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Building Bad: Tips on Creating Memorable Villain NPC’s

January 6, 2020 Comments off

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It’s easy, relatively speaking, to run a villain in most campaigns.  You’ve got technical application of the rules, some rudimentary tactics, and keeping track of stats, spells, and wounds, sure…. And sometimes that can be burdensome, but any GM worth their salt should be able to readily handle that aspect of the game, if not right away then early in their GMing career.

But how do you take a pile of stats and make it memorable?  Make it truly villainous?  here are a few tips to creating a bad guy that your players will love to hate.

Reputation / Infamy

You hear about a villain, or their actions, before you ever see them:  You come across the scene of the murder.  You hear the villagers talk about the tradgedy the villain has brought to bear (even if they don’t know that’s who is behind it).  People talk in hushed tones about the warlord  in the neighboring province.  Villagers tell tale of the creature that lives in the woods.

This is best delievered as background noise, tavern rumors, or news reports.  Better yet, it’s learned when the party is busy with another problem.  It builds a richer world, one fraught with problems where the party can only do so much.  The villain is a problem that the party has to work itself up to.  Haunting scenes of death and destruction or chilling tales from victims or survivors build the villain’s reputation.

Villains use others to do their dirty work.

While some villains may be solitary, many villains that wield enough power will draw followers that seek to benefit from the riches or influence their dastardly patron.  Others may see a chance for wanton violence in the company of someone who has mastered it.

This could be as minimal as a hobgoblin or bugbear that commands a small horde of semi-faithful goblins.  It could be a petty crime lord that pays a biker gang to ferry his contraband and protect his holdings for a cut of the take.  It could be an army.  In this agency, there is power over the innocent.  These perhaps not-so-powerful followers can affect change by virtue of their numbers.  They can destroy a village, derail a train, and in big enough numbers, crush a nation.

Use these minions to exact the will of the Villain, spy on their enemies, and create confrontations that remind the party the villain is active without putting the villain himself at risk.  Furthermore, these minions brag about their patron villain.  They want people to know that they are to be feared and respected because of their patron’s power.  Let your minions tell tales of their patron villain, threaten his wrath, and predict his retribution.  You’re building a relationship between the villain and the party without the villain saying a word themselves.

Villains attack heroes where they’re most vulnerable.

Only so much force can be brought to bear agains the heroes themselves.  They are, after all, the heroes!  They were built to overcome adversity.  When a villain cannot eliminate the heroes, they can make them pay.  Often, they have friends, family and loved ones that don’t have the same capability to fight back.  And there’s nothing to make a villain more hated than attacking or exploiting the innocent, especially if the heroes are close to the victims.

Villains live to fight another day.

There is no single thing that drives a party mad more readily than a villain slipping through their grasp.  Villains should plan ways of making their escape so that the heroes cannot follow until it’s time to stop telling their story.  Dedicated retreat can be difficult to counter, especially for a Villain applying a little forethought.  Take note, however, that if you do this, there are two rules you have to follow: One, the escape must make sense in some form or fashion or the party will see the escape as a cheat. Make sure evidence of their escape plan is clear and reasonable. Two, you must eventually let the heroes catch the villain.  The contract you have with the players as a GM is that you will give them the opportunity to be heroic. Give them that opportunity, if not right away.

Villains use their resources to make your misery their hobby.

Villiains have time and resources that allow them to do things that an average hero wouldn’t even consider.  It might be having their goons ransack the heroes’ base, burn down a town, or spread nasty rumors about them.  They can take their time or drop a little money into making the heroes miserable, including impersonating them while doing their worst.  Fire is cheap.  The watch and judges can be bribed. While the possibilities are endless, the goal is to anger the party, not to kill them.  They are owed a confrontation, and their anger is the spice that will make that fight all the more satsifying.

Villains aren’t just cruel to the heroes.

If a villain is cruel, there are plenty of ways to show it.  Sometimes, this involves slaying their own underlings for their own incompetence.  For the chaotic evil out there, it could be slaying bystanders for almost no reason at all.  In most cases, it’s going to be a villain taking the most direct route to solving a problem, even if that means a few people have to get hurt along the way.  Show these victims to the players in your story so that they get the depth of what a jerk your bad guy really is.  If possible, let your villain do this infront of them, but just out of their grasp.  Use the innocent as human shields to cover the villains escape or distract the heroes from seeking their vengeance.

Villians love to hear themselves talk.

There’s nothing more disappointing than fighting your way through multiple floors of a dungeon or secret base and finally cornering the villian you’ve been hunting for weeks to only have him or her wordlessly wade into combat with you without uttering a word.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to make a villain 100% more satisfying.  Call it a surprise round where the villain takes his whole action talking, or do what I do and say it’s a special “drama round” where you apply GM fiat to tell a cool story.  However you make it happen, have your villain at least say a few lines:

“Miserable stinking imbeciles!  You think you can defeat me?  I am Lord Castigar!  I have slain hundrends of so called heroes like yourselves.  Come at me, if you wish to die!”

It doen’t take much to improv some witty (or not-so-witty) dialogue.  But don’t stop there.  Each round, on the villains action, give them some more lines.  Goad the players, mock them, have them explain the cunning nature of their plan, or if things are turning agains tthe Villain, have them start to negotiate.  And when they negotiate, see if there is a way to be reasonable.  See if you can actually tempt the player into taking the deal.  Don’t be surprised if your villain tells the heroes, “Wait! Stop!” and they actually do it, and hear him out (with hesitation).  There’s something about our human natures that make us willing to hear reason, if its possible, and a villain can use that to his advantage.  A real villain will always welch on the deal anyway, so its nothing to make a few promises and then try to get back to their position down the road.  A good villain bides his time. And if they can’t, you have to remember the last thing…

Villains are people too.

Well, some of them are demons, or space monsters or whatever. But the best villain is a villain that can exist in reality.  Sure, there are murdering psyhopaths that cut a swath of death a destruction through the universe for no reason, but the best villains are ones that could exist, that do exist.  They’re usually greedy, money hungry or power hungry people who bend a few rules at first to get what they think they need or deserve.  Soon, when this becomes easier, or if the reward is just too good, they make bolder moves and more people get hurt.  Maybe life has taught them lessons that make empathy a sign of weakness, and they’ve moved beyond being concerned with how others are affected by their actions.  But a complex villain, one that might yet be turned away from their path, or might show vengence another evil for reasons all their own, that’s a truly well developed villain.  They have reasons for acting how they do, and don’t see themselves as evil so much as driven, regardless of the consequences.

In the end, every villain wants to live.  If the choice is obvious death or the possibility of surviving, 9 times out of 10 a villain will choose life unless losing everything is too great of an insult to their vanity. And then, its up the heroes to show mercy, or perhaps begin the road towards villany themselves. Every villain has to start somewhere, and its a fine line between vengence and wrath.

The Queen of Elfland’s Son Review – DCCRPG

September 30, 2018 Comments off

DCC 97 has been out since June, but somehow I missed it when it came out during Free RPG Day and just picked it up today. This is the first release to offer the awesome PDF code for RPGNOW in the front cover as announced at GEN CON. Any new DCC adventure from 97 on will include a code to redeem on RPGNOW for the PDF version. This is the best physical/digital offer I’ve ever seen since you can support your FLGS, and get a handy digital version for printing out handouts or maps. Kudos to Goodman Games and RPGNOW for putting together this deal. Once again, they are about a decade ahead of Paizo and WotC when it comes to innovation and rewarding their judges/GMs.

This release also features a very cool, very pulpy cover from the artist Sanjulian. I don’t know if it was commissioned for this adventure or was recycled from another work. It is pretty cool looking, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for this particular adventure, unlike the custom Kovacs covers that usually show something from the module like an encounter or iconic creature.

The interior contributions from the usual suspects like Kovacs, Poag, and Cliff Kurowski are excellent as always. The cartography for this one is by Poag and is a nice blend of the heavily-illuminated style of Kovacs and digital clarity of maps from DCC adventures in the D&D 3.5 days.

The adventure itself is inspired by the Appendix N entry The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. This marks the first DCC adventure in which I have read the inspirational material before the release of the adventure. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! It is by no means required to enjoy this adventure, but there are a few nods to the source material and it is fun to see how Michael Curtis has incorporated some elements from the book in to the adventure.

This is a first level adventure that would work very well as a first foray after a funnel. The village of Eng isn’t really the focus of the adventure, and could either be substituted out for a different starting hamlet or fleshed out to provide a starting base of operations for adventurers. This adventure weighs in at 20 pages, including maps, and would likely work for a typical 4-5 hour convention slot. It has a short introduction, and two main parts. Without getting in to spoiler territory for potential players, there is a nice mix of investigation, combat and social encounters to allow every role a chance to shine.

A sequel to this adventure is alluded to a few times in the text, so it looks like this will at least be a two-part story, but this one stands on it’s own just fine. This would be a great adventure for those new to the DCC system as the adversaries are fairly straight forward, while still providing a few surprises for experienced delvers. Ask your FLGS to order this one, and cash in that PDF code! See you in Elfland!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

Countdown to Free RPG day

June 4, 2018 Comments off

Free RPG day is less than two weeks away. Our friendly local gaming shop opened its doors six years ago on Free RPG day, so it is always a double celebration in Asheville. The offerings this year are particularly strong: Starfinder, We be SuperGoblins, Tunnels & Trolls, Kids on Bikes, and both 5th edition D&D and a 2nd level DCC adventures from Goodman Games, amongst others. To reserve a seat at one of the games at The Wyvern’s Tale, check out the warhorn page for the event.

This year I’ll be running the 2nd level DCC adventure included with a revised quickstart rules “Man-bait for the Soul Stealer.” I built some pre-gens I plan on using for the session on purplesorcer.com using the 4d6 power characters and max zero level hit die. Each of these PCs have at least a +1 in their prime stat as well. Call me a soft judge, but it is no fun playing a 6 HP Warrior with a 5 in strength. If you’d like to use these same pre-gens, you can download them here: Thief Cleric Halfling Elf Dwarf Wizard Warrior2 Warrior1

The Sanctum Secorum podcast has put together a list of locations hosting DCC games for Free RPG day as well as a free download of 3rd party DCC sampler that is currently out for approval, but should be available before the event.

A quick search of our site for ‘Free RPG day’ is a fun trip down memory lane. We are extremely fortunate to have a tremendously diverse and vibrant RPG gaming community, especially for the size of this town. In 2012 I ran the DCC offering: The Jeweler who dealt in Stardust. It has been phenomenal to witness the growth of the DCC community in the intervening years. I remember running road crew games for just two or three players, and mostly folks who had never heard of Dungeon Crawl Classics. These days when Mike or I run at the Tale or a convention, we’ve got full tables weeks in advance and can even occasionally sign up for someone else’s table and play a PC!

What an amazing six years it has been for Goodman Games: four printings of the DCC core rulebook, Chained Coffin box set, Purple Planet, 30+ modules, Mutant Crawl Classics, tons of brilliant zines and 3rd party modules, and the forthcoming Lankhmar boxed set. It has been tremendously fun to be a part of the community and help people find the magic of RPGs again through classic mechanics, the weirdest dice, and fantastically creative adventures.

Try and track down a game, or better yet, run one on Saturday, June 16th. If this is your first Free RPG day or your eleventh, have a great time and contribute to this incredible hobby.

Alternate DCC XP system

February 12, 2018 Comments off

Recently I signed up to run my first Road Crew games of 2018 for MACE West (I’ll be running Blades Against Death and co-Judging Inferno Road), and it got me thinking of years past. Back in 2013 there were a lot fewer modules and it took some salesmanship to recruit players and get them in to DCC. Back then, I had a few players show up consistently every week while most would only be there for some weeks and not others. At the time, I would have the PCs level up when I ran out of adventures for that level. Keeping track of XP seemed a bit nebulous using the rules as written:

“Each encounter is worth from 0 to 4 XP, and those XP are not earned merely by killing monsters, disarming traps, looting treasure, or completing a quest. Rather, successfully surviving encounters earns the characters XP in DCC RPG. A typical encounter is worth 2 XP, and the system scales from 0 to 4 depending on difficulty.”

This system is certainly my preference over D&D or Pathfinder experience systems, but still seems a bit nebulous for my taste. I really enjoyed the Pathfinder Society (organized play) XP system, in which PCs gain a level every 3 adventures. For DCC I would suggest the following modifications, which are really just an extrapolation of the classic optional rule:

“…consider allowing any 0-level characters that survive their first adventure to automatically advance to 1st-level and 10 XP.”

Why not use this type of system for every level? Rather than leveling every session, I would suggest 1 earned XP for each adventure survived, with the next level being the number of new experience to achieve it. This table should make more sense:

Level

New XP for next level

Total XP for next level

0

1

1

1

2

3

2

3

6

3

4

10

4

5

15

5

6

21

This allows for a more traditional XP curve (rather than 3xp = 1 level like in PFS) while reducing book keeping to a minimum. This also allows PCs to “catch up” if they join the campaign late or have a PC die early on. I feel this provides a reasonable advancement table, without requiring much record keeping on the part of the Judge or the players. Next time I run a long-running drop-in/drop-out sort of DCC campaign this will certainly be the way I manage XP and advancement.

Trigger Warning: Everything

February 4, 2018 1 comment

Very soon, we’ll be running “Inferno Road” at this year’s Mace West convention here in lovely Asheville, North Carolina. Both Kevin and Scott got a chance to play it at this year’s GenCon, but I wasn’t able to as it coincided with games I was running. It’s an insane DCCRPG death metal tournament in a nightmarish hellscape cranked up to 11 and beyond. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are just the beginning. The index says “Trigger Warning: Everything” and the pages following live up to that fact. Not for kids, not for the faint of heart and not for everyone. We’ve said more than once we could be asked to never return, but it will definitely be worth it.

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Inferno Road binders for the Judges… we may need to burn these when done to be safe.

Here’s the basics:

INFERNO ROAD @ MACE WEST 2018
Saturday, March 10th
Asheville, North Carolina

Slaved to the overlords of Hell… you begin as a soulless grub in a sea of grubs, endlessly writhing in the burning pits of the inferno. Your eternity is suffering with the gnawing hunger for a soul… any soul… ALL souls. Plucked from obscurity and forced on board a Hellwagon in service to a Duke of Hell, you and your ‘companions’ race to overtake Satan’s Wives, pregnant with fresh souls for the Prince of Darkness. With every soul you devour your power will grow, perhaps enough to take on the the Devil himself?

RATED M FOR MATURE
Trigger Warning: EVERYTHING

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Giant 4′ x 6′ banner which we’ll have hanging behind the tables, calling those seeking ruination and destruction to join in the insanity that is “Inferno Road”

We’re planning on two tables battling head to head and as such have had to make some adjustments to the mechanics and the storyline, but the core remains the same. There will be prizes galore and a trophy for the winner.

On top of that, the Asheville DCCRPG Road Crew gang will be running a few games, notably “Blades Against Death” by Harley Stroh which Kevin will be handling and I’m scheduled to run “Blessing of the Vile Brotherhood” also by Harley Stroh. More MCC and DCC will be played after hours and on the schedule. There’s also plenty of other games for many systems, and it’s always a great weekend here in Asheville.

You can register for Mace West at THIS LINK. Come play with us… forever… and ever… and ever…

Categories: DCCRPG, Epic, MCC, RPGs, Uncategorized

DCC Enter The Dagon Review

September 27, 2017 Comments off

I’m running out of superlatives when it comes to DCC modules, but Harley keeps out-doing himself. This module weighs in at a monster 36 pages, and includes color photos from the tournaments at Gen Con in 2015 and 2016 that bore the same name. Enter the Dagon is much more than a typical DCC Tournament, it is an incredibly detailed 5th level adventure that centers around a spell duel tournament. Included are a page of streamlined spell duel rules that exclude some of the more fiddly bits from the DCC book like the momentum die, while maintaining cool elements like counter spells. It even provides some suggestions for Counterspell Families for what spells can counter others.

The adventure also details a timeline of events and duels, as well as a separate appendix of awesome Kovacs art of the other wizard contenders and their retainers. This adventure combines some of my favorite of Harley’s adventure mechanics: somewhat of a sandbox non-linear feel like Fate’s Fell Hand, and some time restrictions/pressure like Bride of the Black Manse. The time restrictions aren’t as literal as in Bride, but it does give the Judge a solid timeline of events to keep the adventure moving if their is a lull in the action.

Like most 5th level DCC adventures, this one would require significant preparation on the part of the Judge, and would not likely work well for a typical convention slot. This easily has at least two sessions if not three of material. One of the best features of the adventure is the centerfold map of the island. It shows the different towers of the wizard combatants and other areas of interest, but doesn’t provide any spoilers so should definitely be shared with the players to give them a sense of the environs. The wizard combats have awesome portraits that you will likely want to copy and print out like I did for Intrigue at the Court of Chaos. Having these awesome visuals really brings this adventure to life!

For fans of “The Band” in its many forms, this adventure shows the all-lady band meeting Hugh’s band on the island, reuniting them! The last two pages shows both bands, with the ladies getting a colorful cosmic background, while the actual band members remain in black and white (besides color kitten knees, and everyone loves color kitten knees).

Even if you’re not a DCC superfan or an adventure collector like myself, this is one to own. Highly recommended!

The centerfold map in progress, along with the meeting of the bands underneath!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, Reviews, RPGs

DCC 94 – Neon Knights Review

August 27, 2017 Comments off

Neon Knights, Dungeon Crawl Classics #94 was released at Gen Con 50. This adventure is pretty difficult to discuss without some major spoilers, so if you don’t plan on judging this one, I would suggest not reading any further.

For those judges who remain: Brendan LaSalle has created an excellent 3rd level adventure that works well as a one-shot con game, or as a bridge from a typical core DCC fantasy world to the Purple Planet for an existing campaign. It could fairly easily be adapted to be a bridge from Lankhmar or any other world to the Purple Planet as well. The Purple Planet boxed-set is not required in any way to run this adventure, but for those who own it, there is a sidebar that provides suggestions on how to incorporate those materials if the PCs remain on the planet.

Brendan outlines a clear four part plot that experienced judges could time well for a convention slot. It isn’t exactly a sandbox, but isn’t a typical dungeon crawl either. This allows the judge to allow PCs to explore, or move on to the next plot point as time allows. The PCs are charged with figuring out a strategy to break a siege surrounding the city they are in (specifics for a city are suggested at the back, but details in the beginning are left intentionally vague so judges can adapt to the city in an existing campaign) when they are whisked away to a mysterious tower and commanded to defend an old wizard from creatures attacking his tower. PCs notice pink trails as they move and their eyes glow with a pink neon light that remains visible only to each other once they return to their home plane.

It is up to the PCs to discover how these events are related and discover a way to end the siege. The ending of this adventure can go a lot of different ways depending on how the party handles the wizard, the artifact used to summon them, and what they do with knowledge discovered in the wizard’s tower in the sea of dust. This is a great adventure for experienced judges that are used to rolling with what the players come up with, and improvising based on those choices. Vazhalo’s tower is an interesting locale that would make the most traditional type of dungeon exploration portion of the adventure. Once the PCs are back in their home city, a few NPCs are detailed that will help the party research both the artifact and experience of being summoned by this far off wizard, allowing characters to role-play with these NPCs and perhaps form a plan should they be whisked away again. This provides a great balance between different play styles, and attempts to account for most possible solutions for the end. I imagine when I get a chance to run this, the PCs will come up with something entirely unexpected. That is all part of the fun!

There are extensive details provided about the artifact itself, and its use in summoning heroes. Appropriately, one of the features in this adventure is a massive gong, which played a prominent role in the Gen Con 50 DCC tournament.

Overall, if you are new to judging DCC, or aren’t comfortable with something that diverges from a more traditional dungeon crawl like Sailors on the Starless Sea, Portal under the Stars or Doom of the Savage Kings this may not be the one for you. However, if you’ve embraced the chaos and amazing potential this system brings, this adventure may serve as a very memorable convention game, or the gateway to the incredible adventures that await the party on the Purple Planet!