Darkhorse Releases Dollhouse Comic Book

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Today Darkhorse released Dollhouse: Epitaphs, a one shot comic about the characters involved in probably the best Dollhouse Episodes Epitaphs 1 & 2.  The new comic continues the story that was started in the comic book that came with the Season 2 DVD.  It is written by Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon and the art is courtesy of Michelle Madsen, Steve Morris, and Cliff Richards.

Check out a free preview here

A Look Behind the Scenes of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

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Recently the hilarious show Community ran an episode called, "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons."  To put it mildly, the episode was amazing.  It really was one of the best depictions of the game ever to appear on screen.  Recently I came across an article on the Forbes website that gave some insight into how the show ended up with such an accurate and compelling depiction of the game.

It is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed the show.  

Contemplating Character Creation

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I was reading a great article the other day on the Big Ball of No Fun that discussed the idea of GMs making Characters for his players and it really got me contemplating character creation in general.  

The idea of the GM creating characters for his players isn't a new idea.  Pre-Generated characters have been around for quite a while, and are the norm for one shots and convention games.  Still, the idea of a GM making a player's character for an ongoing campaign is something of a taboo one and I'd say the vast majority of players would be fervently against it.  My question is, should they be?

Given how busy people are these days and how little time many of Gamers have to play, should they turn up their nose at the opportunity to have a character tailored made for the campaign and the ability to dive right in and play?  
I can you tell you that had you asked me last year I would have told you that only under very specific circumstances should a GM furnish a play with a pre-made character.  The list of those circumstances would have been very short, likely limited to convention game, one shot, trial players, etc.  That was until my group's last camping trip when we played an Aces & Eights game with some really amazing pre-gens that the Professor, who was running the game, who supplied us with.  Everyone enjoyed their characters so much that it really shifted the way we all viewed pre-gens in general. 

Now these weren't blind pre-gens, each gave the GM an indication of what type of character we wanted to play.  We all wrote a little blurb, no more than a sentence or two, and emailed it to the professor giving a rough outline of characters we were interested in.  As an example, here is what I sent:
  1. A bounty hunter with mercenary sensibilities who looks to get the job done  by any means necessary.
  2. A hot headed, duel pistol slinging, up and coming, young gunfighter who is looking to carve himself out a place is western lore.
  3. A naive law man with a black and white world view, a low tolerances for lawlessness and bullshit, and an itchy trigger finger.

Using these the GM created two pre-generated characters and I was given the option to play either (and to play the other one should the worst happen).  I opted for the first one, a Bounty Hunter named Augustus Bachman.  He had everything I had imagined right down to his double barrel shotgun.  More importantly he had a definite place in the campaign world and the story that was to unfold. 

This added ability on the part of the GM to create a more compact game is a serious mark in the pros column of this issue.  With a firm knowledge of who each of the PCs is, what they can do, where they have come from, and where they want to go, the GM need not worry so much about flexibility and  having  the ability to react to a group of adventurers with widely different motivations.  Still the cons column can't be ignored, and under there you'll find things like stifled player creativity and a lack of player investment in the game.  

So I think the conclusion is that pre-gens can be a great way to go, but they aren't always a great way to go.  Making the right decision on this issue, like so many others when GMing, comes down to knowing one thing... knowing your players.  Maybe some of them would welcome the opportunity to play a tailor made character while others would like the chance to roll and make their own character.  Don't be afraid to offer and you might be surprised, first when your player accepts, and then when they fall in love with the character and everything works out great.  

My plan in the future is to offer three options for PC creation.  My group has a diverse set of preferences so I've found that offering multiple options works fairly well. 

The first option will be to create a character as normal.  They will roll the stats as is normal for the system, make purchases for skills, feats, etc, and finally create a back story for their character.  Creating a written backstory for some players, no matter how short, is a task that makes them moan and shake their fists.  For that reason I'm going to offer two options that don't require one. 

The second option is a tailor made pre-generated character.  I do all the work  (with a sentence or two of guidance from the player as above), roll all the dice, purchase all skills, feats, talents, etc that I feel fit the character.  Finally I supply the player with a backstory and description of their character.  Those who have little to no time prior to the game are the one's likely to take the option and to be grateful for it. 

The final option is a Hybrid option.  I create about 75% of the character, all the base stats, the majority of the skills and other things, but leave some wiggle room for the player to customize the character.  As far as a backstory he will be given more of an outline and allowed to make additions, subtractions, and alterations to it before the start of play.  This method allows for some ownership and creativity form the player while taking a very small amount of time and allowing him to dive right in with a character built for the campaign that are about to enter. 

I think pre-gens are not something to be avoided even by the most experience of groups.  Rather they are a great tool that can allow someone with a limited amount of time an ideal character to plug into a game right away and get to playing and having fun.  Pre-made character can be just to fun to play as those made by a player's own hand.  It just takes a little work from the GM and a little communication from the player.

I'd be eager to hear from anyone out there who has had a memorable experience, either positive or negative, with GM made PCs.  What did you enjoy about it or what would you like to have seen done differently? 

Roy Dotrice to Read A Dance With Dragons

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Good news for all you audio book fans out there.  George Martin confirmed recently that Roy Dotrice would resume his reading of the audio books for A Song of Ice and Fire.  Roy read the first three books much to the delight of fans.  When the fourth book was read by someone else, fan backlash was pretty resounding.  So to please fans (and because he is George's self professed first choice) Dotrice is back for the fifth installment.  

Another reason to look forward to A Dance With Dragons... though I doubt anyone really needed another.

Co-Op Classics Takes a Look Back at Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance

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Co-Optimus, the best (and sadly one of the few) sites dedicated to cooperative video games takes a look back from time to time at classic Cooperative games of the past.  In honor of the newest upcoming Dungeons & Dragons video games, Daggerdale, Co-Optimus takes an opportunity to remember Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance

The retro-review was pretty favorable.  The writer remembers both the first Dark Alliance and it's sequel fondly, particularly for it's co-op mode.  I admit myself not overly fond of Dark Alliance.  I saw it as a Diablo Clone, and not a particularly good one.  Still, I had fun playing it with friends.  As these D&D beaters went I thought Dungeons & Dragons Heroes was better.  It allowed for four player action rather than just the two allowed in Dark Alliance, something not to be sneezed at. 

New Dark Sword Miniatures for A Song of Ice and Fire

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Dark Sword Miniatures are among the best available.  They are intricately detailed, stunning beautiful pieces designed by hand by master craftsmen.  I've seen videos of these sculptors being done and it still boggles my mind  how amazing the finished product is.

My incredulity aside they have released pictures for some of their new minis which were inspired by George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Bron the Sellsword

Benjen Stark of the Night's Watch

Robert Baratheon at the Trident

Maester Luwin
Lysa Arryn

Hodor, Bran Stark, Jojen & Meera Reed

Friday Videos: Dungeons and Dragons Video Games

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Recently we looked ahead to the newest D&D video game that is being released, Daggerdale.  So today I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the Dungeons and Dragons video games that have been released to date.  Fortunately GameTrailers.com did a great video a while back that serves as the perfect link in this edition of Friday Videos.  Though the video is a bit dated (it was released right before Dungeons and Dragons Online it does a great job of looking back at how D&D has helped shape the video game industry. 

New Game of Thrones Trailer: "Power"

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New Dungeons & Dragons Video Game

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The new Dungeons & Dragons video game, Daggerdale, isn't nearly as ambitious or impressive as many previous efforts.  That might surpise, shock, and of offend many of you, but that's more objective assesment than anything else. 

The fact of the matter is that this new D&D game doesn't reach very far by design.  It isn't intended for a big in store release like many of today's hottest tittles, but rather is opting for an economical online release.  Instead of looking for it at Gamestop look for it instead on Xbox Live.  The game, which will also be available for PS3 and PC, will encompass approximately 10 hours of game play.  The price tag is a very manageable $10 so that alone may interest some who would otherwise be priced out of the game. 

Daggerdale will be available sometimes this spring.

Google Maps is the Best Mapping Resource You Aren't Using

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If you aren't using Google Maps to procure maps for your games then let me tell you a secret... Google Maps is the Best Mapping Resource You Aren't Using.  Regardless of the genre of game you are playing there are maps out there got you. 

Here is an example.

I got this map from Google Maps Terrain View, and though I made a few changes it remains basically the same.  Do you know where this is?  Most probably don't...

However, if you enjoy the works of H.P. Lovecraft you know the area, it's Essex County, part of an area known as Lovecraft Country.  I am working on this map for the Sons of Ipswich game I'm working on.

You don't need to be playing a Call of Cthulhu game, or really any game that takes place on earth, to take advantage of real world maps.  Had I labeled the above map with a series of fantasy names and said it was the Barony of Kravoria how many would have known it was actually a real world location?  If my group was from Essex Country obviously they would, but if that were the case I could just use a map from Germany, New Zealand or any location which your players are unfamiliar with.

The level of detail in terms of things like topography and climate is extremely high and is there for the taking.  Why not take advantage? 

A map of part of Southern New Zealand...

...or a Fantasy Realm?

And the Winner of our 2011 Custom Map Giveaway Is...

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It has been a week and our winner has been selected randomly (from my lucky Colts hat no less!) so it is time to announce our winner.  Before I do though I'd like to thank everyone for for their interest.  This isn't likely to be the last of these contests so if you didn't win this time just keep an eye out for your chance to win in the future.

Now without further ado... Our winner is...

Greg Christopher!

Congratulations!  You'll be hearing from us before the day is out so best be thinking about what you want!

2011 Custom Map Giveaway: Last Chance to Enter!

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Today is the last opportunity to enter our Free Custom Map Giveaway.  We will be drawing the winner at midnight and announcing the winner here around noon tomorrow.  So if you haven't entered make sure to do so now and if you did make sure to check back here tomorrow to see if you are our winner!

King Robert's War Hammer

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The good people at Valyrian Steel are at it again.  They have released concept drawings for their next project, a replica of King Robert Baratheon's mighty warhammer.  Valyrian Steel has already done a number of replicas including Jon Snow's Longclaw and Arya's Needle

The Cthulhu Flower

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Also known as the Mask Flower, Alonsoa grows in Central and western South America, from Mexico south to Peru and Chile.

Also it looks like Cthulhu and is slightly mind blowing.

Sanity check!

New Videos for Houses Baratheon, Lannister, and Targaryen

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House Stark's video surfaced the other day and now we have been supplied with videos for three other Great Houses: House Baratheon, House Lannister, and House Targaryen.  There is a little bit of overlap in the Baratheon and Lannister videos at the beginning.

House Baratheon

House Lannister

House Targaryen

The Accidental Antagonist

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Recently I was looking through my notes of an old but beloved campaign my group played years ago called Nordis.  It was a cool campaign about an untamed wilderness full of treasure that hid a dark past that the party had to uncover.  It was a lot of fun, and has a lot of my favorite gaming memories but the one memory that really came back to me while looking through the notes was more of a humorous one. The story of the Accidental Antagonist.

As I said the game predominantly took place in a dense and unnatural jungle and the party spent a lot of time trudging through said jungle and battling its inhabitants.  I had a series of random encounter charts for the various parts of the jungle and the first time the party entered section 2 I rolled randomly and found that the party had come across a Troll.

A Troll is a pretty standard opponent in a game of D&D, certainly nothing new for any of my players, but no one was prepared for the fallout from this seemingly innocent battle.  It didn't take long for the battle to turn against the party.  Trolls are dangerous and can pump out massive amounts of damage with their claw attacks and Rend ability.  Unfortunately for the group this problem was compounded with a crit or two and before anyone realized that they were in for the fight of their lives one of their members had already gone down.  The group ended up fleeing and escaping the troll with their lives, but certainly not their dignity, intact.  In my mind it had been a rough encounter for the group.  The dice had gone against them, but they had escaped and would be able to heal up and continue their quest.  No harm done.  Ah, how wrong I was.  If I only knew what was to come.  

When the part got back safely to town they spread word a Demon Troll roaming the woods, I figured they were just trying to save a little face, it had just been a regular random encounter troll out of the Monster Manual after-all.  Still, they went on for a few days as they got themselves back into fighting form, telling those who would listen to beware the Demon Troll lest it smite them, etc etc.  After everyone had recuperated I figured they would resume their quest when they reentered the forest.  They had other ideas.  When I asked which way they were headed they stated that they were making a bee-line for the spot where they had fought the troll.  I sighed, now realizing that the fight wasn't over that only the first round had ended.  The group was determined to deal with the Troll reciprocating the kindness that he had shown them. 

When they reached the spot of their first battle I rolled to see if the Troll was around.  He wasn't.  I figured that might be the end of it, but the Ranger decided to make good use of his tracking skill and hunt it back to its lair.  Once they arrived Round 2 issued.  The party was hindered by the entrance to the Troll's Dwelling, a decent sizes cave, which meant only two of them could really get in there and and mix it up with him.  This bottle neck turned to be the deciding factor in the battle and again the Troll gave the party a whipping they would never forget.  This time they barley escaped a TPK situation by one of the characters with enhanced speed making the Troll chase her through the woods while the rest of the party limped back to town.  

At this point one might have had hope that the issue was over and that the party would move on with some meaningful exploration of one of the many ruins, but I could see it was way past that.  Either the party was going to die, or this Troll was.  It was, "On Like Donkey Kong" as they say.  

Round 3 saw the party defeated again in the open forest.  Having narrowly escaped a TPK in their last encounter they had a much more itchy trigger finger on the eject button.  Round 3 was a turning point because at this point thing were starting to get ridiculous.  This damn random Troll had taken up over an entire game session all on his own.  He had defeated a party of adventurers three times.  It was time for him to get his own character sheet and a level of Barbarian.  His character sheet with the name Kraahn written at the top was what I came across in my notes that really brought this story to mind. 

The forth time the party found the mighty Troll Kraahn he had taken leadership of a tribe of Orcs who he had subjugated by force and intimidation.   This gave the party a chance to back out rationally.  Now they weren't just dealing with their hated enemy but also with a small tribe of Orcs!  Surely reason would kick in and the part would get the hell out of dodge.


They charged into the camp screaming vengeance like a bunch of maniacs.  They mowed through several Orcs but eventually Kraahn made his appearance.  I made a point of describing him anew as seemingly more mighty than ever before but the party took no heed.  One of the characters, the one who had led the charge for the death of this Troll from the first, Harold Scarbottom dashed at the Troll with reckless abandon.  He battled the Troll alone for a time while the others held off the Orcs.  However, Kraahn had grown so strong that Harold had no choice but to feign death in the hopes of escaping.  Escape he did, and the rest of the party with him, but their defeat only strengthen Kraahn more.

Another level in Barbarian?  Check.

The Evolution
The fifth and final battle saw the party pull out all the stops, spend all their money on fire, acid and other supplies, and expend all of their resources in an attempt to smite their hated nemesis once and for all.  They were more clever this time, picking off as many of the Orcs from the tribe as possible when they left camp to hunt.  They also set up an ambush and lured Kraahn out of town.  Two levels of Barbadian or not, the guy wasn't the sharpest sword on the rack.  Even with all of these things together Kraahn didn't go down without a fight.  He KO'd one party member and literally ripped Harrol Scarbottom in half before finally dying for good. 

At the end of the session I was kind of floored at what had become of a simple random encounter Troll.  I wasn't too happy about it, but the group seemed to feel otherwise.  The yells of triumph when Kraahn went down in a flaming bubbling heap were nearly deafening.  Even Moox whose character Harold Scarbottom had died in the quest was ecstatic about the victory.  At his request we started a PC graveyard and had little sayings with which to remember how the character died.  Harold's read, "Never play Ahab to a Barbarian Troll's Moby Dick."  I think that summed up the series of events nicely.  The players happiness over the entire affair was only compounded when they saw the small fortune that Kraahn and his Orcs had accumulated and how much experience the Troll himself was worth.  Though I had never planned any of it, everyone had had a great time and left with a sense of real accomplishment for finally beating the bad guy. 

The moral of the story is that the best laid plans of Mice and GM's don't always work out, but sometimes this is Serendipitous.  Some of the very best things that happen just happen accidentally.  Certainly that is the case with Kraahn, the Accidental Antagonist.  He started off being just a Troll rolled on a random encounter chart but became one of the most hated and most memorable enemies our group has ever seen.


Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

For those of you who missed it we are giving away a free custom map.  Entry into the drawing is easy and takes only seconds.  If you win we will make you a custom map to your specifications and send it to you digitally.  All the details of how to enter and how the contest works can be viewed here.

The reason for this update is because I have gotten several emails from people who did not read the whole post and got very upset at how "unfair" the contest was because they were not given time to enter.  People, the contest is not over.  People are allowed to enter right up until the drawing which isn't until next week.  Just follow the entry rules found on the original post and you will be entered in with everyone else for the drawing.  

So spread the word... The Contest is still open!
We really appreciate the interest and are looking forward to the project.  Best of luck to everyone! 

A Game of Thrones Merchandise

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A Game of Thrones Merchandise is now available over at HBO's gift shop.  One of the really cool things they have is House Shirts.  Each of the Great Houses from A Game of Thrones has their own shirt done in their colors and with their Sigil and Words on it.  Greyjoy and Targaryen look pretty cool. 

Turning Bad Movies Into Great Games

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Some movies are so bad that virtually nothing from them is salvageable for Gaming purposes.  Others are ones, though they are still bad, that are built on a cool premise with loads of potential.  I've recently undertaken designing a game with just such a movie as the inspiration.

The Movie:

The film in question is the 2006 movie, The Covenant.  If you haven't seen it please just take my word for it that it's bad.  If you already have seen it... well what can I say?  I'm sorry.  

To give you an idea of what the movie is about here a partial plot summary from Wikipedia:

In 1692 in the Ipswich Colony in Massachusetts, five families with magical abilities, referred to as "the Power", formed a covenant of silence to protect themselves from persecution. Four of the five bloodlines (Danvers, Parry, Garwin, and Simms) survive to this day; one family (the Putnams), lusting for more power, were banished, their bloodline disappearing without a trace until now.

The Covenant tells the story of the Sons of Ipswich, four young students at the elite Spencer Academy who are bound by their sacred ancestry. As descendants of the original families that settled in Ipswich Colony in the 17th century, the boys have all been given amazing supernatural powers. But their ability to shape-shift, defy gravity and perform superhuman feats of strength comes at a terrible cost: every time one of the Sons of Ipswich uses his magical powers, he ages prematurely, and the temptation to abuse the power makes it more addictive than any drug. What's more, life is only going to get harder for the young friends; they are given a taste of the Power at age thirteen. Then at the moment each boy turns eighteen, he will "Ascend", gaining far more potent —and addictive— powers.

Here is a look at the official trailer for the movie

The Cool Stuff:

So now you are probably saying to yourself, "This guy said the movie sucks, I saw the trailer and I really believe him, why is he wasting his time?"  The reason is because this movie is that second type of bad movies that I talked about above.  It has a premise that gave it a chance to be cool, but was torpedoed by nearly every other factor in film making.  The trick to this technique of designing games is identifying what that cool premise is, how to extract it leaving all the crap behind, and turn it into a great game. 

Let's get back to our example, The Covenant.  The core premise of this movie is that these five families (The original settlers of the Ipswich Colony) made some kind of deal with a supernatural power and were given immense power themselves.  The power comes at a price, in the movie it is premature aging but that can easily be changed.  The history of these families are firmly bound to the Salem Witch trials, another awesome thing to take away.  To protect themselves the families joined in a Covenant (hence the name of the movie) of silence to escape the persecution they encountered during the Salem Witch Trails.  This is a cool idea because it puts rules in place that the characters, who wield powerful magic, must adhere to or face serious consequences.  The movie even provides a great idea for a villain, a descendant from the 5th family who was thought to have been killed off who returns seeking power and revenge.

Already I have a really cool idea for a game, taken from a really terrible movie.  From here there is a wealth of information based on historic sources surrounding the Salem Witch Trials.  Since I don't live too far from there I could even take a ride up to Massachusetts and do some research in Salem and Ipswich in the flesh.  
I'm pretty excited about this game which I've decided to call, "The Sons of Ipswich".  It seems like a great fit for the Call of Cthulhu game system and mythology.  I'll keep you posted on my progress designing the game, in the mean time you should consider taking some core concepts that have potential from movies that squandered them and making a kick ass game from them. 

New Videos for A Game of Thrones

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Two new videos for you for HBO's upcoming A Game of Thrones.

The first one is a new trailer dubbed, "Fear and Blood"

Those Old Nan voice overs are great!

The second video is a behind the scenes look at the principal family of A Game of Thrones, the Starks.

Only about a month to go!


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Have you ever wanted to have a great digital version of your campaign map but lacked the skill and know-how to translate your vision into reality?  Well we at the Labyrinth are here to help one lucky person make their dream come true!  That's right we are going to give away a free custom made map to one of our lucky readers.

Entry to this contest is simple.  There are only thee requirements: 
  1. You Comment on this Post stating that you want to enter the contest
  2. You must be a follower of this blog when you Enter via Comment
  3. We must have a way to contact you (Since you are a follower this is pretty simple, just don't disable every means of contacting you!)
It really is that simple!  Entry will be open for one week at which time we will randomly select one person and furnish them with a great custom map.

So now you are probably asking yourself, "What if I win?  How is this going to work?"  Well if you are our winner we will contact you through your Google profile.  You then have five days to respond and accept your prize.  That's when the fun begins!  Communication will take place back and forth so that we get an idea of  what the map should look like, what colors to use, name locations, etc.  We will furnish the winner with working versions leading up to the final version to make sure we are on the right track and the winner is happy with the progress.  

The map will be the property of the winner with the artist(s) retaining the right to display them in their portfolio only.  Finally, we will show the finished version (with watermark) on this site so everyone can see how it came out.  

Email or comment with questions.  Best of luck to everyone!

Monday Maps: Free Map Collection

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For the last month we have been providing you guys with 100% free maps for your use.  The labels have been left off so that you can fill in your own cool names for the cities, castles, rivers, mountains and forests.  Today we are going to recap the last month's worth of maps (just in case you missed one!) and let you know that we are going to be making a VERY exciting announcement later on today.  If you love one or more of these maps you are going to want to stop back some time after 12:00PM today to hear all about it! 

Roy Dotrice Sets Audiobook Record With A Game of Thrones

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George Martin recently posted on his site that Roy Dotrice has been awarded the Guinness World Record for greatest number of characters voiced in an audio book.  Dotrice, many people's favorite reader of GRRM's novels, managed a somewhat staggering 224 distinct voices in his reading of the book.  Many, myself included, think that Dotrice himself should have already broken this record in his performance of A Storm of Swords, but no one including myself has bothered to actually count them. 

Congratulations to Mr. Dotrice on a job well done and an honor well earned. 

New Conan the Barbarian Teaser Trailer

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Well, I've mentioned before that I didn't have a whole lot of hope for this movie.  To me this trailer just confirms my fears, but you judge for yourself.

A Game of Thrones Official Poster

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Here is a really cool poster of Ned Stark sitting atop the Iron Throne and looking as solemn as ever. You can view a hi-res version here.

Friday Video: Bram Stoker's Dracula In Under Two Minutes

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Bram Stoker's Dracula is a very important and influential book.

It also stinks.

That's my opinion, anyway.  I read it, along with a number of other important pieces of Vampire fiction in preparation for running I6: Ravenloft.  Honestly, that was a waste of time.  I might as well have watched the below video.  That would also have been worthless for gathering inspiration, but at least it would have been funny and short.   

Mythos Map

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I had some inspiration lately to design a Call of Cthulhu campaign.  Part of the inspiration came with taking a quick shot at making a map so I figured I'd share since it came out pretty cool.  

I piggybacked a lot on the same techniques used to create our most recent Free Map so it didn't take nearly as long as it would have.  The map is meant to show various points where investigators have identified Mythos activity.  As one might expect, the largest concentration appears in "Lovecraft Country" which is real life Essex Country Mass.  That is where the bulk of Lovecraft's fictional towns such as Arkham and Innsmouth are said to be. 

Why People Love to Root for the Bad Guy

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Darth Vader, the Joker, Sylar, Sephiroth, Magneto, Voldemort, Dr. Doom. 

What do these villains have in common?  People love them. 

Over the last ten years or so I've noticed a big increase the number of people who seem to root for the antagonist over the protagonist. This is really strange because it is contrary to the writers intent. If the antagonist was supposed to be loved, then he would be the protagonist, albeit in antihero form.

Antiheroes are certainly as popular as ever. I myself love Kain, from the video game series, The Legacy of Kain. He isn't a good guy, and he himself is the antagonist in the series' second installment, Soul Reaver, but I found myself rooting for him all the same.

Strangely enough it wasn't Kain that got me thinking about this. I was actually watching a particularly strange (and to be honest pretty bad) cartoon from my childhood called King Arthur and the Knights of Justice.  I had ever seen the end of the show when I was a kid and working on my Caliburn game kind of got King Arthur on my mind so I went back and watched the whole series from start to finish on DVD.   

Just to give you a quick idea of what the show is about, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (Called the Knights of Justice in the show) get trapped by Morgana in a place called the Caves of Glass.  Merlin, knowing that the Kingdom is doomed unless he finds others to fight in their places searches through time for men worthy enough to take the place of the real Arthur and his Knights.  Fortunately for Merlin (though arguably unfortunately for the audience) Merlin finds just such men in the form of a college football team called the Knights led by their noble Quarterback, Arthur King.  

No I didn't make any of that up.

The football takes the place of the Knights and their King with no one except Morgana really noticing, and she only seems to notice because she checked to make sure the real King and his men were still trapped in the Cave of Glass.  Arthur and his team battle Morgana's Warlords, warriors she has crafted from stone using her magic.  The Warlords are led by a man who is unfailingly loyal to Morgana, is a great warrior, and is Arthur's principal rival.  You'd probably say he is Mordred, right?  Wrong.  His name is Lord Viper.  

No I didn't make that up either. 

Anyway the Knights battle the Warlords over the course of two season trying to get the magical Keys of Truth they need to free the true King Arthur and his Knights and return to their own time.  Along the way they learn valuable lessons about teamwork, loyalty, and sacrifice.  This makes it a great kids show, but the terrible two dimensional characters mean that it doesn't hold up when watching it years later.  

King Arthur and his Knights are good people who almost never make a mistake and are never really tempted to.  They have some very predictable flaws, but someone just points it out to them immediately and they get over them without a struggle.  These kinds of character struggles are what make interesting characters and great stories, so as you can imagine all the ones from this show kind of blow. The only ones who were truly flawed in this show were the villain Morgana and Viper. 

Which brings me back to my original point, why people love to root for the bad guy.  After about three episodes I found it hard to root for Arthur and his football team.  Honestly, they were just boring.  You knew all you wanted to know about them from the very first episode (and in some cases more).  The only characters that interested me were Morgana and Viper.  Why were they rebelling against Arthur?  Had he done something?  Was their some sort of legal dispute over succession like in many Arthurian tales?  Morgana just kind of seemed crazy a lot of the time.  It is never stated, not even by Merlin who also sucks as a character, but I got the sense that Morgana's magic had driven her crazy.  She certinaly laughs manically at very inoportune times.  Viper is obviously extremely evil based on his actions throughout the show, though he is unwaveringly loyal to Morgana.  Shouldn't someone so evil be trying to usurp her power as he is trying to usurp Arthur's?  Is he is love with Morgana?  Why did he join her cause?  Sadly none of these questions were ever answered. 

The fact is that the villains in this show were just as bad as the heroes in terms of character depth.  Just as Arthur and his Knights would unfailingly do the right thing Viper and his people would unfailingly do the wrong thing.  Yet the fact that I had so many questions and so much interest in the villains and virtually none in the heroes is an inequity I find very telling. 

As stated above, one problem I have with the heroes is that they are too good.  It just isn't realistic and get's annoying and preachy after a while.  I have no problem with a character struggling through temptation and finally coming to a tough choice that they know to be the right one.  Viper always makes the wrong choice, but at least you can understand why.  The guy seems bitter, constantly get's his ass kicked, is frustrated with how the war is going, and has Morgana yelling and belittling him every time he loses a battle.  The guy clearly has plenty of pent up frustration and anger to take out on anyone he meets.  That I can understand.  He isn't making the right decision, but at least I understand and can sympathize with him making the wrong one.  

Viper also has an air of mystery about him.  As I said, they never answered any of the questions someone might have had about him.  They don't know where he came from or why he is doing what he is doing.  It is easy to imagine that Viper was once one of Arthur's best Knights and was seduced to the cause of Morgana, but this is never stated or hinted at.  Still Viper provokes the imagination partially because, like many villains, their is a shadowy past full of mystery and unanswered questions.  We often fill in those blanks with answers that we think are great and thus make the character out to be better (to us as least) than he really is.  

Finally, Viper and his men, like most bad guys in fiction, get kicked around constantly.  They almost never win even the smallest victory which gives them a real underdog vibe.  People love underdogs.  They love pulling for the "little guy" because that is the role that they are most likely to relate to.  So often in life we face an uphill battle over what seem like overwhelming odds so we like to see someone facing those same kind of odds pull through.  Deep down I think it gives us hope for our own situation. 

There are many lessons to take out of this, both GMs and Players.

For players, your PCs are the main characters of the show that is your campaign.  Remember that, and remember that great characters are not defined only by their strengths but also by their weaknesses.  Give your character a flaw or two, one that will likely create some tension and great story opportunities in the future. 

For GMs, recognize that just because the players will be pitted against your NPCs doesn't mean that can't respect them or even be friends with them.  Look at Professor X and Magneto, they are best friends but constantly find themselves battling against one another because they don't see eye to eye on what is best for their kind.  These kind of enemies can be the most memorable and create a different kind of obstacle than a standard monster in a dungeon.  X never really gives up hope of Magneto seeing the error of his ways and using using his powers for good.  The battle to convince a bitter enemy to stop their dastardly deeds may not require any dice, but it may be the greatest battle any player at your table has ever fought.