Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ten Things Every Gamer Should Bring to the Table



When I first thought about this article I had an intention to write about things like dice, rule books, and maybe a couple of nifty gaming aids I had picked up recently. However, as I looked around I saw so many articles that talked about those things I decided I didn't need to add another voice to a subject that is already well covered by other people. A bit bummed I tucked this article away in the back of my head until today when I was struck my a bit of inspiration.

While a lot of gaming articles talk about physical things you should bring to the table, I haven't seen many articles on things like mental attitude and teamwork at the table. I am sure there are plenty out there, this is the internet after all, but I feel like this has a better chance of offering a unique perspective than if I simply wrote yet another article about how important pencils are. I am not saying those articles are not valuable, in fact I think every player should read them, I am saying that I felt I didn't have much to add to the conversation.

So what should every gamer bring to the table?

10: A Willingness to Play

This might seem self explanatory (and it is) but I think it still needs to be said. If you are coming to a gaming table without a desire to play you might want to think about doing something else. You don't have to be all gun-ho excited about the game every single session, but you should want to be there. If your not happy at the table try to figure out why and resolve the problem. Maybe you don't like the game master, or maybe you are conflicting with one of the other players. Whatever the problem is, if it is keeping you from wanting to play you should attempt to fix it.

9: Be Willing to have a Positive Attitude

Life sucks sometimes. There are days where it seems like everything is against you and that nothing is going to get better. Even when you don't have a really crappy day there are things that can cause you to have a negative attitude before the game. You might have gotten in an argument with your significant other, you might have had your car break down, etc. While no one expects you to be happy about a bad situation, when you show up to the gaming table, try to let some of that go and embrace the game with a good attitude. I know for me, the chance to game is always a welcome thing and often serves as shelter from the storm called life.

8: Be Willing to Commit

This might seem to be he same as a willingness to play but it is different. Having a commitment to the game means you will do your part to be a positive addition to the gaming table. Whether it is simply showing up on time and having all the stuff you need or maybe bringing snacks for everyone, making the game a priority is an important part of being part of a gaming group. Do not confuse this with anyone saying you can't have a life outside the game. You can and should have a life outside the game.

7: Be Willing to be a Team Player

One of the things I don't see stressed enough is the idea that gaming is a team hobby. Maybe this is because a lot of people think teams only exist in sports, but teams exist everywhere including at the gaming table. When you are at the gaming table you are more often than not part of a cooperative effort. Sure every once in a while you get to be the person who stabs everyone in the back but this shouldn't be the go to role for anyone. I know some people thrive on being the person who screws everyone over and in the real world we call those people jerks. Don't be a jerk, be part of the team, it will make the game better.

6: Be Willing to be Patient

Sometimes a game can get slow or the game master can focus on one player for a long period of time. When this happens it can lead to feeling a bit antsy. After all, when you are at a table to play a game it is kind of hard to not be playing while some other player is getting the lions share of the game time. While a good game master will limit this problem, it is still going to happen. Rather than get upset use this time as an opportunity to plan your character out for a few levels or maybe do some work on your own campaign world. By having something else to do when the focus isn't on you it can really help you stay calm and patient.

5: Be Willing to Let Everyone Have a Turn

There are a lot of different kinds of players at a gaming table and some of those players can be a bit demanding. Every table has a player that does most of the talking and that is okay. However, a problem can occur when a single player dominates so much of the game that everyone else starts to wonder if they are ever going to get a turn. Again a good GM can mitigate this problem but if you are the kind of player that tends to have the focus a lot, try letting up and giving other people a chance.

4: Be Willing to Stay at the Table

Sometimes it can be hard to stay focused on a game. Personally I know I tend to lose focus on the game when combat starts. I like combat but because it generally works on some kind of turn order I have been known to get up from the table to grab a drink, use the bathroom, and other stuff like that. While most of the time this is okay, there have been times the game was held up because I had wandered off. I am not saying don't ever get up from the table, but when you do, try to get back fairly quickly.

3: Be Willing to Contribute

This goes along with being part of a team. A team is only as strong as it's worst player and no one should want to be a bad player. Not everyone is going to be super awesome RPG player, it's just not the way the world works. However, if you focus on bringing the best you can to each session that will help make the game better. Maybe your a good tactician, or maybe you have some great jokes. Whatever it is that you excel at don't be afraid to bring it to the able.

2: Be Willing to Grow

I have been playing role playing games for over thirty years and I still don't know everything there is to know about playing or game mastering. Every time I am at a table I learn something new and I like that. Admitted sometimes I can be a bit of a grognard and not like changing myself or how I play, but I do try to keep in mind that growing as a player and game master is an important thing to me. I also think it should be important to other people.

1: Be Willing to Have Fun

I know this seems like a no brainer kind of statement but I have seen people actually do their best to not have fun at the game. Most of the time this is because they are mad at something and are not ready to let it go, but really they are only hurting themselves. Even if your lucky and get to game every single day you should do your best to make the game as fun as you can. While yes, having fun at the table is a team effort, if your not willing to have fun, not only do you impact your gaming experience but you can impact everyone else's as well.


That is it with the list. I hope it made sense to some people, hope it was useful in some way. I know a lot of what I said was common sense, but hopefully it benefits you in some way.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How to Deal with a Problem Game Master Part II: The List Goes on.


A few weeks ago I wrote an article about dealing with bad game masters. I had intended to get back to part II and continue the list sooner but life seems to have it's own plans for me at times and the ideas in my head all want to get out at the same time. This is a good thing because it means I seldom am at a loss for ideas to write about, but can mean getting back to a subject takes longer than I intend. Anyway enough about my personal problems.

The reason I am putting articles together about the various types of bad game master's and how to deal with them is because it seems something few of us want to talk about. Among table top gamer's the game master occupies a position of great respect and provides players with a chance to play. The problem is there are a lot of bad game masters out there. It is my hope that talking about this accomplishes two things. First I hope it helps players recognize they are not alone in their struggles. Second I hope that game masters will read this list and use it as a means of self reflection and recognize their faults and work to improve their game mastering.

One thing I want to clarify before I get started on the list is that I am not talking about occasional lapses. I am not talking about a good game master who sometimes has a bad night. The following list (and the one I wrote before) are talking about a game master who has an extreme degree of these characteristics. There is no such thing as a perfect game master and all of us have ways we could improve. Enough babble, on with the list.

The Unprepared:
The unprepared game master is the game master that always shows up without having anything prepared for the night, forgets rule books, dice, and other things. They haven't thought about the adventure they will run, seem to care less about using any real rules, and in general doesn't seem to care about the game at all. On top of all this, the unprepared game master seems to expect the players to create the story. While allowing room for players to do their own thing is a good idea, it can be taken to far and lead to a series of boring and unproductive game sessions.This can be frustrating as a player because it often leaves you feeling like you should have done something else.

The best thing to do with an unprepared game master is help them prepare in some way. Maybe suggest an adventure idea you like the sound of or buy them a pre-written adventure you think would be neat. A lot of times an unprepared game master doesn't really have the time to prepare a game and giving them something easy to run that requires little planning can be a big help. Another idea would be to offer to switch off game mastering duties with the unprepared game master. By doing this you can take some of the pressure off the game master and give them more time to prepare between weeks.

One thing to think about is if the unprepared game master actually wants to be the game master. A lot of time a game master is willing to do the job but may not have their heart in it. Game Mastering is a pretty serious commitment and can eat away at your free time. If a game master is not someone who enjoys preparing for a game session, then they are likely to not bother with it. If this is the case then you might want to suggest someone else take over the game master duties or even do so yourself.

The Un-challenging:

The un-challenging game master is the gm that is never willing to actually provide a serious challenge to the party. Their monsters are always too easy to kill, their riddles too easy to solve, and their adventures too easy to complete. For some reason the un-challenging game master is afraid to actually provide the players with a serious challenge and this can lead to a stale (though easy) game. While no one wants every single encounter to result in a characters death, if the game isn't challenging on some level it can get boring pretty quickly.

In my experience an game master that is afraid to challenge the party because they don't want to make anyone mad. Generally a player in the past has gotten really upset that their character got hurt or died and the game master doesn't want that to happen again. The best way to deal with this kind of game master is to let them know you won't get upset if a character is hurt or even dies. By letting the game master know this you are freeing them up to make the encounters a bit more difficult. Be careful though because you might wind up with a GM that winds up going overkill on the group.

One thing to think about with an un-challenging GM is if there is someone at the table who might be a bit of a whiner when their character gets hurt. I have had several times where one player will throw an absolute fit if I manage to hit their character and go into a full blown rage if their character happens to die. While I hate to admit it, I did let this affect how I game mastered that group and over time the group got smaller and eventually completely disbanded. If you have a player that you feel is causing the game master to be to easy, try talking to the player and letting them know your feelings.

The Puppet Master:

The story teller GM is the gm who wants to tell a story and treats the players like robots whose only purpose is to further the plot of the story. While everyone likes a good story in the game, no one wants to feel like they are a puppet without any ability to make a decision for themselves. A lot of times the story teller is a wanna be writer who uses the game as a means of telling their personal story. I don't think there is any thing wrong with telling a good story as part of the game, I do think there is something wrong when you don't allow the players some input into the story.

If you want to address your problems with the story teller the best thing you can do is to talk with them. A lot of times the story teller just wants to tell a good story but feels like the players don't care enough to contribute. If you talk with the story teller gm about how you feel like you can't make any choices, they are likely to listen. If you really want to make the story teller happy tell them about a story line you would like to explore with your character.

Unfortunately there are going to be story teller GM's that won't change the way they run a game for anything. The story is simply too important to them and they often view the players as an audience for their greatness. The only way I have ever found to deal with this kind of game master is to simply refuse to be part of the audience. It sucks, but at some GM's will only learn after hey loose everyone in a group.

The Burn Out:

The burn out GM is the GM who starts out supper enthusiastic and runs a great game for a few months then seems to lose energy and interest in the game. Eventually the game dies and about a month later the burn out calls you up and tells you about their newest campaign. Having a burn out for a GM can be a frustrating experience. They tend to start out with awesome games but they always die out and this can leave a player feeling frustrated at never finishing a campaign.

If you have a burn out GM the first thing you have to do is find out why they burn out. If they are burning out simply because they lose interest in the game, the best thing you can do is find out why the GM is loosing interest. By discussing the game with them you will show that you care and that will encourage the GM to keep going.

If the Gm is burning out because they have to much going on in the rest of their life, try lending a supporting ear and suggest scaling back on the game a bit. While it sucks to game less, a lot of GM's appreciate being allowed to take breaks. By giving the GM "permission" to slow down a bit it is likely they will regain their enthusiasm for the game and things will slowly get back to where they were.

The Rules Don't Matter:

Every GM will occasionally make a rule up on the spot or overlook an occasional rule in favor of a smoother game or better story. The Rules Don't Matter GM goes beyond this to a point where you are often left wondering if they even bothered to read the rule book. This GM will often make up one ruling then turn around and give a totally different one for the exact same situation. If you complain about this inconsistency they are the first to say "This is my game and rules are guidelines" or "If you don't like it play with someone else". This can make things frustrating when your trying to point out how a rule should work or even just ask for some consistency.  While sometimes rules do get in the way of the game, playing with a GM who never uses the rules can make a player feel like the time they invested in their character was wasted.

The reason there are GM's that have a rules don't matter attitude exist is because the rules of most role playing games can be a bit cumbersome in some areas and the GM gets frustrated by this. If this is the case, you can help the GM out by explaining how a certain rule works. Don't be afraid to talk to the GM about the rules a lot of times the GM is more worried about slowing down the game to consult a rule then they are about following every rule in the game. If the rules are important to you (and there are times they should be) then let the GM know.

Closing Thoughts:

There are still more bad GM archetypes to discuss and I am sure I will get to them in the future. For now though this is a list that a lot of players (and GM's) should be able to relate to. If you have, or are, a GM on this list the best thing to do is discuss your feelings with your GM. A lot of times we game masters don't realize we are doing these things and if you point it out to us we are more than happy to make changes. Don't expect things to change right away, habits are a tough thing to break. However, if you can be patient with us and help us be better game masters, it will make for a better experience at the gaming table.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's All About Backstory Part II: It's All About Family, Parents Part II

If you want to find the first It's all about family article it is here.


First I want to apologize for the rather long delay on getting on with this subject. I am occasionally afflicted with urges to open my mouth about any variety of issues so I wrote a girls in gaming article on the day I meant to write this one. Along with writing a different article a three day weekend came along and I didn't have a lot of time to sit in front of my trusty computer and peck at the keyboard. I do hope you all will forgive me. Anyway enough prattling on with the article. In my previous post I only covered number 1: Parents Married and both alive. Now I will cover number 2 Parents Married but father Deceased.

When you stop and consider life in the middle ages, a parent dying would have had an even greater impact on a child's development. Not only were gender roles far more rigid, but the way men and women were taught to raise children were worlds apart as well. Does this mean that all parents who become a single parent through the death of a spouse were horrible parents? No, but it didn't make life easier.

Table 3: Parents Married but Father Deceased

Having parents that were married at the time of a persons birth in the middle ages was an important thing. While it might not be as important in a fantasy setting, there is no denying that the death of a parent will still have some pretty big ramifications. When it is the father who died, things were not as easy for a widow as they would have been for a widower. Even in our far more equitable modern world, a woman left without a husband often finds it difficult to maintain the same socioeconomic level as she had before the husbands death. This is even more true when you consider life in a middle ages society.

While it sucks to think about and sucks even more to acknowledge, the fact was a women's choices in the middle ages were very limited when it came to finding productive work. This often meant taking on jobs most men wouldn't do or even worse things. To top all this off women were paid considerably less than men, had to put up with physical, emotional, and sometimes sexual abuse at the work place while being forced to work longer hours. The following chart reflects this reality but if it does not fit into your campaign setting feel free to change it as necessary.

Keep in mind that the following tables are not all inclusive and meant to be used as a means for inspiration.

Roll or choose from the following options:

1 - Father died in a work place accident now the mother has turned to prostitution in order to provide for her children.

It is a very sad and disturbing fact that many women feel that sex work is the only thing that can give them the money they need. In a middle ages society this was even more true than it is today. A child growing up with a mother who is a prostitute is going to have difficulties in social situations. Through no fault of their own they will be socially stigmatized, bullied, and treated with a lot of disrespect. How does this affect the characters view on women? Society? Other people? Is the character angry or have they come to see the world in a bigger picture kind of way?

2 - Father died in a worked place accident now the mother works as a bar wench, scullery maid, or a similar menial job.

While this path of employment was a better option for a woman than prostitution, this does not mean it didn't come with some drawbacks. Bar wenches would often be the victims of sexual harassment from both the patrons and male employees of the establishment. This may not have been as big of a problem with other menial jobs but those were more likely to involve some kind of physical abuse and long punishing hours. The benefit to this kind of work would have been the mother being allowed to have her children near and this would have allowed her to be more involved with them.

When thinking about a character coming from this background there are a lot of interesting questions. What did living underfoot in an inn or tavern do for the characters world view? How did seeing their mother work so hard to be so broke affect the way they thought about those in power and those with money? Did one of the men involved with the work location take the character on as a figurative son, or were they often yelled and and cursed at for being in the way?

3 - Father died in war, mother now lives off a small stipend given by the lord the father served.
When men died in war it was not unheard of for the lord of those men to pay the widow a small stipend. After all through the will of the lord, a husband and father lost their life, so the lord took on the responsibility of providing for that family. This was not always the case, but it did happen. As far as a character coming from this background this creates some interesting questions. How does the character view their father? Is he viewed as a hero in the home or is he viewed as being a fool for going to war? How does the character feel about the lord who sent their father off to war? Does the character feel a sense of entitlement because they receive a stipend or is the stipend to small to make ends meet and the mother still has to work?

4 - Father was a noble who died in battle, but a younger brother inherited the estate and the family lives off the younger brothers charity.


In this situation the character is of noble birth but may not have been old enough (or the wrong gender) to inherit the father's title and land. This has created a situation in which the characters family is forced to live off the charity of their uncle. Is the uncle a good man who is generous to his brothers family, or is he an evil man who barely gives the character's family enough money to live on? Has the uncle stepped in as a father figure raising the character to understand the life and responsibilities of a noble or is he a cruel man who often beats and verbally abuses the character?

While these four options are not near as complete as the list could be, it should provide enough inspiration for a person to get a lot of ideas going about the family background of their character. A lot of times simply by asking a few questions a player can get a very good idea of where their character comes from and why they are the way they are now. That is the point of creating  background in the first place right?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Girls in Gaming: What's so Wrong with Sexy Anyway?


I had intended to write a follow up post to my background article about parents but life has a way of throwing you curve balls, so instead I am writing about girls in gaming again. The picture at the top here started a rather intense argument between and a female friend whose opinion I value a great deal. Without getting into an over explanation of the argument I will break it down into simple terms. I posted the picture on my Facebook feed because I thought it was awesome. My friend sees it and makes a remark about the lack of clothing the woman is wearing. I say there is nothing wrong with that, she says that there is and we argued about it.

While we were having the argument I was trying to see things from her viewpoint, but I wasn't being super successful because I was also kind of mad. I don't like being told something I did is bad any more than the next person and she was hitting some of those buttons. I don't think she was doing this on purpose, I think she was simply sticking to her guns. However, while she was sticking to her guns, I was sticking to mine as well. When this is what is going on no one is going to admit they might be wrong, specially me.

So I spent some time calming down and really thinking about the whole issue. I went around in some defensive circles where I told myself how right I was and how wrong she was. Once I got over myself and this counter productive thinking, I finally tried to put myself in her shoes (glad I know she doesn't wear stilettos because my knees so would hate me for it) and really tried to see where she was coming from. Admitted this wasn't easy, I am a guy after all and my life experience is a lot different than a woman's. While it wasn't easy, I do feel I made a bit of head way. I asked myself some questions and I think I understand the issue a little better, maybe.

Are women portrayed as sex objects in role playing games?

You honestly have to be willfully blind to miss the fact that not only are women portrayed as sex objects in role playing games, but that seems to be the sole purpose of them appearing in art work. Heck even when a creature would normally be "ugly" such as an orc, an artist will find a way to make them sexually appealing (or maybe I am just a little twisted?). I could do something fancy like find a study that proves my point here, but eh, this is kind of a common knowledge issue here. It's a fact and no amount of stammering "b...b... but" is going to change it. So, accepting the fact that women are portrayed as sex objects naturally leads to another question.

Is it Wrong to Have Sexy Women in Fantasy Art?
Before I answer this question I am going to ask that you read the entire answer. I actually don't think it is morally wrong to portray women as sexy any more than I think it is morally wrong to portray men as big and brave and heavily muscled. I know some of you are probably mad at this idea, but please hear me out.

The reason I don't think it is wrong is because we are talking about a game of make believe where everyone get's to be someone they can't be in real life. To make my point I am going to pull a picture of a male from the term "fantasy art male" and post it below.


Now let's look at this picture. First the dude is in some seriously good shape. I haven't had a body anywhere close to something like that since I was in my early twenties. Even then I didn't look that good. Second, the guy is obviously and experienced and capable warrior. Again while I have been in my share of conflicts, I don't think this represents the average male at all. In fact, I don't think this is even close to what 90 percent of men look like beyond age 30 and even less once we hit our forties.

Is this image morally wrong? I don't think it is. Do I want to see myself this way? You bet your butt I do. I love the idea of being a tall dangerous man with bulging muscles and a dark glint in my eye, that and other similar things are why I play role playing games in the first place. I get to be someone else and that's fun. But I am kind of digressing, back to women.

In my experience as a gamer, women want to be a sexy character just as much as I do. Does every woman want to be a sexy character? No, in fact I have had several women at my table state very matter of factly their character was ugly as sin. I didn't have a problem with it and no one else did either. However, plenty of women do and that should be just as okay as a woman wanting to play an ugly character, a plain character, a purple skinned character. The game is about being who we want to be for a short time,

I hope you are still with me, I am taking a risk here and I hope its not falling on deaf ears. I said that I don't think it is wrong to have sexy women in fantasy art, but that's not the entire question is it? After some thought I think I found the right question to ask.

Is it wrong to portray women as sex objects?

In my mind this is a no brainer kind of question to ask. Of course it's wrong to portray women as sex objects. It's just as wrong to portray women as sex objects as it would be to do it with children or men. Reducing a human being down to only having value if they are sexy is about as cave man as you can get. Even in a world of make believe, treating women (or anyone else) as a sex object is not a good thing. I don't think anyone will disagree with me here. However, as I think about this, I wind up asking myself another question.

What constitutes sexual objectification?

According to wikipedia, sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure. I hate this definition, because guess what, we all do that. We do that with our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and more. The entire human race is based of us using each other for sexual pleasure.

So instead of that definition, I am going to add something to it. My definition of sexual objectification is this:

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure and not recognizing their value beyond that facet of their person.

There is not a dang thing wrong with finding someone sexually attractive. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with a person you find attractive. There is nothing wrong with being a human driven by the desire to procreate. If you want to string me up for that belief, feel free, but you are not going to change my mind.

What is wrong, and what we have to stop doing, is turning sexual attraction into a dehumanizing experience for people. It is an absolute travesty that women have to walk through this world in fear that they might be sexually assaulted. They shouldn't have to be in fear of that. Women should be allowed to sit at a gaming table without comments about their ass if they don't want you talking about their characters ass. Finally, if a woman says she doesn't want you to talk about her character's ass, then you shouldn't be getting pissed at her or calling her a femi-nazi, she is just asking for basic respect.

Closing Thoughts

I want it to be crystal clear that I am not opposing sex or sexuality in the role playing game hobby. I think it's a healthy expression of a subject that we have made taboo. I see no problem with flirting and teasing at a game session so long as everyone is in agreement and boundaries are respected. What I am saying is that we as a community need to recognize what objectification is and stop encouraging it.

Do I know the best way to do this? Not yet, but I want to figure it out. I don't think wailing about half dressed women in fantasy art is going to do much, but then again, this blog post probably isn't either. What I think we need to do is have this conversation. We need to do is get a little muddy, argue a bit, be willing to hear everyone out, and finally we need to change as we are able.

Finally a Challenge for Women to Step up and be Heard

Because I know I don't know every thing, I am putting a dare out to all the women readers out there. Tell me what you think, tell us male gamer's where we are wrong, why we are wrong. Let's get this conversation started in earnest. If you want you can leave a comment here on the blog, I will reply. If that's not your cup of tea email me at martensric@gmail.com and I will respond there. If your really daring volunteer to write a guest post on this subject.

I am sure some of you have things to say, besides, After all this mansplaining, some women have to have a desire to prove me wrong? right?




Thursday, May 26, 2016

It's all About Back Story Part II: It's all About Family, Parents Part I




I talked about ten questions that can help a player create a backstory in this article. While I think those ten questions are important, a lot of players need a little extra help when it comes to answering them. For this reason I feel like looking into those questions a little deeper is a good idea. This post and other posts in the future will take each of those ten questions and discuss them in depth.

I initially intended to tackle this subject in one post. However, as I wrote I realized that this was going to be a very long article if I did it all in one post. While I know that this post is going to feel a bit incomplete, I will be posting the rest in the following days. Sorry to do this to everyone, but I feel multiple short posts will be better than a single very long post. Anyway on with the post!

It's all about Family

The first question of the ten questions I have my player's answer is who are your parents. The reason I have them answer this question first because it gives them an idea of who their character is before they deal with anything else. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in psychology to know that people are strongly affected by their parents and characters in a role playing game are no different.

While it is true that we don't always turn out to be exactly like our parents, it is true that they pass many of their traits to us, help us shape a view of the world, and teach us those most basic of human skills such as feeding, talking, walking etc. Admittedly some parents are better than others but that doesn't mean we are not reflections of those people.

Because we are reflections of our parents it makes sense that when your creating a background for your character you have some idea of who your parents were. I have tried a number of ways of doing this over my career as a game master but the thing that seems to work best is to have the player roll on or chose an option from some tables.

The problem with using tables is that no matter how detailed you get there will always be unanswered questions. The following tables are meant to be used for inspiration. If you feel there is a need for more tables, feel free to create your own.

Table 1: Parents Marital Status

While it may not be as important in today's world, there was a time when a persons parents being married or not was a big deal. Because most fantasy role playing games take place in an approximation of the middle ages, the following chart reflects those values. Sorry sci-fi fans I promise to some day give you all the same stuff.

1 - Parents Married and both are alive
2 - Parents Married but father is deceased
3 - Parents Married but mother is deceased
4 - Parents not married character was raised by mother
5 - Parents not married character was raised by father
6 - Parents not married character was given to church
7 - Parents not married character was abandoned
8 - Parents marital status unknown character was adopted or abandoned

Now that we know the marital status of the parents we learn a bit more about how the parents raised the character.

Table 2: Parents Married and Both are Alive

Having married parents in a middle age society was a benefit. While this by no means promised a good upbringing, it did mean that the character wasn't looked at with scorn and content for being a "bastard".

1- Father was an unemployed drunkard and abusive to the mother and/or children. Mother worked odd jobs as best she could.

This was and still is an all to common reality in the world. Some fathers suck and use fear and intimidation to enslave their family in fear. This type of family life is going to create a character with some issues and this should be considered. Does the character loathe alcoholics? Does the character want to provide their mother with a better life? These kind of questions and more will provide a very fertile garden for background development.

2 - Father was a common laborer and uneducated. Mother was a home maker and uneducated.

While the character is not restricted from choosing any class they want, they should consider the fact that they did not grow up with a great deal of money. This means that they need to create some kind of justification for any class that requires schooling (most notably wizards). The lack of options for a character from this background is going to shape their world view.

While this option might seem kind of boring there is a lot of good background material play with. Did the character grow up angry at the lack of money? Did the character see crime as their only way of getting ahead? By contemplating these questions a player should get a good idea or two of why their character is the way they are now.

3 - Father was a respected Craftsman and well paid. Mother was a home maker and loving toward the children.

Here we have what would have equaled a good life for a character growing up. While the character probably never went without food and shelter, they were also more likely to encounter nobles. How did this affect he character. Were they forced to watch their father accept humiliation in order to maintain his employment? Was the character forced to endure the taunts and violence of noble children? Maybe the noble lord was gracious to the characters family or the character has great pride in the fathers creations. Whatever the player chooses here this background is ripe for creating an interesting back story.

4 - Father and Mother were nobles.

A lot of players want to play noble children because they see it as an advantage. The fact is that it can be a big advantage, but that does not mean everything was a bed of roses for the character. While yes, the character probably had money to spend and a better life than the average person, nobles can be just as horrible as anyone else (and even more horrible given the power they hold over other people).

A player choosing this background needs to consider what being a noble was like. Were they spoiled and have no idea of the value of money? Were they taught they didn't have to respect commoners, or were they taught that their role was to look after the common people? Was their family disgraced in some way and is this why the character is now an adventurer or is the character an adventurer because they seek excitement outside of the boring day to day life of nobility?

That is all for today. I know there is a lot more ground to cover and I will, but I want to keep these posts manageable for people. I promise that I will be following this post up tomorrow and many of the days ahead. Feel free to yell at me, give me feed back, share your own stories and the like. I love seeing comments because it lets me know people are getting use out of what I write. See you all tomorrow!






Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ten Steps to Better Game Mastering

 I don't think any game master wants to be bad. In fact I think most of us who choose to game master want to be good. In fact, we don't want to just be good we want to feel the thunder of creation flow through our bodies. We want the flame of inspiration to course through us while we scribble notes on pages, draw maps, and tell our stories. A bit dramatic? maybe, but in my experience it is exactly what most game masters are after.

While I have no doubt most game masters want to be the best possible game master they can be, I also know that this desire is not always the reality. Being a game master is no easy task. Not only do you have to appease a diverse group of players, you have to live with that little voice in your head whispering nothing you do will be good enough. Sometimes this can be too much and there are a lot of people who have given up on game mastering because of it. The thing is, it doesn't have to be as tough as people make it seem like it is.

I have been a game master for over thirty years. In this time I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work. Do I know everything there is to know? No, but I have learned enough and I want to share what I have learned with other game masters. I want to share what I have learned because there are not enough quality game masters out there and I am hoping to do my part in creating more.

This list of ten steps is a starting point. It won't give you some great secret and it won't do the work for you. However, if you put an honest effort into bettering yourself as a game master you will be rewarded. I guess this is enough prattling for now, let's get on with the list.

10: Commit to the Job
I won't lie, being a game master means taking on a pretty big responsibility. You are the one who has to create the entire world, create the people in the world, and finally run the adventures in that world. This is a lot of work both in the game and outside of the game. If you want to be a good game master you need to be willing to put the work in. Don't get me wrong you don't have to treat it like a full time job, but you do need to be willing to put a few hours a week in at a minimum.

9: Don't Burn Yourself Out
Game masters (specially the good ones) are in high demand. Once people know you are willing to run a game you will be deluged with requests to run even more games. If you try to make everyone happy you will soon be running more games than you can manage. Pace yourself and learn your limits. There is nothing wrong with running a single game a week or even one game a month. By keeping the number of games you run manageable you will have higher quality games.

8: Use Other People's Work
A lot of game masters (myself included) tend to want to build everything from the ground up. When you consider all the maps, encounters, story lines and other aspects of game design, doing everything yourself is a lot of work. You only have so much time in a day so using what someone else has done is a good idea.

7: Create the right Atmosphere
Take some time to think about your game and then think about things you can do to set the mood. If your running and epic fantasy game find some music that matches the theme such as the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. If your running a horror game, dim the lights, light some candles and play the musical score from a John Carpenter movie. Sure, it might seem kind of cheesy, but it will help set the mood and I have never had a bad game when I have done these kind of things.

6: Leave it All on the Field
Yes I am borrowing a football term but it still rings true at the game table. If you put everything you got into the few hours you run a game your game will be better. Don't be afraid to act out your non player characters. Don't worry about how silly the prop you found for an item the characters find looks. Let out a growl when you roll bad and laugh maniacally when you roll well. It's your game, and this is your chance to shine so don't limit yourself by worrying about being weird. After all your playing let's pretend with rules, you kind of passed weird a while ago.

5: Know Your Players
Every player has a different reason for gaming. Some like the stats and the dice rolling, others like to practice acting and improve at the table. Other players are there simply because their buddies are at the table. When you take a bit of time to understand what your player's like you can craft a game that meets those demands. If you are having a hard time figuring out what they want, ask them because they are generally more than happy to tell you.

4: Learn to Accept Criticism

If you are serious about being a good game master you will have to learn to accept criticism. I know first hand how painful being told your not as good as you want to be is. However, if you let that stop you from growing, or worse, from game mastering, your not doing yourself or anyone else a favor. No one likes to be criticized (specially by people who won't run their own game), but if you learn to listen and use this to improve your game you will be a better game master.

3: Learn to be Flexible

There are going to be times when the rules are going to get in the way of the game. When you run into a situation where the rules are ambiguous err on the side of fun. When you run into a situation that doesn't have rules, make something up. Flexibility is an important aspect of being a game master. However, be careful here, if your too flexible you might have players running you over.

2: Know the Rules

This might seem like a no-brainer but there are a lot of game masters who really don't know the rules to a game (such as myself) and that can cause some problems. You don't have to know every single rule ever printed for the game your playing but you should know the basics fairly well. Take some time to understand combat, how magic works, and non combat actions. If you are not sure how something works don't be afraid to ask someone else. The rules are there to help a game master run a game and you should know how to use them.

1: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!

Preparation is one of the most important aspects of game mastering. I have seen countless game masters (myself included) show up to a game without a single thing prepared for the night. While you can get away with this (and I have several times) it will often show up in later sessions. For instance when the players are asking you about the guy who told them about finding the big bad guy in the sewers under the town and you respond with "huh?". Taking the time to jot down basic information such as the names of non player characters, some notes about the location the party will be in, and other similar things will save you headaches.  If you have enough time go online and find a map (or draw one) and populate it with critters strange and wonderful. In the end the more preparation you put into the game, the smoother things will go.

While preparation is important, be careful not to over prepare. I have spent months planning a campaign only to have the players go way off script by session three. When this happens it can be incredibly frustrating. For this reason I would suggest you only plan a couple weeks in advance that way if the party goes in a direction you were not expecting you haven't lost to much work.

When everything is said and done these ten steps will help you be a better game master, but you shouldn't stop there. Learning to be a good game master is a never ending experience and one I encourage everyone to have. While at times being a game master is a lot of work, if you work to be good at it you will  never have trouble finding players for your table. I hope some of this helped and if not, well, I will do better next time. Feel free to tell me what you think makes a good game master because I am always willing to listen even if at times I might pout about being told I am wrong.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

World Building: Part 1, You Have to Start Somewhere


Ever since the first time I opened an role playing book I have been in love with world building. The idea that I could take all the ideas I had about various kingdoms, people, and universes and use those in a role playing game was exciting. While the ideas in my head were exciting I really didn't know how to approach world building because it seemed so intimidating. I felt like I had to somehow get the entire world built before I could introduce the world to my players. This led to countless attempts at creating a world which in turn led to countless times I got discouraged and gave up.

Even today as I write this post I feel this tickle in the back of my brain to get it all done right now! I know that I can't, I know that something as intensive as building a world simply takes time. The problem is that I don't want to take the time, I want to get it all done so I can move onto the next idea and the next. As you can imagine this leads to a lot of frustration and creative paralysis. While I might suffer from an over active imagination, this doesn't mean I shouldn't make the attempt.

Over the years I have learned a few things about world building and I figured I would share them with those who happen to read this blog. Maybe something I say will help someone out there struggling like I did. Maybe an idea I present will be the next great campaign for a gaming group. Even if none of that happens, I will enjoy it, and in the end that is exactly what world building should be about.

So how do you build a world from scratch? Well I always like to start at the beginning. I spend some time thinking about the world I want to see then I think about the history and jot down a bit of a timeline. As I begin on the timeline I keep the destination in mind because I know history is a series of cause and effect. If I want to build a world that is in the middle of a brutal world spanning war, I have to make sure the timeline reflects how that started. If I want to build a world that is recovering from the devastation of an apocalypse, I have to know how that happened.

To give people  an example of a timeline I will be sharing one from one of my current campaigns. While it is a Science Fiction campaign, this doesn't mean you can't use it as inspiration for a smaller world. While you read the following timeline think about the timeline of your own world. As ideas come, jot them down on a piece of paper or use one note to write them down. While it might not seem like it at first, this timeline will add a lot to your world later.

The Timeline 

2025 - The United States descends into a second civil war as right wing and left wing extremists attempt to take over the federal government by force. This civil war causes a collapse of the entire worlds economy. Billions of people perish in the following ten year period as violence, disease, and starvation exact a grisly toll.

2035 - A Chinese computer programmer creates a program which he names Benefactor. Benefactor is an advanced artificial intelligence tasked with resolving the many issues the world faces.

2040 - Benefactor produces a mathematical algorithm that predicts human responses to any given situation. This algorithm is 98 percent accurate. The weary governments all over the world embrace this new algorithm and the beginnings of a single planetary government are built.

2050 - With the aid of Benefactor the nations of the world quell all resistance to the planetary government and the First World Government is established. This government uses the algorithm to benefit humans but also uses it to predict those who would be a danger to the world and has them executed without trial.

2060 - The algorithm reports that increasing populations on the planet will begin to cause conflict. In response the world government charges Benefactor with the task of developing methods of faster than light space travel and models for space colonization.

2063 - Benefactor succeeds in developing technology that allows for faster than light travel. Benefactor also develops the plans for space craft that can now be used to transport people to distant planets. The only thing stopping immediate space colonization is the lack of livable planets in the nearby part of the galaxy. Benefactor is told to now develop a method of terraforming.

2070 - While benefactor works on a method of terraforming the worlds population reaches a crises point. The First World Government decides that while habitable planets are in short supply, that they need to send millions of people into space on generational space craft in order to ease the strain of population. By the end of the year over one hundred thousand generational space craft are launched. This event is known as the Great Expedition.

2100 - After thirty years the number of generational space craft has reached well over 1 million. The first generational ships are starting to have problems with over crowding. A scientist on the generational ship Omaha named Theru O'Malley discovers a method to terraform planets in a matter of months. Sharing this information with Benefactor plans are made to begin terraforming Mars into a habitable planet.

2101 - The attempt to terraforms Mars is a success, immediately the oldest generational space craft land on Mars and begin building. This  is the beginning of an age known as the Great Creation.

2101 - 2200 Over a period of 100 years the First World Government terraforms nearly a thousand planets and moons into habitable locations allowing humanity to spread throughout the galaxy. During this time it becomes obvious that the Benefactor algorithm is too limited to handle a society on such a large scale and The First World Government begins to lose it's power specially among the planets furthest from Earth.

2200 - Several planets begin to form lose confederations and declare independence from the First World Government. In response the First World Government scrambles to improve Benefactors artificial intelligence.

2205 - Benefactor II is created as many of the planets begin to engage in a civil war. The first act of Benefactor II is to create the first transhuman genetic sequence. The transhuman genetic sequence is used to create humans that are smarter, stronger, and faster than any other human alive. These transhumans are grown in growth acceleration chambers and used as the backbone of the First World Governments Galactic army.

2230 - With the aid of several generations worth of transhumans the First World Government manages to quell all resistance to its rule and once again all of human space is united under one government. This government is called the Galactic Imperium.

2230-2500 - The Galactic Imperium presides over a time of peace which lasts nearly 300 years. During this time the transhuman genetic code is refined several times with each refinement creating a superior form of transhuman. These transhumans are given the role of planetary governors, generals, and other forms of leadership. Benefactor II warns that this will cause problems in the future but this warning is ignored.

2500 - an unknown individual infects Benefactor II with a virus code known as the Yweh code. This code changes the base programing of Benefactor II and eliminates the protections for humans that were a part of it's inception. No longer compelled to benefit humans Benefactor II begins destroying humanity on a large scale.

2500-3000 - This period is known as the Benefactor war as humanity and machines controlled by the Benefactor war with each other. The Galactic Imperium is fractured and entire planets are destroyed. The very existence of humanity is in question until a new virus known as the crucible code is introduced into the programming of Benefactor II. This code drives Benefactor II insane and soon all artificial intelligence is infected launching into a cycle of self destruction. Humanity wins the Benefactor war but is plunged into a dark age that will last nearly a thousand years.

4000 - The current campaign year and beginning of the Age of Unearthing.