Recommendation Level Up!

Some of the positive effects D&D can have outside the game store or away from the table is measured in the skills we gain from a game that is complex enough to require social, math, and reading skills, not to mention creativity and problem solving. One of our volunteer DMs for Encounters at our FLGS (Guardian Games) requested a letter of recommendation for his volunteer hours so he could use it qualify for a certain program he was trying to get into. I mentioned it on twitter and gladly obliged. I wanted to shared it here because it was pretty special to be able to help that DM use his D&D experience for an application. Edited for privacy: letter-of-rec

Bring Your Own Brush – Miniature Painting

It occurred to me that I should post on here about my miniature painting.

I don’t want my blog to become all about mini painting, but it is an aspect of D&D and something I enjoy immensely.

First a little background. In 2012 the owner of my local game store (Guardian Games!) received some demo materials – some paint and a couple of brushes and some color guides. She offered to let me use them, then dug out a couple of old Warhammer figures to let me paint. My first figures weren’t primed, and they were painted with a very limited selection of colors. Surprisingly, I think they turned out all right for someone who had never painted a miniature:

In the following months I discovered I really enjoyed painting. Despite bad eyes, shakey hands, and many a cramped wrist, I started getting pretty decent at it.

So I plan to post here occasionally about whatever I’m working on currently, like this samurai that I’m painting for a friend (Rich Ellis!)…

samurai_mini_wipor this goliath warrior with a greatsword for one of my players…


… or any of the many other miniatures I have in progress!

Edit: A quick mention… I paint every Thursday Friday night at 6:00pm at Guardian Games, so if you’re in Portland, drop by and try your hand at mini painting!

Legacy of the Crystal Shard Tracking Sheets

The new season of the Legacy of the Crystal Shard is ready to launch. If you’re coordinating for your local game store, you’ve probably already received your packet of materials for the season. This season, much like the last, provided a custom d20 and a full color player handout map.LotCS-dice

During the Murder in Baldur’s Gate season, I noticed less than a fourth of the players were interested in their maps. On the first day maps were handed out to players I found many players left their maps behind on the table. I collected them back up so they wouldn’t be wasted, but I resolved to do something about it the following season.

While examining the old maps, I realized the back sides were completely blank and I knew I could make use of that! In the early seasons of Encounters, tracking sheets were made for players to keep track of objectives, experience points, treasure, and game notes.  I could print player trackers on the backs of the maps and players would have more incentive to keep them.

The old trackers were not very conservative with space, and they tracked all kinds of things that wouldn’t necessarily apply now. Plus, our store runs a mix of Next and D&D 4e tables, so I needed a single tracker useful for any table. With that in mind, I created a new, simplified tracker. Then I did a test print on the back of a Baldur’s Gate map.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard Tracker

It worked!
Well, sort of… The coated paper printed very well, but the heat of the laser printer made the paper curl intensely. I had to immediately flatten the paper. If you decide to print on the back of your maps, make sure to watch and flatten any curling before the paper cools if you’re using a laser printer. I suspect inkjets won’t have the curling issue, but the glossy coat may cause inkjet printing to smear the lovely maps as they slide out and stack up. Between the two, I’d rather deal with curling.

I’ve shared the tracker I created at the link below. If you’re a player or a store Encounters Coordinator, you can print it on the back of your maps, or on regular paper.

Legacy of the Crystal Shard – Player Tracking Sheet

When Old and New Collide

In a tower, in a prosperous trade city, an archmage desires a guardian and an assistant. Familiars are useful but fragile things. He knows of golems but they are unintelligent, inflexible things. He wants a finer creation. He studies, researches, and experiments. He crafts a better golem body – strong and dexterous – and armors it with finely forged steel. Finally, he begins the invocations to animate the construct – but he goes a step further and imbues it with the tiniest shred of his own soul to give it life.

“If this works I will create more,” the mage swears quietly to himself as he waits.

The construct’s eyes flicker to life, and it moves. Limbs bend and twist. Its legs fold and shift. Turning, it rises to its feet and stands over the mage, looking down at him with glowing blue fire in its eyes.

“What is your name?” the mage asks keenly, waiting to hear how this new creation responds without any other prompting.

The construct’s eyes flicker with surprise and it considers this question. Finally, it answers.

“I should like to be called Mohr, I think.”

The mage smiles, amused.

“Welcome, Mohr. I look forward to getting to know you.”

As D&D Next continues to ramp up, I’m reminded of what happens when two editions collide in the context of a home campaign. Specifically, how we as DMs deal with the change of materials and how it affects the canon of our homebrew settings. Thinking about the changes from 4th Edition to D&D Next reminded me how a new element joined my campaign while another element gracefully bowed out during the edition transition from 3rd Edition to 4th.

I began my homebrew setting, Solista, in early D&D 3rd Edition, easily transitioned into 3.5 Edition, and finally transferred happily into 4th Edition. Most new 4e races fit right into my world, or else had very easy explanations to squeeze them in with the rest. Genasi? No problem. Tieflings? No problem. Changlings? No problem. Warforged No prob- w-wait, what!?

Warforged seemed pretty cool to me as a player and as a DM. I never thought of them like robots, instead I had mythological Galatea-living-statue type inspirations. Regardless, warforged simply hadn’t existed in my setting previously. I didn’t want to ban the race, so I embraced their existence in my setting. I added them to a city the players had never visited, and established their numbers were few, but enough that my players could choose to play one.

In 3.5 Edition I had crafted, playtested, and perfected to my personal satisfaction, a custom homebrew race. They held an important place in my world’s history and lore. Unfortunately, 4th Edition had no room for them – mechanically they just didn’t work out at all. After much playtesting and pulling of my hair, I eventually accepted the fact they would not be a good fit for 4th Edition rules. While I could just change them to monster stats, it didn’t feel right. So I embraced another change and took things to their next logical conclusion: the homebrew race had to go.

Over the course of a few plot arcs, I established that the race, called gryfalkyrie, packed up and moved out without so much as an explanation or a farewell. They left behind their cities and their villages. I used this to spark controversy and war. Kingdoms that conflicted with the gryfalkyrie now surged in to claim their lands. They disputed over new borders, treasure hunters looted the empty cities, and preservationists protested potential destruction of the nearby natural wilderness. A new organized was formed to protect the forests – the Wardens – which became a basis for an entire campaign in of itself. This and so many other things evolved from my setting just from dropping a single homebrew race.

D&D Next may or may not bring new things to my campaign setting, but it may very well remove some things. I don’t need to make that a bad thing though – it can mold and shape a new age in my campaign, which is good. Nothing should stay the same way for too long.

The Eternal Dragonborn

A while back I wrote a funerary verse for the death of a dragonborn NPC in my home game. Recent urging from a friend encouraged me to post it here.

In my world, dragonborn souls, their animus, reincarnate in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Since all dragonborn are united in this fate – no one goes to a heaven or hell – they have a very strong sense of community. It became important to me to show how the dragonborn felt about death as merely a temporary state for the soul to transition through.

They also worship all three dragon gods equally – Tiamat representing a natural force of wrath and strength with which to defend themselves and their homes, Bahamut is good and justice to keep them on the right path, and Io is (neutral) fairness and knowledge to give them the means to improve themselves and know what is true in the world.

The Keeper refers to the Keeper of Names, the dragonborn that keeps the names of the dead and tracks which dragonborn souls have been reincarnated.

This soul sets free to rise above the fray,
The Keeper takes your name and lays your path.
Remember no sorrow, tempt not to stray,
Be strong for us, fierce as Tiamat’s wrath.

And this soul, set free to wander, abides
Cold and wise as a star in the night skies.
Return to us adrift on ageless tides
As true as the light in Bahamut’s eyes.

Now this soul is free from sorrow and pain
To promise our fate in rebirth and death,
From shadows renewed with life and breath,
Eternal as Io, we rise again.

Judge Not

Something I make a constant effort to do is keeping an open perspective of how other people play Roleplaying Games. I frequently witness other groups playing, or I read discussions online. As my group plays in public and I too post in online discussions, I’ve also been subject to others observing and commenting on how I play. It is a constant reminder that we all play differently.

Roleplaying isn’t about telling people how they should experience their own game. It transcends settings, editions, even entire systems.

We are rightfully entitled think the specific way we play our game is so awesome. Clearly we’re having so much fun, so it should be helpful to share how we enjoy the best about how we play, right?

But sometimes we get on the wrong path. We try to find a way to tell someone else if they’re roleplaying the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, but we really can’t.

Its not because there’s a formula for the perfect roleplaying, it’s because we can’t play in anyone else’s shoes except our own. Our experience is entirely subjective to our own preference. We find a perfect balance for ourselves, but we’re still not the other person. The method he or she enjoys: they will swear by it, just like we will swear by ours.

Advice is helpful. Judgement is not. Challenge yourself to play a game differently if you desire, but never judge how someone else enjoys their game.

The Gamer Effect – Jumping Into D&D Next

I’m now contributing over at The Gamer Effect and I have a new post up over there: Jumping Into D&D Next. Check it out! In it I talk about my first foray into DMing D&D Next.

I will still be posting updates here, including posts that I feel don’t fit well with The Gamer Effect’s topics. I know things have been slow, but I have plans and as always – lots of gaming going on!

The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

I saw this over on, The $5 Pledge for Free RPG Day

“Free RPG Day is coming up so don’t just swoop and loot the place. Look around, talk to people and show a little appreciation for your FLGS by throwing a little cash their way. Just a couple of bucks. Maybe about like say $5. I know that isn’t much. Maybe a new set of dice or a miniature.”

I heartily agree with this!  Show a bit of love, spend a couple dollars and show love for your favorite game store. Free RPG Day is June 15th, I’ll be at my local game store Guardian Games helping with the Vault of the Dracolich event.

Et tu, DM?

Betrayal is a classic trope. I think every DM uses it sooner or later. Betrayal reminds our players to question what they hear, to think about other perspectives; to anticipate betrayal means  thinking about what benefits your betrayer. Players that fail to do these things fall victim to betrayals easily.

The key to DM planning for a betrayal is flexibility. You can never truly predict a party’s cleverness and reactions. As a result, I take a sort of “Schrodinger’s” approach to NPCs – an NPC’s goal can be changed at any time until observed definitively as one particular goal by the PCs. I’m not perfect, I can’t perfectly predict every possible outcome of my group’s actions, therefore I have to take a reactive approach to planning certain twists. I find this makes them more believable. After all, this is sort of true in life as well – any person can change their mind at any given moment: including the bad guys.

Types of Betrayals

The Inevitable

Most of us are familiar with the quote “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” (shaking your fist when you say this is usually required.) We tend to think of betrayals as a surprise, but some are not so unexpected. The Inevitable is the betrayal you see coming from a mile off.  Sometimes we can’t help it. Evil Bart the local trail guide is obviously going to betray the party at the first possible chance, but sometimes a party just has to take that risk to gain other benefits.  Like the stabby equivalent of a surprise birthday party, the party knows the NPC is going to throw one, it’s just a matter of when and where. The best way to make an Inevitable betrayal more interesting is to challenge the party’s assumptions. Listen carefully to your party’s opinions about your NPCs for ideas – consider if you can twist those perceptions even a little. It wouldn’t hurt to encourage some wild speculation while you’re at it. Whatever the players are expecting, try to take a different angle.

Well-placed Inevitable betrayals will build a gritty atmosphere in a setting where you want to portray a lot of corruption and strife. Lightly handled Inevitable betrayals can bring an air of humor to an otherwise serious transaction. Out of all betrayals, Inevitable betrayals are the easiest on the trust between a DM and the players. By continuing to interact with the NPC, they acknowledge they’re accepting that possibility. Personally, I feel Inevitable betrayals should never be huge story-changing betrayals. They work better with smaller consequences that the party can recover from quickly.


Blind-siding my players is sometimes immensely satisfying. This betrayal is all about it. Give no clues, reassure the players frequently about trust, raise no alarms and when no one in the party questions their loyalty that is the prime moment to strike. Treasure the look on everyone’s faces when they realize their fervent ally just jabbed a poison dagger in the party’s collective back.

As the DM, you control all the information your party receives. Therefore the WTF is the easiest betrayal to pull off by simply denying your players knowledge of the impending betrayal. The easiest to prepare and use – you don’t necessarily have to do any long-term planning. You can simply decide on the spot to suddenly have a trusted NPC suddenly sell out the party – for no particular reason if you need it that badly (although gold, lots of gold, is usually a solid stand-by). Be warned though! The WTF betrayal is an easy crutch. Used poorly it comes across as petty: a cheap shot at the players for daring to trust their DM. It’s a sudden and shocking experience and it burns bridges fast. Use it too much and your players will soon trust no NPC, regardless of undeniable proof or sincere gestures of loyalty, because they will no longer trust YOU.

The Hindsight

The best betrayals are the ones the group should have seen coming, but didn’t. This is the villain’s betrayal. The masterpiece. I call it the Hindsight because all the clues were right there all along: seen but never suspected. Only when they look back do they see how they were played all along. Unlike the WTF and the Inevitable, the players will only blame themselves after a beautifully executed betrayal.

The Hindsight betrayal is the opposite of the WTF in that, as the DM, you must shower your players with hints about their impending betrayal without ever revealing their doom. Too much info and it tips over into the Inevitable territory. Not enough and the players will be oblivious and WTF’d by the outcome. It’s a narrow and delicate line to tread.  It can involve providing clues that seem unimportant, by distracting the characters with a scapegoat, or an over-abundance of information that mixes truth and falsehood.

The downside of any betrayal is sometimes you’re not as clever as you think you are – or your players are far more clever than you gave them credit for. Always stay prepared for a premature epiphany. If someone does figure out betrayal is inevitable (heh), you have a few options depending on your situation. If the evidence is still in the early stages you can back out of your plans and perhaps play up a sense of unfounded paranoia. This can be great for some games – a sort of “reverse betrayal” in which you can “betray” the party’s sense of distrust and paranoia by surprising the group with intense acts of loyalty or piety from the suspected NPC.

In late stages it may be best to let your plans unravel. Perhaps the villain realizes the gig is up and has to change their tactics to their own disadvantage, or the villain could carry on as usual and your players end up with the upper-hand, surprising the villain with their preparedness. Either way reward, don’t punish, the players for their insight. Allow them to enjoy having the jump on your villain’s plans for a change – you’ll surprise them again soon enough.