Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stealing Cthulhu Review

I was going to write a really long review about this, but I forgot to!

Let me summarise this really simply for you - From the point of view of a Keeper of Call of Cthulhu for over 20 years, you NEED this book!

Just go and buy it ok.

It really is that good and that refreshingly useful.


Games Workshop Does It Again

Here's a post on Beasts of War from Friday 4th October 2013.  I'm not a Games Workshop customer - nor have I been for nearly 2 decades, but if I was, I wouldn't be now. 

I'm not going to saying anything bad against GW - because I don't have the money or time to risk having to deal with legal communications, but I don't think I need to, just read the post and make up your own mind.  

As for the games, take your Warhammer, or whatever, and shove it up your arse...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kidnapped by Aliens

That's the only explanation for my loss of time!  I looked around and suddenly months and months have passed! When I started this blog I hoped to update it every day, then maybe every week, but most certainly every month. And now, six months later I'm confused as to what happened.

I have been doing gaming things though!  And I'll post about them very soon. Honest.

Hey! What's that bright light in the sky! - 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

GMing Pathfinder Adventure Paths - Advice and Tips

I think I did things around the wrong way.. 

When I first started playing roleplaying games back in the '80s I made up my own adventures first and foremost.  I enjoyed the writing process and making up my own maps moreso than using what TSR was publishing at the time.  In fact I missed DMing all those old D&D 'classics' that people go on about; whether it's 'Keep on the Borderlands', 'Against The Giants', or whatever.. 

Fast forward thirty years and I no longer have the time or the inclination to run my own adventures as my time is much more valuable.  Fortunately I don't need to, as there are hundreds of great published adventures available; notable being Paizo's excellent Adventure Paths (APs) - 6-part campaigns that are published monthly and take a group of 4 characters from 1st level to somewhere in the mid teens. 

The thing is that running published adventures is different from running your own adventures.  There is a myth that no preparation is required; that you can just pick the book up, read it once, and you're away! Certainly, you can just open the book and run the adventure, but the experience is likely to be less than either you or your players are hoping for.  You'll also end up confused, frustrated, and may even give up altogether!

So, without further adieu, here are my 10 tips on running Pathfinder Adventure Paths..

(Most of these tips are relevant for any written adventure, and all are relevant for running published campaigns.)

1. Read the whole AP before you start

Ideally you will read the whole AP before you start running the first part.  That may not be possible if you want to start playing before all six parts are published (as might be the case with Pathfinder APs), but even if you can't, make a point of reading them as soon as you can.  
This is because the parts are written by different authors and, though guided by an editorial team, not all the subtltes  of the story will be clear to you from just reading the first part.  Reading the whole path gives you the chance to understand what the overall story is, the relevance of certain story aspects that might not be initially clear, allow you to better understand where you should change the plot to suit the needs of your group or link the plot elements together, and much more. 

This is by far the most important advice to making your running of an AP as enjoyable as possible.

2. Foreshadow

Every great campaign benefits from foreshadowing the plot.  In your own adventures it's notoriously easy to do it - hell, you can just make something up on the spot and weave it in later! That's not so easy when the plot isn't yours and you might even 'break' something by doing so, and you end up forcing yourself to step away from the plot of the published adventure because of your initial foreshadow.  
In an AP, and once you've read the whole thing, you can now foreshadow future events. You don't need to go overboard, but a few subtle hints will better integrate your PCs into the story and will pay off later in the game.  
Once you've read the whole AP, make a list of cool things you want to foreshadow and then find places to insert them into the plot.  This is especially true of APs where the Big Bad End Guy (BBEG) isn't immediately obvious (Council of Thieves and Kingmaker spring to mind).  You need to be careful with this, just a few hints can help the game, but you don't want to send the PCs off after their Nemesis too soon.

3. Understand Stat boxes

Make sure you take the time to read through and understand the thinking behind the stat boxes for the opponents in the AP.  This is especially true of BBEGs, important NPCs, and later (books 4-6) when the level of the opponents invariably means that they have many more options (including a list of feats as long as your proverbial arm!)

Things to look out for:
  • Defensive Abilities:  Is there a DR? SR? Any immunities? Make sure you understand what these mean.  DR comes up a lot in the game, so you need to be comfortable.
  • Special Attacks: Make sure you understand the rules to these.
  • Spells:  Things get complicated with high level spellcasters.  If there isn't one already (and there usually is something), consider the tactical use of the spells listed. Make a list that you know you'll want to use, and keep the page numbers to hand.  Read up on each of them.
  • Feats: Don't forget feats! A lot of high level opponents will have things like Imp Vital Strike, Power Attack, etc. so make sure you understand how these will affect the combat.  If you don't use the feats you are really underplaying the opponents; espcially if they are fighter-types.
  • Tactics:  Most stat blocks in Pathfinder APs include 'Before' and 'During' Combat information.  Take time to read both.  Pay attention to spells cast before combat, as these are usually reflected in the stat block for you - it's worth checking this though, and understanding what will happen when a PC casts a Dispel Magic!

Don't forget to use a highlighter pen to mark the important things in the book.  Some people are against this, but I think it's a valuable thing to do.  Sure it permanently marks your book, but APs aren't there to sit pristine on the shelf, they are there to be used.  Makes notes the margin as well! Just think of the fun you'll have flicking through the book in 10 years time and coming across all your personal bit of gaming history..

4. Maps

Take your time when reading the AP to look at, and understand, how the maps relate to the text.  Some of the maps are complicated and if you wait until you're actually running the game before you understand them, you WILL trip up or make a mistake.  Don't take the maps for granted; there may be mistakes and clarifications you need to explore. 

Photocopy the maps from the book (or use/print the optional AP Map Packs) and staple them together.  You'll find it easier to read the book, as you won't have to keep flicking back to the map, and you'll find it far easier when you're running the game to have the map to hand and not hidden away in pages of text.  I find this particularly relevant when I have to draw the map out on the battle map for my players, and don't want to carry the book with me.

5. Use the Bestiarys

When you're reading the AP initially, keep the Bestiarys to hand so you can read the creature stats, and understand their abilities and feats. You might want to consider photocopying the pages of the monsters so you have them to hand or, if not, use PostIt notes in the pages so you can find them easily when you're playing. Don't be afraid to change the colouring, the weapons, or aspects of the creature to enrich the game - or to keep your players guessing!

The important think is that you are 100% happy with what the monster can and will do in combat, and that referencing the stats from another source doesn't detract from the game.

6. Paraphrase, don't read

'The boxed text curse oh how I hate thee..'
We've all been there.  The GM is happily ad-libing and then we enter a new location, or an NPC arrives with a quest or some story exposition, and suddenly the GM is head down and droning out the text of a box.
It feels so false, you hate it as a player, so DON'T do it as a GM! 

As part of your prep, read the boxed text out to yourself.  Mark the aspects of it that are important, and anything else you would like to ensure is described to the PCs.  In play, paraphrase the content instead of reading it out like some Dalek. Allow yourself to be interrupted with questions, or expand on what an NPC has said.

Ideally the players should never know that there was boxed-text at all, and your game will flow better.

8. Extend and Expand

There isn't a single Pathfinder AP that doesn't have room for you to expand by adding your own adventures, or even integrating a standalone adventure that you think will work well.  In fact some of the APs suggest specific modules that you might want to add in, and even offer suggestions on how to do it.

Once you've done that important read through, you can go back and consider where you would like to add additional side-adventures. 

Take a look at the appropriate Pathfinder Chronicles guide for the area of Golarion that the campaign is set in and mine it for information to expand the game.  Remember that the space in the AP is limited and there's always more that can be done to make the setting come alive. 

The recent Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition has much supplementary material available for it in the other products released, and it's not the only AP like that. 
Expanding an AP can really make it your own and the beauty is that the line between someone elses work and your own blur so much that the whole thing feels very personal to your group, as it should. 

Other ways you can expand the AP is filling in the little gaps:  
Give all the NPCs (no matter how minor), names and a trait or two - you can use the NPC Tables in the Pathfinder Gamesmastery Guide to assist you with this. Suddenly those hordes of mooks will appear at least to be more significant, and therefore more memorable.
Give magic items a name and a bit of background.  You obviously don't need to do this for every one (though you can!), but finding out that the +1 Ring of Protection was orginally worn as a wedding ring by an ancient Thassilon lord makes it more than just a minor item.  You can even consider integrating these a little into the plot of the adventure.

9. Personalise for your PCs

Many players invest a lot of time and effort in developing the background of their PCs.  They will intentionally, or unintentionally, provide you with story hooks. They may even have a mystery that they want to explore in the campaign. 
In a published campaign it's too easy to forget about the PCs backgrounds and just run the game as written, but that's a bit unfair on the players.  
If my character has come to the region on Golariion where the AP is set, because my investigations into the murder of my parents has led me here, then I would hope that the GM will find a why to weave that into the plot. 
Of course the background hooks don't need to overshadow your campaign, but by finding a way to integrate them will really pull your players into the story, and you'll find it easy to keep their attention.

10. Use the Messageboards

Finally, Use the Paizo Messageboards! Every AP has it's own forum and there's always a wealth of information, clarification, ways to expand the campaign, pitfalls to avoid, encounter tips, errata, the list goes on. The Paizo staff and authors regularly post answers to questions raised, and you'll even find additional unpublished material added from time to time. 
If you're serious about running a Pathfinder AP, take an hour just to check out the messageboards and take a few notes.  You won't regret it. 

Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you find that these enrich your GMing experience!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roll A D6

This has been around for a while now, but is so brilliant that it deserves constant re-watch...

Roll A D6!

Here's the lyrics as well so you can sing along:

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we do it right, candles flicker
Fighting dragons in my mind, (in my mind) just for kicks (kicks)
DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6!

Gimme perception check (check)
Make your dam roll worthwhile
Players love my style, at my table gettin' wild
Got these schemes a plottin', I got my map and my cloak
Got the players' heads a poppin', someone get me more Coke!

Hell yeah!
Level up! Lev-level up!
Goblins all around me I be hackin' 'em all up!
I be hackin' 'em all up!
I be hackin' 'em all up!
When there's goblins all around me I be hackin' 'em all up up up

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we think we fight giant lizards
Getting treasure piled high (piled high), like the rogue, Nyx
Steal a wallet from that guy? Roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now Steal a wallet from that guy, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Na-na-na-na-now Steal a wallet from that guy, roll a D6!

Keepin' it, keepin' it wild, in the forest I got style,
I'm a level 30 ranger, I been playin' for a while
This is how we live, every single night
Necromancer raise the dead, and let me see them fight (ight ight ight)

Hell yeah!
Raise 'em up, raise, raise 'em up!
Zombies all around me I be hackin' 'em all up
I be hackin' 'em all up
I be hackin' 'em all up
When there's zombies all around me I be hackin' 'em all up up up

Sittin' down here with these mice, I'm a wizard
When we play we go all night, eating Twizzlers
Got my spell books piled high, (piled high) learning new tricks
Shooting lightning to the sky, (whispered) roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
A ha ha ha ha shooting lightning to the sky, roll a D6!

Roll a D6, roll a D6
A ha ha ha ha shooting lightning to the sky, roll a D6!

It's that dungeon crawlin' beast make you put yo shields up
Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
It's that dungeon crawlin' beast make you put yo shields up
Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
Hell yeah! Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!
Hell yeah! Make you put yo shields up, put yo, put yo shields up!

In the basement rollin' dice, I'm a wizard
When we play we do it right, candles flicker
Fighting dragons in my mind, (in my mind) just for kicks (kicks)
DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Ha ha ha ha ha DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Roll a D6, roll a D6
Ha ha ha ha ha DM says you're gonna die, roll a D6

Gaming Podcasts

I play RPGs twice a week but it's never enough, and so to help me through the rest of the week I've started to listen to various podcasts.  These range from 'roundtable discussions' on roleplaying and related subjects, to actual play recordings for various RPGs.  Here's my current play list:

1. Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast
If you play Pathfinder you really need to check this one out. It's long (some episodes are 6 hours+) but full of goodness, with interviews, rules clarifications, extensive 'spoilerific' reviews and more.

2. Gamerstable
A round table discussion podcast on a variety of roleplaying and gaming related subjects.  Usually entertaining and fun to listen to.

3. Idle Red Hands
Similar in style to Gamerstable, Idle Red Hands usually serves an interesting discussion on the latest games as well as playing them.

4. The Unspeakable Oath
If you enjoy Call of Cthulhu, and especially Delta Green, then this is the podcast for you! Interviews with Dennis Detwiller, and Adam Scott Glancy, as well as the latest developments with Delta Green should be all the reason you need to check this one out.

5. YSDC: For Lovecraft & Cthulhu
Made up of two different shows; News from Pnakotus and The Silver Lodge, the Yog-Sothoth podcasts are great resources and entertainment for CoC fans.

6. HP Literary Podcast
Now ended - but all the shows are available for listen to.  If you enjoy reading HPL you probably know about this show already, and if you don't, where have you been, The Great Library??

7. Haste - The Official Obsidian Portal Podcast
Not only is Obsidian a great tool for gamesmasters, they also do a podcast, and it's well worth listening to; focusing on gaming news in the most part.

All the podcasts can be freely subscribed to via iTunes if you use that (which I do), just do a search in the store.

I'm sure there are other amazing podcasts out there, but these are the ones I take time to listen to at the moment.  If you have any others you would recommend, please let me know!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Life is too short

I was recently putting some things away in my attic and I came across a number of boxes brimming with roleplaying books dating back to the 1980s, when I started playing.  Some of these books were very worn, but others looked like new, and I remembered that some hadn't even been read! 

I felt guilty on a number of levels. Firstly that there reems of paper/trees lying there; an obvious waste. Secondly that I felt disrespectful to all the authors, artists, playtesters, et al, that had spend their developing the products just so that on a whim I would buy them and then store them away. Thirdly, that I had 'wasted' money on something that could have been better spent on something for more useful.

The problem is that it doesn't end with the books in my attic. They are like the not-so-squeeky penguin in Toy Story 2; relegated to the 'top-shelf'. I have others that I'm more optimistic about my chances of using, books that are collecting dust in cupboards and bookshelves in my house.  These are the works that stare at me every day accusingly waiting for me to pick them up and read them or more importantly use them in a game. 

I love Call of Cthulhu, but I never get a chance to run adventures as often as I want, and I have pretty much every major CoC campaign published since the 80s.  Staring back at me from my shelf sits 'Masks of Nyarlathotep', 'Beyond The Mountains of Madness', 'Tatters of the King', and many others. I've read some, but not all, and based on the speed at which I'm running them, am likely to retire and/or die before I get a chance. That's just one game, and I have lots of games.

That's quite a sobering thought really.

Part of the problem for me is that I'm passionate about buying books. I love browsing through them, so I suppose I really shouldn't get too hung up on the fact that they are not all going to be played any time soon. I can't stop buying them either. I've slapped down my pledge in for the new Horror on the Orient Express, just like thousands of other gamers, and I know that I will enjoy it, just not necessarily be running the campaign anytime soon.

As I look over at the books on my shelf today (and recall the other books in the attic that I saw yesterday) I think to myself that they each require my attention, but there are so many now that I just don't know where to start.

Roleplaying is one of the greatest hobbies.  Its boundaries are truely limitless, as are the potential for new books supporting it, and there are so many stories I want to tell, so many shared gaming experiences left to try. My bookshelf, like many others I'm sure, is a testament to that, and I'm running out of time. 

Life is too short.