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The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

Incremental Advance

Leveling up has been, and probably always will be, a hugely exciting experience in role playing games. You get a cool new spell and/or feat that makes you feel that much closer to being invincible. GM’s have a way of giving you a reality check real fast, but hey, the feeling is nice for the ten minutes you have it before that red dragon gives you a good torchin’. This is also the reason why my players hate me sometimes: It so rarely happens in my 13th Age campaign.

With a level cap of ten, depending on the type of campaign you’re running, levels could come to the players as often as a lunar eclipse. My home campaign has been ongoing for nearly four years now and we’re at level seven. Most game sessions we play, the only dice rolled are for skill checks, being a more urban and politically focused campaign. The frequency of combat has declined steeply since the players started rebuilding their guild to take back their homeland. With that, combat has become this sort of ritual for my group, since it typically happens when they’re out in the field or if there’s a rather important reason to be fighting. Combat within a city tends to be a stone cast into the pond, sending ripples throughout the story. Since I don’t follow the model as outlined in the core book (one level per four encounters), it causes level gain to progress at a crawl. My players often moan and groan about it, but thankfully the game has a mechanic that helps keep them interested.

Behold! The Incremental Advance! It basically allows a PC to take a sliver from the next level and apply it to their current character, barring a few options. It even has its own little section on the character sheet.

Incremental advance

As you can see, there’s a swath of things you can choose from. It does a very good job at keeping the character fresh and progressing. What makes it balanced, however is the fact that you can’t take the extra weapon die or +1 to all (or any, for that matter) defenses. Withholding those from the PC until they actually level up puts a good emphasis on the word “incremental,” which the advance is so aptly named.

For the people that either don’t use this rule or don’t play this game, it begs the question: When do you get an incremental advance? The answer is a little nebulous, which can be so often the case in this game. To quote the book, “After each session that goes well…” is when a PC gets an incremental. It explicitly states that the GM can withhold an incremental based off of performance, munchkining or what have you. What the hell is a session that “goes well”? That could mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For a game like mine, that’s tough to say. Giving them an incremental after a game that went “well” usually means that there were a lot of good decisions made in regards to dealing with NPC’s, uncovering the shrouded information in a creative and effective manner, or simply showing some deep growth within the personality of their character. That sounds fantastic when I put it on paper, and it really is when it happens at the table like it so often does. The problem is, nearly everything outlined in the incremental advance section is related to combat, unless you take a feat that has out of combat usefulness or an Icon relationship. Since we so rarely fight at the moment, this means that the players would progress rather quickly without fighting, thus not showing that their martial or magical skills have been honed by experience.

That’s a little problematic to me. So, since the description of when to hand out an incremental is so nebulous, my game slows down even further. We’ll often go two or three sessions without a combat scene, and typically I’ll give out an incremental after one combat (that went “well”) for that reason. From what I’ve learned, doing it this way is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, it makes my characters appreciate progression of their on-paper character a lot more. On the other, it also makes the mechanics of the game less important than the setting. Throughout t he course of the campaign, the pendulum has swung between combat multiple nights in a row (usually a dungeon crawl) and then a long stretch without much of it. Regardless of what point of the spectrum we’re in, the incremental advance has been rather instrumental in keeping things moving forward. For that, I am surely grateful and really appreciate (and love) this mechanic.

To be clear: my moaning and groaning player is always exaggerated in posts like these, they do in fact love my campaign. I don’t think I’d have them hooked in for four years if it was the contrary. My humor can be strange, I’ve grown to realize this.

How do you use incremental advances? Maybe you don’t, maybe your games flow a lot differently than mine. I’d be very interested to know!

 

Stay Metal \m/

PAX East 2017

As Gen Con was my first last year, PAX is my first this year. Funny, I know, since I live up here near Boston, you would think that PAX was my geekly haven for years and years. Not the case, in fact, PAX was a little repelling. Not because of the content, but mainly because of the sheer number of people that attend this damn thing. I was always under the impression it would be too crowded to be fun, and I was almost correct. Almost. I started my gaming lifestyle when I was really young, around five years old. I started in video games and didn’t even know that there were tabletop RPG’s until I was eighteen. That huge gap in my gaming hobby was filled with video games. Kind of funny how backwards that works for the younger generation, eh? But I digress…

Reuniting with my gaming roots, I thought it was finally time to experience PAX. All three days, I went and whoo boy, was that an experience. It’s not called “Line Con” for no reason. In fact, if I wasn’t perusing around the expo floor, I was waiting in line. For food, to try a game, to buy merch, doesn’t matter what I was trying to do, I was in line. This is probably the most stark and shocking difference from Gen Con that lead to me deciding I prefer it over PAX. But I’m not here to tell you that PAX sucked, because it didn’t. It was very exhausting but a very interesting and fun experience.

Line Con 2017.jpg

The first day of PAX, I was a little late getting there because cosplay can be a pain. Jessica, my significant other, was wearing a ball gown type thing for a character from Odinsphere, a side scroller game. The kicker is that it wasn’t done by the time we had to leave so that ate up some of the morning. Which is ok, because damn, was it cold! I didn’t really want to wait in line so in hindsight, this was for the best. When we finally got in, I was completely and utterly gobsmacked at the sheer amount of people crammed into this place. Anybody who’s been to Gen Con knows that it’s pretty relaxed throughout the con, except for the exhibition halls. Here, there was no escaping the chaos. The second you walk into the expo hall, you’re greeted by the low murmur of gamers excitedly talking to one another and trying out games, the beeping and booping of various game screens showing you what they have to offer.

It was video game heaven, to be frank. It was almost a little overwhelming, and my experience on the first day was testament to that. I had nothing planned, I was just going to mosey on around and see what was there. The first thing I did was actually meet up with the mind behind the Twitch show Exploding Dice. We chatted for a bit and he gave some pointers to my friend, Ben, who is starting up a podcast himself called Nerdmantle. A very pleasant interaction, I’m actually hoping to open lines of communication and work together int he future. After that, I met up with Amber, a streamer and friend I met at the game I ran for Roll20 Con. I always love meeting up with people I’ve gamed with online, that personal connection is really cool. I went to three panels on the first day; The first one of which was about breaking into the industry. Mind you, they were talking about the video game industry as opposed to my preferred tabletop one. Surprisingly enough, there’s an immense amount of overlap between the two, although the two gaming styles are vastly different. It was a multi-part panel that was going to basically brush over everything, beginning to end. That initial part was simply about how to approach a company and how to handle interacting with them before being hired. Having just been through that with Pelgrane Press about their production assistant position, (which I didn’t get, congrats to Alex Roberts!) I was relieved to learn that I had handled the whole process rather well. Especially for someone with no experience in the matter.

I didn’t go to any of the other parts, though I probably should have, simply due to lack of time. The other two panels were about Indie game development and a Cards Against Humanity spoof panel about psychology in gaming. The last one was far less interesting than it lead itself to be, but the Indie gaming panel was very interesting, especially since only one panelist and the moderator showed up initially. I hadn’t played a single game but, man, was that first day tiring.

PAX xwing.jpg

Saturday was where I played some games, or one game rather. That day was conquered by an X-wing Miniatures tourney, it was actually the part of the con that I was most excited for. It was my first time playing in a tourney with an experimental Imperials list I had cooked up. While I lost two of the three games I played, it was incredibly fun and I’d do it again in a second. I walked away with an X-Wing coin and some alternate art cards from X-Wing Miniatures Maine, a company that had came down to have a small presence at the con. I hadn’t expected to win anything so this was actually a very pleasant surprise. The tourney went form 11 to 4-ish and I was pretty exhausted afterward. I wandered the expo floor for a while before finding myself in the Twitch Prime lounge upstairs to just sit back and unwind for a bit.

It had never occurred to me before how huge Twitch has become in recent years, how much video gaming is actually a big social culture now. They had a big projector up showing a panel that was going on elsewhere at the con. After that, it was some large League of Legends tourney going on somewhere. I was pretty wiped out by this time, so my attention was less than sharp.

Twitch Prime.jpg

On the third day, I was raised to gamerhood. Okay, maybe that didn’t sound as funny as I anticipated but I have to at least try every now and again. Sunday was more crowded than I expected, the original plan was to game on Sunday to avoid lines. Alas, I was wrong. Lines were still out in force. That didn’t stop me though, I bucked up and stood in line some more. I got to play a few games, one of which was a preview of the Morrowind expansion for Elder Scrolls Online. I hadn’t played ESO prior, though the interest was there because I loved Skyrim. It was set up  as a 4v4 death match thing, and I got thrashed pretty good. However, it did show me that I liked the way that ESO functions and after the con, I bought it for $20. Not bad, considering the original price tag before it was free to play.

That was really the only memorable game I played, though looking around, I’m really interested in What Became of Edith Finch , Prey, the Nintendo Switch and Mass Effect Andromeda. I didn’t get to play any of those, but the fact that they stuck out in my mind says they’re doing at least something right.

Overall, I do definitely prefer Gen Con. It’s more organized with the games, no lines or waiting unless you’re buying something or waiting for your table to fill. My PAX experience also showed me that my interests have shifted as a person. I care a lot less about video games now than I have in the past. Tabletop has taken the spotlight, mainly because of the amount of freedom and positive social interaction, I surmise. On the contrary, going to PAX did rekindle my love for video games, making me remember why I used to play them so much. Though not exactly what I have now learned I prefer, PAX was a good time and I will be going at least one of the three days next year. I can probably touch everything I want to see in one day on the con floor.

 

If you saw me at PAX and you don’t already, give this site a follow! I’d very much like to speak and maybe even game together someday. Until then…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Favoring Dice

Recently I ran Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. It was not my first time using FFG’s dice system, but it was my first time GMing a game within that system. Nearly needless to say, it was a little clunky for multiple reasons; The group I got together was a bit of a last minute one, it had been over 5 months since I had last played this system, I didn’t have a grasp of the rules in order to run it smoothly, I had only read the first 5 pages of the adventure I was running, the list goes on.

Miraculously, we all had a blast playing through the first two “Episodes” of Under a Black Sun, an adventure you can get for free on Fantasy Flight’s website. We used the pregens you could get in the same location, but having only three players, we fielded only the wookie, human and trandoshan. That left the bothan and rodian off the table, the bothan being the hacker. Considering the adventure was about stealing digital information from a Black Sun hideout, it was kind of silly but we glossed over the details. The adventure started us right in the middle of the heist, the PC’s making their getaway.

As I’ve mentioned before, the dice system powering this game does an immaculate job at making the game feel epic, action packed, and ever-changing. While we were playing though, one of the players brought something to my attention. He made a roll, where all successes and failures cancelled each other out leaving a lone advantage symbol. According to the rules, this resolves as a failure with an advantage. When I revealed this to him he seemed a little disappointed and said, “That’s weird that the dice favor the house.”

It took me a minute to digest what he had said but, damn it, he was right. After the game was over I stewed over the statement for a while, thinking why games are “meet or exceed” while others are simply “exceed.” Honestly, I couldn’t think of an answer, but I could think of how it affects game play. Most games I’ve played weigh their dice in favor of the players. Dungeons and Dragons, any edition, is probably what comes to everyone’s mind when discussing this sort of topic. When you roll an attack, it has to be equal to or higher than the targets armor class. When you make a save, it has to be equal to or higher than whatever the save value is of the spell/poison/whatever. We don’t think about it often, but that actually does affect the statistical outcome of how likely it is for you to succeed or fail.

With that, generally speaking, the player succeeds more than they fail. Obviously, that hinges on how difficult a task is or how the PC is statted, etc. etc., but overall that tells you the tone the writers had intended. FFG’s system is the first I’ve played that is slanted away from the player, and I find that really interesting because I can’t decide if it really is. On the one hand, you don’t have the “equal to” type of roll result. On the other, you can still fail and get something out of it because of advantage and triumph, so in actuality, is it really slanted against you? I say no, and here’s why: The mechanics of advantage and triumph add that third dimension to the game. It’s not just success or failure, but rather catches the complexity of performing a task in our real world. Maybe the rocket you were trying to craft takes off and flies for a bit but quickly overheats and blows up prematurely, taking out a small ship instead of damaging the big one you were aiming for.

Ultimately that goes back to the “fail forward” type mentality. In essence, the Star Wars FFG game is very fail forward-centric, but with a huge emphasis on the fail since you lose ties. I’m not entirely sure I prefer this idea over the D20 mechanics I’ve grown so accustomed to. but I can say that it makes it an immensely interesting game to play. From a design aspect, I tip my hat over to you guys at Fantasy Flight. You’ve instilled thought into me, and that’s what interacting with people is about, right?

 

What do you prefer? Reach out and start a conversation!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Improvisational Gaming

You show up to the table, with a large binder of notes and plot hooks. Your adventure is fully fleshed out, you know every nook and cranny, every person and their motivations/goals. Then you sit down to play, and one of your players decides to do something unexpected. You panic, flipping through your binder frantically looking for the answer to only find there is none. Your face gets hot as blood rushes to it and are forced to come up with something on the spot.

In hindsight, you may or may not be satisfied with what was said, but regardless, it’s done. Improvising is just simply part of our hobby, like it or not. Some people excel where others shiver at the thought of something unplanned happening. What almost everyone can agree on, however, is that sometimes the most memorable moments are the ones that weren’t planned. Improvisation is a staple to my home game. I hardly write at all anymore for my campaign, I just show up to the table with a brief outline and let the characters show me the way. It took a while for me to get to that point with my plot, but man, is it rewarding.

Laying the groundwork for an improv-heavy game can be a little challenging. It’s very easy to have too much information or too little to the point where you need to take a minute and work it all over in your head. A good tool, if you’re not using a game like 13th Age or 5e that makes backgrounds essential, is to create a questionnaire for every player to fill out before a campaign. If each player has a background before you start thinking of your adventure, there’s something to grasp onto and flesh out for an interesting long term game. Having your players synergize when filling out these questionnaires only makes your life easier. The game, Dread employs this questionnaire as the only means of character creation. Definitely a good source to draw on.

More often than not, that alone can give birth to ideas for an overall plot for a campaign. In between your session zero and your first game, you should be thinking about what direction the PCs backgrounds and goals could steer them in. As an example: If a PC has a background as a simple farmer but has aspirations to become a ruler of some kind in order to instill justice and equality, that alone could be a whole campaign. From there you ask more questions:  Do you have any childhood friends that had similar goals? Where exactly were you from? Would you want strive to govern that area specifically? So on and so forth.

Throw those answers from four or five different people and you have a full arsenal of important pieces of information to mold into an overarching story. Once you have that bedrock, just playing around with various pieces of information and drawing connections between them becomes a campaign. Introducing new characters that through friend NPCs just becomes child’s play at that point.

Something to leapfrog off of that idea is bending your players’ speculations to your will. Paranoia and jumping to a conclusion can be the fuel for your machine. A player assuming that the killer of the duke must be his son instead of his butler might sound better to you, but the player to their left saying that it has to be from the outside could be more intriguing. If you have an answer in mind but the players come up with a better one, don’t be afraid to draw on that. A player being correct about a speculation will make them feel good, and it could potentially be a better plot point than your original idea.

NPCs tend to be the bane of a GM’s existence, simply because they take so much prep. If you’re playing a system like Pathfinder, they have a huge amount of stats that need to be considered before you throw them out there. What makes life easier is letting your players come up with the physical aspects of an NPC. That way, you can have generic stat blocks that can just be recycled. It keeps every NPC feeling fresh as a personality, is way less work than creating them all yourself, and gives the players agency. It also helps you understand what type of game your players want to be involved in, what elements they enjoy seeing in the story. Sometimes being a quiet observer is the best path, even for a GM who’s generally supposed to be the opposite.

The most important aspect of an improvisation role playing session is not in how you come up with what’s going on, believe it or not. It’s taking the time to get it right. Not only in the sense of practice, but don’t be afraid to take a coffee/bathroom/smoke break to mull over something a player has said for a moment. It’ll help you keep the story straight and engaging while incorporating something that a player wants. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with breaking the flow of a game for a moment to come up with the right answer. Your players will appreciate the effort rather than throwing some bollocks out there just to keep it moving.

 

When it comes to improv gaming, this is the tip of the iceberg! What techniques do you employ?

 

Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: Farmers

The horses whinnied in protest, the cold was making them irritable just like the rest of the party. With the snow on the ground, it seemed like a never ending journey just to one simple farmstead. The girl sobbed every now and again. It bothered Crysx to no end, it seemed like she did so every hour on the hour. All he could do was promise that they’d get to the bottom of this. Lisbeth had shown a surprising coldness to Mia’s misery, Corbin knew that it was her thinking face. She was without a doubt up to something in that devilish little brain of hers…

Tiberius trotted along slower than the others on his steed. He didn’t exactly know what to make of this ordeal, he questioned why he was even coming along in the first place. Held by no oath to the folks at the Axefall, he easily could’ve stayed back with his paladin order. Something propelled him forward on this endeavor, he was curious to find out exactly what that was. The sound of the snow routinely interrupted everyone’s thoughts. The top of it was semi-frozen and made a loud crunching as the horses lazily walked over it, every now and again one leg sinking deeper than expected, jostling the rider.

It was a cold and miserable two days of travel out to the remote collection on farms. Not much conversation was had, all of them were far too engrossed in thought and speculation about what they might find. As they drew near, the conversation finally came out. The night before arriving at Mia’s farm was the night they spoke, gathered around the meager camp they created along the road. The vast darkness of the plains at night enveloped them, it made their thoughts run like an avalanche down a mountain. A small fire in the center of them was the only thing fighting the dark, the flames dancing wildly in everyone’s eyes, mirroring what was happening inside them. “Do we think this could be related to home?” Lisbeth asked in a grave tone. Fear turned the hamster wheel in the minds of everyone in the group, its persistent squeaking driving them mad. Crysx could hear the laugh of the necromancer that found him in his dreams.

Tiberius stiffened, having only heard rumors about what had happened, “I think we should gather information before we come up with any ideas. Jumping to that conclusion could cause use some unnecessary stress.

Corbin nodded slowly, “It could be the remnants of General Gug’s friends. You killed him but we didn’t take the time to hunt down his friends.” His eyes were locked with Lisbeth’s. They both were feeling a degree of doubt on that theory, they shared the emotion through a gaze.

What’s important is not how it effects us,” Crysx said standing up, “but how the simple folk return to their lives unhindered.  These people have been living in fear, not knowing who would be next to burn. We can worry about what this has to do with us when their lives have been saved.

Mia started to sob quietly.

Lisbeth shushed her gently, placing a hand on her back and rubbing in a circular motion. He was right, and that’s all they needed to hear to be fixated on that fact.

The party.jpg

The sun was starting to rise as the house revealed itself on the horizon. Mia suddenly holding her breath told Lisbeth that it was not just another random house. Mia was saddled with Lisbeth, she was the best at dealing with small folk having a more humble background than the others. She reached back and placed a reassuring hand on Mia’s knee, Mia hugged the back of Lisbeth and confirmed her suspicions.

Lisbeth alerted the others and they all guided their horses in that direction. The house was a mere skeleton of what it used to be, the charred remains piled up in the middle of it. They all dismounted except for Mia and fanned out to investigate. Lisbeth found the imprint in the snow where Mia’s father had lay, the snow still stained from his brutal murder. Tiberius and Crysx worked together to clear some of the rubble, looking for something that would tell them more about the attackers. The only thing they found was the hatch to the cellar. Surprisingly, the door was only slightly charred. Good quality wood… Corbin thought to himself as he watched his friends unearth the hatch. Corbin walked over and opened it up, its hinges screaming loudly in the open air.

The group descended the wooden stairs together, they creaked in protest under their weight. It was slightly warmer than outside in the cellar, slightly more humid as well. Well sealed, Corbin thought once more. Using his staff for light, the room was illuminated. The three others followed Corbin slowly, looking around cautiously with a hand on their weapons. Yet they found no one, instead they found a fully intact food store.

Well,” Crysx said looking around warily, “We know they’re not plundering at least.”

No,” Corbin said, crouched in front of a sack of grain, “it’s worse than that. They’re cursing.”

The party huddled around the sack, it had a symbol drawn on it in a vibrantly red paint. Even to the less arcanely inclined folks in the party, it sent out swaths of hatred. Lisbeth felt her stomach twist, being all too familiar with the feeling.

Whoever did this, she thought, they’re after revenge…

curse mark.jpg

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Unconventional Enemies: Halflings

Though it’s abundantly clear that nobody knows how halflings came to be, there’s a lot of speculation. One thing most people agree upon is the Prince of Shadows’ involvement in the matter. It would certainly explain why they’re so agile and sneaky. It’s apparent that that they may be related to gnomes somehow, simply due to their similar size and features, but that’s where the similarities seem to end. The real fact of the matter may never be revealed but we know that halflings are here, and they have their own way of life that is to be respected.

Known for being relatively docile and secluded from the more dreadful things in the world, it’s unlikely that anybody would end up fighting a halfling at all. Just like most things, certain situations can surprise you.

Adventure hooks:

  • The Archmage requires some arcane research to be done one the amity ward that surrounds Twisp, Burrow, and Old Town. He prefers that the operation be quiet, considering the local inhabitants would prefer not to be disturbed. They’re very adamant about that, and will likely confront anyone who potentially threatens their peaceful little pocket of the Empire.
  • Some of the river runners around the three halfling towns have been complaining of marauders that travel the tributaries to the Midland Sea. The disturbing part: they’re being robbed by their own kin.
  • In Glitterhaegen, there’s been a turf war between halfling gangs. Word on the street is the Twiddlefingers, a halfling thieves’ guild, are pitting their brethren against one another to distract from a grand heist they’re plotting.
  • A halfling businessman in New Port gave the same speech as the Priestess in a meeting with some business partners. Stranger still, just like the Priestess, he doesn’t remember giving the speech. All the halflings in the city are claiming that this is the true lead to uncovering their origin. Many influential halflings in the region are offering up some serious coin for someone to get to the bottom of it.

halflingrogue_woman_thumbb

Angry Halfling

It may seem kind of comical to just have one mad at you but it becomes a lot less funny when he has twelve or fifteen angry friends.

Initiative: +7
3rd Level mook

Torch and/or pitchfork +8 vs. AC – 5 damage
Natural 16+: All other halflings gain a +2 to attack this target until the end of the                      round (this does not stack).

Small: +2 AC against opportunity attacks.

Evasive: Once per battle, when hit with an attack that targets AC, the angry halfling can           force that enemy to reroll their attack with at a -2.

AC: 18
PD: 16                  HP: 10
MD: 13

 

Halfling Cavalry

Whether they are mounted on a mastiff, ram, or mini-horse, a mounted halfling can be a formidable foe. 

Initiative: +13
Double-strength 5th level wrecker

Small lance or trident +10 vs AC – 30 (50/15) damage
Natural 16+: The halfling cavalry may do a pass (pop free and perform a free                                 move action).
Limited use: This attack is only usable while mounted.

Cavalry saber +10 vs AC – 30 (50/15) damage

 

Expert rider: While mounted, the halfling cavalry deals +20 damage with its attacks, hit or       miss, against unmounted enemies.

Mounted combatant: Reduce the halfling cavalry’s damage by 15 when it’s not mounted. The   halfling cavalry is dismounted when it’s reduced to 1/3 of its max hit points. A halfling         mount is then placed nearby to the dismounted halfling cavalry.

Mount: Whenever the halfling cavalry rolls a natural 1-10 on an attack roll, its mount acts       independently. Roll 1d6 to determine the random action:
1-2: Bite – The mount makes a bite attack
3-4: Impulsive movement – The mount pops free and moves to a random                                   nearby enemy.
5-6: Headbutt – The mount makes a headbutt attack

Small: +2 AC against opportunity attacks when the halfling is not mounted.

Evasive: Once per battle, when hit with an attack that targets AC, the halfling can force that   enemy to reroll their attack with at a -2. This ability can only be used when the halfling is not mounted.

AC: 21
PD: 20                  HP: 150
MD: 15

 

Halfling Mount

Initiative: +14 (or same as rider, if it has one)
2nd Level troop

Bite +7 vs AC – 10 damage

Headbutt + 7 vs AC – 5 damage and the target is dazed, save ends.

Uncontrolled: A riderless mount will flee the battle after it is staggered.

AC: 16
PD: 18                  HP: 28
MD: 12

 

Twiddlefinger Rogue

The name of this renowned thieves’ guild usually draws a giggle from those who hear it. It helps to distract them from the fact that their wallet and keys are being taken. 

Initiative : +17
8th Level spoiler

Quick daggers +14 vs AC (2 attacks) – 20 damage
Natural 16+: The target is confused, save ends

Frisk +12 vs MD (one confused creature) – The Twiddlefinger rogue steals a random true     magic item from the target. The Twiddlefinger rogue may use only it if it is a light/simple             weapon. Use the stolen magic weapon attack.

Stolen magic weapon +15 (+16 or+17, depending on item tier) vs AC – Average damage of the original owner’s damage roll. Any magical ability the weapon has can also be used as stated in the item description.

Small: +2 AC against opportunity attacks.

Evasive: Once per battle, when hit with an attack that targets AC, the halfling can force that   enemy to reroll their attack with at a -2.

Thief: The Twiddlefinger rogue will flee the battle once they obtain a magical item (unless       there’s a story/plot reason for them to stick around and fight).

AC: 26
PD: 22                  HP: 155
MD: 20

 

 

The Twiddlefinger idea is probably my favorite out of all of these, let me know what you think! And as always…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Investigative Role Playing

Image credit to Wizards of the Coast

 

Investigative scenarios can be some of the most engaging scenarios in role playing, regardless of genre. Interestingly enough, it’s also one of the most difficult types of adventures you can attempt write. Maintaining balance between withholding enough information but making it obtainable can sometimes feel like walking a tight rope. Luckily, with the fantastic community we have, there’s plenty of sources to draw on. I don’t claim to be an expert in this field, but I do have some pretty good tips that I’ve accumulated over time from various sources.

The biggest challenge when writing an investigative role playing scenario is usually the most blatantly important part; keeping what exactly happened straight. As a GM, you need a clear picture of what had actually happened in the situation, exactly who was involved and what little nuggets of information that were left behind for those pesky, meddling player characters. Making the series of events too predictable leads to a short adventure but making it too complex could have your players scratching their heads in frustration. Tropes can be fun, but in relation to an investigative scenario, it’s really important to not lean too heavily on them. Having the corrupt clergyman, government official or other influential figure can make for a predictable adventure but it can still be surprising if done right. A good example is Wes Craven’s horror movie Scream from 1996. While it’s now a bit of a cliche, having a similar adventure structure can be surprising.

Such an idea can be executed successfully by the fine art of role playing. If you role play your bad guy as a good guy, keep the grin caused by their clear cluelessness behind a veil, and stick with it, you could very well hide them right under everyone’s nose. Giving an innocent NPC a suspicious personality, though it’s easy to overdo it, could help serve as your red herring. In the example as posted above, you’re basically kept in the dark until the end. It can be good to use a red herring, but an ill placed one can be horrendously obvious. Picking someone very close to the perpetrator can be effective, especially if the two individuals have drastically different reputations. What can be obvious using this technique, however, is if the crime committed openly and directly effects your BBEG. Say that a killer in your murder investigation is the red herring’s best friend/drinking buddy or whatever else. If the BBEG murders the red herring’s girlfriend that he complains about all the time, and your BBEG has an apparent romantic interest in your red herring, well, you can see how that’d be obvious.

That situation specifically can skew things even more, by creating a red herring couple. That’s about the limit of the red herring thread, though. More than that and things may get frustrating, if you expect the PC’s to find your  criminal themselves. However, having a bunch of very likely suspects and having your criminal slip up in the presence of the PC’s can be shocking and rewarding. It can also feel like a cheap reveal that the players didn’t earn if you’re not careful. Just as with most things, the structure comes with knowing your players.

This is where we get to the topic of clues. Clues propel our investigations forward. Without clues, your PC’s are just bumbling around hoping that they find something. I agree with the philosophy behind GUMSHOE based games; the important clues should be given but the clues that speed up the investigative process should have to be earned via rolls or spends, depending on what you’re playing. Essentially, your important clues should be placed in appropriate places and should be easy to find. If your important clues are exclusively obtainable by a skill roll, there’s a problem. With the possibility of failure, you risk having your investigative story running in circles trying to find that one clue or simply players sitting there in a stalemate with the plot. This is where most people get annoyed and lose interest in the scenario. A well placed clue that is vague enough to keep the players guessing but clear enough to point in a direction keeps them engaged and chasing the end game.

What can also make for a really fun game is leading your players into a trap because the BBEG knows they’re being watched. It’s a different take on the BBEG slipping up in the presence of the players that can feel a little more rewarding. Dropping little hints amidst it all telling them that they’re in trouble can be distracting from the important clues and can do a really fantastic job at making the players paranoid. Even if you’re not running a murder investigation, usually it comes to a head with a violent confrontation. It’s sort of the bread and butter of most role playing and the reason why that particular reveal can work so well.

Sometimes overlooked, the environment in which you place clues can be immensely important. If the players are paying attention, the clues themselves might be ambiguous but the places you find them could be the bigger clue, leaving behind a crumb trail leading to your criminal. Juxtaposition is a useful tool that can be used to great effect while still getting your point across.

 

 

For the tl;dr folks:

  1. Have the crime laid out from beginning before you decide on your clues
  2. Red herrings are useful if done right; it’s okay to be tropey but don’t let the drop be spotted a mile away
  3. The most important clues should not have to be found by a roll, the more helpful clues should be rolled for.
  4. The reveal needs to be shocking but earned; don’t hand them the end.
  5. Be aware of where you place your clues and climax, foreshadowing and symbolism make these things fun

Modeling your investigative scenarios after known works can be really helpful. Look at film, books and TV with an analytical eye and you’ll be able to craft some really magnificent stuff while being sneaky!

Thanks for reading folks! And as always…

Stay Metal \m/

Computer RPG’s vs. Tabletop

photo from Geek and Sundry

It’s the eternal struggle, gamers continually being divided by the platform in which they game. Strong opinions, pigheaded preferences and perhaps a little misunderstanding on both sides of the tape. Some of the younger people won’t understand that expression, but it matters not! A role playing game is a role playing game, no ifs, ands or buts about it. However, a very different experience can be pulled from the platform in which you experience them. We know which one I personally prefer, just based off of the content of this blog, but what’re the main differences between the two? There are some that I believe are overlooked.

The first thing that comes to my mind as the stark difference between the two is the visual experience. GM’s for TTRPG’s can create handouts, use miniatures and maps, maybe even dress up occasionally (though I certainly have never done that myself). It’s no secret, though, that a computer or video game console does this not only differently but, in my opinion, better. Playing a CRPG is like watching a movie, sometimes. Imagination can be a very powerful and mind-altering thing, but sometimes it can’t stand up to a good movie or video game. Descriptions from a good GM can help catapult us into the world in which we are playing, without question, but the visual power of CRPGs, or just video games in general, is colossal. This could be one of the reasons why CRPGs have exploded. Actually seeing a character with an unfamiliar voice that is acted out is a completely different experience than having your friend of twenty years pretend to be someone else.

Visual immersion is certainly not the only reason, however. CRPGs take a hell of a lot less time and coordination. Having just switched my personal game to a bi-weekly schedule, this point really hits home. Many TTRPG sessions are missed or interrupted because it involves multiple people with their own schedules and lives. A single player, or even a massive multiplayer online (MMO), CRPG can be picked up and put down based off the schedule of one person: You. That certainly makes getting your dose of imagination incredibly easier. Usually being able to play such things in your own home also helps squeezing in the time to do it. Not having to travel, wait for other people to travel to a specific location and then considering the ride home makes a huge difference in how we manage gaming in our schedules.

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For those who really disdain math, a CRPG has a leg up on tabletop again. With the computer doing it all for you, all you have to worry about is your base stats, if that particular game even lets you customize them. There’s always a degree of customizability in CRPG’s, but it’s not always the same as things like Strength, Constitution and Dexterity. Changing how these functions work may be appealing to some people because this cuts down on the work you put into the game. Running around, killing things and finding stuff in a video format is very pleasing. Especially without having to add or multiply numbers and remembering how a spell or attack functions rules-wise. With the computer being the GM, you also don’t have the added preparation of making up a story, building encounters and everything else that role comes with. You just hop on, have your fun and move on from there.

For the tabletop people reading things, you’re probably thinking, wow, he’s really bashing tabletop right now. Think again, because that is about all the CRPGs have to offer, in my opinion. There’s a reason I have a preference between the two. For me, CRPG’s are really bad at one thing in particular: person to person interaction. I don’t mean inter-character, but actual people. The internet has taught us that being physically removed from a situation changes the way some people interact with said situation. If you’re sitting at a table with a bunch of friends, you have pretty much no choice but to be there and experience whatever is happening. How you deal with that is very different between the two gaming platforms. That personal connection between everyone you’re sharing a room with makes the gaming bond stronger, or at least to me it does. It doesn’t help with being in the game, everybody has to buy into that on their own, but it does help you realize that there’s people behind this and it’s not completely make believe. This whole concept does come with its own drawbacks, but seeing how people deal with each other in matters like government and society, it’s not surprising as to how it can play out.

A huge part of why people play RPG’s is to experience a story. In the case of CRPG’s, the story is laid out for you. Sure, you have agency, but programming is limited to what it has been told it can and can’t do. Consequently, implementing your  own imagination into the game is limited to what the programmer of the game has outlined. TTRPG’s win the contest on that front. If you have a good group and GM, a story can last years and you’ll have an immense amount of control over what happens. Being more collaborative, it doesn’t always go your way, but you at least get to talk about things and give it a shot. The world is your canvas, and the GM has handed you a brush!

To some, it may be a little strange that I give up a lot of the luxurious aspects of computer gaming to sit in a probably too humid room with a bunch of people and play pretend. But for those people: remember where you came from. It’s debatable whether or not computer role playing games would have existed without pen and paper ones, but would they have gained as much traction without them? I personally say no. So for those who have grown up with computer games, I highly recommend giving tabletop a try. It’s a different way to experience an idea that you love, and don’t let a bad first experience ruin it for you.

Start a discussion, I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Conflict!

Stories, regardless of genre, always need some sort of conflict to be entertaining. Nobody likes reading text books about how to do stuff, don’t lie to me. Considering that RPG sessions are just fragments of a story, the rule still applies. Considering that conflict is the bedrock of everything, sometimes it can feel a little stale and over trodden. Keeping conflict interesting is somewhat of a balancing act throughout the course of a session or campaign. With it being the central piece of it all, it goes without saying that conflict is also incredibly important to the story you want to tell.

It doesn’t take a genius to discover the three types of conflict: physical, social and internal. Physical conflict is probably the most straight forward; it can be with a person or animal, and in some cases even just forces of nature or the environment itself. Sometimes just fighting endless hordes of things that want to kill you can get really repetitive. A well placed villain and his goons are a good fix for that, but making a villain is a completely different art that may be covered in a later segment. Violent and environmental conflict sprinkled together can often times make an otherwise uninteresting physical conflict very complicated and engaging. More importantly, the reason for this escalation to blows is usually the more interesting bit to me. Fighting is more of a blow-off valve to let out some pent up emotions. Reflecting that in a game is a very interesting thing to explore, and sometimes the reason why people even game in the first place.

The perfect ramp-up to a physical conflict is a social one. The moment the fighter has had enough of the snooty politician and decides to punch him in the face, the guards carry out their duty and before you know it you have a brawl in the mayor’s office. It creates this endless cycle of conflict. The first is the social with the politician, the second a physical with the guards, the third a physical with being in jail and the third might happen amidst the jail as an internal conflict on whether or not they should have done that. Social conflicts are basically the meat and potatoes of most games I run, simply because it’s harder for it to be so black and white. It’s the middle ground and segue to both internal and physical conflict, whereas the latter two are the climaxes of a build up. It’s noteworthy, however, that all these conflicts can stand alone without much of a problem, which is extremely interesting to me within this analysis.

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Social conflict can deescalate all on its own and can sometimes relieve tension in a way where physical conflict doesn’t. The politician aiding the PC’s upon seeing some newfound reason, the BBEG surrendering upon threats that the PC’s clearly can back up. They make for memorable moments and also help prevent a severe case of murderhoboitis. What makes social conflict rich is taking into consideration how people deal with these sort of things in the real world. It often has a hell of a lot to do with what the character does with their life, the environment that character may have grown up in and/or what a character has to gain or lose. The reaction to the social conflict is everything, and can be a really awesome and subtle way to characterize an NPC.

So physical conflict can be just plain fun, allowing a player to release some frustration, social conflict can add tension to a situation and makes people think about the possible outcomes. What about internal conflict? It’s easily the most nebulous and difficult to obtain out of the three, simply because you have no control over it. Too many times have I attempted to instill an internal conflict into the mind of a player and blatantly failed. It can come from some of the most unlikely events, however. That’s the funny thing about role playing, honestly. Everybody at the table comes away with something different, everybody leaves changed in a different way. That’s why I think that internal conflict can be some of the most interesting bits of characterization that happen at the table.

Sometimes laying out a seemingly benign adventure hook can send a player character down this spiral of self doubt, uncertainty and frustration. Not in a bad way, of course, but it spurs some thoughts that may have otherwise never popped up. Whereas the choice to pursue a goal or adventure can be almost insignificant on the GM’s side of the screen, it can entirely change the way a player sees their character’s outlook on life. The beauty of it is that if you’re lucky, you can read all this stuff happening on someone’s face.

Internal conflict is the stuff that leads to unlikely decisions being made, internal conflict takes control of the rudder of the boat that is your campaign or game session. I feel like it’s something that is so often overlooked, along with the relationship between the three types of conflict and how they intermingle with one another. If you sit down and think, you’d be amazed at how complex and interesting your story can be.

What do you think?

Stay Metal \m/

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