Friday, March 28, 2014

Rest In Peace, David Trampier

Art and illustration are fundamental to a good roleplaying experience, equal to the rules themselves and cooperative participants. And if you're like, mostly ignorant of the basics of drawing and painting, art is the most mysterious.

Hardly any piece of D&D art can claim to be more prototypical of D&D than Trampier's AD&D Player's Handbook cover. I don't even need to show it to you, as it is no doubt a fixture of your imagination, as it is of mine.

Many of his pieces from the Monster Manual are also unforgettable to me, after long hours in the summers of the late '80s spent flipping through that book on family fishing trips, particularly the Rakshasa, which I tried to name a cat after, but had to add a glottal stop to, because of pretentiousness.

I learned about his passing here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

DM School

Five years reading the OSR blogs, though it changed my outlook on games radically from the start, hasn't really made me a better DM. So, this year for both my home game (N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile Gods using B/X rules) and my new gig DMin' D&D Encounters at the game store (Scourge of the Sword Coast using D&D Next), I've taken myself to DM School using a quaint old-fashioned technology called PDFs. I was going to say 'books' but they've pretty much all not been actual books.

Before the list of books I should mention The Angry DM, whose series Getting The Most Out of Your Skill System has become, over 4 or 5 parts so far, the best thing I've ever read on running a game. (It has moved well beyond skill systems). I wish I knew how he understood the necessary function of things at the table so well. Those articles are really better than all the books below together, but I read the books before I found out about Angry.

Anyway, the best book of the lot is Gamemastering by Brian Jamison. Free in PDF. I think the character creation chapters are pretty kooky (mainly because I've only played dungeon crawls that don't involve much in-character roleplaying), but the rest of the book--and I'm not joking now--really does provide a system whereby you can let your players go wherever they like and do whatever they want and you will know what to do when they get there (with a perfectly manageable amount of prep, that is). Maybe you already know how to do that, but I didn't. Maybe you'd like more specifics, but the whole book is free for you to read, so I would direct you there.

The next best is Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering, which I get the impression is regarded as a classic. It mostly deals with learning what your players what out of the game. Seems like I should have thought of that long ago, but I never did until I read this book. I've seen his system repeated a few times in my reading, so that's another reason I think it's a foundational text. Laws has become my hero, along with Ken Hite (even though Ken can get a little Ted Nugent-y) because of their endlessly intelligent podcast. Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff. It could be the endless intelligence starts right after the name of the podcast.

Laws's Hamlet's Hit Points was also eye-opening, if a little dull to read in the beat-by-beat breakdowns.

Dungeon Master for Dummies (the 3.5 version) was also worth my time. The most important thing I took from it was the emphasis on bringing excitement to your narration and such. I'm pretty inhibited and hung up about expressing myself, so that could result in being boring to my players. Don't want that. This book also has some really neat encounters in it.

And now just a few bullet mentions:

The Lazy DM was succinct and all lean muscle. And the title is after my own heart. I want to read Sly Flourish's DM Tips too, but I'm wary of 4e focus I whiff in the air. I'm not edition warring here, it's just that I won't be playing any more 4e now that I need to learn Next. Well, Next is so much like a retroclone that the learning has been quick.

Play Unsafe was so great. It led me to Keith Johnstone's books about improv, and those are expanding my mind in areas beyond DMing.

I'm also working through Johnn Four's Faster Combat "52 Week Course." It's been released as a book now too. It's probably not necessary. I though I was going to be running 4e in two-hour blocks, so it seemed that speeding up combat would be essential, but with D&D Next, it's not an issuse.

Finally, I would avoid these:

My Guide to RPG Storytelling by Aron Christensen. It's a bad book.
Never Unprepared by Phil Vecchione. Not very good.

If anyone has read Gamemastering by Dominic Wasch or XDM X-Treme Dungeon Mastering by Tracy Hickman (or anything else on the subject) I'd love to hear your recommendations or warnings.

I guess if I really wanted to know I'd use the internet . . .

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NPC Roleplaying Info Sheet





Name and Social Circle (adventurer? local authority? bad guy?)



Visual Mark (age, looks, distinguishing feature)



Vocal Mark (accent, diction, voice quality)



Status in Present Company (in charge, under duress, etc.)



Desired Outcome of Exchange (potential conflict with PCs)



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Goblin nightmares

Did you know the -mare in "nightmare" meant goblin?

I'll bet whoever came up with these guys did:
(that is a big squig)





The Indo-European roots section of my desk dictionary (AH4) also tells me that the root mer- is also the source of, PREMORSE (an awesome word I didn't know--shame it doesn't mean 'regretting something before you do even it'), AMARANTH, MORBID, and possible MURDER, FOMORIAN, and MANTICORE.

Not to mention MURRAIN and MORTGAGE.

Have I mentioned that I love dictionaries?


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Watch this Space for Apes

My name was picked in a drawing for review copies of Evil Hat's Khan of Mars and King Khan.

These appear to be stories of a learned ape known to visit, or to once have visited, Mars.

That is pretty much the raddest thing I've ever heard of. I'm looking forward to reading them and telling you whether I think you should fling some of your ape-dollars Evil Hat's way.

Here's a pretty sweet looking cover:


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

At first frost the veil between worlds is thin as mist

In Boise this morning the spirits of the dead have left their frozen breath everywhere on the fading leaves.


(Matt Fox, from here.)

Keep your dreams well bottled these evenings, for the elves and witchkin are hungry for them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

House of Thurds

Thurd was a green martian city, enemy of the Torquasian horde. A remnant of an interplanetary expedition of antediluvian date survives in the local wilds and has of late joined with the red apemen and their beast-slaves to menace the defenseless villagers.

Who will stop them? You, and your pallid flabbiness and your rakes and sharpened sticks?

(This is just some half-assed mood setting for my next sesh--but do feel free to read it as political allegory--uh, but it doesn't really match up to anything.)

Here's a Thark as drawn by Mahlon Blaine: