For Want of a Story: Thor

Thor is the red-haired and bearded god of thunder of Norse mythology. He is the son of Odin and the giantess Jörð. Thor has two sons, Magni and Modi, with his mistress, the giantess Járnsaxa and a daughter, Thrud, with his wife, Sif. The family lives in Bilskirnir, the greatest of all buildings and containing 540 rooms. It is located in Asgard, the capital city of the Norse gods. Thor provides many interesting story lines since so many of his stories feature trickery and cunning in addition to pure physical prowess.

Ways to Incorporate Thor

Close companions can be used by enemies.
Loki was captured by Geirrod and, in exchange for his freedom, promised to bring the giant's enemy Thor to him. Thor is saved by the giantess Grid, who tells him of the plan and gives him the magic items that help him defeat Geirrod and all the other frost giants he could find.
Failure can be success in disguise.
Útgarða-Loki, a giant king, outwits Thor at one point. The king challenges Thor and his companions to several contests and they lose every one. In the first, Thor's swift servant Þjálfi runs a race against one of the king's men. Then Loki is challenged to an eating contest against the king's servant Logi. Then Thor is challenged to lift the paw of a cat, to a drinking contest and to wrestle an old woman. It turns out that none of these tasks were what they seemed. The runner represented Thought, Logi represented Wild-Fire, the cat was an illusion of the Midgard Serpent, the horn was connected to the ocean and the old woman was Old Age. Thor left the contest humiliated but it turns out that in attempting the contest at all and getting as far as he did, he had done deeds worthy of his position.
The mind can be a most dangerous weapon
At one point, Thrymr, King of the Giants, steals Thor's hammer and won't give it back unless the goddess Freyja marries him. Of course, Freyja refuses but they decided, against Thor's initial objections, to send Thor in her place, dressed in her bridal gown. He is able to play a woman well enough to convince Thrymr to have the hammer brought to his "wife."
Recurring enemies are the most fun.
Thor is in a life-long struggle to defeat the Midgard Serpent. Sometimes, he calls out the serpent and other times it appears in places, and ways, he least expects it.
A few details of his appearance make him recognizable
Thor is often represented by his uniquely shaped hammer. The weapon is so symbolic of him that it became a very popular ornament during the Viking Age and is a well-known symbol of Germanic paganism.

How might you use parts of the mythology of Thor in your campaign?

Cool Tools: Burst and Blast Templates, Dwarven Forge, and Fighty

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Burst and Blast Templates

One of the guys in my gaming group, @TheMikeKatz, bought these burst and blast templates and they are pretty useful. They help us to easily know if a particular target is within reach and we can leave the burst squares on the table to signify areas affected by lingering spells. The same company also makes condition tile sets to help track conditions but we don't own these and I'm not sure how they work in actual game play. Having the color tie to the player rather than the condition helps with the issue of remembering who exactly caused the condition and makes it easier to say things like, "Hey, it's the end of your turn, do any of these conditions go away?"

Dwarven Forge

Yes, they are expensive. But even more importantly, they are freaking awesome. The envy of many a DM, Dwarven Forge sets help answer simple questions like, are there any candles in the room, where exactly are those pits of lava, and are there any girls there? These sets aren't for everyone as some people would rather be limited by their imagination instead of the amount of money they have and whether or not the piece they want is available. But for the rest of us, we either already own them or continue to drool. Mike Shea, @SlyFlourish, has some great tips for incorporating them into your games. And if you haven't seen Gabe's post on using mirrors and lasers, you need to check it out now. We'll still be here when you get back.

Cavernous Passasge SetCavernous Passasge SetMedieval Building SetMedieval Building SetDen of Evil: HellscapeDen of Evil: Hellscape


Ok, this last one isn't quite fair as it's only really available to Google Wave users, but it's still awesome and I just had to gush about it. Daniel Clery, @exedore6, created a Google Wave gadget that allows one to create a virtual battlemap. More details on Fighty are available via the Save vs. Geek blog but these sorts of hacks are exactly why I love my industry so much.

Podcast Playlist: Fear the Boot

Fear the Boot (FtB) is a podcast, blog and forum site for discussing tabletop role-playing games. The podcast is released on a weekly basis and is generally about an hour to an hour and a half long. While some of the hosts vary between episodes, they all are pretty opinionated in differing ways but know how to have a civil discussion in the meantime. In addition to their podcast episodes, they have a great blog. I particularly enjoyed the post, NCIS as a model for an adventuring group.

Current Cast

Recent Topics

More Information


Blogs I Love: newbie dm

The Newbie DM blog has a lot of great information, some of which I've pointed out in previous posts. The man behind the blog is also quite active on twitter, @newbiedm.

A number of other sites have picked up on the awesomeness that is his blog. Wired's GeekDad blog included this blog on its list of the five great RPG blogs. His post about creating custom tokens was republished in OPEN GAME TABLE: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 1.

Some Recent Posts

The Ghost King by R.A. SalvatoreThe Ghost King by R.A. Salvatore

Current Contest

As a bonus, is running a contest for a signed copy of “The Ghost King” by R.A. Salvatore. He is looking for readers to email him with their best hand-drawn sketch of Drizzt and his black panther Guenhwyvar. Microsoft Paint is also fine, but if it looks like a 3D render or something similar, it will be disqualified. The person who draws his favorite sketch will win the book. He is encouraging everyone, regardless of skill, to enter. The contest ends Friday, November 6th at 11:59 PM Eastern time and all entries may be posted on his site.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that he also started a great new DMs group on the Wizard's Community Site.

Public DM Rolls and Other Thoughts

A fair number of people participated in a twitter discussion last week over public DM rolls. I happen to be one of those DMs who likes to roll on the table. There are two reasons for this. First, I only know the guys in my group so well, except for my husband that is, and I'm really concerned about the trust issue. I want to provide a real challenge to the guys, but I don't want any of them to feel personally singled out if something bad happens to their character. The second issue is that I'm a 5-foot tall woman. This provides me two distinct disadvantages when using a screen. The first is that I need to use the shorter screen if I want to be able to see and interact with the other players and, even then, I can't see the rest of the table. The second is that, well, I have less frontal clearance than a man would. This makes it really hard for me to reach over the screen to move my characters around.

Besides the issue of public rolls, I ran my first longer session that I created myself. I think it went very well although I was completely drained at the end of it. On the DM side, there was one particular incident of note. Due to how the story was set up, the players almost made a decision that made sense story-wise but could have killed them all game-wise. Basically, there was a comparatively high level oni who had taken over as leader of the local lizardfolk town. They figured if they could get her to reveal her true identity during a ceremony at the lizardfolk temple, those in town who were following her would realize their folly and dump her as a leader. So the group came out with guns blazing and were able to bloody her before she disappeared and ran for the stairs. They still had to deal with a normal level encounter and once they had dispatched the rest of the creatures, they thought they should go in quick pursuit of the oni as she was already bloodied.

I had a real dilemma on my hands here. If they don't take a short break, they don't get their encounter powers back and can't spend their healing surges. That is their decision to make, but I really didn't want a TPK. In the end, I assured them that she wouldn't use the time to heal herself (which also made sense story wise since she needed to collect her most important things and try to leave). I think some people would say that I should have just let them suffer the consequences of that decision but I didn't think that would be fun either.

Anyways, that's a bunch of what's been going on. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Alternatives to Minis

I understand the allure of minis. If you have an extensive collection, it really helps the players to visualize the scene. But what can one do if they are just starting out and/or don't have a lot of money to invest in them?

Option 1: Create your own tokens

Example TokensExample Tokens

NewbieDM has a great post on his website on how to create your own monster tokens. His article has information on where you can get all of these items.

The requirements for his process are:

  1. A copy of image editing software such as PhotoShop or Gimp.
  2. A copy of the TokenTool software, a free token making utility.
  3. A printer, preferably color.
  4. 1-inch metal washers. 2-inch for larger creatures.
  5. 1-inch hole punch. 2-inch for larger creatures.
  6. Extra Strength Glue Stick.
  7. Option 2: Glass beads

    Glass Beads as MonstersGlass Beads as Monsters
    I have a number of different colored glass beads to use as monster stand ins, particularly for minions. Mine happen to be from Chessex.

    Option 3: Bananagrams

    Bananagrams as MonstersBananagrams as Monsters
    I saw the Bananagrams game at my local variety store and was instantly reminded of the letters used to indicate the positions of monsters on maps. They are somewhat easier than the glass beads since there are many more options (26 letters versus however many shades of beads you can find) and it's a little easier to remember what the letters mean.

    What do you like to use?

Mythology in D&D

A recent episode of Fear the Boot explores the, at least perceived, lack of mythology in fantasy role playing games. The main thrust of the argument appears to be that since there is a known pantheon of gods and that clerics of those gods have known and provable powers, there is no superstition or mythology in the game. It is based on the opinion that the reason we have gods, myths and the like is that things happen in the course of our lives that we have a hard time explaining and that we create explanations for these events. Over time, these explanations become the basis of the myths and legends that form our cultural knowledge. In many fantasy RPGs however, there is this lack of mystery about how and why things happen. Or more succinctly, "they lack mythology because everything is real." In the end, however, it's less about what is and isn't detailed in the rule books and more about the fundamental tensions of playing a cooperative, story-based game on top of a number of competitive encounters and challenges with characters whose knowledge does not mirror the player's own.

While it's true that many of the things that we, as players, consider to be myth are "true" in many fantasy rpgs, this is not the reason why myths and superstitions are so hard to create in fantasy role playing games. Instead, one of the hardest problems to overcome is that people don't like to do poorly in a game, particularly among friends.

This leads many players, particularly power gamers, to read as many of the rule books as they can. Shelly Mazzanoble illustrates this tendency in her book, Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress. She states that in preparation for her first game, she read Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies, the Player's Handbook and the Monster Manual. Most people don't enjoy failure and they will try whatever tricks will give them an edge even if they interfere with the atmosphere the dungeon master might be trying to create. It becomes socially more difficult to create new monsters who don't act or behave in ways the players expect.

In addition, players who have been around the block a few times have gained quite a bit of their own knowledge regarding the game and its tropes. While this isn't an issue in itself, it leads to a situation in which players assume certain things mean x because that is how the books mean them. Since they are not the dungeon master, they forget the fundamental rule that all of the books are meant to provide guidance and a bare framework for the dungeon master's game. This makes it a lot harder for DMs to create a sense of myth and legend using known monsters.

Finally, most dungeon masters, at heart, want to be nice guys. While they might stack the encounter against the player characters, they are still supposed to be the impartial judge of the rules and, well, they are usually friends with the other players. This often leads to a situation where dungeon masters don't want to overly harm the players without warning. But this warning dispels the magic of the story and makes it much harder to create the atmosphere required to have superstitions and myths. Mythology, as mentioned in the podcast, requires a sense of mystery and the easiest way to create this sense is to add terrain elements and powers that are uncommon knowledge and may lead to a feeling of "unfairness" among players.

* While it may seem difficult or wrong to not give your players every bit of knowledge that you have about the world, hold some info back if they don't make the appropriate skill roll. The campaign guide for Eberron has some nice examples of this.
* Players shouldn't assume that the stuff available from the books is how things work in a particular world. It's not true until the dungeon master says it and, even then, it still might not be true.
* Richer, more detailed environments have more chances to create the sense of mystery. This includes terrain features, non-player characters, and even the marking of time. Does the whole town pray at a certain time of day? Why do they celebrate their mid-autumn festival with large paper lanterns?

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

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