News and Advice Round-up

News and Advice

Chaosium is Under New Management (Again):
Moon Design is now part of Chaosium’s ownership group. Moon Design acquired the rights to Glorantha and the game systems RuneQuest and HeroQuest in 2013. This also prompted a change in leadership within Chaosium, “The four principals of Moon Design are the new management team of Chaosium. The new officers of the company are Rick Meints, President and Secretary; Jeff Richard, Vice President and Creative Director; Michael O’Brien, Vice President – Product Development & Community Outreach; and Neil Robinson, Chief Financial Officer.” This announcement also brought new hope in terms of receiving Call of Cthulhu 7e, it is on it’s way to the printers and should be available for Halloween 2015. Moon Design has had previous experience with Kickstarters and should be able to help get CoC 7e back on track.

Strange Aeons: A Lovecraftian Pathfinder AP: 
Pathfinder has finally joined in on adding the Mythos to their game. This adventure path will be released next August, and feature Mythos monsters. Unlike most Lovecraftian RPGs, like Call of Cthulhu, this will not be investigation based, focused more on killing the horrors. There will be insanity rules and a Corruption system. Wes Schneider is writing the first module, so it should be pretty interesting. I’m curious to pick this up, a huge part of Lovecraftian horror is that it’s inexplicable, so turning it into a monster hunt seems to miss the point. However, I trust Paizo enough to give it a chance!

Another Dungeons and Dragons Movie:
Warner Bros. and Hasbro have announced they will be making a Dungeons and Dragons movie. They already have a script by David Leslie Johnson, who wrote “The Conjuring 2” and “Wrath of the Titans.” Stephen Davis said, “This is such an enormous opportunity to bring the rich fantasy setting of the Forgotten Realms to life and, together with the creative powerhouse of Warner Bros., use movies to tell the stories that have enchanted passionate D&D fans for decades. D&D is the role-playing game that started it all and now we have the opportunity to ignite a franchise for its legions of avid fans in a way never done before.” I’m not holding my breath, every D&D movie I’ve seen has been not good, and what is great about RPGs is telling your own story.

Gen Con has record Attendance:
Gen Con attendance went up another 9%, making this the 6th year of growth for the convention. 61,423 people attended and there were over 400 vendors. I imagine it will only continue to climb, and I can’t wait to go next year.

Congratulations to Ennie Winners!:
Several TRF favorites won Ennies this year, including Horror on the Orient Express, The Strange, Numenera, Miskatonic University, and Roll20! Congratulations to everyone and thank you for putting out so much wonderful material for us to enjoy!

News and Advice Round-Up

News and Advice

Pour Over Lovecraft’s notes for At the Mountain’s of Madness
Lovecraft’s notes have been posted by Author Paul Tremblay on Instagram. It looks like you might have to sacrifice some sanity to decipher them. Just don’t stare at it for too long…

NASA Discovers Earth’s Older Cousin
“This particular planet’s combination of factors – including the type of star, the planet’s distance from it and its size – make it the closest analogue to Earth ever found, the scientists said.”

Kepler-452b circles a sun-like star about 1400 light-years away. It’s bigger then earth, but has a similar orbit around it’s sun. They’ve determined it is approximately 6 billion years old, giving it time to develop life if other important factors are present. This is super exciting as a geek, and is it wrong that my first thought went to how to incorporate the aliens that live on Kepler-452b into a game? I don’t think so.

4 Tips for Running Published Adventures
I run a lot of published adventures. I’ve only recently begun feeling comfortable enough to tell my own stories, or even change published adventures to make them my own. The railroad tracks are nice and safe. But I think the advice given here is a great way to let go of the railroad track set down in a published adventure. It’s alright, just let them go and embrace the story that is being developed between you and your players. It doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole story out, it just takes a little more work.

Meet the New Pathfinder Iconics
Pathfinder is releasing Occult Adventures on the 29th, and they’ve begun to introduce their new iconic characters. You can find them on Paizo’s website, or all the links are in the article I linked to. The new classes that will be available are occultist, spiritualist, psychic, medium, mesmerist, and kineticist. I’m interested to see how these new classes work in a game, but I can see them to be a little difficult at first to figure out exactly how to fit them in.


New Products

There’s a new expansion pack for Munchkin, which is full of a great evil. Well, it’s full of hipsters. It’s available on ThinkGeek for $9.95

Worlds Numberless and Strange was released this week, a supplement for The Strange. It has over 70 new recursions and great info for your Strange GM. I wrote a review here. You can get a copy on DriveThruRPG and the MCG Store. The PDF is $16.99 and the book is $44.99.

Sales and Bargains

DriveThruRPG is doing their Christmas in July sale, with 25% off thousands (and thousands) of PDFs. There are deals for Numenera, The Strange, Dresden, Achtung! Cthulhu, and more. You should check it out – it lasts for a week.
Lost Lands BundleFrog God’s settings and adventures written for Pathfinder

Looking for a Game?

We’re itching to try the Leverage RPG, and just need a few more players. We’re planning on trying for a Friday night. Interested? Email us at!

News and Advice Round-Up

News and Advice

Cthulhu on Pluto
The New Horizons probe has made it to Pluto and started sending back pictures. So far no signs of the Mi-Go, but NASA has unofficially named one of the spots on Pluto’s surface Cthulhu. Whether or not this choice will lead to all of humanity’s demise is still unknown.



Roll20 Signs Monte Cook Games
Roll20 is now officially Monte Cook Game’s virtual gaming partner. This is pretty exciting news for those using Roll20 to play various Cypher System games. They’re integrating The Strange first, and you can currently get a Strange Starter Pack for free to help run your virtual games more smoothly. You can use this pack to do things like roll for Cyphers, play music tracks, and track XP with in Roll20. We haven’t tried Roll20 for our Cypher games since a grid isn’t necessary for the game, but this partnership is adding some great features that will improve your online gaming experience. You can also get specific modules for the adventures The Curious Case of Tom Mallard and The Dark Spiral.


Five Ways to Save Your Campaign from Summer
The summer can be very busy and with everyone’s busy schedules it can be hard to keep your weekly, or even bi-weekly games on track. Tribality has some advice on not letting these interruptions disrupt your game! We’ve had to skip some games this summer, but planning ahead and keeping a good calendar and everyone appraised has really helped us not miss too many sessions.






Things Worth Preparing
Every GM prepares for their sessions differently. However, things almost never go the way you think, which can throw all of your careful planning out the window. I also find a rigid plan for how the session much go is less enjoyable, players never enjoy being railroaded. But Sly Flourish has some great advice on what you should put time into prepping for your game.



How to Even GenCon: Advice from TheAngryGM
GenCon for the Cypher System Fan

Bundle of Holding/Gaming Deals

Fantasy Frontiers Bundle: A collection of Fantasy RPGs set in a wide variety of cultures including Native American, Indian, Viking, and Egyptian. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Ehdrigohr, the Native American setting, and the rest look intriguing as well.

Lost Lands BundleFrog God’s settings and adventures written for Pathfinder

Chaosium is having a sale on their classic PDFs, 25% off!

Looking for a Game?

We’re itching to try the Leverage RPG, and just need a few more players. We’re planning on trying for a Friday night. Interested? Email us at!

Character School – Bards! Part 2

You can find Part 1 here.

So, in the last article we covered the hard portions of the Bard, aka the abilities and options that you have relatively little choice over. This week we take a look at feats and spell choice.

I want to start with feats, as I feel that a good idea of what feats you want will help shape your spell choices as the two can often be used in conjunction. Bards receive only the standard allotment of feats; that is they get them at the standard rate listed in the Pathfinder Core Book with no bonus feats at all, other than a racial bonus feat if applicable. Making it pretty important to make the right choices for the Bard you want to be.

First up are the feats that I look at almost every time I consider playing a Bard. Extra Performance, Spellsong, Lingering Song, and Harmonic Spell. I mentioned Extra Performance in the previous article so we will be skipping that one. Spellsong allows you to hide a bard spell in a perform check, masking your intentions from those looking, but it also allows you to cast spells without breaking your performance mid battle. Damn useful.

Lingering Song lets your bardic performances effects last two rounds beyond your performance’s end. Used judiciously it can allow you to extend the number of rounds that you have available in a day. For example, a first level bard with 6 available rounds of bardic performance can stretch them to 18 effectively by performing for only one round and then dropping the song. This will cause Lingering song to kick in for two rounds, unless another song is performed during that time.

Harmonic Spell is similar to Spellsong in that you can cast spells while maintaining a bardic performance. However, it does not mask that you are casting a spell. Instead it gives you the benefit of maintaining the performance during the round that you cast the spell (1st level or higher) without using a round of your daily allotted bardic performance, again extending the amount that you can use in a day. Secondly, the feat allows you to change the type of bardic performance you are using as a swift action when you cast. For example, you are using Countersong but think a better choice this round would be Inspire Courage. Normally at a low level you would need to use a standard action to change performances, but with Harmonic Spell you can cast cure Light Wounds to get the fighter back into action AND switch to inspire courage without skipping a beat.

After the necessities I gravitate toward the feats that offer a greater flexibility in survival options. This is primarily due to needing to be within 30 feet of my allies while using performances. Dodge comes to mind right off the bat, a +1 to AC is really nothing to sneeze at. It’s a small bonus but AC is AC. Shield Focus, as you can sing and still use a shield. Combat Expertise is good when making ranged or melee attacks. I tend to keep my Bard away from the fighting if possible, or just make it next to impossible to be targeted/hit through spell effects and such. Just something to think about.

Next are the utilitarian feats. Skill focus is great, it really adds to the performance checks that you wish to focus on. And it pairs well with Versatile Performance, mentioned in the first part of this series. You can take it multiple times, I like to take it twice if I can. Once for performance, and the other for something like spellcraft or escape artist. Pushing the selected skills beyond stupid levels of bonuses.

I haven’t really mentioned combat feats other than survival for the reason that I dislike combat as a Bard. But if you do choose to be combat focused, my advice is this. You have to focus on what kind of combat you want to engage in. most Bards have a higher Dex so ranged combat options such as Point Blank and Precise shot should not be overlooked. If you feel gutsy and want to be in the tick of it, Weapon Finesse and Combat Expertise are your best friends. Maybe even go down the path of the “One Hit for All the Glory” path, using Vital Strike when it becomes available.

Finally we reach Spell Choice. Bards, due to the staggering amount of abilities they already have, get a somewhat truncated spell list and max spell level. Also, as they are spontaneous casters, they have a severely limited amount of spells known but a higher than normal amount of spells per day. For those who are looking at playing a Bard as their first foray into a spell casting class it can be a bit difficult to choose the right spells for what they want to do. Everyone has their own tastes, much like drink choices, so here are mine.

0 Level

Summon Instrument – Self explanatory. You summon an instrument to your hand. But the fun part is that they don’t disappear when they leave your hand. Case in point, I once used cowbells to set off traps laid by spiders, letting us know where the spiders were at. Or if you took the Catch Off Guard feat, you are almost never without a weapon. Summon cymbals and toss them with Throw Anything to be a musical Captain America. Dirty.

Light – So many uses. Cast it on a rock and toss it down a hallway to light things up. Or a coin or something that you can easily put in your pocket for an easily concealable light source. Or an arrow to mark you targets on the dark. If you can’t think of at least five different uses for this spell, you’re doing something wrong.

Ghost Sound – One of the few 0-Level spells that scales with your level. I use it to sow chaos, or as a harmonizer when performing. Get creative. Fun times will abound. My favorite use was making “Mommy/Daddy time” moaning sounds to distract an innkeeper.

Prestidigitation – Long name, useful spell. It’s the all purpose minor trick that does little other than flavor your character.

Dancing Lights – Light+. In reality I use it for effects. Like having the lights pop in tune with your song, or when you want to mark target priority for your fighter wizard and such. Just talk it out with your party before hand what the colors/shapes mean. It sometimes comes down to choosing between this OR Light. If you don’t want to have two Light type spells, choose what you think will work best with the way your character operates.

Detect Magic – Yep, you can see magic.

Mage Hand – Who can’t find a use for telekinesis, even if it is only five pounds?

1st Level

Chord of Shards – Can be using during a bardic performance and deals a cone of piercing damage. Pretty solid.

Charm Person – Yup. Bards have it and it can make their job loads easier. Especially if you hide the spell in a performance.

Ear Piercing Scream – One of the few scaling damage spells for the bard at an early level. Only effects one target but it can daze and damage.

Disguise Self – Oh you tricky person you. Deception is fun.

Fumbletongue – Low level anti-caster spell. Situational but neat.

Forced Quiet – Second to Silence for usefulness. Make your fighter clank less when sneaking or stop the guards from raising an alarm. Both equally decent choices.

Hideous Laughter – The bane of fighters. Makes a target unable to act but not helpless, it does scale duration with level. Useful in a bunch of different situations. Like maybe hiding the spell in a song and causing an adviser to fall down laughing for no apparent reason….

Swallow Your Fear – Single target buff at first but for the whole party later. Gives bonuses to STR and CON as well as some other things. Great if you want to use a different performance than Inspire Courage but still want a party bonus.

2nd Level

Alter Self – Like Disguise Self but better. Think of it as a limited wild shape.

Bladed Dash – Great for finishing something off, or some off the cuff combat antics.

Cacophonous Call – The brown note. Inflicts the nauseous  condition on a single target.

Charitable Impulse – Useful both in and out of combat, a “Gimme all your stuff!” spell.

Dust of Twilight – Kinda situational but good, I like to use it to gain a tactical advantage prior to a fight. Especially when my character or allies have dark vision and such.

Hold Person – Paralyze but only works on people. Still, can be an instant win button if used right.

Sonic Scream – Damaging spell that can be used three times in a single casting. And you can act like Banshee from the X-Men. Woot.

Now at this point I’m going to stop as this would become little more than a long list of stuff I think is fun to play around with. With spell selection what I would impress upon you as a player is to choose the spells that would suit the way you play your Bard the most. If you are a combat based Bard, choose combat spells, sneaky Bards should look to the ones that disguise yourself and others or affect the reactions of NPCs. And lastly, under no circumstances should you rush to choose a spell. Take the time between sessions to really look at the options available. A hasty choice can lead to regret.

If you would like any direct advice on playing a Bard or would like some ideas, feel free to contact me through G+ or Twitter.

Thank you for reading and happy rolling!

Character School – Bards!

Hello! I’m going to breaking away from my general advice to get a little specific and focus on character classes; specifically the classes available in Pathfinder from Paizo Publishing. Now I understand that I will never be able to cover everything that is available to each class, especially with new content and supplements being released at a pretty good clip, but I will do my best. The format will be a brief overview of the nuts and bolts of each class with a more in depth play-style and options piece the following week. Now, by request, on with the Bard!

The absolute rock bottom description of a bard is “Support Class”. I always balk a little when players dismiss them out of hand as they have a mess of abilities but nothing that really shines on the page. To me, the fact that nothing sticks out IS what jump out at me. They are good at just about anything but do require a bit of experience and insight to play properly.

Start with stats. After rolling or using the point buy system I focus on the big three for the Bard in the following order: Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence. It can be argued that Constitution and Wisdom should also be up there but they fall pretty short in comparison for squeezing the juice from what the Bard can do. Charisma is what the Bard bases their spell-casting on as well as a good portion of their skills. Dexterity can help with spells that require a ranged touch or for the times when you resort to distance fighting, not to mention not getting hit. And Intelligence gets you more skills and helps with all the knowledge checks that you will be making.

Continue reading Character School – Bards!

Get Your Asset in Gear

The Cypher System, as represented by The Strange and Numenera is versatile and simple. So simple I think, that some things can easily be overlooked. Take for example, the humble asset.

Need to get that artifact out of a deep pit? You can just climb down, grab it, and climb back out. What’s that you say, the thing masses 200 kg and the walls of the pit are greased synth? The GM calls for a Task Difficulty 7 climb check. maybe you need some help from that asset in your pack, rope.

    “…. but I do have my rope with me!”
Ilvarya Faelyn, a Clever Jack who Controls Beasts.
TRFP: Mysteries of the Ninth World, ep. 1.

Using the rope to help climb lowers that Task Difficulty 7 climb down to a, now possible, Task Difficulty 6. Not running solo are you? Have a teammate help with the rope and that 6 goes down to a Task Difficulty 5. Add two levels of effort and now you have a rollable Task Difficulty 3 with a Target Number of 9 on the dice. Oh, you’re specialized in climbing? So make that a Task Difficulty 1 climb now. Think you can roll a Target Number of 3 on the dice to climb out of a greased pit? Good thing you had assets to help.

The rules allow for two assets per action, they are a bit frustratingly vague as to what counts as an asset. I have elected to see this vagueness as freedom to use the world for assets.

The first place to look for assets is your PC’s abilities.  A player who Controls Beasts has an asset in combat, in movement, in survival, and even things like repair, if it is narratively possible. I.E., my monkey hands me tools. Someone who Consorts With the Dead also has a built in asset farm. I once had a NPC, a necromancer, who fought from within a mobile fortress of undead, I would call that a defensive asset.  Can you reduce gravity? That is an asset to movement, jumping, climbing, and lifting rolls.  Someone who Bears a Halo of Flame, would have an asset to cooking tasks, blacksmith tasks, or many other crafting tasks.  Do you Carry a Badge? That’s an asset anywhere laws are enforced, but not where laws are absent. Hedge magic is an asset to perform, cook, disguise, and other things.

One other source of assets is your cypher collection. Remember the artifact in the pit? Muscles alone might not get that out of the pit, but that gravity reducing cypher could help, even it only lifts 100 Kg, I would still call it an asset. Got some rocket boots and some super adhesive, yep assets. Cyphers are perhaps your most expansive range of possible assets, so get extra creative with them.

Your equipment list is a shopping cart of possible assets, get creative with your narrative to use what you have. The very first asset every Nano gets, is a book on Numenera. Other books and information devices are also knowledge assets, perhaps even a song or chant.  Your Spinner dressed to the nines? Oh yeah, that is an asset to talk their way into a club, or out of a problem. Anything on the special equipment list potentially is an asset. Brilliance Cloth would be an asset to disguise, persuasion, perform, and deceive checks. String, is an asset to fishing (and a thousand other things).

Cast off items could be assets. A spent torch is an asset for crafting ink, building a deadfall trap, or starting a fire. So you found a bag of old power cells, that’s a barter asset with the right NPC. Spent cyphers possibly still have a use, injectors could be refilled with venom or spices, to kill or cook with.  (Don’t mix those up.)

Don’t forget your friends. A player using skills can receive an asset from other players, but only if the other player is trained or specialized in the skill being used. But when doing something as basic as offering a hand over a wall, I feel this needs no training. Use a bit of judgment with this, but try to err on the PC’s side. Remember; “That’s not cheating, that’s awesome!”

An asset might take time to use, so be sure you use the right asset for the job. A book could add 30 min to identify a piece of Numenera. An expanding cypher might move a rock, but takes 10 min to do it. Keep the time to use the asset in mind when dramatically appropriate.

The idea of an asset in combat is even less defined, but things like scopes for ranged attacks come to mind. Direct Task Difficulty reduction from assets in combat, is limited with special items to their descriptions.  For instance a shield is specifically an asset to speed defense.  Situational assets, such as high ground, should be judiciously applied. Most of the things your companions could do as assets, are covered under cooperative actions rules and provide respectable additions to attack and damage.

From the GM’s chair, assets are also an endless source of GM intrusions. If it is a thing, the thing can fail, or go badly, in so many ways. If the asset is situational, say high ground, high ground can be unstable. Anytime a cypher is involved, it’s nature can be turned into a GM intrusion. Gravity was expected to be less, now your artifact is sinking into the ground.

I hope you have a better understanding of the humble asset and will try and include them in your game more. Why roll without an asset? Get your assets in your game, everyone needs a bit of help now and then.

Good Player Habits

I’ve spent the past few weeks focusing on GM tips and advice; I thought it was high time to dispense with some wisdom/requests to the players that read these articles as well. GMs have a pretty big job in store for them when they choose to run the games we enjoy; helping out by being a courteous player is something that will help them in their pursuit of a good story or exciting hack n’ slash and make your experience better as well. Here are a few things that will go a long way in doing so.

1. SHOW UP – No brainer. It seems a bit easy at first as generally playing an RPG is something you want to do anyway, but it’s more than simply being present. It means being ready to game and stay focused while you play. If your GM has to keep getting your attention on your turn or asking for your involvement you’re doing it wrong. Sure, we all have things in our life that may be distracting you, but if they are that bad think about bowing out of a session. Your party will understand if you have life things going on. If they don’t, find another group of people to play with.

2. COMMUNICATE – With your GM and party. Give them feedback about their game and characters. Let them know if you will be late or absent, preferably early. Coordinate what your character is looking at doing or how you plan to develop them. Let your GM know what choices you are making. A well informed GM is a GM that can shape the game accordingly. During the game, be clear with what you are doing. Don’t assume the GM will read your mind and extrapolate your finely crafted plan to assassinate the bad guy. If you don’t say it, it doesn’t happen.

3. PAPERWORK – Please, try your hardest to have all of the “clerical” work done on your character before your next session/game begins. It can be a pain if at the beginning of each game session, after XP was given or a level was gained, you spend an hour trying to figure out what you want to do. This is especially important if the advancement that you take requires more work from the GM, as in the case of the D&D/Pathfinder feat “Leadership”. I usually plan my characters out a few levels in advance so I can knock out the details as they arise. Keep an accurate record of what your character has on their person, it will lead to less tears when you reach for your wizard hat and robe just to find you didn’t note them and the GM calls bullshit on you.

4. MAKE A DETAILED CHARACTER – This one right here is my biggest pet peeve. Mainly because well fleshed out characters make my life easier. When one of my players hands me a character sheet without a background I usually hand it back and tell them, “It’s not done.” This oft leads to a look of bewilderment until I point out that I have a limit of one “Mystery Man/Woman from the East” per adventure. I want meat. I want a fleshed out character with motivations and reasons why they do what they do. I want my players to hand me a character that is dripping with the possibility of meaningful growth. It may take coaching some players through the process a few times but eventually they will think about their characters as more than a grouping of numbers and lists. Do this for your GM, provided they value a good story, and it will be a more rewarding experience.

5. SHOWER – This applies more to gaming in person, but it’s true. Please, don’t arrive smelling of last night’s pizza. Even if you play online. Give a damn about hygiene. Smelly players often don’t get invited back for another session. If you are coming fresh from work, think about packing some deodorant and a clean shirt. Expanding more on this, just don’t be offensive; not just in odor. If your group is relatively new, consider the words that come out of your mouth. I’ve excluded a few players as they just ended up being vile at the gaming table. There is a time and place for that kind of speech/thought, know when that is.

There you have it, a few quick guidelines for player habits. There is certainly more that can be on this list, but I feel I covered the biggies. If you have anything you want me to cover in a future article as a player or GM, please let me know in the comments.

Thank you for reading and happy rolling!

Delay of Game! 5 HP penalty, still the fighter’s turn!

Or rather the flow of your game session.

Flow or pacing is a pretty big deal when running a game session. And it’s so much more than simply having a smooth combat where everyone is ready during combat. It’s one of the more difficult things to get a good grasp of and implement well. It took me a good long time to really suss out what worked for me with how my game. Part of it came down to good session planning and the rest was just practical table top gaming habits.

Planning how you want your session to run sounds easy at first, but it does take some finesse. Start with the basics; length, the plot points, and what you want your players to accomplish. I like to keep the game sessions that I run to be around two to four hours long. Being an arguably responsible adult (as are most of the people that I play with) this fits it with the time I have available as well as my players. It also fits the attention span of most people. Sure, we’ve all heard of the 8 to 15 hour games that people are down for playing when they were young. But from personal experience, they sucked. People tended to drift to something else, or thumbing through manuals and stop really paying attention.

Another important thing to mention is when running a session of decent length is to know when to break. Get the breaks in; I like to do it before boss fights. It gives me time to get the table ready, and give my players a chance to strategize and be back at the table refreshed. Ready to tear the boss up, or die horribly; AND they can’t say they died because all they could think about was using the restroom. If you feel your party start to slip into la la land, hit the brakes, and let them get up.

Good habits are the best way to keep a good flow for your game, but are sometimes hard to instill in yourself and your players. I’ll list a few, but know that as people are great and varied, so are the things they do.

First and foremost, make sure EVERYONE (yes, even the GM) has a good grip on how combat or skill check works in the system you are using. This can kill the flow of the game in no time flat. I know that not everyone has the capacity to memorize all of the rules and nuances for every system they play. And if people are having issues with it, the rest of the group should be there to assist. Perhaps jot down a note card with available actions or a sequence of actions from round to round. Anything to keep things moving.

Next, try your best to keep rule books off the table. Having to look things up right in the middle of combat or dramatic moments is terrible. If a player calls out a rule you flubbed, or you are unsure about something trust your gut, make a ruling and look it up later. Post session rundown or breaks are great for this. Research can wait, your game should not. If a player insists on challenging a ruling, die off for it. Then look up the issue later.

One of the more draconian things that I do to keep things on track is timed turns. Especially when things are dicey for the characters. Indecision is a killer, not only of characters but of game sessions. During stressful moments I will point to a player and ask directly what they are doing, anything less than a clear action is ignored and they are skipped for the next in initiative order. Some will claim that it is mean, and it kind of is, but rest assured they will be ready the next time their turn comes around.

Before I forget to mention it, there is one thing that all if not most RPG groups like to do is have side conversations that do not pertain to the game at hand and spin off into full blown tangents. How you deal with this is entirely up to you, but it is critical to recognize where things are going and when to try to get people back on track. This is one of those things that are really difficult to avoid, especially if one or two of the players have gaming history together. They will like to tell “war stories” of past RPG exploits. I myself am guilty of this way too often. I’d advise you as a GM to let them tell their piece, but the reign things in soon. Sometime the old stories can be long winded; a simple “Nice! You’ll have to tell me about that after the game/in the next break.” Is a polite way to say, “OI! Get on with it” and back to the current task.

Finally, limit distractions. Phones should at least be set to vibrate. The TV should be off. And if you plan to have music during your game, make sure the set list is long enough to last, or keep your remote handy to restart the playlist.

So there you have it,  a few things to think about for your sessions. If you are having trouble with keeping things flowing, reflect upon behaviors of the group and write down things that you want to change. Bring them up with the party, and gain consensus. It will make things loads easier.

Thank you for reading, and happy rolling!

Modules and “Home-Brew” Adventures

A friend of mine recently began to run his own Pathfinder RPG game and opted to use a prebuilt module from Paizo rather than craft his own adventure. Now this was a bit foreign to me as I have never run from a module, instead choosing to free form the trials that I put my players through. After speaking with him I got to thinking about some of the pros and cons of both kinds of adventures, prebuilt and “home-brewed”.

Prebuilt adventures are a go to for a large number of DMs that are just starting out, and for good reason. It’s prebuilt. Not that it makes it any easier to run a session mind you; after all, no adventures survive first contact with the players. But if you are just starting out as a DM a prebuilt adventure or module can be a tremendous help.

At the most basic level it provides a guided adventure where everything is already done. Monsters are chosen, maps are drafted and descriptions (i.e. flavor) detailed, treasure generated, and so on. But more than that, for a new DM who wants to begin to pen their own story, it provides a visual example of what goes into an adventure. This that can seem a bit daunting at first but after seeing it done a DM has a better idea of the work that needs to be done when writing.

But one downside is that a module doesn’t cover everything nor will it anticipate everything the players may do or react to. The DM still has to their job after all. The module doesn’t have anything to do with how the players build their characters or how the party is composed. It doesn’t think for you. And the advice that the writers of the module give them DM for running the sessions can vary wildly. The best modules provide tips and reminders throughout the book (or pamphlet) on how the monsters and prebuilt NPC behave. What happens when traps go off and a good portion of what to be ready for. While the terrible ones can be little more than a few maps and stat blocks.

In either case the best advice I can give in using modules is that it is much like studying in school. Make copious notes of everything that seems like it would be important. Copy the stat blocks for monsters on 3×5 cards, read the module several times over, know it inside and out. Learn the names of the important NPCs and be ready to recall them on a moment’s notice. I’m not saying you need to know everything in a module, but it can really break the pace of a game session if you continually have to reference the book.

So, after running a few modules you decide you might think about making your own adventure and telling your own story. I will admit, it’s pretty damn cool.

And it’s friggin’ hard.

The hardest part for me when I started was knowing where to begin. It’s tough to understand until you do it. I spoke to my players outside of game sessions to get their thoughts on how to go about composing my game. They were all DMs and there was some ribbing but what I walked away with a lot of valuable advice.

Continue reading Modules and “Home-Brew” Adventures

Things that go bump

or baba dook dook dook or whatever

Monsters! Chills! Thrills! Creepy crawlies or odd things! Monsters are an integral and even fundamental part of any modern (or classic) RPG. I had originally thought to write this piece about villains but what is a villain at its most basic, boiled down, level? You’re damn right, it’s a monster.

Coming from a largely high fantasy background most of my favorite monsters are the classics. The undead, orcs, ogres, and the fae commonly show up in the games I run. But they are not for everyone and knowing what kind of monsters your group likes to face will be a great help in making your games more enjoyable. But more than that, effective use of monsters is what you should be thinking of.

First, consider when the last time your party was truly frightened by an encounter. Not apprehensive of what they are fighting due to know what the thing is capable of, but truly, and honestly scared. Was it because they were sucking fumes for hit points and the party healer was tapped out? Or was it because they were at a disadvantage in numbers; or just much MUCH smaller than their opponent. While it’s all well and good that they may win these encounters by the skin of their teeth, they are often hardly memorable without some major feat by the players.

So how do we solve this?

With some monsters, it’s easy. Others , not so much.

First up are DRAGONS! Few GMs play dragons to their fullest potential. Think about it, even juvenile dragons are highly intelligent in most cases, have a breath weapon and can cast a few spells. But often they are used to rush and breathe fire at the players, make a few swipes with their claws and then die. Bleh. They are a proper monster! Don’t let them roll over and die! Use their spells, if you’ve done it right the players have come to them! Make their lair smoky, they can see through it. Have them hide and leap from the shadows, take a swipe at the chewiest looking player and then disappear into the smoke again. Cast magic missile from the air to soften up the hard targets and then breathe fire for the kill. If you DO choose to have the dragon be a mindless melee machine, why stop at just the dragon? What nasty thing is holding the reigns? A lich, an evil cleric of Tiamat, or Jeremy Irons are all good choices.

Adult Dragons should be even worse. Spell resistance gets added to the mix as does a good many feats. Oh and invisibility. I’ll just put that out there. An invisible g-golly Dragon. That can use Suggestion at will. Just sayin’

But Dragons are easy. What would you think about a pack of goblins? With few exceptions almost every RPG player will kill some goblins. They are often considered a throw away faceless nuisance to be waded through at low levels. But they have a few things going for them that are missed or overlooked by GMs. First, they can see in the dark. Trivial in most cases, but awesome in the right hands. One thing that can catch a party off guard in being in the dark, find a way to knock out the party light source and the advantage goes to the goblins. Not an easy thing but on a moonless night or in a cave it can make an easy fight so much harder. Next, Goblins are small and have a high bonus to stealth. The little varmints can get into almost any position to ambush the players. The surprise round gained from attacking from hiding is amazing. Last but not least is that Goblins will even the odds, especially if they are led by someone/thing smarter. Poison their weapons, weak at first, but maybe some deadly stuff for higher level parties. Run a few at the party headlong to get slaughtered while the rest sneak around behind to make a surprise attack. Be sneaky, be mean, be a monster!

To wrap my rambling up, think about the way you run your monsters. Read their descriptions, their skills, all the nitpicky details. Consider what they do well and not so well and play to those strengths and weaknesses. This will force your party to do the same and your game will be all the better for it.