Geek Toys (Or things I want to work into my game)

There are a few items over on the ThinkGeek site that I've been wanting to incorporate into my game. They are a little pricey, but basically they are toys I want anyway and think they would be great doing double duty as gaming props.

Wooden War Engine Kits

Wooden War Engine KitsWooden War Engine Kits
What war would be complete without a war machine or three? There are two different kits. For shorter range targets, use a catapult, and reserve the trebuchet for long distance fighting. You can set up a skill challenge for your players and what better way to celebrate a success than letting them play. Then bring them to the office and surprise a few co-workers with your awesome battle skills.

Wooden Hydraulic Machines Kit

Wooden Hydraulic Machines KitWooden Hydraulic Machines Kit
What evil scientist's lair is complete without a cherry picker? What ancient dragon's tomb can't use an excavator? The package comes with a total of four kits: Scissor Lift, Platform Lifter, Cherry Picker, and Excavator. Use these wooden hydraulic machines to provide a sense of wonder to your game.

Magnetic Accelerator Kit

Magnetic Accelerator KitMagnetic Accelerator Kit
Perhaps there is a pressure sensitive plate in the floor that your fighter doesn't recognize or maybe it goes off in the face of your party's thief. Either way, this is a fun little device that will evoke memories of movies like Indiana Jones.

Magnetic Levitation Activity Kit

Magnetic Levitation Activity KitMagnetic Levitation Activity Kit
It's a train or at least a floating platform. Although it's probably more evocative of Eberron than any other D&D setting, I just love the thought of this device. Want to play out the train coming into the station? Now you can. magnetic levitation for the win.

Slash and Cast: New D&D Podcast

Slash and Cast PodcastSlash and Cast Podcast There is a new D&D podcast in town. The host, Antony Gettig, a veteran podcaster and former radio personality, played Dungeon & Dragons in the early 80's and recently started playing again. Like me, his interest was piqued by the D&D podcasts done by Wizards of the Coast.

Most shows will feature D&D news and a main show topic, generaly a discussion with a co-host or an interview. Show notes for the first show can be found here. The next show will focus on ways to maximize your role playing experience and some tips for playing dungeon delves.

Perhaps most importantly, he spent some time talking about my homemade dungeon tiles. I definitely look forward to listening to more episodes in the future. In particular, the news feature will be incredibly useful since I can listen to it while I work.

Look at Forgotten Treasures: L2. The Assassin’s Knot

As an adult, newbie dungeon master with a full-time job and other such responsibilities, I don't have as much time to devote to crafting my game as I might like. Which means, while I would love to spend hours drawing maps, doing so would take time away from what I consider to be even more important items, story development and encounter planning. For this reason, I've been looking through some of the 3rd edition archives available on the Wizards of the Coast website.

This led me to discover what I consider to be a pretty cool module written in 1983, L2. The Assassin's Knot. While my main interest in the module at this point is for the maps and some descriptions of the town and its inhabitants, I think it would be interesting to update the module for 4th edition play. Unlike many modules I've read, you get to play Sherlock Holmes instead of going to "here there be monsters" and slaying them. I know my husband has been wanting to play in a game with more intrigue and mystery, so I will probably be borrowing those elements over time as well.

For my Newham campaign, Garroten becomes Derby, a small town on the Susswasser River, the House of Abraham (inn) becomes the Crown and Arrows, and the castle becomes the home of the Duke of Derby, his wife, his son Alric, and daughter-in-law Margaret. Without her husband's knowledge, Margaret had promised her first-born to a goblin in exchange for the secret of how to spin straw into gold and, well, the payment is about to come due. I kept most of the stores available in Garroten but added my own twists to them and changed the temples to revere the gods that the inhabitants of Newham Shire are most likely to celebrate. So far, using the preexisting structure from the module has allowed me to add a lot of flavor to the game without taking a lot of effort on my part. I get to fill in the blanks instead of having to come up with the blanks and then filling them.

The DMG suggests that dungeon masters "steal" as much as they need to craft their games and I think these archives are a great resource for doing just that. I'm thinking of modifying the maps from Return to the Temple of the Frog for my Lizardfolk city.

3.5 D&D Archives
Adventure Archive

Homemade Dungeon Tiles

I really like tiles. They let me create encounter maps in a modular setting and make things up on the fly. While I like the ones created by Wizards of the Coast, I find that you often need multiple sets and that can get expensive over time. Besides, I really like the arts and crafts time I get to spend when I make my own.

Supplies:
* Foam sheets - I got mine at Ben Franklins. They are 9x12 and are available in a number of different colors.
* Markers - I used Sharpie brand permanent markers.
* Clear contact paper
* A ruler - It can double as a straight edge for drawing the lines.
* Card stock - Use it to create removable terrain features.
* Adhesive tack - Use it to "pin" down the tiles.

Assembly:
1. Draw grid on the foam. Permanent markers work pretty well, just don't push down too hard.
2. Cover the tiles with clear contact paper.
3. If you want to make the rooms, doors, and other items to be permanent, draw them out now with permanent marker. Mistakes can be removed by wiping the tiles with a dry paper towel or cloth. Some marks can be removed the next day with rubbing alcohol.
4. Place the tiles down on the surface. You can use adhesive tack to help keep them in place. In my case, I like putting them down on a battle mat to make lining them up easier and, in cases of town settings, the rest of the encounter area is already set up. In addition to the tiles, you can make encounter features out of card stock, such as crates, trees, and beds.

Blank foam sheetBlank foam sheet
Foam Sheet with GridFoam Sheet with Grid
Laminated tilesLaminated tiles
Example estateExample estate
Example innExample inn
Adhesive tackAdhesive tack
Apply tack to back of tileApply tack to back of tileExample dungeonExample dungeon
Example courtyard with treesExample courtyard with trees

Wizards DM Hotline

Most people reading my blog already know this, but Wizards is hosting a DM hotline October 8-11, between 2pm and 6pm PDT. More details can be found on their site.

This is a great idea and I hope they do more of them. Now I just need to think up some questions to ask.

Lessons Learned

Over the past few weeks, I've been running the Newham Shire/Arcadia campaign for my group. I've been having a blast and I think my group is having fun as well. Recently, however, I think I made a pretty big beginners mistake. Many of my story lines have been a bit more complex than the normal, "there be bad guys" type campaigns, and I really thought my players might appreciate a couple of encounters with clear bad guys that one doesn't have to feel so bad about killing. The second of these encounters involved a small band of spriggans (5 in total) who were demanding a toll in order to cross a bridge. I thought it was going to be a pretty fun, if a bit of a hard encounter and I spent a fair bit of time figuring out how the different members of the spriggan team would act and how to use their powers most effective.

However, in all my planning, I didn't expect that my players might not want to fight. Just as important, I couldn't see how these little guys (who dip their hats in the blood of their victims) wouldn't want either a very large toll from the players or their blood. This failure to think a bit outside of the box led to a rather awkward incident where my players rolled fairly high but it was well near impossible to get the result they wanted.

If I had thought about this possibility in advance, I could have done a much better job meeting my player's expectations. Their attempts to use diplomacy and intimidate could have been part of a harder skill challenge. The failure condition could be that they were required to pay an even higher toll or just that they would have to fight the spriggans. I would have felt better about it and I think my players would have as well. In the end, my players really appreciated the more difficult and challenging encounter, but I think it would have been an awesome encounter with the addition of the skill challenge.

A Brief History of Sarah's New Hampshire

Sarah's ancestral homeland, New Hampshire, is a peninsula connected to the mainland on the northern side and mostly protected from it by a range of nearly impassible mountains. A land of great beauty and magic, many wars had been fought by those seeking to rule the land. These wars greatly saddened some of the gods and they finally grew tired of the strife and destruction that made the land ugly. The gods sent word to the inhabitants of the land, warning them to flee north or else be buried beneath tons of glacial ice. The inhabitants fled north to the desert of discontent. It is said that the lake that formed there was created from the tears of those who had to leave and that is why the river that runs from it, the River of Sorrow, has such bitter water.

Glaciers covered the land for one thousand years. The gods hoped that all would forget about the magical place and it would once again be their playground. The glaciers left behind large lakes in the mountains, which still contain the magic from the glaciers themselves. This magic trickles its way from these lofty lakes in streams and falls and makes its way to the River of Sorrow, over time turning the bitter water sweet.

This river runs south to the Lake of Lost Memories, so named because ruins of the previous civilizations ring it. It passes through the Dwarven town of Andernach, built on the hills Krahnenberg and Engwetter. It passes under the great stone Dwarven bridge and onwards to the great lake.

In the center of the lake is an island with a tall tower. To the northwest lie the woods of the Eladrin, to the northeast, the elves, to the southwest, swamps and to the southeast, the city of Abernathy. Abernathy is a human city, their capital for the region. Humans have lived here just for the past 99 years and this was the first city founded, as much of the magic in the lower portion of the region is concentrated in the lake. Here is where the nobility dwells.

Further south of the lake, where the Sweet River (Süßwasser) runs into the ocean lies the port city Barmouth. Most of the town is inhabited by newcomers, involved in merchant trade or the ship building industry. The natural and magical resources from the rest of the region are shipped through this town and goods from abroad come through here. The ships built here are highly desired, as the woods are full of trees of exceptional strength and flexibility. The town is run by a council of 9, with the majority of the members appointed by the nobility who make their home in Abernathy. While the nobility is quite benevolent and try to allow the city to conduct its own affairs as much as possible, there is some tension because the newcomers want to rapidly expand the city boundaries and push ever closer to the woods and swamps of New Hampshire.

The humans haven't explored much of the woods, although some have traveled to the Eladrin city. The well trained eye can see a number of elven towns in their woods. Since they've been here for just 99 years, the human cities and towns aren't well built up yet, and the whole area has a colonial feel to it. The exception would be that the ruling Darkmagic family lives in an old stone castle left over from an earlier time.

How much of a role to play?

As a new player, one of the hardest things for me to figure out is how much role playing the group is comfortable with. Sure, I'm not going to be great at it at first, but that's an entirely different thing from determining how much the rest of the group is amused by it. If I do too much, I'm worried that some people will get bored or upset that the DM is spending more time on my character. If I do too little, well the truth is I might as well be playing Avernum instead.

In addition to the amount of role playing, it's hard to figure out what I should include and what I should leave out. Even though I was a tomboy growing up and am most comfortable around guys, I still have a few, more stereotypically girly thoughts than most of the group. For instance, my character isn't looking for a shining white knight but she also has some romantic notions of adventuring since her parents met as adventurers. But that leaves me with a ton of questions. Can she have crushes? Should she blush whenever a handsome waiter asks her a question? Should she get her own room at the inn especially since one of her fellow adventurers is a bit of a heel? Can she hide behind the dragon-born whenever she sees a monster that really scares her? To me, these are important matters but I'm not sure how important or amusing they are to the guys.

So far, she hasn't done too much of that sort of thing. Most she's done is write in a letter to her parents that the paladin has good hands (which made him reply "but I'm celibate") and I've written about her henna tattoo. I'm sure I'll figure it out as time goes on and I'm sure Sarah will find a love interest or two (if only in her journal). But I would love to hear your thoughts.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Like many people, my childhood was filled with fanciful stories. One of my favorites has always been The NeverEnding Story. While I don't remember having the book read to me, I remember watching the movie quite clearly, especially jumping when the windows bang open. During my trip home, my mom borrowed the movie through NetFlix and we watched it last night. While I no longer had the fear/tension watching the movie, it was great fun to watch. I still want to ride a luckdragon.

Another nice thing about being home is that I now have access to many of the books that made up my childhood library. A rare treat for me was being able to read from the illustrated children's bible my mom kept in a safe place. We also had at least two big books of nursery rhymes, Hans Christian Andersen's and Grimm's fairy tales, and Aesop's fables. My brother and I would spend hours reading these and other books and playing out many of the stories.

We also made up stories. For a long time, my parents slept on two twin beds pushed together. Whenever we played on their bed, the two beds would start to move apart. We used to pretend that it was a bed monster, trying to swallow us up. The huge yard around our house became the battlefield of many an epic battle, sometimes even involving the Greco-Roman gods. And my brother would spend hours at the library, researching medieval weapons.

I think it's incredibly important that we encourage curiosity and imagination not only in children but in adults as well. It's why even though I didn't play, I loved hosting my husband's D&D games and before that, I would sit and listen to them for hours. When I found myself no longer creating stories in my mind, I started playing. I think my mind needs the escape and the mental exercise it gets from creating these stories. I just need to find the confidence to tell others what my mind creates.

About Sarah (Part I)

I figured it would probably be a good idea to describe Sarah since I named this blog and everything after her :-)

Sarah Darkmagic is the eldest daughter of Stephen and Enna (Moonbow) Darkmagic. Her parents were great adventurers once, working with others such as Douvan Staul and his wife, Eliza. They gave away all that they could from their earnings to help those around them and, when Sarah was born, were poor in funds but rich in friends. They decided that the adventuring life wasn't the sort of life for a little girl and, so, gave up the adventurer's life and started a traveling magic show. Stephen, coming from the great wizarding family from New Hampshire, seemed like the star of the show but in reality, most of the show depended on the technical expertise of his wife. The skills she practiced and developed as the expert lockpick of the group helped greatly in running the "magical" equipment.

The early years were hard as they didn't have a great amount of savings and such shows require a fair amount of money for equipment and components. Although they felt bad about it, they trained their young daughter Sarah how to pick pockets, making sure to target only those who could withstand having their change purse a few coins lighter. And they always did their best to get their extensive network of friends to help the poor target out, perhaps with a free room or some free refreshments at the bar.

As time went on, the popularity of their show grew and grew. About six months ago, Stephen was offered the opportunity to have a daily show in a big city. After a long discussion, the family decided that this was an excellent step forward, as it would allow Sarah's much younger siblings to have the sort of stability that they had always wanted for her. However, this left Sarah with a terrible decision. She could stay with her family, but she would have to get used to an entirely different sort of life. There would be no more traveling and they obviously wouldn't need her to steal anymore (not that she ever really liked it). Or she could leave, trying to find a her place in the world.

After careful deliberation, Sarah felt that she had to leave. Through her family, she had a wide network of friends. Besides, if she stayed, there might be a lot of pressure on her to settle down in other ways. Her family held a huge going away part for her. Her father gave her a simple locket with pictures of the family inside. But he also enchanted it, so that whenever she held it tight in her hand, she could feel the loving warmth of her family embrace her and make her feel calm. Her mother presented her with a finely made dress so that where ever the road took her, she would always have the appropriate clothes. She packed these items, some clothes and basic adventuring goods, and her never-ending journal and left early the next morning before anyone else awoke.

She was only two weeks into her travels when an urgent letter came from her mother. A good family friend, Douvan Staul, was missing and his wife was terribly worried about him. Sarah remembered the weeks spent at their place when her parents traveled to the less savory areas. She knew that she had to find him even if she had no idea how. According to the letter, the last place he was known to be was Winterhaven and that is where she went.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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