Gaming and Family Values – A Quandary

As gamer geek parents to a trio of rugrats, Kelly and I are always looking for ways to get our kids involved in our hobby. Something that troubles me however, is that the methods that most RPGs use to resolve tasks are pretty much the exact opposite of the values we are trying to instill into the ‘rats. It isn’t that we are utopian idealists; the ‘rats are still pretty young. The whole fantasy-reality divide is still a pretty complex notion for them. Rugrat #1, age 7, is sweet and sensitive; he finds violence scary and wants to find a diplomatic solution to every in-game challenge (this is not mirrored in his interactions with Rugrats #2 and #3; violence and disdain are his go-to methods for handling disagreements with them). Rugrat #2, age (nearly) 5, wants to hit everything. Hard. Finding the balance point between the two styles of play can be a challenge. Additionally, we frequently tell the Rugrats that violence isn’t a solution to their problems, but in most RPGs, the reverse is often true. How do we instill the value of discussion, compromise, and compassion in real-life while laughing at the slaughter of innocent, imaginary kobolds in-game?

Nonlethal combat isn’t really an answer; it is still violence after all, and while I’ve seen plenty of suggestions for pitting kids against non-humanoid adversaries, in the real world it is no more acceptable to beat up a dog, cat, wolf, or rat than it is another person. Many games feature mechanics regarding the use of social skills, but they can also be troubling, as often they revolve around intimidation (bullying) and bluffing (lying).

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of answers to the issues I’ve posed above; mostly I write this because I’m trawling for ideas. However, listening to the kids’ entertainment selections does provide me with a few ideas.

Environmental challenges are great to pit children against. While I’m not certain that I’ve seen a full episode, I’ve heard approximately one billion episodes of Octonauts and Paw Patrol. Often the drama and challenge faced by the protagonists is provided by the environment: some innocent creature is caught up a tree / has fallen in the water / is lost… you get the idea. While I’m not keen on having them slay dragons quite yet, I can definitely see the value in having them rescue people from a village that a dragon is burning down.

Stealth based challenges are also quite nice for kids. While I don’t want to teach them that sneaking around is a good thing to do, I think that letting them attempt to tiptoe around a table full of goblins who are dozing due to drinking too much bug juice is fun. It also helps to teach the rugrats that, dire as they are, there is real value in looking at a problem from all angles and selecting the best resolution method at their disposal. To further this, I think there is a benefit in placing obvious items in a challenge environment that will allow the protagonists to trap, avoid, or otherwise neutralize a threat without resorting to beating it with a stick. If the players don’t catch on to the obvious items, mention them a few times. Be obvious. These are kids. Teaching them this lesson now could very well lead to more excitement at the game table when they are older.

So What’s Out There?

white rabbit coverBefore I wrap this up, there are a few companies making quality RPG material intended for a younger audience. In the Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition space, Playground Adventures has released a number of excellent modules that we’ve run for the rugrats (The Chasing the White Rabbit series by J Gray has been very much enjoyed with repeated queries from the kids regarding when the remaining parts will release). I particularly like that PGA offers adventures with diverse challenges and offers non-violent resolution methods in many cases.

Legendary Games also offers the Legendary Beginnings line of adventures in both PFRPG and 5e. Legendary Games’ offerings, such as the Trail of the Apprentice Adventure Path have a more “traditional” presentation than PGA’s, and hew a bit more toward classic RPG tropes such as dungeon delving. It needs to be noted as well, that Legendary Games’ adventures spend less space than PGA’s on suggesting non-violent task resolution. All of the above aside though, and Trail of the Apprentice is a really nice series of adventures that I’m looking forward to running when the children are a bit older.

Outside the big two of fantasy RPGs, No Thank You, Evil! By Monte Cook Games strips down the already lean Cypher System even further to present a family friendly game that I haven’t read but know I will get to sooner than later; No Thank You, Evil! has great word of mouth, and I really like Monte Cook Games’ other games.

young centurions cover

Evil Hat Productions’ Young Centurions is a FATE Accelerated game of teenage pulp heroes. Young Centurions is a great read and an exciting setting for those who are looking for something other than typical fantasy/sci-fi. FATE Accelerated is also a fantastic system for first-time players. It provides the structure that the game needs while keeping out of the way of the story being created.

Comment Below

Do you have suggestions or ideas regarding this topic? Any favourite kid-friendly roleplaying games or adventures? Let us know in the comments!

broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.

3 Things for Young Gamers to Read

My love of roleplaying games was ignited when I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (Mentzer/BECMI) for my eighth birthday. I imagine my mum picked it out for me because she knew how much I had enjoyed reading The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia the previous year. The truth is, while I truly had enjoyed these newly discovered (by me) fantasy classics, I was not a fussy consumer of the written word. I could, and did, read almost everything I could get my mitts on, from Greek myths, to The Great Brain, to the Babysitter’s Club, I read it all. And once I was introduced to D&D, all of it informed the kinds of games and characters I wanted to play.

Our eldest rugrat is approaching the age I was when that iconic red box with the Larry Elmore painting was seared into my psyche, and he is as voracious a reader as I was. We have played a few, mostly successful, sessions of Pathfinder RPG, and I am eager to keep him enthusiastic between adventures. The following is the first in a series of musings about stories that are universally excellent, and will appeal to both kids and their RPG loving parents – in my opinion at least.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizards of Oz coverLong before Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, or Hogwarts, were committed to paper, Lyman Frank Baum introduced the world to the land of Oz. Bordered on all sides by desert that will reduce anyone who sets foot upon it to dust, Oz is a kitchen sink land wherein Baum mashed together fairy tales and fables with a healthy dollop of imagination and a pinch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

I’m not going to write at length about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; you likely already know the story (or at least the classic film’s version of it). It makes my list because it is the first of a fourteen book series Baum wrote about the setting. That’s right. Fourteen. (Not including the dozens written by other authors after Baum’s death.) Each of which is better than this first one (in my opinion, of course), and all but one of which have numerous beautiful illustrations by John R. Neill.

It is also worth noting that, for a series written in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries, the Oz books are remarkably progressive with regard to gender equality. There are numerous female protagonists, among them Dorothy, Ozma, the Patchwork Girl, and Betsy Bobbin, all of whom are the equal of any of the males in the series. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the human characters are largely, though not entirely, white and there are a few troubling ethnic stereotypes evident (which have been stripped out, along with those gorgeous illustrations in many modern editions of the books).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the series that followed, offers young readers hours of reading that will ignite their imaginations and give them plenty of fodder to fuel their roleplaying adventures.

Bone

Jeff Smith

Bone cover imageJeff Smith’s Bone is a marvel from its hilarious beginning to its heartbreaking conclusion. The series begins with the titular protagonist, Phone Bone, travelling through a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, after being run out of their hometown due to Phoney’s most recent scheme. The Bone cousins soon find themselves driven into the Valley by a massive locust swarm, where they meet one of the best casts of characters ever evidenced in a comic book, and get drawn into a tale of legacy and destiny.

Bone introduces its plots very deftly, drawing the reader in with humour and appealing artwork, but peppering the trail with questions and mystery. Who is the Lord of Locusts? Why is he obsessed with Phoney Bone? Why is the Great Red Dragon watching over Phone Bone? Where did the rest of the dragons go? Why does that one rat creature love quiche so much? How did Kingdok get so BIG?

Further, from the perspective of a role player, the protagonists model the general dysfunction of every single party of PCs I’ve ever experienced. Phone Bone (neutral good) wants to help Thorn (neutral good) and Gran’ma Ben (lawful neutral) but scheming Phoney Bone (neutral evil) ropes Smiley Bone (chaotic neutral) into his capers and inevitably leads everyone into danger.

I have no criticisms of Bone. It is one of the few comic series’ that I have purchased as individual issues, collected black and white trade paperbacks, the massive black and white one volume edition, and the colour Graphix/Scholastic trade paperbacks. I don’t have the colour hardcover collections, but there is still time – don’t test me. Better yet, go get them for your kids (and read them yourself if you haven’t already).

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene (pseudonym for various authors)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories coverYou could replace this with Hardy Boys Mysteries if you wish, but I always preferred Nancy Drew. She was the gateway for my lifelong love of girl detectives (shout out to Veronica Mars and Liv Moore). Like many of the books I read in my childhood, I stumbled upon my first Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher in my grandparents’ pool (as in billiards) room. Nancy was talented, intuitive, and sassy; it was love at first read. In my first exposure to her, Nancy solves a number of mysteries, via means that would likely be considered quaint, if not antiquated, by modern standards, that eventually lead her to the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The story kept me captivated throughout, and had me scouring my grandparents’ bookshelves for other Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… of which there were several, along with mysteries featuring those aforementioned Hardy Boys. Nancy has been solving crimes since 1930, so there are hundreds of novels featuring her just waiting to be placed in your kids’ hands. I was recently perusing the shelves at a local used book store when I noticed they had a massive collection of Nancy Drew mysteries; it may be time for me to go pick some of them up.

How about you?

So there there it is, the tip of the iceberg. What material do you recommend for kid gamers? And were any of the above favorites on your childhood bookshelf? Sound off in the comments below!

For the Hive Image

For the Hive – a Review

For the Hive is an adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, published by Playground Adventures for their “Fun & Facts” educational adventure line.

In this module, for four 2nd to 3rd level characters, the sprite Bzzercup approaches the PCs to help her liberate a fairy bee hive from Chuft, a pugwampi gremlin, and along the way, they learn a few things about real-world bees. By default, the adventure takes place in Playground Adventures’ village of Glavost, which has been showcased in several of their other adventures, though the village doesn’t play a prominent roll and the adventure could be transplanted to any other village or town with no fuss.

Details for Potential GMs Only

The adventure begins with a visit to the library where the adventurers meet up with apprentice wizard Owen who introduces them to the aforementioned Bzzercup. Once she has described her dilemma, the PCs need to solve the first problem: making themselves small enough to fit in a beehive. To accomplish this, there is a puzzle to solve which will net them a potion that allows them to “be the bug.” The puzzle comes with two levels of difficulty, which is nice for GMs with younger or less patient players.

When the young adventurers solve the puzzle and shrink themselves down (and get sprayed with bee pheromones), they must deal with the next challenge: crossing the yard to the hive. The yard is represented with a gorgeous full colour map (with a player friendly version at the back of the book), and allows the players to determine their route to the hive, with the chance for action during the journey, depending on the route chosen. Travel across the yard is well portrayed, with challenges appropriate to the PCs’ state. From an encounter with a now giant-seeming mantis, to escaping the “river” created by  a watering can, to evading a hazardous field of flying dandelion fluff, there are plenty of iconic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moments.

Once the yard has been crossed, it’s time to get into the hive, but first the PCs must contend with Chuft’s minions, which take the form of origami paper wasps. The wasps are neat foes, and allow the players to unleash the full weight of their characters’ combat abilities without worrying about hurting anything. Defeating these foes lets the PCs enter the hive which is a linear five room dungeon, with a small challenge to overcome when transitioning from area to area. My comment about the linearity of the hive shouldn’t be taken as a complaint. This adventure is for children as young as four; the focused nature of the dungeon is appreciated.

At the end of the dungeon, the PCs meet face to face with Chuft and two or three paper wasps. I personally have a few reservations about pugwampis… I ran Legacy of Fire Part 1: Howl of the Carrion King for my regular group and the pugwampis bad luck aura caused men in their thirties to have tantrums… this adventure is for kids… fortunately, in play, the one pugwampi didn’t cause any emotional outbursts. Once Chuft is defeated, the adventure is over – save a bit of wrap-up.

Summary

For the Hive is a well written adventure that isn’t too taxing of a read and, as written, doesn’t look too taxing to run. The read-aloud text is copious and the challenges are varied; both do a good job of making the players feel like their characters have shrunk down to the size of insects. The combats tend to be against insects or constructs (that look like insects), so there isn’t too much worry on my part about the level of violence in the adventure.

Formally, the module is gorgeous, with thematically appropriate graphic design, beautiful maps, and nice artwork, all in full colour, though a printer friendly version would be nice for those that print their pdfs out.

There is an instance of layout weirdness regarding the puzzle mentioned above: the simpler version of the puzzle isn’t located where the text indicates it is, but rather three paragraphs later, which is confusing. I think it would make sense to box the puzzle text, which would dispel the confusion.

The adventure is stuffed with tidbits about bees, so teaching opportunities abound. If you are a parent looking for a nice adventure for your young kids, you would do well to pick this one up. Five Stars for For The Hive!

 

5 Thoughts on Volo’s Guide to Monsters

In November, Wizards of the Coast unleashed Volo’s Guide to Monsters, a combination monster ecology lorebook, bestiary, and, just for fun, they tossed a chapter on new player races in. Since I’m perpetually behind the times (I like call myself a late adopter), I have only recently come to possess a copy of this tome. My first impressions follow: Continue reading 5 Thoughts on Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Scared

… and I Feel Fine – An Actual Play Account

A while ago I wrote a review for The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse by Fantasy Flight Games. I liked what I read, and was eager to get a couple sessions of the game in, which happened around Hallowe’en. The following is an account of the first session.

Once the players had settled, we had a brief discussion of their characters, particularly their traits and what they meant. I chose to skip the voting portion of character creation and just go with each player’s depiction of themselves. Then I set the stage for them.

It was game night, all of the spouses and children were conveniently elsewhere, everyone was settled in with their beverage of choice. People in town had been getting sick and the news was reporting increasingly common incidences of violence. There frequently were the faint sounds of sirens in the distance. Then everyone heard a crash in the air, then the sound of an aircraft falling toward the ground, followed by a bone rattling crash and a small explosion.

They rushed out to find that two of the commuter seaplanes whose flightpaths pass over my house had crashed, one falling into my neighbour’s home, destroying it, the other hitting the road in front of my house, destroying most of the parked cars (including most of theirs), and then rolling in a fiery mass into the house across from mine.

Everyone jumped into action, splitting into two groups: one heading to the neighbour, the other going across the street where they could hear screaming and a baby crying.

I went across the street, but stopped at the wreckage; I saw something moving in it… a person! I jumped into action, called my friends and offered help to the injured man.

Then I died.

Fierce fighter

We saw little of this….

The infected tore my throat out with the requisite arterial spray and looks of disbelief and dawning horror from the other players.  Things got real after that. Taking down this single infected took the combined efforts of the entire group, as it likely would in real life if five regular guys pushing forty had to take care of things. One of the characters got bitten… and infected in the fracas. Not that he knew it yet.

Scared

…but plenty of this.

After taking the infected down, they got the woman and her baby from across the street and retreated to my house to ransack it for all it was worth. The sounds of disaster carried on all night; fire could be seen toward the city. A plan was made to get to one of the character’s parents’ boat and take it to one of the outlying islands where another character’s parents’ had a cabin.

Then morning came and I kicked out the other crutch: the people killed by the infected were rising as zombies.

I had risen as a zombie.

There was a brief discussion, and it was decided that they would do their best to avoid me, rather than crush my skull. It was heartwarming.

The group rushed out to the one vehicle that had been parked far enough from my house to avoid being destroyed…  thankfully it was <NAME WITHHELD>’s minivan. Everyone piled in and drove up onto the railroad tracks next to my house. They wondered at the lack of people out and about, the absence of people fleeing from the city, but decided to stick to the plan and headed away from downtown.

They made it a few kilometres, until coming to a pair of unmoving cars blocking a rail trestle that crosses the highway. The highway below was packed with unmoving vehicles with some visible infected rampaging among them and a few zombies waving in the breeze.  Unnoticed by the infected, the group checked the cars out; one was empty, the other had a vacant-eyed zombie in the driver’s seat and a rabid looking infected in the passenger’s seat.

Seeing the PCs, the infected went berserk, and the guys knew they had to take it out before the infected on the highway heard it and came swarming up the steep slope to the trestle. Two of them moved the empty car with some difficulty… it was out of gas… and the others moved into position to deal with the other car.

The zombie was dispatched without too much difficulty, but the infected managed to sound the car’s horn, which made the baby cry. With the full attention of the infected below now on them (and quickly making their way toward the slope), the van driver decided it was time to take matters into his own hands and sped toward the car on the trestle. Seeing this, the two PCs dealing with the empty car sent it careening down the slope, taking out a couple infected in its descent.

The van hit the car, and slowly pushed it down the tracks, until it finally knocked it clear when the tracks turned. The PCs all climbed back aboard in the process and gritted their teeth as the infected reached the moving vehicle and began to batter it with their bodies. The van sped up after knocking the obstacle clear, leaving the infected behind.

I had each player then narrate a descriptive scene describing something they saw from the van, or something they were feeling based on their experiences thus far. Then they arrived at their destination with the boat in the driveway… and the driver was nearly shot by his stepfather. The misunderstanding was resolved, and everyone assembled readied themselves for a boat journey as we ended for the night.

I had a lot of fun running The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse, and the players enjoyed playing as themselves. So… what will happen next? Will we uncover the cause of this sudden and drastic change in reality? Will the PCs make it off the island? What will the world’s response be? How widespread is the event? What happens if <NAME WITHHELD> succumbs to his infection on the boat? Will the secrets of Quarantine Zone 4 ever be uncovered? Hopefully we get another session in soon so we can find out!

book shelves

5 Comic Book Storylines to Steal

When I am running adventures, I steal shamelessly from all kinds of sources. Characters, themes, storylines, names, places… nothing is safe from pillaging. One of the formats I love using as an idea mine are comic books. Those would be graphic novels if you’d rather use the name given to legitimize the form in recent years. While I will undoubtedly cover some of the specifics of what I’ve used and how I’ve twisted it to my own ends, I’ll start today by going over five series’ or storylines that are ripe for adaptation to the game table.

  1. Y, the Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and others (DC/Vertigo)

This is one of my favourite series’ probably of all time, but I may be biased as the post-apocalypse is among my most beloved sub-genres. In this series, following an event in the first issue, Yorick Brown (and his pet monkey, Ampersand), become the last male creatures on Earth. We then follow Yorick and a small retinue as he attempts to travel from where he is in the US to meet his girlfriend, who is in Australia when the extinction event occurs. The series explores themes that a lot of good post-apocalyptic material does, such as the cost and value of humanity. Its set up however, with billions of women still alive after the disaster, also handles the topic of gender roles and gender inequalities without being exploitative.

  1. Planetary – Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm… or maybe DC/Vertigo now… or possibly just DC Comics…)

This one is an easy setup for any game that employs hopping from location to location and investigating what Monte Cook would call “The Weird.” Simply put, the series focuses on archaeologists of the unknown looking into strange phenomena while dealing with their personal demons. Many of the issues of the series could be easily adapted as adventures for GMs running a Planescape type campaign or who are playing The Strange or Numenera.

  1. Preacher – Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Preacher has a setup that isn’t atypical for a roleplaying game campaign: Jesse Custer, a minister who has accidentally been granted immense power, is traveling across the US with an ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire on a search for God. Along the way, they encounter numerous challenges both celestial and fiendish in nature, as well as dealing with Jesse’s family. While the setup is a fairly classic hero’s journey, the execution is phenomenal and will leave any GMing reader with a ton of ideas that will challenge their PCs skills as well as their morals.

  1. DMZ – Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Set on Manhattan in the near future, during the second American civil war, DMZ follows reporter Matty Roth as he navigates the treacherous morass of factions active on the island in order to get at “the truth.” The series’ plot is winding, and effectively shows that good and evil are fictions; all of the many interest groups present in the series take horrific actions at different times, and the reader often feels that they are justified in doing so. Yes, I prefer shades of gray to the black and white storytelling we are often subjected to, and the games I run often reflect this.

  1. Morning Glories – Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma (Image Comics)

Hey, a comic series that wasn’t published by a DC Comics imprint! Morning Glories is set at the eponymous academy, where a lot of weirdness is going on. This series has it all: murder, torture, occult phenomena, secret twins, flashbacks… and it all works. From the time that Casey’s father tells her he doesn’t have a daughter to <redacted> your mind will be filled with enough twists and turns to last several campaigns… and your players will love and hate you for it!

What comics have you read that have inspired your campaigns, or even your characters? Sound off in the comments below!

5 and 5 for Pathfinder RPG

So, not long ago I wrote about five things I love and five things I don’t love about D&D 5e. Overall I think it’s a great system, and certainly my favourite edition of that game since second edition AD&D. That said, it isn’t the only system I play or enjoy, so today I will do the same with the other 500 lb gorilla in the realm of fantasy RPGs: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (henceforth PFRPG) by Paizo Publishing.

I had no prior history with Dungon or Dragon magazines, so I discovered PFRPG mostly by chance during its open beta while looking to file off some of the irritating edges in the D&D 3.5 system. Seeing that the document had already addressed some of my issues, and being wooed by the spiffy Wayne Reynolds cover and artwork, I gave it a read and subsequently purchased a copy of the final release. At this point, I may have run more sessions of PFRPG than any other game… and I’ve been running games a long time. Now that my history with PFRPG has been , let’s get into the meat of this article with five great things about PFRPG:

  1. You already know how to play it. While I imagine there are indie RPG enthusiasts out there that have never played a derivative of D&D 3rd edition, every gamer I know personally has. Getting buy-in from players for a PFRPG campaign is easy in my experience, since there is already a familiarity with the basic system, even if some of the specific details are different.
  2. It is adaptable. PFRPG is a fantasy game per its default, but it is actually adaptable to other styles without too much heavy lifting; I have been running it as a modern day Supernaturalesque action horror game quite successfully for some time. We will get to see how adaptable it is in Paizo’s hands when they release the science fantasy Starfinder Roleplaying Game in summer 2017.
  3. It is well supported. Paizo releases several books each month to support their RPG, including their flagship Pathfinder Adventure Path. Every month sees the release of one sixth of a campaign, with supporting material, which is a godsend to busy PFRPG gamemasters. At this point, I think more books, if not more pages, have been released for PFRPG than for D&D 3.0 and D&D 3.5 combined. Additionally, there is official errata and FAQs on Paizo’s website to clarify and correct the rules.
  4. Third-party support. If Paizo’s first-party support isn’t enough, there is an active communityof third-part creators producing all manner of content to fill the gaps in the “official” ruleset. Whether it’s the quirky but complex classes released by Interjection Games, or Dreamscarred Press’ updates to the 3rd edition psionics, or Raging Swan Press’ awesome dressing, or the neat tweaks to the system coming from Rogue Genius Games, you can find nearly anything you could possibly want from a third-party vendor. If you will allow a shameless plug, our own Dire Rugrat Publishing offers nice (and not nice) taverns in multiple game systems to introduce to your campaign right over here.
  5. The Community. More than maintaining a customer base, Paizo has done a fantastic job building a thriving and involved community on their website. You can ask questions on the best way to build an uber-barbarian, find people to start your next campaign with, or discuss anything from politics to tv. Best of all, you might have access to the people that write and design your favourite products.guard on watch

So far so good, right? But what is the dark side of PFRPG? Let’s see…

  1. Rules, Rules, Rules. PFRPG may not be as rules heavy as, say, Rolemaster, but it has a lot of rules. And more rules elements are added with each new hardcover release. There are a lot of things for a player, let alone a gamemaster, to remember which can lead to a lot of slowdown. This also leads to…
  2. Combat is a slog. You would think that a game that has such a strong focus on combat would let you make it through several of them in a session. You would be wrong. I’ve clocked a fight between a party of four 1st level characters and 6 goblins at over ninety minutes of real time. It gets worse as you gain levels, to the point that, in my gaming group, once the PCs were at level 8 or above, we could have a combat or we could roleplay in a four hour session, but we certainly couldn’t do both.
  3. High level play. In addition to slow gameplay, high level PFRPG introduces the reality that the PCs become super powered to the point that they couldn’t be defeated by Superman and his team of super pets. Perhaps its my own deficiency as a game runner, but I find playing PFRPG beyond 8th level largely unsatisfying.
  4. Golarion. Plenty of people love Paizo’s campaign setting of Golarion. I don’t. It doesn’t make sense to me. Its focus on strongly thematic regions makes it seem more like an incoherent jumble than a logical, believable place. All of this would be fine if Golarion didn’t worm its way into the supposedly setting neutral system rules, but it does. All goblins are illiterate and fear written language… since it was decided to include that little bit from the Golarion specific Adventure Path line in the Bestiary. All undead are evil, since the creative overlords of Golarion  don’t like the idea of non-evil undead. I can ignore things like this, but I shouldn’t have to dangit!
  5. Player’s Expectations. This is something that I found originated with D&D 3.0, but carries through to PFRPG. The players expect you to play “fair.” This is to say, they expect CR appropriate encounters. They expect that the gamemaster will adhere to the suggested Wealth by Level. They expect that every encounter will yield to the use of their swanky combat tricks, spells, and feats. And they get cranky and accuse the GM of being unfair when they don’t. I have found, even while playing with the same people for nearly twenty years, that my players just aren’t as creative in their problem solving while playing PFRPG as they are while playing other games.

So there you are. If there are things that you love or loathe about PFRPG, sound off in the comments!

Piggy bank with coins

5 Ways to Game on a Budget

One of the things I love about roleplaying games is that they’re inexpensive. You only need a copy of the rules, your imagination, and a few friends to have a good time, right? But… most RPGs have supplementary rulebooks, setting books, adventures, miniatures, dice sets… the list goes on. And I want all the shiny preciousses. I needs them! My game can’t be complete without them! But I have two problems…. I don’t have time to read anything longer than your average kid’s book… and I don’t have nearly enough money to buy all the books for all the RPGs I’d like to have all the books for… finally, I don’t have space to store all the books for all the RPGs I’d like to have all the books for. I said I had three problems, right?

That out of the way, we know I’m only going to address one of my problems in this post because we all saw the title, so let’s get to it. Lack of funds doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get awesome gaming books for your collection. Sure, you may not be able to get everything in glorious print, but .pdfs will work almost as well, especially if you have a half-decent tablet. So, without further ado, here are my top five ways to game on a budget:

  1. Bundles. Number one by a long shot, are gaming bundles. While drivethrurpg offers countless bundles by countless publishers, my favourite two producers of big bundles of books for ridiculously low prices are Bundle of Holding and Humble Bundle. Bundle of Holding focuses specifically on RPGs, offering big chunks of specific publisher’s catalogues (such as Cubicle 7’s The One Ring or Catalyst Game Labs’ Shadowrun [various editions have been bundled]), or themed bundles, such as their annual Bundle of Tentacles or Old School Revival bundle. Humble Bundle originally focused on PC indie games, but has diversified into ebooks, including RPGs (such as their spectacularly successful Pathfinder RPG bundle earlier this year) and comic books. Both of these sites are awesome for gamers with limited cash flow.
  2. Raging Swan/Creighton Broadhurst‘s websites. There are numerous gaming blogs, of course, but I visit these two at least once per week. With a heap of GMing advice, countless lists of treasures, gear, locations, and other inspiring posts, both of these sites are a near limitless resource.
  3. Open Gaming SRDs. The Open Gaming movement is still going strong, and there is tons of content out there free for the taking. Paizo’s Pathfinder PRD and the Dungeons & Dragons SRD are the biggest names of course, but the inimitable John Reyst curates SRDs for Swords & Wizardry, 13th Age, and plenty of other games as well as the monstrous  d20PFSRD and more modest 5eSRD. All of these sites provide access to game rules and content, including monsters, NPCs, and equipment. For free.
  4. Eclipse Phase. This fantastic d100 based sci-fi/horror rpg is available for free under its Creative Commons license. This is wonderful for people who want to give material a try before committing their dollars to it. Additionally, the license allows homebrewers to use Posthuman Studios’ art and writing assets to create and distribute their own Eclipse Phase material so long as it is free and attributes the work correctly.
  5. Write Reviews. Publishers, particularly third-part publishers, often give out review copies of new products to get word out about their new releases.  Check out the product announcements on Paizo threads, request a copy when they are offered, and then write a review.  Often, reviewers who consistently deliver well written reviews in a timely fashion are offered the opportunity to review more products – for free.  You get to help shape future products, let your favorite publishers know what you love (and what needs work), and you get access to complimentary gaming products.  It’s a win all around.

Bonus: Your local library.  Depending on your area, and what you local library has on its shelves, this can be a great resource.  You might be lucky enough to find RPG books, but at the very least you should be able to find books, graphic novels and even movies that could be a great (and free) source of inspiration.

Have you found other great resources for gaming on a budget? Share them in the comments below!

jar of dice

5 and 5 for D&D 5e

The newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons may not have that new game scent anymore, but over a year of regular play has done a lot to display its virtues and vices to me. Before we get to the five things I like most and least about the game, I’ll provide a bit of background.

I was all set to ignore 5e (still being called D&D Next at the time), and paid no attention to the public playtest. My fantasy RPG itch was being scratched by Pathfinder, after all, and really, could any game dethrone Second Edition AD&D as my favourite fantasy RPG of all time? But 5e was released, and it got a lot of positive attention… and my mother, the person that got me the Mentzer Basic Set for my eighth birthday and set off a lifetime love of RPGs, gifted me with the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual… so I gave it a shot. And I’m glad I did.

That out of the way, let’s get to five things I really like about 5e:

  1. Advantage/Disadvantage. More than anything, I love advantage and disadvantage, and their lack of absolute codification. Replacing the horde of small bonuses, and especially bonus types, used in D&D 3rd edition (and its derivatives) and 4th edition with this simple rule was genius.
  2. Spellcasting. Spells that scale based on the level of spell slot being used is a thing that should have been done several editions ago. Thankfully it’s a thing now. Further, rituals are back from 4th edition. This is a good thing.
  3. Concentration. More to the point, that many buffing spells require concentration, meaning that a caster can only have one in effect at a time. Gone are the suites of buffs players cast before every encounter. Good riddance.
  4. Return of the horde. The so-called “bounded accuracy” that 5e is based around means that low challenge threats are still threats far into a character’s adventuring career. My players, with 6th level characters, are still struggling against the mobs of low challenge mooks that amass around the big bad guys and gals. That’s right, mobs. I can use tons of enemies because of…
  5. Quick combat. Combat is resolved relatively quickly in 5e. Much more quickly than in 3rd or 4th edition, certainly. I like this, it means I can run two or even three combats in a three to four hour session but still have time for exploration and role-play. Wins all around.Paizo goblin

Lots to like, right? All is not sunshine and unicorns however, as the next five points will detail. Without further ado, five things I dislike about 5th edition…

  1. Tieflings, and drow, and dragonborn… Oh my! Call me stodgy, but I don’t think these three races… well, two races and a subrace… should be part of the core game. Of course, if my players would let me, I would disallow every non-human race in my games…
  2. Short adventures. Where are they? The campaign length hardbacks are nice, for the most part, but 5e suffers from a dearth of short adventures. Sure, I can and do convert adventures from previous editions, but come on, The Lost Mine of Phandelver from the Basic Game is a fantastic, sandboxy short adventure… I’d like to see more in that vein.
  3. Dying. By the gods it’s difficult to kill a character in 5e. But the characters get dropped to death saves, often multiple times in an encounter as their companions bring them back to consciousness. It’s silly.
  4. Encounter design. One of the best aspects of 4th edition was the ease with which a DM could put together an encounter. With 5e’s lighter engine, I was expecting that it would be even easier to design exciting encounters. My expectations were in vain; 5e is more difficult to generate encounters for than both 3rd and 4th editions. This is exacerbated by…
  5. Creature creation. Unlike the previous two editions, 5e doesn’t do a very able job of explaining how to create monsters, and more importantly in my opinion, npcs. There’s a table of benchmarks creatures should meet… but special features are not addressed in any meaningful way. Please, design team, give us something better.

So there they are: five and five. Have you been playing D&D 5e? Why or why not? What are your likes and dislikes?