Diary of a Gamer 7/31/2009

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We got the game started pretty late last night, about 8:30 or so, and immediately sought to return the cave we had been exploring. It didn't take long to get to the night's first battle, as there was a group of kobolds lying in wait just inside the cave entrance.

This wasn't a really tough fight, and I was pleased to see that our game returned to more of a fast fluid pace. We dispatched the kobolds without much trouble and continued deeper into the cavern. We explored the entire complex battling both kobolds and a few goblins along the way. Despite being sure we had explored every nook and cranny of the place we still did not have any answers. We did, however, have a TON of wounds. Even with the ever useful first aid skill Gorman still had accumulated wounds amounting to 25 of his 33 hit points. For those of you unfamiliar with HMB I should point out that Hackmaster has a much more gritty and realistic approach than modern versions of D&D. There is no going into negatives and coming back to tell the tale. If you hit zero or go below you are simply dead, end of story.

With that reality in mind we decided to head back to town to heal up for a few days. Natural healing is realistically slow. You won't progress from being near death to in full fighting condition in a few days without the aid of magical healing. To give you an idea of just how long it takes to recover Gorman's most grievous wound was 9 points when the group returned to town. It takes 9 days for the wound to progress from being a 9 point wound to an 8 point wound. So basically for the wound to fully heal it would take 9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1= 45 Days. That is the kind of brutal realism this game goes for. I love it.

I also love that we have 2 clerics. My group (mostly) follows The True. All of us save Christian's elf Kaliban are anointed followers of the True. In HMB this has a very tangible benefit. Non-followers of the clerics deity receive a lesser die than anointed followers. The first level healing spell (cure trifling injury) heals 1d3p for non-followers and 1d4p for followers. It may not seem like much, but in Hackmaster learn to take what you can get. Even with two clerics it took a few days of healing to get us back in prime fighting condition.

When we re-entered the cave we set about exploring again and still could find nothing. Fortunately we had picked up a map last week and it showed a passage where only a wall stood. We investigated the wall and found it to be a false one concealing a passage behind. We moved down the corridor and battled a few Goblin sentries that were posted there. Gorman and Bryan's theif Lyell took some damage in that fight but we moved on down the corridor hoping to find some answers.

What we found was the murderer and the rest of his minions. To be exact there was five kobolds, four goblins, and an evil murder mage. I rolled max on my initiative. This wasn't all that surprising as my dice were again failing me big time. I had to swap out signatures on my Dice Cradle to Gary Gygax's sig. Yeah it was that serious. Knowing that numbers were against us we decided to let the enemy come to us, causing a bottleneck in the narrow passage and negating their numbers advantage. This worked well enough until Tojamo (Josh's second mage in three weeks) caught an arcane projectile to the face. This very nearly killed him outright and he was forced to burn through half his honor just to survive. The rest of the group was going fine. With my Gygax's help my dice rolling turned around big time and Goman was slicing though kobolds and goblins alike. Lyell fed Tojamo (Yeah, I know that is a ridiculous name, but really it's just par for the course for Josh!) a healing potion and the Mage was back in the fight. He made an immediate impact by loosing a Scotch spell on a group of goblins setting them aflame and even killing two of them outright.

With that the tide of battle seem to wholly in our favor. Soon only one goblin and two kobolds stood in the way of us getting to that mage. I made an aggressive attack against the goblin who was in my way and he gave ground. I was thinking to keep pushing him, so when he aggressively attack me I refused to give ground. This turned out to be a mistake because he critically hit me. Unlike many of the other enemies in this fight this goblin was armed with a quality short sword and he teed off on me for 18 points of damage. Even after the damage reduction from my armor the hit exceeded my threshold of pain and I failed my check. I went down like a sack of hot taters, but that was fine by me... I only had 2 hitpoints left. Fortunately the rest of the group was able to finish the battle in the 35 seconds I was on the ground.

Finishing up was a breeze. We looted the bodies and the wizard's treasure chest. Not only did we get the answers to who committed the murders (the Wizard who's name was Foster) and why (So he could seem to solve them and be a hero) but we got plenty of money in the process.

Maybe I should take that money and invest in better armor...

We leveled at the end of the night (Yay!) So hopefully I'll get some more hitpoints, but that isn't a guarantee in HMB. I'll explain why next week and talk about what Gorman spent his loot and new BP on.

Gamer Lit: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde

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I recently completed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde. Let me start by saying, it was far from what I had expected. This was my first read of the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, who also wrote the much loved Treasure Island. My exceptions were formed, not from anything I had heard about the book, but rather from film and pop culture. I had seen Jekel and Hide portrayed in films (usually bad ones like LXG and Van Helsing) in a way that was far removed from the way Stevenson portrayed them in his original story. It is worth noting that this story was one of the major influences for Stan Lee's Hulk character from the popular Marvel Comic. The Hulk has in turn influenced modern portrayals, especially of Hyde who is always a hulking, massive, muscular creature. In the story, though he is vicious, Hyde is noticeably shorter in stature than Jekel and not described as overly muscular.

Neither Jekel nor Hyde are the protagonist or the story. Rather the narrator follows Mr. Utterson, Jekel's attorney and friend. Utterson is the one who investigates the dealings of Jekel after the appearence of the much maligned Hyde. Utterson at first believes that Jekel has come under Hyde's power through some type of blackmail, and doesn't learn the dark truth until the end.

The story begins slow and isn't all that engaging, to be honest. The core of the tale, however, of the dual nature of mankind is timeless. Stevenson asserts that within each of us is a dark side that we keep hidden, and explores the notion of a tonic that can bring that side to the surface. It is for that reason that the book is a classic that has survived as long as it has. It is an interesting idea, and one that translates well into an RPG.

Gaming Inspiration

With magic available one doesn't need a scientific tonic like the one used by Jekel to bring Hyde out. Curses of a variety of types would certainly do the trick. One in particular is perfectly suited for the situation, Lycanthropy. The curse that turns a normal man, maybe even a good man into a howling beast is a timless tale for RPGs. The lesson learned from the story though is that, just as the beast is terrible, so to should you make the man a good man. Early in the game this will throw off the scent and deflect suspision elsewhere. When the PCs finally do realize the truth they should have a difficult decision to make. They cannot destroy the beast without destroying the man. You can make the decision even more difficult by having the man be a relative, close friend, business associate, local hero, or gifted healer who alleviates the suffering of the local population. Some GMs are even able to work with one of their players and make THEM the Lycanthrope. This is very difficult to do, but works to amazing effect if done well.

Feedback

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We've been getting some email from our readers lately, and we love it! Please feel free to send us emails with suggestions, comments, or questions that you might have.

One question that is very popular is in reference to the Dice Cradle. I would make them and ship them to people, but dammit, it's just so easy to make yourself. People seem to have trouble finding frames that will work for them. I'll get the name of the company that produces the frames that I use. I bought them at a dollar store, so it was really cheap. The clasp I use to keep Cradle shut can be picked up at your local arts and crafts store. I bought mine from Michael's and got two clasps for 99 cents. So it is easy and cheap.

Keep your feedback coming!

EDIT: The name of the company is Special Moments

Anatomy of a Campaign: Legacy of New Lago - Part 2

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Just to recap the last segment...

  • I am going over my design for my Legacy of New Lago campaign
  • LoNL continues the story of two previous campaigns
  • The players are playing the children of former PCs
  • I went over the basic plot of the campaign
  • The campaign is episodic and has several classic modules integrated into it

The Outline

I am pretty anal in my prep and design. I always want to have an outline with the major plot points spelled out so I can keep the story moving and organized. For LoNL I decided to go with the three act structure one often seen in plays, movies, and books.

Here is the general outline with my goals for each Act...


Act I

The PCs begin their adventuring life and have to deal with the shadow cast by their parents. They struggle to establish their own identities in the face of the prejudices that precede them based on the reputations of their parents. Their early successes will be in stark contrast to Act II when things take a darker turn and the young generations learns more about the flaws of their parents.

Goals:

· Introduce key NPCs to the game

· Give easy examples of what the game is going to be like

· Time of innocence, everything should be smooth and happy at the beginning

· Give hints of future, find a way to introduce the villain in a non confrontational way


Act II

The longest of the three Acts this one has the low point in it. Act II should be about innocence lost. The PCs realize that their parents are people and see them with all their flaws and imperfections. The villain is introduced and his identity is uncovered leading to a host of moral and ethical dilemmas. The PCs also find out about the Prophesy and the truth of their role in things. With this knowledge comes the truth about how they are the way they are, age, skills etc. The PCs have to rise above their doubts and pull themselves out of the hole they are in.

Goals:

· Disillusion the PCs in the aftermath of “Trinity”

· Turn up the difficulty rating of the game

· The Big reveal of the central villain

· The Villain is unmasked, literally, and the PC find out the truth about a lot of things.

· In the aftermath of Trinity Aken takes the group to his Command Center and clears up anything that is still a mystery.

· PCs real test comes in the aftermath of these revelations when they have to put it all aside and spring into action to save one of their own.


Act III

The PCs are now battle hardened adventures cut from molds similar to their parents. They are in (almost) full knowledge of Aken’s Plan to rid the world once and for all of the Dark God. However, now that all the cards are on the table their lives are more dangerous than ever. The Players must hurry to secure the final item needed for the rebinding ritual before their Arch-Enemy gets it. Then finally they must go though the Portal to Old Lago and secure the anchor so that the final confrontation can take place.

Goals:

· The final item is secured.

· The Final Climactic battle takes place.

· Epilogue where Aken grants each PC one wish


Now you may be saying, "you didn't make that at the beginning of the campaign design process." Actually, I did, but it looked very different. I added more and more to it as I created more plot elements for the game. It started off pretty bare, but over time it was fleshed out until it looks like the one above. Now obviously this is a guide, not a script. I can tell you, of the above, not everything worked out as I planned. Even the best planner must be ready to improvise. Knowing your players is key, but players will surprise you, so stay alert.

This isn't the only outline I made for the game. Here is a chapter by chapter breakdown that I used to keep track of individual adventures...


Act I: Ascension
  • Chapter I: "Graduation Day" (Last Battle of Theine 1-2)
  • Chapter II: "Horns of Chaos" (Keep on the Boarderlands1-4)
  • Chapter III: "Hells Bells" (Murder Mystery at a wedding 4-5)


Act II: Sins of the Father
  • Chapter IV: "Descent into Darkness" (Ravenloft 4-7)
  • Chapter V: "Trinity" (White Plume Mountain 7-9)
  • Chapter VI: "Sunstone" (Dragon Strike Adventure (8-9)
  • Chapter VII: "Salvation" (A Rescue 9-10)


Act III: Once and For All
  • Chapter VII: Coup De Tat (Military Takeover 10-11)
  • Chapter VIII: Fracture (Put Kingdom back together 11-12)
  • Chapter IX: All-Father (Gather last artifact 12-13)
  • Chapter X: End of Days (Final Battle 13)

You may wonder what those numbers are, those are expected PC levels. If the PCs fell behind the level assigned to the chapter it was a sign that they may not be ready for the next part of the game. This never really became a problem even when a few PCs did fall behind. There were seven players so what they lacked in levels they often made up for in sheer numbers. This outline also changed a little as I added or dropped adventures from the game.

You'll notice several classic adventures in the second outline. I knew I wanted to run some classic modules. Now that I had an idea of the plot and the structure of the game I was free to choose which ones fit the campaign best.

Coming soon... Part 3 where we discuss which modules I chose and why.





Anatomy of a Campaign: Legacy of New Lago - Part 1

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Planning a campaign is a very long process. I took extensive design notes when creating my most recent campaign, Legacy of New Lago (LoNL), and I will go through them and talk about what decisions I made and why.

Background

First, a brief word on the history of this game. LoNL is essentially the third campaign taking place in the same world. Each campaign was run by a different DM using the 3rd edition rules for D&D.

The first game (Now referred to as "Old Lago) detailed the adventures of Bruce Lago and his companions as he set upon a quest to recover an artifact known as The Eye. Bruce and his associates did eventually recover the eye and even used it to place himself on the throne. This was basically the end of the campaign and it was a very fulling one.

The second game (called, "New Lago") took place hundreds of years in the future. It was the story of Aken Lago, a descendant of Bruce's with no ligament claim to the throne. (His line was born of Bruce's first wife who he divorced for political reasons and was forced to flee) Aken's adventures focused again on the mysterious eye which the now King, Jasperius, used to disastrous effect. A pillar of darkness was spreading from the east and threatening to engulf the entire Kingdom. Aken and his companions set about to find some artifacts and dispel the pillar before it was too late. However, even when they were able to do this it turned out to be too late. The dark god who the eye was used to entrap had escaped and banished Aken and his compatriots to the outer planes. There the party recovered and eventually forged a new kingdom on an alternate prime material plane. They called this kingdom, New Lago, and planned to use it to find the resources needed to return to their own world and free it from the dark god's grip.

...Only that never happened. The game ran nearly two years, but it simply wasn't enough to finish. The DM was burnt out and wanted to play something new, so that is what we did. It is never a good idea to have a GM run anything he isn't excited about because chances are the game just won't be that fun. So we moved on from New Lago, but I always hoped that one day we would come back to it. Years passed and I would mention my desire to play the game again, but the group, particularly Christian who ran the game, never had much interest. The characters were too powerful for him to handle and there were many other games he was much more passionate about.

Beginning the Design Process

But I was passionate about it, and it seemed that I should turn that passion into creating a game, thus Legacy of New Lago was born. It started small at first, but by the time it was done I was forced to print and distribute booklets to the players to ensure they had all the information they would need.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me begin with my decision to design the game. I knew that I couldn't pick the game up where we left off. Character sheets had been lost and the party's leader, Aken Lago was actually my character. He was so central to the plot that there was no way to have a party that didn't include him unless...

That is when I decided that a clean slate was the only way to go. All the PCs would be the children of the Old PCs who were busy working on their own goals and running the Kingdom. Having recently played in a Hackmaster 4th game that used the Legacy character generation system I decided I would let the players use that to generate their characters. Those of you unfamiliar with the Legacy method it basically uses the two parents' stats average and is randomly modified from there. It is an amazing way of creating characters and was perfect for this game because what made it so great was the history we already had invested in this world and these characters. Also the Legacy method is how I came up with the name Legacy of New Lago.

As for system there wasn't much in the running. Both previous games were run using 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It is the generally preferred system for my group (For now...), and to use anything else would require a lot of conversion of existing material. Not to mention that it would severely alter the feel of the game. It was an easy choice to go with D&D 3.5.

The story was much more difficult. What was the game going to be about? Sure we have these decedents of these powerful heroes, but what are they going to do? What obstacles lie in their way. Now for those of you who were not frequent readers of our prior to out move to blogger, I should tell you that I run plot driven games. There was a lot of debate on the old site over which type of game is better, Plot driven or character drive, and I do plan on resuming the debate, but that's another post. I run plot driven games, let's leave it at that for now. What that means is that I present a fairly complex plot to the players and guide them through it. I don't plot hammer them... much, but I do try to keep them on track.

Back to plot of LoNL. The Old Guard (That's what we called the old PCs from the previous campaign) had their own story, to defeat the dark god and reclaim their homeland. That was their story, their goal. I wanted them to be able to finish they goal and bring closure to their story, but at the same time the worst thing that I could do was to focus on the NPCs and have them overshadow the PCs. The PCs were to be the stars of the show, that was the first of my major goals.

So the plot of the game was that the young PCs were to aid the Old Guard in returning to Old Lago and destroying the dark god. Along the way the PCs would find their own nemesis they would have to defeat in order to make victory for the NPCs possible. I wanted an episodic feel to the game so I decided that the King, Aken Lago, and his friends were simply too busy to gather the materials, that were needed return and retake Old Lago. This mission based format would give me the opportunity I needed to incorporate several classic modules into the game.

Alright that is it for now. I realize that there is a lot of rambling, but that rambling is a necessary evil. Now that all the background information is out of the way I can get into specifics without confusing anyone.

Coming soon... Part 2: The Outline

Intro to Gamer Lit

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Early roleplaying games were heavily influenced by stories written by Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Fletcher Pratt, and J. R. Tolkien. Reading is an excellent way to get inspiration for your own game. Much as musicians list their influences when they form a band, people should seek out and be aware of their influences when it comes to RPGs.

I do a lot of reading and often incorporate aspects of stories I have read into my games. For this reason, and because I generally enjoy talking about books, I am adding a Gamer Lit section to my blog. I'll be reviewing some Gamer favorites (R.A. Salvatore, Weis & Hickman, etc) as well as many classic authors that might not come to mind right away when considering books to draw inspiration from (Arthur Conan-Doyal, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, etc). I'll be looking at many aspects of their work including which of their ideas translate well from the written word to the gaming table.

Gamemaster's Corner

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I'm going to be adding a few new sections to the Blog. The first of them, Gamemaster's Corner, will be articles ranging from Campaign Design to how to keep things running smoothly at the table. Running a game, regardless of the system, is an Art rather than a Science. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and what works for some may not work for others. I'll go though what has worked for me, or what I've seen work for others.

The first series I'm going to do will be called 'Anatomy of a Campaign' where I will go though the steps I undertook in creating, running, and finishing one of my more recent campaigns.

So stay tuned...

Going for the Gold

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One of the Blogs I've discovered recently is the RPG Blog II. It's a great general RPG blog and if you haven't checked it out I highly recommend that you do. The owner of the blog, Zachary, is a big supporter of the internet series Gold. I had never heard of it before and am indebted to him and his blog informing me.

Gold is a web based series much like The Guild (and if you haven't seen that either you should check that out as well) except that Gold is about table top RPG players. Well... not just any RPG players these guys are Olympic level RPG players who compete internationally for the gold medal. I could give you a more detailed description but I'd rather show you the trailer...





Personally, I really enjoyed season one. Overall Gold is hilarious show dedicated to the hobby and all gamers should check it out. Head over there, and if you like what you see click on their donate button and do what you can to make sure you get to see more!

Diary of a Gamer 7/25/2009

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Session 2 of my group's new Hackmaster game took place this past Thursday. The beginning of the night saw two new characters introduced. Josh, who's mage famously died last week introduced a new human mage. Though largely the same this new character distinguished himself by having a better spell selection and swearing less (no filthy mouth flaw). The other character, introduced by Christian, did have a filthy mouth, so there was no less profanity being used at the table. Christian's character, an Elven fighter immediately impressed everyone with his 14 hitpoints, and within five minutes had everyone at the table making bets about how long he would live.


After the first round of betting died down our GM got the game started. Our party had traveled from the village of View where the first adventure had taken place and come to a new city ravaged by a recent murder spree. This new city refused to admit us after dark so we were forced to wait outside until morning. Upon entering the city we secured lodging at the inn and met our new comrades. The meeting almost broke out into a bar room brawl when Christian's Elf, Kaliban, got a little too liberal with his language. Bryan's halfling thief (Lyell) took offense and threw his breakfast in his face. Fortunately the entire thing was resolved and everyone was ready to start fighting monsters instead of each other.

We began looking into the murders by meeting with Captain Flint (No, alas it was not the legendary pirate of Treasure Island fame) who explained how the murders had begun a few weeks ago and see a person killed every seven days. The original murder victims were the Burnett family and the Captain graciously offered to have one of his guardsmen show us where the victims were found.

The only clue we discovered at the murder scene was tracks leading off away from town. We followed those tracks to a cave and prepared for action. We didn't have long to wait, shortly after beginning our exploration of the cavern we were set upon by Spiders, Centipedes, and all other manner of vermin.

This brings me to one of the curiosities of the night. Already having one smoothly run HMB game under our belts you would think this night would run just as smooth if not more so, but this was not the case. Combats dragged certain rules needed to be looked up, and in general the game was slow and choppy. I believe that a good deal of the difference can be accounted to the new player at the table, but certainly there were other factors as well. I think I feel slow downs more acutely in a game of Hackmaster because one of the things I prize most about the system is its fluidity. Combats move naturally and realistically fast, things happen simultaneously, and generally every player is very active.

Things began to pick back up in the night's final battle, which was against two dwarf skeletons. This was a truly more dangerous encounter than any of us realized going in, partially because the skeletons were more potent opponents than we gave them credit for, and partially because we were misplaying the engagement rules for melee attacks. Essentially we were playing that any time an opponent faced a new enemy both got attacks against each other regardless of whether or not either were already engaged. This lead to a lot more attacks, and thus a lot more damage being handed out. My fighter, Gorman, had not been seriously threatened up until this point, but the skeletons certainly put him to the test. The first wound he took in the battle was for thirteen points of damage over his threshold of pain mark of eleven. Fortunately my dice were really serving me well that night and I made the check to stay on my feat. Despite surviving that wound Gorman was stuck a few other times and fell below ten hitpoints. I was forced to use the give ground combat option which added five to my defense roll. This turned out to be a crucial move as it probably saved Gorman's life. Thanks to that plus five bonus Gorman was able to block the blow with his shield. The seven points of damage the skeleton handed out were absorbed my his shield and his studded leather armor. Eventually we defeated the skeletons but it was a very close fight.

I learned two lessons in that fight...
1. Do not underestimate skeletons
2. Get a crushing weapon

Fortunately no one died as a result of our rules errors or our lack of proper weapon selection. The worst part? Christian's fighter lived... so I'm out five bucks.

The Dice Cradle

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The Dice Cradle 2.0.19

In the last game I ran one of my players, Christian by name, came up with this simple, but great, innovation. What is it? It is a reference guide, a guarded rolling surface, a luck generator, and a dice holder all in one.

Essentially it is two frames, held together by two hinges so the glass sides will fold in on each other, thus protecting them from breaking while traveling. The two frames have a wooden edge that raised about half and inch. This provides enough space when folded together to keep dice inside safely. Under the two glass protectors one can keep any kind of information they feel important. Again, I took my cue from Christian's original design and placed important combat info on one side and a lucky signature on the other side.

A quick word about the signature... Christian used Gary Gygax's signature in his, and normally I would not deviate from that. But I am using my Cradle for a Hackmaster game so... Yep, I'm using Gary Jackson's autograph! I took out a little insurance though by keeping Gary Gygax's signature right underneath. Yeah, I know that is kinda cheating. But hey, one can never have too much luck. The fame rub (HMB p.142) has never been so easy to execute!

As for the other side of my cradle, I'm still new to HMB so I opted to put down all the 'Special Combat Moves' from the Combat chapter. This will mean I don't have to flip though the book to find out what my options are when things start getting hairy.

The final, and perhaps most useful feature of the Dice Cradle is that it is a guarded rolling surface. Rolling on one of the two sides (on the signature if it is a big roll, on the reference guide if not) means that your dice will not go falling off the table, or worse rolling onto another player's DRZ (Dice Rolling Zone). But seriously, the raised edges of the frames ensure the dice stay in and you don't have to go searching around to find out what you rolled.

Really the only improvement I made over Christian's design is the place a clasp on the opposite side as the hinges so as to be able to lock the cradle shut for safe and easy transport. This ensures that you never have to take your dice out and they can soak up the luck from that signature the whole week!

Now this article has been about my Cradle that I am using for Hackmaster Basic, but believe me this works well for any RPG. In fact, Christian's original was used in a D&D game. So regardless of your game, make yourself a Dice Cradle. It's fast and easy to make and an extremely useful game aid. Hey, the GM has his screen, why shouldn't you have something cool too?


Diary of a Gamer: Midweek Edition

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Normally I only do my Diary of a Gamer articles once a week. This week I was doing a little tweaking of my new Hackmaster Basic Character, Gorman MacGregor, and it afforded me an excellent opportunity to talk about Weapon Specialization in Hackmaster Basic.

Specialization in HMB is far different than in the previous edition or in any edition of Dungeons and Dragons. For starters, any class can specialize, only the costs are different. When purchasing a specialization the player must choose one of the four aspects of the weapon; attack, damage, speed, or defense. A character must progress evenly though the four aspects, that is to say that if one purchases a +1 to attack he cannot buy a +2 to attack until all other aspects are at +1. Additionally the cost of specializing goes up incrementally. For example, the fighter pays 5BP to increase his specialization in one area (20 for all four areas). Once he has purchased all aspects at +1 he can move on to +2, but a +2 bonus costs the base BP cost (5BP for fighters) times the bonus of the weapon. So in our example a fighter purchasing a +2 bonus would cost 5BP x 2 = 10BP. Following that formula a +3 bonus would cost 15BP and a +4 bonus 20BP.

As for probably guessed a Fighter's 5BP price tag is the cheapest for any of HMB's four character classes. The Thief pays the second least with a base BP cost of 7, next is the cleric with 8, and most is the mage who pays a whopping 10BP base cost for specialization. So those of you shocked and appalled that a mage can specialize at all should remember that just to get a +1 bonus in all areas of a weapon it would cost them 40BP, and a staggering 80BP for all their second tier bonuses! So even though it is an option for the mage, specialization is a much more realistic option for the fighter class.

And that brings us back to my fighter. Gorman just picked up some extra BP (15 to be exact) for the backstory I submitted to the GM. I now need to decide how to spend them. My character is extremely weak on skills, and I like it that way. I'd rather spend my BP on weapon specialization! So far Gorman has a +1 in all aspects of the Battleaxe. He also has a spear, but no specialization in it thus far. So I can spend the 10BP to a +2 in one of the four aspects of the battleaxe, or I can begin to specialize in the spear. With 15BP I can buy a +1 in three out of four aspects of the spear.

Given the way my group has formed though, Gorman is the only front line fighter. Because of that I don't think I'll be using the spear anywhere near as much as I'll use Battleaxe. So that's it, I'm spending my BP on the Battleaxe. The only decision I have to make now is which of the four to go with. I'm going to eliminate damage first. Obviously damage is important, but Gorman is already getting a +5 to damage. That is good enough for now. I'm going to eliminate speed next. My weapon speed right now is 10 (the Battleaxe normally has a speed of 12 but I'm getting bonus from specialization and a talent I bought) and that isn't too bad. I'm ok with that too for now. That only leaves Defense, and Attack bonus.

Now we have only played one game session thus far, but during that session I would have loved to have a +1 in either of those. I think the real tipping factor again is the fact that I am playing the group's only fighter. For that reason it seems very important that I don't go down and that I draw and maintain the attention of the bulk of the melee opponents. So it looks like it is going to be defense. The remaining 5BP I am going to bank and will spend when I level up.

So there you are. I'll let you know how my decision worked out in my next segment. Wish me luck!

Hack Mastering

Posted by Mike Provencher II in , , ,


I’ve spent the last year or so following the progress of Hackmaster Basic (HMB) on the Kenzerco boards. I’ve been an active member over there for some time now, but my participation really spiked when the HMB spoiler thread appeared. Dave Kenzer was very good about answering any questions asked about the game, even if the topic of the question wasn’t going to be covered until Advanced. Through this thread my interest eventually turned to excitement, until I was more excited about this game than I have been about any other RPG. So when the book came in about a month ago, I devoured it. I ripped it open and read it cover to cover twice. Now, this isn’t a review of the game, however I wanted to give you an idea of just how high my expectations were for the game before rolling those first dice on Thursday night.

Sadly, I didn’t have very much time for detailed prep for the game due to real life issues (including, but not limited to, five softball games in four days and an attention craving girlfriend) so for the first night I used the free adventure that Kenzerco has put up on their site, “White Palette, Ivory Horns”, written by Benjamin “Wacky” Sharef. Anyone who’s played with me can tell you that I don’t really have a high opinion of “modules”. However I do see the value in having them around, as, like I said, I didn’t have the time to write up an adventure for the night. I have the outlines of every adventure I want to run for this mini-campaign, but with a game I’ve never played before, I didn’t think that trying to “wing it” was the way to go.

The night started out with a short Q&A session. Very short, as it turned out, as nobody really had any questions about the game at that point. The only thing we talked about was weather or not we should play using the Threshold of Pain rules, and decided as a group that we should at least start with them, and if we decide later on they’re resulting in too much character death then we can take them out. I feel like that’s going to be the case at some point, but for now we’re playing the rules as written, with only one exception. I’ve found out that, come Advanced, there will be a rule allowing for an attacker to completely miss the defender’s shield (something that isn’t the case in HMB).

Next, it was time to start rolling some dice! Character creation came next, and considering a) it was a game none of us had ever played before, and b) there were five of us, this process actually took less time than I thought it would. Probably about an hour and a half for all five characters to be completed from start to finish. And that’s how we ended up with our party, two clerics of The True, one human and one Dwarven, a human mage, a Halfling thief, and a character you’re probably already somewhat familiar with, a dwarven fighter. Next week another character is going to join the group, as one of our players couldn’t make it this week.

You can see an accounting of the events that followed in the “Player’s Perspective” post, so I’m not going to go into story detail here. Instead I’m going to talk about the actual GMing of the game. It’s been some time since I’ve actually stretched my GM muscles, and I’ve never been very good at doing voices, however, having said that, I think it went fairly well from my end. The first combat against the wolves was interesting for a couple reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it was our first combat ever for this rules system. It was also interesting because the wolves were far out of the party’s league. Had it been a straight up fight I think the party would have been cut down to a man, however the encounter as written calls for the wolves to flee once they’ve taken four points of damage, as they were already well fed. This is where I made my first mistake, as I actually had the wolves turn and flee instead of back away from the person they were fighting first. Two of the wolves didn’t make it due to the free attacks the party got as they turned tail and ran. Even though I was running five monsters I felt that the combat went very smoothly, and I feel that the only mistakes I made had to do with forgetting to use various combat maneuvers and not with any problem I had with the system. Once I’ve run more than a few fights and get more familiar with the system, I think this problem will take care of itself. The second fight with the snakes was a simple affair, as there was very little I needed to remember.

The last fight gets its own paragraph, as it took the longest and used the most rules on both side of the screen. The Kobolds were well away of the party before the PC’s made it into the cave, and were ready for them. Crouched behind some boxes with bows at the ready, they sprang up and fired at the PC’s that barged into their lair. Unfortunately, Gregory the mage took the brunt of the offense in the form of a critical with quite a bit of penetration and fell dead in the first assault. We all found out just how deadly ranged weapons can be in this game, and this was one of the few times the game bogged down as we had to look up a rule. As it turns out, when being shot with a ranged weapon you don’t get any defensive bonus and, unless you’re moving, you only roll a d12p to defend against it. In AHM this is going to be slightly different, as how far away the attacker is and how much warning the defender has will alter the defensive roll. A rule that was overlooked at this time is that smaller targets are treated as being further away. In Gregory the Red’s case it wouldn’t have mattered, but in the case of the dwarves and Halfling, it may have saved them a few hp’s. The kobolds were only able to get off that first volley in the small cave they were in, and combat soon switched to melee. Again, despite the fact that I was running six monsters using rules that I’ve never used before, I felt things went very smoothly and never felt overwhelmed. All of the kobolds used tactics in the battle, however not as effectively as I could have. Another thing we didn’t realize until the end of the night was that when an attacker hits a shield, you only roll half of the dice you do on a normal hit and you don’t penetrate. It wouldn’t have changed anything over the course of the night, however it might matter quite a bit in the future.

All in all I thought the night went very well and was very fun. I had very high hopes for the game going into it, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m on vacation from work this week, so I should have plenty of time to write up the adventure for this week, and hopefully next week. As one of the players in the game owns this blog, I don’t want to go into story detail about anything, but in my next post I’ll try and talk some about balancing the adventure and the process I use while writing it, up to and including what music I was listing to while writing.

Online Videos

Posted by Labyrinthian in , , ,

There are some pretty great gamer related videos online. Here are some of the best I've come across, in no particular order.


1. D&D Choices

This was a submission for the D&D film contest a few years ago. It really should have won. This video is a live action version of the old D&D cartoon from the 80s, but with a more serious tone than the carefree children's cartoon ever took. Enjoy!





2. D&D Cartoon Intro

Speaking of the D&D cartoon here is the intro from that. I know it's kind of silly, but I loved that show as a kid.





3. Legend of Drizzt

This is a fan made video centering around R. A. Salvatore's much beloved character Drizzt Do'Urden. This was obviously a labor of love for the creators.






4. The Dead Ale Wives meet 8-bit Theater

The Dead Ale Wives, a comedy troupe from the 80s and 90s became gamer legends when they did this "warning" to parents about the deadly game DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. Combine that with the graphics from the original Final Fantasy game made popular once again by the 8-bit theater online comic and you have a winning video.






5. Dorkness Rising Teaser Trailer

Those of you who read my review of Dorkness Rising know who much I love it. While I was (im)patiently waiting for the film with many others the Dead Gentlemen released this teaser trailer that has NOTHING to do with the film. It is still a very funny parody of the Lord of the Rings and more than worthy of being included on this list.






6. Knights of the Dinner Table Animation

I love the Knights of the Dinner table comic. Here is an animated video featuring all your favoites from the knights. The people that did this video did several others including animiating the now famous Gazzebo strip. See them all here.




Diary of a Gamer 7/17/09

Posted by Labyrinthian in , ,


So last night was my first session of the new Hackmaster Basic game my group is running.

It was blast!

Character creation was a lot of fun. The stats are rolled with 3d6 so obviously they are going to be noticeably lower than your normal D&D 4d6 stats.

So how did I do?

Str 10
Int 10
Wis 15
Dex 11
Con 12
Looks 6
Cha 7

Not terrible, but certainly nothing to write home about. Fortunately Hackmaster Basic gives you some option as far as your stats go. The first thing I did was swap Strength and Wisdom since I wanted to play a fighter. Later on I was able to add to my scores by using building points. For my race I selected DWARF! This means, in addition to playing my character with an annoying accent, that I got a +4 to my CON and a -2 to both Looks and CHA. In the end my abilities looked like this.

Str 16
Int 10
Wis 10
Dex 12
Con 17
Lks 4
Cha 3

Which made my character about as ugly and unlovable as you can get. That worked for me though, I wanted to play a pretty standard surly Dwarf, who need Looks or Charisma?

The Answer? Anyone who cares about their starting honor. Mine suffered a massive penalty because of my far below average score in those stats. Unfortunately that meant that I began the game in the dreaded dishonorable category. I was to suffer a blanket -1 to all die rolls.

Let me tell ya... that sucked.

I used the rest of my BP getting my Fighter ready to... fight. I purchased a number of fighter related talents (and got them half off because I was a Dwarf), and did as much specializing in the battle axe as I could afford. I didn't have many skills, but dammit, I was a ready for when a fight broke out!

The rest of the party consisted of a Dwarven Cleric, a Human Cleric, a Human Mage, and a Halfling Thief. This was good as we had all the classes covered and even had an extra cleric, which is always a good thing. We had three of the four races covered, but no elves. One of the regulars from our group was absent for the game, so I kind of hope he plays an Elf so we can get a look at all four available races in HMB.

We moved straight from character creation to beginning play in the small town of View. We were sent by a local artist to recover some cargo he had shipped via caravan to him, but was lost somewhere along the road to the town. We followed his directions and found the broken down caravan with signs of battle. As we investigated to find who had attack the caravan we were set upon by wolves.

I was eager for a fight wanting to give both the fresh combat rules, and my new Dwarven Fighter (Gorman MacGregor by name) a test run. Neither Gorman nor the rules disappointed. Battles in Hackmaster Basic run smooth and are very active. There is a lot of tactical movement around the battlefield, but it doesn't slow down gameplay. I was forced to use the aggressive attack option several times in this battle, mostly because my dice we failing me big time. Fortunately my armor and shield protected me from the minimal damage the wolves were putting out.

After finishing off the animals we tracked the caravan raiders to a cave not far off. The cave was home to five Kobolds who had raided the caravan and took the goods for themselves. We entered the cave intent on getting the goods back and handing out some justice. Unfortunately the Kobolds were ready for us and our Mage took several arrows in the chest in the opening volley. He was dead before he hit the ground. The rest of us managed to finish off the kobolds and returned successfully to View.

We wrapped up the game there, but not before treasure, xp, and honor were handed out. The best part? I got out of the dishonorable category. Woohoo no more -1 to all die rolls!

Overall I had a great time playing Hackmaster Basic, as did the other members of my group. I am looking forward to next week when we will resume the game and will introduce two new PCs to the group. Stay tunes for next week's diary entry as well as Revil's GM perspective article!

Gamer Movie Review: The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising

Posted by Labyrinthian in , , , ,



Film: The Gamers 2: Dorness Rising
Year: 2008
Production Company: Dead Gentlemen Productions
Writer: Matt Vancil
Director: Matt Vancil
Staring: Nathan Rice, Brian Lewis, Carol Roscoe, Christian Doyle, Scott Brown, Jen Page


At last we have come to Dead Gentlemen Productions most recent film. This film has a larger budget, as well as larger ambitions than all previous DG films. I waited impatiently for many others while DG struggled to find a distributor so they could release the film.

This film was worth the wait.

Simply put this is DG's masterpiece. The Mona Lisa of Gaming movies. It outstrips even its predecessor, the original Gamers, in all respects. The story is very solid here is a mostly spoiler free plot summary...

Lodge is a struggling writer with a problem. He has written an adventure, but it is unfinished. To finish writing it he needs his gaming group to get through it, something they had been unable to do. After a few failed attempts Lodge decides to shake things up by introducing two new characters. One played by himself (Yes, the dreaded GMPC!) and one played by (Gasp!) a girl!. With these changes the group sets off again in an attempt to succeed where they have previously failed. They face goblins, demons, peasants, and chickens on their way!

That's as detailed as I want to get because I don't want to ruin the film for anyone who hasn't seen it.

This film truly is Gamer subculture on parade. If you pay close attention to such gaming favorites as Munchkin, Nodwick, and Knights of the Dinner Table. There is even an ode to the much beloved creator of Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax.

True gamers will fall in love with this movie almost instantly... but what about non-gamers? The original gamer film gave insight into our hobby to those on the outside, but it didn't really stand up for them as a true film. For example, if one of them watched the original Gamers with no gamer there to explain things they would have been quickly lost and shut off the movie. Matt Vancil, the writer of both Gamer film understands that. So what does he do? He introduces a new player to the table. Any non-gamers watching the film learn along with her. This makes the movie so accessible to the non-gamer crowd that I know some people who have never slung dice in their life, but love the movie and bought it. This is a master stroke by Vancil to open his product up to people beyond the niche audience that forms DG's base.

The rest of the writing in this film is just as good. These are not one dimensional characters we see in this film. Yes, experienced gamers will see some gamer sterotypes, the rules lawyer, for example. But that isn't the only side of the characters that on display. We see them both at, and away from, the gaming table. We are given a view into their lives, hopes, and ambitions. I've written previously that Vancil has a lot of potential as a writer and director, here we see that potential realized. The quality of work is really beyond anything I would have thought possible a few years ago.

The acting is similarly much improved. Once again it is Nathan Rice who is the star of this movie, but the difference is that he doesn't have to carry the film. The others actors in the film are capable of keeping up with, and playing off of, Rice. And the end result is beautiful to behold. All the main cast are solid and have their great moments throughout the film. Flynn, played by Scott C. Brown always gets the most laughs. Brown does a great job, Flynn has some of the best lines, and the plot around the Bard is nothing short of hilarious. Honorable mentions should go out to the team of Christian Doyle and Jen page who share the character of Luster. With the combination of their comedic timing and so very clever writing Luster is a character will quoted for many years to come.

As for the rest of the film, music, scenery, costumes, etc, they are all excellent. The scenery especially really blew me away at times. The inn at Westhaven was one set in particular that I knew a little bit about ahead of time. Writer/Director Matt Vancil built the set for the inn in his garage, but you would never know it. That is how immersive the sets are in this film. It really makes me wonder what Dead Gentlemen Productions could achieve with a normal film's budget.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - This is one of my faovite movies, and is a must see for any and all Gamers!


Here is the trailer for Dorkness Rising... Enjoy!



Gamer Movie Review: The Gamers

Posted by Labyrinthian in , , , ,



Film: The Gamers
Year: 2002
Production Company: Dead Gentlemen Productions
Writer: Matt Vancil
Director: Matt Vancil
Staring: Nathan Rice, Matt Cameron, Chris Duppenthaler, Justin MacGregor, Emily Olson, Phil M. Price


The Gamers was the first film I purchased from Dead Gentlemen. I saw an add in the now deceased Dragon Magazine and it looked like something I would like. The add had a quote from Monte Cooke that claimed that The Gamers was the real D&D movie, so how could I pass it up? I ordered it from the DG website (they no longer run their own store but Paizo does it, and they do a great job) and eagerly waited.

When the movie arrived I immediately ripped open the packaging, barely sparing a thought for the cover, the plot summary on the back, or any of the special features of the DVD. Instead I delved straight into the film.

They had me right from the opening credits.

Classic fantasy sounding music played and the each of the five players character sheets were displayed. Newmoon the Elf, Nimble the Thief, Rogar the Barbarian, and Ambrose the Mage. Oh and Mark the Red, last of the Bloodfire berserkers! Almost forgot about him. I was baffled over what stat GLE was but in the commentary Monte Cooke asks and is told that the stat is Guile.

The movie opens with the gaming group standing around chatting about D&D related stuff like Lord of the Rings and Drizzt. Unfortunately their dorm mate Paula has a test the next day and isn't very understanding of their loud behavior she comes out to berate them. After being yelled at the group decides to retire to their game room and get started. From this point on the movie jumps back and forth between the real world and the game world inside the imagination of the players.

In the game world we see our four... I mean five heroes at an inn outside Dragonsmead where they receive a note from King The Reasonably Just. The King explains in his letter that the Princess has been kidnapped by THE SHADOW (I feel this name should always be capitalized you'll see why when you see the movie). The remainder of the movie contains the exploits of the four... uh... five adventures as they attempt to defeat the shadow and rescue the princess.

I'm going to try not to gush about this movie, but you should know that I am hardly an objective observer as I LOVE this movie.

This movie is rush around the edges, still being one of the earliest movies made by Dead Gentlemen. The budget of the film was a paltry $500, but the Dead Gentlemen were none the less able to make movie magic. The movie is flat out hilarious to any gamer. From start to finish they are able to satirize gaming and all of its idiosyncrasies as only gamers can. Their love of gaming and understanding the great parts of it that keep us all coming back for more is the key to the film's success. As Monte Cook said, this is the true D&D movie. It captures the game and the people that play it so much better than either of the poorly made D&D films could.

The music (Gamer Theme by Steve Wolbrecht in particular), scenery, and acting are all better in this film than DG's Demon Hunters series. The filmmakers are able to use a lot of wilderness scenes for the party's adventures. The actors are well chosen, with the possible exception of Matt Cameron who is pretty flat as the Gamemaster. The costumes and props are good, especially given the small budget. Matt Vancil's script is excellent and is paced very well. In addition Vancil also directed this movie, and did a phenomenal job. Unfortunately this is not a feature length film. It runs just 48 minutes, which is disappointing.

However, the film's main weakness is its lack of relevance to people outside its target audience. Non-gamers generally will not get most of the jokes presented in the film. That having been said, the jokes that poke fun at the most mainstream gamer geek stereotypes will be recognized by almost everyone and will retain their punch.

Also this film presents a great look into what it is that we do as gamers. I showed this film to my girlfriend who "didn't get it." After seeing the film she has an idea of what it is I do when I go out to game every Thursday. This ability to form a bridge to the non gaming community really helps people not only understand what we do but want to get involved themselves. Many people have started playing because they saw this film.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - This film is essential to any Gamer's DVD collection!


Here is the trailer for the film! You won't find it at the video store but you will find it over at Paizo!




Obsidian Portal

Posted by Labyrinthian in , , , ,


Recently I was reading Gnome Stew and came across an article about a gaming website called Obsidian Portal. For those who have never visited I sincerely suggest that you do. Obsidian Portal allows people to create a wiki for their campaigns, making information more easily available than ever. I was unsure of how useful a wiki for my D&D campaign would be until I made one.

I am a believer.

Not only is this site great for creating a wiki to archive campaign information, but it is a great tool to use to design campaigns. I started designing one using Obsidian Portal and have found it a great way to build an interesting setting from the ground up, keeping everything perfectly organized.

I am not great with HTML but you really don't have to know any to use the site effectively. On top of offering an amazing service Obsidian Portal is free, at least to a certain extent. Any user can create two campaign wiki's for free. They also have a premium service called Ascendant Membership. Those members enjoy some cool benefits the biggest being an unlimited number of wiki campaigns. You can also upload more maps, attain a higher zoom level on those maps, and you can say goodbye to all those pesky advertisement banners.

In addition to being a great campaign tool players can also use Obsidian Portal to find a group. The tool uses a map of the United States and players can see what groups are in their area. Recently Obsidian Portal has teamed up with Pen & Paper Games to enhance their search feature.

Go on over to Obsidian Portal and I think you will like what you find.

The Bard's Songs

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

Fantasy games, especially D&D, have inspired many songs over the years.

Here are some of my favorites in no particular order...

  1. Always the First to Die - A song about a player who gets stuck playing the mage and is always the first to die. The song references Keep on the Borderlands and is generally hilarious and awesome!
  2. Raistlin and the Rose - A song about Raistlin Majere, probably Dragonlance's most popular character (certainly my favorite).
  3. The D&D Song - A song by Stephen Lynch that pokes fun of many gamers stereotypes.
  4. The Bard's Song - Not a D&D song per say being more inspired by Tolkien, but one that fits so well I put it on the list anyway.
  5. Wanderlust - A song by Nightwish inspired by the Dragonlance setting
  6. The Song of Faerun - A song from the Pool of Radiance Game Soundtrack. I like the song better than the game.

There are a bunch of other songs that are about D&D or have references to the game.

  • A Cloak of Elvenkind - A song by Marcy Playground rife with D&D references.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "White & Nerdy"
  • The Weezer song, In the Garage, starts with the lyrics, "I've got a Dungeon Master's Guide/I've got a twelve-sided die," both references to Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Flashlight Brown's song "Ready to Roll.
  • Nerdcore rapper MC Chris has a CD called Dungeon Master of Ceremonies, which contain numerous references to the game, including a sketch where a heckler threatens to make MC "12-sided die".
  • Seminal stoner rock band Kyuss was formed in 1989 under the name "Sons of Kyuss", in reference to the deity Kyuss
  • Deaf Pedestrians's song "Hail to the Geek".
  • Owen Pallett's album, He Poos Clouds is roughly based around the concept of the eight schools of magic from Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Mindflayer's identity and albums are based upon obscure Dungeons and Dragons references.
  • The song "D and D" by 3OH!3 is about Dungeons and Dragons.