Tag Archives: Flavor

“The Rancor” – A Cautionary Tale On Out-of-Character Outbursts

During a long series of play, we called “Dungeon Wars” (One big dungeon/cavern complex with several skirmishes and battles, and no clear winner.) The DM described a creature, later learned to be an annis, in a way that lead me to picture a Rancor. If you have seen “The Return of The Jedi”, you know that the big hungry monster in Jabba the Hut’s basement is a Rancor. Robert, the DM and my brother, described the annis as eating a man in two bites. I think he overestimated the size of the mouth of an annis, as they are about 8 feet tall and basically humanoid.

That inspired me to say, out of character, “The Rancor”, and make my best imitation of the roar of the rancor.

Later, whenever we encountered a big and tough monster, I would blurt out, “The Rancor” with the same rancor roar.

My brother is a very creative individual, and decided to teach me a lesson to limit my use of such out of character utterances. That is to say, he was tired of “The Rancor” and my roar.

During an adventure that saw all of the players of the major PCs and a major NPC wizard go after a magic bookstand. We all owed favors to this wizard and he called in each of our favors to go get it. Robert set the stage and when we got to a very large room and we knew it had a big, bad monster in it. As if on cue, I said, “The Rancor” and roared.

Suddenly, Robert reached down and pulled a toy Rancor out of a paper grocery bag and set it on the table. We all cracked up, and it was several minutes before we had composure. Only to learn that the Star Wars toy was the actual monster we faced. Griswald was in the front and the Rancor grabbed him and rolled high enough that he swallowed Griswald whole. Robert then picked up my miniature for Griswald and stuffed it down the mouth of this toy. (Scale-wise, a 25 mm miniature is about half the height of Luke Skywalker, so this creature was huge.) Griswald was limited in what he could do, and managed to pull out a dagger to do internal damage as the rest of the party tried to kill the monster without also doing in Griswlad.

Robert gave it like 100 hit points, which was not too many for the rest of the party to wail on it in a few rounds before Griswald suffocated or took damage from stomach acid.

Anyway, lesson learned. I do not make continued out of character noises or references that are annoying to the DM. However, I must say, I deserved it, my character did not die, and we all had a great laugh and still laugh about it today.

What creative ways have you or your GM used out of character statements or actions as plot points in an adventure?

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.

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.


My brother, Robert, is my favorite DM. He can improvise almost anything, and never seems to be surprised or disappointed with the actions a player has his character make. He has had what I would classify as four campaigns. The first campaign was the generic catch-all, different dungeons and modules.

His second campaign, was a desert campaign that centered around Abdul’s. Abdul’s was basically a giant shopping center for the adventurers. One could get anything at Abdul’s if you had the gold.

Abdul’s was inside  a giant mesa. If one looked up, they could see a Constellation class starship hanging from the ceiling.

I remember having to roleplay equipping our first level characters. I ran a thief, who foolishly asked for thieves picks and tools, and had to avoid the law.

Robert invented a couple of creatures, one was a mount called a quast. It was a fast-running desert creature that needed little water. It ran fast enough that a human rider could cross a large stretch of desert and not have to worry about dying of thirst. The other creature was a flying creature. I do not remember what he called it, but they came with a special saddle that had the commands on the saddle, and the word “avaunt” which meant to take flight.

One time two players had these new gizmos, basically Chinese repeating crossbows that could fire 10 bolts a round. They went to a cave and were trapped by a huge hoard of orcs, and rather than rely on our new weapons as Robert, the DM, thought we would. We instead drew our swords and died, a TPK becuase we did not rely on the tools the DM let us have.

Another incident we had in the desert was coming to an oasis and stumbling across a dimensional rift where a bunch of French Foreign Legionnaires were fighting desert tribesmen.

Abdul’s became a crutch for the players in this game and the DM had a great solution. Abdul had done something to offend some ghostly host that one night came and took away Abdul’s piece by piece, and we all watched it disappear. This was a transition to a new campaign Robert called “Quest For The Dice of Destiny”.

Other RPGs

Yesterday, I wrote about science fiction RPGs: Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World. Traveller, and Scout – a home-brew RPG.

Today, I will touch on the others that my old group from high school played.

GangBusters was based on the gangsters and FBI of the Roaring 20s & 30s, a la Al Capone and Eliot Ness. I do not remember playing that more than a few times. This was a TSR product.

Top Secret was a TSR RPG based on James Bond, and other spy movies. This is one RPG that our group got into and we played quite a lot. I still have my hand-written character sheet on notebook paper from the 80’s. We just sort of drifted away from this game. I think after high school graduation and the separation of our gaming group, we no longer had the large base to take turns GMing so that one GM would not get totally burnt out preparing all the time. It is hard to prepare one game, let alone attempt to GM multiple games in multiple systems.

Boot Hill, also by TSR, is a western based game. We also played this one quite a lot. I actually owned this game and was working on a campaign and preparing to GM, when for some reason it never happened. I don ot recall what happened to my game materials.

Game cross-over. One of the problems our group encountered was that when one person was a player in one game and a GM in another, that person could be vengeful on the players when their turn came to be GM. We played one scenario in AD&D where two good-aligned characters killed the evil Drow character of the guy who was our GM for Boot Hill. He was very unhappy and swore to kill our characters in Boot Hill. He did kill our characters in Boot Hill, but at least he made it a memorable “Alamo” scenario, and while we did not appreciate the vengeance angle, at least he made it enjoyable.

Another similar scenario occurred when another DMs campaign had a player whose character was extremely evil and high level. My brother, Robert, and I had two new players in this campaign, and our stated goal was to get powerful enough to top this evil. So here we were 1st or 2nd level and this powerful 10th or higher level bad-guy is allowed to hear about these two new upstart PCs and tracked us down. We were no match for him, but my first level M-U used magic missle to blind one eye before he was struck down. This same evil character was played by the same evil character in the other D&D campaign that we slew, and who was the Boot Hill GM.

These problems with cross-over and what I would consider poor DMing to allow a high level evil character to even hear about the minor threat two low level characters posed, helped lead to the shrinking of our base of players. The DM did not have to tell this other player what we had stated our purpose was out of character.

Have you faced similar cross-game problems? How have you handled them to avoid hurt feelings?

I think it is one thing to have a party of NPCs be the nemesis of the player party, but it is troublesome to me on how to handle to player parties in the same campaign to interact in a way that brings enjoyment to both groups. If there are of opposites with one evil and the other good, I see it as a recipe for disaster and a sure-fire way to shatter a group. If I had to GM such a situation, I would try to discourage one player or group of players from trying to kill another, no matter the motive, or at least explain to them that it needed to be in the purview of the game and to be careful not to break friendships over it. As DM, perhaps put obstacles that prevent such incidents, unless there was a stated shared mindset that such activity was acceptable and that no hard feelings would result.

Roleplaying, like acting, touches on our real emotions and can soon lead to conflict, if one is not careful to make boundaries and limits. This is why people with untreated mental illnesses should not role play, as it can lead to problems. Such things lead to the bad name D&D had in the 80s, and was the source of the real problems of that gamer played by Tom Hanks in that TV movie in the 80s. It is meant to be a game that is fund, not the source of anger that dissolves friendships or drives borderline nut jobs over the edge. No disrespect intended to those with mental or emotional issues. If we are well-adjusted and approach it as a game that is meant to be fun, there should be few disappointments.

It is all too easy to become emotionally attached to our characters, and to feel loss or pain when that character has a setback in the game or dies.

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.

Genealogy Programs To Generate Family Trees

One of my non-RPG interests is genealogy. There are several free genealogy programs that can save off various styles of family trees to PDF. This could be used to generate a family tree for characters, or kings and other rulers.

Many of these can export to RTF or other formats, so that a background could be used if the PDF is only to be used online. Otherwise, get some parchment paper, and give it the rough treatment, if it is to be an ancient document. For example, tear off or burn a piece that the players will need to know for some reason.

For Windows PCs, Legacy Family Tree has a free version able to meet these needs. It also works on other OSes with Wine. For Linux, there is a GUI based program called GRAMPS, that can also run on other OSes. For those not afraid of the command line and an ncurses text interface, there is LifeLines. It was originally developed for Unix, but has been ported to Linux, Mac, Windows and others.

What programs and utilities do you use outside of your gaming life that could be used to add flavor?

Who Killed the Men of England?

Harvard Magazine has an interesting article that investigates the transition of Britain from Romans & Celts to Anglo-Saxons in a 400 year period.

The article is about scientific disciplines helping fill in the gaps in the written record of historical times. The findings of science are informing revised interpretations of evidence.

One example is the black earth where the towns of France were thought to have been abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, but actually show a change in building materials from stone to organic materials such as wood and thatched roofs.

They also tie the DNA study into examples from the descendants of the former slaves in the US, and the population of Medellin, Columbia. This can add flavor to the history and sway of one’s campaign.

The article can also be saved as a PDF that has illustrations to help visualize the point. Save off the PDF in case the link goes dead in the future.

It is amazing how little things we do not expect can inform us and help add spice to a campaign.