You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘dungeons’ tag.

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…

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 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!

We all know them: player archetypes. As humans, we try to categorize every part of our daily life, and so we also try to put gamers into different “boxes”, based on their behavior at the table. Players who fine-tune their characters are often called power-gamers, and those who like to really live their second identity get the title of “method actor”.

There are many ways to identify certain playing styles and preferences, but my favorite way has its origins in another geeky hobby: Magic – the Gathering. I’m not an active player of that far too awesome and expensive card game anymore, but I still remember the Timmys, Johnnys and Spikes. These three archetypes will be the focus of my mini-series “Labeled Boxes”. In this series, I will clarify these three categories, and tell you how to handle them at the table. Today, we’ll start with Timmy.

Well, this might be the wrong Timmy..

Well, this might be the wrong Timmy..

Back in the days, I loved to play Magic just for the fun of it. My decks were anything but highly efficient, and when they harbored a logical combination of cards, it was by pure coincidence. Losing was no problem for me, as long as I could play with these beautiful cards, and see what my adversaries had up their sleeves. Back then, I was an archetypical Timmy.

A Timmy plays the game purely for the fun and the whole experience. In role-playing games, a Timmy doesn’t care about maximized statistics, effective multi-classing or picking the right magical items. All a Timmy wants is to see his character in action, and see how the world around him reacts to that.

For the most part, Timmys don’t tend to cause trouble at the table. They’re no attention-seeking players who demand more screen time, or number-crunching munchkins who get bored when they can’t show off their awesome skills for five minutes. However, a Timmy can annoy a party on a whole different level, simply by not caring enough about stuff. Losing against the vile necromancer? Oh well, just a minor setback. I mean, we all had fun…right?

In a party filled with players who care about achieving things, a Timmy can cause quite some drama. On the other hand, it is a Timmy who brings that certain amount of tranquility and easy-going attitude to a group. It will be your party’s Timmy who cheers up the rest of the group after an elaborate plan didn’t work out as intended.

So how can you challenge a player who is there for the fun? Well, give him stuff he considers “fun”. Many Timmys enjoy combat, especially when it contains flashy stuff. Let a Timmy fight against an undead orc sorcerer who shoots his magic missiles out of his eyes, instead of letting him clobber Goblin number two hundred and forty-five. Other Timmys consider it the pinnacle of joy when they witness some fantastic location that seems too unreal to be…well, real. Just make sure your Timmy has something that keeps his attention where it should be, and you shouldn’t have a problem with your fun-lovin’ criminal.

Well, next up: the Johnny. Stay tuned!

So, last session your players and their characters slaughtered the vicious draco-lich that killed the virgins from the town of Mournfall, and now you need a new place to send them to. However, you don’t have a spark of inspiration left in your mind when it comes to a new and, most of all, thrilling location your heroes could venture to? Do not fear for Exceptional Success is here to help you out with five magical and exotic locations!

  • Adventurers speak of a magical forest that completes a full seasonal cycle in a mere day. At dawn, the blossoms in the forest flower in all their magnificent colors. Just before noon, the temperatures in the forest rise and many different and long-forgotten beasts roam through the thicket. As soon as the sun sets, the leaves of the trees turn yellow, red and orange, and most of the animals retreat into their hibernal state. When night creeps over this mysterious place, cold winds and snow sweep into it, and dangerous and vicious creatures stalk the woods, searching for prey.
  • The Chronos Vale is a place where time runs backwards, and this affects everything and everyone who enters it. Seasoned veterans who ventured into this bizarre place, lured by promises of wealth, returned as teenage lads who lost all their years of experience.
  • The cursed town of Blightfall harbors only zombies, ghouls and other undead. Ruled by Valthrus, a seven hundred-years old vampire, the accursed villagers see Undeath as the pinnacle of enlightenment, and use the living as slaves and trade goods.
  • Crow’s Peak is the highest mountain in the barony of Sparrowshield. It is permanently secluded by a thick, dark mist and not even the bravest men of the barony dare to venture into it. However, during New Year’s Eve, the mist disappears and gives away a bright purple fire burning at the very top of Crow’s Peak…
  • Six hundred years ago, a meteor hit the Imperial City and turned the once shining heart of the Empire into ruins. Now, the crater and the ruins of the old metropolis are filled with creatures mutated by the alien radiation of the meteor. However, shards of the extraterrestrial rock are highly demanded by armor smiths, as they can be worked into plates that are nearly indestructible. Venturing into the ruins could turn out to be highly profitable…

Feel free to use these places, and change the names and locations as you see fit. But please, leave a comment should you drop one of the fantastic regions into your campaign.