Saturday, December 3, 2016

Resources For Every GM: Settings Part 2

Ok, so for this week's resource article I really wanted to share some of the settings that have been inspiring me to work on some of my worlds recently. They are unique worlds that have a lot to offer in both general inspiration or as entire settings from which to run a game.

Mutant New York (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles): Honestly how could you not love the idea of this kind of game. It crosses the lines of so many different genres / subgenres that it isn't even funny. The TMNT could, in various adventures, qualify for any number of games. You have intrigue, you have super-heroics, science fiction, martial arts, and all around action movie action. TMNT is incredibly diverse but everyone knows it when they see it. Ninja turtles. The only other place you get that is in something trying to emulate the Ninja Turtles. If you see the Foot Clan or Utroms or mousers, you know what you are in for. In fact, I would bet anthropomorphic triceratops would lead a lot of people back to TMNT. I mean who doesn't love some space triceratops people!? Not only do you get all this from the TMNT, but there are a number of eras from which you can play or take influence from. The original comics, the IDW reboot, the 90s cartoon, the 2000s cartoon, the most recent cartoon, or either of the movie series. There is so much flexibility without loosing what makes this setting unique: mutants and martial arts. Personally I cannot wait to play the TMNT one shot next weekend, and hope to play it again in the future.

Robot Future (Mega Man Universe): I love Mega Man. I cannot actually describe how infatuated I am with the Mega Man franchise. Now, to be fair I don't own all the games, nor do I own the comics. However, I watched the cartoon growing up and I played days worth of hours worth of Mega Man X. I have also dabbled in wikis. It is just the entire concept of the basic Mega Man universe and all the concepts that build out of it. Its an indeterminate future with lots of advancements, and yet not quite so many. It is almost entirely robotics based. We have a robot for everything. And that, of course, means robots for evil, or turned evil, or corrupted in some way. But the idea that there are sentient robots and some of them are "alive" and some of them don't seem to be and there are a handful which can borrow the abilities of others? It is so cool. I forget what forum I read it on, but the person argued it very well and I agree, Mega Man is within the super hero genre and it exists there in a very specific unique way. That's one of the reasons I love it. It's not just a fun platformer franchise, it is also a marvelously developed world. If you want even more reason to love it look up The Megas, specifically their Get Equipped album. Beautiful. Anyways, this setting has inspired an entire setting of my own. If there was a Mega Man RPG I would play it, but I am almost as excited to share the world inspired by it.

Slumberland (Little Nemo Universe): This universe will either be completely familiar to you, hugely nostalgia inspiring, or something you have never heard of. My first introduction to it was in the NES game Little Nemo: The Dream Master. I remember two things about this game. First it is an incredibly interesting idea that includes a crazy world and the ability to feed certain animals candy and, in return, you ride them and gain special abilities. It was rather difficult and I admit to utilizing a Game Genie to surpass a tree climbing portion which involved, I believe, a difficult to make jump and an angry buzzard. Later I was introduced to Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumber Land, many years later. This was a terrific anime movie that informs you much more about the world and how interesting it is. Both of these things are based on a comic strip from 1905. Yeah going to the way back machine here, but that is because of the unique style of this setting. Sure dream-based worlds have existed in the decades before the adaptations, but not like this. As such it made a good game, a great movie, and wonderful setting. I am using it to influence the Fae realm of Luxarrah and it alone would make for some terrific adventures.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Getting Back To It

There are many ways to play table top RPGs. From one-shots to episodic adventures to full blown years-long campaigns, there is no right or wrong way to play. Just as long as you are having fun, at least. I have done all of these, and enjoyed them all too. Some are easier than others and each has its pros and cons. Some fit a time in everyone's life better than others. What I know is true of myself, and the desire of many, is the years-long campaign is the one you play. One with session after session of development, world building, character relationships, meaningful adventure, and long term ramifications.

These are the hardest games to get into, though, because they take time and commitment from everyone, and regularity. Many an early game that could last years comes to an end because of some scheduling conflicts that lead to other problems which lead to other problems. There is no harm in stepping away from that game, that group, or that schedule. Pushing too hard could just ruin the campaign permanently. Hells, even if it doesn't there is the chance that an extended break could be difficult to, well, break.

That has been my effort this past week, all culminating into a potentially 6 hour long session. I say potentially because when we left off things were grim. A TPK lurks around the corner should dice roll south. You see, we had introduced two people to D&D for the first time via Death House, the free adventure that came out right before the release of Curse of Strahd. That adventure was designed to take characters from level 1 to level 3 and ready them for the nightmares of Barovia.

It went fantastically. I have talked about it before, and can't praise Death House enough, but needless to say we purchased the Curse of Strahd campaign book shortly after. From there we embarked on what was, for me and everyone else, our first published campaign run. It went wonderfully, though I have found difficulty in not "knowing" everything as intimately as I do my home made worlds. After 5 or 6 sessions, though, scheduling took a nose dive. It became difficult, bordering on impossible, to get the entire group together for a session. It has been that way for about 6 months and changing it has been a challenge.

Groove Is Important
One of the major reasons we haven't been playing all Fall, despite my claims of an easier schedule personally, is that it has been difficult to get back into a general groove of things. This includes the blog, the podcast, and writing in general. Anyone who has kept an eye on here for the past 3 months knows this. A side game with fewer people and a regular schedule has seen at least as many hours as Strahd ever did and I have big plans to continue it. One shots were easier to fit in. The farther we got from Strahd the harder it was to sit down and remind myself about Barovia and the easier it was to explore the other things I had neglected.

It's not a bad thing to continue ignoring a campaign, even one that begs to be restarted. The time may not be right. No matter how much the players are ready, if you are not, as the DM, the game will not run well. If there are any hiccups within the context of that campaign that need time to be resolved, avoid trying to force it. Let time take care of it. I learned that with my Pathfinder game. Trying to fix scheduling, party dynamic, story progression, and mechanical issues all at once caused the game to lurch near the end and eventually crawl to a somewhat sudden halt. By then it was somewhat expected, but nonetheless sad. That game and the group have been waiting a little over a year to pick back up, but the time is not yet right for it.

The time is right for Strahd, however. The past few weeks have seen an upswing in my ability, desire, and flow of working on RPG stuff. I judiciously selected what to rebuild my momentum with and when. The Fall as been far slower to pick up than I wanted, slower even than I was capable, but that slow and deliberate speed was worthwhile. I am finally back in a place where I can say, "Let's do this!"

Preparation Is Key
Obviously, if you have been away from a campaign for a while you will have forgotten a lot about it. There will be plenty you remember, but far too much that you may not. The only way to overcome this is preparation. Looking at session notes, reading campaign notes, figuring out where you left off, and deciding where you'll pick back up. This can be a bit of work and, I want to emphasize, you have to be ready enough and want to play enough that this doesn't feel as much like work. Otherwise, you'll get nowhere quick.

Find an actual play, if you like them, that inspires the campaign world you created. Or a video game that you were influenced by to make that world. Or read a book that did something similar. If you enjoy actual plays and are playing a published campaign, listen to someone else play it. I have been binging Waffle Crew over the past two weeks. Not only are they a great group, but I learned more, internalized more, about the Curse of Strahd than any reading and note taking prep so far! Now I am quite ready to get back into that world, explore it, and see how my players react.

Just Do It
For many there will be hesitation to getting back into a game, but when it feels right you just have to dive back in. Don't let "what's the point" over-burden you with the potential that it all falls by the wayside. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Maybe that game was meant to only be played twice a year. You will never know until you try.

By the same token though, that is exactly what I will be doing tomorrow, despite the nearness of the holidays and finals-season. We shall see how it goes. The session tomorrow and any other sessions we have soon, will inform me as to what I missed as important in putting a campaign back together after so many months. It counts as a trial run for me. A smaller campaign, with fewer sessions, and a shorter break than that Pathfinder game. It will be a learning experience no matter what. I have already shared what is needed to kickstart an old, dusty game here. I only hope that in a few weeks I will have another article with more information and some lessons learned to help you do the same, and do it successfully.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cracks of the Rift: Chapter Four

            Chapter Four: Man in the Mist

            Written By: Erin Rowan, The Untamed Scribe
Adapted from the Notes of Erin Rowan & John Crowley III
Based on the Characters from a Home Brew World in our Pathfinder RPG Campaign

Freya desperately clawed at the sands in front of her, trying to get a strong enough hold to slow the beast down. But pain laced up her left leg and she could barely breathe. Her hands dragged trails in the sand with no effect. She heard James off in the distance shouting. He sounded a world away. Desperate she reached behind her and pulled a dagger sheathed at the small of her lower back.

Taking in a ragged breath she flipped herself over. More pain and the sensation of fire ran up her leg as she felt the beak cut through bone, and a violent scream escaped her lips. She was dragged further into the water, her body starting to grow cold.

She didn’t see the arrow but heard the rush of air as it went by her. The beast didn’t let go of her foot as the arrow sank into it, a spray of blood arching out of the new wound. Freya felt more tugging as the octopus became desperate to take her.

She heard a war cry and caught a glimpse of a glimmering polearm sink into the beast’s side before her head was submerged.

Almost immediately Freya surfaced as the octopus let go with a gargled cry of pain. She had only a moment. Gathering her strength she flung herself forward at the creature. Arcing up out of the water she brought the dagger down with both hands at it’s bulbous head. The blade went in with a smooth squish. The tentacles around her tightened as her blade sank to the hilt.

She heard shouting and risked a glance behind her. She saw more figures approaching the others as a ball of fire rushed through the night, connecting with one in the chest. She looked to see Samson fending off a grindylow. James was somewhere off in the distance cursing into the night.

The others were surrounded. She was on her own now.

Releasing the dagger she let herself fall back into the water once again, not wanting to let the octopus get a shot at her upper half. She quickly removed a dagger from her side, readying herself.

The beast was once again moving towards her injured foot as blood poured from the wound.
Freya realized all too late that she could no longer feel any pain in her foot.

Not good, not good.

Panic filled her chest as she started to kick out at the creature with her good leg. But she could barely move as the tentacles started to constrict her further.

She let out a cry that was cut short by the rush of water that filled her mouth as the beak cut into more of the bone of her foot and she was dragged further into the sea.

Surfacing again, barely catching a breath and coughing up water, she swiped at one of the tentacles around her middle. The cut was not deep and didn’t seem to deter the octopus in any way. Freya’s mind started to race as she was dragged under again.

Is this how it ends?

The creature was ruthless and intelligent. It didn’t just want to kill her. It wanted to take her.
Am I to become a hollowed out husk of flesh at the bottom of the ocean? Something to be fed on and picked at in the blackness?

Fear encased her mind. As she randomly broke the surface she took in short breaths and lashed out with her dagger.

It did nothing. The octopus was toying with her, wearing her down.

She felt herself getting tired. So tired. Soon her movements were slowed and half-hearted. Her body was ready to accept death and with her mind laced with fear and pain she had but only one thought.

Perhaps death isn’t so bad...

She was dragged under once more. This time the creature met no resistance. As she went under Freya let out most of her air. Her grip barely held her dagger. She felt suspended within a moment. As if she was watching herself, like she was dreaming.

There won’t be any more pain. There won’t be any more suffering. There would just be peace. Eternal peace. I can see her again.

As she thought about her sister a memory came to her.

Her sister’s eyes. That was the most vivid part of the memory. Anytime Freya thought back on this moment her sister’s crystal blue eyes were always staring back at her. Small tears were streaking down her sister’s small face.
Freya’s vision blurred as her own eyes filled with tears.

“You’re going to be okay,” Freya heard her own voice cracking as she spoke to her sister. “Everything will be okay.” Freya glanced down at her sister’s stomach. There was blood everywhere and Freya desperately kept her hand on the wound.

A small smile spread across her sister’s lips, “We both...know….that..isn’t true,” her words were whispers. Her eyes started to close. She felt cold to the touch.

“No,” Freya adjusted her sister in her arms, trying to keep her conscious. “Help is coming. You are going to make it,” Freya brushed a stray strand of her sister’s crimson hair behind her ear. “Alright? You hear me? You just stay with me, alright?” Freya looked at her sister.

Her sister was staring at her. Her eyes started to well up. “ me,” her voice was weak. Freya shook her head, tears falling down her face. “Yes,” her sister said with conviction, a tear slipping down her cheek. “I to.”

Freya whipped at her own tears, unable to focus.

Her sister took in a ragged breath, gathering what strength she had left. “This isn’t...the..end,” her voice wavered slightly as she spoke. “I will….see you again,” her hand reached out for Freya’s. The two held hands trying to comfort the other as best they could. “Live free...” a small line of blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth. “I”

Freya could barely breath. She had started sobbing. “I love you, Anca.”

Her sister’s hand fell loose from her grip and her eyes stared off into the distance.

Freya cried out and cursed at the world! She cursed at everyone and no one! She cursed at herself!

She knelt down, hugging her sister to her and rocking gently.

Moments passed into what felt like eternity.

Finally, Freya gently placed her sister on the ground. She lightly placed her hand on Anca’s eyes, shutting them forever.

“Die well,” Freya whispered.

Freya slowly became aware of herself again. She was unable to breathe. She was dying.

This is not the end for me. I can’t let go yet...

Freya’s eyes snapped open and panic took hold as soon as she remembered where she was. She slashed out at another tentacle around her middle. The first couple of passes had no effect, but the third struck true. Freya saw blackness well from the wound under the water.

The tentacle released her and she barely broke the surface, gulping in air. Freya didn’t hesitate as she slashed out again and again at the tentacles surrounding her. Her lungs burned with each new labored breath as she continued to swipe at the creature.

Freya’s body was barely moving and each slash of her dagger became more weak.

Suddenly, Freya felt her body become free as the tentacles released her. The octopus thrashed around in the water wildly as two arrows protruded out of it’s head. It’s scream split the night. It slithered under the surface of the water and disappeared.

Unsure if it was dead or not Freya didn’t hesitate to swim back towards the shore as quickly as she could. With her foot numb and her arms all but useless it was a laborious process.

As she got close to shore she dug her dagger into the sand and started to pull herself out of the water. It was arduous, and painful. As she did she looked to see how her companions were doing.

There was fog everywhere and she could make out vague shapes here and there. There was yelling and chanting that seemed to come from every direction.

Freya felt the grains of sand under her fingernails as she clawed into the shore with her free hand. Her other hand was firmly wrapped around her dagger with white knuckles as she dragged herself from the water’s edge.

Yelling with determination she pulled herself a few feet further up on shore and collapsed onto her arms.

Freya heard a roar ring out from the fog. Lifting her head up in time to see an explosion of lightning streak off of a blade out of the darkness. It arched through the air, a cascade of brilliant powerful light, and collided into a figure with a white hot explosion.

The chanting stopped short with a deafening guttural scream of pain. Followed by silence.

The figure fell and there was the smell of singed cloth and burnt flesh.

“James!” Freya screamed into the darkness. It was all she could get out. She had no idea where he was, if he was okay, or what had happened. Her head fell once more onto her arms, the tension in her body gone, as exhaustion took hold of her.

As Freya’s eyes started to close she caught sight of the sword, newly encased in lightning. It cracked and spit across the steel. As it came closer Freya saw unfamiliar deep brown eyes staring at her from just beyond the blade.

With nothing left her eyes finally closed.

Then there was nothing but darkness.  

* * *

Freya woke with a pounding headache. Her mouth was dry and her body was stiff. She opened her eyes and slowly sat up. Her body protested as she did. She quickly realized that she was in a nightgown and had none of her weapons.

Rubbing the kinks out of her neck she looked at her surroundings to find a room she had never stepped foot in before.

It was simple but elegant. It had the bed in which she sat, the sheets smelling of a lovely lavender. The smell had been the first thing she noticed. It was clean and fresh, not something she was used to. There was a side table with a few candles and a single skinny window from which a few rays of sun dusted the large oak floors. The walls were a solid stone that spoke of wealth. There was also a simple wood door across the room from the bed.

Her eyes lit up as she noticed neatly folded on a chair in the corner lay her clothes. Her weapons resting gently on top of them.

Where the hell am I? Wait a minute...

Freya looked again at the window. There was sun shining through the window, which caused a small flutter of panic to well up in her chest.

How long have I been here? Where were the others? Samson? Boom?

“James,” she whispered into the empty room.

There were too many questions but one thing was certain, she would get no answers sitting here. She pushed the covers away from herself, and slowly swung her legs over the edge of the bed, her body protesting. She kept her eyes closed not wanting to see the mess that was her left foot.

She took in a breath to steady herself.

Alright. However bad it is you can deal with it.

She opened her eyes and looked at her foot.

“Holy shit!” She shouted, only to clamp her own hand over her mouth.

Sitting there at the end of her foot were all of her toes. She tried to wiggle them. They wiggled back at her. Her foot was completely intact!

She remembered the pain and the sound of the bones snapping. A shudder went through her. Examining her foot a little closer she found some light scarring around her toes and along the bridge of her foot.

Her relief vanished as fear crept up and ruined the moment. Who could have done this? Why did they do it? What do they want? Freya knew that such healing took incredible skill. She also knew that there was always a cost for such things.


Freya pushed herself up off of the bed and steadied herself. Her foot felt different, but it was whole. She started to balance on it, lifting up her other good leg, to get a feel for how different it would make things for her.

Suddenly the door swung open. She froze where she was, balancing on her foot, probably looking like something from a traveling troupe.  

The door was opened by a guard in shining armor. His movements were calculated and precise. He held the door open as a man entered the room. She recognized the brown hair and blue eyes staring down at her.

“James!” She ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him fiercely.

She had come very close to letting go of everything that she was and to disappearing forever.

That included James.

In this moment Freya was happy to see him again and she discreetly wiped away a tear.

He was stunned but quickly recovered and gave her a hug in return.

Freya, having forgotten herself, released him. They were no longer children. Hell, they were barely friends anymore. She stepped back, hugging herself, so as not to be embarrassed further.

“I’m glad you are alright," she said gently. She truly meant it.

James stared at her with an expression she didn’t understand. “You as well Freya.” His words were calm but she knew that she had done something wrong. He wouldn’t look her in the eyes.

“I’m alright too, love. Be still that worried heart!” Samson stepped into the room with a flourish and a devilish smile on his lips.

Freya rolled her eyes and smiled as if annoyed. “I was so concerned,” the sarcasm dripped from her words as Samson came closer and hugged her. His laugh was comforting.

He released her but held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Good to see you.” His words were simple but they meant more than he was saying.

“You as well, love.” She said with a small smile. She knew what he was saying but she wouldn’t let him, or herself, dwell on it.

He smiled back and stepped aside. Boom stood behind him, unmoving, with tendrils of steam coming off of his skin. He didn’t move forward and he didn’t speak. He simply nodded deeply to Freya.

She returned the gesture, nodding back to him. He cared in his own way she imagined.

Freya cut through the silence that followed. “So, what did I miss?”

“Perhaps I can answer that,” came a smooth male voice from the doorway. The figure entered the room and stood before the door. He was about the same height as Freya, just a couple inches shy of six feet tall. He had a sword securely strapped to his back. The handle spoke of a beautiful weapon with it’s ornate design. The man’s muscular body spoke to a life of fighting and his hair was a curly gold that gave him a rugged handsomeness.

Freya stared at his eyes - a soft, warm brown.

“You,” she said with surprise.

“Yes, me,” the man scooped up her hand. “But please, call me Aikos.” He placed a light kiss on the back of her hand.

Taking her hand back Freya continued to stare at Aikos. Those eyes. He was the one I saw. She remembered his sword and the electricity dancing along the blade. His eyes gave him away as the fighter he was. He clearly loved it.

“Aikos is a watchman in the dockside district,” James interjected. “He aided us last night.”

“I couldn’t help myself,” Aikos stated with a broad smile. “Who can say ‘no’ to a fight with some fauth and grindylow?” His smile widened.  

“What?” Freya glanced at James, concerned. “There were more? How many?”

James frowned. “Too many for my liking. They are getting bolder.” The anger was clear in his voice. As was the concern.

“Also they have some of their kind trained in the magical arts,” Aikos added. “I took at least one of them out of the fight last night.” Aikos flexed ever so slightly.

Ignoring Aikos, Freya remembered the chanting cutting off as the lightning from Aikos’ blade had struck a figure in the night. She also remembered the grindylow with the bone trident, chanting as they attacked it. Aikos’ words and the events of the night only confirmed what James was saying.

“They are getting stronger,” she said to the room. She sighed heavily closing her eyes and taking a moment. “So what now?”

As the words left her mouth another man appeared in the doorway dressed in simple clothes. “The Council is ready for you now.” He glanced at Freya still in the nightgown. “Please follow me when you are ready.” He moved into the hallway and waited with his hands behind his back.

“Excellent!” Aikos shouted as he moved to the door.

“Who?” Freya asked, annoyed. She hated not knowing what was happening. Her head was spinning, and not just with questions.

“About that,” James said as the rest of the group started to leave the room. “You should get dressed.”

Freya silently cursed at herself. In her joy to see the others alive and well she had completely forgotten about her surroundings. She glanced down at her foot, healed and with barely a scar. Then over at her clean and pressed clothes ready for use. She glanced around the simple yet inviting room, a comfortable place she had never known.

Of course. There was a cost.