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The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

My Gen Con 50 Schedule

Hey there everyone! So the event list is up for Gen Con 50 and I’ll be running some 13th Age games (duh). I’m not sure how fast these will fill up, in any case; If you want to play in one of my games, you better hop on as soon as you can May 28th when event registration goes live! Here’s my schedule with event codes:

At Land’s Edge – Thursday 2-6 p.m. (RPG17111567)
The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle – Thursday 7-11 p.m. (RPG17111568)
Make Your Own Luck – Friday noon-4 p.m. (RPG17111569)
Swords Against Owlbears – Saturday 4-8 p.m. (RPG17111570)

I really look forward to meeting some new people and seeing some familiar faces! If there’s any questions about any of my games, feel free to tweet at me @HeavymetalGM or shoot me a message on my Facebook Page. If you haven’t already, shoot a like that way so you’ll be updated whenever I post an article. But for now…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Boss Fights

Image: LOTR Balrog by Arkis on DeviantArt

 

Standing on the bridge above the pit of Khazad-dûm, the wizard in the party turns to confront the Balrog. Do you turn and flee while you have the chance or do you aid him in one final combat to send the evil back to The Shadow for good?

These are always the moments we want to create in our tabletop games; a sense of epicness and grandeur that make the players feel courage bubbling up from deep within them. Boss monsters have a way of doing that, if the scene is set right. To me, setting that scene is the easiest part. Since our beloved hobby is at the mercy of the most fickle mistress, the dice, it’s a little tough to really anticipate how that scene is going to go. Most games have encounter building tips, challenge ratings for monsters, and all sorts of other fiddly bits to help us tailor our encounters like a well made suit. Only for the dice to come along and muck it up for us. Building boss fights can be tough, and honestly, I think it’s the toughest kind of encounter building. Making one monster formidable enough to take on a whole party by itself without wiping the floor with them or getting trampled by them is a balancing act fit for a circus.

Despite its unpopularity, D&D 4e really took the video game boss concept and brought it to the tabletop with “Solo Monster” guidelines. Honestly, why do we not see these pop up more? The mechanics are specific to 4e, sure, but the concept is easily translatable to other games. Giving boss monsters a better action economy can make a huge difference. Simply increasing damage, health, and defenses alone can inadvertently make a combat more deadly instead of more epic. When your orc chieftain gets cornered alone and you decide to beef up his damage to counteract the fact that he’s outnumbered, one wallop could knock a character down. Then it’s on to the next, which could start a chain reaction. If the characters are having bad dice luck, this could mean everybody gets stuck making death saves while your orc chieftain is getting ready to coup de grace the fighter or is sitting there laughing like a buffoon. Instead, giving that chieftain some staying power by providing extra actions, special effects that trigger on PC actions, powerful boons at half hit points or below etc. could keep him around. It’ll draw out the combat, whittle down your PCs without squishing them like flies, and could give it an overall more epic feel.

orc_chieftain_by_shoz_art-da6bc5k
art by Shoz-art – “You gon’ get it, now!”

Or, of course, your orc chieftain could be 100% normal and your players can waltz in, slay him like a suckling pig, and move on with the campaign. We don’t judge here.

Bad guys with story elements and personality are always more engaging. Often times my bosses are politicians or mundane people that just have a bad attitude. However, this can be extremely underwhelming when the swords and scrolls come out. In other words, my bad guys aren’t always buff, steroid-monkey orcs that like to crunch apples with their biceps.  It can be really tough to sensibly make those characters powerful enough to take on an entire party without your players saying, “Oh, come on! There’s no way that suit gives him AC 24!”

Unless you’re revealing some secret that the weakling has hidden up their sleeve, your boss fight turns into a standard combat. Filling it out with lackeys and environmental hazards makes the villain last longer and put up more of a fight. Traps that spring up during a combat can be pretty surprising and fun. Even if the bad guy doesn’t have the ridiculous damage output like an orc, or massive defenses/hit points, they can still benefit from some upped action economy. Pairing that with the environment and some mooks/minions to help out can make for a riveting and highly engaging combat scene. It takes away from that Balrog vs. Gandalf feeling, but it’ll still likely make a very memorable boss fight.

How do you make boss fights stand out from regular encounters?

 

Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: Resurrection

Image: art comission “Resurrection” by Benjamin Witunsky

 

Twilight had come. The rhythmic crunch of the hooves in the snow once more pulled Lisbeth into her own head. Her comrades were having a conversation as they traveled to the meeting house of the Ealdormen, it was muffled by the traffic of her thoughts. Resurrection was a rare thing, only the most skilled clerics would use it, and only when absolutely necessary to boot. She had never seen it done, but had heard stories of the Priestess’ most revered clerics bringing heroes back from the dead, giving their own life as sacrifice. It seemed like those cases were extreme, she hoped the consequences for something so trivial would not force the exchange of her life for another’s. After all, she had the whole body of this man. It’s not like he was turned to a pile of ash by a rakshasa or ripped to shreds by a manticore.

Her eyes glazed over and her body nothing more than a vessel to contain her maddened track of thinking, her right idly hand rested on the bag that was tied to her belt; the bag that held Mia’s father’s head. Tiberius, being the most perceptive, called out to her. Lisbeth didn’t hear him, it sounded like the others were under water. Can I really do this?

“Lisbeth!” Tiberius called, with a little more authority this time.

She shook her head and met his gaze with a weak smile. Only then did she realize she had a hand on the bag, quickly returning it to the reins of the horse.

Tiberius’ brow furrowed with concern, “Is everything all right?” His voice was soft and genuine.

A curt nod was her response, swallowing the words she actually wanted to say. I have to do this.

Corbin and Crysx were sharing theories as to what was happening in the area, both of them seemed to disagree. There simply wasn’t enough information that had revealed itself yet. It was likely idle chatter to simply fill the silence, Crysx’s time in the Underworld made him hate silence. Mia pointed to a shack on the horizon, indicated that was their destination. It looked shabby for a meeting place of such importance. By the time the reached it, darkness had claimed the sky. It was about the size of a barn, a thatched roof and big double doors in the front only reinforced that image. The front doors were locked.

“We need one of the Ealdormen to open it up,” Mia said meekly. Crysx rolled his eyes and hopped off his horse, smashing the lock and chain around the handles with the butt of his axe.

“You folks have weak steel out here. Perhaps taking some notes from the cityfolk would do you some good,” Crysx said, trying not to sound too offensive. The iron hinges on the double doors screamed as they opened, echoing in the freezing air. Puffs of breath escaping their mouths drifted into their eyes, impeding their effort to see into an already very dark room. Cryx’s axe sputtered with magical flame as he commanded it to ignite. Walking inside, he found an obvious place where the room would be illuminated; a fire pit in the center of a round and massive stone table to the left of the door. The chairs around it were all made of different kinds of stone. Crysx stuck his axe into the pit and it roared to life, though surprisingly with a green flame. The light from the fire played with the shadows of everyone inside, it made the mounted elk’s head high up on the left wall look ominous. It was almost as if it was looking down at them with disgust and malice. Up against the far wall from the entrance, there was a stone about 8 feet tall, it had a faint glow to it.

It was just as cold in here as it was outside, but the fire provided some relief. Corbin went to sit on one of the chairs but was interrupted by Crysx before he could plant his seat, “This place is clearly religious. Don’t foul its sanctity.” Corbin rolled his eyes but obeyed. Upon closer inspection of the stone, it became apparent that the glow came from a ward that covered an iron door embedded in it. Lisbeth knew that was the crypt, something within her screamed it. But why is it warded? The thought filled her with dread.

Corbin was analyzing the ward, but he couldn’t make much sense of it. It felt different, its magic foreign to him. The magic was primitive, primordial even. It invoked feelings and emotions, a far cry from the organized logic of his grasp on arcane magic. It was more akin to the divine magic Crysx and Lisbeth were attuned to, yet still quite strange. It was difficult to spot, but Lisbeth had managed to locate a weakness in the ward and pointed it out. Corbin mustered up all the energy he could to blast that spot with a powerful arcane blast, forcing the ward to shatter and fragment before dissipating. I don’t like this, not one bit, Corbin thought to himself.

The blackness of the crypt swallowed nearly all of the green light from the fire that attempted to illuminate it. The only thing that was apparent was that there was a stairway, crumbling and dilapidated, that lead downward. Crysx kept his axe lit and lead the crew. Lisbeth was the last to follow and addressed Mia before leaving, “You stay up here. If we don’t return by morning, you head to the closest Ealdorman. Understand?”

Mia nodded sheepishly, she didn’t know what would come of this. At the bottom of the stairs, they found themselves in a catacomb. The walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, skeletons stuffed in them for their eternal rest. Hatred hung in the air like a dense fog, they weren’t welcome here. Crysx’s axe and Corbin’s staff struggled to fight back the cold black of the underground, it was unnaturally dark. They walked for what seemed like forever. The crypt was a sprawling grid of shelves, presumably endless. Claustrophobia grasped Crysx’s heart like the paw of a dragon, this space was too confined. It was almost like he was back in the Underworld. His pupils constricted with fear, his heart trying to pound its way out of his chest. Sweat coated the clothes under his armor. As they traversed deeper, the sense of hate and unrest increased. He instinctively looked behind him every now and again. Much to his horror, the skulls of the deceased followed them with their gaze, though never moving while being watched. Their lipless grins and hollow eyes clawed at Crysx’s soul. The curse mark on their foreheads burned with intensity. He knew fear all too well, but still could not get used to it. He could hear the cackle of the necromancer from his dreams echoing in his cerebrum.

The state of the bodies started to take the form of earlier stages of decay. They were getting to the section where the more recent dead were stored.

A disembodied scream echoed in the halls, turning everyone’s blood to ice. In an instant, the party was surrounded by shades. Their legs nonexistent, wreathed in swirling shadows, their faces void of any flesh, the cursed mark carved into their foreheads. They were angry, and they blamed the trespassers. Like a well oiled machine, the party fought the tortured souls, pushing them back to the torturous nether region they manifested from. When the dust settled, Crysx felt pity for these souls. Lisbeth’s compassion only increased her sense of determination.

After what felt like an age, they had found the less populated part of the catacomb. The only body without a head presented itself as Mia’s father. His shirt was torn open at the chest, the curse mark carved into him. Her stomach twisted, not because of the grotesqueness of the scene, but because of the hatred that caused this act of violence. A lump in her throat threatened that vomit was not far from escaping her mouth. It never came.

“Help me with this,” she said, going to the feet of the corpse to pull it off the shelf. Her friends looked at her a little confused, but Crysx came to her aid. The man was frail and therefore very light. The temperature had kept him from decaying, and their noses were thankful for that. She pulled the head out of the sack, stared at it for a moment. The expression of horror and agony tugged at her chest. She was unsure what he’d feel when she brought him back. His lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling, unseeing and unknowing. It chilled her.

She placed the head at the stump of the neck. Placing both of her palms on his chest, she closed her eyes and began to pray. Ithildin clearly heard her plea, even in a place where she couldn’t see the sky. Corbin cried out in protest, finally becoming aware of what she was doing. Crysx held him back. A gasp escaped the head’s mouth as his eyes filled with life again. Veins from the neck slithered out, black with the hatred of the curse. The eyes had rolled back, the mouth quickly gaped open and released a scream of sheer agony that filled the crypt. Lisbeth started to cry but continued the spell. His body twitched and writhed as the veins started to pull the neck and head together once more, the cursed mark on his chest wept blood. Pebbles and dust fell from the ceiling as he screamed, all of the veins on his body turned an ink black and the eyes became white as pearls without pupils or irises. The cursed mark was affecting the ritual. Lisbeth began to panic, but it was too far gone. The scream took the form of not one voice, but hundreds as the spell progressed, but came to a steely silence at its completion. Mia’s father was alive again, but cursed with this awful form. Twisted and tortured, he had been brought back from the grave to be tormented further. He was to help them, in any way they could.

Corbins eyes were wild with fear and disapproval.

“What have you done?”

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

Make Your Own Luck

So this is a couple years over due, no? Make Your Own Luck was 2014’s Free RPG Day offering from Pelgrane Press, foreshadowing the upcoming supplement at the time Eyes of the Stone Thief. It’s a prequel adventure to the massive campaign book that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan so masterfully put together. Last night, for my Tuesday gaming group, I had the honor of GMing a game for once. It’s rather rare I do that, since that group is mainly comprised of veteran gamers that have been playing since the dawn of the RPG. It was both exciting and nerve wracking, and since I’ll be running this adventure at Gen Con 50, it was a learning experience.

The bad part? Well, I was pretty ill-prepared. The past week had been, well, interesting to say the least. I had only read half of the adventure, reading the other half while sitting behind the screen before game amongst the chatter of my three (a typically low number for this group) players. Thankfully, this adventure is straightforward enough that I was able to get away with it. By the end of it, I was nagging my players continually, trying to figure out if they genuinely had a good time or not. My performance was received positively, and my players had come up with really interesting characters to waltz through the horrors of Harrowdale.

Overall, the adventure seemed to be lacking depth. Not because of the content written on the page, gods no! But because I subconsciously rushed it along to reach the satisfying end. There’s three combats throughout the adventure, the last one being very tough. 13th Age has always excelled at keeping combat on the move, and this further solidifies that. Our game lasted about 4 hours, a little shy. Combat greedily consumed the bulk of the session. Dice rolls were rough, which certainly contributed to it. The role playing that did occur amidst play was very rewarding, albeit short. My PCs took one of the goblins scaling the wall and demanded he show them where the nightcandle was. They couldn’t see it (duh), so our water genasi bard use an Icon relationship point with the arch mage to make an elixir from his blood, in an attempt to attune herself to the nightcandle. The downside was that she was -2 to all defenses on the next combat for two rounds. Not a bad trade off to keep things moving.

With the bard, we had a necromancer and a paladin, Quite a strange bunch to be traversing through this adventure but it was certainly a blast. Stripping away all the personal touches that made this adventure fun, what about as it stands? Make Your Own Luck is solid, to say the least. The combats are interesting, there’s many avenues to take to solve the issue at hand and the GMPCs/enemies have just enough info for you to run them but put your own personal twist on them. The adventure has the potential to be very dark and horrific, though the Tuesday group doesn’t carry that atmosphere along so well. For that reason, I very much like it for what it is. The combat tables, as always, are immensely helpful and the rules tips sprinkled throughout make this a very easy adventure to run.

I honestly think it could benefit from being used as a vignette before you run your group through the entirety of Eyes of the Stone Thief. That probably seems a little obvious because, well, that’s what it is. However, not doing this as a one shot could give this dimensions that likely weren’t intended when written. This could easily be a two session game, giving your players a huge amount of personal investment in Harrowdale and the people within. This adventure is awesome, no matter which way you run it and I’m excited as hell to take some of you through it at Gen Con 50!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Between Quests

image: Brian Vigue

Downtime during adventures is always the more awkward and clunky part of any long term campaign I run. My players enjoy role playing, but without direction they just sort of bumble around until something tries to kill them. It’s also a little difficult for me to come up with things on the fly that are much less a part of the overarching story. Let’s dig into that a little bit.

The “between quest mode” of a tabletop RPG is usually the least written about part of a book, if it’s even there at all. One thing that’s gained my interest is The One Ring RPG from Cubicle 7 splits adventuring up into phases, with the “Fellowship Phase” being the downtime. Sadly, I have yet to play that game in an in-depth manner, my only experience comes from play by post. The overall idea is providing a loose mechanic to downtime in games. Surely an interesting concept that could probably help me keep those parts engaging. So there’s a possibility that game mechanics could fill that gap.

On the other hand, I fear that providing a mechanical bit to role playing could interfere with the players making it feel organic. What do I do? Well, I have some ideas…

Since Ald Sotha was my first campaign I’ve ever GMed (and it’s still running!), this whole thing has been one gigantic, years long learning experience for me. This is no exception. What would have been a great benefit for me before this whole thing even got rolling is a session zero. It would’ve rooted the characters in the world and given them friends and family to interact with during downtime. This is so ridiculously important that I wish I had been more interested in what was going on here on the internet before I just charged headlong into GMing to learn it. What that session zero would have made is a collaboration between players to connect them to the world before they were even really plopped down into it. No doubt, some important GMPCs (game master player character, courtesy of Robin D. Laws) that have nothing to do with the plot but have everything to do with the characters would have sprung up from this.

That takes me to a small bit of gaming philosophy, I suppose. Adventures are for developing change in a character, downtime is for seeing how that change affects their relationships with those they love. It creates a much more lifelike and interesting experience for the player and, honestly, I think that would make me feel amazingly good as a GM to watch it unfold.

One thing I do in my games that greatly alters the way downtime is spent (that may or may not be a mistake, in some light) is disregard currency. On the one hand, it makes the players more interested in the story instead of material riches. However, it does instill a mindset into the players that shopping is useless, which is largely untrue. For clarity’s sake; in my game, the players are in the inner circle of a guild called the Axefall. Having the economics of the guild at their beck and call, I feel like currency should take a back seat the the overall story. The better the guild is doing, the more liberal I am with the things they can “purchase”. Without the numerical value to their wealth, it seems that the players are way less interested in perusing around New Port’s marketplace in search of new gear and items. Also assuming that most adventuring gear is on their person likely enables this.

Essentially, some of my most dearly held philosophies on how I run my games alters the downtime phases. My idea for a fix is a little interesting. The main background quest of the game is to strengthen the guild, create a fighting force, and take back the city that was once their home. Surely, this has a lot to do with economics, overall wealth, and health of the players/guild. Keeping it nebulous, as is my way, I think that reminding the players that there are little things they can do to further this goal could help create some depth. Moreover, using GMPCs that have started to fade into the backdrop to present the ideas could create that sense of relationship, community, and realism. Considering that the players are in between quests at this very moment, it could be implemented really soon.

I can’t help but hold a little bit of fear, though. Fear that the players will find this uninteresting, although the tasks are pretty much intended to be mundane. It’s supposed to paint a picture of what the guild looks like when they’re out adventuring, to create a sense that the world ticks and turns while the camera isn’t focused on it. More importantly, I would hope that this approach would make my players feel more of a connection (and by that, I mean simply remember) to some of the faded GMPCs.

What I’m saying is that I should plan a little more. I love improving my games, but damn, the boat does need at least a rudder to sail it. How do you manage downtime in RPGs?

 

Stay Metal \m/

Dragon Empire: City of Monsters

image: Drakkenhall map by Lee Moyer, as seen in 13 True Ways

 

From the moment I read the description of this city in 13th Age, I was hooked. A city governed by one of the more questionable Icons, always at the brink of war with the rest of the Dragon Empire. A haven for monsters and otherwise outcast citizens of the continent, horribly corrupt and treacherous with half of the it being a ruin. The shadow of the Blue and the Black reach far here, the Blue’s rule going unchallenged and unquestioned. This place was teeming with stuff to tinker with, even before the release of 13 True Ways. When that book came out, it opened up a whole new world (almost literally), and made me anxious to someday have my players go snooping around whilst being waist deep in danger.

It looks like dreams do come true, every once in a while. My Saturday game group is preparing to pack up and head to Drakkenhall in search of the Deck of Many Things, which is a key item in the overarching story being told. As I devour the information that 13 True Ways provides about the city, I grow more and more excited. The nature of the city will definitely take off some tension that the strict rule of New Port offers (in my game). I would imagine that they have a lot of murderhoboing to get out, and what better place? What makes it even better is the whacky and sometimes illogical laws that may be instilled by the corrupt creatures that run this pile of rubble they call a city. The sessions ahead are likely going to be very chaotic, a stark opposite to the way things have been going lately.

Deliberately throwing important pieces of the plot in vastly different settings for the players to chase can really shake up a campaign. Most interestingly, the party will be looking for a friend, making information gathering as to where to find him very interesting. Talking with monsters isn’t exactly something most of the party does… well, Lisbeth does but that’s besides the point. General disdain towards player races in the city will certainly increase tensions, with the watchful eye of The Black’s special forces creating paranoia and fear further. Thankfully that’s not the only “politically official” threat the party faces and they may get wrapped up in something they didn’t intend.

A tantalizing bit of info I’m not sure what to do with at the moment is that the city was never seized. It was given to The Blue under some sort of shaky agreement under a previous Emperor. It’s made clear that Drakkenhall didn’t always bear the name or monstrous citizens, it was once a respectable and mighty city in the Dragon Empire that plummeted into ruin and decay. There’s something hiding in this city’s history that caused this all to happen, and hopefully that’s something we’ll see in the upcoming Book of Ages by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. However, for now, all I have is my own creativity and speculation to fuel the way my players experience the so-called City of Monsters.

thethreeThe Three from 13th Age

The write-up in 13 True Ways has plenty of both fantastic and mundane details about the city that I believe will help me do it some justice. Perhaps the best part about this write-up (and the other cities’ too) is the 13 rumors. This little segment is a Petri dish for a GM to grow little adventure cultures out of. It’s absolutely beautiful, and will certainly serve me by creating more problems for the players than they originally planned and bargained for.

To further that point, there’s a segment with any and all vested interest the other Icons have in the city. Things are going to get complicated during the players’ stay in The Blue’s humble abode and could possibly take up the final stretch of our campaign (levels 7 to 10). With the deck being the primary focus of their little venture, they still have the looming darkness on the horizon that took their home of Ald Sotha. Time is of the essence, and they may have to attempt to recruit some monstrous allies to gain the deck, take back their home from Ossen, a terrible Lich hellbent on usurping the Lich King and plunging the continent into an age long darkness. But more of that in the campaign summaries.

I hope this has inspired you to read up and maybe include Drakkenhall in your home campaign. The city is seemingly one large dungeon that an entire campaign from levels 1 to 10 could easily take place in. Extract the ore from this impeccable mine of a setting.

Stay Metal \m/

Artisan Dice: Jack Daniels Oak

“Sean,
We apologize for the long wait on yourhandcrafted dice.
Included is a complimentary assorted wooden d20 for the wait.
We appreciate your patience.
Thank you and Best regards,
Artisan Dice”

 

So this is the very late follow-up to my post about the ancient bog oak die I had received as a gift for Yule. My overall impression was extremely positive, and now that I’m using it more often, not being able to see the numbers can be a pain in the rump just a tiny bit. That doesn’t keep me from using it because, well, I’m 22 and haven’t suffered enough in my life yet. First impression of these guys? That’s not going to be an issue anymore.

Now before I get too ahead of myself, I need to address the most important part of this whole gift receiving thing. These were ordered well before Christmas Day, by Jessica’s father as a gift to me. I hadn’t received these until late February/early March (if my horrendous memory serves). That’s a long wait time, but it was clear that wood supply was short and from Artisan Dice’s constant Facebook updates, it was blatantly apparent that they were having some machinery issues as well. Simply put: I was not in the least bit upset about how long it was taking. I don’t mind waiting some time for a truly quality product, and sure it would have been nice to have them earlier, but I wasn’t wiggling in my seat in anticipation. Now, I did order a set of purple heart wood dice for Jessica that arrived around the same time and having not sent a complaint email, Artisan Dice made an incredible gesture on their own. The featured photo is the tin of purple heartwood dice, the small tin is one of their assorted wood d20s as a good will gesture for the wait, and a hand written note to put the icing on the cake. I was shocked, and asked Jessica’s dad if they had done the same thing with the order he had for me (I had an assorted d20 too) and he confirmed my suspicion. From what I know, Jessica’s father did send an email to them asking about the long wait time, but I’m blown away by this company’s generosity. It warms me that there are still companies that are hellbent on giving the customer a quality experience.

Now that that’s over; let’s talk about dice, shall we?

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I’ve never had one of the wooden boxes that Artisan Dice offers, but even these little tins are well put together. As you can see from the small d20 only tin, the lid is fitted with this foam insulation on the inside to protect the face of the die. The housings for the dice themselves are made from some type of unfinished wood. It’s seemingly painted black and looks really good with the color contrast of my dice. The image doesn’t show it, but between the d4 and d8, they have etched into the housing a little maker’s mark (it’s in the shape of the state of Texas). It has no bearing on the product, but it does make for a nice presentation piece.

So, what’s the story with these? Turns out, Jack Daniels doesn’t retire their barrels until seven years after their whiskey has been aging in it. My thoughts on limited product supply were correct, for sure. The inside of whiskey barrels are very often charred, to give the whiskey a sweeter or vanilla taste. Any whiskey that comes out of America definitely utilizes charred barrels. Based off of logical assumption, that’s why the d6s have one black side; they utilize the charred inside of the barrel. The charred inside of the Jack Daniels whiskey barrel on the 6th side looks cool. These are the only parts with that charring, but the percentile d10 also has the slightest amount of it. It’s pretty clear this wasn’t intentional, but it still does look kind of nice. One thing I actually do enjoy about these dice is that the d6’s have pips instead of numbers. This shows off some complex layering of the wood inside the pips and is really pleasing to the eye.

Anybody who has worked with it knows that wood lacquer is really smelly. What’s incredible to me is that, though these dice are sealed with lacquer, you can actually still smell the wood itself through it. It’s a little odd that I smelled my dice, sure, but I’m a whiskey guy. Can you blame me? Beyond that, the charred sixth side smells different than the other bare wood dice. A rather trivial detail but, man, do I love it.

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Sadly, the one thing I didn’t find in the note is exactly what kind of wood my assorted d20 is made out of. I’m no wood expert, but if I had to guess, I would say its some kind of walnut. The rich brown color really falls in line with my general taste in wood color and really pleased me. That didn’t sound like I intended…

I store these guys in my Dogmight Games adventure case, I take advantage of the felt lined rolling tray in an attempt to preserve these Bad Larries as long as I can. Sadly, this is where the bad stuff comes in.

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One of the tips of my d4 took a hit, likely just from transport. The wooden doors on the adventure case aren’t lined, unlike the rolling surface. Therefore, when it’s in my backpack as I walk, everything is jostling around. Definitely not the die’s fault, but noteworthy. Also to note, the edges of all the dice are extremely pointy. This means that they’re sort of a target to become dulled or chipped anyway. I like how pointy they are, it’s certainly not a flaw. The die still functions just fine, but if this can happen during transport, certainly be careful while rolling. The points will likely wear over time, it’s just the way it’ll work. Bummer. Based off this alone, I would highly recommend you transport your dice in the provided containers to eliminate the risk of damage.

What didn’t dawn on me until I plastered this picture in the post; You can sort of see the pattern I was alluding to when talking about the d6. The wood naturally has this strange criss-cross pattern that looks really cool. Inside the pips of the d6s, you can see that they’re more like strands almost woven together. Nature is an amazing thing.

From this point of the review forward is going to be the cons of the dice that aren’t things that I could control (like my storage). The geometry of the d20 and d12 are pretty damn near flawless. The other dice, however… well…

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Granted, this is a bit of a nit pick but if you look, you can see that the top point and the bottom point of the d8 aren’t aligned. They’re slightly offset from each other, which means the die isn’t fully symmetrical. That’ll without question affect the way this die rolls, and from what I’ve seen so far, not for the worse (heh…). I certainly don’t mind rolling well with it often, and thankfully my game group is lax enough to where it doesn’t really matter either. For some people, this may be a huge issue however.

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As you can see, this asymmetry is extremely apparent with the d10s. It certainly won’t keep me from using them but I feel this is important to note. Quite honestly, I’m not too upset about this. It does bother me that the dice aren’t true and that they won’t roll well, but this is the risk you run when buying hand crafted products. Human error is a real thing, and although there’s likely some sort of quality control in place, sometimes things slip.

In blatant contrast to the bog oak d20, these dice are incredibly easy to read since the burned in numbers are dark where the wood color is light. Even when rolled in the darkness behind the screen that my adventure case makes in front of the roll tray (invest in the LEDs, people. It’s a good idea), I can still read the numbers very clearly. The assorted one, on the other hand, does suffer the same fate as the bog oak.

To wrap it all up, I do absolutely love these dice. They’re gorgeous, fragrant (not something you hear every day) and just feel absolutely stellar to hold in the hand. This set runs you 167 USD, which is pretty expensive. Like I had mentioned in the last review, you get what you pay for. Having dice made out of a moderately rare and certainly interesting material is going to cost, it’s a simple fact of life. The one thing to certainly expect going in: these are going to take a while to get to you. Be patient, you’ll be happy you were.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Monster Hunters

image: Deviant Art

Factions and organizations make the fictional world go ’round. They help show that the world moves on its own, completely outside the influence of the PCs. That there are actually people with their own goals and ambitions living in the world as well. In many cases, the factions that PCs interact with most are in the either the same or a similar line of work: adventuring, dungeoneering, monster hunting. Here’s a small faction offering from my home game, Ald Sotha.

 

The Infernal Hunters

The Infernal Hunters is a group of monster hunters that could be plopped down into any medieval fantasy game. It’s comprised of only three people, all secretly lycanthropes. The name “Infernal Hunters” was made up by their leader, Feng. He’s a man who enjoys some irony, and since lycanthropy can be seen as demonic to some as a curse or demonic, he figured it’d be an indecipherable allusion to what they truly are. Their ilk is that of an ancient one, once simply called The Hunters. Their teachings were brought to near annihilation after a city long ago had accused them of purposefully siccing monsters on settlements to secure work. The truth? It’s been lost in the sands of time. What is true about the new Infernal Hunters, however, is that they serve humanity, protecting it from the shadows that lurk outside the corner of our eyes. The three Infernal Hunters have received their gift from the gods of nature (or the High Druid, if you’re playing 13th Age), to give them the same animalistic prowess of those they hunt. Alternate takes:

  • The “Infernal” part of the infernal hunters is actually because they focus on demons. This could turn the hunters themselves into powerful arcanists that draw on demonic power and twist it to do good.
  • They could outright be demons that are evil and hunt intelligent humanoids instead.
  • They could be intelligent monsters that hunt humans

 

Feng – The leader of the hunters. Feng is a werewolf, and knowing this before seeing his human form makes one wonder why people don’t guess this off the bat. His hair hangs past the shoulder, straight, and black as pitch. Feng sports a closely cropped beard that matches the color of the hair on his head, the contrast makes his eyes the centerpiece of his face: cold and stoic, the color of a frozen lake. He has a decisive look about him, stony as a dwarf and calm as the most remote lake in the wilderlands. Carrying a great sword on his back, most do their best to avoid angering him. Those that don’t? They regret it very quickly.

When spoken to, Feng defies his image. He’s very open and a fantastic listener. A compassionate soul, he’ll gladly do what he can for most anyone in need. Despite this fact, he’s difficult to deal with due to his tone of voice, which reflects his appearance. When the words and tone don’t agree, it tends to muddle the minds of lesser men. The coin flips, however, when people meddle with his work. Feng prefers to work alone, but with the lasting bond that he nurtures between the other to Hunters, it almost doesn’t show. When outsiders try to step in to a job he’s pursuing, the fangs of the wolf come out.

Boris – The muscle of the hunters. Boris is a bear of a man, quite literally. He’s the tallest of the hunters, and the tallest most everywhere else. His shiny, bald head contrasts with his chestnut brown, bushy beard. The facial hair hides his mouth while he speaks, but his smile shines through like a lighthouse in a fog. Boris has very crooked teeth, though they are as white as fresh snow. He’s a docile man, must slower to anger than Feng. When he does anger, however, someone will pay for it. Boris carries a very large, double bitted axe, and he does what he can to make it acquainted with those who truly deserve to be.

As one could guess, Boris is a werebear. He also has a redeeming quality that makes it almost painfully obvious in his human form: his love of mead. He carries a drinking horn everywhere he goes, with a small barrel of the stuff strapped to his back. The size comparison between the barrel and his chest/gut is stunning. The man is a walking, laughing stone tower.

 

Harold – The sneaker. Harold has beady little eyes, very patchy facial hair and almost always seems to be hunched over, if standing idly. His scrawniness and seemingly slimy personality make people wonder why Boris and Feng keep him around. Truth is, a wererat is incredibly useful in their line of work. Something about him makes him seem untrustworthy, and that instinct should be heeded.

Harold came from a life of thievery, an instinct that gets them in trouble almost as often as it’s helpful. More often than not, he spends his time in his rat form to sneak around and gather information about people and places to report back to Feng. He gets almost a sick satisfaction from it, the thought of being completely covert and seemingly mundane. It may be hard to warm up to him, but there’s no question about his importance as a Hunter.

 

 

In our Saturday campaign, the Infernal Hunters were used as a set of rivals to the party. They were hunting a vampire that lived in the city of New Port, the same ones the PCs were after. Where the Hunters saw themselves as protectors of the city, the PCs had a bit of a grudge against this particular undead revanant, making the two groups not see eye-to-eye. It made for an interesting adventure, and ultimately ended with the PCs and the Hunters banding together to take out a mutual enemy. You’ll get the full story from a campaign update that’ll be coming in the future.

Until then, I hope this sparks some creativity in you to either use the Hunters as written or to tweak them to fit perfectly into your own home campaign. Until next time…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Vital NPCs

Non player characters (NPCs) or game master characters (GMPCs) are the bread and butter of information giving in tabletop RPGs. Characters could always go to a library and read up on things, stumble across the answer to a mystery that’s plagued the world for a millennia or simply  just be lucky. This can be fun from time to time but what is dramatic and ties the player characters to the world is interacting with its people. Revealing some of the most important plot points in your game may center around an interaction with a key character. Because of this, the character must be equally, if not more, interesting than  the piece of information itself.

An example of this comes straight from my home game last night, an ongoing campaign that I’ve been running for three years or so.  A very helpful NPC had turned out to be an instrumental player in the Lich King’s plot to retake his empire. Though begrudgingly accepting this fate on fear of death in response to refusal, the character had helped the PCs and was eventually forced to come out with the truth to them. He has now turned into a double agent for them, walking the knife’s edge between good and evil. The plot was there all along, but there was a chance that he would end up on the opposite end of Lisbeth’s sword.

That’s where the careful planning and anticipation come in. Effectively presenting and preserving an NPC like this can make for a really gripping, complex, and engaging way to experience the story of your campaign. People are complex in life, and so too should they be in your RPG. The vital NPC needs to be a relatable character, yet still expressly unique to make the players feel sometimes at odds with them. It leaves the right amount of tension and keeps the players guessing whether they are good or evil. If they’re useful enough, the players will try to keep them around rather than killing them. It gives you ample opportunity to throw wrenches in the plot, but beware: if your wrenches are big enough to put the PCs further away from your vital NPC, that could lead to their death.

The problems that are introduced as consequence to the PCs relationship with your complex NPC should not have said NPC directly involved. That’s how your character gets dead, real quick. Players have an uncanny ability of cutting out the bull in a game, keeping around only what they see as vital, not interesting. As soon as your NPC becomes directly opposed to the PC’s, even if they’re a bit useful, they now become the focus as a villain. So, my one of six master vampires left in the world of the Dragon Empire, Wilton, is willing to help them retake their home of Ald Sotha by informing them on what he can about the Lich King for a time. The catch is that if the Lich King finds out and plays the game, Wilton won’t withhold information from him because he’s scared of the Lich King more than the players. He had said that right off the bat. However, it is abundantly clear to my players that Wilton believes that with careful planning and precision, they can topple the Lich Kings plan, thus making him willing to help. He wants to be free of the political obligation that our wonderful Lord of Undeath bestows upon him so graciously. This creates a very interesting and complex situation with the clear good and bad guys, but makes it deeply interesting by having the questionable character that is extremely open and helpful to the PCs.

It can be a lot to keep track of on the GM’s part to maintain a story line with such a rich and complex set of relationships, but it can be very rewarding to see your players react to such. It begs the question however; how do I keep them alive? This is the part that’s easier said than done. Continuing with my example character; the PCs had found out that Wilton was living amongst mortals and elves because he simply enjoyed their company, despite being a vampire. This takes away the mentality of “vampire = evil” thus making it a bit more difficult to justify killing him. Before the reveal, even, Wilton was very helpful and kind when the players needed some information about an event that happened near both his residence and place of business. It puts the NPC in good standing with the players, making them less likely to be outright angry when his real situation is shown. The blow of finding out that my majorly helpful NPC is a blood sucking monster was heavy, but not heavy enough to drastically change the way they were handling the other important situations.

Keeping him alive from this point forward is just a task of maintaining that level of helpfulness. Not any more, not any less. However, if you’re a GM who really likes to kick up the complexity, making such an NPC even more valuable than is originally presented can set the stage for an immensely dramatic shift. Putting that important NPC in danger or at odds with the players after that could become an important part of your story. The trick to this is to make sure that both you and your players explore all of that characters usefulness. If this doesn’t happen before the coin flips, your players could be missing out on some key information or experiences in your plot.

These double agent type characters can be a true joy to explore in a long term campaign. They keep things dramatic, tense, but also give your players a bit of something to fall back on when they don’t know what to do. The most important bit to remember, however? The story is about your players, not this NPC. I love Wilton as a character, I do. Sure, he’s massively important and preferably needs to stay alive,  but killing him won’t completely derail the game. It’ll make the players’ lives more difficult, without question, but the campaign can still be seen to the end.

 

There’s a lot to think about with this idea, and I’m sure all of you have some slightly (or radically) different approaches to such a concept. I’d be interested to hear them!

 

But for now,

Stay Metal \m/

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