Archive for Gamemastery

Getting Started With DCC RPG

Everywhere I look these days, people are talking about my favorite role-playing game – Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. While it’s great to see more and more people talking about the game of love, I’d rather see more and more people playing the game I love. Hopefully, I can help jumpstart a few new players’ journey into Goodman Games’ masterpiece.

If you haven’t heard of it before, DCC RPG is fantasy role-playing game with an intense old-school aesthetic. It’s not a retro clone, but it does riff heavily on earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons and other darlings of the OSR. There’s a healthy disregard for game balance. Players will need to use their wits as well as their weapons to survive.

 

dragon

 

There is a high degree of randomness in the game. Critical hits, fumbles and spell effects are determined randomly – even spell manifestations. When you cast magic missile, you roll a die to see what you magic missiles look like. It can be anything from a meteor to a screaming eagle claw to a force axe. Every spell has a table of effects as well. Rolling low holds the possibility of misfire and losing the spell for the day. The higher you roll, the more epic the spell effect. For example. a spell check of 34-35 for the fireball spell has the following effect:

The caster calls down a fireball from the heavens, targeting a point up to 500’ away and doing 14d6 damage. The caster can choose an area of effect ranging from a single human-sized target up to a sphere of 30’ radius. Instead of projecting from his fingertip, the fireball falls from above like a meteor strike, exploding in a fiery burst. The caster must have line-of-sight to his target, but he can cast around obstructions in this manner. For example, he may be able to view the target through a periscope or via a crystal ball of some kind.

So why aren’t you playing this game right now?

Some people are put off by having to acquire new and hard to find dice. While not absolutely required – you can simulate the rolls with standard polyhedral – Zocchi dice are highly recommended. A set of Zocchi dice consists of a d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30. I love new dice. I’ve had a blast tracking down mine. At 0-level play, you don’t even need them.

I’ve found that many people are intimidated by the size of the DCC RPG core rules book. There is no denying it. The book is enormous weighing in at over 460 pages in length. However, there is nothing to fear. Hundreds of pages are dedicated to spell tables, patrons, monsters and other things that you do not need to read to play the game. The amazing artwork and layout takes up half the remaining space. The art is just gorgeous. I keep the rule book by my bedside and flip through the art at least once a week. I’m always finding new details in the art I didn’t notice before.

Running Your First Game

In the core rulebook, Joseph Goodman strongly recommends starting with a “character creation funnel.” Each player rolls up of two or more 0-level characters. All stats are rolled randomly and in order. Every character gets an occupation and one piece of random equipment. For example [gets out dice], I just rolled a halfing vagrant with a club, begging bowl, a crowbar and 3 hit points. After everyone generates a handful of characters each, you throw your band of ill-equipped commoners into the cauldron of battle. The lucky ones who survive go on to level 1.

When I first read the rules, I thought the 0-level funnel was not for me, but I was so wrong. The funnel is essential for any gaming group new to DCC RPG. 0-level play uses a smaller set of rules so it helps teach the game to new players. It also helps undo some of the expectations that modern RPGs have instilled in players. Your characters are not nearly invincible sacks of hit points with super powers. If you meet every enemy head on, you will end up dead or with severe ability point damage.

You can run a 0-level game with little to no preparation. You only need to read a few sections of the core rules: Chapter 1: pages 16-27; Chapter 2: pages 66-67; Chapter 3: pages 70-73; and Chapter 4: pages 76-96. The core rule book is extremely affordable. The first printing retails for $39.99. I’ve seen it as low was $20-30 on Amazon and eBay. The PDF is available at RPGNow for $24.99.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules, you’ll need an adventure to run. The core rule book comes with a functional funnel adventure, “The Portal Under The Stars” by Joseph Goodman. It’s deadly and simple to run. You can easily read through it in 15 minutes or run it on the fly. If you want something with more depth, I high recommend Harley Stroh’s “Sailor’s On the Starless Sea.” I’ve been a fan of Harley’s adventures since I first discovered the Dungeon Crawl Classics line of adventures, and this adventure is no exception. The adventurers battle hordes of beastmen in an underground stronghold. This would be a tough adventure even for level 1 characters so expect the body count to be high. Fortunately, there is a story-driven way to introduce new characters if the party takes heavy losses.

 

GMG5066CoverLarge

Game Aids

There are a ton of fan-created tools out there. The resources at People Them With Monsters are indispensable. Print out the Reference sheet booklet front and back, fold in half and staple. Don’t forget the cover. If you want to save time creating 0-level characters, I also recommend using the 0-level character generator at Purple Sorceror Games. It prints 4 characters per page. I usually print 10-20 sheets at a time and cut them up. Let your players pick through the stack for characters at the game table.

 

Dice, rule book, and reference booklets

Final Thoughts

Welcome to the club! Check out the DCC RPG forums at the Goodman Game’s website. Make sure to introduce yourself on the “Join the band” thread. The DCCRPG community on Google+ is a hotbed of discussion as well.

 

cute

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#1 Gencon Travel Tip

I love Gencon, but I hate getting there. Layovers, cramped seats, screaming babies and the boorish passenger in the next seat all conspire to crush my will to game. But I discovered a little secret that makes it all just a little more bearable.

First Aid

Did you know you can bring your own booze on a plane? Yes. It’s true. TSA regulations state that you can bring liquids in containers smaller than 3.4 ounces or 100ml as long as they fit in a 1 quart ziplock baggie with your other toiletries. Luckily, mini bottles of booze are 50ml. Cram as many as you can in your ziplock bag. Even better, most airlines offer free mixers and cups of ice. Now I’m not saying this is entirely legal. In fact, don’t tell me if you know. Ignorance immunizes me from prosecution. That’s a legal thing right? Happy travels!

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The Map is the Trap – Part 3

Introduction

If you’ve been following my story, you know I ended up missing the PAX Prime DM Challenge this year. This article is the third in a 3 part series detailing the encounters and maps I built. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The Concept

When I was working up my trap ideas, one of my first ideas was for a room with a switch that inverted gravity causing the party to have to fight on the ceiling and floor. While working out the mechanics of how this room would work in 4th edition, I had another thought, What if the entire room was spinning like the rotating corridor in the movie, Inception? How could I translate the mechanics of a rotating room into 4th edition and make it immediately understandable?

The Map

I’ll give you a quick rundown of the map then walk you through an example encounter in the room. The idea is simple –  an encounter in a trapped, spinning hallway. Each round the corridor spins 90 degrees counterclockwise. For the rest of this article, “floor tile” refers to the tile that is currently in the normal floor position. At the beginning of each round, a new tile is placed to the left of the last floor tile. When you have placed all 4 tiles, you move the right most tile to the left side of the map. This simulates the revolving action of the corridor.

The spinning of the room introduces some constraints on movement. Each player needs to end their turn in a square on the current floor tile or fall prone in the closest floor tile square at the end of their turn. Also, if the creature passes through any trapped squares while falling to the floor tile, they take attacks from any trapped squares along the way.

The Traps

I tried to keep the traps simple. Iron spikes randomly shoot up through the floor on the spiked squares. If you want to simplify the operation of the map, you could simply have creatures take 10 damage for each trapped square they move through.

Treat all the pit squares as normal terrain. If forced movement sends a creature into a pit square, they get the normal save or fall prone. You can even allow characters to stand and move in pit squares when their sides are aligned with the current floor tile. Don’t forget the extra height if a character fell from the bottom of the 20′  to the opposite floor tile.

A map like this could easily tear your players (and monsters) to pieces even without combat. Make sure to leave some sort of refuge area in your maps. On my map, the last 2 squares at the far end of the hall are the refuge spot. There is only a 10′ pit trap to mess with the players. The grates on the ceiling are also a place of refuge. Characters can hold onto the bars with a moderate athletics DC while the room continues to spin.

You also need a way to disable the spinning room. I was planning to run the encounter with a control panel on the far end end of the room, but you can place the control panel anywhere you like. The bottom of the 20′ trap is a particularly evil place to put it.

Running The Encounter

The traps in this room can be avoided pretty easily. Let the players move through a single revolution of the room to get acclimated to the physics of the area. Then, up the ante by adding monsters. I used my King of Monsters content winner, the horakh and a couple spider swarms. They both have spider crawl to further frustrate our intrepid dungeoneers.

Here is a quick run through.

The players enter the room and the door slams shut behind them. There is a large 20′ deep pit, several deep holes on the walls, and grates on the ceiling, but nothing seems out of sorts.

A loud chunking sound reverberates through the hall and the floor suddenly lurches beneath the players feet. Spikes shoot from the walls and the room starts rotating.

The room continues to spin. The players are now standing on what was previously the ceiling. A player spots a control panel on the far wall with his passive perception.

The room continues to turn and new traps spring up. A number of horakh and spiders flood into the room through the grates. The players divide up taking different routes through the room.

All tiles are now in play. Now the rightmost tile is moved to the leftmost position. The tiefling warlock fell prone because he didn’t end his movement on the floor tile.

More fighting. The tiefling stands up as his move action and attacks. He is going to take another tumble at the end of his turn.

OW OW OW OW!

The warlock double moves and spends and action point to get out of his predicament. The human wizard rushes to the ceiling grates and grabs on for dear life.

The tiefling copies the wizard and grabs onto a grate.

The battle continues to roll forward. One of the spider swarms clings to the ceiling and chews on the wounded warlock who is hanging from the ceiling by his tail.

The encounter continues. I wish these poor bastards good luck.

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The Map is the Trap – Part 2

Introduction

If you’ve been following my story, you know I ended up missing the PAX Prime DM Challenge this year. I spent a huge amount of time designing my encounters and building my maps. This article is the second in a 3 part series detailing the encounters and maps I built. You can read Part 1 here.

The theme for the DM Challenge was “Dungeon of Horrors.” The idea was to design 3-5 encounters for a party of 9th level adventurers “that spotlights fiendish traps and diabolical puzzles, in the grand tradition of Tomb of Horrors.” My goal was to come up with 3 solid encounters with strong hooks and special effects.

The Map

The next encounter is a puzzle room. The room contains two large daises in opposite corners of the room. One dais is topped by an enormous suit of armor frozen in a combat pose. Two sturdy doors are on opposite walls. Each door is topped by an large crystal. The crystal over the door the PCs entered is glowing with a pale green light. The opposite door is locked and its crystal is not illuminated.

The only way to move forward is to get the armor from one dais to another. This causes the light over the locked door to turn on and the door to open. Unfortunately, the armor is incredibly heavy. As soon as the PCs attempt to move the armor, it comes to life. The light over the entry door goes out and the door swings shut. The daises both light up. This should hopefully be a clue to the players what they need to do. In any case, it looks cool.

Introducing the Iron Juggernaut


The armor, also known as an iron juggernaut, is an arcane construct created to guard this room. Its creator can simply command it to move from one dais to the other while interlopers would have to do it the hard way.

Obviously, the players need some way to move the juggernaut to the other dais. Make sure your players have some powers that include forced movement. Teleportation effects are negated until the creature is bloody. If players are attempting to teleport the iron juggernaut, make sure to explain there is some sort of force field in place. You could describe it as a shimmering blue nimbus covering the juggernaut. After being bloodied, make sure you describe the shield dissipating.

The iron juggernaut should give the PCs a bit of challenge. In this case, I made it a solo two levels above the PCs. The iron juggernaut’s powers revolve around the concept of grabbing and tossing its enemies. You should be grabbing your front line defenders and throwing them at the rear strikers.

Map construction

This map was the easiest to build. I used some black foamcore posterboard left over from the last map. I found the RGB LED display stands at the dollar store($1 each). I printed out my scanned map tiles on card stock again and pasted them down with Weld Bond. Using an exacto knife, I carefully cut 2 holes in the map.

The corner placement of the display stands was prompted by the need to keep from tipping over, but I think it was accidentally a good design decision as well. It flows well and adds a few squares to the distance between daises.

Here’s a side shot to show you how elevated the map is.

The map is surprisingly stable with minis as you can see from some of the previous shots. You could always add some cardstock braces to prevent tipping.

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The Map is the Trap – Part 1

Introduction

If you’ve been following my story, you know I ended up missing the PAX Prime DM Challenge this year. I spent a huge amount of time designing my encounters and building my maps. This article is the first in a 3 part series detailing the encounters and maps I built.

The theme for the DM Challenge was “Dungeon of Horrors.” The idea was to design 3-5 encounters for a party of 9th level adventurers “that spotlights fiendish traps and diabolical puzzles, in the grand tradition of Tomb of Horrors.” I went back and read through the three versions of the Tomb of Horrors that I still have: the original, the recent RPGA reward version and the 4th edition hardback. The RPGA version was the closest to what I wanted to achieve (though I find the interpretation too literal). But something has been bothering me about 4th edition traps. My goal was to come up with 3 solid encounters with strong hooks and special effects.

It’s a trap!

Most traps in 4th edition, quite frankly, are boring. Greg Bilsland summed it up succinctly in a recent post. Either the party never triggers the traps (this happened to me multiple times DMing Season 3 of Encounters) or they notice it and someone disables it quickly. Most fourth edition traps feel like nothing more than resource sinks. One player is forced to spend multiple actions in combat to disable a device. That character should be running around the map smiting his foes – not tied to a square on the map trying to stop type X damage from draining the party’s hit points. Don’t get me wrong. This can be fun in the right encounter. Overall, traps feel too similar from encounter to encounter.

You must always be telling a story!

Here is my trick to making all your encounters dynamic. You must always be telling a story. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and earlier versions were great at this. Those versions of the game were combat-light and exploration-heavy. Every time you walk into a room, the DM describes your surroundings. As a player, you are automatically drawn into the story because you have to create a mental image of this location. This is especially true during combat. There are no grid maps or miniatures. You have to imagine the scene. 4th edition has a handicap in achieving the same level of player immersion. My experience is that players have a tendency to see a battle map in terms of squares and mechanics. The bloody pile of dismembered limbs, heads and torsos cast aside by the demon lord Baoba is simply “difficult terrain.”

The way to combat this is to insert interesting multi-dimensional features into your encounters. A floor that bounces like a trampoline. Rickety stairs that break and dump all creatures to the ground. Pretty much anything that makes someone have to think in 3 dimensions is going to have the desired effect. It’s sort of like George Lakoff’s idea about framing. If you read the phrase “Don’t think of an owlbear,” you will have already thought of an owlbear. Inserting three dimensional features into your encounter automatically engages the player’s imagination. They have to create a mental model their character’s surroundings. For bonus points, add some new simple mechanic. For example, in the trampoline room I would use the following rules: All bouncing creatures have a fly speed of 4. All creatures must touch the trampoline once per round or on the next round, the creature falls prone and moves straight down to the trampoline expending their move action. It’s a good enough start and easy to explain. Invariably, your players will come up with new ideas during the encounter and you will have to adjudicate rules of the cuff for backflips, wall running and body slams.

The map

My first map in the series is a gravity trap/puzzle. I wanted to create a map with unusual physics and some dazzling special effects. The party enters an enormous cavern with some ruined structures. It looks as if the area was once a carved room with incredibly high ceilings but most of the walls have crumbled away to reveal the cavern. Peering over the edge, all you see is inky blackness. Eighty feet up there is a circular trap door in the ceiling. There is a twenty foot wide section of wall that is still intact connecting the floor to the ceiling. Oddly, there are two large gargoyle statues on pedestals positioned on the perpendicular section of floor. The wall has a localized gravity effect with a 2 square height which allows creatures to walk on the wall. The gargoyles are not only statues. They are also switches that can change the map. One gargoyle controls the lock on the ceiling trapdoor. Spinning the statue left several times will unlock the door. The other gargoyle controls gravity effects in this room. Each position (0, 90, 180, 270 degrees) triggers a different effect. The effects are: turns off the localized gravity on wall, turns on the localized gravity on wall, turns off all gravity except localized gravity wall, inverts normal gravity (i.e. Everyone standing on the floor falls 80 feet to the ceiling trap door.)

One gargoyle controls the lock on the ceiling trapdoor. Spinning the statue left several times will unlock the door. The other gargoyle controls gravity effects in this room. Each position (0, 90, 180, 270 degrees) triggers a different effect. The effects are: turns off the localized gravity on wall, turns on the localized gravity on wall, turns off all gravity except localized gravity wall (i.e. zero G), inverts normal gravity (i.e. everyone standing on the floor falls 80 feet to the ceiling trap door.) You may wonder which effect is triggered when. The answer is whatever creates the most drama. As long as the effects are consistent, bring them out in the order that will be threatening but not wipe out the party in a single swoop. I also kept a group of bat-like humanoids on hand to swoop in and attack at an inopportune time -hopefully while the party is on the gravity wall to show off the unique properties of this map.

Map construction

Building this map was inexpensive. I bought black foamcore posterboard ($6), 4 3.8″x5″ thin metal plates($3.60), a roll of adhesive magnets($8) and a metal brace ($1.70). For the magnetic portion of the map, I cut out a 4″x16″ piece of foamcore. I evenly spaced and glued 3 of the plates to my foamcore with Weld Bond glue. I printed out my map tiles on cardstock and glued them over the plates.

Once the glue was dry, I flipped over the board and glued the last metal plate to the back. This plate would hold the map on my brace. I need to set the plate off the board a bit so I glued about 10 nickels to the foamcore and glued my plate to that.

One of my kids went to a pirate-themed birthday party and got a pad of paper with skulls on the cover. I ripped off the cover and affixed it to my plate to give it some more character. Once the glue was dry, it was time to see if the board would be able to stand up.

and a front shot…

I’m pretty happy with the way the map turned out. If I was going to construct this again, I would probably use better magnets. The adhesive backed magnets are not very strong. Large minis have a hard time staying on the board. During playtesting, I had a few mini avalanches – one would fall off and bring down the rest under it. If you handle them carefully, they will stay on the board very well.

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Guess Who Is The New King Of Monsters

I was sitting in front of the computer in my least dirty bathrobe with a cup of coffee when the tweet flashed across the upper corner on my screen. @KoboldQuarterly: The new King of the Monsters has been crowned! All hail the horakh, and keep your eye on it! http://cot.ag/9IUVid. It’s finally official! My entry in Kobold Quarterly’s King of Monsters 2 contest won best in show.

My monster is going to appear in Kobold Quarterly #15 Fall issue. The most exciting part is that artwork of my creation has been commissioned and will appear with the article. I can’t wait to see my glorious flesh rending and skull humping baby in action.

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Creating Your Own Minis

In preparation for the DM Challenge at PAX Prime, I thought it would be a cool idea to incorporate the monster I designed for Kobold Quarterly’s King of Monsters 2 contest called the horakh.  I looked through my garbage bags full of minis – YES! I have a sickness – but I couldn’t find quite the right fit. I needed something memorable. This is the DM Challenge after all! The current champion is none other than Dave “The Game” Chalker. (Note: You can read the details of his win here.) But that was PAX East which is basically a watered down version of PAX to suit the taste of the simple folk who dwell on the East Coast. This is PAX Prime. The real PAX in Seattle, aka RPG mecca. The competition will be fierce. I need to bring my A-game or none at all.

There was no other choice. I had to create my own Horakh mini. I grabbed my biggest bag of minis, dumped it on the hardwoods and picked through it like a hobo behind Morton’s Steak House only instead of seeking out the choicest morsels of filet minon, I was seeking out the cheapest ass minis I could find. The first rule of kitbashing miniatures is Never use expensive minis. The horakh is a gnome-sized insect that can leap fifty feet, sucks your eyes out of their sockets and plant eggs in your skull. It has a translucent digestive sac on its back filled with the eyes of its victims. I needed something small, insect-like and cheap. I finally settled on the “runespiral demon.”

In case you haven’t run across the runespiral demon, let me fill you in. It is perhaps the worst D&D miniature ever conceived. It’s a bug with hands and it has a rune-carved shell with a fin. Don’t ask me what events preceded the creation of this beast, but I assume a shark demon was on the outs with the missus, got drunk and had anonymous sex with a turtle demon. Ninth months later, or whatever the gestation period of demon sharkturtles is, there’s a surprise. But (so sad) the baby dies. The demon nurse carves its name on the shell and throws it in the trash, but that’s not the end. A bug demon with hands is digging through the trash. He finds the shell and crawls inside. It’s a comfortable fit and he decided to make this his new home. He finds his other demon bug buddies and they all hang out at the hospital waiting to get their own shells. It takes a while, but I guess they have alot of time in the Abyss.

I suddenly had an idea how to make an approximation of my monster. I could sculpt eyeballs and suspend them in a blob of glue. I snatched three runespiral demons. With an Exacto knife, I cut off the dorsal fin and scooped out a little pit. The pits would hold my eyeball sacs. Then, I painted an black base coat on the minis and set them aside to dry.

Next, I sculpted some Might Putty into tiny eyeballs with viscera attached. If you plan on kitbashing your own miniatures, you must get Might Putty. It’s cheap and it lasts forever if you are only using it for miniature work. Once the eyeballs dried, I painted irises and slathered some red paint on the viscera ends.

The next part took a few days. Once my eyeballs dried, I squeezed a small bead of glue into the dorsal pit of my former runespiral demons. I used Weld Bond, but you could use any glue that dries clear. Then I placed a few eyeball sculptures onto the glue and put the minis on the shelf. The following day I checked them. The glue had mostly dried clear. I then put down another bead and laid a few more eyeballs on top. I waited a few hours and put on my top coat.  I wanted a clear thick coating on top to simulate the sac membrane. Weld Bond glue has low water content so it doesn’t run or drip much. I was able to use my mouth to blow the glue into the areas I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about it running down the side on my new minis. Weld Bond is also great for making cardstock gaming terrain. The low water content keeps the glue from making the paper warp and curl.

After the last coat of glue, I couldn’t be impatient anymore. I had to wait about 3 days for the outer coat of glue to completely dry. I wanted to make sure it was ready for the final steps. It turned out pretty well. The glue hardened and became as translucent as I hoped. I could see the eyeballs inside the sac but they needed a little tint. I swabbed some Formula P3 brown ink on the glue and dabbed off the excess with a paper towel. It worked perfectly and gave the effect I hoped it would. Once it was dry enough to handle, I drybrushed the horakh with bronze paint and filled in the eyes. Check out the pictures below. If you haven’t voted for your favorite monster for the King of Monsters 2 yet, public voting is open. I’d really appreciate your vote. Follow this link and register to vote for the Horakh.

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Sound Advice: Bringing sound to your game

Overview

Of all of our senses, hearing is the one that most actively engages our imagination. A growl coming from the bushes or the sound of a twig snapping behind you is sure to send your mind racing. Sound is integral to our experience of the world around us. It drifts in and out of our consciousness from one moment to the next, coloring our perception. As game masters, we can harness the subtle power of sound to increase the level of immersion in our world.

Sound is common in gaming. Many gamers play background music to get them in the mood. I’m going to go over some tips and techniques for bringing sound to the next level at the game table. Sound should complement your story, but not intrude on the gaming experience. If you are constantly being distracted by clicking buttons and adjusting knobs, you won’t be able to focus on running the game. I’ll show you how to put together some looping “soundscapes” that won’t take you out of the moment.

Materials

To begin, you will need a laptop and speakers. Make sure your laptop has a line/headphone out jack. Netbooks work great if you have one. I also recommend getting an inexpensive 2.1 speaker system. The oomph of the subwoofer adds visceral punch to your scene.

Once you have assembled a laptop and speakers, you’ll need a program to control your sound effects. There are several programs that have been designed specifically for use in tabletop gaming. They allow you to put together atmospheric sound loops and play them back with the click of a mouse or the press of a key. I’ve compiled and reviewed some of the best gaming sound programs in the table below. Browse through the list below and pick an application.

If you are short on time, I’ll make the selection easier for you. Do you like programing and spending time building sound loops from scratch? Go with RPG Sound Mixer. Do you prefer to have soundscapes preconfigured for you? Pick RPGAtmosphere. Are you broke? Then, grab Softrope or SceneSound.

RPG SoundMixer Review
RPGAtmosphere Review
SoftRope Review
SceneSound Review

You will also need a media player to manage your background music. Any media player that supports playlists will work, such as Windows Media Player, WinAmp or even iTunes.

Music

The choice of music is very important. Soundtracks are your friends. Search for original soundtracks by Randy Edelman (Dragonheart, The Last of the Mohicans, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) or Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Backdraft). However, there are drawbacks to using sound tracks from popular films. If your players are movie buffs, they may recognize the songs and ask you endless questions like, “Is this from Gladiator?” In my last game, I had to completely scrap my playlists because everyone knew all the songs. My secret weapon soundtrack now is the “Icewind Dale” video game soundtrack by Jeremy Soule. It’s been out of print for years, but you can pick up copies on ebay.

No discussion of game music would be complete without mentioning the “Dungeons & Dragons Official Roleplaying Soundtrack” by Midnight Syndicate. This album is a classic. I have to roll a d20 every time I hear Skirmish. The only downside is the music sounds computer generated. It just doesn’t have the emotional impact that orchestral pieces do.

Building Dynamic Soundscapes

Creating sound loops is different in every program. I’ve learned some tricks that are generally applicable across all sound programs. Here is the method I use to create dynamic soundscapes with spatial depth. When you are creating a new sound scene, start with two base sounds that loop cleanly. Never leave your stereo sounds perfectly balanced between the let and right channels. Adjust one of your base loops slightly to the left and one slightly to the right. This is an old sound engineer’s trick to add spatial depth to audio. Next, you want to layer a handful of random sounds on top of the loop. If you have already created some soundscapes, go back and try adjusting the left/right balance. I think you’ll be happy with the results.

Organzing Your Sounds

Sound is there to enhance the game – not get in the way of it. Don’t spend all your time fiddling with sounds during the game. Most of the sound mixer programs above allow you to create sound scenes and trigger them with a single key or mouse click. Take the time to configure your sounds before your game. After awhile, you’ll have built up a decent library of soundscapes that you can use over and over.

To make it easier to reuse sound loops, I recommend layering. Separate your sound scene into a foreground and background. For example, you have a fight scene in a tavern. Make two loops. A tavern sound loop and a fight sound loop. Next week when you are in a dungeon, you only have to create a dungeon sounds loop and layer the fight sound loop on top.

Tips & Tricks

• A common mistake GMs make is to turn up the speakers too loud. Try to balance out the volume of music and sound effects so they don’t drown out conversation at the table. Position your speakers behind you. It makes it easier to determine the proper volume. If your speakers are in front of you pointed at your players, you might accidentally have the volume too loud.

• I like to use different programs to playback music and sound effects during my game. This allows me to independantly adjust the volume to match the pace of the game.

• Observe how music is used in your favorite films. Music isn’t played in a continuous loop at a constant volume through the entire movie. Emulate that pacing in your game.

• Match music to the action. Trigger a playlist of fast songs for battle and dreamy, ephemeral music during exploration. For example, my players were travelling by wagon on a country road. I turned down the music all the way and left the sound of the wagon wheels turning and birds chirping. When the PCs are ambushed by tribal goblins, I kicked off a battle sound effect loop and a fight playlist and turn up the volume to both. When the battle is over turn the music down again. Give your players time to relax before the next pulse-pounding scene.

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Programming puzzles and other RPG tools with perl

Gamers love puzzles. Even better – gamers like challenging puzzles. In my far out alternate modern world of cyberpunk, the gaming PCs became engrossed in their first “real” puzzle of the campaign. The best thing about it was that not only was it a “real” challenge – but it used real modern technology.

My game system is GURPS. In the current campaign NPC D@rkSt4R has inconspicuously contacted each member of the team (PCs) and arranged an in person secret rendezvous. His prestigous reputation within the community lends him all the juice needed to pull these private tech junkies out of hiding. After arousing interest in a high paying opportunity – D@rkSt4R gets commitment from each colleague to begin work the next morning in the arranged location (his current abode). When the players arrive – they wait a painstakenly long time before they decide to break in the complex. Just after busting the entry bio scanner, an alarm cuts the air and the blues arrive in seconds (fast eh? strange). The officers arrest the group on suspicion of illegal activities. Hours later, exhausted and hungry – the team is interrogated over D@rkSt4R’s murder. Successful roleplaying convinced the investigators that the crew was innocent and, in exchange for liberty, secured their services for no less than 10 hours of work each. They were tasked with discovering the contents of a high-security military grade microchip (prop was a micro-sd card).”

The microchip contains an encrypted file using a centuries old Vigenere cipher. The team needed to figure out the cipher type, and the “secret key” – or password. I chose this cipher because this family of ciphers are relatively well known. They are also breakable without the need for complex computer analysis.

The challenge was straightforward enough:

  • clue/prop: a military grade microchip (this was really just a microSD card)
  • challenge: why did Darkstar have this in his possession at the time of his death? What was on it?

There’s that old adage that says if the only tool in your belt is a hammer – every problem looks like a nail. Well, I happen to possess quite the hammer in my belt, a Throngden Battle Hammer+2, it’s called Perl. The language of the Gods.. yes, BELIEVE IT! To your gaming delight I can show you why having this skill has taken my gamemastery to the next level (which is level 56).

The team took a while to figure out the cipher – and eventually elected to roll for the answer; I did, however, make them work for it by requesting they formulate their queries intelligently. For example: “what’s the cypher?” didn’t work – accepted form was: “is this a ROT13 cipher?…” and so on [INT or COMPUTER skill].

The password was a bit on the ridiculously tough side; and I suggest you figure out your own clever and simpler method instead. I copied system files from my computer onto the sd card – with the exception of any files that began with the password sequence (benqy). All other letters were represented in the file list. It was tough and the team spent a lot of time running this one down as well. Bad puzzle?

message comparison

Once the team figured out the cipher – Google found them all the vigenere transformation tools they could ever use. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use an online tool to encrypt my message to begin with – it’s because my brain is wired the other way; I found it easier to implement the library in Perl!

With this in my back pocket – I can now reuse this program whenever I need to create an in game password challenge. Sweet!

So, now you’re wondering – “how do I get this to work for me?” – “is it easy to get it working on my computer?”. You tell me. Follow these steps to encrypt your own document in Vigenere using Perl.

  1. Install Perl – Activestate has a good Windows version that has a package manager
  2. lib YAML for Perl – windows users, use the PPM repository tool; others use sudo cpan -i YAML
  3. download this file bundle; it contains the crypt script and a config file
  4. extract bundle into a directory
  5. open a command prompt (or terminal)
  6. change to the directory that you unpacked the zip into
  7. write your plain text message in a file
  8. run the program with the filename of your plain text file as an argument
  9. the output is directed to the screen by default; you can force it into a file with the redirect command line operator: >

In the next article I will demonstrate how I created a WebDAV HTTP file server with Perl on my home computer – and how the team used modern day hacking techniques to sniff out this file server over the Internet!

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What is metagamemastering?

Everyone knows what metagaming is, but what the hell is metagamemastering? When I use the term, I am referring to the technical elements you employ to enhance the gaming experience outside of the rules. This could be custom handouts or maps, a prop, dimming the light or using a sound effects board. It is completely rules agnostic. Think of it as gaming with production values.

Since you are reading this site, I can make a few assumptions about you. You probably are a gamemaster. You probably have filled the role of gamemaster for many years. You enjoy playing your chosen game system(s) as a player, but you are not satisfied playing the part of a single character. You want to create a new player every time you sit down at the table. You are a player with big expectations. You have delusions of grandeur. You like to write, but most of all, you enjoy creating an experience for other people. You are an artist. Everyone should make art. Everyone should be an artist. Express yourself. Enjoy the the relationship you have with your players. Tabletop gaming allows you to collectively plumb the depths of your group’s imagination. Go there. And when you find the edge, push further.

I created this website with a goal. My aim is to further the immersion of tabletop gaming. Technology is emotionless. It can separate us into cubicles, allowing our only interaction to be dictated by the rules of the game and crushing our experience into an empty orchestra of synchronized keyboard tapping. Or it can be our servant, pushed to the edge of consciousness to highlight our experience of the moment. Whether you prefer to run your game with pen, paper and a handful of dice or a laptop, projector and surround sound speakers, the goal is the same. To create believable worlds.

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