Blog Archives

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!

20
Apr

Update Post – April 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].

4
Apr

OBSIDIAN PORTAL CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR 2021

Congratulations to our COTY 2021 winner:
HEROES AS A SERVICE
GM: Nuadaria (FEB 2021)

and to our runner up:
GAXIM PLAGUE
GM: Frak_Lou_Elmo (JAN 2021)

 


 

FIRST PRIZE includes:

– Digital copies of both Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding and Kobold Guide to Plots and Campaigns from *Kobold Press*,

– Digital copies of both Starfinder and Pathfinder Second Edition Beginner Boxes and/or Core Rulebooks from *Paizo*,

– Physical Copies of Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022, and Paranoia Starter Set from *Mongoose Publishing*,

– 1 Year Ascendant Membership from *Obsidian Portal*




RUNNER UP PRIZE includes:

– Physical Copy of Seas of Thieves Starter Set from *Mongoose Publishing*,

– 1 Year Ascendant Membership from *Obsidian Portal*.




ENTRY PRIZES

Congratulations to all other campaigns entered into the draw. Each GM will receive free Ascendancy time from Obsidian Portal and will be contacted separately.

A special thanks to our Prize Sponsors!


Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
Petrified Articles
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