Archive for the ‘Lore’ Category

To Grid or Not to Grid

September 2, 2014 3 comments


‘Tactics’ has meant different things over the years in the context of fantasy RPG’s.  In first and second edition Dungeons and Dragons, tactics meant techniques and abilities, and were fairly rudimentary, getting a few bumps from various splatbooks and later with the Skills & Powers books.  In versions 3.0 to Pathfinder, however, tactics became more closely associated with tactical movement, movement on a grid, and it became fairly critical: flanking, five-foot-steps, attacks of opportunity, and templated spell effect areas could all mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.

I remember starting to play 3.0 many years ago now and thinking, “Man, this combat is almost like playing an additional game or mini-game” which shows what a break it was from older editions.  It was thrilling at the time, but as time has gone on, the pros and cons of the grid weigh on me as a player, but even more so as a GM.

This came into sharper focus recently with our trial run of the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set.  We played with very vague illustrations of the rooms we were in, didn’t count squares, and approximated distances.  The game flowed well, played quickly, and we didn’t run into any problems. Players continuously improvised and thought outside of the box, trying to obtain ‘advantage’, where two dice are rolled taking the higher result (a primary 5E mechanic).

By contrast, the following week we returned to our Reign of Winter game where we encountered creatures that could create a cage of bones over the players with a touch attack.  The grid lead to accurate depictions of positioning, but as a result, a horrible slog ensued where players couldn’t act effectively due to the specificity with which we were able to chart their positions, many of them being out of reach of their opponents and of other players.

Some of my players hate the grid.  Kevin, for instance, and increasingly, Michael, find it frustrating.  We’ve played a fair amount of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and reversion to the grid has always been a mistake in that. DCC plays fast and loose, with crazy things happening all the time, and counting squares runs afoul of it’s old school roots and free wheeling ‘sure, try it’ attitude. Accordingly, they don’t recommend it.

Really, any time you’re counting squares (especially Pathfinder’s diagonal movement rules) you’ve stopped the creative flow of the game and the action, and have approached minutia that is probably  not enhancing the actual play of the game.

That said, sometimes you want something technical.  Sometimes being a few inches outside of that explosive radius is a high-five inducing event.  The grid keeps things fair, for both GM and player, and that can be important with the right group (and even more important with the WRONG group).


So I decided to try 5th edition with various gridded and non-gridded play areas to see how the party responded.  At the table, we had old and new players, and players that were both for and against gridded combat.  The results were interesting.


First, I ran a session with no map.  Just words.  This is commonly called “Theater of the Mind” and worked well enough.  Play was quick, but in the end fairly featureless.  For whatever reason, players didn’t seem to put much into the attacks or the environment that brought anything new to the game.  I think, in some games, like DCC, you might see Deed Dice rolled that create critical hit scenarios that add flavor, but for the vast majority of games, TOTM combats really reflect the skill and energy of both GM and player.  The more player’s or Game Masters drop the ball, the less engaging that combat is going to be.


I wanted to use maps or illustrations in my games to supplement game play, and avoid a lot of repeated questions about positioning. So, for the next encounter, I used a grid in form of Dwarven Forge game tiles.

If you haven’t been fortunately enough to get in on Dwarven Forge’s Kickstarters , you can still pick them up at their company store.  They are beautiful.  Perhaps their biggest shortcoming in my mind is they have partial squares against the walls, which make spacing a little vague, upon occasion, but that worked for the experiment.

Players were pleased to see the high-detail mapping, but quickly became constrained by the nature of the gridding.  Bottlenecks occurred frequently, and play slowed down significantly.  Further, players stopped jockeying for advantage and improvising, and fell back into the rather stolid roles of ‘move and attack’. It drained something out of it, despite the verisimilitude of the map dungeon dressing.

Ironically, I should note, that the bottlenecking served to help the party tactically.  Tactics sometimes help the character but detract from the player’s experience, which arguably is a lot more important.


Third, I used a printed map, but not to scale:

I found a few interesting things in this scenario.  My map had a grid, but I told the players it was not to scale (being 10 foot squares) and to disregard it.  Despite that, players still tried to force themselves to the grid.  Combats began to feel tight, despite there being plenty of room, and other distances got confused as players tried to leap over 20 foot chasms before remembering the distances involved.

Perhaps the worst part of this was a final confrontation with a dragon.  Players became lazy with positioning their miniatures.  When the dragon turned to use its breath weapon, revisionist history began to play a role:

“I wasn’t standing there, I was behind it”

“I would have been around the corner”

“I’m too far away”

I had to play evil GM (the “Dog” as we call it) and explain that based on their descriptions of their actions, these players were within the deadly area of this blast.  Some players took it in stride, others grumbled a bit.  I appreciated their frustration, as things got murky on this particular battlefield.


Lastly, combat took place on set of Tact-tiles, with crappy hand drawn maps by me:

These expensive little guys have been in my collection for about a decade, and despite the upfront costs, they’re the best thing going.  You’ve just missed the kickstarter, but hopefully they will have fixed their supply issues and be back on the market soon.

Strangely, this hand drawn map did the trick. Noting that everything was only approximately to scale, we quickly worked to move miniatures without counting squares but being fair and mindful of the speed limitations of the character.  As GM, I attempted to err on the side that permitted the character to make the most of their turn, within reason, and sometimes adding complications along the way.

5E’s greatest strength will likely prove to be the advantage/disadvantage mechanic replacing a lot of detailed hand-wringing rules that discourage improvisation in the interest of fairness.  If the halfling wants to dash over the slick cobblestones to dive into range to throw his dagger, 5E lets that dramatic scene happen, and as GM all I have to do to comb in the complexity of that is to have them roll with disadvantage.  It’s a signficant penalty, but not insurmountable, and a hell of a lot better than saying, “No.  You double move and that’s it”.

There was enough accountability with my crappy hand drawn map that if there was an area of effect ability in play, the square counting got a lot more precise, with ties going to the player where a close call was concerned.  No one had difficulty with the rulings, and the game continued quickly.


Your mileage may vary, but I saw merit in both systems at their appointed times.  A lot of this depends on your group: A Good or fair GM might be trusted by his players to do everything in the theater of the mind, with not even so much as a map or sketch to give players an idea of what was going on.  This can be excellent in more routine or featureless situations where players don’t need to know ranges, tactics are simple, and game play more fast and loose, but falls short where terrain features a large role in combat, or where positioning and visualization of the flow of combat is highly relevant to the outcome.

Off-scale maps seemed to create more of a problem than they solved.  Unless the map is to such a scale that players can’t try to position themselves on it with any relevance, I think it’s to be avoided.  Best to show a small scale map and then ‘explode’ the scene into something tactical when necessary.

My vague map seemed to work the best for this group, but I think probably with other groups or more technical situations, this could be problematic as well.  If it really comes down to a game of inches, GM and player alike are going to feel either guilty or cheated if a fireball catches the character and roasts them to ashes based on a flimsy or hypothetical map or position.

My solution is this: Map as little as necessary, but with precision for critical combats. Positions where combats are melee only and non spell effects or powers that relate to range are good for loose maps where position isn’t key.  You may still run into problems now and again, but the time you save and flexibility you pick up from that fast and dirty map is going to be worth it 9 times out of 10.

If instead you’ve got a boss-fight, a fight where terrain plays an interesting role, or where flanking and areas of effect are going to be repeatedly relevant, draw it to scale and play it to scale.  This requires a little foresight, but speed of play is key to keeping people entertained, and precision and tactics become highly relevant and add to the game where the single combat or combatant are the focus and potential endgame.

Future expansions of 5E have been rumored to contain additional tactical combat rules.  If so, you’ll be able to choose how that game, at least, gets played. We’d love to hear your thoughts about whether you prefer the grid or not, and why.   Let us know, and maybe I’ll try that out with my poor poison-cloud-choked adventuring group in a few weeks.





Home or Away: Pondering the Prudence of Published Adventures

June 9, 2014 Comments off


I debate the owners of our FLGS, The Wyvern’s Tale, as to what is valuable in gaming as a player all the time.  I believe that gaming is best experienced when it comes in the context of a shared experience with as large of a group of people as possible.  That doesn’t mean that you have a table with 15 players, but I appreciate published material, and completing published material.  Declan, the Shop owner, has the opposite opinion: that material generated by the GM has the capability of addressing the players more individually and is therefore more enjoyable and valuable to the player and GM.

You probably have an immediate feeling about this debate and where you stand on the issue.  Let me justify my point of view, and I’ll play devil’s advocate and take Declan’s side too.

The Published Scenario (or Modules, as us Grognards would call them): The Shared Human Experience

Everyone who has gamed for any period of time has at least one or two crazy stories regarding how things went down in a game.  When I went to my first GenCon, I remember talking with different people about Temple of Elemental Evil and how their character handled this or that challenge, and comparing notes.  It was fascinating to me how our experiences were diverse, but also held commonalities. Gamers could relate to those shared experiences, with little additional explanation, and find them personally relevant  It was back then that I realized that there was a lot of value to the published scenarios my group had played over the vast amount of homespun that we had undertaken.

Additionally, there was a certain sense of accomplishment in completing a published scenario — like reading a book or finishing a TV series or the like.  Knowing that you have “done” the module or adventure path is checking something off a list and closing a door on it, but in a way that provides a sense of completion rather than like losing a friend.  We’ve started printing up patches in our group when we finish Paizo’s Adventure Paths, suitable for stitching on your game bag, like a passport or luggage sticker.

And of course, there is some minimal level of quality that goes into a module or scenario that at least ensures that a story is being told, and hopefully makes enough sense for someone to publish it.  While many a wiseass is warming up his keyboard at this statement with choice examples of shite publishing, you have never played ‘homespun’ games with my buddies from high school, where a whole afternoon may have been wasted with what was, in essence, gibberings of madmen.  If it’s published, someone took a few minutes to write it down, which is at the very least an advantage over the things pouring out of someone’s head that may or may not make any sense.  And less cynically, there are some great stories that change and develop published game worlds and illuminate the reader and player as to mysteries of that game world (Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk is a real eye-opener, explaining many of Greyhawk’s mysteries and being a fine adventure revisiting the original Greyhawk Ruins Module, if you get the chance).

Shared experiences in known worlds, telling stories that can be related to friends and gaming colleagues, providing a sense of accomplishment.  This is the merit of playing published material.

The Original Home Game: The Personal Touch

For years I only played games out of my head, with very little published material. I hated published worlds like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, in fact, not liking to have to conform to their ideas of what D&D was (note, I am a big fan, nowadays, but back then, wouldn’t touch them).  My own world was a soup of the deities listed in the Deities and Demigods book, coupled with a few of my own.  While sort of a mess, everyone seemed to love what we were doing (though we were much younger then and may have had lower expectations).  Still, the merits behind the Homespun game remain.

Complete Freedom to create, and complete ability to adapt are the primary advantages of the homemade game.  From single scenario to long running Campaign, the GM can craft a story that embraces each players viewpoint and storyline, and build a story around that character and what the character and player want to see happen.  The story can be played out in any which way they prefer, and the unpredictability of player and character can be fully expressed without fear of ‘walking off the map’ or the GM’s overzealous railroading.  Ideally, anyway.

Making a game personal and relevant is one of the best ways to make that game memorable.  While the details may not be something that can be shared with outsiders, sharing is overrated.  How many times have you been cornered by a guy in a game story who wants to tell you about his character for 20 minutes?  See?  Not so great, is it?  What matters is that the player experience is meaningful to them while playing.  The camaraderie at the table is given higher value under this approach, as it should be.

Published Scenarios often tend to be repetitive, lackluster or just endlessly ponderous. The limitations of forcing someone back on track rather than letting them explore the world freely takes away one of the greatest aspects of table top gaming which is the ability to improvise and make decisions that fall outside of the preconfigured parameters of the game. It’s the primary advantage RPG’s have over a video game — Go anywhere, do anything.

Invention, improvisation, and personalized story telling are the greatest assets of the Homespun Game.

The Truth of it?

Surely, somewhere in between is where we have to find the middle ground that exemplifies the sweet spot in gaming.  A published module or adventure path, without personalization, can become dull and drag on (especially since it often takes a year to finish one).  A great GM takes published material and adapts it to his own use.  He inserts side quests and adds in NPC’s that make the story personal, and acknowledges each players desire to see their story told and their needs addressed so that they are made whole and come to life.  Great GM’s are not afraid to go off script, to turn the game on it’s ear, or even to walk away from the plot line entirely if players want to go in a different direction.  Guiding them back into the story or adapting the story to make it work with their new chosen path is where the GM’s craft really comes in.

It’s a fine art.  And even after playing and running for nearly 30 years, it’s one I still struggle to find.  But we have a lot of fun trying, and in the end, that’s the only thing that matters.

I’d like to hear your opinions… What do you think?  And what shared experiences have you had with other gamers that showed you a new approach to the same problem?

Deep Magic Review

April 21, 2014 Comments off

deepmagiccoverI will start off by saying that I am not a huge magic-user player and I second guessed myself about backing this book on Kickstarter. I kept eyeing the project page during its funding period and it drew me closer to backing until I finally felt compelled to… Wait! Oh, great. I bet it was those pesky kobolds and their shenanigans. Seriously though, I thought the way the project unfolded was a great way to get a large amount of information in a manageable, condensed time-frame. By having multiple authors design and create a certain theme of spells, this project proved that it could really work. The result was a huge, beautifully illustrated book with so much information that I am surprised that I did not have a brain overload the first night I started reading it.

Let’s break the book down by chapters. The first chapter, New Magic Options, covers new tomes, ley lines and racial magics. It introduces gambling, saint, and other magic that draw their power from unconventional and new sources. New feats and other options are given for each section to complete each theme. Reaver dwarves and their ring magic and the minotaur magic section both look quite interesting and could be fun to experiment with.

The second chapter is all about new spells; 154 pages of spells. With my math skills I have determined that they make up about two fifths of the entire book! Out of those, almost ten percent of them were created by Kickstarter backers. Amazing! There are so many imaginative spells that if you cannot find a spell that suits your needs, it is probably really there but you’ll need an Advanced Search function to help you. I cannot wait for Deep Magic to hit Hero Lab for this exact reason.

Chapters three and four deals with glyphs, runes, ink magic, words and incantations. The symbols for glyphs and runes are illustrated and explained with great examples while words of power are reviewed, and then taken further than Ultimate Magic. Incantations are very interesting since it puts the ritual magic in the hands of any character, not just magic-users. Magic use such as that could really change a campaign in many different ways.

1-new-magic-optionsNew sorcerer bloodlines and oracle mysteries are detailed in the fifth chapter. The most interesting are the raven-blooded (tengu) and the disgusting ooze. The illustration that goes with the ooze bloodline perfectly describes what that taint involves. Some of the more interesting mysteries for oracles are the clockwork, snake and wine mysteries. Just picture a Greek or Roman blind oracle with the wine mystery lying on a giant pillow, eating grapes, drinking and throwing lavish parties!

The sixth chapter details some very interesting archetypes. Two stand out for the wizard; the clockworker and the iounmancer. The clockwork powers replay throughout the book and the clockworker archetype brings all of that together into a really neat magic-user. The iounmancer looks interesting since ioun stones are so prevalent in Pathfinder and this archetype allows more manipulation of the stones. But the archetype that blew my mind was the Demon Binder for the summoner class. Instead of having an eidolon I can bind demons? Yes please! You mean I can summon AND bind a balor to my will at level 20? Splorch! (head explodes)

Magical constructs make up the seventh chapter with rules detailing the creation of homunculus, leastlings and the undead. The rules for creating the undead are quite detailed and tell exactly what is needed for the desired result; definitely worth the read. There is also a section on clockwork familiars and how to create them using the same forms as normal familiars. This brings to mind Perseus’ Bubo from Clash of the Titans.

Chapter 8 consists of all the high level spellcasters you could hope for. Heroes and villains are presented with full statistics and beautiful illustrations to give you a full feel for each one. Included in this chapter is a certain Rastor Vex, the Undying Hivemind. If its name does not give you an idea of what it looks like, you must see the illustration. Talk about something out of a nightmare!

Overall, this book is a great product. It is overflowing with information and is full of art by very talented individuals. If you are big fan of magic-users and want to play something out of the ordinary or never seen before, this is the book for you. It does not matter if your character is good or evil, there is something for every arcane class. Pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

Role-Playing Repertoire: Building your game music library

August 12, 2013 Comments off

Creating the right mood for a game can be key to getting your players to enjoy that game to its fullest. While Black Sabbath will do for a beer and pretzels board game night, the perfect song can telegraph what you’re trying to establish with your game and transport your player into the world you’re trying to lure them into (so you can kill them).

By way of example, several weeks ago we did a conversion of the Slave Lords modules for Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) which went over pretty well. To start The Funnel (where you make 3-4 zero level characters and see who survives to first level), I started the players at a wedding of the beautiful Miller’s daughter to the tavern owner’s son. As the wedding reception got started, I played this old chestnut from the original Conan the Barbarian Soundtrack by Basil Poledouris (an absolute must have by the way).

When slaver pirates attack, the would-be heroes have to fight off the raiders to buy the other villagers time to escape. After being captured, they mutiny and wrest control of the Slavers’ ship as it drifts into the harbor of Highport. It was then I played this piece which, to me, perfectly captured what I was going for as they viewed the scenes on the streets and docks of the approaching slaver city (taken from the Borderlands video game soundtrack).

And with that, everyone was there. Right there with me as to what the world was going to feel like and the direction we were going.

Sometimes you can stumble across these sorts of things, but for the most part, it takes listening to a wide variety of instrumental music (soundtracks, mainly) and categorizing things into either specific scenes (somewhat challenging) or by building your repertoire for broader categories of music.

I’ve made, lost, changed, and remade numerous lists since my mix-tape days, but largely you can do whatever you think you need based on how much work you want to put into it. At a minimum, you should have Combat Music and Non-Combat Music. However, if you care to listen to and sort some songs, additional folders for Exploration, Chase scenes, Exposition, or downright Creepy music are good selections.

If you really want to go for broke, however, Spotify is your new best friend. It contains a vast collection of music, which is fully searchable. There are some downsides:

1) It links through Facebook, (Like us here BTW) so you’ll need to have a Facebook account to use it , even if it’s not one you use for anything other than Spotify.

2) The advanced features cost money, but allow streaming through other devices offline.

3) While it maintains a vast and ever growing catalog, there are limits to what’s available on it at this time.

In my opinion, the features and deep catalog greatly outweigh these shortcomings. You can search for other people’s playlists and share your own playlists, add music from your own hard drive that can’t be found in Spotify’s catalog, and you can play these lists on ipads and other devices, so you can take your game music out of the house.

Currently, I have playlists for sci-fi/shadowrun combat and downtime, as well as fantasy oriented playlists for town, creepy stuff, adventure, exposition, and combat. I then cull from there to make adventure specific playlists.

So, to get you started, here’s a few of my songs from Spotify. Feel free to share yours!

ADVENTURE – anything from dungeon crawling downtime to wilderness exploration

Trevor Jones – Elk Hunt
Trevor Jones – Munro’s Office/Stockade
Midnight Syndicate – Cathedral Ruins
Midnight Syndicate – Shadowed Grove
Midnight Syndicate – Descent into the Depths
Midnight Syndicate – Heroes’ Valor
Midnight Syndicate – Relic Uncovered
Midnight Syndicate – Beasts of the Borderlands
Midnight Syndicate – Cathedral Ruins
Midnight Syndicate – Shadowed Grove
Midnight Syndicate – Meeting of the Acolytes
Midnight Syndicate – The Revenants
Midnight Syndicate – Called From Beyond
Midnight Syndicate – Across the Chasm
Midnight Syndicate – Cemetery Gates
Midnight Syndicate – Exodus
Midnight Syndicate – Dark Legacy
Midnight Syndicate – Theme to the Rage
Midnight Syndicate – In the Forest Deep
Midnight Syndicate – Dr. V’s Lab
Midnight Syndicate – Don’t Go in There
Midnight Syndicate – Uncle Ben Montage
Midnight Syndicate – Crash Aftermath
Midnight Syndicate – Uncle Ben Under the Winnebago
Midnight Syndicate – The Waterfall
Midnight Syndicate – Meet Dr. V
Midnight Syndicate – Kiss the Monkey
Midnight Syndicate – Dr. V’s Theme
Midnight Syndicate – Realm of Shadows
Midnight Syndicate – Born of the Night
Midnight Syndicate – Legions of the Dead
Midnight Syndicate – Eye of the Storm
Midnight Syndicate – Solemn Reflections
Midnight Syndicate – Nightstalker
Midnight Syndicate – Noctem Aeternus
Midnight Syndicate – Sanctuary
Midnight Syndicate – Into the Abyss
Midnight Syndicate – Masque of Sorrow
Midnight Syndicate – Forbidden Crypts
Midnight Syndicate – Shadows
Midnight Syndicate – Soliloquy
Midnight Syndicate – Beyond the Gates
Midnight Syndicate – Eclipse
Midnight Syndicate – Prisoner of Time
Midnight Syndicate – Druids
Midnight Syndicate – Mansion in the Mist
Midnight Syndicate – Forgotten Path
Midnight Syndicate – Time Outside of Time
Midnight Syndicate – Fallen Grandeur
Midnight Syndicate – Hands of Fate
Midnight Syndicate – Mausoleum d’ Haverghast
Midnight Syndicate – Family Secrets
Midnight Syndicate – Vertigo
Midnight Syndicate – The Watcher
Midnight Syndicate – Cellar
Midnight Syndicate – Cold Embrace
Midnight Syndicate – Harvest of Deceit
Midnight Syndicate – Grisly Reminder
Midnight Syndicate – Deadly Intentions
Midnight Syndicate – The Lost Room
Midnight Syndicate – Living Walls
Midnight Syndicate – Return of the Ancient Ones
Midnight Syndicate – Prelude
Midnight Syndicate – Troubled Times
Midnight Syndicate – The Fens of Sargath
Midnight Syndicate – Stealth and Cunning
Midnight Syndicate – Eternal Mystery
Midnight Syndicate – Craft of the Wizard
Midnight Syndicate – Secret Chamber
Midnight Syndicate – Lair of the Great Wyrm
Midnight Syndicate – Ancient Temple
Midnight Syndicate – Army of the Dead
Midnight Syndicate – Ruins of Bone Hill
Midnight Syndicate – Awakening
Midnight Syndicate – Graveyard
Midnight Syndicate – Unhallowed Ground
Midnight Syndicate – Crypt of the Forsaken
Midnight Syndicate – Winged Fury
Midnight Syndicate – Blackest Rose
Midnight Syndicate – Ravages of Time
Midnight Syndicate – Undead Hunters
Midnight Syndicate – Vampyre
Midnight Syndicate – Halls of Insurrection
Midnight Syndicate – Cage of Solitude
Midnight Syndicate – Residents Past
Midnight Syndicate – Phantom Sentinels
Midnight Syndicate – Gates of Delirium
Midnight Syndicate – Procession of the Damned
Midnight Syndicate – Room 47
Midnight Syndicate – Alternative Therapy
Midnight Syndicate – Ebony Shroud
Nox Arcana – Blackthorn Asylum
Nox Arcana – The Nameless City
Nox Arcana – Legacy of Darkness
Nox Arcana – Necronomicon
Justin Caine Burnett – Opening To Profion’s Dungeon
Justin Caine Burnett – Breaking Into The Magic School
Justin Caine Burnett – Council Of Mages
Cris Velasco – Borderlands
Sascha Dikiciyan – Welcome To The Bunker
Cris Velasco – Exploring Overlook
Cris Velasco – Into The Rift
Cris Velasco – Into The Depths
Cris Velasco – Lost
Cris Velasco – The Covent Gardens
Cris Velasco – For The Living
Klaus Badelt – One Last Shot
Hans Zimmer – Jack Sparrow – Score
Hans Zimmer – Davy Jones – Score
Hans Zimmer – I’ve Got My Eye On You – Score
Hans Zimmer – Tia Dalma – Score
Tyler Bates – Prologue
Tyler Bates – The Mill
Tyler Bates – The Mask/12 Years Later
Tyler Bates – Freeing Slaves
Tyler Bates – Death Of A Priest
Tyler Bates – One Way Ride
Tyler Bates – The Temple
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Wild Lands of Zelata
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – Night of the Serpent
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – Field of the Dead
RMaster – Theme Song – From World of Warcraft 2
Harajuku Nation – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Sons of Skyrim
Inon Zur – The Chantry’s Hubris
Inon Zur – Mages In Their Chantry
Inon Zur – Ruins Of Ostagar
Inon Zur – Enter The Korcari Wilds
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Strength And Honor
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Reunion
Michael Hoenig – Leaving-Home
Jerry Goldsmith – The Cave Of Death
Jeremy Soule – Thornwood Shadows
Jeremy Soule – Thus Spake Tippy
Jeremy Soule – Poe’s Nightmare
Jeremy Soule – The Zodiac Islands
John Ottman – Jack and Isabelle – Theme from Jack the Giant Slayer
Cris Velasco – Into The Rift
Cris Velasco – Respite
Cris Velasco – Into The Depths
Cris Velasco – Lost
Cris Velasco – Remember The Dead
Bear McCreary – A mysterious Jungle
Bear McCreary – Altar Sacrifice
Bear McCreary – Crash Site

COMBAT – ‘Nuff Said

Trevor Jones – Fort Battle
Trevor Jones – Massacre/Canoes
Horner, James – Horner: Attack on Murron [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: Revenge [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – ‘Sons of Scotland’ [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: The Battle of Stirling [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: Falkirk [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Mornay’s Dream [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Midnight Syndicate – Ride to Destiny
Midnight Syndicate – Skirmish
Midnight Syndicate – Heroes’ Valor
Midnight Syndicate – Beasts of the Borderlands
Midnight Syndicate – Forging the Scarab
Midnight Syndicate – Injecting the Formula
Midnight Syndicate – Birds of Prey
Midnight Syndicate – Surrounded
Midnight Syndicate – Showdown in the Lab
Midnight Syndicate – Gor
Midnight Syndicate – Final Confrontation With Dr. V
Midnight Syndicate – Into the Abyss
Midnight Syndicate – Forbidden Crypts
Midnight Syndicate – Cold Embrace
Midnight Syndicate – Gruesome Discovery
Midnight Syndicate – The 13th Hour
Midnight Syndicate – Skirmish
Midnight Syndicate – Heroes’ Valor
Midnight Syndicate – Deep Trouble
Midnight Syndicate – Beasts of the Borderlands
Midnight Syndicate – Lair of the Great Wyrm
Midnight Syndicate – How Strange…
Midnight Syndicate – Army of the Dead
Midnight Syndicate – Final Confrontation
Midnight Syndicate – Welcome
Midnight Syndicate – Dark Discovery
Midnight Syndicate – Unrest in the East Wing
Justin Caine Burnett – Thieves’ Fight
Justin Caine Burnett – Battle On The Rooftop
Justin Caine Burnett – Fighting Profion
Justin Caine Burnett – Antius City
Justin Caine Burnett – On The Run
Justin Caine Burnett – The Maze
Justin Caine Burnett – Damoadar’s Curse
Sascha Dikiciyan – Removing The Bandit Threat
Cris Velasco – Burning Rubber And Shooting Bullets
Cris Velasco – Fighting Sledge’s Minions
Sascha Dikiciyan – Smoking Out The Bunker
Cris Velasco – Fighting Krom And His Gun
Cris Velasco – Trash The Bandits Some More
Cris Velasco – Trash The Bandits
Cris Velasco – Fight For The Crypts
Cris Velasco – The Dawn Of War
Cris Velasco – Bedlam
Cris Velasco – Ambush
Cris Velasco – The Battle Begins
Cris Velasco – The Battle Begins
Klaus Badelt – The Black Pearl
Klaus Badelt – Will And Elizabeth
Klaus Badelt – Swords Crossed
Klaus Badelt – Walk The Plank
Klaus Badelt – Barbossa Is Hungry
Klaus Badelt – To The Pirates’ Cave!
Klaus Badelt – Skull And Crossbones
Klaus Badelt – Bootstrap’s Bootstraps
Klaus Badelt – He’s a Pirate
Hans Zimmer – Jack Sparrow – Score
Hans Zimmer – The Kraken – Score
Hans Zimmer – Dinner Is Served – Score
Hans Zimmer – Wheel of Fortune – Score
Hans Zimmer – I Don’t Think Now Is the Best Time – Score
The Last Samurai – Spectres in the Fog
The Last Samurai – The Way of the Sword
Tyler Bates – Egg Race
Tyler Bates – Cimmerian Battle
Tyler Bates – Prison Interrogation
Tyler Bates – Off With Their Heads
Tyler Bates – Horse Chase
Tyler Bates – Outpost
Tyler Bates – Oceans Of Blood
Tyler Bates – The Dweller
Tyler Bates – Skull Mountain
Tyler Bates – Wheel Of Torture
Tyler Bates – Zym’s Demise
Tyler Bates – Skull Mountain
Tyler Bates – Wheel Of Torture
Tyler Bates – Zym’s Demise
Movie Sounds Unlimited – Conan the Barbarian – Main Theme
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – Day of Wrath
Yvonne S. Moriarty – The Battle
Yvonne S. Moriarty – The Might Of Rome
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Barbarian Horde
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Hook
Howard Shore – The Black Gate Opens
Michael Hoenig – The-Last-BattleMichael Hoenig’s work is found on the Baldur’s Gate games, available on for a pittance
Michael Hoenig – The-Gibberling-Horde
Michael Hoenig – Swords-Against-Darkness
Michael Hoenig – Hobgoblins-And-Worgs
Michael Hoenig – Gorions-Battle
Michael Hoenig – Giant-Spiders
James Newton Howard – The Skyboat
Michael Kamen – The Cardinal’s Coach (Estampie)
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – Willow – Main Themes
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad – Overture
Michael Hoenig – Fighting-For-Survival
Michael Hoenig – Bandit-Melee
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Riddle of Steel (Riders of Doom)
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – The Kitchen (The Orgy)
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves – Main Titles
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – Clash Of The Titans – Main Titles, Love Theme & End Titles
Howard Shore – The Riders Of Rohan
Howard Shore – Helm’s Deep
Howard Shore – Minas Morgul
Howard Shore – The Black Gate Opens
Jerry Goldsmith – Viking Heads
Jerry Goldsmith – The Horns Of Hell
Jerry Goldsmith – The Fire Dragon
Jerry Goldsmith – Swing Across
Sam Hulick – I Will Watch Over the Ones Who Live On
Jeremy Soule – Rise of Valgore
Jeremy Soule – Trolo’s Complaint
Jeremy Soule – Ahab’s Abyss
Jeremy Soule – Bonus Track
John Ottman – The Battle
John Ottman – Chase to Cloister
Bill Brown – Reincarnation of Tragedy
Bill Brown – Apocalyptic Divine Evil
Hyobum Lim – To The Evil’s Cathadral
Cris Velasco – Fight For The Crypts
Cris Velasco – The Dawn Of War
Cris Velasco – Bedlam
Cris Velasco – Ambush
Tyler Bates – Prologue
Tyler Bates – His Name Is Conan
Tyler Bates – Egg Race
Tyler Bates – Fire And Ice
Tyler Bates – Cimmerian Battle
Tyler Bates – The Mill
Tyler Bates – The Mask/12 Years Later
Tyler Bates – Freeing Slaves
Tyler Bates – Prison Interrogation
Tyler Bates – Monastery Approach
Tyler Bates – Off With Their Heads
Tyler Bates – Horse Chase
Tyler Bates – Death Of A Priest
Tyler Bates – One Way Ride
Tyler Bates – Outpost
Tyler Bates – Fever
Tyler Bates – Victory
Tyler Bates – A Kiss
Tyler Bates – The Temple
Tyler Bates – Oceans Of Blood
Tyler Bates – The Dweller
Tyler Bates – Skull Mountain
Tyler Bates – Wheel Of Torture
Tyler Bates – Zym’s Demise
Tyler Bates – Conan Returns Home
Bear McCreary – Village Attack
Bear McCreary – Archon
Bear McCreary – Taking Flight


Midnight Syndicate – Nightfall
Midnight Syndicate – Entering the Crypt
Midnight Syndicate – Alchemist’s Chamber
Midnight Syndicate – Tear of Osiris
Midnight Syndicate – Shadows Descend
Midnight Syndicate – Inside the Scarab
Midnight Syndicate – Lullaby
Midnight Syndicate – Darkness Descends
Midnight Syndicate – Return of the Apparition
Midnight Syndicate – Haunted Nursery
Midnight Syndicate – The Night Beckons
Midnight Syndicate – Theme to The Dead Matter (Vampire\’s Kiss)
Midnight Syndicate – Soliloquy
Midnight Syndicate – Theme to Journey Into Dementia
Midnight Syndicate – The Drawing Room
Midnight Syndicate – Footsteps in the Dust
Midnight Syndicate – Veiled Hunter
Midnight Syndicate – Sinister Pact
Midnight Syndicate – Catacombs
Midnight Syndicate – Unseen Eyes
Midnight Syndicate – Spectral Masquerade
Midnight Syndicate – Haverghast Asylum
Midnight Syndicate – Adelaide
Midnight Syndicate – Non Compos Mentis
Midnight Syndicate – Infestation
Midnight Syndicate – Morbid Fascination
Midnight Syndicate – Revelation
Nox Arcana – Threshold of Madness
Jeremy Soule – Darkwood Vault
Jeremy Soule – The Cave
Cris Velasco – The Covent Gardens


Horner, James – Main Title [Braveheart]
Midnight Syndicate – Soliloquy
Midnight Syndicate – Prelude
Midnight Syndicate – Troubled Times
Midnight Syndicate – Secret Chamber
Midnight Syndicate – Ruins of Bone Hill
Tyler Bates – Prologue
Harajuku Nation – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Sons of Skyrim
Inon Zur – Dragon Age: Origins
Inon Zur – Mages In Their Chantry
Inon Zur – The Dalish
Michael Hoenig – Night-on-the-Plains
Various Artists – 06 – John Whelan – Eileen Ivers – Trip to Skye
Sam Hulick – Wake Up
Sam Hulick – An End Once and For All – Extended Cut
Jeremy Soule – Poe’s Nightmare
Jeremy Soule – The Menagerie
Jamie Christopherson – The Beginning of Gracia
Bear McCreary – Da Vinci’s Demons Main Title Theme

TRAVEL – For those chase scenes or overland journeys, I’ve found this is more appropriate

Trevor Jones – Main Title
Trevor Jones – Top Of The World
Randy Edelman – The Courier
Horner, James – The Legend spreads [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Midnight Syndicate – Ride to Destiny
Midnight Syndicate – City of Sails
Cris Velasco – Legends
Cris Velasco – Our Hero
Klaus Badelt – The Medallion Calls
Klaus Badelt – One Last Shot
Hans Zimmer – What Shall We Die For – Score
Hans Zimmer – One Day – Score
The Last Samurai – Taken
The Last Samurai – Safe Passage
The Last Samurai – To Know My Enemy
Tyler Bates – Monastery Approach
Tyler Bates – A Kiss
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Wild Lands of Zelata
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Lure of Atali
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Waterworld
Inon Zur – Dragon Age: Origins
Inon Zur – The Dwarven Nobles
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Strength And Honor
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Alexander (Titans)
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Waterworld
Howard Shore – The Return Of The King (Featuring Sir James Galway, Viggo Mortensen, And Renée Fleming)
Various Artists – The Butterfly
Michael Kamen – The Cardinal’s Coach (Estampie)
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Column of Sadness (Wheel of Pain)
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – Jurassic Park – Main Themes
Jerry Goldsmith – The Sword Maker
Various Artists – The Butterfly
Various Artists – 06 – John Whelan – Eileen Ivers – Trip to Skye
Jeremy Soule – Elegant Plot Exposition Theme
Jeremy Soule – The Zodiac Islands
Bear McCreary – Theme from Dark Void
Bear McCreary – Defending the Ark

TOWN – Downtime, romance, etc.

Trevor Jones – The Kiss
Trevor Jones – The Glade Part II
Trevor Jones – Promentory
Randy Edelman – Cora
Randy Edelman – Rival Walk and Discovery
Randy Edelman – Parlay
Randy Edelman – The British Arrival
Horner, James – Main Title [Braveheart]
Horner, James – Horner: A Gift of a Thistle – A Gift of a Thistle [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: Wallace Courts Murron [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: The Secret Wedding – The Secret Wedding [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: Murron’s Burial – Murron’s Burial [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: Making Plans/Gathering the Clans [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: For The Love Of A Princess
Horner, James – The Legend spreads [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Horner, James – Horner: The Princess pleads for Wallace’s Life [Braveheart – Original Sound Track]
Midnight Syndicate – City of Sails
Midnight Syndicate – Ancient Tomes
Cris Velasco – Respite
Cris Velasco – Remember The Dead
Cris Velasco – Stepping Through The Wardrobe
Cris Velasco – Perfect Neighbors
Klaus Badelt – Fog Bound
Klaus Badelt – The Medallion Calls
Klaus Badelt – Moonlight Serenade
Klaus Badelt – Underwater March
Klaus Badelt – One Last Shot
Hans Zimmer – Two Hornpipes (Tortuga) – Score
Hans Zimmer – You Look Good Jack – Score
Hans Zimmer – Singapore – Score
Hans Zimmer – Up Is Down – Score
Hans Zimmer – I See Dead People in Boats – Score
Hans Zimmer – The Brethren Court – Score
Hans Zimmer – Parlay – Score
Hans Zimmer – What Shall We Die For – Score
Hans Zimmer – Guilty of Being Innocent of Being Jack Sparrow
The Last Samurai – A Way of Life
The Last Samurai – A Small Measure of Peace
The Last Samurai – Idyll’s End
The Last Samurai – A Hard Teacher
The Last Samurai – Taken
The Last Samurai – A Way of Life
Tyler Bates – His Name Is Conan
Tyler Bates – Fire And Ice
Tyler Bates – Victory
Tyler Bates – A Kiss
Tyler Bates – Conan Returns Home
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Wild Lands of Zelata
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – Night of the Serpent
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Lure of Atali
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Sands of Forgetfulnes – Tortage Beach
Knut Avenstroup Haugen – The Damp Barachan Nights
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Waterworld
Jason Hayes – World of Warcraft: Seasons of War
Video Games Live – World of Warcraft: Lament of the Highborne
The Stereoscopic Orchestra – World of Warcraft – Son of Arthas
Inon Zur – Dragon Age: Origins
Inon Zur – Elves At The Mercy Of Man
Inon Zur – The Dwarven Nobles
Inon Zur – The Common Dwarf
Inon Zur – The Dalish
Inon Zur – Human Nobility
Yvonne S. Moriarty – The Wheat
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Sorrow
Yvonne S. Moriarty – To Zuccabar
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Patricide
Yvonne S. Moriarty – The Emperor Is Dead
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Reunion
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Slaves To Rome
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Am I Not Merciful?
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Elysium
Yvonne S. Moriarty – Honor Him
Lisa Gerrard – Now We Are Free
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Exodus
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Excalibur
Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra – Theme From Black Robe
Alasdair Fraser – Calliope House / The Cowboy Jig Medley
– Hommlet_Level_loop — This is from Greyhawk: Temple of Elemental Evil available on GOG.Com
– good_vignette This is from Greyhawk: Temple of Elemental Evil available on GOG.Com
Michael Hoenig – Streets-of-the-City
Michael Hoenig – The-Beregost-Night
Michael Hoenig – The-Dream
Michael Hoenig – The-Friendly-Arms-Inn
Michael Hoenig – The-Ladys-House
Various Artists – Carolan’s Ramble To Cashel
Various Artists – Christina
Various Artists – Wayfarer
Various Artists – Simon Wynberg – Strathgarry /
Michael Hoenig – Helms-Temple
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – The Princess Bride – Main Titles
Howard Shore – The Breaking Of The Fellowship
Howard Shore – The Return Of The King (Featuring Sir James Galway, Viggo Mortensen, And Renée Fleming)
Michael Hoenig – Night-on-the-Plains
Michael Hoenig – Safe-in-Beregost
James Galway – Slievenamon
James Galway – The Dark Island (With The Chieftains)
Michael Hoenig – Cloakwood-Forest
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – The Gift of Fury
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Theology (Civilisation)
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Love Theme
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Mountain of Power Procession
Basil Pouledoris – Conan the Barbarian – Recovery
Erich Kunzel: Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – El Cid – Fanfare & Entry Of The Nobles
Howard Shore – Brooklyn Heights Part 1
Howard Shore – Evenstar (Featuring Isabel Bayrakdarian)
Howard Shore – The Steward of Gondor
Howard Shore – Twilight and Shadow
Jerry Goldsmith – Old Bagdad
Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna – The Blood Of Cu Chulainn
Peter Gabriel – The Feeling Begins – 2002 Digital Remaster
Peter Gabriel – Lazarus Raised
Peter Gabriel – Before Night Falls
Peter Gabriel – Passion
Peter Gabriel – With This Love – Choir
Peter Gabriel – Wall Of Breath
Peter Gabriel – Disturbed
Various Artists – The Butterfly
Various Artists – 06 – John Whelan – Eileen Ivers – Trip to Skye
Various Artists – 07 – Alasdair Frasier – Are Ye Sleeping, Maggie
Various Artists – Moving Hearts – Tribute To Pea
Various Artists – Relativity – Siun Ni Dhuibhir
Various Artists – Simon Wynberg – Strathgarry /
Jeremy Soule – Frontier Home
John Ottman – Goodbyes
Cris Velasco – Borderlands
Bear McCreary – Tesla’s Laboratory

Simply Barbaric: The DCC Barbarian

July 29, 2013 Comments off

Converting 1e old school adventures to DCCRPG

July 2, 2013 Comments off
From Dungeons of Dread

From Dungeons of Dread

With the re-release of so much classic material from Wizards of the Coast like Dungeons of Dread S1-S4 and Against the Slave Lords A0-A4, as well as all the PDFs on it has never been easier to try your hand at classic adventures that helped establish the game and the hobby. My one issue with playing the classics is having to deal with all the quirks of 1e AD&D. I’d rather not have to deal with separate saves for Petrification, Spells, Wands, etc., descending AC, THAC0, and the like. It is no secret I’m a big fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I feel combines the best of old school style with the benefit of picking and choosing the best mechanics of all the versions of D&D from the past 40 years.

My current mission is to convert S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth for DCC levels 4-5. I listened to the recent Spellburn Podcast (which you should definitely check out if you like DCC) and they mentioned that roughly 1 DCC level equals about 2 AD&D levels. Thus, with the original adventure for character levels 6-10, I think it should be a good match. My plan is to have the players start at 4th level, then level up to 5th when (if?) they reach the lower caverns. I also plan on having them start out with one +1 and one +2 item. Whether that item is a weapon/staff or armor is up to the player.

I can’t wait to use the very cool magic item creation tables in DCC for both wizard staffs and magic swords. To quote from the DCC RPG book for those unfamiliar, “There is no such thing as a ‘generic’ magic item. All magic items are unique.” When creating a magic item, you roll on a bunch of tables to determine its intelligence, alignment, motivations, banes, and special powers! I’ll also encourage the players to name their weapons and either create or roll back-stories (yes, there is a table for that) as to how they were created and previous owners, etc.

Here is a sample sword: Neutral Long Sword +2, Int 11, Empathic, 3 banes (Serpent – festering wound +1d6 dmg, +1d4 dmg next round, Undead – +1 Crit threat range, Giant – Unerring throw, can be thrown 60′, returns to hand, regular melee dmg) , Special purposes – bring balance to a specific place – Live alone as a warrior-hermit, sheds light 20′ at-will, detects gems within 30′. Now THAT is a magic sword!

I think most monster and save conversion will be fairly easy. For converting descending ACs to ascending, I plan on subtracting 20 from the current AC and making the result positive, i.e. AC 4 becomes AC 16 (4-20= -16). Most saves seem somewhat arbitrary in AD&D (Ah yes, a rockslide. Save vs…..SPELL!?!) So for those I’ll just use what has become common practice in 3.5, Pathfinder, and 4e: Poison vs. Fortitude, Charm/Sleep vs. Will, Lightening/Fire vs. Reflex.

I can’t imagine how this was a tournament module, as the scope just seems daunting to try and accomplish in even an all-day session. For publication, Gary added a very detailed and sprawling wilderness section that was not included at the original Con version, but even still, he does advise this will “likely take several gaming sessions.” It will be a few weeks before we gather our band of treasure seekers and take a delve. Be sure and check back to see how it went!

Categories: Adventure, DCCRPG, DnD, Epic, Lore, Retro, RPGs, Tips

The Art of Fail – What to do when games go bad

May 28, 2013 Comments off


Occasionally, a game takes a turn for the worst.

A few months ago, I ran a session of “Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk” for a group, and in the module the Deck of Many Things makes an appearance. The Deck has a reputation for danger, dealing fortune and misfortune indiscriminately, but it’s one of those items that my group has come to eagerly anticipate in a long campaign. Five draws later, we had two characters in the Donjon (trapped in an otherworldly prison) and one character in the Void (reduced to a mindless automaton). Needless to say, it threw a monkey-wrench into our game, and was discouraging to a few players.


That’s one type of problem, and we fixed it. I’ll go into how in a minute.

It comes to mind this week because we recently had an incident in our Pathfinder Skull & Shackles game that put us in a similar bind. Our unoptimized party staggered into an encounter grossly underestimating the power and skill of our adversaries, and coupled with some cold dice and optimized villains (common in a Paizo product at higher levels), we were nearly killed to a man. Fortunately we stopped the action due to the late hour, and talked about what needed to happen next. Unfortunately, however, some of the votes as to what needed to happen next were to throw in the towel on the entire campaign.

That’s a different type of problem, and an infinitely more complex one. Perhaps most frustratingly, our issue in Skull & Shackles seems to be that our characters, despite our best efforts, are either not optimized enough to face the anticipated challenges of the modules, or our method of playing them does not rise to the anticipated levels of skill anticipated by the module designer. An architectural problem like that takes some work, but that’s not the only problem.

Long campaigns have a number of difficulties associated with them. I’ve never finished a Pathfinder Adventure Path in less than a year, with one of them lasting over 3 years, and that’s a long time to do anything. There is potential for burnout on your character, on the campaign itself, and sometimes your group. High Level play has a slew of issues that are problematic. So what to do? GM’s and Players both play a role in sorting these things out, but each issue lends itself to different solutions. Let’s take a look issue by issue.

Multiple Character Death

This is sure to put a damper on your campaign fun: Two or Three of your beloved heroes die (maybe permanently) meaning your champions are severely humbled, or maybe your entire cast and party dynamic are rewritten. Both player and GM have a role to play here. Players need to evaluate first whether raise dead / resurrection is the route to go, or if there is a persuasive reason to bring in another character. Death during play is definitely a part of the life of an adventurer, and is part of the process of paying your dues. However, if you can bring in a character that adds to the story or brings balance to the party, and the change isn’t disruptive to play, gauge whether this is your moment. If you don’t have a choice in the matter, is there a way to make a new character that complements the old? Is there an NPC already encountered that would make a fun PC? While there’s little you can do if resurrection or raise dead aren’t on the table, conspire with your GM a little to see what other solutions might be possible that would make for an interesting return or cunning plot development.

In the end, more power lies in the GM’s hands where deaths are concerned. If you’ve killed half the party, either someone got incredibly (un)lucky, or you’ve misgauged the power of your encounters relative to your group. While bad decisions on the player’s part certainly merits the occasional ass-whooping, there is the enjoyability and continued longevity of the campaign to consider. As things turn towards TPK in a long term campaign, the GM’s Toolkit includes pulling back on the optimized use of some abilities: tossing a magic missile when a fireball may dish out 10d6 of campaign ending fury, commanding a charmed PC to attack an ally knowing full well he’ll get that badly needed second save, opting for subdual damage. etc. If it’s too late for that, a dropped PC can be raised or healed by the villains to extract information, letting the play continue and granting an opportunity for the PC’s to salvage the situation.

If there’s no room for resurrection, there’s the occasional wish or divine intervention, opportunities for which might be accrued during play over time to be used at just the right moment. In the case of our Deck of Many Things debacle, we actually played a session where a team of specialists went to free the souls of the trapped card-drawers, making for a fun offbeat extraplanar session that gave players a chance to mix it up with a different PC for 8 hours, and fun was had by all. The nice thing about a fantasy setting is that nothing is impossible with the right factors. A quest to get the item that will allow a resurrection is one good idea away, and may make for an interesting adventure in itself.

Character Burnout

You’ve been playing this damn cleric for 79 sessions and if you cast one more Cure Light Wounds spell you’re going to eat your rulebook. While largely a player problem, this is something your GM can help with, too.

Good character design should help to eliminate the onset of ‘Character Fatigue’ – Motivation, Backstory, Goal Setting all give you a roundness that should transcend function. However, especially with support characters, your most effective routines may be the least interesting. Check with your party and see if there can be some give in how roles are played out. Sometimes a few wands or scrolls can free up spell slots to let you take on the role you’re looking for. Depending on your level, there may be time to multi-class, changing you into the character you want to be.

A GM can help this situation a couple different ways. Work with the player to see what they want out of the game, and shape it to meet their needs. Indulge some of their campaign goals, or thrust them into situations where they are in the spotlight, creating unique opportunities.

Character retirement is always an option, and the GM should be able to create an opportunity to phase out one character while creating a compelling reason to feel attached or trusting towards the new PC (or maybe not so trusting, if your game is a little more sinister).

Campaign Burnout

In any adventure path or long running campaign, this danger is one of the most prevalent. Time passes in game and in real life, and the theme of a certain game can grow tired. Individual modules in a series can linger over frustrating details or hair-pulling monotony in many instances, or just a series of frustrations that make continued play feel unrewarding.

Players can attempt to turn the adventure in a way that is more pleasing to them, but this has very limited utility if the GM is not on board. GM’s, of course, have significant influence on this issue, and need to use their discretion to manipulate the campaign to meet the needs of the players. Ideally, this is done without overly telegraphing the modifications. However, if a particular dungeon crawl is literally crawling then removing or hand-waving a few encounters that don’t progress the plot will not usually be lamented by your frustrated players, obvious or not. Sometimes introduction of another element, such as a rival adventuring party, or some sort of internal dispute amongst your antagonists, can create an interesting way of clearing obstacles or adversaries in the path of your party and get them to the epic finale or wherever they may be heading while creating tension in the process.

I have very rarely had a party complain that something is too easy, but make things too difficult and they’ll tell you. There’s a fine line between challenge and frustration and the GM needs to make sure that the party feels like heroes most of the time and that the story keeps moving. Published scenarios should be used as suggestions, and as soon as the party gets bogged down in them, hustle to the next scene change, or take a pleasant detour into something you know they’ll like, to give them the fresh air they’ll need for another dive into peril.

Group Burnout

This is bad. If you’ve been playing with the gamers at this campaign for a while, either something outside of the game is interfering with the way friends play together, or worse, the way the game is getting played is making people rub each other the wrong way. Sometimes sitting down to an extended campaign can create a meeting of people that don’t know each other that well, and force them to meet repeatedly for 4 hours a week for years. While it is my belief that gaming can bring many types of people together (that being one of the things that is amazing about it), it sometimes does bring people together that just can’t click.

Players need to try to work out differences between each other, communicating their frustrations. Sometimes this is best done through a third party that can play peacekeeper and keep things from getting too confrontational during a session. The GM holds some responsibility to keep the peace and play referee, but sometimes your GM might be your problem.

With any relationship, communication is key, and identifying the grievance clearly and getting it behind you should be your first step. But, if you’ve aired your grievance and the other party can’t or won’t change their ways, make your excuses and cut bait. Don’t sit frustrated or mopey at a table and poison everyone else’s good time. If everyone shares the frustration regarding the single player, GM’s got to be the one to man up and diplomatically give the guy a last chance to shape up or ship out. The Jackass Rule states, “If one person calls you a jackass, ignore them. If ten people call you a jackass, get a saddle”.

If you’re the problem, don’t get defensive. Review your Gaming Ten Commandments. Take it on faith that you are representing yourself in a way that is making you come off negatively, and proceed with awareness that this is what your fellow player or players think, knowing you need to control yourself. You are not the first socially awkward gamer. I promise.

High-Level Play Sucks

Yes. Yes, it does. That doesn’t mean it has to, but you are going to find a lot of frustrations in high level play if you are not ready for it. First, you need to know your character and how it works. Secondly, you’re going to need to spend some time prepping for each game to make sure you know what you’re doing and how to do it. Third, you’re going to need to mark your pages or bookmark your pdf’s for common complex rules issues you know you’re going to run into: if you have an ability that grapples opponents, get your grapple rules ready, marked and reviewed; be familiar with the conditions you impose through your spells and know what spells your going to cast; if you have equipment purchases you want made, email the GM ahead of time to let them know what you want and update your character sheet as soon as you get the okay; get any sorts of buffs or powers outlined. In general, know how to play the game you’re playing and if you don’t know, read the rules.

GM’s suffer greatly under the yoke of high level play. You’re responsible for everything, and theoretically need to know what the players can do as well as all your monsters, traps, and so on. It’s a heavy burden, but one you can bear with the right prep and the right attitude. First, read your printed material if you’re using a module. Paizo has good message boards regarding it’s published material and they might address errata or other questions other GM’s might have had with your specific module. Look up strange powers in the bestiary and make sure you know how things work on your side of the screen.

Since you’re dealing with the same players over and over, it also would pay to read over the classes they’re bringing to the table if there is something they’re doing that confuses you. Sometimes you’ll find they’re mixed up about something and it may speed up game play if you both know how the power is supposed to function.

However, if you get down to the wire and are playing and you hit a complex rules snag, and you’re getting player burnout due to high-level play rules? Dump it. Make a call, and err on the side of player success: They will bitch to high heaven in you kill them through some sort of blown rules call, but few will make a peep at an error in their favor. Ties go to the runner. This works because it makes for a better story when the good guys win, and keeping play moving at high levels is key.

What Else?

There are plenty of other frustrations that can kill a campaign, but GM’s and Players alike need to maintain the polestar of Commandment 10 – Thou Shalt Have Fun. Make sure your fellow gamers are having fun with the campaign and that you’re not having fun at their expense. GM’s, make sure your players are enjoying themselves rather than maintaining the rubric of the module at the expense of their enjoyment. And finally, if worst comes to worst, find a good stopping point, set the module aside for a while, and pull out an old favorite or something new and give it a spin around the block for a while. If you come back to it, great. If you don’t, then at least you’re having a good time moving on to the next adventure.


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