In the last months I lost quite some weight. People that haven’t seen me for quite awhile look at me in surprise, asking if I’m anorexic or just extremely disciplined. Of course, it’s the latter, but I never imagined that a slight change in appearance could have such an effect on the people around you…

This leads me to the topic of this post: changing characters. In a campaign that has been running for a time, things might turn stale. For example, the players and their characters have seen most of the world and are getting bored with their environment. The right thing to do there is to just make a radical change to their surroundings, like a meteor hitting the planet or an ancient evil rising from its adamantium cave in the molten core of the world. This gives your campaign an interesting twist, but you can do better!

First, re-introduce old faces. Maybe you have an NPC at your hand that disappeared in the early days of the campaign under mysterious circumstances. Bringing him back with a new gimmick (“giving him a level in badass”, so to speak) will certainly draw the attention of your players, and have them wonder how much depth there is to the plot. Of course, the return of the NPC in question should make sense, and actually add something to the whole experience. Also, the gimmick added to the character might feel illogical at first, but should start to make sense after a while. The young magician who now returns as a master of both sword and sorcery should have a clear reason why he became such a badass. If the reason doesn’t seem logical to you, it won’t seem logical for your players as well.

Second, change the current important NPCs for a bit. Maybe the seneschal that the player characters are currently running errands for by doing some espionage is a member of the same global conspiracy that the player characters try to uncover since the start of the campaign. Unveiling this part of his personality at the right moment will give the players an awesome new fact to play with, which adds something fresh and new to the campaign.

Lastly, you might consider giving a player the chance to have his own character changed drastically. If there’s a downtime in between chapters of the campaign, you might turn towards the player who has an interest of giving his character something new and refreshing and work something out with him. His character, who in this case will be some alchemical gadgeteer, might disappear during the downtime, just to return with some new fire power…in the form of a mechanical right arm, packed with steam-punk goodness. Changes to player characters do not just give their players something new to tinker with, but the whole group. Clearly, this is a chance you should not miss out on!

So, in case your group gets bored with the current campaign, try to mix things up by just not changing the environment, but also the characters around them. After all, change is what we believe in, right?

I guess I’m not the only GM who runs into this kind of situations: an action described by a player is so awesome and stunning, that you have to say “Yes!” to it even though it breaks about 45 different rules of the game you’re playing. But, am

I the only one who feels kinda dirty after something like that, like I just allowed something in my game that shouldn’t be there in the first place?

Apparently, I don’t have to thanks to the cosmic law known as the “Rule of Cool”. In case you haven’t h

eard of it, let TV Tropes explain it to us:

The limit of the Willing Suspension Of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its degree

of coolness.

In other words, it is okay to break rules of a game and physical laws of the world it takes place in as long as the action is cool enough. And what works on TV and in the cinemas works in RPG’s, right?

Well, it depends on the game and the setting. In a very gritty, harsh game taking place in a world like Sin City, the Rule of Cool would work differently like in a Wuxia-style game inspired by movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. So, I’d like to extend this rule in order to make it work for role-playing games.

If an action that would normally break one or more rules of the game and the world it takes place in, is

first of all unbelievable cool and adds to the flavor of the setting, that action bypasses the rules that would normally apply.

The flavor-addition is the key here. In a game like D&D, it is considered quite cool to not just simply hit the illithid with your blade, but doing that while leaping from the table towards the magical seal in the room that the mind flayer is using to summon creatures from the Far Realm. Obviously, something like this would not happen in a gritty game of World of Darkness. However, being cool in the WoD means to be able to conquer your own dark side in order to let the good prevail, shining as a golden beacon in a sea of corruption and vice (wow, that sounds like the WoD actually IS a Storytelling game…)

However, some rule sets already support the Rule of Cool to a certain extent by rewarding players for awesome descriptions of their actions. The well-known indie RPG WuShu is actually build around a mechanic that grants you dice based on the amount of detail you add to the description of the action. Other games have similar mechanics to support your need for the ultimate stunt, and to me this is actually a really good thing. It encourages players to say more than “I swing my sword at the Goblin”, and keeps the game fresh and interesting.

On the other hand, some rule systems are just not meant to be pulverized by the Rule of Cool. Rules-heavy games actually depend on the group to use the full spectrum of the rules available, and only ignoring them when necessary. One could state that a cool action is such a necessary occasion, but this might annoy the players in your game who have fine-tuned their characters, just to see them being completely overshadowed by the characters from the players who add a bit more flavor to their game. To some this might seem right, but at first this will just cause drama at your table.

So, next time your players describe something unbelievable irrational, yet terribly cool, think of the extended Rule of Cool, and see if it could apply and add something to your game. Sometimes it’s better to leave that rulebook closed, when all you need is in the description of a player…

I’m always in for something new, and while browsing some other RPG blogs the other day, I “discovered” Houses of the Blooded by John Wick. You know, he’s the guy who brought us awesome stuff like the Legend of the Five Rings RPG or 7th Sea. I have to admit that I never played those, but Houses of the Blooded certainly caught my attention.

So, what’s the game about? To say it in the words of the author, straight from the official site:

A game of romance. A game of revenge. A game of invisible wars and sorcerous blood. A game with no victors. Only casualties.

This is Houses of the Blooded: a roleplaying game in a violent world ruled by a magical race who call themselves “the ven.” The ven see all the world as an enemy and the inhabit­ants of the world as either weapons or tools. Their culture is highly ritualistic and obsessed with duality.

Six noble Houses play an elaborate, invis­ible game of deception and betrayal. Forbidden by law from declaring open war, their secret wars allow for more subtle weapons: seduction, espionage and assassination.

With this game, you and your friends can tell stories of nobles engaged in these covert conflicts. You tell stories of adventure, exploration, romance, intrigue, loyalty and betrayal. All you need is this book, a handful of dice, some pencils and some friends. Get those together and we’ll get started.

There you have it. Sounds to me like a game with a very high “PvP” potential, and that is actually something me and my players like. Also, I like the idea of a rules-light, yet concept-heavy RPG. And everything that dares to call itself the “anti-D&D” in the introduction gets quite some points in my book. Don’t get me wrong, I love D&D, but a good opposition is what makes a conflict interesting, isn’t it?

The only thing that baffles me is the enormous price gap between the PDF and hardcover version of the book. $5 for a PDF is a very good price, but $45 for the hardcover?! I know what version I’ll pick up…

Man, I hate it when a PC game devours my attention completely! Well, that’s what happened the last days, and the digital masterpiece responsible for it is Aion: The Tower of Eternity. I’m a sucker for MMOs, but somehow Aion never caught my attention. That is until a few days ago when it had its Western launch. Unable to resist its call, I bought my digital copy at Direct2Drive and jumped right into the adventure…

Three days later I’m sitting in the queue waiting to get on my server (EU-Telemachus), using the time to update ExSuccess. But since my head is filled with thoughts about Atreia, Daevas and other stuff relevant to Aion, I am just forced to do something with that. So why not see what stuff could be mined from the rich world of Atreia presented in Aion: The Tower of Eternity?

The world Atreia

The most notable feature Aion’s lore is the world itself, named Atreia. Long ago, it was a simple globe like our planet, with at its center the Tower

Picture courtesy of NCSoft

Picture courtesy of NCSoft

of Eternity. The god Aion watched over the world and all life on it, and for a time everything was alright. But then Aion created the Drakan, a race of ferocious dragon-like creatures meant to guard and protect Atreia. But somehow the Drakan turned mad and ravaged, plundered and destroyed everything in their sight. Ultimately, the Tower of Eternity itself was under siege, and Aion had to act…

In order to protect the Tower, Aion granted some humans divine power, turning them into the ascended Daevas. These angel-like beings were able to hold the Drakan, now warped into the evil Balaur, back for awhile, but in the end the Tower of Eternity was destroyed, and the explosion brought the Cataclysm, tearing Atreia into two halves. Only the remaining Aetheric powers prevent the halves from drifting out into space. This made Atreia into what it is today: two worlds separated by the dangerous Abyss.

The lower half is named Elysea, home of the Elyos. Elysea basks in the warmth and light of a bright star, and is thus a very comfortable place to live. Asmodae, the upper half, does not have such luxury; it is a gloomy, dark and cold place, and the Asmodeans were forced to evolve into the perfect predators in order to stay alive. This creates two very different races, with completely different cultures and ideas.

Personally, I love the idea of a broken world since it gives you room for all kind of wackiness. In a system like D&D, low-level characters would start out in their very vanilla-style fantasy setting, getting to know the world. But at a higher level, they might fall accidentally through a rift to the Abyss, and meet explorers from the other half of the world. Later on, they might sail the Abyss in steampunk-inspired airships, fighting against the vicious Balaur who still call the Abyss their home.

I feel like this kind of setting would work really well in a fantasy game and would make for a rather interesting world map. Also, it gives you a perfect reason why some races are not available to your players: they simply do not exist on their half of the world. Just watch the look on their faces when they travel to the other half of their planet and meet a Tiefling for the first time in twenty levels…

Recently, I’ve got my Geist chronicle off the ground and the first two sessions went really well. And while I’m still plotting the course of this adventure, I am already looking into the future (remember my 1886 post?). I mean, a GM just can’t help it: the flow of ideas is unstoppable, and holding it back would just backfire sooner or later.

One of the thoughts that struck me today was the following: how can I give players more influence on shaping not just the course of the campaign, but also the world itself. Even though the player characters will do things that change a town, city or sometimes a nation, such things only happen on a rare occasion as the conclusion of a storyline. What tools could I give my companions to let them shape the world around their alter egos?

Well, the easiest thing I could do is tell them to come up with parts of the world. Let’s say one of them wants to play an elf sorcerer, but nothing in my setting notes has covered elves or their attitude towards sorcery yet. I could tell the player that he can create a little write-up about those topics, send them to me via mail and I will work with them. Using stuff your players created in your adventures gives them the feeling that they are involved in the creation process, but leaving things out might make them question why they did “all the work” in the first place.

In addition to that, this doesn’t give players actual influence on the changes in the world. But how would one go on doing that? Creating some kind of strategic downtime game in which the players take control of the powerful nations, vying for control of an unclaimed area? It surely sounds like an interesting idea, and I will see with what I can come up…

Dying is, in most cases, a rather unpleasant thing. People hate to say goodbye, and knowing that you will not see your loved ones until they depart to the Elysian Fields themselves is anything but comforting. Death equals the ultimate departure, and most of us don’t like that idea.

Characters in role-playing games die too, but even though they’re purely fictional personalities, players will grow attached to them and hate to see them go. Situations like that are even crueler when the physical end of the character was caused by some trivial reason, like a really bad roll. Legend speaks of groups who broke up because of a terrible lame death!

To not let this happen to your group, there are two major things you can do: have clear “table guidelines” considering character death and utilize the rule system in order to prevent unnecessary deaths.

House rules about character death are an essential part of the plan to minimize permanent removal of a character. At my table, there is one thing that will NEVER lead to a character having to make the ultimate sacrifice: plain bad luck. No matter how messed-up a player’s rolls during the session are, this will NEVER lead to permanent death of his character. Mind you, it WILL lead to a very beaten-up, crying and in some games even deranged character…but he’s still alive! On the other hand, stupid deeds of the character, and by that extend of the player, are punished all that harder. I don’t mind killing off a character when I warned his player a dozen times that it might be a bad idea to rush into a ravenous horde of barbaric Orcs on his own.

Another legal reason for a character’s death is when his player wants it to happen. Up until now, this happened a single time in my games, namely in my earlier referenced Exalted chronicle. The character returned later as an undead antagonist who had some internal issues when being sent out to kill the player characters. This was all worked out in co-operation with said player, and the whole group enjoyed it. So don’t be scared to finish off a character when your players ask you to!

From a rules-wise perspective, many games provide mechanics to prevent death. Way back in the days, it was far too easy to die in a simple encounter against some dire rats. Today, mechanics like saving throws, immunities or karma-like points grant player characters a longer life span. Two quite contemporary games have a very creative take on how to deal with the Grim Reaper.

First of all, the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons gives characters in the higher echelons of the level cap certain “oh snap!” powers. Most Epic Destinies have a “Once a day, when you day…” feature, and give the character in question some way to return to life, in one form or the other. This can easily be adapted to other games where it would be fitting if player characters could arcane or divine ways to make the best out of dying.

The second title worth mentioning is Geist: the Sin-Eaters. As player characters in this game cheated death already once by striking a deal with a powerful ghost-spirit-hybrid, it doesn’t seem weird when seeing that they can cheat again, and again, and again. Should the Geist decide that the player character is still worth his time, he can bring him back to life once more, with some drawbacks. One of them is that the Geist still has to keep some balance, and instead of your character someone else has to die. Well, it’s not an easy life when you know that you are responsible for the death of the mother of four babies, right?

To sum it up, reducing the amount of TPKs or similar situations at your table is partially fluff, and partially crunch. Make sure your players are aware what will invite the Grim Reaper to your gaming table, and what will keep him away. Also, don’t be a jackass when you don’t have to. But, I guess, that is a quite general advice for your whole life…

I have a special space on my hard drive for little ideas I think up at the weirdest moments. Most of them are really tiny concepts: a cool character, a nifty location or a mysterious artifact. Others are skeletons for plots, and few of them are actual outlines for settings. Digging through that folder for the first time in about two month made me find a little idea I almost forgot: 1886.

1886 is my personal alternate history / steampunk setting idea. As the name suggests, the setting takes place in the late 19th century, around the time when the Industrial Revolution was affecting most of Great Britain. However, in this world something crucial would change the flow of history, and redraw the borders of the world’s superior nations, namely the arrival of the Rifters.

On July 23, 1886, reality itself was warped in the heart of London, and after what seemed like a heavy thunderstorm, the dust settled and revealed about a hundred strange creatures. Their anatomy was alike to ours, but their skin had a blue tone, and their bodies were devoid of any sort of hair. As they spoke, their mouths did not move, as if their words were broadcasted into our heads. They called themselves the Rifters, inhabitants of a stream that separates the worlds. Hunted by their destructive and ravenous kin, they sought for refuge in exchange for their knowledge and occult technology. It did not take the British government a long time to make a decision…

Twelve years later, the now British Empire has conquered most of Western Europe and America with their advanced Rifter technology. Granting the visitors from another world special privileges and significant status in British society made them all that more willing to enhance war and industrial machinery, shaping the British Empire into the single most powerful nation on Earth. But the future is not that bright for Britannia…

Opposition from the Russian czar is immense, and it seems that the Rifters’ malevolent enemies have found a way into our world and our working together with the Russians. Also, the bare presence of the Rifters is warping our planet, mutating men, machine and nature into something…different. Society is critical about the special treatment the visitors are granted, and the smell of revolution is in the air…

Reading this idea again made me rethink it, and the odds are more than good that I will work this out into an actual setting. If I do, you will read everything about it on ExSuccess!

I never ran an unbelievable long campaign. You know what I mean: the kind of chronicle that last for several years, with changing casts and sometimes even changing players. Somehow, me and my group just can’t stick to a game for a long time, and sometimes that frustrates me and my companions. I mean, how awesome would it be to see a Werewolf chronicle evolve over two, maybe three years? Or imagine a D&D campaign where the players look at copies of their 1st level characters, comparing them to their 30th level demi-gods who shape entire dimensions three years later?

A certain post over at Campaign Mastery elaborates on certain techniques that grant a campaign that necessary variation to keep it alive and different for the players. Many things have already been said in that article, but I would like to elaborate on some here.

First of all, player character influence is to me the most important technique to keep players actually involved and interested. As soon as the players get the feeling that the actions of their protagonists do not have any impact on the world around them, why bother? In my Exalted campaign, I gave the player characters massive amounts of influence, leading to the construction of an entire city! In general, character-driven games survive longer than plot-driven games.

Another interesting technique that the authors of Campaign Mastery also elaborate on is recycling old characters, no matter if it’s a PC or NPC. So one of your players has quit the game, and now his character is still lingering around? Great, you just got yourself a new non-player character with a very strong background and tons of plot utility. Also, consider the return of an old enemy or friend after some time, letting him or her play a vital role in a complete new story arc. That should mix things up.

Talking about story arcs, it’s important to keep these short and meaningful. Yes, you will need an “overarching megaplot” (as Mike calls it) to keep it all together, but the smaller storylines should be…well, small. Keep them focused on a central theme, and make sure they fit, somehow, in the big picture.

Lastly, there is one tip in the article provided on Campaign Mastery that many will find strange, but is actual more than useful: watch soap operas from time to time. No genre in the existence of televised entertainment knows more about keeping itself alive and sort-of interesting through many decades than that one. Look how they recycle characters, places and even storylines, but still manage to keep their crowd coming back. You might learn a thing or two!

Time to round up my mini-series, and finish with the last of three gamer archetypes, namely the most vile, vicious and dangerous Spike!

To reference back to Magic once again, you knew that if you went to your FLGS that there be someone who would urge you to play a match against him. Most of  the time, these were fat, snobby kids who got far too much money for their hobby from their parents and who didn’t mind to skip gym class in order to get their favorite chair in the store.  This excess amount of money and time gave them the tools to build vicious decks with the most exotic of combos, and only another deck with the same degree of efficiency could stand tall against them. And should they meet such a deck and even lose to it, these overweight high school pranksters would break into tears and tell you that you cheated or that you had luck on your side. Enter the world of the Spike.

I just hate Spikes, especially when theyre gloomy, emotional vampires in some 90s teenie show

I just hate Spikes, especially when they're gloomy, emotional vampires in some 90's teenie show

Now, I will be dead honest with you: nobody likes a Spike, especially not in a “non-winner” genre like tabletop role-playing games. This is because of two things. One, a Spike ALWAYS wants to win. Two, should a Spike lose he will blame every other player at the table for his most terrible failure. Witty readers will have noticed that a Spike meets a basic problem in an RPG: you cannot win alone. The “victory” in a role-playing game is to experience a thrilling story together, and beat down some evil badasses. Should the party succeed in this, a Spike will claim that it was all due to his magnificent insight into the rules and the world. Should they fail, a Spike will declare his fellow characters AND players to be incompetent tools with the intelligence of a rotten hamster, annoying everyone at the table with his grim visage he keeps intact for the rest of the session.

Most groups will try to either change the attitude of a Spike towards the game, showing him that a role-playing game is more than a lone wolf endeavor. Luckily, most Spikes will understand this after some time, and will soon become more enjoyable fellows. It is not uncommon that a new player starts his “career” as a Spike, until most of his colleagues pull him down from his Throne of Duchebaggery, converting him into the environment-friendly Johnny. Sadly, this does not happen to all Spikes.

So, what do you do with a Spike who just doesn’t want to change his mind? Well, the only “true remedy” would be removing him from the game, for the sake of everyone else. A die-hard Spike in your group is like poisoning your village’s well: sooner or later the other players will stop to show up, infected by the more than irritating attitude of the Spike. And I guess you, my fellow GM, do not want to run a one-man show, right?

Mankind created thousand different games, each with their own rules and regulations. However, at the core of all these games lies a simple truth: have fun. Would you go to your local soccer team’s weekly training if you didn’t enjoy it? I don’t think so. Would you roll the dice with your friends if you didn’t enjoy the character and the game you’re playing? Again, negative.

It seems that many of us forgot what role-playing games are about. They are not bout old school versus new school, Third Edition versus Fourth Edition or d6 versus d20. They are about enjoying the game. How? Well, I guess you know the answer to that. Don’t let some prick on some internet forum tell you that your way of gaming is wrong, lame or outdated. Find your own style and enjoy it to the fullest.

That is exactly what UncleBear’s ROLPUNK manifesto is about, and Exceptional Success is standing totally behind that idea. Reject attitudes, not games. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

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