Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013 – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the preparation and starting schene of the Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG) game that I ran for a group of six young boys at Con Jr. for TactiCon 2013. They were on a quest to find and take out an evil wizard known as Kalor the Terrible, but first they had to take care of the rat problem in the basement of the Rusty Lantern Inn.

Scene 2: Rats in the basement

I moved to a basement map and put a bunch of rats on the map (once the party had sorted out their light situation, of course). We rolled for initiative (one player versus the GM), and the rats won.

Rats are wimpy monsters (even big 50-pound rats like these), so they have a d4 for attack and defense (a standard monster in KFRPG gets a d6 for both). This let the players learn how combat works without being seriously threatened.

As the rats started dropping, a couple of players wanted to heal the rats and train them. Sure, why not? I had them roll some hard heal checks once combat was over, and they were able to heal and train three of the rats. Now they had pets! Pseudo-zombie pets, sure, but at least they were loyal (if a bit gross).

Scene 3: Back to the inn

Back upstairs, the players decided they wanted to go see a blacksmith. However, it was night time, so they would have to wait until the next morning.

What about Kalor the Terrible, you may ask? What indeed! No mention of him from the players. They needed a blacksmith, for some reason! (I still have no idea where this notion came from.)

They decided to get a good night’s sleep (recovering the few hit points they had lost).

Scene 4: Meet the blacksmith

In the morning, the party went off to see the blacksmith. I brought up a map of a town and indicated which building was the smithy.

Village map

Village map

Using Masks, I named the blacksmith, and I decided to pull out the token for good old Sir Oakley from Madness at Gardmore Abbey to represent the smith. He was heavily armored; sure, why not?

The players started shopping, talking about the cool stuff they wanted to buy. Then one of the rangers declared that he was just taking one of the blacksmith’s swords.

Naturally, the smith shouted for him to drop the stolen sword, whereupon the ranger decided to toss a dagger at the smith.

Yes, the heated battle was on!

Some of the players decided to join the battle, even as the smith’s apprentices came out of a nearby house to join the fight.

Some PCs decided to steal some armor and put it on, right in the middle of battle.

Others decided to get out of there to go check out the festival tent with gnomes in it on the other side of town.

Some changed their minds in the middle of the fight, going back and forth between fighting and paying for the stuff they were taking.

Eventually, the ranger who started the fight, along with the wizard he had dragged into it, got themselves subdued and arrested. The magistrate would be in town the next day to hear their trial.

The other four members of the party debated what to do. Two of them decided to just hang out at the inn. The other two waited for nightfall, then went for the jailbreak.

Scene 6: Jailbreak

The would-be rescuers (paladin and wolfman) decided that they needed to know the exact layout of the jail (or at least as much of it as they could reasonably discern from outside), so I sketched a quick map in MapTool (amazingly, I was not expecting to need a jail map; go figure).

After dark, the jailbreakers went around to the narrow windows high up in each wall of the jail, peering in to try to find their allies. This involved the acrobatic wolfman standing on the shoulders of the athletic paladin. Eventually, they found the right cell.

Wolfman called out to the prisoners, who started to wake up, but at the same moment the paladin heard someone coming around the building. Wolfman and paladin hid in the bushes as a couple of guards came by on rounds. The guards didn’t see them, and walked on by.

Meanwhile, the captured ranger and wizard were now awake, and they had seen the wolfman’s face for a moment before he dropped out of sight. They decided to make a big ruckus to draw the guards – which worked.

While two guards were outside on patrol, the other two guards came to check on the prisoners who were making the noise. The ranger made a fantastic roll to reach between the bars to grab one guard by the neck while the wizard shot a bolt of electricity at the other. They were able to grab the keys off a guard’s belt and make their escape, locking the guards in the cell.

Meanwhile, the patrol had passed by the back of the building, so the paladin decided to try to toss a hammer between the bars of the window to give his allies a weapon – not knowing that they were already escaping. By the time he got the hammer through the barred window, it ended up landing on a locked-up guard as his friends were heading out the front door, dealing with the patrol.


Scene 7: On the run

Now that everyone was free (and outlaws), the group decided to go get their two sleeping party members and hit the road.

They talked about their general plan – staying within sight of the main road into the hills, but keeping off the road itself. Walking by night, sleeping by day. Going nowhere in particular – just to a faraway town.

Kalor the Terrible? Who’s that?

At this point, we were about 90 minutes into our two-hour session, so I decided it was time for a final battle.

Silly players; in their haste to get out of town, they had unwittingly set up camp in a dragon’s hunting grounds.

A few kobolds came upon the party and started talking about “the Master.” After combat began with the kobolds, the Master – a dragon – showed up.

Now the party got to toss out their big, special blue chip powers, as the dragon flew around and breathed fire.

Eventually the good guys (?) were victorious and the dragon was defeated. The only tricky part was how best to skin the dragon to make awesome armor from its scales.


Thus ended Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013. As expected, it was a pretty crazy game, but I was ready for anything and just rolled with it. Sure, these kids became bloodthirsty, jailbreaking outlaws and completely forgot about the evil wizard menacing their country, but they got some cool dragonskin armor out of the deal. All’s well that ends well!

The kids seemed to have a blast, and I enjoyed their unpredictability. If you keep the rules simple and your mind open, kids can create a rollicking good time in an adventure game.

Michael the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013 – Part 1

Labor Day weekend in Colorado is a special time. Sure, it’s a great time to enjoy outdoor activities as summer wanes, but for me it’s exciting because it’s TactiCon time!

There are two big local gaming conventions here in Colorado each year. The bigger one is Genghis Con, which takes place over Presidents’ Day weekend in February. The smaller one is TactiCon. Both have lots of RPGs, board games and miniatures games, complete with a good-sized exhibit hall.

They also have Con Jr., which provides kids of con-goers with gaming of their own. I don’t have kids,so I’ve never been involved with Con Jr., but this year I decided that I’d run a game for kids.

You may have seen my post about the Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG), the simple game I designed when my young niece and nephew were visiting last Christmas. I figured I should bring this game to Con Jr.


To get ready for the game, the main to-do was to create more characters. I said I could have up to six players, and I only had eight character sheets prepared from last December’s game. I wanted to make sure the kids in my game had more choices.

Basically, I created male and female versions of the existing eight characters, with a few tweaks to make the characters match the pictures I found online.

As a recap, KFRPG characters are pretty simple. They consist of:

  • Race and class
  • Attack die and defense die
  • Three skills
  • One special power

I always include a big picture of the character (using a Google Image Search, for personal use only) and a spot for the player to name the character.

I put my copy of Masks in my bag for the game. This is a cool book in general, but I keep in on hand because of the running lists of random character names at the footers of the pages. What is that NPC’s name? Let me look that up (flip, flip, flip…).

I also had to make sure I had the physical supplies on hand that I would need:

  • The printed character sheets (half page each)
  • Three red poker chips (hit points), one green poker chip (healing potion) and one blue poker chip (special power) for each player
  • Dice that I didn’t mind giving away (I bought a pitcherful at Gen Con)
  • Minis to represent the player characters (I bought a bunch of plastic ones on day 2 of TactiCon)

Finally, I had to make sure my projector setup was ready to go. The projector and rig still work great after three years. As for a MapTool file, I use this one. It has a bunch of different maps on hand, so that my players can go wherever they like. I also have tons of monster and NPC tokens set up in MapTool that I can drop onto the map at any time.

KFRPG is intended to be very free form, letting the players go to bizarre places. And as you’ll see, they did!


My game was scheduled to start at 11:00 Sunday morning. On  Saturday afternoon, I found the room where I would be running the game, just so I would know where to go. I made sure I arrived about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time on Sunday, so that I would have enough time to set up.

As it turned out, there was a Ticket to Ride game that lasted all the way to 11:00 AM in that room, so I had to set up the projector and my supplies quickly when that game ended. The organizer gave me a few extra minutes to get this in order before sending in the kids.

I had a table of six boys, ranging in age from about 7 to 11. All of them had some familiarity with fantasy role playing, many having played D&D before. I had never met any of these kids before.

I started by passing around the character sheets, letting the kids pass them back and forth and swap with one another until they were happy with what they had.

One kid had this gigantic dragon mini that he wanted to use for his character. I told him that he could be a druid and the dragon could be his animal companion that he could call upon with his special power.

The other kids picked a wizard, two rangers, a dwarf paladin and a wolfman warrior (although I didn’t have a wolf mini, so he was really an elephant man).

Scene 1: The Rusty Lantern Inn

Since I’m going for a straightforward game when it comes to KFRPG, we all began in an inn, the Rusty Lantern. There were a couple of dwarves in one part of the inn, a couple of elves in another part, a human woman (Val) running the place, and a burly human man fetching food from the outdoor kitchen.

Web of the Spider Queen Session 1 - No Grid

The Rusty Lantern Inn

I had an adventure hook ready for whenever the kids needed it: An evil wizard known as Kalor the Terrible is rumored to be active in the area. No one ever sees Kalor himself, and accounts vary as to exactly what he looks like, but he leaves his signature in flaming letters in places where he has wrought havoc.

But rather than forcing this on them, I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Some wanted to chat with the elves, so I had the elves tell them that they were fleeing their homeland because Kalor the Terrible had been there.

The dwarves had heard of Kalor, but said that he was more of a legend from hundreds of years ago.

Val the innkeeper said she had some information about Kalor being active in the same region as the Rusty Lantern, which freaked out the elves.

The kids thought this sounded pretty good, so they wanted to press Val for more information. But before she was willing to trust them, she had something she wanted them to do for her first:

Kill the rats in the basement of the inn.

Yes, I wanted the adventuring cliches to flow thick and heavy! Let’s kill some rats.

Time for a cliffhanger!

Since this post is getting so long, I’m going to break it into two parts. Tomorrow, the battle begins!

Michael the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Online DM’s Kid-Friendly RPG

For Christmas 2010, my wife’s brother and his family stayed with us for a couple of weeks. We introduced my brother in law and his wife to Dungeons & Dragons, and they became big fans, continuing our game online via MapTool over the next couple of years.

My brother in law’s family also includes two kids, a girl who is currently 8 years old and a boy who is now 5. They’ve been really interested in D&D, so when the family came back to visit for Christmas 2012, I knew it was time to introduce them to role playing games.

Now, I love playing D&D 4th Edition, but I knew that there was no way my 8 year old niece and 5 year old nephew would be able to handle the game yet. I went searching for a version of D&D that could work for the children, and I took a great deal of inspiration from Newbie DM’s RPG Kids. Ultimately, though, I ended up going with something of my own creation, which I’m uncreatively calling my Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG if you need an acronym).

The rules

Each player has a half-page character sheet (see below). When you’re not in combat, the Kid-Friendly RPG works just like any other role-playing game – you tell the game master what you want to do, and the GM tells you what happens.

Character sheets

Feel free to use these character sheets yourself (note that there are two characters per page). I’ll note here that I do not own the character illustrations; if you own these illustrations and want me to take them down, just let me know. If you’re creating your own character sheets, I highly recommend having a big picture of the character on it for the kids.

Character sheets for half-elf ranger and human druid

Character sheets for halfling thief and dwarf paladin

Character sheets for human barbarian and wolfman warrior

Character sheets for zombie wizard and elf cleric


If a character tries something that might not work, the GM will ask for a d20 roll. In most cases, a 10 or better will succeed, but the GM is free to set the target higher or lower for harder or easier tasks.

If the character is trying to do something that’s connected to one of the three skills on their character sheet, they can roll the d20 twice and take the best result.


When combat breaks out, the party chooses a player to roll a d20 and the GM rolls a d20. If the party’s representative wins, their team will go first. If the GM wins, the bad guys will go first. Ties go to the party (ties always go to the players rather than the GM).

Rather than tracking initiative, each member of the party takes a turn, starting with the player to the GM’s left and proceeding clockwise around the table. The GM has the monsters take their turns in whatever order the GM wishes.

On a character’s turn, the character can move up to its speed (measured in squares on the board) and take an action. Most of the time, the action will be an attack, but other options include administering a healing potion to themselves or a friend, using a special power or trying something creative.

Attacking and Defending

Each character has an Attack die and a Defense die, ranging from d4 to d12. When you make an attack, roll your Attack die. Your target will roll its Defense die. If a player character’s Attack roll matches or beats the enemy’s Defense roll, the enemy takes 1 damage. Most enemies only have 1 hit point, so this is usually enough to take the enemy out.

When an enemy attacks a player character, the enemy rolls its Attack die and the player rolls the character’s Defense die. If the Defense roll is at least as high as the Attack roll, then the attack misses. If the Attack roll from the enemy is higher, then the player character takes 1 damage.

Note that in both cases, Attacking and Defending, ties go to the player character. So, if the player is attacking and rolls a 3 and the defender rolls a 3, it’s a hit on the enemy. But if an enemy is attacking a player character and they both roll a 3, it’s a miss on the player character.

Hit points

Each player character starts with 3 hit points, which are tracked with some kind of physical object (I use red poker chips). When the character takes damage, the player gives one of these chips to the GM. If the player has no more hit point chips, then the character is knocked out (not dead, just not able to act).


Each character starts with 1 healing potion, tracked with a green poker chip. One of the actions available in combat is to drink the healing potion or administer it to a friend. If a character drinks their own healing potion, they regain 1 hit point (the GM gives back a red chip). If a character administers it to a friend, the friend regains 1 hit point. However, if a character has the Heal skill and administers the potion to a friend, the friend regains 2 hit points. Note that a character with the Heal skill who drinks his or her own potion still just gets the 1 hit point (your Heal skill only helps friends).

If a character is knocked out, a character with the Heal skill can use an action in battle to try to heal the knocked out character, even without a healing potion. The healer can roll the d20 twice, and if they get a 15 or better, the knocked out character regains 1 hit point. A character without the Heal skill can try this, too, but they only get one roll and still need a 15 or better.

If a battle ends with one or more player characters knocked out, those characters regain 1 hit point after laying there for a few minutes.

Special Powers

Each character has a special power, which starts charged up. This is represented by a blue poker chip. If the player wants to use his or her character’s special power, they give the blue chip to the GM and then carry out the instructions.

Range of attack

Most attacks are melee attacks, which means that the character needs to be next to the target. If a Range is specified, the character can be that many squares away from the target and can still attack.


If two player characters are both adjacent to an enemy, they have the advantage on that enemy (they do not need to be in flanking positions, just both adjacent). A player character with the advantage gets a one-size bigger die for attacks (if the attack die is a d12, just add 1 to the result of the roll). Having advantage doesn’t help on defense.

Enemies can benefit from advantage at the GM’s discretion (a good rule of thumb is that you need 3 or 4 adjacent enemies to get advantage for them).


Each character has a Speed number, which is the number of squares they can move on a turn in addition to taking an action. The default is 5, with fast characters having 6 and slow characters having 4.

If a character doesn’t take another action, they can move their speed twice on a turn.


Most enemies have 1 hit point and a d6 for both attacking and defending, and they only attack in melee. They do not have special powers or healing potions.

A tougher or easier enemy might have bigger or smaller dice for attacks or defense. They might have a ranged attack (generally with a range no more than 5 squares). They might have a slight twist to their attack, such as an attack that grabs a character and doesn’t let it get away until the enemy is destroyed.

A boss enemy might have 3 hit points and a special power, just like a character (though no healing potions).

Optional rule: Charging

If a character wants to charge a far-off enemy, the character can move its speed and then move its speed again with an attack at the end of the second move. This attack uses a die that’s one size smaller than the character’s usual attack die (since it’s hard to attack while running).

Optional rule: Opportunity attacks

If you want to teach your players about tactical movement, you can rule that moving past an enemy without fighting it will let the enemy take a free attack at the character (which can work both ways for player characters and enemies).


So, that’s the game. I ran this with two kids and three adults (which later ballooned to five adults as more people joined in). We played a short adventure that involved three fights and a trap (note: the kids just didn’t get the trap at all), plus a bunch of role playing at the tavern at the beginning. The game lasted somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. The kids had a blast, as did I. The rules are simple and they encourage lots of improvisation all around.

If you end up trying this out with your own group of kids, please let me know how it goes!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Fiasco – first play session and review

My RPG career has consisted mostly of Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, a game I love. However, I’m always interested in discovering new and exciting things. Having heard great stuff about Fiasco on the Jennisodes podcast and elsewhere, I decided I should check the game out. I paid my twelve bucks for a PDF of the game just before leaving for my cruise vacation a couple of weeks ago and then read the game for the first time while aboard the ship.

Game overview

Fiasco is a story game with no game master. The game begins with four six-sided dice for each player – two white and two black (although we used gold and purple in our game). All of the dice are rolled into a central pile, and then the players take turns choosing dice to let them pick from lists of Relationships, Objects, Locations and Needs for the characters that they’re creating on the fly. These lists come in Playsets, four of which come with the base game: Suburbia, Small Southern Town, Antarctica and Wild West.

At the end of this setup, each character will have some sort of relationship with the characters on either side of them, and each of those relationships will have a Detail associated with it (object, location or need). All the dice go back into the central pool, and the Scenes begin, with players taking turns.

When it’s your turn for a Scene, you can either Establish or Resolve. If you establish the scene, you describe what’s going on with your character in the scene and perhaps describe some conflict that the character will be working through in that scene. The players then role-play this scene at the table, bringing in the elements from the setup (relationships and details) as they go. At some point in the scene, the other players will decide whether the scene is going to end well for the main character, in which case they’ll give the player a white die from the central pile, or poorly, in which case they’ll give the player a black die. They’ll then play out the positive or negative outcome of the scene, and then the player will give their die to someone else (whoever they want).

If the player decides to Resolve the scene, then the other players decide what the scene will consist of, and the player in the spotlight will decide whether the outcome is positive or negative. They’ll take the appropriate die, play out the consequences, then give the die away.

After each character has had two Scenes, we get to the Tilt. Everyone rolls whatever dice they’ve collected so far (an average of two per player, but you could have anywhere from zero to six dice) and nets their white total against black. The highest net white total and the highest net black total will each get to pick an element from a Tilt Table: Crazy crap that will happen to the characters in the second half of the game.

The game then tells you to take a break and get a snack, talking about the game so far and where it’s headed. I like this rule!

You then move on to Act Two: two more scenes per character, working mostly the same as Act One. The differences are the Tilt elements, of course, but also the fact that the player who gets a black or white die based on their character’s outcome then keeps it instead of giving it away.

At the end of the game (two scenes per character in Act One, then the Tilt, then two more scenes per character in Act Two), each player again rolls their dice and nets white against black. The closer to zero your total, the worse the Aftermath for your character. You then take turns narrating what happens to your character after the movie is over, based on their Aftermath. A high white total or high black total will be a good ending for the character; low numbers are usually death or even a fate worse than death.

Our experience

Seven people showed up for games over the weekend, and Fiasco is not designed for more than five. So, three people who weren’t that interested in role playing decided to play Lords of Waterdeep while four of us sat down for Fiasco.

After I explained how the game worked, we passed around the play sets and decided on Wild West. A note here: Definitely print out the play sets with two pages on each sheet of paper. It’s plenty big enough to read, and then you only have four pages (one each for Relationships, Objects, Locations and Needs) instead of eight pages cluttering up the table during the Setup.

The ultimate layout for our Fiasco game. Tilts are in the middle of the table

My character’s relationships were Gamblers on one side and Criminal/Detective on the other, so it became clear that I was an outlaw. I decided to call him Pecos Pete.

The Detective to my left was Detective Stanton, a half-Chinese man from Chicago who was in Last Chance, Arizona – our made-up setting. Detective Stanton and Pecos Pete shared a Need to get away from an honest woman, ruined.

Stanton’s other relationship was Professional/Client, and we had established that Stanton was the professional detective. His client was the town sheriff, Sheriff McGinty, who had hired him to come to Last Chance to hunt down Pecos Pete. This relationship shared a location – the White Star Chinese Laundry.

Sherriff McGinty was a bit of a dirty cop, however, since his other relationship of Sheriff/Deputy was tied to a Need to get rich through fraud and trickery. He was working with his deputy to ultimately trick Detective Stanton into helping them defraud Pecos Pete out of his gambling winnings.

The deputy’s name was Roscoe, and he was trying to get rich along with the sheriff, but he was also a gambling associate of Pecos Pete. The two of us (I was Pete, remember) shared an object: A doctor’s black bag with and a jar of acid. Hm.

Act One saw the arrival of Detective Stanton in Last Chance and his first interactions with the gambling Pete and Roscoe, ending with him getting invited to a high-stakes after-hours game. We also saw the sheriff and his deputy, Roscoe, have a falling out after the sheriff learned that Roscoe was double-crossing and working with Pete to rob Stanton.

Stanton, meanwhile, ended up coming to the high-stakes game in disguise as Ling Wei, a Chinaman from the laundry who fancied himself a card player (but really had no skill). It was also established that the honest woman, ruined, that Pecos Pete and Detective Stanton shared a need to get away from was named Ruth. She had followed Pete from Chicago to Last Chance years before, and she had once been a lover of Detective Stanton’s.

Stanton closed out Act One with a jump ahead to a scene where he was standing over Ruth’s dead body in the laundry, hands bloodied. Deputy Roscoe came into the room, aiming to rob the detective, but instead stumbling upon the murder scene. Unfortunately for Roscoe, the Sheriff was also following Stanton, who managed to pin the crime on Roscoe. Poor Roscoe ended up in jail, awaiting trial for a murder he didn’t commit.

The Tilts introduced for Act Two were Innocence: Collateral Damage and Something Precious on Fire.

We began Act Two by establishing that Sheriff McGinty was going to try to get Pecos Pete to rob a government stagecoach for him, thus getting rich through fraud and trickery. Roscoe escaped from jail and switched Pete’s jar of acid with his sack of whiskey (I guess whiskey comes in sacks in Last Chance), without Pete’s knowledge. Stanton got stinking drunk after the murder of Ruth and decided to come and kill Pete, which failed miserably.

The sheriff hired some of his posse to act as snipers at the stagecoach robbery, killing Pete once he had taken out the driver and guard. Poor Roscoe came on the scene disguised as the sheriff – not knowing that the posse assassins were secretly associates of Pecos Pete and were planning to kill the sheriff on sight. Blam – dead deputy.

Pete managed to get onto the stagecoach and tried to use his acid to take out the driver, but since it was actually whiskey it ended up igniting thanks to a nearby lantern, engulfing the whole stagecoach in flames.

In the aftermath, things went badly for everyone. Pete ended up dead, having gotten only ashes of burned money for his trouble and then dying by acid when he tried to drown his sorrows in whiskey. Stanton ended up captured by Indians and tortured for years. The sheriff ended up dead, I believe self-inflicted, and Roscoe of course died in the final scene thanks to the double-crossing assassins and a poorly chosen disguise.

The review

Fiasco is an interesting game, and great for people who really love role playing. I think I had expectations that were a little too high, though. Our group isn’t great at role playing, so we struggled a bit. We still had fun and came up with a rollicking tale, but we had our awkward moments.

The whole game took us less than two hours to play, which was good. We kept our scenes short, and even had a few scenes that didn’t really involve role playing, just narration. This worked out well.

I was surprised to learn that my friends strongly preferred wackier play sets. I was expecting that we would start with Suburbia or Small Southern Town, but Suburbia wasn’t even considered. They preferred the zany settings. This was fine with me, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Overall, I’d say that I’m glad I bought and played Fiasco. I don’t think it’s going to be a game that’s in heavy rotation at my tables, since my friends seem to prefer killing monsters and taking their stuff rather than getting deeply involved in role playing. That’s okay with me, too, but it’s fun to play a game like Fiasco every now and then. I’d definitely give it another go sometime.

-Michael the OnlineDM

Quick Hits: January 2012

After taking a brief, inadvertent break from blogging recently, I thought I’d jump back in with some quick-hit thoughts on D&D Next, my own D&D campaigns, some non-RPG games I’ve played, the Order of the Stick Kickstarter, and the upcoming Genghis Con.

D&D Next

I’m liking most of what I’m hearing out of DDXP. Simplicity if you want it, complexity if you want it, and a real effort to reach out to players of all editions. The Dice Monkey Radio bonus episode featured yours truly discussing the game with some other folks in the D&D community. I can’t wait to get my 1e books! Yay for potential unity!

My D&D Campaigns

I’ve had some real life stuff interfering with my gaming for the past couple of months, and my Friday night MapTool game is currently on hiatus. Fortunately, it looks like the real life stuff has cleared up, and I should be able to resume that game soon. Yay!

My Madness at Gardmore Abbey and ZEITGEIST campaigns have been similarly delayed, though less explicitly so. I’m hopinh to run a session of Gardmore this weekend. I was thrilled to discover that Tracy Hurley, Sarah Darkmagic herself, included a link to my write-ups of my Gardmore Abbey sessions in her article over on the Wizards of the Coast D&D page. Woo hoo!  Thanks again, Tracy!

I’m also working on a new adventure in response to a reader question. I received a request for some basic “DM 101” tips. I provided a few in an email (this came during the real-life-interfering time, so I didn’t write much), but I definitely want to make this into a blog post. And I think an important DM 101 thing to provide is a good intro adventure. I did a lot of brainstorming on planes last week and am hoping to build the adventure itself and run it in the next couple of weeks.

Non-RPG games

I got a copy of Innovation for Christmas and have played it several times. Cool little game, and it travels well! I was in Florida and Pennsylvania last week, and a friend in Florida and family members in Pennsylvania all enjoyed it. 

When I was in my FLGS recently, I saw a copy of Kittens in a Blender. In real life I’m a cat lover, even fostering kittens for the local animal shelter. Still, I couldn’t resist – in part because the game makers apparently donate part of the proceeds to a no-kill shelter.

I finally tried the game with my wife Monday night, and it’s about what I expected – rather goofy! I think it would play much better with more than two players, of course. I find that there’s an interesting tension in the game when your “best” move is to go ahead and hit the Blend button in order to save your kittens who have gotten away, but when you have a kitten or two who will face death in the machine. The illustrations are adorable, and they make it hard to consign the fluffies to die. And that’s a good thing!

Genghis Con

The local convention is a couple of weeks away, and I’m excited! I’ll be running my Staff of Suha trilogy, and I have players signed up for all three slots. I was disappointed to learn that the Hero System game based on Dr. Horrible that I was registered for was canceled, but I’m still looking forward to trying some Dresden Files and Ashes of Athas.

Order of the Stick books

I’m guessing most people who read my blog probably know about Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew’s awesome web comic about a stick figure band of D&D adventurers. I own all of the books except War and XPs, and was therefore very excited when Rich announced a Kickstarter project to get that book back in print.

He needed to raise almost $60,000 in order to get the book in print. He blew through that in about a day. As of this writing the Kickstarter has been up for a little over a week, and he’s raised nearly $300 grand and counting. This pretty much means that all of the OotS books will be in print. Yay!

My only frustration: The comic is so popular that all of the special rewards (such as those involving signed copies of the books) are snatched up before I have a chance to sign up for them! Oh well; good for Rich!

If you love OotS, I recommend supporting this Kickstarter.

Looking ahead

Now that real life seems to have gotten out of the way, I’m looking forward to more gaming goodness. My new web site should be going live soon, and I’m excited about the improved look and feel. Fun things are afoot!

-Michael the Online Dungeon Master

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Free art: Numeric runes

There’s a puzzle in my third adventure (to be released after I run it at TactiCon next Friday) that involves numbers. The puzzle itself is optional and could be handled with skill checks, but I decided to go ahead and make it a true puzzle for those players who enjoy that sort of thing.

And since this is D&D, just throwing a set of numbers out there didn’t seem like enough. Yes, I’ll give the Arabic numeral version of the puzzle to parties who don’t want to deal with extra complexity, but I decided to use runes to represent the numbers 1 through 8.

Now, I don’t know anything about runes and wasn’t quite sure how to find runes to represent numbers, so I decided to just create my own. I’m not an especially artistic person, but I figured I’d be up to the task of making simple linear runes.

To make them more decipherable, the number of pen strokes in each rune corresponds to its number. So, the rune for the number 6 has six strokes.

Feel free to use these at your own table, and let me know if you have any suggestions to improve them!

Rune 1

Rune 2

Rune 3

Rune 4

Rune 5

Rune 6

Rune 7

Rune 8

Out of the gaming closet

I put up a post a few months back that talked about the gaming closet – the fact that I didn’t really talk to my co-workers about my gaming hobby. I felt a little bad being closeted like that, but working in finance in a somewhat senior position, I was worried that being known as a D&D player might hurt my reputation.

I’ve since decided that I’m comfortable with who I am, and I’ve started letting people know that I’m a gamer when it’s appropriate. I first mentioned it to a co-worker who knew that I used to play Magic: The Gathering. He asked if I still played, and I told him that I had moved on to D&D. No bad reaction from him – that’s one good sign.

Next, a co-worker of mine who works in another state was visiting Colorado for work and I invited him over for dinner. He already knew that I liked board games, so I talked about D&D (and we ended up playing Castle Ravenloft). It turns out that he used to be a big D&D player several years ago, and he asked to be included the next time I start up an online game. Cool! The fact that I’m his boss probably means that the DM-player relationship would be too awkward, but still, it’s nice that he was enthusiastic about it.

Now we come to today. I’m excited about my plans to attend GenCon for the first time this summer. I work in Colorado, but my company also has offices in Indianapolis (home of GenCon). I travel for work from time to time, and I asked my boss about maybe making a business trip out of a personal vacation that I wanted to take to Indianapolis in early August (okay, so I haven’t told my boss about my gaming yet). He put me in touch with a co-worker in Indianapolis who could coordinate my business trip.

When I called that guy on the phone and explained that I was trying to schedule some work either before or after my personal trip, he asked about the dates and then what I was in town for. I said that my wife and I were going to a gaming convention, and he said, “You mean GenCon? I’ll be there, too!”

It turns out that he, too, is a gamer, as are some of the people he works with in Indianapolis. He invited me and my wife to join him for a game while we’re in town. How cool is that?

So, to sum up, I’m taking some confident strides out of the gaming closet now, and I’m glad for it. The air smells sweeter out here!

War of the Burning Sky – First session

This past Friday evening I ran my online group through our first session of EN World’s War of the Burning Sky campaign.  It did not go as well as our session from the previous week, where I had run them through a Living Forgotten Realms adventure, and it’s my fault: I just wasn’t as prepared as I should have been, and it showed.

The session started off well, with the players talking about some back story for their characters and possible connections with one another and with the campaign setting.  I really enjoyed this part of the session, and it’s given me some good ideas for the future.

Then we got into the actual adventure itself (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD).  Some of this was okay and some… less so.  The party begins by meeting a woman named Torrent in a tavern that has been closed by the city guards because the owner is a magic user and there’s a coming crackdown on magic (“The Scourge”).  Torrent is there to bring the party into “The Resistance.”  Great, no problem.

V. Shane's awesome depiction of Torrent from the War of the Burning Sky

As they finish chatting, they’re ambushed by bounty hunters.  Now, this is laid out as a pretty exciting encounter in the published adventure, and I totally biffed it.  There’s a warning of something coming, with the sound of creaking floorboards overhead in what is supposed to be an empty building.  Then some bounty hunters come barging in the front door, with the goal of forcing the party out the side door. (I was totally unable to accomplish this.)

Then a bomb hits the building and flames burst out all over the place.  Then the ceiling starts collapsing in places.  This would have been a good way to force the players out of the building and into the alley, but I failed to play it that way.  They basically ignored the chaos and beat the crap out of the bounty hunters.  I decided to have the leader of the bounty hunters (who wisely stayed outside) tell his men to retreat, but the party kept beating them on the way out (and really, who can blame them?).

We then had an interaction with the lead bounty hunter, Kathor, which, as I played it, didn’t make any sense.  Kathor is supposed to be ambivalent about being a bounty hunter, and that came across okay, but it was tough for me to reasonably play it so that the players would accept his withdrawal without attacking him further.  We worked it out so that the players are trying to recruit him into the resistance (a cool idea on the party’s part), but I admit that I didn’t handle this encounter very well.

We next played a few vignettes as the party made their way through the now-burning city toward their rendezvous with a gnome who is supposed to have information that they’re to take out of the city.  These little scenes were a bit out of place, but the party role-played them well.

Then we had to abruptly cut off the game, as one of the players got called into work unexpectedly.  I was okay with this, frankly, as it will give me more time to prepare for the next session.

After much reflection, I’ve decided that I have no interest in running a pre-packaged campaign through to completion.  A pre-packaged adventure, sure, but not a whole campaign.  I need to be able to wing it on the fly and change NPC motivations, all sorts of crazy things, and that’s tough with a published campaign.  So, I’ll be using the published campaign for inspiration and nothing more.  For one thing, I’m interested in getting the party into an underground area of some sort for some cool battles, and I don’t see anything like that in the near future for this campaign.  Easy solution: Change it!

My lessons from this time around are:

  • BE PREPARED!  If you’re not prepared as the DM, things aren’t going to go well.
  • Maintain flexibility.  Unless you’re the kind of DM who can run a party closely to a script, don’t hew too closely to a published adventure path.  You need to be able to adapt on the fly.
  • When you’re given cool material (like the burning, collapsing building that the party is fighting inside) make the most of it!  Describe it vividly, and let it affect the characters in whatever way seems most appropriate to you.

Next session is going to be better, I can already tell.  I’ve already made some big changes to the next combat encounter, which will take the adventure mildly off the published path.  I’m anxious to start working with my player characters’ backgrounds, too, and I have some interesting ideas on how to do that.

Running my first in-person Living Forgotten Realms game

Today I officially became not only an online dungeon master but also an in-person dungeon master.  I finally ran a Living Forgotten Realms game at my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds (spoiler alert: I ended up killing one of the PCs).  I started preparing for this game (and talking about it on the blog) almost a month ago, and I already ran this same adventure for my online group last week, so it’s fair to say that I was well-prepared!

The module was WATE1-1: Heirloom, a Living Forgotten Realms adventure for a party of four to six players of levels one to four.  There will be some spoilers for this particular adventure ahead, just so you know.

The game was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM.  I got to the store around 8:45 to get ready – and then realized at 8:50 that I had forgotten the handouts for the players (they explain the laws of Waterdeep, show a map of Waterdeep, and show a list of stolen items that was provided to the City Watch in the story).  Fortunately, I live within walking distance of home, so it took me only two minutes to drive back, two minutes two print the handouts and two minutes to get back to the store.

We were fortunate to be allowed to play on Enchanted Grounds’ fancy new gaming table, which has an inset in the middle for the battle map and a special pull-out tray with a built-in screen for the game master.  There were four players at game time, and two more were on their way but running late.  We waited about 25 minutes before starting – and naturally the two latecomers showed up just as we got going.  No harm done!

Since this blog is meant to be educational, I think it’s worth talking about what I did to prepare for running this adventure:

  • Read the adventure at least twice, paying special attention to the point of the story and, on later read-throughs, the details of combat tactics from the enemies
  • Create the maps in MapTool, convert them to posters with PosteRazor, print them out in color and tape them together
  • Get monster minis together – I used self-made tokens.  I wish I had also brought some generic non-combatant NPC tokens, but that was a minor oversight.Tokens
  • Get some way of keeping track of conditions such as bloodied, slowed, marked, etc.  I went with little rubber bands from Target that are intended to be hair bands for girls.  I believe my wife Barbara found a big container of them for $3.  I sorted them by color and stored them on twist-ties.
  • Get dice.  Lots of dice.  No, a few more than that.  Yeah, that’s the ticket! (Note the awesome d12s that have Roman numerals for 1 to 4 printed three times – actually rollable d4s!  I got them from Dicepool.) 
  • Write the name of each type of monster on a half index card and roll initiative for it.  Write that number on the half index card.
  • Get blank half index cards for each player character.  Write the character’s name (along with race and class, maybe the player’s name and a description of the mini so you know who it is – all optional, but nice) at the top of the card.  As the players roll initiative for a battle, write the character’s initiative on the card, crossing out any old initiative number that’s on it.  You can then order the cards (PCs and bad guys) by initiative and use this to keep track of who’s up and who’s next – plus it’s easy if someone delays or readies an action to put them in a new position.
  • Get a blank piece of paper for each battle.  Write the name of each monster on a line, treating multiple monsters of the same type separately (so Guard Drake 1 has a line, as does Guard Drake 2).  Write in parentheses next to the monster its bloodied value, followed by a colon and the starting hit points.  As the monster takes damage, cross off the rightmost number and replace it with the new HP total.  Check it against the bloodied value to see if the monster is bloodied yet.
  • When you’re at the table, write down each player’s name, their character’s name, their race and class, their passive Insight and Perception scores and their initiative modifier

With that, we were off and running.  The adventure begins with a long skill challenge to find the thief who stole the title heirloom.  As with my online game, I never said that we were in a skill challenge.  Instead I said, “Okay, what do you want to do now?”  Someone decided to ask around the pub for information on where they might be able to find stolen goods – “Give me a Streetwise roll.”  That pointed them to another tavern, where they looked around to see if they could find anyone matching the description of the information broker they had been given – “All right, Perception.”  And so on.

In the middle of the long skill challenge, we had a quick-hit combat encounter with some drunken sailors.  There was some fun role playing, as one of the PCs tried to hit on the damsel in distress (she wasn’t interested, and I played her as such).  There was some great bluffing of the City Watch, too – “Honest, officers, these men just fell down drunk.  We didn’t attack them…”

Once the thief was located in his lair, the battle became more interesting.  I had ramped up the difficulty level of the battle a little bit, based on past experience, and I’m glad I did.  Lots of players ended up severely bloodied, but nobody dropped.  Our assassin got a little cocky after teleporting in behind a bandit and basically destroying him in one shot, so he ended up trying to take on a couple of halfling thieves by himself.  Bad idea – those guys love to get combat advantage and deal extra damage!

The players did defeat the thief and successfully interrogated him about the stolen heirloom.  He told them where to find the person who hired him to steal it.  I then asked the players what they wanted to do with the thief and his gang.  After a short discussion, they decided to execute them.  I had a bloodthirsty table!  But so it goes.  Had this been a home game, I would have made sure that there would be consequences from this in the future, but for a one-shot I decided to just move on.

The final battle against the gnome factor and his allies in an inn room was pretty cool.  Our assassin and our monk were stealthy about getting into position, seeing some gnomes in their room at the end of a hall and successfully hiding from the gnomes.  Our fighter tried to be stealthy but failed, making too much noise while coming up the steps.  The gnomes looked up, and our bard, thinking quickly, walked up the stairs and past the hallway, whistling merrily – so I had him make a Bluff check, which he totally rocked.  Thus, with surprise preserved, the party was able to charge down the hall in a surprise round before the battle began.

Our strikers jumped right into the thick of things, dealing tons of damage but leaving themselves exposed – especially the monk.  The gnomes spread the hurt around a little bit, but the two dumb guard drakes attacked the closest thing that was threatening their master, which was our monk.  The monk did get an opportunity attack on one drake as the drake moved into position between the monk and the gnomes, but then both drakes took big bites out of the monk.  Guard drakes, as it turns out, do tons of damage when they’re near allies, and the two big chomps put the monk at exactly his negative bloodied value.  He was dead – that is, dead dead, not just “I’m lying on the ground but I’ll be fine later” dead.  I felt a little bad, but that’s what happens when a relatively squishy striker charges into battle without waiting for defender support (a lesson I learned myself the first time I played an avenger).

Pretty soon the gnomes were all bloodied, facing our wizard’s Flaming Sphere, and several of them were invisible due to their fade away power.  When the gnome leader’s turn came up, with his invisibility in place, I had him open the window of the room, fey step down to the street below and start running.  Of course, all the player characters could see was a window opening.  They were left with a tough choice – attack the empty space where they had last seen the gnome leader, or try to go after him in case he ran.

The bard attacked the empty square and rolled well enough that I told him that he didn’t feel like there was anything there to hit.  So the wizard decided to run back down the stairs and into the alley leading to the front of the inn – where he spotted the gnome!  Meanwhile, back in the room, the fighter and psion took care of the guard drakes, the other gnomes jumped out the window (one killing himself) and the bard decided to take a flying leap after everyone.  He made his Acrobatics check, landed on his feet, saw the gnome leader and pegged him with two arrows (smart use of an action point).  Mission accomplished!

This was a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, and I know the players had fun, too.  Interestingly, the person whose player I killed, Jason, had played this adventure once before (in the same party as me when I had played it), and during the course of the adventure he said, “Wow, this is way cooler than the last time!”  That’s what I love to hear.  Even though his character died, he still role-played the things that his spirit was doing, cheering on the rest of the party.  The two players at the table who were new to fourth edition had a good time and learned a lot about how the game works.  Fun was had by all.

I’m learning that I really like being a dungeon master, whether in person or online.  I’ve also learned that I need to feel prepared in order to do well. (In my next post I’ll talk about my experience running my online group through the beginning of the War of the Burning Sky while not being as prepared as I’d like.) I think I’d like to do some more DMing for Living Forgotten Realms in the future.

Online campaign – What a rush!

It’s amazing that I have the energy to write tonight, given that I just spent four and a half hours running a D&D adventure online for EIGHT PLAYERS, but it was such a rush.  I can’t believe how well it all went!  Seven of the players were already logged in before the scheduled start time, and the eighth ran about 10-15 minutes late (no big deal).

Starting Screen

We started off with everyone being able to see their tokens on a small map (with an image of the map of Waterdeep on the page), and I explained how MapTool worked.  As a player, the only things they really needed to know were how to move their token (click and drag), how to move around the map (right click and drag; zoom with the mouse wheel) and how to deal with their macros (just click them).  That went pretty easily.

We also spent a little time talking about the future of the group.  We’re going to split in two – one with me as the DM playing at level 1 and one with another person from the group as the DM, playing at some higher level in order to get to paragon tier faster.  But since I had put everything together for this evening with the plan of having eight players, we would still play the adventure together.  (It was the Living Forgotten Realm module that I’ll be running in my local store next Saturday – WATE1-1 Heirloom.)

I should also point out that, in addition to having MapTool open with everyone impersonating their characters in order to talk in-character (way cool), we also had Skype open for voice chat.  Let me give a huge shout-out to Skype – this software is awesome.  We had excellent call quality with eight active lines (two of the players were together at one computer), no lag – it was just fantastic.

Anyway, I used audio to communicate with my players most of the time, and they used a mixture of audio and text.  The adventure started off with a lengthy skill challenge to track down a thief who had stolen a family heirloom (hence the title of the module, “Heirloom”).  Mixed in the middle was a quickie combat encounter with some drunken sailors, which ended in one action – the party’s invoker walking up and unleashing an encounter power that just about wiped them out (whereupon the sailors that were still up surrendered and staggered away).

At the end of the skill challenge, the party confronted the thief and his cronies in their underground lair.  This battle was much more interesting, with some good movement, creative use of marks, and SO many conditions to keep track of!  It’s easier in MapTool than in real life – I can’t imagine running this encounter with eight PCs around a real table.

We took a five-minute break before diving into the final encounter, where the party faced the person who had hired the thief to steal the heirloom.  The party did a good job of achieving surprise, and it became clear that I could either have the bad guys fight smart – keeping their guard drakes in front of the door to the room and making it hard for the party to do anything – or have them fight fun – letting the drakes shift back into the room so the melee fighters had something interesting to do.  I went with fun, and I’m glad I did.

The best part of the evening was the very end of this encounter.  I had some bad guys, who were hidden at the time, go out the window of the room they were in, trying to escape.  Hilarity ensued as the party tried to go after them.  Lots of falling out windows, landing on people who had already fallen (dealing improvised damage – why not?), and so on.

Looking back, it was clear that the encounters were not all that challenging for the party, since no one ever ended up making death saving throws.  But you know what?  For a party of eight, that’s okay.  The encounters were long enough already, and making them tougher would have made them take longer.

The most important thing was that everyone legitimately seemed to have a great time.  A couple of people who were planning to go play in the high-level game reached out to me to say that they were having so much fun that they were considering staying low-level.  That’s really gratifying to hear – “I’m having so much fun that I want to keep playing in your game.”  Is there a better feeling as a DM?  Not to mention the fact that one of the players is an Englishman playing in his first-ever tabletop RPG, and he played with us from 1:00 AM to 5:30 AM his time.  How’s that for dedication!

It will be a little sad to break up the group, but I honestly don’t have the energy for an eight-PC campaign.  I can handle four or five, but beyond that I think it’s just a little too much.  Still, just to run a game this big one time was worthwhile.  It was, quite frankly, an unqualified success, and I can’t imagine it having gone any better.  This is what I live for as an online dungeon master!