Category Archives: Adventures in Gaming

Sometimes we get together and play an RPG.

Gritty Cinematic?

I was sitting down, relaxing, and knocking a couple of brews when I started thinking about my overall gaming style. I don’t mean genre but rather the style and tone of a campaign regardless whether it’s in space, a dungeon, or the back alleys of some city.

I came up with “Gritty Cinematic”. Sure, now and then I like grimdark and other times over-the-top action. But what really gets me going is something in between. It’s the tone of most of my campaigns, what I enjoy playing, and it’s also the tone I’m trying to put into YARC.

So let me explain my thinking. We all know grimdark. You can’t swing a stick without hitting yet another grimdark game. The “lucky” characters die horribly. Combat and action are something that really should be avoided. And characters quickly learn that there are worse fates than death. While cinematic games usually have untouchable, superhero like characters that really don’t face grisly ends and bouncs around the battlefield with impunity.

Gritty cinematic tries to land somewhere between them. Combat is dangerous. Death is a real threat. But characters are still able to push boundaries and do some pretty outstanding and heroic stuff. Sure you just slayed the Demon Lich Dragon Pyrohalitus but after a night of drunken carousing you’re found dead in an alley after getting knifed by a starving beggar.

When are you going to paint those dungeon tiles?

However, doing such a tone can difficult when it comes to game mechanics. Grimdark puts an amount of frailty and ability limitations on characters while cinematic, as I said previously, makes them superheroes. I guess there isn’t one single mechanic that does it. It’s a combination of crunchy bits, metagame currency, and understanding on the players’ parts for how the whole thing works without feeling like the DM suddenly pulled the rug out from underneath the heroes.

I know I’m not offering anything really solid in this post because it’s can be a difficult to tone to manage and define. Much of it is like food. Season to taste. Or as that old saying goes, “You’ll know it when you see it.”

Keep rolling dice. Keep imagining. And keep having fun.

The Year in Review: 2021

Man. It’s been one hell of year. We thought that just may be things would get better but a lot didn’t. But enough about that. What happened here on the blog and it’s associated places on the web?

Let’s stick the more positive things that happened. Two Copper Bestsellers on DrivethruRPG. That’s pretty good for me. Blog traffic steadily increased from last year by about 15%. The odd part of that is that I just gave up cross posting to various Facebook Groups in July and it didn’t make any difference. I took a little time and started looking more closely at the posts in groups and the activity. In general, if a post was actually about gaming like a review or actual gamable content then it was crickets. If it was about the outrage of the day then people would come out screaming. And it just isn’t things I posted. It didn’t matter who posted it. Outrage click bait just seemed to drive Facebook.

Wizards just want to have fun.

What else happened over the year? Well, I pulled the plug on the podcast. Yeah, that’s kind of negative but the amount of time I was spending doing that took away from blogging and just didn’t seem to be the most efficient use of my time.

I also want to give out some shout outs to the things that I think were the coolest.

The coolest game that I stumbled upon has got to be Barbaric! It’s quick, easy and simple.

The coolest RPG App is Owlbear Rodeo. I know it’s been out a while and fought going virtual for way too long. But it’s become my go to VTT.

And finally, an honorable mention goes to Kanka.io. Once again, I’ve fought going online with a lot of my RPG stuff. After playing around with it for a couple of months, it’s the one I like. Handy for getting the campaign fluff out to a geographically challenged gaming group.

I know that this is short post. Like others, I ‘m getting ready to kick 2021 ass to the curb and give 2022 a stern, warning look. I got crazy plans and some even crazier predictions for next year but you’re just going to have to wait until next week for that.

Till then HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The Only Map You Need For Your Campaign

Yes, I know that a real click bait title for this post. But you know it kind of fits. Let me start of with saying that I understand that maps are cool. Some are even works of art but how valuable and efficient is that work of art at the gaming table? Sure they can inspirational and evocative but I’m looking plain old utility and ease of use at the gaming table.

I’ve been playing around with Inkarnate for a world map for the reboot of my original campaign and while also playing around with online campaign managers I got to thinking about the way I actually keep notes which is a lot of bullet journaling and mind maps. This lead me to the idea of using “one map” for each thing in my world and basically here it is:

Wait? What? That’s it? Yep. I started with the simple concept of a group of hexes then changed it up to off-set squares just to make it easier to use with a word processor. As you can see, it’s numbered from 1 to 19 (20 is “outside” the map) in case I want to do something random. I also grabbed some inspiration from Index Card RPG with the zoned combat and the Ultimate Dungeon Terrain from Dungeon Craft on Youtube.

I figured if you can do this combat then why use it on a bigger scale?

Here’s how it works. Let’s start with the big picture. The World. You may be tempted to put that Big City in the middle of the map. I say no. Put where the characters start in the middle. Build the map from the character’s perspective. Let’s say you’re starting your campaign with the classic Keep on the Borderlands. Put that right in the center. What do the characters know? Since this is the “world” map at this stage. They would know that say the Dwarves come from “Far Away” to the north. So put the Dwarf home there like in Box 9. The Elves are far too but to the south east and so on. All that matters really is that something “near” to where they are or faraway. Fill in what extra bullet details you want.

Then you can do the same thing with a region. Once again with Keep on the Borderlands. Put the Keep in the middle then add the Caves of Chaos, Caves of the Unknown, the Mad Hermit, and the other adventure areas on the region map. All that really matters, is it close or far?

And you can do the exact same thing with a city. I know that the actual distances are abstract. Personally, I’ve found it better to measure the distances in actual miles or whatever but how many days it will take the party to get to their destination (for supply purposes) and what may be between them and their destination (making getting rumors even more key to survival).

This idea is also handy for my DM World Notebook. I can squeeze just about all of the information for a city or region that I need quickly into a single page.

And there you go. A single simple tool with many uses. And here’s a PDF of it:

Enjoy. Roll those dice and have fun out there.

There Comes A Time…

You get to a point in your life where you just don’t care what the in-crowd is doing or their opinions of you. You’re comfortable with yourself and you aren’t afraid to go off and do those things you just want to do.

I was sitting back and catching my breath the other day and I thought, “I really don’t care about editions or whatever the cool thing of the moment is.” I don’t that if a specific retro-clone is the hot thing of the day. I don’t care if this this thing that all the cool kids are playing.

Sure I’m willing to look and take interest in a new game. Heck, I may even be inspired by some of its mechanics. I’ll even run it or play it and enjoy it. But where does all of my real passion rest?

It’s in hacking rules and making a Franken-Game that may not be perfect but it’s got the stuff that I think is fun. I don’t need to apologize or justify this. But if you’re not playing by a specific edition’s rules then you’re not really playing D&D. Yes, I am.

Through out the editions, the very basic mechanics have remained basically very close or at least with recognizable origins if you take the time to look close enough. With the rise of the OGL, there have been hundreds if not thousands of new and interesting ideas. You just have to go out and find them and bend them to your will and take the good ideas that you like and put them all together for that game that’s just right the fit for you and your group.

Go out. Do it. Never apologize for it. The only people you owe anything to are those that at your table not some gang on the Internet.

Remember. Have fun. Roll dice.

The Tale of Two DM Notebooks

For a long time, I used a single DM Notebook. It was notebook to rule them all. It had the campaign notes, adventure notes, and house rules. But I think it’s time to graduate up to two notebooks.

This is my current DM Notebook and “At The Table” Reference Folder. Yes, DCC has some of the most awesome gaming art out there. My DM Notebook contained the complete house rules, campaign information, and adventures notes. My DM Folder of Doom! had combat cheat sheet and a gaggle of handpicked or home grown random tables. Pretty much everything I needed at the table. But things have grown and more stuff has been added. There’s more campaign details and more handy charts and tables. So it’s getting a little bit disorganized. So it’s time to take these apart and put them back together.

First, my main big DM Notebook. This is going to be mainly reference with the complete house rules, setting notes, reoccurring NPC’s, custom spells, and a few select magic items. I’m playing around with a couple of those online campaign managers. While these are good in theory, I’ve been finding that they want details that I’m not really planning on using and don’t have a place for some details that I want.

Second, there’s the Big Book o’ Tables. Over the years, I’ve accumulated and written bunches of these. Some I really like. Those are going to end up in this notebook. Everything from wandering/random encounters, random NPC names, what’s on the body, loot/treasure, and what’s in the room, carousing events, and so on.

Since I don’t use a DM screen but I do want some charts handy. I always do a cheat sheet. This what’s at the ready when things moving fast in the game. Things like crit and fumble charts, reaction rolls, and so on. Stuff that’s used often and needs to be on hand to keep the game moving.

If you’ve gotten this far on this post, my best bit of advice for any DM is to have a DM Notebook. Heck, even have two. These are valuable tools for your game. But the most important thing to remember is that your DM Notebook is never done. It’s always a work in progress.