Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: O is for Opulence

Every player wants the best for his character.  They might not come right out and say it, but in their heads, they are thinking it.  Everybody wants to be rich, but we're not all that lucky.  So, maybe the closest thing we get to true wealth comes through our RPG characters.

Opulence comes when you get to that point of wealth where you can pretty much just stop asking how much things cost.  You've got the money to do whatever you want.  For most RPG characters, true Opulence is something that you're never going to pull off, mostly for reasons of game balance.  When it comes to games like D&D 4e for example, where your GP plays such a huge part in the power of your character, you're very unlikely to ever reach that point of wealth where you can start to gold plate your horses or buy yourself a yacht which comes equipped with a large golf course.  But man, wouldn't that be awesome?  Then again, a lot of D&D characters are going to be rolling in money by the time they hit Epic levels, and, in all honesty, you've probably got enough GP to buy yourself a small country by the time you get there (but still not a full set of 25th level items for all your slots).  That is the very odd fact of wealth in RPG's.  The stuff that has a value to your character, the magic items, etc. are very rarely actually something that screams "opulence".  Instead, Opulence is more often a sign of a character's fluff.  Opulence comes in the story rather than the "crunch".  That works too.

When your players reach that point in their careers that they should start seeing some serious wealth, give it to them.  You can always use factors such as item availability to limit your players ability to pick up more crunch specific magic items.  Let your players have that massive palatial estate which is completely manufactured out of human happiness.  Let them have the gold and the jewels.  That stuff is all just a sign of status and position, something that your characters earn through adventuring.  That is one seriously cool reward.  Let your characters' opulence also be used as a tool, or hook, for starting adventures.  Maybe somebody stole something of incredible personal value to one of your players, or maybe somebody came in and vandalized your PC's crazy cool mansion.  Use those opportunities as a chance to get an awesome adventure under way.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: N is for "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die"

got sicker all of a sudden, going back to the hospital in the morning to get checked out.  Here are some funny pics of one of my favorite catch phrases : "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: M is for Motivation

Earlier this month, I went over goals, and how you need to manage and keep track of player goals in order to make sure that they are getting what they want out of the game.  I also went over how goals and motivation were two very different things.  Motivation is the reason why you are moving toward a goal.  Motivation is what keeps you moving forward.

Keeping track of your players motivation for gaming is probably the most important thing for building a great gaming group which lasts.  It can be pretty difficult to figure out, if you're playing with people you don't know, but with friends, it could be just as easy as sharing some fun time with your buds.  Figure out what best motivates your players to show up with their A game and you're going to be in very good shape.

L5R Art Contest - Week 3

Week three of the the L5R theme should touch the heard of our friend Shinobicow as from what I read his preference goes to the Crane Clan.
So here is a Kakita Bushi Duelist. She getting known as a very skilled Iajitsu practitioner and a fantastic sword woman.
Look close enough and you'll get a sneak peek at week 4 art.


Blogging from A to Z: L is for Leveling Up

Well, I'm still sick, but i'm actually walking around again now.  Being bitten alive by killer Mosquitos then practically getting quarantined at the hospital for an hour or so has a very adverse affect on my will and ability to do much of anything but stay in bed and swat away the bugs.  But, now that I'm half alive again, thought I should probably get some of these "Blogging from A to Z" back posts out.  I may be behind, but I still feel like I can catch up.
In my book, L is for one thing, and one thing only: LEVELS!  But, how do levels play into a successful adventure.  Well, when building an adventure, or a campaign, you have to always be aware of the level of your players and the levels of the enemies, at least for the purpose of balance, and making the encounters enjoyable and entertaining for your players (at least this is the accepted train of thought for 4th edition D&D).  However, leveling up is an important thing to think about when you're plotting out a series of encounters.  Knowing when your players are going to level up can make for a very rewarding tool; when you know that your characters are going to "Ding" you can scale up your encounters in advance accordingly.  But, aside from just knowing when your players are going to level, you can be a bit more proactive with it.  Let's face it, you're the DM, if you want your players to level up, then for god sakes level them up.   I haven't had a lot of postive experience playing games at the lowest levels.  That may just be my experience, but I prefer my characters to be pretty damn powerful.  I think the same applies to most video games as well.  In World of Warcraft you don't see players sitting around at the low levels on purpose very often.  More often than not, players are going to power level as fast as they can in order to get to the top tier of the game where they can do some really, really epic stuff.  
Power leveling is not really a component of most pen and paper RPG's, but there is of course a way to get around that.  Power leveling is not in the hands of the players, it is is in the hands of the DM.  Forcing a level jump, in which players skip several levels in order to get to a greater power point is a very easy way of mimicking the "power leveling" process.  There are lots of ways to explain that story-wise; maybe the players take a break from adventuring to dedicate themselves to further training in order to hone their skills and develop new abilities.  Maybe the players down something so incredibly awesome, or fulfill the end goal of a quest so epic, that they immediately go through a big jump in power.  Go crazy.  Just remember, if your players aren't interested in leveling up quickly, or would like to simply level their character though the natural organic process of killing monsters and looting their treasure, then let them.  Don't get in the way of their fun.  But, if they show interest in skipping the entire 1-20 and simply getting on with their really, really epic destiny than skip all the stuff in the middle and just go right there. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: K is for Kill and Loot

I remain ill and unable to really put my heart into this anymore.  Being laid up sucks.  Today, I simply ask you this.  Kill and Loot, the primary methodology that you get out of most D&D, does it get old to you? I'm not sure, but I think I'm looking for something more lately.  Maybe reading through the Leverage RPG, or hearing stories about some dude who maxed out his level on World of Warcraft without killing anything, but I'm really interested in playing some straight up group story-telling.  Who's with me?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: J is for Japan

Well, I thought I'd take one out of my 26 posts this month to just write a bit about Japan.  Hell, it does start with the letter J after all.  Things here are incredibly crazy still.  Some reports are saying that casualties from the quake have caused the deaths of over 15,000 people and an estimated 28,000 may have died in the Tsunami.  I believe the last I heard, several hundred thousand of people have been directly affected by the quake i.e. have had to be relocated or are now homeless.  The relief efforts are continuing though; several hundred million dollars have been raised for Japan relief - my wife mentioned to me that the CEO of Softbank (my phone company) has donated over 100 million dollars to the relief efforts and is donating his entire monthly paycheck every month in addition.   There are lots of reports, from people, all over the world, talking about how much people have come out to help.  The guys responsible for TF2 have donated almost half a million dollars, and the RPG community has come out in massive support.  This week on Kev n' Jen's "Plus One" podcast, they talked about how tragedies like this have the power to showcase the good in people.  That's definitely true.  The disaster has shown how great people can be.  But, nothing is over.  There are still quakes happening every day; yesterday a massive quake around 7.1 or so, hit Fukushima, causing temporary loss of ability to poor water on the reactors because the power went out (though I believe that got fixed) and another quake this morning in Chiba had people rattled as well.  We got hit by another one today, while I was sitting eating lunch (actually just a cookie) and that had some of the teachers quite spooked as well.  Some people are saying that it might be years until the plates calm down and these quakes stop.  Going to be a rough time for the Japanese people.

I don't want to go on too long, mostly because I'm still pretty sick and trying to get some rest, but I wanted to take a little bit of time out to applaud the efforts of all the people who are giving what they can to support the relief effort here.  You are making a huge difference.  The people here need as much as they can get; my wife was telling me something she heard on the news: despite the fact that hundreds of millions has been donated, after that has been divided up between all the people who have lost their homes and loved ones in the quake, the tsunami, and the aftermath, every person will only get about $3000 dollars of it.  That is to make up for the jobs, homes, and family that they lost.  They are going to have to make do on what amounts to only a single month's paycheck in whatever effort they try to make at rebuilding.  They really, really need all the help that they can get.

Thanks people! Keep up the good work.  Japan sends its thanks!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

L5R Art Contest - Week 2

Week 2 of the challenge. An Imperial Samurai at his retreat... How about for this one, you guys create the back story?

Blogging from A to Z: I is for Ingenuity

Every good adventure needs some good ingenuity on the side of the adventure builder.  Make sure to encourage ingenuity in your players so that they can find creative solutions to perhaps mundane problems.  Ingenuity is also pretty much the key you need to homebrew and house rule stuff on the spot.  Find your ingenious side and nurture it :)

Again, sorry for the weaksauce post.  Still pretty sick.  Regular posts will resume after recovery.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: H is for Hope

Every player and every DM needs hope.  Hope is essential for both character and NPC's alike.  Do you have hope?  Without hope, you're pretty much doomed in the RPG world.  NPC's who are hopeless will turn to extreme measures in order to get hope back.  Try to take advantage of that as a plot device in your adventures in order to turn good NPC's temporarily evil, and thus give your players that pesky moral choice dilemma when they have to decide whether to kill or just maim said NPC (they'll most likely kill him if it that NPC doesn't really seem to matter).  If your players do kill the innocent NPC who has turned to dark side in order to regain his or her lost hope, lay the alignment smackdown on your NPC's and make them live up to that evil decision of theirs.

I also hope that I will be better the day after tomorrow so that I can do a better post for the letter I.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blogging from A to Z: G is for Gallons of Goals

Today, we're going to talk about the multi-faceted, and supremely important letter "G" (it's the most important letter of the alphabet... not because my name is Greg...).  G is for goals, and goals are arguably one of the most important things you need to take into consideration whenever you're playing an RPG.  That statement applies just as much in the game, and in character, as to out of the game, and the goals your friends have for coming to play an RPG with you.  Better get to know yours and your friends goals.

There are several different kinds of goals, which are relevant to our collective interests.  Today, I want to talk about a number of these: Player, Adventure, PC, DM, and NPC goals, are all important to understand when trying to figure out how to properly construct an adventure.

Before we start in on that however, I think it's important that we first define and understand the difference between "goals" and motivation, because there is a difference, though it may be subtle.  Goals are the end result to which effort is directed.  Motivation is the reason for striving toward that goal.  Keep that in mind as we take a look at the various types of Goals that are relevant to playing RPG's and designing a good adventure.

Player Goals
What is the players goal for playing an RPG?  That's a good question.  What are you trying to achieve by getting out your polyhedral dice, sitting around a table with some friends, a mountain dew or a beer, and probably a pizza (or some other type of party food)? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!  Well, for most people, the end goal at the end of a gaming night is pretty simple: you're trying to have fun! FUN!!!!  Many players may set their goal, unconsciously, that they want to get together with a bunch of friends and enjoy the roleplaying experience for an evening, or a series of evenings, for a campaign.  Pretty simple right?  Well, yea.  The only problem really arises when one or two people have a different goal.  Maybe someone's goal isn't really go come Roleplay, but their goal is to come to the game to mooch free food off of the GM, or to get drunk at some friend's house who is deemed to be "trustworthy" by high school parents.  For most people, you're not going to have too many problems with goals conflicting at the game table because let's face it, you have all got together to play a roleplaying game.  However, you might have problems with conflicting motivations.  Some people might be motivated to play RPG's for the tactical combat, some might be motivated to play because of the chance to roleplay.  This difference in motivation is much more likely to cause conflict and thus prevent everyone from achieving their shared goal of enjoying an evening of RPG's (and beer... or Mountain Dew).

So that problems like these don't happen, it's really best to sit down with everyone before the game starts just to make sure everyone is on the same page.  If everyone understands each other, you're not likely to get into problems later down the road.

You might find that my definition of player goals differs from what you think of when you think about that topic.  I tend to think of player goals as things that go on outside of the game and are not connected to any PC or, in fact, to any actual single game that you might be playing.  Check out PC goals below for what I think about goals for player characters.

Adventure Goals

Well, since this month, I'm trying to focus somewhat on adventures with this whole Blogging from A to Z thing, I would be grossly remiss in not talking about Adventure Goals.  What is an adventure goal? Perhaps the goal of a short adventure is getting the kidnapped princess out of the hands of the evil dragon turtle who kidnapped her from her castle.  Maybe the adventure goal is to enter the planes of chaos and destroy one of the demon lords who rules there.  If you're playing with the same people all the time, make sure to change it; don't always go back to the same adventure goal.  People get tired of:
1) enter dungeon 
2) kill all creatures inside 
3) retrieve loot 
5) profit. 

You're going to have to do better than that.

There is a big difference between a short adventure goal, which might only take a couple sessions to achieve and a longer campaign goal which has much more widespread connotations, but regardless, always try to aim high with the goal.  If your players are able to reach that awesome adventure goal, they will be able to brag about it and will remember it; if they don't, which is entirely a possibility, now you have the seed for the next adventure.  For example, if your players need to prevent a Lich from resurrecting through the use of its phylactery, but fail, than you have a great new goal for the next adventure.  Fun!!

PC Goals
Player Characters are going to have the most varied types of goals and will probably have a lot of them.  PC goals are also the most complicated because they can come in a variety of types and time frames and you, as a GM, are going to have to make sure that you know all of these goals so that you can help your players to reach them.

PC goals can be both short, and long term.  A Short term goal might be something like getting to use the awesome new magic item, that the character just got, in a useful way, sometime during the next encounter.  A long term PC goal might be something like gaining several levels in order to gain that awesome class feature that you've been waiting for.  PC goals can really range in time frame anywhere from a single session, to multiple years, so it can be pretty hard to keep track of that kind of thing.

Player goals also fall into two other distinct categories: mechanical and story.  Mechanical goals are character options, whether that be some XP, a level, a new item, some gold, etc. which will have an impact on their character in the mechanical sense.  Story goals are goals that have to deal with the role your character has played in the world.  Perhaps a Cleric NPC wants to grow up to be a saint.  That's a pretty hefty, and awesome, long term goal.

As the DM, you might want to use some type of record sheet in order to keep track of all of your PC goals.  On the sheet, make tables like you would see in the D&D 4e books for Weapons.  Mark Down the player name, where you would see Simple weapons, and then for each category of goal, i.e. Short Term-Mechanical, Short Term-Story, Long Term-Mechanical, Long Term-Story, have your player write down a few of his or her goals, or, if you hear him talking about something that he would like for his character, just go ahead and mark it down yourself.  (I'll probably get around to making a table for that at some point and post it up here... unless TheWeem gets there first ;)  he always makes the coolest accessories, loving the Fate Point Cards).

Manage your players expectations while trying to help them reach the goals that you have recorded.  If you can work those goals into the adventure in some way, than you're on the right track.  You should, however, work your way through the group, rather than focusing on one person too much.  If one person's story ends up having more importance to the larger side of the plot, make sure to take time out to have small, side-trek adventures that will showcase your less focused on PC's and allow them to achieve their story based goals.

As the DM, you have one goal, make the game fun for everybody involved.  You may have some goals, such as showcasing a really cool monster that you put together, or showcasing some cool world element that you made in your copious spare time, or you might have something even loftier, like having your players experience the awesome linear adventure you just got finished writing... but, if your goal ever comes into conflict with your players goals, to the point where they are losing interest in your adventures, you need to put those goals aside and refocus.  You're kind of like the host of the party, that means you might not have a fun time setting up, or cleaning up, but if you stay in control, and pay attention to your party guests, and their needs, they are going to have a great time and come back for the next party.  If your players are happy, they will let you take chances and try to have some fun of your own.

NPC Goals
This might be a silly thing to mention, since I've just spent all this time talking about having goals, but it's worth mentioning that your NPC's should all have goals as well.  Perhaps you don't really need to write them all down, but keep it in mind.  For an NPC, a single goal is probably all you ever need, unless that character is going to show up A LOT!  A random Baker NPC's goal is probably just to sell bread after all.  He doesn't need some crazy back-story.  An NPC assassin might just have the goal of killing player X or NPC Y.  He or she might not need a lot of other complicated goals, though a character like that probably needs to have some motivation that will make that character interesting to interact with for the players.

Well, that was a pretty long post, and I'm a bit exhausted from writing it, but I will say, I'm really happy with how this is coming along so far.  My goal for this month is to write 26 of 26 posts for the Blogging from A to Z challenge and to do them all on time.  Also, if possible, I want to have a motivational/demotivational poster in every single one of them because A) They are awesome and funny and B) I find that I need the motivation to keep doing this because it is dang hard.

See ya'll tomorrow!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spotlight - Leverage RPG - Setting(s)

We're back today with more on our continuing Leverage RPG spotlight.  Today's topic is going to be about the setting that is used in the Leverage RPG and related topics.

If you watch the show, or have seen the game, you probably understand that the Leverage RPG is set in our world, in present day.  It is a game which focuses on the evil corporations that cause harm to innocent civilians.  It is very much a world based on reality.  You know what the world is like right?  Using that as a basis, you really already understand all that there is to the basics of what you would call the "setting" for the Leverage RPG.  Your characters are all very wealthy and money is unlikely to be a problem for you (since you could always just steal as much as you need anyway) so you're never limited in your jobs to just one locale.  You should feel free, with the game, to go globe-trotting.  Head around the world and pull of Jobs in exotic locales.

If you aren't up on world cultures and history, or don't know your geography, bust out your laptop, head over to wikipedia and you can get as much information about the real world as you want.  Pretty easy huh?  No need for extensive setting books because this modern RPG is pretty much as real as it gets.

Well... at least that is what the Cortex Plus rules say...

But, like a few people that have posted in the comments of this spotlight, the rules are pretty open when it comes to the world of the game.  This RPG is one of those games that falls between Rules Heavy and Rules Lite and the system is free-form enough that it could be pretty easily adapted to just about any time-period based setting you could think of.

Let's say for example, that you want to play Leverage, but you want to do it in the future.  Great.  Your hacker is going to be very, very happy.  The rules system allows for that nicely.  Because of the way that the rules system handles things like Equipment i.e. Assets, you're not likely to have any problems adjusting the way these Assets are handled in a different time period, such as the future.  It's a very, very easy process. Someone in the previous comments remarked that the TV show was a lot like the Shadowrun RPG except that the technology was all dumbed down. I would say that you could run the Leverage RPG, in the Shadowrun Setting, very nicely, without having to deal with all the heavy duty number crunching that a game like Shadowrun comes along with.

However, let's not just go to the future with this, let's take a look at the past as well.  If you're like me, and enjoy playing Fantasy RPG's (we all do) than you're likely in for a treat with the Leverage RPG.  I could see this game as being very fantasy friendly.  It wouldn't be too hard to redefine the hacker roll into some type of magic user then simply play the game from there.  Your team of fantasy con-artists will be your fantasy world's robin hoods as they steal from rich, evil Necromancers, and give those gold pieces off to the people that need them more.

I give the Leverage RPG some major points for putting together a game system that is capable of doing all these different things with setting changes.

Wait... I haven't talked about the system yet... OK! You caught me!! I haven't talked about the system yet.  Stay tuned tomorrow and I'll be right on it.  Got some episodes of Leverage to watch and then you'll get your system post.


Blogging from A to Z: F is for Freedom

I think that one of the most important things to making your adventure really, really fun and successful is by giving the players freedom.  I of course do not mean true freedom, but a sense of freedom at least.

No player likes to be railroaded.  This is true.  Unless you go into a game with everybody on exactly the same page about the game that they are going to play, you're not going to have many players who are begging to go on a completely pre-planned, pre-plotted linear adventure which works like a Dungeon Delve without any diversion from the single path leading from the entrance to the boss battle.  Nobody really wants to play those adventures if they are given a choice between the open, free adventure, and the railroad.  Sometimes you are forced to do one of them, because the DM has been slacking off on the job and doesn't having anything particularly fascinating prepared for the players (an experienced DM wouldn't let that stop him though... bust out those Random Tables man!).

But, I postulate (ooo big words) that even in the face of no preperation and the use of a published linear adventure, that a smart DM can still give his players the illusion of Freedom if he or she simply has the spine to try.  Sometimes, as a DM, you have a plot/story in your head that you really, really want your players to follow.

Taking Freedom away from your players is all about the illusion.  The better the illusion, the less they will feel that they have been violated in some way, or tricked by the DM.  You have to to play things cool.  Giving them two paths, like the illustration to the left, if a good way to get your players to call fowl on you, but put those paths a bit further apart, make them wind a lot more, and you're likely to have things work out just find.

Take for example adventure hooks; adventure hooks are a great way of creating the illusion of freedom of choice.  When you, as a DM, have a story that absolutely has to be told, and an adventure that you absolutely have to send your players on, prepare bucket loads of adventure hooks of all different kinds.   However, the trick to making really good adventure hooks is to keep them from all looking the same.  Don't simply throw the same hook, but with a different NPC/reward attached in front of the players over and over again.  Make the adventure hooks look significantly different from eachother, but the end result always sends them on the same grand adventure.  If you can master that, you're well on your way to being a fantastic DM.  I still haven't gotten that down, but I've been working on it.  A lot of my games still tend to feel a bit rail-roadish, but my players usually forgive me because they're really nice.  They see the fact that their freedom of choice is an illusion, but they're cool people who don't mind being led around.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E is for Epic... Epic Fail!!!

Today, for the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge, I am here to talk about Epic, brought to you by the letter "E".  In RPG terms, especially D&D, Epic is used to denote the highest levels of a campaign, or adventure.  If you have played Epic D&D, especially in 3rd and 4th Edition, you know that this type of roleplaying puts your characters into such crazy high levels of power that they are fighting demons, dragons, and devils for breakfast.  Epic is the territory of the gods and it's pretty good from the top.

But, you know, Epic is something so far out of reach for most people, that I really don't want to focus on providing advice to people who are interested in running Epic Tier 4th Edition D&D games.  If you are interested, or looking for advice on that, you can get it elsewhere.  Let me direct you to Sly Flourish.  He has written an entire book about running Epic Tier games.  I haven't gotten a chance to read the book yet, but I'd really like to.

 What I do want to talk about today is the use of Epic in conjunction with my favorite internet popularized term, FAIL!!  In this case, Epic is used to mean "Impressively Great!" or "Of unusally great size or extent."  We can also use Epic with the word Win, for the combined, "Epic Win".  Now, let's take a break so we are all on the same page in terms of understanding the meaning of these terms.

Wasn't that lovely. I thought it would be easier to show that rather than simply try to explain what all of that means.  But, what does this mean for you and your RPG adventures?  Am I getting completely off track from my goal of providing advice for adventures??


I think, that in every adventure you run, you need to leave enough room for their to be an Epic Fail once in a while.  Honestly, Epic failures of players are some of the most memorable things that you will ever see in RPG's.  Really, anything that stands out as being memorable to your players is a good thing.  Maybe you're familiar with the phrase "any publicity is good publicity" well, I think that kind of applies to this situation, but from a slightly twisted angle.  If your player digs himself a hole, or rolls so badly that it ends in an Epic Fail situation, than that player will absolutely remember that situation, and probably won't think badly of you, the DM, because of it.  Sure, that Epic Failure might result in character death, but, hell, it's a game right?  Sometimes, if the dice just roll all 1's, maybe that character really is destined to die.  Better let the dice gods win.

Now, don't assume that I am saying you should outright encourage your players to fail so that they will remember your games, but give them the opportunity to fail in creative and horrible ways so that those fails wills be EPIC enough that they remember them.  A great way to make this possible is through the creative use of random tables.  You might be familiar with Critical Hit and Fumble Charts; many RPG's don't integrate these directly into the rules, as is the case with 3rd and 4th edition D&D, but most gamers have their own house rules for how to use these charts in a home game.  Check out this article on Critical Hits and Fumbles and you can get a pretty good idea of how you might be able to incorporate these kind of rules into your game.

I'm a big advocate of even going beyond just critical hit and fumble charts by using items that generate random  effects.  You might be familiar with the Deck of Many Things (who am I kidding, of course you are familiar with it) or the Wand of Wonders.  These old school items have their roots way back in D&D and are seeing a lot more focus now that the D&D encounters series is putting them into the foreground of the hobby again.  Items like this are just made of Epic Fail/Win.  They can generate some really, really awesome results.  Chances are, if players remember the Epic Fail that occurred in a specific adventure, they will remember the adventure a lot better.  You might have heard R.A. Salvatore recount his Wubba Wubba story regarding his experience with the Wand of Wonders. If you haven't, go listen to it.  If that isn't a great example of EPIC Fail, I don't know what is. (the audio on that video is only so-so, there is a better version available on the WotC podcast, but I'm not sure exactly which one it was... too long ago. Regardless, check it out.)


Spotlight - Leverage RPG - What is Leverage?

OK, let's define Leverage shall we.

S: (n) leverage, purchase (the mechanical advantage gained by being in a position to use a lever)
S: (n) leverage (strategic advantage; power to act effectively) "relatively small groups can sometimes exert immense political leverage"
S: (n) leverage, leveraging (investing with borrowed money as a way to amplify potential gains (at the risk of greater losses))

Thank you Google for helping us out with that.

The show, and the RPG, are a play on words. If you've seen the show, or played the RPG, you probably know why.

Leverage is about Con Men (and women) who join together to do their thiefly duties and steal lots of cool stuff.  Sometimes its money, sometimes its artwork, sometimes its horses... (no really, watch the show).  Leverage is kind of like watching Oceans 11, but with only 5 people, and they do it for an hour every week.  Some of the "Jobs" are rediculously over the top and involve the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars.  In fact, the first episode of the TV show has the characters making off with so much money that they could all immidiately retire from a life of crime, settle down somewhere, and enjoy the good life... but, none of them would be satisfied with that.

The show's underlying premise is not only are these people Thieves, but they are also Robin Hood's.  It is kind of hard to say which one of them would actually be Robin Hood (I mean you could make the clear argument that Nathan Ford, the mastermind behind the group, is their leader, but... not sure about that... I like me some Christian Kane for that part... ).  Every character in the show has his or her own specially defined role.  Let's go down the list:  Smart Character - the Mastermind, Nathan Ford; Strong Character - the Hitter, played by Christian Kane; the Hacker, Hardeman; the super flexible, but super crazy burglar - the Thief, Parker; and the charismatic - Grifter, Sophie.

The Leverage RPG is an RPG simulation of the Leverage TV Show.  The Players take the role of one of the Leverage TV Show characters (or make up their own) and play through a variety of Jobs, adventures, if you will, which the Fixer (GM) leads them through.  The game is based on the Cortex Plus rules system and leans toward the story-telling side of RPG's rather than the Tactical Combat Side.  If there was a scale of RPG's with OSR at one end and D&D 4e at the other, the Leverage RPG would be much closer to the OSR side of that diagram.

Next time, in our Leverage spotlight, I'll get into some more detail regarding the Cortex Plus system, how character creation works, and also talk a little bit about how I think you can apply the rules set to run games that exist in a non-"let's go kill everything and steal the loot" kind of world.  Using this rules set, you'll be stealing much more loot, but you won't even have to wash your sword afterward.


Monday, April 4, 2011

D is for Delightfully Dark and Dreary Dungeons of Doom... and Dragons

(whew alliteration is rough)

Well, D is a pretty important letter in this world of ours.  Hell, the entire RPG world was built on two very important D's:  Dungeons and Dragons.  Sorry, couldn't help but dedicate this day of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge to these two important aspects in roleplaying.  But, I'm not going to go on about history (mainly because I'm an uneducated swine who has only recently begun his study of the game's roots).  Today, I want to focus on how I think you should use these two elements in your Adventure to the end result of great victory.

While Dungeons can of course just be places for evil wiards to hang out and store all of their magical goodies, a Dungeon can really be any type of closed, designated area, that you want to let your players explore.  There are lots of different ways to build a Dungeon, but, I'm probably the last one who should be writing an article about that, mainly because I rarely ever build a dungeons for myself.  I did however do a little bit of hunting and have found some resources which might prove useful to you in your quest to make dungeons fun and interesting in your adventure.

Building a Better RPG Dungeon

RPG Design: Building the Perfect Dungeon

There are lots of great inspirational resources out there.  For example, the One Page Dungeon Contest is a great place to get loads of cool dungeons that you can use as short adventure "side treks" between the core path of your campaign.  Given my post yesterday, in relation to this month being National Cartography Month, it might be a good time for you to sit down and draw up some cool dungeons to put on display, or to use in your games.

I'm a big proponent of using Dragons in games.  Not just a little bit, but a lot a bit.  Dragons are fun and exciting and make for not only great BBEG's, but also can sometimes make for some really, really great henchmen.  Sometimes, at lower levels, I will use Dragons as henchman for more powerful enemies that are still to awesome to show up yet in the story of the adventure.  This usually works out pretty well, especially in games featuring players new to the game, who don't really understand, and aren't really prepared to take on more powerful, challenging and tactical fights (this is coming from my experiences DM'ing 3rd and 4th Edition D&D).

Considering the wealth of Dragon breads out there, you can go through an entire adventure and never make the party face the same species of dragon twice.  Purple Dragons are some of my personal favorites, but the all powerful Red Dragons are a general crowd pleaser at the game table.  Don't be afraid to make entire campaigns set around Dragons in the world either.  There is a reason these baddies have been around for so long.  They can fit perfectly into that final End Boss roll.  Take them for a spin once in a while and let your adventures thank you for it.

Oh... on a side note, Dragon Chow Dice Bags are awesome and you should really check out the DragonAge RPG and DragonAge Legends, the facebook game.  I reviewed it and I loved it. I need more friends to play with, so make a character and start leveling up, you're already behind...  C'MON!!!

OK.  That's enough for today, come back tomorrow.  Please!

Spotlight - Leverage RPG - Kickoff

It has been a really long time coming, but I am finally going to kick off of my Leverage RPG Review this week.  Earlier this year, Margaret Weis Productions, was nice enough to send me a review copy of the Leverage RPG when I had showed interest in reviewing their Smallville RPG.  I was quite intimidated at first.  At the time I received the copy of the book, the only thing about Leverage that I knew was that it was a show on TNT about thieves and it starred the dude who played Lindsey McDonald on Angel (we love our Christian Kane).  I wasn't really prepared to read and review Leverage until I actually got to see the show!  The Smallville RPG turned out to be a great product, if reviewed as an RPG Simulation for the Smallville TV Show.

One of the things that I didn't like so much about the Smallville RPG was that I thought it didn't do a perfect job of simulating the "Superhero" genre for me, since that was something I presumed the review should be based on, but after some discussion with the developers, and learning that they really tried to based the game as closely to the show as possible, the design decisions became much clearer to me. That really strengthened my opinion that I would be pretty much out of line to review this RPG without having some understanding of the source material.

But, now, everything has changed! I have finally gotten a chance to watch season one of the show, and will be watching season 2 very soon.  I actually enjoyed Leverage a lot more than I thought I would and I have gotten pretty much hooked.  I am very happy to learn that the show will be airing its fourth season in June of this year, which means lots more DVD box sets coming to me out here in Japan, eventually...  To make a long story very short, I have finally gotten a chance to give the Leverage RPG a good read and I'll be going through it, with my usual RPG spotlight format over the course of the next week.  I hope you all stay tuned for  it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Warhammer 40,000 Retrospective - How my Hobby Died, and was Reborn

At some point, I think in my senior year of High School, the one person who I played the most 40K against, lost interest in the game.  He moved onto other stuff, mostly World of Warcraft and other video games.  He was playing a lot more competitive CCG's and having more fun with the big payouts he was getting with those.  I wans't as competitive as he was, but as his interest teetered off, so did mine.

I stopped playing in tournaments because I had to run them every week.  That was right about when I started working for the FLGS as the assistant manager; I got a promotion and that promotion meant having to run weekend tournaments.  Having to run tournaments for the only store that really hosted them in town was pretty much the death sentence for my experience with actually playing the game.  I still bought lots of minis, and painted them at work when the place was slow, or when somebody wanted a painting lesson, etc., but I never really played anymore after that.  In fact, I don't think I played a single game of 40K after they changed the rulebook from 3rd edition to 4th.  It was like the edition war with D&D except with wargaming instead of RPG's.

The last thing I bought though, before quitting my job, and leaving the store, pretty much for the duration of its ownership under its owner at the time, was a small, but potent, force of Space Orks.  I picked up 2 Battle Boxes, several boxes of Storm Boyz, and some bikers.  After I quit, I never even opened up most of the boxes, and one of the Battle Forces went missing.

But, this last summer, before moving here to Japan, I went through some of my old hobby stuff, and tried to find some things I could sell off.  Warmachine was growing in popularity again, so my Old Khador Minis got picked up really fast after a guy found my listing for them on Craigslist, but the Orkz didn't move as quickly and I got to thinking that maybe I didn't want to sell them in the first place.  I held onto them.  They are all still nicely boxed up, some still in their packaging, all locked away at my house. Someday, they will be unboxed and I'll have to time begin my hobby again...

But... that someday might come along a lot sooner than I thought.  When I decided I was going to revitalize my blog this year (and started blogging heavily again in September of 2010) I did some looking around and found the Warhammer 40K universe RPG's.  They looked beautiful, at least from all the preview images over on the Fantasy Flight Website.  I was intrigued.  Over X-mas, this year, I picked up Rogue Trader.  What a massive Space Hulk full of win!

TL,DR for like this entire Retrospective.  I'm going to start covering a lot about the Fantasy Flight RPG's as I try to buy up all of their books.  I loved Rogue Trader and I'm dying to bring some information on those games to my site.  You can bet that when the new game comes out, I'll be playing it, with somebody, even if it has to be somebody I have never met, and can only play with, through an online forum.  PbP, whatever.  Look forward to it.


C is for Choices, too many of them...

Today, I had a hard time thinning things down to one topic.  There were simply too many choices for a blog entry that started with the letter "C", so I wanted to actually talk about 3!  WOW!! So, here we go.

I would be amiss to forget the fact that this month, Dyson Logos, of A Character for Every Game, is hosting the RPG Blog Carnival.  This month's topic is, as you guest it, about Circuses... jk.  It's about Cartography, i.e. Map Making.  I'm way amateur at it, but Dyson is a pro! If you haven't used/seen his geomorphs yet, you're doing the internet wrong!!!

I really like his blog, and he's always kind of enough to drop me a comment once in a while.  I had promised to do an adventure, or an encounter, or something with some of his Geomorphs and I think that this month, I am finally going to get around to it, given that Cartography is our Topic of choice this month.

If you are looking for some cool maps for your game, or some tips on how to make maps, I definitely recommend you checking out the Cartographer's Guild.  I'm a member on their forums and they have some great tips for improving your mapping skills, especially the digital ones.  I troll that forum more than I post there, but it is definitely a great resource for GM's.

Common Sense
Considering my goal for this month of providing information relevant to improving your adventures, I think one of the most important things to always consider, when playing any RPG is the idea of "Common Sense" and what that actually entails.

I particularly like this motivational poster.  There are so many people that complain about how their campaigns get ruined by stupid people that act in ridiculous ways just because they are playing a RPG.  I think a lot of GM's maybe approach this the wrong way; sure, some players might be persistent, but in every game that I have every played, whenever a player comes up and spits out some line about how he is going to stab NPC X and take all of his stuff, I, as a GM, quickly use my "Common Sense" assume this fool is simply screwing about, and then /ignore him in real life.  Said players actions in the game are quickly ignored and passed over as he/she is quickly considered to be disrespectful and daft git in the real world.  Nobody likes playing with that guy.  What is also pretty nice is that if you use your common sense as a GM when dealing with these jerks, they will quickly tire of being ignored (since all they were trying to do in the first place is get attention) and then use their common sense in the game.  They will cease to be disruptive and you can move on with the bloody adventure.  OK.  Rant over.  Common sense rules people.  Use it.

Can and Cannot
This ties, to some extent, in with the above, Common Sense, advice.  There are some things that you can do in the game and there are some things that you cannot do in the game.   As a DM, running an adventure, really become familiar with what your personal guidelines for Can and Cannot is.

If you aren't interested in reading the following i.e. TLDR - If it's fun = Can ; If it's not fun = Cannot.

Ok.  Explanation.

If something adds fun to the game for everyone at the table, including you as the GM, that to me is an automatic can.  You should go and give your players everything they want, in game one, of course, but for example, if all the players came to me and said that they wanted to start with one additional feet at level 1, when we were playing D&D 4e, I would have no problem with that.  Everyone is on the same playing field and I can up the difficulty level of the opponents accordingly.  Everyone has a right old fun time.

Another example.  If someone says that they want to re-skin (change the thematic elements) X of a race/class/power/etc. in order to make their character into Y, but aren't really interested in changing anything mechanical, I will almost always say "YES!" to that.  This kind of thematic change shows that a player is taking special interest in the story and flavor of his character and is dedicated to making the game lost lasting.  These are the kind of players you really want to have.

However, on the flip side of the last example, if a different player said he or she wanted to change Rule Z so that he was an ever-living bad mother $%&$%&#R than I would almost definitely tell that person that he or she cannot do that because it would spoil everybody's sense of fairness and fun.  Thematically, virtually anything can be explained through the use of good story telling, but you can't explain away the feeling a group of players get when they have just had their adventure ruined by some jerk who insisted on playing a Beholder, got the permission of the GM, and then death rayed all the enemies without the rest of the group getting to have any fun.

I hope that my 3 C's today have proved interesting.  Go, Game and Prosper!!

According to the Old School RPG Blogger Advancement Table....

I saw over at Hero Press that they recently made it to the status of Pundit.  Congrats! The Dump Stat hasn't been covering OSR stuff for very long, but we're loving it now.  I examined the table he mentioned and it would seem that we are...

If you got that, we could probably be friends.  Not sure if I can make a good pro-wrestling joke for Pundit, but when I get there, I'll do my best ;)

Also, we've climbed up to position 86 on the list of Old School RPG Blogs.  You'll continue to see lots more Old School Content coming.  I'm thinking very hard about picking up the LotFP: Grindhouse Edition, which has just become available for pre-order.  It looks very promising.  The art alone is pretty amazing.  I'm guessing the pre-orders are going to be gone before I have a chance to get out my credit card though :O

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Warhammer 40,000 Retrospective - Expanding to other Armies

After getting my feet wet with one army, it came to the time where I was ready to expand.  There are lots of people that never end up building up another army and instead just focus solely on a single army for the entire life of their 40K career.  I'd imagine though that folks like that are pretty rare.  For people that really, really get into 40K hardcore, you can't help but want to try out all those armies that lay the smackdown on you in your various match-ups.

So, where did I go from my days playing Space Marines...  well, I went all over the bloody place.

I expanded into a lot of different Space Marine armies to start, but that wasn't enough of a change for me.  I needed more.  The first non-Space Marine army I went with to start was ironically not all that different.

Iron Warriors - Chaos Space Marines

I ran into these fellas at a number of tournaments and I was always brutally destroyed by the sheer quantity of heavy firepower that these guys could lay down.  The army was not so fundamentally different from real Space Marines just in terms of stats.  As far as Chaos goes, they were also pretty Vanilla.  The army I ran didn't run any Demons, and didn't really go into all the wildly "chaos" units that the army employs.  I ran tons of heavy support, a Vindicator, and at one point I had myself one of those wonderful Chaos Death Engines, which I happened to scratch build from some other minis that I had laying around.

For those players interested in getting a touch of Chaos in their 40K armies, these guys were great.  I loved them and they loved me back.  My army never got up to tournament standards (which happened to be a problem with most of my other armies) but it was a ton of fun to play casually and it was a blast to finally lay the deserved beat down on my sworn Necron enemy.


I got into Nids for a very, very short period.  Back when Wizards of the Coast still had games stores, they actually had a small area where they sold Games Workshop stuff.  I happened upon one of these stores right when they were in the midst of closing out.  Their closeout sale had most of these products marked down like crazy.  Although most of their 40K stuff had already been picked clean by the time I found the store, the Nids had been left virtually untouched.  I managed to pick up a sizable army for not much cash and played it probably two or three times before I got tired of it.  I just was not cut out for playing 40K's zerg.  They are a lot of fun, but they just didn't do it for me.

I think one of the problems I had with this army is that 40K to me means a lot of awesome Tanks and Vehicles and they simply didn't have it.  Though the army had lots of cool Big Evil Creatures, they didn't have any land raiders, they didn't have any predators, and they didn't have any bikers for that matter.  Sure, they had stuff that was similar, in game mechanics terms, but visually, the army to me, just wasn't right.  I ended up taking all those pieces that I had painted and assembled and traded them off for a different army, one that I thought might give me a bit of the Vehicle feel back.

Dark Eldar

When I made my trade for my Tyranids, I had thought very hard about getting into the Eldar army, but my buddy, who always played with me, was very serious on picking up the army himself.  Up until then, he had never shown much interest in playing anything but Necrons, so the chance of him setting those aside to play something else, was very, very enticing.  I agreed to play something else, cus Mirrror Matches are never any fun.

Dark Eldar still had that whole "Space Elves" feel, but their twisted side was more akin to Chaos and my experience with Iron Warriors was enough for me to be on board.  I liked the look of the models and the fact that they had bikers, and fast vehicles, made me really, really happy.

I managed to take my Dark Eldar army pretty far, even though I was playing with the army in one of their weakest incarnations.  They weren't very strong, and I got laughed at a bit at tournaments, but I managed to bring down some hate with my hard-hitting wyches and bikers and I always ended up having a good 'ol time.

Although building up those armies was a lot of fun, and playing them was a blast, all good things come to an end.  My love of the hobby didn't last forever (though it's come back now) and I ended up quitting 40K for quite a long time.  Next time, I'll talk about why all those armies went away and how I broke my 40K addiction.

Friday, April 1, 2011

B is for BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy)

Continuing our Blogging from A to Z challenge.  Today, is day 2, which means that brings us to the letter B.  I can't think of anything more important to an adventure, or a character's story, than the BBEG.

The Big Bad Evil Guy is pretty much the reason that the adventure exists (unless your characters are just plodding around some open world and not really fighting anybody... who wants to play one of those game?? :P )

Every good Adventure, whether that adventure spans only a few levels, or if it spans the entire life of a character, needs to have a strong BBEG to keep the story interesting and create tension and action for the players.  A BBEG should be a complicated character, with an intriguing story, but the BBEG also needs to be able to kick some serious hind-quarters.  However, the BBEG shouldn't be someone right there in front of the players.  They need to be in the background, an ever looming threat, which finally shows up at the very end of the story and bring the smackdown to the players (who invariably return that smackdown obliterating said BBEG).

There are a lot of great BBEG's out there to draw inspiration from in movies, books, or gaming sources.  I want to talk about two different types of BBEG's, inspired by a film created a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.  I want to go over a few of the interesting differences between them.

The Emperor type BBEG

Sure, maybe the more recent Star Wars Trilogy wasn't that great (lots of hate out there), but I will admit, I really liked the way the Emperor rose to power throughout that trilogy.  It was great, seeing the bad guy right in the middle of all major action in the world.  Everybody in the audience knows this guy is as evil as it comes and is going to become the biggest bad-guy in the universe.

The Emperor type BBEG starts off as a subtle villain. He might even appear as a friend to the heroes of the story, but in the end, when it finally comes out that the players have been trolled by the bad guy, things start to seriously go awry and the players have to contend with a horribly evil power broker who wields massive influence and commands the loyalty of millions of evil little pawns.  This BBEG is all about working in the background.  The heroes have to go up against him every bleeding day, but they might not ever get to actually lay eyes on him until the final act.

Using an Emperor Type BBEG is a great way to develop an awesome adventure.  The only problem with this type of character though is the players are probably going to see it coming.  This type of BBEG is used so often in fiction and gaming that people are going to "game" the story, thinking in the meta, and try to figure out who the real bad guy actually is.  The way to fight this: be even more subtle about it.  Make the players think that even though the King is helping you all out, something about him seems to be a little off; maybe they will game it and come to the conclusion that he's actually the bad guy.  Then, when the players have pretty much made up their minds, throw them a curve ball.  It wasn't the king, it was Princess Peach all along!!

The Darth Vader type BBEG 

There are a lot of different ways to look at Vader, THE BOSS, as a BBEG.  I like to think that this type of BBEG is a lot less subtle.  He shows up more often in person than from behind the scenes.  He's a bad, bad man and he wants to be right out there in the open flaunting his power and strength.  Vader type BBEG's work great as recurring villains who constantly show up to thwart and generally despoil the characters, their families, and their friends.

But the Vader type BBEG also has a very involved story.  He's not a simple, one-shade of Evil.  He's many, many shades and one of them just might be good.  He might be really, horribly awful, but with the right motivation, and the proper persuasion, he might be finally turned to the forces of light in the final hour when the players are faced up against somebody even more evil than he is (see Emperor type BBEG for an example of one such "more" evil BBEG's).

There are plenty of other BBEG types out there.  Try to change it up when you're developing your adventure. Try not to get repetitive.  If you constantly abuse the same BBEG type your adventures are going to get stale. Hope that this BBEG advice has been helpful.  Adventure On!