20 August 2018

Stop and Smell the Geographically Distinct Coastlines Along The Way

I recently spent a few weeks vacationing and visiting relatives in Nova Scotia. While there, I am always struck by not only the beauty of the coastline, but also how rugged and different it is compared to the tourist beaches that many of us are more familiar with. Then I thought a little about coastlines and other wilderness locations I've used in the various games I have ran over the years, and how, in retrospect, most of those locations have often been generic and stereotypical, because they were based heavily on my own limited experiences and travels. So I thought today that I would talk about the value of stepping outside of one's own experiences when designing wilderness locations, specifically coastal areas, both as a way to offer advice to fellow Dungeon Mastering and as a way to shamelessly share some of the beautiful photos I took while on vacation.

17 July 2018

Rambler Reviews: "Prepared! A Dozen Adventures for Fifth Edition"

This week I'm taking a look at a collection of short (2-3 page) adventures published by Kobold Press and entitled: "Prepared! A Dozen Adventures for Fifth Edition" Billed as a supplement for those who were unexpectedly pressed into running an adventure, or who didn't have enough time to prepare for their ongoing game, or perhaps those who just want to run a one-shot game on-the-fly, this book (or PDF) presents the reader with several short adventures that can be played through with very little preparation. Let's dive in and take a closer look, and I'll tell you what I think.

13 July 2018

Computer Woes and Convention...Goes?

Updates have been quite sporadic recently and I apologize for that. I'm looking to get back to posting something new every week, and I have some new reviews in the works. Originally I had planned to post the first of these reviews earlier this week, but I had some issues with my laptop that required me to reinstall my operating system. Fortunately I didn't lose much, but unfortunately the ordeal did set me back a few days. Anyway, the important thing here is the fact that new stuff is coming.

Also, I'm about to attend a local gaming convention called CharCon just a few hours after posting this, so look for an update about that later as well as some board game pictures on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

That's it for now - see you next week!

25 June 2018

Some Games I Played and Other Takeaways From Origins 2018

If you pay attention to what's going on in the world of roleplaying games and board games, then you probably know that the Origins Game Fair happened a couple of weeks ago (June 13 thru 17 to be exact). If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably know I was in attendance. This was my third time time attending Origins, but only the second time that I've been for the whole convention, and boy did I play a lot of board games. Stay tuned after the break and I'll talk a little bit about what I played and also share some overall impressions and takeaways from Origins 2018.

07 June 2018

This Game is Fun I Swear!

I'm forever apologizing for my board games. 

I'm always saying things like: "I know it looks complicated, but it's really not." or "Trust me, it's really fun once you play a few rounds." I constantly worry that people won't give them a chance if I have to spend more than fifteen minutes explaining them, and I take great care selecting which games I will take to places depending on who will be there. Even though most of the games on my shelf say they could be played by an eight year old, teaching people the rules - and getting people over that hurdle of learning these rules that an eight year old could allegedly grasp - is definitely the biggest barrier to entry into this hobby. I've always thought of this as a recent phenomenon exclusive to modern board games, even the simplest of which are often still more complex than the likes of "traditional" board games like Sorry and Monopoly. That's why I was quite interested when I saw this game on eBay (image after the break):

25 May 2018

Rambler Reviews Slip: A World of Adventure for Fate Core

What's that over there, in the shadows? Did you hear something? It's probably nothing...but what if it isn't? Welcome to the world of Slip.

If you've ever wondered what would happen if Supernatural, The X-Files, and Torchwood had a baby, then you might be interested in Slip. Let's dive in and I'll tell you what I think after the break.

11 May 2018

What You're Really Saying When You Say: "My Character Wouldn't Do That."

"My character wouldn't do that."

We've all been at a game table where someone has said this. Maybe you were the game master, or another player, or even that player, but it's happened. And it's one of the most frustrating situations you can find yourself in no matter which of these people you happen to be.

As the game master and other players you are frustrated because this phrase typically grinds the story to a halt, and as the player who uttered the phrase you are frustrated because you're having a difficult time reconciling the story with how you envision your character.

Here is the thing though: when you say "my character wouldn't do that" and then stonewall any further discussion, what you're effectively saying is "I refuse to participate in this story." This, of course, is a problematic stance to take in a game that hinges on collaborative storytelling. So let's take a look why we should avoid doing this and discuss some other things we can do instead.

29 April 2018

Rambler Reviews: Dwarven Traders

Recently I was fortunate enough to play an early review copy of Dwarven Traders, a new boardgame from 2D6.EE Games that is live on Kickstarter now! Let's head  on down into the gemstone mines and I'll tell you what I think.

27 April 2018

Rambler Reviews: Whispers From the Void

"Whispers From the Void” is the much-anticipated second adventure from publisher LoreSmyth, and is a follow up to their adventure “The Claws of Madness,” which I have previously reviewed here. The PDF consists of 34 full-color pages, with the layout and artwork both being of the high quality I have come to expect and appreciate from LoreSmyth. The adventure is cleanly organized in a manner consistent with its predecessor, and there are useful appendices for monsters, magic items, and details about the mysterious "Realm Rift." So it looks good, but is it good? Let's dive right in and I'll tell you what I think.

11 April 2018

Random Ramblings 4/11/18 - What I've Done and What I'm Doing

Today I'll be taking a look at what I've been doing, what I am doing, and what I will soon be doing. Let's get to it!

UPDATE 4/26/18: There were some medical issues that my family had to deal with, and so everything I mention in this post, such as the schedule for my upcoming reviews, has been pushed back by a couple of weeks.

30 March 2018

A Final Look at Madness - How The Old Ones Did It!

As March, and my theme of March Madness draws to a close, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't spend some time talking about the sanity rules from the d20 SRD. I believe these rules were originally part of the D20 Cthulhu game, written by Monte Cook and John Tynes, and published way back in the mists of time (2002) by Wizards of the Coast. I'm not going to do a full review of these rules, but let's go ahead and take a look at some of the interesting bits.

21 March 2018

Rambler Reviews: "Perilous Places: The King's Mercy"

This week, I am continuing my March Madness Theme by taking a look at Perilous Places: TheKing's Mercy. This twenty page PDF is another offering from the Dungeon Master's Guild, written by Paul Baalham, and featuring another take on emulating the progression of madness (or in this case despair) in the minds of hapless adventurers. The supplement is laid out nicely, is done in full color, and there are good illustrations throughout, including an image of each new monster and unique item presented, which I truly appreciate. Let's take a closer look, and I'll let you know what I think about this supplement and the “Despair Track” that it introduces.

14 March 2018

Rambler Reviews: Madness sub-classes for the Barbarian and the Monk

Continuing with my March Madness theme, I'm taking a look at sub-classes with a madness theme for both the Barbarian and the Monk class. Incidentally, both supplements are from the same author. How did I choose these classes or these sub-classes you ask? I won't bore you with all the details, but I will tell you that the process involved typing in the search term “madness” on the DM's Guild website and then downloading a couple of relevant results. Okay, so it turns out that I will bore you with all of the details. Anyway, let's take a look at what I found and I'll tell you what I think.

09 March 2018

Rambler Reviews: A Tale of Three Madness Systems

What happens when the mind is confronted with something so terrible, so alien, that it alters a person's understanding of reality? 

Why, that person slowly descends into madness of course! 

This theme, and the exploration of this "descent into madness," is quite popular in literature and cinema. The works of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Alfred Hitchcock come immediately to mind as exemplary of this genre, and there are no doubt dozens and dozens of other examples. This theme is so familiar, and so pervasive, that sooner or later the question of how to emulate madness in role-playing games will inevitably come up.

In Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, this question comes up on pages 258 – 260, in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master's Guide, under the heading: "Madness." Maddeningly, it also comes up in Chapter 9 on page 266 under the section “Fear and Horror,” which (poorly) references the aforementioned madness rules in Chapter 8, while in turn those madness rules in Chapter 8 reference the rules for “sanity checks” on page 265 of Chapter 9. Unless the intention was to actually drive people mad, there is no reason for these obviously related rules to be scattered and separated as they are by a few unrelated pages. But I digress...

Today, I'll be taking a look at these official madness rules, as well as a couple of other, similar systems that are available for download over at the DM's Guild.

07 March 2018

Introducing March Madness

I'm not a basketball fan, so when I hear everyone saying "March Madness" at this time of year I don't think about sports - I think about actual, jaw-clenching, lose-your-mind madness. So this month I'm dedicating my blog to madness in role-playing games.

What does that mean? One thing it means is that I'm going to take a look at some different rules and supplements that simulate fear, madness, and corruption and tell you what I think about them. I'm also going to review at least one madness-themed adventure. Beyond that I'll probably talk about some monsters like mind-flayers and gibbering mouthers, and I might even dig up some Cthulhu RPG stuff to talk about. It's going to get crazy!

Also, not much is set in stone yet, so if you have anything or know of anything madness-related that I should look at let me know!

02 March 2018

How to Create a Good Backstory, or: Why Nobody Cares About All That Stuff You Wrote About Your Character

First off, I want to say that I think having a backstory for your character is important, and I think the inclusion of backgrounds as a part of character creation in Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons is inspired. However, too much backstory before you even play the game can be a bad thing, and actually work against your enjoyment at the table.

Now, before you try and pummel me to death with the hand-bound ream of parchment that you’ve penned your character’s history on, hear me out.

21 February 2018

Rambler Reviews: Shore of Dreams

This week I'm taking a look at Shore of Dreams, a fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure by Florian Emmerich and JVC Parry, designed for character levels 5 – 7, and published by Poison Potion Press. Lets take a look!

13 February 2018

Rambling Roleplayer's Random Ramblings - 02/13/2018

This week I'm going to go on about some of the things I've recently been doing, playing, watching, reading, listening to, and what have you. It will likely be a regular thing that I do at least once a month. Next week (and actually every other week) I'll be posting another review. But for now, let's take a look at what I've been up to of late.

06 February 2018

Rambler Reviews: Remarkable Inns & Their Drinks

“You all meet at a tavern...”

Veterans of Dungeons & Dragons, and similar fantasy role-playing games, have no doubt heard that phrase uttered countless times. Inns and taverns are staples of such games, providing a place for adventurers to assemble, learn gossip, recruit allies, or just rest and recuperate after a long and dangerous journey. Since adventurers typically spend almost as much time at inns and taverns as they do adventuring, game masters will often need to know a lot of details about these iconic locations. In fact, designing a detailed Inn could easily take as much time as stocking a dungeon, if not more, and often this is time that game masters just don't have.

Enter “Remarkable Inns &Their Drinks,” a book from LoreSmyth that seeks to assist the time-strapped GM by not only providing several ready-made inns and taverns, but also providing tools and tips for running inns in your game and creating your own unique locations quickly. So how does it do? Lets take a closer look.

02 February 2018

World Building 101: Nobody Cares About Your World’s History

You know all those hours you spent detailing the Gods in your pantheon, and writing out the history of the God’s war, and detailing the lineage of the great noble houses in your campaign world, and all that other stuff? Well, I’m sorry, but your players don’t really care about any of that stuff – yet.
It’s a tough lesson to learn, but the sooner you accept it the sooner you can start working to change it. Because you can change it, you can absolutely get your players to buy-in to all that cool stuff about your campaign world, you just have to realize that it isn’t going to happen all at once, and it isn’t going to happen before your first game session. Which brings me to my first “don’t” when it comes to getting players to buy-in to your game world.

Don’t Assign Homework to Your Players
Look, I get it; you spent all this time working on all of these details about some Knightly Order, or the history of the war between two neighboring kingdoms or whatever, and you really want to tell your players all about it and you want them to think it’s as awesome as you think it is. And maybe it is really awesome stuff, but unfortunately your players aren’t going to share your passion about whatever it is you’ve created right out of the gate, and you aren’t going to be able to foist that passion upon them.  So don’t try to get them to learn everything there is to know about your game world before they even play by printing up history textbooks disguised as player handouts and instructing everyone to read them before making characters. Trust me: making sure your players know all that stuff up front isn’t as important as you think it is. If you absolutely must have a player handout, limit it to perhaps a page or so of information that is imminently relevant to what will be taking place in the game.  Anything more than this is probably overkill. Now let's move on to the second don’t.

Don’t Stifle Player Creativity
A big problem that happens when we game masters create our own worlds is that we tend to want to hold on to a lot of creative control. We have a very specific vision of how the elements of that world interact with one another, and we get frustrated when the players don’t “get it right.” If you find yourself constantly saying things like “Your character wouldn’t do that because…” or “An Elf wouldn’t say that because…” then you need to take a step back and realize that you are probably being too restrictive when it comes to player freedom. Don’t get me wrong; there may be times where it’s helpful to remind a player of something significant and unique to your world that could affect the way they react in a given situation, but this sort of thing shouldn’t come up constantly and should be phrased more like “remember, Guilder is the sworn enemy of Florence,” and not like “Your character wouldn’t do that because…” If you’ve created something really restrictive, like a detailed knightly or monastic order, and you absolutely just can’t let go of all of the things that you think are wrong about how a player is playing their character, maybe it isn’t the best idea to let players play that type of character. Perhaps they are best left as NPCs, and perhaps you should save those ideas about how you think your player should be playing his character and use them when you play your next character. Suggest instead that players belong to a different Knightly Order (or whatever it is), one that you aren’t so controlling of, and that allows them to exercise creative freedom over their character. If you find that you feel restrictive and controlling over most or all of the playable character types in your game world, consider writing a novel instead of running a roleplaying game, because a lot of the fun of being a player is adding character to your character and nobody wants to play in a game where this creativity is denied to them.  Of course, all of this talk about creativity leads me to my first “do.”

Let the Players Have Creative Control
I know it’s your world, but roleplaying games are about being creative, whether you’re a player or a GM, so give your players some creative license when it comes to the history and other aspects of your world.  This doesn’t mean that you have to give your players permission to create huge swaths of campaign-shaping history (although you could), but it does mean that they should be allowed to come up with some aspects of their family lineage, or perhaps the history of their monastic order or arcane tradition. Or, from the example above, if you can’t bear to let a player play a member of a specific knightly order or some such in their own way, maybe let them play as a member of a splinter faction within that organization, and let the player define the differences. Or instead of having a cleric worship a deity that you’ve spent lots of time fleshing out, maybe encourage the player to worship a deity that you have spent relatively little time on, and then allow that player to come up with some unique things about that religion. The more players can contribute, the more they will feel like they are a part of the world, and the more they will care about the parts that they didn’t create.
I realize that I started talking about more than just world history there, but you’ll notice I call myself the Rambling Roleplayer and not the Concise Roleplayer, so things like that are bound to happen. My apologies. I do have a few other things to say about world history though, and some ways you can get players to buy into it, but they don’t fit as neatly under bold headings as the stuff above did, so I'm abandoning that format moving forward. Geez, you’d think I’d spend more time drafting these things out or something. Anyway, here are some other things about campaign history.
Ironically, those same players who I was just saying don’t care about your world history will instantly become interested in the history of damn near everything in your campaign world if you let them put a skill like Ancient History on their character sheet. Then all the sudden that same guy who you couldn’t pay to read four paragraphs about The God’s War is asking you if he can make a proficiency roll to learn anything about the hallway he’s standing in. So use this to your advantage! If you want to reveal some things about the history of your world to your players then sprinkle in several opportunities for players to use “information giving” skills like Ancient History and Arcane Lore and Religion.  As always though, this information should mostly be relevant to current events. You may know the intricate details of the grain trade in the kingdom for four generations, but that doesn’t mean you should launch into a lecture on this subject because a player made a skill check to find clues at the tax assessor’s office.
Here are two final pieces of advice I have about getting players to buy-in to your world history: sprinkle interesting details in slowly over time, and show don’t tell. I mention these two together, because they are related. Don’t just tell your players that the capital city is old, describe it as such. Talk about how the walls have obviously been repaired numerous times; make mention of the different styles of architecture from different periods, and highlight the contrast between the “old city” and newer areas. Don’t overdo this – every trip to the blacksmith doesn’t need to be a block by block history lesson on architectural style – but do occasionally mention little details that highlight the elements of a city, region,  or a culture that make those things interesting and unique.  The key is to introduce these things organically over the course of several game sessions, rather than trying to cram a bunch of information in up front in the form of lectures or lengthy handouts. If all of those ideas you have really are interesting then as the campaign progresses - and you are able to disseminate more and more information about your world and its history - you'll begin to notice more and more player buy-in as the seeds you've sown take root.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this related piece about Character Creation.

(This article was originally posted to my old Wordpress blog on 02/24/16. You can view the original here.)

30 January 2018

A One Page, Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons Character Sheet

Last week I decided to try my hand at creating a character sheet using Photoshop. It was a big leap for me, because my previous character sheet design experience has been limited to creating word processor documents that contained lots and lots of tables. I really enjoyed the freedom from uniformity that Photoshop provided in regards to things like rows and columns, and I'll probably keep using it and learning how to use it even better for any future attempts at custom character sheets.

23 January 2018

Rambler Reviews: Beyond Damage Dice

This week I decided to take a look at Beyond Damage Dice, one of the Kobold Press offerings from my recent Humble Bundle Haul. It's a relatively short, eleven page PDF that provides players and dungeon masters with optional rules for special attacks and maneuvers that can be executed with various weapons. It also introduces some new weapons, including the composite bow and seven weapons designed for the Midgard and Southland campaign settings from Kobold Press.

We'll dive right in after the break and I'll tell you what I think.

19 January 2018

Campaign Weather: Cloudy with a Chance of Evil?

So. You’re all ready to run your shiny new campaign. You’ve spent months drawing maps, stocking dungeons, detailing noble lineages, and naming taverns. You know the name and demeanor of every NPC within a twenty mile radius of your starting town and exactly how many copper pieces the goblins in room 12 of the Caverns of Carnage are carrying in their filthy belt pouches.  You’re at the table and your players are finishing up some last minute equipment purchases when one of them looks at the equipment list and sees “winter blanket.” He looks at you and asks “Will I need one of those?”
Well, will he?

15 January 2018

Rambler Reviews: Fifth Edition Foes

Out of all the supplements in the Humble Bundle that I recently picked up, Fifth Edition Foes caught my eye the most. How could I, an old school role-player, resist this book's promise to update several monsters from sources such as the original Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II so that I can incorporate them into my fifth edition games? Let's take a closer look and see how Fifth Edition Foes delivers on this promise.

11 January 2018

Check Out My Monty "Humble Bundle PDF" Haul!

Sometimes you see a deal that's so good, you know you will never forgive yourself if you pass it up. And no, I'm not talking about late night infomercials, but who am I to judge? If your Slap Chop makes you happy then I'm happy for you. What I am talking about though is a Humble Bundle I picked up a few weeks ago that included 24 PDFs from both Frog God Games and Kobold Press, for the insanely low price of $8. Eight dollars! Are you kidding me? I regularly spend more than that on a six pack, so I pretty much had to pull the trigger on such a loaded bundle of RPG books from two well known publishers.

09 January 2018

Out With The New and in With The Old

As a board game collector, I love to get new games. There is something great about opening a box for the first time, seeing all of those new components, and smelling that new cardboard smell. Preparing and organizing new components and reading new rules is all an enjoyable part of the experience for me.

But of course the real prize is actually playing the game, which is why I'm discouraged by a recent trend in my board gaming tendencies. At the beginning of last year, I challenged myself to play ten games ten times each. I failed spectacularly. I managed to play one game, Istanbul, eight times, and that was the most plays of any game on my list. I managed to play Carcassonne zero times, with most other games on the list garnering between one and four plays each. I also played a few games that weren't on my list, and often felt guilty when I did because I wasn't making any progress towards completing the challenge. Some of those were newer games that I purchased after Istanbul that I wanted to try.

05 January 2018

Rambler Reviews: The Claws of Madness, an Adventure for D&D 5e

Claws of Madness, is billed as "a standalone 5th edition adventure carefully designed for a group of 1st level heroes" and is available here. I'm going to be pretty vague in my discussion regarding the specifics of the adventure so as not to spoil anything for potential players and dungeon masters, but hopefully you'll end up with a good idea of what to expect if you pick up a copy of the adventure.

02 January 2018

A New Year, a New Start, and introducing Flashback 365!

It's been several months since I've done any blogging, which is a shame. So I decided that I wanted to start blogging again, and I further decided that I wanted that restart to arbitrarily coincide with the start of the new year. I'm calling this concept a Fresh Annum Pledge. Who knows; maybe the idea will catch on!

I'd like to keep that "fresh and original" momentum going, so I came up with the idea of starting the new year by taking a look back at the old year. I'm calling this other new thing that I completely made up just now: "Flashback 365!" Maybe it will catch on too!