Open Origins: Royston and Petunia Hamperstand

Sometimes an NPC’s story begins long before they are born. The fate of these characters can be traced back to the decisions of their parents, characters who, while interesting, are unlikely to ever meet the PCs, and as such, their tale goes unnoticed and untold along with hundreds of others about the places the PCs explore.

Our Open Origins series focuses on these bit characters and gives some history and context to some of our NPCs.


Royston and Petunia were a match made by the gods. Dedicated to the intense study of magic, the pair of halflings were undefeatable by just about any foe that crossed their path. Petunia had begun her studies early in life and excelled quickly. When she met Royston the two maintained a friendly feud for a time, but eventually admitted their feelings for each other. Their love was intense and pure, as strong as their combined forces against those that would move against them.

Petunia was kind-hearted and generous, no matter how powerful she became. At her insistence, the pair helped those in need, and always came to the aid of the rulers of the kingdom in which they resided. They quickly developed a reputation for charity and Petunia especially was beloved by the smallfolk. After some years together Petunia became with child, and their son was born some time later. Little Billet Hamperstand with his brown ringlets and chubby face was celebrated by everyone in the kingdom, and Petunia and Royston had never been happier.

When Billet was a toddler the city was attacked by a band of orcs that had been growing restless in the nearby mountains. Officials, as well as Petunia and Royston, had been keeping an eye on them, but they had seemed disorganized and scattered. The sudden organized attack had been impossible to predict. 

The pair rushed to assist the city, hiding Billet in a nearby home with some trusted acolytes before proceeding to the hilltop where they would have the best vantage to fend off the opposition. They had almost reached their destination when Petunia heard a squeal from Billet. She pivoted on her heel, realizing her young child had followed her into danger. Unbeknownst to the residents, the orcs were a distraction meant to allow an assassin inside the walls of the city.

Petunia’s eyes met her sons only for a second before the assassin upon her. The unsuspecting halfling was no match for the silent stalker, and right there in front of Billet, she perished. It was quick, too quick even for Petunia to see the horror that crossed her toddler’s face, too quick to see her son faint or her husband attack her killer. A single wound to the throat.

Royston, also hearing his son, had turned and seen the whole thing. He and the nearby guards quickly dispatched the assassin. Alas, despite Royston’s best efforts, and those of the local healer, his beloved Petunia could not be revived. 

Royston was devastated, but he gathered Billet, and prepared himself for a life without his beloved wife.

Consumed with Petunia’s death, Royston poured much of his energy into furthering his own magical ability and determining who sent the assassin after his wife. What remained was focused on his son Billet in whom he instilled the idea that the boy was destined for greatness, and that he was to follow in the footsteps of his parents. 

Royston became increasingly powerful, eventually surpassing the skill of his late wife. Despite Petunia’s passion for assisting others, Royston turned his back on helpless citizens of nearby towns and others in need, determined no one else in his family would sacrifice their life in service to the weak and incapable. Instead, he and his son remained locked in their town, forever studying and researching.

Much to Royston’s frustration, Billet struggled with his studies and when the boy reached puberty, Royston sent his son to an arcane academy, where it was hoped he would finally excel in his magical studies. Billet despised the school and wrote to his father constantly begging he be allowed to return home, but Royston, for his part, had become even more obsessed with finding the identity of the individual who had his beloved wife killed, and so he refused his son’s requests.

After much magical investigation, Royston was confident his wife could be attributed to a seer assisting a powerful noble in gaining control of the land, and Royston set off to enact his revenge. While much of the intel the widower had gleaned was correct, he was not prepared for the seer to be Primula Flemarand, Petunia’s own sister and a fellow student from many years prior who had been most interested in Royston during their studies. Royston had spurned her advances due to his interest in Petunia (who was unaware of Primula’s interest).

Where Petunia was patient and caring, Primula was impulsive and selfish. Where Petunia was gentle and encouraging, Primula was forceful and demanding. The sisters were as different as night and day. Primula, ever second to her smarter, prettier and more charming older sister had been furious at the time and her anger for Royston and Petunia had festered and boiled to pure hatred in the years since.

Primula’s power had finally blossomed, and with her gift of foresight she knew breaking the bond between her sister and Royston would change the tides for her new employer; the fact that it allowed her to finally seek her revenge against the man who spurned her was mere icing on the cake.

And so, when Royston confronted the oracle who was responsible for setting the wheels of his wife’s death in motion, he was caught off guard by the familiar face. In that brief moment of hesitation, Primula gained the upper hand. Royston, quickly found himself underprepared for the battle and so he retreated to his tower, hoping to collect himself and attempt once more to avenge his wife.  

Primula, knowing such a thing was likely to happen, had already advised her employer, who sent agents to dispatch the wounded halfling, and so, inside his own home, the great and powerful Royston Hamperstand was slain.

From her crystal ball, Primula now watches over her nephew, ever curious to see what the young man will become.

Learn more about their son Billet Hamperstand, the humourless halfling in 5e NPCs: Flawed Foes.

Lost in a World of Kobolds

5e NPCs: Flawed Foes coverA big hello to our fans out there. We told you there were more products coming this year, and while that hasn’t been completely untrue (you can pick up our newest 5e NPC codex here), there haven’t been as many Dire Rugrat publications as we’d planned.

Why? Well, Kelly has been busy writing for Kobold Press!

If you haven’t checked out their Warlock magazines, what are you waiting for? Each issue of this bimonthly ‘zine contains three or four different articles, each matching the theme of the issue. You can check out a preview of Warlock 10: Magocracies here.

And if the Shadow Realm and creepy fey creatures are more your jam, why not pick up the Guide to the Shadow Realm? You can read Lou Ander’s write up of it here.

And finally, a mini adventure call Fowl Play has also been published.

There should be more coming from us soon, but in the meantime, you can find Kelly’s work over with Kobold Press.

GM’s Day Sale

This special day pays tribute to the beloved co-creater of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax who died in 2008 and back in 2002, GM’s Day was born on this special day, thanks to EN World and its users.

If you are a DriveThruRPG fan, you’ll find that in order to celebrate, this online RPG store is hosting a sale.

Head on over to DriveThruRPG and pick up some gaming goodies for yourself, or your favorite GM!

Happy Gaming!

(https://gmsday.com/)

Out With The Old

It’s the end of 2018, or The Lost Year as it has become known in the Dire Rugrat Household.

We talked about the Reason For Silence ages ago. Because it was ages ago. We’ve just had trouble getting ourselves going creatively since then.

Not all hope is lost. Kelly had a chance to do some work with Kobold Press, and if you haven’t checked out their awesome Warlock magazine, what are you waiting for? It’s a reward for being a Patreon of theirs, but you can also pick it up on their website. Kelly’s work can be found in both Issue 9, The World Tree and Issue 8, Undead.

In addition, we plan on (finally) wrapping a few projects we’ve had going here for a while. So, if you’re a DRP fan, stay tuned for 2019!

We hope you survived 2018 with most of your sanity intact, and we hope 2019 is an amazing year for you and your loved ones.

Happy dice rolling – and happy new year!

The Tavern of the Deadworld

So many campaigns start in a tavern. It’s an easy way to put a bunch of characters in the same place at the same time. And even if you don’t start your campaign there, your players are bound to end up there at some point right?

(Very true in our experience – it’s why we have a whole line of products dedicated to making tavern visits easier!)

What about post-apocalyptic campaigns though? After watching a few different shows, we ended up playing a Deadworld campaign. It was full of zombies, ghouls, savage scavengers claiming to be saving the world, and ruins of settlements.

You know where we never went though? A hospital.

The game started some years after the world ended as we know it, and we never had a reason to visit a hospital, or what remained of one.

In our weeks (and weeks) of hospital stays over this month and last, I have been up and down so many hospital corridors and stairwells, and, especially over in Victoria (the building we are in at BC Children’s Hospital is super new) all I could think about as a door closed with an ominous noise in a seemingly deserted stairwell was: “What if there were zombies here?” (A bit over the top maybe, but being suddenly removed from everything normal in your life does weird things to you.)

As our time progressed in Victoria I realized ward doors were sealed in the evenings, I discovered new rooms, and I learned some areas of the hospital can’t be accessed from other areas – even more fuel for the apocalypse fire. My mind would wander in the hopes of not spending 24/7 worrying about my really sick daughter I could do nothing to help (though worrying about zombies lurking nearby might not have been the best use of time, or the most reassuring thing to think about).

We had a huge stash of unopened 2-cracker packages in our room, plus our own bags of granola bars, crackers and other non-perishables hidden out of view of our diet-restricted-rugrat. What was hiding in other people’s rooms? How about that snack cupboard down the hall with its own collection of single packaged crackers and digestive cookies? And that’s before you even hit the cafeteria or smash the vending machines (should you dare to make that much noise).

And medical supplies… you’ve got bandages and gauze, sterile wipes, braces, crutches, gloves, the list goes on. And wheelchairs could serve as a great way to move bundles of goods (or you know, a person unable to move easily). Plus on a pediatrics floor don’t forget the stashes of formula, wipes and diapers. No kids in your game? Diapers are still super handy for absorbing a lot of blood on an open wound, or filling with warm water and applying to the body to make accessing a vein easier. And I’m not recommending anyone try formula, but come on, if the world ended, I think we’d all take the calories we can get… and I might be more likely to try formula than roasted rat captured in the basement…. but that’s just me.

Plus, you’ve got beds, blankets and flat rubber pillows galore! These beds could be slept on for sure, but don’t forget you can use them to barricade areas, and blankets don’t just keep you warm, they can be used to block the light from the windows, ripped apart as more bandages, used to to wrap and carry items, or even altered and pinned as make-shift clothing if those open backed hospital gowns aren’t your thing and your other clothing is trashed.

So now Ken and I are thinking about returning to Deadworld, but exploring the early days, or scavenging for medical supplies in a seemingly long abandoned hospital.  (Come to think of it, one of our inspirational shows used a hospital as a home base for a time, and of course The Walking Dead starts off with Rick leaving the hospital he was admitted to for a gunshot wound, only to find the world isn’t the way he remembers.)

Except, we have no time to game as we continue to be separated by a (small) body of water.

So instead we continue to wait to be free of the hospital that is beginning to feel more like a prison than ever…

Which means we need you to let us know: have you played any post-apocalyptic games?

Were any scenes set in the hospital? And if so, did they feature Rugrat #3 and I lurking in abandoned halls, desperate to make our exit to the outside world?

But For a Bite of Breakfast

Playing one-to-one game sessions, Ken and I have logged more hours gaming than I’d care to calculate. It’s really easy to pick up a set of dice and a character sheet and fit in some gaming once the rugrats are sleeping on vacation (or on weekends, or when the game is hot).

My love of gaming is almost always strong, but there have been waxes and wanes that got me to thinking about what I like in my RPG sessions. I believe any RPG lover still has something specific about gaming they love, and what’s more, some sessions are memorable, some story points frozen in our mind, some characters and their deeds living on forever. Why? What was it that made some sessions make me want another game session asap, while others left a sour taste in my mouth.

I thought I knew, but after numerous muddied attempts to explain to my gm, I had a realization that helped me explain it a new way.  So often I have tried to explain it is the relationships, but it is really more than just that.

What I like is the exploration of how a character evolves. Sometimes these big changes come from a success (or failure) in combat or another specific part of the written (or home-brewed adventure). Other times it can be smallest detail that sets a tone for a relationship which has huge effects on a character.

But For a Bite of Breakfast

One of my first characters, and the first iteration of my most beloved PC, believed the world owed her whatever she was willing to take. In the beginning of the campaign she thought she was hot stuff. This character was willing to flirt with just about anyone to get whatever she wanted, and with a super high charisma and max ranks in Diplomacy, it just about always worked. (When that failed she just did what she had to.)

In the early days of the campaign she and the other PCs (technically GM-NPCs) were still getting their footing with each other. They’d been forced to work together after fleeing prison and, thanks to a signed contract, had to cooperate with each other despite their less than wholesome natures. Before long, my character began a casual relationship with one of the others, trading her skills as a former courtesan in exchange for his magical knack to clean garments.

One morning as they stayed in a tavern, getting ready to head out into the nearby woods in search of their quest, my character made her way down the stairs into the tavern where the sorcerer was already eating a plate of breakfast. She ordered, but helped herself to a bite of his. Or tried to. He moved the plate away, called her on it, and said in no uncertain terms he wasn’t sharing. As minor as this moment might have been, neither my character, myself, or my husband, could have predicted how this small moment set the tone of their relationship from then on.

Who had what? Who was willing to give what for something the other person had? And who had the power?

By the end of the campaign those two had been manipulating each other almost as much as they manipulated their enemies. One of the hugest revelations in the later home-brewed portions of the adventure was the master manipulation the sorcerer had done to make my character’s husband nothing like he was before. He’d made me and my character hate one of my favorite NPCs. Once a strong, determined, no-nonsense inquisitor of Asmodeus, that NPC had become a meek kitten who couldn’t even put his foot down with traitors in his church. My character was deep into plotting his demise when the sorcerer’s trickery became evident. After some dealings with divine heralds, she got the sorcerer back by enslaving him for the rest of time.

There’s more to all of that, big moments and small ones, (and the sorcerer did get free of it, but ended up so shocked by his tricks being turned on him he turned over a new leaf), but the point is that bite of breakfast, or lack of one, created a ripple effect that echoed through the course of a 20-level, 10-mythic tier campaign that was played for about two years.

Taste of Your Own Medicine

In another campaign that same PC was re-portrayed in a different reality with different abilities. My mesmerist teamed up with a new version of the Asmodean inquisitor, who was now not that different from Sam or Dean Winchester, zigzagging across modern America in search of occult anomalies that could use his attention.  They were very different characters than their original versions (not just because they weren’t nearly so evil), but a lot of who they were remained the same.

I couldn’t let go of the character, and this allowed me to explore “what if.”

At any rate, at one point in the campaign, my mesmerist, who had become capable enough to use charm and suggestion type spells, came up against another mesmerist. She had no idea who he was or what he could do.  This ruthless, conniving, evil man (actually modelled after Kilgrave from Jessica Jones) managed to land his domination spell on my character. Things happened. And my character changed.

She changed in a few ways, including being more serious about her road partner, but one of the big changes was her unwillingness to use overly powerful or long lasting mind-affecting spells. I think this was good for the GM since investing supernatural cases becomes a lot easier when you can quickly get to the bottom of things and hit the road before your spells wear off. (There were numerous times my character’s spells made too-short of work of his planning and mystery.)

It also made sense from a character perspective though. If you could do all of those same things to a person, would you? After you’d experienced them yourself? Could do it in the worst case scenarios? At all?

What was meant to be a small thing in a case, a saving throw she probably should have made, dramatically changed how my character viewed the world, how she treated people, and what she was willing, or unwilling to do. Rest assured she eventually managed to hunt down the other mesmerist and with the help of a couple of close friends, managed to take him down, though a few good NPCs almost died.

If she had made that saving throw, if she defeated him then and there, she wouldn’t have spent months looking over her shoulder afraid of the only person to have controlled her, she wouldn’t have felt bad dominating people for “the greater good,” and she would have become a very different person.

No Evidence, No Crime

In another iteration, my character was ripped from her “perfect” life and thrust into ancient Golarion. Everything she had always done was done with purpose and because it was the way it should be done. She always did her best to live up to expectation. And the fear of being caught doing something she shouldn’t (her father was a notable man and she herself was a minor celebrity as a result) didn’t ease her desire to be “perfect.”

When she was thrown into ancient Golarion she met a man who was so different than her fiance, and each time she was dropped back into the past, there he was. She quickly developed feelings for him, but worried she shouldn’t act on them because it wasn’t who she was, it wasn’t what she should do, she didn’t want to hurt her fiance, etc.

Then one day, after a bit of back and forth, and the realization that there were no cameras to catch her, that no one there really knew who she was or cared, she suddenly kissed him. Which led to other things. The conversation had been ending, the two were going to retire to their own rooms, and something in the conversation made her act without thinking. It was a huge moment for her, and to have hand-waved that evening would have meant it didn’t happen.

Who she was was altered somewhat as a result. She suddenly realized she had to follow her heart and her passions, not just do what was expected. The plot of the campaign (which was saving the universe, and was tied into the time travel) carried on of course, and they more or less succeeded, but how she dealt with it and the decisions she made and wrestled with, were tied to the decision that night.

A Tiresome Trio

Most recently we’ve been playing Wrath of the Righteous. My once neutral evil rogue trickster has been reborn as a shining paladian champion of Erastil (yes, that’s right, a paladin of Erastil – it is totally working).

Quick backstory: she lost her husband before the game started. He joined the crusade a couple of years prior, unknowingly leaving her pregnant. The baby died at 6 weeks. It was all a depressing start, but it made her ready to kick some demon butt. Fast forward a bit of time, she’s got her group of companions, a childhood friend and two guys she met during the attack on the city and they are pushing back against the incursion. It’s all good, and she realizes she might almost be having feelings for one of these new guys. She doesn’t give it much thought. Then she learns her husband might be alive. They save him. Happy reunion. Only the demons keeping her beloved force the 3rd wheel to admit his feelings before they can go. He does. She’s shocked.

For weeks she struggles with this knowledge, her own feelings for him, and the return of her beloved. The other guy has to go into a super dangerous situation.  She admits her feelings to him while they are telepathically linked, before he starts his mission. It’s intense. He goes in. The link gets severed. He gets tortured. They get him back, and learn he succeeded on his mission. Hooray!

A few days later she and the companion are hunting for stray demons, and they get to talking – about how some things can’t be, about what is, about her husband being back, about what they both admitted to each other etc. He says things that he thought were no big deal, but she takes his mention of likely growing tired of her in the future to heart and right there shuts down any feelings she has for him.

Where I think my favorite PC (or a reborn version of her) is about to get into a tangled threesome (one much more messy than the Starfinder one), one small interaction where an NPC doubted her and said some hurtful/inconsiderate stuff, changed the direction I saw things going, and changed who the character was, or may have been. When the campaign started I thought it inevitable they’d end up together.

I’m actually disappointed by the lack of romantic relationship between the two characters, but it was organic and made sense to me. Their “almost something” happened because of the role-playing interactions between them, and their “never going to happen now” happened for the same reason. And given the tragic beginning, the surprise return of her husband makes a better ending.

Despite years apart, the loss of their child, and everything else they have been through, this PC is now 100% completely devoted to her returned beloved and there is nary a person or beast who could convince her not to be. Her beloved sees her as his light, as a creator of the goodness in his life, and she needs that with all of the demons she destroys, the carnage she leaves.

With the Wound closed, she’s now going to throw herself body and soul into slaying every last demon she can, hopeful that once the job is done she can settle down with her husband and try for a family again. Had she ended up a love triangle, or with other guy, the end of the adventure may have see her travelling the countryside, constantly looking for another mission – and I’m not sure where the guys would be. Sure, the plot of the written story would have ended much the same, but isn’t the point of playing through it to learn about the characters too?

The plot of the story – be it demon slaying, investigating occult anomalies, or saving the universe from destruction – affects how a character develops, but so do the small details.

Too often, I think, small details, role playing details, are glossed over. Combat and grand missions are integral, yes, but those other details can have long far reaching plot hooks, character development and just fun times.  Don’t hash out every conversation, but throw in details here and there because you never know how they’ll alter a campaign.

After all, if you just wanted the bland characterless version as written in the book, why are you running it?

Can you think of a time a small thing had a great impact on the direction of your campaign?

The Tele-Port

We all know the drill: you cast your teleport or greater teleport spell and then: poof! You appear in your destination. Only what if that isn’t exactly how it goes? What if there is a stop on the way? A stop no one wants to, no one can, talk about?


“Please exit the circle to your left,” said a bored voice.

She blinked. She had been expecting to see bustling streets and colourful garments, to have her senses bombarded with the strong smells of spices, the murmur of thousands of people speaking in a language she couldn’t understand, and the heat of a warm sun.

Instead, she was standing in a strange room. Rows and rows of seats lined this endless expanse and she seemed to be standing in some sort of circle.

“Please exit the circle to your left,” repeated the voice. “You need to take a seat.”

Lunata blinked again and cast her eyes about for an explanation, but her feet remained firmly planted. Suddenly she realized her companions weren’t at her side. Panic began to well up inside her as she contemplated how she may have flubbed the spell. She was sure she had read the scroll verbatim, and she was sure she was capable enough to manipulate such magics now, even after that slight setback last month.  Gregor would never let her live this down, assuming he was okay.

There were a mix characters sitting in the chairs: assorted races, heights, clothing. All of them seemed bored, though a handful of them were looking at her, some with amusement, some with sympathy.

“You need to step out of the circle. Move to your left. Now.”

The voice had become impatient and she noticed a pair of strange beings made of light moving in her direction.

She looked around frantically and exited the circle, stepping to the left as the voice told her. The people made of light were almost on her now.

“Lunata Yarimania, step this way please,” said one voice. It was impossible to tell if it was male or female. It didn’t sound hostile, but it wasn’t friendly either.

“Where am I? What is this place?” She cast about once more, noting the seamless grey floor stretching as far as she could see. Circles, like the one she had arrived in, appeared intermittently in the endless expanse and rows of hard chairs, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, filled the space between the circles. Many were empty, but it was hard to tell just how many were occupied.

“Newbies, am I right?” said the second being to the first.

Lunata thought for a moment it rolled its eyes, but neither being said anything else; they simple turned and began leading her off.

She glanced at an old man sitting in a chair. He had a long grey beard and he was intently reading an old looking tome while a small black bird sat upon his shoulder, staring intently at Lunata. A glass ball lay in the seat next to the old man, glowing with the small pale white light of the stars decorating the man’s deep blue robes.

Everyone here seemed to be sitting alone and almost no one was speaking to anyone else. The silence was broken by the occasional zing of an electrical surge or a cough.

“My friends, where are they?” she tried again, hurriedly following the creatures made of light.

The first being, she thought it was the first one, heaved a sigh.

“In your hands.”

For a moment Lunata thought it was some sort of metaphor. Zanthu was always going on about the bond they all shared, about how their fates were intertwined, about how there were few people he trusted to hold his life in their hands. It always made Gregor roll his eyes. Then she looked down.

She was so surprised she almost dropped the ball she was holding. It was like the one that had been sitting in the seat next to the old man, and she fumbled to hold onto the luminescent sphere.

“Careful there,” said the second figure, and she knew it was the second figure because she could hear its amusement.

Again, Lunata cast about. Most beings seemed to have a ball like this.

A dark skinned human man with tribal tattoos, simple clothing and a staff resting at his side was holding the ball casually in one hand while absentmindedly stroking the space between the eyes of a green lizard.

An elf with long blonde hair, a rapier tucked into his belt, sat spinning the ball on his finger. His clothing looked piratical and as she walked past him he looked right at her and winked.

Lunata looked down at her own glowing orb, squinting as she did so, and gasped. There they were, both of her companions in a miniature version of exactly how they looked just before they had departed the alley behind the tavern. Zanthu looked calm, as he always did. Gregor had his eyes shut and his muscles, tiny as they were just now, seemed to be tense, as if something bad were about to happen.

They walked past several more rows of seats, many of which were empty. Lunata started as a being appeared in a circle they were passing by.

A half-orc female stepped out of the circle, holding her own glowing ball in one hand. She was dressed in leather armor, not unlike Lunata. A shortsword and a hand crossbow were affixed to her belt. She nodded at Lunata and moved toward a chair, glancing up as she did so.

Lunata looked up for the first time. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t noticed them before, but coloured lights made a map on the ceiling high above. They were almost like stars, but in various colours. She could see some yellow lights moving about while others remained in one spot. One of the yellow lights, which was right above her, was moving at the same speed as two bright white lights. A few other white lights were scattered about the ceiling star map, but they were off some distance away. Blue lights created circles that seemed, best as Lunata could tell, to correspond to the circles in the floor. There was a red area far off to the right, in the direction her guides seemed to be moving, and all of the yellow lights there were stagnant.

The yellow light and two white ones were approaching a blue circle. Lunata looked back ahead of her just in time. The figures had stopped and she just about run into them. The second figure sighed, as if he or she knew Lunata nearly ran them them down.

Lunata clutched her glowing orb and looked around as the two figures turned. The lights above circle spelled out a destination Lunata could not read. Suddenly the blue lights rearranged themselves into a new word, one she vaguely recalled as a place name Gregor had mentioned once.

“Well, here you are,” said the first figure. “Just a bit of paperwork to finalize first.”

“Paperwork?” Lunata almost stuttered.

The second figure smirked. She was sure of it.

“Yes, of course. Just sign here, and here,” the second figure presented Lunata with a hard board stacked with crisp white parchment unlike any the girl had ever seen.

She tried to make out the words, but there was a lot of complicated wording and very small print.

“It’s all quite standard,” said the first voice, as if that was reassuring.

“You won’t hold us responsible for any malfunctions in the circles, you understand precise destinations cannot be achieved, the level of safety, or lack of, at your destination is in no way our fault, and so on and so forth.” The second figure raised its eyebrows at her, as if challenging her, before handing her a strange hard tube she guessed she was meant to sign with.

“What is this place?” asked Lunata, still confused. She was juggling the board of paper and the glowing sphere, leaving her no hands to turn the pages on the board.

“The tele-port,” answered the first voice simply.

“There are others to tend to, so if you need more time, we can take you to the red zone. I don’t recommend that, mind you, some have been there for, I’m not even sure how long now.”

Lunata could tell this was a threat and whatever the red zone was with its stagnant yellow dots, she was sure she did not want to find out.

“I, uh, so this is standard teleportation process?” she asked dumbly, trying to flip the page.

“Indeed,” answered the first voice.

A kind-eyed halfing woman dressed in a plethora of skirts smiled warmly at Lunata. She was sitting in one of the chairs, waiting patiently by the circle Lunata had just arrived at, her own glowing orb set upon her lap with one hand gently cradling it. She nodded encouragingly at Lunata, who took a deep breath, and signed.

“Excellent. Then there, and there,” the second figure said gesturing at two additional lines on other pages. “And we’re all set.”

He snatched the board back from her and it seemed to disappear the moment it was back in his hands.

“Watch for your destination and then step into the circle,” said the first figure, turning to leave.

She glanced once more at the changing letters. She’d been there before, it wasn’t a week’s travel from her hometown.

The letters changed once more, denoting a place Lunata had never heard of and someone stepped into the circle. She wasn’t even sure where he’d come from, but suddenly he was gone.

“Don’t miss it,” said the second. “Who knows how long you’ll wait if you do.”

She glanced back hurridely at the lights by the circle which were changing once again and then, not taking her eyes off of them, for they seemed to change on a whim, she backed into a nearby chair, not far from the halfling.

“Don’t worry,” said the halfling cheerfully, “you’ll have the hang of it before you know it.”

“So, you do this all the time?” asked Lunata dumbly, still confused by what was happening.

“Oh sure, it’s how it’s done!”

“But I’ve never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have,” answered the halfling cheerfully.

“I can’t wait to tell the others,” Lanata said, partly to the halfling and partly to herself. She looked down at the orb she cradled in her own hands, the glass ball that contatined her friends and companions.

“Oh, you can’t do that,” said the halfling, rising. “You’ll see. Well, this is me. Take care and good luck!”

Lunata frowned as she watched the halfling in the skirts carry her orb into the circle and disappear. The writing around the circle shifted again then and it was her own destination she saw.

She jumped up, clutching the ball in a death grip as she scurried toward the circle.

What did the halfling mean she couldn’t tell the others? How could she not?

There was a brief flash of light as she entered the circle and suddenly she was standing on a cobbled street, the warm sun beating down on her. Her nostrils were bombarded by the smell of sweat and spices and cooking meat. Her companions were beside her.

“Great job, Lunata,” said Gregor clapping her on the back. “Knew you could do it.”

There was something she wanted to say to him, to both of them, but she couldn’t remember exactly what it was.  She was trying to put her finger on it but the more she thought about it, the further away whatever it was became.

”You think you can get us back when we are done here, Lunata?” asked Gregor. “Assuming we find you another scroll anyway?”

She nodded, absentmindedly.

“I think so.”

”Let’s do this then,” he said, fingering the large blade at his waist.

hats

Characters Reimagined

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day and found this post on 15 Disney Villains Reimagined as Princesses. It isn’t the only time I have seen something like this; there have been similar ones on Disney princesses later in their lives, Disney characters reimagined as adorable pin up girls, the 42 gender-bending Disney characters, the super creepy images of your favorite childhood characters reimagined as criminals and villains (I take no responsibility for ruining how you view these characters should you click on that link), and the less creepy young cartoon characters reimagined as adults.

Princess Jafar

Via Jessica Nahulan at Deviantart

While I think the art is absolutely stunning, I have a few issues with the first post (why does every single one have to be tiny and “perfect”? Surely Jaffar could have still been princess with a prominent nose), I do love this idea of reimagined characters, and these posts are evidence I’m not the only one.

PCs Reimagined

The same way companies like Paizo have their iconics, we seem to be hooked on recurring PCs. With six different campaigns played, four have used mostly the same PCs (well, the same PC – we play a lot of one to one gaming, so some of these recurring faces are “GM-NPCs”).

This particular PC has been created with different classes (rogue/anti-paladin, mesmerist, rogue [knife master], and now with SFRPG an envoy). She has always been human, and always charismatic.  There have been slight variants in her background, some differences in skill sets, and various alignments have been explored (from neutral evil to the most recent lawful good).

She’s had different occupations (albeit most were various versions of an adventurers), different friends (though many of the same NPCs play a prominent role in these different “lives”), and different goals, but there is still something about her that feels the same.

I sometimes think about how various versions of this character would fare if dropped into a different world/campaign. Each one has been built, more or less, for the campaign and the world it is set in – would that mesmerist have made a better ruler than the rogue/anti-paladin? Could the knife throwing rogue have succeeded in occult investigations? I’m fairly certain SFRPG’s envoy never would have managed to break out of prison and win the hearts of minds of the citizens the way the rogue/anti-paladin did.

The familiarity of this character, combined with the endless possibilities and fresh start of a new character sheet, has made for some interesting and enjoyable role playing. (Though the first version remains my favourite for numerous reasons.)

NPCs Reimagined

With these similar and yet different worlds, Ken and I find that many NPCs make a resurgence. While this started as a nod to previous campaigns, but it has become more than that.

Winthrop, a simple hunter who petitioned my first (and favourite iteration) PC, who was queen of a country, for the right to lead hunting trips in a nearby wood, was one of her best friends and adventuring companions in our Supernatural inspired campaign, and played a prominent role in the post-apocalyptic one as well.

Argus, a ship captain the same version of a PC had a tryst with was renamed Andy and was her best friend, and long time companion in yet another campaign. He’s made a reappearance in the Way of the Worlds campaign as her fiance, and has resumed his captain status with a star ship.

Way of the Wicked CoverTrik, an NPC who is part of a the published adventure Way of the Wicked, eventually devoted himself to this first iteration of my PC and her companions, but was a nuisance at best in a homebrew campaign, and actually threatened her and attacked her in another campaign. (Hmm, perhaps that’s not unlike his original nature in Way of the Wicked!)

Lys, the conniving young assistant at a church in Way of the Wicked (who did her best to undermine my PC) is the most devoted assistant in the current campaign, while Bill, a dedicated and determined cohort in Way of the Wicked repaid my PC for saving her from multiple zombies in our post-apocalyptic campaign by stealing everything from my PC while she slept.

The recent space campaign has even seen the Varisian pirate captain from my first solo campaign reimagined; now a space pirate NPC, she has had a few interactions with my PC and is bound to have a few more.

And of course there’s Davia. One of the four main PC/NPCs in one of our first campaigns, this savage blonde beauty remains so fierce and vibrant in every single one of her variants (no matter how small the cameo) she was reimagined as the top dog in our 5-star 5e NPCs: Bullies and Brutes PDF.

I love seeing a different side of these NPCs, and since their nature, their sense of duty, and their interactions with my PC are different with each campaign, their familiar face doesn’t always put me at ease (especially after that fateful night trustworthy Bill took everything!).

Have You Reimagined or Repurposed NPCs or PCs?

I have to imagine this can be a fun thing for a GM as well – why create something brand new when you can repurpose something you have? It’s great when an NPC from one campaign can appear in another one, where continuity is possible, but what if there is no continuity?

That favorite PC you created? Bring him back as an NPC in a different campaign.

That NPC or PC who was wiped out quickly because of a few bad dice rolls? Maybe in a different campaign he or she developed a little differently and has had a bit more success.

Let those characters try on a new hat, give them a chance to help you answer “what if” and see where is takes the game.

Comment Below!

Have you ever tried this? Have any of your characters made an appearance in different campaigns as reimagined versions of their former selves?

two happy people

5 and 5: One to One Gaming

We’ve all been there; you’ve just picked up a shiny new RPG that you’re really excited about, but you’re currently in the middle of an extended campaign with your current group, so getting to try out this new amazingness is impossible. Or maybe you’re not already in the midst of something, but getting your players to buy-in is proving difficult. Or perhaps something else is getting in the way of you playing this new game; regardless, you aren’t getting the chance to play something you want, and it’s frustrating you.

What is one to do?

Luckily we live in an age where a plethora of options exist to facilitate our gaming; today, I’m going to address some of the pros and cons of an option you have perhaps not given a lot of thought to: gaming with a GM and a single player, otherwise known as one to one gaming.

One to one gaming seems to be gaining some traction in recent years, with Pelgrane Press’s recent release of Cthulhu Confidential, Sine Nomine Publishing’s Scarlet Heroes, and Expeditious Retreat Press’s 1 on 1 Adventures line for the Pathfinder RPG coming to mind.

Kelly and I engage in one to one gaming on a regular basis (minds out of the gutter folks, we’re talking dice and character sheets here), and find it to be a great way to enjoy time with one another, but there are a few pitfalls to keep in mind as well.

The Good

1. Scheduling

Getting a group of four to six people together to play a game regularly is challenging, especially as players get older and their priorities and responsibilities shift. My group is comprised of six players as well as myself, all in our late thirties or early forties, and it is rare that all of us are attendant at a game session with work and family obligations understandably taking precedence. Finding time to get together to game with one person is undeniably easier.

2. Character Arc

How many times have you had a killer character concept that either didn’t work at all because of the other characters in the party, or just fell short of its potential due to being lost in the crowd, or for some other reason. This shouldn’t happen in a one to one game. The PC is the protagonist. There is no sharing of the spotlight because the campaign is all about them. In a one to one game, the two people playing should be able to focus on the aspects of the campaign that really appeal to them. Want to play a game that focuses on debate and intrigue, where the mere act of drawing a blade means something has gone horribly wrong? Do it. Want to play that campaign where the PC wanders the countryside on a quest to become the best swordswoman in the land? There’s no other players there to stop you.

3. Less Conflict

We always get along with our fellows, right? We’re adults after all. Sure. The more people there are in a group, the more likely that tensions will erupt. Everything from varying rules interpretations, to interpersonal issues, to resentment over who grabbed that last Dr. Pepper can lead to arguments. While there will certainly still be disagreements over some things in a one to one game, it is much easier to be reasonable and discuss things when it is just you and one other player rather than having a myriad of voices jumping in to add their two cents, or just as bad, have the rest of the group just sit there awkwardly while two people verbally (hopefully just verbally) spar.

4. You Can Just Play

I sometimes think that my gaming group spends three minutes goofing around for every minute they spend focusing on the game. In reality it probably isn’t so bad, but I still feel frustration when someone interrupts to tell a joke, or show another player something “hilarious” on Youtube, or spends more time looking at his phone, or my admittedly awesome collection of comic books than listening to what is happening in the game. One to one gaming doesn’t allow anyone to do that though. With only two players, the focus is primarily on the play experience. While there will always be small interruptions, an anecdote here, a brief discussion of some errand there, one to one play offers a much speedier experience.

5. Inspiration Abounds

Anywhere you look, you can find inspiration for a one to one campaign. Did you love playing through Dead Space? Me too. And translating that video game into a tabletop experience for one player is as easy as finding the game maps and a walkthrough online, and deciding which monsters you’re going to reskin as the game’s necromorph enemies.  Are you a big Harry Potter fan? One to one gaming allows you to be the Boy that Lived without having the rest of the group pouting that they aren’t as special.

So that’s all good, right? Well it isn’t all puppies and unicorns…

The Challenging

1. Heavy GMing 

One to one play can be awesome, but it has a heavy load for a prospective GM. With only one player, the GM needs to prepare more material than for a group, because it can be played through rapidly. The GM also has little downtime in play because there are no other players to discuss matters with; The GM is almost always “on.” While one to one games can be very rewarding, they can also be exhausting.

2. Paradox of PC Choice 

Similarly, the player in a one to one game needs to make every substantial choice; there isn’t anyone else to bounce ideas off of, and a GM rarely wants to use an NPC to tell the player what the best option is. Players that have difficulty making decisions may find a one to one game gets bewildering and stressful.

3. Some Game Aspects Are Problematic 

When you only have one player, certain things need to be avoided. Commonly used fantasy tropes such as mind-affecting magic and fear need to be designed around or avoided entirely. Any effect that takes the control of the character away from the player can only be used sparingly as a plot device if it is used at all.

4. Most Adventures are Designed for a Group

Most published adventures, regardless of system, are designed with an expectation of a group of players and altering them for one player can often be more work than just designing your own scenarios from scratch. GMs that want to be able to just run a game from published material with minimal fuss may have difficulty doing so in a one to one game.

5. It Can Get Real

I’ve found that one to one gaming can occasionally trigger unexpected reactions in one or both players. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, there is an opportunity to really delve into the characters and world in a one to one game that I rarely find in typical group gaming. Players that really get into character, so-called method actor players, can find themselves dealing with real emotional trauma as a result of situations in game. One to one gaming can demand that the two players involved trust one another more than typical group situations do.

Grab a Dance Partner!

I personally recommend gaming with one GM and one player, at least some of the time. It has been very fulfilling for me, and has offered me the opportunity to play some campaigns that I wouldn’t have been able to with a group.

Have you played an RPG with just one player and one GM? If so, tell us how your experience was in the comments below.

Wish

Ken’s Gaming Bucket List – Campaigns

I turned forty this August. Despite it being a landmark of a sort, at my request it was a quiet day spent with immediate family and a couple of close friends and their kids. It was near perfect.

A birthday like this, of course, has led me to assess my life to date, to revel in the victories and throw another coat of spackle over the parts I’d rather put far behind me (in reality, I’m prone to constant self-critique, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s pretend that isn’t the case). While I’m certain that a reckoning of my neuroses and an itemized list of things I have yet to accomplish would be a riveting read, let’s get to the meat of this article: the RPG campaigns I want to run but have not yet had the chance. What has made this storied list? Well, for starter’s there is:

Eyes of the Stone Thief – Pelgrane Press (13th Age)

I’m not a big fan of megadungeons. A series of keyed encounters heavy on combat but light on role play just doesn’t do a lot for me. Eyes of the Stone Thief is a different beast though. The Stone Thief is a megadungeon, certainly. But it is also its own character, and if the GM does their job even reasonably well, their players will hate this vindictive and evil place.  The fact that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is one of the best adventure scribes in the business helps as well; if it will help make the GM’s task easier, he has likely included it. From adventure hooks, to icon relationships, to campaign structure, to dungeon configuration changes, to a chart that makes it easy to track when the titular living dungeon will/should dive back into the bowels of the earth, the tools are close to hand.

Chance of Playing: Good. Eyes of the Stone Thief will be conquered by my players one day. Or it will consume them. It is just a matter of time.

Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution – EN Publishing (Pathfinder RPG)

Zeitgeist is likely the most ambitious campaign produced for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to date. In its twenty levels, the player characters will advance from being lowly constables attempting to prevent dockside riots to key players in their world, defeating nigh-godlike fey titans and, ultimately setting the course for the next age of the world. The world deserves some mention as well; despite the relative brevity of the Campaign Guide, Zeitgeist’s world, calling it a fey-steampunk marvel doesn’t do it justice, is compellingly well drawn. Zeitgeist is a campaign full of heavy themes, that will demand the best of the GM and players, but if it plays half as well as it reads, it will provide one seriously epic campaign.

Chance of Playing: Excellent. I will likely run this as a solo game; the intrigue and emphasis on role play over dungeon crawl will appeal to Kelly.

The Darkening of Mirkwood / Tales from Wilderland – Cubicle 7 (The One Ring)

When it comes to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (other than The Hobbit), I prefer the films to the books. Yes, I am a godless philistine, I’ve come to terms with it. My current favourite fantasy RPG, The One Ring, however, hews much more closely to the literary source material than to the shield riding shenanigans seen on the big screen. While it may seem to be a bit of a cheat to list two adventures here, there is a good reason: The Darkening of Mirkwood is a sprawling campaign frame full of lightly sketched adventures that cover thirty years (!) from 2947 through 2977. Tales from Wilderland, on the other hand, offers a handful of discrete, excellently designed scenarios that a Loremaster (GM) can slot into the above campaign. There’s a lot to like in these books, but I think my favourite aspect is the expectation that the PCs be heroic. After playing RPGs with largely the same group of people for twenty years, I’ve seen every flavour of douchebag mercenary behavior (“I’m just playing in character, Dweazel the Hamstringer would totally burn down the orphanage just so the populace could see him rescue the orphans from the blaze. How else is he supposed to get a special ladyfriend…) it would be nice to have them actually be the good guys, just this once.

Chance of Play: Moderate. Though ToR is not a difficult system to learn and use, it isn’t D&D or a derivative thereof; getting my players to buy in will likely be difficult.

 

Eternal Lies – Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthuhlu)

 Eternal Lies is a monster that spans generations as well as continents. While I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, it is a horror-mystery after all, it is safe to say that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) come home to roost, forcing subsequent generations to fix their forebears grave mistakes… or die trying. The nice thing about this campaign is not just that it’s a compelling story; this book is laid out in a way that makes it easy to use. Information is clearly called out. Keeper (GM) material is clearly delineated from player information. Designer notes and anecdotes are copious. The campaign is also open, so while there is definitely an overarching plot, the investigators are free to go where the clues take them without worrying that they’ll miss out on something important.

Chance of Play: Good. When the stars are right, I will run this. Depending on her leveI of interest, I can run it solo for Kelly if necessary; Pelgrane Press does have rules for one Keeper one player play after all…

 

The Dracula Dossier – Pelgrane Press (Night’s Black Agents)

Pelgrane Press hits my bucket list for a third time, as does designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There’s a reason for these trends: Pelgrane Press makes fantastic system-seller material for their games, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is a top-tier RPG designer. The Dracula Dossier is two books, The Director’s Handbook, which, as the name implies, contains all of the material an NBA director (GM) needs to run the campaign, and Dracula Unredacted, which is the “real” story as transcribed by Bram Stoker. The two books are extensively cross referenced and both serve to build not just an epic GUMSHOE campaign; they are simply the best RPG adventure I have ever read. I’ve read a lot of adventures over the last thirty-two years, and none of them matches, let alone exceeds this. Honestly, nothing else even comes within spitting distance. The best part isn’t the extensive research the authors obviously did. It isn’t the almost excessive work done to make such a sprawling sandbox easily playable for the director. It isn’t even that whoever gets to play in this campaign is in for something truly epic. The best part is that I could hand (or more likely send a PDF) a copy of Dracula Unredacted to my players and say, “Read this in whole or in part… and tell me where you want to start.” This campaign can be completely driven by the investigators, and the material is presented in a way that the director won’t have any real trouble in adapting to their moves. I’m not sure how Pelgrane Press, or any other company for that matter, will be able to top this.

Chance of Play: High. One way or another, I will run this campaign eventually.

 

So there it is…

While there are other campaigns I’d be happy to run, these five are the ones I’d be most excited to. I was hoping that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition would have produced something to add to the list, but no luck so far. Not that there aren’t good campaigns for 5e, all of the ones Wizards of the Coast has produced so far have been good, some very good, but none of them are superb in my opinion. This is still better than 3.5 or 4th Edition which had one excellent adventure each (Red Hand of Doom and Madness at Gardmore Abbey respectively) and a bunch of dreck otherwise. Despite producing some of my favourite campaign settings, 2nd Edition AD&D has no memorable modules or campaigns I can think of off the top of my head…

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Which campaigns are on your bucket list? Let us know!