December 31, 2008

10 Things To Do Before Starting A New RPG Campaign

Seeing as my own D&D campaign recently went bust - it just had me thinking about what I could do to get things started on the right foot the next time around.
  1. Get a reliable and committed group of players. Nothing can be more frustrating that planning to start a new campaign and having it fizzle out before it even starts because one or more players decide to bail. As a gamemaster, a key to preventing player false-starts is to shorten the time frame between when you get their commitment to play and when the game actually starts. If several weeks go by before the first session, you should expect some people to bail. As a player, a key to prevent your own false-start is to not agree "on a whim" to start a new campaign. Player cooperation and commitment to the game are essential for any campaign, and if you bail out before it starts you are doing nothing short of holding up the fun for others.
  2. Get a reliable and committed game master. Much like getting reliable players - the same holds true for the GM. This may not happen as often, but in my experience it occurs often enough to mention. Some people love the idea of running a game, but when the $%iT hits the fan they might realize how much work running a good game is and decide to bail. Being a dependable GM trumps being a imaginative, innovative, or cool GM in my book. The former being a requirement for an ongoing campaign; the latter being something that can come from the player group just as much from the GM. Basically - don't make promises you can't keep.
  3. Make known your expectations. Do you want this to be a one-off adventure? or a long-lived campaign? Are you going to play your character seriously or with a sizable degree of "salt"? Let the other players at the table know what you are looking for and what your expectations are. How many hours do you expect each game session to last? How often do you want to gather for gaming? What is your play-style? As long as everyone is open and honest about want they want to get out of the game, then the group as a whole can benefit by trying to meet those needs.
  4. Have everyone agree on a (semi-)regular schedule. Its hard for working-professionals to meet more than once a week, or even twice a month. College age or younger players may be able to game more often, but this also taxes the GM tremendously. Whatever the schedule, everyone should agree on at least a tentative schedule before game play starts. If you want game for more than 3 hours at a stretch, then try to avoid game sessions that start later than 7pm. Gaming late into the night can be fun; but consider that some of the players in your group may have day jobs the next day.
  5. Have the GM provide everyone with character creation and setting guidelines. The GM should email everyone with general guidelines about character creation and the setting. Players can all participate in helping define these guidelines, but ultimately the GM should firmly decide what is and is not permissible for a given campaign. Is the game going to be the default game system setting or a home brewed world? What races and/or classes are allowed or prohibited? Where can the participatory players find more information about the setting?
  6. Have all your characters made before the first session. Having character sheets finalized before the first day of gaming is critical. First of all, it smooths out game play so that the dice can start rolling ASAP and there are no hangups. Secondly, it allows the discussion about the characters to focus on what has been decided a week-beforehand instead what was decided 5-minutes beforehand. Often times a snap decision about character design may leave players regretting their choices in the long run.
  7. Have an elevator pitch for each character. Its important for each player to know something about the other player characters at the start game play. An elevator pitch is a great way to convey this information. This is basically a 20-30 second pitch (the average length of an elevator ride) about who your character is, what they look like, what stands out about them. Try to have this ready when game play starts; if all the other players do the same then you all will be much better off in the long run.
  8. Have the GM think of and flesh out at least one reoccurring villain. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the villain who narrowly escapes only to rear his or her (or its) ugly head another day. At early levels of game play, these types of villains can bring an important level of depth to a campaign. Then, after having faced off with them two or three times before, the characters can finally have a big showdown once they are much higher level. The best setups include having two or three reoccurring villains, with showdowns for each at various, progressively higher levels of play.
  9. Decide on and write down all the house rules. Every gaming eventually has a few house rules. These may be minor rule changes such as "no multi classing" or "dwarfs are the same size as humans". Or more significant rule changes such as "there are no classes, its all free form" or "wizards as player characters don't exist in this campaign". Whatever they are, its important to write them down and make them available to all the players. A simple solution is to use a public wiki service like GoogleWiki or Obsidian Portal to house your house rules. Oh, and if you don't have any? Then make your campaign your own and make some up! The heart of RPGs is the do-it-yourself approach to gaming.
  10. Remember the most important rule is the Rule of Cool. We all want to have fun, right? That's the whole reason we are into this thing called roleplaying games. So, in an effort to keep up the fun... remember the Rule of Cool and your game will be forever better for it. ChattyDM has a great spin on the whole topic (as it relates to RPGs) here.
I hope this list is helpful. Think of it as my 2¢ towards helping players new to RPGs (whatever game that may be) in getting their campaign off to the right start. Have some other suggestions? Please leave a comment and let them know what else might help!

In the meantime, have a great New Year!

December 30, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 10: Quick, Before They Report to the Enemy!

It's gamefiend again with my last skill challenge of the series. I'd like to thank Jonathan for hosting the series, and offer a nod of appreciation to MadBrewLabs. It was a fun collaboration that I hope to do again soon.

In this skill challenges, the PC's forces have just found enemy scouts. If the scouts are not caught, they will report back to the enemy with dire consequences. The scouts must be stopped at all costs. While there are multiple scouts in the skill challenge, you can easily break the challenge up a long the length of a campaign or use more or less scouts in one challenge. Hope you enjoy!

Previous posts in the Skill Challenges of War series:

Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die
Part 6 - Skill Challenge: Flush Out a Spy
Part 7 - Skill Challenge: Break the Seige!
Part 8 - Skill Challenge: Hold the Line
Part 9 - Skill Challenge: A Forceful Seizure

"Quick, Before they Report to the Enemy!"
You are aware of enemy scouts around you base. You must find and capture them before they report to the enemy.
Complexity: open (success will depend on successful scout searches before acquiring three failures)

Encounter Level: PC level (+1 for each scout above three)

Goal: Capture as many scouts as you can before acquiring three failures.


There are three scouts for the players to capture. Each Pursuit consists of two stages, "The Search" and "The Chase". The Search succeeds as long as the players make at least one successful check, but The Chase fails if there are any failures. When the players reach three total failures, the skill challenge ends -- the players have gotten so out of sorts that the scouts easily can escape.

The GM can extend or shorten this counter by having more or less scouts to be found. You can also run the skill challenge across multiple encounters, having the PCs hunt scouts at different parts of the adventure.

The Search
The enemy scouts are cunning, but you are resolute as you stalk carefully.

Goal: Gain at least one success out of two skill checks. If no successes are gained, this scout has gotten away before you find him. If only one success is gained, the party suffers a -2 to skill checks during "The Chase".

Skills Used:
Perception (moderate DC): Your sharp eyes miss nothing as you scan the surrounding environ for the scout.
Nature (moderate DC): Your knowledge of the terrain will be a key factor in finding the scout.
Bluff (moderate DC): You feign cluelessness to appeal to the scout's arrogance, so that he may reveal himself.
Stealth (moderate DC): As sly as the scout is, you are even sneakier.
Athletics (hard DC): You move quickly from place to place, hoping to outpace the scout and force him to make an error.
Insight (hard DC): Where would you hide if you were the enemy? Over behind that rock, probably.

The Chase
Now that you have spotted the enemy, you must capture him.

Goal: Acquire two success before one failure. The first failure allows the enemy scout to get away.
Skills Used:

Athletics (moderate DC): With determination and fervor, you run after the enemy.
Acrobatics (moderate DC): You gain ground quickly as you tumble through areas the scout can or will not.
Endurance (moderate DC): The scout can't run forever, but you can. You'll be right on him when he slows.
Perception (hard DC): You can tell from here the path that the scout will take, and will attempt to cut him off.
Intimidate (moderate DC): you shout a bold threat that gives the scout pause.

Partial Success:
You have caught some of the scouts, but others have returned safely to their home. You're not sure what it is the enemy now knows.

Success: All scouts have been caught, so your force's secrets are safe, for now.

The enemy has all the information it needs to dismantle your forces. It is time to come up with new plans and to prepare for the worst.

December 29, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 9: A Forceful Seizure

It's gamefiend again! This skill challenge requires the PCs to acquire something vital from the enemy camp. There are options to go stealth, or to go in full brute force, or to mix approaches. I hope you find it useful. Previous articles in the Skill Challenges of War series:

Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die
Part 6 - Skill Challenge: Flush Out a Spy
Part 7 - Skill Challenge: Break the Seige!
Part 8 - Skill Challenge: Hold the Line

A Forceful Seizure
The players have been tasked to capture an item of great significance for the war effort. The only problem is that it's in the enemy camp.

Complexity: 2 (6 successes before 3 failures)

Encounter Level: PC Level+1

Goal: Capture the item by infiltrating the enemy camp before acuumulating three failures.

Skills used:

History (moderate DC, maximum of 1 success): Your knowledge of the area allows your plans to be more effective.

Athletics (hard DC, maximum of 2 successes): You must move as quickly as you can to capture the item.

Endurance (hard DC, maximum of 2 successes): Sometimes you must outlast your foe. Patience will give you the opportunity you need. +2 to your next Stealth check.

Stealth (hard DC+4,counts as two successes): Like ghosts, you slip past your enemy towards your goal. If you fail this check, a Full-On Assault check must be made immediately after.

Intimidate (hard DC, maximum one success, counts as two successes): 'Do you know who we are? You would do best to let us pass.' +2 to your next Bluff check.

Bluff (moderate DC, maximum two successes): You create a distraction to get the enemy looking for something else, somewhere else. +2 to your next Outmanuever check.

Arcana (moderate DC, maximum of one success): You can sense the item's presence, and direct your companions to it.

Insight (moderate DC, does not count towards successes or failures maximum of two rolls): The troops are mosst likely distracted by other matters, and you plan to use that to your advantage. +2 to your next Bluff or Stealth check

Perception (moderate DC, does not count towards successes or failures, maximum of two rolls): You take a moment to survey the area before taking your next move. +2 to your next Athletics or Full-On Assault check.

Full-On Assault (Basic melee attack vs (troop AC+2), counts as two successes) You decide to take the enemy full on, charging in. If you fail this check, everyone in the party loses two healing surges.
OutManuever (Intelligence+4 vs (troop will), counts as two successes): You move past the enemy before they can regroup.
If you fail this check, the entire party loses two healing surges.

Success: You find the item and escape.
Failure: You are unable to procure the item, and are captured by the enemy.

December 28, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 8: Holding the Line

The Skill Challenges of War is an ongoing series here at The Core Mechanic written by me, and two excellent guest bloggers: MadBrew and Gamefiend. Please check out the previous posts in the series and let us know what you think or if you are planning on using any of these skill challenges in your game. Previous articles in the Skill Challenges of War series:

Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die
Part 6 - Skill Challenge: Flush Out a Spy
Part 7 - Skill Challenge: Break the Seige!

The position you and your company hold has significant strategic importance. You must hold your position while facing overwhelming odds until additional reinforcements arrive.
The PCs are responsible for holding the line or maintaining control of a specific location on an active battlefield. Although they may be in command of a small company of soldiers, they are likely to be significantly outnumbered by the enemy and have decided to hunker down to defend their location, if need be, with their lives. In addition, the players are encouraged to use the supplemental skills Powers of War and Blood from Stone to mitigate the skill challenge.

Powers of War
Players can expend powers to get bonuses to a skill check. When expending powers, have the players describe how the power is being used. For each type of power used, the following bonuses are gained:
• At-Will: +0 to skill check
• Encounter: +1 to skill check.
• Daily: +3 to skill check.

Blood from Stone
Facing overwhelming odds, the players gamble with their lives hold back the tide of enemy forces. The party can elect for each member of the group to take damage equal to their healing surge value in exchange for a +2 bonus on an individual skill check. This action can be taken more than once for the same skill check, and can occur after the die is cast but before the skill check is resolved.

SETUP: You must defend your position long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

LEVEL: The PCs’ level +1.

COMPLEXITY: 3 (8 successes before 3 failures).

PRIMARY SKILLS: Athletic, Bluff, Endurance, Heal, Intimidate, Perception.

Athletics (Hard DC): The hurry yourself and the defending company into ideal defensive positions before the enemy makes their first attempt at breaking the line. Success provides a +2 bonus on the next skill check and serves as a success for the overall skill challenge. The enemy cannot, however, be fooled this way more than once.

Bluff (Hard DC): You feign defeat and bait the enemy to advance carelessly on your position. Once they move in, you spring the trap and your company launches a well executed surprise counterattack that drives the enemy out from your location and hampers their future efforts. A success counts as two successes for the overall skill challenge. A failure counts towards the overall skill challenge and costs each player a healing surge in addition.

Endurance (Moderate DC): Overcoming exhaustion, you press back against the surging enemy forces and stand your ground. You cannot use this skill in this way more than once for this skill challenge.

Heal (Moderate DC): You manage to heal the wounded in your company during an unexpected lull in the battle. A success restores one healing surge to each member of the party and counts towards the overall skill challenge. A failure counts towards the overall skill challenge and prevents its use again as the enemy sees that you are down and vulnerable.

Intimidate (Hard DC): You rally your spirits and put on a strong show of force. Even while facing overwhelming odds, you manage to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. They retreat for a time, while they regroup and prepare for the next attack. A failure prevent this skill from being used in this way again.
Perception (Moderate DC): Your keen senses find way to best use your terrain and environment for defense. Using this skill does not count as a success or failure for the challenge, but instead provides a +2 bonus or –2 penalty to the next character’s skill check.

Defensive Stations (Basic melee attack vs Moderate DC): You and your troops fight valiantly and hold their ground.

Success: Reinforcements arrive or you have successfully driven back the enemy. The location you were defending is now secure and does not run any immediate risk of falling into enemy hands.

Failure: The enemy has overrun you and your company. You fail to hold your defensive position and must retreat to a safer location.

December 27, 2008

Around the blogs... and YouTube

Well, in contrast to the Christmas craziness in my house (100 kids with new noise-making toys)... and the RPG blogging community has been fairly quiet this week. Nonetheless, this hasn't prevented me from soaking up some of the good stuff around the blogs this past week. A list of what I've been reading is linked below.
  1. Asmor, of Encounter a Day, has released a new version of the Monster Maker ( version 3.3). The software is really great, and although I need to fire up a Windows partition to use it, I'm finding it very helpful for putting that little extra unexpected spice into my game.
  2. Since my gaming group just went bust, I've been trying to understand the evolution of ttRPG groups. I found a post over at The Seven-Sided Die, "GM advice, industry musings, and storming", which pointed me to this post over at ChattyDM's old blogspot archive. This is turn pointed me to an excellent Wikipedia article titled "Forming-storming-norming-performing" which basically describes a theory of group dynamics that was proposed in the 1960's. My best friend Google then pointed me to this RPG wiki called Cheetoism and a collection of articles titled "Stages of Group Development" which focuses on the group dynamic issues of RPGs - in particular that ttRPG groups are in constant development. Altogether, I feel that I have much better understanding of human group dynamics than I did before.
  3. I'm still working on a article for Polymancer that is focused on playing RPGs with mixed-alignment partys and having it not end in a bloodbath. So, I'm keen on any new blog posts that come out on related topics. This week I came across an article over at The Recursion King, "Running an evil campaign". I then remembered an old article from my Dragon Magazine archive "How to have a good time being evil", by Roger E. Moore (Dragon #45, January 1981), that caused such a stir that letters to the editor were still being received about this article five and ten years later. I then had Google lead me to this excellent bibliography of articles on RPG alignments; definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in the subject. I'm glad I was reminded about these older pieces - but I'm once again left with that feeling of "its all been said before" in the RPG community.
That's about it for this week. Time for me to return to eating more holiday pies...

OK.. a friend of mine found the video below... and let me say this is not my kid! I found this disturbingly hilarious though...

December 26, 2008


Two weeks ago my ongoing Kingship Chronicles campaign went bust. It was a 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in The Great Dale from 3rd edition Forgotten Realms. The elevator pitch for the campaign would go something like this:
Three orphans must defend their homeland from an invading army of disease ridden living zombies, and they must also find a cure for their adoptive mother who has fallen ill to the blightspawn. The short campaign is for level 1 characters, who are expected to reach level 5 after several overland and underground adventures. The PCs will battle against mindless hordes of decaying blightspawn, thieves and bandits from Thesk, buried dead in the Crypts of the Arcomancer, and abberations from the Underdark. Can they convince the clansfolk of The Great Dale to join together to fight this common enemy? Will they be able to gain the help of The Circle of Leth in Yeshilmar? It will all be revealed in The Kingship Chronicles...
My players reached the end of the current saga with a huge - "final battle" style ending whereby they helped defend Yeshilmar from a massive horde of blightspawn and (barely) managed to save their dying mother. It was a solid close, with no loose ends, and everyone seemed very satisfied with the end result. All in all, it was a really fun 6-months that introduced us to the 4th edition rules.

And then we all just sorta decided... "Meh... lets do something else."

Some of the players want to go back to an RPG that doesn't use miniatures at all. Others want to stick with 4E, but to try something new (for them) like a sandbox-campaign. Still others want to continue with the current set of characters, but are willing to play "whatever the rest of the group decides". Me? Frankly, I always want the same thing: to be a player.

I've been a player in only 4 campaigns in 25 years, but I have DM'd countless campaigns and introduced the game to probably two or three dozen new players (ok, maybe not countless... but too many for me to count right now). Some of those players are still avid gamers today, and I'm happy to know that they credit me with getting them into gaming. But, none of them, to my knowledge, have ever been a DM. All my "converts" are still players and seemingly unwilling to make the jump to running their own game (with one exception: Hi Ray!). So, I'm left with this kind of hole in my experience where 90% of my gaming experience has been from "behind the screen" so to speak. But, is this a problem? Is it time for me to sit somewhere else at the table? Has the group stagnated as a whole? Or, is this just DM burnout?

So, what's a DM to do?
  1. Cut-off my nose to spite my face. "I'm not DM'ing ... so I guess that means we won't game at all!" This solution is not only childish, but it just screams "whiner!" and should stop right here.
  2. Look for a new group of players to game with that have their own DM. This is something I've honestly not done enough of. I've never been to a FLGS event, let alone a convention, and players at my table almost always been new inductees into RPG gaming. Rarely have hard-core gamers (people who go to cons) ever gamed at my game table, or vice versa, and the few that I know of happen to be entangled in a hugely awesome Star Wars campaign that already has seven players - which means "No Soup For You!".
  3. Convince one of the players at my existing game table to be the DM. I've tried this once before with very limited success. As I have said before - for many of the people I game with their entire RPG gaming experience has been limited to my game table. I think there must be some kind of critical inertia issue here, because none of them have volunteered to be the DM. Maybe they think it takes too much time? Maybe they are afraid of a botched attempt? Meh, I'm happy to help with both of those issues, or any other that would come up, but still they resist.
  4. Stop playing until inspiration strikes me again to be a DM. This is the way I usually handle campaign fizzle - by taking a break (as Phil suggests as well). Sometimes these breaks are months to (in one case) years. The problem is that I don't want to stop gaming or take a break. I'm not having gaming burnout.
  5. Post something on my blog and see if any other ideas come done the pipe. Well, here we are... what do you think I should do?
POST EDIT: My wife may actually take up the DM seat for the first time. After reading this post she remarked "Why couldn't I run a campaign?" And I thought, "Yes young Jedi. Now your training is complete!"

December 25, 2008



we will resume our regularly scheduled posting on December 26th. Merry Christmas!!!

December 24, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 7: Break the Siege!

Mad Brew escapes to The Core Mechanic for one last post since the Labs were
besieged by angry villagers last night. For some odd reason, they do not
appreciate his work or the fact that he provides an important service: cutting
the costs of funerals by emptying old graves!

Here are the previous posts in this series:
Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic MissionReconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die
Part 6 - Skill Challenge: Flush Out a Spy

Break the Siege!

The enemy sits beyond the walls of the city, slowly choking it to death by denying supplies. Soon disease will take root, rotting the city from within. The task falls upon your shoulders to break the siege and obtain fresh supplies before hunger and plague weakens your forces, leaving the city defenseless against the inevitable assault [1].

The PCs must secure a supply line into the besieged city before hunger, plague, and fear wreaks havocs upon it. If the PCs fail in their task, the enemy may not even need to fight to take the city and the PCs may not be in any condition to prevent it.

Setup: You must use all your resources to break the siege and obtain supplies before famine and pestilence take their toll.

Level: The PCs’ level +2.

Complexity: 5 (requires 12 successes before 4 failures).

Primary Skills: Arcana, Dungeoneering, Heal, Nature, Stealth, Streetwise.

Arcana (Hard DCs): You meet with the clerics, sorcerers, and wizards of the city to discuss methods of procuring supplies via arcane device. Possibilities conjuration, teleportation, polymorphing, and perhaps even summon extra-planar entities. Each attempt at this approach needs to look at a different arcane method and accrues a cumulative -1 penalty as ideas get harder to come by.

Dungeoneering (Hard DCs): You look to subterranean pathways to re-establish the supply trains. A failure means you cannot attempt this approach again because you have encountered something worse than the conventional enemy outside your walls and must secure any entrances leading to the sewers or the underdark.

Heal (Moderate DCs): You keep an eye out for citizens infected with disease to quarantine and treat them. This approach is mandatory and must be attempted three times. The PCs could attempt to persuade (using Diplomacy or Intimidate) local religious orders to perform these checks as well.

Nature (Moderate DCs): You look into growing and gathering fruits, vegetables, and nuts in or from the city parks, palace courtyards, and private gardens. The PCs may only attempt this approach once.

Stealth (Hard DCs): You attempt to sneak supplies into the city under the cover of darkness, inclement weather, or by posing as the enemy. A failure with this approach means the PCs were discovered and lose 1 healing surge worth of hit points in the resulting combat.

Streetwise (Moderate DCs): You canvas the city looking for surplus from citizens, businesses, and organizations (criminal or otherwise). Each attempt at this approach results in a cumulative -3 penalty as it surplus becomes scarcer and even more difficult to ferret out.

Success: The PCs managed to fend off disease, hunger, and the enemy until reinforcement arrived and together routed the enemy. This skill challenge could very well be used as an “end game” for the war or as a pre-curser to the final, epic confrontation. If the latter is true, success on this skill challenge represents a major advantage for the next battle.

Failure: The PCs failed to obtain enough resources to survive the siege. Starvation has set in and the victims of disease can be found burning in great piles about the city. Fires, either deliberately set or spread from funeral pyres, continue to burn in several districts. The PCs lose half their maximum number of healing surges in damage as they starve or suffer from disease (leaving them with at least 1 hit point and 0 healing surges). They also have a major disadvantage in the next skill challenge of the war.

[1] "Siege Of Acre 1191" Credit: D.Papety (1815-1849)

December 23, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 6: Flush Out a Spy

Mad Brew returns to The Core Mechanic from a weekend of scavenging body parts for the creation of his new pet, George. While waits for a brain donor to make a voluntary donation, Mad Brew wants to share another Skill Challenge of War. Perhaps that spy that he kindly quartered in the dungeons would like to help out George...Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die

Flush Out a Spy

No matter what sly, clever, or inventive tactics and strategies you employ, the enemy seems to know every move. You are convinced that one of your officers is a spy for the enemy and you need to flush him out before you plan your next offensive [1].

The PCs must employ counter intelligence, extract information from prisoners, and use their instincts to uncover the spy in their midst to ensure their next battle does not meet with failure.

Setup: You must ferret out a spy in your ranks that is leaking intelligence to the enemy before you devise your next move.

Level: The PCs’ level +1.

Complexity: 3 (requires 8 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff, Insight, Intimidate, Streetwise.

Bluff (Hard DCs): You set up a Canary Trap by feeding different versions of sensitive information to your officers to see which version is leaked to the enemy. A failure on this approach earns a cumulative -5 penalty on future attempts of this approach as the spy becomes more wary of your methods.

Insight (Hard DCs): You converse with your officers and troops to discover who may have something that may be used as leverage over them (friends, family, or possessions), who may not believe in the cause, and other general indications of reasons for spying.

Intimidate (Moderate DCs): Your forces managed to capture an enemy courier crossing the frontlines. You use some persuasion techniques to extract details about your spy. This approach may only be attempted once.

Streetwise (Moderate DCs): You ask “sympathetic” criminal organizations if they have acquired any information about who the spy may be. Each attempt at this approach yields a cumulative -2 penalty as contact with such organizations becomes more difficult.

Success: The PCs have found the operative and have secured a minor advantage for the next battle. If the PCs were successful using the canary trap (Bluff), then instead they have a major advantage.

Failure: The PCs still do not know who the spy is or how they are getting their information. The PCs have a major disadvantage in their next battle against the enemy.

[1] Image courtesy of Wizard's Martial Power art gallery.

Milestones... 100 subscribers

A "real" post will make its appearance on this blog later this morning. This post is just to say


Feedburner is telling me that I've reach that "magic number" of 100 subscribers. I have no idea why people say 100 subscribers is some kind of magic number; but nonetheless I'm honored, and very pleased, to be able to write for such an excellent audience. Thank you for stopping by, and for reading my 181 posts!


December 22, 2008

The Statistics of 4E Skill Challenges

A friend of mine recently said the following on a private forum I'm a member of ...
" ...I may be thinking about this wrong, but let's go with this - DC 30 with 6 rolls required before 2 failures. Assuming a +15, you have a 50% chance of a success per roll and a 50% chance of failure. So what's the chance you'll fail before you make it? Let's just go with the stats of what it would be if you got to roll all 6 no matter what, which is approx. 25%. The SAME thing could be accomplished by having someone with a +15 roll against a DC35..." Anonymous Friend.
I just couldn't help myself from chiming in when I read this. Skill challenges in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons are not easily reduced to equivalent single-roll "skill checks". They are more aptly represented by a collection of negative binomial distributions. This is likely technobabble to many of you, but suffice it to say that skill challenges represent a slight modification of well known type of probability distribution. Negative binomial distributions are usually those that describe a situation where you want to measure the probability of X number of successes before you reach Y number of failures given a probability of success P. The "slight modification" comes in because you are also considering that you might get all your successes before having any, or only some, of your failures.

I used Google Spreadsheet's bionomial normal distribution function to make these calculations by summing three distributions together that each had a different threshold for failure (0, 1, or 2 failures) like this:
where N is the number of successes needed, X, Y, or Z are the number of failures observed (0, 1 or 2), and P is the probability of success for the skill checks.

So, in the table below I have outlined the probability of success for a skill challenge that requires N number of successes before 3 failures. Across the top of the table you can see the actual d20 die roll needed for the success, and along the left you can see the total number of successes needed for the entire skill challenge to be a success. I'm also assuming that three-failures always represents failure of the skill challenge as a whole. Of course, this is still a simplification because I'm also assuming that the all the rolls would have the same DC - which of course is rarely the case. The table is also incomplete, but it gives you the general idea: skill challenges quickly become very hard as the complexity increases.

UPDATED -- 1/9/09 -- UPDATED

Use the above table to give yourself a rule of thumb when designing skill challenges. What's important to realize is that Complexity 5 skill challenges (i.e. 12 successes before 3 failures) are extremely hard even when needing very low rolls. I have no doubt that this is the reason why the DCs for skill challenges were made to be so low after the 4th Edition Errata was released for the Dungeon Masters Guide. I also believe this is a point many DMs miss.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on why the difficultly of skill challenges can be tricky to guage, and possibly helped a few folks in the meantime.

December 20, 2008

Around the Blogs...

Saturday morning means its time to review what I've been reading...
  1. Christmas Gift Lists - If you are looking for something for that old, fat grognard in your life then definitely check out this list of gifts titled "A Grognard Christmas" over at Grognardia. For those young, bright-eyed MtG carrying, 4E playing hipsters out there - I would suggest the 2008 Holiday Gift Guide. It even sounds like its more mainstream. Either way, both lists are great and I've sent them to my own personal Santa's (although I don't think they are sympathetic to my needs).
  2. PALADINS - A new RPG blogger, The Grumblin' Grognard, has been writing a great series "The Paladin (Part 1A)". The whole series reminds me somewhat of the one I wrote on clerics - but its even more detailed and brings in a historical and literary perspective which I'm really enjoying. To find the additional articles in this series you'll have to dig around in his archive, but I believe he is up to Part 4 at this point.
  3. Skill Challenges - There is of course the series on The Skill Challenges of War being hosted here at The Core Mechanic. In addition, for those prone to failure there is "The Three Rules of Failure in Skill Challenges" by Asmor. He provides a good, yet simple, set of three points to help guide any DM in designing skill challenges.
  4. Being a Better Blogger - if you are an RPG blogger (or a blogger of any animal) then you must check out Mad Brew Labs series on RPG Blogging Tools. Currently in its third installment, he covers writing tips and blog setup issues. The shear amount of links to other blogging resources is amazing - but Mad Brew's clarity and depth of knowledge makes it a must-read. It also makes an excellent companion read to Yehuda's "Why I Am Not (But Still Am) a Professional Blogger".
  5. DM Writer's Block - Have you lost your gamemastering ways? Are you feeling like your adventures are becoming as preplanned as the Magic Maze on the back of a box of Captain Crunch? Well, have no fear because all you need to do is read A Butterfly Dreaming's post "Brainstorming an Adventure". Couple this with "Free images to spice up your game" by The Free RPG Blog and you'll be all fixed up.
Well, that's about it for this week! I hope everyone has enjoyed the appearance of guest writers here at The Core Mechanic this week! I know I have, all of the articles have been top-notch. If you are interested in guest writing for The Core Mechanic, send me a pitch at jonathan DOT jacobs AT gmail DOT com.

Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2008

Joint Game Mastering: Things you need to know

One of the most enduring images I have of myself during my formative years is sitting alone at a table, meticulously filling in the hexagons of a large grid with symbols representing different types of terrain. I don’t know why, but upon reflection they were some of the happiest times of my childhood. Needless to say I was born to GM and over the years I have run quite a few campaigns with a diverse set of folks.

As I have gotten older however and the burdens of family and my career have increased exponentially (well not family really, my wife is a gamer) and I do not have the time I once had to devote to putting together a really good campaign. After being pestered by my friends for some time about starting something in the Star Wars universe I finally decided that I would be willing to give it another go, with the stipulation that I would need someone to help. This turned out to be a very good idea as our gaming group has grown quite large (we have 7 players in addition to the 2 GM’s) and logistically it would be a nightmare for a single person. Our Star Wars campaign has been running somewhat smoothly for over a year now (with a brief hiatus for my wedding and honeymoon) and I can honestly say co-GMing has been one of the most fulfilling gaming experiences I have had in years.

After a tenuous start, my co-GM and I have hit upon some things that what work (and some things that don’t) when Gamemastering with a partner, and Jonathan has been gracious enough to let me share them with you.

1. Good communication is essential. I think this is obvious but when dealing with “nerds” it is always important to emphasize the point. Make sure your co-GM is someone you can talk to and preferably someone you have played with in the past so you know they aren’t a gibbering idiot. Often times it is difficult to plan time to meet (especially if work/families are involved), so having another method of communication is essential. E-mail is adequate, but I would highly recommend a private forum, as it allows you to discuss issues by topic and keep a record of your discussions.

2. Have an overall story ark, but be receptive to changes. Gamemastering is a pursuit that tends to exclusively appeal to megalomaniacs. Who else would get a kick out of creating an entire world, that they control and offering that world for others to experience. Having to populate the details of that world with someone else in mind can be a difficult adjustment. It behooves you to discuss the campaign before hand and set down some ground rule. What is the tone of the campaign? What is the structure (free-form or story ark)? Are we going to have ancillary characters? What type? This interaction is one of the most rewarding parts of Co-GMing, as you never realize how much better a story can become when you get someone else’s input until you actually do it. Some of the best parts of the campaign are ideas I would have NEVER thought of on my own.

3. Have a fair and adequate division of labor and play to each others strengths. Generally in our Star Wars campaign I write the overall story ark and the individual adventures while my partner runs the combat encounters, we both participate in the role-playing, although I do a bit more of the story oriented stuff. This works well, as my partner has a long and storied reputation in our gaming group of designing elaborate deathtraps and I tend to be more of a “story dude.” In general it is better to give chores to the folks who like doing them if possible. I know world design/story development is my favorite part while my colleague enjoys running the combats so it works well for us. In the event that neither or both like a particular activity, be sure to alternate that task with each gaming session to ensure that both folks stay engaged.

4. Present a united front. Gamers are like children, any division between authority figures will be ruthlessly exploited for their own personal gain. Often times we will have rule disputes that cannot be resolved at that session. When that happens we have developed a standard policy. We roll a dice to determine the outcome and say that this is a temporary solution, we will provide a permanent solution at the next session. After the session we confer personally or via the forum, if necessary we bring players into the discussion as well.

5. Take advantage of technology. It is easy and inexpensive to set up an Internet forum for yourselves and for the players. This allows the entire group to communicate and provides a venue for you and your Co-GM to confer. We do a lot of the heavy background RP stuff between sessions, and the players seem to really enjoy it. We also have a simple website up that we allow characters to modify:

I'm a big fan of Google Pages as it is VERY easy to use (of course I'm sure some web designers are cringing). It serves as a nice reference tool for the players and the GMs, and lets folks keep up on the story if a long period of time has elapsed between sessions. (Guess which of the players are technophobes by the quality of their pages...)

Jason, a new guest author here at The Core Mechanic, says "If you ever spent a lazy Saturday afternoon drawing dungeon maps in your bedroom when you were a 10-year-old, you are my kind of guy. I've played every version of D&D,WFB, WFRP, old-school Middle Earth, and I have about 20 boxes of obscure Avalon Hills games hiding in my parents basement. I have also played some D20 Modern and I am currently co-GMing a large Star Wars campaign. I tend to GM, and I definitely fall somewhere into the power-gamer spectrum when I am a player, much to my chagrin when my players attempt the same shenanigans with me..."

December 18, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 5: ...The Body Will Die

Hi, I'm gamefiend from At-Will. I've been doing a lot of writing and design regarding skill challenges in 4th ed. When Jonathan invited me over to his section of the world to do even more skill challenges, I was delighted to join in.

Jonathan introduced the concept in Part 1, and then suggested a table of generalized modifiers for use with war skill challenges in Part 2. Michael gave a great application of skill challenges in war with Part 3 and Part 4. What follows is the first of several skill challenges I designed to be run during the course of a war-based campaign or adventure.

... The Body will Die

The enemy commander is in sight. If you can get to him, you can slay the enemy by taking its heart. The only thing that stands in your way are his troops and his elite bodyguards. It is an ancient doctrine of war that if you kill the head...

Complexity 5 (10 successes before three failures)

Encounter Level: PC Level+4

Goal: Reach the Enemy Commander before three failures are acquired.

Powers of War
Players can expend powers to get bonuses to a skill check. When expending powers, have the players describe how the power is being used. For each type of power used, the following bonuses are gained:

At-Will: +0 to skill check
Encounter/Utility: +3 to skill check.
Daily: +5 to skill check.

Skills Used: Endurance, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Bluff, Perception, History.

Endurance (hard DC, maximum of one success ): Hard fought battles are won by those still standing. You will not be the first to fall.

Diplomacy (hard DC, maximum of two successes ): You inspire your own troops so that they will fight with increased fervor.

Intimidate (hard DC, maximum of one success ): As the battle rages, you make your challenge known to the commander. You also make it known that you have no time for his minions.

Bluff (hard DC, maximum one success): You use clever battlefield trickery to put the enemy in difficult positions. +2 to your next skill check.

Perception (hard DC, maximum one success ): You survey the field and adjust to new realities on the ever-unfolding field of battle.

History (moderate DC, maximum one success ): Your knowledge of tactics can be put to use right now.

Full-On Assault (Basic melee attack vs (troop AC+2)): You and your troops fight valiantly to push forward. If you fail this check, your party loses two healing surges.

Clever Tactics (Intelligence+4 versus (troop will+4): Your troops fight with bravery and wit, flanking and countering your foe's every move. If you fail this check, everyone in your party loses two healing surge.

Success: You reach the enemy commander and prepare to do battle with him.

Failure: The party is still stuck in the thick of battle. The enemy commander continues to wreak havoc on the battlefields with his strategies and abilities.

December 17, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 4: Rally the Troops!

This is Mad Brew again, having been kindly invited by Jonathan to be a guest author for his Skill Challenges of War series. It quite an honor to be able add some cool new content for The Core Mechanic! This next skill challenge offers a little more complexity and variations. I would recommend this both as a story element but also as an option to give players before milestone skill challenges of war to improve their chances.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

Rally the Troops!
The troops hang their heads low and shuffle about the bivouac. The low murmur of muttered complaints and the dejected talk of defeat and worse resonate through the camp. You must reinvigorate the morale of your troops if anyone hopes to survive the next battle [1].
The unit attached to the PCs is suffering from low morale due to [insert reason appropriate to your campaign here: poor food, defeat/retreat, weather, time, etc.]. The players need to rally their troops if they hope to be successful during the impending [insert event appropriate to your campaign here: assault, siege, march, charge, etc.].

Setup: You must squash the fear and depression that have overcome the troops by inspiring them with hope and confidence.

Level: The PCs’ level +1.

Complexity: 2 (requires 6 success before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight, Religion.

Bluff (Hard DCs): You try to relieve the troops of their concerns by obscuring the truth about the size, skill, and tactics of the opposing forces and embellishing your own strengths. While lying about the truth of the matter may jumpstart the troops’ spirits, you also risk demoralizing them even more if they see through your scheming. A failure closes off this approach and increases the DCs of other checks to hard for the duration of the challenge.

Diplomacy (Moderate DCs): You make an inspiring speech about how your cause, emphasizing your troops’ strengths, remarking on past heroic deeds, and giving hope. You speak about unity and brotherhood and try to get the troops motivated.

Insight (Moderate DCs): You try to discover what worries your troops the most, the biggest dissenters (and silence them), and what will be the best motivation for your forces. This approach may only be attempted once. A success on this approach not only counts as a success but also confers a +2 bonus to the next check. A failure on this approach not only counts as a failure but also confers a -2 penalty to the next check.

Religion (Moderate DCs): You have the chaplain perform a ceremony to bless the troops on their future endeavors. The troops either take heart the gods are with them or on a failure, are convinced that the gods have turned their backs on them.

Success: The PCs have managed to boost the spirits of their troops and they are much more motivated to take on the next event in the war/battle. This success will mean the PCs have a minor advantage in the next skill challenge that includes these troops.

Failure: The PCs have failed to rally the troops so they are not motivated to continue. This means the PCs will have a minor disadvantage in the next skill challenge that involves these troops.

[1] Roman Army image courtesy of the Public Domain

December 16, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 3: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance

Welcome to Part 3 of the Skill Challenges of War series. Today's edition is brought to you by me, Mad Brew, from the Labs that bears my name. Currently I am running Jonathan through a series of experi... err, trial testing that he, uh, volunteered for over in the Labs. So since he is incapaci... err, indisposed, I wanted present one of several skill challenges I have created for The Core Mechanic.
Jonathan introduced the concept in Part 1, and then suggested a table of generalized modifiers for use with war skill challenges in Part 2. This time we actually present a simple skill challenge for use with D&D 4th Edition, though I think these skill challenges could be easily adapted to any d20 game system. For more information about running skill challenges, I recommend you read the "Skill Challenges" section of chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master's Guide (p 72) and the errata for the DMG to see the updated rules.

Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance

You have been sent on a diplomatic mission to secure assurances against aid to your enemy and possibly forge a treaty in alliance between your nations [1]. However, your superiors do not trust this nation to keep its word and you have been given special instructions to gather “additional” information.

The PCs must discover the true intentions of the nation they are visiting under the guise of diplomats. This will include uncovering troop movements, assignments, and intercepting any communication between this nation and your enemy. This skill challenge is left fairly open so that the Dungeon Master can dictate where the nation’s interests lie.

Setup: You must uncover as much information about your host’s true intentions before you are discovered.

Level: Equal to the level of the party.

Complexity: 1 (requires 4 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff, History, Stealth, Thievery.

Bluff (Moderate DCs): You use your charm and diplomat status to open up the lips of a few officials revealing recent visitors of state as well as current troop locations.

History (Easy DCs): You brushed up on this nation’s history before the mission and you are aware of that this nation needs to import several key natural resources. You can easily check the source of these materials at the market to see if your enemy is currently trading with this nation.

Stealth (Moderate DCs): You sneak into the courts at night to discover if anyone is having clandestine meetings with enemy officials and to eavesdrop on important members of state.

Thievery (Hard DCs): You break into the military headquarters to find documents that may inform you about training, movements, and future operations. Failing this approach ends the skill challenge and the nation becomes hostile if it was not already so.

Success: The PCs have uncovered enough information to ascertain the general intentions of the nation; they receive a major advantage in the next skill challenge that involves this nation and the war effort.

Failure: The PCs failed to gather enough information to determine the nation’s intentions.

[1] Modified Blackwall Map from Wizards' Map-a-Week

December 15, 2008

Good People Are Still Out There... REDUX!!!

I don't think I've ever posted three times in one day... but I'm honestly completely floored at the level of generosity out there! Minutes after I posted that Mr. Baron of Grumblin' Grognard had sponsored the RPG Blog Anthology project with a donation; I received a second donation from Jeffrey Uurtamo, another RPG blogger and the author of The Bone Scroll .


Thank you Mr. Uurtamo! --  our second Anthology Sponsor!

Today has been a very good day indeed...

Good People Are Still Out There...

I rarely do two posts in one day.. but this one I just HAD to throw up here because its just so damn cool!

I'm very (VERY!) happy to report that we've had our first _real_ sponsor of the project. Mr. Baron, the blogger who write The Grumblin' Grognard, has donated $50 to my paypal account in support of this project. Everyone please give him a huge thanks! Mr Baron writes,
"Thanks for the detailed response. I had picked up on some of this, but it was still nice to see the summary that you sent to me. I am fully aligned to the goals and objectives that you have laided out. I have just started my own specific gaming blog, and anything I can do to increase the readership of my own blog is something I want to support. I also fully agree that some of the blogs on the net are very good, and are superior in many ways to the internet message boards, although there are some high quality posts there as well. With this in mind, I am going to donate $50 up front to help you with this project, which I will do via paypal shortly. The only thing that I will ask is that my blog also be listed next to my name, which I hope is possible. Also, I really like the idea of providing books to the various gaming stores. I have one in my area, Fat Ogre Games and Comics, and I would be willing to buy a couple of books for the store specifically for display purposes. I will have a follow up conversation with the owner Rob, who is a good friend of mine, on this to see what is the best way to do this."
You can find his blog at the URL below Generosity like this just makes me glad to be a human. Wohoo! If anyone else is interested in supporting the RPG Anthology project, please see this post from earlier in the week.

RPG Anthology Weekly Update

Work continues on the Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs. As of today I have received over 350 reviews from the seven Anthology Reviewers who, by all accounts, are busting their tails getting these reviews done before the end of the month. There were 135 nominations made to the Anthology, and now every nomination has received at least one review at this point.

On the art front - My open-call for volunteer Anthology Artists also had a bigger than expected response. Seventeen artists signed up within the first two days after the announcement, and I'm happy to report that I've selected four of them to help with the Anthology. Each of these artists are uniquely talented and have very diverse styles. Moreover, as best as i can tell, they are also all fans of RPG blogging community so there's a second level of connection as well. Please join me in thanking them for offering to help! The four artists are listed below along with links to their online galleries:
Currently they are working on sketches of border designs and page numbering graphics while we wait for the reviews to be completed. Also, I've asked them to sketch concepts for the cover of the book - so hopefully I'll have some to show the community soon. Once the reviews are done, the artists will have the opportunity to work in earnest on interior artwork for the book. It should be exciting to see what comes out it.

On the funding front - earlier in the week I announce a T-shirt fund raiser to help raise the funds needed to provide free copies of the book to the volunteers, contributing authors, and artists. Unfortunately, no one has bought one yet (can you say "flop"?) but I have received requests from three people regarding straight out sponsorship of the project or advertising (two people) within the book - both of which I am open to. My goal is to raise about $600 to cover the costs of these free books, so if you are feeling generous during this holiday season please consider being an Anthology Sponsor by donating to the project using PayPal.

That's about it for now. Have a great day!


December 13, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 2: The Complexities of War

The first post can be found here. The series is part of a the 5th RPG Blog Carnival - "Transitions & Transformations" being hosted by I would also like to announce that this series will be feature two guest authors in the next week or so: the authors of MadBrewLabs and At-Will have both agreed to share their talents at developing these skill challenges.

The Complexities of War
Before we get into usable 4th Edition skill challenges for war-time campaigns a few points should be raised. The more I think about this series the more I think it could be very easy to make these skill challenges very complicated; especially if you thinking about how each skill challenge contributes to some greater war effort. So, in order to limit our scope somewhat, lets agree that _how_ the success or failure of an individual skill challenge affects the greater war effort is beyond the scope of this series.

However, while creating a system such as the 3.5 Victory Points might be beyond the scope of this series (see Heroes of Battle for more info), it strikes me that most, if not all, of the Skill Challenges for War could use a set of modifiers (bonuses/penalties) to help guide the DM in adjudicating the results of individual challenges. For example, modifiers could be determined for if you greatly outnumber the enemy, if they outnumber you, if you are defending your homeland or attacking theirs, if you have superior force strength (levels) or are attacking more powerful opponents, the number of days you have been 'active' on the battlefield, the inspiration of your leaders, etc, etc. The list could go on and on. We could take time making such a long list that might apply to each of the skill challenges we are going to develop; or we could squash them all into a much shorter table. The key to these and most any skill challenge is that they need to be playable, simple to run, and you do not want to introduce a new mechanic to the game unless you absolutely must.

Thus, what we will do is create a simple table that will apply to all the Skill Challenges of War that you will see as part of the upcoming posts in this series.

Skill Challenges of War (war modifiers)
Major Advantage+3
Minor Advantage+1
Minor Disadvantage-1
Major Disadvantage-3

This is a bit like the p.42 DM's Best Friend (+/-2 bonus rule) in the DMG, but the main difference is that these bonuses could stack. The DM might ask the players "What kind of advantages and disadvantages do you think you have?", then merge those to his or her own list and come up with a final net bonus or penalty. For example, you could have a skill challenge such as "capture an enemy commander" which might require six successes before three failures. The enemy might be attacking your hometown, but you might be greatly outnumbered so your commanders have decided to make a tactical withdrawl with, hopefully, an enemy leader as a hostage. You could imagine a fairly large number of debatable bonuses or penalities to such a situation - but as the DM, you would sum them up into one modifier to use throughout the skill challenge. We will call it the war modifier, and it could apply to any or even all of the individual skill checks that are made as part of the overall skill challenge.

I'm hoping to have the first of these skill challenges out by tommorrow or Tuesday (it has been a very busy last week or so). Until then, stay tuned! and good night.

Around the blogs...

Saturday morning == links to what I've been reading all week! Enjoy! And let me know if there's something I missed or you especially enjoyed yourself.
  1. Wyatt over at Turbulent Thoughts posted "Alignment: The Phony Issue", which was timely since I'm still developing an article about alignment for Polymancer. He basically praises 4E for getting alignment "out of the way" and offers up several reasons explanations why this is a good thing. "Teamkiller Fucktards" FTW!
  2. Zachary posts "Is This a RPG Magazine Renaissance?" over at RPG Blog II. Some good insight as to the current-state-of-the-RPGs - and maybe a window into things to come. This post goes well with Berin Kinsman's "Roleplaying’s Next Big Thing" which I also thoroughly enjoyed.
  3. The 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is fantastic for old school-style sandbox campaigns." I simply could not agree more.
  4.  Finally, along a completely different line of thinking, GnomeStew author Patrick Benson posts "The Setting is not the Role Playing" where he points out the important difference between roleplaying and setting development. Not many supplements are aimed at developing roleplaying - more often they are setting development sources.
Probably my shortest "Around the Blogs..." what can I say? I've been busy with this Anthology project, yeah?

Have a great weekend!

December 12, 2008

Mother Nature as Inspiration

Mother nature proves again and again to be the best source for new creations and monsters for my games. A few months ago I posted about Trilobites, and then followed up with a 4E type stat block for the buggers. Well today, I'm presenting The Bot Fly Larvae. My vision for these creatures in Dungeons & Dragons would be they would be parasites of large-sized or larger creatures; and offer up a second wave of enemies once you've defeated their hosts. Alternatively, the presence of these bugs in the bodies of the defeated could be some sort of organic treasure or a resource for specific Rituals.

So today, I give you the real-world version of The Bot Fly Larvae.

Read the whole article from if you really want to make yourself sick.

What's more interesting is that a related species of parasitic fly-larvae are considered a delicacy by some cultures.
"In cold climates supporting reindeer or caribou-reliant populations, large quantities of Oedomagena tarandi ("warble fly") maggots are available to human populations during the butchery of animals. These are relished in modern times by Eskimos as important seasonal luxuries containing high levels of protein, fats and salt. Copious art dating back to the Pleistocene in Europe confirms their importance in premodern times as well" -- Wikipedia.
Now we have inspiration for not only a new monster, but possible a new class of items for use in game. For example: the larvae extracted from the flesh of dead mythical creatures are rumored to possess magical qualities to anyone who eats them.

For me, mother nature always seems to be a reoccuring source of inspiration. Where do you get your inspiration for new content in your games?

December 11, 2008

I HEART Gygaxian Naturalism - RPG Anthology Fundraiser

In an effort to raise money to help cover the costs of the upcoming 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, I've opened a "store" (chuckles) at and plan to offer a few fund-raising items that carry the theme "icons of the RPG blogosphere". The first two of these are shown below.

"What costs?" you may ask? Well, first and foremost I want to offer each of the contributing authors, artists, and volunteers for the Anthology (at a very minimum) a free copy of the book. In addition, I hope to offer each of them the option to choose their favorite local, independently owned gaming store as the recipient of a second copy of the book on their behalf. This will be good for the publicity of the book and also possibly generate some positive reviews from non-blogophiles (a major goal of the project).

The cost of printing these books is expected to be about $5.50 each (a discussion can be found here); thus for 30-odd authors (an estimate), 10 to 15 volunteers, and 50 or so FLGS's I'll need to raise about $550 plus the costs of shipping, etc. Its not a huge amount of money - rather cheap actually - but it's also not something I able to supply at the moment. This is where, hopefully, you can make a difference.

Below you will find two items that, should you find the generosity or spirit to purchase, will help support the Anthology project immensely. Please take a moment to consider each of them. Direct sponsorship of the Anthology project is also welcomed (please see below). Any and all funds received will be used, in their entirety, on the successful production and promotion of the Anthology. I'm not in this for personal gain - the satisfaction of seeing this Anthology published will be reward enough

Shown below are a bumper-sticker and a T-shirt that pay tribute to James Maliszewski, RPG designer and blogger of Grognardia. His post about so-called "Gygaxian Naturalism" sparked one of the longest threads I've seen on's Community Forums; and prompted me and several other RPG bloggers to write about the same topic as well. I'll also tell you that many, if not ALL of the Anthology Reviewers have simply loved James' post. Thus, the idea popped into my head to make a T-shirt that might raise some money to support the Anthology project and highlight a gem of the RPG blogging community.

Cool, midweight 100% cotton available in a XS to 4XL sizes. $8.99 of the cost is's cut, and the remaining $3.00 will go to help support the Anthology.

These high-quality 3" x 5" stickers are printed on 4mil vinyl using water and UV resistant inks – meaning no fading in the sun or bleeding in the rain. $2.99 of the cost is's cut, and the remaining $1.00 will go to help support the Anthology.

Readers who are interested in directly sponsoring the Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs project are welcome to donate whatever amount they feel comfortable with. Sponsors of the project will be highlighted in the Anthology once it is published; and you will have the the deepest gratitude from myself and the volunteers who are working so hard to make this project a reality. If you would like more information on direct sponsorships or advertising possibilities, you may also contact me directly by email: jonathan DOT jacobs AT gmail DOT com. Thank you!

Note - In case any of you are wondering - I contacted James Maliszewski prior to posting this to get his "blessing" to go ahead and use a phrase he coined.

Final note - gaming content will return to The Core Mechanic very soon...