Thursday, April 23, 2009

Summon Monster

Forgetting for a minute how much Summon Monster sucks compared to Summon Nature's Ally, does anyone else wish Paizo would put out fancy printed 3x5 cards with all relevant stat block info for every monster listed on the Summon Monster (and Natures Ally) spells? I found a place online with all of the Summon Monster spells but they (of course) have just standard 3.5 formatted monsters, AND, every one of them has SOOO MUCH TEXT in the Extraordinary and Spell-like abilities sections that it would be effectively impossible to run the monsters in a session quickly and easily. With that said, I have completed going through the Summon Monster IV and V creature lists and Pathfinder-ized all of them (changed Listen/Spot to Perception and Hide/Move to Stealth etc) as well as paring down the big blocks of text to much more managable levels.

I even copied and pasted all of the monsters and then tweaked them as if they were summoned by a caster with the Augment Summoning feat (+4 Str & +4 Con).

This should be pretty convenient in sessions now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Campaign / DM Style

I'm going to talk about two different types of campaigns (and by extension I think DM's).

One type of campaign tells a story with the PC's as the stars or main characters in the stories. The PC's are the heroes of the book and each session follows a serial, episodic format, with key cut-scenes and very dramatic moments. The DM closely controls and monitors timing and pacing and tries to ensure that certain story elements happen at just the right times.

Another type of campaign simply provides a world with options to explore, and doesn't give much concern to who explores it. The world exists with or without the PC's and the campaign tells itself in a chaotic fashion over time. PC's come and go and individual sessions do not follow a structured format and do not end on key dramatic moments, they are more likely to just cut in the middle of a fight or just after a fight, depending on player stamina.

I tend prefer the latter, both as a DM and as a player but both can certainly be appealing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dungeon Design

Some thoughts have crossed my mind related to dungeon design. Do you think that, in a classic dungeon-crawl type scenario, that a dungeon should have about the number of encounters required to gain a character level? Such that if PC's enter a dungeon as level 1 PC's, right about the same time they mostly clear the first level of the dungeon, they gain a character level? If so, that would seem to suggest that the average dungeon level should have 12-15 encounters, of which some are very challenging, and some are less than challenging. While I'm on that subject, how long do your players take per encounter in real game time? Meaning, in my campaigns each encounter takes roughly 2 hours of game time, which seems like a lot. We do generally follow a timer rule in order to keep things moving but just curious if my 2 hour experience is that same with other groups.

Gaming Tools

Google Documents
I use Google Documents for all of my campaign notes. I share out all of my house rules with the players and then have the players post electronic (PDF, Word, etc) versions of their character sheets in Google Docs as well. I create a new Google Doc with a picture of the monster for each encounter and then in the session I share the doc with the players (or give them the public URL to the Google Doc). All the players have laptops at the table and we run a Yahoo Conference. I drag the URL into the Yahoo Conference and then the players click the link, revealing the picture. I also pre-roll all Knowledge checks and then include that information in the Google Doc so that when the players view the pic they also see the info they know. If there are any special effects, like Gaze effects, I also have a line in the doc that says "All players make Fort saves".

Remote Gaming
Brian (my Cavernia co-creator Brian) moved to Georgia and plays in my current Pathfinder campaign via webcam and a voice conference. We post the camera near the battle-mat so he can see everything pretty well. He also maintains a Google Spreadsheet showing the dungeon floorplan as I describe it. We sometimes take pics of the tabletop with our camera phones for future reference.

Battle-Mats & Blocks
We tried various things. We had a blue gridded battle-mat but it was always stored folder so there was always an annoying crease down the middle. We also use 1" blocks that Brian made by cutting 1"x1"x8' lengths down to 1" blocks. He then painted most gray and some black. We find that the gray blocks can serve as walls in a dungeon, 2x2 make a wagon, 1x2 makes a horse, you can stack them to resemble pillars or put under a flying PC or monster. They can be trees or boulders, or virtually anything else you can think of. We use the black ones as doors when we are using the gray ones as walls.

We are currently using a glass table-top laid on top of a large gridded piece of paper. We use dry-erase markers to lay out the dungeon or encounter areas and sometimes overlay that with a battlemat for special encounters when we don't want to erase the dungeon (because the PC's are returning to it later).

Google Sites
I use a Google Site for my current Pathfinder Beta campaign. I have all of the house rules as Google Docs embedded in the Google Site pages. There are some nifty tools that work with Google Sites and you can embed Google Gadgets.

I'll post some more notes on tools I am using/have used in the past.

Gnome Bankers

In my current (non-Cavernia) campaign, gnomes created an international banking system. Balances were magically kept up to date so that PC's could drop money off at their nearest bank and have it available at any other branch anywhere in the world, for a small fee of course. This allowed PC's to avoid carrying around immense amounts of loot especially now that they have started an international air shipping company (not officially yet).

Small Talk

As a DM how do you handle the first session of a new campaign? Do you assume all PC's know each other and just jump right into the adventure, or, do you develop elaborate hooks that somehow conveniently tie each of the PC's into the first adventure?

For the longest time I have been doing the latter, trying to bend over backwards to construct well-defined hooks that motivate the PC's into the adventure, but over time I found it becomes a large chore trying to maintain the hook. Some PC's accomplish their goal and then the player becomes distracted and disinterested, lacking direction and I have to jump in and try to hook the PC again somehow.

I've decided that in my next campaign I am going to try something new. I am going to use the first session of the next campaign as a time for all of the player's to get together and construct their PC's together. Previously each player created their PC in a vacuum, on their own before the first session. They would carefully craft their PC and then I (and they) would hope that they didn't step on any other player's toes (or had theirs stepped on). Occasionally there would be some cross-over, but usually the players did at least make sure not to play the exact same classes. In my next campaign I want the player's to work together for the entire first session on building their PC's together, discussing the roles each PC will try to play, as well as working out a shared background amongst themselves. I will provide setting details and then let them work out the background specifics. Hopefully that will let me focus more on building a more classic "sandbox" style campaign that they can explore. Oh yeah, and I am planning to ask that all players make sure that their PC's are at least partially motivated by a pure love of adventure, as I don't need any of those "reluctant" hero sorts that I have to constantly be babying back into the adventure. Only pain in the butt players make those sorts of PC's! ;)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What makes an awesome campaign setting?

A bit about me
Hello! I'm Brian, I stopped having birthdays at 40. I have a 10 year old son who wants to be the next Tony Hawk. I lived most of my life in Michigan, but moved to Georgia in '07. I'm not a writer, but I like to pretend I am. I'm really a computer programmer but I like to pretend I'm not.

I've been playing D&D since the early 80's. I was the DM for my first group of players and always loved the creative aspects of the hobby. I've been "published" as a 3D & 2D artist...

  • 8/6/06 - Darkness over Daggerford (Ossian Studios) - module for Neverwinter Nights
  • 4/29/08 - Mysteries of Westgate (Ossian Studios) - module for Neverwinter Nights 2

Since '91 John has been my DM more often then not. There was a void for a period of time we no longer speak of, but that's in the past. Oh... and then one time in a game of Battletech my mech unloaded on John's mech (my ally) in the back with everything I had... I was bored and had been in the corner of the battle mat all day. That's in the past too, but he still mentions that from time to time - go figure.

What makes an awesome campaign setting?
John and I tend to see D&D through a similar lens and I was thrilled when he invited me to work on Cavernia! He had laid out a really cool idea for a world driven underground and I was immediately interested in helping out. As I started helping out with Cavernia, the one question I asked myself was what makes an awesome campaign setting?

My answer was the same answer I gave myself when I built my own campaign worlds. I've always felt that a fantastic, rich, multi-pantheon setting is key to a successful campaign. As a DM that looked at other campaigns for guidance, I never liked exhaustively boring theology write ups, but I did want enough meat to get the creative juices flowing.

Cavernia is shaping up to be just that. As I write my first blog ever, I'm in the process of putting spit-n-polish on one of the pantheons. I'm taking the time to get into the head of every deity in this pantheon by using personality quiz techniques for writers from a book called What Would Your Character Do by Eric and Ann Maisel. The results have been very satisfying as I feel the entities are getting very "real" personalities.

The other nice thing about a well fleshed out set of pantheons is that they tend to spawn adventure ideas. If, as a DM, you imagine the NPCs of your world going about their business and some are dedicated to a god, adventure ideas just start spawning from the natural conflicts that would occur. In my Soltyde campaign, I got an entire plot out of the Hextor/Heironeus deities from the 3.5 PHB.

So, that's just one of our goals. I'm sure we'll write about more in future blogs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Welcome to the Darkness

Who are we?
I'm John, I'm 41, am married with three daughters, and live in Royal Oak Michigan. I work for a smaller, regional bank, headquartered in Troy Michigan in I.T. I have been playing since around 1979-80 and have had many awesome years enjoyment from this hobby. I have never been published (never tried) but in honesty, I never tried either. I have been running my current campaign ("Thundain") since mid-2004. My previous campaign began at the release of 3.0 ("Cimmeron") and lasted until Thundain began. As you can see I have a history of running pretty long campaigns (maybe not so long as some people certainly). Anyway, a month or two ago I had decided to show my notes for my next campaign to my buddy Brian (currently playing the halfling rogue/cleric Romey Wanderbuck in Thundain) to get his thoughts. Pleasantly enough, Brian liked what he saw and shortly thereafter we decided to collaborate on the design and perhaps eventually try to actually sell the product of our labors.

What's Cavernia About?
Cavernia is the name of the world/setting I had started on and shared with Brian. It is designed for use with either standard DnD 3.5 or using Paizo's Pathfinder rules. We plan to release a PDF on both RPGNow and DriveThruRPG with a target price of $4.99. This PDF will describe the world of Cavernia, a world where the people live deep in the dark caverns and tunnels after having fled a global catastrophe hundreds of years earlier. This book will fully describe all of the major PC races, including underworld races for use as PC's. It will include very detailed religious details for all of the player races, detailed decriptions of areas of interest, significant NPC's, and many many other details. We will be releasing some preview details over the next few months, both here and on the Cavernia Google Site.

When Will Cavernia Be Available?
We are targeting August 2009 for the PDF to be available, roughly timed with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game final rules release. Check back for conversation related to our progress and whatever else pops into our heads.

That's about all we have right now!