Text – Game On!

My son texted me last night asking if I was up for another game session on Sunday. Like he had to ask? I think it was to make sure I didn’t have other plans.

I have been working on things slowly for the next session, because it will involve a lot of role playing, I am trying to make sure I don’t generate a lot of new hooks, which I tend to do when I really get into it.

I got in a couple hours of organizational stuff.

Today, I just need to fill in the gaps of things I left open ended and undefined.

What are the NPC’s up to that don’t have time for the players? (I think I really had them going that it was some big plot point. Who knows, it might be….)

What are the names of all the major NPCs that will be in town for the baron’s wedding? I know who they are, I just need names. For a few I need stats, age, and descriptions. For the ones that they won’t end up in combat, I think I can glide over the stats.

Oops. I just realized that for certain classed NPCs, I need to think about henchmen, which there will be some….

This is one way to flesh out a sandbox, have a big event with lots of powerful people.

Well, I better quit with the writing and get on with the planning.

Tombs, Riches, and a Troll

My son and his girlfriend came over yesterday to play D&D.

They hired more men and bought tools and another wagon and team of horses and went back to the tomb that they needed tools to open. They opened it and found a pristine tomb, but the treasure of ancient swords and shields had lost its luster after finding so many more of the same in other tombs in the general area. They have a buyer who will pay for each piece they find, but they decided that only coins, gems, jewelry and really shiny items are what they want.

They rolled really well and I rolled very poorly and they defeated a gelatinous cube with a large treasure. I had only determined the number of gems and jewelry. I waited until they beat it to figure those things out when we took a break. I rolled exceptionally well and had several gems worth 5,000 and a huge ruby worth 10,000. I rolled really well on several of the items of jewelry. Their characters are both multi-class half elves, one a Druid/M-U and the other a FTR/M-U. My son’s druid/magic-user was 3rd/2nd level, and his girlfriend’s character was 1st/1st. I limited them to halfway to the next level, but they easily had enough to level up in both classes even after splitting XP by two and then each dividing by 2 again.

They had to go check on something they had let slide, when they learned they would be in hot water if kobolds or something else got back into the kobold warren they had found and cleared with the help of some NPCs. They got busy and did not go back and pay the guards they hired, so it was abandoned. The druid put firetrap on one door, the others were barred from inside. They went back and found 5 dead kobolds around the door and re-trapped the door, got their new troops that helped with the tombs to guard it. They returned and nothing had bothered the fire trap and the place was empty. They brought plenty of food, spears, arrows, and water barrels and buckets to go to the stream to fill them. Next they plan to fortify the place and make it very comfortable for a base of operations.

They left their troops, all eleven of them, to guard their base and headed back to town each driving one of the two wagons. I rolled an encounter, and used the table from the DMG and rolled TROLL. I rolled a d12, and the Monster Manual says 1-12 appear. I rolled a 1. They had never encountered a troll. I was afraid they would die. They wanted to stand and fight, but lucked out.

The druid entangled it, but it made it’s save, so he was only slowed. The druid ran, but the troll killed those two horses. The druid had time to run back to the other wagon. The druid used his bow to shoot the troll. He had nearly 80 arrows. He rolled several hits, but not enough to knock it down. It hit the fighter/magic-user, but did not drop her, and it hit the other two horses, but did not kill them. They managed to run and after a few rounds pulled far enough ahead. They drove to town as fast as they could. They used all the arrows they had, and it still kept coming. Finally, they saw the walls in the distance. When they got closer, they saw the city gates close and heard horns blaring and saw flags waving. Once they got close enough the catapults and ballistae on the guard towers fired at it and knocked it down.

The druid wanted to take it’s head as a trophy, not knowing the regeneration thing, even though I kept saying the mangled corpse kept looking better. The guards riding out with torches from the city gate were hollering and blowing their horns. The characters decided to just keep stabbing it until the guards got their. They then learned that it was indeed a troll and that they regenerate and require fire to kill them.

They were then ordered to report to the captain of the guard. The baron of the town is getting married in just under two weeks and security is high, because he is marrying the king’s niece. The captain was concerned because a troll had not been that close to the city in years, and they had not had to fire the siege engines for other than practice for years.

They learned that something is up with the town wizard and town sage, who usually have had time to at least talk to them. They assume it is related to the wedding, but they are curious.

We had a blast and they were very glad I rolled so poorly in combat and so well on the treasure.

They did not inquire further about the treasure maps that I prepared, but they are excited to play again. I had a lot of fun.

A few hours here and there to fill in some names of people and places, generate some stats for a few, and plan out the events of this wedding. I thought they’d blow through time and I’d just wing the wedding, but they are interested in power and influence, and want to get in good with the baron, so I have to do more than a joyous celebration, etc. I could wing it, but having names and some other bits planned out ahead of time will make the improvisation smoother.

We seem to play every two or three weeks. It is summer in Michigan, so I don’t blame them for wanting to spend it outside and enjoy warm toes and fresh air while they can.

Handwritten vs. Typed Game Prep Notes

I prefer to write out my game prep notes by hand, so I can make them just the way I like and can add information to them on the fly.

However, some types of notes, like from generating a long list of treasure maps and the information about what they are made of, skill of the cartographer, condition of the map, information about where it leads, etc. makes for a long list. I ended up with two full pages of notes with one line on each page for each map. 32 maps total. Some are not for this area, and some their target remains undefined. For the ones that have a treasure, I will put the treasure information in the dungeon/location where the treasure is found.

What I found is that having two pages was causing too much confusion trying to make sure that I had everything easily accessible. Part of the problem was the the first few notes on the first page were cramped as it took a few lines to perfect how I wanted to record the information. It would have taken a long time to re-write and revise all the existing information by hand, so I cranked up Libre Office Calc, a fork of the free and open source Open Office, and I built a table.

I was able to fit all the information from both tables on one line. I was able to format and abbreviate until I got all of them to fit on one legal sized sheet of landscape paper in preview. I then highlighted every other three lines, like the tables in the AD&D manuals and used the save to PDF feature. I then emailed it to myself both to preserve a copy and have it available on my tablet and save paper.

I used the second sheet of the spreadsheet to organize the orientation of landmarks as generated by Grim’s All the Dice Random Treasure Map table. The generator uses a 7 hex cluster of six hexes around a central hex. The central hex is the destination of the map and the surrounding hexes indicate different landmarks around it. The result of the d6 is use both for a list of 6 terrain features and to determine which of 6 directions is north. Also hexes 6 and 7 are filled based on the results of the d10. I had 6 columns with the results of the contents of each hex.

Since I could not get the formulas in my first “cluster” to copy correctly to successive cells, I used NoteTab to build a looping script to increment the cell numbers for each column to generate all 32 clusters. I then just had to copy and past the 32 groups of formulas, correct the hex 6/7, placement,  and determine placement of North. I then fiddled with preview until I got a paper size big enough so that I was not fiddling with a lot of page breaks so that no cluster was split.

Here is the representation of what I did in the map cluster of landmarks where N represents possible placement of North. Hex 6 or 7 is empty as per the result of the d10.

N Hex 2       N            Hex 3 N
Hex 4    Hex 1       Hex5
N Hex 6       N            Hex 7 N

I was able to type a spreadsheet and position a group of formulas to get the layout of each location faster or at least as fast as I could have done it by hand. The benefit is that I have it nice and neat in a PDF and I have a NoteTab script that I can use if I ever need another large collection of random treasure maps. I also tend to write very poorly when I write fast, and it is my default after lots of note taking in college and grad school. My muscle memory is for fast writing to be sloppy. Now I know why doctors have such lousy handwriting. Taking the time to re-do my muscle memory is difficult.

If I have a lot to write, it is easier to type it. I prefer to have stuff on paper during game play so that I can write on it with notes, etc. I rarely use my tablet during play.

I find when generating a lot of random information that it is easier for me to write out the results by hand, and type it up only if it is so complex that it solves a problem. In the long run, if I type it up, I will have a more enduring set of notes, and can use it to more easily incorporate more players, such as online.

If I were to DM online, I would want to have two monitors so I could have one screen with the goings on of Roll20 and another for my notes, etc. I could also do it using paper on my end, no danger of the players seeing anything, lol. That solves the need for a new computer. I just need to figure out how to set up to use a computer and my game notes at the same time. As a player, it is not too hard, I only need my character sheet and paper to take notes. As a DM, I need my notes, manuals, dice for DM rolls, and something for taking notes as play progresses. My computer desk is not big enough for all that stuff. I have a folding table that I could use, so it’s doable. I just have a lot more prep needed to run something online. You don’t want things to lag when playing online, essential information must be ready and easily accessible.

Now I have to go through the collections of the One Page Dungeon Contest to figure out which ones to use for treasure map destinations, so I am ready for whatever the players decide to do tomorrow.

Game Prep Tools

Some aspects of game prep just require using your imagination to come up with rumors and stories to tie things together, like dungeons, treasures, and monsters. The hard part is coming up with all the pieces that need to be tied together with a story.

That is why random tables are so popular with DMs & GMs.

I was doing sandbox game preparation, before I knew it had that name. However, it was not a well organized way of doing it. After getting online a few years ago and stumbling across a ton of sites dedicated to the OSR and reading about sandbox vs. railroad, did I know there could be a better way to do things.

I have taken my “grand scheme” model of planning everything on a western Europe sized scale and reduced the focus to a single peninsula with a walled town, Larenda, at the upper portion of the peninsula, and an ancient abandoned city at the tip, Karbana. Larenda is the base of operations. I have used NPCs to urge the players to avoid Karbana as it is too dangerous. It is, but I don’t have enough planned for the ruined city yet.

Instead, I have tombs and monsters and other things going on closer to Larenda.

I have slowly been adding things to stay ahead of the players. Long weekends like this, I am using to fill in all kinds of gaps, and random tables are the way to go.

I used the d30 A to Z Treasure Map Generator to generate the properties of a list of treasure maps that a treasure map vendor, named Condor, has. Condor has sold the party maps to some ancient tombs they discovered, proving that they were tombs not yet known, as the forest has grown over them since the ancient city fell. Condor has cautioned them that the maps are genuine, but he can’t guarantee that any treasure is still there. One of the party started a riot by going to the tavern Condor was known to frequent and offering a reward for anyone who knew where he was. This was one session. The next session the other players kept their heads down in the tavern they frequented and observed a man sneaking in and keeping to himself. They rightly surmised that this was Condor. He told them to meet him at his shop the next day once things calmed down. This resulted in great laughter when they realized the one player did not ask if he had a shop, and started looking for him in the middle of the day at his favorite tavern.

So Condor has a lot more maps. I rolled and determined the quality of the cartography, the type of material, its size, and its condition, the language, if the treasure was still there, etc. If the treasure was not there I rolled on the 1st Edition DMG treasure map table to determine if it was a genuine map or a false one. Next I used Grimm’s all the dice treasure map generator to determine where each map leads. I then used Dyson’s d12 treasure map generator to determine the location of treasures that were in dungeons or structures. One treasure that was not there on the d30 table I rolled was buried outside, so then I rolled up a new treasure using the DMG and I rolled that it was a monetary treasure and then rolled a 20. This means it is a hoard so huge that it automatically explains why it was buried outside. A previous, maybe ancient group of adventurers found it and buried what they could not transport for later. I did not take everything as rolled. I moved up or down the charts for something that made sense so that there was some variety to each piece and they all weren’t located next to a whirlpool in a marsh.

I was easily able to come of with stories for the provenance and so forth for the maps. The hard part is actually locating where the maps lead on my campaign map.

As far as dungeons, I can just use a dozen of the hundreds of One Page Dungeons created over the past few years. I just have to place them on the map.

I have also collected other PDFs and tables for all kinds of generators. The d30 Sandbox Companion is great. I have multiple tables from various sources for ruins generation and city generation to flesh out Larenda, and the ancient city of Karbana.

Megadungeon resources come in handy with huge ancient cities. I plan to make Karbana the surface area to a megadungeon. I don’t know if I will ever get enough play time to do more than develop it much. However, some of  the maps lead here. I had even generated a map that is hidden in a location on the peninsula the player’s have yet to find that leads to Karbana. I had not filled it in until last night when I was finishing the descriptions of Condor’s treasure maps. The key is can a masterful job of cartography with major holes and stains still lead the players to the treasure? The one problem with all this prep is will I just have a bunch of MacGuffins that will never be realized?

What is funny are players who go to ancient tombs without any tools other than a wagon to haul loot. They find one of the tombs and the entrance is blocked by a massive stone, and they don’t have shovels, picks, pry bars, or rope to try and move it, so they have to look for another tomb and come back later.

Another tomb had some piercers in it and it freaked out the party, so they left that tomb alone after one hireling nearly died from a small one near the entrance. After they messed around with some other tombs, when they were back in town they asked the sage and learned that they were just normal creatures. They were hoping to find an easy way to get rid of them, but the wizard in town is too busy to even talk to them, lowly first, second, and third level characters. So now they either come up with a plan to do something about them, or forget that tomb.

Now that they came back with a minotaur and treasure, others know about the tombs. Now to see what is going to happen.

A few tables to generate a structure, and a story to tie the structure together, then what happens when the players encounter it, it becomes a living breathing adventure full of fun and excitement.

There is something about this than you can’t learn without doing. Generate an adventure scenario and make up a story to tie it together, then unleash the players on it.

As a DM one must get used to the idea that some of the things that we think are so cool will be skipped over by the players, unless we railroad them.

My only railroading is strong hints or suggestions from NPCs to avoid certain areas so I can have more time to work on them. If I planned more of the basic adventure stuff and didn’t mention the grand idea stuff until it is ready, I could avoid railroads all together.

Now back to game prep! Monday’s session is going to be awesome!

Game Prep

I had hoped to be able to play all weekend, but my son and his girlfriend have other plans, so we don’t get to play until Monday.

No problem! How many DM’s would love the chance to have two more days to work on things.

There are several different avenues that they could explore, so I am glad I have more time to flesh things out.

I have been trying to fit it in over lunch during the week and between chores and taking care of my dog after work and before bed. There are days I just want to veg, or days my brain won’t cooperate after a long day at work, so I have to veg.

Well, tonight I am in the mood and the right frame of mind to work on fleshing out things for the current sequence of events and related items that have caught the players’ attention.

There are some things that I can wing very well. Once I have a name for an NPC and an idea of presenting how I envision they will act, I am good to go. But certain things, like treasure maps and planning where certain things are, I am wired to need more prep time for that.

So I will be working on the things that I need a bit more prep time to make ready and will clean up my notes from play. That is, I will re-write them and make sure I don’t forget the names of NPC’s that I came up with on the fly.

I always end up with way more material than I will ever use.

Now, with the era of online RPG play, I can use live, in-person play time to bring it to life, and if I ever DM an online game, I have scenarios all ready to go.

Machinegun Shoot

Today was the first time I ever fired an automatic weapon. I have a 12 gauge shotgun, a bolt action rifle, the Mosin Nagant, and two 9mm pistols – a Taurus PT-99 which is a clone of the Beretta, like the pistol the military has used since 1982 when it replace the 45 cal 1911. My other pistol is a Sccy CPX-2. I have fired several other semi-automatic rifles and pistols, and revolvers. I have a Concealed Pistol License, so I know what is involved with carrying a pistol everyday. I live in Michigan, where open carry is legal and have open carried often.

Today was also the first time I ever encountered bad ammo, had stovepipes, or other major fails to feed.

I shot an AK-74, different caliber than the AK-47, an M-4 (basically same as an M-16), P-90 (Ever see Star Gate?), 1919 30 cal Browning BMG, 50 Cal BMG, 50 cal Barret sniper rifle, 9mm Uzi, 45 cal Thompson Submachine gun, 9 mm Sten Gun, and I think one other, but I am drawing a blank.

I just wish I could have got pics or video of my shooting.

None of them had the kick that I expected.

The Thompson submachine gun did climb, but it is so heavy it did not have much recoil.

The 50 cal Barret semi auto sniper rifle has less kick than a 12 gauge shotgun.

All the hand held firearms were not hard to aim if using single shot or just bursting a few rounds.

The P90 uses such a small caliber that it has no kick and there is no drift from your target on full auto.

Unfortunately, unlike the movies, a 30 round magazine is gone in seconds.

They had a full auto Glock pistol, but I did not shoot it. I did get video of someone else shooting it and of someone else shooting the Barret.

The 50 cal rounds were $5 each. The 30 cal BMG rounds were $1 each. Depending on the gun, the price for a full magazine went from $20 to $50.

I was the first to fire the 50 BMG today, and my second round did not eject and the brass got stuck in the barrel and it took about an hour to get it so I could fire my last eight rounds. I then had my 5th remaining round not eject and the 6th remaining round got jammed in it, but thankfully it was easy for the owner to remove from the chamber. Later, the case stuck in the barrel happened to another person firing it.

I plan to do this again. It was a lot of fun, but expensive.

Until today, I did not have real world experience to compare to rules I have encountered for automatic weapons. For example, Top Secret, had a rule for the 45 cal Thompson Submachinegun that it could do 5 shots a round, but each successive shot got harder to make. In reality, it is not that hard to put all 5 rounds on target if you are trained in the weapon. I figured this out after putting one 30 round magazine through one. It is a heavy weapon and does not have much kick, but it does tend to drift up. If you lean into it and know how to use it, it is not hard to get every round on target.

Machineguns on a tripod are very accurate and the bullets go where you want, provided you have it set up correctly. This just emphasized what the armies of the world learned in WWI. They are very loud and you feel the shock wave of each round when you are close enough. Basically, if you are within about 30-40 feet, you will feel the shock wave from a 50 caliber round. Smaller caliber rounds did not have this effect.

The Barret 50 cal was the semi-auto version with a ten round magazine. The owner had a suppressor, what most people call a silencer. It was a LOT more quiet and it stopped the shock wave. I could not feel it in my chest when he fired suppressed rounds. That was very cool. Unlike TV and the movies, a suppressor does not make it silent, but reduces the level of noise such that hearing protection is not needed.

I don’t think you can or should make a rule for every possible weapon or combination of weapons. If you try to model absolute reality in a tabletop RPG, you have so many rules and tables to consult that you get bogged down in the rules and play crawls or halts. There should be very few pauses in the game, ideally only for snack and bathroom breaks.

I will end with a PSA.

I know that the movies, TV shows, and the media have a lot wrong when it comes to firearms, especially gun safety. How many pictures for movie and TV promotions show the actors holding guns with their fingers on the trigger and/or the gun pointed in an unsafe direction? The way people run around on TV and in the movies with their fingers on the trigger, why aren’t they firing all the time when they don’t mean to? You don’t put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot. It would take a very heavy trigger pull to make running with your finger on the trigger not discharge.

The rules of gun safety:

  • Treat every gun as if it is loaded.
  • Do not let the muzzle cross anything you don’t want to destroy.
  • Be aware of your target and what is beyond it.
  • Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Store guns and ammunition separately and inaccessible to others.


I saw Godzilla today.

It was good, but I was expecting more Godzilla.

I heard part of a movie review on NPR driving home the other day, and they always tell what happened in the movie instead of reviewing it.

If I wrote a book review in high school or college and just paraphrased the book, I would get a failing grade. Why can’t they do a review that makes me want to see or not see a movie instead of telling me the bits that aren’t in the trailers?

Play Time

My son and his girlfriend came over last Saturday and played D&D while they did their laundry.

We had a great time. Wish I had time to write it all up.

I can’t wait until we can do more.

I am busily working to flesh out things they had done/encountered, just in case they change directions in what they are doing, or expand what they are doing.

Calendar And Random Generation

Having a calendar that suits itself to easy generation of random dates by a die roll is something that I find very useful.

This idea dates back 20 years or so to my brother Robert’s campaign.

12 months with 28 days, for a year of 336 days. There are four seven day weeks in each month. It is easy and simple. Roll 1d12 for the month and 3d10-2 for the day of the month. Use it to determine the data a character was born. It is useful for determining when aging effects kick in and when to celebrate birthdays, if that is a custom in the game.

This simple system can determine any random date with a quick roll of 4 dice. One always knows what day of the 7 day week a given date falls. The months of the seasons fall with the first day of each season as the first day of the first month of that season. Spring is used as the first day of the year.

I even built an HTML page with the names of the months and days of the week Robert uses for his calendar. I printed one up all nice and fancy and give it to him, and he tells me that there is a festival between the last day of winter and the first day of spring. I pointed out to him that the method we had used for over 15 years never let anyone be born during the festival, or any random events happen then. He laughed and just let it slide.

I like the simplicity of twelve months of twenty-eight days. So what if years are shorter? It is a game.

To get a year closer to that of Earth, one can do 13 months of 28 days and get 364 days. One then needs to make a d13, or come up with a balanced way to roll for 13 possibilities. I’m sure someone is better at this and can just think of it and get the answer. If you do, let me know.

Another option that is close to the Earth year, is twelve 30 day months, for a year of 360 days. The months don’t line up , but the year comes out. For generating a day in a 30 day month use a d30 or a d6 to generate the tens to add to a d10. For example, 1-2 = add 0, 3-4 = add ten, 5-6 = add 20 to the number rolled on the d10.

If you have to have 365 days, then you need a way to roll or account for any festival days between months, or at the end of the year so that those days can have an event.

One can determine any random date in a year for incidents, war, battle, invasions, natural disasters, weather, etc. This can be used for the past as well as the current year or the future.

One thing I like from Oriental Adventures besides some of the weapons and spells are the yearly and monthly event tables. They give ideas for building one’s own tables.

Once you have such tables, you need to decide what date something happens. Then just determine what time of day something happens, if it is important for the exact time. I recommend staying with 24 hours days, unless you want to do a lot of table building, etc. You can roll a D6 for AM/PM and a d12 for the hour. Or roll a d6 and divide 24 by the result to get 4 hour increments, or a d8 for 3 hour increments, etc.

If you want to get down to the minute, roll a d12 to get within ten minutes and roll to determine if it is plus or minus 1 to 5 minutes from that point. Repeat for the exact second. This would be handy for a ritual that must begin or end at the right moment of an eclipse and determine when the hero have to act to stop the bad guy, assuming the bad guy is the one doing the ritual.

I found this article on making a grid like that of graph paper using Excel. I have not tried it with Libre Office or Open Office yet. I used it to build a blank calendar that I can name and number and note events and mark off days elapsed. I have 6 months in a column with room to the right of each month for some notes. If more room is needed, I could do 6 months on one side and 6 on the other.

If you use training to go up a level, players can fly through weeks and months, so planning out what happens in advance can make it interesting if they have to break training to deal with an emergency.

I’m old school in that computers were expensive when I was young and I’m used to paper. I work in the computer industry and find them very useful for gathering and storing data, but they become a hindrance to use during play. I do have a tablet with my PDFs of manuals I purchased through DriveThruRPG, if I need to find something fast and do a search. When I play online, I use it to hold my character sheet since I only have one viable monitor on my home computer.

I am sure that one could build a program or script to generate several millenniums of weather and events in a few minutes, but it takes a lot of the DM’s tweaking and tuning out of it. One does not need to generate every scrap of anything that could ever happen or has happened in the past.

What do you use for your calendar and random date generation?