a lot of inspiration from it for my writing, because this is my big game theory experiment essentially, I’m sure you guys can get sick of reading that sentence. But seriously, it’s taught me so much, and inspired me to write yet another article.
Surprise is a bit of a tricky thing when you’re GMing. Usually, it pops up when you don’t want it to. The players can circumvent a cool encounter you had planned, think of a creative yet mildly annoying way to fix a problem that you propose, or bring an idea to the table that is so damn good that you want to alter your story to fit it. It’s just as likely that these are the good kind of surprise as they are the bad kind. The emotion is a bit of a double edged sword for GMs. We like when it happens because it’s a good feeling (well, for some of us) but it always creates more work, no matter how cool the surprise is. So how do we deal with the unexpected? Just like everything, there’s a couple things to do.
Personally, improvisation is my comfortable space when it comes to GMing. Even if what I make up on the spot changes a detail about the story, it’s better for the player input to reign supreme over my own thoughts. Improvisation can be tricky when you’re a person who works better within the guidelines of a module, but it is a part of being a GM. Nurture that skill, and it will serve you well. Sometimes it’ll shake things up so much that it completely changes whatever your group is doing. It can be really fun to let that happen and see where the chips fall, I do recommend it every once in a while. If you had settled on the fact that the High Druid and Elf Queen are actually two parts of the same entity, but your one of your players hints at the truth of their sibling relation, go with the player input. It’ll shake things up, but you can always adjust accordingly. Unless, of course, the entirety of the story hinges on your interpretation of the relationship. Then it’s even better to let the player think that they’re seeing the relationship for what it is and be surprised later down the road! Making that split decision can sometimes be an improvisational choice, it can be a really fun defining moment.
When improv is the imperfect answer, when the action performed is too big a shake-up to take it in full, it’s okay to say you need five minutes. Giving the group a period of time to step out, grab a coffee or a smoke, go for a walk etc. is a useful tool to have in the box. It’s almost like a reset button, and can quickly suck uninterested players back into the game. Players can be like sharks, perking up at the slightest whiff of blood. You having been caught off guard by another player can be exciting for those kind of people. Let it happen, cultivate that interest. Re-purposing those emotions to spur a useful interaction in-game is incredibly helpful. As much as it’s a reset button for them, it can be for you too. When everyone leaves the room and you gain a second of peace to think the situation through, there’s a chance you’ll emerge on the other side of the situation more collected. Having that clarity of mind is a GM’s deadliest weapon. We don’t like to admit it, but we have some physical tells that spoil some cool surprises for the players. I know I grin like a goof during cool moments because it’s so exciting. Hitting that reset button can help you pull yourself together and execute the situation like a boss.
The last option, though I’m not a huge fan, is over-preparation. I feel like this is the most common knee-jerk reaction to unpredictable players. For some people this one works, where it doesn’t for others. I can see the appeal and use, but it’s definitely not for me. Over-preparation allows the GM to carry a sense of security through the entire session, but can also lull them incredibly far into that feeling. If I operated this way, I would probably panic when something unexpected happens because I have a boatload of source material for reference. There is something to be said for it though: Over-preparation can lead to some of the richest environments ever imagined. There’s something going on everywhere at all times, and if something goes neglected, the written material helps you visualize what happened to that situation without the players’ input.
Each method of dealing with surprise behaves drastically different. Like I say all the time, this diversity of theory makes our hobby incredibly unpredictable. Running the same thing at two different tables makes for two very different experiences. It can be frustrating, fun, and scary all at the same time! If you have any thoughts to fuel this fire, let’s keep it going. Post a comment here, on whatever post you found this on, or Tweet at me. Just like a good game, writing these things is the best when your audience interacts with you.
You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?
Stay Metal! \m/
“It’s like herding cats,” is the best description I’ve ever heard of being a GM. Your player characters have their own free will and spontaneous thoughts, trying to get them to go somewhere can be a challenge without forcing them to do so. But what happens when your actual players are difficult to herd to the table? You don’t game that week… or month… or six months. It can be frustrating, even discouraging a lot of the time. Personally, I’m going through a huge lull like this in my Saturday group and I was thinking about how I deal with this sort of thing, as I’m obviously not the only one with this problem.
I tend to get really disappointed when the game falls apart, everybody dropping like flies in our group chat to keep in touch. There’s something special about my Saturday group that scratches my gaming itch, though only in hindsight because I’m too self critical. When we get the night off, which is more often than not these days, reflecting on previous sessions helps me think about where I want to go with the current plot line. Off nights should be my writing time, where I map out where the PCs will likely go next or what have you. Usually, that doesn’t happen because I’m a schlub, but it’d be a good way to spend your sad time, I’d say. Personally, grasping at straws is what I find myself doing instead. Pestering the players that didn’t drop to come play another game, like FFG’s X-wing, 4 The Birds, a small vignette from my 13th Age game, Total Rickall, hell, something! There’s a reason for this too…
If your players get used to having frequent off days, you’ll get stuck in that trap for a long time. When my attempts to get people involved and keep with the Saturday gaming figure, it’s an indicator that we’re going to have a hard time meeting for a long time. Sometimes even a month and a half without the campaign being played. Sound familiar to anyone? My condolences, you are not alone! There’s a light to be had here, though. With my main game being 13th Age, this leaves me time to read the multitude of supplements that exist for the system. Find some different angles on your creativity when you suffer from the blight of gamelessness. A good example of this is right before we had this long push to run through a dungeon. I didn’t know what to do with the story, we had a long time off, and there was still much I hadn’t read in 13 True Ways. I dove into that book like David Boudia (an Olympic diver, if you miss that joke). Now, we’re marching the party towards Drakkenhall and I’m incredibly excited for what’ll befall them there… if we ever game again.
Sometimes having some time off will help you get excited about your campaign again. Frustration sets in, even with the best of us, when you play a campaign for too long. Even when it goes well, it doesn’t always go as you picture and can make you feel squashed because you liked your ideas. Such is the life of a GM. The extra free time gives you an opportunity to explore what other works have done with the setting, sparking your own creativity.
To do a 180 from that idea, I also read other systems. Lately, I’ve been reading John Wick’s 7th Sea (which has me unbelievably intrigued). Reading other systems can give you ideas on how to handle certain situations mechanically, even if the mechanics in the other game doesn’t fit yours 100%. It frees your mind from the cage that is your main system; it always pays to be well rounded.
If you find yourself too discouraged to read/write, do something that I feel like too few groups do: hang out with the remaining people. Even if they’re not down to game, maybe they’re down to grab dinner, a drink, or a movie. It’s easy to slip into the mindset of, “these are the people I game with.” Spending time outside of game with your group helps solidify the relationships within. It doesn’t scratch that itch, but at least it doesn’t leave you sulking at home. If you get along with your group outside of game, chances are you’ll get along better within it. Nurture that relationship, it’ll make you feel good. That’s not always true though, so don’t take it as gospel.
When all else fails, you could always open up some dialogue about schedule in your group chat/email/whatever. Maybe your gaming schedule is too frequent, or even too sparse. Finding that sweet spot is so incredibly important, it’s not even funny. The more you stick to the schedule, the less likely you’ll miss games.
So there you have it. A rambly, probably non-nonsensical article about how I keep myself from disbanding my group after many consecutive weeks of not playing (those thoughts are real).
Stay Metal \m/