Today we’re joined by GM Tommy19 to talk to him about his campaign Age of Darkness, which is a hack of the popular Dragon Age RPG system. Age of Darkness fully utilizes custom stunts and a lot more tweaks for optimal awesomeness. Now, let’s meet the man behind the GM screen!
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
My real name is Anthony and I’m a husband and father of two gamers-in-training. When I’m not gaming or working on gaming, I’m generally spending time with my kids, reading or playing video games. If people want to keep up with me they usually just follow me on twitter (@tommy192k).
Tell us about Age of Darkness in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?
Age of Darkness has been an idea that’s been floating around in my head for some time and it was only recently that it was put into RPG form.
I’m a big fan of Urban fantasy. Something about the idea of monsters stalking the sewers of big cities and everyday men and women standing up against the darkness really appeals. Once I settled on the system I wanted to use I made the campaign page in February and we’ve been playing every other Thursday (when real life doesn’t get in the way) since May.
How regularly do you play, and where do you play? (If you play online, do you use any certain tools to accomplish your gaming such as Google hangouts, roll20, etc.)
Like I said, we play every other Thursday night, when real life allows. If we’re free on the other Thursdays I usually try to get together with a few of my players and we discuss the game and the system, what can be improved, what’s too complicated and, all in all, in what we can do to make improvements since AGE of Darkness is technically a playtest of the Dragon AGE hack that we’ve created.
We started out playing using Google Hangouts, but after some technical problems we’ve switched to Skype for chat. We’ve been using roll20.net for dice rolling and as an online whiteboard mostly.
A Dragon Age hack eh? Awesome! Lots of support has rolled out over the past year or two, what are your favorite aspects of the system?
I think at this point we can’t really call AGE of Darkness a Dragon Age hack anymore since we’ve made so many changes, maybe AGE based system is a better description.
What drew me to Dragon Age was the simplicity. I’m used to Dungeons and Dragons where you have to carry a half ton of dice with you to the table. The idea of using just three six-sided dice really appealed to me. And of course, the stunt system is a really interesting concept as well.
Custom Stunts and the whole nine yards huh? What else has Age of Darkness got under the hood?
Well, we’ve made a lot of changes, adopted a lot of bits and pieces from other systems and added quite a bit of our own custom content. We’ve dropped the standard Dragon Age classes and expanded the skill system. We’ve added custom talents and backgrounds to allow players to be supernatural creatures such as Vampires, Werewolves and Wizards. Since we’re playing in the modern age we’ve had to create stats for modern firearms and other more modern weapons.
We’ve adopted the Improvised Magic system created for Dragon Age by Byron Molix over at Dragon Age Oracle as well as quite a bit of content from fan created works known as the Esoterica of Thedas created by a group of enthusiastic Australian fans.
Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?
I wrote on the Home Page:
“Story wise the system is very much flavored by such fictional sources as: Angel, Arkham Horror, Being Human (UK), Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Charmed, The Dresden Files, Elder Sign, Supernatural, World of Darkness, etc.”
And it’s very true. I’m a huge fan of each of these series and draw inspiration from them constantly. In addition I’m always trying new forms of urban fantasy fiction and whenever I find a concept I like, I steal it.
Aside from the AGE system I’m sure you have played other systems too, if so, which ones?
Other than Dragon Age I’ve really only played D&D 3.5 and later Pathfinder. I’ve played a little New World of Darkness, D20 Modern and D&D 4e, but only a few sessions each.
I’d have to say at this point Pathfinder is my default system and I hope to get involved in local Pathfinder Society Organized Play sometime later this month.
How did you get into tabletop gaming?
I’ve known about tabletop gaming since I was in middle school, but living in a small town, there was no one else who played. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and moved to Canada that I found a group of players in 2005. Once I got started, I’ve been hooked ever since.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?
I joined the site in 2010. Before that I’d tried everything to organize my games; emails, campaign binders, PDF handouts, even a private wikipedia clone. Once I found OP I never went back.
I love the organizational and centralized aspects of Obsidian Portal. I can keep everything about the game in one place and I can just distribute the URL to my players. On some of my Pathfinder campaigns I’ve added QR codes to physical handouts that my players can scan with their smart phones and get extra information. I love the ability to do those kinds of little fun extras and Obsidian Portal is great for that kind of thing.
I also backed the Reforge, so REALLY looking forward to that!
Your wiki looks amazing, who does all the customization work? Love the left nav bar!
I have to admit, when I started working on it, I never expected the wiki to look as good as it does now.
I do all the coding, but that in no way means I’m solely responsible for it. I’ve gotten more help than I could ever expect from members of the forums. Killervp, Keryth987, and Wolfhound have all been amazingly helpful, even to the point where I’ve messaged them just saying “This is what I want to do on this page, how would I code that?” and they’ve always been kind enough to deal with my CSS noob-ery and help me out beyond all expectations.
I have to be honest, I added the left nav bar mostly for myself. I find it SO much easier to navigate the wiki while I’m DMing, but I’m happy that it’s appreciated by others as much as it is by me.
If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?
The one thing Obsidian Portal helps me with the most is the one thing that I’m really bad at, and that’s organizing my thoughts.
How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?
I tend to have a lot of ideas for campaigns running around in my head and they get in the way, it’s hard to concentrate on Age of Darkness when I can’t get a shiny new Pathfinder campaign idea out of my head. So whenever that happens I create an OP campaign for it and work on it until it’s out of my head. Then I can go back to working on what I need to get done for Age of Darkness. If later on the Pathfinder campaign still appeals I pursue it further and if not, no big deal, I just hit the delete button.
When I first started DMing I was really big on prep work. I would spend days trying to anticipate every possible path my players could choose and inevitably I was always wrong! Now I’ve learned that, with me at least, the less prep work and more improvising that I do, the better my games tend to turn out.
I generally know where a story arc, or in Age of Darkness a Case File, will start and where it will end. I create a few plot points I want to hit along the way and that’s really about it. I pretty much just wing it from there.
What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?
The biggest highlight of Age of Darkness so far, for me anyway, was actually one of our most recent sessions.
Wrapping up our second case file titled “Required Reading” the party had to fight their way through a small army of mercenaries to the roof of a Gotham City skyscraper where they faced off in an un-winnable fight against the Greek God Prometheus. I went into the session fully expecting the players to be unhappy with me, after all, who wants to be dropped into a fight they can’t win.
As it turned out, not only were the players not upset, they actually agreed it was the most enjoyable session we’ve had so far. That made the night for me.
So…how does the doom track work? I’ve played enough Elder Sign to know it’s not good at all.
Yeah, the infamous Doom Track, just the sight of which tends to fill those familiar with it with impending dread.
Currently the Doom Track isn’t the harbinger of dismay it should be. Once it starts to fill the players will find the streets of Gotham become far more dangerous, both from mundane and Supernatural predators. Spirits, fey and other supernaturals will grow in strength as it fills while the mortal populace grows more fearful and weak. When it fills completely Gotham, essentially an island city connected to the mainland only by bridges, will be cut off from the rest of the world and plunged into darkness, possibly resulting in the rise of a particular tentacle-faced overlord of ultimate destruction.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
GM’ng pearls of wisdom? I guess really my only one would be “No plot survives contact with the players” — told to me when I first started DM’ing; essentially be flexible. No matter how many countless hours you spend anticipating your player’s actions, inevitably they will always pull out something you never expected. Never shut them down, that’s the worst thing you can do. Instead, roll with it, see where it goes.
The worst thing that can happen is that it becomes an entertaining anecdote the players tell at future games.
That’s it for this month folks, keep on nominating the best campaigns you can find out there and be sure to send them my way. In the meantime, game on!