Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relic Hunters: Ifrits and Living Spells

Pieces of sapient chaos given shape, they can give life to your wildest dreams...or your worst nightmares.  Are they the ghosts of powerful sorcerers and the remnants of relics, or are they something else entirely?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Art of DMing: Hacking Systems

I am intrigued and excited by the movement to hack (aka house rule, mod, reconfig) RPGs that's taking off. Done with respect and support." - @boymonster (Cam Banks)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Relic Hunters Inspirations: "You Call This Archaeology?"

Relic Hunters, like any setting, came in part from everything I was watching, reading, or taking in at the time.  I've tried to identify some of the major influences here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Relic Hunters: The Honest Brotherhood for the Reclamation and Preservation of Historical Relics

...better known as the Relic Hunter's Guild.  Most hunters could tell you that an organization that has to put "Honest" in its name usually isn't.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Relic Hunters: Gunmages and Glyph Rounds

Glyph Round: a magical bullet that unleashes a spell when it strikes.  Anything from a ball of flames to a summoned creature can emerge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Misfit Studios and Savage Worlds

It's Sunday and that means it's time for some reviews, and since we're focusing on Savage Worlds this November I'll be taking a look at some offerings from Misfit Studios.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Art of DMing: Putting your Players in a Bad Spot

"F" in the Relic Hunters A to Z is "Flat Broke", whch is what most Relic Hunters perpetually seem to be.  I thought about talking about player motivation, but instead I'm going to share a valuable lesson I learned about getting buy-in from your players when you want to do something horrible to them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The A to Z of Brainstorming

Back when I first talked about this series I mentioned I was basing it on an "A to Z of Relic Hunters", and I think it's pretty obvious what I'm doing now that we're a few days into it.  I thought I'd take a quick break to talk about the why, as I ponder exactly what I'm going to say about F.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relic Hunters: Desert and Empire, plus, the Value of Open Spaces

The blasted remains of the Empire of old are now barren and lifeless, reduced to lone and level sands.  Once, it was a single nation whose boundaries once stretched so far that the sun was always overhead somewhere.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Relic Hunters: Chaos and Sorcery

Unleashed on the world with the shattering of the Rod of Judgement, nothing is safe from its corrupting touch.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Relic Hunters: Beastmen

Nomadic tribes devolved by the touch of Chaos. The tainted desert holds their holy sites, and many relic hunters fall to tooth and claw and obsidian blade.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Relic Hunters: Airships

Cantankerous engines salvaged from the floating cities and vehicles of the first age bear these ships aloft, where everything from muscle power to sails to burning coal propels them on their way. Faster than a caravan, airships are the lifeblood of long-distance commerce and travel.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Goodbye, October

Well, that was a pretty sad showing for me during the month of October, for which I apologize to the eight of you that have signed up through Google followers and the other 42 people who have visited anonymously in the past month. Real Life basically interfered with blogging and in some cases even with Real Gaming.

It has nothing to do with Minecraft. Honest. Well, OK, maybe a little - but just as much to do with work and wife and cats and dog and classes and…yeah, life, basically.

So, this November, I'm going to try to turn that around. One of the things I wrote for Relic Hunters was a one or two page A to Z for the setting which gives me a nice structure for 26 articles, and I imagine I can find four other topics somewhere. At the end of the month, I should have a nice setting bible for the next time I pull the world out and you'll have thirty days of material to steal from.

Wish me luck.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Help Flood Victims and Get Games

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, dozens of publishers and DriveThruRPG came together to offer a special "thank you" to gamers for donating to help the victims, offering a truly impressive amount of product to encourage donations.

Now, there are 20 million people in Pakistan still left homeless after July's monsoon rains.  Doctors Without Borders has been providing medical care for these refugees, but they need help, and the gaming community can give it.  Donate $25 through DriveThruRPG, and you'll get a crazy list of stuff as a "thank you" from publishers like Evil Hat, Cubicle 7, White Wolf, Arc Dream, and more.

Full list of what's included under the cut.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Review: Mapstravaganza, Part Two

More reviews!  Tonight we finish up our Mapstravaganza.  This time around we've got offerings from two longtime favorites around drnuncheons' gaming table: Skeleton Key Games and Fiery Dragon.  We've also got a couple of items from Project-0 Games.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Mapstravaganza, Part One

I've got an enormous stack of stuff in my review queue thanks to RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.  Today I'll be looking at maps from Øone Games and Rite Publishing.  Later this week I'll follow up with maps from Project-0 and counters from Fiery Dragon.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Outlaws of the Marsh

A Quick Look

Shuihu Zhuan (Water Margin, often translated as Outlaws of the Marsh), is considered one of the four great classic works of Chinese literature, along with Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Dream of the Red Chamber.  It tells the intertwined stories of 108 men and women who became outlaws and formed a rebellion against the corrupt officials of the Song Dynasty.  In addition to being a great example of a classic plot, Outlaws is the novel that forms the foundation of the entire wuxia genre.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Art of DMing: Making Published Modules Your Own (Part IV)

When last we left them, our heros were hot on the trail of a stolen artifact…

(As always, previous parts can be found under the Art of DMing tag.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art of DMing: Let your Players Surprise You

When you've played with someone for several years—as I have with the regular Wednesday night crowd at Game Masters—you get a pretty good idea of their tastes, how they play, that sort of thing.  You know what kind of games they like, what sort of stuff gives them trouble, and when they're going to chuck a die off your deck into the woods.

But sometimes, they surprise you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PDF Pricing

Over on twitter, @lumpleygames invited some discussion over PDF pricing, but I really needed a longer format to do the thought justice.  Now, I'm viewing this discussion from the consumer end - I have no stake in the business end of RPGing, so take this post with that in mind.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sky Pirates of Castile, Part 1: Contesa Alejandra & Writing One-Shots

Since Talk Like a Pirate Day is fast approaching, and RPGNow/DTRPG is having a pirate sale (check the banner above), I guess I should also start talking about the other setting I promised to discuss.

Sky Pirates of Castile is a trilogy of adventures written for a mini-con.  The premise is simple: the adventures of the crew of a pirate skyship in a setting reminiscent of both Age-of-Sail Spain and Cromwell's England, as they seek revenge and treasure and get in over their heads politically.  It taught me some lessons about writing for one-shots and convention scenarios, and it was a lot of fun no matter how many times I ran it.

Indie games fans may note some similarities to the award-winning Lady Blackbird, which is complete coincidence - the first game of Sky Pirates ran back in '06.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Relic Hunters: Characters

One of the strongest tools for a GM in getting across the feel of a setting is the choice of character types available. Compare these lists of character archetypes and see what comes to mind about the settings they represent:
  • Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, Thief
  • Barbarian, Sorcerer, Cultist, Assassin
  • Musketeer, Scholar, Priest, Spy
  • Street Samurai, Decker, Streetdoc, Fixer

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Relic Hunters: Stories from the Bazaar

Almost exactly a month ago, I had some big words about setting design and promised (or threatened, as appropriate) to show you how some of how I do things.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wilderness Travel, or, What I Learned on My Vacation

M and I (and faithful hound Argos) have returned from our visit to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia, a trip that provided some much-needed decompression and relaxation—and an enforced vacation from the internet.  On the other hand, it provided some spectacular vistas and some thoughts about wilderness adventures, too…

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reviews: Remember Tomorrow & B/X Companion

It's the weekend, and that means I owe you guys some reviews.  I'll be taking a break from the free stuff provided via RPGNow to look at two books I actually shelled out my hard-earned cash for.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Art of DMing: Making Published Modules Your Own (Part III)

If you've been keeping up with this series, you know that I've been taking my players through some of the classic B series of modules. Unfortunately, I broke one of the cardinal rules of GMing published adventures when I started this campaign: I didn't read the whole adventure. Reading and familiarizing yourself with everything prevents a lot of embarrassment when it comes to your game - and not just from accidentally undermining yourself.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Art of DMing: Making Published Modules Your Own (Part II)

I didn't intend to leave this big of a gap in between the entries in this series, but real life and scheduling problems intervened and I didn't want to get ahead of what actually happened in the game.  As you might remember from Part I, my players were looting clearing monsters out of a castle that had been purchased by a local merchant with too much money and too little sense.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Casting spells from damaged spellbooks

Zak's post over at Playing D&D with Porn Stars discusses "poorly remembered spells": giving a wizard an extra spell of any level that has a 50% chance of backfire.  It reminded me of my own set of rules for memorizing spells from damaged (or poorly understood) spellbooks.

In my 3e Freeport campaign, the players were shanghaied aboard a slaver ship bound for the Caliphates, which took an unexpected turn in bad weather and wrecked on the shores of an island near and dear to any old-schooler's heart - the Isle of Dread.  The wizard was stranded without his spellbook, but soon discovered the book of another mage - ancient, weathered and heavily damaged, with some spells legible and others…not quite as complete.

"This time, for sure!" — B. Moose
For each of the incomplete spells, I prepared a short list of spells related in some way to the original spell - maybe a thematic or elemental relationship, with some spell effects lower than the level of the spell and some higher.  Whenever the spell was cast, a die would be rolled to find out how the magic actually manifested.  A successful roll on an appropriate skill or attribute (Spellcraft in 3e) will allow you to realize what form your magic is going to take in time to change targets (if necessary).

As an example, a partial fireball spell might look like this:

  1. lesser fire orb
  2. flaming sphere
  3. flame bolt
  4. fireball
  5. wall of fire
  6. resilient sphere (they were out of fire, so you just get the ball)

While invisibility might be a bit different:

  1. disguise self
  2. invisibility
  3. glitterdust
  4. darkness
  5. displacement
  6. improved invisibility

For added complexity, you could roll a Fudge die (if you don't have one handy, use 1-2 for a -, 3-4 for a blank, and 5-6 for a +) and give a further bonus or penalty based on that result.  3rd edition makes it easy - just choose a random metamagic feat to apply on a plus, and do the same but reverse it for a minus.  For earlier editions, roll 1d4:

  1. A random aspect of the spell (range, duration, casting time, # of targets, etc) is doubled/halved.
  2. Caster is treated as being 1d4 levels higher/lower for purposes of the spell.
  3. Target gets a +2 bonus/penalty to save, if any.
  4. Other change (damage/element type, reversed spell, etc)

Since the results are random, tilt the tables slightly towards a net positive - especially if your player is being forced into using spells like this (like mine was).  Even if they're using them by choice, they're giving up control and the ability to plan tactically for their effects.  For the same reason, put some care into picking the effects - don't go for opposites (faerie fire for invisibility, for example) but for interesting twists that can be used in similar ways (glitterdust can blind an opponent as well as reveal an invisible creature)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Inked Adventures Modular Dungeons

Disclosure: these products were complimentary review copies provided by the publisher through RPGNow.

Having a visual representation of an area can be invaluable for playing a game.  Even if you're not in combat, the ability to say "I go over here" rather than trying to describe in words in a scene that each player might be imagining differently can be an enormous time-saver.  You can make do with a vinyl mat and an overhead marker, but if your drawing ability barely extends to straight lines like my own the results are something less than impressive.  On the other end of the scale are things like Dwarven Forge and Hirst Arts - high end modeling supplies that will produce a 3-D dungeon that looks incredible.  But they're expensive, bulky, and difficult to transport - and they don't work well if you're playing on a virtual tabletop, either.

Terrain tiles like the ones I'm reviewing today occupy the middle ground that make them the most useful to me and gamers like me: they're cheap, they're PDF format so they can be used electronically or printed out, they're easy to transport, and if they get damaged they are replaced at minimal cost - but they look far better than anything I'd scribble out on my Chessex mat.

A product like this will live or die on the strength of its art, and these sets by Inked Adventures are right up my alley.  These are not hyper-detailed textures or simple cut-and-paste jobs.  The art is hand drawn by the pseudonymous "Billiam Babble", who gives it a funky old-school feel. The tiles have clean lines and are high enough in contrast that they look good in both color and greyscale, and the movement grid is worked into the design rather than being overlaid on top.

The main set, Inked Adventures: Modular Dungeon Cut-Up Sections Basic Pack, is an enormous bargain.  You've got doors (single and double in a variety of styles, stand-up or flat counters, plus specialty doors like a tomb door, a secret door and a portcullis), 5 and 10 foot corridors, corners (square and curved), junctions (T and 4-way), and dead ends.  You get your choice of either diagonal corridors or adapters that let you hook normal corridors on at a 45° angle.  You get stairs (straight and spiral) and rooms of various sizes.  And you get separate counters of dungeon dressing: furniture, chests, pits, trapdoors, pools, rugs, corpses, piles of bones, piles of treasure, statues, tombs, fountains, bridges (over water, lava, or simply dark chasm), a dungeon entrance, and an idol room for human sacrifices. Phew!

Inked Adventures: Evil Summonings is a supplemental pack.  Much smaller than the Basic Pack, it presents a four-room mini-map featuring a summoning room (is that circle inscribed in blood?) with a cell off to one side.  Behind a heavy door is the warlocks room, with four-poster bed, bookshelf, desk, and stacks of tomes. A secret concealed alcove holds two treasure chests (one decorated with skulls), more books, and a pair of dubious-looking sacks.

All in all, these are some great, high value packages if you like the art style (there's a free sample if you want to see what it looks like).  I'm glad I was sent these as a review copy, because I had no idea they were out there, and I'll definitely be watching for more Inked Adventures in the future.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Art of DMing: Everything I Needed to Know about Random Encounters I Learned from J.R.R. Tolkien

Back at the end of July I mentioned a random encounter I had rolled for my players, and how I tied it into the ongoing adventure.  While listening to an episode of Fear the Boot discussing travel in RPGs, I got to thinking about random encounters again.

The Boot guys (Booters? Booties?) seemed a little bit dismissive of random encounters in general, cracking jokes about the obligatory one random encounter during any particular travel scene and generally regarding them as speed bumps getting in the way of the real story. I think that's selling them short.  Random encounters are, if used correctly and in the right kind of game, a great tool for DMs - and to show what I mean, I'll be using examples from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Setting Design, or, Why I'm Probably Not Old School

As you can tell by the list over to the right, I read a lot of RPG blogs, many of which have some kind of connection to that nebulous school of thought called the "Old School Renaissance".  They're a continuous source of interesting thoughts and inspirations, but there are times when I'm brought up short by the vast gulf between the Old School and…whatever mishmash of schools I have wound up as.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

RPGNow Mini-Reviews: Gems, NPCs, and Terrain Tiles

Ever since I signed up for the RPGnow Blog & Podcast program I have been positively inundated with coupons for products to review.  I wish I had time to read, play, and review everything that's out there, but it would take a full-time crew and probably some support staff to handle it!  I'll be focusing on the products that are either generic or for games I play so I can give them a fair shake.

Today we've got a mixed bag of small products (I've got some longer works in the queue but I need to read and digest them first). Each of these items was a complimentary review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Time, time, time…

As I noted over on my twitter feed, I was working on a Ken Hite-style article inspired by a few interesting things I'd run across here and there.  Halfway through, however, I found out that Ken had already written it! Since the article was all about stolen history, I think it's pretty clear that Mr. Hite was performing some kind of temporal presearch here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August Giveaway!

Recently I signed up for DrivethruRPG/RPGnow's affiliate program.  If you buy stuff that I link here I get some kind of kickback, yadda yadda - but the interesting part is that they give out coupons for freebies and discounts.  Yes, free PDFs just for being a reader of this blog.

But there's a catch. (You knew it was too good to be true, didn't you?)  Yeah, this is no Monty Haul blog.  You have to earn the freebies.  I have three codes to give away, and here's what they are for:

Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion - pair this up with the Explorer's Edition and you've got a ready-made fantasy game with the power of Savage Worlds behind it.

Dark Heresy: Inquisitor's Handbook - an advanced player's guide for the WH40K RPG.

and Paths of Power for the Pathfinder RPG, with additional classes, class options, etc for the Pathfinder RPG (or other compatible OGL games).

If you're interested in one of those, all you have to do is this: go down into the comments below and tell us a gaming story about treasure - finding it, divvying it up, losing it, whatever you want.  First three treasure stories get the goods! I've only got one of each of these to give away, so make sure you put in your choice.

For the rest of you, there is a coupon!  It's good for 20% off on any products from the following publishers:

A Terrible Idea
Aethereal Forge
Bailey Records
Crucifiction Games
Dream Pod 9
Fantasy Games Unlimited
Final Redoubt Press
Gold Rush Games
Goodman Games
Highmoon Games
Morbid Games
OtherWorld Creations
Palladium Books
Rogue Games
RPG Objects
Savage Mojo
Tricky Owlbear
Vigilance Press

There's some great stuff on sale up there.  Follow the links, and if you buy anything, enter this code to get the discount:  DTRPGAugust2010BlogPCast

All the codes are good until September 10.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Last week, James Malizewski started a mini-flood of blog posts on the topic of psionics in D&D, spurring a post from Talysman and a mention from JB as well.  I've got a bunch of posts half-written but nothing I want to work on in my currently sleep-deprived state, so instead I'll talk a little bit about my own love-hate relationship with the topic.

Friday, August 6, 2010

In Which I (Respectfully?) Disagree with Another Blogger

Over at The Tao of D&D, Alexis posted an article entitled Creativity And Breast-Feeding, in which DMs are told in no uncertain terms to quit buying gaming stuff and make up your own already.  Keeping up with new games is characterized as a "dependency problem", and the people who do it are "weak".  Given that I recently made the first post in a series about making published adventures your own, you're probably right if you suspect I don't agree.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: Umläut: Game of Metal

Umläut: Game of Metal
by Rich Stokes

Having my previous GMing plans for Bisbeecon XI sidetracked by a lack of preparation time, I turned to my collection of small press games looking for a low-stress substitute. I settled on Rich Stokes' Umläut: Game of Metal, a game about trying to make it big in the world of heavy metal music.  I had played the game once before with the usual group of Wednesday night suspects and figured that its easily accessible theme and reasonably simple rules would have us all rocking out by the end of the night.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inspiration: Science Fiction Edition

Radoxist: "Worth enough"

Do yourself a favor and click through to Radoxist's site and look at this full size.  The level of detail here is amazing.  (Check out the alternate views, too - a couple of them are top-down views of the low-tech area, and could make for excellent battlemaps.)

What is this place?  I picture a Traveller game where someone randomly rolled a Class A spaceport and a low tech level:

Saturday, July 31, 2010

No News Roundup

Since I'm out of town at Bisbeecon XI, there will be no Saturday News Roundup this week. Watch for a full con report after I recover.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Art of DMing: Making Published Adventures Your Own (Part I)

One of my biggest failings as an early GM was a sort of fear to deviate from published material.  If it was on the page, that was what happened, come hell or high water.  Oh, sure, I read the occasional advice column that talked about tailoring the adventure to your PCs, but it was always couched in terms of matching the adventure to their capabilities.  I never had a good example to go by for really integrating a published module into a campaign.  Fortunately, I was able to learn by trial and error, but I thought I'd try and put down some of the process here in the hopes that it can help someone's campaign out of where I was stuck for many years - or open up other GMs to the idea of using published adventures.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday News Roundup

It's time again to steal inspiration from the headlines (and anything else I've come across this week)!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: Inception

Maybe it's bad form for me to start off my first review on this blog like this, but if you have not yet seen Inception, then you should stop reading this review and go make plans to see it.  Don't look for other reviews, don't try to find out what it's about, just go and see it.  Not only is it a great movie in its own right, it's got a lot of inspiration for gamers.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hacking Fate: Capers, Part 1

The Fate system from Evil Hat is possibly one of my favorite modern RPG systems.  For me, it hits the sweet spot of mechanical complexity, where players have interesting tactical choices to make in a conflict, but aren't bogged down by needless complexity.  Each iteration the game goes through refines it even more, from its beginnings as a set of diced rules for Amber to the latest expression, the Dresden Files RPG.

I am also partial to a good caper: heists, grifts, and cons make for great viewing.  Until the Leverage RPG comes out, though, there's not much in the way of support in the RPG world for that type of game - but Fate's aspects seem perfect for the kinds of problems that grifters and thieves run into, and giving the players power to make declarations can produce a more involved caper than if the GM has to make everything up on his own.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Inspiration: Gunkanjima

If you're looking for inspirational images for post-apocalyptic games, check out this article on Japan's Gunkanjima ("Battleship Island").  The island - properly named Hashima - was centered around coal mining, and was abandoned in the mid-70s after the country largely moved to petroleum for its energy needs.  

The pictures of the decaying ruins are brilliant and evocative, bringing to mind Fallout-like scenes of devastation.  (Check out the picture of the discarded doll.)  It also underscores how fragile human construction really is, if it's not maintained.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Actual Play: Back to Basics

Recently, I came to an important realization about my choice of games: I have a greater tolerance for system complexity when I am a player than when I am a GM.  Unfortunately, that realization came several sessions into our Fantasycraft game.

Fantasycraft is an excellent system with a lot of pieces that I like, but it hovers on the edge of my desired complexity level (its predecessor, Spycraft, was just over that edge), falling somewhere inside "games I enjoy playing" but just past "games I enjoy running".  The upshot of this realization was that our group had a talk about what we were doing and where we were going, and of the various options put forward we decided to go back to where it all began - well, for me, anyway.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Inspiration: Zhangjiajie

This striking photo proves that the real world can be as amazing as any fantasy painting.  The location depicted is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China.  To me, it looks like some sort of lost world begging to be explored by pulp adventurers: can you honestly say that a pterosaur would look at all out of place gliding between these stone pillars?

An Introduction

Just who is Dr. Nuncheon? (And why should we listen to him?)

I am a roleplaying gamer of no particular consequence, with sufficient delusions of grandeur to think that someone, somewhere, may be interested in what I have to say on the topic.  In this, I am no different from any other RPG blogger.

Here, you will find:

  • Articles on setting design, rules hacks, and whatever other aspects of gaming happen to catch my fancy.
  • Reviews, not just of gaming products but of anything that might be of interest to gamers: books, films, software, and anything else I get my hands on.
  • Inspiration in the form of pictures, news articles, and links collected here.
  • Actual Play experiences from the campaigns I'm involved with right now, served up with reflection and self-critique to hopefully make them worthwhile to people not involved in the games.