Tag Archives: Inspiration

“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.

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.

Memorable Events

There have been many memorable events in the various games I have played in over the years.

One that delights us to this day, is a situation where a high level party was fighting an orc tribe in their lair.

A dwarven fighter, Margus Greystone, entered a room with about 30 orcs in it. He turned around, closed the door and bolted it. This of course got the attention of the orcs. Margus had initiative and shocked the orcs by his behavior, so he had enough time to draw his weapon.

Randell, the player for Margus, then announced, “I hit the one on the left.” Margus is a right-handed dwarf and was about 9th level with a 18/xx style strength and maybe a magic weapon. The combination was that if he hit an orc of one hit die, it would die. So Margus continued to hit the orc on his left, which meant that he left his less well armored right side exposed, but of course, being a high level fighter, had plate mail, and the orcs had a hard time hitting him.

We all watched as the scene played out in a room full of orcs with a barred door blocked by a dwarven tank. It was after a few orcs fell, that the orcs realized that they were all going to die.

Several rounds later, Margus emerged from the room unscathed, but covered in orc blood.

This is my favorite example of hack and slash combined with roleplaying.

What favorite stories like this do you have from your gaming experience?

Abdul’s

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”.

Gladiatorial Combat

Sometimes we would get tired, or our usual DM, my brother, did not want to run a game that weekend.

We all still wanted to play, so we would have a “what if …” scenario where one player would fight another to the death, so see who was toughest. None of it had any real effect on the campaign.

That was when we still were more towards the scale of “Monty Haul” with lots of magic items, etc.

My character, Kad Staglar, was a halfling fighter/thief with a girdle of storm giant strength a +2 longsword and a ring of regeneration. When we were in a dungeon, he would just run through the lower half of doors to open them.

Another player’s character had managed to beat everyone else. I believe he was an assassin or something with a poison weapon. My halfling was doing a lot of damage, but he went down. Just as Bret was sure he had won, my halfling got back on his feet and rejoined the fight. Bret soon remembered the ring, and when Kad went down again, Brett’s character removed the ring.

Has any other player group done that?

In college we had a group that had a competition that would have characters plopped down on an island. We had a million experience points and a certain amount of gold to prepare our characters. This was still 1e AD&D. The choice was either assassin for the quick kill potential, or fighter for the ability to take a hit, but there were a few who chose M-Us. I do not remember actually playing this out. I think my choice of assassin did not last as long as I’d hoped.

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.