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The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

Deep calleth upon Deep – Satyricon

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/

Equally Surprised

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/

The Group That Never Meets

“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/

Campaign Building: The Snowball Effect

Image source: Comics I Don’t Understand

This one is a tough subject, as no two GMs are the same. From the ground up, building a campaign is a daunting task, even more so for the more aspiring GMs that want to do this as their first endeavor. Some people like to use an established setting while others have ideas that could only work in a world of their own creation. The question: What the hell do I do to build a campaign? The answer has so many different faces and aspects that it’s rather difficult to nail down, but here’s one way of many to start.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I was lucky. My first campaign sprung up out of me simply saying, “let’s play a game,” to my friends. I came up with the most generic scenario I could possibly think of, plopped it down into 13th Age’s Dragon Empire, miraculously birthing the campaign that I’m still playing today. I started with just an intuition, spending the rest of my time building off of the random details my players had created. By the end of it, I had a titanic cast of GMPCs, villains, events, and locations. I call this method, “the snowball effect.” You simply round up some players, use a setting that’s loosely established, push the “snowball” of your players’ ideas and character actions down the hill, and voila! A collaboratively created game where all the GM came up with was the initial adventure and villain.

So let’s talk terms a little bit. I like to think of the random ideas that you and your players will have floating around all the time as snow. The snow floats around and eventually lands on the ground for you to pick up and force into a shape. Every character creates a tiny snowball, a collection of ideas about their character, a situation, a future plot point, whatever. When they say it, I think of it as them throwing me said snowball. Sometimes I catch all of it, other times it crumbles in my hand and I’m left with just a powdery mess. Regardless, we take that snow and pack it onto the original idea that was my (the GMs), original idea. The snowballs that the players create can sometimes be different from the GMs. Player snowballs tend to be very focused, specific information about something they’re mulling over in their head. GM snowballs tend to be big ideas, usually about theme or campaign direction. Every now and again, if you have an awesome group, you have players that do both. What’s not lucky, is that the GM learns create both kinds of snowballs. Eventually, the GM is packing snowballs or catching player made ones, throwing them at the giant one rolling down the hill, seeing what spatters off and what sticks. Sounds kind of hectic, right?

Details sometimes get lost or forgotten about, only to come up later. The best part is, sometimes when you find that “snow” on the ground, you can pick it up and add it to the snowball. The drawback of doing it this way is that if you have a group that isn’t new to role playing (unlike the majority of my group at the start), then this can feel very unsatisfying. Some experienced players enjoy having fields and fields of lore to navigate, creating a sense of immersion right from the get-go. The snowball campaign doesn’t always work like that, a lot of the time I inject some of the history on the fly, which leads to another problem with it.

Unless you’re comfortable with improv, running this style of campaign can be rather difficult. The snowball campaign forces the GM to keep packing snow onto the story, especially if the characters just throwing the snow around listlessly. You look around at stuff that’s fallen out of the sky (ideas you’ve had or things your players have said), pick it up, and pack it onto the rest. Once you get used to it, it’s incredible fun, however. For me, it gives me the same sense of mystery and excitement that the players get. Since I never know what they’re going to do, or even what their actions could lead to, my instinct and understanding of the campaign as it stands steers the thing. Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t come up with a loose quest line for the flow of the game.

I call those quest lines “legs” of the campaign; they are the path in which the giant snowball rolls on. Sometimes the snowball is running through halls of a king. Other times, it’s barreling through a dungeon, full steam ahead. The legs are the things that happen outside of the player (and character’s) control. The GM gets to steer the snowball into specific legs. The things that the snowball picks up while traversing the legs are determined collaboratively. Tone is the sound the snowball makes whilst rolling, and theme is what tells everyone what the snowball looks like, but the environment around that snowball is constantly changing. It’s a little nebulous and weird to wrestle with, but the structure becomes a game within a game. This constant rolling that the snowball is doing represents the characters and story picking things up along the way that ultimately changes how it all looks by the end of it. But keep in mind, everything that sticks to it is still snow. It feels the same, although it might sound and look different. Strange, huh? For those of you that are really enjoying picturing the metaphor, you may be asking yourself, “If it’s rolling down a hill, how are you still packing snow onto it?”

The answer is why I think running a game this way is incredibly fun. You have to run alongside it. Sometimes you lose control of where the snowball is going, which is when general real life logic rather than creativity makes unexpected things or consequences happen. While you and your players are running down this ever changing hill, looking at your snowball and throwing things at it, you can’t help but look ahead. Steering is collaborative, while the GM is the lookout for snowball breaking obstacles. All you can do is follow it to keep throwing things in an effort to roll it all to a desired end. In this light, it might sound like as the GM, I have no real say in what sticks to the snowball or where it goes. This is a misconception, because the GM always has the ability to stand in front of it, stop the thing from rolling, and say that this particular thing can’t stick to our snowball. Of course, it’s their responsibility to explain to the group why, and if a good reason is presented otherwise, it doesn’t stick. Usually, those are the things that’ll steer it so far off course that it’ll smash into a wall, or a tree (something that would destroy the campaign). At the end, you’re left with a huge snowball, a collection of crap you’ve picked up along the journey, and the memories of how it got from point A to B.

Running a campaign is constantly chaotic on the GM’s side. You have to trust your group, take their ideas into serious consideration, and sometimes even ask why they desire a certain thing to happen. Of course, the dice end up deciding whether they are successful or not, but it’s really fun to see the snow flying around. Am I off-the-wall insane or does this sound like fun to you? I’d love to hear about it!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Norzul’s Marvelous Unpainted Miniatures Review

Disclaimer: WizKids did not send me these minis, I had purchased them myself of my own devices. Enjoy the review!

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with models and figures. I hadn’t found tabletop games until I was 17, though. Every now and again I would meander down to the hobby store (in the classic sense) to gawk at the various historical models of ships, combat aircraft and buildings. The very idea of taking something from the real world,  making it bite-size, and someone taking the time to paint and construct them was (and is) just so cool to me.

When I got into tabletop gaming, I had a sense of finances and said, “NOPE!” to the idea of painting miniatures for it. You can only hold out for so long, right? Alas, I broke, and now I’ve been painting minis because tiny, detailed things are freaking amazing. Not having started young, it’s been a bit of a learning curve; and though I’m no expert, I figured sharing my findings is always helpful. Nolzur’s Marvelous Unpainted Miniatures is a product line put out for Wizards of the Coast and their ever-growing 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons by Wizkids. Smart move on their part, since Wizkids has been doing amazing things for Pathfinder and Heroclix in the model department as well. Not exactly knowing where to start, the price point of these really grabbed my attention. So, I started here and with some Reaper Bones minis. Since we all know what to expect from Reaper, I figured talking about these made more sense.

Being a GM, I decided to start with some monsters. Hero characters are cool and all, but If my players want high quality, painted minis for their characters, do it your damn selves! That’s not to say that I won’t be buying some heroes down the road, however. It seems like these minis are packaged in twos, unless they’re smaller creatures, in which I’ve seen packaged in threes. I started with the Bugbears, Gnolls, and Kobolds. Seven HD minis total for around $12 US is pretty good, if you ask me. As I had mentioned, they’re packed in twos, but the Kobolds as three. The deal with these minis is that they come pre-primed (white) with Vallejo primer. As a new painter, I was skeptical with the white primer, as black is a bit easier to hide mistakes and make detail come out. In the end, it looks like it worked out okay though. So far, I’ve only gotten around to painting one Kobold and the two Bugbears, and there’s a pretty solid reason for that.

I decided to start with the hulking Bugbear with an ax. One thing about the packaging/advertisement that really irks me is the pictures of the models themselves. Instead of pictures of the actual minis, it looks like they’re computer generated images. This projects an incredible amount of detail, more detail than shows up on the miniature itself, I’d argue. When I unboxed them, although I could see them through the clear plastic beforehand, I was a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, they look really good, just not as good as they look on the box. Oh well, for the price, I still can’t argue.

Having thrown out the box after I ripped them open, I don’t recall if they told you to use Vallejo paints or not. Since they’re transparent about the primer they used, I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t have Vallejo paints. I had started by buying Citadel and Army Painter, as that’s what my FLGS has. Apparently, that was a bit of a problem. The Army Painter stuff didn’t have too much of an issue, but the Citadel paints simply didn’t want to stay on the model. I got it to work, and look pretty good (if I do say so myself), but it wasn’t that easy. I would put a bit of paint on a part of the model and it would just run in all directions. It was like it thinned itself, quite strange, really. I would say maybe I got some bad paint, but it had no trouble on the Reaper minis, that I primed with Chaos Black.

Excuse the noise, I was listening to a podcast (Tales to Terrify).

After a bit of a struggle, the Bugbear was done. Let me tell you, the frustration was worth it. I absolutely love the way this model came out, he looks a little like a Roman Legionnaire meets a Gaul. Another positive point for these is that they come with plain, round bases that you can glue the model to after you paint it. No paint on the base? Good in my book! What confirmed my suspicion about the paint vs the primer was my experience with the Kobold. The Bugbear made it easy, as the model is bigger. A little bit of running is no problem when you have room for mistakes. That Kobold was so damn tiny, it was a complete nuisance. The paint tolerated staying on the more textured parts like the scales, but the pants, or loincloth, or whatever you want to call it was smooth and almost completely rejected it. As with the former, it came out halfway decent,even though I’m not 100% done with it.

My hands are clean! I just work on cars so I’m forever stained.

Here’s where the frustration really starts for me. I haven’t even touched my Gnoll minis. I felt like I had to gear myself up to do it. The bodies of these models are stunning, with some really interesting little details on their person. However, the face of the chieftain looking dude is a bit of a jumbled mess. Maybe that’s because the model is white and doesn’t bring out the detail all that well yet, or maybe I just got a bad cast, who knows. But the fact that it’s so hard to see what I’m painting makes it intimidating to start. The other one? You can see his face a lot better, but instead of it being confusing to look at, it’s simply plain. He’s almost featureless, the eyes are nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the brow/face. Swing and a miss on this one. I’ll eventually try my hand at painting them, but I need to build up some confidence first.

Overall, for the price point they ask, these miniatures are fantastic. Even with my concerns, I do wholeheartedly recommend them for painters of any skill level. Don’t let the model defeat you, plunge in and go to town. I thought I couldn’t do it either, but it actually worked out pretty well. It seems like these miniatures suffer the same problem as their pre-painted counterparts. Detail doesn’t translate from picture to model, sometimes it looks a little wonky because of it. The plastic seems durable, though, so at least that can be said.

To sum it all up!

Pros:

  • Good price point
  • Pre-primed
  • Very detailed
  • Can choose base the mini on provided round bases

Cons:

  • Citadel paint seems to dislike the Vallejo primer they come with
  • Box art is slightly misleading
  • Cast doesn’t seem to be the best on face details (on some models)

 

I really hope this review helped! For anyone that’s had a different experience with these miniatures, I would love to hear your stories. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, or send a message to my Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you!

And of course…

Stay Metal \m/

Dragon Empire: Eld

There is not even one sentence about this place in the book, and it’s made my imagination run wild with what it could be. Eld is this little region at the bottom of the map, sandwiched between the mystery of what’s beyond the Dragon Empire’s southern border and the Wild Wood. The incompleteness of this setting fills me with wonder and never fails to inspire me to create.

So what could Eld be? Let’s start piecing together what we do know. A Koru Behemoth migration route runs right through it, as does a major river called The Grandfather. That alone makes you wonder if the place is inherently magical. The Owl Barrens wall in its western border while people can travel freely into it from the east. We don’t know what the Wild Wood was before the High Druid, but we do know that it has since been altered by her magic. There’s a chance that Eld has been touched by that magic, but judging by the difference of terrain markings on the map, this isn’t likely. It seems as though Eld is naturally protected, and it’s certainly fun to tinker with the idea of this being intentional. But why? Lets do a bit of digging and speculation, shall we?

The first thing that popped into my head with name of the place was the Eladrin from D&D. They’re celestial, elf-like beings front a different plane in the context of D&D, and perhaps this region was named after them for that reason. Could Eld be similar to the Feywild or, to go to the Eladrin’s roots, Arborea? It could explain why it’s linked to the Wild Wood, but the markings on the map are similar to that of the Knee Deep, Hellmarsh, and The Fangs, implying that it’s actually more swampy. This alone sets it apart from the Feywild and Arborea. However, we can still link the name to Eladrin, assuming that it was actually the birthplace of elves before they migrated northward to the Queen’s Wood. It might seem like a stretch but hear me out.

There’s a rumour hiding within the text of the core rules that states that the Elf Queen and High Druid could be half-sisters. It says figurative siblings in the write-up, but let’s interpret it more literally. That alone I could write an entire article on, but putting that supposed truth in this context certainly points to my theory for Eld. It’s never talked about in the book, but perhaps the Elves had found the lands that now make up the Dragon Empire during the start of this age. It’s no secret that elves are an ancient race, from far before the existence of others, but what if they’re simply new to the region? Before the High Druid existed as she does in this age, she could have been living in the shadow of her older sister, the Elf Queen we see today in the 13th Age. The (now) Wild Wood could have been a northward expansion of their peoples when they decided to leave Eld, only to be met with  resistance from its previous inhabitants. Those previous inhabitants could have been the 12th Age’s High Druid and their ilk. Maybe this High Druid in hiding took the Elf Queen’s younger sister under their wing amidst the conflict. You see where I’m going with this; a climactic battle between siblings, ending in the elder being flushed out of the territory for the younger to live in solitude. The High Druid building her own little empire in the wake of her victory and promising to someday stick it to her older sister. In response, the Elf Queen captured The Green, who may have been the black sheep of the dragons that make up The Three, a friend of the previous High Druid.

The theory slightly clashes with some details in the section for the High Druid, but making this tension a focal point for a campaign could be incredibly interesting. This train of thought could also explain why the river running through the Wild Wood into Eld is called The Grandfather. Perhaps the High Druid named it that, in longing memory of her previous home. Even the name Eld itself is reminiscent of the word, elder. No doubt, Eld should be a place of interesting magic that confuses even the most learned wizards, clerics, and druids. Magic that’s somewhere between arcane, divine, and natural. Making Eld the abandoned home of the oldest race in existence also raises some questions.

Why would they have to leave? Obviously, with this being a fantasy system based around conflict, it had to be some sort of natural catastrophe or war. If it’s a war, with who? Did the elves of Eld have a relationship with the Koru Behemoths, and if so, what did it entail? If it’s a catastrophe, what exactly happened? Since we know nothing about the place, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps a magical storm came ripping northward from some far-southern region outside of the Dragon Empire. Maybe that storm dissipated, but could someday reform, moving even further north. On the front of warfare, an elven civil war could be an interesting idea. It could also explain why the Elf Queen has been so successful; she found a way to unite her people and prosper. Furthermore, it could be the reason why there’s no information on it in the book. The warring sub-races of elves were left to destroy one another and they did just that, leaving nobody left to contact the newfound northern lands. Ah, mystery and wonder. My old friends.

 

I’d be really interested to hear what the rest of the community thinks! Don’t be shy, reach out!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Gen Con 50 Experience

My vacation is over. A week at Gen Con and a week in Scotland with only a day between the two, and now, I’m back to reality. Let me tell you, those two weeks were marvelous. There’ll be a post about Scotland later for the personal part of the site, but for now, it’s gaming!

This year I was able to string some more first timers along to this wonderful convention. The first timers: personal friend and cartoonist, Matt Albanese, creator of the NerdMantle and personal friend, Ben Witunsky, and last but not least, VP Quinn from High Level Games (who has also become a dear friend). Returning from last year was beloved cosplayer, Fancy Duckie. The last part of our crew didn’t room with us and carried a very heavy gaming schedule throughout the convention. , Josh Heath is involved with High Level Games and is the creator of his own Inclusive Gaming Network.

And what a crew it was. Having learned from my mistakes last year, this year was far more manageable and enjoyable. We drove from Boston, as opposed to flying, again. It’s always long and grueling but the people you’re with makes all the difference. Quinn and Josh flew from their respective areas, so it was Ben, Jessica, Matt and I cooped up in a car for 15 hours. Silliness ensued, as one would imagine, but it made the ride feel like nothing.

The first day of Gen Con was a bit difficult for me, where a lack of supplies/badge before I got there made things a bit complicated. Sadly, I ended up missing my first game of 13th Age on Wednesday, an adventure from Eyes of the Stone Thief called The Gauntlet. I ran this adventure last year and was really looking forward to it, but things got a little confused. For that, I’m sorry. If anybody who was supposed to be in that game is reading this, please reach out to me by posting a comment here, reaching out on Twitter, or sending a message to my Facebook Page. I’d love to see if we can wrangle everybody in that group to run through the adventure on Roll20 at some point.

After all that was ironed out, the con was smooth  as anything. I spent a lot of time separated from my group because I ran a bunch of 13th Age. The main difference from last year is that I didn’t schedule myself to play any other games. Having more time to wander around throughout the duration of the thing made the con more of a vacation than a hellish rush to have fun. All of the games I ran were incredible, especially since Michael from The RPG Academy played through the adventure, The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle. Everyone at the table agreed that we’d play it more horror-style, but as that adventure ends up doing, it descended into silly with morbid imagery. I love that adventure dearly. I feel like I didn’t run it the best way, but it seemed like everyone had a good time. I also had some people come back from the year previous, and I have to say that it was humbling. Nothing makes you feel like you’ve succeeded than forging a friendship with a random stranger through your favorite activity. Nick, Jeff and Greg, it was great to catch up!

Nick had played in my final game of the con, an adventure called Swords Against Owlbears. It’s a comic horror type adventure with some weirdness involved, and thankfully the group was able to take it and run. It was light hearted and silly, but everyone was invested in it. In fact, it was so good that I went out to dinner with all of my players after the game. It was a fantastic experience, I was really happy to meet all of you!

The first order of business when the con truly started on Thursday was to link up with Josh at the booth for Dized. They’re on Indiegogo right now, so jump on it by clicking this link. It’s an app that is designed to help teach you board games while playing it; no rules reading, just jump right into the game.  Definitely a uniquely helpful idea. HLG decided to jump right into it and interview them. Josh, being more skilled than I, led the charge and basically asked every question one could possibly think of. I only got one in at the end, but talking with those folks before and after it was awesome. You can listen to the interview here.

DizedJosh and I sitting with Jouni from Dized

For games besides my own, I was actually able to demo Fantasy Flight’s upcoming Legend of the Five Rings card game. Ben and I had carved out some time to go see what it was about. Fantasy Flight really upped the ante with the immersion aspect because they had a giant torii that you had to walk through to get to the play area. I’m not really a huge fan of card games in general so I was walking into this one a little skeptical. When I saw the torii, it helped sway me. What blew me away, though, was the sign on it.

Torii.jpg

I liked the company to begin with, but this simple gesture made me respect them even more. Good on you, guys. The card game was a little confusing, but I also didn’t really get to peek at the rules. The fellow teaching us was helpful, but I think his teaching style may have clashed with my learning style. Nothing wrong with that, especially since I’ll probably still invest some time and money into the game. After all, I did enjoy my experience. The biggest thing to come from FFG was the announcements of X-Wing’s wave XII and the new miniatures game, Star Wars: Legion. I’m less than impressed with the ships unveiled for the new X-Wing wave, and to be honest, I didn’t even buy anything from the last one. The last two ships I picked up were the TIE Striker and U-wing, and I’ll probably stay there. The game is fun, but the ships are starting to get a bit obscure for me. Regardless, prototypes of the minis were on display and they looked as amazing as ever.

And then there’s Legion. It almost seems like it’s a replacement for Imperial Assault, which is sad considering it wasn’t really that big to begin with. What I’m not sad about, however is how incredible everything looks for it. The second day of the con, they had demos of (what I’m assuming is) a prototype of the game. It’s a lot more like a traditional wargame, by the looks of it, with terrain pieces and such. Where Imperial Assault uses these little tiles for terrain, Legion has legitimate three dimensional terrain much like Warhammer 40k. For the demos, they had terrain pieces for the forest moon of Endor, Tatooine, and Sullust. All of them were masterfully crafted, the miniatures equally so. My heart was trying to punch a hole in my chest to scream to the world how exciting all of it was, but I had to pump the brakes. More information about this game is going to be needed before I decide whether I’m going to buy it, especially with the starter box carrying a $90 price tag. As it was only just announced, trying to get in on a demo was a near impossible endeavor. Someday, Legion… someday.

Legion.jpgI couldn’t get a good shot of the Luke and Vader minis, sadly

Besides that, all I played was Dread with the crew that I came with. Quinn ran it while the rest of us were horrified. The scenario presented felt a lot like something pulled from the video game, Dead Space. Pair that concept with sound effects and a group of players dedicated to immersion, and what you get is a genuinely frightening role play experience. Easily one of the best sessions I have ever played of any RPG.

For the spoils of war, I hadn’t purchased much. I got some cool stuff from Pelgrane Press, as all my games were 13th Age. A shirt with a Cthulhu Confidential design on the back, a physical copy of Swords Against Owlbears and some escalation dice. While I was in the exhibition hall with Ben, I made up this thing I called Gen Con Christmas. He was really interested in John Wick’s 7th Sea (I mean, who isn’t?) but didn’t want to buy a hundred things for it. So, I bought a core book with the GM screen, he bought a book, and I gifted him the GM screen. Happy Gen Con Christmas, Ben. Playing that game with you is going to be a blast. Jessica’s birthday was during Gen Con this year. She had bought herself a game called 4 the Birds and I had bought her this little dragon thing she wanted that she couldn’t justify spending money on. It was kind of cute, and apparently had magic powers that ensnared the attention of anyone wielding it.

Our crew ended up staying at the Mariott Courtyard, save Josh of course. It had a little patio downstairs where we got to meet some awesome people from the industry, chat, and have a beer or seven. I don’t think it got quite bad as seven, but comic relief is a good thing. The patio quickly became our safe haven, a place where we could hang out and unwind before charging headlong back into the chaos that is Gen Con. This year was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything the world has to offer. Sadly this is my last Gen Con for a couple of years. I would like to travel to Europe more and my limited vacation time kind of pushes Gen Con out of the vacation equation. So for now, cheers and thanks for the memories!

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Grounded Feet

Photo source: Pigs With Crayons

 

What’s the most common thing you see in an adventurer’s background? Killed parents? Lived off the land until they decided to adventure? Refugee from a fallen city? Players are incredibly good at giving their characters nothing to latch onto. Perhaps that’s something that they do intentionally, leaving an open road for the GM to put sign posts on. Then again, there’s always the possibility of creative shyness or lack of motivation when creating a character. Giving a character stuff to care about can be rather difficult, especially if the player didn’t lay the foundation of who their character is and what they care about. It becomes even more difficult when you try to string together four or five of these characters to create a campaign.

Of course, to circumvent all of these problems, a session zero seems like a no-brainer. Not everybody does those though, and that’s okay. Session zero is a helpful thing, allowing players to collaboratively create characters and organically string things together. It makes the first role play together way less awkward, taking away the need to probe with random in-character questions to learn about one another. For those people who don’t use a session zero, though, have no fear! A fantastic campaign can be born out of your seemingly random characters, you just have to coax them out of their comfort zones. My home game had started in the same way; I had decided that I wanted to GM and I came up with some silly adventure, telling my friends to make characters and play it with me. It exploded into a campaign that we’re still not done with and has had an intense amount of emotional involvement. For more about session zero, Tribality has written a fantastic article, probably better than I could.

For starters, combat usually doesn’t lead to character development. I use combat as a way for a character to blow off some steam, or at least the unimportant ones. If your game is combat laden and your players have a rather groundless backstory, the game quickly becomes a hack-and-slashfest. Some players like this, but if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re a GM who wants more out of a game. With this, you have two options to make the combats potentially draw out some role play from your group. Start by giving the combat consequences. If you can fight anything and anyone with nobody to answer to afterwards, many players tend to get fearless and destructive just for the sake of it. It’s completely acceptable to say to your players, “This NPC scolding you right now appears to be way out of your league,” to convey that fighting this one isn’t the best idea. A lot of the time, this will sound like a challenge to them, so have some insane stats ready just in case. Make sure your characters can run away once they realize their mistake, and more importantly, make that option readily apparent to them. Hinting at it isn’t always enough, be transparent when things start going far south. Squashing characters for feeling out your world can be a downer for a long term game, though there is something to be said for that kind of play style. Letting them describe their getaway could be a fun role playing experience, or turning it into a skill challenge can force characters to collaborate. At the end of it all, don’t forget that this little squabble has consequences!

healing_vmaderna-dndpsg

Photo Source: Pigs With Crayons

The other type of combat as a way to plant characters’ feet in the world is to make the place/time of it important. This one forces combat to occur infrequently, as you have to lay the foundation with an hour or two of role playing and characters interacting with the world to give the bad guy some weight. If you give them problems that they can’t solve with fire and sword, it’ll force them to start thinking together and finding the strengths/weaknesses of each other’s characters. Those problems work best if they’re political or economical, and give the bad guy some armor, so to speak. The bad guy should be difficult to get to without making a huge fuss out of it. It gives that later combat stakes, especially if the characters are in an urban environment and want to live among society. The struggle to coexist with other people helps them realize they need to depend on their friends. It goes without saying that characters in a party will butt heads every now and again, but it adds to the drama. Usually that happens after they realize they need each other, which makes it all the better.

I could write a whole article on urban villains and how to keep them present but not fightable until the final moments of the campaign. To just plant the seeds:

  • Make them important to something bigger than the characters can take on by themselves.
  • Force the characters to find an avenue in the story to isolate this person from that something. A political faction, an impenetrable fortress, or simply the villain having long reaching fingers where the PCs have to travel to hunt them down.

Meeting that villain or someone who represents them is crucial. Just make sure that they can’t end it all in that moment…

Overland adventures usually remove the political and social struggles that come with their urban counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that the game has to be combat oriented. A GM can use things like weather and difficult terrain to help characters connect with one another. Combining those aspects with a combat encounter can up the ante, making everything much more dangerous. It’ll give the players a degree of caution amongst them, strengthening their codependency. Eventually, things should take them to some kind of township where characters interact with people outside of their adventuring group, and that’s where you can inject more complex conflicts that exist outside the group.

Believe it or not, all of this is the easy part. The most difficult thing to do is taking your players’ inspiration as they go along and making it relevant to the story. Whenever a player wants to discover something important about their character, they usually search for it. They won’t always tell you why they’re looking for whatever that specific thing may be, but it’s your job to eventually give it to them. At that moment, I prefer to ask the player what that thing is and nebulously describe its importance.

As an example: Crysx in my Ald Sotha campaign found out that he’s actually an Aasimar. His goal is to basically find the last remnants of his people and the reason they disappeared. They’re incredibly rare in our version of the Dragon Empire. As far as he knows, he’s the only one. Wilton (who hasn’t gotten into the recaps yet, sorry!) is a rich friend of theirs that has a huge library. He has one book on Aasimar. I told Crysx’s player, Ben, that he needed to vaguely describe to me a prophetic picture in the book. Rather than me telling him what his character’s destiny may be, I let him come up with something, giving him a shred of investment. Since then, I’ve been doing nothing but brewing over what it could mean, what I think it should mean to create an interesting story, a satisfying end. As we’ve traveled along, I’ve thrown small bits and pieces at him while we’re resolving the main objective of the campaign.

Now do this for every character. See how it can be difficult? You have to have these little pieces of information be littered throughout the environment, urban or otherwise. At the same time, it should be relevant to the main story arc while individually important to the character. Sometimes put them in seemingly insignificant places to add that sense of wonder and mystery to the setting. The most important part about doing this sort of thing is to throw it back at the players. When they have a question that you feel you don’t have the right to take creative control over, throw it back at them. You can find out what the player is thinking for the character, allowing you to further twist it down the road and make it bittersweet. It’ll greatly help put the feet of your players and characters on the same floor.

For best results, apply these concepts liberally to all of your games.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Total Rickall Card Game Review

It seemed a little odd at first, but crazy Grandpa Rick wrote the number six on the wall and you only conviniently noticed it now. Turns out the house has been infected by brain parasites and th number was so that he could remember how many people were truly in the household. Total Rickall is a cooperative card game put out by Cryptozoic Entertainment. The game is based on the episode of Rick and Morty which, for anybody not in the loop, is a cartoon on the late night program, Adult Swim. In the episode, the familyis subject to brain parasites that puts fake memories into your head, forcing people aware of it to question whether anyone you remember is real or fake. 

The episode itself is a confusing mishmash of false memories that is ultimately hilarious, a vibe that the game captures extremely well. You don’t need to watch Rick and Morty to enjoy this game, but seriously, why wouldn’t you? The game features character cards and identity cards for the board. You set up a 3×3 grid of face down identity cards and then flip character cards face up on them. The character cards are the crazy characters from the episode like Baby Wizard and Amish Cyborg. Representing the uncertainty of the episode itself, each character can either be real or a parasite. Character cards are color coded to help the cards in the player’s hand of action cards be useful, as they allow them to interact with characters of a certain color. Whether it’s shooting them or simply peeking at their identity, players are encouraged to work together but they can’t explicitly say what cards they are going to use or have in their hand.

That little rule makes this game not only strategic, but a hilarious form of roleplaying that is simple and fun. Saying that you have a blue shooting card is against the rules, but saying that one of those red guys are going to get smoked next turn isn’t. There are cards to shoot, peek at character identities, swap identities around, or even force other players to shoot charaters. You have to be careful with the shooting, though, because when four real characters are shot, the team loses. This mode of the game is called cooperative mode and is good to get the rules down. When your group is looking to stir the pot, there’s advanced mode. Advanced mode assigns players identity and character cards, making it so that players can’t be completely trusted as they may be a parasite. 

Advanced mode makes the game hilarious as it quickly devolves into players with “real” identities only trusting themselves. When your identity card is parasite, you win by making the real characters lose. When you’re killed, real or not, you’re assigned a new identity and character card, continuing the game. Interestingly enough, when cards are played where identities are shuffled, it includes the identity of a player with a character card of that color. In short, trust no one but your ammunition!

A friend of mine picked up the game because it was really cheap (around $10 US) and simply showed up with it one day. Calling the Avengers to assemble, we had four Rick and Morty fans total to play the game and it was a complete blast. Being involved in RPGs normally, the roleplay part oft he game became a huge part of the game, giving us an endless amount of laughs throughout the duration. It’s a mechanically simple game that we were able to pick up in just two rounds of play, making it a quick game to play. The only thing that could make this game take long is an indecisive group, because the only way to win is to get through the character deck and kill all the parasites. It’s safe to say that this game has made it into our options list for off nights when we don’t have enough players for an RPG. It’s a pretty easy game to find, as it’s on Amazon. Pick it up, gather your friends, and trust no one.
Stay Metal \m/

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