Initiative or What? – Archives – Nov/2008

Blog Carnival –Round 4:  Here Walk No Gods

Back in 2000, when my own campaign was just taking off, I can remember when my characters were inquiring about deities and religion and how it worked in my campaign. They were taken aback when I told them that, “There are no gods.” Instead, I explained to them the concept of the Gaia.

The Gaia (in my campaign), was a all encompassing field of energy that was made up of the combined life energy of every creature on the planet. The Gaia surrounded the planet and could be channeled by those able to utilize divine power. The Gaia was amoral. Entities of any alignment could utilize the Gaia’s power with equal success. Yes, I borrowed liberally from Star Wars® on this one. No, there are no midiclorians.

When a sentient creature dies, it’s life energy joins with the Gaia. Essentially, they become part of a giant consciousness. Since the campaign was a based on the 3.0/3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons®, divination spells functioned by reaching a random consciousness; or “portion” of the Gaia. This consciousness could change from time to time, justifying the randomness and occasional unpredictability of divination.

You can read my game group’s Wiki regarding what happened to the Gaia. I won’t go into what will happen in my current campaign (now retooled for 4th Edition), but it’s quite possible the current “gods” won’t be around for as long as they think they will be.

So why did I choose this method of handling divine power. Well, apathy, mostly. It seemed that one pantheon was just the same as another — a set of gods that held dominion over a specific aspect of life. I wanted to try something different. In addition, being agnostic myself, it allowed me to find a more “natural” explanation for divine energy.

My players actually enjoyed it and got into the concept. The paladin and cleric in the party would even occasionally accuse each other of “subverting the will of the Gaia” when they disagreed with each other. Totally excellent stuff.

Well, there’s my take on how I handled religion in my campaign. I’d love to hear your comments!

Thanks to The Dice Bag for hosting this Blog Carnival.

Game excellently with one another. – Originally published 6/11/2008

How to Be a Bastard DM (and have your players love you for it)

One of the things I love about playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition® is that the game facilitates the use of props. Beyond the obvious need for miniatures while playing the game, the use of powers and action points cries out for props.

I’m all about the props.

Back in the early to mid-eighties, sitting around the pool table playing 1st Edition, I used to imaging how cool it would be to make your own treasures, or table-top dungeons, or just about anything that didn’t require a flat piece of paper and something to write with (paper and pencils were boring, you see). Sure the dice were cool, and miniatures rocked when you could get a hold of them, but I wanted something more. Maybe it was just an unconscious desire to keep my hands busy (without using them to stuff food into my mouth), but I needed a touch aspect in order to feel more fully immersed into the game.

Fast forward twenty years. I now DM for my own well established game group. The desire to have the touch aspect to the game hasn’t gone away. Fortunately, thanks to modern conveniences such as desktop printing and inexpensive (and ubiquitous) crafting supplies, I can now largely satisfy my “hands-on” needs. The best part? I can inflict my needs on my players.

They don’t always love me for it.

A few years back, I got it into my head that it would be cool if my players had to drink an actual potion (in real life) in order to do the action (in game). We had an all adult group, so I found small stoppered test tubes, filled them with vodka, and added a couple of drops of food coloring. The vodka amount was less than a ¼ shot, so I had no worries (and I had no alcoholics or otherwise alcohol adverse folks in the group). I replaced the tokens I had previously been using with the potion bottles, and away we went. The first time a player used a potion, it was utterly hysterical. The vodka wasn’t really cut with anything, so it had a bit of a burn (even though it was a small amount) and didn’t really taste that great. The looks were priceless. The second time a player had to take a potion, he looked at me like, “do I really have to do this?” When I told him that if he wanted the potion to be effective, he’d have to; he called me a bastard. I smiled, and the player drank the potion anyway.

The potions didn’t work out, though. Plastic test tubes don’t stopper all that tight, and jammed into a gaming bag (that’s not always kept upright), they leaked. Plus, alcohol evaporates, turning the potion vials into stained hollow tubes of ugliness. Well, live and learn.

For my most recent campaign, I decided to use 1:1 representations for the coinage found in the game. I’ve tried this before, but couldn’t produce enough small, robust, and most importantly, inexpensive units of coins. My goal was that if the characters received a quest reward in the form of a bag of gold; the characters would actually receive, a bag of gold.

Here’s how I did this. First, I had to find a material that was both robust and inexpensive. Second, I had to be able to produce enough coins in a relatively short span of time. My solution?

Craft foam.

Check the link. This material is that thin craft foam you’ve probably used in school or seen at a craft store. Next, I got a simple ¼” hole punch. Then, I went to town with a perfect isometric exercise. That’s right. I punched out a gold (or silver) piece for EVERY COIN IN THE ADVENTURE. Plus, I punched extras for trading purposes (say, if a character decided to sell something). I used yellow (for gold), gray (for silver), and white (for platinum). I actually haven’t encountered the need to use copper pieces; but if I do, I’ll probably use either a brown or red. I’d love to find craft foam in metallic colors, but I don’t think it exists. If you’ve read this blog and know about some, do please let me know. I’d be all over that.

The process is a bit tedious. Fortunately, I have a bit of OCD, so repetitive tasks don’t bother me as long as I have something else going on in the background. Craft foam is inexpensive, but considering the quantity of coins I’d have to make, I had to make sure I got the most holes punched for quantity of material. Example: For Keep on the Shadowfell®, I had to punch at least 4,154 holes. That’s a LOT of holes. For the next adventure I’ll be running the characters through, that total becomes another 6,721 holes. It seems like a lot; but since we only game once a month, I can space out the time and do a little bit at a setting. It actually adds up pretty quick.

Next, you have to find something to put all these little dots (the coins) in. As I mentioned above, I thought it would be fun that if the characters are rewarded with a bag of gold, I can actually toss them a bag of gold. My dear wife (and one of our players) made small bags out of muslin. These I “tea dyed” to look more rustic. Then I simply used a piece of twine or even ribbon to close the bags. I do relish tossing the bag to the players when they’ve earned the reward. Adds a nice role-playing touch, actually.

For chests, I found inexpensive papier-mâché boxes. These small boxes can be found in craft stores. They have a plain color so that they can be decorated. As a bonus, they have a hinged lid and an actual metallic clasp (unfortunately, no locks!). The boxes come shaped like a regular squared box or with an arched lid (like a treasure chest). I use permanent markers to “paint” the boxes and use a gold-flecked paint marker to add other metal highlights (like hinges and corner hardware). All in all, the effect is pretty nice.

Now, you may be wondering how this most recent foray into prop making earns me the title of “bastard”. Well, it’s like this. When the characters find a chest (or the coins spread out over the encounter area from individual bodies), I just hand them the treasure. I don’t tell them how much is there. They-have-to-count-it. I laughed my ass off when the character found a chest containing 420 gp and they had to divide it up. Surprisingly, it didn’t take as long as I suspected. The foam dots work well, because they’re small, so the players can easily transport them to the game.

By the way, I also have a house rule. If you don’t have the treasure on you (in the form of the prop), you don’t have it on your character. This is what makes me a bastard.

Game excellently with one another. – Originally published – 11/20/2008

Dead Orcs…Assemble!!

I am fortunate that I DM a group of intelligent and fun-loving people. Each one brings his or her own unique brand of role-playing to the table; and our gaming sessions are the better for it. As this group of people will likely figure in a number of blog posts (at least in some way) in the future, I thought I’d introduce them to the outside world.

 The Veteran

Beyond myself, Alex is probably the most experienced gamer in the group. Like myself, he’s been gaming since college (or before); and he’s played a number of different role-playing games. Alex is rather quiet and unassuming in real life; but at the table, he can play some of the most outrageous characters. He was the first player I ever encountered that enjoyed playing female characters. Whether playing an Arcane Archer, a Gnome Wizard, or a Tiefling Paladin, his characters have a tendency towards the dramatic. They almost always have intricate backgrounds and complicated emotions. Alex invests a lot into his characters and is the one most like to be offended if something bad happens to one of them. Despite this sensitivity, though, I can always count on Alex to give me a reliable opinion on something going on with the game. His experience is an invaluable aid.

The Glue

Dru is neither the most experienced player, nor is he a novice, either. While he doesn’t put the same effort into his characters’ backgrounds as someone like Alex, he does role-play with a most earnest intent. Dru picks up plot lines pretty quick, and almost always involves himself in discussions with NPCs. If I need an in-game conversation, I can always count on Dru to help me carry it forward. I call Dru, “The Glue” (ick, sorry about the rhyme), because Dru has an infectious personality that’s difficult not to like. Well, at least when you get to know him. A founding member of the group, I’d have a hard time carrying on if he wasn’t in it.

The Enigma

Trey is another founding member of the group, and probably the most intelligent one of all of us. Trey is the quiet one, and he keeps his personal life close to the vest. He is not our strongest role-player, but he’s probably the best tactician among us. Trey is always quick at catching mathematical errors, and he’s saved the group countless times when he’s remembered a bonus or adjustment that works in the groups favor. Trey doesn’t often participate in the “outside of game” activities; but when game day arrives, he’s always there. No mystery here. He just likes to play the game.

The New Guy

I have only been introduced to Russell this year, but I already count him among my friends. He’s the youngest of all of us; and while we kid him about that, he’s a strong addition to the group. Russell is a quick study with the rules, and if I was to elect someone to replace Chan (an older member, no longer with the group) as “rules lawyer” it would be him. Fortunately, Russell is not obnoxious about such things, and his easy going nature makes him a good player. I only know his role-playing skill by reputation (he was brought into the group by Alex), so I look forward to additional games with him to see just how good he is.

The Nooblette

Anna is my wife, and if you explore the hidden parts of my blog, you’ll find additional posts about her. Anna is very new to the game, (she played in a single event game about 15 years ago), but she’s taking our group seriously after all these years of sitting on the sidelines. Anna’s enthusiasm for combat is hysterical, if not a bit dangerous — her character is a Halfling Warlock. Dru’s doing his best to convince her that she really shouldn’t tank (that is, charge into melee combat), so we’ll she how she comes along. Anna does seem to really love the role-playing aspects of the game, however, and picks up on subtle things the other guys occasionally miss.

Well, kids; that’s my crew. I’ve been lucky since picking up the DM mantle to have such a great group to game with. I don’t have any idea how many of them will actually read this blog, but if you guys happen to stop by…thank you!

Game excellently with one another. – Originally published – 11/25/2008

What the Hell We Supposed ta Do, Ya’ Mo-dron!?

Okay, unless you’re familiar with the movie, “Animal House”, you probably don’t get the title. Let me explain. So the other day I was over at at Greywulf’s Lair, and noticed this post.

A brief discussion regarding Modrons ensued. Greywulf and I both realized that someone should stat out the old D&D 1st Edition Modrons into 4th Edition rules. After kicking the idea around for a couple of days, I decided to give it a shot. I only managed to get the first five done. I stat-ed these out as heroic tier creatures, not sure what level they should be if they were to be thrust into the paragon tier.

I used Asmor’s Monster Maker to come up with the stat blocks. I’m sure most of you have come across his work, but he’s a great web gadgetteer and has designed some very useful apps for 4E.

Before you scroll down through the stat blocks, a couple of caveats. I’m pretty new at creating monsters from scratch using the 4E rules (been using prepared material up to this point). These creatures represent some bare bones work. I don’t have any knowledge check data or anything like that. Finally, these are rough, so if anyone gets bitten by the Modron bug please feel to work on them further. I would like some feedback on how close you think I got on these. Just curious. So…without further ado, I present a parade of Moron…err…Modrons!

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Game excellently with one another. – Originally published – 11/26/2008

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.


About DeadOrcs

R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.

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