Tag Archives: Obsidian Portal

1
May

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month May 2023: Motes in the Serpent’s Eye

In space… no one can hear you Psychic Scream. But they can feel it! Half dragons in combat armor and bio-anthropologist plant-creature druids find themselves embroiled in galactic politics for May’s winning Campaign of the Month: “Motes in the Serpent’s Eye.” Captained by The_CDM, a GM who has sailed the cosmos of space-time to engineer a fantastic combination of multiple systems and settings, there’s plenty of Veteran-level knowledge to impart on how to run a successful, multi-season game. Come join the experienced crew of the Royal Exploratory Service’s Cygnus Class long-range science vessel, the Speaks Softly, as they seek the origins of life, the universe, and everything.

Hail, The_CDM and congratulations on winning Campaign of the Month! We know from your Obsidian Portal profile that you have been gaming for many years and have been a long-time member of OP. How did you get started in the world of rpg’s and what keeps you involved after all this time?

For me, I suppose it all really began with Chain Mail, which led inevitably to that darn blue box of original DnD basic. A couple of friends and I discovered them in grade school and that was it – we were hooked. Far beyond the dull and regimented board games of the late 70s, we discovered a medium to express our imaginations and develop a sense of deep friendship and camaraderie while doing it. I don’t think I’m being trite when I say it was eye-opening and mind-expanding. Over the years, my gaming groups and I have explored the realms of Traveller, Space Opera (from FGU), Call of Cthulhu, Villains & Vigilantes, Hero System and many, many others. But always we return to that touchstone, some form of DnD.

What keeps me, personally, involved in the hobby nearly fifty (omg that long now?) years later is both complicated and very very basic. Friendship. Camaraderie. The joy of collaborative story telling. Shared experiences, both good and bad. Many of the players and friends that I began this journey with are still with me to this day and to paraphrase one, “Some of my favorite memories are of things that never happened, places that never existed, and folk that only reside in my head.”

From TheTokenShadow, who plays the soul-mech, RC-880 “Durendal”.

Hail, CotM! I am TheTokenShadow (name flub when creating my account and I just stuck with it). I have been playing D&D since 1989 and met this current group in late 2011.

From Zentropyse, who plays the half-dragon, Lord Serpentce:

A long time ago (1982) in a land far away a friend got this new game called D&D he wanted to play. It was a blast! Months later another friend who ran a game I played in introduced me into a group he played with at college. I’ve played with this group ever since because our GM/DM rocks and whatever he’s running is always amazing and fun!

From AcReiBuruCGe, who plays the half-dragon, Pei’Fa:

I play Lord Pei’fa half blue dragon/Drow, who presents as a Mandalorian/Jedi murder machine, who is a truly good time, stabbing bad guys with parts from other bad guys, or sharing a story with the over-entitled nobility at a draconic imperial ball.

I’m called Doc, and I got started in D&D in high school, right before I joined the service. I started because I realized I could utilize the game to practice problem solving skills, and it turned out to help me to not only survive, in some situations, but excel in my career. My friends call me that due to being a combat veteran who was a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Navy Corpsman (medical). I have PTSD as well as a full list of physical problems from my military service. I added to this list of problems on, many occasions with many activities, including not sleeping well for 23 yrs and living in my car with 2 cats for a bit. I now work at the local Veteran’s Hospital as a Yogi trained by Hindu and Tibetan monks, and last month celebrated 22 yrs of service, at the hospital, not including my 10 yrs in uniform. (Our gaming group is old. Average age around late 50’s. The core group has been together for over 35 years)

My duties now include working on the wards of Acute psychiatry, Dementia, Rehab medicine, long-term Spinal Injury (residents, who live in the hospital), and Blind rehab. I’m also the Aquatic conditioning instructor for our amputee and TBI (traumatic brain injury) patients who are Para-Olympic athletes.

The reason for the “wordy” introduction is to answer the second part of the question. The reason for me to continue gaming is very simple…the gaming group I’m in. We often hear/read about gaming groups calling themselves “family”. The group that makes up this gaggle of “Homicidal Indigents” or “HI”, as we affectionately refer to ourselves on occasion, have been the best support system I could have been blessed with. They were there for me when I was a complete idiot, didn’t deserve any slack, or was simply broken for awhile…over and over. My ability to become a yogi, or even simply do my job, is due to these people. Generous and loving even when they would’ve loved to punch me, these folks had my back when I didn’t or wouldn’t. Our DM told me that he was glad to see that the healer inside me was stronger than the warrior, as his congratulations speech for getting out of the military. As far as I’m concerned, these are the best reasons to continue gaming, even if it’s only 2-3 times a year.

Your winning campaign, “Motes in the Serpent’s Eye” has been running for about six years, split into multiple seasons. Can you give us a brief summary of the main story-lines, so far?

Brief, huh? The main, hidden story engine that drives the campaign has to be Dr. Eon Rose’s research. She’s trying to prove that all sentient species in the setting are not only related, but ultimately are derived or descended from some unknown origin species. Publishing her hypothesis set off a long chain of events that have led to the story-lines we are exploring in Motes. Other ‘main’ story-lines include: the integration of the remaining ‘original’ crew of the Speaks Softly with the ‘new’ crew members, overcoming mistrust, resentment and personal bias to become a team and family that truly cares about one another; the behind-the-scenes machinations of the powers that be in the Dragon Empire, who is involved in promoting and funding this mission? What stakes do they have in it’s success or failure? Why is this mission important?; Encountering new cultures and people and finding ways to interact with them with wisdom (and sometimes violence); Exploring themes that could be taken from our own world, such as the abuse of power, strength through inclusivity and compassion, and of course politics – with a few Kobayashi Maru scenarios mixed in – for instance, the Safe Haven story is proving to be the group’s crucible of fire at the moment.

To create “Motes” you and your friends had to combine core elements of the D&D space opera Dragonstar with Savage Worlds, as well as some supplements and modifications. What kinds of challenges caused the biggest headaches during this process? How did you solve those issues?

Biggest headaches? Emulating that DnD mechanics feel with Savage Worlds was the most gigantic. Especially the magic system. Without it, Dragonstar was just not the same flavor. Originally we tried a version of this campaign using DnD 3.0 – a complete disaster that resulted in an unintentional TPK (a failed piloting roll in an asteroid field combined with me not realizing just how much damage can be generated by such). Savage Worlds presented an opportunity to try it again with superior mechanics, but capturing that vancian magic from the original rules really proved to be a challenge. Stumbling across Rich Woolcock’s work (Savage Vancian Magic) really made it viable. Since then, the new SWADE updates and their exceptional new Fantasy Companion has helped immensely. Savage Worlds modularity makes much easier to describe and emulate new spells, creatures, items, etc. DnD in it’s various incarnations provide players with hundreds upon hundreds of spells and items. At first glance, Savage Worlds, with its fifty-plus powers seems sparse by comparison, but use of trappings, limitations and power modifiers are essential to creating a cornucopia of magic options. We are obviously still evolving the rule set as we continue the campaign, but are pretty happy with what we’ve got going on now. Other headaches were codifying the monstrous amount of gear available in the original Dragonstar setting books. That is still an ongoing process, but I deal with it on a case by case basis. Player: Hey I saw this in the DS books? Can I get one? What are its SW stats? That and the continuing debate between the coin counters and the simple wealth mechanic factions in the group – but that’s a relatively minor headache.

Zentropyse writes:

It’s a work in progress, the tech/magic balance is hard to master- in my mind you’ve got technology which can almost be magical but it is really just absolutely mundane- all of it. Then there’s magic which is magical but in a head to head comparison plays second fiddle to the powered armor, big guns and missiles, IMO. Having a spell battery with spells like Power Down, Control High Tech Devices as well as custom spells like Arcane Cyberjack and Electromagic Pulse helps immensely.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

a) Play testing
b) Play testing

The mix of high-technology, fantasy, and magic was really intriguing in this setting and it appears to have blended very well into every aspect of the game. Have you or your players discovered any clever combinations that stood out? Any cool items or special spells that saved the day?

Serpence using a Ring of Invisibility and the spell Arcane Cyberjack to take over a pirate gun emplacement in ep 18.
The enchanted gatling ice laser (tripod mount) used by Doctor Keystone to repel pirates from the Speaks.
And while it didn’t save the day, I thought that the intro for episode one, describing the player’s approach to Mount Rimidil Skyhook Station and it’s techno-magical space elevator was quite cool.
Dr Nodagil saving a bunch of the crew from certain death after an explosion on the bridge. Everyone who had been present was bleeding out. The good doctor used his cloak of teleportation to get to the bridge immediately and his Healing with the Mass Healing power modifier to save the entire bridge crew.
Giants shooting down the ship’s shuttle with arrows, giant ones, of course, during Rumble in the Jungle.

Zentropyse writes:

I have been waiting for the perfect moment for the combination of Dampsuit (creates silence) Shattergloves of Ambidexterous Speed (the base Shattergloves- a short range sonic disruptor outlawed by many planetary governments) and Brilliant Energy Touch spell to debut. It will be glorious! If I don’t flub the roll…

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

My character has a glamoured t-shirt, that doesn’t “save” the day, but adds a little ray of sunshine. As he tends to present himself as a fun-loving moron, he will often casually walk towards enemies letting them see various sayings crossing the fabric.

“Your demise isn’t required for my meal to start”

“If I’m not wearing your insides on my outsides, it’s an off day”

“Open your mind and say ‘Ah'”

“I’m not egotistical… I don’t think I’m half as good as I really am”

That sort of magic item is precious to a character hampered with the conceit hindrance.

In the Encyclopedia Obscurum within your wiki, we noticed you even incorporated some X-Crawl, the gladiator-style arena battle game (and a personal favorite). How did this element feature in the campaign?

Primarily as background noise and role play fuel. First of all, X-Crawl is cool as heck. Second, if you had a five thousand year old, galaxy spanning, fantasy race inhabited, civilization hanging around, do you think the favorite imperial sport would be softball? No, they’d revel in the ‘good old days’ of idealized dungeon-delving heroes, romanticized and polished up for broadcast across the empire. Monetized and replete with player-endorsements, and over-priced team tabards for sale! Every scaly backside that’s sat upon the Imperial Throne knows the value of bread and circuses – keep the masses appeased and they will never revolt. Motes players have created their own teams and celebrities (many of them based on old DnD characters) and posted them on the campaign wiki. One player (who plays Lord Pei’fa) graciously runs an occasional side game that is just X-Crawl events in the Imperial League. They are, of course, bloody and gratuitous.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I tend to be the one who latched on to the X-Crawls concept. I have written a couple of Imperial Sports Presentation Network (ISPN) news segments. We also have referenced characters from previous games being current superstars in the professional league. There is also a semi-pro, college, and amateur leagues (pros and college are the only ones with full resurrection, post-game contracts).

You seem to be blessed with an abundance of players and have experience running for larger gaming groups. How did you find each other and do you have any advice for maintaining and organizing big parties?

Most of these chuckleheads that I call my dear friends have been hanging around in my life for forty years or more – proving their questionable judgment. Some go back all the way to high school where were understandably the oddballs of the student body. Gaming came naturally and was a less expensive and more dynamic pastime option for us back then. We all ran a game or two, but it seemed either I had a talent for it or was masochistic enough to become the primary game master for the group. One particular friend ran a Villains & Vigilantes game that actually focused on continuing stories rather than the battle of the day, which inspired me as a game master. Members of our gaming group came and went and came back, brought friends, partners, and the curious to participate.

My advice for maintaining and organizing big parties? Patience. Communication. Keeping a campaign alive and focused with 8-12 adults all with real lives requires high levels of the cat-herding skill. Thus tools like Obsidian Portal are essential for scheduling games, keeping players up-to-date, and session recording. Use the Forum feature in OP to give players and GM a place to post in-character interactions and information tidbits in between sessions. The Secrets feature is another amazing tool – every character and NPC has at least one or two on the site. As PCs explore and investigate, they are able through this device to discover hidden stories about their fellow crew mates. As adults getting all of us together regularly can be a serious challenge, but small interactions, secrets and even character short stories posted for all to see can keep the momentum and interest going for those ‘dry’ gaming periods when no one’s schedules mesh. Lastly, if you’re going to be foolish enough to running a game with an average of a dozen players – find a simpler gaming system. DnD will always have a warm place in my heart, but that many players, especially once they get high level, can turn a ten round combat into an 8 hour session. Savage Worlds was our solution to that dilemma. It also makes generating challenging opponents on the fly MUCH easier on the GM. Because when do players do what you expect?

Zentropyse writes:

Obviously we are all cursed, fated to band together and bear that burden though all eternity with aplomb and resolve knowing the game doesn’t serve us, we serve the game.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I was introduced to the group by one of the current group. He asked if I could be allowed an audience game, due to being a wordsmith smartass with a dark sense of humor. I’ve been his and the DM’s “special project” ever since.

Do you or your players have any memorable moments, epic showdowns, or favorite quotes that were highlights during the campaign?

One of my favorites took place during the crew’s attempt to capture the pirate ship Happy Insanity. The players used an EMP grenade to disable the bridge defenses – only to ultimately cause that vessel’s demise by disabling the control systems in a key moment. They beat the pirates but lost the ship.

TheTokenShadow writes:

One of the things I enjoy most is the collaborative aspect of our campaign. We have a number of really good writers in the group and some of our best material is spontaneously created when we riff off each other’s experiences.
For example, there was an in-character conversation between the characters Bishop and Rwvyan regarding their secret benefactors.
They had the discussion on the forums and it was generally assumed to be a private interaction over the ship’s comms. I decided to add a bit of chaos and chime in:
Durendal leans over and casually presses the commlink.
“Bishop, you’re on the open channel again…”
It about killed the CDM, he was laughing so hard. Rwvyan’s player rolled with it in good natured fashion however:
“You hear muffled cursing from an unidentified person, and then the line goes dead…”
Ultimately the CDM decided it was an in-person discussion between the characters, rather than over comms, but it’s still an interaction we reference and chuckle over, 4 years later

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

a) Having the requirement of dragon conceit, all of my character’s moments are memorable and all his experiences are highlights as shining examples for others… so I have two.

The first is when my character needed a little exercise and dropped a T-Rex in 3 rounds with his lightsaber through its head. He rode said head to the ground, ala Legolas, and casually stepped off the corpse to announce “Tada!”

That’s when he saw the rest of the away team fighting demon dryders. Everyone was too busy to notice his performance, so he tore into the demons for stealing his moment.

The second is when my character grabbed 4 corpses with telekinesis and used them as shields dancing towards their bad-guy friends. 24 bad guys and 2 hover vehicles ran away just because my character was grinning at them the whole time.

b) My favorite quotes tend to be on my t-shirt.

From laser-lit combat while boarding spaceships to galactic political intrigue ruled by royal dragon houses, there’s a little bit of everything in this massive setting. What aspects of a fantasy space opera story have resonated best with you and your players?

The Dragon Empire is supported on the Twin Pillars of Magic and Technology. What science can’t overcome, magic picks up the slack – for instance – FTL. The laws of science can’t break the speed of light. But a high-powered teleport spell ignores that limitation. Mighty magic is wielded by individuals with specialized discipline or talent, but any old Joe with a week or two of training can climb into power armor and ravage their enemies with laser rifles. The mix and contention between these forces make for intriguing dynamics and some strange dichotomies in the setting. Why bother developing a deep understanding of the healing sciences when you can call a cleric? Prayers don’t need to understand cellular mitosis to fix a broken leg or cleanse toxins from the blood. Same with Starcasting (FTL travel). Science couldn’t solve the FTL puzzle, but magic did handily – but modern commerce and interstellar travel wouldn’t exist without technology – the automated manufacture of which can outstrip the output of an entire school of mages. With hundreds of thousands of worlds under the sway of the Dragon Empire, it is simple to find any flavor of adventure you care to run – from a dungeon-crawl exploring a ‘primative’ world in the outlands to Shadow Run-like stories in the back allies of the Throne Worlds. Its the sheer cornucopia of rpg experiences that are available all in one setting that really resonates with me. Finally, the concept of soulmechs I found fascinating. Science can’t create true AI in this setting, and while magic can appear to with creations like golems, they are either merely sophisticated automatons or controlled by bound spirits. Leave it to gnomes to find a way around that combines both magic and tech. Summoning the spirit of a deceased individual and binding it to a mechanical body is both inspired and pure nightmare fuel.

Zentropyse writes:


For this particular setting, having a Half-Dragon character in a Galactic Empire ruled by Dragons, who are supposed to be arrogant, full of avarice and conceited means my character is an unrepentant jerk that even other Half-Dragons, or as my character relishes in pointing out, other Half-Mammals can barely stand, much less any of the lesser races. That’s fun to play to see how far I can push it before he actually gets thrown out a space lock.

AcReiBuruCGe writes:

I work for the federal government and often refer to it as the Imperium. As a player in this setting, I’m just here for the fights, not the politics.

Without giving too much away, what hints can you give us about the future of this futuristic plot? Is there a Season Four somewhere on the event horizon?

Oh, very much so. The seasons were originally implemented as a way of separating both story arcs and times when we needed a break due to busy real-world lives. Season three will culminate in the finale of the Safe Haven story-line with some very telling reveals and surprises in store for the crew of the Speaks Softly. Assuming they survive and prove victorious over the little pirate kingdom, expect to meet more characters from the Royal Exploratory Service and perhaps some changes in the crew itself might occur.

Season Four, well, that’s going to focus on the Duchess Reythliivmaar and House Esmer’s involvement in the politics and intrigue surrounding the Speak Softly’s mission. Her minion, Lord Di’Shio, Eater of All, has not been idle since the episode six teaser… We will also get some glimpses of some of the other players in the machinations that plague our heroic crew. There’s enough material to keep us all going for several more seasons at least.

Zentropyse writes:

The Dragon Emperor Mezzenbone will be dethroned and suffer the shame of having had the throne and lost it, and my character will have played some small part in that but it’ll probably be somewhere around Season 37.

As always, Obsidian Portal loves to ask experienced GM’s if they have any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom when it comes to delivering fun gaming experiences.

Always remember, the story you are telling is not exclusively yours – it belongs and is being crafted by you and all the players who are joining in the game. Railroading is good only for one-shots and short, focused campaigns, don’t hesitate to embrace the plot twists and kinks that players create with their decisions. Don’t expect to predict their actions – they will always surprise you should you become complacent.

Know your NPCs and plots. Everyone has a story or secret – it doesn’t have to be more than a single sentence about their motivations, but it is essential that you understand them even if your players do not. Let the gears of the evolving story unfolding reveal and alter your plans.

Don’t try to build the entire world(s). Understand the portions that the players currently inhabit and the interaction between these places & people and other parts of the world. This makes you more nimble when your group does something unexpected. Don’t be afraid to improvise on the fly.

Listen to your players. Especially when they are trying to figure out what’s going on in part of the story. Often they’ll come up with a speculation that is a hundred times better than what you came up. Be the Environmental Interface, not the Author.

Take LOTS of notes – they don’t have to be particularly meticulous, or verbose, but jotting down little mnemonics for yourself during sessions/discussions/brain storm meetings gives you a plethora of dangling plot strings and ideas to tie into adventures and help you remember that, for instance, Bishop-1 was once a family man and still has flesh-and-blood relatives out there somewhere. Writing something down helps fix it in your memory for later use.

Give everyone a chance in the spotlight. Tougher with bigger groups, but worth the work.

Never let the players see you sweat. Even when they do something you never saw coming that completely upends your plans for the adventure. Smile knowingly, make a few notes, roll some dice and improvise as if you had planned on that very decision.


Well, the sound of incoming laser-fire and proximity klaxons means it’s time for us to wrap things up. We hope these cosmic insights have helped inspire you to re-tool your own systems and settings to make something really stupendous, like “Motes.” Special thanks to The_CDM and the Players for an excellent interview! Keep a robotic eye out for future Campaigns of the Month here on the blog, and be sure to visit the OP forums if you’d like to nominate a campaign for consideration (even your own).

1
Apr

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month April 2023: Torg Rise of the Storm Knights

This month we enter the fascinating world of TORG, with the Savage Worlds system, where six brave adventurers cross worlds in their quest to defend the multiverse. GM Elvathadrin will take us through his game, Torg Rise of the Storm Knights and tell us a little about the process he has with his players to bring their stories to life.

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? 

I am from New Jersey, lived here my whole life, don’t really have much of an online presence even though I am on the Obsidian Portal Discord. Outside of gaming, I enjoy hanging out with my friends watching movies. I also paint miniatures and when I can play miniature based games like Warhammer 40K and Xwing, I also play World of Warcraft, and Star Wars the Old Republic/this is the game I also RP most evenings in, and have for quite a few years.

Let’s talk about the visualization of your campaign. Did you make the animated banner yourself? And the video? What made you decide to place this video on your campaign’s landing page? Why did you decide to explain about your campaign in such a way? Are you the person speaking in the video? 

The Banner was created by one of my good friends who’s also a player in my game. To be honest I found the video on YouTube, and why did I put it on the Landing page because after watching it I found it explained the universe of TORG perfectly, in an easy to understand and concise manner. I am not the person speaking in the video.

Is the narrator in the video meant to be the same person quoted in the description on the landing page? 

The narrator in the video is not mean to be the same person quoted on the landing page, the man quoted on the page is an unknown individual that saw the initial events with his own eyes and lived the tell his tale.

I noticed that there was over a year’s time gap between your original start date in July 2021, and the next adventure entry in January 2023. What was the cause of this gap? 

This is an easy question to answer, I started to work on the website a good year plus before the game we were playing ended, and I knew I had a lot of information I wanted to impart to my players, and knew it was going to take time to put it up and make it easy to read.

I see that you are using the Savage Worlds system. Can you please talk about what made you choose this system? How does the system support the campaign design and your game style? 

I chose Savage Worlds because I was talking to a few of my friends about wanting to run a TORG game as I love the universe but not a fan of the system it uses, so they brought up Savage Worlds. The system in question is designed to be extremely malleable, and since TORG’s universe requires the ability to meld multiple of genres and make them fit with each other, Savage Worlds was perfect as it already did that so it made things easy to fit everything together without one overpowering the others. Savage Worlds had already put out different books that where all designed to work together from the beginning so it made it that much easier.

You seem to be integrating many characters from movies, tv, etc. Can you tell us a little about how you bring these characters to life? Do you study them from their respective franchises? Do you try to imitate their mannerism/voice?

Most of the characters I use are from TV shows and or games that I and most of my friends have already watched so they already know these characters, I do try to keep them in character and how they react and or help the group with their expertise in relationship to the universe itself.

At no point do I try to imitate their mannerisms or voices as I know I would never be able to do them justice.

How do the players contribute to the world design, if at all? 

My players helped me with ideas for some of the new COSMS I have introduced into my universe that are not in base TORG, the ones they helped with where The Galactic Empire, The Big Heat, The Holy Roman Empire, Middle Westeros and The Main.

I see that you have a very detailed wiki section. How helpful is the Wiki for your players? 

From what my players have told me it is extremely helpful, as it is referenced at least once most sessions, especially when they go into a new COSMs, the maps I created have also been extremely helpful to give my players an idea of where they are.

Can you please tell us why you choose to open each adventure log with a “wild cards” section which seems to include all the PCs? What is its meaning? 

The reason I include the PC names is similar to the reason a TV show has credits, to remind the reader who the characters are in each session and if anyone new reads any Adventure log they know who was involved.

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

Obsidian Portal helps with keeping all the information in one place and helps make it easy to find, if it wasn’t for the site I would never have been able to run this game.

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

That is not the easiest of questions, but if I have to choose one, I would say the group was going after a Forest Dragon in Aysle the Fantasy COSM, the dragon preferred to hang out under water, so David the mad scientist of the group decided to create primitive depth charges. The idea was to drop them from the Quinjet.

While he was creating them, he created three by the way, the first and third where created without a hitch, unknown to anyone, David made a not so minor mistake on the second depth charge. When they went to use them, the first dropped fine and hit the water as it was supposed to, as they were getting ready to get the second in place the jostling caused it to explode prematurely while still inside the Quinjet, causing the jet to take a nose dive forcing Astoron to re-right the jet before it crashed, unfortunately he disconnected and completely froze forcing Ellistrae to quickly jump into action and right the jet. David the one that created the depth charge took the quick action to jump on the charge hoping to contain the blast, he succeeded in containing the blast not the concussive force that caused the jet to take a nose dive.

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? 

I am still a fairly new GM, as I have only GMd four games, so most of my wisdom comes from that, I would say for those afraid to GM for the first time, don’t be afraid, because you will make mistakes, you will stumble as a GM, not everything you do is going to work, your players are going to throw monkey wrenches in your plans, from my experience, let them.. This is a collaborative effort, if your players come up with an off the wall idea, let them do it. It will make the game that much more fun and memorable.

Always remember you are the story teller, and it’s supposed to be fun for everyone, keep a light hand, don’t be heavy handed with your rulings.

In the end as a GM always learn from your mistakes, because no matter how many games you run, you are still going to make them.


 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!

2
Mar

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month March 2023: Ulea

Welcome to Ulea, a high level DnD 5 campaign where the stakes are high and the enemies are strong! Hordes of undead- check. Powerful covens- got them. Runic symbols and mysticism- in spades. Necromancers- of course! Black dragon- definitely! Ulea is non-stop, advanced characters, non-stop action for 2 groups to battle, and battle they definitely do! GM nicholas_charles_ allen has set challenge after challenge up before his players- and we sat him down to learn more about what makes him- and this awesome campaign- tick.

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 originally from New York, but have lived all over – spent a lot of time in New Orleans and now live in Virginia. I don’t maintain much of an online presence – this campaign page is probably where I post most outside of school. Outside of gaming, I’ve got a wife, three kids, and two dogs, spend a lot of time on work and school. I like to run, lift weights, and cook. Outside of TTRPGs, my wife and I do play a lot of boardgames.


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

Truthfully I began running 5e because it seemed to have the lowest barrier to getting people to pick up and start playing. Running these campaigns was a return to the hobby after a few years off for life-related stuff, and I didn’t want to spend too much time going over rules, and wanted players to pick up and play quickly as well. 5e has such a huge presence and so many resources and videos for players to watch that it was a great place to start.

After playing for a few years, it’s probably not the best fit anymore. Encounter building (especially for high-level parties) has become kind of a pain, and I’ve found myself homebrewing lots and lots of stuff to keep things interesting for myself and the party. One campaign will transition to Pathfinder 2e next month, and we haven’t decided where the other will go – possible Free League’s Forbidden Lands. The campaigns will still be set in my homebrew world (heavily inspired / cribbed / ripped-off from all my favorite pieces of media).

How regularly do you play?

Right now we play once a week – I have one campaign that meets every other Sunday and the other one that meets alternate Sundays.

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?

I actually run two separate campaigns – so not all players in one, although there is some overlap. One campaign has 7 players and the other has 6. Although their campaigns are not directly connected, the things that one party does in one has consequences in the game world (Ulea), and so can affect the other campaign – it’s been very fun!

We met in lots of different ways – a number of people are friends from college, people I met at work or in the military, and some are people that I met online through reddit when I first moved to the area a decade ago when I was first trying to find people for a game. We’ve all become very close. Through all through all the years we’ve all ended up moving a part, so the groups are spread out all over the country and we play almost entirely through roll20.

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?

Keeping the adventure log is huge for me to keep everything straight in my head across all the campaigns; it also helps me to emphasis plot points or clues that players may have glossed over during the session so that we can stay on track, and leaves a great story to read through when the campaign wraps up. The players also use it all the time to look up places and NPCs.

The players don’t help with the wiki – but I think that’s something I should probably start doing! I do have my players write journals after each session from their character’s prospective. If they do, they get re-rolls to use in the next session. It helps me to understand what plot points they are following, what ones they don’t care about, what things are important to their character, and to find new hooks and motivators for the characters.

Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game?

The largest is the books I’m reading (I would say that the Malazan series has probably been the single biggest influence on the way I set up campaigns now, but also lots of other fantasy and Scifi helps to inspire me including the Black Company, A Land Fit for Heroes, the Fifth Season, Between Two Fires, The Forever War, HP Lovecraft). I don’t get much time to play video games anymore, but I have always pulled inspiration from there – especially when trying to put together unique combat encounters. I listen to a lot of metal; crust, sludge, death, black, etc… I pull a lot of inspiration from the imagery and just overall fucking radness of it.

Metal and TTRPGs have pretty much gone hand-in-hand for me for the last twenty-five years. I also crib quite a bit from pre-written campaigns and adventures – Paizo writes really great stuff, but there are so many wonderful third party publishers out there who can really put together something great. I like to take these as starting points and then adapt to my world, my players, and what I think is fun. I think that’s really the great part about this hobby – it all goes back to a bunch of friends sitting around a table sharing a borrowed players handbook, a shitty set of dice, and trying to re-imagine the Wheel of Time or Elric of Melnibone or the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – but different.

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

Usually about 30 minutes or so – I tend to do a lot of work up front before the campaign starts; collecting maps, art, etc. Usually getting a skeleton that goes pretty far out so that I can just hang stuff on it. Every three or four months I will spend a few hours building things out and adjusting the skeleton based on what has been going on. I used to be a chronic over-preparer, but I found that most of what you do ends up living in you head and never making it to the table – and the PCs rarely do what you expect them to do anyway, right?

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

Yes! I have played a lot – Call of Cthulhu has been a favorite of mine that I have been running for just as long, although almost all lots of one-shots (some day I will run Masks of Nyarlothotep, though..) I used to play and run a lot of Pathfinder 1e games, as well as the FFG Star Wars / Genesys system. In the last few years, I’ve been able to get in some one-shots of the Aliens RPG and Mork Borg as well. Someday I’d like to get a Blades in the Dark game going – or at least play in one.

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

Wow, there have been a lot… one that stands out was a stealth mission where the party had to go into the brothel, find a patron (a member of an occupying army) who had information that they needed, get that information and leave the guard alive, and unsuspecting. There was lots of planning and great roll playing and some absolutely improbably dice-rolling (natural 1s and natural 20s abound) that ended up with several people dead and a brothel in flames. Another was a party finally slaying an ancient black dragon that had harangued them for months – first driving the party off, then escaping to it’s lair after a rematch, and finally being slain in it’s lair with nearly the entire party being unconscious… it was a close one.

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

Read! Look at different systems, different adventures – you can always pull something cool into your game to challenge your players and to keep you from getting burnt out. It’s ok to write lots of stuff that the players might not find out about – or will only find out through exposition. Don’t worry about having to find a place to get all your ideas out on the table, just let the game go. If you think it’s fun to world-build, do it! Plus, if the players don’t use it, you have ready made encounters and adventures you can drop into your next campaign, or fill with stronger baddies to be used later in the one you’re in now. You have to have fun, too!

I think especially today as TTRPGs are kind of hitting a mainstream stride again (and with the surge of popularity of actual plays and twitch streams and the like) there is a lot of pressure on GMs to create epic, sprawling worlds with extremely tight storytelling and endless unique and engaging NPC so that players can kind of just show up and roll dice. Just relax and have fun – let players guide the story with what they are interested in and build from there. The fasted way to burn out is thinking you have to have everything 100 percent perfect and 100 percent prepared for every outcome.

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
Feb

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month February 2023: The Domain of Dread Council Meeting.

It may have been some time since you have heard the name “Ravenloft”, but in this DREADFULLY exciting campaign, you will hear it again. GameMaster ElMuggs has concocted a scenario where some of D&D’s BADDEST ever BADDIES have got together to remind people the true meaning of FEAR once again, in The Domain of Dread Council Meeting.


First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What brought you into the world of TTRPGS? Where can we interact with you on the internet?

Well I grew up in rural Australia and was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons when my stepmother caught me playing Castle Adventure on my Dad’s computer and asked ‘Are you playing Dungeons and Dragons? You know some people played that on acid and KILLED someone?”

Being a seven year old girl this very much left a impression on me as obviously Dungeons and Dragons had to be the coolest, most extreme game EVER! But being that there was nobody to play with I had to rely on the videogames until in 2017 I stumbled upon three people sitting at the back of the room at the game store that had opened up in my home town.

They were the Redbook Roleplayers and did a total OMG You’re Playing Dungeons and Dragons can I play tooo OMG !

Yeah I’m that cool. I don’t use much social media but you can find me on the Obsidan Discord or Twitter (while it lasts!) as @ElMuggs

You have described “The Domains of Dread Council Meeting” as “a comedic misadventure through the mists of Ravenloft”. In a “nutshell” please explain to the Obsidian Portal Community what your campaign is all about.

Well that’s basically it, but to see why this campaign is a bit different let me ask the characters what they think it’s about?

Strahd (Vampire Ruler of Barovia): It is my duty as the first and greatest Dread Lord to show these lesser nursery rhymes villain what it means to be terror incarnate! Honestly these modern day dark lords, they can barely manage to lure backpackers into the woods, or leave a blood soaked message on the wall! Back in my day you had to do better than a jump scare or two! Here now Vecna, let me tell you how we used to do it in the old country! I’d climb into a coffin and lie in wait for hours on end, even weeks, just waiting for the right time to jump out and go BLEAGH!!!!

Daniel (Unkillable Tiefling): I don’t know? The Awesomeness of Awesome? I’ve been though the dark and the light and the light and the dark and it’s all the same. Apart from my Super-Awesome Domain but theres nobody in it, just me and the Hamstercows – but that was the Mistake. Maybe Llamacows? Then I found the perfect people to bring along but SOMEBODY ended them. Terrible Train accident! I’m all shiny though – got a shiny butt!… Problem with Tieflings though is that they can’t wear hats.. uh.. What was I talking about?

Vecna (OG Litch and God of Secrets): It’s my unjust punishment for getting involved with the other Lords of Dread.

Tasha (Witch and Best selling Author): Pft, always so dramatic! In truth Poor Vecna hasn’t had much to do for years, and Strahd.. well he’s so just so PRIMITIVE. He really needs to move with the times as the scary vampire in his castle pining over a poor women he’s obsessed with is just so cliche!

So then I thought why not invite one of these new Dreadlords to our secret little Council? The invisible one had the wonderful idea to ride out and spread some fear. But then Daniel showed up, Strahd got us lost and things have been going downhill ever since!

You seem to have started out the campaign with players taking on the main PC’s at HIGH LEVELS. Did this present any issues in building up the characters of the players?

The Campaign started by accident after a bit of silly in-character conversation between our ForeverDM talking about his love of Curse of Strahd. Soon he was roleplaying Strahd talking about how he was the greatest big bad in DND and it was hillarious. I immediatly wondered how Vecna would react to this? It didn’t take much to convince the others to jump in with their own characters.. and session 0 quickly ended up with the characters riding out on their first adventure.

The big challenge was getting a grip on the lore as playing with Strahd, Tasha and Vecna required doing a deep dive into the history going all the way back to 2nd Edition. Vecna had been a Dreadlord back in 2nd edition but escaped and outside of Critical Roll he hadn’t really been seen in 5th edition. Likewise Tasha also had a lot of gaps in her history as Wild Beyond the Witchlight hadn’t been released yet.

Then there’s Daniel who was a PC from our first campaign together. While we loved him there was the small problem that he died and being brought back to life via Wish had left him immune to the Dead condition! If that’s not wild enough for you there’s also the Invisible Person. Their unique power is that they are so invisible not even I know where they are at all times. This is because the player works, and so doesn’t make it to many games, so when they arrive I ask them where their character was and we fill in the gaps from there.

All of this works because I tend to avoid worrying about balance and CR ratings and instead look for what makes the most interesting challenge for the players? A lot of the game is about leaning into the personality of the characters.

What version of Dungeons and Dragons have you used for the campaign and what inspired this decision?

Our group has always used 5th edition+ UA Playtest material and a good chunk of Homebrew. In terms of story it takes place sometime after the events of Wild Beyond the Witchlight.

I like 5th edition because it gives you plenty of space to shape the rules around the story you want to tell. While DND is simpler then 3.5 etc. it’s also really flexible both for players and DMs. As a new DM the biggest issue I find is that if there’s a ‘Rules as Written’ sometimes you can end up feeling trapped because it doesn’t make sense for the situation or story you’re trying to tell.

The other reason is that it’s very easy to slip in rules from other games and editions. One of the Domains turned the characters into teenagers and had they stayed there I was planning to bring in some of the rules from Tales from the Loop to go with the 80s suburbia vibes.

Likewise the ‘Levelling for Dreadlords’ rules call back to 2nd edition as my first experiances playing Baldur’s Gate II. In earlier editions Vampires where much scarier as they could drain your XP and suddenly you’d lose all those levels you’d worked hard to gain! There’s also some older edition spells that were missing in 5th edition that also make a comeback in this campaign.

You obviously have a great love of the Ravensloft campaign. How long ago did you first play in or GM that campaign, and are any of your current players returning from that time? Have there been any issues in updating the concepts to suit your current campaign?

So first up I need to give props to James Haeck’s Strahd Must Die Tonight – in Space! https://www.dndbeyond.com/posts/895-strahd-must-die-in-space which inspired the idea of bringing in new genre’s to provide a new take on old DND adventures. Having now had to deal with Ravenloft Castle I have a lot of respect for Will who DMed this for us as a Halloween One Shot back in 2020.
It was the first time most of us had played in Ravenloft and set up the events that lead to Castle Ravenloft no longer being part of Barovia.

One reason I’m excited about people learning about this campaign is that the Setting Information is what I like to call the “Ravenloft Remix” as I really wanted to set up each Domain to really feel different from one another. So it was a chance to really bring in things that my players wouldn’t expect and each domain has it’s own little world. Because it’s the players that provide the comedy there’s really nothing to stop someone else using the material as part of a more ‘straightforward’ adventure.

Our group has a long history of working from older editions. The actual world that this campaign fits into is a big Planescape adventure that’s been run by multiple people over probably 10 years or more? We’ve done all sorts of crazy things from Tomb of Horrors to escape Dark Sun and Spelljammer (before it was 5e).

To date the biggest challenge for me as DM has been going back to Ravenloft Castle. I wanted to make sure I was keeping it in line with what the players knew and remembered of the campaign while avoiding any major spoilers for Curse of Strahd. I decided to use the map from the original 2nd edition adventure and age-up the Castle so that just enough things had changed while Strahd was away that even he didn’t know what to expect.

The timing was also perfect to bring back two of the heroes of the original adventure! Poor Strahd came home to find that his Castle now belonged to a young, handsome elven vampire who looked like he’d just stepped out of an Anne Rice Novel. Meanwhile the top half of the Castle is a fallen Solar who’s hell-bent on ensuring the Castle is destroyed!

There are some very innovative design modifications in your campaign, including a custom built navigation board. Who is responsible for your overall campaign design? Can you share any useful “design tips” with other OP members?

That would be me! At high school I wanted to be a web designer so I learned a lot of HTML and CSS. The nav bar is a recent addition and at some point I’ll probably find myself getting curious about what kind of Javascript functions are possible.. but not today!

Looking at past COTM was really inspiring early on to see what was actually possible but the hardest bit was deciding what to do. Odd as it sounds I wanted to try and replicate the feel of a mouldy old book the players might stumble across in Strahd’s attic. So a lot of work went into using code to capture that sense that it should smell of old books.

In terms of tips, One thing I learned studying CSS and web design is to be careful with images. You need them big enough to not be blurry, but too large and the file size will cause your site to become unusable. This site uses a lot of repeating elements because once you load an image it’s usually cache’d so you can use it over-and over again without any problems.

The other big trick is the Google Web Fonts – I have a love/hate relationship with them as when they work they’re amazing, but they can also be a pain because you often need to adjust the text size to make them readable. The Adventure Log uses a lot of them – but the actual posts just use a normal font. This is because it’s not easy to read a full page of text in script, so most of the time it’s usually just used for headers and special effects.

Finally learning to find your way around the Inspect Elements tools can make it a lot eaiser as you can test things without actually changing the site itself. There’s also nothing to stop you making up your own tags like this:

Lets me mimic those ‘comment’ boxes from Tasha’s Cauldon of Everything:

How important are the Adventure Logs to your campaign? Who creates them? How involved are your players in the process?

The adventure log is intentionally subjective, sometimes they might include the direct notes from a campaign but more often than not they’re pieced together from memory and whatever notes survived the session. Often I will forget small details, names or ‘what happened in what order’ but my players are always great at reminding me.

It’s very important to me as a DM as a way to keep track between sessions as sometimes months may pass between games. So it’s been great now that I have it and can start working on the Adventure Log the day after the game while it’s all fresh in my head. This way I can get everything updated, provide the players an update on Inspiration, and get ahead on any changes and planning for the next session.

It’s also has an in-game use as spells like Legend Lore exist so Characters could actually read the Adventure Log if they wanted to. This is because it’s canon in our games that there is a Library that records everything that ever happens – and one of the players is DMing a campaign set in it!

I’m still working on getting my players to use the Portal as it’s still very new – but I love the way they can post their own ‘thoughts’ on events and have the ability to add to it over time.

Your campaign seems to have been running from around the end of 2020 up to the present day. Have there been any modifications you have had to make to the way you play in relation to the worldwide pandemic?

We’ve been playing online via Roll20 since I joined the group in 2017. Playing virtual was really what made it possible to have weekly games because Australia is a really big place! Most of us also have crazy scheduals of work, study and other commitments so each week means looking for a notification to say there’s a game on.

I honestly prefer DMing online because you are not constrained by what you can hide behind the DM screen or fit on the table. So I found it really freeing in that if the characters want to do something crazy I can hide my face, take a breath and quickly look up whatever is needed to keep the game going. It’s created a game where I’m just as excited as my players to know what will happen next, as my version of prep focuses more on the first five minutes at most, then seeing what the players will bring to the table.

By far the hardest thing about running the campaign is that being a backup game that I run when there’s not enough players for the main campaign or the DM needs a break there’s often big gaps between games. Often I don’t know I’m DMing until the night and rarely do I know what will happen next.

This means needing to keep a lot of secrets from players to avoid spoilers for Domains and characters they might come across in future – or return to one day.

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

A few months? I found the site when I realised it was going to be impossible to run Ravenloft Castle without a proper system for keeping track of the 88 map markers. When I looked at others they where really locked-in on what kind of ‘style’ of campaign you could run – while they might look more ‘fancy’ I really just wanted something I could use while DMing to quickly get things at a moment’s notice.

I love how the Wiki section is really free to being used to store whatever campaign information you want, rather than being forced to use a format set for a particular game system or campaign style. I like how Items and Characters both have their own ‘section’ as these are things are repeatedly pop up in games, and it’s handy to be able to build up a database that you can quickly go back to when you forget a name or thing that you mentioned in an earlier session.

The GM section and Secrets are very important for my campaign and it’s great that my players can be given their own version of events. Plus, as a visual person, I love that I can share the artwork that inspired parts of the adventure, and give a lot more personality to the world.

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

It really makes it a whole lot easier to run games. Normally finding a specific NPC, picture or location would take combing through folders full of images and random documents on my computer or the internet. These days I keep the Obsidian Portal open behind the Roll20 screen and I can quickly run a search to find what I need.

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

So what’s been really fun DMing all of this has been how it really pushes you to ask the big questions like: ‘Would an angry Ultraloth consent to being Polymorphed into a T-Rex?’ “How many hit points does a black hole have?” Or the big one – ‘What happens if a Dreadlord dies outside of their domain?

So I thought I might share the story of how one of these questions lead to a series of events leading to what I like to call ‘Blobfish Strahd’.

This started with a classic question: What happens if a vampire is diseased by an Aboleth to only be able to breath underwater?

By RAW the answer is nothing – because apparently there’s one line in the 5e Monster Manual that says vampires don’t need to breath. But this is Ravenloft a land of poetic justice! Unlucky for Strahd I didn’t have the Monster Manual, I was using the 2nd edition Domains of Dread where there was no such comment. Nor did it make sense that a Aboleth would have a disease that didn’t work on certain types of creatures. So I ruled that was true, he didn’t need to breath BEFORE he was diseased by the Aboleth.

I wouldn’t have done this but being a high level party it shouldn’t have been too hard for them to find a way to cure the disease right? It was then that we learned that this party of Dreadlords had no clerics, no paladins and the only healing spell anyone knew was Wish!

So sadly for Strahd they missed out on curing the disease and the party was forced to seek help. However the player ended up deciding NOT to cure Strahd and instead stay in mist form. So, on entering Vecna’s domain I was given another big question:What happens to a vampire in mist form when subjected to the intense gravity of a nearby black hole? Turns out that under intense pressure a gas doesn’t become a solid – instead it turns into a SuperCritical Fluid forming Plasma!

So over time Strahd’s gaseous form grew smaller and smaller until he became a Plasmoid that could best be described as ‘Blobfish Strahd’. Which the player LOVED so much they set their Discord picture to this little guy:

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?

If I have one bit of advice for ForeverDMs it’s that if you want to play, challenge your players to try DMing for a night! This is how I made the jump from player to DM. Our ForeverDM was feeling burnt out after taking us all the way from Level 1 to 17 over a course of 3 years!

So, For New Years 2020 we were given a ‘challenge’ for three of us to run a game. My first game was supposed to be one-shot and had a proper map, detailed NPCs, Monsters traps etc. All the players had to do was escape. I had some ideas of HOW they could do this but apart from the setup the players where free to ‘solve’ the problem however they wanted.
This is how it started:

This is what it looked like by the end:

For this campaign, I got rid of the map and swapped to Theatre of the Mind so that there was really no limits to what could happen. This also had the perk of being able to give the players more power.This happens in a few ways over my campaign. The most obvious is when Dreadlords are in their own Domains they can use Inspiration to shape the Domain to their will. But a more subtle trick is that when dealing with crowds or where there’s a lot of decisions to be made on the fly, I’ll ask the players to help me out. This way if there’s a party split or whatnot you don’t have a character stuck waiting around with nothing to do.

Instead, I give them a job! One Player might be asked to describe the NPC’s appearance, while another might decide what the room looks like, and another gives them a name. Other times I will offer them a NPC’s during a party split or if they arrive without a character.

The first time I tried this was when a friend popped into the game to say Hi. We were in combat so I gave them a NPC Guard who was in the unlucky situation of facing down Strahd, Vecna and a room full of Strahd’s minions at the end of Man vs Machine > https://thedomainofdreadcouncilmeeting.obsidianportal.com/adventure-log/cyrelons.

While in my hands he was just another Guard for the party to kill, making him a Guest NPC changed everything! This guard managed to stab Vecna and hold them off for two full rounds – everyone was excited to see how long he’d last. We learned this nameless guard had taken the shift to avoid being at home with his wife and nine children. He died a hero – turning what might otherwise have been a forgettable encounter into this epic last-stand.

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!

2
Jan

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month January 2023: Fake News, Real Adventure

Reporters from the Sharn Inquisitive again outfoxed the untalented hacks of the self-proclaimed “premier news source of Khorvaire” to bring our readers exclusive coverage of the biggest story since the end of the Last War. Working tirelessly, our intrepid beat reporters delved deep into the seedy underbelly of the post-war tension to bring you the most shocking and sensational story ever covered in these illustrious pages. Braving the wrath of unethical guards, crooked bureaucrats, and corrupt nobles, our courageous sleuths uncovered a web of deceit and fraud the likes of which has never been seen before. So settle in, renew your subscriptions, and hold on for the ride of your lifetime!” Strap in for Fake News, Real Adventure with DM DSMfive and crew, a wild ride in this D&D game set in the world of Ebberon on the continent of Khorvaire following The Last War.

Thanks for taking the time to answer a couple of questions for us. Tell us a little about the people behind the logs? What’s your group like, how did you all start playing together, and what drew you to Dungeons & Dragons?

We’ve been playing together for a long time now, after getting together in 2003 via an online “looking for game” website (I don’t even remember the name of the site anymore).  There have been a few losses and additions to the group over time, but the same five for many years now. It’s a pretty eclectic group with several IT folks who work in different environments, a health care provider, and an educator.  We wander through different game systems, although most of us started with D&D (some over 35 years ago!) and it always draws us back.  Eberron has been one of my favorite setting, and I’m always pulled back to the wonderful mix of noire intrigue, high fantasy and murkiness of good vs evil that is inherent in the world.

As you’ve been on Obsidian Portal for a while, what is your favorite feature for helping to manage your campaign?

As a (very) amateur creative writing enthusiast, I was initially drawn to just having a place to tell stories, keep them organized, and allow the rest of the group to contribute and play off each others’ creations.  More recently, I have been loving the ability to have Secrets linked to specific players, that allows intrigue to be accessed seamlessly.  It fits extremely well with the Noire aspects of Eberron and while outside readers wouldn’t be able to tell, there is a lot of intrigue going on behind the scenes thanks to the Player Secrets feature.  Once the campaign is concluded, the Secrets can merge with the main Adventure Logs to make the story more obvious.

How often do you play and how do you generally do so?

Juggling five busy schedules is often a challenge, although we are mostly successful in gaming every Friday night.  We’re lucky that most of us GM at least occasionally, and we can switch off to lighten the prep load.  FNRA has been on a hiatus for the past while because of new challenges in my work schedule, but we’re hoping to get back to intermittent play soon.  Being picked as CotM has provided significant inspiration for moving the restart forward, so there will likely be new material fairly soon.

Pre-pandemic we were very old-school in our gaming: chairs around a table in the basement with maps, minis and snacks.  That quickly transitioned to Roll20 when the first lockdowns started and we have been gaming remotely since then.  There have been intermittent discussions of returning to in-person gaming, but the convenience of online, combined with complications from small children (read: tiny bags of mostly germs) and having a health care professional who works with seniors, have kept the decision from being finalized easily.

What are the main inspirations for your game? 

Originally, it was the release of the Rising from the Last War sourcebook for 5th Edition that drove my desire to revisit the Eberron setting.  I threw together a number of ideas to pitch to the group and have them decide, because there were too many stories that I was excited to try and couldn’t decide on which to pursue.  Once the consensus pointed to the newspaper reporter theme, RftLW was the base for developing the idea and creating ideas for journalism-related adventures.  Some of the crazier aspects of the real-life political situation south of the border provided the inspiration for the Fake News theme, and changing the Sharn Inquisitive into a tabloid rag fits well into our group’s often irreverent sense of humour.

Can you discuss your approach to worldbuilding in your campaign?

The group is often the starting point for my worldbuilding, and I find it very difficult to plan anything plot-wise until I know what everyone is going to be playing.  When the foppish noble Fulton hit the table, he wasn’t initially related to the Brelish Prime Minister, but he inspired an entire planned plotline of political intrigue, terrorist, and family discord.  Most of my worldbuilding happens after the characters exist, when I spend long drives free associating how their backstories could overlap and mesh in unexpected ways that (I hope) will excite the players.  During play, I usually end up making stuff up on the fly, see what grabs their attention, and then run with it.  The entire relationship between Lester and Lilliana came about because of a throw-away scene that was meant to be focused on the team’s rivalry with another reporter, but when Lester’s player kept returning to his interactions with the gnome, an entire new plotline was born.

Swapping to your beautiful site for a moment, where did you come up with the style design you have?

After we decided on the journalist theme, I really wanted the site to feel like an early 20th century newspaper.  Since cgregory is very active helping people out with CSS on the OB forums, I had a fantastic resource to figure out how to get a layout that felt right without disrupting navigation too much.  The hardest part has been finding headings for the newspaper “Sections” that didn’t feel too forced.  Because I don’t invest as much time planning the campaign plots until I know what characters are going to be present, I ended up having plenty of time early on to invest in the layout, which greatly increased my enthusiasm.  I also had a lot of help from my teenage daughter who has fantastic sense of style and seems drawn to “old stuff” and had some great suggestions for layout.  She also created the “conspiracy board” that the group found, which has proven to also be a font of plot ideas and player inspiration.

I love your adventure logs, do you create them yourself, or do you share the load in recording your narrative?

All of our campaigns end up being a group effort, as we seem to have a lot of aspiring writers.  I write the main plot narrative posts either right after the game, or first thing in the morning to make sure it is fresh.  It is mostly for my own use, because I like to include call-backs or resurrect hanging plot-threads, but struggle to remember details if it isn’t recorded somewhere.  Everyone contributes in-character stories, and often the initial documents end up edited by different players, usually for comical purposes.

Back to your game, can you share an example of a particularly memorable moment from your campaign?

The opening session of our game managed to both set a fantastic tone for the campaign and keep us in stitches throughout.  One of our group was unable to attend and while I wanted to get things started, I also didn’t want to have a meaningful start to the story while missing a key character.  Thus, we ended up completely ad-libbing the story of Fulton being asked to come to the Tain Gala, shopping for appropriate clothing and finally tormenting multiple co-workers and Sharn nobility at the biggest social event in the city.  It was all unscripted, involved very little die-rolling, and generated a great deal of laughter.  My particular favorite was Lester’s use of the Artificer’s Magical Tinkering ability to embarrass their rival Carric by making him smell like a full baby’s diaper.

Let’s round this out with one of our favorite questions for our featured GMs! If you had a secret sauce for running a great game, what would be the most important ingredients?

My best games have always come about when I structure stories and plots around elements that the players have already shown interest.  Focusing the plots on the elements they put in their backstories, allowing them to surprise me with their choices, and rolling their ideas into the narrative keeps it fresh and fun, making it easier to expend the huge effort it can take to run a game.

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!

28
Nov

OBSIDIAN PORTAL CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR 2022- Winner Announced!

Congratulations to HumAnnoyd and crew for a well deserved win of our 2022 Campaign of the Year! Check out the winning campaign, Emerald City: Requiem here.

Prizes include:

– Memorable Monsters and Extraordinary Expeditions from Crit Academy

– Tome of Adventuring Design by Mythmere Games

-Remarkable Inns and Remarkable Shops from Loresmyth

– Wally DM’S Journal of Puzzle Encounters from Wally DM

– 1 Year Ascendant Membership from Obsidian Portal

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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