Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zak's GM Questionnaire


Zak posted this questionnaire. Despite this being an obvious ploy to get people to report their play preferences and experiences for some nefarious scheme, I will comply and join the herd. Here's what I've got:

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
Kurlamek's band—a kobold chieftain and his warband that I developed for a 2E campaign in the early 90s.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
January 13, 2012. Who else started a new game on Friday the 13th?

3. When was the last time you played?
I played Pathfinder on January 2, 2012.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
The characters are trapped in an inn while it is menaced by the ghost of an ancient dragon.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Read and review notes, answer their questions, make rolls to anticipate expected player actions, or flip through my gaming books and make notes of things I want to develop later. If they take too long, I start rolling wandering monster checks.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Pizza, chips, popcorn, pretzels, veggies, grapes, whatever munchies happen to be available. For drinks, whatever people prefer. I generally go with iced tea or wine when I play. When I DM, I stick with the tea, coffee, or caffeinated soda. I used to be bothered by players drinking alcohol during games. Now, as long as they can handle it, I don't mind.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Sometimes, especially if we play late in the evening or for more than four or five hours. I almost always find it mentally exhausting.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
My character used a bellows, a bag of holding, and a lot of holy water to trap and destroy a vampire that had been forced into gaseous form.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Sometimes the players make more jokes than I think fit the setting, but it hasn't really broken the setting or the game yet. I've played in a couple of Paranoia games where the party took things way too seriously. For the most part, though, I prefer pretty casual play, so I haven't seen a lot of game-breaking behavior either way.

10. What do you do with goblins?
Pester player characters or use them as harassing flankers. Skirmishing archers can't take a charge, but they're hell on an unguarded flank. In D&D games I normally use them as low-level wilderness raiders and opportunistic scavengers.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
Mrs. Coulter from The Golden Compass. I love the idea of an incredibly charismatic, well-connected lady that uses no magic, just personal charm, grace, and vicious political skill to abduct children for experiments, manipulate government and church resources, and advance herself, while appearing totally innocent and well-meaning to most of the world.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
Nothing that would make sense outside of the particular group at the table. Game humor usually takes too much explanation to be funny to anyone that wasn't there.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
Fantasy Wargaming. I played it and stole things for my D&D game from it years ago, and I'm thinking of posting about it on my blog.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Dave Trampier. Others that I like, depending on the game and the material, include Erol Otus, Darlene, Jeff Dee, Angus McBride, Zak, and Terese Nielsen.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
Usually, no. I normally run a more heroic and less horrific game.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
Running an entire party of new players through the Sunless Citadel using 3E rules. Not knowing how the game mechanics worked, they couldn't math their way out of situations. They just described the crazy stuff they were trying and had fun.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
I'm running all of my games online at the moment, so one good computer with a solid internet connection and twin monitors, my paper gaming library close at hand, Google+ hangouts for video conferencing, and a professional shared whiteboard space for drawing maps and notes.

If I were running face-to-face, a good computer to use to access my electronic books, my gaming library at hand, gaming paper and terrain tiles, minis, and a small whiteboard for me. Comfortable chairs, good light, and plenty of table space for the players.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
Avalon Hill's Rise and Decline of the Third Reich and Microlite74.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
CS Lewis and Bolt Thrower

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
I prefer to play with people that follow the rule of Fs—forget fighting, fun first. Whatever else your style is, if you don't come to the game to play and have fun, it's not worth it for me to run the game for you. If all you want to do is prove you can crunch numbers, use tactics, or roll dice better than the other players and I, go get an army and head to your local Games Workshop store.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
The closest thing I can think of is being able to describe what is involved in primitive camping like most D&D characters do.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
I'd love to see a Traveller expansion that detailed Frank Herbert's Dune setting.

I'd also love it if WotC would rescan all the old edition material, produce properly recognized, layered, and bookmarked PDF files and release them. I'd love to see the old gaming magazines—Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, Imagine, etc.—get the same treatment. I'd like it even more if they released all of that old material with conversion notes to make it work with the most current edition in print.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
I talk to my girlfriend about my games. She doesn't really understand what I'm talking about.

Darkness, 15 blog radius

I try to keep my personal politics out of the blog, but this is important to the ability to even keep posting.

Lots of websites and blogs are going to be offline today to protest the PIPA and SOPA that are being considered in the US Congress. I'm not taking the blog down, but I encourage people to protest both of these bills. If you're in the US and you want to sign Google's petition against the bills, you can do so here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back to the Borderlands, Session 1 reflections

Last night I ran the first session of my new Borderlands game, which I have dubbed Back to the Borderlands. I had four players, and the party ended up with a paladin, a cleric, a thief, and a magic-user. All of them are human except the thief, who is a halfling. We spent a good portion of the session getting characters done and getting the party settled at the keep. Then they set out, did a little exploration, and knocked off a small gang of bandits in the wilderness south of the castle. One of the bandits managed to get away, but they captured four of them and brought them back to the keep to face justice.

I was little rusty in places, and we had a few technical problems here and there. Overall, though, I had a great time. Now I can't wait for the next game in a couple weeks.

Running the game on Google+ went fairly well. One of the players had a spotty connection, so he dropped out and had to reconnect several times. Other than that, there were a few screen freezes but nothing major. I definitely noticed a difference between this game and most of the others I've played on G+ in terms of stability. Either Google has been really working on solidifying the framework behind the hangouts or switching browsers has made a huge difference. For this session, I switched to Chrome to run the hangout, and it worked flawlessly for me. I couldn't say that about any other session I've played on G+.

This session was also the debut of using the Screenshare feature in the hangout. I drew a new map of the area surrounding the keep using a combination of Hexographer and GIMP, covered it with a fog layer in GIMP and shared it in the hangout. As the party explored south of the keep, I drew their movement on a new layer and cut out the fog on the fog layer. I had to disable the screenshare while I was editing the map, but it worked wonderfully.

I also used GIMP to sketch out a couple of tactical maps for the encounter with the bandits. This didn't work as well as the overland map, but it was fine for the first couple encounters. It would have been easier to have everyone mark up the map to show where they are moving and what they're doing. I think I either need to use an interactive whiteboard like Twiddla or go with one of the virtual table top programs if we're going to do tactical combat, however abstract it is. I'm looking at the various options to see what might work, but if anyone has any suggestions of free programs, let me know.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Borderlands House Rules

I'm getting the last bit of prep work done for the new campaign. I take a bit of perverse satisfaction in knowing that the whole thing will start on Friday the 13th.

I'm still working away on incorporating all of the information from the Advanced Edition Companion into my LL reference sheets. In the meantime, I managed to finish off the first draft of my house rules I'll be using for the campaign. Most of them are fairly standard reinterpretations of things we used in campaigns back in the day. I did add a version of Shields Shall be Splintered and the Carousing rules. For carousing mishaps, I decided to use the table from The City of Iron.

I have a few other rules I'm on the fence about yet, but I'll drop a note here if anything changes. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can get a copy of my house rules here or in the DM Binder section of the sidebar.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Everything New is Old Again

The New York Times broke the news, and now Wizards of the Coast has their announcement up. Fifth edition D&D is currently in development. You can sign up to be notified when the playtest starts through a link on the Wizards announcement page. I put my name in the hat, so we'll see if I get the chance to participate.

I doubt that they will be able to accomplish their goal of reuniting the D&D community, but I am anxious to see exactly what direction they take. Most likely, they will move things back toward 3E, with options for a more rules-light version to appeal to the people that prefer that approach. At the very least, hopefully they will open things up for third-party development again. I am somewhat heartened to know that Monte Cook and Mike Mearls are driving a lot of the new edition, as they are both designers that have produced some of my personal favorites over the years.

Regardless of what happens, it's going to be interesting to watch.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

LL Original Edition Characters Reference Sheets

In preparation for my upcoming LL game, I've been working on updating my LL Reference Sheets to include the info from the AEC. As a little side project, though, I decided to put together some sheets for LL with Original Edition Characters. These sheets include the basic ability score, class, combat, and equipment information. I didn't include the magic items tables as those are exactly the same as in my LL reference sheets.

There are two versions of the sheets included in the document, one with shading and one with lines to highlight the tables. Feel free to print and use whichever you like better, the information is exactly the same.

As always, let me know if you see any errors. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Naming the Borderlands

I've started working on some details for my new LL game, since it's supposed to get started on the 13th. One of the players requested that we start with the Keep on the Borderlands, so I'm especially excited to get going with that again.

The players all wanted to play something like a mega adventure path, so I'm going to start with B2 and then move on to other old school modules. I've got several to choose from, including the Temple of Elemental Evil, the Slave Lords series, both of the I series, the S modules, and more. The actual modules we end up playing will depend on the choices the players make and the leads they follow. I'll be dropping hooks and rumors about different things that could lead to the other modules during their time at the Keep.

Because most of these are set in Greyhawk, I'm putting the Keep into Greyhawk. I decided to put it in the Kron Hills near the Lortmil Mountains. That gives fairly easy access to most of the main adventure sites in the modules.

This also highlighted one of my favorite things about the Keep. Going through the module again and making notes to hook it to later adventures and other places in Greyhawk, I'm reminded about how much detail is left to the DM to develop to fit their own game. None of the NPCs in the module are named. None of the places are detailed or described too clearly, and all of the various story arcs are left vague enough to be placed anywhere. It's easy to hook to anything else with just a little work.

One of the ways that I'm going to start hooking things to Greyhawk is with some names. I am horrible at naming things, and creating appropriate fantasy names always drives me a little crazy. So I'm cheating. I downloaded a couple of free baby name apps on my iPhone, and I'm going to use those to create names for NPCs. I'm going to choose a nationality or ethnic division to correspond to each of the main Greyhawk races and then use the baby name programs to generate some lists of names. Then as the players meet NPCs in the game, I'll just grab the next name off the list. Hopefully that will let me use less concentration on trying to create names and more on keeping the story going.

Monday, January 2, 2012

DM Binder Updates

I've got a few players that are interested in getting a LL game going in the next couple weeks, so I'm starting to pay some attention to my DM binder again. That mostly means that I'm rereading the LL rulebook, the Advanced Edition Companion, and as many of the various house rules I've collected as I can. In the process, I'm weeding things out, tweaking things here and there, and generally trying to get things enough in order that I'll have a fairly solid house rules document to give to the players when we start. As I dig through things, I'll be adding some more items to the DM Binder sidebar on the blog and updating what is already there.

One of the first things to do is to compile all of the various house rules I'll be using for character creation. I'm also hoping to finally add the information from the AEC to the Reference Sheets so I'll have an up-to-date reference to use while running. I have a nice spiral-bound, index-sized rulebook that I had done at the local FedEx, but I want to save as much wear and tear on that as I can.

In the meantime, I've added a link to the Holmes-like LL document that I mentioned in my last post. Definitely check it out if you haven't already.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holmes LL

I just saw this post over on the Goblinoid Games forums. One of the posters there has created some guidelines for using Labyrinth Lord with Original Edition Characters and a short, three-page document to basically recreate the Holmes D&D rules. Super simple and very well done.