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The official blog of the Obsidian Portal.
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!

1
Jun

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month June 2022: Baldur’s Gate

Baldur’s Gate is the greatest commercial metropolitan port on the Sword Coast in the continent of Faerun. Popular video games have cemented its name to the adventure loving community since last century, making it one of the best known campaign settings to have evolved from the Dungeons and Dragons legendarium. Join Nimrod, Eran, Gal, Gilad, Guy and Tom as they explore this great city, breathing life into its many parts, and describing just how they do this in this month’s highlighted campaign, Baldur’s Gate. Let the revelations begin…

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?

Nimrod: My name is Nimrod Yanai, I live in a kibutz in Israel (a kibutz is a small, agricultural community). I have been playing roleplaying games for almost 30 years now, most of it as a DM. I also enjoy computer games and reading fantasy and science fiction novels. I can easily be found on Facebook under my own name.

My players are Eran, Gal, Gilad, Guy and Tom.

Tell us about “Baldur’s Gate” in a nutshell. How did it come to be, and what made you choose this trade city on the Sword Coast of Faerûn to base your campaign?

Nimrod: I have always been a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate computer games. I still see Baldur’s Gate II as the best game that was ever created (though its predecessor’s plot is superior). My party and I just finished running through the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms published campaign, and I decided my next game will be something I haven’t done in a while – an urban campaign. I had an idea for a plot that I wanted to try out, and since Baldur’s Gate is my favorite city in the Forgotten Realms, it was easy to place my plot there. In many ways, Baldur’s Gate is the greatest city in Faerûn, because it doesn’t reply on magic yet manages to compete successfully with its more magical sisters such as Waterdeep. It also makes things more interesting for the players, because it is difficult to raise to power against such people as Elminster, the Blackstaff or Larael Silverhand.

To give a familiar feeling to the campaign design, I used images, elements, backgrounds and concept art from the computer games and various adventures published. I even tried to use the fonts from the computer games, but unfortunately those were not available in the supported packages. For example, the adventure log design has Baldur’s Gate I’s stone background, with the leather and title design of Baldur’s Gate II’s character page.

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

Nimrod: We play once every second Friday (in Israel, Friday is like Saturday in the Christian world) at my house.
My party consists of five friends who knew each other before we met. They are exceptional players, who enjoy deep roleplay and character development (and the occasional battle).
One of the reasons I enjoy the game with them so much is that we developed very good trust relations. I think they trust me to make the game fun for them, which makes them generally flow with things that happen in the campaign and try to advance the plot, not just roll with it.

Your whole WIKI section is very detailed and quite comprehensive. Who is responsible for adding the information and organizing it? How much time do you spend updating it as the campaign progresses?

Nimrod: An urban campaign is different than a journey campaign. Most characters and locations are permanent, and the players and DM need to remember a lot of details. Before the campaign began, besides for all the locations and characters I added as a DM, each player was tasked with creating 10 NPCs (either ones their characters know from their background, or just people in the city) and 5 locations (these could be inns, temples, establishments, stores, houses, towers, etc.). This meant the campaign was full of information relevant to the characters before we ever started playing.

Each session, one of the players is responsible to record the session events, and create a corresponding adventure log, including creating new characters, quests, wiki pages, etc. for anything new that happened in the session. This keeps the players engaged and takes some responsibility away from me as a DM. The players spend more time updating the campaign, while I create the pages for more important NPCs, locations, etc.

Gilad: Before the start of the campaign, it was a parallel collaborative effort where every player and the DM each added content to the wiki – be it NPC’s we’ve each created for our backstories, general NPCs to populate the setting’s city, and any other wiki page that might be relevant such as places of business or notable locations.

Once the game has started, each session a different player is in charge of summarizing the session and uploading it to the Adventure Log, then creating new wiki pages for places and NPCs encountered during said session if they do not have a wiki page yet.


Your campaign has many maps and makes great use of Obsidian Portal’s interactive mapping system. How do you feel the extra work it takes to implement this benefits you and/or your players?

Nimrod: Maps play an important part of the campaign. As I said, an urban campaign is different. I usually place the relevant maps on my TV screen for the players to see during the game. There are many locations, it would be impossible to remember them all.

Nimrod: I treat each neighborhood as an NPC, each one as its own description, music, and map. My DM screen has a section for the map of the city with each location’s description for quick reference. This helps keeping the city alive and important as more than just the location of the campaign, but making it feel like a real city.

Gilad: Our campaign is centred within the city of Baldur’s Gate and so a detailed map is crucial. Not only do we need the various borough maps for navigating the city, a detailed map with points of interest aids in making the city feel like an actual, vibrant, lived-in city. And even as it is currently densely populated with such POIs, there’s always room for more.

You have added a new section to the left navigation bar entitled “Quest Logs”. Please tell us a bit more about this. Why did you add it? How important is it to your campaign? How does it differ from the “Adventure Logs” section?

Nimrod: The campaign is currently still in its prologue phase, which is relatively linear (we are following the Murder in Baldur’s Gate storyline, with some modifications for my future plot). However, once the campaign starts, the city will have a plethora of quests of many different types. Many quests might run simultaneously or contain many details. Having a quest log helps keep all the relevant information for each quest for future reference.

A relatively unique thing in my campaigns (which I learned from playing Baldur’s Gate II) are what I call “personal quests”. Personal quests are quests that follow one character’s plot. It can be something based on the history the player wrote, but can also be based on the character’s background, class, race, etc. For example, an elven character could have a quest related to the Eldreth Veluuthra, while a Druid character could become conflicted with the Shadow Druids, and a Soldier might have a quest related to events from a campaign he participated while in the army. This allows me to give more focus for each player and helps me give their character a unique story that is only their own and helps them develop their character.

The Adventure Log is more of a summary of each game session, including everything that happened in that session – conversations between PCs that are not related to quests, for example. The Quest Log has a quick summary of what the quest is and serves more as a reminder of what the characters need to do, like a “to do” list (complete with check boxes).

Gilad: Our “Quest Logs” section, as the title suggests, is where we keep track of active and past quests we’ve received during the campaign, both as a party and as individuals. Whereas the “Adventure Logs” section is used to keep detailed summaries of our game sessions and help us keep track of the story and events so far, and so we can come prepared for each new session.
As I’ve mentioned before, each week a different player is in charge of the summary, but once they’re uploaded the rest of the group go over it and add any missing details.


What made you choose D&D 5e as your gaming system? Have you played other gaming systems, or earlier editions? How do you feel it compares?

Nimrod: I have been playing D&D since the old red boxes, through 2nd and 3rd editions, and now 5th edition, which is by far the most elegant in my opinion. I think 5th edition does a good job with focusing on roleplaying, which I like very much. It keeps combat simple but has enough variety so that players who dislike too much strategy can still find it interesting. It’s not just how the rules are built – the text of the books encourages imagination and creativity and gives ideas and inspiration. I played many systems in the past (Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Pathfinder, Star Wars, Dragon Age, Exalted and others), but I always come back to D&D eventually.

Gilad: We’ve known each other for about 13 years to be precise, and we’ve played together as a group for 10 of those. Before we’ve had the fortune of joining him, we’ve played D&D 3.5e for quite a while. Edition and system preferences are subjective, but personally I prefer 5e for the streamlining it introduced to game, which in my opinion only aids roleplay and a lower barrier of entry for new players who might be interested in a game previously rather complicated.

Gal: As the other answer states, the players of the group have played 3.5e together before for quite some time. As someone who also enjoys the aspect of mechanical character building, I did like 3.5e for its customization options, as there were many classes, skills feats etc. to choose from and combine. 5e has its pluses as well. The simplicity of it is nice sometimes, and the tools that exist for it like D&D Beyond make the character management very easy. As most of our group prefers to play 5e over 3.5e and I’m ok with both we chose to go with 5e.

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

Nimrod: That depends on the session. Sessions that involve a lot of combat are much easier to prepare for, as battles require much less preparation than plot-related role playing. Other sessions could take 5-15 hours to prepare, if not more, depending on the amount of plot they are meant to advance.

The portal is only one aspect of preparation, though. Aside from the design and content, I also prepared an extensive soundtrack for the campaign (I use Syrinscape for all background music and sound effects). Most locations have their own unique soundtracks, including each neighborhood in the city (as detailed in the maps). Many important NPCs have their own theme music. Specific, planned events in the game will also have their own unique soundtrack. In the images you can see my setup for the Lower City soundtrack and the city locations soundtrack.

Nimrod: Preparing said soundtracks, especially for specific events, finding the proper tracks, etc. takes a long time.
Just to give you an example, you can see this video which contains a unique music clip (taken from Mass Effect 3), that I used in a previous campaign. This was just before a battle between a Zhentarim army, and the forces gathered by the characters to fight it: https://youtu.be/RJQQ4mSrIIo


Another video, from the end of that campaign, depicting the final demise of the god Auppenser, with a soundtrack from Disney’s Tangled: https://youtu.be/CD-P9-fOH1o

A typical session always begins with one of the players recapping the events from the last session (plus any relevant information from previous sessions). I use Baldur’s Gate I’s main theme for background for this. After the previous sessions are recapped, we continue with where we left off, or time-skip ahead, depending on where we stopped and where I want to take the plot.

I usually give a detailed description of what is happening, or ask the players what each of their characters do before I describe what’s next. There is a lot of back-and-forth between the players and me, as they describe their actions or ask questions and I detail everything their characters know of the situation, before they decide. Often, they will role-play between their own characters, sometimes in length, as they become more familiar with one another. This also helps them develop their characters and strengthen the party bond.


I was unable to view any of the details of the Deities in your campaign. Is there a reason why you keep these secrets? Of what importance are the Deities to your player characters? How does their influence compare with the influence of the many groups and organizations detailed in your Wiki?

Nimrod: The wiki for gods is not hidden. Because I often DM in the Forgotten Realms, I found that I keep duplicating certain wiki pages. Instead, I created a generic campaign where all wiki pages I use often are stored, and I put links from that campaign where needed.

The place of gods in the campaign changes significantly based on player and plot. Some characters follow their god’s doctrine fanatically, while others don’t care that much one way or the other. I try to tailor the experience to the character. Sometimes, religion plays an important plot role, too. For example, in another campaign of mine, a paladin was struggling with his faith. As his personal quest, he had two NPCs, one for his own god Helm and another for the god Hoar, a paladin who tried to convert him to join Hoar instead. He was set by moral and personal dilemmas and eventually made his choice.

In this specific campaign, the various organizations usually have a much greater influence. Baldur’s Gate has a large following for Gond but is a relatively secular city. Gond himself encourages invention and creation over reliance on magic and gods, which the city encourages as well. This gives non-religious or non-magical organization, and especially mercantile ones, a lot of power.

Gal: Deity importance varies between characters as it is not forced upon those who don’t want it, but for those who do it is a very good tool for character progression and mostly personal story development. Personally, I like my characters to have a relationship with and be influenced by the gods of the setting. As this campaign is quite new my example would be my last character who has a very present love hate relationship with Gruumsh throughout the entire campaign, and eventually tried to achieve godhood himself. He now exists in the campaign as a dead demi-god, and there’s an npc who’s a follower of his. Unlike the other deities in the campaign, he was kept secret (or at least we attempted to keep him secret) as a surprise for the rest of the players, to discover later in the campaign (which most of them discovered anyway by seeing the latest changes in the main page).

Gilad: deity relevance honestly just dependent on the players themselves. I, myself like to integrate them deeply into my characters, seeing as they are very much present in the setting and influence it deeply, while others are not as interested in the subject. In contrast, the different organizations in our campaign tend to be more influential, as they usually impact the story of the group rather than just the story of the individual.


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

Nimrod: I have been using Obsidian Portal to varying degrees for at least 6 years now, but only in the last two campaigns have I really started to take full advantage of it (with this group).
My other groups were less cooperative in adding things, and as a DM I really don’t have time to both run the entire campaign by myself AND update the portal regularly.

Gilad: I believe we’re nearing our 3rd or 4th year of consecutive use, perhaps?

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

Nimrod: It’s difficult to choose one functionality, but I would have to say the characters are the most important thing for me. I often create many characters, and it is difficult keeping track of them all, which is important to keep the world coherent and continuous. I also often create hidden characters that are only reveled later, and each one has a DM only section that I use to map out future adventures or encounters related to that character.

Gal: I’d say that the adventure log is the feature I personally find the most useful as that’s the feature I use the most to refresh my memory before a game session.

Gilad: I’d have to say the formattable, linkable Adventure Log we keep. Helps keep track of the plot and NPCs we encounter.


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


Nimrod: This campaign is rather new, but for me the highlight so far was how I structured the start of the campaign. I built it a little like Marvel’s The Defenders – when the players built their characters, each one had to choose a neighbourhood where his character lives/operates. I then had a solo adventure with each player, where they all learned some common information, but also each had his own local, neighbourhood issue to deal with, and they became sort of a local hero for the people of that neighbourhood. For example, the character from Little Calimshan stopped a mercenary that was hired to kidnap people who were slaves and escaped Calimshan and bring them back to their families’ original “owners”, the character from the Temples investigated the involvement of a cult with some of the local patriar’s children (which are Baldur’s Gate’s version of nobles), etc.


With their reputation in their own neighbourhoods, they were then called upon collectively to help with other matters, and quickly found the common information they all received, etc.


Of course, we are about to reach a new high for the campaign, but it will take a few sessions 😉

Gal: As this campaign is pretty new I don’t have any specific highlight, but this is the stage of the game the characters learn about each other the most (we do not share the backstory or any information other than sometimes class with anyone other than the DM), and I enjoy that stage very much as it’s fun to learn about the characters your friends developed and slowly expose information about your own and build a relationship and trust between the characters.

Gilad: While our current campaign is rather fresh and so we did not have many notable events per se, our previous one had plenty.
For me the biggest highlight was the time we knew we’re going to have to confront a clan of Illithids deep beneath the ground, and we knew we’ll probably lose in a direct confrontation.

So we came up with a plan – a summoned Umber hulk enhanced with the Longstrider spell dug a tunnel directly down to the previously-scouted inner sanctum of the clan’s Elder Brain, followed up by my Ethereal bard.

Then when the tunnel has been dug, my bard was contacted psychically by the Elder Brain demanding surrender, surrounded by most all members of the clan. Instead, he sent a Sending spell to signal for the insane part of the plan.

Giant boulders began rolling down the tunnel. The Illithids began scrambling towards the exit. My bard placed a Wall of Force over it. The boulders arrived and decimated a good portion of the clan and damaging the elder brain greatly. It contacted my bard again pleading for surrender.

Then the logs began rolling into the chamber.

Okay, as a last question, we always ask for the GM’s “pearls of wisdom”. What GM insights can you offer the community this month?

Nimrod:
1. My biggest advice to DMs is this – you are not there just to make it fun for your players. If you are DMing the game, it is because you have a story you want to tell. The characters interact and influence that story, making it revolve around them, but it is still your story, not just theirs.
If I design a city campaign in Baldur’s Gate and the players decide to go to Waterdeep for no reason, my response will be “You reach waterdeep after a few weeks of journey, and about a year later you hear that X happened in Baldur’s Gate. The End.”

While the game belongs to all the players, only one will for sure cause the game to stop if he leaves, and that is you. You must keep the game fun for yourself, or you will lose interest and end the game, or worse – start to drag the campaign, your players WILL notice, and everyone will end up not having any fun.

2. Always tell your players the following: “That’s what my character would do” is not an acceptable answer. D&D is a game of group cooperation. As a DM, my expectation is that you make your characters get along. I have enough to do without keeping your party together.

3. Have a session 0. That is a way for you to ask your players questions about what they would like to see, what they won’t like to see, what aspects of the game they want to see more of, etc.

4. Use music to get your players in the mood. You don’t have to use a paid software (I used a regular iphone playlist for many years). Music can be used to set the mood, but also to make your players better understand situations. Nothing like an ominous music to make your players realize the conversation they are having could have dangerous repercussions, or to throw them off with some whimsical music for the BBEG they meet without knowing who it is yet.

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!

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
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