What a Twist!

While running the first adventure for a group of new players, I noticed something questionable about the ending. The adventure was a published adventure that Wizards gave out two years ago at Free RPG Day to promote the Dark Sun setting. The adventure is really well put together; the players fight in the gladiatorial pit and investigate a murder that happens shortly after. They’re trying to impress a group known as the Veiled Alliance, who the governor that tasks them with solving the murder is a known member, and the end comes and they find and capture the murderer. And then, the adventure breaks down because the man responsible for the murder is a member of the Veiled Alliance. Yeah…

What. A. Twist.

This made me wonder: what is the proper use of the twist in Dungeons and Dragons?

I think it only really works when this sort of thing is at least plausible. When you have a twist come out of left field it kind of ruins the effect.  A proper twist is a surprise, but the kind of thing where when you look back it makes sense. Think about the end of the Sixth Sense. Throughout that film, the viewer is given countless hints that Bruce Willis is dead. Now, compare that to the end of Saw, where you have to justify pretty much everything about that situation. Which do you find more satisfying? The hinted at turn in the story or the sudden jarring change? The reason, in my opinion, that the Sixth Sense is better is because you given all the information, but lead to believe it’s not about Bruce Willis.

My favorite twist is to have a trusted (or sometimes not so trusted) NPC turn on the party. But I never just have this happen. I always give them subtle hints, but keep them on their main task. It’s not about the weird problems they’re having with this NPC, it’s about stopping their antagonist. This works because I use a red herring.

A red herring, for those who don’t know, is a false lead. In the Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osment is the red herring. You’re lead to believe this movie is about the psychologist trying to help the boy. But, the movie is really about the boy helping the dead man. A good twist can’t exist without some misdirection. When planning a big shake up for your players, don’t be afraid to lead them astray. If you have them thinking one thing and blindside (with proper set up of course) with another thing they may have not been expecting, their minds will be blown.

But, be careful. Two things to keep in mind here. One: too many twists will frustrate and confuse your players. Two: players love being rewarded for being smart. If one of your red herrings is well set up and your players are really buying into, change your plans. Your players will eat it up.

Dragon Snacks #2

It’s the last Tuesday of the month and that means it’s time for more of those mighty morsels called Dragon Snacks. So let’s get right into the Dragon’s kitchen.

War, what is it good for? When was the last time you played in a campaign where war was the major focus? Sure, some settings have overtones of a coming war, or they have war going on in the background, but when was the last time it was front and center, the main event of the entire game? It’s an interesting space to play in. You can have battles as a regular occurrence, tense political intrigue, and a very active world with shifting boarders. A campaign based on war can hook players quickly and keep them actively involved for a long time.

To the death, I grapple with thee. Why do all fights usually end in the death of one or more of the groups involved? It’s like a natural instinct for any group, no matter the system. I think a part of it is players always assume their enemies are out to murder them. I know I’ve done it. Maybe try to give your players an alternative to killing their enemies or put them in a situation that they have to escape from to see what their instincts are. Maybe it’ll teach them that death isn’t always the answer.

Retro is the way to go. I’ve noticed a recent trend in games that is a step back towards their origin and I really dig it. Dungeons and Dragons was originally developed from a miniatures wargame called Chainmail. There’s a little more to the story than that, but that’s the basics of the basics. Recent games like Savage Worlds and Iron Kingdoms are closer to miniatures games than RPGs. I love minis, so this greater emphasis on them is fine by me. From what I’ve seen, this new trend has lead to faster game play and smoother game sessions (at least from what I’ve seen).

So there you have it, three more Dragon Snacks. As always, comment here if you have anything to say on these subjects.

 

Other Things to Play: GIANT Cthulhu Dice

I love dice, everyone knows that. If I could play with dice every day, I would. So I naturally gravitate towards dice based games. Cthulhu Dice, another fine product from Steve Jackson Games, is a simple and addictive game. It consists of a handful of beads and a single die. The beads represent your sanity as you try to drive the other cultists insane and take control of the cult while the die represents your ability to attack and defend. The die has 12 sides and five different symbols based on the Cthulhu mythos. Each dies causes a specific result when rolled. On your turn you roll to attack another player and they then roll to defend themselves. If you roll the Yellow Sign, the person who wasn’t rolling must put a sanity in the communal pool in the center (this is Cthulhu’s), if you roll the Tentacle, the attacking player gets a sanity from the defending player, even if the defending player rolled it. If you roll the Elder Sign, you get a sanity bead from the central pool. If you roll Cthulhu, every player loses a bead, and if you roll the Eye, you get the pick the outcome of the roll. When you lose all your sanity, your goal becomes preventing anyone from winning. And yes, it’s possible for everyone to lose at the same time.

It’s a fun game. A slightly oversized die with some beads, but there is a way to make it better, to make it more fun, to increase the scale.

Cthulhu die

My weapon of choice

I am the proud owner of GIANT Cthulhu dice. It’s made of squishy foam and tons of fun to whip at your intended target. It doesn’t hurt because the die is made of foam (I think the actual size one would hurt more) and the active element increases the experience. The giant version was originally used to demo the game at conventions, but there was so much interest in it Steve Jackson Games produced it for general consumption.

This game is a great little thing. Very easy to transport and very quick to play. Both versions are a must have, especially if you love dice as much as I do.

 

Iron Kingdoms: First Impressions

When I was in college, wargaming was the flavor of the time. Warhammer 40k was the major event for my college group. But, in 2007 I discovered the new thing, I found Warmachine. Warmachine was all about giant steam mechs pounding each other into dirt and I was captivated by this steampunk world with its extreme violence, unorthodox magic, and black powder weapons. Unfortunately, 40k continued to be the top game at my school. Warmachine, despite my best efforts, never caught on.

Years later, I’m offered a spot in a game of their new role playing system. I jumped at the chance. The first thing I notice about this game is it plays exactly like the tabletop game. Combat is identical to the point where you need to have miniatures and terrain to get the full effect. That’s one downside, if you don’t have the right miniatures, your experience will suffer. You use only d6’s, just like the tabletop game. You have a brace of weapons that work exactly like in the tabletop game. And you have spells that not only look, but function like the spells in the tabletop game.

The high point of this game has to be character creation. It’s quick, easy, and really open. You can make a character that emulates one of your favorite characters in Warmachine or you can go nuts and make something really unique and your own. What you do is pick one of three Archetypes and then two careers. Archtypes are things that decide the overall major aspect of your character like if he’s strong or magically inclined, while careers are more specific to what you character can actually do like Knight, Gun Mage, or Warcaster. Creation takes less than an hour all together.

Combat is smooth and incredibly fast. I don’t think we had a fight last longer than half an hour. It takes a cue from the game it’s based on by minimizing math and rolls. You’re always rolling the same die and the numbers don’t change that much. Health is on the low end, so things die before the fight starts to drag on. And random damage allocation adds an exciting element to overall experience.

Iron Kingdoms is a blast, there is a very clear reason this game is selling out everywhere. The game is slick and a lot of fun. I can’t wait to play it again. This book is a definite buy.

The Hard Goodbye

I’ve written about ending games before, but sometimes those endings are unplanned. Every now and then, a campaign will end suddenly, without your consent. When this happens, you have to keep the spark alive. Don’t let this extended break kill your love of running campaigns.  There are a lot of things you can do to keep the torch burning.

The first thing to do is not panic. Don’t get upset, or angry, or blame anyone. Getting mad is only going to help contribute to your DM’s burnout. This is only going to lead to you wanting to DM again. Stay calm and look at it objectively. Life happens. So relax, and enjoy the new free time you have.

Think about it, you have the time now, you can expand your hobby, and you can take up a new game, anything you want. That miniatures game you’ve been coveting, take it up. That hot new roleplaying system, try it out. You have the bandwidth now to do the game you you want. But don’t stop running games.

Run some one-offs. Now’s the time to experiment with those new settings and systems you’ve been wanting to try. This is the time to do the things you’d never do with your normal group, to find new players, and discover new ways of running your table. Use this time to grow as a DM. Work on the weaknesses in your game, write adventures that wouldn’t have fit in your old campaign, and make yourself better for your next campaign.

This is the time to start planning that next game. You have the time to play with ideas and themes now. Make the world you’ve been daydreaming about for months. Your next game will be better from this forethought. The planning will lead to more rounded and robust world. You can take your time and make a game world you’ll be proud of.

And take some time to sit on the other side of the table. Playing gives you a better perspective on roleplaying than anything else. Seeing how others run games, build worlds, and approach adventures is a huge learning experience. By experiencing what others do right, you can absorb it and make it your own, if you like it.

So, instead of looking at this as a bad thing, look at it like this: you’re free. Like the man from the Twilight Zone, you have time now, just be careful with your glasses.

Dragon Snacks #1

Welcome to Dragon Snacks, my new monthly feature here at Dragons in the Kitchen. Sometimes I get cool ideas for adventure hooks or jumping off points that just don’t merit an entire post. Sometimes I have things I want to talk about, like games, products, or things I’m working on, that also don’t deserve an entire post.  And sometimes I just have ideas to throw into the ether. This is what Dragon Snacks is going to cover. Every month I’ll give you three morsels that will hopefully help you with your gaming life.  Without further ado, here is the first installment of Dragon Snacks:

When was the last time you played a D&D adventure about ghosts? I was thinking about this the other day and I really couldn’t place an adventure I’d played, seen, or heard others talking about where ghosts were the major antagonists. Some adventures will have ghosts thrown in, but they never take a starring role. If you look at the Monster Manual, they seem like more of a pain in the ass than anything. But, if you treat it as more than number and throw in the lore ghosts become really interesting. The one thing that sticks out to me is possession. Imagine, players possessed by ghosts…

Swarms of vermin can make a viable adventure.  Why do adventurers always have to fight the wizard in his tower or the zombies that come at night? What a beleaguered village asks a group of passing adventurers to help with their rat problem? What if a city is so desperate to be rid of their plague of crows they put a bounty on the birds? The cool thing here is that it can stand as its own adventure or be a portent of something more powerful on the horizon.

I prefer minis. This might be obvious from reading my blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever put it into black and white. So here it is, given the choice between a game that uses minis and one that doesn’t, I will almost always pick the game that uses minis. I guess it just helps me visualize combat better. I always like it when players have a mini just for the character they’re currently playing (I do this). It makes me feel like they’re more invested in the game when they took the time to buy and paint something that will only ever be that one character.

My Halloween Adventure: Finale-The Beast of Woodbridge

Here it is: everything I’ve been writing about this month put together to make the adventure I’ll eventually run. I say eventually because players, like all DMs know, can be a herd of cats. When I do run it, I’ll post a full report.  Also, bear with me here.  Regular readers will know I like to play fast and loose and when it comes to World of Darkness, I play it really fast and really loose.  My notes here are anything but complete. Don’t be afraid to comment or message me if you have any questions.

Prologue-

The players are all residents of the town of Woodbridge. Each of the players is ‘somebody’ in town, meaning the sheriff, the hardware store owner, the doctor, something like that.  Woodbridge is an extremely isolated town in upstate New York.  There is about a mile of what could be called civilization in the center of town on either side of Main Street. The town has a sheriff with two deputies.  To the north is Woodbridge State Park, a massive and densely forested park that can be impassible if you don’t know it. To the south are miles of farmland.  There are also an elementary school and high school in town. Most of what the players would be looking for can be found in town, but nothing insane. There’s no army/navy store, there’s no Dick’s Sporting Goods, but there might be WalMart.

The antagonist of this adventure is a disgruntled man named Wilbur Davidson. He’s been using black magic for years trying to resurrect his dead wife. He’s made a deal with a demon that if he overruns the world with evil possessed wax monsters, he’ll get his wife back. Wilbur will do anything he can to get his wife. He knows he’s gone too far and doesn’t care; when confronted by the players he’ll fight to the death.  They’ll meet him for the first time in Scene Two.

Scene One-

The players are drinking in the town bar The Hunter’s Rest, they hear about a new wax work in town (treat this as a minor thing). One of the local farmers complains about losing another cow to an ‘animal’. The knight rolls on and the bartender walks the players out of the bar.  Outside the bar they find the body of Tom (a local, have him be someone the players would see almost everyday, filling a position in town they don’t). He’s badly mutilated as if he was ravaged by a wild animal. The best guess would be a bear.  But it was something bigger than a bear…

Scene Two-

The players try to research what attacked Tom outside the bar. Use the skill polls from Chapter 3 of the core WoD book for this.  Most difficulties should between 3 and 6. What they should eventually figure out is the attacker was a werewolf, cows are a favored prey, and silver kills them. They then will use skills to gather the silver and set a trap for the werewolf.  Note this is a classic werewolf, something that changes and goes nuts during a full moon, not a WoD werewolf. It’s possible that they run into Wilbur Davidson. In fact, they should. He’s weird, fascinated by the occult, and would know about these things.

Scene Three-

They trap the werewolf (I’ll let them figure out how they do it).  When they catch it, it runs into the woods.  It’s an extended contested action (the wolf has a pool of 4) the first to ten wins (players catch the wolf/wolf escapes).  Players roll Dex/Athletics or Stam/Athletics.  If they catch him, they fight.  If it gets away, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board.  If it gets away they’ll find a patch of fake fur. This will lead to more investigating, which could lead them to the waxwork.

‘Werewolf’ Stats:

Note: I only put down the dice pools I’ll use.

Attacks:

Bite 7 dice (L)

Claws 5 dice (L) attacks twice

Health: 7, takes 1 extra damage from silver weapons

Scene Four-

When they kill the ‘werewolf’ it will remain dead for a dramatically appropriate amount of time. They’ll notice something is off about this body, it doesn’t seem right, natural. When they least expect it the ‘werewolf’ will ‘come back from the dead’ and attack again.  Same stats, this time the only thing that can keep it down are fire of getting it to full aggravated damage. When they kill it, burning black smoke will pour out of it. They’ll now see that the body is actually a wax sculpture. The only logical place this could have come from is the waxwork.

Scene Five-

The players go to the waxwork to find Wilbur in the middle of a terrible ritual. He completes it and animates all the wax sculptures in the display. They attack the players. The waxwork is one big room with the displays around the room. There is also a room in the back used for storage and sculpting.

Wilbur stats

Attacks:

Fists 5 dice (B)

Shotgun 7 dice (L, 9 again)

Health 9

 

 

Wax man stats (8)

Attack- Blunt object 7 (B)

Health 4 Aggravated from fire

When this is done, they’ll have saved the town. Like any good 80s horror movie, the adventure will end abruptly.

There’s the adventure, let me know what you think.  And again, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have questions about it.