Sarah Darkmagic's blog


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

Website: http://www.feartheboot.com
Forums: http://www.feartheboot.com/ftb/index.php/forum
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_The_Boot

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, newbiedm.com 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.

Suggestions:
* 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?

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

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