Tag Archives: Campaign Building

Where Do You Get Good Miniatures?

Back when I was really big into RPGs, Ral Partha was the brand that we mostly turned to. I do not recall others off the top of my head.

Since then, Ral Partha and several contemporary companies that made miniatures for fantasy gaming have gone out of business.

Now, it seems that over sized (bigger than 25 mm), cartoon like figures are the standard. They are also expensive! The local comic/game store has some of these miniatures, and they are $3 or more each! In my day, I might pay $1 for a really good figure that was something I really wanted, but most were 75 cents or so. Packages of 6 of  the same figure, could be had for $3 or $4. Of course, you had to paint them, etc.

Now, in trying to Google up miniatures and to follow up on miniatures recommended on RPG related blogs and sites, I find pre-painted miniatures that are $5 or $6 or more each!

I can understand people wanting to have someone paint their miniatures if that is the thing they want.

I would like to find a reasonably priced source of “realistic”, well-done, and consistently sized miniatures. I think that finding a miniature to represent players, or a major NPC adds flavor to the game, and can be used to illustrate the position of encounters. Instead of making Jim be the red six-sider, when he wants to be the ruby d20, etc. can be avoided. Yes, we can use our imaginations to suspend disbelief and let any object be our placeholder, but with enough players in the mix, a table can have a lot of dice, etc. It is nice to have miniatures to represent the main players in a scene, especially for the more complex encounters with combat and magic in the mix.

I have played with and without miniatures, and with and without some object or mark on a page to represent characters.

For those of us who are visually oriented, having s physical representation on the table can eliminate confusion and arguing over position and who can see/hit what or be seen/hit by whom.

I am not interested in spending a fortune to re-enact Helm’s Deep, or any other large-scale action. While it does have a certain coolness factor to it, I just want a reliable source of miniatures at a reasonable price. Both for players to find representatives for their characters, and for the DM for major NPCs or a large gang of orc/goblins/zombies/etc. The one nice thing about a large gang of monsters, is that we can use 20 orc figures to be goblins, zombies, etc. In time, perhaps have 20 of each, but time, space, and finances all have to come together for the gradual acquisition of a large collection.

Pantheons in Roleplaying

I do not like the idea of using the pantheons of real, yet dead religions, such as the gods of the Greeks, Vikings, Sumerians, etc.

There are several reasons for this. D&D already has a bad name and is wrongly associated with devil worship. Invoking the names of the gods of other religions, some of who are mentioned in the Bible, Apocrypha, and historical writings, just adds fuel to the fire. Both the Monster Manual and Dieties & Demigods/Legends and Lore, use these historical names. Tiamat, Mephistopheles, Zeus, etc. are all from historical religious writings.

While one could use a the structure of those historical pantheons, for their ready made stats in various game source books; change their names, to avoid continuing the stigma. It takes a lot of effort to come up with a religious structure from scratch. Yet, there has to be some framework of dieties if a player wants to be a cleric. For the humanoids, I go with the materials in the various source books. For the humans, I am torn between finding the time to develop my own, or just picking and choosing a few from the Greyhawk setting. After all, keeping prep time to a minimum, to maximize play is the key. A DM does want a life outside the game, right?

As a Christian, it does bother me to speak the names of historical deities while roleplaying. Roleplaying is not the same as having a literate discussion of the religion of the ancient Greeks.

That is one aspect of roleplaying where I think we should draw a line. Granted, we are all free to run the rules as we see fit for our own group. For my campaign in the works, I will avoid the use of any historical religious names, for both a clean conscience and to avoid the appearance of evil, for those who would judge our preferred game without all the facts.

Some may view this as a naive view of the world, but if we want our game of choice to be an option for the people of faith in our communities, or at least move them to a neutral and accepting frame of mind, we should keep such things in mind. Granted, there have not been a lot of movies about the dangers of D&D like in the 80s. However, I still do not feel comfortable discussing D&D with those who are more likely to look down on it.

While I have not run into outright anti-D&D sentiment in a long time, I have been an “in the closest” gamer for years. It was really bad when my wife questioned my beliefs when I mentioned that I like D&D. She like many from the 80s, bought the line of the movies and sensational headlines.I think I finally have her convinced it is not devil worship or evil, as she has not complained about having my books openly displayed on the shelves in our computer room. Yet she did state she did not want me spending hours wrapped up in those books. (She understands the time sink problem.)

How does your family, friends, and community react to D&D?

Magic Battle Standard

Robert, my brother, and I were at a game store that had a huge miniature  collection. I believe it was one of the times we made it to Kings Crown in Overland Park, KS, which was about an hour drive from home. I was 16 or 17, so about 1980-81 time frame.

They had a large terrain map, that as I recall was at least four 4×8 sheets of plywood. This was the central focus with the counter and displays around it. There were several “old guys” probably in the 30+ age bracket.

They regaled us of stories with their battles and talked of Magic Battle Standards. They gave their bearer and units that fought under them additional bonuses and protections. The more victories a unit won, the more powerful the standards became, until they were intelligent and could actively participate in the battle.

I wrote up some description for battle standards in my game, but no real stats yet. One thing I came up with was Greater and Lesser Standards. A Lesser Standard is magic, but does not grow in power, and has limits to how much of a unit it can protect. A Greater Standard, grows in power, etc. Using a variation on the rules for intelligent swords would be useful. I envisage them having alignments, so that will affect the kinds of things they can do. Perhaps even “holy” standards dedicated to a particular deity or pantheon. Another feature I came up with for Greater Standards is a bag of the same fabric attached to the pole. This bag will magic a soldier’s insignia to expand the protection of the standard to that individual. Only one insignia per day can be magicked when the standard is not in battle.

I have this vague recollection that these “old timers” mentioned planting the standard as a way for the unit to rally around the standard when the fight was going poorly.

I can see lots of choices for making such standards. I took the easy way out for now, and have the art of making them lost in antiquity, so I do not have to flesh this out in my game, until it becomes necessary. Since I have yet, to start this campaign, I have plenty of time.

Robert said he has his own rules for battle standards, but I have not yet gotten that information from him.

Mapping Hack with Index Cards and a Siege

My main character, Griswald Stewart, has a small town at the center of his lands. Long story short, he is a duke who succeeded his father, but his father’s generation of the former rulers of the kingdom were kicked out. The line of false kings let these lands become overrun with orcs in the past 50 years. Griswald and his cousins re-took the kingdom, which is now in a civil war, but a giant earthquake affected most of the kingdom, and the areas of the former Stewart lands. Griswald took this opportunity to take back his patrimony, and managed to drive out the orcs. He then set up in the town abandoned by the orcs.

I used a sheet from a desk blotter that was a giant sheet of graph paper. Setting the scale to 40 feet squares, the entire town fits on the map. The town is roughly 1500 feet by 3000 feet. The grid is four squares to the inch. I lost that desk blotter in several moves. I have not had luck finding them locally at office supply stores. I do not recall which chain of office supply store I originally found it. Google is not helping. I must not have the right terminology to get the correct results.

A few years after he took the town, two of the largest orc tribes, The Blue Fang and The Vile Hand, have put aside their differences and decided to deal with “The Duke” or “The Wolf” (his personal shield device) as he is variously called, BEFORE he sets their sites on them. Griswald has wiped out several smaller orc tribes, and his success in that regard has come back to bite him.

Needless to say, there is a siege situation, and if you have ever seen the movie Zulu, you get the idea of how bad a spot he and the townspeople are in.

We needed to figure out ranges for weapons and spells, so we could get an accurate setting for ranges that were at an angle. I found that the blue lines on standard 3 x5 index cards are spaced at the same scale as 4 square to the inch graph paper. I was able to put together two cards by stapling them together to determine ranges weapons and spells. Of course the orcs are staying outside of these ranges until the orcs catapults can batter a hole in the wall.

It was interesting to see that insect plague has the greatest range of the spells that Griswald and his forces have at their disposal. That is perhaps the most powerful battle magic spell in AD&D for its range, area of effect, duration, and the effect it has on low level creatures. Its one turn (10 round) casting time give plenty of time for things to go wrong. It then takes 8 hours of rest and then the 15 min per level time to re-learn it, so it has a big cost associated with how often it can be use from a cleric’s memory, to offset the effect it can have on a battlefield.

The orcs have observed and taken note of the tales of Griswald, a half-elf Fighter/Cleric/Magic-User of 9th/9th/10th levels, and his henchmen, associates, and followers. They have arrayed themselves into smaller units of 20 to 30 that are spread far enough apart in a checkerboard formation, that a fireball will not affect more than a single group, or those on the edges of four groups (the  equivalent of one group). This is the price of fame for an adventurer, the bad guys learn from you the way you learn from them.

One thing Griswald did several times before a few survivors spread the word was to draw the warriors out of their stronghold with the bait of a small force taunting them. He would then  lob a few fireballs at them and take out the stragglers back in the fort. He knows better than to have his forces leave their fortifications, so they are bottled up until he can defeat or discourage the attackers, or last until help arrives.

It is not played out so I can’t tell you what happened yet.

Metamorphosis Alpha & Gamma World

In our gaming group I GM’d for Metamorphosis Alpha. I am not sure whatever happened to our game materials. I remember a big map for the starship, and that the rulebook had tables for the characters to determine if they figured out how stuff they found worked.

I remember one session where I had the party find an airlock and a hangar bay, and in the hangar bay was a Cylon fighter. I grew up when the original BattleStar Gallactica series was new. We often “stole” ideas from TV and movies and books. I think I even had some token Cylons for them to fight. The players got to the ship and figured out how to fly it and flew around the exterior of the Warden.

We cracked up at some of the ridiculous things we through into the game and were able to do. We did not play more than a few sessions, but we cracked up and had a lot of fun.

I do recall, although it has been a long time, that the rules had a lot of similarity to Gamma World. I did a little Googling, and am right, MA was before GW and had an influence on the rules, which were based on D&D.

Gamma World was a game where we had a lot more sessions. I am not sure what happened to those materials over the years.

I see the Gamma World has been updated several times over the years, and that a company has licensed it from WoeC for the current incarnation.

I also found that Jim Wrad still controls MA and has a new version soon to be released. There are also MA materials on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. The first edition PDF is availabe, and there is a lot of information in the free 6 page preview PDF. It is amazing how well a single rulebook can encompass all one needs to know to play an RPG. I guess it helps if you have played one already, or have experienced players to show you the ropes.

I remember when the High School Science Fiction club was the focus of an article in our school paper. It had a hilarious typo in the list of games that we played, “Camel World” instead of Gamma World. Our group made a lot of references to mutant camels after that, and is an inside joke that still brings a chuckle to this day.

I am not having success finding a science fiction book that reads like an adventurer’s log of MA or GW. It was easy to tell how much that book influenced both MA and GW. It finally came to me and was able to Google it: “Hiero’s Journey” by Sterling E. Lanier. I have not read it since the 80’s.

One person in our group was fond of DMing modules from TSR, and one time we did play Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and encountered the ferocious Vegepygmies. That is about the only thing I remember from that module. I am not sure how much our DM stuck to the module, and how much he modified it. I did not have the cash to afford lots of modules, so I only purchased two for AD&D, Village of Hommelet and Ravenloft. I remember the ooh and ahh factor of the perspective maps in Raveloft. We never played those modules, but we loved the cool maps. I bought my copy of the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide this year, just for the information on how to do these maps.

We did do our own home-brew games. One was a space pirate combat game, that morphed to be a two planets in a solar system at war game. We did not play those more than a few times once we bought Imperium, and had a friend with the Star Treck game with ship to ship combat.

We did play Traveller a few times. It was unusual in that it relied solely on six-sided dice. The person who introduced us to it was not very skilled as a DM so his interest in the game did not translate well for the rest of us in the Science Fiction Club in high school.

We did come up with our own RPG, called Scout. Scouts were interstellar explorers who also were like a combination of marines and modern day Spartans. They were tough and could take you out hand-to-hand or with weapons. Although when we played we tended to focus on the use of weapons. We borrowed from other games to cover the situations that we needed. We played several sessions. My brother, Robert, was GM, and he wished that our characters would rely on martial arts before resorting to blasters and disintegration grenades. We just sort of stopped playing, but Robert started a couple of short stories, based on Scout, and his vision of what a scout was. We were all anxious for his next installment every few days. Robert is the kind of writer who can just sit down and write high quality stuff of the top of his head. Soon the bits of the story just stopped too.

I am sure we could probably resurrect Scout as either a module/add-on for another system, or update our home-brew rules. Robert may still have them, I will have to check. It would be fun to have our old materials as a PDF and used by other gamers around the world. Maybe even making a little money via RPGNow might be possible.

What games did you explore and play for awhile, but then settled on one game as “your game”? For me my game is AD&D.

Did you ever make up your own games? Board game or RPG?

Two Interesting Posts at Sandbox of Doom

I just discovered Sandbox of Doom. He has two interesting posts, one on open ended versus ongoing campaigns, the other on a comment on a review of old school gaming.

All the games I have played in have all been open ended campaigns, either with no stated objective, or no real plan/cohesion to the setting. My Brother, Robert, did run a campaign he called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”, but it was short lived, and we never got to a level requisite with questing for artifacts. Robert’s current campaign, has been going on for about 25 years, and is one that continues to give enjoyment to his siblings, friends, and his wife and children.

I think the terminology is one where some approach it from a different perspective. Campaign in the historical sense refers to a series of battles in the larger war. For example, the Normandy Campaign lasted from D-Day until the Normandy breakout, several weeks later. In this sense the campaign ended. For gamers, we are routed in historical/military terminology, so for many campaign indicates a series of related events (adventures) that come to and end.

I found it odd that all of these bloggers would put so much into a campaign having an end. I can see their point, if there is a stated goal, like in LotR to destroy the One Ring. Once the ring is destroyed, the “campaign” is over. That does not mean that the same characters cannot continue to adventure in the same setting. If one views the story telling of the campaign as merely a book with a clear beginning, middle, and end, I can see how this would limit a campaign to a clear end.

However, one could argue that such an approach is railroading. What if the players want to keep playing their characters? A clear agreement on the outcome would have to be reached. To me, it makes more sense to have a series of events that may tie up some loose ends, but expose others for future adventures. Just as life is not clear cut/black and white, so too the life of an adventurer is not neatly bookended/compartmentalized. Some old foe that was not dispatched, could return.

Having a clear end to a campaign makes sense if the GM is not available after a certain point in time to continue the campaign. Some groups rotate the role of GMover the same setting, so that each GM’s “turn” constitutes a campaign, there can be many successive campaigns in the same setting.

Back to terminology, one thing we picked up from the books and/or Dragon Magazine, was milieu. We understood milieu to be the world setting for the game, such as Greyhawk. We understood that a milieu would support multiple campaigns. Over the years, we tended just to say, Robert’s Campaign, The Campaign, or Robert’s Game. These phrases all referred to the AD&D game setting developed by Robert as the DM and enjoyed by all of us players.The campaign will continue as long as Robert does not lose interest and there are players willing to play.

In the end, we might quibble over terminology, but the main point is to have fun, and both players and GM need to be in agreement whether the campaign is limited or open ended.

Back to the article referencing old school gaming, I think that Victor at Sandbox of Doom hits the nail on the head when he points out that the rule set one uses and the ability to add or remove that which does not work, is what makes old school (0eD&D/1eAD&D) gaming so versatile. We take out that which does not add to our enjoyment of the game.

Some argue over the limitations of magic-users and clerics only having so many spells in a day, but it is balanced. Those spells can drop hundreds of opponents in the right circumstances, and kill or slow the high level fighter from reaching them. There is balance there. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses. One can try to be a multi-class demi-human, or a human the does one class for awhile and then adopts a second class. There are still limitations. multi-class characters have to earn two or three times as many experience points, and thus take a lot longer to get as powerful as single class characters. A human dual-class character has limitations on what they can do with their original class until they surpass their new class. It is also not just about the numbers. Players should use the numbers to help inform them how to play their characters.

Characters with higher range ability scores can make it easy to skip the roleplaying, as they are more like Superman without a weakness to Kryptonite. That is where a good back story comes in. Those players with more average ability scores can still be the great heroes of the game, if they live long enough to advance to greater skill levels. Again it is all about having fun, and how a group of players and GM can merge their collective knowledge, experience, and story telling into something new and entertaining.

Creating Maps with Office Suite

I found this article over at Grumbling Grognard, that describes how he made the map, using MS Office, for his take on Monte Cook’s Chordille Keep. GG started with Excel to create the squares, then drew the lines and squares. Then saved it as a bitmap and imported into PowerPoint to add numbers and color. GG says that he used a similar technique for his entry in the one-page dungeon contest.

I am sure one could use Open Office to do the same, Calc instead of Excel, Presenter instead of  PowerPoint, or possibly Draw. One could also use GIMP with its layer capability to do variations with and without a grid, such as for the player’s map.

While there are specialty tools to make maps and dungeons, I find it interesting how one can use tools that one is already familiar and avoid the learning curve and expense of a new tool. (Here expense is not just monetary cost, but cost in time, disk space, etc.)

Software I Use For RPGs

I use a dual-boot Windows XP Home and Ubuntu Linux system. My computer is very old for a computer nerd, nearly 8 years old, but since I mostly use Linux, it runs a LOT faster than Windows and does not slow down with age. (This may be the year we get a new computer.)

My number one tool is the programmable text editor, NoteTab Pro. It is a Windows program, but runs just fine in Linux via Wine. I keep text files and outlines with lots of my information. I also have customized clips (NoteTab scripts) for generating random names. I used another tool to generate 1,000 names for each of a variety of cultures, real and fantasy. My clip then uses those lists to pick a random name. I have it try again until it picks a name I want. I also have clips to help me build NPCs, Kingdoms, etc. I keep adding to the capabilities of the Clip Library, but it still has too many rough edges to share. It is hard to find enough time to build the campaign — I get caught up in building the tools.

Next would be Open Office. I mainly use Calc, the Excel equivalent, to do what I need with spreadsheets. Open Office is available for Windows, Unix, Linux, and Mac. It can save directly to PDF, which is handy if you have to use Windows. I saw two interesting articles on using spreadsheets for timelines, in this case Googledocs, and for maps (floorplans), just in the past week.

On Linux, one can print to a file, and choose pdf without having to set up another driver to do this like in Windows. The easy way to do this in Windows is with CutePDF. It is a free print driver that lets the user save a PDF of anything they can print, to the directory  of their choice.

For graphics it is Gimp, the free graphics editor, which is available for Windows and many other OSes. I have fiddled with my campaign map which I got on the computer using my camera on a tripod, since my scanner is broken. My camera is now out of commission. It is over 6 years old. I can get a 5 megapixel camera for a lot less than I paid for this one. (Sometime after summertime expenses for the family.)

For web browsing, I use Firefox. It too, is a program with native versions for many OSes. I like its tabbed interface, which I have used for over 11 years with NoteTab. I often end up with a few dozen tabs with the various topics I research. I like the ability to save a group of tabs together, so I can re-open all of them at once. It makes it easy to go on the side tracks of research, but not lose your original place. I also like the customizability of all the add-ons. NOTE: I switched to Chrome a few years ago, due to speed issues with Firefox. I was reluctant, but don’t miss it.

I have a couple of one-page wikis, such as ten foot wiki, that I am evaluating to help organize my information. Using such wikis online requires having them secured and backed up regularly to prevent malicious or accidental loss of information. The nice thing is that they can be used locally for the DM to keep all his notes in one place if he has a fast enough computer to handle it. The drawback is no power. The advantage of pen and paper is that you can play by candle light, or the light of a campfire, as my group did in high school, when we stayed at a friend’s house “in the country”. We would beat on each other with sticks for swords. We learned about padding our weapons from an SCA guy at the local Renaissance Festival, and had a few less bruises.

When I started with Basic D&D in 1978, computers were a novelty no one I knew could afford. The well-to-do families had the first Atari game systems. My high school had one Apple II, that we occasionally got to play a Star Trek game, there might have been a couple other games. And we had to write a ten line program to do square and cube roots. It was either my junior or senior year in the 1981-83 time frame that we finally got a TI 99-4A. In college, I was in the first group of freshmen that did not have to use punch cards. It was not until the mid 90s that I had a computer of my own that I was able to type up all my character and other information. I still do maps by hand. I suppose if I had a Wacom Tablet, that might meet my needs. The one thing about us “old-school” gamers is that we can spend a lot less money to have fun. If I had all the game systems and other fancy toys my boys have, I would never have gone outside as a kid. I certainly would never have been bored.

My brothers and others in our game group talked about having computers networked together so that each person only saw things from his character’s perspective, but the GM could see it all. We should have patented that idea, since WOW and others have done it. Oh well. Since those online games require a monthly infusion of cash, I have steered clear of them. RPGs are a big enough time sink if one is not careful. It is all too easy to lose track of the time when engrossed in a project on the computer.

The nice thing about using computers with gaming is that you can consolidate a lot of information in a small space and still read it, all without getting writer’s cramp. I am slowly consolidating all my information so that I only have one binder for my characters, and another for my campaign.

Now there are all kinds of programs for running RPGs online. It is hard not to have that face-to-face. I think I could do a game like that if I could do it with the group I used to play with all the time. If you know each other, such things would be easier. I do have online friendships with people around the world, but playing an RPG online seems quite difficult. I may give it a try sometime, since finding a local group has not yet born fruit. The one benefit is that you don’t have to worry about your wife not approving of the people coming to your house. My wife is not OK with the whole gaming thing, so I have not introduced my kids to it. I think after all our years of marriage, I have finally convinced her that it is not evil, in the sense of all the sensationalism of the 1980’s. The only kinds of games my wife likes are board games and card games.

Enhance Your Story With Other Fields: Biology

Exchange of Realities has an interesting article on enhancing story with other fields, with the focus on biology. This is something we all practice by our nature, often unconsciously.

One of the best things about writing and gaming is that they take skill synergy like almost nothing else in
the world does. No matter what you do or learn, odds are that some part of it can apply to the writing desk
or the game table. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s obvious when you’re willing to think twisty, and
sometimes it’s entirely unexpected.

Medieval Population Density

This informative article about population density of medieval based worlds and number of cities, towns, and villages and numbers of a give occupation relative to population.

There are links to websites to run the formula and build a kingdom quickly. One can also use Excel to build the formula into a spreadsheet, of which there are links to some examples .

I recommend saving it as a PDF so that it is available for off line use.

[Edit] Corrected link to website to use current URL. 09 February 2014.