The Day the Horns Sounded

If someone had told fifteen year old me that one day I was going to sit at a laptop computer and watch a bunch of D&D players wrack up over four million dollars sponsoring an animated film I would have laughed and thrown my lunchroom pizza at you.  I grew up in a time and place where playing role-playing games were looked down upon. It was a fringe and misunderstood hobby. Some people even thought it was a dangerous cult.

Even with the derision aimed my way, I never understood why more people couldn’t understand how fun it was, what it could be used for, the level of joy it could bring.  I think a lot of us, regardless of our age, have dealt with that at one point or another.  Regardless, we have held on, found our friends, played, created, and continued to run with our dreams.

We’ve done that for a long, long time.

Flash forward to today.

Like many of you yesterday, I watched the Critical Role Animated Special Kickstarter page funding amount roll upwards at an insane speed. It felt like a rocket launch as it blasted off, arched upwards, and sliced through the atmosphere. It funded it’s $750,000 goal in less than an hour and, well, it just kept going.

And going.

And going.

I cannot imagine what it must have felt like with the Critical Role team. To see that much support swell from everywhere? So quickly?  Watching this play itself on Kickstarter, seeing that #Critters was trending on Twitter in the United States, I realized something far more powerful was happening than just an animated special getting funded.

As mentioned, this is a misunderstood hobby, a fringe bastion of geeks and nerds who didn’t fit in.  Who play “that dumb game” in the basement.  To watch a troupe of talented entertainers carry their story forward with so much joy has moved us. Their laughs, sorrows and adventures have become ours because we carry that same passion. We love to see them succeed because they echo that success back to us.

As gamers from the basement, we’ve never really had that before, have we?

And though they’ve blazed the trail, this isn’t just happening with the Critical Role team. It’s now happening with other troupes, other game streams. We are finding each other in ways never before seen with the hobby. Go to Twitch and look at the Dungeons and Dragons or Tabletop RPG category. The numbers there have doubled, possibly tripled lately. Spend some time on the #Critters hashtag on Twitter and look at the outpouring of artwork and support.

This has been going on, building steam over the past five years and then, yesterday, this fun group of voice actors and D&D players called Critical Role said, “Hey, we have this idea about an animated series for our characters and could use a little help making it happen.”

That was all that was needed and we have now become a part of something much bigger than ourselves.  This would not have happened five years ago, a decade ago.

This isn’t just about funding for an animated show.

The horns have sounded and this feels like a gathering of a tribe.  Not just #Critters but a much larger tribe of role players, gamers, geeks and nerds.  A tribe looking at some leaders and saying,  “You’re doing good work. Lead the way for us. Keep doing what you are doing. We love you.  We have your back.”

Money garners attention and changes everything.  This will gather a lot of attention, some good, some bad. (For instance, when was the last time something about roleplaying games featured in Fortune magazine?) That “silly game in the basement” just rolled in 4 million dollars in approximately 24 hours.  Some wise investors are going to start asking, “What other games can do that?” Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing is going to be on the map like never before as producers and studio heads begin to fully understand the stories that get created around the table can also be marketable, that there is actual value there.  We already knew this but now THEY know it too.

Like I said, good AND bad attention.

It’ll be several months before we start to get an idea of what the effects of this might be.   Hopefully, this helps the entire hobby including those folks that create these very games we play.  Not the manufacturers and producers but the writers, the designers, the artists.  We need that to happen.  We cannot forget them.

We are entering brand new territory and, in one way or another, we all understand this.  It’s an exciting feeling that the party, whatever it may end up being, is really about to start.  I am so very excited for the Critical Role troupe and I hope they keep their head and stay true to their hearts in all of this.  I’m even more excited for the roleplaying game community, industry and tribe.

We cannot forget the openness, caring and support that got us here.  Let’s not forget where we’ve been, what we had to deal with and how we arrived. Let’s keep enjoying each other’s stories and lets keep looking out for each other, young and old.

And, lest we forget, we should get ready to watch a really cool, kick-ass cartoon late next year.

Get your dice bags ready, gang.

Tomorrow is a brand new day.

Map Creation with Rory Story Cubes – Part 2

Be sure to read Part 1 which covers what you need and the initial idea.

Follow the link above if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here.  The short version?  I’m using Rory Story Cubes to create a fantasy map at random!

Here is a detailed write-up of the process I used to generate a map with 7 rolls. I used all three of my Story Cubes sets and simply grabbed the cubes randomly from the pile. The amount varied on each roll from 8 to 3 Cubes.

I started with a blank piece of watercolor paper. I use the thicker paper for mapping in case I want to lay some watercolors down on a later date. You should use whatever you like or have laying around. (My first test runs were on lined notebook paper!) For this run, I threw in two coastlines on the Eastern and Western sides of the map and then started rolling Cubes!

Round 1

My first round was with 6 Cubes. After the roll, only 4 were still on the paper. I rolled, from left to right, a tower, a city or a temple, a set of scales and a pot of gold.

My eyes first went to the scales sitting right on the shoreline and in the little bay I had randomly sketched out. My first thought was a place of law and order. I went with a large walled city with rules and laws, possibly a bit conservative and strict. Right next to it was the pot of gold out just off the shoreline. That was easy. Obviously a ship wreck or some sort of sunken treasure just off the coast.

Next was the Cube with the towers featuring the Arabic architecture. The first thing that popped into my mind was a temple set in the wilderness. Perhaps a holy area for clerics to go for prayer and reflection or possibly a place for monks to train and study. I simply wrote “Temple” on the map and moved onward.

The tower was incredibly easy and I thought of a ruined tower OR a full tower that was part of a larger set of ruins. It might be in the middle of nowhere or it might be by another city. I would have to wait to see where the other rolls landed.

Round 2
I used 4 cubes and 3 stayed on the map this time. A fountain, a Book, and a treasure map. Perfect!

The fountain made me think of natural springs or geysers so I went with that. I also felt that these, or at least some of these, would be magical. Next to it was the book and I felt it was as good as place as any for a city well known for a large library and scholarly pursuits. Perhaps a magical school was there as well?

Down in the lower left hand corner was the treasure map. Of course, I placed an X there and wrote “Legendary treasure.’ Perfect game adventure fodder and something to think about later.

Round 3

On the third roll I rolled 5 Cubes and 4 managed to stay on the map. In the upper left was a man pushing against something, to the north east landed a goblet and a die symbol and then, in the center, a doorway.

In the northeast, I decided the goblet was the location of a historic magic item. With the die symbol along the shoreline and its location just north of the “lawful city” I had the thought it could represent a “gambling den” or maybe a small port of ill repute. A place where those of a more shadowy nature might go to get away from the stifling rules of the city. It might also serve as a nice spot for smuggling and other illicit activities.

The doorway obviously indicated a dungeon of some sort. That was simple enough.

In the northwestern corner was the man pushing against an obstruction. I thought of some sort of obstacle and decided that a large mountain range would dominate that section of the map. Harsh and nearly impenetrable it would block travel or any civilized activity. After I marked the spot, I took a moment and sketched out the mountain range.

Round 4

The next roll was more bold with 5 Cubes. 4 of them stayed on the map. I picked up an apple, a light bulb, a sheep, and a lightning bolt. This was a bit tougher than the first rounds but I like a good challenge.

For the Sheep I went with pastoral farm lands. Good lands for raising livestock and selling crops. It would be a beautiful place and peaceful. I had no idea if anyone was going to actually be living there or not! The lightning bolt stumped me for a bit. All I could think of was energy so I went with what popped in my mind first, a massive scenic waterfall that would be able to generate incredible power. Later, I added an area of hills marking the pastoral farm land area.

To the north was the light bulb and all I could think of was “big ideas” which later turned into a small settlement of tinkers and/or gnomes who lived near to the scholarly city for supplies and protection. Just to the northeast the apple easily became a forest populated with hardwood and fruit trees.

Round 5

For the next round, I realized that the western side of the map was not getting as many rolls so I used 4 Cubes and tried to land the rolls in that area. 4 Cubes stayed on the map and I got Danger/Poison, An asterisk/flower/star thing, A bigger person looking at a smaller person, and a satchel. This was going to be interesting.

The Danger/Poison was nearly off the map but I could not resist using it. I thought of maybe an area of poisonous gas coming out of the mountains, something toxic. In the end I could not resist the temptation to place a “Here be Monsters” style area.

The Asterisk/Star symbol was perhaps the hardest one of the whole project. All I could see was the symbol used for a sound in comics and that made no sense. So, I enlisted my wife and she immediately said it “was a flower.” With that, the location became known as the “Flower fields.” I pictured a vast prairie at the foot of these inhospitable mountains. Perhaps a small town there as well that either tried to mine some of the foothills or tried to work the soil. My wife was quite pleased and quickly announced that this was “HER Flower Fields” in the world. I’m thinking the place may need a queen?

To the south, at the shoreline, was a fun symbol of a large person looking down at a small person. Though this could mean either an area of halflings OR an area of giants I went with my first inspiration. GIANTS! It was near the ruins rolled earlier and so it seemed to work.

Finally, the satchel. I struggled a bit with this one as well but finally settled on a small village in the middle of nowhere known for their exquisite leather-working, making satchels, saddles and all manner of goods.

Round 6

I went a bit gonzo with this round and rolled 8 Cubes and 5 landed on the map. A whip, A tent, A house, someone counting money, and a footprint. You can see in the picture that things were really starting to take shape.

For the house, I went with a small town and made a note that I thought it might be the location of a large and well-known Inn. The person counting money which landed at the southern edge of the foothills became a rich farming village on it’s way to being a larger town. It ended up being perfectly located to the west of the natural springs and a short way from the epic waterfalls. A little spot of heaven, indeed!

The tent landed on the edge of the woods to the north and I immediately went with an elven encampment of some kind, perhaps even an elven city.

The whip Cube marked trouble in the Flower Fields! A group of bandits and slavers have come into the area and are living in the wilderness north of the giants and just south of Flower Fields.

Sounds like a job for some of the Queen’s soldiers!

Finally, the footprint on the eastern coast made me think of Bigfoot. I know, I know, but I can’t help myself. In keeping with the fantasy theme I decided the area was one with a heavy humanoid population. Perhaps orcs, hobgoblins and gnolls? Perhaps they were organized enough to be a threat (or an ally) to the Lawful City?

Final Round!

I thought I might be done after the previous round but decided to grab three Cubes for the heck of it and give them a throw. They ended up adding some nice little details. I rolled a rain cloud, a vial, and a bird. What I liked about these was where they landed!

For the rainclouds I went with an abundance of moisture and placed a swamp in that area. Obviously, the runoff from the western edge of the hills ran down and formed a marshy, dangerous area as well as a river that ran onward to the western shore. The bird landed very close to the temple area and made me think “Raven Temple” so I simply noted that on the map. Finally, the vial landed directly on the point of the epic waterfall. I decided that with the natural springs nearby (some which might be magical) that something about the waterfalls caused them to be important in alchemical workings. Alchemists and adventurers traveled from the city to the east to gain what they needed there.  It was also relatively close to the temple.  Perhaps only the monks or clerics there knew of it’s powers?

I added the marsh and some other small details in the area.

With that I decided I had enough information for now and I could start working on the map. I added some other small details, roads where they made sense, marked the general boundaries of the bandits, giants and humanoids and cleaned up some of the notes and shorelines. The next step would be starting to put down ink and making things permanent.

Click here for the full size image

In future posts I will show you the progress I am making on the map as well as what details I might have added to it. After that, who knows? I might have to start building an actual game world out of this thing and adding adventures as well.

I hope you enjoyed this and I hope it helped illustrate the process.  This was a great way to spend an hour or so and I think it would be an incredible way to build a game world with your players no matter what their age might be.  Players could take turns rolling and everyone can join in on the fun in a collaborative style.

I also have a few more ideas for the Story Cubes which will be posted soon.

Map Creation with Rory Story Cubes – Part 1

I’ve enjoyed using Rory’s Story Cubes for all kinds of inspiration for my RPG and storytelling games. Typically, I’ve used them to help me with adventure design and NPCs. I’ve also used them for my solo RPG projects as well.  I currently own the Original set as well as Voyages and Actions and they are worth having in your GM toolbox.

I love coming up with ways to randomly generate adventures, NPC’s, locations, etc.  This weekend I had the fun idea to use the Story Cubes to randomly generate a fantasy map. I ran a test run just to see if my idea was valid and was thrilled with the results. So, in order to better illustrate how to do this I decided to build a map entirely from scratch and show you how to do it.

First off, you will need to pick up a set of Rory’s Story Cubes. They can be found online and at department stores like Target and Walmart. They are a set of 9 dice with graphical images on them.

Next get a blank sheet of paper which will be your map, a pencil, a good eraser, and a notebook or scrap paper. You might also want some fabric like a towel or maybe do the rolls on a carpeted floor to keep the dice from bouncing too badly. I did the example below on a hardwood coffee table and, as you will see, everything worked out just fine!

The process is simple and relies on your creativity working with the images that come up on the Story Cubes.  Take 3 or more Story Cubes and roll them over your blank piece of paper. If you want, you can throw down some initial shorelines or draw the outline of an island before you roll. Don’t add too much though because you want a blank canvas to work from. Wherever the dice happen to land on the paper is where the geographical feature or marker will be placed on your map. If a die goes off the paper don’t worry about it. Use the image with your imagination to let it spark a geographical feature or a village or a dungeon or… whatever. For speed, use the first thing that pops into your mind.

Do this over several rolls and fill in features and details with your pencil each time where the dice land. This will build the map up slowly.

After several rolls you may see areas that are blank and where the dice have not landed. Feel free to grab a few dice and toss them directly into that area to generate something there. You may also start to get a feel for where a river may be or a lake or a woodland. Go ahead and add them in as you go. Keep all your notes and lines on the map light and sketchy. You can go back over with ink later but for now, keep it all flexible.

If a Story Cube lands on a geographical feature you’ve already determined with a previous roll think about adding it as an extra detail or perhaps moving over to one side or another. This can happen quite a bit in the center of the map since this is where you will initially aim the dice. As the layers of the map build, look for connections and ideas as to how it might work out in the world on the map. With about 6 to 8 rolls you should be at a point where you can pause and take a look at your handiwork.

At that point things should be sufficiently laid down for you to begin working on the map. If not, keep rolling and placing. Eventually, things will start to click and you will know when you are finished.

For an extended example, see the link for Part 2 below which is a detailed (and lengthy) write-up of how I used the process through 7 rounds of rolling. You’ll get to see how I went through each roll, worked with the symbols that came up and how my map ended.

Click here for part 2

Roll for Self-Doubt

This isn’t an easy post to write but in order to jump start my writing on this blog again, I feel it’s important.  The new year has been tough for me and this blog.  No posts and, even worse, little inspiration to write them.  I’ve been struggling with something and I finally thought it would be best to just get it out in the open in hopes that exposing the blockage will remove it.

I’ve been involved in the hobby since the early 1980’s.  I’ve talked about it in past posts and have a bit more to say in the future as well.  I started the blog because I feel I have some knowledge from my experiences and wanted to share.  I followed my instincts and thought I had a good plan.

Then, I started to get more involved in Twitter and exploring what is going on with this new “roleplaying renaissance” and wow, were my eyes opened.

A lot of what I wanted to talk about is already being done and explained.  So many talented people already doing some amazing things!   Games are being live-streamed every day on Twitch, talk shows and podcasts cover the deeper elements of storytelling and roleplaying.  What an amazing time it is to be so interested in roleplaying and gaming!  We have awesome discussions and a vibrant community while public perception shift more and more towards acceptance of the hobby.  I wanted to be playing in live-streams and having these cool discussions.

Most of the wind was taken out of my sails when I started feeling that I was just the old graybeard coming late to a party I had been looking forward to most of my life.  It knocked me down and I let it cause a bit too much self-reflection and way too much self-doubt.  So much so it’s taken me a month or more to get the words for this post.   However, when I get down there is a favorite saying of mine which I go to repeatedly.  It comes from the movie Ghosts in the Darkness, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit…  The getting up is up to you.”

Then, I realized something else.   I can’t be the only one that feels this way.  There are probably a ton of other folks out there feeling a similar feeling.  “My stuff isn’t good enough/ on par with what is happening now.”  “I’m just another regular ol’ D&D player, what do I have to offer?” “I just got started but will never be that good.”  “My GM skills are really weak.”

Think of it this way, what if any of the folks we are looking up to in the industry had given in to their self-doubt?  We wouldn’t have the historic situation we have now, would we?

All kinds of voices are needed for this hobby/way of life.  Our kingdom of gaming geekery is vast and full of resources.  We’re all needed.  New players, veteran players and, yes, even us grey beards. We’re all a part of this and every productive voice adds to the whole in one way or the other.

If you’ve been down lately and if you feel like it, I’d like for you to get up too.  Do something small.  Speak up.  Write something.  Draw something.  Paint a mini.  Sketch a map.  I don’t care if it’s your first attempt or your hundredth.  Maybe you were down before but are doing better?  How about talking about it for others to have inspiration?   Whatever it is, put it out there for all to see.  Put it on Twitter or Tumblr or your blog or anywhere.  If you do, reply here, tag me on Twitter or use the hashtag #GeeksGetBackUp.  I would like to cheer you on and throw a virtual high-five because this shit isn’t easy when you’re battling yourself.





Tis The Season! Holidays for your Campaign

Holidays help provide us with important breaks, excuses to party, to meet up with old friends and family as well as offering times of reflection and peace.  More so, the mid-winter season is a special time since it’s the time of year where a host of different holidays combine to create a juggernaut of a holiday season.  I enjoy diving down into the histories, traditions and folklore surrounding it.  From the ancient party of Saturnalia, to the Irish horse skulls of Mari Lwyd to the more modern Kwanzaa, it’s always a fun ride.

This year, it got me thinking about fantasy worldbuilding and the importance of festivals and holidays in a game world for a gamemaster.  In table top roleplaying, holidays can often be treated as throw-away events for a game, typically being used as a backdrop for a one-shot game.  However, I think holidays and festivals  can serve the campaign, and a game’s host, by providing more depth to the game world with not only the build up towards a holiday but the holiday itself.

If, as the game host, you already have a calendar for your world then your set.  If you don’t have a calendar it’s not necessary but it does help to give the players a sense of time.  In the game world, the cycle of annual holidays can help a community or society to understand the flow of the year.  Holidays, festivals and feasts are like sign posts letting communities plan a planting season, a harvest season, special moments of import to be celebrated, etc.

Though I’m mainly going to talk about a fantasy setting this can serve just as well in science fiction as well.  We are going to look at five components to review for inspiration in crafting a holiday for your game; Culture, Survival, Celestial Events, and Themes.  At the end of the post, I’ll present a sample holiday made up with these components.

Continue reading “Tis The Season! Holidays for your Campaign”

Extra Life Birthday

Just a quick announcement and then I promise we will get back to the gaming.

For my birthday this year I will be celebrating by running a 24 hour Extra Life marathon of gaming.   I was unable to make the main event on November 3rd but I decided, at the time, I would figure out a date before the end of the year.   What I’ve decided is it will be this weekend (a few days before my birthday to be exact) on Saturday/Sunday, December 8th/9th.  My start time for the 8th is scheduled for 9:00AM EST.

What is this all about?

Extra Life is a wonderful charity which allows gamers to do what they do best while supporting children’s hospitals all over the country.  This takes the form of a 24 hour fundraising gaming marathon.   It’s simple, really.  Like a dance marathon for charity or a charity race,  I play games and try not to fall asleep while you cheer me on and show your support by donating at my charity page.

I’ll be playing for my local children’s hospital, Riley Hospital for Children and my goal for this year is $500.

This will be my 3rd year doing the event and this time, barring any tech issues, I’ll be streaming the entire, embarrassing day on Twitch.  I’ll be taking breaks for food (maybe) and, due to health reasons, taking a few hours for sleep.  However, don’t worry, any time taken will be made up to equal a full 24 hours!   I’ll be playing a mix of video games including Skyrim, Kynnseed, X-Com and whatever I can get to work for the stream.  I’m even considering doing a bit of RP on the channel as well but I’m not sure how well that will work.

If you have a second this Saturday/Sunday and want to say hello stop over at the Twitch stream anytime during the marathon.  I will also be posting on Twitter throughout the event so feel free to reply there and be sure to retweet me to get the word out.  If you’d like to help me celebrate my birthday and have a few dollars to spare, please head over to the charity page and donate what you can.

I will hopefully see you there!

My Charity Page for the marathon

Extra Life Webpage


5 Easy Ways to Be a Better Gamemaster

For someone just testing out the waters of running their own role-playing game, I’ve boiled down the top 5 things (in my opinion) you can focus on in order to run a successful session.   I’ve skipped over the obvious ones like “know the rules” and “have dice handy for players.”  These focus on more non-obvious elements of the craft.  Keep them in mind and it will be very hard to go wrong.  The numbering of these means little.  None are more important than the other and each of them, individually, actually work hand-in-hand with the other 4.

As a side note, I actually don’t like the word “master” in these titles because I think it separates that player out from the other players at the table.  I prefer to use Gamehost and will use this interchangeably throughout the article.

Continue reading “5 Easy Ways to Be a Better Gamemaster”