Miscellaneous
  • Miscellaneous


    As a dungeon master and co-owner of a tabletop game and comic book shop, I meet brand-new players virtually every time I'm behind the counter or the DM screen. D&Dís recent popularity explosion has brought in countless new players. They usually are feeling both excited and intimidated, and it's my job to maintain that excitement and add confidence too.



    I am typically a game master when I game. It is the role that I enjoy the most, and I think that the world building part of the GM's "job" is a big part of what I enjoy. But I do sit on the opposite side of the GM's screen from time to time* and being a player. So, does "world building" apply to character creation?


    There's a lot of "superstitious mumbo jumbo" (to quote Sir Alec Guiness about The Force in Star Wars') in the world. I take the scientific, naturalistic approach. I don't accept the supernatural as an explanation for anything, so why would I think there can be anything magical or supernatural in dice rolling/games?


    While I'm not much of a fan of the song (and I didn't care for the movie it came from), I've been hearing a few commercials lately using the Bonnie Tyler song "I Need A Hero," and it has triggered thoughts on heroes and heroism in gaming.


    There are two ways of rating fictional characters that you want to add to role-playing games (and other types of games as well). These are the functional method and the emotional/perceptual method (for want of a better name).


    What did I do to change the mechanisms of Spelljammer when I devised my own version?


    Most role-playing game adventures depend on the player characters going out into the world seeking adventure. They leave their homes or bases of operation and travel to a dungeon, a wizard's tower or a newly discovered planet. But sometimes an adventure designer wants to take the story to the players' doorstep.


    I enjoyed playing Spelljammer in conjunction with the 1e D&D rules back in the day - I'm a naval guy at heart. For those who don't remember, it's FRPG in outer space, with different physics and magical spaceships that often resemble creatures such as sharks or wasps, for 7th-13th level. (There was a brief version in Dungeon Magazine for 3e as well.) I read that we may see a new version for 5e, so I dug out some old notes in order to discuss the design of the original game.


    In writing these articles I have come to understand how many people are voiceless in the collective imaginary land that is role playing games. I hope that these articles make our hobby and industry a place where more people are welcomed and encouraged to become involved. Which brings me to North America, the part the second.



    The concept of player agency is a central pillar of all role-playing games. It is a balancing factor against the omnipotent, omniscient Game Master. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the smaller-scale application of player agency and the role of game mechanics that negate or modify such agency.


    Today I bring up a topic usually glossed over in worldbuilding for gaming: Literacy. Itís a skill that we take for granted, given that you are reading this column on a website. Literacy wasnít always historically widespread, however, and a crafty GM can contrive clever situations hinging upon it.


    I recently talked with a gamer who's often full of unusual, and sometimes impractical, ideas. He asked me about the difficulties of running a medieval-style low-magic D&D campaign. Lord of the Rings had to come up in the conversation, because it's the most well-known low magic fantasy setting in existence. If you take a functional rather than emotional view of the characters, in First Edition D&D terms Aragorn amounts to a seventh level ranger and Gandalf the Grey to an eighth level cleric with a Ring of Fire, and other characters are similarly low level. (I'll discuss in detail this another time.) Magic and "super-power" is immensely rare in this setting.


    H.P. Lovecraft, the giant of horror fiction who created the Cthulhu mythos, scared his readers in all kinds of ways, filling his works with nightmarish elder gods and a sense of humanity's insignificance in the cosmos. But many of his works relied on the same handful of universally frightening themes, and studying those themes can pay off for RPG adventure designers and game masters alike. In particular, Lovecraft's treatment of corruption as an unstoppable force that rots away the body, mind and the entire world presents adventure designers with a versatile means of getting under a player's skin.


    Today I discuss establishing a setting's law enforcement and judicial system. Historical sources indicate examples of organized court systems - Aeschylus' Oristeia depicts the foundation of Athenian law and trials, with a jury of 12 citizens, and wise magistrates are a common feature of Chinese parables. A court will require some infrastructure,which will inform how one develops the rest of the justice system in the setting proper.



    My wife and I recently began watching the HBO series Game of Thrones (based on George R. R. Martin's books) from the start. I had read the books, neither of us had seen any of the series.


    American Fantasy and Science Fiction writer Victor Milan passed away after a battle with cancer. Probably known best for his Cybernetic Samurai science fiction series, Milan also wrote novels set in the Battletech, Mechwarrior and Forgotten Realms settings. He also wrote a number of Deathlands and Outlanders novels under the company pen name of James Axler for the adventure fiction imprint published by Harlequin Press' Gold Eagle Books.


    I've been a fan of Mike "Sly Flourish" Shea for years, and particularly enjoyed The Lazy Dungeon Master, his book of GM advice and tips from a few years ago. He's now Kickstarting a sequel, The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, and has sent me along a quick preview of the first few pages.

    Today we continue with our apocalyptic theme. I've covered war and pestilence, and this column will be about Death, the great leveller. Everybody dies, except for adventurers, who die but get to come back via the auspices of a friendly or bribable cleric.



    Let's talk about a valuable lesson game masters can take from The Force Awakens and 2009's Star Trek, both directed by J.J. Abrams. Maybe you've heard of them.


    PopTen posted a list of the Top 10 Geek Gods, and with entries like Gary Gygax, Ian Livingstone, and R.A. Salvatore, the tabletop gaming industry is well represented, joining literary luminaries like Tolkien, LeGuin, and Howard, or cinematic creators like George Lucas. It's a fun list, but who would you have included in a tabletop gaming list?
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