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1
Sep

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month September 2022: Merovia

It’s that time again, another month and another opportunity to celebrate some of our amazing community! This month we take you to the world of Merovia, where GM rappt0r and his party explore a complex world of magic and adventure. Created and refined over several years- and several campaigns, our interview barely scratches the surface of the mysteries to be uncovered. Read on to find out more about how rappt0r and crew have built an incredible, evolving world and the stories that lie within.

I have to start by asking who does the coding for this campaign- it is really unique!

So, all of the coding is done by me. I spent a lot of time with the tags because I feel like it helps me keep track of events and smaller threads. I created a google sheet that actually auto-builds the code once I have all the parameters in place. I would like to add even more, but I think I’ll need to go back and thin out the code where necessary. I also recommend w3.school and textile-lang.com/doc/definition-lists.

Tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? Where can we stalk you on the internet? What do you do aside from gaming?

I am originally from the US, but I moved to Sweden 6 years ago. I’m a Swedish Citizen now and it’s been a very rewarding experience. On Instagram, I am @Rappt0r.


Apart from gaming, in nearly all forms, I would say attending metal shows. With all the different kinds of gaming and designing I do, it can be difficult to get outside. I sunburn easily 😉

You run D&D 5E- What do you like about it? Are there any things you dislike about it?

I started DMing during 3rd edition. I loved the crunch of that edition, but for many, it was daunting. I found that new players struggled to find the class combinations that were actually worthwhile as well as the magical items necessary to lift some into a decent tier of play.

5th edition offers a streamlined system that is much more accessible. Yes, each class peaks at different points, but generally under level 15, I have found it’s more balanced than the previous editions. I also find that Homebrewing for it feels very comfortable. I use 3rd edition as a backbone for some of my rulings that fall outside the RAW.

My largest complaint would be how long it’s taken for the Psion (Mystic) to get its final version.

How regularly do you play?

My last campaign lasted 57 sessions and we met generally once a week. That took about a year and a half given people going on vacations or illness etc.

How did your group meet, and how long have you been together? You have a group of 11- how do you manage such a large group?

Many of my players were in my previous campaign (In the same realm), but the new players are coworkers of mine who heard that I was DMing and wanted to give TRPGs a shot. So, my group is technically 6, but I have had sessions with 11 people. Those were all-day sessions back in college and the best way was to group them for different encounters.

The balance is taking that group to an event, explaining the issue, and then bouncing to the other while the first group makes a plan together. This makes it difficult to counter any silliness, but it also keeps you on your toes and can be quite exciting. If one group gets into combat, without the others, group enemies with the optional rules and switch back to the other group every 2 rounds.

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?

Obsidian Portal has been an amazing host for the content that I am making. It feels like my own little corner of the internet alongside many other brilliant DMs. Some have contacted me and we have had excellent conversations about planning and world-building.

My players don’t normally write anything on the Merovia site. They have access to their character’s page, but everything else is strictly me. This has been daunting and a lot still remains up in my head, but I try to create relevant pages as soon as possible. I will often make pages in advance, make them DM only, and then open them up after an interaction with an NPC that explains the details.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

Oh geez, alright this will be a big list. However in order to clarify, remember that when designing, remember that most fiction can be translated by changing aspects of the setting. My inspirations are generally every piece of fiction that I enjoy.
Anime & Film: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Seven Samurai, Curse of the Golden Flower, Pulp Fiction, Steins’ Gate
Games: Dark Souls 1-3, Bloodborne, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Metal Gear Solid 1-5, Mass Effect 2.
Novels: The Dark Tower series, Dune, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, The Well World Series.
Music Lyrics: Kamelot, Amorphis, Machinae Supremacy, The Sword, and Rush

How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

So, for my weekly 3.5 hour session, I prep for about 5-7 hours. This includes brainstorming, fact-checking, and dungeon building. Streamline your process by using real-world maps and reading about the history behind them.

Aside from DnD I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?

I have played GURPS, d20 Modern, Mutants & Masterminds, Pathfinder, Starfinder, The Star Wars Roleplaying Game, Shadowrun, Vampire V5, and Wrath & Glory (before the rewrite). I have enjoyed each

one of these systems in its own right, but my heart is with 5E.

What would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your game?

I would say that the final session of my last campaign was the best moment. Essentially, the party had gotten to the Shard of Creation(the MacGuffin crystal) within a flying city, “The Last Bastion of the Giants”. The cursed Druid accidentally pulled aggro from the Giant King which dropped his HP down to single digits. He ran and took the crystal which prompted the King’s legendary action. By “light spearing” the druid, he was overtaken by the cursed wolf pelt which brought forth a fallen angelic being.

Now the room held a furious fallen angel, a giant mage king, and the other members of the party. On top of all that, the flying city was now falling into the valley below given that the crystal was no longer in place.

In desperation, the Rogue Phantom was able to communicate with the Druid’s spirit and looted a single coin from the body. That coin was a gift given to the Druid for a good deed in session 2. The coin was received in session 16.

With a flip of the coin, time rolled back 24 hours allowing them to correct their final encounter. It brought everything full circle, it was an amazing moment that sat with them for months now.
The full Adventure Log is available for viewing on the Merovia site.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom..

Plant seeds. So, for me, the most important thing for making the world feel dynamic is by mentioning ideas, npcs, scenarios, and items that MAY become relevant later. Mention them early.

As any seasoned DM knows, there is always the chance that the players will go off script and pursue a lead that, to you, was irrelevant. You make those moments pivotal for these odd times by bringing something back that you mentioned previously. Maybe they met a throw-away NPC near the beginning of the game, bring them back if they would be great for that scenario. In a way, it follows Chekhov’s gun. Hopefully, this will make it easier to plan for follow-up sessions.

That’s all for this month folks! Don’t forget to head on over the the OP forums to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

1
Aug

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month August 2022: In Over Their Heads

“To admit defeat is to blaspheme against the Emperor.” ~Imperial Army Doctrine

Welcome to the 28th Chalkydrian Drop Regiment! Often outnumbered and outgunned but never outmaneuvered. Troopers of the Imperial Guard fight and die facing the many horrors of the Spinward Front. They are often In Over Their Heads so they rely on comradery, black humor and as much firepower as they can muster to see them through the bleak universe of Warhammer 40k.

Charge up your Tri-plex Pattern Lasgun, check your grav-chute and get ready to give your life for your Emperor! Continue reading for our interview with GM JayDoubleA to learn more about the exploits of these brave soldiers of the Imperium!

First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Egos? Life partners? Family? Where can we interact with you on the internet?
Answer

First off, thanks for this award. I know there are a lot of amazing campaigns on Obsidian Portal, so to be selected from all of them is quite the honour!

I’m a veteran RPGer, in my late 40s now, and been enjoying this great hobby of ours for some 35 years or so. I was born in Liverpool, but grew up in the Netherlands, moving back to the UK in my 30s. And back here I met an amazing woman who happened to feel the same way about me – we’ve been married for over 12 years now, with four kids (one of whom is a player in In Over Their Heads).

Outside of this, I’m a web developer in my day job (which will be relevant later on in this interview), I play guitar and bass (currently between bands), and I try to run and hit the gym a couple of times a week.

I don’t post on Twitter, and my Facebook is pretty locked down (unless they’ve reset the privacy settings again), so your best bet is to message me here on Obsidian Portal.

Tell us about “In Over Their Heads” in a nutshell. How did it come to be? What drew you to Warhammer 40K? How have you hurdled the issues of rank that often plague a military campaign?

In a nutshell? It’s a squad of Imperial Guard, and their adventures – or rather the mission they are sent on and the moments of R&R in between. There are “on base scenes”, where they try to navigate base politics, rivalries with other platoons, and getting shouted at a lot by their drill sergeant. And then there are the “on mission scenes”, where frightening amounts of firepower get deployed on either side.

I played the original Wahammer 40K back when I was a teenager, and kept semi-in-touch with the Games Workshop hobby since then. When I came across a link to the totally amazing All Guardsmen Party (http://www.theallguardsmenparty.com/), I was inspired to try my hand at running one of the 40K RPGs. My regular player group was up for giving it a go, so I started prepping.

Handling the chain of command has proven to be fairly easy so far. Their platoon commander is woefully inexeprienced, but is smart enough to actively seek the input of his NCOs, which includes two of the PCs. And these PCs’ players are then able to take input from the rest of the group, to steer their Lieutenant in the “right” direction. The more senior officers assign the mission and objectives, but are otherwise smartly avoided by enlisted troops not wanting to get into any unnecessary trouble!

How regularly do you play, and where do you play? Tell us about your current group of players.

Since I also run RuneQuest at the moment for my main group, and one of the players in IotH has his own campaign he runs, we aim to play Only War every third session. In an ideal world, that would be every third Friday. Obviously things come up every now and then, but we are doing every third game, rather than every third week.

Some of the group are people I originally met through playing AD&D back in Holland, around 25 years ago. Others are friends I have made since. The old crew from the games back in the day got a Mage game (not run by me) and a 3rd Ed game (which was run by me) up and running about 12 years ago, after reconnecting through Facebook. We used Skype, as that is what there was back then. Force of habit has kept Skype as the main platform, though I have recently been introduced to just how much better Discord is. I sense a change might be imminent for us..

We’re a pretty mixed group, spread out across the UK, the Netherlands and Israel – we’ve got computer programmers, a maths teacher, a Games Workshop store manager – but we all share a love for both the storytelling and the social side of things. I’ve found pre-game banter needs about an hour to be factored in when planning the sessions, as we’ve got a whole week to catch up on with each other before we kick off.

Alongside Skype, IotH uses Owlbear Rodeo for the maps, Google Jamboard for quick diagrams, and a custom charactersheet/diceroller that one of the players and I built in .net/javascript/sql.

Your campaign is notable for its many design innovations, with lots of CSS usage! Lots of boxes and custom buttons, which adds to its look. Where did your design knowledge come from and what advice can you give to new GMs wishing to improve their sites in similar ways.

This is where I have to give a LOT of credit to Frak_Lou_Elmo, who’s one of the players in this campaign. He jumped on the Obsidian Portal site as soon as I created it, and much of the original look and feel comes from him. He’s also added a lot of content – I told the players they should all feel free to add any stuff they liked regarding people, places, etc., as long as it didn’t contradict canon. Several of the major NPCs and the entirety of their regiment’s home planet, are player created, and I love them giving this input to the game.

As I mentioned before, I am a web developer by trade. Although my qualifications are all in server side programming, I have been doing the job for well over a decade, and have worked around some very talented and helpful people. I’ve picked up a lot of css and other bits and pieces over the years, and it’s been great having this opportunity to show some of it off just for fun. Doing the IotH pages all in css, without being able to just launch piles of custom javascript at every problem made it a very interesting challenge.

For anyone looking to tune up their sites, I’d say to ask – I’m happy to answer questions – and look at how other people have done things, e.g. grab the css from my site (https://inovertheirheads.obsidianportal.com/custom_css) if you want to see what I did – and find some online tutorials on the basics of css and the DOM if you are a total beginner. But most of all, don’t be afraid to ask someone how they did something.

How valuable do you find being Ascendant? What do you find to be the best features?

You know, I wasn’t sure what the specific benefits are. I “ascended” ages ago, because I wanted more image storage space for a previous campaign I was running. When I started on IotH, I already had the benefits, so took them for granted… Knowing how unhelpful this answer must be, I went and looked them up.

Undoubtedly the custom css, alongside the increased storage. Without the facility to let my creative side run wild, the IotH site would be functional, but nothing that really stood out.

How much time is usually spent preparing your game sessions? Describe a typical session.

There are ideas being considered, scenes pre-emptively being played through, all kinds of things going on in my head well in advance of play. Usually I will sit down for a couple of hours the evening before the game and put down notes, maps, find ambience and sound effects, stuff like that. A lot of my prep gets revealed in adventure log posts after the mission is completed. I have learned not to overprepare, though. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan in any RPG session, so having ideas for scenes and moments that can be put into the story however it might unfold is more useful than mapping out an entire session that will never end up going the way you thought it would, in my opinion.

We’re only a few missions in, so I don’t yet know exactly what would be typical, though I suspect the format of the current mission may be repeated a few times. Starting on the base, I have a number of scenes prepared for the PCs to interact with others on the base, either solo or in pairs. These are often continuations of previous interactions, e.g. a lieutenant from another platoon trying to get cooperation for some illicit trading of materiel started in the first session, whilst still on board the transport ship to their deployment. All these scenes are time-boxed to a few minutes, to prevent this part of the session from taking over the whole evening (with several bored players being reduced to spectators for hours at a time).

After that, there would typically be an on base scene or two involving everyone (e.g. a training montage, a night at the bar), then the mission briefing… and then we get to the shoot-y, kill-y, die-y, explode-y part, where tactics and dice rolls take over and the bodycount increases at an alarming rate.

In a way, it’s probably not too dissimilar to a session in many games, whatever the genre. You do stuff around your current base of operations, you find out what the mission/quest/job is, you hit the action. The most significant difference, given that this is a military game, is that a lot of the planning is taken out of the PCs’ hands. They get given the plan by their commanders, but still need to figure out an effective way of implementing it and coming out of it alive.

There are some amazing design aspects in your campaign (e.g. altered images, music videos for the different characters etc.) Who is responsible for this, and what words of advice can you give to aspiring creators on Obsidian Portal, who may not have a design background, but are wanting to improve the look of their sites?

Frak_Lou_Elmo has to take a lot of the credit for that. He had a lot of these initial ideas, which I was then able to use my technical knowledge to build upon. The theme songs section was entirely him, as well as much of the layout, the military font, and a load of other input. His hard work inspired me to put in more work of my own, and we have built off each other since we got going with this. To be fair, can we accept this award jointly? He deserves at least as much recognition as I do for this!

The advice, once again, is to ask. I am more than happy to help people, and if I don’t see your forum post, message me directly!

https://www.w3schools.com/ has some great tutorials for the basics of html and css – and a lot of what makes the IotH site work is that I wrote custom html, rather than using the text editor and its own markup. Once you’re comfortable with the basic html tags and assigning them classes, you can start messing with css. Trial, error and have fun! Oh, and learn how to use your browser’s developer tools so you can experiment with changes in real time.

How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I’ve used it and dropped it (laziness, there is no excuse) for past campaigns I have run, and used it as a player in friends’ campaigns. It was initially a friend’s game that introduced me to it, but I keep coming back now because we’re making something special with IotH, I feel. And I’m having fun doing it, adding to it, and see how far we can push the boundaries of what can be done with the Obsidian Portal platform. Getting player input (such as rotating the adventure log write ups) goes a long way to counteracting the laziness factor, too!

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

One thing? It helps me get the ideas out of my head and somewhere where they are more accessible to my players, and where they can be looked up without having to personally remember every detail. It’s like the most glorious notebook a GM could ever wish for.

What would you say is the biggest highlight of your game so far ?

As I mentioned, we’re only a few sessions in, but we’ve had a couple of memorable moments. I am going to invoke GM’s ego prerogative here, and say that for me, the highlight has been playing the NPC Sgt-at-Arms Williams. He is entirely and unashamedly a genre transplanted version of Battery Sgt-Major Williams from the old BBC sitcom “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum”, complete with shouting, abrasiveness and deep baritone Welsh accent (which I do extremely poorly, but very enthusiastically). It’s great fun (and somewhat liberating) having an NPC like this that you can be really over the top with, totally hamming it up, and the PCs just have to take it, because he outranks them.

Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Accents – develop a few. It doesn’t matter if they are any good (most of mine are truly terrible), as long as they are consistent. It adds so much to a recurring NPC if they have some kind of distinct voice. Even more so in games running online.

Listen to your players – often they will plan for something, or mention something. And sometimes this something is actually a far better idea than what you had planned. Which leads us to…

Be flexible – no plan survives contact with the enemy! And even though the players aren’t your enemies, they will scupper your plans in a multitude of creative ways. Roll with it, ride it out, have fun, just never fully take your hands off the wheel. You are still the final arbiter of what happens; just remember that the story is fluid, not set in stone.

Timeboxing – one on one (or two) scenes can add a lot to the story. But remember that means the rest of the players aren’t involved. I try to limit scenes not involving the whole party to a few minutes each, with an onscreen stopwatch to keep track of time spent. Obviously developments can take you past that limit, but try to stay within it wherever possible, to keep the game moving for everyone.

That’s all for this month folks! Don’t forget to head on over the the OP forums to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

20
Jul

Update Post – July 20, 2022

Hail, Portal People!

Time for another reckoning. See below for all of the new features and bug fixes that were added to OP since the previous Update Post.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, feel free to post them in the Community Forums, or email support directly at [email protected].

1
Jul

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month July 2022: Signs and Portends

Obsidian Portal loves to celebrate campaigns that have stood the test of time, such as this month’s Campaign of the Month winner — “Signs and Portends” by ketherian. Well-organized and well-loved, this game has been running for 10 years! We’ve asked ketherian to Hârness her experiences with the HârnMaster system, GM’ing, writing, and running conventions to answer a few questions and give us some insight into stories and fun that last for years on end.

Hail, ketherian! Congratulations on winning July 2022 Campaign of the Month! “Signs and Portends” is a captivating HârnMaster campaign that has adventure logs on Obsidian Portal dating back a decade. For those who don’t yet know the world of Hârn, can you give a quick overview of the campaign and what it’s about?

It started as a mystery campaign, although I’m sure the party would have called it a Murder-mystery campaign. The first few adventures are even written up for GMs on the Fantastinomicon Encounters page. But after many (many murder) mysteries, the party wanted something different – so the PCs “graduated” into something more political. After a war, and a long MacGuffin hunt — the party will soon embark on a there-and-back again type adventure to purify the MacGuffin.

According to your OP profile, you have many years of experience with many different kinds of games and even a few writing credits with published game material. If you had to narrow it down to some of your favorite systems and settings, which ones would you choose?

That’s a hard choice. I’ve played some games, and run a few too – but I’m always willing to try something new. For me, it’s more about the background world than the system. I’ve played HârnMaster and run games in HârnWorld for a very long time mostly because I fell in love with the detailed background, maps, and the quality of the fan-written materials. Is it my favorite? Currently, yes. But I’m always willing to try a new system and learn a new world.

What do you and your gaming group like best about HârnMaster?

We really enjoy the background and the details of the society. It’s not quite your standard Arthurian fantasy, but it’s close enough to feel familiar. From the system, we enjoy the fact that it has no classes, nor hit points. Instead, you build a person who has skills. It’s led to the party having a Mage-Knight, and a Cook (Herald/Thief/Spy), a Yeoman (Sargent/Guide/Tracker), and a Spearman (Guardsman/Shaman).

The other two characters (a priestess and a church knight) are a bit simpler in construction.
Another neat thing is that HârnMaster combat is lethal regardless of how experienced you become. Your player-character can die from your mistakes. And exhaustion kills. So, it’s no wonder that people invest in armor as soon as they can afford it.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your players, and your lives outside of game?

I won’t speak for my party; but we’re in Montreal and meet up every 2 weeks. Our game table is often laden with snacks. Home-baking and cheese feature prominently, and the tea is pretty free-flowing.

The other neat thing? The table has more ladies than men (by 1). I have spent so many years as the only woman in the game, that this is a most pleasant change (although, it’s not the first time).

How did you first get into gaming? How did your current gaming group find each other?

I started gaming when I was 12. My older sister was the GM. I thought she did a lousy job, so I took over. 😀

I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences (being a woman and a GM isn’t always accepted in conventions or when I join a new table), so I’ve had to learn to leave the bad situations behind. But I’ve had a lot more good experiences than bad, most of them at conventions. It’s incredible when a player viscerally reacts to what’s happening at the table (laughing, crying, shock, etc.); it’s even better when they show the emotion I was hoping for.

As to the Signs and Portends group, we mostly know each other through another hobby: running fan conventions. This makes gaming difficult during the convention season, but we manage.

I’m a forever gm, and I’ve run previous campaigns for everyone in the party (except the new guy). We’re not quite a permanent gaming group – but we are old friends.

Your campaign organization on Obsidian Portal is remarkably good and the pages are all easy to navigate. Do you have any tips for GM’s regarding organization?

I haunted the forums (and now discord). As much as I love messing with layout, I always started with the suggestions, advice, and templates created by others. When I ran into problems, I reached out for help in the community; and the community always helped.

I have a background in data management, and Obsidian Portal was not my first wiki. I regularly surf my own site, and I use it to share log updates and loot lists with the players, as well as background information – so it has to be easy to navigate.

When organizing your data, design your structure like you will never remember where you put things. 😀 And then, remember to define your categories on a page so that everyone knows what you mean with your categories.

“Signs and Portends” features a handy section on House Rules. What rules changes or additions have you found to be most useful, either for this HârnMaster campaign or for other games?

HârnMaster has 1 book of rules and 2 supplements (religion and magic). Most everything else is about the society and the world – so house rules tend to be few and far between. I set up house rules to try and make the game flow a bit more evenly and to give the players more control at the table.

House rules typically fill a need or fix a mistake in the game system. But when they get to be too numerous, they become their own problem. I prefer systems with less rules (even if that means not every situation is covered) and also less house rules than more.

What highlights of the campaign have your players loved most, so far?

A player got her monkey. The player asked for the pet at the beginning of the game. Rather than say no, I explained that (a) monkeys are not native to this part of Hârn, and (b) her character would have never seen a monkey. She came up with a backstory of where the desire came from, and I incorporated the whole process (getting pictures of monkeys, meeting with a master merchant, ordering a monkey and trading for it) into the game. It was a long, slow process – but she got her monkey. And the party celebrated.

The party fought a dragon (more-or-less). The Mage-Knight almost got bit in half. It destroyed his sword (which was quite the work of art). After the battle, the party found a master swordsmith – who cried at the site of it. The fight was part of a longer adventure where they cheated their way into an enemy keep and found and killed the evil oracle who ran the place. That whole long-ranging battle is memorable as the party was cut-off from their support, but still they managed to lure most of the forces in the keep outside before locking them out. Their success is a point of pride for them, and trust me, they really worked hard to get it!

After so many years there are a ton of stories, and lots of good memories. 🙂

What part of the story are you most pleased with? Or, what was the most enjoyable moment for you as the GM?

For me, it’s the little moments. A player will ask for something, or mention something they want to do. A lot of things take so very much time in Hârn (there’s no teleportation), so by the time that thing comes around — the player usually has forgotten (not the monkey though). So, when it does come to fruition, it’s a joy to see the effect on the player.

There are the odd jokes too. At one point the church knight is testing his ability to detect evil, and on a whim, I told him the goat nearest him was evil. I thought it would be a quick scene. The party still teases him with evil-goat references.

I often mis-speak, so the party has walked through thin thickets, dry waterfalls, and wet deserts. 😀 Somehow, we make it work.

Overall, what part of the work of a GM do you love best and why — world-building, story-writing, battles, improvisation, and so on?

I love the world-building and the story-writing. They are what keeps me interested in the hobby. I’ve gotten better at improvisation over the years, although I try hard not to rely on it.

Can you give us any hints about the future of “Signs and Portends” (pun intended) without giving too much away? Or, do you have other, upcoming projects?

The party wanted a there-and-back again adventure (a la Hobbit). So, they’ll be traversing Hârn and visiting the mainland (Lythia). They’ll travel a penitent path – traveling from holy site to holy site until they reach the high seat of Larani. In-game, it’s expected to take around 2 years. Naturally, something’s going to happen at each site (maybe even a murder!). After that – I’m not sure.

Given your experience in gaming — playing games, running games, and writing — you have certainly seen changes over time in roleplaying games at your own tables and within the industry as a whole. What developments over the years have really impacted or improved gaming the most, for you? And if you’re willing to speculate, what do you think roleplaying games look like in the future?

I love the session 0 concept. When I started, the world you played in was what the GM presented without party feedback. I was never that comfortable with that, and have found over the years that I prefer it when the party give me feedback and tells me what they want from the game.

I still sometimes have problems with acceptance and inclusion, but now it’s regulated to forum posts not games or conventions. Gaming is, and always will be an apprenticeship process. To be a good player, you have to play with other good players. To be a good GM, you have to be in games with good GMs. Taking feedback isn’t always fun, but if it’s given with compassion, it’s always valuable.

I love to see the innovation of other GMs and their parties. I read everything I can find about GM’ing, but also about communication, improvisation, and negotiations. I don’t know where things are going to go from here — but it will be fun to find out.

Finally, Obsidian Portal always enjoys asking if you have any advice or clever tricks to share, as a GM, author, a site-designer, or as a game-player in general.

Ask questions.

As a player, as a GM, and as a person – it’s better to ask and seek for answers than it is to remain silent.

Listen more than you speak. As a GM that’s really hard to do. 😀 But when your players are talking – listen. Take notes. Use what they say to enrich your world, and don’t always use it against them. You need your party’s trust. Earn it and repay it by asking them questions about what they want to see – for their character, and for their game.

And lastly, if you don’t like the way some other game is run or played – don’t harsh their yum. Be careful with your criticisms, and remember that your words have an effect. Make that effect positive, not negative, every chance that you can.

Thank you for this honor. I look forward to see what happens in the near future. Maybe people will stop liking my Rise of the Runelords adventure, and start liking Signs and Portends one. 😀

And many thanks to you, ketherian, and to your players, for sharing your creativity and craft with our community. As we say farewell to the world of Hârn, we look to other horizons for more excellent examples of gaming goodness. If you know of a campaign on Obsidian Portal that deserves distinction, let us know about it on the forums! Happy Gaming!

9
May

Creativity Tips and Tricks from LitRPG Author Eric Ugland

If you enjoy creative and entertaining fantasy books about heroes just trying to be good, The Good Guys series and The Bad Guys series of LitRPG books should be at the top of your reading lists. 

And to help you inject some creativity and entertainment into your Campaign, we hit up the author of those series, Eric Ugland, and asked him to share some of his secrets with us.

1) Do you have a method for coming up with memorable side characters?

Obviously, everything I’m saying comes more from a writer’s perspective, but when it comes to side characters, I always start with the basic idea that no one is really a side character. They’re the main characters in their own stories and/or lives, so there’s always going to be more to them than what the reader experiences. Most of the time, I’m just going to toss whomever comes to mind when I’m writing into the space.

2) Do you have a method for coming up with ingenious uses of spells or items?

So there are two ways to look at this question. If I’m coming up with a magical item, I’m going to lean on research. First of all, I’m always looking through other materials. Reading D&D manuals, looking through homebrew weapons, just trying to see what else is out there. All of that is bouncing around a bit in my mind when I’m trying to come up with a magic item. I try not to lift things directly, but some items are tropes unto themselves, so it’s a bit difficult to leave them out. See: Bag of Holding. But if I’m coming up with something wholly original, the real first question is: is it intrinsic to the story I’m working on? If yes, then it’s Chekhov’s gun and usually defines itself. Otherwise, I try to think of what someone in that world would want as a magic item, what could an item do that would be useful and/or neat for someone. Someone obviously had to make that thing in the first place, so why would that thing get made and how might it be used? Asking those sorts of questions can give a good idea of what it might do. And since I’m writing stories and not running a game, that’s kind of the end of it. I don’t need to worry TOO much about breaking the game with an item. I do tend to run it out a bit and see if it might break things, but usually not too in-depth, and I don’t need to worry about balancing magic items between a party to keep them all evenly powerful.

On the other hand, when looking at how to use items in an interesting way, it’s a bit about abusing the rules. So I try to find where I can do that within the rules I’ve written. Sometimes, it’s rules I’ve already written in a previous book, so I can’t make any changes. That’s one of my hard and fast rules, I never change the rules after they’ve been published. And because of that, sometimes I have to sit around and play with an item in my head before I can use it to overcome the obstacle I placed in the way of a character. I tend to think about old TTRPG groups I was in, and some of the ‘annoying’ players who would push things to the limit of the rules. If something helps moving through liquids, what liquids could work. How liquid does something need to be to be considered a liquid. Can I use the create water spell to create water inside a body. And then I try to temper it through the character I’m writing, you know, would that character think of this solution.

3) Do you have a method for coming up with how a scene/encounter will “twist”?

Usually it’s just a matter of subversion of expectation. And a way that writers have it easier than DMs/GMs. I can go back and edit a scene to put the twist in after I write it. I don’t have to do that too often, usually that’s done in the outline, but sometimes I’ll come up with a better twist as I’m writing, the characters take it in a different direction than I initially planned. But a lot of it is trying to think ahead and see what direction most people will think an encounter might go, and just push it a little.

4) Do you have a method for introducing things that will be important later without arousing the suspicion of the reader/player?

This is a weird one, and really only good for writers, but if you write in the passive voice (which you are never supposed to do) you can actually hide quite a few clues and most readers won’t notice them. You can also choose where the character focuses, so you can have a few clues offered, and the character follows the wrong lead. Though this naturally causes your readers to accuse your characters of being stupid, which can be frustrating.

5) Do you have any frameworks, structures, scaffolding, checklists, exercises, rules of thumb, methods of brainstorming, or questions that you ask yourself that consistently produce entertaining results?

I can’t say consistently. I tend to work things through in my head a lot, and then move to writing things down by hand. I generally generate a few pages of notes when I’m trying to figure stuff out. Maybe my method is over-generate content so you can find the gems within. I also ask a lot of questions against my ideas, you know, why does this happen, what are the causes, what would the fallout be if this thing was successful…

6) Do you have any resources or tools, like books, articles, or websites, that you would recommend for boosting creativity or for idea fodder?

There’s a series of subreddits that are all r/imaginarysomething, so monsters, knights, dwarves, landscapes, you name it, it’s probably there. I’ll go dip my creative toe in there.

Obviously, I look at a lot of the various RPG manuals, I’ve got most of the D&D books on my shelf, most of Pathfinder’s bestiaries, Call of Cthulu, older and more obscure games as well. There’s a wealth of information in there that can be used as inspiration.

TVTropes can suck up a day or two, and that’s a great place to pull what if questions out, then apply them to the story or setting you’re working on.

Just diving into wikipedia, looking at history. There’s a lot of weird stuff in the annals of humanity, and if you’re looking for inspiration for adventure, it’s a good place to go.

I also keep a notebook on me at all times. Basically all times. I go with ‘Field Notes’ because I like the standard size. I write down anything in there, from random phrases I hear to ideas to drawings. Lots of drawings of firetrucks lately for my son. But being able to slap an idea down is incredibly freeing. Sometimes those ideas turn into something, other times it’s just a big letter ‘W’ and I have no idea what that means.

7) What do you do when your creativity well runs dry?

When I get that feeling, it’s time to indulge in the best part of being a writer: consuming media. Read a book, watch a movie, play some video games, listen to podcasts. I love throwing on some podcasts and taking a walk. Or a drive. And sometimes the best thing to do is induce boredom. Go somewhere without a phone, just a notebook, and sit there. Watch the world. Let your brain reset and see if some ideas come about.

This last sort of step is a bit more involved, but it never really fails to kickstart my brain. You take a hundred notecards, and you write a word or phrase on each one. They can be specific as you want, or incredibly vague. After you’ve got all hundred, you put them word side down, shuffle them up, and deal out into stacks of five. Flip ‘em over, and in each group of five, throw out two of the cards. You’re left with three cards. You look at those three cards, and get your brain to make a story.

Humans love patterns, and even if you present it with something random, it’s going to try and make a pattern out of it. This is just a way to facilitate that.

Conclusion

A hearty thank you to Eric for giving us a peek into how he creates such interesting stories, so we can use those tools in our Campaigns. 

If you want to checkout the latest books from Eric or connect with him on his Discord, head over to ericugland.com.

1
May

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month May 2022: Revenge on the Kraken’s Bane

A ship has been seized under mutiny, the captain murdered, and the ship has disappeared. The captain’s lover seeks revenge and wishes to recover the ship. Was it mentioned that this lover is Lord Ardragon of the Moonsea, one of the best Zhentarim agents? Thus begins Revenge on the Kraken’s Bane, a very different pirate adventure using 5E! After all, how many pirate ships have a ball gag in the skull’s mouth? Read on to learn more about GM AggieBear90 and party’s adventures on the high seas!

I have to start by asking where did the concept of this game come from? I love the double entendres, the wordplay is excellent, and I just think this would be a blast to play in!

So, the story actually stems from the backstory from my very first D&D 5e character – Barkus Esteme. I am story builder so he has a very rich backstory. As I played him through to lvl 20 I just started feeling like there was more story to be told. And that is where Revenge on the Kraken’s Bane comes from. I’ll make sure to add Barkus’ backstory (which is currently in a word doc) to the portal if you are interested in finding out more. Long story short, the ship (The Kraken’s Bane) he served on was stolen during a mutiny and Barkus is motivated to get it back. Mysteries are uncovered and he needs to get a crew of pirates to help him get it back. I also wanted this to be something a little different, so I invited my best gay friends and made it an all gay pirate adventure. A little cliché but hey…it is all for fun.


Tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? Where can we stalk you on the internet? What do you do aside from gaming?

I’m 53 yo and live in Irving, Tx just outside Dallas. I am gay and married to my partner (Patrick) for 22 years. He also plays but not in this campaign. When I am not gaming I will either be working on one of my two businesses (Blue Consulting & Resourcing – Instructional Design Consulting; Monkey Mind Tabletop – We organize and run D&D events at game shops and local conventions). Beyond that, I also have a degree in Geology so you might find me out doing rock hounding and fossil hunting. I also love college football (specifically Texas A&M Univ Aggies) so in the fall I am normally watching games all day.

Me on the internet:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/curtisg1
Twitter: @AggieBear90
Instagram: aggiebear90

I also have 2 D&D Adventurers League modules on DMs Guild:
CCC-MMT 01-01: Secrets of Imaginary Friends
CCC-MMT 01-05: Secrets of the Cure

Monkey Mind Tabletop on the internet:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/monkeymindtabletop
Instagram: monkeymindtabletop


You mention you found your calling with D&D 5E- What do you like about it? Are there any things you dislike about it?

I actually started playing with 1st ed when I was a teenager. I played through 2, 3 and 3.5 but totally skipped 4. I went on a long hiatus as many adults do but started playing 3.5 again just before 5th came out. I really liked how streamlined 5th was. It was so much easier to teach to new players. As an educator I really liked that. I also like how flexible it is. The rules are there as guidelines but a lot of the rest is just for the DM to kind of flex with. I think for some people that flexibility is a bit challenging though. There isn’t really anything that I dislike but there are a few additions that I would like to see. More development around larger scale combat, guidance on crafting, more social interactions and downtime. Some of these things are very specific to particular ways to play, but they are things that I have struggled with in game development. I often incorporate 3rd party content when I am looking for solutions…which may be the reason that WotC doesn’t officially come out with guidance on it.


You use Foundry, Discord, Obsidian Portal, and Syrinscape- tell us how those tools interact for you and your group.

We use Foundry as our VTT. Since we have been playing virtually during the pandemic. We decided to continue to play virtually be because we are all spread out around the DFW metroplex and it was just easier. I transitioned from Roll20 because I found the tools in Foundry to be much more useful and I could utilize the content in D&D Beyond easily. With a few useful plugins you can import content and rolls pretty easily on the fly. Because we were telling a story I wanted a place to capture everything so we could all see it. Obsidian Portal is a great tool for that. I make sure that my players all know that this story is a group collaboration. They totally bought in. You may notice that each week one of the players gives the recap from their point of view. We also use the Wiki extensively and I use it to keep notes on the game that only I can see. Discord has been a life saver. Since we aren’t playing in person we miss some of the face to face interaction so we use the Discord audio during game but we also have a channel specifically for chatting. We check in to see how eveyrone’s days are going, we share news and just general BS. It is a good way to keep in contact with everyone. We use Syrinscape to provide a little ambiance. Usually it is just thematic background sounds. I use Syrinscape much more prominently in my Curse of Strahd game. I’ll also point out that I use Microsoft OneNote to organize ideas. It is a great tool to help me get thoughts down on “paper” and flesh out things ahead of time.


How regularly do you play? You say that you are playing remotely due to Covid- are there plans to go back to in person?

I am currently running two campaigns on alternating Tuesdays. So we play every other week. On the other weeks I have a Curse of Strahd game that I am running (also has a page on Obsidian Portal). We started this campaign during Covid and we did discuss starting to meet in person but decided that it was easier to continue online since we are so spread out.


How did your group meet, and how long have you been together?

Most of the players I actually met playing D&D Adventurers League at a local game shop that I DM at (Common Ground Games – Dallas). Most of the players were people who had just signed up to play in one of my games. I am really drawn to players who really lean into the roleplay aspect. All of these players are exceptional at roleplay. They are also all LGBTQ. Some I have known for about 4 years but a few of them I didn’t meet in person until after Covid was dying down and we had a little summer pool party. This particular campaign has been running for about 19 months (so we are over a year and half).


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?

Obsidian Portal helps us to recall what has happened over the adventure and keep organized. This story is planned to eventually get the characters to lvl 20…so there is a lot going on. Players can always go back in and remember NPCs, who they are and what they know about them. That is helpful. And yes, my players are active contributors to the log and the wiki. As mentioned above, each week I have them roll to see who will be responsible for the recap in the Adventure Log and they provide me the story through the character’s eyes. It has been really amusing.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

Mostly from Barkus’ backstory, but I have also looped in interactions with Barkus’ campaign party (Fedhiin Taloth) who make cameos. I also did a lot of research on the Forgotten Realms Moonsea/Sea of Fallen Stars region (our setting) for backstory and hooks. I also did lots of research on pirate culture to kind of get an idea of what life on the sea might be like and looped some aspects of that research into story development.


How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?

I tend to binge prepare. I may spend hours on a weekend prepping for games week in advance and then will just spend an hour or so the day of. I would say that if you averaged it all out I probably spend 2-3 hours a week prepping for each game.


Aside from DnD I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?

So, the funny thing is that I haven’t really. I have played a little Monster of the Week and Powered by the Apocalypse. I do want to learn to play other systems but I am a “show me how” kind of person and I just haven’t found people to teach me the other systems as of yet. I have done a lot of reading in the Vampire: The Masquerade core rules and am fascinated by that system. I actually have used the relationship building scheme in it to map relationships in my D&D games. I have also looked into Thirsty Sword Lesbians and Star Wars, but once again I haven’t had any one to teach me how to play.


What would you say has been the best moment your table has had thus far in your game?

Gosh, this is such a hard question. There have been lots of great moments. We have had moments when we have laughed until we can’t talk, we have had players cry, we have had epic battles and entire sessions where not a single dice has been rolled. But I think the best moment was when the adventurers were given a ship by their patron. They were so excited that they immediately started thinking of a name (The Vicious Seaward), designing the figure head, designing the flag, even designing the crew uniforms. They wanted to identify who got which room on the ship and who would play what role. It was a pretty exciting moment. Many of the players even started creating NPC crew members (many are on the portal)


Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom..

– Go with the flow. Telling a good story is a collaboration between the DM and the players. You provide the scaffolding but the characters really drive the progression.
– Don’t get hung up on the rules as written. If you don’t know the rule just wing it. Most players will understand.
– DMs are players too…you are allowed to have fun.

Time to let our daring adventures return to the open sea. Don’t forget to head on over the the OP forums to nominate your favorite campaigns for our next Campaign of the Month!

Until next time!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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